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.