I'll never underestimate the power of internet cat videos again!

I bet you didn’t know you believed that.

If you believe in climate change, then presumably you believe what scientists tell us about it. That means you believe the United Nations when they tell us the world will be 5°C hotter (~9°F) than pre-industrial levels by 2050. This temperature increase is more than enough for the oceans to swallow our cities, stop all food from growing, and doom to extinction every species short of the cockroach. For all intents and purposes, climate change is a meteor that lands in 2050…it’s the end of human civilization.

And it’s 37 years away.

I bet you didn’t know you believed that.


Your first reaction will be to reject this information as false or exaggerated, but this forecast is roughly consistent with projections from the International Energy Agency and various departments of the US government. Your brain will fight it, even with the numbers on the page staring back at you, because the collapse of civilization is simply beyond human comprehension. To really internalize this information means you would need to accept things like:

  • You are among the last people that will ever walk the Earth
  • Your children won’t survive to middle age
  • All of the beauty, culture, and scientific discoveries we’ve unlocked will return to the ether from whence they came.

Forgive my French, but that is some heavy shit. Yet our ability to understand and feel threatened by this information is hindered by the fact that things don’t seem that bad right now. Sure things feel a little “off”, but how can we be so close to oblivion when life is (generally speaking) so good, modern and happy?

Exponential growth functions take on this “hockey stick” shape, where very little change happens for a long time before it really takes off. This graph is generic, but its pattern can be seen in all kinds of things like:Energy Use
Atmospheric C02
Computer Speed
US Federal Debt

The answer is exponentials. Climate change does not follow a linear path (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc…), it follow an exponential path (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc…). Global temperature is increasing exponentially, fueled by humanity’s exponential rise in energy use, population, and economic growth. As you can see from the chart, exponential functions look like a hockey stick: they stay low for a long time, and then rise very suddenly and rapidly once they turn the corner. Everyone has some experience with exponential growth in their daily lives…any bank account with compounded interest will follow this curve, and exponentials are the reason that sickness spreads so rapidly through your child’s school.

Yet humans aren’t wired to understand exponential growth. We just aren’t. We’re wired to think linearly…we age one year at a time, we eat one meal at a time, and every day has precisely one sunrise and one sunset. We evolved this way because most of the time it serves us well to assume that tomorrow is going to be a lot like yesterday.

To get your mind around this, let’s do a short thought experiment. Click to watch the video below, which should help personalize the concept of exponential growth (all at the expense of the Yankees, which makes it entertaining).


If that thought experiment had the same effect on you as it did on me when I first saw it, then “welcome to my world”, as the saying goes. You’re starting to understand why I felt compelled to quit my job and reorganize my entire life to start working on this problem.

We are 37 years away from the end. That means climate change isn’t a problem for our children or grandchildren, it’s a problem for us. It’s you and I that are going to have our natural lives cut short, you and I that will bear witness to the collapse of human civilization. Fighting climate change isn’t so the hippies can save the polar bears, or so the scientists can save the Arctic ice. It’s a battle for all of humanity to save itself.

With this unthinkable scenario looming over us, we can view the future in a rather binary way. On one hand, if we do nothing on climate change (or even too little), humanity will be destroyed. We will be actors in final scene of the saddest story ever told: a species full of promise and beauty that destroys itself through its own hubris.

On the other hand, if we decide to meet the challenges of climate change head on, we will rapidly transform the world with new systems for energy, economics, and governance. We are instead actors in the greatest story ever told: a species on the brink that pulls together to save itself from oblivion, surviving to achieve its full potential out amongst the stars. The odds are long, but we all love an underdog…so I remain excited and optimistic about the future, and I hope you’ll join me in writing this story.


58 thoughts on “I bet you didn’t know you believed that.”

  1. Dude seriously. This is one big claim after another. Big claims need big proof.

    1. “This temperature increase is more than enough for the oceans to swallow our cities, stop all food from growing, and doom to extinction every species short of the cockroach. For all intents and purposes”

    – This has the strong hint of BS.

    2. “Yet humans aren’t wired to understand exponential growth.”

    – Says who? The Flying Spaghetti Monster? What does it even mean that humans don’t understand exponential growth? BS alert.
    I will wager you $1,000 dollars here and now that the world doesn’t end in 37 years. Whether it’s aliens, mayans, y2k, over population etc, the chicken littles have so far always been wrong. Why are you joining this cult of doommongering.

    1. Hi Gareth! I’m wondering what kind of proof you’d like or what kind you’d find compelling. I’ve linked studies from the United Nations and the International Energy agency. The temperature rises forecasted in those studies are absolutely consistent with the effects I listed. Species extinction is ballparked at 50-70% worldwide, global food production drops about 10% for every °C rise in temperature. Ocean acidification will kill off ocean plankton that provides the oxygen that we breath. I encourage you to look all these things up.

      The “hint of BS” may come from the colorful language I chose, but you can’t call bullshit on the facts of the case from your gut feeling alone. I know this stuff is awful to hear and I’m sorry to be the one to bring it to you, I hate being a downer. I’m just being honest with what I know.

      Your second point is valid, it may be that some people are better wired to understand exponentials than others. What I guess I was getting at is that we don’t encounter those growth patterns very much in our daily lives, so we don’t end up thinking that way, we end up thinking linearly.

      I like to gamble, but your bet seems like a lose-lose to me…either we’re dead, or I’m out $1000 bucks. 🙂 We could wager instead on whether the Keystone pipeline gets approved (I’ll give you 3:2 odds it gets cancelled), or whether the drought we’re having (that currently blankets ~60% of the United States) will end this year.

    2. P.S. – I still want to give you the climate talk, if you’ll have me. 🙂 What’s your work schedule like these days?

    3. It’s more than a “hint of BS”. It’s a big steaming pile of cherrypicked numbers, exaggerated conclusions, and self-serving far-left nonsense masquerading as science.

      Who wrote this crap, Michael Mann?

      1. Yeah, because that guy doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about. I heard he can’t have an orgasm unless he strangles a puppy.

  2. Hi Eric,

    I’ve got doubts about the 5C claim and I wonder why you use UNEP and not IPCC.

    For a start, forward estimates of temperature are usually given as a range, not as a single number. This is because the sensitivity of temperature to greenhouse gases has been narrowed down to the 2.5-4.0C range, with 3C accepted as the most likely figure.

    I can see that you’re trying to simplify, and a single number is simpler than a range but it shoots your credibility.

    There is a detailed discussion of IPCC temperature predictions here – http://www.skepticalscience.com/ipcc-overestimate-global-warming.htm

    The graph from the 2007 IPCC AR4 report seems to indicate that by 2050 temperatures will be between 0.8C and 2.0C higher depending on assumptions. It is not until later in the century that the predictions look really scary.

    I’m totally with you on the need for urgent action and war-footing, but you need to hang the case on better data.

    1. Hi Madankerr,

      I think the reason I chose UNEP is because it was newer. Everyone has been referring to IPCC for a while now, but the 2007 estimates are 5 years old, which is a REALLY LONG TIME when you’re studying dynamic situations like this. Seemingly every new study that comes out pushes us further in the worst case scenario. This video from Guy Macpherson lays out the sequence of studies that have come out and how the outlook continues to degrade:


      And yes, the outcome of our temperature increases is uncertain and thus best represented by a range. But people don’t respond to ranges, they tune out uncertainty…so I planted a flag at 5°C, which I think is a reasonable conclusion based on the UNEP report. Could it be worse than that? Certainly…most of our climate projections don’t include positive feedback loops from melting tundra or arctic ice. Could it be better? Sure, if countries start making rapid adjustments to energy infrastructure and start keeping their promises on C02 reduction.

      I take great pains to outline that I’m not a scientist…I’m just a guy running around the internet cobbling together facts and figures to present a story. I want to work from the best facts available, and no doubt I’m going to be wrong from time to time and will need to get slapped back in to line. But I also feel like we can’t afford to shy away from the hard truths of what these numbers mean. It’s what these facts _mean_ to people rather than the facts themselves that will ultimately inspire us to act in self-defense.

      1. Hi Eric,

        Could you please link to the UNEP report? I can’t find anything on their website that has a statement like that.

        Thanks for the video link, but I can read faster than presenters speak most of the time. A 47 minute video goes to the bottom of the list of priorities.

        I am quite well informed about climate science and I’m not a denier. I am an ‘already convinced’ audience. But I simply don’t believe the 5C claim. Can you please reference the document that states it?

        A narrative that I use in presentations is to show a graph of temperature projections out to 2100, showing the full range. (That scares them a bit.) Then I talk a bit about the 2C target agreed to by most countries. (That soothes them a bit.) Then I say that even if we hold temps to 2C increase we’ll get 40% increase in extreme weather. (Got ’em scared again!) Then I talk about the things that need to be done to keep within 2C. (Then I’ve got them.)

        Eric, it’s a GREAT journey that you’re on. One of the best. I love the idea of your video interviews.

          1. OK, great! Thanks Eric. Now I’m beginning to understand the graph better. The label on the original graph says “Likely avoided temperature increase of integrated assessment models (IAM) scenarios. Bar superimposed in 2020 shows expected emissions from the pledges.”

            The top colour (magenta) labelled T>5C, shows the estimated range of temperatures in a business as usual scenario – where carbon emissions rise to 80-100Gt CO2e/year by 2050 (compared with about 40Gt in 2010).

            The next colour (dark red) shows that to constrain temperature increases to 4-5C the emissions would be between 65-75Gt.

            The next colour (bright red) shows that to constrain temperature increases to 3-4C the emissions would be between 45-55Gt. The graph shows that the median range of pledges made by govts at Cancun is in this range.

            The reasonable conclusion I would draw from this graph is that temperatures are likely to rise by 3-4C by 2050 if countries keep the pledges they have made.

            The other factor I would take into account is that it is highly likely that countries will do a lot more to cut emissions as the situation worsens. They’ll keep their pledges and then do more.

            So, I think your 5C estimate is off the mark. Nevertheless, a global temperature increase of 3-4C will be devastating. Human society will fall into chaos and there’s a real chance of runaway greenhouse effect that destroys the planet for all life, as appears to have happened on Venus.


          2. You badly misunderstood the chart. The side reads “Emission levels consistent with a likely temperature increase _in the 21st century_.” It does not say by 2050. The Christian Science Monitor article you linked made a similar mistake. No one’s going to take you seriously, Your Science Holiness, if you can’t read a chart.

    2. 2007 was a long time ago in the scientific scene… I have read recently that the predictions/models used then were too conservative…. I have read both types of scenarios…. some the same as this article and others giving up until the end of the century…. within both types of articles… it is stated that there is variability in the predictions, because of the exponential or non linear way in which the climate reacts… but why in the world would we play Russian Roulette.????

      1. Exactly right. They key is to think about the problem probabilistically, like a game of poker. What are the odds that we’re all wrong, the climate is fine, and what are the consequences of that? Odds are kind of low at this point, and the consequences are minimal (scientists look like a bunch of alarmist douchebags).

        On the other hand, what happens if we’re right, and what are the consequences of that? It’s looking rather likely that things are going to get seriously awful, and the consequences of this scenario involve unimaginable suffering for the entire human race.

        Plan for the worst, hope for the best. That’s no so unreasonable, is it?

  3. So you’re saying it’s only 37 years until you liberals are proven to be liars?

    That’s about how long it took for you liberals to be proven liars for your 1970s “New Ice Age” claim, right?

    The trouble is we know you’ll use those 37 years to push the worst kind of global socialism down our throats.

    1. Whoops. I already gave the dumbest comment of the day award to someone else, but I’ve created a 2nd trophy just for you. Congrats!

    2. “you liberals to be proven liars for your 1970s “New Ice Age” claim, right?”

      Actually, there were no 1970s “New Ice Age” claims made by any scientists.

      Smarter trolls, please.

  4. Yesterday I ate one yummy delicious cheeseburger. Today I’m eating two.

    By your own “science”, I have now proven that I will eat 16,000 cheeseburgers in one single meal — in just two weeks! I better call ahead to order.

    1. And a slightly more serious answer is, a human’s diet typically does not change in the fashion that greenhouse gas emissions have been changing (colossal increase since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution). If it does, he or she expires in short order.

    1. Ack, well, let’s hope I’m right and you’re wrong. 🙂 I’m optimistic because at some point we’ll “get it”, and humans can do pretty amazing things when we focus all of our economic might and scientific ingenuity to a problem. At that point it’s just a race to see if we can hit the brakes before we careen off the cliff entirely…but if we are able to stop short, the social, economic and governmental changes we’ll have incurred as a byproduct of that battle will leave us a species transformed…and that vision of a new society tickles the nerd in me.

      Plus, we can combat our exponential growth issues with exponentially growing awareness, thanks to the internet!

  5. Seems like you (and Guy McP even moreso) are making the implicit moral case for the PTB’s that intentional mass annihilation of the most of the human species, and soon, is the only possible preventive measure that can save the species from total extinction.

      1. What I’m taking from this is that it’s too late to do anything effective now, and our only hope is to somehow learn to live with (and/or mitigate) the consequences.
        Even the most outspoken people on this issue aren’t living carbon-neutral (except maybe by purchasing “offsets,” which are basically just indulgences for the 21st century.)

        1. It’s never too late to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We don’t have to be carbon neutral. A worldwide carbon budget of 7 tonnes per person is enough to stabilise the proportion of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

          China currently emits 7 tonnes per person, the USA emits, what?, about 20 tonnes? Bangladesh emits less than 1 tonne and they have pledged that their emissions will never be higher than the average for developing countries. Bloody good of them, especially as many wealthy countries are pledging zilch. Especially as 50 million Bangladeshis are due to be displaced when sea levels rise 1 meter. I figure that rich countries will have a moral obligation to re-house the 50 million Bangladeshis.

          1. China emits 7 tonnes per person because a lot of Chinese are still subsistance farmers with essentially zero carbon footprint. I don’t see many people in rich countries being eager to take up third-world lifestyles, even if it’s the only way to save the planet.

  6. Here’s the thing. Even if global warming weren’t an issue, society as we know it is doomed once the fossil fuels run out. Everything about how we live — from our cheap food, to our entertainment, to how we keep warm in the winter — relies on consuming massive amounts of energy. Once the fossil fuels run out, we’re back to a pre-Industrial Revolution economy.
    The reason no one has met their carbon targets is that basically means the same thing — not burning any more fossil fuels. Given the choice between destroying our modern lifestyle now, or waiting for it to be forced on us, it’s hardly surprising that people have chosen the latter. I’m as guilty as anyone. I don’t want the human race to go extinct, but I’m not exactly in a hurry to go live in an unheated hut on a subsistence farm.

    1. Hi, I can see where you’re coming from about fossil fuels. However it is entirely feasible (technically and economicaly) to run our economies on renewable energy without sacrificing lifestyle. For example, did you know that California uses HALF as much electricity per person as the USA average? And they haven’t exactly compromised their lifestyle. Germany (an industrial powerhouse in a cool climate) has similar energy efficiency as California.

      So, I’m gung ho about using the next few decades to ease a transition to better fuel efficiency and ease into renewables, so that we’re prepared for when fossil fuels run out.

      Don’t destroy your lifestyle, but do invest in better fuel efficiency in your home, and look for ways to reduce/switch from fossil fuels to renewables.

      1. That is ture madankerr. I am German and meanwhile there are only few villages left where the farmers haven’t built at least one wind wheel or solar panels on their fields and probably every fifth house has solar panels on the roof because after Fokushima our Government decided to switch off all nuclear power plants within the next 10 years and switch completely to renewable energy. Already now I can subscribe (and have done so) to an electricity provider who uses only renewable energy. What I don’t understand is why our winters over here have become colder and longer for the last 6 years or so. Shouldn’t it get warmer here too? Same in Italy, England, Scotland, even Spain. Some have seen the first snow in their lives. The British people are currently learning what winter tyres are and why they make a difference. And our last summer was rather miserable and by far not as hot as usual. Same in England. Why is that? – Julia

        1. Hello Julia, It’s good to hear your perspective because Germany has been such a leader in showing the way to transition away from fossil fuels to renewables.

          Regarding winters, there are several things in play.

          Scientists say that as the globe gets warmer we’ll experience more extreme weather events of all kinds. As the atmosphere gets warmer it holds more moisture and this means that storms (including snow storms) will be bigger, stronger and carry more moisture that is dumped as rain or snow, leading to floods and deep snow. So cold climates can expect more snow storms.

          The other thing that happens as the Arctic warms is that the air pressure difference between the Arctic and lower latitudes, measured by the Arctic Oscillation Index (AO), gets weaker. This means that the jet stream that separates colder arctic air from warmer mid-latitude air gets ‘wobbly’. Instead of having a relatively straight path (like a fast-flowing river) is gets undulations (like a slow-flowing river). When one of these undulations curves southward it brings cold arctic air to mid-latitudes like Europe. When one of the undulations curves northwards it brings warmer air into the Arctic. Sometimes the jet stream slows down and these undulations get stuck for weeks. That’s why EU is getting longer spells of cold weather.

          James Hansen says –

          “The degree to which Arctic air penetrates into middle latitudes is
          related to the AO index, which is defined by surface atmospheric
          pressure patterns. When the AO index is positive, surface pressure is
          low in the polar region. This helps the middle latitude jet stream to
          blow strongly and consistently from west to east, thus keeping cold
          Arctic air locked in the polar region. When the AO index is negative,
          there tends to be high pressure in the polar region, weaker zonal winds, and greater movement of frigid polar air into middle latitudes.”

          1. Thanks for the great explaination. That is kinda scary as hell though. Because you’ve just described everything that has happened within the last two to three years: Unusual great floodings in Germany and other European countries in summer, this winter temperatures dropped extremely, in Russia many people froze to death and we keep getting Russian winds and their cold, which is not normal either. I could meanwhile go skiing where I live, ten years ago you had to go to the Alps for it. This winter we’ve had really crazy snow storms and last summer, although it was a shitty summer, in between there are very hot days and each year we’re breaking a new high and low temperature record. Venice is drowning, they are in big trouble and have more floods than ever before. All of this is already happening. Kind of sad to see that our will to change is only a drop of water in the ocean and that it may be too late anyway. For Venice it probably is already too late.

  7. Couple things to point to here, while your happy medium (izzat the same as a contented psychic?) of 5 degrees is certainly reasonable (and nature is not in the least reasonable) it’s important to note that is simply an estimated global AVERAGE, so while the equator may only go up 3 degrees the poles could (and will) jump 20. Personally I think that number is vastly understated but you are certainly free to reach your own conclusions from the data.

    Remember, at the end of the Younger Dryas 11,700 years ago, there were two warming events a few hundred years apart, one jumped 18 degrees over 60 years, then it cooled back down to glacial epoch temps again for a while, and then popped hot again and stayed warm, ushering in the current interglacial. That second round of warming occurred over 50 years but what most folks don’t realize is that 8 of those degrees happened in ONE YEAR.

    Nature leaps and it leaps fast. These dangerous positive feedback loops all have tipping points, and all 8 that I know of so far are either in process right now or are trending upward quickly, and once they cross that threshold it will whack us all hard. There are no known negative feedback loops to counter what is happening now. Personally I expect human population to fall below half a billion by 2030. I have no doubt that I will likely be among those gone.

    Some of those tipping points that are noteworthy are:

    1) the fact that eHux is now missing from over 40 percent of it’s natural range. Ehux is significant because: A) they are the primary carbon pump-down processors for the oceans, B) they are the basis for nearly all food chains, C) they are the primary producers of free atmospheric oxygen, and D) their outgassing of dimethyl sulfide becomes the primary condensate source for 80 percent of oceanic cloud formation, which profoundly affects planetary albedo. —> Positive feedback escalating unchecked

    2) a significant portion of the Gulf Stream has split off from the primary current and is now running up the Fram Strait, dumping very warm tropical water onto the underside of the polar ice, increasing the rate of melt from the underside and accelerating the loss of sea ice, as well as increasing the rate of destabilization of glaciers on land that are being held back by the sea ice. —> Positive feedback escalating unchecked

    3) another side effect of the Gulf Stream is that the deep sea water in the polar seas begins to warm at a much deeper level than previously, which destabilizes the methane clathrates at or below 3,000 meters. This past summer at least 4 teams took CO2 readings of 400 ppm and identified at least 8 separate ocean plumes of methane a kilometer or more in diameter. Current hypothesis is the CO2 levels are a result of the decay of some of that new methane. —> Positive feedback escalating unchecked

    4) those are all troubling enough but the one that scares me most is the effect of latent heat in relation to ice melt and temp increases. We will get some bumps and hiccups along the way over the next few years but the second that polar ice is gone, we are likely to see enormous temp increases. And they are saying it’s very likely the Arctic sea ice will be completely gone by 2017. Another contributing factor to this is that global dimming is masking aproximately 2 degrees of warming that has already occurred. Combine those two – the ice goes out and something disrupts the oil supply so planes, cars, trains, boats and factories all shut down and we are very likely to see an 8 degree jump over the course of one summer. —> Positive feedback escalating unchecked

    And the reality is that all these denier asshats are just trolling. They are both ignorant and stupid and the sooner they get deselected the better it will be for the rest of us. They will not be convinced and you should quit trying. Even when something unthinkable happens, say a city like Chicago gets summer temps of 145 for 3 weeks in a row and the power fails and we lose half a million people to heat stroke in 3 days, those deniers will be saying it’s just a fluke.

    The science is real, and anyone with a modicum of intelligence can learn what it is and understand it. If you don’t learn the science then you are choosing to remain willfully ignorant, and to me, that is utterly contemptible. There is no controversy about global heating. There are simply 3 groups: 160 governments and 97 percent of thousands of scientists in dozens of disciplines around the world who understand more or less what is happening and are in general agreement about it; the paid flacks owned by the Heartland Institute, the Koch brothers and Exxon-Mobil who are exceptional liars trained to sow confusion; and those who lack sufficient basic scientific education to be able to distinguish between the previous two groups.

    While we do not know this for certain, the data is extremely compelling and appears to be warning us that we may be facing our own extinction. If this is true and we can intervene and lessen that likelihood and you idiots laugh and point and make fun without doing your level best to see if it’s true or taking steps to mitigate that possibility, then you deserve every second of a very miserable end. Unfortunately you will take your families along with you, so once again the many innocent suffer at the hands of the ignorant and arrogant few.

    1. You are somewhat optimist…I don’t think a massive heat wave that kills half a million people in three days will result in deniers folding their arms and holding their breaths. They will be stoning witches and lighting bonfires for blasphemers.

      1. Well maybe, but remember, 70,000 died in the 2003 European heat wave and nearly 60,000 died in the Russian heat wave in 2010 and nobody batted an eye about it. These are going to start becoming even more common. And then there’s just plain old heat and rainfall records. Here’s one from Texas in 2011. Do you think for ten seconds deniers will recognize this as the beginning of a trend or will they just blow it off as an anomaly?


    2. Hi Thom, I am the blogger for “Climate Change: The Next Generation,” and I would be very grateful if you could provide me with links to your sources for points 1-3. email at apaixonada . por . rio at gmail etc

      Thanks much!


  8. The UNEP figure doesn’t say anything about likely temperatures in 2050. According to the legend, the graph depicts likely temperature increases for the entire century given different emissions scenarios. So we might have an extra 50 years before doomsday!

    Plus, I’m not sure the hyperbole is really helpful here. Ocean levels are going to lag behind temperature increases, perhaps by several centuries or more. And stating that all food (i.e. all plant life) will stop growing if global temps were 5 degrees warmer seems like you are asking for people to dismiss you as a crackpot. Of course it only takes small declines in productivity to cause major problems when there are 7+ billion people.

    1. This is my favorite comment of all, because it turns my brain to tapioca trying to figure out what’s going on.

  9. Others have been rather more ad hominem about this, but I’ll try to state it in more objective terms.

    At this point, it’s impossible to distinguish the global temperature vs. time curve between an exponential trend and a logistic one:


    If humans are bad at perceiving exponential trends before they happen, we’re even worse at extrapolating. Keep that in mind when you make your predictions. Jumping to the exponential conclusion undermines your argument even when your thesis is likely a valid one.

    That’s not to say that even a logistic trend won’t make the planet, or most of it anyway, uninhabitable for humans, or at least unable to support the kind of civilization we’re used to. It’s going to suck, big time. And the last thing we should be doing is ignoring the trend, regardless of whether it turns out to be exponential or logistic.

  10. I don’t know. If this is true, it seems to me like Pres. Obama would be a lot more adamant about America switching to alternative energies. He’d be issuing executive degrees left and right trying to prevent this environmental disaster from occurring. He wouldn’t ask but he’d demand that Congress do more to protect the environment. Unless, Pres. Obama has doubts about the world ending in 37 yrs. If a climate change believing president like Obama has doubts,how could I not?

    1. It’s a fair question. Plenty of people believe in climate change, all over the planet…they know what it is and that it’s got serious consequences waiting in the wings. But at the end of the day, for one reason or another, those people just shrug and go about their everyday lives. And to me that’s what Obama’s done on climate change so far…he’s made some token efforts, but he hasn’t gone to bat for it or really even made an impassioned case for action to the American people.

      My thoughts for why people shrug and move on is that while they understand what climate change is, they haven’t considered what it MEANS. It’s one thing to say that the world is going to be 5 degrees hotter by such and such a date. It’s quite another thing to say that billions of people are going to die from mass starvation, wars and natural disasters. Humans respond much better to storytelling and scenarios than they do to cold fact (especially when those facts aren’t yet confirmed in obvious ways in their everyday lives).

  11. One thing that sometimes bothers me about climate change discussion is the conclusion “and therefore humanity will become extinct”.
    This seems highly unlikely. I’m quite convinced by climate science; temperatures are rising catastrophically and we can quibble about the details but this will result in many truly terrible things happening. Chances are good that many currently hot places will become unlivable, the oceans will continue to acidify and undergo lotsa mass extinctions and as a side effect there won’t be much to fish from them, lots and lots of arable land will cease to be arable, or in some cases cease to be land, and so on and so forth.

    The result certainly will be war, famine, pestilence and death. Human numbers will certainly drop precipitously, and I and my own children could well be among the casualties. We really, really do not want this to happen. But extinction? Give me a break. This does not follow. As long as there’s a few living things on the globe, humans are likely to be the apex predator eating whatever those things are. We’re omnivores, so we’ll eat whatever’s going. We’re very flexible in terms of the temperatures we can survive at. And we’ve got that intelligence, tool use and whatnot; no other predator is going to outcompete us. People will find ways to keep going, if perhaps in much straitened circumstances. The question is more, will the population be knocked back to 5 billion or 1 billion or 100 million or what?

    Even serious loss of technology is very likely to be quite temporary; we have such massive, redundant information storage that being knocked back to medieval levels, say, is not plausible, at least not for long.

    1. Perhaps you are forgetting all the nuclear reactors that require a complex sophisticated system to prevent them from meltdown.

      1. oh come on, meltdown even isn’t going to be a huge deal. Look at the success of wildlife *inside Chernobyl evacuation zone.* When we are already talking about severely depleted human condition where life once again is brutish nasty and short, the mutant load gathered in 20 year or heck, 15 year generation isn’t going to be that bad, even *right on top of* the meltdown site, and within a few decades of the disaster. Go a little further away, and even fewer problems. Nuclear reactors, or even any of our toxic sites, are not going to tip us into an “extinction level” event. The Toba catastrophe got human numbers down to only about 10k on the entire planet 70k years ago. Nuclear disasters are not going to push us to extinction, by a long shot.

        Purplelibraryguy finds it difficult to believe we’ll even be knocked down to middle age levels of civilization… hmmm, maybe, maybe not, but *extinction*? Give me a break.

        1. Right. Meltdown is very serious if you live downwind of a reactor and within a hundred miles or so. It’s also very serious if you have land near the reactor you ever want to use for anything again. But it’s not going to drive anyone to extinction. (Keep in mind we detonated lots of nuclear bombs in the atmosphere *intentionally*, and we’re still around, albeit with slightly higher cancer rates in some places.)
          A extinction-level event would have to be something more like an all-out nuclear war.

  12. Not sure I can agree with this … I mean, certainly an increase of 5 degrees in the next 37 years would severely hamper our modern way of life, and cause global changes to our climate, ecosystem, lifestyles, population, homes, health, etc., in ways that we find unimaginable, untenable, and morally unacceptable, but extinction? Literal apocalypse? Not so sure about that one.

  13. Enjoyed the post and the comments.

    David Suzuki has his own version of the exponential growth analogy. He uses bacteria in a test tube. Follow this link (http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=10-P13-00051&segmentID=6) if you want hear a Living On Earth interview where he explains it (at minute 8:25). He also points out that if we employed the greatest of technologies to quadruple our environment’s capacity (making the stadium four times as big, for example) we would simply be just buying ourselves another 4 minutes. I think it can be debated whether some of us have the individual capacity to comprehend exponential growth, but I am certain that our current institutions do not function in a way to address exponential growth. In the best of circumstances we can build a bigger stadium or more test tubes, but we seem incapable to make meaningful change far enough in advance to deal with exponential growth before it is too late. The exponential growth challenge does not demand that we act exponentially faster; it demands us to take preventative and precautionary actions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *