The first decade of the new millennium ended with Copenhagen, and everybody seems to agree that it was a failure. Who is to blame? Of course, the rich nations such as the US and Europe, or the developing countries such as China and India, or the small countries which dare to have their saying in this affair; in any case, the global community presented itself as a failed community, jeopardized by selfish politicians, national interests, and corrupt lobbies. Sigh. There were only a few reasonable men, but nobody listened to their arguments. But we will do so, in order to learn from the past for the future.
Schellnhuber, director of the PIK, visiting professor in Oxford, advisor of the German chancellor Merkel, author of the Copenhagen Diagnosis etc, was of course disappointed of the Copenhagen outcome, but what can you expect? Attending the Copenhagen negotiations, he heard nothing but 'global climate kitsch' . In an interview with the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung, he stated 'that the ideals of climate protection ran full force against the geopolitical wall'. Facing so much ignorance, he feels depressed. He is maybe a famous, even ingenious scientist, but he is a human being, too. He asks himself, what does this mean for his one year old son? The state of the world he will grow up is depressing, and there is no global institution in sight that will save our climate.
The journalist suggests that this failure might be due to the lack of the social sciences in climate research (Gesellschaftswissenschaften). Schellnhuber agrees that the climate discussion up to now was not accompanied by the social sciences and psychology. As an anthropologist myself, I liked to read that Schellnhuber blames science funding and its bias towards the natural sciences; 'it is 1/10.000 what the social sciences get compared to the natural sciences', he says rightly. But I don't agree with his definition of the role of the social sciences: 'If the consequent logic of the natural sciences did not turn into political action, this might be due to the lack of necessary translation (through the social sciences).' Are the social sciences only the loudspeakers used by those who know the truth? Let us assume he is right and let us have a look at Schellnhuber's contribution to the climate discussions in Copenhagen.
In a session in Copenhagen, Schellnhuber made a spectacular contribution. If global temperature will rise 9 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today, Earth's population will be devastated:
'In a very cynical way, it's a triumph for science because at last we have stabilized something - namely the estimates for the carrying capacity of the planet, namely below 1 billion people.'
His famous 'tipping points' would contribute to 'oxygen holes' in the oceans, to a disruption of the food chain and the monsoon' etc. 'What a triumph', he added. 'On the other hand do we want this alternative? I think we can do much, much better.' Nicolas Stern took up this dire prediction in order to pressure politicians to agree upon a treaty to reduce emissions.
Schellnhuber is not the first one to find out about the 'carrying capacity' of the earth. Before him, it was James Lovelock, famous for his book 'The revenge of Gaia'. He delivered a similar scenario; as much as I remember, he predicts for 2050 a rest population of 500 million people, which equals the carrying capacity of Gaia. Except the politicians will follow the advice of scientists such as Schellnhuber or Lovelock and reduce emissions drastically. Which they didn't do in Copenhagen. The prophets stand lonely and embittered, not knowing how to explain this to their children. So how does the statement of this scientist differ from the acclaimed 'climate kitsch' of the politicians?
I am not a climate scientists, but I know what kitsch is. I have seen Roland Emmerich's recent disaster movies, I know about the predictions of the Maya calendar, and I know that something like a carrying capacity of Gaia might be an interesting thought experiment, but is far from serious science. I grew up in a world with scientists who stated that nuclear bombs will bring peace, that nuclear energy will solve the energy problem, that in the year 2000 we will have depleted the world's oil reserves, that the green revolution will save the world from hunger and many more predictions and scenarios delivered by highly praised scientists. If I were advised to be the loudspeaker for predictions like this, I would save my honor as a social scientists and call this kitsch, scientific kitsch. But how to explain this?
From a psychological standpoint, this kind of kitsch is 'black pedagogy'. This kind of pedagogy is based on the assumptions that you have to implement traumas into children's mind in order to make them better people. In case you keep on masturbating, your hands will turn black and fall apart. This might help, indeed. Anyway, critiques of black pedagogy mention its inherent sadism, that might turn into a problem in the adult person (and for others). Its only a small step from masturbation to atmospheric emissions: in case you don't agree upon a drastic emission reduction treaty, you all will die. Except one billion (who will judge the many when the game is through, to quote the bible).
Nordhaus / Schellenberger have an interesting social explanation, too. They call this kind of science politics 'climate nihilism', which affects each and everyone participating in Copenhagen. Their concept of climate nihilism goes back to Friedrich Nietzsche's idea of cultural nihilism, 'something that happens when the old systems of meaning - God, progress, nature, science - lose their power. We no longer believe in them, but we continue to behave as though we do.' and they go on saying that
'Nihilism is the phenomenon of going to church, saying confession, and sometimes even praying to God, even though you no longer believe that God will do anything for you. Climate nihilism is the phenomenon of going to Copenhagen, promising to reduce emissions and pretending to believe the promises, even neither though you nor anybody around you has any intention, plan or funding to do so.'
As a social scientist, as an anthropologist I would argue that the prophecies of climate science as stated above do exactly this - they produce fake events based on fake science, where a self-fulfilling prophecy forces everyone to act in an arena which is so detached from reality that there is no positive outcome possible. This is how we debated climate change in the first decade of the new millennium. Everybody seems to agree that we cannot go on like this. But we shouldn't blame politicians for defending national interests or their nation's right for development (that's what they are elected for); we should accept that nations are effective organizational units (and offer alternative energy and decarbonization solutions); and we should accept that most climate scientists are good in climate science, but are really bad educators and even worse social scientists. Listening to some of them in Copenhagen, we should learn for the future that they are part of the failure that they complain about in so eloquent words. They should explain this to their children, too.
Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Nr. 294, Monday Dec 21st, 2009, p2