We Are The Meteor

Not that long ago I was reading an article by Robert Zubrin, called “Carbon Emissions are Good“, where he stated an oft-repeated mantra by those who think global warming, while real, is no big deal.

It generally goes like this; “Global Warming cycles have occurred in the past, life has dealt with it, and in some cases, done even better than now due to all the extra CO2 in the atmosphere.” Zubrin writes, “while it is entirely possible that the earth may be warming — as it has done so many times in the past — there is no rational basis whatsoever to support the contention that carbon-dioxide-driven global warming would be on the whole harmful to life and civilization. Quite the contrary: All available evidence supports the contention that human CO2 emissions offer great benefits to the earth’s community of life.”

Sorry, but this is a completely false statement, and apparently Zubrin neglected to read much of the “all available evidence” he mentions. It completely ignores one of the major components to the problem. As Brian Huntley puts it, “The rate of climate change forecast for the future is 10–100 times faster than the rate of deglacial warming.” His paper, “How Plants Respond to Climate Change: Migration Rates, Individualism and the Consequences for Plant Communities” in Annals of Botany talks about the critical issue; how fast plants and animals can migrate when an environment changes too much to support the plant life.

Herbivores can’t live without the plants they eat. Plants can’t migrate themselves except through a few very slow processes, including undigested seeds, wind distribution, sticky seeds, and water and mud flows. Given a thousand years of slow warming, the natural random distribution of seeds with these mechanisms might allow plant and animal species to spread to local environments that are more habitable. Given a hundred years, the slow random redistribution of seeds means that the old environment will die out before the new one has a chance to migrate or take hold; massive extinctions of the whole food chain will occur. Plants and animals have, indeed, evolved mechanisms to allow migration, but these depend on slow, natural rates of heating and cooling, rates that allow a slow peripheral migration, not the wholesale destruction of one habitat to be replaced by another more suitable 1000 miles away. There are barriers and thermal pinch-points that can prevent a species from migrating at all.

If you were in a room quickly filling with milk, and you had no exits, Dr. Zubrin would point out how healthful the milk is for you.

Rather than the slow process of deglaciation, a climate altering event more comparable to human global warming is a giant meteor strike, resulting in climate change that occurs in weeks and lasts for decades or longer. Sure, this is the other end of the scale, but we also know for a fact that such events are quite capable of wiping out 90% of the extant species. Species have no chance to recover from such an event, or migrate to more pleasant climes.

Unfortunately, we have become the meteor.


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