Governments are running out of time to address climate change and to avoid the worst effects of rising temperatures, an influential UN panel warned yesterday.
Greater energy efficiency, renewable electricity sources and new technology to dump carbon dioxide underground can all help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the experts said. But there could be as little as eight years left to avoid a dangerous global average rise of 2C or more.
The warning came in a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published yesterday in Bangkok. It says most of the technology needed to stop climate change in its tracks already exists, but that governments must act quickly to force through changes across all sectors of society. Delays will make the problem more difficult, and more expensive.
Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the IPCC, said the report would underpin negotiations to develop a new international treaty to regulate emissions to replace the Kyoto protocol when it expires in 2012.
The report said little on the best way to encourage greater take-up of cleaner technologies. A delegate present at the negotiations said the passages on international policy options had been watered down by the US, which is opposed to Kyoto-style agreements that rely on binding targets.
Harlan Watson, head of the US delegation, said the report “highlights the importance of a portfolio of clean energy technologies, consistent with our approach”.
There were also rows about the role of nuclear power, with countries including Spain and Austria opposed to any form of words that endorsed an increase in electricity from nuclear technology.
Yesterday’s report follows two studies by the IPCC this year, which said unrestrained greenhouse gas emissions could drive global temperatures up as much as 6C by 2100, triggering a surge in ocean levels, destruction of vast numbers of species, economic devastation in tropical zones and mass human migrations.
The report said global emissions must peak by 2015 for the world to have any chance of limiting the expected temperature rise to 2C, which would still leave billions of people short of water by 2050.
Quoting energy expert Alex Epstein “8 years ago, they said we had only 8 years to avoid a climate catastrophe. Climate danger is now at an all-time low.”
“Every year on Earth Day we learn how bad humanity’s economic development is for the health of the planet. But maybe this is the wrong message. Maybe we should instead reflect on how human progress, even use of fossil fuels, has made our environment cleaner and healthier. Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress explains.”
Research in recent years has encouraged those of us who question the popular alarm over allegedly man-made global warming. Actually, the move from “global warming” to “climate change” indicated the silliness of this issue. The climate has been changing since the Earth was formed. This normal course is now taken to be evidence of doom.
Individuals and organizations highly vested in disaster scenarios have relentlessly attacked scientists and others who do not share their beliefs. The attacks have taken a threatening turn.
As to the science itself, it’s worth noting that all predictions of warming since the onset of the last warming episode of 1978-98—which is the only period that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) attempts to attribute to carbon-dioxide emissions—have greatly exceeded what has been observed. These observations support a much reduced and essentially harmless climate response to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide.
In addition, there is experimental support for the increased importance of variations in solar radiation on climate and a renewed awareness of the importance of natural unforced climate variability that is largely absent in current climate models. There also is observational evidence from several independent studies that the so-called “water vapor feedback,” essential to amplifying the relatively weak impact of carbon dioxide alone on Earth temperatures, is canceled by cloud processes.
There are also claims that extreme weather—hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, you name it—may be due to global warming. The data show no increase in the number or intensity of such events. The IPCC itself acknowledges the lack of any evident relation between extreme weather and climate, though allowing that with sufficient effort some relation might be uncovered.
World leaders proclaim that climate change is our greatest problem, demonizing carbon dioxide. Yet atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have been vastly higher through most of Earth’s history. Climates both warmer and colder than the present have coexisted with these higher levels.
Currently elevated levels of carbon dioxide have contributed to increases in agricultural productivity. Indeed, climatologists before the recent global warming hysteria referred to warm periods as “climate optima.” Yet world leaders are embarking on costly policies that have no capacity to replace fossil fuels but enrich crony capitalists at public expense, increasing costs for all, and restricting access to energy to the world’s poorest populations that still lack access to electricity’s immense benefits.
The more energy you have, the more intricate, powerful and complex you can make a system. Just as human bodies need energy to be ordered and functional, so do societies. In that sense, fossil fuels were a unique advance because they allowed human beings to create extraordinary patterns of order and complexity—machines and buildings—with which to improve their lives.
The result of this great boost in energy is what the economic historian and philosopher Deirdre McCloskey calls the Great Enrichment. In the case of the U.S., there has been a roughly 9,000% increase in the value of goods and services available to the average American since 1800, almost all of which are made with, made of, powered by or propelled by fossil fuels.
Still, more than a billion people on the planet have yet to get access to electricity and to experience the leap in living standards that abundant energy brings. This is not just an inconvenience for them: Indoor air pollution from wood fires kills four million people a year. The next time that somebody at a rally against fossil fuels lectures you about her concern for the fate of her grandchildren, show her a picture of an African child dying today from inhaling the dense muck of a smoky fire.
Notice, too, the ways in which fossil fuels have contributed to preserving the planet. As the American author and fossil-fuels advocate Alex Epstein points out in a bravely unfashionable book, “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” the use of coal halted and then reversed the deforestation of Europe and North America. The turn to oil halted the slaughter of the world’s whales and seals for their blubber. Fertilizer manufactured with gas halved the amount of land needed to produce a given amount of food, thus feeding a growing population while sparing land for wild nature.
To throw away these immense economic, environmental and moral benefits, you would have to have a very good reason. The one most often invoked today is that we are wrecking the planet’s climate. But are we?
There’s no way to answer this question for certain. In order to do so, we would have to know everything there is to know about the psycho-biological development of sexuality in general.
Answering the question, “What causes homosexuality?” presupposes an ability to answer the question, “What causes sexuality?” The study of human sexuality has not yet reached such an advanced state. At best, we are in a state of speculation—speculation which is sometimes rational, but more often irrational and confused.
Here is what we do know, thanks to discoveries in the fields of psychology and philosophy up to this point in time:
Human beings are both mind and body. It’s very unlikely, if not outright impossible, that anyone’s sexuality is entirely determined by biological or genetic factors. Sexuality is too complex a mixture of physiology, emotions, deep value judgments and psychological traits to oversimplify. The most we can hypothesize is that some complex series of genetic factors predispose an individual to be homosexual rather than heterosexual; however, much more research will be required before we can claim to have established any such thing, in my view.
Among people attracted to the same sex, there is typically some level of understanding about this fact from an early age—at least from adolescence and in some cases even earlier. Sexuality is not developed in any sophisticated way prior to adolescence, though I frequently encounter same-sex-attracted individuals who describe a sense from a rather early age “of being somehow different.” This occurs whether or not the child has ever even heard of such a thing as homosexuality, and whether or not he grows up in a very conservative social climate or a more liberal one (e.g., where his parents have openly gay friends).
Sexual orientation cannot be changed. This is not merely a statement of political correctness, though political correctness is sometimes the motive of some individuals who make this claim. It’s also a fact. No psychological method exists that can effect a change in one’s inner sexual orientation. For decades, psychiatrists tried to “treat” homosexuality but finally gave up; less because of political pressure than because they simply saw no reason to try and force such a change, especially when it didn’t work.
Contemporary psychologists who claim to have a method of “curing” homosexuality are operating on the false premise of behaviorism, which is the view that simply changing behaviors (with no reference whatsoever to consciousness: that is, thoughts, feelings, ideas) is sufficient for “change.” This would be like a very sad or suicidal person saying, “I’m going to act like I’m not feeling low. Then I will be all better.” It’s preposterous.
It is possible for a same-sex-attracted person to simply lie to himself and to change his behaviors in the heterosexual direction (at least for a limited period of time); but changing behaviors and changing one’s basic sexual attraction (which is an inner experience) are not one and the same. Any attempt to do so leads to a life of hypocrisy, pain and profound mind-body warfare. It would be just as senseless for a homosexual to pretend he is heterosexual as it would be for a heterosexual to begin pretending he is attracted to the same sex. It can’t be done.
There is no rational reason to conclude that individuals attracted to the same sex cannot lead happy, fulfilled lives just as people attracted to the opposite sex. Being abnormal—that is, outside of the mainstream—does not automatically constitute being irrational or unhealthy.
Two major psychological factors do contribute to emotional problems in individuals with same-sex orientations: (1) widespread social disapproval from others who are frightened or confused by their sexual orientation; and (2) an internalized belief along the lines of, “I am flawed and can never be happy, at least romantically”— a view which is internalized at an early age and never seriously challenged by the individual.
What about the controversial 2001 Columbia University study claiming that homosexuals can convert to heterosexuality?
Let’s identify exactly what the study found. The study found that two hundred homosexuals (143 of them men) claimed that they were able to change their behaviors from homosexual to heterosexual. This is well and good—and potentially interesting—but there are numerous problems with a study such as this one:
There is no guarantee the respondents were honest. The interviews were conducted by telephone. Like a lot of psychological research, it was essentially an anecdotal study. The interviewer has to take the participant’s word for it. Consequently, you must keep in mind two things: One, it is very easy to have casual sex with other men, if you are either an openly gay man or a man struggling to be married and secretly satisfying your desires at the same time. Second, people who attempt sexual orientation change (because of its psychologically repressive nature) are often heard to slip back to the prior gay lifestyle with some regularity, even if they do marry. I encounter such individuals in my practice. Heterosexual spouses, for their own psychological reasons and issues (e.g., needing to “heal” or “fix” the partner), will often tolerate this behavior if they learn of it.
The sample is very small. Even conservative estimates suggest that 3-4 percent of the population is homosexual (gay activists say it’s closer to 10 percent). Either way, 200 out of millions of gay/lesbian Americans is not a very good sample. Even within this small sample, only 66 percent of the men and 44 percent of the women had achieved what the researchers considered “good heterosexual functioning” (e.g., being married to someone of the opposite sex for a sustained period of time). These are not especially encouraging numbers for people who want there to be such a thing as sexual orientation change, particularly for the women.
The sample was heavily skewed towards religious conservatives. This is significant, because religious conservatives generally believe that homosexuality is not an internal/psychological orientation, but simply a behavior. They completely separate mind and body—consciousness and action (on this issue and many other issues). If you act in a homosexual way, they assume, then you are homosexual. If you change your behaviors, then you are heterosexual. On this logic, if a man who is only attracted to women forced himself to start having sex with men instead, we would now have to consider him a homosexual. It clearly makes no sense.
The skewing of the sample towards religious conservatives is significant in another respect. Members of religious groups encouraging conversion from homosexuality to heterosexuality advocate suppression of one’s personal desires in favor of “Godliness”—i.e., either celibacy or simply forcing oneself to have sex with the opposite sex whether one wants to or not. In objective psychological terms, this is nothing more than emotional repression. A truly interesting finding would be one in which individuals found a psychological method to change their mind-body-emotional response—that is, their very orientation—as opposed to mere behavioral change. (I very much doubt one exists or could exist, but that’s the only sort of finding that would be of any importance.)
Emotional repression in the name of surrendering to God’s will is hardly science. It’s simply dogmatic, religious intimidation.
In short, the study doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. It simply shows us that a number of individuals claim they can change their sexual orientation, based upon what they say in a phone interview and based primarily on religion and repression. No new insights have been gained into what causes homosexuality—or indeed, sexuality in general. Neither left-wing activists, nor right-wing social conservatives, seem to recognize that the burden of proof for any assertion rests on the person making the assertion. All either side seems to want to do is to find facts to fit his politically desired conclusion. Neither dares to indulge in an “I don’t know what causes this,” because to do so would threaten their respective political agendas. Rational people, in contrast, would claim certainty when certainty was earned, but not when so much still needed to be understood.
I can’t help but wonder if the Columbia University study was funded by government dollars. Note that the study took place at an Ivy League school in the humanities field, making federal funding likely. If so, it’s a good example of chickens coming home to roost. For years, left-wing activists have indignantly demanded government research dollars as a moral right—when the research suited their purposes, of course. Sooner or later, the right-wing social conservatives would no doubt make the same demand. Maybe now, with enough bad or mediocre studies in our midst, the two can cancel each other out and we’ll eventually shut down the politicized research industry altogether.
Instead of trying to please the latest political pressure group, researchers might instead seek after the truth. Imagine that!
The above was published several years ago in my booklet, Human Relationships in Plain English. Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of “Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)” and “Grow Up America!” Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.