Turn Down the Heat

By: David Miron-Wapner

We are the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling pot of water.  As it gets hotter we first ignore it, then we seem to adjust, then we struggle, then… it is too late.

The frog metaphor cautions us to be aware of ignoring even gradual change especially when the consequences concern our very survival. Why is humanity not jumping out as month after month record average temperatures are soaring to new heights?

The latest data show unanimously that May 2016 was the twelfth straight month of record monthly temperatures globally and continues a string of 369 consecutive months at or warmer than average. May was “only” 1.11°C above average across the planet, following the staggering rise in April of 1.28⁰C. While most of us were fortunate not to be in places like western Rajasthan in India where the mercury reached 53⁰C one day in April, we are all in the same boat living on our one and only planet, as both land and sea temperatures continue their inexorable path upward.

Global temperature rise is now flirting with 1.5⁰C above pre-industrial levels, the target labeled as “ambitious” at the Paris Climate Summit last December. There the nations of the world “compromised” on a goal limiting temperature to rise of no greater than 2⁰C by the year 2100. Scientists and Small Island States argued that even 2⁰C would mean disastrous sea level rise, floods, droughts and wildfires.

Scientific consensus informs us that the raging wildfires in western Canada (in an ironic twist they occurred adjacent to the insanity of extracting the dirtiest known fuel source from the tar sands) were most certainly made much more intense by climate change. In fact, much of the incredible heat spikes are located in the extreme northern latitudes. Snows are melting and tress are drying out earlier in the great Boreal forests, creating a combustible mix touched off by lightning from increased storm activity.

Add to this the reports regarding the ash clouds from the fire carried east and landing on the white surface of the Greenland ice sheet and artic glaciers. These frozen surfaces thus absorb more heat and ice melt is accelerated. You do not need to be a scientist to imagine the feedback loops of increased warming and more glacial melting. Rising seas, and more frequent and more intense wildfires, and back again. If we factor in the exposure of permafrost in the frozen north to more warming, the threat is magnified by the potential release of methane locked in the permafrost. Methane is an even more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

We are treading ever closer to the edge. Despite repeated warnings, each more disturbing and dire than the last; ice sheets melting, acidification of oceans, massive bleaching of coral reefs, these scary scenarios all leave us fearful and frozen. Overcoming fear demands facing the truth at the heart of our predicament, a crises of the spirit, stemming from an imbalance in humanity’s relationship with the Earth.  All may not be lost, but our window of opportunity to stave off future disruptions is narrowing.

As I look at the issue of climate change, I try to use the prism of Yoyah’s Photograph from the Future (PFF™) methodology to better understand how we might be able to prepare ourselves and adapt to the rapid and weird changes in local weather patterns that we all are experiencing. When we assist companies and leaders design their futures, the PFF™ is always positive.  Being positive and holding onto hope is becoming increasingly difficult with climate disaster on the horizon. Still I have great hope for a great human awakening in relation to our Mother Earth that is revealed as a prominent possibility in my own process of back casting scenario planning.

Focusing on the small contributions each of us can make in our actions and patterns of consumption and energy use, alongside the demands we make of governments and industry, is a rational response to fear. Acting rationally, individually and together, strengthens our hope and resolve to win this battle for a better human future. Let us all get on that path to collective sanity.