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A To-Do List for the 21st Century: 6 Things for 6C

Marcelo Rinesi
By Marcelo Rinesi
Ethical Technology

Posted: Nov 10, 2012

Now that well-known eco-extremist orgainzation PricewaterhouseCoopers has issued a report indicating that, as things stand now, their best guess is for 6C of warming across the world by the end of the century, it’s a good time to reconsider our global to-do list for the century.

1. Set up systems for mass migrations
  Six degrees or warming will, to put it mildly, severely challenge the habitability of vast swathes of Earth, most of which are highly populated. As the local carrying capacity falters, tens or hundreds of millions of people will have to move.

  This isn’t a technical problem as much as a political one, as most nation states, including those which, like Japan, have demographic issues that would be helped by large-scale immigration, have during the late 20th century closed their frontiers to the kind of migration that global warming will induce.

2. Move and rebuild our breadbaskets

  One of the most important achievements of the last couple of centuries is the global food trading network, which has made possible a world that, despite the unjustifiable continuation of hunger in some areas, is both more populous and better fed than at any other time in history.

  The problem is that this network magnifies the impact of even local weather events, turning bad growing seasons in, say, the US, into high prices and social unrest half across the world. Six degrees of warming will basically wipe out globally important food growing areas, and unless we set up elsewhere the soil, water, and tehcnical infrastructure necessary to replace them, we might face global food shortages of a massive scale.

  (As an aside, note that food “going local” is not an option; small, local food sources simply cannot sustain the species at our current population level.)

3. Pull our cities away from the shores, or vice versa

  For good historical and technical reasons, many of the world’s largest cities lie on sea shores, and for good physical reasons, many of them will not be able to stay there. Sea level rises compatible with six degrees of warming haven’t been seen for millions of years, and many cities are going to have to be either rebuilt far away from where they are now, or massive systems of dams replicating the Dutch achievements of the last centuries are going to have to be set up to keep them from drowning.

  All this, by the way, while more people than ever continue to flow into cities. Half of humankind lives on cities right now, and most people who doens’t is expected to move in during the century.

4. Rebuild our energy systems

  Did I mention that while all of this happens we will also need to figure out how to replace fossil fuels? Because if 6C looks like a disaster movie, it’s nothing compared with what happens later if we don’t replace fossil fuels. There’s such a thing as too much climate disruption for our society to survive.

5. Deal with widespread health issues

  What happens to life expectancies when what we call heath wave becomes mild summer?

  We will have to make sure our public health systems are ready to cope with environments that are in many cases much less kind to human life than what they used to be.

6. Build infrastructures capable of dealing with “superstorms” as regular events

  I’m writing this on the wake of “Superstorm Sandy,” which briefly shut down New York. Assuming New York is still there by the end of the century (given the expected raise in sea levels, if it is, it will be behind a rather impressive series of dams), New Yorkers will look back fondly to such rare and mild events. Sea temperature is the main energy source for large storms, after all, and 6C of extra energy will… Well, I don’t know what’s scarier: that we will have to change our climate models to cope with what’s going to happen, or that their current predictions are accurate.

* * *

These aren’t problems I wanted the 21st century to have to deal with. They aren’t issues of managing shiny hyper-technology or science pushing yet again the limits of what we thought possible. They are “mundane” problems of rebuilding cities, moving people, setting up infrastructure, and getting enough food for everybody, things that we thought the 20th century had more or less solved.

But we didn’t solve, and, really, never even attempted to solve, the also ultimately mundane problem of maintaining global climate more or less the way we liked it, so now we have to deal with the fallout.

Let’s just hope we prove better at dealing with the consequences of unattended threats than we were at dealing with threats themselves.

Marcelo Rinesi is the IEET's Chief Technology Officer, and former Assistant Director. He is also a freelance Data Intelligence Analyst.
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6C? I thought more than 2C was unsustainable? Are Price Waterhouse playing the global insurance market perhaps?

The solutions to mitigating Climate change all begin with transformation of global Human consciousness, which is still something nation states are slow to admit and adopt, in favour of short term gains in Carbon energy hikes to prop up consumerism and socioeconomics?

Can we solve both the dilemma’s of mitigating global debts and Climate change with a unified philosophy and strategy?

Technology is displacing jobs from production of goods, yet these crises also provide opportunity for change in perspective towards provision for employment in social and health care, housing and community, energy usage and frugality?

Change in Global social philosophy may be crucial to the offset of catastrophe and displaced communities?

Swedish duo win Climate film award - UNEP

Terminology can lull.. ‘Greenhouse Effect’ sounds promising to some farmers here (“maybe we can sell produce at year-round markets”);
‘Global Warming’ doesn’t sound bad when experiencing subzero temperatures.
They don’t reckon with what happens far away, with oil spills in Louisiana affecting Alabama, etc; perhaps they think of the way it used to be when it was ‘these United States’ rather than the United States as it is today. In Europe- even though it is divided into nations- they think of themselves as interconnected because of the higher population density and that Europe’s recorded history goes back a long way;
whereas the US is much younger and Americans think of the western lands as being frontier though there’s been no real frontier since 1890—save for perhaps Alaska.

That’s an excellent to-do list Marcelo. What do you think the odds are that our Capitalist profit oriented institutions will listen before they’er neck deep in surge water crying for help.

It’s seem their all for self reliance until it’s them getting hit, then their like little chicks in the nest with their beaks in the air.

I notice quite some scepticism and anger in this comment thread. CygnusX1 suspects PWC of “playing the global insurance market”, while Kelly rails against the venality of our (or at least America’s) public institutions.

Such scepticism and anger is to some extent justified, to be sure, but I wonder where you want to go with it. One of the great evils in society today, in my view, is the tendency of people to complain about things they have no intention of dou anything about themselves. It’s not that it’s wrong to complain (on the contrary, complaining serves an essential social function), but like any technology it can be misused. We’d do better to think of ways to promote the kind of action that Marcelo advocates than just wallow in anger and scepticism.

cannot speak for CygnusX1, Kelly or anybody else, but I notice more & more the double-bind in America: the Right wants to remain in the zeitgeist, tethered to the legacy of, their favorite year, 1776, while moving into 2013 and beyond. Fantastically ambitious of them—it would take Jesus Christ Himself to arrange such a dual existence.

My to-do list:

1. Get angry.
2. Do something about it.

I’ll probably complete them in that order 😊

There are two levels of change needed to address climate change. The first is the corporate/government level. This is where we substitute nuclear power for coal or require the same pollution controls for diesel as for gasoline engines. They are broad reaching changes in public policy.
The second is personal. This where you change the kind of light bulb you use, or where you decide to walk to the grocery store instead of driving. They are things that we can do now without waiting for anybody to give us permission.
The world needs both levels of commitment to change. If we aren’t making the shift in our personal lives, how will we convince government and corporations that they need to change policy?

“If we aren’t making the shift in our personal lives, how will we convince government and corporations that they need to change policy?”

This is correct, and it is embarassing to admit we differ little in our behavior from those above us, merely as a matter of scale: the residue of the upper classes may be higher quantitatively but not qualitatively. The carbon footprint left by an old clunker driven by someone at the bottom may v. well be worse—as most of you know—than a 2013 high-end model. As Marcelo pointed out, it is also the petro-produced food inside the person driving that auto and the residues from manufacturing, maintaining the auto.
One difference, though, between ‘them’ and ‘us’ (and we shouldn’t be ashamed to discuss it for fear of being unhumble, false modesty being worse than conceit) is we do in fact want to change many things the ‘Right’ [the old-fashioned] does not want to alter. The majority at IEET have little/no use for nationalism, whereas nationalism appears to have replaced religion as the nexus of the Right; and it isn’t necessarily elitist nationalism.. rather a sort-of national socialism lite; it isn’t socialism yet it contains proletarian elements appealing to the uneducated. Rush Limbaugh isn’t an elitist protecting us from the mob, Rush Limbaugh is the mob: a modernised Father Coughlin. Sean Hannity appeals not as much to elitist tendencies but to national values of ‘us’ being the nation and ‘them’ being the foreign Other who is to be annihilated if they should get in the way of the national interest. It ties in with a national interest in obtaining petroleum from nations threatened by the foreign Other. Thus while domestic sources of petroleum are to be increased (and they are), foreign petroleum is to be obtained for the dual purposes of obtaining oil from sources other than domestic, plus in service of annihilating the Other.
@Pete, now that Communism is finished, the ‘Left’ is no longer to be feared, it’s ineffectual—while the ‘Right’ is quite effectual because they have had five thousand recorded years of practice.

@ Pastor Alex

At least in the U.S., the “Left” still has a lot of power, particularly over the media.  I even recall hear that other countries are pointing out how biased our media is.

“At least in the U.S., the “Left” still has a lot of power, particularly over the media. I even recall hear that other countries are pointing out how biased our media is.”

Influence, Chris, not power. At any rate unions have been declawed domestically, Communism is dead internationally; what can the ‘Left’ do of substance at this moment?



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