Tuesday, May 26, 2015
The New Reality: Global Mean Temperature Expected To Rise 4C - Not 2C
A gut check is now on for the deniers of human-generated climate change: the rate of warming and the increase in temperatures from it may actually have been deliberately underestimated so as not to stir panic. (However, keeping it honest, I have written many posts indicating that typical numbers have been lowballed and we are actually much closer to the runaway greenhouse than many believe)
Flash forward now to Shell Oil Company, where internal documents just released show that company scientists have assured top executives that global warming in the far north means Shell can aggressively lease tracts of the formerly ice-bound Arctic Ocean and move floating platforms up there to extract even more oil and gas from the newly ice-free seafloor.
These documents flatly declare that a 2˚C temperature rise is passé and that a 4˚C rise is already in the cards, moving towards a staggering 6˚C rise . That is an almost 11˚F temperature rise globally! and has always been the increment that Carl Sagan specified as the immediate trigger for the runaway greenhouse. Sagan, recall, posited (in his Ph.D. thesis) that Venus' extremely high temperatures - hot enough to melt lead- had been spawned by a runaway greenhouse effect on that planet.
Venus may well have started with more agreeable temperatures, and actually had large bodies of water, then at some later point in its history reached a tipping point, perhaps similar to one which we are now approaching on Earth. The onset of the Venus tipping point meant that the planet overheated from excess CO2 (added after its carbonate rocks began to expel the gas from overheating) and as it did so the water on the surface evaporated. This would have then filled the atmosphere, making it even more efficient at trapping heat, which would have caused more evaporation (of any oceans), and so on. This is what we mean by a "positive feedback loop".
Here on Earth we are faced with a positive albedo feedback mechanism playing a major role - driving us toward the runaway. This concept was well explicated by Sagan in one of his essays, 'Ambush : The Warming of the World', in his book 'Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Beginning of the Millennium':
"Melting of ice caps (already occurring) results in diminished albedo (reflection of solar radiation back into space), and a darker Earth surface - with more infrared radiation absorbed - reinforcing the tendency while enhancing the melting effect, leading to further darkening of the surface, reduced albedo and more melting."
This mode of positive feedback is what we're faced with in the melting of the Arctic, see e.g.
The question of the moment becomes: What can be done, if anything, to avoid the worst? Look for corporate America and the bought out poltroons in Washington to start pushing for “technical fixes,” as a New York Times opinion-page writer did a week ago. But this kind of “Hail Mary” effort is doomed to fail as I have pointed out before:
Let's be clear all of these techno-baloney "solutions" are advanced in order to dodge the necessary revolution in our economic system - which is based almost entirely on indiscriminate and excess consumption. (70 percent of the GDP is based on consumption.) So, fixes like tinkering with the amount of sunlight that strikes the earth by increasing cloud cover or injecting sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere - at this stage - is like trying to douse a kitchen fire with a cup of water. It simply can't work given the scale of the problem. The most effective solution would be to control our carbon inputs, but in the name of holy consumption, this is what we're not prepared to do.
For now then, the best that can be said is that we are leaving behind the period of denial and the false hopes. As in the case of the lone nuts influence in depicting the Kennedy assassination, the climate change-global warming deniers have now been exposed as ignorant knuckle draggers....or deliberately corrupt disinformationists attempting to subvert public awareness. In either case their sway has now receded to comic proportions and is only kept alive in screwball enclaves on the web.
But here's a sobering thought in terms of the damage already exacted by the climate change deniers:
Climate scientists say, at this point, if we want to try and hold global warming to the 2˚C limit * we will have to halt the production of internal combustion engines, shut down most corporate farming, close down all coal-fired power plants, massively convert to on-site solar and wind power generation, and most importantly, stop pumping and digging carbon-based fuels out of the ground.
In other words, we’re talking about a revolution -- a total shift away from an economic model that elevates “growth” and consumption to the be-all of human existence. One that generates billions of tons of crap (smart phones, ipads, iphones etc) each year to pander to human wants, as opposed to focusing on human needs.
Sadly, it's a revolution that can't happen now - and might never have transpired in any case- given the powerful forces of money, power and influence (think Koch brothers) arrayed against it. To grasp just the issue of influence, consider that until relatively recently the corporate media treated the denier narrative and the scientific one as merely two sides of a debate in the interest of "objectivity". All the time and output wasted in this spurious debate could have been used for education.
Now, we all likely will pay the price.
* The maximum increase in temperature that would prevent runaway heating and the resulting chaos of mass extinctions, huge human die-offs and the likely collapse of civilization,