By Linda Cohan
In 1994, two scientists sabotaged an experiment called Biosphere 2 in the Arizona desert because, as they told reporters after their arrest, they feared for the safety and lives of their ex-coworkers inside.
Replicating planet earth’s ecosystems proved more challenging than expected, and later reporters would document the secret delivery of provisions, including a carbon dioxide scrubber, to maintain life inside the artificial dome and to help salvage the project. Much can be learned from this ambitious experiment, including a new appreciation for the complex interconnected ecosystems upon which all life on earth depends.
Today, it’s as if the test subject has escaped the laboratory and is running rampant. That culprit is carbon dioxide, or CO2. Once we discovered all the things we could achieve with fossil fuels we started burning them at an accelerating rate. Scientists discovered the greenhouse effect in the 1850’s, but it wasn’t until 1958 that we were able to measure CO2 in the atmosphere and record how fast it is increasing. As of May of 2018, it had climbed from 280 to 410 parts per million, the highest in 3 million years. Scientists have determined that up to half of that increase has been absorbed by the oceans causing the water to be more acidic. One of many detrimental effects of ocean acidification for our marine life being weaker shells of our mussels and clams.
What do you do when an experiment goes awry? Can we put the genie back in the bottle? In 2016, the 195 nations that signed the Paris Agreement asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to study the implications of a 1.5˚C global temperature target. Their report was released in October 2018, and found that warming beyond 1.5˚C has already been reached in some regions of the world causing increasing migration and poverty in those regions. It warns that exceeding this temperature target could have profound and possibly irreversible changes to our planet like polar ice sheet collapse and the loss of all our coral reefs. Staying below that warming level, the study concludes, requires cutting fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions at least 40 percent by 2030 and near 100 percent by 2050.
The vast majority of scientists world-wide and 97 percent of climate scientists agree Biosphere 1 is in trouble, and Earthlings need to act quickly to avoid the worst consequences of climate change such as extreme weather, flooding, and increased human health hazards. Economists fear the high cost of these consequences, and military experts warn of the increased potential for military conflicts. Fortunately, many Earthlings are already coming to Biosphere 1’s rescue. There are new green organizations sprouting up everywhere, and young people are mobilizing across the globe.
Many ideas have been and are being floated to solve the problem, but did you know? There is a bill, already introduced in Congress, that has been studied and independently found to reduce America’s emissions by at least 40 percent in the first 12 years as well as target 90 percent reductions by 2050. It’s called the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA), and is supported by economists and scientists as simple, comprehensive, and effective. It is revenue neutral, returning collected fees to households in a monthly dividend, and is expected to benefit low income households the most. A great way to celebrate Earth Day 2019, and to help rescue our imperiled planet, is to contact your members of congress and ask them to co-sponsor the EICDA bill. Mother Earth will surely thank you!
Linda Cohan is a member of the Tacoma chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.