This apocalyptic article by Jeff Goodell published in the current Rolling Stone, issues some dire warnings for the human race. The Earth will survive climate change, returning to equilibrium though it may take millions of years. Goodell is less sanguine about the human race. He quotes James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia concept, who likened us to passengers in a pleasure boat sailing above Niagara Falls unaware their engines may soon fail. Goodell thinks the hothouse earth we’ve all experienced this summer is just the beginning. We’ve seen the temperature rise 1°C since 1850, but are we prepared for rises of 3°, 4°, or 5°? Vast areas will become uninhabitable, millions will die of heat stoke under heat/humidity conditions above human tolerance, food shortages will cause widespread famine. Rising sea levels will cause millions of coastal dwellers to migrate inland — or across borders. Political unrest is certain to spike. Moreover, Goodell warns that these changes are likely to occur, not slowly over centuries, but within a few years or decades. He cites historical precedents for rapid climatic shifts, and refers to Richard Alley, who suggested that the climate is like a drunk, who sits when left alone but who staggers when prodded. The trends are clear but don’t take into account the possibility of various tipping points: the collapse of West Antarctica ice sheets which could raise sea levels by several feet within a few years, or a relatively small increase in ocean temperature that could decimate aquatic life. Goodell also points out that it won’t suffice to stop emitting greenhouse gases. Even if we were to do so today, the CO2 we’ve spewed into the atmosphere in the 150 years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution remains actively heating our air and sea. He thinks mankind needs to forego the notion of a solution to climate change, accept that we’re in a crisis situation, and actively take stewardship of the holistic management of our habitat; things like ensuring enough fresh water, protecting tropical forests from wildfires that would turn them into savannas, orderly resettlement of urban coastal residents. Managing the earth holistically is a huge task, one perhaps best left to artificial intelligence. Yet, as Lovelock noted, it’s entirely possible that our time is drawing to a close
The dust has settled at COP27, the 27th United Nations Climate Conference at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt where a record 45,000 people registered to attend. The longest running summit of all the conferences, agreements made in the final moments has left us all with hope but also doubts.