On the other side is the public, which increasingly believes that climate change is real and worries about it, but which rarely ranks it as a high priority. A 2007 survey by the U.N. Development Programme found that 54% of Americans advocate taking a "wait and see" approach to climate-change action — holding off on the deep and rapid cuts in global warming that would immediately impact their lives. (And it's not just SUV-driving Americans who take this position — similar majorities were found in Russia, China and India.) As a result, we have our current dilemma: a steady drumbeat of scientific evidence of global warming's severity and comparatively little in the way of meaningful political action.
That's where Sterman's research comes in. "There is a profound and fundamental misconception about climate," he says. The problem is that most of us don't really understand how carbon accumulates in the atmosphere. Increasing global temperatures are driven by the increase in the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. Before the industrial age, the concentration was about 280 parts per million (p.p.m.) of carbon in the atmosphere. After a few centuries of burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels, we've raised that concentration to 387 p.p.m., and it continues to rise by about 2 p.p.m. every year. Many scientists believe that we need to at least stabilize carbon concentrations at 450 p.p.m. to ensure that global temperatures don't increase more than about 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level. To do that, we need to reduce global carbon emissions (which hit about 10 billion tons last year) until they are equal to or less than the amount of carbon sequestered by the oceans and plant life (which removed about 4.8 billion tons of carbon last year)."
Great article; what we can add that he can't, because it's politically unpopular:
- We can add forests that soak up carbon, but they take space we might otherwise want to use.
- Humanity needs a plan for when it stops growing, and governments that can enforce it, or we'll dominate all of earth.
- Global warming isn't our only environmental problem. Pollution, land overuse, species genocide, decrease in genetic fitness of species, ecosystem interruption, and oversaturation with beneficial chemicals are all part of the problem.
- No matter how much we individually reduce our carbon footprint, it's irrelevant if we keep growing as a species. Overbreeding, immigration, and political instability contribute here.
A few things to keep in mind when you hear public figures bloviating about global warming.