Archive for November, 2016

I heard a climate scientist cry today

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

Y’all are hearing climate scientists freak out. Let me give you the historical background, as seen by someone who was completely clueless until 1995.

Back in the mid-90s, scientists were elated that the public was paying attention to climate change, and had been since Jim Hansen’s talk to Congress in 1988. The public actually had confused climate change and the ozone hole; the public was not paying attention to climate change, and the ozone hole/climate change distinction wasn’t clear for most people until more than a decade later. It was on the list of concerns discussed by environmental organizations, but until Gore’s movie in 2005, climate change pretty much did not regularly make the monthly newsletters. It didn’t appear to most to be a particular environmental concern. The more important concerns seen by those reading environmental newsletters were GMOs and nuclear power. For almost a decade after that, the media continued to cover climate change as if it is valid to say on the one hand scientific consensus, on the other hand…

I can read scientist understated, and the image of the Tarot card with the man jumping out of the burning building became my picture of where climate scientists were in 1995. Scientists, like most academics, speak in understated, but it was clear they were scared. Later I read in Weart’s History of Global Warming that young scientists 3 decades earlier had begun to realize that their research wasn’t about the abstract future, but for changes that would occur in their lifetime.

Since my introduction in 1995, the scientific understanding for how bad how fast have become more pessimistic on a regular basis. Just one example: for the first several years, I read that ice sheet melt was expected to become as important to sea level rise as warmer water expanding in about 1,000 years. Instead, ice sheet melt may pass thermal expansion this century.

Additionally, the rate of greenhouse gas emissions escalated way beyond business as usual scenarios. Additionally, scientists, who come from see-a-problem-address-the-problem culture watched in horror for decades as rich nations spent too little, and spent the money disproportionately on the most expensive solutions.

Scientists don’t know how to talk apocalyptic. Those who oppose solutions do. Scientists struggle to leave caveats and understatements out of their talks when they talk to the public. But they have been communicating as loudly as they can since 1988, do more, much more, much faster, do more. We are worried about the ability of governments to function at 4°C, which we are on track to reach by the end of the century or early next.

Only they are told, don’t scare people and make sure solutions look to be available. So essentially all climatologists leave out the “we are terrified at what is likely to happen in the lifetime of people today” portion, and say something pleasant about solar and wind.

If Clinton had been elected, things would most likely be really bad by mid-century. But Clinton wasn’t elected. Now a climate denier is giving governmental power to Ebell and other deniers and lukewarmers. Things are looking to be really really really really bad by mid-century.

We needed a public discussion of solutions during the election, because the public doesn’t yet understand the issues. This is to be expected. Take a topic as complicated as totally remaking the energy system (and making changes in agriculture, land use, and etc), add in what everyone learns in elementary school and so has complete faith in although it’s wrong, add in tribal understanding about natural and science and Big Biz, and the public discussion is a mess.

Here is is a portion of the bottom line:
I read people who are most worried about A or B or C or ZZZ who have been neglecting climate change. Climate change is not the only important issue, and not the only important environmental issue. But it is way more important than we are treating it.

We need to begin to talk more seriously about climate change solutions. Most everyone is safe in assuming that their understanding of the solutions is wrong, ditto their favorite sources of information (unless you read reports from the highest levels of peer review regularly). We probably need more solutions than y’all want to embrace (this has been my personal experience time and again), and there is probably something or two or three wrong with personal favorite solutions that y’all have been ignoring (ditto the personal experience line).

We need to begin the national dialogue on solutions. We need to move it to non-tribal. This is a multi-year job. Even with Clinton, there would have been no magical ah-it’s-been-4-months-and-we-understand-all sweeping the nation.

So who wants to add more discussion of the conflicts about solutions to what you have been doing? What questions about how to proceed do y’all have? Let’s talk.

And those of you who don’t like conflict and so don’t want to get involved in bringing the conflicts out to be discussed, consider the alternatives.