A New Agenda on Climate Change - RSA

A New Agenda on Climate Change

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  • Climate change
  • Social brain

‘To know and not to act, is not to know.’ *

‘To know and not to act, is not to know.’ *

Today we are releasing our report: A New Agenda on Climate Change: Facing up to Stealth Denial and Winding down on Fossil Fuels.

The piece was covered in The Times earlier today and I have a piece distilling the report in the Guardian. We also experimented with conveying the report's message through Buzzfeed, which will appear soon, and was a lot of fun to create.

The human response to climate change is unfolding as a political tragedy because scientific knowledge and economic power are pointing in different directions. 

The website preamble is copied below, but the main thing I want to convey now is that researching and writing this report really opened my eyes. At the start of the process I  thought of climate change as a problem of emissions, and that the purpose of behaviour change was about using behavioural insights to reducing personal carbon footprints. However, the more I looked into it, the more I felt the issue is unavoidably political, and that 'behaviour change', to be worth its salt, had to connect with the core issue of gradually substituting our energy supply. We can still play nicely, but if you care about climate change, you have to talk about the price of fossil fuels, and think hard about what it would take to keep them in the ground.

Facing Up to Stealth Denial and Winding Down on Fossil Fuels

The human response to climate change is unfolding as a political tragedy because scientific knowledge and economic power are pointing in different directions. The knowledge of the reality, causes and implications of anthropogenic climate change creates a moral imperative to act, but this imperative is diluted at every level by collective action problems that appear to be beyond our existing ability to resolve. This challenge is compounded by collectively mischaracterising the climate problem as an exclusively environmental issue, rather than a broader systemic threat to the global financial system, public health and national security.

This report makes a case for how Britain can take a leading role in addressing the global climate problem, based on a new agenda that faces up to pervasive ‘stealth denial’ and the need to focus on keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Our data indicates that about two thirds of the population intellectually accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change, but ‘deny’ some or all of the commensurate feelings, responsibility and agency that are necessary to deal with it. It is argued that this stealth denial may be what perpetuates the doublethink of trying to minimise carbon emissions while maximising fossil fuel production, and also what makes us expect far too much of energy efficiency gains in the face of a range of rebound effects that lead energy to be used elsewhere.

This report argues that we should focus less on those who question the scientific consensus as if they were the principle barrier to meaningful action. Those who deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change are not at all helpful, but at least they are consistent. One corollary of facing up to stealth denial is that we should turn more of our attention instead to mobilising those who, like the author of this report, fully accept the moral imperative to act, but continue to live as though it were not there.

*- Wang Yang-ming (Neo-Confucian philosopher 1472–1529)

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  • As I said, "Anyone who disputes this central failure of climate science is the one in denial".

    Paul's comment and the link he points to illustrate my point wonderfully.

    The models failed to predict the halt in global temperatures. It's as simple as that. To claim otherwise is to deny the reality of the difference between what was predicted and what has been measured.

    Paul's link (in brief) makes three points:

    [1] The Earth is still getting warmer - it's simply that its temperature is no longer rising. Instead the energy of incoming solar radiation has started to warm the deep ocean instead of the Earth's surface. [Note that this would involve a mechanism unknown to physics and would result in a temperature change thousands of times too small to measure.]

    [2] The Earth is still getting warmer. The fact that the temperature has not changed over the past fifteen years is irrelevant to the long-term trend.

    [3] The measurements are wrong. If points where the temperature is not measured were included, the result would show that the global temperature has continued to increase.

    Even if any of these were true, none of them would make any difference to the fact that the predictions of the climate models have not matched the measured temperatures.

    * "Halt" please, rather than "pause". The latter implies knowledge of the climate will change in the future. As the Met Office says, climate models are the only means to predict future climate. But they have failed.

  • "Note that the failure of General Climate Models to predict the lack of global warming over the past fifteen or so years is not open to dispute - the predictions are on record and the temperature records are readily accessible."

    Yeah, about that global warming "pause"…


  • Quote 'The human response to climate change is unfolding as a political tragedy because scientific knowledge and economic power are pointing in different directions. '

    I agree with this sentence, taken in isolation from the rest of your rather sad essay.

    Scientific knowledge points to a doubling of ambient CO2 having such a small effect that it will be hard to reliably detect it amidst all the variation due to many other more important influences on the climate system. Please note that I do not regard the speculations about the importance of CO2 clung to by the relevant, and very small, subset of IPCC contributors with relevant expertise, as scientific knowledge.

    Economic power is pointing to a reduction in our ability to cope with climate variation. It is doing this by artificially inflating energy prices in the developed world, and needlessly crippling development in the developing world. Mankind has made enormous progress in reducing our vulnerability to weather events and climate variation, and most of it is attributable in no small way to the availability of large amounts of affordable energy with which to do things.

  • I am fine with aggressively responding to CC, but I am only will to do so if I can first register as a skeptic. I want the assurance of non-skeptics that should CC not be as severe as anticipated that I get a full refund of monies lost (I will accept Climate sensitivity of under 2.0 to be the baseline). This of course may mean my children and grandchildren will inherit, but that is part of the deal.

    I appologize if your grandchildren have a huge debt owed to my grandchildren, but it only seems fair if you want me to give up my lifestyle based on your opinions.

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