Head for the Hills

As citizens of planet Earth, we will experience a transition as climate change sets in over the next couple decades. The local effect of climate change will vary significantly depending where we live on the planet. What will come after the transition depends a lot on what happens during the transition, especially politically. What could an aware person wisely do, knowing global governments avoid the problem and that the 2 degrees Celsius danger line has been determined by science? What should one do, knowing scientists have also evaluated a 4 degree world? While many global citizens deny any problem exists.

The place we live on the planet may or may not be where we want to situate in the near future. Many sources speak of climate change refugees, and planned moves have always been wiser than chaotic relocation. Maps roughly estimate near future local climatic conditions, determining where people could live well or at least better in a climate changed world. The scientific geography of a 4 degree world could be referenced for decision making. Macro changes such as expanding deserts, rising sea levels on ocean fronts and hurricane allies might be avoided, while more local choices would be trickier. A move towards future rains may be wise. Out into less populated mountains or closer to the poles as ecosystems shift might make sense. One might assume local food, housing and community as high priority and desirable, while more distant government programs become less influential.

A back door option might be the card to hold. The choice may simply be city or countryside. As most of us now live urban, a second place in the country or a village may be well worth the effort. To have a planned and practiced route travelling there would be wise. Of course, having family spread over ideally optional places would be optimal. Otherwise, anyone living a middle class lifestyle should have enough resource available to maintain a second place—many already have. We can own a vacant lot, or a piece of undeveloped land, ideally with good soil availing a garden crop— and we could even keep that garden productive as a hobby or as a summer food supply. Also, then, a backup food source during the transition. A building on that property may be worthwhile if the transition results in that place being the place to go live.

Another outlook would be to sit tight in a city based on the rational that many city people will have a strong interest in maintaining civil order. But if the city falls into disarray, staying away from as many people as possible might be better. With the urban rural contrast in mind, having two places available might be best, even three if possible and ideally associated with family. With a quick manner of relocating from one to the other. The best time to travel to an emergency get away would be before the emergency happens, the trick being to anticipate that emergency, and to plan well in advance.

Some count on installing underground bunkers. A safe option perhaps, but this outlook suggests a future of people in conflict over resources. For an idealist or one looking for a friendly future we may want to avoid creating that world. If a person chooses the bunker route, it would still be wise to do so in conjunction with community of sorts. Good neighbours holds high importance in a lasting community.

People are social creatures with great potential—they can and do help neighbours and even more so a family based community. Small towns, usually friendly places, also have issues. Lack of individual privacy exists along with difficulty in regulating unwanted factors without leadership. A strong elected local council would be optimal. Young inactive men may be a challenge in a regulated society. Also, big men, or ambitious men who tend to dominate. With chaos unappealing, organization and community structure hold high levels of importance.

During transition, with a globally changing climate, we can assume the human transition to also be global. People of the planet will either learn to cooperatively assist each other through the transition, or they will choose a world of conflict, with endless struggles to control diminishing resources. These two possibilities always there among people will likely be the primary deciding factor on life after transition. People will either mature, or revert to more adolescent divisive behaviour and attitudes.

Ideally chaos will not come about, but rather people will chose a cooperative ending to the story. However, based on history, it may be wise to hedge bets against some chaos. That second home may be a good option towards waiting out the potential chaos. One can strategize survival, or even a thriving lifestyle during the time of change by remaining unnoticed. One could hide out on the sidelines as others expend their energy fighting out their differences. It would be a reasonable assumption that chaos will end—wars always do wind down—and one could anticipate the rebuilding aftermath.

An ambitious or inspired person or group may wish to develop an alternate community model, one that would hold on to or even improve the civilized cultural model. This model may then be held up as an example both during and after the transition. The internet may be the most important tool to keep functional in a global transition as the carbon based economy shifts. One outlook that could be taken is that climate change has come about as a gift, and as an opportunity for the people of the planet to learn to cooperate. This option may be the best of all, the one most desired by most people.

If people do let things fall into a more chaotic world, even an alternate community model would be wise to consider defense in its survive-the-transition strategy. A country like Switzerland was able to maintain neutrality throughout WWII—a nation that sits isolated by mountains. A country like Costa Rica has insulated itself from Central American conflict for many decades with most living in a central valley surrounded by mountain ranges. A mountain valley may be an optimal location to select for a transition community. A democratically elected council would likely be the primary centre of the community with some sort of social agreement enforcing adherence to council decisions. Strategic thinking and planning towards what seems likely on the near future horizon would be a wise move for any global citizen with choice.

Watch for short story Blown Bridge Valley coming out soon.


High Technology Degraded Planet

Global citizens are well on their way to a significantly degraded planet, with one measure of our footprint weighing in at one and one half planets. How could that even be possible? Simply put, we debt finance with carbon pollution—well over half of that footprint measure. At the same time, our technological development constantly smashes historical barriers to our high flying technical abilities. Moore’s Law has correctly predicted the exponential increase in computing capacity, availing the world of ever expanding digital processing clout. Quantum computers flutter on the near future horizon. Nanotechnology, robotics, telecommunications and space exploration lead an extensive list of developing human technologies. While the people of African villages carry cell phones in and out of reed huts, North Americans anticipate intelligent eyewear. An online search supplies all knowledge, answers any question posed, and constantly advertises the good life images. A GPS guides us to any picture perfect location on our planet. Yet behind the scenes, the more climate degraded portions on that planet squash in the marginalized global billion plus who continue living with not one electric bulb.

People have a proven track record of pushing past the limits of their available resource base. Jared Diamond in Collapse highlights more than one historical instance. Our so far degraded planet is now experiencing a mostly ignored changing climate as human politics focus on a technology based economic growth model. And, as the footprint measure highlights, an economy based on carbon emissions that continue to degrade our planet. Closely following climate change, a rapid loss of species or biodiversity symbolizes the havoc we now juggle in an increasingly unbalanced ecosystem. Urban dwellers have become so disconnected from nature that city children more and more believe food comes from factories.

Religious teachings that may have fit well for adherents  hundreds of years or even a century ago teach the conquest of God-given nature to be the way. One typical aspect of our instinctual or culturally driven nature is our attitude towards procreation. With few religious or cultural restrictions that make much sustainability sense, our population growth goes unhindered no matter how wise restriction might be in easing demand on our planet. Birth remains traditionally celebrated, longevity cheered with health care plans, end of life shunned at all cost. North Americans visit the homes of the aging selectively for family, and then often only if necessary. Go forth and multiply. Celebrate a long and prosperous life.

The cowboys of southern Alberta view posters of powerful conquering trucks, and the rough and tumble nature of the pioneers who came to settle the land. An adventurous tradition you can taste in the lifestyle of a city like Calgary. The footprint measure shows the lifestyle of that city to by far exceed the carbon emissions rate of most other  planetary consumers. Yet this lifestyle is celebrated as an aspiration for all people. The first world lifestyle of consumption, or could it be overconsumption, that participants refuse to surrender. The thought holds solid ground, then, that an attitude such as this prevailing on a worn thin biosphere will bring about a further degraded near future planet. People have yet to give up on any of their growth dynamic, no matter how informed they are on planetary limits. With an extra half planet consumed now, and an accelerating human growth model, a further degrade planet is quite likely.

We will send people to Mars, however, because we can, because we are pioneers, because we have billions of free carbon dump based dollars to invest in this venture. Speculative fiction makes predictions, accurate at times. Strength of military technology and a focus supporting resource extraction for profit shows in the Avatar future. Parallel ventures in the current world invest in mineral exploration for the riches of the asteroid belt. A distinct class struggle remains among the citizens of the Hunger Games. The cultural setting of Elysium portrays drastic class divisions where the wealthy decide on the health of the planet from afar.  Elysium pans images of a completely trashed planet, and texts in the reasons those able had fled to their orbiting space station. The wealthy have interest in the sustainability of their own refuges, their self welfare, much more so than that of global welfare and the wellbeing of any others.

As on the plains of Africa, the successful hunter ate the more choice cuts. The more competent gatherer brought home the better fruit, nut and seed supply. This was further emphasized among those urbanized and civilized. Class structure became strongly embedded between gatherer now Queen and hunter now King and the others down the order of socio-economic class, the less, and lesser fortunate. The hi-tech privileged consume disproportionate planetary resources as the super wealthy are amused by the thrills of space tourism. Concurrently, the marginalized children go to bed hungrier as their degraded land based food sources shrivel.

One quite likely near future outcome based on stagnant cultural-economic progress and current technological trends will be a further degraded planet, yet with a select segment of global society avidly participating in advanced technology. The privileged, those with access to traditional wealth and those fitting well with newly developing technical resources, will carry a version of human class division forward. Any global citizen will at one moment follow space flight to Mars and in the next image view the extreme weather events on home planet. The technologically privileged will benefit in a self perceived, self preserving manner while the majority will experience an increasing struggle on a further degraded planetary life support system.

The Gift of the Holocene

What is the Holocene? And why a gift?

The Holocene was an epoch that began as the last Ice Age came to an end. Officially starting at 11,700 years ago, the transition from the coldest dip of our planet’s latest global freeze 20,000 years ago to the warmth of the Holocene did not flow smoothly. With a warmer interglacial well on its way, the heating trend was interrupted at least once, and abruptly. During the Younger Drydas the great lakes basin flooded the Atlantic with fresh water, cutting off the Holocene warmth for another 1300 years. That the Holocene did turn out climatically as stable as it did, adds weight to the idea of a gift, a time in a Garden that allowed development of our civilization. During the last ten thousand years of stable climate, our atmospheric CO2 concentration has not varied by more than 5% from preindustrial, including during the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period.

What did a stable climate allow?

By this time modern humans had spread around the world to all habitable continents. Agriculture had its rudimentary beginnings about 11,000 years ago and human beings were given the opportunity to settle down as farmers. The farming idea spread, and a transition ensued replacing the hunter gatherer economy with our cities, and our civilization. People living in place could produce more food than they could consume, allowing non-food producing careers for the first time. Specialists. Priests could read oracles, star gazers learned calendared time and later developed math, accountants tracking food sources on clay tablets eventually wrote alphabets, artists and then poets inspired culture. Sports heroes such as gladiators turned later into football players, warriors with spears transitioned into our national militaries, and big men, later kings and emperors were supplanted by today’s presidents and prime ministers. Cities today thrive on food grown by the few farmers necessary in each hinterland.

The process of people becoming farmers itself may have contributed to a stable Holocene one theory suggests. The burning of forest around the world for agriculture just when global temperature was dipping helped keep the gift. William Ruddiman publishes evidence that the Holocene was well on track to another Ice Age, but was interrupted by forest clearing for farming and animal husbandry. Not that the population was as large as today, nor that carbon emission rates were as intensive as today, but over thousands of deforestation years, the influence on atmospheric carbon had an impact. Thus, the Holocene and that version of the Anthropocene beginning with industrialization may overlap significantly. The book entitled 1491 details recent research into extensive influence humans had on North and South American forest cover prior to European contact. Peoples’ activity may have helped keep the gift stable, allowing uninterrupted progress towards the human conditions of today.

Before the Holocene, was there not any other interglacial period when humans could have just as well developed? The Eemian interglacial began 130,000 and ended 114,000 years ago. Modern humans of that time were still restricted to Africa, with some travel out across the Arabian Peninsula. If agriculture made any beginnings on our continent of origin then, those initiatives were possibly snuffed out by a more erratic climate of the Eemian. The global average temperature peaked during that last interglacial at 1 to 2 degrees C warmer than today (about 122,000 years ago) when forests expanded beyond the Arctic Circle. Then, there was enough missing ice and added ocean waters to raise the sea levels perhaps 4 or up to 10 meters higher than those of the Holocene. This allows us a flashcard of a time to compare to our current developing Anthropocene. How humanity developed during the Eemian remains open to speculation, but one thing is clear—interglacial gifts don’t come along all that often.

Humanity has been lucky, perhaps exceptionally fortunate, to have experienced the snuggly climate of these last 10,000 years. Perhaps a helper Guide out there in the universe provided beneficial assistance. Evidence for creation theory has been published, often in support of religious views. Yet the probability statistics associated the version of the Holocene that did play out can be imagined, or estimated, and gift seems an apt descriptor no matter the source. The climate gift could have been much shorter, or more erratic, with a constantly changing climate disrupting the all-important agriculture. How randomly fortuitous, or design fortunate. What we could have had today, what we have been choosing to give up over the last several decades, could readily be seen as a gift. A gift, that we now risk at the climate change gambling table.

Are we now, informed by those star gazers turned scientists, addressing this situation with any wiser outlook than the first agriculturalists? It seems not. Our CO2 now bumping 400 ppm shows an over 40% increase over the 280 ppm preindustrial count. We are pissing all over our gift, like a dog pisses on food it can’t eat. We have chosen the Anthropocene, kicking and screaming out denial as we ignore the evidence of climate change falling into place around us. We have become the Weather Makers, and the weather we make will determine if it turns out possible we can weasel our way back to anything like the Holocene. Our gift.

Crises Managers

People respond best to crises. And as the crisis builds, before it is recognized as such, citizens function in mental states promoting inaction. This natural tendency to wait on calamity before responding does not translate well into wise future planning. People wait for a crisis to be well defined, hanging like a curtain-clinging cat onto what they know. Tribal denial works best as a first response long before acceptance.

Other stories of peoples’ origin have been told, but here I stick with the scientific evolutionary theory that human nature evolved on the plains of Africa. And there, survival often worked best by sitting tight. Why expend precious survival energy responding to what may never occur? Today’s crazy weather event sent by the sky gods will be gone with tomorrow’s sunrise. If not, what can we do about sky gods? Experience taught—food, clothing, shelter for today—stay alive. Focus on the now and stick with what worked in the past. Change is risky.

People develop local tradition. In Alberta there is little interest in IPCC scientists blabbing about climate change. Especially NOT when our oil industry is the cause. Oil field workers do not want to change their careers over to geothermal, though existing drilling technology may apply, nor wind and solar energy installations though the field work might be cleaner. We have tar sand infrastructure built, thank you. Not happening.

While carbon reduction targets get no air time, not a whisper, provincial and city preparedness for the next flood runs high profile. A perceived worry, a mini-crisis. Yet the conversation on causes of extreme weather events, floods being one, remains unspoken. As we scramble, expecting another flood. The 2005 flood was the first to flow over the top of Calgary’s Glenmore dam since construction in the 1930s. The flood of 2013 followed second, with a larger flow rate. A potential trend—floods increasing in size and closer together. Suggesting the near future occurrence of a larger high water event. Why prepare now, we’ve got a statistical 99 year wait window, don’t we? We respond to direct personal impact.

Things take time to prepare for flood mitigation says the province of Alberta. The flooding has attention, but has yet to translate into a crisis, and certainly not a human emitted carbon caused climate crisis. Greenpeace states for CBC news we were informed three decades ago. Any indication here of people waiting for crisis?

Historical global crises have occurred, such as WWII. Adolph Hitler was elected chancellor in 1933, some argue on a platform addressing unresolved issues from the previous world war. Mr Chamberlain repeatedly reached out with appeasement. Many attempts to keep things just the way they were. We don’t want a crisis. In hindsight, there were many opportunities to have avoided WWII. But people don’t operate that way. They wait, and in many cases, they wait too long. They may have waited too long to respond to climate change, and they are choosing to postpone any real effort even longer. The real crisis isn’t here. Not yet.

People resist change. Whatever survival tactic worked out on the plains of Africa, whatever tradition in later more complex cultures worked for the past generation, that was the best to keep. Don’t change anything. Some things never change. That’s just the way it is. Not true perhaps, well really it isn’t, but spoken by multiple voices it becomes a common belief.

Human nature’s tendency to manage only crises suggests people will manage climate change when perceived as a crisis, ignoring wise feedback from science. And only if and when the crisis has direct impact on their personal lives. Which, when it comes to climate change, may be too late. People responding to the direct impact of southern Alberta flooding plan to adapt. To build berms, dig diversion channels High River, and a Calgary tunnel from the reservoir under the city to the river downstream. They don’t mention the fact that the carbon they are dumping in the air living their Alberta lifestyle has strongly increased the probability of reoccurring flooding. They don’t want at all to change their lifestyle, to emit less carbon by having no car or purchasing net zero housing. They don’t want a lower income even if meaning quality family time. They will make change only if floodwaters inundate their property. Then, they will move. They will not see the bigger picture and seek to solve the global carbon problem. They will, like on the plains of Africa, figure out what to do just for them. Their family, their tribe, their local region. Yet the atmosphere extends globally, shared.

For many the party hasn’t ended and never will. Some will take one last fling to a tropical resort before the last of the reef’s die off. Others will find adventure in escape, north as stressed wilds diminish. But to participate in a wise move towards managing carbon emissions in the interests of a healthy life support system, our planet, is unlikely. Invisible CO2 and gradual weather change just does not define a crisis.

So talk to people. Ask them, or better watch what they really do. Ask how many are moving to the inner city to lower their carbon footprint? Or closer to a public transit route or investing in a net zero house or a smart car. For their children’s sake? Detect any response delay? Detect anyone waiting? Believe more change would happen if there was a real in their face crisis? When our climate change crisis actually becomes a crisis.

Genetic evolution, such as began on the African plains, proceeds at a snail’s pace. Cultural evolution may experience a major turnover in a generation, maybe in 20 years. Crisis response is near immediate—but there need be a recognized crisis. For climate change, stay tuned.

Our near future – fact or fiction

A cold grey cloud cover dims the light, and sets a somber morning mood. I know about moods. They call me a moody person, and I have been so ever since I was a child. All feels empty and surreal. I am an author now—I write non-fiction and fiction—and moods are good for writing fiction. But what am I writing at the moment? Well, it should be fiction, it has all the setting characteristics of some good solid tragic drama, but it’s not a story. It’s real.

This May 2014 long weekend we were chatting about heading out to our place in BC. One thing led to another, but the turning point was the weatherman’s prediction of rain. And not just here in Calgary from where we can at times escape to that alternate climate zone in beautiful British Columbia. Rainy also out in the BC interior valley. We instead decided Friday, the best weather day, we would go to the mountains. Every outdoors person in Calgary knows about the mountains just to the west. I would never life in the semi-arid city without those mountains near where you can escape the city for a refreshing breath of nature. Then sometime that day my wife started speaking of a flood. Back home – she immigrated from Eastern Europe years ago. We postponed our travel ideas.

Instead of a weekend out at the cabin, like I was used to as a kid in Saskatchewan, we watched the news. My wife dug right into the local news written online in Serbian, and she talked on the phone to her mother and her sister. Nothing new, she does that almost every day. But something was not normal. Her mother had never cried on the phone before. Ever. My wife and daughter had just flown back from six weeks there in Lacarak on the first of May. They had made the one hour trip into Belgrade to visit relatives. My daughter played in the streets and on the latest digital device screens with her two cousins. But the Sava River was rising now, and flooding was happening in Bosnia. The rain was coming down at an unprecedented rate and not stopping. The chatter was about evacuation. This had never happened before. And where to? I recalled Fuska Gora, those hills where I had been to monasteries not far away. My wife cried.

Saturday she shows me online photos. The people are standing around the riverbank in Sremska Mitrovica. I recognized the place, the walking bridge across the Sava. The city had been there forever, once the fourth largest in the Roman Empire with a horse track arena. Meaning the Emperor would come to stay at times. She yells at them, why are they only standing around? That’s what they did last year in Calgary’s flood I tell her. Lots of people went for a walk down by the Bow River to watch our 2013 flood. Later that day—we are eight hours behind here in Calgary—the people of Serbia—my wife’s family—have been scrambling. My wife’s sister, my daughter’s two cousins and another family mother with children have found a relative with a big house up Fuska Gora. The men and my wife’s mother too stay in Lacarak, waiting for emergency evacuation news at the last moment. They have a car, the one we bought to drive to Italy four years ago when I attended a sustainability conference. The locals have stacked sand bags along the Sava berm all through Sremska and machinery has been raising the berm along the corn fields behind Lacarak. I walked along that berm two springs back many times, a peaceful hike along a hill of earth build for regular spring high water. This spring is not regular.

Sunday. Water has peeked in Sremska. Yes, the crisis is over! I spend the day with my daughter at her elementary school playground. We laugh and play and ride our bicycles down the park trail there and return on the street. She doesn’t like riding uphill. I watch the sky for rain and we just beat it on our way home after many great games. My wife is in a panic again. The river, no not the Sava, the Drina, no it is the Sava has breeched in Croatia. At Brcko, no that’s the Bosnian side of the Sava. Neither Bosnia nor Croatia but a tidbit left over from the complicated history of ex-Yugoslavia. The waters are rushing through the forest now, wild animals scattering out ahead. Truly this must be fiction. When does a river ever flood through a forest? But it is real, and the water is coming around the back way towards Lacarak and Sremska. She shows me a local facebook posting. The provincial crisis manager there has made a decision. They have to create an emergency berm to hold back this new flood through the forest.

I was there at Kuzmin. Just a few kilometers west of Lacarak. We drove through that village on our way back from Italy. The heavy equipment was to build an emergency berm using the road itself as the structure base. If the water comes past that, my wife has talked of the railroad tracks almost two meters high. That will be the last resort, then the water will be in the Lacarak streets. In the houses where I have stayed, in the streets where I have played with the children. My wife’s sister, my wife’s parents right across the street. To become another washed through Serbian village with hidden corpses. Like the news says has already happened in other Serbian and Bosnian towns and cities.

Is this weather or climate. My one university class in Climatology taught climate is a running 30 year average of weather. There’s a lot of latent heat energy up there in the sky. I’ve been researching sustainability for eight years now, and a lot of the non-fiction books I have gone through read like fiction. I have double checked many times, to confirm I was not reading a science fiction story. And most books about sustainability say we have crossed over the line, many lines and our aspired for lifestyles are no longer sustainable. They always mention climate change. Climate change has predicted new normal weather, and the extreme weather events as they are called bring floods.

So I must write, here, about how I envision and what I can predict of our near future. We are going through a transition, not in a science fiction story, but in reality. Not for on the screen entertainment, but as a new normal part of our everyday lives. And not just in my town, not just where I live but globally in every corner of our planet. Our life support system that we have taken for granted, that we have gone forth upon to multiply and conquer. Everything will be different now, the hopes of going back to the way things were are dismal. The optimists say cheer up, people have always solved their problems. The deniers scream, whine and cry that their oilfield jobs need be on the block. I have to face the news this morning of whether the water came through.

Yes, the water did not make it to town. The people in Lacarak speculate the politicians have been casting roles for themselves, vying for political points. The body count will not be released yet, until the hardest hit Serbian city of Obrenovac has been clean up completely. We go to the mountains the next weekend, but its rainy, and we talk about who got trapped by the Calgary flood last year.

This will be our new normal going forward. Our near future has arrived.