Thursday, June 19, 2008

Are we all doomed?


Just looking around the 350 web site, this question caught my eye. I know that surprises you.

If we're already past 350, are we all doomed?
No. We're like the patient that goes to the doctor and learns he's overweight, or his cholesterol is too high. He doesn't die immediately—but until he changes his lifestyle and gets back down to the safe zone, he's at more risk for heart attack or stroke. The planet is in its danger zone because we've poured too much carbon into the atmosphere, and we're starting to see signs of real trouble: melting ice caps, rapidly spreading drought. We need to scramble back as quickly as we can to safety.

That metaphor misses the mark a little. The planet's like that patient. We're more like a deadly skin infection. Or gangrene. Maybe we're like gangrene. I would, I guess, rewrite the answer a little.

If we're already past 350, are we all doomed?
No. You are, but we expect some survivors. While the planet will become considerably less hospitable to human life, the more quickly, decisively and effectively we act now, the larger the size of the greatly reduced population of the future.


agvui said...

Hmmm, a very interesting non-linear problem, as what you suggest points to a negative feedback in the system - how much of civilization does CO2 have to obliterate before concentrations stop rising?

Alas, even with this happy scenario, 350 seems unrealistic. I like the irreversibility concept contained in gangrene: once the limb has been amputated you can't grow it back, only learn how to survive with the new equilibrium.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for coming by the blog!
The system has so many positive feedback loops built in, that I'm glad I could finally hit on a negative one.