Remember the blockbuster hit The Day After Tomorrow? Well, thanks to climate change, that doomsday scenario could become reality, albeit a bit more slowly than in the movie.
Back in 2004, I wrote a piece for Common Dreams, where I talked about the possibility of the Gulf Stream slowing or shutting down, and the resulting chaos that would cause.
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The Gulf Stream is a very powerful and warm ocean current that runs from the Pacific, around the coast of Africa, and all the way up the Atlantic to the region just off Greenland and northern Europe.
It influences the weather and climate all the way from Africa to North America to Europe.
Basically, if you look at a globe, you’ll see that the latitude of much of Europe and Scandinavia is the same as that of Alaska and permafrost-locked parts of northern Canada and central Siberia.
But Europe has a climate that’s more similar to that of the central United States than northern Canada or Siberia. So why is that?
It’s all because of the Gulf Stream.
The Gulf Stream brings warm surface ocean waters up from the Pacific, around Africa, and up through the equator into northern regions of the globe that otherwise would be so cold, that even in the summer, they’d be trapped in ice.
If it were to stop flowing – to stop bringing all that heat to the northern hemisphere – much of Europe would have the climate of Alaska.
And now, scientists are suggesting that because of climate change and global warming, the Gulf Stream is indeed slowing down.
What I hinted at back in 2004 may be becoming reality, and that’s really bad news for our planet.
Scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found that recent changes in the Gulf Stream are likely coming from the cold, fresh waters coming from the melting polar ice caps and the melting glaciers of Greenland.
“It’s likely that freshwater coming off of the Greenland ice sheet is diluting saltwater and disturbing the oceanic circulation. Less saline water is less dense and therefore has less tendency to sink into the deep. This means that the human-caused mass-loss of the Greenland ice sheet may be slowing down the Atlantic overturning.”
In plain English, thanks to man-made climate change and global warming, the Greenland ice sheet and polar ice caps are melting, and all of that fresh water is flowing into the ocean, throwing the Gulf Stream and the warm waters it brings with it out-of-whack.
If climate change continues to rear its ugly head and the Greenland ice sheet and polar ice caps continue to melt, more and more fresh water will flow into the northern Atlantic Ocean, causing the Gulf Stream to slow down, and potentially shut down altogether.
If the Gulf Stream were to stop flowing today, the result could be sudden and dramatic.
Winter would set in for the eastern half of North America and all of Europe and Siberia, and never go away.
Within a few short years, those regions would become uninhabitable, and nearly 2 billion humans would starve, freeze to death or have to relocate.
Civilization as we know it probably couldn’t withstand the impact of such a crushing blow.
Much of the northern hemisphere could literally look like a scene out of The Day After Tomorrow.
New York City would be under ice. Boston would be under ice. London would be under ice. And the list goes on.
So, add a potential new ice age to the list of the devastating effects of climate change and global warming.
And while that’s happening in the northern climes, equatorial regions from Mexico to northern Africa to Asia will be turning to desert – because even if it gets colder in one place (like it did in the eastern US this last winter), the entire planet itself is still getting warmer.
It’s bad enough that the Gulf Stream may be slowing down.
But if we want to prevent a new ice age for much of the planet, then we need to put a price on carbon now to fight back against climate change – the greatest threat our human species has ever faced.