There are two theories about the decline of the Easter Island native people. The first is ecocide. They cut down or burned all the trees for farmland and moving the statues they built, thus collapsing their ecosystem. The second being, success, they learned to accept less since rats, inadvertently brought to the island on the original explorers’ canoes, thrived by eating the seeds and seedlings of the island’s trees. As a result, human population declined, but the remaining people survived by eating the rats and fewer vegetables. They were adaptive. Wow, such success!
Fast forward to today and our global ecosystem faces a similar risk. As just one example, a scientific publication, reported in the The Guardian, found a 29% decline in bird populations since 1970. Perhaps this is partially due to the insect apocalypse. Hello, is anybody out there? And just as the Easter Islanders could have saved their ecosystem, regardless of which theory is true, they simply accepted their worsening new “normals.” Not us you say? Well, today the United Nations Climate Action Summit is meeting and the president of the United States is elsewhere pandering to his base. Instead, we have a teenager, Greta Thunberg, addressing the body with stern remarks, She castigated world leaders about doing little to alleviate fossil fuel emissions. Then there is the world climate strike, again with youth at the forefront, taking place around the globe.
Unfortunately for us, it very much looks like humanity will accept and adapt to dramatic population decline and scraping by with less. As I have discussed elsewhere, humanity will indeed have to adapt to less, much less. However, if we were to act now we could minimize the effects of climate change, even though these will worsen. But this is unlikely. Shaming adults will have only minimal effects on industrial production. China and India, among other countries, continue burning coal. Auto and aircraft emissions, while cleaner than in the past, are on the rise, due to larger vehicles and increased traffic. Hello, is anybody out there? (Hmm, they must be on another app.)
Humans are making hurricanes worse, as reported in the New York Times. In fairness to us, just imagine when we figured out how to build furnaces and other machines that could harness all that pent up energy in fossil fuels. Wow! All the stuff we could produce. We built better shelter, increased food production, could move us and freight longer distances in far less time (oh, there are a few labor and social issues, but we don’t need to belabor those here). What’s not to love? Well, there are downsides. Human population rapidly increased requiring more fossil fuel energy. Along with this was an increase in our wants, requiring more, you guess it, fossil fuel energy. The results are warming temperatures, expanding landfills, ocean and (somewhat less) air pollution, sea-level rise, more extreme weather, and the sixth extinction of species.
Today we are faced with a choice. Go to negative carbon emissions (i.e., no fossil fuel use and carbon recapture) by 2050 or so or go on as we are doing and run out of resources within the next hundred years, along with the loss of much humanity. It’s a formidable societal “addiction” requiring policymakers willing to risk their careers. You can read more about this elsewhere on my site.
Either way, the earth will survive just fine (at least for the next 500M years).
We humans evolved a short-term focus because it was adaptive to survival prior to industrialization. Unfortunately, our economy has evolved faster than our brains so now we do things that are not in our long-term interests.
Carl Sagan was likely right when he speculated that intelligent life might be self-extinguishing.
Many of us look down upon the Amish for avoiding the use of modern technologies (in fact they use more of it than we think, e.g., they use cell phones, albeit with many restrictions). But in fact, they might be well ahead of the rest of us. As I wrote on my page last year, one way or another we will go from post-industrialization to micro-industrialization once we either stop using fossil fuels, or they run out within the next 100 years. Alternative energies and muscle power simply will not be able to produce nearly the same energy levels that we rely on today.
Although this will be a difficult (catastrophic?) transition, humanity will likely adjust over the following 100 years, with a much larger proportion of people farming any remaining arable land.
Strange as it might sound, this part of the business community might be more effective at slowing climate change than our federal government. Aside for higher costs for flood insurance, I foresee exclusions for rebuilding in flood-prone areas. In other words, you would be compensated by your flood insurance only if you rebuilt/ purchased elsewhere.
Yet another major report documents the effects of climate change. Although there are many local and regional initiatives around the world that will slow this down a bit, a concerted world initiative is necessary to stop the sixth extinction. I do not see this as likely to happen, given that it has to start now. The result will be a great die-off, including some of humanity. Although the developing countries will be most affected, many in the developed world will be affected by mid-century–just thirty or so years away.
And to think that we did this in about 170 years (in the “blink of a geological eye”).
Since the 1980s computer model projections of climate change have underestimated this event. With greater advances in our understanding of the greenhouse’s effect on environmental change we have been able to make what scientists believe to be more accurate projections. However, recent radar studies of Antarctic ice mentioned in this New York Times article show there are likely more factors we are not aware of.
In this case we learn that warming ocean waters have created a huge cavity beneath one of Antartica’s ice sheets. Since most of this sheet lies above the ocean, if and when it breaks off, it could raise sea-level by as much as two feet within a short period of time–threatening coastal cities and many islands across the world.
As many environmental scientists have proposed, climate change might reach thresholds (i.e., tipping points) where unanticipated sudden catastrophic events might occur.
It is counter intuitive but shorter, warmer winters bring intense cold snaps. These strain everything from railroad tracks to our energy bills. As we heat more, further CO2 is emitted, worsening the greenhouse effect.