ACKNOWLEDGMENT AND DENIAL
DISORDER AND DELAY
CONFUSION AND CALAMITY
CHARACTERIZING the current state of problems, dangers, needs, etc. in regard to the Earth's climate is almost certainly the most difficult task ever faced by human civilization. The problems seemingly span the range of everything humanity has ever confronted and the stakes could not be higher.
As of mid-May 2018 there are a multitude of warnings of coming disasters, extensive documentation of past calamities, and urgent recommendations for immediate action. The needs are so fundamental and so enormous that it is impossible to find any bright spots.
IT HAS SEEMED TO ME that the Earth, our homeland, the only known inhabited planet would have a place in our lives that should there be a 10% chance that it was threatened that an all out effort to stablize its future would be in order. However, the last time I thought this was possible was the beginning of the second Bush administration. I do not think there could have been less interest.
The essence of the problem can be characterized as acknowledgment and denial, a not unexpected reaction.
To be clear, "denial" here does not refer to "deniers," those that insist there is not a problem (e.g. the American president's characterization of the problem as a "hoax.") Rather this denial is something that happens often to individuals, governments, etc. in simply not bring able to confront a difficult problem, person, etc., except that the climate situation is of collosal size and equivalent consequences.
CIVILATION HAS CREATED a situation that is simply too complex and too frightening to grasp and there are no adequate proposals or plans, and in partiular there is no leadership to bring a semblance of order. Additionally, the problem has been ignored for decades beyond the time it might have been tractable. Consequently that part of the population that is aware of the problem and has at least a token understanding may discuss it on occasion but then puts it off to one side hoping the world will find a way to deal with it. As a consequence the demand for finding solutions is low and among large segments of the world non-existant.
Charterizing the problem is straightforward:
THERE IS SO MUCH CO2 in the air now that should all emission stop the earth would continue to warm for hundreds of years although at a slow enough rate that it might be possible to find a way to deal with it. However, CO2 emmision is increasing and is likely to continue to do so for some time leading to very dangerous tripping points in the Earth's temperature. The Paris Accord target of 1.5°C will not be met despite many fears that this is essential. So attention has turned to 2°C and given the situation where the United States is moving backwards, that target is not likely to be met.
THERE IS AN EXPANDING CONCENSUS that the total CO2 currently in the atmosphere at 405 to 410ppm must be reduced, ultimately to approximately 350 ppm in order to keep a semblance of what the Earth is like now.
However, there is no concensus on methods of achieving negative emissions or even if it is possible, although some respected researchers are optimistic. If it should be implemented, however, it is likely to cost trillions. However, if it should not be implemented it is may well cost hundreds of trillions to attempt recovery of some kind by 2 or 3 generations in the future.
IT IS CONCIEVABLE THAT STRONG US LEADERSHIP could have saved the day, but the present administration and the political division into impentrable blocks of opinion makes that extraordinarily unlikely.
The only other option is China and there are reports that it wishes to take the lead. There is no reasonable way to guess if this could be successful and many reasons to expect that it will not.
If this plays out as expected we can anticipate a more and more hostile climate in the near future.