Climate Change

Published on October 18th, 2013 | by Cynthia Shahan


How Change Manifests, How Action To Stop Global Warming Must Come About

October 18th, 2013 by  

earth globe

There is just something about brevity. A recent episode of David Biello’s Scientific American podcast Sixty Second Earth cuts to the chase of how change manifests, and how to most effectively tackle the global warming crisis: by local action. Here’s a transcript of part of the Sixty Second Earth podcast:

It’s obvious. Global efforts to combat climate change have failed. International summits are full of hot air and greenhouse gas pollution continues to rise. If a country bails on a climate commitment, they pay a price of, well, zero.

Turns out that’s okay, at least according to game theory analyses by researchers at the University of Lisbon. Their models suggest that punishment by global institutions has no effect. They also say that global summits actually impede cooperation.

Now, in a new report, the researchers suggest that if punishment starts getting handed out at the local level, say city governments, what emerges is a much more cooperative global regime for combating climate change.

Interestingly, though, the local actors must be stimulated by an understanding that global warming means catastrophe… big time. Thus, the remarkable bottom line to change is essentially an old bumper sticker tagline (link added):

Nevertheless, the math of how people play games suggests that successfully curbing carbon pollution will rely on the old adage: think globally… act locally.

The journal Nature Climate Change describes how that proverbial pond inspires change with many ripples from within — it is the rippling of change (link added):

We show that a bottom-up approach, in which parties create local institutions that punish free-riders, promotes the emergence of widespread cooperation, mostly when risk perception is low, as it is at present3, 7. On the contrary, global institutions provide, at best, marginal improvements regarding overall cooperation. Our results clearly suggest that a polycentric approach involving multiple institutions is more effective than that associated with a single, global one, indicating that such a bottom-up, self-organization approach, set up at a local scale, provides a better ground on which to attempt a solution for such a complex and global dilemma.

Another international climate conference is coming up, this one being held in Poland. There isn’t much optimism regarding what is to come out of this, and it seems there’s no reason for optimism. What is needed is a stronger focus on creating action on the local level. What is needed is an emphasis on communicating the great risks and costs that come with global warming, while showing people local solutions that they can implement in their cities. People are starting to realize this, but the message needs to get out to more and more of us, especially the ones who are motivated and assertive enough to push for meaningful change.

Image Credit: Grassy Earth via Shutterstock

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About the Author

is a Mother, an Organic Farmer, Licensed Acupuncturist, Anthropology Studies, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.

  • johnabbe

    I agree that this local legislation an important path to get things going in better
    directions. And, the powers that be have already noticed efforts to pass
    local legislation and assert local rights in this way and are already
    responding, for example with a law in Oregon that overrides any local
    ordinance regarding GMOs
    Note that I picked a conservative site reporting on this. Once we’re
    talking about state and national laws preventing local communities from
    making decisions about their area, our pool of potential allies expands
    greatly. So I don’t bring up the state/corporate response to try to say
    that it’s pointless, but rather to say that we are winning! (They’re not
    ignoring this movement any more.)

    Two fantastic resources if you want to get started passing local legislation, are and

    • Gwennedd

      Agreed Omega and Johnabbe. Dealing with this at the local level works. Generally, if you and your group can come up with a reasonable plan for, say, getting more people out of their cars and onto transit, it’s worthwhile to City and state PTB to help implement it. Anything that saves a city money and makes them look good will be acceptable, and their staff are generally willing to help. Been there, done that. Wasn’t hard to do.

      • johnabbe

        You’d think so, but many cities – including where I live in Eugene, Oregon – are spending money on expanding highways (despite the fact that peak vehicle miles traveled happened in the 00s) while cutting back on public transit. (Similarly, the local Occupy has had to keep a high level of pressure on to get the city to even begin to enact policies on homelessness that would save a lot of money)

        So it looks like a great deal of activism will be required in many cases to get even city governments to act in their own self-interest.

        One clear response to this is to reform or even better transform government so that it is at a minimum more logical, or even better actually taps the wisdom of the people for more creative solutions to the many challenges we face.

        • Gwennedd

          That’s an interesting proposal, the co-intelligence. I have seen it done at the neighbourhood level. A diverse group meet regularly to plan and implement what changes the “hood needs, overseen by a city facilitator. It was amazing the work we got done and the levels of intelligence out there in just a small group. And, being a BC’er I remember the group that reviewed electoral reform.
          To work it at the national level, interviewing candidates, reviewing elections, reviewing judicial decisions and having a real voice in the governance of our countries would completely change the democratic landscape. Democracy would be answerable to the people and special interest groups ( Tea Party, corporations, financial institutions) would lose their ability to influence the government and the judicial system. THAT would be good to see.

          • johnabbe

            Citizen Deliberative Councils, as broad as they are, are just one form that co-intelligence can take. The nice thing about CDCs is they wouldn’t exclude the people who now have undue influence. So people who identify as tea party would still see their values represented in these conversations. It’s just that they would 1) be represented in their true proportion of the population, and 2) they would see the person representing their values interacting genuinely with people with different values and both being heard, and hearing others. Yeah, a complete change I would like to see too.

          • Gwennedd

            Hmm..from what I remember, strong individuals that have no way to compromise can have the effect of dividing the group into factions. That would have to be taken into account when structuring the group. It happened to us. One slightly rabid person started messing up the group dynamics. Humans tend to splinter into like minded groups and eventually the groups stop working together and start working against each other. It would take a strong moderator to stop that tendency, a really well thought out set of rules and a set time limit on the groups’ term . But , yes, all voices need to be heard and hopefully reason, willingness to hear others and compromise would make this work.

          • johnabbe

            Yes, strong facilitation and process is critical. If the whole process is fairly reported, showing great efforts to include all, and some people manage to avoid being included, then obviously you won’t have consensus but you’ll still have super-majority support for whatever the rest of the group comes up with. In practice, with really good facilitation and process, this should happen only a small percentage of the time, and instead people are amazed at how well people with different perspectives can work together. (I say perspectives rather than values because to be honest I think if you go deeply enough we all share the same values.)

            Here’s a video of the debrief from one of the pilot conversations of Oregon’s Citizens Initiative Review (now an official part of the initiative process, albeit only for some initiatives since it is only funded privately):

          • Gwennedd

            Thanks for the video. That was great to see people sharing how they were able to get past disagreements and arrive at a consensus. We should be doing more of this, definitely, at all levels of government and law.

  • Omega Centauri

    In any case, lets talk about how we can use local action (or organized, nut not government) action to bring pressure to bear on free-riders and bad actors.

    We already have disinvestment. What about consumer boycotts of companies headquartered in freerider countries/states? You’ll never get 100%, but even the threat of losing a few percent of sales….

  • Steeple
    • Matt

      From your link
      “Finally, another interesting stat with respect to hurricanes has to do with the fact that we are currently in the longest period since the Civil War Era without a major hurricane strike in the US (i.e., category 3, 4 or 5). The last major hurricane to strike the US was Hurricane Wilma during late October of that record-breaking year of 2005 – let’s hope this historic stretch continues. By the way, just as a point of comparison, in 1954 the US was hit by 3 major hurricanes in less than 10 weeks.”

      So let us look at the data
      2012 – 19 named, 2 cat 3
      2011 – 20 named, 2 cat 3 and 2 cat 4
      2010 – 21 named, 1 cat 3 and 4 cat 4
      2009 – 11 named, 1 cat 3 and 1 cat 4

      Or maybe global ocean temp is your thing (2013 tied for highest on record)

      Or short version your link if full of …. (sorry all the things I typed got dropped)

    • Bob_Wallace

      It’s been an odd year, weather wise.

      Odd things happen. What should we make of that? Should we attempt to make a graph and plot a function from a single data point?

      • Steeple

        8 years, Bob. Not 1.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I have to admit that I didn’t read too deeply into your denier page.

          It starts out this way –

          New Study: ’2013 ranks as one of the least extreme U.S. weather years ever’– Many bad weather events at ‘historically low levels’”

          And quickly makes its way to this –

          Hurricanes: ‘We are currently in the longest period (8 years) since the Civil War Era without a major hurricane strike in the US (i.e., category 3, 4 or 5)’

          At that point an intelligent person should know that they have wandered off into fruitcake land. There is nothing about climate change which would predict that the US coast would get hit more frequently by hurricanes nor that the hurricanes that hit the US coast would be stronger.

          By slicing out a small part of the globe and saying “Look! No more/stronger storms in this part we cherry picked we prove that the Earth is flat and Al Gore has a beard.”

          Now, I’m pretty sure that you saw this graph I worked up for you last night when you pulled this “no hurricane” bullshit yesterday. That you’re being very dishonest in going down that route again. But just for the interest of others let me again post the historical record of Atlantic storms.

          What is plotted is average events per year in ten year intervals. The first data point covers only nine years and the last covers only three years (2010-2012).

          Now we can see that named storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes in the Atlantic have been increasing in the last few years compared to the historical record. (And the historical record for Atlantic storms is fairly reliable. Ships captains kept good records.)

          Now back to Steeple’s cherry bucket, why has the US not been hit by very many hurricanes recently? Why did the big recent hit, Sandy, impact so far north?

          It seems that for some reason Atlantic storms have been tracking more easterly and going off into the open ocean rather than hitting land. Could that be due to climatic changes? Too early to tell, but researchers are working on the question.

          It’s time to take your climate change denial junk elsewhere Steeple. This site is not purposed to correct idiotic denier lies.

          • Steeple

            As soon as you go “denier”, I feel sure you have lost the scientific high ground. We’ve already been through the historical data differences in hurricane reporting. Try a real argument, Bob.

    • Omega Centauri

      Just remembering from the top of my head.
      Ask the people of Moore Oklahoma about this years extreme weather. Or of Colorado, which went from a horrendous drought/fire-season to epic floood. Multibillion dollar deluges in Colorado, Calgary and Toronto. New Mexico just got out of the worst drought in 800 years (by the same rain event that hit Colorado). In asia there was an unprecedented heatwave lasting a month or more -on the edge of that system the region between China & Russia suffered an epic flood. If you throw out the almost certainlty bogus readings from 1913, death valley set a new world heat record. Here in California the dryest calendar year on record (so far). My friend up in Washington said the rainstorm end of September was really awful -unprecedented for September, although it ocasionally rains that hard during a once in twentyyear or so winter flood. Lots of extremes this year, just not Atlantic hurricanes.

      • Steeple

        You’re right; we’ve never had droughts or floods or tornados before we started emitting CO2.

        For every example listed, I can name 100 where the weather was totally within the range of norms. How about making a scientific argument that the number of extreme events makes an extreme case?

        • Omega Centauri

          Its not any one event. But the numbers of these events seem to be pretty startlingly. These are not the same sort of probabilities that we had when I was a kid. It is known that high end precipitation events are getting more common for example.

          • Steeple

            “it is known”

            Feel free to document.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Look at the pictures.

          • Omega Centauri

            Here on some links to Munich Reinsurance, who have a big exposure to weather related losses: Climate change effects increasingly influencing US thunderstorm losses Lots of articles.

          • JamesWimberley

            Steeple can make a pile by offering to take a billion or so weather reinsurance risk off Munich Re’s hands at the premiums of two decades ago. What’s stopping you? They only do this for a living.

          • Steeple

            So if a company is willing to bet billions on whether AGW is real or not, that decides it. Great, I’ll keep betting on the oil companies then. You don’t think that the hundreds of thousands of people who work in that space really want to destroy the planet, do you?

          • Bob_Wallace

            “You don’t think that the hundreds of thousands of people who work in that space really want to destroy the planet, do you?”

            I think they are willing to destroy the planet.

            I would imagine that most of them are intelligent enough to understand what is happening and why it is happening and putting paycheck ahead of conscience.

            I would guess that among themselves they talk a game of denial but inside they realize that they are major players in the dark game of destruction.

          • Steeple

            You have a vivid imagination, Bob. Imagine? Guess?

            Do you know anyone in this industry? There are millions employed here, and they all secretly know that they are complicit in destroying the planet? Really?

          • Bob_Wallace

            I said most, I did not say all. I’m sure some are dumb enough to believe the crap that the denier industry shovels out.

            As far as “imagine” and “guess”, you did ask for an opinion. My opinion is that most of the people working in the oil business are aware that they are helping destroy the climate, just as people working in the tobacco industry realize that they are contributing to cancer and other lung diseases.

            Do you imagine that people in the meth or heroin industries not have a basic understanding of the misery they are helping to create?

          • Steeple

            Are you seriously comparing the energy business to the heroin and meth industry?

            I would doubt you have ever used meth or heroin, Bob.

            I would bet you use the products of the energy business most of your day every day. If they are so evil, I presume you would be willing to boycott the use of any transportation, clothing, electricity, packaging, etc produced from fossil fuels.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Steep, I’ve learned that you aren’t a stupid person and suspect you know exactly what I meant.

          • I agree Bob, but never underestimate the power of cognitive dissonance… you’d be surprised the power over the mind it can yield…

          • Steeple

            Thoughtful work. But note in the fourth paragraph of the first article that they make no conclusion as to whether the changes they are experiencing are driven by human action.

          • johnabbe

            Thanks for the links, Omega. I’ve known for a while that insurance companies were beginning to put the pressure on other businesses to address climate change for exactly this reason, but it’s good to have some data handy to back up the assertions. You’d think that conservatives would accept the data that’s leading insurance companies this way as convincing, but some people refuse to get it.

            That’s okay, there are enough of us who do to get quite a lot done. I try not to waste my time with people who refuse to accept consensus science or even insurance companies whose primary interest is their bottom line.

            I read an article somewhere that one thing that insurance companies have *not* yet started doing much is lobbying politicians on these issues. Maybe there’s an opportunity there to lobby boards of directors of insurance companies, and identify sympathetic big-money shareholders at these companies to put forward shareholder resolutions calling on them to lobby (in their own self-interest!).

            Cultural resistance is amazing to see in the face of self-interest, and proof that the bottom line is not as all-powerful as people like to pretend it is. There’s a great article from Ms. Magazine about car companies refusing to advertise in Ms. even when they were shown data that women were more often the decision-maker about what car to buy than men were. (This was back when Ms. had ads. They published the article after going ad-free around 1991).

        • Bob_Wallace

          Let me draw you some pictures.

          Now, do these pictures prove that extreme weather events are being driven higher by global warming? Climate scientists are not ready to make that claim. Due to the variable nature of weather it takes several years to determine a trend.

          What I think we can legitimately do is take these changes in slope as a warning. We know that adding heat to the system will almost certainly drive more extreme weather. That’s simply physics.

          Picking one small part of the globe in which one weather pattern has not changed is a bogus approach. Having few hurricanes strike the US coast is meaningless.

          • Steeple

            Sounds great, Bob.

            So I’ll wait for someone to pull together a statistical analysis of the number of deviations from the mean of all meterological events over the past few centuries, data quality adjusted, and let’s see if we have anything statistically significant. Can’t wait to see it. Burden of proof is on those making the assertions, you know.

            Radiant cooling, Bob. Don’t forget that.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Radiant cooling.

            What used to help keep our global temperatures in balance along with heat loss into space before we increased greenhouse gases, trapped more heat and melted so much ice and snow that we cut albedo.

            There’s far more proof than is needed in order to convince those who study the climate.

          • Steeple

            Feel free to supply some that would be convincing to say a Doctoral review board.

            Anything that include comments like “denier” and “everyone knows, blah blah blah” is disqualified.

            Bob, we agree on the great progress on renewable energy technologies. This will be great for the world.

            No one, including you, however has come even close to proving out the AGW theory to me. I’ve got over 30 years of experience in technical matters, and I have been wrong plenty of times. Feel free to provide something comprehensive that will sway me. Or not.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Steeple, if you’re actually interested in understanding what is happening then spend some time reading the science.

            A good place to start might be Skeptical Science. Or you could start with NASA/NOAA.

            I’m not interested in playing whack-a-mole with your ignorant cherry-picking and citing non-scientific denier sites. It’s no ones job to convince you of something which you have apparently decided you will not objectively consider.

            You have apparently decided that you are more intelligent and more informed than tens of thousands of people who study climate issues. I’m not going to waste time arguing with someone who is that foolish.

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