As the world reaches a globally significant carbon emissions milestone, the sky is literally falling as a result of climate change, says a top scientist at NASA.
This year was the hottest year on record according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The organization said globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached levels not seen in roughly three million years.
"Carbon dioxide cools the stratosphere and when the stratosphere cools, it actually shrinks the size of the atmosphere," Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told National Observer. "So if you’re about 80 kilometres up, you actually are seeing the sky falling. It’s going down by a number of kilometres.”
A new climate era
His explanation coincides with a new announcement from the WMO, which said the world has been launched into a "new climate era" by the CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. While CO2 concentration spiked temporarily above the significant milestone of 400 parts per million (ppm) in 2015, it surged to new heights in 2016 on the heels of the extreme El Niño weather event — a naturally-occurring weather phenomenon linked to warm Pacific Ocean currents.
A greenhouse gas monitoring station in Hawaii predicted that those record CO2 concentrations will not dip below 400 pmm for many generations to come, and last spring, federal scientists also linked El Niño to the Fort McMurray wildfire that forced the largest evacuation in Alberta's history, shutting down several oilsands producers during the emergency.
“We’re not going to fix it," said Schmidt, "but we’re going to hopefully slow it down so that the changes that are going to occur happen slowly enough for us to adapt without too much suffering."
Schmidt says there still is some hope on the horizon. New technologies are emerging every year that can make countries and cities cleaner and greener and, if we share them, Schmidt said the world may be able to reduce the impact of climate change on those affected most by the crisis.
A journey of a thousand miles
"What’s going to happen is people are going to find that it’s actually easier to cut emissions than they think and there’s going to be best practices shared across different jurisdictions," he explained. “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step."
He applauded the global warming targets agreed upon last year at Paris as a good first step. But as time goes on, he said the world will need to adopt bolder solutions. Countries cannot afford to be complacent, he explained, and the "good decisions" must start today.
“People are going to make decisions and changes and investments, and in 2050 I think we’ll be doing much, much better than people think we’re doing now," he said in a phone interview from New York. "I think we still need to be pushing people and governments to think deeply about these issues because we’re making decisions now that have consequences for 20, 30, and 40 years.”
Keep it in the ground, protestors tell Trudeau
Meanwhile, in Ottawa, 99 students and youth from across the country were detained and given citations by police following an act of civil disobedience. The protesters called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to demonstrate leadership in the world's new climate era by rejecting Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion — a pipeline proposal that if built, would ship up to 890,000 barrels of crude oil and petroleum per day from the Alberta oilsands to B.C. and Washington.
The peaceful protest represents the largest youth-led act of climate civil disobedience in Canadian history, according to its organizers. Demonstrators marched from the University of Ottawa to Parliament Hill with a clear message for the federal government: "Climate leaders don't build pipelines."
“The Kinder Morgan pipeline would directly threaten my nation and my home,” said Cedar Parker-George, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation in B.C. “Justin Trudeau promised to listen to Indigenous communities, well my community has been pretty clear: reject this pipeline and protect the water, the land and the climate."
While environmentalists argue that a halt in the expansion of oilsands operations is an easy way to reduce Canada's carbon footprint, industry and other stakeholders believe oil and other resources can be extracted sustainably and bolster economic development.
The federal government is set to make a decision on the Kinder Morgan pipeline by Dec. 19 in Ottawa.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 10:15 a.m. on Tuesday to add that some protesters in Ottawa were detained by police and given citations.