Is Climate Change Inevitable?

Magdalenian Girl: a facial reconstruction by Élisabeth Daynès of a 24 year old woman whose ~15,000 year old skeletal remains were discovered in the Dordogne region of southwestern France in a limestone cave known as the Cap Blanc rock shelter.

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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?

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My response to Greg:

(1) Yes.

(2) Yes.

(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.

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Moon Gliding Over a Time of Stillness

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Moon Gliding Over a Time of Stillness

The Moon rose large over the forested far slope of the canyon, shining its cool reflected effulgence from a pastel blue evening sky down through faint high wisps of nebulous mist and into the otherwise invisible water vapor filling the air to glow with a plush soft burnished halo around that majestically floating orb of crisp ghostly luminosity bringing to sharp silhouettes the forms of branches and leaves interposed between us, as an expansive polyphony of sparkling birdsong gradually diminished toward silence as pools of darkness swelled to merge into a night stillness cored by a tunnel of clarity between that Moon’s silvery pockmarked hemispherical surface in vivid sharp relief, and and my enchanted eyes.

The myriad meshed wheels of the unimaginably vast machinery of the Heavens and of the Earth, from the astronomical to the subatomic, continue their many cycles indifferent to the stoppage of humanity’s wheels of thoughtless contention, what we call civilization, now brought up short by the collision of all our ambitions into the stark terror of an erupting plague, a pandemic of an uncontrolled, evasive and pervasive deadly virus. Many of us hide from each other hoping to avoid chance and fatal infection, and waiting fearfully hoping for the conjuring of a magical medical salvation soon, it can never be too soon. Others hide from reality burrowed into their shaky fantasies of imperviousness and longings for illusions of self-importance, angrily protesting their mandated self-incarceration from a now shattered and scattered society, an anger that is really the roiling surface of the deeply suppressed realization of being inconsequential and superfluous. And then there are those who walk through the undefined extent of the valley of death each day: to battle the virus, attend to the sick, bury the dead; or forced by the needs of their own survival to labor blindly through the pervading pestilence; or moved by a higher calling sacrificing themselves to be of service to others.

For some it is a time of being terribly tested and of exhibiting great nobility, for others of being cravenly malicious parasites taking advantage of a prostrate humanity. It is a time when the contours of authentic merit and of the foulest degradation within the usually amorphous mass of humanity are brought into the sharpest contrast by the glaring light of pandemic circumstances. It is a time when the best hold solidarity with all and affirm life, without denying and being disheartened by the indeterminate inevitability of death. It is a time to savor the great and mysterious gift of life, of consciousness along a stream of time; but in truth it was always that time, now only sparked into many minds by the viral invasion of our human meshwork of flesh, blood and behavior.

How should I conduct the uncertain continuation of my survival? In what form will humanity emerge from this winnowing, and when if ever? I suspect this pandemic is but a skirmish in a much larger and longer war against the unrelenting forces of overstimulated entropy, evolution and extinction. Human consciousness is an evanescent field of scintillating glints flashing off the rippling surface of the deep black night of nonexistence towards which our human world of tragic innocence, of blithe self-absorption and of damning hubris, inexorably drifts.

Millennialist dreamers, both romantically religious and technologically ideological, envision humanity’s future to be a unanimous transformation of attitudes and behaviors that coalesce as a new self-perpetuating good life of affluent coexistence, a hoped-for transformation of our civilization prompted by the finally awakened realization of its self-caused catastrophe of increasing inhospitability to our form of life, as well as to that of many other organisms, by this Planet Earth.

I would wholeheartedly welcome such a transformation, but I suspect such a desirable outburst of human behavioral evolution as the endpoint of our old paradigm inflecting into the gateway to an imaginary new utopia, will never occur. I expect the actual finish of our human world will be, metaphorically, as the ending of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick: The brute force of Nature stoves in our obsessive, exploitative, narcissistic, predatory collective boat and it plunges to oblivion, with Tashtego — the “native” worker whose life was a struggle for survival against extinction, by being carried along as an underling in the Great White Conquest of the Living, to Gain Wealth — climbing the sinking mainmast in a vain attempt to evade engulfment, and finally — as the last gesture possible from the Earth-connected people of his kind — nailing the American Sea Eagle bannering master-race illusions to the mast-top, so it too would vanish with those it had entranced, and those enslaved to that entrancement, to their self-imposed and necessarily collective doom.

But why give oneself over to such thoughts, even if ultimately true? One’s life will have its extent, and between its dawn and dusk spans a spectrum of opportunities to apply one’s energy and talents to the creation of beauty, dignity, truth, healing, and noble connection, all independent of fate’s hazards and happenstances. It is from each individual’s weaving of all these efforts that whatever fulfillment is possible for them will be found. And the commitment to this attitude forms the center of gravity, the stillpoint of a calmed awakened mind, of a life of balanced openness and worthy purpose though immersed in the endless uncertainties, luckless cruelties, and constant flux of unfolding existence.

The Moon has arced far across my night thoughts, dispelling my illusions of judgement and knowledge while infusing me with a wordless sense of acceptance, of trust, in just being. In this I may have finally achieved after seven decades the intrinsic wisdom of my self-assured night-ranging cats, of my feisty day-flitting hummingbirds, and of all the lovely Sun-soaked non-human life I will see and hear all along my wooded canyon when day comes. Life continues by being, not wanting. It is only our wanting that is extinguishing itself in the flood of its own excesses, and there is no necessity that we extinguish ourselves by only being our self-absorbed wanting.

A White-throated Swift twitters at the first blush of eastern light, rippling the once glassy surface of the evening silence as the cool ghostliness of moonglow fades into the dusky shadowless twilight before dawn, and a Chestnut-backed Chickadee then lilts its pulsating greeting to the day seeping up from the horizon into the sky. Goodnight Moon.

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