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Cnut the Great and a Vision for Mitigating Climate Change Talk at the Shelter Rock UU Congregation (Manhasset

NY) Jan Dash, PhD July 2012

Here are two contrasting climate visions. Imagine this. In Positive Vision #1 we act vigorously to mitigate climate change. Our country is thriving on renewable, clean energy while everyone’s life and health is improved in a sustainable economy. On the other hand, in Business as Usual Vision #2 we do not act vigorously to mitigate climate change. We are dependent on fossil fuels increasingly difficult to extract, blowing up mountaintops and building dangerous pipelines. What are the consequences of these two visions for climate and why should we care? I like to use this metaphor: The world is like a car stalled on the train track, and the climate train is barreling down on us. It is close and it is fast. Business As Usual Vision #2 says let’s deny there is a problem at all. Let’s just sit there. Instead, I say: let’s follow Positive Vision #1 and move the car. Cnut the Great was once king of Denmark, England, Norway, and parts of Sweden. Cnut was reported “to have set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: 'Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.' “ If Cnut were alive today I believe that he would be working to achieve Positive Vision #1. One thousand years later in 2012, ignoring Cnut and the laws of climate science physics, the legislature of North Carolina passed a law forbidding consideration of scientifically projected sea level rise. In contrast, the U.S. Navy runs scenarios for a rise of 3 to 6 feet in sea level by 2100. If future higher sea levels accompanied
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by extreme weather events devastate the North Carolina coast, the folly of its legislators will be apparent. But North Carolina is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the Republican Party, in lockstep, now ignores the best mainstream scientific evidence on climate. This includes John McCain, who once sponsored climate legislation. Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, right-wing commentators and politicians bark an incessant and unprecedented attack on climate science, distorting or denying the science and misinforming the public. Consumers of this disinformation can repeat fallacious contrarian talking points without even being aware of the facts of mainstream climate science. Even some brilliant people are mislead. Some climate scientists are attacked by the right wing and subjected to investigations. Some scientists have received emails from people inflamed by right wing disinformation containing thinly veiled death threats. Efforts to deal with the risks of climate change, from renewable energy to conservation efforts, are also attacked by the right wing. Subsidies for fossil fuels are welcomed. While direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuels (including public roads) are huge, any subsidies for renewable energy are attacked. These attacks are backed by the fossil fuel industry, whose profits are threatened and who I believe are afraid of being accused of climate change liability, plus libertarian think tanks that dislike government action. One of the worst of these is the Heartland Institute, which defends smoking. This is actually not surprising, since the same tactics and some of the same people railing against climate science previously tried to cast doubt on the science that exposed harmful effects of smoking.

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These people oppose Positive Vision #1. They deny the climate problem exists. They deny the findings of mainstream climate science. They cling to Vision #2, Business as Usual. Five years ago the International Panel on Climate Change or IPCC and Al Gore shared a Nobel Prize for work on climate change. The discussion then was on action - attempts to mitigate and when necessary adapt to climate change. That is where the discussion should be now. We cannot allow the disinformation campaign to derail us. We need Positive Vision #1, acting to mitigate the climate problem. So what is the climate problem? It is scientifically clear that the global warming trend of climate change since 1975 exists. It is scientifically clear that this global warming is mostly due to humans consuming fossil fuels. It is scientifically clear that the impacts of global warming and climate change are starting to be observed now, will be increasingly serious if we do not act sufficiently, and will be overwhelmingly negative. Climate change is the biggest ethical and moral problem of our times. The climate problem is humanity's problem. Let’s start with the Business as Usual Vision #2, where we do not take action. In the metaphor, these people deny the climate train even exists. Their denial and hostility leaves the car on the train tracks. What are the consequences as described by mainstream research? The poorest and weakest, those who did the least to cause the climate problem, will be those who will suffer the most. However we all will be severely affected, including right here in the United States. There will be no safe haven and no place to hide.
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Our grandchildren and unborn generations, who did nothing to cause the climate problem, will be those who will suffer the most. Is saying this, as the right wing puts it, being alarmist? I certainly hope so. I want people to be alarmed. There is good reason to be alarmed. As a former physics professor and a current risk manager, I feel responsible for telling as many people who will listen about the dangers and risks of climate change, and urge people to stand up and act on climate change. The U.S. Defense Department certainly seems alarmed, deeming climate change a US national security threat in its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. Reports from reputable sources laboratories and universities - come in every week regarding some alarming aspect of the impacts of climate change that will increasingly affect us, our children, and our grandchildren. In fact I am here speaking to you today because of my grandson. What will climate change bring for him and for his children and grandchildren who will see the year 2100, if not enough mitigation action occurs? What about children you know and their children? I am alarmed at the prospects. Will they be hungry? Thirsty? Safe? Will unmitigated climate change bring disasters that will hurt them? Of course there have always been disasters due to natural causes. But global warming and climate change make natural problems worse. The effects of global warming and climate change are being observed now. However, today’s impacts due to climate change are only a faint rumbling of the alarming impacts expected in the future. Climate disinformers minimize or ignore climate risk. But here is what reliable sources say that climate change will increasingly do if we do not mitigate sufficiently:

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 Crops will increasingly wither and die under the expected increasing drought and heat, plus insects - responding to warmer temperatures - invading from the south. Ocean acidification resulting from absorbed carbon dioxide will increasingly threaten the ocean food chain from algae to fish. Food shortages will become common worldwide.  Most glaciers and snow packs, along with many aquifers and fresh water sources, on which billions depend, will decrease, implying massive water shortages.  Wars over food and water will increase, threatening peace.  From the medical journal Lancet: "Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. Effects of climate change on health will affect most populations in the next decades and put the lives and wellbeing of billions of people at increased risk."  Most cities near the sea will suffer infrastructure damage, and mass climate migrations in the millions are expected to occur from those displaced, destabilizing societies.  Animal and plant extinctions will be unprecedented since the asteroid killed off the dinosaurs, threatening the balance of nature and the interdependent web, on which we all depend.  Extreme weather events will increase in impact. Hurricanes will become more intense. Extreme fires will become more common. Extreme heat waves will become more common. Extreme droughts will become more common. Today’s extreme weather event will be tomorrow’s average weather event.  Some governments will face destabilization with likely losses of civil liberties. Terrorism will increase.  One more thing. I have been doing finance risk management professionally for 25 years. It is my opinion that the inherent fragility of economic and financial systems with the added pressure from impacts of climate change may collapse these systems worldwide and completely.

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What about Positive Vision #1, where we act vigorously to mitigate climate change and adapt to it when necessary? In this vision we move the car out of the way of the speeding climate train. In Positive Vision #1 the worst dangers of climate change are alleviated. In this vision the goals we care about and the principles we have as Unitarian Universalists become possible to achieve. This is the vision we want. The best framework for acting on climate change is risk management. We deal with a variety of risks every day and we hedge against risk, using insurance for example. Positive Vision #1 is a risk management vision. The Business as Usual Vision #2 does not want to understand climate risk management. As a finance risk manager, I am very familiar with people who follow Business as Usual Vision #2. These include shortsighted traders who scorn serious risk management and who regularly blow up. The last one to receive notoriety was the London Whale at JP Morgan who recently lost billions of dollars; the exact amount is not known. The consequences of not performing robust risk management are much more serious for climate than for finance, but the basic idea is the same. Dealing with risk, the analog of buying insurance, costs money. Not dealing with risk but being hit with the consequences is short sighted and can cost much more money. Ignoring the eventual costs of climate change is unwise. Not dealing with risk will increase human suffering. It is important to know that there is no silver bullet to resolve the climate problem. We will need a portfolio of risk management actions in mitigation and adaptation. Climate deniers maximize climate mitigation cost estimates. However a lot of effective mitigation can be done without much economic hardship, and opportunities will abound for new paradigms in energy and
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efficiency, provided we start seriously doing mitigation now. Action to develop renewable energy provides jobs and could help improve the economy besides eventually replace fossil fuels, providing a powerful force for mitigating global warming. Some positive action is now underway. This is good. It is not enough. What part should Unitarian Universalists play to help achieve Positive Vision #1? UUs are concerned with many social justice issues. But no issue can have a long-term solution without parallel consideration of a solution to climate change.

Consider immigration. Studies show that Mexico and South America will be devastatingly impacted by climate, implying millions more immigrants coming into the US. If your issue is water rights, think of the effect of a bad drought, prolonged by climate change, on thirsty people, on a thirsty child. If you are working on women's rights, consider that climate change is expected to impact women and children the hardest. If you are working with hungry people, imagine the increase in distress when food prices go through the roof as climatechange-enhanced drought decimates crops in the US Midwest.

Ideally UUs would be ethical leaders for climate action. Many UUs already are active, for example with the Green Sanctuary program such as you have here at Shelter Rock. We have the 2006 UUA Statement of Conscience on Global Warming and Climate Change. We have the Climate Initiative at the UU-UNO. Other UU organizations are active. Our UU climate efforts do need to be better organized, and an effort is underway to do this. We should increase our climate efforts within the UU community. We should evaluate how well the UUA Climate Statement has been implemented. Climate change should be on the UU front page.
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We can also go much further to play a leading positive role in society. Here are some suggestions from which to choose to increase your participation. Form Climate Action Teams. Plan climate related events. Leverage from a letter to the editor on climate is large. Join with other groups active in climate, whether religious or social or political. For example, the Citizen’s Climate Lobby is a focused group that is actively promoting a revenue-neutral carbon tax with refunds or dividends paid back to people, who come out ahead if they use less energy. Scientists (and I know there are many of you already informed) can become better informed on climate science and the distracting pseudo-science disinformation campaign. You could be leaders in helping others to understand the climate issues. Some cities have Green Teams; sign up. Support renewable energy projects. Support conservation projects. Support energy efficiency projects. Support research on new energies, including advanced biofuels (not ethanol), and including fusion energy. Support the Environmental Protection Agency EPA in its carbon regulation efforts under the Clean Air Act. Support politicians who act on climate. Support the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. Support technology transfer to other countries for renewable energy so all can develop in a sustainable fashion. Support the process to develop and ratify a long-term fair and binding international climate treaty. Help create the political will for a livable climate. Financial support of institutions active in mitigating climate and financial support of climate action projects would be a powerful statement.

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For those doing good work on other issues, think of integrating climate change into that work. Look through a climate lens. Understand how climate change affects your issue. Some information sources are the UU-UNO Climate Portal (see flier), Skeptical Science.com (with one-liner responses to contrarian fallacies), and the Citizen’s Climate Lobby; the web addresses are in the hard copy of this talk, along with an appendix with information about contrarians. Prof. Michael Mann's great new book “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars” has details. An excellent resource is the Climate Science Rapid Response Team that has contacts with over 100 real climate scientists to provide reliable scientific information to media inquiries by journalists. What’s the bottom line? The dangers of global warming and climate change are becoming more visible. We need to act on climate now with Positive Vision #1. It is late but it’s not too late. We need to be optimistic. There is no alternative. I became more optimistic when I found out that my 6-year old grandson has decided to be a meteorologist. In acting to mitigate climate change, we can make the world a better and safer place for us, our fellow human beings, and our descendants. We all can help. YOU can help. Thank you. 2500 words approx 19 min
References UU-UNO Climate Portal: www.climate.uu-uno.org Skeptical Science: http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php CCL: http://www.citizensclimatelobby.org/

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Grandson wants to help with climate

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Appendix - The climate contrarians / deniers / faux-skeptics What you need to know A few maverick climatologists, some scientists speaking out of their fields of expertise, and others with no credentials have politicized climate science, providing fodder for the climate disinformation media machine. The fossil fuel industry, right-wing media, and libertarian think tanks often pay these people. One of the most colorful is Christopher Monckton, who has a British accent but no scientific credentials at all, who gives talks for right-wing groups grotesquely distorting climate science, and who was an "expert witness" on climate for Congressional Republicans. Usually contrarian papers are low quality and are not published, or are published in obscure journals. Some published contrarian papers left a trail littered with abuse of peer review, editor resignations, and even plagiarism. With few exceptions, climate deniers and right-wing denier media use pseudo scientific tricks, rather like prosecuting attorneys, grasping at straws. Many deniers practice the pseudoscience of scientific form without real content, what the famous physicist Richard Feynman called Cargo Cult Science. Common violations of scientific practice and scientific ethics by contrarians include unrepresentative cherry picking of data, demands of unattainable precision from mainstream science, advancing alternate conjectures for which the evidence is at best flimsy, pushing irrelevant red herring assertions, falsely generalizing from isolated unrepresentarive cases, ignoring contrary evidence, making bumbling mathematical errors, and misquoting mainstream science. One particularly ludicrous claim by contrarians is identifying themselves with Galileo. Contrarians generally do not admit mistakes. The contrarian media concocts false accusations of climate science, of which contrarians themselves are guilty. The untrained public cannot tell the difference.

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Selected stolen emails of climate scientists with no significance were quoted out of context and made into an industry of propaganda about the so-called and discredited "Climate gate"; numerous investigations concluded there was nothing actually wrong. An error on one obscure page in the middle of 3,000 pages of three 2007 IPCC scientific reports was blown out of proportion and used to attack the whole IPCC institution and climate science itself. What about proof, uncertainty, and action? Climate deniers mischaracterize science by demanding “proof". Actually, science never “proves” anything. Science uses mathematics but science deals with the real world. There will always be some uncertainty about something. However uncertainty must not imply inaction. We generally never demand "proof" before acting; otherwise we would never do anything. Indeed uncertainty implies risk. Risk management deals with uncertainty. After all, things can, and often do, turn out much worse than expected. Climate deniers minimize climate risk and in the same breath overemphasize uncertainty. The actual uncertainty is whether future climate impacts will be really bad or a disaster for civilization. What about statistics and action? Technically, some attributions of climate impacts, to extreme weather for example, can only be statistically estimated. This does not mean the absence of danger and it does not mean we should not act. After all, negative effects of smoking are also statistically estimated, and we act against smoking. We can say more. Global warming increases the probability for extreme weather generally for the simple reason that warming puts more energy into the weather system, making weather act like it’s on steroids. See the references for more information and concrete examples.
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