Saturday, March 09, 2013

As a standard for Climate Change risk, ‘Unlikely’ is unacceptable


ClimateChangeBotherBy some accounts, US folks accept that Climate Change is happening “with 61% saying the effects of climate change are already affecting them personally or will in their lifetime.” (Recent Polling on Climate Change, 2/ 12/ 2013 — League of Conservation Voters) I like to think this translates into a sense of urgency permeating our culture, but I suspect it does not in any meaningful way. There are still too many excuses why we, the predominate life form on this planet, are avoiding our responsibility. For it is not enough to know that our springs will arrive earlier (Spring May Arrive Five Weeks Earlier by 2100, Study Finds) giving us a longer growing season, then conveniently forgetting that everything—plants, insect pests, birds, butterflies, everything really—will be out of sync. And remember, radical though the warming may be, it’s the speed of the change that is truly frightening.

Not too long ago most Americans thought Climate Change was unproven or just a liberal hoax. Now, while many understand, they don’t understand the comprehensive disruption this will cause—and seek to avoid it. Some reason that that the costs of adapting to and mitigating Climate Change are too expensive. This reasoning isn’t really reasoning at all. It’s insane. It’s like refusing to don your space suit when walking in outer space because you find it too uncomfortable. Or some think their government, or somebody else’s, will address this world-wide crisis without it costing themselves much of anything at all. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

The latest dodge in Climate Change responsibility comes from a new line of argument—the improbability scenarios, or ‘unlikely’ events we need not worry about. (It’s an acknowledgement that Climate Change is happening, but everything will be Ok.) This ‘unlikely’ argument was just used as a reason not to bother commercial ships about bringing in the invasive Asian Carp into the Great Lakes: Study: Asian carp unlikely to stow away in barges. (2/28/2013 Wall Street Journal)

Locally, concerns about Fracking in what was previously a City of Rochester owned forest and drinking water source, but is now a state owned area, is dismissed as unlikely.

But the DEC statement said the nature of Hemlock and Candice — surrounded by steep slopes, used as drinking water supplies and ringed by protected wetlands — would make the agency unlikely to grant a drilling permit there. (N.Y. has 'no intention' of OK'ing drilling near Hemlock, Canadice, 3/5/2013 Democrat and Chronicle)

Of course few are buying that unlikely argument and instead are intent on letting the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation know it at the The Hemlock-Canadice Unit Management Plan (UMP), a public informational session on March 14, 2013, starting at 6:30PM at the Springwater Fire Hall, 8145 S. Main St. Springwater, NY.

But the most interesting ‘unlikely’ argument comes from an abstract of a new Climate Study: Global tipping point not backed by science (from E! Science News on 2/28/2013, but really you can find this report all over the Internet)

A group of international ecological scientists led by the University of Adelaide have rejected a doomsday-like scenario of sudden, irreversible change to Earth's ecology. In a paper published February 28 in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, the scientists from Australia, US and UK argue that global-scale ecological tipping points are unlikely and that ecological change over large areas seem to follow a more gradual, smooth pattern.

Sweet: a scientific study that proves a nice and slow and no-interconnected-world-wide crisis.

But I have to say, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This story about the report seems delusional at best and reckless at worse (we haven’t been able to read the actual report yet). The story concludes: “Recognising [sic] this reality and seeking appropriate conservation efforts at local and regional levels might be a more fruitful way forward for ecology and global change science."

The problem in ‘proving’ that Climate Change tipping points won’t occur is that it is unlikely to be true. We know that biodiversity loss increases invasive species’ ability to gain control across continents. Certainly the Zebra mussel from a ship’s ballast from Europe has achieve a tipping point in billions of dollars lost in the Great Lakes and the Finger Lakes. The reasoning that “the responses of ecosystems to human pressures like climate change or land-use change depend on local circumstances and will therefore differ between localities” reminds me of a famous Zeno’s paradox on infinite regression. This is where a local arrow can never hit it a world-impacting target because it will only be able to go an infinite regression of half-way distances before it ever gets to its target, i.e., local circumstances will differ in their response to disturbances and thus the whole planet will not be affected. Please.

That planetary tipping points are unlikely to occur because local changes are different and unlikely to affect a planetary change is ludicrous—as warming up and cooling down of our planet has always radiated around the world, changing every locality and every locality’s animal and plant life. Cyanobacteria, Earth’s first life forms, emitted oxygen that eventually hit a tipping point so only oxygen breathing animals could survive afterwards. Wildfires in Australia, the American West, and Russia caused by Climate Change have recently caused massive damage from a world-wide warming that is influencing continent after continent—irrespective of boundaries natural and manmade. The conclusion of this report is reductio ad absurdum, kid logic, where a cherry-picking of data comes to the wrong conclusion.

The only logic behind this study is that we must not disturb an economic system that serves us so well – if you’re one of the 1%, not the logic of a very complex and interrelated biological system where we have precious little data, especially in light of the monumental changes humankind has wrought upon the planet in the last five hundred years. [Read: Something New Under the Sun |An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World By J. R. McNEILL]

It is unlikely that you, however often you play the New York State Lottery, will ever win. Yes, it is possible you will win, but depending on a lottery win to support your retirement is foolhardy. It would be equally (though factors of multitudes worse) as foolhardy for all of us to depend on ‘science’ studies that ‘prove’ environmental accidents or tipping points are ‘unlikely’ to occur.

Instead of trying to rationalize our way out of Climate Change with ‘unlikely’ studies, we ought to gather all environmental information about environmental issues, fill in knowledge gaps, and make changes on a planetary scale in order to affect something as incredibly vast as our environment. I’d be leery about any study that told me not to worry my pretty little head about Climate Change and not do anything to disrupt business as usual. We cannot solve Climate Change by continuing to do the same things that caused it.

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