Cogs in the climate machine — Julia Steinberger

Click through to read, what Julia Steinberger describes ad, “…less of a blog post, and more of a howl.” Here’s an excerpt:

“_” : this is our unit of time, and it’s 1000 years long.

_ is 10 long human lifespans, 40 generations, the time separating us from the first millennium and the Middle Ages in European history, when Canute of Denmark ruled Britain, before Marco Polo traveled the Silk Road. It’s a long time by any human account: twice the duration of the Roman Empire.
_____ is 5’000 years. It’s the age of the oldest known living tree, Methuselah, in the Californian White Mountains.
____________ is 12’000 years. It’s the time span separating us from the last ice age. This time is the time during which humans slowly selected plants, developed agriculture, cities, writing: anything we would call civilization. It is the time when humans thrived, cultures multiplied, our population grew. This clement and stable climate interval, which sheltered us and the plants we depend upon to live so well, is known as the Holocene. Gaze upon that interval fondly, for it is already in our past…

Figure 1.2 from the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5 degrees, showing that we have already left the temperature range of the Holocene.

If CO2 is so correlated with climate, why are we not already experiencing the temperatures and sea levels of the Pliocene, and witnessed by faraway Homo Habilis, with their almost-human eyes? Professor Gavin Foster, co-author of the Nature study, puts it this way: “The reason we don’t see Pliocene-like temperatures and sea-levels yet today is because it takes a while for Earth’s climate to fully equilibrate (catch up) to higher CO2 levels and, because of human emissions, CO2 levels are still climbing. Our results give us an idea of what is likely in store once the system has reached equilibrium.”

Time lags for equilibration vary between Earth systems: climate temperatures will catch up with the Pliocene with in a few decades, sea levels within a few centuries. But it gets worse. Because not only have we left the agriculture-sheltering Holocene. Not only have we zoomed through Pliocene the span than 1 human lifetime (reminder: we have no evidence that the large scale agriculture we depend upon, in our billions, for survival, is possible in this new climate. Cheers.). We are still going. We are accelerating, in fact, with concentrations of CO2 increasing faster and faster every year.

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