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Cooking up a dead planet

In 2003, the Iraqi army lit over 700 oil wells on fire, averaging 8,000 barrels a day each. It took a year to put them all out. On average, every day, every Canadian and American unleashes searing climate heat equivalent to the initial heat coming off one of these oil well fires. Both nations have abandoned national and international efforts to attempt to put these out. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The average Canadian or American unleashes an inferno of climate heat equal to the searing blast of heat coming off an 8,000-barrel-a-day oil fire. That isn’t hyperbole or a misprint. That really is how much our fossil fuel pollution cooks our biosphere. If there is just one climate fact you hang onto as you navigate your energy choices, let it be the image of that brutal inferno unleashed by everyday individual fossil fuel use.

CO2: The Little Molecule That Could
According to research by climatologist Ken Caldeira of Stanford University, fossil fuel CO2 traps 100,000 times more climate heat than was given off at the moment of burning. These wee molecules of CO2 work tirelessly night and day for decades constantly catching heat that would have escaped into space and sending it right back to us. Our hundreds of tonnes of past CO2 are still up there trapping a raging inferno of heat round the clock.

If you want a quick ballpark estimate for climate heat resulting from any fossil fuel you are burning, use 100,000 as your multiplier for an accurate picture of the consequences of your fossil fueled choices. Each Canadian’s climate inferno relentlessly heats mostly the oceans and continents, but a small percentage melts away our planet’s remaining ice. Even this small portion of our inferno is enough to remove half a tonne of ice every single day per person. That’s a lot of heat.

How Do These Choices Add Up?
The 1,000,000 climate infernos in the Vancouver area alone create the equivalent of 42 quadrillion BTUs of atmospheric heat, every day.

Is it any wonder that the last 12 months was the hottest year humans have ever recorded? Or that every decade grows increasingly hotter? Or that record-breaking heat waves are now commonplace while record cold spells are rare? The searing results of our individual fossil fueled choices are becoming clearer with each season.

This Summer’s Specials
Russia’s wheat crop withers under a heat wave unmatched in at least a thousand years. The landscape burns uncontrollably. Australia’s mega-drought now has a locust swarm the size of Spain hunting the parched landscape. A record 17 nations covering 20% of the earth’s surface smashed their all time hottest temperatures in just the last six months. Ice disappears at an unprecedented rate, ten tonnes for every each tonne of fossil fuel CO2 we pollute.

We’ve heated earth’s air so relentlessly that it now packs in 5% more moisture. What goes up comes down – in record breaking downpours, storm fury and flooding disasters. Pakistan is the latest to suffer from our newly moisture laden atmosphere. A third of that nation is now underwater and tens of millions need help.

We’ve also managed to simmer the global ocean hot enough to kill off 40% of the plant plankton in the last 50 years, threatening the viability of the vast ocean biota on which terrestrial life ultimately depends. We’ve warmed the south Atlantic enough to bring hurricanes to a new part of the globe. Worldwide ocean acidity is already up 30% from fossil fuel pollution. Dead zones mushroom outwards year after year. Oysters haven’t spawned in the wild in six years on the Oregon and Washington coasts. Permafrost is thawing rapidly. Titanic islands of ice are breaking free. The number of climate refugees now exceeds the number of war refugees. Increasingly, deadly climate consequences are viewed as human rights violations inflicted by wealthy nations upon poorer nations.

Cooking with Intention
Can our individual choice of energy sources really cook up such global chaos?

It used to be that we were cooking the biosphere unknowingly, but we now know, or should know, the consequences. It is a conscious choice by each of us every day to ignore or integrate widely available information. Yet as Canadians we now unleash more climate heat per person than we did twenty years ago. We are increasing our individual climate pyres even though we see images of unprecedented forest fires and droughts sweeping across the earth and people being swept away by flood waters to their deaths.

Our fossil fuel pollution is deep frying what you care about. If you are sick and tired of cooking your planet into millennial misery, then don’t. Stop making choices that are highly fossil fueled. Make a different choice. It is that simple.

Coming next in the series: “Cooking a Dead Planet: Pedal to the Metal”

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