Friday, August 13, 2010

fifty

Climate War

Started reading the Climate War after seeing Eric Pooley interview a few Environmental Defense Fund senior staff at an event recently, and he signed a book for me. After recently starting a job in the climate science world, I thought a book that covers the recent history of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be very useful. It absolutely was - there's been scientific consensus for decades that we're making the planet warmer, but scientists don't make policy. Therefore the main difficulty with responding to a natural problem like this is that scientists, and those who think science should trump regional factionalism, have to convince supporters of the fossil fuel industry and regional factionalists to fix a long-term problem. This is very difficult, I can now say from personal experience.

However, there has been a great deal of progress in convincing the world that there's a problem, we need to deal with it, and we can. There's also been some progress in starting to move on solving that problem. There is so much more that needs to be done in order to head off a self-sustaining warming reaction that will dramatically alter our world and more importantly to the human race: our existence. The more the ice caps melt into the sea, the less light is bounced back into space and the more is absorbed into a warming ocean. Which makes other things warmer. The more CO2 there is in the air, the more makes it into the water, which causes the salt water to acidify, which kills phytoplankton, the things that eat phytoplankton, coral, etc. The warmer it is, the more moisture gets moved around, so in certain places, there are record droughts, and in others, there are record rainstorms, floods, and blizzards. Species experience extinction more frequently, mosquitoes can survive winters longer in more temperate clients (and can bring dengue fever to the U.S., let's say). Not to mention the pollution brought by burning all the fossil fuels we can get our hands on as fast as we can. As a friend once told me - when it comes down to it, we're burning stuff to make turbines spin. It's messy.

We can start to turn down the knob on this process by using less fuel, creating cleaner energy, creating markets that have incentives to develop clean energy technology, and saving the carbon that exists in forests from being clear cut for little economic and social benefit. If someone can convince me that the free market will do this on its own - if the invisible hand can manage externalities - then awesome, we don't need government. Unfortunately, we haven't seen a largely unregulated energy industry clean itself up, and no one's convinced me that it'll manage to do so without government, so for our own sakes, bring on the regulation. The globe will be fine no matter what, and most species will be fine, but we'll be looking at a much different world in 100 years than the one we know. And it'll be super duper sweaty.

Now all we need is 60 Senators to realize we're cooking ourselves beyond any ability to forestall massive effects on the world we know...

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