Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Exaggerating the Effects of Climate Change

While I defer to no one about the long-term threat of climate change if CO2 emissions aren't curtailed, this is ridiculous:
"Climate change affects everything that you do," said report co-author Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina. "It affects where you live, where you work and where you play and the infrastructure that you need to do all these things. It's more than just the polar bears."
Frankly, I can't think of a single instance in my entire lifetime where I considered climate change in any of my decisions about anything. Anything.

Granted, I now live in Oregon, which has a two-season mild (and boring) climate which escaped last year's big eastern heat wave. And someday the declining snowpack here will be a problem. But I've lived in Arizona, where it once got so hot (122°F) they closed the airport because they didn't have charts on the performance of planes above 120. I've lived in New Mexico, where it got hot but, frankly, my bigger problem was riding my bike to school in the early 20°F mornings in their dry, cold air. I've lived in New Hampshire, where I put a crack in windshield trying to hack off a thick inch of ice, and once had to shovel out four 3-ft snowfalls in the month of March.

But it was New Hampshire. I certainly didn't blame it on climate change, and actually I kind of liked all that snow.

If you're not a well-to-do American, a relatively impoverished person living near the equator in a developing country, climate change can already be a problem. And it's going to be a problem for everyone if CO2 emissions keep increasing exponentially, as they are.

But it's just not a problem now, in the United States, for most people. It just isn't. Maybe if you're a midwestern farmer affected by the drought -- but then, you get compensated handily for it. It costs the country a little bit, less than what falls in between our couch cushions. It might have cost some people a little extra for Hurricane Sandy, maybe 10%, but there have been big storms up the east coast in the past and will be more in the future, even if the climate change doesn't change.

It's going to be a big problem, and how do you get people interested in what's to come? I don't know, but if they're too dumb to understand (or accept) the science, they'll pay for their stupidity, as will those who come after them. But it's not now a big problem, certainly not to the extent of Cutter's quote above, and exaggerating does more harm than it helps.

To my mind, one exaggeration like that can undo all the good, thousands of hours of work by all the scientists who carefully and meticulously write assessment reports and try to accurately portray the science. Which is really a shame.


Dano said...

David, unless I'm missing something, the pullquote had zero mention of MMCC as a consideration. The point was "effect", not "conscious behavior"



Vinny Burgoo said...

Juan Cole bollocks:

'The destabilization of Mali and southern Algeria is a complex political and social process that does not have only one cause. But a changing ecology forced by climate change is a major contributor to the region’s problems.'