Friday, 1 November 2013

What are we going to do now, Mr Milligan?

The initial source material and reporting of the presentation was described earlier, but now it's going more mainstream, I suppose it's time to consider: .

Picked up also at Skeptical science weekly round-up.

The appeal, of course, is that a scientist, Brad Werner, had the nerve to stand up in front of peers on the back of a presentation entitled 'Is Earth F***ked?

And then answered the question. His answer was 'more or less'.

I spent some considerable time researching Climate Science before, during and after the IPCC AR4, the ICARP conference on the Cryopshere, and the Stern Report, a few years back now. At the time, the discussions were about the same as they are now, a few years down the line, but there are changes.

Read Ostberg et al, Mora et al, even Tol, or the Norwegian Met office report highlighted this week on RC (here). Read the AR5, insofar as it has yet been completed. There's almost immeasurably large amounts of really quite bad news, about oceans, global warming, sustainability budgets, water, heck, practically everything you might want to consider when looking at the Big Picture points inexorably towards Werner's conclusion.

For 20 years (arguably longer) every government and major financial institution and source of power (the large corporates, etc), has know the path we were walking down. We've all known it, though some step aside and disavow. And the heartbreak is that absolutely nothing of significance has changed. This is not because there has been a lack of effort - lots of people in lots of arenas and disciplines, even some governments, have tried to walk the narrow path of responsibility for stewardship. But these efforts have been overtaken by the relatively rapid growth in the global economy from the opening of new resource and market opportunities, amongst other things.

So, let's presume that, for the sake of argument, Earth is, more or less, F***ked. Whatever we decide collectively to do from now onwards will make some difference, and some important decisions on the larger scale will make a substantial difference, but in spite of this, in the next 100 years the world will change. (yes, this is a truism, but...)

If this is the case, then the BIG Question now, and the one which could be said to underlie all the stuff about mitigation and adaptation,  is 'What kind of World do we want to aim for?' The secondary, and no less significant questions, being: 'What are we willing to pay for it?' and 'What types of extreme nastiness are we able to tolerate, and what must we avoid regardless of other consequences?' Other fairly obvious questions spring to mind.

If you are unused to speculating on possible future human/earth scenarios, then you could do worse than read 'Earth Abides', 'The Sheep Look Up', Oryx & Crake (and the rest of the Atwood Trilogy), a range of 'cli-fi', or even George Orwell. You might rediscover Lovelock's tragic vision, or make your own up. It would be interesting to know if any of you readers come up with scenarios more positive than the ones I have imagined recently.

As things stand, whether or not global warming is the elephant in the room, the current political reality is that justifying any environmental policy or action on this basis is hard for governments to swallow right now. Maybe things will change for the better in the future (huh!). So, my first suggestion is that we look hard at the things which have an impact on global climate and environment from the point of view of the whole shebang, earth systems, and see what actions or policies can be made now, in this political environment, which would both improve the general state of the earth system and, coincidentally, help to mitigate severe adverse climate change.

Much more on this later.