I had a new piece in The Globe and Mail this Saturday, regarding a recent paper by NASA’s Dr James Hansen. Synopsis: he says the IPCC has waaay underestimated how much the oceans could rise this century (they say somewhere between 18 and 59 centimetres) because they failed to take into account the severity of certain “positive feedback effects.” He says the ice caps, once they start to melt, will melt faster and faster as the century progresses, and oceans could rise up to 25 metres in the process. Scary shit.
(I snapped this photo of Greenland myself on a flight from London to Toronto in Feb 2006. I realize now just how lucky I was to see it – not only because it’s rare that the skies are clear enough to make it out, but also because it won’t be like this forever.)
Not all scientists who study the polar ice caps agree with Hansen. The problem is that the global climate is such a maddeningly complex machine, with so many potential positive feedback effects (like reduced albedo – less sun and ice to reflect sunlight) and potential negative feedback effects (like increased forest growth due to warmer temperatures, which would soak up more CO2 from the atmosphere), it’s freakishly impossible to predict exactly what is going to happen.
But we do know this: it’s going to be fucked. Really really fucked.
We can’t “prove” if the massive forest fires in Greece, the flooding in the UK, the increased strength (if they are increasing in strength) of hurricanes, the droughts (and the warfare spawned by competition for water) in Darfur, or the droughts in Australia are linked to climate change. Making a link between long-term climate trends and particular events is not easy (if at all possible).
But nonetheless, every single competent climate scientist will tell you that without a doubt we are going to see sea level rise by some amount, global water shortages, mass famines, an increase in the severity of storms, and serious economic messiness. It is not going to be pretty, no matter what way you cut it.
In the process of writing my piece for The Globe, I asked Dr. Andrew Weaver this question:
“I’m 25, and based on everything I’ve learned about climate change, I’ve come to this conclusion: No matter what happens – even if the seas don’t rise by 25 metres – the world is most certainly not going to be as easy a place to live in 10, 25, 40 years time. I’m thinking, instead of putting all my money (and all my time into making that money) in one basket and buying property, I should forget about saving and just take it year by year. What’s the point in buying a house if it’s going to end up under water – or if the economy becomes totally screwed and all my assets become worthless anyways?”
“I’m afraid I’d have to say you’re not wrong. Twenty five years ago I would have told you differently – but based on how the future looks, I’d say it would not be worth your time to buy property. Put your money into traveling the world now, because it is going to look very different in the future.”
So there you have it, from one of the world’s top climate scientists.
I gave up hope long ago that we would be able to stop ourselves from destroying the planet. I think we’re screwed.
However, that doesn’t for a second mean that we should shrug our shoulders, sit back and play our violins while the forests burn. I think we’re screwed – but we no excuse for not trying to stave off disaster while we can. And we still can – we just need to do everything we possibly can as quickly as we possibly can. We certainly won’t be able to stop the world from changing – it’s definitely too late for that. But we just might be able to ensure that the planet is at least livable in a century’s time.