Radically Inept
Monday, June 14, 2004
  It's a rainy, dreary Monday; why not add a little gloom and doom?

If you set up a Google News Alert Zero-Point Energy, when the alerts come in, the source is more often than not, ZPEnergy.com. So today, I decided to browse some of last month's articles and found this one, Diary of a Dying Planet by Tim Dickinson really pretty interesting and well written, for instance:
"As inhofe railed against global warming from the Senate floor, one 'prophet of doom' was quietly working to defend America from global warming. Now in his eighties, Andrew W. Marshall is so renowned for his visionary powers that his admirers call him Yoda. But Marshall doesn't work for an environmental group such as Greenpeace, or even for what Inhofe calls the 'Gestapo bureaucracy' of the EPA. He works for the Pentagon.

As director of the Office of Net Assessment, a small branch of the Defense Department charged with identifying long-term threats, Marshall had been worried about worldwide climate reports ever since the military's disastrous experience in Somalia. In 1993, a U.S. helicopter was shot down in the capital city of Mogadishu, and the body of an American soldier was dragged through the streets. What was the U.S. doing there in the first place? Guarding a famine-relief effort that had been precipitated by a severe drought. If localized dry weather could lead to Black Hawk Down, the Pentagon worried, just imagine what kind of trouble a sudden shift in the global climate could bring.

So Yoda called on an old friend, Peter Schwartz, co-founder of a futurist think tank called the Global Business Network, in Emeryville, California. He asked Schwartz to study current warming trends and answer a simple question: What's the worst that could happen?

Peter Schwartz is a compact man with lively eyes and an air of importance. A rocket scientist by training, he also researched climate change at Stanford Research Institute. Drawing on knowledge of past climate shifts, Schwartz spun out the most dire scenario he could defend scientifically. Starting tomorrow, he assumed, the world warms faster than even the most alarming predictions -- by as much as half a degree a year. The heat sets off a chain reaction. Droughts spark catastrophic fires, which release still more heat-trapping CO2 into the air. Increased water vapor in the atmosphere traps still more heat. Superstorms break dikes in Europe, and coastal cities such as the Hague in the Netherlands become uninhabitable. Levees break in California, creating an inland sea and disrupting the water supply in Los Angeles.

Then Schwartz drew upon one of the least intuitive impacts of global warming: the idea that turning up the world's thermostat could lead, perversely, to a cooling crash. As high temperatures melt ice at the North Pole, the runoff of cold water could disrupt the Gulf Stream. This conveyor of warm water is what gives Europe its temperate climate; flip off the Gulf Stream, say climate scientists, and the continent hits a deep freeze. Mainstream projections say this shouldn't happen before 2100; Schwartz envisioned it happening in 2010.

As Europe plunges into a Siberian chill, the rest of the globe continues to sizzle. Sea levels rise. Megadroughts strike worldwide, spawning dust bowls and destroying crops. The world suffers from "catastrophic shortages of water and energy supplies." Earth's "carrying capacity" -- militaryspeak for the number of people it can feed - drops radically. Given the deadly shortages of food, civilization erodes as "constant battles for diminishing resources" become the norm. "Every time there is a choice between starving and raiding," Schwartz writes, "humans raid." America turns inward, attempting to shield itself from the flood of refugees from the drought-stricken Caribbean. Hostilities arise between the U.S. and Mexico as both countries jockey for water from the Colorado River. Europe considers invading Russia for its food, and Japan eyes Russia's oil. Africa starves. Bangladesh is unlivable. Famine drives chaos in Asia. "Envision Pakistan, India and China - all armed with nuclear weapons - skirmishing at their borders over refugees, access to shared rivers and arable land," the scenario suggests. "In this world of warring states, nuclear-arms proliferation is inevitable."

"Once again," the report concludes starkly, "warfare would define human life."

This apocalyptic vision is not a prediction, Schwartz insists, but rather a scenario at the "outer edge of plausibility." To him, the report represents a climatic version of September 11th -- a "low-probability, high-impact event" that can change the world. But while he isn't convinced that the worst-case scenario will come true, he is concerned that those who focus on gradual warming "have the wrong mental map." Schwartz points to a wall-size reproduction of an antique map of North America that looms over the reception desk. It's an odd sight: California is drawn as an island. Maps like these, he says, were in circulation for 160 years before anyone caught the mistake. For Schwartz, the map offers an object lesson in the dangers of conventional wisdom.

Challenging the conventional thinking on climate change, Schwartz argues that abrupt change is more likely than gradual warming. Complex systems such as the Earth's climate "don't change state gradually," he says. "Think about igniting a rocket motor. You don't gradually go from gases flowing to things exploding. You put some fuel in there, you light it and it pops. That's what happens." The same process, he says, applies to a gas such as carbon dioxide.

Schwartz says there is no doubt about what must be done to prevent catastrophe. "In my opinion, we should dramatically lower greenhouse gases -- particularly CO2," he says. "I don't think there's any other choice -- other than civilizational collapse."
I like the way Tim introduces the people in the article w/ a brief description, that allows the reader to feel they somewhat a sense of the speakers personality, and does it fairly seamlessly while providing the info for the meat of the article. Dickinson closes the article with this:
On a recent morning at Stanford University, the cool air hangs heavy in the palm and eucalyptus trees on the sprawling campus - a welcome relief from another record heat wave in the Bay Area. Stephen Schneider is hard at work in a concrete laboratory complex near the Rodin sculpture garden. His office, like his hair, is a perfect academic catastrophe. Few people have done more to awaken the world to the realities of global warming than Schneider, the recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant. He knows that measures such as the one proposed by McCain and Lieberman won't stop global warming, but they would at least slow it down. And that's not nothing.

"Slowing it down matters," Schneider says. "The faster and harder you push on the ecological system, the more harm to nature -- and the more the likelihood of surprise."

What kind of surprises?

Schneider considers the question. "If you had asked me one year ago how many people could have died in France by the most exaggerated heat wave -- souped up by global warming -- that I could imagine, I would have looked at Chicago in 1995," he says. That year, a similar heat wave killed several hundred people. "I would have said 500 -- max," Schneider says, shaking his head. "And I would have been off by a factor of thirty.

"I'm talking about nasty surprises," he adds. "Are there more of those lurking? Undoubtedly."

So, start your Monday in the knowledge that the whole world looks to be doomed. On the bright side, I bet we get some pretty cool looking sunsets on the way out.

Oh, and the planet's not doomed. That is a misnomer. No, it'd pretty much only be life as we know it. The planet will survive, and probably enough life will surive, in whatever forms, to evolve and re-populate the planet. Wonder if it might be mammalian twice in a row? The reptiles had two shots at it.

Seriously, I worked on some of this stuff while in the reserves in support of US AEPI. In fact, we looked at which countries were most prone to resource shortages which might lead to inter-state or intra-state conflict. There's a lot of the world that looks like it's on the edge already, and it won't take much to set those powder kegs off. We were also tasked to see what organizations and resources might be available in the region, internationally and here in the US to mitigate further resource damage, any resulting infrastructure damage, prevent or reduce the conflict, and provide aid to the probable refugess. [Of course, if the populace that you're trying to help, hates you, this adds several layers of complexity.]

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