Monday, 21 July 2014 09:24
By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | News Analysis
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
– Native American proverb
March through June 2014 were the hottest on record globally, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. In May – officially the hottest May on record globally – the average temperature of the planet was .74 degrees Celsius above the 20th century baseline, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The trend is clear: 2013 was the 37th consecutive year of above-average global temperatures, and since the Industrial Revolution began, the earth has been warmed by .85 degrees Celsius. Several scientific reports and climate modeling show that at current trajectories (business as usual), we will see at least a 6-degree Celsius increase by 2100.
In the last decade alone, record high temperatures across the United States have outnumbered record low temperatures two to one, and the trend is both continuing and escalating.
While a single extreme weather event is not proof of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), the increasing intensity and frequency of these events are. And recent months have seen many of these.
A record-breaking heat wave gripped India in June, as temperatures hovered at 46 degrees Celsius, sometimes reaching 48 degrees Celsius. Delhi’s 22 million residents experienced widespread blackouts and rioting, as the heat claimed hundreds of lives.
Also in June, Central Europe cooked in unseasonably extreme heat, with Berlin experiencing temperatures over 32 degrees Celsius, which is more than 12 degrees hotter than normal.
At the same time, at least four people died in Japan, and another 1,637 were hospitalized as temperatures reached nearly 38 degrees Celsius.
NASA is heightening its efforts to monitor ACD’s impacts on the planet; recently, it launched the first spacecraft dedicated solely to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide.
The spacecraft will have plenty to study, since earth’s current carbon dioxide concentration is now the longest ever in recorded history.
A recent report by the National Resource Defense Council warned that summers in the future are likely to bring increased suffering, with more poison ivy and biting insects, and decreasing quality of air and water.
As farmers struggle to cope with increasing demands for food as the global population continues to swell, they are moving towards growing crops designed to meet these needs as well as withstand more extreme climate conditions. However, a warning by an agricultural research group shows they may inadvertently be increasing global malnutrition by these efforts. “When I was young, we used to feed on amaranth vegetables, guava fruits, wild berries, jackfruits and many other crops that used to grow wild in our area. But today, all these crops are not easily available because people have cleared the fields to plant high yielding crops such as kales and cabbages which I am told have inferior nutritional values,” Denzel Niyirora, a primary school teacher in Kigali, said in the report.
The stunning desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park is now in jeopardy, as Joshua trees are now beginning to die out due to ACD.
Another study, this one published in the journal Polar Biology, revealed that birds up on Alaska’s North Slope are nesting earlier in order to keep apace with earlier snowmelt.
Antarctic emperor penguin colonies could decline by more than half in under 100 years, according to a recent study – and another showed that at least two Antarctic penguin species are losing ground in their fight for survival amidst the increasing impacts of ACD, as the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming regions on earth. The scientists who authored the report warned that these penguins’ fate is only one example of this type of impact from ACD on the planet’s species, and warned that they “expect many more will be identified as global warming proceeds and biodiversity declines.”
Given that the planetary oceans absorb approximately 90 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions, it should come as no surprise that they are in great peril.
This is confirmed by a recent report that shows the world’s oceans are on the brink of collapse, and in need of rescue within five years, if it’s not already too late.
As the macro-outlook is bleak, the micro perspective sheds light on the reasons why.
In Cambodia, Tonle Sap Lake is one of the most productive freshwater ecosystems on earth. However, it is also in grave danger from overfishing, the destruction of its mangrove forests, an upstream dam and dry seasons that are growing both longer and hotter due to ACD.
Anomalies in the planet’s marine life continue. A 120-foot-long jellyfish is undergoing massive blooms and taking over wider swaths of ocean as the seas warm from ACD.
The Pacific island group of Kiribati – home to 100,000 people – is literally disappearing underwater, as rising sea levels swallow the land. In fact, Kiribati’s president recently purchased eight square miles of land 1,200 miles away on Fiji’s second largest island, in order to have a plan B for the residents of his disappearing country.
Closer to home here in the United States, most of the families living on Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, have been forced to flee their multi-generational home due to rising sea levels, increasingly powerful storms, and coastal erosion hurried along by oil drilling and levee projects.
Looking at the bigger picture, a recently released US climate report revealed that at least half a trillion dollars of property in the country will be underwater by 2100 due to rising seas.
Meanwhile, the tropical region of the planet, which covers 130 countries and territories around the equator, is expanding and heating up as ACD progresses.
Residential neighborhoods in Oakland, California – near the coast – are likely to be flooded by both rising seas and increasingly intense storms, according to ecologists and local area planners.
On the East Coast, ocean acidification from ACD, along with lowered oxygen in estuaries, are threatening South Carolina’s coastal marine life and the seafood industry that depends upon it.
Record-setting “100-year” flooding events in the US Midwest are now becoming more the rule than the exception, thanks to ACD.
Even Fairbanks, Alaska received one-quarter of its total average annual rainfall in a 24-hour period earlier this summer – not long after the area had already received roughly half its average annual rainfall in just a two-week period.
Rising sea levels are gobbling up the coast of Virginia so quickly now that partisan political debate over ACD is also falling by the wayside, as both Republicans and Democrats are working together to figure out what to do about the crisis.
Reuters released a report showing how “Coastal flooding along the densely populated Eastern Seaboard of the United States has surged in recent years . . . with the number of days a year that tidal waters reached or exceeded NOAA flood thresholds more than tripling in many places during the past four decades.”
Flooding from rising seas is already having a massive impact in many other disparate areas of the world: After torrential rain and flooding killed at least a dozen people in Bulgaria this summer, the country continues to struggle with damage from the flooding as it begins to tally the economic costs of the disasters.
In China, rain and flooding plunged large areas of the Jiangxi and Hunan Provinces into emergency response mode. Hundreds of thousands were impacted.
The region of the globe bordering the Indian Ocean stretching from Indonesia to Kenya is now seen as being another bulls-eye target for ACD, as the impacts there are expected to triple the frequency of both drought and flooding in the coming decades, according to a recent study.
Another study revealed how dust in the wind, of which there is much more than usual, due to spreading drought, is quickening the melting of Greenland’s embattled ice sheet, which is already losing somewhere between 200 to 450 billion tons of ice annually. The study showed that increased dust on the ice will contribute towards another 27 billion tons of ice lost.
Down in Antarctica, rising temperatures are causing a species of moss to thrive, at the detriment of other marine creatures in that fragile ecosystem.
Up in the Arctic, the shrinking ice cap is causing drastic changes to be made in the upcoming 10th edition of the National Geographic Atlas of the World. Geographers with the organization say it is the most striking change ever seen in the history of the publication.
A UK science team predicted that this year’s minimum sea ice extent will likely be similar to last year’s, which is bad news for the ever-shrinking ice cap. Many scientists now predict the ice cap will begin to vanish entirely for short periods of the summer beginning next year.
Canada’s recently released national climate assessment revealed how the country is struggling with melting permafrost as ACD progresses. One example of this occurred in 2006 when the reduced ice layer of ice roads forced a diamond mine to fly in fuel rather than transport it over the melted ice roads, at an additional cost of $11.25 million.
Arctic birds’ breeding calendars are also being impacted. As ACD causes earlier Arctic melting each season, researchers are now warning of long-ranging adverse impacts on the breeding success of migratory birds there.
In addition to the aforementioned dust causing the Greenland ice sheet to melt faster, industrial dust, pollutants and soil, blown over thousands of miles around the globe, are settling on ice sheets from the Himalaya to the Arctic, causing them to melt faster.
At the same time, multi-year drought continues to take a massive toll across millions of acres across the central and western United States. It has caused millions of acres of federal rangeland to turn into dust, and has left a massive swath of land reaching from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains desolated. ACD, invasive plants and now continuously record-breaking wildfire seasons have brought ranchers to the breaking point across the West.
Drought continues to drive up food prices across the United States, and particularly prices of produce grown in California’s Central Valley. As usual, it is the poor who suffer the most, as increasing food prices, growing unemployment and more challenging access to clean water continue to escalate their struggle to survive.
California’s drought continues to have a massive and myriad impact across the state, as a staggering one-third of the state entered into the worst stage of drought. Even colonies of honeybees are collapsing due, in part, to there being far less natural forage needed to make their honey.
The snowpack in California is dramatically diminished as well. While snowpack has historically provided one-third of the state’s water supply, after three years of very low snowfall, battles have begun within the state over how to share the decreasing water from what used to be a massive, frozen reservoir of water.
The drought in Oklahoma is raising the specter of a return to the nightmarish dust bowl conditions there in the 1930s.
Recently, and for the first time, the state of Arizona has warned that water shortages could hit Tucson and Phoenix as soon as five years from now due to ongoing drought, increasing demand for water and declining water levels in Lake Mead.
This is a particularly bad outlook, given that the Lake Mead reservoir, the largest in the country, dropped to its lowest level since it was filled in the 1930s. Its decline is reflective of 14 years of ongoing drought, coupled with an increasing disparity between the natural flow rate of the Colorado River that feeds it and the ever-increasing demands for its water from the cities and farms of the increasingly arid Southwest.
Given the now chronic water crises in both Arizona and California, the next water war between the two states looms large. The one-two punch of ACD and overconsumption has combined to find the Colorado River, upon which both states heavily rely, in long-term decline.
Yet it is not just Arizona and California that are experiencing an ongoing water crisis due to ACD impacts – it is the entire southwestern United States. The naturally dry region is now experiencing dramatically extreme impacts that scientists are linkingto ACD.
The water crisis spawned by ACD continues to reverberate globally.
North Korea even recently mobilized its army in order to protect crops as the country’s reservoirs, streams and rivers ran dry amidst a long-term drought. The army was tasked with making sure residents did not take more than their standard allotment of water.
The converging crises of the ongoing global population explosion, the accompanying burgeoning middle class, and increasingly dramatic impacts caused by ACD is straining global water supplies more than ever before, causing governments to examine how to manage populations in a world with less and less water.
A recent report provides a rather apocalyptic forecast for people living in Arizona: It predicts diminishing crop production, escalating electricity bills and thousands of people dying of extreme heat in that state alone.
In fact, another report from the Natural Resources Defense Council found experts predicting that excessive heat generated from ACD will likely kill more than 150,000 Americans by the end of the century, and that is only in the 40 largest cities in the country.
Poor air quality – and the diseases it triggers – are some of the main reasons why public health experts in Canada now believe that ACD is the most critical health issue facing Canadians.
Another recent study shows, unequivocally, that city-dwellers around the world should expect more polluted air that lingers in their metropolis for days on end, as a result of ACD continuing to change wind and rainfall patterns across the planet.
As heat and humidity increase with the growing impacts of ACD, we can now expect to see life-altering results across southern US cities, as has long been predicted. However, we can expect this in our larger northern cities as well, including Seattle, Chicago and New York; the intensifications are on course to make these areas unsuitable for outdoor activity during the summer.
Recently generated predictive mapping shows how many extremely hot days you might have to suffer through when you are older. These show clearly that if we continue along with business as usual – refusing to address ACD with the war-time-level response warranted to mitigate the damage – those being born now who will be here in 2100, will be experiencing heat extremes unlike anything we’ve had to date when they venture outside in the summer.
Lastly for our air section, June was the third month in a row with global average carbon dioxide levels above 400 parts per million. Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere haven’t been this high in somewhere between 800,000 and 15 million years.
A new study published in Nature Geoscience revealed how increasing frequency and severity of forest fires across the planet are accelerating the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, as soot landing on the ice reduces its reflectivity. Melting at ever increasing speed, if the entire Greenland ice sheet melts, sea levels will rise 24 feet globally.
Down in Australia, the southern region of the country can now expect drier winters as a new study linked drying trends there, which have been occurring over the last few decades, to ACD.
On the other side of the globe, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, the region is battling its worst fires since the 1990s, bringing attention to the likelihood that ACD is amplifying the severity of northern wildfires.
A recently published global atlas of deaths and economic losses caused by wildfires, drought, flooding and other ACD-augmented weather extremes, revealed how such disasters are increasing worldwide, setting back development projects by years, if not decades, according to its publishers.
Denial and Reality
Never underestimate the power of denial.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Florida) was asked by an MSNBC journalist if he was concerned about the fact that most voters believe scientists on the issue of ACD. His response, a page out of the Republican deniers handbook, is particularly impressive:
Miller: It changes. It gets hot; it gets cold. It’s done it for as long as we have measured the climate.
MSNBC: But man-made, isn’t that the question?
Miller: Then why did the dinosaurs go extinct? Were there men that were causing – were there cars running around at that point, that were causing global warming? No. The climate has changed since earth was created.
Another impressive act of denial came from prominent Kentucky State Senate Majority Whip Republican Brandon Smith. At a recent hearing, Smith argued that carbon emissions from coal burning power plants couldn’t possibly be causing ACD because Mars is also experiencing a global temperature rise, and there are no coal plants generating carbon emissions on Mars. He even stated that Mars was the same temperature of Earth.
“I think that in academia, we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that,” Smith said.
On average, the temperature on Mars is about minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Yet there are no coal mines on Mars; there’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of,” he added. “So I think what we’re looking at is something much greater than what we’re going to do.”
During a recent interview on CNBC, Princeton University professor and chairman of the Marshall Institute William Happer was called out on the fact that ExxonMobil had provided nearly $1 million for the Institute.
Happer compared the “hype” about ACD to the Holocaust, and when asked about his 2009 comparison of climate science to Nazi propaganda, he said, “The comment I made was, the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.”
Happer, who was introduced as an “industry expert” on the program, has not published one peer-reviewed paper on ACD.
The ACD-denier group that supports politicians and “scientists” of this type, Heartland (a free-market think tank with a $6 million annual budget) hosted a July conference in Las Vegas for deniers. One of Heartland’s former funders is ExxonMobil, and one of the panels at the conference was titled, “Global Warming As a Social Movement.” The leaders of the conference vowed to “keep doubt alive.”
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott used a current trip abroad to attempt to build support for a coalition aimed at derailing international efforts towards dealing with ACD.
He is simply following the lead of former Prime Minister John Howard, who teamed up with former US President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to form a climate-denial triumvirate whose goal was to stop efforts aimed at dealing with ACD, in addition to working actively to undermine the Kyoto Protocol.
Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch has said that ACD should be approached with great skepticism. He said that if global temperatures increased 3 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years, “At the very most one of those [degrees] would be manmade.” He did not provide the science he used to generate this calculation.
In Canada, Vancouver-based Pacific Future Energy Corporation claimed that a $10 billion oil sands refinery it wants to build on the coast of British Columbia would be the “world’s greenest.”
Miami, a low-lying city literally on the front lines of ACD impacts, is being inundated by rising sea levels as its predominantly Republican leadership – made up of ACD deniers – are choosing to ignore the facts and continue forward with major coastal construction projects.
Back to reality, the BBC recently ordered its journalists to cease giving any more TV airtime to ACD deniers.
Brenton County, Oregon has created a Climate Change Adaptation Plan that provides strategies for the communities there to deal with future impacts of ACD.
Despite the millions of dollars annually being pumped into ACD denial campaigns, a recent poll shows that by a 2-to-1 margin, Americans would be willing to pay more to combat ACD impacts, and most would also vote to support a candidate who aims to address the issue.
Another recent report on the economic costs that ACD is expected to generate in the United States over the next 25 years pegged an estimate well into the hundreds of billions of dollars by 2100. Property losses from hurricanes and coastal storms are expected to total around $35 billion, crop yields are expected to decline by 14 percent, and increased electricity costs to keep people cooler are expected to increase by $12 billion annually, to name a few examples.
The bipartisan report also noted that more than a million coastal homes and businesses could flood repeatedly before ultimately being destroyed.
The World Council on Churches, a group that represents more than half a billion Christians, announced that it would pull all its investments out of fossil fuels because the investments were no longer “ethical.”
US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told reporters recently that she is witnessing ACD’s impacts in practically every national park she visits.
A June report by the UN University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security warned that ACD-driven mass migrations are already happening, and urged countries to immediately create adaption plans to resettle populations and avoid conflict.
For anyone who wonders how much impact humans have on the planet on a daily basis, take a few moments to ponder what just the impact of commercial airline emissions are in a 24-hour period by watching this astounding video.
Lastly, a landmark study released in June by an international group of scientists concluded that Earth is on the brink of a mass extinction event comparable in scale to that which caused the dinosaurs to go extinct 65 million years ago.
The study says extinction rates are now 1,000 times higher than normal, and pegged ACD as the driving cause.