Our Temperamental Planet: Reading Between the Lines with the IPCC.

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The news from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is as unsurprising as it is worrisome: Through our general human nature to make things we like and have a rip-roaring good time, we have mistreated our partner in existence, the Earth. What we see as an afternoon of excitement, tearing around the desert in a dune-buggy, the Earth takes as a slap in the face. Like any mistreated member of a partnership, the Earth has a breaking point and it is starting to get a little peeved.

One thing you really don’t want is a whole planet with an axe to grind against you. For one thing, despite our improvements to dune-buggy technology, we still haven’t quite mastered the whole interplanetary travel thing. Ask any of the debris piles on Mars that used to be multi-billion dollar reconnaissance robots about how we’re doing and they will tell you that our success rate at putting things on Mars is only about 30%. The other thing about angering a planet is that worlds in general, and Earth in particular, have the means to really ruin your day.

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Two of the take-home messages from the IPCC’s September 27, 2013 report speak to the butt-kicking potential of a pissed off planet. For starters, sea level is likely to rise by as much as a meter by the year 2100. If you like snorkeling and SCUBA diving, that is pretty good news; especially considering that much of the Netherlands would be a shallow sea full of abandoned buildings. If you happen to live in those buildings, however, the news isn’t quite so exciting. There will also be a likely boon to the storm chasing and professional surfing industries as storms increase in both destructive and wave-generating potential.  Hang ten, brah.

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Can we really be upset with the Earth about all this, though? All things being equal, we humans aren’t the best roommates.  Standard procedure for most clean-ups after a mining operation shuts down are on par with hiding dirty dishes under the rug. The amount of CO­­2 that we pump into the air is the equivalent of blowing cigarette smoke into your housemate’s face 24 hours a day. In fact, scientists are now pretty sure that we have increased the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 40% in the past 200 years. It turns out that we are chain smokers.

So we have done the environmental equivalent of locking ourselves in a cage with a gorilla and kicking it in the balls. Now what? Unfortunately, even if we all decided to go back to stone-age living tomorrow, the effects of our indiscretion would continue for a couple hundred years. The good news is that we might not have to go back to chasing down deer with feeble hand-axes just yet. Renewable energy is on the rise and the technology is getting close to the point of being practical for the average person, as we saw in our recent exploration of solar panels.

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Big business is even starting a push to empty more than just our wallets of cash. Furniture giant IKEA is trying to also remove carbon from the atmosphere. Only three days after the latest IPCC report was published the chain started selling reasonably affordable solar systems at their British locations, with plans to expand the idea globally. Governments around the world just have to start incentivizing renewable energy a little more before the rest of us can begin puzzling over cryptic instruction manuals while perched on our rooftops.

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That will be the key to making amends with our angry planet. We need to make green technology accessible to the average person and profitable to the average tycoon. We may be horrible to live with, but if you convince us that a new technology will improve our lives, we are on it like stink on a donkey. In the near future “doing your part” might be as irresistible as those 50 cent hot dogs. Bon appetite.

 

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