Friday, February 17, 2017

Unprecedented: Are systemic tipping points already upon us?

In 2017 already, record rains in California. Record heat in Chicago and Minnesota (with record rain last year). Record ice melt in both the Arctic and Antarctic.

In 2016, record temperatures in India, Kuwait and Alaska. Indeed, 2016 was the warmest year on record for the planet.

Climate change, species extinction, water depletion, food scarcity, an economic system dependent on continued growth and unlimited resources — all coupled with a ballooning human population — have led many scientists to ponder systemic collapse.

Let us be clear here: No matter what effect that humans have on the earth, the planet itself will continue until the sun fizzles out or some other cosmic event brings about its demise. And humans probably will survive in one form or another. But the question is: Will human civilization continue as we know it?

Scientists pretty much agree that human civilization began about 12,000 years ago — a miniscule sliver of time compared to the age of the earth (4.5 million years) and the evolution of the human species (about 200,000 years ago). This flowering of civilization came about after the last ice age in an era of moderate planet temperatures.

Now all of the advantages of this flowering are being challenged. While an ice age appears remote, the opposite is occurring: too much heat. And while there seemed at one time to be unlimited resources — upon which classic economic thinking is based — that, we know, is not true.

In my lifetime alone the world's population has tripled. While that rate will not continue, the human population is projected to grow till at least 2050 and perhaps further.

Some very smart scientists have posited that systemic collapse — barring major changes in human behavior — is inevitable. But let's be clear: If collapse occurs, it won't happen all at once. Indeed, it is happening all around us all the time.

These collapse events are too numerous for me to mention here, but sooner if not later they will build to perhaps what some theorists will deem a planetary system collapse. Whether this so-called catastrophic tipping point becomes a reality or an academic theory will be a matter of definition.

Nevertheless, the consequences of human influence upon the systems that have allowed humans to flourish will come back to challenge humanity's own survival. This brings to mind T. S. Elliot's perhaps prophetic lines:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

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