How are emissions, deforestation, rising sea levels and hotter summers linked to mass displacement, starvation and extinction? Do our lives have to change or can technology sort us out?
There are so many effects to humans from a slightly warmer planet. The whole planet is interconnected and very fragile to change. All of the cycles we used to learn about in school (the water cycle, the food cycle, the carbon cycle) are linked and humans are affecting all of them. This means they are changing at a far more rapid rate than nature would ever allow. The effects of global warming will compound and compound getting more and more out of hand and creating more and more chaos.
Electricity consumption is only one mini part of a massive web of chaos that is already starting to spiral out of control as a result of changes to the planets ecosystem. Frozen rivers in the high up mountains provide the water for food 800 million of us! Forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and perspire water vapour which forms clouds and rain down on us, feeding the microorganisms in the soils and plants and animals. Seas are a network of currents distributing food and warm water around the world. The huge Ice sheets in the arctic reflect most of the radiation from the sun back into space so that it doesn’t get trapped and boil us up! Most of ‘land’ that we live on today used to be underwater, but the massive frozen Ice blocks around the north and south pole mean that the water can be stored upright so that the water can be ‘stored’ upright and far less of earths landmass in underwater.
A warming atmosphere causes Ice to melt, this ice contains carbon that has been stored over thousands of years. As it melts, this carbon dioxide is released. Its greenhouse gas effect traps more radiation from the sun in the atmosphere, speeding up the warming of the planet. The cycle repeats! At the same time, the massive ice blocks at the poles are reflecting solar radiation away from the earth, as they melt, they get smaller meaning they can reflect less radiation. As a result, more radiation ‘hangs about’ warming the planet even more which makes the ice melt faster!
This doodle is my cycling map of causes and effects from human activity on the planet. Every cause starts at the top left with human activity and leads down to the bottom right; mass displacement, starvation, species extinction. On the way there are so many interlinked effects that stack up and cause spirals that are getting out of hand.
Trees breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out water vapour which, in large masses, causes rain clouds and rains back down. The rain feeds river, crops and the soil. This is the source of food for everyone on earth (whether you’re eating plants or eating animals that have been fed these plants).
Can’t technology just sort us out?
The huge problem we face is that the effects of global warming are not linear, the more the earth warms, the more the earth will warm. Everything is interconnected. Look back at my doodle of this massive web of interconnectedness above. Up the middle diagonal are 5 ‘events’ with their causes (feeding in) and effects (feeding out). There are so many overlapping and reinforcing cycles!
This is why technology can’t just solve the problems. The problems will get worse and the number will increase faster than technology will be able to adapt to. Since the effects of human action on the planet have already kicked off cycles that are worsening exponentially, so technology would have to develop and grow exponentially at exponential cost and exponential speed of testing and developing. Technology will help deal with the problems we currently have but the system must be stopped in it’s tracks to contain the spread of chaos.
Technology needs a lot of money to develop which often comes from very rich companies and research bodies. Ironically, in the world today, many of the biggest companies are in the fields of oil, aerospace, pharmaceuticals etc which may have fantastic projects in sustainability but are hinged on fossil fuel methods. It’s no surprise they didn’t pool their money into the environmental basket years ago! They benefit far more from fossil fuels than they invest into sustainable futures- even if they rave twice as hard about the sustainable futures bit.
It may seem mainstream for companies to be talking widely about sustainability now, but if anything that shows how dangerously slow shifts in attitudes can be- the information is not new, it’s been well known for 30/40 years
How about Elon Musk?
Elon musk has had some huge ideas and some of them are ‘green’. Did you know electric cars existed in the late 1800’s? He’s engineered cool cars and he’s made electric cars fashionable but even if the whole of the UK switched to electric cars the world wouldn’t be saved. In fact if everyone in the UK switched to electric cars, we would need to re-fire all our dirty coal power stations to even begin to cope with the extra electricity demand across the country. So yeah, he’s had some very cool innovations but his exception to the rule, shows that there is a rule. I’m all for exceptions- but the 8.7 million species on earth can’t bank on them!
This is like a very intro post to introduce some of the cycles and balances and possible solutions to contain the chaos. Please ask question, comment and get in touch with your thoughts!