The Ironies of Our Present Situation

Knowledge has been accumulating over the past few decades suggesting that our current situation, as humans, is dire.  One irony associated with this body of knowledge is that it is likely now too late to act on that knowledge in a way that might save us.  A second irony is even more saturated in irony:  Had we had this knowledge 40—or even 30—years ago, and acted on it, it’s likely that our situation would not now be dire; however, it’s unlikely that we would have acted to save ourselves even then!  It’s enough to make one cry!

What knowledge am I referring to?  Here are 10 instances of that “knowledge”—in the form of facts and reasoned guesses:

  • Our burning of fossil fuels (along with deforestation) has resulted in an increase of the global mean by about 0.85° C. since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (which many date to about 1850 CE).
  • Engineer Bruce Melton (author of Climate Discovery Chronicles, 2011) stated last year :  “In the last 28 years we [humans] have emitted as many greenhouse gas pollutants as we emitted in the previous 236 years.”
  • The “climate commitment” value is believed to be between 1° C. and 1.5° C. (1.6° C. say some scientists).  That is, if humans throughout the world were to cease pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere tomorrow, warming would continue to a point somewhere within the range specified above.  Related to this:  “A new scientific study [issued in 2009] led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reaches a powerful conclusion about the climate change caused by future increases of carbon dioxide:  to a large extent, there’s no going back.

“The pioneering study, led by NOAA senior scientist Susan Solomon, shows how changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for more than 1,000 years after carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are completely stopped.  The findings appear during the week of January 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

  • There is an approximate 40-year lag between cause and effect with global warming.  This means that the weather conditions that we have been experiencing this past year have their origins in what was occurring around 1974.  In using the phrase “what was occurring,” I mean in particular “what we humans were doing that was affecting the atmosphere.
  • The last time (about 400,000 years ago!) that the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere was as it is now, “modern humans didn’t exist.  Megatoothed sharks prowled the oceans, the world’s seas were up to 100 feet higher than they are today, and the global average surface temperature was up to 11° F warmer than it is now.”
  • The study of (p. vii) “Earth’s climate history suggests the inevitability of “tipping points”—thresholds beyond which major and rapid changes occur when crossed—that lead to abrupt changes in the climate system.  The history of climate on the planet—as read in archives such as tree rings, ocean sediments, and ice cores—is punctuated with large changes that occurred rapidly, over the course of decades to as little as a few years.”  (emphasis added)
  • Carbon “sinks” such as the oceans are becoming saturated, so that for that reason alone more of the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere will stay there for a long period, and thereby contribute to further heating of the atmosphere.
  • Forests serve as carbon “sinks,” but because increased variability in weather conditions is a feature of global warming, and severe droughts will become increasingly common, forest fires will not only reduce their ability to continue as carbon sinks, but become an increasingly important source of atmospheric carbon—thereby “contributing” still further to atmospheric heating.
  • The fact that global warming results in changes that contribute to further global warming means that global warming is a process that “feeds upon itself.”  What that fact suggests is that the increase in global warming, from year to year, will not be linear.  Rather, it will be curvilinear in that global warming can be expected to accelerate.  Another way of stating this is that runaway change is likely to occur—and may, in fact, be underway now!
  • The planet that we live on “is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals—the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years.  We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.  Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day [1]. It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century [2].”

Given the above, should one be surprised to learn that British climate scientist John B. Davies wrote last year?:  “The world is probably at the start of a runaway Greenhouse Event which will end most human life on Earth before 2040.”  Twenty-six years from now, that is!

The irony here is that we are learning this important fact—or at least likelihood—about our destiny at a point in time when it is likely too late to engage in those actions that might prevent our extinction.  A further irony here, of course, is that few are currently aware of the danger that we humans are in—including our “leaders”!  Indeed, one gets the strong impression that even if our “leaders” were now aware of the threat posed by global warming, they would still not act to counter the threat in any meaningful way.

The same goes for 40 years ago—when, by the way, at least some were aware of the global warming threat, having learned from Guy S. Callendar that global warming was already occurring:

In 1938, Callendar was the first to demonstrate that global land temperatures had increased over the previous 50 years,[2] and these estimates have now been shown to be remarkably accurate,[3] especially as they were performed without the aid of a computer.[4] Callendar assessed climate sensitivity value at 2°[5] , which is on the low end of the IPCC range.

Why say:  “The same goes for 40 years ago”?  The leaders of the “developed” world—with the United States as the leader of the pack—are, and have been, too engrossed in warmongering, etc. (in the case of our political “leaders”) and making profits (in the case of our corporate “leaders”—who control the former) to worry about such trivialities as the future.

Indeed, their preoccupation with warmongering may mean that nuclear annihilation “gets” us before global warming has a chance to do so!  Now, wouldn’t that be ironic!!

Al Thompson retired over seven years ago from an engineering (avionics) firm in Milwaukee. His e-mail address is: Read other articles by Alton.