It is more than painfully apparent that when human political will fails, in trying to achieve an end deemed critical for survival, assorted rubbish is inserted instead. Thus, in the latest lead up to the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change, the Zeitgeist now taking hold is that humans will have to adapt to the furiously warming planet, "like other animals".
According to Rajendra Pachauri of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change:
"It's something that's been neglected, hasn't been talked about, and it's something the world wil have to do".
One illustration given of wildlife, is the rare Adonis butterfly which was about to vanish when, ta-da....it evolved longer thoraxes and wings allowing it to fly to more northerly latitudes which were cooler.
Trouble is, the evolution required for humans to survive what's coming (if the runaway greenhouse kicks in) would take millions of years, if ever. We are talking about being able to adapt to a virtual hell hole world not too different from Venus: daily temperatures approaching 150F, almost no water to speak of, massive crop and food shortages, and disease now proliferating because the warmer temperatures drive the "bugs" like kerosene accelerates fires. Trying to ferry north like the Adonis butterfly won't help, since the whole planet will be an equal opportunity hellhole by 2040. (The first year of no seasons)
I still recall a 1988 CNN Special, "Conversation with Carl Sagan" featuring Ted Turner and the great scientist whose Ph.D. paper was on the runaway greenhouse effect being responsible for Venus' abnormally high temperatures. (Venus' distance from the Sun at ~ 67 million miles could not account for them. Not to reach 460 C!) When Turner asked him about possibly adapting to the hotter world, or even if the runaway effect kicked in, Sagan merely smiled:
"Sure, you could adapt! A dead man can adapt to anything! He's the most adaptable man there is!"
This pretty much says the same for the current foolishness, that we can somehow tough it out if we are clever enough. No, we cannot. And trying to exploit this stupidity as an excuse to avoid doing the heavy lifting required is nothing short of abominable.
In his column in today's Financial Times, Martin Wolf notes continued efforts to limit CO2 concentrations to 450 parts per million. Right now, they are approaching 385 ppm. The European ENSEMBLES project and intercomparison climate model predicts 545 ppm by 2045. The runaway greenhouse effect is believed to kick in for sure at ~ 600 ppm, but it could well be lower, say 480 or 500 ppm, depending on the contributions of other greenhouse gases such as methane, water vapor.
While Wolf makes a good case for action, he is reluctant to go the whole hog:
"But we cannot and, self-evidently - should not, rely on economic armageddon"
But what if that is the only way? Wolf cites the increase in CO2 emissions from 20.9 gigatonnes in 1990, to 28.8 in 2007. That is an increase of nearly 42%! If we continue on in this dismissive status quo fashion, he notes the IEA (International Energy Agency) predicts we will reach 40.2 gigatonnes by 2030. Effectively doubling the 1990 emissions. Together with the methane we know is outgassing from permafrost (e.g. in Alaska), that means we may actually hit the runaway greenhouse effect by 2035 , if not sooner.
One way Sagan put it is: "What's more important, buying stuff, or staying alive?"
In this case, "buying stuff" translates into harnessing and expelling the trillions of gigatonnes of fossil fuels that were interred with the dinosaurs by the end of the Jurassic. Anyone know what the planet was like back then? Well, we are re-creating it now with each gigatonne of CO2 we excavate from oil wells and inject into our current atmosphere.
Basically, humans are conducting an uncontrolled experiment on their planet and themselves. The problem is that in this experiment there is no margin for error, none. Once that threshold for the runaway effect is hit, it's all over but the dirges. There is no going back. Entropy beyond a certain point won't be repealed and all the prayers in the world won't achieve it.
There is still time, but alas, this latest email -climate flap (now being exploited by skeptics as a further excuse to do nothing) may well be the death knell for any substantive efforts to lower concentrations, together with the reluctance of developing nations (China, India) to sacrifice themselves economically for the world's future.
To quote Martin Wolf in the same FT piece:
"Either we act soon- or we finally discover whether the skeptics are right. If we fail to act, as seems likely, I hope they are.
But I very much doubt it."
I do too.