Published on Friday, February 28, 2014 by Common Dreams
Through the Climate Portal: Humanity’s Tragic Flaw
The planet is sick and we’re ignoring all the signs at our own peril. (Image: Getty)In the autumn of 1992, I was alone in my studio apartment in Philadelphia, puking my guts out. Something bad had happened inside; it felt like a bomb had gone off in my belly. Just how bad was it? Was I bleeding internally? Was I dying?
I suspected what needed to be done: I had to call for an ambulance. But still, I hesitated. I just couldn’t believe it — I was not the sort of person who needed an ambulance. I was only 29-years-old. I’d been a three-sport athlete in high school. This sort of thing only happened to "other people" — people I read about in newspapers.
Fortunately, my survival instincts won out and I made the call. If you had asked at the time, even as the paramedics loaded me onto the stretcher, to name my strongest sensation, it would not have been the pain (though that was considerable); it would not have been the fear (ditto). It would have been this: I felt utterly stunned.
Stunned, because the doctor’s warnings had finally come to pass. I’d been diagnosed with an inflammatory disease of the large intestine called ulcerative colitis in 1984. The disease essentially directs excess heat/inflammation toward the walls of the colon. Over time, this can result in scarring, narrowing and, eventually, obstruction of the passageway.
Though doctors had repeatedly warned me of this scenario. I had refused to follow their treatment prescriptions. Why had I refused? For my own (in retrospect, quite unwise) personal reasons, I did not trust the doctors and so ignored their advice. Now there I was on the stretcher, my life unnecessarily put at risk.
Stunned, because even though the symptoms of the disease had been progressively worsening, I had not, until that very point, crossed "that line" where things become suddenly different, where the system suddenly flips into a different state of functioning. What had been manageable, though increasingly challenging, was, in an eye-blink, no longer manageable at all.
Looking back, I realize that a part of me simply had not been able to imagine this to be possible. It was as if I had stepped trough a portal. Up to that moment, I had been "David," living my familiar "David" life, with its ups and its downs. On the other side of the portal, a single train of thought crowded out all other motivations and desires: "Please, make this stop, please make it better. Please make it go back to the way it was before."
We find ourselves in a similar situation in 2014. The scientists are telling us that every second our planet is accruing excess heat equivalent to the heat generated by four Hiroshima atomic bombs. The physics is elementary and beyond dispute: The heat-trapping greenhouse blanket in our atmosphere is thickening primarily due to fossil fuels. The solution is, though hugely challenging, equally elementary: Stop thickening the blanket!
At the rate we are going, one thing is certain: A day will come when we will be stunned. Perhaps temperatures will cross a threshold beyond which our staple crops cannot grow. Perhaps the glaciers that provide water for hundreds of millions will shrink beneath a critical level. Perhaps storms of warming and rising oceans will make life in our many coastal megalopolises untenable. There are many candidates: We are moving ourselves out of our climate "Goldilocks Zone."
We will have crossed through the portal (in actuality, in the vast and complex climate system, there will be multiple lines to cross with multiple portals) and a single train of thought will crowd out all other motivations and desires: "Please make this stop, please make it better. Please make it go back to the way it was before."
But it’s even worse than that. I was one person with one specific problem, a problem that had been addressed by doctors thousands of times before. I was rushed to the hospital where, for three weeks, they pumped me full of cooling (and chock full of harmful side effects) prednisone and antibiotics. They stabilized me but, a couple years later, had to surgically remove my entire colon. The damage was just too much.
It won’t be like that for us as a species. The hotter we get, the less likely it will be that we can prevent further warming. The Arctic is recognized as the canary in the coalmine and the canary is doing even worse than we had thought. The Arctic has already warmed 2 degrees centigrade (3.6F) since 1970, three times faster than the planet overall. Over 40 percent of its summer sea ice cover has melted away. As the heat reflecting "mirror" ice is replaced by dark heat-absorbing sea water, the region warms which, in turn, melts more ice which leads to more dark water and more heat… and so on.
Scientists already knew about this classic feedback effect. But until now, they hadn’t realized how bad it truly was. A recent study finds that the ice-melt is absorbing two to three times more heat than estimated. It is, in fact, absorbing extra heat equivalent to fully one-quarter of the amount of heat being held in by atmospheric carbon dioxide. This is where we are headed: more heat creating more heat, to a point where further warming will simply take the situation out of our hands.
Theoretically, we can still pull back via a World War II level green energy mobilization together with rapid and permanent fossil fuel reduction. But we are not stopping. In fact, we are accelerating the process. We can’t imagine it. It is our tragic flaw. We’re still on the good side of the line. Yes, the symptoms are becoming more challenging, but things are still fundamentally manageable. They won’t stay that way for too much longer.
There is no prednisone for the planet short of enormously risky geo-engineering interventions. And, of course, if the damage is too much, we can’t just "cut out" human civilization. Well, more accurately, human civilization and many millions or billions can be "cut out," but that would suck.
Go to any climate blog and you will see scientists and "lay" people who profess alarm being ridiculed as "Chicken Littles." But sometimes the sky is actually falling. It happens. It is happening now and in rapidly shrinking time frames. We show every sign that we will simply have to cross over multiple lines, through multiple portals. Then, assuming our survival instincts kick in, we will act — at least more of us will. Will it be enough? Will it be too late? Time will tell.
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Long piece by Subhankar Banerjee over at Common Dreams.
There Is No Warming "Pause," says Study: The Planet Is Burning Up
Though surface temperature increases have slowed in recent years, global warming is accelerating rapidly as the oceans heat up
- Jon Queally, staff writer
What climate change denialists gain by ignoring the complexities of climate science, not to mention, the climate system is most impossible thing to calculate. A recent apparent pause in surface temperature rises can be accounted for by deep-sea warming assisted by unusually high trade winds in the Pacific Ocean. (Photo: Getty Images)Global warming has not "paused." Climate change has not hit a "speed bump." The planet’s temperature is not remaining steady and it certainly isn’t cooling. Earth, especially its ocean, are heating up… and rapidly.
Those are the findings and the consensus of the global scientific community. And a new study shows that the detectable slowdown of global surface temperature increases over the last fifteen years—a trend that climate change denialists have seized on to foment doubt among the general public—is, in fact, the result of a terrifying phenomenon in which the planet’s deep oceans are increasingly absorbing the world’s excess carbon, offering a false sense of temperature stability when the reality is very much the opposite.
The new study, conducted by U.S. and Australian scientists and presented in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that unusually powerful trade winds in the Pacific Ocean have contributed to pushing the warmer ocean waters to greater depths, creating an illusion of a warming plateau on the surface.
As the Guardian reports:
The findings should provide fresh certainty about the reasons behind the warming hiatus, which has been claimed by critics of mainstream climate science as evidence that the models are flawed and predictions of rising temperatures have been exaggerated.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) addressed the warming pause issue in its 2013 climate report, pointing out that the Earth is going through a solar minimum and that more than 90% of the world’s extra heat is being soaked up by the oceans, rather than lingering on the surface.
According to the study, acceleration of Pacific trade winds has been twice as strong in the past 20 years compared with the prior 80 years and suggests the surface warming "hiatus" could "persist for much of the present decade if the trade wind trends continue." However, warn the scientists, when the winds return to their long-term average speeds, rapid surface temperature warming will resume and the consequences could be dire.
"Sooner or later the impact of greenhouse gases will overwhelm the effect," said Matthew England, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and head researcher on the project. "And if the winds relax, the heat will come out quickly. As we go through the 21st century, we are less and less likely to have a cooler decade. Greenhouse gases will certainly win out in the end."
Putting the idea of the "speed bump" or "pause" in perspective, climate expert Dana Nuccitelli explains how it has acted as a vague and helpful "myth" to those with a vested interest in not addressing the perils of climate change. He writes:
Many popular climate myths share the trait of vagueness. For example, consider the argument that climate has changed naturally in the past. Well of course it has, but what does that tell us? It’s akin to telling a fire investigator that fires have always happened naturally in the past. That would doubtless earn you a puzzled look from the investigator. Is the implication that because they have occurred naturally in the past, humans can’t cause fires or climate change?
The same problem applies to the ‘pause’ (or ‘hiatus’ or better yet, ‘speed bump‘) assertion. It’s true that the warming of average global surface temperatures has slowed over the past 15 years, but what does that mean? One key piece of information that’s usually omitted when discussing this subject is that the overall warming of the entire climate system has continued rapidly over the past 15 years, even faster than the 15 years before that.
The speed bump only applies to surface temperatures, which only represent about 2 percent of the overall warming of the global climate. Can you make out the tiny purple segment at the bottom of the above figure? That’s the only part of the climate for which the warming has ‘paused’. As the IPCC figure indicates, over 90 percent of global warming goes into heating the oceans, and it continues at a rapid pace, equivalent to 4 Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations per second.
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Police in Oklahoma now consider glitter, yes, glitter, to be a biochemical weapon, an instrument of terror.
Not only is Trans Canada corrupting democracy and co-opting police forces across the country to do its bidding, they are pushing for people who protest their vile product and actions to be treated as terrorists, with all the accompanying legal foofaraw and long prison sentences.
This is what happens when corporations arrogate to themselves the right to govern by buying politicians and political systems. It’s fascism, plain and simple.
But really, glitter? Glitter? The police and the FBI and hazmat teams called to respond to a glitter attack? Corporate thought at its acme of perfection.
Read all about it in Mother Jones, The Dissenter, and be sure to read the idiot comments following the article in NewsOK, one of my favorites being “Climate always changes, mostly for natural reasons. In the midst of global warming so allegedly severe that Al Gore and others call it a "crisis," isn’t it interesting that in the last week the US set over two thousand cold and snow records?”
Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice?
Scientists Consider Extinction
By Dahr Jamail
I grew up planning for my future, wondering which college I would attend, what to study, and later on, where to work, which articles to write, what my next book might be, how to pay a mortgage, and which mountaineering trip I might like to take next.
Now, I wonder about the future of our planet. During a recent visit with my eight-year-old niece and 10- and 12-year-old nephews, I stopped myself from asking them what they wanted to do when they grew up, or any of the future-oriented questions I used to ask myself. I did so because the reality of their generation may be that questions like where they will work could be replaced by: Where will they get their fresh water? What food will be available? And what parts of their country and the rest of the world will still be habitable?
The reason, of course, is climate change — and just how bad it might be came home to me in the summer of 2010. I was climbing Mount Rainier in Washington State, taking the same route I had used in a 1994 ascent. Instead of experiencing the metal tips of the crampons attached to my boots crunching into the ice of a glacier, I was aware that, at high altitudes, they were still scraping against exposed volcanic rock. In the pre-dawn night, sparks shot from my steps.
The route had changed dramatically enough to stun me. I paused at one point to glance down the steep cliffs at a glacier bathed in soft moonlight 100 meters below. It took my breath away when I realized that I was looking at what was left of the enormous glacier I’d climbed in 1994, the one that — right at this spot — had left those crampons crunching on ice. I stopped in my tracks, breathing the rarefied air of such altitudes, my mind working hard to grasp the climate-change-induced drama that had unfolded since I was last at that spot.
I haven’t returned to Mount Rainier to see just how much further that glacier has receded in the last few years, but recently I went on a search to find out just how bad it might turn out to be. I discovered a set of perfectly serious scientists — not the majority of all climate scientists by any means, but thoughtful outliers — who suggest that it isn’t just really, really bad; it’s catastrophic. Some of them even think that, if the record ongoing releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels, are aided and abetted by massive releases of methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas, life as we humans have known it might be at an end on this planet. They fear that we may be at — and over — a climate change precipice hair-raisingly quickly.
Mind you, the more conservative climate science types, represented by the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), paint scenarios that are only modestly less hair-raising, but let’s spend a little time, as I’ve done, with what might be called scientists at the edge and hear just what they have to say.
“We’ve Never Been Here as a Species”
“We as a species have never experienced 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources, and ecology at the University of Arizona and a climate change expert of 25 years, told me. “We’ve never been on a planet with no Arctic ice, and we will hit the average of 400 ppm… within the next couple of years. At that time, we’ll also see the loss of Arctic ice in the summers… This planet has not experienced an ice-free Arctic for at least the last three million years.”
For the uninitiated, in the simplest terms, here’s what an ice-free Arctic would mean when it comes to heating the planet: minus the reflective ice cover on Arctic waters, solar radiation would be absorbed, not reflected, by the Arctic Ocean. That would heat those waters, and hence the planet, further. This effect has the potential to change global weather patterns, vary the flow of winds, and even someday possibly alter the position of the jet stream. Polar jet streams are fast flowing rivers of wind positioned high in the Earth’s atmosphere that push cold and warm air masses around, playing a critical role in determining the weather of our planet.
McPherson, who maintains the blog Nature Bats Last, added, “We’ve never been here as a species and the implications are truly dire and profound for our species and the rest of the living planet.”
While his perspective is more extreme than that of the mainstream scientific community, which sees true disaster many decades into our future, he’s far from the only scientist expressing such concerns. Professor Peter Wadhams, a leading Arctic expert at Cambridge University, has been measuring Arctic ice for 40 years, and his findings underscore McPherson’s fears. “The fall-off in ice volume is so fast it is going to bring us to zero very quickly,” Wadhams told a reporter. According to current data, he estimates “with 95% confidence” that the Arctic will have completely ice-free summers by 2018. (U.S. Navy researchers have predicted an ice-free Arctic even earlier — by 2016.)
British scientist John Nissen, chairman of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (of which Wadhams is a member), suggests that if the summer sea ice loss passes “the point of no return,” and “catastrophic Arctic methane feedbacks” kick in, we’ll be in an “instant planetary emergency.”
McPherson, Wadham, and Nissen represent just the tip of a melting iceberg of scientists who are now warning us about looming disaster, especially involving Arctic methane releases. In the atmosphere, methane is a greenhouse gas that, on a relatively short-term time scale, is far more destructive than carbon dioxide (CO2). It is 23 times as powerful as CO2 per molecule on a 100-year timescale, 105 times more potent when it comes to heating the planet on a 20-year timescale — and the Arctic permafrost, onshore and off, is packed with the stuff. “The seabed,” says Wadham, “is offshore permafrost, but is now warming and melting. We are now seeing great plumes of methane bubbling up in the Siberian Sea… millions of square miles where methane cover is being released.”
According to a study just published in Nature Geoscience, twice as much methane as previously thought is being released from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a two million square kilometer area off the coast of Northern Siberia. Its researchers found that at least 17 teragrams (one million tons) of methane are being released into the atmosphere each year, whereas a 2010 study had found only seven teragrams heading into the atmosphere.
The day after Nature Geoscience released its study, a group of scientists from Harvard and other leading academic institutions published a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that the amount of methane being emitted in the U.S. both from oil and agricultural operations could be 50% greater than previous estimates and 1.5 times higher than estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency.
How serious is the potential global methane build-up? Not all scientists think it’s an immediate threat or even the major threat we face, but Ira Leifer, an atmospheric and marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and one of the authors of the recent Arctic Methane study pointed out to me that “the Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago is related to methane and thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of most species on the planet.” In that extinction episode, it is estimated that 95% of all species were wiped out.
Also known as “The Great Dying,” it was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of six degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas. Released into the atmosphere, it caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years.
We are currently in the midst of what scientists consider the sixth mass extinction in planetary history, with between 150 and 200 species going extinct daily, a pace 1,000 times greater than the “natural” or “background” extinction rate. This event may already be comparable to, or even exceed, both the speed and intensity of the Permian mass extinction. The difference being that ours is human caused, isn’t going to take 80,000 years, has so far lasted just a few centuries, and is now gaining speed in a non-linear fashion.
It is possible that, on top of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that continue to enter the atmosphere in record amounts yearly, an increased release of methane could signal the beginning of the sort of process that led to the Great Dying. Some scientists fear that the situation is already so serious and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play that we are in the process of causing our own extinction. Worse yet, some are convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible — even in the course of just the next few decades.
The Sleeping Giant Stirs
According to a NASA research report, “Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?”: “Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon — an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That’s about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth’s soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850. Most of this carbon is located in thaw-vulnerable top soils within 10 feet (3 meters) of the surface.”
NASA scientists, along with others, are learning that the Arctic permafrost — and its stored carbon — may not be as permanently frosted as its name implies. Research scientist Charles Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the principal investigator of the Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE), a five-year NASA-led field campaign to study how climate change is affecting the Arctic’s carbon cycle. He told NASA, "Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures — as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years. As heat from Earth’s surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic’s carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming."
He fears the potential results should a full-scale permafrost melt take place. As he points out, “Changes in climate may trigger transformations that are simply not reversible within our lifetimes, potentially causing rapid changes in the Earth system that will require adaptations by people and ecosystems."
The recent NASA study highlights the discovery of active and growing methane vents up to 150 kilometers across. A scientist on a research ship in the area described this as a bubbling as far as the eye can see in which the seawater looks like a vast pool of seltzer. Between the summers of 2010 and 2011, in fact, scientists found that in the course of a year methane vents only 30 centimeters across had grown a kilometer wide, a 3,333% increase and an example of the non-linear rapidity with which parts of the planet are responding to climate disruption.
Miller revealed another alarming finding: "Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we’ve measured have been large, and we’re seeing very different patterns from what models suggest," he said of some of CARVE’s earlier findings. "We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher than normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze. To cite another example, in July 2012 we saw methane levels over swamps in the Innoko Wilderness that were 650 parts per billion higher than normal background levels. That’s similar to what you might find in a large city."
Moving beneath the Arctic Ocean where methane hydrates — often described as methane gas surrounded by ice — exist, a March 2010 report in Science indicated that these cumulatively contain the equivalent of 1,000-10,000 gigatons of carbon. Compare this total to the 240 gigatons of carbon humanity has emitted into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began.
A study published in the prestigious journal Nature this July suggested that a 50-gigaton “burp” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is “highly possible at anytime.” That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide.
Even the relatively staid IPCC has warned of such a scenario: "The possibility of abrupt climate change and/or abrupt changes in the earth system triggered by climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences, cannot be ruled out. Positive feedback from warming may cause the release of carbon or methane from the terrestrial biosphere and oceans."
In the last two centuries, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has increased from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7 parts per million. The introduction of methane in such quantities into the atmosphere may, some climate scientists fear, make increases in the global temperature of four to six degrees Celsius inevitable.
The ability of the human psyche to take in and grasp such information is being tested. And while that is happening, yet more data continues to pour in — and the news is not good.
Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire
Consider this timeline:
* Late 2007: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announces that the planet will see a one degree Celsius temperature increase due to climate change by 2100.
* Late 2008: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research predicts a 2C increase by 2100.
* Mid-2009: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts a 3.5C increase by 2100. Such an increase would remove habitat for human beings on this planet, as nearly all the plankton in the oceans would be destroyed, and associated temperature swings would kill off many land plants. Humans have never lived on a planet at 3.5C above baseline.
* October 2009: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research releases an updated prediction, suggesting a 4C temperature increase by 2060.
* November 2009: The Global Carbon Project, which monitors the global carbon cycle, and the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a climate science report, predict 6C and 7C temperature increases, respectively, by 2100.
* December 2010: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts up to a 5C increase by 2050.
* 2012: The conservative International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report for that year states that we are on track to reach a 2C increase by 2017.
* November 2013: The International Energy Agency predicts a 3.5C increase by 2035.
A briefing provided to the failed U.N. Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009 provided this summary: “The long-term sea level that corresponds to current CO2 concentration is about 23 meters above today’s levels, and the temperatures will be 6 degrees C or more higher. These estimates are based on real long-term climate records, not on models.”
On December 3rd, a study by 18 eminent scientists, including the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, showed that the long-held, internationally agreed upon target to limit rises in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius was in error and far above the 1C threshold that would need to be maintained in order to avoid the effects of catastrophic climate change.
And keep in mind that the various major assessments of future global temperatures seldom assume the worst about possible self-reinforcing climate feedback loops like the methane one.
“Things Are Looking Really Dire”
Climate-change-related deaths are already estimated at five million annually, and the process seems to be accelerating more rapidly than most climate models have suggested. Even without taking into account the release of frozen methane in the Arctic, some scientists are already painting a truly bleak picture of the human future. Take Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Neil Dawe, who in August told a reporter that he wouldn’t be surprised if the generation after him witnessed the extinction of humanity. All around the estuary near his office on Vancouver Island, he has been witnessing the unraveling of “the web of life,” and “it’s happening very quickly.”
"Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology," Dawe says. "Those people who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. If we don’t reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us." And he isn’t hopeful humans will be able to save themselves. "Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things. Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don’t exact immediate punishment on the stupid."
The University of Arizona’s Guy McPherson has similar fears. “We will have very few humans on the planet because of lack of habitat,” he says. Of recent studies showing the toll temperature increases will take on that habitat, he adds, “They are only looking at CO2 in the atmosphere.”
Here’s the question: Could some version of extinction or near-extinction overcome humanity, thanks to climate change — and possibly incredibly fast? Similar things have happened in the past. Fifty-five million years ago, a five degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures seems to have occurred in just 13 years, according to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A report in the August 2013 issue of Science revealed that in the near-term Earth’s climate will change 10 times faster than at any other moment in the last 65 million years.
“The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet,” climate scientist James Hansen has said. “There are potential irreversible effects of melting the Arctic sea ice. If it begins to allow the Arctic Ocean to warm up, and warm the ocean floor, then we’ll begin to release methane hydrates. And if we let that happen, that is a potential tipping point that we don’t want to happen. If we burn all the fossil fuels then we certainly will cause the methane hydrates, eventually, to come out and cause several degrees more warming, and it’s not clear that civilization could survive that extreme climate change.”
Yet, long before humanity has burned all fossil fuel reserves on the planet, massive amounts of methane will be released. While the human body is potentially capable of handling a six to nine degree Celsius rise in the planetary temperature, the crops and habitat we use for food production are not. As McPherson put it, “If we see a 3.5 to 4C baseline increase, I see no way to have habitat. We are at .85C above baseline and we’ve already triggered all these self-reinforcing feedback loops.”
He adds: “All the evidence points to a locked-in 3.5 to 5 degree C global temperature rise above the 1850 ‘norm’ by mid-century, possibly much sooner. This guarantees a positive feedback, already underway, leading to 4.5 to 6 or more degrees above ‘norm’ and that is a level lethal to life. This is partly due to the fact that humans have to eat and plants can’t adapt fast enough to make that possible for the seven to nine billion of us — so we’ll die.”
If you think McPherson’s comment about lack of adaptability goes over the edge, consider that the rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. Furthermore, David Wasdel, director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and an expert on multiple feedback dynamics, says, “We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.”
Wasdel cites with particular alarm scientific reports showing that the oceans have already lost 40% of their phytoplankton, the base of the global oceanic food chain, because of climate-change-induced acidification and atmospheric temperature variations. (According to the Center for Ocean Solutions: “The oceans have absorbed almost one-half of human-released CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Although this has moderated the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, it is chemically altering marine ecosystems 100 times more rapidly than it has changed in at least the last 650,000 years.”)
“This is already a mass extinction event,” Wasdel adds. “The question is, how far is it going to go? How serious does it become? If we are not able to stop the rate of increase of temperature itself, and get that back under control, then a high temperature event, perhaps another 5-6 degrees [C], would obliterate at least 60% to 80% of the populations and species of life on Earth.”
What Comes Next?
In November 2012, even Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group (an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries), warned that “a 4C warmer world can, and must be, avoided. Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today.”
A World Bank-commissioned report warned that we are indeed on track to a “4C world” marked by extreme heat waves and life-threatening sea-level rise.
The three living diplomats who have led U.N. climate change talks claim there is little chance the next climate treaty, if it is ever approved, will prevent the world from overheating. "There is nothing that can be agreed in 2015 that would be consistent with the 2 degrees," says Yvo de Boer, who was executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2009, when attempts to reach a deal at a summit in Copenhagen crumbled. "The only way that a 2015 agreement can achieve a 2-degree goal is to shut down the whole global economy."
Atmospheric and marine scientist Ira Leifer is particularly concerned about the changing rainfall patterns a recently leaked IPCC draft report suggested for our future: “When I look at what the models predicted for a 4C world, I see very little rain over vast swaths of populations. If Spain becomes like Algeria, where do all the Spaniards get the water to survive? We have parts of the world which have high populations which have high rainfall and crops that exist there, and when that rainfall and those crops go away and the country starts looking more like some of North Africa, what keeps the people alive?”
The IPCC report suggests that we can expect a generalized shifting of global rain patterns further north, robbing areas that now get plentiful rain of future water supplies. History shows us that when food supplies collapse, wars begin, while famine and disease spread. All of these things, scientists now fear, could happen on an unprecedented scale, especially given the interconnected nature of the global economy.
“Some scientists are indicating we should make plans to adapt to a 4C world,” Leifer comments. “While prudent, one wonders what portion of the living population now could adapt to such a world, and my view is that it’s just a few thousand people [seeking refuge] in the Arctic or Antarctica.”
Not surprisingly, scientists with such views are often not the most popular guys in the global room. McPherson, for instance, has often been labeled “Guy McStinction” — to which he responds, “I’m just reporting the results from other scientists. Nearly all of these results are published in established, esteemed literature. I don’t think anybody is taking issue with NASA, or Nature, or Science, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Those] and the others I report are reasonably well known and come from legitimate sources, like NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], for example. I’m not making this information up, I’m just connecting a couple of dots, and it’s something many people have difficulty with.”
McPherson does not hold out much hope for the future, nor for a governmental willingness to make anything close to the radical changes that would be necessary to quickly ease the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; nor does he expect the mainstream media to put much effort into reporting on all of this because, as he says, “There’s not much money in the end of civilization, and even less to be made in human extinction.” The destruction of the planet, on the other hand, is a good bet, he believes, “because there is money in this, and as long as that’s the case, it is going to continue.”
Leifer, however, is convinced that there is a moral obligation never to give up and that the path to global destruction could be altered. “In the short term, if you can make it in the economic interests of people to do the right thing, it’ll happen very fast.” He offers an analogy when it comes to whether humanity will be willing to act to mitigate the effects of climate change: “People do all sorts of things to lower their risk of cancer, not because you are guaranteed not to get it, but because you do what you can and take out the health protections and insurance you need in order to try to lower your risk of getting it.”
The signs of a worsening climate crisis are all around us, whether we allow ourselves to see them or not. Certainly, the scientific community gets it. As do countless communities across the globe where the effects of climate change are already being experienced in striking ways and local preparations for climatic disasters, including increasingly powerful floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, and storms are underway. Evacuations from low-lying South Pacific islands have already begun. People in such areas, out of necessity, are starting to try to teach their children how to adapt to, and live in, what we are causing our world to become.
My niece and nephews are doing something similar. They are growing vegetables in a backyard garden and their eight chickens provide more than enough eggs for the family. Their parents are intent on teaching them how to be ever more self-sustaining. But none of these heartfelt actions can mitigate what is already underway when it comes to the global climate.
I am 45 years old, and I often wonder how my generation will survive the impending climate crisis. What will happen to our world if the summer Arctic waters are indeed ice-free only a few years from now? What will my life look like if I live to experience a 3.5 Celsius global temperature increase?
Above all, I wonder how coming generations will survive.
Dahr Jamail has written extensively about climate change as well as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. He is the author of two books: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq and The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently works for al-Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar.
Copyright 2013 Dahr Jamail
Fifty years ago today…
Most everybody who was alive then in America is thinking, speaking, or writing those words.
November 22, 1963. I was in the Hyannis office of the Cape Cod Standard Times when the UPI teletype rang an alert and the first flash clattered onto the paper roll at 1:34 in the afternoon. And then the next. And the final one.
DALLAS, NOV. 22 (UPI) – THREE SHOTS WERE FIRED AT PRESIDENT KENNEDY’S MOTORCADE TODAY IN DOWNTOWN DALLAS. JT1234PCS
FlASH KENNEDY SERIOUSLY WOUNDED PERHAPS SERIOUSLY PERHAPS FATALLY BY ASSASSINS BULLET JT 1239 PCS
FLASH PRESIDENT KENNEDY DEAD JT135PCS
I spent the afternoon writing an obit for John F. Kennedy, updating the material in our files, pulling it all together.
I spent that weekend in Rhode Island, with Charlene, my love at the time. We watched the news and the funeral procession until we had to get out of the house and into the sunlight and fresh air where we could not hear the sound of drums.
Fifty years ago today…
I believe we would be living in a better world today had Oswald not pulled the trigger. We would be a better country, a better people. Instead we live now in a country run by the worst natures of our politics. It’s as if Kennedy’s spilled blood spread the poison of Oswald’s bitterness and hatred into the rivers of American history, until today the drums are louder, transformed from the solemn sound of grief and respect into bone rattling thunders of hatred and fear pounding into every village and town and city.
We have chosen to be a lesser people than we might have been.
Fifty years ago today…
This morning NPR/KQED did a program on the Vietnam Wall. I caught some of it. I get emotional over that time. People I knew died in that war. Their names stand on that massive black granite. That was my time, my youth. It sticks with me. It sticks in my throat. It brings tears to my eyes today. And I look at the country today and I think ‘What did they die for?’ Never mind that it was a misbegotten war. At bottom those men fought not against some vague Communist threat, but for a vision of America as a good, decent place where the ideal was equality and fairness for everyone, a place where everyone had a fair and just chance to make their life into whatever they wanted.
The country has become a cesspool of vile and ugly politics and greed and hatred. The politicians have sold their souls to the rich and the rich want everything else too. They want to live with their boot on the neck of the poor, of the workers, of the middle class. They degrade education so they won’t be challenged by people who can think, so they can provide a steady stream of mindless drones for their minimum wage jobs.
The men who died in Vietnam didn’t die so the Koch brothers and their kind could turn America into a fascist fantasyland. They didn’t die for Exxon to pollute the land and the air and the water for obscene profits. They didn’t die for a bunch of Tea Party ignoramuses and bigots to corrupt the political process with their ignorance and hatred.
But that’s where we are today. It is disgusting. This isn’t the America any soldier died for. This is an America of lies and greed and deceit. This is an America whose vision has been corrupted by small-minded men and women who trade in lies and greed and deceit to feather their own nests at the expense of every working man and woman, of every man and woman struggling to make a good and decent life for their family, of every man and woman battling for a decent education and a fair chance to build the life they want.
This is an America whose vision has been corrupted by hatred, by racism, by bigotry against the poor and the disadvantaged, by the hatred, the racism, and the bigotry of a small group of politicians and rich men who care nothing for the country and whose every thought they direct at taking everything they can get their manicured, soft hands on, taking everything they can from the poor, from the workers, from the people who made it possible for the rich to wallow in their excesses of wealth.
This cannot stand.
It must not stand.
If it stands there will be blood in the streets, there will be wailing in the nights, there will be a genuine war that will make the bloodbath of the American Civil War look like a picnic, the draft riots of that time like afternoon tea on the lawn, and from abroad people of other nations will see an America writhing in madness and insanity. And all so a few people, a handful of rich people and their kneeling servants in Congress, in every political system in America, can get for themselves more, and more, and more.
This cannot stand.
It must not stand.
It must not.
In the name of every man and woman who has died or been torn up fighting for a proud vision of a free and democratic America, this must not stand.
From an article by Richard Heinberg at Common Dreams:
The threat of climate change needs no introduction—it’s the mother of all impending environmental crises. And we are already seeing serious impacts, including superstorms, droughts, and the melting of the north polar ice cap. Nevertheless, it’s all not as bad as it might be, were it not for the fact that the warming of Earth’s surface air temperatures has slowed since 1998 (which was an anomalously hot year).
"Global warming hasn’t really ‘paused'; it’s just gone to the depths."
Climate change deniers have seized upon evidence of this “pause” to argue that global warming has essentially stopped. After all, if the greenhouse-gas-laden atmosphere were in fact trapping more heat, where could all that heat be hiding?
Turns out, very little of Earth’s trapped heat warms the atmosphere and land surface; most of it (over 90 percent) is absorbed by the oceans. Part of the explanation for the slowdown in surface warming lies in the heating of deep ocean waters. Global warming hasn’t really “paused”; it’s just gone to the depths. At the same time, there has been a downswing in the Pacific Ocean’s natural temperature cycle, which has also correlated with a cluster of La Nina years (usually associated with a cooling of ocean surface waters). This temperature cycle masks the underlying warming trend. So it appears that, for now at least, Mother Earth herself is playing “The Hero of Haarlem.”
There’s no way to know how long this current cool cycle will last, though the previous Pacific cool phase, which started in the 1940s, continued for about 30 years. If the present cycle is of the same duration, then in about 15 years much of the heat currently being dumped in deep oceans may begin instead to remain in the atmosphere. At that point we will likely see unprecedented rates of climate warming, and far worse episodes of extreme weather.
Deniers have seized on this one bit of information, that surface warming has paused, as their proof that global warming is not a threat. Conveniently, they ignore reading deeper that the heat is going into the deep ocean for now. Temporarily.
Thousands of scientists, qualified in climatology, educated, trained in research, working on the subject for decades, can point this out, but the idiots claim that they are smarter than all those people because they read one data point somewhere by someone, and then the idiots declare it to be ultimate truth about warming.
They’ll even claim that since it appeared on a reputable science site it must be true and therefore global warming is over. Funny how they don’t read the rest of it.
I’ve been accused of being uncivil to people who make these sorts of claims. It’s true. I am and will continue to be uncivil towards stupidity in these matters.
Yesterday a nice couple visited to view the solar panels installed on the roof. They are in the process of negotiating with the leasing company to put almost two dozen panels on their home.
The woman was animated, with a dazzling smile, and a cheery attitude. The husband, not so much. A bit dour, seeming more grounded in pragmatics, but a nice gentleman.
He worried that sometime down the road their roof might need repair, despite it having just been installed a few years ago, and they would have to pay to remove the panels and reinstall them while the roof was fixed. I suggested that such a worry was fruitless, that we can’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow never mind several years from now.
I didn’t go into the ‘world is ending’ line, though I did mention that one reason I installed solar was that other people seeing them might be encouraged to think about it for their homes.
Thinking about it this morning, I found another analogy. Our ongoing climate catastrophe could be analogized to the Chicago fire, in which Chicagoans are throwing fuel on the fire, just as we are throwing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere today. And here I come along with my solar panels, which amount to an eyedropper of water to squirt on the fire. Yeah, Chicago is burning, right to the ground.
Another way to look at it considers the climate as a massive, planet-sized flywheel. We’ve kicked it into motion, we’re feeding energy into it, it’s going faster and faster, and its mass and momentum will keep it going for thousands of years. My solar panels are the equivalent of me pressing a finger against the flywheel to slow it down. Not going to happen, that wheel is just going to keep on rolling.
The scientists talk about a three foot sea level rise by 2100, and a global temperature rise of a couple of degrees by then. Frankly, I think they’re in for a rude surprise. A very rude surprise. If not them, then the rest of the world. Scientists have to work out what’s happening as it happens, and they’re finding things are happening which they hadn’t taken into account. Feedback loops within feedback loops, if you will. It’s like that underground coal fire burning in Pennsylvania. It’s been going for years and can’t be extinguished. I doubt anyone thought it would burn for so long, and make the town uninhabitable. That’s where we’re headed with global warming. On a planetary scale.
And still, without hesitation, we continue to pour fuel on the fire. We stand in our home, the only home we have, and watch as it burns down around us, thinking magically that we won’t be burned or killed.
I’m not under any illusion that my solar panels make a difference, nor that the couple that came here yesterday will make any difference with their panels. I can at least feel that I did something, and perhaps encouraged others. But it doesn’t really amount to anything. Chicago fire. Eyedropper.
Perhaps if the United States stopped wasting money on useless wars and put the money to use developing solar and putting it on every house in the country, perhaps that might make a dent. But I think it’s obvious at this point that the U.S. is not going to do that, is not even going to try to deal with the problem of global warming. United States policy now officially determines to make the problem worse by encouraging the development of more fossil fuel resources. Drilling in the Arctic. Deeper undersea drilling in the Gulf and off the coasts. Fracking for gas, which packs the double whammy of increasing greenhouse gasses and wasting our diminishing supply of fresh water. Encouraging the development of tar sands, despite the abysmal safety record, the destruction of forest land, and the gas load on the atmosphere. So we needn’t be hoping for change, not from the government, which is corrupt and blind, willfully so on both counts.
Perhaps I should have said to the gentleman yesterday that he doesn’t have to worry about his roof because, in fact, the world is ending. Installing solar panels is just a way of giving the finger to the people enabling the death of the biosphere, and thus the death of human civilization, indeed, the death of the human species. We have more pity for the doomed polar bear than we do for the doom of humanity.
So yeah, I think that’s about right. My solar panels are my way of giving the finger to the politicians and the rich people and the corporations who are killing my world. Unfortunately I’m getting old and won’t be around to see the end of it all. But I would like to be there for a couple of reasons. Curiosity, for one. I want to see how it happens. But the other reason? I’d like to be there near the end so I could hunt down some of those people and throttle them with my bare hands for what they’ve done.
On the other hand, given their intransigence, greed, and stupidity, perhaps we might be justified in getting a head start on hunting them down and removing them from the equation. That sounds about right. Seems fair. And offers a better chance for saving the biosphere than my puny solar panels. I, for one, wouldn’t mourn the bastards.