Vying for the top spot in the Most Depressing News of the Day category are two related items: The carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere appears to be at the highest level in at least 2 million years, and the resulting global warming is melting so much ice in the Arctic that Alaskan polar bears and Pacific walrus are struggling to survive.
I'm going to go with the 2 million years for most depressing, followed by polar bears and walrus. That we've managed to alter our atmosphere so dramatically in a century or two that it is fundamentally different than it has been for 2 million years is downright startling. We already knew that the carbon concentration was greater than anytime in the last 800,000, but this new analysis looks back even farther (and with less scientific confidence, it should be noted) into the distant past. There's no comparison.
In a related note, you can now watch greenhouse gas emissions accumulate in real time in New York City, on the Web or on your own desktop, thanks to a new, very public accounting of pollution by Deutsche Bank. It calls it the "Know The Number" campaign. (Another good global warming awareness gimmick: Greenpeace published a mock issue of the International Herald Tribune, devoted entirely to news about climate change.)
Oh, lest we forget about the third most depressing story of the day: The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is likely to be among the largest ever this year, according to a new government prediction. The government previously warned that the nutrient load -- that's primarily the amount of excess fertilizer we threw on Midwest corn fields -- was 23% lower than the record 2008 flood of excess fossil fertilizer, but still 11% above average. The dead zone -- a patch of water about the size of New Jersey that loses oxygen every summer -- is expected to be among the largest ever recorded, as a result.
All three of the most depressing stories of the day have a commonality. They all have to do with pumping fossil chemicals buried millions of years ago deep underground to the surface of the Earth, and then watching a planetary experiment unfold. Burning fossil fuels pumps carbon into the atmosphere (and the oceans, but that's a depressing story for another day) where it traps the sun's heat close to the Earth. Fertilizing farm fields with nitrogen (from natural gas, a fossil fuel) and phosphate (mined from fossil deposits) pumps these nutrients into our water, where they create dead zones where a lack of oxygen chokes off life.
In a word: unsustainable.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.