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Apocalypse or extinction?

Your medical doctor informs you: "You need to stop all industrial activities immediately, or you'll be dead in twenty years. And so will your five-year-old child. You might die anyway -- after all, nobody gets out alive -- but your death is guaranteed if you do not stop relying on fossil fuels for travel, heating and cooling, water from the tap, and food from the grocery store."

Naturally, you go straight from the clinic to the nearest store. You need liquor, and time to ponder whether the trade-off is worth it.

About two years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced we were committed to warming the planet by about 1 C by the end of this century. Never mind that we were almost there when they reached this profound conclusion. Simply for elucidating the obvious, the IPCC was granted a share of the Nobel Peace Prize (climate crusader Al Gore received the other half).

About a year ago, the Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research provided an update, indicating that, in the absence of complete economic collapse, we’re committed to a global average temperature increase of 2 C. Considering the associated feedbacks, such an increase likely spells extinction of the “wise” ape.

Last month, the United Nations Environment Programme concluded we’re committed to an increase of 3.5 C by 2100, thus leaving little doubt about human extinction by then.

Last week, Chris West of the University of Oxford's UK Climate Impacts Programme indicated we can kiss goodbye 2 C as a target: four is the new two, and it’s coming by mid-century. In a typical disconnect from reality, the latest scenarios do not include potential tipping points such as the release of carbon from northern permafrost or the melting of undersea methane hydrates. Giving the response I've come to expect from politicians, the Obama administration calls any attempt to reduce emissions "not grounded in political reality."

Have you noticed a set of patterns? Each assessment is quickly eclipsed by another, fundamentally more dire set of scenarios. Every scenario is far too optimistic because each is based on conservative approaches to scenario development. And every bit of dire news is met by the same political response.

Is there any doubt we will try to kill every species on the planet, including our own, by the middle of this century? At this point, it is absolutely necessary, but probably not sufficient, to bring down the industrial economy. It’s no longer merely the lives of your grandchildren we’re talking about. Depending on your age, it’s the lives of your children or you. If you’re 60 or younger, it’s you.

In 2002, as I edited a book about global climate change, I concluded we had set events in motion that would cause our own extinction, probably by 2030. I mourned for months, to the bewilderment of the three people who noticed. About five years ago, I was elated to learn about a hail-Mary pass that just might allow our persistence for a few more generations: Peak oil and its economic consequences might bring the industrial economy to an overdue close, just in time.

If we abandon the industrial culture of death, we might persist until your children are old enough to die a “normal” death. But the odds are long and the time short. Barack Obama epitomizes the actions of every politician in the world by ensuring, with every political act, a miserable future and insufferable death for his wife and children.

Now I mourn because the solution is right in front of us, yet we run from it. We fail to recognize our salvation for what it is, believing it to be dystopia instead of utopia. Are we waiting for the last human on the planet to start the crusade?

Editorial Notes: I don't think the actual implications of the Chris West article Guy is referring to have sunk in with many people yet. Sharon Astyk ran a short piece about it on Casaubon's Book the other day, and we ran it in the climate headlines on Wednesday. But we can bet Copenhagen will not produce an agreement to stop burning fossil fuels! -KS

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