As the summer of 2006 rages on, with heatwaves stretching from the American Pacific coast all the way across the North Atlantic to Europe and virtually around the world, we now discover that the great Amazonian rain forest has perhaps a year to live.
If there is no rain in the Amazon basin soon, and that forest is destroyed, mankind could die with it. This is because the Amazonian forest is, in effect, the heart of the world’s ecosystem. It is a vast, unimaginably important carbon dioxide sink and oxygen producer. Without it, the planet’s climate will likely become untenable for human life.
It appears that we are well on our way to another large-animal extinction, and, if so, we will be among the large animals who go.
If this catastrophe unfolds, I very much doubt that more than a remnant of mankind would still exist in 25 years. If it happens, most of us will be dead within 5 years, and those remaining at that time will curse God for not having taken them, also.
Unfortunately, it is not all that unlikely that this crucial ecosystem will die. The Amazon has droughts from time to time, but this is the worst in at least a hundred years, and maybe longer.
At this time, the stage is being set in the Amazon for serious forest fires, that will come alight due to dry lightning and people used to relatively damp and non-combustible foliage accidentally setting them.
So, what can we do about it? The short answer is nothing. It’s too late. It is possible that overpopulation and political inaction will have done us in.
The next question, then, is how do we face it? My first thought is a simple enough one: we need to pray our hearts out for rain to fall in the Amazon between this coming October and next May. Because if it does not come, scientists from Woods Hole are warning that the forest ecosystem will completely collapse.
Climatological studies show conclusively that this will lead to profound drought across the whole of the northern hemisphere. Our world, as we know it now, will be in ruins by 2010, and something close to hell by 2012.
I know that it’s almost impossible to imagine that it could be that bad, but, in fact, it’s true. The life of the world depends on that rainy season working.
This gets to the reason that it has been so dry there for the past two years. It is because the Caribbean has overheated, and the hot water does not produce enough free vapor to form the moisture laden clouds that usually sweep across Brazil and push up against the Andes during the Amazonian rainy season season.
Why has this happened? In great part, because the growth of human population has happened too fast for the environment to cope, and it’s rebalancing itself by relieving itself of the burden that is us. In part, it’s because we have not directed our intelligence or our scientific and engineering skills to solving the problem of global warming.
This has not been a matter for debate for twenty-five years, and yet lying politicans and greedy companies have kept the false debate going anyway. The United States, the one country with the power and the expertise to make changes has, instead, ended up with an exceptionally poor leadership that has promoted the shibboleth of denial until it is, in all probability, too late.
The largest question is, how do we engage in this process of dieback? How will it strike us?
Heat. At first, the sort of situation we are seeing now, where spot heatwaves such as the ones striking California and Europe at present kill a few hundreds or thousands of people, or in Queens, New York, where long-term power infrastructure collapse has taken place.
Next, we will experience similar crises over wider and wider areas, for longer and longer times. There will come a time when normally temperate regions display temperatures above 110 F, and nearby deserts become untenable for human life.
The next problem will be water. We’ll run out. The desert cities that have emerged in the US will experience catastrophic water emergencies and forced migrations that it will not be possible for the rest of the society to absorb.
Then will come the food problem. Already this year, excessive heat has disrupted production of food crops worldwide. The disruptions are not disastrous yet, and the world still grows a food surplus, but the day will come when that will not be true, and if the Amazon does indeed collapse next year, the first great food shortages will appear in 2010.
After that, social collapse will spread rapidly. The rest, you can imagine. There’s no point in describing it.
In my 1985 book Nature’s End, I predicted essentially the scenario that is unfolding now, and warned that the Amazonian rain forest might become too dry and burn.
I understood very clearly in 1985 what runaway global warming would do to the planet–what it is doing now. I also saw that this catastrophe would not be recoverable for us.
Now, we are facing a stark reality indeed: the end of the Amazonian rain forest and the subsequent end of man. It is worth remembering that more than nine out of ten species that have ever existed on the earth are extinct at any given moment in geologic history.
Will we go entirely extinct? There is no way to be certain of that, but we will experience a massive dieback, that is certain…if the forest fails.
And for those of you who will scoff at this and say ‘what does the Amazon have to do with us,’ I suggest you look at the climate models. The peril is quite clear.
What will it be like to live in a dying world? We do now, actually, but nobody really admits it. However, when temperatures are still in the triple digits in Kansas in November, as they will be if we lose the Amazon, people will begin to face the reality that we waited too long to act, and have run out of time.
Who will they blame? What difference does it make?
And what of the visitors? Will they help? Actually, there’s a possiblity of that. They are certainly around and they probably have the resources to give us assistance of some sort. Will they? That is a question I cannot answer.
I have been working since about 1980 to avoid ever having to write an article like this. Unfortunately, neither my little effort nor the much greater efforts of far more influential people, have helped change the situation.
The Kyoto Treaty turned out to be a lot of talk built around a dubious premise. The United States has not shown any leadership at all in this area, at a time when the survival, if not of the species, then certainly of civilization, depended on bold and innovative action by the world’s most powerful country.
So now we stand just this side of dying. We who live on this day may know the end of the world. There will be no rapture of the congenitally selfish, and the Moslems will not meet their sky virgins. What will happen will be hard, terrifying beyond words, and fatal in a million different ways, but always fatal.
How do we do a thing like this well, if it comes down to the dying? It’s hard to imagine. But I will say this, that the peace that abides in my own heart will not be shaken even by this suffering.
I watched a little boy today come down the street with his backpack on and his eyes twinkling with the joy of his boyhood. He walked on past me and I thought that we cannot count how much we owe our children.
If I could, I would lift them all into a better earth, but I have not the strength in my shoulders.
Now it’s dark, the house is hot (we don’t have air conditioning) and the hour is late and weary. Somewhere nearby, that little boy sleeps, and dreams perhaps of the peaks he will ascend in the future to which he is entitled.
Now, the little baby who lives across the way cries and fusses a bit. Mother comes, I hear her voice, tired in the late hour, nevertheless cooing with the gentlest love.
Love. I don’t see the world as a place of hate. I can hardly hear words spoken in hate. It’s as if they’re being shouted up from a deep well. I see the world as a land of love, because that’s what it really is.
Subtract the politicians and the guns and the media, and think of your own life. You live in love. You love your children, your parents, your spouses–and you are multiplied by billions.
For uncountable eons, life on earth was governed by the brutalities of nature. Animals fought and slaughtered and died in abject terror here, for ages upon ages.
Then, just a short time ago, a man and a woman gazed into each other’s eyes and spoke words of love, and the world changed. Now, in all this intricate vastness of billions, there is love. In fact, mankind is an ocean of love riding a little rock in the great dark of the sky.
An ocean of love. That’s our reality. The guns and the wars and the hate, the betrayals and the cruelty–those are mere dimmings of the huge light of love that shines here.
A late hour, weary hour, and I am tired, too. I know well that this is the first place where this warning has actually been voiced. Hopefully, it will be proved wrong by circumstances.
Even if the rains come this year and next year, there will soon be a series of years when they do not come.
On the plus side, the Amazon rain forest has been around for around two million years, and throughout that time has experienced significant climate fluctuations. Scientists consider it an extremely resistant ecosystem.
Earth, in other words, has a strong heart.
Have we broken it?
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