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

Posts Tagged ‘Radical Climate Change’

Climate Disruption Depression & Emissions Rising, Breaking & Setting New Records

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2014 at 1:17 pm

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Oldspeak: Hey kids. I took a break from the show to do  some volunteer work at a homeless shelter in Jamaica. The work was rewarding and much-needed. While I was there, I witnessed first hand the devastating impacts anthropogenic climate change and global warming are having in that land. Persistent and long-lasting drought in regions of the island historically rain-soaked. Yellowing, dead and dying trees and other fauna dotting the countryside. Reports from long time beach dwelling locals who’ve observed the seas advance, swallowing up their white sand beaches. When I got there in October, the beach where I was staying in Boston Bay was gorgeous, but even then the evidence of erosion was obvious. When I left in November, after several days of stormy rough and high seas, the beach was pretty much gone, as the ocean had encroached several feet on to the beach.  Buried under tons of seaweed, amounts which locals told me they’d never seen in the past. On the heels of a bizarre near 40 degree temperature swing in the New York area (on Monday it was near 70 degrees, today it is 34 and snowing, the Buffalo area recently got a years worth of snow in 36 hours), and the eve of Thanksgiving; America’s tribute to the beginning of the end of First Nations People here and orgy of excess and extinction inducing consumption; we take a moment to check in with Dahr Jamail and his monthly climate dispatch. Predictably, the news is not good. In fact, It’s getting worse by the day, and the destruction is getting more and more obvious to 1st worlders. Alas, The life consuming meat grinder that is Industrial Civilization drones on, relentless, oblivious, in a zombie-like trance state, growing larger and greedier by the moment. Throwing the Ecology ever more out of balance. Enjoy the fruits of our irreparably spoiled ecology while you can. Sooner than you think,  The Giving Tree that is our Great Mother will have nothing left to give but a place to be still and perish. Gobble, Gobble!!! ” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

“The impact of industrially packaged quanta of energy on the social environment tends to be degrading, exhausting, and enslaving, and these effects come into play even before those which threaten the pollution of the physical environment and the extinction of the (human) race.”

– Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich, 1973 article in Le Monde

 

This month’s dispatch surveys global calls for massive carbon dioxide cuts from the European Union (EU) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that are still not enough to truly mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) or stem the massive wildlife disruptions that are now occurring globally, and highlights other glaring signs of an increasingly unstable climate across the globe.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has concluded that, “Coal will nearly overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017 . . . without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change.”

A recently announced EU plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions 40 percent by 2030 was called “too weak” by IPCC Vice Chair Professor Jim Skea, who added that this goal will commit future governments to “extraordinary and unprecedented” emissions cuts.

China and the United States recently unveiled new pledges on greenhouse gas emissions. President Barack Obama claimed that the move was “historic” as he set a new goal of reducing US levels between 26 and 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. Meanwhile China did not set a specific target, but said its emissions would peak by 2030. Again, considering how far along the planet already is in terms of ACD impacts with every year continuing to see new emission records set globally, these gestures seem more symbolic than of a magnitude geared toward true mitigation.

Perhaps the same can be said of the recent IPCC statement, which announced that fossil fuel use must be completely eradicated by 2100.

And the warning signs of progressing ACD continue to mount.

The United Kingdom’s chief scientist recently warned that the planet’s oceans face a “serious and growing risk” from anthropogenic carbon emissions.

Earlier this year, the World Meteorological Organization reported that the world is roughly five times as prone to disaster as it was just 40 years ago.

Given what we’ve seen thus far, the warning is dire indeed.

Earth

This last month saw several ACD-related impacts across the earth.

Caribou feces found in a 700-year-old ice layer were found to contain a virus, which reminded us once again of unintended consequences from overheating the planet. According to the report published in New Scientist, potential threats to people and wildlife through melting caused by ACD are increasing. “The find confirms that virus particles are very good ‘time capsules’ that preserve their core genomic material, making it likely that many prehistoric viruses are still infectious to plants, animals or humans,” said Jean-Michel Claverie of the Aix-Marseille University School of Medicine in France, who was part of the team who found the virus.

Warmer winters in Alaska are causing increasing numbers of geese to forego their usual 3,300-mile migration, evidence of how climate disruptions are heavily impacting wildlife. Scientists have documented how increasing numbers of Pacific black brant are doing this. Prior to 1977, fewer than 3,000 of them wintered in Alaska. In recent years, however, more than 40,000 have remained, and as many as 50,000 stayed last year.

“The temperatures now in winter are much warmer,” said David Ward, a researcher at US Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center, who conducted the research along with scientists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “In years past you’d often have ice that would build up in these lagoons, and the eelgrass would be unavailable for the winter period. But now that’s changing. The change not only causes a disturbance in the natural rhythms of the geese, but will have unknown ramifications throughout the ecological system the geese are part of.”

Further south in California, sandhill cranes are finding their habitat squeezed by the ongoing drought in that state, as more and more of the birds are being forced into smaller areas, and farmers and scientists are pointing toward the ACD-exacerbated drought as the culprit.

Over in Europe, common birds like the sparrow and skylark are in decline across the continent, having decreased by more than 420 million in the last three decades, according to a recent study.

A recent report from a global analytics firm described ACD as a “threat multiplier” for 32 farming-dependent nations, which, it said, now face an “extreme risk” of conflict or civil unrest over the next 30 years.

ACD has been added to the list of causes for fewer bees in the United Kingdom, according to new research. The study showed that the increase in global temperature could be disrupting the “synchronization” that has evolved over millennia between bees and the plants they pollinate.

Long referred to as the “lungs of the planet,” a stunning new report by Brazil’s leading scientists revealed how the Amazon rainforest has been degraded to the point where it is actually losing its ability to regulate weather systems.

Speaking of degradation, over 50 percent of China’s arable land is now degraded, according to the official state news agency Xinhua. This means that the country now has a reduced capacity to produce food for the world’s largest population, and ACD is named as one of the leading causes.

Lastly on the earth front, if you are feeling down about all the bad news about ACD, there’s good reason. Professor Camille Parmesan, an ACD researcher who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for her work as a lead author of the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, is blaming her depression on ACD.

“I don’t know of a single scientist that’s not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost,” Parmesan said in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2012 report, “The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States: And Why the US Mental Health Care System is Not Adequately Prepared.” “It’s gotten to be so depressing that I’m not sure I’m going to go back to this particular site again,” she said in reference to an ocean reef she had studied since 2002, “because I just know I’m going to see more and more of it dead, and bleached, and covered with brown algae.”

Water

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission recently cancelled Maine’s shrimp season for the second straight year. A committee report said the 2014 spring shrimp survey showed the shrimp population for this year was at its lowest level in 31 years, and worse than last years, and attributed the dramatic decline in the shrimp population to rising ocean temperatures.

And these impacts aren’t just evident in the Northeast United States.

In the Northwest, bizarre sea life visitors are showing up as a result of historic warming occurring in the Northern Pacific Ocean. An ocean sunfish turned up in the net of some researchers in Alaskan waters. The ocean sunfish is usually found in the tropics or more temperate waters, and are incredibly rare in Alaska. A few days later, another showed up. “No one had ever talked about seeing one alive,” Wyatt Fournier, a research fish biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said. “Not only did we get two aboard in one week, but my commercial-fishing buddies started telling me they were bumping into them when fishing for salmon.”

The waters of Panama, which contain 290 square kilometers of coral reefs, are facing multiple threats, from increased marine traffic to pollution, but the worst is rising sea temperatures.

In the far north, a UK scientist has warned that melting Arctic ice is likely the cause of increasingly extreme weather in the United Kingdom, and that a more turbulent Arctic Ocean will impact currents like the Gulf Stream. This is particularly troubling when one considers the fact that the Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the global average.

Speaking of melting ice, scientist Jon Riedel, who has been studying glaciers there for more than 30 years, announced that North Cascades National Park has lost roughly 50 percent of its glacier area since 1900, and added, “That’s pretty typical for mountain ranges around the world.” Riedel said that in the last few decades, glaciers in the Northwest have melted faster than ever before.

“The glaciers now seem to have melted back up to positions they haven’t been in for 4,000 years or more,” Riedel said, and went on to explain how natural influences alone could not possibly account for glacial retreat on such a scale. “As a scientist, every time I come back here, this place has changed,” he said.

Up in Alaska, the massive Harding Icefield on the Kenai Peninsula is showing dramatic signs of melting. According to measurements taken by scientists this fall, nearly 28 vertical feet of ice was lost. The Exit Glacier, which spills out of the ice field, has retreated more than in any other single year since annual mapping of its terminus began.

Among scientists, it is common knowledge that the Arctic is the “canary in the coal mine” of ACD, as it is warming faster than the rest of the planet, as aforementioned. Evidence of this appeared this past summer when temperatures soared by 7 degrees Celsius in Barrow on the north slope of the state. Scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks attribute the rise to ACD and the loss of Arctic sea ice, and point toward how the 7-degree Celsius increase blows a hole in international efforts aimed at preventing global temperatures from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Gerd Wendler, the lead author of the study and a professor emeritus at the university’s International Arctic Research Center, said he was “astonished” at the findings, and told the Alaska Dispatch News: “I think I have never, anywhere, seen such a large increase in temperature over such a short period.”

As ACD continues to melt the Arctic sea ice and consistently pushes back its summertime boundaries to record-setting high latitudes, NASA has begun flying missions to study how these new developments will impact global weather.

Meanwhile down in the Southern Hemisphere, Sao Paulo in Brazil, Latin America’s largest metropolis, may soon run out of water. Given that this mega-city of 20 million residents and the country’s financial hub already is seeing many of its taps run dry, the future looks dire. At the time of this writing, the lakes that supply half of all the water to the city have been drained of 96 percent of their water capacity, as Brazil is in the midst of its worst drought in 80 years.

Looking eastward, the United Kingdom is on course to experience both one of the warmest and wettest years since record keeping began, generating fears that future droughts and flash floods will likely cost lives.

In the United States, with California now into the fourth year of its record-setting drought, the small farm town of Stratford is seeing its ground sink due to farmers having pumped so much water out of the ground that the water table below the town has fallen 100 feet in two years.

Adding insult to injury, NOAA recently released its Winter Outlook, which shows the drought in California to continue to intensify.

In fact, recent research by scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the US Geological Survey show that California’s future droughts will be deeper and longer than even the current drought that is wracking the state.

A collection of maps on the topic of water use provide a clear picture of why the entire western United States is in deep trouble when it comes to future freshwater supplies.

In fact, the situation has progressed far enough along already that scientists are predicting that Utah will no longer have a snow skiing industry, since ACD will prevent snow from falling there by the end of this century.

Across the globe, the groundwater supply crisis is becoming so severe that the depletion of groundwater is now driving many conflicts around the globe, according to a leading NASA scientist.

Meanwhile, the city of Boston is reconsidering its relationship with the sea, since sea levels are rising and the land there is kinking. Hence, people there are investigating the possibility of copying Venice and Amsterdam, and making Boston a city of canals.

Given that US coastal cities are now flooding regularly during high tides, thanks in large part to rising seas from ACD, little has actually been done to defend them against the continuation of rising seas, and recent reports show that “nobody is truly ready.”

That said, Jakarta, the most populous city in Java, is sinking. The city has begun building a massive wall to try to stave off the rising seas that are already flooding homes nearly two miles from the coast.

Speaking of flooding, nearly 10 billion gallons of sewer overflows poured into southeastern Michigan’s waters during record-setting flooding in August, which sounded alarms about the deteriorating water quality in the Great Lakes hydrological system.

And Michigan is not alone in struggling with this problem. As storms continue to intensify due to ACD, sanitation departments throughout the US Midwest are struggling to keep apace with more frequent and intense runoff.

Lastly for this section, oceanographers recently reported that larger “dead zones,” (oxygen-depleted water) in the oceans are expected to intensify and grow due to ACD. According to the study, 94 percent of places where dead zones have been shown to exist are located in areas where average temperatures are expected to rise by approximately 4 degrees Fahrenheit by the turn of the century.

Air

US government meteorologists published a study illustrating yet another trend toward increasingly extreme weather events emerging in recent years. Their study found that tornadoes in the United States are increasingly coming in “swarms,” rather than as isolated twisters.

Recently, the first “big heat event” smashed Australian temperature records, when that country’s first major heat wave came more than a month ahead of the official start of summer. The October heat wave set daily maximum temperature records at more than 20 stations, in addition to the fact that the duration of the warmth was also exceptional, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

As aforementioned, the Amazon is in big trouble, which means of course the planet is, when it comes to the crumbling ecosystems’ impact on the planet. But another report, this one in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that the forests there are drying out due to lack of rainfall, causing yet more carbon to be emitted into the atmosphere, in what is yet another positive feedback loop resulting from ACD.

Lastly in this section, according to scientists from NASA and NOAA, the Antarctic ozone hole reached its annual peak in September, and the size of this year’s hole was 9.3 million square miles, an area roughly the size of the entire continent of North America.

Denial and Reality

In the United States, ACD-denial tactics never cease to amaze.

A libertarian think tank sued the White House, not exactly the bastion of ACD-mitigation action itself, for a video that tied ACD to last year’s “polar vortex” that raked much of the country with extreme low temperatures.

If you haven’t noticed, the “I’m not a scientist” meme, or variations thereof, has been the primary talking point for Republicans when it comes to ACD. When any group of politicians, lobbyists or corporate spokespeople begins saying the exact same thing, you know they are being coached.

Rupert Murdoch’s company is now concerned about ACD. The parent company of Fox News lost millions of dollars due to Superstorm Sandy, so now they are warning that ACD will likely bring even more extreme weather.

Immediately following the US midterm elections, with their new majority, Senate Republicans are targeting the already feeble federal government’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) – the incoming Senate majority leader – said he feels a “deep responsibility” to stop power plant regulations, and that his top priority is “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”

A recent article in the Toronto Star reminds us that geo-engineering schemes that are proposed to mitigate ACD are more like something out of a third-rate science fiction novel than something that would actually work, according to climate scientists.

The South Miami City Commission recently voted in favor of allowing Florida’s 23 southern counties to secede and create a new state called “South Florida.” This is a result of growing frustration and concern over rising sea levels and lack of ACD mitigation actions by the ACD-denying state leaders.

Another factor related to ACD is overpopulation – which tends to be shied away from most of the time, despite the obvious fact that more people consuming greater amounts of resources on an already far overtaxed planet is an equation that does not provide a happy ending. Finally, more folks are beginning to address overpopulation as another important mitigation method.

Inter Press Service recently reminded us how those populations which are already taking it on the chin from ACD in the form of massive floods, intense heat waves and rising seas are those who are the most vulnerable.

Lastly this month, in the wake of recent news of global emissions rising 2.3 percent in 2013 to set yet another record and marking the largest year-to-year increase in 30 years, the IPCC announced that the world isn’t moving anywhere near fast enough to have a chance at mitigating the impacts of ACD in any real way.

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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.

His fourth 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.

 

 

Increasing Methane Releases From Thawing Arctic “Permafrost” Is Accelerating Global Warming, As Industrial Civilization Plunders On

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2014 at 1:08 am

Oldspeak: “ Arctic permafrost is an area of intense research focus because of its climate threat. The frozen ground holds enormous stores of methane because the ice traps methane rising from inside the Earth, as well as gas made by microbes living in the soil. Scientists worry that the warming Arctic could lead to rapidly melting permafrost, releasing all that stored methane and creating a global warming feedback loop as the methane in the atmosphere traps heat and melts even more permafrost….Researchers are trying to gauge this risk by accurately measuring stores of methane in permafrost on land and in the ocean, and predicting how fast it will thaw as the planet warms. Though methane gas quickly decays once it escapes into the atmosphere, lasting only about 10 years, it is 30 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat (the greenhouse effect)….Shakova and colleague Igor Semiletov of the Russian Academy of Sciences first discovered methane bubbling up from the shallow seafloor a decade ago in Russia’s Laptev Sea. Methane is trapped there in ground frozen during past ice ages, when sea level was much lower.” -Becky Oskin

“When you consider that global atmospheric methane concentrations are higher than at any point in at least the last 650,ooo years and rising, you do the math. As fossil fuel use and temperatures  increase, the probability of a catastrophic methane pulse increase significantly.  it’s not good that scientists have no idea fast methane hydrates are melting, as the planet warms. That means 50 GiGATONS of methane gas could be released into the atmosphere at any timeThe arctic methane timebomb is ticking. it cannot be stopped or mitigated or adapted to. When it goes off it will be very very very bad for life on earth. We need to start accepting this reality.” -OSJ

By Mark Karlin @ Buzzflash:

In 1965, a singer-songwriter, Barry McGuire, wrote a song called “The Eve of Destruction.” It was inspired by the decade of violent foreign wars and civil rights clashes, but applies to the current acceleration of global warming:

But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?

Some readers may find the recent BuzzFlash at Truthout commentaries on the devastating climate change that is occurring a bit gloomy and lugubrious.  After all, if US residents turn on the television or listen to the radio, few news outlets are discussing the looming cataclysm.  Also, like carbon monoxide, it is odorless. In the air around us, it is not visible.

More frequently, nonetheless, we are seeing reports of its volatile impact in hurricanes, droughts, deluges and the melting of glaciers and the Arctic ice, among other ominous signs of its growing destructive power.

Yet, still most people don’t believe “we are on the eve of destruction,” as fossil fuel plunderers are granted the rights – even subsidized by the US government – to continue their destruction of our ecosphere.

Climate change is not due to any single cause, although carbon dioxide is the key catalyst. However, global warming results from a chain reaction of toxic changes in the Earth’s eco-balance.

For instance, as temperatures rise, ice melts and reduces the cooling of the atmosphere, thus causing an even warmer environment.  As a result, areas that are covered with permafrost melt and methane is released.  With the release of methane, climate change exponentially increases.

The website TGD Daily reports:

A team of researchers lead by Florida State University have found new evidence that permafrost thawing is releasing large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere via plants, which could accelerate warming trends.

The research is featured in the newest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We’ve known for a while now that permafrost is thawing,” said Suzanne Hodgkins, the lead author on the paper and a doctoral student in chemical oceanography at Florida State. “But what we’ve found is that the associated changes in plant community composition in the polar regions could lead to way more carbon being released into the atmosphere as methane.”

Permafrost is soil that is frozen year round and is typically located in polar regions. As the world has gotten slightly warmer, that permafrost is thawing and decomposing, which is producing increased amounts of methane.

Relative to carbon dioxide, methane has a disproportionately large global warming potential. Methane is 33 times more effective at warming the Earth on a mass basis and a century time scale relative to carbon dioxide.

As TGD Daily notes, “If the permafrost melts entirely, there would be five times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere than there is now, said Jeff Chanton, the John Widmer Winchester Professor of Oceanography at Florida State.”

Methane is also increasingly being released from the oceans as ice that shielded it melts, with large methane bubbles, for instance, now rising up in the Arctic Ocean (which is expected to be free of ice cover in a few years due to higher temperatures) and being released into the atmosphere.

BuzzFlash at Truthout has mentioned before that the ruling elite in industry and in governments, in general, have moved from a position of virtually ignoring global warming and its likely devastation to a position of adaptation, if that is even remotely possible, to the pending disaster.

Given that sort of betrayal on the part of the developed world’s leadership, some of us may seek to live for the day, since we believe that there is little that we can do as we pass the last hours on the eve of destruction.

This is our collective Earth, however, and those who would so greedily lead us into an apocalyptic ruin should be removed from positions of power.  Attempts at halting the advancing deterioration of the planet cannot begin soon enough.

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“Extinction Event On Steroids” : 6th Mass Extinction Of Plants & Animals Underway, Rate Of Climate Change Unprecedented In Geologic History

In Uncategorized on March 11, 2014 at 5:13 pm

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Oldspeak: Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels; i.e., oil, gas, and coal, have increased, on an annualized basis, by nearly 50% over the past 16 years.  Ipso facto, the world’s climate has turned turbulent.

Perilously, the planet does not divulge extinction events. Rather, extinctions are clandestine, shrouded in mystery, and occur far away from where humans tread. Extinctions start under the water, at the top of the world, and in far away places unpopulated, remote, and hidden from the wandering eye of the human species, unbeknownst until it is too late.

Ergo, stating the obvious, the worst possible outcome for the planet is an extinction event because geologic history shows that 75% to 90% of all life is wiped out…” –Robert Hunziker

When you understand that “63% of all human-generated carbon emissions have been produced in the past 25 years; that is, nearly two-thirds have been emitted since the first warnings were sounded about what was then called “global warming” and the need to stop or scale back. We on Earth now, we who have been adults for at least 25 years, are the ones who have done more than all earlier human beings combined to unbalance the atmosphere of the planet, and thus its weather systems, oceans, and so much more…” and that there are no globally agreed upon plans to curb ever increasing human emissions, you can rest assured, we’re fucked. Most everything else living is fucked.  There are no “solutions” or “mitigations” or “actions” to be taken. We’re done. We probably have about 20 years left. Enjoy them as best you can, don’t waste them contributing to your own extinction.” -OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

The American Museum of Natural History/NY (AMNH-NY) conducted a survey about the likelihood of a mass extinction event. The majority of the 400 scientists polled were convinced that a “mass extinction of plants and animals is underway,” posing a threat to humanity in the next century. According to that same poll, the public is “dimly aware” of this threat of an extinction event.

The AMNH-NY survey took place in the year 1998; thus, “the next century” that they referenced is here now. Also, since 1998, above and beyond additional loss of habitat for plants and animals, the state of the climate has deteriorated considerably. Here’s why: Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels; i.e., oil, gas, and coal, have increased, on an annualized basis, by nearly 50% over the past 16 years. 1  Ipso facto, the world’s climate has turned turbulent.

Perilously, the planet does not divulge extinction events. Rather, extinctions are clandestine, shrouded in mystery, and occur far away from where humans tread. Extinctions start under the water, at the top of the world, and in far away places unpopulated, remote, and hidden from the wandering eye of the human species, unbeknownst until it is too late.

Ergo, stating the obvious, the worst possible outcome for the planet is an extinction event because geologic history shows that 75% to 90% of all life is wiped out. But, without question, an extinction event takes some time to complete, like centuries or millennia, or longer, something along those lines.

Still, what if an extinction event is on steroids, happening much, much faster than geologic history indicates?

Then, what?

Tipping Point

This article explores the possibility that an extinction event is on steroids, right now, threatening all humanity.

To prove the point, this article examines peer-review scientific articles and leading scientists, their views of the danger of a tipping point (no turning back) occurrence and/or whether the world is already in the zone. As such, the eminent and prestigious National Academies has already weighed-in on three prominent trouble spots where abrupt climate change may be festering right now. Whether those trouble spots trigger a tipping point, only time will tell.

According to Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change, Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council of the National Academies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., December 2013:

The history of climate on the planet— as read in archives such as tree rings, ocean sediments, and ice cores— is punctuated with large changes that occurred rapidly, over the course of decades to as little as a few years.

At the same time, it is important to emphasize that the geologic history the report references occurred millions of years ago before humans started artificially influencing the climate by emitting tonnes and tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of greenhouse gases. Alas, scientific research shows that climate change may very well be on steroids, changing faster than ever, at breakneck speed when contrasted to the historical record.

The National Academies’ 200-page report, as of December 2013, detailing the risks of abrupt climate change, identifies three primary risk areas of abrupt climate change this century: (1) the ocean; (2) the Arctic; (3) Antarctica. Two of these are already out of the starting blocks, up and running.

The Ocean

Ocean acidification today is unprecedented, much faster than any time over the past 300 million years, “… at least 10 times faster than 56 million years ago,” according to Bärbel Hönisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Oceans Acidifying Faster Today Than in Past 300 Million Years, National Science Foundation, Press Release 12-041,March 1, 2012.

In that regard, the National Research Council of the National Academies’ report concludes: If ongoing pressures of climate change continue, meaning the burning of fossil fuels, then deeper, more pronounced, abrupt climate changes would likely occur before the year 2100.

As of today, fossil fuels are burning more than ever before. Meantime, research confirms that global warming has accelerated over the past 15 years, not slowed as expressed by global warming contrarians.  2

Indeed, an extinction event in the ocean is already under observation: “… nearly all marine life forms that build calcium carbonate shells and skeletons studied by scientists thus far have shown deterioration due to increasing carbon dioxide levels in seawater.” 3

The science is not circumstantial: “…sufficient information exists to state with certainty that deleterious impacts on some marine species are unavoidable, and that substantial alteration of marine ecosystems is likely over the next century.” 4

Humans are already starting to notice the effects: “The first direct impact on humans may be through declining harvests and fishery revenues….” 5

“Ocean acidification is appearing in Washington decades sooner than anticipated….” 6 The state of Washington was initially alerted to the inherent danger of excessive carbon dioxide (CO2) in the water when oyster larvae in hatcheries died in large numbers, threatening the state’s $270 million shellfish industry.

“This report really draws attention to a problem that exists internationally but that has really hit hard right here in the state of Washington.” 7

By all appearances, an extinction event has already started in the ocean as the result of excessive levels of fossil fuel CO2 emissions. And, this dilemma is bound to grow bigger and bigger and escalate ever more rapidly as 1,200 coal-burning power plants worldwide are currently on the drawing boards (75% in China and India), which, in turn, will ramp up the sourcing behind ocean acidification, which is already clocking 10 times faster than anytime throughout geologic history. Does marine life have a fighting chance?

According to Alex Rogers, PhD, professor of Conservation Biology, University of Oxford and Scientific Director, International Programme on the State of the Ocean: “The change we’re seeing at the moment is taking place extremely rapidly… We’re seeing levels of pH [a measure of acidity] in the ocean that probably haven’t been experienced for 55 million years… I find it very difficult to tell people what a scary situation we’re in at the moment. The oceans are changing in a huge way, and I am particularly worried for my grandchildren. The changes we thought would happen in the future… We’re actually seeing them now.” 8

Dr. Rogers claims the ocean is in a critical state.

Accordingly, out of dire necessity, the operative question is: How should the world’s governments respond to an ocean that is in a critical state?

Do nothing or do something?

Methane

Methane (CH4) is the ugly stepsister to carbon dioxide (CO2). Excessively, it’s a killer.

Methane is over twenty times more powerful, over a 100-year period, per molecule, than is carbon dioxide (CO2).  Or, put another way, methane is more effectual than carbon dioxide at absorbing infrared radiation emitted from the earth’s surface and preventing it from escaping into space. Notwithstanding, methane, during its first few years upon entering the atmosphere, is 100 times as powerful as an equal weight of CO2.

As it happens, it appears excessive levels of methane are just now starting to seriously impact the atmosphere in a big way!

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, as of February 2013, methane levels in the atmosphere are measured at 1,874 ppb (parts per billion.) This level, in an historical context, is more than twice the level as any time since 400,000 years before the industrial revolution. In the past, methane has ranged between 300-400 ppb during glacial periods and 600-700 ppb during warm interglacial periods.

The CH4 quagmire, in large measure, is the result of a melting Arctic, which, in turn, exposes methane that has been entrapped for millennia-times-millennia. Here’s the quandary:

We show results from some recent work from submarines, and speculate that the trend towards retreat and thinning will inevitably lead to an eventual loss of all ice in summer, which can be described as a ‘tipping point’ in that the former situation, of an Arctic covered with mainly multi-year ice, cannot be retrieved. 9

The statement by Peter Wadhams, PhD, Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group, Dept. of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, goes to the heart of the scope of methane’s threat, for example: Rising temperatures in the Arctic (which are already rising 2-3 times faster than temps elsewhere on the planet) could abruptly trigger the release of 50 Gt (gigatonnes) of methane currently frozen in the seabed within a decade, which would be catastrophic.

It is the summer sea ice loss passing the point of no return, leading to unstoppable catastrophic Arctic methane feedbacks, sooner or later… puts us in a state of planetary emergency today.10

Methane emissions slowed in the 1990s, but “… strong growth resumed in 2007.”11

With methane strongly on the rise again, the news could not be any worse regarding the prospects of an extinction event. As a matter of fact, the recent surge in methane feeds right into the wheelhouse of an extinction event.

Alas, the story only gets worse. The seafloor off the coast of Northern Siberia is releasing over twice the amount of methane as previously estimated, according to new research, as of 2013: “We believe that the release of methane from the Arctic, and in particular this part of the Arctic, could impact the entire globe.”12

“Impact the entire globe” is not at all positive in any way shape, or form; rather, ultimately, it means heat, lots of heat, leading to runaway global warming, and this forecast is why a group of renowned scientists formed the Arctic Methane Emergency Group , which has already sent major governments a letter pleading for: “Emergency intervention is needed both to save the Arctic sea ice and to reduce the risk of catastrophic global warming from a sudden large emission of methane.” 13

“We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometer or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal,” says Dr. Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who led the 8th joint US-Russian cruise of the East Siberian Arctic seas. 14

According to the National Academies’ report, abrupt climate change has already started in the Arctic. Whether a tipping point has been reached, or exceeded, time will tell, but it shouldn’t take too long to know, maybe a few years, maybe longer.

As an aside, it would be absolutely wonderful and spectacular if the climate change denialists prove to be correct about ice in the Arctic. Their claim, which appeared all over the mainstream news this past fall, is that the ice at the Arctic is rebuilding beautifully. And, yes it is true Arctic sea ice “extent” and “volume” did increase, which occasionally happens in any given year. However, the basic science, on a long-term secular basis, doesn’t agree with their hysterics.

Accordingly, “Arctic sea ice extent in February 2014 averaged 14.44 million sq. miles. This is the fourth lowest February ice extent in the satellite data record, and is 910,000 sq. kilometres. below the 1981 to 2010 average.” 15

In order for Arctic sea ice to recover from more than 30 years of shrinkage, it will require much more than one season of increased sea ice. It will take many, many seasons of increased sea ice. Meanwhile, the Sword of Damocles hangs over the Arctic, threatening all society with runaway global warming.

In that regard, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group sent a Policy Brief to major governments. Here is their conclusion:

AMEG’s conclusion is that there is now a planetary emergency. Only by grasping the nettle and intervening with great determination, as in a war effort, is there a chance of remedying the situation before it is too late. International collaboration to fight this common ‘enemy’ of Arctic meltdown must bring all nations together, in the cause of our very survival.

“If we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sans and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty.” (James  Hansen, Storms of my Grandchildren (Bloomsbury Press, 2009.)

Venus’s atmosphere consists of 96.5% carbon dioxide (CO2), which keeps a lid on the heat as surface temps run 872 degrees F.  The Venus Syndrome happens when climate and atmospheric feedback loops are triggered and cannot be switched off, e.g., greenhouse gases build up, causing more warming, in turn, more greenhouse gases are released, causing more warming, and so on and so forth in a maddening continuum of a vicious feedback loop.

Under those circumstances, Earth risks becoming a pressure-cooking inferno.

Subsidize renewables, not fracking.

Post Script: The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel usage hit record levels (IEA: Carbon Emissions from Fuel Usage Hit New Global Record, Deutsche Welle, Oct. 6, 2013). The IEA also warned that, based upon larger levels of carbon dioxide emissions than previously calculated, the world is on a path to an average temperature rise of between 3.6 and 5.3 degrees C, about double the target set at a UN summit in Durbin in 2010.

On a positive note: A student movement at more than 300 university and college campuses is encouraging endowments to divest holdings of fossil fuel companies. As for one example, Divest Harvard declares: “By sponsoring climate change through our investments, our university is threatening our generation’s future.” 16

  1. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee. []
  2. Magdalena A. Balmaseda, et al, Distinctive Climate Signals in Reanalysis of Global Ocean Heat Content, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 40, Issue, May 10, 2013, 9, DOI: 10.1002/grl.50382 []
  3. Dr. Richard Feely and Dr. Christopher Sabine, Oceanographers, Carbon Dioxide and Our Ocean Legacy, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, April 2006. []
  4. Victoria J. Fabry, et al, Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Fauna and Ecosystem Processes, ICES Journal of Marine Sciences, Oxford Journals, Vol. 65, Issue 3, Feb. 2008. []
  5. Sarah R. Cooley, et al, Anticipating Ocean Acidification’s Economic Consequences for Commercial Fisheries, IOP Science, Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2009. []
  6. Ocean Acidification and Washington State, Department of Ecology, State of Washington, 2013. []
  7. Jane Lubchenco, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Rising Ocean Acidity off Washington State Threatens Shellfish, Panel Says, The Associate Press (AP), Nov. 27, 2012. []
  8. International Programme on the State of the Ocean, OneWorld Video (UK), August 2011. []
  9. Peter Wadhams, Arctic Ice Cover, Ice Thickness and Tipping Points, AMBIO (Publisher: Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences), February 2012, Volume 41, Issue 1. []
  10. John Nissen, AMEG Chairman, Arctic Methane Emergency Group. []
  11. Euan G. Nisbet, et al, Methane on the Rise-Again, Atmospheric Science, Science Vol. 343, No. 6170, January 31, 2014. []
  12. Natalia Shakhova, et al. Ebullition and storm-induced methane release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, Nature Geoscience, DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2007, Nov. 24, 2013. []
  13. Arctic Methane Emergency Group []
  14. Steve Connor, Vast Methane ‘Plumes’ Seen in Arctic Ocean as Sea Ice Retreats, The Independent (UK), Dec. 13, 2011. []
  15. Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis, National Snow & Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, March 3, 2014. []
  16. Randall Smith, A New Divestment Focus on Campus: Fossil Fuels, New York Times, September 6, 2013. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

This article was posted on Monday, March 10th, 2014 at 12:56am

Return Of The Polar Vortex: Coldest Of The Cold En Route To U.S.; Warmer In Alaska Than South Carolina

In Uncategorized on January 28, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Visualization of surface winds (lines and black arrows) and temperatures (shaded colors) on Monday morning, as the latest Arctic blast swept from the Midwest to the South and East.

Click image to enlarge. Credit: earth.nullschool.net.

 

Oldspeak: “While the lower 48 states freeze — every state in the contiguous U.S. is expected to see a low temperature at or below 32°F on Tuesday morning — this weather pattern also has a flipside, with unusually mild conditions affecting Alaska and the Western U.S. At 10 p.m. local time on Sunday, it was warmer in Homer, Alaska than anywhere in the contiguous U.S., except for Southern Florida and Southern California. The high temperature in Homer of 55°F broke their all-time monthly high temperature record…” -Andrew Freedman

“Sooooo its pushing 60 in some parts of the arctic, while its negative 40 in the Midwest of the U.S. Again. And expected to be so, through February…. While record heat bakes Australia. AGAIN.  Yeahhhhh, that’s normal. SMDH… We’re sooo fucked. :-O ” -OSJ

By Andrew Freedman @ Climate Central:

The polar vortex is back, and for many suffering through an already frigid winter, the Arctic air barreling into the lower 48 states may be the coldest of the cold yet.

Temperatures may plunge well below zero in the Upper Midwest, and could potentially last as long as three days in some areas. Cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and Madison are already enduring extreme cold, with two consecutive days of subzero high temperatures expected. In addition, a rare snow and ice storm is slated to develop along the Gulf Coast on Tuesday and Wednesday. Computer model projections show the potential for more than 6 inches of snow to fall in parts of the Southeast, particularly in Southeast South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina, areas that are not accustomed to such heavy snowfall and ice.

The frigid temperatures in the Central and Eastern U.S. come courtesy of a jet stream pattern that has kept the door to the Arctic, which is the Northern Hemisphere’s freezer, wide open, allowing dangerously cold air to repeatedly move southward into the lower 48 states in distinct waves.

As happened in early January, the now infamous polar vortex has something to do with the latest cold snap, with its southernmost extent clipping the northern tier of the U.S.

The persistence of the cold during January has set the month on course to be the second coldest winter month in the contiguous U.S. since December 2000, coming up about a degree shy of the monthly average temperature in January 2011, according to Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Analytics, a private weather forecasting firm.

 

Of course, blaming this all on the polar vortex isn’t entirely accurate. The true polar vortex exists at upper levels of the atmosphere, and what’s been causing January’s bitter cold — and soon to be February’s — is a result of the interaction between the vortex and events in the more chaotic lower atmosphere.

The polar vortex exists at the upper levels of the atmosphere at and above the typical cruising altitude of commercial jetliners, and is an area of frigid air and relatively low air pressure surrounded by a strong west-to-east jet stream that circles the Arctic during the winter.

When the upper level winds encircling the vortex are strong, the cold air tends to stay locked in the Arctic. But when those winds slow, as has occurred this winter, the polar vortex can wobble and split, with pockets of extremely cold air getting pinched off and shunted southward, into the U.S., Europe, and Asia. According to many computer models, this is likely to happen throughout much of February.

Visualization of wind speed and direction in the lower stratosphere, looking from the top of the Northern Hemisphere down. The polar vortex is highlighted within the black rectangle, with its circulation extending south above the U.S.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: earth.nullschool.net.

Ultimately, the distinction between the upper level vortex and its lower level reflections is of interest mainly to meteorologists, since most Americans are more concerned with staying warm than with looking up “polar vortex” in a textbook.

Charts of the middle of the troposphere, which is the layer of the atmosphere where most weather occurs, show that several areas of unusually cold temperatures are currently affecting the U.S. and parts of Europe and Asia, while an unusually mild region stretches from Alaska across the Arctic and extending into northern Siberia.

While the lower 48 states freeze — every state in the contiguous U.S. is expected to see a low temperature at or below 32°F on Tuesday morning — this weather pattern also has a flipside, with unusually mild conditions affecting Alaska and the Western U.S. At 10 p.m. local time on Sunday, it was warmer in Homer, Alaska than anywhere in the contiguous U.S., except for Southern Florida and Southern California. The high temperature in Homer of 55°F broke their all-time monthly high temperature record, according to Weather Underground.

On Jan. 27, the temperature in Nome, Alaska reached 51°F, which was not only the warmest temperature on record there for January, but was also the warmest temperature observed at that location between the dates of Oct. 17 and April 9, according to Weather Underground’s Chris Burt.

On Jan. 25, the headquarters of Denali National Park, Alaska, where Mt. McKinley is located, reached a high temperature of 51°F, which tied the record high temperature for the month of January, according to the National Weather Service.

In Nome, the temperature climbed to 45°F on Jan. 26, which was the second warmest January day there since recordkeeping began in 1907. Numerous daily high temperature marks and records for highest overnight low temperatures have also been set in Alaska, and computer model projections show continued unusual warmth is likely to affect the state for much of February.

Unusually mild conditions have also affected the Western U.S., as the jet stream has steered storms well north of the area into Canada, pumping warm air into the region from the southwest.

For example, Sacramento, Calif., reached 79°F on Jan. 25, breaking the high temperature mark there for the month of January. A monthly temperature record was also broken at Sacramento Executive Airport on the same day.

For the lower 48 states during the period from Dec. 28 to Jan. 26, 32 monthly high temperature records were set or tied along with 12 monthly records for highest overnight low temperature. That compares to 24 monthly records for coldest high temperature, and zero monthly records for the lowest overnight low temperature. There were, however, eight records set or tied for the coldest daytime high temperature.

This data suggests that the extreme cold in the Midwest and East, while noteworthy, may not be as unusual from a historical standpoint as the warmth in the West and Alaska.

Of course, for those in the path of this current Arctic outbreak, that’s of little consolation.

Climate Scientists Consider Extinction: “Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things…” “There’s not much money in the end of civilization, and even less to be made in human extinction.”

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Oldspeak: “A growing cadre of impeccably credentialed and long time climate scientists are sounding more and more dire alarms about where our life support system is headed. Basically it’s headed to point where much of the planet we call home will become inhospitable to human and up to 80% of all other life-forms. it took a free thinking scientist to elucidate the root cause of our extinction. Greed. Greed for something that is nothing more than an abstact social contract. Money. This all-consuming mass delusion is now consuming our civilizations. Quietly, almost politely at first, swallowing small island nations no one really knows or cares about.  By the time our dying world consumes significant, highly populated parts of our civilization, there will be nothing left to do but survive as long as we can.  David Wasdel, director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and an expert on multiple feedback dynamics, says, “We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.” why are we acting as if this way of life is still valid? Why are we not questioning this utterly absurd, toxic and unsustainable existence? Why are we still scurrying about gluttonous, mindlessly consuming ever more resources, collecting things, destroying things, building things, moving shit that we don’t need around. We’re the dinobots. Robotic, technologically advanced, disproportionately strong and thought-limited. As were our dinosaur predecessors, we are largely oblivious to what madness is to come. Enjoy your remaining time in the Holocene Extinction!” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Tom’s Dispatch:

I grew up planning for my future, wondering which college I would attend, what to study, and later on, where to work, which articles to write, what my next book might be, how to pay a mortgage, and which mountaineering trip I might like to take next.

Now, I wonder about the future of our planet. During a recent visit with my eight-year-old niece and 10- and 12-year-old nephews, I stopped myself from asking them what they wanted to do when they grew up, or any of the future-oriented questions I used to ask myself. I did so because the reality of their generation may be that questions like where they will work could be replaced by: Where will they get their fresh water? What food will be available? And what parts of their country and the rest of the world will still be habitable?

The reason, of course, is climate change — and just how bad it might be came home to me in the summer of 2010.  I was climbing Mount Rainier in Washington State, taking the same route I had used in a 1994 ascent.  Instead of experiencing the metal tips of the crampons attached to my boots crunching into the ice of a glacier, I was aware that, at high altitudes, they were still scraping against exposed volcanic rock. In the pre-dawn night, sparks shot from my steps.

The route had changed dramatically enough to stun me. I paused at one point to glance down the steep cliffs at a glacier bathed in soft moonlight 100 meters below. It took my breath away when I realized that I was looking at what was left of the enormous glacier I’d climbed in 1994, the one that — right at this spot — had left those crampons crunching on ice. I stopped in my tracks, breathing the rarefied air of such altitudes, my mind working hard to grasp the climate-change-induced drama that had unfolded since I was last at that spot.

I haven’t returned to Mount Rainier to see just how much further that glacier has receded in the last few years, but recently I went on a search to find out just how bad it might turn out to be. I discovered a set of perfectly serious scientists — not the majority of all climate scientists by any means, but thoughtful outliers — who suggest that it isn’t just really, really bad; it’s catastrophic.  Some of them even think that, if the record ongoing releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels, are aided and abetted by massive releases of methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas, life as we humans have known it might be at an end on this planet. They fear that we may be at — and over — a climate change precipice hair-raisingly quickly.

Mind you, the more conservative climate science types, represented by the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), paint scenarios that are only modestly less hair-raising, but let’s spend a little time, as I’ve done, with what might be called scientists at the edge and hear just what they have to say.

“We’ve Never Been Here as a Species”

“We as a species have never experienced 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources, and ecology at the University of Arizona and a climate change expert of 25 years, told me. “We’ve never been on a planet with no Arctic ice, and we will hit the average of 400 ppm… within the next couple of years. At that time, we’ll also see the loss of Arctic ice in the summers… This planet has not experienced an ice-free Arctic for at least the last three million years.”

For the uninitiated, in the simplest terms, here’s what an ice-free Arctic would mean when it comes to heating the planet: minus the reflective ice cover on Arctic waters, solar radiation would be absorbed, not reflected, by the Arctic Ocean.  That would heat those waters, and hence the planet, further. This effect has the potential to change global weather patterns, vary the flow of winds, and even someday possibly alter the position of the jet stream. Polar jet streams are fast flowing rivers of wind positioned high in the Earth’s atmosphere that push cold and warm air masses around, playing a critical role in determining the weather of our planet.

McPherson, who maintains the blog Nature Bats Last, added, “We’ve never been here as a species and the implications are truly dire and profound for our species and the rest of the living planet.”

While his perspective is more extreme than that of the mainstream scientific community, which sees true disaster many decades into our future, he’s far from the only scientist expressing such concerns. Professor Peter Wadhams, a leading Arctic expert at Cambridge University, has been measuring Arctic ice for 40 years, and his findings underscore McPherson’s fears.  “The fall-off in ice volume is so fast it is going to bring us to zero very quickly,” Wadhams told a reporter. According to current data, he estimates “with 95% confidence” that the Arctic will have completely ice-free summers by 2018.  (U.S. Navy researchers have predicted an ice-free Arctic even earlier — by 2016.)

British scientist John Nissen, chairman of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (of which Wadhams is a member), suggests that if the summer sea ice loss passes “the point of no return,” and “catastrophic Arctic methane feedbacks” kick in, we’ll be in an “instant planetary emergency.”

McPherson, Wadham, and Nissen represent just the tip of a melting iceberg of scientists who are now warning us about looming disaster, especially involving Arctic methane releases. In the atmosphere, methane is a greenhouse gas that, on a relatively short-term time scale, is far more destructive than carbon dioxide (CO2).  It is 23 times as powerful as CO2 per molecule on a 100-year timescale, 105 times more potent when it comes to heating the planet on a 20-year timescale — and the Arctic permafrost, onshore and off, is packed with the stuff.  “The seabed,” says Wadham, “is offshore permafrost, but is now warming and melting. We are now seeing great plumes of methane bubbling up in the Siberian Sea… millions of square miles where methane cover is being released.”

According to a study just published in Nature Geoscience, twice as much methane as previously thought is being released from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a two million square kilometer area off the coast of Northern Siberia. Its researchers found that at least 17 teragrams (one million tons) of methane are being released into the atmosphere each year, whereas a 2010 study had found only seven teragrams heading into the atmosphere.

The day after Nature Geoscience released its study, a group of scientists from Harvard and other leading academic institutions published a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that the amount of methane being emitted in the U.S. both from oil and agricultural operations could be 50% greater than previous estimates and 1.5 times higher than estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency.

How serious is the potential global methane build-up? Not all scientists think it’s an immediate threat or even the major threat we face, but Ira Leifer, an atmospheric and marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and one of the authors of the recent Arctic Methane study pointed out to me that “the Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago is related to methane and thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of most species on the planet.” In that extinction episode, it is estimated that 95% of all species were wiped out.

Also known as “The Great Dying,” it was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of six degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas.  Released into the atmosphere, it caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years.

We are currently in the midst of what scientists consider the sixth mass extinction in planetary history, with between 150 and 200 species going extinct daily, a pace 1,000 times greater than the “natural” or “background” extinction rate. This event may already be comparable to, or even exceed, both the speed and intensity of the Permian mass extinction. The difference being that ours is human caused, isn’t going to take 80,000 years, has so far lasted just a few centuries, and is now gaining speed in a non-linear fashion.

It is possible that, on top of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that continue to enter the atmosphere in record amounts yearly, an increased release of methane could signal the beginning of the sort of process that led to the Great Dying. Some scientists fear that the situation is already so serious and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play that we are in the process of causing our own extinction. Worse yet, some are convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible — even in the course of just the next few decades.

The Sleeping Giant Stirs

According to a NASA research report, “Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?”: “Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon — an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That’s about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth’s soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850. Most of this carbon is located in thaw-vulnerable top soils within 10 feet (3 meters) of the surface.”

NASA scientists, along with others, are learning that the Arctic permafrost — and its stored carbon — may not be as permanently frosted as its name implies.  Research scientist Charles Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the principal investigator of the Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE), a five-year NASA-led field campaign to study how climate change is affecting the Arctic’s carbon cycle. He told NASA, “Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures — as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years. As heat from Earth’s surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic’s carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming.”

He fears the potential results should a full-scale permafrost melt take place. As he points out, “Changes in climate may trigger transformations that are simply not reversible within our lifetimes, potentially causing rapid changes in the Earth system that will require adaptations by people and ecosystems.”

The recent NASA study highlights the discovery of active and growing methane vents up to 150 kilometers across. A scientist on a research ship in the area described this as a bubbling as far as the eye can see in which the seawater looks like a vast pool of seltzer. Between the summers of 2010 and 2011, in fact, scientists found that in the course of a year methane vents only 30 centimeters across had grown a kilometer wide, a 333,333% increase and an example of the non-linear rapidity with which parts of the planet are responding to climate disruption.

Miller revealed another alarming finding: “Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we’ve measured have been large, and we’re seeing very different patterns from what models suggest,” he said of some of CARVE’s earlier findings. “We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher than normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze. To cite another example, in July 2012 we saw methane levels over swamps in the Innoko Wilderness that were 650 parts per billion higher than normal background levels. That’s similar to what you might find in a large city.”

Moving beneath the Arctic Ocean where methane hydrates — often described as methane gas surrounded by ice — exist, a March 2010 report in Science indicated that these cumulatively contain the equivalent of 1,000-10,000 gigatons of carbon. Compare this total to the 240 gigatons of carbon humanity has emitted into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began.

A study published in the prestigious journal Nature this July suggested that a 50-gigaton “burp” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is “highly possible at anytime.” That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

Even the relatively staid IPCC has warned of such a scenario: “The possibility of abrupt climate change and/or abrupt changes in the earth system triggered by climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences, cannot be ruled out. Positive feedback from warming may cause the release of carbon or methane from the terrestrial biosphere and oceans.”

In the last two centuries, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has increased from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7 parts per million. The introduction of methane in such quantities into the atmosphere may, some climate scientists fear, make increases in the global temperature of four to six degrees Celsius inevitable.

The ability of the human psyche to take in and grasp such information is being tested. And while that is happening, yet more data continues to pour in — and the news is not good.

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

Consider this timeline:

* Late 2007: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announces that the planet will see a one degree Celsius temperature increase due to climate change by 2100.

* Late 2008: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research predicts a 2C increase by 2100.

* Mid-2009: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts a 3.5C increase by 2100. Such an increase would remove habitat for human beings on this planet, as nearly all the plankton in the oceans would be destroyed, and associated temperature swings would kill off many land plants. Humans have never lived on a planet at 3.5C above baseline.

* October 2009: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research releases an updated prediction, suggesting a 4C temperature increase by 2060.

* November 2009: The Global Carbon Project, which monitors the global carbon cycle, and the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a climate science report, predict 6C and 7C temperature increases, respectively, by 2100.

* December 2010: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts up to a 5C increase by 2050.

* 2012: The conservative International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report for that year states that we are on track to reach a 2C increase by 2017.

* November 2013: The International Energy Agency predicts a 3.5C increase by 2035.

A briefing provided to the failed U.N. Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009 provided this summary: “The long-term sea level that corresponds to current CO2 concentration is about 23 meters above today’s levels, and the temperatures will be 6 degrees C or more higher. These estimates are based on real long-term climate records, not on models.”

On December 3rd, a study by 18 eminent scientists, including the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, showed that the long-held, internationally agreed upon target to limit rises in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius was in error and far above the 1C threshold that would need to be maintained in order to avoid the effects of catastrophic climate change.

And keep in mind that the various major assessments of future global temperatures seldom assume the worst about possible self-reinforcing climate feedback loops like the methane one.

“Things Are Looking Really Dire”

Climate-change-related deaths are already estimated at five million annually, and the process seems to be accelerating more rapidly than most climate models have suggested.  Even without taking into account the release of frozen methane in the Arctic, some scientists are already painting a truly bleak picture of the human future. Take Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Neil Dawe, who in August told a reporter that he wouldn’t be surprised if the generation after him witnessed the extinction of humanity. All around the estuary near his office on Vancouver Island, he has been witnessing the unraveling of “the web of life,” and “it’s happening very quickly.”

“Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology,” Dawe says. “Those people who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. If we don’t reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us.” And he isn’t hopeful humans will be able to save themselves. “Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things. Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don’t exact immediate punishment on the stupid.”

The University of Arizona’s Guy McPherson has similar fears. “We will have very few humans on the planet because of lack of habitat,” he says. Of recent studies showing the toll temperature increases will take on that habitat, he adds, “They are only looking at CO2 in the atmosphere.”

Here’s the question: Could some version of extinction or near-extinction overcome humanity, thanks to climate change — and possibly incredibly fast? Similar things have happened in the past. Fifty-five million years ago, a five degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures seems to have occurred in just 13 years, according to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A report in the August 2013 issue of Science revealed that in the near-term Earth’s climate will change 10 times faster than at any other moment in the last 65 million years.

“The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet,” climate scientist James Hansen has said. “There are potential irreversible effects of melting the Arctic sea ice. If it begins to allow the Arctic Ocean to warm up, and warm the ocean floor, then we’ll begin to release methane hydrates. And if we let that happen, that is a potential tipping point that we don’t want to happen. If we burn all the fossil fuels then we certainly will cause the methane hydrates, eventually, to come out and cause several degrees more warming, and it’s not clear that civilization could survive that extreme climate change.”

Yet, long before humanity has burned all fossil fuel reserves on the planet, massive amounts of methane will be released. While the human body is potentially capable of handling a six to nine degree Celsius rise in the planetary temperature, the crops and habitat we use for food production are not.  As McPherson put it, “If we see a 3.5 to 4C baseline increase, I see no way to have habitat. We are at .85C above baseline and we’ve already triggered all these self-reinforcing feedback loops.”

He adds: “All the evidence points to a locked-in 3.5 to 5 degree C global temperature rise above the 1850 ‘norm’ by mid-century, possibly much sooner. This guarantees a positive feedback, already underway, leading to 4.5 to 6 or more degrees above ‘norm’ and that is a level lethal to life. This is partly due to the fact that humans have to eat and plants can’t adapt fast enough to make that possible for the seven to nine billion of us — so we’ll die.”

If you think McPherson’s comment about lack of adaptability goes over the edge, consider that the rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. Furthermore, David Wasdel, director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and an expert on multiple feedback dynamics, says, “We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.”

Wasdel cites with particular alarm scientific reports showing that the oceans have already lost 40% of their phytoplankton, the base of the global oceanic food chain, because of climate-change-induced acidification and atmospheric temperature variations. (According to the Center for Ocean Solutions: “The oceans have absorbed almost one-half of human-released CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Although this has moderated the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, it is chemically altering marine ecosystems 100 times more rapidly than it has changed in at least the last 650,000 years.”)

“This is already a mass extinction event,” Wasdel adds. “The question is, how far is it going to go? How serious does it become? If we are not able to stop the rate of increase of temperature itself, and get that back under control, then a high temperature event, perhaps another 5-6 degrees [C], would obliterate at least 60% to 80% of the populations and species of life on Earth.”

What Comes Next?

In November 2012, even Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group (an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries), warned that “a 4C warmer world can, and must be, avoided. Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today.”

A World Bank-commissioned report warned that we are indeed on track to a “4C world” marked by extreme heat waves and life-threatening sea-level rise.

The three living diplomats who have led U.N. climate change talks claim there is little chance the next climate treaty, if it is ever approved, will prevent the world from overheating. “There is nothing that can be agreed in 2015 that would be consistent with the 2 degrees,” says Yvo de Boer, who was executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2009, when attempts to reach a deal at a summit in Copenhagen crumbled. “The only way that a 2015 agreement can achieve a 2-degree goal is to shut down the whole global economy.”

Atmospheric and marine scientist Ira Leifer is particularly concerned about the changing rainfall patterns a recently leaked IPCC draft report suggested for our future: “When I look at what the models predicted for a 4C world, I see very little rain over vast swaths of populations. If Spain becomes like Algeria, where do all the Spaniards get the water to survive? We have parts of the world which have high populations which have high rainfall and crops that exist there, and when that rainfall and those crops go away and the country starts looking more like some of North Africa, what keeps the people alive?”

The IPCC report suggests that we can expect a generalized shifting of global rain patterns further north, robbing areas that now get plentiful rain of future water supplies. History shows us that when food supplies collapse, wars begin, while famine and disease spread.  All of these things, scientists now fear, could happen on an unprecedented scale, especially given the interconnected nature of the global economy.

“Some scientists are indicating we should make plans to adapt to a 4C world,” Leifer comments. “While prudent, one wonders what portion of the living population now could adapt to such a world, and my view is that it’s just a few thousand people [seeking refuge] in the Arctic or Antarctica.”

Not surprisingly, scientists with such views are often not the most popular guys in the global room. McPherson, for instance, has often been labeled “Guy McStinction” — to which he responds, “I’m just reporting the results from other scientists. Nearly all of these results are published in established, esteemed literature. I don’t think anybody is taking issue with NASA, or Nature, or Science, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  [Those] and the others I report are reasonably well known and come from legitimate sources, like NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], for example. I’m not making this information up, I’m just connecting a couple of dots, and it’s something many people have difficulty with.”

McPherson does not hold out much hope for the future, nor for a governmental willingness to make anything close to the radical changes that would be necessary to quickly ease the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; nor does he expect the mainstream media to put much effort into reporting on all of this because, as he says, “There’s not much money in the end of civilization, and even less to be made in human extinction.” The destruction of the planet, on the other hand, is a good bet, he believes, “because there is money in this, and as long as that’s the case, it is going to continue.”

Leifer, however, is convinced that there is a moral obligation never to give up and that the path to global destruction could be altered. “In the short term, if you can make it in the economic interests of people to do the right thing, it’ll happen very fast.” He offers an analogy when it comes to whether humanity will be willing to act to mitigate the effects of climate change: “People do all sorts of things to lower their risk of cancer, not because you are guaranteed not to get it, but because you do what you can and take out the health protections and insurance you need in order to try to lower your risk of getting it.”

The signs of a worsening climate crisis are all around us, whether we allow ourselves to see them or not. Certainly, the scientific community gets it. As do countless communities across the globe where the effects of climate change are already being experienced in striking ways and local preparations for climatic disasters, including increasingly powerful floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, and storms are underway. Evacuations from low-lying South Pacific islands have already begun. People in such areas, out of necessity, are starting to try to teach their children how to adapt to, and live in, what we are causing our world to become.

My niece and nephews are doing something similar. They are growing vegetables in a backyard garden and their eight chickens provide more than enough eggs for the family.  Their parents are intent on teaching them how to be ever more self-sustaining.  But none of these heartfelt actions can mitigate what is already underway when it comes to the global climate.

I am 45 years old, and I often wonder how my generation will survive the impending climate crisis. What will happen to our world if the summer Arctic waters are indeed ice-free only a few years from now? What will my life look like if I live to experience a 3.5 Celsius global temperature increase?

Above all, I wonder how coming generations will survive.

Dahr Jamail has written extensively about climate change as well as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. He is the author of two books: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq and The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently works for al-Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar.

Copyright 2013 Dahr Jamail

“We Have Passed The Point Of No Return.” : Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene

In Uncategorized on November 30, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Oldspeak: “…climatologists now predict will raise global temperatures by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit within a generation and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit within 90 years… The climate scientist James Hansen, formerly with NASA, has argued that we face an “apocalyptic” future. This grim view is seconded by researchers worldwide, including Anders Levermann, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Lonnie Thompson and many, many, many others…

This chorus of Jeremiahs predicts a radically transformed global climate forcing widespread upheaval — not possibly, not potentially, but inevitably. We have passed the point of no return. From the point of view of policy experts, climate scientists and national security officials, the question is no longer whether global warming exists or how we might stop it, but how we are going to deal with it…

The human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end. Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.

The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.” -Roy Scranton

“Hmm. When they start publishing hard truths like this in the New York Times, pay attention.  “this civilization is already dead.” Powerful truth. Just look around to see the evidence. Our civilization is literally fueled by death (ancient dead plant and animal matter a.k.a. fossil fuels, the death of living ecosystems like forests, rivers and oceans,  the death of countless other species and millions of our own via environmental contamination & destruction, war, violence & conquest) on an industrial scale. An undead, zombie civilization sustaining itself on the death of our planet. Our civilization has triggered multiple catastrophic and irreversible non-linear feedback loops that are contributing to the collapse of global ecological systems necessary for our and other lifeforms survival and there’s not much we can to do stop it at this point. Our technology won’t save us. We’ve condemned future generations to damnable lives on a uninhabitable planet. These are hard truths for anyone to acknowledge. Just easier not to do so. But we’re basically fucked. Appreciate the beauty of life as you know it while you can and live it to the fullest. Reject contrived reality, and embrace objective reality.” -OSJ

By Roy Scranton @ The New York Times:

Driving into Iraq just after the 2003 invasion felt like driving into the future. We convoyed all day, all night, past Army checkpoints and burned-out tanks, till in the blue dawn Baghdad rose from the desert like a vision of hell: Flames licked the bruised sky from the tops of refinery towers, cyclopean monuments bulged and leaned against the horizon, broken overpasses swooped and fell over ruined suburbs, bombed factories, and narrow ancient streets.

With “shock and awe,” our military had unleashed the end of the world on a city of six million — a city about the same size as Houston or Washington. The infrastructure was totaled: water, power, traffic, markets and security fell to anarchy and local rule. The city’s secular middle class was disappearing, squeezed out between gangsters, profiteers, fundamentalists and soldiers. The government was going down, walls were going up, tribal lines were being drawn, and brutal hierarchies savagely established.

I was a private in the United States Army. This strange, precarious world was my new home. If I survived.

Two and a half years later, safe and lazy back in Fort Sill, Okla., I thought I had made it out. Then I watched on television as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. This time it was the weather that brought shock and awe, but I saw the same chaos and urban collapse I’d seen in Baghdad, the same failure of planning and the same tide of anarchy. The 82nd Airborne hit the ground, took over strategic points and patrolled streets now under de facto martial law. My unit was put on alert to prepare for riot control operations. The grim future I’d seen in Baghdad was coming home: not terrorism, not even W.M.D.’s, but a civilization in collapse, with a crippled infrastructure, unable to recuperate from shocks to its system.

And today, with recovery still going on more than a year after Sandy and many critics arguing that the Eastern seaboard is no more prepared for a huge weather event than we were last November, it’s clear that future’s not going away.

This March, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, told security and foreign policy specialists in Cambridge, Mass., that global climate change was the greatest threat the United States faced — more dangerous than terrorism, Chinese hackers and North Korean nuclear missiles. Upheaval from increased temperatures, rising seas and radical destabilization “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen…” he said, “that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’

Locklear’s not alone. Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, said much the same thing in April, speaking to an audience at Columbia’s new Center on Global Energy Policy. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told the Senate in March that “Extreme weather events (floods, droughts, heat waves) will increasingly disrupt food and energy markets, exacerbating state weakness, forcing human migrations, and triggering riots, civil disobedience, and vandalism.”

On the civilian side, the World Bank’s recent report, “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience,” offers a dire prognosis for the effects of global warming, which climatologists now predict will raise global temperatures by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit within a generation and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit within 90 years. Projections from researchers at the University of Hawaii find us dealing with “historically unprecedented” climates as soon as 2047. The climate scientist James Hansen, formerly with NASA, has argued that we face an “apocalyptic” future. This grim view is seconded by researchers worldwide, including Anders Levermann, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Lonnie Thompson and many, many, many others.

This chorus of Jeremiahs predicts a radically transformed global climate forcing widespread upheaval — not possibly, not potentially, but inevitably. We have passed the point of no return. From the point of view of policy experts, climate scientists and national security officials, the question is no longer whether global warming exists or how we might stop it, but how we are going to deal with it.

II.

There’s a word for this new era we live in: the Anthropocene. This term, taken up by geologists, pondered by intellectuals and discussed in the pages of publications such as The Economist and the The New York Times, represents the idea that we have entered a new epoch in Earth’s geological history, one characterized by the arrival of the human species as a geological force. The biologist Eugene F. Stoermer and the Nobel-Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen advanced the term in 2000, and it has steadily gained acceptance as evidence has increasingly mounted that the changes wrought by global warming will affect not just the world’s climate and biological diversity, but its very geology — and not just for a few centuries, but for millenniums. The geophysicist David Archer’s 2009 book, “The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate,” lays out a clear and concise argument for how huge concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and melting ice will radically transform the planet, beyond freak storms and warmer summers, beyond any foreseeable future.

The Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London — the scientists responsible for pinning the “golden spikes” that demarcate geological epochs such as the Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene — have adopted the Anthropocene as a term deserving further consideration, “significant on the scale of Earth history.” Working groups are discussing what level of geological time-scale it might be (an “epoch” like the Holocene, or merely an “age” like the Calabrian), and at what date we might say it began. The beginning of the Great Acceleration, in the middle of the 20th century? The beginning of the Industrial Revolution, around 1800? The advent of agriculture?

The challenge the Anthropocene poses is a challenge not just to national security, to food and energy markets, or to our “way of life” — though these challenges are all real, profound, and inescapable. The greatest challenge the Anthropocene poses may be to our sense of what it means to be human. Within 100 years — within three to five generations — we will face average temperatures 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today, rising seas at least three to 10 feet higher, and worldwide shifts in crop belts, growing seasons and population centers. Within a thousand years, unless we stop emitting greenhouse gases wholesale right now, humans will be living in a climate the Earth hasn’t seen since the Pliocene, three million years ago, when oceans were 75 feet higher than they are today. We face the imminent collapse of the agricultural, shipping and energy networks upon which the global economy depends, a large-scale die-off in the biosphere that’s already well on its way, and our own possible extinction. If homo sapiens (or some genetically modified variant) survives the next millenniums, it will be survival in a world unrecognizably different from the one we have inhabited.

Jeffery DelViscio

Geological time scales, civilizational collapse and species extinction give rise to profound problems that humanities scholars and academic philosophers, with their taste for fine-grained analysis, esoteric debates and archival marginalia, might seem remarkably ill suited to address. After all, how will thinking about Kant help us trap carbon dioxide? Can arguments between object-oriented ontology and historical materialism protect honeybees from colony collapse disorder? Are ancient Greek philosophers, medieval theologians, and contemporary metaphysicians going to keep Bangladesh from being inundated by rising oceans?

Of course not. But the biggest problems the Anthropocene poses are precisely those that have always been at the root of humanistic and philosophical questioning: “What does it mean to be human?” and “What does it mean to live?” In the epoch of the Anthropocene, the question of individual mortality — “What does my life mean in the face of death?” — is universalized and framed in scales that boggle the imagination. What does human existence mean against 100,000 years of climate change? What does one life mean in the face of species death or the collapse of global civilization? How do we make meaningful choices in the shadow of our inevitable end?

These questions have no logical or empirical answers. They are philosophical problems par excellence. Many thinkers, including Cicero, Montaigne, Karl Jaspers, and The Stone’s own Simon Critchley, have argued that studying philosophy is learning how to die. If that’s true, then we have entered humanity’s most philosophical age — for this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene. The rub is that now we have to learn how to die not as individuals, but as a civilization.

III.

Learning how to die isn’t easy. In Iraq, at the beginning, I was terrified by the idea. Baghdad seemed incredibly dangerous, even though statistically I was pretty safe. We got shot at and mortared, and I.E.D.’s laced every highway, but I had good armor, we had a great medic, and we were part of the most powerful military the world had ever seen. The odds were good I would come home. Maybe wounded, but probably alive. Every day I went out on mission, though, I looked down the barrel of the future and saw a dark, empty hole.

“For the soldier death is the future, the future his profession assigns him,” wrote  Simone Weil in her remarkable meditation on war, “The Iliad or the Poem of Force.” “Yet the idea of man’s having death for a future is abhorrent to nature. Once the experience of war makes visible the possibility of death that lies locked up in each moment, our thoughts cannot travel from one day to the next without meeting death’s face.” That was the face I saw in the mirror, and its gaze nearly paralyzed me.

I found my way forward through an 18th-century Samurai manual, Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s “Hagakure,” which commanded: “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.” Instead of fearing my end, I owned it. Every morning, after doing maintenance on my Humvee, I’d imagine getting blown up by an I.E.D., shot by a sniper, burned to death, run over by a tank, torn apart by dogs, captured and beheaded, and succumbing to dysentery. Then, before we rolled out through the gate, I’d tell myself that I didn’t need to worry, because I was already dead. The only thing that mattered was that I did my best to make sure everyone else came back alive. “If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead,” wrote Tsunetomo, “he gains freedom in the Way.”

I got through my tour in Iraq one day at a time, meditating each morning on my inevitable end. When I left Iraq and came back stateside, I thought I’d left that future behind. Then I saw it come home in the chaos that was unleashed after Katrina hit New Orleans. And then I saw it again when Sandy battered New York and New Jersey: Government agencies failed to move quickly enough, and volunteer groups like Team Rubicon had to step in to manage disaster relief.

Now, when I look into our future — into the Anthropocene — I see water rising up to wash out lower Manhattan. I see food riots, hurricanes, and climate refugees. I see 82nd Airborne soldiers shooting looters. I see grid failure, wrecked harbors, Fukushima waste, and plagues. I see Baghdad. I see the Rockaways. I see a strange, precarious world.

Our new home.

The human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end. Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.

The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.

The choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can’t sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.

If we want to learn to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die.