Friday, March 19, 2010

perturbations: the real fear of climate change

I always like to look at problems from a different perspective.

Lets adapt a new perspective. Suppose you dont buy into the "end of the world from climate change". What do you buy into? Recessions and depressions, hurricanes, tornado outbreaks, earthquakes?

The real fear that I have related to climate change is the subtle perturbations to the overall nonlinear behavior of the earth-human system. After all the recent earthquakes, it is easy to see how devastating these disasters can be. Hurricanes and tornadoes also have something in common with earthquakes: how quickly they devastate a vast area, and how quickly they alter your life, your surroundings, and your perspective.

Climate change will be more subtle. The impacts will be regional. The effect will be tempered by how we respond to it. I tend not to think about the magnitude of the change since that is uncertain. I think more generally about how that change will be so slow compared to our collective attention span (both in a human sense and in a financial priority sense).

The slowness would be like the financial sector meltdown we just experienced. It wont effect everyone equally at least at first. But when the full effect is felt it will already be too late.

This is not a liberal agenda. It is a warning agenda. I feel more comfortable knowing that people are warning me of these impending dangers. A lot like the people of hawaii likely felt when an invisible tsunami approached. They got out of the way and luckily nothing major happened. They were uncertain of its magnitude and yet they acted as if it was going to be big.

What helped was that there was little else going on. There were no distractions. The warning went out early, it was a slow Sunday, and the wave wasn't going to until noon or something. So the perturbations can be distractions or other disasters or other human failure events. Imagine a future war takes up our time and resources. or an earthquake, or other disaster.

Will it cost money to prepare? Yes. Will any human plan be foolproof? No. But it is fortuitous that the very important things we NEED to do be doing are actually beneficial to us and out stewardship of the planet. Cutting greenhouse gases is important.

Need we be reminded that we polluted the planet so badly that we almost removed the ozone layer? And recent estimates put its replacement around 2060. So dont be fooled by the sceptic agenda that CO2 concentrations are so small that they don't matter. The science has a long way to go. You should be encouraged that we are making progress and that the problems seem tractable to get some reasonable answers.

Remember this next time you are in a tornado watch. No models predict tornados directly. Forecasters predict the environment that tornado's are most likely to form in conditional upon thunderstorms forming, and that those thunderstorms will rotate, and that of those that rotate some might produce a tornado (of unknown strength, size, and lifetime). That is a 4 step process. And only when there is a storm with a particular signature does a warning get issued (unless a sighting precedes the radar update). Does that make you think the science is wrong? Or do you take cover when the warning is issued?