If you’re in the mood to be reminded of the top 10 existential threats to life on earth generally, The End of the World is a great new podcast series covering all those bases. Me, I’m in the mood to update on the lesser considered, faster approaching tipping points of the climate variety – if current trends continue that is, which even a global pandemic hasn’t put much of a dent in. Happy Monday!
The abrupt permafrost thaw
The arctic, warming twice and thrice as fast as the global average (and having a really bad November), will reach the dreaded 2 degree Celsius limit before the rest of us – in about 15 years. At this point 6.6 million square kms of frozen ground is expected to abruptly thaw and release huge stores of greenhouse gasses, beginning a self-accelerating feedback loop of thawing and heating and thawing and – oh – the revival of deadly pathogens, along with all the other delightful effects of rising sea levels and soupy land. Sure, the new land could support plant life, but that would only absorb about 20% of the carbon released. Could it be time to start investing in underground property?
Blue ocean event
And along goes the arctic ice, the cold compress of our feverish earth. Scientists have already significantly underestimated the rate at which it’s going and will soon be gone. It doesn’t even have to all be gone to trigger a Blue Ocean Event, which is the point when the ocean starts to absorb the heat that the ice normally absorbs at no cost. Unlike reflective ice, water gets warmer when it absorbs heat, cuing the feedback loop to make the BOE more than just a couple-week event each year. We don’t know when will be our first, just that an ice-free arctic is expected within a few decades. For certain stakeholders it can’t happen soon enough.
Look no further than a soil conference in NZ back in 2016 to be warned that it takes “10 kilos of topsoil, 800 litres of water, 1.3 litres of diesel, 0.3g of pesticide and 3.5 kilos of carbon dioxide” for one meal for one person. Since soil takes so long to become fertile by natural processes, it’s considered a non-renewable resource that at this rate we will be out of by 2055. Yes, out of the means of production for 95% of the food for a growing population. The pale shadow of a silver lining is that the industry seems to be aware and on it by adopting non soil-harming practices. The rise in urban and community farming is also slowing down the inevitable, buying us time to figure out how to manufacture food in pill form or 3D printers or something.
Wet bulb events
There is a point where even a young, healthy human sitting in the shade cannot survive past 6 hours, where humidity is so high that sweat can no longer evaporate to cool the skin. This is the Wet Bulb Temperature – a measure of heat and humidity of 35 degrees Celsius (TW), and though we were supposed to start seeing them in the mid 21st century, they’ve already been recorded, mainly in affluent areas where they only need to worry about the WBT for air conditioners.
The Richest Rich
Not so much an upcoming event as the ongoing issue. As the cause, effect, and root of all our problems, the utter moral depravity of the super-rich and unfettered capitalism is worth a mention. Income inequality was already a runaway train of exponential growth – and then the pandemic hit, adding 27% to billionaires’ wealth (they’ll keep it, thanks). They might try putting their money-power combo to good use, except they didn’t get there by being selfless. They will enjoy the last livable decades high and dry and in more comfort and style than their money could possibly buy while having avoided contributing even so much as their taxes to the system, people, and environment that they have looted without conscience or consequence.
Whew, it’s hot in here.
If this has really gotten you in the mood, here are 30,000 scientific papers on the subjects
My question for you, dear readers, is do you believe it? And does the way you live your life reflect those beliefs?