Environment

10 Ways Mother Earth Will Strike Back If We Don't Stop Our Wanton Destruction of the Environment

Deniers are dancing on the graves of their reputations, to say nothing of reality itself. But Earth will still get the last laugh on all of them, and us for that matter.

And if the ground's not cold/Everything is gonna burn/We'll all take turns/I'll get mine too. -- Pixies, "Monkey Gone to Heaven." 

Bad news. Thanks to perfectly timed, premeditated reality assassinations like so-called ClimateGate, nearly half of Americans may now believe that the various threats of climate change are exaggerated. That's the highest quotient ever since polling on the issue commenced. But there is good news: They're on the wrong side of history and science, and Earth will still get the last laugh on all of them, and us for that matter.

Welcome to our existential nightmare. From rising seas and runaway droughts and storms to the outer limits of dystopian catastrophes like the fart apocalypse -- I'll explain later -- our planet has no shortage of ways to bitch-slap us back into our dangerous reality, whether we want it to or not.

Of course, we could stave off some of the more egregious probabilities of extinction, if we acted now to limit global warming's inexorable rise to 2 degrees. But that means a determined destruction of the status quo, and that's always messy for those who like things just the way they are, thank you very much. But they'll still get theirs. How? Let us count the ways.

1. Envirogees: If you're one of those righteously indignant climate change deniers who also hates immigration, you're in for a world of hurt. According to scientists and scholars, climate refugees could hit 50 million this year and explode to 150 million over the next 50. Hordes of these envirogees, as I call them, will be turned out of their environmentally sensitive homes in China, India, the United States and elsewhere.

They will doubtless end up in the backyards of disgruntled citizens who like to mumble or scream about things they won't settle for in their backyards. If you think immigration is a problem now, just wait until Mother Earth starts cleaning house.

2. Dead Zones: Deniers might like to point out that hypoxic oceans and lakes, known as dead zones in ecological parlance, could be just as attributable to overpopulation as to global warming. Whatever. Their increased frequency is making climate change worse, no matter the prime cause, as if there could ever be such a thing. From shrinking the sex organs of our planet's fish to fucking up its food chain and escalating the ocean's nitrous oxide emissions, dead zones are deep threats.

More nitrous oxide, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, means more ozone depletion, which means more cancer, crop depletion and much worse.

3. Rising Tides: Of course, most deniers, especially those who live near oceans, probably won't be worrying about their chemical content once catastrophic climate change's more severe symptoms arrive. They'll be too busy fleeing the rising tide.

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report prophesied that global warming would increase sea levels by 190-580 millimeters by 2100. More recent research has doubled the bar to an upper limit of two meters. Which probably means that in another few years, the already catastrophic limit will be raised again, perhaps by another 100 percent, at which point there won't be much point in measuring anything at all. Coastal metropoles like Los Angeles, Miami, London, Sydney and others will literally be drowning in data.

It's an object lesson in ironic reversal: ClimateGate deniers were partially right about the IPCC's projections, although they were wrong in thinking they were too severe. In fact, they were too conservative.

4. Fart Apocalypse! The hits just keep on coming, when it comes to global warming and the oceans. Take methane, for example, which like nitrous oxide is a killer greenhouse gas. Plus, it smells terrible, like someone took a crap right in your head.

Now imagine being choked by it, as it is belched from the oceans in a toxic feedback loop and dominates the atmosphere. It's probably happened before in one or more of a variety of extinction events like the Permian-Triassic, more scarily known as the Great Dying. But it could be happening again, as the permafrost melts and farts methane into the ocean and thereby the sky.

According to recent science, atmospheric methane has steadily risen each year since 2007, and whether it's factory farming of beef or melting permafrost, the threat remains the same. Earth has serious gas, and it's not afraid to use it. Hey, at least it's not hydrogen sulfide, an extinction executioner you'll never smell coming. Methane has the decency to stink up your nose and future.

5. Droughts and Desertfication: Sure, flooded cities and fart Armageddons are flashier than drying croplands, but the latter is a clear and present danger while the former are still future catastrophes waiting to strike.

Drought and desertification are surely the least glamorous ravages of global warming, but they are immediate. Parched rivers and declining precipitation, especially in once-fertile regions in America, India, China, Africa and elsewhere, are fueling everything from crop failure to gender inequality and "famine marriages." Drought news has eased somewhat, thanks to recent record-breaking storms and freezes that have balanced water accounts for some regions, especially in the United States. But if you think climate change is going to bring more water your way instead of less, I've got a subprime condo in Australia I'd like to sell you. It's hot!

6. Ice Age Cometh? Deniers love the aforementioned record-breaking storms, because it's hard for their tiny brains to comprehend that catastrophic climate change could simultaneously feature both deep freezes and ferocious firestorms. (They just can't figure out why snow won't make the words "global warming" go away.) The first decade of this still-new century was the hottest on record, yet our recent winter was wetter and colder than average. That dynamic flux is central to global warming, at least for now, as changing atmospheric flows remake the environmental map of the world. What we end up with once the new normal settles down, no one really knows.

In fact, it could be another ice age, at least for some parts of the world endangered by disruptions in thermohaline circulation and other possibilities. It happened after the Medieval Warm Period, and it can happen again. Which means that deniers pointing to deep freezes as evidence against global warming might be frozen before they realize how wrong they are. Oh well.

7. Deforest Dystopia: What's as bad as global carbon dioxide emissions from planes, trains and automobiles? Deforestation, which accounts for around 20 percent of the CO2, currently at an all-time high, belched into the air every year. Cutting down forests, which are carbon sinks, in order to build wood and paper crap like the Wall Street Journal that we're just going to throw away and burn into the atmosphere later is an unclassifiable kind of dumb.

Yet we do it every year, to our own detriment. Our rampant hyperconsumption and half-hearted conservation efforts have endangered the billion or so of us that perennially live off of forests. At best, we could kill off our great forests, as well as our way of life. At worst, climate change turns trees from carbon sinks to emitters, without looking back. And then deniers truly won't be able to see the forests for the trees, because there won't be any left.

8. Magnetic Mourning: Genius cosmologist Stephen Hawking once publicly worried that runaway greenhouse gases could eventually turn our verdant Earth into the celestial hellhole known as Venus. But what probably helped turn a once-oceanic Venus into that hellhole is a relative lack of a magnetic field, like the one we have on Earth that shields us from the sun's interstellar ferocity. But for how long?

As recently discovered, Earth's protective magnetic field is 250 million years older than previously thought. Now a ripe age of 3.5 billion years, our magnetic field could be weakening, and that weakening could turn us into Mars, not Venus, or even lead to the type of geomagnetic reversal that terrorized audiences in Roland Emmerich's disaster porn movie, 2012.

What's this got to do with global warming? Well, that depends on who you talk to. Some scientists believe that an already weakening magnetic field is causing global warming, but it's probably only a matter of time before that arrangement is flipped. Fucking with a planet's stable temperature and atmospheric flows tends to encourage these things. Who knows what that's doing to the Earth's core? Who wants to find out?

9. Give Us Demographics or Give Us Death! Tired of the bring-downs? Cheer up, pal! Demographics, not just facts, could be against the deniers as well. The median age of network and cable viewers grows older by the year, as those outlets decide to either avoid covering global warming or, like Fox News, glorify the deniers.

Even U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu admits the denier campaigns are led by global warming's future losers, who will eventually have to bow to reality. Last year, ad revenue for newspapers and networks continued to decline, while it increased online, where the diversity of opinion and information on matters of great importance like global warming is much greater.

Only Fox News managed to stave off the old media bloodbath, but its viewers are continually dumber than everyone else. The trend is obvious: The more global warming wears on, the more evidence for its ascendancy piles up, and the more skeptics, graying and irrelevant, fall by the wayside. Now that climate-change believers in the White House are teaming up with Hollywood to spread the word, you can practically hear the skeptics aging by the minute.

10. Cosmological Constant: The list above is compelling enough to convince you that deniers are dancing on the graves of their reputations, to say nothing of reality itself. But we science-minded world citizens share one major commonality with them: The planet will probably outlive us both, no matter what happens.

In a billion years, the sun's luminosity will likely increase, stripping Earth of its oceans and vegetation. By then, one can hope we have evolved enough to realize that no intelligent design can save us, that we're lucky to be spinning on a green and blue rock through the void of space. If we do, it's likely we'll have worked out a way to migrate to a more suitable planet and save our sorry hides. But that would mean getting through less existentially obvious hoops like global warming, which isn't currently going so great.

It's just a question of time, which is ridiculous if you think about it: We wouldn't even understand time were it not for the gravitational ballet of our solar system. But here we are, at the dawn of the 21st century, trying to avoid the revelation that we are not God's lucky children, but Earth's lucky children, and we should be taking much better care of our sandbox. Or else.

Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.