Warning: Increasing Frequency of Climate Change-Induced Panic Attacks!
If you know me, you know I’m not kidding – at least I’m not alone with my climate anxiety, which makes me feel a little better, thank you.
I have a good excuse for my blogging delinquency: I’ve been spending my daily computer time participating in a World Bank-sponsored online course* about climate change. You’ve probably already suspected that this topic is a favorite of mine – relevant posts are over there to the right under ‘A Changing Planet‘. It’s something I’ve been worried about for years. No, wait – even longer: CO2 emissions & how they’re warming the earth’s atmosphere were also the sub-text of working at the Regional Transportation Commission, & of the lifestyle we enjoy here in lovely (drought & flood-prone) Santa Cruz, California.
This class is really sounding the alarm bells, though. With new facts. Revised & (omg YIKES!) shocking projections by the world’s preeminent scientists. Reviews of new & upcoming reports from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). What will happen if we continue with our (admittedly often useful) delusion & denial strategies & keep burning fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow.
There is a tomorrow, though, & it’s heating up right under our short-term-thinking noses. That’s part of the problem - we’re not really programmed to think too much about the future. When we or people we know personally experience the consequences of unusual flooding, or our garden withers because of a multi-year drought, or we get stuck in the Baltimore airport for days due to an abnormally-prolonged snowstorm, we kind of get it, but when it happens to people on the other side of the globe, we pretty much go on about our business as usual.
Business as usual won’t work in this case.
The impacts of climate change will be very different in different parts of the world. We’re going to collectively & creatively need to apply that special prefrontal cortex part of our human primate brain so that this very real threat to our survival takes up a larger slice of our daily attention-span pie.
I know you know our climate is warming. If you live in California, this winter’s drought (irrespective of the recent wow-we’re-sure-thankful-for-a-little-moisture-&-look-at-all-those-new-weeds! rains) is already one for the history books (figuratively speaking of course). If you live further afield, there’s no doubt you’ve experienced (or will experience in the near future) your own variety of the serious impacts of an increasingly warm Earth:
- more precipitation due to increased evaporation from warming oceans
- significant changes in precipitation patterns around the globe, causing severe water shortages &/or too much water runoff which can overwhelm systems &/or be out of phase with demand.
- more extreme summer heat waves, forest fires, floods & drought.
- more unpredictable, intense & catastrophic weather.
- sea level rise, particularly in tropical regions, due to warming oceans & melting ice sheets in Greenland & the Antarctic.
- severe impacts on crops & agriculture, causing food shortages & social upheaval, especially in poorer regions.
- risk of increased exposure to malaria, heat stress, mental health disorders, & malnutrition.
- mass extinctions (“The Sixth Extinction“), possibly on the order of the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
- projected loss of coral reef ecosystems & severe impact on marine life due to ocean acidification.
Wait – ocean acidification – what the heck is that? Some call it global warming’s evil twin. Oceans cover over 70% of the Earth & are apparently sucking up not only over 90% of the heat from all the carbon pollution we humans are creating (equivalent to 4 Hiroshima atom bombs per second), but also, about 1/3 of the CO2 itself is going into the oceans. This, on top of warming, is making the chemistry of the world’s oceans more acidic – a potentially catastrophic change to the Earth’s ecosystem that in the past has led to large-scale extinction events.
The future does not look pretty – & we’re not just talking about the world of our children & grandchildren. We’re talking about tomorrow, next week, next year. Scientists are putting more effort these days into assessing some of the Earth’s climate tipping points - sadly, it looks like the results thus far will only further increase the frequency of these panic attacks.
So yeah, grim tidings. I almost feel compelled to apologize for subjecting you to my hysteria over the increasingly alarming news (…assuming you’ve managed to read this far). I won’t, but thanks anyway for hanging in there. I wish I could say you won’t need to hear about this here ever again, but most likely it will continue to be one of my core blog themes…even though writing about evolution & everyday human primate life is way more fun!
& thanks for paying attention – it will make a difference. Because ya know, we could pretty easily end up like the dinosaurs.
p.s. Way to go, John Kerry!!
* ”Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4 Degree C Warmer World Must Be Avoided”