What Should We Be Worried About?

== Worst Case Scenarios? ==

All the freaky weather, with the Polar Vortex swinging far south of its normal arctic home and aurorae over London, reminds one of James Lovelock’s 2007 book, The Revenge of Gaia, which predicted that by 2020 extreme weather will be the norm, causing global devastation; that by 2040 much of Europe will be Saharan; and parts of London will be underwater.  Note that in EARTH I portrayed Bangladesh and Florida and Houston getting drowned by that date.  Though I do not go as far as James Lovelock did, back then…

vanishing-face-of-gaia1…and Lovelock himself appears to now be slightly less pessimistic.  I think there’s still time to make a real difference and achieve a “soft Landing” so that there will be more good news than bad…

… but there are potential killer game changers.  For example if methane hydrates under cool thermal layers in northern seas start to “blurp” out, the runaway effects of all that methane (a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2) will be catastrophic.  Similarly methane from melting tundra… or the potentially horrible hydrogen sulfide scenario that paleontologist Peter Ward described in his “Green Sky” scenario

Are we on the verge of an “H2S Extinction Event?” It is one of two ways that the gradual nature of human generated climate change might suddenly do a non-linear takeoff. (The other would be if deep ocean hydrates of methane suddenly reached a critical point and were to “blurp” – along with methane released from thawing tundra, sending the greenhouse skyrocketing.)

Green-sky-ward

 Peter Ward (Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What they Can Tell us about our Future) and other researchers point to several past extinction events on Earth that seem to have been driven by sudden pollution of the atmosphere by hydrogen sulfide gas. This poison is generated in deep ocean anoxic (oxygen depleted) layers that stop getting mixing currents from above, by anaerobic archaeobacteria. The best example of this currently happening is the Black Sea, right next to where the Sochi Olympics just finished.  There, just a few hundred meters below the calm su

rface, and kept down by a delicate thermocline layer, sits “the greatest repository of poison in the world, by far.” Someday, it will come out.

Three things need to happen, in order for a world disaster (a Green Sky) of unprecedented proportions to occur and two are already underway.

OCEAN-ACIDITY1. A rapid rise in ocean acidity… check. This is the product of human-spewed CO2 that the denialists at Fox strenuously avoid mentioning.  Because there is no response possible. Because the oceans are turning acid at unprecedented rates. No Hannity-obfuscation can hide it… so they never ever ever mention it. And when the topic comes up? They point offscreen and yell… squirrel!

2. Lots of nutrients.  Agricultural and other runoffs from civilization aren’t feeding the healthy fishery food chains, but massive algae blooms, jellyfish and (when it all sinks) blooms of bottom layer archaeobacteria.

3. Failure of the healthy mixing currents that prevent thermoclines from getting too strong, in the great oceans.  From Arctic to Antarctic, currents mix layers and bring oxygen to the deeps. But scientists have long warned of ways that warming might shut down the North Atlantic conveyor… and if that third ingredient happens, we could be in FAR worse trouble than in that silly film THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW.

What-should-we-be-worried-brockman Paul Werbos sums it up: “The previous head of ARPAE strongly recommended a book, The Alchemy of Air, to give us an uplifting story about science and innovation.. . which also tells us about how different our modern world is from the world of a thousand years ago. It looks to me as if the trigger is bigger than ever before in earth history, and as if the oxygenating currents are what save us. When they go….”

Or if the mysterious way the oceans have been uptaking extra CO2 suddenly stops… which of course it must, some day.  Or if ocean acidification (which you’ll notice Fox never mentions, because it is absolute fact) reaches a tipping point…

…or if we simply remain obstinately stupid and complacent. And if the smart folks in civilization continue to let themselves be bullied by the dumbest, who rant hypnotic drivel poured out by cable propaganda machines, owned by lords who cannot spell and/or imagine the word “tumbrels” — the vehicle that will replace their limos, if the bad stuff ever really comes down.  Alas, they fail that IQ test, proving no smarter than the mob they think that they control.

3 Comments

Filed under science

3 responses to “What Should We Be Worried About?

  1. Calm down David. Take a deep breath. There are plenty of people on this planet doing smart things. Also keep in mind that the greatest, growing climate problems are the BRIC countries. The BRIC problems seem so much out of our control, so it is easier to beat ourselves up instead, like the proverbial battered wife.

  2. There are PLENTY of “things we should be doing anyway”, and things we ARE doing. The world needs win-win, positive-sum scenarios in order to keep us all alive. What we DO NOT need is panic-driven reaction.

  3. That being said, we should get a better understanding of the probabilities of these bad events happening. If they depend on a chain of unfortunate events, a Bayesian/Markov analysis may be appropriate to determine the possibility spread. I suggest however we avoid arguing from the extremes.

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