[extropy-chat] Global warming news

Hal Finney hal at finney.org
Fri Mar 24 22:51:48 UTC 2006

[Reposting after 3 hours...]

Global warming has been much in the news lately, and although I know
we've had some vocal skepticism about it here, the scientific consensus
seems to be very definitely supportive of the whole theory (and has been
for some time IMO).

Today there is some alarming reporting about new studies published
in Science.  Here is a sample from London's Times:

> London 'under water by 2100' as Antarctica crumbles into the sea
> By Mark Henderson, Science Correspondent
> DOZENS of the world's cities, including London and New York, could be
> flooded by the end of the century, according to research which suggests
> that global warming will increase sea levels more rapidly than was
> previously thought.
> The first study to combine computer models of rising temperatures with
> records of the ancient climate has indicated that sea levels could rise
> by up to 20ft (6m) by 2100, placing millions of people at risk.
> The threat comes from melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica,
> which scientists behind the research now believe are on track to release
> vast volumes of water significantly more quickly than older models have
> predicted. Their analysis of events between 129,000 and 116,000 years
> ago, when the Arctic last warmed to temperatures forecast for 2100,
> shows that there could be large rises in sea level.
> ...

The Science articles are here: <http://www.sciencemag.org/sciext/ice/> but
require a subscription.  Here is an excerpt from their editorial:

> A central feature of this long baseline is this: At no time in at
> least the past 10 million years has the atmospheric concentration
> of CO2 exceeded the present value of 380 ppmv. At this time in the
> Miocene, there were no major ice sheets in Greenland, sea level was
> several meters higher than today's (envision a very skinny Florida),
> and temperatures were several degrees higher. A more recent point of
> reference, and the subject of two papers in this issue, is the Eemian:
> the previous interglacial, about 130,000 to 120,000 years ago. This
> was a warm climate, comparable to our Holocene, during which sea levels
> were several meters higher than today's, even though CO2 concentrations
> remained much lower than today's postindustrial level.

This is highly alarming.  Today's CO2 level of 380 ppm is already
higher than we have seen in the past 10 million years.  And this level
is certain to rise no matter what we do.  We will pass 400 very shortly
and probably pass 500.  Only by the most stringent economic limitations
and unprecedented international agreements could we stabilize at 500 or
550 ppm.

The problem is that it's probably too late.  As noted above, 380 is
already higher than what it was when most of Florida was gone.  New York
and London will flood.  Much of the U.S. Gulf coast will be covered.
Coastal cities worldwide will be inundated.  That's just based on today's
CO2 levels.

So what is the solution?  It seems to me that at this point, trying to
limit CO2 is the wrong answer.  Maybe it could help at the margin but
it will not fix the problem.  No matter what we do with CO2 limits, all
those bad things will happen.

The only solution is to remove the CO2 from the atmosphere.  We have to
develop the technologies to do this.  Now, I know Extropians will say
that of course we will have these technologies within a few decades,
and that CO2 will be the least of our worries.  Nanotech or even just
biotech can sequester CO2 at high rates and cleanse the atmosphere within
a few years once we have the technology.

That's fine, but look at this from the point of view of the larger
society.  They do not have such general acceptance of technological
progress.  Most people seem to take as a baseline that the world of the
next 50-100 years will be technologically much like today.

These new global warming results, which are getting more alarming every
day, may serve to shake society out of its narrow mindset.  Once this
reality sets in, that we are already committed to a 20 foot rise in sea
level just based on current CO2 levels, then I think we will see increased
recognition that indeed our only hope is technology.  This could lead
to a long term, accelerated program to research various sequestration
and CO2 cleansing technologies and find ways to halt and reverse global
warming through directly managing and controlling atmospheric CO2 levels.

It will require a change from today's fashionable negativity towards
science specifically and human action in general.  "Small is beautiful"
is no longer an option.  That is the message from today's scientific
results.  We have to put aside these negative attitudes and accept that
our only hope is futuristic, science-fiction-ish technology that will
allow us to run this planet the way we do a factory.  As this realization
gradually sinks in, we may actually see a change to a more Extropian,
positive view of human capability and technological progress.


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