Climate Change and the Future of Humanity

Sep 19, 2014

Climate change is already here. The seas are rising, the glaciers are melting, and the atmosphere is warming. How can we work together to set a different course for humanity?

JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon. I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I would like to thank you for joining us for this, the first program of our fall season.

As we celebrate our Centennial, you will note that our programs this year will be expanded to incorporate a more focused emphasis on ethics. Our goal is to make you think about why ethics matters in the globally connected world. With this in mind, it is not surprising that we begin with a program on climate change and the future of humanity.

The planet itself pleads its case. The seas are rising, the glaciers are melting, and the atmosphere is warming. As extreme weather brings flooding, droughts, and other disasters to every region of the world, climate change is creating problems in almost every aspect of life, from public health to food security, from water availability to the economy, and so much more.

The scientific community is all but unanimous in its agreement that climate change is a serious threat. Still, for many people, the effects seem like a future problem, something that falls by the wayside as we tackle what seems like more immediate crises.

This afternoon we have a terrific panel who will talk about these issues, and others, when they share with us their thinking about what principles are at stake, how do we choose, and in the end what values do we want to pass on to the next generation.

Next week in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has convened a Climate Summit to galvanize support from governments, business leaders, and civil society for a more responsible approach to climate change and its effects. The long-term goal is to reach a global agreement by 2015.

He has named Mary Robinson, president of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, as his special envoy for climate change. As the former president of Ireland, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the president and founder of Realizing Rights, the ethical globalization initiative, she has a deep appreciation for what is at stake. We have asked Mrs. Robinson to make opening remarks.

MARY ROBINSON: Thank you very much, Joanne. It is really good to be back here again in the Carnegie Council because, as far as I am concerned, ethics do matter and they are at the heart of climate justice. So it is really a pleasure, and also be here with this very distinguished panel that I look forward to hearing.

I am glad that you have posed the subject of climate change and the future of humanity, because that in fact is what we are talking about. That is what we will be considering in the coming days, in particular, in the lead-up to the Climate Summit. It is what we will be marching about on Sunday, the 21st.

How many of the young people in the room are going to march in this climate march? [Show of hands] Good. All of you should be out marching on Sunday because it is necessary for us to bring home to the leaders who are coming at the invitation of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to take part in the Climate Summit that this matters to humanity, that it is the most serious crisis facing us, despite all the other difficulties that we have, and that we have an opportunity to take very important steps in 2015 to set a different course for humanity.

We need to set a different course for humanity because we are not on-course at the moment for a safe world below 2°C of warming. We are more likely to be facing a world of 3, or even 4, degrees of warming over pre-industrial standards. The World Bank in a report some time ago, called "Turn Down the Heat," examined what a 4° world would mean and concluded that it would be catastrophic.

We are talking about the future of humanity, particularly the future for the younger people in the audience. You will have a longer experience of whether we will take decisions in 2015 that will have such an impact on your lives.

But in fact, in poorer parts of the world the impact is already being felt—in parts of Africa, South Asia, the fact that the rainy seasons do not come in the predictable way they used to, the fact that there is more drought, there is more flooding, there is a great problem of knowing when to plant and knowing when to harvest, a problem of food security.

So this period between now and the end of 2015 is of vital importance because during this time we will decide how we will deal with climate change and development issues in the future. We will have the negotiations for the post-2015 development agenda, and that will be considered by the UN General Assembly. This September they will look at the recommendations of the Open Working Group, which recommended 17 goals, one of which is, in fact, a separate climate goal.

There is a close nexus and link between the post-2015 development agenda, the sustainable development goals, and the work towards a new climate agreement. That will be concluded in December 2015 in Paris. Before that there will be a conference this December in Peru. In July there will be an important meeting in Addis on financing for development, because financing is going to be part of a trust between different parts of the world, as to whether the commitments for $100 billion a year in 2020 and the commitments for the new Green Climate Fund will be realized.

So it really is an incredibly important period. It is probably comparable to the problems that the world faced and addressed well in 1944-1945. There was that feeling of "never again." After two world wars, after the Holocaust, after the dropping of atomic bombs in Japan, there was a driven felt mantra of "never again" and that the world needed to come together in solidarity and take decisions and adopt the Charter of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan for Europe, the Bretton Woods institutions, and, a few years later, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

At that time, faced with what seemed to be huge challenges and a need to come together in solidarity, the world did. We actually need the same pressure and mood now. We need a movement about addressing the climate issue. The march on Sunday of civil society groups in the widest sense—and it's not just something here in New York; it is happening in many cities around the world—will be a way of building up that momentum.

Then, the Climate Summit itself will be very important because it will be a meeting of over 120 heads of state or government who will commit to what their countries will do in addressing mitigation and adaptation and moving to the renewable energy of the future and away from fossil fuels.

There will be partnerships announced at the Climate Summit, which will show how much business and civil society, in partnership with UN agencies and governments and others, want to take steps and change. There will be a declaration on carbon pricing, where a significant number of governments and a significant number of large companies say, "We want to have a price on carbon because we want to switch more quickly into a zero-carbon future."

Approaching these issues with a climate justice perspective will, we believe, benefit both people and the planet. Equity lies at the heart of a climate justice approach. It requires us to find ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing resilience without placing an additional burden on the poorest, while maximizing their opportunities to access the benefits of a global transition through low-carbon development.

I am delighted that one of the panelists here this evening is Henry Shue, because we have worked very closely together and he has worked with my foundation on climate justice since its inception, and he is a member of a high-level advisory committee on the climate justice dialogue which we have been developing together with the World Resources Institute in Washington, DC.

Henry, as we will hear, is a tireless advocate of climate justice. His central thesis is that it is politically as well as morally necessary not to try to make the marginally poor pay in deprivation for the measures needed to slow climate change. Indeed, the high-level advisory committee to the climate justice dialogue challenged my Foundation in a sense, because they said, "We want to see how we can get to zero carbon, hopefully by 2050, but do it equitably, because to do it without doing it equitably would put up the price of food and fuel for poor countries and communities, and perhaps also affect their right to development, their right to have a just transition to where they need to get to."

So it is not an easy issue but it is, I believe, a necessary one, because it is time to commit to a world unconstrained by carbon emissions and to work backwards from there, identifying and taking the steps we need to take to have a fair pathway to that carbon-neutral world. This, obviously, is not purely a technical challenge, it is fundamentally a moral and political challenge, because it has to be done fairly, bearing in mind the different development stages of the countries of the world.

You will recall the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] working group reports released in March and April of this year, which show us definitively that we must act now and with a sense of urgency. These reports tell us that we can act and that we must act.

Today there was a report, "The New Climate Economy," the commission under former president of Mexico Calderón and with the advice and counsel of Nick Stern, who had produced an earlier Stern Review along similar lines. That report tells us that climate action is good for the economies of the future, the economies of the world. It will be the way to provide better jobs and opportunities for young citizens of the future.

What we are saying from a climate justice perspective is: "Yes, but we want it done equitably. We want to see the values of an ethical approach to the new climate economy and we want to see it done in a climate justice way."

I really look forward to the discussion of the panel because, until comparatively recently, we did not talk about climate from a people-centered position. We did not talk about the impacts it was already having on the poorest, who are least responsible, and the injustice of that.

We did not talk about the fact that there are still a very large number who do not have access to clean energy, or indeed proper energy at all, the 1.3 billion that do not have access to electricity, or a much larger figure, the 2.7 billion, that still cook on open fires, on charcoal and wood and animal dung, and ingest fumes. We have learned recently in a Lancet report 4 million people, approximately, die a year from indoor fumes from the smoke of the cooking, etc. And of course, the vast majority are women.

My foundation has been very conscious of the gender dimensions of climate change. Indeed, the evening before the Climate Summit, my foundation and UN Women are bringing women leaders together—women heads of state, women business leaders, women indigenous leaders, young women, and women from civil society—who will discuss together how women can emphasize the dimensions of inter-generational injustice, the future generations who depend on us, the questions they will ask if we do not take the right decisions.

It really is a pleasure to talk about this in the Carnegie Council, to encourage the Carnegie Council to continue to put the emphasis you are placing on an ethical approach to the key issues that we have to address. Nothing to me is more of a human rights issue, a development issue, a moral issue, than climate change.

Thank you very much.

JOANNE MYERS: If anyone could energize and mobilize people to march on Sunday, it would be Mrs. Robinson, after those wonderful remarks. Thank you so much.

Now I would like to introduce our panel to you. First of all, Dale Jamieson is an environmental studies and philosophy professor at NYU and author of Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed—and What it Means for Our Future. He will explain what climate change is, why we have failed to stop it, why it still matters, and what we can do.

Darrel Moellendorf is professor of international political theory at Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main and author of The Moral Challenge of Dangerous Climate Change—Values, Poverty, and Policy. He is set to examine the threat that climate change poses to projects of poverty eradication, sustainable development, and biodiversity. Darrel is especially concerned about the poor of the world, who are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Henry Shue was just brilliantly introduced by Mrs. Robinson. He is also the author of Climate Justice—Vulnerability and Protection, and he is a fellow emeritus at the International Studies Program at Merton College Oxford.

Professor Jamieson, we will begin with you.


I would like to begin by thanking the Carnegie Council for hosting this event and President Robinson for her inspiring opening remarks, to which I think I speak for all the panelists in saying that I am afraid that we are going to be footnotes to this stirring introduction.

We have committed the planet to centuries of climate change. That is a fact. Yet, it still matters what we do.

Our challenge is to minimize the extent of the climate change, to cope with its damages, and to adapt to the new world that it is bringing. We need to learn from our failures, and we need to do all of this in a way that is fair and is just both to people and the planet.

Now, there is plenty of blame to go around for why we have failed to act thus far. There are greedy corporations, there are feckless politicians, there are mindless consumers, and there are paid liars.

But it is important, I think, to recognize just how difficult it is to address the problem of climate change, despite a mobilized scientific community that has transformed the Earth sciences in the last few decades, many very well-meaning political leaders, and of course thousands of highly motivated individual activists.

The core problem to a great extent is that our institutions of decision-making, ethics, economics, and politics, were built to deal with the sort of sensible proximate problems with short time horizons that emerge in relatively small, low-density populations. Evolution did not build us to respond to the buildup of invisible, odorless, tasteless gases in the atmosphere.

Imagine if carbon dioxide were a kind of sickly shade of green and stunk to high heaven. Would we really remain impassive to the buildup of this nasty substance in the atmosphere? I don't think so.

Even worse, the effects of carbon emissions are extremely indirect and mediated through very complex physical and social systems which are not fully understood.

Climate change will kill millions of people, yet there will never be a death certificate which will say something like "Dale Jamieson died yesterday; cause of death, climate change." The death will be experienced through disease, through impacts on economic and social systems, through wars, through acts of violence, through extreme events such as heat waves, hurricanes, and so on.

So the problem is that our carbon emissions seem to exist in a different world from the damages that they entail. That is why, when we look at this through an ethical lens, we can fly around the world, as I certainly do; I can emit carbon; I can feel bad about doing this, I can feel guilty; I wish I were a better person. But yet, I do not feel like a killer. Our moral systems do not assign responsibility for causing death through the everyday acts of emitting carbon.

When it comes to economics, we can argue about discount rates, we can argue about the right models that we use in thinking about climate damages, and so on. But the fact is that the time horizons over which climate change will be felt swamp all conventional systems of economic evaluation and decision-making.

When it comes to politics, we argue about winners and losers, we jockey for positions in elections. But most of those who will suffer from climate change are beyond the jurisdiction of the political systems that are making decisions about their fate.

Change seems impossible because carbon is the lifeblood of the global economy and even, arguably, the sinews of its political order. Yet, change does happen. The Atlantic slave trade must have seemed just as permanent and unchangeable as the fossil fuel industry does, right up to the moment that the British abolished the Atlantic slave trade in 1807.

What is clear is that, after more than 20 years of international negotiations, in which global emissions have increased each year, what is clear now is that the international negotiations are not the motor of change. And indeed, if one wants to think darkly, in some cases they often seem like an obstacle to change.

If change is going to occur, it will happen because of activity at every level—from towns, to regions, to nations, to workers, to CEOs. National political action is necessary to breathe life into the international negotiations.

The future of climate action runs through the government halls of Brasilia, Mumbai, Beijing, and Sacramento. It also runs through the streets of every city in the world. Real change must take the form of divestment campaigns and demonstrations as well as electoral politics, and such action will be on display here in New York, as President Robinson pointed out, at the People's Climate March on September 21, two days before the UN Climate Summit convened by the secretary-general.

Now, I am not so naïve as to think that 100,000, or even 200,000, or even 300,000 people in the streets of New York or London or elsewhere in the world is going to make an immediate difference. But neither am I so naïve as to believe that the best and brightest diplomats working behind the closed doors of government buildings have the power or the motivation to solve the most difficult problem humanity has ever faced.

The moral of this story is that the future of climate change runs far beyond "politics as usual."


Let me first begin by echoing Dale's comments, thanking the Carnegie Council for hosting this tonight, and thanking President Robinson for taking time out of her busy schedule to offer her thoughtful comments. And thank you all for showing up. It is heartening to see such a large crowd on an evening after a long work day. It's very nice that everybody is here.

In the few minutes that I have, I want to just say a few words about the relationship between climate change and poverty. I don't have much to say that has not already been discussed by President Robinson. I will just highlight a few things that I think are important to think about when we think about the importance of what we are doing about climate change and the relationship between climate change and poverty and certain key norms in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, but norms that extend beyond the importance of that Framework Convention that we need to continue to take seriously and endorse.

First of all, it is important to realize that we are having this discussion in the context in which there have been, over the last decade or so, fairly significant gains in human development in several countries around the world. Hundreds of millions of people have pulled themselves out of poverty. This is significant, it is morally laudatory, and it is something that we want to see continue. But there is the real threat that climate change left unmitigated will forestall that process, or maybe even reverse it.

We know from scientific projections, or we have good reason to believe from these projections, that left unmitigated, climate change could exceed a temperature increase of over 4° C by the end of this century, perhaps significantly more than that, perhaps by as much as 8°.

Within the course of several of your lifetimes, those of you who are significantly younger than me, you will see, if climate change is left unmitigated, significant temperature increase; you will see temperature increase by at least a degree by mid-century, maybe more. This could have terrible effects on people who are struggling to survive around the world, from dryland farmers in Africa, who may suffer from significant drought episodes and intense drought episodes, to hundreds of millions of people who are living in delta regions around the world. Over 100 million people live in the Ganges Delta; something like 40 million people live in the Nile Delta in Egypt. All of these people are seriously threatened by the rise of the oceans that is being caused by the increase of the planet temperature.

We do not know really how extensive the oceans may rise, in part because we do not know enough about how quickly ice sheets may decline. We know that the rising of the oceans will be fueled by the thermal expansion of the oceans. But we also know that it will be fueled by ice sheets declining rapidly. We do not have very good science about that. So the threat could be considerable, and it is certainly something that is worrisome.

But if poverty eradication is a morally important human project and one that makes us worried about climate change, it is also one that should constrain what we think to be acceptable climate change mitigation policy.

One of the most important tools for mitigating climate change is raising the price of fossil fuels, raising the price of carbon. That is important to do because it is important to do two things: (1) to use less of that—we have to eventually move towards a global economy in which we emit no more carbon; but (2) we also want to raise the relative price of carbon to bring down the relative price of renewable energy in order to produce innovations in that field so that it can eventually become cheaper and more competitive to produce fuel by renewable means.

But if we do that, there is the threat that we could forestall or reverse the human development project. So there is a potential bind there.

As President Robinson said, there is something on the order of 1.6 billion people who do not have access to electricity, something on the order of 2.7 billion people who burn biomass indoors in order to cook and keep themselves warm, usually not properly ventilated. The technical term that we refer to for these two conditions is energy poverty. These are billions of people living in energy poverty. If we are concerned about eradicating poverty and concerned about human development, we have to address that problem.

But if we are concerned about climate change, we also have to raise the price of energy. So we have to think very carefully about what the appropriate policies might be so that we do not find ourselves in the bind that I described.

Now here, I think, it is important to think carefully and to affirm principles of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that have been under intellectual and political attacks in the last several years, particularly in this country. These are the principles, amongst others, of the right to sustainable development and the principle of differentiated responsibility and respective capacity, the notion being that it is up to the developed and industrialized countries to take the lead in climate change, take the lead in climate change mitigation in particular, and to ensure that the burdens that are laid on countries to mitigate climate change are not such that they forestall this important project of human development.

President Robinson noted this new report that came out today, "The New Climate Economy." I was heartened to see that this is an important part of that report as well. It is something that as we move forward and when we are discussing this matter with people who would like to challenge those principles, I think that we need to always remember that there is an important basis for those principles in the people who are currently suffering today under underdevelopment and poverty.

Thank you.

HENRY SHUE: My thanks also to Carnegie and Mary and you for coming.

Dale Jamieson's work has shown that reality demands that we face the fact that so far we have just failed to step up to the plate with regard to climate change. So far we have not taken on the task adequately.

I would like to emphasize, among the feckless institutions that Dale mentioned, the U.S. Congress, which would be my candidate for the most irresponsible institution in the world. But almost everybody needs to do much more. Congress, in particular, though, seems mired in denial, the corruption of pursuing campaign contributions at the cost of pursuing the public interest. I think that needs a good cleaning out.

Darrel Moellendorf's work has established that justice requires us to focus on the vulnerable, both the current poor who suffer from energy policy and future generations who are going to have to try to live under whatever institutions and regimes we leave behind for them.

So there is no mystery what our double challenge is. On the one hand, we must radically and rapidly reduce the amount of carbon we inject into the atmosphere. When I began working on climate change, scientists used to say the carbon stays in the atmosphere for 100 years. We thought that was a long time. It turns out that was very optimistic. Most carbon stays in the atmosphere for several hundred years, about 25 percent of it stays in the atmosphere for a millennium, and around 10 percent stays so long that it is really very difficult to estimate how long. So basically, once we inject it into the atmosphere, it stays and it forces the temperature and the sea level to rise.

So the solution is we have to stop injecting it, which means we must exit the fossil fuel regime, and exit it soon. At a minimum, Mary Robinson said we need to aim at zero carbon by 2050, zero carbon injected into the atmosphere.

But of course the transition from fossil fuel cannot be a transition to nowhere. We do need some energy—not as much as we use, but we do need some. And as Darrel's work has emphasized, the current poor need much more energy now and will need much more in the future. But it cannot be fossil fuel, it cannot be carbon energy.

China, for example, has approved the building of two dozen massive coal gasification plants, which would involve the lock-in of a huge amount of money into an infrastructure for burning coal. We cannot do this. The coal gasification process produces, by the time you add the emissions from the burning of the gas after the coal is gasified to the emissions from the process of gasifying it—this is massively more carbon dioxide than would come if one simply burned the coal in the first place, although it doesn't pollute the air, which is why China wants to do it. But we must work with China to find a better solution.

So the poor need more energy, but it cannot be fossil fuel. Even and especially it cannot be something like coal gasification.

So it seems we have two impossible tasks. We must use less fossil fuel energy but we must have more energy. This sounds like two impossible challenges instead of one.

But in fact, I think we have solid grounds for hope. Our own self-interest and the needs of the vulnerable converge on the same thing, which is a rapid transition from carbon energy to non-carbon energy. That transition is underway.

Germany, for example, has shown splendid leadership and has spent something like the equivalent of $150 billion stimulating the development of renewable fuels. What they have effectively done is not simply produced more renewable fuels, but driven down the price of renewables.

In fact, the price of renewables is falling at a rate much faster than we had dreamed of a few years ago. Solar energy, for example, has dropped 70 percent in price in the last five years.

The Lennar Corporation in California now routinely puts solar panels on the roof of every home it builds. This is the second-biggest homebuilder in America. The purchaser of the home does not have to pay for the solar panels; they just buy the electricity which their own roof is generating from Lennar at a 20 percent discount from the normal price of electricity.

So things are happening, and it is possible, I think, to make the transition. Thanks in part to political initiatives by not just Germany, but especially Germany and other countries who have thrown themselves into the battle much more than the United States has, prices of solar energy are coming down.

So, as everybody always says, the other thing we need to do is get the price of fossil fuel to reflect its actual social cost. The U.S. Congress has not led. It could at least get out of the way. At the moment, we spend billions in public funds subsidizing exploration and development for coal and oil. This is ridiculous. We have to stop using this stuff, not find more of it. The International Energy Authority, in a recent report, said that in 2012, $544 billion were spent subsidizing the use of fossil fuel, and the United States is responsible for a big chunk of that. That must end.

And of course, we need also to do other things, to take political action to drive up the price of fossil fuel. We have to raise the price of the fossil fuel so people will do less, but we have to see that inexpensive energy reaches the poor because, as Mary Robinson said, we cannot deal with climate change by balancing it on the backs of the poor, and especially future generations.

One very vulnerable group, but at least they are here to fight for themselves, are the poor. The utterly vulnerable group is the people of the future who are not here to fight for themselves. If we leave them with an atmosphere filled with carbon but an energy regime dominated by fossil fuel, we will have left them with what one of our other colleagues, Steve Gardiner, calls a kind of Sophie's choice: they can either ruin their economy indirectly by ruining the climate by continuing to use the fossil fuel, or they can ruin their economy directly by not ruining the climate and refraining from using the fuel. But that is a terrible choice.

So what we can leave the future—and it is a great gift, and we are moving that way—is a new energy regime not reliant on carbon.

QUESTION: I am Phillip Schlissel.

What do you propose that governments do virtually immediately to preclude the continuance of what is going on?

HENRY SHUE: Well, first stop subsidizing it. You know, in every single Congress there is a bill which says eliminate subsidies. It never gets out of committee. This is ridiculous.

Even the United States, which is a real laggard, is spending some money to promote renewables and other alternatives, and of course other countries—I mentioned Germany—are doing more.

I think we do need support for research and development on alternative fuels. But the big thing is to get either a carbon tax or cap-and-trade to bring the price of carbon up to where it ought to be if you look at the cost to society of using the carbon.

DALE JAMIESON: It looks like a Utopian dream now, which shows you how far we have backslidden. But in the 1990s people thought that there would actually be global carbon pricing, whether through cap-and-trade or through carbon taxes, and essentially there would be, instead of just an economy-wide cap, a global cap, and you would get all the efficiencies of being able to trade among all the economies in the world. Today this looks like a pipe dream, but it seemed like a step very much within reach in the buildup to Kyoto.

JOANNE MYERS: People talk about climate change a lot. But unless there is a huge hurricane, a tsunami, how do you get people to care unless it affects them directly?

DARREL MOELLENDORF: Both panelists are looking at me as if I have the answer to this question, which is in some ways a key question.

Obviously, events like this are very important, and educational events are incredibly important.

It is a feature of the American political culture that we are behind with respect to caring about this. I live and work in Germany. As Henry mentioned, the Germans have made tremendous progress in dealing with this problem. And they have made the progress at the same time that they have also had to pay more for electricity. I heard a study the other day that said that electricity rates have gone up 38 percent since 2008 in Germany.

The remarkable thing is that there was a national election last fall and not a single party campaigned against that—not a single party. So it is something that, at least for the time being, is supported in Germany. That is a remarkable feature of the difference between our political culture and theirs. I do not know how political cultures in this way change, other than by education campaigns and activist campaigns that Dale was talking about.

JOANNE MYERS: And raising the prices.

DARREL MOELLENDORF: I think activist campaigns, the divestment movement in particular, brings these issues to the public imagination in a way that is very important.

DALE JAMIESON: There is a particular pathology that is currently characteristic of American politics. Sometimes we who live in America, like the fish in the fishbowl, think this is the world. It is not.

But beyond that, it is just the nature of the climate change problem, partially because it expresses in all of these indirect ways that it is very hard to get a clean symbol for climate change damages that is going to both mobilize people and also be true to the science of what the impacts of climate change are going to be.

QUESTION: Don Simmons is my name.

I hope this is a softball question. In arguing with friends about climate change, I have several times encountered the point that, although climate models in the 1980s and 1990s projected world temperature would continue rising, with little squiggles in that upward path, nevertheless from 2000–2011, the interval they usually mention, world temperature went down. I presume there is an answer for that.

Second question: What is the state of knowledge—and I guess computer modeling—about the relationship between climate change and these weather phenomena, greater droughts and greater rainfall?

DALE JAMIESON: There is actually at least one person in this audience who could probably answer these questions better than anyone on the panel.

Essentially what has happened with the story of climate science is that it has actually consolidated over the years. It is the nature of weather that it is extremely variable.

One of the things that happens is that every time it looks like there is some down-tick in some broader trend, people will focus on that and say, "Ah, yes, this falsifies the climate models." In fact, sometimes people even do this when winter occurs, as if winter is inconsistent with what climate scientists have been saying.

I think it is important, especially for people who are focused on policy and action, to not get too hung up in every little turn and twist of climate science and who is saying what about this. The fact is the signals are very strong over a long period of time.

For most of us the best way to digest our climate science is through the IPCC reports, which is a really unprecedented effort to bring scientists together from around the world to write consensus reports, something that has occurred in almost no other area of science.

The debate now at the level of policy and action is really not about science. The science gets invoked by people who, for political reasons or value reasons or economic reasons, simply do not want to act. It is better to smoke that out and have that discussion.

HENRY SHUE: I think it is important that the IPCC has consistently underestimated the climate change. The Arctic ice is melting much faster than they said. Their predictions for sea level rises are thought by many scientists to be very low. If you compare the geological history and look at the other factors that are analogous to what is happening now, the amount of sea level rise is much greater. There is a book by somebody not on this panel that I highly recommend, called The Long Thaw, by David Archer. He makes this case.

We used to say, "Well, whatever we do, we should get control of this before something irreversible happens." Guess what? The West Antarctic Ice Sheets are melting and we cannot stop them. That is irreversible and that is happening

QUESTION: Dr. Robert Palmer.

To follow along with the theme of how can we remove the obstacles to doing what is so obvious that needs to be done, I wonder if you have any insights as to how we can approach those naysayers, who for all the reasons you have mentioned are inhibiting progress in this area?

DALE JAMIESON: Part of the problem—in a way it is very perplexing, because if you take an issue like gun control, the American people overwhelmingly favor gun control, but actually nothing happens. The relationship between public opinion and actually what gets legislated is extremely complex and indirect.

It is not the case that somehow, if all the climate change deniers would just actually be taken off in the rapture somewhere, that there would immediately be climate change action. It's just not that simple.

I think a more important problem in the American political context is not the fraction of people who believe in climate change or who think it is a significant issue. It's just that for most people who believe in climate change and think it is a significant issue, it is not really a high-priority issue.

So I think one thing that has to happen to get significant political action in the United States is to bump up the priority of the issue. It is not surprising that it is not high priority. It is long term, the impacts are diffuse, and so on and so forth.

QUESTION: I'm George Smith from City College.

For me a glimmer of hope is given by some demographic projections that say in the very long term, maybe by the end of the century, the human population probably will achieve zero population growth. I have also heard that within individual nations it is very likely that you are not going to achieve population stabilization until you reach a certain level of economic development.

Given those things, I agree ideally it would be nice if the developing nations or slimmer economies were to develop on the basis of non-fossil fuels. But even if some of them do not—they use fossil fuels—couldn't there still be a strong argument that that should be supported because, even if we have to grit our teeth for the short term, in the long term it will help them achieve the population stabilization that in the very long run we need?

DARREL MOELLENDORF: It is certainly, as I expressed and as Mary Robinson expressed, vitally important that developing states continue to be able to develop. You are most certainly correct that this is also important in stabilizing population. A lot of good work has been done by a name that many of you will know, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, who has made this point very cogently, that if you want to address population growth, one of the important things that you need to address is human development; you need to improve the living standards of people, and you need to empower women, in particular. This is part of the development process.

The question is whether or not that development process can proceed by means of the ways in which the current industrialized countries have developed. There must be a role in the short-to-medium term for the use of fossil fuels in the development of these economies, and it will be important for the poverty-alleviation reasons and the human development reasons that you have mentioned.

But it can't be the case that the development should go full-scale and proceed indefinitely along that route. It is just not going to be possible for us to achieve anything like the emission target goals that we need to achieve in order to keep warming at a level that we'd like to keep it to.

So a theme that Henry likes to stress—and I'll just steal Henry's thunder here for a moment—is this important study that has been done, and it is in the IPCC reports, that if we think it is appropriate to limit warming to 2°C, then there is a finite amount of carbon that we can put into the atmosphere in order to achieve that. What I mean by that is from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution up to now, the cumulative amount of carbon has to stay within a trillion tons to have something like a 66 percent chance of hitting that 2° limit.

So if we are serious about that limit—or it could be a limit of 2.5°—the figure isn't important; what is important is that for any particular temperature increase there is a finite amount of carbon that can be emitted into the atmosphere over this period—if we are serious about any limit at all, we have to bring this under control and we have to find ways for these countries to achieve a more sustainable growth path.

Actually, it seems to be the case that that's where the action really could be, precisely because development is occurring there and they are not already locked into transportation strategies, they are not already locked into city and urban development, they are not already locked into manufacturing in the way that we are, that we can begin at the beginning, as it were, and help them. But this will require the help of industrialized countries. This will require some form of subsidy somewhere along the way, or massive investments on the part of private investors, to make this happen.

HENRY SHUE: Yes, you are right, of course, that to get the demographic transition we need the development. But the math is really inexorable. We can't say "so go ahead and burn the fossil fuel" because there just is not that much room left in the budget anymore.

I have just been looking at one of the studies about how to get to zero carbon in 2050. The argument of this study is—you know, in the last few years developed countries have actually emitted a little less. We have to never go back up. So we have to be continuing down from now. Developed countries can emit a little more until 2020, but then they have to level off at 2020 or we will never get there.

We used to say, 20 years ago, "We should cut our emissions and then there will be room for the third world; we'll make space for their emissions." But we didn't cut our emissions and they are still poor. But we can't just say, "Well okay, we will have to cut them some slack." If we cut them some slack, then we are headed for 3° or 4°.

QUESTION: Thanks. My name is Peter Adams.

To pivot to the question of resilience, but still thinking about the difference between developed and developing countries, when you look at the challenges that a place like New York has to respond to climate change, it is a lot about retrofitting existing infrastructure.

When you look to developing countries that are still building a lot of the essential infrastructure, transportation and energy, do you see opportunities to build resilience into that infrastructure for the first time so that it is able to withstand a changing climate?

DALE JAMIESON: This was the point that I was trying to make in response to the last question. In many ways that's exactly where the opportunities are, in countries that are just now developing their economies and just now developing their infrastructures. There are tremendous opportunities there to get it right. But of course, they are not going to be able to get it right alone. That was the point that I made there. They are going to need both the technical know-how and also the underwriting on the part of either investors in the developed world or the governments of the developed world—probably both.

President Robinson spoke about the commitment to provide $100 billion by 2020 annually. This is part of this idea to provide a green adaptation fund, which is sometimes what it is referred to as, precisely for these sorts of things.

QUESTION: Hi. I'm Marlin Matson.

Just a question for Mr. Jamieson. I was interested in what you said about the fact that in this country this major problem has such a low priority. I was wondering if there have been efforts to try to look at family self-interest and if that has been focused on, so that people begin to identify by describing very likely the children that are being born now, through their lifespan where will that go, and for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to try to really put that into some kind of form that people can begin to have some understanding about?

DALE JAMIESON: You know, part of the problem here is that even in poor countries it is the rich people in poor countries who are high emitters. In fact, fossil fuel subsidies in developing countries are usually middle-class subsidies actually. It is not that poor countries need these subsidies; it is that they tend to be disproportionately for the rich middle class.

Part of the problem in the United States is that, yes, we will suffer from climate change, but if you actually look at the survey data, Americans do understand that it is poor people in developing countries who will suffer more. So to some extent these attitudes which assign a relatively low priority to climate change are not irrational if you are just thinking about this in terms of very direct economic damages.

That is also part of the struggle here, is that you have to get people to empathize with future generations, with people in other countries. You have to get people to care about the non-economic aspect of climate change, which we haven't talked at all about here but I think is hugely important. For that it is very hard to find space in American politics.

Just as a footnote, after Hurricane Sandy I did a lot of talks around New York. I was very disappointed at how strong people's reaction was to spend whatever it takes to harden New York City and how we have to get to work on our plans and so on. And at these fora I would talk about Mumbai or I would talk about Alexandria, and it was as if I was talking about Mars. Nobody really seemed to generalize the experience of Hurricane Sandy to the idea that we are all in this together as a world.

QUESTION: Professor Moellendorf, you mentioned briefly the divestment movement. I am just wondering if you all could say a little more about the efficacy of such a movement, especially given in this country our government's inaction?

DARREL MOELLENDORF: Well, I was a student in the 1980s and I was involved in a divestment movement that existed in the 1980s. It was an attempt to try to get institutions to divest their portfolios from holdings in South Africa. I think there was some success, at least insofar as it was part of a broader international effort to try to isolate the South African government. That effort was eventually successful.

I think that what is important about the divestment movement that is occurring on campuses—it is also occurring in churches and in other arenas—is that it allows us to focus on the problem of the reserves of oil and coal that exist in the earth that simply cannot be tapped. There are vast reserves of oil and coal, and companies have very strong business interests in seeing these reserves be tapped. And of course, they will use their political power to ensure that those interests are, as best as they are able to, actually realized.

The only way that I see that that can be resisted is if people decide to exert pressure of their own. One way to exert that pressure is to make the cost of doing that sort of business a lot less attractive. That is the importance, I think, of the divestment movement.

You're right, it hasn't produced the results yet. But it is early days and you should continue to do it, those of you who are doing it. I applaud your efforts.

DALE JAMIESON: And I think the divestment campaign also moved towards getting to a really actionable symbol of something that people can do.

One of the things I have been disappointed by in the political rhetoric in the United States is this "war on coal" rhetoric. I think the war on coal should be embraced. I think coal should be framed for what it is—a nasty, destructive substance that should be left in the earth, that despoils landscapes when it is mined, that pollutes the air, even when we are not talking about climate change, and that kills people in mines. I think divestment particularly focusing on coal actually then begins to create what might be an actionable symbol for acting on climate change.

HENRY SHUE: Just a footnote. Probably most of you know this statistic. But if you look at the carbon budget, how much more carbon we can put in the atmosphere and not have the temperature go up more than 2°, and then calculate the amount of carbon that is in the proven reserves—not the possible, but proven ones—there are five times as many proven reserves as we can possibly burn. So 80 percent of what we already know about mustn't be used. This is why I keep saying it is idiotic to be subsidizing further exploration. We do not need to find another lump of coal. Much too much coal.

QUESTION: Mary Eleanor Davis.

My question actually is for all three panelists to stretch your imaginations. I would like to know who are the unexpected advocates for your cause and what have we learned about engaging them effectively, leveraging their support? From that, how are we making steps to engage new advocates, new dark horse champions for your work?

DARREL MOELLENDORF: I don't really know what to say, except that one of the things that I think is important is that there has been an effort to address climate change among evangelical Christians. I suppose to some extent one might think of that as an unexpected ally. But if you think about core tenets of Christianity, stewardship is one of them. So maybe we shouldn't be surprised. But is part, perhaps, of a process of mainstreaming the importance of the topic that is important.

DALE JAMIESON: I think part of the problem again goes back to this is not an issue that lends itself to the political frames. So there are often these attempts to try to create coalitions. The whole "green jobs" moment in the Obama administration was an attempt to do that.

And yes, you can assemble a coalition. But then what do you do with it? That is because action on climate change is just so much about reorganizing the fundamental structure of society that it just doesn't work like a normal political issue. So there is a sense in which I think it has to be depoliticized in that sense. It is not about coalition politics; it is about everybody. But it has to be hyper-politicized in that everyone needs to see that it is an important issue to act on.

HENRY SHUE: We all keep talking about keeping the rise to no more than 2°. Some of the most impressive people I have met are people from the islands that are going to be submerged even if we keep the temperature rise to only 2°. This so-called high-level advisory committee that Mary Robinson is chairing—I am just one of the sort of academic decorations. The real people on there are activists. For example, there is a man from Fiji who has many friends who are preparing to evacuate, even if we hold the temperature down to where it is. So it is important to keep those people in mind, I think.

Also a Filipino who just talked—we hear about these cyclones. The cyclones are just rolling through the Philippines now. You cannot say for sure every one of them is caused by climate change, but what we know about climate change tells us that there are going to be a lot of this kind of thing. You know, these are people whose homes are blowing away now.

JOANNE MYERS: Dale, Darrel, Henry, I want to thank you so much for making us aware of the things that matter in this world.

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