An Interesting Slip

By: Alton C. Thompson

In commenting (on July 10, 2012) on the recently-published Explaining Extreme Events of 2011 From a Climate Perspective, Deputy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan (the first American woman to walk in space) stated the following:

“Every weather event that happens now takes place in the context of a changing global environment. This annual report provides scientists and citizens alike with an analysis of what has happened so we can all prepare for what is to come.”

Her second statement seemingly implies that “what has happened” (in 2011) will continue to happen and will, indeed, worsen from year to year—perhaps at an accelerating rate. Given this strong possibility, we need to “prepare for what is to come.” But what should that preparation involve? Ms. Sullivan said not a word about that important matter—which fact is not, though, surprising given that expertise in researching something provides one with no expertise in offering suggestions regarding how to bring about change.

Except in a trivial way, I should add. That is, if one’s finding, as a researcher, is that a heating trend is resulting from humans’ introduction of carbon into the atmosphere via the burning of fossil fuels, and it’s evident that that introduction is having deleterious consequences, it follows that humans should cease that introduction—at least to a “sufficient” degree.

But Ms. Sullivan had the wisdom (seemingly) not to use that line of reasoning. In her reference to “preparation” she implied that it is now too late to halt “global warming”—via a cessation of the introduction of “too much” carbon into the atmosphere—because we have either passed a “tipping point” (i.e., a point of no return), or soon will. Given that it is now too late to halt the “progress” of “global warming,” our only option now is to “prepare for what is to come.”

The above reasoning is implicit in her statement—but I wish that she had made it explicit: Why she didn’t, I hesitate to speculate. I wouldn’t expect her to offer any useful suggestions on what we should do to “prepare,” but am at least glad that she recognizes the need now to prepare. By using the word “prepare” she may have said (if but implicitly) more than she had intended to say—i.e., it may have been a slip; but it should be clear that in using the word “prepare” she recognizes (if but implicitly) that our attention now—with “attention” including scientists as well as we lay people—needs to focus on what we need to do to prepare. Scientists can, of course, continue with their research efforts, but we all need to begin to think seriously about preparation.

I suspect that when Ms. Sullivan refers to “prepare,” she assumes that the federal government must lead the way. She doesn’t state this explicitly, true, but I suspect—on the basis of no firm evidence, I’ll admit—that the concept of societal system change plays no role in her thinking, so that, by default, she would assume that because the federal government is the only agency empowered, by law, to act on behalf of us as a people, any preparation activity must be directed by the federal government.

Whether or not my above-stated suspicions regarding Ms. Sullivan and the federal government are correct, I have tried to make clear in my previous essays that:

  • It is foolish to look to the federal government for “salvation” because it is controlled by interests (most notably the energy companies) that deny that the use of fossil fuels is a problem, and have every intention of continuing to promote the use of such fuels.
  • Even if the federal government were not under that control, it is inconceivable that it would do what’s necessary to “save” us.
  • The reason: “Global warming” is likely to result in a massive culling of the human population within a matter of decades; as culling begins, societies will begin to collapse; as that occurs, the various institutions in societies—including governments—are likely to collapse; and their collapse will result in a further culling of the world’s population. Even before our government collapses, it is unlikely to engage in the sorts of activities likely to lead in the “salvation” of at least some of us; and after it collapses, it will be powerless to do anything (obviously!).
  • The above analysis suggests, then, that if one is to have any hope that one—and one’s children and other descendants—will survive the changes that will be inevitably occurring as a result of “global warming,” one will need to foresee the prospect of societal system collapse, and do one’s planning and acting on the basis of that prospect.
  • In doing so it should be obvious that one’s best hope lies with moving from one’s current location to a location that would appear to be “safer” from the standpoint of the effects of “global warming,” and begin developing there a way of life that is as self-sufficient as possible—for when the society collapses, one will need to be dependent on oneself.
  • In developing a new way of life it would be advisable to do so in conjunction with a small group of like-minded others—forming, with them, a small community. Before actually moving, one will, of course, need to gain the knowledge and learn the skills that will enable one to survive at one’s new location.
  • Unfortunately, many in our society who might wish to follow the above advice lack the financial means to so do; given this problem, it would be most helpful if some of the rich people in our society who agree with the above reasoning would begin—ASAP—to act to help such people, and not just think about themselves.
  • If no rich people in our society make an attempt to save either themselves or others, it is highly unlikely that many in our society will survive the ravages of “global warming.” Those currently living in “intentional” communities, the Amish, and a few others may have a chance to survive, but most will not.
  • It’s possible that regardless of what we do, no one will survive the ravages of “global warming.” This possibility should not, however, deter us from at least trying to survive.

I have no idea whether Ms. Sullivan is thinking along these lines—I suspect that she isn’t. I am glad, however, that she let slip the idea that preparation is what needs to guide our thinking at the moment. That represents an advance in the thinking of climate scientists, and I thank her for making that advance!

About the author: Al Thompson works (data management) for an Engineering (Avionics) firm in Milwaukee. Click here to mail him.