Do you believe in climate chaos?
As suggested in earlier columns, the climate has always changed, so belief may not be as important as understanding. I prefer the term climate chaos, which points to extremes of weather, which we notice directly.
There is a lot of science pointing to carbon dioxide levels, and records high temperatures, but humans have been keeping records for such a short time relative to geologic and planetary time scales, that it is hard to know if we have statistically significant data streams. Nor do we understand all the interacting feedback loops.
There are many practical people who now suggest that it may not be wise to spend any more resources on additional climate science. The reason being that those who are already convinced that climate chaos is upon us will not be further convinced by more data. Those who are not convinced, will probably not be swayed by additional data. They might be persuaded by extreme weather events, but even these are not totally convincing.
I recall my grandfather talking about big storms and floods and unusual droughts and blizzards, including events that he heard about from his grandfather. Earth has always been a place where humans have had to respond to extremes.
A practical approach is to point out that there are more humans on the planet than ever before, so even if the climate is stable, the impacts of extreme weather will be more severe, and if resources are going to be spent, it is best to spend them on strategies of adaptation.
Many environmental advocates believe that this is the wrong approach, that we must reduce carbon emissions and try to reverse the prospect of chaotic climatic changes. But it is hard to image that happening. Now that the U.S. is energy independent for oil, exporting natural gas, and gasoline should stabilize around $2.50 to $3.00 a gallon in the near future, truckers and travelers are not going to set aside their rigs and cars for bicycles.
Nor are the developing world economies going to halt their growth for environmental benefits that are many years down the road. Some of the highly industrial nations, such as the U.S., Canada, Russia, and parts of northern Europe actually stand to benefit from the melting of Arctic sea ice, which will open up northern shipping lanes and expand the physical borders of Canada and Alaska.
There is more than speculation that the arctic is home to more oil and natural gas than the Middle East. Some estimates put the arctic reserves as high as five times all the current known reserves on Earth. Some of the arctic territory is unclaimed, and Russia, Norway, Canada, and U.S. are already making strategic moves to claim this territory when the ice melts.
The bottom line is that a changing, chaotic climate is not bad for everyone, and it turns out that many of the nations that emit the most greenhouse gases will benefit most from the changing, chaotic climate.
Because the incentives are not strong enough to reduce emissions in a way that can somehow reverse the effects of the industrial revolution, there isn’t much point in piling on with more science. It makes more sense to put money and effort into adaptive strategies.
In future columns, I will look at what nations, corporations, and small businesses are doing. The fact is, a changing, chaotic climate is one of the biggest job creators in the world economy. ❖