What Humans Are Really Doing to Our Planet…

…in 19 Jaw-Dropping Images, (and one fitting cartoon).

http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/what-humans-are-really-doing-to-our-planet-in-19-jawdropping-images/

By Michael McCutcheon / mic.com

Last week, Pope Francis and church officials encouraged everyone to consume less and think more about our impact on the environment.

It’s a timely warning because the next six months will be critical to our future.

Ahead of a series of major events later this year, The Foundation for Deep Ecology and the Population Media Center released a collection that illustrates the devastating effects of out-of-control growth and waste, and it’s breathtaking.

 

“This is an issue that people care about, and oftentimes it’s just not discussed by mainstream media,” Missie Thurston, director of marketing and communications at the Population Media Center, told Mic.It’s difficult to always know the impacts of our daily choices, like the real effect of buying a bottled water or an extra TV or laptop. With 220,000 more people on the planet every day, and the average person generating over 4 pounds of waste a day — an almost 60% increase since 1960 — the impact of that growth and change in behavior is rarely seen like this.

Source: Peter Essick/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Electronic waste, from around the world, is shipped to Accra, Ghana, where locals break apart the electronics for minerals or burn them. 

Source: Pablo Lopez Luz/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Mexico City, Mexico, one of the most populous cities in the Western Hemisphere.

Source: Digital Globe/Foundation for Deep Ecology

New Delhi, India, where many landfills are reaching a breaking point. The surrounding population of Delhi totals some 25 million people

Source: Mike Hedge/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Los Angeles, California, which is famous for sometimes having more cars than people.

Source: Mark Gamba/Corbis/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Kern River Oil Field, California, USA.

Source: Daniel Dancer/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Former old-growth forest leveled for reservoir development, Willamette National Forest, Oregon, per thePopulation Media Center.

Source: Jason Hawkes/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Coal power plant, United Kingdom.

Source: Cotton Coulson/Keenpress/Foundation for Deep Ecology

North East Land, Svalbard, Norway, where rising global temperatures are fundamentally changing the ecology.

Source: Digital Globe/Foundation for Deep Ecology

The world’s largest diamond mine, Russia.

Source: Daniel Beltra/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Amazon jungle burns to make room for grazing cattle, Brazil.

Source: Garth Lentz/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Tar sands and open pit mining in an area so vast, it can be seen from space. Alberta, Canada.

Source: Daniel Dancer/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Tires discarded in Nevada.

Source: Garth Lentz/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Vancouver Island, Canada.

Source: Yann Arthus Bertrand/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Industrial agriculture in Almeria, Spain, stretches for miles.

Source: Garth Lentz/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Tar sands, Alberta, Canada.

Source: Lu Guang/Foundation for Deep Ecology

A man turns away from the smell of the Yellow River in China.

Source: M.R. Hasasn/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Bangladesh, where much of the world’s clothing and goods are manufactured.

Source: Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Foundation for Deep Ecology

Black Friday, Boise, Idaho.

Source: Zak Noyle/Foundation for Deep Ecology

A remote bay in Java, Indonesia, where local residents, without infrastructure for waste disposal, discard waste directly into streams and rivers.

The rest of the year is going to be critical. In September, world leaders will try and agree on sustainable development goals that will take us through 2030. In December, in Paris, the United Nations will attempt to finally set binding limits on pollution. 2015 will dictate how we address our degrading planet over the next few decades.

The Population Media Center and partners hope these photos will help generate awareness and action. Because as the word spreads, so does the will to make sure we never have to see images like these again.

________________________________________________

And yet, an all-too common human reaction is…

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Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf

See picture gallery of wild animals facing decline

George Monbiot: It’s time to shout stop on this war on the living world

Species across land, rivers and seas decimated as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and destroy habitats

Go Tell it to Lady Gaga

Dear Grist,

Please remove me from your mailing list. Somehow I got sucked into subscribing to your newsletter, under the wrongful assumption that you folks actually cared about the Earth and its non-human inhabitants. Maybe some of you did at one time, but you’re being shouted-down and bullied by the unabashed flesh-eaters in the crowd.

I used to enjoy your articles on overpopulation and climate change, but lately you’ve been wasting my time (and yours) with campaigns urging the consumption of animals (as though meat-eating were a lost art in America; an important tradition in need  of a champion).

You may have started your backslide slowly with your eat-all-things-dead agenda, but lately you’ve been pushing meat like it’s going out of style. The last straw was when you started spelling-out the word “Meat” with the body-parts of your dead victims like something that serial killers Ed Gein or Jeffry Dahmer might have done.

But, whoever came up with this idea obviously modeled it after Lady-Gaga’s infamous and equally bad tasting “meat-dress.”

Lady Gaga meat dress part deux

Attack of the Ten Ton Babies

According to the timely July 14 article in the Washington Post by Erica Gies, “Having kids is terrible for the environment, so I’m not having any: The population explosion and climate change are linked. I want to do my part,” “An American woman driving a more fuel-efficient car, improving the energy efficiency of her house, recycling, and making similar lifestyle changes would save 486 tons of CO2 emissions during her lifetime, while choosing to have one less child would save 9,441 tons.” [Or 18.8 million lbs., whichever sounds worse.]safe_image

If you’re thinking of adding another baby to this morbidly over-crowded planet, please do the world a favor: don’t. Or at least think first of the other species your little monster love-child would crowd off the Earth.

Sure, you plan to raise it right; but there’s still an even chance the little bundle of joy will turn out to be the next Hitler, George W. or Ted Nugent rather than another Jesus, Einstein or Gandhi. The world needs more bison and prairie dogs, more moose, elk and wolves, more salmon, smelt and sea lions, more swans, snow geese and pelicans—more biodiversity—not another climate-warming, Earth-gobbling human baby.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved

The Emergence of Human Evil: the Prequel

There’s a scene from the movie, Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, wherein the local African cattle kill and eat several wild hyenas. Almost immediately after ingesting the animal flesh the cows begin to stumble and drop dead. As gruesome as the whole scenario was, it seems symbolic of the first day, one million years ago (or so), also in Africa, when pre-human primates came across or killed another animal and decided to eat its dead flesh. As with the scene from the installment of the Exorcist, the event represented an innocent plant-eater’s first brush with evil.

Unfortunately for all other life to follow, humans did not have an immediate sickened reaction and drop dead like the cattle in the film. Nothing stopped the greedy proto-humans from continuing with their aberrational carnivorous crimes against nature. Instead, the killing and consumption of their fellow animals, bolstered by the lust for power and control, became routine, tradition, and finally enshrined. Now, here we are today (both the unthinking omnivore and the ethical vegetarian alike) paying the penance for our ancestors’ acts.

Yes, there was an original sin, but it had nothing to do with eating apples or any other fruit, nor anything that grew on trees or in the ground for that matter. It had to do with trying to mimic natural predators who’ve had millennia over us primates to adapt physically and psychologically into the role of carrion scavenger or killer. Not that nature’s carnivores were ever evil, but why would we want to emulate such undesirable and offensive behavior?

That first bloody bite of carrion, the first mouth-watering morsel of tender flesh was all it took; all she wrote. Fast-forward a million years—game over.

The proud human followed a path from hand-to-mouth, from feed lot to oil field, changing everything from Earth’s biodiversity to its very climate.

A lot has been made about humans being the only species to cause a mass extinction. But when all is said and done, some may say that we’re not the first species to have a role in a mass extinction; that the over-population of methane producing microbes, methanogens, might have factored in to the third mass extinction event, the Permian extinction. Still the fact remains that humans have the dubious distinction of being the one species to knowingly bring en entire era (in our case, the Age of Mammals—the most diverse in Earth’s history) to a close. Despite ample warning and time to modify our behavior, our species seems bent on making the same mistakes right up to the living end. Not only did the freeways and highways not miraculously clear at the first sign that our carbon over-output was changing the planet’s atmosphere, but relatively few people (relative to the over-all burgeoning human population, anyway) are swearing off carrion after learning that meat production is responsible for an even greater carbon (and methane) footprint.

And it all leads back to that first fateful bloody bite. Mother Nature was too nice to us. If she had made that early proto-human urp it all back up again, projectile-vomit at the very thought of it, or experience some repellant natural reaction, we could all have been spared a lot of misery at hands of Homo Horribilus Rex, the two-legged mutant, meat-eating monster.

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Population and Meat Consumption

http://www.populationconnection.org/article/population-meat-consumption/

safe_imageAlthough rates of consumption vary greatly from country to country, global meat consumption is on the rise. As their middle classes expand, populous countries like China and India have seen an increased demand for meat products. And although growing concerns about the undeniable health and environmental impacts of meat-heavy diets have led to the meatless Monday trend in the U.S., Americans still eat more meat than almost anyone else in the worldan average of 270.7 pounds per person every year.

Factory farming and the use of pesticides and fertilizers have allowed us to mass-produce more food, including meat, than previously possible. However, this increased productivity comes at a cost. Meat production is incredibly resource intensive and environmentally damaging. And if, as projected, global population reaches 9.6 billion people in 2050, the costs will only grow.

Meat and Resource Consumption

Producing meat is a very inefficient process. Livestock production requires significant inputs of food, water, land, and energy in order to raise, transport, and process the animals. We produce more meat today than ever before—about 300 million tons each year. This increased productivity has been made possible due to factory farming methods and increased feedstock production, which has been enhanced with fertilizers and technological and genetic advances. According to the Worldwatch Institute, global meat production has tripled since the 1970s and has risen by 20 percent just between 2000 and 2010.

Such a high rate of meat production takes a heavy toll on natural resources. Growing sufficient crops to feed livestock requires a tremendous amount of land—land which could be more efficiently used for crops. Taking into account the amount of cropland devoted to feedstock, an estimated 75 percent of the world’s agricultural land goes into meat production. Meat production is also extremely water-intensive; producing one pound of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 liters of water, while producing one pound of wheat requires much less—between 500 and 4,000 liters.

And the resource costs of meat production don’t end with food and water; fossil fuels are also an essential part of the equation. In terms of the fossil fuel energy required to produce animal protein, broilers—that is, chickens raised for consumption—are the most efficient with an energy input to kcal ratio of 4:1. Pork is much less efficient at a ratio of 14:1, and beef is even less efficient; the ratio for energy input to protein is 40:1. For all animal protein production, the average ratio of energy input to protein is 25:1, over 10 times greater than the energy needed to produce one kcal of plant protein. The inefficiencies of meat production are also apparent in the feedstock inputs. For each kilogram of broiler meat produced, 2.3 kilograms of grain is required. One kilogram of beef requires a total of 43 kilograms of grain and forage input.

“There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected population of 9 billion in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations.”

—Malin Falkenmark, Senior Scientific Advisor, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)

Meat and Pollution

Meat production is not only resource intensive. It is also a source of significant air and water pollution. In order to feed the growing livestock population, the agricultural process has continued to intensify, relying heavily on the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Aside from the depletion of resources necessary to produce these fertilizers, runoff from their use causes extensive environmental damage. This is compounded by the effect of manure runoff from the livestock production system. In China, agriculture is the leading driver of water pollution due to manure and fertilizer runoff, both associated with the industrialized livestock production system. Phosphorus, nitrogen, and other nutrients from this runoff flow into waterways and cause toxic algal blooms. These blooms then deprive areas of oxygen, hurting fish populations and affecting those who rely on fishing for income or for sustenance.

Global meat production is also responsible for a significant fraction of all greenhouse gas emissions—between 7 and 18 percent, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide are the primary greenhouse gasses associated with livestock production. This includes direct emissions from enteric fermentation (a digestion process for ruminants such as cattle and sheep) and indirect emissions from the conversion of forests and other vegetated lands into arable land for feed production. Additional greenhouse gas emissions linked to the production process come from the application of chemical fertilizers on crops that feed the livestock, manure management, and international transport. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ruminant livestock produce 80 million metric tons of methane each year, making up 28 percent of all methane gas emissions worldwide.

Toward a Sustainable Future

Meeting global animal protein demands places a heavy burden on our natural1451324_650954518277931_1616731734_n resources, thus threatening our ability to feed our rapidly growing global population. As demand for meat increases, so too will associated greenhouse gas emissions. Soil will erode as land is continually used for crop production—most of which is converted into livestock feed—water resources will be strained, and forests will be degraded as agricultural land expands to meet animal protein demands.

According to Vaclav Smil, professor of environment and geography at the University of Manitoba, if everyone in the world ate as much meat as the average person in the Western world, we would need two-thirds more land than we are currently using. As global population grows and demand for animal proteins increases, this shortfall will only grow. Reducing meat consumption and choosing sustainably produced meats could help lighten the burden meat production currently places on our resources. However, in order to feed the more than 9 billion people projected to live on our planet by 2050, we will need to make dramatic changes to our meat production systems, as current practices are simply unsustainable. Stabilizing our population will be vital as we strive to meet global nutritional needs.

Mass Extinction: It’s the End of the World as We Know It

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31661-mass-extinction-it-s-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it

06 July 2015

 
Written by 
Dahr Jamail   By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Interview

Guy McPherson is a professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources and ecology at the University of Arizona, and has been a climate change expert for 30 years. He has also become a controversial figure, due to the fact that he does not shy away from talking about the possibility of near-term human extinction.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

While McPherson’s perspective might sound like the stuff of science fiction, there is historical precedent for his predictions. Fifty-five million years ago, a 5-degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures seems to have occurred in just 13 years, according to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A report in the August 2013 issue of Science revealed that in the near term, earth’s climate will change 10 times faster than during any other moment in the last 65 million years.

McPherson fears that we are well along in the process of causing our own extinction.

Prior to that, the Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago, also known as the “Great Dying,” was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of 6 degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas. Released into the atmosphere, those gases caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years. The change in climate is thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of most species on the planet. In that extinction episode, it is estimated that 95 percent of all species were wiped out.

Today’s current scientific and observable evidence strongly suggests we are in the midst of the same process – only this time it is anthropogenic, and happening exponentially faster than even the Permian mass extinction did.

In fact, a recently published study in Science Advances states, unequivocally, that the planet has officially entered its sixth mass extinction event. The study shows that species are already being killed off at rates much faster than they were during the other five extinction events, and warns ominously that humans could very likely be among the first wave of species to go extinct.

So if some feel that McPherson’s thinking is extreme, when the myriad scientific reports he cites to back his claims are looked at squarely and the dots are connected, the perceived extremism begins to dissolve into a possible, or even likely, reality.

The idea of possible human extinction, coming not just from McPherson but a growing number of scientists (as well as the aforementioned recently published report in Science), is now beginning to occasionally find its way into mainstream consciousness.

“A Child Born Today May Live to See Humanity’s End, Unless …” reads a recent blog post title from Reuters. It reads:

Humans will be extinct in 100 years because the planet will be uninhabitable, according to Australian microbiologist Frank Fenner, one of the leaders of the effort to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. He blames overcrowding, denuded resources and climate change. Fenner’s prediction is not a sure bet, but he is correct that there is no way emissions reductions will be enough to save us from our trend toward doom. And there doesn’t seem to be any big global rush to reduce emissions, anyway.

McPherson, who maintains the blog “Nature Bats Last,” told Truthout, “We’ve never been here as a species and the implications are truly dire and profound for our species and the rest of the living planet.”

Truthout first interviewed McPherson in early 2014, at which time he had identified 24 self-reinforcing positive feedback loops triggered by human-caused climate disruption. Today that number has grown to more than 50, and continues to increase.

A self-reinforcing positive feedback loop is akin to a “vicious circle”: It accelerates the impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). An example would be methane releases in the Arctic. Massive amounts of methane are currently locked in the permafrost, which is now melting rapidly. As the permafrost melts, methane – a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a short timescale – is released into the atmosphere, warming it further, which in turn causes more permafrost to melt, and so on.

As soon as this summer, we are likely to begin seeing periods of an ice-free Arctic. (Those periods will arrive by the summer of 2016 at the latest, according to a Naval Postgraduate School report.)

Once the summer ice begins melting away completely, even for short periods, methane releases will worsen dramatically.

Is it possible that, on top of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that continue to enter the atmosphere in record amounts yearly, an increased release of methane could signal the beginning of the sort of process that led to the Great Dying?

McPherson, like the scientists involved in the recent study that confirms the arrival of the sixth great extinction, fears that the situation is already so serious and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play that we are well along in the process of causing our own extinction.

Furthermore, McPherson remains convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible – in the course of just the next few decades, or even sooner.

Truthout caught up with McPherson in Washington State, where he was recently on a lecture tour, sharing his dire analysis of how far along we already are regarding ACD.

Dahr Jamail: How many positive feedback loops have you identified up until now, and what does this ever-increasing number of them indicate?

Guy McPherson: I can’t quite wrap my mind around the ever-increasing number of self-reinforcing feedback loops. A long time ago, when there were about 20 of them, I believed evidence would accumulate in support of existing loops, but we couldn’t possibly identify any more. Ditto for when we hit 30. And 40. There are more than 50 now, and the hits keep coming. And the evidence for existing feedback loops continues to grow.

In addition to these positive feedback loops “feeding” within themselves, they also interact among each other. Methane released from the Arctic Ocean is exacerbated and contributes to reduced albedo [reflectivity of solar radiation by the ice] as the Arctic ice declines. Tack on the methane released from permafrost and it’s obvious we’re facing a shaky future for humanity.

More: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31661-mass-extinction-it-s-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it

Leave It All for Generation Y Me?

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Yesterday afternoon my wife and I were out on our covered porch watching the thermometer climb toward 90*, taking advantage of the oppressive heat to hang laundry out to dry, when we realized a loaf of fresh bread was about ready to enjoy.

We had been talking about the life-crushing impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) and she said, “Ahh, fresh bread, one of life’s little pleasures left for us.” I said, “I think there will still be a few pleasures left for us in this world in the near future, although it sounds like all the shit’s really going to come down for the next generation—whatever they’re going to be called. Let’s see, we had the Baby Boomers, the Now Generation, the Me Generation, Generation X, and I vaguely remember hearing something about follow-up generations Y and Z.

She offered, “How about ‘Generation Y me?’”? I laughed and said, “Well, that one sure fits better that anything I’ve heard yet. After all, they’re the ones who are really going to have to deal with the changes wrought by ACD.”

In case those who vote on such things haven’t come up with a new nick name so far, I hereby petition that the next group of humans born should be labeled, “Generation Y me?”

Human Population Growth: “Anomalous and Unnatural”

“There is one especially interesting aspect of the current political landscape, and that is the matter of human populations. At one time a widely debated and much analyzed problem of the day, human population pressure has mysteriously slipped from both political and popular ‘environmental’ agendas.”[

[So wrote the late Canadian naturalist, and outspoken author, John A. Livingston in his 1994 book, Rogue Primate, back when there were only 5.67 billion of us as opposed to today’s 7.3 billion.]

“There is plenty of talk about food distribution (there is enough food for everyone in the world if we could only get it to them) and both industrial and low-impact agriculture, but the matter of absolute human numbers appears to have receded, if not from our private reflections, from our public utterances.

“The deadliest and most insidious form of thought repression is self-censorship. It has

8 is enough, but 13 is definitely too many for anyone!

8 is enough, but 13 is definitely too many for anyone!

become popular…to label those who would dare weigh the interests of Nature in the context of human populations as “ecofascists.” Yet another trump card [like the derisive term “food Nazi” often used against vegans by hard line meat eaters]. Charges of fascism and misanthropy, as well as of racism and Malthusianism are familiar to all who tend the vineyards of Nature’s inherent worth in the face of the human blight. The self-censorship that sometimes can follow, though craven and submissive, is usually defended as necessary and unavoidable pragmatism.

“It was not always thus. There was a period in which a great deal of attention was given to exploding humanity. From the later1940s to the early 1970’s there was a formidable outpouring of articles and books on the social and ecological implications of unrestrained human breeding.…

“The inexorable laying waste of Nature has broadened, deepened, and accelerated proportionately. By 1975 the world’s human population was no longer 2000 millions [as it was in 1948] but 4000 millions.…

“The fact that the human population bubble has not yet burst in all its horror does not mean that it will not. The fuse is no longer sputtering. It is burning steadily now. No organism can increase its numbers infinitely.

“No doubt the familiar devices of distancing and denial are at work in the disappearance of the population question. It has seemed to me for quite some time that the continuing reportage of the Ethiopian and Somalian famines tends to focus on the human misery, the ‘failure’ of the rains and the bitterly drawn-out political violence. Little attention is given to the human role in the ecological synergy that causes desertification. Although much is made of the hideous suffering of the children, few commentators note that if there were such a thing as natural justice, these little ones would not have been. Even fewer address the ironical human ability to proliferate even under the most appalling privation. No wild animal can do that.

“There are machismo tenets in some human cultures that much rigidly reject family planning no matter what the consequences. In others, repeated reproduction has become a perceived means of offsetting child mortality. There are those whose ‘leaders’ are sufficiently chicken-hearted and sexist to deny women a choice in the matter of abortion. There are still others with ‘policy-makers’ bent on providing more customers for the chain stores, more victims for the financial institutions, and more non-corporate taxpayers by enhancing natural increase through immigration. There are even governments desirous of rapid population increases for purely political reasons. In all nations, rich or poor, there is unanimity on the point that the effect of human numbers on Nature is a second-order consideration, and externality.

“Anyone who knows anything about living organisms knows that the human reproductive wave is anomalous and unnatural. No other animal, especially a large one, could possibly get away with it. In Nature, explosions do occur at times, but either they are cyclic and normal, as with lemmings, or there is some unusual, local reason for them (more often than not traceable to human activity). In either case they tend to die back as suddenly as they arose. [Humans may not have arisen “suddenly,” but one thing is for certain, they will die back.]

A child born today may live to see humanity’s end

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/06/18/a-child-born-today-may-live-to-see-humanitys-end-unless/

Humans will be extinct in 100 years because the planet will be uninhabitable, said the late Australian microbiologist Frank Fenner, one of the leaders in the effort to eradicate smallpox during the 1970s. He blamed overcrowding, denuded resources and climate change.

Fenner’s prediction, made in 2010, is not a sure bet, but he is correct that there is no way emissions reductions will be enough to save us from our trend toward doom. And there doesn’t seem to be any big global rush to reduce emissions, anyway. When the G7 called on Monday for all countries to reduce carbon emissions to zero in the next 85 years, the scientific reaction was unanimous: That’s far too late.

And no possible treaty that emerges from the current United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, in preparation for November’s United Nations climate conference in Paris, will be sufficient. At this point, lowering emissions is just half the story — the easy half. The harder half will be an aggressive effort to find the technologies needed to reverse the climate apocalypse that has already begun.

For years now, we have heard that we are at a tipping point. Al Gore warned us in An Inconvenient Truth that immediate action was required if we were to prevent global warming. In 2007, Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor to the British government, declared, “Avoiding dangerous climate change is impossible – dangerous climate change is already here. The question is, can we avoid catastrophic climate change?” In the years since, emissions have risen, as have global temperatures. Only two conclusions can be drawn: Either these old warnings were alarmist, or we are already in far bigger trouble than the U.N. claims. Unfortunately, the latter seems to be the case.

Lowering emissions and moving to cleaner energy sources is a necessary step to prevent catastrophic temperature rises. The general target is to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. Higher increases — like the 5C increase currently projected by 2100 — run the risk of widespread flooding, famine, drought, sea-level rise, mass extinction and, worse, the potential of passing a tipping point (frequently set at 6C) that could render much of the planet uninhabitable and wipe out most species. Even the 2C figure predicts more than a meter’s rise in sea levels by 2100, enough to displace millions. It is no wonder that the Pentagon calls climate change a serious “threat multiplier” and is considering its potential disruptive impact across all its planning.

This is where the U.N. talks fall short — by a mile. The targets proffered by the United States (a 26 percent to 28 percent decrease from 2005 levels by 2025), the European Union (a 40 percent decrease from 1990 levels by 2030) and China (an unspecified emissions peak by 2030) are nowhere near enough to keep us under the 2C target. In 2012, journalist Bill McKibben, in a feature for Rolling Stone, explained much of the math behind the current thinking on global warming. He concluded that the United Nations’ figures were definitely on the rosy side. In particular, McKibben noted that the temperature has already increased 0.8C, and even if we were to stop all carbon-dioxide emissions today, it would increase another 0.8C simply due to the existing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That leaves only a 0.4C buffer before hitting 2C. Even assuming the Paris conference implements everything that’s promised, we will be on track to use up the remaining “carbon budget” — the amount of carbon we can emit without blowing past the 2C threshold — within two to three decades, not even at mid-century.

These emissions-reduction frameworks, it is safe to say, are simply insufficient. By themselves, they only offer a small chance of preventing the earth from becoming mostly uninhabitable – for humans at least — over the next few centuries. For the talks to be more than just a placebo, they need to encompass aggressive plans for climate mitigation, with the assumption that current wishful targets won’t be met.

Apart from coordination to cope with climate-driven crises and associated instability, climate-change leadership needs to encourage and fund the development of technologies to reverse what we are unable to stop doing to our planet. Many of these technologies fall under the rubric of “carbon sequestration” — safely storing carbon rather than emitting it. Riskier strategies, like injecting sulfates into the air to reflect more of the sun’s heat into space and ocean iron fertilization to grow algae to suck in carbon, run a high risk of unintended consequences. Better and safer solutions to reduce CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere don’t yet exist; we need to discover them and regulate them, to avoid the chaos of what economists Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman term “rogue geoengineering” in their book Climate Shock.

None of these approaches are substitutes for emissions reductions. Achieving a carbon-neutral society is a necessary long-term goal regardless of other technological fixes. Technology could buy us the time to get there without our planet burning up. Ultimately, we need a Cold War-level of investment in research into new technologies to mitigate the coming effects of global warming. Without it, the United Nations’ work is a nice gesture, but hardly a meaningful one.

Food for Thought