There is much fear and hype going around about climate change, on both sides. So let’s see if we can cut through some of this, establish some rational facts, and discuss what this means.
FACT: Global temperature is currently changing faster than at any time in the last 50 million years.
It is also predicted to change nearly as much by the end of this century as in the entire 5000 year period after the last ice age. This is a measurable fact, whether you believe the cause is man-made, a natural event, or both.
FACT: For all practical purposes, the root cause is now probably irrelevant.
If this is a naturally occurring event, then there is nothing we can do to stop it. If it is man-made, then stopping it is equally impossible, because most of the coming change is either already programmed in, or we would have to take measures arguably as destabilizing as climate change itself (e.g., stop all CO2 production today) to make a difference. Not going to happen. Arguing about it now is like court-marshaling the captain of the Titanic while the ship was sinking: it’s distracting from the bigger picture of survival.
FACT: This does not mean we should just continue to spew CO2.
Regardless of the cause of climate change, society as a whole would be better served if we moved to a decentralized power infrastructure less reliant on burning fossil fuels. There is much evidence to support the fact that we have already found all the easy oil, so continued dependence is going to require ever more destructive and energy intensive methods to extract it. We have large supplies of coal and natural gas, but extraction methods for these are destructive, as well. A decentralized infrastructure built on smaller, renewable energy sources would be both more fault tolerant with respect to climate change, and easier on the environment in general.
FACT: Whatever the cause, whatever is going to happen, this will not mean the end of the Earth, or even humanity.
There is evidence to support that an enormous volcanic explosion in Sumatra some 70,000 years ago wiped all but less than 10,000 Homo sapiens off the entire planet. If we have proven anything over the last million years or so, it is that we are a phenomenally resilient and adaptable species. Even if all that remains is a small town in the mid-west, humanity will survive to fight another day.
FACT: Things might get dark for a while, though.
Although humanity will survive, a great many of the underpinnings of our society will not. Things will be changing much faster than we have ever experienced in modern human society; certainly faster than the systems that keep much of it going can adapt. Even “moderate” scenarios are forecasting the inland migration of hundreds of millions of “environmental refugees”, world-wide. In the U.S., this will be happening at the same time that the central part of the country will be experiencing desertification conditions much worse than the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. Therefore, the areas in between the coasts and the middle part of the country will experience a population influx from both directions, stressing food production, water production, and power production beyond their respective carrying capacities. A lot of infrastructure is going to break, and a lot of it will stay broken due to shifting priorities.
FACT: We have time to prepare; but sooner rather than later.
In a previous post, I discussed “riding the curve down” as a strategy, and I believe this is still the best way to go. Things are not going to break tomorrow, or even next week. There is no need to sell everything and move to an underground missile silo. There is no need to pack up and move to the mountains, Jeremiah Johnson style. But destabilizing events are going to start rapidly ramping up over the next decade or two, and a controlled deleveraging towards self-sufficiency and adaptable living is probably a smart way to go. In other words, figure out how to pack light, live with a reduced energy footprint, and plan for mobility.
FACT: Those who embrace change and adapt will fare better than those who worship mythology.
There is no superman, nor is there a super technology out there that is going to painlessly keep things unchanged. Denial is not going to magically make the problem go way. The only thing that will save us going forward is the only thing that has saved us in the past: our ability to collectively work together to solve problems. Those who accept the change and prepare for it will find themselves leading the charge towards whatever new state in which humanity finds itself. Those who waste time praying for someone to save them will suffer the most.
FINAL FACT: There are, and will be, plenty of opportunities out there for people, of all ages and stripes, who can help society make as soft a landing as possible.
Go find them. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather lead on my feet, than follow on my knees.