Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Clean Revolution

Many people have criticized the fact that Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize, sometimes to the point of being livid. (I don't want to point fingers, but it's mostly republicans.) When I inquire why it makes them angry they list off reasons such as his contesting the 2000 election (unrelated), the idea that he's an economic elitist (related?), or they (ironically) say that he hasn't done enough to get his message out: they claim that he refuses to debate the point with an intelligent opposition. Regardless of the fact that he is a figure head and not a scientist. It is the scientists responsibility to debate the data, I think it is his (self chosen) responsibility to convey the information to the public. In the same breath they'll say that global warming isn't an issue of peace. But mostly these people question the veracity of An Inconvenient Truth - claiming that it's an exaggeration, that it's the worst case scenario. They further say that it is politically motivated. They don't tend to follow a logical line of reasoning, but merely throw out scattered and unrelated arguments to undercut his validity.

I must admit that the first time I saw the documentary, I also thought that it was only portraying the worst case scenario. However, I thought that it was necessary in order to get people's attention, and for the most part it has been effective. But as I've followed the research, more data is being revealed which paints a much more frightening picture than An Inconvenient Truth even hinted. First, there's the rate of ice melt on the north pole and in glaciers, which is accelerating much faster than all of the worst case projections. Then there's the report of the deterioration of CO2 sinks such as oceans and plants, which are loosing their capacity to absorb CO2 at the previous rates. The oceans are becoming over-saturated and acidic, the weather patterns are changing and disrupting plant growth.

Specifically, oceans and plant growth absorbed only around 540 kilograms per metric ton (1,190 pounds per short ton) of the CO2 produced in 2006, compared with 600 kilograms per metric ton (1,322 pounds per short ton) in 2000. Coupled with an emissions growth rate of 3.3 percent—triple the growth rate of the 1990s—the atmospheric burden is now rising by nearly two parts per million of CO2 a year, the fastest growth rate since 1850, the international team of researchers reports in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

New maritime measurements over the past decade also show that the North Atlantic's ability to absorb CO2 has been cut in half, according to researchers from the University of East Anglia who were not affiliated with the study by Canadell and his colleagues. "Until now, we thought that the decline in the efficiency of natural sinks was going to happen during the 21st century and more strongly during [its] second half," Canadell says. "If we didn't [include in the assumptions] that this was going to happen [so soon], have we underestimated the decline in the efficiency into the future?"
Just ice melt and CO2 absorption alone will drastically change the model projections for the next 50 years. But the research continues to mount, leading scientists and myself to believe that the doomsday scenario portrayed in An Inconvenient Truth might seem like a walk in the park compared to what may already be occurring.

We haven't had such a rate of emissions growth and pollution since the 1850's, in other words The Industrial Revolution. And we already know the results of that. Only 100 years later, our rivers were literally burning! CFC's were eating holes in the ozone layer, cancer rates jumped drastically. You couldn't drink water, breath, or swim without being seriously confronted with toxins. Though we've cleaned up our streams (somewhat), outlawed CFC's, and have reversed some of the local environmental pollutants, we are now dealing with an issue that is truly and unequivocally global. A rate of unchecked destruction like the Industrial Revolution, magnified by our greater technological power and the vastly larger population will not just compromise our health within the next 100 years, it will destroy our civilization as we know it. It will effect everyone, but especially the poor. It will lead to starvation, disease, never before fathomed masses of refugees, and violent conflicts over space and resources both in our own back yards and on a global level.

What will it take for us to give a damn about our children's and even our own future? What will it take to truly start The Clean Revolution?


Jacques de Beaufort said...

We should all re-read the Decameron for live in the now advice lest we squander the few moments left we have.

Too bad we had to fuck up such a good thing but maybe the next intelligent species will get it right.

RichardTScott said...

Or even The Masque of the Red Death for the less patient.


Many adults in the United States are concerned about climate change, according to a poll by Rasmussen Reports. 47 per cent of respondents think global warming is a very serious problem, while 26 per cent deem it as somewhat serious.