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February 14, 2011 – I’m continually fascinated by the invisible barrier that has, seemingly, been erected between peak oil and climate change. Peak oilers give c.c. a barely discernible nod from time to time, but no more. They apparently pride themselves upon declining to “unnecessarily” (!) complicate matters by attempting to take all the known facts into consideration. This purity of intent apparently sets the facts they are willing to acknowledge on a VERY high plane, indeed. However, as uniquely suited as the human brain is to examining complicated issues in all their subtlety, and as simultaneously pressing as matters have become, the failure to take both crises into account amounts to moral culpability. Of course humans will allow bias to enter into their evaluation! While we wait for that attribute to correct itself, glaciers are melting, methane is entering the atmosphere, and the Amazon is dying. Time is of the essence, ladies and gentlemen! Marshall your spreadsheets and let the debates begin!! It is most unlikely that, at this late date, you can make matters any worse than they already are.
The flip side of the coin – a general lack of interest in peak oil on the part of climate changers – is best understood if we attempt to rank the two in order of the severity of consequences. Peak oil, carried to its logical conclusion, means everyone lives like the Amish do. To far too many of us, I guess this must be the near-equivalent to the end of the world. It means total disruption of the world economy. Economists will no longer be eligible for a Nobel prize; just think of it! No more cars (that one all by itself needs a great deal of getting used to), no more heating or air conditioning, no more refrigerators, no more electric lights, no more TVs, computers, video games, internet, radios, ipods, ipads, iphones. For those familiar with the Transition concept, you know that re-localizing and re-skilling may make up a part of the future, too. Modern medicine will no longer exist, and life expectancy will be adversely affected, not just by this eventuality, but by the very hard physical labor that will have to replace the work done today by machinery. People will have to return to the days when they relied on each other in order to get big projects done.
What about climate change? What will its effects be? So far, the world has warmed one-plus-a-bit degree Fahrenheit. One-and-a-half million square miles of Arctic ice has melted. Permafrost is melting in both Canada and Russia, releasing methane. Methane has also been detected bubbling to the surface in the North Pacific. Greenland continues to lose glaciers at an alarming rate, as does the Antarctic. Blizzards have struck both northern Europe and the northeastern United States this winter, while flooding on an epic scale has deluged Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Sri Lanka. Last summer, the highest temperature in Asian history was logged: 128 degrees F., in Pakistan, which subsequently endured flooding on a scale previously unseen. Thirty-eight million mainland Chinese people were displaced by flooding at the same time. Carbon dioxide now permeates the air at 390 parts per million (ppm); when methane (which is far more toxic) is thrown into the mix, the equivalent CO2 level becomes 460 ppm. While 350 ppm is regarded as acceptable, the pre-industrial level was 290 ppm.
Various parts of Australia have been plagued by drought for more than a decade. Droughts in the Amazon in 2005 and 2010 have made the legendary rainforest a net emitter of carbon dioxide, rather than an absorber. Parts of the American Southwest are in a state of drought. So is northern China, which stands to lose almost all of its 2011 wheat harvest if conditions do not improve. Last summer’s Russian fires also caused their wheat harvest to fail. Though the country had sufficient grain in storage, they were talked into offering it on the export market, thereby lowering prices to the middle man, but making it unaffordable to the impoverished. As climate change continues to unfold, its evolving course will lead to further catastrophic weather, with the attendant destruction of crops and infrastructure. These, in turn, will directly affect food availability, particularly non-local foods which will need to be transported over roads that have been severely damaged. Increased numbers of tornadoes, and violent thunderstorms that spawn record amounts of lightning - phenomena that have already been noted - will continue to injure or kill growing numbers of people.
Are you seeing the difference between the two? Peak oil is a, relatively speaking, predictable event with predictable consequences. By comparison, climate change is like the monsters or dragons concocted by the tellers of fairy tales. It strikes at will. Its powers change from one year to the next. Unexpected disasters prohibit preparation; its ramifications reach further than we can imagine. Ultimately, certain parts of the world – possibly starting with Australia – will become uninhabitable. Warmer temperatures will introduce diseases once confined to the tropics into formerly temperate regions. Plants and animals will migrate northward, looking for new homes. Others will be lost to us forever. Rising seas will cause inward migration, and the possibility of river salination.
You know what? There’s a truckload of shit headed our way. We need to talk!


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