COP21: When Optimism Is Dangerous *2015

Original Author Martin Porter 

So it begins, COP21 in Paris. And there is reason to be optimistic.

We might get a deal, it might ward off the worst of Climate Change. We might be able to build on it to keep global warming to acceptable levels. Well, it’s possible, but it’s not certain, and in no small part this is because the great and the good appear to have contracted the dangerous disease of optimism.

Is optimism a failing? Not usually. On the contrary it’s a great trait to have in an employee. However when the people at the top leave uncertain reality behind for rose tinted certainties, you’ve got problems.

If you want an example of the perils of optimism look no further than the Iraq War. Why an oil funded ignoramus like George W Bush blundered into Iraq is not that much of a mystery. However why the US army, whose Top Brass boast almost as many M.A.s as medals, continued to believe it could rescue his failed venture when all the evidence was they couldn’t can only be explained by the Army’s institutional ‘can do’ optimism. The result is a failed state, the rise of Daesh and the atrocities in Paris and elsewhere.

The Iraq disaster though pails into insignificance compared to the dangers of getting Climate Change wrong.

Many of my fellow environmental campaigners though fail to understand the way business leaders think about the problem. The perception is that they are all fossil fools, believing climate change denial conspiracy theories and desperately trying to avoid the problem. There are certainly a few like that – far too many in fact – but for most business leaders if you ask them about Climate Change they will say it’s a problem and here’s how we’re going to solve it: we do this, this and this. Easy

The problem is that their beliefs are usually wildly optimistic at best, and actually delusional at worst.

During my brief career as a gatecrasher to corporate shindigs I’ve heard C-Suite optimists from construction companies tell me in all seriousness how sustainable their companies will be even as they are covering the countryside with tarmac and I’ve had smiley faced board members from BP tell me how they will move into solar power and make a killing in Renewables. Instead they moved into tar sands and they did their killing in the Gulf of Mexico.

However the deluded optimist-in-chief of this army of faux climate warriors is bearded wonder Richard Branson. In 2006, after Al Gore converted him to the cause, he pledged $3 billion to the fight against Climate Change. In 2009 he launched the Carbon War Room to teach business how to make money by cutting emissions and in 2010 he announced the Virgin Earth Challenge.

All of which sounds wonderful until you realise that Virgin airlines now emits 40% more Greenhouse gases than it did when Al Gore gave Branson that personal PowerPoint, whilst the $25 million prize for inventing something to suck them out of the atmosphere again has still not been awarded. Only 10% of his promised money has appeared, although as Branson’s personal wealth increase by over $2 billion, the Carbon War Room has achieved 50% success.

It’s an inconvenient truth that straight after meeting Gore, Branson launched a new air route to Dubai and before Carbon War Room opened its doors Virgin America took to the air. He’s also bought a Formula One team, tried to launch an exploding space plane and increased his own personal carbon footprint to the size of a small island by relocating to a tax haven in the Caribbean.

So like the War on Terror, Branson’s pre-emptive strike on Climate Change only seems to have made the problem worse.

But back to Paris, and those business leaders hoping to lead the way to a low carbon future. As I blogged the other week, even the IPCCs own plans have been hijacked by the optimists, with the scenarios in its Synthesis Report being based on either time travel or imaginary technologies. However it isn’t just the IPCC that has problems with reality.

Most industries have a plan of sorts on how to move to a low carbon economy and, as I said, most
CEOs you meet are wildly optimistic about theirs. Unfortunately, taken together, they are a disaster.

The shipping industry, for example, is going to run on biofuels. So is the car industry, and the aviation industry. The US Navy has already tried biomass. Do you see the problem here?

A back-of-a-postcard calculation suggests that for everyone to do this would require 50% of the world’s agricultural land to be converted to biofuels. Even if half the world would agree to stop eating in order to allow the other half to carry on consuming, there is no way we could build the infrastructure required in realistic time frame.

It’s a similar story with nuclear power, which Bill Gates is gambling on despite the eye watering costs, or Carbon Capture and Storage, which has never been tried on an industrial scale but which features in almost everyone’s plans, and so on.

So am I advocating pessimism then? No, I’m certainly not. Climate Change is not an insoluble problem. We can beat it, but we need to change. Forget flying. A Virgin train produces 90% less emissions than a Virgin plane. Forget biofuels. One wind turbine incidentally creates as much power as 2000 hectares of biomass. Above all forget endless economic growth. Lets redistribute what we have and all live happier lives. There are people in Paris advocating just that, but they are mostly on the other side of the barricades to the optimists, if they are not under house arrest. Meanwhile inside the security cordon the lobbyists are telling the politicians that we can beat Climate Change and make money.

Maybe pessimism from world’s business would be infinitely worse, but then people tend to ignore sourpusses. The deluded optimist though has the power, like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, to lead us all to our doom.

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Author: theunderminer

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