Stating the Issue Simply

More and more, sources of climate change denial are shifting from outright, tobacco-industry-esque denial combined with fake science to the view that we might be shifting the climate but we either don't know or can't do anything about it.

Well, we do know and we can do something about it.

And as this post on RealClimate about the recent issue of Science spells out pretty clearly, we need to act.

Comparing the two papers is obscured by the different units; mass of carbon versus mass of CO2 (moles, anyone? Is there a chemist in the house?). But chugging through the math, we find the papers to be broadly consistent. Both papers conclude that humankind is already about half-way toward releasing enough carbon to probably reach 2°C, and that most of the fossil fuel carbon (the coal, in particular) will have to remain in the ground.

So the question is whether we act now or later to achieve a target like 450 by 2050.

Let's imagine both possibilities: we start working gradually now, following the general scientific consensus. We start moving away from coal quickly, we move on automobile emission regulation, and we start rebuilding electrical grids to work better and provide better information to the end user - the people using the power in the first (last?) place.

Added to that is global technological and professional outreach - helping to develop countries power and transportation infrastructure to make sure they don't repeat our mistakes.

It's a lot of work, but it's nothing that far out of the ordinary. In the United States, our lives will remain largely unchanged. Consumer habits will shift, but the bulk of the shift will be the young generation that grows up with an environmental conscience (I mentioned expanded education, yeah?). We put money into research, development, and construction, but that just creates companies that do the work - not a fundamental change. The government mandates different automobile regulations, but they already do. Again, not much of a change.

Clearly, it could end up being turbulent in the details, but on the whole it's business as usual - in the fundamental sense, even if we are breaking new ground in energy and infrastructure innovation.

But what if we squander the next thirty years before discovering, as a world, that we do have to do something?

I can't claim to be able to paint that broad a picture - my knowledge of international economics and relations is just not that great; and to be honest, the sort of shift that would need to overtake the world is, in its specifics, beyond anyone's predictive power.

Assuming that the world still reaches the same goal - because we have to - it would entail nothing more than a wartime effort - rationing, public work projects, and conscription. There'd probably be widespread disruption as the infrastructure is rapidly replaced - both power and transportation. What's worse, if we continue to build coal plants, they'll all have to shut down - or we'll have to find a way of making this stupid, stupid idea of injecting carbon dioxide into underground caverns actually work.

The international level could be even worse - for all the possible disruption a fast change in infrastructure could bring to the developed world, trying to green newly-developed nations like China, India, and Brazil could result in some nasty results.

There are a lot of possibilities. The point is, it's going to be expensive either way - but one of the ways is much, much more stable. Aren't republicans supposed to favor stability?

On the other hand, I've met very few people who aren't procrastinators at heart - and that's a little worrying.

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