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When I first started this [research], global warming was well established. The thing that was very controversial was what’s causing it. Is it human caused, or is it a natural phenomenon that is occurring? That was debatable when I was teaching. When I retired, that was no longer debatable. It’s actually human caused, from emitting greenhouse gases, CO 2. This all started during the Industrial Revolution. We started getting out of equilibrium in about 1850 or so.
At that point I decided I was going to write a book on it. It took me five years to do it and I just finished it now. It became very clear to me that we had an enormous problem that was being ignored by politicians. It’s a problem not for me because I’m not going to live long enough, but it’s a problem for our grandchildren. They’re going to have an awful problem unless we do something about it now. It could lead to catastrophe. In fact at the extreme warming it could easily lead to the end of civilization as we know it, unless something is done now. We have to do it now. We can’t wait 30 years, until everything starts falling apart. If you wait that long it’s too late, there’s nothing we can do about it because of the inertia of the system. That’s why we have to start now. So that book [Hot House: Global Climate Change and the Human Condition] is dedicated to the grandchildren of the world. I hope that the parents and grandparents will do something about it.
When the grandchildren grow up and get to be the leaders, if we haven’t done anything about it it’s going to be too late. There’s nothing we can do about it, except some very expensive things which I call geo-engineering which scare me almost as much as global warming.
The optimistic thing is, we can do it. We have the technology. Technology got us into this mess and it can get us out. So I’m optimistic in the sense that yes, if we go ahead and start now—and they’re some encouraging signs that we may be doing this—we can conquer it. We’re still going to experience global warming, but the thing is, it’s possible to keep it below the critical level, so it isn’t the disaster. Attitudes are beginning to change, which is good.
I’m really concerned about it, because I love humanity. Gosh, you know, if you look at some of the kids, they’re brilliant. Some of the students that I deal with are great, wonderful people and extremely smart. To lose that to me would just be awful, a tragedy that I don’t even want to think about. So that’s why I wrote the book. That’s my sayonara.
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