Monday, February 12, 2007

A hot, dry, but golden age?

David Seaton's News Links
There is something about global warming that reminds me of that moment when Reagan told Gorbachev that the cold war would be forgotten in an instant if the earth were invaded by creatures from outer space. It sounded like the onset of Alzheimer's at the time, but at this moment of raised climate consciousness and of Reagan-revisionism it could easily be seen in another, more benevolent light.

With global warming it seems we have actually invaded ourselves from outer space. So, in fact, we are moving into Reagan's dream scenario, with its opportunity for humanity to put aside its quarrels and work together to save our common space.

Seen from that point of view, instead of being at the gates of hell, we might be on the threshold of a golden age ... A very hot, very dry, very flooded, very austere, but very golden age of brotherhood, solidarity and cooperation. Hot and dry it going to be anyway... so we might as well make the best of it. DS

Zakaria: Unfortunately, We Can’t Stop Global Warming - Newsweek

In an intelligent, practical speech last September, the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Frances Cairncross, urged that we begin such a discussion. "We need to think about policies that prepare for a hotter, drier world, especially in poor countries," she said. "That may involve, for instance, developing new crops, constructing flood defenses, setting different building regulations or banning building close to sea level." She points out that adaptation programs could move forward fast. Unlike plans to slow down global warming, which require massive and simultaneous international efforts, adaptation strategies can be pursued by individual countries, states, cities and localities. Three years ago the Pew Foundation sponsored an excellent study, "Coping With Global Climate Change," which focused on the role of adaptation. The report found that moving in this direction would be costly and fraught with uncertainty and error. Yet, the authors point out, humankind's long history has shown it's possible; we have adapted as the environment around us has changed. The costs of relocating seaside communities are extremely high, but they will be even higher if we wait 20 years. The most important conclusion of the Pew study was that early planning is far more effective than managing the consequences of a breakdown. In other words, strengthening the levees in New Orleans costs much, much less than rebuilding the city. READ IT ALL


RLaing said...

Golden? You're carrying wishful thinking to an extreme.

Take Mr. Raygun's fanciful scenario. An alien invasion might have the desirable side-effect of pulling humanity together, but the numbskull forgot the awful core effect of being attacked by aliens. If I were in the shoes (or tentacle sheaths) of these hypothetical aliens, and wanted the Earth for whatever reason, I'd open my campaign by simply waiting for the Earth to swing around the other side of the sun, and then place a few hundred thousand well-sized rocks in the orbital path. Overnight, this could take out every good-sized urban centre, plus drive a lot of dust into the air and make the weather totally suck for as long as I needed it to suck to get reduce the human infestation to near zero, all without allowing them even to know that I exist. In movies, where Mr. Brain-dead used to live his whole life, scripts about alien invaders leave out the near certainty that the alien attackers would win.

In the past, ages have been 'golden' to the extent that they have had 'prosperity'. I don't think anybody with sense is predicting that global climate change is going to bring prosperity. Throw in declining petroleum stocks, and collapsing ocean fertility, and what you have is not a recipe for a 'golden age', but instead a very nasty 'bottleneck'.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Tim Burton really defined the alien invasion scenario best.

As to a "golden age" without prosperity. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the technology we are using to communicate here doesn't use much energy nor does it contaminate the ozone layers. Instead of a consumer society we could have socialism, with everybody getting enough to eat, with enormous free access to all the cultural and intellectual treasures of humanity... Reading books, listening to music, looking at paintings, making love are all lots of fun and needn't be that expensive... it could be fun.

RLaing said...

Internet energy usage is, according to the Journal of Industiral Ecology, somewhere in the neighborhood of damned-if-we- know, further research needed, blah-blah.

But you're right, we could all have a good life in a different world, just not this one.

Our present numbers might be sustainable, if we all had the ethos of Kalahari bushmen. The level of consumption at which consumption appears to top out of its own accord might be sustainable, if we had the numbers of Kalahari bushmen.

I've always thought that this is the real problem humanity faces, and the one that makes all the others intractable: we have never developed any way to control numbers * consumption--nature has always done that for us, same as every other living thing.

And we've only slipped the leash temporarily. Industrial (and other) technological revolutions plus the discovery of immense fossil resources, have allowed the species to move into this present zone of exponential growth. Unfortunately, the cream of those fossil resources is on schedule to be exhausted within a generation or two at most.

Exponential growth in nature will typically hit its limits at top speed, overshoot wildly, discover the void beneath, and then plunge downward with terrifying speed. We are also, near as I can make out, on schedule for that.

So here's the real deal: the 'golden age' is now, and it's happening to you and me.

To see what I mean, imagine if you could see the past and future history of this human growth curve plotted out against time, and had the luxury of choosing to place your own lifetime on it, as well as picking your socio-economic class to within a percent or two. The best class is obviously at the top; but the best time (not so obviously) is just before the abyss opens up.

My idea of optimism is that this will turn out to be a pretty decent description of where I actually am.