The Future of the Geosciences In the Context of Climate Disruption
Sunday, noon - 1:30 p.m., PCC, North Ballroom 120D, North Building
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Donald Siegel, GSA President
I speak to a rapidly emerging climate disruption, a result of probably the most sweeping self-inflicted tragedy of the commons in human history. A “tragedy of the commons” occurs when multiple people use a common resource owned by none (Hardin, 1968), and then subsequently degrade it to achieve individual economic advantage. With respect to climate disruption, I see no compelling evidence that sufficient numbers of the developed and undeveloped nations that currently release large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane to our common atmosphere will make the economic and political decisions to prevent a two-degree increase in average global tropospheric temperature. This increase is the threshold beyond which severe climate disruption will likely occur for the foreseeable future (e.g. Knutti and others, 2016).
I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t strive for a renewable future. We must. The world could, in fact, theoretically generate sufficient green energy if we installed solar panels on a few hundred square miles of each of the world’s major deserts, retooled and smartened up our electric grids, and developed orders-of-magnitude more electrical storage capacity than we now have. But to do this, the world will also need many times the amount of rare elements that we now mine on an annual basis. Where, I ask, will these rare earths come from?
Until climate disruption seriously affects the personal well-being of large swaths of economically well-to-do humanity, little will be done globally to address the problem at the scale of effort needed—I repeat—at the scale of effort needed – in the time we have left to do it.