Is the Climate Beginning to Spiral Out of Control?

Global warming skeptics believe that scientists are being overly alarmist in their projections. I think this position represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how science actually works.

Science, by its nature, is conservative. There is so much data crunching and theories and challenges and peer reviews….getting to a consensus on anything takes an awful long time. And by the time the data are refined to the point where one can draw conclusions, reality has moved far beyond the millions of individual data points that make up the picture.

With climate change, that can be deadly.

There is growing evidence that not only is the world changing, it’s doing so at a faster rate than the consensus view. The worst projections might come true – far earlier than even their proponents hypothesize.

Why does it matter? Because our entire existence – all the settlements, infrastructure and methods for maintain life – are based on a relatively stable climate. Many of our coastal settlements are barely above sea level. Washington, DC, which is far inland, is nonetheless on a river that is tidal. Any significant change in sea levels would swamp trillions of dollars in real estate. Reason alone to take the problem seriously.

The Los Angeles basin would be great affected. All that Malibu real estate. Gone. But there’s a greater danger; half the water supply comes from snow melt from the Sierra Nevada mountains. If the snow pack shrinks, then the City of Angels – the rambling, incoherent home to millions – returns to the desert from which it was carved. Desalinating the rising ocean will cost billions and billions.

Do we still have time? I don’t know. What I’m sure of is that the last 14 years – from the “Republican Revolution” of 1994 to the end of the Bush Administration – has been a lost time in which the world’s leading economic power did little or nothing to change the course of a world barreling toward a potential catastrophe.

I know not what will happen. But all the evidence that is beginning to flood in does not paint a very pretty picture.

  • Simon

    No, they are alarmists, and no, that’s not how science should, or generally does, work.

    Climate research/reporting has fallen in a perverse cycle where scientific publications always have to conclude that anthropogenic climate change is happening, and any subsequent reporting will focus on the top end of the error bars. In other fields, this called groupthink and subverted at all opportunities. In climate research, this is called “activism” and held to with fundamentalist zeal that the world is doomed and its all our fault…

  • Tim

    Simon, can you site some sources that provide evidence that science publications have different standards for climate research than for all other areas of science?

    The only evidence I’ve seen to support such a claim is that most the articles published support the consensus theory… Which is a pretty ridiculous argument.

  • Truth is this is a dangerous world, the end results of a industrial age become clearly visible as the polar ice caps begin to melt. For sure not everything is known about how and why such changes are happening, but something is known .

    We do know that it is not a good idea to continue to poison the atmosphere and the earth with undisciplined industrial process,
    we also know that such a thing as a sustainable and balanced system can exist.

    Any understanding of the planetary condition cannot be an exact one because as Doug says it is in constant change and has so many variables .

    Still there is no reason why an exacting science should not be used to solve huge problems, and help to create a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable planetary condition.

    With or without climate change, we do not have to face destruction in order to face change.

    Tremendous destruction might result from climate change and it might not, but change can happen now, in all sorts of ways, and change does not have to become the primary by-product of an inimical condition .

  • Politically, I think it’s gotten to the point where doing nothing looks a lot more risky than doing something and possibly being wrong about the danger.

    There’s a great scene at the beginning of Act III in “Ghostbusters” that illustrates this point perfectly. The Ghostbusters are at City Hall, trying to convince the mayor that New York faces a crisis of Biblical proportions from the poltergeists that are running amok. Bill Murray’s character, Peter Venkman, finally hits upon the one thing that truly terrifies the mayor most of all.

    “If I’m wrong, nothing happens! We go to jail – peacefully, quietly. We’ll enjoy it!” Venkman tells His Honor. “But if I’m *right*, and we *can* stop this thing… Lenny, you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters.”

    The mayor realizes that Venkman is right. Unless he can find some way to stop this, the city could be devastated and the survivors of the Five Boroughs will be in no mood to re-elect him to another term. Or to the governorship. Or the Presidency. And so he sends the Ghostbusters off on their way to save Gotham.

    I think Obama realizes that he’s in that situation. This explains his recent appointments. Change is coming. Either get on board or get run over. Change is the nature of things. You either roll with it or you will be crushed.

  • Nickolai_the_Russian_Fuy

    I generally agree with the people who say that the cost of the impact of all this is far greater than then cost of doing something to stop it. Just look at Sir Nicolas Stern’s report on the economic of climate change: he says that the cost of mitigation/adaptation is about 1%of global GDP per year for some time (maybe 10-15 year, i forget), but the cost of doing nothing could lead to 20% of global GDP being erased by natural disasters.

    One aspect of carbon emissions I like to point out is that oil is running out. We started using it heavily around 1900, right? So in ~100 years we’ve taken all this carbon that was effectivey “out” of the Earth’s carbon cycle (and had been for millions, if not billions of years) and threw it back in there. That’s no definite determination that this pollution will have these adverse effects, but it’s important to point out the magnitude of our impact on the carbon cycle.