Saturday, March 22, 2014

What We Know: We're Screwed

Addressing the issues of climate change is an issue for policymakers and leaders.  It's important they're informed by the most accurate data.
-  Katharine Hayhoe, Atmospheric Scientist, Professor, and director of the Climate Science Center

A group of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has put together a "What We Know" initiative to communicate the "three 'R's" of climate change:
* Reality - 97% of climate experts have concluded human-caused climate change is happening
* Risk - There will be impacts we can expect and some abrupt changes with massively disruptive impacts.
* Response - There are still measures we can take, and the sooner we act, the better.  
The full, 20-paged document full of facts gathered from around the planet is available to read, and/or watch the video below for a 5 minute question and answer session with a climate scientist.  There are more climate scientist videos here.

Katharine Hayhoe interview from What We Know on Vimeo.

They know that climate change is increasing extreme weather events, and we might be in store for a record-breaking heat wave this summer due to a "super" El Niño.  

It's not just extreme weather events that we have to worry about, of course.  Climate change is causing animals to migrate and spread diseases. Sea ice is melting releasing methane and no longer reflecting as much sunlight.  Oceans are heating up and rising.  Fracking is raising methane levels, and we will almost certainly kill off large numbers of species.

What I worry about at this point is, if we don't do anything to change the situation because, for some reason - likely our profound inability to measure long-term gains against short-term losses - we lack the will to save our grandchildren and great grandchildren, then things will get ugly.  It's hard to maintain a rational, level head when we start to run out of food, water, and oxygen.   (h/t Z Magazine)


The Mound of Sound said...

The dismal reality, Marie, is that climate change is just a symptom of a deeper malady that threatens mankind. Climate change, overpopulation, rapidly worsening overconsumption, resource depletion, permanent food insecurity are all the hallmarks of a global civilization that is dysfunctionally organized - socially, politically and economically.

Neo-classical, growth-based economics rooted in Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" (1776) is the main culprit. Even Smith foresaw his concept of free market capitalism lasting just 200-years, thereafter followed by a transition to a Steady State economic model. Smith, of course, had no means to foresee the advent of the industrial revolution and cheap, abundant fossil fuel energy.

Seeking to combat climate change while being slavishly addicted to infinite, exponential economic growth is akin to a 3-pack a day smoker going gluten-free to improve his health. Suzuki eloquently explains the lethal trap of existential growth in this video clip:

We in the developed West cling to the orthodoxy of 3% annual growth in GDP as ideal. A compound interest calculator will show that, based on a Year 1 economy, 3% compounded over 50-years means the economy will be 4.38 times larger. After 100-years, the economy will be 19.28 times larger. 150-years, 84.25 times bigger than Year 1. 200-years, 369-times larger. Put that way it's madness, isn't it? 369 times growth in just 200-years. 369-times more resources to fuel commensurate increases in production, consumption and waste. And we're supposed to do it all out of one finite world, our lone biosphere. (Since you asked, at Year 250, the economy has swelled to 1,619 times its size at Year 1. Year 300 - wait for it - 7,098.51 times larger).

See, it's a matter of mathematical certainly only here the math is lethal, unsurvivable. Neo-classical economics, of the type embraced by Harper and every rightwinger and transnational corporation, is based on the fiction that the economy is independent of the environment and hence capable of infinite growth beyond our planet's finite limits. Everything that blatantly contradicts that hypothesis is labelled an 'externality' and conveniently scrubbed off the books. In other words, neo-classical economics that orders our societies is divorced from reality. It's essentially a mental illness and one that could doom us.

If our grandkids are to have a future it will depend on our willingness to reject the current order of our lives, our societies and our global civilization in favour of new structures and paradigms. To use Lovelock's term, the way forward lies in the embrace of "sustainable retreat." We not only need to decarbonize our society and economy, we need to learn to live well within the limits of our environment.

Marie, how will you persuade your neighbour to go from one truck and two cars in the driveway to an electric, 4-seat subcompact? How do we persuade our countrymen to abandon the 3-hour a day commute to the McMansion in the ex-urbs in exchange for a 2-3 bedroom, 1200 sq. ft. bungalow? How do we get our citizenry to support the idea of a steadily shrinking GDP? How do we find the politicians willing to break from corporatism and the plutocracy who have the courage and talent to lead the public on these platforms? Above all else, how do we effect such a huge sea change in the limited time remaining to us?

Marie Snyder said...

Mound! Yes I've seen that Suzuki explanation on exponential growth before. And we desperately need to focus on progress through sustainability and limits not through growth - and it is such a hard paradigm shift to establish at this late stage of the game. We have to argue against the 'no prosperity without growth' mindset that has totally fucked us over. I see that in my own city that is desperate to expand to become a "World Class City" when it's really just getting more crowded.

I can't convince my neighbours of jack-shit! My next door neighbour's an environmental science major with two cars and A/C. I'm at a loss to know how we can possibly convince the world. But I do have a sliver of hope that somebody will, somewhere, somehow. Maybe this one scientific initiative is the one people will listen to. How many people spoke up about race and were immediately lynched before Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were heard enough to get people moving? We keep talking and talking and maybe - just maybe - one of us will be the voice that's finally heard.

Anonymous said...

Ho Hum..Zzzzzz..Always enjoy your (and Mounds) cynical enviro rants whilst your living in the comfort of your middle class surroundings (presumably). Suzuki and Gore are frauds (check their housing and tax dodge charitable foundations. Tides etc.)
As for the above, any number of like minded thinkers sitting around in a circle wank will agree with one another. Sheesh, get out and enjoy life.
Pretty sure the earth will still be standing when you are long gone, anyway. Unless Mound knows something we don't. Hmmm..bit of a stretch linking enviro and Martin Luther KIng/Malcolm..Your neighbour lets you ulcer, while he /she goes his/her merry way.
Advice? Look after your own backyard (duck lest the windmills conk you) and you'll see life gets better. Cheers.

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