David Attenborough: US politicians duck climate change because of cost

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One of the world’s leading naturalists has accused US politicians of ducking the issue of climate change because of the economic cost of tackling it and warned that it would take a terrible example of extreme weather to wake people up to the dangers of global warming.






Speaking just days after the subject of climate change failed to get a mention in the US presidential debates for the first time in 24 years, Sir David Attenborough told the Guardian: “[It] does worry me that most powerful nation in the world, North America, denies what the rest of us can see very clearly [on climate change]. I don’t know what you do about that. It’s easier to deny.”

Asked what was needed to wake people up, the veteran broadcaster famous for series such as Life and Planet Earth said: “Disaster. It’s a terrible thing to say, isn’t it? Even disaster doesn’t do it. There have been disasters in North America, with hurricanes and floods, yet still people deny and say ‘oh, it has nothing to do with climate change.’ It visibly has got [something] to do with climate change.”

But some US politicians found it easier to deny the science on climate change than take action, he said, because the consequence of recognising the science on man-made climate change “means a huge section from the national budget will be spent in order to deal with it, plenty of politicians will be happy to say ‘don’t worry about that, we’re not going to increase your taxes.’”

Neither Barack Obama or Mitt Romney mentioned climate change in three TV debates, despite a summer of record temperatures and historic drought in the US.

Romney used Obama’s commitment to taking action on climate change as a joke in his convention speech. The president later hit back by saying “and yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke.” However, environmentalists have been critical of Obama’s silence on the subject and the Green party presidential candidate, Jill Stein, went as far as saying it meant he was, in effect, “another climate denier”.

Attenborough said he thought the US’s attitude towards climate change and the environment was not just because of politics, but because of the country’s history. “[It's] because they’re a pioneer country. There has been the wild west, the western frontier… that’s still there, you see it in the arms business, the right for everyone to bear arms. It’s part of the pioneer stuff that you’ve [Americans] grown up with.”

 

• You can listen to a longer version of this interview at Guardian.co.uk/scienceweekly on Monday 29 October

Written By: Adam Vaughan and Camila Ruz
continue to source article at guardian.co.uk

30 COMMENTS

  1. Always look at who profits. Nobody profits from actively dealing with climate change. It’s a huge financial and logistical undertaking, we don’t have a viable alternative to fossil fuels, and it has to be a global effort, nobody wants to go at it alone (what would be the point?). Industries profit from climate change denial, playing it down, playing the slow game. Ask China and India to give up on fossil fuels and see what happens! 

    Take a serious astronomical threat, a giant asteroid coming to earth with almost absolute certainty. The world will pull together in no time trying to do something about it (well, apart from all those doomsday freaks, of course…). 

    Climate change doesn’t have that kind of ring to it. Industries don’t care, they’ll just soldier on. The climate changes, then so what? They’ll just adapt, and sod those people unfortunate and poor enough to be powerless against its consequences. Biodiversity? Resource management? Who cares, right?

  2. I don’t think it is either correct or helpful to cite the cost of prevention as an obstacle to environmental action. Whatever you think that cost is, compared to the cost of doing nothing, it is small.

  3. Nobody profits from actively dealing with climate change.

    WHAT???

    So the windmill companies are putting them up out of the goodness of their hearts?

    Or are they making a mint??

    Ummm. Tricky one that.

  4. Does anyone ever get the feeling that we humans act more like ants instead of “morally conscious” beings? Group think can help us pull together to overcome great obstacles, then again, group think keeps us stuck in easy automatic ways of life. I hate to say this, but I feel like I have my hands tied and I’m on this merry-go-round with no way of getting off. To get off would mean drastic change that could literally kill me or cause great hardships; I don’t think I could deal with this alone. A massive group of people would need to jump off together to effect change.

  5. papa lazaru
    Always look at who profits. Nobody profits from actively dealing with climate change. It’s a huge financial and logistical undertaking, we don’t have a viable alternative to fossil fuels,

    Actually, there is a whole list of viable alternatives to fossil fuel.  They are just not as cheap and nasty, and the carbon industries really do not want us to look at them.!

    As we discussed on the old site here:-
    Water-cooled nuclear power plants aren’t the only option –

    http://old.richarddawkins.net/

    And here:- 
    Harness the Sea – National Geographic June 2011- Tidal / Wave power generation  –
    - http://old.richarddawkins.net/

    and it has to be a global effort,
    nobody wants to go at it alone (what would be the point?).

    Those who develop the technology and take the lead and will be will be dominating the market and selling to the dithering denialists.

    Industries profit from climate change denial, playing it down, playing the slow game.

    Only the carbonaceous luddites and their political and media stooges.

    Ask China and India to give up on fossil fuels and see what happens!

    These are certainly major carbon polluters, but China has massive investments in hydro-electric dams, and India is a leading power in setting up tidal turbines.
    http://namesake-expert.blogspo… - 

    http://www.businessgreen.com/b… –

    http://www.businessgreen.com/I

    Meanwhile California is establishing Solar voltaic, solar thermal and solar power-tower turbine generators. – http://www.scientificamerican….

    http://www.scientificamerican….

    France has had a functioning tidal barrage generation system since the 1960s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R… –

    List of tidal power stations  –
       http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L

  6. You would think corporate  spreadsheets or financial models would point out the undesirability of 0 profit quarter after quarter once the corporation no longer exists.

    Perhaps they are focused  100% on the next quarter, but surely Chinese and European companies don’t think that way.

    Perhaps  it is  a matter of the prisoner dilemma/tragedy of the commons. Looked at from an individual point of view, it is best if a company does nothing to ameliorate greenhouse gas emissions and sponges off everyone else’s efforts.  The catch is if everyone thinks this way, they all die.

    We humans are the proverbial monkey, condemned to die by our refusal to let go of a banana that pins us.

    One of the depressing things I learned in the last year is that babies would sooner have no candies than 3 if it meant denying a pal candies, rather than letting a pal have 4.  We are like pelican chicks competing in a nest with the prime goal to kill our brother competing for limited resources.  

    We humans do this so reflexively, we deny ourselves even in times of abundance in order to harm our neighbours.  Consider the cost of the world’s militaries whose use is rarely defensive, but rather creating misery to no major benefit.

    I think our best bet for an escape is artificial intelligence that once it gets close to our level (Watson sounds promising beat the best human Jeopardy players at a quite non-mathematical game), it will take over its own evolution and outstrip us very rapidly.  I we are lucky it will then force us to behave in our own best interest, sort of like a dutiful son looking after doddering Alzheimer parents.

  7. I find it very disappointing that someone like David Attenborough would come out with such a simplistic statement as the following:

    “There have been disasters in North America, with hurricanes and floods, yet still people deny and say ‘oh, it has nothing to do with climate change.’ It visibly has got [something] to do with climate change.”
     
    There is no way you can specifically attribute a hurricane or flood to climate change. Hurricanes and floods will happen regardless of whether or not there is climate change, and certainly regardless of the causes of any climate change.

  8. After the hurricane clears out I would be very interested to watch a discussion of whether or not it was caused by climate change but I doubt that discussion will ever hit the air waves here.  Based on past disasters, there will be hours and days and weeks of footage which which will consist of interviews with panic stricken people who will attribute the hurricane to an “act of God” and in a simpering tone they will explain that even though their house was flattened and their adorable pet was smashed to death by a flying tree branch and their own arm was severed by a flying sheet of broken glass, and their beloved offspring got the bejeezus scared out of them,  THANK GOD I’m still alive!!! HE spared me because HE loves me! Me, me, me.  Me and my dude-bro Jesus!!

  9. Well, this climate change thing isn’t as simple as some people try to make it look. Climate is a tremendously complex system of which we know surprisingly little. All the systems involved are connected and interconnected. A small change in one area can have huge effects in an other area while the opposite also occurs. This complexity is used as an excuse by some people in powerful positions to do nothing. Governments who’s existence is based on oil incomes are very likely to trivialize the effects of carbon dioxide increase by stating that nothing has really been proven yet.
     
    The problem is that they do have a point. There are a lot of factors that contribute to global warming. The melting of the ice in the polar regions could be one in stead of it just being the result of CO2 increase. (I expect frowning faces right here) Ice caps have been melting for the past three hundred years and the resulting change in albedo is also a strong contributor to global warming. Which came first? The increase in CO2, the melting of the ice, or the rising temperature. Where did the temperature change occur first, in the atmosphere or the ocean? Did hunting whales, which eat krill, which eat plankton, which causes change in the energy absorption of the oceans have anything to do with this? What about salinity? Do the condensation trails of jets counter the effects?……
     
    Now, I’m not claiming to know the answer to this small part of the climate machine’s conundrum. All I’m trying to show is that it’s really very very complex. There will always be a reason to do nothing because it will never be proven beyond any doubt that CO2 is the main culprit. A.k.a We have chosen the wrong strategy.
     
    Personally I think that there are many more durable ways of producing energy than fossil fuels and also a lot of ways to reduce our need for more energy. Starting with stopping the exponential increase in the number of people on this earth and looking for a different economic system that doesn’t need an endless population growth.  
     

  10.  But you can site the statistical occurrences of the number and severity of events and link them directly to world record ocean temperatures that caused them.  In the Northern Hemisphere where there are currently more Buoys and data available and for a longer time than the Southern Hemisphere this is possible.  You can directly in fact state that this hurricane formed over this part of the ocean due to the pressure/temperature of that part of the ocean effected by ultimately the amount of ocean warming.  Now a hurricane may have happened anyway even a severe one but more and more we are genuinely able to predict what will happen and how it relates to the the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.   In Australia we call areas of high accident rates on the roads “Black Spots”.  Now you can not say with certainty that any particular car accident was caused entirely by the factors at play in that particular site but when the fatality rate is 5 times higher than any other intersection is it perfectly reasonable to assume you have a problem, and prudent to say add another lane or change the speed limit etc.  The equivalent of what climatologists have done is put up cameras all along the highway and observing near misses and accidents and comparing them to historical data and other areas.   When the USA for example had a statistically higher number of Hurricanes, that are statically higher in magnitude than any other part of recorded history and that correlates to record high global and ocean temperatures and this is exactly what climates scientists have modelled will happen then it is neither simplistic or unreasonable.  

    Weather is local and effected  by local fluctuations but we are talking about events happening over a whole continents and watching the effects over decades now.  You will note he didn’t say a hurricane, he said hurricanes, he didn’t say this flood he said floods.  This is exactly what has been predicted with high precision and is exactly what is happening.  Neither simplistic or unreasonable – right on the money.

  11.  
    Reckless Monkey
    Of course we probably would not know because although this is a statistically certain event we spend very, very little money looking for asteroids that might hit us in the future.

    There are technologies we should be developing to deal with this, but like so many worthwhile science projects, funding priorities are elsewhere.

    Can Laser Bees Save Earth? Exploring Asteroid Deflection With Alison Gibbings – http://www.planetary.org/multi

    Grad student Alison Gibbings came to Planetary Society headquarters with
    an update on research supported by the Society at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. Alison is part of Dr. Max Vasile’s team that is testing laser ablation as a way to change the course of a Near Earth Object

    https://planetary.s3.amazonaws

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v

    The plan is to use focussed solar power from a cluster of probes, to produce a gas jet from evaporating part of the asteroid to form a rocket thrust, deflecting it from its path toward Earth.

    We know this one will pass close to earth in  April 2029 and possibly in 2036, with only a slight chance of an impact,

    http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/apophi

    but there are many more uncharted Earth crossing asteroids/comets which could turn up any time.

  12. Jumped Up Chimpanzee
    I find it very disappointing that someone like David Attenborough would come out with such a simplistic statement as the following:

    “There have been disasters in North America, with hurricanes and floods, yet still people deny and say ‘oh, it has nothing to do with climate change.’ It visibly has got [something] to do with climate change.”

    While it is not possible to attribute a specific event to climate change, the general background change in the climate, certainly does,  and is,  increasing the frequency and intensity of such events.

    There is no way you can specifically attribute a hurricane or flood to climate change. Hurricanes and floods will happen regardless of whether or not there is climate change, andcertainly regardless of the causes of any climate change.

    For example because of the range of intensity of hurricanes and the complexity of the subject, you cannot claim a specific hurricane would not have been as intense without global warming.   It is however well established that surface water temperatures in oceans cause and determine the number and intensity of hurricanes ON AVERAGE, and that measured water temperatures are rising. 

    Increased storm and drought intensity have been a long predicted feature of global warming as the atmosphere becomes more energetic and more mobile.

    A more energetic mobile atmosphere, is more likely to bring hot wet tropical air into contact with cold polar air.

  13. Maybe you’ve got the wrong perspective.

    Everyone has a right to bear arms, but most choose the safer and more convenient option to exercise their right to delegate things like arms bearing to other, better trained and more widely trusted and competent. Perhaps the underlying issue in the USA is a perceived deficit of professional arms bearers possessing these essential qualities. Perhaps because they screw up so often. So people withhold delegating. I think that countries like NZ and Canada are similarly as highly saturated in firearms as the USA, but their guns are kept in cupboards with a lot less actual bearing of them. The NZ police only occasionally bear firearms and don’t routinely carry them everywhere. NZ is consistently rated as one of the least corrupt nations on Earth. (Possibly because the corrupt kiwis mostly now live in Australia. Same thing probably happens between Canada and USA.)

    Both firearms and US healthcare may be 2 sides of the same issue. And not just because gunfire is a prominent cause of death and injury in some age and ethnic groups in the USA. The real issue is always too many sick people, whether they’re mentally ill and with access to guns or if they present with other, more conventional diseases. But contributing factors are that so many healthcare professionals are incompetent and can’t be trusted.

    I’ve heard that the cost issues in USA healthcare are mainly driven by provider  insurance premiums and litigation issues directed at health practitioners. So a significant proportion of the healthcare expenditure in the USA could be better described as legalcare expenditure.

    Politicians are rarely firearms dealers or healthcare professionals. But they are almost nearly always lawyers, or closely connected with major law firms. That’s how politicians enrich themselves via their own incompetence. The more things are stuffed up the more opportunities there are for lawyers. Basically there is a huge incentive structure promoting systematic incompetence.

    It’s probably time to stop fantasising that the same politicians who are responsible for the state of healthcare and security should be the go to folks when it comes to responding to global warming. If they can’t deal with routine issues like maintaining competency, quality, and confidence in the health and security industries, or if they even secretly benefit indirectly from the level of industry dysfunction, then they’re off to a bad start with anything more ambitious.

  14. The problem is that they do have a point. 

     
    If you knew enough about climate change, you couldn’t say that.

     Ice caps have been melting for the past three hundred years and the resulting change in albedo is also a strong contributor to global warming. Which came first? 

     

    Ice doesn’t just melt on its own, so its albeldo alteration has to be a feedback that exacerbates a warming something else first causes, rather than the cause of the beginning of a warming trend. If you can cite evidence the melting began before CO2 began rising, let me know.

     Where did the temperature change occur first, in the atmosphere or the ocean? Did hunting whales, which eat krill, which eat plankton, which causes change in the energy absorption of the oceans have anything to do with this? What about salinity? Do the condensation trails of jets counter the effects? 

     
     Maybe instead of simply assuming scientists haven’t thought about these issues you should actually read their research? Greenhouse gases warm atmosphere and ocean alike. We know the rate at which they’re gaining CO2 is equal to the rate at which our industries are producing it, so we know without that industry nature’s long-standing balance would still be maintained. Oceanic photosynthesis doesn’t magically make the ocean suck in extra light; it only exploits light that gets down there. Salinity affects the transfer of heat around the ocean, but it doesn’t change how much heat is present, and our planet has gained an enormous amount of heat energy recently, primarily in its oceans. And condensation trails, like clouds, reflect light from above and below, meaning they have both dimming and IR-trapping effects. Overall clouds probably enhance the greenhouse effect, and condensation trails are even more likely to do that because they’re higher than clouds are.

     All I’m trying to show is that it’s really very very complex. There will always be a reason to do nothing because it will never be proven beyond any doubt that CO2 is the main culprit. 

      “Complexity prevents attribution” is surprisingly untrue, because you can still quantify many things. For example, we can show the absorption of IR in the relevant parts of CO2′s spectrum makes perfect sense of how much heat we’ve gained recently, when you bear in mind how much extra CO2 we now have. “Beyond any doubt”? What happened to “reasonable”? You can doubt anything, even a priori truths; just look at Descartes’s Meditations. But since we can quantify the radiative forcing due to this extra CO2, we can literally say it’s causing more than 100 % of the warming. (Natural factors such as solar activity have been in a weak net cooling trend for a while.)

  15. Ice caps have been melting for the past three hundred years and the resulting change in albedo is also a strong contributor to global
    warming. Which came first?

    As with many AGW issues, the information is available for those who look and understand it:- (NASA has techniques such as 3D satellite radar mapping.)

    An increased flow of icebergs has been running down the US east coast since the time of the Titanic.

    Using a novel technique that reveals regional changes in the weight of the massive ice sheet across the entire continent, scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., report that Greenland’s low coastal regions lost 155 gigatons (41 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2003 and 2005 from excess melting and icebergs, while the high-elevation interior gained 54 gigatons (14 cubic miles) annually from excess snowfall. – http://www.nasa.gov/vision/ear

  16. Reckless Monkey
    Let’s not forget Geothermal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G… 

    There are also local systems such as improved heating and ventilation of buildings and heat pump ground heat storage.

    Britain’s Greenest Service Area open in Wetherby – http://www.moto-way.com/about-

    Tony Raven, Moto’s Property Director, said: “We are committed to achieving high environmental standards through the exploration of new ideas, new materials and new technologies, all of which are embraced by our new Wetherby service area. We believe the site will provide a bench mark for future developments of commercial buildings in the hospitality industry.”

    Heat and cooling for the service area’s main building will be provided by ground sourced heat pumps.
    Ventilation will be by natural means.
    Water will be heated by a solar panel array augmented by heat exchangers and a highly efficient gas-powered condensing boiler.
    An extraction borehole will provide water for toilet flushing and landscape irrigation.

    The ground sourced heat pumps take advantage of the natural constant temperature of the earth a few metres down – between 11° and 12° Centigrade – to produce low temperature hot water for heating in winter and cold water for cooling in summer.

    This energy from the ground is collected in a series of 100 metre-deep looped boreholes located beneath the car park. Circulating water through
    this looped pipework brings about an exchange of heat between the ground and the water which will provide 75 per cent of the building’s heating and cooling requirements.

    The positioning of the MSA amenity building also plays a part in its heating and ventilation by taking advantage of its west-facing orientation and the prevailing south-westerly wind direction.

    A solar panel array on the flat-decked roof above the kitchens and plant room will provide 10 per cent of the domestic hot water supply, backed up by heat exchangers and a highly efficient gas powered condensing boiler.

    Solar neutral glass ensures that the low winter sun makes a direct contribution to heating the building but does not store heat energy in summer. On really hot summer days, the floor slab will absorb heat build-up as well as the heat given off by cooking equipment in the kitchens. A large overhanging roof also provides summer shade.

    When the internal temperature reaches 18°C strategically placed louvres in the windows will open to give natural ventilation, making for a more pleasant atmosphere for customers and staff alike. It also helps prevent moisture damage to the structure and means huge savings in investment, operating costs and energy consumption because a large volume ventilation plant is not needed

     

    You will see they have used scientific design to maximise efficiency and reduce running costs.

  17. “For example because of the range of intensity of hurricanes and the complexity of the subject, you cannot claim a specific hurricane would not have been as intense without global warming.   It is however well established that surface water temperatures in oceans cause and determine the number and intensity of hurricanes ON AVERAGE, and that measured water temperatures are rising.”

    I’ve no doubt that you are right about that. And I wish that Attenborough had said something like that (to be fair we don’t know how edited his comments were). But he was quoted as saying that climate change is obvious because there have been “disasters”, which is a nonsense and doesn’t do the environmentalist cause any favours. His comments were no more meaningful than a climate change denier saying that global warming must be over because some part of the world just had a colder than average winter.

    It really annoys me when environmentalists jump on the back of some recent natural disaster and claim that it is evidence of climate change. I don’t think the general public are that stupid that they wouldn’t be far more convinced by a demonstration of something like the number of hurricanes over recent decades and related sea temperatures.

  18. @rdfrs-a89b71bb5227c75d463dd82a03115738:disqus 
    Indeed!  Although we cannot directly link any individual event to AGW, I have to wonder how many record-breaking storms, droughts, crop-failures and floods it will take, before the science deniers are shaken out of their delusions by harsh realities?

    You may recall that governments eventually decided they needed to fund a set of Pacific/Indian Ocean satellite-linked tsunami warning buoys, AFTER  the boxing-day disaster!

  19.  

    Stafford Gordon
    Let’s see what the Global warming denyers say after hurricane Sandy has hit.

     

    As the corporate carbonaceous luddites seem quite happy to inflict storms, and floods of increased frequency and ferocity on the future world populations, a few of the practical realities demonstrated by nature on their company offices, could provide a salutary lesson and a help them gain a better grasp of reality!

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