Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Plan or party?

The photograph above was taken in 2006 by Flickr user Nick_Russill and I am using that rather than one of the spectacular pictures captured in the last 10 days, because it can be published under a creative commons attribution licence. 

Well the pictures may be pretty, but the news isn't good.  A sheet of ice 100 square metres has broken off the Peterman glacier in Greenland, leading one of the experts giving evidence to the House of Representatives in the US to say that we may reach a tipping point within the next 10 years, in which the loss of the ice sheet in Greenland becomes inevitable and we will be looking at increases of up to 7 m in sea level.  That would put London underwater.

Of course, there's no consensus on what may happen.  Other scientists are saying that the Atlantic Conveyor, which is part of the earth's system of sea currents, and brings the Gulf Stream across the Atlantic to warm our shores, is faltering and may stop.  If that happens, we will be plunged into a mini ice age,with conditions such as those we experienced last winter seeming like the tip of the ice sheet... if you'll forgive the expression.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is under water in a disaster which affects more people than the Haiti earthquake, Asian Tsunami and Katrina combined, while Russia suffocates under a pall of smoke cause by high temperatures and forest fires across the country.

It is hard to know whether to move to higher ground, stock up on logs, face masks, wellingtons, buy a boat or build an ark... or sell up and blow the money on a few months of hedonism before the void.

Life is uncertain.  I spent my teenage years worrying that someone in the US or the USSR was going to push the button and condemn us all to an incandescent future.  My mother spent the 1960s in fear, worrying about the Cuban missile crisis, the death of Kennedy and the death of Winston Churchill, who was synonymous with safety in her mind.

My grandmother worried about the Nazis, and spent many nights tucking her children up to sleep under the stairs at home, worrying that bombs would drop and flatten the house and her family.  She kept chickens and bees and goats, and grew vegetables to supplement the ration, worrying about food shortages and the possibility that the fascists would invade.

My great-grandmother worrried about her menfolk off to die in the first World War trenches, a long way from home, but also about revolution and the overthrow of the government, which seemed like a possibility at the end of the war.

All that worry, turmoil and disaster.  It seems to me that we need to plan what we can plan, as individuals, as countries, and accept what we cannot know.  Is 2012 going to be the end of the world as we know it?  Is it a coincidence that all the planets of the solar system are apparently undergoing changes in weather and seismic activity at the moment?  I don't honestly know.

Should we plan for disaster, and what would the shape of those plans be?  What is the shape of the disaster we may be facing?  Is it flooding or ice age, tsunami or freezing?  Or will life continue to be a mix of pleasure and disaster, plenty and famine, drought and flood?

It seems to me that all we can do is to live well and die well.  Whether that means building an ark now, or just having one big party till the end of the world, I can't say.  Meanwhile, nature is providing some spectacular sideshows to watch.

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