Put down the coffee, Stub out that stogie. It’s time we had a chat.
I’ve just come back from an extended trip through the Arctic Circle via the net, and let me tell you, we’ve got problems. No, not those little problems that have been murmuring under the radar for so long. Those are not problems, those are, judging by the sluggish reaction times (even in Bali), regarded as surmountable irritations. I’m talking Problems.
It’s getting hard to maintain interest, what with all the doomsaying going on. Seems the Great Polluters just don’t feel that they should make a significant contribution to the wellbeing of our planet. No surprise there, then. The Problem is, the planet is not going to wait for our squabbles over greenhouse emissions to be resolved before it goes ahead and makes global-scale adjustments. Our planet is going right ahead and crapping out in a million little ways every day, while we shuffle our feet and look thoughtful. Dreadful? You betcha.
There is a body of people that insist that ‘the earth is a self-regulating organism’. This is the basis of the Gaia Hypothesis, put forward by research scientist Dr James Lovelock in the 70’s as part of his work for NASA. Humour my diversion into this bibliographical cul-de-sac, but it all has some bearing on Just Exactly How Fucked Our Planet Is. Which, by the way, in case you’d not heard it enough, is Very.
Turns out that Gaia Hypothesis or no Gaia Hypothesis, things are simply moving way too fast for this old ball of rock to play catch up. We’re laying waste in a manner that makes the cataclysmic meteor impacts of yore look like a kid tossing firecrackers around.
Take, for example, one charming chunk of alarming data from the Arctic –
‘In 1996, Greenland was losing about 100 cubic km per year in mass from its ice sheet; by 2005, this had increased to about 220 cubic km.’ (BBCNews.co.uk, may 18, 2007)
If this increases, according to the boffins who know (and no, they aren’t reactionary weirdo’s – this is fact) we’ll be 7 metres deeper if all polar ice melts. The next piece of info which adds fuel to my growing alarm? Try this on for size:
"We are concerned because we know that sea levels have been able to rise much faster in the past - 10 times faster. This is a big gorilla. If sea level rise is multiplied by 10 or more, I'm not sure we can deal with that," co-author Eric Rignot, from the US space agency's (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, told the BBC News website.
Now, we’ve all seen An Inconvenient Truth, and we’re all aware that there is a major problem at hand. You haven’t seen it? Go sit in the corner with the guy wearing the dunce hat, we’ll get a copy over to you sharp-sharp. George – you’ve got a friend who’s gonna watch with you, mmkay? Take your finger out of the plug, George. Anyway.
The point is – with all the best intentions, the UN conference in Bali and all the adjustments that both developed and developing nations will be making, none of it is soon enough to arrest the full-scale global catastrophe that is about to unfold.
Get used to seeing more extreme weather. Get used to hearing that 200 000 people have been displaced here, that the worst storm ever just happened there and get really used to the idea that things are never going to be the same again.
There is even talk in some quarters – and it is considered wildly reactionary, but there is a sober point of view as its seed – that an energy rationing system, not unlike wartime restrictions, will have to be implemented on a global scale if we are to effectively rein in the rampant ecological disaster that faces us. Sound crazy? Doesn't sound as crazy as it once did to me, and I'm pretty thick-skinned when it comes to New Age hippy mofofo. This goes beyond the rationalising and debating. Measures such as rationing will be the only way for us to get through the next fifty years, because we are effectively at war with our environment.
I for one am not surprised that a suggestions such as this raises the hackles of so many people, ensconced as they are in their comfort zones, with their SUV’s, their credit cards and consumer goods. Hell, I’m one of them. OK, minus the SUV and credit cards, but still, I am one of the six billion who are all collectively responsible for the state of the global nation (alright kids, you're off the hook, but your parents will have a lot of explaining to do when you grow up and start asking questions).
What I cannot believe is that there are still people (and countries) which insist that this is all a bit hysterical. What exactly is hysterical about having your entire existence irreparably changed for the worst in the blink of time’s eye? We have some tough decisions to make, all of us. The longer we leave it, the worse it will be.
For me, living on the edge of the Indian Ocean here in Durban, South Africa, I have to consider the immediate impact. As it is, we have already experienced major storms here which generated crazy swell, the likes of which I have only ever seen once in all my 34 years of watching the surf. The aftermath of our last 'worst ever' bore testament to the power of natural forces now swinging ever wilder – scores of homes were lost to the high water mark. Roads, bridges, golf estates, sewerage plants, factories.
Now consider that the trend for rising sea levels will continue – because it will – and then consider this:
‘Nearly two thirds of humanity live within 150 kilometres of coastal waters. In the United States, over 50 % of Americans live in 772 coastal counties. By 2025, nearly 75% of Americans are projected to be living near a coast, with population density doubling in some areas such as Florida and California. Of China’s 1 billion plus population, over 55% reside in 13 southeastern and coastal provinces and coastal cities of Shanghai and Tianjin and the numbers are rising. Of the largest 30 cities in the world, 17 are coastal cities.’ Rice University Coastal Cities survey, 2007
So we’re agreed then – major Problem. Now let’s take this little piece of terrifying info one step further and consider the following:
When the coastal cities of the world get flooded, do you think governments are give wads of cash to companies to evacuate buildings, tear them down and make the area nice and clean for the little fishies? Hell, no. What's going to happen is that all of those cities, with all their flood-plain heavy industries and pollution, will simply be left to be swamped. And what will happen to the oceans of the world then? Already crippled by overfishing, the fish stock of the oceans will fall further as breeding grounds become too deep and new shoals give off long-lasting poisons. With so many people displaced, the green spaces, so diminished, will shrink further. You see where I’m going with this? Mad Max, anyone? Waterworld? Sounds like Hollywood. Looks like the future.
This, then, is the Problem. And as much as I can write all of the above, I am at a loss as to what the next manoeuvre will be. I, like Stevie Wonder, am thinking about higher ground.
We are oh so Screwed.