First, the REALLY BAD news: The portion of carbon dioxide in our Earth’s atmosphere is now trending above 400 parts per million, as measured at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. The late Dr. Charles David Keeling initiated this research starting in 1958 (when the measure was ~315ppm) and has had the resulting jagged upward curve named for him. The results have been repeated and verified at many locations around the globe. Further measurements of the gases trapped in ice cores (and other methods) have extended the curve backward in time to more than 3 million years ago (i.e. prior to the existence of Homo sapiens).
The right hand side of the curve demonstrates the problem: At no time known to man has the amount of atmospheric carbon been higher than today. And everyday we humans add further to this by continuing to burn fossil fuels and releasing carbon (and other greenhouse gases) that have been long trapped within the earth or by nature. Without doubt, our global industrial engineering, taking advantage of the high power density of coal, oil and natural gas, has had huge benefits to our civilization over the last 150+ years. (We’d all be challenged to recognize our pre-industrial past as very “civilized” when animal and manpower — often in the form of slavery — were the prime power sources for engineering projects.) We all wish this was sustainable… but not!
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace prize (along with ex-VP Al Gore, who is perhaps most responsible for widely publicizing the Kleening Curve), stated in their 2008 report (their 4th assessment; the 5th is due early in 2014) that without mitigation, it is highly likely that average global temperatures during this century will rise between 1-6°C, due to the higher retention by our atmosphere of the sun’s radiant energy. This in turn is likely to cause significant melting of the Earth’s glaciers and polar ice caps, with an estimated minimum of 7m (22 feet) of sea level rise if the Greenland ice sheet melts. Plus the more energetic atmosphere is likely to cause chaotic weather patterns with more drought, as well as much stronger and more frequent storms. Plus ocean acidification and more scary things. Overall, a massive long-term disruption to nature and the environment, and to mankind’s existing way of life, with at least 23% of the global population threatened with loss of its drinking water, food supply and/or living spaces. Without a doubt, further impacts will also include violence between those with and those without, and possibly even global war caused by the arrogant, the ignorant or those in the grip of fear…
It’s all VERY DEPRESSING !!
The good news? Well, nothing as earth-shattering, but still quite hopeful. Those who know me, will know I’m also a space geek. Yes, I follow the NASA (and other) space programs very closely. I geek out watching a live rocket launch, and have NASA TV in my bookmarks and on my iPhone. Well, today happens to be the departure date of 3 of the crew on the International Space Station (ISS), returning home after nearly 6 months of living in microgravity, scientific research, maintenance and sometimes dramatic repairs (e.g. Saturday’s unplanned spacewalk). The commander of this expedition has been Chris Hatfield from Ontario Canada (the first Canadian ever to command a spacecraft). But he’s also a musician, who yesterday released to the world via YouTube a beautiful rendition of the classic ‘Space Oddity’ by David Bowie (which you may know better by its haunting chorus: “Can you hear me Major Tom?”). This new music video was recorded during his off duty time on the station and includes many beautiful views within the station, and of our BLUE Mother Earth. If you remember, the original lyrics were also quite depressing… Yet in this reversion Major Tom is returning to the Earth from a space station (“a tin can”), just as Commander Chris will be doing this evening. It’s a Must Watch, whether you’re a space geek or classic rock fan, but especially if you’re depressed about how screwed up the human race is… This gives me hope! Thank you for that, @Cmdr_Hatfield! – Jack