Cassandra: time to give up on predicting climate change?

Most History Future Now readers will be familiar with Homer’s epic of the Iliad, written about 2,800 years ago.   Few will have actually read the poem, most will have a vague idea about the plot and many will have seen the film Troy.  They will have watched Achilles, played by the golden haired Brad Pitt, rush up the beach to attack the Trojan defenders.  They will know of beautiful Helen, initially the wife of King Melaneus, whose abduction by Prince Paris of Troy (played by effete Orlando Bloom) gave King Agamemnon the pretext to launch a war against the city of Troy.  They will know of Hector, the brave and sensible older brother of Paris (played by brooding Eric Bana), and will possibly remember that Peter O’Toole played Priam, the King of Troy.

Most people who have seen the film, however, will have forgotten about Cassandra.  An easy thing to do as she is only mentioned in the film and never appears on screen.  This was a mistake by the filmmakers as Cassandra was one of the most interesting characters in the Iliad.  She was the daughter of  King Priam and was spectacularly beautiful, only outshone in that regard by Helen herself.

In the poem, the god Apollo was so entranced by her beauty that he gave her the gift of prophesy.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that she refused to have sex with the god and, in retaliation, Apollo cursed her and said that her prophesies would not be believed.  When she warned her father that the Greeks were coming and would wage a war 10 years long against Troy and her allies, she was not believed. When she warned them about a monstrous beast with men inside that would be given as a present, she was not believed.

Frustrated by the fact that nobody believed her, she gradually went insane.

Which brings us neatly to the subject of climate change.

History Future Now is convinced by the scientific evidence that shows that our planet is getting warmer and that human activities are the primary driver for this increase in global temperature.   Climate change science has improved significantly since the late 1980s when main stream scientists got together and pushed for an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in June 1992, at the UN Rio conference in Brazil.  The data is now more certain and the computer models have been improved.   Just remember, computers were pretty basic then and the first proper version of Microsoft Windows was released in June 1990.

Most climate change scientists are gradually coming round to the fact that, despite their Cassandra like warnings, it is now too late to do anything about the problem.  Because most greenhouse gases have a long life in the atmosphere, unlike short lived ozone destroying chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), greenhouse gas emissions are essentially cumulative.  Based on what we have already produced, global temperatures are expected to rise by 1.6 degrees Celsius.  Our maximum politically accepted cap is 2 degrees Celsius before runaway climate change kicks in.  In order to stay below 2 degrees – a level which scientists now say is too high anyway – greenhouse gas reductions are so draconian that we essentially need to stop all greenhouse emissions immediately.

And that is not going to happen.

So instead of pretending that we can get a political solution to the problem, we need to work on the assumption that no political solution will happen.  Climate change will not stop at 2 degrees Celsius and go upwards to 3, 4 or 5 degrees.

Nice, 20th Century, things like international law, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, the United Nations and its myriad of subsidiary organisations like the World Health Organisation, will not survive the turmoil that will be unleashed by large scale climate change.  They require levels of stability at an international level, which will not exist.

As a result, national governments need to be thinking about what is best first for their country, then their region and then the international community. This change will be remarkably difficult to achieve as our countries are tied together on a global basis in ways that have never existed in history.  International laws take precedence over regional laws.  Regional laws take precedence over national laws.

So while we can hope for the best, we must plan for the worst.

Over the next few articles History Future Now will take a look at the United Kingdom and the European Union and will suggest policies that make sense first on a national level and then on a regional level.  Some policies will come from the Neanderthal right and others from the socialist left. Others will be monstrous hybrids.

Hopefully they will spark a good debate and result in something worthwhile.



History Future Now, ebook edition, is now available from the Apple iBookstore!  So if you have a iPad or iPhone click on this link to download it.  It is currently on at a special offer of 99c.   The Kindle version has been submitted to Amazon and should be available shortly.

HFN on Twitter