A draft UN report has warned that missing the 1.5°C warming target set by the Paris Climate Accords will multiply hunger, migration and conflict around the globe. The 1.5°C target means limiting atmospheric temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C above what they were prior to the industrial revolution when humans began emitting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
The report, slated to be finalized this coming September, provides several sobering points (the draft summary of the report can be read here):
- The UK’s Met Office predicts a 1 in 10 chance the global average will flicker over 1.5°C within five years, meaning, we’re already very close to the 1.5°C line, although the conservative estimate is that we could reach it by 2040.
- At 1.5°C tropical reefs are at “high risk” of no longer being dominated by corals, the Arctic could become nearly ice-free in September, and there will be “fundamental changes in ocean chemistry” that could take several millennia to reverse.
- 2°C warming brings with it an additional 10 cm of sea level rise by 2100, and increases the risk of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets collapsing, ensuring future generations will see multi-meter sea level rise.
Meanwhile, much evidence signals that catastrophic change is already upon us.
The average high temperature for northern Greenland in February is approximately ‑20°F, which is the equivalent of Denver seeing a 112°F day in February.
The average high temperature for northern Greenland in February is approximately ‑20°F, making recent readings from a weather station there a stunning 63°F warmer than average. This would be the equivalent of Denver seeing a 112°F day in February. Arctic sea ice levels are already at record lows for this time of year. Recently, Alaska’s Bering Sea lost a full one-third of its ice in only eight days, and even more recently, an area north of Greenland is already free of ice.
“There is no ice where there is almost always ice,” The Washington Post’s weather experts tweeted February 26. “There is open water north of Greenland where the thickest sea ice of the Arctic used to be,” Lars Kaleschke, a German physicist, explained in a tweet. “It is not refreezing quickly because air temperatures are above” freezing.
While no single weather anomaly can be attributed to anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), what is happening in the Arctic is so far off the charts scientists are aghast.
Worldwide, the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 were each a record warm year for Earth, with 2017 a close second place behind 2016. A report in Anthropocene Magazine recently showed that if carbon emissions remain unchecked, such multi-year global record temperature surges, along with their accompanying coral bleaching events, droughts, polar ice loss, storms and floods, will likely become routine by 2100.
A recent report described the future of San Francisco’s East Bay area as looking “a lot like Los Angeles – only with parts of it underwater.
Satellite images show that planetary warming is further accelerating the melting of the Greenland and Western Antarctic Ice Sheets, which is ramping up already-accelerating sea level rise.
Our world has changed. Massive parts of the biosphere are collapsing before our eyes. This is our new reality, and each of us must ask each day, “How then, shall I live my life?”
Across terra firma, there are stunning warning signs of abrupt ACD.
A recently published study from the UK’s Newcastle University warned that ACD will “push European cities towards the breaking point.” The study showed how floods, droughts and heat waves will cause cities across the UK to be more heavily impacted by ACD than previously believed. Even the most optimistic scenarios, for example, showed 85 percent of cities located near rivers in the UK will face increased flooding. The lead author of the study, Selma Guerreiro, told The Guardian: “Although southern European regions are adapted to cope with droughts, this level of change could be beyond breaking point.”
Meanwhile in Africa, a recent report linked increasing violence to ACD across two regions that encompass 26 countries on that continent. The UN Security Council’s report showed that ACD was a driver of conflict across West Africa and the Sahel, and showed that water scarcity and desertification were causing resources to dwindle, hence fueling increased conflict.
Mercury trapped in permafrost since the last Ice Age is now being released into the biosphere.
A study published in the journal Science showed that melting Arctic sea ice is making it more difficult for predators, such as the iconic polar bear, to consume enough calories to survive. The research showed that polar bears require many more calories to survive than previously known, and this coupled with rapidly diminishing sea ice has left them in a struggle to survive. An ecologist affiliated with the study showed that the already-declining bear populations could shrink by another 30 percent over the next 40 years.
A recent Pentagon study showed that half of all US military bases have been reporting climate extremes and threatening weather. Extremes, such as storm surges, wildfires and droughts, along with sea level rise, have become prevalent among hundreds of the bases, and more than 780 military sites have reported drought conditions.
The southern Louisiana region is already locked into losing somewhere between 1,200 and 2,800 square miles of coastal zone by 2067. Even if the state funded the full $92 billion for all the mitigation projects it would require to save parts of the coast from sea level rise, erosion and hurricanes, it would lose approximately 1,200 square miles of coast. This is due to the fact that the bottom one-third of the entire state of Louisiana has an average elevation of only 2.5 feet, and sea levels are expected to rise far higher than that. In fact, another recent study showed that even if the Paris climate accord goals were met, Earth is already set to see roughly one meter of sea level rise in the next two centuries.
Out on the US West Coast, a mid-February report described the future of San Francisco’s East Bay area as looking “a lot like Los Angeles – only with parts of it underwater,” due to worsening drought and sea level rise. Studies have long since shown that the Bay Area will become much drier as global temperatures continue to increase, and of course, high levels of sea rise are already locked in, no matter what kind of mitigation measures are taken.
Meanwhile in New Zealand, warm weather is causing that country’s “water tower” glaciers, those which communities rely upon for sustaining the flow of some of their major rivers, to melt at dramatic rates. Scientists there are describing the changes to the glaciers they are witnessing as “striking,” and warned that New Zealand’s hydropower generation, irrigation and agriculture will be impacted in the future, and water availability will become a major issue.
The Bering Sea recently lost fully one third of its total sea ice coverage in a mere eight days.
Back to the cryosphere, a recently published study found that mercury trapped in permafrost since the last Ice Age is now being released into the biosphere as permafrost is thawing and then melting. “This discovery is a game-changer,” Paul Schuster, a hydrologist at the US Geological Survey and lead author of the new study, told Science Daily. This is particularly worrisome, as the study found that permafrost soils are the single largest reservoir of mercury on the planet, containing nearly twice as much mercury as all other soils, the oceans and atmosphere combined.
“There would be no environmental problem if everything remained frozen, but we know the Earth is getting warmer,” Schuster said. “Although measurement of the rate of permafrost thaw was not part of this study, the thawing permafrost provides a potential for mercury to be released – that’s just physics.”
The Arctic is displaying some of the most shocking impacts of abrupt ACD that we have seen anywhere else in the world.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Arctic is currently undergoing the fastest decline in sea ice in at least the last 1,500 years.
Furthermore, the Bering Sea recently lost fully one third of its total sea ice coverage in a mere eight days.
In a sign of the times, this December saw an LNG tanker cross the Arctic during the winter without an icebreaker escort – the first time this has ever occurred during winter months.
Other signs of big trouble in the oceans abound.
In the Antarctic, major declines in krill are now threatening most of the wildlife there, including whales, leopard seals and penguins. Industrial fishing and ACD are the primary causes, as krill populations have dropped by 40 percent in some areas of the Antarctic.
In the Antarctic, major declines in krill are now threatening most of the wildlife there, including whales, leopard seals and penguins.
Lastly in this section, another recently published study showed that coral reefs are at risk of dissolving due to oceans becoming increasingly acidic. Scientists warned that global reefs could begin dissolving by 2100, as CO2 continues to form a weak acid in seawater and begins to dissolve reef sediments. Reef sediments are 10 times more vulnerable to acidification than the tiny coral animals that build the stony skeletons that form the reefs.
Coral reefs are home to roughly one-quarter of all marine life.
In February, a wildfire raging in southern Australia was large enough to be seen from space. The area burned in the fire was larger than Singapore and New York.
Meanwhile, scientists from Columbia University once again confirmed the link between ACD and increased incidence and ferocity of wildfires. They estimated that between 1984 and 2015, ACD had caused an additional 4.2 million hectares of forest to burn: an area approximately three times the size of the state of Connecticut. Previous studies had already shown that ACD had contributed to the fact that the area impacted by forest fires in the American West has doubled in just the last 30 years alone.
Record warm temperatures continue to be set around the globe.
Even the Arctic, where the sun is not shining at all during winter months, saw the warmest December on record.
On that note, the northernmost weather station on Earth, located on Cape Morris Jessup in Greenland only 400 miles from the North Pole, experienced above-freezing temperatures for two days in a row.
The Arctic wasn’t the only place experiencing record-warm temperatures during the winter. The US East Coast saw numerous temperature records across several states while portions of the central US and Midwest, from Texas to the Great Lakes, were facing flooding from record-setting precipitation.
Washington, DC, saw its earliest 80-degree day on record … in February. Pittsburgh saw a 78°F day which beat the previous record by 10 degrees. Meanwhile, high-temperature records were set this February from Atlantic City to Manchester to Wilmington, among dozens of other cities. An even longer list of cities saw record highs for the entire month of February set as well.
In February, a wildfire raging in southern Australia was large enough to be seen from space.
South Bend, Indiana, saw a 500-year flood event, meaning a flooding event extreme enough that it is estimated to have only a 1 in 500 chance of occurring. The Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes regions were beset by flooding as well, due to snow melt and ongoing major precipitation events.
Scientists warned that these anomalies are likely a glimpse at what we can expect more broadly as the planet continues to warm.
Denial and Reality
In an interview with Piers Morgan aired on Britain’s ITV, President Donald Trump, when asked point blank about his stance on ACD, stated amazingly, “The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records.”
Needless to say, as has been made all too clear in this dispatch, among dozens of others, the opposite is true: Ice, both on land and in the sea, is actually melting at record rates.
But then, Trump has never let facts stand in the way of his own warped version of reality. His administration is now seeking large cuts to the country’s ACD research infrastructure, including satellites, science centers and education, via his budget proposal.
News also came out recently that fossil-fuel-lobbyist-turned-EPA-chief Scott Pruitt was closely involved in the scrubbing of the EPA’s climate websites, according to emails that have surfaced.
Speaking of Pruitt, he recently had the gall to say that ACD could be good for humanity. During an interview with Michael Barbaro of The New York Times, Pruitt was criticizing scientists warning of the dangers of ACD when he said, “I think it’s pretty arrogant for people in 2018 to say, ‘You know what, we know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100.’ ”
Multiple prestigious climate scientists resoundingly rebuked Pruitt’s absurd claim. He was also contradicted by the government’s own Climate Assessment Report.
Meanwhile, Alaska Senator and fossil fuel lobbyist Lisa Murkowski has on the one hand stated that it is time for her Republican party to take ACD seriously, while at the same time salivating over the fact that more than a million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are now set to be opened for drilling.
High-temperature records were set this February from Atlantic City to Manchester to Wilmington, among dozens of other cities.
More news on the reality front comes from US intelligence agencies. While the Trump administration continues its denial antics, the agencies have warned that ACD is bound to fuel disasters and violent conflicts around the world. In their recently released annual summary of global threats, the agencies warned that ACD and other associated environmental trends “are likely to fuel economic and social discontent – and possibly upheaval – through 2018.”
Also on the reality front, Michigan utility Consumers Energy has announced it will phase out its electrical production from coal by the year 2040 in an effort to slash emissions of greenhouse gases.
While it is always a positive sign to see at least some government agencies, politicians and companies acknowledging the reality of ACD and the need to work toward mitigation, anything short of a massive, global, government-coordinated, immediate, full-scale effort will not be enough to sufficiently confront the climate crisis.
First published by Truthout, 5 March 2018