Crystal Ball


“A somewhat converse and counter-intuitive development has taken place in some northern countries. Typically, cold and arid, these areas have seen significant improvement in agricultural growing conditions as global temperatures continue to rise … These regions are becoming popular destinations for populations that have lost their habitable homeland to climate change.”
~ Lloyd Alter

We watch the weather forecast nightly to see what tomorrow will bring. In the old days, we had to rely on the signs from nature.

Lois Hoffman explains, “Cloud formations, wind direction and speed, sunsets, animal behavior and the feeling of the air were all harbingers of what was to come. Today the study of weather proverbs is called paromieology. Some of it is fanciful fun but other observations have a lot of truth to back them up.”

Of course, weather is knowable and to some extent predictable over the near term. Climate is a whole different kettle of fish, and subject to conflicting science, opinion and politics, in part because it is difficult to grasp. Does a butterfly flapping its wing cause a hurricane across the ocean? Do ozone holes cause warming, or does warming cause the greenhouse effect?

While nearly all of the climate experts predict global warming due to increased carbon dioxide levels, a couple of my friends, a geologist and botanist, explain that we’re just seeing the post-glacial changes that happen every 10,000 years or so. Nothing to see here.

Remember when Shakespeare had the three Weird Sisters predict Hamlet’s fate? It was a little murky to me, as well as to Hamlet. However, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair / Hover through the fog and filthy air” could be a prediction of climate change, or just the confusion about it.

I accept the experts’ opinions, but also wonder what damage is done by just trying to be prepared for seal level rise, social disruption due to mass immigration, or rising disease and famine. My short tenure in the cub scouts left me imprinted with the motto, “Be Prepared.” But, prepared for what?

Lloyd Alter reports on a study by a group called Arup, that formed an “internal think-tank and consultancy which focuses on the future of the built environment and society at large.” They used all the science available to look into their crystal ball and see what the world would look like in thirty years. (No record of them using a cauldron with newt eyes and bat wings, though.)

They found “four divergent futures – Humans Inc., Extinction Express, Greentocracy and Post Anthropocene – range from the collapse of our society and natural systems, to the two living in sustainable harmony.

1. Post Anthropocene. Shows how societal conditions and planetary health might exist in a harmonious relationship, fortifying each other for mutual progress and benefit.
2. Greentocracy. Describes an improvement in planetary health which has been enabled by severe restrictions on human society: restrictive living conditions, conflict and authoritarian regimes prevail.
3. Extinction Express. Depicts both declining planetary health and societal conditions. It is questionable how much longer humanity can survive.
4. Humans Inc. Represents our current trajectory; a world in which societal conditions advance at the cost of planetary health.”

My read is that only one of the futures, Post Anthropocene, seems desirable. The actions we take in response to climate change need to balance both human and nature’s needs. As noted above, it’s pretty easy to veer off into an imbalance either way, so finding the right responses will be difficult and require open minds and clear strategic thinking.

Weird Sisters notwithstanding, humans aren’t very good at open minds and clear strategic thinking. In the long run, we tend to think,
“Que sera, sera. (Whatever will be, will be). The future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera.”
~Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, from the movie,                                                                              “The Man Who Knew Too Much”

Additional information:
Lloyd Alter, What Will the World Look Like in 30 Years?, December 11, 2019, TreeHugger
Lois Hoffman, Your Weatherlore Forecast, 11/5/2019, GRIT

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