« on: March 02, 2017, 03:53:54 AM »
This is a very interesting thread. I thought I would participate with a rant! I would like to offer my views on the emerging moral debate about our collective and individual responsibilities and efforts to alter the predicted course and consequences of climate change. Sorry it's so long.
On the one hand, some of us think we all must vigorously proselytize to spread the word that AGW is real and consequential, while attempting to limiting our own impact. On the other hand, some of us feel that this will be insufficient to affect any real change, and have transitioned to trying to accept our collective doom. Many of us are probably waffling between these poles. I know I am, in my efforts to find enduring hope for humanity. I am greedy for more information, ideas and insights. I also miss A-Team!
As the data collected here on ASIF and elsewhere continue to add up—sea ice extent and volume decline, glacier retreat, atmospheric and surface temperature shifts and warming, CO2 levels, methane levels, sea level rise—it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine realistic solutions.
I don't see much reason for hope in any of the current speculative technical solutions to AGW in general, many of which are impossible from an engineering perspective, and none of which have political or economic viability at the moment. Technical stopgaps exist and are necessary, such as higher sea walls, fresh water collection, transportation and storage for people and agriculture, drought-resistant crops, emissions reductions in industry and transportation, and renewable power generation, etc. But damming Fram Strait to prevent export, or pumping seawater into the CAB to build volume, is fantasy.
International political and policy solutions are probably the only humane and effective ones in the long term, but it remains to be seen how this might be accomplished, especially with the current global political upheaval. The United Nations is the closest humans have to an institution capable of mediating between the various interests involved, but there are some 200 nations, each with its own diverse interests and capacities. It appears to be difficult enough to find consensus among the Arctic nations.
The most significant obstacle to hope, in my opinion, lies in our individual and collective reluctance to leave behind the security and seeming stability of the status quo. Even when we see the failures of the carbon age, we must acknowledge that the energy it provides enables the survival of billions of humans. Some of us even thrive on that energy: our jobs, homes, cars, cities, medicine and technology, and the internet connecting us here, are all possible because of carbon fuels. I require a car to get to my job, for example, and my house is heated and cooled by coal fired electricity and natural gas. My place of employment uses the electrical equivalent of a small town and would not (does not) function without it. Renewables have a long way to go before they can replace all that energy. Renewables are the only solution in the long term, but the political will to make the transition right now is absent.
Climate change will continue to disrupt regions and systems—both natural and human—and as it does, people will attempt to adapt through migration, economic exchange and accrual, political involvement, education, and technology. Societies will and do attempt to adapt through stronger political and social controls on individuals and institutions, through economic and political isolationism, increased exploitation of natural 'resources', and nationalism and war.
Arguably, this is happening now with the rise of the far right in the USA and Europe. Totalitarianism—the attempted total control of society by the state and it agents—offers some hope for the most fearful and under-informed of us in the shape of security for the in-group. Think Trump's wall, for example. Such nationalism begets an 'us vs. them' attitude and ideology. It promotes the belief that "I and my kin are good, everyone else is a threat to our survival, so keep them away or kill them." Unfortunately for the believers, however, such a position is belied by the material interconnectedness of all natural and human systems. Real isolationism will come at great human cost, as the United States may discover if Trump's foreign policy drifts even more to the extreme right.
Urban North Americans, Europeans, Africans, Asians and Australians and New Zealanders rely entirely on global food networks, the global flow of oil and coal, metals, minerals, capital investments, international loans and trade negotiations. Without these global systems of fuel, capital, and food and water distribution, many places on the planet are already uninhabitable. Consider, for example, the energy it takes to condition the air in the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, where summer temperatures average 41C (~106F), with spikes into the upper 40s (>110F). Or Ski Dubai, an indoor ski slope at the Mall of the Emirates, cooled to below 0C continuously. Dubai desalinates more than a millions cubic meters of water a day.
Fossil fuels and agriculture seem to have driven human expansion (population) significantly beyond the sustainable carrying capacity of regional ecosystems, if not of the whole Earth. Consider the rapidly rising rates of species extinction that are by now well-documented and scientifically incontrovertible. Those extinctions are a result of human exploitation of the ecosystems we shared with those creatures, and in some cases we ate them all. In ecology, an organism that disrupts the local ecology is considered to have exceeded the ecosystem's carrying capacity. We humans have.
As regional climates change, human systems are disrupted. North and West African migration to the Mediterranean, as an example, is arguably driven by desertification and water scarcity and the political and economic turmoil that ensues. We can't live in a place with no water. Migration, in turn, places new pressures on new ecosystems and new social, political and economic circumstances, which are often themselves stressed by climate change and population pressures. The South and Midwest in the USA is another example of already maxed out ecosystems and economies that are experiencing stress and pressure from migration from Latin America. In US agriculture there is a double irony, since it relies on—but will not integrate—an international migrant labor force. As ineffective and morally objectionable as Trump's border wall may be, it is—quite literally—a technical solution to the human problems of climate change.
I have yet to see a persuasive picture of how climate and social equilibrium might be achieved. Prognostication and prediction are beyond the capacity of any one person, but the principle of parsimony would suggest that the evidence of AGW and the resulting changes in climate and weather that we here on ASIF are witness to will overwhelm the carbon economy and the 'civilization' it sustains.
We need more data before we can even know with any certainty what is happening and what will happen. Can anyone make more than an informed guess at when, if ever, the arctic will be ice free? Can anyone claim with scientific certainty to know what will happen to the weather in the Northern Hemisphere when/if it does? Can anyone say for sure that desertification and extreme weather won't become more urgent problems for humans than sea level rise? The IPCC's timeline for climate change seems unrealistically long, but what is the realistic timeline?
When Spring is 20 days early, as it is in the southeastern United States currently, how will agricultural production be affected? Will next spring be the same, or different? How will farmers know when to plant? When to harvest? Will there be annual surplus due to multiple crops, or famine from multiple crop failures?
Until we can answer questions such as these, we humans need to keep careful records of our scientific observations. It may be a bonfire of human vanity to attempt to understand and control our impact on the ecology of the planet, but it may also be the salvation of the species.
As I said, I waffle. I desperately want to be optimistic, and I cling to any glimmer of hope. Nevertheless, I am terribly afraid of what may come.
A final note: a sudden end of the carbon age will be catastrophic for the vast majority of humans. To do so by decree would be genocide.