Accelerating Climate Change and How to Cope with It

The past 20 years are among the 22 hottest years of the planet. 2018 has been a roller coaster of a year with record number of extreme climate change events spread across the globe. We are living through Dicken’s “It was best of times, it was the worst of times…” redux.  Global capitalism is peaking in all spheres epitomized by urbanization, cars, air travel, consumerism, technological advancement, mobiles, telecommunication, internet, entertainment, energy use, etc. all of which are on a steep rising curve. Parallelly we are paying a Faustian price for it in terms of global warming, drought, heatwaves, melting arctic and glaciers, storms, precipitation, flooding, wildfires, atmospheric and ocean pollution, sea level rise and extreme climate events. Almost 200 countries are meeting in Katowice, Poland at COP24 to finalise the practical implementation of 2015 Paris Agreement. This meeting assumes significance especially in the wake of the recent IPCC special report on limiting global warming and US National Climate Assessment report.

The COP meetings have been held almost annually since 1995. The 1997 meeting in Japan was a milestone with the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol. The international response to this protocol, and subsequent ones on greenhouse gas emissions has been mixed. For the developed countries which had contributed most to the cumulative CO2 emissions since the industrial revolution it was easier to fix targets since their per capita emissions were already at much high levels compared to the developing nations with much lower per capita and cumulative emissions (excepting China)[1].  The trend of annual CO2 emissions has been ominously steep from 6 bn tons in 1950 to over 36 bn tons now.

During this period since Peak Civilisation[2] i.e. 1960s all indicators which are supposed to signify economic and social progress like GDP, number of motor vehicles, tourism arrivals have increased by multiples of 65, 9.5, 17.8, respectively. Human population during this period has risen by 2.8 times. This indicates that science and technological progress has contributed to higher growth multiples of all indicators vis-a-vis human population goaded by our obsession and addiction for higher, bigger, faster, richer. Human intelligence, too, has multiplied by much higher multiples. We have reached a stage where computers and AI are expected to pass the Turing test by 2029 and the age of singularity will be reached by 2045 according to Kurzweil[3]. Its part of the exponential evolutionary process where humans are now on verge of giving birth to independent AI like HAL in Kubrick’s classic “2001 A Space Odyssey”.

In this future shockean[4] scenario, it’s very difficult both for the industrial/banking/fossil lobby/capitalist nexus and politicians to pull back on carbon emissions in view of the immense stakes which they have in maximizing profits and winning votes, respectively. Forever economic growth is the mantra of capitalism even though the growth is inequitable. For politicians to report continuous economic growth is a sine qua non for success. The fossil lobby has both deep pockets and long tentacles to push their cause till the wells run dry. Projections of fossil fuel share of total energy requirements during 2014-35 show that there is going to be only a slight decline from 86% to 81%[5]. Hence unless rigorous steps are taken to curb fossil fuels, carbon emissions are unlikely to be reduced by the required 50% benchmark as recommended by IPCC.  

Apart from the above bleak prospects, there now alarming trends of release of methane into the atmosphere from the permafrost below the rapidly melting Arctic and northern Siberia[6]. Methane is variously stated to be 28 to 150 times more potent than CO2. 100% ice free Arctic is expected latest by 2020 according to Guy McPherson, climate scientist, which is broadly in line with other climate scientists. According to the climate scientists such as Peter Wadhams, Paul Beckwith, Dahr Jamail and Guy McPherson[7], there is mounting evidence that abrupt and accelerating climate change has already started. This will be intensified by spurt in methane breaking free from the permafrost, which may prove to be the tipping point for further accelerating climate change. Till about a couple of years ago, most of us were safely ensconced in our cocooned comfort zones with the possibility of extreme climate change and collapse events faraway in the nebulous distant future around 2100.

A slew of extreme climate events has occurred with accelerating tempo over the past few years which now reinforces the rather despairing prognosis that we are possibly hurtling towards a climate collapse scenario much earlier. For those who were born after 1970 it could possibly occur during their lifetimes. Like in the X-Files the governments of the most developed nations, especially the US, have been shielding this stark reality from their citizens. Climate scientists like Gordon MacDonald[8] and James Hansen had repeatedly reported to the US presidents and senate committees since the 1960s. MacDonald had submitted reports to Lyndon Johnson and Hansen had testified before a senate committee during early 1980s[9]. MacDonald was a climate prophet who had also met Kennedy. But like all prophets he was far ahead of his times and not given his due recognition.

Around this time, The Club of Rome[10] was formed in 1968 which focused upon environmental degradation and future of humanity. The members of the Club of Rome submitted a report “The Limits to Growth” in 1972 which through computer simulations proved that economic growth could not go beyond the finite resources of the planet. Another seminal and pioneering event of 1968 was the publication of “The Population Bomb” by Stanford University Professor Paul R. Ehrlich[11] (along with his wife, Anne Ehrlich). Ehrlich was another equally prescient climate prophet who was not heeded to by the powers that be.

This was the most inconvenient truth[12] which all of us are refusing to face. Eventual climate collapse is like mass societal death which human beings do not like to contemplate. We are too busy in our materialistic lives never wanting to admit to ourselves about the impermanence of life. Death is the biggest certainty of life. Eastern religions, philosophies and ways of life like Sanatan Dharma (origin of Hinduism) and Buddhism view death as an essential continuum of birth and life. There is a tradition in Bhutan[13] to contemplate death five times every day since it’s the ultimate reality. Tibetan Buddhism[14] lays paramount importance to death and impermanence of life.

Denial is the stock reaction of most people when confronted with the inevitability of climate change and collapse. Hence its difficult to drum up sizeable support for climate change social groups. Psychoanalysts like Sally Weintrobe (Engaging with Climate Change) are trying to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to helping overcome denial and avowal.

in view of the bleak scenario where carbon and methane emissions are poised to rise further or at best stay stable till 2030, it is high time for us to plan and implement measures which will help soften the harsh blows of extreme climate events and also for coping with gradually worsening climate. Like many other countries, India also has chalked out an action plan for Climate Change[15] consisting of National Missions for Solar, Water, Green India, Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem, Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change, Enhanced Energy Efficiency, Sustainable Habitat, and Sustainable Agriculture. At the governmental level most of plans are at a macro level, which off course will be implemented at designated regions. Apart from these type of plans, Ahmedabad, capital of Gujarat state, which experiences exceptional heat waves has prepared a pioneering Heat Action Plan[16] which has become a model for several cities. These plans are basically focused upon how to mitigate heat through painting roofs white, etc.

In Spite of the plans being made at the governmental level which are mostly macro in nature, there is an urgent need for all other social groups to prepare plans and implement them. New Grammar of Living[17](NGL) has been espousing the need to radical measures to cope with accelerating climate change since 2010. Several measures in the following sections have been mentioned in the NGL blogs.

A.   Measures for softening the harsh impact of extreme climate events:

1.     In view of the rising temperatures across the globe, heat action plans need to be prepared for most cities in the northern hemisphere and also Australia where during the past five years or so temperatures have been more than 2c above long term averages. During 2018, extreme heat waves have been experienced in most countries, even in places like Japan, Scandinavia, UK, USA, Canada, lower Europe where we would normally never associate heat waves. In most of these places houses have not been equipped with air conditioning since there was no need earlier. In fact in certain Scandinavian cities, last summer people were allowed to sleep in air-conditioned public spaces like departmental stores etc. Even in Bengaluru where I live there were no fans till the 1980s since it’s at an elevation of 3000 ft. Now not only fans, but also ACs are common in most middle-class families. Hence it is imperative to prepare and implement Heat Action Plans for practically all cities in the tropics and even in the temperate zones.

2.     Urbanisation phenomena has increased significantly since the 1950s especially in developing economies and countries like Japan. This has resulted in severe rise in temperatures, flooding, waste disposal problems, violence, slums to name a few urban nightmares. In view of this there is a need for conscious Deurbanization Plans for all cities with population above 5 mn. Here governments, municipal authorities have a major role to play in terms of providing employment opportunities in semi-urban areas so that migration to cities is reduced. It's quite interesting to note that most extreme climate events seem to occur in densely populated areas since natural wetlands, etc. have been converted into urban sprawls.

3.     With rising sea levels, especially during storms and excessive precipitation, most of the coastal cities in the world are at risk. Recent alarming melting rates of the Arctic, Greenland and warming of oceans portend higher sea level rise. We are actually entering uncharted territories of climate change. Most computer simulation models cannot factor interplay of multiple climate change events, sometimes occurring simultaneously, so we do not have a clear understanding of what the effects will be in the future.  Recent study published in NYT on 19th Nov, 18 shows that by 2100 it is possible up to six extreme climate events could occur simultaneously in certain cities. Hence the need for a concerted bid by all governments to prepare and implement Action Plans for moving the vulnerable population away from all coastal cities, along with rehabilitation of the affected people.

4.     The above could be linked to identification of places which have abundant fresh water supplies, cultivable land, no flooding history with low probability of flooding and high precipitation, etc. These places may be developed by NGOs and other climate change agencies through appropriate funding structures and then sold or leased to the those displaced from coastal cities. There is an urgent need for economists, banks, World Bank, governments, ultra-rich and private equity to arrive at financial solutions for these ventures.

5.     Population control is a central plank in this entire scheme of things. There is an urgent need  to reduce population. This is a delicate subject since the right to have children is the very foundation of all species. Through our anthropogenic acts we have wiped out over 60% of all species. Unless we stop our carbon intensive lifestyles our extinction is not more than eight decades away at the most. By 2035-50 extreme climate would have probably reduced human population by 2 billion. China and India have contributed to the population explosion after the sixties. Although China has peaked, ironically its   government wants people to have two kids now. The next wave of population growth will be from the backwards communities and Africa. Coercive methods of population control could be adopted by all countries under the aegis of UN and IPCC. In due course passive and active strategies for population reduction may be mutually designed and implemented.

6.     Since the 1980s there has been a rise in economic, financial and corporate crises across most economies. Debt has been increasing amongst banks, economies, individuals and institutions. Presently total debt in USA including national, corporate, individual, etc. is around $ 80 trillion, which is little below 4x multiple of its GDP. China too is laden with debt most due to the provinces which have issued bonds to finance 100s of new cities. Global debt is around $ 400 trillion. If we include derivatives, which are weapons of mass destruction, total global debt would be in the stratospheric range of $ 1000 to 1500 trillion depending how we estimate the off-balance derivatives, etc. To add to the debt woes, recent spate of extreme climate events has increased financial losses. According to the NOAA, in the US the cost of extreme weather and climate events (each over $ 1 bn) since 1980 is $ 1.5 tr. Hence it will be increasingly difficult for countries to rebuild infrastructure, facilities, properties damaged by climate events in the future. Climate proof financial and investment planning models should be evolved by research institutions, universities, banks. It will be very difficult for majority of the population, given the acute level of inequalities in most societies, to rehabilitate themselves. Hence need for providing financial planning advice and products for the bottom 90% of population. Similarly, investment and wealth management for the upper middle class and rich should be made factoring in the likely volatile times ahead and identify safe assets, funds to invest in.  

7.     Climate change is going to impact all economic and industrial sectors through their entire supply and value chains. This will impact GDPs of nations, capital, debt and forex markets, investment and mutual funds. Economists will have to create new models which will incorporate risks and cost of various facets of climate. For example, Volkswagen has announced a few days ago that its last combustion engine automobile will roll out in 2026. Other car makers will follow suit. Tectonic shifts will occur across most sectors by 2030. Entire landscape of economic and industrial functioning will change beyond all recognition. Society will need to unlearn the past and usher in new climate change based education, values and customs.  

B.    Coping mechanisms for humans for facing continuous climate events:

1.     Health will be major area where society’s ability to cope with accelerating climate change will be sorely tested. Medical science has helped increase longevity across all continents. Even in developing economies lifespans have increased. Already in few countries due to pollution respiratory ailments have started spiking. As heatwaves become more pronounced, there will be need for timely medical assistance. There is already a strain on the existing healthcare systems. The better hospitals attract the best doctors and cater to the higher income groups. There is an urgent need for building up a wide scale paramedical infrastructure with trained para medical staff to treat those without medical insurance. Special health insurance schemes for treating poorer sections of society like “Ayushman Bharat Yojana Scheme” in India need to be replicated in the developing world. Doctors and nurses as part of their career should be mandated to serve in rural areas and in government hospitals which cannot pay attractive emoluments as in the private sector.

2.     Mental health is generally a taboo area which is not given its importance. Hence a higher proportion of people are suffering from loneliness, alienation, depression and stress in society than admitted since these issues are generally swept under the carpet. This is found in all sections of society and is going to get exacerbated by rising frequency, intensity, amplitude of extreme climate events. there will be a rise in existential despair, hopelessness, meaninglessness of life and grief due to loss of near ones due to calamities.  Societies need to propagate yoga and meditation for coping with climate related stress, depression, etc. The yoga schools could be along the lines of the Art of Living and Ramdev in India. Modi, PM of India has contributed a lot in popularizing yoga through the UN.  Hypnosis therapy, psychoanalysis and psychiatry for severe mental illnesses like paranoia, acute schizophrenia will be useful.

Large scale use of medicines would be required for calming the sections of populations suffering from hyper anxiety during the acute stages of accelerating climate change, which might be preceded and accompanied by breakdown of the financial system, law and order, communication, acute food scarcity, hyperinflation, disruption of transportation and so on. Innovative ways of covering large proportion of population could be by administering medicines through water supply if so warranted though it might not be ethical or acceptable now. Medicinal cannabis could be useful for suitably calming population with high degree of climate anxiety.

Chanting of OM and other Vedic chants in large groups of people will help overcome fear and losses of near ones. There will arise need for counselling centres for those undergoing traumas, etc., those separated from their families due to stoppage of air travel, trains, buses, etc., and vulnerable segments like children, old and pregnant.

Fear of death is another issue which all humans will face. Here oriental teachings from Buddhism, Hinduism will be useful. Knowledge dissemination on Pralaya (Hindu concept of end of the world) and Samadhi state (mind in its most concentrated state) will also help facing the ultimate reality. Euthanasia should be legalized in all societies in order to provide exit options with dignity.

3.     Fresh water scarcity is already a global crisis which is going mount as heatwaves, melting of glaciers, depletion of underground water intensify. Most of the rivers are shrinking and getting more polluted. This is an existential problem of epic proportions which governments, scientists have to solve fast. Recycling of sewage water and desalination of seawater techniques need to developed at low cost so higher proportion of population can be provided by the municipal and government authorities. Again, these are costs which most governments have to meet by increasing fiscal deficits and national debt.

4.     Media has big role to play in helping the population cope better with the coming civilisation decline and collapse. So far media has not really given the due importance to climate change. Percentage of reporting coverage and space in print media is abysmal. Media also does not join the dots between the rising number of extreme climate events, deterioration of environment, strange and unnatural phenomenon. The fossil lobby, deep state, industrial oligarchs, technology titans either control media or are on the same side of the fence. The media also controls most of us through movies. Human race has been conditioned by capitalism. The governments too are not overtly interested in disseminating climate news, analyses and forecasting among the populace at large fearing widespread panic and financial market crash. Hence here the role of research institutes, independent media like The Guardian, New York Times, BBC, universities, websites, etc. cannot be overemphasized. There is an urgent need for videos, documentaries, articles on climate change and how to cope with it on media channels TV, print, internet, radio. Research based individuals and institutions should publish climate dashboards so more people are able to see at a glance the entire reality.

Social media has an important role to play in communicating climate change impact and coping mechanisms. Facebook, twitter, YouTube, Google+, websites can educate people about the reality of coming future. People should realise that time remaining is finite. Again, the normal human response is denial. Nevertheless, its essential that climate believers should be ready with blueprints to help population at large to cope with the looming existential crises.

5.     All countries need to set up climate ministries or suitably upgrade environment departments at all levels. The structure should be linked to grassroot level climate activist workers. In times of crises these workers should be able coordinate efforts at the local levels like buildings, residential layouts, offices, etc. The present COP24 meeting should come out with strong decisions binding on all countries to reduce carbon by 100% much earlier than the IPCC report’s 2050. Climate emergency should be declared. Highest level alerts should be sounded now instead of waiting for more simultaneous extreme events.  

6.     As climate change intensifies the migrant crisis will rise exponentially. Europe is already inundated. India has been suffering from Bangladesh migrants since the war with Pakistan in 1971. Climate migrants also a burgeoning problem in the Sundarbans delta spread across India and Bangladesh. Rising sea levels, salinity in water has forced millions to migrate inwards towards Kolkata and Dacca. All governments, humanitarian organisations. UN, World Bank should be ready with schemes and plans to handle the intensifying crises.

These are some action points for humanity to deal and cope with accelerating climate change. Change is getting telescoped exponentially now. Since the sixties carbon emissions have shot up rapidly. The curve is becoming steeper. It is very difficult to envisage fully the contours of human civilisation and the world by 2030. We are living through the most surreal times of this planet. We need to do all to face and cope with the numbing truth and abyss towards which we are hurtling.

[1] CO₂ and other Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions)
[2] Twilight of Civilisation as we knew it… by Pradeep Das (newgrammaroflife.blogspot.com dt oct 2, 2017)
[3] Kurzweil, Ray The Singularity is Near (2005)
[4] Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1970)
[5] BP Energy Outlook 2035: bp.com/energyoutlook #BPstats January 2014 (https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp-country/de_at/pdfs/2014_2035_energy_outlook_booklet.pdf)
[6] Unexpected future boost of methane possible from Arctic permafrost FEATURE | August 20, 2018 (https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2785/unexpected-future-boost-of-methane-possible-from-arctic-permafrost/)
[7] Various YouTube videos especially posted during past three months.
[8] Global Climate and Ecosystem Change: Edited by Gordon J. MacDonald and Luigi Sertoria, NATO ASI Series, 1989
[9] Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change by Nathaniel Rich, NYT Aug 1, 2018
[10] https://www.clubofrome.org/
[11] https://ccb.stanford.edu/paul-r-ehrlich
[12] An Inconvenient Truth: Documentary film directed by Davis Guggenheim on Al Gore’s campaign on global warming.
[13] http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20150408-bhutans-dark-secret-to-happiness
[14] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/tibet/understand/dying.html
[15] Coping with Climate Change
[16] https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/ahmedabad-heat-action-plan-2018.pdf
[17] https://www.newgrammarofliving.blogspot.com

Pradeep Das
(Creator of NGL)

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