Why Has Global Warming Become The Focus Of The Environmental Movement?

Andy Revkin wrote an article for the New York Times on April 23 2006 entitled “IDEAS & TRENDS: MELTDOWN; Yelling ‘Fire’ On A Hot Planet.

An extract from the article reads,

“Global average temperatures are projected to increase between 1.4 and 5.8 C by the end of this century; an associated rise in sea level is also expected. The number of people at risk from flooding by coastal storm surges is projected to increase from the current 75 million to 200 million in a scenario of mid-range climate changes, in which a rise in the sea level of 40 cm is envisaged by the 2080s …Extremes of the hydrologic cycle (such as floods and droughts) are projected to increase with warmer ambient temperatures. Evidence is mounting that such changes in the broad-scale climate system may already be affecting human health, including mortality and morbidity from extreme heat, cold,drought or storms; changes in air and water quality; and changes in the ecology of infectious diseases…”.

Why is there this emphasis on global warming as the focus for so many environmental issues?

Kevin Vranes, in his weblog No Se Nada, provides the reason. As he succinctly wrote on April 24, 2006 “If you haven’t figured it out yet, global warming is really about how we use resources and, in many ways, about how we unnecessarily waste our resources. ”

However, there is a large risk in using “global warming”, including a global average surface temperature, as the all-inclusive icon for environmental and social risk. As written on the Climate Science website, the global average surface temperature trend assessment has a variety of major under- and un-recogonized problems with its accuracy (e.g. see). Even more importantly, climate change and variability involves much more complexity than is represented by such a simple climate metric as the global average surface temperature trend (e.g. see and see). This view is also reported on in the 2005 National Research Council Report on climate.

Moreover, if the multi-decadal global climate projections fail and/or continue to be unable to skillfully predict on the regional scale (e.g. see), than opportunities to correct (or adapt to) serious environmental problems may be missed, since the adopted currency of environmental risk (global warming) does not forecast the information needed to properly evaluate enviromental and social risks.

The major deficiencies in the concept of global warming is a reason to change to a vulnerability perspective with respect to environmental and social threats. The need to focus on vulnerability has been emphasized on the Climate Science weblog (see the numerous postings under the Vulnerability Category).

I urge Andy Revkin in New York Times articles to discuss the value of the vulnerability perspective, as the framework for the environmental community, rather than continuing to reply on the climate metric of a global averaged surface temperature trend (e.g. his statement that “Global average temperatures are projected to increase between 1.4 and 5.8 C by the end of this century”). The use of this climate metric is misleading policymakers.

We need to move to a “win-win” framework as discussed on the Climate Science weblog to make progress on environmental improvements.

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