Memo to Climategate Hacker: Poor Nations Don't Want Your Kind of Help

Aside from containing the B-list, benchwarmer stolen emails, the main difference between this round of Climategate and the last is that this time the Climategate hacker revealed the motivation behind his crime in a READ ME file:

"Over 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day."

"Every day nearly 16.000 children die from hunger and related causes."

"One dollar can save a life" -- the opposite must also be true.

"Poverty is a death sentence."

"Nations must invest $37 trillion in energy technologies by 2030 to stabilize  greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels."

Today's decisions should be based on all the information we can get, not on hiding the decline.

In short, the hacker believes that money spent on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate human-caused climate change is money not spent on alleviating poverty.  Thus, by hacker logic, mitigating global warming will lead to the deaths of many poor people.  However, the hacker's logic in making this argument is fundamentally wrong in every conceivable way, as Richard Black with the BBC also correctly surmised.

Poor Nations Want Climate Mitigation

The poorest nations, whose people the hacker claims to be concerned about, want serious international action to address climate change:

"African, Least Developed Countries and countries of the ALBA alliance in Latin America have agreed to work together to ensure that the Durban Climate Conference later this year delivers outcomes that strengthen the climate regime, cut emissions and deliver on climate finance"

In fact, the poorest nations want to set a more aggressive, 1.5°C global warming limit target (as opposed to the current 2°C international target).

So the hacker's motiviation - to undermine efforts to mitigate climate change - is the exact opposite of the goals of the poorest nations.  In fact, the poorest nations are so serious about this goal that they have agreed to work together to try and maximize the progress made towards climate mitigation at the upcoming Durban climate conference - the same conference the hacker appears to be attempting to derail by releasing the stolen email benchwarmers a week before it begins.

There is a very good reason why the poorest nations are pushing so hard for climate change mitigation.

Poor Nations Will be Disproportionately Impacted by Climate Change

An unfortunate irony of climate change is that the poorest nations, which have contributed the least to the problem, will tend to experience the brunt of the effects (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Per capita emissions vs. vulnerability to climate change, from Samson et al. (2011)

Samson et al. (2011) found that African nations in particular are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts despite generally producing very low CO2 emissions.  In addition to being in vulnerable regions, poorer nations lack the resources to easily adapt to rapid climate change, which poses something of an ethical dilemma for the wealthier nations.

The poor nations have contributed the least to the problem, will experience some of the worst impacts, and have the least resources to adapt to them.  Is it any wonder they're pushing for international action to mitigate global warming?

Our Hero's Resumé: Hacker and Expert Quote-Miner

The hacker's "logic" is based on a quote from a Scientific American article about an International Energy Agency (IEA) report:

"Nations must invest $37 trillion in energy technologies by 2030 to stabilize  greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels."

However, like the emails he stole, the hacker has quote-mined and grossly misrepresented the Scientific American article and the IEA conclusions.  Of the referenced $37 trillion, the same article later notes that 

"$26 trillion in 2008 U.S. dollars through 2030 is needed for energy projects to meet growing energy demand, if the world continues on its current energy-use trajectory and remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

Another $10.5 trillion must be spent to lower energy-related greenhouse gas emissions over that span to meet a lower-carbon scenario"

So the actual cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not $37 trillion, but less than one-third of that amount, at $10.5 trillion.  But the hacker's misrepresentation of Scientific American and the IEA report doesn't stop there.  A few paragraphs later, the same article notes:

"Additional investment needed to meet the lower-carbon scenario would be offset by $8.6 trillion in health, security and energy savings benefits, the report says.

IEA warns that delaying emission curbs will be disastrous -- and would add far more to the already considerable costs needed to adopt lower-carbon alternatives."

So now the cost of reducing emissions has dropped from $37 trillion to less than $2 trillion, without even taking into account the benefits associated with mitigating climate change.  And as discussed above, a large chunk of those benefits will be experienced by poor countries, if we can manage to curb climate change and its impacts.  In fact, the IEA warns that delaying action to address climate change - which is exactly what the hacker is trying to do - will ultimately result in higher costs.

It's also worth noting that the hacker has presented us with a false dichotomy by assuming that a dollar spent on climate change is a dollar not spent on aiding the poor.  There's no reason we can't do both, and in fact international efforts to address climate change will both involve reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing funds to poorer countries to help them adapt to its consequences, in addition to developing low-emissions infrastructure of their own.

Speaking of quote-mining misrepresentations, the source of the hacker's "Over 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day" quote is Rabbi Michael Lerner, who also said:

"global climate change, a product of irresponsible forms of industrialization and use of scientific and technological knowledge divorced from ethical concerns, has caused a deepening of the starvation and malnutrition that afflicts our planet."

Somehow we don't think he would appreciate being quote-mined to make an argument in favor of continued reliance on fossil fuels and the associated impacts on the poor.

Continued Ignorance about 'The Decline'

The most widely-misunderstood quote-mined comment from the first round of Climategate pertained to the phrase "hide the decline."  This time around, the hacker claims that today's decisions are being based on "hide the decline," but this reveals complete ignorance about the meaning of the phrase, which refers to the divergence between global temperatures (which we know are going up) and tree rings in certain parts of the world (which suggest that temperatures have declined slightly over the past 50 years).

We know that these tree rings are wrong, because we have much more accurate surface temperature stations which have monitored global temperature over this period.  In fact, ironically, we have learned since the first round of Climategate that the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (CRU), from which the hacker stole these emails, has actually underestimated global warming.

Our decisions about the climate aren't based on tree rings.  They're based on the fact that the planet is warming rapidly, humans are primarily to blame, and the consequences of that warming will be predominantly negative (especially for poorer nations).

Hacker Generously Donates Two-Year-Old Turkey

The Climategate hacker misguidedly seems to believe he can help the poor by feeding them his two-year-old turkey.  However, the poor nations have explained the type of help they want, and it's the opposite of the stale leftovers the hacker is offering.  They have concluded that we can best help them by addressing human-caused climate change.  This conclusion is based on the body of scientific evidence, and a few stolen and quote-mined emails don't change the scientific reality that the planet is warming dangerously rapidly, human greenhouse gas emissions are the dominant driver of that warming, and the resulting climate change will hit the poorest nations the hardest.

If the Climategate hacker were truly interested in helping the poor, he would help them achieve their scientifically-based goals rather than committing crimes in an attempt to undermine their efforts.  With friends like the Climategate hacker, who needs enemies?

Posted by dana1981 on Friday, 25 November, 2011

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