Climate change is not funny

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Climate change is not funny

by Zoe Cormier

The politics of climate change is starting to repeat itself.

We had another climate conference. Again, this wasted everyone’s time and did little. The UN’s 18th Conference of the Parties COP took place in December in Qatar. And Qatar has the highest per-person emissions of greenhouse gases in the world. They produce about 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per year - this is nearly three times what Americans produce per person. After hundreds of reports, speeches and signings, they only agreed that everyone will meet and agree again next year. This is just an annual ritual of putting things off to later.

Political progress is slow, but everything shows that the planet continues to warm faster than people had thought possible. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report in November. We need to stop the global temperature rising more than 2ºC. But the report said that even if all countries met their emission reduction targets, by 2020 the world would still be emitting at least eight gigatonnes of greenhouse gases more per year than the level necessary for this. And greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, from 40 gigatonnes a year in 2000 to 50.1 gigatonnes in 2010. It’s clear, according to the World Bank, that there is a 20 percent chance of a 4ºC temperature rise globally. This would have dramatic consequences.

Change is happening faster than people thought was possible. In September, the area of Arctic sea ice became smaller than had ever been recorded and Arctic tundra is melting even faster than people predicted. Scientists are afraid that, if the tundra earth begins to release carbon, a vital point could be reached with no return.

But nothing is stopping the development of oil and coal. 1,200 new coal power plants will be built worldwide, and the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that coal will become the world’s number-one energy source by 2017 – and that’s just normal coal. As coal supply is getting less, people are looking to develop other types of fossil fuels: shale gas, polar oil, tar sands and others, which all produce a lot of carbon emissions.

Sad clown by Erik Cleves Kristensen under a CC Licence

The times are changing but the story stays the same. The following ‘solutions’ would be funny, if they weren’t so serious.

‘Solution’ #1 We can store carbon dioxide underground!

Geologists have been working for decades on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). This means we can continue to produce carbon, but we would collect this carbon afterwards, and store it. Plans for more than 1,000 coal power plants? No problem! We’ll just put the emissions underground.

Now, there’s an even better benefit to this plan – which seems like Faust making a pact with the devil. We can use this CO2 to remove deep reserves of oil! This is called Enhanced Oil Recovery and this use for CO2 will help us get areas of liquid oil that have been too expensive or too difficult to reach before. With this wonderful new tool, all plans for developing renewable energy would stop of course.

‘Solution’ #2 We could engineer the planet!

People often laugh at geo-engineering ideas. Everyone laughed at the idea of putting giant mirrors into space. But not many geo-engineers take this idea seriously. Mirrors are far too expensive and not serious enough for scientists or politicians. So, no giant space mirrors for now. But that doesn’t mean humans don’t have other great ideas that will provide more funny newspaper headlines– such as wrapping Greenland in a white blanket.

‘Solution’ #3 Or, we could engineer our babies!

The funniest idea is that we could engineer our babies. S Matthew Liao of New York University and Anders Sandberg and Rebecca Roache of Oxford University suggested that, if ‘people and markets do not change enough to stop climate change, we could think about a new kind of solution to climate change: human engineering’.

We could cause meat intolerance in our children - this would make them feel sick if they eat meat. Or we could control genetics in our children to make them smaller. (Smaller people eat less food, need less fuel in their cars, need less material in their clothes and wear out their furniture more slowly.) And, as the third improvement, we could programme our children to have higher levels of love and caring, by giving them the chemical oxytocin. Loving, tiny, vegetarian eco-babies. Perfect?

We have always loved some of the ‘transhumanists’ ideas. They say we could programme ourselves to live forever; that we should try to improve ourselves by putting bits of computers in our bodies; or that one day we will be super-intelligent by adding technology to our brains. Most things they suggest make us laugh.

But the idea of changing our own children is crazy. Liao and his co-authors say this too: ‘Maybe the most obvious point against human engineering is: it’s a terrible idea! … We know that our suggestion is terrible, and we know people will say it is terrible. We want to say that it can be important to learn from studying terrible, ridiculous ideas.’

This is true. Maybe we can learn from this: the fact that anyone is thinking about such a silly idea shows just how out of control the whole situation has become.

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