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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

WEEKLY Q: Are we changing Planet Earth?

Time for the weekly question. And this week it's a hybrid combining the usual question with a review of the great new BBC two parter starting tonight and hosted by David Attenborough, Are we changing Planet Earth?

Will be adding my thoughts in here live during the show. Feel free to comment.

In the Independent today Attenborough gives the answer to his own question, Are we changing Planet Earth, with an emphatic and long-awaited resonant and final, yes.

WorldChanging have recently started to draw a line under the debate surrounding Climate Change. Their post The Debate is Over aims to create a single page we can point cynics too that will showcase the overwhelming evidence in one place.

With the kind of stunning cinematography we have come to expect from Mr Attenborough we are shown the on-the-ground realities. Polar Bears in serious jeopardy. And what effects the top of the food chain can only spell trouble for everything else we share the planet with.

Moving away from the oceans we can see massive melting in the Patagonia ice-fields in South America.

Amazing scenery.

Glaciers are not known for moving with speed, yet we see retreats of miles taking place in as little as a hundred years.

Just beautiful scenery.

Moving to Tuvalu. The inhabitants of Tuvalu in the Pacific do not need convincing that climate change is real. Rising sea levels reached the highest levels ever known. And it is getting worse.

Interesting flood prediction tool...really makes you think.

New Orleans last year was, as we all know, subject to the most horrific of hurricanes. Rita. The season was the worst recorded but scientists fear worse is to come. Attenborough wastes no time in drawing the connection between warming oceans and the increasing ferocity of hurricanes.

He touches a bit on the cyclical nature of cooling and heating. Great example of New York existing at a certain point in time in the past being at sea level next to a 2km high ice sheet. A mere 30,000 years later the same city would have been under 5 meters of water. And the mean temperatures did not change by more than a few degrees over that entire period time.

Attenborough then gives a basic greenhouse lesson. He demonstrates how CO2 moves around by showing CO2 as small black squares. Fascinating demo.

Saw something else recently about how the world would look if pollution were purple. Cannot find the link though...sorry.

Scientist now exploring within a glacial crevasse. The colours are just stunning. Can barely tear myself away to write.

Talking now about the parts per million CO measurements and how todays levels are far beyond anything we have seen in the past...and when he says past he is talking in ice-core aons. Not last Tuesday.

On to the Amazon rainforest. Despite years of intensive logging vast areas still survive. But there is a bigger threat emerging, bigger than deforestation. Many of the largest trees are dying. The cause is drought. In the rainforest? 2005 was the worst drought in the region for 60 years and rivers and fish were catastrophically affected. Trees are only now recovering 6 months later and if another drought comes then huge fires could breakout. The cause of these droughts? Oceanic heating.

The marine equivalent of the Rainforests are the Coral reefs. They too are threatened by warming sea temperatures. Coral bleaching is taking place more often and those veritable life hotspots are suffering. Why do they matter? Well Coral reefs tend to be the home of the food at the bottom of the food chain.

Imagine taking bricks out of your home's foundation. Now take some more. And some more. Getting uncomfortable? You should be.

So just to summarise then. Greatest Carbon emissions ever directly from our activities. Forests, Glaciers and Oceans are all being affected as a result of rising temperatures due to those emissions aka the Greenhouse effect.

What does the future hold? Scientists do not claim to predict the future but they do claim to provide accurate scenarios that we can learn from. You can participate. For Free! The more people that take part the more scenarios we can run and the more accurate a picture we can paint.

The Hadley Center in the UK believe they have proof. Incontrovertible proof. Their model shows why we are where we are. Temperature runs in proportion to human activity and our emissions.
Attenborough: Our whole way of life is structured around the burning of fossil fuels. What happens next is up to us.
Are we changing Planet Earth? Sadly yes. So what do we do about it?

In the second part (next Thursday night) Attenborough asks Can we save Planet Earth? Needless to say I will cover that episode in the same way.

Question I am left with is: What motivates people to deny that climate change is happening?

Ignorance? Fear? Change?

Look forward to your thoughts on all of the above.



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