The Last Time There Was This Much CO2, Trees Grew at the South Pole

It is palpable now. Even the most ardent deniers of human-caused climate disruption can feel the convulsions wracking the planet.

I truly believe this, given that, essentially, we are all of and from the Earth. Deep down inside all of us is the “fight or flight” instinct. Like any other animal, our very core knows when we are in danger, as the converging crises descend ever closer to home, wherever we may find ourselves on the globe.

This anxiety that increases by the day, this curious dread of what our climate-disrupted future will bring, is difficult to bear. Even those who have not already lost homes or loved ones to climate disruption-fueled extreme weather events have to live with the burden of this daily tension.

The signs of our overheated planet abound, and another collection of recent reports and studies shows things are only continuing to accelerate as human-caused climate disruption progresses.

A recently published study showed that Earth’s glaciers are now melting five times more rapidly than they were in the 1960s.

“The glaciers shrinking fastest are in central Europe, the Caucasus region, western Canada, the U.S. Lower 48 states, New Zealand and near the tropics,” lead author Michael Zemp, director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich told Time Magazine. Glaciers in those places are losing an average of more than 1 percent of their mass each year, according to the study. “In these regions, at the current glacier loss rate, the glaciers will not survive the century,” added Zemp.

Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Organization announced that extreme weather events impacted 62 million people across the world last year. In 2018, 35 million people were struck by flooding, and Hurricanes Florence and Michael were just two of 14 “billion-dollar disasters” in 2018 in the U.S. More than 1,600 deaths were linked to heat waves and wildfires in Europe, Japan and the U.S. The report also noted the last four years were the warmest on record.

As an example of this last statistic, another report revealed that Canada is warming at twice the global rate. “We are already seeing the effects of widespread warming in Canada,” Elizabeth Bush, a climate science adviser at Environment Canada, told The Guardian. “It’s clear, the science supports the fact that adapting to climate change is an imperative.”

Another recent report showed that the last time there was this much CO2 in the atmosphere (412 ppm), in the Pliocene Epoch 5.3 to 2.6 million years ago, sea levels were 20 meters higher than they are right now, trees were growing at the South Pole, and average global temperatures were 3 to 4 degrees Centigrade (3°-4° C) warmer, and even 10°C warmer in some areas. NASA echoed the report’s findings.

And if business as usual continues, emissions will only accelerate. The International Energy Agency announced that global carbon emissions set a record in 2018, rising 1.7 percent to a record 33.1 billion tons.

Earth

The impact of runaway emissions is already upon us. Several cities in the northern U.S., such as Buffalo, Cincinnati and Duluth, are already preparing to receive migrants from states like Florida, where residents are beset with increasing flooding, brutal heat waves, more severe and frequent hurricanes, sea level rise, and a worse allergy season. City planners in the aforementioned cities are already preparing by trying to figure out how to create jobs and housing for an influx of new residents.

Indications of the climate disruption refugee crisis are even more glaring in some other countries.

Large numbers of Guatemalan farmers already have to leave their land due to drought, flooding, and increasingly severe extreme weather events.

In low-lying Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of people are already in the process of being displaced from coastal homes, and are moving into poverty-stricken areas of cities that are already unprepared to receive the influx of people. Given that 80 percent of the population of the country already lives in a flood plain, the crisis can only escalate with time as sea level rise continues to accelerate.

Meanwhile, diseases spread by mosquitoes are also set to worsen in our increasingly warm world. A recently published study on the issue shows that over the next three decades, half a billion more people could be at risk of mosquito-delivered diseases.

Other migrations are occurring as well. In Canada’s Yukon, Indigenous elders told the CBC that caribou and moose are moving further north than ever before in order to escape the impacts of climate disruption like warmer summers, lakes and rivers that don’t freeze, and adjusting their migrations to find more food. This has deep impacts on the survival and culture of the area’s Indigenous residents.

In economic news, a researcher for the Federal Reserve Bank recently penned a letter urging central banks to note the financial risks, and possibly an impending financial crisis, brought about by climate disruption. “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts,” read the letter, “climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”

Another report showed that climate disruption is already negatively impacting fruit breeders, and consumers will soon feel the pain of higher prices. “We are seeing industries that may not survive if we don’t find a solution, and we are only just seeing the consequences of climate change,” Thomas Gradziel, of the University of California at Davis, told The Washington Post.

Underscoring all of this, the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway, known as the “Doomsday Vault,” has already been altered by climate disruption impacts. The primary impacts thus far have been flooding around the vault, given how warm temperatures have become across the Arctic. The Doomsday Vault holds nearly one million seeds from around the globe, and functions as a backup in case climate disruption, war, famine, or disease wipes out certain crops. In other words, it’s a backup plan to backup plans. A recent report showed that climate change’s impacts on the seed vault could get worse as snow season shortens, heavier and more frequent rainfalls escalate, and avalanches and mudslides near the vault become more common.

Lastly in this section, researchers recently warned that the Arctic has now entered an “unprecedented state” that is literally threatening the stability of the entire global climate system. Their paper, “Key Indicators of Arctic Climate Change: 1971–2017,” with both American and European climate scientists contributing, warned starkly that changes in the Arctic will continue to have massive and negative impacts around the globe.

“Because the Arctic atmosphere is warming faster than the rest of the world, weather patterns across Europe, North America, and Asia are becoming more persistent, leading to extreme weather conditions,” Jason Box, the lead author of the paper said.

Water

As usual, there continue to be ample examples of the impacts of climate disruption in the watery realms of the planet.

In oceans, most of the sea turtles now being born are female; a crisis in sea turtle sex that is borne from climate disruption. This is due to the dramatically warmer sand temperatures where the eggs are buried. At a current ratio of 116/1 female/male, clearly this trend cannot continue indefinitely if sea turtles are to survive.

An alarming study showed recently that the number of new corals on the Great Barrier Reef has crashed by 89 percent after the mass bleaching events of 2016 and 2017. With coral bleaching events happening nearly annually now across many of the world’s reefs, such as the Great Barrier, we must remember that it takes an average of a decade for them to recover from a bleaching event. This is why some scientists in Australia believe the Great Barrier Reef to be in its “terminal stage.”

The UN recently sounded the alarm that urgent action is needed if Arab states are to avoid a water emergency. Water scarcity and desertification are afflicting the Middle East and North Africa more than any other region on Earth, hence the need for countries there to improve water management. However, the per capita share of fresh water availability there is already just 10 percent of the global average, with agriculture consuming 85 percent of it.

Another recent study has linked shrinking Arctic sea ice to less rain in Central America, adding to the water woes in that region as well.

In Alaska, warming continues apace. The Nenana Ice Classic, a competition where people guess when a tripod atop the frozen Nenana River breaks through the ice each spring, has resulted in a record this year of the earliest river ice breakup. It broke the previous record by nearly one full week.

Meanwhile, the pace of warming and the ensuing change across the Bering Sea is startling scientists there. Phenomena like floods during the winter and record low sea ice are generating great concern among scientists as well as Indigenous populations living there. “The projections were saying we would’ve hit situations similar to what we saw last year, but not for another 40 or 50 years,” Seth Danielson, a physical oceanographer at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, told The Associated Press of the diminishing sea ice.

In fact, people in the northernmost community of the Canadian Yukon, the village of Old Crow, are declaring a climate disruption State of Emergency. The chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in the Yukon, Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm, has stated that his community’s traditional way of life is at stake, including thawing permafrost and rivers and lakes that no longer freeze deeply enough to walk across in the winter, making hunting and fishing difficult and dangerous. He said that declaring the climate emergency is his community’s responsibility to the rest of the planet.

Other signs of the dramatic warming across the Arctic abound. On Denali, North America’s highest mountain (20,310 feet), more than 66 tons of frozen feces left by climbers on the mountain are expected to begin thawing out of the glaciers there as early as this coming summer.

Another study found that tall ice cliffs around Greenland and the Antarctic are beginning to “slump,” behaving like soil and rock in sediment do before they break apart from the land and slide down a slope. Scientists believe the slumping ice cliffs may well be an ominous sign that could lead to more acceleration in global sea level rise, as far more ice is now poised to melt into the seas than previously believed.

In New Zealand, following the third hottest summer on record there, glaciers have been described by scientists as “sad and dirty,” with many of them having disappeared forever. Snow on a glacier protects the ice underneath it from melting, so this is another way scientists measure how rapidly a glacier can melt — if the snow is gone and the blue ice underneath it is directly exposed to the sun, it’s highly prone to melting. “Last year, the vast majority of glaciers had snowlines that were off the top of the mountain, and this year, we had some where we could see snowlines on, but they were very high,” NIWA Environmental Science Institute climate scientist Drew Lorrey told the New Zealand Herald. “On the first day of our survey, we observed 28 of them, and only about six of them had what I would call a snowline.”

Lastly in this section, another study warned that if emissions continue to increase at their current rate, ice will have all but vanished from European Alpine valleys by 2100. The study showed that half of the ice in the Alps’ 4,000 glaciers will be gone by 2050 with only the warming that is already baked into the system from past emissions. The study warned that even if we ceased all emissions at this moment, two-thirds of the ice will still have melted by 2100.

Fire

Washington State, in the traditionally damp and moist Pacific Northwest, has already had 50 wildfires this year. The state normally doesn’t see this number until the end of summer from late August through October, which is normally the peak of wildfire season.

Meanwhile, a deadly wildfire in South Korea has been declared a national emergency.

Air

Record-high temperatures continue to be set globally, especially in the Arctic.

High temperatures in March across the state of Alaska obliterated records. The statewide temperature for the entire month smashed the previous record by a whopping 4°F. Most rivers are melting out early, the town of Deadhorse in northern Alaska was 23 degrees above normal for the entire month of March, and for many days that month the industrial settlement near the Prudhoe Bay oil fields was 30 to 40 degrees above normal. Anchorage saw seven days with a record-high temperature for March, Juneau saw 10, Utquiagvik (formerly Barrow) saw six, as did Yakutat. Warmer temperature anomalies there have now become the norm.

Distressingly, another study revealed that melting permafrost across the Arctic could now be releasing 12 times as much nitrous oxide as previously thought. Nitrous oxide is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and can remain in the atmosphere for 114 years.

Recent research shows that Canada’s Arctic is now the warmest it has been in 10,000 years, and the temperatures are continuing to climb. Duane Froese, a professor at the University of Alberta and a co-author of the recent study on the topic, told the CBC,

“I would guess we’re getting back over 100,000 years since we’ve seen temperatures at least this warm.”

Another study has warned that climate disruption is set to raise Pittsburgh temperatures to the level of those of the southern U.S. states by 2080 … meaning the city of Pennsylvania will feel more like Jonesboro, Arkansas. That means Pittsburgh will be 10°F warmer, with summers 18 percent drier, and winters 45 percent wetter.

Scientists have warned that extreme hemispheric heat waves like that which occurred during 2018 are becoming more common due to climate disruption. They warn that these massive heatwaves will cover wider areas, and with just 2°C of warming (we are currently at 1.1°C) most summers will look like that of 2018. “From May to July, the heat waves affected 22 percent of the agricultural land and populated areas in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, from Canada and the United States to Russia, Japan and South Korea, killing hundreds of people, devastating crops and curtailing power production,” Inside Climate News wrote of the study. “On an average day during those heat waves, 5.2 million square kilometers (about 2 million square miles) were affected by extreme heat, [Martha Vogel, an extreme-temperature researcher with ETH Zürich Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science] said. At its peak extent in July, the affected area was twice as big.”

Another report has warned that warming temperatures across the globe could release into the atmosphere long-frozen radiation — from atomic bombs, Chernobyl and Fukushima. Radioactive particles are very light, and therefore, were transported very long distances across the atmosphere after nuclear detonations or radiological accidents. When the radioactive particles fall as snow, they can be stored in ice fields and glaciers for decades. If climate disruption melts the ice, the radiation is washed downstream and spreads throughout ecosystems.

Caroline Clason, a lecturer in physical geography at the University of Plymouth affiliated with the study, said an example of how this is already playing out came from Sweden, when wild boar there were found to have 10 times the levels of normal radiation in 2017. The radiation is likely to have come from Chernobyl, although radiation from all of these nuclear accidents is capable of spreading globally.

Denial and Reality

While this certainly comes as no surprise, yet another report came out highlighting how oil and gas giants are spending millions of dollars in their ongoing effort to lobby their paid politicians to block policies aimed at addressing climate disruption. The giant fossil fuel companies are spending an average of $200 million annually to weaken and/or oppose legislation aimed at addressing climate disruption. BP led the way in spending with $53 million, followed by Shell ($49 million), ExxonMobil ($41 million), Chevron and Total ($29 million each).

Meanwhile, as per usual, President Donald Trump has signed executive orders to speed up oil and gas pipeline projects, making it harder for states to block construction projects due to environmental concerns.

Yet, as the White House is actively denying climate disruption and working as hard as it can to promote fossil fuel use, the U.S. military is planning and preparing for dealing with the vast impacts of ongoing climate disruption. “People are acting on climate not for political reasons, but [because] it really affects their mission,” Jon Powers, an Iraq War veteran who served as the federal chief sustainability officer who is now president and chief executive of the investment firm CleanCapital, told The Washington Post. “With the military, it’s now ingrained in the culture and mission there, which I think is the biggest change over the last 10 years.”

Meanwhile, a federal climate disruption study panel and advisory group that was disbanded by the Trump administration due to it not having enough members “from industry,” recently released a report warning that the muddled political response to very clear climate science is putting Americans at risk.

“We were concerned that the federal government is missing an opportunity to get better information into the hands of those who prepare for what we have already unleashed,” Richard Moss, a visiting scientist at Columbia University, who previously chaired the federal panel and is a member of the group who released the report, told The Guardian. “We’re only just starting to see the effects of climate change, it’s only going to get much worse. But we haven’t yet rearranged our daily affairs to adapt to science we have.”

With each passing month, the impacts of runaway climate disruption continue to intensify. And as they do, so must our awareness of what is happening across the planet, and our resolve to take action to address it – especially since most governments around the world are failing to meet these challenges.