’Winter is coming’… is the motto of one of the rivaling clans in the very popular HBO TV-series Game of Thrones based on an even more popular book series by George R. R. Martin calles A Song of Ice and Fire. It depicts a small world with rivaling political forces fighting for influence and power in the shadow of a pending natural disaster – The Winter – that will make the battles, intrigues and cunningly laid plans to dominate others seem like child´s play.
’Winter is coming’… Soon the different groups and parties will be forced to join rank against this common enemy – or be overrun by forces much greater than their own. At least that is the impression I am left with having seen the first two seasons of the series. It might just be me looking through a distorted perspective, but I cannot help see the series as an allegory of the political landscape today and the fight for power, resources, influence and economic advantages that takes place in the shadow of the ”winter that is coming” in our reality: climate change. I am not sure whether it is this resemblance with the current political situation or the surprising amount of very scantily clad young women, blood filled action scenes and mythological scenery that has given the series the huge success it has had.
But it does seem fitting that the series is aired in a situation where we basically seem to have given up on climate change and are just focusing on getting the economy back in growth mode. It is very hard not to hear the words ”Winter is coming” as a comment to our own situation. A situation that is characterized by the inability of democratic societies to recognize that the idea of perpetual growth in a closed system is suicidal. A situation characterized by our common ability to close our eyes to the dire warnings from climate scientists that we are heading for 4 degrees temperature raises or more within the next 100 years (for some reason nobody seems concerned about what will happen in 150 years).
’Winter is coming’… and as the as the severity of the situation grows, reality to an ever incressing degree resembles a lazy tv-movie: from the stereotypical scientists warning us about a pending disaster to the stereotypically uninterested politicians that are more concerned about re-election than taking care of the public good. It is like watching ’Jaws’, ’Earthquake’ and ’Vulcano’ at the same time with the only difference being that we are all playing the part of the politicians these days.
No matter how many hyped concepts such as ’green’, ’sustainable’, ’responsible’ or environmentally friendly’ we place before the basic notion of ’growth’ there can be little doubt that the current tehcno-fetishism and daydreaming about golden technologies that will allow us to continue our patterns of consumptions and save the planet, are wearing thin. Techo-optimism is a new phrase describing the bankrupcy of a culture that is left hoping for the impossible while digging its own grave. A culture so unimaginative and fearful that the mere idea of changing our life-styles seems more threatening than the catastrophic climate changes caused by our current way of life.
’Winter is coming’… and as it approaches we go on with our daily lives: watch Game of Thromes, song contests, Champions League, make babies, laugh at stupid pictures on Facebook, and generally forget about the reality we live in. The human ability to hope in the face of hopelessness and continue to live everyday lives in the shadow of events out of our control is a beautiful phenomena. There is strength and hope in that. But what about our ability to deny that we are in a situation where we need to hope and fight? Our ability to simply close our eyes to the havoc we create and vaguley hope that spring will come no matter what we do? It is hard to see that as anything else than part of reason why the winter is still coming – and it is already April.
Here you can find a collection of interesting thoughts on climate change by George Monbiot, published on his personal blog:
When asked about the prospects for climate negotiations, commentators usually sigh loudly and try to locate some small window of opportunity for incremental progress. The general impression is that there are stalemates, diametrically opposed interests, and few options for squaring the circle. Slow steps are all we can hope for in this bleak picture, it seems.
In the midst of this pessimism, we should not forget that there always remains the possibility of radically changing negotiating positions. Exogenous “shocks” to citizens’ views on climate change are imaginable. Here are two scenarios. A number of environmental disasters could hit a major country, thereby radically altering its perception of self-interest. A wave of religious awakening could sweep across another major country where the type of religion involved preaches radical harmony with nature. Both scenarios are unrealistic but we should not forget that in the past, political positions sometimes have been turned on their head in the course of a few years. We usually talk about low-probability-high-impact events with respect to bad outcomes. But we should not forget that there are also low probability events with respect to good outcomes. A radical change in public opinion is such a good outcome with low probability.
What does this have to do with climate negotiations? Climate negotiations should be set up such that they could accommodate any unexpected positive turn of negotiating positions. UNFCCC procedures, institutional flexibility, dialogue atmosphere etc. should not only be designed with the 99% probability in mind that political feasibility constraints set tight limits on climate policy but they should also be designed with the 1% probability in mind that political feasibility constraints could suddenly dramatically soften. It would be an awful shame if political will to solve the climate problem should surprisingly arrive but the inertia of political institutions would be unprepared to pick that up.
Those who think that the incremental progress of today is roughly on a par with not doing anything at all about climate change (a view I do not share), should be especially open to the above thoughts. In other words: Those who favor an all-or-nothing approach to mitigation (because they think doing little is about as bad as doing nothing) should view institutional preparedness for a radical turn in public opinion a high priority.
Here’s a short and bold comment by climate scientist Myles Allen. It will definitely give you some food for thought. If only all climate scientist could write in such an exciting way!
I attended a talk by Myles Allen last month and after the talk a PhD student went up to him and said “I want to tell you where you’re wrong.” Trying to emulate this self-confidence, I’ll list two points where I think Allen’s comment doesn’t hit the mark:
- Taking the helicopter from London to Oxford is a problem. To see why, assume for the sake of the argument that we only have two strategies available to solve the climate problem: First, a political solution that relies on technology and market instruments. Second, a conversion of the hearts and minds of individuals to motivate themselves for a greener lifestyle. Here’s my point: Even if you strongly believe in the first strategy, you still cannot fully do without the second.
The climate problem requires such large scale changes that we will not be able to do without at least some shift in our mindsets. For example, how will we get people to vote for Allen’s preferred solution (carbon sequestration) if there has not been at least some shift in our mindset in a green direction? After all, mandating carbon sequestration will be very expensive and if these economic costs are to be politically feasible, people need a sense of urgency about the climate problem. That sense of urgency goes hand-in-hand with at least some greenwards change in our minds and lifestyles. Poking fun at “heroical” individual behavioral changes is not helpful to support that change.
- Allen makes the following point: If Will.i.am (or even Europe as a whole) reduced its carbon consumption then that same carbon would simply be pumped into the atmosphere later on. But why should we think so?
Allen himself considers it possible that humanity will in some way or other manage to politically enforce a solution that relies on putting carbon back in the ground. But if that solution should be politically feasible, why shouldn’t it also be politically feasible to keep the carbon in the ground in the first place? Believing the one to be politically feasible but not the other requires a justification.