Time for bold claims: the war is over.
The International Herald Tribune picks up on what may be an emerging trend: the decline of climate scepticism:
In a blog entry this summer, famed international correspondent Christiane Amanpour opined that the climate change denial club “is actually now shrinking faster than the polar ice caps.”
Opinion surveys suggest she’s right. Two factors that may contribute to the changing attitude about the changing climate — and the melting away of many skeptics — are the extreme weather events that have affected the United States recently and the legions of climate activists who make it their business to convince and motivate an increasingly receptive public.
The post referenced above is titled The climate debate is over:
In the fierce and sometimes ugly fight over global climate change, we finally have an answer coming from the earth itself: the weather is telling us climate change is here and we are causing it. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku is among the scientist who say the world is giving us signs that climate change is already happening (to see how he explains it, watch the video above).
This summer, there have been relentless droughts, wildfires, melting glaciers and unprecedented storms – all happening at the same time. And around the world people are demanding something be done about it. Even in the United States, ground zero for climate change denial, six in ten Americans say they believe it is indeed happening. But political leaders are missing in action – cowed by a vociferous climate change denial club, which is actually now shrinking faster than the polar ice caps.
In the video physicist Michio Kaku admits he was a sceptic until he looked at the evidence.
War is over…
Personally, I believe the climate change denial movement will splutter and rage on for a few more years as the most prominent voices and their well funded supporters continue to rage against reality.
But already one gets the sense the voices of Andrew Bolt, Jo Nova, David Evans, Anthony Watts, Marc Morano et.al are becoming increasingly marginal. Ironically they are becoming even more shrill in their claims of conspiracy theories and “It’s not happening”.
News Corporation and the think tanks will continue their desperate rearguard action against the public’s acceptance of the science: history’s judgement will be no doubt be unkind.
The deniers will achieve a few more Pyrrhic Victories: maybe they’ll find a flaw or two in the next IPCC report (AR5), publish a few hundred more op-ed pieces in major dailies and delay a carbon tax in the US for an electoral cycle or two.
Sure – public acceptance of the science will swing this and that for a few more years, but the trend is towards majority acceptance of the science. At some point public tolerance for the deniers will shift from a bemused indifference to disgust and exasperation.
Will that greater public acceptance of the science translate into voter demand for action?
The denial machine will attempt to arrest that as well – after all, that is their raison d’etre. They’re skilled at halting progress so they’ll continue to block, obstruct and show the seeds of disinformation.
But that’s all the denial movement has to look forward too: small scale, tactical victories in a war that is over. The funding for their activities will soon begin to dry up: they will retreat to the fringes of internet culture with flat Earth fanatics, UFO enthusiasts and other intellectual fringe dwellers.
How the war was “won”
However we must be honest: the victory was not achieved by activists or science communicators. Too late it was realized it was never about the science, but values and world view; ideology was the crucial driver of those rejecting the science.
We – the journalists, activists, bloggers, politicians, scientists fighting to bring climate to the forefront of public perception – fought the good fight. We did all we could have been asked to do: but the denial machine was more organised, better funded and prepared to engage in suspect and unethical behavior. Ruthlessness tipped the battle in their favor for close to three decades.
But at some point physics and chemistry was going to resolve the debate: brute reality was always the final arbiter.
And so 2012 will be regarded as the year the debate “shifted” against the sceptic movement – the extreme weather events of this year and Sandy ensured that.
But something like Hurricane Sandy was inevitable. Whether a storm of Sandy’s kind arrived this year or next, something of Sandy’s scale was always coming – and with it the profound social and political implications of such a storm.
[Note: upon reflection, I think Tamino is very correct: activists and bloggers fought a valuable holding action, doing their best to hold off the onslaught against science.]
War is over – if you wan’t it
And so – with mock solemnity and virtual trumpets – I declare the end of hostilities in what is merely the opening phases of a longer conflict over containing climate change.
Let’s call it the “First Climate War”, a virtual battle over public perception fought in the opinion pages of newspapers, on blogs and social media and in back rooms across the globe. It was fought in the streets of Copenhagen and influenced the Australian election of 2007.
Participants included global media corporations, NGOs, sovereign nations, transnational bodies such as the UN, the fossil fuel industry, think tanks, scientists, eccentric billionaires, bloggers and politicians.
The First Climate War was a messy and brutal conflict more impenetrable and confusing than the Thirty Years War – and much like the Thirty Years War it was a conflict that drew in major powers, religious fanatics and obscure principalities, off of whom were sucked into its vortex by a mixture of principles and power politics.
But this initial phase of the conflict is coming to a close.
War is over…
Can we can go “home”; can we go back to how things were?
Can we dismantle our blogs; discontinue our Twitter accounts?
Can we can lay down our (metaphorical) arms, and begin to count the cost?
Those of you have been personally involved in this “debate” knows how it can feel: like brutal, bloody trench warfare.
But Like all wars, the cessation of hostilities is merely the prelude to reconstruction and new debates, the emergence of strange new alliances and emergencies.
As the World Bank notes in their recent report:
“A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided – we need to hold warming below 2°C,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest.”
As global warming approaches and exceeds 2°C, there is a risk of triggering nonlinear tipping elements. Examples include the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet leading to more rapid sea-level rise, or large-scale Amazon dieback drastically affecting ecosystems, rivers, agriculture, energy production, and livelihoods. This would further add to 21st-century global warming and impact entire continents.
The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen.