Year 3, Month 6, Day 19: Double Whammy Bar

Two separate articles in the June 7 issue of the Vancouver Sun:

Planetary bad news:

The Earth’s ecosystems could reach a point of no return resulting in rapid irreversible collapse in as little as 50 years, according to projections by a group of 18 scientists.

Their article in the journal Nature today says that human activities – such as energy use and widespread transformation of the Earth’s surface for habitation and agriculture – are pushing the planet toward a critical threshold for “state shift” not unlike the transition from the last ice age about 12,000 years ago.

Such a shift would create a new nor-mal condition for the entire planet with a new range of temperatures, new ocean levels and widespread species extinctions resulting in an entirely new web of life.

It would not necessarily be a comfortable place for human beings.

“We’ve had a good long run of really benign conditions that have allowed humans to go from cracking rocks together to walking on the moon,” said Simon Fraser University biodiversity professor Arne Mooers, one of the authors of the article.

Local bad news:

The number of major forest fires in B.C. will likely increase by 50 per cent or more in the next 40 years according to a recent report on climate change.

Telling the Weather Story, released this week by the Insurance Bureau of Canada, addresses altering weather patterns across the country in the coming decades and urges Canadians to adjust to the realities of climate change.

The study predicts B.C. can expect an increase in wildfires over the average of nearly 2,000 blazes a year between 2000 and 2010. Furthermore, the province will likely see a host of other weather-related issues like warmer temperatures, declining — and, in some regions, disappearing — mountain snowpacks, more intense rainfall during the winter, and drier summers. The number of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes — responsible for nearly 60 per cent of fires — is also expected to rise.

“It’s not a just a possibility,” said Dr. Gordon McBean, the report’s lead researcher. “There’s a very real probability it will happen.”

McBean, a climatologist and professor at the University of Western Ontario, conducted the research with cooperation from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, where he also serves as policy chairman.

Read the comments for the full flavor. Sheesh. Sent June 8:

The Insurance Bureau of Canada’s report on the increased risk of forest fires is a localized version of the dire planetary “tipping point” projections just published in the journal Nature. The two articles in the June 7 edition of the Sun reinforce one another in the same way that climate-change processes do. For example, hotter summers set the stage for more forest fires, which release more carbon into the atmosphere in a positive feedback loop; the pine-beetle infestations brought by milder winters can leave whole forests of flammable dead trees — which, naturally, cannot reabsorb carbon as healthy forests do. Thawing Arctic permafrost releases even more carbon, while melting polar ice means less light is reflected back into space, in turn leading to greater heat absorption by the oceans.

Unfortunately, the mechanisms of denial are very strong, and many people will ignore this obvious crisis rather than contemplate changing their convenient lifestyles.

Humanity is a tenacious, flexible and adaptable species. We can survive the consequences of global climate change — but only if we stop denying the existence of the emergency, instead bringing all of our resources, ingenuity and commitment to bear on the problem.

Warren Senders

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