[Marxism] Cancer and Climate Change
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Dec 25 14:17:37 MST 2016
(This was written almost a year ago. The author just died. He was
interviewed in Leonardo DiCaprio's very fine documentary on climate
change "Before the Flood" that can be seen on-demand on the National
Geographic Channel and on Amazon.)
NY Times Op-Ed, January 16 2016
Cancer and Climate Change
By PIERS J. SELLERS
I’M a climate scientist who has just been told I have Stage 4 pancreatic
This diagnosis puts me in an interesting position. I’ve spent much of my
professional life thinking about the science of climate change, which is
best viewed through a multidecadal lens. At some level I was sure that,
even at my present age of 60, I would live to see the most critical part
of the problem, and its possible solutions, play out in my lifetime. Now
that my personal horizon has been steeply foreshortened, I was forced to
decide how to spend my remaining time. Was continuing to think about
climate change worth the bother?
After handling the immediate business associated with the medical news —
informing family, friends, work; tidying up some finances; putting out
stacks of unread New York Times Book Reviews to recycle; and throwing a
large “Limited Edition” holiday party, complete with butlers, I had some
time to sit at my kitchen table and draw up the bucket list.
Very quickly, I found out that I had no desire to jostle with wealthy
tourists on Mount Everest, or fight for some yardage on a beautiful and
exclusive beach, or all those other things one toys with on a boring
January afternoon. Instead, I concluded that all I really wanted to do
was spend more time with the people I know and love, and get back to my
office as quickly as possible.
I work for NASA, managing a large group of expert scientists doing
research on the whole Earth system (I should mention that the views in
this article are my own, not NASA’s). This involves studies of climate
and weather using space-based observations and powerful computer models.
These models describe how the planet works, and what can happen as we
pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The work is complex, exacting,
highly relevant and fascinating.
Last year was the warmest year on record, by far. I think that future
generations will look back on 2015 as an important but not decisive year
in the struggle to align politics and policy with science. This is an
incredibly hard thing to do. On the science side, there has been a
steady accumulation of evidence over the last 15 years that climate
change is real and that its trajectory could lead us to a very
uncomfortable, if not dangerous, place. On the policy side, the
just-concluded climate conference in Paris set a goal of holding the
increase in the global average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6
degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels.
While many have mocked this accord as being toothless and unenforceable,
it is noteworthy that the policy makers settled on a number that is
based on the best science available and is within the predictive
capability of our computer models.
It’s doubtful that we’ll hold the line at 2 degrees Celsius, but we need
to give it our best shot. With scenarios that exceed that target, we are
talking about enormous changes in global precipitation and temperature
patterns, huge impacts on water and food security, and significant sea
level rise. As the predicted temperature rises, model uncertainty grows,
increasing the likelihood of unforeseen, disastrous events.
All this as the world’s population is expected to crest at around 9.5
billion by 2050 from the current seven billion. Pope Francis and a think
tank of retired military officers have drawn roughly the same conclusion
from computer model predictions: The worst impacts will be felt by the
world’s poorest, who are already under immense stress and have meager
resources to help them adapt to the changes. They will see themselves as
innocent victims of the developed world’s excesses. Looking back, the
causes of the 1789 French Revolution are not a mystery to historians;
looking forward, the pressure cooker for increased radicalism, of all
flavors, and conflict could get hotter along with the global temperature.
Last year may also be seen in hindsight as the year of the Death of
Denial. Globally speaking, most policy makers now trust the scientific
evidence and predictions, even as they grapple with ways to respond to
the problem. And most Americans — 70 percent, according to a recent
Monmouth University poll — believe that the climate is changing. So
perhaps now we can move on to the really hard part of this whole business.
The initial heavy lifting will have to be done by policy makers. I feel
for them. It’s hard to take a tough stand on an important but long-term
issue in the face of so many near-term problems, amid worries that
reducing emissions will weaken our global economic position and fears
that other countries may cheat on their emissions targets.
Where science can help is to keep track of changes in the Earth system —
this is a research and monitoring job, led by NASA and the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and their counterparts elsewhere
in the world — and use our increasingly powerful computer models to
explore possible futures associated with proposed policies. The models
will help us decide which approaches are practicable, trading off
near-term impacts to the economy against longer-term impacts to the climate.
Ultimately, though, it will be up to the engineers and industrialists of
the world to save us. They must come up with the new technologies and
the means of implementing them. The technical and organizational
challenges of solving the problems of clean energy generation, storage
and distribution are enormous, and they must be solved within a few
decades with minimum disruption to the global economy. This will likely
entail a major switch to nuclear, solar and other renewable power, with
an electrification of our transport system to the maximum extent
possible. These engineers and industrialists are fully up to the job,
given the right incentives and investments. You have only to look at
what they achieved during World War II: American technology and
production catapulted over what would have taken decades to do under
ordinary conditions and presented us with a world in 1945 that was
completely different from the late 1930s.
What should the rest of us do? Two things come to mind. First, we should
brace for change. It is inevitable. It will appear in changes to the
climate and to the way we generate and use energy. Second, we should be
prepared to absorb these with appropriate sang-froid. Some will be
difficult to deal with, like rising seas, but many others could be
positive. New technologies have a way of bettering our lives in ways we
cannot anticipate. There is no convincing, demonstrated reason to
believe that our evolving future will be worse than our present,
assuming careful management of the challenges and risks. History is
replete with examples of us humans getting out of tight spots. The
winners tended to be realistic, pragmatic and flexible; the losers were
often in denial of the threat.
As for me, I’ve no complaints. I’m very grateful for the experiences
I’ve had on this planet. As an astronaut I spacewalked 220 miles above
the Earth. Floating alongside the International Space Station, I watched
hurricanes cartwheel across oceans, the Amazon snake its way to the sea
through a brilliant green carpet of forest, and gigantic nighttime
thunderstorms flash and flare for hundreds of miles along the Equator.
From this God’s-eye-view, I saw how fragile and infinitely precious the
Earth is. I’m hopeful for its future.
And so, I’m going to work tomorrow.
Support Louis Proyect biography project
More information about the Marxism