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A Perfect Storm of Character Flaws
Roger Pielke Jr. has an interesting post on setting policy for emissions reductions that target particular levels at which CO2 should be stabilised. This seems to be the preferred approach, both for policy makers and advocates of climate change mitigation. I find myself in the odious position of criticising this approach while having nothing much better to offer. Nevertheless, here are some expanded thoughts on this matter that I submitted as a comment on Roger's post.
Firstly, any good emissions policy also needs to consider ocean acidity. It is fine for GW if stabilized emissions balance natural sinks at some low risk temperature change, but as long as that means increasing the level of carbonic acid in the ocean, the global environment still faces a huge problem. This urgent issue remains remarkably out of sight in the public debate.
As for the best policy on reducing carbon emissions, it is unfortunate that "as much as possible as soon as possible" is not precise enough for policy makers, litigators and tax incentive schemes. It is equally unfortunate that public perceptions seem to mirror the fabled "Frog in the Pot of Boiling Water". How much worse is 380 than 378? How much worse is 382 than 380, and on it goes until we find ourselves asking "how much worse is 550 than 450?"
But perhaps the greatest challenge to both our political and economic ways of thinking is the temporal seperation between cause and effect that characterizes this issue. Few alive now will ever see the consequences of their choices, and none will ever know the long term effects that our current and recent-past lifestyle and technology choices have set in motion. Four, five or six year terms do not encourage today's leaders to place any priority on such long range planning. Markets have trouble looking beyond the next financial quarter. The IPCC scenarios may stop in 2100, but let's not forget that the world does not.
So what the Climate Change debate is faced with here is a perfect storm of societal character flaws and through these, incontrovertible proof of the immaturity human civilization. I am a big believer in the adage that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but that is what you say to yourself after you have survived. And while I am not worried that the species will not survived, I think there is abundant and clear evidence that our global society may not.