Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You Can't Get There From Here

The "there" that I am referring to is the magic number of 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is the level of CO2 necessary to stabilize the climate change brought on by human activity, in particular the burning of fossil fuels, since the onset of the industrial revolution.

Problem is that we are already approaching 390 ppm with no signs of abatement on the horizon. Should we begin to prepare for the worst? I think so since it is highly unlikely that humanity will be able to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Essentially, we are playing out a cultural set of instructions that took hold in Europe during the Protestant Reformation, subsequently exported to the new world, and then transferred to Asia so that it has become the dominant global paradigm and carries with it the seeds of our own destruction.

At the heart of this cultural imperative is the sanctity of the individual and the belief that the unrelenting pursuit of self interest will lead to the advancement of the common good. This mindset may have made sense during the seventeenth century when there were less than a billion humans on the planet, but it makes absolutely no sense now that we have passed six billion and look to peak at eight billion, if we don't experience a massive die off beforehand.

Indeed, that might be nature's way to deal with our exponential population growth, 400% during the last century alone. Humans, like ancient bacteria, exploit their primary energy source, fossil fuels, until they alter their environment in such a way as to kill off the vast majority of their numbers, leaving behind a successive species better adapted to survive in the new environment.

Maybe that's what it takes to purge humanity from its folly, the idea that isolated individuals can remain unrestrained by the constants imposed by the physical limits to growth.

Until then, we can expect to witness autonomous nation-states spouting the need to come to agreement on how to curb GHG emissions all the while being unable to overcome the struggle between self interest groups within their borders so that the problem is never adequately addressed. At the same time the soft power of the US continues to expand and the number of people from developing countries imitating American consumption patterns grows, carrying with it disastrous consequences.

In some ways, the collapse of the financial markets and the ensuing Great Recession provide a model of what lies ahead but on a smaller scale. Failure to provide adequate regulation to those recklessly advancing their self interest brings about systemic failure, where the the negative consequences fall heaviest on the most vulnerable.

Likewise, climate change has already begun to impact substantially on those with limited means: pensioners in Moscow and the rural inhabitants in Pakistan, India, and China. Unfortunately, there is no bailout for climate change and by the time cataclysmic flooding wipes out New York and London, it will be too late. Dynamic Forces beyond our control will have been put into motion and the fate of humanity will be out of our hands.

Sounds like Armageddon to me, but the really scary part is that what should be a fate that humanity would like to avoid is actually a desired end-of-days scenario for a great many in the USA, the most powerful and influential nation in the world. Incredibly, there is still a great number of Americans who believe that life on the planet is but a point of departure for the life in the hear after. From their perspective, the sooner we get to make our maker, the better. That's if there were a maker to be met, but that wouldn't occur to them from within the confines of their belief system.

So, in a nutshell, a cluster of beliefs from seventeenth century Europe have found extremely fertile soil in North America, taken hold of a critical mass of the population, and made them impervious to the assaults of reason. Deluded to the point that they think their unsustainable lifestyle is their god-given right, they are more than willing to lead the rest of humanity to a bitter end.

350 ppm? Fat fricken chance.

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