2020 update: Articles citing credible studies continue to confirm dire conclusions that I previously presented. If we have such a hard time getting people to wear masks in the midst of a pandemic, how are we to address climate change where we need to achieve zero emissions by 2050?
How we live is likely to greatly change.
As I said in my post of 10/16/2018, Wind, Rain, and Climate Change, tropical storm Michael dropped about 1.5 inches of rain overnight in Norfolk, VA when I was at the Association for Applied & Clinical Sociology meeting (AACS). Although this is a significant rainfall, it should not cause flooding in most instances. However, according to Wetlands Watch, sea-level rise in Norfolk is already 1.5 feet higher (twice the global average) than in 1880. As a result, just a little rain or storm surge is a problem. I walked through some of the waterfront area the next day (Saturday, Oct. 13). Many of the low-lying streets were partially flooded, as you can see in the photos.
The following two photos show the same flood area from opposite angles. You can see that the river is over the barrier.
Here are some of the statistical highlights from my presentation. Since 1880:
- average global temperature has increased 0.8° C
- average sea-level has risen 8 inches
- greenhouse gases from fossil fuels comprise 25% of all CO2.
Although world population growth rate has declined from 2.2% in 1962 to 1.1% in 2014, world population continues to grow at a rapid rate.
Global energy demand continues to rise (2017 grew at twice the rate of 2016).
If burned at current rates:
- Coal will run out in about 100 years.
- Natural gas will run out in 53 years.
- Oil will run out in 51 years.
While we have made great inroads on infectious disease, a warming climate will reverse this trend. To address this in light of dwindling energy resources, a national health care policy should focus on:
- putting a greater proportion of resources into primary care and public health
- fewer resources on expensive tertiary care (e.g., surgeries)
- developing new generation antibiotics for resistant bacteria.
We are currently undergoing the sixth extinction in earth’s history. If this continues, the earth will see a major transition in life on the planet (possibly without humans), much as happened during the fifth extinction that killed off the dinosaurs, allowing the evolutionary development of mammals and eventually, us.
To minimize the effects of climate change (we cannot prevent it at this point), we need to carry out three multinational policies within the next few years:
- develop/implement carbon capture technologies (i.e., extract CO2 from the atmosphere and store it underground)
- dramatically reduce fossil fuel energy (via carbon taxes and other government regulations)
- improve and rapidly deploy renewable energy technologies.
Unfortunately, I do not see how this can happen given current global politics. However, whether or not fossil fuel energy reduction happens, we will be transitioning from predominately manufacturing and post-industrial societies to micro-industrial societies.
What might micro-industrialization look like? It is hard to say since how we will utilize diminished energy resources is as much a political question as it is an engineering one. A New York Times article gives us a glimpse of how micro-industrialization might start.
As much as I think renewable energy is all we can depend on, it is highly unlikely that it can replace the output of fossil fuels, at least in the near future. “Dead dinosaurs” simply produce unsurpassed energy outputs (try flying aircraft with solar). We can say that the mass production of automobiles or any other such product would be out of the question. We would likely allocate limited resources (not just energy) to the production of clothing, food, and housing. Some argue for space mining. However, this is highly unrealistic based on costs. Think of the space stations launched with living quarters not much larger than a school bus. These were so expensive that they required international cooperation. Even if cost was not a factor, we would need to launch hundreds of rockets annually (and return the mined resources), releasing ever more CO2 into the atmosphere. The likely reality is that we will be stuck with the resources on our rock.
Therefore, it appears that as we look back and consider the scientific evidence, large-scale industrialization is to the economy as sugar is to an organism. It provides a short-term energy boost. Unfortunately, fossil fuel energy is not sustainable because of pollution, climate change, and dwindling resources. Our great run of the last 150 years is ending and we need to implement a grand plan, soon.
Yes, this is bleak news on a grand scale; climate change will severely affect our youth. Certainly many will take issue with these results. However, if they do, they have to present a sound argument based on the data produced by reputable scientific organizations. Saying they do not believe prevailing scientific conclusions is their right, but their opinion or feeling does not a rebuttal make.
You can see my entire AACS presentation, along with the scientific data sources, on Dropbox.