Burn6: Earth on the Grill

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 Warming 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”

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8 Responses to Burn6: Earth on the Grill

  1. Lisa says:

    Thanks Linda for continuing to write about this (and thanks to John Kerry for speaking up too!). I’m glad that I’m not the only one with bouts of anxiety over short- and long-term impacts of our warming planet, but how though do we constructively channel that panic/anxiety. Would love to hear some ideas… Mostly I feel overwhelmed and, as you know, not too optimistic.

  2. Donna Maurillo says:

    My family back east experienced two or three winters with almost no snow. And this is in one of the worst cities for winter snowfall… about 125 inches in a single season. And yet, nothing for a couple of winters. Now this year, WHAM BAM!!!! The snow just won’t stop. I hear some people saying, “There’s proof! The sky isn’t falling after all!!” But wait a minute. When you look at those satellite photos of the receding glaciers on the north and south poles… and with Greenland looking more and more… uh, GREEN! Where do you think that ice is going? It’s melting! It’s evaporating! It’s going up to make clouds that then drop all that moisture on top of us in the form of blizzards, hurricanes, typhoons, and super storms.

    And yet we still have people who say that nothing is happening. “The climates have changed before,” they say. But they don’t add that those changes were made over a period of hundreds and thousands of years. They didn’t happen almost overnight. Unless there was a cataclysm, like a meteor hitting or Krakatoa exploding, they took their time, and life forms adjusted and evolved. We don’t have time to evolve.

    • liveoaklinda says:

      good points donna – the earth’s climate has changed drastically over its 4.5 billion years of circling around our magnanimous star & most of the change as been over thousands & 10’s of thousands of years…with the exception of the immediate aftermath of large asteroid impacts, the probable cause of at least two of the 5 major mass extinction events. the climate that humans are used to, & that we’ve enjoyed in our massive population explosion around the earth, has only been around since the end of the most recent ice age about 12,000 years ago. some of the links in this post indicate that the rapid warming & acidification to oceans are unparalleled in the past 300 million years…we just have don’t know what these sorts of drastic changes to can do to life on earth, & how quickly things can change.

  3. Jean Brocklebank says:

    My question is this: what can actually be done to stop the global human economic growth that fuels pollution and destruction of land, air and water? I’m serious! It does no good to wring our hands, be anxious, alarmist, or hysterical about climate change.

    Trading the burning of fossil fuel for what? Nothing will produce the bang for the energy buck of fossil fuel (to continue to meet human economic growth demands). Meantime, we plaster the California desert (Ivanpah) with mirrors to focus the suns rays to make electricity for 140,000 homes hundreds of miles away in a state with 12 million households minimum, while frying the birds that fly though that intense burning heat.

    Does anyone know anyone, including John Kerry or even the World Bank, who is saying publicly that we must all stop consuming (and do what? have another recession?), stop population growth (that elephant in the room), stop insisting that there is a way to meet the demands for beef, bacon, chicken, turkey, sushi, oversized strawberries that taste like cardboard (from Watsonville), gold and diamonds on our fingers and around our necks, shark fin soup, vacations in Hawaii, cruise ships all over the Atlantic and Pacific, new electric cars, new furniture, new clothes, new smart phones made with precious metals dug out of the earth at what cost?

    California had two centuries long droughts in the past 500 years. This is fact. This drought is not new. Its just now. And it is probably happening over thousands of years. We’re just not looking at it that way. We’re looking out the window. And it is just harder because we are 38 million and all wanting everything we want. In 1850, Santa Cruz County had 643 residents. In 1960 it had 84,219. In 1976 (our last drought) Santa Cruz County had about 150,000 people and agriculture grew apples and other non-thirsty fruit trees. We are now at approximately 268,000. How long does that go on in a place that has had extreme climate for hundreds, thousands of years?!

    • liveoaklinda says:

      hi jean – i know we can always count on you for your thoughtful & calm commentary. as noted in my response to lisa above, i’ll try to move into my ‘what we can do mode’ next up.

  4. Marcy Whitebook says:

    Keep sharing your anxiety. We all need to get out of denial. Xoxox

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Pingback: In Love with a Seabus | the everyday primate

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