Pilloried again

You know the old T-shirt slogan: "Help the police. Beat yourself up".

Anyway, Nurture have the traditional Inuit-imperilled-by-climate-change stuff, only its a bit more interesting because they link to a paper that actually tries to quantify the effects. Or it would be interesting, if not hidden behind a money wall.

But I have my traditional response: when you're obliged to say things like But financial constraints are hindering the community. Insurance for expensive equipment, such as the snowmobiles the hunters need to use on the increasingly circuitous routes to the hunting grounds, is difficult to obtain. Governmental compensation schemes are reported to be inadequate. And record oil prices in 2008 drained family resources then you should recognise the obvious: the indirect impacts of modern society on the Inuit via climate change are trivial compared to the massive direct impacts from guns, snowmobiles, drink, finance, oil and simple contact with outside societies.

If, for whatever reason, you're interested in preserving the traditional Inuit community, then you don't worry about the price of imported oil; you worry about using imported oil at all. You don't worry about insurance on snowmobiles; you worry about not using dogs (or whatever it was that traditional Inuits used; I may be mixing up my legends).

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Inuit and other Natives did use dogs, and some still use dogs for sledding.

More important, it's not for us outsiders to "preserve" Native communities by making cultural decisions for them, but it is appropriate to not harm them by imposing environmental harms done for our own benefit. Even if the climate change harm is less than other harms that have reached them (and whether modern Inuit are harmed by modern technology is their own decision), it's still something we have to take responsibility for.

Eli has thought about the last paragraph in William's post for a while. William is making a traditional error, that traditional cultures are static and isolated. The last is impossible in today's world, the former was never true. Traditional cultures, as all cultures, adopt, borrow, beg and steal from others around them, but do maintain a core of belief and practices that set them apart. It is the core, or what the Arctic people believe is their core, which comes to the same thing, that is being threatened. They may use snowmobiles, but they do keep their dog teams. They do hunt on the ice using modern weapons except for ritual hunts. They are neither stupid, nor tourist attractions, but folk trying to wrest an existence from a difficult and radically changing environment.

It is the core, or what the Arctic people believe is their core, which comes to the same thing, that is being threatened.

One component of nearly everyone's cultural core nowadays: cheap energy. So hands off my cultural core.

BTW Eli, referring to yourself in the third-person is weird,

So, Eli is weird. You have no idea.

As far as cheap energy being part of everyone's heritage. So is free beer. Go sit two minutes in the penalty box for unsportsmanlike crapo

Here's a similar story but from a completely different angle: Frank Pope in yesterday's Times argues that the possible return of indigenous inhabitants to the Chagos Islands would threaten the marine ecosystem, mainly because re-inhabiting the islands with civilians would inevitably open them up to tourism (though I'm not clear why the inevitability). Also, I say civilians, because what we are really talking about here is Diego Garcia, legally British, but in fact a major US military Forward Base. Pope claims that the US presence has protected local species by deterring visitors and fishing - but also claims the loss of 500,000 tons of sea-cucumber to poachers and that shark-finning is prevalent. Pope's article in the Times here

As a possible back-story, having taken the islanders through every court in the land - and lost - the British Govt finally got the decision they wanted from the Law Lords (don't ask). Now they are looking at taking the case to the European Court of European Rights. Everyone, including the government, agrees that the islanders' treatment has been a disgrace. Report on the Law Lords ruling - also from the Times here.

Pete

Forgetting the impact of modern society on the native northern cultures, let's instead focus on their choices. Given the possibility they immediately choose energy intensive modes of transportation, as well as goods manufactured using typical western techniques and transported to them using highly energy intensive mechanisms. For example fuel being flown in.

The reality is they are the same as the rest of us, which isn't surprising. I just think they have little right to complain about the effects of choosing energy intensive culture, when given the chance they do the exact same thing.

By Nicolas Nierenberg (not verified) on 25 Jan 2009 #permalink

William

If you keep on with rational analysis like this you'll be defrocked by the AGW-lobby.

Keep it up

By Luke Warmer (not verified) on 25 Jan 2009 #permalink

NN probably not, most likely brought in by boat during the summer or by road where available. Most of the smaller settlements are either outports or on some sort of navigable river.

William is making a traditional error, that traditional cultures are static and isolated. The last is impossible in today's world, the former was never true.

The latter was never true either.

If you keep on with rational analysis like this you'll be defrocked by the AGW-lobby.

Yup, cos usually William is always, without exception, unquestioningly accepting of anything which supports the AGW 'agenda'.

(Insert eye roll here.)

By the way, William, there's a CIF piece on proposed Wikipedia editing policies over at the Graun now - and it didn't take long for you to get namechecked in the comments ('Take the influence of Green activist William Connelly... Anything remotely challenging gets crushed by the aspiring politician William.'). Your Reign of Terror continues, you unreconstructed old Stalinist you!

[I am the Mailed Fist of... James Hansen? Al Gore? All Power is mine! Ha ha ha!!!! etc -W]

Mr. Nierenberg, the per-capita, cumulative contribution of Arctic Natives to greenhouse gases since 1850 has to be tiny compared to the developed world average, while they are suffering disproportionate harm. I don't accept your argument.

[I don't buy this. If we're back to weighing things, rather than inponderables, then we're back to: the impact of direct contact (good or bad) utterly overwhelms the indirect impact from climate change. Since fuel-based civilisation turned up, their way of life (like ours) has been turned upside down. If you write an article about the impacts of cl ch on the Inuit, and find yourself mentionning trivia like increased insurance on snowmobiles because of thinner ice, then... you're lost -W]

Mr. Schmidt,

Separately from WCs point it is irrelevant what their contribution was from 1850. (Weird starting point by the way). Most GH emissions are post WWII anyway I believe.

The point is that given the chance they make the same choices. They can't blame everyone else for making the same choices that they do. What is their footprint per capita right now?

[This is a good point, and I rather like it -W]

By Nicolas Nierenberg (not verified) on 27 Jan 2009 #permalink

I strongly disagree that current emissions are all that matter when it's the cumulative contribution to CO2 since 1850 that put us in this mess (not much anthro emission occurred prior to then).

Put another way, we could gradually increase our emissions for another 20-30 years and be in no worse position than we are right now, but for the problem of all the emissions that have already increased the CO2 concentration. Who's responsible for that problem?

I could see an argument for choosing a later date and assigning responsibility for emissions starting at that date - maybe late 1960s when overpopulation and environmental concerns became obvious, maybe 1980's when AGW started being known as a threat, maybe even as late as the Rio Convention in 1992. But no free pass.

And yes, I also think the Arctic Natives should take responsibility for and reduce their carbon footprint, but for the developed world mainstream to take a holier-than-thou position isn't kosher.

Since emissions per captita were relatively small before 1950 or so, 1850 is as good a place to start as any but Eli loves the way folks are looking to others to change before they do. Puts me in mind of the torture lovers.

Wait, they are the same folk.

Eli, i think you could have put that less provocatively - but anyway. Almost everyone wants others to change before they do - and for reasons that economic theory explains very well. The individual costs (economic, social) to lifestyle changes are significant, while most gains only come (at best) with massive scale collective change... Really, for the lone individual the most significant gain from bucking the trend is feeling holier-than-thou (to put it negatively) or feeling virtuous. It's not even worth it from altruism - the collective gains deriving from individual restraint in consumption, say, are negligible. The moral gap between 'most people' and what you call the torture lovers (in the issue of environmental inactivism) is razor thin - the main difference being perhaps that the latter will likely recognize as accurate (even endorse as sensible and rational) the above economic explanation for inactivism but will reject as immoral or worse any implication of the utility of legislated collective activity to overcome individual inertia.

Sorry if the above is incoherent. bollocks. I am pretty tired and drunk. I may blush tomorrow.

Mr. Rabett, Mr. Schmidt

You do enjoy completely changing someone's argument, and then criticizing it don't you? My point wasn't that they are worse then us and need to change first. It was the exact the opposite. They are the same as us. I am simply saying they are, in fact, not holier than us. Their contribution to the problem is the same as us, and the same needed changes apply.

The argument about historical use seems pointless to me. This feels like sliding towards morals and religion, and away from the practical issues of dealing with either reducing CO2 output globally, or finding a way to pull it out of the atmosphere. It is this kind of thing that leads me to feel that a lot of the CO2 discussion veers away from science and economics, and moves towards Western guilt.

And in fact do you know that the per capita carbon footprint of the Inuit has been lower than say the US during most of the time from 1960 to the present?

And seriously Mr. Rabett is calling someone a "torture lover" really the best you can do? Are you so unable to actually read and understand what someone is writing because of your pre-conceived biases.

By Nicolas Nierenberg (not verified) on 30 Jan 2009 #permalink

"Their contribution to the problem is the same as us, and the same needed changes apply."

I assume you don't know whether that's the case, btw. My argument is that even if true currently, a factual discussion of history is relevant to a just solution.

If one doesn't care about ethics, then there's all kinds of ways to solve the climate problem - I could suggest that I and people I like get to pollute all we want, and everyone else has to cut back. Failing that type of outcome, we need to work on an equitable solution.

Regarding post-1960 carbon footprints, I doubt that Arctic Natives have the same footprint as the average American (Inuit is the incorrect term for all Arctic Natives, it only applies to one group). If they did, I would consider the equity issue of contributions mostly resolved, although the equity issue of impacts remain.

the indirect impacts of modern society on the Inuit via climate change are trivial compared to the massive direct impacts from guns, snowmobiles, drink, finance, oil and simple contact with outside societies.

William, yes, but so what? Surely you're not implying that because Inuit are struggling with some Western imports, they've no right to complain about aspects that they neither chose nor caused, like climate change?

[Of course, they can complain about whatever they like. But this is a report of "us" worrying about impacts on them, not them complaining. If we're going to worry about impacts on them, why are we starting with the smallest? Surely not so we can avoid thinking about the larger problems? -W]

I just think they have little right to complain about the effects of choosing energy intensive culture, when given the chance they do the exact same thing.

Nicholas, surely you can understand the main fallacy in your argument. Even if the Inuit had chosen NOT to accept any of the benefits of modern technology, they'd be facing the same changing climate - changes that, even with their actual choices, they contributed little or nothing to.

Moreover, your argument is one that accords individuals and communities little rights in the face of larger societies and contributes to the perpetuation of problems rather than to their resolution. China is rapidly industrializing and wealth is increasing, but with horrific pollution (because rights to be free from industrial torts are not recognized). So because Chinese generally approve of a freer and wealthier society, they have no grounds to push for changes that would require polluters to bear full costs, clean up or compensate victims? Nonsense. It's the fact that people complain when others cause damages and generate risks and nuisances that leads to a vast array of continuing social improvements.

"Even if the Inuit had chosen NOT to accept any of the benefits of modern technology, they'd be facing the same changing climate"

The irony is that Arctic Natives would have even more trouble adapting to climate impacts without using modern tools like snowmobiles to reach retreating ice. So they use those tools, and then we hear that they have no right to complain.

[Hold on. You have an invalid "so" in there. They don't use those tools, like snowmobiles, *because* of climate change. They use them because they like the convenience -W]

I watched an interesting 14 minute documentary last night called "Silent Snow" about the Inuit in Greenland.

Mostly it's about bioaccumulation of chemicals in the animals the Inuit hunt that have made those foods dangerous, when they're not responsible for the harm. They say they're being told to "eat hamburger" now. They will then be criticized for climate change impacts.

More to the point here, they show how they used to travel by dog sledge to one village but there's insufficient ice now, so they take a motorboat instead part of the way. More emissions....

Website is silentsnow.org, but it seems to be down.

[My answer to that, if playing devil's advocate, would be to suggest that in the good old days their villages were not fixed; if conditions worstened in a given place they would simply move -W]