The High Cost of Our Refusal to Change

September 2014

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Our Fate as a Species on the Line

There is a price to be paid for our willful ignorance, and we are already paying it. Hurricane Sandy is expected to cost the U.S. government $60 billion. When other natural disasters in this country are included — additional storms, wildfires, flooding, and other weather-related crises — the tab in just the last two years rises to $188 billion, or nearly $2 billion a week (1).

According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Small increases in climate extremes above thresholds or regional infrastructure ‘tipping points’ have the potential to result in large increases in damages to all forms of existing infrastructure nationally and to increase disaster risks" (2).

Nor is this by any means a problem limited to the U.S. It is easy to predict that an already stressed global economy will become even more stressed by shifting climate concerns. Wildfires in Australia, rising seas in Vietnam, melting permafrost in the Arctic, and heat waves in southern Europe are all incurring unprecedented economic costs.

The true cost of willful ignorance in relation to the natural cycles over which Demeter presides can be felt not just in terms of estimated damages to property and productivity, and human lives lost and ruined, but also in the general degradation of the quality of life for all species. Lost plants and animals represent another breed of refugee in the Cerean Age — losing not just their habitat, but their place within the Web of Life.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the historical background rate of extinction has been about 1–5 species per year. Although no one really knows for certain, by some estimates it is likely that the current rate might be thousands of times that number, perhaps dozens per day (3). A study published in June 2013 by researchers at the University of Arizona concluded that, while many species are quite adaptable to slow changes in global temperatures, the estimated potential increase of 4° Celsius over the next 100 years would require most species to evolve 10,000 to 100,000 times faster than the natural pace in order to avoid extinction (4).

What will our planet be like in the foreseeable future if, as some scientists predict, by mid century 30–50% of all species are either extinct or heading toward extinction? (5) No one really knows. Surely the natural order will re-arrange itself, as it has since the planet first supported life. But where the human species winds up in this new biological order — or if it does — may no longer be up to us to determine.

References

(1) Kate Sheppard, “Under Water,” in Mother Jones, July–August 2013, p. 22.

(2) “Plan now for climate-related disasters: UN report,” www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/28/us-climate-adaptation-idUSBRE82R0X320120328.

(3) “The Extinction Crisis,” www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/.

(4) Tom Zeller, Jr., “Climate Change and Species Extinction: The New Normal Is Not the Old Normal,” www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-zeller-jr/climate-change-and-species-extinction_b_3644578.html.

(5) C. D. Thomas et al., “Extinction risk from climate change,” Nature, January 2004, pp. 145–148.

The next post in this series is Ceres, PTSD, and Suicide.

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