David Roberts on Climate Change is Simple at TEDxTheEvergreenStateCollege (Transcript)

Will that happen at 2º? Probably not though there is a real chance of it and there is a lot of debate about that. Will it happen at 4º? Well, it looks a lot more likely at 4º. Will it happen at 6º? Almost certainly. So, if we continue on our present course, climate change will probably take on a life of its own, spiral out of control and, according to a recent paper, by 2300, we could see temperature rise of up to 12ºC.

Now if that happened, something like half the Earth’s currently inhabited land would become too hot to survive on; and when I say too hot to survive on I don’t mean it’s difficult to grow beans or air conditioning bills are inconveniently high, I mean if you go outside you die of hotness. I mean, places that were an average of 80ºF would be now an average of 170-180ºF, literally too hot for human beings to go outside and survive.

So, will there still be human civilization under those circumstances? Who knows, I mean, maybe we’ll live in underground climate controlled caves, maybe we’ll grow food in test tubes, but that wouldn’t look anything like Earth as we now know it, it would look a lot more like Newt Gingrich’s moon colony, assuming any human beings, or at least enough to make a civilization survived in those circumstances.

So, when I say “Climate change is simple.” — I know this has been bugging you, you are not used to thinking in Celsius, those strange European metric temperatures, so here is good American Fahrenheit, it’s just as ugly.

So this is what I mean by climate change being simple. There are many complicated and fascinating discussions to be had about what to do about it, or about what effect our actions might have on the climate and when, or which policies are best based on cost benefit analyses. There is complexity, plenty of complexity, for those of you who like complexity, but we now know to a fair degree of certainty that if we keep doing what we are now doing, we will face unthinkable catastrophe; that’s the bumper sticker, that’s the take home message, and that, saying “I don’t want to talk about that because I don’t know the ins and outs” is like saying, “I don’t want to raise alarms about Hitler’s army being a hundred miles out, because I don’t know the thread count of their uniforms, or, I don’t know the average calorie intake of a German soldier.” You don’t need to know those things to be scared that the army’s on the march and to raise alarms about it.

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Similarly, if we keep doing what we are now doing, we are screwed, this we know now. To stabilize temperature, and I don’t mean stabilize temperature at 2º, or 4º, or 6º, I mean to ever have a hope of ever again having a stable temperature, of any kind, global climate change emissions need to peak, stop growing, peak and start falling rapidly in the next 5 to 10 years. Every year we do not get started on this, we add, according to the International Energy Agency, an extra $500 billion, with a B, dollars to the price tag of what it is going to cost us to do this, eventually, every year we wait. That’s $500 billion down the drain.

Now, you and I look around at current politics, particularly US politics, and massive coordinated intelligent ambitious action does not strike us as particularly plausible. In fact, it might strike us as impossible, but that is where we are, stuck between the impossible and the unthinkable. So, your job, anyone who hears this, for the rest of your life, your job is to make the impossible possible.

Thank you.


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