One of my large goals for the year was to get a better understanding of climate change and the potential impacts coming toward our civilization in time.  One avenue for pursuing that is to read books, which I’ve spent the last five months or so doing.  The first book was Climate of Hope from Carl Pope and Mike Bloomberg.  Next was the Michael Mann book with comics interspersed.  The newest book is Understanding Climate Change, which I knew when purchasing was going to be one of the more scientifically focused reads.

This was an excellent primer for normal folks (like me!) who aren’t really educated in the scientific realm on the actual rigor of scientific evaluation.   It’s not an easy read.  It’s kind of hard, actually.  Spending hours learning about albedo and the natural systems of earth and how we are directly or indirectly altering them, and how it’s captured as data, is not necessarily my idea of a fun night at home.  But it’s important, and people spend their lives learning how to do these things, I’d like to understand it at face value.  Conceptually understanding what people are talking about, without having to know the intricacies of the practice, will get you a long way.

I stumbled across the book due to listening to Chris Nelder’s Energy Transition Show when Sara Harris was a guest.  She was teaching about the carbon cycle and spoke about the different reactions of molecules in the atmosphere.  And as I sat in my car driving home, listening to her eloquent explanations of science, it struck me how smart she was and that anything more I could learn from her would be of value.  She partners with Sarah Burch on this and they put together a really thorough book on climate change.

The book itself is a holistic approach to the issue at hand–humans burning fossil fuels and adding carbon dioxide, as well as other harmful greenhouse gasses, to the atmosphere at a rate that has not been seen in our anthopogenic, or human, timeline.  Yes, the climate is always changing.  But we are accelerating the amount of these gasses very quickly in such a way that increases the stock of carbon dioxide to a level that will increase temperatures consistently over time.  Right now we are likely locked in to a hotter future, but it’s tough to say just how hot.  Probably two degrees at the minimum, potentially six degrees or even more.

No big deal right?  Six degrees warmer, that would be great here in Minnesota!  Unfortunately that is not the case.  Those six degrees (or even the two degrees) will have incredible impacts on human civilization.  The sea level will raise.  Cities like New York, Boston, LA and countless other cities on coastlines or low lying island nations will be in extreme danger at all times and potentially be swallowed by a new ocean rising.  The oceans will continue to acidify, killing off the coral reefs and limiting the amount of habitable places for innumerable species of ocean life.  The same will happen on land.  Small tweaks to the system result in bullwhip effect displacement.  That displacement isn’t just nonhuman animals; the most populous areas for humans are the coasts.  Where do you think these people will go?  A refugee crisis is unavoidable with these kinds of alterations to environments, and with such a crisis comes more and more conflict across borders.

The heat will have extreme impact on our ability to grow crops and create food.  It will expand the potential for viral infection from previously uninhabitable landscapes now welcoming carriers (zika is a great example of something that has been isolated to tropical areas but would expand significantly.)  Less food, medicine, shelter, and more potential for disease and strife.  It’s like a direct attack on Maslow’s Hierarchy.

I won’t go on.  There are many, many other impacts that will severely limit human civilization’s ability to exist in the same fashion.  This is literally an existential threat.

That’s a big deal and it scares the you-know-what out of people.  It becomes easy to look the other way and forget about it.  But it’s our kids, our grandkids and their offspring that will be left the tab.  We have to get serious about this and we can’t rely on others to do it for us.

This book did a great job explaining the concepts around climate change in a way that is scientifically accurate.  It delves into how to combat it lightly, and explains some new paths forward.  Read it for a good cover on the actual science.  To get a handle on the sociopolitical areas for how to impact, there are other primers.

Next steps for me are considering how to adapt to this threat within or without our existing systems.  Many will tell you that we are politically incapable of meaningful change in the face of such a threat.  I don’t believe that, but do see the difficulty.  The next book on my docket is all about climate change versus capitalism.  Hopefully I can finish before the end of the year.