Nature Calls the Shot
The news in the United States this week has been dominated by the massive failure of the electrical grid as a result of exceptionally low temperatures followed by snow and ice storms in the southern part of the country. (We live in central Virginia; we lost power late last week, and there could be more power failures today as the ice storms move north.)
The freakish weather has prompted discussion to do with the role of climate change. To what extent was climate change a factor? Also, the failure of solar and wind alternative energy systems has revealed reliability and survivability challenges that need to be thought through. (Unfortunately, this topic has become politicized; it appears as if the conventional power system failed even more severely as a result of frozen instrumentation.)
There is also a social justice issue to do with this event. The picture shows the Houston skyline — downtown is lit up, even though the office buildings are mostly empty due to COVID work-at-home rules. The surrounding neighborhoods are dark, and the people living there are suffering.
No doubt there will be countless investigations into what happened, and how it can be prevented in the future. But a fundamental lesson from the increasing number of off-the-chart climate events (fires, floods, droughts, ice storms) is that “Nature Bats Last”.
Responses to Climate Change
In Chapter 1 of Net Zero by 2050: Technology for a Changing Climate, I suggest that we can respond to the grim future that faces us in one of four ways. They are,
Work with government agencies and large organizations to create policies that lead to reduced emissions of greenhouse gases.
Develop technologies that can generate energy without creating carbon emissions.
Modify personal and community lifestyles to mitigate local impact on the climate.
Accept that it is too late to completely stop climate change; develop adaptive strategies.
The focus of the book is on the second of these items: technology, which is why the text has been bolded. However, we cannot ignore the fourth item; the fact that we cannot stop or reverse what is happening so we need to adapt to the new and rather scary world that is opening up.
The Babe Calls His Shot
In the year 1932 the most famous baseball player of all time, Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees, “called his shot”. It is claimed that he pointed to center field while being taunted by the Chicago Cub fans. He then hit a 440 foot home run.
Nature Bats Last
Just as “The Babe” called his shot, so nature seems to be calling its shot now. One of the “doomiest” climate change writers is Guy McPherson. The following quotation is taken from the Summary of his work at his web site.
The recent . . . rises in temperature are occurring at least an order of magnitude faster than the worst of all prior Mass Extinctions. Habitat for human animals is disappearing throughout the world, and abrupt climate change has barely begun. In the near future, habitat for Homo sapiens will be gone. Shortly thereafter, all humans will die.
So there you go.
Many of McPherson’s earlier predictions have turned out to be too pessimistic. Nevertheless, even though he often exaggerates, he makes a fundamentally strong point. We are part of nature, not outside it. As the climate changes in ways that are difficult to predict, we will have to learn how to be adaptable.
This lesson applies not just to individuals and small communities, but also to industry.
The best selling book “Black Swan” by Nissam Taleb, written in the year 2007, talks about outlier events. One of his examples is to do with electric power systems. The author, argued that optimization of electric power distribution systems could lead to a failure of the whole grid during a widespread brownout. Hence, the quotation,
Avoid Optimization, Learn to Love Redundancy.
Nature is calling the shots.