We’re used to dire predictions about global warming. Now we’re getting bleak forecasts about the summit convened to address it. What’s going on?
Not sure, after reading a lot of the world press on it, but if one thing has cooled, it’s the topic.
The Economist devoted its cover and substantial coverage to it this week. Like a good journalist, I plugged along through the densest number crunching text of it, and came away wondering if even the wonks are paying attention. Even the cliff notes version in Leader was a slog, unusual for this newspaper. At least it gave this heads-up in the lede:
In the wake of the Copenhagen summit, there is a growing acceptance that the effort to avert serious climate change has run out of steam.
It certainly has, judging just from the press.
Acceptance, however, does not mean inaction. Since the beginning of time, creatures have adapted to changes in their environment.
Which recalls a piece I saw in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day, written by one of the cooler minds in the debate (sorry, it’s catching).
Left orthodoxy maintains that the story of man’s interaction with the ecosphere is a story of habitat degradation leading to species extinction. That’s the headline. But by overstating the risks of climate change, and underestimating the capacity of humans and other species to adapt, we risk missing the chance to address real, pressing, soluble environmental problems.
This is interesting. Stay with it…
Our lack of perspective derives in part from shortness of memory. It is not possible to recall the five mass extinction events that have, independent of man, wiped out more than 90 per cent of all species that ever lived – only to be followed, in each case, by an explosion of new life. Virtually no large land animals survived the end Cretaceous mass extinction 65 million years ago. As global temperatures rose six to 14 degrees higher than current levels, most plants and tropical marine life were decimated but all life on earth today is descended from the 10 to 15 per cent of species that survived that terrible wipeout.
That’s pretty remarkable.
The alarmist claims of eco-warriors such as Al Gore have suggested melting polar ice caps will cause sea levels to rise by seven metres over the next century, with catastrophic results for coastal cities globally. The best guess of the United Nations climate panel says that sea levels will not rise more than half a metre in that period. The climate economist Richard Tol has shown that rising temperatures would actually deliver a range of benefits to the planet and to mankind, including reduced energy costs for many. For most of earth’s 4.5 billion year history, life has developed most quickly, with the greatest diversity, in periods without ice caps.
Benefits? Not hearing this from many other science or media sources.
In fact, Reuters throws a monkey wrench in the machinery of international diplomacy by predicting the Cancun summit will fail.
It’s fitting that the talks are being held in a vacation resort, where people go to escape — because only by ignoring what’s happening in the rest of the world is it possible to take these U.N. negotiations seriously.
Heading into the Cancun talks, expectations are low. They aren’t low enough.
Okay. I’ll take Ross Cameron’s view:
Humankind must be accountable for its ability to affect the quality of life of all species on the planet we share but let’s admit it is not possible for 6 billion humans to live anywhere in a ”steady state”. Nature doesn’t. We mustn’t get depressed by the hellfire gloom of those trying to scare us into submission. The story of life on earth is one of stunning resilience, abundance and diversity.