Apocalypse NOW?; from Global Warming to Asteroid Strikes, the Possibilities Are Limitless. Rhodri Evans Asks, `How Will the World End?' Our Species Must Quickly Harness the World's Plentiful and Safe Renewable Energy Resources before We and Most Other Species Are All Trapped by an Extinction Event beyond Our Control

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Byline: Rhodri Evans

ARMAGEDDON is not the sort of thing most of us worry about as we go about our daily lives. We tend to have more important things on our minds, such as ``What's for tea?'', ``Is my hair OK?'' and ``Why can't Wales win at rugby?'' But for scientists around the world it seems there is nothing they like more than scaring the living daylights out of ordinary people with tales of how we will come to a grizzly end. The current favourite way for us all to meet our maker is global warming, nowhere near as exciting as an asteroid strike and certainly a lot more drawn out. The latest experts to warn us that the planet is in jeopardy are researchers from Bristol University. They have discovered that a mere six degrees of global warming was enough to wipe out up to 95% of the species which were alive on earth at the end of the Permian period, some 250 million years ago. And it just so happens that six degrees is how much United Nations scientists expect the temperature to increase by in the next 100 years if we fail to tackle global warming. (Cue that feeling where the hairs are supposed to stand up on the back of your neck and you do something about creating a greener environment.) The United Nations scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say that more needs to be done to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide.

The Permian mass extinction studied by the Bristol researchers is thought to have been caused by gigantic volcanic eruptions which triggered a runaway greenhouse effect. Conditions in what geologists have termed this ``postapocalyptic greenhouse'' were so severe that only one large land animal was left alive and it took another 100 million years for species diversity to return to former levels.

The dramatic findings are revealed in a book by Bristol University's head of earth sciences, Professor Michael Benton, which chronicles the geological efforts leading up to the discovery and its potential implications.

Professor Benton said, ``The end Permian crisis nearly marked the end of life.

``It's estimated that fewer than one in 10 species survived.

``Geologists are only now coming to appreciate the severity of this global catastrophe and to understand how and why so many species died out so qu i ck

y. '' Other climate experts say they are appalled that a disaster of such magnitude could be repeated within a hundred years because of man's influence on the environment.

Global warming author Mark Lynas, who recently travelled around the world witnessing the current impacts of climate change, said, ``This is a global emergency. We are heading for disaster and yet the world is on fossilfuel autopilot.

``There needs to be an immediate phaseout of coal, oil and gas and a phasein of clean energy sources.

``People can no longer ignore this looming catastrophe.''

Friends of the Earth Cymru spokesman Neil Crumpton agrees that the Bristol study shows something really needs to be done, especially as some experts are now warning of a worstcase scenario of global temperatures increasing by as much as 10C.

``Last year the IPCC forecast a 5.8 worstcase global increase due to our burning of fossil fuels, a shock increase from their previous forecast of 3.5,'' he said.

``That was sobering enough, but now some top climatologists fear that due to an underestimate in the calculations the worst case could be a warming of 7C to 10C. …