Time to Grow Gills

Why is climate change such a time-sensitive problem? Here’s another big reason:

Consider that Earth’s atmosphere contains about 850 gigatons of carbon today and look at the damage we’re already seeing. Normally 7 vertebrate species go extinct in 100 years. Since 1900, we’ve lost 477. Ergo, according to the experts, our planet is in the midst of a mass extinction event. Think “dinosaurs”…. but slower.

Anyway, so there’s this stuff called permafrost in Greenland, which contains frozen methane. It’s starting to thaw faster than feared and is now expected to fully melt by 2070. How much more carbon would this add to the atmosphere? 1,700 gigatons. And it’s already started. The worst part? You can’t re-thaw permafrost. Once the gases escape the damage is done and it’s permanent.

Now if we can just get those money-hungry businesses to stop pumping so much damn carbon in the air and convert to cleaner energies we might just be able to slow the process down. But even after that effort, pollution today still takes 25-30 years to have an observable impact on the environment. We’re essentially guaranteed decades of worsening climate change destruction in the meantime, assuring at least a doubling in the amount of carbon.

It’s still worth the fight, of course, but I don’t hear enough people talking about the long term plan for when the damage does strike. As sea levels rise and weather patterns become severe and erratic and people will be forced to move further inland. In some parts of the world this means entire island nations would be unsustainable. Crop yields will decrease while the global population increases, resulting in increased scarcity of resources. Higher levels of drought will require the rationing of water. The damage done by record-breaking storms will destroy homes, disrupt entire eco-systems, and otherwise throw an exponentially larger monkey wrench into our lives and our future.

There does exist debate over precisely when this all would happen, but not if. We can slow it down but we can’t stop it entirely. President Obama mentioned in a recent speech that we need to focus on climate change because “there is no Plan B”. Why isn’t there? Baring unforeseen developments in technology to provide a last-minute rescue, we need to be discussing back-up plans. Because Plan-A isn’t looking like it will be quite enough.

Personally, I’m excited to how it all unfolds either way! But hey, I’m odd.


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