by Alton C. Thompson
The quote above is taken, of course, from Voltaire’s Candide ou l’Optismisme . But it was originally a statement made by philosopher Gottfried Leibniz—the purpose of Candide then being to satirize Leibniz’s philosophy.
Now, if that assertion was an absurd one to make in 1710 (by Leibniz), it is an insane one to make in 2015! When one turns on the news, one constantly learns of robberies, shootings, and killings by police officers—of young blacks in particular (e.g., Dontre Hamilton here in Milwaukee)—etc., etc.
Tonight (May 31, 2015) the 60 Minutes television program had a segment on the water problem in California (especially), noting that there are actually two problems:
- Water is being drawn out of aquifers at rate greater than it is being replenished.
- As water is being extracted from aquifers, the land is sinking—as much as a foot a year in some places!—thereby endangering infrastructure and buildings.
Given that California has also been experiencing drought the last four years, and that that state produces about 25% of the food that we eat in this country, a continuation of California’s water problems would not only likely result in a mass migration from that state, but a severe food crisis for all of us in this country. Sadly, such continuation is likely!
The water problems in California are basically man-made (a more accurate term here than human-made!), for:
- The excessive “drawdown” of water is obviously being done by people—males especially—who live in California.
- The drought, however, although it may seem to many to be an “act of God,” is also largely male-made (although females also play a role causing this problem!). Although an NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) report last year attributed the drought to “natural” causes, Stanford University climate scientists attribute it to the global warming that is occurring—and I find their conclusions more convincing than that of the NOAA.
Given that the consensus with climate scientists is that global warming is primarily anthropogenic (i.e., human-caused—mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation activities, and by population growth), both of the water problems in California can be laid at the feet of human activities (but not walking feet, of course!).
What hope is there for any of us?
Captain Vere’s words were spoken in a context very different from our current situation as humans, but if spoken today, would also need to be asked as a rhetorical question. Needless to say, this is a somber conclusion to make, to be sure; but unless one is either ignorant of physical processes, or in a state of denial, it is a statement that rings of truth. Not absolute truth, of course, because of the possibility that forces may come into play—of which we are not now aware—that will halt, and possibly even reverse, the global warming now occurring. But it is best to “face the music” about global warming, and recognize the strong possibility that “the end is near.”
What especially makes this seem likely is that:
- As “greenhouse gases” accumulate in the lower atmosphere, their effects don’t become apparent until some later point because of the inertia that exists with climate systems. Put another way, there is a time lag between cause and effect with global warming (of about 40 years per one source).
- With the cessation of those human activities causing global warming and its effects, the effects will continue, and even intensify, for a time. The reason? The greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere prior to the time of cessation will continue to be present in the atmosphere and, therefore, continue to have an effect. As one scientist has put it, “the greenhouse gases we emit can stay in the atmosphere for decades, centuries or even millennia. That’s why it’s so important that we cap emissions as soon as possible.”
The last sentence in the above quotation should be given special note, but there is a problem here: Because the effects of emissions don’t become apparent immediately, by the time they do become apparent, it may be too late! In fact, Arctic climate scientist John B. Davies wrote, in 2013: “The world is probably at the start of a runaway Greenhouse Event which will end most human life on Earth before 2040.” What makes this prediction plausible is that:
- As an Arctic climate scientist, Davies is all too aware of the fact that the Arctic is today’s “canary in the coal mine—one reason being that the polar regions contain a great deal of methane, a gas far more potent as a greenhouse gas than, e.g., carbon dioxide (CO2).
- Global warming is a process that “feeds on itself.” That is, as warming occurs, it causes changes (such as the thawing of permafrost, and consequent release of methane gas) that cause further changes—so that change begins to accelerate.
Davies, in stating that it’s likely that we are at “start of a runaway Greenhouse Event” was in effect asserting that it’s likely that “runaway” has already begun—suggesting also, thereby, that it is now too late to halt global warming. (Many scientists would add that it’s “crazy” to think that we can engineer ourselves out of this problem.)
Given that our situation today, as humans, does not appear to be at all hopeful, the question that arises for individuals specifically is: How should I respond to the strong possibility that there is no good reason to have hope for the human future? That somewhere down the road—by 2040 CE, for example (per Davies)—our species will be no longer. That because we may, at some future point, reach an Eocene Epoch level of temperature conditions, human life will be impossible.
It’s conceivable, of course, that some negative feedback mechanisms will “kick in” and prevent this from occurring. But, in my reading of the relevant literature, I have discovered no mention of such a mechanism; and even if there is one, and it does “kick in,” there is no guarantee that it will do so in time to save our species. Given especially that the other phenomena associated with global warming besides warming per se—such as increased storminess; an increase in the number, size, and severity of storms; and increased variability (hence predictability) in weather conditions—may “do us in” before the heat itself does.
The future that we should be planning for, then, is a future which will have a sad ending—my “we” here referring to individuals, rather than governments, for the simple reason that it’s foolish to look to governments for any actions of significance. Few individuals now are aware of the threat posed by global warming, so it’s not surprising that few individuals are now thinking about how to react to it. But when the effects of global warming start affecting one directly, different individuals will, of course, react in in different ways—and it’s likely that “survival instincts” will come to the fore. That means that violence is likely to become common, with premature deaths resulting from violence (including suicide), along with disease and starvation.
Not a “pretty picture,” by any means, but the physical processes that we humans have set in motion point in that direction, and that direction only.