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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Are We Choosing Doom?

Climate change could be bad, but probably not be this bad. Photo credit www.progressive-charlestown.com

Climate change could be bad, but probably not be this bad. Photo credit www.progressive-charlestown.com

By George Harvey

Dr. Joe J. Romm is one of our most important writers on climate change. The New York Times called him “one of the country’s most influential writers on climate change,” and he has been named one of Time Magazine’s “Heroes of the Environment.” He is a prolific writer, publishing very often at the climate blog, Climate Progress, which is part of the Think Progress website, thinkprogress.org.

In July, Romm posted an article titled, “We Aren’t Doomed by Climate Change. Right Now We Are Choosing to Be Doomed.” It was a response to the debate stirred by an article that appeared in New York Magazine, “The Uninhabitable Earth” (UE) by David Wallace-Wells. It is the same debate that we covered in our front page article, “Are You Scared Yet?”

Romm’s post sees the debate from a somewhat different point of view than our article. We would like to publish it in its entirety, but it is so long that we did not have nearly enough room. Nevertheless, we want our readers, even those who do not read it online, to understand what it says.

New York Magazine’s UE paints a very bleak picture of what the world could turn into with climate change. It is not easy reading, and the responses to it varied greatly. Romm wrote on it partly because it quoted him, and partly because he wanted to point out one important fault.

Romm has long maintained that we need to put more attention on worst case scenarios. UE was partly based on Romm’s writings and reflects his viewpoint to a degree. In the fourth paragraph of his article, Romm said this of UE:

“What’s clear from the article and the wave of reactions it triggered is that we need to be talking a lot more about climate change in general, and why this country in particular has embraced policies and politicians that — if they continue to prevail — will destroy America and modern civilization as we have come to know it.”

Romm’s reaction to UE describes some of the things that may go wrong because of climate change. The list is long and frightening, including storm surges, like those that came with Hurricane Sandy, coming every other year, loss of agricultural land and coastal communities, famine, and displaced populations. Romm says, “The true worst-case scenario is so bad that scientists simply assume humanity is too rational and moral to let that happen.”

We might ask why a group of people seeks no insurance against a disaster that many scientists not only say is unfolding, but insist may be the greatest danger ever to come before humanity. Part of the problem is that we, in a society guided by the leadership we have, are actively maintaining ignorance on the subject.

Nevertheless, Romm discourages a sense of hopelessness. With the decline in costs of renewable energy sources, mitigating factors are becoming increasingly clear. Tools that area already available to us can be used to avoid the worst case scenario. In fact, we are very likely to be able to do better than that.

Joe Romm includes this hopeful note in his article:

“So, to be clear, we are not doomed. If the nation and the world were to adopt a WWII-scale effort, we could certainly keep total global warming “well below 2°C” (3.6°F), which scientists — and the nations of the world — recognize as the threshold beyond which climate change rapidly moves from dangerous to catastrophic.”

Romm urges everyone to read UE, which can be found at bit.ly/Uninhabitable-Earth. We urge everyone to read his article as well; it is at bit.ly/we-are-choosing-doom.

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