Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot
Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.
It may be generations before the true impact of climate change is felt. But some major, devastating changes may occur within decades — and we’re not prepared to deal with the fallout.
A rapid decline in Arctic sea ice and the extinction of plant and animal species are some of the “abrupt” changes we may say within our lifetimes, according to a new paper from the National Academy of Sciences. The Huffington Post reports:
Many such changes, according to Tony Barnosky, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, are “things that people in this room will be around to see.” He emphasized that scientists are “really worried about what’s going to happen in the next several years or decades.”
..Other, more gradually occurring changes can still have abrupt impacts on the ecosystem and human systems, such as the loss of fisheries or shifts in where certain crops can be cultivated. Rapid loss of ice, for example, would mean that sea levels rise at a much faster rate than the current trend, which would have a significant effect on coastal regions. A 3-foot rise in the seas is easier to prepare for if it happens on a 100-year horizon than if it happens within 30 years.
“If you think about gradual change, you can see where the road is and where you’re going,” said Barnosky. “With abrupt changes and effects, the road suddenly drops out from under you.”
As Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University, another of the report’s authors, put it to The New York Times’ Andrew Revkin, ”Katrina’s high waters just made it over the levee, and the difference between ‘just over’ and ‘not quite over’ proved to be a lot of billions of dollars and human disruption.”
The good news, on the other hand, is that some of the loudly touted risks of climate change are still far off in the future. Revkin sums up the effects that we’re no longer likely to see before the end of this century:
- Disruption to Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (the ocean current shifts that were caricatured in “The Day After Tomorrow“)
- Changes to patterns of climate variability (such as the Pacific temperature shifts (such as El Niño La Niña)
- Increasing release of carbon stored in soils and permafrost and methane from seabed methane hydrates
- Sea level rise from ice sheet destabilization
There’s still a chance, then, that meaningful change, made now, can help mitigate those risks, or at least help us prepare for them. For the effects that can occur sooner, the researchers argue, an early warning system is needed — lest we end up caught entirely off our guard.
Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email email@example.com.More Lindsay Abrams.
Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China
Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti
“Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA
Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.
Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada
Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway
Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.
Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.
Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million
Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.
Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon
Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.
Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico
Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.
Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.