Saturday, May 25, 2019

How Will Humans Manage In A CO2 World That Hasn't Existed For 3 Million Years? Ans. They Won't

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Exxon's own graph showing CO2 concentration increase with temperature as a function of time, from this Exxon paper

"The attack on science is underway throughout the government. In the most recent example, the White House-appointed director of the United States Geological Survey, James Reilly, a former astronaut and petroleum geologist, has ordered that scientific assessments produced by that office use only computer-generated climate models that project the impact of climate change through 2040, rather than through the end of the century, as had been done previously. Scientists say that would give a misleading picture because the biggest effects of current emissions will be felt after 2040."   - NY Times, May 27

The news this past week that the CO2 concentration has now reached 415 parts per million, which hasn't been the case for 3 million years, ought to alarm everyone with a pulse and brain wave.  We are basically talking about atmospheric conditions that characterized our planet before the species Homo Sapiens emerged.  A time when sea level was 50 feet higher as well.

Indeed, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has accelerated from 400 ppm in 2013 to 415 ppm now. That is an approximately 6 year interval for a per year change in concentration of :

(415 ppm - 400 ppm)  / 6 yr  =   15 ppm / 6 yr  =  2.5 ppm/  yr.

This is 25 % higher than the previous average rate of increase, i.e. 2.0 ppm/ yr. Given we know that every increase in CO2 concentration by 2 ppm increases the radiative heating effect by 2 W/ m2 we also know that the associated radiative heating is now significantly higher.  This accounts for a major part of the increase of atmospheric temperature with CO2 concentration.

While it is true that  there is a yearly rise and fall   in CO2 concentration and May is usually the peak month for atmospheric CO2, we have also seen each yearly peak is inexorably higher than the last one.  This behavior has been noted for decades and hearkens back to the well -known Keeling curve, e.g.

In the wake of the findings, especially the graphs shown above, it is not at all beyond the realm of plausibility that the violent weather experienced in the past month: over 150 tornadoes in the plains, massive flooding, and triggering temperature extremes between eastern and western U.S., (we just had 6 inches of snow where we live in Colorado Springs three days ago, is tied to the higher CO2 concentration.

In the case of the above phenomena, start with repeated intrusions of destabilized polar air,  leading to frigid temperatures in the west - accompanied by massive snowstorms the past 3 weeks.  The frigid systems then moved to the east and met much warmer Gulf air, triggering violent circulation, thunderstorms, tornadoes and flooding of the Mississippi not seen in years.

And this is not novel at all.   The summer of 2018, for example, was truly apocalyptic, Across the Northern hemisphere railroad rails warped and pavement cracked. Nuclear plants cut power output when their water sources became too hot. Reideer sought relief inside Norwegian tunnels as as temperatures above the Arctic Circle approached 90 F.   Meanwhile, historic rain in Japan caused deadly floods and record breaking wildfires burned in California and Sweden.

On the Gulf coast of Florida, as my youngest brother Mike approached his end with terminal, stage IV liver cancer in May last year, he'd email me about the reeking dead marine life. Near the Gulf living in Port Charlotte, he was on the front lines  of a red tide invasion that generated more than 400 tons of manatee and fish carcasses.  The killer, as he informed me from the Port Charlotte papers?  A marine algae called Karenia brevis, which releases a potent class of neurotoxins called brevotoxins.  In high enough concentration it debilitates and kills manatees and other native marine species.

This climate -related havoc then spilled into the new year with polar vortex intrusions and super freezes, e.g.

Brane Space: Once Again: The Current "Super Freeze" Doesn't Mean ...

 No one could have foreseen at the time that the  intrusions would- by degree - become a repeated phenomena through the spring- as they have been. 

All this now as we've beheld (see middle graph)  daily atmospheric CO2  concentration cross above 415 ppm to 415.26 as measured at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii.  To provide perspective,  this is the first time for this dubious milestone since humans walked the earth — perhaps since  our ape-like ancestor Australopithecus.  

Even more confounding, Exxon climate researchers  predicted the current CO 2 threat as far back as 1982.   When Exxon Corporation was studying climate change seriously, its scientists produced papers predicting atmospheric CO2 and global warming under a number of scenarios, including a "high case" scenario  (well elucidated by Bill McKibben of ) in which fossil fuel burning would increase and previously unavailable carbon resources, from shale for example, would become extractable.

Look at the last chart at the top of this post, which is a chart from one of those Exxon papers (pdf). It extrapolates and projects  from a 1980 baseline, ultimately arriving at almost 620 ppm by 2080.  That level of CO2 concentration has been the threshold for the runaway greenhouse effect, as often expressed by the late Carl Sagan, and former Geophysical Inst. climate specialist Gunther Weller. .  The near term Exxon prediction has been startlingly accurate, at least so far. It put atmospheric CO2 (upper line) just below 420 ppm in 2019 and global warming (lower line) above 1.2°C after we add in the amount of global warming, 0.4°C, that occurred between the pre-Industrial low and 1980 [Hansen, 2018].  But even now many climate physicists indicate these values are low-balled and the actual temperature rise is far higher. See e.g.

Climate report understates threat


"So far, average temperatures have risen by one degree Celsius. Adding 50 percent more warming to reach 1.5 degrees won’t simply increase impacts by the same percentage—bad as that would be. Instead, it risks setting up feedbacks that could fall like dangerous dominoes, fundamentally destabilizing the planet. This is analyzed in a recent study showing that the window to prevent runaway climate change and a “hot house” super-heated planet is closing much faster than previously understood."

The question of whether Americans - or any nationality- can manage in a full out greenhouse world has been fairly well answered in the past week with its devastating tornadoes, flash floods and now - we are informed - a "death ridge" with triple digit temperatures ready to hatch over the southeast.  Now take all these calamities and multiply their intensity by two orders of magnitude to arrive at what life will be like in 2080 with the CO2 concentration at 620 ppm.

Such a projection is what awoke Greta Thunberg to the fact she and her young cohort may not have a future. It may even be gone before 2080.  As we read in the current TIME  (May 27, p. 38) on how she achieved climate wokeness:

"While Thunberg was studying climate change in school at he age of 11, she reacted in a surprisingly intense way: she suffered an episode of severe depression."

In her own words, quoted in the next paragraph:

"I felt everything was meaningless and there was no point going to school if there was no future."

Which catapulted her to become a climate activist, now addressing - and shaming - the rich and powerful everywhere she appears,  from the World Economic Forum in Davos, to the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland.  

Will Thunberg's activist push,  getting others of her generation on board halt or slow the hurtle toward climate catastrophe? Probably not, but at least she is making a last stand for her generation and shaming those energy-guzzlers who have squandered the planet for them.

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