Ronald Prinn and MIT’s Wheel of Fortune

Ronald Prinn is talking about what was arguably the biggest little news story on earth so far this year.

It came from MIT’s global climate project: which reported in effect that the warming of the planet is not a 2-alarm fire, after all, but a four-alarm fire… that in the lifetime of my grandchildren, the average temperature in this membrane of life around the earth will be warmer not by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius, but 4 to 6 degrees Celsius, or as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. A planet-changer, as they said. Play the “wheel of fortune” game here.

Zoom in here on a irresistible Google map project of all the coasts in the world to see if your house will be underwater in 50 years. You can set the rising sea level as high or low as you dare. The default is 7 meters.

The MIT report in May had everything to do with the House vote in Washington in June: the first ever to fix an American limit on the emission of greenhouse gases that are changing the climate. The vote was a squeaker – a seven vote spread for the Waxman-Markey bill that embodied the Obama climate policy. With Senate vote coming up and very much in doubt, I asked the chief of the MIT study, Ronald Prinn, to walk us through his research and the Wheel of Fortune gimmick that simulates a risk assessment for the only home that we – that any organic life we know about – ever had.

We’re talking about something not way in the future. We’re talking about young people born today. They’re going to see the results of the heritage we left them, the inheritance if you like of the planet…

I would show [skeptics in the Senate] the wheel, and say: “Here are the odds, the best that we can do with the knowledge we have, here are the odds.” And then just explain that if we landed on that 6-to-7 degree Centigrade warming by 2100, what it means simply for sea levels…

It’s going to cause strife that is not just economic strife but it is the possibility of widespread strife associated with just simply the changing coast lines. Bangladesh is largely — a significant fraction of the country — only one meter above sea level. What are they going to do? They’re going to move into India, I presume. And what if the Indus River dries up in the middle of one of the most politically delicate and dangerous places in the world. There it is. It is not just economic loss, it’s the possibility of wide-spread strife.

Those are the sorts of things I’d talk about. I’d talk about risk, and say what do they want to leave their children and grandchildren now, what is it they really want to be known for when people look back and say “they did something about this issue and thank goodness they did.”

Ronald Prinn of MIT with Chris Lydon, Cambridge, July 17, 2009.

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