Fires continue to burn, often unabated, across the western United States, now well into September. By the middle of the month, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency as wildfires around that state caused thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
These dispatches have already covered the fact that the record-setting drought wracking California has long since been linked directly to anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). As fire season continues to rage there, time only clarifies the linkage.
In July alone California spent nearly a quarter of a billion dollars fighting fires, and the current largest fire, in Middletown, has destroyed over 250 homes and 1,000 other structures, and killed at least one person.
In 2014, the planet lost more than 45 million acres of tree cover.
As far away as the San Francisco Bay Area is from Middletown (approximately 90 miles), the impacts were visible even there. On September 13, my friend Michael wrote me from Berkeley: “The sky has been smoky all day here in the Bay Area because of the 50,000 acre fire burning up in Lake County. In fact, ash is raining down in parts of the Bay Area.”
As fires and droughts across the United States and the planet continue to worsen, we must brace ourselves for things to come, as the impacts of ACD are only going to become more intense.
The UK’s meteorological office recently reported that the next two years could well be the hottest ever recorded for the globe, and warned that “big changes could be under way in the climate system.” Professor Rowan Sutton said of the report: “This isn’t a fluke. We are seeing the effects of energy steadily accumulating in the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere, caused by greenhouse gasses.”
Other climate experts have noted recently that this year will be the hottest year ever recorded on the planet “by a mile.”
As this month’s dispatch chronicles, alarming changes are playing out in both the Arctic and Antarctic, along with other distressing warning signs from across the planet’s biota.
Scientists recently released a report showing how ACD could well already be the catalyst for bees missing flower seasons, and hence failing to pollinate them. Without the occurrence of pollination, the negative impacts rippling across the ecosystem and food chain will be profound.
Another recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE shows that more than half of the birds on the North American continent could lose their home range by the end of this century as a result of ACD. For example, new modeling shows that Baltimore could lose its oriole, as bird habitats are being dramatically decreased by warming temperatures.
In fact, many animals’ habitats are in critical danger, on this continent and beyond: Forests across the Northern Hemisphere are facing widespread destruction due to increasing incidence of extreme droughts and hotter temperatures. Widespread loss is expected.
Adding to global forest woes, a recent report published by the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch shows that in 2014, the planet lost more than 45 million acres of tree cover.
Rising seas are forcing low-lying villages and cities to face the fact that their days are numbered.
The numbers of ACD refugees continue to increase dramatically around the world. In Zimbabwe, climate migrants searching for fertile soil to work are flooding into the eastern highlands of that country, establishing “illegal” homes. Their numbers are growing annually, since their homelands’ soil now lacks the ability to produce crops.
Across much of Europe, ACD migrants are flooding across borders and making international news headlines. While many of the headlines cite “political instability” in their home countries as the genesis of the migration, much of what is generating the political instability is, of course, ACD. When people do not have food to eat or water to drink, they must migrate.
Meanwhile, rising seas are forcing low-lying villages and cities to face the fact that their days are numbered, despite efforts to mitigate the rising waters by engineering efforts aimed at buying a little more time.
In Alaska, the tiny village of Kivalina, with 403 residents, which was visited by President Obama just after he gave Shell the go-ahead to drill in the Arctic, is facing this very threat. The small spit of land upon which the village sits is shrinking with every storm, its beaches are eroding into the sea and increasing sea levels are hungrily taking what is left of its already meager land.
The tiny Alaskan village of Newtok, located between two rivers and sitting right next to the eroding coast, faces the same fate: Erosion is gobbling up all their land. Newtok residents recently voted to relocate the entire village.
Lastly in this section, around the world, vanishing glaciers are “unearthing” the bodies of mountain climbers who had died in falls and avalanches decades ago. Think of it as the modern version of “ice men.” Instead of mastodons or ancient hunters that became trapped in ice, deceased climbers are being offered up for inspection from melting glaciers on Mont Blanc, El Pico de Orizaba in Mexico, in the Himalaya Mountains, and across the Andes.
The oceans are literally dying: A recent report shows that the total population of marine life (birds, fish, reptiles, mammals) has been cut in half since 1970, with ACD being one of the driving forces for the loss, along with overfishing.
The greater Middle East will be in “water scarcity” by 2040.
Another recent disconcerting development comes from Hawai’i, where scientists fear that warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures around the islands (and elsewhere) will more than likely cause the worst coral bleaching the islands have ever experienced. Eighty-five percent of all the coral under US jurisdiction lies in Hawai’i. Of course, this is a global problem: 30 to 40 percent of the reefs on the planet have died from bleaching events over the years.
The World Resources Institute issued a report recently warning that the greater Middle East will be in “water scarcity” by 2040. The report said that Gaza will more than likely run completely out of drinking water within five years, and ACD is one of the primary engines driving the crisis.
Meanwhile, the continent of Europe has experienced its worst drought in more than 10 years, which is more than likely a warning sign of things to come, according to scientists there.
Another recent study provided some worrisome news about glaciers in Central Asia, where it is now estimated that they have melted away four times faster than the global average since the early 1960s, losing more than one-quarter of their total mass in that time frame. Given that glaciers comprise a primary water source for millions of people in China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, this does not bode well.
In the United States, a glaciologist with more than 30 years of experience in the field recently described the loss of glaciers in the Pacific Northwest as “disastrous.” “This is the single biggest volume loss in the last 50 years,” he said of the region that has seen its glaciers shrink by between 25 and 40 percent since the mid-1980s. Another scientist estimates the region’s glaciers are already smaller than they have been for at least the last four millennia.
On that note, Seattle, which is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, is now looking at a long-term water shortage crisis due to ACD impacts, including the shrinking glaciers, dramatically reduced snowpack, rising temperatures, drought and of course overpopulation.
All of the ice in the Antarctic will melt if all of the fossil fuels that we are currently aware of are burned.
More evidence of current deleterious impacts of ACD in the water sector are visible in California, where baby sea lions are dying in record numbers due to excessively warm ocean water temperatures that have altered their environment enough so as to make it impossible at times to feed themselves.
In the Arctic, things continue to look grim. On September 11, Arctic sea ice dropped to its fourth-lowest level on record, and it could well become even the second-lowest level later this month as the ice continues melting, amid what is now a decades-long ACD-generated decline.
Another unintended consequence of runaway ACD is visible in Siberia, where – as the permafrost is melting away – French researchers recently discovered a long-dormant virus that had been previously frozen under the tundra for 30,000 years. The scientists warned that ACD has the potential to release numerous other previously frozen disease-generating viruses across the Arctic as we move forward.
On the other end of the globe, in Antarctica, a world-renowned climate scientist recently reported that the “sleeping giant” Eastern Antarctic ice sheet, which comprises the vast majority of the ice in Antarctica, is far more sensitive to ACD than we previously believed. This is not good news: If it melted, it would contribute 50 meters to global sea level rise.
Another study reveals that all of the ice in the Antarctic will melt if all of the fossil fuels that we are currently aware of are burned. Given that there is no evidence to support the idea that global political will is taking appropriate actions toward weaning the global economy off fossil fuel use, we must take this information very seriously.
The study shows that, if Antarctica melts, global temperatures will rise an average of 12 degrees Celsius, and major cities like Berlin, Shanghai, New York and numerous others will cease to exist.
Wildfires have continued to burn relentlessly across the western United States, as this year’s record season continues.
The Pacific Northwest, not a region known for droughts and wildfires, has been plagued with both – enough so that farming communities there are now struggling with losing significant portions of their harvests.
Wildfires in California, of course, continue to make headlines. Major new fires in the northern part of that state have caused tens of thousands to evacuate their homes, several firefighters to be hospitalized with burn injuries, over 1,000 structures and homes to burn to the ground, and the majority of more than one small town to burn to the ground.
The fires have caused at least five human deaths, and may well cause more as several of the larger fires remain minimally contained at the time of this writing.
A recently released study published in Nature Climate Change warns that due to the increasingly severe impacts of ACD, future hurricanes may well be “unlike anything you’ve seen in history.” Future hurricanes could carry a storm surge that would dwarf that of previous hurricanes, as well as much higher-speed winds.
By September 3, temperatures across Ukraine and southwestern Russia had risen to an amazing 12 to 14 degrees Celsius above average (21 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than normal for this time of year). According to reports, on September 1, Kiev shattered its all-time record high temperature, as readings rocketed to 35.5 degrees Celsius (96 degrees Fahrenheit) in a city stifling under the pall of bog-fire smoke.
In what is becoming an increasingly severe and widespread problem around the world as droughts persist and fires burn, air quality is deteriorating rapidly.
In the United States, specifically in California, residents left in the wake of wildfires are now facing ongoing health impacts from respiratory issues caused by the new pollutants being released by the burning and smoke. Many people with allergies, asthma and other lung ailments are suffering acutely, and doctors in the impacted areas are seeing dramatic increases in the number of patients suffering from ailments exacerbated by the air pollution generated by the fires.
Denial and Reality
UN climate chief Christiana Figueres announced in Brussels recently that even if a deal is reached during the upcoming climate summit in Paris, global temperatures will still surpass the previously “agreed” safety limit of 2 degrees Celsius.
Despite many leading climate scientists agreeing that even a 1 degree Celsius global temperature rise above pre-industrial baseline temperatures will be catastrophic, a politically agreed upon 2 degree Celsius limit has been agreed upon by many countries. Nevertheless, many climate scientists, and even studies carried out by the International Energy Agency and Shell Oil, expect the planet to see at least a 4 to 6 degree Celsius temperature increase before the year 2100.
In addition to that reality check, more bad news for ACD deniers comes from Australia, where the Liberal Party staged a bit of a coup recently and ousted Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who had previously derided concern about ACD as “crap.”
Deniers in the US state of Alabama are on their heels after that state recently decided to update its science standards to require its students to understand evolution and learn about ACD.
Nevertheless, Koch-brothers-funded deniers in the US government carry on with their agenda, and are now actively seeking to destroy any global climate deal that might materialize from the Paris talks.
This is one reason, perhaps, why poor countries that are already suffering the brunt of extreme weather events and all the ails that come along with them are now pushing even harder for the rich countries that are emitting the most carbon dioxide, like the United States, to pay reparations and assist them in relocating their climate-displaced populations.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly: Two recent studies have warned that ACD will likely further disrupt global ocean circulation patterns, which would halt the flow of warm air to the northern latitudes, hence placing large portions of Europe literally underneath ice and plunging Southeast Asia into centuries-long droughts. While the full impacts of the phenomena may not be felt for several decades, the broad ramifications are dire, and will change the climate of the planet irrevocably.