Mark Walport on Climate Change

I went to one of Mark Walport’s climate change lectures. I notice that Andrew Montford also went to one of these where he discovered that Mark Walport sometimes reads his blog. In his post, Montford mentions that Walport thought that I could moderate the discussion threads at BH a bit harder. This is immediately followed by a series of comments that rather illustrate the point that I suspect Walport was trying to make.

I thought Walport’s talk was pretty good. He presented the scientific evidence. Pretty standard stuff : surface temperature records, sea level rises, ocean heat content, the significance – or lack thereof – of a recent “pause”, future warming scenarios. He also spent some time talking about how much energy we use and how much carbon is emitted as a consequence of our energy usage. Given that I’ve been writing this blog for the last year, it was all fairly familiar, but it was good to see the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor doing a lecture tour and presenting this to the general public.

He said two things that stuck me as interesting and relevant. One was that even though we are an advanced, technological civilisation, our efficiency and reliance on infrastructure does provide it’s own risks. This seemed consistent with the recent, rather disturbing, NASA-funded study which said

advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.

Personally, I’m optimistic that we can overcome such obstacles. However, this would – at least – require that we recognise these risks and start thinking about how best we can avoid such outcomes.

He also said something else that I largely agree with. Paraphrasing, he said the science is easy. Deciding on the best policy option is what is difficult. The science may give us some idea of what the future holds, but it certainly doesn’t tell us what we should do. I don’t envy those who will likely have to start making difficult policy decisions, and will have to try and get most of the rest of the globe to agree.

Walport didn’t really say all that much about the different policy options. Broadly speaking, he mentioned that our options are mitigate, adapt, or suffer, or – more likely – some combination of the three, ideally optimised to reduce the latter.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Climate change, Global warming, IPCC, Science and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Mark Walport on Climate Change

  1. Vinny Burgoo says:

    The HANDY thing is not a NASA study.

  2. Rachel says:

    I had a read of Montford’s post – not the comments though – and I find some of his language quite provocative. He refers to the talk as a sermon and the audience as a congregation in some sort of stupor. This is really quite offensive and I don’t see how he can possibly expect any reasonable person to think a discussion with him would be worthwhile.

    And just for clarification in response to Vinny’s comment, it looks like the HANDY study was NASA-funded.

  3. BBD says:

    He refers to the talk as a sermon and the audience as a congregation in some sort of stupor.

    Ironic, really, what with him being the Bishop and all.

  4. badgersouth says:

    The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

    Source: Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’? by Nafeez Ahmed, Earth Insight, The Guardian, Mar 14, 2014

  5. He said two things that stuck me as interesting and relevant. One was that even though we are an advanced, technological civilisation, our efficiency and reliance on infrastructure does provide it’s own risks. This seemed consistent with the recent, rather disturbing, NASA study which said
    “advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

    Sounds like Walport and NASA are exactly communication what I expect is most convincing to the libertarian climate dissenters: that we will be hit hardest because we have a lot to lose and a lot of capital that can be destroyed. The people in the third world may suffer more casualties, but the industrialized countries could go down to their level if we keep ignoring the problem.

  6. I don’t envy those who will likely have to start making difficult policy decisions, and will have to try and get most of the rest of the globe to agree.

    Global climate policy doesn’t necessarily require global agreements. CCL’s proposed carbon tax applies a fee to imports from countries without similar policies. Other countries will likely prefer to collect the fee themselves and reimburse their own citizens rather than paying Americans to import their goods to America. Given America’s voracious consumer market, enacting CCL’s plan might result in similar policy being enacted in many other countries just because of economics rather than negotiated agreements.

  7. Vinny,
    True, I was a bit lax there. NASA-funded. I’ve edited the post accordingly.

    Victor,
    Yes, I hadn’t quite thought of it that way.

    DumbSci,
    That’s interesting. I can see how that could work.

  8. Practices that introduce new taxes on imports might require significant changes in WTO agreements, which have been notoriously difficult negotiate. Countries cannot make such changes unilaterally without breaking earlier commitments.

  9. I’m not a policy expert but CCL cites Joost Pauwelyn to support this one-liner: As long as the price doesn’t discriminate against imports from one country relative to another, the WTO will allow it.

  10. DumbSci,
    In some sense, implementing that could be described as a difficult policy decision that will also act to convince most of the rest of the globe to follow suit.

  11. Yeah, it’s about time we used our insatiable appetite for cheap imports to do some good. For once.

  12. toby52 says:

    Professor Joseph Tainter and Jared Diamond have written and lectured about the collapse of complex societies.
    Diamond has at least one good TED talk that can be Googled. One interesting point he made is that elites (he meant Norse Earls, Mayan Priest-Kings, Easter Island Chiefs) often do not respond to change because they believe their wealth, prestige or power will insulate them. They underestimate their dependence on the wider population when catastrophe undermines the prestige of the elite.
    Tainter is the more academic, and here is a video of a talk he gave. He touches on our own society (so does Diamond), and one point he makes is that the “productivity of innovation” is declining as we are really only making smaller advances on the massive changes wrought by the steam engine and the telegraph. In other words, we may have less room to manouevre technological solutions that we think. I tend to think he is right, and the techno-optimists like Ridley and Lomborg are wrong.

  13. toby52,
    Very interesting, thanks. The idea of elites feeling that they are somehow protected from this kind of change seems credible. Even today, we’re seeing growing income inequality in the developed world (I appreciate that some of this is reducing income inequality in the developing world) and yet there seems little real attempt to address this inequity.

    Amazingly, I saw a comment on Twitter today from David Rose in which he seemed to be suggesting that people are now starting to get annoyed that outsourcing jobs has not reduced emissions. As I understand it, outsourcing was never intended as a mechanism for reducing emissions. The driver has always been to provide cheaper labour so as to keep costs at a minimum. It can be good for the developing world, but is presumably one of the drivers of income inequality in the developed world.

    I also agree that advances in technology are going to get harder and harder and are going to take much more investment and funding than maybe was the case in the past. So, yes, I also think Ridley and Lomborg are wrong. What’s worse, is that they are often demonstrably incorrect in what they say and yet they continue to present these argument regardless.

  14. Is this a hint at your location Wotts, or has it taken you a long while to write up? 😉

    I hadn’t realised these were on, or I probably would have gone to the one in Edinburgh.

  15. Kit,
    Now that would be telling. I waited till they were all finished. That way I could leave it for others to guess as to the significance of the date of this post 🙂

  16. Pingback: Another Week of Global Warming News, March 23, 2014 [A Few Things Ill Considered] | Gaia Gazette

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s