“No matter how well-informed you are, you are surely not alarmed enough.” ~ David Wallace-Wells
There is such a thing as too late.
I attended scientist Guy McPherson’s presentation “Abrupt Climate Change” at the Wilmar Community Center on Jennifer Street in Madison July 14.
In November 2014, I wrote in this column about McPherson’s prediction of sudden irreversible and catastrophic leaps in temperature accelerating our extinction of species to include the human species. McPherson, a retired professor emeritus of natural resources, ecology, and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, is calmly sticking to his storyline of imminent doom. He hypothesizes that temperature increases may spike from 2 degrees to 25 degrees in short order. As therapist, evangelist, scientist and storyteller combined, he lays out our fate: Love deeply and prepare to exit.
As President Donald Trump dismantles the democratic agencies that somewhat protected land, water and wildlife in favor of extraction of more dirty fuels, he has similarly directed the Department of Agriculture to abandon climate change mitigation efforts for farmers.
Gov. Scott Walker, a Koch brothers tool, scrubbed climate change from the DNR website. It is impossible to trust anything about a DNR that denies, ignores and misrepresents the science of mass extinction and climate change.
Seeking viewpoints contrary to McPherson’s, I found Michael Tobis, editor of Planet 3.0. He holds a doctorate from the UW-Madison in atmospheric and oceanic sciences and has written a lengthy debunking of McPherson in “Doom, Doom, Doom.” Tobis is in the camp of those who think we need to stay hopeful to keep people motivated. But I found little hope in his arguments. They were mainly focused on challenging McPherson’s time frame, not the ultimate trajectory of destruction and suicidal oblivion of the human species.
Tobis, in his 60s, says he does not expect to see the worst of our civilization’s decline, but that if he were in his 30s, he would be worried.
I looked further and found “The Uninhabitable Earth,” subtitled “Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think” by David Wallace-Wells. It was published by New York Magazine on this past July 9.
Wallace-Wells starts off with the 40-year lag time between human damage and its consequent climate change: “The present tense of climate change — the destruction we’ve already baked into our future — is horrifying enough. Most people talk as if Miami and Bangladesh still have a chance of surviving; most of the scientists I spoke with assume we’ll lose them within the century, even if we stop burning fossil fuel in the next decade.”
He says that sea-level rise concerns barely scratch the surface of what lies ahead — even for today’s teenagers. Here is a NASA depiction of the increase in global warming from 1880-2016.
First and foremost, scientists are too reticent to scare the public with the truth of the projected devastation of rapid climate change. Given the climate-change denial of the U.S.’s so-called leadership and the habitual nature of humans accustomed to the climate abuse, little is changing fast enough to address worst-case scenarios. Wallace-Wells says that our failure of imagination to predict our own annihilation has kept us in denial, distracted, and too complacent before the complexity of the problems we face.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s policies are working to destroy our planetary home.
To summarize some of Wallace-Wells’ main points:
• The most recent report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (considered the gold standard) predicts a 4-8 degree rise in temperature by the end of the century.
• “The last time the planet was even four degrees warmer, Peter Brannen points out in ‘The Ends of the World,’ his new history of the planet’s major extinction events, the oceans were hundreds of feet higher.”
• “The history of the planet shows that temperature can shift as much as five degrees Celsius within thirteen years.”
• Four of the five major extinctions on earth were caused by global warming and greenhouse gases. “The most notorious was 252 million years ago; it began when carbon warmed the planet by five degrees, accelerated when that warming triggered the release of methane in the Arctic, and ended with 97 percent of all life on Earth dead.
• “No plausible program of emissions reductions alone can prevent climate disaster.”
Wallace-Wells goes on to elaborate on unbreathable air, melting permafrost exposing humans with no immunity to unfamiliar diseases, and food production cut by rising temperatures — methane-farting cows being the most climate-damaging and inefficient.
“Already, more than 10,000 people die each day from the small particles emitted from fossil-fuel burning; each year, 339,000 people die from wildfire smoke.”
Wallace-Wells states that fossil fuels caused economic growth and climate change to explode. He predicts economic collapse with mass displacement, migration, increased wars, and rising dead oceans, acidified and poisoned, no longer absorbing carbon. As fish die, hydrogen sulfide is emitted. Dead zones “are already quite advanced in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and just off Namibia, where hydrogen sulfide is bubbling out of the sea along a thousand-mile stretch of land known as the ‘Skeleton Coast,’” he writes. “Hydrogen sulfide is also the thing that finally did us in that time 97 percent of all life on Earth died, once all the feedback loops had been triggered and the circulating jet streams of a warmed ocean ground to a halt — it’s the planet’s preferred gas for a natural holocaust.”
This column was originally published in the Madison CapTimes on August 15, 2017.
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