Milky Way

Ceres and Climate Change

September 2014

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An Inconvenient Truth

Although a few scientists have quibbled about the details in Gore’s presentation, credible scientists around the world now generally accept climate change as a fact. In 2010, the National Research Council concluded: “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems (1).” In 2011, there were 820 natural weather catastrophes around the planet — up more than 30% from an average of 630 events per year during 1981–2010 (2). The latest of these, Hurricane Sandy, was noted as the largest Atlantic hurricane on record (3) and second only to Katrina (2005) in estimated damages (4).

At the same time, severe prolonged drought is expected to intensify “in the continental USA and Mexico, the Mediterranean Basin, parts of northern China, across southern Africa and Australia, and in parts of South America (5).” Wildfires race annually across the western United States, serious water shortages are looming, and the capacity of agriculture to feed a growing worldwide population is in jeopardy, especially as food and biofuel compete for arable land. In 2004, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake unleashed the deadliest tsunami in history in the Indian Ocean, killing 283,100 people in 10 countries (6). In 2010, a 7.0 earthquake in Haiti left up to 300,000 people dead, killed many more thousands in a subsequent cholera epidemic, and disrupted the lives of over a million people (7).

The effects of climate change are particularly insidious when compounded by human error, negligence, and/or willful ignorance. In Oklahoma — now home to widespread fracking for natural gas and other hydrocarbons — there were 1,000+ earthquakes recorded in 2010 alone, after no more than a few each year from 1972 to 2008 (8). An explosion in 2010 ruptured British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, releasing nearly 5 million gallons of oil and causing extensive damage to marine wildlife habitats and the fishing and tourism industries. An earthquake and tsunami in 2011 caused equipment failure, meltdown, and release of radioactive materials at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power plant near Tokyo, Japan.

However we might choose to consider these events, if they are taken together — and more importantly, taken to heart — it is nearly impossible not to feel overwhelmed by a sense of foreboding about the fate of our world. Some people continue to deny that anything is wrong, or different, or the fault of human activity, and that there is no reason not to continue with business as usual — all in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. Others argue plausibly that time is running out. Certainly, at the very least, reports issued by the Worldwatch Institute, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Science Foundation, and other reputable institutions suggest that humanity as a whole is facing an unprecedented challenge, and that how we cope with this challenge will determine not just our future, but the capacity of the Earth to support a human future at all.

Catastrophes like these happen year after year after year, and according to a 2012 U.N. report on environmental emergencies:

"If it seems like some of these events are occurring with greater intensity, it is because they are. While studies are ongoing, the trends of climate-related events have been linked to changes in the “frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration and timing of extreme weather and climate events,” including tropical cyclones, heavy precipitation events, and flooding — in addition to sea level rise, extreme heat, drought, and subsidence. The growing trend in climate-linked disasters poses worrying questions …" (9)

It is a common New Age belief that we create our own reality. The (rarely acknowledged) corollary to this belief is that the reality we have collectively created over several millennia of human insistence on progress at any cost has its own momentum and inertia, which are not that easily changed. Like the Titanic heading for that fateful iceberg, it may be too late to turn the huge ship of unrelenting human enterprise around in time to avoid a collision — especially given our extraordinary capacity as a species for ongoing denial, magical thinking, and self-justification. Whichever way we choose to deal with the reality of climate change, Ceres is now the deity to which we must answer.

References

(1) “America’s Climate Choices: Final Report,” National Resources Council, The National Academies Press, 2011.

(2) Petra Low, “Losses From Natural Disasters Reach New Peak in 2011,” http://vitalsigns.worldwatch.org/vs-trend/losses-natural-disasters-reach-new-peak-2011.

(3) Mark Fischetti, “Sandy versus Katrina, and Irene: Monster Hurricanes by the Numbers,” www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=sandy-vs-katrina-and-irene.

(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_costliest_Atlantic_hurricanes

(5) “With drought intensifying worldwide, UN calls for integrated climate policies,” www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?Cr1=drought&Cr=climate&NewsID=42716#.UVySGXDCEUU.

(6) “News Release: Magnitude 9.1 of the West Coast of Northern Sumatra,” http://neic.usgs.gov/neis/eq_depot/2004/eq_041226/neic_slav_nr.html.


(7) “2010 Haiti Earthquake: Casualties,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Haiti_earthquake.

(8) Michael Behar, “Whose Fault?” in Mother Jones, March–April 2013, p 36.

(9) “Keeping up with Megatrends: The Implications of Climate Change and Urbanization for Environmental Emergency Preparedness and Response,” www.humanitarianresponse.info/document/keeping-megatrends

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