Prodded by Andy Revkin at the Times, Joe Romm offers a list of “Pearl Harbors” that might lead to the second-world-war scale of effort against climate change that he (and to an extent I) see as necessary. Here it is:
1) Arctic goes ice free before 2020. I have bets out on this. It would be a big, visible global shock.
2) Rapid warming over next decade, as recent Nature and Science article suggests is quite possible
3) Continued (unexpected) surge in methane
4) A megadrought hitting the SW comparable to what has hit southern Australia.
5) More superstorms, like Katrina
6) A heatwave as bad as Europe’s 2003 one.
7) Something unpredicted but clearly linked to climate, like the bark beetle devastation
8) Accelerated mass loss in Greenland and/or Antarctica, perhaps with another huge ice shelf breaking off, but in any case coupled with another measurable rise in the rate of sea level rise,
9) The Fifth Assessment Report (2012-2013) really spelling out what we face with no punches pulled.
What strikes me about this list is that most of it has already happened. Leaving aside the question of whether it was a superstorm, Katrina happened. So did the 2003 canicule. So did the Australian drought and the bark beetle devastation. A decade of rapid warming took place in the 1990s, and so did a surge in methane. “Another huge ice shelf breaking off”? — clue’s in the “another”.
Now it may be the case that these things will have a greater impact the second time round; it may be that now opinion has been primed, they will matter more when seen again than they did the first time. But I have to say that that sounds a priori unlikely. The second time something happens the response is much more likely to be “oh, this is the sort of thing that keeps happening, is it?” than “oh my god — unprecedented calamity — we’re at war”.
Pearl Harbor’s force was in its unprecedented shock. If there’s a precedent, I don’t think it’s a Pearl Harbor — or likely to act as one.