Part of the Series
Climate Disruption Dispatches
Some people are in an outright panic. Some are in full-blown denial. Indeed, human responses to runaway climate disruption are spanning the spectrum. From profiteers plugging books containing “solutions” to geoengineering attempts like this one “blocking out the sun,” many are understandably anxious to move forward with a plan.
However, this is also an important time to pause, take some deep breaths, and reconnect with the Earth to listen for each of our personal callings as to how to be — and then, what to do — during this time of crisis. Fear and panic are not going to take us where we need or want to go.
I see fear responses resulting from the fact that the gravity of our situation is sinking in now to larger swaths of the general population.
2018 was the fourth warmest year ever recorded, with the only warmer years being 2015, 2016 and 2017.
On top of that, the Met Office reported that we are currently in the middle of what is likely to be the warmest decade since record keeping began, so expect more “record warmest” years in the near future.
A recent report warned that if current climate disruption trends continue (and there is no reason to believe they will lessen) the Himalayas could lose most of their glaciers by 2100 as they warm up by 8 degrees Fahrenheit (8°F). This would bring radical disruptions to food and water supplies for upwards of 1.5 billion people, in addition to a mass migration crisis.
On that note, as 2 billion people around the globe rely on groundwater aquifers for their freshwater, another study showed that climate disruption has placed nearly half of the groundwater of Earth in danger. Climate disruption is shifting rainfall and will make it harder for 44 percent of Earth’s aquifers to recharge.
We are living in an era of abrupt climate disruption: self-reinforcing feedback loops are accelerating as well as growing in number. More evidence of this comes in the form of sea level rise. Another report warned that Earth today looks much as it did 115,000 years ago temperature-wise: All we are missing now is the 20-30 feet of sea level rise that resulted the last time it was this warm.
But in terms of sea level rise, Earth is in the process of catching up. Another recent study revealed a massive cavity growing underneath West Antarctica that covers two-thirds the footprint of Manhattan and is 300 meters tall. The Thwaites Glacier, where the cavity is located, alone would add two feet to global sea levels if it melts. Moreover, the Thwaites Glacier acts as a buttress to neighboring glaciers and icefields. So, if it melts out, it could likely set in motion a catastrophic amount of ice loss, contributing significantly to global sea level rise. “For global sea-level change in the next century, this Thwaites Glacier is almost the entire story,” New York University geoscientist David Holland told The Washington Post last year.
Further distress comes in the form of a report warning of the multifaceted environmental crisis we are facing: topsoil erosion, ocean acidification, climate disruption, logging of forests, and the mass loss of species are converging to destabilize society and the global economy. The report warns that policymakers are not grasping the seriousness of what is being done to the planet. It points out that topsoil is being lost 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replenished by natural processes, and 30 percent of the planet’s arable land has become unproductive due to erosion since just the mid-20th century. The report states that 95 percent of Earth’s land areas could become degraded by 2050.
A recent UN study already warned that the world’s food supply is already under severe threat from the ongoing and catastrophic loss of biodiversity. “Around the world, the library of life that has evolved over billions of years – our biodiversity – is being destroyed, poisoned, polluted, invaded, fragmented, plundered, drained and burned at a rate not seen in human history,” Ireland’s president, Michael Higgins, said at a biodiversity conference in Dublin, as reported by The Guardian. “If we were coal miners we’d be up to our waists in dead canaries.”
Alarmingly, an analysis published in the Biological Conservation scientific journal reports that plummeting insect numbers globally could lead to the collapse of nature. “Our work reveals dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40 percent of the world’s insect species over the next few decades,” reads the abstract of the study. It warns that insects could vanish within a century, and the researchers remind us that insects are “essential” for the proper functioning of all of Earth’s ecosystems, as they are food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients. Without insects, humans would not survive.
During 2018, different types of climate-disruption-fueled extreme weather events, including hurricanes and wildfires, cost the U.S. 247 lives and nearly $100 billion in damages.
Another report warned of several major cities that could literally become unlivable by 2100 due to climate disruption. Flooding and sea level rise will almost certainly render Miami, New Orleans and Lagos uninhabitable, while Dhaka, in Bangladesh, will literally be overrun with refugees from the coast. Heat will make cities like Dubai, Chicago and New Delhi vulnerable to deadly heat waves that kill growing numbers of vulnerable populations like the elderly and disabled.
A recent study showed that as the climate continues to warm, plants are absorbing less CO2. Hence, their natural ability to mitigate climate disruption by pulling CO2 from the atmosphere is being degraded.
A study published recently in the journal Nature reveals how an increase in climate disruption-fueled hot and dry periods will dry out the Earth, causing fluctuations in soil moisture that change how much excess carbon the soil can absorb from the atmosphere. Hence, extreme weather events like drought can worsen climate disruption, hence another feedback loop has been identified.
On that note, sudden disruptions in food production on both land and sea, “food shocks,” have already become far more frequent over the last 50 years, a trend that is expected to increase in the coming years, according to another study. Droughts, floods, other extreme weather events, and conflicts, all fueled by climate disruption, are the culprits.
Another study showed that climate-disruption-fueled warmer temperatures could even increase the number of babies born with congenital heart defects.
Damage to the natural world continues apace. Recent research revealed that seabirds on a British island have already declined 80 percent due to climate disruption and overfishing, which has cut off their food source.
An alarming late February report in Scientific American warned that the oceans are running out of breath. Widespread declines in marine oxygen levels, driven largely by climate disruption, are stressing sensitive species, and the trend is only expected to continue. Oxygen levels in some tropical regions have dropped by a shocking 40 percent in just the last half century.
Meanwhile, corals continue their demise as climate disruption-warming waters, coupled with human impacts, continue apace. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which recently saw floodwaters draining across the reef “smothering” the coral, according to scientists, received what some are referring to as a “nail in the coffin” of its existence. Shortly after that, the Australian government gave the green light to dumping one million tons of sludge across the world’s largest coral reef.
Meanwhile, many oceanic species are disappearing.
In Washington State, at least two species of salmon in the Puget Sound region may well be nearing the end of their ability to naturally reproduce. Warming waters are, not surprisingly, the driving force behind the problem.
Out on the Pacific Coast, a mass die-off of starfish has been tied directly to climate disruption, as the largest disease epidemic ever documented in a wild marine species that has been exacerbated by climate disruption is killing them off.
Another issue impacting the Pacific Northwest is the fact that as winter snowpacks continue to diminish, alpine lakes are drying up, and so are the frogs and tadpoles that rely on them. In fact, one of the frog species is now at risk of going extinct by 2080, according to the study investigating the matter.
For humans, the impacts continue to present themselves.
In Bangladesh, as the coastline is battered by more extreme storms as well as being submerged by rising seas, a migration crisis is underway as people flee toward already grossly overcrowded urban areas further inland.
Meanwhile, the rapidly changing climate, drought, and increasingly intense dust storms are quickly turning Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan regions into a dust bowl.
Water issues are continuing to mount in the U.S. as well. A recent study showed that from 1982-2016, snowpack, which millions of us rely on for water for drinking and irrigation, has decreased by 41 percent in some regions of the country, while the snow season has shortened by 34 days on average in other areas.
In early February, 3,000 people were forced to flee forest wildfires in New Zealand’s south island as heat and dry conditions persisted there.
Meanwhile, in Australia extreme record heat and drought persisted across much of the country, along with severe flooding and fires. Thousands of cattle died from the heat, and crops across many areas were lost.
In the U.K., a wildfire described as “apocalyptic” by one witness occurred in Marsden, England, as that country broke the record for its warmest winter day. On the same day, another wildfire raged in Edinburgh, Scotland. Firefighters told the BBC the Marsden fire was one of the largest fires they’d “ever had to deal with.”
Wildfires also burned through the U.K.’s Ashdown Forest, best known as the setting of A.A. Milne’s children’s classic, Winnie the Pooh, in which the forest is referred to as the “Hundred Acre Wood.”
Another alarming report about increasing levels of methane in the atmosphere has been released by the American Geophysical Union. The report showed that sharp rises in methane have been recorded over the last four years, enough so that it is yet another factor showing that the now laughable goal of keeping planetary temperatures below the 2°C threshold goal set by the Paris agreement is but a pipe dream.
“What we are now witnessing is extremely worrying,” one of the paper’s lead authors, Euan Nisbet of Royal Holloway, University of London, told The Guardian. “It is particularly alarming because we are still not sure why atmospheric methane levels are rising across the planet.”
One place they could look for clues would be the Arctic, where early spring rains are thawing permafrost faster, which is releasing more methane than ever, according to another study.
Meanwhile, Australia baked amidst a record heatwave.
The city of Adelaide in the south broke its all-time heat record, reaching 46.6°C, amid more than a dozen other high temperature records that brought animal culls and fish deaths.
Temperatures even neared a staggering 50°C in other towns, as homeless people and other vulnerable sectors of the population struggled to cope with the heat.
As the extreme temperatures there persisted, the town of Noona set a record minimum temperature (the low temperature for that 24-hour period) of 35.9°C, another Australian heat record.
When all was said and done, January was the hottest month on record for the entire country, as the average temperatures exceeded 30°C.
Troublingly, Svalbard, Norway, where the global seed vault is located, received grim news in the form of a new climate report that warned the area could become 10°C warmer in the coming decades. The report also warned of thawing permafrost and heavy rainfalls to come that will trigger landslides and coastal erosion. The global seed vault was created in order to preserve a large variety of plant seeds that are “spare” copies of seeds held in gene banks around the world. By doing so, it is an attempt to secure their existence against the loss of seeds in other seed banks during a global crisis.
Another study warned that climate disruption is on a track to cause New York to feel like Arkansas by 2080. The study warned that at the current trajectory of warming, Chicago could feel more like Kansas City, and San Francisco could have a climate more like Southern California.
Lastly in this section, another recent study warned that if current fossil fuel emissions continue on the trajectory they are on, we could live in a world without clouds in roughly 100 years, in which case global temperatures would be 8°C warmer than they are today. If this should come to pass, it would essentially mean the end of most, if not all, complex life on Earth.
Denial and Reality
Plenty of denial fodder this month, as usual. Donald Trump provided a deafening silence in his State of the Union Address by not speaking a word about the global climate disruption crisis. Instead, he was doing things like tweeting this gibberish:
“In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming?[sic] Please come back fast, we need you!”
Trump also went on to pick John Christy, a climate disruption skeptic, to be on the advisory board of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Christy once said that scientists believed the Earth was flat.
Meanwhile, the White House has set up a panel whose job is to “reassess” federal climate disruption studies and “counter” their conclusions.
While many states are actively teaching and expanding their school curricula to properly teach about climate disruption, things aren’t as good in other states where several are now introducing bills that could interfere with teachers using scientifically founded theories about human-caused climate disruption in school science curricula. This is happening in South Dakota, Arizona, Virginia, Maine and Montana.
Yet, in direct contrast to this denialism, corporate America is all too aware of the coming chaos from climate disruption.
“Bank of America Corp. worries flooded homeowners will default on their mortgages,” Bloomberg reported. “The Walt Disney Co. is concerned its theme parks will get too hot for vacationers, while AT&T Inc. fears hurricanes and wildfires may knock out its cell towers. The Coca-Cola Co. wonders if there will still be enough water to make Coke.
As the Trump administration rolls back rules meant to curb global warming, new disclosures show that the country’s largest companies are already bracing for its effects. The documents reveal how widely climate change is expected to cascade through the economy — disrupting supply chains, disabling operations and driving away customers, but also offering new ways to make money.”
Additionally, U.S. Intelligence officials have warned that human-caused climate disruption is a worldwide threat.
A recent poll that studied public opinion in 26 countries showed that in 13 of them people felt that climate disruption was the number one security threat.
In January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that its symbolic “doomsday clock” is set at two minutes to midnight, the same as it was for last year. This means that due to the ongoing threat of nuclear war and unchecked climate disruption, the world is as close to catastrophe as it was in 1953 during the early and volatile stages of the Cold War.
“We are like passengers on the Titanic, ignoring the iceberg ahead, enjoying the fine food and music,” former California governor Jerry Brown, who is now the Bulletin’s executive chairman, told The Guardian.
Thankfully, advocacy groups are scaling up their outreach and public education efforts in an attempt to ensure more people confront the reality of climate disruption. If you only have a minute to get an idea of how rapidly the planet is now warming, Yale Environment 360 has created this excellent short video to view.
Lastly, to underscore everything covered in this month’s dispatch, a new study showed that humans are injecting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate nine to 10 times higher than when it was emitted during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) global warming event 56 million years ago, which acidified the oceans and drove large numbers of marine species to extinction.
In fewer than five generations from now (as soon as 2159), the total amount of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere could reach what it was during the PETM.
“Given a business-as-usual assumption for the future, the rates of carbon release that are happening today are really unprecedented, even in the context of an event like the PETM,” Gabriel Bowen, a geophysicist at the University of Utah told the American Geophysical Union (AGU) of the study. “We don’t have much in the way of geologic examples to draw from in understanding how the world responds to that kind of perturbation.”
Larisa DeSantis, a paleontologist at Vanderbilt University told the AGU of the study,
“The fact that we could reach warming equivalent to the PETM very quickly, within the next few hundred years, is terrifying.”
To underscore how far along we already are, we conclude with these figures from the CO2.Earth website:
The January 2018 temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 0.71°C (1.28°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F). January 2018 marks the 42nd consecutive January (since 1977) and the 397th consecutive month (since January 1985) with temperatures at least nominally above the 20th century average. This was the fifth highest temperature for January in the 1880–2018 record. The last four years (2015–2018) rank among the five highest Januarys on record. The global land and ocean temperature during January has increased at an average rate of +0.07°C (+0.13°F) per decade since 1880; however, the average rate of increase is twice as great since 1975.
Meanwhile, on February 9, the highest daily average atmospheric CO2 concentration measurement ever recorded by the Mauna Loa Observatory occurred when we reached 414.27 ppm. The observatory is the world’s primary benchmark site for measuring CO2.
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