Oct. 26, 2012 -- Here's a dark secret about the earth's changing climate that many scientists believe, but few seem eager to discuss: It's too late to stop global warming.
Greenhouse gasses pumped into the planet's atmosphere will continue to grow even if the industrialized nations cut their emissions down to the bone. Furthermore, the severe measures that would have to be taken to make those reductions stand about the same chance as that proverbial snowball in hell.
Two scientists who believe we are on the wrong track argue in the current issue of the journal Nature Climate Change that global warming is inevitable and it's time to switch our focus from trying to stop it to figuring out how we are going to deal with its consequences.
"At present, governments' attempts to limit greenhouse-gas emissions through carbon cap-and-trade schemes and to promote renewable and sustainable energy sources are probably too late to arrest the inevitable trend of global warming," Jasper Knight of Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Stephan Harrison of the University of Exeter in England argue in their study. Those efforts, they continue, "have little relationship to the real world."
What is clear, they contend, is a profound lack of understanding about how we are going to deal with the loss of huge land areas, including some entire island nations, and massive migrations as humans flee areas no longer suitable for sustaining life, the inundation of coastal properties around the world, and so on ... and on ... and on.
That doesn't mean nations should stop trying to reduce their carbon emissions, because any reduction could lessen the consequences. But the cold fact is no matter what Europe and the United States and other "developed" nations do, it's not going to curb global climate change, according to one scientist who was once highly skeptical of the entire issue of global warming.
"Call me a converted skeptic," physicist Richard A. Muller says in an op-ed piece published in the New York Times last July.
Muller's latest book, "Energy for Future Presidents," attempts to poke holes in nearly everything we've been told about energy and climate change, except the fact that "humans are almost entirely the cause" of global warming.
Those of us who live in the "developed" world initiated it. Those who live in the "developing" world will sustain it as they strive for a standard of living equal to ours.
"As far as global warming is concerned, the developed world is becoming irrelevant," Muller insists in his book. We could set an example by curbing our emissions, and thus claim in the future that "it wasn't our fault," but about the only thing that could stop it would be a complete economic collapse in China and the rest of the world's developing countries.
As they race forward, their industrial growth -- and their greenhouse gas emissions -- will outpace any efforts by the West to reduce their carbon footprints, Muller contends.
"China has been installing a new gigawatt of coal power each week," he says in his Times piece, and each plant pumps an additional ton of gases into the atmosphere "every second."
"By the time you read this, China's yearly greenhouse gas emissions will be double those of the United States, perhaps higher," he contends. And that's not likely to change.
"China is fighting poverty, malnutrition, hunger, poor health, inadequate education and limited opportunity. If you were the president of China, would you endanger progress to avoid a few degrees of temperature change?" he asks.
Muller suggests a better course for the West to take than condemning China for trying to be like the rest of us. Instead, we should encourage China to switch from coal to natural gas for its power plants, which would cut those emissions in half.
"Coal," he writes, "is the filthiest fuel we have."
Meanwhile, the West waits for a silver bullet, possibly a geo-engineering solution that would make global warming go away by reflecting sunlight back into space, or fertilizing the oceans so they could absorb more carbon dioxide, or something we haven't even heard about. Don't expect it anytime soon.
It would take a bold, and perhaps foolish, nation to take over the complex systems that control the planet's weather patterns. That's sort of what we did beginning with the Industrial Revolution. Now we have to live with it.
So maybe Knight and Harrison are right. It's time to pay more attention to how we are going to handle changes to our planet that seem inevitable.
We can fight global warming and try to mitigate the consequences, but it isn't going to go away.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.