THE ABRUPT CLIMATE CHANGE SCENARIO

ImageThe Pentagon Report on climate change carried out by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall in 2003 claimed that “significant global warming will occur during the 21st century” and that this could lead to: “harsher weather conditions, sharply reduced soil moisture, and more intense winds in certain regions that certain regions that currently provide a significant fraction of the world’s food production.” And concluded: “With inadequate preparation, the result could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earth’s environment.”

As a result of this lack of the world’s capacity to carry us there would be:

i)                    Food shortages.

ii)                  Decreased availability and quality of fresh water in key regions due to shifted precipitation patterns causing more frequent floods and droughts (these phenomena are already apparent).

iii)                Disrupted access to energy supplies due to extensive sea ice and storminess.

iv)                These climatic aberrations would in turn force human migrations from severely affected areas to less affected ones, or ones who, though also severely affected, had a technological development that mitigated the disastrous affects.

v)                  The affect of this would be that nations with the resources would build virtual fortresses around themselves.

vi)                Wars related to food, clean water or energy would take place.

In the Pentagon Report abrupt climate change is elevated beyond scientific debate to a US National Security concern.

Basically they are announcing to the US military that they could come under attack from the climate. And in fact several attacks on the USA have occurred since: Hurricane Katrina; the tremendous tornados of 2011; bitter winters, etc..

The report bases its abrupt climate change scenario on the collapse of Thermohaline Circulation in the Atlantic Ocean. The probability of this taking place is a very real scenario and tests have shown that a certain collapse has already begun in the polar regions.

As the Pentagon Report states:

“Is this merely a blip of little importance or a fundamental change in the Earth’s climate, requiring an urgent massive human response?”[i]

It is hard to imagine an “urgent massive human response” occurring until the disaster hits. Politically the Liberal-Democratic world is divided on this reality between believers, sceptics and non-believers with different levels of extremism in each camp. To generate the human response necessary, to justify the changes that will have to be implemented like population control and energy consumption restrictions, to adjust humanity to a revolutionary re-technologising of our civilisation toward eco-friendly systems before the Apocalypse happens – there will need to be a massive conversion of sceptics and non-believers, and such a conversion would have to take place in record time. In short… we have to pray for a miracle.

And even if the political parties suddenly formed a radical consensus to impose the bullying changes that are required and set about creating a new world, the people would demand a more gentle transition. But, the longer we put it off the more severe the bullying will have to be.

The drastic change that is needed will be painful. Deep down we probably all sense the extremism of the decisions ahead of us, and that if we don’t change, change will be forced upon us, by climate change or the extinction of the resources our complex way of life has grown so dependent on. We are not going to just be redecorating our house, we are ill and will need a visit to the dentist, and the surgeon as well. This is not just an aesthetic question it is our health that is being effected. It is a question of life or death. But even so… How many of us put off painting the house even though it is so obviously necessary? How many have postponed the visit to the dentist until the molar starts to ache? How many cancer patients have perished because they could not be bothered to subject themselves to preventive examinations?

We have to change, but are we capable of making such a truly radical switch? We are creatures of habit, aren’t we?

Creatures of habit: we keep telling ourselves this and yet we are changing our habits continually with each new object we buy. No – it would be more accurate to say that we are creatures of adaptation, adapting to a “surplus” environment. Adapting very often to the novelties of lifestyles we do not need, lifestyles that have been sold to us. But our next adaptation has to be more radical and purposeful if we are to survive. We are talking about NECESSARY ADAPTATION and this is such a radical concept for we who have been adapting to the power of the absolutely unnecessary all our lives.

The will-to-want-more is a will-to-want-that-which-we-do-not-need.

In order to get ourselves on to the track of what we do need to do in order to correct the mess we are making, we have to change the fabric of our perception of the world; to change what the Lacanian  Žižek calls our ‘symbolic fictions’. He says that is in the realm of ‘symbolic fictions’ where we can adapt ourselves to ever new situations, and radically change our self-perception.[ii] And radically change our self-perception is exactly what we NEED to do. The new symbolic fictions we need to create would be subservient to a new Master Signifier opposed to the surplus necessity which is the Will-to-want-more of capitalism. Necessity is now to be defined as: the benevolent enemy of the surplus-waste of capitalist consumerism. Consumerism with all its propaganda and symbolic fictions, and which is itself perpetuated through the Master Signifier of the need to improve my life. Necessity would replace the myth of a “better life” with the uncomfortable truth of the need to create a better-life-in-the-world.

Instead of living in-the-world and against-the-world, we must learn to live in-the-world-and-for-it.

Human existence could thus be distracted from its irrational fixation on the great Master Signifier of surplus-improvement[iii] and learn through a new symbolic mythology to take its common interests into the common hands of everyone concerned – for the optimistic side of this disaster is that, as in the case of all disasters, the tragedy effects us all. At last we can say to the rest of mankind, without exclusion, we are all in the same leaking boat. And the only way we are going to get home alive is if we all pull our weight and row together.

THE PENTAGON REPORT SOLUTIONS

To combat the effects of climate change the Pentagon Report on “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario” suggested these steps:

1)      Improve predictive climate models to estimate better how and where climate change would occur….

Climate of course is a far too abstract enemy for the military, and here it really is being treated as the enemy. As if we must predict when an attack will occur. What they should be asking is: How can we predict when and how our actions will screw things up enough to bring about an abrupt climate change so that we won’t screw things up? But the screwing up is taken for granted. Should we assume that perhaps it’s even desired. Isn’t there a longing for an enemy in any military institution? If not, what would be there reason for being?

2)      Improve projections of how climate could influence food, water and energy.

Here they are saying: we know the climate change that we are causing can affect food, water and energy – but we want to know in exactly what way.

Again, what they are failing to see is what really matters: that we are influencing climate in a negative and dangerous way and we should stop.

3)      Create measures to anticipate which countries are most vulnerable, and therefore could contribute materially to an increasingly disorderly and potentially violent world.

Does this mean that countries will be monitored carefully and even brought to their knees just because they are vulnerable to climate change? Locate the enemy even before they know they are our enemy.

4)      Identify no-regrets strategies such as enhancing capabilities for water management.

5)      Rehearse adaptive responses.

Does this mean rehearsing how to adapt to the Apocalypse?

The feeling is one of surrender. We cannot fight this enemy, the best thing to do is lie down and let the survival of the fittest do its work to create a new race of men.

6)      Explore local implications.

Perhaps it won’t be so bad at all for us.  

7)      Explore geo-engineering options that control climate.

Scientific positivism: we can always invent a machine to clean up the mess caused by all the other machines we have invented.

Never underestimate the military’s capability of turning science fiction into reality.           Nevertheless what would Hollywood sci-fi do with the idea of a weather controlling machine? They have already touched on a similar issue in the film The Core. That deals with a so called Project Destiny: a military weapon that creates earthquakes to defeat its enemies. In the core the military experiments cause the Earth’s core to stop rotating. This in turn threatens the destruction of all life on Earth. Other scenarios are easily imagined. The idea of playing God and getting it all so wrong. Chaos mathematics – the Butterfly Effect.

This optimistic idea may well be more dangerous than what it hopes to remedy.


[i] Schwartz and Randall, An abrupt Climate Change Scenario and its Implications for the United States National Security, October, 2003. http://www.edf.org/documents/3566_AbruptClimateChange.pdf  

[ii] Slavoj Žižec, THE PLAGUE OF FANTASIES p. 119

[iii] “What characterises human existente is thus the irrational fixation on some symbolic cause, materialised in a Master-Signifier to whom we stick regardless of the consequences, disregarding even our most elementary interests, survival itself…” Ibid, p. 120

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8 thoughts on “THE ABRUPT CLIMATE CHANGE SCENARIO

  1. Thank you for a very good article. I am Norwegian, but have lived in the US for almost ten years and is married to an American.
    I blogged about some of the issues you are raising some time ago. I am not impressed by the US handling of our destruction of this planet, but I am equally appaled by the Norwegian governments plans to drill for oil in the Arctic.

    If you will allow me, I will post some of my writing here.

    “I recently read a blog post about global warming by Archie Richards. This is my response to his ridicule of everybody who is worried about the way we destroy this planet.

    The Vikings never grew grapes in Greenland or in Newfoundland. The temperature in the year 1000 was just slightly higher than 50 years ago. The ice in the Arctic is receding in a much higher speed then expected, which leaves the polar bears in that area in a dire situation. The ice on Greenland is also receding at a very dangerous speed. The ozone layer is getting thinner and even has holes in it, especially where I live. I could go on, but there is no doubt that man made pollution is the cause if these changes. —-

    The worst polluters are the US and China, but despite this, they refuse to sign any international agreement to reduce the pollution. Many Americans argue that the effects of the pollution are NOT man made, but a “natural” part of a cycle. This has been disproved again and again, but America and China are continuing to spew out all the destructive gases that are so dangerous to all of us.”

    But then, the Nrwegian government.

    “Norway is the leading country when it comes to technology for developing and operating oil and gas fields offshore. No wonder when you take the harsh weather conditions into account and how close we are to the Arctic.

    BUT, we are also one of the biggest producer and exporter of fish. Our ocean is one of the most fertile biotope for fish. Before we found oil, our greatest asset was fish. Fish is still a major part of our export. We sell fish to 153 countries worldwide.

    One of the richest area for the fisheries is the Barents Sea, but it is also the most vulnerable biotope. It is way up North, in the Arctic.

    So, what do we do? We drill for oil and gas in an area with the harshest climate imaginable and with one of the most important source for fishing.

    What is this government thinking ? Statoil, the biggest oil/gas company in Norway, has found several very promising oil/gas fields much further south, so we have more than enough produce. AND, we are probably the richest country in the world. The so called oil fund is approaching 4000 billion NOK, and we are around 4.500 people in this country. You do the math……………

    So, WHY are we taking the risk of destroying huge parts of the Arctic, including our own fisheries, by developing oil/gas fields in the Barents Sea? ONE large oil spill will be an utter disaster in that area, and because it is so far north, it may take 30, 40 or maybe 60 years to reestablish the biotope to normality. As a fisherman said some years ago: “We can eat fish but not oil”. Simple but true. We must not forget that pumping oil/gas will come to an end one day, but we will always have the fish, and we will be dependent on that simple fact. So, why destroy the most sustainable source of income for our country?

    The responsibility for this destructive policy lies wholly in our government. The government consist of three parties: The biggest, the Social Democrats (Arbeiderpartiet), and two very small parties; the Socialist Party (SV) and Senterpartiet, earlier called The Farmers Party. Both SV and Senterpartiet are very conscious and focused on the environment. It was therefore quite a shock when the minister for Petroleum and Energy, Ola Borten Moe from Senterpartiet (!!) stated that we (Norway), will drill for oil and gas up to the North Pole.

    What one minister say may not be that important. My main concern is the policy of this government. Drilling after oil and gas in the Arctic is utter madness.”

    We destroy our planet. Some people actually deny that, but we do. The industrial world has such a strong position and the lobbyists are doing a grand job of keeping the major polluters in business. So, in too many countries, the greed for money is stronger than the fact that we deliver to our children and grandchildren a planet in a deep ecological crisis.

    As a wise man once said, “We have not inherited the earth, we are borrowing it from our children.”

    • Thank you for adding your post Jan. It’s most welcome here. There is a very simple logic behind this madness, we cannot destroy the ecosystem in order to reap benefits from the economic system. We authentically need the world, whilst money is a non-authentic abstract thing that only exists because we want it to.

  2. What you say is so spot on my own attitude towards the issue of destroying our planet. I worked 25 years in the oil business, and as a VP I was partly responsible for our engineers as early as the mid 90’s designing technical solutions for drilling and producing oil and gas in the Arctic and around Lofoten, the main breeding areas for the fish. I was appaled and then I resigned. I am now a member of the Norwegian Green party.

    I just had some discussion with two highly intelligent people. One was integrating Human Rights with our ecologica disaster, whilst the other one did the same thing with the connection between Capitalism and ecology.

    Interesting, but in my opinion, only as an intellectual exercise. If we mix our efforts to save our planet with complicated concepts like Human RIghts and Capitalism, we dilute the work at hand and may very easily loose focus on the real challenge.

  3. This scenario explored in Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees below zero, and Sixty Days and Counting. Not Robinson’s BEST work, (that would be the terraforming Mars trilogy and The years of Rice and Salt) but he works through the issues in your blog post throughout, in detail.

    • Thanks Todd, I’ll keep the Stanley Robinson trilogy in mind. Unfortunately most of the serious debate about whether humanity is moving forward or backward as a species in the Universe takes place in science fiction,but hardly goes beyond the fictional forum. When the question of “where are we going?” becomes fashionable again, human progress toward its own humanity will become feasible, but probably not before.

  4. Yes Jan, I’ve had the Human Rights vs Ecology debate as well. My stance is that ecological needs should never bow to other needs, not even Human Rights. Nevertheless, this should not be turned into dogma, for a scenario could easily be imagined in which a government exploited the eco-crisis in order to demand sacrifice and even invoke unnecessary suffering in its population via the common goal of saving the environment. A despot could easily hoodwink a population, creating slaves through sacrifice whilst continuing to reap enormous profits for himself and his crony businessmen. Likewise capitalism must bow to ecological demands, but its subservience should also be monitored for the same reasons. Crisis doesn’t seem to threaten corruption. Quite the opposite, corruption seems to thrive in the uncertainty it brings.

  5. Paul, you are of course right about that possibility.

    I have lived and worked in Africa, and the combination of corruption and multinational companies AND the approval of western government (no names mentioned…..), creates a weird situation. This will include the worst kind of Capitalism, and also Human Rigths. The oppression of the people and their helpless figth to survive every day was for me personally a source for MY helplessness which turned into anger, but I had to realize that there was nothing I could do.

    This may be to personal, but I write it anyway. It is still an open wound for me……..

    I wrote about it in my blog some time ago, and I observed a new “player” in the suppression of the people: The Christian Church. Oversimplified, but here it is: Give them hope and they will “stay in line”. That is nothing new. Through almost 2000 years of the Christian Churchs power play with the army, government, landowners etc……, I was not surprised.

    If you don’t mind, I will quote a little from my blog:

    “So, what right have we to invade Africa with our money, our products and our beliefs? Exploitation,. power struggle, and, of course, money…. I could of course write a book about this, but that is of course impossible.

    Africa is probably the continent with the largest volume of Natural Resources. So why are most African “States” or “Nations” (there is a big difference) so poor??

    Because we have and still do, exploit Africa. At the same time we think that we are saving their souls by smashing the so called Christian fate down their throat.

    Why? Two examples: In Ghana, they produce a tremendous amount of tomatoes. Buy a can of tomato paste and it is imported from Holland!

    Buy a bottle of water in most of Africa. Many brands, but it you look closely, you will see that is is marked, “Coca Cola”……………..

    So the combination of Governments power and intervention, Multinational Companies and Church together have kept and keep an iron hand on AFRICA. The church cannot run away from their part of that.”

  6. Pingback: ON NECESSITY | pauladkin

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