Yesterday, I discovered a remarkable TED talk by David Roberts. Roberts is a blogger who writes about energy and politics for Grist. His aim in this 15-minute presentation, remixed with music and extra imagery, is to summarize and simplify the science of climate change. Just the facts ma’am. Now, I study fossils, not climate, so I’m not on a first-name basis with all the relevant data. Yet, given my understanding of current climatological consensus, Roberts has his facts straight.
His core message is, to put it bluntly, terrifying. On our present trajectory (“business as usual”), the forecast for the end of this century is at least a 4-degree Celsius increase in global temperature, generating rampant coastal flooding, inland desertification, and human suffering on a vast, unfathomable scale. A couple of centuries after that, we may be facing a scorched Earth, unlivable for humans in many regions.
For me, the exactness of such projected increases in global temperatures, habitat loss, and species extinctions is not the issue. If you accept the scientific method as valid, and respect the strong consensus of the world’s top scientists, we’re on the fast-track to Hades, with less than a generation to make a major course correction.
This, of course, is not exactly breaking news. For the past few decades, scientists and environmentalists have been telling whoever would listen that we must change our ways and strike a balance with nature, or face catastrophic consequences. I myself have often participated in this echo chamber, doling out dire statistics in hopes of engaging people in action. The unspoken assumption has been that cold, hard facts, the kind the Roberts offers us, are all that’s needed for people to “get it” and alter their unsustainable ways.
The problem is, humans aren’t rational creatures.