Huxley hoarding snow, just in case!
My son, Huxley, is 4. It is possible that he will see the end of the present century. If climate change proceeds as it is now, with no serious action to curtail the release of fossil carbon into the atmosphere, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will be well above 500 parts per million.
The last time there was this much CO2 in the atmosphere sea levels were meters, not centimeters or millimeters, but meters, above present level. When CO2 is added to the atmosphere quickly, as we are doing now, the Earth’s surface starts to heat up. It takes years to reach equilibrium. As this heating takes place, glacial ice melts and raises sea levels. We do not really know how fast temperatures reach equilibrium, and we know even less how fast glaciers melt. But we are already at the point where sea level “should” be higher than it is now. It is quite possible that Huxley will witness the historic event of major cities around the world being inundated by the sea.
But if he lives in Minnesota, one might think, he’ll have to travel to the coasts to witness this event. But that is not really the case. Minnesota at present has about 5.3 million people. Since I moved here close to 20 years ago, about one million people have been added to the state, mostly through migration and immigration. When 25% or more of the population of the United States has to move, places like the Twin Cities will have to absorb millions of people. A large percentage of our food staples, globally, are grown in regions which will be inundated by rising seas, especially in places like South Asia and Southeast Asia, but really, all around the world. Climate change induced or worsened drought and severe weather already affect food supplies. The civil war in Syria stems directly from the climate change induced collapse of agriculture in that country, and climate change is implicated in all of the Arab Spring uprisings as a major causal factor. Smaller and more arid countries are being affected now by climate change in this regard. Everyone else will be affected over the next few decades.
So Huxley will not have to go to the coasts to witness the effects of sea level rise. The mass migration of people away from heavily settled coastal regions will come to him even if he stays here in the middle of the continent. And, the food supply will not be as stable and secure at it is now, by any means. I’ve never felt comfortable with survivalism and I have always thought of it as a rather quirky and even dangerous cult. But I wonder if I should try to make sure Huxley has some of those skills. It pains me to write this but I find myself defying my own distrust of apocalyptic scenarios when I examine, as a scientist and a science communicator, and a father of two (Huxley is the youngest), and find it not so hard to see the shadow of collapse not to far ahead, around a corner we are approaching all too quickly.
President Obama, in the State of the Union Address, reaffirmed that climate change is real. The Republican opposition took no time to deny this. It is absolutely essential that we understand the science of climate change and apply good science to the development of effective policy at all governmental levels. But any unit government that has a significant GOP power base, such as the US Federal government today with a GOP house, is unable to do so. At present we are 17 seats away from removing the anti-science pro-global warming Republicans from a position of ruinous power in Washington. Erik Paulsen, my representative, is one of the 17 members of the House who has to go.