Monday, September 30, 2013

The Unraveling

It is final. Us humans are pushing the only planet we have, over the cliff. For those with doubts, the recently published United Nations' guarded report, is a resounding revelation. Global warming is real and is here to stay. One did not need a report to validate it. All one needed is an open eye and an understanding of how the human species has come to exist with that which gives it sustenance. Islands of garbage, balding forests, depleted wastelands and smog filled skies, that is how we have returned the favor. For the skeptics who think and say that global warming is a phenomenon that has been ongoing for millions of years and it is only engine earth going through its motions, there is enough scientific evidence to prove otherwise. Even for a moment if we were to side with the skeptics, it is hard to debate the fact that human activity is accelerating the warming process.

The recently released IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report states with 95% certainty, that humans are the dominant cause for global warming, at least since the 1950s. The report says that in the span of the last 1400 years, the decades between 1983 and 2012 have been the warmest in the Northern Hemisphere. That means, in those years more than ever, ice sheets lost more mass, glaciers rapidly shrunk and the spring snow cover continued to fall in extent. Going forward the sea levels are expected to rise at least 26 cm on the low end to 82 cm on the high end, relative to the emissions of this century.

The report says atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, leading to warmer oceans and erratic weather patterns. It is "virtually certain" the report says, that most places will see more hot and fewer cold temperature extremes as the warming increases. And it is very likely heat waves will occur more frequently than occasional winter extremes.

One of the most damning aspect of the report was the conclusion that some 15% to 40% of released carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere longer than 1000 years after the emissions have ended. Raising the concern that some aspects of climate change are irreversible.

So now what does humanity to do? How does it cope? How do we save whats left for future generations? All of the above data has been published, parsed and tossed in documentaries, books and media reports feverishly over the past two decades. As a result summits have been convened, symposiums have gathered and every few days alarms have been raised, but very little has been achieved in tangible behavioral change. In this latest UN report, four possible scenarios with varied emissions controls were presented. With strict controls we could possibly limit the temperature rise by as little as 0.3 degree celsius by year 2100. This was the best case scenario if we made some monumental changes today. The scientists who published the report expressed hope, albeit faint.

Humanity is no monolith. We have one planet, but everyone sees borders everywhere all the time. No two nations can agree on anything, let alone climate change. Even genocide by Sarin gas is disputed even when the evidence couldn't be starker. The developing nations see it as their right to burn their way to an affluent lifestyle. The developed ones cant stop consuming like there is no tomorrow. As there is always that next new gadget to be had and a virgin market to dump it on.

Human appetite for energy is insatiable. And energy consumption is the primary cause for green house gas emissions. Either we reduce our energy consumption or find ways to create clean energy. There is no doubt that the human addiction to all fossil fuels is not going to taper for another fifty or hundred years. There are still large reservoirs in the deepest oceans that are being readied to exploit. Clean energy is not yet sustainable to compete with conventional sources of energy. Unless and until this equation is resolved, any hopeful scenario the scientists foresee will be morphing into an impossible dream and a possible nightmare.

This month Japan turned off its last nuclear power station. All the fifty reactors of the nation are now offline. The nuclear disaster that resulted from a massive Tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, prompted the nation to rethink its energy production. Now there is a 30% shortfall in their energy sector. This has pushed Japan to rapidly peruse renewable energy like no other nation. But it has proven unsustainable. One square meter of land devoted to wind power generates just two watts of power. For solar power an equivalent area produces 20W. Nuclear power generates about 1000W per square meter. Therefore Japan has no choice but to turn to oil, gas and coal to make up for the nuclear deficit, thereby generating more green house gasses than it did in the past. It is what it is.