Physics World asked me to write for a special issue on Energy, Sustainability and Climate Change. The article, “Publicize or perish,” is online and reposted below with links.
The fate of the next 50 generations may well be determined in the next few months and years. Will the US Congress agree to a shrinking cap on greenhouse-gas emissions and legislation to achieve the transformation to clean energy? If not, you can forget about a global climate deal. But even if the bill passes and a global deal is achieved, both will need to be continuously strengthened in coming years, as the increasingly worrisome science continues to inform the policy, just as in the case of the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances.
The International Scientific Congress on climate change held in Copenhagen in March, which was attended by 2000 scientists, concluded that “Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realized.” That would mean that by 2100 there would be atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide of more than 1000 ppm, total planetary warming of 5 °C and sea-level rises probably on the high end of recent projections of 1-2 m followed by a rise of as much as 2 cm per year or more for centuries. We would also see one-third of inhabited land reaching dust bowl levels of aridity, half or more of all species becoming extinct, and the oceans increasingly becoming hot, acidic, dead zones. And if we do not change course quickly, the latest science predicts that these impacts may be irreversible for 1000 years. [See "Intro to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water.]
In short, the fate of perhaps the next 100 billion people to walk the Earth rests with scientists (and those who understand the science) trying to communicate the dire nature of the climate problem (and the myriad solutions available now) as well as the ability of the media, the public, opinion-makers and political leaders to understand and deal with that science.