How Dangerous is Climate Change?, How Much Time Do We Have?

The following article, How Dangerous is Climate Change?, How Much Time Do We Have? was written by an old friend of mine, and is published here in its entirety. The article follows a brief set of comments (by today’s guest author) about the Climate Change Conference in Paris, now underway.

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The 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris:

• The 2015 Paris conference, while being billed as a major effort to solve the problem, is in fact too little too late.

• All of the approximately 200 nations at the conference have submitted their voluntary (greenhouse gas) reduction targets, which are applicable for the period 2020-2030.

• There is no “binding agreement” that will come out of the conference. Thus, (US President) Obama does not have to submit any agreement (from the conference) for congressional approval — which he would not get. That, of course, means that Obama’s presidential successor may ignore the emissions reduction targets for the U.S. as he or she pleases.

• Even if all the Paris voluntary emission reduction targets are added up AND become reality, climate scientists’ calculations indicate that there will still be a rise in global temperature, above baseline, of 2.4°C – 3.9°C by 2030. That would be well above the 1.5°C – 2.0°C rise above baseline, which is the widely supported consensus of the scientific community, environmentalists and island nation governments, as the upper limit to avoid catastrophe.

• So, Paris 2015 is primarily a public relations ploy to convince increasingly agitated populations — concerned about the obviously negative effects of climate change — of the reality of what is in fact a dual illusion: that a “real solution” is being “enacted.”

• Even the drastic and politically impossible solution of an immediate cessation of Industrial Civilization, as we know it, is too little to late.

• Similar efforts, most notably Kyoto (December 1997) and Copenhagen (December 2009) had largely “kicked the can down the road.” Unfortunately, it would appear that we are at the end of the road and the next can-kicking will send the can into free-fall over the environmental cliff of irreversible catastrophe.

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How Dangerous is Climate Change?, How Much Time Do We Have?

by “He Who Prefers To Remain Anonymous”
2 December 2015

THE GENERAL PROBLEM

We are likely to make better decisions if we base them on the way the universe really is. The only advantage of delusion (which includes denial and ideology) is that it is more comfortable and requires no real thought. When you consider all the wasted time and energy involved in delusion, working with reality as it is provides a far more efficient path to problem solving. Given the enormous investment by all of us (corporate and individual, financial and lifestyle-based), it is not surprising that we would rather maintain our current profits and conveniences even if that continues creating mass extinctions, ultimately including that of our own species.

For those who wish to believe in a near term human extinction and near term mass extinction in general, there is enough evidence to support such beliefs. However, there is also no indisputable timetable for these events. The science-based estimates I’ve seen for human extinction due to runaway climate change range from the very alarming 15-30 years to the less immediately concerning 100-200 years. There are, of course, those who deny the problem exists at all, those who believe it is a problem that we can fix, or those who are so consumed with day-to-day survival that this issue is essentially moot to them. For such people, timetables for human extinction are irrelevant.

It is important to realize that there is a generally recognized lag period of approximately 40 years between the time greenhouse gases are injected into the atmosphere and the resulting rise in average global temperature. So even if we stopped participating in industrial civilization today, there will still be residual temperature rise occurring for the next 40 years. In the last 29 years, humans have put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than in the previous 236 years back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (1750).

Low-carbon alternative energy technology (solar, wind, tidal, etc.) has been developed so slowly and the effort to do so has come so late that the opportunity for it to significantly limit climate change has been lost.

FOOD PRODUCTION

Average global temperature has been remarkably steady for about the last 10,000 years. This condition supported the rise and continuation of human agricultural practices. However, the rise in global temperature in the last 50 years has been 0.76°C. For every 1°C rise in global temperature, grain crop production falls about 10%. Grains (corn/maize, rice, wheat, barley, sorghum, millet, oats, rye, triticale, fonio, quinoa) provide more food energy to humans than any other type of crop. Much of the grain crop is fed to cattle which is an inefficient way to produce food. Consequently, when cereal crops fail in significant proportions, there is a temporary solution by reducing meat production and shifting to a more fully vegetarian diet for humans instead.

Numerous scientific observations confirm the decrease in snowpack accumulation around the planet in recent decades. Ice and snow accumulations in mountainous regions of the planet are a major source of water during the non-rainy portions of the year for over 100 water basins. Snow melt from the Sierra Nevada Mountains is what provides the water for the major food producing regions of California during the summer. Snow and ice melt from the Himalayas provide similar summer water for the food crops in large areas of Asia (eight major rivers and water supplies for 1.5 billion people in the region). With declining snow/ice accumulations in the mountains, food production for human populations will inevitably decline as well. Ground water pumping can make up the difference in the short run, but ground water is not unlimited. Ground water can not be a permanent solution to declines in mountainous snow accumulations.

When humans are hungry, very few give any weight to the luxuries of principles, morality, ethics, honesty, fear, patience, loyalty, love, disgust and so on. Hunger has only one agenda item of any importance: eat, however possible, but eat.

METHANE, CARBON DIOXIDE, WATER VAPOR: GREENHOUSE GASES

Baseline global temperature is the average global temperature prior to 1750. The year 1750 is considered the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

METHANE

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “underestimated” by one hundred to one thousand times the methane release associated with hydro-fracturing to extract natural gas in its 1996 report on the subject. It revised its estimates in 2009, but these estimates are probably still too conservative.

Methane is a gas with approximately 100 times the heat retaining (greenhouse) power of carbon dioxide according to NASA research.

Ignoring carbon dioxide, methane leakage into the atmosphere from the Arctic Ocean alone will take us to 6°C above baseline by 2023 and 7°C above baseline by 2033. (Paul Beckwith, Canadian climate scientist, ~2014)

The enormous drive of fracturing shale formations to release natural gas (which contains ~85% methane) results in both the capture of methane and the leakage, venting or flaring into the atmosphere, of significant quantities of ‘uncapturable’ methane. The leakage is due to the limitation of the techniques and equipment used in this extraction method and the prolonged period of time that such unconventional drilling takes before actual capture of the target gas can begin.

It has been estimated that for each degree of global temperature rise the amount of methane entering the atmosphere increases several fold. This, of course, leads to more global warming and thus more methane release.

When marine life dies, most of it eventually sinks to the bottom where it decays. Because marine life is so abundant in the continental shelf areas, there are huge amounts of decaying organic material on its surface. The cold temperatures of these depths allow the methane produced by decay to become methane hydrates which tend to remain in place on the bottom. As the oceans are warming, bottom temperatures cannot keep all the methane hydrate from converting to methane gas and bubbling to the surface. As of 2014, it appears the greatest bubbling up of oceanic methane is coming out of the Arctic Ocean sub-sea shelf and slope first, but also in the northeast Pacific Ocean and, to some extent, in the coastal sub-sea shelf and slope regions all over the planet.

Methane is entering the atmosphere mainly from the huge reserves of methane hydrate trapped in terrestrial and sub-sea Arctic permafrost areas as air and water temperatures rise. Even if just a few percent of the methane hydrate reserves boil out, an average global temperature jump of 10°C is likely to occur with an extinction rate well into the 90% or greater range.

The first of many large holes were discovered in Siberia during the summer of 2013 by a helicopter pilot. Above these holes methane concentrations were measured at more than 50,000 times normal measurements. As of 2015, there are now 30 of these holes which are now being called methane eruption vents. They are being found in the same area that was the massive Trapp volcanic eruption zone (Talymir Volcanic Arc) that is credited with setting off the Great Dying of the Permian extinction. The largest of these vents is 100 m long by 50 m wide and 60-100 meters deep (110 yards long by 55 yards wide and 66-110 yards deep). Taken by themselves, they do not represent a grave threat, but taken in the context of other positive feedback developments pushing global temperatures up, they certainly should not be ignored.

Sea-level rise causes continental sea slopes to collapse, tsunamis, and release of methane (September 2013 issue of Geology, Brothers et al.) The rate of coastal erosion in eastern Siberia has doubled in the last 40 years due largely to the melting of the permafrost.

Earthquakes trigger methane release in areas with methane hydrate deposits locked in what was once permafrost on land or in the sea. The consequent warming of the planet triggers more earthquakes. More methane is released and so on. (October 2013, Arctic News, author: Carana)

600 million tons of methane are put into the atmosphere each year including both methane originating from natural sources and from human sources.

WATER VAPOR

With a warmer planet, the concentration of water vapor in the atmosphere increases. Water vapor also has a greenhouse effect. Water vapor absorbs heat and thus with more water vapor in the atmosphere, more heat is absorbed rather than reflected.

CARBON DIOXIDE

During the last 170 years, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by more than 40%. During that same time period, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by approximately 250%.

ALLEGED AMELIORATING STEPS

Complete collapse of industrial civilization could save many non-human species in the short run. Industrial civilization appears to underlie the Sixth Great Extinction period on Earth. We are currently losing approximately 1,000 species a year to extinction. (For those who enjoy being alarmed, there are sources that estimate species loss at 200 species per day.) The likelihood of humans voluntarily abandoning industrial civilization is approximately zero in my opinion. The comforts it has brought have strongly “addicted” people to the much advertised “good life.” Psychologists call this “hedonic adaptation.” We get so used to the new comforts (hot water showers for instance) that we forget to cherish them. We begin to simply take them for granted as things that we can no longer conceive ever being absent again. It is yet another understandable self-serving delusion. In fairness, it should be noted that “hedonic adaptation” works in reverse as well. When things we’ve taken for granted disappear, we adapt in a relatively short time and our perception of our level of happiness appears relatively unchanged.

EXTINCTIONS

Humans like to believe that evolution is a progressive and directional process leading to more complexity (i.e. so-called higher organisms). In reality, complex organisms occur primarily to occupy available supportive niches only when such niches occasionally arise. However, for 4.0 billion years, life on Earth has maintained an overwhelming and unvarying bacterial cast to its nature. Humans are considered the pinnacle of evolution primarily because humans are the ones who write and read the books in which this thought is promulgated. Humans have named the various epochs of life’s history as the Age of Fishes, the Age of Amphibians, etc. In reality, however, the history of life is one continuous Age of Bacteria.

Because bacteria reproduce by asexual division (a form of cloning), they may be considered “immortal” in a sense. Genetic change (evolution) in bacteria occurs very slowly because they simply make exact copies of their genes as they reproduce. Once sexual reproduction was “invented,” individual and species-level genetic change occurred rapidly. Every new sexually reproduced generation had remarkably diverse results. It is the diversity of a population that allows for natural selection at a much higher rate than for bacteria — thus the Precambrian explosion of life forms (species). However, the price of sexual reproduction was mortality (death) for each unique genetic combination (individuals).

The current extinction rate (2014) is approximately 100 extinctions per million species per year, or 1,000 times the natural background rates of one extinction per million species every 10 years, for the 60 million years prior to the existence of humans.

Current estimates are that there are 8 million species of life on Earth.

Of all the species of living organisms to have existed on Earth since life began here 3.8 billion years ago, how many are now extinct? The most frequent estimates range from 98% to 99.9% extinction rate. Extinction is the overwhelming rule, not the exception.

When there have been mass extinctions, it is the smaller and less specialized species that tend to survive. It is important to remember that the average size of an animal on Earth is that of a common housefly. While the human brain is a remarkably flexible organ for the ideas it can generate, humans, as a total organism, are quite specialized. Biological specialization is the adaptation of an organism or organ to a special function or environment. The human brain has been adapted to the specialized function of imaginative thought and cognitive problem solving. The human animal has more and more been adapting to thrive in an industrial civilization for at least the last few hundred years. Were civilization to suddenly collapse, billions of human beings, who are dependent on its structure, would perish in short order. Human extinction under rapid climate change is likely because a) humans are not a small species, b) humans are a highly specialized species, and c) evolutionary change is like molasses trying to outrun an avalanche of climate change.

The Permian Extinction, 250 million years ago, wiped out 95% of all species on Earth, may have more in common with the current climate changes than is comfortable to contemplate. The best reconstruction of what caused the Permian Extinction is a three step process that took place over a period of 80,000 years.

First, the huge Siberian Traps area volcanoes went off releasing enormous amounts of dust and sulfur dioxide. The dust at first created a volcanic winter for several years, followed by clear skies.

Second, once the skies cleared of dust, the sulfur dioxide acted as a potent greenhouse gas and the Earth warmed for many years, proving to be beyond the capacity of many species to survive. These massive volcanoes erupted periodically for tens of thousands of years.

Third, after about 40,000 years of this cycle of freeze-awhile and fry-a-lot, the Earth had heated up about 5°C above baseline, and the oceans had heated up as well. As the oceans heated up, organisms could not adapt and a massive die off of marine organisms occurred. All along the world’s continental shelf margins in the oceans, organic matter from these dead organisms sank and decayed in huge quantities in bottom sediments. The decay of this organic material formed methane which froze at depth in the form of methane hydrate. When the oceans heated up even more, there was a massive release of the methane hydrate as methane gas. Methane gas is another potent greenhouse gas. That massive methane release drove another round of global heating over the next 40,000 years in the range of another 5°C. At 10°C above baseline, very few organisms can survive. Thus, in this second round of global warming, most land organisms that had survived the first 40,000 years became extinct. (The evidence for a methane burst association with the Great Dying of the Permian extinction has appeared in the March 31, 2014 issue, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.)

Therapsids had been a dominant group of mammal-like reptiles during the Permian Period. But only a handful of therapsids survived the Permian extinction and became diverse again by the late Triassic. In the late Triassic (225 million years ago), cynodont therapsids gave rise to mammals. The last of the non-mammalian therapsids became extinct in the Early Cretaceous, approximately 100 million years ago. With the rise of dinosaurs during the Cretaceous Period, mammals survived primarily by evolving to be small and nocturnal. Only when the dinosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous (65 million years ago) did mammals come to dominate the land. In order for humans to evolve, their ancestors have had to survive through the bottlenecks of extinctions and predation many, many times. We are here by luck alone.

It is believed that some 70,000 years ago the Toba supervolcano almost eliminated modern humans. Toba blew up a mountain in Indonesia putting 650 cubic miles of itself into the atmosphere as volcanic dust. Prevailing westerly winds pushed these volcanic dust clouds over south Asia and into the grasslands of Africa which were home to humans at the time.

The best current guess of how the Toba supervolcano affected the environment includes a two phase scenario. Immediately following the Toba supervolcano eruption the sun was dimmed for about six years, seasonal rains were disrupted, waterways were choked with ash, and hot ash covered large areas essentially smothering or baking almost all plant and animal life. At the time, humans lived in the eastern edge of Africa. The winds brought ash fall to this area in massive quantities. With plant and animal food sources being annihilated by ash fall, it is easy to see why human populations drastically diminished during this time.

Many other primate species lived further inland in Africa, often behind mountain ranges to the east. These species (macaques, orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees) felt less impact from this first phase of Toba induced affects on the environment.

In 70,000 B.C. the Earth was already experiencing an Ice Age. In phase two, the blockage of incoming solar radiation, by ash in the atmosphere, could easily have caused the cool temperatures at the time to cool much further. Again, this would reduce the amount of plant and animal life. Evidence shows that the average temperature dropped 20°C in some spots. This cooling caused more widespread devastation.

Human, macaque, orangutan, tiger, gorilla, and chimpanzee DNA all show some signs of genetic bottlenecking (decreased variation) at this time, but it was particularly severe among humans. It has been estimated that the Homo sapien population fell to less than 2,000 individuals at this time.

In the usual list of extinctions, there is one that generally does not appear, but is particularly relevant to the current sixth mass extinction that we are experiencing. That extinction was the first one to occur.

In the early Earth approximately 4 billion years ago, the first life originated in the young oceans under an atmosphere composed of water vapor, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, sulfur, chlorine, nitrogen, hydrogen, ammonia and methane, which was largely the out-gassing of the massive volcanic activity of the young Earth. There was virtually no free oxygen. With the energy of ultraviolet radiation from the sun and frequent lightning bolts, the first organic molecules formed from this chemical soup. Oxygen would have made this difficult to impossible as even in small quantities it prevents such molecules as amino acids (the building blocks of all proteins) from forming. Amino acids are assembled in the cells of organisms adapted to this oxygen-rich atmosphere while sequestered from gaseous oxygen (O2) within the cell.

The first organisms to evolve around 4 billion years ago were prokaryote bacteria (no defined nucleus) that used chemosynthesis (sulfur, iron, methane, etc.) and thermosynthesis (heat) as the basis of their metabolic activity. As with all anaerobic bacteria, oxygen is a poison and kills them. Had oxygen been a part of the early atmosphere, these organism could never have evolved. Prokaryote chemosynthesizing bacteria dominated the biosphere for about a billion years.

Around 3 billion years ago, a new variety of bacteria evolved. These bacteria had defined borders around their genetic material, a true nucleus in their cells. They are called the eukaryotes. These included the cyanobacteria (also called blue green algae) which had evolved chlorophyll with its capacity to harness energy from the sun for the production of metabolically useful chemicals. However, the waste product of this new metabolic process was free oxygen.

For millions of years, this free (very reactive) oxygen was immediately bound up in the oxidation of iron among the surface minerals of the early Earth. Eventually all the exposed iron had combined with oxygen, and concentrations of oxygen in the atmosphere began to increase. By 2.3 billion years ago, oxygen concentrations in the atmosphere had risen to 10% and a massive die-off of the anaerobic Archean bacteria occurred. In essence, the evolving organisms had caused their own extinction by poisoning themselves in the accumulating concentrations of their own waste. From a biological point of view, that extinction scenario is quite similar to the current extinction, which has been in large part triggered by the accumulation in the atmosphere of the waste products of animal respiration and the massive burning of fossil fuels (‘industrial respiration’).

The current level of oxygen in the atmosphere (20%) was probably not achieved until about 400 million years ago.

While oxygen proved fatal to anaerobic life forms of the aquatic environment, its accumulation in the atmosphere made terrestrial survival for DNA- and RNA-based life possible. Until the accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere, the surface of the Earth was bombarded by high levels of UV-B from the sun and other forms of radiation that caused very high rates of mutation in DNA and RNA. This high rate of mutation, almost universally harmful to the organisms, prevented life from colonizing the terrestrial surface of the planet. After permanent oxygen concentrations in the atmosphere created a layer of radiation-absorbing ozone, life on the surface of the planet became possible.

Human wastes of halocarbons such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) react in the atmosphere and dissociate. The free halogen atoms then react with ozone molecules altering them into other forms. Thus human waste is also reducing the protective ozone layer which has allowed life on land to flourish.

LIFE ON EARTH, TIMELINE

Life on Earth Table - Version 2It is not unreasonable to consider the Earth as a very large spherical Petri dish in relation to the first and this last period of extinction. The growth of organisms in a Petri dish follows a very predictable pattern. Organisms expand from the initial inoculation point by extensions or by leaps. Eventually the entire surface of the nutrient is occupied with the organism. Then they all die from the toxic effect of living in its own accumulating waste as well as the exhaustion of available nutrients.

NUCLEAR RADIATION DANGERS

When human industrial civilization collapses and people are scrambling for survival on an individual basis, there will only be the automatic systems left in place to keep the approximately 400+ nuclear power stations around the world from melt-downs. Those automatic systems have only enough fuel to stave off melt downs for about a month. With 400+ Fukushima melt-downs happening simultaneously, spewing enormous amounts of ionizing radiation into the atmosphere, humans are unlikely to survive this exposure for any appreciable period of time.

As of 2015, the numbers and locations of the 435 operating nuclear power plants are approximately as follows:

European Union (128)
U.S. (99)
Japan (43)
Russia (34)
China (27)
South Korea (24)
India (21)
Canada (19)
Ukraine (15)
Taiwan, China (6)
Switzerland (5)
Argentina (3)
Pakistan (3)
Brazil (2)
Mexico (2)
South Africa (2)
Armenia (1)
Iran (1)

There are another 67 reactors currently under construction, the majority of them in China (24), Russia (9), India (6), and South Korea (4).

One of the unintended consequences of continually shifting to new technologies is that, were these new technologies to fail, we have long since passed the point of generally knowing how to use the simpler, earlier technologies to solve human survival problems. Who among us can make flint arrowheads or even recognize flint as opposed to granite? Who among us know how to smelt metals to make wire for motors or generators? Our societies have become highly specialized, and specialization is one of the key features of animals that go extinct when the environment significantly changes.

ICE MELTING, BOTH SEA AND LAND

The U.S. Navy predicts a sea-ice free Arctic by 2016. The United Kingdom parliament predicts it for 2015.

Areas of Peruvian ice, which required 1,600 years for accumulation, melted completely in the last 25 years. (April 4, 2013 issue, Science, author: Gillis)

A new phenomena called dark snow was first observed in Greenland. It now can be found in much of the northern hemisphere. (November 25, 2014 issue, Journal of Geophysical Research, author: Doherty et al.) Dark snow does not seem to be included in recent climate models. Dark snow absorbs heat instead of reflecting it, thus increasing the Earth’s temperature.

Because the Arctic is showing the greatest change in climate as the planet warms, it is considered “the canary in the coal mine” for the fate of the rest of the Earth. (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, author: Miller, 2013).

Average summer temperatures in the Canadian Arctic are higher than in about the last 50,000 years. (October 23, 2013, Geophysical Research Letters, author: Miller et al.)

The rates projected for climate change are much greater than the fossil record indication of how quickly vertebrate species can successfully adapt to changing conditions of their niche. (August 2013 Ecology Letters, Quintero and Wiens). In other words, vertebrates cannot evolve or adapt rapidly enough to keep up with ongoing and projected changes in climate.

As ice cover is reduced at the poles during the warmer parts of the year, there is more wave action which further erode the remaining sea ice. Glacier ice retreat is also accelerated by these new seasonally warmer temperatures. (May 5, 2014, Geophysical Research Letters, authors: Thomson and Rogers).

SEA LEVEL RISE

Glaciologist Jason Box is an expert on Greenland’s ice. In January 2013, he concluded that we can expect at least a 21 meter (69 foot) rise in sea level as inevitable due to the many “amplifying feedback mechanisms” now in real time play.

Satellite-based observations from 1993 to 2012 indicate an annual average sea-level rise of approximately 3 millimeters per year. During 2013 and 2014, sea-level has risen 10 millimeters more each year. The rate of rise in sea-level appears to be accelerating.

If all ice in the Arctic, Antarctic, high mountains, glaciers and Greenland were to melt, the expected rise in sea-level would be around 216 feet (65.8 meters). There are currently more than 5,000,000 cubic miles of ice on Earth. Some scientists predict that it will take 5,000 years for this to happen.

EVOLUTION V. CLIMATE CHANGE

Climate change is proceeding at a pace that is 10,000 times faster than the general rate of evolutionary change. Thus the idea of humanity (and other species) simply adapting to the new conditions is only wishful thinking. (Quintero, August 2013, Ecology Letters)

TIMETABLES AND ACCELERATING FORECASTS

Every year, the timetable for climate change is accelerating. As models improve and more data is collected, we are constantly having to revise the pace of climate change upwards.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections have been too conservative, regularly compared with actual measurements taken during the periods of the projections. The impacts of emissions on climate change have been consistently greater than the IPCC’s projections. (March 9, 2014, Nature Climate Change, author: Shindell)

Generally, climate forecasts are all too conservative. The changes necessary to mitigate the coming residual climate changes are not politically viable. The only true step to minimize the ultimate climate change progression is the end of industrial civilization. I doubt any politician could be electable on a platform of returning to an exclusively agrarian and subsistence lifestyle for all of humanity. (See Tim Garrett’s classic paper published in 2009.)

Consider the following progression of estimates of how soon average global temperature will rise:

In 2007, the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report forecast an average temperature rise above 1.8°C by 2100. Other emissions scenarios predict a year 2100 rise of up to 4.5°C above baseline.

In early 2008, the UK Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research projected about a 2°C rise in global average temperature by 2100.

Late in 2008, the Hadley Centre’s head of climate change prediction, Dr. Vicky Pope, stated that a worst-case scenario predicted more than 5°C above baseline temperatures by 2100.

By mid-2009, more actual data and more sophisticated models enabled the United Nations Environment Programme to project a 3.5°C rise by 2100.

By October 2009, the Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research forecast 4°C by 2060.

In November 2009, the Global Carbon Project projected 6°C increase in temperature by 2100.

In November 2009, the Copenhagen Diagnosis projected 7°C increase in temperature by 2100.

In its December 2010 analysis, the United Nations Environment Programme projected up to 5°C by 2050.

In May 2014, the international Energy Agency projected up to 6°C by 2050.

All these assessments largely fail to consider the self-reinforcing feedback loops. Example: when snow melts, it exposes darker soil and vegetation underneath. The darker material absorbs more heat than the white snow. This contributes to more snow melting and more dark surfaces being exposed. Without accounting for such positive feedback loops, projections are necessarily and inaccurately low.

OCEAN ACIDIFICATION

As carbon dioxide in the atmosphere dissolves in ocean water it forms carbonic acid. The absorption of CO2 by water is why the atmosphere has not attained the concentration that human waste volumes would have otherwise caused. The marine acidification appears to be occurring at a rate not seen in 300 million years (March 2, 2012, Science, authors: Honisch et al.). It is believed by some scientists that this acidification, along with rising water temperatures, have caused half the life in the Great Barrier Reef to disappear during the last three decades. Because plankton (the base of the marine food pyramid) are threatened by these changing conditions with extinction, the entire marine food web is threatened. Changes in ocean acidity and temperature lag well behind alterations in atmospheric CO2. Even if atmospheric CO2 increased no further, the oceans would still be absorbing CO2 and becoming increasingly acidified for many decades to come.

Ocean acidification diminishes the normal planktonic release of dimethyl sulfide. DMS helps shield the Earth from various forms of destructive radiation. (August 25, 2013, Nature Climate Change, authors: Six et al.)

Phytoplankton and zooplankton are the basis of the food web in the oceans. All plankton are sensitive to temperature increases in varying degrees depending on species involved. In general, greater temperatures slows reproduction rates. All plankton are sensitive to greater acidification of marine water. Greater acidification is more corrosive to the calcium carbonate shells that plankton create to house themselves. As the basis of the marine food web, the disappearance of phytoplankton and zooplankton imply the coming collapse of the marine food web (October 17, 2013, Global Change Biology, Hinder et al.). Acidification of the marine environment appears to be occurring rapidly (March 26, 2014, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Sutton et al.).

Current conditions are creating a world in which jellyfish are increasingly dominating the seas (Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, Lisa-Ann Gershwin, 2013). Organisms with shells are in decline. We are creating a world in which the ocean as a food source for humanity may come to an end. Jellyfish contribute to climate change via (1) release of carbon-rich feces and mucus used by bacteria for respiration, thereby converting bacteria into carbon dioxide factories and (2) consumption of vast numbers of copepods and other plankton, further contributing to the decline in population of the base of the oceanic food chain.

REFLECTIVE CLOUD COVER

As temperatures in the atmosphere warm, fewer clouds are formed and more transparent water vapor will exist. With fewer white clouds, less sunlight will be reflected back into space and more heat will be directly absorbed by the Earth (January 2, 2014, Nature, Sherwood et al.).

Clouds form up to an altitude of 45,000 feet (13.7 km). This includes the lower stratosphere, but well below the ozone layer. With altitude, temperatures drop. In the stratosphere temperatures have been in the range of -58°C (-72°F). Halfway up in the troposphere temperatures are often in the range -10°C (14°F) to -65°C (-85°F) range. It is the coldness that causes water vapor to form minute water droplets or minute ice crystals. It is billions of these droplets or ice crystals that form the white clouds we can see.

As the temperature of the atmosphere increases, less clouds form from the greater amounts of water vapor held in the atmosphere. Less clouds means less solar radiation reflected back into space. More water vapor concentrations means more greenhouse effects from that component of the atmosphere. Because the atmosphere is thinner at the poles, these effects will be greatest in the polar regions.

OCEAN CURRENTS

Deep ocean currents are apparently slowing according to some researchers. [The concern here is over the potential collapse of the thermohaline cycle, of which the Gulf Stream is a part. One effect of such a collapse would be the end of the oceanic conveyor belt carrying tropical warmth north to the western shores of Europe.]

OCEAN WARMING

Initially, when carbon dioxide began increasing its concentration in the atmosphere, much of it was absorbed in the cold waters of the oceans. Cold water generally absorbs greater amounts of gases than warm water. For instance, there is more dissolved oxygen in cold water than in warm water. Thus there is more biomass of living organisms in cold water than in warm water. As the oceans have warmed, their capacity to absorb and dissolve more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has diminished significantly. If the oceans warm enough, they will start returning dissolved carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere.

As the ocean warms, and oxygen levels fall, the amount of life that the oceans can support will fall as well. This means less food from this source for the support of human populations.

It seems that from 1998-2013, 90% of global warming occurred in the oceans. This rate of warming hasn’t been seen for 10,000 years. Warmer ocean temperature will eventually cause rapid atmospheric temperature rises. The oceans are currently acting as a heat sink, absorbing a lot of heat that would otherwise warm the atmosphere directly (February 9, 2014, Nature Climate Change, authors: England et al.).

CONCLUSION

The prediction by some that the human species, and many if not most other species, will be driven to extinction in a 15-30 year time-frame by abrupt climate change may be alarmist. Even the most generous scientific estimates of impending human extinction are in the 100- to 200-year range. However, there appears to be little doubt that climate change is proceeding at an accelerating pace. Every time a new assessment is made of the various processes contributing to climate change, they appear to be occurring faster than the models were predicting.

Tipping points may soon be reached in which, for instance, methane release becomes sudden and enormous compared to today. These sorts of things are real possibilities. This is often the nature of positive feedback systems (non-linear dynamics).

The chances of reversing the on-going process of climate change do appear to be remote. Even the complete cessation of human production of greenhouse gases will not change the fact that there is about a 40-year lag time between what is put into the atmosphere today and its ultimate effects on climate change. A substantial reduction of human contributions of further greenhouse gases would require the virtual cessation of industrial economies, elimination of the vast domestic herds of methane producing ruminants (goats, sheep, cows, camels) and horses, and a voluntary and significant reduction of the human population itself. Even if these changes could be accomplished instantly, another 40 years of accelerating climate change is already in the pipeline. It boils down to a lot of unknowns within a framework of inevitable profound increases in atmospheric heat, ocean water heat, acidification of the oceans, collapse of the oceanic food chain, the release of methane from the ocean floor, the substantial melting of sea ice and land-based ice sheets, the substantial rise in sea level, and the consequent decrease in human agricultural production.

The only real question is how fast will the acceleration of all these processes turn out to be when all is said and done. Governments have a vested interest in preventing unbridled panic in human populations. You can imagine how human behavior would change if everyone were aware of an impending collapse of all systems that support human life. Thus, what seems to be a systemic erring on the side of overly conservative projections concerning the climate change process are, in reality, a political and social self-protective response.

Climate is complex. Climate change is much more complex. Ultimately, exact predictions of when human extinction will occur due to climate change are guesses based on trends. When that extinction will occur is what is in debate. And we are likely to discover the answer to “when?” only as it’s undeniably happening.

Climate change deniers epitomize, in my view, the statement by 1950s Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger:

“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.”

As Chris Mooney noted in a recent article (“The Science of Why We Don’t Believe in Science”):

“When we think we’re reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing.”

David Pollard is a long-time environmental activist. His blog (How to Save the World) offers a piece called “In Defense of Inaction” in which he states:

“No one is in control. The enemy, if there is one, is not a cabal of elites, but a set of co-dependent collapsing systems that every one of us has a vested interest in trying to perpetuate. Systems we have all helped co-create and are almost all dependent on.”

WHAT DOES ALL THIS CHANGE MEAN?

How should we live our brief time on Earth? The bottom-line answer to this question has not changed. Humans will continue to maximize their pleasures and minimize their pains. They will continue to reproduce, eat, drink, respire, eliminate metabolic waste products, grow, decay and die. This is the script written deep in our DNA. Everything else is optional window-dressing. Even within the larger idea of species this holds true — beginning, duration and extinction, with a relentless gathering and use of natural life-supporting resources along the way.

[H.W.P.T.R.A.]

Enjoy!, and Be Kind. [MG,Jr.]

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References not explicitly noted above:

BBC documentary: “The Day the Earth Nearly Died”

McPherson, Guy and Baker, Carolyn; Extinction Dialogs, How to Live with Death in Mind, Next Revelation Press, Imprint of Tayen Lane, ©2015

Kean, Sam; The Violinist’s Thumb, and Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by our Genetic Code, Little, Brown, and Co., © 2012

Malcolm Light posts in the website, Arctic News. Malcolm Light has been working on arctic methane research since 2000.

Malcolm Light, Harold Hensel and Sam Carana, Arctic News, “North Siberian Arctic Permafrost Methane Eruption Vents” (mantle methane leakage via late Permian deep penetrating fault and shear fracture systems rejuvenated by carbon dioxide and methane induced global warming), April 10, 2015.

Numerous fact verifications through Internet science articles including many from Wikipedia.

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ADDENDUM (23 January 2017): Outline History of Awareness of Climate Change
by Manuel García, Jr.

The clock for a public policy response to the “energy crisis” (now enlarged to “Global Warming” and “Climate Change”) started ticking in October 1973 with the First Arab Oil Embargo (1973 Oil Crisis), and we’ve yet to get off our asses in response to the alarm (40+ years later).

Four years later, the energy problem was serious enough for President Jimmy Carter to address the nation about it on the 202nd anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride (18 April 1977). See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tPePpMxJaA

Peak Oil was the fear in 1977, not Global Warming, even though science had been certain about Global Warming since 1955-1957.

What follows is a very brief synopsis of the scientific development of knowledge about Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW, which is human-caused, CO2 driven Climate Change), along with incidents of the parallel world energy crisis. Quotes are noted as from one of:

(HCCS): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_climate_change_science
(HS): http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156308/
(JEA): John E. Allen, Aerodynamics, Hutchinson & Co. LTD, London, 1963.

In 1896 Svante Arrhenius calculated the effect of doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide to be an increase in surface temperatures of 5-6 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, another Swedish scientist, Arvid Högbom, had been attempting to quantify natural sources of emissions of CO2 for purposes of understanding the global carbon cycle. Högbom found that estimated carbon production from industrial sources in the 1890s (mainly coal burning) was comparable with the natural sources. (HCCS)

In 1938 a British engineer, Guy Stewart Callendar, attempted to revive Arrhenius’s greenhouse-effect theory. Callendar presented evidence that both temperature and the CO2 level in the atmosphere had been rising over the past half-century, and he argued that newer spectroscopic measurements showed that the gas was effective in absorbing infrared in the atmosphere. Nevertheless, most scientific opinion continued to dispute or ignore the theory. (HCCS)

In 1955 Hans Suess’s carbon-14 isotope analysis showed that CO2 released from fossil fuels was not immediately absorbed by the ocean. (HCCS)

In 1957, better understanding of ocean chemistry led Roger Revelle to a realization that the ocean surface layer had limited ability to absorb carbon dioxide. (HCCS)

In a seminal paper published in 1957, Roger Revelle and Hans Suess, **, argued that humankind was performing “a great geophysical experiment,” calling on the scientific community to monitor changes in the carbon dioxide content of waters and the atmosphere, as well as production rates of plants and animals. (HS)

** Roger Revelle and Hans Suess, “Carbon dioxide exchange between atmosphere and ocean and the question of an increase of atmospheric CO2 during the past decades.” Tellus 9, 18-27 (1957)

AGW became common knowledge among aerodynamicists and atmospheric scientists by the 1960s, as witnessed by the following passage from John E. Allen’s 1963 book surveying the field of aerodynamics “for the non-specialist, the young student, the scholar leaving school and seeking an interest for his life’s work, and for the intelligent member of the public.”

Scientists are interested in the long-term effects on our atmosphere from the combustion of coal, oil and petrol and the generation of carbon dioxide. It has been estimated that 360,000 million tons of CO2 have been added to the atmosphere by man’s burning of fossil fuels, increasing the concentration by 13%. This progressive rise in the CO2 content of the air has influenced the heat balance between the sun, air and oceans, thus leading to small but definite changes in surface temperature. At Uppsala in Sweden, for example, the mean temperature has risen 2° in 60 years. (JEA)

22 April 1970: On this first Earth Day, MG,Jr decides to aim for a career in energy research, for a brave new future.

October 1973 – March 1974: The first Arab Oil Embargo (formally known as the 1973 Oil Crisis) erupts in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War (1973 Arab-Israeli War, October 6–25, 1973).

Evidence for warming accumulated. By 1975, Manabe and Wetherald had developed a three-dimensional Global Climate Model that gave a roughly accurate representation of the current climate. Doubling CO2 in the model’s atmosphere gave a roughly 2°C rise in global temperature. Several other kinds of computer models gave similar results: it was impossible to make a model that gave something resembling the actual climate and not have the temperature rise when the CO2 concentration was increased. (HCCS)

18 April 1977: President Jimmy Carter’s Address to the Nation on Energy.

The 1979 World Climate Conference of the World Meteorological Organization concluded “it appears plausible that an increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can contribute to a gradual warming of the lower atmosphere, especially at higher latitudes….It is possible that some effects on a regional and global scale may be detectable before the end of this century and become significant before the middle of the next century.” (HCCS)

1979-1980: The 1979 (or Second) Oil Crisis erupts from the turmoil of the Iranian Revolution, and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980.

March 28, 1979: A nuclear reactor meltdown occurs at the Three Mile Island power station in Pennsylvania.

July 15, 1979: President Jimmy Carter addresses the nation on its “crisis of confidence” during its 1979 energy crisis (oil and gasoline shortages and high prices). This address would become known as the “malaise speech,” though Carter never mentioned “malaise.” See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kakFDUeoJKM. Have you seen as honest an American presidential speech since? “Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation.”

November 4, 1980: Ronald Reagan is elected president and the “big plunge” (the neo-liberal shredding of the 1945 postwar social contract) begins. Poof went all my illusions about an American energy revolution.

April 26, 1986: A nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power station in the Ukraine explodes, spewing radioactivity far and wide, and the fuel core melts down. The Chernobyl disaster was the worst nuclear power plant accident until the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011.

1986: Ronald Reagan has the solar hot water system removed, which had been installed on the roof of the White House during the Carter Administration. The official US energy policy was obvious to me: solar energy and conservation are dead.

In June 1988, James E. Hansen made one of the first assessments that human-caused warming had already measurably affected global climate. Shortly after, a “World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security” gathered hundreds of scientists and others in Toronto. They concluded that the changes in the atmosphere due to human pollution “represent a major threat to international security and are already having harmful consequences over many parts of the globe,” and declared that by 2005 the world should push its emissions some 20% below the 1988 level. (HCCS)

All that AGW scientific research has done since 1988 has been to add more decimal places to the numbers characterizing the physical effects. That was a quarter century ago. So, I take it as a given that the American and even World consensus is in favor of probable extinction sooner (by waste heat triggered climate change) rather than later (by expansion of the Sun into a red giant). And, yes, the course of the extinction will proceed inequitably. Not what I want, but what I see as the logical consequences of what is.

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The addendum above is an excerpt from the following:

AGW and Malthusian End Times
(by Daniel P. Wirt, M.D., and Manuel García, Jr.)
13 January 2014
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2014/01/13/agw-and-malthusian-end-times/

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Addendum, 4 June 2017

No country on Earth is taking the 2 degree climate target seriously
David Roberts
29 April 2017
https://www.vox.com/platform/amp/2016/10/4/13118594/2-degrees-no-more-fossil-fuels

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9 thoughts on “How Dangerous is Climate Change?, How Much Time Do We Have?

  1. My friend’s article (above) reminds me of some of my own essays on climate change, of which the four listed below are the most didactic (instructive as opposed to polemical).

    Climate and Carbon, Consensus and Contention
    4 June 2007
    http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2007/06/climate-and-carbon-consensus-and-contention/,

    Closing the Cycle: Energy and Climate Change
    25 January 2014
    https://manuelgarciajr.com/2014/01/25/closing-the-cycle-energy-and-climate-change/

    AGW and Malthusian End Times
    
(by Daniel P. Wirt, M.D., and Manuel García, Jr.)

    13 January 2014
    https://manuelgarciajr.com/2014/01/13/agw-and-malthusian-end-times/

    Obama’s Less Bad Arctic Oil Drilling
    
30 May 2012
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/05/30/drilling-the-arctic-obama-style/

  2. Pingback: How Dangerous is Climate Change?, How Much Time Do We Have? | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

  3. Pingback: How Dangerous is Climate Change?, How Much Time Do We Have? | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

  4. I especially appreciated your comment that “The enemy, if there is one, is not a cabal of elites, but a set of co-dependent collapsing systems that every one of us has a vested interest in trying to perpetuate.” It’s the same point I make & elaborate on in this Climate Action Performance Poem from The Only Planet Cabaret:

    “You Can’t Wage War Without an Enemy”

  5. great article!
    hate to be frivolous, but isn’t “kicking the can down the cliff” a good thing? that means you only kick the can once and never see it again. if it’s a bad thing, then you could have the kicker fall down with the can.

  6. Exceptional read tracing time and the pending exhaustion of resources of an inevitable decline in life as we know it.

  7. The following was published in Monthly Review on 2 December 2015. It’s basically about how some socialists are trying to come to terms with what has been described above.

    Ian Angus is editor of the ecosocialist journal “Climate & Capitalism.’ He is co-author, with Simon Butler, of “Too Many People? Population, Immigration and the Environmental Crisis” (Haymarket, 2011), and editor of the anthology “The Global Fight for Climate Justice” (Fernwood, 2010). He talked to Phil Gasper about what to expect from the Paris summit and what the climate justice movement will need to take [do].

    Climate Change and the Summit Smokescreen
    Ian Angus interviewed by Phil Gasper
    2 December 2015
    http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2015/angus021215.html

  8. Pingback: How Dangerous is Climate Change?, How Much Time Do We Have? | manuelgarciajr | Joe Blum's Blog

  9. Pingback: Living Confidently in Times of Climate Change | manuelgarciajr

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