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Scientists Warn Climate Change May Be Irreversible

Scientists Warn Climate Change May Be Irreversible

Scientists at the Planet Under Pressure conference have some bad news for the environmental movement. Anyone paying attention could tell you that global warming is out of control. Temperatures are already set to rise by at least 2 degrees Celsius in the next century – and there may be nothing we can do to change it at this point.

But if we continue to pollute the Earth without taking drastic measures to change our emissions, the global temperature could rise by as much as six degrees. It may not seem like a huge difference, but it’s significant enough to profoundly alter the Earth as we know it. Sea levels will rise. The polar ice sheets will disappear. Rainforests will die. There won’t be any coming back from these changes.

These shifts in the climate of the Earth represent tipping points – and some scientists say that the tipping point for the melting ice sheets has already passed. There may be no way to recover them. In low-lying countries like Tuvalu or Kiribati, citizens are already making plans to evacuate as rising sea levels gradually swallow up their island homes.

But if the Amazon rainforest reaches a tipping point caused by higher temperatures and a drier climate, it could be devastating. The dying trees would stop absorbing emissions and instead release even more carbon into the atmosphere.

And nobody knows what will happen if the permafrost begins to melt in Siberia. The frozen soil stores billions of tons of carbon – twice as much as the atmosphere now. Severe temperature changes could unlock all that carbon, intensifying climate change dramatically. In an interview with Reuters, Will Steffen, the executive director of the Australian National University’s climate change institute, explained:

“There is about 1,600 billion tonnes of carbon there – about twice the amount in the atmosphere today – and the northern high latitudes are experiencing the most severe temperature change of any part of the planet,” he said.

In a worst case scenario, 30 to 63 billion tonnes of carbon a year could be released by 2040, rising to 232 to 380 billion tonnes by 2100. This compares to around 10 billion tonnes of CO2 released by fossil fuel use each year.

These changes in the atmosphere also make the oceans more acidic, as the water absorbs more carbon. We’re already witnessing an increase in ocean acidity. This change in the ocean threatens coral reefs could quickly lead to the extinction of many marine species within the next few decades.

Bob Watson, the former head of the UN’s climate panel and current chief advisor to Britian’s environment ministry, is not optimistic. Given current worldwide commitments to combatting climate change, he believes it’s entirely likely that global temperatures will rise by 5 degrees Celsius (9 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century:

“If you look at the commitments today from governments around the world, we’ve only got a 50-50 shot at a 3 C (5.4 F) world, almost no chance of a 2 C (3.6 F) world, and to be quite honest I would say it’s not unlikely that we will hit a 5 C (9.0 F) world,” said Watson.

“That is clearly a world with significant adverse consequences for ecological systems, for socio-economic systems and for human health.”

He added: “We have to realise that we are looking at a loss of biodiversity that is unprecedented in the last 65 million years… We are clearly entering the (planet’s) sixth mass extinction.”

It’s important to note that despite these dire predictions, not all scientists are completely pessimistic. Steffan told an audience in London on Tuesday, “This is the critical decade.” While the implications are terrifying – if we don’t reduce global greenhouse gas emissions significantly in the next decade, the results could be catastrophic – there’s also the possibility that things can be turned around, or the damage at least limited. But we have to act quickly.

The good news is that we have at least the next ten years before the worst of global climate change becomes completely irreversible. If we plan for the worst, that’s a full decade to lobby our lawmakers and insist upon change. As more severe weather begins to occur as a result of climate change, maybe more US lawmakers will start being willing to concede it exists and take action to stop it. (Well, we can hope, can’t we?) is placing their efforts on that hope this year – for their global day of action on May 5, they’re urging protestors to “connect the dots” between carbon emissions, global warming, and extreme weather. You can find out more about the event and how you can participate on their website,


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Photo credit: Phil Plait

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9:48AM PST on Nov 25, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

11:51PM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

This is exactly why we need a Resource Based Economy! Switching to a Resource Based Economy will not only allow us to fix all of our failing and outdated systems such as political, governmental, medical, education, transportation, energy, etc., but to actually implement all of the technology and resources we have to stop polluting the land, air and water. Technology, combined with sustainable and renewable practices, we can provide a high standard of living for every one on this planet, with out totally destroying it. Every one needs to check it out now!!!! or There are millions of supporters, including supporters in nearly every country around the world!

7:35AM PDT on Jun 4, 2012

I learned about the composition of the atmosphere in Earth Science class in HS, circa 1959. Not one to forget such factoids, as the environmental movement was getting under way I started to think about how emissions must logically be pushing up CO2 levels. But conservatives are and have been immune to logic, and here we are.

6:37AM PDT on Apr 15, 2012

I became alarmed by what we are doing to nest when I was 14 years old and did a civics paper on it (do the schools even teach civics anymore?)

You may well imagine my heartbreak as I've watched the greed meisters ramp up their efforts for short term gain.
And now, as if to prove their fearlessness, they want to force women to bear any child that comes along. Women and children may have been dragged along for the ride, but I put responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the patriarchy which not only fosters the belief that Life is evil = women are evil - some parent figure will come to save us, but also fosters the idea that we can go endlessly in one direction, developing our way until the world not only looks level, but IS level.

They treat nature like they treat their mothers, expect HER to pick up after them and wash their dirty socks endlessly....or Jezuz is coming or someone to pick us up and take care of everything.
Men are a childish species, but I consider the attacks upon the Earth are echoed in the attacks upon women. They know fertility is going to decline from their poisonous ways so they preempting the situation

WE HAVE to get a new mythos. We can't do the boy thing anymore.
It's gotta be Gaea!!!

4:58AM PDT on Apr 13, 2012

All we can do it seems is to make sure our efforts make Climate change is less extreme

8:37PM PDT on Apr 2, 2012

I'm hoping some group of scientists will develop an airborne virus that will simply sterilize all of humanity. Humans can all live to old age with no children and then move aside for earth to recover from their insanity, greed and destruction.

3:54PM PDT on Apr 2, 2012

Myron S. Good post, but I have to point out that Marc's "African in the White House" comment is not racist. If anything it would be xenophobic. Despite the fact that Obama has provided just as much or more evidence than any other President has ever pprovided to prove his citizenship, the birther myth continues.

3:18PM PDT on Apr 2, 2012

Well said, in every respect, Linda.

2:33PM PDT on Apr 2, 2012

Dear friends, I would like to take up a few moments and share with you some of my thoughts and understanding about the urgency of helping our Planet Earth. And I would like to thank you for willingness to listen. Dear friends we are living in days of change and ending of the old. Please friends awake your minds and embrace the dream world of a love and peace. I would like to ask you friends to stand for the change and step up! Pray dear friends, pray for our Home Earth every day! And whenever you gather and meet- please friends, speak up and spread the message! Be part of the change and multiply this emergency call by 6 billion! Thank you friends for awaking for the truth and halting duality to an end! Blessings!

2:06PM PDT on Apr 2, 2012

Thank you for your support Myron & others. My point was immediately proved by a poster bringing up "you liberals" shortly after I posted my concern about the lack of civility, left/right & diversion from the topics. I can see how one topic can easily morph into another because they are in fact related or good metaphors. As far as Liberal/Conservative or Dem/Rep, that is nonsense (especially when one considers that they are BOTH 2 sides of a very similar coin in many ways & owned by industry). I would hope folks here would have the intellect to consider both points of view on every topic rather than go "party line" on everything carte blanche. I can be "liberal" on some things and "conservative" on others but try to see both sides.Not everything is black & white.Regardless, name calling is both aggravating & discouraging and I don't feel such behaviour would be tolerated or initiated in a face to face conversation (unless someone had a desire to lose their teeth!) It's easy to see why there is so much dissension in the world when people on a web site, as a microcosm of society, cannot even discuss things peacefully.Let us set an example.

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