IPCC's roadmap to heaven
In my opinion, there are important parallels between NATO's handling of Zelenskyy, and the IPCC's handling of Westerners:
- As long as NATO continues to offer weapons to Zelenskyy, he will not give in and thus will not come up with and propose another more stable game with his Russian minorities.
- As long as the IPCC continues to promise unlimited renewable energy to Western citizens, they will not be induced to play a more stable game with climate dynamics by downscaling the energy intensity of their reciprocal interactions.
- Both ways are extremely tricky, because although the motto of any goal-oriented action with respect to an environment boils down to "he who dares wins" ‒ because there is usually a lot of guesswork involved with respect to uncontrollable variables, and with respect to the way the process is going to work ‒ in situations where there is little leeway left to counter a negative outcome (via safety nets or via retry) it is important to proceed with extreme caution before implementing a certain policy.
- Both ways arouse (false) hopes, and the impact of those hopes within the decision making of the participants about how to behave versus their opponent (Putin and Climate, respectively) is most likely going to cause what Nato/IPCC say or intend to prevent.
I won't substantiate that effect of hope on the Putin war here (see possibly this one), not my topic, but let me elaborate on the impact of false hope on climate behavior.
First of all by looking at the formation of the Ampel coalition (in Germany) last December. Their main credo was: we're going to save the world from climate change by accelerating the German economy's transition away from fossil fuels and towards 100% renewables, and also ‒ hence Baerbock at the Foreign Office ‒ by urging all important world partners to follow our example more quickly, because warming can only be kept within bounds by means of tightly coordinated efforts of all countries.
Ambitious? Yes, and everyone loved it. Now or never. Exactly the slogan of the mitigation report of the IPCC Working Group III published last April. That extremely important report has not been strongly criticized so far. At the most, the proposed package of mitigating remedies has been characterized as a narrow way out, but otherwise everyone is holding on to "we can still do it". As far as I am concerned, the slogan is exactly right, but the proposed remedies seem to me to be a guarantee for getting in a straight path to hell.
Moses, who once ‒ during the Israelites' wandering the Desert when they became sharply divided on how to continue ‒ faced a similar situation, would have presumably swept this report full of circumspect dancing around the Golden Energy Calf off the table. Why?
- The report confirms to everyone that there will always be enough energy available for everyone's needs. Just take a look at their video trailer. It reassures everyone: Everyone can continue to do their familiar thing.
- The report is far too lighthearted about the emissionless nature of renewable energy. It confirms repeatedly and in many different words that the solutions are there, and that it is possible. Under the influence of billionaires who, with a snap of their fingers, fantasize deserts full of solar panels and triumphantly outline how they can produce enough hydrogen to intensify international air travel tenfold and let everyone drive around in an electric SUV all year round, without realizing for one moment that in the next few decades we will have only a fraction of the sustainable energy production available to get that whole mass of infrastructure up and running, to maintain it, and to renew it (a windmill is obsolete in 8 years and has to be replaced, is the practice), and that we will therefore have to realize this conversion entirely with fossil fuels, a completely illusory image of clean energy has emerged. People are starting to see those power-generating technologies as "perpetual motion machines," as really clean. Which is an illusion. The pie of super cheap energy production forms that Bill McKibben recently dreamed up in the NYT could have (partly) been realized 25 years ago. Now, there's hardly room to move anymore, but this delicious dreaming prevents western citizens from sharply trimming their lifestyles and collectively narrowing the variability among the lifestyles worldwide.
- The report is crystal clear on the required pace of rigorous emissions reductions on the one hand, and accommodating to major overruns on the other. Fiona Harvey: “Though the report found it was now “almost inevitable” that temperatures would rise above 1.5C, the IPCC said it could be possible to bring them back down below the critical level by the end of this century”. My question: So we assume that we can correct a runaway climate?
- The report counts on a style of governance that may have legislated some restrictive policies so far, but has failed to implement practically any (See the innumerable failed attempts worldwide to implement road pricing and fly taxing policies) of them. This is incoherent. Why? On the one hand, they rely on and assume strong governmental regulation ‒ because look how they include (in their IAM model calculations) a pile of emission-reducing behavioural policies to be implemented in time to substantially curb emissions ‒ on the other hand, they fail to figure out how the current Western weak style of governance can be transformed into such strong regulatory bodies. So the national and international steering of mitigation policies receives far too little attention in the report, and this is incoherent with the gravity of the mitigation challenge.
Why would Moses blame the IPCC most for that last shortcoming?
Well, every mitigation pathway they calculate relies on a range (mixture) of presumed effects of
- future deployment of carbon capture techniques that, in terms of (a) technology, (b) application at any scale, and (c) repercussions on surrounding dynamics, are totally based on monodisciplinary drawing board validity.
- future policies that urgently force emitting sectors to base their technology and organizational activity on low-emission forms of energy,
- future policies that induce populations to rigorously limit their personal emissions (of their lifestyle) through substitution or replacement.
Because emissions behavior is a very substantial component of everyone's total behaviour determination, we have to conclude that for this to be serious, politics ‒ i.e., the depth and breadth of the extent to which we interfere with each other, agree on things with each other, and implement those agreements through supervision and control ‒ would have to be put on a very substantial coat, compared to the current permissive tinted vest full of (national and international) holes with which we now adjust our mutual pushing and pulling quite gently.
But no, the necessary future style of governance gets no attention in the IPCC report. Exactly in line with parroting everyone to the point that they can and may quietly continue their mutual race to accumulate as much space, income and property as possible via ever more available energy, the IPCC also stays anxiously away from the current loose (freedom + happiness) governance style around that race. Our ship sails on, and nothing needs to be changed about the steering gear either.
The trick that Moses came up with
My main concern is that IPCC (a) does not formulate and communicate a strategically secure mitigation strategy to the global population, and therefore (b) does not dictate the international and national governance styles to implement it.
This is all far too loose. A fruit basket that anyone can run away with under the slogan 'you've juist got time'. Then everybody starts thinking cynically: "Musk can just get to Mars, they mean", and subsequently their confidence drops to zero (they don't see it working), and they distance themselves from the problem. See the low turnout at elections, and the rush to games, films and airports.
Moses was much keener to realize that such looseness cannot work. When you are cornered and are in need of unity to break through boundaries, you must not only point to that boundary but at the same time mobilize the behavioral determination of everyone through a rigorously powerful style of governance that produces cooperation through trust. This is what Moses did with the Ten Commandments. In doing so, he introduced 10 serious moral constraints on behavior between people, in order to make the trust between people grow (via the equal focus on basic decency to which you could hold each other accountable) so that they dared to give generously (skills and resources) to each other and dared to join forces.
You can say and think whatever you want about Moses, but those ten commandments are very cleverly put together. First, they cover on a high-aggregated level the main relations of a human being upwards, downwards (the senses) and to each other, and secondly, at a strategic level, they narrow the bandwidth of variability to which each is going to be exposed, and that generates so much inner reassurance that they can once again deal with each other and with the strangeness of human existence.
Such a strategic narrowing of the bandwidth of variability in our mutual pushing, competing, and struggling as a core part of a clear mitigation strategy is something that I definitely cannot detect in this IPCC report. And I suppose that's because they want to mitigate primarily the models and not the reality. I mean?
The shaky starting point of the IPCC Working Group III
Their estimate of where we are now ( in terms of warming) is model-based, and there they see still a hefty slug of carbon budget before we flutter over the 1½ degree mark. However, we have now gone through 30 years of underestimating this phenomenon, and the climate disruptions are increasingly scaring the crap out of us. Yes this also goes for most scientists.
- Here's a quote about recent (April 29, 2022) fright of biologists and agronomists:
"In the last two weeks alone, a slew of research papers predicting horrific outcomes of biodiversity loss and mass extinction were published in major journals at an alarming pace, underscoring warnings from the scientific community that the consequences of global warming are becoming more intense and accelerating far faster than previously understood."
- Here's a quote of Daniel Swain about recent (Jan 1, 2022) fright of climate scientists:
"The obvious line is that climate change is a global problem. But a more specific bit is that we keep getting surprised. I mean, I honestly don’t think any climate scientist would have honestly predicted that in 2021, the glacial valleys of British Columbia would see Death Valley–like temperatures. I mean, I’m still completely blown away by the fact that it was 120 degrees in British Columbia this summer. That’s just one example."
So those models were shit. So it would make pretty good sense if the mitigation researchers would have been bloody curious about the exact structural cause of the systemic underestimation of the speed and impact of warming, in order to know how solid the floor they were standing on was. Now that they weren't, you would expect them to seriously question the predictive validity of their mathematical models. They didn't do that either. Then, in that (happy) delusion, they started calculating from the 1½ degree output target backwards to the necessary curtailment of inputs (emissions).
And what turned out?
If you could just quickly send a load of carbon-capture-processing from the dugout into the calculation as soon as large overshoots in emissions occurred, mitigation of warming still turned out to be quite attainable within the (I think highly overestimated) carbon budget they envision to be available.
A more realistic mitigation roadmap
Ok, now let me play Moses for a second , i.e. demarcate a clear narrowing of the bandwidth of the variability in our mutual pushing, competing and struggling, by basing strategic mitigation decisions more firmly on reality.
By the way: I've described this mitigation solution in detail in books and articles before, and it's becoming increasingly popular in the back-to-basics, degrowth, tiny house, and rebellion movements (see also the shift project and this proposal), so I'll keep it short.
Reasoning back strategically ‒ i.e., on key factors ‒ from outputs to inputs:
- Our quantitative description of climate dynamics is not valid, but it does provide a rough overview and sufficient detail on the effect of increases in CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide on essential climate variables.
- The size of the remaining carbon budget must therefore be declared super thin ice. We simply have no idea of it. Perhaps it is already negative (see also this one).
- So we have to, by all means, very sharply reduce emissions of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide.
- So we need to scale back transport, construction, and industry to minimal levels; minimize energy production and switch it to wind, solar, and water; and replace industrial agriculture and livestock farming by small-scale mixed farms with a lot of crop rotation, with farmyard manure instead of artificial fertilizer, without use of concentrates and chemicals.
Item 4 is definitely realizable:
- if we strip down everyone's lifestyle to the satisfaction of basic needs;
- if we make the production to satisfy these needs as local as possible in short, circular chains;
- if we position people closer to agricultural production;
- and if we eliminate all occupational specializations to a fairly large extent so that the individual compensatory needs ‒ i.e. distractions, holidays, special care, upskilling, sports, games and addictions ‒ as a result of chronic one-sided peak human commitment (and wastage/dropout) within the way we now produce our goods and services (highly specialized, long chains, tight logistics and coordination, strenuous hamster-wheel settings), can extinguish.
In this manner, industry, construction, transport, and energy supply can be reduced to a minimum, conversion of agriculture and stockbreeding can be implemented, and the remaining emissions of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide can be neutralized through the absorption capacity of the flourishing natural world.
This more clear mitigation track cuts deep, true, but in no other way are you going to hold this off. Ppm's are rising faster, methane is soaring, and more and more often the material infrastructure of entire regions (DE, AU, South Africa) are being swept away. More than that, one thing is for sure: this is getting worse and worse. We face extinction. It's time to cut our losses and move on by upscaling mitigation, and sparing nothing and no one. The latter is what everyone should be able to count on (if they want to join forces), and it is at that point that this mitigation report fails completely. It promises a passage to heaven (unlimited renewable energy) that will end in hell. Because no one detects a climate-safe and socially equitable mitigation solution being societally proposed and managed via a clear narrowing of the emissions bandwidth, we demand more and more energy in order to be able to fight each other out of the loft.
Jac Nijssen, 2022
This article has been written Mai 2022.
A Dutch version was published on duurzaamnieuws.nl at 5 mai 2022
English version also in pdf available