Maybe you saw the recent Time Magazine issue: Global Warming: Be Worried. Be Very Worried. Or maybe you heard NASA’s chief climate scientist, Jim Hanson, was stifled by White House appointees for being too honest. Or maybe you just pay close attention to environmental affairs (good on ya!).
The truth is that 85% of people these days realize global warming is happening. And, we’re in the last decade or so before we get to a point of no return.
Scientists agree we have two options: Start making reasonable, conscious changes now. Or, stay on a “business as usual” path for the next decade and deem real alternatives impractical -- or impossible.
What’s the urgency?
Simply, CO2 levels, global heat, and polar melting are all speeding up. Scientists agree the tipping point is near... When exactly? No consensus, but definitely very soon.
The atmosphere is actually warming gradually, but climate systems typically shift in dramatic jerks as evident by looking at just 2005: heat waves causing droughts, fires & dust storms, cyclones, hurricanes, and unprecedented rains. Hurricanes in the past 35 years have doubled in number, and the severity of each has gone up 50%.
Once ice starts melting, it too starts melting dramatically quicker. Just think, what melts sooner: having a whole ice block in a pot of cold water, or breaking it into small pieces in a pot of warm water? Recently, a 12,000-year-old ice shelf collapsed fragmenting its surrounding ice structures. And then there's the 3 billion-year-old Arctic cap that's also shrinking at alarming rates these days. These things are not good.
Why’s it getting hotter?
CO2: The largest causes: power plants and vehicles. CO2 allows sunlight to stream in, but get too much of it, and we have no ventilation. No ventilation = hotter temperatures = more rapid melting = hotter temperatures & more CO2, (repeat 10x fast).
Less reflective ice: The polar regions reflect about 90% of sunlight and energy back into space. The ocean (aka melted ice) absorbs about 90% of that same energy and heat. The more ice melts, the more energy’s absorbed, the warmer our oceans.
Melting permafrost, our future CO2 source: Land frozen for years contains partially decayed organic matter, rich in carbon. When that soil warms and decomposes, it turns to methane and CO2. It’s estimated that Arctic soils contain 200 to 800 gigatons of carbon! The total human carbon output is only 7 gigatons/year. Yikes.
Any other bad news?
Oh sure. Melting ice also means eroded or covered coastlines. Buh-bye Florida beaches & San Francisco. Changing ocean levels and new salt:fresh constitution also means disrupted ecosystems and species extinction. Buh-bye polar & alpine species. Fare thee well, Natural Wonder of the World #2, Great Barrier Reef.
What to do
Ultimately, we need stronger laws and modern technologies. Bush finally did agree that warming does exist, but check out his proactive plan of action: do more research... (No comment.)
Until we have a chance to vote, join the effort to Stop Global Warming. There's even a handy, scannable page of easy steps you can take right now.
You can also use your dollars to offset your climate footprint. The Carbon Fund funds renewable energy, efficiency and reforestation projects to cancel out your "carbon footprint", and a Terra Pass funds clean energy projects to cancel out your car's emissions. No worries!
California has a great track record of paving the way for many energy and environmental innovations in the past. Let's keep it up!
Great additional info
Hear an excellent NPR interview of Tim Flannery, Weather Makers
Read the Time article(s) on global warming
Read the NRDC's Global Warming resource