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“Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one?”

Written By: - Date published: 9:54 am, October 22nd, 2013 - 68 comments
Categories: climate change - Tags:

Lord Nicolas Stern, who wrote a ground-breaking report on the economic costs of climate change against the costs of stopping it (conclusion: stopping it is cheap compared to the cost of not), has changed his mind. Climate change is getting worse, faster, and heading to worse results than he thought. It’s no longer a matter of avoiding disaster, but how bad it gets.

Stern’s quote in the title – “Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one?” – really hits me. He’s referring to the odds of catastrophic runaway climate change. This is the situation that we’ve put ourselves in: there’s a good chance it will happen, the only question now is how big we let the risk get.

If we care at all for our futures, and our descendents, we’ve got to act.

68 comments on ““Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one?” ”

  1. Ennui 1

    Why Lord Stern did not come to the immediate conclusion that climate change was a direct result (in economic terms) of NOT charging for the use of the commons? The question has always been who pays, or more precisely what are industry and consumers NOT paying for?

    Maybe looking at economics for a cure only teaches us a couple of things: that greed trumps reality, and that the Golden Rule applies (he who has the gold makes the rules). Consequently we might as well give up on economic solutions, it is like tax, nobody wants to pay.

    • karol 1.1

      Yes, this quote from Stern in the linked article:

      But he called for increased investment in greening the economy, saying: “It’s a very exciting growth story.”

      Contradiction, much.

      I saw a report on AL Jazeera this morning, on the pollution in some Chinese cities. This is what has been achieved by off-shoring production to places like China in order to maintain the ailing world industrial-capitalist system.

      • Tat Loo 1.1.1

        Corporate leaders and shareholders maintain the illusion of infinite growth for the well off western public by offshoring the pollution and environmental degradation which results.

        We get the benefits of cheap high tech mass production, Asia and Africa get the downsides of the mines, serf staffed factories, and environmental destruction.

        Fair deal?

      • greywarbler 1.1.2

        And in carrying that production from China to the purchasing country’s destination, bringing in foreign organisms that have escaped from the woodwaste, pallets etc. and have killed off practically all the ash trees in parts of USA and Europe. That is almost all of a large tree species that has evolved over aeons, which would be an important part of balancing global warming and climate change etc. Gone. They can’t save them. Scientists are trying to find a some from the Asian species that have a defence in their genes that enables them to co-exist with the pest. But this will take time, and the trees that have died were well grown ones probably hundreds of years old.

        Bloody free market capitalism, ruins ordinary people’s standard of living, by finding cheaper sources of labour, gives people there a little employment and money to survive on, then ruins their standard of living with practices that degrade their environment. And then moves on and leaves the poor people worse off and the finaglers with fat, smooth fingers. Indonesia – cutting down palm tree groves, spoiling water and people’s ability to live off the land, self-manage and be self-sufficient.

        Which incidentally in NZ was one of the comments that John Banks made about the way poor people should live. Yet he belongs to the $-eyeball group that squeezes all the juiice from the fruit and leaves the empty husk for the people. These money-hungry people have no scruples (a word that has changed meaning from being a very small amount to having doubt about the morality of an action) so everybody ends up with no scruples. Very sad.

        • greywarbler 1.1.2.1

          Thinking further about this business of main chance marketeers going into a place and utilising all the resources and leaving. There are succinct sayings about this – one would be Shoots, Roots and Leaves.

          A more Classical one would be I Came, I Saw and I Conquered which could be adulterated in a common way as I came, I saw, and I conked’er.

  2. Tat Loo 2

    If we care at all for our futures, and our descendents, we’ve got to act.

    Excellent sentiment, unfortunately the capitalist run, yield maximising, quarterly focused economic system disagrees. And to date, their advocates have proven more influential than any countering voices.

    For instance, look how many governments and major corporations around the world are pushing for a steady state economy, with no growth in resource, energy or carbon use. Not many, are there, I fear.

    • MrSmith 2.1

      “pushing for a steady state economy,”

      The current monetary system would soon collapse without growth and inflation, so we have designed a system which is now past it use by date, but unfortunately to many people are addicted to it now and will not go without there fix, well not without a fight.

      • Tat Loo 2.1.1

        Correct. Reminds me of:

        You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

        And a steady state economy is actually not sustainable at current levels anyways…2.9B short tons of coal used p.a., etc. But it’s a damn sight better than this exponential growth curve that we think we can manage.

        • weka 2.1.1.1

          So instead of trying to get from Capitalist/perpetual growth-based Economy to a Steady State Economy, we need to find the stepping stone. Where is it that we can realistically get to from where we are now, that takes us in the right direction for moving on to a SSE?

          • Ennui 2.1.1.1.1

            Good question: I dont think people will be too keen to “regress” which is how they will take change. Maybe when the availability of things we take for granted is again in perpetual question their expectations may change.

            I have tried to envisage what the new resource strapped world will look like…if we took the major products of industrialization out of the mix and looked back at a craft based economy we could look a bit like early colonial NZ…not such a bad thing.

            • Tat Loo 2.1.1.1.1.1

              Good questions. All change has costs. The question is, what are the proposed benefits?

              Also think about the “regressions” brought about over the last 30 years. Twin income households which can’t make ends meet. Working poor. Cheaper goods but fewer jobs and lower paid. Ability to go out shopping 24/7 but less job security and more precarious employment. Small towns like Shannon and Oamaru hit by unrecoverable job losses, tearing the heart out of rural communities. Government and private debt levels inexorably climbing etc.

              Of course, the neolibs sold these changes with the promise of a “brighter future”. Bwahahaha.

              • Bill

                If discrete groups of people arranged their affairs and physical living spaces so that the group became the economically engaged unit as opposed to the exhalted individual as we have at present, then all types of consumption – from produced goods to electrical power, jobs, transport and fuels – all would plummet dramatically.

                But *you* want your punt at the kiwi dream with its whatever acres, beads, bangles and measures of success. And to throw your lot in with others, well…they’re all thieving bastards who’d rip you off, pull you down and hold you back, right? I mean we know this. It’s what Capitalist market economies openly encourage and reward..the selfishness and the cunning.

                And the simple step that would recognise those traits as mere cultural or economic constructs that would fade and wither under conditions where they weren’t rewarded is, for some reason or other, a step we are fearful to take. Maybe we secretly enjoy being selfish and cunning fucktards? That must be it I guess.

                • Draco T Bastard

                  And the simple step that would recognise those traits as mere cultural or economic constructs that would fade and wither under conditions where they weren’t rewarded is, for some reason or other, a step we are fearful to take.

                  For some strange reason we believe the rich psychopaths when they say that they’ll leave and then we’ll have nothing rather than pointing out to them that if they leave they will leave with nothing.

            • MrSmith 2.1.1.1.1.2

              Yes the old standard of living must to keep improving mustn’t it, when we probably need to start with education revolving around things like you can’t have a better standard of living without first providing evidence it can be done sustainably, but of-course we could, as we are, all just get drunk on greed and fuck everyone else.

              Until we start honestly talking about humans self-interest I fear nothing will change, i always remember a trick we used to play on my grand father he was deaf as a post but whisper “here’s $20 granddad” and he suddenly could hear.

  3. muzza 3

    As long as those who control the monetary and financial systems are calling the shots, there is only going to the outcomes they decide and desire!

    Little to nothing is what it it appears to be, and carping on about the state of the worlds environment, as if the masses have the capability to influence it under current tact, is wearing thin.

    Evil is in control, lies and deceit, the go to plays…

  4. King Kong 4

    So I guess in order to show how seriously you take this you will have sold your car and refuse to travel by plane. New tech consumables would probably be a no no as well.

    If I truly believed something like this I would hope that I had the courage of conviction to live my life as an example for others to follow. At least it would be a demonstration of how serious I believed the issue to be.

    Not seeing much of this from “the believers”. And no, growing a stupid beard doesn’t count.

    • karol 4.1

      Really? How do you know?

      And it’s not about “never”, but about cutting back as much as possible. You should try it.

      • King Kong 4.1.1

        Well that is convenient.

        From now on in my house we will turn the oven off when we are am not using it. Maybe then my family can also walk around like these pious heal the world types (am still going to request that my wife waxes her clacker though)

        • Rogue Trooper 4.1.1.1

          something still stuck in your throat…

        • karol 4.1.1.2

          Oh, please. Again I say, what evidence do you have that many of us don’t use and/or buy material resources sparingly?

          You are shadow boxing with you own unreliable assumptions:

          eg. haven’t taken a plane ride since about 2006. Use my car only a couple of times a week, for some essential journeys. Walk a lot and take public transport. Don’t invest in a lot of hardware or other technological things. Grow a small amount of veges…. etc, etc.

          Could we do more? probably. Could more people do more to live environmentally sustainable lives? Undoubtedly.

          Instead of making diversionary arguments, maybe you should look at what could be done to make a positive difference.

          And your sexism isn’t appreciated.

    • miravox 4.2

      A while ago you said people on this site were middle-aged losers who still lived with their mums (so immediately that’s a smaller environmental footprint than your draughty old Thorndon villa, btw).

      Now we have the wherewithal to own cars and travel by plane. Make your mind up.

    • stever 4.3

      “The perfect is the enemy of the good” said someone…

      Just because we can’t be perfect (i.e. for example do nothing that emits any CO2) doesn’t mean we should not all try!!!!

      How hard is it to understand that?

      Unless, of course, all you want to do is a raise a false dichotomy in order to give a reason for doing nothing.

      • King Kong 4.3.1

        It is you lot that are giving the reason for doing nothing. “Catastrophe abounds but we won’t do anything drastic until everybody does”. Typical lefties, no personal responsibility.

        I recycle, have just installed an energy efficient central heating system and walk to work. Tell me what else I have to do.

        • McFlock 4.3.1.1

          vote for a government that will control emissions and limit fossil fuel mining, rather than encouraging both.

          • viv k 4.3.1.1.1

            You could advocate for a rapid change to a renewable energy powered society, instead of talking crap about expecting people who are trying to change the current system to exit the system.
            The ‘you use fossil fuels so no one should listen to you’ line is ridiculous. We have to do what we can to make it possible for society to run on renewables, then everyone can reduce their carbon footprint. And until Parliament is run virtually as a video conference, the Green MPs have to fly there.

          • King Kong 4.3.1.1.2

            In other words pay up in cold hard cash on artificially more expensive power and still consuming the same amount whilst the poor go without.

            Genius.

            • McFlock 4.3.1.1.2.1

              Well, more expensive power in the short term will make investment in developing alternative forms of power more attractive, and therefore cheaper, sooner.

              As opposed to your alternative which gives you a sense of moral superiority but in actuality is farting before a thunderstorm.

              more expensive power and still consuming the same amount

              Nice to know you believe that the supply/demand concept is bunk though, monkeyboy. Don’t tell your friends at the sewer that capitalism doesn’t work – they’ll call you a communist.

            • Draco T Bastard 4.3.1.1.2.2

              Renewable energy is inherently cheaper because it doesn’t use up finite resources. The dollar value placed upon fossil fuels is, as matter of fact, many times below what it should be. This is another example of the free-market failing as it prices pretty much everything incorrectly.

        • captain hook 4.3.1.2

          stick you r head in abucket of water three times and only pull it out twice.

    • Rogue Trooper 4.4

      more than just beardies

  5. Bill 5

    Sitting waiting for a bus last week and became aware that all I could hear was the noise of engines burning petrol putting CO2 into the air. And it didn’t cease or abate – just kept going. And most of those engines were pumping CO2 in the interests of transporting one person, where? To the supermarket, dairy or some other incidental point on a circular journey back to square one?

    Maybe some were on their lunchbreak from a job involving a building needing heated or machinery run and CO2 produced so that they could ‘make money’ to pay a mortgage and bills because….well, why? Are we really so sunk in the mindset of economic enslavement that we are ‘content’ to spend time engaged in relatively meaningless, CO2 rich tasks just to get money; tasks and their associated activities that entail the shutting down ‘a million and one’ possible futures?

  6. Bill 6

    Is it worth pointng out that Stern is being far too rosy in his prognosis? The chances of avoiding really, really fucked up levels of warming are running, according to the science, at about 40/60. Which in Russian Roulette terms equates to about 3 bullets in a 6 bullet chamber, not 1 or 2.

  7. ghostrider888 7

    “If this is isn’t what you see
    It doesn’t make you blind
    If you don’t want to believe
    You don’t have to try

    Alive in the Superunknown

  8. johnm 8

    1970 2 bullets in the chamber of Climate Chaos Disaster.
    1980 3 bullets in the chamber of Climate Chaos Disaster.
    1990 4 bullets in the chamber of Climate Chaos Disaster.
    2000 5 bullets in the chamber of Climate Chaos Disaster.
    2013 6 bullets in the chamber of Climate Chaos Disaster.

    IMHO We are past the talk stage, now it’s how will we adapt to the inevitable?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRGVTK-AAvw
    http://guymcpherson.com/2013/01/climate-change-summary-and-update/

    Look what’s happening to Australia now: severe bush fires in the Spring.
    http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/10/20
    So much for Tony (Ignorance is strength) Abbott’s famous statement “Climate Change is Crap” Mate! Keep rolling out the coal exports Feck the great barrier reef! Mate

    • Tat Loo 8.1

      Abbott just terminated the Climate Commission. And now he is dealing with fires on the scale of a state emergency.

      It’s this irrational decision making by and inability to respond of our ruling class which is leading us to disaster.

      And get this: Tony Abbott is a volunteer fire fighter and he’s been helping out on the front line. Looks like fighting fires will be the hallmark of his PM’ship.

      • joe90 8.1.1

        The Climate Commission wasn’t the only thing he cut.

        The Abbott government has tightened the eligibility requirements for bushfire victims to receive recovery funds in a move that Labor has described as ”heartless” and ”an absolute nonsense”.
        People who have been cut off from their homes or who have no electricity have not been deemed eligible in the first round of disaster payments determined by Justice Minister Michael Keenan.

        http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/government-limiting-recovery-funds-heartless-20131020-2vv36.html

      • greywarbler 8.1.2

        It gives you great photo ops standing beside a blonde female fire fighter? with long hair carefully arranged around her shoulders! and not a smut of soot on her face (what can be seen of it under the thicket of hair. But blonde tick, young tick, in yellow safety jackets tick, in front of fire service vehicle tick, great shot of Our Man Getting His Hands Dirty. I think he was backburning for quite a few hours.

        Anyway a better look than that dozy politician sheila last big fire. Sitting around watching it all on the tv or something giving the feeling that she wouldn’t be seen dead out there, though some public and firefighters were.

      • muzza 8.1.3

        Abbott will be the PM who signs Oz into the TPPA, by looks of it!

        Fire lighter, not fire fighter!

      • Murray Olsen 8.1.4

        Tony Abbott’s front line help consists of having his photo taken in a yellow coat, eating lunch, and disappearing. The firemen on the ground are fairly scathing of his efforts.

    • johnm 8.2

      Basically the Planet is fucked off with us and, and, and We may not survive its anger, keep talking suckers! We’re shooting ourselves with 6 full chambers bye bye Humans, but keep yacking on fools.

      • greywarbler 8.2.1

        johnm
        I’m worried that we will not leave the planet till we have destroyed it. We want to live on until our neurons melt. Unfortunately our blue planet and all the other living beings on it, with their own consciousnes, lives, beauty, purpose and their future populations may not survive us and our destructive, malicious thoughts as we compete for our last big olympiks.

        And the oil drillers cast the term ‘science fiction’ at Greenpeace scenario about our coast, just as they would say comic book. The speaker on Radionz this morning was so ignorant that he doesn’t realise that many of these stories, and comic books too, are outlining what will happen to people in largely unimagined but possible scenarios.

        The satellites now so common were an Isamov imagined story once weren’t they?

    • johnm 8.3

      How do we deal with inevitable Climate Chaos? Guy McPherson.
      Presentation at Boulder Colorado.

      “I delivered a presentation on climate chaos in Boulder, Colorado on the evening of Wednesday, 16 October 2013. The result is embedded below, with thanks to hosts and facilitators Jenny Ferry, Carolyn Baker, Jenelle Green, Dan Green, Deanna Meyer, and Patrick O’Leary (and also thanks and apologies to those I’ve doubtless forgotten).”

      • Chooky 8.3.1

        cant hear the sound, not sure why….dont think it is a fault at this end ( however as I am a tech retard this is possible)

        ..if the sound on this presentation is fixable( and it is not just dummie me at this end) i would appreciate this being posted up again at a later date…maybe in Open Mike ?

  9. +1 Johnm

    But I think Guy McPherson would say that 2007 was the year of the full chamber…

    “…On the topic of tipping points, we crossed the Rubicon in 2007 at about 0.76 C warming. At this point, according to David Spratt’s excellent September 2013 report, “Is Climate Already Dangerous?” Not only had Arctic sea-ice passed its tipping point, but the Greenland Ice Sheet may not be far behind, as the Arctic moves to sea-ice-free conditions in summer. Glaciologist Jason Box, an expert on Greenland ice, agrees. Box was quoted in a 5 December 2012 article in the Guardian: “In 2012 Greenland crossed a threshold where for the first time we saw complete surface melting at the highest elevations in what we used to call the dry snow zone. … As Greenland crosses the threshold and starts really melting in the upper elevations it really won’t recover from that unless the climate cools significantly for an extended period of time which doesn’t seem very likely.”

    If you think we’ll adapt, think again. The rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. And it’s not as if extinction events haven’t happened on this planet, as explained in the BBC program, The Day the Earth Nearly Died.

    The rate of climate change clearly has gone beyond linear, as indicated by the presence of the myriad self-reinforcing feedback loops described below, and now threatens our species with extinction in the near term. Anthropologist Louise Leakey ponders our near-term demise in her 5 July 2013 assessment at Huffington Post and Canadian wildlife biologist Neil Dawe joins party of near-term extinction in an interview 29 August 2013 and ** musician-turned-activist Sir Bob Geldof joins the fray in a Daily Star article from 6 October 2013. ** In the face of near-term human extinction, most Americans view the threat as distant and irrelevant, as illustrated by a 22 April 2013 article in the Washington Post based on poll results that echo the long-held sentiment that elected officials should be focused on the industrial economy, not far-away minor nuisances such as climate change…”

    http://guymcpherson.com/2013/01/climate-change-summary-and-update/

    • weka 9.1

      MacPherson’s prognosis of human extinction is theoretical. He claims evidence, but it’s not there any time I’ve gone looking for it. What I find is his extrapolations and projections from his own pain. He may very well be right, but he hasn’t proven that yet and he does the world a great disservice speaking as if he has. As do people who quote him as knowing the Truth.

      I’m also curious why you bother commenting on a political blog if we are all doomed. What’s that about?

      • red rattler 9.1.1

        Weka, what a ludicrous argument.

        “Extrapolations and projections from his own pain”.

        You think that McPherson is making this up because he feels bad about something?

        Speak for yourself.

        All scientific projections about the future are extrapolations on past and existing trends informed by what causes those trends. Anything else is superstition and ignorance.

        “…If you’re too busy to read the evidence presented below, here’s the bottom line: On a planet 4 C hotter than baseline, all we can prepare for is human extinction (from Oliver Tickell’s 2008 synthesis in the Guardian). Tickell is taking a conservative approach, considering humans have not been present at 3.5 C above baseline (i.e., the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, commonly accepted as 1850). According to the World Bank’s 2012 report, “Turn down the heat: why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided” and an informed assessment of “BP Energy Outlook 2030” put together by Barry Saxifrage for the Vancouver Observer, our path leads directly to the 4 C mark. According to Colin Goldblatt, author of a paper published online in the 28 July 2013 issue of Nature Geoscience, “The runaway greenhouse may be much easier to initiate than previously thought.” Furthermore, as pointed out in the 1 August 2013 issue of Science, in the near term Earth’s climate will change orders of magnitude faster than at any time during the last 65 million years…”

        McPherson thinks we cannot avoid 4.0 C. but that doesn’t stop him acting as if he could stop it. For him industrial civilisation has to collapse now. To me that is a euphemism for the fall of capitalism.

        So lets debate global warming, why would we shut up and wait till the end with our heads in the sand. We may not survive but lets give it a shot. I won’t go easily unless we take out capitalism on the way. Who knows if this will be enough, but it sure will be a consolation. Let’s die standing up fighting for humanity as part of nature and not homo stupidus in the fossil record of the Anthropocene.

        • red rattler 9.1.1.1

          Video of Guy McPherson’s latest talk addresses what do we do now?
          Act!
          http://guymcpherson.com/2013/10/presentation-in-boulder-colorado/

          • weka 9.1.1.1.1

            “All scientific projections about the future are extrapolations on past and existing trends informed by what causes those trends. Anything else is superstition and ignorance.”

            Maybe, but science is not value or bias free either. McPherson’s bias needs to be overtly recognised.

        • weka 9.1.1.2

          “You think that McPherson is making this up because he feels bad about something?”

          No, I don’t. I think that McPherson believes that humans WILL go extinct and that there is nothing that can be done to prevent this now. It’s fine he believes that, and his belief if based on intelligent analysis of the situation. But he’s not god, and there is no way for anyone at this stage to KNOW what is going to happen. It’s not fine that he presents impending extinction as fact. Which is what he does.

          As for projecting from his pain, he appears to be part of a movement that now sees our situation as irredemable and therefore best practice is to come to terms with this and prepare for our doom. Again, that’s fine for him to hold that view. I just think that people need to know that his arguments are theoretical, and that his view influences what he presents.

          I notice that you didn’t answer my question:

          “I’m also curious why you bother commenting on a political blog if we are all doomed. What’s that about?”

          I think that McPherson’s view, and people posting him as Truth, is a form of scaremongering that is counter-productive. Most humans will shut off in the face of a future that is hopeless and that they have no control over. AGW is hard enough for people to cope with mentally and emotionally, without also telling them that we are all going to die quite soon (plus their kids and grandkids). McPherson appears to have moved substantially from the “our actions might make a difference” to “it’s too late for our actions to make a difference”.

          It’s big of him for sure, to keep acting in the face of his belief in extinction. Most people don’t have that capacity and IMO what he presents will make it more likely for them to do nothing, or to party while the band plays on.

  10. tricledrown 10

    King Kong wow being reasonable.
    Well done you are doing well no doubt we can all improve.

  11. Philgwellington Wellington 11

    Xox
    I look everywhere and can’t find the door. It’s a nightmare and I can’t wait to wake up.

  12. karol 12

    Dr Salinger, Climate Scientist, is talking at Auckland Uni tonight, 6pm, Owen Glenn building.

    Also talking,Professor Glenn McGregor (Professor of Climatology, University of Auckland) and Dr Jan Sinclair (Massey University, Albany)

  13. Rhinocrates 13

    Ah, Russian Roulette – if you must play it, do it with a revolver and not an automatic. Now, however, it looks like we might be a arguing not about the number of bullets, but the calibre.

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