Discussion in 'EC Monthly Spotlight: June 2021' started by LostInDaydreams, May 22, 2021.
That wasn't the point.
My point is that I am doing real practical things that actually help and would cure the problem if only more people would do them. Suggesting that things should have been done differently in the past specifically to increase suffering and death does not help at all.
I know what your saying..but if people keep having people at the pace we're at now...it's not gonna matter that much. I always do what I can.. I've got clothes and other things that I use until it can't be used anymore...I do believe in this whole thing..I don't even waste fresh water if I don't have to....
Don't think it's an issue of "self-reduction" (aka suicide) - no one's really asking people to do that. But it's a bit worrying when a country the size of China is saying, "Okay, now have three babies instead of two because we won't have enough people to keep our economy going in 40 years."
As countries 'industrialize' and the populace aspires to a better or a middle class lifestyle, that comes with increased consumption. From more meat in the diet to more consumer goods, all this has an impact on the planet. How do you grow enough beef/pork/chicken/etc to feed 8 billion? If only there was a way to feed the animals used TVs and cellphones, but those animals compete with us for grain.
I'd be happy if we just stopped growing the total number of humans for a generation or two. It's also possible that something like Covid is a response to human overpopulation. Sure seems to spread faster and cause more troubles for medical care the more people are concentrated together. Not saying it doesn't spread in rural areas because it does, but the fewer contacts people have, the less chance the virus has to spread.
I'll be completely honest - the prospect of runaway climate change and the end of human civilization on earth scares me to death. I can't think or even contemplate it. If I did, I wouldn't function or be able to do all the essential things one needs to get by on a day to day basis.
It's too enormous to deal with and the action that we - as a species - would need to do NOW to have any chance of reversing it is so extreme that no world leader would seriously contemplate it.
I suspect I may not be alone in this.
I tend to agree with you, @chicodeoro. Things appear to be slipping towards or even past a tipping point, but alas, all the hand-wringing won't help. About a year ago, it seemed like maybe humanity was capable of a reset: a reexamination of how it is using the bounty of our shared home ... but it seems people are already talking about yet another Roaring Twenties.
But being stressed won't help the planet and it will only wreck one's health, so please know that there are many who care passionately about the issue and try and make better choices in their own lives each and every day.
Its one of those topics I am not sure how people can ignore it while at the same time other people have the hubris to think we can halt or reverse climate change. I mostly grew up in a state that was at one point in history under a shallow sea, it is fairly common to find trilobite fossils in Wyoming. According to some scientists there have been up to five significant ice ages.
The climate has always been in flux, and to think we can stop it, kind of proves how far up our own butts our heads are as a species. Do we have an impact on how it changes, absolutely. Just by existing we affect it. However if we as a species magically vanished along with everything we have built tonight, the climate would still change. Nature really does not care at the end of the day, just look up photos of abandoned places. Even with the radiation disaster in Chernobyl, nature is slowly reclaiming it.
That does not mean I don't think we should try and do a better job of keeping this little mud ball in better shape. Green energy isn't as green as people think, for example the blade on wind turbines are made of fiberglass and they are not recyclable and only have a usable life of twenty years. three 200 foot long blades take up a lot of landfill space.
We should pursue cleaner energy sources, but have to also acknowledge that sunshine and light breezes just are not going to provide the power we need currently or in the future. Nuclear can be a fantastic power source, provided we keep up on maintenance and not build them in places that regularly get hit with hurricanes, earthquakes or tornadoes.
Yes, climate change will happen with or without us, but human activity is accelerating the rate of change dramatically.
Climate scientist here. Earth's climate has always changed but we have never seen earth's climate change this rapidly, apart from catastrophic events (the sort that also led to mass extinctions...) The rapidity of climate change is due almost entirely to human activity. Prior to extraction, fossil fuels represent a long-term carbon sink; the carbon in these substances was removed from earth's carbon cycle, at least on timescales of thousands of years (this carbon is held out of the carbon cycle for a lot longer than that but even talking about a timescale of thousands of years is hard for us to wrap our heads around in a core, fundamental way.)
As we burn fossil fuels, we are releasing that carbon back into earth's "fast" (functions on a timescale of hundreds to thousands of years) carbon cycle. This accounts for the majority of human impacts on the climate, at least in a very general way. There are other greenhouse gases that we emit, there are many other things that we as humans do or have done to influence the climate in one way or another, but this is by far our biggest impact and accounts for well over half of our total emissions. Our second biggest impact, which accounts for about 20% of our total emissions, is land-use change, mainly deforestation. Forests don't sequester carbon for nearly as long as fossil fuels but they do represent a major carbon storage mechanism and deforestation has released a lot of this carbon back into the atmosphere. When you include human emissions of methane and N2O, you have accounted for the vast majority of human greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions have been substantial and have pushed the climate system out of steady-state.
The steady-state idea is important - basically, earth's climate has historically been more or less in steady-state, which means, in this context, that there was a roughly constant amount of greenhouse gases cycling through the climate system and any climate forcings (things that push the system away from steady-state, like dumping more greenhouse gases into the system) were small enough to drive changes MUCH slower than what we see today. Eventually, the system returns to steady-state but at a different point - if we stop all of our emissions now, the climate system will stabilize but with substantially more greenhouse gases in play so, among other things, temperatures will be higher, the oceans will be more acidic, and sea levels will be higher than prior to the industrial revolution when the system was more or less at steady state on human timescales.
I will once again stress here that what we as humans are doing is forcing the climate system HARD and FAST. This causes a number of problems that are either nonexistent or far less severe when the climate changes naturally, on much longer timescales. Perhaps the most immediately relevant and understandable concerns our plants and animals. Evolution is slow, it happens on a generational timescale, so creatures that take longer to reproduce evolve more slowly than creatures with shorter reproductive periods. For anything visible with the naked eye, this process takes thousands to hundreds of thousands of years, typically. We know that creatures and ecosystems evolved where and how they did because of the prevailing selective pressures at the time, things like climate, terrain, seasonality, sources of nutrition available, etc. and they tend to fit the conditions in which they evolved quite well. When those conditions change, those creatures experience selective pressure again and must adapt, evolve, move, or go extinct. Adaptation is the "band-aid" solution, evolution takes a really long time, extinction is a bad option for reasons I don't feel I need to type out, and moving isn't always an option as one of the reasons why biodiversity has increased throughout earth's history is because of geographic barriers to species mixing - oceans, mountains, rivers, etc. that keep populations separate from each other. These barriers prevent these creatures from moving in response to climate change. Some species can't move or can only move very slowly - this describes most plant species. It's also not guaranteed that a species will be viable in a new location - some key condition or conditions could be different, their ecological niche could already be filled by a more evolutionarily fit species, etc. Note that if the climate was changing on the timescales that it usually changes, thousands to tens of thousands of years when it's changing rapidly, creatures have way more time to move or to evolve. That is not what we are doing right now. The rate at which the climate is changing far outstrips the ability of so many species to move, adapt, or evolve and as a result, we are now in the middle of earth's sixth mass extinction event, this time brought about by human activity.
We have studied this quite thoroughly. There is no reasonable doubt whatsoever at this point - the climate change we are experiencing is being driven primarily by human activity. The scientific consensus around anthropogenic climate change at this point is on the same order as the scientific consensus around the germ theory of disease and evolution via natural selection, though you wouldn't necessarily know this because the media is awful about science reporting in general and often presents climate change as a "debate" among scientists - it isn't. At all. When you hear of scientists who claim to refute climate change, they are likely either a crank or an opportunist - the physicist Richard Lindzen is a great example - he is not a climate scientist but bills himself as such and has made a great deal of money doing so. He is an often-cited "expert" who leverages his credentials to hide his lack of any meaningful participation in the field and hopes that nobody looks past the surface.
There's a website called Skeptical Science (https://skepticalscience.com/) that does a really good job of addressing the myths about climate change that seem to be so pervasive in our society. In fact, one of their top 10 most commonly used articles, the #1 article actually, specifically addresses the idea that earth's climate has changed before - https://skepticalscience.com/climate-change-little-ice-age-medieval-warm-period.htm
Earth's climate is complicated. Really complicated. Unfortunately, there are some loud voices out there that make claims like this in ways that superficially seem to make sense. Many of these claims can be really tough to refute without a grounding in the science (or at least a place to start; Skeptical Science is a great place to start, FYI) which many folks do not have, as there isn't really ever a point in the United States educational system (that I'm aware of) at which students are taught about climate science, or at least not when I was going through the educational system or teaching at a university. I believe that education is one of the biggest keys to addressing the climate crisis and am happy to answer, to the best of my ability, any questions anyone has. It's ok to be ignorant about something, I think it speaks highly of a person's character when they can acknowledge ignorance on a topic and then seek to gain the knowledge and understanding that they lack and I think that one of the big reasons why this has become such a problem is thanks to poor science communication and reporting, which led to a society in which it's quite easy to be ignorant or misinformed regarding the state of climate science, and which then led to politicians who draft and enact policies out of ignorance or in direct contradiction to our knowledge and understanding of the climate system. I am not at all saying that there are no bad actors at play; there certainly are plenty of people out there who understand and accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change but value money or power, etc. over preserving the planet for the future.
Tangentially, the pattern of ignorance, poor communication, and malicious people is something I see cropping up all over the place. Just about all situations that are popping to mind that involve a public debate over a scientific consensus fit this bill, present and historical - evolution via natural selection, the age of the earth, the formation of the solar system, the germ theory of disease, GMOs, vaccines, homeopathy, naturopathy, geocentrism, humors (in the medieval sense - black bile, phlegm, yellow bile, blood), bloodletting, smoking tobacco to name a few. In all cases, education seems to be the key to change and in most cases, those in power at the time, especially those who could leverage these topics to their own advantage, did their best to undermine, discredit, and obscure the emerging evidence. This has been leveraged against us, the queer community, over and over again throughout history as well - we have been labeled with all sorts of slurs that arise out of this ignorance and we have been the victims of this sort of manipulation of evidence and pseudoscience all throughout history.
I chose the examples I did to illustrate that this is not unique to modern humans, we have behaved this way probably for as long as we have been a species. I think our brains are fascinating and one of the areas of particular interest to me is the ways in which our brains are wired to betray us through using improper heuristics or logical fallacies and other errors. These things evolved in us for a reason; when we lived as hunter-gatherers on the plains of Africa tens of thousands of years ago, there was a survival advantage in thinking that every time the grass rustles, it's probably a lion, because you saw a lion jump out of the grass once and kill someone in your tribe, rather than assuming it's not a lion because it's almost never a lion. That made sense back then; now it makes us scared to fly on airplanes because plane crashes, albeit very rare, are extremely memorable and frightening. If this interests you, check out You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney (it's a book and a podcast) for a fairly mainstream, engaging discussion of logical fallacies and/or Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann for a more advanced discussion of the topic and associated research.
Anyway, I say all that to say that there should be no shame in ignorance nor should there be any shame in being wrong. I wish we could normalize admitting ignorance and asking questions; nobody knows anything but an infinitesimally tiny fraction of the paltry sum of human knowledge and to a first-order approximation (and second, and third, and a few more levels down), we are all ignorant about everything with a small handful of exceptions, and we sometimes still get those wrong too.
Ulmo - quick question. Is it too late? I mean, really?
Because all I feel is utter despair. My hunch, as a reasonably intelligent lay person, is that the changes the heads of the major industrialized nations need to make RIGHT NOW to preserve life on this planet are things that are simply impossible or completely unachievable politically.
I hear you regarding your despair - I share that feeling myself and I don't really see any reason to hold out hope for drastic action and we have been at the point of needing to take drastic action to mitigate the impacts of climate change and to reduce our emissions and other contributions to climate change for decades now.
Regarding your question, the answer is complicated. It's highly unlikely that all life is going to go extinct on earth as a result of climate change. Earth's third mass extinction, the Permian-Triassic extinction event, which took place about 252 million years ago wiped out about 95% of species, 83% of genera, and 57% of families (as you move up the taxonomic tree, it becomes harder and harder to wipe out an entire clade, so eliminating a whole family is very significant.) Within the next few million years, we saw an explosion of biodiversity and shortly thereafter we saw the rise of dinosaurs. Climate change almost certainly won't wipe out life on earth (though there is always the remote possibility of passing a big enough tipping point that earth's greenhouse effect runs away and we become like Venus; this is highly unlikely in the near future) but will (and already has!) drive countless species to extinction and do enormous damage to earth's biodiversity that will take millions of years to recover from but it will recover as it has in the past and the niches filled by species driven extinct will be filled with newly evolved species.
It is absolutely too late to avoid a great many human impacts. While it is hard to pin any single extreme weather event to climate change (because "climate" is sort of an "average" or "expected" quality of a region and thus is studied and best understood on a decadal timescale, whereas weather is a snapshot), we are able to do so more and more as the evidence linking extreme weather events with climate change builds. (Note that, especially in a field as politically fraught as climate science, most scientists try really hard to not make any public statements that cannot be completely supported by the data, because anti-science folks will latch onto whatever they can to try to discredit us. I'm firmly of the opinion that the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events that we've been experiencing, e.g. hurricanes, wildfires, polar vortexes breaking off and moving south, the heat dome over the pacific northwest as I type this, etc. are both strongly influenced by climate change. For instance, while we don't know whether Hurricane Katrina or any other single event would have happened without the influence of anthropogenic climate change, we do know that the sea surfaces where hurricanes tend to form are warming and that warmth is extra energy that ends up intensifying these storms.)
I agree with you - we need unanimous, drastic action to be immediately taken by all world leaders if we are to minimize the impacts of climate change. We already have island nations that have been displaced or have concrete migration plans in place for when their islands are overtaken by sea-level rise. Much of Bangladesh is not very far above sea level, for instance, and tens of millions of Bangladeshi will likely be displaced by 2100, even if we stop all emissions now. We have dumped enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that we have committed ourselves now to a degree of change that is unavoidable, short of dramatic technological advances. Climate change is also a huge driver of global inequality. There are plenty of wealthy countries around the world that have so far been able to protect low-lying areas from sea-level rise because they have the wealth to build the necessary structures to mitigate the problem, at least until something like an extremely powerful hurricane hits, then you end up with a situation like New Orleans in the wake of Katrina.
We also aren't allocating responsibility for human greenhouse gas emissions fairly. Developing nations are largely being left to fend for themselves as they industrialize; meanwhile, many of the developed nations of the world (who went through their industrialization periods before climate change was on the radar and who now have the wealth and stability to be able to work to lower their emissions) loudly proclaim their accomplishments at reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions. These accomplishments are important, but it needs to be understood that these countries are largely just outsourcing their carbon emissions now. Many consumer electronics purchased in the USA are manufactured overseas. Anything, a television, a laptop, etc. comes with a carbon cost and that cost gets attributed to the country where the item was manufactured. As a result, the USA gets to pretend that they aren't actually responsible for the carbon emissions from the manufacture of imported goods or of the transportation of said goods and the developing nation where those goods were manufactured gets stuck with the bill.
I could go on and on about the potential impacts of climate change. If you want to do a really deep dive, you can check out the IPCC report from Working Group II from 2013 - https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg2/ - this is the section of the IPCC reports that addresses impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. You can read the full report, but it is close to 2,000 pages...the Summary for Policymakers is a great tl;dr. If you're interested in digging in further, Working Group I's report concerns the scientific understanding of climate change and Working Group III's addresses possible mitigation strategies. The sixth assessment report is due to come out later in 2021.
There is also some hope, though...I am going to post this reply and then address that hope in another post because I need to go feed my dog.
Ok, so despite what one might conclude from looking at the timestamps of this and my previous post, it didn't take two hours to feed my dog, I got a little sidetracked.
While we say (and it is true!) that we have committed ourselves to certain levels of impacts of climate change based on what we have done so far, that can change. We currently have the technology to sequester a significant amount of carbon from the atmosphere through various geo- and eco-engineering strategies and we are an inventive species; it's impossible to predict what technological advances we could make in the future as well. We could, through the use of the tools we possess to sequester greenhouse gases and directly reduce the amount of energy the earth receives from the sun, take some degree of control over our climate's trajectory - not enough to halt or reverse it but enough to perhaps apply the brakes a bit and to decrease the severity of its impacts somewhat. Unfortunately, this would require enormous international cooperation, which we don't seem to be capable of.
That has to be one of the best responses I have seen on the subject in a long time. Thank you for that.
You're welcome, and thank you for the kind words!