Climate Change is not a debate or a myth anymore. For many countries, the summer of 2018 has proven to be the hottest ever recorded in human history.
For the richer part of the world, global warming means equipping their houses and offices with air conditioning and adopting a Dubai-style eternal indoors lifestyle. For the majority of the world, it means suffering ever increasing levels of AC produced carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons that exacerbate the effect of global warming even further.
We traded an office freezer for a street furnace. And we increase individual air conditioning escapism even more with global average temperatures reaching new heights and causing massive heatwave deaths, as was a recent case in Japan. Chances are the situation will not change when people start losing consciousness due to lack of oxygen in big cities.
What distinguishes current discussions on global warming is not the sudden deluge of facts, it’s the boldness and urgency of facing a “point of no return.”
In early August, the New York Times and The Economist published articles claiming we are losing the war against climate change. Both articles seem to have been perfectly timed. August 1st 2018 we reached an Earth Overshoot Day — the point in a year at which our demand for natural resources exceeded the Planet’s renewing potential. Unfortunately, unlike trillions of dollars in government debt, we cannot print more forests, air and water. And even once we are able to do so, we will need more energy than it will be able to recreate.
We equip ourselves with an individualistic outlook and the hope that buying a remote island or New Zealand citizenship will secure us an untouched paradise. I went to Seychelles in the hopes to seeing a virgin paradise just to discover a cemetery of bleached corals and once beautiful beaches covered by algae. I went to Iceland to see the potent glaciers just to see them melt away and learn that the country has been losing about 9.5 billion tons of ice each year since 1995 without ever coming back.
Hopes that Iceland may substitute Ukraine and Greece as a European Breadbasket, when global average temperatures reach 3–4 degrees above pre-Industrial levels, were crushed upon the realization that Iceland is made of hard volcanic rock and is soon to become an eternal winter land as Greenland ice melts and destroys the Gulf Stream previously saving Nordic countries from uninhabitable cold.
We are living in the epoch of Anthropocene, which marks Homo Sapiens’ triumph and absolute dominance of the Planet and which is most likely to end as the last human collapses from exhaustion as underground bunkers cannot replicate the amount of food once produced at a still habitable Earth surface.
IPCC’s median business-as-usual projection for warming by 2100 is about four degrees, which would expose half the world’s population to unprecedented heat stress and render the Planet partially uninhabitable.
The statistics of horrors and most likely scenarios given the current economic model are very exhaustive, and I believe you know most of them if you read about it so far.
It is much more interesting why we choose to do nothing about it. In line with scientific discoveries the world community has been aware and had enough proof of climate catastrophe as early as the 70’s of XX century. According to Nathaniel Rich in his New York Times article, 1979 to 1989 was the decisive decade when humankind first broadly understood the effects of climate change and the necessary actions to avoid the horrific consequences. Thinking of ourselves as rational economic agents, surely we must have taken immediate action in a timely manner. As time has shown Kyoto protocol was more of an imitation of action rather than a decisive stand.
Why? Were we really so skeptical of scientific facts or so optimistic about the capacity of future generations to deal with the problem?
In a recent interview with Joseph Stiglitz at Royal Society, I also learnt that the 70’s-80’s mark the beginning of a sudden disconnect between workers’ productivity and their hourly wages. Thus, the global awareness of climate change went hand in hand with the strengthening of hardcore capitalism (specifically Thatcherism & Reaganomics) as well as the establishment of global conglomerates, mainly in energy sector. 1989 was also the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall and an ultimate justification of capitalism as a winning world economic order.
Truth is, people who could have acted at the right time, were too busy making money — creating and living the “American dream” — an indication of success and a well-deserved fruit of their lifelong efforts and striving.
And those were smart people. They controlled major financial streams and shaped the direction our economy, politics and culture has evolved. Were all these smart and influential people blind? Why did they not take climate scientists’ alarms and urges into account?
Nature bestowed them with unsurpassed analytical and negotiation skills, strong character and the power to overcome adversity. In most cases fate also gave them rich and influential parents and an open ticket to do whatever they pleased to do. But it also gave them the most precise and irreversible countdown.
Why didn’t Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan and Deng Xiaoping come together to establish the limits to carbon emissions and global pollution? Cold War and economic considerations aside, these guys would have been long dead by the time our oceans devour the world’s major cities, forests start a perpetual burning cycle and melted permafrost releases deadly viruses previously unknown to Homo Sapiens.
How can anyone make a statement so selfish and brutal on human nature? Clearly, we care about our children and mankind! At least this is what we want to believe. What differentiated the Cuban Crisis of 1962 and the nuclear annihilation crisis of 1983 from today’s global warming bomb is only the timing and the inability to feel the breath of death behind our own back.
We definitely care about our own children. What we do not understand is the bystander effect of humanity as a whole.
We have a sarcastic saying in Ukrainian that translates to the following “There can be a flood after we are gone.” I think nothing describes the world’s complacent attitude better than this tongue-in-cheek Ukrainian adage. There can be a flood; and there will be a flood, but it will no longer be us who will drown…
It is human mortality and its universal acceptance that prevented taking the correct course of action in the 80s.
So what has changed? Millennials and Generation Z, who increasingly enter the decision making scene, expect to live several years longer than their predecessors as well as enjoy a more productive life in older age. Life expectancy is only part of the answer. More significantly, the ongoing scientific discoveries in machine learning, biotech and nanotechnology inspired Transhumanist hopes for the possibility of immortality in our lifetime.
For God’s sake, Ray Kurzweil is 70 years old and he hopes to be alive before the Singularity arrives! Should we not?
Thus, if you are a Millennial, Ray Kurzweil or a Transhumanist chances are you really care what happens to the Planet from a long term perspective, not only during an envisioned life span of human species (according to statistics I should stop caring what happens after 2062 but it is not the case).
Indeed, Millennials and Generation Z’s appear to be much more environmentally conscious than previous generations.
Part of the answer is an increased awareness in the consequences of one’s behavior. Another part is the hope we put into the scientific progress to keep us afloat through nano-tech body clean up or a mind upload.
People who are born today will live to experience a possibility of 4 to 8 degrees warmer Planet. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to burn in hell while I’m still alive. Unfortunately, this is very much a likely scenario if we live past 2060.
This is not sci fi any more. These are us, new born children who will suffer from asphyxiation, heart attacks and hyperthermia, if they are lucky enough to be born in the temperate climates or cold zones. I am not talking about the fact that the human body is no longer able to cool itself and begins to overheat at a humidity level of 50% and a high heat of 46 °C, which may soon become a median temperature in the Tropics.
Looks like the problem is clear and we are ready to act. The conundrum lies in the current distribution of power and money.
We can praise or criticize the policies of the world leaders. Equally debatable, but Botox and a tint of orange might make them look younger and more buoyant. The problem is they are mortal and they are well aware of it.
And whether we want it or not, they set the world agenda which will influence us and our children long after these gentlemen are gone.
We can wait and see how next generations will shake things up. Problem is we have got no time.
“There is no more time to waste. We are careering towards the edge of the abyss,” warned UN Secretary, Mr. Guterres, adding that though it is not too late to shift course, “every day that passes means the world heats up a little more and the cost of our inaction mounts.”
Based on conservative estimations model, a potential “point of no return” is announced to be 2035. There are doubts that it takes into account a sudden release of 1.8 trillion tons of carbon & methane that Arctic permafrost currently contains.
If we naively believe the best-case scenario, we’ve got 17 years. Is this enough to change people in power and transition to an entirely new paradigm of thinking? Is it enough to devise a new economic model, change the mentality of 8 billion people, and persuade China and India they are too late for an “American dream” the developed world has been enjoying since the Industrial revolution?
There is no external power capable of freeing us from the framework of our own mind. We will keep playing the game theory unless the attitude of people in power is drastically changed.
Sadly, these are not marine biologists or civil society activists that can save the world within 17 years. It is the Jeff Bezoses & Warren Buffets of this world that set the direction and decide whether the arctic cap melts or not.
It is either a dreamer (aka Transhumanist) or an immortal person who cares! As long as you are neither, you will keep failing the prisoner’s dilemma! Knowing the odds. Until the end, the end of your life and life on Earth.
And unless our people in power are gorging on Transhumanist literature (I know Bill Gates does) and hoping to stick around for another century or so, it is really down to bio engineering experts to persuade decision makers otherwise.
Would American President deny global warming if he was 20 years old? I doubt he would.
The burden of climate change lies heavily on all of our shoulders, but it is bioengineers and life extension specialists we are looking to for a chance to reverse the most meticulous and implacable countdown and put an end to a race with no winner in the end. And they’ve got no time to spare.
- A UN advisor who has been a professor of philosophy and systems sciences, Laszlo writes: Evidence from prehistoric times indicates that the oxygen content of pristine nature was above the 21% of total volume that it is today. It has decreased in recent times due mainly to the burning of coal in the middle of the last century. Currently the oxygen content of Earth’s atmosphere dips to 19% over impacted areas, and it is down to 12 to 17% over the major cities. At these levels it is difficult for people to get sufficient oxygen to maintain bodily health: it takes a proper intake of oxygen to keep body cells and organs, and the entire immune system, functioning at full efficiency. At the levels we have reached today cancers and other degenerative diseases are likely to develop. And at 6 to 7% life can no longer be sustained.
- Michael Mann and Lee Kump estimate that four degrees of warming would eliminate between 40 and 70 percent of the world’s species. At 2.2 degrees, we’d lose between 15 and 37 percent
- The great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, which contain enough water to raise sea levels ultimately 25–80 meters, have begun disintegrating ‘a century ahead of schedule,’ as Richard Alley, a leading climatologist put it in 2005
- If the currently planned actions are not fully implemented, a warming of 4°C could occur as early as the 2060s