“We don't inherit the earth from our ancestors;
We borrow it from our children.” – David Brower
As a Baby Boomer, I feel a need to plead with millennials to stand up and use your voting power to avert a likely crisis my generation is leaving to your generation. I lived through the threat of nuclear war and mankind’s extinction and did my best to vote for politicians I thought would help minimize US versus USSR tensions. But this was not easily managed by a vote since very little could be done by either party regarding the fear and ideology differences that caused tensions and the risk of an accidental nuclear exchange. That exchange would have led to the near extinction of mankind due to dust spreading around earth upper atmosphere blocking sunlight for years causing a “nuclear winter” and total biosphere and food production collapse. This in turn would have accelerated the nuclear war catastrophically as mankind began to starve.
This nuclear risk still exists but my generation is leaving millennials certain catastrophe if the US and world do not act soon. The US recently backed out of the Paris Climate Change agreement. This was foolish and shortsighted but millennials will suffer the consequences while my generation will pass on before the most severe consequences begin to occur. Is this fair or reasonable? We are leaving millennials an out of control climate that will gradually leave a shattered world. Millennials are asked to study the Permian–Triassic extinction event or “Great Dying” which occurred 250M years ago. It was triggered by a large release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases from the volcanic Siberian Traps setting in motion a global warming similar to today’s anthropogenic global warming. Only action through voting committed politicians can prevent millennials from experiencing these inevitable consequences in their or their children’s lifetime:
Climate driven weather will cause draughts in most of the world’s breadbaskets leading to water and food shortages and eventual starving populations.
Sea level rise will slowly decrease the world’s coastal cities and lowlands displacing much of the population inland.
Sea level rise and atmospheric warming and ice melting will drive ever worsening severe weather and hurricanes to be more and more destructive.
Ocean acidification will slowly cause the ocean ecosystem to collapse.
Melting northern latitude ice and its fresh water will eventually shut down the Earth’s thermohaline circulation eventually causing a catastrophic runaway or abrupt climate shift.
Large releases of the potent (32 x CO2) greenhouse gas Methane from tundra and ocean shelf methane hydrate will eventually cause runaway global heating and severe and abrupt climate change.
Baby Boomers have lived through the most prosperous times in the history of the earth. Yes the Boomers lived under the threat of Nuclear War and its subsequent nuclear winter extinction but survived and prospered during the greatest economic expansion in history. Boomers have borrowed earth from millennials and are leaving them with almost certain catastrophe within their lifetime if Climate Change is not curtailed. It may very well be too late but given the horrific fate, millennials may have time to act but time is running out. Boomers and their support for US politicians have sold them out. If millennials do not rise up and vote and take control of their future, they will eventually discover Boomers have left them with an inevitable ever worsening catastrophic future. As a Boomer, it’s not right to leave our children a future without hope. Only millennials themselves have the power to save their own futures and those of their children. You contain the largest block of non-voters with the power to change elections and policy forever. You must stand up now!
Most scientific estimates suggest the earth may have another 100 years before catastrophic events overtake the world due to a climate moving gradually out of control. These estimates are conservative as scientists do not make warnings not supported by analysis and modeling. Current analysis and modeling is not complete and estimates tend to worsen and shorten as new research finds new mechanisms and positive feedback loops that worsens Climate Change rather than slow it. Rather than review the various Climate Change mechanisms and their consequences, it may be instructive to warn millennials of the concept and mechanisms that could trigger abrupt Climate Change in their lifetime. Abrupt climate change is the most frightening possibility.
Abrupt climate change is a real possibility that could occur well within the lifetime of most millennials. Abrupt climate change is exactly what it sounds like. The climate system is in a state of energy balance with inertia which shifts slowly due some forcing such as gradual warming of the atmosphere and oceans due to increased greenhouse gases. But this energy balance can encounter a non-linear event or a positive feedback forcing that causes a rather sudden or abrupt and catastrophic shift to a new state. This means that rather than a slow worsening of conditions such as temperature, severe weather and sea level, there could be an abrupt change during the millennials lifetime. The gradual shift is bad enough but an abrupt change would be catastrophic and could happen over a decade. Do millennials want to risk facing this? This is not mere speculation. It has happened in the past:
Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse,
Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum
It is unlikely that human civilization with its 7 billion people growing to over 10 billion over the next 50 years could survive an abrupt climate shift. Civilization would collapse as the world populations would be dramatically displaced and would not be able to feed the population. Severe climate driven weather pattern shifts would lead to draughts in the world’s bread baskets where food is grown. Abrupt sea level rise would flood coastal cities where the majority of the world’s population lives. Melting Greenland represents about 25 feet of rise while Antarctica is over 200 feet. All the East, Gulf and West coast cities would be forced to move inland. Florida and much of the Gulf coast would no longer exist. Check out the NOAA Sea level Rise Viewer what just 6 feet will do. This almost certainly would create national pressures that could trigger the same nuclear holocaust the boomers managed to avoid. Less than 10% of the nearly 10,000 nuclear weapons possessed by the world’s nuclear powers if detonated at once anywhere would lead to a nuclear winter and possible human extinction. This Ted talk reviews the possibility. Imagining the Unthinkable was a 2003 study done for the US Military by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randal which provides one frightening view on the consequences of an abrupt climate change.
I believe most millennials understand that the overwhelming and thorough science based conclusions by the world’s scientists are real. The unknown is primarily when, how quickly and how bad this catastrophe overtakes the world. Millennials cannot want themselves or their children to inherit this inevitable crisis. They are and will if nothing is done soon! Millennials cannot want to live through what today seems like a science fiction movie nightmare. This science fiction will become real and worsening during the next 100 years. Only rapid and effective action to limit greenhouse gas releases due mostly to fossil fuels will slow and possibly halt this path. Time is running out and millennials have their and their children’s future in their own hands. Vote and choose your politicians carefully or science fiction will become reality in your lifetime.