Dogwood Initiative’s approach-helping local partners fight for sustainable healthy communities is becoming progressively more difficult. The reason-the growing climate crisis. The very notion of “sustainability” implies a predictable relationship between actions today and results tomorrow. For example, plans to log forests today and replant trees are only sustainable if we can reasonably expect those trees to mature and become tomorrow’s harvest.
Climate change information released this year, primarily data on the rate and method of ice melt in Greenland, is both startling and terrifying in its implications. Startling in how rapidly the ice is melting, and in the unexpected manner in which it is breaking up and moving. Terrifying in what it means for our communities, economies and ecosystems.
The models used by climate scientists generally assume that while global warming is melting the ice, it is also increasing, through evaporation, the amount of moisture in the air, and that this moisture results in increased snowfall, particularly at the poles. The net result for the Greenland ice fields was assumed to be the difference between the ice melt and the snow fall.
New data from NASA suggests that the ice melt is far more rapid than expected. The data is so staggering that one of the world’s pre-eminent climatologists, Dr. James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, cautioned that the earth may be reaching a tipping point. Mr. Hansen said the data.
“show that Greenland seems to be losing at least 200 cubic kilometers of ice a year. It is different from even two years ago, when people still said the ice sheet was in balance…Hundreds of cubic kilometers sounds like a lot of ice. But this is just the beginning. Once a sheet starts to disintegrate, it can reach a tipping point beyond which break-up is explosively rapid.”
This is a terrifying analysis because it means that past estimates of sea levels seriously underestimated the rate of rise. They used climate models that assumed ice sheets function like a single block of ice that will slowly melt taking over a thousand years to disintegrate. But in Dr. Hansen’s words “We can now see that the models are almost worthless.”
How much sea level rise is possible? Dr. Hansen says “The last time the world was three degrees warmer than today – which is what we expect later this century – sea levels were 25m higher. So that is what we can look forward to if we don’t act soon.”
Twenty five metres is about 82 feet, or 12 feet higher than two city telephone poles stacked one upon the other. Sea level rise of a metre will be a disaster; sea level rise of 80 feet will be a catastrophe, with immense environmental, social and economic consequences.
But the uncertainty created by climate change extends far beyond the world’s coastlines. In a recent Globe and Mail article, Dr. Richard Hebda, curator of botany and earth history at the Royal BC Museum when asked whether the pine forests will ever grow back replied,
“We just don’t know…The question is, will there be forests at all in the southern portion of British Columbia’s central interior? Will there even be any trees?…It all depends on how much CO2 we push into the atmosphere.”
Climate change is upon us, is happening much, much faster than anyone thought, severe weather events (catastrophic storms and hurricanes) have increased from 29 per year globally in the 1970s to 119 per year since 2000, and the predictive models are broken.
If we don’t act quickly and dramatically, the notion of sustainability will lose all meaning.
We must drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (at least 60% to 80% below 1990 levels) and we must learn to adapt to the global warming changes that are already inevitable given the current levels of greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere.
If our societies are to be sustainable, if we are to protect our life support systems and stem the high and increasing rate of species extinctions; in other words if we as human societies intend to be around for the long term, we face and must deal with one overwhelming issue – global warming.
We as people and organizations, whatever our ideological differences, whatever our interests, whatever our politics, whatever our class, must focus on preventing the environmental, social and economic disaster of climate change. If it continues unchecked, none will escape.
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