"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Essay: I’m worried having a baby will make climate change worse

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2017 at 8:33 pm
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Sophie Lewis had trouble reconciling her concern for climate change with her desire to be a parent. Photo: Michael Clayton Jones

Oldspeak: You know how I can be fairly certain we’re proper fucked? Because, people are at this last stage in the show, still having this conversation. And this is no average joe having this conversation either, it’s a climate scientist!!! Who presumably knows that having a child ultimately adds about well over 10 thousand tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent – about 5.7 times the lifetime emissions for which, on average, a person is responsible. And she is having a child anyway. Not only that, but presumes, fueled by hopium no doubt, that the child will some how, “fix the problems set in motion by its parents and grandparents.” 0_O As if this is even fucking possible at this point. As if having a baby that will live out its natural life is likely to happen. As if this, Earth’s 6th mass extinction, is fixable on human time scales. Oye. I need a shot of what she’s having. Now, I don’t really begrudge people for having babies, since it doesn’t matter either way at this point, but I find it reeeeeallly irksome when people who presumably have an informed opinion on climate change pretend that having kids will some how fix things when it’s abundantly obvious that it won’t. I guess I shouldn’t be terribly surprised in this Post Fact Age. Sigh. Sadly, anthropocentric thinking of this variety is a large part of the reason we’re soooo done.” -OSJ

Written By Sophie Lewis @ The Sydney Morning Herald:

Part of my motivation for becoming a climate scientist was my grave worries for our future and my desire to make a positive contribution. In today’s world, this isn’t straightforward.

Earlier this year, I wrote publicly of my qualms around desiring children. I have always loved children and always wanted children in my own life. At the same time, among my friends and colleagues, such ordinary desires are increasingly accompanied by long, complex conversations about the ethics of such aspirations.

Children born today face a dramatically different climate future than their parents did.A child born today is a child of a changing – and extreme – global climate. The decision to have a child is a decision to exacerbate such climate extremes.

We collectively recycle, switch off lights, install LEDs and chose green energy providers. But such measures are more than negated by a decision to have children; having a child in Australia is an ongoing commitment to a high carbon future.

At the same time that I wrangled with the inter- and intra-generational consequence of having children, I also experienced years of infertility. Friends married, bought houses and announced surprise babies. All the while, my partner and I were consumed by tests, injections and surgeries, but mostly by unrelenting grief.

Over these years, I analysed climate data demonstrating an extreme future born of our global policy prevarication. Meanwhile, I was dragged into an undertow of crushing sadness, as miscarriage followed miscarriage and my connections to the world slipped further away from me.

Perhaps this was all for the best, I thought. After all, a child is irreconcilable with my professional dedication to remedying our global challenges.

And then, just as senselessly as our grief began, it ended. For no particular reason, the expected bad baby news never arrived and now the complexity of having an imagined child will become a concrete ethical entanglement.

Older climate scientists speak widely about their worries for their grandchildren and the world they have provided them. While such concerns must weigh on older minds, younger climate scientists’ future concerns require active deliberation. Should we have children? And if we do, how do we raise them in a world of change and inequity? Can I reconcile my care and concern for the future with such an active and deliberate pursuit of a child?

Put simply, I can’t. Nowadays, the pitter-patter of tiny feet is inevitably the pitter-patter of giant carbon footprints. Reusable nappies, a bike trailer and secondhand jumpsuits might make me feel like I’m taking individual action but they will achieve little. A child born today is inevitably a consumer and, most significantly, is a consumer of greenhouse gases.

Our much longed for child will both exacerbate climate change and will have to fix the problems set in motion by its parents and grandparents. In essence, this burden is the choice I have made for my child.

Having made the decision to multiple my own carbon footprint in perpetuity and to inflict an extreme climate future on my daughter, the question becomes – what now?

Living in and starting a family in volatile and uncertain times are not unique experiences. My grandmother fled Europe in the early 1950s for a better life in Australia. A German Jew, her family had been scattered, with herself interned in Britain, her sister lost in Auschwitz and her family’s desperate flight rebuffed by an indifferent world. Years of horror, combined with strict rations and economic uncertainty drove her to strike out bravely for a new life in Australia with her young babies.

Climate change is a critically different problem. In my grandmother’s time of abject horror, good people were empowered – to varying degrees – to do good. After the war ended, the actions of just a few were recognised as having salvaged the honour of all our humanity. Nowadays, the very act of living in Australia, regardless of concern for our climate future, is detrimental.

I do not pretend my motivation for having children was anything other than entirely selfish, but I hope the consequences are not. Just as in my grandmother’s time when horror was countered by hope, the obverse of our climate challenge is opportunity. I hope today’s children, born of a complex admixture of anxiety, guilt and fear, but all the while fiercely desired, can do better than their parents did. I hope they can be more empathetic, more creative and more responsive than we have been.

As for myself, my work thoughts should be punctured by worry. By senseless luck, my forthcoming daughter will have the opportunity to thrive in a warming world. Many, such as the children of our Pacific Island neighbours, will not. This should prompt more sadness, not less.

Nonetheless, in recognising the sadness of our near neighbours, I also feel compelled to recognise the beauty and opportunity of my own life. Despite my uncomfortable internal conflicts, the impending arrival of a much-wanted baby is intensely joyful.

Study: “Global warming triggered by the massive release of carbon dioxide may be catastrophic, but the release of methane from hydrate may be apocalyptic.”

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2017 at 8:02 pm
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On a lake, plumes of gas, most likely methane from the breakdown of carbon in sediments below the lake, keep the water from freezing in spots, outside Fairbanks, Alaska, October 21, 2011. As the Arctic warms, the threat of abrupt methane releases is rising, too. (Photo: Josh Haner / The New York Times)

Oldspeak: “The study, titled “Methane Hydrate: Killer Cause of Earth’s Greatest Mass Extinction,” highlights the fact that the most significant variable in the Permian Mass Extinction event, which occurred 250 million years ago and annihilated 90 percent of all the species on the planet, was methane hydrate.

In the wake of that mass extinction event, less than 5 percent of the animal species in the seas lived, and less than one-third of the large land animal species made it. Nearly all the trees died….

The scenario that humans have created by way of the industrial growth society is already mimicking these eventualities, which are certain to worsen….

As the global CO2 concentration continues to climb each year, the threat of even more abrupt methane additions continues to escalate along with it….

Scientists have been warning us for a number of years about the dire consequences of methane hydrates in the Arctic, and how the methane being released poses a potentially disastrous threat to the planet. -Dahr Jamail

“The Methane Time Bomb is still ticking. It won’t stop ticking until it goes boom. Each additional gigaton of anthropogenic and naturally produced  CO2 and CH4 emitted into the atmosphere makes it more likely that this life extinguishing bomb will detonate sooner than later. And, it could happen at any time. Meanwhile, trending now on Yahoo…

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…..” -OSJ

 

Written By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

A scientific study published in the prestigious journal Palaeoworld in December issued a dire — and possibly prophetic — warning, though it garnered little attention in the media.

“Global warming triggered by the massive release of carbon dioxide may be catastrophic,” reads the study’s abstract. “But the release of methane from hydrate may be apocalyptic.”

The study, titled “Methane Hydrate: Killer Cause of Earth’s Greatest Mass Extinction,” highlights the fact that the most significant variable in the Permian Mass Extinction event, which occurred 250 million years ago and annihilated 90 percent of all the species on the planet, was methane hydrate.

In the wake of that mass extinction event, less than 5 percent of the animal species in the seas lived, and less than one-third of the large land animal species made it. Nearly all the trees died.

Methane hydrate, according to the US Office of Fossil Energy, “is a cage-like lattice of ice inside of which are trapped molecules of methane, the chief constituent of natural gas.”

While there is not a scientific consensus around the cause of the Permian Mass Extinction, it is widely believed that massive volcanism along the Siberian Traps in Russia led to tremendous amounts of CO2 being added to the atmosphere. This then created enough warming to cause the sudden release of methane from the Arctic sea floor, which kicked off a runaway greenhouse effect that led to sea-level increase, de-oxygenation, major oceanic circulation shifts and increased acidification of the oceans, as well as worldwide aridity on land.

The scenario that humans have created by way of the industrial growth society is already mimicking these eventualities, which are certain to worsen.

“The end Permian holds an important lesson for humanity regarding the issue it faces today with greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, and climate change,” the abstract of the recent study concludes.

As the global CO2 concentration continues to climb each year, the threat of even more abrupt methane additions continues to escalate along with it.

The Methane Time Bomb

The methane hydrate situation has, for years now, been referred to as the Arctic Methane Time Bomb, and as been studied intensely.

A 2010 scientific analysis led by the UK’s Met Office, published in the journal Review of Geophysics, states clearly that the time scale for the release of methane in the Arctic would be “much shorter for hydrates below shallow waters, such as in the Arctic Ocean,” adding that “significant increases in methane emissions are likely, and catastrophic emissions cannot be ruled out.… The risk of rapid increase in [methane] emissions is real.”

A 2011 study of the Eastern Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), conducted by more than 20 Arctic experts and published in the Proceedings of the Russian Academy of Sciences, concluded that the shelf was already a powerful supplier of methane to the atmosphere. The conclusion of this study stated that the methane concentration in the atmosphere was at levels capable of causing “a considerable and even catastrophic warming on the Earth.”

Scientists have been warning us for a number of years about the dire consequences of methane hydrates in the Arctic, and how the methane being released poses a potentially disastrous threat to the planet. There has even been a study showing that methane released in the Arctic could trigger “catastrophic climate change” that would cost the global economy $60 trillion.

Of course, that level of planetary heating would likely extinguish most life on the planet, so whatever the economic costs might be would be irrelevant.

“Highly Possible at Any Time”

The ESAS is the largest ice shelf in the world, encompassing more than 2 million square kilometers, or 8 percent of the world’s total area of continental shelf.

In 2015, Truthout spoke with Natalia Shakhova, a research associate professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center, about the ESAS’s methane emissions.

“These emissions are prone to be non-gradual (massive, abrupt) for a variety of reasons,” she told Truthout. “The main reason is that the nature of major processes associated with methane releases from subsea permafrost is non-gradual.”

Shakhova warned that a 50-gigaton — that is, 50-billion-ton — “burp” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the ESAS is “highly possible at any time.”

This, Shakhova said, means that methane releases from decaying frozen hydrates could result in emission rates that “could change in order of magnitude in a matter of minutes,” and that there would be nothing “smooth, gradual or controlled” about it. She described it as a “kind of a release [that] is like the unsealing of an over-pressurized pipeline.”

In other words, we could be looking at non-linear releases of methane in amounts that are difficult to fathom.

A study published in the prestigious journal Nature in July 2013 confirmed what Shakhova had been warning us about for years: A 50-gigaton “burp” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is highly possible.

Such a “burp” would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide. (For perspective, humans have released approximately 1,475 gigatons in total carbon dioxide since the year 1850.)

The UK’s Met Office considers the 50-gigaton release “plausible,” and in a paper on the subject added, “That may cause ∼12-times increase of modern atmospheric methane burden, with consequent catastrophic greenhouse warming.”

 

WMO Scientist: “We are seeing remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory.”

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2017 at 6:40 pm

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Oldspeak: “Sobering news, released in time for World Meteorological Day. Temperature records continue to fall worldwide. Sea levels rising, sea ice melting, the oceans have absorbed more heat than previously thought, extreme weather persisting, Global Weirding is getting weirder. Climate conditions have entered uncharted territory are straining scientists limits of understanding the climate system. Also, scientists are observing more extreme and unusual climactic trends continuing in 2017. We’re off the map now. Will likely be quite an unpredictable and harrowing journey from here on out.” -OSJ

Written By The World Meteorological Organization:

The year 2016 made history, with a record global temperature, exceptionally low sea ice, and unabated sea level rise and ocean heat, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Extreme weather and climate conditions have continued into 2017.

WMO issued its annual statement on the State of the Global Climate ahead of World Meteorological Day on 23 March. It is based on multiple international datasets maintained independently by global climate analysis centres and information submitted by dozens of WMO Members National Meteorological and Hydrological Services and Research Institutes and is an authoritative source of reference. Because the social and economic impacts of climate change have become so important, WMO partnered with other United Nations organizations for the first time this year to include information on these impacts.

“This report confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record – a remarkable 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial period, which is 0.06 °C above the previous record set in 2015. This increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

“Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year,” he said.

“With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident,” said Mr Taalas.

The increased power of computing tools and the availability of long term climate data have made it possible today, through attribution studies, to demonstrate clearly the existence of links between man-made climate change and many cases of high impact extreme events in particular heatwaves, he said

Each of the 16 years since 2001 has been at least 0.4 °C above the long-term average for the 1961-1990 base period, used by WMO as a reference for climate change monitoring. Global temperatures continue to be consistent with a warming trend of 0.1 °C to 0.2 °C per decade, according to the WMO report.

The powerful 2015/2016 El Niño event boosted warming in 2016, on top of  long-term climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Temperatures in strong El Niño years, such as 1973, 1983 and 1998, are typically 0.1 °C to 0.2 °C warmer than background levels, and 2016’s temperatures are consistent with that pattern.

Global sea levels rose very strongly during the El Niño event, with the early 2016 values reaching new record highs.  Global sea ice extent dropped more than 4 million square kilometres below average in November, an unprecedented anomaly for that month.

The very warm ocean temperatures contributed to significant coral bleaching and mortality was reported in many tropical waters, with important impacts on marine food chains, ecosystems and fisheries.

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached the symbolic benchmark of 400 parts per millions in 2015 – the latest year for which WMO global figures are available – and will not fall below that level for many generations to come because of the long-lasting nature of CO2.

Noteworthy extreme events in 2016 included severe droughts that brought food insecurity to millions in southern and eastern Africa and Central America. Hurricane Matthew caused widespread suffering in Haiti as the first category 4 storm to make landfall since 1963, and inflicted significant economic losses in the United States of America, while heavy rains and floods affected eastern and southern Asia.

WMO has issued annual climate reports for more than 20 years and submits them  to the Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The annual statements complement the assessments reports that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces every six to seven years.

It will be presented to UN member states and climate experts at a high-level action event on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Agenda  in New York on 23 March (World Meteorological Day) hosted by the President of the UN General Assembly Peter Thomson.

“The entry into force of the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on 4 November 2016 represents a historic landmark. It is vital that its implementation becomes a reality and that the Agreement guides the global community in addressing climate change by curbing greenhouse gases, fostering climate resilience and mainstreaming climate adaptation into national development policies,” said Mr Taalas.

“Continued investment in climate research and observations is vital if our scientific knowledge is to keep pace with the rapid rate of climate change,” said Mr Taalas.

Extremes continue in 2017

Newly released studies, which are not included in WMO’s report, indicate that ocean heat content may have increased even more than previously reported.  Provisional data also indicates that there has been no easing in the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said World Climate Research Programme Director David Carlson.

At least three times so far this winter, the Arctic has witnessed the Polar equivalent of a heatwave, with powerful Atlantic storms driving an influx of warm, moist air. This meant that at the height of the Arctic winter and the sea ice refreezing period, there were days which were actually close to melting point. Antarctic sea ice has also been at a record low, in contrast to the trend in recent years.

Scientific research indicates that changes in the Arctic and melting sea ice is leading to a shift in wider oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns. This is affecting weather in other parts of the world because of waves in the jet stream – the fast moving band of air which helps regulate temperatures.

Thus, some areas, including Canada and much of the USA, were unusually balmy, whilst others, including parts of the Arabian peninsula and North Africa, were unusually cold in early 2017.

In the USA alone, 11,743 warm temperature records were broken or tied in February, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Prolonged and extreme heat in January and February  affected New South Wales, southern Queensland, South Australia and northern Victoria, and saw many new temperature records.

Notes to Editors

Global temperatures in this Statement are reported using the mean of the latest versions of the three datasets: GISTEMP, NOAAGlobalTemp and HadCRUT maintained respectively  by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US National Air and Space Administration (NASA), and the Met Office Hadley Centre in collaboration with the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit, United Kingdom. The combined dataset extends back to 1880. In addition  ERA-Interim reanalysis of the European Center for Medium Weather Forecasting was also used in the assessment.

The statement also uses information on climate impacts provided by the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),  the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and  the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium.

At the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC session in Marrakesh in 2016, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) welcomed the submissions from WMO: the Global Climate in 2011-2015 and the WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. It invited WMO to provide submissions on the state of the global climate on a regular basis, as appropriate, at subsequent SBSTA sessions.

Other highlights of the 2016 Statement

Global Temperatures:

2016’s warmth extended almost worldwide. Temperatures were above the 1961-90 average over the vast majority of the world’s land areas, the only significant exceptions being an area of South America centred on central Argentina, and parts of south-western Australia.

Mean annual temperatures at least 3 °C above the 1961-1990 average occurred in various high-latitude locations, particularly along the Russian coast and in Alaska and far north-western Canada, and on islands in the Barents and Norwegian Seas. In the high Arctic, Svalbard (Norway) Airport’s 2016 mean annual temperature of −0.1 °C was 6.5 °C above the 1961-1990 average, and 1.6 °C above the previous record.

Outside the Arctic, 2016’s warmth was more notable for its consistency across the globe than for its extreme nature in individual locations.

Oceans

Globally averaged sea surface temperatures in 2016 were the warmest on record. The anomalies were strongest in the early months of 2016.

Global ocean heat content was the second-highest on record after 2015. It reached new record highs in the northern hemisphere, but was cooler in the southern hemisphere.

Globally, sea level has risen by 20 cm since the start of the twentieth century, mostly due to thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers and ice caps. Global sea levels rose very strongly during the 2015/2016 El Niño, rising about 15 millimetres between November 2014 to a new record high in February 2016. This was well above the post-1993 trend of 3 to 3.5 mm per year. From February to August, sea levels remained fairly stable as the influence of the El Niño declined. Final 2016 sea level data are not yet available at the time of writing.

Arctic sea ice

The seasonal maximum, of 14.52 million square kilometres on 24 March, was the lowest in the 1979-2016 satellite record. The 2016 autumn freeze-up was exceptionally slow – with sea ice extent even contracting for a few days in mid-November.

Precipitation

Much of southern Africa began the year in severe drought. For the second year in succession, rainfall was widely 20 to 60% below average for the summer rainy season (October to April) in 2015/2016. The World Food Programme estimating that 18.2 million people would require emergency assistance by early 2017.

Provisional figures showed 2016 was the driest on record over the Amazon Basin, and there was also significant drought in north-east Brazil.  El Niño brought drought conditions elsewhere in Central America and northern South America.

The Yangtze basin in China experienced, overall, its most significant flood season since 1999, with some tributaries experiencing record flood levels. Averaged over China as a whole, it was the wettest year on record, with national mean rainfall of 730 mm being 16% above the long-term average.

Heatwaves

The year started with an extreme heatwave in southern Africa in the first week of January. On 7 January, it reached 42.7 °C at Pretoria and 38.9 °C at Johannesburg, both of which were 3 °C or more above the all-time records at those sites.

Extreme heat also affected South and South-East Asia in April and May, prior to the start of the summer monsoon. South-East Asia was badly affected in April. A national record of 44.6 °C was set at Mae Hong Son, Thailand, on 28 April, and 51.0 °C was observed on 19 May at Phalodi, the highest temperature on record for India.

Record or near-record temperatures occurred in parts of the Middle East and north Africa. The highest temperature observed was 54.0 °C at Mitribah (Kuwait) on 21 July which (subject to ratification) will be the highest temperature on record for Asia. Other extremely high temperatures included 53.9 °C at Basra (Iraq) and 53.0 °C at Delhoran (Islamic Republic of Iran – a national record), both on 22 July, whilst significant high temperatures were also reported in Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and the United Arab Emirates.

A late-season heatwave affected many parts of western and central Europe in the first half of September. In southern Spain, 45.4 °C was recorded at Cordoba on 6 September.

The WMO Statement on the State of the Climate in 2016 is available here:

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The World Meteorological Organization is the United Nations System’s authoritative voice on Weather, Climate and Water

WMO website: public.wmo.int

For more information, please contact:  Clare Nullis, Press Officer, Communications and Public Affairs,

Tel: +41 22 730 8478 or +41 79 709 13 97 (cell), e‑mail: cnullis@wmo.int.