Tipping points

Luckily, we don't have to worry too much anymore about the dark side taking advantage of this:
Environmentalists and some climate experts are increasingly warning of impending tipping points in their efforts to stir public concern. The term confers a sense of immediacy and menace to potential threats from a warming climate — dangers that otherwise might seem too distant for people to worry about.

But other scientists say there is little hard evidence to back up specific predictions of catastrophe. They worry that the use of the term “tipping point” can be misleading and could backfire, fueling criticism of alarmism and threatening public support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Having followed climate change policy and rhetoric for a long time, it became readily apparent that the real "alarmists" were not originally the environmentalists, but rather those warning of the disastrous economic consequences of even slightly increasing energy efficiency beyond the inherent ~2% annual increases that come about under business-as-usual.

While tipping point scenarios such as the melting permafrost rapidly increasing temperatures, consequently lead to melting ice and rising sea levels which threaten humanity are important concepts to educate the public on, it seems that in the face of an alarmist opposition--from the "serious" members of society: industrialists beleaguered by dirty fucking hippies--Hansen, Romm and other high-profile climate legislation proponents had no choice but to resort to focusing almost exclusively on these scenarios. Yet it didn't have to be that way. The public could just as easily have also been informed about ecosystems and the rapidity of man-made global warming; how climate changes such as temperature and moisture patterns that occur very quickly are very difficult for certain ecosystems to handle. Think of a forest of centuries-old trees that cannot simply uproot themselves once the current location becomes uninhabitable and the other species which depend upon this forest's viability to survive. As Revkin's post elaborates:
Dr. Jablonski added, “There’s a key difference between the potential impact of climate change now versus in the past. Most groups used to survive quite handily by shifting their distributions to track temperatures (very clearly seen in plants, insects, mammals, and marine inverts from clams to reef corals). But that’s increasingly disallowed by the human environmental footprint: too many malls, highways, agribusinesses, marinas, sewage outfalls, etc.”
The inherent value of avoiding the consequences of climate change that do not directly affect human health and survival is something that the public can, in fact, understand and reasonably be expected to act upon. For instance, even if I know I'll never visit most of the effected ecosystems, simply knowing that my actions do not threaten them is worth a certain amount of economic pain. Moreover, though this article fairly realistically describes some short-term consequences of increased clean energy production, it fails to address whether the increased price will bring about any real pain to the general public. Even if the radical socialist-environmentalist hordes of the Obama administration force a tripling of renewable energy production within a year it's difficult to imagine how an increase from about 1% to 3% of total production capacity will produce any significant public outcry against renewables. Certainly, natural gas fired power plants will need to support baseload electricity demand; but that doesn't necessarily mean a slew of new nat gas plants need to be built to accommodate all the increased renewables production capacity. Existing plants could be coupled to renewable generating facilities and plants that are slated to open can be coupled to future renewables projects. [Certain industries can, however, be negatively affects by a marginal increase in electricity prices. But some policy options are available to ameliorate this.] Overall, a moderate increase in electricity and transportation fuel prices are probably something the public is willing to accept in return for remote inherent benefits of undisturbed wilderness existing without interference.

Not only can inherent values of functioning ecosystems be convincing; coupled with a level-headed discussion of some of the marginal cost increases associated with saving these valued areas. But a discussion of some of the unintended benefits from ending [to quote Charles Morris] our quarter-century long "diligent sacrifice to the gods of the free market" could arise. Liveable cities, for instance! Increased public transportation and urban planning--two areas that ought to be included in environmental and climate policy--could very well restore the livability and vitality of our cities.

It's quite possible that we might have the opportunity to replace the mental masturbation of the recent past with somewhat more rational discourse now. I believe that "carbon is Life", "global warming is good", "huge mirrors in space will rescue us all", and various other rationalizations for inaction can indeed be part of a vibrant inclusive discussion. But the motivation for engaging seriously with those who are ideologically driven elevate these excuses to public policy debate arose from the need to counteract what is essentially alarmist rhetoric. The ones who blamed environmentalists as alarmists were themselves alarmists when it came to describing the disastrous economic consequences of sound policy. We know now that the economy is perfectly capable of destroying itself without the help of climate policy. Now is the time to get serious and include environmental policy within a larger public policy framework.

Yes we can, and yes we will succeed.