Adapting to climate change

Roger Marolt
Aspen, CO Colorado

We are living amidst climate change. We will continue to do so. It is not a problem we are trying to avoid. We are wondering if we can get out of it.

This winter was not normal. The snow is deep in the mountains throughout the western United States. Skiers are rejoicing. Resort economies are holding their own on the cusp of a national recession. Spring runoff will fill reservoirs in the desert.

A part of the world, in which we happen to be living in, is benefiting from abnormalities in the climate ” what we call “global warming.” It is only one winter in one part of this planet, but it is actual experience with the changing environment. It is what emboldens our inclinations and humbles hypothesizing.

In determining the impact of climate change on our lives, how valuable is one season of actual observation? It has to be worth more than one year of conjecture. Is it worth a hundred? I don’t know.

It wouldn’t be fair to ignore that five years ago we, in the heart of the Rockies, experienced a meager winter, too. The summer was dry, with large expanses of forest burning beneath searing heat. Some homes were lost and many more threatened. It was frightening. But, we have moved from there to this day of abundance. It is our experience.

The rub is that it was as easy to attribute the dire drought to thickening blankets of greenhouse gasses that year as it is to attribute heavy snowfall to it today. The bad and the good offset each other, maybe they will not always, but they did, and we move on. In this regard, our experience is not working as a motivator. We are left to conceptualize the problem which lends itself well to talk.

As for the enormity of fighting the problem, global warming, if we concede that it is at least partially caused by humankind’s occupation of the planet, is the product of approximately 110 billion lives passing through here over the past 6 million years.

This incredibly huge mass of our destiny is growing exponentially, and the momentum on this course is greater today than at any time in history. More and more often I doubt that we can change its direction. And, I don’t believe that I am alone in this feeling.

Global warming, unabated over the next centuries, might mean elimination of the human race and other species. If we can change it, of course we should. However, if we could have changed it, of course we would have. If we weren’t smart enough to foresee it, are we knowledgeable enough to forestall it?

Consider what we are up against: The nations of the world must cooperate to have any chance of alleviating this threat. Can we point to any time when mankind banded together to alter general behavior to change the course of history in such a dramatic way? I don’t believe there has ever been anything close to the accomplishment of what we now are proposing.

It would be the plot of terribly unbelievable fiction: The planet is set on a course toward devastation. In response, the people of the world put aside their immeasurable differences, many stemming from the beginning of time and renewed in present bloodshed, to cooperate in harmony for survival. It’s so farfetched that nobody would buy it. And, perhaps we’re not.

In our own town, we can’t figure out what to do with one meaningless gas-fueled fire pit on the pedestrian mall. In our country, we can’t agree on how to reduce the national debt. How is there going to be consensus among the races, religions and nations about how to fuel economies without burning oil?

Our world is being destroyed through the consumption of fossil fuels. We continue to drive our automobiles. The two statements are incongruous. We know that the latter is true ” we still are driving cars. Suppose then that the first is true also ” the Earth is being destroyed by their emissions. Why don’t we take corrective action, immediately?

One explanation to tie the knowledge and act together is that our state is akin to a terminable disease. We are resigned to the fact there is nothing we can do, so we don’t alter our behavior. The other explanation is we don’t believe that the planet is being destroyed. Either way, there is little hope for concerted worldwide action.

We are addicted to oil. There is a good dose of denial in any addiction. Betraying our popular words of grave concern, we don’t really believe that there is a problem. Or, if we do, we feel that there is a more effective way to deal with it than dramatically altering our lives right now.

We humans are not well equipped to effect change in ourselves. We are much better suited for adjusting to change around us. We won’t quit smoking, but when we set the house on fire with a loose butt, we are able to get the kids, the pets and the photo albums out from the flames.

Transitions in the course of human history rarely have occurred because of the force of will, because will is inherit only in the individual. Broad change occurs with the demands of economics. That is what motivates the masses. As long as we can increase our comfort, make our livings and save precious time by burning oil, we will. We defer to future generations to do what is necessary for their survival.

Instead of moving south for the winter, perhaps our ancestors will move north for the summer. They will ski on higher mountains. They will build homes farther from the seas. Agriculture will happen on lands currently not arable.

We are not stupid because we do not alter our behavior. We are practical. We are rational. We will adapt. It is our most efficient course of action.