Oddly enough, re-writing unpopular forecasts has little impact on global weather patterns.
As The Washington Post reports, several years ago residents of North Carolina’s Outer Banks – which amount to little more than a giant sandbar – were warned that by the end of this century, ocean levels would rise some 39 inches and inundate their properties.
Well, that got people’s attention. This would impact property values! So the good people of North Carolina resolved to fix the problem, and fix it they did: they insisted that the government forecast only 30 years out instead of to the end of the century, so the forecast would show a sea level rise of only 8 inches. Ta-da! Nothing a healthy dose of willful myopia won’t solve!
We are a strange bunch, aren’t we? It seems that the closer we get to the disaster that we know is coming, the more we bury our heads in the sand and try to avoid dealing with it. We deny it and try to reason our way out of it, because if it’s real, it will mean financial disaster for those who own low-lying real estate. If not for us in our lifetimes, then certainly, unavoidably, for our children and grandchildren. The end of the century is only 86 years away, and that’s not so long. My own grandfather was born in the 19th century; my father was born in the 20th; here I am in the 21st, and if I live as long as my father did, I will make it well past the middle of this century.
I can’t say I’m looking forward to it; I think in my lifetime, I will see climate-driven mass starvation, water shortages, extinctions, refugee flows and regional conflict. A lot of this is already happening; it won’t be a good time in our history. I will say that our retirement home is located well above sea level, so at least I’ve got that part covered.
The future need not be so bleak as I imagine it. We have it in our power to get off fossil fuels, to shift to solar, wind, hydroelectric and wave power. We have it in our power to control our population and keep it in better balance with available resources. We can be quite ingenious, when we want to be.
But on climate change, we don’t want to be ingenious. We want to be ignorant, because ignorant is easy and comfortable now. Ignorance means we can keep selling and buying beachfront real estate instead of taking a loss. Ignorance means we can keep mining, refining and burning our finite fossil fuels. Ignorance means we don’t have to change our energy infrastructure or how we conduct our lives. Ignorance means we don’t have to be worried or afraid.
Ignorance means we are dooming our children to a disastrous future. It’s pure laziness and selfishness.
We might be forgiven for not realizing that the ocean could actually cover our homes and farms, forests and parks, cities and highways in… oh, Colorado or Nebraska (have a look at maps of the Western Inland Sea of the Late Cretaceous period). After all, in the grand scheme of things, we’ve been a sentient, learned species for all of about two minutes, while this ebb and flow has been going on for millions of years.
What we can’t be forgiven for is having that knowledge, knowing what’s coming… albeit maybe not in our own lifetimes… being warned, having the data staring us in the face… and doing nothing. Worse than doing nothing, we have stooped to actively manipulating the data to please ourselves, while throwing our kids into the teeth of a disaster which is a least partly of our own making.