Are we doomed? Is it “too late” to do anything about climate change?
No, we aren’t doomed, and no, it’s not too late.
Certainly we hear plenty of bad news concerning the warming climate, and naturally many (most?) have moments of exhaustion, discouragement, and even paralyzing despair. But there are good scientific reasons to reject our “doomer” thoughts. Here are a few of these reasons and articles about them.
1. “Doomerism” mistakes a spectrum for a duality, many options for just two, a complex field of possibilities for an either-or choice: We fix everything or we’re all toast. Once you think about this, it’s obvious: the lines and curves on every graph of warming temperatures, rising sea levels, and so on are continuous, with an infinity of points between the best and worst cases, the smallest and largest changes.
For instance, one of the many charts in the latest IPCC report lists near-, mid-, and long-term temperature rises for a set of five possible emissions scenarios. For the long-term, 2081-2100, starting less than 60 years from now, the “best estimates” stretch from 1.6 to 2.4º C (2.8 to 4.32º F) – and the “very likely” rises from 1 to 5.7ºC (1.8 to 10.25ºF). Nothing suggests that these four numbers, never mind just two of them, are the only possible outcomes.
Similarly, no future date is a cliff we might fall off. Every year we delay dropping emissions will make the job harder, but this job will never suddenly become impossible. Nothing special will happen in exactly the year 2050 or 2100. Nothing has to happen precisely by 2035.
As scientists keep reminding us, every tenth of a degree counts. So does every year, every month. And the real uncertainties, at least for this century, are all about what we humans will do.
“No obituary for Earth: Scientists fight climate doom talk.” Seth Borenstein, AP News.
2. When we stop CO2 emissions, atmospheric warming will stop. That is, we’re not locked in to temperatures that will keep rising long after we get our act together. This revision of scientific thought is over a decade old, but it’s still not sufficiently known, and it’s profoundly encouraging.
- For a quick description, see climate scientist Michael Mann’s website piece, “The best climate science you’ve never heard of.”
- Mann refers to a Scientific American article that’s well worth reading, though its title is troublesome (see above re dates!): Mark Fischetti’s “There’s still time to fix climate – about 11 years.”
- For an engaging podcast with very clear explanations by climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, listen to the first 42 minutes of this episode of Warm Regards. And for a somewhat more technical (but still readable) “explainer” from Hausfather, see this piece in Carbon Brief.
3. As Mann noted in an interview with the Guardian, “‘too late’ narratives are invariably based on a misunderstanding of science. Many of the prominent doomist narratives – [Jonathan] Franzen, David Wallace-Wells, the Deep Adaptation movement – can be traced back to a false notion that an Arctic methane bomb will cause runaway warming and extinguish all life on earth within 10 years. This is completely wrong. There is no science to support that.” Indeed, scientists don’t expect any such “bombs” at least this century. As the IPCC report says, “There is no evidence of abrupt change in climate projections of global temperature for the next century.” For more on some of these mistaken points, see the four linked blog posts by Eban Goodstein, “Is it too late to stop climate change? A response to Franzen.”
4. There is a lot of good news, too – things we’ve already made big progress on, things currently being done, robust reasons for genuine doom-rejection. This lively 11-minute YouTube video by “BritMonkey” is full of “good climate news that you might have missed”: “Stop being a climate change doomer.”
Keep this in mind: It’s never too late to do the right thing, and there are reasons to celebrate every additional one-tenth of a degree of warming avoided.
This series is curated and written by retired Colorado State University English professor and close climate change watcher SueEllen Campbell of Colorado. To flag works you think warrant attention, send an e-mail to her any time. Let us hear from you.