New Research Shows Global Warming Could Turn Tropics Into a Sweltering Dead Zone

New research out of Purdue University finds that a global warming event called the PETM made parts of the tropics too hot for living organisms to survive. And though the PETM happened many millions of years ago, these new scientific revelations are pertinent to the present day. The reason is that human activity in the form of fossil fuel burning is now rapidly causing the globe to heat up. And such warming, if it continues, could well turn large sections of the tropics into a dead zone.

PETM — Warm-up Sparks Global Upheaval, Extinction

The PETM was a big global warm up that happened 56 million years ago as the Paleocene epoch passed into the Eocene. It is numbered as one of many hothouse extinctions occurring in the geological record. And it is generally thought to have been one of the milder such events — especially when compared to the biosphere wrecking ball that was the Permian.

(NASA tool shows that business as usual greenhouse gas emissions would force average maximum July temperatures over large sections of the world to warm to 40-45 C [104-113 F] by the 2090s. For many regions, such a high degree of heat is incompatible with crops and human habitability. In the deep past, hothouse events were found, in recent research, to render large sections of the tropics uninhabitable to most forms of life. Image source: NASA.)

During the PETM, global temperatures jumped by 5 degrees Celsius above an already warm base-line over the course of about 6,000 years. And research indicates that the resulting heat stress set off massive wildfires, forced land animal species to move pole-ward, and killed off a big chunk of the ocean’s bottom dwelling foraminifera.

Parts of the Tropical Biosphere Seem to Have Died

However, past scientific consensus held that the tropics still managed to support life during the PETM due to a kind of thermostat-like heat regulation preventing the equatorial region from becoming too warm. Temperatures were thought to have remained within a range that would have continued to support life in this lower latitude zone. So it was only thought that the tropics experienced die-offs during ancient and more intense warming events like the Permain of 250 million years ago.

The new research by Purdue scientists calls that theory into question. Their findings show that temperatures crossed a key threshold — becoming too hot to support life throughout sections of the tropics and rendering large areas uninhabitable.

Matthew Huber, professor in the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Department at Purdue University and study co-author notes:

“The records produced in this study indicate that when the tropics warmed that last little bit, a threshold was passed and parts of the tropical biosphere seems to have died. This is the first time that we’ve found really good information, in a very detailed way, where we saw major changes in the tropics directly associated with warming past a key threshold in the past 60 million years.”

Half of Human Population Lives and Farms in the Tropics

During the present day, about half the human population, a good chunk of the world’s life forms, and a considerable amount of global farming occupies the tropics. However, according to recent research by the Max Planck Institute, parts of the tropical zone could be rendered basically uninhabitable to human beings by mid Century as the Earth heats up due to fossil fuel burning. And already, the critical region of Equatorial Africa and the adjacent Middle East are experiencing record droughts, water stress, and instances of hunger, famine and related food insecurity as global temperatures rise to 1 C or more above 1880s averages.

(Climate zone habitability is a function of what forms of life can exist in a given region at a given range of temperatures. Warming in the tropics is expected to impact human habitability by mid Century. Warming, however, is also expected to impact crop yields well into the middle latitudes. U.S. food production is therefore likely to be negatively impacted by rising global temperatures. Video source: Peter Carter.)

The serious concern is that as the world warms up — a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scope could emerge as whole countries become unable to support their populations. As entire regions become too hot to live in. And as major swaths of global farmland become non-productive.

The present narrative hints that human civilization can somehow adapt by shifting farm zones northward. However, it’s worth noting that boreal regions do not support the same highly productive soils as the tropical and temperate zones that are now under threat due to rising temperatures. In addition, the nations of the world have thus far shown considerable reluctance to accepting refugee populations from destabilized zones. And as the world heats up, desperation will only increase as waves of refugees seek to remove themselves from what could well become a kind of global warming produced dead zone.

The Perdue research underscores a very real risk that we are now facing. It shows that the tropics did not self regulate temperature in a range conducive for life during the PETM. And these findings reinforce present temperature and soil moisture research trends placing human habitability and crop production under threat due to fossil fuel based warming this Century.

(UDATED)

Links:

Global Warming Can Breach Limits for Life

Climate Impacts of the PETM

NASA

Peter Carter

Hat tip to Suzzanne

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

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87 Comments

    • Thanks for the kind words. Although, for Pruitt, I have nothing for him but well-deserved vitriol.

      Scott Pruitt is one of the chief villains of our age. He is the anti-EPA. He is also a liar. He is a perfect example of why the Trump Admin has earned our resistance 100 percent. There is no capitulating with fossil fuel shills who misrepresent basic science. They will put us on a fast track to a wrecked world.

      Reply
  1. Rick Hill

     /  March 10, 2017

    Robert, as always, thank you for all that you do… I try to remain positive but I find it increasingly difficult. As you may recall, I have been at this business for many moons and the news gets continually worse… Amazing that some of my coworkers believe that the Bay can be saved and that all and all things are getting better… WTF?

    Reply
    • It’s tough. But we’ve got to show leadership and keep our chins up. There are two sides to this story. The threat side, which we cover here, seems overwhelming. But the response side is the other part. And though the response may seem inadequate now, there are a few glimmers of what might seem to be hope.

      Churchill provides food for thought:

      “Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

      Reply
  2. Ailsa

     /  March 10, 2017

    Pain and love…

    Our desperate plight. It hurts so much. We all flounder and flail.

    I found here a place to understand, to find understanding.
    I found here a place of fellow lost and/or questing souls.

    Scribblers unafraid to look, to witness, to care and share.
    Scribblers raging, lashing out, hurting each other.

    Its all happening harder, faster, than we ever imagined.
    F**k it, onward, all we can do is try.

    Reply
    • Suthnsun

       /  March 10, 2017

      Too few who understand, fewer still who act, fewer still who act judiciously and with knowledge and wisdom. Inner values, purely self referencing, are all we have individually. Earth needs H to find them en masse.
      Thanks for your poem.

      Reply
  3. climatehawk1

     /  March 10, 2017

    Tweet scheduled. Btw, should be Max PlanCk.

    Reply
  4. wili

     /  March 10, 2017

    I t should be noted that there are already more people displace than there were after the last World War. Yet these 60 some million displaced humans are but the first trickle compared to what is coming. And the pressure from this ‘trickle’ has already been partly to largely responsible for a rise in fascism in Europe, the US, and beyond.

    (Please note that I in no way intend to blame refugees and other displaced folks for this explosion of hatred–just saying that this seems to be a, perhaps the, dominant reaction in so many countries, even though it is still very, very early days.)

    Reply
  5. Jimbot

     /  March 10, 2017

    Thanks for keeping people up to the minute on all the breaking research, RS.

    So it looks as if the climate modelling corps have chosen a newer updated future time before absolute catastrophe takes effect. 2090 instead of 2100. Very progressive of them. Would this be after the Arctic ice has disappeared in 2070? I guess they’re trying to bring everyone around gradually.

    I’ve been thinking of referring to deniers as 1st Stagers. You know, in the 5 Stages of grief thing.

    Reply
    • DrTskoul

       /  March 10, 2017

      I guess u have better info on when the catastrophe will happen?

      Reply
      • It’s a matter of degrees and collapse pressure. There is no absolute start date. We are in the period of low to moderate collapse pressure now. I think things will be rather rough by the 2030s on the present track. Although it’s pretty clear that the situation right now isn’t great. People may be tempted to try to set an absolute date. But given how varied the impacts of climate change are, we should resist that impulse, which I think was kinda your point.

        Reply
      • Jimbot

         /  March 10, 2017

        DrTskoul,
        Yes, I have no information of my own, just opinion and following some of the more out-spoken field researchers. I was trying to be facetious about the ice all disappearing by 2070, and I meant to say Arctic Sea Ice. According to Peter Wadhams this will happen much sooner, probably before 2030. You can extrapolate this as a linear change on the sea ice volume charts. Just the change in albedo (reflectivity) alone will raise the temperature forcing to a much higher level ( and disregarding the highly likely major increase in methane release ). I haven’t read Farewell to Ice yet but I am planning to order a copy.

        Reply
    • I set the model for 2090 as an example. So I wouldn’t read too much into that dart on the board. It’s interactive and you can set for RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5 or for any date from 2010 to 2100.

      Reply
      • Jimbot

         /  March 10, 2017

        Thanks for the clarification, RS. Yes, it looked interactive, I should have tested it.

        Well, hopefully there will still be some circulation in the oceans, between colder and warmer regions and depths. Apparently this is not certain though. There is a lot of cooler water in the deep oceans. Some tropical island nations might be more survivable due to ocean temperatures lagging what will likely happen with the land temperatures in the interiors of the continents.

        Robert, I was wondering if you have covered the global dimming effect in any previous posts. This is the present cooling we experience due to all the particles we put up in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels acting as a sort of umbrella and reflecting heat back out into space. This is quite a dilemma, since we have a large temperature rise already baked in as soon as we stop burning fossil fuels. We would have to compensate for this somehow as we changed over to renewables, if such a thing were possible.

        Related to this is the EROEI ( Energy Returned On Energy Invested ) of crude oil. This keeps decreasing as we use all the easy to get and easy to refine stuff. So, before long it will be uneconomical to continue extracting a significant percentage of the oil we now depend on to run the whole show, including grow, warehouse and deliver food. As this happens there will be less business and less demand for crude, another feedback loop which will cause extra heating due to decrease of the global dimming effect.

        Damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

        Reply
        • Aerosols account for about 0.6 Watts per meter squared of negative feedback. We are at RCP 2.9 now. Remove aerosols and we get to RCP 3.5 or thereabouts. Keep burning fossil fuels and we get to RCP 8.5.

          So what we can very clearly say is that we are absolutely damned if we don’t. That we need to stop fossil fuel burning as soon as possible. And that the aerosol masked portion is a rather small fraction of even the present day forcing. The honest question I think we can pretty clearly answer is would we rather have an RCP 3.5 or 4.5 scenario (cessation of burning) or an RCP 8.5 scenario (continued burning)? Any sane person would ID the lower RCP number which, though rough, may be survivable.

  6. Greg

     /  March 10, 2017

    Robert, great post, which reminds me…please contact me at my email. A follow up to share regarding writing opportunity.

    Reply
  7. redskylite

     /  March 10, 2017

    Thanks for highlighting the research from Purdue University and we can see things are getting grimmer around the tropics in many parts, without going back to the PETM.

    This story from Thompson Reuters emphasizes the plight and it doesn’t bode well for the future.

    Data gathered in Sudan show that temperatures between 2000 and 2009 were between 0.8 degrees Celsius and 1.6 degrees Celsius warmer than they were from 1960 to 1969, while rainfall has reduced and become erratic.

    “Sometimes there comes a very, very strong rain, sometimes even over 500 ml, and people think it will be a very good season and start planting, and then there’s no rain,”

    “People are started to realise physically that something is happening,”

    http://news.trust.org/item/20170309125859-69etf/

    Reply
    • Suzanne

       /  March 10, 2017

      Thank you. A must read article. Why? Because it is another example of how Sudan has been a “canary in the coal mine” as to the effects of CC….for decades. But our Western arrogance and greed refused to “see”.
      I found this small article telling. The planet has been telling us for decades what was coming but we were too busy paying attention to “shiny objects”. (sigh)

      Reply
    • Tweet scheduled on this, thanks.

      Reply
  8. Ryan in New England

     /  March 10, 2017

    This is off topic, but I feel if I share my thoughts/feelings in this forum there will be those who can relate. I recently experienced a pretty severe panic attack, which is a very rare event for me personally. This was the first time, however, that I suffered a panic attack from nothing more than realistically assessing our current situation regarding climate change. After reading about Scott Pruitt claiming CO2 doesn’t cause global warming (anyone with half a brain knew he was in the denier camp) the scale and magnitude of the coming devastation suddenly overwhelmed me. The realization that,as a nation, we will not even admit that climate change is real again until 2020, and maybe longer than that. 2020! When I was reading about climate change in the 1990s the year 2020 felt like a far off future, a future that would surely be powered by renewables while we decreased emissions. I believed there was no way that the US would ignore reality and embrace a path of global self destruction.

    But here we are, knocking on the door of 2020, and we have the most ignorant, incompetent and anti-science administration/leaders that anyone could ever imagine. We are pulling the last remaining pockets of fossilized sunlight from the Earth and burning them with total recklessness. Our current government is set on repealing all environmental regulations, and believes corporations should be free to pollute as they see fit.

    The globe is already reeling from the devastating effects climate change, with decades of guaranteed warming still to come. The Arctic ice cap is already gone, whether it’s this summer or a few years from now. Corals are dying throughout the world’s oceans, and will certainly become extinct by the time the full warming potential from our emissions is realized. The acidity of the oceans is rising to the point that sea creatures that build shells are dying, and this will only get worse. Floods and fires are increasing to scales previously unseen, and extreme weather is becoming more frequent and more powerful. Drought is spreading to all corners of the map, with famine and economic devastation following close behind. Forests are disappearing from landscapes far and wide, often because of the effects of climate change. Glaciers are all in rapid retreat, sending their water to the oceans, contributing to ever greater sea level rise…which will inundate coastal cities and vast expanses of low lying farmland. And now we have feedback loops contributing their own CO2/methane, and these will only get worse. So many changes, and this is just the beginning.

    The scariest part for me is that we are now guaranteeing that we will never achieve the target of 2C. It would be almost impossible if the world suddenly came to its senses and rapidly decreased emissions…which is the exact opposite of what is occurring. We are set to increase our emissions further, and ignore climate change altogether. We are beyond what the worst case projections used to be, and are trying like hell to make things worse. The future is here, and it is horrible beyond my worst nightmares. We are literally destroying the biosphere, our only home and the one place in the universe we know for sure has life. And the troglodytes that support Trump and his band of lunatics cheer for their destruction, and the elimination of any positive future for their progeny.

    I always look for positive signs and hope for the best, but it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the devastating reality crashing down around me. At some point we’re going to have to say the deniers won, and we were unable to reduce emissions and prevent rapid climate change. I feel like that point is getting really close.

    Reply
    • Ryan in New England

       /  March 10, 2017

      But don’t misunderstand…I will NEVER quit fighting and never give up, no matter how bad things get.

      Reply
      • I hope it doesn’t have to go so far. But given the economic and political conflicts that are now rapidly worsening and given the rising level of corruption within and harmful foreign fossil fuel related influence over western governments, the fight may shift to more open conflict and the active toppling of fossil fuel interests in political power. When governments lack morality, they lack legitimacy. Corrupt powers are forced to lie and intimidate to maintain that power. But lies and intimidation and the abuses that often go along with them lead to active revolt. The people are in the process of losing so very many essential and helpful things. And there are many in the US who are more aware than the present narrative lends credence to.

        We should be very clear that the present US government appears to be undergoing a serious internal crisis in which the interests of a foreign power and fossil fuel aligned business are attempting to supplant the interests of the American people. The harmful faction is obviously influenced by a foreign power to the point that it actively attacks national security functions like the CIA or stands by in a way that appears to abet and enable attacks from the foreign power surrogate Wikileaks. There’s no corollary for such a high level of apparently traitorous activity by a sitting President and his administration. Nor is there for the apparent enablement by at least a decent number of republicans.

        And make no mistake, the chief reasons why Russia continues to level these attacks are to weaken the US, to undermine a global liberal order that is now aiming to considerably reduce fossil fuel emissions (and fossil fuel consumption by extension), and to force policies that will allow it to produce more fossil fuels.

        This may well be a cyber war of spies and agents and info dumps by surrogate international criminals like Assange. But it is also a climate war — for the lines are as drawn between those fighting for and against climate solutions as they are between people who seek to defend America and those fighting to weaken her.

        Reply
    • Suzanne

       /  March 10, 2017

      Ryan…I hear you. I feel your pain. I have had dark days in the past over CC, but since November 8th…the level of anxiety I feel now, on most days is Code Red. The only thing that keeps me from complete despair has been taking action. I literally now spend hours each day planning with different grassroots groups on how best to take on this Abomination and his Evil Regime. Making calls and signing petitions. Keeping informed with the latest atrocities. Yes, taking action (which I know you and everyone here are doing)…helps, but it does not cure the panic. There have been days, that despite taking a walk, or meditating to relieve the anxiety…I still feel so much pain, I wonder what this is doing to my physical health, and to the physical health of everyone in this fight. My husband and I have had to make a pact with one another to say “time out” on talking about what is going on because it can lead to such anxiety. It has affected relationships with people in our lives that we just cannot talk to any longer because they voted for this Abomination.

      I guess the point I am trying to make Ryan is you are not alone. I am glad you shared your feelings in this comment. Sometimes reaching out whether in the real world or the virtual world can help to alleviate the anxiety and stress. I wish we could all get together for a coffee in the real world, where we could all get a “real” hug. The best I can do in this virtual world is give you a verbal hug, which isn’t as effective..but here it is. I care about you, cherish you and you are not alone. Hang in there and take care of yourself…because this is a marathon not a sprint, and I fear we haven’t even hit “the wall”.

      Reply
      • Shawn Redmond

         /  March 10, 2017

        The following two links are not going to help Ryan, so maybe wait awhile to read them, if at all. The first one is from a site that believes we can’t possibly due without FF. The article however is more about production food or not!
        The second one is fairly obvious but I’m not sure that I support geoengineering of any kind in light of what we’ve already managed to accomplish.

        http://energyskeptic.com/2017/ugo-bardi-on-collapse/
        The Seneca Effect: Decline is faster than growth.

        There’s a common perception that as our society reaches a peak to the degree of complexity it can sustain, we will gradually return to a lower level of complexity that preceded it. However, for us to be able to return to a lower level of complexity typically requires us to have maintained the technologies that enabled the previous level of complexity, as well as relevant knowledge of the skills we utilized to sustain the previous level of complexity.

        Population. One major problem we face is that most people simply don’t live in places where food is grown to feed them. Saudi Arabia imports 80% of its food, Kuwait 91%, Qatar 97%. Japan’s caloric self-sufficiency is estimated at 39%. It’s simply not possible, without mass migration across continents, for people to live in those places where their food is produced and participate in food production. This would require mass migration to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Russia.

        http://www.orgs-evolution-knowledge.net/Index/Essays/ClimateEmergency/Start%20of%20Runaway%20Warming.html
        Authors conclusion:
        My conclusion from what appears to be undeniable evidence is that we have already passed the tipping point where we had any hope of stopping warming at 2 or even 3 °C, and urgently need to focus on greatly improving our scientific understanding and learning learning how to live with and survive decades of rapid heating, and to develop global geoengineering tools to actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere before most life on the planet (including ourselves) is exterminated heat stroke and starvation in collapsing ecosystems.

        Reply
        • Cate

           /  March 10, 2017

          Isn’t there something like only 60 years of productive capability left in the world’s soils at the current rate of soil degradation? By 2080, hydroponics will be everywhere I suppose, although I would guess that it’s going to he hard to grow wheat and other cereals hydroponically…..? And I’m guessing that mass production of cereals in North America can’t really move much farther north because of the Canadian shield?

        • Cate

           /  March 10, 2017

          Shawn, re the Seneca effect, yes, I tend to agree that eventually, the hunter-gatherer model of food supply will follow what we’ve got. At the moment, people are turning to growing their own, but even now, it’s becoming difficult to predict when to plant, with these early or fake springs and killing frosts, both late and early. I expect that backyard greenhouses are the next must-have in my neck of the woods. The thing about hunter-gathering is that food species in the wild will be affected too, and everything from berries and mushrooms to moose will be moving—or disappearing— because there won’t be much time to adapt.

        • Shawn Redmond

           /  March 10, 2017

          Cate there is some room to move north in Man., Sask. and Alt. but not enough to off set the losses we are going to experience in the U.S. Remember a good portion of the U.S. mid west gets two crops per season. The combine harvesters start in the south and mow north. Once they reach a certain point north they turn around and mow their way south again. That’s over simplified but you get the point. When the heat in the centre of the continents starts to hurt the bushel per acre numbers and/or the ability to get two crops per year we’ll all feel that. 60 years may also be optimistic with increased heat the ability to take up nutrients will suffer no matter how much is supplemented. Irrigation will have to be increased and evaporation will be on the rise due to added heat. The increase in evaporation will increase the salinity of the soils sooner. From here on everything we do with the BAU model is in effect driving another nail in our own coffin. Industrial mono cropping has left us exposed to existential risk that has been down played by the big industry that is supported by this type of agriculture.

        • Shawn Redmond

           /  March 10, 2017

          Cate, I’ve had a backyard greenhouse since the late eighties. For several decades I also had a small herd of Nubian goats for milk and meat as well as a variety of fowl I only recently stopped with the animals. I also had a small herd of Scottish highland cattle. The heritage breeds are always better at surviving in less than optimal conditions and tend to produce a variety of goods. I still have a greenhouse. Producing your own food on marginal land is a challenge to say the least. It does have its rewards however if your so inclined. The main advantage I have from it now is the knowledge about just what’s involved in raising your own anything. Without the manure input from my animals I’m now gathering seaweed from the shore for soil additives. Trying to stay away from FF produced things as much as possible. Until I get this new piece of ground up and running some fertilizers will be unavoidable. It takes a few years to get ground built up with organics. This is something that is lost on a lot off the uninitiated.

        • Jeremy in Wales

           /  March 10, 2017

          Think the UK is about 60% caloric self-sufficiency, with a population of roughly 65 million. Now I would expect that figure includes a large amount of waste, plus to many of us eat far more than we actually require. In WWII the UK had to instigate food rationing which lasted 14 years – if you have a semblance of order such systems can stretch supplies and probably gives a healthier population. Allotments in cities provided a huge amount of food and Cuba managed the same in the 1990s.
          That is not to say it is desirable but if a people decide to act with decisiveness then many things are possible.
          The seneca affect is more serious but will vary from place to place dependent upon redundancies in the systems, for example in compact cities walking/cycling is an alternative to public transport which is an alternative to the car – that might work in Cardiff or Oxford but is more difficult in London and probably even less so in Phoenix Arizona.
          Without trying to undermine the arguments, because they are very real problems, I think it does underestimate social connections whereby we try to keep things together for as long as possible. The thing that really does lead to breakdown – disease – see the Justinian Plague in Europe 540AD.

        • I agree in that most collapse analysis tend to look at the system and at societies as static. To get a reliable picture of whether collapse proceeds, you need to add in how societies respond. You have negative responses — as we have seen with Trump and in various right-wing governments around the world. And you have a number of positive responses — as we have seen in various cities and in places like California and Denmark and, recently, Canada (more positive than less, but still a mixed bag).

          Generally, societies that manage to work together and that include an element of individual sacrifice for the good of everyone tend to be more resilient and societies that cannot let go of wealth and resource hoarding or eject bad actors tend to be less resilient.

        • So atmospheric carbon capture is one of the less looney toons geo-engineering options. My opinion is that we are going to need that going forward. Of course, it will need to be rationally regulated so as not to produce other unintended consequences.

      • Suzanne, you got started on Eckhart Tolle. I urge you to spend a little time on him (10 minutes?) each day. Very helpful.

        Reply
    • Becky

       /  March 11, 2017

      Ryan, I share your anxiety and fears. The damage that can be done with four years of this administration is overwhelming and tragic. I’ve been discouraged and depressed and wondering why I bother to hang my laundry all over the house on clothes racks. I might as well use my clothes dryer. WTF.

      Reply
    • 1) 3C better than 4C, 4C better than 5C. There will never be a point when it no longer makes sense to
      2) Resist.

      Reply
    • Amy

       /  March 12, 2017

      I’m with you Ryan. We are hell bent on destroying our world. It looks like we will succeed. I only feel bad we are taking all the other creatures down with us. Life will survive in some form, and continue to evolve over millions of years, ideally without us. The world will be a better place without humans.

      Reply
    • mulga mumblebrain

       /  March 14, 2017

      The one silver lining is that the sort of insane Rightwing denialism and contempt for science, rationality and human decency is basically an Anglosphere Evil. In China, India, Germany and much of the world, they understand science and recognise reality. Once the Trump circus cum asylum self-destructs, the USA may return to sanity. My God, perhaps even Australia will do so. If sane US states and cities work against denialism, that will help, too.

      Reply
  9. Cate

     /  March 10, 2017

    Whew. One hell of a post, RS. It’s getting late in the day to turn this juggernaut around, and every minute we delay makes it harder and harder.

    As for that moron Pruitt, he said something else that got overlooked. He said it’s possible to be pro-environment and pro-growth—this is in the context of oil extraction, of course. In Canada, we get this mantra all the time from Pipeline-Lovin’ Trudeau, who—perhaps coincidentally—is in Texas as we speak, charming the pants off the tycoons at the Big Oil Barons Ball and receiving an **ENVIRONMENTAL** award from them Sorry, I don’t usually shout. I’ve been taking Keith Olbermann too much to heart, perhaps.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/trudeau-cera-week-in-houston-1.4018708

    Reply
    • Good point on another bit of Pruitt misinformation. If growth is attached to fossil fuel production, there is no way to have both a protected environment and an expanding economy. This is a retread of the clean coal faerie tale. No such animal exists.

      Fossil fuels are already facing various growth barriers when it comes to cost of extraction and EROEI. They have negative learning curves compared to the powerful positive learning curves of renewables. So even from a growth perspective, the fossils look pretty bad.

      But what we should really be concerned is about sustainability. You can sustain an virtuous economy that uses clean energy as its base. A fossil fuel economy shuts itself down due to how ridiculously harmful the externalities become as the timeline extends onward. You’ve got the big drags that come from the health harms of air and water pollution. Then climate change comes in and cleans your clock.

      Climate change will hit us pretty hard at 490 ppm CO2e radiative forcing — which is where we are now (493 by year end). And due to inertia, the hits will come harder and harder. This is the price we are already paying for continuing to burn fossil fuels. But push that CO2e number up to 550 or 650 or 950 and yeah, probably somewhere between 550 and 750 you’re looking at a rather likely global civilization collapse with very little change of recovery in the near term. And that is very, very bad for growth.

      What Pruitt needs to accept is that we are very close to the wire. That fossil fuels have had their run. That it’s time for new, more economic, and less harmful energy sources to take the lead. We owe it to our public and to our children to get this right.

      Reply
      • Jeremy in Wales

         /  March 10, 2017

        Not that I disagree but the big problem is growth which is attached to the economic system that depends on debt – building never ending growth into the system. The creation of loans in of itself creates growth of the money supply. Up to this point in time that growth in the money supply has been supplied by fossil fuels but with EROEI getting worse every year for fossil fuels the argument can now be made for renewables which are now in many cases cheaper and can provide for the growth.

        Ignore the scientific evidence which we all know is there and play to their weakness which is in the economics.

        Reply
        • Old conservative yarn there. Debt is an aspect of a dynamic economic system. Debt encourages various activities that we have assigned to a growth model. But the present growth model is not reliant on increasing material and human labor throughputs to continue. Dematerialization and reduction of or elimination of externalities changes the growth model equation. And that is exactly what Limits to Growth theorists suggested should happen.

          If you look at absolute growth in terms of physical labor and material throughput, then growth in a number of societies is shrinking despite an increase in GDP (which can be fueled by debt). So you have a bit of a decoupling in modern economies which renders the ‘nefarious debt’ theory inaccurate.

        • This is not to say that all debt is virtuous either. And some economists take that theory to another extreme. But debt isn’t the only input you need to look at when you consider limits to growth as it relates to sustainable societies. And we should also understand that in an electronic age where machines provide labor, where many goods are non material, and where energy sources are increasingly clean and renewable, that old growth paradigms increasingly do not apply. The key is to look at impacts of economic activity in a systemic fashion and to work to reduce externalities as rapidly as possible. To establish virtual growth models that encompass prosperous activity within societies and that commoditize prosperity but disencentivize and reduce harmful consumption of material goods. That imput virtuous ‘growth’ in the form of activities that increase the scope and health of the natural environment (which will be our next big challenge after renewables).

          In this way, if debt, for example, is capitalizing growth in sustainable industries which is adding jobs but dramatically lowering the human environmental footprint then even though economic growth is positive, human footprint growth is negative.

        • So the big issue to consider RE harmful growth is not debt. It’s what form of growth that debt and investment capital finances. And the biggest issue right now when it comes to limits to human civilization is the continued burning of fossil fuel. That is the real concrete hard limit producing problem that we are now facing. Harmful consumption is a related problem — especially when individual GHG emissions of the wealthiest among us are around 100,000 times that of the poorest. And population is a factor. But considering the relative harm produced by a few top consumers presently linked to fossil fuel related material throughput, population is a lesser factor in the present situation.

          As we see in the US, in China, and around the world, growth becomes a really serious problem when it is shackled to fossil fuels. It dramatically reduces the lifespan of human civilization and brings forward warming related collapse pressure at a very rapid rate. It destroys huge pools of natural wealth and rapidly removes essential ecosystem services. That is the center of gravity for the present problem. And as long as growth is shackled to fossil fuels, we’ll be on a track toward collapse this century.

        • I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you want a sustainable society, what you’re really looking at is reducing harmful material throughput to zero or net negative and putting in place systems that reduce inequality.

        • Jeremy in Wales

           /  March 10, 2017

          Yes it is an old conservative yarn – which is why you use it against your conservative opponents.
          Debt especially in the US but also in Europe where real wages have not changed for most in generations has been one of the main props – mortgages, student loans, credit card and car leases etc. – which is why the 2007/08 financial crash nearly brought the system down – as you say because the paradigms are changing. As for the future, yes a more sustainable system, but for today you need simple arguments.

        • Well, the lesson of the great recession was that you can’t replace wages with debt and hope that things just keep merrily chugging along. Good wages are absolutely an aspect of equality in an advanced society and are necessary to keep that society both stable and fair. So to be clear, we shouldn’t advocate debt as a replacement for wages — which happened to a great extent back during the Bush years.

        • But the demonization of debt creates its own distortions and leads to its own problems. That said, many countries have relied too much on debt and it appears that various debt crises are now likely unless taxes increase to reduce national debt burdens. Reducing debt burdens by cutting pensions and reducing benefits will only serve to increase inequality and further destabilize various nations. Although, given current policy, it appears that conservatives want instability.

        • Jeremy in Wales

           /  March 10, 2017

          Wales 22 Ireland 9 – and two cans of beer. Did not give a reply that was deserved – sorry

        • LOL. All is good. Hope you’re rooting for Wales. 😉

        • Jeremy in Wales

           /  March 10, 2017

          It is an annual tradition – the six nations – mainly at home but been to matches in Cardiff, Dublin Edinburgh and Rome – turns me into a nervous wreck!

        • Jeremy in Wales

           /  March 10, 2017

          Could not be any country than Wales – Cymru

      • The CO2e numbers is going up a lot faster than CO2, averaging 3.5ppm for the past few years.

        https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/aggi/aggi.html

        Reply
        • Yep. We had a jump of nearly 5 ppm CO2e in 2016 which should round out to equal about 493 ppm CO2e come end 2017. Will probably break 500 ppm CO2e at present rates by 2019. It’s pretty urgent that we bend that rate down to zero ASAP.

    • mulga mumblebrain

       /  March 14, 2017

      Cate, our regime here in Australia operates on the same basis. They lie that their pro-coal and anti-renewables policies will still produce emissions reductions. The fake-stream media insects simply regurgitate these unbelievable lies, without hesitation. The fact that emissions grew rapidly after the Abbott regime removed the carbon tax (to much nauseating celebration in Parliament)is simply suppressed by the fake-stream media.
      Today the South Australian State regime announced a plan, stupidly relying on more gas extraction (welcomed wildly by the Minerals Council as the path to ‘decarbonisation’-as Orwellian as ‘War is Peace’)and a battery farm to store electricity from renewables. The Federal regime, led by the ‘Minister for the Environment AND Energy'(a lunatic combination that gives their game away, as they prioritise energy over the environment every single time)immediately and viciously attacked the plan. He loves only coal!!!!!!

      Reply
  10. Spike

     /  March 10, 2017

    A senior U.K. civil servant, quoted on Twitter by the shadow Climate change minister. “Shocked &appalled to be told by Cabinet Office’s Commercial Lead for Energy, John Nangle that:”a 2 degree world is just La La Land”

    This is what we are up against. It isn’t just incompetence, lack of scientific literacy, or failure of imagination. It’s a radical disconnect between politics as usual and nature, where decision makers routinely assign primacy to short term economic imperatives as they see them. It’s like counting the dollars from under your mattress as the house fills with smoke and the flames close off your escape routes.

    Reply
    • mulga mumblebrain

       /  March 14, 2017

      Spike, what it is is rule by Rightwing psychopaths-nothing more, nothing less. Rule by the worst in society, carefully selected by The Holy Market. The Greeks called it a ‘kakistocracy’.

      Reply
  11. Shawn Redmond

     /  March 10, 2017

    Almost every day there is new flooding being reported somewhere on the globe. Yesterday it was a story from the Philippines, two days ago it was New Zealand and Madagascar and four days back it was West Sumatra. Sub Saharan Africa scorching and 1000 miles south Zimbabwe drowning. The ongoing extremes globally, daily! Most of us are preoccupied with our own little world that it is difficult to keep up with the global churning that is ongoing. I feel runaway CC is well under way. The only questions remaining are: where is the end point?, how fast will it approach?, is it 3c, 4c, 10c!? This sensitivity thing is proving to be a real kick in the groin.

    http://floodlist.com/america/brazil-amazonas-floods-march-2017
    The Juruá river in the northern state of Amazonas, Brazil, has overflowed affecting more than 6,000 families in four municipalities.

    Civil Defence officials have been monitoring the situation since heavy rainfall in early January. However levels of the river recently increased dramatically and a state of emergency has been declared in the municipalities of Guajará, Ipixuna, Eirunepé and Itamarati.

    As of 07 March, 2017, the Juruá river in Guajará reached 16.68 metres where the flood level is 12.64 metres.

    Reply
  12. Thanks for the great post, Robert. Thank you for everything you do.

    Northward migration of populations is coming. I think that is the genesis of the Mexican wall, in the minds of Trump supporters. While denying the reality of global warming, they are still anxious enough about it to want a barrier to migration. The anxiety generated by their denial may even be fueling the isolationist hysteria.

    Nationalism, militarism, isolationism, authoritarianism, and xenophobia are natural human social responses to threat.

    Unfortunately, scientific and technological development, international cooperation, and socialist regulation of business seem to be the best ways to fight climate change.

    It seems like another case where our evolved propensities and social responses to threat are leading us to an inappropriate response to climate change.

    Reply
    • Whenever there is great change, it appears that human beings must once again learn how to overcome our innate animal spirits. This age is an age of such change as the old order of the 20th Century makes way for those opposing or succumbing to the life threatening forces that we have now unleashed.

      We have fear and harm and threat. And, as ever, we have those seeking to exploit such animal instincts for personal power. Trump’s wall is a manipulation, a redirection of the natural and essentially benevolent response to climate change. As ever, his ilk seeks to blame the victims — in this case refugees — for the worsening national and global inequality his self-interest based policies engender and multiply.

      Throughout history, this is a story line that has popped up again and again. And throughout history, there have been the souls that stood for justice and against this most essential kind of human evil. We are in the conflict now. And we must fight the good fight if we are to make it through.

      Reply
      • I wonder myself if Trump is the source of the evil or the product of it. Bob Altemeyer, in his online book The Authoritarians points out that it is the authoritarian followers who are the real problem – without them the authoritarian leaders would be powerless.

        I think we have to understand the Trumpists, to aid in forming policies to resist them.

        A long time ago, in college I came up with a concept I called a “pseudo-theory”, when thinking about religion. I realized that the practical rules for living and proscriptions promoted by religions are almost always functional, but that the theoretical part of religions contained in holy books are most often utterly ridiculous.

        So the proscriptions promoted by religions are functional, but the theories used to justify those proscriptions are false and ridiculous. So, how do bad theories make generally good rules for behavior?

        Bad religions make good proscriptions by feedback, and by cultural selection, I thought. Religions compete for converts, and converts are most impressed by results. So, people tend to pick religions that promote functional rules for living, and that are highly motivational. In most cases the concepts promoted by the religion to prompt correct behavior are much more motivational than the truth would be. Highly motivational theoretical parts of the religion would be favored, as would long complicated mumbo jumbo that could be adapted to local conditions by emphasizing some parts of of the holy books over other parts. So functional religions would tend to grow, and dysfunctional religions die out.

        So these cultural pseudo-theories would be a transitional phase between being mostly ignorant – most of human history – and scientific enlightenment. Pseudo-theories could be effective in promoting appropriate behavior and transmitting that behavior to new generations even in the absence of true knowledge about the real scientific reasons for that behavior – just by trial and error.

        Getting back to the Trumpists – I think they are a throw back to that earlier form of reasoning before the scientific reasons for appropriate behavior became known. This means that even though the reasons they give for their behavior and desires make no sense, there may still be some sense to their wants, needs and desires.

        Sensing a much tougher world coming, the Trumpists want isolationism, militarism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism. To quell their fears, they demand their leader lie to them about the reality of global warming. To quell their fears about job loss, they demand isolationism. Financial interests seeking to use these ignorant low information voters play upon those fears to justify continued fossil fuel use and weapons spending. To prevent cognitive dissonance, the low information voters demand that Trump seek out and destroy information that creates anxiety – hence the attempted suppression of scientific truth.

        The tragedy of all of this is that global warming is itself a solvable problem, if attacked with science.

        Is the end result of this social throw-back to an earlier more ignorant time evil? Definitely, if it destroys people and destabilizes the climate, robbing future generations of the huge benefits of a stable climate, it is evil, and we have to fight it.

        You’re doing a great job of fighting this great evil. The rest of us, not as much. Thank you again for all you do.

        Reply
  13. Ailsa

     /  March 10, 2017

    MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award

    “On July 21, 2016 we announced the creation of a $250K cash prize award for responsible disobedience. This idea came after a realization that there’s a widespread frustration from people trying to figure out how can we effectively harness responsible, ethical disobedience aimed at challenging our norms, rules, or laws to benefit society.

    Specifically, we’d like to call out action that seeks to change society in positive ways and is consistent with a set of key principles. These principles include non-violence, creativity, courage, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. We’re seeking both expected and unexpected nominees. This could include–but isn’t limited to–those engaged in scientific research, civil rights, freedom of speech, human rights, and the freedom to innovate.

    We will be accepting nominations from March 7 through May 1.”

    https://www.media.mit.edu/posts/disobedience-award/

    Reply
  14. Cate

     /  March 10, 2017

    http://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/03/09/news/plan-rising-seas-new-federal-project-tells-atlantic-canadians

    Shawn, I think you have posted previously about the Ecology Action Centre project?

    “By 2050, a building in Halifax will have to be set about 30 centimetres higher than it would be today, in order to withstand rising sea levels.
    This is one of the key projections, based on data from Natural Resources Canada, behind a new federal government project that is seeking to engage and inform Atlantic Canadians about the dramatic consequences looming as climate change strikes Atlantic Canada and imposes billions of dollars in economic costs.
    The project, funded by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) aims to educate people in the region about the effects of rising sea levels, and to help developers, local authorities and builders – from high-rises to backyard sheds – to plan for the ocean’s inevitable rise…
    DFO is partnering with Halifax-based environmental organization Ecology Action Centre on the new $30,300 project, which includes a website with information about rising sea levels and how changes expected over the next century will affect cities and towns across Atlantic Canada. DFO and the EAC are also planning workshops and meetings with residents of Atlantic provinces.
    Globally, climate change is expected to cause sea levels to rise by a minimum of 28 centimetres by 2100, with worst-case scenarios suggesting an increase of more than 2.5 metres. For Canadians on the coasts, that will mean big changes: water pushing into cities and towns, salt water seeping into wells and fields and extreme weather events driving more destructive storm surges.”

    Reply
  15. Jimbot

     /  March 10, 2017

    In this article there is a comment by a Matthew2012 which goes into the mathematics of the albedo effect and sea level rise. He’s saying 5 metres by 2100, not counting any other effects, as I read it. Not sure if I misunderstood.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/feb/24/omg-measurements-of-greenland-give-us-a-glimpse-of-future-sea-rise

    Reply
  16. Suzanne

     /  March 10, 2017

    Shell Oil’s Stark Climate Change Warning from….1991…
    https://climatecrocks.com/
    Oil giant Shell has spent millions of dollars lobbying against measures that would protect the planet from climate catastrophe. But thanks to a film recently obtained by The Correspondent, it’s now clear that their position wasn’t born of ignorance. Shell knows that fossil fuels put us all at risk – in fact, they’ve known for over a quarter of a century. Climate of Concern, a 1991 educational film produced by Shell, warned that the company’s own product could lead to extreme weather, floods, famines, and climate refugees, and noted that the reality of climate change was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists.”
    https://thecorrespondent.com/6285/shell-made-a-film-about-climate-change-in-1991-then-neglected-to-heed-its-own-warning/692663565-875331f6

    Reply
  17. Jeremy in Wales

     /  March 10, 2017

    This article just reinforces how urgent the change required is needed, “Earth’s oceans are warming 13% faster than thought, and accelerating ”
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/mar/10/earths-oceans-are-warming-13-faster-than-thought-and-accelerating

    Reply
  18. For food production losses I make a simple calculation of a 15% drop per °C. That being 10% for the temperature increase alone and the other 5% for extreme weather, pests and sea level rise. And no, I can’t comprehend how the world will look like with a 4°C increase this century. It’s going to be unrecognisable from where we are today!

    Reply
  19. Spike

     /  March 10, 2017

    Tropics and subtropics already struggling to support populations. 20 million souls at risk.

    Reply
  20. Shawn Redmond

     /  March 10, 2017

    In 1960 Nova Scotia the population was a little over 700,000 and we produced 90% of the food we ate. Now with a population of a little over 900,000 we produce less than 10%. The country side is awash in abandoned small farms. Try growing enough food without FF. Before FF for every calorie invested the farm produced 7 to 10 in return. Now we put 7 to 10 in to get 1 out. This is not sustainable and it would seem to be due to FF.

    Reply
    • Vertical farming has a much better return rate than FF based farming. In addition, you don’t need FF to run the machinery. We have EVs for that.

      Reply
      • Shawn Redmond

         /  March 11, 2017

        I’m all for vertical farming RS. I think aquaponics is the way to go. Using fish manure for plant nutrients and plants for filtering the water the fish are in. It is a closed loop system that produces fish for the table along with the fresh produce. It’s the cereal grains that won’t fit so well in the vertical model. The way mono agriculture works its more about the FF inputs to the soil then the diesel running above that concerns me. We have to get organic inputs back in the mix which will require going back to mixed farming for crop rotation for starters. A lot of our farmland has already been run out due to FF inputs. Without them even weeds have a hard time growing. Getting that land back up and running is a long term project,(years). The points for discussion on this topic are numerous and varied and so off topic for this blog it’s unreasonable to even start. Anyway thanks for letting me rant a bit and don’t pay to much attention to my meanderings.

        Reply
    • Tigertown

       /  March 11, 2017

      Can you please spell out FF just once for those of us that don’t know what the abbreviation stands for? I am sure that I am not alone. Thanks.

      Reply
      • Ryan in New England

         /  March 12, 2017

        FF is short for fossil fuels. You’ll likely see the abbreviation in article regarding climate change, energy and of course, fossil fuels. I get confused by all the acronyms used sometimes 😉

        Reply
  21. Hilary

     /  March 11, 2017

    Sometimes I just have to remember to focus & treasure the small details in the days:
    A Poem for CB to savour:
    THE PATIENCE OF ORDINARY THINGS
    It is a kind of love, is it not?
    How the cup holds the tea,
    How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
    How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
    Or toes. How soles of feet know
    Where they’re supposed to be.
    I’ve been thinking about the patience
    Of ordinary things, how clothes
    Wait respectfully in closets
    And soap dries quietly in the dish,
    And towels drink the wet
    From the skin of the back.
    And the lovely repetition of stairs.
    And what is more generous than a window?

    ~ Pat Schneider

    (I work in a medical center & a charity provides small take home brochures of poems for our waiting room, this is from their latest)

    Reply
  22. Tigertown

     /  March 12, 2017

    You all really need to see this. I will try to post the image or gif, but will post the link also, in case it does not work . The thickest ice in the Arctic just had something happen to it in just a matter of days. Fluke? Maybe, but I don’t think so. From Reply #160 in the Melting Season thread of the ASIF.
    http://forum.arctic-sea-ice.net/index.php/topic,1834.msg106111/topicseen.html#msg106111

    http://forum.arctic-sea-ice.net/index.php?action=dlattach;topic=1834.0;attach=42754

    Reply
    • Hatrack

       /  March 12, 2017

      Some discussion on the blog that this could be an artifact of fresh snow (of which there’s been a fair amount) could have showed up on the satellite imaging as thinning; less palatably, there could also be meltwater above ice, which might change the imaging as well.

      I hope that’s all . . .

      Reply

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