The world is not ending

By Corey S. Powell|Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It will not be the end of the world. and it is not just about the polar bears on their lonely icebergs.

Those thoughts kept going through my head during our recent town hall meeting about climate change, which took place at Yale University this past January (see page 38). Popular coverage of global warming tends toward the broad and apocalyptic, or the narrow and remote. Both extremes miss the point. Our planet has survived many climate swings in the past, and it will survive this one, too. And while it is true enough that many species may struggle in a warmer world, the one whose fate we should really worry about is Homo sapiens.

When temperature and precipitation patterns shift, the organisms hit hardest are the ones with the deepest roots. Unfortunately for us, we humans have a lot of permanent infrastructure. Coastal cities cannot move inland to get away from rising sea levels. Farmers cannot simply relocate their fields to the new optimal locations for agriculture. Adaptation is possible—in fact, it is inevitable—but it will not be easy, cheap, or painless.

Unlike other species, though, we can anticipate the environmental challenges that lie ahead and blunt their impact. That is why discover is teaming up with NBC and the National Science Foundation for two more town hall events exploring how we can best respond to climate change. We are talking not just to scientists but also to the business leaders and policymakers who will put ideas into action. Check back with us again in the September and December issues for more results from those ongoing conversations.
Being smarter about how we use our resources, investing in cleaner types of energy, and studying the adaptation process now will not “save the planet,” as some activists so breezily say; the planet is not in peril. What it will do is save ourselves from a lot of future hurt.

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