Monday, September 02, 2013

When You Look At It This Way, Digging Dead Things Out of the Ground Only to Kill Live Things Above the Ground is Madness.

We have become a world obsessed with digging carbon out of the ground and transporting it into our atmosphere just as fast as possible.   We say we're not, but the collieries, the refineries, the pipelines and supertankers say otherwise.   We take carbon from places and states where it's harmless to us and then transform and transfer it into states and places where it's devastating to us.

Welcome to my world, as it then was.

The moon would appear six and a half feet closer to Earth, and the continents of Europe and North America would be four feet closer together. Zooming in, you would be able to spot some of the industrial clambering of the Golden Age of Capitalism in the West and some of the stilted attempts at the Great Leap Forward in the East. Lasers, bar codes, contraceptives, hydrogen bombs, microchips, credit cards, synthesizers, superglue, Barbie dolls, pharmaceuticals, factory farming, and distortion pedals would just be coming into existence.

There would be two thirds fewer humans on the planet than there are now. Over a million different species of plants and animals would exist that have since gone extinct.  There would be 90 percent more fish, a billion less tons of plastic, and 40 percent more phytoplankton (producers of half the planet’s oxygen) in the oceans. There would be twice as many trees covering the land and about three times more drinking water available from ancient aquifers. There would be about 80 percent more ice covering the northern pole during the summer season and 30 percent less carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. The list goes on...

That was the world in 1950, the world into which I was born.  90 per cent more fish, 40 per cent more plankton, twice as many trees, three times as much precious water remaining in our ancient aquifers.  Two-thirds fewer humans.   If this doesn't make you think of malignancy, you might be insensate.

And yet we keep digging, faster and faster.   As fossil fuels are just that, fossil remnants of life long past, we are digging up the dead the better to kill the living.

The link between rapid climate change and human extinction is basically this: the planet becomes uninhabitable by humans if the average temperature goes up by 4-6°C. It doesn’t sound like a lot because we’re used to the temperature changing 15°C overnight, but the thing that is not mentioned enough is that even a 2-3°C average increase would give us temperatures that regularly surpass 40°C (104°F) in North America and Europe, and soar even higher near the equator. Human bodies start to break down after six hours at a wet-bulb (100% humidity) temperature of 35°C (95°F). This makes the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed over 70,000 people seem like not a very big deal.

Factoring in the increase we’re already seeing in heat waves, droughts, wildfires, massive storms, food and water shortages, deforestation, ocean acidification, and sea level rise some are seeing the writing on the wall.


Lorne said...

I know that you have written on the issue of feedback loops before, Mound, but I don't know if you have seen this piece, which also offers a very distressing view of our future:

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, Lorne. No, I hadn't read the piece you referenced but the article linked in my post also refers to McPherson and his NTE or Near Term Extinction movement. They perceive catastrophic climate change impacts setting in within a decade causing a massive kill-off of the world's population.

The question isn't whether the NTE theory could be right but whether we can be confident it's not. If McPherson et al are correct, we're already locked in to and on the cusp of what will be a rapid-onset extinction event.

karen said...

I spent 6 hours a week all of the last school year taking first year biology. We talked a lot about evolution and about extinction events in the second semester. We talked about bottlenecks and the opportunities for new species to arise after previous mass extinctions events.

I spend some of my leisure hours with organizations trying to stop pipeline and tanker proliferation, and with organizations trying to effect democratic change in this country.

I spend a few more of my leisure hours walking, running, hiking and kayaking in nature, watching birds and, when I am lucky, other wild animals.
I spend my working hours with people who know more about Duck Dynasty and Honey Boo Boo than about feedback loops, evolution or climate. My misanthropy grows by the day.

More and more I am saddened by what we will have destroyed, but more convinced that we have to go.

The Mound of Sound said...

I can appreciate your frustration, Karen. It's shared. When you read articles such as the one linked by Lorne above, the future does seem dismal even alarming.

When a climate scientist had a colleague ask what advice he would give his son and he replied, "learn to use a gun", that actually made me laugh a little bit.

It's so tempting to just give in to despair and walk away. But to do that would be to say that there's no good to be done, nothing to be gained, and I just can't believe that. So, yes, we write and talk and demonstrate and we prepare for civil disobedience when the time comes. That says that life matters that the future has value and that we won't abide the consequences of greed and convenience.

Anonymous said...

In my neck of the woods, I have noticed changes. Thunderstorms that used to last twenty or thirty minutes in the past now last five, six, seven or even more hours. I am a dullard, but I have eyes to hear and ears to see.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, we had a biblical storm here last night. At around ten to eight I was thinking about yelling at the neighbour lady for running her GD lawnmower that late. Ten minutes later I heard thunder immediately followed by the heaviest rain I've ever experienced here and extremely high winds. My street turned into a river. Fortunately I live just a block from a cliff over the sea so we don't flood. The rain overwhelmed everyone's gutters and the water came off their roofs in sheets. Of course the power went out but there was still enough daylight to find candles, etc.

The whole thing was over in 45-minutes. By then nightfall had arrived. There was no wind, dead still. The skies cleared and, with no power, we had a beautiful, unobstructed night sky.

We get plenty of high wind and heavy rain storms out of the Bering Sea in winter. The place that always records the heaviest rainfall in Canada is about 60 kms. up the road.

Due to the earth's rotation and wind patterns, west coasts get the heaviest rains. A spot outside Ucluelet logged just under 500 mm. in one day. The highest annual accumulation has been over 4 metres in Ocean Falls.

Yesterday's downburst, while relatively brief, was like nothing I have previously known.