Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015: Will The Pace of Climate Change Be Slowed? Unfortunately, No.

NASA imagery

After a tumultuous year of climate upheaval which saw mile-wide tornadoes strike Mississippi and Alabama, a tornado even outside of LA, monster typhoons striking the Philippines - one even so strong it dislodged the polar vortex, and a snow event of epic proportions striking Buffalo - not to mention continued extreme drought in many places, many want to know if 2015 will provide any relief.

Unfortunately, the projections -  based on quantifiable indicators, including the injection -deposition of carbon loads into the atmosphere, and the rate of melting of the Arctic Ice cap  - as well as reduction of Antarctic ice shelf - show this isn't likely to happen.

Germane to the issue of carbon deposition there are three numbers we had better keep close track of if we want to preserve even a semblance of a livable world ('Mystery of the Three Scary Numbers', UTNE Reader, Jan-Feb, 2014, p. 18):

 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6  degrees Fahrenheit

- 565 gigatons or 565 thousand million tons

- 2, 795 gigatons

The first number is the upper threshold for the global mean temperature to increase over this century without seeing the planet go into the crapper. According to climate scientist Bill McKibben, even a 2C increase is fraught with danger, with much longer -more sustained polar vortices, much more frequent and intense tropical cyclones (hurricanes, typhoons), more F5 tornadoes in the U.S., more persistent droughts, higher ocean acidification and dying coral reefs, and more wildfires in the American West. 

The second number represents the peak of humanity's carbon budget. It's the most carbon we can afford to pour into the atmosphere without triggering the 2 C temperature increase.  For reference, humans poured some 30.6 gigatons into the atmosphere in 2011 and it is projected that unless massive carbon cuts go into effect we will pass the 565 gigaton threshold in 16 years. That means we will likely trigger the 2 C increase in that time - with all the havoc that implies.

The third number is perhaps the most worrisome of all and the one that instills fear into most who know what the future portends if we don't stop our reckless foolishness -including the fracking craze. It represents the total stored reserves of carbon held by coal, gas and oil companies. It was first highlighted and brought to global attention by the Carbon Tracker Initiative - a group of London financial analysts and environmentalists.  It is what the fossil fuel industry plans to exploit in the future by its whole spectrum of methods, whether deep sea drilling, oil shale fracking or natural gas fracking.

It is, in other words, five times more carbon than will already blow a gasket in our world and send it toward runaway greenhouse perdition.

As the UTNE piece observes:

"Burning those fossil fuels we would enter a world of science fiction dystopia: a rise in sea levels not seen in human history, species extinction, droughts, super storms, heat waves from hell....and consequences you cannot imagine".

So what does 2015 portend in the way of climate crises, events? 

Polar vortex intrusions:

More are expected - both early this year and later. Again, recall the significance of the polar vortex: that is, it's the first sign of an ongoing Arctic instability associated with its extraordinary polar warming - again first revealed by Prof. Gunther Weller as early as 1986. As the melting ice proceeds faster the instability will become more and more pronounced leading to more such events in the years to come. Until the point is reached that the 'fridge' has totally defrosted leading to monumental climate upheaval and prolonged heat waves around the world - as well as the first "year of no seasons."

Violent tornado season:
Because of the several frigid dips expected of the polar vortex, there will be inevitable collisions with warm air flowing up from the Gulf.  The colder the air in the vortex, the more violent the result when warm air meets cold - setting off hundreds of tornadoes in the plains, southeast.  As years go by,  leading to the first 'year of no seasons'  ca. 2040,  this template will be repeated with ever increasing intensity.

Wildfires in the West, Southwest:

Again, the dry conditions in the region set the stage for raging wildfires in the spring.  Adding to the crisis is that the water tables from California to Colorado are dramatically low - leading to the proposal of extreme solutions to cope, such as recycling toilet water, e.g.

Fracking in the same arid states hasn't helped the situation given each frack well consumes up to 5 million gallons of fresh water. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's the height of insanity as much as using corn to make ethanol.

Further loss of land to rising seas:
A recent visit to Barbados (last May) reminded us of the extent to which the island is at risk of losing its precious beaches. With each passing year more coastal land is reclaimed due to the inexorably rising sea and now- unlike thirty years ago - you won't find one single climate change skeptic. (Though there are the few oddballs who refuse to go the anthropogenic route).  

Barbados isn't alone in this phenomenon, but the problem is that unless you live there or you're on certain islands like Kiribati, see e.g.

you will be oblivious to the threat.

Collapse of Greenland's Ice Sheet:

This is one of the 'feeding factors' leading to sea rise and will ramp up this year as the Jokulhlaup phenomenon reaches new intensity.  Recall, "jokulhlaups”or sudden glacial bursts of melting runoff from glaciers, first emerged with a landmark paper in 2008 ('Jokulhlaup Observed in Greenland ice sheet’, in Eos: Transactions of the American Geophysical Union , Vol. 89, No. 35, 26 Aug. 2008, p. 221). The cited paper specifically noted the separation of a “chunk of ice the size of Manhattan” (19 sq. miles)from Ellesmere Island in Canada’s northern Arctic. In the case of the increasing Greenland Jokulhlaup we are looking not just at one massive breakoff, but the loss of perhaps 45% of the entire Greenland ice sheet on account of the underground splintering effects producing ever larger cracks in the ice and the inability of it to support the overlying permafrost and other ice. Thus, onset will be sudden and perhaps more like a "terror attack" from nature.  Watch for this phenomenon to reach new heights this year.

What can you do to stay informed, apart from reading this blog?

I suggest every reader needs to obtain Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. Climate Change this year and study it cover to cover  - I'd say as a New Year's resolution.  Klein uses her trademark rigorous logic combined with scientific facts to prove capitalism is unable to affect or alter  the course of climate change due to its inherent dependence on cheap fossil fuels and need for continuous growth. Also,  the time for marginal fixes has expired, thus forcing us to now make radical changes in how we live. 

 We simply don't have the luxury of using all the carbon that lies inside the Earth. Yet capitalism's never ending growth engine would demand we do so to support the expansion of new markets for exploitation.  

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