Two unprecedentedly high temperatures were recorded in Antarctica, providing an ominous sign of accelerating climate change as one of the readings came in at just more than 63 degrees Fahrenheit. (Photo: Iceberg via Shutterstock)
This month’s anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) dispatch begins with the fact that recently released National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data show that this March was, by far, the hottest planetary March ever recorded, and the hottest January to March period on record as well.
We are watching unprecedented melting of glaciers across the planet, increasingly high temperature records and epic-level droughts that are now becoming the new normal: Planetary distress signals are increasing in volume.
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One of these took place recently in Antarctica, of all places, where two unprecedentedly high temperatures were recorded, providing an ominous sign of accelerating ACD as one of the readings came in at just over 63 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We’re going to be out of water.”
A fascinating recent report shows that approximately 12 million people living in coastal areas will be displaced during the next 85 years, with areas along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States seeing some of the most dramatic impacts.
In the US, another report shows that the Navajo Nation is literally dying of thirst, with one of the nation’s leaders flatly sounding the alarm by stating, “We’re going to be out of water.”
A study just published in Geophysical Research Letters bolsters the case that a period of much faster ACD is imminent, if it hasn’t already begun.
On that note, leading climate researchers recently said there is a possibility that the world will see a 6-degree Celsius temperature increase by 2100, which would lead to “cataclysmic changes” and “unimaginable consequences for human civilization.”
With these developments in mind, let us take a look at recent developments across the planet since the last dispatch.
Signs of ACD’s impact across this sector of the planet are once again plentiful, and the fact that the Amazon is suffering is always a very loud alarm buzzer, given that every year the world’s largest rainforest cycles through 18 billion tons of carbon when its 6 million square kilometers of trees breathe in carbon dioxide and then release it back into the atmosphere when they die. This is twice the amount of carbon that fossil fuel burning emits in an entire year. A recent report shows that while the Amazon is continuing to absorb more carbon than it is releasing, a tipping point is coming, and likely soon, as deforestation, drought and fires there continue to remove precious trees at a frightful rate. With 1.5 acres of rainforest lost every single second, somewhere around the world, the situation in the Amazon does not bode well for our future.
In the United States, in Harvard Forest, located 70 miles west of the university’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, hemlock trees are dying at an alarming rate. Harvard Forest is a case study, as it is part of a network of 60 forests around the world called the Center for Tropical Forest Science-Forest Global Earth Observatories, where they are being studied for their response to ACD and other anthropogenic issues. Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, an ecologist with the network, said its forests are “being impacted by a number of different global change factors. We do expect more of this, be it pests or pathogens or droughts or heat waves or thawing permafrost.”
Another report from April revealed that Russia has been losing an amount of forest the size of Switzerland (16,600 square miles of tree cover) every year, for three years running.
Without ice in the summer, polar bears will starve and die off.
Terrestrial animals continue to struggle to survive in many areas. It should come as no surprise that in the Arctic, a recent study shows that the theory that polar bears will be able to adapt to ice-free seas in the summer by eating on land has been debunked. Without ice in the summer, polar bears will starve and die off.
Another study shows that ACD is threatening mountain goats, due to the warming that is occurring even at the higher elevations where the goats live, as the rate of warming there is two to three times faster than the rest of the planet. According to the study, due to the warming, the goats’ future is now uncertain.
In California, sea lion strandings have already reached more than 2,250 for this year alone, which is a record. The worsening phenomenon is being blamed on warming seas that are disrupting the food supply of marine mammals.
Across the United States, hunters are seeing their traditions being changed by ACD. “I could point you to a million different forums online where hunters are complaining about the season and how hunting is terrible,” said one hunter in a recent report. “At the end of the day, it’s changing weather patterns. Winters around here are not as cold as they used to be.”
A March report from a researcher in Rhode Island showed that the growth and molting rates of juvenile lobsters are decreasing “significantly” due to oceans becoming increasingly acidic from ACD. This makes the animals more vulnerable to predations, thus leading to fewer adult lobsters and an overall rapidly declining population.
There have been a few major developments recently in this sector of our analysis.
Interestingly, some of the more commonly used anesthetics are apparently accumulating in the planet’s atmosphere, thus contributing to warming of the climate, according to a report in April. It is a small amount, mind you, but the volume is increasing.
US greenhouse gas pollution increased 2 percent over the previous year in 2013.
Bad news on the mitigation front comes in the form of a study that revealed that ongoing urban sprawl and auto exhaust is hampering cities’ best efforts toward lowering carbon dioxide emissions. If people continue to drive as much as they are, and development continues apace, the push to build more dense housing, better transit systems and more bike lanes in urban centers will be for naught.
Speaking of lack of mitigation, the US Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that US greenhouse gas pollution increased 2 percent over the previous year in 2013.
Drought plagued California gets more bad news in this sector, as recently released data shows that the state continues to have its warmest year ever recorded, with statewide temperatures coming in nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the previous record, which was set in 2014. The state is quite literally baking.
Another study showed that the frozen soil (permafrost) of the planets’ northern polar regions that holds billions of tons of organic carbon is melting and that melting is being sped up by ACD, hence releasing even more carbon into our already carbon dioxide-supersaturated atmosphere.
Lastly in this section, those who believe in technological fixes for our predicament received some bad news in April, which came in the form of a report that shows that any attempts to geoengineer the climate are likely to result in “different” climate disruption, rather than an elimination of the problem. The most popular proposed idea of solar radiation management that would utilize stratospheric sulfate aerosols to dim the sun has been proven to be, well, destructive. Using a variety of climate models, Ken Caldeira from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, has investigated the likely consequences of such geoengineering on agriculture across the globe.
According to a report on the matter:
His research showed that while dimming could rapidly decrease global temperatures, high carbon dioxide levels would be expected to persist, and it is the balance between temperature, carbon dioxide, and sunlight that affects plant growth and agriculture. Exploring the regional effects, he finds that a stratospherically dimmed world would show increased plant productivity in the tropics, but lessened plant growth across the northerly latitudes of America, Europe and Asia. It is easy to see how there might be geopolitical shifts associated with changes in regional food production across the globe. “It’s probably the poor tropics that stand to benefit and the rich north that stands to lose,” said Prof Caldeira.
Hence, given that the results would be detrimental to the “rich north,” which by far and away has pumped more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the “poor tropics,” the results of geoengineering would indeed be karmic.
In the United States, California’s epic drought continues to lead in the water sector of analysis.
For the first time in California’s history, mandatory water use reductions have been imposed on residents after a winter of record-low snowfalls, and hence a record-low snowpack. “People should realize we are in a new era,” Gov. Jerry Brown said at a news conference there in April, standing on a patch of brown and green grass that would normally be thick with snow that time of year. “The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”
Climate scientists also recently announced, disconcertingly, that California’s record-breaking drought is merely a preview of future ACD-generated megadroughts.
Shortly after Brown announced the mandatory water restrictions for his state, another study was released showing that California will also be facing more extreme heat waves, along with rising seas, caused by increasingly intense impacts from ACD. According to the study, the average number of days with temperatures reaching 95 degrees will double or even triple by the end of this century. Simultaneously, at least $19 billion worth of coastal property will literally disappear as sea levels continue to rise.
Experts also announced in April that in “drought-era” California, “every day” should now be considered “fire season.” NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist Bill Patzert said of California, “We are in an incendiary situation.”
California’s state climatologist, Michael Anderson, issued a very stark warning in April when he said the state faces dust bowl-like conditions, as he compared the water crisis in California to the legendary US dustbowl. “You’re looking on numbers that are right on par with what was the Dust Bowl,” he said.
Forty out of the 50 US states will face a water shortage within the next 10 years.
As aforementioned, this year’s dry, warm winter has left the entire western United States snowpack at record-low levels. Given that this is a critical source of fresh surface water for the entire region, this will only exacerbate the already critical water shortages that are plaguing the region.
One ramification of this is exampled by how the once-powerful Rio Grande River has been reduced to a mere trickle still hundreds of miles from its destination at the end of its 1,900-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to the increasing impacts of ACD. Farmers and residents who rely on it for water are in deep trouble.
And it’s not just California and the US Southwest that are dealing with major water shortages. The Government Accountability Office recently released a report showing that 40 out of the 50 US states will face a water shortage within the next 10 years.
Meanwhile, up in Alaska, that state’s iconic Iditarod sled dog race has been reduced to having mushers have their dogs drag their sleds across large swaths of mud that spanned over 100 miles in some areas, due to warmer temperatures there melting snow and ice that used to cover the course. “I love the challenge, being able to overcome anything on the trail,” said four-time winner Martin Buser of the new conditions. “But if this is a new normal, I’m not sure I can sustain it.”
In this writer’s backyard, glaciers are melting away at dramatic rates in Olympic National Park. Pictures tell the story, which was also addressed in detail recently at a talk given at the park by University of Washington research professor Michelle Koutnik, who was part of a team monitoring the park’s Blue Glacier. By way of example, an entire section of the lower Blue Glacier that existed in 1989 was completely gone by 2008, and melt rates are increasing. A sobering “before and after” look at the photographic evidence should not be missed.
A recent study gave another grim report on glaciers, this one focusing on Canada where glaciers in British Columbia and Alberta are projected to shrink by at least 70 percent by the end of this century, and of course ACD was noted as the main driving force behind the change. “Most of that is going to go,” one of the researchers said of Canada’s glaciers. “And most seems to be on its way out.”
A study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that as the Arctic Ocean warms and loses its sea ice cover, phytoplankton populations will explode. This creates another positive feedback loop for ACD, as it further amplifies warming in a region that is already heating up twice as fast as the rest of the globe.
On the other end of the water spectrum, rising seas continue to afflict Venice, where the city is seeing dramatic changes. According to a recent report: “In the 1920s, there were about 400 incidents of acqua alta, or high water, when the right mix of tides and winds drives the liquid streets up into homes and shops in the lowers parts of the city. By the 1990s, there were 2,400 incidents – and new records are set every year.”
An April report shows that ACD is predicted to bring more fires and less snow to the iconic Yellowstone National Park. These changes will likely fuel catastrophic wildfires, cause declines in mountain snows and threaten the survival of animals and plants, according to the scientists who authored the report. It shows that expected warming over the US West over the next three decades will transform the land in and around Yellowstone from a wetter, mostly forested Rocky Mountain ecosystem into a more open landscape, more akin to the arid US Southwest.
“Ecological Implications of Climate Change on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” compiled by more than 20 university and government scientists, said that such dry conditions in that area have not been seen for the last 10,000 years, and extremely destructive wildfires like the one in 1988 that burned thousands of acres of the park are going to become more common, while years without major fires will become rare.
Denial and Reality
The climate disruption deniers have been barking loudly over the last month, which should be expected as irrefutable evidence of ACD continues in an avalanche.
Following Florida’s lead, Wisconsin officially became the next state to censor its employees’ work regarding climate disruption. Wisconsin has banned its employees from working on ACD, after Florida banned the use of the terms “climate change” and “global warming.”
Perhaps this is what played a role in inspiring acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to proclaim that politicians denying science is “the beginning of the end of an informed democracy.”
Facing a loss of high-profile corporate sponsors, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), now tired of being accused of ACD denial, has threatened action against activist groups that accuse it of denying ACD. This “action” could come in the form of lawsuits.
The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released very interesting county-by-county maps of the United States, which show the various levels of ACD denial across the country and are worth examining.
Over the last four years, extreme weather events in the US caused 1,286 fatalities and $227 billion in economic losses.
Not to be outdone by fellow Republican ACD-denying presidential candidates, Marco Rubio voluntarily donned the dunce cap by stating that scientists have not determined what percentage of ACD is due to human activities compared to natural climate variability, and added brilliantly, “climate is always changing.”
This year has seen us cross yet another milestone in the Arctic – this one being that sea ice covering the top of the world reached the lowest maximum extent yet observed during the winter. This means, ominously, that in just the last four years Arctic sea ice has seen a new low both for its seasonal winter peak (2015) and for its summer minimum (2012). While most sane people would see this as a gut-wrenching fact to have to process emotionally, Robert Molnar, the CEO of the Sailing the Arctic Race, is busily planning an “extreme yacht race” for the summer and fall of 2017 there. “The more ice that’s being melted, the more free water is there for us to be sailing,” he said.
In stark contrast, US Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting the Arctic amid concerns over the melting ice, and some of the mainstream media, in this case The Washington Post, are running op-eds claiming that ACD deniers are actually now in retreat due to their own outlandish comments.
In a historic move, even oil giant BP’s shareholders voted overwhelmingly to support a resolution that would force the company to disclose some of its ACD-related risks.
Also on the reality front, recently released analysis shows that densely populated Asian islands and countries like Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines are likely to face even more intense climatic events in the future.
Another report, this one titled “An Era of Extreme Weather” by the Center for American Progress, shows that major weather events across the United States in 2014 cost an estimated $19 billion and caused at least 65 human fatalities. The report also shows that over the last four years, extreme weather events in the US caused 1,286 fatalities and $227 billion in economic losses spanning 44 states.
US President Barack Obama formally submitted to the UN a commitment to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Critics believe this is far too little, too late, but at least it is a move in the right direction.
In an interesting twist of fate, while many Florida Republican lawmakers are busily denying ACD, other Florida Republicans are busy working to protect their state’s coastal areas from rising seas resulting from advancing ACD.
Lastly in this month’s dispatch, a recently published study shows that acidic oceans helped fuel the largest mass extinction event in the history of the planet, which wiped out approximately 90 percent of all life on earth.
The carbon released that was one of the primary drivers of that extinction event was found to have been released at a similar rate to modern emissions. Dr. Matthew Clarkson, one of the authors of the study, commented: “Scientists have long suspected that an ocean acidification event occurred during the greatest mass extinction of all time, but direct evidence has been lacking until now. This is a worrying finding, considering that we can already see an increase in ocean acidity today that is the result of human carbon emissions.”