Thanks to humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels, global carbon-dioxide levels are at their highest point in at least 3 million years. The last time such levels were so elevated, the Sahara desert was thick with forests and Arctic temperatures were as inviting as Caribbean ones.
Humans were just a gleam in evolution’s eye at that point. We didn’t exist during the Pliocene Epoch, when sea levels were 80 feet higher than they are now.
This month, scientists using data from devices monitoring air quality at Mauna Loa, a Hawaiian volcano, confirmed that levels of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere passed the dreaded milestone of 400 parts per million. So what’s next, now that mankind has gone over Niagara Falls in a metaphorical barrel?
We don’t know how bad things are going to get. But events related to climate change that we’ve experienced — such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy — were calamitous by every standard.
With the rapid warming of the oceans and the erosion of ice caps around the world, the environmental impact is expected to be disastrous for coastal cities where large populations live. Flooding and severe storms are expected to create havoc over large areas of the planet.
Declining fish populations will be further decimated, scientists believe, because they can’t adapt fast enough to rising temperatures. Deadly algae are expected to bloom in the oceans and choke oxygen-deprived waters even more.
No one, including climate-change deniers, is predicting that things will get better because of increased levels of carbon dioxide in the air. Still, China and the United States refuse to become partners in the effort to curb carbon dioxide emissions, even though they are the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.
Neither nation has taken meaningful steps to scale back fossil-fuel consumption, because of fears of wrecking their economies. Such recalcitrance has emboldened other countries to scale back their commitments as well.
Maybe one day, breakthrough technology will wean us away from fossil fuels, while reversing the worst effects of climate change. Such a positive outcome is less likely than the worst-case scenario.
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