Friday, January 30, 2015

DOOOOOM! And Stuff Like That

Okay, so a popular statistic that has been bandied about concerning climate change is that 97% of climate scientists "believe" in climate change. However, this begs a number of questions, mostly from climate change deniers, that need answering.

I was reading an article in National Geographic on the intertubes the other day about the possible economic consequences of climate change, and this article cited a number of both Republicans and Democrats (including such GOP luminaries as George Schulz and Henry Paulson) as saying we need to act now to minimize the damage. The article touched on everything from crop failures to increased storm severity and loss of property when it is literally under water due to rising sea levels.

Naturally, there is a comments section. Naturally, most of the people who read the article are already ideologically inclined to side with it. However, there are always a few …

One comment asked "Why is it only liberals that pull figures out of thin air like 97% of scientists without any facts to prove that number?" Which is a very good question if you like to ignore things like math and reality.

The 97% figure is based on very simple arithmetic: for every 100 climate scientists who have published peer-reviewed articles outlining the effects and extent of climate change, 97 of them came down on the side of "this is really happening, folks", and the other 3 were either ambivalent or outright denied it (primarily because their studies were funded by fossil fuel companies).

However, this begs an even larger question that nobody has deemed – or dared -- to address, and it's a question that can be asked of both sides.

What is the worst case scenario if you are wrong?

So let's ask those who maintain that climate change is real, that is in large part to human activity, and it is as severe as they say. What is the worst case scenario if you're wrong about this, and all this climatological uproar is, in fact, an anomaly?

Let's say that the fact that the ten hottest years have occurred within the last 16 years is actually just a fluke, and all the regulations, gas mileage standards, air quality laws, etc. have been for naught. In real terms, human and economic, what has really been the result, and what would the likely result be if we continue on this path?

Well, for one thing, an entire sector of the economy is taking a major hit. Energy companies, even though they are a favorite target of those looking to blame someone for stuff, do represent a major part of the global economy, and these restrictions are actually putting a dent in their business and profits. Larger economies like the US and Russia have enough room to absorb much of this, but smaller economies – even some of the OPEC countries – don't have that leeway. As a result, a hit to fossil fuel production could bring an entire economy to its knees.

The thing about this is that nobody stands alone. If a country like Venezuela, say, falls apart due to depressed oil prices and production, it also creates a drag on other economies around the world. Get enough of these events, and we are in another financial crisis like 2008-2009.

Fossil fuel production also has tentacles in so many other areas that even a small drop in production can have far-reaching effects. For example, oil is a major component in plastics manufacturing, which then flows downstream to everything from human prosthetics and medical devices such as artificial hearts to the container you use to keep the leftover mac and cheese in your fridge.

For that matter, it includes the damn fridge, too.

It affects transportation, in that people will have less mobility, especially in the Third World. It affects the electrical grid, increasing the risk of blackouts such as the one that occurred in 2003 in the Northeast. From diapers to dynamos, from tanks to televisions, plastics are everywhere, and a drop in oil production could have far-reaching effects.

All in all, it would be a bad situation, folks. And even though the energy companies would probably be able to weather it pretty well through diversification and so on, the rest of us would definitely feel the pinch.

So that's a possibility if climate change turns out not to be real. So let's look at the other side of it.

What is the worst-case scenario if the climate changes deniers are wrong? What if we follow their recommendations, and it turns out that climate change was happening all along and their ideas only made it worse?

We die.

Not you and me. Not your town. Not even your state.

We, as a species, die. Humans, along with a fuck ton of other species, go extinct. The Earth becomes uninhabitable for most life forms as we know them, including ourselves. The energy companies whose interests we fought so hard to protect will cease to exist, because there won't be anyone left. Food crops will die off. The animals that depend on them will die off. Top-tier predators – including us; we're the nastiest sumbitches on the planet – will be gone. All that will be left will be a few species that are particularly hardy and tough: some microbes, some species of insect, extremophiles that live near undersea vents, and so on. Our cities will be abandoned, moldering into decay. That really cool jet black '67 Mustang convertible you saw the other day will eventually rust away to nothing, only the plastic bits remaining behind ... they would be an incredible find for a future archaeologist, except that there won't be any archaeologists, because, like the rest of us, they will be dead.

Pretty grim, right?

So, all things being considered, I'd rather be safe than sorry. Sure, there's an economic risk to going forward with climate-related regulations, and it's a very real risk that could have profound implications for all of us, every single one of the nearly eight billion people strolling around this ball of mud. However, I will take economic risks over existential ones any day. I gotta lie down.

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