Two recently released studies brought bad news for those living near coastlines around the world. One published in the peer-reviewed Nature Climate Change, the other in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the studies showed that existing computer models might have severely underestimated the risk to the Greenland ice sheet from warming global temperatures.
Bear in mind that if Greenland’s entire ice sheet melts, 20 feet would be added to global sea levels.
As if that isn’t enough of an indicator of how fast anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is happening across the globe, two days after delegates from more than 190 countries had gathered in Peru at the annual climate summit, the World Meteorological Organization reported that 2014 was tied with 2010 as the hottest year on record, and rejected popular claims that global warming had “paused.”
Also last month, leading atmospheric scientist Dr. Philip Mote released some of his latest numbers on ACD and went on to say, “We’re running out of time to control dangerous climate change.” He pointed out that a mere 2.2 percent rise in temperature would increase the areas burned in Idaho by a staggering 500 to 600 percent.
Mote’s warning, like countless other warnings from leading scientists about the necessity for immediate and dramatic actions toward mitigating ACD, is already going unheeded. This was evidenced by the so-called Lima climate deal that was reached at the aforementioned climate summit in Peru, where every country in attendance agreed to submit a plan for addressing their carbon dioxide emissions. However, the plans are only voluntary, and countries can promise to cut as much or little as they wish.
As ACD progresses, the financial costs continue to escalate. The UN’s environment agency recently announced that the cost to poor countries that are being forced to adjust to increasingly hot temperatures would be at least two to three times higher than was thought previously. To add insult to injury, these estimates are based on best-case scenarios that predict dramatically reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, several key charts show that the United States is on track for at least a catastrophic 9-degree Fahrenheit increase by 2100, and drought conditions for most of the country that will likely exceed those of the Great Dust Bowl before the end of this century.
In this month’s Climate Disruption Dispatch, we look at how ACD is progressing rapidly on every front – and how even some diehard climate deniers are starting to recognize the dire danger we face.
Up in Alaska, melting permafrost is threatening even more infrastructure and homes, given that bridges, roads and airport runways have been built upon permafrost in many areas of the state. A recent report showed that permafrost south of Alaska’s Brooks Range (the northernmost mountain range in the state) is now becoming unstable.
Also in Alaska (as well as Canada), winter ticks are becoming more prevalent with warming temperatures, endangering the survival of the moose population, according to another recent report.
Warming temperatures in the Arctic are causing shifts in the gene pool of animals: Scientists are reporting an increasing likelihood of “grolar bears,” which are a cross between grizzly and polar bears. According to scientists, this would bring deleterious consequences, given that “genetic incompatibilities in hybrids will erase traits crucial to the long-term survival of both parent species.” They warn that if that happens, “then we can expect a great reduction in those populations, and possibly extinctions.”
Dramatic changes are occurring in the tropical regions of the planet as well. Researchers recently released a report that issued a stunning warning about an impending coral bleaching event that would be the worst seen in at least the last two decades. Coral bleaching is happening in large part due to ocean acidification that is resulting from ACD, and is particularly worrisome when one considers that more than half of all oceanic life spends some of its life in coral reefs.
Warming temperatures have also increased the likelihood that dengue fever could spread to Europe and the mountainous regions of South America, according to the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
Another recent study showed that tropical deforestation, caused by both ACD and logging, could cause “significant and widespread” shifts in rainfall distribution and temperatures, which will affect agriculture far and wide.
Pine bark beetle infestations, which are exploding across vast swaths of North America, are now happening as far south as Tucson, Arizona, where pine trees are now dropping like flies.
California’s ongoing drought is having profound impacts on wildlife: Animals like squirrels, deer and bear are fleeing their homes and even risking their lives to search for food sources that have been dramatically diminished.
Another recent study showed that ACD-related habitat loss is now a threat to 314 more species of birds, whose numbers are already in decline.
Major western US cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas are on an increasingly perilous path to losing access to water, according to a recent report. Without a dramatic shift in how they manage their water resources, devastating results are guaranteed.
As storms continue to intensify, the Philippines’ climate chief warned recently that his country lacks the systems necessary to cope with the worsening impacts of ACD. The Philippines was recently hammered by yet another massive typhoon.
In Australia, Sydney and its surrounding region can expect an increasing number of hot days, shifting rainfall patterns and more extreme fire danger as a result of ACD, according to recently published high-resolution modeling of the future climate there.
A recently published study revealed that deadly cholera outbreaks are almost certain to increase in the more vulnerable regions of the world due to ACD, since severe heat waves and more frequent and intense flooding are on the rise.
Lastly in this section, another recent study showed that the Amazonian peatlands store approximately 10 times the amount of carbon as do undisturbed rainforests in adjacent areas, which makes them all the more critical in efforts to mitigate ACD. The areas in question are already mostly unprotected, and the deforestation there would result in “massive carbon emissions,” according to the report.
California’s ongoing drought once again leads the water section of the dispatch this month. A recently released study showed that the drought was that state’s worst in 1,200 years. Clearly an end to the drought is nowhere in sight, as recent NASA satellite data showed that it will take 11 trillion gallons of water to recover from the drought. In some areas of California, rural wells are running dry, forcing residents to carry their water in buckets.
The drought, which is bringing one of the richest states in the United States to its knees, is turning much of the center of California into a dust bowl. That area happens to be where the United States gets half of all of its vegetables and nuts.
California’s almonds, which provide $11 billion annually to the state’s economy, are now under threat due to the drought, as the water supply for the almond orchards is running dry. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that farmers in the southern Central Valley have to depend on charity to fill their pantries with food since agricultural yields have diminished so dramatically.
Governors of eight western US states met recently in, ironically, Las Vegas, in order to discuss how to cope with the ongoing drought that is severely impacting the majority of the American West. At the meeting, Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, acknowledged that his agency is dealing with a two-headed dragon: drought on the Colorado River (which 40 million people rely upon for their water) as well as in the Sierra Nevada and Northern California.
Further south in Central America, drought has pushed 2.5 million people into food insecurity, according to a recent UN report. UN spokesperson Jens Laerke said the drought there is “turning into a creeping humanitarian crisis.”
Continuing south, the melting of glaciers in the Andes Mountains of South America is now threatening the populations of several countries, including Bolivia and Peru, which rely on the glaciers for much of their water supply. In Peru, a country that has more tropical glaciers than any other on earth, ice masses have shrunk by 40 percent.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a metropolis of 20 million, water shortages this year have been so severe that schools have been forced to suspend classes and restaurants have shut down. Unless dramatic rainfalls happen very, very soon, the possibility of a mega-city running dry will begin to come into focus.
A study that was published recently in Science magazine revealed that glaciers in China that are critical for that country’s drinking supply are now under “continuous warming,” and that glaciers in China overall are “disappearing quickly.” This will also dramatically impact the water situation in India, which is heavily reliant upon said glaciers.
The other primary element in this section is rising sea levels around the globe.
Back in the United States, Assateague, a small coastal island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, is considered by many to be the East Coast’s canary in the coal mine of climate change. It is likely to be one of the first places in the United States to have to be abandoned by humans due to rising sea levels. Options being considered by people living there are using portable buildings, dumping more money into trying to keep the rising seas in check or relocating themselves altogether.
A place that could possibly beat out Assateague in becoming a new Atlantis is Florida, where South Beach, Miami, has to regularly pump water out of areas in an ongoing effort to prevent inundation.
Moving westward from Florida, the state of Louisiana is planning on spending $50 billion in money it doesn’t have on a 50-year effort to try to save its rapidly disappearing coastline - based on untested science.
Looking across the Atlantic, in the United Kingdom, nearly 7,000 homes and buildings will be sacrificed to rising seas around England and Wales over the next 85 years, according to an Environment Agency analysis that has yet to be published. More than 800 of those properties will be lost to coastal erosion within the next two decades.
In Malaysia, the worst flooding in more than a decade has killed at least five people and forced more than 160,000 to flee their homes, while that country’s prime minister was busy playing golf in the United States.
Off the coast of Maine, the Gulf of Maine’s waters are warming faster than nearly every other ocean on earth, according to scientists. This is causing massive disruptions in the ecosystem there, forcing fish to find cooler places to live and upending the region’s fishing industry.
Ocean acidification, which is increasing dramatically around the globe as carbon dioxide emissions continue without abatement, means that mussels could soon be off the menu; their shells are becoming increasingly unlikely to form due to the shifting oceanic water chemistry.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, currently engaged in a several-month study of the waters off the coast of California, is reporting the presence of several unusual marine mammals, like dark dolphins and pygmy whales, that have never been found there, which they attribute to warmer-than-usual temperatures.
To make matters worse, a recently published study predicted that the Arctic could be ice-free during the summertime within six years. This would dramatically accelerate ACD and its impacts, as solar radiation that is currently reflected by that ice would then be absorbed by the Arctic Ocean, hence speeding up the warming process, along with a further increase in sea level rise.
That study, however, is far more conservative than a study conducted by the US Navy, which predicts an ice-free Arctic by 2016.
A study recently published in Nature Climate Change states that deadly heat waves in Europe are now 10 times more likely than they were just a decade ago. This is troubling news, given that during the summer of 2003 when temperatures soared to over 100 degrees throughout Western Europe, more than 35,000 people were killed – and that was the most intense heat the continent had seen in over 500 years.
As the planet goes, so goes Europe. A recent study by three independent teams of climate scientists has tied that continent’s record-breaking heat of 2014 directly to ACD. The report also showed that record-breaking years are now 35 to 80 times more likely, again thanks to ACD.
Indeed, recently released research shows that extremes of both hot and cold temperatures across the planet are increasing faster than previously believed.
A recent study showed that the Arctic is continuing to warm faster than the rest of the planet, as annual average temperatures there have continued to heat up twice as fast as the rest of the globe.
Two recent studies revealed that millions of abandoned oil and gas wells spanning the United States are likely releasing a “significant quantity” of methane into the atmosphere, which is not being included in total Environmental Protection Agency emission counts.
Lastly and perhaps most distressing in this section, new modeling revealed how warming ocean waters could well already be triggering massive methane leaks off the Pacific Northwest Coast, where 4 million tons of the potent greenhouse gas have already been released since 1970.
Denial and Reality
ACD denial persisted steadily in the last month of 2014 – particularly evidenced by the large number of ACD deniers in the US Congress. Yet interestingly, pushback against ACD denial is now happening even within the Republican ranks.
Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) announced plans to introduce a pro-climate science bill in an effort to help others “recognize the reality” of the situation. His effort would also put lawmakers on the record during the process, so that their denial position would become part of the permanent public record.
A recent poll revealed that half of all Republican lawmakers back limits on carbon dioxide emissions.
Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Seattle Seahawks, recently took it upon himself to pay the tab on a lawsuit against the US Department of the Interior, which oversees the leasing out of public lands to coal-mining companies.
The White House issued climate change guidelines for hospitals, and declared that ACD is a public health hazard. The issuing of the hospital guidebook was an effort to assist health care facilities in coping with the multiple threats posed by extreme weather.
The city of Salem, Massachusetts, has taken matters into its own hands, releasing a 212-page report aimed at guiding the city on how it can best protect itself from rising seas and temperatures.
Another phenomenon that could help in breaking through Republican-led climate denial in Florida politics is the fact that rising sea levels will likely cause many Florida residents to become climate refugees. While the US government and corporate media won’t talk about it, the CBC in Canada will, given that half a million Canadians own property in the Sunshine, or Rising Sea Level, State.
Religious groups around the world are making ACD an advocacy priority. For example, the Church of England has stepped up to the plate: It has challenged both BP and Shell over ACD, asking the two oil giants to take responsibility for their carbon footprints and seriously limit their mutual contributions to ACD.
In Australia, religious leaders are taking on Big Coal via letter-writing campaigns and even coal blockades, and recently announced they are in the fight for the long haul.
And Catholic bishops around the globe are pushing hard to secure a global treaty that will put an end to all fossil fuel use.
Even the pope thinks that ACD is a major threat, and has issued a first-ever comprehensive set of Vatican teachings on ACD, coming in the form of a “papal letter.” The pope is also going to lobby for climate action in a series of high-profile meetings ahead of the next UN ACD negotiations in Paris later this year.
In the entertainment/distraction arena, the Simpsons video game was recently updated to show Santa moving his workshop out of the North Pole and into a quaint town called Springfield, due to ACD.
For a sobering look at the history of the record highs and lows of the planetary annual temperatures, have a look at this short video clip.
Another denial-breaker comes from NASA, which published this incredible map of carbon dioxide around the planet, generated by its new Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2.
A very interesting thought experiment can be viewed here. It’s produced by a group that broke down parts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and created a slide show through time that shows increasing planetary temperatures accompanied by likely news headlines. It is definitely worth a watch.
The Washington Post published a useful multimedia guide to the worst disasters of 2014, which ranged from catastrophic flooding to the “polar vortex,” most of which are clearly tied to ACD.
A recently aired Smithsonian Institute documentary titled Mass Extinction: Life at the Brink provided a frightening warning of how we humans are racing toward our own destruction, taking the rest of the planet with us. The documentary also predicts a global temperature increase of between 9 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, which is dramatically higher than even the worst-case IPCC prediction.
Lastly for this month’s dispatch, a special analysis carried out by the prestigiousNature magazine has sounded the alarm that a staggering 41 percent of all amphibians on the planet now face extinction, and 26 percent of mammals and 13 percent of birds face the same threat.