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Letters from Downunder

On a Sure Thing

Submitted by Lindsay
Melbourne Australia!

 Predictability: Does the flap of a butterfly's wings
 in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?
Edward Lorenz, American Meteorologist, 1988

(1/2013) Some things are so inevitable that we rarely stop to consider their importance. Things like the earth turning, dawn, dusk, the wind and rain, heat and cold, in fact all the things we call natural phenomena. They have gone on without change since the beginning of time, and we surely expect them to continue, as anything less is beyond imagination. Other things, such as a new year celebration or planting a crop, can be anticipated with glee or tinged with doubts about what follows, but most of us go about our daily lives in the sure and certain knowledge that there will be another tomorrow, more of the inevitable, and that we can live at peace - at least in those certainties.

They have always has been, and there is no reason to suppose they will not go on - at least for a few more million years. So, at the start of this new year of 2013, let me wish you a very happy and prosperous one, with as many good things as possible and only very few of the bad ones that are unavoidable. And please make the most of them, for strange as it may seem, there are not that many left. Good ones, that is. So, if you are depressed, anxious or unable to cope with life as it is, please read no further. Ignorance will be your safeguard, but not that of your descendants.

This is not an 'end of the world' crazy rant, but a sober statement - that life as we know it is going to change forever. Not in my lifetime, probably not in yours, but possibly in your children's and certainly in your grandchildren's. Whether you have believed the stories about global warming or not does not matter, because it is simply too late to go back. We are on a path of inevitability, and the direction will not be altered by anything anyone does or refrains from doing.

And for the first time in history the result will be catastrophic. Let me tell you why.

Since 1990 Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen 54%. This is not due to hypothetical natural global cycles as pushed by the owners and users of fossil fuel reserves, but by human population growth and unchecked fossil fuel consumption. Burning anything organic produces carbon dioxide, and some of it stays in the atmosphere. But the output for 2012 is set to reach 36 BILLION tons, and most of this this is going to stay in the atmosphere In the past it was rapidly absorbed and or utilised by plants as well as being sequestered in the cold deep layers of the ocean. A great deal of organic matter was also locked away in the vast frozen stretches of the north, the parts called permafrost, but that is melting rapidly. The once frozen micro mass is converting it to CO2 as fast as possible - it's their favourite food.

Much of the vast tropical forest that processed the gas has been cut down, and in case you have not read of it, the role of CO2 is to allow the atmosphere to radiate less heat back into space. The more CO2, the less heat radiated back into the universe. And, as the oceans warm the solubility of CO2 decreases, forming a loop: more gas produces more heat, leading to more gas coming from the seas.

The folk at the Global Carbon Project have been taking readings around the globe for many decades, and their findings are inescapable: A warmer air mass produces warmer water, a combination that brings unpredictable weather, with fierce storms, droughts and floods in far greater number. As well, there are subtle but enduring changes in climate across the globe. Much of the world's population have experienced something of this already, and it will get warmer. By about six degrees by the end of the century.

The outcome is the melting of the ice, not just in the north polar regions, but in the southern regions as well. There's about 25% of the world's fresh water frozen there at present, and when that become liquid it will not only dilute the saltiness of the oceans, but raise the sea levels around the world.

That would not have mattered had the population of the world been say two billion, because everyone could have been accommodated on higher ground. With six billion that is not going to be possible, nor will it be possible to produce anything like enough food, for the arable land will also rapidly decrease.

The result?

Mayhem. Riots, wars and people dying by the millions. Starvation. And a shortage of power as fossil fuels are used to fight wars.

Of course, there is an answer, a solution that will make the planet liveable again, but it is not one that will ever come into being - because we live in a democracy. The people will not stand for the solution, which is going back to a lifestyle about two thousand years old. The only way it could be put in place is by an absolute dictator who sees the problem and has the power to reduce the impact. And I know how much we love those guys.

And even so, the problem will persist for at least a thousand years, but it will cease to be a problem because it will be the way of life for most people, the few with the means of living as at present isolated by the mob, the rest of our offspring shaking their heads at the folly of their forebears. Those that make it, of course.

Well, today we can take the short view and shrug, adopt the good old saying of 'eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die', or take the long view and show your descendants that you at least thought about them by leaving them some mountains in your will - even if you never know them.

It's not a biblical Armageddon, but it is certainly a sure thing. Our leaders will never know what to do, because the turning point was a good fifty years ago. Banning fossil fuels and insisting on atomic power would have done the trick, and may still do one day. But once that was past the result was inevitable, and all that could have been done was to slow it down. By a lot, it is believed.

In the meantime, have some great years. I am. While I can down here in Aussie.

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker