Responding to Global Warming

Analyzing Some Ideas

Economist William D. Nordhaus, The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World, 2013, argues (e.g., on p. 169) that there are four possible approaches to coping with the global warming problem:

  1. Reduce the rate of economic growth by reducing living standards.

  1. Change our lifestyle by cutting back on those activities that involve the use of fossil fuels (e.g., reducing one’s travel by airplane).

  1. Continue producing and transporting (goods and people) at the same level, but do so with low- or no-carbon technologies.

  1. Continue burning fossil fuels, but remove the CO2 after combustion—i.e., engage in geo-engineering measures.

Should these proposals be given serious attention? If so, by whom? In answering these questions, the starting point is to ask: What facts of relevance regarding global warming do we need to recognize before we start making proposals? I would suggest the following as key facts (or projections that are reasonable to regard as “factual”):

  1. The consensus with climate scientists is that if the global mean increased by 2° C (the baseline here being the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, i.e., around 1750 CE), the negative feedback mechanism that have been “working” to “hold back” change will, in a sense, “give up,” to be replaced with positive feedback mechanisms—whose function will be to accelerate change. Some climate scientists—James Hansen perhaps being the most notable among this group—believe that even a 2° C “target” of increase, in the global mean temperature, is too high.

  1. The “climate commitment” value is believed to be somewhere between 1° C and 1.5° C That is, if the emission of “greenhouse gases” were to cease, on a world-wide basis, today, those gases would not suddenly disappear. Their presence would continue in the atmosphere, and therefore continue to have an effect on the global mean temperature. True, the magnitude of that presence would decline over time, but while present those gases would cause the global mean to increase by at least a degree (to 1.8° C), and as much as 1.5° C (to 2.3° C).

  2. Given that we humans will continue to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (this is an indisputable fact, is it not?!), it is virtually certain that an acceleration in an increase in the global mean temperature will occur at some point in the future—the only question being when (a few decades? a few years?).

  1. Conceivably, geo-engineering measures could be introduced, and would prevent this from occurring. But there is no reason to believe that such measures would be introduced before we reach a “point of no return;” and even if such measures were introduced soon, there is the possibility that they would exacerbate the situation. It’s no wonder that Al Gore asserted recently that the introduction of such measures would be “insane.”

  1. Because the technology exists for a conversion to sources of energy other than fossil fuels, it’s conceivable that a “switchover” to such sources of energy would occur before an acceleration of temperature increase occurs. However, because such a switchover would require the involvement of government, and government (at the national level in particular) is controlled by Wall Street, major corporations, and the rich, the probability of this occurring in time is zero.

In light of the above five comments, it is reasonable to conclude that:

  1. Societal collapse is likely here and elsewhere within a matter of decades, perhaps even years.

  1. This will result in starvation, disease, an increase in violence (including suicides)—to the point that most of the world’s population will be wiped out, with the possibility, even, that our species will become extinct. (Every day dozens of extinctions are occurring with other species.)

None of the four approaches discussed by Nordhaus recognizes these two very likely possibilities. What I am forced to conclude, then, is that all of those approaches can be rejected. (With recommendations coming from an economist, should one be surprised?!)

One of his suggestions, if rephrased, would seem to have some promise, however. If his reference to changing our “lifestyle” were changed to changing our way of life, following that suggestion might give at least some of those who follow it some hope of surviving—with those not following it likely being doomed to premature death, however.

As I see it, changing our way of life—which would involve more drastic change than a mere change in lifestyle—can be thought of as involving three options:

  1. Becoming a homesteader.

  1. With other individuals/families forming a “homestead colony” (a term originated by Ralph Borsodi).

  1. Moving to an existing “intentional” community, or forming one with other individuals and/or families.

Whichever option is chosen, two goals, at minimum, would need to be sought: (1) Becoming as self-sufficient, economically, as possible and (2) anticipating the effects of global warming (for the production of food, for access to water, for surviving severe storms, etc.).

Note that I made no reference to government here, for the simple reason that it would be foolish beyond belief to look to government for any sort of leadership with any of those options. It’s true that a communities program was instituted during the Great Depression, but (1) that program did not involve many people, and (2) the probability of government undertaking anything like it today is zero.

As one with five grandchildren, I wish that I could be more optimistic about the human future, but frankly can see no reason to be.

Al Thompson is retired from an engineering (avionics) firm in Milwaukee. His e-mail address is: Read other articles by Alton.