In a consistent trend, future projections of an increase in the overall global temperature, as well increases in sea level rise, continue to outpace previous worst-case scenarios.
This is due to a simple equation: There is already enough CO2 in the atmosphere and heat absorbed into the planet’s oceans that even if we stopped emitting carbon completely right now, the planet would continue to experience and display dramatic impacts from anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) for thousands of years.
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The second part of that equation is this: There is simply nothing to indicate that national governments around the world are willing to take the immediate, radical steps that would be necessary to begin to seriously mitigate these impacts.
Many of the humans being born right now will be alive in 2100. They will live in the conditions we are creating for them today: In a world where it will likely be impossible to feed the majority of the projected 9 billion people on the planet by 2050, water wars will be the new oil wars (the US military has already been practicing for water wars for years), major coastal cities will have long since flooded, and droughts and wildfires will have become year-round events.
While reading this month’s climate disruption dispatch, consider how the latest scientific reports and studies might translate into a picture of our collective future.
A recent study showed that deforestation has twice the negative impact on ACD as previously believed. Deforestation has two main negative impacts. First, the trees are burned and they immediately release their stored carbon into the atmosphere. Then, farms are created in their place, which go on to release other greenhouse gasses like methane and nitrous oxide. Furthermore, without trees to act as a carbon sink, less carbon dioxide is being removed from the atmosphere.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Oceans Melting Greenland mission has warned that that Greenland ice sheet, which alone contains enough landlocked ice to raise global sea levels 20 feet, is more at risk, due to ACD, than previously believed. Even into late fall of this year, Greenland was experiencing temperatures as high as a stunning 54 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Some of Greenland’s coastal towns were even experiencing rain, while melting was occurring up on the ice sheet well into November.
Meanwhile down in Antarctica, recent evidence shows that even the glaciers in the eastern Antarctic, largely thought to be minimally impacted by ACD, are not nearly as stable as scientists had believed. The study, published in Nature, found that in the area studied there is enough ice to raise global sea levels by as much as 15 feet, enough to submerge most of the coastal cities.
Across the US, warmer temperatures have dominated throughout the late fall season. Even on the last day of November, just 7.6 percent of the country was covered by snow, which is only approximately one-third of the typical area of snow coverage for that time of year over the past 15 years. One seven-day period saw 1,550 record high temperatures around the country, compared to 15 record lows, a 100-to-1 ratio. On November 27, the mile-high city of Denver reached 81 degrees, which was 34 degrees warmer than Los Angeles, Houston or Tampa.
To get a sense of what these numbers mean, pay attention to the climate where you live. Look out the window. Take a walk outside. Compare today’s temperatures and climate to those of 10 years ago, or 20 years ago. Ask friends in other places around the country what they are seeing. Then, consider these monthly climate disruption dispatches in the context of that personal glimpse. Climate disruption doesn’t simply affect “the planet,” in some abstract sense; it affects every one of us, along with every other species on Earth.
As ACD progresses, increasingly profound impacts across Earth are apparent.
Along with unsustainable farming and fishing practices, ACD has caused a deepening struggle for survival among several kinds of vulnerable animals and crops. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “red list” of endangered species now includes several species of wild rice that are listed as “threatened,” while Australia’s ringtail possum is now listed as “critically endangered.” Three reptile species on Christmas Island have gone extinct in the wild.
Meanwhile across the US west, The National Climate Assessment has already shown how ACD-driven warming trends are changing both the water supply and ecosystems. Some of the impacts include an earlier arrival of spring, more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow (causing a lower winter snowpack), increasing droughts, and longer and more intense wildfire seasons.
On the human front, a recently published report links the growth of a new generation of child brides to ACD. The report showed that girls as young as only 13 years are being forced into marriage in an attempt to stave off poverty brought about by ACD impacts in countries like Mozambique. In fact, a 2015 UN Population Fund report estimated that there were 37,000 child marriages every day, and UNICEF warned that same year that if current trends continued the number of child brides could more than double, reaching 310 million by 2050.
In the watery realms, ACD impacts continue to become increasingly pronounced as well. Longyearbyen, Norway, the most northerly town in the world, is at risk of disappearing. Winter temperatures there have seen a staggering increase of 10 degrees Celsius in the last three decades alone, snow is melting earlier in the spring and glaciers are thinning. Meanwhile, melting permafrost is causing avalanches near the town, closing roads and destroying houses. Between unusable roads from thawing permafrost, the ground no longer being able to support dwelling or town infrastructure, the avalanches, and disruptions to the food chain from melting ice and warmer temperatures, the town’s future looks grim.
Decreasing Arctic sea ice and warming temperatures are placing Arctic dogsledding culture in a very precarious position. Those who rely on dogsleds on a way of life can no longer count on the necessary ice, and hence, the traditional mode of transportation is on its way to becoming a thing of the past, as current melting trends continue apace.
Indeed, warming trends are only speeding up. Arctic permafrost is thawing faster than ever, Arctic seawater is warming up and Arctic sea ice is melting at its fastest pace in 1,500 years.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report showed that the Arctic experienced its second-warmest year on record during 2017, and that the melting sea ice (which reached its lowest point on record), “shows no signs of returning to the reliably frozen state that it was in just a decade ago.”
A recent study published in Science Advances has shown that one section of the Greenland ice sheet began melting 80 percent faster between 2003-2014 compared to the 26-year period beforehand.
Another report shows a dramatic increase in the use of artificial snow across ski areas in the Alps as temperatures warm and ski seasons shrink. The report provides the grim assessment, “The dream of skiing on Alpine snow is going to go away.”
Meanwhile in the Antarctic, the Pine Island Glacier is showing increasing signs of instability as a giant iceberg that broke off of it this September rapidly shattered. The incident underscored concerns among scientists about sea level rise continuing to outpace many worst-case predictions.
Efforts are afoot to figure out what to do to protect coastal cities from sea level rise, though the challenge is formidable. A massive barrier that aims to protect Venice from rising seas and storm surges is on target to become operational next year, but engineering limitations coupled with rapidly increasing sea level rise projections are showing that it will, eventually, all be for naught.
In fact, a recent report published in the journal Earth’s Future shows that the sea level rise many of us will see in our lifetimes may actually be more than double what was previously anticipated.
Lastly in this section, a recent report showed that last summer’s Hurricane Harvey was made 15 percent more intense — and three times more likely to happen — due to ACD.
The biggest news in the US for ACD-fueled wildfires brings us again to California.
That state’s largest wildfire on record, the Thomas Fire, burned more than a quarter of a million acres across the southern part of the state. At least one firefighter has been killed, and the fire is at least the seventh most destructive ever for California as far as the number of structures lost. Thousands of people have had to evacuate their homes.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has branded the wildfires that have scorched his state over 2017 the “new normal,” and added, “With climate change, some scientists are saying southern California is literally burning up.”
Warmer air temperatures are becoming the new normal as well.
Alaska’s northernmost town of Utqiagvik is now warming so fast that NOAA computers removed their air temperature data because the data was automatically flagged by algorithms as “unreal” and removed from the climate database. As the Anchorage Dispatch News recently reported on the incident, “In the short 17 years since 2000, the average October temperature in Utqiaġvik has climbed 7.8 degrees. The November temperature is up 6.9 degrees. The December average has warmed 4.7 degrees.”
For the first time ever, the American Meteorological Society’s annual report showed that certain extreme high temperature events in 2016 could simply not have happened without the influence of ACD. The same report showed that of 27 extreme weather events that were analyzed in 2016, ACD was found to be a “significant driver” of 21 of them.
Denial and Reality
As usual with the Trump administration, there’s far too much denial to fit in this section, so here are a few lowlights. In the pages of Steve Bannon’s favorite “weapon,” Breitbart “News’ ” James Delingpole has likened people who are concerned about ACD to Nazis.
The Trump administration recently nixed a cross-agency government group that was created to help prepare US cities for inevitable ACD shocks.
The so-called administration also has proposed a federal budget that will slash ACD-related NASA missions, and is instead urging the space agency to prioritize missions to the moon and Mars instead of “Earth-centric research.”
Meanwhile, much of the rest of the world is living in reality and continuing to try to do something to mitigate ACD’s devastating blows.
Recently, a large group of world leaders, energy magnates and investment fund representatives met in Paris for a summit addressing ACD. They did not invite anyone from the Trump administration to the meeting.
In Canada, the Trudeau government will be introducing a new law next year that will make polluters pay for their CO2 emissions.
According to a new survey, nearly one in six new cars on the planet will be electric by 2025.
And despite the Trump administration’s efforts to clamp down on climate science, important research is pushing forward.
A sobering reality check comes in the form of a report showing that ACD may be more severe than expected by 2100, adding that global temperatures could rise 15 percent (.5 degrees Celsius) higher than expected during this century. The study shows that there is a 93 percent chance that Earth will be more than 4 degrees Celsius warmer than it is now by 2100. Previous estimates had given that possibility a 62 percent chance. This report is in alignment with a consistent trend among climate models, which continue to adjust upward projections as ACD intensifies with time.