Adapting to climate change

“Global Warming”.

The term creates an image of the entire planet heating up until all life is destroyed, as if we were on a collision course with the sun.

Some parts of our planet are, indeed, warming. As this occurs, climactic patterns are changing that will result in a cooling of other parts of our planet. Climate change, whether caused by us or just another natural cycle, is coming – like it or not. The Earth is not doomed, but our way of life may be.

In the US, the Midwest has always been the “breadbasket” – the place where most of our food is grown. The climactic changes that seem inevitable will make that part of the world barren, but Canada may become better suited for agriculture. Africa will be uninhabitable, but Iceland and Greenland will be far more pleasant than they have ever been in recorded history.

The climate is changing. There will be regional warming – and regional cooling. Much of Europe will see a decline in average temperatures. Those living there may want to migrate south.

We can adapt. It won’t be easy, but it can and will happen. And it will be further complicated by the geopolitical structures that exist today. We are not all one nation. The population of the US can’t just move to Canada. (The Canadians may have something to say about that). The population of Africa is so mired in poverty that it is doubtful they will have the means to migrate anywhere. No, it won’t be easy. Unless we suddenly discover a way to get along with all our neighbors on this rock, there will be wars over territory. There have always been such battles, but this will be worse. Many people will perish; some will survive. The political maps will be re-drawn.

It is important to remember that our civilizations have been residing on this planet for a short period of time relative to the lifespan of the planet itself. The major climactic changes we will experience are new to us, but not new to Earth. More species of life have gone extinct during this planet’s life than have existed during the brief time Man has recorded. Extinctions are nothing new. It is the evolutionary process in action. Those that adapt, survive. Those that don’t adapt….. Change is inevitable.

What concerns us is the possibility of our own species becoming extinct. That is not inevitable. We can adapt. What we cannot do is avoid change.

We will have to surrender our nostalgic grip on the status quo. Hurricane Katrina gave us an example – a test that we failed. There is no sense in rebuilding a city in an area not conducive to safety. If we can’t bring ourselves to abandon an historic site like New Orleans when living there is clearly impractical, what will we do when most of our favorite cities become uninhabitable? The answer to that question will determine how well we survive.

A while ago, I read a compilation called “The Water of Life” published by Scientific American. It is a series of articles by various scientists – people who know a lot more than I do. From it I learned:

1. Most of the world’s water is too salty to drink, and much of the fresh water is frozen. One of many problems facing third-world countries is a lack of fresh water for drinking, sanitation and agriculture. The world is running out of fresh water! We are going to die of thirst!

2. Most of the world’s coastal cities are in danger, because of Global Warming. The oceans will rise as a result of the rapid increase in glacial melting. We are all going to drown!

Too bad these people aren’t listening to each other.

When you have a surplus of anything, you store the excess until it is needed. We call that “putting it on ice”. Our planet has more fresh water than mankind has needed so far, and has conveniently stored the excess “on ice”. Now that our population has increased and we need more water, the ice is melting.

Instead of wringing our collective hands, dreading the disasters that these occurrences could bring, perhaps we should seek ways to capture the runoff, and transport it to where it is in demand. Doing so would not only save millions of lives, but would also prevent the predicted rise in ocean levels and temperatures!

Ironically, there is another article in here about a group of scientists who have been developing inexpensive ways of transporting water in giant plastic bags that can be dragged through the oceans. There are already two companies with competing designs, both of which have already been used to bring much needed water to populations in arid areas.

Let’s include them in that much-needed conversation with the other two groups.

Am I the only one who sees all this not as separate problems, but as one solution waiting to be utilized?

Global Warming – a historical perspective

Earth has never had a stable climate. This is a fact that climatologists will tell you, if you ask the right questions – of the right climatologists.

If we want to know the history of the planet’s climate, one would think we should consult someone who specializes in “Historical Climatology”, but the method known by that label is the study of climate as related to human history and thus focuses only on the last few thousand years.

Another approach, known as Paleoclimatology, reconstructs past climates by examining records such as ice cores and tree rings. This method gives us a much longer historical span, and allows us to see patterns that indicate cycles in the Earth’s weather. From these folks, we learn that the planet has survived several Ice Ages and several periods during which temperatures warmed. There has always been a cycle of warming and cooling. We do not know why that has been the case, but the record indicates that this is natural.

Today’s climate specialists are quick to assure us that the current warming trend they are tracking is not in line with patterns established before. Since it does not fit the natural cyclical course of Earth’s history, they conclude that human activity is the cause. They may be correct. Were it not for the increase of greenhouse gases, we would be experiencing the onset of another Ice Age! In fact, those same specialists were warning us of that likelihood a mere thirty years ago. Based upon the long historical record, it seemed the logical next step.

But the Historical Climatology people, – the ones who study the relatively short range of history that is limited to the brief time humans have called Earth home – noticed a pattern that has gone by several names. The most common being: Global Warming (a misnomer, since only some parts of the planet are warming while other parts are predicted to get cooler) and Climate Change (a truer statement, but one that does not evoke the emotional effect of the former).

What has been lacking in this debate is the question of what would have happened if we humans had not tampered with nature. The answer is evident by history and by the climate models used as recently as thirty years ago. The next question that must be asked is, if we are able to reverse the warming trend, what will prevent Global Cooling.

The planet has been hospitable to human life for a very short portion of its existence. Naturally, we would like to stop the warming/cooling cycle that is the natural course preferred by Earth, and stabilize the climate so that we can continue to call Earth our home forever. We are chastised by the likes of Al Gore for having the audacity to tamper with the climate of our revered planet, while being told that we have an obligation to “save the planet” by tampering even more.
Let us be clear. The planet does not need “saving”. It has survived all these millennium without our meddling. For all we know, the climate cycles that it has experienced may be necessary for the survival of the planet. But we, so very smart and self-assured as we are, will save ourselves, even if it is the wrong thing to do for the planet’s sake.