The UKs chief scientific adviser, Professor Bob Watson, recently told The Guardian that it would be wise for the UK to begin active preparation for an increase in global temperature of 4C. It’s pretty much agreed that such an increase from preindustrial levels of temperature would be catastrophic. The goal of the UK is to hold the increase to 2C but Watson says that we can’t be certain how to do that so we should prepare for at least a 2C overshoot of the mark. Professor Neil Adger, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, is quoted as saying that “I think that is a dangerous mindset to be in…There is no science on how we are going to adapt to a 4 degree warming.”
This all seems a little reminiscent of the 1950s in the United States when citizens were given instructions on how to survive a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The government put out films showing how families could build underground shelters in their backyards to hide until it was safe to come out and school children were given duck-and-cover drills in which they hid under their desks protecting their ears and eyes from the nuclear explosion. Looking back it seems obvious that the only thing accomplished was mass self-delusion that the public could survive a nuclear war. This era of self-delusion was followed by the realistic strategy of mutual assured destruction which reduced the likelihood of a first strike since it was evident that neither country would survive.
It seems unlikely that a 4C increase in temperature would be as destructive as a nuclear war although scientists seem to think that a large percentage of all species would face extinction. Former UK chief adviser Sir David King is quoted in the article as saying that “My own feeling is that if we get to a 4 degree rise it is quite possible that we would begin to see a runaway increase.” That suggests the survival of civilization is at stake if not the survival of Homo sapiens.
With all these uncertainties is hard to know what to do. It seems the best course is to go all out to reduce carbon emissions and deforestation and hope for some good luck.