Sunday, July 08, 2007

The day after

People will rarely acknowledge that an accustomed way of life is unsustainable except in the face of prolonged, devastating failure.
It may not come as a surprise to some who know me that I like this observation. Reducing the chance that it describes the current predicament with regard climate change (but not only this) is probably a central task in moral and political thought and in activism. What, then, to do?

Al Gore has been trying to build an effective approach in the U.S. since at least the early 1990s. The Live Earth concerts yesterday which he inspired are supposed to help build mass awareness among as many as two billion viewers, or nearly one in three people on the planet. He is asking people to demand that all governments join an international treaty within the next two years that, by 2050, results in greenhouse gases cuts of 90 per cent in developed countries and more than half worldwide.

At least two criticisms are made of Gore's approach by those who share his concern. The first is that he goes too far in building alliances with those who are too much a part of the problem to be a part of the solution, including SUV manufacturers for sponsors, and celebrity rock stars whose message of 'revolution' is falsified by super high consumption life styles and role as icons of a culture of instant gratification. See, for example The artists formerly known as huge carbon footprints (how, by the way, does Madonna reconcile her belief in the scientific method with a faith which says sperm ejaculated in onanistic practice are abandoned souls that become demons?).

A second, less common, criticism is that the Gore's suggested emissions reduction target is insufficent. This sobering note from Clive Hamilton (which continues a dialogue noted and linked here) might be used to support such a critique. Hamilton notes that the report of IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (WGI) suggests stabilisation of atmospheric greenhouse gases below about 400 ppm CO2 equivalent is required to keep the global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees C above the pre-industrial temperature. Since a concentration target of 400 ppm CO2(e) equates to a target of around 350-375 of CO2 and the current concentration is [about] 380 ppm, "we are already past the two degree threshold, and will without question go well beyond it. Even three degrees is looking very hard to avoid".

I support Gore’s pragmatism: you have to rally wealth generators to your side, and somehow wean them away from destructive practices of wealth generation; but I think there is something to both criticisms. Certainly, they speak to a gap between where things are and where they need to be. But being clear about the scale of the challenges and being an optimist-idealist that there may be solutions doesn't necessarily mean being dogmatic about what those solutions will be. What looks like a solution now may be superceded by events. Consider three technical(-political) issues and one political(-technical) one.

Nuclear power is endorsed by some who consider themselves environmentalists, while carbon capture and storage and geo-engineering are not. But these positions are probably wrong. While there may be some inaccuracies in the Oxford Research Group report Too Hot to Handle?, the fundamental points -- including that nuclear power is likely to increase the availability of plutonium in an unstable world, and that it ties up large amounts of capital that could be far more effectively deployed to reduce emissions in other ways -- are likely to stand the test of time. Both CCS and geo-engineering are sometimes described as 'get-out-of-jail-free cards' for the bad guys (although always not by the same people, and some apply the label to one but not the other). In my view (as outlined here and elsewhere), they probably be necessary evils.

[By they way, the use of probabilities to guide policy, which I adopted here, is strongly criticised by David Stainforth et el in Confidence, uncertainty and decision-support relevance in climate predictions and Issues in the interpretation of climate model ensembles to inform decisions -- Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A (2007) 365. See also Footnote 1]

Turning to a political(-technical) example, Kyoto 2 may offer a useful, pragmatic advance on the idealism of Contraction and Convergence. It 'parks' but does not abandon 'equity now' by allowing in the near term for rights to emit (under a declining cap) to go the highest bidder at auction. By not requiring that the rich world hand over lots of money to the poor world 'right away', it may be more politically workable than C&C and may offer a more effective route to reductions with lower transaction costs than the existing Kyoto Protocol and its likely successors. [To implement Kyoto2 would, of course, be hard and it could be as vulnerable to subversion by vested interests as some other approaches, but it is worth further consideration, as are carbon taxes. See here and here.]

Some of what ‘we’ (by which I mean self-defined progressives) do in the days after 07/07/07 is articulated in agendas like the one outlined by I Count. Even more essentially, ‘we’ need to go a lot further to combine (among other things) subtlety of thought, broad-mindedness and firmness of purpose.

Subtle thought because the insufficiently fine-grained kind can lead into traps such as a form of determinism. Thomas Homer-Dixon comes perilously close to it in the book in which he quotes the words I have put at the top of this post: by, for example, buying into the peak oil red-herring (see footnote 2).

Broad-mindedness because the challenges of climate change are seldom likely to be apparent on their own, but (like the three-dimensional chess game that Joseph Nye has described – see second item here: Imagining War) will rather be tied up with many other challenges requiring negotiation and struggle (see, for example, It was climate change wot made me do it). It’s vital, also, to fully acknowledge the limits of liberal democracies and the attractions and dangers of alternatives such as technocracy: a tension well explored by Louis Menand in his recent review of Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of the Rational Voter.

And firmness of purpose because, informed by what science indicates about ecological limits, ‘we’ must stick to core humanist values. Where cultural traditions, including the Abrahamic triplets and other religions, accord with these (through, for example, a genuine and lived commitment to the imperatives of justice, balance, knowledge and loving kindness) they can be allies, but forget any Deus ex Machina: people living in freedom have a responsibility to sort out this mess and help others adapt or die trying.

Footnote 1: See also Another Global Warming Icon Comes Under Attack (Science, 6 July) reporting work by Robert Charlson, Stephen Schwartz and Henning Rodhe which argues that future warming could be much worse than most the climate modeling used by the IPCC suggests, or even more moderate.

Footnote 2: Homer-Dixon also leans towards fatalism/determinism in suggesting that migration and the demographic transition in Europe is necessarily a recipe for extreme instability. The dangers are clear, but precisely this can concentrate minds on renewing alliances for progressive politics which will include but not be limited to confronting brutal practices such as ‘honour’ killing and other kinds of subjugation which reinforce oppressive and destructive behaviour.]


Anonymous said...

There is little time-space left for idealistic banter if you are seriously interested in averting climate change Caspar and there is nothing 'idealistic' or 'ideological' about Contraction and Convergence.

It is simply a logical proposition to which there are frequently ideological responses.

The key test for us is: - can we solve this problem faster than we create it? If so, what is the numeraire?

A DVD commissioned by the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change presenting Contraction and Convergence is the answer to question two asuming the prime importance of question one has been recognised.

It has been distributed to all UK MPs and Peers. It is endorsed by numerous eminent spokespersons who are interviewed at length on the DVD.

Copies of the DVD can be obtained by written request to GCI aubrey.meyer [at]

Alternatively, as a large file [overnight download] interview material is retrievable at this link: -

The DVD also includes a heuristic animation of Contraction and Convergence for a risk analysis of different rates of sink-failure endorsed by prominent industry persons. This is a large file [overnight download] and is retrievable at this link:

A context animation the arguments, presented at the Royal Institute of British Architects [RIBA] international conference in Venice last October, is here: - or
[Note: - touch buttons to advances *within* scenes and touch logos to advance *between* scenes].

GCI’s definition statement for C&C is here: -

General referencing for the C&C provenance is here: -

A concept/context map of C&C comparing three rates of change for

[a] Contraction and Concentrations
[b] Contraction and Convergence
[c] Benefits of Growth versus Damages from Climate
[d] Contraction and Conversion

is here: -

Some promotional material is here: -

Anonymous said...

Al Gore, “Moving Beyond Kyoto” – Is he simply reinventing UNFCCC?

As Satchmo told Danny Kaye about Joseph Haydn, “well let’im c’mout.”
So - citing the bill of rights, Gore’s international model of engagement is stated thus: “ . . . . we should demand that the United States join an international treaty within the next two years that cuts global warming pollution by 90 percent in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy Earth.” So, at last - Gore catches up with UNFCCC.

He attempts to reinvent UNFCCC without acknowledging it, then jams in a couple of targets. At best, his proposition could be seen as a next-play on UNFCCC, but it is completely unjustified and way short of UNFCCC compliance. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find any reference to the UN treaty in his “An Inconvenient Truth”. Kyoto is there, as is the Montreal Protocol, both prominently so.

UNFCCC established the standard for a full term international agreement in 1992. C&C met this standard over ten years ago. Gore is still nowhere near it; but, yes, he could from here attempt to reinvent C&C.

What is the ‘methodology’ whereby the Gore treaty formulation is calculated? The Contraction and Convergence (C&C) model is in effect a bill of rights – equal under the limits that save us and using the C&C model, the graphic below plots Gore’s 90% cut in the developed countries in the same period that there is a global reduction of 50% under a ppm concentration limit and source:sink ratio that might yet save us.

(C&C Diagram 1)

Is this Contraction and Convergence (C&C) or not? [Encouraging hint - you are doing better than the UK Government]. In fact Al Gore says many good and necessary things. However, when previously asked about C&C he said, “I don’t buy it!” OK, so if he doesn’t’, does what he calls for in the international treaty mean something different and something different from what is shown in the graphic? If it is not C&C that he buys, what is it?

Gore writes fascinating polemics entitled, “The Assault on Reason.” In the editorial in the New York Times [see the end] he writes, “The United States and the American people have provided moral leadership for the world. Establishing the Bill of Rights, framing democracy in the Constitution, defeating fascism in World War II, toppling Communism and landing on the moon — all were the result of American leadership.”

This is heady stuff, yet how is it that his rejection of C&C has not actually become part of the assault on reason? And this assault must have reason, yet this reason is never stated. Moreover, his ‘different’ climate treaty formulation must have a reason but it isn’t stated either. So while he condemns the assault on reason, he espouses it by remaining with the assault on C&C and without providing an alternative explanation. Is he just selling more leadership by rhetoric without reason? Why is he hidin’? Let’im c’mout!

Leadership this ain’t. Life under limits but without reason is already becoming very unreasonable and it is worsening. Historic grievances are already measurably aggravated by climate change and the worsening global upstairs downstairs lessens the chances of agreement.

Mr Gore could consider that the 90% cut by the Developed Countries he calls for should be achieved sooner in the timeframe of the 50% cut globally that is the reciprocal. This would be politically more attractive to the Developing Countries now included by logic in the global carbon market that he also urges for the next treaty. Accelerating convergence would be seen to account a little more intelligently for the issue of ‘historic responsibilities for emissions’, around which issue so much obstruction to progress has now accumulated. For example, intelligently using and citing C&C, the Greater London Authority now calls for full convergence in the same global contraction integral by 2030. In this case the arithmetic looks like this: -

(C&C Diagram 2)

C&C is a reasonable and numerate way of calculating for consensus and global agreement. To help this, numerous permutations of C&C under different stabilisation scenarios with different rates of convergence [printed images from the APPGCC DVD] are downloadable: -

C&C itself [as a whole] is the ‘numeraire’ or the relevant unit of measurement. It was conceived in the defence of reason, civilization and survival. Al Gore will have matured when he goes to this beyond mere words and numbers full of wonder. He doesn’t have to ‘buy-it’ - it has been freely available to him and anyone else for well over ten years free of cost. He’s said what he counts for and just needs to say what he counts with.

His contribution has improved since he monkey-wrenched the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. At that time he demanded the EC halve its commitments just to get him into the negotiating room. This was to make a deal that, because it excluded developing countries, was dead-on-departure as far as the US Senate was concerned. C&C overcame that and was live at COP-3. Gore knew all this then and kept his head down. It is still true now

I do know that the Chairman of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change gave a copy of the APPGCC C&C DVD [“The Incontestable Truth”] to Al Gore when he came to ‘recruit trainees’ at event hosted by the Cambridge Programme for Industry earlier this year. What happened? “The great man paled and changed the subject.” Gore also went to the management to urge that the journalist from the Sunday Independent be removed because that journalist had been at Kyoto, had witnessed Gore’s performance then and wanted to talk about it!

The constructive response to Gore’s half-baked proposition would be for developing countries (with others) to call for C&C. It is the UNFCCC-compliant framework that they have asked for over the years and exceeds his aspiration by far. We need a treaty formed by North-South consensus, with Americans leading the way on emissions reduction and the rest following with their “differentiated commitments”.

Article with graphics here: -

olivert said...

Is this a bit of post-ironical irony: anonymous said (of Al Gore) "Why is he hidin'? Let'im c'mout!" Might I ask the same of anonymous?

Oliver Tickell.

Anonymous said...


I never sign myself anon unless as here I just couldn't beat the sign-in procedure.

Oliver T - if you would actually respond to the questions I put to you last year about K2 I would less intolerant of this vacuous bit of irony.

You may not by anon, but you're apparently just not home . . .


olivert said...

Hi Aubrey, very happy to discuss these issues with you and here is as good a place as any as far as I am concerned. As far as I recollect what you were asking about Kyoto2 was "what are the numbers?", that is, what tonnages of GHG emission rights should be issued? As I replied, Kyoto2 is a mechanism. I have deliberately not included numbers as then I would probably get side-tracked into a debate about numbers, when the first and most important thing to establish IMHO is a resilient, workable, productive and equitable mechanism. The numbers can follow, based on scientific evidence which seems to be moving on all the time. FYI I do not expect that we would deviate much if at all on the question of numbers. One more thing - in February I wrote an article on the Kyoto2 website, Kyoto2 and "Contraction & Convergence" which demonstrates the close correspondence between our respective ideas and concludes that the Kyoto2 proposals "represent an efficient, equitable and practical interpretation of the core C&C philosophy". I hope you agree and that we can find a cooperative approach to taking our ideas forward.

Oliver Tickell.