What if we don’t do anything about climate change?

David Wallace-Wells has an article in July 10 issue of New York magazine summarizing the best current knowledge about the consequences of doing nothing to address human-caused global warming. The magazine’s website has an updated and corrected copy of the published article and also an annotated version with more extensive references.

Wallace-Wells takes pains to say

What follows is not a series of predictions of what will happen — that will be determined in large part by the much-less-certain science of human response. Instead, it is a portrait of our best understanding of where the planet is heading absent aggressive action. It is unlikely that all of these warming scenarios will be fully realized, largely because the devastation along the way will shake our complacency.

But it’s still worth understanding why we need to do more than we’re doing. Contrary to the claims of some, unfortunately including some highly placed members of the current U.S. administration, there really is an overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is real. That’s obvious to anyone who gets science news from the scientific press and not Facebook or Fox News.

Wallace-Wells may overstate his case in a few places and get a few things wrong. I found what I think are examples of both, but I haven’t had time to check them out in detail, and in any case, even granting possible errors, reading what he says is sobering. Climate forecasts are uncertain, even leaving aside uncertainty about what steps human beings will take (or be able to take) to address the rapid increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases. But uncertainty cuts both ways. Things might end up being not as bad, but they also might be worse.

(My thanks to my friend Jerry Lapidus for drawing my attention to the article.)

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