6th Mass Extinction, Abrupt Climate Change, Antarctic Ice Melt, Arctic Blue Ocean Event, Arctic Sea Ice Melt, Capitalism, Donald Trump, Dr. James Orbinski, Geoengineering, Greenland Ice Sheet Melt, Hillary Clinton, James Hansen, Mass Coral Bleaching, Overpopulation, Planetary Boundaries, Professor Harold R. Wanless, Sea Level Rise, Techno-Fix, The Great Barrier Reef, The Limits to Growth
“When you cannot feed your children, you will do anything, even if it means going to war. This is the reality of climate change.” ~ Dr. James Orbinski
80% of the world’s productive agricultural land is in river deltas which are vulnerable to flooding from storm and tidal surges as well as salt penetration inland –as much as 20 km in some cases. Just 1 meter(3.28ft) of sea level rise(SLR) would threaten one third of this food-producing land and render nearly all the barrier islands of the world uninhabitable. (Overly-)Conservative estimates from the IPCC in 2013 predicted 1m of SLR rise by 2100, but the last two decades have seen global sea level increase more than twice as fast as it did in the 20th Century and only recently have scientists realized the true rate of SLR has been grossly underestimated(here and here). James Hansen (et al) has argued all along that 5 meters of sea level rise by the end of the century is possible, taking decades to happen rather than centuries. They conclude that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates. The last time CO2 levels were at 400ppm was during the Pliocene Era when sea level was 5 to 40m higher (16-131ft); unfortunately, Earth is warming 50 times faster than when it comes out of an ice age. Professor Harold R. Wanless who has studied the geologic sedimentary record says that we are in for a nasty surprise within this century:
Most of the models projecting future sea level rise assume a gradual acceleration of sea level rise through this century and beyond as ice melt gradually accelerates. Our knowledge of how sea level rose out of the past ice age paints a very different picture of sea level response to climate change. At the depth of the last ice age, about 18,000 years ago, sea level was some 420 feet below present level as ice was taken up by large continental ice sheets. Subsequent ice melt was not a gradual acceleration and then deceleration process. Rather it was a series of very rapid pulses of sea level rise followed by pauses. These rapid pulses of rise, from three to thirty feet, were fast enough to leave drowned reefs, sandy barrier islands, tidal inlet deltas, and other coastal deposits abandoned across the continental shelf. That is what happens when climate change warms enough to destabilize some ice sheet sector. It rapidly disintegrates, resulting in a rapid rise.
We are already witnessing the demise of the Great Barrier Reef, the oldest and largest living organism on the planet, which continues to suffer the lethal effects of a warming and acidifying ocean. We’ve destroyed the planet’s air conditioner in the Arctic and set the stage for an impending Blue Ocean Event where 24 hours a day of summer sunlight penetrating the uncovered dark Arctic waters will create another tipping point for runaway climate change. The Arctic climate is changing so fast science can barely keep track of what’s happening or predict global consequences. On top of this, nature’s carbon sinks have been severely weakened over the last few centuries, hindering the ability of the planet to absorb ever-increasing greenhouse gases. And these things are happening before a large destructive pulse of SLR hits the planet.
History has proven considerably worse than the Club of Rome’s projections. The original report made only passing reference to some of the most critical environmental problems of today. In response to this, the Stockholm Resilience Centre identified a set of nine ecological processes regulating land/ocean/atmosphere and their accompanying boundaries within which humans must stay to avoid biospheric collapse. In 2015, researchers found that four of these planetary boundaries had already been breached: biodiversity loss, damage to phosphorous and nitrogen cycles, climate change and land use. None of these critical boundaries were picked up by the original Limits to Growth report. We have destroyed the stability of the Holocene Epoch and continue to wreak havoc with every passing day. In other words, there are many other environmental crises too numerous to list that are coming to a head, and catastrophic sea level rise is just the icing on the burned cake. The last time Earth had such a disruptive species, cyanobacteria altered the atmosphere and killed off all the anaerobic life forms including itself. Ironically, oxygen was the byproduct of the cyanobacteria that proved lethal to those ancient lifeforms and paved the way for the rise of photosynthetic organisms. The cyanobacteria had a 500 million year run, but modern man has only been around for 0.01% of that time. Our large brain has made it possible for us to destroy ourselves in record time.
Global warming is happening 5,000 times faster than a major food source can adapt. As the global monoculture food system breaks down and leaves vulnerable Third World countries to fend for themselves, I expect the last remaining vertebrates to be hunted to extinction in short order while wealthy nations carry out land grabs in an effort to keep their citizens fed. Humans are pushing all other life off the planet; the ‘Sixth Mass Extinction’ is not a metaphor.
So you would think that these stark facts laid out before us would be causing panic in the global markets and seats of power around the world because, clearly, no one is safe from this unfolding apocalypse. In what many call the ‘most powerful nation on Earth’, surely a leader must be on the verge of taking the helm of this sinking ship. In any rational world, they would be compelled to battle this planetary emergency with the war-time urgency it demands. In the election year of 2016 there are only two prospects in our corporatocracy, one of whom is so frightening that hundreds of the world’s scientists felt compelled to issue a warning against his possible election. The other candidate seems much more palatable on the surface, but her record and recent emails illustrate just how tortured her positions are on environmental issues. Anyone who has studied the numerous practices that make modern civilization truly unsustainable, the depths of corruption and waste in its global socio-economic system, and how predatory one has to be in order to survive and “succeed’ in it realizes in the end that it wouldn’t matter much who fills that figurehead position. Toeing the line of the dominant culture is a prerequisite for the job. That’s one reason why nations are building walls in response to climate change refugees and putting faith in unproven and unrealistic techno-fixes to save themselves while at the same time drilling for new oil, financing new coal plants, allowing climate goals for corporations to add up to only a quarter of the amount needed to limit warming to 2°C, and giving the shipping industry a pass on curbing its emissions(if shipping was a country it would be the world’s 8th biggest carbon polluter).
Meanwhile, CO2 levels continue to climb at breakneck speed and recent paleoclimate research indicates today’s greenhouse gas levels could produce a ‘game over’ warming of 7°C within our lifetime. We already have no carbon budget left for a 1.5°C warming limit from 2017 onwards. We’re betting our species’ future on vaporware, and no country on Earth is taking the 2°C climate target seriously. Celebrity breakups get more attention than real threats to the continuation of our species. Apocalypse tourism has become a ‘thing’.
The biosphere is collapsing under the weight of 7.5 billion people living off the combustion of a one time endowment of ancient carbon energy, from the factory-farmed produce they eat to the petroleum-based medical supplies that keep them alive. And global population growth may be accelerating at an even greater rate than recent predictions. As Germany has shown, “renewable energies” are nothing more than ‘fossil fuel extenders’ still wedded to fossil-fueled extraction processes for the production and maintenance of those technologies. It’s a shell game of sorts. Industrialized countries will say their carbon footprint has gone down without telling you they’ve moved their dirty industrial operations to Third World countries. Developing countries will make promises of “green growth” while their state-owned banks and companies expand fossil fuel production overseas. We’ve been fooling ourselves for a very long time about what is truly sustainable and will continue to do so as the system falls apart, geoengineering fixes are applied, interstellar space colonization fantasies are dreamed up, and wars are fought for what remains. Humans have constructed a reality incompatible with the well-being of the natural world and the stability of the biosphere, but we won’t be able to escape the rules of physics, chemistry, and biology. We’ve spent generations making the bed we’re going to be lying in, never realizing it’s also our death bed. Time is not on our side.
Most are not listening and our leaders are misleading, so it bears repeating: ‘The Oil Age’ made us all confident idiots with short attention spans. To both candidates: runaway, catastrophic climate change resulting in loss of habitat and mass starvation is our biggest threat.
The proles have now elected a man who has put a climate science denier in charge of his EPA team, vowed to kill the Paris climate deal, end all efforts to help other countries deal with climate change, stop domestic climate action, reinvigorate coal, and zero out all climate science research & clean energy, but physics doesn’t really care who was elected.