It may sound obvious but. as any experienced navigator knows, you can’t plot a course for your destination if you don’t know where you are to begin with.
In broad terms, we know what the problem is – the world’s climate is changing. The nay-sayers may scream loudly or bury their heads in the sand but 97% of the professional climate scientists in the world are unanimous that climate change is real, it’s here and it’s happening right now.
97%. That’s more than a consensus. If a political party gets 40% of the vote, it’s acclaimed as a landslide. This is beyond any of that.
There’s also a consensus of opinion amongst climate scientists that the climate change we’re experiencing is the result of our own – and our ancestors’ – actions. The rise in global average temperature, measured (not guessed, not calculated but measured) at 0.7 degrees celsius in the last 100 years, is down to the actions of Homo sapiens.
In a way, this is the good news. After all, we’ve managed to make this change to the Earth’s atmosphere without even trying! Surely if we put all our efforts and resources into it, we can do better, deliberately?
Anyway, certain facts are very well-established and beyond any reasonable doubt. The Greenhouse Effect was established by John Tyndall in 1859, when he proved that certain gases in air, although transparent to light, stopped heat from leaving the Earth’s surface. In 1896 Svante Arrhenius calculated how different concentrations of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere would affect the Earth’s temperature. And in 1958, Charles Keeling began measuring carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawai’i. These are not matters of opinion – these are facts, as well-established and as solid as gravity or a brick wall.
We know that gases in the Earth’s atmosphere stop heat from leaving the planet into space. Thank goodness they do or we’d be living on a planet with an average surface temperature of -18 degrees celsius!
We know carbon dioxide is one of these greenhouse gases and we know exactly how much warming it produces for given concentrations in the air.
We know that carbon dioxide is increasing in the atmosphere. Every breath we take contains more carbon dioxide than the one before it.
Actually, there are lots of other pollutants that we dump into the air that also have a greenhouse effect – methane, water vapour, soot, various exotic synthetic chemicals…. carbon dioxide is the big one, but probably soot’s the one we should all be concentrating on right now. It’s very potent as a warming agent, it’s very local, and it’s something we can all do something about easily, cheaply and with immediate, local benefits. If we could reduce our soot emissions in the short term, we might have more time to get to grips with the long-term problems.
If you want to really get into the science and the details of this, start with wikipedia and progress to the various reports of the International Panel for Climate Change. They’ve issued 5 reports to date, each one rounding up the current state of knowledge in climate science, and each one scarier and more urgent than the last. They’re big reports and very detailed, but each report also comes with a Summary for Policy Makers, which paints a broad picture for the benefit of non-scientists. Their website is here – I would encourage everyone to read the latest Summary, at least.
So, now we know where we are. Where are we going?
For a start, it’s important to realise that climate isn’t weather – global warming doesn’t just mean less snow in winter and a better tan in summer! That’s weather. Climate is long-term, it’s the average temperature in June for the last twenty years, for instance. It’s how much rain is likely to fall in January in the UK (very topical!) or where we’re likely to see insects spreading disease into new areas, or what crops will grow in our area and which will die. That’s one category of problems – the local ones. There’s another category of problems – the distant ones. Megadroughts in the USA, for example, or the failure of the monsoon in Asia. The death of the Great Barrier Reef. The extinction of the polar bear. Those aren’t on our doorsteps, but they’re still going to affect us in various knock-on ways. The USA grows a huge amount of the world’s wheat – from where are we going to import flour to bake bread? The monsoon supplies irrigation and drinking water to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh…. do we sit back and watch billions of people starve, or do we dig into our pockets and find aid for them? More than a billion people worldwide rely on reefs for their living or their food – without reefs, how will they survive? Again, do we watch them die, or try to help? And the extinction of the polar bear will signal the end of sea-ice in the Arctic Ocean – and that will change our weather and destroy the heritage and lifestyle of Arctic peoples.
So, there’s the position and the problems. Now, how does that break down into the immediate hazards I want to consider and prep for? I’m going to split it up into 5 categories familiar to any survivalist – shelter (location), water, fire (energy), food, and medical.