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Too late for what? Too late to make an easy transition to a sustainable economy? That's already the case. Too late to prevent the global climate from reaching a point where we can not predict its future behaviour from our present knowledge? Possibly. Too late to prevent the planet from becoming unsuitable for human habitation? I doubt it.

The notion that there is some cut-off after which apocalypse is inevitable is false. The apocalypse comes on a sliding scale from "mildly unpleasant" to "planetwide extinction event."1 We're already some way past the point where "mildly unpleasant" has become inevitable, but not even the most pessimistic modelling assumptions forecast that climate change will lead to global human extinction.

And the notion that there is some cut-off after which apocalypse is inevitable is unwise as well: We may have reached a cut-off point where it will be impossible to preserve species X and Y in their natural habitats, but we may be able to preserve species Y in artificial habitats and preserve species Z in its natural habitat. To simply throw our hands in the air and despair over that which it is too late to salvage is to abscond from our obligations to that which remains salvageable. (And, incidentally, to insist that the sky will fall if we do nothing NOW is apt to be "disproven" when we do nothing and human civilisation does not end - even if it continues in a poorer and much diminished form.)

The analogy with peak oil is appropriate, I think: Twenty to thirty years ago (the replacement time scale for most infrastructure), we reached the point where it became too late to take the easy way in dealing with declining future oil production. If we want to take the hard way, we'd better get started right about now. But even if we let the window of opportunity for dealing with peak oil the hard way close on us, there will still be a choice between more or less painful ways of dealing with it. Dithering may have ensured that there will be pain, but that does not mean that expeditious action won't prevent even greater pain.

- Jake

1Technically, we're already living through a planetwide extinction event - humans are an invasive species that displaces local fauna and alters habitats to an extent that causes mass extinction. But that is only tangentially related to the discussion of climate change.

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Aug 24th, 2010 at 02:49:17 AM EST
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