Interview with John Broderick, Tyndall Research Fellow #shale #gdp #activists and #academics

????????We caught up with research fellow John Broderick from the Tyndall Centre to talk shale gas, what activist can realistically gain from academics and why the GDP model is deeply flawed.

Do you think that we have gone past the point of no return in terms of dangerous climate change?
First off, I think you can interpret “point of no return” in one of two ways. One is that we have already put enough GHGs in the atmosphere to cause a dangerous (however defined) amount of climate change or soon will because of the inertia in the way we have set up infrastructure, our society and economy. The second interpretation is that the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere has started off a series of positive feedbacks in the climate system, (e.g. melting of polar sea-ice reducing the reflection of heat back into space, that lead to faster and faster warming) that we are unable to halt. In the first sense, if we take dangerous as 1.5 degrees warming, as many least developed countries and small island states have argued, then I think yes, we probably have committed them to a dangerous amount of climate change, even if we act with urgency. Avoiding two degrees of warming is arguably out of reach unless we, globally, undertake radical changes in the way we use energy and land. In the second sense, I’m not sure, you’d better ask a climate scientist not an emissions analyst… but I suspect that we would not know that we’d gone past the “point of no return” in this sense until it’s too late, given uncertainty in our models and the time lags in different parts of the climate system.

What is so problematic about the use of shale gas?
From a climate change perspective, there are three major issues with shale gas; i) it is essentially just like any other source of gas – when you burn it you get a lot of CO2, ii) there’s lots more of it and iii) it’s dispersed geographically, not concentrated in particular regions. As the Oxford Economist and gas advocate Dieter Helm has stated, we have more than enough fossil fuel to fry the planet. The promise of shale gas is that we have even more.

What can activist get from academics?
Hopefully, honest answers to their questions. I get the impression that activists feel academics should “speak the truth to power” but I think this has to be qualified with a realistic set of expectations. Firstly, academics aren’t employed as activists, and so they’re not trained, resourced and rewarded as such. Although there’s increasingly the expectation that they push for “impact” from their work, there’s only so many hours in the day and typically teaching and research are prioritised over outreach of various sorts… I think both activists and academics need to be wary of implicitly assuming that knowledge presented will lead to a particular course of action, either from public or private decision makers or everyday people. The “information deficit model” has taken a lot of flak in social science and there are good reasons why the changes we need to make in society to stabilise the climate won’t happen spontaneously even in an enlightened society.

You have written about the need to “recast economics around long term social well-being rather than short term financial gain.” Could you elaborate, what that economic shift would require?

Many of the decisions that are made by governments, public bodies and private companies are justified on the basis of their increasing GDP or turning a profit. However, in choosing to make decisions on that financial basis there are assumptions about what counts and what doesn’t count. There’s a few things that I believe we should change about this. One of the most import assumptions is that future costs and benefits are discounted at a rate of between 3 and 15% per year. Now, the economy doesn’t have to function like that. We could consider things and justify them over longer periods of time, and that might lead to quite different conclusions, not least that we would invest more and consume less. Another important change, would be to not only think of the economy purely in financial terms, i.e. accounted for in dollars and cents, but to keep account of the material flows and social goods that it delivers, i.e. how much fresh water we pollute and how many people are well nourished and well educated.
:: See

About arwafreelance

Freelance journalist based in the UK with an interest in the Middle East, environmental issues, Islam-related topics and social issues such as regeneration.
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