Climate Change: A Race Against Time? Or Already Too Late?

It’s clear to me, after reading the World Bank’s report on climate change, that humanity faces a serious problem. Not that I wasn’t aware of it before – I’d known about it ever since An Inconvenient Truth hit theaters. Rising sea levels flooding coastal areas, causing mass emigration, competition for resources, and ethnic conflict. Crop failures. Extreme weather events becoming commonplace. Extinction of species, collapses of entire ecosystems due to acidified oceans and drought. And all it takes is a 4 degrees Celsius change in the global average temperature – which is already occurring as we speak.

Climate change doesn’t have the Hollywood-esque scare factor of say, global nuclear war (unless you count the atrocity The Day After Tomorrow) – it’s a lot easier to get worked up about the mass extermination of humanity and subsequent collapse of civilization than droughts in far-off countries and people’s timeshares getting wiped out by hurricanes. And arguably, that makes it all the more dangerous. It’s slow and insidious, manifesting its effects over time – the generations which began the process will, in all likelihood, never live to see its full effects. People worry about the immediate future – it’s human nature to neglect long-term risks in order to attain short-term goals, especially when we’re not even fully sure what those risks entail. We see this demonstrated in the USA and other countries which refuse to place restrictions on emissions on grounds of not wanting to hurt economic productivity, or that it will drive up fuel costs, or a myriad of other reasons. Reinforced by a small army of fossil fuel industry lobbyists and spokespeople, the idea persists that climate change is a myth, a scam by scientists for unknown purposes, and even if it is real, to do anything about it is unthinkable. This may seem hard to believe in the rarified intellectual atmosphere of Princeton University, but polls, cable news channels, and the actions of governments and politicians verify this belief. (For anecdotal evidence, in my small, rural hometown, it’s quite common for people to remark how “global warming” can’t be real, as there’s snow on the ground, therefore it is not warmer anywhere else on the planet.)

It’s also clear, from reading the scientific literature provided, that it may be too late to prevent some of the change from occurring, even if we were to stop contributing carbon to the atmosphere completely. Various solutions have been suggested, ranging from the practical (cap and trade) to the fantastic (geoengineering, with the potential for creating a whole new set of problems,) but have yet to be implemented. Even actual efforts to cut emissions by participating countries have been lackluster. And the truth of the matter is, as it currently stands, restricting emissions would have a negative impact on the economy – any costs incurred would be passed on to consumers. But does that justify potentially destroying the future for generations to come?

What should be done about climate change? Can anything be done? More appropriately, will anything be done? Is it too late to fix the problem, and humanity will suffer due to its own apathy and ignorance? Or will mankind pull together at the last second in this particular drama, and seek to collectively reduce emissions in the same manner now done with nuclear weapons – with an eye towards the future? What do you think? — Reed