Nature Bats Last – How Far We’ve Come
See How Far We’ve Come (Part 3 of 3)
by Guy McPerson
Updated most recently, likely for the final time, 2 August 2016.
See How Far We’ve Come
Never mind that American naturalist George Perkins Marsh predicted anthropogenic climate change as a result of burning fossil fuels in 1847. Never mind the warning issued by filmmaker Frank Capra in 1958 or the one issued by U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson in February 1965 or the one issued by Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich in his 1973 article in Le Monde: “the impact of industrially packaged quanta of energy on the social environment tends to be degrading, exhausting, and enslaving, and these effects come into play even before those which threaten the pollution of the physical environment and the extinction of the (human) race.” Never mind the warning and plug for geo-engineering issued by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee in 1965: “The climate changes that may be produced by the increased CO2 content could be deleterious from the point of view of human beings. The possibilities of deliberately bringing about countervailing climatic changes therefore need to be thoroughly explored.” Never mind the warning from Walter Cronkite on the nightly news in 1980. Never mind the 1986 warning from NASA’s Robert Watson of “human misery in a few decades” and eventual human extinction as a result of climate change. Never mind the arguments from policy advisers to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, as report in the 3 December 2015 issue of Washington Post: “Global warming will have ‘profound consequences,’ one document warns, and the United States ‘cannot wait’ until all scientific questions are resolved before taking action.” Never mind the warning from the United Nations in 1989: “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.” Never mind the “regime shift” that occurred in the 1980s, as reported in a 23 November 2015 paper in Global Change Biology. Never mind that climate risks have been underestimated for the last 20 Years, or that the IPCC’s efforts have failed miserably, or that the IPCC uses a faulty, conservative approach, as pointed out in the September 2014 issue of American Meteorological Society (David Wasdell’s scathing indictment of the vaunted Fifth Assessment is archived here). After all, climate scientist Kevin Anderson tells us what I’ve known for years: politicians and the scientists writing official reports on climate change are lying, and we have less time than most people can imagine. (Consider the minor example of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “underestimating” by 100 to 1,000 times the methane release associated with hydro-fracturing to extract natural gas, as reported in the 14 April 2014 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.) Never mind James Hansen’s 10-year warning in 2006. Never mind David Wasdell pointing out in 2008 that we must have a period of negative radiative forcing merely to end up with a stable, non-catastrophic climate system. Never mind that even the Atlantic is displaying “five charts about climate change that should have you very, very worried.” Never mind that atmospheric carbon dioxide is affecting satellites. Never mind that even the occasional economic analyst is telling climate scientists to be persuasive, be brave, and be arrested. Never mind that Peruvian ice requiring 1,600 years to accumulate has melted in the last 25 years, according to a paper in the 4 April 2013 issue of Science. And never mind that summer warming in the interior of large continents in the northern hemisphere has outstripped model predictions in racing to 6-7 C since the last Glacial Maximum, according to a paper that tallies temperature rise in China’s interior in the 15 May 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And finally, never mind that the IPCC’s projections have been revealed as too conservative time after time, including low-balling the impact of emissions, as pointed out in the 9 March 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change. On 24 March 2014, renowned climate scientist Michael Mann commented on climate change as reported in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment: “It’s not far-off in the future and it’s not exotic creatures — it’s us and now.” On 29 July 2015, Michael Mann accepted the work of James Hansen and colleagues and concluded climate change had gone exponential at the 31:20 mark of this interview. He continues with a mix of fantasy-inspired hope and very conservative reality, but he agrees at the 36:30 mark that climate change has hit the “tipping point” indicating exponential change. As the Fifth Assessment admits, climate change has already left its mark “on all continents and across the oceans.”
Climate-change projections have vastly underestimated the role that clouds play, meaning future warming could be far worse than is currently projected, according to research published in the 8 April 2016 edition of Science. According to the paper’s abstract: “Global climate model (GCM) estimates of the equilibrium global mean surface temperature response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2, measured by the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), range from 2.0° to 4.6°C. Clouds are among the leading causes of this uncertainty. Here we show that the ECS can be up to 1.3°C higher in simulations where mixed-phase clouds consisting of ice crystals and supercooled liquid droplets are constrained by global satellite observations. The higher ECS estimates are directly linked to a weakened cloud-phase feedback arising from a decreased cloud glaciation rate in a warmer climate.”
Never mind all that: Future temperatures likely will be at the higher end of the projected range because the forecasts are all too conservative and also because climate negotiations won’t avert catastrophe. In addition, according to a paper in the 29 June 2016 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, climate sensitivity increases as the planet warms. Specifically, according to the paper’s abstract: “Future global warming from anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions will depend on climate feedbacks, the effect of which is expressed by climate sensitivity … We obtain constrained estimates of CO2 and climate sensitivity before and during the PETM and of the PETM carbon input amount and nature. Sensitivity increased … into the PETM.”
Through late March 2013, global oceans have risen approximately ten millimeters per year during the last two years. This rate of rise is over three times the rate of sea level rise during the time of satellite-based observations from 1993 to the present. Ocean temperatures are rising, and have been impacting global fisheries for four decades, according to the 16 May 2013 issue of Nature. According to the World Meteorological Organization’s July 2014 report, the world is nearly five times as prone to disaster as it was 40 years ago. The number and economic cost of weather-related disasters has increased during each of the last four decades.
Actually, catastrophe is already here, although it’s not widely distributed in the United States. Well, not yet, even though the continental U.S. experienced its highest temperature ever in 2012, shattering the 1998 record by a full degree Fahrenheit. But the east coast of North America experienced its hottest water temperatures all the way to the bottom of the ocean. The epic dust bowl of 2012 grew and grew and grew all summer long. As pointed out in the March 2004 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, disappearing sea ice is expectedly contributing to the drying of the western United States (more definitive research on the topic appeared in the December 2005 issue of Earth Interactions). Equally expectedly, the drought arrived 40 years early.
Researchers compared drought predictions for the second half of the 21st century with reconstructions of drought conditions dating back to the 11th century and found that the Central Plains and Southwest U.S. could experience the driest conditions in nearly a millennium. The results were published 12 February 2016 in Science Advances. The abstract concludes: “Notably, future drought risk will likely exceed even the driest centuries of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (1100-1300 CE) in both moderate (RCP 4.5) and high (RCP 8.5) future emissions scenarios, leading to drought conditions without precedent during the last millennium.”
Even James Hansen and Makiko Sato are asking whether the loss of ice on Greenland has gone exponential (while ridiculously calling for a carbon tax to “fix” the “problem”), and the tentative answer is not promising, based on very recent data, including a nearly five-fold increase in melting of Greenland’s ice since the 1990s and a stunning melting of 98 percent of Greenland’s ice surface between 8 and 15 July 2012. The explanation for this astonishing event comes from a paper published in the 10 June 2014 issue of the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences: “[T]he same mechanism drove two widespread melt events that occurred over 100 years apart, in 1889 and 2012. We found that black carbon from forest fires and rising temperatures combined to cause both of these events.” Further elucidation is provided in the 14 June 2014 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. The mainstream media are finally taking notice, with the 18 July 2013 issue of Washington Post reporting the ninth highest April snow cover in the northern hemisphere giving way to the third lowest snow cover on record the following month (relevant records date to 1967, and the article is headlined, “Snow and Arctic sea ice extent plummet suddenly as globe bakes”). Even the 5 August 2015 issue of Rolling Stone includes an article headlined, “The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here.” According to a paper in the 9 July 2016 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, the Greenland Ice Sheet lost one trillion tons of water due to melt during the four-year period from 2011 through 2014. That’s about double the typical rate of loss during the 1990s through mid-2000s. Subsequently, Greenland’s contribution to sea-level rise also doubled, meaning that Greenland alone contributed 0.75 mm of sea-level rise every year during the 2011 to 2014 period.
On a particularly dire note for humanity, climate change
causes early death of 400,000 people each year
causes early death of five million people each year. Adding to the misery are interactions between various aspects of environmental decay. For example, warming in the Arctic is causing the release of toxic chemicals long trapped in the region’s snow, ice, ocean and soil, according to research published in the 24 July 2011 issue of Nature Climate Change.
Greenhouse-gas emissions keep rising, and keep setting records. According to 10 June 2013 report by the International Energy Agency, the horrific trend continued in 2012, when carbon dioxide emissions set a record for the fifth consecutive year. The trend puts disaster in the cross-hairs, with the ever-conservative International Energy Agency claiming we’re headed for a temperature in excess of 5 C. The U.S. State of the Climate in 2013, published 17 July 2014 as a supplement to the July 2014 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, concludes:
Ocean surface continues to warm
Sea levels reach a record high
Glaciers retreat for the 24th consecutive year
Greenhouse gases continue to climb
The planet’s surface remains near its warmest
Warm days are up, cool nights are down
Completely contrary to the popular contrarian myth, global warming has accelerated, with more overall global warming in the 15 years up to March 2013 than the prior 15 years. While adhering to the impossible-to-achieve and nonsensical political target of 2 C, a paper in the 3 July 2015 issue of Science points out that “as far down as 700 metres the water temperatures have risen, which has forced some species to migrate.” A related paper in the 9 July 2015 issue of Science found a majority of the heating in the ocean after 2003 was occurring in the Western Pacific and the Indian Oceans 100 to 300 meters below the surface. Seventeen months later, Science finally catches up in their 22 August 2014 issue. This warming has resulted in about 90% of overall global warming going into heating the oceans, and the oceans have been warming dramatically, according to a paper published in the March 2013 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. A paper in the 20 March 2014 issue of Environmental Research Letters points out that surface temperatures poorly measure global warming. Even Slate magazine figured it out by 5 November 2013, and The Guardian‘s headline from 13 November 2013 announces, “Global warming since 1997 more than twice as fast as previously estimated, new study shows.” About 30% of the ocean warming over the past decade has occurred in the deeper oceans below 700 meters, which is unprecedented over at least the past half century. According to a paper in the 1 November 2013 issue of Science, the rate of warming of the Pacific Ocean during the last 60 years is 15 times faster than at any time during the last 10,000 years. By the end of 2013, the fourth-hottest year on record, the deep oceans were warming particularly rapidly and NASA and NOAA reported no pause in the long-term warming trend. “In 2013 ocean warming rapidly escalated, rising to a rate in excess of 12 Hiroshima bombs per second — over three times the recent trend.” When the heat going into the ocean begins to influence land-surface temperatures, “rapid warming is expected,” according to a paper published 9 February 2014 in Nature Climate Change. According to James Wight, writing for Skeptical Science on 12 March 2014, “Earth is gaining heat faster than ever.” A paper published in the 18 January 2016 online edition of Nature Climate Change found that “more than 90 percent of the heat trapped by greenhouse gas pollution since the 1970s has wound up in the oceans, and … a little more than a third of that seafaring heat has worked its way down to depths greater than 2,300 feet (700 meters).” The bottom line from the paper’s abstract: “nearly half of the industrial-era increases in global OHC [Ocean Heat Content] have occurred in recent decades, with over a third of the accumulated heat occurring below 700 m and steadily rising.” Even land-surface records do not reveal a hiatus in warming, as reported in the 3 June 2015 issue of Science. A paper in the 20 June 2016 issue of Nature Climate Change concludes that the so-called slowdown in global warming during the early 2000s is attributable to two factors, a negative phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and also increased aerosols from Chinese industrial activity. The latter is the significant contribution of this study, and it demonstrates the two-sided coin associated with industrial activity. Specifically, the greenhouse gases that serve as heat blankets over Earth are accompanied by aerosols, especially those associated with burning dirty coal, which reflect incoming sunlight. The latter phenomenon has been largely understudied and incorrectly viewed as relatively unimportant.
Coincident with profound ocean warming, the death spiral of Arctic sea ice is well under way, as shown in the video below. As reported in the 22 February 2014 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, sea-surface temperatures have increased 0.5 to 1.5 C during the last decade. “The seven lowest September sea ice extents in the satellite record have all occurred in the past seven years.”
In the category of myth busting comes recent research published in the August 2013 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Contrary to the notion that changing solar radiation is responsible for rising global temperature, the amount of solar radiation passing through Earth’s atmosphere and reaching the ground globally peaked in the 1930s, substantially decreased from the 1940s to the 1970s, and changed little after that. Indeed, the current solar activity cycle is the weakest in a century. In addition, according to a paper in the 22 December 2013 issue of Nature GeoScience, climate change has not been strongly influenced by variations in heat from the sun.
Global loss of sea ice matches the trend in the Arctic. It’s down, down, and down some more, with the five lowest values on record all happening in the last seven years (through 2012). As reported in a June 2013 issue of Science, the Antarctic’s ice shelves are melting from below. When interviewed for the associated article in the 13 June 2013 issue of National Geographic, scientists expressed surprise at the rate of change. Color me shocked. Three months later, the 13 September 2013 issue of Science contains another surprise for mainstream scientists: The Pine Island Glacier is melting from below as a result of warming seawater. And four months after that dire assessment, the massive glacier was melting irreversibly, according to a paper in the 12 January 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change (Robert Scribbler provides an overview of the latter phenomenon).
Earth may well be headed for an ocean nearly devoid of life. All life on Earth arose from the ocean. As the ocean goes, so do we. According to Robert Scribbler on 28 August 2015, shades of a Canfield ocean induced by hydrogen sulfide in “odd-smelling, purple-colored waves appearing along the Oregon coastline are a sign that it may be starting to happen.” Scribbler quotes Peter Ward’s book, Under a Green Sky:
Finally we look out on the surface of the great sea itself, and as far as the eye can see there is a mirrored flatness, an ocean without whitecaps. Yet that is not the biggest surprise. From shore to the horizon, there is but an unending purple colour – a vast, flat, oily purple, not looking at all like water, not looking anything of our world. No fish break its surface, no birds or any other kind of flying creatures dip down looking for food. The purple colour comes from vast concentrations of floating bacteria, for the oceans of Earth have all become covered with a hundred-foot-thick [30m] veneer of purple and green bacterial soup.
The 28 August 2015 edition of Beach Connection attributes the purple waves to an abundance of a jellyfish-like creature called a salp. The jury is still out.
Then See Where We’re Going
The climate situation is much worse than I’ve led you to believe, and is accelerating far more rapidly than accounted for by models. Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges, in a press release dated 6 June 2013, potentially lethal heat waves on the near horizon. Piling on a month later, the World Meteorological Organization pointed out that Earth experienced unprecedented recorded climate extremes during the decade 2001-2010, contributing to more than a 2,000 percent increase in heat-related deaths. Even the United States federal governments admits, in a report dated 4 April 2016, that climate change is making Americans sick. Specifically, the report concludes that “global warming will make the air dirtier, water more contaminated and food more tainted. It warned of diseases such as those spread by ticks and mosquitoes, longer allergy seasons, and thousands of heat wave deaths. Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy said if that’s not enough, climate change affects people’s mental health, too.”
On the topic of the spread of deadly disease, a paper in the 18 January 2016 online issue of Trends in Parasitology includes the following lines in the abstract: “Intensification of food production has the potential to drive increased disease prevalence in food plants and animals. Microsporidia are diversely distributed, opportunistic, and density-dependent parasites infecting hosts from almost all known animal taxa. They are frequent in highly managed aquatic and terrestrial hosts, many of which are vulnerable to epizootics, and all of which are crucial for the stability of the animal–human food chain. Mass rearing and changes in global climate may exacerbate disease and more efficient transmission of parasites …. strong evidence exists for an increasing prevalence of microsporidiosis in animals and humans, and for sharing of pathogens across hosts and biomes.”
A paper in the 10 June 2016 issue of Science Advances points out that the effects of climate change in one place can radiate all over the world. The abstract of the paper concludes: “Since 2001, the economic connectivity has augmented in such a way as to facilitate the cascading of production loss. The influence of this structural change has dominated over the effect of the comparably weak climate warming during this decade. Thus, particularly under future warming, the intensification of international trade has the potential to amplify climate losses if no adaptation measures are taken.”
Although climate change’s heat — not cold — is the real killer, according to research published in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Economic Literature, swings in temperature may be even more lethal than high temperatures. Specifically, research published in the 29 January 2014 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London indicates insects are particularly vulnerable to temperature swings.
Ice sheet loss continues to increase at both poles, and warming of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is twice the earlier scientific estimate. Arctic ice at all-time low, half that of 1980, and the Arctic lost enough sea ice to cover Canada and Alaska in 2012 alone. In short, summer ice in the Arctic is nearly gone. Furthermore, the Arctic could well be free of ice by summer 2015, an event that last occurred at least about 2.6 million years ago, approximately coincident with the appearance of the genus Homo on Earth. Among the consequences of declining Arctic ice is extremes in cold weather in northern continents (thus illustrating why “climate change” is a better term than “global warming”). In a turn surprising only to mainstream climate scientists, Greenland ice is melting rapidly.
The Eemian interglacial period that began some 125,000 years ago is often used as a model for contemporary climate change. However, as pointed out in the 5 June 2012 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, the Eemian differed in essential details from modern climatic conditions. The Eemian is a poor analog for contemporary climate change, notably with respect to the rapid, ongoing disappearance of summer ice in the Arctic.
Even the conservative International Energy Agency has thrown in the towel, concluding that “renewable” energy is not keeping up with the old, dirty standard sources. As a result, the International Energy Agency report dated 17 April 2013 indicates the development of low-carbon energy is progressing too slowly to limit global warming.
The Arctic isn’t Vegas — what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic — it’s the planet’s air conditioner. In fact, as pointed out 10 June 2013 by research scientist Charles Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory: “Climate change is already happening in the Arctic, faster than its ecosystems can adapt. Looking at the Arctic is like looking at the canary in the coal mine for the entire Earth system.” In addition, “average summer temperatures in the Canadian Arctic are now at the highest they’ve been for approaching 50,000 years” (and perhaps up to 120,000 years) according to a paper published online 23 October 2013 in Geophysical Research Letters. Regional warming is accelerating because the Arctic is rapidly losing ice, according to a paper published in the October 2014 issue of The Open Atmospheric Science Journal. “Barrow, the most northerly community in Alaska, observed a warming of 1.51°C for the time period of 1921-2012. This represents about twice the global value, and is in agreement with the well-known polar amplification. For the time period of 1979-2012, … a mean annual temperature increase of 2.7°C is found, an accelerated increase of warming over the prior decades. … The large amount of open water off the northern coast of Alaska in autumn was accompanied by an increase of the October temperature at Barrow by a very substantial 7.2°C over the 34 year time period.”
On the topic of rapidity of change, a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters points out that rates of projected climate change dramatically exceed past rates of climatic niche evolution among vertebrate species. In other words, vertebrates cannot evolve or adapt rapidly enough to keep up with ongoing and projected changes in climate. Furthermore, microbes in soil — organisms that exert enormous influence over our planet’s carbon cycle — may not be as adaptable to climate change as most scientists have presumed, according to a paper published 2 March 2016 in PLOS One: “This study capitalized on a long-term reciprocal soil transplant experiment to examine the response of dryland soils to climate change. The two transplant sites were separated by 500 m of elevation on the same mountain slope in eastern Washington state, USA, and had similar plant species and soil types. We resampled the original 1994 soil transplants and controls, measuring CO2 production, temperature response, enzyme activity, and bacterial community structure after 17 years.” The bottom line, according to a write-up at Phys.org: “The scientists found less adaptability than they expected, even after 17 years. While the microbial make-up of the samples did not change much at all, the microbes in both sets of transplanted soils retained many of the traits they had in their “native” climate, including to a large degree their original rate of respiration.” In other words, even the smallest of organisms are not able to keep up with changes in climate. Rather, biological activity in soils is relatively constant in the face of large rapid changes in climate.
How critical is Arctic ice? Whereas nearly 80 calories are required to melt a gram of ice at 0 C, adding 80 calories to the same gram of water at 0 C increases its temperature to 80 C. Anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions add more than 2.5 trillion calories to Earth’s surface every hour (ca. 3 watts per square meter, continuously).
Interactions among feedbacks produce non-linear results. The sudden, cascading nature of non-linearities is explained well in a paper published in the 11 November 2015 issue of Interface. Interactions among feedbacks are particularly obvious in the Arctic. For example, as reported in the 5 May 2014 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, “further reductions in seasonal ice cover in the future will result in larger waves, which in turn provide a mechanism to break up sea ice and accelerate ice retreat.” Another example in the region comes from the 10 September 2015 issue of Geophysical Research Letters with a paper titled, “Rising methane emissions from northern wetlands associated with sea ice decline.” As is clear from the title, the paper demonstrates “that rising wetland methane emissions are associated with sea ice retreat.” More evidence of these types of interactions is on the rise. A paper in the 5 October 2015 issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A takes the average of two conservative warming scenarios offered by the IPCC and concludes frozen soil carbon — found primarily in the form of methane — responds rapidly to warming. Specifically, “for every one degree Celsius of global warming, the amount of permafrost carbon that enters the atmosphere is equivalent to 1.5 years of global carbon dioxide emissions.” Yet another example of interactions between self-reinforcing feedback loops was reported in the 29 October 2015 issue of Scientific Reports. In this case, tundra fires were blamed for thawing permafrost. More fires means more carbon in the atmosphere. Ditto for methane release from thawing permafrost. So, more fires means more methane release from thawing permafrost, which creates enhanced conditions for more and larger fires. A paper published in the 10 November 2015 online issue of Scientific Reports provides an example between formation of sea ice and methane release: “Arctic amplification of global warming has led to increased summer sea ice retreat, which influences gas exchange between the Arctic Ocean and the atmosphere where sea ice previously acted as a physical barrier. Indeed, recently observed enhanced atmospheric methane concentrations in Arctic regions with fractional sea-ice cover point to unexpected feedbacks in cycling of methane.” A paper in the 23 November 2015 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface further elucidates the interaction between wildfire and permafrost melt: “Climate warming is shown to be the dominant factor for permafrost reduction. The warming trend of climate reduces permafrost extent in this region from 67% at present to 2% by 2100. …. Since active layer is thicker after a fire and cannot recover in most of the areas, the fire effects on active layer are widespread. On average, fires thickens (sic) active layer by about 0.5 m. The fire effects on active layer increased significantly after 1990 due to climate warming.” The January 2016 issue of Annals of Applied Bio-Sciences includes a paper titled, “Positive feedback between climate change, forest pests and the carbon cycle.” This is one of those rare cases in which the title tells the story. This is yet another example of an interaction among self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms.
According to a paper in the 22 February 2016 online issue of Geophysical Research Letters, “permafrost thaw is equally important as fire history to explain” changes in percent tree cover (PTC) during the 2000-2014 period. In addition, “at the southern margin of the permafrost zone, PTC loss due to permafrost thaw outweighs PTC gain from postfire regrowth. These findings emphasize the importance of permafrost thaw in controlling regional boreal forest changes over the last decade.”
Ocean acidification associated with increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is proceeding at an unprecedented rate — the fastest in 300 million years — leading to great simplification of ecosystems, and capable of triggering mass extinction by itself. Already, half the Great Barrier Reef has died during the last three decades and the entire marine food web is threatened. As with many attributes, the Arctic Ocean leads the way in acidification. Similarly to the lag in temperature relative to increase greenhouse gas emissions, changes in ocean acidity lag behind alterations in atmospheric carbon dioxide, as reported in the 21 February 2014 issue of Environmental Research Letters. Further adding to the interactions involving ocean acidification comes from a paper in the 18 April 2016 issue of Nature Geoscience reporting that ocean acidification is an important consequence of the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning. Specifically, when excess atmospheric CO2 reacts with seawater it forms carbonic acid, which, in turn, “acidifies” the ocean, causing dramatic changes to ocean ecosystems. The Arctic Ocean is particularly sensitive to such changes. This latest study proposes a novel mechanism for Arctic Ocean acidification involving release and subsequent breakdown of organic matter from thawing permafrost and carbon-rich river runoff in seawater. In other words, melting of permafrost on land leads to accelerating acidification of the ocean.
A study published in the 18 April 2016 online issue of Nature Geoscience indicates a strong contribution of freshwater and terrestrial carbon to acidification of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. The study includes Igor Semiletov and Natalia Shakhova as co-authors, and it indicates the interaction among the self-reinforcing feedback loops studied, freshwater melt, permafrost, and ocean acidification.
Observations made since 1999 indicate that in some locations, acidity has already surged past levels researchers didn’t expect to emerge until the year 2100, due in part to “extreme aragonite undersaturation.” Aragonite is a form of calcium carbonate that is pervasive in the ocean. It tilts ocean chemistry toward the base level of the pH scale. Carbon in the water tilts the pH scale toward the acid level. The degree to which the water is saturated with aragonite is a marker of overall calcium levels — and a marker of acidification caused by increasing loads of carbon in the water.
Even bacteria are negatively affected by ocean acidification. According to a paper in the 11 January 2016 issue of Nature Climate Change, these miniscule organisms function as the wastewater treatment plants of the ocean. At the same time, bacteria help release nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which are essential to the food chain.
A metaanalysis of 632 published experiments published in the 12 October 2015 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences quantified the direction and magnitude of ecological change resulting from ocean acidification and warming and found simplication as the rule. According to the abstract: “Analysis of responses in short- and long-term experiments and of studies at natural CO2 vents reveals little evidence of acclimation to acidification or temperature changes, except for microbes. This conceptualization of change across whole communities and their trophic linkages forecast a reduction in diversity and abundances of various key species that underpin current functioning of marine ecosystems.”
An increasing number of scientists agree that warming of 4 to 6 C causes a dead planet. And, they go on to say, we’ll be there much sooner than most people realize. The abstract from a paper published in the 25 November 25 2015 online issue of Bulletin of Mathematical Ecology includes the following lines: “the depletion of atmospheric oxygen on global scale (which, if happens, obviously can kill most of life on Earth) is another possible catastrophic consequence of the global warming, a global ecological disaster that has been overlooked.” The study shows that an increase in the water temperature of the world’s oceans of around six degrees Celsius — which some scientists predict could occur as soon as 2100 — could stop oxygen production by phytoplankton by disrupting the process of photosynthesis. According to a headline at the University Center for Atmospheric Research, “Widespread Loss of Ocean Oxygen to become Noticeable in 2030s.” The study published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles includes the following line in the abstract: “Our results clearly demonstrate the strong impact of natural climate variability on interior oxygen distributions.” Even if humans could breathe underwater, we’d need oxygen to do it.
Clive Hamilton concludes in his April 2013 book Earthmasters that “without [atmospheric sulfates associated with industrial activity] … Earth would be an extra 1.1 C warmer.” This estimate matches that of James Hansen and colleagues, who conclude 1.2 C cooling (plus or minus 0.2 C) as a result of atmospheric particulates (full paper in the 22 December 2011 issue of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics is here. Both estimates are conservative relative to a paper in the 27 May 2013 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, which reports ~1 C temperature rise resulting from a 35-80% reduction in anthropogenic aerosols. In other words, collapse takes us directly to 2 C within a matter of weeks. A paper in the June 2016 issue of Energy Policy finds, “it is it is unlikely that the <2 °C goal can be met. Focus should be placed on expanding renewable energy as quickly as possible in order to limit warming to 2.5–3 °C.” A paper published in the 14 March 2016 online issue of Nature Geoscience finds that Earth’s climate sensitivity is slightly higher than that assumed by global climate models and much higher than reported in other observational studies. Specifically, atmospheric aerosol loading “caused a cooling that masked approximately one-third of the continental warming due to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations over the past half-century.” Consistent with this result, another paper in the same issue of Nature Geoscience concludes that “air quality regulations in the Northern Hemisphere, the ocean and atmospheric circulation, and Arctic climate are inherently linked.” Specifically, measures to enhance air quality by limiting pollution have served to warm the Arctic region.
According to a paper in the 24 November 2013 issue of Nature Climate Change, warming of the planet will continue long after emissions cease. Several other academic scientists have concluded, in the refereed journal literature no less, that the 2 C mark — long a political target, not a scientific target except among misinformed scientists — is essentially impossible (for example, see the review paper by Mark New and colleagues published in the 29 November 2010 issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A and the following line from a paper in the 12 March 2014 edition of Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law: “countries are farther from meeting their targets and the global community is farther from reaching the goal of limiting warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels than emissions data suggest”). The German Institute for International and Security Affairs concluded 2 June 2013 that a 2 C rise in global-average temperature is no longer feasible (and Spiegel agrees, finally, in their 7 June 2013 issue), while the ultra-conservative International Energy Agency concludes that, “coal will nearly overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017 … without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change.” At the 11:20 mark of this video, climate scientist Paul Beckwith indicates Earth could warm by 6 C within a decade (he drops the “could” in reinforcing the point in a 25 November 2014 video, “Abrupt climate change is underway already”, and he also concludes Earth could experience a 16 C temperature rise, albeit from 5 C lower than today’s global-average temperature). Beckwith is quoted by Dahr Jamail in the 13 January 2015 issue of Truthout: “It is my view that our climate system is in early stages of abrupt climate change that, unchecked, will lead to a temperature rise of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius within a decade or two.” If you think Beckwith’s view is extreme, consider (1) a similar rise in global-average temperature based on a modeling analysis published in the December 2012 issue of Journal of Climate, (2) the 5 C rise in global-average temperature 55 million years ago during a span of 13 years (reported in the 1 October 2013 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and strongly supported by this paper in the 15 December 2014 online issue of Nature Geoscience before being questioned by a January 2015 paper in Climate of the Past), and also (3) the reconstruction of regional and global temperature for the past 11,300 years published in Science in March 2013. One result is shown in the figure below.
It’s not merely scientists who know where we’re going. The Pentagon is bracing for public dissent over climate and energy shocks, as reported by Nafeez Ahmed in the 14 June 2013 issue of the Guardian. According to Ahmed’s article: “Top secret US National Security Agency (NSA) documents disclosed by the Guardian have shocked the world with revelations of a comprehensive US-based surveillance system with direct access to Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and other tech giants. New Zealand court records suggest that data harvested by the NSA’s Prism system has been fed into the Five Eyes intelligence alliance whose members also include the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.” In short, the “Pentagon knows that environmental, economic and other crises could provoke widespread public anger toward government and corporations” and is planning accordingly. Such “activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis — or all three.” In their 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, the U.S. military concludes: “Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating.”
Director of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States John Brennan delivered a speech 16 November 2015 at the Opening Session of the Global Security Forum 2015, held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He addressed climate change, and I apologize for his misogyny in these lines: “Mankind’s relationship with the natural world is aggravating these problems and is potential source of crisis itself. Last year was the warmest on record, and this year is on track to be even warmer. Extreme weather, along with public policies affecting food and water supplies, can worsen or create humanitarian crises. Of the most immediate concern, sharply reduced crop yields in multiple places simultaneously could trigger a shock in food prices with devastating effect, especially in already-fragile regions such as Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Compromised access to food and water greatly increases the prospect for famine and deadly epidemics.”
“Climate warming is predicted to reduce omega-3, long-chain, polyunsaturated fatty acid production in phytoplankton,” according to the title of a paper in the 12 April 2016 online edition of Global Change Biology. These essential fatty acids are vital to the health of all vertebrates, with a direct relationship to cardiovascular and immune system health, as well as neurological function, vision, and reproduction.
The situation on land is worsening, too, as a result of climate change. Rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have reduced protein in goldenrod pollen, a key late-season food source for North American bees. The title of a paper in the 13 April 2016 issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B tells the story: Rising atmospheric CO2 is reducing the protein concentration of a floral pollen source essential for North American bees.
The global police state has arrived, and it’s accompanied by subtle changes in Earth’s rotation that result from the melting of glaciers and ice sheets (i.e., climate change is causing Earth’s poles to shift).
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