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Are We There Yet? vol. 51

Earlier this week, a friend and client emailed me with a link to a New York Times article titled In the Atlantic Ocean, Subtle Shifts Hint at Dramatic Changes.   I have included the link down below. As you might be able to guess, the article is about climate change and the impact of changes in the Gulf Stream that are presumed to be currently impacting climate and are expected to have much more dramatic impacts in the future. 

As the article explains, the Gulf Stream is one tentacle of the larger, ocean spanning group of currents called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC).  Historical evidence from ice and sediment cores suggest that the weakening or shutdown of these currents has happened before with devasting impacts. One example of an impact was an average temperature drop of 18 degrees Fahrenheit on average in parts of Europe bringing arctic like climate to the region.   The article also noted that while historical thinking was that the change occurred over millennia, the last such event almost 13,000 years ago occurred over a few decades and the lower temperatures remained for 1,300 years.  

The article includes examples of changes happening now such as the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet which appears to be melting at six time the level of melting in the 1990s. The possibilities of devastation reminded me of the movie The Day After Tomorrow. The movie, directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff, brother of a good friend of mine, tells the story of the beginning of a new ice age caused by the shutdown of the AMOC.

I was expecting the closing sections of the article to be about the dangers of changing climate and what we should be doing but that crescendo never came.  Toward the end, the author cites a UN study from 2019 that concluded that while the AMOC is weakening, a collapse of the currents this century is “very unlikely.”  Very unlikely equates to a less than 10% chance.  At the very end of the article, the author highlights that there is still a debate about whether the AMOC has actually slowed but acknowledges the consensus among scientists that if the atmosphere continues to warm, the AMOC will slow.

My thoughts wandered to how people react to potential problems that are way off in the future.  Generally, we avoid thinking about the issues and creating solutions until there is a crisis.   Further, I think that there can be apathy on issues where there is a debate about the severity and timing of the problem. In our business, estate planning is one of the activities that many struggle to complete because their worlds are full of near term issues to be addressed while a hopefully long term, unpleasant issue like death does not seem as pressing. Similarly, U.S. infrastructure is failing according to numerous studies and while almost all agree that it needs to be fixed, we are vastly underspending to correct the problem.  

As I noted last week, awareness is a start, so I hope you read the article.  I’m not confident that people will change the way they address long term issues but the world in which future generations live will depend on what we do now.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/03/02/climate/atlantic-ocean-climate-change.html?referringSource=articleShare

This week’s selection is:

BOOK:

Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality

Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek offers the reader a simple yet profound exploration of reality based on the deep revelations of modern science. With clarity and an infectious sense of joy, he guides us through the essential concepts that form our understanding of what the world is and how it works. Through these pages, we come to see our reality in a new way--bigger, fuller, and stranger than it looked before.  Synthesizing basic questions, facts, and dazzling speculations, Wilczek investigates the ideas that form our understanding of the universe: time, space, matter, energy, complexity, and complementarity. He excavates the history of fundamental science, exploring what we know and how we know it, while journeying to the horizons of the scientific world to give us a glimpse of what we may soon discover. Brilliant, lucid, and accessible, this celebration of human ingenuity and imagination will expand your world and your mind.