The Prince of Wales has warned global leaders that if we don’t tackle climate change in 18 months the human race will go extinct.
No, really. Here are his actual words, in a speech in London yesterday to foreign ministers from the Commonwealth.
“I am firmly of the view that the next 18 months will decide our ability to keep climate change to survivable levels and to restore nature to the equilibrium we need for our survival.”
The clue to the whole way the Prince thinks is in one word: “equilibrium.”
Prince Charles is an equilibrium thinker. The Greens (for he is one) are equilibrium thinkers. In fact, most people think in equilibrium terms.
Equilibrium thinkers see the world as being something that is essentially fixed and changeless. They think that there is some of sort of immutable order which, if somehow inconceivably disturbed, can only result in catastrophe.
Think of it this way: the world is like a beautiful Ming vase, sitting in perfect equilibrium on a pedestal in a museum. What happens when there’s an earthquake and the Ming vase falls off its pedestal? Why, of course it smashes into a thousand pieces on the floor.
And that’s the way that Prince Charles thinks, and also how the Greens think too. Quick! We’ve got about two seconds to grab hold before the Ming vase of Gaia rolls off its pedestal onto the floor!
But equilibrium is a fiction. Equilibrium is an illusion. There’s no such thing as equilibrium. Everything is always changing. Everything is always in motion. Nothing is fixed and changeless.
The fragile Ming vase on which we all live isn’t actually sitting securely on a pedestal. It’s actually spinning like a spinning top as it revolves around the Sun. And just like a spinning top it wobbles around. The angle of wobble is called the “obliquity”, and it’s currently about 23.5º, And the obliquity of the Earth is always changing, in a 40,000 year cycle. And also the axis around which it is spinning is moving in a circle every 23,000 years, which is called “precession” or “longitude of perihelion”, where longitude ranges from 0 to 360º, and perihelion is the point at which the Earth comes closest to the Sun during its orbit which is not quite circular, and whose non-circularity is called its “eccentricity”, which changes in a 100,000 year cycle.
And the effect of all these gradual changes is that the amount of sunlight falling at any latitude is also gradually changing over these long periods of time, in what are called Milankovitch cycles.
Over the past week I’ve managed to include these cycles into the computer simulation model that I’ve been building for the past 18 months. Here’s (roughly) how mean solar power wiggled around 300 Watts/m² at latitude 47.5º N over the past 130,00 years. This covers the entirety of the last ice age prior to the warm interglacial period in which we’re now living.
There’s nothing that can be done to prevent these cycles from happening, and they have large effects on the climate of the Earth. And us humans lived through the last 100,000 year long ice age, and we may need to do so again fairly soon.
The important thing to understand is that the whole thing is completely out of control. There’s absolutely nothing that we can do to stop it happening. And the climatic effect of these unstoppable Milankovitch cycles is easily as great as that of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And we have next to no control over carbon dioxide in the atmosphere either, because we aren’t the source of most of it.
Prince Charles is a control freak. Perhaps all royals are always control freaks, because that’s what kings and queens are always trying to do: control things.
But we can’t control the natural world. We can only go along with it. We can only surf on the huge waves on which we ride, and we must expect wipe-out at any moment.
We don’t “need equilibrium for our survival”, particularly when there is no equilibrium anyway. We need instead to adapt to changing conditions, not try futilely to stop change from happening.
It’s equally futile, I might add, to try to stop people from smoking. For that also is control freakery. Tobacco Control is full of control freaks.