Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Venus II or Eden II?

Venus II or Eden II"What can we do about climate change?" someone asked me again yesterday. Start here.

The Atlantic posted a July 10, 2017 rebuttal to Wallis-Wells' nymag.com article above I linked as "Venus II."  The U. S. Geological Survey and the University of Rochester noted in a recent study the Arctic-methane issue may not be as dire as some scientists imagined. However, what I like about Wallis-Wells' article is how it rightly notes difficulty in implementing catastrophe-avoiding social change planet-wide on the ever-shorter time scale required. It's like a huge boat trying to avoid hitting smaller boats in the fog (in this case "smaller boats" are island nations and low-lying areas). Regarding the contrast between scientists' and publics' perceptions, Wallis-Wells noted "the most credentialed and tenured in the field, few of them inclined to alarmism and many advisers to the IPCC who nevertheless criticize its conservatism — have quietly reached an apocalyptic conclusion, too: No plausible program of emissions reductions alone can prevent climate disaster."  Wallis-Wells' article continues, "Most people talk as if Miami and Bangladesh still have a chance of surviving; most of the scientists I spoke with assume we’ll lose them within the century, even if we stop burning fossil fuel in the next decade." The Atlantic didn't respond to this important argument. Additionally, I was amused by The Atlantic's rebuttal "Carbon-dioxide levels only get high enough to seriously depress brain function in indoor spaces, though he implies it will become a global problem."  With already locked-in temperature increases, are we all supposed to forever work outdoors?  
The Atlantic piece cites Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University. “The NYMag article is the climate equivalent of being told that everyone in the world’s life will end in the most grisly, worst-case possible scenario if we keep on smoking.” My response is to read it again. Wallis-Wells' article noted, "In between scientific reticence and science fiction is science itself. This article is the result of dozens of interviews and exchanges with climatologists and researchers in related fields and reflects hundreds of scientific papers on the subject of climate change. What follows is not a series of predictions of what will happen — that will be determined in large part by the much-less-certain science of human response. Instead, it is a portrait of our best understanding of where the planet is heading absent aggressive action. It is unlikely that all of these warming scenarios will be fully realized, largely because the devastation along the way will shake our complacency. But those scenarios, and not the present climate, are the baseline. In fact, they are our schedule." In short, instead of Wallis-Wells' article being like "the most grisly, worst-case possible scenario if we keep on smoking," it is more like a detailed account of a smoker on life support with the legal right to ask for and receive more cigarettes on his deathbed.

I may be a simple Oregon fisherman but I think The Atlantic has some explaining to do. 

Susan Matthews, Slate's science editor, has one of the most honest responses.