Climate Pessimism

Ted Rall makes a valid point: we’re boned. In fact, I doubt if the general public is even aware of exactly how thoroughly this simple fact is accepted in the scientific community.

As a biotech student sitting out in the boondocks, I recently had the pleasure of hearing a lecture on integrated farm management by a reasonably well-respected foreign professor. In between telling us about how databasing and advances in computing can raise yields and help predict/prevent disease outbreaks (something I won’t go on about for fear of putting everyone to sleep), he casually mentioned how the same systems can be used to plan for long-term climate changes. It is essentially accepted that climate change is going to happen; to the point that the current discussion is almost solely based around mitigation rather than prevention.

For instance, I happen to know that our current best-guess model shows a high likelihood of the Eastern half of South Africa getting wetter and warmer over the next hundred years. With a bit of planning, we could actually raise our overall agricultural output (at least over the short-to-medium term) by adapting our cropland allocations and types of crop grown accordingly. In addition, there is good evidence to show that most plants will do better in a high-CO2 environment (given, of course, that everything else stays the same). So we know that, in the areas still suitable for potato cultivation, something like a 30% yield increase is possible per unit of land grown.

These are positive signs: we can, by dint of good luck and even better planning, stay abreast of climate change to an extent. But don’t be fooled. Nobody is talking about stopping it any more.

PS: I forgot to mention this, but I do disagree with Ted Rall’s assertion that humanity is on the way out. We’re a widely-spread, adaptable species with a huge population. Usually, that means millions of years of relatively uninterrupted life for the species as a whole (barring planet-shattering events like mega-meteor impacts or global volcanic events). That said, there’s good money on a hell of a lot of people dying from the effects of climate change. Don’t think that you can get comfortable.

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