I haven’t really had a chance to read the newly released WGII Summary for Policy Makers, but I have had a quick glance and have read some related articles. Eli Rabett has a post, Sou has some reactions, there are articles in the Guardian by Graham Readfearn and Dana Nuccitelli, there’s a Think Progress article, one in Mashable by Andrew Freedman, and many others.
As far as I can see the basic picture is that we are already seeing the impacts of climate change and the possible future impacts could be quite severe (which may well be an understatement). So, why isn’t everyone alarmed? I don’t mean alarmed as in; “OMG, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!”. I mean alarmed as in; a large group of experts are not only indicating that climate change is already having an impact but that if we choose to do nothing (whether by design or not) the potential future impacts could be devastating. To be clear, though, being alarmed isn’t inconsistent with being optimistic. I’m alarmed by what this report appears to be suggesting, but I’m optimistic that we can do sensible things to address the risks. I am less optimistic that we will, though.
So, what could motivate people to not be alarmed? Maybe the serious risks are sufficiently far into the future that some think it won’t affect them. That might at least be honest, there may be some truth in that, and I guess noone is obliged to be concerned about future generations. Seems somewhat selfish though. Alternatively, maybe some simply think that we can clearly address these issues. That’s a commendable view and I’m optimistic that we can. However, that – in itself – doesn’t stop me from being alarmed. There are many circumstances where it’s perfectly reasonable to be alarmed while still being confident that everything will work out fine. Maybe some – like my favourite economist who is currently a media sensation (and who is also trying to promote his upcoming book) – think that the report is just being overly alarmist so as to attract attention and influence policy makers. Fair enough, anything’s possible, but any who believe that should be rather ticked off at the recent retraction of Stephan Lewandowsky’s Recursive Fury paper. If you’re going to promote conspiracy ideation, at least have the strength of your convictions. Maybe some think that these thousands of experts are simply wrong, and that the small minority who oppose them are today’s Galileo’s. Well, having encountered some of these supposed Galileo’s, that would be a remarkable outcome, if it turns out to be true.
So, it seems – to me at least – that this latest IPCC report indicates that we should be alarmed. It’s hard to conclude otherwise. Not being so, seems particularly ill-founded and short-sighted. Of course, I don’t mean that we should be alarmed and pessimistic, but recognising that the potential risks are severe is surely one of the first steps towards deciding what’s best to do about minimising the risks associated with climate change. Of course there are many other factors to consider, so I’m not immediately suggesting that this report tells us precisely what to do. However, I don’t see how we can address these risks without taking some kind of action. Suggesting that somehow everything will just turn out fine seems to be far too reliant on luck and good fortune. I’m sure we can develop new technologies that can help address the impacts of climate change. We’re not going to do so, though, if we don’t actually try.