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Posted by on Oct 24, 2007 in Science & Technology | 3 comments

So much for those carbon dioxide “sinks”

(Note: I apologize for the link-heavy opening paragraph, but I’ve done a good deal of writing about the climate crisis over at my place, and these links will take you directly to some of those posts.)

I haven’t blogged about the climate crisis in some time, except to comment on Al Gore’s Nobel win — as J. Kingston Pierce and J. Thomas Duffy did, too — but it’s been in the news, of course, along with yet more, and more massive, natural disasters, and the news seems to keep getting worse and worse. There has been Bush’s substantial negligence on the political side, including his “victory” at June’s G8 summit in Germany, with the U.S. proving yet again to be a malevolent hegemon, proposing a hollow framework for dealing with the crisis that will do nothing of the kind, preferring short-term self-interest, along with the shameful avoidance of reality, to the long-term well-being of the planet and its inhabitants, human and otherwise.

Meanwhile, the evidence keeps pouring in:

The capacity of the world’s oceans and land to absorb carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by industrial activity is diminishing, raising the possibility that global warming will happen more rapidly and will be more dramatic than is currently anticipated, a new research paper says.

The paper, by an international team of scientists and published yesterday in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says nature’s reduced ability to remove carbon dioxide that humans are adding to the atmosphere, along with surging world economic growth, explain why atmospheric concentrations of the gas rose in the 2000-2006 period at the most rapid seven-year pace since modern record keeping began in 1959.

“All of these changes characterize a carbon cycle that is generating stronger-than-expected and sooner-than-expected climate forcing,” the paper concludes.

Carbon dioxide concentrations are at the highest level in the past 650,000 years, and probably the past 20 million years, according to the paper.

About half of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by human activity is later absorbed by water in the ocean and plants on land, a process that has led scientists to dub them “sinks.” This natural process has blunted the full impact of greenhouse-gas emissions from human activity on the world climate.

The failure of the oceans and land to absorb as much carbon dioxide as they once did is being attributed to global warming, and is raising the worrisome possibility that this could lead to a cycle of weather destabilization that could cause the pace of warming to accelerate, according to one of the study authors.

The deniers, and there are still many of them, and they continue to be highly influential, particularly in the U.S., where a denier sits in the Oval Office, will argue that this is all somewhat abstract and theoretical, based on projections, a possibility, cyclical, if anything, hardly certain, little cause for concern. And yet it is the totality of the evidence, the ever-expanding evidence, that matters in this respect, and the totality of the evidence presents an astonishingly clear picture of where we are now and where we are heading in a future that is getting closer and closer. We are not talking about generations down the road, maybe, we are talking about this generation, within decades, if not sooner, likely sooner. We are talking about a steady increase in global temperatures, but also about droughts, storms, flooding, enormous (human-enhanced) natural disasters, potentially millions dead and many millions more displaced. Yes, we are talking about genocide and chaos.

Our planet has the natural ability to regulate itself, to balance itself out, but that ability has been weakened by irresponsible and excessive human activity and now may be unable to operate effectively. In other words, we have literally destroyed the Earth’s own natural defences, and we will have no one but ourselves to blame when we are destroyed in turn.

The evidence is out there. It is clear. It is a call to action. Some are acting, but too many aren’t, and too many don’t care, and too many live in abject denial and willful ignorance.

It is, as the saying goes, now or never.

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