Advertisements

Leaked UN Report Shows Failure to Swiftly Act on Climate Change Results in Catastrophic Harm

Over the past week, various sources have leaked information passed on to them by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The reports highlighted stark consequences for continued failure by policy makers to act, providing a general view of rapidly approaching a terrible and very difficult to navigate global crisis.

Dancing on the Edge of a Global Food Crisis

The first weak link for human resiliency to climate change may well be in our ability to continue to supply food to over 7 billion people as weather and sea level rise takes down previously productive agricultural regions. And the leaked UN report hints at a currently stark global food situation in the face of a risk for rising crisis.

For the Mekong Delta, as with more and more agricultural regions around the world, by August of 2014, global warming was already a rampant crop killer.

The Vietnamese government this year made efforts to stem the effects of warming-driven sea level rise and saltwater invasion as 700,000 hectares of rice paddy farmland in one of the world’s most productive regions came under threat. But the efforts have not entirely prevented intrusion and many plants show the tell-tale yellowed leaves that result from salt water leeching into the low-lying freshwater fields that have, for so long, yielded a bounty of grain. Many farmers are now facing losses of up to 50% for crops that used to produce like clockwork year-in, year out. This year, the salt water has intruded as far as 40 to 50 kilometers inland, delivering a substantial blow to the region’s agriculture. But the potential effects, given even the IPCC’s conservative projections of sea level rise in the range of 29 to 82 more centimeters this century, are stark for this and other low-lying agricultural regions.

FAO index August 2014

(UN FAO food price index since 1961. Note the spike since the mid 2000s coinciding with energy price increases and ramping crop destruction due to climate change. The first price spike during 2008 was primarily energy price related, but the second spike during 2011 coincided with a string of some of the worst spates of crop-destroying weather on record. Note that prices remained historically high following the 2011 spike, an indication that global agriculture was having difficulty meeting increased demand, despite the price signal. Image source: FAO.)

Around the world, tales from agricultural zones are much the same — ever-increasing challenges due to climate change driven droughts, floods, fires, spreading diseases, invasive species, and sea level rise. Since mid 2010, these added stresses have driven the United Nation’s FAO food price index — an indicator for global food security — above 200 for four years running. Historically, international insecurity and food-related unrest have sparked when prices hit and maintain above 208. And though the price of food has fallen somewhat from highs nearing 230 during 2011 to a range near 204 during 2014, the ongoing and worsening impacts of climate change mean that new and starker challenges to feeding the world’s 7 billion and growing population are just over the horizon.

Instances of food riots correlated with food price

(Instances of food riots from 2004 to late 2012 correlated with global food prices. Image source: ABC.)

These climate change related impacts are ongoing and, according to recent scientific reports, have resulted in a 3-5 percent loss of annual grain production for maize and wheat and could result in 10 percent total losses in grain production through the early 2020s. But even if agricultural difficulties are somehow delayed through the next decade, the UN report shows climate change eventually winning out by compounding damages that cause:

“slow down [of] economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing poverty traps and create new ones, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.”

Wide-ranging and Terrible Impacts

Of course, damages from climate change aren’t just limited to crops. More extreme weather, vicious heatwaves, rising seas, ocean acidification and anoxia, loss of glacial and ocean ice, rampant wildfires and other jarring impacts are likely to coincide as warming continues to spike higher.

At 0.85 degrees Celsius and 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit warming since 1880, we already see some rather radical impacts. But, according to IPCC, these impacts are likely to seem paltry if human business as usual emissions continue and hit the IPCC projected level of warming by 5.4 C or 9 F by the end of the 21st Century.

For illustration, IPCC provides the following impacts/risk graph:

IPCC Level of Risk

(Projected risk related to a given level of warming according to IPCC via Bloomberg.)

As a risk-related graph, the analytical function is notably vague. The graph defines risks to unique systems (primarily natural ecosystems or human systems such as agriculture and tourism related to those systems), risks associated with extreme weather (which is self-explanatory), risks associated with distribution of impacts (which generally defines how widespread climate impacts will become), risks associated with global aggregate impacts (this attempts to define the level of net positive or net negative impact, with some positive impacts resulting in an almost neutral net impact early on but overall and increasingly severe net negative aggregate impacts going forward), and risks associated with singular large-scale events (related to catastrophic weather or Earth changes such as glacial outburst floods, methane release, slope collapse and other unforeseen catastrophic, large-scale instances).

For +0.85 C warming above 1880s levels, we can add an imaginary line at +0.25 C above the 1986 to 2005 level. There we find current changes that are now visible and ongoing and that, to us, seem pretty substantial. Along that line, we see risks to some threatened systems from climate change (ramping damage to reefs, agriculture, rainforests etc), a moderate risk of extreme weather events outside the 20th Century norm (and we see these with increasing frequency), we are edging into increasing risks of disruption in some regions (as we’ve seen in Syria, the US Southwest and a shot-gun of other areas), we are edging into a zone where most people are starting to see impacts (though these are still comparatively minor for many, but increasingly bad for a growing minority), and we are at low but rising risk of catastrophic events (major glacial outburst floods, methane release, continent spanning megastorms etc).

And given this context, we can see how much worse things will be with just another 0.25, 0.75, or 1.5 C of warming. By the end of this century, under business as usual, we are at the top of the risk graph and would be witnessing events that many of us would now consider both strange and terrifying.

IPCC researchers add the following chilling and entirely apt caveat (Bloomberg):

“Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases cease,” the researchers said. “The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.”

To this point, I would like to add that some changes are now irreversible, but the worst impacts are not, as yet, unavoidable.

The Terrifying Rate of Human Emission

IPCC now recognizes that human greenhouse gas emissions are at or near worst case levels. Current global volume of all human greenhouse gas emissions is now likely in excess of 50 gigatons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) each year. As of the latest IPCC assessment, the emission stood at 49 gigatons CO2e for greenhouse gasses each year by 2010 (more than 13 gigatons carbon). This rate of emission, if continued and/or increased through the end of this century, is enough to trigger Permian Extinction event type conditions over the course of just three centuries or less (the Permian Extinction took tens of thousands of years to elapse) a shock that is unprecedented on geological time-scales.

Global Greenhouse Gas Emission Levels 1970 through 2010

(Global greenhouse gas emissions from 1970 through 2010. Included are human emissions from CO2 through fossil fuel burning, CO2 through land use, Methane emissions, N2O emissions, and fluoride gas emissions. Image source IPCC via Bloomberg.)

This immense volume of emission is probably more than 6-10 times faster than at any period of the geological record. Its vast and violent outburst is worse than any of the great flood basalts of Earth’s long history. And its pace of out-gassing will rapidly overwhelm any of Earth’s carbon sinks, likely turning many of these into sources. The human greenhouse gas emission is, therefore, likely on track to be the worst greenhouse gas disaster the Earth system has ever experienced.

Rapid Mitigation is the Only Moral Option

To this point, IPCC recommends rapid mitigation to prevent the worst possible consequences.

“Risks from mitigation can be substantial, but they do not involve the same possibility of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts as risks from climate change, increasing the benefits from near-term mitigation action,” the authors wrote.

IPCC finds that the cost of mitigation is low so long as policies aim to rapidly reduce energy consumption, rapidly affix existing carbon emitting infrastructure with carbon capture and storage, leave new and unconventional fossil fuel sources in the ground while allowing existing sources to go into decline or be replaced outright by alternative energy, keep current nuclear capacity running until the end of its life expectancy, and provide all replacements and new additions for energy generation through various renewable energy sources (my personal opinion about the carbon capture policy position is that it creates moral hazard by giving the fossil fuel interests wiggle room, but that discussion is for another post).

IPCC model runs show a stark difference between business as usual fossil fuel emission based warming and warming by end century under rapid mitigation:

Warming Scenarios Rapid Mitigation vs Businesss as Usual

(Approximate 1.9 C warming by 2100 under rapid mitigation vs 5.4 C warming under business as usual. Note that potential substantial Arctic and marine carbon store feedbacks are likely not fully taken into account and may require additional mitigation to alleviate. Source: IPCC via ThinkProgress.)

The approximate 3.5 C difference between the rapid mitigation scenario and the business as usual scenario is a glaring contrast between a world in which humans can cope with and reduce the long term impacts of difficult to deal with climate change and a world in which climate change essentially wrecks all future prospects. Between these two choices, there is only one moral and, indeed, sane option.

Overall, the most recent IPCC report is likely to receive broad criticism from climate change deniers for its more direct language. And this is probably a good sign that it is on the right track. In my view, however, the report is still cautious and leaves out a number of key risks, including significant amplifying feedbacks from Arctic carbon stores and other carbon stores, or simply deals with them by implication without further analysis (such as through the use of the term ‘large-scale singular events’ in the graph above). So, in some ways, the report hides actual risks behind obtuse language and dense scientific terminology.

Given the current behavior and mindset of policy-makers, an even more direct approach may well be necessary. That said, the current IPCC report, as alluded to by these leaks, appears to be a far more impactful summation than its previous iterations. Given the very narrow window in which we have to prevent the most severe future harm, such a shift is appreciated and highly appropriate.

Links:

Climate Scientists Spell Out Stark Danger and Immorality of Inaction in New Leaked Report

Climate Trends and Global Crop Production Since 1980

Irreversible Damage From Climate Change

UN Draft Report Lists Unchecked Emissions Risks 

Climate Change Impacts to Mekong Delta

Rising Sea Level Means Trouble For Vietnam’s Rice Farmers

FAO World Food Price Index

Hat Tip to TDGS

Advertisements

On Death Ground: Bangladesh is Fighting for its Life by Installing Solar Panels — Why Every Coastal City, State and Country Should Follow Suit

Apparently tired of waiting for the rest of the world while its fragile coastlines and mangrove wetlands are devoured by rising seas, Bangladesh has recently kicked its pace of solar panel installation into high gear.

Reports from the International Renewable Energy Agency found that Bangladeshis were installing small, rooftop solar photovoltaic generators at the stunningly rapid rate of 80,000 units each month in early 2014. In a country as financially strapped as Bangladesh, where only 47% of households have access to electricity, this is an extraordinary achievement, especially when one considers that the 2.8 million solar rooftops already gathering clean sunlight in Bangladesh will expand to challenge the 6 million threshold in just a few years.

Low Lying Coastal Bangladesh

(On the front lines of climate change low-lying coastal Bangladesh is one of an increasing number of regions vulnerable to sea level rise from rapidly destabilizing glaciers. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

While fossil fuel special interests twist the arms of politicians in an attempt to stymie solar development in Western countries like Britain, Australia, and the US, employing underhanded political tactics and pumping Orwellian terms like ‘solar blight‘ and ‘sea ice contamination‘ into the mainstream presses, Bangladeshis are charging ahead. And the reason couldn’t be more clear — the seas are rising.

The Gift of Fear

In the media analysis of human response to climate change, we often encounter the analogy of the frog in a pot of slowly heating water. As the analogy goes, the frog stays in the pot as it grows ever-warmer. The slow rise of temperature disables the frog’s pain and fear responses. Eventually, the frog’s muscles shut down and the frog boils.

Admittedly, this is a flawed analogy. Put a frog in a heating pot and it is wise enough to jump out once the water gets too warm — about 25-30 C. Why does the frog escape? Simple: the gift of fear. Eventually, the frog becomes uncomfortable about its situation in a slowly heating pot. The water is just a little too warm and it continues to head in the wrong direction. Rational survival instinct, at this point, intervenes to remove the hazard. The frog jumps out.

Now, keeping the frog in mind, let’s consider Bangladesh’s situation for a moment. They can see the storms that take more and more of their vulnerable lowlands with each passing year. They can see the ever-increasing advance of the tides. They know their land is in danger. To their west, their nearest neighbor, India, is building a wall to keep them out, should they have need of a refuge. And when the tides rise, as they will due to the vicious force that is human-caused climate change, they will most certainly need a refuge.

Last week’s announcement by NASA that six key glaciers in West Antarctica are now in irreversible collapse hammers the fact further home — the entire nation of Bangladesh is standing on what Sun Tzu used to refer to as death ground. In short, if the nation of Bangladesh does not decisively act, it will perish. And the only difference between Bangladesh and every coastal city, state, and country is this — Bangladesh is aware of its plight and is fighting to do something about it.

In essence, this is the gift of fear: the rational ability to fight for one’s survival — be it frog, person, city or nation.

Every Coastal Region is Now on Death Ground

greenland_velocity-base

(Greenland ice sheet velocity map as of 2010 shows numerous high-speed glacial flows toward the ocean. In the above map, blue is slow motion, red is fast motion. In the upper right hand corner of the map, the Zacharie Glacier, indicated by the letter Z, features a high speed flow that reaches all the way to the center of the Greenland ice mass. As of early 2014, scientific reports found that the recently confirmed destabilization of the Zacharie Glacier meant the entire circumference of Greenland was destabilized and moving at an ever more rapid pace toward the ocean. Image credit: Joughin, I., B. Smith, I. Howat, and T. Scambos.)

With at least 15 feet of sea level rise now locked in by the world’s destabilized glaciers and with potentially far worse sea level rise on the way if fossil fuel burning continues, one cannot hammer home the point enough — every coastal region in the world and every person living in these regions is now living on death ground. They are all in Bangladesh, even though most aren’t yet aware.

Survival action is as required of them as it is of the frog, as it is of the Bangladeshi. Swift and sure action. And even then survival is not guaranteed.

Miami, a city living in the state of climate change denial that is Florida is certainly on death ground. It is a place that will be severely challenged by another foot or two of sea level rise, much less 15 or more. The Outer Banks of North Carolina — a thin and beautiful strip of land, a redoubt between ocean and sound — bound to be swept away. Virginia Beach — a city surrounded on three and a half sides by water. Washington DC — built on a low-lying swamp at the mouth of the tidal Potomac. New York City — a place whose vulnerability to the rising seas and storms of human warming became all too real two years ago.

The list is almost endless. For wherever there are coastlines, seas, harbors, tidal rivers, mudflats, estuaries, oceans, there are human beings. We are nothing if not a water and ocean loving species — ever drawn to the life-giving edge of the sea.

According to the UN Atlas of the Oceans, about 3.1 billion people live within 150 miles of a coastline. My parents, my sister, my grandmother, my grandfather and a majority of my other friends and relatives are among them.

How many of your friends and family live on or near the coast? Or is it you who is also standing with the Bangladeshis on death ground?

Links:

International Renewable Energy Agency’s 2014 Annual Report

NASA: West Antarctica’s Entire Flank is Collapsing, Fifteen Feet of Sea Level Rise Locked-in

Marco Rubio: I don’t believe in Climate Change

The UN Atlas of the Oceans

Nature: Human Warming Now Pushing Entire Greenland Ice Sheet Into Ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renewable Energy and The Fierce Urgency of Now: A Second Call For Fossil Fuel Abolition

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now.”

Though these words were spoken in the noble pursuit of the most just of causes by Dr. Martin Luther King many years ago, they have lost none of their potency or relevance. For though those facing economic and social oppression have been justly elevated by the actions of the equality movement Dr. King so eloquently spoke for, we are now in the process of consigning ourselves and our progeny to an entirely different but no less brutal kind of oppression. A world where danger, difficulty, severe environmental hazard and poverty will come as a result of our failure to make the right energy decisions now.

It is a brutal kind of generational theft in which the current wealth of some is dependent on the enslavement of our own children to the spite of a barren and violent world. A world that could best be seen as a curse. A world of rising seas, expanding deserts, of scarce water, of ruined and abandoned cities, a world where the oceans themselves vent poison gas.

That we could set ourselves on such a path requires the very worst kind of social blindness. A zombie state of denial in which we have willfully hidden our faces from the ever-more-visible harm we are causing. For we must be in such a state to even consider the continued use of the dirty and harmful fuels. For we must be lost if we do not understand the pain we will surely inflict on future generations and even ourselves as we inflame our world to conditions not seen in 10 million, 55 million, or 250 million years. As we, with each lighting of a fossil fire, invoke the names of past great extinctions: Eocene, Jurrassic, Permian.

Mass extinction events

(Mass Extinction Events. Two of the three major mass extinctions and many more of the minor mass extinctions over the past 250 million years have been linked to greenhouse gas driven hothouse and Stratified/Canfield Ocean events. Image source: Biodiversity Crisis.)

There is no excuse for keeping on this path. No justification for the harm that would surely come from our continued burning. No rationale that could lend credence to ensuring our world becomes a place of Great Dying.

On March 22, 2013, a call was made for Fossil Fuel Abolition. Only a few have listened. Some, like the nation of Scotland, have pledged to pursue a true construction of that enlightened ‘City on a Hill,’ by harnessing the glorious blaze of solar radiance or the whispering winds of our world.

So I ask, why not America? Is Scottland to boldly lead in the turning away from the path of harm? Is it for America to come up with a vile excuse not to follow? To delay and to therefore cause more harm?

Some among us have turned their face from environmental oppression and asked others to follow. James Hansen, Rachel Carson, Bill McKibben, Joe Romm, Chris Hayes and ever so many more. Yet others dissemble, making false claims, providing rationales for escalating violence. So, in this most desperate hour, we are a house divided. Divided into those who serve a future in which humankind can rationally live and those who serve the Destroyers of the Earth.

This is an unconscionable state and it cannot stand. So the call must again go out.

Fossil Fuel Abolition!

Growth Shock and Our Climate Change Choices: Mitigation and Adaptation, or Harm

Climate change, a topic that once was the purview of scientists and academics, has now become a central issue in today’s political and social discussion. The primary reason for this shift is the emergence of increasingly abnormal, damaging, and severe weather events that have come with greater and greater frequency to plague the world’s cities, states and nations. Tornadoes have devoured entire towns, hurricanes have become more numerous and powerful, freak hybrid superstorms are now a serious risk, 100 year flood events have become commonplace, wildfires are now endemic, causing damage in the billions of dollars annually, and immense country-spanning droughts now range the globe.

A secondary reason for our growing awareness is that it is becoming obvious that the world’s ice sheets are in rapid retreat even as sea levels are on the rise. Nine out of ten glaciers are in decline. The great ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland lose hundreds of cubic miles of ice annually. The resultant sea level rise driven by this melt and by thermal expansion of the oceans puts entire cities, states and nations into existential crisis. By the end of this century, practically all of south Florida may be little more than a shrinking archipelago. Some Pacific island nations are planning their inevitable evacuation to places like Australia, New Zealand, or the continents. Almost all coastal cities will be forced to expend significant monies and resources over the next century if they are to have any hope of warding off the rising seas and more powerful storms. An effort that, in the end, may well prove in vain.

It is a slow motion disaster movie script that plays before our eyes now, almost weekly, on the evening news. And there are many, many events that the mainstream media does not cover, likely due to the fact that it has become saturated with stories of this kind.

Growth Shock and Climate Change

Unfortunately this rising climate change emergency is just one aspect of a larger crisis of civilization-wide Growth Shock. Growth Shock is a dangerous condition brought on by a combination of our inexorably expanding global population, our over consumption of renewable and non-renewable resources, and the damage to our environment via carbon pollution that results in climate change. These three forces are all enabled by a great human limiter — Greed — which has been institutionalized in so many of the world’s corporations and is deeply imbedded both explicitly and implicitly in the world’s political systems and ideologies. So to solve climate change, we will also have to do much better at solving the problems of overpopulation, dangerous and violent methods of resource consumption, and the underlying disease of human greed.

To this point it is worth considering a statement from the ground-breaking sustainability work The Limits to Growth:

“If a society’s implicit goals are to exploit nature, enrich the elites, and ignore the long term, then that society will develop technologies and markets that destroy the environment, widen the gap between the rich and the poor, and optimize for short term gains. In short, that society develops technologies and markets that hasten a collapse instead of preventing it.”

I have also just completed my own work on the issue entitled Growth Shock: Tragedy and Hope at the Limits of a Finite World which will see electronic publication within the next two weeks.

Here is the cover image, brilliantly rendered by Matthew Friedman, in which the Vitruvian Man (representing the unsustainable and exploitative structures of humankind) seems to have grown too big for his own good and struggles unhappily against the globe’s confines:

Growth Shock Cover Art

The roll-out for this work will proceed over the next two weeks and it will be managed in such a way as to responsibly redistribute proceeds to charitable causes that, in my view, have been most effective in working to reduce the harm caused by Growth Shock and the related climate emergency (more on this later).

In any case, as climate change is one of the four forces enabling Growth Shock, we have come to a time where we are compelled to make choices and act in ways that prevent further harm through mitigation, to attempt to adapt to the growing nightmare that is now upon us, or to make the choice to fail to act and therefore increase the degree and velocity of harm coming down the pipe.

Mitigation

The obvious and worsening climate emergency that we are now just starting to experience has galvanized a growing cadre of grass roots organizations and individuals dedicated to the cause of preventing as much of the coming damage as possible. These advocates of mitigation believe that strong action now has the greatest chance of reducing future harm. And their efforts and advocacy are based in the sciences. With extreme weather and damaging events ramping up at 400 ppm CO2, the situation is bound to be far worse at 450, 550, 700, or the 900 ppm CO2 predicted under business as usual by the end of this century. Mitigation advocates are clear in the understanding that the less CO2 and other greenhouse gasses we emit, the less dangerous the ultimate crisis will become.

Mitigation and preventing future harm, therefore, must rely on a combination of efforts. Rapidly increasing renewable energy development will be needed to replace a large enough portion of fossil fuel use to sustain life support systems for the planet’s 7 billion human beings. This will involve a politically difficult replacement of fossil energy sources with clean sources like wind and solar as well as the regulation and eventual elimination of carbon emissions altogether. A more efficient use of space and, over all, more efficient life styles will also do much to prevent damage through both reducing energy and materials consumption. Such a transition will be difficult under current economies that are designed to endlessly increase the consumption of materials, labor, and resources all while funneling wealth to the top of social systems. These social and economic structures dangerously enhance the level of damage we cause and so must be challenged and called into question if we are to make much head-way.

To this point, a large shift away from the massive agribusiness of meat farming may well be needed. Today, more than 65 billion livestock are estimated to be held in states of captivity far more brutal and intolerable than even the worst-treated of human criminals. The lifespans of most of these creatures is doomed to a tortuously short 1-4 years and the unspeakable suffering many experience during their times as livestock animals is a black scar of atrocity born by our race.

An estimated 40% of the world’s grain crop goes to supporting this terrible and inhumane manifestation of food industry. Further, the lion’s share of the 30% of human greenhouse gas emissions attributed to human agriculture is based in the meat industry. As such, our industry enhanced dependence on harming animals for food and materials is likely to have to be greatly abated as part of a comprehensive climate change mitigation action. In any case, the amoral practices required by industry to produce such high volumes of meat render it ethically as well as physically unsustainable.

A true comprehensive mitigation will also have to redefine current paradigms of growth and wealth generation. Economic systems will have to become less focused on short term gains and concentrating wealth at the top and more focused on long-term prosperity and survivability through a more equal sharing of and access to more limited resources. The exploitative paradigm of pure capitalism has failed and failed again. This is largely due to the fact that pure capitalism tends to demand all responsibility be placed on the less fortunate and successful masses as the more fortunate are enabled to behave as little more than privileged anarchists. To mitigate the social shocks that are inevitable during a climate crisis and to reign in the massive, excessive and abusive over-use of resources by the wealthy, more responsibility must be demanded from the most privileged members of societies. Wealth compression, therefore, is an effective tool in reducing the harm caused by an over-consumption of resources at the upper rungs of civilization where some members consume more than 100,000 times the resources of a subsistence farmer and about 3,000 times the resources of a person living in today’s middle class.

Since the levels of exploitation and consumption that have enabled climate change to run rampant are encouraged and required by today’s neo-liberal and globalized brand of capitalism, this manifestation of capitalism must be reigned in, caged and defanged if we are to have much hope of mitigating the larger crisis of climate change.

Adaptation

Since we missed our chance to mitigate much of the damage from climate change by about 30 years (we’d have been much better off if we began rapid CO2 reductions, sustainability and wealth compression efforts in the 70s and 80s), a massive effort to adapt to the changes now set in motion will probably be necessary. It is likely that we’ve already locked in many decades of increasingly severe weather, and, likely, centuries of rising seas. Ultimate sea level rise based on the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere will probably terminate at between 15 and 75 feet higher than the current day (rising at between 5 and 15 feet per century). These changes are probably locked in now even if we halt all CO2 emissions today. But, more likely, our best realistic hope is probably to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels at around 450 parts per million, which would result in higher-end damages being locked in for centuries.

As a result, if we are to continue to have powerful, resilient civilizations at the global and continental levels, then we must do serious work to make those civilizations more resilient. Entire cities may have to be moved or surrounded by increasingly tall flood barriers. New port systems will have to be devised to cope with changing sea levels. Architects and engineers will have to alter building and structure design to deal with more vicious storms and weather conditions. Farming will have to become more adaptive. The world’s agricultural systems will have to do more with less. Most likely, humans will have to rely more on grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts (which are more efficient ways to transfer energy and nutrients to the human body) and far less on meat (also a mitigation as described above). We may need to expend resources to ensure that our fellow living creatures, which provide essential life support services, do not become extinct. In short, what damage we cannot prevent via mitigation, we will have to learn to adapt to. As such, human civilization will probably need to take more responsibility in both defending itself and the natural world from the harm that is now coming.

Harm

With carbon pollution already reaching dangerous and excessive levels, any choices that do not mitigate (prevent) or help adapt to future climate change result in an increasing degree and velocity of harm. These choices include climate change denial — which not only insanely disputes the basic physical science behind the effect of greenhouse gasses on Earth’s climate but also ignorantly attributes current increasingly severe weather, temperature and sea level rise to a scientific ‘natural variability’ that denial proponents, purposefully or through blatant stupidity, misrepresent and misunderstand. This is not to confuse those who are understandably scared by the force that is climate change and have succumbed to the natural, though in this case irrational, human response to withdraw from and avoid danger. Political climate change denial seeks to exploit this natural human response for short term political and economic gain and, as such, must be viewed as anathema. Human denial and avoidance of harm, however, is a basic instinct-driven response that must be rationally addressed. In the case of harm caused by climate change, the only rational way to avoid it is through mitigation and adaptation. Denial of the physical forces of the universe unleashed by human over-consumption and institutionalized greed, on the other hand, is little more than a withdrawal into the realm of wishful thinking. Denial, in both cases, causes inaction and paralysis, enables the continuation of business as usual, and, therefore, increases harm.

To this point, any efforts to slow down or reduce mitigation efforts also increases the velocity and force of the harm now rushing toward us. Pressures to slowly mitigate and gradually adapt may seem rational at first, but result in a less tenable future long term. Responses need to be measured, organized and swift — like the emergency procession to lifeboats aboard a sinking ship. Irrationally clinging to damaging systems for as long as possible amounts to playing fiddle on the deck as the critical time to find a place aboard a lifeboat trickles away.

Depression is another natural human response to challenges that far exceed the scope of an individual to overcome. In this case, social depression over climate change has manifest in a form of doomerism that clings to the notion that any action in the face of a growing crisis is futile. To the doomers, I would like to say this:

If there is even a small chance that mitigation and adaptation will bring us through the crisis, then shouldn’t we pursue all efforts and make that likelihood as great as possible? What if the British and the French had simply given up in the face of what, to them, must have seemed an invincible German military juggernaut during the early days of World War II (in fact, their early denial that a problem existed at all set up the conditions for this terrible war in the first place)? To the doomers I would say that the more we fail to respond, the worse the crisis becomes. And a crisis always seems most insurmountable at its start and just before creative response is initiated. Though it is true that many civilizations have failed in the past when confronted with problems that are similar to ours and that climate change, especially, tends to crush civilizations by creating problems that are outside of its ability to evolve and adapt, failure to respond almost always ensures collapse. We may argue now that response is too little too late, but we really won’t know unless we’ve expended all efforts. And so all efforts are, therefore, entirely moral and appropriate.

Lastly, a number of entrenched special interests are heavily invested in harm. These include the world’s fossil fuel companies, the industrial meat industries, a number of investment banking firms that support and profit from such activities via financing, and a large supply chain of industries that produce products based on these activities. Since the resources and profits of these industries are, in part, shared with broader society via the stock market and through the production of cheap, easy to access, goods and services, many states, cities and individuals are also, wittingly or unwittingly invested in harm. As such, a turning away from harm will require conscious choices on the part of individuals, cities, states and industries to not only divest in stock portfolios that profit from harm but also to actively change behavior, methods of consumption and materials use. As we begin this process, entrenched industries and individuals that profit from harmful and exploitative activities are likely to dig in and fight every step of the way. They will attempt to deny us product choices via legislation and market dominance even as they attempt to pretend that harm coming from their practices is both natural and inevitable (directly or indirectly enhancing denialism and doomerism). This institutionalized, irrational and entrenched manifestation of human greed represents the center of gravity of harm coming from human systems and, if we can address it, it is likely that both denial and doomerism will fade.

Considering Moral Responses

In the end, any action that delays or prevents a swift, encompassing, and organized response to climate change increases the level of harm that we are in for. Such a choice, whether conscious or not, is essentially amoral in that it reduces civilization’s chance to survive an emerging existential crisis. A choice that eventually results in an escalating level of damage and loss of lives and livelihoods.

So we’ve come to a tough pass and these, whether we realize it or not, are our choices:

1. To prevent and mitigate harm.

2. To do our best to adapt to the harm that is coming.

3. Or to increase the degree and velocity of harm by failing to act.

My best hopes are for your courage to make the just choices for the sake of you, your family, and for all of us. This is our responsibility to ourselves and each other. And the time to act is now, now, NOW.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: