Saturday, June 15, 2013

Global Warming & The Future: Part 1

When I was growing up, my parents would say that while the world had changed, "there is nothing new under the sun," quoting the ancient saying -- meaning that the truisms of life were still the same and would always be the same. For a long time I agreed with them, but now at the age of 68 I don't. 

An 'Earthrise' photograph taken by an Apollo astronaut, showing the Earth from the surface of the moon. For the first time, humans saw an actual photograph of the Earth from a distance, our planet floating in empty space. (NASA)
I believe technology has fundamentally changed our lives both for good and for ill. And we must come to terms with this change or suffer the consequences.

As a painter, my Dad emphasized that artists should get their inspiration from nature, a point of view held by most painters and eloquently expressed by Paul Klee in this following quote.
For the artist communication with nature remains the most essential condition. The artist is human; himself nature; part of nature...
 Paul Klee, Paths of the Study of Nature, 1923
Yet for hundreds of years, going back to the Rennaissance, the goal of humans was  to conquer nature so that we were not subject to the natural forces of weather and disease, for example. And with the industrial revolution and now the hi-tech revolution, civilization has accomplished just that.
The great pivot point...of human thinking was the conquering through science...of the forces of nature. Isaac Newton['s] ... ideas on forces defined through mathematics gave the basic template for all inventors to consider the taming of natural phenomena...
Isaac Newton's mathematical insights unlocked the secrets of gravity, planetary and lunar orbits plus the laws of motion -- which led directly to the industrial revolution. (NASA)
In the 21st Century it is clear that technology has altered our lives in basic ways: parents can now choose how many children to have. Travel is almost effortless. Communication via cell phone is instant and cheap. Food is plentiful. Many people live in comfortable, climate controlled homes with cable television and an Internet connection that allows them to keep in touch with others around the world.

TOP: A wood cook stove. About 100 years ago there were no refrigerators, running water, or washing machines for a majority of households. Stoves required tending with fire wood. This meant that household chores consumed most of people's free time. BOTTOM: A modern kitchen that today we take for granted. (
Nevertheless, we still live on the Earth and our advanced technology has begun to seriously affect the Earth's environment and its cycles. Speaking from an artistic point of view, I wrote the following about 10 years ago.
The old bond between humans and nature has been permanently altered by technology. The task of the 21st century artist is to forge a new relationship between humans and the world, since our fate is inseparable from that of the Earth.
Rick Doble, 2002
We have taken many of the powers of natural forces and put them into our own hands. So it is now up to us control these powers that we hold.

This composite photograph, by a NASA satellite in 2012, recorded  light at night from human activity across the surface of the Earth. (NASA)
As I pointed out in my blog, A Revolution In Time, time also has changed radically over that last two hundred years. And the net affect has been to disconnect us from the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars -- which means we are much less sensitive to and less in tune with the natural forces of the Earth. Yet, as we all know, Mother Nature will win in the end .

TOP: The fire was the center of the home, before electricity, central heat and television. Before radio and music recordings, people played instruments to entertain themselves. BOTTOM: A modern living room, with the heat and air conditioning unseen, an electric lamp on a table and a TV at the center. (
Why worry about global warming when you live and work in air conditioned buildings and travel in an air conditioned car? Technology has insulated us from the world that is our home but in the long run we cannot live independently, apart from the Earth. 

NOAA map from the US government, predicting the changes in precipitation about 100 years from now. (NOAA)
In the future we must come to terms with the changes that technology has created along with an understanding of how to create a technology that does not disturb the balance of the Earth. 

And the basic difficulty has to do with time. For example, the rise of sea levels is a problem but most important is how quickly they will rise. A rapid rise could be catastrophic as people will not have time to adjust; a slow rise will allow gradual changes that people can accommodate. Right now conservative sea level rise estimates range from a 1/2 foot (15cm) rise in the next 100 years to a 6 foot (2 meters) rise.

This US government NOAA map shows the June, July, August (JJA) predicted surface air temperature changes and the December, January, February (DJF) predicted temperature changes in about 40 years. (NOAA)
A second time related problem is that humans are not long term oriented. In a sense our average 75 year life span is out of sync with the hundreds of years it will take to deal with global warming. It might take several lifetimes before we begin to see results. It is not in our nature to spend money and effort for goals that are so far in the future.
Sea level rise is expected to continue for centuries...On the timescale of centuries to millennia, the melting of ice sheets could result in even higher sea level rise.
If there is significant melting of the Greenland glaciers or Antarctic ice, sea levels could rise much higher than predicted. (
Plus it will take visionary leadership to commit resources for an outcome hundreds of years from now.

Yet this is exactly what we must do: Our survival depends on it.

So ironically having separated ourselves from Mother Nature -- having conquered nature as Isaac Newton and others intended -- we find that it is our human nature that we must come to terms with. 

It is now our own nature that we must conquer and tame.

A US government EPA chart showing the recorded sea level rise for a number of US cities from about 1900 to today. If there is significant melting of the Greenland glaciers or Antarctic ice sheets, sea levels could rise much higher than current projections. (
According to polls in the Washington Post and the Gallop organization:

  • 60% of people do not think Global Warming will affect them in their lifetime. 
  • While 84% of scientists agree that global warming is due to human activity less than half of the public believes this. 
  • 70% of scientists believe that global warming is a serious problem, again less than half of the public thinks so.

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