( Site under reconstruction: major update programmed for August 2016
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This is the December 2015 site
that was set up to second climate negotiators
seeking a 1.5ºC limit to manmade global warming.
It remains for the most part relevant, since the “Paris Suicide Pact”
has achieved little other than affirm a symbolic consensus,
confuse actors, and demobilize public pressure.
The “well below 2ºC” goal agreed to is not merely aspirational:
it endorses de facto and de jure levels of carbon emissions
expected to make catastrophic climate change unstoppable.
COP21’s unofficial 2°C target is poised to legally
program an unrecognized “climate apocalypse”.
The alternative is a 1°5C limit to manmade global
warming …for which conditions are also set.
Especially: a safe future can be ensured at the stroke of a pen,
with a tool that pins global choices in the geophysical conditions of
climate stability. Science's sanction of a safe climate is peremptory
…and makes all political disagreements irrelevant or suicidal.
There is one number that will determine the shape of the future:
the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
It is the only relevant issue. All others only matter
insofar as they sustain the decisive condition
for the continuity of civilization.
Alfredo L de Romaña
Most scientists and most countries opt for a 1.5°C limit to global warming above pre-industrial levels. But you would never guess it from the echo chamber of politicians and activists who repeat the 2°C mantra, that is still being relayed by uninformed journalists. Even some scientists join the herd to parrot the political goal, incognizant of the consequences of the false scientific sanction that they lend to a misconstrued and unwittingly dangerous target.+
By 2011, ‘Most leading climate scientists […] believe[d] that 2°-C of warming would pose a substantial risk both because of its direct impacts on climatically sensitive Earth systems and because of the potential to trigger irreversible changes in those systems,’ according to a report by Professor Clive Hamilton from Melbourne University.2
The question is: are the scientists mentioned a marginal group among humanity’s best informed and thus best qualified opinion? Or are they a major, let alone dominant current in the profession? Can we even afford not to know?
Because climate science has been framed by political norms, nobody has formally reckoned what the majority of scientists think a “safe” temperature would be. No more than a guestimate is possible. But the scientists’ subjective assessment of how climate dynamics will play out constitutes our best available knowledge, and indispensable if we are to successfully cope with the challenge. For only an aggregate scientific assessment can incorporate the “known unknowns,” as we shall see, that have so far been left out of the picture on whose basis policy is made.
BREAKING NEWS - 06/12/15: Now they count with the support of Australia, Germany, as well as France, that supports it “if possible.”)
Like others, François Hollande is clearly unaware that he is offering support to preserve the continuity of civilization if possible. +
The unawareness or silence of major players in the basic climate stakes at play in the choice of a warming limit is alarming.
The threat is simply not in their radars, which are calibrated to register the social (economic, political and technological) aspects of climate change, not nature’s dynamics. The invisibility of nature becomes apparent when even the Global Carbon Project's focus is on fossil fuel emissions (i.e. human action), and only peripherally of that other key component of the global carbon cycle: land use and land use change (i.e. human interaction with nature).
The climate challenge has been framed by a combination of geopolitical considerations (concerned with maximizing access to resources to sustain “vital interests”), of economic cost-benefit analyses (of investment in clean ways to avoid destruction) and of technological fixes (mostly to secure carbonless energy): the geophysical dynamics revealed by climate science have been the last consideration. And they have been filtered by the lenses of convenience —national self-interest and even collective global interest—, forgetting the independence of Nature’s processes, that are barely in the picture.
As climate disruption and its prevention break their way into social life, however, nature irrupts into human consciousness. To such a degree, indeed, as to completely transform our worldview. For if the scope of awareness and the required reconversion are to be commensurate with the scale of the survival challenge, the process can take a generation to be fully integrated. But it starts instantly with the crises we suddenly see coming or even unfolding.
Nature is not in modern civilization’s organizing vocabulary: it is at best a resource. Only recently has modern man’s consciousness recognized it as our habitat. With the radical existential threat posed by catastrophic climate change, it is set to irrupt into our political imagination, economic equations, and cultural sensibilities.
The threat of cataclysmic climate disruption is so unprecedented in scope, reach and depth, that as François Hollande himself once whispered, it ushers in no less than “a crisis of civilization that dares not speak its name.”
So why is everybody talking 2°C ?
Almost every government and scientific academy agrees that we should not exceed 2°C warming over the pre-industrial average temperature. So what is the problem with 2ºC, you might ask?
Well, first, that it is a social norm, as we shall see, not a critical geophysical threshold –it has been politically, not scientifically construed. This is the result of the conventional reading of climate, which derives from the modern understanding of what the world is and what it should be, respectively embodied in science and politics. Its roots are deep: they lie in the positivist conceptual distinction between facts and values —of positive and normative judgement, description and prescription/evaluation, or, more simply, between the true and the good. And science being at the service of human action, it is politics that calls the shots. Scientists thus take political preferences as the given norm. The problem is that Nature doesn’t obey human preferences —earthquakes can’t be banned. Descartes’s vision of humans “like masters and possessors of nature,” that has driven and still drives human organization, crumbles in the face of climate change.
Second, the political choice is only the lowest common denominator of opinion —like saying that people need four hours of sleep: most may need more, but a few need only 4 hours.
The third reason for the 2°C chorus is political expediency. Since current “free pollution” policies are committing us to at least a 4°C world, panicked observers are demanding action —any action— so everyone insists on a 2°C limit to man-made global warming: because all have agreed to this, saying 2°C ensures that no one will start objecting to the political watchword. As everyone repeats what others say, an echo chamber of groupthink creates the impression of solid agreement on the 2°C limit. In a word, much of it is parroting the current political unanimity derived from hearsay (because they don’t themselves know the issues), not necessarily the temperature the majority prefers, let alone a safe temperature.
And perhaps most seriously, as we shall see: world scientists, economists and managers —and the political representatives they inform— do not see how to reduce emissions fast and drastically enough without causing wide social dislocations. Forget the upbeat promises of politicians, publicists and cheerleaders –those who look at the hard numbers know better. Hence, the polite caveat “if possible.” If even the 2ºC goal is so hard to meet, the reasoning goes, any talk of 1.5º seems pointless.
The problem is that nature does not care whether humans are or are not able to eliminate GHG emissions before these trigger irreversible processes that devastate the world. So we are suppodely impotent to avoid catastrophe.
The good news is that not only the scale of the climate threat (and thus of the required reorganizational challenge) have been underestimated; so have available —tried and tested— solutions, beyond the alternative energy systems that are already being deployed. This is crucial, for in social action it is solutions that often define the problem, rather than the other way around: a 2ºC rather than a 1.5ºC limit to global warming is being touted because few if any informed observers deem 1.5º to be technically feasible.
But as we shall see at the end of this “extended briefing,” absence of a solution does not mean it doesn’t exist. Only that it is probably not where we have been looking. For it is emerging in a different part of the world, indeed in a different world ...that gives us a glimpse of a safe future and of a “post-industrial” civilization rooted in the land.
But the scale of the threat at 2ºC explains why Cristiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official, once explicitly warned that "If we are not headed to 1.5°C we are in big, big trouble."+
Two years after the 2°C target was adopted, Cristiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), declared that "Two degrees is not enough – we should be thinking of 1.5C. If we are not headed to 1.5C we are in big, big trouble."
Why has she since dropped the issue, when her job is to protect a livable climate: to preserve the future —not to endorse whatever politicians come up with, even if it amounts to the “suicide pact” against which Ban Ki-moon once warned us while calling for “revolutionary thought” and “revolutionary action” to avert disaster ?
A not necessarily impossible answer to the mystery (hypothesis 1)
The lenses of institutional analysis point to an obvious suspect. The social role of both Cristiana Figueres and Ban Ki-moon is to foster accord: a kind of power protocol job that has habituated them to find and articulate consensus. After a lifetime of consensus-seeking habits, skills and views, this becomes second nature —it is only a small exaggeration to say that they are programmed for it.
The problem with any consensus-based organization arises when consensus –or worse, unanimity– requires the blessing of the ignorant, retarded or mentally deranged, of opportunists, profiteers or thieves, or of self-serving bullies. Spelling out the common good then requires calling and marginalizing the causes of disorder. The problem thus becomes unsolvable for anyone formatted to seek and endorse the approval from the causes of disorder. In plain English: when defining safe pollution levels requires the approval of the polluters who stand to lose billions of dollars, their role is, well, doomed. In this protocol post —lacking executive capacity, armies, appropriate budgets, or even a vote on issues— one would have to be a magician.
But do they fully realize the power they have as symbols of human purpose? It is chemically pure cultural power: no more —but also no less— than a rostrum for humanity’s voice. That power is apparent in what would be just about the only thing they could actually do in the scenario where the drama is playing out: the shockwaves from their boisterous resignation over anything beyond a 1.5° norm, say, or even better, beyond an independent panel of scientists. For that would propel climate awareness from the periphery into mainstream political discourse. Questions concerning the substance or structure of inter-national relations indeed lie beyond their procedural mandate. But the core of this mandate is a safe temperature. Which changes everything.
Such a coup de théâtre would bring Nature to the scene, that the Parties forgot to invite to the negotiations. It reminds everybody of the common purpose that they are there to fulfil to begin with, while disallowing the causes of its disruption.
Habituated to power, political representatives from around the world forget that Nature does not negotiate, let alone comply with the wishes of Power, or even of a unanimous Humanity. They might as well outlaw earthquakes
Of course, nobody in his or her right mind would bet on some resounding gesture or declaration —a “clear message” in the lingo— that propels the spread of awareness: that’s the stuff of which heroes are made, not civil servants. You can’t expect that from mortals like the rest of us. Then again, one never knows what “hero within” might suddenly awaken…
The 2ºC “guardrail” convened in Copenhagen 2009, first conjectured in 1975, was adopted by EU policy in 1996 on the basis of its human impacts. What few know is that
The most polluting countries have continued their leisurely emission reduction timetables because they imagine that the human impacts at 2ºC will devastate mostly the economically and geopolitically weakest countries, which are least responsible for climate disruption. But a reading of its geophysical consequences shows that the self-serving calculus can be expected to backfire, as they mean wholesale devastation and common ruin.
COP21’s current 2°C target is a minimal and fragile consensus possible only in a context of widespread ignorance. It has not been wrought to protect the integrity of the habitat, but by rationales (and the narratives that express them) needed to maximize tolerable carbon emissions from the fossil fuels that have powered modern civilization.
Once well-accepted but dispersed and discounted (indeed concealed) knowledge spreads sufficiently, the 2°C target will inexorably be revised.
The only question is whether this will happen on time to trigger a reaction commensurate with the scale of the threat and of the organizational challenge it poses.+
1. Collective awareness
If climate change were constantly in the infosphere, and you are like most people, your opinion about its importance and urgency would probably change.
To a large degree, in other words, individual opinion (and knowledge) relies on collective opinion (and knowledge).
Widely spread individual opinion acquires politically operative force in its mutually recognized expressions: not only when you know and I know something, but when we both know that the other one knows. Collective manifestations of popular preferences such as demonstrations, polls, the media, elections or popular petitions, but also science (the collective expression of learned opinion), are such forms of public knowledge and opinion ...the basis of policy and law as much as of inherited institutions –as well as of policy and institutional change.
Mainstream media have long served as such 1) vehicles and 2) expressions of collective awareness (“public opinion”): they not only inform and thus guide peoples’ and politicians’ views of the world, but express the consensus of a society, their “social acceptability.”
This highlights two social dysfunctions. The first is mental inertia —few professions are so aligned along hearsay and "consensus" as journalism. But when facing a systemic problem, that by definition can only be solved with a new consensus, a system wired to express and sustain a maladapted or dysfunctional consensus is rigged to shroud the problem. The second and more serious dysfunction is manipulation. If a society's collective communications deliberately black out an issue from the infosphere, as we shall see has been the case with climate, ideological- and interest-driven agendas will not only succeed in shaping politics, if only temporarily: they will also prove socially dysfunctional. For by fostering ignorance of the climate threat and challenge –that without drastic and rapid reductions in carbon emissions, the devastation of civilization is our most likely prospect– they in effect fuel the threat.
Mainstream media, in short, have been neither informing nor reflecting public opinion –and have thus become a major factor of unawareness. But that will not stop the climate change that such behavior ultimately fuels from eventually bursting into social reality.
The only question is not if but when wide awareness will rule: will it be on time to avert catastrophe?
2. Individual awareness
“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
This site underscores two things above all:
1) COP21 is using a temperature limit determined wrongly on the basis of its human impacts (which are generally presumed to mostly devastate economically and geopolitically weak countries), instead of the geophysical processes —the tipping points that threaten to devastate civilization—, which will lead to common ruin.
2) The only way to incorporate the “known unknowns” into the relevant decisions is through a standard institutional mechanism: an independent panel of scientists to determine a “safe carbon budget” under conditions of uncertainty.
A distorted —and suicidal— consensus
ARM YOURSELF WITH KNOWLEDGE to navigate the confusion, avoid the manipulation, and overcome the impotence that follow from an inadequate understanding of the climate’s challenge to civilization. Meaningful and effective action begins with VISION. And this, with awareness of the environmentally, economically, politically and culturally decisive factors –and of the distortions that cloud them:
Political stupidity, corruption and impotence. The 2°C limit to global warming is not a scientifically but a politically derived target, chosen by officials who have systematically put “the economy” before and above climate stability, and who sometimes have not hesitated to cover up inconvenient truths. Politicians enfeoffed by powerful vested interests (in the United States, openly and legally); briefed by pollsters, technologists and economists for whom the dynamics of nature are an afterthought at best (or by experts who were professionally trained, selected and wired for a world where neither energy, let alone carbon, were central political concerns); and who have risen to power thanks to their social skills (so in any case they have at best second-hand knowledge of geophysical climate dynamics), cannot be expected to understand, define and adopt a limit to global warming that ensures a safe future. They are unable to guide ignorant and wary electors (that they hardly know how to protect economically anyway) because the social vision that has presided over modern industrial civilization, in whose terms they continue to think, is utterly ill-equipped to face a challenge unparalleled in history. Even when they are no mere opportunists and are fully informed, these mortals are as overwhelmed and baffled as the rest of us by a crisis of unprecedented scope. That exhaustion of vision explains the exhaustion of leadership and the ensuing discredit of the political classes in many countries. The upshot is simple: since the decisive goals are not in their radars, they need to be spelled out for them.+
This is a normative choice derived from politically framed science. The IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) is not the scientific body of world climate scientists, as most believe, but a politically overseen, framed and managed body of scientists.
And not only have scientists drastically revised the assessments on which the target was originally based: the very fact has been shrouded by their political overseers (see below) seeking to maximize CO2 emissions, and thereby the risks and scale of future devastation. Worse, in a context of rapidly unfolding climate events and understanding, IPCC reports are only secondarily reliable, as they are 2 to 3 years outdated the day they are published, since they ignore science published after the long collection and production process has begun.
What’s needed is not a correction of the political goal, but a geophysically goal determined in the light of the best available knowledge. None of the political and cultural actors in the climate agenda, whether US Republicans or the Pope, are equipped to determine a “safe” (as we shall see a non-self-accelerating) level of global cumulative emissions. Especially politicians, given their record on the question.
|Officials who have systematically put “the economy” —i.e. lethally polluting jobs and profits— before and above climate stability,|
|who have tolerated vast destruction to protect the economic benefits of pollution,|
|and who sometimes have even sought to muzzle scientists,|
|or covered up inconvenient truths;|
|politicians who do not listen to scientists or the people they are meant to serve but to the powerful vested interests who otherwise pay for their campaign finances|
|—in the United States, openly and legally) [list]|
|(climate deniers in the 113th Congress, e.g., have received over $641 million in campaign contributions from fossil fuel and corporate interests generally between 2008 and 2014)—|
|and bent on protecting a polluting economy|
|or constrained by business as usual,|
|and at best just unable to lead ignorant and wary electors (so their best response is to consult), ...|
...cannot be relied on to define a limit to global warming that ensures a safe future.
Climate activists, however, and even those promoting systemic change, have misread its politics just as the established elites have. The “paradigm change” involved in any “transition” (i.e. from a polluting to a sustainable system) implies changes not only of social structures but also in the structure of conflicts. The struggles of right vs left, government-corporate collusion vs the people, even mainstream vs social media, develop along the old fault lines. Today’s clashes are between the drivers of the old and the new systems —“grey” vs “green,” to put it in color. As nature forces herself into society, this struggle is playing out in the conflicts between different factions of established elites —as well as conflicts on the ground over land, land use and resources. Activists had better move from merely opposing to helping the greenest players, whether they are in or outside the elites currently in the political arena, with the moves that will plant climate change prevention —the defining issue of the 21st Century— at the core of politics and everyday life.
Because politicians lack vision (as is normal in the terminal phase of a social regime), they no longer lead (e.g. postulate unfamiliar or problematic causes): they follow "public opinion." So this must focus attention on the determinant factor of future climate, and thus the decisive factor of social organization: a safe, quantitative limit to the emissions that cause global warming. Since in effect this outsources the decision to climate scientists, it is perfectly withing political reach.
By defining our goal more clearly, by making
it seem more manageable and less remote,
we can help all people to see it, to draw hope from it,
and to move irresistibly towards it. John F Kennedy
As we will eventually discover, a firm quantitative limit changes everything.
FOR THE RECORD:
|Protectors of the CO2 emissions leading to the planet’s devastation according to the New York Times...||and ostensibly …in the payroll of Big Carbon|
Big Carbon’s historic disinformation campaign. No less than deliberately planned obfuscation has been used to contain the spread of awareness of the full threat and implications of mitigating climate change. Besides purchasing political representation, fossil fuel and other interests have financed climate deniers and other agents to "troll" the infosphere, and thereby retard the spread of knowledge by effectively inundating the cultural space with doubt and misinformation, even attempting to intimidate scientists; and sometimes even seconded by elected politicians.+
1. An arresting number
A key reason why the realities of climate change have not inundated public news is the unqualified success of the almost $1bn disinformation campaign fueled by US conservative foundations. (See: Robert J. Brulle, Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations, Climatic Change, February 2014, Volume 122, Issue 4, pp 681-694). Small surprise that the threat of nonlinear processes (‘tipping points’) is not generally understood.
2. The methodology of misinformation
The art of propaganda may have not been fully codified into a science that anyone can apply, but many of its techniques are well understood. Besides such recourses as repetition (that instils ideas in the collective consciousness¨"lie, lie, something will remain"), selection of "talking points" (that defines the ideas to be planted, e.g. red herrings), slogans (routinely used by advertisers), a common propaganda technique (as much as a source of ideology and of reasoning errors) are partial truths. All have been used by climate deniers' communications strategy: sowing doubt —the same disinformation strategy that tobacco companies used in the late 20th century. The merchants of doubt responsible for delaying awareness and thus action on climate change —the by now partially documented denial machine (book, movie trailer)— can expect their action to backfire as soon as a simple fact comes to light: climate change kills, destroys property and the habitat. It is a crime against humanity, if there ever was one, for which they are morally, criminally, civilly and politically liable.
Here is one instance of such "cherry picking". A delicious political cherry, courtesy of the US Heartland Institute, that has successfully fueled Big Carbon’s awareness-retarding campaign on mass public
opinion: a caricature of what cognitive science calls “confirmation bias.” What is normally an unconscious source of error, political discourse and advertisement turn into an elegant manipulation technique used to disinform, confuse and fool the uninformed, unsuspecting or intellectually challenged.
It has fed the narratives that have inundated the political culture in the United States (and by extension elsewhere) to sow doubt about climate disruption.
In a two minute video clip:
3. UPDATE (April 21, 2016): SURPRISE!
The tide suddenly turning against Big Carbon disinformation criminals
US Dept. of Justice system about to investigate Exxon :
THE PLANET'S BEST CHANCE:
SUDDEN SHIFTS IN POLITICAL CULTURE
Mainstream media’s deliberate obfuscation. Nor can you expect the US corporate media —that define issues at the core of the world’s newscape—, or the copycats that everywhere relay its factoids, to fully inform you of the threat ...which they have been pinned hiding from political discourse. Difficult as proving news censorship normally is, they have been caught red-handed blacking out climate from public debate. And you will have to spend months sifting through the internet’s information (and disinformation) overload to get to the significant facts, let alone a clear view of how the dots are connected..+
1. The US media’s smoking gun:
The US media conglomerates’ Freedom Of Speech is like people’s freedom to bear guns, who are responsible for the murders they commit with them
UPDATE (April 18, 2016):
2. The virtually complete discredit of the US media.
Small wonder that "Just 6 Percent of People Say They Trust the Media", according to a study by the Media Insight Project (a partnership of the American Press Institute, the Associated Press and the University of Chicago NORC Center for Public Affairs Research).
UPDATE (April 27, 2016):
3. ...while the winds of an American Spring start blowing .....
...except that you won't see it in the mainstream media, which is not covering reality but …covering up reality. Some 13 million people already know this.
Science’s timorous complicity has taken three forms:
1) its conservative assessments have systematically underestimated the speed and strength of climate change —it is now proven that climate science has been routinely “Erring on the Side of Least Drama.”+
“Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, IPCC, the world's most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent”
Comparing predictions and events indeed reveals that climate science has been “erring on the side of least drama.”
But that is nothing next to the politically framed assessments that have discounted the dangerous feedback mechanisms. The UN Environmental Program, for example, has faulted the (politically-controlled) IPCC for not including even the most apparent self-accelerating feedback:
“All climate projections in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report … are likely to be biased on the low side relative to global temperature because the models did not include the permafrost carbon feedback. Consequently, targets for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions based on these climate projections would be biased high. The treaty in negotiation sets a global target warming of 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100. If anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions targets do not account for CO2 and methane emissions from thawing permafrost, the world may overshoot this target.” pdf
Science routinely errs on the side of least drama because of its certainty bias, apparent in its conservative projections, factual understatement and rhetorical dedramatization …and its resulting veils on unproven but perceptible facts. Scientists will not affirm even phenomena that are strongly apparent unless they have robust proof because science’s central concern is reliable knowledge, not action.
The limits of science become apparent in the knowledge required by action in a context of uncertainty. These limits have been unintentionally highlighted by what may be the most important advance in epistemology since Thomas Kuhn (who showed the paradigmatic structure of science), courtesy of …a politician (Donald Rumsfeld, whose rationale unsurprisingly linked knowledge formally to action).
1. Roots of the certainty bias
Modern scientific assessments are limited to “known knowns” (in climate change, e.g., the robustly proven “climate sensitivity” ranges, i.e. the scope of the long-term temperature rise that results per unit of increased —conventionally a doubling of— carbon concentrations). These known variables (including probability distributions) are certain. Not so, however, the “known unknowns” (such as climate sensitivity once we factor in the so-far-insufficiently-quantified “slow feedbacks” —see below), let alone the “unknown unknowns” (e.g. interactions triggering abrupt climate change analogous to what has already happened in the past).
2. The onus of proof
Because social stability requires a stable legal order, changing this to avoid harm normally calls for certainty. Events as well as science (usually a combination of both) provide this onus of proof, respectiveley after or before the damage. A law is not passed to ban use of a substance, e.g., unless it has been demonstrated to be harmful. The certainty condition for preventive legal change, in other words, presumes the sanction of science, to avoid unwarrantedly disrupting the continuity of social organization –especially if we are looking at massive (or fundamental) change, such as a radical and rapid decarbonisation of the world.
3. Excluding the unproven from the picture
The problem arises with the limits of science –with inadequate certainty– in the face of an existential threat, in which case inaction can be far more harmful to the social order than mistaken prevention. For the demand for scientific sanction when shaping policy disallows recourse to “pre-” or “meta-scientific” knowledge —e.g. of the “known unknowns,” which can only be groped for by informed intuition.
The geophysical feedbacks expected to propel self-accelerated and thus unstoppable and irreversible global warming pertain to such known unknowns, that have not been factored into the current 2ºC target. The problem is that the certainty condition means that by the time we have definitive proof of the tipping points of runaway global warming, it will be too late.
This is why exclusion of the “known unknowns” from the 2ºC calculus means that a 2ºC limit may well be programming the devastation of civilization.
4. Everyday decisions under uncertainty: routine reliance on prophecy
If you are walking in the jungle and hear an animal roaming, you do not keep walking because you haven’t seen it and turning back or getting a weapon is too expensive. This kind of reasoning derives from one of the two superstitions of modern scientism or quantitativism: the notion that “if it hasn’t been measured, it doesn’t exist” (its pendant is “everything can be measured”). But “absence of proof is no proof of absence” (it’s not because all those signs that your partner is cheating on you don't constitute proof that this isn’t the case).
We are not bound by the limitations of science, only by its monopoly. Everyday decisions under conditions of uncertainty routinely rely on factual guestimates. These are a form of “pre-” or “meta-scientific” knowledge because they meet the condition of statements that qualify as “scientific”: “falsifiability.” Prophecy meets science’s defining criterion because it can be proved wrong —it pertains to factual ("positive") rather than value (“normative”) judgments. (“Subjective”) opinion about which candidate will be elected is very different from opinion which one I would like to be elected. It concerns descriptive (rather that prescriptive or evaluative) opinion, which is inherently and properly political. Appreciation of the "safe" (non-self-accelerating) temperature (or atmospheric carbon concentration) concerns strictly geophysical processes. The difference between prediction and prophecy is that prediction can be derived from a commonly shared algorithm (or formula expressing a law) that anyone can apply, whereas prophecy derives from that intimate and uncodified kind of knowledge that Michael Polanyi called “personal knowledge.”
5. Using ALL available knowledge in climate decisions
To maintain climate stability, we need to summon all available knowledge in order to determine a “safe” level of cumulative global emissions, to duly reckon the “carbon budget” that we can still burn while ensuring a safe future. For the shape of future will be overwhelmingly determined by the GHGs in the atmosphere. And this is the sum of:
1) What was "always" there,
2) What we’ve added since the industrial revolution,
3) What we will keep adding until reductions reach "zero net emissions" (i.e. when human emissions = the biosphere’s “removals”)
But also, as we're now shocked to discover:
4) emissions from self-accelerating natural feedback processes that, beyond ill-charted “tipping points,” are feared to trigger "runaway" global warming.
Although the very question of a carbon budget is routinely skirted, the first three are known. But climate scenarios and policy generally discount the self-accelerating feedbacks. Because these pertain to the known unknowns, they have been removed from the "climate equation" altogether, however real and threatening.
A simple mechanism, however, can incorporate the "meta-scientific" knowledge available about “known unknowns” (that now pose an existential threat to civilization) into the climate equation: an independent scientific panel charged with estimating them ...and thence the “safe” limit to man-made carbon emissions (that we can be confident to result in non-self-accelerating carbon concentration levels). By eliciting the scientists informed guesses or guestimates, such a panel can bring to bear key knowledge that they are "methodologically" prevented from incorporating in their papers and public pronouncements.
2) its conservative rhetoric —wired for understatement and dedramatization— has systematically failed to communicate the depth and urgency of the climate threat (…and then they deplore that the polity is not doing enough).+
The mindset and talents needed to produce good science (analysis) are the opposite of those needed for good pedagogy, politics or advertisement (synthesis). Because scientists are bound to “the facts,” they are wired to systematically avoid drama, and are thus ill equipped to describe, well, dramatic situations. Bound as they are to certainty, events that they have not ascertained or quantified are ignored or downplayed: what is probable, plausible or possible is rendered by “spin,” that politicians and advertisers use to lead (and of course to mislead). The hair-rising possibilities of global warming have thus been systematically dedramatized, i.e. misdescribed.
Both forms of understatement derive from science’s certainty bias, that disallows the inclusion of the “known unknowns” (ill-measured or uncertain factors at play), let alone the “unknown unknowns,” into the description of threats. Although scientists are those best placed to gauge and express them, uncertainty becomes the cognitive censor that removes even apparent threats from the radars that inform decisions. There is little doubt, however, that the removal of the feedback effects from standard scenarios of global warming, will be regarded as a gross failure of (often politically framed) science.
3) But there is worse: constraint and diffidence: scientists are now revealing that pressure to sustain the official economic agenda has led them to self-censor the severity of the threat. As climate scientist Kevin Anderson has put it when interviewed during COP21: “We are afraid of putting forward analysis that questions the economic paradigm, the way we run society today. We daren’t question that. So we fine-tune our analysis so it fits in the current political and economic framing of society. Actually, our science now asks fundamental questions about this idea of economic growth in the short term, and we’re very reluctant to say that —in fact, the funding bodies are reluctant to fund research that raises those questions. We all know the situation is much more severe than we are prepared to voice openly —we all know this.” +
Kevin Anderson denounced this in an interview with Democracy Now during COP21 (full interview).
Professor Anderson takes 2ºC as a given (though for a more plausible reason, as he sees it as the only achievable limit). Even then, he observes that assuming continued economic growth makes it impossible to meet this objective (at least in highly industrialized countries), and denounces the complicity of scientists in adjusting their assumptions so their results sustain it.
He has, for example, explicitly pinned the highly influential 2006 Stern Report’s unfounded or else deliberately misleading assumptions, as well as the scientific community’s silence on the matter (which not only makes it implicitly complicit in the obfuscation, but more significantly reveals its inadequate understanding of the problem).
And he has judiciously noted the heroic technological assumptions of the hypothetical BECCS technology that are supposed to extract CO2 from the atmosphere, and on which most scenarios rely to meet the 2ºC goal. (BECCS, Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, replaces fossil fuel with biomass energy —i.e. C-emitting with C-removing+C-emitting (= net zero emission) fuels— and hopes to geologically capture and store its emissions (to yield “negative emissions”). While Biomass fuel threatens to confiscate land use from food production, CCS is riddled with huge difficulties and costs). The continuity of civilization, in a word, is made to hinge on the hazardous promises of technotopia.
Professor Anderson, in other words, debunks the adjusted assumptions currently in use …at the same time that he underestimates the scale of the challenge (which is even stiffer when the natural self-accelerating feedback processes that threaten irreversible global warming are duly reckoned). Indeed, this would be impossible without technologies that can massively extract CO2 from the atmosphere. And since BECCS is unlikely to achieve this, we seem fated to the dislocation of civilization, especially if we don't review GDP growth goals.
However, professor Anderson also underestimates, like almost all experts, the scale of available solutions, —indeed tried and tested— instances of agro-ecology and organic farming, whose generalization now dangles the possibility of removing vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere to store it, with water, in the soil, while strengthening the resilience of ecosystems. A historic regreening of the Earth is a "technology" alright (at least in the economic sense of a black box with an input and an output). But it implies a fundamental social transformation and a radical break with the modern view of history as “progress.”
UPDATE: April 2016. It is significant that in a European Geosciences Union debate on 28 April 2016 in Vienna, between Jorgen Randers, Clive Spash, Kevin Anderson and Narashima Rao, on the question Is global economic growth compatible with a habitable climate?, the one debater who answers "yes" sustains its possibility in a number-free philosophical defence, while the others point to the measurable realities that force us to answer "no," or else to the non-material sources of welfare that could ensure human well-being.
Mainstream politics, media and politically framed science, in short, are all aligned around a dangerous level of man-made global warming.
Such systematic obfuscation is not the result of some mega-conspiracy. It follows from the natural vocation of any established order to perpetuate itself: it is the result of its normally healthy social inertia.
The problem arises when the prevailing social order must rapidly face an existential threat for which it is ill-prepared, or somehow riddled with a systemic dysfuntion: when partial reform is not enough to ensure the social system’s continuity —as when it needs to eliminate over 80% of its energy sources overnight, historically speaking. In a systemic shifts, like that needed to avert dangerous climate change, a very different dynamics comes into play: it implies a “transition” (into a new “system,” based on a new consensus), which presumes the prior collapse of the "old" consensus (which itself only occurs after a long period of slow erosion and discredit), so a new emerges from beyond the dysfunctional system’s radars, typically with the eruption of a repressed factor. +
THE DYNAMICS OF FUNDAMENTAL SOCIAL CHANGE:
THE SUDDEN COLLAPSE OF LEGITIMACY
Disconcerted by the multiplication of political aberrations,
the spread of blatant abuse, and repeated failure of attempts at reform?
No social order implodes before a period of hubris,
spreading discredit and slow erosion of legitimacy —until...
“What is already plain for some,
at one point suddenly becomes obvious for most. […]
Like other widely shared insights, the popular imagination flips.
Major institutions unexpectedly lose all respectability,
legitimacy, and their reputation for serving the public good.
This is what happened to the Roman Catholic Church in
the Reformation and to the French monarchy in 1793.
Overnight, the unthinkable becomes obvious."
Ivan Illich, La convivialité (Paris: Seuil, 1973; p 148, my paraphrase)
Deconstructing the 2ºC political norm
Seeing how the 2°C target was constructed politically rather than scientifically removes the distorting lens through which we still see the climate challenge, and reveals the scale of the blunder …as much as of the reconversion required by a safe future.
The 2°C target is based on a 1996 estimate of the impacts of global warming on humans. So the economically convenient 2°C choice has ignored later and alarming upward revisions of foreseeable impacts …that have even been deliberately hidden+
After most countries committed legally to avoid "dangerous" global warming in the 1992 Rio summit, the vague norm was first translated politically into a 2°C warming limit when it was first touted in 1996 by the EU. This was based on several "reasons for concern," derived mostly from the ill-quantified impacts of different degrees of warming, that the IPCC eventually represented in the famous fuzzy "burning embers" diagrams of its 2001 Report.
So when the limit was adopted geopolitically in Copenhagen, 2009, it was based on 15-year old science.
The first problem, serious enough in itself, is that the 2009 geopolitical choice ignored the fact that in its 2007 Report, the IPCC had drastically revised upward the impact risks at 2° (never mind that IPCC reports are 2 to 3 years obsolete the day they are published, as they ignore science published before the long collection and treatment process).
“Literature that was assessed in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), as well as additional research published since AR4. [show that] compared with results reported in the TAR, smaller increases in global mean temperature are now estimated to lead to significant or substantial consequences in the framework of the 5 ‘reasons for concern’.” 3
The evidence accumulated since the 2001 Report (TAR) forced major upward revisions of the risks and impacts of global warming in the 2007 Report (AR4), and thus of the temperature thresholds of its dangerous levels, significantly downwards.
In the revised diagram the new evidence required lowering the danger zones in all the ‘reasons for concern’:
Misleading Political Spin on Science
As if ignoring the alarming 2007 reassessment was not enough, however, the scary new ‘burning embers’ diagram was deliberately kept out of its Summary for Policymakers (the only part most people read) by deliberate interference from scientists’ political overseers (in what in effect is a Summary by Policymakers). This was denounced by scientists in the New York Times, but, predictably, generally ignored.
By now, even organs like The Economist openly deride what ‘seems more like policy-based evidence than evidence-based policy’ by the IPCC, on whose climate decisions are made.
Obfuscation only led to confusion, as ‘The 2°C target ... emerged nearly by chance, … has evolved in a somewhat contradictory fashion: policy makers have treated it as a scientific result, and scientists as a political issue,’ as a little publicized scientific study has noted.
The very basis of 2°C is totally unclear: thus ‘It has been presented as a threshold separating a domain of safety from one of catastrophe,’ as well as an ‘optimal strategy balancing costs and benefits’.
But these are two entirely different things.
Modern economics's suicidal misreading of the climate threat
Avoiding catastrophe is the rationale of “non-negotiable” geophyscial processes (and implicitly of human survival).
This is altogether different from the cost-and-benefit calculus, that economists routinely apply, even if it is not methodologically valid in ‘nonlinear’ (catastrophic) situaions, or when human life, property and habitat are at stake, as is the case in climate disruption.
The very idea of cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of the catastrophes born by climate disruption be seem ludicrous if it were not dangerous. For estimating the costs of destruction may help us manage the inevitable, but it will not allow us to avoid the unmanageable. And in modern economic civilization, it is the very method of economics as we know it that has presided over the calculus of, well, optimal destruction. The tallies of the costs and benefits of emission reductions, indeed, allow one to determine just how many people it is "optimal" for climate disruption to kill (i.e. the trade-offs between abatement costs and the benefits of lives, property and livelihoods spared).
The methodological individualism on which the discipline is founded allows us to diagnose the problem (the free rider dynamics) and even model cooperative equilibria in international regulation with a club structure (PowerPoint) in which "countries acting in their national self-interest can produce (reasonably) efficient global climate policy."
The only problem is that economic method fails to register 1) what happens in Nature as much as 2) the distributional consequences of its conclusions.
CBA, for one, does not apply when i) we are dealing with tipping points, ii) that might lead to no less than human extinction, which is now a scientific possibility (even if not the most likely). Carbon pricing proposed to regulate emissions typically bears no relationship whatsoever with the natural and managerial determinant of a safe climate: cumulative emissions. This is because it is determined by the "external cost of carbon," surmised by economists to be $40 per ton. Not only is this presented as a hard fact, following estimates that typically ignore the huge range of intangible costs entailed by climate disruption: it bears no relationship to the geophysical factor that determines a safe climate.
In addition, even under linear conditions, neoclassical (i.e. standard) economics ignores critical distributional questions, that the discipline’s fundamental method (choice under constrained maximization) is not equipped to address (and thus relegates to the political economy or "social choices"), and which remain ill-understood and thus ignored by representative agents. A small but growing chorus of economists, e.g., is proposing a uniform world price on carbon. This is only the most conspicuous expression of a policy that wholly ignores, and indeed eviscerates, the "common and differentated responsibilities" principle of the current international consensus. A distribution-neutral method has spawned a generation of distribution-blind economists now proposing distribution-rigged policies.
So it is hardly surprising that CBA –as applied in the influential 2006 Stern Report, for instance– gets caught red handed in the methodologically and socially embarrassing exercise of imputing monetary values to people's lives (with results varying according to their different “willingness to pay” –which functions as a hypothetical equivalent of life insurance–, or their country’s average income). Such has been the basis of the "optimal degree of destruction" of life, habitat and property that has presided over what amount to life-and-death decisions …expressed in clean equations, whose meaning most people (and worse: sometimes even economists themselves) don’t understand. This is not because virtually the entire profession is grossly incompetent. It is because neoclassical economics is methodologically nature-blind and distribution-blind. It is no exaggeration to say that its intellectual misframing of the climate challenge has become one of the main threats to civilization.
Even if it does not trigger unstoppable global warming, 2°C can be expected to produce weather extremes of such severity that they devastate civilization: one of the best informed guestimates available expects it to kill in the hundreds of millions of people, as well as a huge proportion of species diversity. It is absent from most of the standard literature because, as noted, science's certainty bias disallows the “known unknowns” that have not been, or cannot be, formally confirmed, as much as predictions about inherently unpredictable human behavior. For example, countries which are comparatively spared by the impacts of global warming could theoretically open their doors to dozens of millions of climate refugees who would otherwise die in what will have become uninhabitable areas. So one cannot scientifically predict that the borders will be closed and as a result that climate disruption will kill many people. +
The standard understanding of the impacts of a 2°C world is that “rich” countries will be badly bruised while the poorer and geopolitically weak victims of their emissions will be devastated. That's only if we assume that by the time we reach this temperature we have not triggered the self-accelerating feedbacks and ‘runaway’ warming, in which case 2°C would just be a signpost on the way to 4°, or even 5° or 6° C. For it would wipe out island nations, drown much of Bangladesh, destroy two-thirds of agriculture in Africa, insert a huge Dust Bowl in the middle of the United States, and vastly disrupt if not destroy life sustained by glaciers in the Andes, India and China, among many more calamities.
Thus, at 2°C, “not too many people outside subtropical Africa need have starved,” as the London Times delicately put it when summarizing a 2007 review (way before most scientists started to become alarmed at the speed with which climate change is occuring) of a world wrought by the official target now under discussion.
But few people living in the polluter countries, who expect to be spared of the worse, have fully reckoned the effects of climate disruption at home.
A little-noted scientific assessment, for example, is that at 2°C, the 2003 European heatwave that killed some 70,000 people, these Saharan summers will turn what has been a one-in-several-thousand-year event into a semi-annual event, and thus become the new normal. It seems doubtful that most Southern Europeans would endorse this target if only they were aware of its implications. But François Hollande promises to avoid it "if possible".
It is not only the serious possibility of a nonlinear global warming path and of a devastated civilization that changes everything. So does the climate programmed by the temperature rise that most countries at COP21 at still seeking.
The human “bottom line” at 2ºC
Before we even consider its potential to trigger runaway global warming, the 2ºC target chosen politically in the name of economic “realism” seems to spell a death sentence for “hundreds of millions” of people (according to one of the best available quantitative guestimates of its human impact. And never mind projections of possibly as much as a third of living species “committed to extinction” (if not more) by the time global temperatures reached 2ºC.
Scientific guestimates confirm this. A report by a social scholar gives us a unique peek into the intimate fears of climatologists, which are rarely if ever voiced publically by scientists bound to the certainty of “known knowns”:
“For three days in late September 2009, some 100 or so climate scientists met in Oxford, […a]larmed at the acceleration of global GHG emissions and the glacial pace of national and international action [… T]he organisers of the meeting –titled ‘4 degrees and beyond: Implications of a global change of 4º+ for people, ecosystems and the earth-system’– put the choice starkly in their conference rationale: 'either instigate an immediate and radical reversal in existing emission trends or accept global temperature rises well beyond 4°C.’ So dilatory has been the response to the scientific warnings, they believe, that the only choice we now have is between 'extreme' rates of emissions reduction and 'extreme' impacts of a hot world. […]"
Specifically, the "extreme impacts" they speculate about are, well, sobering.
"Many plausible scenarios suggest a sharp decline in the number of people that will survive in the long term. Some suggest a billion or a few hundred million will remain in a century or two, but one guess is as good as the next. One thing is certain: the transition to some new stage of stability will be long and brutal, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable whose survive will be threatened by food shortages, extreme weather events and disease. Yet in a world that is now densely interlinked, everyone will be affected profoundly." 1.
Much more seriously, 2°C does not factor in the threat of exceeding the “tipping points” at which self-accelerating natural feedbacks are feared to trigger runaway global warming, which would render vast swaths of the planet uninhabitable and much of the rest insufferable, with major collapses of human and species populations, and in extreme scenarios, even their disappearance. No less than the extinction of most life on Earth has now become a scientific possibility.+
As noted, the UN Environment Program has pointed to the alarming discounting of methane from melting permafrost in standard IPCC scenarios.
But this is only one of several tipping points that lurk in nature. The key remaining climate uncertainties concern less their existence than their speed, strength and "timing": they derive mostly from identified but not fully or robustly measured reactions of the planet, given the complex dynamics of global warming. And here, uncertainty is no reason for inaction, as we can only have certainty once it’s too late to avert it.
There are two kinds of irreversible processes:
1) habitat-weather impacts and
2) self-accelerating global-warming feedbacks (and their impacts).
They are best discerned as, respectively, "catastrophic" and "apocalyptic."
Our challenge thus has two very different aspects:
1) Managing the inevitable (catastrophes), and
2) Avoiding the unmanageble (apocalyptic disruptions)
1) FULLY OR PARTIALLY IRREVERSIBLE HABITAT - WEATHER IMPACTS
One major category of tipping points concerns natural processes that could be unstoppable and once set in motion would disfigure the habitat irreversibly but not necessarily trigger self-reinforcing feedback dynamics. They range from the shutdown of the great ocean conveyor belt (the "thermohaline circulation," aka the "Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation," which, e.g., drives the Gulf Stream's warm currents and winds that keep West European winters much warmer than comparable latitudes); to alteration of monsoon systems, or of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation pattern, to destruction of biological ecosystems like coral reefs. Two of these stand out.
The good news is that this decay is only partly due to global warming, as it can also be traced to 1) overfishing and 2) pollution (e.g. from detergents, fertilizers, or sewage runoffs from land), which are less intractable than CO2 already in the atmosphere.
The bad news is that overfishing means that humanity will have to stop eating much fish for some time, until the fish stocks replenish, to eventually yield a sustainable flow of seafood. And this is a huge organizational problem, since "nearly 3 billion people rely on marine and freshwater fish as a major source of protein, and 12% global the population rely on fisheries as a livelihood." Despite its scale, however, this is a comparatively "manageable" problem compared to extraction of CO2 fom the atmosphere. Both overfishing and CO2 emissions are typical cases of a tragedy-of-the-unmanaged-commons, that we must now solve at a far vaster (geopolitical) scope than the typically local instances in which we have experience of successful management.
SLR is partly due to thermal expansion of the oceans, which is a linear function (which in principle could be eventually reversed by a lower temperature following removal of CO2 from the atmosphere).
This accounts for at least half of SLR until now, but will only amount to one-third as melting and breakup of the ice-sheets, and the melting away of glaciers, precipitate irreversible processes.
Worse: SLR is only one impact irreversible in a human time-scale: weather would also be dramatically changed, as superstorms and temperature drops drastically change the habitat at regional scales.
UPDATE: 22 March 2016
First, without drastic emission reductions, leading studies are now contemplating "loss of all coastal cities —most of the world's large cities— and all their history" by the early 22nd Century if not before.
But just as seriously, freshwater from melting ice-sheets could shut down deep ocean circulation and lead to a surge in superstorms in the North Atlantic regions –"all hell would break loose," as James Hansen puts it succinctly.
At a minimum, this is geopolitically consequential, as it reveals the suicidal backfire of the self-serving relief of those who thought that climate disruption would affect only the weak victims of their pollution.
2) SELF-ACCELERATING WARMING FEEDBACKS
Even if we resign ourselves to losing the coastlines, however, there is another category of climate dynamics that could devastate life on Earth: the self-reinforcing warming feedbacks. We detect these in natural processes that
Beyond the life it condemns, the Arctic crisis is the onset of these two powerful feedbacks: its diminishing albedo and the methane that it is releasing.
a. intensifying heatwaves ( by way of example, the 2003 European heatwave not only killed 70,000 people. It also parched plant life, thereby releasing the equivalent of almost 1/12 of the year’s global fossil-fuel emissions
Although a 2013 study from the same Hatley Centre was far more reassuring, it “does not invalidate [the first study]: Amazon dieback remains a possible scenario of dangerous change that requires further understanding.” In 2015, indeed, a new study confirmed the Long-term decline of the Amazon carbon sink, which in the last decade removed nearly a third less carbon than the previous one. And this is before global warming takes off for real...
The Amazon: over one half of the planet's remaining rainforests, the most biodiverse
tract of tropical rainforest in the world, 16,000 species of 390 billion individual trees
And, scarier than any of the individual feedback loops
6. The interactions between feedbacks.
Human emissions propel these natural “slow positive feedbacks,” that boost carbon content in the atmosphere, which fuels more warming, which boosts the feedbacks, which….
So global warming results from:
1) Anthropogenic (man-made) carbon x 2) Amplification from natural feedbacks.
It is this amplification that has not been factored into routine assessments of the “safe carbon budget” available to humanity. If we are to dispel undue risk of triggering what can only be concisely described as climate apocalypse, the amount of fossil fuels that can be burned is even smaller than has been reckoned so far.
The following video summarizes the full extent of the threat that now looms in the horizon.
It depicts an extreme case that may not be the most likely —for before reaching 6ºC, “runaway” global warming might stabilize in a plateau at, say, 4ºC—, but which can no longer be excluded.
There is no single “tipping point,” but several, and the first abrupt acceleration might taper at a point in which it devastates civilization (in an optimist scenario, in which it does not lead to human extinction). Or it might not (stop before 6ºC): if, for example, one tipping point feeds into another. Extinction, in a word, has become a scientific possibility.
We might be reassured to hear that, according to the IPCC, a long-term temperature rise of 6ºC following the doubling of carbon concentrations normally used as a gauge (Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity) is "very unlikely" –until we learn that this expression has a very specific technical meaning: "up to 10% probability." In other words, according to the scant knowledge we do have, at current rates of emissions (or even much lower rates if we factor in the various feedbacks), we are running a one-in-ten chance of killing off most life on the planet.
( A not irrelevant detail in need of correction is that the 97 percent scientific consensus that has gained wide circulation since John Cook et al.’s 2013 paper (pdf), [John Cook, et al., Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature, in: Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 8, No. 2 (May 2013) ] only counts scientists who explicitly endorse the anthropogenic source of global warming: including those who endorse it implicitly (and thus believe in it) add up to 99,9 percent, as Professor James Lawrence Powel has noted. (Methodology) ).
Last Hours (2014) — 11 min.
Roughly the same message as above, but with zero drama (well explained, but requiring careful listening) …including the chilling detail and number: “if only one percent of the methane embedded in the deep sea were to be released, it would double the amount of methane already in the atmosphere” (NB: the deep sea) :
The Arctic Methane (2012) 19:35 min
The conceptual recognition of tipping points outlines the research agenda needed to inform policy on the one factor that will define the shape of the future –atmospheric carbon concentrations– and its normative and managerial implication: the carbon budget required for climate security. This should answer many of the questions raised by the "global carbon management" that decarbonization will require.
Although the concept of a carbon budget has always been implicit in the temperature limit to manmade global warming, its economic, political and social formulation is comparatively recent. And in some respects it is still in its clarification or formative stage. But it need not have yielded its full potentialities to already be critically useful. Its most elementary application is also the most consequential: a guestimate –or assessment under conditions of uncertainty– of a safe guardrail in cumulative emissions: the sine-qua-non condition for the continuity of civilization.
The key policy response to the threat of ill-measured tipping points –if only because it would plant the "Carbon Budget" in (geo)political culture– is the creation of an independent Scientific Panel on Critical Cumulative GHG Emissions. It has a strong precedent: the "Abrupt Change Early Warning System" proposed by the US National Academy of Sciences in its 2013 Report on Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises. A "Carbon Budget Panel" could have an analogous structure but a much narrower scope –if far more comprehensive consequences.
Unless a carbon budget keeps cumulative emissions below a non-self-accelerating threshold, the future is doomed.
Herein lies the 2°C threat. Given the role of self-accelerating warming feedbacks, 2ºC will only be a signpost on the way to 4°, or even 5° or 6° C, if by the time we reach 2°C we have already triggered the natural feedbacks leading to “runaway” warming.
The dreaded methane already bubbling from a warming Arctic and permafrost shows that runaway global warming is already being propelled. And beyond certain (clearly identified but not fully measured) “tipping points,” the self-accelerating feedbacks will render it unstoppable.
The 2°C target can thus be expected (“more probably than not”) to largely disrupt the continuity of life. By ignoring dangerous and well-identified geophysical factors only because science has not fully ascertained them, and to avoid compromising the carbon-dependent economies without which politicians do not know how to ensure social order, COP21’s semi-official target seems poised to legally program the devastation of civilization.
A "safe" limit to global warming, in short, is a geophysical, not a social norm –whether economic, political or cultural. So it is not for politicians to determine the non-self-accelerating temperature. Not only they have no knowledge of climate dynamics: too many have a solid record of protecting the very destructive polluting ways that need to be discontinued. In decisive instances, officials obstructing climate action are being funded by fossil fuel interests –most notably in the Republican US Congress. More fundamentally, and beyond the question of credibility, those who are equipped to reckon the “known unknowns” and determine the geophysical processes that need to be controlled in order to ensure the continuity of civilization, are not politicos but scientists.
The geophysically and managerially decisive factor
COP21 can only become credible and effective if it is equipped with an independent scientific panel that determines a safe temperature in a context of uncertainty: a simple and perfectly conventional procedural tool. Or better still, to spell out the decisive metric into which temperature must be translated: the atmospheric concentration of GHG that scientists expect, with high confidence, not to trigger runaway global warming, and —given a politically-defined level of “acceptable risk”— a safely allowable "carbon budget" (i.e. GHG budget) of cumulative emissions.
The carbon budget is the geophysically as well as managerially decisive factor, and thus the only metric that in practice matters to ensure climate stability. Although the organizing concept is familiar to some climate professionals, neither has its safe level been specified, nor a proper proposal formulated.
But it is precisely this goal and metric that have been studiously avoided. The problem, you see, is that a climatologically safe carbon budget raises the geopolitically contentious question of how it is to be allocated. Despite unanimous and strong consensus on "common but differentiated responsibility" as an attribution criterion, a generally acceptable method of translating the ethical agreement in quantitative terms remains almost completely opaque.
This is partly because countries that stand to lose most have stonewalled discussion (the US negotiator once explicitly said: "If equity is in, we are out"). This was only to be expected from the Realpolitik of nation-states vying for supremacy and resources in the modern Westphalian chessboard, driven by the old knee-jerk nationalist reflexes instilled in habits as much as institutions. Unaware or oblivious of the entirely new nature of the situation, in which pursuit of particular interest leads to common ruin, its expansionary drives keep fueling the reactions and conflict that make the necessarily concerted action impossible. So we keep squabbling while devastation for all looms ever larger, and even begins to unfold. When survival calls for collaboration rather than competition, however, the default stance in international relations dooms us. It is constitutively incompetent: warriors are rarely the best architects --competence in destruction wires nobody for construction, and peace is always constructed.
For the first time in history, nationalism has become a threat to natural security ...AND VICE-VERSA. For when a threat like climate change can only be dispelled with a concerted effort of historically unprecedented scale, the question of equity becomes central. Without it, no allocation of national allowances (or more generally a Climate Plan) can expect to command the wide support and lasting adhesion that a concerted response requires.
The impasse, however, is not due only to stupid rivalry. To a significant degree, it derives from the absence of a self-evidently fair allocation criterion. Which is hardly surprising because this is not apparent from the geopolitical, economic, technological and geophysical readings of the climate challenge that have framed the question. It is the lenses of ecological economics, that connects the human and natural spheres, that reveal the tragedy-of-the-commons dynamics at play, that we have learned to handle successfully at the local level. This reading highligts the one certain thing : carbon emissions threaten civilization. And this can only be secured thanks to a carbon budget —whatever its allocation.
Our geopolitical squabbles, in short, are irrelevant or suicidal: secondary to the condition of survival. We must and can agree first on the geophysical question that will ensure security for all. The distributive questions have solutions that will only be found if sought, and which become apparent when the issue is framed globally rather than "inter-nationally" (i.e. nationalistically).+
The only apparent way out
The world’s political and managerial elites are also aiming at a 2ºC limit to global warming because they do not see how to reduce emissions fast and drastically enough without causing wide social dislocations. If even the 2ºC goal is so hard to meet, the reasoning goes, any talk of 1.5º seems pointless.
But nature does not care whether humans are or are not able to eliminate GHG emissions before their cumulative levels triggers unstoppable processes that devastate the world: their dynamics will follow her own whims. Not acknowledging this, and setting the bar conviently low enough so we can surmount it, will ensure collective suicide.
The problem is that, as Marx once observed, “mankind inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve.” Politics cannot raise a problem for which it does not have a “solution.” And insofar as the radars of the overwhelming majority of professionals dealing with the challenge only register conventional solutions inadequate to solve the problem, the task is deemed to be “impossible.”
The good news is that all fundamental novelty is slow to emerge in consciousness: not only social and environmental perils are routinely underestimated when they first appear (like the scale of the climate threat, and thus of the reorganizational challenge); so are available solutions. It's just that they lie in altogether different places from where we have been looking —and spell not essentially new "technologies," but the methods and ways of a different society, indeed of a different world.
The dogmas of the quiet past
are inadequate to the stormy present.
The occasion is piled high with difficulty,
and we must rise with the occasion.
As our case is new,
so we must think anew and act anew.
We must disenthrall ourselves,
and then we shall save [ourselves].
What is new is not the magnitude, not even the quality,
but the very essence of the coming rupture in consciousness.
This rupture is not a break in the line of progress to a new stage;
it is not even the passage from one dimension to another.
We can only describe it as a catastrophic break with
industrial humanity’s image of itself. Ivan Illich, 1999.
Modern industrial society’s knee-jerk response to global warming is technological —the “green energy” solutions that fill IPCC reports and inspire political cheerleaders of all ideological persuasions. The problem is that in order to sustain modern industrial economies while preserving a climate for life, the solar, wind and geothermal energy that has and can be developed will not suffice to limit cumulative emissions to safe levels. Which is why IPCC scenarios assume that future “negative emissions” will be needed to stay even within the limits of the more generous carbon budgets associated with 2ºC, and ignoring the feedback amplification effects, which need to be reckoned to avoid runaway global warming.
Significantly, moreover, conventional scenarios count on hypothetical, heroically complicated and expensive “solutions,” that absorb virtually all attention and budgets, to engineer the negative emissions: BECCS, or Bio-Energy combined with CCS (carbon sequestration and geological storage, that by itself does not remove carbon from the atmosphere but is hoped to prolong fossil fuel use). But this “technotopia” —the notion that more and better manipulation of matter will solve a problem created by the manipulation of matter— resists neither an economic nor even a technological reading.
When we turn our eyes to nature, by contrast, tried and tested methods that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere become apparent. Looking at energy technology not only presumes high-energy economies: once again, it diverts our gaze from the geophysical factor that will largely determine the shape of the future: the carbon cycle. For scenarios focusing on energy emissions ignore or at best underestimate the other source of emissions: land use and land use change. And in sharp contrast to the former, this can be reversed.
The carbon sequestration capacity of reforestation and afforestation is well known. Beyond these, however, lies a far more promising source of “negative emissions.”
For just like the energy basis of modern civilization emerged unexpectedly as an existential threat, in the same way a historic solution emerges unexpectedly beyond its industrial culture.
Specifically: the largely unrecognized capacity of regenerative organic agriculture (and agroecology generally) to store carbon (and water) in the soil is now dangling the possibility of removing vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Scientists with direct hands-on agricultural experience have shown this to be possible time and again. And if such methods can be generalized, the way to save the future is laid out.
According to conventional estimates compiled by the IPCC, the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use ("AFOLU") category accounts for almost 25% of annual GHG emissions. This sectoral accounting, however, does not include indirect emissions from such factors as synthetic fertilizer production, or the transportation, storing and marketing components of modern societies' full food production-to-consumption chain. These indirect sources seem of little relevance if the modern model is assumed as a given, since they are accounted for in other categories. But the accounting hides the comparative carbon-efficiency of so-called “subsistence” agriculture, which does not rely on carbon-intensive inputs. If, moreover, the two different "modes of production" have a different capacity to sequester carbon by recarbonizing the soil, their conceptual conflation is even more obfuscating.
Conventional approximations of proper land use management generally talk of removing some 50 ppm of CO2 —a large share of what we have put into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. But unconventional readings, that suggest even larger amounts, might well prove feasible. Needless to say, this is a very clear lead to a climate response commensurate with the scale of the threat and the challenge before us.
One thing, however, is by now plain: such is the scale of the conditions we must meet to ensure climate stability, that preserving the future will require us to replace industrial agriculture and produce food by recarbonizing the soil —the only known feasible source of “negative” emissions—, in addition to drastic emission reductions.
There is no other apparent way to meet the “negative carbon budget” that will be needed to dispel major risk of runaway global warming.
The proper husbandry of the land, in other words, is the only tried and tested technology available at a sufficiently massive and affordable scale to preserve the continuity of civilization. It is not a “technology” in the usual sense of mechanical contrivances (and the complex infrastructures these presume), but in the economic sense (of a “black box” with an input and an output). Now scaling up the marginally visible and economically marginalized methods to the level required to restore climate stability presumes massively “empowering” or strengthening them. And this spells a very different economy (indeed very different societies) —in which, specifically, the productivity of land, before that of labor, is potentiated by a radical recalibration and overhaul of the macro-economic policy framework that has been designed around carbon-intensive methods.
Solutions to systemic dysfunctions are subversive by definition
So now it turns out that the methods and ways of socio-economically humble, conceptually invisible and policy-marginalized small farmers embody responses to the climate challenge that standard industrial agriculture, for example, cannot even dream of.
They are just off the standard radars of policy and politics (and at best earn their lip service).
This is the result of a gross misreading of food production that removes nature from the picture.
Indeed, professionals who were trained before land scarcity and nature’s integrity —let alone carbon— became socially and economically relevant, are conceptually unequipped to address, if not formatted to misframe, the key challenges of our times. Few policies illustrate this better than the first design of the EU’s Emission Trading System, whose strident failure was all too predictable, absent an adequate limit to emissions, and due to its giveaway of emission allowances to polluters. A first-year student of ecological economics would have spotted the error of experienced, highly established technocrats.
The modern technocracies that inform politicians and policy, to begin with, are typically concerned with labor productivity (“yield per hour,” thanks to input-intensive and/or labor-saving —i.e. unemployment-generating— methods). And this means that they rarely register the productivity of land —”output per hectare” (including both crop yield and "outputs" restorative of soil health—, let alone their carbon removal effects, which are often much higher in labor-intensive farming. Even readings of yield per hectare (before we even look at carbon flows) show small farms to be far more productive per hectare than large industrial ones —about 20 times more, in one extreme case!
Just as decisively, the carbon-removal potential of agro-ecology has remained invisible because the real solutions do not befit modern society’s view of history as progress, for which these alternatives are, well, “primitive.”
Indeed, many methods and ways that to the modern, progressive view of human destiny seem economically or technologically backward, turn out to be immensely … energy- and resource-efficient. When regarded in light of ecological footprint, the small-scale and carbon-removing alternatives are so superior to their industrial competitors, that they would easily displace them were these not systematically sustained by policy…
The major “solutions” for a safe future, in short, lie at the antipode of the triumphant march of, well, carbon-fueled progress: they bring into question no less than the founding myth of modern civilization: the consensual worldview that tacitly presides over the formation of its coordinating policy and institutions.
The small farmers might as well be atheists in a religious society. The crushing of peasants, after all, was built into the very program of modern “development”: the transition from agricultural societies, made up mostly of peasants, into societies where fossil fuels allowed 1% to 3% of the population to feed the rest.
So it is hardly surprising that modern society’s policy framework has been long slanted against small farmers and implicitly against the alternative “organic” practices with which they can recarbonize the soil. Massive direct handouts, indirect tax expenditures (exemptions or “loopholes”), oblique subsidies (tolerance of pollution) to fossil fuels are well known. Usually forgotten is the sectoral or indirect support to carbon-intensive methods. Not only has modern industrial agriculture often been made possible by agricultural policy. A “free trade” deal that opens borders to subsidized and carbon-intensive agriculture, to take but one example, can wipe out small farmers producing food more sustainably. Carbon-intensive ways are unwittingly fostered indirectly even by policies in sectors seemingly unrelated to energy, such as publicly funded daycare programs. (For these implicitly discriminate against families that directly care for infants, who indirectly subsidize parents relying on the “mass produced parental services” that make their transportation- and consumption-intensive choices possible — ALR, Des garderies publiques à l’« Allocation-Bébé » — renforcer simultanément la redistribution du revenu, la liberté individuelle et la communauté au quotidien). Official support to carbon-intensive methods —what economists call distortions— is systemic. And it works against low-, zero- or negative-carbon ways, for the simple reason that it was conceived and designed when carbon emissions were not an issue.
The problem is that alternative agricultural practices, as much as alternative ways and alternative energy sources, cannot become micro-economically viable if their competition is subsidized.
But if a livable future is to be preserved, the peasants and farmers that were replaced by oil-driven machines, inputs and chemicals during the industrial era will themselves have to replace the oil-based agriculture that sustained it, but which now needs to be discontinued. "Green energy" is only the easiest part of the answer.
When nature enters the core of the social and economic equation, in other words, the long-undermined ways of the weak emerge as the best road to collective survival. So they can expect to be “empowered”: formally habilitated by policy. By now, even the CEO of one of the world's biggest traders in agricultural commodities has called for "a price on carbon."
But the revigorization of long-oppressed peasants is only a special case of a more general structural empowerment of us all, i.e. the sum of all individuals, above the power of businesses or public bureaucracies, that Right and Left political ideologies have respectively favored.
From the viewpoint of the political economy, as we will eventually discover, the wholesale reconversion into a carbon-constrained economy over the next generation will ultimately require institutions that allocate key decisions and resources to citizens, before states or corporations. Not only because it resubordinates what, after all, are only their instruments, to their useful scope and roles. It is the pragmatic condition of the radical flexibility that will be required for a reconversion of such widespread scope and far-ranging ramifications. What is sometimes described as a “paradigm” or systemic shift can involve no less than such a fundamental redefinition —a tripartite rather than bipartite view— of the polity.
The top-down framework of a wholesale bottom-up reconversion
A wide diversity of carbon-efficient ways –age-old, surviving, customary (indeed unwittingly present in many goods we enjoy), incipient or novel– must now struggle in a policy environment geared to sustain modern, resource-intensive society. But for alternative low-carbon or carbon-free technologies, methods and ways to emerge in a large enough scale, they need to become micro-economically viable.
It should be obvious that abandoning over 80% of society's energy spells systemic change. That means change not only in energy and production technologies (the hardware) but also in the organizations that manage them (society's software: business firms, NGOs, government agencies, families), the policies and institutions that coordinate them (its operating system) and the culture of the people (or humanware) that runs them. Changes at all levels reinforce each other. And the level at which action is most consequential is not “policy,” but what frames policy: “institutions,” that coordinate the organizations designed around their specific functions.
A key principle of the “social OS” that capitalists have repeatedly called for but seldom respected, indeed, remains valid and highly relevant: a level playing field. Coupled with a systemic overhaul of the correctives that emerged to address market redistribution failures, they can only “empower” people and ways that industrial society's OS has marginalized and weakened, if not driven out of existence.
For a resource-attuned policy structure (or “framework of incentives”) such as is needed to coordinate the historic “transition” at hand (i.e. from an industrial to a sustainable economies) would decisively render sustainable ways micro-economically viable …while at the same time it makes carbon-intensive ways unviable.
This choice is structural —it leaves no room for compromise: policy must favor one or the other, polluting or nonpolluting ways. For the macro-economic framework will either 1) continue to systematically incentivize GHG emissions, or it will 2) render low-carbon technologies, methods and ways viable by removing system-wide biases favoring their carbon-intensive ‘competition’ now in place.
The climate challenge, in short, raises an organizational more than a technological problem. Whatever role technology may play (since it obviously has a place), “new and improved” manipulation of matter can no longer be expected to solve the problems created by the manipulation of matter. Our key tools are not in the hardware but in the policies and institutions that ensure the coordination of people: the “operating system.”
The radical inadequacy —and threat— of modern economics
The “price on carbon” routinely touted for an environmentally level playing field (conventional economics’ normative prescript) is only part of a fully carbon-attuned fiscal framework. Especially if the price is the $40 per ton conventionally estimated to represent the damages caused by carbon emissions. The problem with this price, derived from standard externality theory, is not only that it most probably underestimates costs (given measuring difficulties: economists might approximate losses of crops, infrastructure and other such marketable goods, but the social dislocations that such losses typically entail, and many key intangibles, are rarely measured …or even measurable —do the $40/ton cover, to take a banal example, the massively life-changing “discomfort” of Saharan summers expected in Southern Europe at 2ºC?).
Much more importantly, this calculus bears no relationship whatsoever to the price equivalent of the necessary cap on physical emissions, which are what determines climate: the national carbon budgets whose aggregate constitutes the “safe” global carbon budget (i.e. allowable under non-self-accelerating carbon concentrations) as determined by scientists under conditions of uncertainty.
A climatologically effective price on carbon would have to cap annual emissions along a path of increasingly tighter limits, up to an aggregate that matches the safe cumulative total. It is, first and foremost, a price determined by geophysically limits, not by the externalities or costs of pollution. Its monetary value is a function of the physical quantities of safe emissions —the price needed to bring down demand to the level of the stipulated cap.
If applied to the geophysically safe carbon parameter that ecological economics registers, but not conventional neoclassical economics, the standard tools could then determine a safe carbon tax. But the discipline has little to say about the proper distribution or assignation of this tax, that it relegates to the dynamics of interests and ideologies (the “social choices”) in the political economy. Should the money go to citizens, through mechanisms like the so-called Fee-and-Dividend? Should it, by virtue of the polluter-pays principle, finance adaptation, impact redress or prevention? Or should it pay for an energy reconversion? Economists may eventually remember that internalizing externalities means applying the polluter pays principle, but all to often they see the question as "social choice" beyond their purview.
This is because economics as we know it is, to put it technically, a method of constrained maximization based on a theory of (market) exchange or, more generally, of choice —what has been called a “catallactics.” This means that the discipline is (re)distribution-neutral. The problem is that this has rendered a whole generation of economists (re)distribution-blind.
Hence the frequent mistake of many economists who advocate a uniform global carbon tax —that entirely ignores its distributional consequences at the international level. And these proposals go unchallenged by the rest of the profession …even though they completely disregard the “common and differentiated responsibilities” that countries have agreed to as the basis of a fair global climate policy…
The answer to the distribution question, however, becomes clear when looking at the dynamics of a “price on carbon” at the national level.
The price increases following from restricted supply of fossil fuels, i.e. from a cap (or its tax equivalent), constitute forms of economic rent —a very specific kind of income in that it results from no social contribution: it can be compared, for example, to speculative earnings derived from rising land prices. This economic rent can be captured by the State by auctioning off emission allowances (or by a carbon tax equivalent, since in theory, the quantity of carbon determines the price and vice-versa). If this rent is distributed equally among citizens, it amounts to sharing out an at-cost “carbon share,” that ensures a key form of income security for all in a carbon-constrained world. Without it, a geophysically adequate (and thus relatively high) carbon tax would lead to vast social dislocation. In combination with the polluter-pays principle to pay for externalities, it allows prices to fully preside over the most efficient use of resources.
And these issues arise before we even bring into question the standard doctrine of "economic growth" —the specific organizing goal that embodies modernity's shared ideology of indefinite increase of consumption. High-school arithmetic, however, suffices to dispel the illusion that a safe climate is compatible with the continuity of modern consumer society (in "advanced" countries), or its replication (in "developing" countries).
The integrated policy instrument taking shape
This principle has taken shape in a policy concept that by now is well known in climate policy circles: “Fee-and-Dividend” —a carbon tax distributed in the form (or as component) of a basic income (complemented with a tariff on carbon to level the international playing field).
This carbon management concept is noteworthy because it reinforces environmental, “social” (i.e. distributional) and (economic) efficiency goals simultaneously —the three dimensions, irreducible to each other, of any economy.
To function as proper climate regulation, it must still 1) meet a key caveat: ensure the (geophysically defined) level of emissions on a path to the maximum “safe” cumulative level, and be supplemented with 2) the polluter-pays principle to cover the cost of externalities —both negative (pollution) and positive (e.g. science and technological development)—, which it ignores; and especially with 3) a “negative tax” for “negative emissions” (i.e. subsidies to carbon-removing practices, which would potentiate them at the massive scale that will be needed to save the future).
From the viewpoint of the fiscal architecture, however, these correctives are specifications and supplements of the basically tripartite structure of a carbon-attuned fiscal framework. What amounts to the monetary equivalent of an allowable Share of Carbon Footprint (an important part of a Share of Sustainable Ecological Footprint) “presolves” the environmental and resource distribution/ equity questions (as far as carbon is concerned) and then allows undistorted market exchange to preside over resource allocation.
An environmentally “level playing field,” in short, involves a 1) carbon- constrained, 2) carbon- equitable and 3) carbon- neutral macro-economic framework.
A macro-economic framework systematically recalibrated to ensure an environmentally level playing field would thus render a whole range of “sustainable” technologies, production methods and ways (as well as life philosophies and culture) micro-economically profitable or (insofar as they involve no marketable goods) micro-economically viable.
A “bottom-up” revitalization of society, in other words, begins with a (“top-down”) policy and institutional refoundation that strengthens 1) a ban on civilization-threatening pollution (a carbon budget), 2) systemic income security (such as “basic income” mechanisms) that partially delink income from work (since they would apportion (unearned) economic rent); and 3) real prices (“markets”).
Economic institutions can be designed to achieve these goals simultaneously. But not governance aligned around growth and redistribution of GDP —which, past a certain optimum, compromises all three equilibria: for it depends on environmentally noxious, dispossessing and centrally supported forms of production. Differently put, environmental integrity, “social justice” and economic efficiency can be reinforced simultaneously ...but only if permanently increasing production is not society's organizing goal. That is to say, official consumerism must be disestablished in much the same way that religion once was. The decisive question simply does not concern GDP (the aggregate of consumption and investment) but environmental impact: so whether GDP growth occurs or not, and for how long, and what its content consists of, will depend on a country’s past carbon emissions.
Such a shift seems entirely unlikely in today's political juncture. But few have counted on another surprise currently brewing: the systemic fragility of the world economy, if not indeed its crisis unfolding in historical slow motion, apparent in the political destabilization that it is fostering in the most diverse countries. A major crisis can only make the climate shift highly opportune, if not unavoidable. As long, of course, as we are prepared for the latent dysfunctions, with a response plan that provides an alternative to the crisis spiraling into chaos.
Both the climate threat and the unfolding economic crisis raise a host of new questions. Taken together, they constitute a research agenda commensurate with the challenge of our times: a post-growth macro-economics, such as ecological economics is already exploring.
The bottom line is clear by now. Climate security precipitates the historical irruption of Nature into human consciousness —into our economic equations, political imagination and cultural sensibilities. And if the continuity and diversity of life are to be preserved and revitalized, a major reconversion of technologies, methods and ways will be required over the next generation.
The carbon-constrained, carbon-equitable and carbon- neutral macro-economic framework capable of coordinating it needs to be laid out. Of course, it is not the only feature of a proper policy framework —only the cornerstone of the wholesale review that will be indispensable for an overhaul that recalibrates it in the light of carbon. But a new institutional architecture spells another —call it “green”— earthscape, culture and way of life, with sustainable ways at the core of social organization, and “industrial” methods as ancillaries.
The first glimpse of a different future, if not of a new civilization —an “Age of Soil, not Oil” (pdf)— has appeared in the horizon. And it can be catalyzed by what has always coordinated societies and constituted civilizations: institutions.
The first function these must fulfil in order to secure the future
is the defining parameter of carbon-constrained economies:
a global carbon budget consistent with a safe cumulative aggregate of carbon emissions.
And an Independent Panel of Scientists that determines this is central
to what would constitute the first expression of a fully global institution:
a genuine Climate Security Accord.
Architect Buckminster Fuller's strategy, quoted by Marc Wilhelm while introducing a James Hansen lecture on February 2016.
JFK’s American University Commencement Address, 10 June 1963
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, introducing the panel discussion Beyond SDGs: A Fresh Start for Planet Earth?, convened by the UN's Global Environment Facility on Sep. 27, 2015 in NYC.