Friday, May 10, 2013

Forecasting the Future of Global Warming

There was a recent article in the New York Times about the record levels of carbon in the atmosphere.  This raises lots of thoughts in my mind and I wanted to get them down in writing.

Unstoppable Growth in Carbon
My first thought is this is unstoppable.  Carbon in the air will continue to increase.  The reason is not just powerful oil and coal lobbies.  It is the Rest of the World.  Even if the US gets as aggressive as progressive countries like Germany, it will not make a dent in the global carbon generation.  The US only uses 18% of global energy and the growth is coming from elsewhere.

Economy Tops Morality
The growth is bound to continue since economic growth is the key to power (pun intended) structures in the world.  Failing economies elect new leaders (or overthrow old ones).  So asking a country to cut back on cheap energy is a tough one.  And of course private industry is of course simply interested in the least expensive alternative, which is carbon fuels.

What is Moral?
Do we really have the right to insist that other countries do not have the right to grow their economies and advance?  The reason more carbon is going into the air is the world economy is growing.  More people in India, China, Brazil and other countries can afford cars, air conditioning, heat, etc.  And yes, they are not as efficient as we are.  But it took us until the 1960's and 70's with the Clean Air Acts to start to get our house in order.  The fact is these cultures will need time to get to that point, just as it took us time.

So putting more carbon in the air is raising the standard of living in the world. (You can see more on this topic in a blog I wrote a while ago about the book "Why the West Rules for Now").

The Negative Side
So there are plenty of negative things that will come from this.  In addition to Glacier National Park not having any glaciers in another 10-20 years (there were 150 there 160 years ago), there will be more natural disasters, lots of displacement of people and ways of life.  Watch some of these changes in the lakes and glaciers in these time-lapsed Landsat photos like the drying of the Aral Sea and you have to agree people's lives are going to be impacted negatively.

The Positive Side
I always look for the positive.  The most obvious is that the world is living better.

Another positive is obvious, there will be more countries like Germany who will encourage renewable energy.  This will spur innovations and new discoveries that we probably can't even imagine today.  And maybe some of these innovations will solve the problems anticipated.

The other positive is that the changes will spur new investments and advancements in the way people live.  For example, New York City will likely need investments similar to what Amsterdam and The Netherlands have been doing for hundreds of years to protect below sea level property.  These investments will mean new businesses and new opportunities.

Conclusion
There are two extreme positions on this topic of carbon in the air.  One end ignores it and says it is not real. The other end expects to return to 300 ppm.  I find both positions unrealistic.  The future belongs to those who embrace the change and figure out the new opportunities that will come from this.

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