What does a climate catastrophe look like? Day time temperatures of 140C or more in India. 1000-year-old Sequoias being burned like matchsticks in California. Flash flooding in…well, just about anywhere you can think of. Massive droughts making access to fresh water impossible for hundreds of millions. Just another day on the late great planet Earth.
We hear rumblings on the internet that climate scientists are reluctant to share their private concerns with the general public for fear of causing widespread panic. But William McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, is not so reluctant. In his latest book, Hothouse Earth: The Climate Crisis and the Importance of Carbon Neutrality, he makes no effort to sugar coat things.
The Guardian says the book makes it abundantly clear that we mortals have ignored explicit warnings that rising carbon emissions are dangerously heating the Earth. Now we are going to pay the price for our complacency in the form of storms, floods, droughts, and heatwaves that will easily surpass current extremes.
The crucial point, he argues, is that there is now no chance of us avoiding a perilous, all-pervasive climate breakdown. We have passed the point of no return and can expect a future in which lethal heatwaves and temperatures in excess of 50C (120F) are common in the tropics; where summers at temperate latitudes will invariably be baking hot, and where our oceans are destined to become warm and acidic. “A child born in 2020 will face a far more hostile world that its grandparents did,” McGuire insists.
To those who say we can still science our way out of this, McGuire has sobering news. “I know a lot of people working in climate science who say one thing in public but a very different thing in private. In confidence, they are all much more scared about the future we face, but they won’t admit that in public. I call this climate appeasement and I believe it only makes things worse. The world needs to know how bad things are going to get before we can hope to start to tackle the crisis.” The trouble with writing a book about climate change today is it’s like writing about computer chips in the 1990s. “By the time it is published it is already out of date. That is how fast things are moving.”
“Who would have thought that a village on the edge of London would be almost wiped out by wildfires in 2022,” McGuire told The Guardian this week. “If this country needs a wake-up call then surely that is it. And as we head further into 2022, it is already a different world out there. Soon it will be unrecognizable to every one of us. Just look at what is happening already to a world which has only heated up by just over one degree. It turns out the climate is changing for the worse far quicker than predicted by early climate models. That’s something that was never expected.”
McGuire blames a “conspiracy of ignorance, inertia, poor governance, and obfuscation and lies by climate change deniers that has ensured that we have sleepwalked to within less than half a degree of the dangerous 1.5 C climate change guardrail. Soon, barring some sort of miracle, we will crash through it.” UN Secretary General António Gutteres puts it somewhat differently. He calls it “a criminal abdication of leadership.”
Is there any hope? Maybe. McGuire stresses that if carbon emissions can be cut substantially in the near future and if we start to adapt to a much hotter world today, a truly calamitous and unsustainable future can be avoided. The days ahead will be grimmer, but not disastrous. We may not be able to give climate breakdown the slip but we can head off a climate cataclysm bad enough to threaten the very survival of human civilization.
“This is a call to arms, so if you feel the need to glue yourself to a motorway or blockade an oil refinery, do it. Drive an electric car or, even better, use public transport, walk, or cycle. Switch to a green energy tariff; eat less meat. Stop flying. Lobby your elected representatives at both the local and national level. And use your vote wisely to put in power a government that walks the talk on the climate emergency.”
Lighten Up On The Climate Catastrophe
One thing about humans, though. They can find the humor in even the darkest of times. In today’s edition of Bloomberg Green, Laura Millan offers a compendium of climate solutions that could help avert if not totally avoid the onrushing catastrophe. Perhaps my favorite, being the curmudgeon that I am, comes from Eduardo Gold, a native of Peru. In 2009, he noted that when the glaciers melted in the Andes mountains, they left behind dark earth and rocks that absorbed solar energy instead of reflecting it back into space the way the glaciers did.
His solution? Paint the rocks white. As an added bonus, this scheme would entitle Gold to lucrative carbon credits. He was awarded $200,000 by the World Bank to turn his dream into reality and his plan was widely covered by local and international media, including the BBC. But since then, Millan notes, Gold’s website — Glaciares Peru — has gone dark and there have been no updates on the project’s evolution — or the whereabouts of the $200,000.
Mark Twain once observed that man is the only animal that blushes — or needs to. Gold’s escapade certain proves Twain’s wisdom.
Everyone knows cows are responsible for methane emissions, not fossil fuel companies. As it turns out, camels are just as bad as cows, and where do you think there are a lot of camels? The Middle East? Nope, Australia. A few years ago, the Australian government came up with a novel way to solve the camel methane problem. Hunt the 1.2 million camels roaming around in the Outback with rifles from helicopters! The hunters would be rewarded with carbon credits for every camel killed. Win-win, baby!
Science To The Rescue
Here are a few climate schemes concocted by actual scientists. Steven Desch, a professor of astrophysics at Arizona State University, suggested in 2017 that we could reverse the loss of ice in the Arctic by using wind power to pump water to the surface, where it would freeze faster. With the appropriate devices — and an investment of $5 trillion over a decade — ice thickness would increase by about 1 meter over the course of an Arctic winter, assuming temperatures in the Arctic stay about where they have been the last thousand years or so. Sadly, average temperatures at the poles are increasing faster than anyplace else on Earth and there is precious little freezing going on there today.
Former British physicist John Latham suggested putting ships to sea that would spray seawater into the atmosphere to help cool the Earth. Others have fantasized about artificially recreating the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, which lowered global temperatures by about 0.5 degrees Celsius the following year. It doesn’t take a genius to see that if the lunatic in the Kremlin has his way, a splendid little nuclear war could cool the planet nicely for a decade or so. If Putin doesn’t have the stones to pull that off, perhaps Xi Jinping will be the one to activate a few nuclear bombs. Duck and cover, boys and girls!
Matthew Liao, a philosopher and director of the Center for Bioethics at New York University, has an idea. He suggests that geoengineering may be too risky and other solutions too slow. He proposes lowering humanity’s carbon footprint by making newborns meat-intolerant, or smaller in size. In another bizarre twist, he adds that human engineering would be voluntary, but could be promoted with incentives such as tax breaks or sponsored health care.
A Climate Suggestion That Actually Makes Sense
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani woman who won the Nobel Prize after she was shot and nearly killed by the Taliban. She has created the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization committed to helping every young girl learn to read so she can become a full participant in her community. A study by her group finds that countries which have invested in education for young girls have suffered fewer deaths from droughts and floods than countries with lower levels of education for young girls. It says if girls were able to exercise their reproductive rights and had access to modern contraception, total emissions from fossil fuels could drop by up to 40% by the end of the century.
This is congruent with something told to me by Harry Belafonte after a talk at the Kennedy Library outside of Boston during the reign of terror on Iraqis orchestrated by George W. Bush and his band of criminal neocon advisers. I asked Mr. Belafonte if there was anything that would inspire hope for the future. “Yes,” he told me. “The empowerment of women.”
That may seem laughable at time when the Supreme Court and the reactionaries loose upon the land are determined to cram their weaponized version of Christianity down the throats of every American, but his words are just as true today as they were 20 years ago.
That reminds me of a statement by Dr. Benjamin Spock, who used to be regarded as an authority on child rearing at a time when America was a kinder, gentler place. “Man can be the most affectionate and altruistic of creatures, yet he’s potentially more vicious than any other. He is the only one who can be persuaded to hate millions of his own kind whom he has never seen and to kill as many as he can lay his hands on in the name of his tribe or his God.”
The good doctor was not very politically correct when he said that, but maybe he was more accurate than he realized. Men are almost always the mass murders, the bullies, the advocates for bigger, badder, bolder weapons, and winning at all costs. Women are more collaborative and seek solutions that are fair and reasonable to the greatest number.
It may be that the empowerment of women is the only thing that will save humanity from the onrushing climate cataclysm. If so, the United States is headed in exactly the wrong direction and all the books and studies and scientific theories will make no difference. In the end, it may be an overabundance of testosterone and not carbon dioxide that is our undoing.
Leave ‘Em Laughing
Not to leave everyone on a down note, here is a video of a Monty Python skit that was intended to be satirical but may actually be gospel to the God Squad that wants to run America today. Still, it’s worth a smile. There’s nothing like a little levity to bring the pompous practitioners of the new Puritanism back to Earth. There’s a good chance these hypocrites won’t even suspect this bit of Python silliness is meant to be a send-up of their overwrought prurience.[embedded content]
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