Thursday, October 29, 2009

Canada and the World

Even 20 months ago, no one knew what 350 meant, nor why it mattered. That's less than 2 years back. Then 10,000 year old ice sheets disappeared in the Arctic, Stephen Harper got a north of 60 hard-on, the IPCC released a report based on data that was already out of date (some of it a decade out of date), and a book detailing how James Hansen's work was censored came out. We shook our collective head, and some of us began to realize that we had entered what James Kunstler has called The Long Emergency.
It didn't take long to realize that 350 was the upper limit of atmospheric CO2 that could be considered "safe" (meaning that we might be able to keep global warming to 2°C and we might be able to live with the consequences of that rise), and here we are today looking at 390 ppm of carbon dioxide, no significant efforts being made to reduce carbon emissions, and a future that's looking at a minimum of 4°C warming and 6 metres of sea level rise--meanwhile emissions continue to increase and atmospheric CO2 rises at about 2ppm/year.
Here in Canada, we've got a Conservative government that is lead by a Prime Minister who still yet to convince anyone that he actually believes global warming may be a problem. Stephen "American Corporate Lackey" Harper is busy fiddling while the globe--including the nation of which he is nominally a member--burns. All our divorced-from-reality leader can see is the NorthWest Passage opening up and all that lovely ocean open to commercial exploitation.
Last week, the British Meteorological Office released a map of what we can expect to happen when we hit 4°C. The equatorial countries will get hotter, true, but the further you get from the equator, the more extreme the changes. But even now, Environment Minister Jim Prentice wants special treatment for Canada, allowing us--well, really just Alberta and the oil sands--to continue increasing our GHG emissions, while insisting that developing nations like China and India agree to hard caps that we ourselves will not accept. And the Canadian Government still refuses to release specifics of its plan to reduce our GHG emissions by 20% from our 2006 levels--which is light-years from our commitment under Kyoto.
Today comes the release of a new report. Quite unlike anything released in Canada before, it was financed by the Toronto Dominion Bank, produced by the Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation, with economic modeling by the well-respected economic consultants, M.K. Jaccard and Associates Inc. As John Ibbitson writes in the Globe and Mail; "A major bank has paid two environmental organizations to produce a groundbreaking report that, for the first time, calculates the costs of both the Harper government's modest plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and the much more ambitious targets set by the environmental community, nationally and regionally."
The report offers a regional breakdown of economic impacts based on both the Harper government's vague commitment to 20% by 2020 (from 2006 levels) and  the impact from the deeper and harder cuts that environmentalists are calling for and that would put Canada in line with our international obligations. And guess what? Neither scenario would kill us!
According to the report,"The Conservative government's goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 can be achieved, but only by limiting growth in Alberta and Saskatchewan." Alberta's growth would be 8.5% less in 2020 than it would be under a BAU (Business As Usual) approach, the report concludes. Under the  same scenario, Saskatchewan would lose 2.8% of its projected growth. Central Canada, on the other hand, might well see some additional growth added to its projection. To quote Shawn McCarthy's article in the G&M; "Despite the steep costs involved in meeting targets, the analysis concludes the Canadian economy would continue to grow, albeit at a slower pace, and that investment in renewable energy and efficiency measures would result in an overall increase in employment compared to a “business-as-usual” scenario.
And even with the significant reduction in Alberta's potential growth and employment prospects, the province would still lead the country economically over the next 10 years."
So our economy would continue to grow AND there would probably be an increase in employment as well. And the cost? A reduction in projected growth an Alberta and Saskatchewan, and a significant out-migration from both provinces back to central Canada.
To further quote Shawn McCarthy's article: "TD's chief economist, Don Drummond, said the bank has not endorsed any targets, though it has supported a policy of a national emissions cap. He said the bank's interest was to shed light on an area where there has been little informed debate: the likely cost of imposing regulations."
I'm actually not seeing any real downside here. The Globe and Mail editorial board does though. In today's editorial, we read: "[T]he study acknowledges that what is proposed is no less than an economic upheaval: “There is a migration of capital and labour out of carbon and trade exposed sectors (e.g., fossil fuels) to sectors that are less carbon and trade exposed (e.g., manufacturing, services and renewable electricity).”
Canada cannot take its national unity for granted and must not, in the service of international obligations, allow itself to be immolated by a government policy of such wrenching dislocation." And the editorial concludes: "[T]he target [of carbon dioxide emission reduction] may be unreachable without unacceptable damage to Canada's economy and national unity. In which case, it is time for new targets, and new policies."
I can't help but think that no-one raised much of a stink about the "wrenching dislocation" caused by the development of the oil sands on the communities of Atlantic Canada. And even Jeffrey Simpson concludes that the Harper government's targets are just so much smoke being blown up our collective asses.
And so we have serious economic modelling of the potential and problems with trying to meet our international obligations regarding global warming and CO2 emissions. And we can now point to the report and say, "Tough, yes. But it won't kill us, and will probably make us stronger." And what of the complaints sure to come from the political and ruling classes of Alberta and Saskatchewan? Well, both provinces have had a great decade, with both provinces posting significant surpluses in their budgets, and neither has done a damn thing to prepare for the inevitable crash (particularly Alberta under Ralph Klein). For Alberta, that's two oil-based booms they've pissed away under Conservative governments. So honestly, I have no great sympathy for the Alberta government. And regardless of any future whining, we can look at the economic model contained in the M.K. Jaccard and Associates Inc. report, and read again the conclusion that "even with the significant reduction in Alberta's potential growth and employment prospects, the province would still lead the country economically over the next 10 years." And the planet (well, the human part of it) would thank us for facing up to our responsibilities.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Copenhagen, Canada, and the End of the World

The Globe and Mail is reporting on an interview with Environment Minister Jim Prentice, saying that the chance of an agreement on climate change in Copenhagen is pretty much non-existent.
The world wants a climate change agreement in Copenhagen. The US is even onside, with President Obama actually understanding both the science and political realities of global warming. The EU wants an agreement, with Germany busy poaching Canadian alternative energy companies and the Brits launching the 10-10 campaign. China is even pursuing lower carbon emissions. So what's the problem?
The problem is the Canadian government. Canada has become the biggest roadblock to an international agreement to lower carbon emissions. According the the G&M article (23 October 2009, p A1 Ottawa dashes hope for treaty in Copenhagen) Canada is continuing to "insist that it should have a less aggressive target for emission reductions[...] because of its faster-growing population and energy-intensive industrial structure". The Harper government is also going to insist that any cap on industrial emissions will not be applied uniformly across the country, but will allow the Alberta oil sands to continue expanding. To quote the Environment Minister; "The Canadian approach has to reflect the diversity of the country and the sheer size of the country, and the very different economic characteristics and industrial structure across the country." The Harper government has also demanded that emerging economies (like China and India) agree to binding caps on carbon emissions, and has refused to release its own plan for carbon reduction until there is clarity on what the Americans are planning to do.
The New Democratic Party has a bill currently in committee that would commit Canada to an emission reduction of 25% from 1990 levels by 2020--a target that would meet our commitment under Kyoto and would be consistent with the EU's approach in the next round of negotiations. Ottawa has proposed a reduction of 20% from 2006 levels of emissions by 2020--our obligation under Kyoto was a cut of 6% from 1990 levels by 2012. The plan proposed by the Harper government would result in a 3% reduction from 1990 levels by 2020. Chief climate negotiator Michael Martin said to the committee considering the NDP bill that the Harper government's targets are "comparable" because they will be just as costly to achieve as the more aggressive NDP targets.
What becomes clear, as we follow the progress towards significant carbon emission reductions, is that the Harper government has no intention of ever reducing carbon emissions. Harper simply does not consider carbon emissions to be a problem (how can I say that? By simply looking at his record).
And our Prime Minister is dragging a lot of sceptics along with him. World-wide, temperatures maxed out in 1998, leading deniers to claim that temperatures have levelled off or are even declining. But new research to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, was carried out by Judith Lean, of the US Naval Research Laboratory, and David Rind, of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The research, "is the first to assess the combined impact on global temperature of four factors: human influences such as CO2 and aerosol emissions; heating from the sun; volcanic activity and the El Niño southern oscillation, the phenomenon by which the Pacific Ocean flips between warmer and cooler states every few years.

The analysis shows the relative stability in global temperatures in the last seven years is explained primarily by the decline in incoming sunlight associated with the downward phase of the 11-year solar cycle, together with a lack of strong El Niño events. These trends have masked the warming caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

As solar activity picks up again in the coming years, the research suggests, temperatures will shoot up at 150% of the rate predicted by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Lean and Rind's research also sheds light on the extreme average temperature in 1998. The paper confirms that the temperature spike that year was caused primarily by a very strong El Niño episode. A future episode could be expected to create a spike of equivalent magnitude on top of an even higher baseline, thus shattering the 1998 record.

The study comes within days of announcements from climatologists that the world is entering a new El Niño warm spell. This suggests that temperature rises in the next year could be even more marked than Lean and Rind's paper suggests." (The Guardian Online).

The British Meteorological Office released a new map of the world (below) showing the current thinking on what the world will look like with a 4°C rise in the average global temperature. The 4°C rise mostly happens at the equator--the further you move away from the equator, the greater the changes. Here on Vancouver Island, we may only see an average 5°C rise, but up in Hudson's Bay, its looking more like 16°C. What this doesn't indicate is just how this will affect global weather patterns. If it was just going to get warmer, that wouldn't be the end of the world.But all that extra energy is going to change things in ways we can't imagine yet, much less model.

The Met Office says that climate researchers have discovered that:

  • levels of CO2 have risen 40% since the Industrial Revolution
  • Global sea levels have risen 10cm in the last 50 years [and that's a hell of a lot of water]
  • temperatures in the Arctic have risen at twice the global average [which suits our Prime Minister just fine]
  • snow cover in the northern hemisphere has dropped 5% in the last 2 decades
And researchers figure that extreme temperatures will affect eastern North America, with Toronto and Ottawa seeing the temperatures of their hottest days jumping by up to 10°C to 12°C. Anyone having suffered through a GTA summer will be white with fear about now....

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Third World -- and why we shouldn't say it.

Interesting post here on why "third world" is a politically loaded term. I mostly agree with the author, but dislike the suggested alternative "developing world"; which harbors connotations of an inherent backwardness of other cultures and the assumption that over time they will become little clones of Western cultures, which is in my view similarly reprehensible usage. A commentator on the post suggests the phrase "majority world" to describe nonWestern cultures, which both more accurate and more interesting....

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ah, I Can Feel It Working

From over at IPS:
In recent weeks, Greenpeace has staged three daring protests inside tar sands mines, temporarily shutting down parts of the world's largest energy project. On Oct. 3 and 4, activists blocked construction of an upgrader needed to refine heavy tar sands oil, belonging to Shell in Ft. Saskatchewan, Alberta.
Civil disobedience from Greenpeace, leading to 37 arrests, has enraged Alberta's conservative government. "We're coddling people who are breaking the law," complained Premier Ed Stelmach during a media scrum in early October.
"Premier Stelmach's public suggestion that he will use the 'force of the law to deal with these people' confirms his lack of knowledge of the limits of his authority and the clear rule that our system of justice cannot be interfered with or manipulated for political reasons," responded Brian Beresh, the defence lawyer representing arrested activists, at a news conference in Edmonton.

This is one of the uses of civil disobedience--like one of the uses of terrorism--to provoke those in power into over-reacting and doing something stupid that makes the instigator's point for them. Like the US after 9-11 made Al Qaeda's point that they were an imperial power by invading Iraq, the Alberta government is going to make Greenpeace's point for them. They are actually threatening to use anti-terrorism legislation to shut down civil disobedience at the tar sands.
"Canada's tar sands will singlehandedly produce more greenhouse gas emissions than Denmark, Ireland, Austria or Portugal by 2020 if the development continues expanding at its current rate, according to a recent report written by award-winning business reporter Andrew Nikiforuk. The tar sands already spew more greenhouse gas emissions than Estonia or Lithuania", the article continues.
It's not like Greenpeace stands alone on this; the head of the IPCC has also said that the tar sands should be shut down.
Keep in mind that this Saturday--October 24th--is 350 day, the international day of climate action. The 350 refers to the accepted maximum concentration of CO2 in Earth's atmosphere--the number we've blown past already. Last I checked, we were at 385. Write an MP, get out and be counted, ride a bike, whatever. Check the website for ideas. In Victoria, there will be a day of activities at Centennial Square on Saturday.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Yes Men

It looked – at first – eerily like a routine news event. A man in a nondescript dark suit standing at a podium in one of the smaller meeting rooms on the 13th floor of the National Press Club. But then suddenly it wasn't.

"There is only one way to do business and that is to pass a climate bill quickly so this December President Obama can go to Copenhagen and negotiate with a strong position," said the speaker – who said he represented the US Chamber of Commerce.

The statement represented a complete repudiation of the Chamber's earlier opposition to climate change legislation. The hard line had triggered walk-outs from Apple and a handful of other high-profile companies in the past few weeks.

From the Guardian Newspaper, who are reporting that the news conference was later boken up by an actual member of the US Chamber of Commerce screaming that it was all a hoax. This is typical of the Yes Men, who famously held a news conference claiming to be Dow Chemical and taking full responsibility for the Bhopal disaster, and promising to care for anyone injured in the incident. Dow lost $2bn off its share price and was later forced to announce that it was doing nothing of the kind. And, as with the Dow story, the Guardian reports: "And while a number of reporters still pressed Wohlschlegel for signs of a shift in the Chamber's position, he soon set them straight. The Chamber was as opposed to climate change legislation as ever."

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

There's A Buzzing Sound In My Ears

Earlier this year Dawa Steven Sherpa was resting at Everest base camp when he and his companions heard something buzzing. "What the heck is that?" asked the young Nepali climber. They searched and found a big black house fly, something unimaginable just a few years ago when no insect could have survived at 5,360 metres.

So begins this story in the Guardian. It's becoming depressingly familiar at this point; insects where they don't belong, glaciers retreating at an appalling pace, and (in this case) glofs, or glacial lake outburst floods.
So have a read, then pop over to the review of Superfreakonomics and have a read of this:

A large chunk of Superfreakonomics is given over to what Levitt and Dubner present as a simple, cheap alternative to all this depressing futility. They profile Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer of Microsoft, whose company, Intellectual Ventures, is exploring the possibility of pumping large quantities of sulphur dioxide into the Earth's stratosphere through an 18-mile-long hose, held up by helium balloons, at an initial cost of around $20m. The chemical would reflect some of the sun's rays back into space, cooling the planet, exactly as happened following the massive 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines. The primary objection to this plan, as with other "geoengineering" schemes, is that there's no predicting the unknown negative effects of meddling in such a complex natural system. And it's strange, given how much is made in both Freakonomics books of the law of unintended consequences, that they don't mention this in the context of Myhrvold's plan.

This is where we wait and wait and wait and then begin grasping at straws and stupid ideas, looking for the quick fix. The problem is not sunlight falling on the Earth, its the CO2 in the atmosphere. The sulphur dioxide "fix" does nothing but to help buy a little time. The ocean is still gong acidic (as one example), crashing what few food stocks are left. That will not be slowed by altering the amount of sunlight getting through the atmosphere. (Freakonomics; a bunch of untested and unproven correlations and ideas masquerading as breakthrough carved-in-stone facts. Mediocre speculative mutton dressed up as scientific lamb).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Power Shift

I cannot remember the last time I (or anyone I know) had this much fun at a climate change rally. (The video will start automatically). Without this sense of joy and energy, we're going to get nowhere, and that isn't something we can afford. Without those of us in middle age with our "respectability" and (more importantly) dollars and commitment, things will be difficult. But without this kind of joy and energy, things will be impossible.
Great social movements arise in a sense of fear and excitement; from the sense of taking control of power and realizing that it's in each of us. It's a scary and exciting place to be. There's a sense of comradeship, of shared joy, that suddenly we really are all in this together.And for some reason, grim death marches don't really attract the crowds, the popular support, that you'd expect.
We need more of this; more dancing, more laughing, more joy. Greenpeace continues to draw people because there's always the chance to get arrested--as the protesters in Fort McMurray showed in mid-September.

(image from the CBC website)

Protesters from Greenpeace occupied two dump
trucks and unfurled a banner on the ground at Shell's
Albian Sands oilsands site in northern Alberta Tuesday.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Propaganda; Shouldn't It Really Be The Word Of God?

Over at the Conservapedia, there's a proposal being floated to re-translate the Bible. The Conservative Bible Project suggest that:

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning are, in increasing amount:

  • lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ
  • lack of precision in modern language
  • translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one.

 The nutbars Conservatives over at Conservapedia are really worried about the liberal bias in the Bible.They state that:

    As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:[2]

    1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
    2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
    3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]
    4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[4] defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".
    5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots";[5] using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census
    6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
    7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
    8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story
    9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
    10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word "Lord" rather than "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" or "Lord God."

I'm particularly fascinated by #6 & #7: "Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning" and "Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story." To state so baldly next to each other that you want to remove what you think is liberal cant and insert what can only be described as conservative cant, and that you don't see a problem with this, is, to me, mind-boggling. But apparently this is not so on the far right: the belief that others have done something--whether or not that belief is supported by evidence--is apparently justification for doing the exact same thing. Instantly any concept of "truth" disappears and is replaced by the concept of competing propagandas. Any appeal to evidence is immediately seen to be a call on biased propaganda. "Things fall" is liberal propaganda, and any appeal to the senses (look out the window! Gravity is in operation!) as dismissed as biased and propagandistic nonsense ("that's just what they want you to believe! Gravity doesn't even work on those who believe in it!). This kind of thinking is completely resistant to argument; it is thouroughly magical and any appeal to reason, evidence, or even sanity is, by definition, biased and propagandistic, and can be dismissed out of hand. Logic and reason have no place in a hermetically sealed belief system, and are seen as enemies of faith or belief.
This program, on the part of the Amerikan Right, to create a political community where spiritual, economic, and political concepts are adopted and are then unchangeable proceeds apace. Mutually antithetical concepts like "Keep your government hands off my Medicare" are normal inside this doublethink groupmind. Regretfully, this type of thinking and political community building has spread into Canada as well. Alberta and Saskatchewan are hotbeds of it.

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

V-Con (No, Really!)

Sometimes it's really very easy to do without a car. Friday morning found us up early and on the municipal bus out to the ferry.
20 Minutes to down-town and another 40 or so out to the ferry with a 5 minute transfer layover, that's not bad. Sure, we ended up at the ferry an hour earlier than we needed to, but that was my fault rather than a flaw in the transit system.
Traveling as a walk-on is really a good way to use the ferry; it's so much more relaxed than worrying if your car is going to start, and making sure to park close enough and all the rest of what we think of as normal at the terminal and on the ferry.

Notice that there's two layers of traffic loading. That's a lot of cars, and this isn't one of the new "Super-C's."

Passengers, on the other hand, have a much quieter boarding experience.

Although there are a lot more passengers than 20 years ago. Paula and I have boarded, gone up a deck, found kiosks to sit at (so that I could plug in the Aspire 1ne), and dropped our packs, and there are still walk-ons loading.

Once at the other end of the ferry route, we waited maybe 10 minutes to board a municipal bus. Okay, 5 bucks, but that got us right into down-town Vancouver.

This was one of the articulated buses we're familiar with from our days in Edmonton, but haven't ridden out here. Victoria went with the even cooler, retro-styled double deckers rather than the articulated buses. A good choice, I think.

The double-decker buses (you can see one at the front of the queue here) are air-conditioned and quite comfortable. Besides, riding up top offers a hell of a good view, even if the ride itself can be a bit rocky on occasion.

The Skytrain, on the other hand, especially the new Canada Line, is a terrific ride. And the new cars are a delight. Notice the vertical bar on the right, with the four loops sticking out of it--making a terrific number of handholds when the car is full.
Our trip in from the ferry took about an hour all told. We boarded the bus about 10:00 am and were checking in to the hotel just after 12:00.

It is strange to be at a V-Con again after so many years away. It didn't take long before I was having fanzines thrust into my hands; an old BCSFAzine, and a copy of Why You Got This Zine #5. It took me about ten minutes to realize that we'd published the original WYGTZ and we'd done it back in 1983 (all nicely credited in the extended colophon). Kathleen is now pubbing her ish, and doing a lovely job of it--making sure that its only available in print and not online, which is unusual and quite nice.

And after decades:

Garth! It was great to see Garth again and catch up on at least an overview of the last few years.
There were other people, of course. People I live near:

like Karl, busy minding the Neo-Opsis table.

And Stephanie, gettinga few minutes away from the table.
But there's also Donna and Clint

who seem to becoming regular features in this life. Which is interesting and unexpected.

Marlene happened to be in Van and so she showed up--and got the chance to play dress up in the dealer's room. The period / pirate clothing was a real treat; the women looked lovely and the men looked dashing, and I even gave it a go. Ah, to be independently wealthy, and have a place to wear pirate clothes...!

SF Canada threw a author party / book-launch Friday night

Which was neat and well-attended. The idea was to create various circles of chairs and then scatter author names about, so that people could either sit beside authors they knew, or figure out who it was they were sitting beside.

There was also a book table--these are, after all, authors.
The event was well attended. Just a few of the familiar faces:

Brian Hades

Barry Alder

Selu--whom we had met on the Skytrain, having completely missed her on the ferry and bus....

Paula, having a good time chatting.

And Fran. Overall, quite a different Friday for me.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Yup, we all need that good old CO2. What did we really expect? That Oil company execs would think that a threat to the planet might override a threat to their corporate profits? Not gonna happen. And it isn't surprising that this comes out of Amerika. After all, the Guardian reported on 28 September 2009 :

US ignorance about the risks and reality of global warming could sink hopes of a new global deal to control greenhouse gas emissions at December's climate talks in Copenhagen, an advisor to the German government has said.

Professor John Schellnhuber, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said the US was "climate illiterate" and that the rest of the world may be forced to agree a new deal without it.

"Nobody should dream of the possibility that numbers and targets for countries will be sealed in Copenhagen," said Schellnhuber, one of the world's foremost climate scientists. "If the US doesn't move then nothing will happen."

He added: "The US in a sense is climate illiterate. It is a deeper problem in the US, if you look at global polls about what the public knows about climate change. Even in Brazil and China, you have more people who know the problem, who think that deep cuts in emissions are needed."