Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Vision of Humanity's Near Future?

Tim Holmes As the debate on climate change and global warming continues - annoyingly, since it ought to be settled by now - one harrowing image that has made the rounds of global media stands as a devastating portent of what we may all soon face. That image - taken by dad, Tim Holmes- captures wife Tammy Holmes and their children huddling under a bridge from a firestorm that erupted in Tasmania. This image needs to be fully absorbed and processed by all the remaining deniers. The incident occurred as Australia and Tasmania have expererienced the hottest summer ever (it's now summer in the Southern hemisphere) with Australian officials having to actually invent a new temperature color coding for their maps, showing temperatures up to 130 F.

Of course, 2013 has barely started but the photo image shows what we may likely face in the Northern hemisphere come June, July. For the record (no pun intended) July 2012 was the hottest ever recorded in U.S. annals with a mean tempeature of 77.6F.  The average annual U.S. temperature for 2012 was 55.32F or one full degree higher than the old record set in 1998. (So much for the codswallop that all temperature increases ceased in 1998. But as I showed in earlier blogs, 2011-12 and onward would bring even higher temperatures if all the graphs presented in a 1998 Nature paper were properly interpreted.)

Even more eye-popping, the year 2012 displayed an average temperature a full 3.2 degrees hotter than the average for the entire 20th century! Meanwhile, nineteen states set yearly heat records - though Alaska was a bit cooler than average.

According to the National Climate Data  Center (whose completed data comes out this coming week) through the first 11 months of 2012 the world was on pace to have its eighth warmest year ever. More distrurbing still, 16 consecutive months have seen the U.S. with higher than average temperatures.

Of course, people being what they are, their brains begin to numb after dealing with only relatively small subsets of climate stats. Turnoffs can come even sooner if the stats bear out an unfolding calamity. However, a single graphic photo can focus human attention in much the same way the proverbial hangman's noose to the soon-to be executed.

Are humans soon to be executed? Very possibly! It's already pretty clear that the 2 degree Celsius "firewall" to avert runaway climate change-global warming will be crossed, e.g.  this means an unsettling yearly increase of solar insolation arising from Greenhouse warming every year, averaging about 2 W/m^2.  This also signifies that 2 parts per million of CO2 has been added to our atmophere each year. What is the runaway tipping point? Some say it's at 450ppm, others say 500 ppm. If it's 400 ppm right now, that means that a rate of addition of 2 ppm/yr we may hit the runaway greenhouse in 25 years. But that assumes the same rate of fossil fuel consumption as now.

Some say - on glancing at the Tasmania image: "Oh well, that's different! It's Tasmania!"

However, if they'd had the sense to check a global map they'd see that the Tasmanian town near which the Holmes family took refuge under the bridge is at about 41 degrees South latitude. Now, "mirror" that latitude to the northern hemisphere, say applicable to a northern hemisphere summer, and what do you find? Well, very close to New York City's nothern latitude, or that of Boulder, Colo. or Redding, CA. So don't get too damned comfortable, northern hemisphere dwellers! Our time is likely this summer!

Indeed, here in Colorado we already got a taste of monster wildfires last June and July. It's one we don't want to repeat. We saw literally mile high flames shooting up and people running for their lives near Waldo Canyon, having to leave their homes with barely their jeans and shoes. The sky was befouled for weeks, with even more CO2 from the burning trees injected into the atmosphere.

What awaits us now? Who knows, but it seems the fossil fuel addicts are as busy as ever trying to dredge up the last vestiges of petroleum, never mind the cost to the planet.

It is time people everywhere closely absorb the image of the Holmes family, because - perhaps even more than the wildfire photos coming out of Colorado last summer- it ought to remind us of what sort of life awaits us if we continue to refuse to clean up our sorry act.

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