Archive for February 17th, 2010

Climate Gate or Bill Gates.

17 February 2010
Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is sneering gleefully at the discomfiture of Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “It has been a bad—make that dreadful—few weeks for what used to be called the “settled science” of global warming, and especially for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that is supposed to be its gold standard”. Receding Himalayan glaciers will all disappear by 2035, a claim in IPCC report that proved embarrassing because of its shaky fundamentals, has now been joined by another bloomer – “up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state”. IPCC attributed this calamitous prediction to climate change citing a study in Journal Nature, which had in fact looked at the impact on the forests of Human Activity such as logging, clearing for agriculture, and burning. “The IPCC has also cited a study by British climatologist Nigel Arnell claiming that global warming could deplete water resources for as many as 4.5 billion people by the year 2085” but had failed to include “Mr. Arnell’s corollary finding, which is that global warming could also increase water resources for as many as six billion people”. A recent howler was the claim that over 55% of the Netherlands is below sea level, when that country itself puts the figure at 26%. WSJ itself fails to mention that the difference of 29% is made up of areas that are prone to flooding in case of severe weather causing storms. WSJ describes these ‘blunders’ as Climategate Fiasco, attributing these mistakes not to enthusiasm or poor oversight but to motives : “….the U.N. reports are sloppy political documents intended to drive the climate lobby’s regulatory agenda”. This venom is understandable because IPCC report came as a rude antidote to the business as usual approach of entrenched industries & big corporations, who are the darlings of the Wall Street. Such criticism would prove a blessing in disguise if IPCC accepts all its errors in humility without any filibuster and even cleans up its act by investigating and declaring other such instances of errors that, if any, have crept into its report. Then it would act as a Climate Climb by tightening its report writing and peer reviewing of the science surrounding it.

Friday last, at the TED conference Bill Gates weighed in favour of doing something now and fast to mitigate climate change. Importance of Gates saying something is simply that – it is coming from Bill Gates. That should make a sizeable community to take note & to come on board. Gates’ presentation cannot come without slides (News Alert: Bill Gates is officially redeemed from presentation purgatory). He began with a catchy equation, but faulty according to Alex Steffen,

‘Gates’ Equation of Climate Change’ has the power to create the necessary momentum for girding up to the challenge of climate change on many fronts. Gates then goes onto expound how different terms in his equation are going to behave. Since he sets an incremental limit on CO2 emissions at ZERO, the only way the equation may reach that value is for at least one of those terms to attain zero value. The first 3 terms according to him cannot reach an incremental limit of zero, and therefore solution lies in making the last component – CO2/ unit of Energy – zero. Gates’ talk then moves on to his vision of accomplishing this task in his life time.
Alex Steffen sees some big flaws with Gate’s Equation. According to him, “….What’s more, protecting and healing the biosphere is essential to meeting the climate crisis itself…. and restoring the capacities of natural systems to absorb carbon dioxide is a critical part of the solution….. we need to improve the quality of our natural systems at about the same rate at which we’re converting the economy to clean energy. Properly, Gates’ Equation would include a value for nature : CO2 = P x S x E x C ÷ N”. Another area Steffen feels strongly about is the notion of prosperity represented by the level & type of services that a civilization must consume or should consume for some vague standard of happiness or for compliance with notions of advancement. “The idea that contemporary suburban American lifestyles (the kind of prosperity most people around the world aspire to, thanks to Hollywood and advertising), the idea that McMansions, SUVs and fast food chicken wraps somehow represent the best form of prosperity we could possibly invent is, of course, obviously ludicrous”. Searching for energy efficiency alone to solve the riddle of ecologically sustainable life is a bad approach he asserts. Then he adds what should also form an important component of holistic solution, “The answer to the problem of cars and automotive emissions, for instance, isn’t designing a better car, it’s designing a better city. The answer to the problem of overconsumption isn’t recycling cans or green shopping, it’s changing our relationship to stuff, so that everything we use and live with is designed for zero waste, and either meant to last (“heirloom design” and “durability”) or to be shared (“product service systems”) or both. The best living we’ve ever had is waiting beyond zero. What looks like a wall to many people from this side of zero, looks to like a trellis from the other side, a foundation on which new thinking can flourish”.

Faulty or Flawed, Bill Gates entry into climate change arena is likely to be a debate changer. WSJ too can’t ignore him, nor jeer at him. Gates recommends this video as must watch of Vaclav Smil in conversation with Andrew Revkin.

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I also recommend another talk, The Most Important Number in the World, by Bill McKibben, who describes himself as, “….Just a sleep-deprived activist and organizer, with writing career in abeyance while I proselytizes about the danger of climate change”.