Giving a Waffle: Episode 2 – Threads Unravelling

Giving a Waffle: Episode 2 – Threads Unravelling

Pokračování vaflové trilogie Jirky Herrmanna nese název Threads Unravelling. Text opět doplňuji krátkou českou anotací a předávám ke čtení v původním znění.


Text přímo navazuje na první díl Epizoda 1: Hell (on) Earth. Ve druhé části Jirka nejprve definuje podmínky pro obyvatelnost planety z hlediska člověka. Představuje je jako křehkou pavučinu vztahů, v níž stačí přetrhnout pár zásadních vláken a dojde ke kolapsu celé struktury. Pokud byste po přečtení epizody nabyli dojmu, že se na lidstvo nevyhnutelně řítí katastrofa biblických rozměrů, pak vězte, že nás brzy čeká třetí díl, ve kterém bude řeč především o naději.

Episode 2: Threads Unravelling

Autor textu: Jiří Herrmann

Úvodní fotografie: freestocks

Hello again, esteemed readers, and welcome to part two of this waffling rant trilogy. I must warn you, though, much like The Empire Strikes Back, this is going to be its darkest chapter.

First, a bit of a retrospective. In the previous Episode, I mentioned that our planet used to be basically a hellish lifeless rock, until all the stuff that poisoned its surface and atmosphere, such as metallic and carbon particles, got absorbed into the Earth’s crust. This ultimately made it possible for humans, among many others, to come into existence. 

However, we started digging up these same poisons and using them for developing various aspects of our civilization. That has made us very advanced in various ways, but it’s also uprooting the many interconnected conditions that make the world livable for us. And as anyone who’s ever played with cobwebs as a kid can attest, it only takes a few broken threads for the entire thing to crumble.

Today, I will talk in more detail about what specific threads of the environmental balance are being unravelled, and what that means for us. Oh, and yet again, I will keep myself from using crude and unbecoming language – by turning it into waffles!

The bare necessities

Let’s start by defining what actually keeps us alive.

  • Our bodies need sustenance to function – in other words, edible food and fresh water. Without them, we drop dead within days.
  • We need breathable air. We won’t survive even a few minutes without it, and we have no man-made ways to generate it reliably and indefinitely.

So, if either food, water, or breathable air are not available to us, we are waffled. 

However, it’s exactly these vital things that we are at a great risk of losing, and pretty soon, too. How, you ask?

Global warming

The obvious first culprit (as well as symptom) is the gradual increase in Earth’s atmospheric temperature. Now, I’m sure all of you have heard about global warming and the greenhouse effect many times before, but what do these terms actually mean for us in practice? Well, for instance, they mean that we had a wave of record-breaking temperatures across the Czech Republic about a year ago – in January. Admittedly, taking a walk in breezy 15°C a few weeks after Christmas felt really nice, but it was also pretty terrifying.

On a global scale, it has been estimated that the excess heat trapped by our planet every day is equivalent to 400,000 atomic bombs that levelled Hiroshima. As a direct result, the average world temperature has risen by about 1°C since the 1950s. This may not seem like much, but the rate of the increase is accelerating, and even at the current levels, it creates a web of potentially catastrophic consequences.

Thawing glaciers

One of the results of global warming is the melting of the world’s glaciers and permafrost. The Arctic, Antarctica, Greenland, Canada, Siberia – all these are losing ice at a staggering rate. Among other things, this means that the ocean levels are rising – which is, of course, bad news to the numerous seaside countries. Also, it means that we are losing drinkable water.

“Hold up!” you might be thinking, “that does not waffling compute! More water in the oceans means less water we can drink?”

Well, yes – because, as the sea levels rise, they introduce salt to the ground, the springs, lakes, and rivers that we are using for our fresh water. So it’s not like there won’t be any water, we just won’t be able to drink it. Or use it to grow our food, for that matter. If that happens on a large enough scale, we will be pretty damn waffled.

Coral reef bleaching

If salinization of our drinking water wasn’t bad enough, the glacier water mixing with the ocean water is waffling up a lot of other stuff, including the coral reefs. The thing is, coral reefs don’t just look pretty, but the algae they host also generate more than half of the Earth’s oxygen, especially for the aquatic life. In many ways, corals are the true lungs of our planet. However, they are also extremely sensitive to the water’s temperature and chemical composition, and are quickly dying out. 

In fact, at the current rate, all coral reefs on Earth will be gone by 2050 (so in less than 30 years). And when they disappear, so will a large portion of fish and other marine organisms, which very many countries depend on for food. Still, that might actually not matter that much, since it is unsure whether humans would survive the decrease in aquatic oxygen in the first place. In other words, no coral reefs means a lot less food, and a lot less breathable air. Waffled!  

Ice-entombed epidemics

On that cheery note, the thawing of permafrost also releases viruses and bacteria that have been lying dormant for centuries or more. This potentially means that our immune systems have not adapted for these wafflers, and that we have no vaccinations or cures against them.

For instance, in 2016, over a dozen people in Siberia got infected by the anthrax bacterium, which got introduced into their water by a reindeer corpse that was frozen for a century, but defrosted by a heatwave. Considering that bacteria and viruses can pervade both air and water, if a sufficiently potent strain were to spread, things could get a lot worse than the pandemic we are facing right now.

And if that’s too speculative for you, it wouldn’t even take a hypothetical supervirus taking a waffling nap in the ice. Case in point, higher temperatures have already made it easier for diseases like malaria or dengue fever to spread, and it is likely that climate change has played a part in the emergence of COVID-19 as well.

The vicious cycles

Now comes the really scary part. At a certain tipping point, the problems caused by climate change start creating their own cycles, and perpetuating themselves. For example, one of the things also imprisoned in the thawing permafrost are large deposits of frozen methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas 82 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2). So, the more the permafrost melts, the more methane enters the atmosphere. The more methane enters the atmosphere, the more the warming spirals out of control.

Similarly, over a certain temperature, due to a variety of factors, growing crops becomes on average 6% less effective per every degree Celsius. Simply put, the warmer it gets, the less food we can produce. Given that arable soil is also getting depleted, but the number of humans to feed is increasing, it means we need to fertilize more. However, most fertilizers include nitrous oxide (NO) – which is roughly 300x as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. So, the more we fertilize, the more we boost the warming, and the more we need to fertilize. I’m sure you see where that is going.

The war for enough

Eventually, if essential resources like food, water, or living space become scarce enough and people get desperate enough, we’ll most likely do what we’ve done since time immemorial – we’ll start taking stuff from each other by force. And considering the amounts and the sophistication of various implements of death and destruction we have today, I don’t see that ending very happily. So – waffled.

But wait, there’s more… 🙁

Lastly, all these have been only a few select highlights. Suffice it, perhaps, to say that the first draft of this Episode was a lot longer, and really really waffling depressing…

A new-ish hope?

Still, there might be a light at the end of this tunnel. There are things – and fairly easy things, too – that each of us can do to help prevent all that awfulness. However, more on that in the final Episode.

For now, thank you for your perseverance in reading this far, and have a waffling great day.

Episode 3: Drops in the Ocean

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