Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Decisions We Make About Climate Change Today Will Reverberate for Millennia.  No Pressure. -by David Roberts

The people who constructed this probably weren't thinking about us. (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
The great irony of climate change is that it's so big we can barely care about it.
Climate change is, for all intents and purposes, forever

Almost all climate models and reports, including those by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, focus on the near-term effects of rising greenhouse gas emissions. They almost all extend their analysis out to 2100 and then stop.

There are obvious reasons for this — the current century is of intense interest to those planning on living in it — but it also distorts our perspective in subtle ways.  Most notably, it renders the post-2100 damages of climate change invisible; it allows us to think of the damage we're doing as short-term or temporary.

As it happens, however, time is not going to stop in 2100.  It is going to be followed by 2101, and so forth.  And the effects of climate change put into motion in this century will also continue accumulating.

A large group of scientists recently submitted a comment to the journal Nature in which they stressed this point.  They note that a "considerable fraction of the carbon emitted to date and in the next 100 years will remain in the atmosphere for tens to hundreds of thousands of years."
When you think about humans 100 years from now, do you see anything in particular?  Do you feel any attachment to those people or responsibility toward them?

How about 200 years from now?  How about 500?

The terror of the Anthropocene — our new geologic epoch, in which humans are the primary driver of global change — is that we have now grown in scale and power so much that our decisions echo across centuries.  But our brains and moral instincts remain as tribal and parochial as ever.

So it feels a little abstract and weird to say a presidential election will shape the Earth for centuries.  But it is true.

Read more at The Decisions We Make About Climate Change Today Will Reverberate for Millennia. No Pressure.

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