California is under siege from wildfires. At last count from the Department of Forestry and Protection, some 5,000 fires have burned around 695,000 acres of land and structures. And while this is a record year for California, similar fires have occurred in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. Meanwhile, the entire U.S. has experienced record heat temperatures. Is this a sign of global warming? Are we destined for more years of similar fire and heat??
Well, a new study by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that 'yes, indeed', we may be in a very precarious situation relative to atmospheric temperatures and a live-able environment on the Earth's surface. What's most scary about the study is that it outlines the possibility of an irreversible chain of events like falling dominos that would stoke a warming of the planet to disastrous levels. The study suggests that we are perilously close to the tipping point of what they termed the "Hothouse Earth" effect.
In its simplest terms, the "Hothouse Earth" scenario involves a series of self-reinforcing processes that push the Earth toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming even as human emissions are reduced. Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than previously experienced. The resulting environment would likely cause serious disruptions to ecosystems, society and economies. For example, agricultural systems are particularly vulnerable in Hothouse Earth scenarios. Increased temperatures would likely exceed the limits of adaptation for farm products and result in a substantial overall decrease in agricultural production, causing increased prices and even more disparity between wealthy and poor countries. Other impacts include flooding of many coastal cities and loss of barrier reefs critical to marine ecosystems.
One key element of the Hothouse Earth falling domino scenario is the release of trapped carbon in the Earth's surface into the atmosphere, thus accelerating the 'greenhouse effect' in the ozone layer. This would include not only the carbon dioxide taken in on the surface plant life like tree branches and leaves but also an enormous amount of carbon gases currently trapped under Artic and Antarctic ice. In fact, a totally independent study conducted by the Joint Global Change Research Institute found that soils around the globe are responding to a warming climate by converting more carbon into carbon dioxide which subsequently enters the atmosphere. The effect of this growing imbalance further dwindles the strength of the soil as a natural place to store carbon and substantiates the Hothouse Earth theory. But unlike the Hothouse theory, the JGCRI study has been conducted using thousands of observations at hundreds of sites around the world; i.e. THIS is a REAL WORLD study.
According to the NAS study conclusion, only coordinated human action will be able to stabilize the Earth in a habitable state and will entail stewardship of the entire Earth system--biosphere, climate and societies--and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.
These studies should alarm all of us and force us to reflect on the recent rollbacks by the EPA on emission restrictions from coal burning facilities to vehicles. The evidence is mounting that all of the countries that signed the Paris Accord on global warming were correct---leaving only the U.S. to be playing "chicken" with Mother Earth on her ability to withstand the human impact on the global ecosystem.
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