We are already experiencing bad climate change impacts: sea ice melt, blocking patterns that bring one hundred year storms once or twice a year, expanding drought zones, acidifying oceans, tightening world food production, and devastating heat waves and fire seasons. Four hundred thousand people are dying each year as a result of climate change. More than 1.2 trillion dollars are lost.
That’s what’s happening now. Bad.
And things are bound to get worse. But if you were listening to climate change deniers, you’d still hear them whistling merrily past the graveyard. To them, climate change still isn’t real and certainly doesn’t require a response.
But if you take these people, who clearly are living in a world of someone else’s invention and not the real one, out of the equation, then what do you have?
Two sets of scientists. One set who’re saying things will likely continue to grow slowly worse until they become very bad or those pointing toward growing evidence that what human greenhouse gas emissions are causing is bound to be downright terrible. And both appear to be saying that carbon emissions should be reduced as rapidly and as soon as is reasonably possible.
These are the two rational sides of the climate debate. And, therefore, these are the definitions we should be arguing over:
1. Will climate change impacts be very bad or terrible?
2. How fast can we reduce worldwide carbon emissions?
3. How soon can we impose a carbon tax?
4. What actions should we take to begin adapting to the very bad or terrible changes in store?
That’s what a rational climate debate would look like. Not this, as weird as our carbon emissions make the weather, debate between rational scientists and quacks who can’t even stick their finger in the air to tell which way the wind is blowing. Between Congressmen like Inholfe, who’s turning oil company campaign contributions into a political war waged against the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon, and NASA Scientist James Hansen who, daily, works to create policies that will prevent a terrible global condition called “Venus Syndrome.”
Take a recent article in the New Scientist as an example. In the article, entitled Climate Change: It’s Even Worse Than We Thought New Scientist states:
Five years ago, the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change painted a gloomy picture of our planet’s future. As climate scientists gather evidence for the next report, due in 2014, Michael Le Page gives seven reasons why things are looking even grimmer.
These seven reasons include:
1. The Arctic is warming far faster than expected. Sea ice could be gone within the next decade, seventy years faster than IPCC 2007 predicted. Even worse, the Arctic is setting off a series of amplifying feedbacks that are bound to make the world hotter faster.
2. Scientists knew climate change would make the weather worse. But the weather is even worse than expected.
3. Some scientists had predicted that global warming would increase food production. Extreme droughts and severe weather are instead causing massive crop damages and an increasingly severe food crisis.
4. Greenland’s rapid loss of ice means we’re in for at least 1 meter of sea level rise by end of century. (For my part, I think this number is also still too conservative. I would put the number, more likely, at more than 3 meters by century’s end without rapid reductions in carbon emissions.)
5. Half of human CO2 emissions are absorbed by Earth’s carbon sinks. But this absorption is ending as the sinks are beginning to become sources. Most notably, the 2007 IPCC report did not include carbon contributions now emerging in larger and larger volumes from the Arctic permafrost and methane hydrates on sea beds throughout the world.
6. We could avoid climate disaster by very rapidly reducing carbon emissions to zero. Instead, we are increasing carbon emissions.
7. If the worst climate predictions are realized, vast sections of the globe will become too hot for human life.
(Hat tip to Joe Romm for his own excellent analysis of this article.)
These assertions come alongside a former UN climate chief’s statement that the most recent IPCC report (due by 2014) will scare the wits out of everyone and on the heels of a New York Times piece entitled “Is This The End?” which, in its first paragraph, quoted T.S. Eliot’s epic poem “The Wasteland” saying “Fear death by water.”
It seems there’s a growing awareness emerging among mainstream media sources that climate change is, indeed, a dire emergency we need to deal with now. Let’s hope the policy makers, who still have the ship pointed headlong toward disaster, are listening. Let’s hope the debate shifts to ‘how bad is the problem?’ ‘how swiftly can we respond?’ and away from this silly counterpoint between highly rational scientists and the professional deniers and opportunistic politicians puffed up on donations and funds proffered by fossil fuel special interests.
We really, really don’t have much time. And it will be absolutely necessary to make changes with all due urgency.