The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From The Future

Science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, co-authors of the acclaimed Merchants of Doubt, have joined forces again to produce a striking short fictional work The Collapse Of Western Civilization: A view From The Future. It purports to be an essay written by a Chinese historian three hundred years after the collapse of western civilisation towards the end of the 21st century when untrammelled climate change took its full effect.

The period of the Penumbra (1988-2093) ended in the Great Collapse and Mass Migration (2073-2093). That’s the scope of our Chinese historian’s survey. He (or she)records the dawning scientific realisation of the effects human activities were having on the planetary climate, the setting up of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the first manifestations of the change in the intensification of fires, floods, hurricanes, and heat waves. Thus far he writes of matters familiar to us.

He then moves on to recount the rapidly mounting disasters as the century proceeds. It’s somewhat unnerving to read of what we know as predictions as if they had already become the stuff of history. All the more unsettling because anyone who follows climate science will recognise that the chain of disaster he traces, from failing food crops in intense heat waves to unmanageable sea level rise as the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets begin to disintegrate is entirely possible if greenhouse gases continue to be pumped into the atmosphere by human activity. The resultant human suffering and death the historian records may be more speculative from our end, but his calm account of the human consequences has a dismaying ring of likelihood to it.

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2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years

The Club of Rome has launched a new report, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, written by Jorgen Randers, one of the co-authors 40 years ago of their famous publication Limits to Growth. I’ve been listening to Randers speaking at the launch this week at Rotterdam. It’s a striking address, delivered with a charm that softens its grim content. It can be viewed on the first 25 minutes of the YouTube video below. I’ll offer an outline here, along with some loose transcription of parts of the address.

He reflects that he has worked a lifetime pushing sustainability without success.

Will the world overshoot and collapse? This was the warning that my friends and I made in 1972 in Limits to Growth… We are now forty years down the line and it is perfectly obvious that world has already overshot.  In 1972 our critics said that the world is not going to be so stupid as to let the world move into non-sustainable territory. Well, we now are in unsustainable territory.

The simplest example is greenhouse gases.

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longnowclock.jpg I get emails from several Oxfords, but this week’s best came from the nearest and contained a link to “a lecture you’ll find worth looking at — coffee/keyboard interface warning.” The warning was heeded and needed. The lecture, by Dmitry Orlov, given to the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco on Feb 13 as a part of Long Now’s Seminars About Long Term Thinking, is titled Social Collapse Best Practices [Long Now report here, full text at ClubOrlov]. According to Orlov, who had direct experience of social collapse in Russia after the demise of the communist system (his thesis is that the US is moving rapidly towards closing its “collapse gap” with Russia), four things are important during a collapse — food, shelter, transportation and security. But especially security:

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Take that, Nigel!

lawson.jpg Nigel(*) Lawson, flown over to NZ by the Business Roundtable last year to mislead us on climate change, has written a book which comprehensively debunks the whole climate alarmist bandwagon. Robin McKie in the Observer is suitably impressed:

What really grates is Lawson’s conviction that most of the world’s climatologists, meteorologists, atmospheric physicists, Arctic experts, and biologists, as well several Nobel Prize winners, are all stupid, misguided and wrong in thinking manmade global warming is real. By contrast, Lawson, ensconced in his Gascogny house, where, incidentally, he found conditions ‘perfectly tolerable’ during the 2005 French heatwave that killed 15,000 old people, is virtually the only one with the brains to work out the Truth.

It is breathtaking arrogance, to say the least, although Lawson is not alone in displaying it. Several other individuals, usually male, elderly, and right wing, still deny climate change is happening, mainly because they cannot stand the thought that greenies may be right and that we will have to curtail our use of big cars, international flights and other carbon-boosting luxuries. These Grumpy Old Deniers feel their lifestyles are threatened by greenies and so reject the entire concept of global warming. ‘With the collapse of Marxism, those who dislike capitalism have been obliged to find a new creed,’ says Lawson. ‘For many of them, green is the new red.’ In short, global warming is a commie plot.

Ring any bells? Don? Bob? Terry? Owen? Bryan? “Grumpy old deniers” has a certain ring to it, does it not?

But McKie’s only just hitting his stride.

If only it was. Then we could have a chance of dealing with it. In fact, the problem is far more pervasive and worrying. So perhaps Lord Lawson should turn his mighty brain to that issue, instead of writing piffle like this – then the Earth really might be saved.

McKie wins the 2008 Hot Topic prize for most heartfelt use of the word “piffle” in global media.

[Update 25/4: Not quite as scathing, but just as interesting, is the Guardian review by Richard Lambert, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (a sort of heavyweight version of Business NZ). In Lawson’s heyday, the CBI regarded Thatcher as a bit wet – now they’re fully committed to action on climate change.]

* I know that’s not Nigel, but I prefer Nigella’s…


Biofuels to fly, and other stories

747Air New Zealand is carefully positioning itself as a climate-friendly airline with its latest announcement that it is to trial biofuels in a 747 flight from Auckland in the next couple of years. Working with Boeing, Air NZ will be part of the first commercial trial of biofuel, in a Rolls-Royce-powered jumbo in the next 18 months . The flight will only use biofuel in one engine, and will not carry customers. [Stuff, Herald, BBC, June HT blog on aviation biofuels].