What will climate change do to our planet? - degree-by-degree guide
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This is our future - famous cities are submerged, a third of the world is desert, the rest struggling for food and fresh water. Richard Girling investigates the reality behind the science of climate change
Go to see full article http://www.timesonline.co.uk
If global warming continues at the current rate, we could be facing extinction. So what exactly is going to happen as the Earth heats up? Here is a degree-by-degree guide
Ice-free sea absorbs more heat and accelerates global warming; fresh water lost from a third of the world's surface; low-lying coastlines flooded
"Most striking of all," says Lynas, "was seeing how people behaved once the veneer of civilisation had been torn away. Most victims were poor and black, left to fend for themselves as the police either joined in the looting or deserted the area. Four days into the crisis, survivors were packed into the city's Superdome, living next to overflowing toilets and rotting bodies as gangs of young men with guns seized the only food and water available. Perhaps the most memorable scene was a single military helicopter landing for just a few minutes, its crew flinging food parcels and water bottles out onto the ground before hurriedly taking off again as if from a war zone. In scenes more like a Third World refugee camp than an American urban centre, young men fought for the water as pregnant women and the elderly looked on with nothing. Don't blame them for behaving like this, I thought. It's what happens when people are desperate."
Chance of avoiding one degree of global warming: zero.
Europeans dying of heatstroke; forests ravaged by fire; stressed plants beginning to emit carbon rather than absorbing it; a third of all species face extinction
Not only coastal communities will suffer. As mountains lose their glaciers, so people will lose their water supplies. The entire Indian subcontinent will be fighting for survival. "As the glaciers disappear from all but the highest peaks, their runoff will cease to power the massive rivers that deliver vital freshwater to hundreds of millions. Water shortages and famine will be the result, destabilising the entire region. And this time the epicentre of the disaster won't be India, Nepal or Bangladesh, but nuclear-armed Pakistan."
Chance of avoiding two degrees of global warming: 93%, but only if emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced by 60% over the next 10 years
Carbon release from vegetation and soils speeds global warming; death of the Amazon rainforest; super-hurricanes hit coastal cities; starvation in Africa
As the land burns, so the sea will go on rising. Even by the most optimistic calculation, 80% of Arctic sea ice by now will be gone, and the rest will soon follow. New York will flood; the catastrophe that struck eastern England in 1953 will become an unremarkable regular event; and the map of the Netherlands will be torn up by the North Sea. Everywhere, starving people will be on the move - from Central America into Mexico and the US, and from Africa into Europe, where resurgent fascist parties will win votes by promising to keep them out.
Chance of avoiding three degrees of global warming: poor if the rise reaches two degrees and triggers carbon-cycle feedbacks from soils and plants.
Runaway thaw of permafrost makes global warming unstoppable; much of Britain made uninhabitable by severe flooding; Mediterranean region abandoned
One of the most dangerous of all feedbacks will now be kicking in - the runaway thaw of permafrost. Scientists believe at least 500 billion tonnes of carbon are waiting to be released from the Arctic ice, though none yet has put a figure on what it will add to global warming. One degree? Two? Three? The pointers are ominous.
Chance of avoiding four degrees of global warming: poor if the rise reaches three degrees and triggers a runaway thaw of permafrost.
Methane from ocean floor accelerates global warming; ice gone from both poles; humans migrate in search of food and try vainly to live like animals off the land
"Where no refuge is available," says Lynas, "civil war and a collapse into racial or communal conflict seems the likely outcome." Isolated survivalism, however, may be as impracticable as dialling for room service. "How many of us could really trap or kill enough game to feed a family? Even if large numbers of people did successfully manage to fan out into the countryside, wildlife populations would quickly dwindle under the pressure. Supporting a hunter-gatherer lifestyle takes 10 to 100 times the land per person that a settled agricultural community needs. A large-scale resort to survivalism would turn into a further disaster for biodiversity as hungry humans killed and ate anything that moved." Including, perhaps, each other. "Invaders," says Lynas, "do not take kindly to residents denying them food. History suggests that if a stockpile is discovered, the householder and his family may be tortured and killed. Look for comparison to the experience of present-day Somalia, Sudan or Burundi, where conflicts over scarce land and food are at the root of lingering tribal wars and state collapse."
Chance of avoiding five degrees of global warming: negligible if the rise reaches four degrees and releases trapped methane from the sea bed.
Life on Earth ends with apocalyptic storms, flash floods, hydrogen sulphide gas and methane fireballs racing across the globe with the power of atomic bombs; only fungi survive
"First, a small disturbance drives a gas-saturated parcel of water upwards. As it rises, bubbles begin to appear, as dissolved gas fizzles out with reducing pressure - just as a bottle of lemonade overflows if the top is taken off too quickly. These bubbles make the parcel of water still more buoyant, accelerating its rise through the water. As it surges upwards, reaching explosive force, it drags surrounding water ?up with it. At the surface, water is shot hundreds of metres into the air as the released gas blasts into the atmosphere. Shockwaves propagate outwards in all directions, triggering more eruptions nearby."
The eruption is more than just another positive feedback in the quickening process of global warming. Unlike COČ, methane is flammable. "Even in air-methane concentrations as low as 5%," says Lynas, "the mixture could ignite from lightning or some other spark and send fireballs tearing across the sky." The effect would be much like that of the fuel-air explosives used by the US and Russian armies - so-called "vacuum bombs" that ignite fuel droplets above a target. According to the CIA, "Those near the ignition point are obliterated. Those at the fringes are likely to suffer many internal injuries, including burst eardrums, severe concussion, ruptured lungs and internal organs, and possibly blindness." Such tactical weapons, however, are squibs when set against methane-air clouds from oceanic eruptions. Scientists calculate that they could "destroy terrestrial life almost entirely" (251m years ago, only one large land animal, the pig-like lystrosaurus, survived).
It has been estimated that a large eruption in future could release energy equivalent to 108 megatonnes of TNT - 100,000 times more than the world's entire stockpile of nuclear weapons. Not even Lynas, for all his scientific propriety, can avoid the Hollywood ending. "It is not too difficult to imagine the ultimate nightmare, with oceanic methane eruptions near large population centres wiping out billions of people - perhaps in days. Imagine a 'fuel-air explosive' fireball racing towards a city - London, say, or Tokyo - the blast wave spreading out from the explosive centre with the speed and force of an atomic bomb.
Buildings are flattened, people are incinerated where they stand, or left blind and deaf by the force of the explosion. Mix Hiroshima with post-Katrina New Orleans to get some idea of what such a catastrophe might look like: burnt survivors battling over food, wandering far and wide from empty cities."
Chance of avoiding six degrees of global warming: zero if the rise passes five degrees, by which time all feedbacks will be running out of control
Go to see full article http://www.timesonline.co.uk
Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, by Mark Lynas, is published on March 19 by HarperCollinshttp://www.suprememastertv.com/bbs/board.php?bo_table=sos&wr_id=58
Manure: In the 16th and 17th centuries, everything had to be transported
by ship and it was also before commercial fertilizer's invention, so large shipments
of manure were common.
cid:firstname.lastname@example.orgIt was shipped dry,
because in dry form it weighed a lot less than
when wet, but once water (at sea) hit it, it not only
became heavier, but the process of fermentation
began again, of which a by- product is methane gas.
As the stuff was stored below decks in bundles you
can see what could (and did) happen.
Methane began to build up below decks and the first
time someone came below at night with a lantern,
cid:email@example.com Several ships were destroyed in this manner
before it was determined just what was happening.
After that, the bundles of manure were always stamped
with the term 'Ship High In Transit' on them, which
meant for the sailors to stow it high enough off the
lower decks so that any water that came into the hold
would not touch this volatile cargo and start the
production of methane.
cid:firstname.lastname@example.org Thus evolved the term ' S.H.I.T ' ,
(Ship High In Transport) which has come down
through the centuries and is in use to this very day.
You probably did not know the true history of this
Methane Burps: Ticking Time Bomb
By John Atcheson
The Arctic Council's recent report on the effects of global warming in the far north paints a grim picture: global floods, extinction of polar bears and other marine mammals, collapsed fisheries. But it ignored a ticking time bomb buried in the Arctic tundra.
There are enormous quantities of naturally occurring greenhouse gasses trapped in ice-like structures in the cold northern muds and at the bottom of the seas. These ices, called clathrates, contain 3,000 times as much methane as is in the atmosphere. Methane is more than 20 times as strong a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.
Now here's the scary part. A temperature increase of merely a few degrees would cause these gases to volatilize and "burp" into the atmosphere, which would further raise temperatures, which would release yet more methane, heating the Earth and seas further, and so on. There's 400 gigatons of methane locked in the frozen arctic tundra-enough to start this chain reaction-and the kind of warming the Arctic Council predicts is sufficient to melt the clathrates and release these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Once triggered, this cycle could result in runaway global warming the likes of which even the most pessimistic doomsayers aren't talking about.
An apocalyptic fantasy concocted by hysterical environmentalists? Unfortunately, no. Strong geologic evidence suggests something similar has happened at least twice before.
The most recent of these catastrophes occurred about 55 million years ago in what geologists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), when methane burps caused rapid warming and massive die-offs, disrupting the climate for more than 100,000 years.
The granddaddy of these catastrophes occurred 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, when a series of methane burps came close to wiping out all life on Earth.
More than 94 percent of the marine species present in the fossil record disappeared suddenly as oxygen levels plummeted and life teetered on the verge of extinction. Over the ensuing 500,000 years, a few species struggled to gain a foothold in the hostile environment. It took 20 million to 30 million years for even rudimentary coral reefs to re-establish themselves and for forests to regrow. In some areas, it took more than 100 million years for ecosystems to reach their former healthy diversity.
Geologist Michael J. Benton lays out the scientific evidence for this epochal tragedy in a recent book, When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time. As with the PETM, greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide from increased volcanic activity, warmed the earth and seas enough to release massive amounts of methane from these sensitive clathrates, setting off a runaway greenhouse effect.
The cause of all this havoc?
In both cases, a temperature increase of about 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit, about the upper range for the average global increase today's models predict can be expected from burning fossil fuels by 2100. But these models could be the tail wagging the dog since they don't add in the effect of burps from warming gas hydrates. Worse, as the Arctic Council found, the highest temperature increases from human greenhouse gas emissions will occur in the arctic regions-an area rich in these unstable clathrates.
If we trigger this runaway release of methane, there's no turning back. No do-overs. Once it starts, it's likely to play out all the way.
Humans appear to be capable of emitting carbon dioxide in quantities comparable to the volcanic activity that started these chain reactions. According to the US. Geological Survey, burning fossil fuels releases more than 150 times the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by volcanoes-the equivalent of nearly 17,000 additional volcanoes the size of Hawaii's Kilauea.
And that is the time bomb the Arctic Council ignored.
How likely is it that humans will cause methane burps by burning fossil fuels? No one knows. But it is somewhere between possible and likely at this point, and it becomes more likely with each passing year that we fail to act.
So forget rising sea levels, melting ice caps, more intense storms, more floods, destruction of habitats and the extinction of polar bears. Forget warnings that global warming might turn some of the world's major agricultural areas into deserts and increase the range of tropical diseases, even though this is the stuff we're pretty sure will happen.
Instead, let's just get with the Bush administration's policy of pre-emption. We can't afford to have the first sign of a failed energy policy be the mass extinction of life on Earth. We have to act now.
John Atcheson, a geologist, has held a variety of policy positions in several federal government agencies.
Copyright 2004 Baltimore Sun
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