Saturday, November 20, 2010

We've passed the point of no return

Peter Gleick in Alternet, from his blog, writes about our current Thelma and Louise moment: It's too late. The world has missed the opportunity to avoid serious, damaging human-induced climate change. For a variety of reasons ranging from ignorance to political ideology to commercial self-interest to inertia to intentional misrepresentations and misdirections on the part of a small number of committed climate deniers, the United States and the rest of the world have waited too long to act to cut the emissions of damaging greenhouse gas pollutants. We are now committed to irreversible long-term and inevitably damaging consequences ranging from rapidly rising sea levels, far greater heat stress and damages, disappearing glaciers and snowpack, more flooding and droughts, and far, far more.

…The new Congress will almost certainly see more science pushed out by ideology and hearings characterized by cherry-picking of witnesses and selective use of climate deniers rather than mainstream scientists. As a result, in twenty more years, the Earth will be even hotter, sea levels will be higher and rising faster, water and food resources will be increasingly stressed, extinction rates will accelerate, and our forced expenditures for climate adaptation will be far, far greater than they would otherwise have been.

For example, at the request of three separate California state agencies, the Pacific Institute recently completed a comprehensive assessment of the vulnerabilities of the California coast to accelerating sea-level rise (using scenarios of sea-level rise that may turn out to be far too low). There is already over $100 billion in infrastructure (housing, airports, wastewater treatment plants, schools, hospitals, roads, power plants) and a population of nearly 500,000 people at risk of increased coastal flooding, and we estimated that adaptation costs just to protect existing infrastructure will run around $15 billion, plus high annual costs to maintain these protections. Other major areas and populations simply cannot be realistically protected and will have to be abandoned, with people forced to move over time. And this is just one small piece of the coming threats for one small part of the country. How bad it ultimately gets depends on how much longer we fail to act and how much longer Congress and others hide behind ignorance, political ideology, and religion to deny the reality of climate change.

Dead Horse Point in Canyonlands National Park. Thelma and Louise drove off a cliff somewhere around here. Shot by Jim Gordon, Wikimedia via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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