The recently concluded COP21 climate conference in Paris was hailed by much of the mainstream media as a success.
Nevertheless, the reality of what the talks produced immediately came under fire from critics, as well as from many people who were directly involved in the talks.
The crux of those criticisms is this: The countries’ pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions are all voluntary, and nothing is binding or even enforceable.
“Since the only mechanism remains voluntary national caps on emissions, without even any guidance on how stringent those caps would need to be, it is hard to be optimistic that these goals are likely to be achieved,” Professor John Shepherd of the National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, told the BBC.
In advance of the conference, Pope Francis warned, perhaps far more accurately than he was aware, “I am not sure, but I can say to you ‘now or never.’ Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word, I would say that we are at the limits of suicide.”
From rising sea levels to melting glaciers and permafrost, evidence of abrupt climate disruption continues to mount.
In the wake of another COP21 climate conference that failed to bring about the kind of dramatic, global, impactful, binding, and most importantly, rapid shifts necessary to seriously mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), scientific reports underscoring the magnitude of our situation continue to pour in.
For instance, a recent study by researchers from the University of Leicester shows that increasingly warm ocean water temperatures could stop oxygen production by phytoplankton.
“This would likely result in the mass mortality of animals and humans,” said the author of the study, Sergei Petrovskii. “About two-thirds of the planet’s total atmospheric oxygen is produced by ocean phytoplankton – and therefore cessation would result in the depletion of atmospheric oxygen on a global scale,” Petrovskii, who also led the study, added.
During the climate talks in Paris, leading climate scientist Kevin Anderson warned that the crisis is even more severe than most scientists are willing to admit. Anderson, who is deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said that many scientists are “self-censoring” their work in order to downplay the severity of the climate crisis.
As if to put a period on the end of the run-on sentence that was the COP21, former NASA scientist James Hansen, known as the father of ACD awareness, recently told the Guardian that the Paris talks were “a fraud” and that the global deal reached on cutting carbon emissions was in actuality “no action, just promises.”
“It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he said. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”
From rising sea levels to melting glaciers and permafrost, evidence of abrupt ACD continues to mount.
A recent study by the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures shows that the planet has lost one-third of its arable land in just the past 40 years. Due to erosion augmented by ACD, as well as pollution, the loss of land will likely bring disastrous consequences as demands for food across the globe continue to soar.
“You think of the dust bowl of the 1930s in North America and then you realise we are moving towards that situation if we don’t do something,” Duncan Cameron, professor of plant and soil biology at the University of Sheffield, told the Guardian. “We are increasing the rate of loss and we are reducing soils to their bare mineral components. We are creating soils that aren’t fit for anything except for holding a plant up.”
Temperatures have risen so much due to climate disruption that sea turtle eggs are now at risk of frying before they are able to hatch.
In the Arctic, runaway ACD is rapidly melting large areas that used to be permafrost. Jennifer Baltzer, an ecologist with Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, in Canada, recently used the Goose Lake, Ontario area as an example of how fast this melting is occurring. The area, just 250 miles from the Arctic Circle, used to contain mostly permafrost, but today it has partially thawed and turned the region predominantly into a wetland.
Climate modeling and studies already show that at current carbon dioxide emission rates, somewhere between an additional 37 and 174 gigatons of carbon will be released from the permafrost, in the form of methane, by 2100.
Meanwhile, in Panama, temperatures have risen so much due to ACD that sea turtle eggs laid on the beaches there are now at risk of frying before they are able to hatch. “Global warming sounds a bit apocalyptic, but we’re already seeing the effects on turtle populations,” Gerardo Alvarez, a member of the Tortuguias environmental group there, told reporters recently. “With the rise of a couple of degrees in the overall average temperature, many species of turtle will disappear because the nests will fry.”
In western China, the number and volume of glaciers are declining so rapidly that the trend has become a major threat to Asia’s water supply, since glacial water sustains an estimated 1.5 billion people in 10 countries on that continent.
An example of this phenomenon closer to home is the Wheeler Peak Glacier in Nevada. All that is left of what was once a very large glacier is a relatively tiny block of ice surrounded and largely covered by tons of rock, to the point where it is now referred to as a “rock glacier.” As in China, Nevada’s glacial melt threatens the state’s already shrinking water supply.
In neighboring California, along with vanishing glaciers, the state is watching its lakes vanish. The lakes are shrinking so rapidly they are revealing long-submerged graveyards and towns, and in the process, are posing yet another threat to that state’s water supply, which is already in crisis from the ongoing record drought.
Moving back across the Pacific, Laos is facing continued record floods, droughts and landslides as the impacts of ACD increase. It was one of the model countries at the recent COP21 that is reliant upon wealthier countries to help fund its efforts toward mitigating and recovering from these impacts.
The global cost of flooding in coastal cities is already $6 billion annually.
Another example of ACD’s major water-related impacts is playing out in a megacity of more than 14 million people: Dhaka, Bangladesh, is dealing with dramatically increasing flooding, intensifying cyclones and even drought. The city’s waste management and drainage systems are already on the brink of collapse, as climate refugees continue to surge into the city from rural areas that have become unlivable.
Dhaka is just one example of dozens of Asian cities that are going to eventually have to be abandoned to the sea as it continues to rise. The global cost of flooding in coastal cities is already $6 billion annually, according to a recent study in Nature. But that price tag will likely increase to at least $52 billion per year by 2050, as sea level rise continues to increase.
Out in the South Pacific, island nations are vanishing due to rising seas. For example, in the Marshall Islands, 70,000 people reside across 1,000 islands that are less than six feet above sea level.
Meanwhile, the rate of ice melt across most of the planet only continues to increase.
Glaciers in Greenland are melting at a rate that is two to three times faster than they have melted at any time since the last ice age ended 9,500 years ago.
Corresponding with the dramatic melting in the Arctic, polar bear populations are falling, and are expected to continue to decrease. A recent report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature shows that their populations are expected to fall by over 30 percent by 2050.
Moving from the seas to lakes, the Great Lakes in the United States have been absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and are now facing the impact of acidification, just as the oceans are. This will dramatically alter their food chains, along with other impacts, such as reduced zooplankton and stunting the growth of pink salmon.
2015 was only the third year since record keeping began that the US saw wildfires burn more than 9 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Record heat waves, coupled with ongoing drought, generated a wildfire season that burned a total area roughly the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.
The other two times that the total area burned surpassed 9 million acres were in 2006 and 2007.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), by mid-December, 25,242 high-temperature records had been set across the country for just the last year.
Given that 2015 easily remains on track to become the hottest year ever recorded for the globe, record-high temperatures continue to be recorded across the planet.
In the Arctic, the latest NOAA data shows that temperatures there in 2015 were up to 3 degrees Celsius above the long-term average, and that the warmth had caused so much melting of the sea ice that 70 percent of the ice pack was made up of first-year ice. These temperatures are the highest ever recorded there, and the minimum ice cover for this year was the fourth-smallest ever recorded.
Denial and Reality
The Associated Press recently had eight climate and biological scientists grade all of the leading presidential candidates. Needless to say, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had a solid grasp on last place, while all the other Republican candidates received failing grades when it came to their understanding of ACD.
This is an amazing phenomenon, given that even oil giant ExxonMobil admits that ACD is real, and the editorial page editor for The Washington Post, Fred Hiatt, recently wrote: “With no government action, Exxon experts told us during a visit to The Post last week, average temperatures are likely to rise by a catastrophic (my word, not theirs) 5 degrees Celsius, with rises of 6, 7 or even more quite possible.”
A recent study has debunked one of the favorite theories of ACD deniers – that planetary warming is simply the result of natural, non-human-made causes. The study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that the 10th to 13th centuries, when temperatures in Europe were exceedingly warm, was also a time of relative cold in the western North Atlantic, thus disproving the deniers’ theory that “global warming,” as it is currently playing out, is a “normal” phenomenon.
Even before the COP21 began in Paris, US Senate Republicans were vowing to block any deal on climate aid, promising to undermine any agreement that came out of the conference.
History shall not remember them well.
Sen. Ted Cruz went on to hold a hearing on whether the science behind ACD was “data or dogma,” but only invited ACD “skeptics” to attend. Not surprisingly, Cruz was recently listed as the only climate policy “hero” by the American Energy Alliance, a Koch brothers-backed group.
As part of its ongoing excellent reportage of Exxon’s ACD-disinformation campaign, InsideClimate News released another report recently, showing how the oil giant made budget cuts to research projects that brought about a hiatus of several years in peer-reviewed publications by its scientists during the time period when it began its disinformation campaign around the reality of ACD. The outlet reported: “Internal Exxon Corporation budget documents from the 1980s show that the oil giant sharply curtailed its ambitious program of innovative climate research in those years, chopping well over half from its annual budget for internal investigations into how carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels would affect the planet.”
On that note, ExxonMobil recently went on the offensive against a team of journalists from Columbia University whose reporting led to probes into whether the company had deliberately misled the general public about the reality of ACD.
In stark contrast to the ongoing denial circus in the United States, key US allies like France, Germany, Canada and Mexico, along with the heads of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, all recently made statements in support of having the world put a price on carbon emissions in an effort to work to mitigate ACD.
All in all, the United States lags behind the rest of the world considerably when it comes to acknowledging the brutal reality of anthropogenic climate disruption. This reluctance to face facts puts the whole world – and particularly the world’s most marginalized people – at risk.