Climate Crisis: Going Against Terrible Odds to Set Things Right
"I have been overwhelmed with the amount of data coming out this week, and part of me just wants to either drink myself into oblivion or become a hermit. But I will not give up yet, and maybe we can at least slow it down.
May our great-great grandchildren forgive us…"
--- A comment from Stuart, 12/19/08, on a website discussing tundra and carbon feedback loops
I recently interviewed Richard Albertson, author of The Sky is the Limit: A Brief and Easy Explanation of Climate Change for Present and Future Voters. The book is a wake-up call for anyone who thinks we'll somehow be able to endure the climate crisis. A retired lawyer and ardent naturalist, Albertson spent three years working on this book and his website: thecircleworks.org backs up his assertions with a multitude of scientific papers.
Albertson's main premise is that the natural carbon cycles of our planet have been thrown completely out of balance, and unless we take drastic measures, perhaps spending trillions to "scrub" our atmosphere, we will soon find our planet uninhabitable. Albertson describes how antartic ice cores have shown that the rise and fall of CO2 in our atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years has never ranged higher than 280 parts per million (ppm). In the space of over one hundred thousand years this cycle would move incrementally slowly--from 180 to 280 ppm. Just as gradually it would return to 180 again. For hundreds of thousands of years, the process was slow and rythmic. Looking at it on a graph reminded me of looking at the EKG of a healthy heart.
Beginning 200 years ago, with the advent of coal and the industrial revolution, the number began to move above 280 ppm. By 1957, with the excavation and burning of oil well underway, the number was shooting straight up from 300 to over 380 ppm in the space of 50 years. It used to take over a thousand years to move just one ppm and now it's up 80 ppm in just 50 years! The atmospheric heart is looking very sick.
Albertson explains that planet has four places to store carbon: the hydrosphere (oceans), the geosphere (within the earth), the biosphere (plants and animals) and of course, the atmosphere. "The total amount of carbon remains the same, but the amount in each compartment is changing slightly all the time." The slight shifts and movements allow each compartment to remain in balance with the other three and these movements are called the carbon cycle. But humans have been removing carbon (coal and oil) from one of the compartments (the geosphere) and burning it so that it is released into the atmosphere. This is "extra" carbon moving in a way that nature never intended. And these extra CO2 molecules trap heat, which melts glaciers and causes extreme weather conditions: droughts, hurricanes, floods, and worse. We're facing increased ocean acidity, wide-spread desertification, and potential extinction of even ourselves.
Most frightening is the fact that at some point the planet's feedback loops kick into reverse and the increase in greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere can no longer be contained. One factor that could set this off is the release of methane gasses from the melting of the permafrost. Methane molecules are approximately 21 times more potent than CO2 as greenhouse gasses.
Albertson offers the hope that scrubbers developed by Klaus Lackner, a scientist at Columbia University, would be a way to clean the atmosphere, but this would require political will and a tremendous amount of money. He also insists that we must get our carbon footprint back to virtually zero. So far these efforts have been blocked by corporate influence in government. Hence the book is written for "present and future voters." Albertson sees no way through our present political and corporate logjam until the voters take back the reins of power and elect only candidates who insist on both campaign finance reform and climate action. He sees this as do-able and he lays out a plan.
The Sky is the Limit: A Brief and Easy Explanation of Climate Change for Present and Future Voters is everything it says in the title. The book is short, simple and clear, and even sprinkled with a fair bit of humor. I came away with a much better understanding of the urgency we face, and intend to give this book out as a stocking stuffer to everyone on my Christmas list. I would recommend that parents who want to keep their children safe, young people who want a future, and anyone who no longer wants to keep their head in the sand, purchase this book, read it and take action.
Learn more at thecircleworks.org (the book can be read online).
My interview with Richard Albertson is at http://kboo.fm/node/17457