'Irreversible' climate change does not mean 'unstoppable' climate change
Note to media: The Ghost of Climate Yet to Come says, “It’s not too late!”
We at Realclimate have been getting a lot of calls from journalists about this paper, and some of them seem to have gone all doomsday on us.
Indeed, this is the perfect paper for someone, like say, Lou Dobbs, who can go from hard-core doubt/denial to credulous hopelessness in one breath, as he did Friday (h/t ClimateScienceWatch):
Let’s assume, for right now, that there is such a thing as climate change, let’s assume it’s manmade. What indication-what evidence do we have, what reason do we have to believe that mankind can do anything significantly to reverse it because a number of people, as you know in the last two weeks, are reported that, that, this is a 1,000-year trend irrespective of what we do.
Yeah, let’s assume, for right now, there is climate change and let’s further assume it’s man-made since there’s like no factual basis for actually knowing those things. Then let’s tell the public the latest research means if there is man-made climate change, the situation is now hopeless — when in fact the latest research makes it all the more urgent to keep total emissions and concentrations as low as posisble
Seriously. This guy has his own hour TV show on a major cable network — albeit one that fired its staff covering science and environment and hired a psychic to cover climate change (OK, let’s assume, for right now, that I made up that last part).
The whole world has become Dickensian, which just happens to remind me of another Dickens story relevant to the theme that irreversible does not mean unstoppable:
“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”
Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.
“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.”
The Spirit was immovable as ever.
Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE.
“Am I that man who lay upon the bed?” he cried, upon his knees.
The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again.
“No, Spirit! Oh no, no!”
The finger still was there.
“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?”
For the first time the hand appeared to shake.
“Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.”
The kind hand trembled.
Or, as RealClimate put it less poetically:
But you have to remember that the climate changes so far, both observed and committed to, are minor compared with the business-as-usual forecast for the end of the century. It’s further emissions we need to worry about. Climate change is like a ratchet, which we wind up by releasing CO2. Once we turn the crank, there’s no easy turning back to the natural climate. But we can still decide to stop turning the crank, and the sooner the better.
Indeed, we are only committed to about 2°C total warming so far, which is a probably manageable — and even more probably, if we did keep CO2 concentrations from peaking below 450 ppm, the small amount of CO2 we are likely to be able to remove from the atmosphere this century could well take us below the danger zone.
But if we don’t reverse emissions trends soon, we will probably triple that temperature rise, most likely negating any practical strategy to undo the impacts for hundreds of years. Such is the climate change yet to come.