Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | February 26, 2021

David Attenborough: No matter what we do now, it’s too late to avoid climate change

There was a much advertised (at least in the UK)  high level UN Security Council meeting on Climate Change on 23 February 2021 (online, chaired by Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister). It appears  that the meeting has been hastily downgraded to  a non-event after Sir David Attenborough, addressing the Security Council in a short speech, said  something unspeakable:
“We have left the stable and secure climatic period that gave birth to our civilisations. There is no going back – no matter what we do now, it’s too late to avoid climate change and the poorest, the most vulnerable, those with the least security, are now certain to suffer.”
This segment of Sir David’s speech was not included in the BBC video clip  “Attenborough gives stark warning on climate change to UN – BBC News”A,, and reports about the meeting (and Attenborough’s video) almost instantly disappeared from the BBC front page. However, the segment can be found on Sky News,  The entire 8 minute video of Attenborough’s speech  is on the UN site:
On the optimistic note,  Sir David said
“I do believe if we act fast enough we can reach a new stable state. It will compel us to question our economic models and where we place value; invent entirely new industries; recognise the moral responsibility that wealthy nations have to the rest of the world and put the value on nature that goes far beyond money.”
It appears that there is a coherent, and well supported by archaeological and geological evidence, theory behind Sir David’s words; his speech cannot be easily dismissed as fantasy.
I summarise some points of this theory which I happened to learn from various sources  over the last 20 or maybe even 30 years. I am not an expert, and I would much appreciate corrections and further details.
  1. The current period of stable climate which allowed the human civilisation to develop, was about 11 thousand years long, and it was abnormally long on the scale of the last 50 or 100 thousand pretty turbulent years.
  2. The last violent episode which preceded our  golden era was a circulation event triggered by a flood of fresh water from the melting glaciers in North America which directed the Gulf Stream to Africa rather than Europe, correspondingly directing the jet streams in atmosphere over North Atlantic to south of Europe. This meant that temperatures at what now is London were like in nowadays Irkutsk. But Sahara got abundant rain and was covered by forests and lakes with hippos and crocodiles, and flamingos — immortalised in cave paintings (made by us, humans, who happened to migrate there at that time).
  3. All that is dated with surprising precisions by pollen from flowering plants preserved in sea sediments. The most interesting bit  is the length of transitional period between the two climate regimes — just about 10 years.
  4. A similar event can be triggered by collapse of glaciers in Greenland as the result of  melting water accumulating  in under  ice lakes and eventually finding its way to the ocean.  I would not claim, however, that this is to happen tomorrow. But something like that has already happened once.
  5. Of course, climate can mutate in many other directions, including Britain becoming, in hte new stable state of climate,  a subtropical country and Scotland replacing thistle, as its national symbol, by artichoke (Wiki:  a variety of a species of thistle cultivated as a food).  I’ve seen plantations of artichoke in Turkey, they look hilarious.
  6. The Gulf Stream example suggests that switching to the new stable period could be short, but interesting.
  7. My last comment is on artichokes and jet streams. The most poignant artichokes I have seen in Turkey were on what was, two millennia ago, the river bed of Meander, the great river of Asia Minor, now almost dry. The history of glorious civilisations of Mediterranean and Middle East was the history of ecological disasters created by people. It is hard to believe now that North Africa and Turkey were covered by  subtropic forests. Well, England not long ago was covered by mighty oaks, and Scotland — by pines, and the famous heather moors is a secondary landscape, an ecological system which replaced forests destroyed by people, and which is much more fragile than forest.
  8. Meander became a verb  (with the meaning `follow a winding course’)  because the river was bending, creating loops, etc. Last time I’ve seen this word — to meander — was  in relation to jet streams over North Atlantic which started to meander. Water flows against the gradient of altitude of the surface and starts to meander, that is, the flow is becoming unstable, if the gradient is too small. It is claimed that the same happens with jet steams: they flow against the gradient of temperature, and are destabilised by warming up of Arctic which is decreasing the gradient.  There is a possibility that the climate of British Isles can change even without dramatic events in Greenland.
The reasons or triggers for climate change — a becoming a scholastic issue now.  What matters is
A. Ecological systems around the world are weakened and under stress, and their ability  to cope with changes in climate is compromised.
B. The ability of humans, as species, to cope with the change  is also compromised. On one hand, we reached a fantastic level of technological development  (which,  of course, helps) — but on the other, this technology is not equally shared, and, on the top of that:
C. This is the greatest unspeakable issue — the Earth is overpopulated by humans beyond sustainable levels.
D. In point C, the words “beyond sustainable levels” should of course be understood as “at levels unsustainable under the current socio-economic systems prevalent in the world and interconnected within the single global economy”.  However, any  change of the socio-economic systems on that scale is a task perhaps even more challenging than dealing with the climate change itself. It is likely that the number of people killed in the process will be comparable with loss of life in all natural disasters and pandemics triggered by the climate change.
 I do not claim that I am right or correct in every detail. But my message is:
The problems of the Earth and of the human civilisation on the Earth reached the level when they can no longer be entrusted to politicians and journalists — and neither can be left to the social media. The readers of my blog are a few but they tend to be educated people with proven skills of analytic thinking — if you read this, please allocate some of your time to analysis of all that mess.
The 21st century starts now, in 2021 — the same way as the 20th century started in 1914 with World War I.

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