Sunday, March 31, 2019

Be Grateful. Better Yet, Act Like You're Grateful.

One of the climate scientists I've dealt with in recent years is Camilo Mora, head of the Mora climate lab at the University of Hawaii. Mora's team made the papers in 2014 when it published a paper predicting a climate change phenomenon, "climate departure," would bring an abrupt and dramatic change to how we experienced climate change. It's a point at which you move from an historic climate with plenty of variability into a new climate that has only one setting - "hot."

Most of Canada will pass the climate departure threshold by 2047. We'll be among the last and least impacted. The first areas to feel the sting of climate departure will include some Caribbean and Central American nations and that's expected to start around 2023.

Mora was born and raised in Colombia but received his university degrees in Canada and the United States. It is his Third World upbringing, however, that allows him to give us an understanding of what climate change will mean to less advantaged countries. With any luck we might stop taking this threat seriously and appreciate what we stand to lose through complacency.

From YaleEnvironment 360, July, 2014:

I grew up in a country where there has been a long history of violence. We have been in war for 50 years, and one thing people don’t realize is what it means to be in a place where anyone can get shot at any moment, where people are starved to death, where there is not enough food to feed people. In the first world, people don’t know how rich they are, and they don’t realize what is happening in the rest of the world. And for me that’s a driving force. It’s scary to think about climate change because when we start damaging physical systems and the carrying capacity of physical systems to produce food, people will react to this in a terrible way. I’m telling you, I have seen it in my own country. It’s very negative the way in which people react to hunger. And that’s one of the things that’s most frightening to me with this large-scale analysis — the fact that I know we’re on our way to some very disturbing scenarios if we go down this pathway of damaging physical systems in the ways that we are today.
Mora and his team have not been afraid to break an informal taboo among many climate scientists - overpopulation. He published a paper on overpopulation in the journal, Ecology and Society.
Well, it’s paramount because people need food. And the planet is limited in the amount of resources that it can produce. We already have calculated that the planet has on the order of 11 billion hectares that can be harvested in a sustainable manner. Of course we can increase the number by increasing technology, but that’s been happening for the last three decades. The worldwide population is 7 billion people, and we know that to sustain a human being you need on the order of two hectares per person. That means that the world human population every year consumes on the order of 14 billion hectares. The planet only has eleven to give to us. Every year, we consume in excess of three billion hectares. What I’m suggesting is to inform people about the environmental and social costs of having a child. And for governments to allow people those choices. Today we have on the order of 200 million women who want access to family planning that don’t have it. So for me the solution is right there.
It seems amazing, but friends of mine recommended to me not to publish that paper. They said, “This paper is going to be damaging to you. You don’t get it. You don’t need it.” What is remarkable, though, is that after the paper got published, I had multiple people calling me to endorse it.
The callers endorsed Mora's paper but not publicly.
No, just to me. This is really the problem. But why we don’t take it on? I have no clue. Because the data are very clear. I guess the problem is that it can backfire. We have seen, historically, situations in which a scientist has taken on an issue and there are people who have been fired, or attacked by interest groups. So I guess the problem is fear of retaliation.
We need to heed messages like Mora's. We need to absorb his science in an effective way and start incorporating all of this knowledge in our planning and policy-making. But we don't have time for that. Our leaders are engrossed in the pursuit of perpetual, exponential growth. They boast of what they've done and where they want to take us, heedless of the costs and the risks they will bequeath us in the years to come.

Major climate change will unfold in the course of the 2020s. That has already begun. How will we respond? Will we be grateful it's them and not us? Or will we act like we're grateful we have a little more time and begin restructuring our society to meet reality?


John B. said...

Just in listening to comments from the other slugs down at the Etch Test when they consider Trump’s reaction to the asylum seekers, I’ve come to realize the depth of brutality we’ll unthinkingly condone to rationalize our personal inaction and protect our comfort zones. Will it be any different when it’s in our faces?

“I’m telling you, I have seen it in my own country.”

Maybe this is the one that will stick.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, John. I deliberately chose to write this post around that line. I omitted the "climate departure" stuff. I've written enough on that.

A decade ago, perhaps more, I began writing about Canada as one of a small handful of countries that was best positioned to meet climate change impacts and yet, we had let our best options slip through our fingers, choosing not to take advantage of them, until the best are now utterly foreclosed to us. Despite this, our grasp of whatever has been the "next best" options has remained slack. We don't want to meet the challenge. It's not real to us.

The threats are real enough to this scientist, Mora, because he has seen his own society succumb to them. He's right - we don't know how rich we are nor do we appreciate how vulnerable that has left us. Our ease and comfort has left us incapable of understanding what happens to even ordered societies when things go wrong and hunger spreads.

Anonymous said...

The fact is that the current world is a difficult place to live for billions. There is no argument about that.
But how to deal with the inequalities and to what degree?

Lots of folks remember the TIME magazine cover with a collage of Trump and a crying child. Child was crying because it was late at night and her mother decided to leave the husband with two older teenage children and to take her on a week long journey to the promised land. For that trip she paid 6k USD in cash. In Honduras that is a bit of $.
I also heard on CBC radio (I guess this was smuggled in by the rogue producer) a story how a fella from Nigerian village, sold a sole family cow, and tied in vain get to Italy to claim asylum. Alas, he was twice intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, had to return to the village, and now -without a cow- his family lives in poverty.

Talk is cheap. Also, there is a significant shortage of folks with statures of that of Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Theresa.
When I see folks abandoning their houses to accommodate the poor from (insert a name of a country), I will gladly move from my 1 bedroom to a bachelor.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, the sad reality is that we'll never deal with inequality while we embrace neoliberalism. The whole point of the neoliberal order is growth driven prosperity that translates into perpetual, exponential growth.

We now consume Earth's renewable resources, the measure of the planet's carrying capacity, by a factor of 1.7 their replenishment rate. That worsens with every passing year.

We have little enough time to prepare our wealthy, advanced society for looming climate change impacts. For the poorest and most vulnerable, a.k.a. the Third World, they've run out of time.

For all his feigned altruism, Justin Trudeau has said he's above all else a global free trader. He'll do nice gestural things but always stops well short of anything really effective or significant.