Today, humanity faces a situation unique in the 200,000 year existence of our species Homo sapiens sapiens, and unique in the 2 million year existence of our genus, Homo: the unprecedented steady linear advance of global warming since 1970, which is making our planet irreversibly less habitable as time progresses, and which is driven entirely by the emission of greenhouse gases as waste products of human activity, particularly the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels. If this human-caused global warming remains unchecked it could ultimately lead to our extinction.
Global warming is intimately coupled with population growth (see Note). The universal desire for a better life leads people everywhere to try to acquire and use more energy to reduce the drudgery of daily survival, and beyond that to increase their security, comfort and enjoyment. Food is the source of our internal energy, that which powers our metabolism. The most popular source of our external energy today is fossil fuels: the burning of refined petroleum fuels, natural gas, and coal. From these we derive most of the heat and electricity we generate and use both industrially and personally, as well as for propelling our transportation. It is the increasing energy demand per person of a growing world population that drives the unprecedented rate of global warming we are experiencing.
Motivating people everywhere to see global warming as the fundamental cause of their local disasters of severe weather, drought, failed agriculture and fishing, habitat loss and resource scarcity wars, and then motivating them to cooperate internationally to immediately reduce the rate of global warming as much as geophysical conditions will allow, is the singular political problem of our time for our species.
The trends of population (in billions) and global warming (in degrees °C increase relative to the average global temperature during 1880-1920, the datum) are given in the table shown. The quantities listed up to the years 2019-2020 are based on data. The populations listed after 2019 are extrapolations based on an assumed linear population increase of +87.5 million per year (M/y), which was the average rate of increase from the years 2011 to 2019. The temperature increase above datum (delta-T) for years after 2020 are linear extrapolations based on the temperature ramp observed between years 1970 and 2020 (a +1.4°C increase over 50 years).
What is not yet known is if and when global warming will accelerate beyond the linear trend assumed after the year 2020, in the table. Such acceleration would be caused by the appearance of new physical conditions such as:
the transition of tropical forests from being carbon absorbers and sinks to becoming carbon emitters because of their severe degradation brought about by logging, drought and wildfires;
a massive methane release from the thawing Arctic;
sudden and massive glacial calving and melt in Greenland and Antarctica baring more ground for the absorption of solar radiation and the release of formerly trapped methane and carbon dioxide;
methane released from warmed oceans because of the breakdown by heat of methane clathrates (solid methane hydrate “ices” formed under cold high pressure at ocean depths).
Because of the unprecedented pace of our current global warming, we do not have the luxury of unlimited time — as was true in prior millennia — to physically evolve adaptively or escape by migration in response to climate change. (Migrate to where?, a billionaire’s habitat bubble on Mars? We already have a worldwide climate change and environmental collapse refugee crisis, and it will only get worse without a civilization-transforming response to climate change.)
To slow global warming to the minimum rate now limited by geophysics (the carbon load of the atmosphere) will require a species-wide change of human behavior as regards how energy is generated, conserved and used; how we steward the environment; and how the growth of human population is to be limited and people cared for everywhere. It takes Nature 200,000 years to clear a massive excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (such as we have injected over the previous century), and this occurs through a sequence of increasingly longer term processes: CO2 uptake by the oceans (years to decades), dissolution of seafloor sediments (the dissolving of chalk acidifying the oceans over decades to centuries), the weathering of carbonate rocks (centuries to millennia), and silicate weathering (tens to hundreds of millennia). CO2 uptake by photosynthesis is blunted by the ‘torrential rain-flooding plant-growth punctuated drought-wildfire’ cycle.
We can only attenuate global warming by species-wide willpower, and the sooner we develop and apply that willpower the greater will be the degree of that attenuation, and the further the likelihood of our causing our own extinction.
Without an internationally coordinated climate change response effort within the next dozen years that is 70% larger than the combined war efforts of World War II (to account for the +5.5B population increase between 1939 and 2020), global warming will reach and then exceed 2°C above the 1880-1920 datum. Warming beyond that point will likely be impossible to counteract by any human actions, and the climatic and weather-disaster consequences will be dire and unrelenting.
We have lost the luxury of unlimited time to dawdle in our many egocentric obsessions and illusions — waiting for the ideologically “perfect” revolution; seeking the most ethnically pure nationalism; the ideal theocracy; the maximization of our wealth; the complete destruction and disappearance of those “other types” of people whose savings, lands, resources and lives we want to steal; mindless absorption in superficial consumerism and ‘electronic comic book video game TV internet social media entertainment’ — before collectively reforming ourselves into better futures. Nature has made our old awareness-blunting time-wasting games obsolete by becoming feverish over its infection from our greenhouse gas toxicity. Our last chance for civilizational transformation that can alter the course of climate change is now, this next decade.
Clearly, the single best strategy to slow global warming is to replace fossil fuel energy with solar and “green” energy, whose production and use does not emit CO2, CH4 (methane), and other organic greenhouse gases and vapors.
Everything I have described up to this point has been said before by many people in many ways over many years. Now, about voting.
The only way we can achieve the civilizational transformation required to have any ameliorating effect on the course of global warming, and tackle the singular political problem of our time for our species, is to wrest control of governments from oligarchic, neoliberal, capitalism-obsessed, theocratic, nativist, and climate change ignoring elites — especially in countries having disproportionate political-economic-military power, expelling disproportionate quantities of greenhouse gases, and causing disproportionate environmental destruction — and then establishing regimes committed to real and immediate climate change response. Such real climate change response naturally subsumes all narrowly defined issues of economic equity and social justice.
In countries that offer some degree of democracy to their people, it is necessary to vote for politicians — now — whose prior history indicates they would be most reliable at vigorously pursuing a maximal climate change response, locally, nationally and internationally. For U.S. voters in 2020 that means electing Bernie Sanders to lead the Democratic Party ticket for the presidency, and then voting to ensure he wins the November general election. It is also necessary to elect people who would be Congressional representatives and Senators allied with Bernie Sanders. It does not matter whether sweeping the Sanders socialist-populist groundswell youth-quake “revolution” into power fits in with your ideal of an American government regime, however intellectually refined, or crudely simplistic, or myopically and corruptly partisan, or vainly and egocentrically identity political your ideal regime would be. We no longer have time to put off making partial gains in the direction of our goal, in order to wait for anyone’s variety of personally tailored political perfection.
The burden of responsibility on the citizens of the politically powerful, economically rich, profligate greenhouse gas emitting countries is to agitate and vote for, and vigorously implement, the real type of climate change response that is being described here. The burden of responsibility on the older citizens and older non-citizens is to put their time, money and energy into creating and protecting a good world with a decent future for the young. That has always been the responsibility on adults, and in our time — now — that responsibility must be discharged by implementing a real climate change response which is intrinsically a revolution of: economic equity, social justice, energy conservation and efficiency, rapid transition of energy sources and infrastructure from fossil fuels to green energy, and demilitarization.
In countries whose governing elites do not offer the people an effective political voice, it is necessary that those people find ways to change the nature of their governments. Risky, I know, but essential in order to respond to the looming threats of climate change.
I know that everybody can easily rationalize continuing to drift along with the mindsets they have now. But that will only keep us as distracted, delusional and disunited as we are now, and convey us all haplessly into the implacable civilization-chewing grinder of runaway climate change. We do not have the luxury of preferences anymore if we are to prevent the worst, especially for our children and grandchildren.
As I write this during a warm rainless mid-February spring in Northern California, with whitish pink-tinged apple, cherry and plum blossoms; magnolias flowering; purple florets of vinca; yellow tufts of eucalyptus; small purplish rosy globular flowers of polygonum, light blue florets of rosemary, bright orange California poppies, yellow flowers of oxalis and daffodils; and many other varieties of flowers blooming two months early, I wonder if the dry season October wildfires will now flare up in August, or even July. There has been no rain this February, “normally” the wettest month of the year for California; it appears we are entering a new drought.
And I wonder if the slow, tentative awakening in the public mind to the reality of increasingly inhospitable climate change, which awakening I observed during the course of 2017, 2018 and 2019, will accelerate and coalesce into the national and world “cosmic consciousness” that I know is essential if we Homo sapiens sapiens are to have any chance of actually protecting ourselves (all of us everywhere), within the next decade, from the worst possibilities of runaway climate change.
The purpose of social welfare societies — socialism — is to provide their individuals with sufficient quantities of water, food, shelter and energy to carry on fulfilling lives, without subjecting those individuals to lonely struggles for precarious survival. This is why mortality rates are lowest in highly socialized prosperous societies, and why the consensus of individuals living in them is for low rates of reproduction, even to the point of birth rates below 2.1 per woman, the replacement rate necessary to maintain the existing size of a society’s population.
Clearly, the single best strategy to slow, and perhaps even reverse global population growth, is to provide a global system of reliable socialized security to completely support individual healthcare for life, obviously including: maternity care; safe birthing; safe abortion; child survival, healthcare, education and launching into “independent” living; elder care; and humane natural and self-willed dying. There is simply less incentive to have more children if more of them are guaranteed to survive and experience full and decent lives, and if the individual has a socially guaranteed protection of their own survival.
The above Note is from:
Oil, Population, Temperature, What Causes What?, 9 June 2019