Global Warming is Only One Symptom


Finally the world is paying some attention to the IPCC reports. Finally there’s a sort of awareness of global warming. May the global attention span stretch to meet the need.

But guess what? Climate change is only one symptom of a greater disease scientists call global environmental change (GEC). Global warming is the rash. GEC is the bubonic plague. The other symptoms are equally deadly and still barely recognized outside science. The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) lists the following:

• Half of Earth’s land surface is now domesticated
for direct human use.

• 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are fully or over-exploited .

• The composition of today’s atmosphere is well outside the range of natural variability the Earth has maintained over the last 650,000 years.

• The Earth is now in the midst of its sixth great extinction event.

This blogger first interviewed James Hansen, the father of global climate change science, in 1985. That’s right. Twenty-two years ago, Hansen was trotting out his climate graphics and talking about sea level rise and carbon dioxide. Well, we don’t have another 22 years to address the rest of the list. Homo sapiens rip-van-winkleus needs an infusion of Red Bull and reality.

Kevin Noone, Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, notes that the IPCC work establishes a template for the other systemic problems:

The IPCC report, with its interdisciplinary approach to climate change, is a clear example of how the Earth needs to be considered as a coupled system in order to understand global environmental change… The study of the Earth as a system, looking not only at climate but also at changes in the oceans and on land, how those changes affect each other, and the role of humans as part of that system is a crucial approach to managing a sustainable planet.

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  • Julia Whitty is the environmental correspondent for Mother Jones. Her latest book is Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. For more of her stories, click here.