Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production


V056-06_fryingearthFWe ain’t done yet.

If we manage to avoid being swept away by an economic tsunami (Part 1) of our own making, or by a nuclear holocaust (Part Deux), much of which is of or own making (with some help from the likes of A.Q. Kahn), we are hardly out of a deep doo-doo destiny. There is another sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, again, mostly of our own making, and perhaps more imminent than those previously discussed.

It may come to nothing whether, as in Part 1, we sink into such an economic abyss if the likelihood of global war over access to fundamental resources triggers a nuclear cataclysm if the planet itself is transmogrified into an uninhabitable—for humans at least—stew of self-immolating gases. A touch melodramatic? Perhaps. But also perhaps temporally closer to a grim truth than most people are inclined to, and should, consider.

That the earth is warming is still something most people doubt or deny even as the beads of sweat form on their brows and the consensus of scientists as to its validity grows. It will not be easy to get those of us who, as the expression goes, already have a large “carbon footprint” to reduce our CO2 producing lifestyles, or those who have been long awaiting carbon’s goodies to forego its imminent blessings. Indeed, we may already be close to—or even past— the “tipping point” that will send us down a slippery slope to environmental disaster. Some scientists are of the opinion that we have come to the point where there is really not much our belated and insufficient efforts in the developed West to staunch the bleeding of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By 2050 we might be three or four degrees Celsius warmer on average, and the world we be a much different place as a result.

Perhaps we should have been more careful what we wished for. In the past thirty or so years we have been joined in our great quest to make capitalism the reigning economic model of the world by China, India, Brazil and other nations. Simply the success of China and India and the hunger for fossil fuels and iron of two and a half billion people will more than offset any countervailing effects technological changes in the developed world will make. They will make junk for us to consume, and eventually make their own cars; they will buy our debt so that we can buy their junk and give us the illusion of cost savings by taking our orders for it in the middle of he night with scarcely-disguised Indian accents. They, and much of the Southern hemisphere, have come late to the parade of capitalistic development and, not without some justification, they now want their share of it. Should they trust a country that refused to sign even the Kyoto agreements to reduce is own egregiously excessive carbon consumption? I wouldn’t.

At this stage of the matter, however, it might be too late for everybody. As there is unlikely to be the political will, the consumptive restraint, or the cooperative attitude,* short of an orbital change pushing Earth into a slightly cooler position, the accellerated self-cooking of the planet will likely proceed at an exponential pace. It is this last concern that has caused climate scientists at the IPCC.

Part of the scenario might hold. The tolerances of the Earth’s ecosystem have been forgiving within parameters that have allowed us to be overconfident and over consumptive. But there are tipping points rapidly approaching and when they tip there will be no setting things back, a new, and unrecognizable, Earth will come into being, until an unprecedented human die-off takes place.

How could that happen? The earth is already a couple degrees Farenheit warmer. To simulate the weather patterns you can put a pot of water ion the stove and start boiling it. If you could spin the pan you will see that there are waves that form, somewhat akin to the Temperate Zone wind patterns (jet stream) that circle the globe and put rainfall down where it usually falls—the Monsoons, the Great Plans, etc. But if you change temperature you will change the amplitude and frequency of the pattern. The variables of the growing season change, maybe becoming sorter, or hotter, or drier. This sort of thing as happened in the past, without the human assistance that we have today and is credited, for example, with bringing the demise of e Mycenaean civilization of the Peloponnese in Greece when rainfall began falling into the gulf of Corinth rather than on the hinterland of Mycenae, thereby reducing the population holding capacity if the region. This same “drying out” of Amazon rainforests (that have lost an areas the size of France in the past forty years), is also responsible for the longest drought on record in the Southeastern Unites States. Fires that have been “naturally” a part of the eco-system for eons in that area, and places like New South Wales in Australia are now raging longer and wider. The result of a landscape that emits more heat is to further heat up. Eventually, everything else becomes affected and we get new diseases, or spreading of old ones, assisted by famine and injury and stress of war. The prospect of inundation of many coastal low-lying cities (can you say “Arrivederci Venetia”) grows with huge chunks of both polar caps detaching and melting. Overused as the metaphor is, the “perfect storm,” a confluence of circumstances and events producing an unstoppable disastrous outcome, seems much in the offing.

Some doubters and deniers might use such cases to bolster the argument that current warming is just part of a larger cycle of weather and will revert at some point. But never before has there been as much human involvement. We are in deep doo-doo because too long has humankind allowed the betrayal of trust, the misuse of political power.

Just look at America alone in the recent political transition. No matter that the Obama administration, it its first efforts to make some socially synergistic policy toward rescuing the Bush-devastated economy by attempting to prime the fiscal pump with expenditures on infrastructure and alternative energy technologies and technological research, when the Republicans want nothing more than tax cuts and policies aimed at consumptive patterns that promise both economic and environmental doom—the same myopic, greedy, socially dysfunctional, world destabilizing policies that are the problem.

A survey of international affairs academics by Foreign Policy lists the greatest threats to global stability today as “global climate change” (37%), and in ten years the greatest threat as “global climate change” (46%). The Scholars are in high accord that the Obama administration should be spending the majority of it budget in addressing climate change (55% of budget), but obviously don’t think that will happen.

Historically, mankind has migrated when its environment was unable to support it. There are already many places in the world—e.g. Saharan Africa—where life is environmentally precarious and mirrored in economic conditions. When growing seasons become affected by climate change huge migrations are likely to be set off in search for the basic necessities of food and water. Competition for arable land and water supplies will ignite wars of ethnic and geographic rivalries, not the least among the unstable nations of the Middle East.

Environmental Armageddon? Some, of course will welcome it—the Second Coming of Christ, riding down in a blazing chariot to fulfill some Revelation prophecy and take the “saved” back up to an air-conditioned heaven, leaving non-converso Jews and other sinners to cook in the flames of an earthly Hell. Ironically, that attitude—that the whole creation is some stage set for some silly End Times Biblical scenario— fosters the very hubris that will lead to the destruction of the planet. The typical fundamentalist “narrative” involves some sort of denouement, some Armageddon, or reckoning to account for the battle of “good and evil” in the world and the reward of the righteous. It is notable that many believers in the Second Coming, or the End Times, believe that it will happen in their lifetime. Hence, for them, the earth was not made “to last,” but is a temporary staging area for the afterlife and therefore will be or needs to e dispensed with. Such views would not place a great value upon the integrity of the plant, and maybe, even see its imminent demise as necessary for biblical prophetic fulfillment. Such people have little interest or concern with scientific explanations of environmental collapse or with modifying their behavior to avoid it. But is God going to welcome people who have doo-doo on their shoes?
© 2009, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 2.28.2009)