By John Karoly,
Chicago, IL, USA
The worldwide Climate Conference in Paris ended with some, albeit unenforceable, achievements. The discussion whether there is global warming and whether it is manmade is obviously an argument reserved for politically motivated men and financially motivated scientists. The rest of us accept the cause of global warming to be primarily man, over 8 billion of us, and our activities burning an inordinate amount of fossil fuels, consuming and growing huge amount of methane-producing farm animals, etc. Does nature on its own contribute to global warming or rather to cooling is an ongoing discussion. It probably does both.
Furthermore, we all must agree that there is no other planet to live on, even if we could make Mars habitable why would we make Earth uninhabitable? I, for one, enjoy reading about Mars and looking at photos, but prefer to live here on Earth. And the commute between the two will be rather inconvenient and expensive, if and when it will be made possible.
Most of us agree there is a great danger to what we are doing. It is very harmful to our planet and life as we know it, and we are, at least talking a great deal about it. Also, and fortunately, engineering and science is helping out in a significant way by finding ways to cut back the use of the most damaging fossil fuels, i.e. coal, and limiting the use of crude oil. All that however is not enough.
The collective fear of the consequences of global warming, however, concerns me on a different level. It is certainly not the first time in the history of mankind that we were concerned about an impending doom. Just think of the names of some of these: Apocalyptic, Armageddon, End of Time, etc. These predictions or fears dealt, for instance, with the coming of the Messiah in the year 66 C.E., the prediction made the year 375 C.E. that the world will end by the year 400 C.E. Gregory Tours calculated the end by around 800. Pope Sylvester II and many Christian clerics predicted the end of the world, the Millennium Apocalypse, at the year 1,000, which was accompanied by riots throughout Europe. Hundreds of other predictions preceded and followed over the centuries up into modern times when, for instance, Pat Robertson in 1976 predicted the end of the world by 1982, then again in 2007; in 1991, a rabbi called for the coming of Messiah. And on and on to as recently as 2014/15.These prediction don't stop here, they go on for this century and the next and to the very distant future of the year 500 million and 5 billion, the last of which is not religion-based and in all likelihood correct, but way out there.
Nor was the Y2K prediction, which was deemed to be so serious that substantial government and industry funds were spent for the preparation and prevention of the impending doom precipitated by the year change from 1999 to 2000 by our computer systems. As we probably all remember well, not much came of it outside of the State labeling my car vintage 1900. (It was a year 2000 model.)
Luckily, Doomsday predictions have not been outstanding successes, whether religious, scientific or pseudoscientific. In fact, at least I can't think of any that have come to pass or I would not be here to write about them nor you to read them. This is a nagging thought when it comes to our latest Doomsday like prediction of global warming. It is Doomsday as it sets the date into the distant future, 50 to 100 years ahead, for an environmental disaster with the emphasis on the disaster. It makes it sound like other disaster predictions.
What could go right or wrong to prevent this disaster from happening? Maybe nothing and it could turn out to be the exception to the record of Doomsday predictions.
There are many possibilities, a few good, many others bad.
Some hold the belief that we could/will succeed in avoiding the 3-4 degree C temperature increase, constituting global warming. Without going into any details, that would, obviously, be the best outcome. Let us hope that these scientists and other brilliant members of our society who not only share these beliefs, but are willing to provide their wealth for the achievement of these lofty goals, will be right in eliminating the danger of global warming. It will certainly not be eliminated by those who deny global warming.
However, my concern remains that we may avoid this outcome for altogether the wrong reasons.
Here are some of them:
Major volcanic eruptions, although extremely rarely, had climate changing effect. Lake Toba eruption 77,000 years ago led to a volcanic winter with worldwide temperature decrease of 3 to 5 degrees C and caused a planet wide die-off and, according to some estimates, it reduced the human population to a few tens of thousands.
The Thera volcano in Greece in 1600 B.C. caused the Minoan civilization to collapse due to a massive natural disaster according to current thinking. The eruption could have altered the global climate. More closely to our times in 1815 in Indonesia, Sumbawa erupted with a magnitude that resulted in a worldwide climate change. An estimated 24 cubic miles of lava spewed out, but more importantly several million tons of sulphur dioxide gas was emitted into the Earth's atmosphere which quickly encircled the Earth and caused acid rain to fall destroying crops. 1816 became known as a year without summer; snow fell in June in New England. European Art changed and has shown the grim weather, people suffering and dying from the extreme cold and worldwide starvation. Of course, this climate change did not last but a few years. It should be noted, however, that based on the human population of the world today many more people could die of starvation and cold than did in the early 19th Century.
We can talk about major sun activity wiping out our communication devices and having major effect on our satellite systems, no cell phones, no internet. Equally likely is that we will get into a cyber war which concerns most of our experts. Our satellite and electrical systems can be severely damaged. One cannot even imagine how modern society would function without reliable supply of electricity.
What would be the climate changing consequences? By generating much, much less electricity, we would be in a forced greenhouse gas reduction mode to the extreme.
And while we are talking about manmade climate change other than greenhouse gases, we should talk about the not-so-remote chance of a nuclear winter. In our new era of relatively large number of people willing to give up their lives to achieve some XIII Century ideas with XXI Century weapons, an extremist getting hold of a nuclear device and committing suicide with that by no means is a way-out thought. Once a nuclear device is detonated, retaliatory nuclear attacks are very likely. A worldwide nuclear war will plunge us into a nuclear winter with unknown consequences. Global warming under that scenario will be the least of our concern. Global cooling would be the result. Nuclear winter is not compatible with global warming, or with human existence.
All of the above scenarios have a low probability of occurring and they are by no means the only scenarios we can imagine now or what could happen with the unimaginable. While each has a low probability, the combined probability of all scenarios within the coming 50 years is not likely to be completely insignificant. I am writing about them because of the nagging notion that what we are all collectively afraid of may never come to pass, as it has not passed in the past and some of the events which would cause the (unfortunate) avoidance of the global warming could be even less desirable than global warming.
Nothing said here, however, should be taken as an excuse to slow down our collective fight to defeat global warming. It is still the most probable and greatest danger and the very best scenario is that we might be able to do what is required to avoid it.