…the greatest story yet to be told!
Remember the early Greenhouse days when a story about climate change (Cch) was a rarity in the news-mainstreams (and of course, the rare event would always include the obligatory quote- unquote “Greenhouse Effect” as if it wasn’t a proven hundred year-old scientific fact)? My, how far we’ve come in even just one decade, these days you can’t shake a stick without hitting a climatologist, climate journalist, skeptic, activist, government pundit or vlogger in the daily news troughs. And it’s not just because of Alfred Nobel's latest choice, or the end-of-the-year “Wacky Weather” reports. The story about Cch has broke in the MSM news. The trickle is now a steady stream, which sadly, will only well-up more and more-- as this story refuses to go away. Climate is going to grow to the biggest story of the 21st century (and the story has sharp fangs and talons). You can even see various networks and newswires quote science bodies who say that we may only have 10 years left. And recently we’ve witnesses everyone from morning news teams to Martha Stewart embracing sustainable solutions on the air.
So at least the dialog has started. And recently, an interesting trend has appeared; the addition of the word adaptation into the mix --that we can adapt to Cch as well as reduce our greenhouse gas emission. It is often used by groups who don’t necessarily like the idea of mitigating greenhouse gasses, so I wonder just how much thought they’ve actually put into the concept of adapting to Cch. But nonetheless, I agree. Both being important (adapting, and mitigating CO2 emissions), if we could only solve one problem at a time, focusing on adaptation to Cch is probably our best bet right now.
But what the heck does adaptation mean, anyway?
Do the pundits and government agents mean that we will adapt our lifestyles, technologies and microclimates to deal with a no longer stable climate?
Or do they mean to use chemistry and geoegineering to adapt the changed climate to one that more suits our fancy (at least in the developed world). The latter is maniacal, so we can only hope that it’s the former. And still, the scale of what we are then talking about --adapting to Cch—is gargantuan. We have enough problems globally just dealing with a gas.
One of the problems with this whole mess is that no one really knows what Cch really means, or what is going to happen. The computer models have gotten much better now, especially with the mix of ocean models and GCMs, but that’s really just one guess (a very well informed guess, but no clear picture). Paleoclimatologists and geochronologists give us a lot of clues as to what may transpire. And they certainly hint that there are ‘thresholds’ and once those are past, a climate regime can shift radically (kinda like a tipping point), but even in our recent history (say, the past 2 Million years, since the glacial/interglacial climate cycle began) there has never been as much CO2 as there now is—at least not in the past six Ice Age/Interglacial periods. And we’re looking at 400ppm before too long. So the past indicates only more guesses. Who knows what the weather will be like when it has that much carbon in it? And how can we adapt to it we don’t even know what it will do?
But that’s not really true. There are things that we know are likely to happen, and then there are some other (even more extreme) things that may happen. Between the two of these, there is a plethora of scenarios that can be plotted, and then actions can, at least, be identified.
Now, most “We can adapt to Cch” people seem to talk about Extreme Weather; Here’s what the ‘new and improved’ Canadian government’s Cch Adaptation site says: "increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events, such as floods, droughts and storms." and these are all serious events that have to be considered when looking at what needs adaptation, even more so than the inevitable rosy lensed considerations that the 'adapters' usually close with: "In contrast, given appropriate adjustments, many systems should be able to cope with, and at times even benefit from, gradual temperature warming of limited magnitude. For example, in some regions, higher temperatures could enhance plant growth rates, decrease road maintenance costs and reduce deaths from extreme cold."
It’s kinda wishful thinking to believe that Manitoba and Vermont will all-of-the-sudden have a booming peach industry (trees take time to grow and fruit, aside from the fact that it’s naïve to believe it will just get 'slightly warmer'). To think that this will be potentially beneficial is delusional.
And really, to look at adaptation you really have to break things down, at least down into areas that we can really get a handle on. Personally I find it helpful to break it down into the simple food, shelter and energy. Because those seem like the basics. So, how does Cch affect these, and what processes (and behaviors) can we adapt that will lead to our most comfortable survival through the changes?
Lets look at food. We know that water-tables will be drying up, and that places that used to be breadbaskets will turn to dust-bowls. Additionally we know that there is a likelihood that the sea levels will rise. So what isn’t dust, might get flooded. Also, because we get more extremes of both hot & cold, traditional crops are prey to early frosts, or freak cold spells that kill the crop, like the billion dollars worth of oranges this past week. What I’m trying to say here is that the kind of agriculture that has been so great to us for 10,000 years, great enough to spawn civilizations, may not be much help when there’s no more April showers, or when the saltwater has taken over the ‘back 40. So food is one thing that is drastically affected by Cch. And while I personally would love to have my own permaculture garden out in the countryside, I don’t think a mass exodus will add anything but more chaos (not to mention again, that we cant rely on farmer’s almanac’s for much longer). So we are going to have to adapt to some crazy things, like having greenhouses on rooftops (which will help heat and filter the air for the homes below the greenhouses), large scale robotic agriculture (at least it’s organic), probably using algae a lot more than we do right now, and maybe even some of that invitro flesh and all that going to have to change fast!
Add to the above climactic probabilities, the very good possibility that the north-eastern Atlantic gulf-stream circulation may flip (as it has been known to do, and appears to already have started shifting and northern Europe will no longer be warm enough to grow any food in the summertime (and who knows what those decreased temperatures will do to neighboring regions, or how big & nasty that little el nino will get when the warm waters don’t go up to the north Atlantic to cool off). These possibilities compound the food issue. So at least one part to adaptation, again, will be to have microclimates where we can produce the majority of our daily bread. And this might as well be as local as possible.
The irony does exist that right now the agribusiness system that strangles the land, has contributed to the greenhouse effect in the first place (farming already uses a lot of fossil fuels, but then we ship our food around the world in refrigerated trucks), so stackable modular organic robotics (using hydroponics, airponics and soil), mixed with building-integrated agritectural design is not only a solution that is sustainable but also one that can actually take more CO2 from the air than it emits! Last thing about redesigning our cities to grow most of our food locally is that the plant life will filter our the air, so a block of buildings with a double-decker greenhouse straddling the roof and growing fruits and vegetables will create warm fresh air that the building’s tenants can profit from. Throw in some living machines and you’re filtering the water in and out as well…
OK, I guess when using words like “agritectural,” we’ve already segwayed into the Shelter part of this rant…. It’s another biggie. And there’s several crucial aspects to consider, when it comes to the possibility of our shelter-systems adapting to Cch. One, like mentioned above, integrating other needs (food air and water) but then there's withstanding extreme weather events, greater storms, floods, and such… And some of this means looking at the designs that we have and modifying them so that they naturally work with extreme situations, the easiest example: a dome. Before hurricane Andrew there were a few people in Florida who were trying like mad to get insurance for their dome homes. Usually it wasn’t possible. That changed after Andrew, when TV crews from around the world shot the wreckage. There, among all the destroyed seaside homes, were the few weirdo's homes, the domes, but they were still standing. There's something about the design of a dome and how it withstands high winds. That’s just one part of the eco-design reality, there are many many more surprising secrets involved in these ideas. Geodesic domes for example get stronger the bigger they are!
If/When the Gulf Stream flips, the UK, Austria, Germany, Serbia Poland and France will have to learn how to live with Siberia-like temperatures (God knows what it will be like in Denmark, Finland and um, Siberia), whatever R-rating their walls are presently, it’s likely that they aren’t insulated for a 6 degree C change. Home will have to be able to heat more (another good reason for glass-encased thermal mass on rooftops). And will have to retain the heat much more efficiently. We will have to live in an R-50 world.
Then there’s some greater much greater shelter questions much like that old 'population bomb' at least, the population of climate refugees... New Orleans was the first time a “1st World” saw some of their populace turn into climate refugees, but it won’t be the last (there is a likelihood that Atlantic hurricanes will increase in numbers and scale with Cch, but then there are also Miami, Manhattan, Washington, LA, Seattle, Baton Rouge… there are many cities precariously close to the sea level as it is now, not-- like in that 7 page pictorial in Vanity Fair.... Some like New Orleans could build sea walls, but most can't). So what does this mean? Will we just cram people into temporary camps like the FEMA trailers? Perhaps the cities that we do have that are high enough above sea level can look into how to really build up vertically to not only include food-production, but also include much greater housing densities, but it may also be worth considering building a few new cities. These cities can be filled with both our climate refugees and climate refugees and hopefully climate refugees from around the world. These new cities can be built using all the intelligent design principles and serve as a source for helping all the other pre-climate cities adapt.
And energy will have to be a whole new reality. The 20th century was time that we could afford energy illiteracy. Sure it was nice to not have to think about it. As long as the plug in the wall worked, people in the past didn't have to really care about where it came from, how much they used, or any social or ecological costs. But adapting to Cch means understanding electricity. We have to understand what uses juice, how much we need, and then most importantly we will have a relationship with its production.
So let's look at a typical residential block in a city: semi detached cottages, townhouses, triplexes and maybe a corner store or two.. in the past everyone took care of their own needs, heated their own water, heated their own flat... but after the climate has changed into a different regime, there will be a need for so much more electricity that we can't afford to be that wasteful. One small example is the morning showers. From 6:30am to 8:30am there are close to 100 showers taken on that one block. And just installing these copper coils around the drains, and the same warm showers take 1/10th of the electricity.
This may sound small in comparison to getting all the landlords to agree to put massive greenhouses on their roofs, but all of these changes obviously will require some heavy amounts of communication and consensus, if we are serious about Cch adaptation. At least the grid's ability to change will be an easy in, we are already seeing people tie into the grid in many US states, and already in Canada, Ontario has started to initiate it's standard offer program where people get paid $0.42 per KW of solar energy they put into the grid, and by the end of the year there will be a half a million smart-meters on residential homes! So, people are starting to interact with the grid, starting. And if it's doable there it's got to be doable everywhere...
This is just a broad-stroke of food/shlelter/eneryg adaptation-- there's an infinite amount of categories and sub categories (some huge, like transportation, "waste," manufacturing...) and this is really just my take on adaptation to Cch. And I know it looks a lot like My Happy Place ....but when i see it being used so much in the media, i just felt like i wanted to try to tie some of these ideas together... And i think its a really important part of the whole Cch arena. Adapting is what we do best. I really feel this is our time to shine.
If you've watched my movie (partII) you remember William Calvin (i hope) the guy who wrote "the ascent of mind" and several other books on the role of Cch in our ancestor's evolution. According to his work, our past 2 million years of evolution has been linked intrinsically with the climate's changes. And he's pretty tweaked, because he's aware that most of these technologies and systems we need to implement are already here, waiting to be used, but he says that these kinds of changes in humans take 50 years to really happen. 50 years he doesn't believe we have. He's a really nice man, and after our interview he & his wife took me out to dinner. And of course i didn't have my camera on when we started to talk about it all again, and while on camera it was kinda dire, when we were talking at the restaurant it was more abstract, and i liked what i learnt. We will never evolve physically again (we can get healthier, grow bigger, and go cyborg, but never change naturally again) because we don't live in a natural world (there's very little natural world left). That part of our evolution is over. But we are ripe for societal ecolution. How we make our food, how we get to and fro, how we interact with each other... that stuff is good to go as far as evolving.
And evolving is really what adaptation is all about. Because the opposite of adaptation is EXTINCTATION.
Really, that is what happens to species that don't adapt to a changed climate regime. But I don't agree about that 50 year thing. My dad is turning 74 this month. When he was a kid he was a telegraph boy and the coal, ice and milk all came by horse. but get this-- he got his first computer less than 10 years ago, now he emails his grandkids and prefers yahoo news to google news. like those Big Long Now people say, things seem to be taking much less time to happen now, and I dont think we need 50 years. It's huge, almost daunting. But it is doable. And really, i think it won't take all that long to get people to agree, with each passing day, more people agree and stalwart deniers concede that the climate is changing. And consensus is infectous. I think this understanding is going to go viral and we are going to witness the greatest changes our species has seen in a long long time...