FOR MANY YEARS as oil crises came and went and debates arose when we would run out of oil, how incredibly fortunate we were to be blessed with so much energy directly beneath our feet. We would run out, of course, but by then safe nuclear or fusion would be there to fill in.
HOWEVER WHEN I FIRST READ about global warming about 12 yeaars ago, the first of many internet stories in a few secondss in a few seconds I thought "we're screwed." I had read not just about the warming, but about the forces that would feed the warming. When snow or ice melted their light color would no longer reflect light back into space. Instead the darker ground would absort the light and convert it into heat. There was also the eventual melting of the tundra which would release methane. Methane would hang around for a shorter time than carbon dioxide, but was roughly 27 as bad a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. This is "positive feedback" and makes warming self-reinforcicng a concept I had learned in engineer school called thermal runaway. This was a threath of calamity.
Then there was the New York Times. The ultimate threat of global warming was an uninhabitable planet. Yet news from impecable scientific sources was burried in a small corner of page 13. I told my wife there should be a box on the front page bordered in black with news every day about the possible demise of the planet.
THE FIRST REAL MOVEMENT to deal with greathouse gasses of which I was aware was 350.org founded by Bill McGibben and some friends to bring public awareness to the problem and with the goal of limiting carbon dioxide levels to 350 parts per million, which in 2008 was considered a tripping poing that should not be passed. CO2 is well over 400 now and the United Nations working group in it's draft of its Fifth Assessment now carries a feeling of panic.
It has been assumed, based on computer models and other research that an increase in the temperature of the earth of 2°C was the highest tolerable. With a present day (April 2018) increase of over 1°C it is now thought that it may be necessary to limit the increase to 1.5°C and yet that now seems unattainable and even 2°C is unlikely. Worst case projections approach 5°C.
UNDERSTANDING OF SCIENTIFIC ASSESSMENTS by the general public is difficult. Temperature increases of a few degrees Celcius seem not all that significant. Good scientific language is to qualify projects by confidence levels. A projection that a scientist calls "highly likely" by a scientists would be called a certainty by most engineers. And extreme events are localized or far away. It seems inconcievable that this pleasant place we have known all our lives could become unliveable. And most talk is of mitigation to the point where buying a high mileage car seems like we are doing our part.
THEN THERE ARE DENYERS. When I read there comments, such as the number of times July temperatures did not reach 95°F in their backyards, it reminds me of dropping a thermometer in the Pacific Ocean, taking a reading and pronoucing "see, it's cooler than it was last year." Logic has taken a big hit.
TO BECOME TRULY FRIGHTENED I suggest clicking on the link below and reading the "Report for Policy Makers" from the Fifth UN Assessment. Or you can just read this summary:
"THE NEWS TO DATE IS BAD AND GETTING WORSE. Ice-loss from glaciers and ice sheets has continued, leading, for example, to the second straight year with an ice-free passage through Canada's Arctic islands, and accelerating rates of ice-loss from ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. Combined with thermal expansion warm water occupies more volume than cold the melting of ice sheets and glaciers around the world is contributing to rates and an ultimate extent of sea-level rise that could far outstrip those anticipated in the most recent global scientific assessment.
There is alarming evidence that important tipping points, leading to irreversible changes in major ecosystems and the planetary climate system, may already have been reached or passed. Ecosystems as diverse as the Amazon rainforest and the Arctic tundra, for example, may be approaching thresholds of dramatic change through warming and drying. Mountain glaciers are in alarming retreat and the downstream effects of reduced water supply in the driest months will have repercussions that transcend generations. Climate feedback systems and environmental cumulative effects are building across Earth systems demonstrating behaviours we cannot anticipate.
The potential for runaway greenhouse warming is real and has never been more present. The most dangerous climate changes may still be avoided if we transform our hydrocarbon based energy systems and if we initiate rational and adequately financed adaptation programmes to forestall disasters and migrations at unprecedented scales. The tools are available, but they must be applied immediately and aggressively".