One thing that I hear again and again as I discuss climate change with friends, family, and colleagues is that it is something that may affect humanity in decades to come but is no immediate threat to us. Im far from certain that that is true, and Im not sure it is even relevant. If serious change or the effects of serious change are decades away, that is just a long tomorrow. Whenever my family gathers for a special event, the true scale of climate change is never far from my mind. My mother, who was born during the Great Depressionwhen motor vehicles and electric lights were still noveltiespositively glows in the company of her grandchildren, some of whom are not yet ten. To see them together is to see a chain of the deepest love that spans 150 years, for those grandchildren will not reach my mothers present age until late this century. To me, to her, and to their parents, their welfare is every bit as important as our own. On a broader scale, 70 percent of all people alive today will still be alive in 2050, so climate change affects almost every family on this planet.
A final issue that looms large in discussions is the one of certainty. Four nations are yet to sign the Kyoto Protocol limiting CO2 emissions: the U.S.A., Australia, Monaco, and Liechtenstein. President George W. Bush has said he wants more certainty before he acts on climate change; yet science is about hypotheses, not truths, and no one can absolutely know the future. But this does not stop us from making forecasts and modifying our behavior accordingly. If, for example, we wait to see if an ailment is indeed fatal, we will do nothing until we are dead. Instead, we take medication or whatever else the doctor dispenses, despite the fact that we may survive regardless. And when it comes to more mundane matters, uncertainty hardly deters us: We spend large sums on our childrens education with no guarantee of a good outcome, and we buy shares with no promise of a return. Excepting death and taxes, certainty simply does not exist in our world, and yet we often manage our lives in the most efficient manner. I cannot see why our response to climate change should be any different.
One of the biggest obstacles to making a start on climate change is that it has become a cliché before it has even been understood. What we need now is good information and careful thinking, because in the years to come this issue will dwarf all the others combined. It will become the only issue. We need to reexamine it in a truly skeptical spiritto see how big it is and how fast its movingso that we can prioritize our efforts and resources in ways that matter.
What follows is my best effort, based on the work of thousands of colleagues, to outline the history of climate change, how it will unfold over the next century, and what we can do about it. With great scientific advances being made every month, this book is necessarily incomplete. That should not, however, be used as an excuse for inaction. We know enough to act wisely.
Copyright © 2005 by Tim Flannery. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
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