Climate change; thoughts on the dynamics

Today I had an iMessage exchange with my astute grand-niece about climate change, ending up with thoughts about change dynamics. This was triggered by her comment that she was confined to the house because of the miserable air quality in Seattle. Now Seattle is not one of the places that frequently comes up  in discussions of air quality. Yet, for the second time this week, Seattle’s air quality was comparable to Beijing’s (112 vs. 151 today; a few days ago Seattle was more polluted than Beijing).

The reason for this? Forest fires in British Columbia and smoke therefrom drifting down to Seattle. Advice to all, but especially to women of childbearing age: Stay indoors!! This is what was annoying my grand-niece. It is also what is annoying many women around the world as global warming aids in the ignition of forest fires. The west coast of North America has had a disastrous fire season so far this year, attributable to climate change.

The interchange

As an illustration, here’s part of our conversation, revolving around the possibility that fruits and vegetables may not in the future be what they used to be.

HE: So would heirloom varietals be more or less resistant to our current disasters? On the one hand GMO crops would have theoretically been engineered to withstand them but wouldn’t monoculture degrade that advantage at some point? That’s got to affect what foods will be available 10-20 years from now, or no? Obviously it’s a more complex issue than just GMO v non GMO but I don’t think I’ve seen anything addressing what food would survive climate change.

JN: I’m not sure that the designers of GMO crops have thought enough about the effects of climate change. Heirloom crops have naturally adapted to the climate as it was then but [is] not now. So both types have problems except for cases like the rice plants that have been designed for better drought adaptation. So you’re right; the pace of climate change has surprised many scientists as well. The dynamics of this are fascinating. Climate change is clearly happening faster than human comprehension— at least at the political level.

HE: It strikes me that I’ve seen articles about climate change affecting food production levels as a whole but not on the specific foods, and thus nutrition, that may or not be available because a given fruit/veg/animal, or what have you, can’t adapt. And let’s not even touch the climate change deniers; it’s too depressing.

JN: Exactly. Most of the attention is focused on production rather than quality issues because you can count production. Quality, when measured by such things as calorie or vitamin content, is a whole ‘nother issue. We can easily see that production is down by counting bushels, bales, kilograms and so on. But if what is produced is of lesser ability to sustain us, that is harder to pin down.

Some dynamics

So we have on one hand the steady degradation of what we called normal a few decades ago, and on the other hand our collective failure to adapt to those changes. Changes that we produced, by the way. Clearly there are some efforts around the world to modify the impacts of climate change. Other efforts to reduce the rate of change are rising. Still other efforts to adapt to the changes are developing. Collectively they are combating the ill effects to some extent. But resistance to even recognizing the fact of climate change is still powerful, particularly in some industrial and, therefore, political circles.

What we are doing to decrease the rate of change is insufficient so far. If it were sufficient global temperatures would no longer be rising, hurricanes would no longer be increasing in intensity, torrential rains would be rare, the oceans would no longer be swamping our coasts and forest fires would be less frequent and intense. The longer we fail in combatting these changes the worse it will get. In spades.

We have before us the spectacle of many people trying to pull or push us away from the cliff while another, smaller but influential group is blowing smoke so that we can’t see the cliff.

Who do you think will win?

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