An Open Letter to the Future

To the citizens of the world in the year 5000:

It’s 2012, and nobody is thinking about you.

These days, Long Term Thinking means planning for 2050, and even that is unusual. Thoughts of Future Generations don’t go beyond grandchildren. If my government knew I was thinking about people three thousand years in the future, they would probably call me a “radical”.

However, three thousand years isn’t such a long time. The ancient Greeks flourished about three thousand years ago now, and we think about them all the time. Not just historians, but people in all walks of life – scientists, policymakers, teachers, and lawyers all acknowledge the contributions of this ancient civilization to today’s culture. Our society is, in many ways, modelled after the Greeks.

I was walking outside today, at the tail end of the warmest winter anyone can remember in central Canada, and thought to myself: What if the ancient Greeks had caused global climate change back in their day? What if they had not only caused it, but understood what was happening, and had actively chosen to ignore it? The effects would still be apparent today. Global temperature might have stabilized, but the biosphere would still be struggling to adapt, and the seas would still be gradually rising. What would we think of the ancient Greeks if they had bestowed this legacy upon us? Would we still look upon their civilization so favourably?

The Golden Rule is usually applied to individuals living in the same time and place, but I think we should extend it across continents and through millennia so it applies to all of human civilization. Before we make a major societal decision, like where to get our energy, we should ask ourselves: If the ancient Greeks had gone down this path, would we care?

The future is a very long time. Thinking about the future is like contemplating the size of the universe: it’s disturbing, and too abstract to fully comprehend. Time and space are analogues in this manner. 2050 is like Mars, and the year 5000 is more like Andromeda.

I can handle Andromeda. And I can handle the concept of 5000 A.D., so I think about it when I’m outside walking. My first thoughts are those of scientific curiosity. Tell me, people in 5000 – how bad did the climate get? What happened to the amphibians and the boreal forest? Did the methane hydrates give way, and if so, at what point? How much did the oceans rise?

Soon scientific curiosity gives way to societal questions. Were we smart enough to leave some coal in the ground, or did we burn it all? Did we open our doors to environmental refugees, or did we shut the borders tight and guard the food supply? How long did it take for Western civilization to collapse? What did you do then? What is life like now?

And then the inevitable guilt sets in, as I imagine what you must think of us, of this horrible thoughtless period of history that I am a part of. But with the guilt comes a desperate plea for you to understand that not everyone ignored the problem. A few of us dedicated our lives to combating denial and apathy, in a sort of Climate Change Resistance. I was one of them; I am one of them. With the guilt comes a burning desire to say that I tried.

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55 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Future

  1. Thanks for the interesting thoughts Kate. It’s always interesting to read your posts.

    It would be interesting to ask about the ocean acidification also…

    How bad did the ocean acidification get and what was the consequence?

  2. Most animals kill to live, but humans live to kill.

    “Topsoil and Civilization” by Tom Dale and Vernon Gill Carter says that humans 3,000 years ago weren’t thinking about humans in 2000, because they were too busy surviving and destroying their environment in the process.

    Every elixir has been tried many times and failed. People today do care, but they are too busy surviving and destroying their environment, just as they were 3,000 years ago.

  3. Very elegantly expressed, Kate.

    A “radical” is actually someone who thinks that its OK to dramatically–and essentially forever–alter the chemistry of our only atmosphere over a period of a century or so. Somebody who believes that this is not OK is not a radical.

    Except, it seems, in Stephen Harper’s Canada.

  4. “If my government knew I was thinking about people three thousand years in the future, they would probably call me a “radical”.”

    I don’t know about your government but, right now, I’d call you a crazy optimist!

    • I think my somewhat perfunctory response deserves elaboration:

      Although James Hansen is derided (even by some climate realists) as an alarmist, I do not subscribe to the view that he is “out on a limb”: He has studied palaeoclimatology carefully and concluded that, with 400ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, we are now in severe danger of triggering the runaway greenhouse effect. Indeed, such a fear seems entirely reasonable to me given the fact that even in the very few years we have been accurately monitoring it, rates of volumetric ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica have accelerated significantly.

      Non-linear (exponential) growth is very common in nature; and it seems entirely reasonable to me to assume that, once positive feedback mechanisms take hold (as they now appear to be doing), sea level rise will accelerate until it reaches the maximum rate observed when the Earth came out of the last Ice Age (i.e. 5m per century). We may only be seeing rates of a few mm/decade at present, but we should not be deceived – exponential growth could rapidly get out of control.

      Even with things the way they are, and let’s say we stopped burning all fossil fuels tomorrow, how long would it take for the loss of glacier volume over the last 100 years to be rectified? (The answer is several centuries). But, fossil fuel use is not going to stop tomorrow or even in 10, 20, or even 30 years. Therefore the threat of runaway greenhouse effect remains.

      Hansen says that if developed nations stop burning fossil fuels and de-carbonise their economies ASAP, we could limit the damage to making Earth ice-free in a few hundred years. However, if we continue to burn all the Earth’s fossil fuels (just because we can) the runaway greenhouse effect is a “dead certainty” (his phrase)… If that happens, the planet will be ice free within 200 years and waterless (and therefore lifeless) in 500 years.

      This is why talk of humans still being around in 3000 years is nonsensical. No advanced civilisation has ever lasted that long – least of all one as foolish as ours.
      http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/there-is-no-future-in-fossil-fuels/
      http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/collapse-or-ecocide/

      This is no time for open letter to distant future generations that are very unlikely to ever be born. This is a time for getting yourself arrested like James Hansen and George Clooney have done in attempting to demand radical change of direction from the World’s politicians (who need to be freed from the corrupting influence of fossil fuel lobbyists)…

      • Very well said, Martin. Homo sapiens sapiens is dead: long live* homo fatuus brutus!

        * The term ‘long’ used here is entirely relative and horribly subjective.

      • I know of no peer reviewed work by Hansen providing proof to support a runaway greenhouse gas effect. I have read his work on loading the climate dice but the data he uses only encompasses a very brief period of time and begins in the 1950s which was one of the colder periods of the 20th century. Can you provide any peer reviewed work by Hansen to support Hansen’s contention other than his very weak “climate dice” paper?

        I have one that is from January 2012 that indicates that runawway greenhouse gas effect is very unlikely.

        “Here we review what is known about the runaway greenhouse to answer this question, describing the various limits on outgoing radiation and how climate will evolve between these. The good news is that almost all lines of evidence lead us to believe that is unlikely to be possible, even in principle, to trigger full a runaway greenhouse by addition of non-condensible greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.”

        “The runaway greenhouse only occurs when the outgoing longwave flux reaches a radiation limit. The fundamental point is that adding carbon dioxide does not increase the outgoing longwave flux, so cannot cause a runaway greenhouse. Whilst this result comes from simple models, a qualitatively similar result can be obtained from spectrally resolved radiative transfer codes (see figure 9 of Kasting, 1988): even 100 bar of CO2 does not give a radiation limit (Kasting & Ackerman, 1986; Kasting, 1988).”

        http://arxiv.org/pdf/1201.1593.pdf

        As far as your boldtype plea for people to join you in being arrested and thrown in jail, I would offer that it would do little. For all of Hansen’s arrests, Hansen has been completely ignored by the Obama administration. Why do you think that is? :-)

  5. Great post Kate. Thanks.

    Why do you set the date for the year 5000? Is that arbitrary? Because most of the climate warming scenarios continue to ramp up way past the year 2100 – with continued warming, acidification, and sea level rise, . By 5000 will Greenland and Antarctic ice packs be half gone? (and what about our previous predictions of polar melt? The Arctic was supposed to be frozen solid still.)

    Henceforth, everyone will suffer. With just a few tipping points, there may not be much to see beyond a near future.

    Because we aspire to a safe and sustainable life, we must commit now to adaptation; because climate, oceans and society everywhere will continue to destabilize.

    Anyone who wants children to inherit a habitable world must make a full commitment to mitigation – and there is not much evidence of that happening. Generations past and present have caused much of this, we must do what we can to slow the process.

    And finally, with risks of uncontrolled tipping points – all the big changes we must make, should be happening soon… next few years even. And all this change needs to be universally adopted. This makes for very interesting times right now.

    Personally, I think the big question is whether there will be a world that can sustain any intelligent life by the year 5000.

  6. Thanks for your post Kate. Your invocation of the Golden Rule is apt. I use it commonly with my students, and in relation to this issue socially, spatially, and as you have done here temporally.

    That said, there is a danger in making the temporal duty too removed in time. Your comparison with ancient Greece highlights this well. The Greeks could scacely have imagined our needs, claims and constraints. To them, we might seem like gods, equipped as we are with the power to move mountains, summon thunder from the heavens and the sea, to fly and to whisper siren songs remotely into the ears of our fellows from acorss the oceans. Compared to us, they are as infants, and one might ask — what duties does an infant, or even a small child owe an adult? IMO, they owe us no more than those imposed by their capacity to grasp the drivers and constraints of their cultural context and to fulfil their need for personhood. To people 3000 years from now, if they exist, we will have been the infants, and although one may say that we should err, if we must, on the side of caution, our primary care must be towards the personhood of those alive today or who will come to live in the comprehensible future. It seems to me that while we should not recklessly disregard the state of the biosphere in, perhaps, 250 years, our primary obligation is to ensure that it is in a condtion fit for those over the next 100-150 years — i.e. people whose needs and technologies might have some prospect of grasping. The Golden Rule applies very much to the 3-4 billion on the planet who are alive, or about to be alive, disadvantaged or about to be so, and very much at risk from radical declines in the quality of the biosphere. That is a sufficient reason IMO, for acting aggressively to mitigate the damage we are doing to the commons today.

    Sidebar:

    What if they had not only caused it, but understood what was happening, and {had} actively chose{n} to ignore it?

    {tense consistency!! The pluperfect was required} {/teacher}

    • Thanks for the grammar correction. I had trouble with tenses in this post because “now” sometimes refers to 2012 and sometimes to 5000. Reminds me of what Douglas Adams says about needing a new tense for the purposes of time travel.

  7. Excellent posting, Kate! I am doing what I can to educate others about climate change because I am very concerned about the future for my nieces and nephews. I never thought about looking at how future generations will be looking at us in the year 5000, just like we look back so admirably at the ancient Greeks today. Hope school continues to go well. Thank you for your amazing blog postings.

    Brian Ettling
    St. Louis, Missouri

  8. Kate, have you seen On Time? The nut grafs for us being these:

    ” … I wouldn’t want to live in Tomorrowland, where the social patterns and infrastructure are all so spiff and modern and rational and well-designed that any remaining problems must needs be insoluble, and so a cause for despair. And I’m not any fonder of the idea that we’re living on the tattered, weary, played-out edge of postmodern time.

    My own personal theory is that this is the very dawn of the world. We’re hardly more than an eyeblink away from the fall of Troy, and scarcely an interglaciation removed from the Altamira cave painters. We live in extremely interesting ancient times.

    I like this idea. It encourages us to be earnest and ingenious and brave, as befits ancestral peoples; but keeps us from deciding that because we don’t know all the answers, they must be unknowable and thus unprofitable to pursue. … ”

    Also, this part (link), of Drew Dellinger’s Hieroglyphic Stairway.

    (You know we’re mighty proud of you, Kate.)

  9. Yes! I’m on board.

    I’m ramping up my efforts to reduce my personal carbon footprint, and I am actively lobbying for systemic change.

    What you say makes total sense to me. 5,000 years is now. Right here in our daily actions.

  10. My tuppence says this is one of your best posts ever, Kate :)

    I think the explanation for your ‘2050 vs 5000 conundrum’ is that homo fatuus brutus evolved to deal with immediate problems (is that a tiger? and if it is, which one of us is lunch?).

    I find it illuminating to consider that, assuming a continuation of the current global rate of human population growth (a smidgeon over a ‘paltry’ 1% per annum) there’d not be a ‘mere’ seven billion, there would be seven thousand billion people by the year 2750.

    Yet not even one of our so-called (self-proclaimed) ‘leaders’ will talk about that teeny-weeny truthlet; they’re locked into a ‘Growth is Good’ mantra. Incroyable.

    • Pedantry… Quite the opposite. I’ve read quite a bit about population projections. There are ample numbers of studies on this subject. The data that I’ve read suggests that human population would top out at around 10 billion before starting to decline again. Look at places like Japan where population is already declining. The problem becomes, can the planet support 10 billion? The next problem becomes, can the planet support 10 billion living a first world lifestyle? Then the next problem becomes, can the planet support 10 billion living a first world lifestyle on a climate changed planet?

      • What I said is true: anything growing at 1% per year will double in size in seventy years — roughly a human lifetime. In ten ‘normal’ * human lifetimes there would be ten doublings.

        1% is ‘small’. Ten generations is ‘not a long time’. All is relative.

        The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. Dr Albert A Bartlett, ‘Arithmetic, population and energy’.

        * The point is that what the average human thinks of as ‘normal’ — is not. And we are in serious trouble until we grok that — and grow up.

  11. > What if the ancient Greeks had caused global climate change back in their day?

    Well, we now know that they couldn’t, no matter how hard they tried.

    Probably a better question, somewhat echoing franbarlow, is “what would we have liked the ancient Greeks to have done differently, had they known we’d be here”? I don’t think we’d have wanted them to think about resource exhaustion, or climate change. Probably we’d have wanted them to think about taking more care to make multiple copies of their literature.

    Thinking 3kyr into the future is too hard. We shouldn’t try.

    • William… “Thinking 3kyr into the future is too hard. We shouldn’t try.”

      It doesn’t seem such a far fetched thing to consider. The world is a different place where our decisions today can profoundly affect the quality of life of people in the future. What are a species capable of making complex moral decisions. To avoid making such decisions would be reprehensible.

    • William, a couple of thoughts came to mind.

      The first one is that the Greeks were busy destroying much of their own environmental resources–forest cover and soil quality–as they flowered and then quickly declined.

      The second is that ‘with greater awareness comes greater responsibility’. In terms of the manipulation of matter, the ancients are Lilliputians compared to us.

      If the ‘Fachidioten’ [German for ‘expert idiots’] masquerading as economists and investment bankers can spend years studying the upper regions of mathematics with physicists in order to create algorithms capable of trading in intervals of micro-seconds, then they should be capable of spending a fraction of that cerebral capacity considering the consequences of business as usual.

      I’ve just finished Peter Ward’s latest, ‘The Flooded Earth: Our Future In a World Without Ice Caps’. Like hanging, I found it concentrated my mind wonderfully. It might do the same for them.

      But I certainly agree about making more copies of their literature—including art history!—to which I would add, ‘Stop wasting your time in ridiculous conflicts’.

      Regards,

      PS Kate, excellent letter!! I have been forwarding it around the world.

    • Thinking 3kyr into the future is too hard. We shouldn’t try.

      Lots of things are too hard. People tried anyway. Which is why we’re not looking up to the ancient Greeks as the epitome of civilization and knowledge as people did for so many centuries when too many of them figured it was too hard to match them so didn’t try.

      Memory flashback: I remember my Grade 4 teacher gently berating us (a number of times) when one of us complained about something being too hard. “Is it too hard? Does that mean you’re not going to try? Will it get any easier if you don’t try, or will it get easier if you do try?”. We were fortunate that when we moved to Grade 5, she also moved to Grade 5 so we had her two years in a row.

    • Certainly it’s hard. But we should still try. One reason is that there will still be a fair amount of nuclear waste around. It’s not a sure thing that that will matter, considering the other things that might have happened by the year 5000. Still, we have a responsibility to plan as if it will matter. And it’s the same with climate change.

      If you imagine that science will continue to advance — and I do — then there’s a good reason for optimism. Longer human lifetimes are a near certainty well before those three millennia pass, as are clean energy and routine space travel. That’s assuming our descendants get through this next rough patch, of course.

      http://longnow.org/clock/

  12. It is comforting to know there are others out there with the similar thoughts and concerns. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Kate, if nice weather makes you depressed then all you had to do was to head for Alaska were they had frigid record cold. Or you could have visited my friends in Eastern Europe who fought for their lives because they were experiencing the coldest temperatures they could remember in their lifetime that led to energy and food shortages and putting countries into a states of national emergencies. My friends would have happily traded you for the nice weather you seem to be complaining about. It’s funny how I always meet older Canadians in Florida who flee Canadian winters and to enjoy the warm weather that seemingly leads to your depression, guilt and angst.

    • It’s not nice, warm weather that worries me – it’s weather that’s so far beyond what’s expected for this time and place. At the time it’s very enjoyable, but the lack of snow this winter will likely cause a major drought that bankrupts farmers and raises wheat prices.

    • OSundance… Is this the same information you’re describing regarding your friends who “were experiencing the coldest temperatures they could remember in their lifetime?”

      http://data.giss.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/gistemp/do_nmap.py?year_last=2012&month_last=2&sat=4&sst=1&type=anoms&mean_gen=1203&year1=2011&year2=2012&base1=1951&base2=1980&radius=1200&pol=reg

      You’ll excuse me if this sounds like an exaggeration based on a review of the data.

      • Rob I had a detailed rebuttal to your post with numerous examples of the record breaking cold that occurred this winter around the world, but apparently did not make it through moderation. Too bad for me. :-)

        Please take a look at the Comment Policy in the sidebar. You need to cite a credible scientific source rather than Yahoo News. -Kate

      • Kate sorry I didn’t read the comment policy. So I’ll start again. Here is the most recent satellite data showing global cooling this winter.

        http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/t2lt/uahncdc.lt

        You can see how global temperatures began to turn negative in December of 2011 and continued to drop into January and February.

        The following is provided by an expert from a group of meteorologists and should be acceptable to your policy.

        http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-blogs/clark/so-very-very-cold-in-alaska-for-januaryimpressive-records/61043

        This is from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology which is the equivalent to NOAA in the USA:

        Temperature
        The average maximum temperature at Sydney Observatory Hill during summer was 25 °C, 0.6 °C below average and the coolest summer since 24.9 °C was recorded in 1996/7. Days were colder than average throughout the city, with both Parramatta North and Camden experiencing their coldest summer on record. Cool conditions were persistent throughout the season, consistent with above average cloud cover and prevailing La Niña conditions, but especially during December, which was the coolest since 1960 at Observatory Hill and the coldest on record at several Sydney stations. In particular, there were eight consecutive days below 23 °C at the start of December, the first such cold spell in summer since 19-26 December 1967.

        http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/season/nsw/sydney.shtml

        2012 European cold wave from Wiki:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_European_cold_wave

      • OSundance… Can you not see how ludicrous it is to claim there is any significance in recent cold weather (and/or that warming stopped in 1998?) and – almost in the same sentence – criticise Hansen for taking a short-term view (i.e. post 1950) in order to reach an unreliable conclusion? By definition, he is taking a longer-term view than you and, therefore, his conclusion must be more valid.

        However, extreme weather events of all kinds are one of the fundamental consequences of oceans that are soaking up most of the Earth’s 0.4 Watts per square metre energy imbalance.

        Furthermore, in the context of 100’s of thousands of years of Earth history, and a least 7 thousand years of recent relatively stable sea levels and temperature, 1 Celsius rise since 1900 is clearly very significant (especially since more “is in the pipeline”).

        Therefore, with any due residual respect, I would suggest you come back when you are willing to engage with reality.

    • OSundance–what Kate has is called a sense of responsibility. Considering a few recent studies indicate Europe may have frigid winter temps due to changes in atmospheric patterns ( the Arctic “fridge door” has been left open and the cold air spills out while the warm air rushes in), we (developed nations) also are likely partly responsible for their situation as well as our own increased droughts, high risks of forest fires, costs associated with evacuating whole communities for yet another year of high forest fire hazards.

      • it was the coldest winter in eastern europe since the great winters of the 1940’s (and thats not too long ago) devastated the area. and rob, do you know how many people died? some 10 feet of snow in areas, 2,000 hospitalized in ukrane alone, hundreds of deaths due to the cold, there was SNOW in rome for the first time in 26 years, freezing temperatures even in germany. do i need to go on? people died from this and you sit there and say that it wasn’t even that bad, whats wrong with you?

    • now heres a sensible comment. you have to look at the whole picture. not just your area, kinda what kate said but she pretty much stuck with central canada…. you can’t ignore all of the facts.

      • Speaking of looking at the “whole picture”, are you aware the cold snap in Europe was more or less predicted in 2004 as a direct result of global warming?

        http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2004/05mar_arctic/

        “Global warming could plunge North America and Western Europe into a deep freeze, possibly within only a few decades.

        That’s the paradoxical scenario gaining credibility among many climate scientists. The thawing of sea ice covering the Arctic could disturb or even halt large currents in the Atlantic Ocean. Without the vast heat that these ocean currents deliver–comparable to the power generation of a million nuclear power plants–Europe’s average temperature would likely drop 5 to 10°C (9 to 18°F)”

        Yes, that’s right – as arctic ice MELTS due to WARMING, it disrupts the ocean currents responsible for Europe’s usual temperatures. So don’t think Europe’s cold winter magically “cancels out” our off-the-charts hot March – they’re BOTH part of the underlying pathology afflicting Earth’s climate.

      • That hypothesis is very tentative – a total shutdown of the Gulf Stream has happened in the past through this mechanism (ie Younger Dryas) but the globe might not have enough ice cover today for this to even be possible. If a complete shutdown did happen, it would take centuries. In the meantime, it’s likely that the North Atlantic circulation will slow down, providing a cooling influence to Europe which will probably still be overwhelmed by warming due to greenhouse gases. A nice summary of this area of study is available here.

        I have heard speculation among scientists that Europe’s cold winter might be connected to climate change, but the mechanism involves a disruption of the atmospheric jet stream due to a lack of Arctic sea ice, rather than a change in thermohaline circulation. When studies start coming out about this, I will write about them here.

  14. For the year 5000, we, the Greeks, and the first hominids will all be of a piece: inhabitants of the epoch of Homo sapiens. The only difference is that there is a faint chance that some of us 21st-century people may still be around in 3000 years’ time. But anyone who lasts that long won’t be Homo sapiens any more. They might still be a person; they might even be a flesh-and-blood person, though that would be a very long time for flesh and blood to last. It might be easier to last so long as a tree or a stone.

    This is another side effect of science. Natural life and mind are being revealed as molecular, probably quantum processes, given their specifically human form by the contingencies of evolution on this planet. But nature already shows that they can take very nonhuman forms as well, and it’s hard to see how the “second nature” of technology will avoid giving rise to a posthuman novelty comparable to the Cambrian explosion, but a lot faster.

    If technology doesn’t spawn something that simply destroys us, then human and posthuman culture will expand to an everyday awareness of cosmic and microscopic causality. We already have glimpses of this in astronomy and natural history, and science fiction gives us cartoon depictions of such a sensibility. I have to think that this is what the 21st century is about – the outcome of the first such transition (for why would there not be other, further transformations). It may be taking place within the planetary greenhouse, but climate change is just the backdrop for other events that will happen a lot faster.

    If intelligence can survive the acquisition of its new powers, then fixing the climate on Earth will be simple. It will face weightier questions, like what to do with the whole solar system!

    So, unfortunately for the efforts of so many people, I just can’t believe that the year 5000 is going to care about the climate policies of 2012. If anyone is still around in that year, they are going to be living in a much broader world, where almost everything will be a matter of choice rather than necessity. If the skies are still blue and the Earth is still in its orbit, that will be because they were preserved (or even restored) that way, not because they are realities irreversibly shaped in an earlier age.

    • Creationists claim that Earth is about 6,000 years old, give or take a few, and that man and dinosaur were created in the first week. According to the “Good Book” man was designed to partake of the fruits of the land except for the forbidden apple. Then he devoured it and brought forth volcanoes, which spewed out chemicals foreign to his body. And less than 6,000 years later man learned how to produce millions of chemicals foreign to his body and to distribute them across every square kilometer of Earth. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we till are not privileged. If we suffer an agonizing, cancerous death at age fifty, was it be because “The River Runs Black” or that Fracking now allows us to spend more of our money on vices? Who determines how many molecules of the millions of foreign chemicals are safe in our bodies? The medical profession? What a joke! EPA? Ha!

      Natural life and mind are indeed molecular and quantum processes and subject to mutations associated with the millions of foreign chemicals we have created. Think Thalidomide! How many less visible thalidomides are lurking in the primordial soups our greedy consumption and expanding industrial complexes have created? If we have discovered the secrets of genetic modification, then we should understand how foreign chemicals in our bodies can alter our descendants’ genetics. We and all plants and animals have evolved to survive and function in Earth’s environment. That evolutionary process has taken billions of years. Now we have dramatically changed that environment in a few decades. Will the evolutionary process continue to produce functioning life, or will it produce mutants unable to survive? We take for granted the many wonders of the human body and mind. What if one or a few malfunctioned? What if millions of children started being born without arms or legs and we couldn’t fix it?

  15. Kate, thanks for the inspiring post. As a realist, I very much agree that there is only a small chance someone will be around that time to read this and understand. But for what it is worth, we need to tell them that we DID try. And now you inspired me to try harder!

  16. Thanks Kate, great post. Can you Canadians sell us Aussies some Candu reactors? Just so we can start to realistically address our CO2 emissions ? I personally apologise for Australia being Earth’s greatest coal pusher.

  17. Dear Kate,
    I’ve been lurking here for some time but never had anything to add. You are bright, well-spoken and the epitome of what a scientist should aspire to be. Learn, challenge your assumptions, be forever your harshest critic,, and work towards a planet that is more knowledgeable, and more sustainable, than the one you inherited from us old farts.

  18. Organizations like http://heartland.org/ is why Climatologists should be worried. Might we say, back to the dark ages…

    Heartland Institute knows that people want life as it is, not as it should be. Their second Project on Global Warming below should be most worrisome. Don’t underestimate the power of brainwashing. As we speak, Creationists are making inroads on Intelligent Design in our schools, and Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 won’t be far behind. Be especially worried if Republicans take over the U.S. Government in 2013.

    The following is from “Ten Bold New Projects for 2012” by Joseph L. Blast, President. http://heartland.org/media-library/QPR/QPR-2012-1Q-web.pdf

    Four Projects on Global Warming

    Researchers at The Heartland Institute recognized, earlier than most, that scientific uncertainty about the true causes and consequences of climate change makes costly efforts to reduce human greenhouse gas emissions unnecessary. In 2012 we are pursuing four projects on global warming.

    The first is sponsoring and promoting the work of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), an international network of scientists who write and speak out on climate change. With Heartland’s support, this team of scientists produced Climate Change Reconsidered:
    2009 Report of the NIPCC, and more recently Climate Change Reconsidered: 2011 Interim Report. Each volume is a comprehensive and authoritative rebuttal of the United Nations’ IPCC reports. We are currently working on promoting these volumes and preparing for publication of a third volume for release in 2013.

    The second project is creation of a global warming curriculum for K-12 schools. Many people lament the absence of educational material that isn’t alarmist or overtly political. Late last year, we found a curriculum expert who is also an expert on the global warming controversy. We think he can finally break the code on getting sound science and economics into classrooms.

    The third global warming project is publication of a great new book by Rael Isaac, titled Roosters of the Apocalypse. Rael, a sociologist who has studied the origins and motivation of apocalyptic movements, examines the global warming movement and finds it is rooted in irrational fears and beliefs that have no scientific justifications.

    The fourth global warming project will change how weathermen report new temperature records, and in the process help wean some of them from the alarmist point of view. We are working to create a Web site that will access newly available temperature data from a set of high-quality temperature stations created by the National Aeronautics and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Our new Web site will convert the data into easy-to-understand graphs that can be easily found and understood by weathermen and the general interested public. The result: fewer weathermen bamboozled into reporting fake temperature records, and one fewer tool in the toolbox of global warming alarmists.

  19. Good article, I feel that all I can do is try to make a difference, I don’t own the power company so I cannot change their way of producing power but I can change all my lights to LED lighting so that I use less of their power, I can ride my bike to the store instead of driving, I can do small things every day to help slow the destruction of the world! These are things that we can all do, It is just a matter of doing it, and I must say it’s not too hard once you get used to it!

    • These are noble steps and I do the same with my carbon footprint down to 6 tons per year, but it isn’t going to be enough to resolve the issue of developing countries chopping down CO2 sequetering forests in order to create more farmland for biofuels that will aid them in avoiding energy poverty. I am aware (through a PHD working on the project) that we are developing new technology that would replace the expensive rare Earth elements needed in existing wind and solar power systems that prohibit the ability for us to manufacture massive amounts of cheap, CO2 free solar power that will be needed to power a planet of 7 billion people. Until we can provide mass quantities of cheap solar (many countries don’t have enough wind) to developing countries, we can’t reduce CO2 enough in North America to make any real difference.

  20. I forget where this comes from “Live for today, farm for a thousand years” You used to see old farmers putting in corner fencing posts that would likely see out their grand children. Unfortunately modern industrial farming is not like that.

    Our considerations are becoming increasingly short term. Long term plans are next year. So it is refreshing to see you thinking long term, although I do tend to agree with those who say that we will not make it that far.

    We need to keep trying, despite the odds being against us. We should always ask, what are the consequences of being wrong, If I am wrong then we can still save ouselves, we need to be that hummingbird fighting the forrest fire.

    Regards,
    Tony

  21. Hello and thank you for an excellent website. So-called environmentally induced migration is multi-level problem. According to Essam El-Hinnawi definition form 1985 environmental refugees as those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural or triggered by people) that jeopardised their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life. The fundamental distinction between `environmental migrants` and `environmental refugees` is a standpoint of contemporsry studies in EDPs.

    According to Bogumil Terminski it seems reasonable to distinguish the general category of environmental migrants from the more specific (subordinate to it) category of environmental refugees.

    Environmental migrants, therefore, are persons making a short-lived, cyclical, or longerterm change of residence, of a voluntary or forced character, due to specific environmental factors. Environmental refugees form a specific type of environmental migrant.

    Environmental refugees, therefore, are persons compelled to spontaneous, short-lived, cyclical, or longer-term changes of residence due to sudden or gradually worsening changes in environmental factors important to their living, which may be of either a short-term or an irreversible character.

    P.S. There is a lot environmental film in SUndance this year

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