Sometimes it helps to take a step back from things in order to see them more clearly. Professor Jared Diamond writes books that explore and explain our world in such a way that the view excites, stimulates and fascinates as well as becoming much clearer. Guns, Germs and Steel: a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years (2005) was my introduction to his work, but it is the seminal book Collapse: how societies choose to thrive or fail, that will probably be referred to most on this page.
I wrote this little introduction over a year ago…so much happens, yet things feel they stay the same. It’s now March 2014 and a balmy 18degrees celcius outside…hmmmmm. Climate change does not exist in isolation from other feedback loops, or from the consequences of our other behaviours (farming, mining etc), which is why the consequences of climate change are so difficult to predict.
In the concluding chapter of Collapse, Professor Diamond discusses the major environmental problems facing modern societies that our survival depends upon getting right. He identifies twelve problems, eight of which have already been significant in the past, with four being more recent serious problems (- energy, the photosynthetic ceiling, toxic chemicals and atmospheric changes)
The first four problems are the destruction or loss of natural resources (natural habitats including deforestation, wetlands and coral reefs; wild food sources especially marine invertabrates; biological diversity; and soil erosion encouraged by intensive farming methods)…the next three problems involves the use or care of natural resources (energy – fossil fuels; freshwater; photosynthesis depends on temperature and rainfall), the next three problems are related to harmful things we produce (toxic chemicals such as, insecticides, pesticide, herbicides, detergents and plastics; alien species; greenhouse gases CO2 and methane in large quantities).
The last two problems are to do with population. As discussed in the final week of the climate change course, the human population has grown from 790million in 1750 AD to 7billion and rising in 2011AD, and predicted to continue to rise…. All needing food, water and space to live. The second population problem is linked to the way humanity consumes resources. Are we able to be the low impact people we need to be for future survival or will we continue to push on as high impact people destroying the environment that we need to sustain us?