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Can we still avoid a climate crisis?

During the crypto winter from mid 2018 to early this year I spent a lot of time studying other fields that I am interested in. Among others I did some courses in Artificial Intelligence (AI), I looked at how Virtual Reality (VR) will change the world, and I started reading more about the causes and effects of global warming. Both AI and VR will make the world a much better place, even though it can lead to a lot of job losses and general AI could eventually be a threat to humanity (however, I think that general AI is still many decades away, if we ever get there). Global warming, however, will be devastating for mankind if we don’t act right now. I did not realize how close we are to the end of the world if nothing changes within (literally!) the next couple of years. We have only about 11 years left before it will be too late.

I have been thinking about climate change since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out about 15 years ago. It did have quite an impact on me and it is one of the reasons why I did not buy a house at sea level in Vancouver. However, looking back my focus was way too much on just sea level rise. That is certainly a big effect of climate change, but there are much worse effects than that. Effects that could literally make humans extinct if we don’t act. Because of that urgency I stopped calling it climate change, but I tend to now mainly call it the Climate Crisis or the Climate Catastrophe.

My biggest worry is actually the general apathy that many people seem to have when it comes to the coming climate catastrophe. They do not ‘believe’ that the climate crisis is real or that it will affect them. Many of them are the same people that believe in conspiracy theories, but even some more intelligent people don’t seem to get what is happening to the world (including some of the smartest people in the Bitcoin community). Part of the reason seems to be social media, where people live in a bubble of like-minded people and only read what they want to read. Another is ‘fake news’ in some traditional media. This news wants to make people believe that temperatures may be rising, but that that is not due to human actions so we don’t need to do anything. Also people have lost trust in their governments and believe that climate change and environmental policies are just reasons to tax them more. For me the evidence is so clear that it’s hard to understand why some peoples still not see why the climate crisis is happening. It is simply impossible that the fast increase in temperatures over the past century is not due to human activity, temperatures have changed a lot in the past but never at this speed.

I do believe that because weather patterns are changing so fast more people will likely change their minds over the next years, but by then it might be too late. Luckily the younger generations seems to understand the risks, but they may not have enough power yet to change the world. The fact is that the world needs to come together to solve this problem. We have all the tools to solve the climate crisis, but there is no political will. And even if there is you get stories in the press about ‘other countries not doing anything, so we don’t need to do anything either’. I find it so short-sighted when I hear people reasoning like that, but it’s simply because people did not get the message or don’t see the urgency yet. That needs to change,

What will happen and when? First of all, we need to make sure that the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) stays below 450 ppm. We are currently at about 415 ppm, a year ago we were at 409 ppm. 450 ppm coincides roughly with a 2 degree Celsius temperature change in the world. That does not mean that all temperatures go up by 2 degrees, but the average temperature will go up 2 degrees. In the polar regions the temperature might go up 7 degrees or more and in other regions the effect might be less. You may think that 2 degrees does not make a lot of difference, but it actually does because this is an average. When temperatures on earth were 4 degrees lower than now Boston and New York were covered by one mile of ice! There will be more extreme variations in temperature which will make some parts of the world unliveable. If things don’t change we will hit 450 ppm by 2030, 11 years from the moment I am writing this article.

If we get over 450 ppm the climate crisis will be almost inevitable, simply because then not only the arctic will melt but also because of the thawing permafrost in northern Canada and Siberia. The problem with the permafrost is that a lot of methane is buried below it, it is a permasink of methane that suddenly becomes a permasource. So once we are above 450 ppm methane will get released into the air, which is a big problem. Methane is dozens of time more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. It will exponentially increase the greenhouses gasses in the air we breathe, leading to an acceleration in the temperature increase, leading to more permafrost thawing etcetera. This so-called clathrate gun hypothesis could take place within our lifetime.

The immediate effect will be sea level change, the most talked about impact of the climate catastrophe. Once we hit 450 ppm and methane gets released we could get several meters of sea level increase. Not just cities like Miami (and most of Florida for that matter) will be under water within the next 20 years, but many of the most important cities in the world. That is a major loss financially of course, but it’s just a small effect of climate change. There are much bigger effects that people do not want to see.

One is that the weather will get a lot more severe. Warmer oceans lead to more and stronger hurricanes, meaning that large parts of the world may get hit yearly by storms that are much worse than the ones we currently see. I would not advise anyone to buy real estate in the Caribbean anymore. Certainly not at sea level, but probably also not higher up on the mountains. You may be in for some unpleasant surprises.

Warmer weather also leads to more forest fires. The fires in California last year were no coincidence and we will likely see them again this year. The same for the fires in British Columbia and Alberta. Vancouver had quite some smog during the summer last year caused by forest fires. That will be an annual occurrence very soon.

But it also means that sailing the seas could become more dangerous. I was listening to a podcast recently in which an ocean sailor was interviewed. He had been racing the world for the past 20 years and he said that the waves and storms in the Southern ocean seem to be getting more dangerous, to the point that it may be impossible to sail there in the future. It was the first time I heard that, but if an experience sailor says that I tend to listen.

Much, much worse however, is an effect of permafrost thawing that you don’t hear about much yet. That is there are many viruses hidden below the ice, viruses for diseases that have been extinct for centuries or millennia. We do not have protection against these diseases because our immune system has not encountered them yet. In 2016 thawing permafrost led to an anthrax outbreak in Siberia, when reindeer carcasses defrosted and the anthrax bacteria in them spread into the water. At least one person died and about twenty got sick. Luckily this was just a local outbreak, but it could be much worse. Scientists already found small pox bacteria and Spanish flu in buried reindeer and they found that some bacteria can survive for tens of thousands of years below the ice. Once these diseases start spreading humans have no protection against them and millions or even billions of people may die. To me that is the most dangerous effect of the climate crisis, simply because we can’t protect us against this.

There are other effects that are overlooked, for example the effects on the food supply. When temperatures go up 2 degrees the areas where grain is grown will not be as fertile anymore. The best place to grow grain would like shift up 500 or more kilometers. But of course there are no grain field there and it will take years to cultivate the land there. This could lead to a global grain shortage. But not just grain, this is true for most staples that we consume. Even fish might suddenly disappear: when the sea gets too acidic or simply too warm many fish species can’t survive and will go extinct. Large parts of the world’s oceans may become completely dead. Famines might become the new normal.

The world will become unliveable in most of what is now the tropics, simply because it will be too hot for humans to survive. Large parts of the world’s coast lines will disappear as well. These people can’t stay there, so there will be a huge migration. Not millions but likely at least a billion people will need to relocate. The current immigration issues in Europe or North America are for the most part caused by the climate crisis already, but many people don’t realize this. It will only get worse, much worse.

There will many more direct and indirect effects, but these are the ones that worry me most. They worry me because we have no time left to change the way we live in order to avoid a catastrophe. Every year that we wait the costs to reverse the climate catastrophe rises exponentially. We have to make radical decisions such as immediately changing to electric cars only and almost completely stopping air travel. We should change to renewable energy as soon as possible (also for Bitcoin mining!) and get rid of the oil and gas industry. Right now that may be hard to imagine, but if we don’t do it the effects will be even harder to imagine. It will be extremely painful, with many people losing their jobs and their financial security. It means we have to change our fossil fuel culture, something nobody wants to do but something we all have to do.

The world has to come together to solve this. I believe we will start reading a lot more about the reality of this crisis soon. I also believe most people will eventually be convinced that they have to act. But by then it might be too late. Change has to happen now. It is much more expensive not to act on climate than to take even the most aggressive action today! We have to do it, we have no choice.

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  1. Hi Marc, scary and probably true.
    Haven’t read and seen your sources (if you have tips on what to dig in, please share) but am alarmed daily by regular newspaper articles and am surprised that everybody seems to ignore them.
    Next to the problems and causes you mention, our human population has doubled in the past 50 years or so. We empty the sea fishing, kill bugs with pesticide, use up drinking water for washing bugs off our carwindows and use up the forest for yet another piece of furniture we didn’t really need. I am by the way guilty of all these things myself. But the awareness has started to set in a while ago. These things take time unfortunately.

    An important first step would be to gather psychologists, lobbyists and marketeers to create a plan for bigger awareness. We need a world leader on the topic and to drive the ‘project’.

    Thanks for the good read and keep up supporting the awareness increase!

  2. Electric cars might not be a solution as the cost of mining rare minerals, logistics costs involved in production as well as energy use to produce such a vehicle is very high. What we need is efficient public transportation networks. We need to travel less, we need to transport less, more local production. Economies of scale we think we have now need to be recalculated for environmental costs, not including externalities have been the backbone of profitability. Our biggest issue is population growth and growing consumption. Nature does have mechanisms to cope with this….hunger, disease and disasters will eventually make us an endangered species. We will survive on a few locations that have not been destroyed by climate change effects or that have benefited from temperature changes. This process will be violent and cause war and strive for survival in which we, in the process helps nature to drastically lower our numbers. Like you wrote it is already happening in Africa, the Middle East and Asian countries. India is suffering a catastrophic water crisis which has been in the making for decades as more groundwater has been used than rains could replenish. Farmers commit suicide, food production slumps. China has only 9% arable land, water shortages are common as well and only will grow with a lack of melting water feeding the large river systems. Once glaciers are gone farmers will have no reliable sources of water. Just Just India and China will command a large amount of food imports but from where? We moved to a place where we think we have a better change to live in such world of chaos but if we gambled wrong we will have no alternative places to go to.

  3. Hi Nathalie, with regards to sources you could start by reading the New York Magazine article “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells. Even better is to read the book with the same name that he published a few months ago. I agree that awareness is an important first step. I decided to start calling people out who do not ‘believe’ in climate science: climate science is a hard science so there is nothing to believe in, you can model and prove things. To me it is similar to not ‘believing’ that one plus one equals two. People need to wake up and not pretend it’s no issue. But in the end it’s about bringing people together of course. Governments have shown they can’t do it, maybe entrepreneurs can?

  4. I fully agree with you Rens. We will need to completely change the way we live our lives. Electric cars are no real solution either, but I do believe they are much better than fossil fuel engines. Sailing may become more than just a pastime again. I did not want to bring up the fact that most people will likely die this century if nothing changes, I feel it may lead to a different discussion, but I agree with you on that as well. It is probably a natural process that is long overdue. I moved to Canada partially because of climate changes, but the Azores may be a much safer place. Maybe I should really start planning a trip, good I still have my EU passport.

  5. Hey Marc,

    Good article; I have 3 questions:
    1. How are you leading by example(did you stop flying?)
    2. Do you think that enough action will be taken?
    3. If we can warm the earth, can we cool it as well?

  6. Hi Robin,
    1) I am certainly not doing enough yet, although I do offset CO2 from flying and I invest in several solar companies. That being said, I would be a huge proponent of big carbon taxes and other ‘extreme’ measures, e.g. making flying 5 times more expensive, tripling gas prices or even completely banning fossil fuel powered cars. I would also full support global regulations that would curb travel and would therefore affect me directly. Not being able to lead by example yet doesn’t make the message less important though.
    2) I am an optimist, that’s why I am an entrepreneur. However, time is running out. I think action will be taken but it will be too late, simply because there is no political will yet. Maybe entrepreneurs can change the tide on time, but probably not. So the result will likely be a very different planet with a lot less humans on it in a few decades from now.
    3) Yes, we can cool it as well and that should be the aim. However, once we are over 450 ppm it will be irreversible because of all the methane coming out of the ice that will accelerate warming. You just can’t force them back in by a lot more cooling. There will be different ways of trapping methane, but we won’t have them ready at scale on time. But worst, once diseases come out from under the ice you can cool as much as you want, but they will be out in the open. That’s why we have only about 11 years left and we have to act now.

  7. I share your concerns, check out these tweets from the past few weeks alone: “Heatwave in Finland: 32.3°C in Oulunsalo (near Oulu), close to the Arctic circle, at 65° North, yesterday.” (beginning of june), “It’s hard to describe how extreme this temperature is, beating Japan’s previous national record high for May by more than 2°C! Also 20°C above average for the location itself.” (May!), “India: Look at that temperature jump over the last 2 years. That’s massive, for such a large country!” (last week) Tweets by (Kees van der Leun). Another person you might find interesting to follow is His data visualisations are quite something….

  8. Goedenmiddag Marc

    Vandaag kreeg ik je artikel via een bekende van me die ook geïnteresseerd over alles wat er zo vliegt tussen hemel en aarde (ik noem het maar even zo).
    Vanaf 2015 na het lezen van het boek: De tiende planeet van Johannes von Buttlar en het verhaal (het boek: Een buitenaardse beschaving, over bewoners van de planeet Iarga) van Stefan Denaerde (Ad Beers) over een ontmoeting in de buurt van Schouwen Duiveland in Zeeland in de jaren’60.
    De KRO, brandpunt heeft daar een uitzending over gemaakt en is op internet (youtube) te zien.
    Zelf ben ik vanaf 2013 bijna dagelijks bezig om artikelen te lezen en interviews te volgen over de voortstuwingssystemen van het soort voertuigen/vaartuigen waar u het over heeft. Electro gravitics, anti-gravitatie , nulpunts energie enz. enz. Om dit alles te snappen maak ik vertalingen van deze onderwerpen om één en ander te snappen. Interessante boeken zijn Unconvential Flying objects van Paul R. Hill en Secrets of antigarvity Propulsion van Dr. Paul LaViolette Ph D. Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, een boek van Ben Rich (CEO) is erg interessant. OP diot moment heb i8k net een vertaling gereed geschreven door James Allen Higgins over Mark McCandlish (technisch illustrator) die vertelt over de ARV’s Alien Reproduction Vehicles. Zeer zeer interssant.
    Kortom mijn interesse gaat niet uit naar ‘groene mannetje op een vliegend tapijt’ maar de echte technologie die met deze voortstuwingen gemoeid gaat en hoe is die in te passen de natuurkunde en de relativiteitstheorie. Een aantal wetenschappers staan daar openminded en positief tegenover zoals Harold Putthof, Thomas Vallone, Paul LaViolette, Tom Bearden en Miquel Alcubierre Moya.

    Het verhaal van Robert (Bob) Lazar is mij heel wel bekend en ik vind het een groot iemand. Mocht je interesse hebben in de vertalingen dan hoor ik dat graag en kan ze u toemailen. MVG Eric

  9. Hi Marc,
    You seem to really have been scared shitless by the global warming issue. There are a whole lot of things I would like to say about it. Whether it can convince you that any fear is unnecessary I doubt.

    1. That CO2 warms our atmosphere has not been confirmed. Many assume it. However some physicists say it can’t happen. Something with the second law of thermodynamics which is a biggy they say. In short it means that a cold body can never warm a warmer body. So the stratosphere at minus 50-80degC can never warm earth’s surface at ave 14deg C.
    2. The long wave radiation emitted by CO2 if it did reach water would only warm the top 1mm which would cause it to evaporate and transport energy to the top of Atmosphere.
    3. Climate has always changed. Our methods to measure past changes are inadequate to detect rate changes in ave T we have experienced since 1850. their resolution is too low.
    4. The thermometer record is compromised by urbanisation and the increase in energy use. The slow 150y+ creep of civilisation has warmed the environment and some estimate this to be half of the measured warming since 1850.
    5 The warming has so far been positive for humanity. In kind with all the warm periods the earth has known Minoan, roman, medieval and the modern warm periods. Which coincided with great growth in humanity.
    6 high or low temps (ice ages and hot house earth) nor high or low CO2 have prevented going to opposite extremes following them.

  10. Thanks for your comment and the points you make. Like I told you on Twitter, scientific consensus is that we should be very afraid if we do not drastically change our behaviour (consensus meaning that over 97% of climate scientists agree on this). I actually believe that the scientists underestimate the risks, the IPCC reports have been far too positive and the climate is changing much faster than they had predicted.

    Regarding your points:
    1. CO2 is the main cause of global warming, which has been proven over and over again. If you say that it has not been confirmed you have been reading pseudo-science websites, it’s as simple as that. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, meaning that it traps heat, so that there is warming at the surface and in the lower parts of the atmosphere. The upper parts show cooling, which is exactly in line with the CO2 warming theory.
2. No idea what you are trying to say with your long wave radiation. That is totally irrelevant: CO2 traps heat in the lower parts of the atmosphere, that’s what causes the warming.
3. Climate has indeed always changed, but NEVER as fast as it is changing now. See the link to the the chart in my post.
4. You write “The thermometer record is compromised by urbanisation and the increase in energy use”. Indeed, the increase in energy use (mainly fossil fuels) is what led to higher temperatures and the climate crisis. And that’s exactly why we should change this as fast as we can. Thanks for confirming that you understand that humans cause global warming by the way, that doesn’t happen often with climate deniers.
5 You write: “The warming has so far been positive for humanity”. Two things: a) this is incorrect, because of the warming we have among others more severe hurricanes (Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean 2 years ago is the perfect example), more droughts (such as the one in Chennai where a major city is running out of water), and many more forest fires (California last year is an example that the global press picked up). b) even if you would believe that so far temperature change has been positive (something I totally disagree with), this does not mean that it will stay that way when temperatures keep rising. As you can see in my post most agricultural areas won’t be able to produce food anymore and many places on earth will become unlivable. Let alone the effects of the fast melting of the Arctic ice…
6 The earth is a living thing, with temperatures going up followed by them going down. The thing is that it takes thousands of years before this reverses naturally. By that time humanity won’t be there anymore. We need to stop the temperature from going up over 2 degrees Celsius, if not we are doomed.

    If you don’t understand this I can’t help it, the science is very clear. My problem is that you spread verifiably false facts that cause other people not to take action either. That is why I think that climate deniers are dangerous and that’s why I strongly react to your tweets. The problem is that you endanger other people’s lives with this attitude, not just your own. If it would just impact you and your family I couldn’t care less, but unfortunately it impacts everyone on this planet.