There once was a time, not long ago, when we debated the existence of global warming. We as in the species as a whole, not a few people sadly brainwashed by Big Oil. Then, we debated the cause; then, we debated the cause of the cause. Then we debated whether we could do anything about it, and then whether we should do anything about it. The climate change debate has been getting narrower every year…to the point that the biggest debate today is whether there’s still any legitimate debate at all.
The New Year brings many things — the most exciting of which, for the scientific community, probably being a final summary of the data collected for the year before. The Japanese Meteorological Agency (one of four that tracks global temperatures) was the first to release its summary findings for 2014. The the summary says:
2014 may have been the hottest year in the history of human civilization.
Reread that sentence again; let it really sink in.
And worse, it may be by a far more significant margin than JMA estimates. JMA uses the least thorough of the four surface temperature datasets, covering only 85 percent of the planet’s surface, with a notable absence of readings at the poles. That’s really significant, since the poles are warming up faster than anywhere else on Earth — three to four times as fast as the rest of the planet. And JMA’s results barely take the poles into account, so the overall warming of the Earth is almost certainly far higher than JMA states.
We’ll know something closer to the real rise in average temperature once the HadCRUT4 dataset and data from that UAH and NCEP weather satellites are in and collated. That’s them above; dark red is a +2 Celsius increase from 1996 to 2010, and dark blue is a -2C decrease in temperature. But their readings will, if anything be higher than JMA’s — which is already recording the highest average temperature ever measured on Earth.
Of course, that data is easy to ignore here in America; as you can see from the satellite data on the right, the U.S. has barely experienced any temperature change since 1996 or so. America is practically an island of white…which is a whole separate layer of irony. It’s even gotten a touch cooler here in the west, owing to changes in temperatures of some ocean currents. But as bad as we are at caring that the rest of the world exists, the fact is that things look pretty dire worldwide. There’s just no missing the sheer volume of dark red on those maps.
It also worth noting that in addition to being the hottest recorded year on average (not even counting the poles, mostly), the Earth is changing in the way that heat is dispersed. Because the poles are heating up so much faster than the regions near the equator, the Earth isn’t just getting warmer.
It’s evening out.
At the rate things are going now, assuming the increase doesn’t speed up (which it probably will), the Earth’s poles will be almost the exact same temperature as the equator in 100 to 200 years. That’s right; 200 years. Not 2 billion, or 200,000 or 2,000…200 years. And what happens then?
The weather just kind of…stops.
Ocean currents just kind of…stop.
The majority of life on Earth, including us, just kind of…stop.
Let’s just put that into perspective. A generation is about 30 years, and the average human lives to about 65, as much as about 90. If you’re 30 years old and have a child today, your great-grandson may actually live to see the blanket extinction of the human race. And if he doesn’t, your great-great grandchild probably will. Or, to put that another way:
You may actually meet someone, within your lifetime, who will live to see the end of the human race, and most other life on Earth.
And there’s little doubt at this point that we’re causing it. Of course, there’s some debate among Flat-Earthers, who think every scientist and thermometer on Earth is on Jeff Besos’ payroll. There’s some “debate” among quasi-legitimate scientists, who are themselves on Big Oil or Big Tobacco’s payroll. But among those of us in the sane world, the fact that 2014 also posted the highest level of carbon dioxide in human history isn’t a coincidence.
“But wait, they didn’t start measuring that until” whenever. No, we actually have a pretty thorough record of that from air bubbles trapped in arctic sea ice, geological evidence, growth rings on trees and about 20 other sources. At about 44 billion tons (increasing 2.5 percent per year), there’s about 400 parts per million of carbon in our atmosphere right now.
Carbon hasn’t been this high in the 400,000 humans are said to have been on Earth — or 6,000 years, depending on the climate-change denier you ask. You’d have to go back 3 million years to find carbon levels as high as they are now. Assuming the rate doesn’t increase, just going by 2.5 percent per year:
- In 35 years, carbon will be about as high was it was when the dinosaurs went extinct.
- In 50 years, carbon will be about as high as it was in the Mid-Jurassic
- In 110 years, carbon will be as high as the highest point in Earth’s history, during the Cambrian period. In the earlier part of this period, the most complex form of life on Earth was pond scum.
So, thanks to climate change deniers, Flat-Earthers, conspiracy theorists, and scientists and politicians funded by Big Oil and Big Tobacco, your grandchildren may live to see the end result, the final culmination of humanity.
Not a magic city descending from the clouds. Not an apocalyptic battle, a final showdown between good and evil. Not in sinners punished for their evil deeds, dragons rising out of the ocean, and good souls spirited off to said magic city in the sky. Not in a culmination of all the wonderful things humanity was capable of, or some great and meaningful end with just the right touch of elegant irony, painful beauty and lasting hope. This is how humanity, and life on Earth, ends: not in a final, searing blaze of fantastical glory and passion.
But in still air, and a warm, stagnant pool of pondscum.