Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Urgency Update

After the previous upbeat post, which emphasized the celebratory potential of energy independence and sustainable living, there's still the stark reality of climate change and how it's going to affect us and our species' future on the planet. Warning: this post is relatively long.

If you've been following this blog at all, you know that its central premise is that the impacts of changing climate on human habitability are more likely to happen within a shorter time frame than people think. In some ways, not much has changed since I launched Climate Frog 5 months ago. But in other ways - as the reporting and interpretation and ongoing weather events are showing - the urgency of the situation has continued to escalate.

For the vast majority of us, the near future may not persuade us that the wolf is at the door. We won't be the victims of a category 5 hurricane, as the Yucatan just was. We won't be the victims of catastrophic flooding as so many global locations have been over the past 3 months. We won't find ourselves the victims of continuing years-long drought and record-breaking heatwaves, as many regional populations currently are. But the odds of at least one of those impacts landing on us are growing with every year that the carbon concentration in the atmosphere increases. That - in spite of what the Denyers (using Joe Romm's spelling) claim is yet unproven.

And speaking of Joe Romm, he has just posted two articles to his blog (with a third article on the way) responding to the question, "Are Scientists Overestimating — or Underestimating — Climate Change?" Here's the first article, and here's the second. If you have any doubts about the answer, I urge you to read these and check here soon for the third installment.

In essence, Joe is pointing out that even the IPCC reports fail to incorporate the amplifying feedbacks that rising global temperatures generate. There are many scientifically proven by-products of warming, especially at the poles and higher elevations where the melting of ice and the thawing of permafrost lead to yet more warming and release of more carbon. These amplifying feedbacks are happening now, and have advanced the disappearance of ice at the North Pole beyond what the IPCC reports predicted. In other words, we are further along the path to catastrophic and irreversible climate change impacts than the most widely accepted studies have projected. This also means that the process is moving faster and the remedies need to be implemented sooner and more completely.

The secondary premise of this blog is that humanity has the capacity to counteract the worst case outcome of climate change, but has not shown the collective wisdom to respond to the threatening situation. This sluggish response may someday be analyzed by our heirs as the result of poor leadership, bad communications, dysfunctional politics and sheer laziness due to affluence. We have a window of opportunity within which we can make radical changes in our energy policies and lifestyles, but I see little sign that we are paying attention on a large enough scale to make a dent in the relentless slide into climate crisis.

I'm hoping to provide enough practical guidance through this blog to stir activism on a local level to prepare for the most likely first wave of climate impact. You people living in the American Southwest are already in the midst of your version of climate change. Many of you across the Great Plains, from Texas up through Ohio, have just experienced horrendous flooding in what may be your version. And everywhere that record heatwaves and drought are baking your lawns and making you miserable - you may need to get used to those conditions during your future summers.

The Climate Frog senses that something is terribly wrong and clambers out of the pot just in time. If you sense that something is wrong, you should be clambering by insisting that your local political representatives at all levels start taking appropriate action, not only to put a quick halt to the most prolific carbon emissions, but also to begin preparation for what may be a continually worsening climate situation for your region or for regions you depend on.

The harsh reality could be that some heavily populated areas will prove uninhabitable over the long haul. I've been to the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans and I can tell you - even in this day and age, in America - some locations may be lost to us as homes in this new climatic era.

We have a chance NOW to do something effective about it. Don't listen to people who tell you there's nothing to worry about, or that we've got plenty of time to wait and see. But remember: in spite of the gloomy scenarios, the work to save our ability to thrive on this planet need not be grim. We have an uplifting opportunity to change our priorities and collaborate as a species to save our home.

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