Life With Global Warming…

This post is pretty off-center with this blog. It is not a technology, geeky, Linux solution article. Instead, I am writing it to organize my thoughts, and to see if anyone has good answers for some bad questions. You see, I worry more and more about global warming.

I have never been an environmental activist, nor a staunch advocate of unchecked corporate growth and the unrestricted consumption of natural resources that might imply. I am just some guy in the middle, living in a complex world, making ends meet in a small, safe, comfortable job. My endgame is providing for my family, and my children’s families down the road. I do not have any other agenda or cause, other than to enjoy life with my family for as long as I can.

I have always wanted to see humanity move towards more eco-friendly technology solutions, however. There is an elegance in a technology that can replace the powerful (but polluting) methods of production, transportation, and communication we currently reply upon, but in a cleaner fashion that does not deplete natural resources. Seems like we still have a long way to go on this, though. But we are slowly getting closer….

What worries me more and more is this: what kind of world will our kids have to live in? Our kids. All of us. We have never actually witnessed an episode of global warming on the scale that seems to be coming down the pike at us, and we do not actually know how this particular snake is going to turn. Will it happen slowly over 50 to 100 years and give us time to adapt? Will it accelerate unexpectedly, with savage weather phenomena severely damaging infrastructure and economies? Will it cross the threshold of no return, or will it appear (in a few thousand years) to be nothing more than one of dozens of climate cycles that occur every few million years, only one caused or worsened by mankind?

These are big questions that I am pretty sure no one can answer with certainty. Our world is tremendously complex at any scale – there is still a lot we either do not understand or are unaware of. But a punch is a punch, and you owe it to yourself to at least try to duck it. I think it is too late to change behaviors (not that we shouldn’t try anyway) – too many folks would have to do so, and as the developed world just starts to trade in the bad habits for good ones (recycling, conservation, car-pooling, etc.), it seems that the developing world is all too happy to pick them up in their quest for prosperity and national power. It is the easy way out, and for many, the only way out of poverty, famine, and conflict. When you are surviving, recycling, saving the rainforests, and cutting back on pollution probably doesn’t seem all that important.

So, bottom line, I think humanity is going to get punched, hard. Soon. My bet is that it will happen harder, faster, and worse than we anticipate, with many secondary and tertiary effects as yet unknown just adding to the mess (but not like that movie, “The Day After Tomorrow”, of course – that was just nuts). I have hope that it will not be irreversible, because the earth has shown a pretty remarkable resilience in repairing itself, and we can be pretty clever at surviving and thriving when we need to be. But we are going to have to live with this bugbear, no doubt about it.

Which leads me to my big question – how do you prepare for it? What will “it” look like? What defensive measures can you take in the face of this? Can you count on the world warming up? If so, won’t ocean levels rise due to melting polar ice? How fast would it happen? Coastal flooding would close down many major airports, making smaller inland hubs both critical to moving goods and people and too small for the job. Ports would be lost under water. Rail lines and roads would be cut off. A whole LOT of rerouting and flood control would have to be done, and fast.

Or will things cool off, due to increased cloud cover blocking sunlight? Would a minor (few hundred years) ice age result? Would that purge the excess CO2 in the atmosphere? Some recent news points to the oceans becoming saturated, which would tend to make them more acidic. Won’t that affect the food chain, from smallest to largest (do algae like extra CO2)? Added to that the effects of less sunlight and cooler temperatures on crops, and doesn’t that point to a possible global food shortage?

What about the weather in either case? I do not think anyone has any illusions about it being nice and friendly. We all know it is going to be rough, hot or cold. How much of a beating can modern societies take before they start to shut down, due to infrastructure damage and over-demands placed on social services (police, fire, health care, military, etc.)?

What about war between nations competing for space and resources, such as arable land for crops? What political dimensions need to be considered?

I know these questions point to extreme cases that are unlikely to materialize overnight. But what about in 20 years? Try to picture how different the world could be in 2030. Is it the kind of place you want your kids raising their families in? How much harder will it be on them to provide the same standard of living they grew up with? In light of the growing bad news over global warming, how confident can you be that life will be better, not worse, and that we can all just continue on as we are right now, no big course changes needed?

Things that can help:

  1. Technology breakthrough – The wildcard. An unexpected discovery of, say, practical fusion, room-temperature superconductors, etc., and in a way that makes it dirt-cheap and a no-brainer to do.
  2. Political unity to change human activity worldwide – Idealistic, and unlikely until just as the fecal matter is hitting the rotating atmospheric accelerator (in other words, almost too late).
  3. Planning for the worst, hoping for the best – Forecasting effects with enough accuracy to be able to have mitigation plans ready and tested. It doesn’t stop it, but maybe it saves lives and property.

Maybe there are others, I do not know. I just know it is mid-November, and still shirt-sleeve weather in Tokyo. What next year, and the one after that will look like, probably is not going to be pretty. I won’t be installing a new tokamak fusion reactor in my house or neighborhood, nor will I be leading all nations in harmony to stop polluting all at once.

All I can really do to make a difference to just three people is Option 3 – prepare. And, no, that does not mean building a fallout shelter and stocking up on ammo. Other than that, I am not sure what to do…

So, gentle Reader – what would you do? How are you going to prepare?

Update: I plan on investing in companies and industries that will be vital in repairing damage and improving the quality of life as global warming advances. Think about it: I may make some money off of it, and I also strengthen those companies that can provide aid and assistance. I wouldn’t worry about profiting from GW – the expense of things at those times will probably offset most gains small investors could make, and if you can invest enough to make a killing, you likely have enough already to ensure a comfortable life regardless of the weather. But if you can make some money, it’s better to have it when you need it, right?

This is in addition to the obvious energy and resource conservation steps I am already trying to take. Remember, not all investing is done with stocks and funds – buying a green car is also an investment in that auto company and all of the sub-vendors and manufacturers who helped make it.


3 Responses

  1. A few things we/I can do now:
    I will turn off a few extra lights.
    I will not water my lawn as much and never in the winter.
    I will drive a slower until I buy an electric car.
    I will plant two trees this year.
    I will flush my toilet less. If it is yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown send it down.
    I will act, but not spread panic.
    I will laugh more and fight less.

    I will re-post this comment 3 times.

  2. Being a reluctant pessimist, I’m not sure any preparation can be done, although I agree with b. and try to practice better husbandry and stewardship. I know these things are true, yet I feel unable to effect change in anyone other than myself. Even my kids seem to be overrun by attitudes that are anathema to my sense and sensibilities, mostly in the name of “fun”.

    Some time ago I saw a Discover show narrated by Patrick Stewart about the moon. It concluded by describing how the moon’s orbit moves farther from Earth every year (inch by inch). Someday, given the absence of the moon’s gravity, tides, climate, etc… will change all for the worse. This, and the ongoing knowledge that someday the sun will go supernova, make me sad not for my kids, but my GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGgrand kids.

    Hell, I feel bad now writing this post. So I might just add one more item to b.’s list: Put your head between your legs and kiss your arse goodbye.

  3. Ah, we’ll get by. If the moon moves further out, the weather gets boring and fish don’t lay eggs. If it moved in closer for some reason, days get shorter and the climate goes nuts.

    Either way, we’ll get by – we are too smart not figure a way out of this mess. Likely, by the time you have G^26kids, we’ll be on other planets, maybe even screwing them up too.

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