Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

If you really want to be worried about Mother Nature...

So this weekend was a fine reminder that, while tsunamis are devastating and scary, we may have more pressing things to worry about.

On the one hand, there's the new report about climate change, indicating that the global climate patterns (practically the definition of a dynamic system) may be on the brink of potentially-irreversible changes that would radically alter weather worldwide. Once we pass the tipping point, things become very unpredictable. The *best* plausible outcome is changes that are significant enough to cause major economic disruptions. The worst is a long-term spiral that devastates the agricultural assumptions that modern human civilization is built upon. (No, I don't consider it very plausible that the Earth will be rendered uninhabitable. But it's pretty easy to envision famines severe enough to kill a billion people.)

And then there was the blizzard. In and of itself, it really wasn't that horrible (unless you were on Cape Cod), but it does sort of drive the point home. One blizzard in isolation is just a statistical blip. But this was the third "100-year storm" we've had in less than ten years. While that's possible, it's strange enough that it forces the rational mind to re-examine assumptions. I'm starting to get nervous that we're already beginning to see the leading edge of the climate-change reality.

This isn't just blind fear. There was a good article in Scientific American a few months ago, that summarized a likely course that "sudden" climate change would take. One of the major effects it cites is changes to global ocean currents, which drop the temperature of the Northeast US (and Europe) significantly. I'm seeing a few early studies on the Web that suggest that this process may already have started.

In the long run, this may be the issue that this decade is remembered for, for good or ill. All of the governmental problems we get het up about, from privacy to abortion to civil rights to religious freedom, are likely to be viewed as quaint social quirks a century from now -- matters that count only in the here-and-now, but are so fluid that no one except history professors remembers them in the long run. But if we screw up ecologically -- especially through the sort of wilfull blindness that the Bush administration is practicing, intentionally ignoring a growing wealth of evidence -- it may be remembered bitterly for centuries.

I've never been much more than a very casual environmentalist; I'm enough of an libertarian to be suspicious of the centrally-planned solutions often propounded for environmental problems. But I also don't think we can afford complacency, nor to spend decades arguing minutiae and doing nothing. It's time to start exerting some political will in this direction, and demanding that the US government take the problem seriously and realistically, and start working with the rest of the world community to find some practical solutions...

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