Two Questions for Paris
The United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP-21) has convened in Paris this week. The Presidents of France and the United States have stated that the consequences of uncontrolled global warming are likely to be so serious in this century as to adversely change all our ways of life far into the future.
The juxtaposition of COP-21 and the Paris terrorism attacks two weeks earlier lead to thoughts of how these two events might be related.
I have two questions I think should be debated in the global media this week, while international leaders are in Paris, simultaneously dealing with the dual threatening disasters of climate change and terrorism.
- Is it possible that climate change could at some point in the future extinct humanity?
- Is it possible that terrorism could at some point in the future extinct humanity?
Scientific knowledge and experts should be invited to discuss the first question, while political science knowledge and experts in that field should be brought to the second question. Such discussions would likely be very interesting and informative. I think we’d all like to see what the experts conclude.
It is my belief that the answer to both is yes, at least theoretically.
The first “yes” could result from serious and prolonged destruction of the global ecosystem, accompanied by losses of humanity’s edible food production, including losses of fresh water needed to produce that food, accompanied also by personal and military conflicts associated with these changes — likely to result from extreme global warming and the multiple weather and other associated disasters. If this results in sufficient damage to the global life-support system (our biosphere), the result could well be the extinction (or near-extinction) of humanity.
The second “yes” could come should the terrorist state reaches the point and power where it obtains nuclear weapons and uses them to initiate a global thermonuclear war, killing large numbers of humans and producing serious destruction of governmental, industrial, and agricultural systems, coupled with the use of biological weapons and/or intentional or unintentional release of virulent strains of killer bacteria and rapidly spreading viruses affecting the human population, thereby extincting humanity.
I think the likelihood of the first of these extinction scenarios is very much greater than the second one.
Humanity is already on a business-as-usual path that could lead to extinction, if not stopped before it is too late. Scientists are in consensus that if the currently accelerating rise in global average temperature exceeds 2°C (3.6°F) above the pre-industrial value, the consequences will be very serious, damaging, and costly globally. The greater the rise above 2°, the greater and more rapid will be the adverse consequences.
If the nations of the world are unable to agree and take real action soon to curb the release of global warming gases (mainly through the combustion of fossil fuels), the first scenario seems very likely to happen. If action is not taken fast enough, the dire consequences will continue to accelerate and, I think, will overtake the current trend of increasing terrorism as the perceived most serious problem facing humanity.
The Opportunity for Paris
Stopping global warming is the one thing which ordinary persons around the world are able to accomplish. Indeed, our support for the needed political action will be essential for it to be successful, if we can accelerate the actions expected to come out of the 2015 Paris meeting. Leaders have already made great advances in many of the countries of the world in drafting their own national plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and bringing them to the Paris meeting. Now it is time for the people not only to support these drafts but to demand they be improved and accelerated in meaningful ways following the Paris accord. There are several easy ways we the people can participate in this cause. They are delineated in the next posting to this blog, titled “Our Opportunity in Paris” dated 2 December 2015.
 As scientists study the mechanisms of global warming, and measure recent trends, they are discovering several acceleration factors that are speeding up the warming process each decade. There are “feedback loops” which produce conditions that add to the warming trend, making it proceed more rapidly. For example, the melting of white, reflective, arctic sea ice in the summer uncovers dark blue, solar-absorbing, sea water that captures much of the sunlight formerly reflected by the sea ice. This warms the water, leading to more rapid melting of the sea ice, the uncovering of more dark sea water, and the absorption of more solar heat. As the process proceeds, the summer ice cover has been declining more rapidly and more extensively for a number of years, reaching the point of threatening the survival of polar bears, which count on the floating sea ice to carry them close to their prey. Without the sea ice, they are starving to death, many floating out to see on smaller and smaller ice floes, then drowning from exhaustion when they try to swim back to safety.