Building an unbearable hothouse for future generations

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Earth’s future generations will undoubtedly spend a good deal of their time cursing us for condemning them to an unbearably hot planet. They will be confounded by our utter disregard of the present scientific consensus that Earth is headed for a global warming disaster. They will wonder how we could have been so selfish that we would not have taken reasonable action to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just issued an urgent warning that the world has a window of just 10 years to reduce carbon emissions enough to avert widespread environmental damages long into the future. We have already seen warning signs all around us--historically destructive wildfires, repeated record storm surges and downpours of rain that have been fueled by warming ocean waters, record-breaking global temperatures, and northward-creeping warm-climate plants, animals and diseases. And, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

If we wait to take action until much of Florida and many east and west coast cities have disappeared under ocean waves, it will be too late. Pentagon planners project that by then there will be chronic droughts and crop failures over wide areas of the world. That will result in large population movements and desperate struggles over resources, leading to unprecedented armed conflict and unfathomable numbers of deaths.

This may all sound alarmist but it is time for people to get alarmed and activated. The Trump administration is well aware that human activity, such as burning of fossil fuels in smokestacks and cars, is largely responsible for the crisis. A recent administration report projects a disastrous 7 degree increase in global temperature by the end of the century.

Despite the fact that such an increase would make some areas of the world uninhabitable, the administration proposes to let more greenhouse gases belch into the air. Those gases not only cause the Earth to get hotter, but they kill an estimated 80,000 Americans each year from respiratory illness.

The administration has been cutting back numerous programs to reduce dangerous emissions. We should be taking dramatic action in the other direction to protect the very lives of our children and grandchildren.

Can greenhouse gases hurt humankind? Climate scientists believe that massive greenhouse emissions, somewhat comparable to the almost 40 billion tons we presently spew into the air each year, resulted in a number of mass extinction events in Earth’s past. Those were the result of unimaginably huge volcanic activity.

Geologic and fossil evidence indicates that volcanoes erupting over a wide area of what is now Siberia threw gigantic amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. The overheated air killed over 90 percent of life in the oceans and 75 percent on land in what is called the “Great Dying” at the end of Earth’s Permian period about 250 million years ago. Additional extinction events are suspected to have resulted from natural greenhouse concentrations in years since.

We can’t control natural greenhouse gas emissions but we have the knowhow to control and reduce human-caused emissions. We just need the brains and resolve to keep our planet safe for human habitation. If we refuse to do so, there is a possible bright spot. The fossil record suggests that if we allow another extinction event to occur, the Earth will return to a habitable state in about 5-10 million years afterward.

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Jim Jones is former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and a frequent contributor to the Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls Press.

Jim Jones’ past columns can be found at JJCommonTater.com.

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