“The frog does not drink up the pond
in which he lives.”
~ Sioux Proverb
This month’s dispatch comes on the heels of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent report, and the news is not good.
“No one on this planet will be untouched by climate change,” IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri announced. The report warned that climate impacts are already “severe, pervasive, and irreversible.”
The IPCC report was one of many released in recent weeks, and all of them bring dire predictions of what is coming. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued a report warning that “the rate of climate change now may be as fast as any extended warming period over the past 65 million years, and it is projected to accelerate in the coming decades.” The report went on to warn of the risk “of abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes in the Earth’s climate system with massively disruptive impacts,” including the possible “large scale collapse of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, collapse of part of the Gulf Stream, loss of the Amazon rain forest, die-off of coral reefs, and mass extinctions.”
Just prior to the release of the IPCC report, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that 13 of the 14 warmest years on record had all occurred since 2000. The agency’s secretary-general, Michel Jarraud, described the global trend: “Every decade has been warmer than the preceding one over the last 40 years. In other words, the decade 2001-2010 was warmer than the ’90s, which in turn were warmer than the ’80s, which were warmer than the ’70s. All the best models were used for this study, and the conclusion is actually very interesting and of concern. The conclusion is that these heat waves, it is not possible to reproduce these heat waves in the models if you don’t take into account human influence.” Jarraud also noted greenhouse gases are now at a record high, which guarantees the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans will continue to warm for centuries to come. Arctic sea ice in 2013 did not reach the record lows seen in 2012 for minimum extent in the summer, but nevertheless reached its sixth lowest extent on record. The WMO noted all seven of the lowest Arctic sea-ice extents took place in the past seven years, starting with 2007, which scientists were “stunned” by at the time.
NASA released the results of a study showing that long-term planetary warming is continuing along the higher end of many projections. “All the evidence now agrees that future warming is likely to be towards the high end of our estimates, so it’s more clear than ever that we need large, rapid emissions reductions to avoid the worst damages from climate change,” lead author and NASA climatologist Drew Shindell said. If he sounds alarmist, it’s because he is, and with good reason. The NASA study shows a global increase in temperatures of nine degrees by the end of the century.
This is consistent with a January Nature study on climate sensitivity, which found we are headed toward a “most-likely warming of roughly 5C (9 F) above current temperatures, which is 6C (11 F) above preindustrial” temperatures by 2100. Bear in mind that humans have never lived on a planet at temperatures 3.5C above our preindustrial baseline.
Hence, as contemporary studies continue to provide ever-higher temperature projections, they are beginning to approach higher estimates from previous studies. A 2011 paper authored by Jeffrey Kiehl from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and published in the journal Science “found that carbon dioxide may have at least twice the effect on global temperatures than currently projected by computer models of global climate.” Contrary to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) worst-case scenario of a 6C rise by 2100, which itself would result in a virtually uninhabitable planet, Kiehl’s paper distressingly concludes that, at current emission rates, we may actually see an unimaginable 16C rise by the end of the century.
“The last time it was 6C there were snakes the size of yellow school buses in the Amazon,” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources, and ecology at the University of Arizona, told Truthout. McPherson, a climate change expert of 25 years, maintains the blog Nature Bats Last. “The largest mammal was the size of a shrew,” he said. “And the rise in temperature occurred over thousands of years, not decades. I doubt mammals survive – and certainly not large-bodied mammals – at 6C.”
Dr McPherson went on to explain further what the planet would look like as temperatures increase.
“Rapid rise to 4C eliminates all or nearly all plankton in the ocean, along with a majority of land plants,” he said. “The latter cannot keep up with rapid change. The former will be acidified out of existence. At 16C, your guess is as good as mine. But humans will not be involved.”
Bear in mind that the “current” emission rates in Kiehl’s study were significantly lower than those of today, as they were from more than three years ago. Emission rates have grown in each succeeding year.
Evidence is mounting that we are in the midst of a great extinction of species. An “ecocide” is occurring, as the human race is in the process of destroying life on the planet. This sobering thought becomes clearer now as we take our monthly tour of significant global pollution and anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) related events.
Ongoing drought and other ACD-related impacts have caused the Amargosa vole, one of the rarest mammals in North America, to become an endangered species. This saddening occurrence shouldn’t come as a big surprise, given that chronic drought and shifting weather patterns are causing things like a wall of dust 1,000 feet tall and 200 miles wide to roar across parts of West Texas and New Mexico.
Evidencing warnings from the IPCC report about ACD’s dramatic impact on wide-scale food production, the president of the World Bank warned that battles over water and food will erupt within the next five to ten years. As if on cue, hungry monkeys in northern India have begun raiding farms as their forest habitats shrink.
Meanwhile, on the coastal areas of Alaska, melting permafrost and stronger storms are combining to erode coastline and cause greater numbers of villages to begin contemplating evacuation.
A new NASA study shows that the length of the melt season for Arctic sea ice is growing by several days each decade, allowing the Arctic Ocean to absorb enough additional solar radiation to melt as much as four feet of the Arctic ice cap’s thickness in some places.
Going into wildfire season, California is coming off its warmest winter on record, aggravating its enduring drought, which has caused the Sacramento River to drop so low that the state may need to truck 30 million salmon from hatcheries to the sea. California’s central valley farmland was in trouble prior to the historic drought, but now it appears to be on its last legs. The area, critical to the US supply of fruit and vegetables, was suffering from decades of irrigation that leached salts and toxic minerals from the soil, which then had nowhere to go, thus threatening both crops and wildlife. Now, to make matters worse, remaining aquifers are being drained at an alarming pace, with some farmers even drilling more than 1,200 feet down in their ongoing search for ever-more-rare water for their struggling farms.
Meanwhile, Texas and New Mexico have been waging an interstate legal battle over water from the ever-shrinking Rio Grande. Both states struggle with ongoing drought, while farmers in Texas are still reeling from the historic 2011 drought as moderate to exceptional drought continues to affect 64 percent of that state. Fierce legal and political battles over who controls the water are now becoming the norm in California, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and other western states.
Drought-parched Wichita Falls, Texas, is so desperate for water that officials there are currently awaiting state regulatory approval for a project that will recycle effluent from their wastewater treatment plant, which means residents would begin drinking “potty water.”
The severe drought across the west has forced the Mount Ashland Ski area in Oregon to remain closed for its entire season, something it has not had to do for 50 years.
“Higher food prices, water bills and utility rates,” the Las Vegas Sun reported recently of the cascade of crises impacting the US West due to drought:
Greater wildfire risk. Shrinking communities, fewer jobs and weakening economies. Amid growing concern that the drought gripping the West isn’t history repeating itself but instead is a new normal brought about by climate change, the effects of the dwindling water supply in the region are beginning to become all too clear. As a pattern of longer dry periods and shorter wet cycles continues, the effects will be felt across the region by millions of people from farms to cities, faucets to wallets. More than 70 percent of the West – a zone spreading across 15 states – is experiencing some form of abnormal dryness or drought, with 11 drought-affected western and central states designated as primary natural disaster areas by the Agriculture Department.
In Canada, the mining of the tar sands continues to destroy vast areas of sensitive wetlands in Alberta, with scientists warning that it is impossible to rebuild or rehabilitate the complex ecosystems there after the industrial assault of the mining process.
A recent report underscores the impact of the oil and gas industry heyday in Canada on the indigenous populations there, as “industrial development” and warming temperatures are leading to growing hunger and malnutrition in Canada’s Arctic.
Rising seas and coastal erosion problems are persisting and spreading around the globe as ACD progresses. 18 months after Hurricane Sandy lashed the northeast coast of the US, homeowners living on the coast have to decide whether to rebuild or move inland…a decision everyone living on a coast will eventually have to make.
China now estimates it has lost $2.6 billion from ACD-linked storms and rising sea levels since 2008, while a new report has confirmed that people living in the coastal regions of Asia will face some of the worst impacts of ACD as it continues to progress.
Continuing rising temperatures have caused scientists to warn of “disturbing” rates of ice melt on Africa’s highest peaks like Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, saying that within two decades even the highest peaks on the continent will no longer have any ice – only bare rock.
Meanwhile, the rate of ice melt on the Greenland ice sheet has researchers alarmed. It was long believed that the interior of Greenland’s huge ice sheet was resilient to the impacts of ACD, but no more. Greenland recorded its highest temperatures ever in 2013, and the equivalent of three Chesapeake Bays’ worth of water is melting off the island every single year, raising global sea levels.
Along with storing over 90 percent of the heat, the planet’s oceans continue to bear the brunt of the impacts from ACD. More than 24 million metric tons of CO2 from the industrial-growth society are absorbed into the seas every single day, and are causing seawater to become more acidic, a phenomenon that is already producing dire consequences.
Fishermen in British Columbia are struggling to deal with catastrophic financial losses as millions of oysters and scallops are dying off in record numbers along the West Coast. Experts suggest, of course, that this is caused by increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere, which leads to rising ocean acidity.
Recent research shows that as ACD continues to warm the oceans, fish growth is being stunted: a variety of North Sea fish species have shrunk in size by as much as 29 percent over the past four decades. Off the coast of Australia, warming oceans are causing jellyfish blooms to increase in size to vast levels, causing them to inhibit both the environment and fishing and tourism industries.
The final and likely the most important note on water this month: A new study published in Nature Climate Change has revealed a very troubling fact – that the deep ocean current near Antarctica is changing due to ACD. “Our observations are showing us that there is less formation of these deep waters near Antarctica,” one of the scientists/authors said. “This is worrisome because, if this is the case, we’re likely going to see less uptake of human produced, or anthropogenic, heat and carbon dioxide by the ocean, making this a positive feedback loop for climate change.” Given that the Southern Ocean is critical in terms of regulating climate, the slowing current is an ominous sign for our future.
Air pollution and its related problems seem to be increasing exponentially.
Toxic smog engulfing Britain caused more than 1.6 million people (30 percent of the population) to suffer asthma attacks.
After exceeding safe levels for five days, air pollution prompted a Paris car ban.
In North Dakota, gas flaring related to fracking has doubled, pumping even more CO2 into the atmosphere.
In India, where being a traffic cop is a life-threatening occupation due to air pollution, people are suffering from some of the worst air pollution in the world. It is so bad that diesel fumes there are even impacting glacier melt in the Himalayas.
Pollution haze in Sumatra has blanketed several provinces there over the last two months, causing thousands to suffer from various pollution-related illnesses as the air quality continues to decline.
Tons of toxic materials are being released in Virginia, including millions of pounds of aromatic chemicals.
The World Health Organization now estimates that air pollution killed seven million people in 2012, adding that one in eight deaths worldwide were tied to air pollution, making it the single largest environmental health risk on the planet.
Not surprisingly, scientists in Boulder are reporting record-early CO2 readings at their key reading site at the NOAA Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The readings hit the key benchmark of 400 parts per million (ppm) for CO2 at least five days in a row recently. 400 ppm was recorded for the first time only last year, and that level was not recorded until May 19th.
Atmospheric CO2 levels have seasonal swings which tend to peak in May. “Each year it creeps up,” the director of the global monitoring division at NOAA, said. “Eventually, we’ll see where it isn’t below 400 parts per million anywhere in the world. We’re on our way to doing that.”
The New York Times reported: “‘Out of work? Nowhere to live? Nowhere to go? Nothing to eat?’ the online ad reads. ‘Come to Fukushima.’ That grim posting targeting the destitute, by a company seeking laborers for the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, is one of the starkest indications yet of an increasingly troubled search for workers willing to carry out the hazardous decommissioning at the site.”
However, those working directly at Fukushima are not the only ones exposed to its lingering effects. As radioactive water from the Fukushima disaster continues to leak into the Pacific Ocean, the FDA has added testing of Alaska salmon to its radiation monitoring program due to possible contamination. And US sailors who were aboard the Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, which was involved in the Fukushima relief effort, are suing TEPCO over illnesses they say were caused by being exposed to radioactive plumes from the nuclear meltdown.
Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute have crowd-sourced a network of volunteers taking water samples at beaches along the US West Coast in an effort to capture a detailed look at the levels of radiation drifting across the ocean from Fukushima. “We know there’s contaminated water coming out of there, even today,” Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at Woods Hole, said. “In fact, it is the biggest pulse of radioactive liquid ever dropped in the ocean.”
This is of particular concern because it is an example of ramifications and chronic problems resulting from meltdowns occurring at one nuclear power plant.
Given the IPCC’s report of how worsening ACD will cause disruptions to our infrastructure and generate greater social unrest, it is clear that power disruptions are very likely in our not-so-distant future.
Nuclear power plants are intensely dependent on the power grid to function, and to keep the fuel rods and power cells cooled. Without a steady stream of large amounts of electricity, the 450 active nuclear power plants around the globe will all go into meltdown.
Fukushima is but one example.
Denial and Reality
While the pollution insults to the planet and ever-increasing and obvious signs of advancing ACD continue to mount, the urge for many people to bury their heads in the sand, often at the request or manipulation of industry and its media arms, continues apace as well.
The state of Wyoming has become the first state to block new science standards, because the standards include an expectation that students will understand that humans have significantly altered the planet’s biosphere.
Corporate media’s ability to misinform and manipulate the masses should never be underestimated, as a recent Gallup poll found that only 36 percent of US citizens believe that ACD would seriously impact their lives.
Recently the Republican-led US House of Representatives advanced a bill that would require federal weather agencies to focus more on predicting storms and less on climate studies… hence promoting denial of ACD.
The aforementioned efforts are the modern equivalent of passengers on the Titanic who opted to stay in the bar.
Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly challenging to even keep pace with all the signs.
While the eastern and central US experienced a colder-than-average winter this year, the National Climatic Center released data showing that most of the rest of the planet registered the eighth-warmest winter on record.
Penn State climatologist Michael Mann wrote in Scientific American recently that a climate crisis looms in the very near future, saying that if humanity continues burning fossil fuels as we are, we will cross the threshold into environmental ruin by 2036.
As noted earlier, one of the world’s largest and most knowledgeable scientific bodies, the AAAS, wants to make the reality of ACD very clear: Just as smoking causes cancer, so too are humanity’s CO2 emissions causing Earth to change, with potentially unknown and unalterable impacts. The AAAS’s Alan Leshner said, “What we are trying to do is to move the debate from whether human-induced climate change is reality.”
The group’s full report, an important read, adds: “The overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change documents both current impacts with significant costs and extraordinary future risks to society and natural systems. The scientific community has convened conferences, published reports, spoken out at forums and proclaimed, through statements by virtually every national scientific academy and relevant major scientific organization including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that climate change puts the well-being of people of all nations at risk.”
Upon request, Dr McPherson provided Truthout his latest writings, which address the likelihood of abrupt climate disruption and even the possibility of near-term human extinction:
Gradual change is not guaranteed, as pointed out by the US National Academy of Sciences in December 2013: “The history of climate on the planet – as read in archives such as tree rings, ocean sediments, and ice cores – is punctuated with large changes that occurred rapidly, over the course of decades to as little as a few years.” The December 2013 report echoes one from Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution more than a decade earlier. Writing for the 3 September 2012 issue of Global Policy, Michael Jennings concludes that “a suite of amplifying feedback mechanisms, such as massive methane leaks from the sub-sea Arctic Ocean, have engaged and are probably unstoppable.” During a follow-up interview with Alex Smith on Radio Ecoshock, Jennings admits that “Earth’s climate is already beyond the worst scenarios.” Skeptical Science finally catches up to reality on 2 April 2014 with an essay titled, “Alarming new study makes today’s climate change more comparable to Earth’s worst mass extinction.” The conclusion from this conservative source: “Until recently the scale of the Permian Mass Extinction was seen as just too massive, its duration far too long, and dating too imprecise for a sensible comparison to be made with today’s climate change. No longer.
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