Change: An Obesity Analogy
By Bill Henderson
30 May, 2007
we see now, even in the most progressive governments as far as climate change is
concerned, is that they're giving up on the key climate change target, which is preventing
global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees centigrade, 3.6 degrees
Fahrenheit, above a pre-industrial level.
Now, this is a critical target, because if you get
beyond that point, that's when the positive feedbacks start to begin. That's when the
biosphere, the worlds natural systems, begins to produce far more carbon dioxide,
far more methane. It begins to absorb less of the carbon dioxide, which we produce, and
that is a point beyond which we can't do anything more about it. Two degrees of global
warming, centigrade, leads automatically to three degrees, because of positive feedbacks.
Three degrees leads automatically to four degrees. Once we get to that point, we wash our
hands of it. There's nothing more we can do. So we must not get to that point. That is a
critical thing. We can't allow two degrees centigrade of warming to happen. To have a high
chance of preventing that from happening requires a 60% global cut in carbon emissions by
So why are we still doing next to nothing as greenhouse
gas emissions skyrocket? Why after two decades of procrastination are we now
only aiming at woefully inadequate emission targets? At impotent caps and emission
Well the usual suspects include the Church of Business
which continues to use money from increasing returns in the fossil fuel economy to
obfuscate and muddy climate change science, contain debate within sacred BAU and greenwash
supposed green-lite consumption. The major media are, of course, CofB acolytes with no
real interest in making any case for needed radical change. Politicians - well they're
The better half of the population seem to have an almost
genetic predisposition against even thinking about potential catastrophe. Blonde, Oprah
and Madonna have better things to do it seems than consider whether our present cumulative
actions will win us the Supreme Darwin Award for self-extinction.
Runaway climate change is an insidious evil, an unmarked
threshold not a flesh and blood enemy. Perhaps we would already be mobilizing into real
action if the climate change danger had a sinister human face.
But maybe it is how the climate change - global warming
story has been told; maybe the disconnect began with a faulted diagnosis that we as
patient continue to cling to instead of undertaking life saving change.
Consider an analogy with the spectrum of health risks due
to obesity: the doctor had first warned that we risk type two diabetes, arthritis,
breathing problems and an increasing risk of certain cancers if we continued to add
weight. When he first started alerting us to the risks of obesity he might or might not
have mentioned that there was also an increased risk of cardiovascular disease but now, in
our advancing state of obesity, he tells us that we have a serious, increasing risk of
having a fatal heart attack too.
Sea-level rise in 2100. An increasing risk of hurricanes,
weird weather and heat waves. Risks to farming and forestry; drought and famine leading to
failed states and refugees. Corroding ecosystems; species extinction; disease migration
and bug infestations. Predicted increasing but adaptable - not terminal - risks as the
Just don't think about the possibility of a life ending
jammer at any time soon.
Our perception of global warming - climate change began
with warnings about problems far off in the future. Because the immediate risk was
negligible and life was good we never really considered the lifestyle change that was
needed. We promised to go on a diet but never really stuck to it. Now, with our increased
'weight', change will be harder; we will need to make radical, maybe even enforced
lifestyle changes not just pushing away from the table, maybe even have our stomach
stapled and we really don't want to think about it.
So we don't focus on the increasing probability of death
soon but content ourselves that the new diet - strict targets this time and better,
cleaner food - and controlling the secondary health risks are enough. And everybody's
happy. Don't have to give up the obese consumption economy.
And because economists, the parish priests or vicars of
the CofB, seem to also share a congenital
inability to appreciate our present predicament as potential jammer
catastrophe, and because the whole spectrum of climate change awareness and possible
mitigation is lead by economists, we will continue to have a public debate that is
completely within BAU with the argument centering upon how strict a diet we must go on now
in order to not have costs of 3.86 trillion pounds or such in 2050.
A qualifying phrase such as if there is an economy in
2050, if we survive to 2050, is never included. We, the patient, continue to expect a
happy old age maybe a little tempered by bad weather. There will be an economy in 2050
surely? Life goes on surely?