Humanity currently faces a test, a test to determine how many of us survive the next 100 years.

We know, with a high degree of certainty, that continuing use of fossil fuels will produce a dramatically hotter planet. Unfortunately, the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere mean the planet will continue to warm for at least several more decades. And a substantially hotter planet means, among other things, rising sea levels, dramatic climate changes, and massive species extinctions.

The most conservative estimates of sea level rise talk about a couple of feet … enough to cause serious flooding problems in many coastal areas. A dramatically hotter planet means the Greenland and Antartica ice caps melt completely and the sea level rise will be about 200 feet … enough to completely drown essentially every major coastal city in the world and obliterate numerous island nations and all of Bangladesh.

Dramatic climate changes are already impacting agriculture in, e.g. Africa and California. As the planet warms, the impact on agriculture will increase and almost certainly lead to substantially increased starvation for poor regions and large increases in food costs in wealthier regions. These climate changes are also dramatically changing the oceans and threatening the entire food chain that all fishes and ocean mammals depend upon.

We humans often behave as if we were independent and separate from the rest of nature, but this is a massive illusion. For instance, the human body has roughly ten non-human cells for every human cell. And without those non-human cells working in symbiosis with our own cells, we quickly die. Similarly, the larger scale ecosystem of plants, insects, and animals (including we humans) is one massively inter-connected system where each part impacts many other parts. We threaten our own existence when we indiscriminately slaughter species within this wondrously complex network … as we are currently doing.

Taken together, the human impact on global climate and global eco-systems is creating a perfect storm of adverse consequences that promise catastrophic results for humankind.

I have just sketched out what Russell Ackoff would call a reference scenario: A reference scenario answers the question “Where are current trends taking us if we simply continue on our current course?” A reference scenario is not a prediction of the future, rather a reference scenario is done so we can see where we need to change our behavior to avoid an undesirable future.

So far humanity is largely behaving as if there was no danger from greenhouse gases and ecosystem destruction. We are currently failing the final exam.

What should we be doing?

The most obvious answer is that we need to think and act far outside of “business as usual”. Business as usual is going to get most of us killed.

James Hanson, often called the dean of the climate scientists, suggests a substantial tax on fossil fuels, to be levied on them as they are taken out of the ground, and rising over time. This would raise the cost of this energy relative to renewable energy and thereby speed the switch away from these damaging sources of energy and into renewable energy.

Regarding coastal cities, it is already pretty clear that many of them are going to at least have major flooding problems. “Business as usual” will result in flooded out cities and massive numbers of refugees. A better policy would prohibit the building of new structures anywhere near the coast. If we did this, the cities of the world would move themselves inland within 100 years and the change would be graceful instead of catastrophic.

As the richest and most powerful nation on earth, the US is in a unique position. We could wake up, take these threats seriously, and truly begin to lead in dealing with this mess. Our leadership would make all the difference. The American Ideal still resonates with folks around the world and that means we could in fact lead effectively … if we got serious about trying to work our way out of this perfect storm of potentially catastrophic problems.

Given serious American leadership, humanity might yet change it’s currently failing grade into a passing grade … or perhaps even into an “A+”.


Contact me: I love to hear from readers. Email me at cyberneticapress at gmail dot com. Thanks, Barry Clemson