The butterfly has fluttered its wings, and we wait for the consequences.

Chaos Theory says what appear to be the most inconsequential events can produce totally disproportionate and entirely unpredictable consequences.  Change a single input to a system, however slightly, and we can only wait to see how that system can be transformed.  A butterfly fluttering its wings can begin changes to the atmosphere which produce a storm half a world away.

Now humans have fluttered their wings.  Scientists say human influence on the Earth’s climate is indisputable.  We have changed the chemistry of the atmosphere, intensifying the greenhouse effect and so warming the Earth.  There may well be, and probably are, other natural influences, cycles we’re aware of, or becoming aware of, or are still totally unaware of, which are producing climate changes. 

This mix of human and natural influences is entirely new, will undoubtedly produce entirely unpredictable consequences, and is more than likely lethal.

We don’t know how transforming the chemistry of the atmosphere so quickly and on such a scale will impact natural systems and cycles.  While some climates, notably equatorial ones, have a narrow range of extremes, other climates, especially temperate ones, have a much wider range.  Some winters are colder than average, others are much milder and wetter; some summers are warmer and drier.  But generally, on the human time scale, there are few real surprises.  We know, more or less, what to expect from the weather.

We’ve therefore designed and constructed our buildings and cities and transportation systems according to these parameters.  A cold city, such as Winnipeg in central Canada, uses different designs and construction methods than a much more temperate city such as Paris.  But global warming is melting ice in the Arctic and Greenland, flooding the North Atlantic with cooler, less dense, fresh water.  This water will flow over the warmer, denser waters of the North Atlantic Drift (the Gulf Stream) which bring warmth equal to one-third of that supplied by the Sun to western Europe.  Paris could then have a climate similar to that of Winnipeg today; today, that is, because no one knows with certainty the climate Winnipeg could have even in the near future.

‘Could’ is the important word.  We just don’t know.  The mix of human influences and natural cycles could change the entire structure of Earth’s climates, perhaps in decades, perhaps in years, perhaps – if some sediment records are to be believed – in months.  We might expect a much warmer Earth, which would be uncomfortable enough, but we could just as easily suddenly find ourselves in a much colder one.

And it could be very sudden. Mammoths have been found in Siberia, frozen solid, their meat still edible by hunters’ dog teams, grass and flowers in their mouths.  These enormous animals, quietly grazing on plants growing in a mild climate, were suddenly hit by a climate change apparently so abrupt and so complete they were frozen where they stood.

The butterfly has fluttered its wings.  Humans have rolled the dice.  All we can do is watch and wait.

Be Sociable, Share!