The Earth Will Be Just Fine….

Something’s been nagging at me for a while regarding climate change arguments and this seems like a good time and place to share it. This post is gonna be a little rougher around the edges than my usual style, but please bear with me.

Namely, global warming has been very easy to characterize as just another environmental issue. In fact, you’re seeing a lot of the same arguments, by the same enviro groups, pushing for climate legislation and, say, saving the whales. But climate change is a fundamentally different issue, on an exponentially greater scale.  Most traditional environmental causes are laudable and well-intentioned, but frankly they aren’t that huge in the grand scheme of things. Even things as egregious and horrific as cutting the top off a mountain to get at coal deposits a little more cheaply have a negligible effect on the long-term health of the planet and its inhabitants writ large.

Catastrophic climate change is a different story. It affects the whole planet in ways that will impact all of its inhabitants, including and especially the more biologically complex ones.  But what’s really bugging me is the sense of enormous hubris it takes to think we can hurt the planet. To be clear, the Earth will continue to exist unless it gets hit by a gigantic asteroid or until it is swallowed up by the Sun in 10 billion or so years. It has an incredible ability to self-adapt to changing environmental (in the dictionary sense) circumstances both internal and external. Changes in temperature and atmospheric composition happen from time to time; after all, the land was completely uninhabitable for most of the Earth’s history, but the sea has been teeming with a dizzying array of microscopic creatures for billions of years. Yes, the planet will be just fine no matter how much carbon gets spewed into the atmosphere.

No, what is at grave risk from catastrophic climate change and other forms of extreme environmental degradation is us. Humans. Catastrophic climate change would best be characterized as a mass extinction event, one which all evidence indicates is already underway since humans became the world’s dominant species. Guess what types of organism are generally most likely to be wiped out in a mass extinction? Yup, the most complex ones. Among which would be homo sapiens.

In other words, my core message on climate change is simple. The whales are nice, but stop climate change to SAVE THE PEOPLE.



3 comments so far

  1. Chris on

    pushing for climate legislation and, say, saving the whales.

    It’s much worse then focusing on secondary concerns such as endangered species, environmental groups spent years playing down the ‘threat’ entirely. Being negative didn’t do well in focus groups. It wasn’t until the run up in global temperatures in 2000-2006 that people started to talk about climate change already taking place, and avoidable temp increases being much higher then previously thought.

    People not only fail to connect climate change to negative outcomes for people, but negatives outcomes at all.

    Catastrophic climate change would best be characterized as a mass extinction event

    Extinction isn’t really accurate, James Lovelock is the most pessimistic scholar on the subject I know of and he only talks about human society reducing in size to 1 billion people. If that prediction is correct it would involve death and devastation on a scale previously unknown, but not extinction.

  2. jeremydc on

    The fact that regular people fail to make connections between climate change and negative outcomes doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about what those outcomes might be. This kind of reasoning is why I’ve never donated to a mainstream environmental group. Maybe I’m jaded, but I see them doing more harm than good for the environment writ large. A lot of the people who can’t envision the negative consequences of atmospheric changes deny science in the first place, and they really should not be considered when formulating policy platforms. Do you think any scientist with a shred of professional integrity changes their conclusions based on what’s popular? Creating green jobs is great, but it’s intellectually dishonest if invoked as the primary reason to stop pumping toxic stuff into the atmosphere. Leave that kind of argument to the politicians.


  3. jeremydc on

    There’s a new DKos post by teacherken that touches on my point here in the greater context of apocalyptic thought. It’s well worth a read in understanding why humanity is struggling so profoundly to react to the threat of catastrophic global climate change.

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