(1) Global warming due to human production of greenhouse gases will significantly change the climate of the planet by the end of this century.
(2) Mankind is doing very little to stop this from happening. Efforts so far to reduce the growth of greenhouse gases have been ineffective and we are about to conduct a profound experiment--but in this case it won't be in a laboratory, it will be in the environment we are dependent on for our survival.
The basic science between greenhouse-induced global warming is solid and been known for over a century. If you put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere you are going to warm the planet. Just like pulling more blankets over you at night will make your warmer. Both basic physics and our most sophisticated models are in agreement.
|If you think using more blankets will not warm you up, then you are ready to be a global warming denier!|
Unfortunately, this global warming business has become politicized. Sometimes I think Al Gore did far more harm than good; if he had never injected the issue into the political arena, might we be in a better place now? Hard to know. And too many people have confused what HAS happened to what WILL happen. Global warming up to now has been relatively subtle and roughly of the same magnitude as natural climate variations. The big action is YET to come, particularly in the later half of this century. Politicians and a few activist scientists that exaggerated the effects of greenhouse-induced warming on recent climate/weather events have often done far more harm than good by reducing the credibility of the real threat later in this century.
Not Doing Much to Stop It
Virtually every measure of greenhouse gas concentrations shows an uninterrupted, if not accelerating, rise. Here is the plot for CO2 from the Mauna Loa Observator--just a steady increase--no hint we are doing much to slow it down.
|Worldwide Carbon Usage: It is Rapidly Rising|
And the recent nuclear disaster at Fukashima has crippled the nuclear industry, with many nations turning away from nuclear power--the only real hope for producing massive amounts of energy without causing greenhouse warming.
Finally, to make a real difference in pulling back from major warming, we cannot simply stop increasing our rate of burning fossil fuels, but we need to bring it down to roughly 10% of CURRENT levels. This is not happening.
Bottom line: a wish I could say otherwise, but I think we are committed to major global warming and that nothing is going to stop it, unless we develop revolutionary technical advances or apply absolutely draconian steps to reduce carbon use? Has mankind ever committed themselves to costly and disruptive restrictions based on a forecast?
What Should We Do?
First, we need to find technological fixes that will allow us to deal with the problems without unpleasant sacrifices. Number one would be large investments in science and technology to produce less expensive, competitively price, renewable energy; to better store energy; to produce energy from fusion or to greatly improve fission reactors; or to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere in a cost effective way. We got ourselves into this mess with technology...I think we need technology to get us out. I repeat, technology that will not demand sacrifices. Don't get me wrong--we need to push wind and solar energy, energy efficiency, etc for many reasons (including health and national security)--but they are not going to solve the problem by themselves, particularly if they are not economically advantageous.
Second, we must prepare ourselves to adapt to a significantly different climate and planet. To do so, we first need to improve our understanding of the climate system to get a better idea of what will occur (good for my business!). Then we must progressively make the changes that will allow mankind to tolerate the new climatic regime. Some examples:
Here in the Pacific Northwest, where precipitation will be similar to (or even a bit greater than) today but snowpack will decline from warming, we will need to build more reservoirs to hold the winter rainfall. Perhaps these can be built in eastern Washington using Columbia River Water. Drought-resistant crops should be developed for large areas
|Proposed Dam Sites in Eastern WA|
Third, we may need to consider geoengineering as a last resort. For example, injecting small particles into the stratosphere could produce a global haze similar to what occurs after major volcanic eruptions. The result: substantial cooling. This appears to be technically possible and not excessively expensive (tens of billions of dollars per year...less than one of our current wars). But messing with solar radiation would influence rainfall
and this would do nothing about ocean acidification, a major problem. And once we started such an injection program, we would not be able to stop, since temperatures would rise rapidly, with potentially catastrophic results.
In summary, we are about to embark on the greatest scientific experiment in our species history, and our response to it will have a large impact on the quality of life...or the existence of life...of billions. We must begin massive technological and scientific investments in solutions and should prepare our infrastructure and civilization for a very different climate.