They have always been around, the weeping prophets and merchants of doom, as have their credulous followers. The descendants of Jeremiah and Nostradamus also claim to have had special insight and esoteric knowledge. They urge us to make sacrifices, change behaviour, go solar and wind, buy carbon-offsets to annul our sins of emission and restructure global energy in less than ten solar revolutions. Cometh the hour, cometh a saviour: the climate fixer.
Welcome to Warmerland, where tweets warn of the coming inferno of Hothouse Earth and twits churn out yet another “tipping point”. Our Deep Fry moment could occur as soon as April 1 next year or perhaps by 2030. The Doomsday Clock is showing two minutes to midnight, so don’t miss an update.
If, as some claim, “perilous tipping points are idestabilising our global climate system and making it more unpredictable”, it has not deterred them from making dodgy causal claims, as did Canadian prime minister Trudeau in early June:
We need to be taking real action to prevent climate change [and extreme weather]. That’s why we’re moving forward on a price on [carbon dioxide] pollution right across the country.”
Yet if the global climate is “destabilised” – and “more unpredictable” – how can one make predictions about it? What is “stability” in such a chaotic system? Where is the science on tipping points? How and when will Canadians know whether it has been effective? What are Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s key performance indicators?
The inconvenient truth is taking “real action to prevent climate change”– in Canada, Australia or anywhere — is gesture politics, a waste of other people’s money and time in pursuit of a chimera.
“Every age has its peculiar folly,” wrote Charles Mackay (1814-1889) in the preface of his book, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841, 1852), going on to say
In reading the history of nations, we find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first … Some delusions have subsisted for ages, such as the belief in omens and divination of the future, which seem to defy the progress of knowledge to eradicate them entirely from the popular mind.
The object on which too many nations are fixed today is “climate change” and the quest for a zero-carbon (dioxide) nirvana. An odd ambition, given we exhale it. Yet this trace gas vital to all life is now demonized as a “pollutant” by young and old.
There is some good news. A new breed of professional pontificator has emerged from the bog of pseudoscience: the climate fixer. Skilled in apocalyptic rhetoric and desperate to get our attention, they: (i) passionately predict the end of the world, (ii) claim to know how to avoid it, (iii) are driven to preach publicly about the atmospheric evils allegedly assailing us, (iv) are inspired by eco-prophets such as Attenborough, Bloomberg, Brown, Flannery, Gore, Grantham, Hansen, Kerry, Mann, Rudd, Schmidt, Shorten, Soros, Steffen, Stott, the UNFCCC, IPCC and Green Climate Fund, the Vatican, Climate Emergency Institute, Extinction Rebellion, Our Little Lady of Sweden; etc.; (v) promise to lead lost souls out of the wilderness of climate denial into the promised land of a Goldilocks climate; and (vi) demand Climate Action NOW to prevent – or at least delay – the bogeyman of runaway climate change and Gaia’s Day of Judgment.
One member of the Climate Fixer Club is Breakthrough (BT), a Melbourne-based “independent think-tank” formed in 2014. Displaying a restraint unusual in the strident planet-saving class, it also calls itself: the National Centre for Climate Restoration.
Saving humankind from itself is no easy task. God has been trying for at least two millennia without much success. So it was thoughtful of BT to prepare some handy how-to guides to assist folk seeking careers in anti-fossil fuel activism or extreme weather street-fighting: How to explain emergency mode climate action (2 pages, David Spratt); How to mobilise for the climate emergency (2 pages); How to communicate a climate emergency (2 pages); and How to reverse global warming (12 pages, Alia Armistead).
BT’s motto is “making the seemingly impossible, possible”. Time will tell, but making the impossible seem possible could end up being more accurate. Coincidently, the University of Western Australia also went post-modern several years ago with a similar self-branding, “pursue impossible“. However, it will need more than mottos and “critical thought leadership” to persuade the architects of our national climate policy – already up to their gills in dubious billion-dollar programs – to embrace BT’s grandiose objective of “safe climate restoration”.
Safe climate restoration is defined as actions to re-instate natural climate processes that generate global average temperatures and ocean acidity that are safe for all species and for civilisation. (i.e. preindustrial temperatures & acidity) — BT homepage, June 2019
A safe climate for everyone, everywhere and forever? How could such a state exist when the climate is in a perpetual state of change? “Curiouser and curiouser!” as Alice in Warmerland exclaimed.
Alia Armistead, a BT research assistant, inadvertently flushed out the intractable dilemma facing the climate fixers. You want to displace the weather gods, play “existential” games with the climate and change the global energy mix? Fine, go ahead — but only if you know how to separate fact from fiction, a possibility from a probability, and a projection from a prediction.
A goal of reversing hotter climate conditions is a complex and unfamiliar objective, involving many potential risks and a large number of difficult scientific, technical, social and ethical questions. Yet every moment we delay dealing with these vital questions is a step closer to new catastrophes, and a further step away from achieving a safe climate. —How to reverse global warming
As for returning to pre-industrial temperatures, Ms Armistead suggests the “safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is the pre-industrial mark of 280 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2”. If so, it’s already game over. The current level is 410ppm, almost 50 per cent higher.
One BT contributor, “business and industry strategist” Paul Gilding, is a past executive director of Greenpeace Australia and Greenpeace International, and author of The Great Disruption. Mr Gilding wants to go further down the byway of deluded ambition, urging a “wholesale restructuring of the global economy inside a decade”. We have less than ten years, dear reader, to save ourselves — about the period of time it took to approve the Adani export coal project.
He also wants to “reverse climate change, not just manage increasing temperatures,” expressing that ambition in the video below.
Good luck with that exercise, for the experts have yet to find the global thermostat. (Rumoured to be hidden in a cave on the south island of Novaya Zemlya, its location is known only to a cabal of Russian oligarchs.) Read on for a “glimpse into a world of ‘outright chaos’ on a path to the end of human civilisation and modern society as we have known it, in which the challenges of global security are simply overwhelming and political panic becomes the norm”.
In June 2018 and May 2019, BT released ay paper, : Existential climate-related security risk: A scenario approach. Written by David Spratt and Ian Dunlop, with a foreword by retired Admiral Chris Barrie AC RAN, it tells the purportedly “unvarnished truth” about our “desperate situation” and predicts climate doomsday by 2050 without immediate action. “Human life on earth may be on the way to extinction, in the most horrible way,” it notes amid a deluge of alarmism. “Irreversible damage” is happening to global climate system, “resulting in a world of chaos where political panic is the norm and we are on a path facing the end of civilisation”. Professor Will Steffen, an advisor to Admiral Barrie, wants a “social tipping point that flips our thinking before we reach a tipping point in the climate system”. Other folk do too, including the radicalised young who believe tomorrow belongs to them. They are turning a darker shade of green in Germany and elsewhere.
Imagine a group of decorated and distinguished military personnel, recently retired, who get excited about an invisible enemy, “climate change”. They sail away with John Greenfellow, captain of the HMAS Armageddon, and try to figure out the best way to combat it. A diary of their voyage probably would contain policy recommendations similar to BT below.
Firstly, BT wants us to “recognise the limitations of policy-relevant climate change research which may exhibit scientific reticence”. To suggest in our Age of Alarmism that the climate-science community has been reticent – erring on the side of “least drama” — requires a lot of chutzpah. On Planet Hyperbole many inhabitants suffer from confirmation bias, that debilitating condition which affects perception. No surprise, then, to find the authors prefer “a scenario approach”, one that gives “specific attention to high-end warming possibilities in understanding medium-range (mid-century) climate and security risks, particularly because of the existential implications.”
The paper’s third recommendation attempts to justify immediate action by appealing to the so-called precautionary principle. This tactic is often used when causal paths are ambiguous or imaginary. Anything goes, of course, when scientific uncertainty is rejected as an argument for “delaying action” (and delaying grants).
Give analytical focus to the role of near term action as a determinant in preventing planetary and human systems reaching a “point of no return” by mid-century, in which the prospect of a largely uninhabitable Earth leads to the breakdown of nations and the international order.
BT’s fourth recommendation has an eerie Orwellian flavor. It wants “the national security sector” to provide “leadership and capacity for a near-term, society-wide, emergency mobilisation of labour and resources, of a scale unprecedented in peacetime, to build a zero-emissions industrial system and drawdown carbon to protect human civilisation.” Yet there is no explicit mention of a strategy to stockpile vital commodities, especially jet and transport fuels. Should those “massive non-linear societal events” occur, Australia’s vulnerability is high.
It depicts a climate change “emergency” from a military perspective. Plenty of jargon, alarmist clichés and helicopter fly-overs of disaster zones. The speakers sit alone in a dark boardroom or empty lecture theatre and talk directly to camera. Two examples from the YouTube clip embedded above.
Paul Gilding, business strategist:
Any rational response to the scientific evidence would suggest that we should mobilise today with the utmost urgency to transform the economy inside a decade. This is no longer a long-term issue.
There is no doubt we can respond and we can do things we can’t imagine today. But the level of response we need gets more and more dramatic every day. It is going to be a supranational mobilisation, like nothing we’ve done in history. It’s bigger than World War Two.
The only issue that matters is acceleration, acceleration of the response. So it’s all about speed now as we approach tipping points. As we approach the potential for collapse then the speed at which we respond is going to be the defining issue in our success. Scale and speed are the only game in town in terms of stopping climate change.
Michael Thomas, retired Major, Australian Army:
Investing in fossil fuels is like handing an AK-47 to your sworn enemy. Why would you do that? Why would you build things that are only increasing the risks to national security? Absolutely nonsensical.
On one hand, you have coal-fired, fossil-fuel investments that come with the overheads of creating and increasing the threat of climate change to national security and human security. On the other hand, we have renewable energy systems that do not come with those risks. It’s a no-brainer. If you want to reduce the risks of climate change, decarbonise your economy.
At this point, Mr Dunlop, sitting alone in an empty space, says emphatically: “that means we should stop burning all fossil fuels today.” (14.52 min.) Quite a switch for a person who chaired the Australian Coal Association three decades ago.
Stop burning all fossil fuels – coal and gas – today? That’s another no-brainer. According to BP, renewable energy accounted for only four per cent of the global energy mix in 2018, compared with fossil fuels at 85 per cent.
I respect the authors and appreciate that their intentions are good, but as I have written before, overblown rhetoric, exaggeration, and unsupportable doomist framing can be counteractive to climate action.
When even Professor Mann — pilloried for years for his graph and the data behind it — makes that kind of judgment, it is surely time to leave Planet Hyperbole and come back to Earth.