Dana's 50th: Why I Blog
Posted on 28 March 2011 by dana1981
This is my 50th Skeptical Science blog post, and John has given me free reign to try and write something "epic". I want to start out by thanking John for making Skeptical Science (SkS) into such a great resource (the best climate science blog on the planet!), and allowing me to contribute to it. Thanks to the other SkS authors for giving me such good feedback on my articles, and thanks to the readers for the valuable comments and discussions on the posts.
As I'm sure was the case for a lot of people, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth first piqued my interest in climate science. After seeing the film, I decided to research the subject for myself to determine whether the situation was really as dire as it was portrayed. I started reading mainstream media articles, then climate blogs, then books and peer-reviewed papers. Over the past 5 years, the more I've learned about the climate, the more concerned I've become.
My first SkS blog post was about quantifying the human contribution to global warming. That, combined with the human fingerprints of global warming create a pretty airtight case that humans are driving the current warming trend. When we say "the science is settled", that's what we're talking about.
There are of course significant uncertainties remaining. For example, the cloud feedback, and sensitivity of the climate to increasing CO2. And climate sensitivity is the major key to determining the threat posed by climate change. That being said, climate sensitivity to a doubling of atmospheric CO2, which we are on pace to reach in about 50 years, is very likely between 1.5 and 4.5°C. I've always been impressed about the agreement between numerous different estimates of climate sensitivity, from empirical data from recent changes, to paeloclimate measurements, to climate model runs.
If this wide body of evidence is correct, then we're headed for the 2°C "danger limit" within about 50 years. This is where I become very concerned. I'm an environmental scientist and risk assessor, and when it comes to public health and welfare, we don't mess around. If there's a chance a site is contaminated and poses a threat to the public, the site owner has to either prove that it's safe or clean it up. With the climate, we're not holding ourselves to this same conservative standard. We're taking a very cavalier approach, failing to heed the warnings of the scientific experts, and putting public health and welfare at great risk.
It's true that there is a chance that the "skeptics" are right and the consequences of human greenhouse gas emissions won't be dire, but the probability is very low. I've examined the claims of a number of "skeptic" climate scientists, including Lindzen, Spencer, and Christy, and I do not find them very compelling. There's a slim possibility that they are correct, that climate sensitivity is low and there is some internal radaitive forcing driving the climate. But to act on this improbable hypothesis, ignoring the much more compelling case which is supported by a consensus of scientific experts, that we are driving the climate towards potentially catastrophic consequences for much of life on Earth, is downright foolish.
I convinced John to expand SkS to address climate solutions in addition to the fundamental science. I examined economic studies, and found that carbon pricing has a small economic impact, and in fact its benefits outweigh its costs several times over, as we've seen in real-world examples. And I've recently blogged about two plans to transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources in a timely manner.
When you put together the immense risks posed by greenhouse gas-driven climate change, the minimal economic impacts of carbon pricing, and the roadmaps to use the carbon revenues to transition to a low-carbon economy, it just makes me think "what the heck are we waiting for?". And then recently watching Republicans in U.S. Congress regurgitate the same myths we've debunked on SkS, while trying to justify some very anti-science legislation rather than trying to actually address the problem, was very frustrating.
I always come back to the risk assessment and management perspective. Climate change poses one of the greatest potential risks the human race has ever faced. From a risk management standpoint, even if you're personally unconvinced by the scientific evidence, it just makes no sense to risk the future of human society and a great many of the species on Earth on the slim probability that the scientific experts are wrong and you're right. The risks and consequences are just too great. We're on track for a potential mass extinction event for goodness sakes.
I think a lot of people are in denial about the magnitude of this threat, but many others are simply unaware of it. And that's why I blog. I think those of us who understand the potential threat have a duty to try and communicate it to those who don't, and convince them to try and do something about it. The magnitude of the problem is so large that we can't solve it without having majorities in every country on board.
Ultimately it's not about proving which "side" is right, because we can't know that until future events play out. It's all about mitigating risk. As Lonnie Thompson put it, we're committed to a certain amount of climate change, and "The only question is how much we will mitigate, adapt, and suffer". Personally, I'd like to reduce the risk of suffering as much as possible. I don't want to bet public health and welfare on the off chance that the "skeptics" are right. And I think those who are actively trying to prevent us from taking the steps to reduce that risk of suffering are doing our country, human society, and the world a great disservice. To those who are doing what they can to communicate the risk and threat to the public, thanks, and keep up the good work!