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"Climate Change Commitment"
Alex Steffen, 25 Mar 05

Here's a bit of jargon watch: I've been noticing an increasing use of the phrase "climate change commitment" to describe the idea that global warming is now inevitable if not already here, and we have to begin to anticipate the consequences (such as sea level rise and shifting weather patterns) even while we work to control emissions in order to keep things from getting really ugly. example:

While the concept of climate-change commitment isn't new, these fresh results "tell us what's possible and what's realistic" and that for the immediate future, "prevention is not on the table," says Roger Pielke Jr... To Pielke and others, this means adaptation should be given a much higher priority that it's received to date.

In short, because of climate change commitment, we now need to actively embrace climate foresight.

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The forces of denial have been fighting a war of staged retreat. First there was no warming, then it was probably natural warming ... and now it turns out we can't stop it anyway.

You know what's coming:

"Might as well keep drivin' the old SUV and learn to adapt."

This is going to be misunderstood by many. Certainly past emissions of greenhouse gasses affect "the immediate future" but current and future releases affect "the future beyond that."

Posted by: odograph on 25 Mar 05

Actually, I disagree.

It may certainly be mis-interpreted, but these are serious scientific folks saying "we can't prevent global warming, we can only keep it from getting worse."

And we're already talking about significant changes, lasting perhaps hundreds of years

That is reality, not some carbon lobby ploy. What we have to keep emphasizing it that things can still get much, much, much worse than they already are.

I don't think labelling this as part of a "forces of denial" campaign helps anybody face up to reality...

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 25 Mar 05

This is INSANE. If the effects are half as bad as many are predicting there is no way we can somehow begin to live with the consequences. Thawing permafrost will likely cause an increasing problem as centuries-buried CO2 creeps rapidly into the atmosphere. Melting ice will wipe out low lying islands completely - rendering millions homeless. Most of the species which we are familiar with will become unable to cope with the temperature variation and our landscapes will become barren (changing all our species for those of hotter climes just is not tenable!). And freakish weather incidents are likely to make living most anywhere extremely problematic!
There is only one serious option - cooling the globe by artificial means. Possibly while harnessing the energy to replace the fossil fuels we can no longer contemplate using. It might seem unethical but it is the only scenario that might work. We are in this too deep, people!
One day they'll send a probe to Venus which will send back images from within the hellish CO2 laden atmosphere and they'll find the remains of a civilisation deep in the process of 'climate change commitment'!

Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 25 Mar 05

Alex, maybe I wasn't clear. I certainly understand the message as "we can't prevent global warming, we can only keep it from getting worse."

But (as pessimist of the day?) I think you should prepare yourself. This will be picked up by others to mean "we can't prevent global warming, so let's not waste time on Kyoto (etc.)"

Posted by: odograph on 25 Mar 05

This is all good news. "The climate change commitment" is a HUGE improvement over the Neocon-engendered framework that has been the norm until now: "The climate change debate." That suggests we're getting past the denial stage, Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross-wise, and moving forward toward acceptance.

Posted by: Joel Makower on 25 Mar 05

Joel, following my pessimistic prediction I went out and did a little surfing. Technorati makes it pretty easy to get a pulse on an issue.

Just go to and search "global warming" or "climate change"

My quick search showed that pepole who didn't believe GW didn't believe this news either.

Actually, I could go a bit deeper into this. There has been discussion at places like Jay Rosen's PressThink blog about where we are headed. We see traditional authorities less referenced, and less believed. At the same time, the blogosphere allows like-minded communities to develop. They may, as time goes on, refer less outside their group, and more to each other.

I think, on searches like this, you will most often find GW believers talking to each other, and GW deniers talking to each other, but few things that bridge the gap.

I'm somewhat pessimistic (my day for it) about what this means for the future - as worldviews become more disjoint - with alternate sets of "fact."

How well does democratic government work when we live in "differnt worlds?"

Posted by: odograph on 25 Mar 05

There's a skill that needs cultivation now: helping people through the shattering of paradigms. A blend of grief counseling and diaster relief. The disaster of course, is that one's story of the world has been destroyed. That's the real challenge of climate change.

I'm convinced of the human role in climate change. I'm baffled that the emergence of human beings as a planetary, bio-geo-chemical force, isn't the biggest mind-blow in history. The denial and obfuscation, the venom hurled by skeptics, the pointless delays, the greed and stupidity; it breaks my heart.

So of course I see the doubters and skeptics as evil greedheads or poor dumb fools. That may be a fair characterization of a few of them. But isn't fair to most of them.

This kind of news arrives like an army of Conquistadors in a Native village. At first, these creatures on horseback, with their metallic skins and thundersticks, are incomprehensible. Then, as it dawns on the Natives what exactly is happening, they know that everything they've known and lived before is going to change forever. They fight to save everything they've ever known. Ultimately it's futile, and the echo of grief can last for centuries.

Doris Lessing has written about this kind of grief in our own times. All the gestures we've made for millenia suddenly become warped. A mother nurses her baby, as she has for thousands of years; but now she suspects her milk is laced with poisons. Two lovers embrace, but know somewhere, in the back of their minds, that making more children now is burdening the Earth. We work and save, invest in new machines to improve our lot, but grudgingly realize that the energy that makes us prosperous is slowly undermining the weather and seasons.

How do you cope with grief like that?

One way, of course, is through anger and denial. When our lives are threatened, an instinct takes over, and we fight viciously to save ourselves. I think the same is true about our mental lives, our paradigms.

It seems that all we can do is to keep constructing examples of a better world, politely but insistently pointing out the contradictions of the older paradigm, and maintaining our compassion. The changes now unfolding are devastating to a way of thinking, feeling and being that's centuries old. People are going to need a lot of help with that.

We're going to need evey bit of engineering prowess and technical wizardry we can muster to get through the next century. But we're also going to need cultivation of optimism, understanding, compassion, love, courage and the other finer human qualities.

"Odograph," Dana Meadows once gave me some invaluable advice when I was feeling pessimistic. She said that when she felt pessimistic, she'd just give in and wallow in it. We're doomed, people are too shortsighted and greedy ever to change, we're out of time, there's no point.

She said, "I don't know about you, but I can only maintain a mood like that for about 2 hours, if I surrender to it. Then, I start rebelling, thinking, 'Well, I could write a letter to the editor, or try to make a few contacts, or start some new constructive project.' Then I get up off the floor and start fighting again."

It's good advice.

Posted by: David Foley on 25 Mar 05


I think your far too attached to your stuff david. Most people will just take the changing times as an opporunity to go shoppin for new super tech coolness. The future is near!

Ya it will be a tad chaotic but then what isnt?

Posted by: wintermane on 27 Mar 05



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