During a brief conversation today with my old friend, and dare I say climate change mentor Aubrey Meyer, it struck me where the current trends environmentally and politically are leading to. The great unscientific hodge-podge of a climate change agreement which was forged (the word is used advisedly) in Paris a couple of years ago is already imploding. Was it ever intended to work, or was it just a flatulent outburst of collective, insincere guilt? In London, a court case against the government rumbles on, seeking to get HMG to honour its legal obligation to adjust its carbon emission reduction targets in accordance with the science. So far, HMG has appeared reluctant to defend its complacent corner.
In the US, Trump of course is pursuing policies which deny anthropogenic climate change is happening. Globally, fossil fuels still receive more subsidies than do renewables. In the Arctic, the race to find new oil and gas reserves is on. New pipelines to get oil out of Canada’s shale oil fields are to be built. Fracking is still a government dream here in the UK. So it goes on.
As time goes by more signals are being received which tell us that climate change is now gathering pace. We don’t have to wait until 2100 to see if the predictions are true. Here are some stories from today’s Daily Climate news round-up: “Alien waters: Neighboring seas are flowing into a warming Arctic ocean;” “As warming continues, ‘hot drought’ becomes the [US] norm, not an exception;” “Pakistan has gone from water surplus to water-stressed;” “Australian farmers adapt to dry conditions, with rainfall well below normal.” These are common stories, occurring every day. Particularly in the case of warmer Pacific and Atlantic water flowing into the Arctic, they speak of the feedback mechanisms which could, or should I say probably will overtake the human contribution to climate change.
This being so, there is growing truth in the climate change deniers’ claim that climate change is not man-made. As the feedback mechanisms multiply, it won’t be much more than an academic debate as to what caused it, and as we have seen already, attempts to mitigate it will not be undertaken in earnest. Eventually, the mitigation debate will subside as efforts are concentrated on adaptation.
Adaptation has formerly referred to the steps that we will need to take to protect society – our cities, infrastructure, etc. – from such things as sea level rise, intense storms and the like. It has meant developing new strains of plants which can withstand drought, or new ways of harvesting water. But that is a benign view of the meaning of ‘adaptation.’ I think adaptation should also be taken to mean how small populations of elites will seek to insulate themselves against climate change - and the wider population of human climate change victims.
I am not sure there is much evidence that this latter form of adaptation has yet to gather pace, although it could be argued that the concept of ‘Fortress Europe’ – which repels refugees from, e.g. sub-Saharan Africa is already well in the making. We are not yet at the stage where the wealthy are building their own citadels (c.f. J.G. Ballard’s The Wind From Nowhere) or as envisioned in one scenario from a Dept. of Trade and Industry think-tank some years ago that by 2050 we would see fortified cities harking back to medieval forms of governance and defence. But developments are taking place which could point to what kind of world humans will inhabit in the not-too-distant future. And what kind of things humans themselves will be.
Let’s start with a story totally unrelated to climate change. In today’s Guardian I learnt that an American company “microchipped dozens of its workers” with chips that “can be used to open security doors, log on to computers and make payments at the company’s vending machines.” The workers ‘voluntarily’ took the implants. This could be an innocent development or a sinister one depending on your point of view, but what it does illustrate is that we have now moved into an era where humans are being fitted with electronic components which have nothing to do with their health (pacemakers have been around for years). These chips seem pretty passive, but one day it is quite conceivable that electronic implants will be fitted which are pro-active – and intelligent. It is not fantasy to suggest that human beings will one day be fitted with forms of artificial intelligence specifically designed to marry them to whatever new technologies emerge in the coming decades and century. Some of these technologies will be designed for their defence.
Yes, this all sounds very Terminator-esque. But who once would have believed that a (chipped) hand could be turned into a magic wand? Politically, such new technologies will become useful in determining your status and your power. They will distinguish between who is in and who is out – a bit like an old Home Office landing card index perhaps. But they extend much further than that, and will be responsive to the new demands made by a climate changed world. I will return to the subject shortly in another blog.