Forbes Magazine is a capitalist tool. That is not an insult, that is its self-proclaimed motto. Known for listing, rating and pandering to billionaires and business, serving as it does the biggest and baddest industrialists in the world, Forbes (and Forbes.com) is where you would expect to find pollution propaganda and climate-change denial. It is the last place you would look to find a hair-on-fire, climate-change authority explaining in great detail why we should, in effect, brace for impact. But guess what: the man has bitten the dog.
The scientist is Dr. John Harte of the University of California-Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management. He has for decades been a leading authority on the biological effects of global climate change. In a long interview with Michael Charles Tobias currently available on Forbes.com, Dr. Harte makes the following points, among many others:
It’s Happening Too Fast: Global warming is progressing, and its effects are mounting, far more rapidly and dramatically than in the worst-case scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a committee that aggregates and publishes the work of researchers worldwide. While the IPCC estimates are solid with respect to the greenhouse effect — heat trapped in the atmosphere by pollutants such as carbon dioxide — according to Dr. Harte they do not take into account a number of feedback mechanisms that are started by the warming, and make it worse.
“When the planet warms a little from any cause, it responds by releasing from the land and sea to the atmosphere huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane. These greenhouse gases contribute to further warming. By some estimates the additional warming could raise mid-century temperatures by as much as 11 degrees Fahrenheit…far more than mankind has ever experienced in our entire evolutionary existence.”
Thus while IPCC studies estimate global warming of three to eight degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, Dr. Harte says it is more reasonable now to expect an increase of 11 degrees. Significant? He points out that when the world was 10 degrees cooler than now, New York was under 300 feet of ice.
There are Too Many Unforeseen Consequences: The summertime melting of Arctic Sea ice, itself a feedback mechanism that accelerates warming, will have effects far beyond reopening the ancient Northwest Passage to commerce — no doubt a boon to most Forbes subscribers. “The resulting deluge of alien Pacific species into the Atlantic promises to create gargantuan problems for Atlantic marine ecosystems,” Dr Harte says. “It is frightening to think that just in my lifetime I have witnessed a planetary change, caused by human population growth and our fossil fuel consumption, on a scale that Earth has not experienced in several million years.”
There are Way Too Many People. Dr. Harte emphasizes a truth that has been well known — and studiously ignored — for some time now: “Our global population is unsustainable. We are now permanently destroying renewable resources – cropland, clean water sources, genetic biodiversity — just to produce enough food and resources for our current population, which continues rapidly to increase (over 225,000 people per week). So, even with declining growth rates, we still have way too many people on the planet.”
“The alternative to family planning and to transitioning to sustainable energy is to leave our future in the claw of famine, war, disease, and the extremes of climate.”
Having described how fast the airplane is descending, and how close it is to the rocks, Dr. Harte and his interviewer do the required fantasizing about how a soft landing might come about. “Responsible leadership here would greatly reduce the risk of catastrophic global warming,” says Dr. Harte. And if someone was to strew the rocks with pillows, perhaps no one on the airplane will be hurt.
The facts are that there is no recognition by the leaders and the institutions of this or any other industrialized country of the seriousness of the problem; nor is there the slightest possibility of that recognition occurring in the foreseeable future, let alone any serious measure being taken to deal with it.
The airplane is in for a hard landing, and now the subscribers to Forbes know it. But do they know they’re on it?
[For updates on this and other Daily Impact stories, and for short takes on other subjects, check out The Editor’s Log.]