by , 09/18/05

I’ve seen some pretty scary things in the news recently ? and I’m not talking about global terrorism or the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Scarier even than anarchy, violence and crumbling social fabric is the idea that global warming is RAPIDLY ACCELERATING, and pretty soon, we will have passed the point at which we can do anything to stop it.

Though global-warming isn’t a new topic, some very recent articles have given rise to a new degree of urgency (most notably in the Guardian and The Independent) about how the world is currently reaching the “tipping point” for global warming, after which climate change will quickly accelerate, unleashing catastrophic devastation on human populations:

“A record loss of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has convinced scientists that the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate may never recover. Scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years. The greatest fear is that the Arctic has reached a “tipping point” beyond which nothing can reverse the continual loss of sea ice and with it the massive land glaciers of Greenland, which will raise sea levels dramatically.”


Concurrently, researchers who have recently returned from Siberia have found that an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres – the size of France and Germany combined – has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. The area is the world’s largest frozen peat bog and as it thaws, it will release billions of tons of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. This “ecological landslide” will cause a dramatic change in the environment which will itself trigger a far greater increase in global temperatures.



Four years ago scientists were predicting a rise in global temperatures of 4 ? 12 degrees Fahrenheit (2-6 degrees Celsius) in the next century. Now experts realize they will have to quickly recalculate this, because the climatic change is likely to happen faster and on a much more dramatic scale.

If you thought hurricane Katrina was bad – imagine hurricanes and other natural disasters of this scale happening every year. Imagine living in a place where malaria and other infectious diseases run rampant and where thousands die of heat stroke in the summer. This is likely to be the situation all around the world by 2025. Rising sea-levels will erase islands like the Maldives and flood low-lying areas like Bangladesh, and they will also wreak havoc in temperate industrial countries like the U.S.

While the media has been focused on the immediate disasters occurring in places like Iraq and New Orleans, very few people have been paying attention to this slow-moving but insidious transition which will dramatically alter (and possibly end) life as we know it. I don’t want to sound alarmist here ? but I think this is something that should be pretty alarming to anyone who plans to be alive in the next 20 years.

+ The Guardian

+ The Independent

Photos (Smiley N. Pool/Dallas Morning News & James Nielsen/AFP/Getty Images) courtesy of National Geographic

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  1. mafisto September 23, 2005 at 6:44 pm

    Er, it doesn’t quite work that way. Plants – you know, the foundation of every ecosystem – do not adapt to radical shifts in weather very well. Any gardener can tell you – an especially harsh winter or hot summer can kill weaker plants, and this is during a ‘normal’ growing season. What’s scary about this particular form of warming is not so much that it’s never happened before, but that it’s never happened so quickly before.

    I live in MN and have studied silviculture, and I can tell you that most forest professionals are terrified of what a rapid increase in annual temperatures will do to our forests. Trees don’t just move further north when it gets too warm. They sit there and are exposed to the lengthy droughts, increased insect predation and heat distress. If we are hit hard and fast with global warming – and all signs are pointing to this – there will be nothing ‘lush’ about the landscape here in the north. This is completely ignoring the delicate situation most countries find themselves in when it comes to large-scale agriculture, water shortages and fossil fuel shortages.

    Yes, ecosystems will balance, and yes, humans will survive as a species, but your writing off of the devastation is simply irresponsible. There is almost no way to overestimate the impact of global warming on our quality of life.

  2. Paul Hughes September 22, 2005 at 2:18 am

    I know a lot of people are paniking over this – but lets put it all in perspective. First of all, the time in which we have been taking detailed measurements of climate is only about 150 years. The rest of the measurements are based on paleoclimatology studies estimating the types and degree of weather over thousands and millions of years. Recall that 11,000 years ago we had an Ice Age, in which the furthest northern climates were covered in ice, leaving the rest of the planet in a more moderate temperature scheme. Places like the Sahara Desert were large and lush forests. This current run-away global warming could result in another ice age, or it could result in drastically greater temperatues around the globe, which in turn melt large amounts of ice, etc.

    In the first scenario (Ice Age), large areas of currently uninhabited/unihabital spaces will become inhabitable, temperate and more wet – Sahara, Gobi, Australia and Southwest/Mexican deserts. Yes, the global displacemetn would be large, and the economic fall devastating, but the end of humanity it will not.

    The second scenario (large increases in global temperature) will melt the ice caps, raise the sea levels world wide – devastate large areas of land – many island chains, the southern us, bangladesh, Venice italy, etc. Meanwhile large areas of “too cold” land will become warmer, and more livable. Places with ice-cap will melt and leave large lakes and lush landscapes behind. The increased temperatures will result in a migration of flora species habitats – places like Wyoming, Minnesota, etc will become more arable, longer grow seasons, etc. Where some species will die off (polar bears), other species will migrate, etc. The downside is more disease and less healthy environments in the tropics. Again, the human and economic toll will be great, but it too does not spell the end of humanity, only a major re-balance.

    I’m not trying to make light of this situation, and my compassion goes out to all those who could be effected, but its not all doom and gloom.

  3. labb September 22, 2005 at 2:10 am

    I’m abandoning civilization as soon as I get the chance…

  4. analogAI September 21, 2005 at 6:53 am

    Yes, economic prosperity is much more important to individuals than a future livable environment. If there’s no obvious direct consequences; such as global warning (things melting elsewhere). Any warnings you give are going to be perceived as a false prophacy from a doomsday nay sayer. No such activism will work on a grand scale. On the other hand, putting monetary incentives/preventives into the equation will change even the minds of the non-environmentally concerned individuals. I’m not talking about taxes or fees that can create more profits for governments or tree hugger “non-profit” organizations, but some scheme as little as the 5 cent aluminum can recycling redemption fee will change the behavior resulting out of the always-resource-optimizing human mind.

  5. Peter September 19, 2005 at 7:56 pm

    And a few weeks ago there was the soil studies in the UK (http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn7964 )that as the soil warms the rate of CO2 relaeased from microbes increases. Another feedback lop which forces revision of the predictions of warming. There are many many of these. Theres crystalized methane at the bottom of the oceans in places where if warmed to a point of release into the atmosphere it would be catastrophic.

    I agree that this is so serious that its getting to the point where it makes almost no sense to go to work in the morning, but rather dedicate every waking hour to promoting awareness and solutions. I need a support group to deal with this information and awareness, and there is no going back once you start to understand the situation we may be in for. We need to unify and make some big changes here asap. Any ideas? the only thing seeming to lack is people willing to forego an initial buck in order to put the available solutions into action by investing money,time, and effort into critical path methodologies for minimizing the damage. We have the capability to actually design mutually beneficial systems that provide everything we need on this planet…can we get cracking or is economic prosperity much more important than a future livable environment?

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