Saturday, May 26, 2007

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Accelerate

An Australian report released this week claims that greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing at a more rapid pace since 2000 than they were during the 1990s. Australia's peak scientific body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, pegs the growth rate at 3 percent a year since 2000 as opposed to 1 percent a year during the 1990s.

According to lead author Mike Raupach, the driving factor for this change has been the fact that "we're burning more carbon per dollar of wealth created."

The report highlights the failure of the Kyoto agreement to have any significant impact. Both Australia and the U.S. refused to sign the treated, India and China were never part of the treaty, and even some of the countries that did sign have made only limited progress. Now, a decade after the treaty, we find the the problem is worsening at an accelerating pace.

On top to increasing levels of human caused global warming emissions, more and more positive feedback loops are being discovered. A study released by Brazilian scientists earlier this month reports that large dams emit nearly 115 million tons of methane every year from the decomposing organic materials in the reservoir. This would rank dams among the top contributors of human caused global warming gasses.

Forecasts for future warming will now have to be adjusted to take into account the increasing rate of global warming gas emissions. For people trying to plan for the future, incremental changes in our present lifestyle seem increasingly unlikely to be able to make a significant difference. We need to be thinking about a Plan B not only for our own lifestyle, but for the majority of the population that won't seriously consider change until the dramatic effects of climate change are upon them.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Gaia Hypothesis Theorist Foresees Crises

James Lovelock is not optimistic about the Earth's future:

We are on the edge of the greatest die-off humanity has ever seen. We will be lucky if 20% of us survive what is coming. We should be scared stiff.
Lovelock became famous for the Gaia Hypotheses which maintains that life on Earth regulates its environment, keeping it in a remarkable state of balance, not unlike the way a body regulates its own metabolism. The atmosphere is a crucial circulating system that provides the chemicals needed for life to survive. Dead planets such as Venus or Mars have atmospheres that are over 90 percent inert gasses, such as CO2. By contrast, Earth's atmosphere is primarily Nitrogen and Oxygen, critical for plant and animal life. Oxygen is a particularly reactive element that would disappear from the atmosphere without living organisms constantly restoring it.

Now, Lovelock believes, human activities have set off reactions that will knock the biosphere out of it's present balance into one with substantially higher temperatures. The melting of permafrost above the arctic circle will release huge quantities of methane and carbon dioxide, while melting ice reduces the surface albedo and causes less sunlight to be reflected back into space.

Lovelock believes that earth's history has seen transitions between two basic stable states: the “icehouse”, when ice covers both poles, and periodic ice ages extend far into lower latitudes; and the “greenhouse”, when all the ice melts. Both have already happened many times in the Earth’s history.

Human outpourings of greenhouse gases have flicked the switch that turns the world from its colder to its warm state – and it is probably too late to stop it. The warming impact of the carbon we have already released is such that the Earth has taken over and our greenhouse gas emissions are being amplified by nature itself.
Lovelock predicts that most of Earth’s equatorial lands will be arid, empty, lifeless landscape by 2050. A few decades later Spain, Italy, Australia and much of the southern United States will similarly be uninhabitable desert. Much of the oceans' life will die from increased salinity.

But Lovelock still holds out a ray of hope:

We are not merely a disease; we are, through our intelligence and communication, the nervous system of the planet. Through us, Gaia has seen herself from space, and begins to know her place in the universe.

We should be the heart and mind of the Earth, not its malady. So let us be brave and cease thinking of human needs and rights alone, and see that we have harmed the living Earth and need to make our peace with Gaia. We must do it while we are still strong enough to negotiate, and not a broken rabble led by brutal war lords. Most of all, we should remember that we are a part of it, and it is indeed our home.

Lovelock holds out a stern challange for us. Even if he is overly optimistic, his words are a clarion call to get serious about climate change.