Guest Post by Oliver Lough: Business As Usual on Climate Change


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Oliver Lough is a research intern at the New America Foundation.
Seeing Barack Obama and Hu Jintao deliver their respective climate change spiels at New York yesterday was a bit like watching a couple of boxers circle each other warily at the beginning of a long bout. With the make-or-break summit at Copenhagen only 75 days away, this is not the most encouraging of sights.
Delivering a solid but not spectacular speech, Obama was always going to be constrained on what he could bring to the table by the fact that Senate deliberations on America’s own bill to reduce its emissions are woefully behind schedule, delayed by wrangling over healthcare and, farcically, by Sen. Kerry’s hip operation.
Still, the man is clearly doing his best. Sensibly, the President seems to have elected to cut his losses on charming his rather stone-faced audience, and focused instead on trying to bring wavering domestic support into line. While his assertions on how American families and businesses stand to benefit from a low-carbon economy may have struck a slightly odd note in a room filled with international heads of state, these are definitely the groups he needs to be buttering up if he wants to avoid the Waxman-Markey bill being flayed by the Senate.
But at least we weren’t expecting that much of him. By comparison, Hu’s widely anticipated speech was a spectacularly unimpressive misfire. Pulling back from outlining any concrete numbers on China’s emissions targets (as Reuters had hinted he might), the best he could come up with was a ‘notable’ reduction in carbon intensity by 2015.
His commitment to up the share of renewables in China’s energy mix is already common knowledge, while the millions and billions of hectares of new forests he pledged were a prime example of the typical Chinese strategy of hurling meaningless figures about the place in an attempt to impress.
Keith Johnson at the Wall Street Journal‘s environmental capital blog has been grumbling over the UN’s apparent decision to re-cast China as the good guy in all this. While Johnson’s panda-thumping here is a little one-sided, it’s hard to disagree with him on this particular point: although Hu’s speech is certainly a sign that China is starting to take these negotiations seriously, it was hardly the “very important statement and commitment” that Ban Ki moon hailed it to be.
In the midst of all of this equivocation, the modest, humorous address by Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed was by far and away the highlight of the morning. Hamming it up to great effect, Nasheed (who is by now rather good at this kind of thing) began by apologizing for his presence on the stand. “The Maldives has developed something of a habit,” he blushed. “[every time we stand here] we warn you that our homeland will disappear beneath the rising see…even though deep down, we know you’re not really listening.”
Unfortunately for the Maldives, it seems like this morning has been a predictable case of business as usual.
— Oliver Lough


5 comments on “Guest Post by Oliver Lough: Business As Usual on Climate Change

  1. Business Opportunities says:

    If today, after many years of “business as usual,” our society, our systems, and our institutions are all undergoing a kind of evolutionary burst, then how do we ensure that it yields change for the better?


  2. nadine says:

    questions, the problem is that the science is a lot more complex than the computer modelers are able to allow for. Fluid dynamics, in. Cloud formation, out. The models don’t have the resolution to include clouds. It’s fiendishly complex. All the more reason to doubt the accuracy of unverifiable models, whose predictions circa 1995 or 2000 are failing rather spectacularly to come true.
    “please allow space for ocean-related trends that weaken and strengthen periodically.”
    Certainly, I will allow for differences due to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and El Nino. However, it is the IPCC that failed to allow for these differences. The claim about AGW is that carbon forcing is so strong that it will override natural variability. The models posit a strong positive feedback loop for rising temperatures caused by the greenhouse effect, strong enough to overcome other causes, strong enough to force the upper oceans to warm regardless of currents. That’s why it was supposed to be such a crisis! If in fact, the greenhouse effect is NOT overriding natural variability, all of the models’ conclusions must be questioned.


  3. questions says:

    The science is a lot more complex than you’re allowing for. Please don’t confuse climate and weather, and please allow space for ocean-related trends that weaken and strengthen periodically.
    Climate denialists are right up there with the truthers, the birthers, and the Edmondsers (sibelers??) There’s reasonable evidence on the other side and one ought to take account of it.
    (My hasbara handlers tell me I need to disagree with you periodically so that I can fool POA into doubting the TRUTH about questions!)


  4. nadine says:

    It’s European lip service too, Wigwag. Euro carbon emissions have risen faster than US carbon emissions since the 1997 Kyoto baseline.
    Cheer up. After years of relentless propagandizing about how the Earth is about to fry and it’s all our fault, even the NYT has been forced to report that ““global temperatures have been relatively stable for a decade and may even drop in the next few years.”” (actually, they have already been dropping for the past few years). Of course the NYT is worried that this inconvenient cooling may hinder the cap and trade bill. To which I say, hooray! Mother Nature is not cooperating with the doomsayers. Might one suggest that is reason to doubt the rest of the AGW package? It seems irrational to believe computer models’ 100 year forecasts when their 10 years forecasts have proved so wide of the mark.


  5. WigWag says:

    This is a very interesting post by Oliver Lough. I watched President Hu’s speech and a number of things made an impression:
    (1)The man may be the poorest public speaker I have ever heard. Don’t they have Toastmasters in China? Perhaps it’s the fact that I had to listen to the speech in translation or maybe it’s that Chinese leaders don’t actually have to impress anyone other than their politbureau colleagues but the man was barely coherent.
    (2)President Hu seemed lukewarm about efforts to limit China’s carbon output. I got the very distinct impression that he believes in global warming about as much as Jim Inhofe does.
    With all of that said, Tom Friedman who knows alot about these things seems genuinely impressed by China’s efforts. And it’s been reported that Friedman is becoming a confidant of President Obama; they recently played golf together for five hours.
    The unfortunate reality is that the only people who really care about global warming are the Europeans. Chinese, Indian, Russian and American lip service isn’t going to reduce carbon emissions.
    Given this reality, I think the only hope the Maldives has is that the global warming skeptics are right.


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