Monthly Archives: September 2015

Artists: canaries in a coal mine or tea leaves?

In the book “The Collapse of Western Civilization” there were two passages about the arts and artists. Although those passages were rather small in size, they stood out for me. They just didn’t seem to fit and didn’t advance their case, maybe even on the contrary. These passages are about “artists being the first to grasp the significance of the changes” and “noting the tendency to ignore warning signs”. Like some canaries in a coal mine that notice the danger first. Let’s jump to the first occurrence on page 13 (that came after the, ahem, visionary scientists that got glorified by the few survivers of the collapse):

Indeed, it is remarkable how little these extraordinary wealthy nations spent to support artistic production; one explanation may be that artists were among the first to truly grasp the significance of the changes that were occurring. The most enduring literary work of this time is the celebrated science “fiction” trilogy by an American writer Kim Stanley Robinson – Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, and Sixty Days and Counting. Sculptor Dario Robleto also “spoke” to the issue, particularly species loss; his material productions have been lost, but responses to this work are recorded in contemporary accounts.

The explanation about the lack of spending on artistic production is a first to me. I think they look much too far. For spending money on art, societies or individuals need some disposable income and other needs like food, shelter has to be fulfilled. Maybe wealthy societies don’t spend enough according to the authors, but whether the artists grasp the significance of changes in society or not has nothing to do with it.

The first example they give is in the line of what one would expect. The trilogy of Robinson is about extreme events due to climate change. The second one is less so. As far as I know Robleto makes various artwork, also on extinction of species (but from another era). I quite like his work, but for other reasons than his “grasping” the situation.

Whatever the case, there are two major issues with those examples:

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The collapse of inherent uncertainties

Currently I am in Berlin, the last day 😦 of a five day vacation. I am not really much of a book reader, but this time I actually had a book with me … wait for it … “The Collapse of Western Civilization A View From The Future” of Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway. Not exactly the most uplifting book to read during a vacation, I know, but I was curious about it.

The authors have a very pessimistic view. Okay, I expected nothing else. Just look at the title plus its authors and you know what you will get.

It is in part about the future (chock full of catastrophes, one even worse than the other), but it is mainly about the present (and the past) as an explanation of the origins of the issue. That was my goal of reading this book, seeing the reasoning needed to come to such a view.

There were a lot of things that raised my eye brows, so there will probably other posts about the book in the future. Not as some kind of rebuttal, but I will write about things that caught my attention, some of my thoughts and some things the authors forgot to write about. If there is anything that is missing in this book, it is balance. It is written in a very one-sided way.

Reading it, three things jumped out on me.

First, they turned around the situation by painting alarmists as being the underdog… I found that a particularly humoristic element in the book, but that is maybe just me.

Second, they seem to rewrite history in numerous cases in the book. It is a strange thing seeing historians REwrite history in stead of writing about history.

Third, they seem to have no shred of doubt they are right and largely overstate the knowledge we have about the climate system, more specifically the role of our emissions in it. It is this one that I want to take as the subject of this post.

For example, on page 1 and 2 where they compared the analyses of the collapse of the Roman and Mayan civilizations with the, according to them, imminent collapse of the Western civilization:

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Beware when big companies and NGOs preach

Yesterday at the 7 o’clock news there was an item about 75 CEOs of companies and NGOs who signed an open letter (Dutch) to our federal government. Some of them are Bond Beter Leefmilieu, Delhaize, Electrabel, Natuurpunt, Nestlé Belgium, Siemens, Solvay, UCB, Umicore and WWF. Truly a mishmash of NGOs and big companies. They apparently want to play a more active role to reduce emissions and even to take the lead in doing that.

I have no problem with that, if they really want to, they can just do that. Why even have a fancy reception and writing an open letter to the federal minister? In the news report there were high words like far reaching commitment, becoming leaders in transition, opportunities abroad, the first / the best / the quickest in the battle against greenhouse gases, the urgency to act, jobs, innovation, yada, yada.

What jumped out to me was that loads of hype words were used in the news report: climate policy and climate deal (hey, as if politicians have the power to control the climate), carbon reduced (I think they mean carbon dioxide, not carbon), climate resistant economy (what the hell is that). Impressive words, but quite meaningless.

My immediate reaction while watching the story: where is the catch!?!? As far as I know, none of those companies or NGOs are charities.

So I went looking for that open letter. In the many reports in the media there was strangely no link to that open letter. Searching for it had no results initially, but in the end I found the open letter “Message from Belgian stakeholders in support of the COP 21”. It was hard to find because it was written somewhat different from how it was reported in the media. In the beginning I even thought that I had the wrong document. Reading it I understood why no links were given. The open letter has high PR value, but is pretty low on substance.

The letter was rather short (about 50 lines) and it wasn’t written in the form of a letter, more like some pamphlet from WWF or the like.

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(Catastrophic Anthropogenic) Global Warming hypothesis as a godsend

When tidying up my desk, I found a leaflet that got lost in a pile of papers. It was a leaflet from 2012 and came from 11.11.11 (an umbrella organization of Flemish North-South organizations). The leaflet was about the effects of climate change on the poor people of Africa. It dated from a time that this blog was still just an idea playing in my head and it probably evaded the paper bin because it is such a fine example coming from the we-can-change-the-climate department.

It started with a bang (translated from Dutch, emphasis by the author of the leaflet):

Dear readers

The climate is changing. You know that. With dramatic consequences. Every year, at least 300,000 people become climate victims in the South. And it will get worse if we don’t do anything.

Climate changes, nobody will doubt that. But that is obviously not what he meant. If you look at the leaflet as a whole, he meant “human induced” climate change. Changed by our emissions. It will hit home because the public is conditioned for many years by the media to understand it as such and the author surely is not going to give any background to make them think otherwise.

So judging from the first five sentences, the text is clearly emotional laden and it continues that way with two stories. One about a boy from Niger (Adamou) who can’t go to school because he has to get water always further away and one about farmers from Kenya (Rose and Simon Lokidongoi) who lost their last cow because of drought.

Then the upper-cut (translated from Dutch, emphasis by the author of the leaflet):

The biggest victims of climate change are exactly those who are the least responsible for it.
Do you find this unfair. Me too.

If it wasn’t already clear that this is an emotional appeal, now it should be. These people were painted as climate change victims, specifically because of our emissions. No other causes are given. So these two tragic stories seemed to be suggested as our fault and we have to make it better again by lowering our emissions and encouraging our politicians to do the same for our country and Europe.

At the back of the leaflet we get the consequences of global warming per degree Celsius (at this moment, +1 °C, +2 °C, +3 °C and even +6 °C). These were deliciously vague claims. For example, these are the effects of climate change already right now (translated from Dutch):

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