- I’m usually an optimist
- Climate change movies
- National Geographic 3 minutes
- Bill Nye 4 minutes
- WWF: Our planet, our business: 38 minutes
- Dr James Hansen TED talk
- Sky news — an apocalyptic look at 6 degrees. 3 minutes
- Governments mostly ignore it
- Doomers and the suicide that changed me
- There is hope if you get involved
- Solutions page
1. I’m usually an optimist.
I grew up reading geeky sci-fi books and watching shows like Star Trek that were quite optimistic about our future. Indeed, some stories portrayed a post-scarcity world in which robots did most of the work and humans were free to pursue more noble artistic and scientific causes, improving themselves and the world. I grew up thinking we had a wonderfully technologically optimistic future.
But the journey to such a future seems on a knife edge at the moment. Unless we roll out the right mix of technologies on a vast scale, huge trends in environmental destruction may overwhelm us. You’ve all seen the tally; it’s now nightly news:-
- Industrial agriculture kills 100,000 km’s square farmland a year,
- Scientific American warns world’s farmland topsoils could be gone in 60 years,
- Underground water aquifers (bore water) are running dry,
- 75% of fisheries are on the verge of collapse, and as CO2 levels rise we might push ocean acidity past stable levels where the ocean cooks itself in acid and most ocean life dies off!
- The ocean provides the essential protein for a billion people!
- Forests and other habitats are under stress as we use half the land surface of the earth for grazing and farming. (Cities only take up 3%.)
- We have introduced pests, hunted the apex predators, and polluted with plastic and other toxic wastes. This creates biodiversity loss which in turn threatens ecosystem services.
- We will mine most conventional metal ores by 2075.
- Not only this, but the sheer speed of exponential growth means many of us are unprepared for how bad it could get and how fast it could happen.
All of this is bad enough, but now add climate change to this scenario and it starts to look pretty grim.
2. Climate change movies
A. National Geographic explains climate change in 3 minutes
Increasing use of fossil fuels will — by 2028 — commit us to 2 degrees of warming. Climate change accelerates all these bad trends and attacks us in four main climate FOES: Famine, Oceans rising, Extinctions and Storms – with crop yields cut about a quarter as the human population rises about a third!
B. Bill Nyle explains in 4 minutes.
C. WWF beautifully shot climate documentary: 38 minutes.
(I disagree with the WWF’s anti-nuclear stance, but love this documentary!)
D. Dr James Hansen: 18 minutes
This softly spoken scientist was arrested in 2009 for protesting. What drove him to it? He didn’t discover the physics of ‘greenhouse gases’ — that was Joseph Fourier nearly 200 years ago. Instead, he studied the runaway greenhouse effect and Venus, and then turned his gaze earthward to ask what was happening here? Now he’s genuinely frightened for his grandchildren. This is his TED talk from 2012. And despite all his work, not much has changed. Meet Dr James Hansen, the grandfather of modern climate science. 18 minutes.
If we really let things run amok and hit 5 degrees of warming, Sky News presents it as an Extinction Level Event! If the climate even started to look like it was going to accelerate to 5 degrees we would be forced to adopt some drastic geo-engineering techniques like Solar Radiation Management. SRM is so cheap individual nations could do it, but there are potentially deadly side effects for some nations. We may also see the world using massive carbon-sequestration projects like deploying olivine and gigantic seaweed farms to reduce atmospheric CO2.
E: Sky news — an apocalyptic look at 6 degrees. 3 minutes
3. Governments mostly ignore it
I am firmly convinced that we have the technology we need to not only survive, but thrive. But will we deploy it in time? As Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Jared Diamond said, “People are worried now.” Hardly a year goes by without a careful scientific organisation sounding the alarm. We read Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and watch Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth“. Governments pay lip service with a few rebates to renewables. But sadly, my Limits Page documents a growing list of papers from the classic and disturbing 1970’s Limits to Growth (which is still on track 40-something years later) to more recent work by other scientific panels.
4. Doomers and the suicide that changed me
Many environmentalists become doomers, depressed at the potential for anarchy. Sadly, some go a little Malthusian and crazy and even rejoice in the ‘inevitable’ collapse of civilisation. They become Doomsday Preppers that feel they have the edge on everyone else, or “Apocalyptic Outsiders” like a secular cult convinced only they really understand the risks to our civilisation. One specific doomer meme is a technical argument that nothing can ever replace the energy density of fossil fuels. As I investigated their claims, they convinced me of two points:-
- cheap energy is the lifeblood of our civilisation
- traditional renewable energy is too unreliable and storage too expensive for today’s electricity supply (let alone trying to replace oil).
Were we bound to live like a bit like the Amish — with only a little electricity during the sunlit hours of the day? And how would society transition to such a low energy system? Would farming adapt in time? If I abandoned my car and managed to cycle to the store, would there be any food when I got there? How many regions would collapse into anarchy during this unpredictable time? Sadly, these doomer arguments and memes proved deadly to one young man on a peak oil forum. He cycled out to his favourite tree and hung himself. That suicide changed me. I became appalled at the Malthusian prophets of doom gloating on their internet forums like so many internet campers telling ghost stories around their virtual campfires. It robs young people of hope. Slowly, over time, this blog became a collection of existing, established technologies that could solve our problems.
5. There is hope if you get involved
I’m now convinced there is no technical inevitability of a worldwide collapse. “Peak energy” from the peak oil doomers is just a myth. Check my solutions pages — we can have all the abundant reliable affordable clean power we want, but there’s a lot of public fear to deal with first. But there are technical solutions to our many environmental problems. But will we deploy them in time? I originally used the symbol of an eclipse and pushed the line that “We must eclipse ourselves or be eclipsed.” But that’s not only too melodramatic: it’s also too life or death, too all or nothing, too binary.
I can now see a thousand ways we might succeed in some areas and fail in others. While we might not “be eclipsed” and collapse back to the stone age, we risk being stuck in the twilight. Unless we accelerate rolling out the solutions available to us, our children will inherit a planet we hardly recognise, with half the biodiversity extinct by 2050 and possibly billions living in poverty, hunger, and war. There are enormous challenges ahead. I hope you will study the solutions summary page, read further, and find at least one cause that might resonate
Please browse my solutions summary page.
Click the links, read the pages, watch the videos. You might not agree with all of the solutions, but if just one resonates with you google it, join a local activist group or facebook group, and you may just have an impact! You’ll learn more, make friends, and possibly help put things back on track.