we’re ultimately doomed

May 28, 2009

The wheel on the left indicates temperature change probabilities given aggressive human climate policy. The wheel on the right shows the probabilities with no policy. (thanks MIT)

The wheel on the left indicates temperature change probabilities given aggressive human climate policy. The wheel on the right shows the probabilities with no policy. Remember, these temperatures are in Celsius!(thanks MIT)

A recent, exhaustive MIT report concludes that global temperature change by the end of this century will rise 5.2 ° C (9.4 ° F) by 2100 without drastic and immediate climate change policy.

It seems like I can’t go a week without hear more bad news on the climate change front, at least from the scientists. Studies come out all the time about the increasing heat waves, draughts, and species dissapearances due to the already present degree or two raise we’ve experienced over the last century.

There’s a good deal of talk about climate change policy, and many companies (cf big oil, coal, and natural) have begun their greenwashing campaigns in earnest. People are encouraged to turn off the lights, use less water, and buy a Prius to do their part. Make no mistake, all of these conservation measures make a difference and represent the easiest first step, but these types of small changes are easy to do and just as easy for you or your neighbor to not do. The big stuff–power plants, efficient grids, and trans-national cooperation–is much harder to implement.

The problem with the American voter is that he’s profoundly impatient. Asking us to make huge sacrifices and changes now for a degree or two in fifty years seems a bit futile. We can’t even agree on econmic stimuli, which have efficacy time periods of six months to two years. What’s more, just about every other big issue that confronts the average voter these days–terrorism, economic free-fall, war, gay marriage–is much more immediate. A recent poll found that our concern for environmental issues ranks dead last in a list of top voter issues. And while the Europeans are about ten years ahead of us in terms of climate policy, try convincing China, India, Brazil, and the rest of the now-industrializing world who want the cheap, dirty energy the rest of us used during most of the twentieth century.

Without the voter, we have no heavy hand of the government, and without the government regulation, industry will never reform itself in any meaningful way. Sure, sure, it looks like cap and trade will happen under Obama, but with significant loopholes, for political expediency of course. Call me pessimstic, but I don’t think these free-market compromises will have enough of an impact. Remember, the world’s energy usage is still greatly increasing.

Ok, you get the idea…here’s my prediction about how it’s all going to go down:

1) Devestating global climate change will occur, causing economic ruin, entire populations of refugees, species extinction, et al. The situation will be very bad for a good while, but eventually–in a Watchmen-esque move–the world will come together, setting aside most of our differences, to combat this huge threat to our existence. Remember, humans are probably the most adaptable species out there.

2) Effectively handling our ever-warming planet will ultimately require science (to the rescue again!) in the form of a drastically cleaner and more efficient energy source (super solar, microwaves from space, cold fusion, who knows!). It will also require big carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas vacuums to remove the stuff we’ve already put into the atmosphere. It’ll be interesting to see what form these take, chemical or biological…I’m guessing some sort of engineered super efficient microorganism.

Thankfully for me, I’ll probably be dead before the the worst of it hits. Nevertheless, it’ll be an interesting next 75 years…

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