Yes, climate change is real. Yes, adapting to the change will be expensive.
What is not real is that it is going to end the world as we know it “real soon now”.
Earth’s climate has been changing constantly since Earth became a planet 4.5 billion years ago. Sometimes the changes have been harsh — harsh enough to cause the mass extinctions that show up in the fossil records. But even in those times life goes on, and the time span between mass extinctions is hundreds of millions of years. The last mass extinction was 60 million years ago.
This is why the current worries are goat sacrificing — doing something only because we will sleep better, not because it’s solving a problem. Those humans who deeply believe we can end the world as we know it with human-caused climate change are being vain — our world isn’t that human-centric. Another interesting twist in this scenario is that this end of the world is being spouted by scientists, not religious leaders. This has happened before, nuclear holocaust in the 2nd half of the 20th century comes to mind, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as religion-based predictions.
Some Climate Change Basics
First off, climate is complex — it’s weather on steroids. This means that predicting climate change is still filled-to-the-brim with uncertainties. Climate scientists may be certain, doom and gloom climate change enthusiasts may be certain, but the harsh reality is there is still a lot going on we humans can’t predict well.
Second, Earth, the planet, has been continuously habitable for 3.5 billion years. There was never a time in this period when there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff living. The mass extinctions killed off lots of species, and large parts of the Earth became uninhabitable, but large parts remained habitable and lots of stuff still lived. And when the climate mellowed out again, life spread widely again. This means that however strong the forces are that are trying to push Earth into uninhabitable, there are even stronger restoring forces that keep that from happening. The Earth’s climate is not some kind of delicate, exciting high wire act. It’s the grumpy old man taking a nap on the couch.
Third, climate is a deeply emotional issue. Weather has been important to mankind since before mankind was mankind. This means that when we are making choices involving weather, we need to be extra careful that we aren’t goat sacrificing — making choices that don’t solve the problem, but are valuable simply because they let us sleep better.
How did we get into this mess?
Much science research gets funded by committees handing out grants. The scientist looking for money writes up a grant proposal that is either accepted or denied by the appropriate committee that controls handing out funding. These committees are filled with people, which means the choices are influenced by very human thinking.
Historically, weather and climate research funding were powered by the dream of understanding, not by the dream of influencing. The first change to this was cloud seeding which turned out to be a small scale way of starting rain and dispersing fog. It was not much of a breakthrough because it was both small scale and soft science, as in, the results and effectiveness are hard to measure.
Up until the 1990’s the climate doom and gloomers were getting their funding by predicting an oncoming Ice Age and proposing research on that. The response to funding requests was ho-hum because it was still simply an understanding issue, not a change-the-outcome issue.
Then the revolution hit: Researchers discovered that requesting funding about climate change that centered on human-caused changes were hitting much bigger pay dirt — guilt started opening the funding spigot as well as more traditional worry. And the rest, as we say, is history. We are now living with well-financed research aiming to prove that climate change is human’s fault and we should be spending big bucks to turn back the industrializing clock in various fashions.
What to do instead?
The proper solution to this threat is based on a Roger Truism:
What technology takes away it can give back again with greater prosperity. Poverty plays for keeps.
We need to be researching solutions that are both relevant and have high cost benefit. An example:
Threat: Seas are rising due to global warming.
Solution One: For now fix this threat with dikes and migrating away from low-lying areas, not with abandoning fossil fuel. Dikes are a lot cheaper. Over the long run we will fix this with increased productivity. As our technology gets better, we will need less fossil fuel because our productivity — what we get from each pound of fuel — will steadily and constantly grow. If we are prosperous we will need less fuel than if we are poverty-stricken.
Solution Two: Embrace nuclear power. And by this I mean fully embrace it. Use it not just for big things such as big power plants, but for medium and small applications as well such as powering cars and even artificial organs in our bodies. Embracing nuclear will open huge doors in what we can accomplish and how efficiently we can accomplish it.
Wind and solar? Invest in them when they have demonstrated their cost-benefit. Right now they are being invested in because they feel good. This means they are taking time, rescources and attention away from better solutions. Right now, in the early 2010’s, they are goat sacrificing.
Climate change is at this point being treated like many other end-of-the-world scenarios. It’s being hyped as deadly serious by gloom and doom types, and they are being listened to because the topic is deeply emotional. The solutions being offered are romantic and emotionally appealing in the “let’s get back to nature” category. They won’t fix the problem, unless you consider goat sacrificing to be a solution.
The interesting twist is that the doom-and-gloom sayers in this case are scientists, not religious types.