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watching your back is no longer enough

now we got to keep an eye on the sky in case we get bombed with fish or frogs falling out of waterspouts, which are tornadoes moving over and sucking up the contents of lakes, ponds, rivers, and other bodies of water, and which the latest report of the International Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) says are on the rise, along with all kinds of other extreme weather, which we all know has been increasing in frequency and intensity in the last decade or so, in concert with the rise in global temperature due to human activity, the reports finds sufficient evidence to state.

Here’s some press on the report :

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/report-climate-change-means-more-frequent-droughts-floods-to-come/2011/11/15/gIQAfwqHXN_story.html?tid=pm_national_pop [1]

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57327472/climate-scientists-more-extreme-weather-coming/ [2]

http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/18/climate-panel-issues-report-on-extreme-weather-and-climate-change/ [3]



These stories came out last Friday. Today we learn that the World Metereological Association says that the levels of the three main greenhouse gases– carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous reached record highs in 2010. Here’s the story : http://www.montrealgazette.com/technology/Greenhouse+gases+record+levels/5747180/story.html

This report, by Reuters, contains the sort of statement I have problems with : “If the world is to limit global average temperature rise to below 2 degrees [Centrigrade presumably, but it doesn’t say over what period of time, so the assumption is from here on out ?], scientists say emissions volumes must not have more than 450 ppm of carbon dioxide.” But can 450 ppm really do it, hold the line ?

If you look at my previous blogs on the climate change debate, there are many other factors in play besides our emissions. The entire Arctic coast of the then USSR, from Murmansk to the Behring Strait, was ice-free and open to shipping in the early thirties, when our emissions were not in play. Over 100 astronomical and other cyclical metereological factors are also going on. The fact is that nobody knows how much we are responsible for the current rise in temperatures, although it would be astounding if we didn’t have a heavy hand in it.

Bill McKibben’s 350.org throws out a different number than the World Metereological Association’s :

“To preserve our planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million to below 350 ppm. But 350 is more than a number—it’s a symbol of where we need to head as a planet.”

So which is it, 450 or 350 ? The fact is, nobody knows, including the scientists. But should we be doing everything to reduce our emissions and our carbon footprint in general ? Absolutely, for all kinds of reasons, like the extreme weather events that are happening all over the planet with growing frequency and intensity due to the increasing electrical energy in the atmosphere from all the stuff, not only greenhouse gases, we are putting up there, (and to the warmer temperatures). That linkage– between increased electric energy and extreme weather events– is clearer. But also more extreme weather is happening because of the rising temperatures.

But as far as being able to attach a specific ppm of atmospheric CO2 to a specific temperature rise– we aren’t there yet and may never be. As I observed about the African information problem years ago, “the figures are figurative.” Their purpose is to awaken us from our torpor and to make us realize that we have a big problem, which we unquestionably do. No doubt about that. As McKibben says, 350 ppm is a symbol of where we want to be.

And does a runaway greenhouse effect such as we are unleashing here in the Anthropocene (where our activities have becoming a dominant force in what is happening to the biosphere), cause mass extinction ? Here’s a story about a new study of the Permian extinction event, 65 million years ago, when the earth was still one giant land mass, Pangaea, and 95% of the marine species and 70% of the terrestrial species were wiped out by volcanoes that erupted and released massive amounts of CO2 and methane. http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Volcanoes+greenhouse+gases+caused+mass+extinction+study+says/5729546/story.html

So the answer is yes. But sadly, global warming is off the public’s and politicians’ radars. It’s too hypothetical-seeming and daunting, and there are all sorts of immediate crises that have to be addressed. The world is falling apart– economically, politically, ecologically. And the forces of destruction are all feeding and exacerbating each other. We got a big problem. A lot of big problems.