Sunday, February 13, 2011

Revkin misses the point

I want to like Andy Revkin. I do. He's a good-hearted soul, and he is the gatekeeper at perhaps the most accessible climate change blog around. But the longer he writes and the more of his epistemology he reveals to us, the more sadly apparent it becomes that he lacks any original insight into either of the science of climate change, or the politics, or the problems of messaging and activism. Nice as he is, he just doesn't get it:

For analysts and campaigners stressing the climate factor as the keystone influence on food prices, it’s also worth remembering that grain stocks these days are also not particularly stressed, from the local (Kansas) level up through a global view. A post from last fall on grain stocks and food (in)security on the Big Picture Agriculture blog (at the time, the unrest was in Mozambique) has some helpful context on the mix of issues affecting food availability:

Governmental policies of export and import restrictions, hoarding, subsidies, panic buying, and infrastructure standards of food storage and transport, as well as investor speculation, currency valuations, individual national inflation rates, weather and climate change, the evolving monoculture genetics, rising input costs, and global macro economic health all impact food security.

Now, I'm not saying he needs to read my blog. Wait a few months, and you can find the very same point made (much more eloquently) in the slightly more regarded Economist:

[U]nlike economies, political systems can be quite brittle. When you look at historical Jared Diamond collapse scenarios, what you see is that they're hyper-local. A complex society develops within a local environment, and when the local environmental conditions change the society collapses. But in the modern world, even substantial local environmental collapses tend not to lead to societal implosion. If Chinese crops fail, China doesn't end; it imports grain from elsewhere. But the ability to limit the damage of modern crises depends upon the institutions that support a liberal global economy, and institutions aren't always as flexible as economies. The world has this marvelous grain market, but if price increases lead to export-restrictions then that grain market suddenly fails. And if the grain markets fail, the unstable governments kept in place only by their ability to keep local markets provisioned fall. And if the governments fall, the refugees will seek asylum elsewhere, and if that happens then borders will be overwhelmed, and who knows what conflicts may erupt.

You can't separate the damage of global warming from the damages caused by "export and import restrictions, hoarding, subsidies, [or] panic buying." The one will lead to the other as night follows day. There are not going to be some new kind of human beings twenty years hence who will cope with unpredictable devastation in a calm, unselfish, rational and farsighted way. That is to say: damage to our adaptive capacities by predictably shortsighted and selfish government responses must be counted among the feedbacks of climate change, even if it is impossible to accurately quantify it.

Please, Andy, and for all our sakes, catch up.

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