Seeing Emily's post about Bill McKibben on global warming reminded me that I never got around to publishing my interview with Dr. James White of the University of Colorado at Boulder, which was background for my Whole Earth Review article Being Green in 2001, published in the Summer 2001 issue (the Viridian issue, edited by Bruce Sterling). Dr. White had this to say about climate change:
My own research tells me that climate change is not this give and take, push and shove kind of linear system where if we increase CO² by X, we get X climate change; if we increase it by 2X, we get 2X climate change. And that is really what the models give us back, because the models don't have mode changes, the models don't have... if North Atlantic deep water fails, a sophisticated model that can handle that. But if you look at the way climate has changed historically, going back over the history of the earth, it's not a little bit here, a little bit there. It's more like my little brother, when we were kids. I would pester him, and he didn't respond, and I would pester him more, and he would blow up, and yell and scream at me. When Mom asked me what I did, I said "All I did was poke him once, Mom." Not talking about all that energy I built up in my little brother with all those other tormenting little pokes. And it's that kind of nonlinear behavior that makes waiting for the shoe to drop a rather dangerous activity. You don't really want to wait until you get a big climate change before you do something.
I think the sad reality is that we may, before all is said and done, get a big climate change, and that may be the mobilizing factor. Some people have argued that we'll need that. We'll need the big change, the grizzly bear set free in the house before we deal with the bears in the yard.
He also discussed the Carbon, Climate, and Society Initiative at UC, a cross-disciplinary program that integrates natural science, social science and journalism perspectives on key issues of global environmental change. This cross-disciplinary approach will hopefully lead to more effective mitigation strategies. (Note: the CCSI link doesn't appear to be working at the moment.)
The article and interviews are two years old; the climate change issue has only become more obviously critical since then.
Good analogy, that poking-my-little-brother bit.