Six reasons why Earth won’t cope for long

As world leaders arrive in Copenhagen for the crunch phase of the climate conference, the focus turns to what kind of deal is likely to emerge. Pre-eminent climate scientist Prof James Hansen of the Nasa Goddard Institute has already given the entire process the kiss of death. Any political deal cobbled together is, he believes, likely to be so profoundly flawed as to lock humanity on to “a disaster track”, writes JOHN GIBBONS



Hansen voiced publicly what environmental scientists and campaigners have murmured all year. A political fudge that ducks science is the likeliest outcome at Copenhagen. Earlier this week, for instance, EU fisheries ministers agreed a deal that pleased our Government and our fishermen. However, it does little to arrest the progressive annihilation of a common resource that, like our atmosphere, is owned by no one – and so exploited by all.

The world faces a dangerous convergence of environmental and resource crises, not all directly climate related. All, however, are increasingly difficult to resolve in a rapidly warming world. Taken together, they are not amenable to a business-as-usual political response. Here, in no particular order, are six:

1. Biodiversity: “The world is currently undergoing a very rapid loss of biodiversity comparable with the great mass extinction events that have previously occurred only five or six times in the Earth’s history,” says the World Wildlife Fund. It has tracked an astonishing 30 per cent decline in the Earth’s biodiversity between 1970-2003. Hunting, habitat destruction, deforestation, pollution and the spread of agriculture are leading to as many as 1,000 entire species going extinct every week – that’s a species every 10 minutes. The economic cost of destroying biodiversity is also immense. A 2008 EU study estimated the cost of forest loss alone is running at $2-$5 trillion (€1.3-€3.4 trillion) annually.

2. Ocean acidification: The evidence of the effects of increased CO2 levels on the world’s oceans is unequivocal. Surface ocean acidity has increased by 30 per cent since 1800, with half this increase occurring in just the last three decades. The rate of change in oceanic pH levels is around 100 times faster than any observed natural rate. Increasing acidity is impeding the ability of plankton called foraminifera to produce shells. These creatures form the base of the entire marine food system. The world’s vital reef systems are also in peril from acidification.

The Irish Times, 17 December 2009. Article.


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