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What is the right global temperature?

Tim Haab says George Will raises an interesting question in a recent Washington Post column:

> The housing perhaps-not-entirely-a-crisis resembles, in one particular, the curious consensus about the global warming “crisis,” concerning which, the assumption is: Although Earth’s temperature has risen and fallen through many millennia, the temperature was exactly right when, in the 1960s, Al Gore became interested in the subject.

This strikes me as the opposite of an interesting question. It strikes me as utter sophistry, but in case anyone is really wondering why we shouldn’t be enthusiastic about the prospect of a more pleasantly balmy world, here are a couple of reasons off the top of my head:

**1\. The current world is the one humans actually live in.**

Here’s a chart of human population growth over the course of history.

population-growth.gif

As you can see, thanks to industrialization — the same process responsible for global warming — we’ve been a rather successful species this past century. We’ve also built our cities, our food production systems, and our, well, everything around the contours of the world as it presently exists. Although one can certainly imagine better worlds for humans (more fjords, please!), changing midstream is an expensive proposition.

**2\. Those stupid plants and animals just won’t stop dying.**

It’s not just the change in temperature that’s a problem. It’s also the rate of change. Species and ecosystems that evolved over millenia have a difficult time adapting to climate change occurring over a scale of decades. Humans have compounded this issue by chopping up wilderness and potential migratory routes. Effectively, we’ve set a fire and blocked the exits. Biodiversity loss is one of the consequences of global warming that we’re likely least able to prevent, even if we act aggressively to cut carbon emissions now.

**3\. Feedback loops mean we’re rolling the dice.**

No one knows what the full consequences of global warming will be, but one thing we do know is that we’re not adjusting a carefully calibrated thermostat that we can crank up or down at will. The distribution of possible outcomes tilts much more heavily to the very bad than to the good. And basically we’ve got all of our chips on the table. Would a nice, stable 0.11° C uptick in global temperatures be a net positive for humanity? Who knows? Who cares? That’s not the situation we’re dealing with.

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