Thursday, May 8, 2014

Terrifying times, from a climate perspective.

As a species, we are in dangerous new territory, with atmospheric carbon dioxide now at levels the planet has not seen since long—very, very long—before humans appeared.

Oh shucks, with CO2 now at more than 400 parts per million, we’re at levels not seen in at least 800,000 years and maybe in somewhere between 3 and 20 million years. For perspective, back then the earth contained nothing that even vaguely resembled a modern human.

The newest reports from climate experts indicate that climate is no longer going to change. It has changed, and it continues to change. Our Hawai`i governor has issued a statement that our climate in the Islands has altered, following up on reports from the National Climate Assessment.

 Deniers will still insist that climate is cyclical, or that it’s no big deal, or that we’ll adapt just fine, and that this is just another cycle. Only partly true. It’s cyclical, but for the past 800,000 years it has cycled reliably between 160 and 300 parts per million. Every time it approached 300, it cycled back down. That’s from Antarctic ice core data

It’s not cycling down any more. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen inexorably for more than a century, has risen higher than it's been in millions of years, and has this year passed 400 parts per million by volume and is still rising. 

Sea levels are up, Greenland is looking at new land-based industries since the ice is disappearing. Ships are navigating over the top of Asia, which used to be firmly iced-in. Islands are disappearing beneath the waves. Great animal migrations, in the seas on land and in the air, are changing.There are storms and floods and heat waves and droughts.

Thirty years ago, when the first large groups of serious scientists predicted catastrophe and called for climate action, they were ignored. Our world was burning, and we were fiddling.

To a large degree, we're still fiddling. Still going after oil and coal and natural gas. Technology is expanding our access to fossil fuels.

It has been suggested that if we completely stopped burning fossil fuels today, it would take more than 10,000 years for atmospheric carbon dioxide to return to pre-industrial age levels.
Depressing. Or rather, terrifying.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2014

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