By Joanna Clark, San Juan Capistrano
There have been five major extinctions over the last 4.6 billion years, according to the BBC Nature’s article “Big Five Mass Extinction Events.”
The conditions that caused these extinctions occurred over millions of years, not a few hundred years.
With the arrival of our Industrial-Age in 1750 C.E., we have, in less than 300 years, set ourselves on a course that could very well result in a sixth mass extinction.
Prior to the beginning of the Industrial Age, atmospheric CO2 remained relatively stable at 280 parts per million (ppm), according to NASA Global Climate Change. As our demand for coal, oil and gas intensified, we released more and more CO2 back into the atmosphere, exceeding the ability of the natural carbon sinks to maintain equilibrium. This has resulted in an exponential increase in atmospheric CO2, from 280 ppm to 410 ppm, an increase of 130 ppm above the natural level that existed for hundreds of thousands of years before human civilization arrived, according to NOAA.
As our planet’s natural carbon sinks became overwhelmed by rising CO2 levels, the environment began to destabilize, causing a gradual warming of the planet. This warming has driven climate change, leading to the collapsing of our glaciers, ice shelves, and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, originally held back by the ice shelves.
The consequences listed above have shown an increase in storm severity, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, flooding, extreme heat waves, drought and wildfires, according to NASA.
The risk of wildfires increases exponentially during extended heat waves and droughts. They release CO2 and reduce the number of trees available to absorb CO2, “a double whammy for the atmosphere,” said the Associated Press in Wildfires Deliver a Double Whammy, from 2008.
Today, our continued development as a species depends upon our destruction of the planet’s natural environment. Yet our future depends on the survival of that very same environment. This is the paradox that faces not only climate negotiators, but each of us, individually.
We are facing a catastrophic future if we cannot put our many irrational and tribal differences aside and work as one to solve the paradox that threatens each of us.
Tremendous diversity has evolved among us over the past 250,000 years, but in that diversity, there is great strength and hope. We can become an unstoppable force for change and the common good, if we put our irrational and tribal differences aside and unite as one to solve the paradox we created.