Doug's Blog

Rants from a renegade naturalist

Edward Abbey speaks of our present crisis and future hope

Ed Abbey, in a 1984 letter, wrote: I am a pessimist in the short run, by which I mean the next fifty or maybe a hundred years. In that brief interval it seems quite probable that too many of us humans, crawling over one another for living space and sustenance, will make the earth an extremely unpleasant planet on which to live. And this quite aside from the possibility of a nuclear war. In the long run, I am an optimist. Within a century, I believe and hope, there will be a drastic reduction in the human population (as has happened before), and that will make possible a free and open society for our surviving descendants, a return to a more intimate and tolerant relationship to the natural world, and an advance (not a repetition) toward a truly humane, liberal and civilized form of human society, politically and economically decentralized but unified, perhaps on a planetary scale, by slow and easy-going travel, unrestricted wandering for all and face-to-face (not electronic) communication between the more adventurous elements of human tribes, clans, races. Instant communication is not communication at all but merely a frantic, trivial, nerve-wracking bombardment of clich鳬 threats, fads, fashions, gibberish and advertising.

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Sooner than Later

Today's NY Times article has a deep flaw.

Substitute "end of the decade" for "end of the century" and you'll see where I'm going.

Scientists are constantly playing catch-up when it comes to underestimating the magnitude, rapidity and consequences of global warming. Mainstream news equates caution with responsible reporting and the collective results are a watered-down sense of urgency about climate change.

Thus, the otherwise fine NYT's piece says we might see the temperature heat up 10 degrees F and the seas rise 1-4 feet "by the end of the century." I deeply doubt this, though I wish it were true.

The US Navy thinks the Arctic summer sea ice will be gone by 2016. Today, the Arctic permafrost is rapidly thawing, belching out methane at a frightening rate; you can see huge chunks of permafrost caving off the Yukon coast of the Beaufort Sea and falling off river banks. The released methane could cause 10 degrees of global warming in a decade, a tipping point since it would contribute to Amazonian rainforest collapse. The loss of the ice caps is a reality that is coming soon, as inevitable as the polar bears now grazing inland into the 6th Great Extinction.

Sea level-rise by glacial melting is not necessarily an inch-by-inch affair; the Ross Ice Sheet of Antarctica could fall off into the ocean tomorrow; it has before. That would cause 15 feet of rising ocean within a week, worldwide. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, equally unstable, would add another 17-20 feet of flooding, demolishing coastal populations and dealing disaster to the low-lying Third World. Greenland and eastern Antarctica are also losing more ice than anyone expected. The odds of one or more of these melting events adding 12-20 feet to the ocean level in a decade? My guess is about 50-50.

The Times also notes that food production worldwide will be "hard hit in coming decades." Drought and global warming are already baking agriculture out of Africa, moving fast into southern Asia, capable of creating deserts the size of continents. This, along with ocean rise, could happen in a decade, displacing a billion starving strangers, sending them north into the troubled Gulags of industrial farming in Siberia.

I guess "strangers" is the key word; Global warming is yet something we imagine happening incrementally to remote strangers, way down the line, maybe at the end of the century.

Global warming is gnawing us on the ass right now. By the end of the decade, it'll take out a real chunk.

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