Sunday, September 22, 2013

Climate Change Workshop, part 8.

Kevin Kloesel, the director of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, began our final afternoon session. He noted a mismatch between what scientists know and what policy-makers are doing. The National Academies, as authorized by Congress, have published reports based on peer-reviewed research. Scientists criticize one another's work, Kloesel noted, more severely than even the climate deniers, so these reports are reliable.

There are four reports. The Science Panel report shows the evidence that global climate change is real and humans are causing a lot of it. And continued data gathering is essential to improve our predictions. Pilots, for example, need weather data in order to fly their planes. Senator Inhofe, a pilot, knows this, but chooses to ignore the role of data in climate science. He would crash if he flew his plane the same way he is trying to fly the country. The science panel indicated that we pretty much know what the average results of global warming will be, but it is difficult to predict the extreme events. Also, predictions have different consequences for different people, just as a 40 percent chance of rain might mean different things to someone taking a short walk and to someone planning an outdoor wedding.

The Limiting Panel report recommended prompt and sustained research efforts. Their recommendation is important because of course the scientists on the Science Panel are going to say "give us more money for research." But the Limiting Panel examined how much research and development money we will need in order to meet emissions reductions targets. Greatly reducing emissions will cost a lot of money, but we might be able to afford a more limited goal. This panel recommended setting an economy-wide cost of carbon. This recommendation has already been rejected by politicians. But this panel pointed out that every day that we wait to take action, the more drastic and expensive the solution will have to be. Also, there are always tradeoffs. For example, do we use the land for growing biofuels or food? In Oklahoma, competing interests include tribal hegemony. Even international relations could involve tradeoffs. If we put big mirrors in outer space to shade the Earth, what will China think? What would we think if they did it?

The Adapting panel report dealt with what we can do to adapt to whatever amount of global warming will prove to be inevitable. We already have is a warning system for tornadoes, but we have nothing like this for long-term climate events. What contingency plans should we make in case our predictions are wrong, especially for high-impact low-probability events? Will this require planetary cooperation, or perhaps even global governance structures? Some politicians, especially from cowboy states, would rather take any chance at global catastrophe rather than to take advice from the United Nations.

The Informing panel report dealt with how to make masses of information available in a useful form.

There is no getting around the fact that rich Americans will have to reduce our carbon emissions, rather than encouraging the poor of the world to increase, in order to achieve fairness and sustainability. Right now, the carbon footprint of people in developing nations is increasing. For example, we cannot tell the people of India, "We will keep using air conditioning but you should not."

Prospicience is the art of looking ahead, said Kloesel. We have, he said, barely begun to ask what we are on Earth to do. Why should we send missions to Mars while ignoring the monitoring of our own planet? How can we leave a good world for our grandchildren? In his book Senator Inhofe talks a lot about the world his grandchildren will live in, despite the fact that he ignores the truth about global warming which will make the world a disrupted and chaotic world for those grandchildren. What can we do when our leaders only pretend to care about their grandchildren's world? (Dr. Kloesel did not say that Inhofe was only pretending to care.) If our leaders think, "what has posterity ever done for me?" We all left the workshop with this question unanswered.

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