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Climate Change

Published on July 20th, 2012 | by Guest Contributor


Which Future Will We Choose? (Reader Post)

July 20th, 2012 by  

Below is a truly excellent guest post from a regular CleanTechnica reader, 15-year-old Jared Conner. You can see that Jared has bright ambitions in his bio at the end. This is actually a speech he wrote a couple weeks ago. I initially thought this was a much better fit for Planetsave, so I published it over there. However, on the second look, I decided it was also a great fit for CleanTechnica, so here it is:

The Fate of Mankind (via Planetsave)

  by Jared Conner People, As humans, we have long considered the Earth as invincible, unchangeable, and unable to be exploited. The thing is, we are wrong. Because of our flawed beliefs over the last two centuries, we have begun to wound, change, and exploit the Earth. And if we do not unite…

About the Author

is many, many people. We publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people. :D

  • Jared Conner


  • mk1313

    As a cautionary tale there is a lot to be said for this story.  A few details that are inconsistent though, the most important being that half the species survive but not mankind.  Truth is for man to perish that utterly it is likely that less than 10% of the species now existing will survive.   With mans ability to adapt and change his environment he will likely be one of the last to go.  That said the tremendous population reduction will, given the scenario of not learning from our mistakes combined with monumental arrogance, in all likely hood come to pass.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I agree.  Humans are the most likely to survive.  I don’t take any solace in that belief.

      Cities of humans dug into the underground where temperatures are moderate.  Fed mostly by underground gardens receiving artificial light.

      Most colonies located toward the poles where there would still be some moderate/tolerable outside temperatures during parts of the year.  Early spring and late fall would be the “venture outside” times of the year.

      • mk1313

         Winter will probably be a good time too.

    • Jared Conner

      You always have to take biology into serious account when discussing these matters. All species on Earth share the ability to adapt, to evolve. This is due to genetic variation, which is mainly influenced by mutation. Life has been able to persist for billions of years because of its ability to evolve. But, when given a new environment, even somewhat hostile, in a short period of time (like over the course of 200 years), you will see extinctions. For example, (and I’m just giving 1 example of a changed environment) because of the increased levels of atmospheric CO2, much has been dissolved into the ocean. If you know your chemistry, then you know that CO2, when dissolved in water, forms a weak acid. With the oceans more acidic, it is harder for marine invertebrates to form shells. With weaker and maybe even the absence of a shell, these organisms would be easy prey. In the time frame in which the changes in the environment are occurring, these organisms don’t have enough time to adapt, they go extinct (in the wild),and therefore the ecosystem is disrupted. But think of how many animal species that people rely on for food will be affected. Even if only a small part of an ecosystem is  taken out of the equation, the whole ecosystem could be distrupted. All over the place these disruptions would occur. If this were to happen in a lengthened time frame, I’m sure many species could adapt, but it is a short time frame. On the other hand, some species could be benefited, and this is my reason for saying in my story that half of the species die. Everything depends on being in the right place, at the right time, with the right genome.

  • Ss

    Making fossil fuels illegal sounds cool, but it is totally out of touch with reality. CH4 is much more dangerous than CO2, since carbon dioxide can be digested by plants, and it is better to burn it than to let it escape.

    • Jared Conner

      I agree with you, making fossil fuels illegal would never happen… As of right now in present times. But imagine in sixty years, when climate change is causing us huge problems, fossil fuels are close to running out anyway, and the United Nations accepts that the only remote chance to save humanity, and to prevent global warming from becoming a runaway positive feedback effect, is to stop the addition of CO2 into the atmosphere. This is in the hope that, one day, even after society has collapsed, we will make a comeback and rebuild society and civilization. And methane is a more potent greenhouse gas, but if you don’t go digging for it, then it will stay where it is. And plants don’t take in CO2 in large enough amounts to make a big difference anytime quick. I would say more manmade CO2 has been absorbed into the ocean than has been taken in and converted into sugars by plants. No offense or anything, just trying to correct you.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I have two very large questions for which I find no adequate answers, so I’ve got to base everything around those two known unknows.

        First, I don’t know how long we have to get our act cleaned up.  I hear some claim that we have to get CO2 below 350ppm by 2050, things like that.  But I realize that the folks making predictions were not predicting some years back that the climate would get as hot as it has as quickly as it has.  And I realize that not many years back predictions were for an Arctic melt-out around 2100 but now the argument is ~2015 or ~2025.

        Second, is 350ppm really low enough?  Now that we’ve shot up to ~400ppm and started melting the permafrost might we really get things down well under 350ppm?

        OK, those out of the way, I do not see the United Nations being the major player in what happens.  We can’t get the UN nations to agree to stop the slaughter of civilians in country after country.  The UN can’t even get all their members to pay their dues.

        I think it’s going to be country by country.  And the two countries which scare me the most are the US and Canada.  We are the top producers of green house gases per capita (except for some small, low population countries, mostly island nations).

        Somehow we have to get the northern part of North America working on the problem of global warming.  We’re the ones who could wreck the planet.

        • Jared Conner

          According to Popular Science, “UN climate negotiators have said that their goal is to limit atmospheric CO2 to 450 ppm, which would cause global mean temperature to peak at no more than 3.6 degrees F above pre-industrial levels.” At 400 ppm, climate change is already happening. And many scientists agree that if it reaches over 6 degrees F then things will be out of our control. Honestly, I can’t give you a year because I can’t predict what the world’s governments will do. And Note to myself: Banning fossil fuels= far-fetched. But hey, if things do get out of control, we can always somehow trigger a volcano to erupt. Or we can shoot aerosol  particles into the atmosphere every three years to cool the planet. 

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yeah, I’ve read those numbers, but I don’t trust them after watching how fast things have changed.  They could be right, but the smart move might be to assume they are too little, too late.

            There’s no penalty for being early.As for aerosols as a solar blocker, we could blow large amounts of SO2 around but it would cause other problems.  Perhaps as a last gasp approach, but it would be very foolish to let things get that far.

            I think it would be smart to assume that there is no geo-engineering fix and that there never will be.  That might make us work harder.

    • Ross

      Banning fossil fuels in 2012 is unrealistic because we’re not ready yet. In 2070 it may well be if it hasn’t happened already.

      CH4 may be 25+ times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2 over a 100 years period. Its net lifetime in the atmosphere is about 8.4 years. CO2 has a smaller effect but remains in the atmosphere for much longer. So while get short term gains by controlling methane the main number to watch is CO2 PPM.

      Methane escaping from natural sinks like the permafrost cannot unfortunately be burned. It can be collected and burnt in landfill sites and it should be.

      Methane locked into stable geological formations would be best left there.

  • Jared Conner

    In total honesty, I really felt inspired to write this speech one day a couple weeks ago when I was bored (it was a rainy day during summer break). In retrospect, I probably should have written the speech in article form, so that it would not sound like I wrote it in school. Nevertheless, I would like to thank Zachary Shahan for posting my speech on both Planetsave and Cleantechnica. It makes me really happy to know that people can read and gain insight and perspective through my writing.

    • Bob_Wallace

      You did a very good job.  Keep at it.

    • Thanks for the clarification. I updated the post. 😀

  • Ross

    Making fossil fuels illegal. I like this Jared’s ideas.

    • Yes,… too bad we don’t have enough foresight to make that happen!

    • Bob_Wallace

      It’s appealing, but we should refrain from suggesting it.

      Right now many are afraid that preventing runaway climate change would mean a big decrease in their standard of living.  

      We need to realize that a lot of people, perhaps most people, will make the short term choice even if the long term consequences are terrible.  As evidence I submit smoking, over-drinking and all other drug abuse.  Over eating.  Failure to invest for retirement.  Abuse of credit cards.

      We need, IMHO, to work at finding affordable ways to move to renewables without decreasing standards of living for the masses.  

      And, hopefully, we can show them how their lives will be better.

      “Imagine if you could drive as much as you drive now but spend only 25% as much for fuel….”

      • definitely.

      • Ross

        In the normal political discourse I’d agree it would be unhelpful to suggest it. At least until a tipping point of dominance of green tech over fossil fuels has been reached. I think it is good that it is being introduced into fictional works like this. 

        It’s suggested time, 2070, seems quite realistic to me. Indeed at the rate greentech is advancing it should be doable before then. An actual ban may not be necessary. Although bans on smokey fuels already exist for health reasons.

        • RobS

          For the first 4 months of 2012 renewable energy has supplied 50% as much power to the grid as coal and renewables have grown at 20-25% annuallised rate not including hydro whilst coal is falling 20% annually.
          Half as much as coal and growing? I’d say we’re heading towards a tipping point in a lot less then 60 years.
          The other tipping point we are reaching is on coal production for exports. Currently the death rate of coal miners from black lung is about 4,000 per year in the US, that’s the same as the number of soldiers that died in the entire 9 years of the Iraq war. For the first time in over 60 years the rate is rising, largely due to changes in mining technique and mining ever poorer and poorer coal seams which liberates larger amounts of rock dust. As US consumption falls I see a point where coal workers may revolt as they eventually realise that their sacrifice is not going to help the US anymore but going predominantly to India and China. Let’s face it the average coal worker is not likely to be all that partial to laying down their life for the sake of those parts of the world.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The average coal worker risks their life for a paycheck. Jobs are few and poor in coal mining areas, folks do what they can do support themselves and their families.

            There’s a huge amount of anger coming out of the US coal mining communities toward PBO for the decline in the coal industry.

          • Yes, I was going to say something similar, from knowing some West Virginians who have been in and out of the coal industry, and whose friends and family are in it.

            That said, that anger and such could be diverted with some clear realizations. If those will come about, though…. ?

          • Bob_Wallace

            That anger could likely only be mitigated with the creation of some good jobs to take the place of those lost in the mines.

            Problem is, how do you create good jobs in these areas?

          • Definitely. And that is the question.

            My friend is in this online media business (works with us). But thinking of options for the communities is hard. Papa Coal has a big strong hand over state and local policies. Not too hard for it to block out any progressive job policies.

            It’s a big challenge.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Lots of the coal mining areas have no economic advantages which can be used to attract new jobs. They are relatively remote, far from ports, etc. They don’t have cheap energy (once the coal goes away). They don’t have concentrated areas of skilled workers (aside from coal mining skills).
            We’ve got the same problem here in my part of CA. Poor transportation out of the area over narrow, winding roads. A workforce that used to make its living cutting timber and fishing, both almost dead industries. We see people do successful startups here and then they roll them out to other parts of the country in order to get closer to supply streams or markets. Or even cheap ‘south of the boarder’ labor.

      • mk1313

         With ever increasing populations and ever decreasing resources we will see decreases in standards of living.  One or the other has to give.  Either we need to develop technologies to increase resources, mining asteroids for example, or we need to reduce populations.  Another way to increase resources is discard the disposable economy with one of long term craftsmanship.  Far fewer resources would then be needed for the same number of people.

        • Ross

          Unlike the near certainty of extreme Global Warming caused by fossil fuel business as usual, it is not a given that a Malthusian catastrophe  will be caused by overall population growth. Those predictions were wrong in the past for the same kind of reasons they can be wrong in the future.

          There are two variables to play; Efficiency of use of resources and the amount of Resources we make amenable to exploitation.
          Standard of Living = Resources/Population * Efficiency

          As well as society fully developing renewable energy sources it is likely well make all products containing an element under resource constraint in a sustainable life cycle aware way.

          If we develop cheap access to space, such as what Elon Musk is trying to do with SpaceX, then the economics of a particular resource may justify going into space to get it. That is if that option is cheaper than recycling it on earth or finding an alternative material that is likely to happen.

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