May 11, 2013
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.