Humanity has always had a special concern to know what destiny holds. The popular and universal horoscopes, the tarot cards, the deck of cards, the crystal ball or the palmistry, are the best evidence of this human need. The Greeks used to go to the oracle of Delphi, a sanctuary dedicated to the God Apollo, to request an answer, ask for advice or know what the future had prepared for them. The oracle was at the bottom of Mount Parnassus. The requirements of the Hellenes were satisfied by the Pythias or Pythonesses, the priestesses of the temple who interpreted them and communicated the answers to the claimants.
Instead now, our future is written with carbon letters about the atmosphere. The language is called PPM-CO2, parts per million of carbon dioxide, and the temple of Delphi of the 21st century is not at the bottom of Mount Parnassus but in Hawaii and is the Mauna Loa Observatory. The issue is not mythology, superstition or religion. It is a message that science has been able to read, the media spread, and humanity receive. Humans, for the most part, have ignored these early warning messages, which are announcing more global warming for the future and dramatic climate change.
The clock is running out of sand. They are running late! The increasingly dark letters of carbon cry. But few want to hear. We have finished even the sands of the Earth.
In 1750, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, CO2 was at 280 PPM, in 1972 at 330 PPM, in 1992 at 360 PPM. The psychological mark of 400 PPM broke down in 2016 and has since risen to 415 PPM, a figure provided by Mauna Loa, on May 19, 2019. 400 PPM figures had not occurred for three million years.
CO2 PPMs are the most accurate and precious indicators of our future. They are our friends and enemies at the same time. It will depend on us with which we stay. They are friends because without them there would be no natural greenhouse effect, a key phenomenon for the Earth to have populated with a biodiversity envious of the other planets. They are enemies because they can fry us if we don’t take their warnings seriously.
The PPM of CO2 are measurable, they are real, they are floating in the atmosphere to be quantified whenever we want. With them there is no space for the subjective territory. Thanks to science we have something extraordinary at hand. From this perspective the carbon letters give us superpowers to avoid the apocalypse. It is our responsibility to pay attention to them.
However, many black spellings do not read them because they do not have time to look towards the sky. In addition, for many, Mauna Loa is a joke, warming a Chinese story and Greta Thunberg just grimaces, screams and cries. To criticize Greta if they have time and space left over.
Scientists would have to be asked if they can predict the consequences of 425, 450, 475 or 500 PPM in the atmosphere, in case we fail the Paris Agreement. Perhaps they can give us their approximations of the temperatures that await us in each of those steps. But for science it is more complex to predict what will happen on each step. For example, how Earth’s ecosystems with 475 PPM of CO2 would be affected.
The reason is that many pieces are missing to complete the puzzle. The pieces are the alterations of the biotic and abiotic variables that could occur in millions of combinations and variations, due to an uncontrolled increase in global temperature. There are millions of links in trophic chains that are not yet known in forests, deserts and other biomes in the world. If a link jumps, the previous one dies due to lack of food, while the later one, when its predator disappears, accelerates its population growth.
Without enough data on trophic chains there is no capacity to build models or scenarios. There are millions of species that make up biodiversity, interacting with each other in that thin layer that surrounds the Earth called the biosphere, composed of water, air and soil, in all parts of the planet.
His study has not been completed due to its complexity. Because of this, neither with the help of artificial intelligence could we anticipate which links will jump first, nor what their consequences would be. Without data or unknowns there is no equation that can be solved.
Science is able to know if the surface of the deserts has increased or decreased; if there are more or less plastics in the oceans; how much area of a forest area is burned each year; how much the vertebrate population has declined in half a century and many other information. All this has been done and the result is that we are getting worse, with the exception of the beginning of the closure of the ozone holes, as a result of the agreements reached through the Montreal Protocol.
But science can’t tell us how much heat it takes to break the permafrost seals, these icy deserts, ancient carbon sinks that span huge expanses in the northern Earth, in Russia, Norway, Tibet, Canada, Alaska and in a couple of islands of the South Atlantic. Nor can it calculate the probability that exists for Indonesian peatlands to open due to human mismanagement. In both cases, if they were broken, jets of tons of CO2 would be released into space and the global temperature would rise violently to “X” degrees, another unknown quantity impossible to calculate.
So, these dangers that we have briefly reviewed, and seen that they are not easy to measure or control, are a sword of Damocles that hang over our heads. These threats are not as simple to measure as the PPM of CO2 in the atmosphere. That is why we said that if we made them our friends, they could help us a lot. For our luck, by through of them almost all the problems of the Earth can be controlled, and thus begin to walk the path of resilience.
For now, the best we can do is to drastically reduce our CO2 emissions, abandon the burning of fossil fuels, reduce the felling of trees in forests, abandon plastic bags and bottles and protect wildlife that has not yet become extinct. For this, we must implement the recipes for sustainable development and enforce the Paris Agreement. If this is achieved, we can slow the growth of CO2 PPM.
We are at the gates of 2020, the crucial year in which the Paris Agreement must enter into force, another instrument that will serve to know what awaits us. If some withdraw and others without withdrawing do not fulfill, the Paris Agreement will be another messenger who warns of the future that awaits us.
The whole humanity must join in a single block and make heroic efforts to prevent the heavy sword from falling on us. We must all be aware of the new alphabet, those carbon letters written on that huge blue board called atmosphere.
Sandor Alejandro Gerendas-Kiss