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Climate Change: Are We Making a Molehill out of a Mountain?


Okay, I’m sure we all agree: climate change is a Really Bad Thing. Like, it’s for sure going to suck for future generations. Our descendants’ sunscreen budget? Probably through the roof. We should definitely all pitch in and do something about climate change sometime soon. Just let’s finish this next couple rounds of Call of Duty, crack open a Coke, and we’ll put our heads together, for real.

But might the approach outlined above be insufficient? Might it be possible that climate change isn’t just a Really Bad Thing, but in fact The Most Dangerous Thing–The Thing We Probably Should Have Started Seriously Addressing Forty Years Ago?

I say this because there are a lot of factors we simply can’t predict–things that can accelerate climate change while doing enormous ecological and environmental damage.

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Consider the mountain pine beetle, which periodically lays waste to North American forests, releasing hundreds of megatonnes’ worth of carbon into the atmosphere. (A megatonne is one million tons.) This accelerates climate change, which only worsens mountain pine beetle outbreaks. A disturbing feedback loop.

Or, how about the fact that a review of the past decade’s weather reveals more extremes than any previous decade on record–a development that threatens the ability of plants to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Another feedback.

Here’s a further unpleasant surprise, brought to you by climate change: 2011 saw the opening of a large hole in the ozone layer above the Arctic. And that extreme weather I mentioned? It resulted in 18 outbreaks of the deadly Hendra virus this year, which is more than the previous 16 years combined.

There are also sources of carbon emissions which were unknown, until recently.

A years-long study has revealed that ocean recently covered by ice (of which there is an increasing amount) is a source of methane, a worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Other studies show that the ocean holds CO2 absorbed 30 to 50 years ago, a period during which the amount of carbon in the atmosphere rose 25%. And in the coming decades, it will release that carbon.

And another study, conducted in February, found that by 2100, melting permafrost in the Arctic will have released CO2 to the tune of hundreds of billions of tons.

So, when you hear about countries behaving the way Canada is at the current climate talks in Durban, South Africa–dragging its heels, representing the interests of oil companies over those of its people, and threatening to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol–you should, at the very least, be pissed off.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 12/05/2011 9:41 PM

    Pissed off doesn’t even begin to cover it. The government is supposed to act in the best interests of the people, and instead we and the generations that will follow us are being screwed over, all in the name of profit for private corporations. How did things get this bad?

  2. Ian Burgess Photography permalink
    12/08/2011 10:13 PM

    If Durban has shown us one thing it’s that governments are incapable and/or unwilling to act. I don’t know where this leaves us but it’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Sickening.

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