There, we’ve shared the bad news. Now for the good news: you’re probably not going to die from global warming. It’s not that global warming isn’t deadly, it’s just that you’re likely to be too well off to really notice.
Modern life is good and you’d be a fool to say otherwise. We know there are many who do say that stuff is getting worse by the minute – politicians, old people and religious nuts (just to mention some) – but they generally make the mistake of thinking “just because my life sucks, things must be going down the drain”. That is in general not true, it’s just their lives (suckers).
While a lot of stuff do suck big time, the truth is that never before has so many people had better chances at living full, productive and happy lives. Sure, they waste it watching Big Brother and eating doughnuts (Mmm… Doughnuts) – but then again, if they haven’t heard about Plato’s kind of happiness (supposedly the best kind), why should they worry?
Life is a party, and right now, we’re gettin’ jiggy with it. It’s Saturday night and we’re dancing like there’s no tomorrow. For some, there won’t be. For the rest of us, there’s the hangover. Hangovers suck, but generally pass with time. So too will global warming – only with the minor caveat that we’re talking geological time, generally thousands to tens of thousands of years (or longer). These systems are slow, which is the only reason we could party for so long without noticing. Now that we have noticed, it’s easy acting more or less like it’s someone else’s problem, rather than doing something. To be honest, it’s easy because it’s true. (“Someone else” being the poor people of the world, your children and grandchildren)
Over the next hundred years, the United Nations expect temperatures to rise by between 1.1°C and 6.4°C on average. If not for the “on average” part, it might not sound like much. The extremes will tend to vary a lot more though, which translates to warmer summers and colder winters (or some other, equally annoying combo). It may be nice for your tan line and downhill skills, but it will doubtless be bad for old and/or sick people who run the risk of dying of heatstroke (or freezing to death).
Add the fact that many animals and plants are quite picky about their favourite temperatures. Their numbers can be decimated or worse, face extinction. The animals could move, of course (and get crushed by trailers on the highways), but plants aren’t always that lucky. The animals that don’t care about temperature are even more dangerous: as other species start to struggle, they will often make Darwin proud by being more fit (and in essence kill off the less fit). You probably prefer not to care about all this, but don’t forget that humans were very nearly wiped out by climate trouble less than a hundred thousand years ago.
There’s the selfish motive as well – just consider penicillin, found in a mould which countless people owe their life. For every species that die, invaluable hints on how we could live better lives may die with it. And as microbes evolve resistance to antibiotics, we’ll need it!
Diseases constitute another flashpoint. When temperatures rise, the animals carrying diseases (animals are filthy and diseased) such as malaria, can travel to places where they could not survive before. This is not some far off danger, it’s happening today (and often eluding doctors, who do not look for those diseases).
With global warming comes rising sea levels. It is probably the most feared effect of the heat-up, after all, who wants to live in a Waterworld with Kevin Costner? The prime scare is of course the melting ice caps. While the north polar ice cap is harmless (already in the water, you see), the effect of all ice on Greenland, Antarctica and various other glaciers melting would be dramatic – a rise of about 7.2 meters for the Greenland ice shelf alone and around 60 meters if the Antarctic ice shelf melts. That would put a lot of prime real estate (including the homes of billions) under water – which would undeniably be bad.
Before you sell your house
and find a new home with a future beach line, keep in mind that the change will likely be very, very slow. Rich countries will probably manage quite well (if they have anywhere to move their population), while the poorer ones might end up like New Orleans. Don’t get too cocky though, or we’ll end up as a Disney movie, just like Atlantis did (If Plato wasn’t already spinning from people thinking Atlantis was more than a metaphor for people who got to smart for their own damn good, he’d spin considering the Disney part).
What most people don’t realize is that water expands when heated. In other words, even if no ice melts, sea levels can still rise. Don’t take my word for it – I’m sure you can do some crazy experiments with pots and kettles at home (or just open any chemistry textbook).
So, sealevels are rising (and they have been rising for quite some time) – but why care? Well, you might not – but we expect that The Netherlands, Venice and the inhabitants of Pacific Islands do care, quite a bit. In fact, since most major cities are placed near the sea and/or a river, relatively small changes in sea level will have drastic effects on just about everyone. The best case scenario is an orderly move away from the sea, as sea levels rise sedately, while the worst case scenario is mass panics, riots, refugee camps and generally unpleasant suffering. In climate changes long gone, the tipping point came quite quickly, after a long period of a relatively minor change, so we can’t rule it out.
There’s also talk about additional temperature increase caused by methane released as the arctic permafrost is melting away, but that’s just plain depressing (as if the 1.3 billion cows farting [a bunch of methane] every day weren’t enough to worry about).
There’s only one thing we can do: Let’s do nothing and find someone else to blame! The problem, of course, is that we – the consumers of the world – are responsible. If we just stopped consuming so much, we’d be much better off. Or rather, we would be much worse off, but the environment would probably be better off. Except if we ground the planes: the white contrails from planes actually reflect sunlight, affecting the temperatures on the ground.
But we’re not done playing the blame game. Since the communist swine have gone down the drain, only the capitalist pigs are left to blame. We can blame them with good reason – after all, society is built up on consumerist mentality, best captured by Daft Punk in their Technologic:
Buy it, use it, break it, fix it,
Trash it, change it, mail – upgrade it
It makes perfect sense. Stuff that just keep working (like it did it in the good old days) may sell at a higher price, but in the long run it won’t bring in the dollars that modern companies strive for. If government policy is laissez-faire on environmental issues, most companies will find that the polluting alternative often gives a better bottom line on their spreadsheets. There are some odd men out, selling products to that small, niché group of the market that want environmentally sound products, but that’s just a small part of the market.
Governments can tax pollution in order to promote climate friendly alternatives, but then foreign industry will always stand ready to take over (while the local company downsize, close down or move abroad). For politicians with reelections to think of, the jobs today are more important than the lives of the next generation anyway (not to mention that the bribes generous contributions from the polluting compaines themselves will definitely help their campaigns).
It’s usually not that polluting is less expensive, it’s just that the companies won’t be the ones paying the bar bill once the party is over. It doesn’t help that companies often fight any form of legislation limiting their so-called market freedom. It’s a lie, constructed to maximise their profits. After all, pollution has a cost to society (the cost to clean it up, plus the damages caused until it is cleaned up) that is currently not paid by the polluter. In many ways, it is an example of the state subsidizing the polluter, or even rewarding pollution (though in a very convoluted way).
In fact, American historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway tackle this very theme in their book Merchants of Doubt, where they show that the discontent sowed concerning man made climate change largely comes from the same conservative think-tanks that tried to stop legislation concerning tobacco smoking, the breakdown of the ozone layer and acid rain (we all know how fucked you are if you smoke in acid rain while there’s a hole in the ozone layer). It’s not that these dangers aren’t real, it’s just that the people supporting these institutions make too much money in the process of not caring.
It is quite clear that their campaign against climate change has worked very well. While climate change has been proven beyond any doubt usually present in scientific debate, the group has still managed to muddle the waters. Their machinations has caused widspread skepticism among both the common folk and among politicians that are either too greedy, too dumb or too populistic to take notice of what just about every scientist is saying about the subject.
It is time to take back the playing field. Global warming is real. Even if we can’t stop it, we should do our damned best to minimize it. Your grandchildren will thank you for it. Start small – get a more environmentally friendly car and eat less meat. Generally do what you can comfortably do to help and let your voice be heard! If companies can’t sell polluting products, they won’t make them. Oh, and buy a boat. If you’re on a boat, you’re cool.