Saturday, January 2, 2010

2010: Copenhagen in retrospect.

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


Bernhard Meyer said...

There are indeed various perspectives which are relevant but not properly addressed, like social sciences and psychology.
In their book Integral Ecology - Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World, Sean Esbjörn-Hargens and Michael E. Zimmerman give a fresh and helpful approach which integrates the missing views.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Black pedagogy, putting fear into people's minds, is something climate scientists have used indeed. But frightening people will not work unless there is a positive vision for the future. It appears that the only positive solution governments can envisage are carbon markets.

There are many reasons why Copenhagen has ended in failure. Richard Black listed eight reasons on the BBC website

He points to some important issues but does not emphasize enough the role of the EU in general, and of their self proclaimed leaders, Germany and the UK, in particular.

In my view there is a complete failure on part of the EU and these two governments. At no time did they take the initiative or show leadership. They were essentially waiting for the others to come round to their 'ambitious' goals. They behaved like model students who had finished the task long before the others and long before the exam was over. They seemed to follow a script which said that only Obama can intervene as the saviour. This tells a lot about the level of European self-confidence, other countries did not see Obama in this role at all. Besides, it was clear from the start that he would come empty handed.

But I am not sure that this failure is such a bad thing. What would a success have entailed? Global carbon markets, reforestation plans plus money and technology transfers. This is the only kind of action governments can stomach. They prefer to leave the responsibility to the science with its scare stories and to the markets that will help us. No political intervention was needed to address issues of a transition to a carbon free economy. This is why the Stern report was so welcome, like a fairy tale in a world of nightmares.

What political leaders do not want is take risky political steps that would adress the thorny issue of restructuring the economy and society, something where social scientists surely are needed. But as Schellnhuber says, the money has gone into the modelling of the science, not the thinking and planning of our future society.

Stan said...

Copenhagen was all about third world kleptocrats looking for bank transfers from the developed world. But the politicians knew there was no way they could convince the voters that shoveling money at dictators and corrupt banana republics was going to save the world. So it degenerated into a pep rally for socialism and other psychological pathologies.

TCO said...

Werner: I think you have interesting points to share, but the writing is so awkward it is hard to engage and bother reading.

Please just try to write simple sentences and points. Your compound sentences are poorly constructed. Your pronouns are indeterminate as to which object they refer to. And your prologues are distractions.

Just make it simple. I bet your English is twice as good as my German. But it's not good enough for the style of writing you attempt. And I do appreciate you using the modern lingua franca (haha...the Americans stole franca from the French!), but if you are writing in German first and then translating...stop.

P Gosselin said...

The only thing that can deliver a real climate treaty now would be some sort of reckless worldwide coup d'etat. But that's undoable, thanks to the well-established democratic principles in western societies. Still, this has not prevented a few radicals from bemoaning and deriding democracy.
2009 is the year the AGW hypothesis was diagnosed as "terminally ill". It's over, sceptism is spreading like a brush fire and a few media outlets in the AGW oasis called Germany will not change that.

Hans von Storch said...

P.G. "AGW oasis called Germany" - do you think that public opinion and/or political will concerning AGW is differently in Germany than in other countries, particularly in Europe? I had the impression that the dominance ot the issue in the UK was bigger than in Germany. The issue is also mostly uncontested in Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands, I believe. Which would not mean that it would be contested in Poland, Portugal and Austria

Werner Krauss said...

Stan, are you really still afraid of socialism? And P.Gosselin, do you really secretly dream of a global dictatorship? Come on... The problem is not the failure of Copenhagen, but that global warming is still a kind of strange phenomenon nobody knows exactly how to deal with. Black pedagogy, authoritarian fantasies or conspiracy theories (kleptomanic developing countries) do not help. Copenhagen itself was ill conceived (with the help of science, as I argued in my posting); there is no role model yet for a world government, and we still have to figure out how that should work. It is a process, and we have to carefully analyze each step. Instead of getting lost in desperation and a general blame game, we should focus on how to present global warming in a more realistic way, how to enable activities, how to adapt to the inevitable and how to avoid more emissions. This is by nature a complex process. There is no easy cure for anthropogenic global warming; we have to consider failure as part of the learning process, and we also have to reconsider our political fears and fantasies as part of this process. We still have to learn how to live WITH global warming in order to fight it.

eduardo said...

I am just reading in the Copenhagen Accord that the 2 K limit is not even well defined. It does not specify the reference level, either preindustrial or present

itisi69 said...

"The issue is mostly uncontested in Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands."

That's true. Mostly in Netherlands by AGW advocates controlling the national Media (there's hardly a Climategate coverage in the press) like papers and TV and the current environment minister is a former environment activisit.

Sceptics are still considering to be the anti-christ.

Hans von Storch said...

see also Georg Hoffmann's German analysis: