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The Climate Change Threat in a Small Nutshell (3)

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There is one feedback loop that is both more threatening than all the rest, and is in fact the least well understood, the most unpredictable of all.

That feedback loop is (strictly speaking, runs through) Man himself.

It might actually be more nearly correct to speak of many various human-based feedback loops. But let's look at a few examples, starting with minor issues.

1) As summertime temperatures rise, and temp records are broken, people will crank up their air conditioners in Texas, Italy, India, etc. More coal will be burned to provide electric power for this.

2) As crop failures occur, farmers will redouble applications of fertilizer or otherwise try to use fuel to raise yields.

3) Droughts will spur communities to bring in water by pipeline or even truck, or to build expensive desalination plants; all of this will require more fossil fuel.

Many more examples could be given. Our current technology largely adopts a brute-force approach to problems, and the brute force is provided in the form of fossil fuels. More often than not, when faced with a problem, our response has been to throw cheap fossil-fuel based energy at it.

...but these are extensions of Business As Usual. When business is no longer as usual, the human feedback loop turns really nasty.

When rising sea levels force people off their lands, they go elsewhere. They have to. Likewise when drought makes life unsustainable, when severe food shortages kick in, when other dire threats emerge.The upshot is violence: people will raid others before they starve. Either individually, or as groups, or as nations. The resulting violence, rioting, and out-and-out warfare (perhaps including nuclear detonations), in addition to the human toll, may well greatly aggravate the climate situation (although aerosols released could cause temporary cooling).

...it could be argued that violence resulting from climate change will not necessarily cause increased greenhouse gas emissions. I'm not convinced of this. See for example the admittedly simplistic analysis presented of the GHG consequences of war in How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee. The impact could be huge, depending on many factors.

In any case, all this has dire implications for the last point I want to make about climate change, in the post following this.
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