Friday, May 11, 2007

Ride the Dragon!

There's an old Chinese adage regarding change. "Change is a Dragon. You can fight the Dragon and most likely be eaten; or you can ride the Dragon and thrive where it goes." I think, given the magnitude and gravity of the climate change we theoretically face over the next century, we need to stop trying to fight it and figure out ways to benefit from it.

It is likely that there are some human civilization contributions to climate change. But, given the fact that geological study has shown that our planet has experienced significant climate swings within the last ten thousand years (at times when human contributions would certainly have been negligible), it is even more likely that there is NOTHING human civilization can realistically do to significantly alter the course of climate change. The history of the human species is a study in adaptation to climate change. Specific human populations and civilizations have either adapted to climate change or died off.

Some civilizations have created the localized microcosmic ecosystem change that became their undoing. The Mayan's are a great case in point. Mayan civilization, like all growth civilizations, exploded and advanced when the Mayans figured out how to grow enough food to feed not only those growing the food, but others not required to farm. They figured out that swamp muck carted in and placed on their crop fields increased the fertility and productivity of those fields exponentially. The Mayans not required for food production could then focus their time and effort on science, building, religion, art, and politics (and war, as an extension of politics). The Mayans began building great edifices of stone; pyramids of power and cultural prestige that went far beyond functional needs. They covered these pyramids with a lime-based whitewash. The lime was procured by burning vast amounts of green trees. This resulted in massive local deforestation. Without the forest ground cover, the hillsides surrounding their agricultural fields eroded massive amounts of poor clay onto their once-fertile crop lands. Crop yields crashed and Mayan civilization with it.

But, the Mayan example is not man-made climate change, although I have heard some disenginuous activists present it as such. It is an example of man-made ecosystem change and there is a huge difference. Regardless, the Mayans failed to adapt to change and their grand civilization collapsed. They probably had no way of knowing that their extravagant consumption would have such an end, until it was too late to reverse the trend.

So, if the climate is changing and mankind's activities are contributing to it, we have a limited number of options. First option is the Mayan Option: Do nothing. Consume and party on and hope we go to our final reward before the crash occurs.

The second option is the Gore Option: Dismantle our civilization trying to resist the change occuring, in the hubris-filled belief that man is totally responsible for the change and man can fix the "problem."

There is a third option: Ride the Dragon. Instead of wringing our hands at the negative aspects of climate change, we should recognize the direction that climate change is going and adapt to take advantage of the opportunities. There are an equal amount of opportunities and drawbacks in every change. I liken our choice to that of a man who blames his homelessness on his joblessness, but is unwilling to move somewhere else where the opportunity for employment and affordable housing is greater. He would rather sleep on a steam grating in the inner city of some northern metropolis, whining about the lack of good paying office jobs, than find his way to a warmer clime where manual labor is in demand (10 million Mexican migrant workers can't be wrong).

If mankind ignores the dragon of change, we will suffer the fate of the Mayans. If mankind fights the dragon, we will most likely still suffer their fate--by our own hands. Riding the dragon will take us into new territory, but exploration has always been the activity from which has come our greatest triumphs.
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