In an op-ed in today’s Washington Post, Emily Yoffe asks an interesting question:
All this is not to say that it’s not getting warmer and that curbing our profligate environmental ways is not a commendable and necessary goal. But perhaps this movement is sowing the seeds of its own destruction — even as it believes the human species has sown its own. There must be a limit to how many calamitous films, books and television shows we, and our children, can absorb.
It doesn’t seem sustainable to expect people to remain terrified by such a disinterested, often benign — it was so nice eating out on the patio! — and even unpredictable enemy.
The article goes on to say:
There is so much hubris in the certainty about the models of the future that I’m oddly reassured. We’ve seen how hubristic predictions about complicated, unpredictable events have a way of bringing the predictors low.
It’s also hard to believe assertions that the science on the future of our climate is settled when climate scientists can’t agree about the present — or the past (there is contention about the dates, causes and even the existence of the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age that followed). Now, Gore and others say that Katrina was a product of global warming and that we can expect more and bigger storms. But there is actually brisk scientific debate over the role global warming plays — if any — in the creation of hurricanes.
It is important to recognize that this statement misrepresents the state of science on climate change. While there is indeed scientific debate over many aspects of the science of climate change, there is no debate that dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is going to warm the planet. The only question is how much will it warm.
Based on all of the data we have, there is a strong agreement in the scientific community that the global average temperature will rise a few degrees Celsius over the next century if we do nothing to reduce emissions. Uncertainty on other issues, like the effects of global warming on hurricanes, does nothing to reduce the considerable certainty in our predictions of future warming.
Finally, I find it odd that the author takes reassurance in the fact that the models predict serious temperature increases. Not only does this assume that the models are wrong, but it assumes that the models are wrong in a specific direction: that they overestimate climate change. While the models might be wrong (but I wouldn’t bet on it), uncertainty cuts both ways. Things could be far worse just as easily as they could be better. This does not reassure me.