Monday, October 29, 2007
Climate Change: Why We Must Worry (N)
Life, if it ever becomes blase about itself, ought not to exist at all - NVDL
Very simply put, there are two reasons to be very, very concerned about what is happening right now on our planet. The first is a question of energy, the second, stability. Both of these are in a state of flux far beyond the range of flux that is considered a normal pattern. Let's look at each in turn.
There are plenty of systems at work. Our own bodies have a number of systems running, from the circulatory system, the respiratory, the excretory, nervous, lymphatic, digestive and others. If any one system breaks down - say, the immune system - it can lead to a systemic collapse.
Yes, it's true, our bodies can function fine - apparently - even though we may strain these systems, say through smoking, whilst old or sick.
Overall though, the system amounts to energy flows, chemical reactions. We can call that life, homeostasis, system - but that's what we're talking about.
This planet is very very rare in the cosmos. Any human being could spend his or her entire life searching for another planet like it. You might spend your lifetime searching through the most powerful telescopes, going through light years of distance and time, and you will find planet after planet that does not have that near magical ability: a life support system. Just the right distance from the sun, the right gravitational field, enough atmosphere to allow some sunlight through, but also a filter to protect the creatures underneath.
The point of that analogy is that life - the way it is on Earth - is not easily found in such abundance. Thus it is incredibly precious, and at the same time, fragile.
It may not seem so if you actually belong to the one planet where there is so much life; and it seemingly continues to exist over an infinite period. And those on that planet believe even if life ends, there's an 'afterlife'.
But never mind that, in terms of energy, the Earth is a system. It receive a constant stream of nourishing energy from the sun. This energy would be deadly were it not for an ancient process of converting solar energy into chemical/potential energy. And so our plants and forests, our alga's have paved the way for all other creatures. We started off with a mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere; now we have a proportion of oxygen in it.
Whatever the balancing mechanism, our millions of years, solar energy was converted into forests. Over millions of years these energies turned into rocks or were crushed into the few subterranean vaults we know today. In 100 years, mankind has successfully converted half of this planet's stored energy. In perhaps half that time we may be able to convert the rest of this stored solar energy into heat and smoke.
So essentially, looking at the entire system, we're seeing an awfully large injection of heat and smoke in an incredibly short period of time. Billions of machines are at work around the clock, 24 hours a day, converting coal, oil and gas into some form of energy, releasing heat and 'excrement' - CO2 gas, methane and the rest.
Naturally this has a significant impact on the stability of this system. For the human body it might be light eating 20 000 bars of chocolate in a week. You're basically exhausting a lifetime's supply of a resource into a very short period; choking the other systems with sugars and causing a massive injection of chemicals.
Can the Earth's body withstand such an attack? Possibly, but with the likelihood of it getting seriously sick. It may never fully recover; it may become terminally ill and go on to live a fairly long life in geological terms, but it may never be the same again.
On this planet, human beings are a small subsystem - like the lymphatic system. We're important only in the sense that we act like antibiotics - killing species in one of the world's largest species holocausts in its history. We are weapons of mass destruction from the point of view of Polar Bears, Elephants, virtually every other creature.
In terms of our atmosphere, the massive conversion of fossil fuels to heat, motion and energy creatures an atmosphere that has more heat and more evaporated moisture. Yes, the ice caps are melting, but all that melted, evaporated moisture gets loaded into the atmosphere. The warming adds up to a far more unstable atmospheric system. This system becomes far more conducive to erratic and super powerful storm systems as it attempts to shed its energy load.
And so we're left with a body that is strained by too much energy, too soon, as so it attempts to dump this energy. A human body would vomit, or develop a fever, or diarrhea, or a combination. The Earth will do the same. It has started sweating. It has started to notice an infection spreading over it. That infection started off benign and helpful, like freckles on skin. We now number 6.7 billion, and we are threatening to collapse the entire system. As a result, we need to be part of that load shedding, and we will. We have breached the capacity of the system. Soon, there will not be enough energy to go around, and then we will see a crash.
Any system that exceeds capacity does not gradually fade and settle back to its equilibrium level. Like a storm, it builds, and with lightning and thunder, the storm finally breaks. We would do well to realise this, because the storm is already generating. But balance will come about whether we consent, co-operate or not.
NVDL: Barry Ronge's comments in the Sunday Time's magazine for me were disappointing. We are still arguing about the fineprint, about who is patronising who, instead of agreeing to get serious about the broad issue. More and more we hear that our survival may be at stake. This ought to be the biggest issue there is. Some idiots take the high ground and say: it's very complex, I'm not intelligent enough to figure it out - no one is.
Are you intelligent enough to magnify everything you do, multiplied by 6.7 billion? Because you ought to know it's going to strain the system.
Life was not designed for each individual to have their own house, own car, own TV, phone computer. We were supposed to share, but in time, perhaps we'll relearn that lesson.