Climate Feedback

Countdown to Copenhagen

Keith Kloor

While many are feeling pessimistic about the prospects for a deal at Copenhagen, Geoffrey Lean at Grist believes the big climate summit still has a pulse. He reports that “environment ministers from 40 key countries—assembled this week for a two-day preparatory meeting in Copenhagen—made good progress towards a political agreement.”

Lean doesn’t deny that the odds for success are still long. But the game is by no means over, he writes:

“It is all very difficult. But there is a chance that, with luck and skill, a climate-saving deal can be reached. And while far from ideal, the hope that a deal is still salvageable is a lot better than the doom that was so widely pronounced at the start of the week.”

Meanwhile, are people suffering from “climate fatigue,” and tuning out the steady drumbeat of alarming news on climate change? Richard Kerr in Science examines the communication challenges [subscription required]. He writes:

“Almost all climate scientists are of one mind about the threat of global warming: It’s real, it’s dangerous, and the world needs to take action immediately. But they disagree about the best way to convey the urgency of the situation to the public and policymakers.”

At Yale Environment 360, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger argue that one thing not to do is hype the danger incessantly. Pointing to the consistent polling that shows Americans to have soft support for climate change measures, the authors assert:

“The lesson of recent years would appear to be that apocalyptic threats — when their impacts are relatively far off in the future, difficult to imagine or visualize, and emanate from everyday activities, not an external and hostile source — are not easily acknowledged and are unlikely to become priority concerns for most people.”

While the public seem to be zoning out on climate change, military and intelligence officials are becomeing increasingly focused on the issue, as I’ve reported this week over on Nature Reports Climate Change. But is “climate security” a legitimate military concern or a convenient political talking point? Bradford Plumer over at The New Republic notes that we’ve been down this road before, with respect to fragile countries supposedly unraveling because of environmental causes:

“These dystopian forecasts can sometimes get oversold–as they did in the ’90s, when Robert Kaplan’s influential Atlantic Monthly article, “The Coming Anarchy,” roiled Washington with its sensationalist vision of one African country after another disintegrating under the stress of dwindling water supplies and eroding cropland. In the years that followed Kaplan’s piece, many academics began poking holes in his thesis, pointing out that just as many, if not more, countries prove surprisingly resilient in the face of grave environmental stresses. And, as with Darfur, resources are only one risk factor; people themselves still have to decide to go to war.”

Of course, that was then, and climate change, as today’s security experts will tell you, is not being discussed necessarily as a primary cause of a state’s failure, but as a “force magnifier” or “force multiplier” of existing socio/political and yes, environmental issues.

Finally, Google has created new spyware to help save rainforests. The Times of London reports:

“Environmentalists across the world are to be enlisted as armchair detectives to monitor satellite images of rainforests and report any illegal logging.The images will be frequently updated and anyone with internet access will be able to make instant comparisons with historical images and spot destruction of rainforest almost as soon as it happens.”


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