Pick a Number – Any Number

by | Jan 15, 2009

Worldwatch, which aims to ’empower decision makers to build an ecologically sustainable society that meets human needs’ have upped the stakes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – To avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, world carbon emissions will have to drop to near zero by 2050…

The increase now being demanded by Worldwatch pretends to have a rational, scientific basis…

“Global warming needs to be reduced from peak levels to 1 degree (Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) as fast as possible,” co-author William Hare said at a briefing on the “State of the World 2009” report. “At this level you can see some of the risks fade into the background.”

… but a far more likely explanation for the new figure is the need of huge eco-NGOs to have some kind of leverage over governments. After all, if Governments began to comply with the demands of these organisations, it would undermine their raison d’etre. What would be the point of a $multi-multi-multi million NGO, if its campaigning didn’t need to extend much beyond commissioning dark imaginations to draft its reports? 

Kyoto aimed for a 60% cut, apparently based on the IPCC’s reports. The UK Government has committed itself to an 80% cut. Obama has made noises about his intentions to see the USA meet the demands of environmentalists. With the USA and Australia now seemingly aboard the ship of carbon-reducing fools, the eco-NGOs have to move the goal posts, or fade into obscurity. 

This is the logic of crisis politics, which we pointed out right back when this blog began. Our second post – In Crisis Politics, the Only Way is UP – discussed the UK Conservatives trumping Labour’s commitment to a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, by announcing their plans to set a target of 80%. In response, the Liberal Democrats later said they thought the figure ought to be 100%. And here we see exactly the same thing happening: posturing by numbers. The world’s governments began to commit itself to 60%, some to 80%, and Worldwatch up the figure. 16 months ago, we speculated that the only next step would be for parties to start claiming that they would deliver a carbon negative Britain. And that’s pretty much what Worldwatch have done.

Hare said that global greenhouse gas emissions would need to hit their peak by 2020 and drop 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and keep dropping after that. He said carbon dioxide emissions would have to “go negative,” with more being absorbed than emitted, in the second half of this century.

The scare stories stay the same, while only the numbers change. 

“However this turns out, we still have some precious time and a clear shot at safely managing human-induced climate change,” Engelman said. “What’s at stake is not just nature as we’ve always known it, but quite possibly the survival of our civilization. It’s going to be a really interesting year.”

The survival Engelman is worried about is not the survival of civilisation, but the survival of the bizarre political structure – insitutions, NGOs, ethics, economics, ideology – that has established itself on the prospect of imminent global catastrophe. 


  1. geoff chambers

    How can anyone take organisations like Worldwatch seriously? Just as there are celebrities who are famous for being famous, there are NGOs which are influential because they’re felt to be influential. Their reports are treated seriously by journalists, so they influence politicians, who think they must represent the opinions of a section of the electorate, who think they must be important if the papers and MPs quote them – a political Ponzi scheme, though one with no obvious mastermind or even clear motivation (if you discount the two conspiracy theories – 1) that it’s a cunning plan by Gore and co. to cream profits from carbon credits 2) that it’s a plot by closet Marxists and/or fascists to control our lives). As you frequently point out, they’re filling a vacuum left by the futility of contemporary political discourse, but why should the vacuum be filled by this particular brand of hot air? Why aren’t there at least competing stupidities vying for our support?

    One clue which hasn’t been explored, to my knowledge, is the fact that the whole debate between warmists and sceptics is almost entirely limited to the English-speaking world. It’s odd that the supposedly empiricist Anglo-Saxons should get carried away by a millenarian cult, while the Merckels, Sarkozys and Berlusconis (not to mention India and China) display a hard-headed determination to protect their countries’ interests (and their own political careers). There are parallel, and largely separate, passionate internet debates going on in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Britain, but nothing comparable to my knowledge in continental Europe. Of course the Green movement is strong in many European countries, but it’s not singlemindedly obsessed with the subject of global warming.
    I’ve got some ideas on this. It would be nice to hear some opinions from others outside the Anglo-Saxon world.

  2. Richard S Courtey

    NGOs argue for reductions to carbon dioxide emissions from human activities (i.e. anthropogenic CO2 emissions) because it is assumed that these emissions are causing the recent rise of carbon dioxide in the air. But this assumption does not agree with observations.

    Several studies have shown that the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration varies around a base trend of 1.5 ppm/year. A decade ago Calder showed that the variations around the trend correlate to variations in mean global temperature (MGT) – he called this his ‘CO2 thermometer’ – and others have since found the same.

    It is often suggested (e.g. by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: IPCC) that the anthropogenic emission of CO2 is accumulating in the air, and this could be the cause of the the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration. However, a rise related to the anthropogenic emission should vary with the anthropogenic emission, but the variations in the rise do not relate to the anthropogenic emission (but do relate to temperature), and the steady base trend in the rise clearly does not vary with the anthropogenic emission.

    Simply, in the absence of more information, the anthropogenic emissions vary too much for them to be a likely cause of the steady rise of 1.5 ppm/year in atmospheric CO2 concentration that is independent of a temperature effect.

    Please note that the annual anthropogenic emissions data need not vary with the atmospheric rise. Some of the emissions may be accounted in adjacent years so 2-year smoothing of the emissions data is warranted. And different nations may account their years from different start months so 3-year smoothing of the data is justifiable. However, the 5-year smoothing applied by the IPCC to get agreement between the anthropogenic emissions and the rise is not justifiable (they use it because 2-year, 3-year and 4-year smoothings fail to provide the agreement).

    So, other possible explanations the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration other than the anthropogenic emissions deserve investigation.

    Ice cores suggest that changes to atmospheric CO2 concentration follow changes to temperature by ~800 years. If this is correct, then the atmospheric CO2 concentration should now be rising as a result of the Medieval Warm Period (MWP).

    And it is often claimed that ‘ocean acidification’ is happening as a result of increased atmospheric CO2 concentration. However, I have repeatedly pointed out that the opposite is also possible because the deep ocean waters now returning to ocean surface could be altering the pH of the ocean surface layer with resulting release of CO2 from the ocean surface layer. Indeed, no actual release is needed because massive CO2 exchange occurs between the air and ocean surface each year and the changed pH would inhibit re-sequestration of the CO2 naturally released from ocean surface.

    I argue that a response to the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) provided in the present by the thermohaline circulation is an explanation that does concur with the empirical evidence. Water now returning to the surface having entered deep ocean during the MWP may be inducing release of oceanic CO2 in response to altered pH, and this release could be expected to provide the steady increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration (of at least 1.5 ppm/year) that is observed to be independent of temperature variations.

    This explanation for the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration concurs with the empirical evidence while the anthropogenic emissions do not.

    But vast amounts of money are available to promote claims for constraining the anthropogenic emissions while no funds are available to investigate alternative explanations for the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration.

    The NGOs promote the constraints, ignore the science, and claim they are motivated by science. The facts do not support their claim.


  3. techgm

    So, shall we all stop exhaling, too?

  4. Alex Cull

    The NGOs and political parties appear to be emulating a bunch of stereotypical sales/marketing types right out of the 1980s.

    “I say we increase our emissions cuts/annual sales by 100%”.
    “100%? That’s for wimps! 200% or bust.”
    “I say 1000%! 1000%, and no lunch breaks or going home until we achieve it!”
    “Rah! Let’s do it!”

    In another couple of decades, IMO this kind of talk is all probably going to sound dated and weird. People will be looking back, scratching their heads and wondering: how on earth was this ever considered to be normal thinking?

    Hopefully we will still have electricity and an internet with which to share our opinions about this, in twenty years’ time.

  5. Vegan Cakes

    Doesn’t computing use as much carbon as aviation? Any Climate camp outside PCWorld? Any slow down in Vegan Cake recipes posted online?

    Actually I’ve just this moment I’ve been “eco” and taken out the recycling – I was just wondering with all these up and coming jobs in the green sector does that mean won’t have to be sorting through so much shit…

  6. Ben D

    Do these people cite any rational basis for their claim? Even if CO2 was toxic in the part per billion range, the EPA wouldn’t request a reduction to zero. Zero is imposible in any system, much less something that is so common in processes. The only method of achieving zero would be to outlaw fire. All “green” technologies require fire to be made. You cannot make glass, plastic, silicon, concrete, or steel without huge amounts of heat. You can’t get that heat from electric heaters.

    The only real method of achieving their stated goal would be a nuclear holocaust and subsequent abandonment of all technology discovered since the bronze age began.


  7. Svend Erik Hendriksen

    @geoff chambers

    >>I’ve got some ideas on this. It would be nice to hear some opinions from others outside the Anglo-Saxon world.<<


    It’s a huge problem, only 56.000 people in the world can read and understand Greenlandic language…


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