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Climate fatigue

Dan Farber, professor of law | April 28, 2015

I gather that people are tired of hearing about climate change. I’m tired of hearing about climate change, too. Sadly, Nature just doesn’t care that much about entertaining us. It’s going to be climate change this year, climate change next year, climate change the year after that . . .

But don’t worry, it won’t be as boring as it sounds. To begin with, although the global trends are reasonably predictable, there’s more uncertainty about exactly how things will play out on the local level. So there are probably going to be some surprises.

And next, did I mention extreme weather events? Many of the major impacts of climate change will take the form of more intense or more frequent droughts, heat waves, and so on. But you never know exactly when one of those is going to hit, so that’s something to break the monotony right there.

And next, climate change isn’t a one-shot deal. The climate will change from now to 2050, and then it will change some more from 2050 to 2075, and then even more after that. And who knows, we might hit some kind of tipping point, leading to some highly dramatic rise in sea level or uncontrolled fires in the Amazon or something. LOTS to look forward to!

But don’t think that the talk is just going to be about the weather. There’s also adaptation to climate change. So you’ll get to read about businesses moving their operations or making a bundle by designing new crops that tolerate heat or making a killing on the catastrophe bond market. (That’s a real thing, not something I made up.)

And there will be the real estate issues, as coastal property values crumble, heat and water become increasingly problematic in much of the Sun Belt, and many people pick up and move to Canada. And on the political side, of course there will be the fights over rights to the Arctic, water in dry areas, and immigrants fleeing impacted areas like the Sahel in Africa.

And of course, when that gets old, folks can always talk about the fools back at the beginning of the century who let the whole thing happen.

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet.

Comments to “Climate fatigue

  1. Dan, the human race needs leadership, and we have no political or intellectual leadership like Churchill and FDR who saved us during WWII.

  2. M.E.: Your response to my (admittedly terse) comment attributes the word “unfightable” to me. But I never used that word, and I agree with you on the kinds of struggles that are worth fighting even if we are not capable of influencing the planet’s temperature as much as some climate scientists imply.

    I do not oppose the gradual replacement of fossil fuels by renewable sources. I support all non-coercive efforts to reduce population growth. Expenses should not be spared to preserve our remaining old growth forests.

    There is much to do in the campaign to keep our planet livable and beautiful. But “climate change” has happened before industrialism came on the scene, and it will happen even if we all convert to the latest Green ideology. Eventually, the human species will have to adapt to a less hospitable earth.

    Our remote ancestors had to change their way of life (the lengthy Ice Age that preceded our civilization necessitated a wrenching transformation), and so will we.

    • You didn’t use the word but you describe humanities attempts to influence climate changes by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions as pointless (unfightable in that regard).

      If more people who disagree with the idea of the human made climate change would take part in many of the (un)mentioned efforts that indirectly reduce emissions, we’d end up with a win/win situation and the answer how much humans influence climate would just end up as a nice side product for science.
      Now with more people I mean most and taking part is supposed to happen sooner rather than later, if one believes Dan Farber.

      You mention “non-coercive efforts” (in regards to population growth). I can only agree with that, let’s hope smart solutions will be enough concerning that, but also when it comes to other things.
      Meredith Fowlie’s article sounds promising.

      “the human species will have to adapt to a less hospitable earth.”

      “Life finds a way” that I agree with but let’s hope science finds ways that won’t make that necessary; fiction has come up with terraforming to make other planets earth-like, but we might end up using some of the ideas to keep earth as we know it first…

  3. Mark Twain would be surprised to learn that thinkers in the 21st century not only talked about the weather but thought that we could do something about it. If he knew what we now know about the history of climate change on this planet, he would be even more bemused.

    The climate is always changing — slowly and sometimes more rapidly. Unfortunately, the public has been misled by the hockey stick graph that purports to show that earth’s climate has been steady (not subject to swings of temperature) until the 20th century’s massive exploitation of fossil fuels. Alas, the story is much more complex than that.

    I recommend a book by a German historian for anyone who wishes to understand how humanity has dealt with climate change in the past: A Cultural History of Climate by Wolfgang Behringer. There are climatic cycles that we are just beginning to understand, and the notion that we can adjust the planet’s thermostat by simply cutting down on our use of fossil fuels is sadly misguided.

    It is one of our species’ self-delusions to think that we can control what is unimaginably vaster than we are, and Mark Twain would have appreciated the irony of secular thinkers acting as though the future of the weather depended on our virtue.

    • “and the notion that we can adjust the planet’s thermostat by simply cutting down on our use of fossil fuels is sadly misguided.”

      Even if that were true many ideas put forward to fight what you claim “unfightable” would still be worth supporting:

      Reforestation (preventing desertification), maintaining a healthy environment – biodiversity, switching to sustainable energy sources instead of using fossil ones, high quality public transportation instead of individual car traffic (even more important in densely populated areas – population control policies)…

      “or uncontrolled fires in the Amazon or something.”

      I guess that’s when people will actually start demanding action, and be willing to take part themselves.
      – Cassandra’s warnings won’t be heeded until Troy’s on fire, I hope that Dan has more success.

  4. Dan, it appears that UC professors and scholars like you are our last hope to make the right things happen in time.

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