I happen to be on an email list with one of the country’s leading systems thinkers: John Sterman, Director, MIT System Dynamics Group, Sloan School of Management. Part II will discuss the Group’s important contribution to demystifying the greatest single source of confusion about avoiding catastrophic climate change. But this post will give Sterman’s comment on the SOTU:
Bush’s SOTU reference to climate is small beer indeed. I think [Climate Progress] has it mostly right — it’s more delay and doubletalk. Yes, he dropped the sound science part (because the scientific case is now so clear he’d be a laughingstock), but the underlying policy hasn’t changed. It’s still about creating the potential, not doing anything, and, worse, still framed as “slow, stop, and eventually reverse” the growth of emissions. By phrasing in terms of emissions growth he can use words like slow and stop, which in fact mean emissions continue to grow (although not as fast). Emissions peak when the growth stops, and fall only when that growth is reversed. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations continue to rise even if emissions peak and will peak only when emissions fall to CO2 removal, something like 50-80% below current levels by 2050; warming continues long after concentrations peak, and sea level rise and other impacts continue long after that. So the SOTU still reflects deliberate and careful use of language to make delay sound like action.