This year continues on pace to become, by far, the hottest year ever recorded. Thus, it is obvious why the dramatic impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) are becoming increasingly prevalent and obvious.
A recent NASA report reveals that the ice covering Greenland is melting faster than previously thought. If all the ice in Greenland melts completely, it alone would raise the global sea level by 23 feet.
Global sea level increases due to ACD are already a key factor in why we are seeing so many instances of increased coastal flooding. The record flooding in South Carolina is an example of what scientists have been warning us about for quite some time: ACD is causing more moisture to become absorbed into the atmosphere as it warms, leading to record rainfalls, increasingly powerful storms and, hence, record flooding. What happened in South Carolina, which is now the sixth 1,000-year flooding event to happen in the United States since 2010, provides a clue about the nonlinear abrupt climate disruption the planet is now experiencing.
In fact, a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows, stunningly, that 400 US cities are already going to be swamped by rising sea levels no matter what mitigation measures are taken to decrease carbon dioxide emissions. The study also showed that New York City could be unlivable for this reason in a matter of decades. (This tool can be used to help you determine the fate of your city, if you live anywhere near the coast.)
The Republican Party in the US is the only party that continues to deny the reality of climate disruption.
The UN recently released a report warning that we will likely see upward of 50 million climate refugees within the next decade. That is the equivalent of taking the entire populations of the 11 most populous US cities – New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose and Austin – and doubling them.
I’ve reported in previous dispatches on the massive craters on Russia’s Yamal Peninsula, which scientists have reported are caused by methane explosions from melting permafrost. A recent report warns that more craters are expected to form as the permafrost continues to melt, meaning that huge periodic bursts of methane into the atmosphere will both continue and increase.
In the atmosphere, methane is a greenhouse gas that, on a relatively short-term timescale, is far more destructive than carbon dioxide. When it comes to heating the planet, methane is 23 times as powerful as carbon dioxide per molecule on a 100-year timescale, and 105 times more potent on a 20-year timescale – and the Arctic permafrost, onshore and off, is packed with the stuff.
All of this information is incredibly challenging to process, both emotionally and intellectually. It is overwhelming. Perhaps that explains why the level of denial among the US conservative political elite only continues to ramp up.
A recent paper published in the journal Politics & Policy analyzed the positions of conservative political parties around the world, and focused in on the platforms of the conservative parties of nine Western countries. The study found that the Republican Party in the United States is the only party that continues to deny the reality of climate disruption, and that Republicans would be considered “fringe” in any other country in the world.
We should expect this insistence on denial to not only continue, but to increase in fervor as the planet’s distress signals continue to increase in both frequency and intensity.
We begin with an overview of recent developments revealing ACD’s impact on flora and fauna, as well as the physical geography of the planet itself.
In Northern California, hundreds of starving seabirds are flooding rescue centers. Scientists say the change in food availability is due to increasing sea temperatures stemming from ACD. Changing sea temperatures are causing the fish that the birds usually eat to dive deeper than normal, making them more difficult for the birds to catch. The centers are struggling to obtain more volunteers and resources to cope with the dramatic increase of birds in need of rescue.
Also in California, already threatened Guadalupe fur seals are being found dead or dying, washing up on shores along the coast. Emaciated seals, starving from lack of food, are washing up on shores where they are dying. Recently, the incidence rate of this seal death has been 800 percent higher than normal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared it an “unusual mortality event,” which scientists are attributing to ACD.
The ongoing drought in California is cutting deep enough now that the famous Joshua tree is in danger, and the situation is critical enough that the conservation group WildEarth Guardians is requesting that the US Fish and Wildlife Service list it as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Again, ACD is given as the culprit causing the now-frequent wildfires and hotter temperatures that are upsetting the natural balance of the trees’ environment.
Up in Barrow, Alaska, where the seas are rapidly eating away the land, the erosion process recently unearthed human bones. The coastline of Alaska’s North Slope is already known to be eroding at one of the fastest rates in the country.
As ACD progresses, we should expect burgeoning numbers of climate refugees across the world, even within the US.
And Barrow isn’t the only Alaskan village in trouble due to land being swallowed up by rising and increasingly stormy seas. The state of Alaska is trying to obtain federal funding to move Newtok, a village located roughly 500 miles west of Anchorage and home to 62 families. If this process of relocation moves forward, it may well serve as the model for moving villages, towns and communities that are directly threatened by extreme weather events and natural disasters caused by climate disruption.
As the refugee crisis in Europe continues, in the United States, the state of Texas is seeing the beginnings of a similar situation. Thousands of children from Central America are being forced to migrate away from their homes, ending up in Texas. While violence and social unrest in the refugees’ home countries are being cited as the causes of this migration, intensifying ACD impacts are at the root of the crisis. It is well documented at this point how, for example, drought led to the higher food prices that sparked the Arab Spring, as well as the uprisings in Syria.
A possible precedent-setting event occurred in New Zealand recently, where “climate refugee” Ioane Teitiota from the island nation of Kiribati was recently on the verge of being deported due to a court ruling. Teitiota argued that he should be allowed to remain in New Zealand because ACD is threatening the very existence of his homeland.
Meanwhile, in sub-Saharan Africa more than 60 million people who are already going hungry are likely to see their situation worsen due to increasing drought and other ACD impacts, according to the Red Cross.
As ACD progresses, we should expect burgeoning numbers of climate refugees across the world, even within the United States.
Rising sea levels are not only causing problems for humans.
A species of albatross that breeds on low-lying Pacific Ocean islands are, according to a recent study, now under threat due to rising seas: The birds’ breeding areas are being submerged.
Even inanimate objects are in danger from climate disruption: NASA recently published an article stating that most of the space agency’s launch infrastructure in Florida is under threat. The launch pads at Cape Canaveral are going to be submerged by seawater as the oceans continue to rise due to ACD impacts.
Rising sea levels are also increasing the power and impact of major storms on the coasts of both New York and New Jersey. Stunningly, a report by MIT and several other universities shows that major storms that used to be projected to occur only once every 500 years are now expected to happen every 25 years.
Another recent report shows that coastal flooding along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts is expected to increase 300-fold.
Impacts are being seen under the sea, as well. Due to warming ocean temperatures – coupled with the increasing acidification of the seas, because they are absorbing so much carbon dioxide – the third recorded global coral bleaching event is already underway, according to NOAA.
As the Arctic continues to warm, permafrost there is melting at unprecedented rates.
“It’s like watching a slow-motion train wreck, and we’re waiting for the cars to pile up on this side of the track,” Mark Eakin, the coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, told Mashable. The event could take out 5 percent of all the coral on the planet during 2015 alone. Given that 25 percent of ocean species rely on coral, and that bleaching events can lead to the death of coral if they are sustained over a long enough period of time, this does not bode well for the future.
ACD is continuing to cause species to migrate in unlikely ways. Shell-crushing crabs have recently become an invasive species in Antarctica, posing a threat to the extremely delicate marine ecosystem there. Recent research found that increasingly warm ocean temperatures are to blame for the crabs’ migration to the area.
Of more general concern: The Antarctic is continuing to lose ice, due primarily to ACD, as is evident in this NASA video.
Looking northward to the Arctic, we see that it, too, continues to lose ice, as evidenced by this NASA video.
Two more must-see NASA videos provide stark proof of ice loss occurring in Greenland, as well as what NASA refers to as “the hidden meltdown” of Greenland. Warmer subtropical ocean water at depth is melting the glaciers from below.
As the Arctic continues to warm, permafrost there is melting at unprecedented rates. As it melts, it releases vast amounts of stored carbon dioxide, which increases warming, which causes permafrost to melt even faster, hence forming a positive feedback loop that speeds up ACD. A recent study shows that this thawing permafrost will ultimately cost the global economy a staggering $43 trillion by the year 2200, at current trajectories of carbon dioxide emissions and melting rates.
Back in the United States, as California’s drought continues, water rationing there continues as well. In the Central Valley, which is bearing the brunt of the drought’s impact, the small town of Okieville is literally without water. Residents there are struggling to find ways to stay in their homes without running water.
Lake Powell, which has a shoreline longer than the coastline of the western United States, and which provides water for Nevada, Arizona and California, is seeing its water level continue to drop alarmingly. A recent NASA report shows that its levels have dropped to 42 percent of its capacity, and are expected to continue to drop as both ACD progresses and droughts generate increasing demand for water.
Recent NASA satellite observations provide a very clear record of the increasing severity of the drought across much of the United States: Everything from surface soil moisture, to root zone soil moisture, to groundwater storage are all being severely impacted by the ongoing drought.
The increasing frequencies and intensities of wildfires throughout the western United States are literally creating new landscapes and climates to accompany them. As more trees are burning away, they are being replaced by shrubs, and both of these phenomenon are creating hotter and drier climates – and hence more fires, according to the US Geological Survey. The Survey also said that the government’s firefighting policies are contributing negatively to the situation. The government practice of suppressing smaller surface fires causes fewer fires, but then allows underbrush to grow more rapidly, which then contributes to more frequent and more intense fires in the future.
“We are in the middle of this 30,000-acre, near-treeless hole,” Craig Allen, a research ecologist with the US Geological Survey, speaking about this situation, recently told a reporter.
For multiple US states, 2015 has been another record wildfire year, and it is only the fourth time in history that more than 9 million acres have burned in wildfires across the country.
It’s not just the United States that has seen record wildfires and temperatures.
Australia is again seeing record heat waves and wildfires, as officials there recently warned residents to prepare themselves for a “long, hot and dangerous” bushfire season.
A recent study has linked massive outbreaks of dengue fever throughout Southeast Asia to higher temperatures being caused by ACD. The World Health Organization has also reported that infection rates of dengue fever have increased thirtyfold over just the last 50 years.
NOAA recently provided data showing that South America’s continental-averaged temperature was the “warmest since at least 1910,” and Argentina had its warmest winter ever recorded. NOAA data also revealed that Africa saw its warmest August since at least 1910, and parts of eastern Russia and Mongolia experienced record warm temperatures. Both Australia and Oceania recorded notably warmer Augusts.
Additionally, as wildfires around the world continue to worsen in size and duration, global air quality continues to suffer as more particulates are released into the atmosphere.
Denial and Reality
In addition to the aforementioned study about how the US Republican Party is now a minority of one – when it comes to being the only conservative party still adhering to ACD denial – there are plenty of other examples of rampant denial happening around the country.
The governor of Alaska, Bill Walker, recently told the BBC that he wants to “urgently” drill in the protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge … in order to fund relocating coastal villages that are being hammered by ACD impacts like rising seas, melting permafrost and erosion. He said his justification for wanting to drill for more oil is “that coping with these changes is hugely expensive.”
Another recent example of the Republican Party’s stubborn refusal to make room for reality: presidential candidate Ben Carson’s recent rant against both science and ACD, in which he even questioned evolution and, believe it or not, gravity. “The way the earth rotates on its axis, how far away it is from the sun. These are all very complex things,” Carson said. “Gravity, where did it come from? I mean, there are so many things. So I don’t denigrate the people who say ‘Eh, eh, whatever, somehow it happened.’ I don’t denigrate them. I just don’t have that much faith.”
“Unless we have the wisdom and technology to protect our biosphere, it could become like many other dead worlds.”
The Associated Press has recently become friendlier to ACD “deniers,” as evidenced by its recent move to change its style for how to describe people who do not accept ACD. The style guide now calls for the use of “doubters” or “those who reject mainstream climate science,” instead of deniers. Needless to say, the move has not helped AP’s credibility, and other far more credible news outlets have heavily criticized the decision.
Meanwhile, as the debate continues over whether or not reality exists, the planet only continues to heat up.
Another report shows that with all the current pledges that countries have made to address ACD, the world would still heat up by at least 6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, according to a recent analysis.
The drumbeat of information about Exxon having itself confirmed the consensus on ACD with its very own climate models back in 1982 continues. For over three decades the oil giant has been aware of ACD, but has nevertheless continued to actively fund the denial movement.
Speaking of the fossil fuel industry, another report shows that all of the world’s energy systems are at risk from ACD, according to the World Energy Council. The report notes how storms, flooding and heat waves are expected to cause major disruptions in the global energy grid as ACD impacts progress.
It is, of course, not only power grids that are under threat – but entire major cities as well. A recent study out of Penn State University shows the high likelihood of another massive flood event striking New York City – such as that resulting from Hurricane Sandy – and reveals that the city is far from being prepared.
Taken together, these alarm bells from scientists around the globe should be heard as a call to action. Consider the warning that top NASA scientist William Borucki, who began his career working on the Apollo program, recently issued to a reporter.
“The Earth is a very special place,” Borucki said. “Unless we have the wisdom and technology to protect our biosphere, it could become like many other dead worlds.”