In an earlier post, a commenter named Maranda asked me to broach a topic I’ve never really touched on in here – the whole global warming issue and where I happen to sit in terms of the debate. You can read her comments on that post to see why she asked for my take. I’m flattered to offer it, even though my grasp of the topic has got to be around the same level of understanding a fish may have of a fork. Just a warning.
By and large, I say, yes, global warming is probably happening. Yes, human “progress” is probably helping it along in a few different ways, but it’s also worth pointing out that our wonderful little planet has been through several ice ages and, therefore, several trips into temperatures that can melt a lot of ice, too. According to Nature.ca, we’re in an ice age now.
It started about 2 million years ago and is known as the Quaternary Period. Despite the many warm periods since then, we identify the entire time as one ice age because of the continuous existence of at least one large ice sheet—the one over Antarctica. (The glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet are also of long standing, but they are more recent). We are currently enjoying a warm interval: our climate represents an interglacial period that began about 10 000 years ago. The preceding glacial period lasted about 80 000 years.
The warming and cooling of this planet is part of its natural planetary process. Clearly it happened in the past when there was nothing in the way of SUVs and air pollution so obviously it would be happening whether giant communities of human beings were around to notice it happening or not. There’s probably not a hell of a lot we can do about it anyway. It’s what the planet does. But, we feel responsible for a lot of the damage – and rightfully so. We’re at fault for mining precious metals out of the crust, cutting down rain forests and pretty much ruining every ecology we find so we can put more houses up for more banks to foreclose on later when people default on their insane mortgages.
Human beings are too fucking greedy, that’s part of the problem. But on the flip side, it’s this greed that has helped us adapt as well as we can on this planet, too. There’s nowhere we won’t dare go. There’s nowhere we won’t try to live either, save the ocean floor and space – both of which are too extreme for us fragile things. I like that we still dream of the day we will, though.
Let’s think about the Inuit for a bit. They’ve had thousands of years in the Arctic circle, in conditions that would make most of the rest of us beg for space heaters and a safe way to light our own feet on fire. They’ve watched the permafrost go, and with it their villages, built near the sea for all the obvious reasons. They see their hunts cut short because ice isn’t thick enough for the bears or seals or whatever. Their best season for getting everything they need to survive up there has gotten a hell of a lot shorter. And they can tell they’re in trouble just by what their own grandparents remember from years gone by. They know what they’ve lost and they know they stand to lose more.
But again, this has all happened before. It’s just that we’re around to watch it this time, and we don’t really like the fact that the earth does its own thing independent of us. We’re so self-absorbed and pumped full of self-importance and deep down, I think many of us wish the planet would feel the same way about us and thank us for being here to make this lump of rock and water a home. It’s never gonna happen, though, is it? The earth doesn’t give a shit about us. The earth doesn’t even notice we’re here. We don’t matter to the planet, but this planet sure as hell matters to us, and it should matter more if we want to remain alive and able to adapt to its constant changes.
Tuvalu was in the news recently; it’s a Pacific island, one of many that people were justified in thinking were going to be drowned out as the sea levels rose. Instead, the opposite happened. Most of them remained the same, or grew. Why? Because coral is all around those islands, part of the land that is those islands, and coral is a living thing that grows. It turns out that conditions have been perfect for growth these past 60 years or so, so the coral took advantage of it. Denialists want to point to this discovery as proof that climate change isn’t actually happening, but those people are stupid. Climate change is happening, it just happened to benefit this part of the world instead of damaging it beyond repair.
So, my conclusion. Climate change means shit all to the earth. Ice comes, ice goes. Water temperatures rise, things that can adapt, do. Things that can’t adapt come to an end. Good night, dinosaurs; you had a good run. People have had a good run, too, and will likely continue to, so long as we don’t explode ourselves or let every horrible virus run through and kill us off without mercy. Maybe we won’t continue at the numbers we’ve enjoyed, or on the beaches we’ve tanned on, but where our species can adapt and make do, we will do it. It is in our nature and I’m glad of it.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t make all efforts to maintain our ecological position, and improve conditions where ever possible. It might be all that we can hope will save us. And it probably will save us.
For a time.
But I also think the earth is ticking on the beat of its own internal clock and we are fools to think we can stop it.
We are fools to even think we have the right.
edit 742pm: have discovered Stoat’s excellent and full of science post on this topic. Read that. (HT: Paul Wright)