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Friday, September 14, 2007 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | PREVIOUS: Michael Klare on the Internal War for Control of...
2007-09-14

"Climate Porn"–Simon Retallack on the Dangers of Using Alarmist Language to Talk About Climate Change

Guests

Simon Retallack, head of the Climate Change Team at the Institute for Public Policy Research in Britain. He is the co-author of the new report, "Positive Energy: Harnessing People Power to Prevent Climate Change."

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We speak with British climate change expert, Simon Retallack, about so-called "climate porn." Retallack says, "It’s a phrase that’s certainly not used to undermine the science. ... But if we talk about climate change in a way that makes it appear that there’s nothing we can do anymore about it, that it’s too late, that it’s going to be devastating on a global scale ... I think we’re going to turn people off." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, tens of thousands of people attended Farm Aid here in New York City. It’s an annual concert to raise support for family farmers. This is the musician Neil Young, one of the organizers of Farm Aid.

NEIL YOUNG: Transporting food around the world to other countries and using all of that fuel and all of that packaging and all of that air-conditioning fuel and all of those things that need to happen to get, say, a tomato — since that’s on our mind today, we’re coming with a tomato now — from Chile to California, it costs a lot of environmental damage just getting that one tomato up there.

And so, if you look at the world and you figure one of the things about our big agriculture is that we want to feed the world — doesn’t that sound great? You know? We’re going to help everybody. OK, you know, that’s great. But I don’t think it’s really that way. I think we ought to feed ourselves, the people that are close to us, and we ought to let the people around the world feed themselves with their own crops so that we don’t go in there and take their food crop away and give them a cash crop and then say we’re going to give you food. And that’s what we do. We have people growing textile materials and cotton and things in third world countries, and we do business with them through China, and we do all of these things with our economics. And we undermine the sustainability of the countries that we say we’re helping. And then, if these countries don’t cooperate with us, we control their food supply.

AMY GOODMAN: Musician Neil Young at the Farm Aid concert this past weekend.

As we continue looking at issues of climate change, energy and the environment, we’re joined by two more guest speakers at this weekend’s International Forum on Globalization in D.C.: Michael Klare, professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, author of a number of books, including Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum; and Simon Retallack, head of the climate change team at the Institute for Public Policy Research in Britain, co-author of the new report, "Positive Energy: Harnessing People Power to Prevent Climate Change."

We’re going to turn first to Michael Klare. President Bush spoke last night, addressed the nation, talked about why we continue the war in Iraq. Can you talk about the connections between war and oil or, as you put it, the title your book, Blood and Oil?

MICHAEL KLARE: Well, Amy, good to talk with you. There are really two wars now underway, I think, in Iraq, maybe more than two. There’s the U.S. effort to retain, as what President Bush said last night, an enduring presence in Iraq. And I believe that’s connected to our, that is America’s, long-lasting geopolitical imperative of being the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. And, of course, he also refers a lot to Iran, now the next threat perceived on the horizon to American dominance. So one part of the war in Iraq, I believe, have always believed, is part of this long-standing U.S. effort to dominate the region geopolitically and control the oil spigot from the Gulf, where two-thirds of the world’s oil is located.

But there’s a second war underway, and that’s a war for the control of Iraq’s oil wealth. And that’s a war that is pitting Kurds against the Arabs of the country and Shiites against Sunnis, and Shiite against Shiite, because eventually the Americans are going to leave, and the people of Iraq know this, and they are now fighting amongst themselves for who’s going to control that territory. And I believe a lot of the violence in Iraq today is really about that struggle for control of Iraq’s oil wealth. And American soldiers are caught in the middle of this.

And I think, frankly, that American military leaders have come to understand that the prospect of an Iraq, of a national Iraq, has been lost. That war has been lost. What’s left is the fighting over the remains, the carcass of Iraq.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Michael, on the issue of Iran, especially with all the saber rattling, and even among many of the Democratic candidates for president you find some of the same saber rattling toward Iran. Iran is a huge nation. It is not only oil rich, but considerably developed, with a huge population. What kind of — your analysis of the sense among military people about even talking about any kind of military action or extension of what’s happened in Iraq into Iran?

MICHAEL KLARE: Well, we tend to forget that the U.S. military is not a monolithic organization. I’m sure if you ask the ground forces, the Army and the Marine Corps who are baring the brunt of the fighting in Iraq, they’ll say, you know, "Not over my dead body do we want to go to war with Iran." They are stretched to the limit. They couldn’t take on another single mission anywhere in the world. So they’re saying, "Please don’t start any trouble in Iran."

But if you ask the Air Force or the Navy, they feel differently. They’re not overstretched in Iraq. They might feel very differently about it. They might be looking for missions And I think, in fact, that the military is divided on this, as is the administration.

It’s clear that Condoleezza Rice, I believe, and others of a more realistic nature, I suppose you’d say, think that attacking Iran would be a tremendous mistake. But there are clearly ideologues, neoconservatives, led by the vice president, who are strongly committed to attacking Iran. And I fear that they’re prevailing in this debate and that before the administration leaves office that we will see an attack on Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Simon Retallack, who is just in from Britain for the International Forum on Globalization conference. What is "climate porn"?

SIMON RETALLACK: Good question. It’s a phrase that authors of a report that we commissioned in London came up with to describe the way in which some journalists, some environmentalists and even some politicians use alarmist language to talk about climate change, in a way that you might see headlined, certainly in British newspapers, saying almost "the end is nigh," using biblical terms to describe the impacts of climate change. It’s a phrase that is certainly not used to undermine the science. It certainly doesn’t mean to do that. What it seeks to do is try to encourage people to think about what sort of language will be necessary to motivate the public to take action.

If we talk about climate change in a way that makes it appear that there’s nothing we can do anymore about it, that it’s too late, that it’s happening, it’s going to be devastating on a global scale, without giving people the option and making the solutions clear to act, then I think we’re going to turn people off. So it’s part of some research and a long-running project that we’re engaged with to try to find ways of simulating climate-friendly behavior amongst the public.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Simon, in the previous segment, Vandana Shiva talked about what she called a fallacy of using fixes like trading in pollution credits in the United States. So you’ve analyzed what the EU is doing in terms of this kind of approach. Could you talk about that?

SIMON RETALLACK: Yes, certainly. I mean, one of the most commonly adopted solutions in the world for dealing with climate change has been the support for cap and trade schemes, where there’s a cap placed on emissions and companies get given quotas, and they can trade them to meet their reductions. The big problem with the European scheme, and I foresee a problem with potential U.S.-wide schemes in the future, is that the caps placed on industry have been far too weak. Governments have over-allocated pollution permits to industry, which has meant that the cost of a ton of carbon on the European markets is far too low, and it isn’t delivering the step change in investments that we need to see in renewable energy and energy efficiency to do our bit to avoid dangerous climate change.

We’re at a critical point, not just in the EU, about here in the U.S. now, where finally, with a Democratically controlled Congress, we’re going to see this full attempt to pass a cap-and-trade bill through Congress. We’ve got to make sure, and anyone who’s listening to this and watching this needs to do their part to ensure, that the right caps are put in place. At the moment, most of the bills before Congress only envisage far too little emission reductions by 2050. We need to see at least 80 percent cuts in emissions, at least, by 2050, with early action being critically important, too, if we’re to avoid the most dangerous impacts from climate change. And we need to put pressure on our representatives and senators in the U.S. to ensure that adequate action is taken at this critically important point.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Michael Klare and ask you a question about the research in global climate change. I was just at Stanford University. They have the GCEP program, that is Global Climate Environment Program, that got something like $225 million from ExxonMobil, General Electric, Shlumberger and Toyota. You have University of California, Berkeley, got something like half-a-billion dollars from BP. They call it "Beyond Petroleum" now, British Petroleum. How is this corporate control of academia or funding of academia affecting the research? Are you concerned about this?

MICHAEL KLARE: Well, I think everybody should be concerned. What I think is going on is that the oil companies themselves have realized what we’ll be talking about tonight, which is that we’re coming to the end of conventional petroleum — that is, liquid petroleum, the stuff that you stick a drill in the ground, and it comes gushing out. The days of easy-to-find liquid petroleum are over.

And the oil companies understand this, even if their propaganda says otherwise. And they want to control whatever is going to replace it, whatever new liquid fuels come online. So they want to invest billions of dollars into the research, into whatever new fuels are going take the place of conventional petroleum, whether it’s biofuels or synthetic liquids from tar sands or shell oil or whatever the next fuels will be, so that their companies can dominate the production and the marketing and the retailing of these liquids and retain the monopoly on our energy, as they have now.

So, of course, we should be very deeply worried about it, because it could foreclose other solutions that probably would be healthier for all of us, in the sense that David Korten was speaking about earlier, of a more egalitarian, a more healthy form of energy system.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Klare and Simon Retallack, I want to thank you for being with us. Both will be speaking this weekend, beginning tonight, at George Washington University at Lisner Auditorium, part of the International Forum on Globalization. Michael Klare’s latest book, Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum. Simon Retallack is with the Climate Change Team at the Institute for Public Policy Research in Britain, just in for this conference. Thanks so much for being there.

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