A recent mountaineering trip found two friends and myself venturing into the central Cascade Mountains of Washington State. The approach to our climb meant we had to take a ferry 40 miles up the 55-mile-long Lake Chelan to Lucerne village on its western banks, then venture up into the mountains from there.
When we returned to Lucerne after our climb to catch the ferry back, I took note of a US Forest Service sign with information about the remediation work at Holden Mine, which we’d seen nine miles up a dirt road to the trailhead we had used to begin our approach hike.
The propaganda on the sign claimed that the Holden Mine remediation was “Cleaning up the past to improve the future.” I confidently use the term “propaganda” because this is exactly what this is. The sign went on to tell of the covering up of waste rock and mill tailings, because, “Over the several past decades these piles have been exposed to rain, snowmelt and ground water creating acidic water runoff with high concentrations of aluminum, zinc, iron, cadmium and copper. The impacted runoff entered Railroad Creek and degraded water quality and aquatic habitat downstream from the site.”
After reading it, I turned around and looked at the brilliant blue waters of Lake Chelan glistening in the early afternoon sun. This lake — the third-deepest in the United States at well over 1,000 feet with several hundred feet of its deepest reaches even lower than sea level — is the primary water source for a massive amount of farming in Central Washington and hundreds of thousands of people annually use it for fishing and recreation. The lake’s water is toxic.
Lake Chelan is yet another wound that the white colonialist mentality has gouged into the Earth. But as profound as this wound is, it pales in comparison to the ongoing and worsening impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).
Two new studies investigating corn and vegetables have warned of an increasing risk of food shocks around the world, along with malnutrition, if ACD continues unchecked, which by all accounts it will, given the governmental refusal to even discuss the actions necessary for mitigation. Both studies were published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and showed how ACD will increase the risk of simultaneous crop failures across the planet’s largest corn-growing regions, as well as sapping nutrients from critical vegetables. For example, an increase of 4 degrees Celsius (4°C) — which is essentially the current trajectory we are on to reach by 2100 — could cut US corn production nearly in half. Meanwhile, the likelihood of simultaneous crop failures for the four biggest corn exporters (US, China, Brazil, Argentina) suffering yield losses of 10 percent or greater increases from 7 percent at 2°C warming to 86 percent at 4°C.
Another study warns of how ACD already poses a serious threat to the nutritional value of crops, and a lack of action could well have major global implications for both food security and global health. The same study showed that global crop yields could be reduced by nearly one-third with a 4°C temperature increase.
But the food crisis is already current, because drying wells and sinking land at the heart of the most productive farmland in the US, the Central Valley of California, are an indication that we are watching the collapse of this once bountiful area. Large portions of the San Joaquin Valley have already sunk nearly 30 feet since the 1920s, with some areas having dropped a staggering three feet over just the last two years. All of this is the result of farmers’ relentless pumping of groundwater to offset the lack of snowpack and rainfall, both of which stem largely from ACD. It is important to note that the groundwater the farmers are using accounts for between 30 to 60 percent of the water that all Californians use each year, depending on how much rain and snow the state gets. The US Geological Survey stated that the pumping and resultant sinking of the San Joaquin Valley is “one of the single largest alterations of the [planet’s] land surface attributed to mankind.”
Another sign of the dramatic changes besetting the planet comes from the Arctic, where a cyclone became one of the most powerful on record. The fact that it occurred in June was also noteworthy, as historically these storms don’t normally begin to hit the Arctic until late summer. Its impacts on what is left of the ever-shrinking sea ice are, of course, deleterious.
Another recent report illustrates how what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. The loss of Arctic sea ice could well cook the tropics by changing critical ocean currents and altering wind patterns, which will of course cause dramatic changes across the entire planet.
Look out your window. Better yet, go outside and feel what is happening. By early July, cities across the globe set all-time-high temperature records. While no single weather event can ever be attributed solely to ACD, it has been well known for decades now that all of these phenomena are being driven in part (and most are largely driven) by ACD.
Nearly 1 billion people across South Asia are at risk of seeing their already desperate plight worsen, according to a recent World Bank Report. The report pins the cause on increasing temperatures and precipitation changes stemming from ACD, if major changes are not made to current global emission rates.
Baobab trees that live for millennia and are common throughout sub-Saharan Africa are now rapidly dying off, and scientists are pointing to ACD as the cause. A recent report showed that of the 13 oldest baobab trees, four have died in just the last dozen years, and five others are on their way out, given that they have already lost their oldest stems.
A very disconcerting study coming out of Northwestern University has warned that even slight increases in temperatures could lead to the extinction of bees across the US Southwest in the very near future. Over a two-year period, the study simulated the predicted warmer future climate, and the results are shocking: 35 percent of the bees died the first year, and 70 percent died the second year.
Adding insult to injury, another recent report warned of something we’ve known for years now: that warming temperatures could increase the spread of bark beetles, which are well-known for how effectively they decimate forests.
Meanwhile, Atlantic puffins, which were nearly decimated by hunters about a century ago, had made a comeback thanks to a protection program run by the National Audubon Society. But now, according to a recent report, they are likely on their way out again due to ACD impacts.
Basic high school physics shows that as the atmosphere continues to warm, it can hold more moisture. Hence, we should expect greater severity of rain events due to ACD.
Recent events in Japan provide an example of this, where record rainfall caused flooding and landslides that have led to at least 155 deaths, with dozens still missing at the time of writing.
The flip side of this phenomenon is that there are longer periods between these rain events, which brings drought.
In the US, the Rio Grande River (the fourth-longest river in the country) is vanishing before our eyes. Authorities recently warned that the river likely won’t make it out of Colorado into New Mexico this summer, let alone further down into Texas or Mexico. This means that farmers in the already drought-prone region will be struggling with their crops through a summer of extreme drought.
Over in Iraq, ACD-fueled drought coupled with upstream countries damming the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is creating a crisis for farmers. This is causing even more of Iraq to turn into desert, and the future for farmers there is dismal.
The oceans are continuing to warm as they absorb the majority of the heat humans are generating in the atmosphere.
The giant North Pacific “blob,” a massive area of warming water that occurred from 2014-16, is still having major impacts on Alaskan fisheries. That state’s famous Copper River red salmon are currently in decline, and a dismal salmon run forced the state to carry out an “unprecedented” shutdown of fishing at a popular dip netting area there.
To make matters worse, Alaska also had to shut down several king salmon fishing areas in the Susitna Valley — one of the main reasons again being the ACD-fueled “blob.”
Warming waters in the Gulf of Mexico are causing fish there to change their geographic distribution, a phenomenon happening around the world that has been mentioned in several other climate dispatches.
A fascinating study was recently published showing that, regarding sea level rise, rising bedrock below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could actually slow down what was expected to be a catastrophic collapse of that ice sheet. The study revealed how as the ice melts, it releases its weight load from the bedrock, which then rises. Projections show that this could rise by as much as eight meters in the coming century, which could potentially protect the ice from the warm seawater that has been melting it from below. The author of the study said that this could buy the world a few extra decades to prepare for what is still eventually to come with sea level rise.
However, a significant amount of sea level rise is already set in motion, given thermal expansion of ocean waters, ongoing melting in Greenland and the rest of the cryosphere, and other factors.
Case in point: Watch a four-mile-long iceberg carve off the Helheim Glacier in late June; an event where half-mile-high columns of ice broke free and spun onto their backs, releasing 10 billion tons of ice into the ocean.
A recently released study shows that coral reefs “will be overwhelmed by rising oceans,” given that they cannot grow fast enough to keep up with rising sea levels. Reefs only grow in certain water depths, so as waters rise, the coral simply cannot cope.
In Bangladesh, ongoing rising sea levels coupled with recurrent flooding is causing an increase in homelessness, and now a recent report shows that growing unpredictability of shifting rainfall patterns is further complicating the people’s plight.
Another report on the ramifications of sea level rise in the US warned that more than 150,000 homes and businesses could face more frequent high tide flooding within 15 years, and the number of homes and businesses impacted by this could well double by 2045. It is worth noting that these projections are not based on worst-case sea level rise estimates, which have thus far themselves not been keeping pace with reality.
The same report warned that Charleston, South Carolina, is one of the riskier places to live on the coast in the Southeast, as within the next three decades, as many as 8,000 homes in Charleston County could flood at least 26 times if seas rise just two feet. Also singled out in the report was Texas, where more than 5,500 homes along coastal areas of that state could be flooded by rising sea levels by 2030.
As a harbinger of further planetary warming, a recent study showed that the Barents Sea in the Arctic Ocean is continuing to warm dramatically, which means it could soon transition from being a cold Arctic area to a warmer Atlantic-dominated climate regime, hence shifting the climate for the entire region, with global implications. The study showed that the Barents Sea is likely on track to become ice-free year round in the near future.
Summer is now in full swing, and so is fire season along with record temperatures.
Wildfires have been blazing across the Western US for weeks now. By July 4, thousands of people had already been forced to evacuate from their homes due to encroaching fires, as more than 60 large, active fires were present, mostly across the already drought-ridden Western states. Colorado had already had its third-largest fire in its history, which was still expanding beyond the already 147 square miles it had burned, roughly 200 miles southwest of Denver.
Also in early July, someone in the Rocky Mountains described a “tsunami” of flames, and one of the fires burning in the Rockies had already burned an area larger than the city limits of Denver and was only 5 percent contained.
Wildfires in California this summer have already scorched more than two times the five-year average of land burned this year, and that is only as of July 1.
Things are so bad across the Western US that officials have opted for a rare shutting down of national forests. This is due to widespread “exceptional” drought, record warm temperatures and the high danger of more fires. Thus far, national forests and parks in New Mexico and Arizona have been shut down, along with the San Juan National Forest in southwestern Colorado.
For most of you reading this dispatch, you don’t need science to tell you how much warmer it is outside than it used to be. One look at these global heat maps from early July showing temperature departures from normal tell the story.
A major heat wave swept across most of the US, setting records across the country, while in China, a heat wave torched Shanghai, Beijing and other cities, forcing the country to speed up its natural gas imports to meet energy demand to run air conditioners. Around that time, the UK recorded the hottest temperatures it has ever recorded for June, while in Scotland, the roof of the Glasgow Science Centre got so hot it began to ooze tar as portions of the structure literally began to melt.
In Alaska, just before July 4, Anchorage set a new heat record when the city saw 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
At least 33 people died from the heat across southern Quebec in Canada as the province baked under extreme temperatures, causing Montreal to open pools and air conditioned spaces to the general public in hopes of preventing more deaths.
Across the US, the number of summer days with above normal temperatures has been trending upward, with 92 percent of the 244 cities analyzed in a recent study having more summer days with above-normal temperatures than half a century earlier.
Denial and Reality
As usual, the denialism in the fossil-fuel-funded GOP is on parade.
Swerving back into reality, a recent study dispelled, again, the myth about natural gas being a “clean” energy source. The report showed that natural gas could warm the planet as much as coal does, in the short term. “That’s because its main ingredient, the potent greenhouse gas methane, has been leaking from oil and gas facilities at far higher rates than governmental regulators claim,” an article in Science said of the study. “A new study finds that in the United States, such leaks have nearly doubled the climate impact of natural gas, causing warming on par with carbon dioxide (CO2)-emitting coal plants for 2 decades. (Methane doesn’t persist in the atmosphere as long as CO2 does, but while it does, its warming effect is much stronger.)”
You know things are really bad when even the pope is warning that unless governments take ACD seriously, Earth will be nothing more than “rubble” and “refuse.”
To underscore everything in this month’s dispatch, an international team of researchers from 17 countries recently published their findings in Nature Geoscience, which showed that global temperatures could eventually double those that have been predicted by climate modeling. According to their findings, sea levels could rise by six meters or more, even if the world meets the 2°C maximum temperature rise level set by the Paris climate agreement.