24 October 2007

Global Warming and Climate Change,
Part 1: The Nobel Peace Prize?

Primary sources:
12 October 2007: Reuters
Gore, U.N. climate panel win Nobel Peace Prize
12 October 2007: The Guardian (UK)
An inconvenient peace prize
19 October 2007: ScrippsNews
U.S. must establish a new global narrative
Additional sources include Wikipedia and specific links provided below.

Who or what really won the Nobel Peace Prize this year? The environment did, and the IPCC and Mr. Gore were just its agents of representation. What these efforts really have to do with the promotion of national and international peace are, as yet, unclear to me. However, I do intend to address some of the aspects of conflict and international security on this blog in the near future. Some of those implications and anticipated impacts are very clear already...

Discussions and news items on the environment and global climate change (a.k.a. "global warming") have not likely been more in vogue as now, after the Nobel Committee's awards. Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist a few years ago and the focused follow-up Cool It earlier this year, wrote a reaction (listed above) that effectively and properly splits the awardees. In that, he said:
"This year's Nobel peace prize justly rewards the thousands of scientists of the United Nations climate change panel (the IPCC). These scientists are engaged in excellent, painstaking work that establishes exactly what the world should expect from climate change. The other award winner, former US vice-president Al Gore, has spent much more time telling us what to fear. While the IPCC's estimates and conclusions are grounded in careful study, Gore doesn't seem to be similarly restrained."
For those of you who have not yet read Cool It, the premise of that short treatise on the climate change issue is essentially as written by Lomborg in his reaction editorial: "The IPCC has magnanimously declared that it would have been happy if Gore had received the Nobel peace prize alone. I am glad that he did not. Unfortunately, Gore's prize will only intensify our focus on climate change to the detriment of other planetary challenges." To explain further, Mr. Lomborg wrote:
"While we worry about the far-off effects of climate change, we do nothing to deal with issues facing the planet today. This year, malnutrition will kill almost 4 million people. Three million lives will be lost to HIV/Aids. Two and a half million people will die because of indoor and outdoor air pollution. A lack of micronutrients and clean drinking water will claim two million lives each. With attention and money in scarce supply, we should first tackle the problems with the best solutions, thereby doing the most good throughout the century. Focusing on solving today's problems will leave communities strengthened, economies more vibrant, and infrastructures more robust. This will enable us to deal much better with future problems - including global warming - whereas committing to massive cuts in carbon emissions will leave future generations poorer and less able to adapt to challenges."
Mr. Barnett wrote a column recently (also listed above) which he declared an "attempt to contextualize this year's Nobel Peace Prize." In a brief commentary on his weblog, he explained further:
"After finishing Bjorn Lomborg's Cool It!, I have to pull back on my commendation of Gore's (and the IPCC's) Nobel for Peace...Again, I say on global warmimg: read Lomborg or remain cowed by the fear mongers. There is a reasonable debate on courses of action to be had. We simply haven't had that debate yet, and this Nobel award will not help that debate...Do yourself a favor and read this book."
I wrote a comment to Mr. Barnett's weblog that contained the following:
"...I think the Nobel Academy conflated the issue by awarding both Mr. Gore and the IPCC and not explaining why--that is left for the community to realize on their own, apparently.

"I certainly second the recommendation of Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg as essential reading for anyone with interest in the climate debate. If I recall correctly Mr. Barnett's comment to me during a couple of posts on the topic a short while ago, it is 'intellectually devastating' on the Kyoto Agreement. Lomborg also criticizes Mr. Gore's alarmist tendencies and use of hyperbole, while relying heavily on the IPCC reports and the Copenhagen Consensus for the facts of the issue. Lomborg's narrative essentially demonstrates how Gore raised the issue of climate change so long ago in public discourse, though polarized the issue in doing so, and was then followed by the IPCC with more moderate predictions (which are, indeed, peer reviewed ad infinitum) which bring some reality to the debate. The interplay of these two deserves a prize, Nobel or otherwise, but neither one would stand on its own as a Nobel recipient: The IPCC members are just doing their jobs as scientists, while Mr. Gore's alarmist rhetoric has brought peace to no one. I believe that it's the dialogue pushed forward by these two parties that earned their award, and not the actions or efforts of either in particular."
In summary, I agree with both Mr. Lomborg and Mr. Barnett that other, more immediate issues warrant greater attention and funding. The results of the 2004 Copenhagen Consensus outline these:

However, I also extend proper congratulations to Mr. Gore and the IPCC for their award. Their interactions, and presentations to the public, have advanced the debate on global climate change well beyond the US government's own effort, or that of any other national government for that matter.

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