THE BLOG

Let's Play Climate Roulette

07/17/2013 03:26 pm ET | Updated Sep 16, 2013

Looking for confirmation that humans are doomed by global warming so we might as well just get our species' affairs in order, I recently googled phrases like "we're doomed," "runaway greenhouse," "Goodnight, Irene," etc. I got entries about the Bible, Charles Bukowski poems, and some audio clips of the great songster Lead Belly, who might've learned something about monstrous heat in Louisiana and Texas prisons of the '20s and '30s. Most of the returns, though, were as expected.

I read the item from 2009, when MIT climate scientists announced the results of their latest, best computer modeling: Without immediate wrenching changes, the world will get much hotter than even their horribly gloomy, less-sophisticated computer estimates from 2003 said. To demonstrate possible alternative futures in a way that the Great Scratch-Off-Buying, Gambling-Addicted Unwashed could understand, they built two roulette wheels showing outcomes under scenarios of aggressive worldwide action and under continuing inaction, one wheel with lots of cool blues and greens, the other ranging from yellow through orange to sweltering brick red. I guess it's nice that they gave some hope, but even the suckers know roulette has some of the worst odds in Vegas.

Maybe if temperatures keep rising as predicted, the MIT computer will stop working and we won't have to hear this incessant negativity from them. Trying not to hear, though, is what got us into this mess. Allegedly, if we can keep the average global temperature at 2 degrees Celsius above that in pre-industrial times, we can manage the worst of this crisis. I wonder, though, how accurately we can measure what the pre-industrial temperature was. Were there even enough thermometers in pre-industrial times to measure global temperature? Were they artisanally hand-made of wicker and twine? I have no idea, but they do -- we learned from Good Will Hunting that even the janitors at MIT are geniuses -- surely the tenured guys are really hot stuff.

I was momentarily bolstered when I read one semi-hopeful item from May of this year. According to Oxford's Dr. Alexander Otto, "The most extreme [temperature rise] projections are looking less likely." After making sure that Dr. Otto wasn't leading a joint Heritage Foundation /Sean Hannity-funded project, I dug in. Another contributor to the study, Piers Forster of the UK's University of Leeds, says "Now it looks like we have a chance [to keep temperature rise to 2 degrees C], so we should take it." It seems that if there is a strong climate agreement in place by 2015, and the Otto, et al. study is correct about the climate's sensitivity to CO2 levels, the world might not end. Dare we hope?

"If we are lucky and the climate sensitivity is at the low end, and we have a strong agreement in 2015, then I think we stand a chance to limit climate change to 2 °C," says Corinne Le Quéré of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Norwich, UK. "But there's a lot of ifs."

It's not confidence-inspiring to hear scientists talking about hoping to get "lucky" -- it reminds me of my friend Bob Somerby scoffing at a hospital spending time and money giving itself good feng shui. This, though, is the option we're left with -- it's time to gather our few remaining chips and demand that the world's casino owners give us the better, fairer roulette wheel.