And he did, of course, deliver for that was Dr. Schneider gave to us, always an enthusiastic 'Yes' to the oppotrunity to explain the unexplainable to a public he was sure would be sensible enough to take action. That was 20 years ago however, as the article appeared in the Jan/Feb 1991 issue of Buzzworm, where I was editorial creative and managing editor.
With Dr. Schneider's tragic passing last year as he was mid-way across Europe, racing between climate meetings, I am sadly unable to check back in with him to see if his enthusiasm that people would do the right thing had dimmed at all, or worse had become an estimation of improbable. Indeed I so wish to know what his 20-year lesson would be after all his tireless and enthusiastic work to alert us to the climate fate before us.
His serious challenge to us in 1991 was the sobering reminder that:
“Human civilization, which developed over the past 10,000 years, has not experienced a planet more than one to two degrees warmer than present.”
And, in case we didn’t get the drift of what he was saying:
“Transitions in nature typically take 5,000 to 10,000 years; a climate change of several degrees in a century is at least 10 times, and perhaps 100 times, more rapid on a globally sustained basis than average natural change. This raises the specter of considerable disruption to natural ecological systems, human agriculture and water supplies, threatens to raise sea levels, or intensify hurricanes and could cause unknown alterations to human and animal health. . . “
That was amazing predictive science 20 years ago; how stunning — if not a little frightening — to witness in our days now the accuracy of his understanding then.
And he wrote, ever hopeful, that “solutions can be found which do not require major unacceptable concessions from either side” of the developed/developing nation divide of who gets access to use fossil fuels to power their economies and who does not. But he ominously added, “at least for a period of a decade or so.”
We are now a decade past his decade window of opportunity in which to take reasonable action to slow global warming, as we called this new concept then. Yet still the inaction and stasis continues on the international political stage, as we creak toward attempting agreement after agreement to reduce carbon emissions, and the U.S. is at the head of the pack of heel-draggers.
At what point is it more painful not to make changes in the way our society lives daily than it is to take the risk of ameliorating the situation, with all we’ve got to throw at it? Isn't this a conservative response to a global threat?
I feel one reason many of us in the world revere Steve Jobs is that he, as a business leader, gave us products and solutions we wanted before we even knew we needed them. Would that a great entrepreneur could offer the same business response to providing climate solutions.
My younger teen daughter, a child of the Apple generation, has a consistent observation at the plethora of news shows, presidential debates and the horrors of Friday-night political talk shows that skirt the edge of her present reality as she plans her life ahead: “Who are all those old guys and why are they making decisions that are ruining my future world?”
This is encouraging to me, as part of the needed political-climate-change is the willingness of a new generation to get outraged, get effective and to get vocal and stand up; it's time for them to demand the older American generation currently in boardrooms and in Washington to take action on this global threat — or get out of the way. And mostly this new generation needs to insist we stop locking them into having few other choices than mere survival in a strained, hot global habitat where extremes in weather endanger food and water supplies, flood our cities and super-cell storms, winds and fire the norm.
Perhaps that’s what 20 years has given us since we first learned of this global warming thing: There is a new generation willing to take seriously — and to take action — what Prof. Schneider, along with the many other scientists who were clever enough to follow the dots of a global climate, advise is necessary to undertake as a local community and a global community.
It’s time to allow a new generation of innovators to move us forward. They do not seem so impeded by political stalemates based on ‘the way it was’ or by an out-of-date notion that it is still possible for any one nation to “win” any kind of economic advantage in a world where every nation’s habitat is trashed and we are all merely surviving from one extreme crisis to another.
A small book on where we stand was published last summer. It is thought to be Stephen Schneider’s last or near last word on what we do — Now and Next — and it was co-written with Michael D. Mastandrea. It’s as close as I’ll be able to get to understand his 20-year lesson for us and since he was ahead of most of us 20 years ago, maybe we should mark his advice now:
"It is also clear, however, that mitigation will not be enough to address the climate problem. Even with aggressive global efforts to reduce emissions, the earth's climate will continue to change significantly for many decades at least, due to past emissions and the inertia of social and physical systems. Significant impacts resulting from climate change are already evident, and they pose increasing risks for many vulnerable populations and regions.
"Alongside mitigation, then, we also need policies focused on adaptation, on making sensible adjustments to the unavoidable changes that we now face. And we must coordinate adaptation with mitigation, as the success of each will depend on the other. Today's efforts to reduce emissions will, in due course, determine the severity of climate change, and thus the degree of adaptation required -- or even possible -- in the future. At the same time, a better understanding of the levels of climate change to which adaptation is difficult will help to shape our judgments about how much mitigation is required…."
"Slowing down pressure on the climate system and addressing the needs of marginalized countries and groups are the main `insurance policies' we have against potentially dangerous, irreversible climate events and the injustices that inevitably will accompany them. As the world struggles to fashion fair and effective forms of mitigation, adaptation, too, will be essential if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change."
A review and connect to the book can be found here: http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/2010/10/17/preparing-for-climate-change-steve-schneider/