9/1/14: Anthropogenic Global Warming

By Mike Johnson

A few days ago Leila suggested that I write something about Global Warming for the Lasavia Website. Given the mass of data, of evidence, flowing from scientific research, it seems that a diary or dated journal approach is the best. Our understanding of Human caused or Anthropomorphic Global Warming (AGW) is evolving rapidly as events unfold and information rolls in, a book or one-off piece of writing is soon outflanked by events and discoveries. We need a medium as agile and flexible as a web or blogsite that can keep up with the twist and turn of events, even though the fundamentals of the science, which I intend to cover here, do not change.

For example since Leila spoke to me the number crunchers have emerged with some fresh details. Last year was the hottest year ever recorded in Australia (New Zealand recorded its second warmest year), November was the hottest month ever recorded globally, and 2013 declared to be the fifth hottest year on record globally. Two or three months ago Carbon Dioxide levels, from human emissions, topped 400 part per million (ppm), the highest it has been for three million years. A milestone barely acknowledged in our media.

These facts, and others like them, along with the media’s reluctance to even mention climate change, have profound and immediate implications, but need to be put into context and understood in terms of the emerging pattern.

This is easier said than done. We like problems that have solutions. We like quick fixes. As a culture we are not that good at inter-generational thinking. Like the media that reflects us, we can flare up in the face of a crisis and do remarkable things, but we are not good at the slow burning, accumulative crises. How big does the huge floating continent of plastic in the Pacific Ocean have to get before our local Waiheke supermarket moves against plastic shopping bags? How extreme does the weather in Australia have to get before the background cause is fully acknowledged at the cultural/political level?

AGW is, or at least has been, a slow burning, cumulative crisis. There are no quick fixes, there are no solutions within our hydrocarbon consuming culture, and the problem is ongoing and intergenerational. So we do our best to ignore it, hope it will away or that somebody got it wrong. Pie in the sky replaces reality.

This is made worse by the fact that the picture, the pattern that emerges when we grasp what we have done, when we see it, and it’s easy enough to see, is a tragic one. It’s not exactly anybody’s fault, or at least it didn’t start that way. Medieval humans who clustered gratefully around their coal fires had no inkling that a by-product of the burning process were gasses that, in sufficient quantities, could change the climate of our planet. Nor would they have cared, most probably; their immediate survival was at stake. Our own thinking has not advanced much past that.

Human population numbers rose rapidly upon the discovery of first, coal, which enabled greater numbers to survive winters, then of oil which enabled the development of a planetary industrial and technological society. Earth’s population of seven billion or so is predicated on the use of hydrocarbons, that is fossil fuels, in both industry and agriculture. We are, in short, a hydrocarbon consuming culture: we burn it, we grow food in it (pesticides and fertilizers), we make plastic out of it – the very computer I’m working on is made from several barrels of oil, both the energy to create it and the materials it contains.

Now we have to face the fact that burning fossil fuels, the very life blood of our economy, is now our greatest threat, greater than terrorism, greater than all other threats combined. No wonder we balk at the idea. No wonder we seek to reject or deny the full implications of it. I would venture to say that human AGW, is the greatest challenge facing our species. That challenge boils down to this: can we live in the real world or will we opt for some elaborate fantasy?

When we cannot stand to see the reality is exactly when we need to most. 

Spiritual discourse is often driven by notions of transcendence. These can be dangerous when they are impelled by a desire to escape, or an inability to face the real world. As we face the facts of AGW in the posts to come, we will, at the same time, have to face our reaction to these facts. The denial, implicit and explicit, of AGW is at least as important as AGW itself, if not more so. Science cannot tell us how to live, only what is.

The early 20th Century poet TS Eliot said, ‘mankind cannot bear every much reality.’ We now have to prove him wrong.


High quality links to today’s post:

1)   ‘The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science – How our brains fool us on climate, creationism, and the vaccine-autism link.’

By Chris Mooney on Mon. April 18, 2011 2:00 AM PDT


2)Naomi Klein.

‘Capitalism vs. the climate’  

This article appeared in the November 28, 2011 edition of The Nation.