It’s the climate, stupid!

Global Warming and the resulting climate changes (plural, because local and varied) represent the greatest challenge we humans have faced since we emerged from the receding ice as fully fledged warrior-farmers some 12,000 years ago, a single species well on its way to planetary dominance. Global Warming will put an end to civilisation as we know it and might even threaten the survival of our species. If you are forty years old today, you will know before you die what it is to live in a world where sea level is ten metres higher than it is now, if not fifteen or even twenty five – unless you are among the millions who will fall victim to the ensuing chaos.

Most people, I’m sure, have no idea just how vulnerable we are to physical disruption. All our sophisticated networks of networks, from cell phones in the Rift Valley to fully automated production lines the world over, will be worthless without power. When steam powered the factory and goods were distributed by horse-drawn boat, a city like Manchester could still flourish even if, say, Leeds fell through the map. Communities were independent. Nowadays electric power is centrally generated and its distribution is at the mercy of storm and tempest. From Rio to Shanghai, eleven of the world’s fourteen biggest cities stand on the coastline. Power generating stations cluster along rivers and estuaries. Don’t forget that batteries too are produced in factories powered by electricity.

As the waters rise, the lowest lying power stations will have to be shut down. Those that are still running will have to work harder. Add in storm damage and the occasional earthquake, and the shut-downs will accrue and accelerate. Rolling black-outs will have to be imposed, but even so maintenance programmes will be squeezed… and then squeezed some more, because the politicians won’t listen to the engineers. Until one day, sooner rather than later, the whole system will collapse – definitively.

Just how long do you think it would take for the veil of civilisation to fall away in a world without power? No electricity means no petrol either, because there would be no power for the pumps. Imagine your own daily routines – how many of them would be unaffected by the absence of electricity? Worse still, imagine any shop or bank, any business, any town or village – without computers. Without electricity, everything stops

How ironic to think that solar-powered satellites would still be able to beam down GPS coordinates to a world that’s no longer asking. For without electricity, nothing moves faster than a horse… or a bike. Except bullets of course. And then what? Bows and arrows? Sticks and stones?

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It’s too late to stop climate change. The best we can hope for is to avoid a run-away Venus syndrome. Even if we stopped all CO2 emissions tomorrow, global temperatures would continue to climb at least a further 2.5° by the end of the century, because there’s already so much of the damn stuff up there in the atmosphere. We went through the 400 ppm mark a couple of months ago, but the effects are still working their way through the biosphere. The geological record indicates that the corresponding sea level is 25m higher than today’s.

We can no longer prevent that. What we can do – and what we should be doing already – is to plan for the consequences in the hope that we can learn to live with them.

This blog reflects my own modest efforts – local and global – to ensure that the breakdown of civilisation is less than total.

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