Battles ahead – it will never be “too late”

Unsurprisingly, the sundry would-be Republican candidates for president have been less than inspiring this election season. One might think that with two candidates from Florida – a state that’s already starting to struggle with sea level rise – we might see at least hint of sanity from the national figures of Grand Old Party. One would be very wrong to think that, and if one really did, I would hazard a guess that one has not been paying attention.

Um, yeah. Climate denial is no surprise here. Peter Sinclair has more on the situation in Florida from rawstory and from his own video over at climatecrocks.com, but I wanted to talk about something slightly different.

Take a look at this video of Marco Rubio fielding a question sent in by the mayor of Miami (a Republican). Listen to the talking points:

Right-click and inspect element for transcript, or click here for full debate transcript

Some time ago, someone pulled together five stages of climate denial, which are unpacked well in this Guardian article by Dana Nuccitelli:

Stage 1: Deny the Problem Exists […]
Stage 2: Deny We’re the Cause […]
Stage 3: Deny It’s a Problem […]
Stage 4: Deny We can Solve It […]
Stage 5: It’s too Late […]

It’s pretty normal to get some combination of stages one through four in any given remark by a climate denier, and as Nuccitelli’s article shows, we’ve gotten pretty good at rebutting those arguments. Rubio mostly focused on Stages 2 and 4 in the video, with a nod to Stage 1. What I want to focus on in this post is “Stage 5”, because it’s an argument that makes a direct attempt to create despair. Let’s look at her discussion of Stage 5:

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Oceanoxia 2.0: Introductions

From the webcomic XKCD: W stick figure is shown sitting at a desk typing hard on a computer. From out of the frame, someone says

I have to fix this!

This blog was born of frustration in 2010.

At the time, I had been following climate science and climate change politics for a few years, and it was astonishing to me that so many people in the public debate seemed to think that a little sea level rise was the worst-case scenario. Sure, Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” had discussed what would happen if all of Greenland melted, but that has never been a genuine expectation for the 21st century, and the conversation six years ago was all about stopping or even reversing global warming by 2050. In other words, no danger of Greenland melting that much. Hell, at that point people were being called alarmist for talking about two feet of sea level rise. In some circles they still are.

So I wanted to provide some perspective. I wanted to show how alarming the future could be, if things really got bad.

The most obvious worst-case scenario is represented by the planet Venus, but I wasn’t sure if it was even possible to boost the greenhouse effect enough to broil Earth like that. The scenario I started with was one that has been proposed as a possible cause of the Permian-Triassic extinction, also known as The Great Dying. You can go look at my first blog post to learn more, but here’s a brief summary:

There are a number of factors at work that can create dead zones in anybody of water, meaning there’s not enough dissolved oxygen to support most life. Under those anoxic conditions, anaerobic bacteria can thrive, emitting hydrogen sulfide instead of carbon dioxide. This, in turn, makes the water poisonous to most organisms, and can spread the dead zone. It is theoretically possible for most or all of the planet’s oceans to end up like this, and if that did happen, that hydrogen sulfide could eventually leak out onto the land masses. This scenario would create a massive die-off in the oceans, followed by a less massive (but still huge) die-off on land. This is the pattern found in the fossil record from The Great Dying.

So that was the kick-off to my blog, and the inspiration for the title (Ocean+anoxia=Oceanoxia). After that post, I went on to describe, or partially describe other kinds of worst-case scenarios. I didn’t cover all of them, but I touched on a few.

Over the years since, I’ve been involved in communicating climate science in a few different ways. One, as indicated by the XKCD panel above, was in internet comments sections. Much of it was probably fruitless, but there were a few conversations that made me feel that I was helping to change minds.

I also helped form a “climate working group” with some of my friends in the New England Quaker community, in which I had been raised, and of which I was still a part at the time. We went around to various Quaker meetings in New England, gave presentations, and held discussions about climate change and actions that could be taken. In working on those presentations, I moved from a focus on the worst-case scenarios to a more balanced approach, touching briefly on how bad things could get, and then moving on to look into how good we could make things, if we really tried.

This last approach has stuck, to a degree. It’s hard to know whether we’ll get there, but from what I’ve seen of existing and emerging technology, we have the capacity to build a society that has control over its impacts on the planet, and has a higher standard of living for both humanity and the rest of life on Earth. That’s the goal, and if we don’t really try for it, I think there is a real possibility of human extinction. Big carrot, big stick.

For the past few years I’ve also been working as a science curriculum developer for a non-profit company that has me designing ways to help teachers cover the science of climate change. The teams I’m on have focused both on the biological impacts of climate change – what’s happening right now in the natural world – and on the array of potential solutions and adaptations that are available to us.

At this point, Oceanoxia has become a combination of things. Some of it is the original topic – the real doom and gloom stuff that’s always lurking under the surface of any discussion about climate change. Some of it is about the amazing technology we have, and what a wonderful civilization we could create, if only we took the time. Some of it is about debunking misconceptions and myths, or discussing politics, or misguided efforts to “fix” things. Some of it is about culture, philosophy, and psychology.

One of the most common complaints I hear from climate deniers is that no matter what happens, there seems to be a way to blame it on climate change. It’s an understandable complaint, but it seems to come from a failure to grasp the scale of what’s happening to our planet. Climate affects everything about life on earth. Not just ecosystems and their inhabitants, but also human culture. Our clothing, our architecture, our annual celebrations, our political upheavals, and even our languages – all of that is influenced, to some degree, by the climate. So when that climate changes, that means that everything else changes with it in one way or another.

This is a blog about climate change, which means it’s hard to say what any given post will be about. I’m excited to settle in to my new home on Freethoughtblogs, and I’m looking forward to the boost in motivation I get from any change in scenery. Welcome to Oceanoxia 2.0, and stay tuned!