As the poles get warmer, air and water currents that move solar heat energy from the equator to the rest of the planet will change and based on geological precedent, scientists predict that this may cause the release of massive amounts of methane hydrate from the deep ocean that will further inflame the rising temperatures. Scientists have determined that there is more carbon stored in these frozen water and methane deposits than in all the coal, oil and natural gas on the planet and if it is released, it will contribute to runaway warming.
Climate patterns will change and rainfall redistribution around the globe will result in some areas receiving more precipitation and others less. We do not fully understand when these tipping points will be reached or how they might interact but many climate scientists believe the evidence demonstrates that we only have a few years to act.
In this new world we are creating, evidence suggests land ice in Greenland and Antarctica will melt and that the sea level will be potentially hundreds of feet higher than at present leaving vast swathes of land underwater and hundreds of millions of people homeless. The loss of mountain glaciers and changes in precipitation will render much of the planet devoid of water and thus uninhabitable. All scientific indications are that our grandchildren will live in a world that is drastically different from the one in which we grew up. They will face famine, conflict and death on a scale never before imagined and no amount of denial will help them.
We can probably still avoid this future if we act quickly; many scientists believe that there is still time, but we cannot wait much longer to make the necessary changes in CO2 emissions. As the first humans to breathe this atmosphere that we have created, it remains in our power to act and we will be responsible for the catastrophes to come if we fail.
n Dr. David S. Richard is a professor of Biology at Susquehanna University.