Wyrd - OE: that which has become; fate-shaping; destiny-unfolding

Friday, 21 October 2011

'Climate change is a crock; global warming is garbage'

No, the words above aren't snatches of the latest utterances from Perry and Bachman. It's not just Tea Party-enthralled Republicans who think that climate change and global warming suck. I do too.

If we really are locked in a life-or-death struggle for the future of the planet – for the security and happiness of our grandchildren – how on earth did we end up with 'global warming' as the rallying cry for action? A good call, maybe, from the point of view of climate scientists; after all, they've taken the temperature of the planet, and it's undoubtedly bumping up. But only on average.

Which is the first big problem – 'on average'. 

You need to average out a dozen years (or more) of data from thousands of weather stations  – again, carefully averaged across the whole globe – just to pin the tricksy 'global warming' beast down. But you, me and the guy across the street, can't experience this nebulous global average directly.

We see weather, which changes hour-by-hour; we see rainy, sunny, and snowy days following each other in a whirling succession (well I do, living here in the UK..). We find that even the broad sweep of last month's weather highs and lows are quickly submerged by the experience of what's happening here and now. And last year's weather is a land only dimly recalled.

Yet we're expected to keep in mind that, although we may personally be thigh-deep in snow with record-breaking cold, the world is still – on average and overall – getting a little bit warmer ever day. I'm afraid that's stretching the imaginative capacity of many of us just a little too far. Global warming suggests a tidy year-by-year progression – which is something weather just won't deliver on.

Worse, global warming doesn't seem like such a savage monster. If push comes to shove, I think secretly most of us (in the temperate world at least) rather like the sound of a couple of extra degrees of warmth. In the end, 'warming' just doesn't sound very worrying.

Climate change is no better.

Geologists will all too readily regale you with tales of how the climate for individual regions, and for the globe as a whole, has zipped up and down over the last 4 billion years. We've had ice-ball earths, where virtually the entire globe was swathed in ice; we've had hothouse episodes where crocodiles idled through steamy swamps at the north pole; and we've had everything in between, with jagged climate cycles that follow the earth's wobbly orbital history.

So, climate change is real and it's happening now, is it? Well, duh.

And again, these are simple flat words that fail to capture the scale of what we're doing to the planet. If our century-long poking of the climate beast were to be told as a story, having such banal main characters would be an audience killer. No wonder so many are drifting away at the back. 

Of course, the radical fringe have had a good stab at sexing-up the debate – and have bought 'climate chaos' into the narrative. That does at least grab the attention. And it connects to the possible consequences of a warming world – extreme events becoming more extreme, and more frequent.

But it also suggests we are throwing a switch to a complete tumult of crazy-and-chaotic weather. That isn't what scientists are saying about the planet's future climate. And again, everyday experience does not confirm anarchic weather ruling the airwaves. So 'climate chaos' opens climate worriers to the 'Peter crying wolf again' allegations; and we all know what happened to Peter.

So where does that leave us?

Well, listen to what the scientists are saying about consequences of man's meddling with Mother Earth. There is at least a 50% chance that we will push the global thermometer up by over 2 degrees C in the next century. Once past that point, there's no return. We'll have given the planet enough heating momentum, that it will keep on running with it for thousands of years. And the changes in the climate at a rate faster than anything experienced in recent geological history.

What we're inflicting on the planet is a climate shock. What we're taking is a reckless gamble with our grandchildren's future. Climate shocking? Climate gambling? These probably aren't going to be the new buzz phrases of the debate over man's reckless environmental tampering. But taking the language away from the sterile and anodyne is essential if acres of words are to finally take hold – and end up blossoming into real action.

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