Monday, August 9, 2010

Human Adaptation and the need for behavior modification and conservation

In high school I once got into a long winded debate with a classmate over the topic of conservation and sustainable practices. He was under the impression that he didn't really have to care about it because "future technology" would take care of it. This concept seemed very short sighted and naive to me at the time but I couldn't really think of why. Part of me realized that it would be a sisyphean effort - constantly trying to fix the symptoms of the problem and not coming up with a solution to the cause of the problem in the first pace and a bit of a blind faith in the abilities of man and science.

I recently found a few articles that made me more sure of my original position. According to the Ecocentric Blog at Time magazine, many of the efforts we will use to help us adapt to climate change will exacerbate things.
Positive feedback cycles—they're what keeps climatologists up at night. The term describes the way that certain ecological responses to a warming climate can further accelerate warming, creating a feedback cycle that can spiral out of control. Take the billions and billions of tons of methane buried beneath the Arctic permafrost. Methane is about 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but fortunately, those vast stores in the Arctic are locked beneath frozen soil, for the most part unable to escape and add to the greenhouse effect. But as the planet—and especially the Arctic—continues to warm, some of that permafrost will melt, potentially leaking methane into the atmosphere and amplifying global warming. And the warmer it gets, the more Arctic permafrost will thaw and the more methane will be released—so on and so on.
The article paints a frightening picture of the attitude of "well, we can adapt" instead of "we need to fix the cause of these problems." Knowing what I know about human nature, especially in America where the culture of convenience has taken root and grown far too strong for my comfort, the simplest solution will usually win. In this situation it is far easier to just put a band-aide on the problem by moving to a more comfortable climate or ignore legislation (such as AB32) to concentrate on economic issues instead of the long term.

What we must remember is that the Earth is changing, biodiversity is shrinking and there should not even be an argument on that issue. From a CBS article regarding the Carnegie Institute's findings on the possible effects and trends of climate change:
Among other things, the report expects deforestation and logging to exact a higher toll on the world's humid tropical forests than previously reported. Carnegie researchers concluded that only 18% to 45% of the plants and animals found in these ecosystems "may remain as we know them today" by the year 2100.

Among their conclusions:

  • Climate change could alter two-thirds of the tropical forests in Central and South America
  • Over 80% of the Amazon Basin could suffer changes in its biodiversity
  • About 70% of Africa's tropical forest biodiversity is at risk
  • The Congo: Between 35 percent and 74 percent of the forests in the region are threatened by logging and climate change.
  • In Asia and the central and southern islands of the Pacific may fare better than other regions. Deforestation and logging, the primary drivers of changes in their local ecosystems, are down 22% in the last decade. Still, up to 77% of the area is at risk of biodiversity losses.
There have been arguments and theories regarding attempts to control the weather, to attempt to curtail such negative trends. Whether it is in our best interests to try and change the weather systems since they are starting to teeter on extremes has been at the forefront of that arguement. Seems to me like huge hubris and attempting to catch a tornado with a rope. From;
"Geoengineering, " as many of the practice's adherents prefer to call it, has been around in one form or another since the first aboriginal people undertook the first rain dance. Its critics have been around since about five minutes later. In "Owning the Weather, " those critics -- a motley collection of scientists, academics and hippies -- insist the real solution to climate change isn't weather modification, but behavior modification on the part of humans.
So it comes down to, act on something that seems like super-science from the comics or working on trying to change the aspects of our behavior that is contributing to the weather problem or doing nothing.

A very interesting internet meme has been going around through Youtube that hits the nail on the head.

One thing that stands out significantly about the benefits of this video is that he has a call to action for comment and discussion. Not in a way that says "bring it on" or "i dare you" but in a way that promotes active and intelligent and calm discussion.

So is calm discussion and forward progress actually happening in the political world? The short answer seems, not really. What seems to be happening out there is not calm discussion but aversion. Look at the Copenhagen talks and the subsequent non-actions that followed. The most recent insanity is the U.N. talks in Mexico. Keep in mind that there are horrible conditions out there; "Russia is burning, Pakistan and China are grappling with floods and mudslides, and millions of people are starving after long droughts in Niger and the Sahel. The Arctic sea ice is reportedly melting at near record pace, land and sea temperature data show conclusively that the world is warming and 16 countries have experienced record temperatures already this year. (From the Guardian)" California is having a cold wave where the east coast is having a huge heat wave. The upcoming talks will be attempting to address many of the same issues that Copenhagen originally set out to deal with but the outcome looks like it is going to be similar.

From the Guardian;

With so little time left for full negotiations before the politicians arrive, the talks now look to be in semi-crisis. The chances of a deal in CancĂșn were always slight, but now it's quite possible that the world won't get a legal agreement even next year in South Africa. You would almost think that some countries did not want an agreement, and you might be right.

So in this situation; we can't squabble, we can't point fingers and we need to stop the bureaucratic red tape because every year we delay on action can add decades to the process, and at a certain point it may be too late to make an actual real change. We need to push ourselves and our leaders to make the uncomfortable decisions and choices that will be the best in the long run.

Though a weather controlling machine does sound nice....

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