Is Climate Change Inevitable?
Greg asks (28 April 2022):
(1) Do you believe that climate change is an inevitable consequence of our highly technical, industrial civilization?
(2) Is it necessary to abandon the American lifestyle to ensure the habitability of the planet?
I’ve asked this question to quite a few people recently, and the general response has been ‘if we don’t do anything drastic now, then yes’.
(3) Is there any data that particularly worries you?
(4) What do you make of this?
My response to Greg:
(3) Ocean acidification; ocean heating; seawater freshening in the North Atlantic; CO2 lifetime in the atmosphere (long); accelerating rate of deforestation; accelerating rate of carbon (CO2 + CH4) emissions; accelerating rate of fossil fuel use and planned use; expansion and severity of drought, aridity and “heat”; low use of regenerative agriculture despite increasing soil depletion and crop failures (food); biodiversity loss in general: plants, mammals, fish, insects; the low fraction of materials being recycled.
Forgive me for not quoting numbers for “data” here, but I am sure such can be found by any interested person with an Internet connection and who is willing to spend some time in the search.
(4) Global Warming Climate Change (GWCC) is an inevitable result of the high volumes of CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions exhausted by powering our highly technical, energy-intensive industrial civilization with fossil fuels. That “powering” also includes the use of extensive industrialized chemical and factory farming for soil-depleting and high water use/irrigated monoculture food production; and for huge production and polluting waste of (hydrocarbon-derived) plastics.
I believe it is possible to have a worldwide equalization of the standard of living to a high and “modern” level, by a combination of (a,b,c,d):
(a) using “green” (a.k.a., “sustainable”) sources of energy (solar-electric, solar-thermal, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal),
(b) commitments to lifestyles based on efficiency instead of consumerism,
(c) the use of technology (e.g., aided by electronics and computers) to improve the harvesting of energy and its distribution through linked local networks,
(d) a political consensus to democratic socialism (since capitalism, militarism and fascism are inherently anti-egalitarian and tied to high uses of fossil fuels, for “power”).
It is only a GWCC Earth-degrading zero-sum game of “survival” if calorie-and-kilowatt exclusionary tribalism is paramount. That need not be the case, but the alternative “green” paradigm would require a global consensus to deep cooperation of indeterminate duration, and to large-scale, long-term economic planning.
The many dramatic scenarios about “the collapse of civilization” and “human extinction” in ‘X’ number of years, published (like most everything) as hyperbole to get attention, all presume (and most desire) a continuation of current trends — “business as usual” — and are thus only useful to the extent they prompt wider thinking and action along the lines of the Green Paradigm (GP) that I described.
By direct observation of our social reality today, all those scary predictions have so far been useless. The American Way Of Life (AWOL) and extreme worldwide inequity seem safely assured of being able to continue plowing on as the unwinding story of our civilization for quite some time. Perhaps some serendipitous shock will alter world consensus thinking before it is “too late.”
We are each and all wedded to our ways of life, our “lifestyles,” our routines and our expectations, and even the thought of making profound and permanent changes to those is resisted because in essence such changes would mean changing how we think of ourselves, and changing how we actually “are” and act.
There are always some people doing this, individually, at any time: when confronted by a sufficiently “life-changing” event, or tragedy, or flash of enlightenment, and they are then compelled by their new outlook to deconstruct and then reconstruct themselves into a new form. Some call this “rebirth,” others “recovery,” and some “conversion” or “satori.”
The great challenge of transitioning our current civilization to the Green Paradigm (or, the Post-Carbon World) is that most of the worldwide us would have to make such personal permanent changes concurrently within a timescale of at most a decade, and cooperatively on nested geographical scales from local to national to international.
The planetary-scale problem of Global Warming Climate Change and Biodiversity Collapse cannot be “solved” in a haphazard, piecemeal, sporadic, short-term manner; the solution procedure must be a permanently sustained comprehensive effort of planetary scope. Climate Change science has shown us that the weaker that effort, and the longer the delay before starting it (which ideally should have been decades ago), the sooner and longer (centuries? millennia?) and worse will be the sequence of environmental challenges and disasters we and our descendants will have to experience.
On the basis of my own calculations of Global Warming — which are generally consistent with the results of the professional climate scientists, and which I have described in numerous articles posted elsewhere — I see global warming continuing for a long time regardless of what we do or don’t do about it. However, the more timely and extensive and sustained our counteractions against it — that is, the extent and promptness of the “greening” of our civilization — the slower the rate-of-rise of that global warming, the lower the ultimate temperature plateau at which it peaks, and the sooner the world average temperature cools back to the lovely pre-industrial level that nurtured the 15,000+ year development of our human civilization. But we should think in terms of centuries of committed effort in order to achieve that complete recovery.
Finally, I wish to make a positive sociological point. Anything we do to improve human solidarity, social cohesion, “economics as if people mattered,” the worldwide standard of living and its uniformity (the Human Development Index) — because such socio-economic changes are needed in order to construct our response to GWCC — would make the experiences of life better for every individual regardless of whatever subsequent geophysical-environmental challenges came our way, and for however long our Green Paradigm civilization managed to continue.
Instead of tribes competing to “live longer” than the rest, we would be cooperating to all “live well together” for whatever timespan of habitability Planet Earth would be willing to allow us.
My advice: be grateful, be kind, have fun, and give life and love your best efforts throughout your time alive.
June 28, 2021 it was 116.1 in Portland, OR
I highly recommend reading at least the first 53 pages of this report:
A Research Strategy for Ocean-based Carbon Dioxide Removal and Sequestration.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022.
Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.