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The terrible what-ifs of climate change

If the worries of climate scientists are correct, and the UN's climate change conference beginning at the end of this month in Paris fails to produce a universal binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep the more dangerous effects of climate change at bay;

And if the U.S. Senate does end up with the authority to review such an agreement on slowing global warming and moves to block it, which it almost certainly would do;

If we keep polluting

And if China's recently corrected estimates of how much coal the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases has been burning still aren't accurate, and if other nations are doing similar miscalculations, making it more difficult to craft carbon trading systems to appropriately reduce emissions;

If Antarctica keeps melting

And if Antarctica continues to melt faster than anticipated and its land-based ice sheets fall into the ocean by the end of the century, increasing sea levels;

If sea levels rise

And if Greenland turns green, and continues to lose its ice mass at a faster rate than Antarctica, adding to the problem of sea level rise;

And if that rise wipes out some island nations in the Pacific and Indian oceans and destroys treasured low-lying places like the Everglades;


If cities build more waterfronts

And if metro areas such as New York City continue to build on the water's edge in places that could frequently be under water from another 6 feet of sea level rise by 2100, as a group of scientists has found;

If oceans warm

And if sea ice in the Arctic Ocean continues to melt and break up and the polar bears that depend on that ice face extinction;

And if the oceans continue to warm as they have been, now to the hottest values ever recorded, and thereby fuel increasingly intense storms that do ever-greater damage to coastal communities and ecosystems;

If there's global mass migration

And if droughts in Africa and the Middle East continue to turn farmland to desert, and if heat waves continue to kill crops and livestock;

And if people in those regions continue to be driven away, becoming what Secretary of State John Kerry calls climate refugees and swelling the world's ongoing crisis of global mass migration;

And if countries, militias, tribes or other rivals end up fighting over disappearing resources such as water, increasing both the exodus of people and the possible rise of extremists taking advantage of instability in fragile nations;

If plants and animals die faster

And if the accelerated pace of extinction of plants and animals, fueled partly by global warming and unprecedented since the disappearance of the dinosaurs, continues to rob us of our biological diversity and unravels entire ecosystems;

And if the vast majority of scientists, who cite reams of data in saying that all these things could happen if we don't slow the rise in global temperatures, turn out to be right;

Then my fervent wish for every climate change denier is ...

Then I have a fervent wish for every climate change denier and skeptic and everyone working against addressing it and everyone who will not acknowledge the role of humans in creating it and anyone at Exxon involved in first funding good climate change research in the late 1970s and then by funding full-throated efforts to cast doubt on global warming:

That they somehow live long enough, perhaps as soon as when their grandchildren's grandchildren are adults, to see first hand what it's like when the Earth does go to hell in a handbag, and that they have to live the rest of their lives in that wretched world knowing they have wrought it.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday's editorial board.