Monday, April 25, 2016

The Earth Doesn’t Need to Worry, but the Things that Live on It Do - by Joe Romm

With 7 billion people going to 9 billion, much of the environment is unsavable.  But if we warm significantly more than 3.5°F from pre-industrial levels -- and especially if we warm more than 7°F, as would be all but inevitable if we keep on our current emissions path for much longer -- then the relatively stable environment and climate that made modern human civilization possible will be ruined, probably for hundreds of years (see NOAA: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years”, with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe).  And that means misery for many if not most of the next 10 to 20 billion people to walk the planet.

So I think the world should be more into conserving the stuff that we can’t live without.  In that regard I am a conservative person.  Unfortunately, Conservative Day would, I think, draw the wrong crowds.

The problem with Earth Day is it asks us to save too much ground.  We need to focus.  The two parts of the planet worth fighting to preserve are the soils and the glaciers.

Numerous studies show that nearly a third of the world’s land faces drying from rising greenhouse gases — including two of the world’s greatest agricultural centers, the U.S. Great Plains and a big chunk of southeastern China.  On our current emissions path, most of the Southwest ultimately experience twice as much loss of soil moisture as was seen during the Dust Bowl (see Dust-Bowlification).

Also, locked away in the frozen soil of the tundra or permafrost is more carbon than the atmosphere contains today (see Tundra, Part 1).  On our current path most of the top 10 feet of the permafrost will be lost this century -- so much for being “perma” -- and that amplifying carbon-cycle feedback will Will Likely Add Up To 1.5°F To Total Global Warming By 2100, all but ensuring that today’s worst-case scenarios for global warming become the best-case scenarios.  We must save the tundra.

Perhaps it should be small “e” earth Day, which is to say, Soil Day.  On the other hand, most of the public enthusiasm in the 1980s for saving the rain forests fizzled, and they are almost as important as the soil, so maybe not Soil Day.

As for glaciers, when they disappear, sea levels rise, perhaps in excess of an inch a year by century’s end.  If we warm even 3°C from pre-industrial levels, we will return the planet to a time when sea levels were ultimately 100 feet higher.  The first five feet of sea level rise, which seems increasingly likely to over the next hundred years on our current emissions path, would displace more than 100 million people.  That would be the equivalent of 200 Katrinas.  Since my brother lost his home in Katrina, I don’t consider this to be an abstract issue.

Equally important, the inland glaciers provide fresh water sources for more than a billion people. But on our current path, virtually all of them will be gone by century’s end.

So where is everyone going to live?  Hundreds of millions will flee the new deserts, but they can’t go to the coasts; indeed, hundreds of millions of other people will be moving inland.  But many of the world’s great rivers will be drying up at the same time, forcing massive conflict among yet another group of hundreds of millions of people.  The word rival, after all, comes from “people who share the same river.”  Sure, desalination is possible, but that’s expensive and uses a lot of energy, which means we’ll need even more carbon-free power.

Perhaps Earth Day should be Water Day, since the worst global warming impacts are going to be about water -- too much in some places, too little in other places, too acidified in the oceans for most life.  But even soil and water are themselves only important because they sustain life.  We could do Pro-Life Day, but that term is already taken, and again it would probably draw the wrong crowd.
What the day -- indeed, the whole year -- should be about is not creating misery upon misery for our children and their children and their children, and on and on for generations (see The global economy is a Ponzi scheme).  Ultimately, stopping climate change is not about preserving the Earth or creation but about preserving ourselves.  Yes, we can’t preserve ourselves if we don’t preserve a livable climate, and we can’t preserve a livable climate if we don’t preserve the Earth.

Read more at The Earth Doesn’t Need to Worry, but the Things that Live on It Do

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