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will be put to the test in an entirely new way, if we effectively get the 3+°C global warming we seem to be on track for.

We emerged from monkeyhood in the context of repeated ice ages, which forced our ancestors to continually migrate and/or adapt to different habitats, essentially temperate. Then in the past ten thousand years of extraordinarily stable climate, we were able to become sedentary, have regular food surpluses, invent cultural accumulation.

What comes next? Nobody knows : there is no precedent (in the Pleistocene) for the CO2 level -- we're already off the scale -- and temperature ranges we're heading for.

Intensification of agriculture has gone very far, and it's premature to say we can't take it a great deal further. Exhaustion of resources is a graver and more imminent danger than climate change itself : can we make the transition to an intensive, resource-lean agriculture capable of sustaining a population of billions? The history of humanity makes me moderately optimistic, but doesn't say whether we can get there without massive die-offs.

Human intervention on the climate is a fact. There's no going back to a hypothetical natural state, not at a planetary level. The long term future of civilized humanity requires that we actually take control of the climate, rather than drowning in our own extreta.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Tue May 10th, 2011 at 04:53:50 AM EST
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Human influence on the climate is the natural state.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 10th, 2011 at 06:09:44 AM EST
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I agree with everything but your last sentence. With our success, we have come to expect unlimited growth. But as seen repeatedly in places like the business world, there are always limits to growth. Perhaps it is time to recognize and live within these limitations instead of continually trying to maximize growth through complete environmental control.
by Jace on Tue May 10th, 2011 at 06:35:41 AM EST
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Humanity's bull-in-a-china-shop approach to climate has to stop. Regardless of future growth, we are already in overshoot in terms of climate impact. We need to take responsibility for stabilizing the climate. Once we've done that, we will have the tools enabling us to search for an optimal climate equilibrium. That should be interesting, politically...

But before we can get to that, we need to correct the overshoot urgently. This requires optimizing resource use to produce, at minimum, the same amount of food etc. with fewer primary resources, and producing much less greenhouse gases. If we don't manage this, we are heading for die-off (which is one of Nature's wonderful ways of balancing the population/resource budgets).

Now comes the question of growth. The study of demographic transition shows us that populations stop growing once a certain level of education and well-being is achieved. World population is levelling off, or at least is no longer in exponential growth, because of this phenomenon. The urgent goal is to help the countries who aren't there yet, rather than decreeing some arbitrary limit to population (and enforcing it how?)

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Tue May 10th, 2011 at 08:27:52 AM EST
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I may have misunderstood your comment concerning environmental control. Control through conservation is one thing, control by manipulating or engineering the climate is quite another.

I think we're making the same point on population growth. The sense of well-being means that you've accepted what you have, you're sated, you've effectively accepted that you've reached your limit. It's how that limit is defined that's key. Defining it through wealth and acquisition doesn't seem to work too well.  

by Jace on Tue May 10th, 2011 at 09:28:41 AM EST
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Humanity's bull-in-a-china-shop approach to climate has to stop

It will.  Either we'll use our vaunted cognitive ability to address and solve the problem or Mother Nature will solve it by crashing the global human population in her own indomitable fashion.  

I have become pessimistic we'll choose the first.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue May 10th, 2011 at 02:19:56 PM EST
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"Humanity's adaptability will be put to the test in an entirely new way..."

Maybe. But remember that the plague in Europe killed about 1/3 of the population, and "civilization" continued onwards. (Maybe even improved as the feudal system collapsed.) And much of what we risk losing is the ultra-comfortable personal lifestyle advantages of 20th century technology.

What is likely is that the global population will be severely pruned at the low end of the socio-economic scale. And there may be massive political or economic change as a result, but basically the overall situation will look like it did under the traditional population pressures caused by disease, starvation, and war.

For example, if westerners became vegetarians, even a severely compromised food supply system could support the current population. That would require people to become vegetarians, though, and they don't want to. So they would probably have a war to resolve the question of who gets meat and who eats potatos and onions and cabbage. But that's just traditional old-style human interaction, and as you suggest, we evolved in that sort of environment.

Might be a bit uncomfortable, but not more than in the 1600s, say...

by asdf on Tue May 10th, 2011 at 03:43:59 PM EST
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