Anthony Judge – Laetus in Praesens

Articulating Insightful Population Constraint Consideration (IPCC)

Produced on the occasion of disastrous coastal flooding in France, leading to unprecedented loss of life and homelessness, and on the occasion of the announcement by the United Nations of the appointment of a panel to review the operations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The period was also witness to further revelations of religious institutional cover-up of abuse of children in their care.


Questions are being asked regarding the methodology and procedures of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leading up to the traumatic change of climate at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Copenhagen, 2009) — a specialized successor to the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) and to the Rio+10 Summit (Johannesburg, 2002). The procedures are those which gave rise to the claimed worldwide "consensus" of scientists regarding what has been presented as the most important challenge facing the future of human civilization. In the wake of revelations that the IPCC allowed faulty data into its Fourth Assessment Report (2007), the United Nations has announced in February 2010 that it will commission an independent panel to review the IPCC’s operations and recommend any needed changes.

Of particular interest, although rarely mentioned, is the manner in which that consensus was built on the seldom-mentioned Kaya Identity — with explicit avoidance of the implications of one of the four components on which it was constructed (Well Sharp, Getting climate policy back on course with the Kaya Identity. 8 December 2009). The IPCC report had declared: "Admittedly, there are many possible combinations of the four Kaya identity components, but with the scope and legitimacy of population control subject to ongoing debate, the remaining two technology-oriented factors, energy and carbon intensities, have to bear the main burden…". How untrustworthy can "science" become in the light of such explicit negligence — even if such factors are only mentioned in passing? The problematic use of single metrics, including the Kaya Identity, is discussed elsewhere (Uncritical Strategic Dependence on Little-known Metrics, 2009).

Curiously in the State of World Population (2009), published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN draws a link for the first time, between demographic pressure and climate change. As noted by Bronwen Maddox (Taboo is Broken: it’s time for action on population, backed for once by the US, TimesOnline, 19 November 2009), the report states:

Slower population growth… would help build social resilience to climate change’s impacts and would contribute to a reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions in the future.

However the timing of this unprecedented acknowledgement ensured that the link could not be effectively considered in either the climate change models on which the Copenhagen negotiations were based or in the months of negotiations preceding the event.

There is every reason to believe that this dimension will be excluded from consideration in the problematic post-Copenhagen negotiations. With respect to the final agreement at Copenhagen, as noted by Kevin McCracken (Move over, make room for millions more, The Age, 3 March 2010):

Despite the number of humans on the planet, with an obvious impact on greenhouse gas emissions and the task of achieving reductions, there was not a single mention of "population" or "population growth" in the final 1300-1400 word accord.

A search of the website of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reveals that terms like "overpopulation" and "population control" are specifically deprecated (Journalist’s Notebook: What’s in a Word? 1999). The UNFPA is responsible for an annual report (The State of World Population: unleashing the potential of urban growth. 2007; The State of World Population: culture, gender and human rights, 2008). The population policies of the UN have notably been affected by the faith-based perspective of the USA, and possibly by that of other faith-based permanent members of the UN Security Council. It is probably fair to say that UNFPA has put more effort into minimizing or denying the challenge of overpopulation, or reframing it "positively" (as in the subtitles of its various annual reports) rather than in addressing it.

In a comment on the Copenhagen process, this was cited as an example of the classic case of looking for lost keys under the street light, rather than in the shadows where they fell — because it was easier to see under the light (United Nations Overpopulation Denial Conference: exploring the underside of climate change, 2009).

The concern here is with the dangerous tendency to frame challenges simplistically and inappropriately, avoiding the issues by which they are engendered. Hence the concern here with articulating "another IPCC", namely an Insightful Population Constraint Consideration — as a responsible "IPCC approach" to a change of climate

At the time of writing, a freak storm in France has flooded some coastal towns with the loss of over 50 lives. Little is made of the fact that the dikes behind which many houses were built (on land susceptible to flooding) were 200 years old but had not been maintained. Nor that permission continues to be given to build on such land — there and elsewhere. A BBC News headline reads: Weak sea walls blamed for French storm disaster (1 March 2010). This title is reminiscent of the much deprecated superstitious beliefs blaming disaster on malignant spirits inhabiting mountains and the like.

The BBC report indicated: A local governor said the walls dated back to the time of Napoleon and needed to be replaced with taller barriers. Focus is avoided on how inappropriate official administrative procedures had been considered acceptable, as with the well-known process whereby they are bypassed (typically with official complicity), or on why people had not objected more strongly — or that expressed concern had been ignored. National appeals are made for support for the victims of the disaster — for those who chose to build in vulnerable places. Costs are estimated to be of the order of 1,000 million euros. At best subsequent inquiry will determine that people acted legally, if imprudently, and that only minor reprimands are appropriate. In the aftermath, to the extent that such questions are being asked, the possibility that this pattern applies with respect to other issues is carefully avoided. Arguably the pattern is even more evident in Greece — currently in the midst of economic disaster.

At the same time it is becoming increasingly evident that global governance, now and as is envisaged, is incapable of responding to either challenges of the moment or to the "crisis of crises" expected to come. The vigorous claims made to the contrary are imbued with ever higher orders of bluster and spin — increasingly the prime characteristic of global governance. Presented as evidence to the contrary, the capacity to manage major projects avoids recognition that such projects are typically specialized and sub-systemic in relation to the global management capacity that is required. The vulnerability of projects of larger scope increases in direct proportion to the increase in scale beyond the narrowly defined projects of proven viability — as the cost overruns on organization of the Olympic Games most obviously demonstrate. Remedial global action may not be as scalable as is so readily assumed.



This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 7 Mar 2010.

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