You've probably seen those phone-message forms with check boxes in ascending order of urgency from "FYI—no need to return call" all the way up to "the future of civilization hangs in the balance." We might see that last category as light-hearted exaggeration, but it's no laughing matter to McKibben. In his jeremiad in today's LA Times literally entitled "Civilization's last chance," McKibben solemnly declares that "the world looks a little terminal right now" and "it isn't morning in America, it's dusk on planet Earth." OK. Just so long as it's nothing serious.
McKibben's lament is based in important part on a paper that James Hansen and several co-authors have submitted to Science magazine which concludes that "if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."
Hansen holds the impressive title of chief NASA climatologist. But as Jeff Poor has pointed out in an article at Business & Media Institute, an NB sister publication:
Hansen’s scientific claims were recently called into question at the 2008 International Conference on Climate Change on March 4 in New York. Famed hurricane forecaster William Gray said he believed the earth would experience a cooling period in 10 years. He said the models Hansen used to forecast drastic increases in the earth’s temperature due to carbon in the atmosphere were flawed because they included too much water vapor, the most abundant greenhouse gas.In any case, here's what McKibben, who has started 350.org in an effort to get us down to Hansen's allegdly crucial cut-off point, claims is necessary to stave off doom:
“[S]o he puts that much vapor in his model and of course he gets this,” Gray said. “He must get upper troposphere where the temperature is seven degrees warmer for a doubl[ing of] CO2. Well, the reason he got that was – why this upper-level warming was there – was he put too much water vapor in the model.”
- No more new coal-fired power plants anywhere.
- Quickly close the [coal-fired power plants] already in operation. (Coal-fired power plants operating the way they're supposed to are, in global warming terms, as dangerous as nuclear plants melting down.)
- Making car factories turn out efficient hybrids next year, just the way U.S. automakers made them turn out tanks in six months at the start of World War II.
- Making trains an absolute priority and planes a taboo.
Note that the American Coal Council, as cited in the BMI article linked above, says that 50% of all electricity generated in the US comes from coal. McKibben doesn't say how he proposes to replace the loss of half our electricity. Candlelight is romantic, but what if that contributed to a jump in the birthrate, with all the attendant Malthusian complications?
Oh, and by the way, we have to do this almost immediately. McKibben approvingly cites Indian scientist and economist Rajendra Pachauri, who accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of the IPCC, as saying "if there's no action before 2012, that's too late."
Got that? We've got four years, after which we'll be on an inexorable path to doom in which those who survive "will be so preoccupied, coping with the endless unintended consequences of an overheated planet, that civilization may not."
Have a nice day!
NB: McKibben's personal website notes that one of his books, The End of Nature [more doomsdayism, apparently], has been said to be “as important as Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring." But Silent Spring infamously led to the banning of DDT, which in turn has been responsible for millions of needless deaths due to malaria. Some endorsement!