“Facing the Next Fifty Years: Global Warming,” by Abiezer Coppe

Climate change is killing 150,000 people a year now. That is the estimate of the World Health Organization for the year 2000, and now it is ten years out of date. So let us double that:

The once in a thousand year 2010 Moscow Heatwave caused an estimated 15,000 deaths.

For the “we have nothing to do with it” global warming deniers, here is a little primer on the current state of the science.

The science is already in.

There are metacommentaries on Russia’s heatwave here and here.

Climate records are being broken all over the world this year.

This is the actuality. It does matter. We can, all of us as individuals, do something.

Stopping global warming is actually a dream from which some of us still have to awake: it is more realistic to prepare ourselves and our society for the shocks that will inevitably come by practicing bioresilience. Our extraordinary adaptability as a species will be tested to the utmost in the next one hundred years. We have never had a challenge like it in the history of mankind.

Slowing the rate of growth of human carbon emissions (the global economic recession did so last year, although I see no real evidence at the level of political leaderships to cut carbon emissions) is one goal for the political elites, with eventual cuts at some unspecified date in the future, but a reduction of carbon emissions by 90% is actually what we must aim at as a society, which involves almost inconceivable transformations in the way we live, work, eat, travel and generate energy. A worldwide citizens’ movement is our tool.

We shall still move to a hotter world, but one that we shall survive, with far more modest and local lifestyles. We/I will also make the spiritual shift in our/my consciousness, and create new ways for ourselves/myself and our/my children to connect with and appreciate the beauties of nature in our over-informatized and mediatized world. Spiritual shift has now become a categorical imperative. Be the change you want to see. May I be the change I want to see…in me and in my world.

We have the luxury, in the privileged West, of having a little bit of potential space in our lives to accomplish this. If you are starving, drowning (as in Bangladesh and Pakistan), living at the edge of subsistence (Mali, Niger and Southern Sudan) and walking 12 miles a day simply to fetch water, there is much less space.

And the very poor are not producing the carbon emissions. It is us, in the developed world. I am not asking for guilt or a hair shirt: I am asking for awareness. And action. From myself, and from you!

Too much information, especially about such an explosive topic, actually creates anxiety and depression: have you noticed? I did in 2006, when I studied global warming nonstop for months. Too much (usually poor quality) information is actually the curse of our world: paying it too much attention creates a state of no peace.

Therefore we/I need to learn new ways to care for ourselves/myself, as we/I reconnect with the warp and weft of our ineffably beautiful and breathtaking living planet.

In time, perhaps, too, biodiversity will start to return to a planet currently in the sixth great extinction crisis of its long geological history. We need not be a plague on the planet. It is not our purpose here.

Once we come from a place of deeper peace and connection in ourselves, we rule out fear and chase it from our bodily abode: we then inspire others to seek that as well. Our activism has a more transformational quality on all around us. I have much to learn, much to heal, and much to change in myself.

Most campaigners, and part of the scientific community (James Hansen in particular), think that emissions cuts should begin at the latest by 2015. With the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition in power until then, we certainly have our work cut out.

“Business as usual” = civilizational collapse, sooner or later. And unimaginable human suffering. The suffering of Pakistan at the moment, but multiplied a million fold…

If you do not care, do not have children. They may not forgive you. Consciousness is rising about the scale of the challenge we face.

If you wish to be up to date on the subject of global warming, read the scientists! I suggest here and the NOAA, plus the climate progress website mentioned above.

I read them, and I am not a scientist.

The human race currently emits 29 billion tons (29 gigatons – more here) of carbon a year. And we do not do it by breathing or farting alone!

We have multiplied our biological carbon emissions as a species many fold through the development of technology, which required the burning of fossil fuels, the ancient sunlight of antiquity. Thus we become our own Nemesis.

It is difficult to point to any aspect of our current material lives that is not dependent on fossil fuels in some way, from plastic bags to cheap food.

We are changing the climate, and without global carbon emission reductions there is a point of no return, where positive feedbacks kick in and carbon emissions from natural processes such as the melting of the subarctic tundra, the loss of arctic sea ice in summer, and the burning of the world’s forests, start to render annual human emissions almost insignificant, kicking global warming into high gear.

We have – perhaps – a little window of opportunity now. It is human to hope. Nobody knows how long we have. It seems, from my many years of reading on the subject of global warming, that the window will certainly close by 2030.

And that date is based on the most optimistic of all projections.

When the climate “tipping points” are passed (the scientific consensus – but no one really knows – is that this starts to happen at 1.5 to 2 degrees centigrade above preindustrial global temperatures: we are currently 0.8 degrees Centigrade above), we are in for a very rough ride indeed.

That article is from yesterday’s UK newspaper, The Independent.

Given the current levels of urgency regarding this issue on the part of the global elites, runaway global warming is currently more likely than not.

Anthropogenic global warming has the potential to be the new global genocide. A genocide of the poor by the richest countries, with the highest per capita output of carbon emissions. Ask a Pakistani farmer in Sindh province how he is doing at the moment, and what his prospects are for 2011.

With runaway climate change, civilization will collapse, and there will – at some point after 2050 – be a catastrophic collapse in the global human population in the “business as usual” scenario (I do not like James Lovelock’s politics at all, but in that sense he is hard to contradict). For more on this, see Anatoly Karlin’s review of Six Degrees, by Mark Lynas.

It is a very graphic and a very detailed description, degree by degree of global warming above pre-industrial levels, of how human-induced global warming is changing the world we live in. And the précis saves you reading the book.

By 2020, at the current 0.2 degrees Centigrade of global warming per decade, we shall have passed the threshold of 1 degree of global warming globally since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Here is Anatoly Karlin’s summary of one degree of global warming.

One Degree

Though the Great Plains are one of the world’s great agricultural breadbaskets, a desert slumbers underneath. Increased dessication and pummeling storms will erode away the thin topsoil, recreating the Dust Bowl on a giant scale and re-awakening the sand dunes. More irrigation will only postpone the inevitable. There will be large-scale migration to the wetter Mid-West and Great Lakes regions. AK: actually called the Great American Desert during the 19th century!, and is now dependent on depleting Oglalla Aquifer.

Higher rainfall, glacial melt and strengthening Siberian rivers may interrupt the Gulf Stream (part of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation system), drying western Europe and cooling it by as much as 2 C – recreating the conditions of the Little Ice Age during the worst winters. However, most models predict this will be a slow death. AK: If not, expect increased European dependency on Russian gas during the 2010′s and 2020′s.

In Africa, Kilimanjaro will lose its remaining ice by 2020 – causing wildfires, fish stock declines and problems with hydroelectricity production. Based on paleoclimate, in the long term, there will be a greening of the Sahara (into a savanna) and an enlarged Lake Chad…however, models say that there will only be a short interlude of heavier rains in the Sahel and on the West African coast, followed by even fiercer drought.

Coral reefs around the world will be increasingly bleached and taken over by seaweed; polar bears are pushed off the top of the world and creatures like pikas are shoved off the planet, accelerating the Anthropocene Mass Extinction event. Hurricanes will become stronger and more ubiquitous, spreading to the South Atlantic. More rockfalls in the Alps. Increased incidence of drought in the Amazon, pushing it to the brink. Atolls become doomed worlds, fated to submerge amidst the rising waves.

It will have taken around 250 years for a one degree rise in the mean global temperature to occur. However, climate dynamics are like a slumbering beast. There is a great deal of inertia locked into the system. First, there is very good evidence that the level of greenhouse gases being added to the atmosphere is itself rising. Secondly, the rate of global warming has been speeding up. Therefore we can, optimistically, expect the second degree of global warming after 2050, even with a concerted scaleback in emissions. That is within my children’s lifetime.

Now read Karlin’s summary of two degrees. Many of us will live to see this. At 0.3 degrees centigrade of increase in the global mean temperature per decade, two degrees arrives in 2053. A “climatic flip” is also possible: a sudden, dramatic acceleration, leading to climate collapse, from our perspective. The British Meteorological Office considers four degrees of global warming a possibility by 2060:

Now read Karlin on four degrees of global change. Are we not living through a planetary emergency?

Please read Anatoly Karlin’s review of Lynas if you read nothing else I reference. It is a glimpse into the uncertain future toward which we are headed, with no stars to steer by.

Global capitalism requires 3% compound growth to continue in existence, as David Harvey explains here in 3 parts. Capitalism must expand, or die. Both natural and institutional limits to the self-reproduction of Capital are a mortal threat to its very being. 3% compound growth, and our additional numbers, explain why the human species has moved from using 62% of planetary biocapacity in 1961 to 144% of planetary biocapacity in 2006. Is your country living within the mercy of its ecological means? Check the ecological footprint network atlas.

Not sustainable, and not a good outlook for the species. “No future, no future, no future for me,” as the Sex Pistols once sang.

I suspect, therefore, that the answer to human survival in this century and the next, and a civilizational level higher than that described in the visionary and beautiful written novel of our potential future in a much warmer world, Far North by Marcel Theroux, lies in a re-visioning and implementation of communism.

Read it and see what you think; then comment.

Despite the 20th century deviation of Communism from its original envisioning by Marx and Engels and the ecological disasters of the Eastern Bloc, Mao’s China and the Soviet Union, Marx’s vision of post-scarcity communism was profoundly ecological.

Cuba is the only country in the world today that lives within its ecological limits (page 14).

I find it very heartening that there remains one country in the world that has, largely by default, found a sustainable way to live, and that it is, with all its human rights and politico-economic flaws, a non-capitalist country.

Cuba is a glimmer of hope in a world ruled by the mantras of greed and growth. But not the only one by any means. People are waking up all over the world. Morales’ Bolivia, one of poorest countries in the world, and heavily dependent on extractive mining, has produced one of the most visionary ecological statements of the last year (to find it go to the Climate and Capitalism website).

Hope was the last thing left in the Greek myth of Pandora’s box, which we have, in the course of industrial civilization, unknowingly thrown open wide.

May we not let hope fly away altogether: this is my prayer for my children and yours, their children and your grandchildren.

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5 thoughts on ““Facing the Next Fifty Years: Global Warming,” by Abiezer Coppe”

  1. You may not get too many replies over the next few days, AC, considering this is Labor Day weekend in the States. I look forward to checking this out when I get back into town 10 days or so from now.

    Cheers!

    1. This is very much an occasional piece, not a scholarly article, but finally knocked into shape I think. It’s just over two thousand words long.

      Does it hang together? Writing well is so difficult. The latter – a scholarly piece – would take months and months of preparation, as well as peer review. I doubt very much whether I would be up to the task, as I am a modern languages graduate, not a scientist or even a mathematician.

      By spiritual I mean the aesthetic, social and political values by which we live. Nothing to do with a deity.

      They have to change from greed, individualism and self-seeking to collective consciousness, practical solidarity and thrift. Not an easy task, especially in 50 years, when the values penetrating the West since the Renaissance have been accumulative, hedonistic, divisive, and productive of loneliness.

      Similarly the word prayer is used in an entirely secular way, to mean “positive wish, positive imagining”. I believe it can be used that way. Liable to confuse atheists though, and I am perfectly happy for it and the word spiritual to be understood religiously by the religious. That is part of the wonderful ambiguity of language. It is a song with a slightly different meaning for each individual.

      Karlin’s conceptions, on his “sublime oblivion” website, have nothing to do with anything we understand by communism as practised in the Eastern Bloc, China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Vietnam. He may just have some very good ideas.

  2. ‘By spiritual I mean the aesthetic, social and political values by which we live. Nothing to do with a deity.’

    I think we don’t need to complicate things more than it’s complicated, also we don’t need to appear as sophisticated- as we have already wrecked human thoughts with enough “sophisticated” stuff. Why don’t we define Spiritual as anything that’s not physical? Why don’t we look at it from its own key hole, that is, from our inner and immaterial vision. If we manage to get this vision or call it whatever out from our inners, it’s up to individuals to link it to Gods, trees, water, life, animals or even the beyond….. or anything!

    ‘ They have to change from greed, individualism and self-seeking to collective consciousness, practical solidarity and thrift. Not an easy task, especially in 50 years. when the values penetrating the West since the Renaissance have been hedonistic, divisive, and productive of loneliness.

    Similarly the word prayer is used in an entirely secular way, to mean “positive wish, positive imagining”.’

    Maybe in the English language! It’s a bit more than that in other languages, in Arabic for instance, however, I see your point. Again, it is quite individual as with all of us (which is normal) to define things differently, that what makes me different from you I believe it can be used that way. Liable to confuse atheists though (I like that, when atheists and scientists get more confused).

    ‘ and I am perfectly happy for it and the word spiritual to be understood religiously by the religious. That is part of the wonderful ambiguity of language (is it ambiguity or interpretations?) . It is a song with a slightly different meaning for each individual (I very much agree with you and I like this one, it explains a lot).’

  3. Your post is getting too long, Jacob. People’s attention span is short nowadays Will anyone read it? I like Anatoly Karlin’s writing a lot as well. This post is great:

    http://www.sublimeoblivion.com/2010/01/04/green-communism/

    – a vision of a world state based on informatized central planning, universal sousveillance, and ecotechnic spirituality driving the transition to ecological sustainability.

    The best Anthropogenic Global Warming sceptic book is

    Chill, A Reassessment of Global Warming Theory: Does Climate Change Mean the World is Cooling, and If So What Should We Do About It? by Peter Taylor (Paperback – 26 May 2009).

    He does not represent any special interests, he is an environmentalist but not a climatologist, and he lacks scientific credentials in the field of climate dynamics. Thought provoking and troubling, nonetheless….

    But read it alongside:

    Global Warming, the Complete Briefing, by John Houghton,

    Climate Change: Picturing the Science by Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe.

    The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate (Science Essentials) by David Archer

    Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity by James Hansen.

    Hell and High Water: The Global Warming Solution, by Joseph Romm

    – another good American book with a pro-capitalist, pro-nuclear perspective.

    If you read these six books you will have a conspectus of viewpoints on global warming, from the intelligent sceptic and to the most alarmed climatologist.

    I am, clearly, like you, at the more alarmed end of the global warming spectrum…

    Professor James Lovelock’s last three books are more poetic, less rigorous and Cassandra like but worth reading, because he writes well.

    James Lovelock is pro the nuclear generation of electricity, advocating a major programme of building nuclear power stations (France’s ecological footprint is less than that of the UK partly because so large a proportion of that country’s electricity generation is from nuclear reactors), and accepts the politico-economic status quo.

    He was an enthusiastic supporter of Margaret Thatcher.

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