COP21 Optimism Has Turned Me into a Skeptic

Don’t get me wrong here. I still believe in global warming. Better said, I still believe in the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that there is such a thing as global warming, and that human beings are the cause of it>>Skeptical Science (2015). “The 97% consensus on global warming”: Scroll down to the bottom to see a comprehensive list of the scientific organisations.<<. I have become a skeptic of the mainstream media, and naturally I don’t believe the COP21 agreement will work for us.

And “become” here is a term that I use very loosely. To tell you the truth, I have never much trusted the mainstream media. Not because they are mainstream. Not because they are liberal. No. Precisely because they are a conservative mouthpiece for the powers that be>>”Manbiot, George // Guardian (2015). Our ‘impartial’ broadcasters have become mouthpieces of the elite”: Yes, I am aware that the article comes from the Guardian, a mainstream media outlet<<. To understand this is vital to understanding the world around us, and why my head was spinning this Sunday morning as I prepared for our latest podcast.


Climate Kleptomania

This past Saturday 195 countries signed onto an accord (PDF) >>UNFCCC (2015). “Adoption of the Paris Agreement”:<< at the COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris. The accord commits its signatories to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions so that global average temperatures remain well below 2° C. Additionally, the accord encourages countries to voluntarily commit themselves to a more ambitious 1.5° C target.

US President Barack Obama hails the agreement “a turning point” and an “enduring framework”>>CNN (2015). “Obama: Climate agreement ‘best chance we have’ to save the planet”:<<, and the mainstream media mimics his optimism with adjectives and describers such as “ambitious” >>Guardian (2015a). “Paris climate deal: nearly 200 nations sign in end of fossil fuel era”:<<, “historic” >>Huffington Post (2015). “Historic Climate Change Agreement Adopted In Paris”:<<, a “major milestone”, a “landmark” >>NYTimes (2015). “Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris”:<<, “groundbreaking” >>MSNBC (2015). “Climate deal: The good, the bad, the still unknown”:<<.

As a side note, as of our latest podcast on the subject, any mention of COP21 at all is conspicuously absent from the Fox News front webpage, and even from their Science section. Searching for the term COP21 reveals a total of six hits, the latest of which, from 1 December 2015, is entitled “In Paris, Obama worships at the altar of Europe’s real religion: Climate change”. I will not link to this.

And I digress.

The mainstream media did report some measured skepticism as well, but we should take that with a grain of salt. What credibility would they have if they didn’t make at least some effort to appear fair and balanced? Here is one example of such skepticism from the New York Times:

The new deal will not, on its own, solve global warming. At best, scientists who have analyzed it say, it will cut global greenhouse gas emissions by about half enough as is necessary to stave off an increase in atmospheric temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.>>NYTimes (2015)<<

Or from the Huffington Post:

Some advocates, however, lamented that the deal falls short. They pointed to a lack of a specific timescale for phasing out fossil fuels, for example, as well as weak language on monitoring and verifying countries’ greenhouse gas emission reductions.>>Huffington Post (2015)<<

You might ask, “Well, what else can they say? Their skepticism seems to be strong and legitimate, so what’s your beef?” But I am imagining a world in which the mainstream media does its job, and in this world the media wouldn’t praise this deal at all. In the headlines and first few paragraphs the mainstream media merely repeats what world leaders at the conference said, and anyone who casually reads the article headlines and descriptions will not understand the reality of the deal: it is a fraud.

Sure, we might lament a culture in which most of our information comes to us in the form of catchy headlines and soundbites, just because this is how people get their news, but the mainstream media’s optimistic presentation of the deal is deliberate and deadly.

Why am I skeptical? Let’s look at just one part of the deal: the difference between 2° C and 1.5° C in terms of saving our planet (better: ourselves) from us. The mainstream media likes to explain to us that while 0.5° C does not sound like much, it is in fact very significant. But anyone who has a fourth-grade level education can see that 1.5° C is 25% less than 2° C, and 25% of anything is no small matter. The reason the difference is significant is because 2° C is the absolute highest average temperature level our planet can afford, and even so it will undoubtedly mean catastrophic global climate destabilisation>>National Geographic (2014). “Scientists: Global Warming Likely to Surpass 2°C Target “:<< (despite wording, the Guardian at least agrees>>Guardian (2015b). “World will pass crucial 2C global warming limit, experts warn”:<<).

The reason for the significance, however, is nearly absent from the discussion. To quote the National Geographic (which wrote this before the Murdoc takeover):

“A policy narrative that continues to frame this target as the sole metric of success or failure to constrain climate change risk is now itself becoming dangerous,” wrote Todd Sanford and Peter Frumhoff of UCS in the commentary published Wednesday in Nature Climate Change. “[It] ill-prepares society to confront and manage the risks of a world that is increasingly likely to experience warming well in excess of 2°C this century,” said the piece, co-authored by Amy Luers of the San Francisco-based Skoll Global Threats Fund, and Jay Gulledge, of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (See a blog on the commentary by Gulledge.)

The authors are by no means the first to suggest a rethinking of the 2°C goal. Todd Stern, the lead U.S. climate negotiator in President Barack Obama’s administration, provoked anger in 2012 when he said a more “flexible, evolving” approach might be more effective in spurring a political accord. Coming at the issue from an entirely different angle, retired NASA climate scientist James Hansen and a group of colleagues wrote in December the 2°C target was not stringent enough, and “so dangerous” as to be “foolhardy.” At that level, the world risked initiating feedbacks in the climate system, such as the melting of ice sheet area, that could trigger irreversible warming out of humanity’s control.

Feedbacks are no laughing matter>>wonderingmind42 (2007). ” How It All Ends: Mechanics of GCC” One of these videos humourously explains feedbacks, as well as how global climate change “works”<<, and one cannot help but get the feeling that, if the mainstream media had done its job 10, 15, 20 years ago, they wouldn’t feel they have to explain such a simple concept as “0.5° is significant” to the general public.

In fact, that is my biggest beef with the mainstream media. We have been playing at this game for over 20 years now, and in fact the scientific consensus on global warming is older, yet the mainstream media is only just covering information about global warming as it should have back then.

But of course we have to face the facts: The debate on climate change was long ago hijacked by corporate interests, including fossil fuel companies and the military industrial  complex, and the mainstream media has always been their mouthpiece. That’s why the mainstream media spent the first few days talking about how members at the COP21 were euphoric and slapping themselves on the back for a job well done.

If you’re not convinced, then let me delve briefly into the history of COP.

Global Warming Werewolf

The first COP or conference of parties took in 1995 in Berlin, but hails back to the Rio Earth Summit or Rio Convention of 1992, where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted.

With COP3 saw the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol on 11 December 1997, a treaty which committed state parties to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions below 1992 levels. The Kyoto Protocol is/was never truly legally binding, since countries could back out of it if they felt they faced too much pressure (as Canada did in 2011 under Stephen Harper), and ratification of the treaty, as well as the amount of reduction in GHG emissions, was left up for each country to decide through its own legislative processes. What this meant was that countries could, for instance, commit to a reduction 10% below 1999 GHG levels, instead of, say, an 8% reduction below 1992 levels. The 8% reduction would actually have been the higher reduction, since 1992 levels were much lower than 1999 levels, but 10% was cheaper and made good PR.

There was a long ratification period in which national legislators negotiated their intranational commitment levels, but also looked to other countries in an international game of global warming werewolf.

For those who are unfamiliar with the game Werewolf, it pits two unknown “werewolf” players against an indeterminate number of “villagers”. The task of the villagers is to accuse one another of being werewolves, whereas the task of the werewolves is to secretly kill the villagers while simultaneously accusing them of being werewolves. Without going into further detail, the party nations, lest they be killed by committing too dearly, resorted to accusing each other of climate change treachery. One big difference between the game and the Protocol ratification process is that everyone in the ratification process knew exactly who the greenhouse werewolves were, and these were exactly the most outspoken in accusing others of treachery.

Of note, while the United States remained party to the UNFCCC and signed the Kyoto Protocol, it never ratified the treaty. The US cited the unfairness of focusing on developed countries, who had been and remain the key polluters contributing to climate change, to commit to greenhouse gas reduction, even though growth of pollution in developing countries is proportionately faster. Not to be outdone, China and India have also resolutely refused to commit to any legally binding greenhouse gas reductions,>>Chang, Hannah // Columbia University (2010). “A “Legally Binding” Climate Agreement: What Does it Mean? Why Does it Matter?”:<< though they both ratified the treaty.

What role did the mainstream media play? Here is a taste of what they had to say on the Kyoto Protocol:

But in the years after the protocol was announced, developing countries, including the fast-growing giants China and India, have held firm on their insistence that they would accept no emissions cuts, even though they are likely to be the world’s dominant source of greenhouse gases in coming years.

Their refusal helped fuel strong opposition to the treaty in the United States Senate and its eventual rejection by President Bush.>>NYTimes (2005). “On Climate Change, a Change of Thinking”:<<

This is later followed by:

The only real answer at the moment is still far out on the horizon: nonpolluting energy sources. But the amount of money being devoted to research and develop such technologies, much less install them, is nowhere near the scale of the problem, many experts on energy technology said.

Enormous investments in basic research have to be made promptly, even with the knowledge that most of the research is likely to fail, if there is to be any chance of creating options for the world’s vastly increased energy thirst in a few decades, said Richard G. Richels, an economist at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit center for energy and environment research.

Here are some real solutions that we had at that time:

  1. Reduce fossil fuel subsidies, increase renewable subsidies. Already in 2001 we knew that fossil fuel subsidies can be counted in the trillions of dollars, while renewable subsidies were and are negligible.>>Annual Reviews (2001). “FEDERAL FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES AND GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS: A Case Study of Increasing Transparency for Fiscal Policy”:<<. Neither China nor India had to do this in order for the US to move forward.
  2. Offer green technology transfers. Green technology back in the day was not as stoneage as the NYTimes would lead us to believe, and Kyoto Protocol in fact had mechanisms for developed countries to transfer technology to developing countries in order to help them meet their energy needs.
  3. Ratify the Kyoto Protocol. You cannot help but get the feeling that most of the pessimism about the Kyoto Protocol had to do with the fact that the US never ratified it. Kyoto was really no better or worse than the current accord, but it also had provisions to change and modify the deal. Instead the US decided to hold out for a deal more to their liking.

Let’s not forget that back then Bush was in the White House and the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, and they as well made it clear that they would not be legally bound. A mainstream media that did its job would have pointed this out, instead of using China and India as a smokescreen for our own werewolves.

COP21 Kyoto: Same Difference

The current optimism about the COP21 accord is just as cynical as the pessimism about Kyoto. Let’s just look at the language of the two.

Here is the most substantial part of the current accord:

Article 2

1. This Agreement, in enhancing the implementation of the Convention, including its objective, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by:

(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;

(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilient development.

2. This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

That’s really ambiguous, and the rest of the document (as far as I have scanned it) doesn’t get better. Here is a snippet of its equivalent in the Kyoto Protocol (don’t read all of it, just scan like I do):

Article 2

1.         Each Party included in Annex I, in achieving its quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments under Article 3, in order to promote sustainable development, shall:

(a) Implement and/or further elaborate policies and measures in accordance with its national circumstances, such as:

(i)     Enhancement of energy efficiency in relevant sectors of the national economy;
(ii)     Protection and enhancement of sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, taking into account its commitments under relevant international environmental agreements; promotion of sustainable forest management practices, afforestation and reforestation;
(iii)     Promotion of sustainable forms of agriculture in light of climate change considerations;
(iv)     Research on, and promotion, development and increased use of, new and renewable forms of energy, of carbon dioxide sequestration technologies and of advanced and innovative environmentally sound technologies;
(v)     Progressive reduction or phasing out of market imperfections, fiscal incentives, tax and duty exemptions and subsidies in all greenhouse gas emitting sectors that run counter to the objective of the Convention and application of market instruments;
(vi)     Encouragement of appropriate reforms in relevant sectors aimed at promoting policies and measures which limit or reduce emissions of green house gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol;
(vii)     Measures to limit and/or reduce emissions of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol in the transport sector;
(viii)     Limitation and/or reduction of methane emissions through recovery and use in waste management, as well as in the production, transport and distribution of energy;

(b)       Cooperate with other such Parties to enhance the individual and combined effectiveness of their policies and measures adopted under this Article,pursuant to Article 4,paragraph 2 (e) (i), of the Convention.  To this end, these Parties shall take steps to share their experience and exchange information on such policies and measures, including developing ways of improving their comparability, transparency and effectiveness.  The Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Protocol shall, at its first session or as soon as practicable thereafter, consider ways to facilitate such cooperation, taking into account all relevant information.>>UNFCCC (2007). “Kyoto Protocol”: .<<

Look. There it is. You can see that the two are different, but the language is much the same: vague.

But there are other reasons to be skeptical: “Fossil fuels”  are NOT mentioned in the agreement>>TRNN (2015). “‘Fossil Fuels’ Nowhere to be Found in the Paris Agreement”:<<. Furthermore, countries are still left to decide their own commitments. It’s been 21 years now. Any agreement should list clear and well-defined reduction goals that each country would have to commit to in order for us to achieve our 2° C goal.

And let us not forget the environment around COP21. Paris, under special security measures in the wake of the November 13 attacks, banned protests in the streets. The mainstream media did very little to speak out against such bans, always towing the line for the governments who called these measures necessary. Then my beloved Guardian came out with this:

A day of celebration and hope in Paris disintegrated into rioting and clashes with police on Sunday, after anti-capitalists and anarchists hijacked a peaceful event organised by climate activists earlier in the day.>>Guardian (2015). “Peaceful Paris climate gathering descends into clashes with police”:<<

and later on…

The votive candles that have piled up on the monument in the centre of Place de la Republiqué since the terror attacks were also hurled at police. Afterwards the street was littered with broken glass, candles and flowers.

Such reports are picked up by all the mainstream media outlets, such as Fox News, which reports this while showing videos of it not happening>>jim hoft // YouTube (2015). “Anarchists and Leftists Hurl Memorial Candles at Police in Paris”:<<.

But as Democracy Now reported, and which you can confirm by going through YouTube, the police trampled the candles as they chased and arrested the protesters>>Democracy Now! (2015). “Thousands Defy Paris State of Emergency”:<<. There is no evidence of protesters throwing candles (though there are videos of some tripping over the candles as they flee the police), and every video I have seen shows that the protest was peaceful and relatively quiet before the police came.

Finally, and really this should be the first thing any news outlet should say, of course world leaders and members of the conference were euphoric. They made the deal, of course they endorse it, and of course they celebrate it. We can report that celebration too, but we need to report it with direct, strong criticism of those leaders. Anything short of this is abuse of public trust.

Mainstream Idea