The Case for Climate Alarmism


    Cross-posted at Daily Kos

    There was an important piece in yesterday’s Daily Climate, “Evidence builds that scientists underplay climate impacts”.

    The story points out numerous examples in which, contrary to the right wing line that climate scientists are “alarmist”, climate change impacts are proving worse and coming quicker than most scientists have predicted:

    A decade ago scientists predicted the Arctic wouldn’t be ice-free in summer until 2100. But the extent of summer ice in the North has rapidly shrunk and today covers 70 percent of the area it did in 1979. Now some scientists think the Arctic could be naught but open water within 25 years.

    In August, a team lead by University of York researcher Chris Thomas published a study showing that plants and animals are moving to higher elevations twice as fast as predicted in response to rising temperatures. They’re migrating north three times faster than expected, they found.

    As for extinctions,[…]the real-world rates are more than double what the best computer modeling showed: While the studies, on average, warned of a 7 percent extinction rate, field observations suggested the rate was closer to 15 percent.

    In short, scientists — and I would add politicians, the media and much of the environmental community — have been too conservative in their estimates.  In trying to avoid scaring people or overstating the case, too many have understated it, and in the process, failed to rouse the world to action to prevent the awful consequences that are already beginning to come true.

    I am not writing this to place blame, but rather to make the case for us to raise the alarm now.  We are out of time, we face massive disruptions and catastrophes worldwide, and we need to get governments, businesses, institutions and individuals engaged in major efforts both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today — to avoid even greater disasters — as well as to adapt to the future shocks that now seem inevitable.  Despite a few bright spots, we have barely begun the work of redesigning, rebuilding, retraining and reorienting society to meet these looming challenges.  

    About the case for alarmism, allow me to cite a historical example.  In 1919, the US and its allies emerged as victors from World War I and President Woodrow Wilson was strenuously making the case for a League of Nations to promote and enforce peace.  He repeatedly made the “alarmist” argument that “I can predict with absolute certainty that, within another generation, there will be another world war if the nations of the world  — if the League of Nations — does not prevent it by concerted action.”

    Of the “little children — bright-eyed little boys, excited little girls,” he said: “I know that if by any chance we should not win this great fight for the League of Nations, it would mean their death warrant” as they would have to fight “that final war” in which “the very existence of civilization would be in the balance.”

    Of WWI’s weapons: they “were toys as compared with what should be used in the next war.”

    All outrageous, over the top, sensational, gratuitous stuff.  Oh, and one more thing — it all proved to be TRUE.

    Tragically, in a story you will find familiar, Wilson faced an ultraconservative Republican Congress determined to kill everything he supported, regardless of the cost to the country and the world.  And so they first gutted and then killed his proposal for the US to support the League of Nations.  The international organization that emerged was crippled without US participation — and proved completely unable to stand up to the threat of fascism represented by Germany, Japan and Italy.

    World War II came as soon, and proved at least as awful as Wilson had predicted.  Many of the kids he had mentioned in his speeches were indeed tank fodder within years.

    My point is simply this: When we have the facts behind us, we must not shrink from presenting and pushing them into the public domain even if they seem sensationalist or alarming.  The truth must prevail, even — no especially — when it is awful, shocking and disturbing.  

    We have ample evidence that climate change is not just coming, it is here, with dire consequences, from killer storms to droughts to floods to the destruction of forests and countless species.  Don’t ever shrink from broadcasting that message loudly and unapologetically, because the consequences of denying this inconvenient truth will be even worse.


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