As soon as the slightest criticism is made of the popular orthodoxy of beliefs about the climate, its author will systematically be designated a denier. If, in addition, that criticism is full of common sense, then some institutional bigwigs will hurriedly publish a public opinion piece pillorying the upstart, carefully avoiding going into detail or dealing with the issues raised. It becomes a question of stating who has the right to speak and telling those who are not in the know that the debate is closed because the case has been heard. A bizarre international press union dictating what constitues right-thinking on climate matters has decided that allowing critical voices to express themselves would be giving them too much of a say. However, the speed and tone of these replies betray great concern, because silencing the upstart has never been a demonstration of strength and peace of mind. It even suggests that if there is a conspiracy, it must be one designed to avoid at all costs the vital debate on such an important subject.
Notwithstanding the very premature end of this debate – which never really began – we need to describe the chapters that the debate ought to comprise. The climate drama takes place on three stages: scientific, strategic and political.
Science and pseudo-science
Data from less than two centuries of direct observations, including less than fifty years by satellite, and from paleoclimatology, teach us about past variations and certain correlations or lack of correlation. This data is not subject to major and well-founded refutations. Warming has thus been observed since the end of the Little Ice Age coinciding with the beginning of the industrial era; it is of the order of 0.8 to 1°C with fluctuations, some of which are still unexplained.
Several of the phenomena that can lead to such warming are known, including that of radiative forcing by gases dubbed greenhouse gases, diluted in the air, the most well-known being CO2, whose concentration has increased by 46% (from 280 to 410 ppm by volume) through emissions caused by human activity. That too has not been refuted by well-founded science.
However, what is immensely controversial, but not accepted as such, is the quantification of these phenomena, in particular the sensitivity with which the global climate would respond to an increase in CO2. concentration. This is an essential point because all policies to limit global warming are derived from it. Is CO2 really THE button for climate adjustment – and hence, re‑adjustment?
What is not scientific but is presented as if it were, is the misuse of models, superbly complex although of necessity simplified and incomplete. On the one hand, scientists have become so enamoured of them that they want them to be the instruments of scientific discovery., for example that sensitivity to CO2 that cannot be measured instrumentally, whereas they can only deliver the result of the algorithms embedded in them. We could call that tautological science: it is what it should be. On the other hand, even though their validity is far from being established, they are used to make risky extrapolations, well outside the known variations in CO2 and based on the most unlikely scenarios out of which only the most extreme are retained, including a very high sensitivity to carbon flatulence.
Hence the projections, including one that says that above 2°C –and now 1.5°C to make it more sinister and urgent– human life on Earth would become unbearable. In order not to exceed such a limit, we could only have a “carbon budget” that will have run out by 2050. What if it were 3-4°C or if it took a century or more? These figures, not very scientific or downright unscientific, let us repeat, ought to be the subject of serious debate because they define our room for manoeuvre in the next two stages. The call for the precautionary principle or Pascal’s wager is not justifiable in the face of such guesswork.
Mitigation and/or coping strategies
Should the priority be to limit warming or to accommodate and adapt to it? The answer is, as far as possible, to do both. Yet a strong preference is given to mitigation, primarily through decarbonation measures. This has the advantage of being simplistic and understandable but should be vigourously discussed, because it is not even said to be desirable when the socio-economic impact seems insignificant – modest income losses of 2% ± 2 for +3°C in 2100 according to W. Nordhaus, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2018 – and when the advantages, for example to agronomy, could outweigh the sacrifices required and the costs involved. With their wide margins of uncertainty, model simulations allow us to argue in the direction that everyone prefers.
In addition, the feasibility of these measures must be assessed, i.e. the availability of technologies and other resources at the required scale. A foolish voluntarism wants to make believe that all you need to do is want. This is far from the case because, although wonderful on paper, the solutions put forward are far from available. For example, there is a proposal to permanently sequester volumes of CO2 deep under the earth, but there is no evidence that this is possible on the necessary scale. It is a huge challenge to wean ourselves off the 85% of our energy supply currently provided by fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas. It will take an indefinite but very long time because these famous innovations are not ordered by decree and cannot be put in place with a snap of the fingers, despite the impatience of youth. The irony is also that these nasty fossils are invaluable to allow for the discovery, development and construction of the alternative solutions.
There is also the question of efficiency, i.e. the ability of these measures to not exceed a global temperature limit. In view of the uncertainties resulting from a scientific interpretation (sic) which errs on the side of exaggeration, it is highly probable that these mountains will bring forth mice, at a price that is already unsustainable.
Politics has taken hold of this drama soon to turn to tragedy and which now seems unavoidable. A whole climate industry has been born with its R&D department, marketing, finance, no after-sales service, consultants and certificate issuers, and above all an excellent lobbying wing, including youths and a senile Swiss Nobel Prize.. States are happy to find new sources for tax gathering and opportunities for well-targeted pork and barrel redistribution. Re-election requires it. Apart from some wise old men, it is evident that everyone has an interest in this new business that is flourishing, regardless of its impact on the climate. One of its policy segments is also exploited by extreme environmentalism, whose aim is to eliminate any impact of human action on nature, making it unacceptable to consider adaptation measures. Declaring a state of emergency will also make it possible to bring down a Western capitalist civilisation that supposedly deserves it, to promote global governance, to establish emergency laws and to ensure that all thoughts to be squeaky clean; beware of dissidents, who will be silenced by being put in the asylum..
In the meantime, the real and compelling development priorities, poverty reduction and improvements to health will have to make do with the crumbs left behind. This is the price of so-called climate justice.