Sunday, January 15, 2012

preview of coming attractions

Welcome back, guten Rutsch, & xin nian kuai le!

Trendlines seem stable now.  CO2 output is steadily rising.  The arctic melt is spiraling towards permanent summer thaw.  Freak weather is not yet usual but also not unusual anymore either; whether in Jena or Tampa, temps are swinging more freely.  Munich Re pegs 2011 as the costliest year in recent history due to natural disasters.  Bad news keep coming in.  Last one I've heard is that CO2-enriched water may collapse fish stocks even before acidification will dissolve sea shells.

Culturally the trends toward chokepoint and crisis continue as before.  Climate change is an emerging reality the likes of which civilization have not yet seen, hence year after year policy responses remain inadequate.  U.S. politicians keep acting irresponsibly, and the more conservative they are, the more foolishly they behave.  U.S. media give steadily less coverage to climate news.  The culture is now so disconnected from biospherical reality that the U.S. president can make remarks and give a speech after the destruction of Joplin, Mo., without once mentioning the word 'climate'.  And get away with it.  Come to think of it, had Obama linked the multiple-vortex EF5 tornado to climate change, it might have led to a public outcry.  In the U.S., thou shalt not connect the dots!

Internationally, COP-15 in Durban was a tiny step in the right direction but failed to make a difference.  Copenhagen and Cancun had been failures due to intransigence; everything got stuck.  Problem, from Copenhagen to Durban, has been that Kyoto is increasingly obsolete.  The protocol was a good idea at the time, but its design does not match current realities, and so the whole effort at a follow-up protocol needs to be rethought.  Kyoto's emission caps had been insufficient from the start and look simply ludicrous now.  Plus, the caps had obligated only the rich nations while letting developing countries off the hook.  This doesn't work anymore because China has developed to the world's largest GHG emitter.  At COP-13 and -14, China's refusal was backed up by other poor countries; consensus was that it would be unfair for the new kid on the carbon block to take one for the team.  Since GHG emissions matter in cumulative terms, it's the older rich nations that had messed up.  So they must foot the bill.  At COP-15, this move didn't cut any ice with the Alliance of Small Island States, since they'll go under regardless whether sea level rise is America's or China's doing.  So in Durban China took some heat from its own former allies.

A more pragmatic consensus, it seems, will eventually happen: everybody's got to help, regardless of who's done the most harm in the past.  But until this consensus becomes political reality, chances are that the problems will worsen, for the speed difference between nature and culture is glaring: Gaia is moving ever faster, and politicians are moving ever slower.

So the trends in the Earth System and in humankind continue as before, and the new realities are solidifying.  Climate Action Tracker tells us that even if all current climate treaties are scrupulously followed, the world 'continues to be on a pathway of over 3 C warming with likely extremely severe impacts".

So ... THIS IS KIND OF BORING, and we can leave it at that.  For the blog, this means a tweak.  From now on, I'd like to ignore the daily social grind (unless something awesome happens, of course), and instead focus more on civil evolution and the conceptual level of climate change.

One thing on the to-do-list this semester is to post the new Climate Philosophy Newsletter, meanwhile the fifth of its kind.  Vol 5, a retrospective of 2011, may be even larger than the outsize 2010 volume.  The big news in 2010 was the arrival of Climate Ethics as a new branch on the Tree of Philosophy.  The big complaint in my 2011 Environmental Ethics Seminar was that Climate Ethics is narrow-minded--it's a scholastic exercise in utilitarian applications for legal-minded analytics.  If this is philosophy's ultimate response to climate change, then I'm gonna cry.  There's no vision.  Thinking remains trapped in a conventional box, and a really tiny one at that.  Vision and outside-the-box thinking would be what Climate Philosophy is for.  But where is Climate Philosophy?  So far it's the same as Climate Ethics, which sucks.

Well then: do we already have a new creative philosophy, or does it remain just a newsletter title and promissory note?

Another thing to do, which I'd like to pursue in future posts here, is to discuss the problem of Climate Reductionism.  The history of science research annual Osiris published in 2011 an issue on klima, with a stellar introduction by J R Fleming and V Jankovic, but with a somewhat annoying final essay by M Hulme (East Anglia), titled "Reducing the future to climate: a story of climate determinism and reductionism" (pp. 245-266).  It's well-written, well-researched, well-considered, very professorial, very scholarly, very English ... and set my B.S. detector ringing.  Loudly.  More about it next time.

Fifty-nine months left.