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The Last Fight, 3: Environment destruction


Environment science has only just begun; we hardly understand how our environment works, let alone the idea of controlling it. We instinctively think it is some kind of complex system, balancing hundreds of thousands species at every second. Many species are similar, they are in charge of the same small ecological niche. We say they are in competition, but on the light side, they also are redundant: if one fails, another one is ready to assume the added responsibility, that much we understand.

Trouble is, not only we destroy species at a high speed, we also destroy them on a systemic basis. Bees are about to die – good old apis melliferis, which have been with us for so many millenia, giving us honey. Is that important? No, we can derive sugar from so many other sources. But bees are pollinators, all over the planet they pollinate plants, allowing plants to reproduce, turning flowers into fruit. Fruit trees are plants; our monster fruit farms are industrially pollinated by… bees, brought every season by whole trains of industrial beekeepers. In the year 2012, following a mayday call from the professional association of US beekeepers, it was discovered that 30 % of their bees had died over the winter, knowing that a 5-10 % mortality is considered natural. Pesticides were pointed at, and neonicotinoids got (partly) banned in Europe and the USA in 2018-2019. Knowing that the downfall in bees survival had been known in Europe since 1998, it took us 20 years to realize that pesticides kill insects, and bees are insects. Some other studies show that certain species, which could partly fill the role of bees, such as wasps, flies and butterflies, also are in sharp decline: we are not only killing one species worldwide: we are killing a whole ecological niche. 30% of what mankind eats depends on bees.

Five (known) mass extinctions occurred in the past of Earth; we started the sixth one, as we are currently destroying species at a faster pace than it ever happened. These destructions are occurring in many ways. The most obvious one is deliberately reducing biodiversity. In the nature, there is no occurrence of a single plant in a field one mile long: many different plants actually cohabit, and they harbor many different micro-organisms, etc. When we decided for intensive agriculture, centuries ago, we lost 90 % of living species in these areas. That allowed to feed more humans, and we decided it was good. We never saw we were actually replacing a rich environment by an extremely poor one; we had no idea it was the beginning of the end.

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The Last Fight, 5: Depletion of reserves


Many of us are familiar with the idea that reserves of raw materials are limited; in France and the UK, the coal that allowed the early start in the industrial race is long gone, and oil will probably be scarce by 2050. This is true of many raw materials: metals, rare earths, even construction sand will no longer be as freely available as they are now. None of these materials will disappear overnight; we will merely see less and less places suitable for mining, with ores proving less and less fruitful, as the best mines will be depleted first. Slowly, it will all translate into higher prices, including in some cases diplomatic and/or military costs.

When most oil is gone, there will be no market disruption, as we know how to make all kinds of fuels from natural gas or coal; still, this will raise the price some more. All these additional costs will be small, but the sum of all of them will be enough to erode the global buying power of humanity. Human economy is uneasy with weakening buying power, albeit a slow one.

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The Last Fight, 4: Global warming


While many observers consider global warming a terrible threat, it only stands at the fourth rank. We all know the most visible part of global warming, which includes more and stronger storms, more powerful hurricanes, unbalanced weather, heat and cold waves, as all these have already turned up. We are less familiar with the lesser-known diluvian rainfalls leading to extensive floods and landslides. Many of us will discover that, over formerly temperate weather countries, long and sustained rain leads to destabilizing of many land masses, and even gentle slopes will be enough to turn parts of our cities into catastrophes. Large rivers such as the Mississippi or the Yang Tse, currently extremely useful for transportation and commerce, will turn into nightmares, to the point where their surroundings will have to be deserted. This translates into abandoning most of Louisiana riverside harbors, Nanjing and Shanghai, and now this means trillion dollars. Landslides will not only affect cities, but also farming territories such as paddy fields.

Global warming also raises the level of the seas (slowly), and changes the age-long path of hurricanes (faster): the western coasts of China and the USA will be hit by hurricanes coming stronger and further north. While Miami Beach may be the first officially abandoned city, Shanghai, threatened by region-w


ide floods, repeated hurricanes and ocean rise will be the most spectacular, and certainly the costliest abandoned city, even New York will not come close. All three cities will be abandoned before the end of the century; we might defend them against the fury of the oceans, but moving inside will prove less costly, as oceans will keep raising well into the 22nd century.

The second aspect of global warming, which we only begin to see (2015), is the rise of sicknesses coming from the tropical areas towards the (currently) temperate northern areas. While Americans already have discovered the West Nile virus and the avian flu, many other sicknesses will follow, which have similar vectors (mosquitoes, birds, etc.). When the temperature rises by 3°C, the northern limit of malaria in Europe will be London; we have no cure for most of these not-so-new sicknesses. Adults do not die from malaria, it may happen to babies or old people. Still, a fit of malaria will have the patient disabled for a week; this will directly impact the cost of working.

Animals will face similar problems, with unheard-of epidemics; so much so that in some cases, intensive production of meat will be so problematic that it will have to be banned in southern states, setting suddenly very high prices to formerly cheap food such as chicken or pork.

The third side of global warming is positive feedback. This friendly term hides the most catastrophic consequence of global warming, which is reaching the point where the self regulated weather we currently enjoy loses all balance, and a new geologic or biologic reaction will actually accelerate global warling. We all heard about the immense permafrost plains in Siberia and Canada, where large amounts of green effect gases (methane) are currently trapped in ice-like formations. When this permafrost starts thawing, large amounts of methane will be released into the atmosphere, giving an added acceleration to global warming. A first report shows that thawing already has started (2019) in the Canadian Arctic, decades in advance over the latest predictions.

Derive nord-atlantique.jpgEuropeans enjoy temperate weather in spite of being at the same latitudes as Canada, all thanks to the Gulf Stream, nowadays called the North-Atlantic drift (map: BBC). This drift is made of the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, coming north, bringing their heat to Europe. When reaching the arctic, these waters cool down, becoming more dense, “fall” to the bottom of the sea because of their higher density and return south. This “polar conveyor belt” only exists because of the high temperature difference between tropical and arctic waters, and researchers had computed that the N-A drift might slow down if and when the polar ice cap would disappear, thus letting the Arctic waters to warm up. A recent study (2018) showed that the drift has slowed down indeed already; if this study is confirmed, Western Europe will get a weather similar to the Maine’s by the end of the century. Its agriculture will be a shambles, and nearly half its housings will need rebuilding.

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