Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Sunday, June 23, 2013

More Questions than Answers

by Max Iacono

Regarding climate change, peak energy (petroleum, gas and uranium) and limits to growth more generally (or alternatively regarding the inter-related “Three E’s” of Energy, Economy and Environment)  there are clearly “More Questions than Answers”.   Here are my own favorite TOP TEN questions which I think have inadequate answers (though there are also several others): 

1.  It has been decided - but on what scientific basis other than that various countries have “agreed to it” politically?...  that we should not allow Earth’s average temperature to rise 2 degrees above pre-industrial times.  But if 0.8 above is already wreaking such observable ubiquitous havoc what will 2 degrees bring?   When we speak of 2 degrees being “acceptable” do we even know what we’re talking about?  Here is what is happening where I now live. And other such stories abound for many other parts and places around the world.

2. To avoid going above two degrees we should not emit more than another 600 billion tons of CO2 between now and 2050.  (Assuming that after 2050 we can be totally carbon free). Regarding this issue please see the following recent report on world climate and fossil fuels done by the government of Australia. At current rates of emissions we are on track to emit the entire allowable 600 billion tons total carbon budget by 2028.   What happens after 2050 or after 2028?  On what types of energy will the world run?   What human activities will be eliminated?  Or will we simply BUST that budget and head for 3, or 4 or 5 or 6 degrees higher?

3.  Renewable energy is presumably the answer. But even if renewable energy could be ramped up at a rate that beggars belief and fossil fuel energy were rapidly retired and most current energy infrastructure and installations (some of them built only recently) become useless and are written off,  what about all the energy uses (and they are very significant) that do not lend themselves to using electricity? For instance flying airplanes or running ships and trucks or agricultural tractors or heavy construction or mining equipment, and the many other uses which depend on petroleum?  Will ships and airplanes and heavy equipment stop running after 2028?  And what about all those tourists zipping around the planet in ever growing airplane fleets,  will they all stay home instead? Please see the following posts on peak energy and the non-substitutability of petroleum by electricity -regrettably available only in Italian or in Spanish-  by Antonio Turiel,  here, here, and also here.  A related summary in English about the recent book "Plundering the Planet" by Ugo Bardi can instead be found here

4. World population is projected to rise to 8 or 9 (or 9.5) billion people by 2050.  Will the additional 2 billion plus people all be extremely poor or will there be more economic growth that they can partake of?    And if so, using what energy and other dwindling or low EROEI resources to drive it?   (for an explanation of EROEI please see the posts by Antonio Turiel above) Or will there perhaps be a massive redistribution of wealth? And how would it ever be agreed to given that right now wealthy folks and corporations don’t seem to even want to pay their fair share of low taxes?  World population in 2050 according to a recent U.N. report easily could be 9.5 billions.   And here are just some of the likely effects of the increase in human population growth

5.   What about all the other environmental problems such as deforestation, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity and all sorts of toxic pollution?  How will those be tackled a bit more seriously than at present? And when? A recent summary of how to (at the very least) do a proper comprehensive environmental assessment can be found hereBut after a proper assessment is done (perhaps it already exists) who will then follow up practically and how?

6.  If world society and its economy and politics are going to be totally transformed into something more sustainable (more sustainable than the current globalized neoliberal market capitalism) who is going to design and implement the transformation program or process and when is the work for this going to begin?  (or is it perhaps going to look like one of the many “peace processes” now going on that tend to last forever and achieve nothing and whose purpose appears to be mainly as a fig leaf more than anything else)  Plenty of good ideas and analyses exist on how the current world economy and globalization now work. One can be found here.  And plenty of good ideas and analyses also exist on how the current globalized economy could be transformed and into what,  that might be more sustainable.  One can be found here:  And another one from a different perspective can be found here. And a third one here.  And there are also many others.  But the key question is who is going to decide which of these alternatives should be pursued and how will it then be done?   So far we seem mostly stuck in BAU.  (business as usual) or at best at trying to convince others who for various reasons are less aware that we are actually in big trouble while perhaps hoping that something which is more up to the actual practical challenges will then start to happen after that.

7.    And regarding economies and their problems, what about the staggering gargantuan debt which the major Western countries (and many banks) all have accumulated? How will that be dealt with? Will there be massive hyperinflation and if not,  what else?  Will there be more Cyprus-style “bail-ins”? Here is one very brief summary regarding Italy’s debt situation. There is also fear that the Cyprus-style “bail-in” where depositor’s deposits are confiscated may become the future norm.  Will it? And if so, what will be its effects? (see here, and here). Or will some version or another of the "Chimeric Dream"  (or nightmare) as described in the following article (spelling environmental disaster) perhaps go forward ?  

8.  Will we really try to implement de-growth and economic shrinkage and move towards more local and basic so called “sustainable” economies?  Again, who will do this and when will the process begin worldwide and at scale?  Will it be a managed process or will it be the result of a slow or a massive and sudden collapse? Or perhaps a series of lesser collapses? Will there still be “globalization” and the shipment of various goods that could be produced locally from one side of the planet to the other?  And if globalization will be eliminated or reduced how will such a decision be made and who will implement it?   Some think that globalization is the answer and some think that globalization is instead the problem. e.g. here.  Which analysis is correct and in any case how will any conclusions be implemented?  Can the world economy and globalization be “managed”?

9.   Will there also be an effort to gradually bring down the total number of humans on the planet to a more reasonable number?   For instance back to the roughly 2 to 2.5 billion people who were alive 70 years ago in 1943 i.e. one third of today’s numbers.  In an article by the title “Global Population Reduction Confronting the Inevitable” the World Watch Institute says that population must not only not grow any further but also must be drastically reduced:   And Paul Ehrlich says similar things here.  Who will decide to implement such a program and how,  and where and when will it be implemented and with what political support and commitment?

10.   All sorts of very good analyses already exist (and are constantly being improved and fine-tuned and updated) regarding:  a) the nature and reality of the problem(s)  of climate change, peak energy and limits to growth and the carrying capacity of the planet and of the interaction of the Three E’s (energy, economy and environment)  and…. b) various more specific analyses of different parts of the problem and what CANNOT BE DONE also exist (namely that we cannot keep using fossil fuels and also cannot keep doing many other things we are currently doing). Unfortunately far fewer specific analyses and descriptions exist regarding what SHOULD BE DONE INSTEAD and – more importantly-  how and who should to do it and starting when:  Namely:  a) what a new world society that would be sustainable (for real and not only as a pretense or some sort of oxymoron)  might look like (in specific rather than in general terms)  and -more importantly- b) how and through what measures, policies and programs implemented by whom starting when (and being completed by when) we could transform our current human society on planet earth into that new “sustainable” society. When will this process begin in earnest and more seriously and comprehensively?

If I had the answers to all (or even just to some) of the above questions I surely would deserve a Nobel Peace Prize in Saving the Planet or at least in Saving the Biosphere or the Human Race.   Both being clearly not just merely Noble but also Nobel-level goals.  But since I don’t have the answers perhaps some others can step forward and claim the coveted prize?  Or does the answer lie in simply doing away with Nobel Prizes too?  (when many of the MDG’s failed to be accomplished the goal post was simply moved forward)  In which case a quick petition sent to both Oslo and Stockholm easily could do the trick after which we all could go back to BAU and just wait and see what happens.

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