26January2015

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Death By A Thousand Cuts: Earth Enters The ‘Danger Zone’

Last week, climate researchers at both NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that 2014 was the planet's warmest year in the modern record, going all the way back to 1880. The ten warmest years have now occurred since 2000, with the sole exception of 1998 when there was a strong El Niño warming event in the Pacific Ocean.

Climate scientist Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University put the scale of global warming in stark perspective when she told Associated Press:

'The globe is warmer now than it has been in the last 100 years and more likely in at least 5,000 years.' (Our emphasis.)

Don Wuebbles, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois, who has worked on reports for the UN Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change, said:

'We have a clear signal that our climate is changing, and when you look at the evidence it's because of human activities.

'The evidence is so strong I don't know why we are arguing any more. It's just crazy.'

In fact, any rational argument about whether dangerous climate change is real, and whether humans are largely responsible, is long-settled. What is needed now is urgent action to cut carbon emissions based on the climate justice principles of precaution and equity.

The stakes could not be higher. In a recent in-depth piece, Dahr Jamail interviewed several scientists, including Professor Paul Beckwith of the University of Ottawa in Canada, a researcher in abrupt climate change. Beckwith warned:

'It is my view that our climate system is in early stages of abrupt climate change that, unchecked, will lead to a temperature rise of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius within a decade or two. Obviously, such a large change in the climate system will have unprecedented effects on the health and well-being of every plant and animal on our planet.'

Professor John Schellnhuber, one of the world's leading climate scientists, says that 'the difference between two degrees and four degrees' of warming 'is human civilisation.'

Jamail noted that a study in Nature in 2013 warned that a 50-gigaton 'burp' of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is 'highly possible at anytime.' Because methane is a much more powerful global-warming gas than carbon dioxide, this methane 'burp' would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide. (For comparison, humans have released a total of around 1,475 gigatons of carbon dioxide since the year 1850.)

Human stress on the Earth's environment has become so severe that the planet has entered the 'danger zone', making it much less hospitable to our continued existence. Researchers warn that life support systems around the globe are being eaten away 'at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years'. It is 'a death by a thousand cuts', shifting the world to 'a warmer state, 5-6C warmer, with no ice caps'.

Professor Will Steffen, of the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, is the lead author of two new studies on 'planetary boundaries' being breached by human activity around the globe. He warns that although there would still be life on Earth, it would be disastrous for large mammals such as humans:

'Some people say we can adapt due to technology, but that's a belief system, it's not based on fact. There is no convincing evidence that a large mammal, with a core body temperature of 37C, will be able to evolve that quickly. Insects can, but humans can't and that's a problem.'

He added ominously:

'It's clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter's generation will find it increasingly hard to survive. History has shown that civilisations have risen, stuck to their core values and then collapsed because they didn't change. That's where we are today.'

Climate expert Jørgen Randers, who co-authored the classic book The Limits to Growth in 1972, is similarly scathing about the current system of economics:

'It is cost-effective to postpone global climate action. It is profitable to let the world go to hell.'

Read more: Death By A Thousand Cuts: Earth Enters The ‘Danger Zone’

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