A Tragedy of The Horizon

Nov 17, 2015

How Climate Change is not just a tragedy of the commons.

I was watching a You Tube video of the director of Lloyd's of London insurance group speaking on the problem of Global Warming. He spoke about the commonly use phrase "Tragedy of Common's" and said Global Climate Change represented much more then that, it is a "Tragedy of the Horizon". By that he went on to say, I mean it is tragedy for future generations. I think it is important for us to begin to think of it like that.

Here I sit at my computer writing this blog in the middle of November, 2015, in the end times, pondering this strange year we call 2015.

The Tyndale Center in the UK just announced that the global average temperature has climbed to 1.0 C from the previously quoted 0.85 C because of the record high temperatures in 2014 and 2015. It has been stated to be 0.85 C for a long time now it seems to me.

It has been a strange ride for the last several years really, but this year has been winning the prize. There were so many Typhoons lined up in the Pacific Ocean this year, I lost track of them. The Philippines seems to have cross-hairs on it for Typhoons of record violence. Then there was Typhoon Patricia which set a all time record for intensity in the hours before landfall. Fortunately it hit in a underpopulated area of the coast of Mexico and did little real damage, before losing energy in the mountainous terrain, just interior to land fall.

I can not get the picture out of my head, of the last woman on Earth in a Global Climate Apocalypse, who gives up hope and wanders out of her underground bunker somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, to die in the 100 degree heat, the 90% relative humidity, and ionizing radiation emitted from the 400 plus abandoned nuclear power plants. The problem with this scene in my head, is that it is from a science fiction story I have written (Titled "Tikopia IV") but not published yet. This scene I created haunts me, I need to finish this book.

The premise of Tikopis IV is of a humanity a quarter million strong, inhabiting a giant ark space ship making their way to the star Tau Ceti, to a planet there like earth, fit for habitation. The story is about what happened on Earth to cause this migration, and how this migration was accomplished. The rules needed on board to keep a society of 250,000 people in a sustainable manner for 1,000 years, ready to colonize another planet, and to not repeat the mistakes made on Earth. The story turns out in the end to be just a feverish dream of the last women on earth versed in this knowledge. When she awakes and realizes the finality of her situation, she just wanders out of her protective habitat to end it all.

What could bring humanity to such an extinction? Twelve years ago when I started writing, I had to gloss over this part. Now days, all I have to do is read the reports, listen to the various videos and presentations, to plot a perfectly plausible pathway in my non fiction/SciFi story. It has become a alarmingly easy task. I need to rewrite many part of this book (and the ending) to put this book together, but it is not for lack of proper suspension of disbelief that I have not finished this story. It is more like a problem of willing myself to do it.

So what has happened to create such a malaise in me? It is caused by the cogent facts that you will not see on the regular news, but that are out there, if you are really willing to pry and poke around a bit. I just finished reading a new book titled "Climate Crash". It is about the paleo-climate record that is showing us unequivocally that climate change is not a linear process. This came up over 30 years ago when researchers discovered the Younger Dryas. The Earth had come out of a Ice Age 12,000 years ago and warmed up, then in a period of 13 year just plunged back into a Ice Age for another 1,200 years. There are warming events called Dansguaard Oeschger Events which turned up in the Ice and Sediment records that were just a quick (20 years or less). For some reason the Earth's climate can be stable for long periods of time, but when it does change it can change quickly, well within a human lifetime. There just are not the gradual linear slow climate changes in the record to match the IPCC prediction scenarios.

So here we find ourselves living on a planet with seven billion other human being, with only about half of them living a so called modern industrial living standard. As a species we have only been using fossil fuels to power our society for about 300 years, and only using this concentrated power on a massive scale for 100 years. The CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased the percentage of this heat trapping gas in the atmosphere by about 30%. A good pre-industrial figure would be 280 ppm, we just crossed the 400 ppm threshold this year. The average temperature of only 1.0 C over baseline seems to be causing some serious mayhem.

A partial list of this mayhem would include, sea level rise, major loss of the summer Arctic sea ice, massive melting of the Greenland ice sheets, a slowing down of the AMOC current, increased frequency and severity of storms, droughts, forest fires, warming oceans, ocean acidification, loss of bio diversity and the 6th Extinction. As if all that is not bad enough, now we seem to have triggered major releases of Methane from the arctic Continental Shelves, and the permafrost.

Just when you don't think the news can get any worse something new comes along to tell you things are much worse then you thought. The latest is global dimming from the aerosols we put into the atmosphere from power plants. If we clean up the power plants, or discontinue using them, the loss of the cooling effect they provide is worth another 0.5 C of warming at least.

So, here we are ready for a Paris Climate Change meeting of the world powers to decide what? The stated goal is to limit global warming to 2.0 C. But we are already half way there. Turns out we can not do this even if all the world powers agreed to aggressively reduce carbon output by several percent per year with a ten year goal of a 80% reduction. The best we can hope for is 2.7 C even if we did this, which we can not do, which we are unlikely to even pledge to do, let alone attempt.

The wild card in this deck of horrors is the Arctic Methane. A fifty gigaton release of this molecule with warming potentials of 30X to 100X of CO2 depending on the time frame you are talking about could double the current warming in a few years. Arctic amplification due to melting ice virtually assures there is much more Methane to come, it is just nobody knows how much how soon.

You may have been hearing the term "Abrupt Climate Change" recently thinking it is just another phrase that the climate science has coined, but it is not. It is the term applied to these abrupt climate change events we are seeing in the paleo-climate record. The Younger Dryas, and the Dansguaard Oeschger Events are abrupt climate change. They are trying to tell us we are in the middle of a Abrupt Climate Event right now. It is not just another coined phrase.

So, what kind of world am I talking about that represents a Tragedy of the Horizon for our children and grandchildren? The honest answer is no one knows for sure. This global catastrophe experiment just has never been performed before. We do know it ain't good. Loss of habitat for humans will be our Achilles Heel.

You often hear Panglossian Futurist blithely talking about a hi tech future where we will be supporting 9 billion people, not the 7 billion people we can not adequately provide for now. Change the climate and you change where it is possible to grow the primary food crops we grow now, like Corn, Wheat, Rice, you name it, will become less tenable to grow outdoors. If we can not grow these crops outdoors, stick a fork in us, we are done.

I wish I had some upbeat way to end this blog but I don't. Global Climate Change represents a existential threat to humanity, and to future generations. To put it even more succinctly, it just may represent our extinction. Our extinction not in a hundred years or more, but in thirty years or less. Why would I say such a thing you ask?

If we are in Abrupt Climate Change, and all the evidence says we are, the climate could easily warm by 5.0 C by 2030. Not the gradual warming you see on the graphs of 3 to 4 C in the next 85 years, but a rapid 4 C warming over the next 15 years. The good news is the climate could stabilize at 5 C and stay there for quite awhile. We have seen such new stabilization plateaus in the record. The bad news is we don't have any record of humans being on the planet at 3.0 C above baseline.

I think Guy McPherson is right. There really is only one course in the face of such disquieting information. That is to try to live a life of excellence. To enjoy everyday, and spread some love around. We live in some interesting times, too interesting for my taste, but as the comedian Jerry Seinfeld said "It is, what it is", and I along with him, do not even know what that means?

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