Monday, October 20, 2014
16

La morale de Sandy

COPENHAGUE – Quand la «& méga tempête& » Sandy a frappé la côte Est des États-Unis le 29& octobre, elle a non seulement inondé le métro de la ville de New York, mais, une semaine plus tard, elle aurait joué selon 15& % des électeurs américains, un rôle déterminant dans l’élection présidentielle. Elle a également fait ressurgir les dires non vérifiés que le réchauffement de la planète était la cause principale de tels évènements, accompagnés de l’argument moralement intenable que la seule manière d’aider les victimes de prochains ouragans serait de réduire les émissions de CO2.

De Bill Clinton à Robert Redford, d’innombrables soi-disant experts ont mis Sandy sur le compte du changement climatique. Exemple flagrant& : le magazine Bloomberg Businessweek qui a mis en grand titre «& C’EST LE RÉCHAUFFEMENT PLANÉTAIRE, STUPIDE& » sur sa photo couverture d’un Manhattan inondé.

Bien sûr, le réchauffement planétaire est réel et la réduction des émissions de CO2 est une bonne idée surtout lorsque le coût de ces réductions est inférieur aux dommages évités. Il y a aussi un brin de vérité dans le lien entre les ouragans et le réchauffement planétaire& : le Groupe d'experts intergouvernemental sur l'évolution du climat des Nations Unies (GIEC) prévoit des ouragans plus puissants, mais moins fréquents d’ici la fin du siècle.

Mais la fin du siècle n’est que dans 88 ans et l’accusation actuelle du réchauffement planétaire est peu convaincante comme le laisse croire l’origine de la manchette de Bloomberg – un «& gazouillis& » de 134& caractères. Dans son rapport& 2012 sur la gestion des risques des évènements extrêmes, le GIEC a fait état de son peu de confiance dans toute thèse associant les ouragans au réchauffement planétaire.

Les auteurs de l’un des principaux articles scientifiques d’où sont tirées les études de l’ONU en la matière l’énoncent très clairement& : «& Il est prématuré de conclure que les activités humaines … & ont déjà eu des incidences détectables sur l’activité des ouragans dans l’Atlantique& ». Il sera impossible, faute de données suffisantes, de détecter d’éventuelles incidences «& avant la fin du siècle& ».

En fait, les États-Unis n’ont subi aucun ouragan de catégorie& 3 ou au-dessus depuis Wilma en& 2005. Ces sept dernières années sont en fait la plus longue période de temps sans ouragans de force majeure depuis plus d’un siècle ; l’ouragan Sandy a même été déclassé du niveau d’ouragan à celui de tempête avant qu’il ne vienne frapper New York, et les médias l’ont alors affublé du vocable de «& méga tempête& ».

Mais lorsque Bloomberg avance que Sandy était la tempête la plus coûteuse de l’histoire des États-Unis et que ces phénomènes ont des conséquences pour «& la survie de la race humaine& », il est nécessaire de remettre les cadrans à l’heure. Cette affirmation est tout simplement erronée, car il n’y a qu’à se rappeler la facture des dégâts causés par l’ouragan Katrina. En vérité, en tenant compte de l’inflation et de la croissance des collectivités côtières, Sandy n’occupe que le 17e rang au palmarès des tempêtes des États-Unis. Sans compter que la tendance de fréquence et de puissance des ouragans atteignant le littoral américain depuis 1900, a légèrement fléchi et non l’inverse.

D’autre part, à l’échelle planétaire, l’énergie de tous les ouragans des quatre dernières années (y compris Sandy) a été à son plus bas depuis les années 1970. Et, même si les ouragans seront probablement de 2 à 11& % plus puissants d’ici la fin du siècle, ils seront moins fréquents, alors que les sociétés seront plus résilientes, les coûts totaux des dommages devraient passer de 0,04& % à 0,02& % du PIB mondial pour cette période.

Mais le vrai danger de ces grandes déclarations sur Sandy et les changements climatiques est autre part. Il découle de l’argument qui finit toujours par suivre& : un lien insidieux que l’on veut faire entre le réchauffement planétaire et la destruction matérielle, et aussi qu’il faut aider les futures victimes des ouragans en réduisant les émissions CO2 dès maintenant. Selon Redford, nous avons besoin de «& réduire la pollution au carbone qui alimente ces tempêtes& ». Comme bien d’autres, il trouve déplorable qu’il existe encore des sceptiques climatiques& : «& En ignorant les données scientifiques, ils déshonorent les êtres humains qui souffrent à cause du changement climatique& ».

Malheureusement, c’est justement en ne portant son attention que sur la réduction du CO2 que l’on banalise la souffrance humaine, car toute coupe des émissions carbones un tant soit peu réaliste ne fera absolument rien pour les 50 à 100 prochaines années.

Prenons la hausse du niveau de la mer, qui a été de loin la principale cause des dommages subis par New York. Les modèles indiquent que la politique climatique mondiale la plus ambitieuse, le programme «& 20-20-20& » de l’UE, affichera un coût net annuel d’environ 250& milliards& $ pour le reste du siècle, ou un total approximatif de 20& trillions& $. Or cela ne fera baisser le niveau des océans que de neuf millimètres d’ici 2100. Si les États-Unis s’engageaient dans le même genre de programme, les coûts et les avantages seraient probablement du même ordre& : une réduction de deux centimètres du niveau de la mer d’ici la fin du siècle pour une facture nette annuelle d’environ 500 milliards& $.

Étudions plutôt un scénario beaucoup moins réaliste& : celui où nous parvenons à convaincre le monde entier – y compris la Chine et l’Inde – de souscrire presque immédiatement aux coupes radicales des émissions de carbone et où l’on parvient à soustraire le CO2 de l’atmosphère, le niveau de la hausse des océans ne serait réduit que de 18 à 45& cm avant la fin du siècle. Les modèles indiquent que les coûts, d’ici là, seraient d’au moins 40& trillions $ annuellement.

Comparez cela aux vraies préoccupations des instances de la ville de New York& : à savoir la probabilité de 3,3& %, et ce, sans réchauffement planétaire, que chaque année un ouragan de catégorie& 3 frappe New York. Ceci causerait des ondes de tempête de plus de 7,5& m (environ trois mètres au-dessus de celles de Sandy), qui engloutiraient l’aéroport Kennedy sous six mètres d’eau. Une grande partie des risques pourraient être gérés en érigeant des digues, en construisant des portes étanches des entrées de métro et des choses simples comme des revêtements poreux – à un coût annuel d’environ 100& millions& $.

Sandy a fait ressortir une question fondamentale pour toutes les régions du monde qui subissent les ouragans. Si l’on veut en réduire les dégâts, ne devrions-nous pas concentrer nos recherches sur des solutions les moins coûteuses possible qui nous permettraient de mieux contrer les effets des houles de tempête d’ici les prochaines années& ? Au lieu de prêcher une solution tellement onéreuse qu’elle nécessite près d’un siècle pour retrancher neuf millimètres à des vagues de 7,5& m& ?

La réponse moralement défendable est évidente, et elle n’a rien à voir avec des réductions immédiates des émissions de CO2.

Traduit de l’anglais par Pierre Castegnier

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  1. CommentedLarry Meyn

    Summary:

    Dear Future Generations,

    It's too expensive and inconvenient to reduce our CO2 emissions, especially since we wouldn't see any benefits in our lifetimes. Sorry, it will be your problem to solve.

    Bjørn Lomborg

      Commentedjim bridgeman

      Dear Africans and Rural Asians and Latin Americans of Today,

      We care too much about future generations to worry about the hits to near-term world GDP growth that will in a leveraged way explode your misery, sickness and death rates today if we go on a precipitous carbon reduction regime. Even though those future generations will have enormously greater resources to handle the effects of climate change than you have today to support your basic living needs. (Compound a few percent annual growth in GDP for a hundred years or two to get a ballpark on much more resources our descendents will have at their disposal than do we.)

      The relevant concept is trade-off. Where is a reasonable balance point between today's invisible poor and the future's beneficiaries of today's growth? The most comprehensive attempt to analyze these trade-offs was the 2006 Stern Review. The only way its authors could force it to justify a precipitous carbon reduction regime today was to make economic assumptions to bizarre that even the IPCC had no stomach to adopt it.

      For example, implicit in Stern's assumptions was the use of negative interest rates to discount future harms back to apples to apples today (making them appear more harmful today than they will actually be in the future) for many years in a significant proportion of their stochastic scenarios. For another example, Stern's assumption was that a 10% reduction in the income of a $2 per day rural African today is the moral equivalent of a 10% reduction in the income of a well-off middle class family of 100 years from now (who will be living like upper income families do today.)

      Adjusting the Stern Review parameters back into the range of generally accepted economic practice is easily seen to limit the trade-off of current poverty population suffering versus future generation climate harms to be one that cannot justify any actions today that will impair GDP by more than a fraction of a percent per year.

  2. Commentedjimmy rousseau

    Mr. Lomborg has long ago lost any credibility on this subject, having sided with all sorts of crazy agw deniers in the past, only changing his tactics as the idiocy of his positions become apparent. First there was no such thing as warming or climate change, then the change was a natural cycle and not the result of human interference, finally we may be responsible for some warming but not much and it would cost so much as to send civilisation back to the dark ages. I am sure that if one were to do some checking on the statistics he spouts to banalise the problem one would probably end up on an internet site run by deniers of the same ilk. I have had enough of these people and their tactics which have already ensured that any actions we take are already very late and further inaction puts the future climate change into the very dangerous range.
    I sincerely believe that thirty years from now this kind of argument will be seen as having been one of the greater crimes against humanity.

  3. Commentedjim bridgeman

    Please keep trying to wake people up to large facts of the dilemma. The scientific fact is that carbon dioxide is an inevitable side effect of human activity (try to walk across the room without generating any ... try to think about walking across the room without generating any). The only ways to reduce carbon dioxide are (1) reduce the number of humans (2) reduce the level of activity per human and/or (3) increase the efficiency of human activity. (1) and (2) cannot be achieved quickly in any politically feasible or morally acceptable way. (3) cannot be achieved quickly in any technologically feasible way. While we slowly work on (3) (and while some slowly wait for (1) and (2) to occur slowly by individual choices) the only responsible policy is to prepare to deal with the consequences of carbon dioxide. It is much less unthinkable to do that in effective ways than it is unthinkable to achieve a drastic reduction in the number of humans or the level of their activity in a short period of time.

  4. CommentedThomas Haynie

    While I understand that changes in scientific thinking take time and that scientists are prone to be human and have the “club punch”. It is difficult to sympathize with modern climate deniers. The evidence in favor of hum caused climate change would appear to be pretty strong and supported by highly respected members of the scientific community. Meanwhile the movement of the climate deniers would seem to have a shred of that credibility. In fact according to a recent front line episode “Climate of Doubt” the kind charlatans over at CATO who would prefer to let “free markets determine what the science is” were key members of the inception of the movement.

    The author uses strong and I would say irresponsible terminology to lead his readers around to his way of thinking. “Morally irresponsible argument”…

    Even if there were little evidence of human induced climate change we still live on the planet and if climate change threatens us then why not act?
    As far as cost benefit analysis goes the math can get creative there, but if you consider an increase in economic damage and loss of life from fore severe and more frequent storms such as Sandy then the benefits seem pretty obvious. There are many workable options. I favor a cap and trade type structure. Unless my textbooks in Environmental Economics were all full of it there is history of success for this sort of framework in this country.

    As to immediate effects this is true that the effects won’t be seen for some time but that does not mean it should not be done. Obviously a combination of long and short term solutions will need to come into play.

      Commentedjames durante

      There was success for cap and trade regarding acid rain (sulfur dioxide). But that was specific to an industry and precise regarding caps and credits. CO2 is an entirely different ball game with a bad track record. In Europe, industries exaggerated their pollution levels so that the credits came easily and then, predictably, lost all value.

      California is set to embark on a similar path and what counts as credits varies from saving forests to planting certain crops to weatherproofing homes. It's nuts.

      A carbon tax which grows more steep over time is a better policy tool.

      But really what we should be looking at is a wholesale change in mindset from capitalist consumption to a subsistence economy. Imagine every human with a set of assured basics--good wholeseom food, basic clothing, a secure shelter, some basic amenities like solar energy, a working computer, a bike. Then there would be no desperate humans forced to sell their labor to private owners of the factories. Anything beyond the basics could be handled by a capiltiast economy, but owners would lack the typical leverage of desperation over workers.

      With the reduction in demand (no more needless gadgets, cabbage patch dolls or tween super couples) forests, rivers, grasslands and estuaries could be restored. More time for family, community and ceremonies, less for tv advertising and the shopping mall.

  5. CommentedAkib Khan

    The cost-benefit calculation that the author has resorted to has often been deemed too harsh in the public domain. But this is the type of exercise we should embrace in answering such questions. As long as the scientific investigations are confident enough to reject any causal relationship between climate change and such 'super-storm's, we should be very aware of popular suggestions such as a drastic reduction in CO2 emission or the likes. But even if there exists a relationship, the costs and benefits of potential actions must be carefully identified and compared. We all, in our very daily lives, have 'damaged' the environment in some way or other, but given the substantially high benefits compared to the meager costs involved, they have not often been labeled inappropriate. Nothing changes, in principle, when we do this type of calculation on a more macro level. We have to take into account the relative cheapness of 'curative' and 'preventive' actions. If the propensity of natural calamities is more/less exogenous, then that must also be paid heed. It is always hard to think through the consequences but it must be done to advance inter-temporal social welfare.

      Commentedjames durante

      First, who is the "we" to whom you refer? Humans' damage to the environment varies tremendously from the few remaining primitive peoples (almost no "damage") to "us" in the first world (collectively, colossal damage). Yes, colossal, not "meager." Consider that industrialization has spawned the sixth great extinction crisis in earth's history.

      I is the failure to come to grips with the severity of ecological harm that is alarming (aside from the harm itself). More facile attempts at pricing costs and effects will only perpetuate a system whose vast destructive effects run on auto-pilot.

      Rather, a new paradigm that considers a basic, good material life with abundant leisure time and a revitalized bio-sphere is needed. Yes, that will not be capitalistic. It will involve major declines in the typical capitalistic manner of assessing "wealth." But it will involve a new pact between all humans and between humans and our living relatives on this home we call earth.

  6. CommentedJake Burgess

    You present a very localised view on a global problem. The world woudn't be spending 20 Trillion to just keep JFK open (laudable objective that it is). What about the hundreds of millions of people in Bangladesh, Kiribati, the Maldives etc etc whos livlihoods are in jeopardy? They contributed almost nothing to the acceleration of the warming, and similarly got no benefit from it either. Yet they disproportionately bear the cost. Are you going to be the one to go to these people saying "Slow Global Warming? Sorry, but the maths says you're just not worth it"

  7. Commentedjames durante

    Is there a distinction between Lomborg's allegations of knee jerk global warming claims and his own knee-jerk defense of "skeptical environmentalism?" All the serious, scientific analysts I read did not say global warming CAUSED the storm (Lomborg's straw man) but that it contributed to it. Ocean levels are at least 8 inches higher near Manhattan, the Atlantic is warmer which strengthened Sandy, the unusual pressure system attracting Sandy toward land was related to Arctic ice melt, and so on.

    It was a superstorm not because the media said so but because it marked a combination of the hurricane with on shore northern and western storm fronts.

    Lomborg's numbers are unfounded. Sea level rise is projected to be much greater under a business as usual scenario. And saying that cutting carbon has such dramatic costs does not take into account how other energy options--especially roof top solar--could ADD substantially to the economy as consumers have additional disposable income (money not sent to Lomborg's very dear friends in the utilities and King Cong--Coal, Oil, Natural Gas).

    Most questionable is his blanket claim that "societies will be more robust" in the future. Well, assuming that projections of the disruption of grain growing regions don't hold and that more intense weather events do not come to pass, and that projected declining water resources does not occur, then maybe he is right.

  8. CommentedJohn Kelley

    Bjorn Lomberg, nothing else can be said about a guy who used to deny global warming and now says its happening, we're causing it but don't worry be happy.

      CommentedAndrew George

      I find it amazing that people that decry critcs of the alarmists as people who misrepresent science and do so by misreprenting what the critics say. Exactly when did Lomborg "deny global warming was happening"? Here is a link to an Economist article over 11 years ago where he affirms that man-made global warming is happning but that it would be far more cost-effective (as in many orders of magnitude more cost effective) to battle other global scourges than AGW. It makes good reading as it's just as relevent today. It strikes me that he has been remarkably consistent and worth listening to. http://www.economist.com/node/718860

  9. CommentedCarol Maczinsky

    In any case very stpid not to prepare for such an incident given that it's likely in a 80yrs time scale. In Holland they build dykes for centuries. NYC does not and their power lines are not below the surface as everywhere.

  10. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    I agree with the writer that making instinctive reflex reactions, many times motivated by personal or political agendas, focusing on the details instead of the big picture is more harmful than helpful.
    What such events as the recent hurricane should do to us is to initiate self examination.
    At least to examine how much general human activity might be against nature's laws, how much we are in balance with the vast ecosystem around us.
    And here comes the real issue.
    Most of humans do not think about nature around us as obligatory. Somehow we managed to convince ourselves that we are outside of this system, that humans are independent and can do whatever they want. We devise our own laws, principles, we build systems that are disconnected from nature and expect them to work and prosper.
    At the same time if we examine our whole history, all our inventions, innovations, all we did was copying nature, using its templates, materials to shape them into different forms for our own use.
    The human body, the human psyche is operating based on the same natural laws and principles anything else operates on in the interconnected system.
    Humans are part of the system, we are simply unable to exist outside of it, ignoring its conditions.
    Despite all this, which should be clearly understood even based on all the modern classical sciences, humanity is still pursuing a totally unnatural and more and more clearly unsustainable socio-economic system.
    While all the living species among themselves and between species comprise a complementing, self-sustaining chain, humans even within human society are each other's predators, we can only find happiness on top of someone else's misery, if it is cannot be good for me at least the others also should suffer, during our history and even today we wipe out whole nations, cultures either physically or ideologically.
    On top of this the whole human system is based on a cancer like behavior, exploiting as much as possible from each other and from the environment, following the present constant quantitative growth economic model based on absolutely unnecessary and harmful overproduction and overconsumption.
    What we ignore here is that the vast natural ecosystem around us is not "mindless" it has its laws and principles exactly in order to maintain balance, homeostasis, to maintain life and development. And humanity is a foreign body in this huge, otherwise harmonious system.
    And it is not even like "nature taking revenge", but simply by ignoring the laws around we ourselves commit suicide as a person jumping off from a tall building ignoring the force of gravity.
    It is completely irrelevant what people think about climate change or global warming, if we do not learn the natural laws and principles sustaining the whole Universe we simply destroy ourselves, and it is much closer than people think, as the deepening global crisis shows we do not need nature to finish us off, the collapsing economical and financial system will bury us much sooner.
    At the moment we want to know nature to exploit it for our own selfish use. Instead we need to know nature's laws in order to adapt to it, immerse ourselves into it in harmony, to become conscious partners with it.

      CommentedEdward Ponderer

      Mr.Hermann,

      Once again, a brilliant comment -- but this one strikes most special. I find the analogy with cancer particularly intriguing -- frightening if you will -- because of what has been discovered in recent years about cancers in their final stages.

      Basically these perverse cells have organized themselves into complex entity -- as it were, another creature that has succeeded from the body's union and has become its deadly enemy -- to its own doom as well.

      Yet I wonder if out of all the chemo and radiative therapies, if sopmehow we couldn't go beyond to -- in some sense -- reason with this cancerous entity, to reach some level of mutual concern, and rejoin with the body for the common good.

      Crazy thought perhaps. But let me just say this. Lets see if we can't bring the matter about at the level of that cancer you describe in the body Humanity.

      And if we can accomplish this, I wonder if Providence, the Natural Order, what have you, won't respond in working out these other relationships for us, from internal diseases to external climatic catastrophes.

      From the quantum, to the biochemical,to the complexities of our human communication on so many levels. Who knows the totalities of these connections and where they could lead in harmony?

      Homeostasis -- yes indeed, what other lesson could a chaotic imbalance like Sandy come to teach us? And may we graduate swiftly from this school of hard knock before the next class begins...

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