Of the many current civilization-changing dynamics, climate chaos and peak oil are close to the top of the list. Either one has the potential to profoundly change global human civilization.
- The Earth is a living system, a seamless fluid whole (of nature and culture, ecology and civilization)
- Earth’s climate can shift between attractor states relatively quickly. Major changes in the climate can happen over a few decades, or even within just one.
- If, or rather when, the icecaps of Greenland and Antarctica melts, sea levels will rise about 30 meter. A large portion of the world’s population, including most of the major cities, are at and close to current sea levels.
Denial is not only a river in Egypt: It is amazing to me that people still invest in property near the ocean and close to current sea levels. Only a few places has the geography and capacity to protect these through dikes and dams. At most locations, buildings near sea level will have to be abandoned to the ocean, most likely within just a few decades. Why do people still invest and build there? It is not as if we don’t know what is going to happen.
- Much of the CO2 released since the beginning of the industrial revolution has been absorbed by the oceans, gradually making them less alkaline and more acidic. Bone, shell and choral formation is dependent on alkaline oceans. If it gets too acidic, it means the end of fish, shells and coral reefs, which is the end of the oceans as a supply of human food.
- There are innumerable positive feedback loops at play, amplifying warming trends. The albedo is one: Current icecaps reflect light back into space. As they retreat, revealing darker land or ocean beneath them, more heat is absorbed, speeding the melting of the remaining icecaps.
- The tropics are likely to get dryer, making currently fertile lands into deserts. This, and the rising sea levels, are likely to migrations of people at a scale beyond anything we have seen so far.
- The global ocean currents, including the conveyor belt is likely to be disrupted, and this includes changes to the golf stream – possibly plunging Europe into a new ice age.
- Global food production will be disrupted by rising sea levels (flooding land now used for food production), drought in equatorial regions, and whatever else may happen such as disruption to ocean life, European ice age, and crops destroyed by more extreme and unpredictable weather.
- Mass migrations and disruptions to water and food supplies leads to issues of their own, including the potential for large scale violence in the form of wars and civil unrest. Even people at world-centric levels may revert to ethno- and ego-centric ways of operating.
- If the shifts are at the extreme end of what is presently predicted, the main human population – vastly reduced from current numbers, may be found on Antarctica.
- Due to lag effects, these changes cannot be stopped. Even if no more climate gasses were released, starting today, the effects of what has already been release will continue for 50 to 200 years into the future.
- We need rapid and massive changes in how we organize our lives globally and individually to offset some of the future effects of climate gasses, going far beyond anything we see or talk about today.
- We need to prepare – globally, regionally and locally, for the changes to come. What do we do if regional and global food production is disrupted? What do we do with massive migrations of people within and across continents? What do we do with epidemics due to changes in climate and moving populations?
- And did I mention that phase transitions are rapid, and that all this may happen much faster than we imagine today?
And then there is peak oil, with its own issues (which, by the way, will not be the solution to climate change).
Earth talking to us
Climate chaos and peak oil are some of the ways the Earth talks to us.
We act, and there are consequences. We try an experiment, and get the data. We behave and there is feedback.
We have experimented with releasing massive amounts of climate gasses, and now reap the effects of that experiment.
We experiment with creating a civilization dependent on petroleum, and get to see what happens when the age of cheap petroleum rapidly is over.
The Earth talks to us. The question is how we listen, and what we do with what we hear.