Living with Uncertain Nature

“Believe the unbelievable: we can find solutions” is the central theme of a SunGlacier TEDx live presentation in Amsterdam on June 12th.  The entire scope of the need to find climate solutions – and what is being done –  is inspiring and unsettling at the same time.

Climate change has reeled our planet in different directions throughout its existence, and many agree that present changes are contributing to weather extremes in the news.  Phillip Muller, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, wrote in a Washington Post editorial today that the Pacific country is in a state of disaster over a shortage of drinking water that has been caused by a prolonged unseasonable drought. Crops have been lost and drought-related diseases are on the rise. Muller stated, “Climate change has become the No. 1 threat to my country and our people.”

Moore, Oklahoma. (Jason Colston/American Red Cross)

It’s clear that conditions are changing, but are we actually experiencing more destructive weather?  Or is it just that denser populations over larger areas make bigger targets for extreme weather that is reported more frequently by the media? Spring tornadoes in the U.S. Plains states are not a new phenomenon, but storm chaser videos bring the twisters online and into our living rooms.

Scientists don’t all agree on what’s happening or why. SunGlacier’s purpose is not about answering fundamental questions of why the weather spins the way it does  or who’s to blame. The project is about inspiring belief in out-of-the-ordinary solutions that can help people adapt, survive and prosper.

A simple thought supporting climate change = culture changesurfaced recently on social media. There was such an outcry for U.S. gun control legislation after the Sandy Hook school shootings, but why aren’t more people calling for regulations requiring tornado shelters or building codes to save lives after the deadly Oklahoma tornado?  Maybe there will be some changes, but challenges in logistics, budgets and long-time planning methods make it difficult to implement quick solutions.  Innovative ideas such as Kevlar-protected rooms have potential if they can be made widely affordable through initiatives like government incentives. (It’s tempting to ponder if these rooms will be equipped with seat belts.) In any case, we can expand these types of responses to strengthening levies in flood-prone areas, finding alternative fresh-water sources, ensuring use of the best available weather warning systems and so on.

(UPDATE: Another massive tornado hit a suburb west of Oklahoma City just hours after this blog was posted, killing 18, including three storm chasers.  The F5 twister was the widest tornado ever recorded at 4.2 km, or 2.6 miles, across.)

Moore, Oklahoma. (Jason Colston/American Red Cross)

Science is of course not close to being able to prevent tornadoes, hurricanes and droughts. We can, however, take steps in adapting to conditions, while still investing in long-term solutions that at least contain hope of keeping current conditions form getting worse. Phillip Muller wrote, “The Republic of the Marshall Islands is accelerating its transition to low-carbon development, using solar power and exploring promising ocean-energy technologies. But our efforts will put only a tiny dent in this problem.”

SunGlacier aims to make ice in a hot, dry desert: an artwork that pushes the limits of technology and conventional thinking. We’ve already tested successfully in a closed setting, but there are uncertainties and new questions when building the structure in open air. The only way to find any answers to this project  and our planet   is through applied experience and creative plans to continue to adjust and adapt.  

Nature’s laws are so complex and unpredictable that we will never find all the answers why our planet’s climate conditions exist, but we still must respond with our best efforts.  Like the SunGlacier project, we only can think about succeeding when we understand that we have to cope with extremities.

And looking toward next month and the TEDx presentation, most people in the Netherlands probably won’t miss this month of May that’s about to go in the colder-than-normal weather records.

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