Water is rising

A friend from Los Angeles mentioned when visiting us a few days ago that he had recently seen a striking performance at UCLA by dancers from the Pacific islands of Tuvalu, Tokelau and Kiribati. Climate change figured strongly in the concert, which was part of a project called Water is Rising. Intrigued, I tracked down the project website and to my delight discovered a video of the live performance at UCLA (presented above). I say delight advisedly because I was unable to tear myself away from the 90-minute performance once I’d begun to watch it, captivated by its dance and song and moved by the simple human appeal that accompanied it. The performers were bringing their unique cultural art to American audiences, but they were also haunted by the deep threat to their cultures of the rising sea levels and they had a clear message to go with their performance.

It’s a message which I think we in the developed world need to hear over and over again. I’ve therefore transcribed some of the introductory words of the leaders of the three groups. They were not carefully crafted, the speakers felt for their words, and the English syntax was not always perfect, but the plea was all the more telling for that. The Tuvalu leader, gesturing towards the performers:

These are the human face of climate change. We are the most vulnerable people to climate change and we are here with a simple message to you all – for you to give us a hand, for your minds to feel with us, your hearts to be with us. We are here to represent our countries…we [Tuvalu] are small, we are only 24 square kilometres land mass.  No mountains for us to hide ourselves when it comes to sea level rise…we are only three to four metres high. Please think of us, and enjoy yourselves.

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The catechism of climate crank cliché

“A cliché,” according to the late Brian O’Nolan, “is a phrase that has become fossilised, its component words deprived of their intrinsic light and meaning by incessant usage. Thus it appears that clichés reflect somewhat the frequency of the same situations in life. If this be so, a sociological commentary could be compiled from these items of mortified language.”

O’Nolan is perhaps better known as Flann O’Brien, the author of such staggering works of comic genius as The Third Policeman and At Swim-Two-Birds, but for many years he contributed a column to the Irish Times under the pen name Myles na Gopaleen. One of the highlights of that column was the occasional appearance of extracts from Myles na Gopaleen’s Catechism of Cliché.

I was reminded of that catechism when I stumbled upon the “core principles” of the International Climate Science Coalition, a list of the doctrines the ICSC expects its members and supporters to believe and promote. Like Myles’ least favourite constructions, they are certainly fossilised and deprived of any intrinsic meaning but have the added attraction of being for the most part untrue.

A catechism, as the more literate (or Catholic) reader will know, is:

…a summary or exposition of doctrine, traditionally used in Christian religious teaching from New Testament times to the present. Catechisms are doctrinal manuals often in the form of questions followed by answers to be memorized, a format that has been used in non-religious or secular contexts as well. [Wikipedia]

Amongst the doctrinal manuals available for today’s climate sceptic there are the popular scriptures by Plimer and Wishart, the undergraduate philippics of Carter and Allegro, and the industrial grade biblical length blockbuster produced by Fred Singer and his Not the IPCC project. So much to choose from, such a lot to read. How is the would-be denier to thread their way through such a maze of doctrinal complexity, uncertainty and contradiction? Let us help them by preparing a climate crank catechism in the style of Myles…

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Stuck in the muddle with Obama

I look back with some embarrassment on my enthusiastic posts when Barack Obama was in the early days of his presidency.  I thought he was offering strong political leadership in addressing climate change.  His words seemed unequivocal. Here he is speaking at the UN in September 2009:

That so many of us are here today is a recognition that the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing.  Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it – boldly, swiftly, and together – we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.

And he was positive about facing that challenge:

As we meet here today, the good news is that after too many years of inaction and denial, there is finally widespread recognition of the urgency of the challenge before us.  We know what needs to be done.  We know that our planet’s future depends on a global commitment to permanently reduce greenhouse gas pollution.  We know that if we put the right rules and incentives in place, we will unleash the creative power of our best scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to build a better world. And so many nations have already taken the first steps on the journey towards that goal.

The rhetoric has changed substantially since then. In this week’s state of the union address there was certainly no clarion call to confront climate change. The term was used, and the science acknowledged, but  only in passing in the context of his promotion of clean energy:

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Puppets on a string: US think tank funds NZ sceptics

The Heartland Institute, the US organisation that plays a key role in organised climate denial, has directly funded New Zealand’s most prominent sceptics, a search of US Internal Revenue Service documents has revealed. In 2007, Heartland granted US$25,000 (NZ$32,000) to the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition, sending the money to NZ CSC member Owen McShane. They also gifted the International Climate Science Coalition US$45,000 (NZ$59,000), forwarding the cash to NZ CSC webmaster and ICSC founding chairman Terry Dunleavy. The documents do not reveal what the money was used for, but four NZ CSC members attended the December 2007 Bali conference as part of an ICSC delegation. Bryan Leyland, energy advisor to both CSCs, confirmed in 2008 that “some expenses” for the trip had been covered by Heartland, but the NZ CSC has never revealed the full extent of the Heartland Institute funding of their operations, or its role in the expansion of their “climate science coalition” franchise.

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What Will Work

Kristin Shrader-Frechette of the University of Notre Dame is rigorous in the presentation of her argument in What Will Work: Fighting Climate Change with Renewable Energy, Not Nuclear Power. In recent times a number of leading environmentalists have concluded nuclear power has to be employed to enable the transition away from fossil fuels. Shrader-Frechette disagrees. There is no “devil’s choice” between expanding nuclear fission and enduring climate change. Nuclear power is not needed, and it’s certainly not desirable.

Not that the author in any way downplays the need to give up the use of fossil fuels. She fully accepts the science of climate change and what is needed to avoid climate-related catastrophe. Objections to taking action are listed in detail and briskly dismissed. The people who deny climate change for profit are categorised and exposed for their role in misleading the public. Among them, sadly, are the American politicians who repay campaign fund donations from fossil-fuel companies by denying or delaying climate change issues.

But Shrader-Frechette rejects the argument that nuclear power is necessary in the energy mix if we are to address climate change quickly enough to be effective. A substantial part of the book is devoted to showing that nuclear energy is not only undesirable but also diverts much-needed investment and government subsidy from energy efficiency and renewable energy development. Far from being part of the solution it gets in the way of solution.

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