There have been five mass extinction events on Earth, and it is a scientific fact we are well into the sixth mass extinction event.
By far, the worst of these was the Permian mass extinction that occurred roughly 252 million years ago. That one annihilated 95 percent of all life on Earth.
During the Permian mass extinction, global warming caused by a massive amount of CO2 released from volcanism warmed both the oceans and the atmosphere, which then triggered the release of colossal amounts of methane that had been trapped underneath the ice in the Arctic. This caused an even greater spike in planetary warming, which wiped out nearly all life on Earth.
In our current mass extinction event, however, rather than the CO2-caused warming coming from a volcano, it is anthropogenic (human-caused), and the climate is not just warming, it is disrupted. And this time, rather than the process taking tens of thousands of years as it did during the Permian mass extinction, humans are increasing atmospheric CO2 levels far, far more rapidly.
Whether or not humans go extinct remains to be seen, but there is no denying that sustaining 7.6 billion humans while we are forcing the extinction of between 150-200 other species each day and have pushed Earth’s climate out of its natural state is very much in question. I’ve spoken to prestigious scientists both on and off the record who believe that sooner rather than later, global population will be reduced to around 1 billion humans.
Whichever scenario runs its course, we are all facing massive loss in the future. It is only then can we decide what is truly important in our lives, and how to comport ourselves as we go through our days.
Just as warming seas caused the release of methane stores in the Arctic, driving the Permian mass extinction, we are now facing what appears to be a modern-day equivalent of this phenomenon.
Sea surface temperatures in the Arctic are warming at stunning rates. To give you an idea, look at this blog containing images showing sea surface temperatures in one specific location near Svalbard for July 6 for each of the following years:
2014: -0.8°C or 30.6°F
2015: 6.2°C or 43.2°F
2016: 8.3°C or 47.0°F
2017: 14.4°C or 57.9°F
2018: 16.6°C or 61.9°F
On July 30, 2018, the sea surface near Svalbard was as warm as 19.3°C or 66.8°F — 13.9°C or 25°F warmer than it was during 1981-2011.
Elsewhere in the Arctic, Sweden’s highest mountain is no longer its highest mountain, thanks largely to anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), as the top 13 feet of ice melted off of it. On July 30, a Norwegian town 350 miles into the Arctic Circle saw the temperature reach 90°F.
The trend is clear, and should be very alarming to anyone reading this.
Christie Aschwanden, writing for FiveThirtyEight, provided this synopsis on July 19:
It’s only July, but it has already been a long, hot spring and summer. The contiguous US endured the warmest May ever recorded, and in June, the average temperature was 1.7 degrees Celsius (3.0 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th century average [June was Earth’s fifth warmest June ever recorded, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that the only warmer June months on record were 2016, 2015, 2017 and 2014, in that order]. Iowa, New Mexico and Texas set record highs for their minimum temperatures in June, and as of July 3, nearly 30 percent of the Lower 48 was experiencing drought conditions. And it’s not just the US. During the first five months of 2018, nearly every continent experienced record warm temperatures, and May 2018 marked the 401st consecutive month in which temperatures exceeded the 20th century average.
As if to underscore all of this, leading scientists recently published a study warning a domino effect of climate events could easily move Earth into a “hothouse” state, making any efforts to reduce emissions increasingly futile. Their paper combines the consequences of 10 climate change processes (methane release in the Arctic, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the loss of coral reefs as a few examples), as each of these is a feedback loop that could amplify the other nine.
While the authors stress that their analysis was not conclusive, they warned the Guardian that this trajectory “would almost certainly flood deltaic environments, increase the risk of damage from coastal storms, and eliminate coral reefs (and all of the benefits that they provide for societies) by the end of this century or earlier.”
Another climate researcher, Phil Williamson, put it this way: “In the context of the summer of 2018, this is definitely not a case of crying wolf, raising a false alarm: the wolves are now in sight.”
Scientists recently pointed out how ACD is shifting the planet’s seasons. Research spanning decades of satellite data has proven that human fossil fuel emissions are shifting what one researcher called the “march of the seasons themselves.” The researchers also stated that the odds of this occurring naturally and without human influence are approximately five in 1 million.
As the planet relentlessly warms, the health of more than 1 billion people is at risk, due to their inability to stay cool from lack of air-conditioning and refrigeration to cool and preserve food and medicine. The countries most at risk include Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Mozambique, Sudan, Nigeria, Brazil, India and China.
Meanwhile, the ancient cedar trees of Lebanon — which are depicted on the national flag and some of which are more than 1,000 years old — are succumbing to ACD. The trees depend upon a cool, moist climate, but as temperatures increase and there is less moisture, the trees are migrating further upslope. By 2100, at the current trajectory, it is expected they will only exist on the higher mountains in the north of the country, then after that, likely not at all.
Humans are suffering other types of impacts from ACD, in addition to the obvious extreme weather events, water issues and political instability.
A recent study has linked increasingly warm temperatures directly to an increase in suicide rates. The study showed that ACD impacts could be as significant as the impacts from economic recessions, which have already been shown to generate an increase in self-harm. For example, the study showed that suicide rates in Mexico rose by 2.1 percent when the average monthly temperature increased by 1°C.
Ocean acidity will soon reach levels that have not been seen for 14 million years.
Another study warned of ACD’s looming mental health crisis. “Things like depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, domestic abuse, all these things tend to go up in the aftermath of natural disasters,” psychologist Susan Clayton, a co-author of the study, told Wired magazine. “As we have more natural disasters, one would expect to also have increases in those kinds of mental health consequences.”
A group of experts recently warned Congress that the US is ill-prepared for the health challenges ACD is already bringing across the country. Things like insect-borne diseases, damage to hospitals from extreme weather events and the impacts on impoverished areas are some of their primary concerns. The experts urged policymakers to invest in preparation plans, but so far it seems as though this advice has largely gone unheeded.
The most profound impacts of runaway ACD are showing up in the oceans.
Scientists recently revealed that ocean acidity will soon reach levels that have not been seen for 14 million years. Ocean acidification occurs when oceans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, causing the water to have a lower pH, and was the key driver of the loss of more than 90 percent of life on Earth during the Permian mass extinction event.
A recently published study showed that fish will begin to lose their sense of smell as CO2 levels continue to rise and the oceans become increasingly acidic. This will change their behavior as their ability to search for food and avoid predators becomes impaired.
In Canada, a glaciologist who was part of a recently published study pointed out how hundreds of glaciers in the Arctic are shrinking rapidly, and are disappearing into what has been described as a “city of icebergs.” The study showed that between the years 2000 and 2016, 1,353 out of 1,773 glaciers had shrunk significantly.
Meanwhile, the oceans continue to warm. Sea surface temperatures near San Diego’s Scripps Pier recently logged the highest ocean temperature in its 102-year history of record-keeping when temperatures registered 78.6°F.
Warming oceans are also causing large species, including the hammerhead shark, to migrate from the Mediterranean and Spanish coastlines northwards into British waters — a trend that will continue in the next few decades as waters continue to warm.
As high temperatures and droughts continue to persist across the US West, emergency measures had to be employed to rescue wild horses across the over-heated and parched region. Volunteer groups are working feverishly to haul in water and food to areas that no longer support vegetation in an effort to keep the horses alive.
Due to the ongoing threat to its food supply, the country of El Salvador recently declared an emergency amidst an ongoing and severe drought in an effort to save farmers and food, as tens of thousands of farmers have lost their crops.
ACD is making itself obvious in this realm across the Northern Hemisphere this summer.
In Sweden, forest fires have raged across the country, including up into the Arctic Circle where at least 11 blazed. They have been intense and widespread enough to cause authorities there to request international assistance.
And it’s not just Sweden. A weather station in Northern Finland hit 91°F, and a professor of fire safety at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences called what was happening there the “worst wildfire season in Scandinavia that can be remembered.” A record heat wave was behind 31 fires in the Barents Region of the Arctic alone.
Meanwhile, the rest of Europe has been struggling with extremely hot temperatures and wildfires. At least 94 people died in Greece from the deadliest wildfires seen there in decades.
Back in the US, the heart of Yosemite National Park was closed while crews battled massive wildfires in the area. It’s the first time that part of the park had to be closed down since a 1990 wildfire caused the same.
Elsewhere in California, a record-breaking wildfire spawned a tornado that packed more powerful winds than had ever been recorded in such phenomena. The National Weather Service estimated the fire tornado packed winds stronger than 143 mph. “This is historic in the US,” Craig Clements, director of San Jose State University’s Fire Weather Research Laboratory, told BuzzFeed News. “This might be the strongest fire-induced tornado-like circulation ever recorded.”
At the time of this writing, at least 10 people had been killed by the fires across California, and the federal government declared the situation a natural disaster.
One of the blazes has already become the largest in the state’s history, and at least 12 other fires were burning at the time of this writing.
Scientists have long since linked the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires to ACD.
Summer temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere have been wreaking havoc.
Japan has seen some of its highest temperatures ever recorded during a heat wave that killed at least 30 people and hospitalized more than 22,000.
Elsewhere in Asia, recent research has shown that a large portion of China could literally become uninhabitable in the coming decades as heat waves are becoming progressively more intense.
Across Europe, calls for assistance from farmers have been common, as blistering heat has baked the continent and deep drought conditions persist.
Temperatures across that continent have soared this summer. Sweden saw its hottest July in at least 260 years, along with its worst drought in 74 years. Northern Ireland and Wales saw their hottest June temperatures ever recorded. Berlin baked, the UK has been wracked with wildfires, and Paris announced a heat alert.
Death Valley, California, broke its own record for the hottest full month ever recorded on the planet. It averaged 108.1°F for July, breaking the previous record, set just last year, by half a degree. It is worth noting that the record that was set last year had broken a 100-year-old record.
“In many cases, the [heat] records were not simply beaten, they were obliterated,” ThinkProgress reported about heat records across California recently. “As [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)] reported in Southern California, where temperature records go back 140 years, records for July 6 were disintegrated by 14°F in downtown Los Angeles and Camarillo, and by 16°F in San Luis Obispo. In Van Nuys, it hit 117°F … destroying the previous record for the day (99°F) by an astounding 18°F — and that record was just set last year.”
Some reports are now warning that every weather event could possibly result in a state of emergency, as ACD is amping up weather around the planet.
“This is unfortunately the new normal,” Ahira Sanchez-Lugo, a physical scientist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, told CBC News.
“When it comes to extreme heat, we can say the odds of extreme heat or heat waves have been significantly increased by climate change,” said Clare Nullis, a spokesperson for the World Meteorological Organization. “We have to start getting used to it.”
According to NOAA’s June Global Climate Report, that month ended up being the fifth-warmest such month on record. “Four of six continents had a June temperature that ranked among the seven warmest Junes since continental records began in 1910,” the report noted.
As bad as all of this is, it will all be made worse thanks to the policies of the Trump administration. The climate policies of his team, or lack thereof, will cause these severe and deadly heat waves we are already seeing to become the new summer normal over just the next few decades.
According to one report, the typical five-day heat wave in the US will become 12°F warmer by between 2036-2065 alone, and some heat waves could bring 131°F temperatures, the level above which the human body cannot continue to function properly, according to the US National Climate Assessment (NCA). The report warned that much of the world, including the US, will begin to see huge “humid heat waves” where the heat index reaches a fatal 131°F every other year by just the end of this century, not even to speak of what will occur after that.
Denial and Reality
The Trump administration continues its denial of ACD and persists in its efforts to eviscerate the natural environment.
Since the last dispatch, the administration has moved forward on plans to replace the Obama administration’s climate plan aimed at cutting US greenhouse gas emissions. The Trump plan is more of an “all-in” for the coal industry, in addition to having already withdrawn the US from the Paris climate agreement. Hence, the US now has no ACD plan.
The Trump administration also announced plans to weaken US fuel efficiency laws and pollution standards, in effect freezing rules that require cleaner, more efficient cars. This is another move toward dismantling Obama’s plan to mitigate ACD.
Furthermore, Congress recently authorized the inclusion of six icebreakers in the annual defense policy bill, since oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic is their chosen path instead of working to mitigate the impacts of ACD.
Meanwhile, a recent study revealed that the Gulf Stream current, also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, is slowing down due to ACD impacts, and this is expected to boost planetary warming for 20 years.
Finally, to underscore everything you have just read, a NOAA oceanographer warned during a recent press call that even if humans ceased adding all CO2 to the atmosphere, the amount of CO2 there already is enough to cause the atmosphere to continue to warm for the “next couple decades, to maybe a century.”
The NOAA’s State of the Climate in 2017 report states unequivocally that last year, Earth’s atmosphere saw CO2 levels reach the highest levels “in the modern atmospheric measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years.” Furthermore, CO2 concentrations, methane and nitrous oxide — other impactful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere — also all hit “record highs.”