- The desert is beautiful, the vast empty spaces, the unbroken silence, the nights under the stars. And it is clean! One lives freely under the rhythm of the cosmos. But attention, the desert is a paradox - you are free, but at the same time you must abide by nature's rule, otherwise you perish.
- Weather forecasting is a day-to-day activity; climatic predictions span decades.
- Anyone who believes in the indefinite growth of anything physical on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.
- Αll models are wrong but some are useful.
Norbert Wiener, father of cybernetics bridged mathematics, engineering and biology to give insights into control and communication in both animal and machine. In doing so he explored the juxtaposition of eastern know-what and western know-how that together do the right job and do it well. He saw a future world going out of control as it struggled against the limitations of intelligence. He tells us that know-how and efficiency are good but know-what, effectiveness and equity are much better.
Ludwig von Bertalanffy a theoretical biologist and philosopher of science studied physiology and biophysics. He analysed hierarchical organization in complex structures to provide insights into the maintenance of organisms in non-equilibrium situations, touching upon cancer, psychology. His insights today would be invaluable to combat the threat to biodiversity. Forrester’s complex model considered the Earth’s natural resources and climatic interactions with manmade systems of industry, cities and nations. One outcome was a prediction of doomsday, right about now. It was an extrapolation based on population growth, inappropriate socio-economic development and deadly pollution that caused vulnerability to skyrocket as the quality of life plummeted. To pull back from the brink of nuclear mishap, to restrain global warming and to maintain a check on artificial intelligence developments need much more know-what, use of eastern and western philosophy as well as dynamic scientific and political strategies that can restore biological equilibrium and hold back social dementia.
The Club of Rome called for limits on socioeconomic growth; the Brundtland Commission placed environmental issues on the political agenda. Both had remarkable impact on the mindset of leaders in diverse domains. The Earth Charter set a stage to build a just, sustainable and peaceful global society based on ethics. Their recommendations were profound and are still very much needed.
Last month1, I turned the pages of Food scarcity and its unavoidability by the year 2100 by the late Raoul Wieler friend and colleague. His work lies at the confluence of climate change and demography, referenced to agricultural food production, changing land-use and fresh water. His book is a sequel to the Limits to Growth of the Club of Rome several decades on. Weiler’s summary of the future of food, spanning 25 Earth climate zones and describing the effects of climate change is an informed work on planetary demise on a timescale of one human life span.
According to the United Nations the global problem of degradation of typically dry land areas is a result of climatic variations and human activities. I would add that rising Earth temperature and changing weather patterns, a result of climate change add a serious burden. Climate change provokes not only greenhouse gas accumulation but also increased emissions of cross-boundary dust storms. The atmospheric dust content originates mainly from the deserts of Africa. Athens for example now receives more Sahara sand.
For much of Africa water resources and food security are under pressure particularly in the Sahel and the MENA regions. Life there is characterised by poverty. Between 1976 and 2000 and on a global-scale, climate change has pushed temperatures up in nine out of twelve deserts, which interact strongly with the rest of the Earth system. Salt in soil and topsoil erosion are ways that a desert interacts with the rest of our planet. Deserts take up about 15 per cent of the Earth’s land surface and are home to more than some 150 million people.
Scientific models point to future projected average temperature increases between one and seven degrees Celsius in all world deserts. Desertification conjures up images of sand dunes blowing over abandoned farms as an irresistible dark force that transforms fertile fields into inhospitable wasteland. Malaria has been seen metaphorically as a transformer of fertile land into cemeteries. While we still have not rolled back the mosquito, climate change is rolling back land use.
A lyrical Irish song tells us that nature dispenses her gifts with a smile. For many, the smile fades as the Earth warms. During the Irish potato famine laughter was rarely heard. Ireland’s 19th Century famine precipitated mass migration to the USA. Sir Roger Casement an Irish protestant and human rights campaigner referred to two tragic histories in the world, Ireland and Macedonia both being deprived and tormented. He was an early whistleblower on the atrocities in the Belgium Congo. Between 1885 and 1908 an estimated 10 million people died as Belgian King Leopold II turned the country into a moneymaking machine from ivory and rubber. The Casement Report (1904) detailed the enslavement, mutilation, and torture of natives on the rubber plantations. He also investigated rubber slavery in Latin America. Nothing much happened except that Casement was executed in London at the end of WWI. If we do not pull back from the brink 10 million may seem a small number.
The survival of the human species and the planet are at stake. As trade networks fail to distribute food equitably any semblance of a smile will fade from the face of the most vulnerable. There are many studies that highlight areas of concern regarding the further potential impact of climate change on our world. There are several issues that need greater scientific validation: the role of industrialization in over-extraction of the world’s resources, policy requirements for population health and weather. Still denied climate change is not being treated as the crisis it is. Even as Wladimir Koppen, father of meteorology and a founder of modern paleo-climatology produced a major survey of the Earth’s climatic past, the cause of peace remained uppermost in his mind. He advocated the use of Esperanto in the cause of world peace, translated several publications into it while alongside scientific pursuits, he was actively involved in social questions and devoted much time to issues of school reform efficient land-use and nutrition of the poor. He believed that an international scientific language could help overcome nationalism as well as improve scientific understanding.
Köppen undertook systematic studies of climate slowly without haste but without rest, which became a motto. He experimented with balloons to obtain data from upper layers of the atmosphere. His first map of climatic zones was published in 1884, showing seasonal temperature ranges. He studied most aspects of meteorology and climatology and gave the world a climatic classification system in 1900. His classification has undergone modifications, the final one being in 1961 by Rudolf Geiger and is now known as the Koppen Geiger system. Geiger observed the complex interactions between temperature, radiation, and the water balance of air and soil.
The Koppen Geiger system has been used to monitor the extent of wooded areas, the decline of alpine tundra and to provide climate maps of countries and regions as well as Earth profiles with high resolution. The area and extent of climate zones are referenced to geographical features of mountains and rivers. It is a quantitative model in which the five major climate types are assigned a numerical value according to temperature and rainfall.
Europe as defined by the region west of the Urals, down to the Arabian sea including parts of the Middle East has four main climate types and distributed by land area; cold (44.4%), arid (36.3%), temperate (17.0%) and polar (2.3%). More warming occurs at high latitudes [polar regions], than at lower latitudes [tropical regions]. This provides some explanation for small and big changes in hotter and cold areas, respectively. The expansion of arid regions is most remarkable.
Africa has three main climate types; arid land area (57.2%), tropical (31.0%) and temperate (11.8%) and currently it is inhabited by 2.1 billion people. The Sahara will increase in area making desertification with increased water scarcity a horrendous issue. The regions in the Horn will become uninhabitable sooner. Morocco recently convened a special meeting in New York, together with the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). With purpose it targets water scarcity, water management and relevant policy by moving South-South cooperation forward with actions that counter the effects of climate change in Africa. It targets renewable energy and necessitates infrastructures that limit greenhouse gas emission as well as the development of additional instruments to reduce local and regional vulnerabilities in health and education. Tunisia is set to become a more-water-stressed country and in the future may face a thirst uprising. Planned are new reservoirs and desalination plants but recent flooding following after drought and olive crop failure convinced the government to call upon the population to pray for rain.
Some models come close to reality in climate representation of Earth regions. For example, the Sahara which takes up 10 per cent of the African continent is shifting northwards. Lake Chad the life source of the Sahel the width of central Africa separating Sahara north and Savanna south has shrunk by as much as 95% in the northern part becoming desert. Further north the Dead Sea’s water level is falling. By 2100 it will be 4 degrees warmer and rain will be one third less making Jordan one of the most arid of countries. Models are providing a means to examine the impact of an increase in atmospheric CO2, say one cent (2,3) per year for 10 (20, 40, 60) years. An additional and unsettling note is that in the region of Lake Chad, human rights abuses and forcible conscription of children are legion.
Raoul Weiler strongly supported the World Philosophical Forum [WPF, Athens, Greece], which promotes classical philosophy on its platform of wisdom, reason, morality, justice and responsibility by means of civic education; this in keeping with the UN initiative, Civic Education first a brave and reasonable action, 2012-13 by Ban Ki-moon who placed citizenry higher than literacy and numeracy and the dream of Irina Bokova, UNESCO, Director General calling for a new vision to shape global education to emphasizes solidarity, respect and responsibility, promote global citizenship and shape the future.
WPF calls upon the international community, to take steps to maintain a habitable world and show respect for nature. The WPF is a guardian against economic greed and over consumerism represented by a life style of take or extract, make, use or consume and then discard-throw away. It is still an under used think tank and policy instrument in the solution of existential issues, especially, social dementia, which can only be turned back by fostering Global citizenship as UNESCO latest Medium-Term Strategy requests.
It is painfully easy to feel the heat of apocalypse on our doorstep or to imagine mankind engulfed and convulsed by climate change during our children’s life time. Our zero sum choice: irradiated in a Stone Age condition or slowly convulsed by climate change in a virtual reality. Whatever the future, it will not be a comfortable hammock in which we will be waited upon by our robot slaves but a place where human beings will be socially demented dehumanized robot slaves. Our highest level goal today should be to preserve our humanity and strive to give our children and our children’s children the means to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives as citizens, united within a hospitable Earth-XXI.
1 Heigh Oh, The Wind And The Rain, Scourges of scarcity, Wall Street International Magazine, 16 MAY 2019.