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Revkin: “The idea that we’re going to fix the climate change problem or solve global warming has always been a fantasy, totally wishful, from my standpoint.”

File this under “Self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Below is an excerpt from the Friday Greenwire story (subs. req’d), “Treaty, regs won’t solve warming problems, former NYT reporter warns.”

If the quotes are inaccurate or incomplete, the former lead climate reporter for the paper of record can clarify and/or expand upon his remarks here or at DotEarth:

[UPDATE: Revkin’s initial elaboration on his comments are here.]

Policymakers should abandon the notion that a binding international agreement will be the primary tool for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, a former New York Times climate reporter told an environmental law conference here yesterday.

Andrew Revkin, who left the Times last year and is now a fellow at Pace University’s Academy for Applied Environmental Studies, said regulations probably aren’t the best way to address global warming. But he cautioned that he was not advocating tearing up the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

That treaty, he said, has spurred spending and “soft commitments” for “moving people away from business as usual,” Revkin told the American Bar Association’s Conference on Environmental Law. “But,” he added, “there’s a difference between wishful and aspirational.”

U.N. negotiations in Copenhagen last year failed to produce a binding agreement, in part, because each nation had a completely different objective, he said.

“Sub-Saharan Africa wants money, Europe wants influence on the process, the U.S. wants what Congress will pass, and China is China,” Revkin said. “There’s not much more to say.

“How do you have a negotiation when everyone’s coming with a different orientation of what the problem is?”

Well, it isn’t easy, but the commitments that were put on the table last year in the months leading up to Copenhagen were quite real for most countries — see, for instance, “Brazil’s Lula turns Copenhagen pledge to cut CO2 emissions into law.” Europe now seems likely to pursue its target strictly as a matter of maintaining competitiveness with China and Japan in clean energy and who doubt that China will easily beat its target. And these commitments by themselves would put the world 65% of the way toward the needed 2020 target for stabilization at 450 ppm (as discussed here).

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Maybe the U.S. political system is incapable of taking the necessary action to enable a global deal, but part of that is certainly due to the media’s own belief — as conveyed in countless stories — that national and international action is a fantasy and that the problem isn’t as serious as the scientific literature and leading climate scientists say.

Revkin also urged policymakers to eliminate the term “adaptation” because it implies there’s something definite that humans can adjust to. “Resilience,” he said, better captures scientists’ uncertainty about the severity of climate change’s impacts.

“’Adaptation’ implies a faux sense of concreteness and that we know the change that’s coming,” he said. “We need changes in values, not changes in laws or regulations.”

Among those changes, he said, could mean embracing genetically modified crops that can be tailored to changing conditions.

“The idea that we’re going to fix the climate change problem or solve global warming has always been a fantasy, totally wishful, from my standpoint,” he said.

Revkin also brought up population control, an issue that earned him a bashing from conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh late last year.

As an example of “resilience,” Revkin recommended improving sanitation in schools in developing countries so girls would stay in school instead of adding to the population of at-risk humans.

“If girls don’t go to school, they have more kids,” he said. “And they end up increasing climate exposure.”

I think it’s great to improve sanitation and have more girls in developing country stay in school. If we get to 750 to 1000 ppm, which is where we’re headed on our current emissions path, I wouldn’t call that resilience:

Science advisor John Holdren divided things into mitigation, adaptation, and misery. You do the first two to minimize the third. But if you don’t do the first one, you mostly end up with misery. “Resilience” implies a faux sense that we don’t know what’s going to happen if we buy into the myth that solving global warming is a fantasy. We do. “Resilience” implies a faux sense that what’s coming is something we can easily bounce back from. If only (see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe).

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Anyway, the quotes in the Greenwire story are too short and too lacking in definition of key terms to know what it is that Revkin is really trying to say. He has certainly indicated to me in the past that he understands we risk 700 to 1000 ppm if we keep doing what we’re doing. Two years ago, he interviewed Nobel laureate Sherwood Rowland, who agrees with the view we’re headed to 1000 ppm.

Naturally, scientists haven’t spent a lot of time studying the impacts of tripling or quadrupling atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide from preindustrial levels — because they never thought humanity would be so self-destructive as to ignore the warnings.

But in the last two or three years the scientific literature has certainly given a clear enough indication as to what we risk by century’s end on our current emissions path:

And that’s just business as usual. The worst case — current emissions path plus strong carbon cycle amplifying feedbacks — is much worse much sooner:

Since Revkin is now clearly freer to express his own views on global warming, I’d be interested to know:

  1. What specific set of policies and strategies does he think the world should embrace?
  2. What does he think the world is likely to do, what CO2 concentrations would that take us to in 2100, and what kind of impacts does he expect that would bring about?
  3. What concentration levels and impacts would result if we actually kept listening to the like of WattsUpWithThat?
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UPDATE: Revkin writes here that “Joe poses some good questions” and “I will be more directly describing my current view of the path forward soon here in what might be called Dot Earth 2.0.”

Revkin wrote “I’d like to thank Joe Romm for not jumping to conclusions based on what appears to be a substantial mashup of what I said in my first speech on “ two decades of greenhouse diplomacy “” and rising greenhouse emissions.” I tried not to jump to too many conclusions since I myself have often had words misquoted or taken out of context by the media. I expect to be doing a lot of media when my book comes out next month, so I have no doubt this will be happening to me. Of course, in my case, I’ve had more freedom than Revkin to spell out my views, so in general I don’t think there’s a lot of ambiguity about them.