(with the possibility of rapid 15-20 foot SLR out there)
David Suzuki aptly calls the corner we’ve painted ourselves into “the climate crunch”.
Why a “crunch”?
Had we heeded early warnings and had political representatives done more than talk, we likely could have addressed the problem with minimal societal disruption. But the industry-funded denial machine, which continues today, has been effective. Concern about climate change and other environmental issues has diminished as the problems have intensified. Politicians continue to think in terms of brief election cycles, focusing on short-term gains from exploiting fossil fuels rather than long-term benefits of conserving energy and shifting to cleaner sources.
Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and carbon sinks like forests and wetlands are still being destroyed. Even if we stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow, we’ve emitted so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that we wouldn’t be able to avert worsening of the consequences already happening. But we still have time — albeit very little — to ensure the problem doesn’t become catastrophic. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is conservative in its estimates, gives us about 12 years to take decisive action.
The thing is, circumstances are so bad now that fixing this will take large, industrial scale measures, and be triply costly, (a) to make a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, (b) adapt to the impacts that are ever increasing and weren’t anticipated to come this quickly, and (c) to remove Carbon Dioxide from the climate system so to limit further deterioration.
Even those who accept the science and the urgency are, in my opinion, pursuing pipe dreams. Some think we can jettison capitalism and solve this. Some think we need to make environmental justice our primary constraint. Some think we can solve this by pursuing marketplace measures for solar energy (which includes wind). Some think we can protect all ecosystems while rolling out the measures we need to take to fix the situation.
It’s too late.
We need to do this fast. We don’t have a lot of time. The kind of future I see is one where the world as an economy does Carbon Dioxide removal as the central economic activity, akin to building the tombs of pharaohs was for ancient Egypt. Corporations can and must exist because, frankly, we don’t have the centuries or decades available to create an alternative structure. Government planning doesn’t work. (Look at the administrative nightmares that are the U.S. EPA or the Army Corps of Engineers as described in Mary Christina Wood’s Nature’s Trust.) We need global scale engineering and technical skills. We need capital.
Quick take from Professor Richard Alley:
Full interview with Professor Alley: