The biggest unknown of Climate Change: us

Connections:  The difference in human behavior that climate change has been shown to cause can be detrimental in the long run if we get stuck in the spiral downwards of getting mad at each other instead of working together for the future of our planet.

Remnants of the ancient city of Cahokia, in what's now southern Illinois.
Remnants of the ancient city of Cahokia, in what’s now southern Illinois.
Credit: Steve Moses Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

News: When faced with the often stark evidence of current climate change, some people will say “the climate has changed before” as a way to deny or downplay. In fact, the climate has changed before and yet we/humans survived.

But, that is not really correct. The Earth’s climate has indeed changed relatively abruptly at times over the last 2,000 years or so. But, those larger regional changes all coincided with the breakdown of societies–whether it was the fall of the Roman empire, widespread famine and upheaval in 1300’s Europe, or the North American civilization that had its center at Cahokia. “The adversity brought by climate change caused societies to break apart, magnified pre-existing divisions, and made desperate people easy prey for dangerous people.” People suffered, some were made scapegoats, many died. Cities, villages, civilizations disappeared.

Think about that … and then consider that “the natural climate changes that have shaped human history have almost always been smaller and more regionally contained than the large-scale human-caused change we are currently experiencing.”

Yes, weather extremes (heat, cold, rain, snow, storms, etc.) are becoming more frequent, ice at the Poles is melting more and faster, the oceans are rising, climate change is today causing people to leave their homes and migrate to other places (both poor and rich people), the economic and social costs are huge and are growing every year. Climate change is happening all around us–and it will almost inevitably directly affect us and our families. It’s a question of when.

We need to face our new world with courage and resolve and humility–and stop indulging in greed, vanity, and fear. We cannot turn back the clock on history or on climate.

In the end, the biggest unknown is us. As we know from the past, “the scariest thing about climate change is what it will make us do to each other.” Will we suffer the same fates of those who came before us? Or, will we learn and work together for a common purpose?

Read more: Lost cities and climate change (Kate Marvel, Scientific American, 29 July 2019).

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