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The Problem of Climate Change Framing or Discourse or Understanding

by Peter A. Belmont / 2022-03-06
© 2022 Peter Belmont


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My purposes in this essay are to alert the reader to the fact that there is a climate emergency today that is being ignored by most mainstream commentators; to suggest one way for humanity to avert this emergency (SAI); and to invite the reader to become more thoroughly informed on both the nature of the emergency and the various possible methods under discussion for averting it.

A Warning: The Stories We Tell About Climate Change Have Become Dogmas, Frozen In Time And Unresponsive To Change

The most important institutions, regarding the understanding of the climate change problem, are: politicians, major politically involved corporations, major media, minor media and social media, and universities.

And the overwhelmingly sad fact about the stories being told about climate change by (and within) the most important institutions is that they are almost all impervious to change of circumstances, in denial in effect as to current alarming realities which demand emergency action.

These stories are all, except to some extent inside the universities, governed and censored by: “ideology” (ideas fixed and non-responsive to realities), “peer pressure”, “party lines”, “group think”, ignorance of emerging facts, ignorance of developing scientific knowledge, greedy corporate policies, self-protective perceptions of what is politically realistic, and so forth—
that is to say, most of the world-governing institutions view climate change through lenses that make their stories “frozen in time” and in general unresponsive either to [1] changes in scientific understanding or [2] changes in real-world circumstances.

In summary, the world changes, the best scientific understandings of the world change, but the majority of stories told about climate change are frozen in time and unresponsive to either of these changes.

What Are The Dominant Stories?

There are two dominating views, or stories, that our major institutions are telling themselves and telling us.

First is the story that there is no story: in this story, there is no climate change problem, no need to fix it or to do anything about it. This might be called the ”ostrich” story, head in the sand. The people and institutions who or which tell this story are called “climate deniers”.

Second is the story that there is, indeed, a climate problem, but there is no need to do anything about it other than to reduce GHG emissions, and there is plenty of time to do that, no rush, no emergency. This might be called the ”What, Me Worry?” story or the ”kicking the can down the road” story.

Neither of these views leads to doing anything urgently, and neither leads anyone to seek to learn if the view is wrong, as it might well be, either as to urgency or as to proposed action.

Neither of these dominant stories urges people, as I do, to keep up-to-date on science and on facts about the world and to keep an open mind about corrective action.

Why The Dominant Stories Are Dangerously Wrong

Obviously, the “ostrich” story is dangerously wrong because it promotes inaction where action is required. It leads to the end of human life on earth perhaps in this century.

The principal reason that the “What, Me Worry?” story is wrong is that it ignores (relatively recent) changes in the real world which create the need for emergency action, for a quick fix, for a tourniquet.

The dismally slow and expensive and disrupting process of slowing or terminating GHG emissions (like the also very necessary but very uncertain process of removing vast amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere) are not “quick fixes” and cannot respond to any emergency—even were they to be undertaken with all possible energy, which neither is today.
The new and alarming circumstance is that most of the Arctic sea ice has melted in summer time and will be entirely melted by 2034.
See chart. This has long been predicted, but early predictions put this calamity far in the future. We know better now, but the “stories” have not changed to keep up with the changing realities.

The consequence of the melting of Arctic sea ice is that a very large area of earth’s surface that used to be white (because the Arctic ocean was covered with ice) is becoming black (because unfrozen water is black), and black absorbs sunlight’s heat whereas white reflects it back into the atmosphere. (This is the albedo effect.)

The fact that the Arctic has become an absorber of heat rather than a reflector of heat is warming the earth, and especially warming the Arctic itself, leading to more loss of ice and thus to further increases in warming. It is what is called a “positive feedback loop”: the more melting, the more heating, and the more heating, the more melting.

Even immediate and total cessation of emissions of GHGs, were it possible, which it is not as a practical matter, cannot stop this feedback loop and thus cannot stop further global warming.

And the warming of the Arctic region (including Siberia) is leading to the melting of permafrost in which a great deal of methane (a more powerful GHG than CO2) is now frozen. When the permafrost melts and releases all that methane, it is “game over” for humankind (and much of he rest of nature). This is one of the possible tipping-points feared and warned of by the scientists.
Crossing these [tipping-] points threatens to irreversibly disrupt the natural systems that have kept Earth’s climate relatively stable for thousands of years.
Tipping points are discussed here.

Thus Arctic melting is a serious emergency requiring immediate and emergency response.

The present crisis has been described at length in a paper and describes the crisis thus:
Our two Climate Crises:
The current average global warming level of 1.2 degrees C above pre-industrial is causing irreversible and catastrophic damage to us and other species. If we fail to try to immediately cool our planet, and particularly the polar and Himalayan regions (the “third pole”), we will forego the possibility that at least some of this catastrophic devastation could be reduced or avoided. At the current level of warming we may begin to cross the first climate tipping point, a melting of summer Arctic sea ice, as early as this decade...


The dominant stories about climate change know nothing about this emergency.

A Further Reason Emergency Action Is Not Being Taken

All that I have been writing about can be found, in great length and detail in the paper just cited above.. As this article explains, progress is frustrated by two “gotchas”:

[1] The scientists who have been watching the retreating Arctic sea ice have described the problem but do not, in general, see their role in the world as proposing real-world solutions; and

[2] By contrast, the politicians and economists who study what is possible to get done in the practical world are not, in general, aware of the emergency and are not pursuing knowledge of measures which might be taken to stave off the emergency. They are, for the most part, believers in the “What, Me Worry?” story, a story which does not encourage keeping up-to-date on problems.

What Emergency Measures Can Be Taken Today?


The first to be discussed is stratospheric aerosol injection:
Stratospheric aerosol injection [SAI] is a proposed method of solar geoengineering (or solar radiation modification) to reduce human-induced global warming. This would introduce aerosols into the stratosphere to create a cooling effect via global dimming, which occurs naturally from volcanic eruptions.[1] It appears that stratospheric aerosol injection, at a moderate intensity, could counter most changes to temperature and precipitation, take effect rapidly, have low direct implementation costs, and be reversible in its direct climatic effects.[2] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that it “is the most-researched [solar geoengineering] method, with high agreement that it could limit warming to below 1.5°C.”[3] However, like other solar geoengineering approaches, stratospheric aerosol injection would do so imperfectly and other effects are possible,[4] particularly if used in a suboptimal manner.[5]

As of 2021 there has been little research and existing natural aerosols in the stratosphere are not well understood,[6] so there is no clear idea of what material would be used. Alumina, calcite and salt are under consideration.[7][8] The leading proposed method of delivery is custom aircraft.

Geoengineering has been resisted and denounced by many who profess “What, Me Worry?” on the grounds that it might be dangerous (as a practical matter) and that its use would create an intolerable “moral hazard”.

No-one knows what its practical dangers might be, but in an emergency when the dangers of doing nothing are known and dreadful, taking a chance on unknown possible bad side-effects seems (to me) reasonable.

As to “moral hazard”, the critics are certain (and certainly right!) that finding a quick and cheap way to cool the planet would reduce whatever impetus there was at the time for GHG emissions-reduction. The suggestion is that failure to reduce emissions is a “moral failing”. Well, today, about 50 years after global warming was first widely discussed in 1970, and despite all the agreements and promises, emissions are still growing, and not diminishing; and waiting for irreversible catastrophe to overtake us will not make the (arguably immoral) actors work any harder if they are determined not to.

So I dismiss the argument from “moral hazard” as an ideological objection that should no longer be given any hearing, indeed, an objection to broadening the dominant story to include both the story of climate emergency and the story of the availability of one (or more) solutions requiring both study and public participation.






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