Background of Policy Development for Anthropogenic Global Warming
Policies are rules of laws imposed to ensure the implementations of tactics chosen to fulfill the needs of a strategy that is support of a goal or objective. A goal or objective is often part of a project or a solution to a problem. A suite of policies or tactics comprise the means by which the strategy will be carried out. Single policies rarely are sufficient to cover the entire scope of a strategy. Finally it may also take several strategies to achieve the goals need to solve a particularly difficult problem or complex project.
In this case the problem we are going to tackle is the not-so-recent rise in greenhouse gas concentrations (especially CO2 from human activities) that appears to be causing significant imbalance in the heat flux of the planet resulting in a net warming of the atmosphere, ocean, and ultimately of the earth. This warming is a problem because it is insidious. The warming is very slow on a human time scale, so slow that most people who are younger than about 50 years old really are unable to say they have any experience of a warming trend. This means that the understanding of global warming is essentially from being told that it is happening, not from being able to personally say that it has been obvious in their lifetimes. Furthermore, the defined danger from global warming is a creeping danger that will last generations if not brought under control fairly quickly. So the danger for most people is not personal and certainly not perceived to be personally life-threatening. This makes it easy to stand by and debate what should or should not be done. For our children and grandchildren, who have not yet really felt the effects, it is not going to be so impersonal.
Most of the children being born today will see well into the 2100s and will be strongly affected by the social upheaval that will result from rising sea level causing human migrations on a grand scale, increased disease vectors, increased loss of agricultural and forest crops from pests, more extremes of storms, rainfall and droughts depending on where you happen to live, salt intrusion into coastal water supplies, melting ice off mountains that normally supply water to millions of people, and many more effects. These will be combined with other problems the world faces from increased pollution, overuse of many resources, increased burden of population increase and dwindling agricultural land areas. Finally, although many animals and plants will be able to adapt to the changes, still many more will not be able to do so, and the continuing drop of biodiversity which lessens our resilience to natural disasters will accelerate. Resource wars are already starting to become apparent and may be linked to rising ethnic intolerance in areas short of water and food. These are likely to increase in intensity. So while most adults today won’t be that much affected, their grandchildren certainly will have to face serious problems of our making if we do not act to control the anthropogenically caused global warming.
In my previous blog on forming a team to develop such policies, I emphasized that the goal needed to be clear before successful strategies could be developed to successfully reach a goal. I also made it clear that all members of a team that hopes to achieve the goal must accept the goal or the likelihood of success is considerably diminished or defeated. So the first step in policy development is to ensure the context is understood and the evidence is substantial that the problem is real. In this blog, I am not going to bother repeating the now well-documented connection of human produced CO2 and other greenhouse gasses to global warming. That debate continues to rage on in some sectors of society, but not amongst most of the experts in climate science nor amongst experts in sciences that can see the effects of the global warming trends. For the purposes of developing policy options, I am going to assume anthropogenic global warming is real, it is related to greenhouse gas effects, and will have long-term seriously deleterious effects on human society as well as on many animals and plants.
Setting the Goals
Given the assumption that anthropogenic global warming is a serious threat to our descendents, the step that needs to be confirmed by the team charged with developing strategies and tactics is what is the goal. Goals and objectives are necessarily broad in scope and this case is no exception. How are goals set? Goals need to be concrete and easily defined and understood. They are an end point not a process. They need to be defined so that it is clear when they have been successfully achieved. The measurement of success must be included within the goal.
The Nature of Goals
Some goals are easily understood. In a race, the goal is to be faster than all the other competitors in the race. In mountain climbing the goal is to reach the summit and descend safely. Not all goals are simple. In a capitalist business, the goal is to control production and distribution so as to dominate the market to create and maximize wealth amongst the owners of the corporation. In most families, the goal is to be safe, healthy, happy, free to make choices, to raise healthy and happy children, and to ensure that the resource needs for the members of the family are met comfortably.
For the more complex goals such as those for a business or a family the strategies that are needed to pull off the goal successfully are often quite varied and the tactics within those strategies are even more varied. To take even one aspect of the family goals, to be safe, the strategies include being in a safe environment and learning how to stay safe, being in communication if trouble arises, knowing safe from unsafe foods, understanding safe behaviour on the part of another person, and many more strategic approaches to safety. None of these are tactics or policies, they are all strategic approaches to being safe. To take just one strategy – always eat safe food – how does one make this happen? What are the tactics? And what are the family policies or rules to ensure the family members always eat safe food? For example, a rule might be that all fruit and vegetables coming into the house must be washed before anyone is allowed to eat them or use them in a meal. Other rules might be that all red meat must be cooked before being eaten, don’t eat garbage, don’t eat packaged food you find discarded on the street, and so on. These seem obvious, but if they are explicit in your household and enforced in some way, then the rules become policies of the family, and the members of the family will follow these policies even if they are in another environment.
The important aspect of this little example is that a policy is a simple rule that when implemented helps to make sure the strategy (of eating only safe food) is maintained. Finally the strategy is one of many strategies to ensure the goal of having a happy, healthy, and safe family.
Applying this set of ideas to climate changes we can navigate through the many ideas to place them in a structure based on achieving a goal. What kind of a goal for anthropogenic global warming is it concrete, easily defined and understood, that is an end point not a process, and that will be obvious when it is achieved? Once we have those in hand, we should also be able to state the way to measure success.
Setting the Goal
Let’s try setting the goal the same way we set family goals. We would like to see a world that is safe, healthy, happy, one in which we free to make choices, to raise healthy and happy children, and to ensure that the resource needs for the world population are met comfortably. Hmmm. That’s maybe a it ambitious and includes more than global warming, but you can no doubt see the idea. What we want to do is define a vision of the future global temperature conditions as the goal. At this point we need the team to define what the optimum temperature regime for the world might be. If we try this, we would be attempting to “manage” our own impact on the global temperature whether the natural variation is up or down, and keep the global temperature within an acceptable range for long-term stability of human civilization.
Just for the heck of it, and to be perfectly bold about it, let’s take the current estimates of optimum temperature ranges for the global average of about 14.5C. The maximum upper range we look for will be about 16.5C and minimum average would be on the order of 12.5C. The idea would be to stay within the range of temperatures that are comfortable for most humans on the planet and that would not plunge us into a deep ice-age or catapult us into another hothouse planet. Needless to say the current worry is all about the dangers of allowing the temperature to rise into a range that could be seriously deleterious or even to reach some tipping point that really would catapult us into a hothouse regime of temperatures.
An ambitious goal. It addresses more than the current “problem” of anthropogenic global warming, it has the advantage of examining the planet as a place in which we live and work, much like the family home. So it is not unreasonable to aim for a management approach rather than just reacting to a potential disaster. The advantage of an ambitious goal such as this one is that it will perforce interact with other aspects of our planetary health and safety so that these can be dovetailed to produce an even larger more comprehensive goal.
The Goal: Maintain Average Annual Global Temperatures Between 12.5C and 16.5C
This goal is easily defined and relatively easily measured annually. Trends that move away from the optimum can be detected early enough to invoke management actions to correct the trend. The goal has the advantage that it is not just a reaction to an impending disaster but has the potential to safeguard the planet’s optimum temperature regime and thus the optimum temperature regime for people and the biological environment that they need for survival for millenia. It is a single variable but can be viewed in the context of other variables such as pollution, biodiversity, human population trends, poverty, and many others. So while it is a singular goal, it is also one that has relevance to many others.
How well does this goal reflect the history of the planet? Not very well. The planet has ranged much more widely in temperature regimes, both warmer and colder. In the warmer periods, the planet had much higher sea levels (about 270m higher than today), much greater extent of very dry areas suitable only for highly adapted animals, no permanent ice cover anywhere so the current polar areas were lush warm tropical environments, and the land mass was considerably smaller. In the coldest times when the planet was essentially completely ice and snow covered, very few highly adapted (at that time primitive) life forms could survive. In less extreme glacial periods the middle areas of the planet were habitable and temperate, but the polar regions were not habitable except for a few highly adapted aquatic forms.
In setting up a management regime that does not reflect the planet’s history well, we are deciding to favour times when the planet has experienced the most diverse and most widely available climate regimes for animals and plants. Historically, humans have enjoyed the most “development of civilization” in the 12,000 year period that has been within the goal range. Humans have also hugely increased their population on the planet and will continue to do so for at leas the next many decades. The most commonly projected population maximum is about 9 billion people. At that level, the planet is also calculated to be beyond the carrying capacity if people live at the energy and resource levels that they currently do on average. Keeping the planet within the 4C range specified in the goal will make it much easier to develop ways to manage the demands of the population increases, especially in providing sufficient food and warmth.
Developing Strategic Approaches to Achieving the Goal
Strategies to achieve goals are broad general approaches that over time and by using a number of tactics will move the project closer to reaching the goal. Often many strategies are needed, as explained above in the example of family setting. Sometimes “sub-strategies” are needed as well for each strategy to be effectively implemented. But after the approaches are lined up, then action is required to make the strategies happen. The list of actions is referred to as the tactics. Once the tactics are defined,, and especially if it involves handling the behaviour of people, the tactical actions are set up as rules, guidelines, or laws governing behaviour. The general term for the set of rules, laws, and guidelines in a corporate or government setting is “policy”. In many governments policies are set up as a way to enable programs or actions to be taken under a general budgetary umbrella. In other governments, laws to enable financing the programs are set up before the programs are put into action. Regardless of how it is done, these are the policies that govern the direct actions of people. In corporations, policies are also set up as sets of rules or guidelines, and budgets are aligned with them to make them happen.
No matter how great or important the recommendations of the policy makers might be, unless the policies are implemented by the lawmakers or decision-makers, nothing much will happen. That will be the subject of the next blog. For now, let’s see what policies might be developed as recommendations for lawmakers and decision-makers to consider.
The Role of the Team
In moving from goal to strategy to tactics, all the different skills, expertise, and general knowledge of all participants on the team come together. In team approaches where the solution to a problem is definable in discrete tasks, each member can operate independently to develop their individual task. Building a house is an example of where all of the individual tasks are well known and the job of the team leader is to organize the tasks in proper order. Where only the end product is known in advance, subsets of the team can work together in a more organic fashion to establish the tasks that are needed to get to the end product. Making a piece of hand-blown glass is an example. When neither the end product nor the tasks to solve the problem are known the team must operate as a more integrated whole with no individual separated from the group because all of the innovation required involves interaction among all the various elements. While each member brings unique expertise in one or more fields, the status of all members on the team is equal so that anyone can contribute to any or all of the conversations and task definitions. Figuring out how to maintain the planet’s temperature within a variation (on an annual average) of about 4C is a known problem but with no know solution, and as yet no known task list to make it happen.
Problem-solving of this type is the most complex, but far from an impossible task. There are many techniques to begin the process, but it is not the purpose of this essay to explore team methodology. One simple technique (although certainly not the only one) is to break the problem down into a few component parts. The two main parts are controlling anthropogenic global warming first and controlling natural variations in global climate second.
Because human production of excess greenhouse gas is one cause of global warming and because it is important to control that first if we are to be successful in holding the overall variation to less than a 2C rise, we can ask what is or are the causes of the human overproduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Once we list these, for each one we can ask how to mitigate that cause until ultimately we have a series of ways to mitigate all the causes of human caused excess greenhouse gas emissions. We can then ask what effects would a full 2C rise would have, and what mechanisms can be employed to adapt to those effects. The next part is to examine the natural variation in global temperature regimes and what causes them so as to understand both the mechanisms and how to predict the changes well in advance of their beginning to happen. Once those are understood and listed, we can then move onto the larger task of how to manage the climate of the planet so that the temperature variation stays within our goal of plus or minus 2C from the optimum of 14.5C. Recognizing that our recommendations may not be implemented in time to contain the temperature rise or later the temperature drop, we will need to suggest emergency measures to speed up the mitigation and to increase the level of adaptation response to the rising effects. The last step is to have a solid series of measures to gauge the success of the overall set of strategies and tactics to reach the goal.
Causes of Anthropogenic Global Warming
Given that we have set the goal of managing temperature, the first order of business is to examine the current changing climate to be certain of what is happening today and in the next few decades. While there are some who argue the rising temperature is a figment of our imagination and the data have been faked in a gigantic hoax to form a world government and enslave everyone in the middle and lower classes, and while there are others who suggest that the concept of a greenhouse gas is nonsense, or that humans could not possibly affect the world climate, or that God will decide for us, the majority of people are interested in the observable changes and the potential for continued rising temperatures to the point that serious problems may arise. The causes of the current changing temperatures are a mix of natural and human-caused factors. Normally the sun’s radiation warms the atmosphere and oceans. Much of this heat is back-radiated towards space. Some of it escapes, but some of it does not. The earth rises in temperature if less radiant energy escapes into space than is retained on earth. Conversely the earth cools if the amount of radiative energy from the sun is less than the amount of radiative energy that escapes into space. The heat that does not escape is trapped by a variety of greenhouse gases including water vapour, CO2, methane, ozone, CFCs, and several other minor effects. Energy coming to the earth is deflected away from the earth by the same gases and also dust or aerosols in the air, clouds and so on. The imbalance causing the temperature to rise today is caused by excess greenhouse gas effects. The key factor appears to be the release of carbon in the form of CO2, methane and other carbon gases from fossil fuels as well as CFCs from industrial use (much of which is now illegal but still operating). As the temperature rises, the air is able to hold more moisture, so there is a feedback effect by increasing the amount of water vapour in the air. The main cause of the excess of CO2 that natural sinks such as the ocean and forests are presently unable to capture quickly enough, is industrial and domestic use of fossil fuels and CFCs.
Mitigating AGW: Strategies
It stands to reason, if we accept that use of fossil fuels and CFCs are the main culprits, and that excessive amounts of carbon-based gases and CFCs in the atmosphere are the results of this activity, that there are some pretty obvious strategies to mitigate the effect. First, stop emitting excess carbon-based gases and CFCs in the air. Second, remove CFCs, CO2, and methane from the atmosphere. A third possible strategy is to use devices of some kind in space or in the upper atmosphere or even on the ground to block or reflect incoming sun radiation. Finally, the fourth strategy will be to monitor the results so that modifications to the strategies can be made if needed.
This sounds straightforward, but it is not easy to stop using the wonderful fossil fuels with their abundant and easily extracted energy when our civilization has grown essentially because of the easy accessibility of energy from fossil fuels. The world absolutely needs energy to maintain its civilizations, so simply ceasing to use fossil fuels is not an acceptable policy all by itself; there will need to be substitutes equal to the energy demand. Removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere or the emission sources is also not as easy as it sounds. The technology is available for capturing and sequestering carbon from the emission sources, but it is not cheap. Removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere where it is broadly scattered, rather than concentrated is technologically very difficult and expensive. CFCs will gradually dissipate within a reasonable period if additions to their concentration is stopped. And water vapour will decline if the temperatures decline, but not if the temperatures increase. The feedback in rising temperatures would simply increase the concentration of water vapour and enhance its effect on warming.
Mitigating AGW: Policies
Policies from the first strategy will reduce the emissions of carbon and CFCs. Here are a few of the most obvious ideas:
1) Cease fossil fuel and other carbon-based fuel (such as corn) use by making it very expensive, by outlawing and/or severely regulating its use, or by paying fossil fuel companies to develop alternate energy sources in return for reducing their sales of fossil fuels.
2) As both a separate policy and also tied to the cessation of fossil fuels, substitute energy sources that are carbon free with minimum side-effects. These include wind, solar, fuel cell, nuclear, fusion, etc. Wind, solar, and nuclear energy all have the potential to partially substitute for fossil fuels, but both wind and solar require large or unsightly installations. These are nonetheless promising in areas that have suitable conditions, and in a few countries wind and solar contribute a large portion of the energy while in most it is a small amount. Nuclear energy has a great deal of potential, however the industry has badly damaged its potential for public acceptance by being cavalier about safety and maintenance standards with the result that enough large-scale accidents has scared much of the world’s population. Nuclear waste remains a problem because it requires storage on geological time scales, something no one yet knows how to do appropriately although a number of countries are working on it. Fuel cells have a great deal of promise for small scale operations, such as in cars, trucks, ships, and domestic uses. Taken together all of these can add up to enough to substitute for fossil or other carbon-based fuels. In the long run, the most promising is fusion power. It also the most expensive to develop and the least known as an energy source. However the ITER project in France shows real promise of being a success and in the time frame that would allow major realignment of energy sources. The target is to produce ten times more power than is on the input side of the process. In addition to the potential for massive power generating using fusion power, there is no danger of an explosion or something similar to a meltdown. With fusion, it only produces energy if energy is continually added to the system, otherwise it just shuts down.
3) As an alternative to controlling fossil fuel use or at least as a way of easing in the alternative fuels, commercialize or subsidize scrubbing all carbon from emission sources. There are currently many commercial scrubbers available in many sizes, however at the present time there is ready no market for the sequestered CO2; thus the need to develop a market or to subsidize the removal and sequestering. This option of massive sequestering will be discussed in more detail in the section on dealing with impending ice ages.
Policies resulting from the second strategy will remove carbon gases and CFCs from the atmosphere, as opposed to or in addition to removing it from the emission sources. Obvious ideas here include:
1) Develop commercial sized scrubbing techniques for removing carbon-based gases from atmosphere. A few experimental designs are now in the process of being scaled up for commercial uses.
2) Use CO2 or deep water methane as a source for fuel. By transforming the CO2 or methane or some immediately burnable carbon-based fuel, the CO2 is recycled rather than being generated from fossil fuels. The net result is not a reduction of CO2 but it would help to stabilize the amount in the atmosphere. This is not out of reach: http://www.nanowerk.com/news2/green/newsid=32155.php.
The third strategy is to deflect the incoming energy out into space at a rate that ends up with a net zero increase in temperature even though there continues to be an increase in the pCO2 concentration in the atmosphere. The most obvious ideas for this strategy would be:
1) Reflect radiation back into space using reflectors based in space. While this is a bit science fictionish just now it is certainly within the realm of what we can currently accomplish with our existing technology.
2) One of the known ways to reduce temperature increase and even to be an effective cooling device is to eject massive quantities of particles into the upper atmosphere. Volcanoes do this naturally and we have many measurements to demonstrate its effectiveness. Artificially introducing particles in space or atmosphere to shield from the sun is also within our current technological abilities. Being able to control the effect over time is an as yet untested concept and would require some ecxperimenting before it would be safe to attempt this idea.
3) Increase surface albedo by deliberately changing the roof styles of houses, buildings, and anything that faces upward to reflect light.
Adapting to the Effects of AGW
The key effects that result from global warming are:
1) a gradual worldwide increase in the atmospheric temperature at ground level
If the heat reaches extremes, responses might include building shelters, living underground, investing in air conditioning, moving to cooler climates. These are all theoretically possible but not very realistic if many people are involved. Politically accepting vast numbers of refugees from climate change will not go over very well.
2) heat build up in the ocean allowing the deep ocean as well as the surface temperature to warm up causing shifting distribution patterns of commercial fish species, loss of species, ecological responses resulting in massive increases in some species (eg. jellyfish). Responses available are not very good and mostly involve shifting to alternate species if they are available.
3) melting sea-ice in the warmer times of the year
Many countries are already gearing up for the open Arctic both for easier transoceanic transport and also easier exploitation of natural resources, especially oil and gas. Local inhabitants are beginning to learn how to grow local crops. Traditional ice-based species such as seals may suffer declines, so will no longer be available as food sources for people and other predators.
4) melting land-based ice, especially glaciers and near-shore ice, melting permafrost
The local effects of melting land-based ice and permafrost are not well understood. Responding to melting glaciers and permafrost will necessarily include people moving away, shoring up existing buildings, abandoning infrastructure that depended on permafrost.
5) increase in both droughts and floods, and possibly extreme weather conditions
Responding to these increases will require essentially local responses, but it would be smart to share information and experiences on how to deal with increased extremes of weather, drought, and flooding on a global scale. Insurance companies have already begun to scale back their coverage to eliminate these obvious increasing risks, so simply attempting to bet against individual catastrophes using insurance will not work. Presumably some areas especially prone to these extremes will just be abandoned.
Sea Level Rise:
1) reduced land area due to sea level rise, especially in low-lying coastal areas
For the developed world, low-lying coastal areas have always been particularly attractive. They are usually intensively built up with expensive infrastructure ranging from port facilities to luxury tourist hotels, and fishing villages. Major world cities such as Miami, which is at greatest risk, followed by New York, New Orleans, Tampa and Boston in the United States and Guangzhou, China; Mumbai, India; Nagoya, Japan; Shenzen, China; Osaka, Japan. According to the World Bank, future flood losses in the world’s 136 largest coastal cities, could rise to $1 trillion a year if coastal cities do not adapt. In low-lying islands, evacuation or a completely marine nomadic life are the only options. For major cities, if the sea level rise is not great, holding off the ocean with barricades of various sorts may be possible, but will be astronomically expensive. It is not possible to move inland with the infrastructure. The prospect of preparing for literally hundreds of millions of people moving inland while just having abandoned their homes and businesses is really a profoundly difficult and also very frightening prospect.
2) influx of salt water into freshwater aquifers
This is not a theoretical potential, it is happening today in low lying areas, especially in regions like Florida and Louisiana in the United States, Mumbai in India and on many island communities. The resulting loss of freshwater supplies is a serious threat to the health and well-being of people in these areas. The influx of salt water into freshwater aquifers resulting from sea level rise cannot be directly defeated. Improved barricades, improved management of freshwater inflows helps, but because the sea water is inexorably forcing its way in, there is ultimately no way to alter the influx. Responses must ultimately rest on finding alternate sources of fresh water – a current global crisis already for many people. Osmotic pumps can extract freshwater from salt. It is expensive but it works, even on a large scale. That is one potential if expensive solution, but it is not a sufficiently large solution to handle all the loss of freshwater aquifers from sea water influx.
1) gradual shift of pH of ocean to a less base or more acidic environment
The shift to a lower pH already observed to date in the ocean is an indication of much more profound changes to take place in the future as the concentration of CO2 rises. Although this sounds like a nothing issue, it is actually very important. Most animals in the ocean use calcium carbonate extensively. Lowered pH interferes with the ability to manage calcium carbonate. For organisms ranging from foraminifera and coralline algae to crabs and coral, a pH that is too low will result in their rapid decline in numbers and potentially leave them so debilitated that species may disappear and the supporting structure for many islands in the coral producing areas become less stable because the corals and their associated fauna will no longer be able to maintain the island structure. Needless to say there is no direct response that human kind could muster that would reverse this trend without a reversal of the CO2 being added to the atmosphere. Furthermore there is no really effective way to protect the organisms from the effects of lowered pH. The consequences in terms of adaptation will be relegated to addressing the symptoms of the loss of species; finding new food sources, attempting to react to loss of corals and the species that depend on them as well as any loss of physical mass that maintains the shorelines.
2) increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere
Minor increases in CO2 can improve the growth of plants if the other conditions will support the extra growth. Even in situations where the mineral resources are limited, added CO2 reduces the stress on the plants. Responding to this beneficial condition can be helpful if farmers are able to increase the productivity of their crops even in marginal conditions.
Artificially Managing Natural Global Temperature Variation
Over the last several million years, the Earth has had a number of warm periods and cold periods. The length of time the warm periods last is usually quite a bit shorter than the cold periods, although both last on the order of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years. Modern humans have experienced both warm periods and cold periods including ice ages. Our species barely made it through one of the cold periods about 120,000 years ago. It is estimated that fewer than 15,000 people were alive during the worst periods, all of whom were clustered in the caves along the shoreline of southern Africa. So ice ages are also a problem for human life. In fact, the survival level stayed quite low until the last 12,000 years when the ice ages was essentially over and a long period of warmth has made it much easier for people to make a living. By 6,000 years ago the overall temperature of the Earth became quite benign to human needs. Essentially all our advancement and population increases have been made possible by the comfortable climate of the world.
That the temperature of the world may increase suddenly to beyond a comfort level for large areas is of course a major concern for future generations. On the other hand, we do have ways to bring the temperature into more benign levels because the cause of this sudden increase is our own doing. Suppose we do bring the temperature into a more constant and comfortable regimen. What happens when the natural forces that affect the climate start us on the normal downward trend leading to an ice age? Should we attempt to take control of the climate and force it to remain at a higher temperature, one that would not lead to an ice age? That eventuality is thousands of years in the future. Is it part of our responsibility today to take measures that would make it easier for distant generations to control the climate? Indeed, is it conceivable that we with our current technological and scientific knowledge could do anything that might make it easier to handle the climate?
If we look back several thousand years, we could not possibly have asked our ancestors to take those steps that would enable our current civilization. Or could we have? What might we have asked of our forebears? Looking at the cultures of today’s indigenous peoples who still live essentially off the land, they all undertake to manage their own populations and the populations of the plants and animals that they gather and hunt. That was sufficient to retain a base level of ecology to sustain us when we arrived some thousands of years after they died. Can we say the same for our own efforts? Is the world and the way we manage it capable of leaving a sustainable legacy of natural resources both mineral and living to ensure the comfort and survival of our descendents?
Mitigation for the future is really what is best for us today – develop well-managed policies that will allow us to control pollution, enhance biodiversity, support a reduction of population increase to a level the world can support, enhance agricultural sustainability while investing in safe increased productivity. Shifting from fossil fuels to a mix of other non-carbon sources of energy including wind, solar, nuclear, and hopefully fission in the not-too-distant future will set the CO2 balance into the correct direction.
What if the CO2 levels are not controlled and the sea level rises to a damaging degree forcing hundreds of millions of people to flee the coastlines? What if the temperature increases dramatically leaving much of the tropics unlivable and forcing millions more to more migrate or or starve? What if the temperature rise causes most of the current developed countries to lose their traditional agricultural base? What if these same temperature rises allow insect vectors to move tropical diseases northwards to unprotected populations and pest organisms to follow familiar temperature regimes into new areas invading forests and crops (as they are doing today)?
What would we do? Would we be at ease welcoming millions of hungry refugees into our already stressed and changing environments? Or would we be reduced to resource wars such as the world has never before seen?