The obvious fact is that that mankind has done very little to prevent significant future global warming and there is little reason to expect anything will change during the next few decades.
In other words, we are going to do the experiment, using our planet as a laboratory.
But even if we allow the warming to occur, there is much mankind can do to protect itself by making society more resilient to extreme weather and changes in climate. As indicated by Sandy and other recent storms, we are not even resilient to the current weather regime.
|The Dutch have built an effective flood protection system.|
(1) Improve weather prediction, so that we can protect individuals and economic assets when storms occur.
(2) Improve climate prediction so we have a better idea of what will happen over the next decades and century.
(3) Using the climate predictions, improve our infrastructure (e.g., power and transportation) and our economic underpinnings so they will be able to function under the current and future climate.
(4) Deal with population and political issues. Resilience and adaptation must be holistic; global warming is only one problem in the way of our sustainability on this planet.
So why am I so pessimistic that mankind will do little to stop man-induced (anthropogenic) global warming?
First, after decades of ineffective conferences and agreements, including those at Kyoto, Rio, and Copenhagen, CO2 is increasing steadily with no reduction in the upward trend (see graphic). Many of the big carbon emitters (e.g., U.S, China.) won't commit to serious reductions. With increasing population, the movement of billions of people towards a middle class life style, and no game-changing energy technology on the horizon, there is no reason to expect a mitigation of the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere.
|See any leveling of this upward trend in CO2? I don't.|
Fourth, even folks highly knowledgeable about the problem are unwilling to make sacrifices to seriously reduce their carbon usage. Do you know who has the worse carbon footprints? Climate scientists. I know many of them. They fly all over the world to frequent meetings (one cross country plane trip puts as much carbon into the atmosphere as a YEAR of commuting in ones car). I don't know of any atmospheric scientists (or anyone else) that are foregoing jet travel for vacations or to see family. Lots of talk, but no one is really willing to change their lifestyle in a significant way to reduce carbon emissions.
Fifth, the one large, proven source of energy, nuclear power, has been taken off the table by many countries due to the Fukashima disaster. Nuclear power can be safe, with new-technology reactors that don't melt down when power failures. But they need to be away from vulnerable coasts and fault lines, and we must establish safe depositories of nuclear waste. Nuclear is expensive, but could displace coal if we made the investment.
Finally, it is clear that national politicians are simply not willing to take climate change seriously, as shown by the fact it was basically off the table during the last presidential election.
|Climate conference like Doha have accomplished litle|
To have a significant impact on temperatures later in the century we need HUGE reductions in carbon use worldwide, and it won't happen. Is there any example in history when people made large economic sacrifices and lifestyle changes for something that might happen decades in the future? I don't know of any. In the U.S., we can't make needed and minor adjustments to stop train wrecks we are sure are coming (fixing social security, medicare costs, etc.).
Some folks concerned about the lack of progress on global warming are desperately trying to get action by hyping the past and current effects of global warming, suggesting we are already seeing a large increase in extremes (floods, cold waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, disease, heat waves, etc.). Bill McKibben, Climate Central, and Skeptical Science are some of the worst offenders...but there are many others. Most of their claims are unfounded or exaggerated, but even with the willing, if not enthusiastic, amplification of the press, it appears that people either don't buy the claims or still are unwilling to make painful sacrifices. And yes, there are the climate change "denier" groups who happily pounce on the exaggerated claims of the "climate lobby" to make their own ridiculous claims that increased carbon in the atmosphere won't warm the climate.
|If we were serious at all about global warming, we would not even consider coal trains.|
So global warming is going to happen. The models and basic physics are clear about that. How much is still uncertain, but we are certain it will be significant. But there is a great deal we can do to adapt to the new climate and give our civilization some resilience to the change. And much of it we should do anyway even without climate change, as Hurricane Sandy and the recent Midwest droughts suggest. In my next blog I will talk about resilience and adaptation.