Global warming does not slow down

9 04 2013

Julien Emile-Geay

Thanks to the miracles of credit card reward programs, I have been gainfully receiving, for some time now, a weekly copy of the distinguished magazine The Economist. It is usually a fine read, especially since its editors distanced themselves from the laughable flat-Earthing of the Wall Street Journal a long time ago. It was therefore  a bit of a shock to read last week (on the cover, no less): “global warming slows down” (holding the quotation marks with gloves).  Had they been bought by Rupert Murdoch, or were they privy to new data, of which the  isolated climate scientist that I am had remained woefully ignorant? Well, neither, it seems.

Opening its pages with a mix of curiosity and skepticism (yes, we climate scientists are skeptics too – skepticism is not the privilege of deniers but the hallmark of healthy minds), I read the piece “Global Warming: apocalypse perhaps a little later”. It argued that since some recent estimates of climate sensitivity have been revised downward, the world might not scorch as early as we once thought. Still, they wisely argued that this was no excuse for inaction, and that the extra time should be used to devise plans to mitigate, and adapt to, man-made climate change.

Though I  agree with the consequent, I wholeheartedly disagree with the premise.

Digging a little deeper, it appears that they devoted a whole piece on climate sensitivity (“Climate Science: a sensitive matter“).  James Annan was right in pointing out its quality – it is a nuanced piece of science writing for a lay audience,  something all of my colleagues and I know the difficulty of achieving. It wasn’t the science journalist’s job to pick winners, but as a climate scientist I can tell you that not all the evidence presented therein carried equal weight. My issue has to do with the emphasis (here and elsewhere) that just because surface temperature  has been practically flat for the past decade (i.e.  the transient climate response (TCR) may not be as high as one would have concluded from the 1970-2000 warming), this means that equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) must also be lower.

Now, the “sensitive matter” piece does take care to distinguish the two concepts (transient vs equilibrium warming), but the message did not reach the editors, who conflate them with flying colors on the front page (“global warming slows down”). So while said editors can apparently hire good science writers, it would be even better if they  read their writings carefully.

My personal take is that TCR  is an ill-suited measure of climate response, because it only considers surface temperature. When energy is added to the climate system (e.g. by increasing the concentration of heat-trapping substances like carbon dioxide), it can go do any of 3 things:

  1. raise surface temperature
  2. help water change phase (from liquid to vapor, or from ice to liquid)
  3. raise temperature somewhere else (e.g. the deep ocean).

Tracking surface warming is certainly of paramount importance, but it’s clearly not the whole story. Focusing exclusively on it misses the other two outcomes. Do we have evidence that this might be a problem? Well, most glaciers in the world are losing mass, and a recent article by Balmaseda et al [2013], shows very clearly that the heat is reaching the deep ocean (see figure below). In fact, the rise in ocean heat content is more intense as depth than it is at the surface, for reasons that are not fully understood. To be fair, nothing involving the tri-dimensional ocean circulation is particularly straighforward when viewed through the lens of a few decades of observations, but the ocean heat content is quite a  robust variable to track, so even if the causes of this unequal warming are nebulous, the unequal warming isn’t.


The Balmaseda et al study concludes that, when considering the total rise in ocean heat content, global warming has not slowed down at all: it has in fact accelerated. I’m not quite sure I see it this way: warming is still decidedly happening, but it does look like this rate of increase has slowed down somewhat (as may be expected of internal climate variability). Therefore, to meet the Economist halfway, I am willing to embrace conservatism on this issue: the climate system is still warming, and let’s agree that the warming has neither slowed down nor accelerated.

In fairness, the Economist’s “sensitive matter” piece did quote the Balmaseda et al. study as part of its rather comprehensive review ; in my opinion, however, this is not just one data point on a complex issue (as their piece implies), but is a real game-changer. It confirms the findings of Meehl et al, [2011], who predicted exactly that: greenhouse energy surpluses need not materialize  instantly as surface warming ; in many instances, their model produced decades of relative “pause” in surface temperature amidst a century-long warming. It did so because the ocean circulation is quite variable, and sometimes kidnaps some of the heat to great depths, so it takes time before the whole of the climate system feels it. This is one reason for the essential distinction between ECS and TCR: the inherent variability of the climate system means that it may take a long time to reach equilibrium. That’s what’s really bothersome about ECS: it’s not observable on any time scale we care about, so it is of limited relevance in discussing reality (it is important to understanding climate models, however).  Perhaps TCR should be based on some measure of ocean heat content? This might already have been done, but I am not aware of it. Actually, sea level might be our best proxy for integrated ocean heat content plus melted ice, and non-surprisingly it is still going up.

So despite the jargon, the basic idea is quite simple: more CO2 means a warmer climate system as a whole, and sooner rather than later.  So it is becoming increasingly urgent to do something about it, as they point out.  Now, what would it take to convince the Wall Street Journal of that?

UPDATE (April 16, 3:30 PST): further accounts of The Economist’s unduly optimistic perspective are given here and here.  Another paper published this week in Nature Climate Change (nicely summarized here)  also emphasizes the important role of the ocean in mediating surface warming.


Climate Mammoth

10 04 2010

Former French science minister Claude Allègre is perhaps the most prominent global warming skeptic in my homeland. He is one of the few to have scientific credentials – but unfortunately, not in the right kind of science. Allègre is a specialist in what is called high temperature geochemisty, where he was noted (and decorated) for his celebrated work on the age of the Earth, for instance. No doubt Allègre knows his stuff, as attested by his publication record and numerous medals. Unfortunately, his climate credentials are a little thinner, which is a problem when you start publishing several books essentially calling the entire climate science community a bunch of idiots, or worse – mobsters.  His latest outcry (L’imposture Climatique, “Climate Fraud) has upset so many of my colleagues that a  petition was doing the e-rounds this week, in which the French climate science community is asking current Minsiter Valérie Pécresse  to hold an objective and fair debate at the Académie des Sciences. The full story is here ,and the debate looks like it will indeed happen soon.

Why is such a debate necessary? Well, Allègre is known to be a bully, and got famous as a minister for calling the French educational system a “mammoth” that needed to lose some fat. Needless to say, this phraseology and a legendary lack of tact (his temper literally got him defenestrated at a political rally in 1968, which old timer French professors always liked to joke about),  did little to garner support in favor of  his policies, no matter how necessary they might have been. Still, I’m not one to cast the first stone when it comes to dealing untactfully with opponents, so why should I even mention this?

The problem is that Allègre and his long-time colleague  Vincent Courtillot have used their clout at the Académie (of which they are  bona fide members) to organize  some fake debates on the issue, where they failed to invite people who know anything about climate, or censoring their response. So the people who do know about climate understanbly felt  left out, and would like a seat in the debate. This would just be petty academic disputes, if it weren’t for the fact that the French media seem very hungry for Allègre’s presence. This is apparently as much because of his aggressive communication style (which always makes for a heated debate, therefore a healthy amount of  prime time drama during news hour) than for his current position in this fake debate. I say current because apparently, he wrote 20 years ago in a book (Clés pour la géologie) “By burning fossil fuels, man increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which, for example, has raised the global mean temperature by half a degree in the last century”. Now the tone has changed drastically: we hear the familiar refrain that warming is barely discernible or, when it is (for example, in the melting of the snowcap of Mt  Kilimanjaro), that this is simply due to “natural causes”. A strange feeling of déjà vu?

As usual with climate skepticism, we have to go beyond personal motivations and analyze the arguments in their own right. This was done masterfully by the inimitable Ray Pierrehumbert in a 2-part blog post on RealClimate, which rank among my favorite  posts of all time. Part 1 is here, Part 2 there. You would think that the Flat Earth Knights (that’s what they are now called in the climate community, referring to their omission of the Earth’s  rotundity  in elementary radiation budget calculations) would have stopped embarrassing themselves after top-notch climate scientist Edouard Bard patiently debunked all of their arguments. Alas,  far from an end, it seemed to have only ushered an era of growing media attention for Allègre and Courtillot, who tell the skeptics just what they want to hear under a varnish of scientific credibility that few care to question. In Courtillot’s case, scientific misconduct is beyond doubt. Allègre seems to be more subtle, but the fact that he is using his prominence and weight in the media to hijack the debate is troubling. The reason why I blur the line between the two is that they are clearly tag-teaming, with Allègre handling the book (non peer reviewed) and television PR campaign, while Courtillot is very active  in the peer-reviewed literature, with the success that we know.  To his credit, Courtillot  recently made the news for his association with two publications in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, which aimed at establishing a statistically-significant correlation between solar activity and the recent warming. The papers are here and here.  A well-argued critique of their methodology, lead by statistical climatologist Pascal Yiou can be found here.

While the peer-reviewed literature is indeed a venue of choice for scientists to debate arguments, it may not be the most transparent to the general public. As a scientist and signatory of the aforementioned online petition, I look forward to a free, open and impartially moderated debate at the Académie des Sciences, where I trust that the considerable knowledge, integrity and  intelligence of some of the most noted French climate scientists will give real scientific arguments a fair chance of being heard. Then, let the people decide what to believe, but at least on the basis of sound arguments.

If, as seems unavoidable, our mammoth ends up losing a few tusks in the battle, I hope he will (this time) respect scientific ethics when intervening in a scientific debate where (so far) ignorance and arrogance are his only medals.


PS: The quixotic claims from Allègre’s latest book are debunked here (in French) and honestly they are so pathetic that I won’t waste my saturday afternoon on an English translation!

Climate Science in Context

9 12 2009

As world leaders and NGOs gather this week in Copenhagen for what many of us hope (with increasingly cautious optimism) to be a turning point in climate negotiations, an excellent recapitulation of some key milestones was published in the New York Times today. I retraces the physical origins of greenhouse effect theories and experimental demonstrations, and the long and  inexorable rise of global warming to the top of the international political agenda.

The recent Climate Gate is featured there, and put properly into context. One can’t help but marvel at the exquisite timing of this questionably legitimate release of private information – and of the underlying motivations behind it – but in truth i doubt this will affect the negotiations much. Few people were optimistic about their outcome before the ‘scandal’, and for reasons having very little to do with the denial of the unequivocal nature of global warming, which is, as you well know, due to human activities with very high probability (>90%).

My own personal opinion is that April showers bring May flowers, and that once the dust settles, the Climate Gate uproar may have the positive outcome of forcing more transparency in our community, which will be excellent for both scientists and the public. In the age of  the Web 2.0, open source code sharing, crowd computing,  and decentralized information traveling at the speed of light, hoarding data like it’s the Dark Ages simply doesn’t make any sense. I think the hackneyed argument that releasing the raw data would lead to more bogus studies from ‘independent scientists” (i.e. fossil fuel-funded think tanks), is moot: the bogus machine is already alive and well (cf Soon and Baliunas, Allègre, Courtillot and the French refusards, Vice-Count Monckton, the Cato Institute, etc), and the obfuscation of data and code only gives fodder to the blood-thirsty crowd of armchair skeptics, who are always looking at our slightest mistakes to run to the nearest hill and shout that “Global Warming is a hoax”, or some other Inhofery of that ilk. The answer to this is not more secrecy, but better work ethics and complete transparency.
An excellent discussion of the issues raised by the hack can be found here.
In the meanwhile I’ll be watching closely what happens in Copenhagen, and i’ve been staying very calm while talking to climate skeptics.

Speaking of putting things in context, I’m quite fond of this video, even if i think the Beavis &Butthead running theme is needlessly inflamatory.

But it’s a pretty different impression that one gets from watching Fox News, innit ?

Repower America

23 07 2008

After a long absence, I am back blogging for a minute. Essentially, I have refrained from participating in the blogosphere, in favor of the postdoctoral research I am actually employed for, writing a book on week-ends, and visiting family in Europe. I have also looked at Climate Audit a few times, only to be shocked that the herd of barking dogs has gotten way out of hand to be worthy of my time. Until the next idiocy calls for a spanking…

I was tempted to blog a few weeks ago about an utterly gruesome article that was the front page of a newspaper I would be reluctant to wipe my bottoms with, The sunday paper. The front page touted “Is Gore wrong ?”, while the story was largely about a tiny rally of anti-AGW nuts still stuck in 50’s McCarthyist rhetorics. Essentially, trying to curb greenhouse emissions was a “socialist” move, and the wackos celebrated their inalienable right to use to incandescent light bulbs by flying a hot air balloon : swift, to say the least. The offensive part wasn’t so much the tone of the article, which actually also gives space to the pro-AGW side (albeit not to its most credible defender, IMHP) ; the offensive part indeed was the editorial spin of the front page headline, insidiously suggesting that all of the climate crisis is bogus because of an insignificant event that gathered a few misguided armchair skeptics.

I clearly have a long way to go on the road to climate communication, because just re-reading this article heated my blood a tad too high, and made me wish I had a few nitwit ballooners around, just to strangle them à la Bart Simpson. That is why I stayed silent then. Yet, the Sunday Paper mishap did not go unnoticed, and a moderate commentary of it can be found here. I would certainly have been way more incisive, but preferred to calm down in the face of some obvious facts :

  1. Anger never solves anything.
  2. Too few people read the Sunday Paper for this to be of importance.

So I waited until something more positive came along, which happened just a few days ago.

On July 17, the inevitable Al Gore delivered an inspiring address at D.A.R. Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C, hosted by the WE campaign. Gore challenged U.S. policymakers, entrepreneurs, and ordinary citizens to change their entire approach to energy use. He proposed that the U.S. produce all of its electricity using carbon-free energy sources by 2018.

To those afflicted by the Gore Derangement Syndrome : this will be extremely offensive material. To others, I think it gives an excellent example of a forward step out of the triple crisis we are currently in : economic, energetic, environmental.

Power quote :

“We are borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian gulf, to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that has to change”.

Since nothing seems to happen these days without McCain’s or Obama’s commentary, no one should be surprised that they reacted to it ; what’s more surprising is that they agreed about it. McCain apparently said, “If the vice president says it’s doable, I believe it’s doable.” [Source: Associated Press]. Obama’s praise was even higher.

As I have said before, I am not here to endorse a party, but I am pleased that both presidential candidates can hear the voice of reason. It makes me hopeful that this is not a lost cause, whichever the outcome of the November election.

It remains to be seen how many key players do get on board. I surely hope not too many of them are flying hot air balloons instead of getting busy, because that would be grounds for practicing slingshot in Marietta, GA.

IPCC 4th assessment : No surprises

2 02 2007

So I just came back from the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, after a very instructive morning. If you cared to look in the media about this, you already know the punchlines – as everyone did before the official consensus was reached. And the punchline is : since the last report, it has only become more clear how much climate has changed under anthropogenic influence, a fact that co-chair Susan Solomon has repeatedly qualified as “unequivocal”.

What my report will focus on is what you won’t read, see or hear in the mainstream media… In particular, none of the embarrasing mistakes and completely overblown conclusions that scientifically illiterate journalists LOOOOOOOVE to make, just because “if it bleeds, it leads”.

Instead, I’ll give you a view from behind the scenes… I learned quite a bit this morning about the way the IPCC works, and about individual versus collective contributions to the whole. It was truly fascinating. What i am bringing back is an even greater respect for this enterprise, one of the utmost dedication of scientists to the rest of society via policy making.

So you’ll here about that in a few days. In the meantime I will use this spike of enthusiasm for science to get a bit of real work done….

El Niño

Don’t stay in the dark on climate change : mark your browsers and turn your lights out !

1 02 2007
The times are exciting ! The Fourth Assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due very soon. More precisely, the Working Group 1, in charge of the Physical Sciences, is to release the much-awaited “summary for decision makers” tomorrow at the first hour. And guess who will be in attendance ? You got it.
This is a particularly big event for all those who care about climate one way or another : the IPCC report is the embodiment of years of research by a very significant sample of the global community of climate researchers, and is legitimately considered to reflect the consensus of an overwhelming fraction of said community. Of course, you will always find naysayers, global warming revisionists, refusards – call them however you want – who will tell you that they have been silenced in this report. Be that as it may : even the CEOs of Texaco and Shell will be eager to hear what is said in there, because this report will be the scientific basis of a tremendous political process all over the world (and one hopes, even in the American Congress).
There are few surprises about the document : the ubiquitous “leaks” all point to a strengthening of the message compared to its 2001 predecessor. But I, for one, cannot wait to ask the doers what has been done to reduce the spread of XXIst century temperature forecasts and improve the estimate of uncertainties.
Answer over the week-end, if you subscribe to this blog (do it now !).

And before that, if you fancy participating in a global environmental experiment, here is a French initiative you may want to follow. I know, since WWI it’s usually been the other way around, but this time the French are slightly ahead of the climate game, I am proud to say :

The 1st of February 2007: Participate in the biggest mobilization of Citizens Against Global Warming! The Alliance for the Planet [a group of environmental associations] is calling on all citizens to create 5 minutes of electrical rest for the planet.

People all over the world should turn off their lights and electricalappliances on the first of February 2007, between 1:55 pm and 2:00 pm in New York, 18.55 for London, and 19.55 for Paris, Bruxelles, and Italy. 1:55pm in Ottawa, 10:55am on the Pacific Coast of North America. This is not just about saving 5 minutes worth of electricity; this is about getting the attention of the media, politicians, and ourselves.

Five minutes of electrical down time for the planet: this does not take long, and costs nothing, and will show all political leaders that global warming is an issue that needs to come first and foremost in political debate.

Why February 1? This is the day when the new UN report on global climate change will come out in Paris. This event affects us all, involves us all, and provides an occasion to show how important an issue global warming is to us. If we all participate, this action can have real media and political weight.

Note : the environmental significance of this action may not be exemplary… Electrical networks might suffer from an abrupt drop of demand. And when demand shoots up 5 minutes later, coal power plants will be the first to pick up the slack, so it’s not the smartest thing as far as carbon emissions are concerned. As they say, it’s a symbolic gesture to raise global awareness. I for one, want to play that game… just to see if numbers still have power.

Power to those who save power !

El Niño

An inconvenient truth : it’s true

29 01 2007

This is a text I wrote this summer, yielding to the friendly pressures around me, and circulated to them. Since i am still getting questions on this on an almost daily basis, I figure I would diffuse it here.


After much lagging behind my duties as your official natural disaster and weatherman, I finally got around to watch the now celebrated documentary on Al Gore’s crusade against global warming. Since so many of my friends were waiting for a grain of salt from their home climatologist, here is my take on it.
Without further ado, the punchline is that, by and large, Gore’s got it right. In fact, so many of the ideas presented there are in such striking agreement with my own thinking on the subject, that I am beginning to think that Mr Gore has been rummaging through by drawers to read my notes. Or could it just be common sense ?
I am not going to paraphrase the whole movie, but a few things inspired a comment or two. It’s pretty long, but hopefully there are enough anchors that you can navigate all right.
  • “Consensus”
The “skeptics” have long argued that a good reason for sitting on our hands and burn oil while we leisurely watch the Earth change is that “global warming is not a fact”, and that there is yet “no scientific consensus” backing the claim that “human activities are beginning to have a discernible warming effect on Earth’s climate, and are very likely the cause of the observed warming of the past 50 years”.

Of course that’s plain propaganda. More consensus around a scientific issue is, in fact, pretty hard to come by…. Accordingly, Gore cites a study by science historian Naomi Oreskes, which shows rather eloquently that out of 928 abstracts from the “Climate” literature between 1983-1993, *not a single one of them* disagreed with the aforementioned statement.
He brushed over it a little quickly, but I thought some of you might like to read it more in-depths, which you can do here.

Where consensus is most definitely *not* apparent is in newspapers like the Financial Times (who is always a lagging behind The Economist for everything else than stock exchange statistics), whose motivation has hardly ever been scientific truth, or minor newspapers around the country, whose science writers have as much qualification about climatology as I do on topics such as Chinese philosophy, Samoan hip-hop, or Zulu music theory.
Go figure why the same newspapers tend to endorse creationism as a valid alternative to evolutionary biology.
  • It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it” (Upton Sinclair).
What is interesting about this quote is that its used on both sides of the public debate. I have even heard some people tell me, with a straight face, that it is the reason why climate scientists work to support the consensus position stated earlier : they get paid for that. If I am to believe such commendable sources as Michael Crichton, our system of self-perpetuating grants from governmental agency is the reason why James Hansen draws logical inferences the way he does.

Well, my lovelies, this remarkably candid statement ignores two essential points :

  1. Quoting the man whose main contribution to paleontology is Jurassic Park at the same level as a recipient of the Revelle medal is the climatological equivalent of quoting Martha Stewart on Federal interest rates. True, Martha Stewart is arguably good at what she does – but we can all agree that what she does is rather removed from monetary policy. Chrichton is undoubtedly a successful fiction writer : quoting him as an authority on climate is plainly laughable ; read on if you want to know precisely why.
  2. If venality were the only reason why we moneyless scientists back the consensus, all of us would have long betrayed this meaningless, hippy, green cause to go work for oil companies, who pay much more handsomely. Oddly enough, their science staff or affiliates claim (e.g. here) “human-induced global temperature influence is a supposition that can be neither proved nor disproved” . Surprise, surprise…

Whose salary depends on not understanding 1+1=2? You judge.

  • Tobacco
Here and there, the director errs for a little while on a melodramatic subject, which I could have lived without. One such moments narrates the death of Gore’s older sister, Nancy, succumbed to her unrestrained tobacco addiction. This lead Gore’s father, struck by sorrow, to stop growing the crop in their Tennessee farm. The example illustrates how knowledge of the consequences of some human activities can cause a reasoned change in the way those activities are carried out, in spite of immediate financial rewards (tobacco=$$).
Despite the death of what looked like an honorable woman, I had to repress an ironical smile : for a while now, I had been thinking about the following analogy : Burning fossil fuel is a lot like smoking ; almost every user now knows that it’s bad for them and their entourage, but do you think that would be enough to make them stop ?
We are addicted to our fossil-fuel-intensive lifestyle in a similar way that smokers are addicted to soiling their lungs with smoke. And unfortunately, we haven’t found a magical formula to convince people to quit smoking (for their own good), no matter how harsh the public health advertising campaigns. Perhaps it is because, in both cases, there is a tremendous financial consortium benefiting from the addiction, which isn’t easing the case. But mostly it is about an all too familiar human weakness when it comes to taking long-term decisions in apparent contradiction with our immediate notion of well-being.

For what it’s worth, one thing that really helped me quit smoking was – you will never believe it – the NYC smoking ban in bars and restaurants.
Hum… regulation… could that be the way forward with greenhouse gas emissions ? Libertarians and partisans of savage economic laisser-faire will tell you “get the hell out of here !”, but hey, the result is here : despite all my initial protestations, I’m not smoking anymore. And you can’t blame a shivering, “knee-jerk democrat” for this piece of legislation, it came from GOP’s Mayor Bloomberg himself. An inspiration for other Republican leaders armed with common sense ?

  • Not bad for a politician !
The slideshow that Al Gore is using as his main communication tool is a carefully crafted flow of relevant and well-explained scientific data, theories, and model results, which I had very little qualms about, surprisingly enough. I have to report that Gore did his homework like a real good boy.

I am surprised because most politicians who take on to discuss the subject regularly make an ass of themselves. I could cite a great number of boring examples, but I can’t resist giving the best critique of all. (disclaimer : I am aware that Will Ferrell is not an elected US official. He just happens to be more like Bush than Bush himself when he wants to ;-). Seriously, one day I’ll get to document a real list. For now we can have a little bit of a laugh.

As a scientist, my duty is to give a critical appraisal of Gore’s mastery of the subject. I have to say that he is sometimes a little shaky on labeling the axes of his plots ; at times, he tends to conveniently forget to mention some known uncertainties ; and he falls into the trap of blaming the Younger Dryas on some meltwater-induced shutdown of the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation, which I think is a theory deemed to oblivion within 10 years, besides the fact that it doesn’t help his argument al all. But he is not alone in that mistake, and this petty detail shall not deter us from my main point : overall, these minor flaws do not undermine the cogency of his message. He makes an excellent job of presenting well-established, overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic global warming, both scientifically correct and visually striking ; he does the same with its ecological and societal consequences ; and most remarkably, he presents credible alternatives to the current situation.
Full marks, as far as this scientist is concerned.

  • Green is money
It is often all too easy for the “skeptics” to dismiss any action taken on the reduction of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide and methane, chiefly) , because it’s “bad for business”. And God knows we can’t allow that. Oh no. Whatever we do, and even if Florida becomes a giant swamp scattered with a handful of crooked trees periodically swept away by category 6 hurricanes, we can’t possibly harm next trimester’s earnings of such and such outdated industrial juggernaut. That would upset stockholders, detract investors, cause various aches on the board of directors, and more generally spread a foul smell everywhere. God knows we can’t allow that to happen. Next trimester is immensely more important than the next generation, you liberal fuckhead. Besides, who needs a planet to live on next century as long as we can do business next week ?

This view is only valid in a world where invention, creativity and scientific progress are repressed, and where all we do is stupidly consume the way we have for the past few industrial revolutions.

But there is a much more exciting way forward. Yes, I actually said “exciting”, because I think now is a turning point for mankind, and if we rise up to the challenge of sustaining the livelihood of more than 10 billion human beings on our planet without entirely destroying it (and ourselves), we will have effectively reached a long sought-after maturity.
Oil, coal and gas have been fueling our economic development for a while, starting from a time when, truthfully, we could not have anticipated their negative impacts. Now that we are aware of the latter, don’t we have a moral imperative to do something about it ?

Unfortunately, moral imperatives are an undervalued currency, these days.
Well, how about financial incentives ? It’s getting increasingly costly to extract oil, both in terms of drilling, and dealing all its geopolitical consequences. Read Sonia Shah’s excellent book if you don’t believe me. The latest industrial revolution is running out of steam in the Western World, which is losing is technological advantage to China, mainly. We could use something new.

It is my personal view of economic prosperity that since the Middle Ages it has occurred primarily in times of :
a) peace and political stability (even better, democracy).
b) discoveries of natural resources or technological innovations.

Well, now that we see the limits of our natural resources, why not put our brains to work and innovate ? Perfect existing technology (most of it is already here) to satisfy our energy needs, take a leadership in tomorrrow’s technologies (before China does), and solve a lot of middle-Eastern geopolitical problems all at the same time ?
No, it’s not liberal propaganda – I’ve actually heard Gov. George Pataki (R, NY) say this. All these issues are deeply interconnected : if the US and the EU can lead the way to a society that continues living in comfortable abundance, but little waste ; with clean energies and no dependence on Middle-Eastern oil fields ; then it will pave the way to a sustainable economic growth worldwide, powered by innovation and a wise use of natural resources. It will give an incentive to China and India not to “develop” as foolishly as we have. Saudi Arabia and Iran will have a lot less money to fund islamic terrorism. (There would not be a Ben Laden if it were not for oil money).
It’s all tied up in the climate knot.

Gore does a wonderful job of illustrating that turning our minds to solving environmental problems is not only necessary, but promises to be lucrative. It is not even a question : the next industrial revolution *has* to address sustainable development, otherwise, we as an organized society will surely decay. Note that I am not taking a catastrophist view here. I am merely stating the obvious : what is not sustainable will not last forever.

Contrary to what most oil hunks are saying, sustainable development does not have to be to our economic detriment, but just the opposite. I only takes a mild amount of visionary power to see this. You can read it in quite a few places, here for instance

You knew that money was green . Now you shall think that green means money.

  • Blue or green ?
I have only one serious reservation about Gore being the standard-bearer of the green revolution : the fact that he used to sport the Democrats’ banner at the nation’s second rank, is in my opinion a serious disservice to the cause. He is way too blue to be credible as pure green. Don’t get me wrong : everyone should think green – the blues and the reds alike.

But in Gore’s case, it then becomes all too easy for the “skeptics” to lazily waive a hand and dismiss established facts as “liberal propaganda”, instead of looking at the truth eye to eye. We don’t need to preach to the choir – we need to convince everyone, and that’s where Gore’s democratic heritage can hurt.

More subtly, almost all media coverage I have read on the movie – even liberal media – never fails to ask whether it is a not-so-subtle message that Al Gore is back on the campaign trail. Instead of asking : “So what can I do about my energy consumption ?”, the burning question is on everyone’s lips : “Is he going to run for office in 2008 ?”. He claims that he isn’t, but the doubt is seeded in everyone’s mind that he can’t possibly be crusading for the Earth from the goodness of his heart. I personally think he is, but hey, what do I know about politics ?

On the other hand, with all their purported legitimacy, scientists haven’t been very good, thus far, at changing the minds of the American people. As a former vice-President, Gore knows all too well that “an administration does not take an issue seriously unless it is on the tip of the tongue of its constituents”. Scientists haven’t been able to get there, therefore Gore is embarking on the climate crusade.

Well, he may not be my ideal climate spokesperson, but we badly need one. I think i’ll follow him on that. Will you ?

E.N., August 2006