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Has climate change been trumped?

Written By: - Date published: 10:11 am, May 23rd, 2010 - 32 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment, science - Tags:

Climate change, despite the skeptics, has a firm grip on the international agenda. However a report due out soon is to challenge the assumption that this is where international efforts should be focused. According to Friday’s Guardian:

The economic case for global action to stop the destruction of the natural world is even more powerful than the argument for tackling climate change, a major report for the United Nations will declare this summer.

The Stern report on climate change, which was prepared for the UK Treasury and published in 2007, famously claimed that the cost of limiting climate change would be around 1%-2% of annual global wealth, but the longer-term economic benefits would be 5-20 times that figure.

The UN’s biodiversity report dubbed the Stern for Nature is expected to say that the value of saving “natural goods and services”, such as pollination, medicines, fertile soils, clean air and water, will be even higher between 10 and 100 times the cost of saving the habitats and species which provide them…In future, it says, communities should be paid for conserving nature rather than using it; companies given stricter limits on what they can take from the environment and fined or taxed more to limit over-exploitation.

I can’t see how working to incorporate such a policy shift would sit alongside the reduce and slice approach of the government…

32 comments on “Has climate change been trumped? ”

  1. Ari 1

    Oh hey, that sounds like the sort of thing us greenies have been saying for years.

    Nice of the UN to get aboard. 🙂

    • ianmac 1.1

      Agreed Ari. Even if the human cause of warming was disproved, it would still be well worthwhile to clean up all those things as above. I can’t understand that the deniers can’t see that. Are the deniers saying “make as much mess as you like. It doesn’t matter!”

  2. NickS 2

    Took them long enough, the work from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment point this out back in 05 when the first reports came out. 😛

    And cue certain economists coming out and proclaiming the estimates for the economic benefits and costs of loss of ecosystem services are “wrong”.

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    Well, I suppose the question is: How long ago did NACT know that this was coming out and were they trying to give away mining rights to our most valuable land before it did?

  4. Marco 4

    People can argue against the merits of Climate Change until their blue in the face. But the deniers are more financed and have better PR.
    What we need is an argument that says “Pollution is Bad” backed by the bio diversity evidence you shift the focus, but can achieve the same result.

  5. Bill 5

    If ‘merely’ one million people in NZ ( lets be utterly conservative ) believe that the seasonal climate we enjoy is about to be become a thing of myth and legend. And if that same 25% of the population understands that when the climate goes, a myriad of eco systems as well as agriculture and most of our cultural footing on existence goes. Then the question arises as to why any one of that 25% of the population is bothering to argue the point or petitioning for various authorities to take the lead on action? Why is any single one of that one million concerned about a stupid propaganda war when there is a future to win…against the prospect of a myriad of possible futures extinguished?

    Where are the people standing up and being counted? Any ideas? ‘Cause I’d like to stand with them but suspect there is no-one anywhere. Because the worlds of intellectual entertainment, intellectual speculation and a certain form of intellectual exercise, encompass all there is to be had in relation to a reaction to climate change and associated crises.

    In other words, no intelligent action is unfolding. Nothing. No movements are forming. No building sense of enough being enough is peculating our common conciousness, or our cultures, and translating into a resistance to or an alternative to the indefatigable march of the market and associated forms of human expression or organisation…in spite of the fact that we ‘know’ this shit is going to be the end of us.

  6. just saying 6

    It might be small scale so far, but there is a movement of like-minded people sharing information, taking actions in their communties, and learning to live differently – the sustainable action movement for one. I went to my inbox to put up some links, but they were all for my own community. I know the green party has some involvement (though it’s wider than just the greens) and would know how you could get in touch with people in your area.

    I took a sustainable living course last month and was surprised at the range of different people who came along, and of their committment. It might be just grass roots so far, but considering how demanding the movement is in terms of how much change is required (of individuals as well as of society iteslf) it’s getting a surprising head of steam in my neck of the woods.

    The relentless information about just how deep in the shit we already are is really depressing, and being a pessismist, I’m inclined to believe the worst about whether enough people will do enough in time to save this beautiful old world. But the movement IS gaining a momentum.

    (Sorry to shout mods, but I don’t have any of my ‘word’ tools in firefox to add emphasis)

    Is this what you meant Bill, or are you looking for more emphasis on changing society, demanding political action etc. This is part of the movement too, but there is more of an emphasis on planting trees, growing foods, reestablishing community etc. Very labour intensive!

    • Bill 6.1

      None of the stuff you allude to is bad per se. But none of it is particularly effective when the bulk of people’s time is spent on following the same old patterns and paying homage to the same old institutions and reward systems that are directly responsible for creating this situation we find ourselves in.

      And that’s why the stuff you allude to can be detrimental. It can engender a false sense of security… it can allow people to continue living in the same old way by creating a space whereby people can delude themselves that their weekend activities are sufficient and their weekday/workday activities irrelevant or sustainable on the balance of things.

      In other words, an astounding and potentially deadly level of hypocrisy is brought into being that locks us in to incomplete action when what we need is the tree planting and the veg growing and so very much more plus the crucial and difficult part…an absolute refusal to contribute to the political/industrial traditions and norms that have led us to be here.

      And that last bit is difficult because those things we need to walk away from are those things that have provided us with the measure of ourselves.

      So in an odd way, we have to walk away from ourselves ( everything that goes to make up our sense of self) to save ourselves. And I think that’s why everyone seems to treat all this stuff as intellectual rather than as very, very real and why the stuff that could be happening right now and that probably needs to happen right now simply isn’t happening and possibly won’t.

      • just saying 6.1.1

        Actually I agree with you about the need for a much more fundamental change, but don’t agree that those planting trees etc have a false sense of security. Noone can look into what’s going on and feel secure. Noone believes that any of these community efforts can or will change the trajectory that the world is on unless they are a few inadequate steps towards much much more, and that includes changing the traditional political/ industrial norms that have led us here. I certainly don’t. But then, I think we’re doomed.

        I do agree that these sort of movements can help people to not feel so damn powerless, and (though I wouldn’t want to begrudge them that) I can see how that might lead to the kind of complacency I think you are talking about. Maybe that was part of my motivation – though if so it has had the exact opposite result for me.

        I think we do need to walk away from ourselves, I’d think that even without the threat of annihilation, and we’d all be so much better off if we did. I wish I could see what we are facing as the push humanity has always needed, and sometimes when I feel really positive I even do.

        So if you find the movement you’re looking for let me know. I hope I wouldn’t be too world-weary or chickenshit to jump.

        • Bored

          I think we are probably doomed as a species, fortunately for other species evolutionary systems probably built the self destruct thing into our genes as a way of getting rid of us should we become a pestilential virus….we have just this year produced artificial life, its probably time for us to go before we pervert existence further in our attempt to play God.

          Actually putting the dark commentary aside the real problem seems to be one of disconnectedness with the life around us, and as a consequence a total disrespect. Until we realise that we are part of a closed loop system we will continue to destroy. On a practical level this is really hard, just try going through the day on a zero balance impact and everything we do becomes impossible. Then try and persuade even the most fervent greeny to do without modern conveniences, and you see how hard it is to stop us living in our current arrangements.

          To be positive I think our only real option is to endeavour to simplify our domestic needs on an individual basis whilst resisting the urges of the cornucopialists to destroy even more in their pursuit of nothing in particular (because that is really what that amounts to, carpe diem).

          • just saying

            I know what you mean about our disconnectedness. And we really all do (me included) live in a fairy-land of what we imagine ourselves to be. Yet there’s this elephant in the room all the time – our utter, helpless, inter-dependence.

            • Bill

              I’ve heard this ‘we are not wired to avoid danger, but only to adapt to it’ ( or some such) nonsense around.

              Which means we are all jay walkers incapable of comprehending a ‘green cross code’ or whatever label pedestrians avoiding the danger of on coming vehicles is listed under these days?

              And incapable of stepping off of rain tracks should we feel, hear or see a train coming?

              Of course not. So we can act to avoid climate collapse. And if we act now we may be acting in time.

              But here’s a thing. Is climate change being viewed as a mountain that will have to be climbed or a train on the tracks we have to step aside from?

              If the former, then we can sit down and talk about it. We can argue whether to dress for summer or winter climbing and what provisions and equipment to pack and so on for our assault on ‘our’ mountain..
              And when we have done all that and are finally confronted by the reality of climate change…’our’ mountain…. the realisation that it is unassailable; that we don’t posses the equipment or technology or the biological wherewithal to pull it off will be coming to us just a tad too late.

              If the latter, then we can sit down and talk and be track splat caught out mid sentence. Or not talk. No need. Just move aside.

              So scenario two is simple. And yet….that stepping aside. Easier to sit down and talk about climbing mountains perhaps?

              • Bored

                Bill, I get the drift of trying to avoid the oncoming precipous because we have glanced around and noticed its imminent arrival. What concerns me is the precedents for inaction that abound in our mythology, Gilgamesh or Noah and the flood, etc etc. The human condition is to enjoy the party maybe because we all fear that we cannot individually control future outcomes. So we live for the day, tomorrow is in the lap of the gods. In the myths the above gents got told by their fellows to basically “f**k off”. So they did and survived.

                The gods most prevalently alluded to are technology, economic growth and market signals….these exist as abstract concepts of salvation. Our mythology has risen these above our true nature. We are all part of the environment around us, a closed system that will not tolerate our attempts at technological necromancy, or magical non stop growth.

                I agree with you that getting the discussion taken seriously is the biggest problem before as you say “splat” in mid sentence. My sanity in the face of this issue depends upon making lots of small adjustments and encouraging others to do the same. Critical mass and tipping points, I think the planet may force the message faster than we are prepared. There will be trouble.

  7. Just a couple of points:

    1.The only reason why certain types oppose action on Climate Change /Global Warming is that it costs some money. If it was free, they’d be all for it.

    2. Those who repeatedly mention the Climategate saga as the final nail in the coffin of the Climate Change Conspiracy, would do well to hold their own arguments to such a high level of scrutiny.

    That is why climate change deniers can never be taken seriously. Their arguments are mostly irrelevant objections/stalling tactics to prevent action from ever being taken. Whether it is a good thing to take action irregardless not knowing what the outcome will be does not even get considered.

  8. Pepeketua 8

    New Zealand is up against it big time, what with being one of the ‘hotspots’ for biodiversity loss (a dubious honour), and a government hellbent on exploiting/wrecking what we have left…

    did anyone else spot the Conservation Minister’s comments to a peninsula tramping club meeting (http://www.ourwaterourvote.org.nz) also picked up by Claire Browning on Pundit?

    This in a week where as far as i can tell DOC got a piffling amount of money in the budget to go towards JK’s cycleway and some camping grounds… what went towards species recovery? anything?
    i note DOC’s budget has been slashed by $54million over four years anyway.

  9. Pascal's bookie 9

    Bill sayeth:

    And I think that’s why everyone seems to treat all this stuff as intellectual rather than as very, very real and why the stuff that could be happening right now and that probably needs to happen right now simply isn’t happening and possibly won’t.

    Guy over here
    says, reviewing an intellectual’s book:

    Tainter makes this observation; substantial increased costs occurred late, shortly before collapse and were incurred by a population already weakened by a pattern of declining marginal returns. It was not a challenge that caused the collapse but a system that had been unproductively complex was unable to respond.

    Tainter says that the only solution for over complexity is simplification but complex systems are unable to voluntarily simplify. Collapse is nothing more than involuntary simplification. He further states that collapse is “not a fall to some primordial chaos, but a return to the normal human condition of lower complexity an economizing process’ – it’s not a catastrophe. I would guess that the millions (billions)of people who are displaced or will die might disagree with that conclusion.

    What we see today is a sociopolitical system that requires more and more resources to maintain but is unable to respond to challenges in a meaningful or productive way. Climate Change, Peak oil, peak water, peak soil and peak many other resources most of us wouldn’t recognize are the challenges.

    (emph mine)

    Digby sez on another issue:

    I think the human instinct is often to retreat in such circumstances, which is why the public seems apathetic. I suspect they are too afraid to find out that not only isn’t there a real life Bruce Willis — there isn’t anyone who can fix this. It’s a very frightening thought.

    • Bill 9.1

      So if the complex system cannot voluntarily simplify and the complex system is going to bring about climate collapse and energy famine, then we abandon it. No?

      Either we can stay inside the parameters of this particular complex system and be victims of the involuntary simplification of collapse, or we can step outside now – and take a painful though lesser hit – and use available resources to create something new and adaptive which avoids climate collapse, energy famine and the devastating effects of hiding under the covers with our eyes tight closed in inaction.

      That about the size of it?

      Looks like a good book btw. ( Not so sure about societies being problem solving entities…climate collapse was created by society after all) Reminds me of another (by Diamond?) on various societal collapses through history

      • Pascal's bookie 9.1.1

        I dunno.
        But I think he is saying that this

        “we can step outside now and take a painful though lesser hit and use available resources to create something new and adaptive which avoids climate collapse, energy famine and the devastating effects of hiding under the covers with our eyes tight closed in inaction.”

        is not something that societies have been able to do. When society needs to change itself, the tools it has to effect change are sometimes the cause of the problem? The sort of transformation that needs to take place will require either collapse, or an enormous amount of complexity in getting everyone on board. It can’t do the latter while it’s already using every last scrap of energy it can find to maintain the staus quo, and it’s doing that because that’s what it’s designed to do…

        I don’t have any suggestions, other than the hope that if maybe the political architecture can hold together, (as opposed to the economic which is doomed) then we can get through without too much bloodshed. That’s where I think more energy needs to be spent. Coming up with grand economic solutions to save the economic structure is futile. Making sure the political structures are present to work out what a new economic structure might look like?

        But that’s still just sitting on the tracks and talking about it.

        Fucked if I know really.

        • Bill

          “But he’s saying that this (….) is not something that societies have been able to do”

          I can’t see why that’s a problem but then I wonder if we are using the word ‘society’ in the same way?

          eg I don’t believe there is any such thing as NZ society per se. Rather, I see an interwoven web of thousands and thousands of societies ( We are all members of several, determined and defined simply by our social interaction) whose total sum equates to the liberal fiction of this nation or this society.

          But I see no reason why societies cannot step out from beneath that particular umbrella. The meta society ( if I’m allowed to invent terms) will of course perish. But that’s the point isn’t it?

          Can’t bend my head to see any other outcome. It either perishes because it has lost the societal parts that constitute it’s particular sum have abandoned it, or because they too have perished.

          Iconoclasm is coming to mind as perhaps a way of explaining with at least a degree of coherence. Maybe. Anyway. We either continue to believe and so clasp our hands tight together as climate collapse and peak oil and all the rest of it rushes towards us. Or we give the whole erstwhile embodiment of our political and economic belief the long finger, take the psychological trauma and perhaps mitigate it by throwing ourselves into creating something completely different and new.

          Either way, these societies; these movements or dynamics desist, stop, end. We can’t change their direction, but we can change ours resulting in their movement being extinguished and replaced by new dynamics, movement or societies.

  10. Carol 10

    How much should a person “give up” to make a serious contribution to this situation?

    I have always lived rather frugally & been very selective about what & how much I buy. e.g I cycled and/or road motor small motorbikes for at least a decade or two of my life. I would continue to ride bikes if I thought I couldm do so safely where I live (no Key cycle-way here). I use trains as much as possible, sometimes buses, and try to use my little car as little as possible. I tend to buy small electronic items & don’t renew them very often (eg I currently use the only mobile phone I have ever owned & it’s only good for phone calls and txting), I live in a small studio apartment etc, etc.

    If I was really serious about this issue, should I give up all electronic goods, grow my own food, etc, etc?

    • Bill 10.1

      You’re actions are those of a consumer. Even if you gave up absolutely everything…died… it would make no difference. ( Which is not to argue for extravagance)

      You need to act as a citizen.

      As citizens we are enslaved to very particular modes of production and distribution that deliberately generate waste, that insist on unnecessary repetition in production (inbuilt obsolescence) and frivolity ( What I call Kinder Surprise production)…all leading to an insane waste of energy and resources in distribution and all in the name of wealth creation.

      This is the stuff we need to reclaim – our systems of production and distribution – and organise along lines we actually want and find useful rather than simply for the sake of growth and profit.

      Put another way. Give up your servitude. Refuse to serve political and economic masters no matter the reward offered or the threat made.

      • Carol 10.1.1

        Sounds very worthy, but what does it mean in practical terms?

        • Bill

          What actions do you take that directly contribute to the maintenance of our disastrously failed systems of production and distribution?

          When you’ve identified them either stop participating in such actions or radically alter them so that your participation contributes to a solution rather than a problem.

          What that might mean in practical terms is for you to determine as only you know your situation.

          It might mean not doing the job you presently do. It might mean becoming your bosses ( and possible your union’s ) worst nightmare. It might mean radically reconfiguring your own business. It might mean setting up a business in conjunction with others that makes a positive contribution to your society or community and that embodies the values you’d like to see predominate in a desirable future.

          Or then again it might not require an obvious economic act at all. But whatever it means in practical terms, it must be more than mere conscientious consumerism because that on its own achieves nothing beyond a single salved conscience .

          • Carol

            Well, I’ve probably already done that. My life is just not organised around consumption & consumer choices, but real decisions, often to take less pay, and to do a job I see more worthwhile, rather than just stay on some promotion pathway. And, while I’ve enjoyed a pretty adequate income in recent years and I haven’t had a fulltime permanent job for over 15 years. My decisions about consumption are related to my work & income choices.

      • Bored 10.1.2

        Thank you Bill, you are as they say “on the money”.

        The issue I have as a citizen as opposed to a consumer is the lack of grip we have on our collective power until an event of great impact or critical juncture forces us to realise that we have a collective power if we have the collective will. A famine fomented the crisis leading to the collective might of the citizens of Paris chopping off the parasitic aristocracy, how will we respond to no petrol at the servo? Unfortunately with our system of democracy we have to little actual political consciousness prior to this type of event. Look at the only party to go down this track a little (the Greens) and see where they sit.

        Its depressing waiting on an event you dont want while requesting deaf ears to try and mitigate the coming event. One can only plan and get ready.

  11. Climate change and protecting biodiversity aren’t mutually exclusive.

    Climate change can lead to the extinction of species.

    Therefore, working to limit the effects of climate change does protect biodiversity.

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