Fantastic version of the Apocalypse always begins with the long-awaited event — the launch of the leakage of the virus, zombie invasion and quickly moves from total collapse to a new stable state. Something happens, and in the morning you already wheel a squeaky trolley from the supermarket among the abandoned Tesla, shotgun at the ready. It is only important event: the baptism of fire is the sword that separates the past from the present, the origin story of the future you. However, catastrophic global climate change is not an event, and we do not expect him. We already live in this. In August 2018, as a result of forest fires and record heat, for the first time cracked the most powerful and oldest ice in the Arctic ocean, heralding the death spiral of Arctic glaciers.
In September 2018, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has issued a warning speech: “Unless we change course, by 2020, we risk to miss the moment when we can avoid runaway climate change.” In the following months in the United States began the debate about whether to build a wall on the southern border to keep out refugees from climate change; there are news that greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, and grow; in France, a rebellion broke out populists caused by the refusal of the tax on gasoline.
In the early days of 2019 there are new scientific reports about what we may have passed the point of no return. One study in particular found that aerosols in the form of particles can have twice the cooling effect than previously thought, and that means global warming could occur faster if not hampered by air pollution. Another showed that the melting of Greenland ice may have passed a tipping point and will lead to a significant rise in ocean levels in this century. Another study showed that Antarctica is losing six times more ice mass than 40 years ago. Another said that the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica found a basin the size of Manhattan that testifies to the catastrophic collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which could lead to the rise in sea level by 2.5 meters is a century.
In another report described how climate extremes, such as droughts and heat waves, reduce the soil’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide — almost twice — and hence global warming not only exacerbates extreme weather events, but they, in turn, accelerate global warming. Permafrost in the Arctic is much warmer — a whole degree, from 2007 to 2016. The level of methane in the atmosphere has increased significantly over the last decade.
The increase of atmospheric methane is so large that it will actually negate the commitments made in the Paris climate agreement. Even if anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will be limited, the sudden and steady growth of methane will overshadow all the progress done during the other restrictions. Another study showed that early spring rains in the Arctic due to global warming, increased methane emissions from permafrost by 30%.
Meanwhile, the oceans are warming 40% faster than previously thought, according to a recent study. Given the current trajectory of carbon emissions and the dynamics of the feedback, it is likely that global surface temperature will be 2-3 degrees higher than in pre-industrial age by 2050. It will also push the trajectory of the global climate beyond what is possible to stabilize the strength of people. It is believed that even a warming of 1.5 degrees may cause a cascading effect, which will Land in the path of the “hot greenhouse Earth”. And this with an accuracy of 0.2 degrees. And the red line at 1.5 degrees, we can cross in 20 years, not 10 — and after 5 or 3.
A new dark age
Imagine it is 2050. I will be 72 years old. My daughter will be 33. Broad bands are now populated coastlines and Equatorial jungles, deserts are likely to become a desert: they will either be under water or will become too hot for life. People from around the world will probably see countless local and regional climate catastrophe, will survive the global economic turmoil and the catastrophic fall harvest, random acts of aggression by the starving citizens will become the norm, which will form a new repressive government as the only way to get things under control. In response to this political, environmental and economic instability, enraged people most likely sell their freedom in exchange for security guarantees, while the security forces will have to build the walls, and the nation will compete for the once abundant resources like drinking water.
If the political and social consequences of global warming will be a little similar to what happened during the last major climate change “little ice age” of the 17th century, we should expect such dreadful consequences in the form of famine, epidemics, and wars. Historian Geoffrey Parker believes that the consequences of the secondary effects of global cooling by 1 degree, which began in 1650-ies, resulted in the deaths of a third of the population of the planet. Records from some parts of China, Poland, Belarus and Germany are talking about a 50% loss.
There is a possibility that would be even worse. According to Lloyd’s of London, which in 2015 commissioned research on food security, any significant shock to the global food system “may lead to serious economic and political consequences.” But since the Earth’s climate transformirovalsya something human civilization has never before seen, we should realistically not expect a single shock, and a whole series of such. And that’s assuming that global warming will occur at the current rate, and will not accelerate the nonlinear result in a cascading impact of feedback.
All of this will happen day after day, month after month, year after year. Surely there will be “events” of the kind that we have seen in the last decade, heat waves, massive destructive hurricanes, a slowdown in the most important Atlantic flows, political changes — the civil war in Syria, Mediterranean refugee crisis, the riots in France and the like. But unless nuclear war happens, we are unlikely to see a global “event” which will mark the transition we’ve been waiting for, “legitimize” climate change and forced us to change our path.
The next 30 years are likely to resemble the slow disaster of the present: we get used to each new shock, the new shock of the new “new normal”, until one day find ourselves in a new dark age — unless, of course, we are still in it was not.
This is not the Apocalypse that you saw in the movies. This is not the Apocalypse, which can be prepared or from which to hide. It will not be an Apocalypse with a beginning and an end, where the survivors build a new world. This is not an “event”, and the new world, a new geological epoch in Earth’s history, where the planet may not be hospitable to bipedal Homo sapiens. The planet is approaching or has already passed — several key thresholds, after which the conditions in which people were soaking in the last 10,000 years, will cease to exist.
It’s not our future is our present: a time of transformation and struggle, for whom it is difficult to see a clear path. Even in the best case — a quick, radical, massive transformation of the energy systems that underpin the global economy (which would entail a complete overhaul of the collective human life), combined with large investments in carbon capture, when all this is happening under the auspices of the unprecedented global cooperation — challenges and thresholds with which we are faced, will have tremendous pressure on a growing population of people.
Goodbye, good life
Global warming can not be properly understood or dealt with separately. Even if we somehow “solve” the geopolitical, military and economic challenges to rebuild our global energy system, we still have to deal with the ongoing collapse of the biosphere, carcinogenic toxins that we have scattered around the world, acidification of the oceans, the crisis in industrial agriculture and overpopulation. There is no realistic plan to mitigate global warming, for example, which would not include control of population growth — but what exactly does that mean? Control education and birth — right, but then what? The one-child policy? Forced abortions? Euthanasia? It is easy to see what problems could occur in extreme cases. In addition, the Earth’s climate is not a thermostat. Not simply to throw carbon into the atmosphere, damaging the entire global climate system, and then put it on pause, as in a video game.
With our situation it is difficult to reconcile psychologically, philosophically and politically. Rational thought pales before this Apocalypse. We made a leap of faith into a new world, and the conceptual and cultural framework that we have developed to understand human existence over the past 200 years, seem completely inappropriate in order to cope with this transition, not to mention to help us to adapt to the hot and chaotic planet.
Our life is built around the concepts and values that are constantly threatened by the acute dilemma: either we radically transform the collective life of the people, ceasing to use fossil fuels, or, more likely, climate change will lead us to the end of capitalist civilization that uses fossil fuels. Revolution or collapse — in any case, the good life will end. Think of all the things we take for granted: a permanent economic growth, endless technological and moral progress; the world market, is able to quickly satisfy all the desires of the people; easy travel for long distances; regular trips to other countries; agricultural images; the abundance of synthetic materials to create cheap, quality consumer goods; air conditioning; conservation of wildlife; relaxing on the beach; vacation in the mountains; ski sports; coffee in the morning; wine before bedtime; education of children; recovery from natural disasters; clean water; their homes, cars and land; an abundance of experience, impressions and emotions; freedom to choose where to live, whom to love, whom to be, what to believe; faith that we will cope with climate change. All this may not be, if we don’t change our ways.
Climate change is inevitable — it is clear. But the problem remains beyond our understanding, and any realistic solution seems unimaginable in our current conceptual framework.the situation is terrible, overwhelming, insoluble and unprecedented scale, it is not devoid of precedent. Not the first time a group of people have to deal with the inconsistencies of the conceptual framework for navigating reality. Not the first time the world comes to an end.
When the collapse of culture
Poets, thinkers and scientists regularly reflect on the cultural catastrophe. The ancient Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh tells the story of how people survived the collapse of civilization caused by environmental transformation: Gilgamesh “brought back the wisdom that was before the flood”. The Aeneid Virgil tells not only about the fall of Troy, but also about the survival of the Trojans. Several books of the Torah tell of how the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Jews, destroyed their temples and drove them out. This story gave future generations a powerful model of cultural endurance.
One historical analogy is particularly powerful: the European conquest and genocide of the indigenous peoples of North and South America. Here the world really ended. Many worlds. Each civilization, each tribe lived in its own sense of reality — but they all saw how these realities are crumbling, and had to fight for cultural continuity beyond just survival. The struggle the poet Gerald Vizenor called “vagivalla”.
Today many other “tribes” or communities, are trying to cope with poverty, suicide and unemployment. But in these “tribes” is also born poets, historians, singers, dancers, thinkers. The point here is not to find charm in proximity to “nature” or a naive desire to return to the values of warriors-hunters, and to ask what we could learn from people who have experienced cultural and environmental catastrophe.
Need to live on
We face destruction of our conceptual reality. Catastrophic levels of global warming at the moment to worry about practically does not work, and they also can lead to the end of life known to us.
We have two separate problems. First: will we be able to cope with the worst effects of climate change and prevent the extinction of the people by limiting greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Second: will we be able to find a new way to live in the world we have created.
It is not entirely clear whether we, modern people, psychological, and spiritual resources to meet these challenges. The outcomes of our struggle, too, seem obvious. A successful response to the threat of survival might not make sense if we do not see significant reduction of global carbon emissions. Recent studies show that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide of about 1200 parts per million, which we expect in the next century, would change the atmosphere so that clouds reflecting sunlight over the subtropics, will dissipate by 8 degrees Celsius over 4 degrees, which we already expected to this point. So a quick warming of 12 degrees in 100 years — will lead to such a large environmental shocks that large warm-blooded mammal like Homo sapiens may not survive. Billions will die if our species generally remain able to exist. The history of the Earth are full of extinct species. We burn their remains, to ride the cars. Our why should be the exception?
And yet, the lack of good prospects does not absolve us from the obligation to find a way forward. Our Apocalypse happens every day, and our biggest task is to learn to live with this truth, while remaining committed to some as yet unimaginable shape the future of human prosperity — to live with a desperate reliable. We need to continue. We have no choice.