Extreme Enviro Problems v. Enviro Extremism, Part II

So various strands of environmentalism, whether against or within Church teachings, do NOT determine whether extreme environmental problems are happening.  Hatred for “cap & trade” and fear of pantheism spreading does not determine whether or not climate change is happening.  I would hope all peoples whatever their fears, beliefs, or dislikes would put down their gripes against each other and pull together to solve serious environmental problems, because what scientists are finding while everybody’s busy fighting with each other is that extreme conditions are projected if we follow a business-as-usual (BAU) path of not mitigating climate change.

Here is what I know about the worst case scenarios of global warming, which is what I think policy-makers and people concerned about life on planet earth should be striving to avoid — as in “hope for the best, strive to avoid the worst.”  And the worse case scenarios just keep getting worse, while even the best case scenarios should be plenty enough to warrant our complete efforts at mitigation down to 350 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 or well below 2C warming.  For those who don’t know about global warming (or are confusing it with the stratospheric ozone hole), you can get good info here.   

Briefly it is our carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions that stay up in the atmosphere and let sunlight shine through, but block some heat from radiating back out, so the earth gets warmer.  This warming then wreaks all sorts of havoc.  Some might claim it is good for agriculture in the north, along with increasing CO2 fertilization, but the predictions are this will only modestly increase crop output up until 2050, after which it will greatly decline.  Net food production is expected to decline, and already is in some areas through droughts and other AGW-related effects.

All it took for me to get on board mitigating climate change 20 years ago was the idea of increasing droughts and famines in Africa, and the thought that I may be causing people’s death — and maybe that’s what did it for JPII, since he came out with his “Peace with All Creation,” in which he admonished that it is everyone’s responsibility to mitigate global warming (find it on Catholic Conservation Center link on the right).   Add to that the other global warming effects, and the Christian call to act gets even stronger, such as heat deaths (over 20,000 died in Europe in summer 2003); increased storm intensity (if Katrina was not enhanced by global warming, then we only have worse to expect in the future), sea rise, increased floods and severe precipitation events, tropical disease spread into new areas, and so on.  Since 1990, I’ve honed in closely on scientific studies on climate change, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see which way the wind has been blowing — in the direction of “it’s worse than we thought.”

A few years later about 1995 (the year studies started reaching .05 significance or 95% confidence on AGW) I learned about positive feedbacks.  Our warming causes snow and ice loss, revealing dark land and oceans, causing greater heat absorption and warming, causing greater snow and ice loss, causing greater warming, causing greater snow and ice loss.  And also how the warming we are causing may melt ocean and tundra methane hydrates — methane being a 23 times more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, before it degrades into CO2 within 10 years — a portion of which can last in the atmosphere up to 100,000 years (see “How long will global warming last?”).     So our warming melts hydrates, releasing methane, which causes more warming, which releases more methane, which causes more warming, causing more release, causing more warming, causing more release.  In other words, there is not just this simple linear relationship between how much GHGs we people emit and the amount of warming.  Rather it is more like we may be triggering a really big and deadly warming that spirals out of our control by the initial warming we cause.

 A few years after that I learned that the end-Permian extinction, during which 95% of life died, was most likely caused by such a great and vast warming, and so too several other great warming extinction events since.  One of the knock on effects of great warming I learned here was that oceans become more anoxic (oxygen depleted) which causes certain bacteria to change methane into hydrogen sulfide, a deadly gas, which they think may have knocked out nearly all the remaining weakened life that had to that point survived the great warming and its effects.  When I learned all that and up until 2008 scientists chastised me for using the term “runaway warming” for such events, since that could only be used for the situation on Venus — where is it so hot now with all its oceans long ago boiled away that no life at all can exist there at 450C temps — hot enough to melt lead.  They told me that wouldn’t happen on earth for a billion years when the sun would become very hot on its way to self-destruction.  So I asked them, what word can I use, and they said “hysteresis.”

Then December 2008 I got a copy of Dr. James Hansen’s American Geophysical Union lecture — see esp. pg. 24 of   http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/AGUBjerknes_20081217.pdf .  It seems runaway warming is possible in this warming event due to the warming we are causing; he wrote:  “If we burn all the coal, there is a good chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse effect [which means death to all life on earth].  If we also burn the tar sands and oil shale, I think it is a dead certainty.”

Just the other day a study comes out that claims the earth may be too hot for humans by 2300, and they are just referring to heat stress, and not the near total agricultural collapse that would happen well before that — if we follow a BAU path.  Sees news article here, based on the scientific study here.

Of course no one should yell “fire” in a crowded theater — UNLESS THERE IS A FIRE.  And it is quite prudent to have the audience file out as quickly as possible in an orderly fashion so as to reduce fatalities from both the fire and a stampede.  

The problems are extreme.  They call for strong and sensible action, not some wacky new religion or killing off people — that will only cause a big fight and more people will be burnt to a crisp in the burning theater.

Where is the Catholic Church in this?  We’ve heard from the Holy Fathers and bishops.  It’s about time it got down to the parishes and the pews.  All I hear is dead silence as the theater of life burns.

RESOURCES on AGW info for starters — I’ll get into solutions big and small later:


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