It’s getting hotter, faster, and that trend is going to continue. After a certain point, drastic action is all that is left.

Apparently I meant to write about this back in September, but for reasons that are still unclear to me, I wasn’t able to make myself post daily back then. It’s not anything particularly new, but it’s important to keep in mind when thinking about politics, and about any plans we might have for the future. A little over a decade ago, I was part of a “climate working group” organized by myself and fellow New England Quakers. At that point in time, it seemed pretty clear that the biggest obstacle to direct action within our religious community, was that people honestly did not grasp the severity of the problem. However bad you think public understanding of the issue is now, it was much, much worse back then. I remember people who considered themselves environmental activists talking about preventing it from warming, and going back to normal, at a time when I was reading regular reports about ecosystems shifting around us, and feedback loops starting up.

So, we put together a presentation. We talked about why climate change was important to us personally, because that kind of framing tends to get through to people. And we played this video:

And then we talked about solutions. My goal at the time was to the community to lead by example. To pool their resources, and get every member of the community off of fossil fuels one at a time. I still think it was something that could have been done (the money was there, had its owners cared to spend it), and I know many members of the community have put up solar panels, installed batteries, and so on since then. But the contents of this video – especially the feedback loops it discusses – were new to a lot of people, and I remember being told that if I talked about things like storing food for emergencies, it’d just sound over the top and turn people off. Maybe that was right, I don’t know, but it didn’t sit right then or now. In case I haven’t mentioned it recently, having a store of food for emergencies is more than just buying extra food. It is that, but you need to use that food at the same time, and cycle through it so none of it is on the verge of spoiling when a crisis hits. You also want to be able to cook with the food you’ve set aside, and live on it. If it’s rice and beans, learn how to make it enjoyable, and add those spices to your store of food. If there’s a crisis, you don’t want to be figuring out how to make your food edible on top of whatever else is going on. It’s an actual skill that most people – myself included – aren’t very good at these days. Practice it now, so you’ll have that resource when you actually need it.

Because for all things seem bad now, it is almost certain that the rate of warming is going to increase over the next couple decades, and that is not going to be a pleasant experience for us, because our rulers have thus far refused to prepare.

James Hansen, a climate scientist who shook Washington when he told Congress 33 years ago that human emissions of greenhouse gases were cooking the planet, is now warning that he expects the rate of global warming to double in the next 20 years.

While still warning that it is carbon dioxide and methane that are driving global warming, Hansen said that, in this case, warming is being accelerated by the decline of other industrial pollutants that they’ve cleaned from it.

Plunging sulfate aerosol emissions from industrial sources, particularly shipping, could lead global temperatures to surge well beyond the levels prescribed by the Paris Climate Agreement as soon as 2040 “unless appropriate countermeasures are taken,” Hansen wrote, together with Makiko Sato, in a monthly temperature analysis published in August by the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Declining sulfate aerosols makes some clouds less reflective, enabling more solar radiation to reach and warm land and ocean surfaces.

I’ve written about this before, and it’s important to keep in mind. It’s one of the reasons that I think we need to consider geoengineering, even though it’s an extreme and dangerous thing to do. I don’t know the exact accuracy of the forecasts of civilizational collapse within 30 years – I don’t think anyone can know that for sure, but it is entirely within the realm of possibility. If we don’t change direction, I fear it’s more likely than not.

Since his Congressional testimony rattled Washington, D.C. a generation ago, Hansen’s climate warnings have grown more urgent, but they are still mostly unheeded. In 2006, when he was head of NASA’s GoddardInstitute for Space Studies, George W. Bush’s administration tried to stop him from speaking out about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

After 46 years with NASA, Hansen left in 2013 to focus on political and legal efforts to limit warming. His granddaughter, Sophie Kivlehan, is one of 21 young plaintiffs suing the U.S. government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by failing to take adequate action to address the human causes of climate change, such as greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, industry and electricity generation.

In Hansen’s latest warning, he said scientists are dangerously underestimating the climate impact of reducing sulfate aerosol pollution.

“Something is going on in addition to greenhouse warming,” Hansen wrote, noting that July’s average global temperature soared to its second-highest reading on record even though the Pacific Ocean is in a cooling La Niña phase that temporarily dampens signs of warming. Between now and 2040, he wrote that he expects the climate’s rate of warming to double in an “acceleration that can be traced to aerosols.”

That acceleration could lead to total warming of 2 degrees Celsius by 2040, the upper limit of the temperature range that countries in the Paris accord agreed was needed to prevent disastrous impacts from climate change. What’s more, Hansen and other researchers said the processes leading to the acceleration are not adequately measured, and some of the tools needed to gauge them aren’t even in place.

The article goes on to talk about aerosols, and how we know what we know, but I want to shift focus to something else.

I think it is very important to understand that the warming between here and 2 degrees will likely do a lot more damage than did the warming that got us here. First off, as the video at the top mentioned, there are a number of feedback loops that are also accelerating the warming, even without the monkey’s-paw consequences of reducing pollution. The warming we see over the next couple decades will be piling on top of already-collapsing glaciers and already-burning ecosystems. I think that means that we’re in for a couple decades where it really does feel like every year gets worse. Historically, when climate scientists have talked about warming, they’ve predicted a mix of warm years and cool years, and maybe even a decade or two of no warming at all, but I am increasingly skeptical of that prediction. It wouldn’t shock me if there was one or two years in the next 20 that were cooler than the decadal average, or that didn’t have any record-breaking “natural” disasters, but those will be the rarity.

Zoonotic diseases will also almost certainly keep popping up as desperate people start eating whatever they can to survive, and desperate animals start leaving their historic seclusion because their ecosystems are collapsing, and they can’t find food. This is going to be even more of a problem because the people at point of contact are increasingly going to have weakened immune systems from starvation, overheating, and so on.

All of this, as it has throughout history, will fuel war. War, as it has throughout history will cause environmental destruction, which in turn will make it harder to grow food.

Again, as I keep saying, there are ways we could be preparing, and saving lives, and making this process far easier for everyone. Feeding everyone means nobody has to eat wild animals to survive, which means fewer chances for us to catch diseases from animals. That, and making sure everyone has adequate water would go a long way to preventing war, along with a myriad of other crimes. We can shift agriculture indoors, and invest in new kinds of food production. We can invest in cleaning up existing toxic waste, and containing new waste. We can make sure that everyone has access to air conditioning for heat emergencies, and we can ensure that that is powered by renewable energy or nuclear power. We can invest in global access to free vaccination, for any and all diseases. We can reduce childhood mortality, and guarantee quality care for elders, even if not a single person left alive knows who they are. With those two, and universal access to sex ed and contraception, population growth will likely stagnate or decrease, making that less of a problem without a need for mass death. We have the knowledge and resources to do all of that and more.

What we can’t do, is do that while also protecting the wealth and power of our current ruling classes. There is simply too much to be done, to allow for such reckless indulgence. The scale of change matches the scale of the problem, which means that if we want to avoid billions of deaths this century, we need to take coordinated, deliberate action on a scale that has never been achieved in human history, with zero regard for profit or the immature pettiness of that minority whose sole drive in life is the will to power.

As ever, I am aware of the scale and difficulty of what I’m proposing, but what alternate path is less extreme in its consequences?

All we can do is fight for a better world, and since that’s something few of us are accustomed to doing, I continue to believe that we have to start with the basics, even if it seems agonizingly slow and inadequate. We don’t have time to do it halfway.

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  1. says

    “What we can’t do, is do that while also protecting the wealth and power of our current ruling classes.”

    I’m of two minds on that. Just looking at the amount of wealth and power they have, it seems possible to me one or two multi-billionaires could functionally save the entire world by pushing the right buttons. On the other hand, maybe there is some kind of incontrovertible aspect of human nature that makes it truly impossible.

    I hope if some humans make it through all of this that they will somehow be able to retain the history of what caused it and prevent it from ever happening again. Also I hope we’ll get to see some heads of state and industry rolling in gutters, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?

  2. lochaber says

    Great American Satan @1>
    “On the other hand, maybe there is some kind of incontrovertible aspect of human nature that makes it truly impossible.”

    maybe overly simplistic, but I think the characteristics that grant someone the possibility of becoming a billionaire, are mutually exclusive with the characteristics of someone who gives a fuck about others.

    I whole-heartedly believe that simply possessing that vast sum of money, while there are people who are unhoused, without healthcare, or malnourished, is an inherently immoral act.

    I’m sure one of the resident trolls will drop in to complain about my grammar, or carry water for the billionaires, or some other bullshit. I don’t care, billionaires are bad.

  3. says

    I’m highly skeptical that billionaires are actually capable of doing what needs to be done. They’re pathological wealth hoarders, and their entire identity revolves around it.

    And as it stands, literally everything about the world tells them that they are right.

    I’ve heard of people giving up extreme wealth for the greater good, or losing extreme wealth and realizing they were happier with out it, but hoping for that to save the world feels like investing your life’s savings, and the life savings of everyone around you in a single lottery ticket.

    It also seems like extreme wealth actually causes brain damage, of a sort. The way it removes you from every single problem that normal people have to deal with acts to separate you. It’s a bit like solitary confinement, except that instead of actual isolation, you experience a world where everyone is either making your life easier, or is an impediment that can be forcibly removed through application of money.

    It turns life into a literal video game, and every other human is just an NPC there for your entertainment. The one exception to that would be other billionaires, who I guess would be the only other “real” people.

  4. says

    I don’t know the exact accuracy of the forecasts of civilizational collapse within 30 years – I don’t think anyone can know that for sure, but it is entirely within the realm of possibility. If we don’t change direction, I fear it’s more likely than not.

    And that’s pretty much why I’m feeling like shit lately. Personally, I’m job hunting, while also feeling that any available job is completely pointless, if not outright contributing to the problem. Makes it very difficult to gin up the necessary enthusiasm expected of a job applicant.

    Meanwhile, I feel like even most climate conscious people aren’t even fully grasping how fucked we are. They still think it’s a question of buying a hybrid car or installing solar panels. They still think their children will have a livable future, if they just recycle more. They still think the future will be largely the same as the present. I worry what’s going to happen when they realize it’s not.

    I wish we could all get clear on the fact that our problems stem from a civilization founded on unworkable principles. It CAN’T work. Long-term function was never an option. It’s not whether things will go wrong, but when, how, and who will end up dead as a result.

    We need to change how we do things. Not by buying organic milk instead of factory farmed, but by making factory farms an impossibility. Not by cutting emissions, but by making a society that doesn’t need to emit. We need a way to live that doesn’t lead to death. I wish I knew what that looked like. It sure won’t be anything remotely like what we have.

  5. says

    And that’s pretty much why I’m feeling like shit lately. Personally, I’m job hunting, while also feeling that any available job is completely pointless, if not outright contributing to the problem. Makes it very difficult to gin up the necessary enthusiasm expected of a job applicant.

    Three or four years ago, I would have recommended therapy if you can afford it. I did Betterhelp for a bit, and it was nice in some ways. The problem is that no therapist is actually trained to deal with this. Most of their work is about helping people become a good citizen who generates profit and doesn’t cause problems, within the framework of a “functional” capitalist system. They’ve got some idea on dealing with relationship problems, and the soul-crushing nature of the job market, and how to get back out there and keep grinding, and so on. It’s all in service to a system that is actively collapsing. I should say that I expect that’s not how most therapists view their role, and I think the work they do can be very important.

    But nobody is trained to deal with this, which means in the past, my therapists have tried to focus on relationship problems, or other things like that – stuff that’s a bit less… cosmic in scale.

    I think a lot of the reason why so many people aren’t acting like this is a crisis, is because our “leaders” refuse to do so. It’s not just that people tend to believe those with wealth and power, but also that if those with wealth and power say everything is normal, then the economy designed to serve them is forced to continue as though that’s true. We still have to pay our rent, or our mortgages. We still have to pay taxes that those in power use to fund endless war (which itself enriches those in power), and if we stop because there’s a crisis, the cops will still come and throw us out in the street, or take our cars. Hell, Biden wants to hire 100,000 MORE cops, at a time when everyone is (finally) starting to talk about climate change and food shortages.

    Plus, nothing has really changed in the day to day lives of most people, or at least the change has been gradual enough that it hasn’t been noticed. The weather’s a bit worse, and someone somewhere else is dealing with unusual flooding, but it’s nice where I live, and I’m not starving myself, so we clearly have time to solve this in a reasonable manner, right?

    I’d feel a little less gloomy about all of this if it weren’t for the fact that not a damned thing has been done to stop the firehose of fossil fuel propaganda, which basically means that between subsidies and the way our energy system works, we are actively paying billionaires to lie to us, in an effort to kill us all for more money.

    A lot more people are starting to realize that this system cannot keep going much longer, but unfortunately, the Cold War set the “West” up to move toward fascism in a crisis, by insisting that everything to the left of liberal democracy is certain doom, by destroying the labor movement, and by actively undermining class solidarity. The atomization of communities that seems to have happened over the 2oth century has not helped.

    There are still options. As I mentioned, there are things that we know would lower the temperature. I think part of the reason those are being avoided, is that (1) the geopolitical ramifications of global weather modification are dicey at best, and (2) it would require admitting that we’re at the point where that level of drastic action is necessary. With the current people in charge, I’m afraid that’s going to take at least a hundred million deaths that are incontrovertibly linked to climate change.

    It’s a steep hill to climb, and no mistake. As ever, the goal is to find a balance. Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. I find medication helps a great deal.

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