Earth is a dangerous place.
And not just because humans are present.
Over the last millennium there have been periods in which there was no summer due to volcanic eruptions, and periods of extreme heat due to the Earth’s shifting axis. There have been asteroids, solar flares, and gamma ray bursts that have dealt life a lot of challenges, and over the last 5,000 years, we now understand that planetary cycles have been favorable to large mammals, such as humans.
There is robust science to suggest that human activity is contributing to changes in Earth’s climate, but to those affected, it really does not matter what caused the calamity. Even if human activity has contributed to climate chaos, no single human, or single group of humans, is specifically responsible.
In some ways, the Climate Change predictions and debate — or, as I prefer to call it: Climate Chaos predictions and debate — is similar to predictions about the “Population Bomb.” Back in the early 1970s, many experts predicted that human populations would expand faster then the food supply, meaning that humans would be starving by the year 2000, and we would be out of oil and other dire outcomes.
Instead, technology provided solutions. The Green Revolution came along and increased crop production, and the oil industry developed new ways of discovering, recovering, and thus producing an abundance of oil and natural gas such that the U.S. is very close to being energy independent. Basically, humans have (so far, at least) adapted to the population crisis as a species. Humans will also have to adapt to climate changes as a species. As with the population bomb, we really have no other choice.
Part of the problem is that extreme weather events, driven by shifting forces of climate, impact more people today than in the past. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, there were 1.9 billion humans on Earth. Today, there are 7.1 billion humans. Every day, about 260,000 humans are born. That’s a new Fort Collins (155,000) plus a new Boulder (105,000) added to the planet every day, with people needing food, water, services and space.
Because most of the desirable living space is near water, the areas of the world that are receiving the greatest percentage of the population increase are near water. Proximity to water means proximity to weather events. So, even if the climate is not changing, and is not becoming more chaotic, the sheer number of people who will be exposed to extreme weather events is increasing, and will continue to increase.
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey, almost 20 million people were in the way. But 150 years ago, only a million would have had to run for cover. Piling on to the population and proximity factors is the fact that we have a worldwide web of relatively instant communication, and it is easy to see that not only are extreme weather events affecting more people, more people know about the weather in real time.
Two hundred years ago, Sandy could have hit the east Coast and the buffalo hunters on the High Plains might never even know about it. The point is that our awareness of weather is much greater now with communication, and this tends to amplify our awareness that things are changing.
Humans have a proven ability to adapt to large scale problems like population, disease, and now climate, but we seldom do so until we have no other choice. ❖