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

Posts Tagged ‘Climate Science’

Nations’ Pledges To Cut Carbon Emissions Insufficient To Avoid Catastrophic Climate Change; Set Course for Disastrous Warming: Analysis

In Uncategorized on September 11, 2015 at 8:14 pm

Oldspeak: “Here’s what we know: “Everyday politics is therefore dominated not by evidence-based policy-making but by attempts at ‘policy-based evidence-making‘ and global warming is likely to surpass the 2c “guardrail“, this news is a logical outcome. As we’ve seen from my last post, scientists are actually being discouraged from reporting facts. Is it any surprise then, that our policies are utterly incompatible with the reality we face? The reality is this: We’re currently on track for 3.2 to 5c of warming a.k.a extinction. The longer policy makers continue to pretend that 2c of warming is achievable at the same time that entirely too much carbon continues to be emitted by the day, while dirty energy producers keep on with “drill baby drill” and far too little is being done to reduce emissions the more certain our fate is sealed. It’s not difficult to understand. Technology that does not exist is being relied upon to make 2c warming scenarios plausible.  And by the way we’re destroying many of the life-forms that remove carbon from the atmosphere at breakneck speed. It’s time to accept that the 2c “guardrail” is no longer feasible. This is the awful truth about climate change that no one wants to admit. This delusional policy can only be countenanced for so much longer.  We’re fucked. “Ignorance Is Strength.” -OSJ


Written By Andrea Germanos @ Common Dreams:

Greenhouse gas reduction pledges countries have submitted to the United Nations in advance of global climate talks set the planet on a path that keeps critical climate goals out of reach.

That’s according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a project of four research organizations that assesses nations’ climate pledges and actions. It released its findings Wednesday as talks are underway in Bonn, Germany, where global delegates are working to streamline the draft text for the UN climate change summit in Paris in December, known as COP21.

“One would have expected all the new Government climate targets combined to put the world on a lower emissions pathway, but they haven’t,” said Louise Jeffery of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

CAT analyzed what are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted by 15 governments, which together cover 64.5% of global emissions. Taken collectively, their plans would fail to avert a potentially disastrous level of warming, the analysis found.

“It is clear that if the Paris meeting locks in present climate commitments for 2030, holding warming below 2 degrees C could essentially become infeasible, and 1.5°C beyond reach,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, which joins the Potsdam Institute as one of the four organizations comprising CAT.

It classified seven of the INDCs as inadequate, six as medium, and two as sufficient.

The United States was among those given the medium rating. That status, CAT states, “indicates that the U.S. climate plans are at the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution.”

CAT states that its “analysis shows that in order to hold global warming below 2°C, governments need to significantly strengthen the INDCs they have submitted to date.”

Regardless of pledges, some climate activists expect little progress from the Paris meeting.

As Alex Scrivener, policy officer at Global Justice Now, wrote at Common Dreams last month, COP21 won’t be the answer to climate change. That’s because “it will not be dealing with the underlying problem—the unfair economic system that puts the interest of fossil fuel addicted corporations above those of the people,” he wrote.

“So instead of being distracted by the false hope of a summit breakthrough, we should concentrate on putting pressure on our politicians to reduce emissions at home and building a broad and diverse movement to change the political context of climate policy. This means fighting trade deals that bestow rights on fossil fuel corporations. It means fighting the politics of austerity that forces us to accept ‘cheap’ coal instead of investing in clean, democratically controlled energy systems. And it also means fighting against the privatization of energy globally,” Scrivener writes.

The need for mass popular mobilizations to effect such change was also stressed in a joint statement recently issued by key leaders from the global climate justice movement.

“For more than 20 years, governments have been meeting, yet greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased and the climate keeps changing. The forces of inertia and obstruction prevail, even as scientific warnings become ever more dire,” the statement reads.

Yet “our actions are much more powerful than we think.”

“In the past, determined women and men have resisted and overcome the crimes of slavery, totalitarianism, colonialism or apartheid. They decided to fight for justice and solidarity and knew no one would do it for them. Climate change is a similar challenge, and we are nurturing a similar uprising,” they write.


The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here

In Uncategorized on August 21, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Walruses, like these in Alaska, are being forced ashore in record numbers, as result of rapidly disappearing arctic sea ice. Corey Accardo/NOAA/AP

Oldspeak: “Yah huh. Already here and worsening by the day. We’re actually about 40 years past the point of no return in this on a geologic time scale stupefyingly fast 6th mass extinction event. What took hundreds of thousands of years to happen during Earth’s previously worst & greatest dying, has happened over the course of the last 1oo to 2oo years. I found it interesting while the author dutifully reported on the dire situation of Earth’s vanishing plankton populations, he neglected to mention that, when the plankton go extinct, half of the air we breathe goes with them. A major detail to omit I’d say. There’s quite a bit of nonsense talk mixed in with the sobering reality delineated here. Like talk of “exit strategies”, “carbon taxes”, “remediation plans”, “legal actions”, “safe levels of climate change”. Talk of “emission cuts among world leaders”.  As though any of these utterly bankrupt and futile hopium-tinged ideas are viable, or will make any measurable difference in the fate of most life on Earth. As if human civilization hasn’t long exited the safe operating space of earth by exceeding 4 of 9 planetary boundaries. Given that as the title of the piece states we are at the point of no return, the talk is nothing more than romantic flights of fancy at this late stage with no end to the business as usual worst case scenario trajectory of 4 to 10 degrees C of warming baked in to our Earth cake.  Also left unmentioned is how these light speed climactic changes connect to humankind’s consumption of 1.6 earth’s worth of Earth’s resources which cannot be regenerated in less than 8 months. The disconnect is breathtaking. One only need read the follow-up article to the one below. “5 Things We Learned From the ‘Point of No Return’ Climate Solutions AMA” in it you’ll find even more nonsense talk of climate “solutions”, “activism”, “combating climate change” and the most disingenuous nonsense of all: “hope”. Your Hope and fear are the only things the transnational corporate network of inverted totalitarian kleptocracy has going for it. Leading us to believe we are somehow separated and exalted saviors of this ecology we’re born of that is dying around us; with all our cleverness and ingenuity. Saving a few species is said to “feel like a triumph”. Engaged in vigorous, ubiquitous and relentless campaigns of though control, to serve pathologically ecocidal (and ultimately fictional) ends of profit, power and control.  “That this regime of thought control proved to be so triumphant, with so little public resistance, must be due to its persistent repetitive orchestration.”-Alex Carey. Insidiously concealing a horrific reality; that wrapped in the gauzy and seductive trappings of “convenience”, “development”, “personalization” “efficiency” and “progress” “We have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death.”-Chris Hedges  Endeavoring to prevent you from realizing that true power and freedom from fear lie in your loss of hope, as Derrick Jensen said: “When you give up on hope, you turn away from fear. You become very dangerous to those in power.” In the twilight of this age of madness cloaked as sanity, cultivate the wisdom of insecurity & creative maladjustment. Have the courage to abide in a “kind of sanity that is unrecognizable to comfort-seeking people.”   Accept that the age of a comfortable and habitable Earth is in the process of ending.” -OSJ

Written By By Eric Holthaus @ Rolling Stone:

Historians may look to 2015 as the year when shit really started hitting the fan. Some snapshots: In just the past few months, record-setting heat waves in Pakistan and India each killed more than 1,000 people. In Washington state’s Olympic National Park, the rainforest caught fire for the first time in living memory. London reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest July day ever recorded in the U.K.; The Guardian briefly had to pause its live blog of the heat wave because its computer servers overheated. In California, suffering from its worst drought in a millennium, a 50-acre brush fire swelled seventyfold in a matter of hours, jumping across the I-15 freeway during rush-hour traffic. Then, a few days later, the region was pounded by intense, virtually unheard-of summer rains. Puerto Rico is under its strictest water rationing in history as a monster El Niño forms in the tropical Pacific Ocean, shifting weather patterns worldwide.

On July 20th, James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist who brought climate change to the public’s attention in the summer of 1988, issued a bombshell: He and a team of climate scientists had identified a newly important feedback mechanism off the coast of Antarctica that suggests mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted: 10 feet by 2065. The authors included this chilling warning: If emissions aren’t cut, “We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”

Eric Rignot, a climate scientist at NASA and the University of California-Irvine and a co-author on Hansen’s study, said their new research doesn’t necessarily change the worst-case scenario on sea-level rise, it just makes it much more pressing to think about and discuss, especially among world leaders. In particular, says Rignot, the new research shows a two-degree Celsius rise in global temperature — the previously agreed upon “safe” level of climate change — “would be a catastrophe for sea-level rise.”

Hansen’s new study also shows how complicated and unpredictable climate change can be. Even as global ocean temperatures rise to their highest levels in recorded history, some parts of the ocean, near where ice is melting exceptionally fast, are actually cooling, slowing ocean circulation currents and sending weather patterns into a frenzy. Sure enough, a persistently cold patch of ocean is starting to show up just south of Greenland, exactly where previous experimental predictions of a sudden surge of freshwater from melting ice expected it to be. Michael Mann, another prominent climate scientist, recently said of the unexpectedly sudden Atlantic slowdown, “This is yet another example of where observations suggest that climate model predictions may be too conservative when it comes to the pace at which certain aspects of climate change are proceeding.”

Since storm systems and jet streams in the United States and Europe partially draw their energy from the difference in ocean temperatures, the implication of one patch of ocean cooling while the rest of the ocean warms is profound. Storms will get stronger, and sea-level rise will accelerate. Scientists like Hansen only expect extreme weather to get worse in the years to come, though Mann said it was still “unclear” whether recent severe winters on the East Coast are connected to the phenomenon.

And yet, these aren’t even the most disturbing changes happening to the Earth’s biosphere that climate scientists are discovering this year. For that, you have to look not at the rising sea levels but to what is actually happening within the oceans themselves.

Water temperatures this year in the North Pacific have never been this high for this long over such a large area — and it is already having a profound effect on marine life.

Eighty-year-old Roger Thomas runs whale-watching trips out of San Francisco. On an excursion earlier this year, Thomas spotted 25 humpbacks and three blue whales. During a survey on July 4th, federal officials spotted 115 whales in a single hour near the Farallon Islands — enough to issue a boating warning. Humpbacks are occasionally seen offshore in California, but rarely so close to the coast or in such numbers. Why are they coming so close to shore? Exceptionally warm water has concentrated the krill and anchovies they feed on into a narrow band of relatively cool coastal water. The whales are having a heyday. “It’s unbelievable,” Thomas told a local paper. “Whales are all over
the place.”

Last fall, in northern Alaska, in the same part of the Arctic where Shell is planning to drill for oil, federal scientists discovered 35,000 walruses congregating on a single beach. It was the largest-ever documented “haul out” of walruses, and a sign that sea ice, their favored habitat, is becoming harder and harder to find.

Marine life is moving north, adapting in real time to the warming ocean. Great white sharks have been sighted breeding near Monterey Bay, California, the farthest north that’s ever been known to occur. A blue marlin was caught last summer near Catalina Island — 1,000 miles north of its typical range. Across California, there have been sightings of non-native animals moving north, such as Mexican red crabs.

Salmon on the brink of dying out. Michael Quinton/Newscom

No species may be as uniquely endangered as the one most associated with the Pacific Northwest, the salmon. Every two weeks, Bill Peterson, an oceanographer and senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Oregon, takes to the sea to collect data he uses to forecast the return of salmon. What he’s been seeing this year is deeply troubling.

Salmon are crucial to their coastal ecosystem like perhaps few other species on the planet. A significant portion of the nitrogen in West Coast forests has been traced back to salmon, which can travel hundreds of miles upstream to lay their eggs. The largest trees on Earth simply wouldn’t exist without salmon.

But their situation is precarious. This year, officials in California are bringing salmon downstream in convoys of trucks, because river levels are too low and the temperatures too warm for them to have a reasonable chance of surviving. One species, the winter-run Chinook salmon, is at a particularly increased risk of decline in the next few years, should the warm water persist offshore.

“You talk to fishermen, and they all say: ‘We’ve never seen anything like this before,’ ” says Peterson. “So when you have no experience with something like this, it gets like, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ ”

Atmospheric scientists increasingly believe that the exceptionally warm waters over the past months are the early indications of a phase shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a cyclical warming of the North Pacific that happens a few times each century. Positive phases of the PDO have been known to last for 15 to 20 years, during which global warming can increase at double the rate as during negative phases of the PDO. It also makes big El Niños, like this year’s, more likely. The nature of PDO phase shifts is unpredictable — climate scientists simply haven’t yet figured out precisely what’s behind them and why they happen when they do. It’s not a permanent change — the ocean’s temperature will likely drop from these record highs, at least temporarily, some time over the next few years — but the impact on marine species will be lasting, and scientists have pointed to the PDO as a global-warming preview.

“The climate [change] models predict this gentle, slow increase in temperature,” says Peterson, “but the main problem we’ve had for the last few years is the variability is so high. As scientists, we can’t keep up with it, and neither can the animals.” Peterson likens it to a boxer getting pummeled round after round: “At some point, you knock them down, and the fight is over.”

Pavement-melting heat waves in India. Harish Tyagi/EPA/Corbis

Attendant with this weird wildlife behavior is a stunning drop in the number of plankton — the basis of the ocean’s food chain. In July, another major study concluded that acidifying oceans are likely to have a “quite traumatic” impact on plankton diversity, with some species dying out while others flourish. As the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it’s converted into carbonic acid — and the pH of seawater declines. According to lead author Stephanie Dutkiewicz of MIT, that trend means “the whole food chain is going to be different.”

The Hansen study may have gotten more attention, but the Dutkiewicz study, and others like it, could have even more dire implications for our future. The rapid changes Dutkiewicz and her colleagues are observing have shocked some of their fellow scientists into thinking that yes, actually, we’re heading toward the worst-case scenario. Unlike a prediction of massive sea-level rise just decades away, the warming and acidifying oceans represent a problem that seems to have kick-started a mass extinction on the same time scale.

Jacquelyn Gill is a paleoecologist at the University of Maine. She knows a lot about extinction, and her work is more relevant than ever. Essentially, she’s trying to save the species that are alive right now by learning more about what killed off the ones that aren’t. The ancient data she studies shows “really compelling evidence that there can be events of abrupt climate change that can happen well within human life spans. We’re talking less than a decade.”

For the past year or two, a persistent change in winds over the North Pacific has given rise to what meteorologists and oceanographers are calling “the blob” — a highly anomalous patch of warm water between Hawaii, Alaska and Baja California that’s thrown the marine ecosystem into a tailspin. Amid warmer temperatures, plankton numbers have plummeted, and the myriad species that depend on them have migrated or seen their own numbers dwindle.

Significant northward surges of warm water have happened before, even frequently. El Niño, for example, does this on a predictable basis. But what’s happening this year appears to be something new. Some climate scientists think that the wind shift is linked to the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice over the past few years, which separate research has shown makes weather patterns more likely to get stuck.

A similar shift in the behavior of the jet stream has also contributed to the California drought and severe polar vortex winters in the Northeast over the past two years. An amplified jet-stream pattern has produced an unusual doldrum off the West Coast that’s persisted for most of the past 18 months. Daniel Swain, a Stanford University meteorologist, has called it the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” — weather patterns just aren’t supposed to last this long.

What’s increasingly uncontroversial among scientists is that in many ecosystems, the impacts of the current off-the-charts temperatures in the North Pacific will linger for years, or longer. The largest ocean on Earth, the Pacific is exhibiting cyclical variability to greater extremes than other ocean basins. While the North Pacific is currently the most dramatic area of change in the world’s oceans, it’s not alone: Globally, 2014 was a record-setting year for ocean temperatures, and 2015 is on pace to beat it soundly, boosted by the El Niño in the Pacific. Six percent of the world’s reefs could disappear before the end of the decade, perhaps permanently, thanks to warming waters.

Since warmer oceans expand in volume, it’s also leading to a surge in sea-level rise. One recent study showed a slowdown in Atlantic Ocean currents, perhaps linked to glacial melt from Greenland, that caused a four-inch rise in sea levels along the Northeast coast in just two years, from 2009 to 2010. To be sure, it seems like this sudden and unpredicted surge was only temporary, but scientists who studied the surge estimated it to be a 1-in-850-year event, and it’s been blamed on accelerated beach erosion “almost as significant as some hurricane events.”

Biblical floods in Turkey. Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Possibly worse than rising ocean temperatures is the acidification of the waters. Acidification has a direct effect on mollusks and other marine animals with hard outer bodies: A striking study last year showed that, along the West Coast, the shells of tiny snails are already dissolving, with as-yet-unknown consequences on the ecosystem. One of the study’s authors, Nina Bednaršek, told Science magazine that the snails’ shells, pitted by the acidifying ocean, resembled “cauliflower” or “sandpaper.” A similarly striking study by more than a dozen of the world’s top ocean scientists this July said that the current pace of increasing carbon emissions would force an “effectively irreversible” change on ocean ecosystems during this century. In as little as a decade, the study suggested, chemical changes will rise significantly above background levels in nearly half of the world’s oceans.

“I used to think it was kind of hard to make things in the ocean go extinct,” James Barry of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California told the Seattle Times in 2013. “But this change we’re seeing is happening so fast it’s almost instantaneous.”

Thanks to the pressure we’re putting on the planet’s ecosystem — warming, acidification and good old-fashioned pollution — the oceans are set up for several decades of rapid change. Here’s what could happen next.

The combination of excessive nutrients from agricultural runoff, abnormal wind patterns and the warming oceans is already creating seasonal dead zones in coastal regions when algae blooms suck up most of the available oxygen. The appearance of low-oxygen regions has doubled in frequency every 10 years since 1960 and should continue to grow over the coming decades at an even greater rate.

So far, dead zones have remained mostly close to the coasts, but in the 21st century, deep-ocean dead zones could become common. These low-oxygen regions could gradually expand in size — potentially thousands of miles across — which would force fish, whales, pretty much everything upward. If this were to occur, large sections of the temperate deep oceans would suffer should the oxygen-free layer grow so pronounced that it stratifies, pushing surface ocean warming into overdrive and hindering upwelling of cooler, nutrient-rich deeper water.

Enhanced evaporation from the warmer oceans will create heavier downpours, perhaps destabilizing the root systems of forests, and accelerated runoff will pour more excess nutrients into coastal areas, further enhancing dead zones. In the past year, downpours have broken records in Long Island, Phoenix, Detroit, Baltimore, Houston and Pensacola, Florida.

Evidence for the above scenario comes in large part from our best understanding of what happened 250 million years ago, during the “Great Dying,” when more than 90 percent of all oceanic species perished after a pulse of carbon dioxide and methane from land-based sources began a period of profound climate change. The conditions that triggered “Great Dying” took hundreds of thousands of years to develop. But humans have been emitting carbon dioxide at a much quicker rate, so the current mass extinction only took 100 years or so to kick-start.

With all these stressors working against it, a hypoxic feedback loop could wind up destroying some of the oceans’ most species-rich ecosystems within our lifetime. A recent study by Sarah Moffitt of the University of California-Davis said it could take the ocean thousands of years to recover. “Looking forward for my kid, people in the future are not going to have the same ocean that I have today,” Moffitt said.

As you might expect, having tickets to the front row of a global environmental catastrophe is taking an increasingly emotional toll on scientists, and in some cases pushing them toward advocacy. Of the two dozen or so scientists I interviewed for this piece, virtually all drifted into apocalyptic language at some point.

For Simone Alin, an oceanographer focusing on ocean acidification at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, the changes she’s seeing hit close to home. The Puget Sound is a natural laboratory for the coming decades of rapid change because its waters are naturally more acidified than most of the world’s marine ecosystems.

The local oyster industry here is already seeing serious impacts from acidifying waters and is going to great lengths to avoid a total collapse. Alin calls oysters, which are non-native, the canary in the coal mine for the Puget Sound: “A canary is also not native to a coal mine, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good indicator of change.”

Though she works on fundamental oceanic changes every day, the Dutkiewicz study on the impending large-scale changes to plankton caught her off-guard: “This was alarming to me because if the basis of the food web changes, then . . . everything could change, right?”

Alin’s frank discussion of the looming oceanic apocalypse is perhaps a product of studying unfathomable change every day. But four years ago, the birth of her twins “heightened the whole issue,” she says. “I was worried enough about these problems before having kids that I maybe wondered whether it was a good idea. Now, it just makes me feel crushed.”

Katharine Hayhoe
Katharine Hayhoe speaks about climate change to students and faculty at Wayland Baptist University in 2011. Geoffrey McAllister/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Getty

Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and evangelical Christian, moved from Canada to Texas with her husband, a pastor, precisely because of its vulnerability to climate change. There, she engages with the evangelical community on science — almost as a missionary would. But she’s already planning her exit strategy: “If we continue on our current pathway, Canada will be home for us long term. But the majority of people don’t have an exit strategy. . . . So that’s who I’m here trying to help.”

James Hansen, the dean of climate scientists, retired from NASA in 2013 to become a climate activist. But for all the gloom of the report he just put his name to, Hansen is actually somewhat hopeful. That’s because he knows that climate change has a straightforward solution: End fossil-fuel use as quickly as possible. If tomorrow, the leaders of the United States and China would agree to a sufficiently strong, coordinated carbon tax that’s also applied to imports, the rest of the world would have no choice but to sign up. This idea has already been pitched to Congress several times, with tepid bipartisan support. Even though a carbon tax is probably a long shot, for Hansen, even the slim possibility that bold action like this might happen is enough for him to devote the rest of his life to working to achieve it. On a conference call with reporters in July, Hansen said a potential joint U.S.-China carbon tax is more important than whatever happens at the United Nations climate talks in Paris.

One group Hansen is helping is Our Children’s Trust, a legal advocacy organization that’s filed a number of novel challenges on behalf of minors under the idea that climate change is a violation of intergenerational equity — children, the group argues, are lawfully entitled to inherit a healthy planet.

A separate challenge to U.S. law is being brought by a former EPA scientist arguing that carbon dioxide isn’t just a pollutant (which, under the Clean Air Act, can dissipate on its own), it’s also a toxic substance. In general, these substances have exceptionally long life spans in the environment, cause an unreasonable risk, and therefore require remediation. In this case, remediation may involve planting vast numbers of trees or restoring wetlands to bury excess carbon underground.

Even if these novel challenges succeed, it will take years before a bend in the curve is noticeable. But maybe that’s enough. When all feels lost, saving a few species will feel like a triumph.

“It’s, um… bad. Really nasty.” : When The End Of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job

In Uncategorized on July 9, 2015 at 8:17 pm
Glaciologist Jason Box, left, at work on the Petermann Glacier on Greenland's northwest coast, which has lost mass at an accelerated pace in recent years. Box and his family left Ohio State for Europe a couple years ago, and he is relieved to have escaped America's culture of climate-change denial.

Glaciologist Jason Box, left, at work on the Petermann Glacier on Greenland’s northwest coast, which has lost mass at an accelerated pace in recent years. Box and his family left Ohio State for Europe a couple years ago, and he is relieved to have escaped America’s culture of climate-change denial

Oldspeak:” Boy I tell ya, Hopium is a helluva drug. Fascinating to see the thought process and disposition that informs the majority of the climate scientists interviewed for this piece. Even in the face of steadily mounting data, evidence, and dire conditions observed, they still cling to the fantastical notions like: “We can solve this problem in a way that doesn’t disrupt our lifestyle” or “I don’t think we’re fucked. There is time to build sustainable solutions to a lot of these things.” or “If I spend my energy on despair, I won’t be thinking about opportunities to minimize the problem.’ /O_o\When you read those thoughts in the context of the reality that civilization is a heat engine, not likely to  de-grow, slow down or stop until all natural resources and capital required for its operation are exhausted and it collapses; at which point lethal clouds of radioactivity from some 400 melted down nuclear power plants will envelop the earth, you understand that hopes for “solving the problem” “sustainable solutions” and “opportunities to minimize the problem” are quite absurd. One went so far as to cite the change in attitudes and acceptance of gay marriage to justify a possible quick change in attitudes and acceptance of mass extinction. As if it’s at all appropriate to compare the impending end of most all life on earth to the socially agreed upon business contract that is Marriage. SMDH… Also found it interesting that some climate scientists express contempt, frustration, disgust and annoyance with climate change deniers, while harboring their own brands of denial.  Sigh… What we are witnessing is an intractably catastrophic calamity that is beyond human scale and ability to affect in any meaningful way. The sooner we accept this, let go of what was, recognize what is and get on with living the rest of our short ass lives, the better off we will be.-OSJ

Written By John H. Richardson @ Esquire:

The incident was small, but Jason Box doesn’t want to talk about it. He’s been skittish about the media since it happened. This was last summer, as he was reading the cheery blog posts transmitted by the chief scientist on the Swedish icebreaker Oden, which was exploring the Arctic for an international expedition led by Stockholm University. “Our first observations of elevated methane levels, about ten times higher than in background seawater, were documented . . . we discovered over 100 new methane seep sites…. The weather Gods are still on our side as we steam through a now ice-free Laptev Sea….”

As a leading climatologist who spent many years studying the Arctic at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at Ohio State, Box knew that this breezy scientific detachment described one of the nightmare long-shot climate scenarios: a feedback loop where warming seas release methane that causes warming that releases more methane that causes more warming, on and on until the planet is incompatible with human life. And he knew there were similar methane releases occurring in the area. On impulse, he sent out a tweet.

“If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we’re f’d.”

The tweet immediately went viral, inspiring a series of headlines:




Box has been outspoken for years. He’s done science projects with Greenpeace, and he participated in the 2011 mass protest at the White House organized by 350.org. In 2013, he made headlines when a magazine reported his conclusion that a seventy-foot rise in sea levels over the next few centuries was probably already “baked into the system.” Now, with one word, Box had ventured into two particularly dangerous areas. First, the dirty secret of climate science and government climate policies is that they’re all based on probabilities, which means that the effects of standard CO2 targets like an 80 percent reduction by 2050 are based on the middle of the probability curve. Box had ventured to the darker possibilities on the curve’s tail, where few scientists and zero politicians are willing to go.

Worse, he showed emotion, a subject ringed with taboos in all science but especially in climate science. As a recent study from the University of Bristol documented, climate scientists have been so distracted and intimidated by the relentless campaign against them that they tend to avoid any statements that might get them labeled “alarmists,” retreating into a world of charts and data. But Box had been able to resist all that. He even chased the media splash in interviews with the Danish press, where they translated “we’re fucked” into its more decorous Danish equivalent, “on our ass,” plastering those dispiriting words in large-type headlines all across the country.

The problem was that Box was now working for the Danish government, and even though Denmark may be the most progressive nation in the world on climate issues, its leaders still did not take kindly to one of its scientists distressing the populace with visions of global destruction. Convinced his job was in jeopardy only a year after he uprooted his young family and moved to a distant country, Box was summoned before the entire board of directors at his research institute. So now, when he gets an e-mail asking for a phone call to discuss his “recent gloomy statements,” he doesn’t answer it.

Five days later: “Dr. Box—trying you again in case the message below went into your junk file. Please get in touch.”

This time he responds briefly. “I think most scientists must be burying overt recognition of the awful truths of climate change in a protective layer of denial (not the same kind of denial coming from conservatives, of course). I’m still amazed how few climatologists have taken an advocacy message to the streets, demonstrating for some policy action.” But he ignores the request for a phone call.

A week later, another try: “Dr. Box—I watched your speech at The Economist’s Arctic Summit. Wow. I would like to come see you.”

But gloom is the one subject he doesn’t want to discuss. “Crawling under a rock isn’t an option,” he responds, “so becoming overcome with PTSD-like symptoms is useless.” He quotes a Norse proverb:

“The unwise man is awake all night, worries over and again. When morning rises he is restless still.”

Most people don’t have a proverb like that readily at hand. So, a final try: “I do think I should come to see you, meet your family, and make this story personal and vivid.”

I wanted to meet Box to find out how this outspoken American is holding up. He has left his country and moved his family to witness and study the melting of Greenland up close. How does being the one to look at the grim facts of climate change most intimately, day in and day out, affect a person? Is Box representative of all of the scientists most directly involved in this defining issue of the new century? How are they being affected by the burden of their chosen work in the face of changes to the earth that could render it a different planet?

Finally, Box gives in. Come to Copenhagen, he says. And he even promises a family dinner.


For more than thirty years, climate scientists have been living a surreal existence. A vast and ever-growing body of research shows that warming is tracking the rise of greenhouse gases exactly as their models predicted. The physical evidence becomes more dramatic every year: forests retreating, animals moving north, glaciers melting, wildfire seasons getting longer, higher rates of droughts, floods, and storms—five times as many in the 2000s as in the 1970s. In the blunt words of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, conducted by three hundred of America’s most distinguished experts at the request of the U. S. government, human-induced climate change is real—U. S. temperatures have gone up between 1.3 and 1.9 degrees, mostly since 1970—and the change is already affecting “agriculture, water, human health, energy, transportation, forests, and ecosystems.” But that’s not the worst of it. Arctic air temperatures are increasing at twice the rate of the rest of the world—a study by the U. S. Navy says that the Arctic could lose its summer sea ice by next year, eighty-four years ahead of the models—and evidence little more than a year old suggests the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is doomed, which will add between twenty and twenty-five feet to ocean levels. The one hundred million people in Bangladesh will need another place to live and coastal cities globally will be forced to relocate, a task complicated by economic crisis and famine—with continental interiors drying out, the chief scientist at the U. S. State Department in 2009 predicted a billion people will suffer famine within twenty or thirty years. And yet, despite some encouraging developments in renewable energy and some breakthroughs in international leadership, carbon emissions continue to rise at a steady rate, and for their pains the scientists themselves—the cruelest blow of all—have been the targets of an unrelenting and well-organized attack that includes death threats, summonses from a hostile Congress, attempts to get them fired, legal harassment, and intrusive discovery demands so severe they had to start their own legal-defense fund, all amplified by a relentless propaganda campaign nakedly financed by the fossil-fuel companies. Shortly before a pivotal climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, thousands of their e-mail streams were hacked in a sophisticated espionage operation that has never been solved—although the official police investigation revealed nothing, an analysis by forensics experts traced its path through servers in Turkey and two of the world’s largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
No scientist has come in for more threats and abuse than Michael Mann, whose “hockey stick” graph (so named because the temperature and emissions lines for recent decades curve straight up) has become the target of the most powerful deniers in the world.

Among climate activists, gloom is building. Jim Driscoll of the National Institute for Peer Support just finished a study of a group of longtime activists whose most frequently reported feeling was sadness, followed by fear and anger. Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a practicing psychiatrist and graduate of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth slide-show training, calls this “pretraumatic” stress. “So many of us are exhibiting all the signs and symptoms of posttraumatic disorder—the anger, the panic, the obsessive intrusive thoughts.” Leading activist Gillian Caldwell went public with her “climate trauma,” as she called it, quitting the group she helped build and posting an article called “16 Tips for Avoiding Climate Burnout,” in which she suggests compartmentalization: “Reinforce boundaries between professional work and personal life. It is very hard to switch from the riveting force of apocalyptic predictions at work to home, where the problems are petty by comparison.”

Most of the dozens of scientists and activists I spoke to date the rise of the melancholy mood to the failure of the 2009 climate conference and the gradual shift from hope of prevention to plans for adaptation: Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth is a manual for survival on an earth so different he doesn’t think we should even spell it the same, and James Lovelock delivers the same message in A Rough Ride to the Future. In Australia, Clive Hamilton writes articles and books with titles like Requiem for a Species. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, the melancholy Jonathan Franzen argued that, since earth now “resembles a patient whose terminal cancer we can choose to treat either with disfiguring aggression or with palliation and sympathy,” we should stop trying to avoid the inevitable and spend our money on new nature preserves, where birds can go extinct a little more slowly.

At the darkest end of the spectrum are groups like Deep Green Resistance, which openly advocates sabotage to “industrial infrastructure,” and the thousands who visit the Web site and attend the speeches of Guy McPherson, a biology professor at the University of Arizona who concluded that renewables would do no good, left his job, and moved to an off-grid homestead to prepare for abrupt climate change. “Civilization is a heat engine,” he says. “There’s no escaping the trap we’ve landed ourselves into.”

The most influential is Paul Kingsnorth, a longtime climate activist and novelist who abandoned hope for political change in 2009. Retreating to the woods of western Ireland, he helped launch a group called Dark Mountain with a stirring, gloomy manifesto calling for “a network of writers, artists, and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself.” Among those stories: progress, growth, and the superiority of man. The idea quickly spread, and there are now fifty Dark Mountain chapters around the world. Fans have written plays and songs and a Ph.D. thesis about them. On the phone from Ireland, he explains the appeal.

“You have to be careful about hope. If that hope is based on an unrealistic foundation, it just crumbles and then you end up with people who are despairing. I saw that in Copenhagen—there was a lot of despair and giving up after that.”

Personally, though he considers them feeble gestures, he’s planting a lot of trees, growing his own vegetables, avoiding plastic. He stopped flying. “It seems like an ethical obligation. All you can do is what you think is right.” The odd thing is that he’s much more forgiving than activists still in the struggle, even with oil-purchased politicians. “We all love the fruits of what we’re given—the cars and computers and iPhones. What politician is going to try to sell people a future where they can’t update their iPhones ever?”

He laughs.

Does he think it would be wrong to take a transatlantic airplane trip to interview a climate scientist?

He laughs again. “You have to answer that yourself.”


All this leaves climate scientists in an awkward position. At NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which early in the year was threatened with 30 percent budget cuts by Republicans who resent its reports on climate change, Gavin Schmidt occupies the seventh-floor corner office once occupied by the legendary James Hansen, the scientist who first laid out the facts for Congress in 1988 and grew so impassioned he got himself arrested protesting coal mines. Although Schmidt was one of the victims of the 2009 computer hacks, which he admits tipped him into an episode of serious depression, he now focuses relentlessly on the bright side. “It’s not that nothing has been done. There’s a lot of things. In terms of per capita emissions, most of the developed world is stable. So we are doing something.”

Box’s tweet sets his teeth on edge. “I don’t agree. I don’t think we’re fucked. There is time to build sustainable solutions to a lot of these things. You don’t have to close down all the coal-powered stations tomorrow. You can transition. It sounds cute to say, ‘Oh, we’re fucked and there’s nothing we can do,’ but it’s a bit of a nihilistic attitude. We always have the choice. We can continue to make worse decisions, or we can try to make ever better decisions. ‘Oh, we’re fucked! Just give up now, just kill me now,’ that’s just stupid.”
Gavin Schmidt in his office at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Box’s dire forecast annoyed him. ‘You don’t run around saying, ‘We’re fucked! We’re fucked! We’re fucked!’ It doesn’t incentivize anybody to do anything.’

Schmidt, who is expecting his first child and tries to live a low-carbon existence, insists that the hacks and investigations and budget threats have not intimidated him. He also shrugs off the abrupt-climate-change scenarios. “The methane thing is actually something I work on a lot, and most of the headlines are crap. There’s no actual evidence that anything dramatically different is going on in the Arctic, other than the fact that it’s melting pretty much everywhere.”

But climate change happens gradually and we’ve already gone up almost 1 degree centigrade and seen eight inches of ocean rise. Barring unthinkably radical change, we’ll hit 2 degrees in thirty or forty years and that’s been described as a catastrophe—melting ice, rising waters, drought, famine, and massive economic turmoil. And many scientists now think we’re on track to 4 or 5 degrees—even Shell oil said that it anticipates a world 4 degrees hotter because it doesn’t see “governments taking the steps now that are consistent with the 2 degrees C scenario.” That would mean a world racked by economic and social and environmental collapse.

“Oh yeah,” Schmidt says, almost casually. “The business-as-usual world that we project is really a totally different planet. There’s going to be huge dislocations if that comes about.”

But things can change much quicker than people think, he says. Look at attitudes on gay marriage.

And the glaciers?

“The glaciers are going to melt, they’re all going to melt,” he says. “But my reaction to Jason Box’s comments is—what is the point of saying that? It doesn’t help anybody.”

As it happens, Schmidt was the first winner of the Climate Communication Prize from the American Geophysical Union, and various recent studies in the growing field of climate communications find that frank talk about the grim realities turns people off—it’s simply too much to take in. But strategy is one thing and truth is another. Aren’t those glaciers water sources for hundreds of millions of people?

“Particularly in the Indian subcontinent, that’s a real issue,” he says. “There’s going to be dislocation there, no question.”

And the rising oceans? Bangladesh is almost underwater now. Do a hundred million people have to move?

“Well, yeah. Under business as usual. But I don’t think we’re fucked.”

Resource wars, starvation, mass migrations . . .

“Bad things are going to happen. What can you do as a person? You write stories. I do science. You don’t run around saying, ‘We’re fucked! We’re fucked! We’re fucked!’ It doesn’t—it doesn’t incentivize anybody to do anything.”


Scientists are problem solvers by nature, trained to cherish detachment as a moral ideal. Jeffrey Kiehl was a senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research when he became so concerned about the way the brain resists climate science, he took a break and got a psychology degree. Ten years of research later, he’s concluded that consumption and growth have become so central to our sense of personal identity and the fear of economic loss creates such numbing anxiety, we literally cannot imagine making the necessary changes. Worse, accepting the facts threatens us with a loss of faith in the fundamental order of the universe. Climate scientists are different only because they have a professional excuse for detachment, and usually it’s not until they get older that they admit how much it’s affecting them—which is also when they tend to get more outspoken, Kiehl says. “You reach a point where you feel—and that’s the word, not think, feel—’I have to do something.’ ”

This accounts for the startled reaction when Camille Parmesan of the University of Texas—who was a member of the group that shared a Nobel prize with Al Gore for their climate work—announced that she’d become “professionally depressed” and was leaving the United States for England. A plainspoken Texan who grew up in Houston as the daughter of an oil geologist, Parmesan now says it was more about the politics than the science. “To be honest, I panicked fifteen years ago—that was when the first studies came out showing that Arctic tundras were shifting from being a net sink to being a net source of CO2. That along with the fact this butterfly I was studying shifted its entire range across half a continent—I said this is big, this is big. Everything since then has just confirmed it.”

But she’s not optimistic. “Do I think it likely that the nations of the world will take sufficient action to stabilize climate in the next fifty years? No, I don’t think it likely.”

She was living in Texas after the climate summit failed in 2009, when media coverage of climate issues plunged by two thirds—the subject wasn’t mentioned once in the 2012 presidential debates—and Governor Rick Perry cut the sections relating to sea-level rise in a report on Galveston Bay, kicking off a trend of state officials who ban all use of the term “climate change.” “There are excellent climate scientists in Texas,” Parmesan says firmly. “Every university in the state has people working on impacts. To have the governor’s office ignore it is just very upsetting.”

The politics took its toll. Her butterfly study got her a spot on the UN climate panel, where she got “a quick and hard lesson on the politics” when policy makers killed the words “high confidence” in the crucial passage that said scientists had high confidence species were responding to climate change. Then the personal attacks started on right-wing Web sites and blogs. “They just flat-out lie. It’s one reason I live in the UK now. It’s not just been climate change, there’s a growing, ever-stronger antiscience sentiment in the U. S. A. People get really angry and really nasty. It was a huge relief simply not to have to deal with it.” She now advises her graduate students to look for jobs outside the U. S.

No one has experienced that hostility more vividly than Michael Mann, who was a young Ph.D. researcher when he helped come up with the historical data that came to be known as the hockey stick—the most incendiary display graph in human history, with its temperature and emissions lines going straight up at the end like the blade of a hockey stick. He was investigated, was denounced in Congress, got death threats, was accused of fraud, received white powder in the mail, and got thousands of e-mails with suggestions like, You should be “shot, quartered, and fed to the pigs along with your whole damn families.” Conservative legal foundations pressured his university, a British journalist suggested the electric chair. In 2003, Senator James Inhofe’s committee called him to testify, flanking him with two professional climate-change deniers, and in 2011 the committee threatened him with federal prosecution, along with sixteen other scientists.

Now, sitting behind his desk in his office at Penn State, he goes back to his swirl of emotions. “You find yourself in the center of this political theater, in this chess match that’s being played out by very powerful figures—you feel anger, befuddlement, disillusionment, disgust.”

The intimidating effect is undeniable, he says. Some of his colleagues were so demoralized by the accusations and investigations that they withdrew from public life. One came close to suicide. Mann decided to fight back, devoting more of his time to press interviews and public speaking, and discovered that contact with other concerned people always cheered him up. But the sense of potential danger never leaves. “You’re careful with what you say and do because you know that there’s the equivalent of somebody with a movie camera following you around,” he says.

Meanwhile, his sense of personal alarm has only grown. “I know you’ve spoken with Jason Box—a number of us have had these experiences where it’s become clear to us that in many respects, climate change is unfolding faster than we expected it to. Maybe it is true what the ice-sheet modelers have been telling us, that it will take a thousand years or more to melt the Greenland Ice Sheet. But maybe they’re wrong; maybe it could play out in a century or two. And then it’s a whole different ballgame—it’s the difference between human civilization and living things being able to adapt and not being able to adapt.”

As Mann sees it, scientists like Schmidt who choose to focus on the middle of the curve aren’t really being scientific. Worse are pseudo-sympathizers like Bjorn Lomborg who always focus on the gentlest possibilities. Because we’re supposed to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, and a real scientific response would also give serious weight to the dark side of the curve.

And yet, like Schmidt, Mann tries very hard to look on the bright side. We can solve this problem in a way that doesn’t disrupt our lifestyle, he says. Public awareness seems to be increasing, and there are a lot of good things happening at the executive level: tighter fuel-efficiency standards, the carbon-pricing initiatives by the New England and West Coast states, the recent agreement between the U. S. and China on emissions. Last year we saw global economic growth without an increase in carbon emissions, which suggests it’s possible to “decouple” oil and economic growth. And social change can happen very fast—look at gay marriage.

But he knows that gay marriage had no huge economic downside, and the most powerful companies in the world are fighting to stop any change in the fossil-fuel economy. So yes, he struggles with doubt. And he admits that some of his colleagues are very depressed, convinced there’s no way the international community will rise to the challenge. He gets into that conversation in bars after climate conferences, always pushing the side of hope.

Dealing with all of this has been a long emotional journey. As a young scientist, Mann was very traditional: “I felt that scientists should take an entirely dispassionate view when discussing matters of science,” he wrote in a book called The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. “We should do our best to divorce ourselves from all of our typically human inclinations—emotion, empathy, concern.” But even when he decided that detachment was a mistake in this case and began becoming publicly active, he was usually able to put the implication of all the hockey-stick trend lines out of his mind. “Part of being a scientist is you don’t want to believe there is a problem you can’t solve.”

Might that be just another form of denial?

The question seems to affect him. He takes a deep breath and answers in the carefully measured words of a scientist. “It’s hard to say,” he says. “It’s a denial of futility if there is futility. But I don’t know that there is futility, so it would only be denial per se if there were unassailable evidence.”

There are moments, he admits, flashes that come and go as fast as a blinking light, when he sees news reports about some new development in the field and it hits him—Wait a second, they’re saying that we’ve melted a lot. Then he does a peculiar thing: He disassociates a little bit and asks himself, How would I feel about that headline if I were a member of the public? I’d be scared out of my mind.

Right after Hurricane Sandy, he was in the classroom showing The Day After Tomorrow with the plan of critiquing its ridiculous story about the Atlantic conveyor belt slowing down so fast that it freezes England—except a recent study he worked on shows that the Atlantic conveyor belt actually is slowing down, another thing that’s happening decades ahead of schedule. “And some of the scenes in the wake of Hurricane Sandy—the flooding of the New York City subway system, cars submerged—they really didn’t look that different. The cartoon suddenly looked less like a cartoon. And it’s like, Now why is it that we can completely dismiss this movie?”

He was talking to students, so it got to him. They’re young, it’s their future more than his. He choked up and had to struggle to get ahold of himself. “You don’t want to choke up in front of your class,” he says.

About once a year, he says, he has nightmares of earth becoming a very alien planet.

The worst time was when he was reading his daughter Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, the story of a society destroyed by greed. He saw it as an optimistic story because it ends with the challenge of building a new society, but she burst into tears and refused to read the book again. “It was almost traumatic for her.”

His voice cracks. “I’m having one of those moments now.”


“I don’t want her to have to be sad,” he says. “And I almost have to believe we’re not yet there, where we are resigned to this future.”


The spring day is glorious, sunny and cool, and the avenues of Copenhagen are alive with tourists. Trying to make the best of things, Jason Box says we should blow off the getting-to-know-you lunch and go for a bike ride. Thirty minutes later he locks up the bikes at the entrance to Freetown, a local anarchist community that has improbably become one of Copenhagen’s most popular tourist destinations. Grabbing a couple beers at a restaurant, he leads the way to a winding lake and a small dock. The wind is blowing, swans flap their wings just off the beach, and Box sits with the sun on his face and his feet dangling over the sand.

“There’s a lot that’s scary,” he says, running down the list—the melting sea ice, the slowing of the conveyor belt. Only in the last few years were they able to conclude that Greenland is warmer than it was in the twenties, and the unpublished data looks very hockey-stick-ish. He figures there’s a 50 percent chance we’re already committed to going beyond 2 degrees centigrade and agrees with the growing consensus that the business-as-usual trajectory is 4 or 5 degrees. “It’s, um… bad. Really nasty.”

The big question is, What amount of warming puts Greenland into irreversible loss? That’s what will destroy all the coastal cities on earth. The answer is between 2 and 3 degrees. “Then it just thins and thins enough and you can’t regrow it without an ice age. And a small fraction of that is already a huge problem—Florida’s already installing all these expensive pumps.” (According to a recent report by a group spearheaded by Hank Paulson and Robert Rubin, secretaries of the Treasury under Bush Jr. and Bill Clinton, respectively, $23 billion worth of property in Florida may be destroyed by flooding within thirty-five years.)

Box is only forty-two, but his pointed Danish beard makes him look like a count in an old novel, someone who’d wear a frock coat and say something droll about the woman question. He seems detached from the sunny day, like a tourist trying to relax in a strange city. He also seems oddly detached from the things he’s saying, laying out one horrible prediction after another without emotion, as if he were an anthropologist regarding the life cycle of a distant civilization. But he can’t keep his anger in check for long and keeps obsessively returning to two topics:

“We need the deniers to get out of the way. They are risking everyone’s future…. The Koch Brothers are criminals…. They should be charged with criminal activity because they’re putting the profits of their business ahead of the livelihoods of millions of people, and even life on earth.”

Like Parmesan, Box was hugely relieved to be out of the toxic atmosphere of the U. S. “I remember thinking, What a relief, I don’t have to bother with this bullshit anymore.” In Denmark, his research is supported through the efforts of conservative politicians. “But Danish conservatives are not climate-change deniers,” he says.

The other topic he is obsessed with is the human suffering to come. Long before the rising waters from Greenland’s glaciers displace the desperate millions, he says more than once, we will face drought-triggered agricultural failures and water-security issues—in fact, it’s already happening. Think back to the 2010 Russian heat wave. Moscow halted grain exports. At the peak of the Australian drought, food prices spiked. The Arab Spring started with food protests, the self-immolation of the vegetable vendor in Tunisia. The Syrian conflict was preceded by four years of drought. Same with Darfur. The migrants are already starting to stream north across the sea—just yesterday, eight hundred of them died when their boat capsized—and the Europeans are arguing about what to do with them. “As the Pentagon says, climate change is a conflict multiplier.”

His home state of Colorado isn’t doing so great, either. “The forests are dying, and they will not return. The trees won’t return to a warming climate. We’re going to see megafires even more, that’ll be the new one—megafires until those forests are cleared.”

However dispassionately delivered, all of this amounts to a lament, the scientist’s version of the mothers who stand on hillsides and keen over the death of their sons. In fact, Box adds, he too is a climate refugee. His daughter is three and a half, and Denmark is a great place to be in an uncertain world—there’s plenty of water, a high-tech agriculture system, increasing adoption of wind power, and plenty of geographic distance from the coming upheavals. “Especially when you consider the beginning of the flood of desperate people from conflict and drought,” he says, returning to his obsession with how profoundly changed our civilization will be.

Despite all this, he insists that he approaches climate mostly as an intellectual problem. For the first decade of his career, even though he’s part of the generation of climate scientists who went to college after Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance, he stuck to teaching and research. He only began taking professional risks by working with Greenpeace and by joining the protest against Keystone when he came to the intellectual conclusion that climate change is a moral issue. “It’s unethical to bankrupt the environment of this planet,” he says. “That’s a tragedy, right?” Even now, he insists, the horror of what is happening rarely touches him on an emotional level… although it has been hitting him more often recently. “But I—I—I’m not letting it get to me. If I spend my energy on despair, I won’t be thinking about opportunities to minimize the problem.”

His insistence on this point is very unconvincing, especially given the solemnity that shrouds him like a dark coat. But the most interesting part is the insistence itself—the desperate need not to be disturbed by something so disturbing. Suddenly, a welcome distraction. A man appears on the beach in nothing but jockey shorts, his skin bluish. He says he’s Greek and he’s been sleeping on this beach for seven months and will swim across the lake for a small tip. A passing tourist asks if he can swim all the way.

“Of course.”

“Let me see.”

“How much money?”

“I give you when you get back.”

“Give me one hundred.”

“Yeah, yeah. When you get back.”

The Greek man splashes into the water and Box seems amused, laughing for the first time. It’s the relief of normal goofy human life, so distant from the dark themes that make up his life’s work.

Usually it’s a scientific development that smacks him, he says. The first was in 2002, when they discovered that meltwater was getting into the bed of the Greenland Ice Sheet and lubricating its flow. Oh, you say, it can be a wet bed, and then the implications sunk in: The
whole damn thing is destabilizing. Then in 2006, all of the glaciers in the southern half of Greenland began to retreat at two and three times their previous speed. Good Lord, it’s happening so fast. Two years later, they realized the retreat was fueled by warm water eroding the marine base ice—which is also what’s happening to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Just thinking about it makes him gloomy. “That’s unstoppable,” he says. “Abrupt sea-level rise is upon us.”

The Greek man returns with surprising speed, emerging from the sea like a god in a myth, laughing and boasting. The Greeks are masters of the waters! Pay me!

“I’m gonna give this guy a hundred kroner,” Box says.

He makes sure the tourists pay, too, and comes back smiling. He knows a Greek guy who’s just like that, he says, very proud and jolly. He envies him sometimes.

He leads the way to a quieter spot on the lakeside, passing through little hippie villages woven together by narrow dirt lanes—by consensus vote, there are no cars in Freetown, which makes it feel pleasantly medieval, intimate, and human-scaled. He lifts a beer to his lips and gazes over the lake and the happy people lazing in the afternoon sun. “The question of despair is not very nice to think about,” he says. “I’ve just disengaged that to a large degree. It’s kind of like a half-denial.”

He mentions the Norse proverb again, but a bulwark against despair so often cited becomes its own form of despair. You don’t dredge up proverbs like that unless you’re staying awake at night.

He nods, sighing. This work often disturbs his sleep, driving him from his bed to do something, anything. “Yeah, the shit that’s going down has been testing my ability to block it.”

He goes quiet for a moment. “It certainly does creep in, as a parent,” he says quietly, his eyes to the ground.

But let’s get real, he says, fossil fuels are the dominant industry on earth, and you can’t expect meaningful political change with them in control. “There’s a growing consensus that there must be a shock to the system.”

So the darker hopes arise—maybe a particularly furious El Niño or a “carbon bubble” where the financial markets realize that renewables have become more scalable and economical, leading to a run on fossil-fuel assets and a “generational crash” of the global economy that, through great suffering, buys us more time and forces change.


The Box family dinner isn’t going to happen after all, he says. When it comes to climate change at the very late date of 2015, there are just too many uncomfortable things to say, and his wife, Klara, resents any notion that she is a “climate migrant.”

This is the first hint that his brashness has caused tension at home.

“Well, she…” He takes a moment, considering. “I’ll say something like, ‘Man, the next twenty years are going to be a hell of a ride,’ or ‘These poor North African refugees flooding to Europe,’ and how I anticipate that flux of people to double and triple, and will the open borders of Europe change? And she’ll acknowledge it… but she’s not bringing it up like I am.”

Later, she sends a note responding to a few questions. She didn’t want to compare herself to the truly desperate refugees who are drowning, she says, and the move to Denmark really was for the quality of life. “Lastly, the most difficult question to answer is about Jason’s mental health. I’d say climate change, and more broadly the whole host of environmental and social problems the world faces, does affect his psyche. He feels deeply about these issues, but he is a scientist and a very pragmatic, goal-oriented person. His style is not to lie awake at night worrying about them but to get up in the morning (or the middle of the night) and do something about it. I love the guy for it :)”

So even when you are driven to your desk in the middle of the night, quoting Norse proverbs, when you are among the most informed and most concerned, the ordinary tender mercies of the home conspire in our denial. We pour our energy into doing our jobs the best we can, avoid unpleasant topics, keep up a brave face, make compromises with even the best societies, and little by little the compartmentalization we need to survive the day adds one more bit of distance between the comfortable now and the horrors ahead. So Box turns out to be a representative figure after all. It’s not enough to understand the changes that are coming. We have to find a way to live with them.

“In Denmark,” Box says, “we have the resilience, so I’m not that worried about my daughter’s livelihood going forward. But that doesn’t stop me from strategizing about how to safeguard her future—I’ve been looking at property in Greenland. As a possible bug-out scenario.”

Turns out a person can’t own land in Greenland, just a house on top of land. It’s a nice thought, a comforting thought—no matter what happens, the house will be there, safely hidden at the top of the world.

“Essentially The Walking Dead”: Study Shows Earth’s 6th Great Mass Extinction Happening Faster Than 5 Previous; Humans “very likely” To Be Among First Wave Of Species To Go Extinct

In Uncategorized on June 30, 2015 at 2:07 pm
An irrigation canal near a parched field in Manteca, Calif., April 24, 2015. California's drought has made the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta's limited supply of fresh water, which helps feed more than three million acres of farmland, a central battle zone between farmers and environmentalists. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

An irrigation canal near a parched field in Manteca, California, April 24, 2015. California’s drought has made the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’s limited supply of freshwater, which helps feed more than 3 million acres of farmland, a central battle zone between farmers and environmentalists. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Oldspeak:”[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event. There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead.” –Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Bing professor of population studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on…. We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis.” –Dr. Gerardo Ceballos, Universidad Autónoma de México

“Yep. This is where we’re at. Esteemed scientists talking matter of factly about the unprecedented accelerated rate of this Mass Extinction event; estimating that humans will likely be among the 1st to go. Emphasizing that their calculations, horrific as they are are likely underestimating the severity of the extinction crisis. A celebrated scientist regarding humans efforts to save the planet as as “foolish and romantic extravagance.” While technocrats cut funding for climate research, and limit Environmental Protection Agency efforts to curb toxic fossil fuel emissions. We’re fucked. We’re The Walking Dead. We’re the zombies, mindlessly and hedonistically shuffling about, dimly aware of the world around us, insatiable in our desires for more, bigger, faster, being “productive”, “efficient”, “hacking” our lives to squeeze more work out of ourselves to accumulate more sense-pleasuring things and stuff. This is unsustainable and omnicidal. Is this the way you want to live your last days on this plane of existence? I invite You to choose to spend these last hours here doing & consuming less; instead being & loving more. Endeavoring to be in a place of mindfulness, wonder, reverence, gratitude and acceptance of all that exists.” –OSJ

Written By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

At the end of May, a few friends and I opted to climb a couple of the larger volcanoes in Washington State. We started on Mount Adams, a 12,280-foot peak in the southern part of the state.

We were able to drive to the Cold Springs Campground at 5,600 feet, where the climb would begin. This itself was an anomaly for late May, when the dirt road tended to still be covered with snowpack. But not this year, one in which Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee has already declared a statewide drought emergency, given this year’s record-low snowpack.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

In fact, we hiked up bare earth until around 7,500 feet before we even had to don our crampons (metal spikes that attach to climbing boots to improve traction), itself another anomaly. During a short visit to the Forest Service ranger station the day before, the ranger had informed us that we were already experiencing mid- to late-August conditions, though it wasn’t yet June.

A few days later and much further north on Mount Baker, a 10,781-foot glacial-clad volcano not far from the border of Canada, we experienced the same thing. We camped on terra firma at around 5,500 feet, in an area that normally would have found us camping on several feet of snowpack. When we headed up the peak, the route was already in late season (August) conditions. We found ourselves having to navigate around several large open crevasses where snow bridges that had offered access had already collapsed due to rising temperatures and melting snow.

During our descent after visiting the summit, two of my climbing partners punched through snow bridges over crevasses, and the lower part of the route was more like a Slurpee than a glacier. I would not have wanted to be on the mountain a day later than we were.

The signs of the increasing rapidity and intensification of our warming planet are all around us. And bigger-picture reports, studies and warnings are multiplying every day.

If current rates of ACD continue, “Life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on.”

NASA recently released its global temperature data for the month of May, and it was 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit above the norm. The agency’s data also revealed that 2015 has had the hottest five months of any year ever recorded. As of right now, 2015 is already hotter than last year, according to NASA; in fact, if it stays on the same track, it will be the hottest year ever recorded for the planet.

Things are bad enough that President Obama’s science adviser issued a warning that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is currently barreling forward so quickly that the entire state of California could be “overwhelmed”: The state’s efforts to adapt will be unable to keep pace with the rapidly intensifying developments on the ground. Essentially, this means the state does not have the financial nor physical resources to keep pace with rising seas, drought and wildfires that are all becoming the norm there.

Scientists like Bill Nye (“the Science Guy”) are warning us to expect even more weather extremes as ACD progresses. For example, they predict the recent deluge of rain and flooding in Texas will become the norm for that state going forward.

A study recently published in Nature Climate Change has shown that if carbon dioxide and methane emissions are not dramatically cut extremely rapidly, ACD is set to bring about the most dramatic and encompassing rearrangement of ocean species in at least the last 3 million years. For example, the study shows that by 2100, the polar regions, which currently host some of the most diverse and widespread sea life on the planet, will likely be drained of much of their marine life.

It’s not news that Arctic sea ice is melting at a record-breaking pace and that the odds of there being summer ice-free periods by next year are high. But an interesting twist resulting from this development is that this thinning Arctic ice, along with a lack of air support, has officially forced an end to trekking expeditions to the North Pole this year … and quite likely, forever.

All of these changes are portentous.

However, the most important development this month is clearly a recently published study in Science that states, unequivocally, that the planet has officially entered its sixth mass extinction event. The study showed that species are already being killed off at rates much faster than they were during the other five extinction events, and warned ominously that humans could very likely be among the first wave of species going extinct.

The lead author of the study, Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México, told reporters that if current rates of ACD, deforestation and pollution are allowed to continue, “Life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on.”

Another alarming feature of the study is that it is admittedly conservative. On page three it states: “We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis.”

Study co-author Paul Ehrlich, a Bing professor of population studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, told Stanford News, “[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event. There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead.”

As we explore ACD’s impact upon the four quadrants of the planet this month, we see developments that certainly confirm the aforementioned report’s findings.


As warming from ACD continues to fuel increases in diseases and pests, moose in North America are dying by the thousands, according to a recent scientific report.

Another report revealed recently that the warming waters in Long Island Sound are dramatically altering fish populations, as summer flounder and sea bass that usually prefer warm water are now appearing in the northern locale.

As California’s mega-drought lumbers on, redwoods and other iconic trees in that state are now dying in record numbers. As one example, Monterey pines – in one area that covers nearly 15 square acres – are already as much as 90 percent dead.

Even more disturbing is a recent report that polar bears have been seen killing and eating dolphins. That in itself isn’t news, but the fact that it happened this spring, instead of during the warmer summer months, has never been seen before.


Recent NASA data has given us some remarkable graphics that show how the world’s aquifers are losing their water at “alarming” rates, according to scientists. The data shows that more than half of the planet’s 37 largest aquifers are being depleted. Given that the groundwater reserves take thousands of years to accumulate, one of the scientists described the situation as “critical.”

São Paulo, Brazil, a mega-city of over 20 million people, has been pushed to the verge of severe water rationing, as its largest water reservoir is on pace to dry up completely by August.

In Chile, most of the ski areas have completely bare slopes. Santiago, which sits below all the ski resorts, has seen a scant 1.2 centimeters of rain this year, which is a jaw-dropping 86 percent less than normal.

North Korea is facing its worst drought in recorded history, which has sparked fears of a worsening of already severe food shortages.

The worst regional drought in nearly 10 years is hammering southern Africa, causing Zimbabweans to go hungry as crop failure has become rampant. The drought threatens to persist.

Meanwhile Nicaragua, the country with the most abundant water sources in its region (it even has the word “agua” as part of its very name), is experiencing one of its worst water shortages in five decades.

California’s drought has taken at least a $2.7 billion toll on the state’s agriculture.

In the United States, a record drought in Oklahoma has given wheat farmers there a glimpse of what is to come, although recent wet weather has ended the drought for now. Scientists are warning that the region should brace itself for a growing number of hotter, drier days in the future.

Farms in Utah are being wracked by drought, as officials in that state have begun rationing water, causing farmers there to worry about even more cutbacks as summer progresses.

In California, the Salton Sea – the largest lake in the state – is drying out of existence, giving us another indicator of how deep the drought is now embedded in the state’s climate.

In monetary terms, a recent report shows that California’s drought has taken at least a $2.7 billion toll on the state’s agriculture. Obviously, that number is sure to continue to rise.

As is happening globally now, residents in some towns in central California are suffering from a health crisis that stems from not having running water and breathing increasingly dusty air, due to the drought. Respiratory problems are becoming rampant throughout the state.

In Canada, John Pomeroy, the director of the Centre for Hydrology at the University of Saskatchewan, recently spent time high up in the Rocky Mountains, along the British Columbia-Alberta divide. He witnessed clear signs of the highly damaging drought plaguing his country. Due to record dry spells, dramatically decreased river flows and the shortage of runoff water, Pomeroy said that western Canada is likely in the midst of a long-term drought.

The flip side of the water climate coin is flooding. In the United States, unprecedented amounts of rainfall across Texas and Oklahoma recently are evidence of what happens when a warming atmosphere becomes saturated with more water vapor than it used to be able to hold: yet another harbinger of our future.

By the end of the century, it is feasible that Mount Everest could be entirely without glaciers.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that the latest National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report showed that this May was the wettest month ever recorded in the United States, despite the mega-drought in California and the West. Obviously, scientists have linked these phenomena to ACD.

Dramatic changes are happening in most of the planet’s highest places, given the rapidly accelerating melting of glaciers. Even Mount Everest, the highest point on earth, is witnessing massive changes. A recent report in the journal The Cryosphere found that thousands of glaciers across the Himalayas will likely shrink by 70 to 99 percent by 2100.

Thus, by the end of the century, it is feasible that Mount Everest could be entirely without glaciers.

Another recent study linked intensifying weather events – like the extreme cold that wracked the eastern United States last winter and spring, along with the record flooding that hit Britain – to the rapid loss of Arctic ice. This doesn’t bode well, as the Arctic summer sea ice will likely begin to vanish entirely for short periods, starting as early as next summer.

A unique photography project in Alaska has captured ACD impacts over time in a stunning way. The photos are hard to look at, but everyone should see them. They represent a kind of before-and-after view of what ACD is doing to one of the most beautiful areas on the planet. The project shows dramatically reduced glacial coverage in multiple areas of Alaska, including areas that used to be heavily glaciated, which are now completely ice-free.

The project became even more relevant when a recent report was published that shows how glaciers in Alaska have lost 75 gigatons (75 billion metric tons) of ice per year, from 1994 through 2013.

In comparison, this number is roughly half of the amount of ice loss for all of Antarctica (159 billion metric tons). This new data also indicates that the Alaska region alone likely contributed several millimeters to the global sea level rise in the past few decades.


The changing chemistry of the planet’s atmosphere is causing new positive feedback loops to occur. For example, in Mexico City, warmer temperatures are exacerbating the already horrible smog in that mega-city, as higher temperatures mean that industrial pollutants are released more rapidly into the air.

Another recent report from NASA begins with this worrisome observation: “In the third week of May, it was warmer in Fairbanks, Alaska, than in Washington, DC. The small town of Eagle, Alaska, was hotter on May 23 than it has been on any day in Houston or Dallas this year. In what has become a frequent occurrence in the past few years, temperature profiles in North America appeared to be upside down.”

The report, titled “Baked Alaska,” includes a fascinating temperature anomaly map, and notes:

On May 23, the air temperature at Fairbanks International Airport reached 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), breaking the record of 80°F (26.7°C) from 2002. That same day, thermometers hit 91°F (32.8°C) in Eagle, marking the earliest 90-degree day in state history. The town had nine consecutive days above 80°F. In Barrow, Alaska, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, temperatures climbed to 47°F on May 21, close to 18°F above normal. Temperatures normally do not reach that high until mid-June.

Thus, not surprisingly, Alaska had its hottest May in recorded history.

India, ranked as the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, recently had to cope with one of the single deadliest heat waves to ever have hit the country, which killed over 2,500 people. The heat wave was at least the fourth deadliest in world history.

“Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heat wave and the certainty of another failed monsoon,” Harsh Vardhan, India’s earth sciences minister, told Reuters. “It’s not just an unusually hot summer; it is climate change.”

As the heat and death toll continued to rise in India, scientists asked if this was really a glimpse of earth’s future: a planet rife with skyrocketing temperatures and the human impacts to match.

Lastly in this section, a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters shows that the warming generated by carbon dioxide released by burning coal exceeds the heat generated by said combustion in a mere 34 days. In other words, ACD does not take years or decades for its impacts to be felt, as was previously believed: Changes can happen alarmingly quickly.


As wildfires burn out of control from southern California all the way up the West Coast of the United States and across Alaska, a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists is worth highlighting. The group has warned of the direct links between ACD and drier soil, less moisture, changing precipitation levels and patterns, droughts, and the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires. Scientists emphasize that the connection between the fires and ACD must be recognized and confronted.

Denial and Reality

This month, the voices of climate denial did not fail to disappoint.

Not surprisingly, shareholders of the top two largest US oil companies, Exxon and Chevron, recently rejected proposals to add directors with expertise in studying ACD to their boards. It’d be bad for profits, of course.

The oil giants got some help from the US House of Representatives, which this month passed a bill that would make funding cuts to climate research done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On the other hand, Pope Francis let loose on ACD deniers in his recently released encyclical, in which he stated unequivocally that “the bulk of global warming” is anthropogenic, and called on everyone to take steps to mitigate the damage by reducing consumption and reliance upon fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, another recently published report has shown that as carbon dioxide levels continue to increase over time, the planet will become progressively less able to sequester carbon dioxide in the soil or deep in the oceans, as both carbon sinks become supersaturated.

“If all of the carbon of permafrost was released, at that point, this is not going to be a habitable planet for humans.”

A climate researcher with the Woods Hole Research Center, Susan Natali, recently told a reporter that as global temperatures continue to increase, thawing permafrost is releasing larger amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, which of course cause temperatures to warm even further. Thus, the positive feedback loop feeds upon itself, a phenomenon that underpins runaway ACD.

“If all of the carbon of permafrost was released, at that point, this is not going to be a habitable planet for humans,” Natali warned.

All of this information, taken together, paints an increasingly bleak scene for the planet and its species – including, of course, humans.

This could be why James Lovelock, the celebrated scientist and environmentalist who created the Gaia hypothesis, recently stated, “Saving the planet is a foolish, romantic extravagance.”

He added that as climate disruption spins further out of control, “The civilizations of the northern hemisphere would be utterly destroyed, no doubt about it. But it would give life elsewhere a chance to recover. I think actually that Gaia might heave a sigh of relief.”

“At some point those aquifers might run dry.”: NASA Study Indicates World Is Running Out Of Groundwater. Fast.

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2015 at 7:15 pm
Photos of India's Deadly, Street-Melting Heat Wave

A young boy, son of a laborer, walks to a water pump to fill his bottle with drinking water in Ghasera, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Photo: Saurabh Das/AP

Oldspeak: “As temperatures rise and conditions worsen, this existential crisis that is being largely ignored on corporate infotainment streams, will continue to become more severe. Climate refugees are streaming into Europe from a thoroughly parched Africa, though they’re being referred to as “migrants”. Expect the flow of “migrants” to increase as time passes and the heat goes up. The U.N. Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson, recently said: “In 10 years, 2 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity. 2/3rds of the world will live under water stress conditions.” That syncs up with a 2013 survey of U.S. State water managers, where 40 of 50 managers said they expect to see current regional water shortages continue into at least the next decade. This is an intractable global problem. It affects all life on Earth. Yet water intensive agricultural, mining, energy and technological production industries plunder on, wholly committed to unsustainable systems of extraction, with little to no regard for regeneration, as though water resources are infinite. We waste and posion soooo much water in service to vulture capitalist profiteers. This ecocidal madness will only stop when there is no clean water left. Then what?.” -OSJ

Written By Gabriel Fisher @ Quartz:

The world is losing groundwater, fast.

That is the conclusion of a new study published by researchers at NASA, which drew on satellite data to quantify the stresses on aquifers. The researchers found that over the decade-long study of the 37 major aquifers worldwide, 21 experienced a depletion of their water supply. Especially alarming was the study’s finding that the Indus Basin aquifer, which supplies much of India’s water supply, has depleted rapidly.

“The potential consequences are pretty scary,” NASA scientist Matthew Roddell, a lead author of the study, tells Quartz. “At some point those aquifers might run dry.”

To measure the water level changes, the researchers studied the gravitational orbit of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite caused by the shifting of earth’s mass. Because water is one of the larger and constantly shifting masses on earth, this allowed them to measure changes to groundwater supplies.

The researchers found that California’s Central Valley aquifer was the most depleted of all aquifers in the US, because Californians have relied more heavily on drawing groundwater as rain water has dissipated during California’s long drought.

While the study detected the change in groundwater levels, it could not quantify the amount of water remaining in the aquifers. Rodell said this would require drilling into the aquifers themselves, which he supports doing. “We should be monitoring and quantifying how much water is in these aquifers like we do with oil,” he says.

Preserving water in aquifers is especially problematic in agricultural areas like India, which relies heavily on water-intensive rice farming. According to Rodell, over 68% of our water supply is used for agriculture. But unlike, say, water used to cool a power plant, water used in agriculture is not recyclable, Rodell explains. “The people who are using the water don’t necessarily recognize that it will ever run out. It is used as a resource that will last forever,” Rodell says. If we continue with our current consumption practices, hesays,”these people and those farmers that rely on that water won’t have it anymore.”

Collapse Of Antarctic Ice Shelf Imminent, Sea Level Rising Faster Than Expected, Forests Dying & Emitting Carbon; Droughts Deepeing, Food Production Dropping, As Funding Is Cut For Earth Science

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2015 at 8:12 pm
(Photo: Iceberg via Shutterstock)

As human-caused climate disruption progresses, sea level rise is happening far faster than previously expected. (Photo: Iceberg via Shutterstock)

Oldspeak: “You know things are not good when forests, historically known as CO2 reducers, due to rising temperatures, switch to being carbon emitters. Ongoing and expanding droughts, more water rationing, more mass-die offs, increasing melting in polar regions, decreasing food production,  Dahr Jamail is back with his latest dispatch documenting Earth’s ongoing and ever accelerating 6th Mass Extinction. As usual, the news be shitty, and getting shittier by the day. Only Love remains.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

Recently, two friends and I attempted to climb Washington State’s beautiful, glacier-clad Mount Baker. Roped up while climbing up a glacier, roughly 1,500 feet below the summit, our route reached an impasse.

Given that it was technically early in the climbing season, and that we were on the standard route, we were dismayed to find a snow bridge spanning a 10-foot wide crevasse about to collapse. Finding no other way around the gaping void, we agreed to turn back and return another day.

After breaking down our camp and hiking out, we stopped off for a bite to eat in the nearby small town of Glacier, Washington. Our waitress told us of a friend of hers who worked in the Forest Service there, who told her that the area had, in the past year, “received the least amount of precipitation [that] it had for over 100 years.”

While planning our next trip to Mount Baker, one of my climbing partners spoke with a local guide who informed him that, despite the fact that it was only mid-May, “climbing conditions are already equivalent to what they usually are in mid- to late July … crevasses are opening up, and snow bridges are already melting out like it’s late season.”

Mountaineering in the throes of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), like the rest of life, is becoming increasingly challenging – as well as more dangerous.

The signs are all around us, every day now. All we need to do is open our eyes to the changes occurring in our regions. We need to look closely, and think about what is happening to the planet.

Now, zoom out with me for the bigger picture in this month’s Climate Disruption Dispatch, and brace yourself for some difficult news.

Changes in the Arctic Ocean have now become so profound that the region is entering what Norwegian scientists are calling “a new era.” They warn of “far-reaching implications” due to the switch from a permanent cover of thick ice to a new state in which thinner ice vanishes in the summer.

Meanwhile, sea level rise is now happening much faster than anyone had expected, according to a recently published study from climate scientists in Australia. The study showed that sea level rise has been accelerating over the last two decades.

NASA recently released a study that reveals that the planet’s polar regions are in the midst of a stunning transformation, and showed that the massive 10,000-year-old Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica will soon completely collapse – perhaps as soon as 2020.

And these trends are on track to speed up, as March saw the global monthly average for atmospheric carbon dioxide hit 400.83 parts per million. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it was the first time the average surpassed 400 parts per million for an entire month since such measurements began in the late 1950s.


Starting on the earth and land front, the changes are coming fast and furiously.

A study released by researchers in Sweden and China revealed how ACD can seriously alter the prospects of survival for pretty much every living thing on the planet, and in particular birds. The researchers showed how in the last ice age there was a severe decline in the vast majority of the species studied, which is precisely what we are seeing currently. Massive numbers of species of birds are currently in dramatic decline.

A recent stark example of this is happening in Ohio, where birds are being devastated from the impacts of ACD, according to the Audubon Society’s top scientist, who expects things to get far worse.

In California, the ongoing megadrought is already responsible for having killed 12.5 million trees in that state’s national forests, according to scientists with the US Forest Service. The scientists expect the die-off to continue. “It is almost certain that millions more trees will die over the course of the upcoming summer as the drought situation continues and becomes ever more long term,” said biologist Jeffrey Moore, acting regional aerial survey program manager for the US Forest Service.

Recent research out of California also shows that forests there have actually become climate polluters, rather than carbon dioxide reducers, again due to ACD impacts. The study shows that greenhouse gases are billowing out of the state’s forests faster than they are being sucked back in, with ACD-amplified wildfires mostly to blame.

Across most of the drought-stricken western United States, wild animals are literally dying for water to drink, as they are now being forced to seek water and food in areas far outside their normal range, leading to large increases in deaths.

Another recent study shows that as ACD progresses, expanses of majestic forests across the planet will become short and scrubby, due to changes of fluid flow to the inner workings of vegetation.

Meanwhile, rising carbon dioxide levels and other ACD impacts are having a massive impact on Native peoples’ ability to provide for their own health care, as medicinal plants are on the wane. This issue extends beyond the United States: Of the 7.3 billion people alive on earth right now, approximately 5 billion of them don’t go to a pharmacy to get their prescriptions filled.

On that note, a troubling recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that a warming climate is already driving down wheat yields in the United States, and likely elsewhere around the globe. Hence, feeding the 7.3 billion humans (and counting) is only going to become increasingly challenging.

More broadly, a recent report from doctors and scientists in Australia warned that ACD will lead to more disease, death and violent conflicts as countries fight more for food and water resources.


As usual, some of the most glaringly obvious impacts of ACD are making themselves known on the waterfront, both in the form of too little or too much water.

With the former, Nevada’s Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, has now dropped to its lowest water level in recorded history.

Up in the Pacific Northwest – not the region one tends to think about when considering droughts – a recent study found that more mountains there were snow-free earlier in the year than ever, since the region had a largely snow-free winter with many of the snowpacks at record lows. Water managers there had hoped late season snows or heavy spring rains would fill reservoirs, but they didn’t come. Instead, of the 98 sites monitored in Washington, 66 were snow-free by early May, and “76 percent of Oregon’s long-term snow monitoring sites were at the lowest snowpack levels on record” in April. In a typical year at that time, most sites would be near their peak snowpack.

Things are bad enough in the region that by mid-May Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency, as mountain snowpack in that state reached only 16 percent of average and water levels in rivers and streams dried to a trickle not seen since the 1950s. Inslee warned that “residents should also be prepared for an early and active fire season that could reach higher elevations in the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, where many spots are already completely clear of snow.”

Looking further north, this past winter was also the least snowy on record for Anchorage, Alaska, according to the National Weather Service.

Moving across the Pacific to Taiwan, not a country one usually thinks about being impacted by drought, that nation is currently experiencing one of its most severe droughts in decades. Residents living on the country’s heavily populated western coast must ration their water use.

Up in the Arctic, our canary in the coal mine for ACD impacts, circumstances are growing increasingly dire. There was less ice in the Arctic this winter than during any other winter in the satellite era, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

An international team of scientists recently confirmed a longstanding fear: The vast amounts of carbon currently preserved in the frozen soils and tundra of the Arctic will, thanks to melting of the permafrost, eventually all get back into the atmosphere. This is evidence of a positive feedback loop: Warming temperatures melt the permafrost, releasing stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which further warms temperatures, which melts more permafrost, and on and on.

As though performing an Arctic version of the post-apocalyptic action movie Mad Max, the thawing of the northern polar ice cap has several Western powers and Russia rushing to stake and safeguard their claims of newly opening shipping routes and offshore drilling sites. In other words, the latest iteration of the Cold War is heating up, rapidly.

Down in the Antarctic, this dispatch finds some equally disturbing developments.

The Larsen C ice shelf, which is dramatically larger than Larsen A and B and about two and a half times the size of Wales, is now looking as though it could collapse. A recently published study reported that mechanisms exist that “could pose an imminent risk” to the ice shelf.

In an example of yet another runaway feedback loop, a recent report shows that accelerating sea level rise is occurring, as the planet’s ice sheets melt at ever-increasing speeds.

On that note, Caribbean political leaders, whose 14 island countries are being hammered by increasing ocean acidification, rising sea levels and increasingly intense hurricane seasons, are pinning their hopes on the upcoming Paris Climate Summit later this year for their very survival.


California’s ongoing drought is turning the entire state into a tinderbox, where several years of hyper-dry conditions have led experts to warn that the drought and current conditions are “a recipe for disaster.” California is already spending more money on fighting wildfires than the other 10 western states combined, and the state’s tally of fires so far this year is 967, which is 38 percent higher than the average for this date since 2005. The number of acres burned is already nearly double what it was this time last year, and 81 percent above the average since 2005.

Throughout the rest of the western United States, the upcoming wildfire season is looking grim as well. As drought continues to worsen across the West and upper Midwestern United States, the Forest Service expects to spend up to $1.6 billion on fighting wildfires in 2015, during a fire season that is expected to be far worse than “normal.”

A recently released study by researchers from the National Park Service, the University of California, Berkeley, and other institutions has confirmed what we already know: When drought-parched forested land goes up in flames, the fire contributes to ACD, causing yet another runaway feedback loop.


A recent paper published in Nature Climate Change has revealed that 75 percent of the world’s abnormally hot days and 18 percent of its extreme snow and rain events are directly attributable to ACD.

Two reports recently published by scientists at UCLA showed that by 2050, portions of Los Angeles County are forecast to experience triple or even quadruple the number of days of extreme heat (days over 95 degrees) that they currently do.

On that note, another recently published study showed that Americans’ exposure to heat extremes will likely rise sixfold by 2050, due to a combination of rising temperatures and rapid population growth across the South and West.

The ongoing drought in California has also made that state’s air quality far worse, according to a recent American Lung Association report.

Across the Atlantic, scientists have warned that record-breaking hot years in England have officially become at least 13 times more likely due to ACD.

Another recent report shows that, due to ACD, hurricanes, globally, are now expected to come in bunches and be far stronger than in the past.

Denial and Reality

There seems to never be a dull moment in the ACD-denial camp in the United States. The US House committee that is tasked with authorizing NASA spending has taken aim recently at a key Obama administration priority with a party line vote slashing spending on “earth science”: the missions that study ACD. The opponents aim to shift funding away from environmental and earth science research that can help policy makers assess how to regulate pollution and plan for the effects of ACD.

In Alaska, hawkish anti-environmental Sen. Lisa Murkowski is urging the Environmental Protection Agency to drop her state from that agency’s ACD rule that regulates power plant emissions – and it appears as though she might get her way.

Down in Florida, although rising sea levels bring a greater threat to that state’s coastline with each passing day, there remains no statewide plan on how to mitigate this particular ACD impact.

The United States isn’t the only country with a strong fossil-fuel-funded ACD denial movement. In Australia, the former head of Australia’s respected Climate Commission, which was disbanded by conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013, recently challenged the government to explain why it is funding a “research institute” that supports ACD denial.

I’m unsure whether this next item fits into the category of “denial” or “reality”: Back in the US, President Obama, who has green-lit offshore drilling in both the Arctic and off the Atlantic coast, has argued that ACD poses an “immediate risk” to the US, and has pushed for urgent action as a national security imperative.

Fully on the reality front, the chief of the World Bank recently stated that ACD is a “fundamental threat” to development, acknowledging how far the dangers have progressed.

The US Department of Defense, not known for being concerned about the environment, is now taking large steps toward adapting to and preparing for ACD.

Also not known for being overly worried about ACD, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, recently announced his country’s intentions to switch entirely over to solar power by 2040-2050: “We have embarked on a program to develop solar energy. Hopefully, one of these days, instead of exporting fossil fuels, we will be exporting gigawatts, electric ones. Does that sound good?”

Yes minister, it does, albeit a little late in the game.

Also on the reality front, the UN and Vatican have teamed up against ACD deniers, warning the world about the impacts of ACD while coming down firmly against the “skeptics.” Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan came out and said, “We must challenge climate-change skeptics who deny the facts.” And Pope Francis has instructed Catholic Church leaders to join with politicians, scientists and economists to draft a statement that declares not only that ACD is a “scientific reality,” but also that there is a moral and religious responsibility to do something about it.

All of this is good, but we cannot rest easy. We do not have a moment to waste: A recently published analysis in the prestigious journal Science shows that one in six of the world’s species now faces extinction due to ACD.


Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last ten years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.

The Mother Of All Catch 22s: Industrial Civilization Threatens All Life On The Planet

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Oldspeak:”This piece is originally titled “Capitalism Threatens All Life On The Planet”. The interviewee would say it more like the title I gave it. Focusing the blame on Capitalism gives the impression that everything would be ok if we just went another way, with another economic system. It assumes the economic system is the key to “fixing this”, as if the economic system is our primary concern. It’s just not so. It’s is a “civilization” level predicament we find ourselves that has no fix. We’re long past the point of dealing with this existential threat in any meaningful way. It’s time we accept this. This is where we are at this moment. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. If we continue on, business as usual, we’re fucked. If we continue on with “conservation”/”mitigation”/or “green energy” market-based strategies, we’re fucked. If we stopped and went indigenous today, we’re fucked. We can talk around and bargain about and deny this stark reality until we’re blue in the face, but As Led Zeppelin opined  “The Song Remains The Same.” There is no good outcome for Humans here kids. Too many humans (this one included) are utterly dependent on Industrial Civilization, which has brought about Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction and have no interest in changing that state of affairs measurably. We can only use 2.1 Earth’s worth of resources every year for so much longer.  Resources and tolerable habitat are dwindling faster than we realize. The extinction train is rollin and it ain’t got no breaks… Enjoy the ride, doing the least harm, with as much love and compassion as you can.” -OSJ

By Dylan Murphy @ The People’s Voice:

“Let’s be honest. The activities of our economic and social system are killing the planet. Even if we confine ourselves merely to humans, these activities are causing an unprecedented privation, as hundreds of millions of people-and today more than yesterday, with probably more tomorrow-go their entire lives with never enough to eat. Yet curiously, none of this seems to stir us to significant action. And when someone does too stridently point out these obvious injustices, the response by the mass of the people seems so often to be . . . a figurative if not physical blow to the gut, leading inevitably to a destruction of our common future.” -Derek Jensen, The Culture of Make Believe

Tomorrow you will wake up and may well have a hot shower to start your day. Then you will go to your kitchen and use a variety of electrical devices to prepare breakfast. If you are lucky enough to have a job then you will travel to work in a car or use public transport. All of this activity requires the use of finite energy resources while producing varying amounts of carbon dioxide. According to the people at the World Wildlife Fund I alone need 2.19 planets to sustain my lifestyle. http://footprint.wwf.org.uk/.


The unsustainable lifestyle that people lead is based upon the ever increasing consumption of finite resources which is destroying the natural world at in increasing rate of knots. The extinction of 200 species a day is just one manifestation of how capitalism and the industrial civilization it has spawned is killing the planet.

Critics may well say why are you so pessimistic? All we need to do is improve energy conservation and introduce renewable energy sources on a mass scale and everything will be fine and we can keep on enjoying our turbo consumerist lifestyle. Tim Garrett an associate professor of climate sciences at Utah University has exposed this belief as nothing short of wishful thinking:

“Making civilization more energy efficient simply allows it to grow faster and consume more energy,” says Garrett. “I’m just saying it’s not really possible to conserve energy in a meaningful way because the current rate of energy consumption is determined by the unchangeable past of economic production. If it feels good to conserve energy, that is fine, but there shouldn’t be any pretense that it will make a difference.”

Professor Garrett makes the controversial point that carbon dioxide emissions, which are a major cause of runaway climate change, can only be stabilized by a complete collapse of the global industrial economy or society builds the equivalent of one nuclear reactor per day.

“Stabilization of carbon dioxide emissions at current rates will require approximately 300 gigawatts of new non-carbon-dioxide-emitting power production capacity annually – approximately one new nuclear power plant (or equivalent) per day,” Garrett says. “Physically, there are no other options without killing the economy.”

Every week new scientific reports are published that note how industrial civilization is driving us towards catastrophic climate change. Last week the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, announced that March was the first month to surpass global carbon dioxide levels of 400 parts per million since measurements began. This is driving us towards the 2 degree rise in temperature that is seen by many as the upper limit for the planet. In the same week a new study was published in Nature Climate Change which reveals that sea level rise rates are speeding up. This poses a threat to the one billion people who live along shore lines around the world.

Runaway climate change is already having a massive impact all over the world. California is experiencing its worst drought in 1200 years. Professor Jay Famiglietti, from the University of California, Irvine, has revealed how California has only one year of water supply stored in its reservoirs and needs to start immediate water rationing.

Corporate politicians all over the world are beholden to their big business paymasters and so keep on glossing over or ignoring the issues. Meanwhile, the corporate media tries to lull the population into a false sense of security with its endless stories full of hopium that science and technology will save the day.

I spoke to Guy McPherson who is professor emeritus of natural resources and the environment at the University of Arizona, where he taught for twenty years. He is the author of a dozen books and has had hundreds of articles published on the consequences of our fossil fuel addiction: catastrophic climate change leading to near term human extinction. Guy lives in an off the grid straw bale house where he practices sustainable organic farming and working with members of his local community where a gift economy is in operation.

1) Many people believe that catastrophic climate change can be averted if we adopt the following measures as a matter of urgency on a global scale: energy conservation measures, stopping the use of fossil fuels and nuclear together with the mass use of renewables. Would such measures help avert catastrophic climate change?

No, they would not, for many reasons. First and foremost, civilization is a heat engine, as pointed out in Tim Garrett’s work. In addition, as I’ve written here, the notion of a Third Industrial Revolution is seriously flawed: http://transitionvoice.com/2013/11/hopium-for-the-masses-renewable-energy-edition/

2) Is geo-engineering a possible solution to global warming?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admits global warming is irreversible without geoengineering in a The IPCC is among the most conservative scientific bodies on the planet, and their reports are “significantly ‘diluted’ under political pressure.” On 22 April 2014, Truth-out correctly headlines their assessment, “Intergovernmental Climate Report Leaves Hopes Hanging on Fantasy Technology.” Time follows up two days later with a desperate headline, “NASA Chief: Humanity’s Future Depends On Mission To Mars” (first up: greenhouses on Mars). As pointed out in the 5 December 2013 issue of Earth System Dynamics, known strategies for geoengineering are unlikely to succeed (“climate geo-engineering cannot simply be used to undo global warming“). “Attempts to reverse the impacts of global warming by injecting reflective particles into the stratosphere could make matters worse,” according to research published in the 8 January 2014 issue of Environmental Research Letters. In addition, as described in the December 2013 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, geoengineering may succeed in cooling the Earth, it would also disrupt precipitation patterns around the world. Furthermore, “risk of abrupt and dangerous warming is inherent to the large-scale implementation of SRM” (solar radiation management), as pointed out in the 17 February 2014 issue of Environmental Research Letters. About a week later comes this line from research published in the 25 February 2014 issue of Nature Communication: “schemes to Finally, in a blow to technocrats published online in the 25 June 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change, a large and distinguished group of international researchers concludes geo-engineering will not stop climate change. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences piles on with a report issued 10 February 2015, concluding geoengineering is not a viable solution for the climate predicament. As it turns out, the public isn’t impressed, either: Research published in the 12 January 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change “reveals that the overall public evaluation of climate engineering is negative.” Despite pervasive American ignorance about science, the public correctly interprets geo-engineering in the same light as the scientists, and contrary to the techno-optimists.

3) In your work you talk about feedback loops that have already been set in motion that will have very detrimental effects upon the planet. Could you explain how feedback loops will have a devastating effect upon the living planet?

These self-reinforcing feedback loops, or “positive feedbacks,” feed upon themselves. For example, methane released from the Arctic Ocean heats the region, hence the ocean. As a result, methane is release more rapidly from the ocean. The process continues until a negative feedback overwhelms the process.

Many of these feedback loops have been triggered. They are contributing to a rapid rise in global-average temperature. The relatively slow rise in global-average temperature to date has outstripped the ability of organisms to keep up: The rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. If plants cannot keep up with the ongoing, gradual rate of change, we can only imagine the destruction of the living planet now that abrupt climate change has been triggered.

The Sixth Great Extinction is proceeding very rapidly. We’re on track to exceed the rate of extinction during all prior events, including the Great Dying from about 250 million years ago. During that extinction event, more than 90% of the species on the planet were driven to extinction.

4) When the issue of near term human extinction arising from catastrophic climate change is raised with many people they get very defensive. Reactions range from ridicule suggesting that you are crazy to outright hostility. Why do you think people often react this way?

I suspect they are afraid. We’ve grown up during a time of enormous privilege. The technology surrounding us is astonishing: It seems we can fix anything with a simple app on our cell phones!

The race for technology has overwhelmed the living planet. Already, according to an August 2010 report from the United Nations, the rate of extinction is 150-200 species per day. Industrial civilization allows us to foul the air, dirty the water, and erode the soil into the ocean while communicating in real time across the globe.

The race for technology has overwhelmed our sense of humanity. Most people I know love civilization, which destroys life on Earth. And they especially love industrial civilization and the resulting toys.

5) It is clear that the capitalist class across the globe have neither the intention nor the intention nor the knowledge of how to stop catastrophic climate change. The pursuit of hydraulic fracking, tar sands, nuclear energy, geo-engineering all reveal how the capitalist system is blind to the pursuit of profit at all costs. We cannot place any faith in corporate politicians of any stripe to help ordinary people cope with the effects of climate change as it gets worse and worse. Who should ordinary people turn to for help in coping with climate change?

The corporate governments and the corporate media are not interested in we, the people. They are interested in profits for the corporations.

As individuals and as a species, I doubt we have much time left on the planet. I recommend passionately pursuing a life of excellence rooted in love. Identify what you love. Pursue it, with passion. Throw off the shackles of a culture gone seriously awry. Along the way, you’ll be viewed as insane. Most professional psychotherapists, embedded in an omnicidal culture, will provide little help.

Find your tribe. Spend time with those you love. Love the ones you’re with.

6) Tim Garrett of Utah University has done some very valuable research into runaway climate change. Could you summarize the research of Professor Garrett and explain its implications for us all?

Garrett’s work is published in refereed journal articles, the “gold standard” of science. His research points out that only collapse of civilization prevents runaway greenhouse. It does not point out that collapse of civilization triggers the catastrophic meltdown of the world’s nuclear facilities.

7) Many people sign petitions, send letters, organise lobbies of politicians and regulators in the hope of stopping the destruction of the environment. Is this type of resistance enough to stop capitalist civilization from destroying the planet?

Apparently not. This type of work has been proceeding for decades, and the 150-200 species are still driven to extinction each day.

8) You recently published a book with Carolyn Baker called Extinction Dialogs. How should we prepare for the extinction of all life on the planet?

By living with death in mind. By loving what is, not what should be. By identifying what we love, and pursuing it. By pursuing excellence in our lives. By doing what is right, without attachment to the outcome. All of which applies even if we live forever.

“Something really awful happening.”: Dangers From Accelerating Rates Of Methane Releases & Polar Ice Melt Are Multiplying

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2015 at 8:09 pm

Methane burns as it escapes through a hole in the ice in a lagoon above the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Credit: Photo courtesy of Natalia Shakhova

Oldspeak: “There are three huge reservoirs of Arctic methane till recently safely controlled by the Arctic freezing cold environment. They are now all releasing additional methane to the atmosphere as the Arctic rapidly warms…We do not like what we see. We do not like it at all.” Dr. Natalia Shakhova, September, 2012

There is a so-called methane threat in the north of the bog. On top of that, the ice shelf is also thawing, releasing methane hydrates and something really awful is happening.” Professor Sergey Kirpotin, May, 2015

When scientists start sayin shit like this, it’s not good.  I feel it’s safe to say that, things in the planet’s polar air conditioners and adjacent environs are going terribly wrong, very fast, faster every day. What happens when these previously frozen bogs catch fire because the temperature is 40 degrees hotter than normal near the arctic? Well that’s happening, wildfires in the fucking arctic have been happening since early April, earlier than ever coincidentally, so I guess we’ll see soon enough won’t we? Expect these fires to proliferate as summer progresses, generating even more voluminous releases of C02 and CH4. Shit is goin to hell in a handbasket mighty quick ain’t it? Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…. it’s gonna really suck when the Arctic Methane Time Bomb goes boom.” -OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Methane (CH4) is 25 times more efficient at entrapping solar radiation and effectuating global warming than is carbon dioxide (CO2).

As the Arctic becomes more and more ice-free, the release of methane entrapped for millennia in Arctic ice accelerates. This, in turn, increases the risks of a planetary catastrophe. Yet, the scientific community does not like using words like “catastrophe,” which is considered alarmist. So, forewarned, this is an alarmist article.

Not only is this article alarmist, it is an indictment of views about climate change held by most, if not all, of the Republican candidates for presidency. Regardless of their individual personal beliefs about climate change, they are beholden to fossil fuel interests and extremely rich right-wing whackos that clandestinely pour money into phony orgs and payoffs for weak-kneed, cowering scientists to disseminate “confusing information to the public about global warming/climate change.” Without a doubt, these are the nation’s top gun eco terrorists. Similar to Al Qaeda, they work in the shadows.

Over the past couple of centuries, the rate of increase of CO2 versus CH4 in the atmosphere is running askew as carbon dioxide’s increase of 40% is a far distant second place to methane’s 250% increase. There’s nothing confusing about those numbers.

As it happens, by all accounts, climate scientists are wringing their hands over the 40% increase in carbon dioxide. That’s understandable as CO2 remains in the atmosphere for up to hundreds of years, blocking solar radiation from bouncing back into outer space. Ergo, over time global warming consumes the planet in a dreadful event that is currently tracking headlong towards bright red flashing lights at the end of the tunnel of doom.

Thereby, CO2 blanketing the earth is similar to turning on an oven, the more CO2 is emitted, similar to turning up the oven, the more heat builds, as it gets hotter and hotter and hotter over time whilst the “CO2 blanket” traps solar radiation. In time, humanity is toast.

Considering the fact that scientists worry about CO2 in the atmosphere, they must be experiencing migraines, sleeplessness and outright gloominess about CH4 because, with gigatons of methane trapped under Arctic ice, only a fraction of that CH4 could turn the planet into something akin to an oven, assuming too much Arctic ice melts. And, that is precisely the point as Arctic melt is already occurring at an alarming rate!

It’s all about runaway global warming as the Arctic threatens to turn ice-free in September, during its minimal cycle, in an upcoming year. Some Arctic experts believe it could happen within a few years, some several years, some in decades or longer.

There is a lot of mystery behind the likely impact of an ice-free Arctic because it has never happened before in human history. Questions arise: How much methane is trapped under the ice and how quickly does it release into the atmosphere and how soon does agricultural land turn bad?

Of course, the process takes considerable time to play out because nature still follows a geological time clock, which is very slow. Nevertheless, human-induced climate change has already proven to speed up nature’s course, increasing the risks of a runaway global warming nightmare, maybe within current lifetimes, who knows?

After all, the proof is found in facts. As a result of excessive levels of greenhouse gases like CO2 in the atmosphere, the Arctic is warming up 2-3 times faster than lower latitudes, which fact shall be discussed further on.

Still, nobody knows how this will play out. After all, how many scrapes with extinction has humanity experienced? The answer is: None, this will be the first go-around.

Along those same lines, scientists have calculated approximately how much methane is buried under and within the ice, but in the interest of maintaining some decorum of sanity and in the spirit of forestalling outright public panic, that information will not be divulged.

Arctic Update- Things Getting Worse, Not Better

It appears that the rise of methane in the atmosphere is accelerating… Things look set to get worse… global methane levels have risen from a low of 723 ppb a couple of centuries ago to mean methane levels as high as 1,839 ppb in 2014. That’s a rise of more than 254%. The situation is dire….1

Not only that, unruly spikes of methane up to 2,845 ppb are becoming more commonplace in the Arctic.

Meanwhile, the Arctic’s big spring melt-down is now in full swing.

During April, the decline in ice extent starts to accelerate… April 2015 was marked by a fairly rapid decline during the first week of the month, little change during the middle of the month, and then a steep decline over the final week.2 Uh-huh.

Additionally, and of crucial interest: “April was marked by higher than average air temperatures (1 to 3 degrees Celsius or 2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the Arctic,” which is the evidence of Arctic temperature increasing 2-3 times faster than elsewhere on the planet.

Multi-Year Ice Dissipating Fast, Increasing Risks of Ice-Free Arctic

Arctic ice experts are quick to point to the risks associated with loss of multi-year ice because multi-year ice maintains the integrity of the Arctic. Loss of multi-year ice is precedent to an ice-free Arctic, which is precedent to runaway global warming.

Ice thickness over the central Arctic Ocean has declined from an average of 3.59 meters (11.78 feet) to only 1.25 meters (4.10 feet), a reduction of 65% over the period 1975 to 2012.3

The Lindsay results carry the distinctive footprint of global warming, nothing confusing about that. Significantly, the Lindsay study includes over 3,000 thickness measurements by sonar from submarines and from air by satellites as well as aircraft.

The significance of multi-year ice is that it constitutes what is popularly known as the North Pole and its ice environs or the Arctic. Multi-year ice constitutes thicker, more solid, longer-lasting ice, or structure, same as the Arctic has existed for thousands upon thousands of years.

However, nowadays, with human-caused global warming as a result of fossil fuel CO2 emissions coincident with extreme warming of the northern latitudes, multi-year ice is dissipating fairly quickly. This, therefore, opens up the Arctic to increase potential of methane release as solar radiation is absorbed into the dark background of water rather than reflected back out into outer space by the white background of ice and snow, scientifically known as the “albedo effect.”

Therein lies the focal point of risks of runaway global warming, turning the planet into a hotbed of human warfare squabbling over tillable land. Over time, these battles for survival will likely take the human socialization process back in time to something akin to the Neanderthal Age, with cell phones!

Leading Siberian Scientist Delivers Stark Warning- Frozen Bogs Becoming New Methane Threat

Inauspiciously, a newly recognized methane threat has been discovered in the Russian hinterlands, which is one more horrendous example of disastrous blowback from use of fossil fuels. Assuredly, the billionaire eco terrorists will now have to sic their spin-doctors on this one.  Maybe they could say Russians cannot be trusted. Something like that might work.

Russian Professor Sergey Kirpotin, director of the BioClimLand Centre of Excellence for Climate Change Research discovered thawing frozen bogs in western Siberia, which will release billions of tonnes of methane, greatly speeding up effects of global warming.

Just like that, a new force of methane appears to be kicking into gear in the bogs with uncanny timing, as Arctic ice-melt is opening up clear water passageways for oil and gas exploration. Talk about a Catch-22, this is it in spades!

Prof Kirpotin, 51, first made the discovery about the threat 10 years ago when it was found the permafrost melting for the first time since being formed at the end of the Ice Age.

He warned at the time that it could be ‘an ecological landslide that is probably irreversible.’ Now it seems the situation is more advanced than first thought.4

Remarkably, Prof Kirpotin’s discovery is essentially a trip back in geologic time to the last Ice Age, 100,000-to-20, 000 years ago, which is amazing and also filled with scary after-effects. Just to think: The permafrost Dr. Kirpotin investigated has not melted since the last Ice Age, until now! This is yet another distinctive footprint of global warming.

According to Prof Kirpotin:

There is a so-called methane threat in the north of the bog. On top of that, the ice shelf is also thawing, releasing methane hydrates and something really awful is happening.

“Something really awful happening” is not exactly a nerve-soothing statement by a leading expert on Siberian bogs.

Science is Radically Divided on the Timing Issue of Climate Change

Without question, scientists are radically divided on the issue of climate change and few predict an upsurge any time soon. Nevertheless, it’s the scientists who base opinions on first hand knowledge “boots on the ground” who are screaming the loudest. They do not let “computer models” override what they personally experience. In contrast, they see and feel the “reality in the field.” They are like scientific pioneers in the field, in the marsh, below and above the ice, on expeditions into the wilderness where nobody cares to tread. It’s hard work.

And, they happen to be the scientists who do not like what they see.  For example, Dr. Natalia Shakhova, one of the world’s leading authorities on methane. She heads the Russia-U.S. Methane Study at the International Arctic Research Center, at the University Alaska Fairbanks and the Pacific Oceanological Institute, Far Eastern Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Shakhova’s expeditions “boots on the ground” to the Arctic convince her that only a tiny percentage of the vast amounts of methane buried in Arctic ice is necessary to double current atmospheric methane. Worse yet, she suspects an outburst of 50 gigatons could happen at any time, which would likely cripple civilization. Decidedly, it would be a disaster beyond repair, further burdening an increasingly fracturable ecosystem, which may one day burst wide open, catching all humanity flatfooted!

By all appearances, the ecosystem has increasingly become more fragile within the context of a very resilient planet that has already withstood five extinction events, but it is still standing.

Thankfully, pioneering scientists like Dr. Kirpotin and Dr. Shakova travel to the field and report their findings. Otherwise, nobody would ever truly know how dangerously civilization is on edge and at risk. Meanwhile, fossil fuels burn away ever-faster, facilitating capitalism’s neoliberal experiment, truly a life or death enterprise.

Every hour the sun beams on to Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year. Capture it!

  1. Methane Levels As High As 2,845 ppb, April 26, 2015 []
  2. The National Snow andIce Data Center (NSIDC), University of Colorado, Boulder, as of May 6th, 2015. []
  3. R. Lindsay and A. Schweiger, “Arctic Sea Ice Thickness Loss Determined Using Subsurface, Aircraft, and Satellite Observations”, Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, August 2014 []
  4. Vera Sainitskaya, “New Warning About Climate Change Linked to Peat Bogs”, The Siberian Times, May 13, 2015. []


Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

IPCC Report: More Than All of Observed Warming Has Been Caused by Humanity’s Emissions

In Uncategorized on May 14, 2015 at 4:10 pm
A lone sunflower ekes out a scant living at the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. (Image: Bruce Melton)

A lone sunflower ekes out a scant living at the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. (Image: Bruce Melton)

Oldspeak:”As the great and catastrophically destructive irreversible non-linear positive feedback loop that is Industrial civilization drones on, accelerating, growing larger, rapidly consuming and poisoning all that lives, this news is unsurprising. It’s been happening for at least 8000 years since the invention of agriculture, and has shown no signs of slowing down, even in the face of extinction in the near term. Profit is Paramount in the pathologically anthropocentric ideology of market-based globalized capitalism. Unfortunately for us and all other beings that live, there is no profit on a dead planet.” -OSJ

By Bruce Melton @ Truthout:

“The best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming [from 1951 through 2010].” IPCC 2013, Summary for Policy Makers.(1) This statement differs radically from the almost ubiquitous understanding that part of global warming has been caused by humanity and part is natural. In reality however, humanity’s excess greenhouse gas emissions have caused about 35 percent more than all of the observed warming and our climate is naturally cooling – there is no natural warming. Therein lies the rub. How can the human-induced contribution be similar to observed warming if more than all of the warming has been caused by humanity?

The answer is complicated, and is in part responsible for the miscommunication all these years. But first, what’s all of this about part of the warming being natural?

It is common knowledge that some portion of global warming is a natural phenomenon. Many reasons can be identified to show why we understand global warming this way and they include: partial knowledge about warming and cooling pollutants and mechanisms in the past, poor communication technique from scientists and anti-climate science propaganda from the climate change counter-movement (vested interests, fossil fuel industrial complex, Conservative think tanks and politicians, etc.)(2)

Starting From the Beginning: Ongoing Natural Global Cooling

Earth’s orbit around the sun and its tilt relative to the sun goes through cycles that range up to 100,000 years. These cycles result in 100,000 year–long ice ages alternating with 10,000 year-long interglacial warm periods (approximately). Our last ice age ended about 10,000 years ago and according to orbital cycles theory, we should have started cooling many thousands of years ago as we move into our next ice age.

Milutin Milankovitch first popularized the mechanics of this ice age theory during the First World War, but his theory was a bit flawed. Orbital cycles initiate ice ages; they don’t cause them. Feedbacks are responsible for most of the temperature change (changes in vegetation cover and resulting CO2 and methane changes, as well as changes in snow and ice cover, atmospheric and soil moisture and other natural earth processes). This flaw in Milankovitch’s theory however, does not mean that Ice Age Theory is wrong.

The Invention of Agriculture: Why Warming Instead of Cooling

Common wisdom is that human-caused warming began with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. In 2003, William Ruddiman, from the Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia and Professor Emeritus from Columbia University, showed how humanity began changing Earth’s climate 8,000 years ago because of the invention of agriculture.(3)

This is no casual paper on climate change. The number of this paper’s citations ranks in the top two percent of all papers ever published.(4) But do the public, our leaders and environment leaders, and even our most prestigious environmental regulatory agencies understand that this knowledge exists? Part of warming is not caused by humanity, so the rest is natural, right?

Ruddiman’s hypothesis continues; about 5,000 years ago, humanity upped the ante a notch and began growing rice for a very large portion of our population. Rice not only takes up area that forest once grew, but it creates methane too, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the long term.

Calculations by Ruddiman show that cooling from orbital cycle changes and consequential feedbacks should have cooled Earth 0.8 degrees C (1.4 degrees F) by 1800 AD. This exactly coincides with how much Earth has warmed in this period.

Although the cooling that we should have experienced in the last 200 years is less than 0.1 degrees F, the point is that there is no natural warming going on, the natural trend is a cooling trend.

More Than Observed Warming?

In and of itself, the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers statement above, “The best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming,” is seemingly straightforward and definitive. But it’s not. Humanity has caused some 35 percent more warming than is evident in the temperature record.

It literally took me a year to figure this one out. I’ll admit that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer; it simply took me a year’s worth of fiddling to finally be able to understand the sources of these statements (Chapter 10 in the IPCC report). With this understanding in pocket, I could finally muster the courage to begin asking the lead authors questions. The need for the questions comes from a statement in IPCC’s Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) that immediately precedes the “human-induced contribution” statement. The quote below is how these two sentences are presented in Section D.3 of the SPM, Attribution of Climate Change, Bullet One:

“It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together. The best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming.”

“More than half…” creates the confusion. The explanation comes from the final phrase of the first sentence, “… and other anthropogenic forcings together.” Forcings can be both warming or cooling. Cooling is caused by sulfates emitted from burning coal, volcanoes, clouds, natural ocean cycles and the 22-year sunspot cycle.

So when the IPCC says “…other anthropogenic forcings together,” this means net warming; or all of the forcings combined together. This is how observed warming can be less than what our greenhouse gas emissions have caused: some of our climate pollution emissions are global cooling emissions. In the past, the science did not portray a good understanding of a lot of these cooling and warming forcings; we only knew that our climate was naturally cooling, so warming must be more than observed. Now we have a much better understanding and can say how much warming and cooling comes from what source. It is very important that outreach and policy reflect this new knowledge.

The “human-induced contribution…” statement can also be reconciled with an understanding that it is “net” warming we are talking about.

So why the confusion? Could it be that some stop reading after such a definitive statement as “half of the warming is caused by…” and never get to the meat of the subject focused on forcings? Or could it be the $900 million annual funding for the climate change counter-movement, or simply that scientists have not felt comfortable enough with their knowledge yet to create a definitive statement such as was created in the 2013 IPCC report? All of the pieces of the puzzle have been known for over a decade. Ruddiman’s distinguished success with his 2003 paper attests to this.

Whatever the reason, the miscommunication has been so successful that even the EPA repeats the myth in a bulleted statement in an emphasis box on their Climate Change Science website: “Most of the observed warming since the mid-20th century is due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.”(5)

The rest must be caused naturally, shouldn’t it?

Warming and Cooling Balance Sheet

The IPCC sums up all the different forcings and emissions and mechanisms involved in this nifty little chart from their Technical Summary and from Chapter 10 and it is presented below in the chart: Global Temperature Change 1951 to 2010 Balance Sheet. The chart begins only at 1951 because data prior to then are not as robust as later data, though it is quite likely that current trends are not markedly different from prior ones.

One word about errors: The “whiskers” or the horizontal lines with small perpendicular lines on each end that look like a very wide letter “H” are part of what is called a box plot. The whiskers represent the rare outliers of the data set or the distribution of data points. So looking at “Observed,” warming is (about) 0.65 degrees C, with a maximum outlier of 0.71 C and a minimum outlier of 0.58 C. When looking at the statistics of a data set and their relationship to the whiskers, the most of the data points are very close to the middle of the whiskers or 0.65 degrees. I have left the whiskers on this plot to make a point. Many see these “error bars” incorrectly and assume that the answer lies anywhere between the error bars. Although not invalid, a more accurate interpretation of error bars is that, only on rare occasions is the answer not very close to the middle of the whiskers.

On the balance sheet: “observed” in black, is warming we have seen in the thermometer record from 1951 to 2010 at about 0.65 degrees C. “GHG” in green, is warming from greenhouse gases at 0.9 C. This is the “forcing,” or how much our atmosphere should have warmed without interference from any other source. “ANT” in orange, is anthropogenic forcing at 0.7 C, or the net warming from all sources both warming and cooling. “OA” in yellow is optical aerosols, of about -0.25 C. Optical aerosols are mostly sulfate pollution from burning coal and they are global cooling pollutants and will be discussed further in a few paragraphs. “NAT” in blue, is natural forcing from things like changes in the sun’s energy, mostly from the sunspot cycle as well as changes in natural forcings from volcanoes. “Internal Variability” of about plus or minus 0.01 C comes from natural earth system cycles which are mostly ocean cycles like El Nino, La Nina, the Pacific Decadel Oscillation and the Atlantic Meridional Overturning; and the amount is too small to register on this chart.

Observed warming and anthropogenic warming (ANT) should be equal, but because they were determined using different methods (thermometers versus calculations) and because of the error bars in the different mechanism that warm and cool, there is a small mismatch of about 0.05 C or less than 10 percent. This is pretty good since there are so many individual mechanisms and they all have their own error bars.

To summarize, the total warming that we should see from excess greenhouse gases that we have emitted (based on 1951 to 2010) is 0.9 degrees C, but optical aerosols and have masked about 35 percent of that.

Optical Aerosols: Smog From Coal

Now we turn to the main reason why human-induced warming is more than observed warming. The IPCC says approximately 57 percent of warming that should have already occurred has come from optical aerosols or global cooling sulfates, mostly emitted from burning coal.(6)

These sulfate emissions are much more commonly known as one of the main ingredients in smog. In the post-World War II era, rapid industrial expansion emitted so many global cooling sulfates that smog cooled Earth enough to actually stall warming. By the mid-1960s, smog was crippling major population centers in the developed world. In 1963, the US enacted the Clean Air Act, but it was not until 1970 that President Nixon put teeth into the rules. At about the same time, most of the rest of the developed world did the same. In the US, about half of coal fired generators have sulfate scrubbers and these remove about half of the sulfate from the exhaust stream.(7)

Because sulfates are very short-lived pollutants, by the late 1970s, the masking of global warming that they had been creating disappeared and the global temperature started to rise again.(8)

The Moral to This Story: Emissions Reductions Timing

Since about 2000, Eastern Nations (China and India, etc.) have seen a very rapid industrialization without the benefit of air pollution control rules. The IPCC statement that 57 percent of warming that should have already occurred is significantly caused by this new phase of air pollution from Eastern Nations.

These nations are currently suffering extreme air pollution in many heavily populated regions and are in the beginning stages of regulation. As these regulations evolve and as sulfates are regulated more stringently, warming from greenhouse gases already emitted will be unmasked. Combining this unmasking with the current rapidly increasing rate of greenhouse gas emissions means the global temperature will climb at a rate that will make the increase from 1951 to 2010 pale in comparison.

Hidden in this masking, and in the current state of climate pollution control policy, is an unseen and very counter-intuitive reality. Climate pollution policy is no longer about reducing carbon dioxide as fast as possible. Emissions reductions timing is paramount. Without understanding the net impact of all air pollutants – warming and cooling – emitted from coal, using the almost universally proposed method of shutting down coal generation as a primary climate change policy measure, it is entirely possible that we could actually see more warming than if we did nothing at all.(9)


1. IPCC: More than all of observed warming and half of warming explained… Bullet one, Summary for Policy Makers, Section D.3, Attribution of Climate Change, page 15: “It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together. The best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period.” The key is in the last phrase of the first sentence “Anthropogenic forcings together.” Forcings include both warming and cooling forcings. Because 57 percent of warming that should have occurred already has been masked by global cooling sulfates, mostly emitted from burning coal, total “forcings” are less than total warming.

2. Climate Change Counter-Movement… Brulle, Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations, Climatic Change, December 21, 2013.

3. Our climate should be cooling, not warming… From the abstract of Ruddiman 2003: “The anthropogenic era is generally thought to have begun 150 to 200 years ago, when the industrial revolution began producing CO2 and CH4 at rates sufficient to alter their compositions in the atmosphere. A different hypothesis is posed here: anthropogenic emissions of these gases first altered atmospheric concentrations thousands of years ago. This hypothesis is based on three arguments. (1) Cyclic variations in CO2 and CH4 driven by Earth-orbital changes during the last 350,000 years predict decreases throughout the Holocene, but the CO2 trend began an anomalous increase 8000 years ago, and the CH4 trend did so 5000 years ago. (2) Published explanations for these mid- to late-Holocene gas increases based on natural forcing can be rejected based on paleoclimatic evidence. (3) A wide array of archeological, cultural, historical and geologic evidence points to viable explanations tied to anthropogenic changes resulting from early agriculture in Eurasia, including the start of forest clearance by 8000 years ago and of rice irrigation by 5000 years ago.”

Ruddiman, The Anthropogenic Greenhouse Era Began Thousands of Years Ago, Climatic Change, December 2003. (574 scientific research articles cite Ruddiman 2003 as of 04/02/2015.)

4. Ruddiman’s paper ranks in the top two percent of most highly published papers of any kind, in all time… 826 citations according to Google Scholar, ISI has 410, 439 on ResearchGate, … The bottom 56 million papers have less than 100 citations each. The top one million papers have between 100 and 999 citations. 25 million have zero citations each.

Noorden, Maher and Nuzzo, The top 100 papers, nature explores the most-cited research of all time, Nature, October 29, 2014,. See the image “The Paper Mountain.”

5. EPA repeats the myth that part of the warming is natural… Most of observed warming is caused by humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions… EPA, Climate Change, Science, Causes, paragraph 5.

6. IPCC 2013, Optical Aerosols mask 57 percent of warming that should already have occurred… In the Summary for Policy Makers, 57 percent of warming that should have been experienced to date has been masked by aerosols. The major driver in this masking is sulfates from burning coal. The high end of the range suggested by the IPCC has been used in this 57 percent estimate because of the history of underestimation by the IPCC.

IPCC 2013 Summary for Policy Makers (SPM), page 11, C. Drivers of Climate Change, bullet 7. Up to (-)1.9 to (-) 0.1Wm(-2) of warming has been masked by aerosols out of 2.29 Wm(-2) (Bullet 1) of total warming experienced to date. This equals 57 percent of total warming masked by aerosols and does represent the high end of the range.

7. More than half of SO2 emissions by coal… This accounting looks at data to 2005. Since 2005, Russia and India have both surpassed the U.S. in SO2 emissions because of greatly increased electrical generation from coal. Smith at al., say half of aerosol sulfate emissions are from coal generation up to 2005.

Smith et al., Anthropogenic sulfur dioxide emissions 1850 to 2005, atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 11, 1101-1116, 2011, page 1108, Results and Discussion, paragraph 3.

8. Air pollution caused global cooling between 1940 and the 1970s: Wilcox et al., The influence of anthropogenic aerosols on multi-decadel variations of historical climate, Environmental Resaerch Letters, June 5, 2013, abstract.

9. With a 50 percent swap of coal for natural gas, warming is increased to 2050 with zero fugitive methane emissions and to 2140 with 10 percent fugitive emissions… From the abstract.

Wigley, Coal to gas: the influence of methane leakage, Climatic Change Letters, August 26, 2011, abstract, final sentence.

Press Release.

Full Paper.


Bruce Melton

Bruce Melton is a professional engineer, environmental researcher, filmmaker, author and CEO of the Climate Change Now Initiative in Austin, Texas. The Climate Change Now Initiative is a nonprofit outreach organization reporting the latest discoveries in climate science in plain English. Information on his book, Climate Discovery Chronicles, can be found along with more climate change writing, climate science outreach and critical environmental issue documentary films at www.climatediscovery.org.

The Perils of “Single Study Syndrome”: Overlooked Evidence – Global Warming May Proceed Faster Than Expected

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2015 at 7:31 pm
Lake Mead is seen in the distance behind boats in dry dock near the Lake Mead Marina in Nevada.

Lake Mead is seen in the distance behind boats in dry dock near the Lake Mead Marina in Nevada. Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Oldspeak: “My reaction? Duh, no shit. It’s not a question of “may” but “is proceeding faster than expected!” How is that not obvious at this point?! We have no idea of the total universe of factors impacting our climate, so of course all climate models are underestimating everything.” -OSJ

By Dana Nuccitelli @ The U.K. Guardian:

The inconvenient evidence for high climate sensitivity is often ignored

It’s known as “single study syndrome”. When a new scientific paper is published suggesting that the climate is relatively insensitive to the increased greenhouse effect, potentially modestly downgrading the associated climate change threats, that sort of paper will generally receive disproportionate media attention. Because of that media attention, people will tend to remember the results of that single paper, and neglect the many recent studies that have arrived at very different conclusions.

Clouds Point to a Sensitive Climate

For example, there have been several recent studies finding that the global climate models that most accurately simulate observed changes in clouds and humidity over the past 10–15 years also happen to be the ones that are the most sensitive to the increased greenhouse effect. For example, a 2012 paper by Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo concluded,

A 2014 paper led by Steven Sherwood took a similar approach with similar results. The paper concluded,

Figure (derived from Sherwood et al. 2014, Fig. 5c) showing the relationship between the models’ estimate of Lower Tropospheric Mixing (LTMI) and sensitivity, along with estimates of the same metric from radiosondes and the MERRA and ERA-Interim reanalyses. Source: RealClimate.

Another 2014 paper published by scientists from CalTech and UCLA arrived at a similar conclusion, as lead author Hui Su explains,

Clouds Hold the Key

Clouds are a key to determining the Earth’s climate sensitivity. We know that by itself, a doubling of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will cause about 1.2°C global warming. A warmer atmosphere will hold more water vapor, and as another greenhouse gas, we know that increase in water vapor will roughly double that carbon-caused warming (a “positive feedback”). We also know of some other significant positive feedbacks, like melting ice decreasing the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface, causing it to absorb more energy from the sun.

Those who argue that the Earth’s climate is relatively insensitive to the increased greenhouse effect need a big negative feedback to offset those factors we know amplify global warming. Clouds represent the only such plausible mechanism, because we don’t have a very good grasp on how different types of clouds will change in a hotter world.

For example, climate scientist contrarian Richard Lindzen came up with what’s known as the “iris hypothesis” in 2001, suggesting that in a warmer world, high cirrus clouds will contract like the iris on an eye to allow more heat to escape. That hypothesis has not withstood the test of time, however, with four studies published within a year of Lindzen’s paper effectively refuting the hypothesis. One recent paper found that even if the iris effect is real, it would reduce the Earth’s climate sensitivity by no more than 20%, still well within the range of possible values outlined by the IPCC.

Not only have the aforementioned studies found that changes in humidity and clouds are consistent with simulations from more sensitive climate models, but previous research led by Andrew Dessler and more recently by Kevin Trenberth and colleagues has shown that observed changes in water vapor amplifying global warming as expected, and that clouds are thus far acting to weakly amplify global warming. These observations are inconsistent with the strong cloud dampening effect contrarians need to justify arguments for low climate sensitivity.

Low Sensitivity Single Study Syndrome

There have been a few recent studies using what’s called an “energy balance model” approach, combining simple climate models with recent observational data, concluding that climate sensitivity is on the low end of IPCC estimates. However, subsequent research has identified some potentially serious flaws in this approach.

These types of studies have nevertheless been the focus of disproportionate attention. For example, in recent testimony before the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, contrarian climate scientist Judith Curry said,

Curry referenced just one paper (using the energy balance model approach) to support that argument – the very definition of single study syndrome – plus an interpretation of a second paper whose author objected, saying,

Real Skeptics Consider all the Evidence

True skepticism requires considering all available evidence. While some studies suggest that climate sensitivity is on the low end of the estimated range, other studies suggest it’s on the high end. As Andrew Dessler told me,

Andrew Dessler discusses climate sensitivity.

Ultimately when we consider all the available scientific evidence and risk management principles, there’s no case to be made for delaying action to curb global warming.

Update: yet another paper has just been published finding that the models that most accurately simulate the observed changes in the Earth’s atmosphere are the ones that are most sensitive to the increasing greenhouse effect.