Features Australia

Mummy Juanita, your sacrifice is needed

It’s a code red warning on climate change

21 August 2021

9:00 AM

21 August 2021

9:00 AM

I read lots of random stuff, no doubt like many Speccie readers. I recently learnt about a mummified body of a young female teenager found towards the peak of a mountain in the Andes, the body having been revealed because of a volcanic explosion.

Dubbed Mummy Juanita, she had been clubbed to death (in the mid-fifteenth century, which is not that long ago) to appease the Inca gods so that the rains would come at the right time and there would be no extreme weather events.  If all turned out well, then the sacrifice had clearly been well-planned. If not, then perhaps a few more sacrifices were in order. It was tails you lose, heads you lose.

It’s not entirely surprising that the Inca population took to Christianity like a duck to water: its prohibition of human sacrifice was a winning reason to convert.

I was reminded of Mummy Juanita when reading about the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Before even opening the document, everyone knew what it would say: the situation is worse than we thought; we are doomed if we don’t act now; it may be too late. Watch out, Juanita, I thought.

The Secretary of the United Nations and former Prime Minister of Portugal representing the Portuguese Socialist Party, Antonio Guterres, also had his lines fully prepared before reading a single word.

‘Today’s IPCC Report is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.’

The funny thing is that if you actually read the nearly 4,000-page report (the real report), terms like ‘code red’ and ‘the evidence is irrefutable’ are clearly inaccurate hyperbole. To be sure, you might get that impression if you only read the summary for policy makers.

But if you bother to dip into the main scientific chapters of the report, you will find lots of low and medium confidences. And here’s another tip, it’s one thing to reach conclusions on what has happened; it’s another thing altogether to predict what’s going to happen.

In fact, some of the findings are quite comforting. It seems that storms may have become slightly more common and their location has shifted somewhat, but their strength (and destructiveness) has not altered. So that’s a good thing hardly deserving the ‘code red’ title.

And when it comes to monsoons, they have become slightly wetter but not because of higher variability. There has also been a significant greening of the planet leading to much higher crop yields. And many more people die of the cold than of heat, so the warming is on balance a good thing on that score.

The worst-case future climate scenario now only has a probability of less than 5 per cent, even though this scenario takes up half the report. The predicted rise in average temperatures in this report relative to the 2014 report is only 0.1 degrees Celsius more; so no real cause for panic there. But good news and optimism I guess they are nouns not adjectives that can never be used to describe any IPCC report lest the authors be banned from the panic club. These reports, particularly the summaries, are apocalypse dressed up as a science. That’s the role of the IPCC and it delivers.

It’s the background material needed for the movers and shakers to defend imposing economically-damaging and freedom-restricting measures on citizens – in order to save the planet.

As Guterres observes: ‘The solutions are clear. Inclusive and green economies, prosperity, cleaner air and better health are possible for all if we respond to this crisis with solidarity and courage. All nations, especially the G20 and other major emitters, need to join the net zero emissions coalition and reinforce their commitments with credible, concrete and enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions and policies before COP26 in Glasgow’.

That’s the real agenda – the UN thinks that it should be determining the nature of economic development across the world, the way people lead their lives and the necessary wealth transfers between countries.

Its problem is that plenty of countries, including most developing ones but also some more advanced ones, have no intention of playing ball. Now that’s a frustration.

Let’s face it, the IPCC has been banging the same drum for ages and yet global emissions keep rising, most noticeably from the developing world. At this stage, China is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, close to one-third. The US is a large emitter but accounts for only around 10 per cent of the total. Other big emitters include Russian and India.

Climate envoy for the US, John Kerry, has accurately observed, without a hint of irony: ‘we (the US) could go to zero tomorrow and the problem isn’t solved. Not when almost 90 per cent of the all the planet’s global emissions come from outside of US borders’.

Quite so – but this applies in spades to countries such as Australia, the UK, Canada, Japan and Aotearoa (which is the climate-sanctioned name for New Zealand – see the Climate Change Commission in that country).

China, India and Russia, in particular, have no intention of playing by the rich man’s rules when it comes to emissions reduction. China, in particular, is playing the West like a violin. It hangs on to the label of developing country and has only agreed to refrain from growing emissions after 2030 and then perhaps reaching net zero emissions by 2060.

In the meantime, China is building more and more coal-fired power stations and making a lot of emissions-intensive goods, including steel, that were once made in the West. In the middle of the decade, it will swamp the global market with cheap China-made electric vehicles – ostensibly to save the planet, but really to make a killing.

China has recently set up some piddling emissions trading scheme (far-reaching exemptions, massive initial allowances) which the green commentariat in the West are applauding. The ultimate aim is to articulate this scheme with the EU’s, in order to effect transfers to China in this way. For the Chinese, the climate emergency is a huge win-win.

It’s pretty obvious that the modern day Juanita is now living in the West.

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