Ross Gittins is one of the sanest people in Australia…

… in my opinion.

His column today is a national treasure.

Do you ever wonder how the environment – the global ecosystem – will cope with the continuing growth in the world population plus the rapid economic development of China, India and various other ”emerging economies”? I do. And it’s not a comforting thought.

But now that reputable and highly orthodox outfit the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has attempted to think it through systematically. In its report Environmental Outlook to 2050, it projects existing socio-economic trends for 40 years, assuming no new policies to counter environmental problems.

It’s not possible to know what the future holds, of course, and such modelling – economic or scientific – is a highly imperfect way of making predictions. Even so, some idea is better than no idea. It’s possible the organisation’s projections are unduly pessimistic, but it’s just as likely they understate the problem because they don’t adequately capture the way various problems could interact and compound…

Alarmist?  I don’t think so: just sober evaluation of facts and trends that only the perverse, deluded, or ultra-committed to some half-baked ideological (usually “libertarian”) position could object to, along with maybe a gaggle of has-been or media hungry scientists, most often in some tangentially relevant discipline — the so-called “skeptics” Confused smile. See the somewhat related Media Watch item from last Monday to discover yet again where these turkeys come from and how and why they do what they do.

The occasion for Ross Gittins’s column is OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction.

Humanity has witnessed unprecedented growth and prosperity in the past decades, with the size of the world economy more than tripling and population increasing by over 3 billion people since 1970. This growth, however, has been accompanied by environmental pollution and natural resource depletion. The current growth model and the mismanagement of natural assets could ultimately undermine human development.

The OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050 asks “What will the next four decades bring?” Based on joint modelling by the OECD and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), it looks forward to the year 2050 to find out what demographic and economic trends might mean for the environment if the world does not adopt more ambitious green policies. It also looks at what policies could change that picture for the better.

This Outlook focuses on four areas: climate change, biodiversity, freshwater and health impacts of pollution. These four key environmental challenges were identified by the previous Environmental Outlook to 2030 (OECD, 2008) as “Red Light” issues requiring urgent attention. Based on model projections, this edition of the Environmental Outlook paints a possible picture of what the environment might look like in 2050. It focuses on four areas which were identified by the previous edition of the Outlook as needing urgent attention: climate change, biodiversity, water, and health and environment.

You will find plenty more about climate change on this blog – look at the tabs above or check out the side bar, so I am not going to start beating my head against the brick wall yet again, and I advise any commenters to bear in mind that whatever they say I almost certainly will already have been down whatever blind alley or into whatever swamp you care to invite me into.

So don’t bother. I respect your right to your views, even if the views are not worth a sane person’s attention for any longer than a nanosecond!

Go instead, readers, to some sound information, such as Understanding Climate (NOAA). Contemplate last month on a global scale, not just  what passed your window on your patch of the planet.

201202Click to enlarge

See also the State of the Climate report for February 2012.

In a very civilised Q&A last week Malcolm Turnbull showed that he is among the sane, as I always knew anyway.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Can I make one quick point? Look, there’s no doubt the climate has changed a lot and particularly over the period of 19 and a half thousand years. You know we’ve had ice ages in that period so but that’s really not the point, okay? So we are – this is – we are actually making a difference to the climate, which humans have never done before. That’s a very significant thing. Second, there are so many more of us now than there used to be. You know, this is not like, you know, 100,000 years ago when there was only a handful of humans and they could go to higher ground or wander off somewhere else. If we get a one, two, three metre rise in sea levels, there are hundreds of millions of people at risk and this is the thing that we forget is that, yes, we are more technically sophisticated but because of the size of the global population we are so much more vulnerable.
TONY JONES: I’m just going to go – we’ve just got a gentleman with his hand up there. We’ll just go quickly to his question or comment and then we’ll move on.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, look, if we do all go under, if the whole country goes under water, will there be a new Noah? Who will he be and who’s he going to save?
TONY JONES: Okay, I’m going to take that as a comment. A satirical comment. Time to move on. Our next question comes from Kate Aubusson…