Why care about 2100?

by Milan on April 9, 2011

in Climate change, Climate science, Co-benefits, Economics, Ethics, Key pages, Renewables, Security

I know it sounds obscure and Klingon to say it, but protecting future generations from climate change is a matter of honour.

As far as scientists can tell, climate change is the most serious major threat facing people a couple of hundred years from now – worse than nuclear proliferation, worse than other environmental problems. If the icesheets really start melting, they will have major problems. How many times in history have dozens of major cities been moved?

At the same time, we have the technology now to stop climate change by abandoning fossil fuels over the span of a few decades. It will be expensive to do that, but it will bring other advantages. Fewer people will die from air pollution. We won’t need to import fuel from dangerous places or produce it in incredibly destructive ways like the oil sands.

It will probably use up a lot of land, but it seems possible that it can be made to work in a way that is fair for all of humanity, with everybody living in comfort.

We are lucky that we live in this generation – the one that will start to pay the cost of decarbonization. That is far preferable to being part of the generation when the actual warming of the planet peaks after all the lags kick in.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan April 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Why do “scientists” have the authority to say that global warming is a larger threat than “nuclear proliferation”? Scientists have no special expertise in political science. And why have you not considered the existent nuclear stockpiles to be a threat worth mentioning?

I do not think that the question of whether nuclear war is a greater threat than global warming is easily decidable, and therefore would advice against making claims on the basis that the question is already resolved.

Milan April 9, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Fair enough. Maybe it is better to say that the risks from nuclear proliferation – potential war or nuclear war – are more easily comprehensible. The most profitable approach to proliferation in terms of resources invested is probably to work to keep the club of nuclear states from getting any bigger. Also, reducing the chances of accidental war.

Milan April 10, 2011 at 11:13 am

Also, it isn’t necessary for climate change to be the greatest threat facing humanity in order for it to be dishonourable to ignore. Other less serious issues certainly deserve attention as well: antibiotic resistance, for example, or fisheries depletion, or loss of biodiversity.

Tristan April 11, 2011 at 10:17 am

“it isn’t necessary for climate change to be the greatest threat facing humanity in order for it to be dishonourable to ignore.”

I strongly agree. Although, I don’t agree that the potential of nuclear war is easily comprehensible. I think the root causes of conflict and the escalations of conflicts are relatively poorly understood.

. November 12, 2011 at 2:45 pm

On Morality in the Face of Catastrophe

There’s so much of Everything
that Nothing is quite well concealed
—Wislawa Szymborska

This essay emerges from a hybrid of pessimism and hope, but most of all from realism, because no matter how difficult the future that climate change is leading us into, most of us will likely be alive for several decades, and we have to find ways to both live in the world and look at ourselves in the mirror. As Szymborska notes in her poem, there’s an unequal relationship between the “everything” of what’s easily apparent and the “nothing” of what’s hidden, distorted, or resident somewhere other than the immediate present. It has never been more important that we see past the trials and joys of our daily lives to understand both what’s already occurring, and what’s yet to come.

As is probably obvious, this is directed at those who know that man-made climate change is real, and is the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced.

. December 24, 2019 at 1:29 pm

You observed that most of the benefits from reducing greenhouse-gas emissions “will be accrued not today, but in 50 or 100 years.” It is worth adding that societies reap meaningful and immediate benefits from transitioning away from fossil fuels. In a recent research paper, our team found that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy yields substantial short-term benefits associated with cleaner air, improved health and fewer premature deaths, which exceed policy costs. We also estimated that these immediate benefits may be larger than the near-term gains from mitigating climate change. Societies, therefore, have ample reason to act on climate change now.

Emil Dimanchev
Senior research associate
MIT Centre for Energy and Environmental Policy Research
Cambridge, Massachusetts

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