We CAN’T Have It All Anymore

May 11, 2013

Carbon Increase 250 years

Carbon Increase 250 years

Worldwide levels of carbon dioxide crossed 400 ppm this week, a level not seen in at least 2 million years – certainly not seen in the time we humans have been around. It took 7,000 years after the end of the last ice age for those levels to rise by 80 ppm; it has taken only 55 years for it to rise the last 80 ppm. That’s important.

When climate changes over thousands or millions of years, species have time to adapt. When it happens over decades or perhaps centuries, they do not. Even with all of our adaptive skills, that includes the human species.

Last week, in the comments section, I posted a link to an article from Salon. http://www.salon.com/2013/05/05/getting_rich_off_global_warming/ If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you all to read it. We are rapidly moving past the stage for mitigation of climate change and into the stage where adaptation will be the only possibility left. Adaptation will not be pretty.

“The many facets of adaptation discussed in Denver — relocating species and habitats, fortifying that which can be saved, abandoning that which can’t, the general remapping of viable human settlement in the United States — together add up to something resembling a draft blueprint for a continent-scale American Ark. This Ark’s early drafts are being sketched out in pieces mostly at the local and state level …

“ The technical conversation around adaptation will eventually meld with a political one. The sooner this happens, the better. The world coming into view is defined by unprecedented strains on natural and public resources. Which means the big rhetorical question is this: If our current framework of commodified resources and a commercialized biosphere allowed widespread hunger and poverty to persist in an age of abundance, what in the name of Sweet Jesus is it going look like in a return to scarcity?”

Most Americans, when they think about climate change at all, still think of dealing with it in terms of simple mitigation: driving fewer miles, turning the heat down or the air conditioner up a few degrees, putting up a solar panel or two, buying green, making small changes around the edges of business as usual – with the emphasis on maintaining BAU. That is not what is discussed at the conference talked about in that article.

What is being talked about there is – at best – what Bill McKibben describes as protecting “the core of our societies and civilizations.” If we are as tardy and politically entrenched with adaptation as we have been with mitigation, we may be talking about human extinction over the coming generations.

Events are accelerating. If you look at the charts at the beginning of this post, you’ll see that, of that 80 ppm increase of carbon dioxide over the last 55 years, over half of it has occurred in little more than a decade.

We cannot continue business as usual. The costs of adaptation preclude that. We must decide, both as individuals and as a nation, what is important to us. We are moving rapidly away from a chance at mitigation into a chance at adaptation. If we fail here, there are only two choices left – bare survival or extinction. We simply can’t have it all anymore.

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8 Responses to We CAN’T Have It All Anymore

  1. Silvia TIC says:

    Hi Linda, just one thing I would change: we must act as individuals and as society (not nation), because climate change is impacting not just US, but the whole planet. It is already affecting (more) other parts of the world, usually the more vulnerable populations, who don’t have the means nor the knowledge or government willingness to act.
    The first thing we have to do is stop playing with the concept as if it were an abstraction, and start changing. I’m struggling with it, as you may have seen in my last post. Trying to make changes and also help others to become aware, but the responses don’t match the size of the monster.
    Unfortunately, I am a very realistic person. I think there will be a lot of suffering as most of us won’t realize the mess we are in until we are starving, drowning or displaced.

    • theozarker says:

      Hi Silvia, I agree. Unfortunately, my country – the second largest carbon polluter in the world – is still busy arguing over whether ACC is even real. Even China, in first place, seems to have recognized its reality and is moving to decrease their pollution. So my posts are directed primarily at Americans, because we are large enough that our denial can override what other, smaller countries are doing to prepare. We keep shipping a lot of our pollution to developing countries in the form of our trash and the hunt for cheaper labor and cheaper goods. And, yes, we are so sure it will somehow only be those “others”, but a lot of us in this country are going to die for this ignorance as well, as climate change comes home. If we think of it at all, we are so sure someone will do something to make sure we can go on having it all without any real sacrifice on our part.

  2. eugene says:

    I appreciate your blog. I attended my first climate change talk in 1982 and ran around like Chicken Little for some time. For a long time, I lived in Alaska where climate change was clearly visible long ago. I moved back to Minnesota in 2004 and it’s a “desert” to find anyone to talk to. Neighbor’s response to anything is “I’ll be dead by then”. So much for “caring for our children”.
    Took a three week trip through SW, Utah in particular. Incredible country and dry, dry. Navajo have sold off their herds as have other ranchers. Talked with one who stated irrigation is cut way back. Hay, small bales, selling for 10-15 each. Took a picture of a boat ramp upper end of Lake Powell. Long, long way from the water.

    No longer do I attempt to change minds. That’s a dead end, hopeless task and I surrendered. Personally I’ve moved from anger, to apathy and, now, acceptance. This is a done deal.

  3. theozarker says:

    Hi, Eugene. Well, I’m a storyteller, by inclination. If I can use that to wake up a few ordinary people who just aren’t paying attention, that’s gravy on the potatoes. At least it gives me something to do while I’m waiting around to shuffle off the old mortal coil. 😀

  4. Pradeep Vema says:

    The fatalistic dead end, absolute hopeless scenario is actually c concealed (and dishonest) way of denial. That is offered by many who do not wish to take any action secretly thinking that they would make it fine, just keep fooling the rest of the people and use this fatalist perspective as refusing to participate in the process. A time would become that laws will be in place when you would not have the option to say “I surrendered. Personally I’ve moved from anger, to apathy and, now, acceptance. This is a done deal.” It will never be a done deal. It is like saying I caught a cold, I am too sick, so I can’t go to work. Keep feeding me at home. There would be floods, fires and all those fun stuff, but there would not be even a 80-90% extinction of human species. Survival drive of humans is extremely powerful. People have stayed alive buried under collapsed buildings for up to 3 weeks, cut off their arms stuck under rock to free themselves etc. The situation would be akin to a crashed hard drive. Efforts would be made and people refusing to do so, will be, by law forced to act to retrieve as many files as possibly can. Of course there would be a pure Darwinian selection at work as well. The less fit (obese, diabetic, mentally ill etc.) would perish at a higher rate and the tougher ones will prevail. An example if provided by the by-design selected blacks. As slaves the weaker ones perished, which is why a vast majority of blacks are fit and muscular.
    Role that storytellers can play herein cannot be overstated. Forget ‘if’ you and everyone else can use every story to try to wake up the ordinary people which is nearly everyone,. No one is paying attention. Some are merely pretending to know it all while in reality they are totally clueless. Most of the humanity is classless and wants to remain that way to evade the work that must be done if awareness is raised. That is very unlike MS or Cancer where a $10 donation is enough. For climate change several millions would have to be contributed. More than that the fundamental way of living would have to be changed. This fundamental transformation of self and lifestyle is what is not sitting well with anyone.
    Neither the view that “we must act as individuals” nor “we must act as society or not nation” are flawed for being incomplete. They are not exclusive. They are complementary. Think of needing a man and a woman to make a child. We have to act as individuals and build a global momentum. In the end only a fair, ambitious and binding (FAB) treaty that gets respected by China, India and the U.S., would work. Canada is a very small player at global GHG game. British Columbians like those fortunate Swedes, Scandinavians nations etc., are supremely fortunate when the devastation from climate crisis is being handed out. British Columbians would be the last ones to see the real impact. Being a cold nation is evidently an advantage. Many would even save on home heating costs.
    The most tragic fact is that poor nations like Bangladesh that are already being hit certainly at the most innocent of victims, as they not only made zero contribution but likely buffered through negative carbon lifestyles, and due to their poverty and illiteracy etc., are the most vulnerable people. Many huge cities of South East Asia and of sub-Saharan Africa are in that shape. They certainly do not and likely will never have the means or the knowledge to deal with it. Actually the willingness of governments of the small island nations and even more recently other poor nations is very powerful. The most arrogant unwillingness is with the U. S., the U. K., and Canada etc. The unwillingness of India and China is more of a helplessness. Their governments are simply unable to control the behaviour of their own public to curb GHG emissions. They simply cannot enforce their emission regulations. That is sad.
    Sure stopping the denial and the charade of pretending that climate crisis is a merely an abstraction concept a good springboard to win an election as is being attempted by Adrian Dix now, and start first by openly admitting that we have a challenge that we cannot escape. It is like a dead body of your grandfather that needs to be dealt with in some way. Just because grandpa died does not put an end to the whole story. The part of changing is where the huge problem lies. What everyone is secretly hoping is if the rest of the world changed enough and GHG came down so low that if I am the only one emitting my 40-50 tons a year, it would never even get noticed because the entire world that is emitting 2.4 million pounds per second, stops emitting. Another argument is why should just I stop emitting when everyone else is doing it several fold more than I am. As soon as others stop emitting I would think about doing the same, until then it is just too unfair that I go without my comforts or risk my job.
    I think I have done all the struggling for entire mankind and sorted out the mess to the finest of grains that all one has to do is ask me. I would invariably have answer to any question relating to sustainability of the planet, and even the fact that we are on track to keep getting less and less sustainable.
    It is only a matter of time, we will get past this hurdle of “trying to make changes and also help others to become aware” when a hurricane hits you in the face or fire burns your house to dust or flood takes it into the ocean like the recent Japanese tsunami denial does become impossible. The changes would be made for the people by Mother Nature. The only foolish thing nature would do is punish the innocent most. The wealthy nations who caused this crisis will largely escape the wrath for a very long time with the only exception of Australia that is the sole offender (through shipping billions of tons of coal) that would become a desert pretty soon. Sure at this time the responses don’t match the size of the monster but as I pointed out, it is only a matter of time. Inevitability is a key component of this crisis. Things would be shoved down the throats of people, against their wishes.
    There can never be any need to associate the phrase “unfortunately” with being very realistic person. My assessment is being down to ground is not a very human characteristic. Humans love fantasy, dreams and fiction a lot more. But there are a handful of us who try to keep our feet on the ground, which is starting to burn now, and that too is episodic. It is too tempting to immerse oneself into some fantastic wonderland, which explains the huge sale of Harlequin romance novels and romantic comedy movies. Entertainment is a huge part of human mind. While the part of a lot of suffering is largely true, the high survival drive that I mentioned, helps humans come through with the most horrific of experiences alive as well, hence the name of the movie of the real life story of Andes plane crash victims. The very exceptional slowness and insidiousness of the climate crisis has an in-built safety element in it that we would come through it as well and while most of us won’t realize the mess we are in until it is too late that is why we would survive it as well. There is no anxiety if one does not even know that he or she is being harmed.
    One major reason for the U. S., the E.U., and even China and India etc., for not taking prompt action is that they know that they would not be really starving, drowning or being displaced. That anxiety is hitting the small islands and coastal metropolis of South Asia now. Sea level rise is not something humans can easily cope with. Many are moving to higher grounds but they do not produce food and have no water. So the nightmare of close to a billion climate refugee is the biggest challenge for humanity. But the relief there rests in the fact that there would be an associated rise in mortality from epidemics of cholera, gastroenteritis and malaria etc. We are way too late for next Influenza pandemic too. If immunity levels drop enough due to climate change induced nutritional deficiencies, an avian or non-avian viral pneumonia pandemic can easily kill close to a billion in the modern day mobile world. Nature would bring down the population burden of the planet to levels it can sustain. Think of a mother who had 12 kids and has capacity to feed only 6 and ends up killing 6 to bring stability to the situation. And yes Mother nature could not give the slightest damn even if the entire human species perishes although at present probability of that eventuality is below 5% by 2100, but it can be revised upwards, not very likely that it would be adjusted downward or eliminated. Historically species have not lasted beyond 1-2 million years before being replaced. Although modern humans have been around for only 200,000, humans have been around for close to 2 million years. So may be our number is high on Mother Nature’s list of the species to make extinct. Whether through innovation we can beat Mother Nature to Her plans remains to be seen. My gut feelings is that we likely will beat the threat and survive for a few million years at least. Emergence of species that is even superior to humans is always a possibility. That would certainly eliminate human race. For now let us focus on minimizing the suffering of victims of climate change.

    • theozarker says:

      Hi Pradeep, welcome to the blog and thanks for your comments. One of the problems in developed countries (and increasingly, in developing countries,) is that we have bought this whole notion that our species is somehow “outside” of nature, that we control nature and can manipulate nature at will for our own desires. Until we remember that we humans are only one small part of nature and that it is nature that controls us, we will simply go on destroying that on which our lives depend until we destroy ourselves.

      I haven’t given up on us yet. I still write letters and emails to government officials, sign petitions and support “eco-friendly” groups, write this blog. But the truth is, the only human behavior on this entire planet I can control is my own. So, I garden, compost, reuse things, conserve energy every way I can think of and remind myself that I am only in nature, not outside of it.

      But, as of right now, I don’t see things changing with what you refer to on your site as the political/corporate/investment universe, until it begins to hit them personally. This belief that they are outside of nature, that they can “have it all” and use it for their personal gratification without consequences to them is just too strong. Right now, sea level is rising faster along the east coast of the United States than anywhere else in the world, we’ve had almost three years of the deepest drought in 57 years covering more than 50% of the nation, the worst flooding and wildfires in some areas in decades, and yet they really believe they will somehow not be touched by these things. That they will “outwit” nature. Sadly, too many ordinary people still believe that, too.

      But, unless that changes at the top, it doesn’t matter what ordinary people do, other than change their own lives and reclaim their own place within nature and hope some of us, around the world, survive. We each have to let go of the myth and change our own behavior.

      Which is what I keep saying here on my own blog and what I think you are saying on yours, if I understand you correctly.

      Thanks again for your comments.

  5. Truly sobering. But I still insist that we should stop talking about climate change. It’s too vague and too easy to dismiss (but it snowed last week! etc.). We need to focus on the poisoning of our air, land, and water. Still, humans won’t voluntarily change their lifestyles drastically enough. But at least we can start to create communities of support for when the shit hits the fan. $.02

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