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message 1: by Héctor (new)

Héctor At the age of eighty-eight, after four children and a long and respected career as one of the twentieth century's most influential scientists, James Lovelock has come to an unsettling conclusion: The human race is doomed. "I wish I could be more hopeful," he tells me one sunny morning as we walk through a park in Oslo, where he is giving a talk at a university. Lovelock is a small man, unfailingly polite, with white hair and round, owlish glasses. His step is jaunty, his mind lively, his manner anything but gloomy. In fact, the coming of the Four Horsemen -- war, famine, pestilence and death -- seems to perk him up. "It will be a dark time," Lovelock admits. "But for those who survive, I suspect it will be rather exciting." In Lovelock's view, the scale of the catastrophe that awaits us will soon become obvious. By 2020, droughts and other extreme weather will be commonplace. By 2040, the Sahara will be moving into Europe, and Berlin will be as hot as Baghdad. Atlanta will end up a kudzu jungle. Phoenix will become uninhabitable, as will parts of Beijing (desert), Miami (rising seas) and London (floods). Food shortages will drive millions of people north, raising political tensions. "The Chinese have nowhere to go but up into Siberia," Lovelock says. "How will the Russians feel about that? I fear that war between Russia and China is probably inevitable." With hardship and mass migrations will come epidemics, which are likely to kill millions. By 2100, Lovelock believes, the Earth's population will be culled from today's 6.6 billion to as few as 500 million, with most of the survivors living in the far latitudes -- Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, the Arctic Basin. By the end of the century, according to Lovelock, global warming will cause temperate zones like North America and Europe to heat up by fourteen degrees Fahrenheit, nearly double the likeliest predictions of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations-sanctioned body that includes the world's top scientists. "Our future," Lovelock writes, "is like that of the passengers on a small pleasure boat sailing quietly above the Niagara Falls, not knowing that the engines are about to fail." And switching to energy-efficient light bulbs won't save us. To Lovelock, cutting greenhouse-gas pollution won't make much difference at this point, and much of what passes for sustainable development is little more than a scam to profit off disaster. "Green," he tells me, only half-joking, "is the color of mold and corruption." If such predictions were coming from anyone else, you would laugh them off as the ravings of an old man projecting his own impending death onto the world around him. But Lovelock is not so easily dismissed. As an inventor, he created a device that helped detect the growing hole in the ozone layer and jump-start the environmental movement in the 1970s. And as a scientist, he introduced the revolutionary theory known as Gaia -- the idea that our entire planet is a kind of superorganism that is, in a sense, "alive." Once dismissed as New Age quackery, Lovelock's vision of a self-regulating Earth now underlies virtually all climate science. Lynn Margulis, a pioneering biologist at the University of Massachusetts, calls him "one of the most innovative and mischievous scientific minds of our time." Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur, credits Lovelock with inspiring him to pledge billions of dollars to fight global warming. "Jim is a brilliant scientist who has been right about many things in the past," Branson says. "If he's feeling gloomy about the future, it's important for mankind to pay attention." Lovelock knows that predicting the end of civilization is not an exact science. "I could be wrong about all this," he admits as we stroll around the park in Norway. "The trouble is, all those well-intentioned scientists who are arguing that we're not in any imminent danger are basing their arguments on computer models. I'm basing mine on what?s actually happening."

In The Prophet of Climate Change: James Lovelock by Jeff Goodell



message 2: by Héctor (last edited Jan 14, 2008 09:57PM) (new)

Héctor Like many or perhaps most I wanted to believe that our oceans and atmosphere were basically unlimited sinks with an endless capacity to absorb the waste products of human existence. I wanted to believe that solving the carbon fuel problem was for future generations and that the big concern was the limited supply of oil not the rate of adding carbon to the atmosphere. The data is irrefutable -carbon dioxide concentrations have been steadily increasing in our atmosphere as a result of human activity since the earliest measurements began. We know that on the order of 4.1 billion tons of carbon are being added to and staying in our atmosphere each year. We know that burning fossil fuels and deforestation are the principal contributors to the increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere. Eleven of the last twelve years rank among the warmest years since 1850. While no one knows for certain the consequences of this continuing unchecked warming, some have argued it could result in catastrophic changes, such as the disruption of the Gulf Steam which keeps the UK out of the ice age or even the possibility of the Greenland ice sheet sliding into the Atlantic Ocean. Whether or not these devastating changes occur, we are conducting a dangerous experiment with our planet. One we need to stop. The developed world including the United States, England and Europe contribute disproportionately to the environmental carbon, but the developing world is rapidly catching up. As the world population increases from 6.5 billion people to 9 billion over the next 45 years and countries like India and China continue to industrialize, some estimates indicate that we will be adding over 20 billion tons of carbon a year to the atmosphere. Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes to the global climate that could be more extreme than those observed to date. This means we can expect more climate change; more ice cap melts, rising sea levels, warmer oceans and therefore greater storms, as well as more droughts and floods, all which compromise food and fresh water production. It required close to 100,000 years for the human population to reach 1 billion people on Earth in 1804. In 1960 the world population passed 3 billion and now we are likely to go from 6.5 billion to 9 billion over the next 45 years. I was born in 1946 when there were only about 2.4 billion of us on the planet, today there are almost three people for each one of us in 1946 and there will soon be four. Our planet is in crisis, and we need to mobilize all of our intellectual forces to save it. One solution could lie in building a scientifically literate society in order to survive. There are those who like to believe that the future of life on Earth will continue as it has in the past, but unfortunately for humanity, the natural world around us does not care what we believe. But believing that we can do something to change our situation using our knowledge can very much affect the environment in which we live.

In The importance of doing something now about the environment by Craig Venter


message 3: by Héctor (new)

Héctor Imagine it's a glorious new era and everything you'll do as part of your normal day helps to stabilise the climate and the global population, eradicate poverty, and restore the earth's damaged ecosystems. Sound unrealistic? It better not be because that is what it will take to prevent the end of human society as we know it, according to a new book, "Plan B 3.0: Mobilising to Save Civilisation". The crisis we face is both dire and urgent, requiring a transformative effort like the mobilisation of nations during World War II, says author Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental think tank in Washington. Climate change is happening far faster than scientists predicted and the planet will inevitably experience at least a 2-degree C. rise in global temperatures, putting us firmly into the danger zone, Brown told IPS. "No one currently in the running to be the next U.S. president gets the urgency of climate change," he said. "We need greenhouse gas emission cuts of 80 percent by 2020." That is a far deeper cut than the emission cuts of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels over the same time period as called for by the world's leading climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The IPCC based its recommendations on data that is nearly two years out of date, notes Brown. A number of more recent studies and observations -- many reported on by IPS -- show that climate change is accelerating. Brown is confident that the IPCC will change its recommendation in its next report, but it is not due for another five or six years. "That's too late when we need to act now," he said. Plan B 3.0 outlines how emissions could be cut by 80 percent, relying heavily on energy efficiency, renewable energy and expanding the earth's tree cover. Wind power could produce 40 percent of the world's energy with the installation of 1.5 million new two-megawatt wind turbines. While that may seem like a lot, 65 million cars are built every year. And there are many mothballed automotive assembly lines in North America and elsewhere that could be converted to produce wind turbines, he says. The state of Texas plans to build 23,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity -- the equivalent of 23 coal-fired power plants and enough electricity to satisfy the residential needs of over 11 million Texans, half the state's population. Turning to more efficient lighting can reduce world electricity use by 12 percent -- enough to close 705 of the world's 2,370 coal-fired power plants, Brown's book notes.
 Retrofitting existing buildings can typically cut energy use by 20-50 percent. In the United States, buildings -- commercial and residential -- account for close to 40 percent of carbon emissions. The next step, shifting to carbon-free electricity to heat, cool, and light the building, completes the transformation to a zero-carbon emissions construction. Another energy-efficiency measure is changing human "fuel" from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet because the latter requires about one-fourth as much energy to grow. The reduction in carbon emissions is about the same as that in shifting from a Chevrolet Suburban SUV to a Toyota Prius hybrid car.
 Brown is highly critical of the use of biofuels, which are made from food grains like corn and soy. Biofuels are driving food prices higher and will result in food shortages which will be disastrous for many of the world's poor, he says. Population growth is putting poor countries under enormous pressure. The annual addition of 70 million people to world population is concentrated in countries where water tables are falling and wells are going dry, forests are shrinking, soils are eroding, and grasslands are turning into desert. As this backlog of unresolved problems grows, stresses mount and weaker governments in Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, and Pakistan begin to break down. Each year the number of failing states increases. "Failing states," notes Brown, "are an early sign of a failing civilisation."


Rising oil prices can be added to the accumulating backlog. Rich countries will continue to get all the oil they need, while poor countries will have to make do with less. "Population growth and poverty need special attention from the developed world, but for the first time in history, we have the resources to properly address them," he says.
As for transforming the world energy economy, all that is needed is to incorporate the indirect costs of burning fossil fuels, such as climate disruption and air pollution through a carbon tax.
Brown envisions a worldwide carbon tax to be phased in at 20 dollars per tonne each year between 2008 and 2020, stabilising at 240 dollars per tonne. The carbon tax would be offset at every step with a reduction in income taxes which would simultaneously discourage fossil fuel use and encourage investment in renewable sources of energy. While solutions are readily available, what is lacking, he says, is awareness that our modern civilisation is at risk and a willingness to take action. "Saving civilisation is not a spectator sport," says Brown. "We have reached a point in the deteriorating relationship between us and the earth's natural systems where we all have to become political activists."

 Speed is essential, however. Humanity is crossing natural thresholds and triggering feedbacks that may not be reversible, such as the melting of the world's glaciers and polar regions. "We can all make lifestyle changes, but unless we restructure the economy and do it quickly, we will almost certainly fail," says Brown. "Time is our scarcest resource."

In "Plan B" Urges 80 Percent CO2 Cuts by Stephen Leahy


message 4: by Héctor (new)

Héctor Despite decades of ever more-exacting science projecting Earth's warming climate, there remains large uncertainty about just how much warming will actually occur. Two University of Washington scientists believe the uncertainty remains so high because the climate system itself is very sensitive to a variety of factors, such as increased greenhouse gases or a higher concentration of atmospheric particles that reflect sunlight back into space. In essence, the scientists found that the more likely it is that conditions will cause climate to warm, the more uncertainty exists about how much warming there will be. "Uncertainty and sensitivity have to go hand in hand. They're inextricable," said Gerard Roe, a UW associate professor of Earth and space sciences. "We're used to systems in which reducing the uncertainty in the physics means reducing the uncertainty in the response by about the same proportion. But that's not how climate change works." Roe and Marcia Baker, a UW professor emeritus of Earth and space sciences and of atmospheric sciences, have devised and tested a theory they believe can help climate modelers and observers understand the range of probabilities from various factors, or feedbacks, involved in climate change. The theory is contained in a paper published in the Oct. 26 edition of Science. In political polling, as the same questions are asked of more and more people the uncertainty, expressed as margin of error, declines substantially and the poll becomes a clearer snapshot of public opinion at that time. But it turns out that with climate, additional research does not substantially reduce the uncertainty. The equation devised by Roe and Baker helps modelers understand built-in uncertainties so that the researchers can get meaningful results after running a climate model just a few times, rather than having to run it several thousand times and adjust various climate factors each time. "It's a yardstick against which one can test climate models," Roe said. Scientists have projected that simply doubling carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from pre-Industrial Revolution levels would increase global mean temperature by about 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit. However, that projection does not take into account climate feedbacks -- physical processes in the climate system that amplify or subdue the response. Those feedbacks would raise temperature even more, as much as another 5 degrees F according to the most likely projection. One example of a feedback is that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, which in itself is a greenhouse gas. The increased water vapor then amplifies the effect on temperature caused by the original increase in carbon dioxide. "Sensitivity to carbon dioxide concentration is just one measure of climate change, but it is the standard measure," Roe said.
Before the Industrial Revolution began in the late 1700s, atmospheric carbon dioxide was at a concentration of about 280 parts per million. Today it is about 380 parts per million and estimates are that it will reach 560 to 1,000 parts per million by the end of the century. The question is what all that added carbon dioxide will do to the planet's temperature. The new equation can help provide an answer, since it links the probability of warming with uncertainty about the physical processes that affect how much warming will occur, Roe said. "The kicker is that small uncertainties in the physical processes are amplified into large uncertainties in the climate response, and there is nothing we can do about that," he said. While the new equation will help scientists quickly see the most likely impacts, it also shows that far more extreme temperature changes -- perhaps 15 degrees or more in the global mean -- are possible, though not probable. That same result also was reported in previous studies that used thousands of computer simulations, and the new equation shows the extreme possibilities are fundamental to the nature of the climate system. Much will depend on what happens to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the future. Since they can remain in the atmosphere for decades, even a slight decrease in emissions is unlikely to do more than stabilize overall concentrations, Roe said. "If all we do is stabilize concentrations, then we will still be risking the highest temperature change shown in the models," he said.

In Like it or not, uncertainty and climate change go hand in hand by Vince Stricherz


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