By Frank Rotering | June 21, 2022
The economic logic of capitalism, which drives the system's expansionary activities, assumes that nature can safely absorb its massive wastes. This assumption is false, and leads inexorably to ecological disaster. Capitalism's most dangerous wastes are greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the burning of fossil fuels. Therefore, to maintain public confidence in the economy, social leaders must carefully manage the public message about GHGs. Because these gases fall within the purview of climate science, leaders must strictly control what climate scientists think and say.
This control has been remarkably successful. The field now tells a climate story that is factually and logically untenable, but that is highly effective in protecting capitalist interests. If humankind is to survive the climate crisis, this story must be decisively repudiated.
In this post I identify four objective falsehoods to expose the depth and extent of the field's intellectual corruption. I then discuss its proposed split into ethical climate science, which rejects these falsehoods, and mainstream climate science, which continues to embrace them. For information about capitalism's deadly economic logic see p. 61 in Youth Ecological Revolution and p. 5 in The Economics of Needs and Limits.
B. FOUR FALSEHOODS
1. THE UNFCCC LIE
The first falsehood is also the most egregious because it is a transparent lie: an obvious and intentional untruth. The 1992 UNFCCC agreement, which in theory guides the annual CoP meetings that currently determine our climate future, states the following in Article 2:
"The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."
Despite the statement's unequivocal reference to safe GHG concentrations, major news sources have recently reported that it refers to emissions reductions. Aside from being blatantly untrue, this revision adds to the widespread confusion about stock quantities and flow rates. Many of the concerned still cannot distinguish clearly between the water already in the tub (concentrations) and the water flowing from the tap (emissions). This confusion allows leaders to fixate on emissions reductions, and it permits related deceptions to slip unnoticed into the public mind.
The news sources that have participated in this extraordinary lie include The Atlantic, the New York Times, and The Guardian. Even more shockingly, the field's representative organization, the IPCC, has disseminated it as well. To the best of my knowledge, not a single climate scientist has stepped forward to challenge this fabrication. For details and article links see my post, "Black is White: Climate Deception becomes Orwellian".
2. FALSIFYING THE IPPC's MANDATE
Number two on the list of falsehoods relates to the IPCC's official mandate, which specifies its responsibilities to global society. The organization's current website states that its mandate is, "… assessing the science related to climate change". This is deceptively incomplete. The IPCC's initial marching orders were issued by the World Meteorological Organization, which added that the IPCC's activities should be aimed at, "formulating realistic response strategies for the management of the climate change issue."
The significance of this omission is that it permits the most realistic response strategy of all, solar radiation management (SRM), to be pushed off the stage. The clearest evidence of this dismissal is the IPCC's solutions report, "Mitigation of Climate Change". The IPCC glossary defines "mitigation" as, "A human intervention to reduce emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases." The report title thus excludes SRM, which is not a GHG-based measure.
Although this falsehood is more subtle than the first, its impacts on humankind and nature will likely be far more devastating. Not much can be done about GHG concentrations in the short run, but several SRM technologies could quickly slow global warming and eventually cool the planet. Falsifying the IPCC's original mandate is therefore an act of existential malfeasance.
The two falsehoods above relate to official documents. The two below are based on fundamental science.
3. DURATION DOESN'T COUNT
Falsehood number three is the brazen pretense that the duration of a global temperature anomaly is not a factor in ecological damage. An example would be the claim that a temperature anomaly of 1.2°C for a single year does the same damage to Earth systems as 1.2°C over twenty years.
This falsehood implicitly underpins the Paris Agreement's temperature targets of 2°C and 1.5°C. Such targets are, as theoretical physicists say, not even wrong - they are logically incoherent. The IPCC has admitted that, “Future climate-related risks depend on the rate, peak and duration of warming.”* The climate target is therefore being expressed in the wrong physical dimensions: temperature magnitude instead of temperature magnitude over time. This is such a fundamental error that it cannot be due to incompetence. It must instead be rooted in evil intent from without and willful ignorance from within.
Despite these factors, the truth sometimes slips out. A prominent example is Michael Mann's The New Climate War, which states on p. 213 that a single year at 2°C would not be catastrophic, but several decades at this temperature very likely would be. It is thus possible that climate scientists fully grasp the duration reality, but that their discipline prevents it from being publicly expressed. This would be consistent with the tight control placed on climate science to protect the capitalist status quo.
* Global Warming of 1.5°C, Summary for Policymakers, p. 8, emphasis added. In the statement that follows I simplify by ignoring the warming rate.
4. REDUCE EMISSIONS!
The fourth falsehood concerns the measure that receives the strongest climate-science support: emissions reductions. The critical issue is again logical coherence. Does it make scientific sense to reduce emissions in order to slow the rise in the global temperature anomaly?
The answer - a resounding NO - is easily explained. Fossil-fuel emissions contain both GHGs and aerosols. GHGs warm the atmosphere and remain there for hundreds of years. Aerosols cool the atmosphere and are gone within days or weeks. When emissions decline, the increase in the GHG-based heat is slowed, but aerosol cooling is reduced. Because the two effects roughly cancel, the rate of global warming will for decades remain roughly constant, and could in some cases spike up.
The absurdity here is that two effluents that differ sharply in their temperature effects are treated as a single substance. If industrial processes had been arranged so that GHGs and aerosols came from different smokestacks, no-one would consider merging them and treating them uniformly. But because industry happens to mix them, climate science does exactly that!
Climate scientists defend this travesty by claiming that, because aerosols harm human health, emissions reductions are entirely beneficial: they both reduce warming and improve health. This argument is invalid on both counts. As explained above, emissions reductions do not reduce warming until it is far too late. Regarding health, temperature anomalies can trigger tipping points and points of no return, whereas the health benefits from aerosol reductions are purely linear. The potential of these anomalies for health destruction is therefore much greater, and this difference will increase as warming proceeds.
To return to the main point: GHGs and aerosols have distinct temperature effects and thus require distinct measures. The rational approach is therefore to conceptually divide emissions into GHG releases and aerosol releases, and then apply appropriate measures to each. Specifically, GHG releases must be minimized through industrial efficiencies and smokestack capture. Aerosol releases must instead be optimized: science and ethics must be judiciously applied to balance the positive health and negative cooling effects as these releases are reduced.
Why are emissions reductions so important to capitalist interests that an international treaty was effectively scrapped and major news sources have blatantly lied? The reason is that this is the ONLY measure that is both consistent with capitalism's economic logic and that can, with sufficient propaganda, be sold as environmentally effective. Anything more aggressive would imperil a growth-dependent system, and anything less aggressive would alienate the environmentally concerned. Essentially, emissions reductions are a political compromise. Scientifically they make no sense at all.
To summarize, the public story told by climate science is strictly controlled by social leaders to maintain public confidence in ecocidal capitalism. As a result the field has been intellectually corrupted. The depth and extent of this corruption are evident from its complicity in four objective falsehoods: the lie about the UNFCCC objective, misrepresenting the IPCC's mandate, dismissing the duration factor in warming damage, and the logically incoherent measure of emissions reductions.
C. SPLITTING CLIMATE SCIENCE
Why must climate science be split? Broadly speaking, because the field's unchallenged intellectual authority undergirds the official climate story, which provides scientific cover for today's climate destruction. Until this monopoly is broken, the concerned will continue to support measures that are intended to prolong capitalism rather than solve the crisis. If ethical climate science were to become their scientific lodestar, the concerned might escape the mainstream's hegemony and seek a rational crisis response.
Note that this prospective split is distinct from the current division of climate science into liberal and conservative wings. The difference between liberals like Kevin Anderson and conservatives like Michael Mann is that the liberals go further in recognizing tipping points and the need for transformative social change. However, neither side repudiates the above falsehoods or seriously considers what a rational response should be. The ethical-mainstream split therefore goes far deeper than the liberal-conservative division, and ethical climate scientists could arise from both sides.
The following are specific strategic benefits from splitting climate science and thus creating an alternative climate authority:
- It would shatter a key element of capitalist social control. As discussed in chapter five of Youth Ecological Revolution, the capitalist class carefully manages the populace as a whole, but it severely restricts intellectual thought, which might pose political risks. If this restriction can be overcome in a critical area, the entire edifice of political power might crumble and an effective crisis response might emerge.
- It would weaken the authority of the ecocidal IPCC. As stated above, this organization represents today's climate science, and is incessantly touted as the ultimate climate authority by the capitalist media. If ethical climate scientists break with the mainstream, an alternative to the IPCC - one that serves humankind and nature instead of capitalism and power - could be established to guide rational action.
- Finally, the split would pressure various social entities to seriously reconsider their climate and ecological positions. One example is Scientist Rebellion, which might shift its courageous activism from raising climate awareness to refuting mainstream falsehoods. Another is the American Geophysical Union (AGU). This key professional association has published an impressive ethics booklet and could censure the mainstream for its lethal falsehoods. As well, educational institutions, media organizations, and other sources of public information might reconsider their climate message to the world.
Briefly stated, splitting climate science could trigger social changes and personal awakenings that have the potential to transform today's disquieting landscape of compliance and passivity. It could, in other words, initiate the revolutionary change that is now required for humankind's ecological survival.
For my proposed public statement by ethical climate scientists to present their dissenting case and announce the professional split, see this document.