WOMAN: We need you all. Stand with us. Get your family and friends, and your favorite scientist to stand with us… from the National Audubon Society, and I love birds and science!
MICHAEL MANN: And this really gets to the issue of uncertainty, because so often the critics will say, “There’s uncertainty in the science, so why should we act?” Well, in reality, uncertainty cuts both ways, and in many respects uncertainty has been cutting against us. As we learn more, and as we see more, we’re finding that the ice is melting faster than we thought it would. That we’re seeing increases in extreme weather events that we didn’t expect.
Uncertainty is actually a reason for even more concerted action, and some of the most conservative economists who study this problem will tell you that. They’ll tell you that acting on the problem of climate change, is a planetary insurance policy, and we would be crazy not to be taking it.
There’s a tipping point that I hope we do cross, and today’s event is part of that — a tipping point in the public consciousness. A recognition that we really have a problem, that we have to work together in earnest, and in good faith to solve. When it comes to the climate tipping points, the reality is, there are many, and we don’t know exactly where they lie. They’re sort of like, you know, mines in a minefield. You proceed into the minefield at your peril, and that’s what we’re doing right now, headlong. As we continue to warm the planet, there are certain tipping points we’ve probably already crossed.
We’ve probably warmed the planet enough to lock in a fairly large amount of melting of the west Antarctic ice sheet. That could give us between ten and 14 feet of global sea level rise. Enough sea level rise, to impact all of the major coastal cities and island nations of the world. That may now be locked in, there may be nothing we can do about that.
If we’re lucky, it will take centuries to play out. And if we can slow down the rate of warming, if we can mitigate the problem now, we might buy enough time to adapt to those changes. But the fact is, there are other tipping points we probably have not yet crossed, but we may very well cross soon, if we continue on this path. And that’s why it’s so urgent to bring our emissions down dramatically in the years ahead.
The good news is that the Paris Agreement passed a year ago — really was a major accomplishment — bringing together the nations of the world, in a commitment to make actionable cuts in carbon emissions. That don’t get us all the way to where we need to be, but get us about halfway there. It gets us on the right path — something to build on — and we have to continue with that progress. We can’t turn our backs on this now.
You know, sometimes we look at bureaucracy, and governmental inertia as a bad thing, but sometimes it’s a good thing. There’s enough inertia in the system that, you know, when you talk to policy experts, they’ll tell you, “We can probably withstand one presidential term with Donald Trump.”
Trump working together with congressional Republicans on an agenda of defunding science, and an agenda of, you know, doubling down on our reliance on fossil fuels, that’s going to do some damage. But, there’s a good chance that the damage won’t be permanent, if we can sort of weather this storm, if the storm isn’t too long lasting.
If we get two Trump administrations back-to-back with congressional Republican control of Congress — that might create a real hole for us to get ourselves out of. But you know, there’s an election less than two years from now that will determine the leadership of Congress. And there’s an opportunity for voters to take us on a different path.