When It Comes to Cli­mate Change, We’re Al­ready Sunk

Trillions - - Contents -

The con­ser­va­tive World Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WMO) says we are al­ready un­der wa­ter when it comes to cli­mate change. And it is only go­ing to get deeper.

Less than two weeks ago, the WMO, an in­ter­na­tional body of sci­en­tists work­ing to un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing with the cli­mate and its im­pacts on the world, pub­lished its “WMO State­ment on the State of the Global Cli­mate in 2016.” Ac­cord­ing to the WMO, the earth and its in­hab­i­tants are in deep trou­ble.

Here are a few of the re­port’s ma­jor find­ings:

• Car­bon diox­ide lev­els in the at­mos­phere, the num­ber one cause of the mess, set a new record of 400 parts per mil­lion in the at­mos­phere. Methane (CH ) and ni­trous ox­ide (N O)

4 2 reached record highs in 2015, with data on 2016 to be avail­able later this year. The val­ues mea­sured cor­re­spond to CO run­ning at 144%

2 of pre-in­dus­trial lev­els, methane at 256% and ni­trous ox­ide at 121% of pre-1750 lev­els.

• Those green­house gas lev­els pro­duced a new record tem­per­a­ture for the planet, hit­ting 1.1o Cel­sius above that of the pre-in­dus­trial pe­riod.

• Higher tem­per­a­tures on wa­ter and land are con­tribut­ing to much larger and more in­tense global storms than be­fore, dis­plac­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple and de­stroy­ing crops. One of those, Hur­ri­cane Matthew, was the worst on record from an eco­nomic per­spec­tive, with Haiti having the most ca­su­al­ties.

• The weather changes also cre­ated an ex­ten­sion of record-set­ting drought in much of Africa, a drought that in some coun­tries has now been run­ning over 30 years and is get­ting worse month by month.

• The same weather also pro­duced record-set­ting flood­ing in eastern and south­ern Asia. • The range of global sea ice, which is im­por­tant both be­cause it holds sea wa­ter in the form of ice and be­cause the ice sur­faces re­flect rather than ab­sorb sun­light, dropped by four mil­lion square kilo­me­ters be­low av­er­age.

• Global sea lev­els reached record highs, with the 2015/2016 El Niño heav­ily con­tribut­ing to that surge.

2017 has con­tin­ued this trend, with Fe­bru­ary 2017 be­ing the sec­ond-warmest Fe­bru­ary on record, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion supplied by Europe’s Coper­ni­cus Cli­mate Change Ser­vice. Worse still, the Arc­tic in par­tic­u­lar was much hot­ter than av­er­age, with a peak anom­aly, as it is called, of +10o C com­pared to pre-in­dus­trial times mea­sured over that re­gion.

That last part pushed sea-ice lev­els to num­bers far lower than nor­mal for this time of year.

Ac­cord­ing to Pet­teri Taalas, head of the WMO, “Glob­ally av­er­aged sea-surface tem­per­a­tures were the warmest on record, global sea lev­els con­tin­ued to rise and Arc­tic sea ice ex­tent was well be­low av­er­age for most of the year. The ocean tem­per­a­tures over­all rose by 0.76o C (or 1.4o F) in just the last year, break­ing the 2015 tem­per­a­ture in­crease num­ber of 0.74o C, the pre­vi­ous record for the high­est ocean tem­per­a­ture in­crease in a sin­gle year. The re­port also noted that in some re­gions of the world, the sea level tem­per­a­tures rose by as much as 1 or 2o C above the pre­vi­ous year’s num­bers.”

One im­pact of this warm­ing is the in­creased fe­roc­ity of trop­i­cal storms around the globe. These storms feed on the en­ergy pro­vided by the warm wa­ters be­low. The re­sult this year was some of the most dam­ag­ing hur­ri­canes and cy­clones in his­tory.

As one very re­cent ex­am­ple of this, as of the date of this writ­ing, Aus­tralia is cur­rently get­ting slammed by

Trop­i­cal Cy­clone Deb­bie, which made land­fall near Air­lie Beach, Queens­land, on March 28. It hit with 161 mph peak winds and was the equiv­a­lent of what in the United States is la­beled a Cat­e­gory 4 storm. Twenty-five thou­sand res­i­dents have al­ready been evac­u­ated, with to­tal deaths and dam­age still to be recorded.

And if there is any ques­tion of this be­ing re­lated to global warm­ing, con­sider that since 1989, Aus­tralia has been hit by nine trop­i­cal cy­clones of Cat­e­gory 3 or greater strength on the Saf­fir-simp­son Hur­ri­cane Wind Scale. Four of those storms blasted across that coun­try in only the past six years.

Warm­ing wa­ters also dis­rupt the lives of the many creatures that live within them. This ranges from the larger species like whales and many species of fish that feed many in the world to the co­ral reefs that are con­nected to as much as 70% of all sea life on the planet. The whales and fish han­dle the warm­ing by mov­ing far­ther north where the wa­ters are cooler and more like “nor­mal” to them. But their food sources of­ten do not move as fast, cre­at­ing po­ten­tial food chain sup­ply short­ages for the big­ger mem­bers of the ocean world. Co­ral reefs can­not move, of course, and with the rest of the food chain so highly de­pen­dent on the many species that live in their shel­ter, this is a prob­lem. Co­ral reef “bleach­ing,” which is the killing of the reefs from too high a tem­per­a­ture level, is be­com­ing a ma­jor prob­lem in some of the most ex­ten­sive and im­por­tant marine habi­tats.

En­tire groups of sea life may die within the next few decades, with col­lat­eral dam­age on the rest of the world that is cur­rently al­most im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine.

The warm­ing wa­ters also have other se­ri­ous side ef­fects. Those wa­ters ex­pand when heated. Added to the in­crease in over­all wa­ter caused by ice sheet melt­ing and calv­ing around the world (par­tic­u­larly in the po­lar re­gions like the Arc­tic), this is cre­at­ing a big prob­lem with ris­ing wa­ter world­wide. In the past year, it cre­ated a global av­er­age sea level rise of 15 mil­lime­ters, or 0.6 inches. That is over five times the his­tor­i­cal av­er­age an­nual rise of three mil­lime­ters per year since the 1990s, which was bad enough on its own.

The in­crease in sea lev­els has al­ready made its mark in the so-called de­vel­oped coun­tries. Coastal towns in ar­eas such as Mary­land, for ex­am­ple, are now see­ing floods ev­ery year that used to ap­pear “once in a life­time.” Ar­eas along the south­ern U.S. coasts and most no­tably in Florida are also al­ready be­ing vis­i­bly af­fected. It is un­for­tu­nately not a joke that 10-20 years from now ma­jor ar­eas from New Jersey to Mi­ami Beach will be un­der wa­ter. In some more trop­i­cal re­gions, where ocean warm­ing is at its high­est lev­els, the wa­ter ex­pan­sion is the worst and the im­pacts the most se­vere. This means that re­gions around the equa­tor are go­ing to see ocean wa­ter in­fil­trate the coasts, cre­ate flood­ing and un­der­mine the fresh wa­ter aquifers that are crit­i­cal to the sur­vival of many of these ar­eas.

In sev­eral ar­eas, en­tire is­lands will com­pletely dis­ap­pear from this rise, some al­ready have. One such place is Kiri­bati, an is­land lo­cated north­east of Aus­tralia and roughly due north of New Zealand. It is not far from the Solomon Is­lands, Van­u­atu, Samoa and Fiji. Based on cur­rent pro­jec­tions, it is ex­pected to be fully un­der wa­ter some­time be­tween 30 and 60 years from now. That will wipe out the en­tire is­land and force its 100,000 in­hab­i­tants to find some­place else to live.

This may be a dark vision of the fu­ture, but it is also un­for­tu­nately a true one, backed up by solid facts and well-re­searched pro­jec­tions by thou­sands of sci­en­tists.

So as one lis­tens in par­al­lel to the most re­cent an­nounce­ments from the cor­rupt Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in the United States and his En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency crony Scott Pruitt about how great the fu­ture is go­ing to be with al­lowed higher emis­sions from so-called “clean coal” (even though there is no such thing as “clean coal”) and other fos­sil fu­els, con­sider a slightly longer view.

Be­cause the Arc­tic has heated up so fast and so much, our planet's self-de­struct mech­a­nism has been trig­gered and the Arc­tic is now spew­ing out mas­sive amounts of CO2 and methane in quani­ties that will dwarf all hu­man emis­sions for all time. This is caus­ing run­away cli­mate change that will wipe out most life on Earth. Noth­ing can stop it, short of a mas­sive me­teor strike, vol­canic erup­tions around the world, nu­clear win­ter or some mir­a­cle tech­nol­ogy we haven't thought of yet.

The fos­sil fuel man­u­fac­tur­ers knew decades ago that their prod­ucts would end up caus­ing run­away cli­mate change and have had no prob­lem with de­stroy­ing their own planet for short-term profit.

If we are to sur­vive as a species we will have to pull our heads out of the oil bar­rel and evolve very rapidly. One of the ways we need to evolve is to stop giv­ing cor­po­ra­tions so much power and de­velop the means to keep de­struc­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions in check and ex­act jus­tice against crim­i­nal cor­po­ra­tions and the in­di­vid­u­als who lead them.

Road un­der­wa­ter in Texas. Photo by Evan Blaser, CC

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