Thursday, August 1, 2013

CFACT's new meme: "UN bureaucrat admits global warming is really about wealth redistribution"

CFACT – the right-wing libertarian disinformation tank – has a new meme, another billboard and Internet graphic calculated to pull the wool over people's eyes while claiming to enlighten them.

Here's how it looks:

It's having the desired effect. Just look at the “I told you so” vitriol it's unleashed on CFACT's Facebook page where the oil-funded outfit describes it like this:
In a moment of unusual candor, a UN bureaucrat admitted that global warming is really about wealth redistribution.
CFACT shared his statement on our new billboard, right outside the Rockies' 50,000+ seat ball park in Denver, Colorado.
Share this post and expose the co-chair of UN IPCC working group III's true thoughts about global warming.
So what's the real story?

Ottmar Edenhofer isn't a UN bureaucrat. He's a German economist who was one of hundreds of experts who volunteered to be a lead author of the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC), which was established by the UN in the 1990s. Today he's the equally voluntary co-chair of a major section of the IPCC's soon-to-be-published fifth report.

But even if Edenhofer was Ban Ki-moon's personal food-taster, it wouldn't make what he actually said about wealth redistribution the same as what CFACT says he did.

It's a good bet that most people who are devouring this red meat tossed at them by CFACT haven't tried to verify Edenhofer's “candid admission” or examine its original context.

A visit to Google confirms that Edenhofer really did say that (or something very close to it) – not during a drunken rant captured on cell phone but in a German-language interview three years ago in a Swiss newspaper called Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

I don't speak German, and neither really does Google Translate, which thinks Edenhofer said: “We distribute by climate policy de facto the world's wealth around.” But it's close.

I also don't normally trust The Global Warming Policy Foundation – a climate science-denying outfit like CFACT – but back when the interview was published, the GWPF quickly translated it over here. Its translation of the sentence quoted by CFACT was slightly more nuanced:
But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy.
So it's a de facto redistribution, in Edenhofer's view. Even without reading anything else he says, one can infer he means wealth redistribution is a consequence or byproduct of climate policy. But is it the “real” purpose, as CFACT would have people believe?

To answer that question, it helps to read the interview (original here; translation here).

Although Edenhofer often speaks in bold rhetorical flourishes to make his point – thus setting himself up for quote-mining by the likes of CFACT – it's obvious he's talking about the need to negotiate a global climate policy in which the poorest, least developed countries (as well as emerging economies like India that may also require financial carrots) are de facto compensated by the richest countries in return for developing their economies without burning fossil fuels as wantonly as the rich countries have.

This is the very same theme we've been hearing since Kyoto of reconciling climate protection with sustainable development. Wealth redistribution in the service of fighting climate change (not that a smidge of wealth redistribution for its own sake is a crime against humanity – just ask Robin Hood) will serve the purpose of combatting a crisis that affects us all – rich and poor, developed and developing, emerging and emerged.

Just putting Edenhofer's misquoted comment in its immediate context should be enough to put the lie to CFACT's deception:
Basically it’s a big mistake to discuss climate policy separately from the major themes of globalization. The climate summit in Cancun at the end of the month is not a climate conference, but one of the largest economic conferences since the Second World War. Why? Because we have 11,000 gigatons of carbon in the coal reserves in the soil under our feet – and we must emit only 400 gigatons in the atmosphere if we want to keep the 2-degree target [i.e., limiting warming to no more than 2 degrees C. above the preindustrial average because, as every country in the world agreed in 2009, the science says this will at least give us a 50:50 chance of avoiding the most catastrophic climate change]. 11 000 to 400 – there is no getting around the fact that most of the fossil reserves must remain in the soil.
De facto, this means an expropriation of the countries with natural resources. This leads to a very different development from that which has been triggered by development policy.

First of all, developed countries have basically expropriated the atmosphere of the world community. But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy. Obviously, the owners of coal and oil will not be enthusiastic about this. One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore, with problems such as deforestation or the ozone hole.

Nevertheless, the environment is suffering from climate change – especially in the global south. 
This is not how a socialist pulling a climate change hoax to steal from the rich and give to the poor talks.

It's how a sensible realist describes tackling climate change in a fair and effective way.

But don't bother telling CFACT that. They surely knew it all along.

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