According to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), human activity is pushing global temperatures to a threshold that, once crossed, will likely cause irreversible damage.
"Our analysis suggests that the Earth System may be approaching a planetary threshold that could lock in a continuing rapid pathway toward much hotter conditions--Hothouse Earth," write the researchers. "This pathway would be propelled by strong, intrinsic, biogeophysical feedbacks difficult to influence by human actions, a pathway that could not be reversed, steered, or substantially slowed."
The paper mentions that a rise in global temperature of just 2.0 degreesC might very well be enough to push us past this threshold -- and the "Hothouse Earth" age that would follow would likely be disruptive on a massive scale.
We're finally beginning to realize that we can't just clean up this mess like a house party that got out of hand. We are doomed to fates that we've sealed ourselves and to which we are either blissfully unaware of or painfully ignorant to.
It's quite absurd that we'd be either; we have solid, empirical evidence that we are responsible for environmental change (in both the micro andmacro sense), and we have quantifiable cases of human suffering as a result. Nowhere is this more clear than in the story of Bhopal and the history of the world's worst industrial disasters.
The Bhopal Disaster: Still Unfolding
When it comes to industrial environmental disasters, many people have heard of and remember the likes of Chernobyl, or the even more recent Fukushima nuclear disaster. While many of these areas have been abandoned or experienced degrees of cleanup, there is at least one industrial disaster that is still affecting victims directly and indirectly over 30 years later.
Bhopal is a city in central India, situated in the fertile plains of the Malwa Plateau, and home to a population of approximately 1.8 million as of 2011. It is the capital of Madhya Pradesh, and has transformed over time, adapting alongside the rest of the ever-changing world.
"But this 70-acre site in Bhopal has, apart from the riotous jungle basil, remained mostly unchanged," writes Apoorva Mandavilli, with The Atlantic.
This is the site of the Union Carbide disaster, where 45 tons of industrial chemicals used to make insecticides were inadvertently released and killed between 15,000 and 20,000 in surrounding neighborhoods. Another half million survived, but suffered respiratory problems, eye irritation or blindness, and other maladies resulting from exposure to the toxic gases. These deadly chemicals still exist in the soil and water around the area -- and what's worse, there haven't been anyattempts to clean this site up, or even any parties who have claimed responsibility.
"Union Carbide Corporation (UCC); its former Indian subsidiary; its current owner, DowDuPont; the state government of Madhya Pradesh; and the central Indian government have all played an endless game of pass the buck," writes Mandavilli. "While this charade plays on, and people continue to think of Bhopal's tragedy as one horrific night in 1984, the site still hosts hundreds of tons of contaminated waste. The Bhopal disaster is, in fact, still unfolding."
On December 3, 1984, residents of the neighborhoods surrounding Bhopal's UCC plant went through hell, as clouds of methyl isocyanate (MIC) descended on tangential residential areas. Untold thousands asphyxiated in their sleep, while others woke up confused, panicked, and suffocating.
"Those who didn't choke to death woke gasping for breath, their eyes burning from the toxic gas and their mouths frothing," says Mandavilli. "If only they had known, all they had needed to do was climb to a higher spot. Or covered their faces with a wet cloth. As it was, because MIC is twice as heavy as air, children were affected most. With no training and no knowledge of what they were treating, the doctors could do little to help. Overnight, the city turned into a mausoleum."
Because the site never received cleanup, there is still toxic waste in the old UCC plant grounds to this day, and the water in the surrounding area is also contaminated. When it rains, this latent contamination, along with unrelated sewage and fecal matter, seeps into the local water supply. Even after 34 years, survivors and their children and kin find it hard to get proper medical care and face administrative resistance at every turn.
"Bhopal's third generation, born after the disaster that took place in 1984, is also suffering from ailments," report the Times of India. "There are children who cannot sit or speak or hear, while many women are not able to conceive again."