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Planet Fireball and the Paris Climate Talks

“By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle,” said George Monbiot, climate writer for The Guardian. “By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”

In other words, yes, it’s a miracle that anything happened at all, but it’s not going to turn things around or barely even slow them down. Instead, we can expect entire marine food chains to collapse, rainforests to retreat, rivers to fail and deserts to spread. “Mass extinction is likely to be the hallmark of our era. This is what success, as defined by the cheering delegates, will look like.”

Retired (meaning forced-out) NASA scientist James Hansen called the entire exercise a “fraud”, a “fake” and “worthless words.”

And Stephen Colbert captured the inherent absurdity of the Paris agreement when he explained that it “makes history by setting the bar as low as it can possibly go.”

Ironically, while the talks were going on, hundreds of people were dying in Chennai, India, as flooding turned a city of five million into an island. And in Britain, the heaviest rains ever measured over 24 hours turned villages into lakes.

Noting that the beef, pork, mutton and chicken industries contribute more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than the entire transportation industry, Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd observed that not only was the issue of animal agriculture completely ignored at the Paris meeting, but they were actually serving hamburgers at forums dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. And at one of the very few forums where the plight of the oceans was discussed, fish and chips were on the menu.

Watson’s conclusion:

My two solutions to address climate change were two solutions that no one wanted to hear: Shut down industrialized fishing and allow the ocean ecosystems to repair themselves. And convert the majority of the 7.5. billion humans on the planet to a plant based diet.

This watered down agreement is too little, too late, and what is on paper will most likely not see any realistic application in practice.

But perhaps the most telling comment/response to the Paris accords was to be seen at the Republican presidential candidates’ debate on Tuesday, where the focus of the debate was supposedly on global security. Except that the CNN moderators didn’t ask a single question about the one issue that’s the greatest threat ever to all our national security as a country and our global security as a species. Nothing.

(Donald Trump did bring up the issue himself briefly, stating that global warming is “inconceivable” – as indeed it is, apparently, to him and all the other candidates.)

Sky News has a short and quite realistic primer on what will happen as the world gets warmer. If warming is held to 2°C over pre-industrial levels (extremely unlikely):

Glaciers and rivers will start to disappear. By 2100, sea levels could rise by a meter, displacing 10 percent of the world’s population. Countries such as the Maldives will be submerged and the Indian subcontinent will be left fighting for survival. The ecosystem will collapse and a third of all life on earth will face extinction. Plant growth will slow, then stop. The world’s food centers will become barren and, within 85 years, one third of the planet will be without fresh water.

If temperatures rise by up to 3°C:

Hurricanes will be stronger and cities in Asia, Australia and the south-east of the US will face destruction. Holland will be torn apart by the North Sea. Saltwater will creep upstream, poisoning the groundwater and ruining the food supply.

If temperatures rise 3-4°C:

Millions of people will flee coastal areas, cities will begin to vanish and some will become islands. The ice at both poles will vanish and sea levels [begin to rise] as much as 50 meters. Forests turn to firewood, with even Britain’s south reaching 45C.

And when they rise above 4°C:

Rainforests will be deserts. Massive numbers of migrants will flock to the few parts of the world they see as inhabitable, resulting in racial conflict and civil war. [Even] Canada and Siberia may be too hot to grow food.

Stagnant oceans mean more hydrogen sulphide, which kills the sea-life and, if the sea heats up enough, massive stores of methane hydrate under the sea will begin to escape. Methane is flammable and the smallest spark or lightning strike could see fireballs tearing across the sky. Explosions greater than a nuclear bomb could destroy life on earth entirely.

In other words, at 6°C, which, right now, is where we’re headed, Planet Earth turns into a fireball.