May 7, 2012

Clouded Vision

The latest kerfuffle in climate science involves the role played by clouds in cooling or heating the planet, with consequences for the pace of climate change induced by global warming. Deniers of global warming and its importance as an issue assert that heavier cloud covers will keep the Earth cool. The fact that just about every climate scientist disagrees means nothing to the diehard opponents of climate change. The truth is that there is no way to guess which way it will go, at least based on present modelling techniques, but so far the Earth is getting noticeably warmer. If the clouds are indeed going to save the day, they had best be getting to it.

New York Times reporter Justin Gillis discussed this and other topics with Dr. Kerry A. Emmanuel, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During the interview, Dr. Emmanuel said some things that really hit home for me. I started my climate change blog Planet Restart because I was worried about the future we are leaving to our children and grandchildren. Closer study of the issue, coupled with long and bitter experience watching the political system fail, left me feeling pretty gloomy. Then I read this from Dr. Emmanuel:
"Things could turn out to be fine — I hope they do. But there’s no evidence at all that would support an assertion that we’re not facing serious risk at this point. Is there an example from human history of a culture taking action with the intended beneficiaries being two or more generations downstream, when there’s no benefit or maybe even sacrifice to the current generation? I haven’t been able to come up with one, and I suspect we’re just not genetically programmed to worry about two generations downstream. That may be the heart of the problem."
That echoes exactly the conclusions I reached. We have a political system that excels at deferring painful choices, that specializes in doing too little too late, that defines victory as putting off the problem for another election cycle. Asking this crew of politicians to spend billions of dollars to avert a climate crisis thirty years from now is the ultimate Mission Impossible.

I wish I had better news for my grandchildren, but if the science is to be believed, we have missed our chance to avert some level of impact. The only question remaining is how bad it will get and for how long. Not much of a legacy to pass on. This will be our generation's eternal regret and shame, that we could have done something and didn't.

No comments:

Post a Comment