Climate Change (Optimistic) Activism in 2010
By Bill Henderson
28 December, 2009
I am optimistic (and hopeful) that one of the key tenets of
scientific investigation, "evidenced-based decision making" will be extended to
all aspects of modern society. Good experimental design works toward creating conditions
that provide the most useful information on a given topic while attempting to eliminate,
or at least limit, spurious, irrelevant artifacts from being generated that could falsely
influence data interpretation. Data or information is collected until a threshold is
exceeded permitting either conclusions to be drawn or at least development of a hypothesis
that with further testing can be validated or falsified. J . Craig Venter
Copenhagen was either a big step towards world governance and effective
climate change mitigation, including China
and the US for the first time or, at the other end of a wide spectrum
of opinion, it was the worst case disaster scenario of a very bad process and 'deal' that will just
obfuscate and waste more very precious time.
Of course, we all knew the limits of what was possible and most of us didn't expect much
more at COP 15 than some global exposure and learning.
Of course, you and I who understand the serious dangers of climate change, especially the
increasing possibility of crossing a tipping point to runaway warming, are in a very small
minority and still involved in a wrap up and blame game while the 50% or so of
the world's population that did tune in to the Copenhagen circus have moved on to the
What do we do now?
Wait for the right Washington moment (better economic picture, a couple of wins under
Obama's belt) and bilateral talks (despite the bad blood from Dec 18) with a Chinese
government that can't stay in denial forever?
As a devote follower of Hansen , McKibben and Ward I point out that there is no time, that
we're not going to get to 100% by 2020 winning Senate battles on green jobs
or a green recovery or whatever the magic positive code words. And the delayers if not the
deniers rule the island and have proactively stolen our language and agenda as they seek
containment of an idea that they recognize as the death of growth and their dynasty.
As someone who thinks that climate change is a humanity threatening emergency requiring
urgent and deep systemic change I consider Copenhagen as a wasted opportunity and the
Copenhagen Accord an impediment, and thinking about my grandkids at Christmas, at the
bleak end of the year, I could despair but there is no future for them then and so we'll
So two things I'm working on going into 2010:
I have thought for some time that those who do take climate change seriously have failed
to innovate in using today's communication mediums to educate about climate change. Today
climate change science has to fit into a mainstream media and the blogsphere accepting the
dominant entertainment and mis-education priority values.
Climategate was a powerful distraction at Copenhagen but willful denial in the face of
science was worse: the primary example being the now scientifically out-dated and
indefensible 2C - 450 ppm precautionary ceiling on our actions which was to be the basis
for agreement instead of the more scientifically precautionary 1.5C - 350 ppm. But
evidence-based decision making was trumped by the political art of the possible - hence 2C
- 450 - and then in the hard negotiating it wasn't possible to agree to effective
mitigation for even 2C - 450 and so we're headed instead for 3.5C - 550 or more and we all
We have to do better. I think that the science and enviro community can use digital
tech to speed up and focus the peer review process in a competition that
could get both specialists and publics much more on the same page about climate change
dangers and mitigation paths.
Today, the science guy has to outshout the economists and paid deniers for soundbites with
a moderator more interested in controversy (and maybe screwing nubile interns) than truth.
In a couple of months it could be possible to institute a competition
where the deniers and delayers are crushed as badly as the Dallas Cowboys
would clobber the Okanagan Sun in football so that nobody in the whole world could ever
again deny climate change in public.
"We need to push harder for an education system that teaches evidence-based
decision making while we hold our public leaders to a higher standard and less partisan
behavior as we attempt to tackle some of the historically most difficult challenges facing
the future of humanity." J . Craig Venter
Here's my (optimistic) first week of the New Year letter to the appropriate Google
I have an idea for a relatively cheap and easy techno leap that could greatly benefit
mankind and I can describe it for you in a paragraph:
You should design/build/operate a website/portal/wiki: Is Climate Change An Emergency ?
soliciting and posting dueling science and perspectives to use the globe's expertise to
determine if climate change is an emergency. Not so much a yes it is an emergency - no it
isn't shouting match, but the innovation and wisdom of the globe's best and brightest
detailing how we can know if it is an emergency or not and, maybe, providing probabilities
that we can all understand and accept as the best informed analysis of the dangers. (With
provision to evolve into the site leading in exploring the best path(s) or policies to
take urgently if the answer proves to be yes.)
I hope you will play with that idea and consider possibilities. For only one design
approach, if you see merit, consider approaching AAAs or the National Academy of Sciences
or Britain's Royal Society (for English) to co-design and be responsible for a controlled
access wiki peer review procedure which would ensure scientific accuracy while still
allowing open access for diverse opinions - if they are falsifyable or built upon credible
We can get better fast at getting all on the same page about climate change. (Better plan
for a site in Chinese too.) Thanks,
Until there is such a vehicle to build robust consensus on climate change danger there
is no time to educate mass publics so I suggest focusing attention instead on those who
should know the up to date science and who could take crucial leadership steps at a local
level which will catalyze learning and path seeking at a global level. I think you should
be identifying your local legislator or governor who does understand the up to date
science picture. I'll illustrate with my have-to-get-it-done-in-January example:
Somewhere, sometime soon, a political leader is going to be pushed across the Rubicon to
actually doing something commensurate with the real climate change danger. He or she will
shut down their coal or dirty oil industries or introduce Draconian rationing or form a
wartime-style coalition government to proactively re-configure their economy.
They will break the present impasse of politicians trapped in political and economic
business as usual and send a signal to the world about how serious climate change really
is, about climate change's urgent, emergency nature, and about the presently difficult
massive systemic change that needs to happen if we are to pull back from approaching
tipping points to unimaginable tragedy.
Premier Campbell, my Canadian province government leader and supposed climate change
leader, could move the world over that Rubicon of political and economic BAU by grabbing
the world's attention in cancelling next February's Vancouver Winter Olympics .
This 2-6 billion dollar (depending on your accounting but still a relatively small
number), month-long global competition and party is a relatively easy sacrifice but it
would be a tectonic shift in global attitude to climate change.
The Olympics is also a prime example of luxuries we can no longer afford if we recognize
how our actions today threaten humanity in the future. If we need Draconian emission
reduction immediately then people flying from all over the globe to party at Whistler is
callous, totally uncaring behaviour sending all the wrong signals about how we should be
living at this crucial time.
Cancelling the Olympics is impossible but so is closing the tarsands; or embarking upon a
schedule to quickly phase out coal burning (without effective CCS), beginning in the US
and China; or rationing carbon with effective carbon budgets in the developed world; and
every other wedge needed to get back under 350 fast.
Premier Campbell knows the science - does he recognize the emergency nature of climate
change, the urgency, and the need for a catalyzing signal to the world? As an amateur
activist out in the boonies how can I get my premier to do the right thing in the New