Geoscience Reference
In-Depth Information
lives in good conscience. Often it is quite easy to do so. For good reason,
the typical discussion of global warming sticks close to the science; the
difficulty of the subject for lay readers and the need for an explanation
that can cut through the fog of rancorous debate require that the subject
be handled with as litle fuss as possible. But as a result, even the best
presenters of the science write as if the facts will speak for themselves, as
if there are no obstacles in our lives that would interfere with a full accep-
tance of what they say. In fact, few of us are free of such obstacles; most of
us filter what we hear in some fashion or indulge a tendency to simplify
or deny, misconstrue or exaggerate, the full import of the facts—at least
in part, and perhaps unconsciously.
Delving further into climate change, in short, requires an increas-
ingly direct confrontation with realities that we would rather ignore.
Accordingly, for nearly all of us, the chief task is to break through the
tendency to keep the entire problem at a distance from our actual lives.
The challenge is to identify and confront the most representative ways we
evade what the scientific research teaches us and thus to encounter the
truth as fully as we can.
So let's begin with perhaps the first key objection one might make
to the notion that climate change is a serious and immediate threat
to humanity.
Yes, a voice protests, climate change is real and will have serious conse-
quences, but not right away; we have plenty of time to figure out what we'll do
to keep its worst effects from taking place .
To some extent, my discussion of our current situation in the open-
ing pages of this topic may provide an adequate, if hasty, reply. But to
respond more fully to this objection, it may be valuable to slow down
here and outline the overall context of contemporary scientific thinking
on this question.
This objection relies on the scientific uncertainty with regard to exactly
how much harm greenhouse gas emissions will eventually have. The esti-
mates in the assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (henceforth IPCC), the international body that assembles and
summarizes the current state of scientific knowledge for the benefit of
the world's governments (and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along
with Al Gore, in 2007), have indeed varied widely. More importantly,
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