It’s the dynamics, stupid!

Here’s one of the key problems in the debate about energy and global warming. Many, if not most, of the commentators are ignoring the dynamics of global change. The fundamental issue is that global climate change and global energy use are massive, huge, enormous–whatever ultimate adjectives you can think of. And what is a prime characteristic of massive, huge, enormous things?

It is very hard to change their courses. They have enormous inertia. As Isaac Newton said in the 17th century about the dynamics of motion (Newton’s First Law):  Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. In the case of global warming the human race has steadily been forcing the atmosphere to change since the Industrial Revolution. The warming force is the heat retained as a result of the CO2 and methane we have been pouring into the air all those years. As we are beginning to notice, the atmosphere is now moving right along, heatwise. Atmospheric change now has substantial momentum, according to most knowledgeable environmental scientists, although they differ on the extent of human influence.

As Paul Krugman put in in his New York Times column on 1 August 2008:

It’s true that scientists don’t know exactly how much world temperatures will rise if we persist with business as usual. But that uncertainty is actually what makes action so urgent. While there’s a chance that we’ll act against global warming only to find that the danger was overstated, there’s also a chance that we’ll fail to act only to find that the results of inaction were catastrophic. Which risk would you rather run?

Now here’s the dilemma: Continue reading It’s the dynamics, stupid!