Conference fatigue? Maybe. You can only be told so many times that “There is precious little time to do something, to act,” as a UN co-chair said in today's NY Times, before you start to wonder how many times you've heard that already, and why nothing ever gets done.
And perhaps people are losing interest in climate change. (No, not you, you're a climate nerd, or you wouldn't be reading this blog). But what's happened since Rio 1992 is hardly worrisome; here are the numbers for warming since the last Rio Conference 20 years ago. I've put them in Fahrenheit to make them as scary as possible:
[Note: these numbers are just the 20-yr linear trend for the UAH lower troposphere measurements, times 20 years. The statistical uncertainties (at the 95% confidence level) are roughly 20%.]
So a warming of a degree F or less, a 2.6 inch rise in sea level, perhaps a small upward trend in tropical storms but not in major hurricanes (and while hurricanes can hurt those who live along coasts, they know they're going to get storms anyway, so are a few more that worrisome?).... I can't blame the public for yawning over this. A drought and heat wave here and there...but when haven't there been droughts and heat waves? (And who on the US east coat doesn't enjoy a heat wave in March??) The drought in Texas got lots of attention, but last year it only cost Texas about $7B in lost crops, or 0.6% of its GDP. John Fleck says it looks like Texas communities have made the necessary adjustments. I know for some there has been real suffering, but jeez, when in human history hasn't there been real suffering?
Meanwhile no one acts like this is a real crisis -- UN officials and scientists and book authors and the environmental gang still all fly all over the place. And talk of the climate problem has spread out to cover all kinds of other concerns, about poverty eradication and environmental justice and even (in the leaked IPCC 5th Assessment Report Zero Order Drafts) gender. Some people are using it for their own purposes.
So while the projections all look scary -- and, to be clear for all the Tom Nelsons who will selectively quote from this, I firmly believe that the long-term projections are scary enough, the ones 50 or 100 years out -- what's happening doesn't look scary, so far. (And with the worldwide economic crisis, it's no wonder people's attentions are elsewhere; losing one's job or house is a lot scarier than a couple of degrees of warming.) If we all lived based on scary projections, I wouldn't have had that dish of ice cream last night. But I did.