Last week, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere went through the roof. Another roof.
The previous roof was 350 parts per million (ppm) – which was generally considered to be the point of no return, beyond which it would be very hard to stop a runaway climate effect from happening. We went through that roof about 25 years ago. And last week, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere topped 400 ppm.
No human being has ever witnessed greenhouse gases at this level. Scientists say the last time Planet Earth was like this was probably about 2 million years ago, during the Pleistocene Era.
But the situation now is far more dangerous, because back then the warming effect of climate change took place over thousands of years, enabling animals and plants to adapt to the new conditions. This time, it’s happening over just a few years – thousands of times faster.
What will be the effect of this? According to a study by scientists from several countries, more than half of all plants and a third of all animals are now at risk. And this estimate is “probably conservative” in that it doesn’t take into account many other factors, like deforestation and the poisoning of the oceans, that are affecting animals and plants everywhere. As Rachel Warren, of the University of East Anglia, who led the study, explained:
“This research predicts that climate change will greatly reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the world. This loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides.
“We looked at the effect of rising global temperatures, but other symptoms of climate change such as extreme weather events, pests and diseases mean that our estimates are probably conservative. Animals in particular may decline more as our predictions will be compounded by a loss of food from plants. There will also be a knock-on effect for humans because these species are important for things like water and air purification, flood control, nutrient cycling and eco-tourism.”
Those who campaign to protect the planet from this insanity keep telling us that there’s still time to turn the situation around. Al Gore wrote on his blog:
With any great challenge comes great opportunity. We have the rare privilege to rise to an occasion of global magnitude. To do so, our communities, our businesses, our universities, and our governments need to work in harmony to stop the climate crisis. We must summon the very best of the human spirit and draw on our courage, our ingenuity, our intellect, and our determination to confront this crisis. Make no mistake, this crisis will demand no less than our very best. I am optimistic because we have risen to meet the greatest challenges of our past.
The trouble is that those “greatest challenges of the past” have been when the threat was very immediate and very visible – like, say, the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This new threat, however, is silent, largely invisible except for the early manifestations like hurricanes, floods and droughts, and not something we can fight with heroic actions and weapons of war. And the enemy is not someone else; it’s us.
And so we just continue to slide relentlessly from one tipping point to the next, bequeathing the mounting disaster to our children and grandchildren, for whom it will be too late to do anything much beyond adapting their lives to the catastrophe they’ve inherited.