I am sitting here stunned. I have just found out that the climate is changing much faster than scientists used to think. The extraordinary process of sudden climate change is not somewhere down the road. It is staring us right in the face. What is worse, we are absolutely unprepared. A large minority of the public actually believes the loopy idea that nothing is wrong with the climate. This silliness goes on, despite the warnings of science and the very visible--and violent-- deterioration of the weather. Last summer was one of the warmest on record. This winter, the northern hemisphere-- especially Siberia and Mongolia--have experienced terrifying cold, almost record-breaking cold.
The extreme climate has led directly to what may prove to be one of the greatest economic upheavals in recent memory-- the California power crisis. High summer temperature and low winter temperatures are causing unprecedented year-round energy demands that both the power grid and the fuel supply cannot handle. The strange weather is directly attributable to the climate change crisis.
Write California large. Include massive crop failures worldwide and crushing storms. Then add to that mix a new climate, one that is violent, unpredictable and hostile to crop growth, especially in productive areas like Europe.
This is a prescription for massive human suffering that will reach right into every life. My life. Your life. The toll will be incalculable, and, given the agony of Siberia and Mongolia, and the disruptions in California, we are already starting to pay.
Unfortunately, the new president is among those who believe the shibboleth that 'global warming isn't happening.' The last administration was bad enough, given its cynical lack of effective action on the world environmental stage. This administration is going to not only refuse to participate in the environmental debate, it is going to seek to proactively derail it at every level, from attempting to close down international efforts to do something, to curtailing research into climate change whenever possible.
Just when we most urgently need to see, our leaders intend to blind us.
The long and short of it is this: there will be no significant world effort to save ourselves. There will be no environmental accord. Not even the simple program outlined in Superstorm is going to happen. And, if climate change begins to accelerate, we are likely not to know it until literally millions of people are overwhelmed.
How many lives are at stake? Vast numbers, but the issue is even larger than the possible loss of millions. It is a question of countries, even whole continents, being at jeopardy as viable places to live for the foreseeable future. We could see the brightest light of human culture--Europe--fatally dimmed or even extinguished. The United States, now one of the world's great breadbaskets, could, in a single season, become a net food importer. But where will that food come from?
The answer is nowhere. If sudden climate change continues to accelerate at its present rate, North America is at jeopardy of famine due to disrupted growing seasons and unpredictable changes in rainfall patterns.
How will we handle this? I will tell you. While we the people drive desperately from grocery store to grocery store in search of enough food to feed our kids, in cars that will be rapidly running out of gas due to supply disruptions, the politicians--well-fed and comfortable--will be sneering the mantra of that terrible age: 'Not My Fault.' Like most political mantras it will, of course, be the exact opposite of the truth.
We could experience a sudden climate change scenario at almost any time now. All it will take is one or two summers of record high temperatures at the poles and the climate will go into an amazing state of upheaval. If this happens, it is going to hit us between the eyes without warning.
The scientific community is, in general, still only dimly aware of the danger. Part of the problem is that scientists who are in possession of accurate information tend to work for government agencies that will not allow them to make the kind of extreme statements that they know they should be making.
This is not because the prospect of sudden climate change is considered scientifically invalid. Far from it: we know that sudden climate change has been a feature of earth's weather for three million years, and we know why. When Central America rose out of the ocean 2.8 million years ago, it blocked the flow of the equatorial current that kept heat- distribution on earth stable.
Since then, we have had a complex mix of currents that flow north and south, and that are inherently unstable. The fossil record for this period, which is a record of almost continuous weather chaos and upheaval, speaks eloquently of what has been happening.
The man I call the Master of the Key, with whom I had an incredible conversation in June of 1998, summed up the situation with the same stunning clarity that characterized everything he said:
The climate will begin to change in 2000, and this process will accelerate over the next decades. There is a great cycle of climate that began 2.8 million years ago and has resulted in the fundamental destabilization of your world?s weather system. You evolved intelligence in order to survive the sudden shifts back and forth from ice ages to temperate periods. In fact, this planetary instability has been the engine of your evolution. The cycle is about to change, and to challenge you again.
In the latest issue of the journal Science, there is a report on a study by British scientists that illustrates what happened two million years ago when the climate changed suddenly. The sparse population of early humans living then were deprived of their accustomed food sources, and forced to learn new ways of finding enough to eat. This must have been extremely hard for them, and--of course--completely incomprehensible.
There are many incidences of the process occurring at other times during this period of climactic instability. Most recently, it appears to have happened around 12,000 years ago, and very suddenly indeed, as Art and I pointed out in Superstorm. In this case, we know that human populations declined in Europe and Australia, and probably in the Americas, too.
The wooly mammoth had followed its forage northward in the preceding few thousand years, as the earth got much warmer. (Contrary to popular belief, this animal was not equipped for cold-weather living. It was covered with hair, not fur, and relied on the lush forage available in temperate climates for its survival.) When northern Canada and Siberia, apparently over the period of a single season, went from being relatively temperate and rich in forage, to the tundra that is there now, vast numbers of these animals died. The remaining population was destroyed by hunting.
The Master of the Key also explained the process by which climate change is enacted on earth:
Because air at the surface is getting warmer, the north polar ice is melting, reducing the salinity of the Laurentian sea. At some point, winds crossing this sea due to the increasing difference between lower and higher atmospheric pressures will warm the northern ocean so much that the temperature differential needed to pump the North Atlantic Current will not be sufficient, and the current will slow down, stop, or stop flowing so far north. This same mechanism always triggers ice ages, and would happen within a few thousand years no matter what. However, human activity has sped up the process of atmospheric warming, so the change will be sooner and stronger. The greater part of human industry and culture, along with the species? most educated populations, will be destroyed in a single season. This will happen suddenly and without warning, or rather, the warning will not be recognized for what it is.
The warning is now being delivered in the form of scientific discoveries and weather changes that are taking place right before our eyes. And I am bearing witness here and now to the truth of his statement, "the warning will not be recognized for what it is."
I analyzed his statement in great detail, and found that there was a whole subtext of scientific work and scientific papers that supported what he said.
Essentially, if warm, fresh water from melting ice floods the northern ocean, the present system of currents--upon which our climate and our lives depend absolutely--is going to go into chaos. There will be storms, probably great storms, and a long period of upheaval. Ten years, twenty, a hundred, maybe more, as the currents shift and wobble, start and stop, seeking their new equilibrium.
It's a blink of geologic time, but in the time of a starving stockbroker or computer tech, it is an eternity of human agony.
And then the aftermath--a new climate, new weather, rain where it was dry, deserts whispering down the rubble of the fields.
Essentially, what has happened to so concern me is that two studies have appeared that have thrown our beliefs about climate change into a cocked hat.
First, a group of scientists from 99 countries around the world has issued a statement to the effect that the air is going to warm up a whole lot faster even than the worst-case scenarios of six months ago predicted. Second, new satellite images reveal that Antarctic ice sheets are at the point of complete meltdown. Add this to the horrifying thinning of north polar ice that has been going on for thirty years, and the 1597,217436- 412,00.shtml,rapid meltdown of glaciers, and you have fresh water flooding into every cold ocean on the planet, not just the Laurentian sea (although that is apparently a crucial trigger point.)
Taken together, these two studies make it crystal clear that there is a very real risk sudden climate change is about to roar down on us like a runaway freight train. If it involves great storms, as events in Europe in 1999 and 2000 suggest that it will, the initial phase will be an uncontrollable tragedy. Afterward, human society will start striving to cope.
It's fair to ask, though, what do those of us who understand do now to cope? Because some of us have to cope. We have to survive.
It is likely that this problem is going to lead to a great deal of suffering and loss of life, in our lifetimes. Maybe we ourselves will be victims. In the US, living in the southwest is safest, if a superstorm scenario unfolds. Europe south of the Alps and the Pyrenees will offer short-term respite for desperate northeners, as will North Africa. But this situation is larger than any survivalist strategies, and must be met first now in the heart, as it appears that we have not gained the will to make needed economic changes in time to save ourselves.
Will we survive this, or go entirely extinct? I have one clear answer: we will survive. Great nations will be humbled, and evil political voices will be, thankfully, silenced--at a great cost in human suffering.
Maybe, in the aftermath, we will develop better political institutions and greater respect for the value of our own hard- won scientific skills. Certainly, we will do just what our predecessors did two million years ago, when they saw their world wither and die around them: the suffered and they died, but some of them also adapted. And somehow, mankind continued along the path to radiant heaven, that has been our path from the first, upon which we have been set by the hand of God and the wonder of the human mind.
For more information about the the theory of sudden climate change, click on these links:
The Great Climate Flip-Flop.
The Most Important Unreported Story.
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