The world we're heading for: No animals, no fish, and a massive human population collapse

New Scientist magazine in February published a detailed analysis of the likely impact of global warming this century. It reads like a horror novel, which is why I’m so angry our “representatives” in Washington are pretending to curtail U.S. carbon emissions. We’re driving at high-speed toward a cliff, and their response is to pretend to step on the brakes.

Here’s a short excerpt:

Alligators basking off the English coast; a vast Brazilian desert… and 90 per cent of humanity vanished. Welcome to the world warmed by 4 °C…

Four degrees [Celsius] may not sound like much – after all, it is less than a typical temperature change between night and day. It might sound quite pleasant, like moving to Florida from Boston, say, or retiring from the UK to southern Spain. An average warming of the entire globe by 4°C is a very different matter, however, and would render the planet unrecognisable from anything humans have ever experienced…

The 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose conclusions are generally accepted as conservative, predicted a rise of anywhere between 2°C and 6.4°C this century. And in August 2008, Bob Watson, former chair of the IPCC, warned that the world should work on mitigation and adaptation strategies to “prepare for 4 °C of warming”…

The last time the world experienced temperature rises of this magnitude was 55 million years ago, after the so-called Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum event. Then, the culprits were clathrates – large areas of frozen, chemically caged methane – which were released from the deep ocean in explosive belches that filled the atmosphere with around 5 gigatonnes of carbon. The already warm planet rocketed by 5 or 6 °C, tropical forests sprang up in ice-free polar regions, and the oceans turned so acidic from dissolved carbon dioxide that there was a vast die-off of sea life. Sea levels rose to 100 metres higher than today’s and desert stretched from southern Africa into Europe…

[M]any of the places where people live and grow food would no longer be suitable for either. Rising sea levels – from thermal expansion of the oceans, melting glaciers and storm surges – would drown today’s coastal regions in up to 2 metres of water initially, and possibly much more if the Greenland ice sheet and parts of Antarctica were to melt. “It’s hard to see west Antarctica’s ice sheets surviving the century, meaning a sea-level rise of at least 1 or 2 metres,” says climatologist James Hansen, who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. “CO2 concentrations of 550 parts per million [compared with about 385 ppm now] would be disastrous,” he adds, “certainly leading to an ice-free planet, with sea level about 80 metres higher… and the trip getting there would be horrendous.”

This really would be survival, though, in a world that few would choose to live. Large chunks of Earth’s biodiversity would vanish because species won’t be able to adapt quickly enough to higher temperatures, lack of water, loss of ecosystems, or because starving humans had eaten them. “You can forget lions and tigers: if it moves we’ll have eaten it,” says Lovelock. “People will be desperate.”

We’re not talking about six generations from now. We could well hit 4°C of warming by 2050. I’d like to still be alive then, and I’m not sure I want alligators lounging around the pool at my future retirement home.

Posted by James on Friday, June 26, 2009