Oldspeak: “Intrepid reporter Dahr Jamail returns with his monthly update of the ongoing global ecological collapse. Unsurprisingly, shit is getting worse, and it’s getting worse faster and more unpredictably non-linear than projected. Earth’s air conditioners at the poles are melting faster than ever, earth’s lungs are dying at faster rates than previously thought expelling more carbon than they sequester, freshwater is rapidly depleting, and global temperatures are set to jump. “Buckle your seatbelt Dorothy, ’cause Kansas is going bye-bye.” –Cipher, “The Matrix”. Only Love remains.” -OSJ
By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:
The dramatically rapid melting of the earth’s poles is the biggest news in this month’s climate dispatch.
Increasingly fast melting in Antarctica, which will be discussed in more detail below, is now expected to increase sea levels by 10 feet worldwide in less than 100 years, according to recent NASA satellite calculations.
This will “recurve” heavily populated coastlines and reshape the world in which we live, according to one geophysicist with whom Truthout spoke. In addition, a second geophysicist, from Harvard, said that parts of Antarctica are thawing out so quickly that the icy continent has become “ground zero of global climate change, without a doubt.”
According to NASA, every year for the last decade alone, 130 billion tons of ice have melted in Antarctica. For context, that is the weight of more than 356,000 Empire State Buildings and enough ice melt to fill more than 1.3 million Olympic swimming pools. And the melting is accelerating at a pace that is making scientists’ heads spin.
To make matters worse, recent research casts doubt on other studies that have oversold the role of the natural climate’s ability to halt anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) during the next 15 years. Climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann, one of the authors of the study said, “Our work reinforces the notion that there is no pause in human-caused global warming. If anything, we’ve been lulled into a false complacency by the fact that internal oscillations in the climate system temporarily masked some of that warming. That may come back to bite us as these oscillations swing back in the other direction and add to global warming in the decades ahead.”
Another study published in Nature Climate Change revealed how, as bad as things already are, we are actually standing on the precipice of a new planet where warming is likely to accelerate at rates not seen for at least 1,000 years (that is, abrupt ACD is upon us).
A story that has recently been covered in this series is worth mentioning again now, given the dramatic events covered in this month’s dispatch relating to the poles, temperature records and droughts. A resiliency scientist recently showed how the planet has already passed through four of the nine limits for hospitable life, and is racing quickly toward those that have not yet been crossed. Take a look at his chart.
The National Climatic Data Center released its statistics recently, which showed the following:
– Globally, this was the hottest winter on record. The previous record was 2007.
– This was the 19th warmest winter in US history.
– Globally this was, by far, the hottest start to any year (January-February).
Buckle up as we go through the sectors of the planet, as this last month has seen a dramatic ramping-up of climate disruption.
This month, this sector is facing a whole lot of bad news.
Tropical forests are now vanishing at rates much faster than previously thought. This is disastrous news, given that the plant life in these areas sequesters massive amounts of carbon. When the plant life is removed, carbon is released back into the atmosphere, which is the last thing we need right now. A recent study shows that the rate of loss has increased by 62 percent from the 1990s to the 2000s.
Adding insult to injury, scientists have warned that now ongoing droughts in the Amazon are speeding up ACD. The forests there, dubbed the “lungs of the planet,” are now emitting more carbon dioxide than they are capturing. A 2010 drought there released more than 8 billion tons of carbon dioxide, which is as much as China and Russia’s annual emissions, combined.
Scientists have also warned that ACD now threatens to kill off more aspen forests by 2050, with the possibility of all of them in North America being gone by then.
Another recent report warned that ongoing deforestation, which is occurring largely to expand agricultural lands, may well be exposing more people to diseases like the Black Death, which wiped out more than one-third of Europe’s population during the Middle Ages.
On a similar front, Brazil’s drought-stricken Sao Paulo is now battling an outbreak of dengue fever, as hundreds have been infected with the mosquito-borne virus. Scientists have been warning for a long time how diseases are guaranteed to increase in frequency and intensity of outbreaks as the impacts of ACD progress.
More bad news for forests comes in the form of a pine beetle epidemic in North America, where the warming climate has allowed the beetles to ravage western forests. Now they are rapidly spreading east across much of Canada.
A US-based climate study showed that ACD will cause deserts in Australia to expand to the south, as droughts and record high temperatures continue to plague that country.
Another study has shown that spring is “shifting” in trees: The season is now coming earlier because of ongoing temperature increases, causing changes in plants’ growing patterns. The study predicts that ACD will alter the order in which trees begin to grow their leaves, which entails long-term implications for the survival of several plants that grow in woodlands.
The size of the massive cyclone that pummeled the South Pacific country of Vanuatu has been linked to ACD, according to the country’s president and several climate scientists. One of the aid workers who arrived on the scene to help survivors said, “It looks like the town center has been hit by a bomb.” Oxfam executive director Helen Szoke said of the situation: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that we are now dealing with worse than the worst case scenario in Vanuatu.”
The impacts of climate disruption on nature continue to escalate. A recent study by Florida Institute of Technology confirmed that ACD is fueling a disease that has now almost completely wiped out all of the coral reefs in the Caribbean. In just 40 years, the disease has caused a 90 percent decline in coral reefs there.
Meanwhile, a study by the University of British Columbia revealed a 50 percent drop in seabird populations in the Pacific Northwest, and showed that it is primarily because the birds are starving to death. “It’s a pretty strong message that the marine ecosystem has changed,” said the study’s lead author. “And not for the better.”
A recent report by US Geological Survey experts revealed a “significant” drop in seabird populations in the Gulf of Alaska and northeast Bering Sea, and they blame warmer waters.
Other disconcerting news comes in the form of a whale showing up on the wrong side of the world: A gray whale, a species that has never been seen outside of the Pacific, showed up off the coast of Israel. Plus, Europe’s bees are now threatened with extinction, and ACD is one of the primary factors.
A study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that ACD may well lead to disturbances in marine life that will take, literally, thousands of years to recover from, not hundreds of years, as was previously thought.
Another recent study has shown how ACD played a critical role in sparking the horrific war in Syria, by causing a dramatic increase in the odds that a terrible drought in the Fertile Crescent would occur just before the fighting began.
Scientists also recently warned that as populations continue to increase around the world, cities will become much more vulnerable to both droughts and floods.
Lastly in this section, an article published by Slate, titled, “Baked Alaska: If the Last Frontier is the canary in the climate coal mine, we’re in trouble,” provides a stark view of both how rapidly and severely Alaska is being impacted by ACD. There, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Alaska said, “Homer, Alaska, keeps setting record after record, and I keep looking at the data like, ‘Has the temperature sensor gone out or something?'”
“A new report shows that warming in Alaska, along with the rest of the Arctic, is accelerating as the loss of snow and ice cover begins to set off a feedback loop of further warming,” according to the Slate article. “Warming in wintertime has been the most dramatic – more than 6 degrees in the past 50 years. And this is just a fraction of the warming that’s expected to come over just the next few decades.”
This month has seen a range of dire water-related crises around the world.
In the United States, lack of water continues to grow as a major issue in the Southwest and Western states. A 2012 federal supply-and-demand study of the Colorado River predicts that by 2060, the demand shortfall for the Colorado River could likely reach 1 trillion gallons, which is enough water to supply 6 million homes in the Southwest for one full year.
An excellent series of articles published in The Republic focused on the profound crisis that besets the Colorado River and thus the US Southwest. With every single drop of that river already guarded and being squeezed further, cities like Las Vegas, which gets 90 percent of its water from the Colorado, are facing deep trouble.
With 30 million people and billions of dollars of farm production reliant upon the dwindling Colorado River, the likelihood that younger generations will witness massive Southwest cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas becoming largely unlivable is high. The Republic series outlines how residents in some areas already fear they will no longer be able to remain where they currently live.
On that note, a recent study showed that California is likely to face droughts nearly every single year from now on.
As though to drive home that point, NASA recently warned that California only has one year of water left at current usage levels.
And the Southwest is not the only region with water woes.
In the Pacific Northwest, this winter saw a record-low snowpack across Washington State. That state’s Olympic Peninsula’s snowpack is a stunning 90 percent below normal levels. Several ski areas across the state never opened this year, and preparations for an impending summer drought are already underway.
Internationally, lack of water is becoming an increasingly urgent issue. A recent report showed how fresh water shortages will likely cause the next global crisis. By way of example, the drought in Sao Paulo has gotten bad enough that residents have attempted to drill through their basement floors in search of groundwater. As reservoirs continue to dry up across the globe, more than 1 billion people already lack access to safe drinking water. Water rationing and battles to control supply will only increase and worsen.
In fact, the UN recently warned that the entire planet will likely experience a 40 percent shortfall of water by 2030. Let that sink in for a moment; 2030 is a mere 15 years from now.
As warming continues to increase, in Alaska, the famous Iditarod annual sled dog race had to move its official starting point all the way to Fairbanks due to lack of adequate snow cover. For the first time in over a decade, a different course had to be used due to lack of snow, warm weather, the melting of previously frozen rivers and thawing permafrost.
Also in that state, the newest artist-in-residence at Denali National Park, photographer Camille Seaman, spoke to the media about her deep worries about ACD, since she has been photographing the Arctic for over a decade. Seeing Alaska as on the front lines of ACD, Seaman said, “No one can deny what Alaskans are experiencing and witnessing first hand.”
In neighboring Canada, experts are predicting a “foreseeable end” to outdoor hockey, due to warming temperatures and less ice cover.
As sea levels continue to rise, California’s iconic surfing business is in jeopardy. For example, in Monterey Bay, new climate modeling by the US Geological Survey shows that waves are getting larger, but then are falling flat as sea levels continue their inevitable rise.
On the other side of the country, in Florida, rising sea levels and invasive species, both obviously due to ACD, are threatening rare plants in Everglades National Park.
Finally in this section, the melting ice caps are again making the news. A recent report from a Nobel Prize-winning scientist showed, yet again, how increasing temperatures are rising even faster in the Arctic, and predicted that that region’s temperature will rise by at least 7 degrees Celsius within a century, and that the Arctic could be completely ice free within 35 years. However, some predict that we will begin seeing an ice-free Arctic much sooner – even this coming summer.
Giving credence to the predictions that this will happen very soon, US scientists recently announced that the Arctic sea ice has fallen to its lowest level for the winter season ever.
The melting in the Antarctic, which has already been profound, just worsened dramatically. A recent study showed that the Totten Glacier in East Antarctica is being melted from warm seawater underneath it, which is now the world’s fastest thinning area of the world’s largest ice sheet. Losing the Totten means that at least 10 feet of sea level rise just got added to the equation of rising seas.
The current ice loss of the Totten, a floating ice shelf, is now equivalent to 100 times the volume of Australia’s Sydney Harbor for every year of water released from its melting.
In just the last 10 years, ice sheets in Western Antarctica are reported to be melting at least 70 percent faster, according to another study – and this is a low-end estimate.
A report from late 2014 showed us that lightning strikes around the world will significantly increase with a warming planet. This means a dramatic increase in wildfires caused by said lightning, because ACD is causing an increase of up to 8 million lightning strikes every single day.
The entire country of Chile recently declared a national fire alert due to major wildfires in three of its national parks and reserves that are threatening trees that are a thousand years old. In one region that has been suffering from several years of drought, firefighters have been struggling for weeks to try to contain the fires.
In California, tiny bark beetles are ravaging the drought-weakened pine trees throughout the state in what scientists are calling a fast spreading epidemic that they fear could very soon turn catastrophic.
A recent study has revealed that the Gulf Stream system is most likely already weakening. This is very, very bad news: It means that the current fueling the ocean pattern that transports warm water from the tropics to the North Atlantic has now weakened to its lowest level in 1,100 years, likely due to an influx of freshwater from Greenland’s melting ice sheet. In short, this means that ACD is slowing down the Gulf Stream system much sooner than anyone expected it would, essentially locking in far harsher winters across Europe and dramatically faster sea level rise along the East Coast.
German researchers recently announced that the United States, Europe and Russia will face longer heat waves, since summer winds that previously brought in cool ocean air have now been weakened by ACD.
Recent research revealed how winds that are being changed in velocity by ACD patterns are rendering several airstrips across the Arctic less safe.
NASA announced that the vast methane cloud that has been hovering over the US Southwest is real. There was debate about its existence only because it was so large (the size of Delaware) and the methane readings were so unusually high, that at first it was believed to be an instrument error. The methane cloud is from massive coal mines in the region.
Seven massive craters that began appearing in Siberia last summer, now known to have resulted from melting permafrost and succeeding methane explosions, continue to garner media attention as more people begin to realize the dire impacts. As an increasing amount of methane is released into the atmosphere, the rapidity of ACD’s impact rises, since methane is 100 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the short term. Hence, these craters are yet another runaway feedback loop caused by ACD. Russian scientists have unequivocally tied the methane crater phenomenon to climate disruption.
More research continues to link the wild weather patterns that have been wracking the United States (deep freezes in the Midwest, record low temperatures and high snowfalls in the Northeast, warm winters in the West) to ACD. A NASA-generated image gives a clear picture of the dramatic US weather patterns, revealing the stark difference in temperature anomalies (temperature variations outside the norm) across the country.
At the same time, other scientific reports have linked large Pacific Ocean cycles with warming temperatures on the planet’s surface, which means that as Pacific trade winds slacken in the coming years, as they are expected to do, seas will begin absorbing less of ACD’s energy, and some of the heat they are already holding will be released into the atmosphere, hence speeding up ACD even more.
Denial and Reality
Certainly the top of the barrel of denial dung from this last month comes from the denier-in-chief, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma). His latest antic found him bringing a snowball to the US Senate floor, because in his world, holding a snowball apparently proves that ACD is a “hoax.”
Willie Soon, a “scientist” who works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, whose funding sources – oil and coal interests – were recently revealed, told the media he was “saddened and appalled” by the “attacks” against him. “Deniers” is the perfect term to describe people like Soon.
It also came out recently that Florida Department of Environmental Protection employees were ordered not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails or reports.
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, another outspoken denier, compared himself to Galileo and called those who believe in ACD “flat-earthers.” Cruz told the Texas Tribune that contemporary “global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers,” and added, “You know it used to be accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.”
Famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently shot back at the ACD denier camp. During a March lecture he said, “I don’t blame the politicians for a damn thing because we vote for the politicians. I blame the electorate.” Tyson went on to add, “Now we have a time where people are cherry-picking science. The science is not political. That’s like repealing gravity because you gained 10 pounds last week.”
Using the church segue from the Galileo reference, the US Episcopal Church announced that addressing ACD is on par morally with the civil rights movement, and that ACD denial is “immoral.”
A recently released “must-see” documentary called Merchants of Doubt, based on the must-read book with the same title, exposes the dirty tricks the spin doctors from the fossil fuel industry use to fuel the “denial” movement.
Confirming how effective this film is at exposing the denial machine, ACD denier Fred Singer started lobbying fellow skeptics to generate backlash and legal action against the filmmakers.
Also on the reality front, climate scientists at leading universities around the world are now joining forces in order to formulate a plan that will govern investment (read – divestment) in fossil fuels.
Cruz and other denier politicians are now getting schooled by 12-year-olds on ACD. Given that 90 percent of eighth graders accept the reality of human-caused climate change, an event organized by the advocacy group Avaaz brought a group of kids to climate-denying lawmakers’ offices and asked them to take a simple elementary school quiz on the science behind ACD.
As ACD progresses and accelerates, population growth, growing demands for all resources, ACD impacts and lack of potable water have already combined to cause many countries to fall into a state of chronic emergency, as a world made more violent by ACD is upon us.
Lastly, in March, right-wing Tea Party Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was rebuffed in a Senate subcommittee hearing while trying to criticize NASA’s recent decision toward an increase in funding for studying earth-based phenomena, along with a slight decrease in money for space exploration.
Cruz questioned NASA’s aiming funding toward studying ACD, said he felt it was more important to explore space, and while talking to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “I would suggest that almost any American would agree that the core function of NASA is to explore space. That’s what inspires little boys and little girls across this country. It’s what sets NASA apart from any agency in the country.”
To which Bolden replied, “We can’t go anywhere if the Kennedy Space Center goes underwater and we don’t know it – and that’s understanding our environment. It is absolutely critical that we understand Earth’s environment because this is the only place we have to live.”
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.
His third book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with William Rivers Pitt, is available now on Amazon. He lives and works in Washington State.