Magnitude and pace of climate change

by | February 1, 2019

For those who don’t know, I live just outside of Boston, MA in the US. We’ve had a bit of freezing cold this week, but it was nothing compared to the cold felt in the upper Midwest. If you didn’t catch it the first time, here’s my quick article on why climate change is likely causing more of these extreme winter events…or if you want it in a sentence – climate change makes the typically tight jet stream wavier, which allows the freezing Arctic air to dip further south than it normally does (to where more people live).

Okay, now to the real order of business for today. Some straight talk.

Grasping the magnitude and pace of our current climate change (with a cartoon)

The truth is, climate change is happening faster than the experts thought it would. I don’t think anyone truly grasps just how drastically this is going to change our lives as we know them. It’s worse than you realize. It’s worse than I realize.

Part of the reason more people like you and me haven’t started to demand and make change when it comes to the climate crisis is because we can’t truly comprehend just how different the world we are racing into will be, how quickly it’s coming, or how disastrous it will be for the civilization we’ve built.

It’s not our fault though. How can we be expected to truly, viscerally understand something that we’ve never experienced before? Something that no Homo sapien has ever experienced. Our brains aren’t wired that way.

Sure, we can know what’s coming on an intellectual level. But we won’t really get it because knowing something “intellectually” doesn’t mean anything to the most important part of our brain – the older, more primitive part that typically makes the decisions and drives us on an emotional level.

As Einstein said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

I’m sure we can do more to grasp what’s coming. We can understand it better than we currently do. We can come a little bit closer to the truth.

The following cartoon/chart/story of temperature and civilization over the last 22,000 years really struck me as being useful to help put the changes in climate we’re seeing and projecting today into perspective.

Pay close attention to:

  • Just how much of a difference a 4°C temperature change actually makes (-4°C ago, there was 1 mile high of ice where I am sitting right now in Boston)…this is the magnitude of change we’re on pace for in the opposite direction.
  • How gradual the natural temperature change is over time vs. how rapidly we’ve changed it (follow vertical dotted line to the end to see).
  • How everything about civilization and society as we know it was built within, and depends upon, a very narrow temperature range which we are sprinting away from.

This is a ~4-minute read, but totally worth it in my opinion (some jokes in there too). If nothing else, scroll down to the bottom and see how abruptly the dotted line turns at the end. Enjoy!

Big thanks to Randall Munroe for this brilliant cartoon!

As always, I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions, ideas or just want to chat. Trust me, I know this topic can take a toll. It is worth it. It is the right thing to do. You’ll be stronger for it and, in my opinion, happier/grateful in the long run.

This post originally featured in the Crowdsourcing Sustainability newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter below!

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