Science Suggests Path to Hope for Human Intervention to Minimize Climate Change

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The issue of climate change often seems to be a race pitting human complacence against the ecological tipping point.

Everyone knows that if the predictions regarding climate change are proven true by actual climate disasters, even climate change deniers will alter their behavior to do anything possible to combat the devastating consequences. But current models suggest that this may be too late: by the time the predicted effects become evident, it will be too late to stop the progression.

This dire predicament led a team of scientists to seek grounds not to despair. In the words of Louis J. Gross,

"It is easy to lose confidence in the capacity for societies to make sufficient changes to reduce future temperatures. When we started this project, we simply wanted to address the question as to whether there was any rational basis for 'hope'--that is a rational basis to expect that human behavioral changes can sufficiently impact climate to significantly reduce future global temperatures."
Gross, co-organizer of the Working Group on Human Risk Perception and Climate Change at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) the Working Group, co-authored the paper on this research, Linking models of human behaviour and climate alters projected climate change in the journal Nature

They created a dynamic model, linking the physical models of climate change with models that factor in human behavior and its contribution to global climate. The uncertainties of the dynamic model remain high, so it is too soon to make any conclusions about how human intervention could impact change. The scientific consensus indicates that climate change is anthropogenic, though, so factoring in human reactions to reduce our impact should not be overlooked.

Giving hope an edge

The research did point to one important way to give hope an edge. Every time a peak weather event raises fears about the potential for more disasters on a warming planet, people make changes to their behaviors. As these fears subside in the return to more normal weather trends, people may also drift back into their old ways.

As a consequence, reversible short-term changes like driving fewer miles or setting the thermostat to an eco-setpoint have less benefits in combating climate change in the long run. Changes with long-term or lasting effects, such as improving insulation or buying a more efficient car, represent a more effective response.

The conclusion? Efforts to educate the public on what they can do to help should leverage these points in time that trigger action, and should emphasize making lasting changes rather than resorting to a temporary feel-better fix that will later be lost to backsliding.