Â Â Â The first reaction to news of a grievous illness is often denial.Â We donâ€™t want to face suffering, donâ€™t want to go on a regime of healing, and certainly donâ€™t want to admit our own mortality.Â Denial is also a common reaction to the global illness of climate change.Â And the means of denial are as numerous as the human imagination.Â We refuse to admit that climate change is happening, or that it is human caused, or that it will harm us that much, or that we can do anything about it, or that technology by itself wonâ€™t miraculously save us.Â In the short run these delusions allow us to avoid difficult lifestyle and political choices.Â In the long run they will kill us.
Â Â Â The biggest myth is that climate is not really happening or, if it is, is a cyclical, natural process.Â Yet, over the past 30 years, climatologists and other scientists have amassed an irrefutable array of evidence.Â What began with computer models has since been corroborated by annual measurements of global temperature and by the melting of ice sheets in Greenland, Antarctica, and elsewhere, and glaciers from Alaska to the Himalayas to Peru.Â Emotionally compelling scenes of polar bears drowning as their icy homes melt prefigure our own fate.
Â Â Â Still, this evidence would be insufficient, given climatic time-scales, without the use of proxy samples, such as tree rings and ice cores, that allow us to trace climate back thousands, and even hundreds of thousands, of years [Ice Core Proxy Methods for Tracking Climate Change].Â Yet climate change skeptics take any question about one aspect as a major blow to the entire body of evidence.Â For instance, a mathematical quibble about a single tree ring study was heralded as devastating to the theory of global warming. [Hockey Stick Slapped; Myth vs. Fact Regarding the â€œHockey Stickâ€], an astonishing example of hasty generalization based upon a questionable analysis.
Â Â Â Any conceivable refutation is grasped at by people desperate to believe that global warming isnâ€™t happening: that such changes are merely cyclical, that humans are too small to impact global climate systems (although our impacts are visible from space), that high level weather balloons havenâ€™t corroborated global warming (these measurements have now been found to be wrong [Key claim against global warming evaporates]), that melting ice shrinks so there will be little sea-level rise (conveniently ignoring ice sheets over land masses).Â Rather than a pragmatic reaction insuring against a preponderance of evidence, the onus has always been on climatologists and other scientists to prove global warming beyond a reasonable, and often unreasonable, doubt.
Another pernicious argument accepts that climate change is happening, but denies that it will be that bad, or that we have the ability to change it.
Â Â Â Most simplistic is the argument that sunshine is good and we should go ahead and enjoy the nice weather.Â This ignores such likely impacts as scorching heat and drought, unpredictable weather shifts, monster hurricanes, agriculture shortages, and disease outbreaks [Millions to go hungry, waterless: climate report].Â Not to mention the unpredictable impacts on already stressed ecosystems, on the biodiversity and biophysical systems that have nurtured humanity.Â As a result, we are doing a massive experiment on what is, as far as we know, the only spot in the universe capable of sustaining human life.
Â Â Â Still, the argument that we can live with climate change goes on in seemingly sophisticated forms.Â Writing last July in the Washington Post, economist Robert J. Samuelson argued that, â€œNo government will adopt the draconian restrictions on economic growth and personal freedom (limits on electricity usage, driving and travel) that might curb global warmingâ€Â [Global Warmingâ€™s Real Inconvenient Truth].Â Samuelson prefers to wait until a single technological fix comes along.Â This ignores the history of technological fixes, which work best when developed in accordance with actual practice.Â It also ignores the nature of global climate change, which is a problem with multiple sources, multiple dimensions, and not susceptible to a single, quick fix.Â That, in the 30 years plus since the oil crisis of the 1970s, we have not altered our basic assumptions about transportation and growth patterns shows that technology without social and political willpower is useless.
Â Â Â The fact is that we have the know-how to greatly lower global climate change emissions now, and to do so while maintaining a high quality of life.Â Of course we must somewhat alter our definition of quality to exclude enormous houses and cars, and endless long trips, and to include more local products and repairs.Â We need to work to create systematic ways of implementing the wondrous technological breakthroughs that are no doubt coming.Â Facing up to the challenge of how weâ€™ve altered our planet might end up spurring a qualitative shift in the way we approach human existence and our relationship to nature.Â Working to heal a scarred environment, we just might heal ourselves.
Ethan Goffman, Politics and Environment Correspondent:
Ethanâ€™s column, Environmental Connections, published on the 1st and 15th of every month to Gather Essentials: Politics is a discussion of environmental matters from local to global, covering transportation, smart growth, environmental justice, green buildings, climate change, energy independence and other topics.
Ethan is a writer and editor based near Washington, DC
You can find all of Ethanâ€™s Environmental Connections columns at gather.com.enviro
Keep up with Ethanâ€™s other postings and Gather activity by joining his Gather network -- just click here http://www.egoffman.gather.com/ and select the orange â€œConnectâ€ button on the left-hand side of the page
Youâ€™ll find Ethan and other Politics Correspondents, plus celebrity content and plenty of other Politics experts at Politics.gather.com