Well, unfortunately for us, there is growing evidence that it does. Very quickly. And that it might already be too late to avoid a cascading global calamity, as biological and natural systems that we've always depended upon fail, triggering additional system failures.
This is made abundantly clear in Jim Lovelock's latest thoughts on the state of climate change, which he has published in a book named The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth Is Fighting Back - and How We Can Still Save Humanity. The book was recently released in Britain, but will not hit the U.S. until August of this year.
Lovelock, who created the idea of Gaia Theory -- a world of interconnected, often self-regulating natural and organic systems. Gaia Theory, which was a highly disputed idea back in the late '70s, is now a comonly accepted theory used routinely to create more accurate weather predictions.
Although Lovelock's picture of the future is very much apocalyptic in nature, it is far from New Age hysterics. Lovelock provides detailed yet understandable scientific explanations of the latest discoveries and theory about climate change, and ties numerous potential contributing factors together into a sadly believable scenario that could lead to a massive culling of humanity, as global temperatures rise dramatically, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melt, coastal regions flood, life in the seas die, water supplies fail, and agricultural land turns into a dustbowl.
The triggers for this disaster make a lot of sense, and all play off of each other.
He specifically cites the following:
Global warming - Already a significant problem in itself, scientists now know that global warming has been offset by global cooling. The risks of global warming include massive coastal flooding, destruction of agricultural land, damage to or the destruction of vital organisms (plankton, for example), wildlife (i.e. birds, amphibians, many types of pollenators), the death of the rainforests (through increased heat, fires, etc.), and the loss of snow runoff vitally needed for water supplies. Numerous contributing factors could greatly increase the rate of the phenomena.
Global cooling - Discovered over the past few years -- and verified, in part, because of 9/11 -- global cooling refers to the cooling effect of pollutants in our atmosphere, which interact with water vapor in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight from our planet back into space. Global cooling is in a tug-of-war with global warming, and its effects have helped hide the unexpectedly rapid progression of global warming. Ironically, it has been easier to reduce air pollution than to reduce effects of global warming. If air pollution decreases, or an economic downturn or other factors reduce factory output, then global temperatures will rise sharply by several degrees.
Increased water vapor - As the earth heats up due to global warming, the level of water vapor in the air increases, which actually functions as a greenhouse gas, amplifying warming.
Ice sheets - The world's ice sheets reflect light and heat back into space, helping to cool the planet. They are clearly melting at an accelerated pace. As they do, temperatures will increase at a faster rate. Most alarmingly, many ice sheets and frozen tundra regions, such as those in Greenland, Siberia, Canada, etc., cover peat bogs. The melting of polar ice and heating of peat bogs will release massive amounts of methane, a major greenhouse gas, potentially releasing more greenhouse gasses than all manmade emissions combined. This, in turn, could create an irreversable cascade of global warming lasting up to 100,000 years, flooding major portions of the world's coastal regions. It is estimated that around 200 million people could be displaced by sea level rise, especially in Vietnam, Bangladesh, China, India, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Egypt, and, in the US, in most of the state of Florida and Louisiana. Temperatures in the arctic are rising at approximately twice the rate of temperatures elsewhere on the globe, further accelerating the rate of these effects.
Ocean current disturbance - The ocean's currents determine, in large part, what the weather is. Hot tropical water is circulated with the ocean's currents to cooler areas, helping to moderate the earth's temperatures. As polar ice melts, especially in the northern hemispere, the melted fresh water will mix with the sea water and will push the current system further south, slowing or potentially stopping the current flow. Such a change could cool down selective areas of the globe by 3° to 5° Celsius, while simultaneously causing drought in many parts of the world. These climate changes would occur quickly, even as other regions continue to warm slowly. Both extreme droughts and extreme cold would greatly upset world agricultural production.
Lovelock's major proposal for addressing this problem is a *VERY* quick adoption of additional nuclear power plants. He believes that solar, wind, etc. is a waste of time under the circumstances, and that it's best to assume that we don't have a lot of time to make the changes necessary to avoid some of the major tipping points that would forever change our world.
If that isn't controversial enough for environmentalists, he also advocates growing food synthetically by tissue culture, to reduce the burden on the planet. Sounds desperate, and hopefully not necessary. Then again, desperate times could require desperate measures. In short, he argues persuasively that, through science, humanity got itself into this mess, and that science is the best way to get us out of it.
Lovelock's vision of the future might read like science fiction, but the fact that many scientists are starting to have an increasingly pessimistic viewpoint of how rapidly global warming is impacting us is disconcerting. We can only hope that science proves him wrong... but should we count on it?