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How Do We Know That Climate Change Will Be Mostly Bad?



There is no more crucial question facing humanity today than climate change. Weather affects nearly everything, so changes to 'average' weather will affect nearly everything as well. Yet how, and even whether, we should respond has become subject to intensely polarized debate.

So what do the facts say, and how can we know which 'facts' to trust?

This series of Hubs has so far considered three questions:

  1. How do we know that CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) cause planetary warming?
  2. How do we know that we are responsible for the measured increase in greenhouse gas concentrations?
  3. How do we know that global warming is affecting the Earth?

In this Hub, we'll look at why we should expect climate change to be, on balance, a bad thing.

(If you haven't read the previous Hubs, you may wish to go back and check them out. For your convenience, the links are given below.)

Previous Hubs In This Series

How Do We Know Warming Will Be Mostly Bad?

Or, more formally:

How do we know that the observed or projected changes will be (on balance) bad?

Basic logic would suggest this, since Earth’s biosphere has adapted to conditions over hundreds of millennia. Startlingly, our food crops have almost all been developed over the past few thousand years, and are adapted to those relatively stable conditions. One would expect struggles to adapt to climatic changes happening in just decades. But “would expect” is not proof.

Truthfully, in many cases, we don’t have “proof.” Strictly, science does not deal in proof, but in disproof—the usual scientific model is to create a hypothesis, then do everything possible to show that that hypothesis is false. If it survives, then it is deemed to be true—until someone can think of a new test to disprove it, at least.

But this is not a very reasonable approach to managing risk. Suppose you have a balanced household budget, but you want a new car. What “proof” do you have that an additional expenditure of $250 a month will cause you to go broke—until, that is, you actually do?

We humans also tend to discount future risk. Consider the case of smoking. How many folks fail to be motivated to quit by the prospect of lung cancer ‘someday?’

'Sunny day flooding', Miami Beach.

'Sunny day flooding', Miami Beach.

Getting Back To Climate-related Disaster

Or consider Miami. It’s in great danger of inundation; 'business as usual' will create temperatures comparable to the Pliocene period of 3-5 million years ago. Accordingly, sea levels then were 10 to 40 meters higher. Such levels would submerge Miami, and indeed large chunks of Florida.

Yet no one appears excessively worried. "The deluge" is just too far off—despite the inconveniences of ‘sunny day flooding’ on Alton Road in Miami beach, now a semi-regular occurrence.

NOAA coastal flooding report cover.  Image courtesy NOAA; photo by Amy McGowan.

NOAA coastal flooding report cover. Image courtesy NOAA; photo by Amy McGowan.


Turns out, it's not just Miami Beach--though that city is ground zero for sea level rise problems in the US. A 2014 report from NOAA on what they termed 'nuisance flooding' shows such events to be increasing drastically. (Link in sidebar, photo above.)

A key finding:

We stress that in many areas, the frequency of nuisance flooding is already on an accelerating trajectory, and many other locations will soon follow even with a continuation of linear SLRrel rates. This fact needs to be recognized, as it is critical for coastal planning entities to prevent critical-system degradation from SLR impacts and to promote resiliency efforts in general.

In other words, coastal flooding, whether at the level of a nuisance or, less commonly, a disaster, is going to become much more frequent, and we need to plan accordingly.

Changing flood frequencies, West Coast.  (Figure 7 from NOAA report.)  The story is similar for all coastal areas (Figs. 4-6).  Graphic courtesy NOAA.

Changing flood frequencies, West Coast. (Figure 7 from NOAA report.) The story is similar for all coastal areas (Figs. 4-6). Graphic courtesy NOAA.

Update: 4/2/16

Update: 3/20/17

South Florida, 5- and 10-meter sea level rise.  Image courtesy popsci.com, modified by author.

South Florida, 5- and 10-meter sea level rise. Image courtesy popsci.com, modified by author.


Let’s consider some examples that afford us benchmarks.

Superstorm Sandy, for example, cost at least $68 billion in economic damage, and more than 200 lives. It was not ‘caused’ by climate change, and some of the reasons for its destructive power were apparently random—as for instance its New York landfall coinciding with an exceptionally strong high tide. Yet there is no doubt that lowering New York’s sea level by 8 inches—the amount of mean global sea level rise since 1880—would have reduced the storm’s flooding.

Flood surge expert Dr. Ben Strauss wrote that:

Sandy’s damage would absolutely still have been unthinkable without the extra 8 inches or so we might attribute to warming since the late 19th century. But you add about 6k people per vertical inch in this 8-9 ft elevation range. I think we all would have been happy to see just a few percent less damage here!

That means about 48,000 New Yorkers would have been spared flooding’s direct effects—a likely total of around 20,000 homes.

That doesn’t account for the likelihood that Sandy’s power was “juiced” by the warm sea surface temperatures the storm encountered as it grew.

It's Not The Humidity, It's The Heat

Or take heat waves, which are increasing.

The Russian heatwave of 2010 was a spectacularly terrible event; heat stress killed thousands, and there was drought, crop failure, and an enormous wildfire outbreak. Air pollution from those fires killed thousands more. Insurance giant Munich RE put combined mortality at 56,000, and economic damage at over $5 billion USD. (Some estimates approached $15 billion.)

Moscow street scene, before and during 2010 wildfires. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Moscow street scene, before and during 2010 wildfires. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

What role did climate change play?

Rahmstorf and Comou (2011) found:

...an approximate 80% probability that the 2010 July heat record would not have occurred without climate warming.

That contrasts with earlier work by Dole et al., (2011) that found the event “mainly natural in origin.”

A follow up paper by Otto et al., (2012), concluded that there was:

...no substantive contradiction between these two papers, in that the same event can be both mostly internally-generated in terms of magnitude and mostly externally-driven in terms of occurrence-probability.

In essence, the papers were asking different questions: there were specific natural causes that led directly to the disaster, but also climate change made such conjunctions of circumstances far more likely.

The sign, translated, reads "To search for a Parisian victim of the heat wave, the City of Paris has implemented a hot-line: 0800 800 750."

The sign, translated, reads "To search for a Parisian victim of the heat wave, the City of Paris has implemented a hot-line: 0800 800 750."

More deadly still was the 2003 European heatwave, which afflicted a smaller but more densely populated area with some 70,000 total fatalities. Infrastructure damage and agricultural and other losses cost more than $10 billion USD.

One of the first-ever attribution studies found that the odds of such a summer had been at least doubled by anthropogenic climate change. A ten year anniversary study, Christidis et al., (2015), now reconsiders the odds:

...we find that events that would occur twice a century in the early 2000s are now expected to occur twice a decade. For the more extreme threshold observed in 2003, the return time reduces from thousands of years in the late twentieth century to about a hundred years in little over a decade.

Their Figure 3 shows that under the most severe emissions scenario, RCP 8.5, a typical summer of the 2020s will be considered startlingly cool by the 2090s.

Figure 3, Christidis et al (2014).  RCP 8.5 summers are described by the graph at the extreme upper right.

Figure 3, Christidis et al (2014). RCP 8.5 summers are described by the graph at the extreme upper right.

Extending The Benchmarks: What Do They Omit?

If we take just Sandy and the 2003 and 2010 heat waves, the total cost amounts to more than 130,000 premature deaths and economic loss of $85 billion USD or more.

One could expand the list of other possibly climate-related disasters considerably. To mention just a few:

  • Hurricane Katrina and Typhoon Haiyun/Yolanda;
  • Heatwaves in India and east Asia, 2010-present;
  • US drought, 2011-present.

As a very rough benchmark, it seems fair to conclude that climate change—due to just roughly 0.7-0.8 C of global warming—has probably cost humanity well in excess of 100,000 deaths and $100 billion USD in the current century.

But that still excludes much damage. Again, listing just a few examples:

  • Losses to natural ecosystems and to industries, such as fisheries, that depend upon them;
  • Hydrology-related losses, for example the currently-stressed California system, or the endangered glacier-fed water systems of cities like Lima;
  • Damage to indigenous people, such Canada’s Inuit, or Scandinavia’s Sami;
  • Risks of widespread biological extinctions;
  • Consequences of ocean acidification;
  • The combined acidification/warming threat to coral reefs worldwide—another serious episode of which was reported in late 2014.

It's important to note that impacts in all these areas are not speculative. They have already been reported—even though it remains very tough to quantify the degree of damage, or estimate just how bad damages will, or might, get.

Figure SPM.2a, from AR 5, WG 2:  a summary of global impacts.

Figure SPM.2a, from AR 5, WG 2: a summary of global impacts.

Tipping Points

Also excluded is the risk of so-called “tipping points”—that's Malcolm Gladwell's term, often broadly applied to possible ‘non-linearities’ in climate feedback processes.

"Non-linearities" doesn't convey much to most of us. So let's start with a physical image: this dinosaur figurine, posed on three legs.

This is the way it is meant to be seen:


But it's also reasonably stable ‘tipped’ onto the tripod formed by its raised leg and the two adjacent ones:


Those two positions could be energetically quite close to one another, with the slightest push of a finger serving to flip the dino from one position to the other.

Most stable of all, of course, would be this position:


The idea is that climate or earth systems, like the dinosaur, could have several possible states that are relatively stable, but which, given the right (or wrong) 'push', could rapidly transition into another state. Again, given adaptation to the existing state, that would imply biological and social challenges—and doubly so, given the rapidity of potential transitions.

Possible mechanisms that might ‘flip’ the planet into a warmer climatic state include:

  • Boreal forest dieback
  • Amazon rainforest dieback
  • Loss of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice (Polar ice packs) and melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets
  • Disruption to Indian and West African monsoon
  • Formation of Atlantic deep water near the Arctic ocean, which is a component process of the thermohaline circulation.
  • Loss of permafrost, leading to potential Arctic methane release and clathrate gun effect

These mechanism have been identified based on evidence that they may have happened in the past. But there's little certainty.

Mark Lynas, author of "Six Degrees."

Mark Lynas, author of "Six Degrees."

Risk Again: Six Degrees

And that brings us back, once again, to risk. We know that many of the long-predicted impacts of human-driven climate change are now being observed. Some are, at this point, good—for example, in some areas crop yields have increased a bit with more warmth and longer growing seasons. In other cases, the impacts are not good at all—the increase in coral bleaching is an example. Our best assessment is that the more warming is allowed to continue, the more negative on balance the consequences will be.

A bleached colony of the soft coral known as "Bent Sea Rod," Florida, September 2014.  Photo by US Geological Survey, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

A bleached colony of the soft coral known as "Bent Sea Rod," Florida, September 2014. Photo by US Geological Survey, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Right now, the warming observed is very modest. We are living in what author Mark Lynas terms the ‘One Degree World’—the world in which we are no more than one degree Celsius warmer than in pre-Industrial times. There is a consensus—more political than scientific in nature—that this ‘world’ is relatively benign, despite the odd heatwave or inundation disaster here and there, or the loss of a few marginal aboriginal cultures or obscure rainforest species.

The ‘Two Degree World’ is more challenging, but not (we think) unmanageably so. We would have a lot of trouble with our supplies of fresh water, and our supplies of seafood. We’d most likely be committing ourselves to a future without large chunks of many familiar coastal cities, from Miami to Mumbai. That means we’d also be committing ourselves to the relocation of probably hundreds of millions of people, and the loss of a great many species of wildlife. (Just how many of each is not easy to determine, but the numbers being debated are not comforting.)

But, the theory goes, we really don’t want to break into the ‘Three Degree World.’ In part, that is because the challenges to agriculture become yet greater, possibly resulting in “structural famine in the Tropics,” to use Lynas’s deceptively innocent-sounding phrase. But more significant is the possibility of reaching one or more ‘tipping points’.

Drought often means suffering for livestock, like this Brazilian goat, photographed in 2013 by Agência Brasil.  Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Drought often means suffering for livestock, like this Brazilian goat, photographed in 2013 by Agência Brasil. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

A cautionary study is Cox et al., (2000.) In its computer modeling runs, exceeding 2 C warming produced a dieback of the Amazonian forest. This in turn released enough carbon to put an additional 250 ppm CO2 into the atmosphere, and initiated an additional 1.5 C warming.

In other words, entry into the Three Degree World could commit us also to entry into the Five Degree World—and that world is, basically, hell. The environmental conditions we have relied on throughout our existence would be irretrievably gone. Every ecosystem on the planet would be reshuffled, with completely unpredictable (though certainly dire) results.

Work further investigating the Cox et al scenario so far remains inconclusive. We don’t know for sure that this is what would happen, but we can’t exclude it. It could very well happen.

Satellite view of deforestation in Rondônia, western Brazil, 2012, by NASA, modified by author.  Original page shows progression from 2000.

Satellite view of deforestation in Rondônia, western Brazil, 2012, by NASA, modified by author. Original page shows progression from 2000.

So, the impacts remain, as scientists say, ‘poorly constrained.’

  • We know many things that are happening now, but we don’t know how bad they could ultimately be.
  • We know that there is some ‘upside’ to warming, but we are pretty sure that it gets smaller and smaller (relative to the 'downside') the more warming we allow.
  • We know that we could lose what control over the process we now have, but we don't know when.

The risks, policies, and ideas involved are all ‘big’, compared to our individual concerns, and often seem remote, in space, in time, or both. And so we tend not to worry as much as we should.

But, in Terri Garthwaite’s phrase, this world “is our children’s house.” Knowing just some of the risks, do we really want to live without any ‘climate insurance?’


Relevant Hubs by Doc Snow

  • When Did Global Warming Stop?
    We often hear claims that "Warming Stopped In [Year X.] Is there any truth to these claims?
  • Michael Mann's "The Hockey Stick And The Climate War...
    In 1999, paleoclimatologist Michael Mann, with Ray Bradley and Malcolm Hughes, published a reconstruction of Northern Hemisphere temperatures over the last millennium. It seemed an obscure academic concern. As it turned out, not so much.
  • Climate 2013--The Year In Prospect And Review
    'Climate change' is news, but often lacks context or depth or is omitted from related news. What climate change stories were--pardon the pun!--hot in 2013? And how did they turn out at year's end?
  • Amy Seidl's "Finding Higher Ground": A Summary Revi...
    Dr. Amy Seidl is an ecologist by training, and the mother of a family trying to adapt to the reality of climate change. She writes with the clarity and elegance of a poet from both 'big-picture' and local perspectives.


Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on March 20, 2017:

Just to highlight the link I've added in an update, this article in the Guardian is well worth the read:


Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on October 20, 2015:

Thanks for that, Orin, cheerful news though it definitely is *not*. As you imply, this is a serious followup to the Hansen projections that you mentioned previously.

In a way, it's not surprising: it's been quite overt that the dynamics of sea temperatures and their interaction with floating ice shelves (and ultimately the ice upstream, too) were not included in previous work. But it was also clear from in situ observations that those effects were likely to result in more ice loss and more sea level rise.

Surprising or not, it's more confirmation that we simply do not have time to waste in getting serious about mitigating our carbon emissions. Right now our trajectory is pretty close to the most serious of the RCPs, 8.5, not the 2.6 RCP which would avoid the additional ice loss mentioned in the story you link.

Still, we have Paris coming up, which may at least get us closer (maybe RCP 4.5?) We've got the US-China agreement, and we've got China cracking on massive amounts of renewables and some nuclear, too. We've got India massively increasing solar and wind, despite projections of increases in coal capacity as well.

Tony Abbott's pro-coal agenda now appears to be toast in Australia with his political defenestration, and the incoming Liberal government in Canada has already said that they will consult with the provinces to take more positive, pro-active plan to Paris (though the time is incredibly short to come up with it--I'm sure they will need to include a lot of temporizing in whatever they take to COP 21.)

So, lots of hopeful signs along with lots of reasons to worry. (Or better, to work for change.)

P. Orin Zack on October 19, 2015:

...and then there's this report from Australia:


It's not just how much things change, for for how long. Gradualists really bug me. It doesn't take much to let loose a situation with a great deal of pent-up energy, just waiting to fall into a more stable state at a lower energy level. Avalanches. Mudslides. Places that seem to be solid, but are actually in a precarious balance. Ice sheets. And then it's such a 'surprise' when physics asserts itself and we're dwarfed by the scale of the changes around us.

Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on July 30, 2015:

Well, in the jargon 'mitigation' means reducing CO2 emissions. So that could stop the warming, though perhaps not the SLR, some of which may well be already 'baked in.' It could certainly be slowed by mitigation efforts, though--we could definitely avoid the RCP 8.5 scenario with action over the next few years, and that one would be a real nightmare, SLR-wise and every other way, too.

And yes, the reaction will be interesting. Though 'interesting' only just begins to cover it, if you know what I mean.

P. Orin Zack on July 29, 2015:

Not related to climate issues since I finished up that series. I've written and posted two installments of a series that focuses on some people who are involved the sort of wizardry that non-Hollywood type people are capable of. The third has been set aside while I've been busy with an online school that teaches wizardry, using the characters in those stories to 'show' what I'm writing about for some classes.

But Hansen's report, or at least what I've read about it, looks a lot closer to the situation in the climate-related series: about 10 feet of rise by the end of the century, and only mitigations, not action to slow or stop it. I'm curious to see how the moneyed interests respond to this being offered to the public.

Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on July 29, 2015:

Hi, Orin! Still reading up on that. (In fact, I was trying to look up studies of ancient superstorms when I stopped by HP and saw notification of your comment.)

I do have a piece in process on Elizabeth Kolbert's Pulitzer-winner, "The Sixth Extinction."

But how about you? Any more fiction that you'd care to share?

P. Orin Zack on July 28, 2015:

Hi Doc. Were you planning on doing a piece about the new report from Dr. James Hansen?

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on June 30, 2015:

My pleasure Doc Snow. You're very welcome.

Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on June 30, 2015:

Always a pleasure to hear from you, Kristen! Thank you!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on June 29, 2015:

Doc Snow, I do enjoy your reading your thought-provoking hubs on climate change. Voted up for interesting!

Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on May 10, 2015:

Thanks, Michael. Looking into it, I think the key is the key--for the Popsci map legend states that the map bins elevations at *less than* 5 and *less than* 10. So the land in question could be the 9 locations above 5 meters (since they could well fall into the range between the two limits).

The different scales between the "Surging Seas" map and the Popsci one make it hard to compare the two, but I think it's possible that the two are reasonably consistent with each other. I see more than a dozen 'new islets' scattered across the metro area for the 10 foot rise which is the maximum the 'SS' map gives, and the locations seem compatible with the remnants on the 'PS' map.

I any case, I think the value of the map I gave was more illustrative than anything else. (I hope that, the obstructive efforts of the current Florida government notwithstanding, anyone doing serious planning gets hold of a much better topi map than that one!)

michael sweet on May 10, 2015:

Your Florida inundation map looks similar to http://sealevel.climatecentral.org/surgingseas/gau.../27.760/-82.627 this one from Climate Central, except the Climate Central one is supposed to represent 10 feet of sea level rise and yours is 10 meters of sea level rise. I have seen these maps made using NASA satellite land elevations which measure to the tops of the trees and roofs of buildings. I could not find the source of your map but you might want to investigate if the Climate Central map is more accurate. The US Geological survey lists 9 locations in Miami over 5 meters (out of 600) and none over 10 meters. Your map shows land at 10 meters. It will be difficult for the residents of Miami to live when there is 3 meters of water inside their homes, even though the roof would still be above water. I live in Tampa and that area looks better than I would expect also.

Sea level rise is worse than your map depicts (hard as it is to believe).

Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on March 28, 2015:

You are always welcome, tireless.

Judy Specht from California on March 27, 2015:

It is difficult to be civil on this subject at the moment. I keep coming back and when I can be civil I will explain what it looks like living out your belief system.

Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on March 26, 2015:

Good points about climate chaos. We certainly do not have the ability to predict the consequences in detail, either in terms of weather/climate, or in terms of ecology. And that means that we cannot place realistic bounds on the risks we face. The only reasonable response would be be to make choices which would avoid 'going there.' I hope that is what will happen--but there are certainly many who are doing their damnedest to make sure that we blow right through our 'carbon budget,' and, in all likelihood, warm much more than 2 Celsius. (Ted Cruz, anyone?)

On a more trivial note, I hate spell check, too… ;-)

P. Orin Zack on March 26, 2015:

That last line was about "stellar archaeologists". Sorry.

P. Orin Zack on March 26, 2015:

Thanks for the link. One of the points there is that what we have now is a stable flow pattern, which could reorganize under different conditions. This, I think, is the biggest joker in the deck.

Complex systems can exhibit stable states under certain conditions. The orbits of a star system's planets, or the rings around our planet Saturn are what appear to be stable states of complex systems, but those conditions can be altered, and when that happens, a period of chaos ensues before another stable configuration is achieved. In the case of Saturn, that could be a ringless state. In the case of a solar system, it can be after a maelstrom of debris strikes several planets with devastating effects.

So thinking about Earth's interlocking climatic and ecological zones, all bets would be off during the chaotic period between stable states. We can plan for occasional storms. But if we enter a period of global climatic chaos, all of the assumptions we blindly ignore about being able to grow or raise food in a predictable weather zone can be trumped by nature. It's not like this period will only last some specified and predictable length of time that we can prepare for. By its nature, chaos is unpredictable.

And after that period of chaos, when a stable state is again achieved by the global climate systems, it will be different from what we have now. All of our ideas about land use are based on assumptions about a stable climate. The world will need to map itself, to determine what the new stabilities are, and what that means.

What small percentage of the flora and fauna which survives is likely to be too small to sustain what's left of humanity unless we also start to think in terms of sustainability on a hostile planet. That cannot happen if humanity continues to organize itself in armed enclaves of one sort or another, jealously guarding what it thinks will enable it to overcome its adversaries. All that will accomplish is leave a puzzle for sell archaeologists who chance upon our remains.

Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on March 25, 2015:

There's a discussions of it at Realclimate as well:


I'm not sure if we quite know what the consequences will be this time around. But then, that's part of the issue: if we don't know, it would be very foolish to assume that they will be insignificant or beneficent. Yet that is what many seem to want to do, if the word 'climate' is attached.

Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on March 20, 2015:

It's certainly true that social and economic structures have to change to address the climate issue. Individual choices have importance, of course, and are often advantageous in various ways--read my Hub on Amy Seidel's "Adaptation", for example, or even better, the original book. But systemic problems must be addressed on a system-wide scale.

Unfortunately, there is no requirement that that be easy to do, nor that any given population have the guts and honesty to face up to the challenge. Which is why I write about the issues: I have faith that it could actually, potentially, help a tiny bit. And that is worth doing.

P. Orin Zack on March 19, 2015:

I've got mixed feelings about your post, Sanxuary, because of that attempt at emotional baiting with Al Gore, but you do make some valid points. And not only are there economic systems in place to confound our efforts, but a rising global population puts additional strain on efforts to shrink humanity's carbon footprint.

Until recently, the full ecological costs of what we do on this planet have been ignored, in large part because of the assumption that anything we did could not affect the world as a whole, but the effort of long-term adventuring beyond our planet will force us to consider the problems in a more inclusive way. Until we can make the entire cycle of material usage visible, people with an incentive will continue to rationalize doing what profits them at the expense of all.

Sanxuary on March 19, 2015:

I do not think we can change our so called carbon footprint if the system is in place to prevent it. The for profits energy Industry raises the price every time we lower our energy consumption, three times where I live this year alone. In this case you our being forced to but you can not expect people with no systems in place to really reduce there carbon foot print. If anything has changed its the requirements just to live and we have become forced to dependency on. For example can you get a job or even graduate high school with out a computer? The answer is no and add 5 to 10 grand to your living expenses. Add a whole lot more on your monthly internet bill. I am quite certain that Al Gores living room probably consumes more energy then my whole house. I do not believe this is how you determine our energy future any way. People with more demanding others have less is not the solution to the problem. Its about better choices, mitigation and new ideas to over come the causes of the problem. We have barely tapped into new ideas that could go a long ways to solving anything. When money and agendas conflict then common sense is destroyed by lies. There is no such thing as global warming even if we can no longer deny it. If there is global warming then it is because of something else. We have been denying a lot of things when it becomes about money. There is not a problem in the World that does not include money and if you even made money solving the problem you have to still defeat those who have been profiting from not finding a solution for a very long time.

Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on March 16, 2015:

Not sure, but I think that he may have bought into the 'Al Gore' argument--you know, Gore is so concerned about emissions, but lives a pretty posh lifestyle and bought a seaside mansion in California, therefore climate change is not true. It's a silly argument, for multiple reasons, not least of which are that he's not a scientist, and that the 'seaside mansion' is well up a hillside, completely beyond the reach of sea level rise. But, hey, denialism never lets facts or logic stand in the way of a good piece of rhetoric.

But my faith in logic remains touchingly undamaged, which is why I cited the cases of Hansen, who's put himself on the line for climate action, literally; of Amy Seidel, who has, with her family, made systematic, thoughtful, and intelligent choices both to mitigate climate change and to be ready for its consequences; and the personal testimonies of climate scientists who grapple with the real world consequences of their research.

But the lack of response makes me suspect that 'tireless' was just passing by. Too bad… but then it matches his online handle, I suppose.

P. Orin Zack on March 15, 2015:

Hey, I thought it was worth finding out. After all, people profess to hold all sorts of ideas and beliefs in the manner of lip-service without backing it up with personal choices. I may be aghast at the signs held by true-believers outside of women's health centers, for example, but you can't say that the people holding them aren't sincere (unless they'd simply been paid by others to hold the signs). But here, when we're speaking about how the world's climates have been, are, and will be affected by mankind's choices, I would question the sincerity of someone who purposefully polluted the environment or profited mightily from the actions of corporations which encouraged further harm to the environment. So I'm curious about the people that Tirelesstravel was thinking about, and what they either did, or did not do.

Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on March 14, 2015:

Good questions, Orin--though I suspect 'tireless' may miss them.

P. Orin Zack on March 14, 2015:

Tirelesstraveler, what sort of actions would you expect those who hold this idea to carry out? If you hold those who hold views on other issues to the same standard, what sort of actions would you expect them to carry out?

Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on March 05, 2015:

Well, I don't think that I agree with you there--but before I talk about that, let me say "thank you" for your kind words on the article. You set a great example to us all for civil disagreement!

But to the climate scientists and advocates, and their actions and feelings. James Hansen, for example, is a grandfather, and one of the most prominent climate researchers around. Recently retired from NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, he has now been arrested twice that I know of, demonstrating against development of fossil fuel infrastructure, including the Keystone XL pipeline. I'd say that's a significant degree of conviction. You can see his TED talk here:


There is also a bunch of less dramatic stuff that I've encountered along the way--basically either scientists and amateur students of climate-related science making choices to mitigate their own carbon footprint as much as practicable, or making choices to adapt to expected future impacts by, for example, basing choices of residence on the possible hazards. One example of both is Amy Seidl, whom I've written about here:


And lastly, there's now a wonderful collection of personal testimonies by climate researchers available online. It's oriented more toward their feelings about the results of their research than toward their actions, and reading some of the responses makes it clear that scientists, like the rest of us humans, can be conflicted, and can struggle to bring their life circumstances into accord with what they know to be true, and with what they themselves aspire to be. But it's nevertheless a pretty powerful response to the question you pose:


Judy Specht from California on March 05, 2015:

This is a beautifully written article. We diverge greatly in opinion, nonetheless it is a thoughtful and well researched article. The reason we diverge in opinion? The people who have written and lectured and profess to be most positive in this research do not ACT like they believe their own ideas.

Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on March 04, 2015:

Yes, that makes a lot of sense. In fact, it's the message of Gwynn Dyer's "Climate Wars," which I wrote about here:


The issue doesn't get a lot of attention because, I suppose, it's hard to estimate. And that's despite the very real possibility that the effects of climate change (in the form of Middle Eastern drought) helped spark the current Syrian civil war.

The problem cuts another way, too--for multiple reasons, conflict doesn't tend to conduce to efforts to de-carbonize.

P. Orin Zack on March 04, 2015:

To me, the most troubling impact is the human conflicts that would result. These would be viewed by governments as immediate issues that must be dealt with, and that would shift the world's attention from the causes of climate change to those effects which governments are willing to address, making it that much more difficult to effect useful change. I see it as a downward spiral that will feed on itself as conditions worsen for more and more of the planet, one that will only be challenged once even the rich and powerful have nowhere to hide from it.

Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on March 04, 2015:

Thanks for reading this Hub. I hope it's been worth the time.

But what's your take? Perhaps you voted in the poll above. If so, what is the most troubling impact in your view?

Or maybe you've got a question? If so, ask away. Correct answers are guaranteed, but I'll do my best.

One way or another, I hope to hear from you!

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