Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 9, 2021

Earthlings are now under palliative (going on hospice?) care

The ability of our planet to sustain life for its human inhabitants can now be described in the terms we normally use for the type of health care we provide for our exceedingly ill. One of these is hospice care in which care and comfort is provided to our very sick when they do not expect to live much longer.  That is, the patients in this case have reached a point where it no longer is considered possible to cure them and, therefore, the objective is simply to make the patients as comfortable as possible during the rest of their lives.

Palliative care is similar, but significantly different in one respect. It also provides comprehensive comfort care, but is offered while attempts to cure the person’s illness are continued. Thus, a person under palliative care remains in that state while he or she is either cured of the disease or finally acknowledges that no cure will be found and thereby enters the hospice state of care.

The world’s top climate scientists on the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported today that our planet is presently in danger of reaching a turning point temperature after which automatic, irreversible warming would push our planet over the brink into a new hot-house state intolerable to human beings. In other terms, this report suggests that we Earthlings are in need of palliative if not hospice care due to the present condition of our planet. This need has arisen in recent decades because the Earth has lost its ability to provide the physical conditions that allowed human beings to thrive over the last 10,000 years (a period known as the Holocene). The great threat to our continued existence on Earth is presently due to the huge excesses of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide and methane, we humans have emitted into the atmosphere over the Industrial Age.  A major cause of these unnatural emissions is our overuse of fossil fuels for energy production.

This well-known problem should come as no surprise in view of the fact that the population of human beings on Earth is now greater than seven billion and is still increasing exponentially – along with the fact that a large portion of these human beings have become addicted to the use of fossil fuels for energy production. Throughout most of the 10,000 year-period prior to the Industrial Age (beginning in the 19th century), the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere was about 280 ppm (parts per million). Today, it is about 420 ppm, almost 50% greater. The additional retention of heat caused by these excess greenhouse gases has led to increased global average temperatures, now more than 1.0 degrees Celsius greater than it was during the preindustrial era. The IPCC report unequivocally states that irreversible, runaway processes are likely to occur if the Earth’s average temperature increases by one more degree C.  In that case stable human civilizations, as we know them, will no longer be able to exist (due to sea level rise, climate-induced migrations of people, increased violent weather, and the collapse of ocean and terrestrial ecosystems.)  While all of this has been predicted for many decades by climate scientists, those alarms have yet to be taken as seriously as they need to be.

It would clearly be helpful if we had a way to remove the excess man-made CO2 from our atmosphere.  But unfortunately, we presently don’t know how to do that at the enormous scale required.  While it is very easy to add CO2 to the biosphere by the combustion of fossil fuels, it is very difficult to remove it. The natural processes that normally provide this service occur very slowly, taking several centuries to accomplish that task.

In addition, all previous attempts to reduce mankind’s emissions of CO2 by reducing our use of fossil fuels for energy production have not been successful on the scale required. Instead, we continue to find and develop new sources of gas, oil, and coal throughout the planet. This, of course, further increases the carbon content of the biosphere thereby further increasing the Earth’s average temperature. If “business-as-usual” trends such as these continue in the future, we Earthlings will be in need of hospice-like end-of-life care while we wait for the ravages of global warming to render our lives untenable.  

On the other hand, if mankind takes aggressive action against global warming soon enough, then a form of palliative care might remain possible by which the survival of our species is conceivable. This would have to happen prior to the start of irreversible carbon emissions from the vast carbon reservoirs of the Earth such as the frozen permafrost tundra of the Arctic, the methane clathrates of the ocean bottoms, and the peat deposits of the northern hemisphere. 

So, what are these aggressive actions we need to take? They include the reduction and then elimination of CO2 and CH4 emissions by our combustion of fossil fuels, the elimination of other greenhouse gas emissions, the removal of some of the existing atmospheric CO2 by artificial means and the complete electrification of our means of energy delivery. While these required tasks will, indeed, be formidable, if we fail to do them, we will be changing our heath care needs on Earth from that of palliative to hospice – an outcome that would be unacceptable to all.

In the past, we have taken our human friendly conditions on Earth for granted.  We can no longer afford to do that. For this reason, please read and carefully consider the IPCC report of 2021 being released today.


Responses

  1. Excellently presented Eric, perhaps these correlations of care will resonate with the people who read it as nothing else has done so to enough people so far, especially our policy and lawmakers.Thanks for keeping up the good fight. John Beres

  2. Where is the “beef” without fossil fuels? Nuclear power.

    Response from Eric: Dave, For nuclear power plants to have a chance we need a carbon tax. While we charge for nuclear waste disposal, we don’t change for fossil fuel waste disposal.


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