When reality bites

image: Norman Kuring, NASA GSFC, using data from the VIIRS instrument aboard Suomi NPP.

Just after midnight Vancouver time last night, the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report was being released in Stockholm, Sweden. This of course, has led to a veritable parade of climate deniers foaming at the mouth in their rush to deny reality and claim the planet is not warming, and even if it is it’s not our fault or there’s nothing we can do about it.

Mostly, deniers are people whose world view is challenged by the solutions to climate change. They’re overwhelmingly conservative old white males who have made their money on the status quo, and will defend it until they can no longer hold back the rising storm surges from their doorsteps.

I get it – change is hard and scary and people are bad at change. People are worried that the Government will start telling them what they can do, what kind of car to drive, where they can live or how they can live.

But here’s the catch: by continuing to deny reality and block actions towards decarbonising the world economy, deniers are creating their own worst nightmare.

Here are the current options humanity has: we can ignore the rising costs and frequency of multi-billion dollar storms and continue on with business as usual. This will probably involve burning all the fossil fuels we know of, which contain enough carbon to totally cook our species and raise global temperatures by 6oC or more, which is enough to cause the next mass extinction on the planet. Or, we can start decarbonising our economies now, try and minimise the damage we’ve done to the biosphere and hope that we still leave a habitable planet for your children to grow up in.

The reality will probably be somewhere in the middle. Humans are brilliant at procrastinating, and while we’ve still got a 50/50 chance that maybe we haven’t totally screwed up the planet, most people will be willing to roll the dice if one of the options is ‘do nothing’. If you think getting your brother or sister to do the dishes when it’s their turn is hard, try convincing the world that we should get off our asses and not totally destroy a liveable climate.

If we continue to delay and obstruct and bicker about whether the planet has actually warmed or not while only looking at surface temperatures and ignoring the oceans, there will come a point where the impacts of climate change are hitting us squarely in the face and no rational person can deny it any longer.

At that point, when Governments are sick of forking out billions upon billions of dollars they don’t have for disaster clean up, and hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of patients with heatstroke, or new tropical diseases or preventable diseases that have been spread because the disaster clean up went slowly, new rules will get implemented quickly.

As quickly as the US started to take their citizen’s civil liberties away in the wake of 9/11 with the Patriot Act, by the time we’re in siege mode from climate disasters, the decarbonisation of our economy that needed to start a decade ago will be forcibly implemented. Gas may be rationed, food or water may be rationed because crops failed from drought or a storm or a wildfire. Travel might be curbed to prevent the spread of the next SARs or the next Bird Flu.

Because that’s the thing about climate change – claiming it’s not real doesn’t wish it away like some magic anti-reality fairy. Ignoring the problem will only make it worse, and when it does get worse, that reality that all the conservative deniers are worried about, where the Government tells you what you can and can’t do, might just become our reality. 

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