Tag Archives: hope

Possible futures…

One of the friendlier aspects of the planet we live on is the very slow speed at which conditions change. Over time, the continents drift about, and new mountain ranges or valleys are formed, and the oceans slosh around in response, but all of that takes far, far longer than the lifetime of any species, let alone any one organism. This means that life has time to adapt to the changes

The climate moves slowly too. When we learn about the ice ages, it seems like a lot happening in not much time. From a geological perspective, that’s true. There have been periods when the climate was relatively stable for many hundreds of thousands of years, but our recent ice ages – the ones our distant ancestors lived through – happened on a cycle lasting tens of thousands of years.

What’s interesting is that while an ice age, or an interglacial period, or a hot period can last for tens to hundreds of thousands or even millions of years, it takes far, far less time to get the climate rolling in a new direction. Huge, slow things tend to build up a lot of momentum, so once they get moving, they’re very hard to stop.

New research from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, looks at the long-term future of our climate, and compares the present with past climate changes. The results indicate something that many of us have long suspected: Even if we were to stop all fossil fuel use today, the planet would continue warming. Not only that, but the effects of what we’ve already done are likely to last 10,000 years or more.

I came to the realization some years ago that climate change was something I would be involved in for the rest of my life, but the reality is that it’s something that every organism on this planet will be involved in. This issue will not go away in our lifetimes, or our grandchildren’s lifetimes, or their great-grandchildren’s lifetimes. While we may have had an opportunity to prevent this future, that opportunity has been lost, barring some form of atmospheric carbon capture that works faster than the rate of increase from human activity, and from the numerous feedback loops that are already in action.

Of course, we can always make the problem worse – continued fossil fuel use, continued deforestation, and continued reckless farming methods could result in a much faster rise in temperature that would last much longer. There is no scenario in which it cannot get worse, up to the point where there’s no life left on the planet, so there will never be a point at which “we might as well give up” will be a legitimate argument.

But it is no longer enough to focus on reducing emissions. In reality, that hasn’t been enough for at least a decade. We need to reduce emissions, but we also need to prepare, if we want civilization to survive. We need to plan for a future in which the seas will not stop rising – not for hundreds, or thousands of years. We need to plan for a future in which farming conditions will never be reliable year to year, or decade to decade. We need to plan for a future in which diseases are no longer limited by the climates of different geographic regions.

Like it or not, we now live on an alien planet. It seems similar to the one that gave rise to our civilization, but it isn’t the same, and it will keep getting more different with the passage of time. The longer we avoid coming to terms with that fact, the more will be added to a death toll that is already climbing due to our actions.

It isn’t fair. Nobody in my generation chose this. A majority of “boomers” didn’t either. Not any more than they chose to be exposed to leaded gasoline or chose to be expose to cigarette smoke. And as much as I feel that I’ve been handed a problem that should have been solved before I was born, I’m one of the lucky ones. My country will do OK, overall. Provided we don’t start a nuclear war or something like that, we’ll do far, far better than the billions whose countries had no real role in creating this disaster, and the billions more who will be born too late to even remember when people were trying to prevent it.

I think that, as a species, we can weather this storm of our own making. I believe that we can, in coping with these changes, build a more resilient and just global society, and have a healthier relationship with the rest of life on Earth. We’ll have to, if we’re going to avoid extinction.

Like all those who have created or consumed post-apocalyptic entertainment, I can see many paths to a desolate future. I can also see many other futures, and they’re worth working towards. As a species, we have the power to build a future in which we surmount the obstacles placed before us by our elders, and to keep climbing to something better. There’s no easy path anymore – the easy path would have been to avoid this in the first place. But I can see futures worth working towards, and I think we need that right now.


Off The Deep End: But what can one person do?

The titular question here comes up a lot in climate action. It’s literally the biggest problem anybody’s ever tackled, so it’s a bit daunting. After all, in the face of a problem this big, what can one person do?

Well, it turns out that one person can do rather a lot.

When I started working on this post, I ran into some difficulty. I don’t want any one of these chapters to be very long, and I found that when it came down to it, there was simply more than I could fit in one post.

That being the case, I’m going to set aside actions for the technically-minded and those who like getting involved in debates and politics (for now – I’ll get to you soon!), and focus on those among us of the artistic sort. Continue reading

Off the deep end: An inexpert guide to dealing with climate change: Announcement.

UPDATE: Chapter One is going to be a bit late because reasons. I’ll have it up in a couple hours. In the meantime, please enjoy the prefaces.

In my last post, I linked to a video that basically contained a video reprisal of the worst-case scenario voiced in the opening statement of this blog. It’s a bleak picture, and all the more so because it’s an accurate statement of the danger we face.

This post is the first of a series designed to provide an antidote, of sorts for the fear and despair that can so easily rise up when faced with the realities of global climate change. As I said in my last post, I wholeheartedly believe that we can deal with this problem and rise above it to create a civilization that will make our current existence look downright primitive. That belief is, I think, a reasonable one. We have the ability to power our society with renewable energy many times over, and there are many ways to generate, harness, and use energy that we simply don’t exploit. Some of my thoughts on this can be found in the section called “building the future we want“.

My goal in writing this series of blog posts is not only to have you believe that such a future is technically possible, but also to have you share the vision that drives me. My goal is to take the spirit of the quote by Antoine de Saint Exupéry at the head of this blog, and apply it to the Great Work that is responding to the threat of man-made global climate change. I don’t want people working on this because they feel obligated to (although that’s better than nothing), I’d like people working on it because they’re excited about the future we’re working to create.

In this series, I will cover a number of topics, ranging from the grand scale (working on national policy) to the small scale (one step beyond changing your lightbulbs). I will research the topics as thoroughly as I am able to do, in order to present a useful guide to responding to global warming at whatever level you are able. Part of this will be about dealing with the emotional and psychological burden. Part of it will be about looking at the world we have today and seeing the world it could become. The bulk of this series will be about working to bring about the world you want to live in.

I haven’t decided what the first installment will be, but whichever it is, I will have it available by Monday morning on January 20, 2014. Tune in then, and let’s see what we can get done.

A plea, a reminder, a call.

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that this video might suggest that my concern is the “methane burp” hypothesis, which suggests that a vast amount of methane would be released from the ocean all at once in a single explosive event. I don’t think the video says that, but even so, that hypothesis is not my concern. My concern is about an increasingly rapid release of methane from oceans and permafrost, leading to the events described in the opening statement of this blog. Nothing in global warming seems to act like an on/off switch, which is why believe that we are seeing the so-called “tipping point” in action as the arctic melts and releases more CO2 and methane from the permafrost and ocean floor.

Everybody who sees this, please read what I’ve written, and then please watch the video.

The warning in this video is what I have been talking about for years. It’s what I named my blog after, and it’s what my very first blog post was about in October of 2010.
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Combatting gloom

One problem that I run into on a fairly regular basis is that in my work in science education I frequently come across information that makes my work as a climate activist more difficult. There are, of course, the predictable problems of people seizing on the declared uncertainties that exist in every scientific paper, and using them to extend the inaction that has already lasted for over half a century, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

When you follow the research into what’s happening with our climate, and how the planet’s ecosystems are responding, there’s not much good news. I make a point of regularly looking for good news, and while I do find a lot, it’s mostly in the realm of energy technology. Continue reading

Hope Versus Fear

What does your ideal future look like?

This blog was started to give perspective to the usual warnings we hear about global warming, and to point out that things like sea level rise and worse storms – those are downright optimistic compared to the real worst-case scenarios. For this post, I’m going to take a break from the doomsaying to talk about constructive activity – something I hope to do more often over the course of this year.

Last February, I wrote a piece about how we need to accept the reality of the present situation, and take action. The lone comment on that piece was a simple question: “So, where do we start?”

This is the beginning of my answer to that question.
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The importance of enjoying the thing you’re fighting for

A disciple once asked his Zen Master, “Master, why isn’t everything perfect?” to which the master replied, “It is.”

Obviously I don’t completely buy that, as I am not a Zen Master, and I have a blog about how we need to change things (and I don’t generally want to change perfect things).

There is a lesson in this for those of us who fear the worst, when it comes to climate change: We have to remember why we’re doing what we’re doing.

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