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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Is This the End of the World as We Know It?

Or is it something else altogether?

Image: Flickr/Strawberry Singh

George Harvey

A recent report in the journal Scientific Reports has been quite a topic of discussion lately (https://bit.ly/Nature-end). Basically, it says that even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gasses today, it would be too late to stop climate change, because we have passed the tipping point for methane emissions from melting permafrost. This has been controversial and has led to a number of articles asking whether we really are at the end of the world as we know it.

That “as we know it” part allows for a lot of possibilities. Some of them are doubtless well beyond unpleasant and ranging into the horrible. Some of them might be very different from what we know, but not any more unpleasant than where we are now.

The question of what our future will be is very much up to ourselves. If we do nothing, we are heading toward a disaster. On the other hand, we may avoid disaster simply by being real.

Image: Flickr/aka Tman

The Scientific Reports article says changes will be big unless we start drawing down carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere now. Unfortunately, we are barely ready to do this. Nevertheless, there are other things we can do.

One thing we have not really started on is getting those who are in denial out of it. Some of those people will listen when they understand that all is not doom and gloom. That is especially true for people who are worried that dealing with climate change will be expensive and reduce our standard of living. That is not the case, according to a very recent report from a financial major.

At about the same time the Scientific Reports came out, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) published “2022 The growth opportunity of the century” (https://bit.ly/PwC-opportunity). PwC is the second largest professional services network in the world and the fifth largest privately owned company in the United States, according to its Wikipedia entry (https://bit.ly/WP-pwc-entry). PwC is advising its clients to be prepared for a global shift in investing that will, by 2022, see 77% of institutional investors worldwide stop buying products unless they operate according to environmental, social, and corporate Governance (ESG).

Image: www.climate-change-guide.com

We might consider the PwC article from the point of view of the world as we know it changing. It says that in the very near future nearly all businesses will be pushed hard by their investors to achieve environmental and social sustainability, and a large number of them will adopt ESG. That will mean a change in the marketplace, which will have ramifications for energy industries.

Truthfully, it is clear that we cannot escape environmental changes. We already have a few of them. We already have everything form wildfires and hurricanes to such invasive species as Lyme ticks. The changes we see arise out of environmental changes we have caused unintentionally.

What we need is wise and intentional change. And though we are just setting up what to do, we have good ideas about what to do. We really do have hope.

Some things are harder than others. We can bet that hurricanes will continue to get worse. That will happen as long as there is excessive CO2 in the air, and it will take at least decades to address that fact. But hurricanes are not the only problems we have with climate change. And some of the others can be addressed effectively. I will give two examples.

The world is changing. This was the Chacaltay ski resort in Bolivia. It depended on the snow of a glacier that has melted entirely. Image: Mauriki, Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-SA 3.0  (https://bit.ly/3fqmQxe)

One method for dealing with drought, developed in Australia, is natural sequence farming (https://bit.ly/natural-sequence). By slowing down the water moving across the land, restoring that motion to what it had been before it was farmed, the water table is raised. This means crops grow better with less irrigation. It also means wildfires have less chance to spread. If much of California were engineered with what are really minor changes on the principles of natural sequence farming, it could have profound effects on the state and on the climate.

Another tool we have is high tech. In 2017, as wildfires raged in Northern California, Stone Edge Farm was spared, because it had its own solar-powered microgrid, which could be controlled through the internet and powered its irrigation system after workers had evacuated. This was covered by an article in CleanTechnica (https://bit.ly/CT-Stone-Edge). With the lucky circumstance that the internet connection was not destroyed, the farm was saved by maintaining heavy irrigation.

We may not be able to stop hurricanes and methane emissions from the tundra, so we need to draw down carbon from the atmosphere. But we can engineer the environment to help with floods, drought, and wildfires.

I have no doubt at all that there will be change. It may come to destroy us if we stay in denial. It will come to make the world a better place, if we act wisely.

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