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The Dying Planet Earth

Earth and the Moon

Earth is the third closest planet to the Sun and is the largest and densest of the inner planets. Earth orbits in a reasonably circular path at 150 million km and is the first of the planets to have a moon.

Earth takes 365.25 Earth days to orbit the Sun and rotates once every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds. Because it rotates around the Sun the length of a day on Earth (sunrise to sunrise) takes 24 hours.

The Earth has an axial tilt of 23.4 degrees and a diameter of 12,742km.

The Earth is thought to be 4.54 billion years old and has been accompanied by the Moon for most of that time. It is believed that the Moon was formed when a large Mars sized body impacted the Earth causing enough material to be ejected which eventually coalesced into the Moon. The Moon has had the effect of stabilising Earth’s axial tilt and is the source of the Earth’s ocean tides.

The Moon is 3,474km in diameter (27% that of Earth) and orbits at a distance of between about 362,000 to 405,000 km. It has also been affected by the gravitational pull of the Earth which has over time caused the Moon's rotation to be slowed until it matches the time it takes to orbit the Earth. This is why the same side of the Moon always faces the Earth.

Earth is protected from solar radiation by a strong magnetic field generated by movement of its core which is mainly comprised of molten iron.

The atmosphere is made up of Nitrogen (78%) and Oxygen (21%) and other trace elements (1%).
Concentrations of the greenhouse gases Carbon Dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide have dramatically increased in the last three hundred years (and most markedly in the last 100 years)

The average air temperature for the planet is around 14.9 degrees C. The temperature is rising at a rate of about 1 degree C every 50 years, and it's likely the Arctic ocean will be ice free in summers by the 2050's. Sea level is expected to rise by up 1 to 2 metres by 2100. The loss of the heat reflecting polar ice and the release of huge quantities of the powerful greenhouse gas, methane (that is currently locked up in the permafrost) are two mechanisms that are likely to considerably speed up the warming of the Earth.

Earth is a Dying Planet

Earth is the only place that we know of that has life. Unfortunately Earth's atmosphere is undergoing unprecedented rapidly rising levels of green house gases, such as carbon dioxide. The rise in temperature, along with destruction of habitat, means Earth is currently undergoing a mass extinction event in which over 1 million species are in imminent danger of extinction. UN Report.
Because of the complexity of Earth's biosphere, no one can predict the ultimate effect of the rapid changes Earth is currently experiencing. If one extrapolates from the current state of life on Earth, it is not incorrect to describe Earth as a dying planet.

The 2020's - the planet's last chance?

The Earth has been hotter in the past...

Comment (Early 2021)

With our global civilisation completely dependant on consuming resources at a faster rate each year, and political systems which are focused on short term economic goals,the Earth in the mid 21st century will be a greatly degraded as compared to the Earth of the 20th century. The advances the human race has made up to now in combating climate change have been negligible compared to the damage that has, and is still being done. Unlike when nations go to war and huge sacrifices are made (both economical and in terms of human life), politicians over the last 40 years have continually refused to take any significant action to protect the planet. The money that has been spent on combating covid-19 in the past year dwarfs all money spent on repairing the planet to date. Covid vs Climate Change. World leaders have spent this enormous amount of money because covid is an obvious enemy that is killing thousands of people now and directly impacts pending elections. The affects of climate change will, with small and increasingly large incremental steps, devastate the lives and wealth of many millions for hundreds of years to come, but (the politicians hope) not that noticeably before your next election.

In summary, our institutions cannot deal with this crisis. A radical rethink is needed of how human civilisation is structured and how it interacts with the planet. It seems very unlikely that the wheels of global politics can enact the changes needed (many of which are very simple) to reduce this crisis, and so we will have to live with an altered world as best we can. It is possible (let's hope not though) that a tipping point may occur that radically changes the climate in ways that will result in the end of the human race. That seems like a bit of a shame, but ultimately it's not really very important when considering the size and complexity of the cosmos. My only hope is that when the aliens finally visit Earth, they laugh their heads off when they realise how we managed to destroy a paradise and wipe ourselves out with our complete obsession for wealth tokens.

Without leadership from our governments, what is the biggest single thing an individual can do to save the planet?

Eat Less Animals

...including animals from the oceans. (Seaspiracy)

(Other educational videos: BBC Nature|Biodiversity)

 

Comment (14/11/2021)

COP26 has just finished and we all congratulate the politicians for agreeing to stop methane pollution and reverse deforestation. We only hope that these promises will result in immediate and sustained action. However this meeting has proven that the most polluting nations, whose economies depend on coal and oil, have decided that although the planet is at risk, they will continue to invest in coal and oil for another decade with the likely outcome of a 2.4 degree warming by the end of the century. Many species will become extinct and the world’s weather will probably become radically altered. The polluting nations have stockpiled lifesaving Covid vaccines, and completely avoided paying poorer nations the climate change response money they promised over 10 years ago. It would almost seem that the richer nations are not only at war with the planet but also with the poorest nations.

Thanks to the COP26 delegates, the aim to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees is almost certainly dead.

The truth is that fighting climate change is hard and costly and first world politicians don’t think their voters want to hear that and won’t stand for higher taxes or suffer other expenses - like paying for electric cars, heat pumps and insulation. These politicians are easily identified since they always package any climate response initiative as resulting in new jobs and new wealth creation. They seem to avoid explaining that flooding, fire, drought and sea level rise will be far far far more expensive in the future than protecting our environment now.

Many have said that COP26 was a good first step (there have been 25 previous COPs that were, presumably, all just ground work) but that next year’s COP will be much better. Unfortunately, every year that nothing changes is another year closer to a possible catastrophic climate change event. So... what would you do to save the planet? Would you invest in a heat pump heating system? Would you pay extra for an electric car? Would you pay $10 a month for a "help the environment" tax? Why not write to your representative and demand more action and say what you would be prepared to accept to help save the environment. If politicians understand that people care about the environment, then they might have the guts to implement changes that might negatively affect the money wealth of voters in return for increased environmental wealth.

To help save the planet, why not demand :

THE PHASING OUT OF ALL FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES & INVESTMENTS BY 2025

Comment (08/03/2022)

A new crisis has occurred in which Russia has invaded Ukraine. The reason Putin has been able to attack is because of his oil and gas which powers 40% of the Europe Union and 8% of the USA. President Biden knows that if Gasoline prices rise in his country he will likely lose in up coming elections, and so he is looking to find more oil from somewhere... anywhere.

Yet again the world leaders have shown that they pay lip service to environmental concerns, but in reality have no backbone at all. It's the next election that they worry about, not the future prosperity of the entire planet.

Two years ago it was made clear that the actions of humans in this decade was pivotal in the future of the planet. There have been small gains in developing technologies, but there is no evidence of any movement that would keep us within the 1.5 degree temperature rise that is so important for so many plants, animals and humans.

The USA has happily spent billions of dollars and thousands of lives in wars all over the world in order to protect democracy, contain communism and protect its supply of fossil fuels. Today, for many countries including the US, the situation is whether to 1. protect democracy and world order and raise the price of oil by a few percent or 2. keep funding Russia's war in order to keep gasoline prices low.

In reality, the world should already be on a war footing to remove dependence on fossil fuels. Oil should be taxed heavily to push people to use more environmentally sustainable sources of energy and help fund the change. Billions should be invested in non-polluting sources of power and power storage in order to reverse the degradation of the planet and to try and ensure every country (as much as possible) is energy self-sufficient. Now is the perfect time to start a war on fossil fuels and make a massive and positive investment in all our futures.

NO TO WAR and NO TO FOSSIL FUELS.

 

Comment (07/10/2022)

Has anyone been paying attention to the weather this year? We all know that extreme weather comes and goes and that weather records are broken somewhere around the world every year, and that has always been the case going back way into history. However, 2022 has been particularly striking in the frequency and intensity of odd events. Never seen before heat waves and floods have occurred. During the European heatwave parts of some major rivers became unnavigable due to extremely low flows. Many countries in Africa are experiencing the worst floods and longest droughts for decades, if not on record. Many desert areas around the world have been surprised by heavy rain during months which are usually the driest. Scientists have quietly remarked such things as "Greenland ice cap melt is now irreversible", "6% of remaining glaciers in Switzerland melted away this year", "The high temperatures experienced in some parts of Europe this year were not possible before industrialisation".

Scientific models have predicted that the extreme heat waves across the US and Europe will occur more often, and once all the glaciers have melted away, there will be no reserve of water to keep the rivers flowing through the summer and food production (and industry) will be severely affected.

Scientists have warned about irreversible tipping points being reached which will accelerate warming. Those tipping points are happening now.

COP27 is a month away and some countries (like the UK, the hosts of 'successful' COP26) seem eager to distance themselves from this conference and are now heavily investing in fossil fuels in order to boost "growth, growth, growth". With countries once seen as "world leaders" in environmental policy giving up on the planet, one would expect many more countries to follow suit.

If you look around at reports from environmental organisations (like the IPCC) they like to be optimistic and focus on what we can do to prevent the earth warming by more than 2 degrees C (1.5 degrees is no longer a viable aim) if we act now. None of the current pool of world leaders and politicians are prepared to do what is required now (no matter how sensible and low risk those actions might be) and most are being pulled towards increasing pollution in order to support failing financial systems.

I'd like to end this comment with a pithy sound bite that says something that's inspiring or insightful, but can't think of anything. As an aside, this morning Joe Biden mentioned that Nuclear War is on the cards.

 

Comment (21/11/2022)

COP27 has ended. Politicians are congratulating themselves that they have agreed to setup a "loss and damage" fund for vulnerable countries. However they have made no new commitments towards reducing carbon emissions. It is good that rich, polluting, countries have acknowledged that poor, non-polluting, countries need help. However without massive investment in reducing carbon emissions now, they are setting up a fund which will consume more and more money every year as more and more countries (including the richest) are devastated by the climate.

The commitments to reach carbon neutral by 2050 are all well and good, but useless without shorter term goals. Politicians know that 30 years is a very long time in politics and they just don't care about 2050. To them 2050 is someone else's problem. If they agreed to cut emissions by 3% a year, then 1.5 degrees could be achieved, but no politician will ever agree to that.

Global carbon emissions remain as high as ever and it's clear that climate change is really starting to hurt us. Despite that, governments continue to invest in fossil fuels and shun green alternatives. COP Article.

For those interested in the science of the carbon cycle, this NASA page is very useful. It has a lot of detailed information that reveals how complex the world is, and how protecting the nature is so important to controlling the climate.

 

Comment (20/03/2023)

On the 4th March, 2023, an almost unbelievable event took place when the UN passed the High Seas Treaty to protect 1/3 of the worlds international waters from exploitation. This very cynical observer did not think it was possible that any such international agreement would ever be reached. This is the first piece of really good news on the environment for a very long time. Its unfortunate that the media (as far as I could tell) seemed to report on this as a minor news story and not give it the significance it deserves. Protecting the oceans will be a major step in helping to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Of course implementation is the key, and that will take money and political will to ensure the treaty is enforced.

Today the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the state of climate change. As always, it does it's best to be optimistic and indicates 1.5C is still theoretically possible - but only if everyone, and especially the biggest polluters, make drastic changes now.

 

Comment (05/10/23)

Scientists have reported that global surface temperature in 2023 has gone off the scale and are trying to work out why. The two graphs below show the large anomalies that have occurred in temperature and in sea ice in this year.

Earth Surface Temperature Graph: 1940 to 2023

Antartic Sea Ice Extent: 1991 to 2023

Source: copernicus.eu

When temperatures jump unexpectedly, one worries that processes leading to runaway and uncontrollable climate change are kicking in. Let's keep our fingers crossed that the weather returns to a more normal pattern in 2024. If this unusual pattern of warming was to be repeated, even for a few more years, then that would be very unfortunate.

The world should be de-carbonising, but every year we still pump ever more carbon into the atmosphere, destroy carbon sinks and invest heavily in fossil fuels. But luckily the media and our governments are staying optimistic on climate and currently have many other more important things to worry about.

 

New Comment (22/11/23)

Billions are being spent on weapons to defend Ukraine from Russia and to inflict genocide on Palestinians. Only a few millions are being spent on the fight against Climate Change. As an aside, with the UN being ignored and international agreements regarding war crimes and human rights also being ignored, the recent UN High Seas Treaty that attempts to make significant advances to protect the planet would also seem to be worthless. So in summary, it's looking bad for the UN, for humans and for Planet Earth. It's a shame there aren't more leaders like the President of Brazil, Lula da Silva, who argue to move the focus to making peace rather than war, and spending the savings on the people and the planet.

 

COP 28 (17/12/2023)

Nations have agreed to transition away from Gas and Oil by 2050. Although this is good news, I'm sure many people assumed we'd already agreed this. There was a "Global Stock take" of the fight on climate change with a result that at the current rate the temperature rise will be almost 3 degrees by 2100. There was no movement on wealthy countries supporting the poor countries with financial aid. There was an agreement by some nations to triple renewable energy in this decade. There was an agreement to reduce methane emissions from oil production and to monitor dairy cow emissions - it's crazy that this hasn't been agreed until now. (Aside: Methane levels are going nuts and scientists can't quite agree why or what it means.)

In summary, no significant change. The message that is most inspiring from COP 28, is that one gets the impression that oil producers are becoming unsettled as the world slowly makes efforts to reduce dependence on oil and gas. However the need for an all out war on climate change stays at skirmish level for another precious year.

 

Sea Temperatures break records for 9 consecutive months (07/03/2024)

Graph showing global sea temperature breaks records for 9 consecutive months Data from : climatereanalyzer.org as on 7/3/24.

Chart showing sea temperatures since 1850National Centers for Environmental Information as on 7/3/24.

Well there's not a lot to say other than "Let's hope this massive jump in global temperature is just a blip rather than the beginnings of a runaway climate catastrophe". As stated before the climate is extremely complicated, and therefore extremely complicated to model. Therefore it is perhaps premature to toll the "end of the world" bells until more data comes in.

When predicting how the world reacts to carbon in the atmosphere the IPCC uses around 55 different computer models to compute the "Carbon Sensitivity". For the past decade or so some models have indicated the carbon sensitivity is much higher than the predictions of the other models but for technical reasons these "hot models" have been ignored in the final results. However recently one of these hot models has been used to calculate weather forecasts and was found to be more accurate than current meteorological models that we use every day, giving the hot models more credence. It's possible that the IPCC's predictions of climate change are far too optimistic and that we're in for a much rougher ride than expected. Full details from Sabine Hossenfelder Youtube Video.

 

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