Fall 2014 (28.3) Essay

A "Natural" Proposal for Addressing Climate Change

One of the fundamental challenges of climate change is that we contribute to it increment by increment, and experience it increment by increment after a considerable time lag. As a consequence, it is very difficult to see what we are doing to ourselves, to future generations, and to the living planet as a whole. There are monumental ethical issues involved, but they are obscured by the incremental nature of the process and the long time frame before reaching the concentration of greenhouse gases and the ensuing accumulation of radiant heat—and consequent climate change—that ensues.

In 1896, Svante Arrhenius published his landmark article establishing that greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, trap sufficient radiant heat for the planet to be a habitable temperature for humans and other forms of life. Yet he could not have been aware that the previous ten thousand years of planetary history had been a period of unusual stability in the planet’s climate. This stability enabled the origins of agriculture and the establishment of human settlements, indeed the development of civilization. Essentially, the entire human enterprise is based on the assumption of a stable climate.

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