GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 212-5
Presentation Time: 3:40 PM


CLAGUE, John J., Simon Fraser University, Mr., 888, 701, West Vancouver, BC V7T0B1, Canada

In the 1980s, climate scientists first proposed that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions pose a threat to humanity, but they were ignore, dismissed, and even vilified. They argued for a rapid transformation of our energy system by reducing fossil fuel consumption, arguments alarmed those in power as being a threat to the status quo. Powerful forces in government and industry first argued, without evidence, that the science was flawed. Yet, as climate continued to change the public began to pay attention. Industry lobbyists then changed their strategy by arguing that the science, although not flawed, was uncertain and inadequate to force disruptive economic and political changes. Now most people accept the science behind climate change, although remarkably there is a minority of individuals who deny even this indisputable fact. The climate change issue recently has been muddied by a new set of arguments. Many geologists, for example, point out that climate has always changed, but they ignore the scale and rapidly of what is happening in a world inhabited by 7.7 billion people. Another argument is that a warmer climate will, on balance, be beneficial. Although patently false, this assertion is appealing to the average person. Recently, the ‘business-as-usual’ folks have changed their tune yet again. A new arguments is that even if we are changing Earth’s climate, we need not worry because we will find technological solutions that will make the problem go away without the need for a messy economic transformation. They also say there is no need to hurry because we are beginning to see a transformation to an economy powered by wind and solar energy. However, they conveniently ignore the reality that 85% of current (2019) total energy consumption comes from fossil fuels and only 2.6% from solar and wind. Energy economists predict that fossil fuels, barring the technological equivalent of a ‘Hail Mary’ pass, will be the source of more than half of energy consumed by about 9 billion people by the middle of this century. Finally, those opposed to a new energy model know their audience well – few people will make the lifestyle changes required to decarbonize our economy, and politicians and corporations make decisions that favor short-term economic growth over dealing with a long-term crisis. Today, most people accept the fact that anthropogenic greenhouse emissions are changing Earth's climate, but they hear and heed those who argue that a rapid decarbonization of our economy poses a greater threat than climate change itself.
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