Rick Weinstein: The climate crisis is about saving the human race, not “the planet”
This commentary is from Rick Weinstein of Stowe, who has a PhD. in Antarctic Microbial Ecology from the University of Cambridge and was Professor of Biology at the University of Tennessee for 15 years. He is a member of Stowe’s Democratic Committee.
In the preparation and post-mortem that followed the Glasgow climate summit, there was a lot of press in the press about the need to control climate change in terms of ‘saving the planet’.
Of course, it’s not just media coverage that uses this phrase to refer to climate change. It has become common to think of the climate crisis in terms of “saving the planet”. There is certainly a great deal of validity in interpreting the climate crisis through the prism of ecosystem destruction, but this is to some extent missing an important point.
Make no mistake about it: climate change is now and will continue to cause a devastating and profound environmental catastrophe, the examples of which are too numerous to list. But maybe a few salient examples help frame the problem.
Ecosystems are now “decoupled”, meaning that natural processes that were previously synchronized during evolution are now out of balance. This has dangerous effects on animal and human life, which depend on foreseeable events in nature. Perhaps most worrying is the loss of synchronization between the life cycles of insects and plant pollinators, especially bees, since one-third of the human food supply depends on pollination.
The loss of biodiversity has led to extinction rates equivalent to major historical mass extinction events.
In the meantime, it has recently been discovered that some forests that previously served as ‘carbon sinks’ in response to an increase in atmospheric CO2 (known as ‘global greening’) have become carbon emitters as temperatures rise. higher levels also lead to increased plant respiration rates. , which releases CO2.
However, qualifying the climate crisis as a threat to “the planet” does not take into account the disparity between human (short term) and geological (very long term) time scales. It is this disparity that remains at the source of the brand problem with the climate crisis.
Thus, while ecological balance is essential to healthy ecosystems, long-term recovery from disturbances is virtually assured. For example, paleoecologists determined that the structure of the forest ecosystem in the Minnesota region of Tennessee at the end of the last Ice Age was significantly different from the structure of forest ecosystems that exist today. The same species that occur today also occurred then, albeit in an entirely different ecological relationship.
Human-caused climate change is now producing a similar result – albeit on an accelerated timescale – but the point is that “the planet” has then recovered and will eventually recover from any imbalance caused by it as well. man.
To be clear, there is no doubt that the relatively short-term destruction of the balance of ecosystems caused by climate change is and will continue for some time to generate significant struggle (and in some cases outright extinction) for global biota. And this is indeed tragic and unacceptable.
But to get better traction in finding solutions to the climate emergency, the message may need to change.
On the one hand, referring to solving the climate crisis in terms of “the planet” is not likely to win much sympathy from sectors of the population who do not care at all about the health of the people. planetary ecosystems. But framing the climate crisis in terms of the future of the human race might awaken some who might otherwise rejoice in “owning the libraries.”
Threats to human well-being are becoming increasingly obvious and immediate. The most obvious are the economic and human costs of rising sea levels, super droughts, increasingly destructive forest fires and extreme weather events.
The fact that the economic costs of adjusting to climate change (for example, the costs of adapting and rebuilding infrastructure) would far outweigh the costs of mitigating climate change was first brought up ago. decades, but no one has been surprised by the ears of policymakers. These economic consequences are now becoming a reality. After years of warnings, climate change is now costing real money.
What is likely to flow directly from such environmental devastation is an inevitable immigration scenario. But they will not necessarily be refugees from foreign countries. When the west coast becomes uninhabitable due to forest fires and the resulting air pollution, combined with an ongoing super drought, future refugees will be Americans from the west coast moving east. It’s already happening.
Not to mention the increased death rates caused by heat waves, cold waves from polar vortex aberrations, the spread of tropical diseases, declining agricultural production and the vulnerability of the poor.
Human survival in the face of climate change is threatened by both environmental and economic factors. We must therefore conceive of the climate crisis not as “saving the planet” but rather in terms of “”save the human race.”
Of course, articulating the climate crisis in terms of “saving humanity” allows you to “save the planet” as a bonus.