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BSC2009 – Nature, Surprise and Delusional (Wo)Man – Bill Rees

New Year - Early Bloom - Global Climate Change

Bill Rees from the UBC school of Community and Regional Planning is a co-author of the book, “Our Ecological Footprint”.

There is a problem

  • Humans evolved to think in simple linear ways, in terms of direct cause and effect.
  • But most situations in nature respond to human intervention in complex ways.
    • Humans think that whatever we mess with, if we stop, it will return to an equilibrium
    • but with the scale of human enterprise, this has proved to be untrue and humans have the means to push thresholds, tipping points, and when we do, it is a literal catastrophe.

This is a Surprise

The location of tipping points cannot be predicted.

  • Examples
    • Canada’s Northern Cod Spawning Stock collapse – no recovery.
    • Economic collapse due to a tipping point in the Financial Sector.
    • Arctic Sea Ice – broken from the long-term trend in the last 3 years.

Climate Change Surprise

  • CO2 emissions are now growing more rapidly than business as usual, the most pessimistic of the IPCC scenarios. CO2 levels are increasing rapidly along a particular thermodynamic paths.
  • Even without a systems “Flip” it is now very unlikely (<10%) that the world can avoid a potentially catastrophic mean global temperature increase.
  • To stabilize GHG at even [a catastrophic] 650ppmv CO2e, the majority of OECD nations must begin to make a draconian emissions reduction (6% per year) within a decade. Planned economic recession.
  • Most of the world’s food areas are under stress from drought – not definite that the drought will continue, but there is a fair chance.

The Panarchy Theory of Surprise – Natural systems go through a repetitive, adaptive cycle of growth, accumulation, collapse/restructuring and renewal.

  • The problem is that we are so dominant as humans over our ecosystem, we may not have left the base requirements for a rebound to even occur.
  • We may collapse towards a hostile new “Attractor”
  • The growth based economy could be the precipitator of this.

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Relocalizing may provide a cushion against the coming collapse of systems.

The perpetual growth myth.

But to change and break out of the Socio-cognitive mechanism requires extraordinary concentration, effort and commitment.

Since we are billions of times more ignorant than knowledgeable, why not go with our long suit and have an ignorance based world view.

The unknown unknowns.

To avoid a mean temp increase above 2 degrees C the world must reduce carbon emission by 90% by 2050.

For sustainability with equity, North Americans should be taking steps to reduce their ecological footprints by 80% to their equitable earth-share.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.