Justifying Al Gore's Nobel Prize

Soob asked me to justify the Nobel Peace Prize committee awarding the Nobel Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC scientists, and so that is what I will do.

First of all you can watch a 10-minute interview with Geir Lundestad (noted historian and director of the Nobel Institute) about the connection between climate change and peace. He makes the connection by pointing to the desertification of the Sahel and the conflicts that has caused.

The logic of Al Gore's Nobel is pretty straightforward. Climate change is related to war, Al Gore has raised awareness of climate change and helped efforts to combat it, therefore Al Gore has helped prevent future wars. In this post, I will once again establish the link between climate change, and war and peace. Then I will show the impact Al Gore had on raising the awareness of climate change, thus justifying Al Gore in particular for the award.

There are dozens of links between climate change and issues of war and peace, but for the sake of brevity I will look at resource wars, refugees, and state failure.

Climate change will indirectly cause resource wars by shifting resources between countries (one country's arable land becomes desert, while Siberia becomes farmable). I've looked at the link between climate change and resource wars before in a post highlighting an article by David Zhang on climate changes' impact on war frequency in China:
...when societies adapt to a certain amount of resources, anything that leads to constraints on those resources will lead to conflict. Thus, current global climate change will most likely lead to conflict, even though it is warming rather than cooling. Human civilization has adjusted to climate of a hundred years ago. Any sudden shift that leads to a constriction on resources, whether its oil, arable land, housing, or water, will lead to conflict over that resource.
There are several different types of resource wars. Some wars are fought as simple grabs for resources, such as Charles Taylor's efforts to dominate diamond mining in Liberia, Foday Sankoh's similar efforts in Sierra Leone, and Saddam Hussein's effort to grab Kuwaiti oil. At other times, the theft of resources is what allows a previously-existing insurgency to continue - that is what is currently happening in Iraq with oil smuggling.

Both types are relevant to climate change-triggered conflict, but most relevant is another type of conflict that develops over resources which were previously not valuable, but which some sudden change renders more value. One recent instance of this in the news is the military positioning between Canada, the United States, Norway, Denmark, and Russia over 'ownership' of the Arctic Sea. Now that the icecap is melting, the Arctic sea is suddenly valuable for shipping routes and the oil hidden underneath. In my opinion, war is unlikely in this case, but it serves as a high-profile example of the dynamics at work. ComingAnarchy has been following this with posts here, here and here. Resource wars could also break out over other resources, such as livable land, arable land, water, etc.

Next, climate change and refugees. This is a very simple causal link - climate change will directly create more refugees through more extreme weather such as droughts and hurricanes (Katrina's strength may or may not have been impacted by climate change, but the IPCC states that it's "likely that future tropical cyclones will become more intense" due to climate change). Norman Myers forsees up to 150 million "environmental refugees" in the coming years due to global warming and population growth (Norman Myers. Environmental refugees in a globally warmed world. Bioscience, 43:11). Helping refugees is a cause worth of a Nobel in the past (the 1954 prize went to the UNHCR).

Related to refugees is the link between climate change and state failure. Climate change will also cause more war because the burden of refugees on already weak states will lead to state failure, civil war, insurgency and conflict. One of the factors that defines state failure is a large presence of refugees, so the relationship is QED.

Now, time to show that Al Gore significantly raised awareness of climate change. I think this is pretty self-evident, but if there are any doubters out there, I did some simple research through Lexis Nexis. I used newspaper coverage as a proxy variable to look at public awareness. I looked at the number of articles referenced either "climate change" or "global warming" in the period of May 24 2005 to May 24 2006, and compared it with the number of articles that reference "climate change" or "global warming" between May 24 2006 to May 24 2007. The significance of May 24 2006 is that it is the release date of An Inconvenient Truth, so it compares a year before to a year after. Here's the data:

Media sourceYear previousYear after% increase
New York Times708131185.17%
Washington Post568113399.47%
Financial Times890162782.81%
USAToday122288136.07%
AP wire reports6761866176.04%


This establishes correlation, not causation. However, in skimming a lot of the articles from both time periods, the articles were about Gore anyway, so in my mind that shows causation. (If that doesn't satisfy you, do your own research!)

Thus:

(climate change is directly related to war)

+

(Al Gore caused a huge increased in the public awareness of climate change)

=

(Al Gore contributed to a huge step
to the prevention of future climate change wars)

And that is an accomplishment worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize.

13 comments:

Dan tdaxp said...

(climate change is directly related to war)

Well, to the extent a "resource war" is caused by low intelligence and a bad economic system, I'm not sure how climate change enters into the equation. Liberia, Sudan, etc, are likely to have a host of problems, whether monthly mean temperatures raise, stay the same, or lower.

To the extent a resource war (such as the bickering between Russia and everyone else over the Artic Ocean) is caused by a beneficial improvement in the world system, you might as well say resource wars are caused by increasing resources, or economic growth itself.

On to refugees, you need to first separate "environmental refugees" caused by an increase in CO2 from those who must leave for other reasons. For instance, desertification through intensive agriculture is doubtless a serious effort, which controlling CO2 emissions would not address one war or another. Then, you must subtract the number of environmental refugees forestalled by global warming. For instance, the mid lattitude countries have seen a continuous population shift from north to south for a century. Global warming presumably slows this trend, reduces the number of refguees.

If your concern is state failure, then it's reasonable to ask whether Gore's policies will make things better. Likely, not -- indeed, the policies Gore pushes would make life worse in poor countries. Just as low-lying countries loose more coastline under Gore's plan than doing nothing (because coastal loss depends primarily on having a national income large enough to save it, and much less so on rises in ocean levels), my assumption is that Gore's plan would lead to more state failure by making these countries even more poor and miserable.

So why does Gore deserve the peace prize again?

Adrian said...

"Liberia, Sudan, etc, are likely to have a host of problems, whether monthly mean temperatures raise, stay the same, or lower."

Yes - and climate change makes those problems worse. The presence of unrelated problems doesn't mean that additional problems aren't meaningful.

In terms of refugees, you can't treat all population movements as refugees. Climate change will dramatically increase the number of refugees through facilitating sudden events, such as floods in Bangladesh, China, India, etc., which would force millions of people to immediately move. That's obviously much worse than a gradual migration from north to south.

Gore didn't win the Nobel for his policy proposals, he won it for putting climate change on the political agenda. His policy proposals are irrelevant to this debate.

strategist said...

Great post Adrian. Frankly, it baffles me that there is within the US such vitriol directed against Gore. Whatever one thinks of his politics, his wealth etc, Gore is one of a handful of politicians of international stature who has the foresight, the courage and the intellect to lead on climate change (the biggest security challenge we all face). The contrast with Bush and Cheney could not be more telling.

Adrian said...

I agree on the contrast - look at the accomplishments of Gore (and for that matter Clinton), and compare them with:

Mr. Bush said, “I’ll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol’ coffers.” With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, “I don’t know what my dad gets — it’s more than 50-75” thousand dollars a speech, and “Clinton’s making a lot of money.”

subadei said...

"Frankly, it baffles me that there is within the US such vitriol directed against Gore."

I'll return later and begin with Peter's above quote.

strategist said...

This is gonna be interesting...

Adrian said...

Soob - while you're at it, how about taking on the irrational hatred directed at Hillary as well? Not sure if they're linked or not.

subadei said...

Ok, a tad late but better late than never.

Peter, most of the vitriol you see directed against Gore is very likely politically and ideologically motivated. Had a Republican ex-VP pursued climate change you'd likely see as much celebration and vitriol though they'd be an effective "negative" (photographically speaking) of what they are now.

I would add that Gore's (and the merry band of entertainers that toured the world last year to promote his movie, er, theory) lifestyle seems to contradict his message. Telling the little guy he needs to walk more, drive less and basically lessen his "carbon footprint" while flying about on personal jets and living in a big ass house isn't conducive to practicing what one preaches.

My own irritation with Gore winning the Nobel Peace prize is much less political (Reagan could have chased GWarming and I'd feel much the same) rather results from the seemingly one sided presentation this climatic phenomena has entailed. Though there exists "cooler heads" that have stepped forward, raised a hand and said "Now wait moment, let's look at this from this perspective," they've been essentially bulldozed by the cultural frenzy that Gore's GW (hence my "new religion" dig) has brought forth.

Certainly climatic change and it's possible causes and consequence should be, as Adrian cogently points out, brought forth into the mainstream. But that's not what we (IMO) are seeing here. What we're seeing here is both a very vertical approach (if we'd just cut out the CO2 production!) to what has to be a very complex problem. The essence is that Global Warming has at it's source the activities of mankind and if said activities could either cease or be modified then we could "get a handle on it." How such an incredibly complex system as that of earths climatic cycles can be so simply quantified is what baffles me.

I'm no scientist but even, given my own ignorance, I know that anything theoretical is both fallible and uncertain. Definitely the degree of both fallibility and uncertainty given any particular theory varies. But what I'm seeing here is a huge and pervasive movement to base economic, strategic and political protocol and infrastructure on uncertainty.

I'm not writing off the Gore version of GW as abject bullshit. But when I read of hypothetical projects to artificially cool the earth to counteract GW I immediately wonder: "What if 5 years later a particularly powerful volcano erupts and drops the global temperature a few degrees more. What then? Have these people considered a contingency for such an event?"

Politics and education have boarded the shuttle of Global Warming via Al and it's traveling in one direction with a full head of steam. Meanwhile there remains a small segment of both science and society (and I'm not referring to Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage) that have been left behind, bewildered and tad bit afraid that a one directional approach based on a theory and socially deified by a movie will hold sway. I'm simply not at all comfortable with that.

Adrian, as for the hate shown to Senator Clinton, I'll assume you are referring to the political collective and not me, personally. Disagreement and hatred are two horses whose colors differ.

I suspect it's along the same lines of those that hate Bush to the degree that they do. A bizarre form of political indoctrination, perhaps. An inability to look, think or reflect beyond an ironclad set of ideological and political ideals. Whatever the cause neither are healthy for our society.

Peter said...

Jay - I think that you've vastly understated the extent of the mainstream scientific, political and public consensus about anthropogenic climate change, including in the US. The problem is not mainstreaming the issue, or convincing people that it's happening - we're beyond that now; rather it's moving to real action, in particular convincing our national elected representatives to act, is the stumbling block at present.

In conditions of genuine uncertainty - and we're well past that on climate change - it is prudent to take a precautionary approach. To the extent that there is any uncertainty about climate change, it is due to obfuscation, denial and scaremongering by oil companies (primarily ExxonMobil), the Bush/Cheney administration, and a very small band of deniers.

Much of what people are doing (or proposing to do) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions make very good economic and environmental sense. To choose but one simple from many, it makes sense for companies to adopt energy efficiency technologies because it produces significant savings in energy costs. Even if we get quite "radical", and introduce measures to get people out of cars, such as re-designing cities and suburbs to make them more walkable, cycleable and liveable, there are big pay-offs, e.g., reducing local pollution, traffic deaths, people's waist-lines, and hospital heart surgery operations.

I understand what you say about Gore. While the idea of the film was brilliant, the idea of the rock concert was very Bob Geldorf and 1980s. And there is something of the need to practice what one preaches (that said, even the most ardent environmentalists on occasion drive their cars - this reflects the extent of our societies' dependence on cars).

But IMHO we should look at the bigger game here - that Gore has done a heck of a lot to get the message across that climate change is something that needs to be grappled with urgently. He should be getting bouquets for this, not brickbats.

Adrian said...

Great comments, both of you. Obviously my views are much closer to Peter's than Jay's. Not much to add to Peter's comment, except one issue - re: Gore's own carbon footprint. Much ado about nothing. Just from the Wikipedia article, it's apparent that Gore's house doubled as office space for him, his wife and his security, that he wasn't allowed to install solar panels due to zoning laws, and that he purchased significant amounts of green energy.

I agree that what should be a scientific argument is political, but this is unavoidable given the resources involved.

Dan tdaxp said...

Adrian,

"Yes - and climate change makes those problems worse."

Well, sometimes. Climate change will make parts of Africa drier, and parts wetter. Is the cost of combating climate change for the net benefit (?) it produces worth it, considering what else that money can be spent on? Probably not.

"In terms of refugees, you can't treat all population movements as refugees. Climate change will dramatically increase the number of refugees through facilitating sudden events, such as floods in Bangladesh, China, India, etc., which would force millions of people to immediately move. That's obviously much worse than a gradual migration from north to south."

And, likewise, it will cause less floods, and less water will be stored in the winter in the form of ice and snow upstream.

Again, if there's some cost, what is the net cost, to how many people, and what is the bang for the buck in trying to fix in via climatic tools instead of other methods?

"Gore didn't win the Nobel for his policy proposals, he won it for putting climate change on the political agenda. His policy proposals are irrelevant to this debate."

Subadei's point is worth considering here.

Peter,

"Even if we get quite "radical", and introduce measures to get people out of cars, such as re-designing cities and suburbs to make them more walkable, cycleable and liveable, there are big pay-offs, e.g., reducing local pollution, traffic deaths, people's waist-lines, and hospital heart surgery operations."

Indeed... just as warmer weather will reduce the death rate in cities, as far more die in cold months than in warm ones.

Costs and benefits. Unglamorous but serious.

Adrian said...

Dan -

Even if parts of the world get more inhabitable due to climate change, that will still produce conflict - it alters the equilibrium, and that equilibrium will be restored most likely through violence. Some craphole turns into valuable land? Odds are the people who live in that craphole don't have the strength to keep it, leading to conflict.

Regarding the point of how climate change money could be diverted, I keep meaning to write a post on that but it will probably have to wait a couple weeks. I'll let you know when I finally get around to it.

Dan tdaxp said...

What equilibrium?

Sea levels, for instance, rose a foot in the 20th century on their own. Anthropogenic climate change may cause them to rise another foot. So what is equilibrium sea level?

You do raise a good point, though, that a violent part of the world will be violent, regardless of the climate. The Gap sucks, whether there's global warming, global cooling, or global stasis.

If you want to reduce that violence, shrink the Gap. All global climatic engineering does is shift from one causes belli to another.