The scientific consensus on prospects for global warming has become much more pessimistic over the last few years. Indeed, the latest projections from reputable climate scientists border on the apocalyptic. Why? Because the rate at which greenhouse gas emissions are rising is matching or exceeding the worst-case scenarios.
And the growth of emissions from China — already the world’s largest producer of carbon dioxide — is one main reason for this new pessimism.I felt impelled to respond with the following comment:
I am alarmed and disheartened by the persistent manifestations of naivete, hysteria, and yes, neo-colonialist arrogance, on the part of intelligent, well meaning individuals, many of whom, as is certainly the case with Dr. Krugman, should know better. Yes, global warming is undoubtedly a reality. Yes, in all likelihood it is caused, or at least hastened, by human activity. And yes, it is likely to present the human race with some serious challenges over the next 50 to 100 years. Nevertheless, there are some other truths, no less apparent, compelling and “inconvenient,” that must also be taken into consideration when evaluating this situation.For examples of what I am talking about, I directed his readers to this blog. Here are some of the "inconvenient truths" I have in mind:
1. The Earth has undergone many cycles of climate change in the 150 to 200 thousand years we Homo Sapiens have roamed the planet. In every case, humans have found ways to adapt.
2. While persistent droughts in parts of Africa have been attributed to global warming, “a new study of lake sediments in Ghana suggests that severe droughts lasting several decades, even centuries, were the norm in West Africa over the past 3,000 years. The earlier dry spells dwarfed the well-documented drought that plagued West Africa in the late-20th century . . .” While drought is naturally of great concern in Africa, as elsewhere, global warming due to industrial activity is clearly only one, relatively small, part of the problem.
3. Many sources of greenhouse gas have nothing to do with industrial activity: “By burping, belching and excreting copious amounts of methane — a greenhouse gas that traps 20 times more heat than carbon dioxide — India's livestock of roughly 485 million (including sheep and goats) contributes more to global warming than the vehicles the animals obstruct”; recent studies of “black carbon” emissions (aka “soot”) from the inefficient stoves of hundreds of millions of third world households have shown that they, too, have a significant role to play in global warming: “ ‘It’s hard to believe that this is what’s melting the glaciers,’ said Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, as he weaved through a warren of mud brick huts, each containing a mud cookstove pouring soot into the atmosphere.”
4. Any attempt to slow global warming by imposing economic restrictions is sure to have devastating effects, not only on the economies of emerging industrial nations such as China and India, but the poorest of the poor in every part of the world. And in the face of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the effects on many working and middle class families may also be dire. If global warming can be characterized as a man-made disaster, ill informed and panicky attempts to reverse it can be seen as part of the same depressing trend, founded in human arrogance, hubris and sheer pig-headed ignorance. If nothing else, the recent ethanol farce should give us pause before we embark on yet another, possibly far more costly, folly.
5. A recent study suggests that global warming has already reached a point of no return, where the worst of its effects may well be irreversible, no matter what we do: “The damage will persist even when, and if, emissions are brought under control, says study author Susan Solomon, who is among the world's top climate scientists."
6. Global warming is a potentially disastrous, but also slowly developing, trend that we will have ample time to prepare for. The key to dealing with it clearly does not lie in desperate, hasty, attempts to reverse the irreversible, but in the sort of long-term planning that would help us adapt. Not emission control, but population control, thus emerges as a key factor in facing the coming challenge. Since China has been a leader in dealing, however clumsily, with this absolutely fundamental problem, the many criticisms that have been directed at this country with regard to climate change are both ironic and disturbing in the extreme.