Exponentials: the climate and pandemic crises, graphically

Our climate and biosphere are now universally recognised to be in crisis, as this chart* of 1000 years of ice core and 50 years of atmospheric data starkly shows, and as we all experience the exponential realities of pandemic infection. Humanity’s influence is causal in both instances – again, beyond reasonable doubt.

We have to flatten the exponential in the latter case – turn it rapidly into a logistic curve until the virus is controlled, then defeated by vaccine and natural immunity, bio-genetic intervention and other human ingenuities.

In the case of atmospheric C02** the task is to bring the curve down – turn this unprecedented period of 30 years with concentrations above 350ppm into a short ‘blip’. The last time atmospheric CO2 was over 400ppm was over 3 million years ago, when temperature was 2°–3°C  above pre-industrial levels, and with no polar ice, sea level was 15–25 metres higher. Without rapid decarbonisation it follows there will be no LA, NYC, Rio, London, Lagos, Paris, Cairo, Mumbai, Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney. Stark, indeed; existential, even.

Until the paradigm-shifting reality of Covid-19 is absorbed and understood more, let’s skip to positive, optimistic conclusions (which, interestingly, are not available to those who deny climate change, reject rational science, or pursue myopic, selfish political objectives):

  •  If this is the Anthropocene (Human-governed) geological era, it follows we have a measure of control. If we made global warming – we can unmake it. Just. If we cooperate.
  • If we defeat this virus with disciplined, global cooperation and scientific brilliance, the worst fears of the scientist who best predicted this outbreak, Laurie Garrett, will not come to pass. She concluded in The Coming Plague(1994):

‘While the human race battles .. over ever more crowded turf and scarcer resources, the advantage moves to the microbes’ court. They are our predators and they will be victorious if we, Homo sapiens, do not learn how to live in a rational global village that affords the microbes few opportunities.’

  • the author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari, draws conclusions in a Financial Times #FTfreetoread article of 20-3-20 (the Spring Equinox), that beautifully and succinctly examines the pandemic through the prism of twin choices:

‘In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.’

If we choose citizen empowerment and global solidarity the equinoxes in March and September can give a helping hand. If they are adopted as official Earth Days, they can become action rallying points for us all. How it could work is now on an EQ pledge page. If you stay here, this is the essence:

Equinoxes can reach out to…everyone! Radical actions – Greta Thunberg, youth climate strikes, Extinction Rebellion – are changing the political ground-rules for environmentalism fast. But the “Attenborough effect” of nature documentaries is also changing popular attitudes worldwide. As are the more benign effects of Covid-19. Harnessed equinoxes should have that wide appeal too, and turbo-charge the concept of “we all can do our bit” – including bottom up initiatives of new ideas.




A Pledge Card committing us to accelerating change in our lives

Environmental & energy audits harmonised to late March and September

Biannual (summer-winter) targets set

Challenges, projects, links, celebrations – every equinox

* data  and graph from CO2.earth
** this US site Climate.org is an excellent source of clear graphic data.
© Martin Nelson 20th April 2020
PS 18th March 2021. Almost a full year after it was written, remarkably I see no reason to alter this text. It seems still to hold good, for we are but slowly coming to grips with the exponential realities of Covid – let alone climate change – and need every intellectual and emotional tool at our disposal to overcome both crises.
PPS 19th March 2022. Ditto.

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