The IPCC, lead advising body to the UN Framework on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, has finally started releasing its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). On one hand, I suppose this is a triumph of science. It’s full of carefully researched and synthesized data on the level of anthropogenic GHG emissions since the late 19th century, the level of sea rise, and the decline in Arctic ice. The IPCC concludes that global warming is “unequivocal.”
On the other hand, it’s not clear that this is going to make any difference whatsoever to the foreign policy of the laggard developed states – the US, Canada, and Japan. AR5 does not seem to add any more certainty than that present in AR4, which came out in 2007 (although, since AR4 was criticized for some methodological problems, I might be wrong there). This may be, as the Guardian indicates, a “landmark report,” but I really don’t see this influencing the 19th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP-19), currently scheduled for this November in Warsaw.
We’ll see, but it might be a cold day* in Hell before any of the laggard states change their tune due to science.
*Ironically, due to climate change, possibility of cold days in Hell projected to increase over the next 50 years.
I find this to be an interesting map, because there are a few different ways to interpret the data (which seem pretty accurate), that reflect how you think about people and the environment. The first is that the population of East and Southeast Asia is massive, and still growing. Since our environmental impact is a product of our population, affluence (or rate of consumption), and use of technology – or I = PAT for short – we could say that the population of East and Southeast Asia is alarming.
This is a logical connection to make. As multiple sites show, our 7 billion people on earth are consuming a lot of resources. Water, oil, and other natural resources are being used at rates that may seem Malthusian. Therefore, there is a solution that also seems pretty logical: we should curb (or reverse) population growth to slow the rate at which we are depleting the Earth’s resources. As this handy-dandy video indicates, our population’s exponential growth over the past 200 years is something unheralded.
The problem with this line of thinking (i.e. focusing on population as the source of environmental woes), is that it shifts the blame for the state of the world’s current condition to people who have not historically benefited from its overexploitation. While it is true that changing lifestyles in China mean that it (and other Asian countries) are consuming more and more, historically and presently, each North American and Western European consumes much more than each Asian.
Garrett Hardin – Secret Eugenicist
Further, this line of thinking may lead to very troubling conclusions. If we focus on population as the source of our problems, then our solutions should likewise focus on population. One prominent environmentalist, Garrett Hardin (read in almost every single class on environmental policy and politics) took this logic to its natural, eugenicist conclusion. In a paper titled “Lifeboat Ethics,” Hardin, noting the problem of a growing world population, argued for cutting off foreign aid to poor people living in Asia. He observed, as clinically as possible, that “every Indian life saved through medical or nutritional assistance from abroad diminishes the quality of life for those who remain, and for subsequent generations.”
The fact that it is we, living in the industrialized world, that are the primary consumers does not seem to have impressed him at all. Of course, population is a concern. And of course Asians (like everybody else, I should add) are consuming more than they did a generation ago. But let us not lose site of who is responsible for the ‘Non-Negotiable Lifestyle’ that started all this.