Unless immediate action is taken, human-forced climate change is likely to be irreversible for at least the next 1,000 years, according to a new NOAA study. A multitude of blog posts could be written about this news, as indeed has already happened. This is a very significant piece of news as America and the world take stock of the current state of the climate and discuss what needs to be done about it.
The way MSNBC discussed the topic didn’t work for me (although it might work for others). Their lede was: “Time for drastic action against warming?” Their article led with:
Why bother reducing my carbon footprint? That’s probably what many people asked after reading about a new study that predicts that even if carbon emissions were drastically reduced, droughts and other severe climate changes tied to the emissions would persist for 1,000 years.
So why drive less? Why buy a hybrid? Why promote renewable energy? Because doing nothing, or doing less, would mean even more dire consequences, the study’s authors and other scientists argue.
They then list a series of effects, but provide very little context in which to view them. Water wars, food shortages and rising oceans made the list. What exactly would that mean for the globe’s populations? What kind of pressure would millions of climate refugees create on governments? How long would a currently-functioning society last in the face of such pressures? Perhaps the most critical problem with this topic is the gargantuan size of it; its interconnectedness isn’t well served by a two-page article online. Be that as it may, I think the article does miss the big point the study made: without immediate and dramatic action, many portions of today’s inhabited world will likely slide into drought conditions more severe than those experienced in the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s in the U.S.
The U.S. Southwest, Southeast Asia, Eastern South America, Western Australia, Southern Europe, Southern Africa, and northern Africa are all facing the threat of multi-decadal drought conditions with CO2 concentrations only slightly higher than those measured today (400 instead of 387ppm). At 500ppm, Southern Europe and Northern Africa could experience drought conditions worse than those during the Dust Bowl. At 550ppm, drought conditions not experienced by todays’ societies would impact these same areas (Southern Europe and Northern Africa). Some human societies have experienced this level of drought before. Those droughts are suspected of destroying those societies. That is the kind of pressure today’s societies could face. That is what must be avoided. Even if the specter of multi-feet sea level rise doesn’t shock people into action, however unbelievable that might be, the pressure of millions of climate refugees moving away from those flooded coasts and into areas soon to be impacted by multi-decadal droughts has to be seriously considered. What does multi-decadal drought mean? It means a permanent drying – beginning within our lifetimes. No return to today’s “normal” conditions. No, a permanent drying.
That’s why we should drive less. That’s why we should buy electric vehicles. That’s why we should invest in and develop nothing but renewable energy. That’s why no new coal or natural gas power plants should be constructed anywhere in the world without 100% effective carbon collectors. Coal power plants that came online last year will operate for 30-50 years. That’s 30-50 years of more emissions being polluted into the atmosphere. Over half of that carbon will still be around, warming the planet, hundreds of years from now, working against whatever solutions we manage to come up with by then. Every ton of carbon emitted this year brings us that much closer to a mostly dead, highly acidic ocean. That’s why action is needed today.
We’re well on the way toward 1000ppm CO2 concentration. If nothing is done, as climate change denyers want, the majority of this planet will be uninhabitable by any complex lifeform in the next few hundred years. Continue with business as usual? I think not.