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Friday, October 23, 2009

Mike Hulme: Why the World Disagrees on Climate Change

Why the World Disagrees on Climate Change

Book  Mike Hulme, a climate expert and the author of a new book, says we have “almost exactly orthogonal positions emerging about what the preferred strategies should be” to combat climate change.
Mike Hulme, a professor at the University of East Anglia School of Environmental Sciences in Britain and a veteran climate adviser, has climbed way above the global warming debate to decode the nature of discord over climate change in a new book: “Why We Disagree About Climate Change.”

With a global summit on the topic, COP15, less than two months away — and the prospects for reaching an agreement there growing increasingly dim — it would seem ripe territory for analysis, and Mr. Hulme examines why different societies approach the topic from sharply different vantage points shaped by culture, spirituality, history and politics.

Green Inc. spoke recently to Mr. Hulme, who is in India lecturing about his book. Excerpts from that conversation follow.

Q. In looking to reduce carbon emissions, are industrialized societies predisposed to large-scale technical fixes like geo-engineering?
A. There’s an influential strata of our society that do instinctively turn in that direction. I don’t think they’re the only influential strata. These technologies divide opinion in the West just as much as any climate solution.
There are people in the environmental community who have been arguing for 30 or 40 years, since Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” against large-scale intrusions into the natural cycle.

For me, this is exactly a case again of why we disagree about climate change. We have almost exactly orthogonal positions emerging about what the preferred strategies should be. They’ve got ideologically different ways of approaching solutions. Those are difficult differences to reconcile.

Q. Can you decode some of the debate taking place over geo-engineering solutions?
A. The risk of solar radiation management – the aerosols, the mirrors in space, cloud whitening – is that we fall far, far short of adequate knowledge of how the climate system works in order to undertake what I call this intrusive surgery on the planet.

It’s like surgeons conducting a series of experiments on the human body without knowing what they were doing, or doing it blindfolded.
Q. Do you see any evidence of emerging consensus?
A. If I look at the headlines, I don’t see convergence. But there are other ways that could be more fruitful, that would take the attention away from these mega multilateral negotiating sessions such as COP15, where we seemingly have to stitch together a deal that is so complex that it taxes the skills of even the most skilled negotiators. 

Those sorts of approaches are actually going nowhere. If we moved to more bilateral or sectoral approaches that don’t all have to be singing from the same hymn sheet, they can be doing their own thing in their own sector, for their own motives. Then we’re more likely to see progress being made.

It won’t likely be on the scale that some of the advocates argue it should be. But it will start making some tangible progress outside of the gridlock.

We’ve painted ourselves into a corner with these negotiations. Even now, I’m hearing from the environmental advocates that they’re resigned that COP isn’t going to produce anything. There’s a real mood of despair, almost, that it isn’t going to deliver. So I think we need to move out of that kind of negotiating framework.

Link to Green, Inc., blog post at The New York Times

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