By Niki Morock, Meteorologist
It doesn't matter to me which side of the conversation you land on when discussing whether or not the climate is currently changing faster under post-industrialized human influence. It really doesn't. I have read enough from scientists on both sides to understand each side's perspective and some of the possible alternative explanations for the current warming trend. I've also read enough to know that there will always be more to read, so don't think I know it all. I would never make that claim.
I will, however, not have to stick my neck out too far to say that there are two things that humans have always been pretty good at — well, most humans anyway — and those are resilience and adaptation. The few societies in the past who were not are the very ones that are the subjects of speculative documentaries based on geological, archaeological, and anthropological findings. Did the Minoans disappear because they were weakened by famine caused by a huge volcanic eruption and fell victims to rival societies? Did the Mayans disappear because they over-forested their land causing drought and driving their populations back into the coastal areas where water and food were more plentiful?
There are a number of ancient societies that arose and fell under sudden and mysterious circumstances — giving even the most unusual hypothesis a tinge of credibility. I mean, I'm not saying it was aliens, but...
Sorry. I couldn't resist.
A fact of history — and even prehistory — is that the climate changes. Sea levels rise and fall. The atmosphere warms and cools. Volcanoes erupt, continents move, and on extremely rare occasion, giant space rocks wreak havoc by falling on our little blue planet. Assuming that the latter doesn't totally destroy us all, we adapt, we move, we develop new technologies, and we survive.
One other thing we do: we plan.
Learning from the past helps us to plan for the future. Scientists and engineers discover and develop new ways to understand the world around us and enhance how we interact with it. That newly found knowledge and those break-through technologies can be used to mitigate our risk and build our resilience in an ever-changing world.
Some articles and research that I have read recently have rejuvenated my optimism about facing the future -- not just personally, but on a societal scale. Two examples: a Durham company invested in technology that had not even been proven yet, but is now being tested, for a power plant to be able to capture and reuse all of its carbon dioxide emissions. A Native American tribe in the desert southwest is already adapting to a warmer and drier climate while at the same time improving access to healthy food for its people.
What makes these two stories stand out to me today is the amount of acumen and ingenuity required to see those ideas through to actualities.
It takes vision and planning to come up with new ways to deal with a changing environment. It takes open-mindedness and understanding to see other people's visions and dreams and to help make the ones that are built on solid foundations become realities. It takes a whole community's effort to be resilient — meaning it takes scientists, engineers, public officials, planners, neighbors, and you.