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Holistic view of climate change answer to hackers

It’s time to cut through the confusion generated by the publication of emails hacked from the climate research centre at the University of East Anglia. Even George Monbiot has lost his cool, calling for the centre’s boss Phil Jones to resign because of some remarks in one of the emails.

It is true that the figures suggest that over recent years, measures of air temperature show cooling, not warming and scientists are struggling to explain it. Some say it is due to the effects of El Nino – a weather phenomenon that has its roots in the waters off the coast of South America – and is about to change.

Indeed it may be that 2009 will reverse the trend to be one of the hottest since records began.

But the climate change deniers always pick and choose their indicators, in any case. The fact that there is a flotilla of icebergs in the south Pacific seems to have passed them by. And that the Arctic ice is thinning and breaking up. And that the sea is now so acidic that its ability to absorb carbon is compromised. And that the deforestation of the planet is causing massive emissions in itself and also reducing the planet’s ability to absorb carbon. And that the permafrosts of Siberia are beginning to melt, pouring stored carbon into the atmosphere.

What the deniers are arguing, in effect, is that carbon emissions may be rising but it doesn’t matter and that is patently untrue. In spite of all the political compromises it had to make, the world’s scientists organised in the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change are clear that carbon emissions are damaging to the climate.

Overall rises in air temperature are, in any case, not the be-all-and-end-all in mapping climate change. Also crucial are more localised but undeniable changes in climate which are already affecting people’s lives and livelihoods. Should we just ignore these? Should we close our eyes to extreme weather, drought, forest fires, floods, rising sea levels and farmers forced to switch from crops grown for generations?

The fact that the hacking of the research centre’s emails took place just before the Copenhagen summit on climate change may well be suspicious and politically motivated, but not to worry – the Copenhagen summit is not going to deliver anything in any case.

What we need to hold on to is a holistic conception of the ecological crisis, which understands that the system of production itself is unsustainable.

Wasteful, profit-driven capitalism is creating not only global warming, but also poverty, injustice and the extinction of hundreds of species and eco-systems. To keep capitalism on the road, the whole substance of the planet would need to be sacrificed to it, and that’s the crisis we need to deal with, sooner rather than later.

The shameful numbers game which is going on in advance of Copenhagen shows that the global leaders are prepared to forfeit the lives of millions to the economic status quo that has caused this ecological crisis, in all its diverse forms.

In the last few days both America and China have put a sort of figure on emissions reductions. But since President Obama has already made it clear that there will be no binding agreement at Copenhagen, these are the REALLY meaningless figures we should be worrying about.

We should support Professor Phil Jones and his team at East Anglia and the crucial work they are doing. When rotten politicians and bankers the world over survive scandals and corruption but keep their jobs, why would we sacrifice a group of people who are truly useful?

Penny Cole
Environment editor
26 November 2009

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