Monday, May 09, 2005

The New Yorker climate change series: Part III

If the first two parts of The New Yorker three-part series on climate change didn't take your breath away, the final installment certainly will. [UPDATE: Thanks to "M" we now have a link to Part III. At this point, the magazine has not posted the article online. You can read the previous previous articles here (Part I) and here (Part II).] Some excerpts from Part III:

For all practical purposes, the recent "carbonization" of the atmosphere is irreversible. Carbon dioxide is a persistent gas; it lasts for about a century. Thus, while it is possible to increase CO2 concentrations relatively quickly, by, say, burning fossil fuels or levelling forests, the opposite is not the case. The effect might be compared to driving a car equipped with an accelerator but no brakes.

....As we delay, the opportunity to change course is slipping away. "We have only a few years, and not ten years but less, to do something," the Dutch state secretary for the environment, Pieter van Geel, told me...

...."Right now, we're going to just burn everything up; we're going to heat the atmosphere to the temperature it was in the Cretaceous [which ran from approximately 100 million years ago to 55 million years ago, long before humans came onto the scene], when there were crocodiles at the poles. And then everything will collapse[,]" [according to Marty Hoffert, professor of physics at New York University.]

....Climate records also show that we are steadily drawing closer to the temperature peaks of the last interglacial, when sea levels were some fifteen feet higher than they are today. Just a few degrees more and the earth will be hotter than it has been at any time since our species evolved.

....It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.
The article focuses on the example of the Dutch, much of whose country lies below sea level. They are already making preparations to abandon some of their land to the encroaching waters. There is also a discussion of possible actions to avert reaching dangerous levels of greenhouse gasses and of the meaning of and problems with the Kyoto protocol process. (Hint: The United States is the main problem.)

The short version: Time is running out--fast!

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2 comments:

Cameron said...

It seems to me the jig is up. How could a global culture which by and large won't even TALK about Oil & Natural Gas peaking, much less DO anything about it, address and do something about one of the direct (and immense) consequences of building a whole civilization on the burning fossil fuels? i.e., climate change.

The USA in particular is doing what James Kunstler calls "sleepingwalking into the future". Only one Congressman, and no major media have addressed the oil peak matter (and its economic and climatological implications), so what besides a sudden crisis --either energy-wise or climatological-- will wake the nation up? Even General Motors, who should have seen the new prices of gas coming, and whose very existence as a corporation depends on selling cars that people will buy, had its head in the sand and has gotten run over --for the second time! Duh! --Cameron

M said...

The 3. part of the series can be found here: http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?050509fa_fact3

There doesn't seem to be a link on the front page, but I'm just glad they put it online.