1. How much DAMAGE are Humans CAUSING to this PLANET?
Life portrayed in the media is full of pleasure, consumerism and perpetual affluence. But what is THE REALITY about the damage that humans are causing to this planet?
There is a vast amount of excellent scientific research showing beyond all reasonable doubt that humans have already caused major long-term damage to the main biological and geophysical systems on which all of our lives depend. This is not marginal damage, this is profound structural damage that will be very difficult to reverse.
For example, we have caused massive damage to food-producing lands, to forests, and to the sea. We have over-populated, over-consumed resources and massively polluted with toxic chemicals and plastics. We are destroying species and biodiversity so fast that this amounts to the sixth largest mass extinction since 450 million years ago. We have driven tens of millions of people to desperation, with widespread poverty and extreme inequality and are sowing the seeds of increasingly violent reactions.
Yet the WORST DAMAGE we are causing is GLOBAL OVER-HEATING because this makes all the other kinds of damage far worse.
2. What damage is CAUSED by GLOBAL OVER-HEATING?
GLOBAL OVER-HEATING is destabilizing the fundamental life-support systems that allowed civilization to develop over the past 8,000 years. Our priority must be to stop this and then tackle all the other ways in which we are causing damage.
The most obvious effects of Global Over-Heating are the melting of ice and the change of climates and weather patterns that we have seen over the past fifty years. The melting of polar ice is changing the temperature gradients between the poles and the tropics, which affects weather systems such as the Polar Vortex, the jet streams, monsoons, El Niño/La Nina oscillations, and ocean circulations. The increase in temperatures adds intensity to weather extremes so cyclones, rain storms, and droughts are more violent and damaging. Extremes are becoming more frequent and ever-more extreme.
For any one weather event, the effect of Global Over-Heating cannot be separated from natural causes but research by Hansen found that the probability of an extreme weather event in any year, on average, for each equal area of the northern hemisphere land mass, is now at least 50 times as high as the average 50 years ago. Moreover the extremes are becoming more extreme.
The idea that humans can adapt to these destabilizing conditions is absurd. Life will certainly evolve but probably in ways that are hostile to human civilization as we know it. Already we are seeing new virulent diseases, explosion of destructive insects and seas full of jelly-fish. We know that human food sources are too sensitive to cope with increasing temperatures and climate changes.
It is important to realize that many of the earlier reports of the effects of Global Over-Heating were far too optimistic, suggesting minimal problems in the distant future. In particular, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPPC, has been ultra cautious because it’s Reports have to be endorsed by governments. Scientists, with the notable exception of James Hansen, are extremely cautious in their claims and loathe to draw conclusions. But over the decades of research, the consequences of Global Over-Heating have been discovered to be much more severe and imminent and many of the scientists involved have stated their conclusions unequivocally.
At the fundamental level, the stability of global climate patterns and sea-levels over the past 8,000 years since human civilization began, has depended, among other things, on the stability of the polar icecaps. The excessive global temperatures that humans are causing will inevitably reach a point at which irreversible destabilization processes occur, including the melting of the ice-caps. Reversing this melting will no longer be possible if we continue this thoughtless destruction in the decades ahead and reach a tipping point.
Global Over-Heating is dangerously easy to cause but can only be reversed by extremely slow natural processes lasting hundreds and thousands of years. So Global Over-Heating is still being increased by what humans caused over the past 150 years. We are still adding to Global Over-Heating every day as fast as ever and what we cause today will continue to increase Global Over-Heating for centuries.
It is time we wake up to The REALITY that the favorable global conditions that have defined the history of life on earth are being rapidly destroyed by reckless mismanagement of our planet’s resources.
3. HOW are Humans CAUSING GLOBAL OVER-HEATING?
About 85% of Global Over-Heating is caused by burning carbon fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. Farming and forestry practices and biomass burning have a significant but much smaller effect. Every day we burn 90 million tonnes of carbon which goes into the troposphere above our heads where it has been accumulating over the past 150 years, trapping the sun’s heat and causing ever-increasing Global Over-Heating.
Accurate records since 1958 show that the concentration of carbon in the troposphere has risen persistently (from a level not exceeding 300ppm throughout the whole period of human experience since the end of the last ice age 12,000 years ago) to the current level of 400ppm.
Hansen calculates that it is urgent to stop adding to this total every day and to get the levels back below 350ppm as quickly as possible. But even if we could stop all the burning of fossil fuels immediately there would still be further Global Over-heating caused by the lasting heating effect of the carbon already in the troposphere.
The carbon in the troposphere traps the sun’s heat so that less is reflected back into space and the planet become over-heated. Hansen calculated that the amount of extra heat that is trapped is equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs – every day!
What is clear is that about 90 major international companies hold proven fossil fuel reserves valued at $7 trillion, on the assumption that they will be extracted and burned.. But these reserves are about 2,795 gigatonnes and that is at least five times more than climate scientists say would over-heat the planet far beyond the point of catastrophic consequences, irreversible on a human timescale. Financial markets long ago included these fossil fuel reserves into their investment holdings on the assumption that they will be extracted and burned: if they are not they will be analogous to the sub-prime loans that resulted in the recent banking crises.