Year 3, Month 4, Day 29: Coming Up Snake-Eyes

Guam Pacific Daily News has an excellent editorial from a guy named Richard Alley, titled “Rolling the dice on climate change.” Definitely worth a read:

Science still says, “Maybe, maybe not.” But we’re rolling the dice in a serious game where the “jackpot” means we lose.

There’s very high scientific confidence that our fossil-fuel burning and other activities, which add carbon dioxide to the air, are turning up the planet’s thermostat.

In a warmer world, we expect more record highs and heat waves but fewer record lows, just as we’re observing. Warmer air can carry more water vapor, so a warmer rainstorm can deliver more inches per hour. Hair dryers have a “hot” setting for good reasons, and warmer air between rainstorms can dry out the ground faster.

Thus, we expect rising CO2 to bring more floods in some places and more droughts in others, with some places getting more of both. That might seem contradictory, but it’s not. And with more energy to drive hurricanes, the peak winds may increase, even if the number of storms drops.

But couldn’t nature have caused the ongoing changes without our help?

Imagine playing dice with a shady character. Suppose, after you lose, you discover that some of the corners are filed off and there are carefully positioned weights inside. In court, your lawyer could say, “The dice were loaded, double-sixes came up three times in a row, so the defendant owes restitution.”

His lawyer, however, might counter, “My client doesn’t recall where he got the dice, the modifications are really quite small, dice games are inherently variable, anomalous events do happen, so my client is innocent and should get to keep all the money plus the plaintiff’s wallet.”

Time to expand the analogy. Sent April 20:

In games of chance, the amount we wager depends on how much we can spend. The embezzlers who lose vast sums of other people’s money at racetracks or card games are the exceptions, not the rule.

Or are they? The past several decades of climate science have revealed the unintended consequences of industrial humanity’s century-long fossil-fuel binge; we clever apes find ourselves in the unenviable position of a losing card player who’s squandered not just his own resources but those of generations to come.

And like compulsive gamblers, we deny there’s a problem. We loudly assert that our civilization’s progress depends on burning the fossilized sunlight of ancient eras; if we want a present, we must consume the past. But if our descendants are to have lives worth living, we can no longer wager their happiness and prosperity in a rigged game with stakes exponentially higher than we can afford.

Warren Senders

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