Xie Didn’t Just Say That?

January 24, 2010

Apparently, “China’s most senior negotiator on climate change said today he was keeping an open mind on whether global warming was man-made or the result of natural cycles.” This was a remarkably honest statement from Xie Zhenhua, coming at an international summit held to discuss means of persuading richer nations to stump up $10 billion to fight climate change. You would expect that money to be less likely to materialize if the link between greenhouse gases and climate change was abandoned. So it’s odd that Mr Xie decided to say what he did.

I’m sure that Xie is not uninformed about climate science. No-one who was would say something like “the mainstream view is according to the review reports by the IPCC” yet “there is one starkly different view, that the climate change or climate warming issues is caused by the cyclical element of nature itself” and that “there were still “disputes” in the scientific community over the causes” of climate change.

Naturally, climatic fluctuations due to “natural” factors are continuing to happen, yet they are being influenced now by the forcing effect generated by mankind’s combined greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not an either/or question, but a very complex interaction. A dialectician (as he surely must be coming from the CCP) would grasp this intuitively.

This kind of dualism is everywhere in the discourse around climate change. Take the Daily Telegraph, for example, which carries a story claiming that the IPCC messed up a factoid about rising losses from natural disasters since the 1970s, basing its figures on a non-peer reviewed paper which subsequently appeared with significant caveats in its argument. Fair enough. Roger Pielke, a noted climate scientist and no fool, tells the paper that “All the literature published before and since the IPCC report shows that rising disaster losses can be explained entirely by social change” while “People have looked hard for evidence that global warming plays a part but can’t find it.”

He’s right and wrong, of course. “Social change” (code for brutal neoliberal capitalism) has made poorer people more vulnerable to natural disasters. But to say that there is no link with climate change makes little sense, as little as saying that it has caused disaster losses to rise sharply. What Pielke surely knows is that losses from disasters are determined by the relation between several factors – the climate being one, social change and policy being another and economic developments probably another still. Again, it’s not an either/or situation. Asking for total proof that something causes something is asking the impossible, yet we demand such clarity. What we fail to absorb are the relational systems at work which actually form the world. It’s a form of autism, I suppose.

On a lighter note, George Monbiot has awarded the Christopher Booker prize “for bullshit” to American columnist John Tomlinson. Congratulations John, I do hope Xie Zhenhua didn’t read your work.


3 Responses to “Xie Didn’t Just Say That?”

  1. watsonlow Says:

    Climate Change is now a handy cause for politicians to take ownership of. They can be seen as crusaders for the planet, trying to bang foreigners’ heads together to see common sense. Redesignating a bit of foreign aid as climate change related is a lot easier than directly addressing the underlying causes of poverty in the Third World which are as much globalisation- as weather-induced.

  2. kiosa Says:

    Before the Tsunami moves in,
    the tide pulls out.

    Perhaps we first need to eliminate
    effects attributable to HAARP.

    Maybe that’s what he’s saying.

  3. watsonlow Says:

    I have to believe he would say it more directly if he thought HAARP was causing natural disasters. I think he is just deeply suspicious of the West, particularly after the shambles of Copenhagen. I think the Chinese have every reason to tread carefully in agreeing to a climate change deal. Why on earth would they trust the Americans? Obama looks cleaner than Bush but you can’t say he took Copenhagen seriously.

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