In Defense of Our Earth — A People’s Climate March

I think it can be fairly said that we are a people who believe in a better future. That the ideals of America are founded on building prosperity and expanding prospects — not only for ourselves, but for our fellows and for those generations that are to follow.

Americans have often been described as a ‘can-do’ kind of people. A people who will undertake any challenge to advance or protect our nation and to graciously extend her kind virtues to the huddled masses of a troubled world. Be it the freeing of slaves, the emancipation of women, the facing down of tyrannical dictators, the liberation of scientific inquiry, or the exploration of our Earth and the vast realm of space we have doggedly decided to march forward and on.

But today we are confronted by a new trouble. A trouble that was, in many ways, an unintended consequence of past progress. For as we industrialized, as a nation and as a global society, we also burned ancient carbon deposits long buried beneath the Earth. And so we expelled a great cloud of the most dangerous of gasses into the Earth’s atmosphere.

We didn’t know it so well at the time. But the carbon dioxide spewing from William Blake’s dark Satanic Mills was the same gas that in excess produced the worst and most horrific global die-offs in the great and deep, deep history of our Earth. Times of great mass extinction due to rising global heat that bear the infamous names — Permian, Triassic, Paleocene, Devonian and Ordovician. Blake, living today, would be terrified how right he was to call those mills Satanic. To learn what our scientists now have told us. But even then, he surely had an inkling. For the Bible itself warns — those who destroy the Earth shall be destroyed. And in 1808 the wanton destruction of the Earth and its airs by the pollution caused by fossil fuel burning was visibly evident if not so scientifically proven and explored as it is today.

Today, if we continue to burn fossil fuels as we have for the past 200 years or so, the world will again surely experience another such extinction. We already see the outliers of this crisis now — in the growing number of people bereft of land and home and livelihood as seas rose, or crops were destroyed by worsening storms and droughts, or lands and animals were lost to wildfires, or as reefs and fisheries were killed off by the warming, acidifying waters of our oceans. But what will come over the years and decades and centuries if we do not turn back from this horrid burning of fossil fuels and the dumping of their carbon into the atmosphere will be far, far worse.

What kind of world is this to make for our fellow human beings? What kind of future to leave for the generations that follow? Surely not the better one that we all work and hope for. Surely not one that honors the can-do, make the world a better place spirit of America.

But despite our worsening prospects and the dark and heavy clouds that now hang over the global climate, we have a window of opportunity in which to act. Our tools to confront climate change in the form of renewable energy systems like wind and solar and electrified transportation are growing more capable. And further innovation and change in our actions as people and nations can yet enable us to draw down the awful pall of heat trapping gasses that now hangs above us. These are things we can and must do if we are a moral people with any kind of vision, foresight and compassion.

This is our moment. The moment when we decide to make the choice to act and to save so many of the very precious things we all hold dear or to turn away from action and condemn each and every person and being now living or that will live to an age of terror and darkness the likes of which Earth has not seen in all of half a billion years.

So I’m asking you for your help. I’m asking you to make the choice to act. To join the People in their march for climate justice tomorrow. To support all the voices that are now speaking out. To lift your own voice to our growing chorus.

For the love of life and of all good things — we simply must act now.

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New Study: What’s Scarier than the Permian Extinction? Burn All the Fossil Fuels to Find Out.

If we burn all the fossil fuels “not only will the resultant climate change be faster than anything Earth has seen for millions of years, the climate that will exist is likely to have no natural counterpart, as far as we can tell, in at least the last 420 million years.”  — Gavin Foster, Professor of Isotope Geochemistry at the University of Southampton

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Back in the 1780s as coal-fired smoke stacks sprouted across England to belch their black soot into the hitherto virgin skies of Earth, it’s likely we had not yet an inkling of the vast destruction these dark Satanic Mills were ultimately capable of unleashing:

(Scientists have now found that burning all the fossil fuels through about 2250 could result in conditions that are worse than those that occurred during the Permian Extinction of 252 million years ago. Video source: Catastrophe — The Permian Extinction.)

Svante Arrhenius, by the late 19th Century, had hinted that coal burning might warm the Earth by a tiny bit in a few thousand years. But the very fossils we were digging up and burning at an ever-more-rapid pace warned of a different and far more ominous story (see video above). They hinted of a time when massive volumes of ancient carbon stored in the Earth were released into the atmosphere over the course of thousands of years. And that this release created such hot and toxic conditions that, for most living things, the Earth was no longer habitable.

Unsafe Warming

The Permian-Triassic Extinction of 252 million years ago was the worst hothouse catastrophe that has ever occurred in all of the geological record. It wiped out 96 percent of marine species and more than 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrates. It was the worst of many such hothouse events sparked by rising levels of greenhouse gasses that now serve as a clear warning in the fossil record of the dangers we invite.

Today, after merely 230-odd years and following the emission, by fossil fuel burning, of hundreds of billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, the Earth has warmed by far more than just a tiny bit. The glaciers are melting, the seas are rising, the corals are bleaching from the heat of it all, and unprecedented (to modern humans) droughts, heatwaves, storms and wildfires are all being unleashed.

(Unsafe at any warming. As of 2014 the world was about 0.8 C hotter than NASA’s 20th Century baseline — which was already hotter than any previous time period in which human civilization existed. By 2016, that line had moved up to 0.98 C hotter than the NASA 20th Century range and 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages. Image source: Precarious Climate.)

And though climates have changed in the past, the new scientific evidence indicates that what is happening today is clearly unusual:

Scientists can seek to understand past climates by looking at the evidence locked away in rocks, sediments and fossils. What this tells us is that yes, the climate has changed in the past, but the current speed of change is highly unusual. For instance, carbon dioxide hasn’t been added to the atmosphere as rapidly as today for at least the past 66m years.

By burning fossil fuels, we have crossed the threshold into a new age of trouble. But all the present calamity is just a foretaste of how bad things could get if we fail to stop burning the fossil fuels and to halt a great and vastly harmful emission of carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere.

For, according to our best present knowledge, in the Earth there still remains enough fossil carbon to raise the current level of atmospheric CO2 (CO2e) from today’s highly elevated 405 parts per million (493 ppm CO2e) average to over 2,000 parts per million by around 2250. And a new scientific study now confirms that if all this fossilized carbon is burned by then, the amount of heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere will become greater than during the worst mass extinction event in the Earth’s deep past (rising by about 10-18 degrees Celsius above 1880s levels).

(The potential and likely global impacts of climate change are bad enough during the 21st Century with between 1.5 and 6 C + warming expected. But if we burn all the fossil fuels, new science indicates that about 10-18 C worth of warming is ultimately possible. Looking at these impacts, what sane person would recommend doing such a thing? Image source: Climate Impacts.)

Unprecedented in 420 Million Years

This new study shows that fossil fuel burning, if it continues, will be enough to produce a warming event that has never happened in all of the past 420 million years by the 23rd Century. From now to then is about the same passage of time that occurred between the 1780s and now. And though humankind and its civilizations are probably capable of surviving the first 230 years of this considerable fossil fuel burning, it is highly doubtful that the same can be said for the next 230 years.

From the study author Gavin Foster:

“It is well recognised that the climate today is changing at rates well above the geological norm. If humanity fails to tackle rising CO2 and burns all the readily available fossil fuel, by AD 2250 CO2 will be at around 2000 ppm — levels not seen since 200 million years ago. However, because the Sun was dimmer back then, the net climate forcing 200 million years ago was lower than we would experience in such a high CO2 future. So not only will the resultant climate change be faster than anything Earth has seen for millions of years, the climate that will exist is likely to have no natural counterpart, as far as we can tell, in at least the last 420 million years.”

(UPDATED)

Links:

Future Carbon Dioxide, Warming Potentially Unprecedented in 420 Million Years

We Are Heading Toward the Warmest Climate in Half a Billion Years

Precarious Climate

Catastrophe — The Permian Extinction

NOAA ESRL

And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time…

Hat tip to Wharf Rat

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat tip to Mark Oliver

Hat tip to Wili

NCAR: Global Temperature Increase To Lower Oxygen Content of Most Ocean Zones by the 2030s

A reduction in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans due to climate change is already discernible in some parts of the world and should be evident across large regions of the oceans between 2030 and 2040. — The National Center for Atmospheric Research in a press release on April 27th.

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Loss of oxygen in the world’s oceans. It’s one of those really, really bad effects of a human-forced warming of our Earth. One of the those climate monsters in the closet that Steve Pacala talks about. The kind of thing we really don’t want to set loose.

Deoxygenated Oceans as Major Killing Mechanism During Hothouse Extinctions

The damage caused by ocean oxygen loss is multi-variant and wide-ranging. The most obvious harm comes in the form of generating environments in which oxygen-dependent life in the oceans can no longer breathe. Any living creature that filters oxygen out of the water for respiration falls under threat due to lowered ocean oxygen levels. A group that includes pretty much all the advanced, multi-cellular life in the seas.

A press statement from the new NCAR study notes:

Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap the ocean of oxygen, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe.

namibia-hydrogen-sulfide-emission-2007

(Hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria blooms off the coast of Namibia during 2007. Hydrogen sulfide is a highly toxic gas. One that is produced by microbes that live in waters containing little or no oxygen. Image source: Earth Observatory.)

But a second, less immediately obvious hit comes in the form of generating expanding anoxic environments that favor the proliferation of toxin-producing microbes. Called dead zones, these oxygen-poor regions not only provide a suffocation threat to sea life, but they also form areas of water in which environmental toxins can build up. The result is a long-lasting negative impact to the health of life in the ocean and, in the most extreme cases, on land and in the airs as well.

The worst of these toxin-generating microbes are the hydrogen-sulfide producing bacteria. An ancient organism that is incompatible with oxygen-dependent life. A horror out of deep time that has tended to crop up again and again on the list of usual suspects of major hothouse extinction killers. A likely perpetrator of the big ocean and land die offs during pretty much all global warming based extinctions. An organism that dominated the world’s seas and likely vented its deadly gasses into the airs of the world of the Permian — during the worst die-off Earth has ever seen.

In short, hydrogen sulfide is deadly to almost all forms of life that currently dominate the world’s oceans, lands, and airs. And the bacteria that produces hydrogen sulfide requires oxygen-poor environments in which to grow and thrive. A world ocean high in oxygen keeps these little killers hidden away in the deep, dark corners of our Earth. But heat the world ocean up. Deprive it of oxygen. And they start to come out and become a threat (see more in Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse).

Oxygen Loss to Become Widespread by the 2030s

Already today we see regions of the world ocean that are experiencing oxygen loss. Some of this oxygen loss is due to a process called eutrophication. In eutrophication, nutrients overload the ecosystems of water-based environments. As nutrient content rises, large bacterial blooms emerge. Eventually, these blooms overpopulate the waters and devour all the food sources. When the microbes then die en masse, their decay robs the surrounding waters of oxygen — generating a dead zone.

Eutrophication has been sapping the world’s oceans of oxygen over wider and wider regions due to both agricultural run-off (fertilizers and top soils flushed into rivers, lakes and oceans that feed large microbial blooms and related dead zones) and due to nitrogen fall out from fossil fuel burning. But human forced global warming also plays a key roll in the loss of oxygen to the world ocean system.

Ocean Deoxygenation Map

(According to a new study from NCAR, ocean oxygen levels are already starting to fall in some regions due to global warming. If warming continues, NCAR finds that most of the world’s oceans will experience some level of oxygen loss due to this warming and due to a related increased stratification of surface waters. Image source: NCAR.)

The new NCAR study provides an excellent description of how warming the world’s surface waters can reduce ocean oxygen levels:

The entire ocean—from the depths to the shallows—gets its oxygen supply from the surface, either directly from the atmosphere or from phytoplankton, which release oxygen into the water through photosynthesis. Warming surface waters, however, absorb less oxygen. And in a double whammy, the oxygen that is absorbed has a more difficult time traveling deeper into the ocean. That’s because as water heats up, it expands, becoming lighter than the water below it and less likely to sink.

Waters that are less likely to sink are less likely to mix. And waters that are less likely to mix transfer less of the atmosphere’s oxygen to the global ocean. It’s a process called ocean stratification. A set of circumstances triggered by warming that can sap the world’s waters of their ability to support life even as it enhances their ability to generate environments favorable to toxin-producing microbes. And in the absolute worst cases, a stratified, oxygen-deprived ocean can transition into a dead, life-on-Earth-threatening Canfield Ocean.

Mobile Ocean Dead Zone

(Mobile ocean dead zones, like this one seen off the West African Coast during 2015, may grow more widespread as the world’s surface waters are depleted of oxygen due to a fossil fuel emission based warming. A new study from NCAR both explains how warming waters can hold less oxygen and notes that loss of oxygen to ocean surface waters becomes very widespread by the 2030s. Image source: Biogeosciences.)

In the NCAR study, which is well worth reading in full, scientists used model runs to determine when and where climate change would start to deprive the world ocean system of oxygen. The study found that regions off the coast of West Africa, regions west of South America, an area to the west of Australia, and a section of the Beaufort Sea were already experiencing lower levels of ocean oxygen due to global warming. West African seas were the first and hardest hit by warming in the models. This is interesting due to the fact that Namibia on the West Coast of Africa is one of the only regions of the world now observed to experience blooms of hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria that extend into the surface waters. West African waters have also generated a number of mobile, low-oxygen dead zones that have spiraled on off into the North Atlantic.

The fact that the NCAR study indicates that global warming has already reduced ocean oxygen levels in a region that is producing both dead zones and, in the case of Nambia, periods during which hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria appear at the surface, is cause for some concern. For by the 2030s, the NCAR model study indicates that global warming will be actively reducing ocean oxygen levels across the vast majority of the North Pacific, a majority of the South Pacific, most of the South Atlantic, and pretty much all of the Indian Ocean region covered in the new research. This raises the risk that open water dead zones like the ones seen off Africa and even hydrogen sulfide producing hot spots like Nambia may begin to creep into other regions of the world ocean — generating further threats to sea life, to fishing industry, and to human beings who depend on healthy oceans for livelihood and for life.

Links:

Widespread Loss of Ocean Oxygen (due to Climate Change) to Become Noticeable by the 2030s

Steve Pacala

Earth Observatory

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse

Biogeosciences

Mobile Ocean Dead Zones

Eutrophication

Ocean Stratification

Canfield Ocean

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to June

A Death of Beauty — Climate Change is Bleaching the Great Barrier Reef Out of Existence

Extinction.

It’s a hard, tough thing to consider. One of those possibilities people justifiably do not want to talk about. This notion that a creature we’re fond of and familiar with — a glorious living being along with all its near and distant relatives — could be entirely removed from the web of existence here on Earth.

Our aversion to the topic likely stems from our own fear of death. Or worse — the notion that the entire human race might eventually be faced with such an end. But extinction is a threat that we’ll see arising more and more as we force the world to rapidly warm. For species of the world now face existential crisis with increasing frequency as atmospheric and ocean temperatures have risen so fast that a growing number of them have simply become unable to cope with the heat.

The Great Barrier Reef of Australia — the world’s largest single structure made up of living organisms — is no exception. For this 1,440 mile long expanse of corals composed of more than 2,900 individual reefs that has existed in one form or another for 600,000 years has suffered a severe blow — one from which it may never be able to recover. One that appears likely to kill up to 90 percent of its corals along previously pristine regions in its northern half.

(Governments failed to listen to the warnings of scientists like Terry Hughes. Now, it appears that the Great Barrier Reef has been hit by a blow from coral bleaching from which it may never be able to recover. Video source: Australian Broadcasting on the Great Barrier Reef’s Worst Coral Bleaching Event on Record.)

The damage comes in the form of extreme ocean heat. Heat resulting from global temperatures that are now well in excess of 1 degree C above preindustrial times. Heat that has forced ocean temperature variability into a range that is now lethal for certain forms of sea life. Particularly for the world’s corals which are now suffering and dying through the worst global bleaching event ever experienced.

The Worst Global Coral Bleaching Event Ever Experienced

During 2014 the oceans began to heat up into never-before seen temperature ranges. This warming initiated a global coral bleaching event that worsened throughout 2015. By early 2016 global surface temperatures rocketed to about 1.5 C above 1880s averages for the months of February and March. These new record high temperatures came on the back of annual carbon emissions now in the range of 13 billion tons each year and at the hotter end of the global natural variability cycle called El Nino. Both the atmosphere near the land surface and the upper levels of the ocean experienced this extreme warming.

In the ocean, corals rely on symbiotic microbes to aid in the production of energy for their cellular bodies. These microbes are what give the corals their wild arrays of varied and brilliant colors. But if water temperatures rise high enough, the symbiotic microbes that the corals rely on begin to produce substances that are toxic to the corals. At this point, the corals expel the microbes and lose their brilliant coloration — reverting to a stark white.

Worst coral bleaching event on record

(A vast region of the world’s ocean system continues to experience coral bleaching. In area, extent, height of extreme temperature, and duration, the current global coral bleaching event is the worst ever experienced by a good margin. As global temperatures continue to warm due to ongoing fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions, widespread coral bleaching is likely to become an annual occurrence. Temperatures have risen far enough and will continue to rise for long enough to set about ocean conditions that will result in mass coral die-offs around the world. Image source: NOAA.)

Bleaching isn’t necessarily lethal to corals. However, once the microbes are gone, the corals have lost a key energy source and will eventually die without them. If ocean temperatures return to normal soon enough, the corals can begin to accept the symbiotic microbes back, return to a healthy cellular energy production, and survive — albeit in a weakened and more vulnerable state for some time to come. But if ocean temperatures remain too warm for an extended period, then the corals will be deprived of energy and nutrients for too long and they will inevitably perish.

The kind of coral bleaching event that we’re experiencing now is a mass killer of corals. Not simply due to the heat itself, but due to the long duration of the extreme temperature spike. By late February, many ocean scientists were very concerned about the already severe damage reports that were starting to come in. At that time, NOAA issued this warning:

“We are currently experiencing the longest global coral bleaching event ever observed. We may be looking at a 2- to 2½-year-long event. Some areas have already seen bleaching two years in a row.”

93 Percent of Great Barrier Reef Affected by Bleaching

By late February, the level of concern for the Great Barrier Reef was palpable. Stark reports were starting to come in from places like Fiji — which had experienced two years of severe bleaching — and Christmas Atoll about 1,300 miles south of Hawaii — whose reported losses were best described as staggering. So far, the worst of the hot water had stayed away from Australia’s great reef.

But by early March a plume of very extreme ocean heat began to appear over The Great Barrier Reef’s northern sections. Sea surface temperatures spiked to well above, a dangerous to corals, 30 degrees Celsius for days and weeks. This 30 C or greater heat extended deep — hitting as far as 50 meters below the ocean surface over the reef. And it rippled southward — hitting section after section until few parts of the reef were spared.

Terry Hughes, one of the world’s foremost experts on the Great Barrier Reef, on March 18th tweeted his fear and anguish over the situation:

Terry Hughes tweet

At this point, there was no stopping the tragedy. Fossil fuel emissions had already warmed the airs and waters to levels deadly to the living reef. It was all researchers could do to work frantically to assess the damage. Teams of the world’s top reef scientists swept out — performing an extensive survey of the losses. More than 911 reef systems were assessed and, in total, the teams found that fully 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef system had experienced some level of bleaching.

Final Death Toll for Some Sections Likely to Exceed 90 Percent

In extent, this was the worst bleaching event for the Great Barrier Reef by a long shot. Back during the previous most severe bleaching events of 1998 and 2002, 42 percent and 54 percent of the reef was affected. By any measure, the greatly expanded 2016 damage was catastrophic. “We’ve never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before. In the northern Great Barrier Reef, it’s like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once,”said Professor Terry Hughes in the ARC coral bleaching report.

Out of all the reefs surveyed in the report, just 7% escaped bleaching. Most of these reefs occupied the southern section — a region that was spared the worst of the current bleaching event due to cooler water upwelling provided by the powerful winds of Hurricane Winston. But impacts to the Northern section of the reef could best be described as stark. There, a section composing almost the entire northern half of the reef saw between 60 and 100% of corals experiencing severe bleaching. In the reports, Hughes notes that many of these corals are not likely to survive. In the hardest hit reefs — which were in the most remote sections least affected by Australia’s industrial run-off — algae has been observed growing over 50 percent of the corals affected — an indication that these corals are already dead:

“Tragically, this is the most remote part of the Reef, and its remoteness has protected it from most human pressures: but not climate change. North of Port Douglas, we’re already measuring an average of close to 50% mortality of bleached corals. At some reefs, the final death toll is likely to exceed 90%. When bleaching is this severe it affects almost all coral species, including old, slow-growing corals that once lost will take decades or longer to return (Emphasis added).”

But with the oceans still warming, and with more and still worse coral bleaching events almost certainly on the way, the question has to be asked — will these corals ever be afforded the opportunity to recover?

A Context of Catastrophe with Worse Still to Come

As ocean surface temperatures are now entering a range of 1 C or more above 1880s levels, corals are expected to experience bleaching with greater and greater frequency. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 identified the time-frame of 2012 to 2040 as a period of rising and extreme risk to corals due to bleaching. IPCC also identified bleaching as the greatest threat to corals and related reef-dependent sea life.

When ocean surface temperatures warm into a range of 2 C above 1880s levels — the kind of severe global heating that could arise under worst-case fossil fuel emissions and related warming scenarios by the mid 2030s — corals in the Great Barrier Reef are expected to experience bleaching on an annual basis. Every year, in other words, would be a mass coral bleaching and die-off year.

image

(Sea surface temperatures and temperatures withing the top 50 meters of water over the Great Barrier Reef of Australia rose to 3-4 C above average during the austral Summer and Fall of 2016. These record temperatures lasted for weeks in some regions setting off the worst coral bleaching event the Great Barrier Reef has ever seen. By mid-Century, coral bleaching and mass die-offs are likely to occur on an annual basis as global temperatures surpass the 1.5 C and 2 C thresholds. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Globally, bleaching events under even moderate fossil fuel emissions scenarios would tend to take up much of the Equatorial region on an annual basis by mid-Century. Events that can, during single years, wipe out between 90 and 95 percent of corals at any given location. A handful of corals will likely survive these events — representing a remote and far-flung remnant who were simply a bit hardier, or lucky, or who had developed an ability to accept microbes that are tolerant to warmer temperatures. But these hardy or fortunate few would take hundreds to thousands of years to re-establish previous coral reef vitality even if other harmful ocean conditions did not arrive to provide still more damage.

As coral bleaching expands at the Equator due to increasing rates of ocean warming, increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes oceans to become more acidic. Cooler waters at the poles are better able to transfer gasses into the ocean’s waters. And higher levels of carbon dioxide in the world ocean results in a growing acidity that is harmful to corals. Increasing levels of ocean acidity thus creep down from the poles at the same time that bleaching events move up from the Equator.

If fossil fuel emissions continue, by mid-Century atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the range of 450 to 500 parts per million will have provided a never-before seen spike to ocean acidity. Such high ocean acidity would then provide a second severe blow to corals already devastated by bleaching events. It’s a 1-2 punch that represents a mass extinction threat for corals this Century. And we’re starting to see the severe impacts ramp up now.

ocean-acification-through-2050

(Coral bleaching is a severe threat to tropical coral reefs now. But CO2 potentially hitting above 500 parts per million, according to a 2014 study, risks a complete loss of equatorial coral reefs by 2050 to 2100. Between bleaching and acidification, there’s no way out for corals so long as fossil fuel burning continues. Image source: Threat to Coral Reefs From Ocean Acidification.)

The only hope for stopping this ever-expanding harm is a rapid cessation of fossil fuel emissions. And we owe it to the corals of the world, the millions of species that depend on them, and the hundreds of millions of people whose food sources and economic well being come from the corals.

“And Then We Wept”

When researchers told students of the extent of harm to corals upon the Great Barrier Reef, the students were reported to have wept. And with good reason. For our Earth had just experienced a profound death of beauty. A death of a vital and wondrous living treasure of our world. A priceless liquid gem of our Earth. A wonder that gives life to millions of species and one that grants both food and vitality to Australia herself. For if the reef goes, so does a huge portion of the living wealth of that Nation and our world.

Sadly, the tears will just keep coming and coming as these kinds of events are bound to worsen without the most dramatic and urgent global actions. The current and most recent catastrophe is thus yet one more in a litany of wake up calls to the world. But will we hear it loud and clear enough to act in ways that are necessary to ensure the corals survival? And what of the billions of creatures and of the millions of humans too that depend on the corals? Do we care about them enough to act?

Links:

Only Seven Percent of the Great Barrier Reef Has Avoided Coral Bleaching

And Then We Wept: 93 Percent of the Great Barrier Reef Now Bleached

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch

Earth Nullschool

Coral Reefs Hit by Worst Coral Bleaching Event

Terry Hughes Twitter Feed

Coral Bleaching

Threat to Coral Reefs From Ocean Acidification

Ocean Acidification: We are Looking at the Complete Loss of Tropical Coral Reefs by 2050 to 2100

Australian Broadcasting on the Great Barrier Reef’s Worst Coral Bleaching Event on Record

Hat tip to Caroline

Hat tip to Spike

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Griffon

(Please support public, non-special interest based science like the essential work that has been provided by Terry Hughes over so many years and decades. Scientists like Terry provide a vital public service. For years, they have given us a clear warning of a very real and ever more present danger. A warning that gives us a fleeting opportunity to respond to events before we lose the richest living treasures of our world. Before we are bereft of our ability to continue to make livelihoods as environmental abundance and the related regional and global life support systems are irreparably damaged.)

Ten Times Faster Than a Hothouse Extinction — Human Carbon Emission is Worst in at Least 66 Million Years

“If you look over the entire … last 66 million years, the only event that we know of … that has a massive carbon release and happens over a relatively short period of time is the PETM. We actually have to go back to relatively old periods. Because in the more recent past, we don’t see anything [even remotely] comparable to what humans are currently doing.” Richard Zeebe of the University of Hawaii in a recent paper published in Nature.

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carbon-emissions

(Annual human carbon emissions are about 150 times that of all the volcanoes on the Earth, 10 times faster than a hothouse extinction that occurred 55.8 million years ago. Image source: La Rosa Rossa.)

Let’s be very clear. The human fossil fuel emission is outrageous and unprecedented on geological timescales. An insult the Earth has likely never seen before. For the pace at which we are emitting carbon into the atmosphere is just flat out insane. We’ve known this for some time because the best of science can’t find any time in all of Earth’s geological history that produces a rate of atmospheric carbon accumulation equal to the one that’s happening now.

However, a new study recently published in Nature now sheds more light on this rather difficult and scary topic. But in order to find an event that is even remotely comparable to the current human greenhouse gas emission, scientists had to look far back into deep time. All the way back through a period when the last of the Dinosaurs were dying off about 55-66 million years ago.

During this time we find evidence of the most recent Hothouse Mass Extinction Event in the geological record. We call this event the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM because it’s an extreme period of rapid warming that occurred at the boundary between these two periods of Earth History about 55.8 million years ago.

The PETM Hothouse Extinction

The PETM was pretty amazingly bad. It set off a mass extinction in the oceans which wiped out half of all shellfish through the varied impacts of anoxia, acidification and coral bleaching. Its heat forcing was enough to completely reverse ocean circulation and set up a stratified ocean state. Peatlands and forests went up in mass conflagrations. Terrible insect plagues swept the globe. The related extreme surface temperatures forced a mass poleward migration and widespread genetic alteration of mammals which were eventually reduced to dwarfism.

Human vs PETM

(Earlier studies estimated PETM emissions rates in the range of 1.7 billion tons of carbon per year. A new Nature study finds PETM emissions to be even lower at 1.1 billion tons of carbon per year. This compares to a current human emission of 10 billion tons of carbon per year. A rate of emission that could jump to as high as 25 billion tons of carbon per year by mid Century unless fossil fuel use is curtailed. It’s worth noting that the ‘slow but steady’ PETM emissions above represent one of the most rapid periods of warming in Earth’s geological history. Image source: Climate Crocks.)

It was a rough and wrenching time of change and difficulty for pretty much all of life on Earth. But what the new study finds and confirms is that the rate of atmospheric carbon accumulation during that extinction period, though enough to cause seriously dramatic climate shifts, was much, much slower than what we see now.

A Human Hothouse Extinction Would be Far Worse

On average, over the PETM extinction event, rates of atmospheric carbon accumulation were found to be in the range of about 1.1 billion tons per year. By comparison, human carbon emissions during 2014 were about ten times this level at around 10 billion tons of hothouse gas hitting the atmosphere. As such, the new study finds that the velocity of the human carbon emission exceeds that of the Paleocene-Eocene hothouse extinction event by an order of magnitude (x10).

Study authors found that the large carbon emission occurred over the course of about 4,000 years. This spike in atmospheric carbon coincided with an approximate 5 degree Celsius spike in global temperatures in the 4,000 to 12,000 year time period. This implies a rate of warming of at most around 0.12 degrees Celsius every 100 years (or as little as 0.04 degrees Celsius per Century). Other estimates put the rate of PETM warming at around 0.025 C per Century. Expected human warming between 1 and 5 degrees Celsius this Century is therefore about 10 to more than 200 times faster than during the PETM extinction event given the best available current scientific evidence.

Such high rates of atmospheric carbon accumulation and related global heating risk generating an event that is outside of any geological context that scientists might use to predict the human warming event’s severity.

“It means we don’t have a really good analog in the past for the massive amount of carbon we’re releasing,” Zeebe said to National Geographic. “Even if we look at the PETM and say the transition to a warmer climate may have been relatively smooth, there’s no guarantee for the future.”

In other words, if you’re adding carbon to the atmosphere at a rate ten times faster than during one of the most remarkable warming events in Earth’s History, then the pace of wrenching geophysical changes and the extinction pressure on organisms is going to be far, far greater. Something that is certainly worse than the PETM and that may even exceed the terrible losses seen during the Permian Mass Extinction if we don’t get a handle on our fossil fuel emissions soon.

Links:

Anthropogenic Carbon Release Unprecedented in Last 66 Million Years

A Deadly Climb From Glaciation to Hothouse — Why the Permian Extinction is Pertinent to Human Warming

Earth Hasn’t Heated Up This Fast Since the Dinosaurs’ End

PETM — Global Warming, Naturally

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

Welcome to the Renewable Energy Renaissance — Fight to End Fossil Fuel Burning is Now On

Beneath the dark and growing cloud of human fossil fuel emissions there are a few carbon-free lights being kindled among all the black, coal-ash soot.

They’re the lights of a new renaissance. An unprecedented period of change for governments, the energy markets, and for individuals themselves. For we are all, whether we realize it or not, now embroiled in a struggle that will determine our own fates as well as that of our children and of all the generations to follow. For this renaissance is as much about liberation — the provision of clean energy choice as means to free ourselves from a wretched captivity to fossil fuel consumption — as it is about fighting to leave those very hothouse mass extinction fuels in the ground.

It’s a new kind of vital social unrest. A global struggle for justice on a scale not seen since at least the downfall of the slave trade. The battle lines have been drawn — in courtrooms, at ports, along pipelines, and on the train tracks, in the legislative offices of cities, states and in the halls of the federal government itself. We, as a civilization, are being divided into pro-renewable energy, pro-response to climate change, pro saving life on this Earth, and anti-renewable energy, anti-response, climate change denial factions. It is a disruptive, highly dangerous period of history. One we must successfully navigate if we are to survive as a modern civilization and, perhaps, as a species living on this Earth.

volcano-eruption

(The human carbon emission is now 150 times that of current volcanic activity. To achieve the same rate of emission from volcanoes, you would need a Siberian Flood Basalt equal to that which set off the Permian Mass Extinction — the worst hothouse extinction in Earth’s history — active on every continent on the face of the Earth. Image source: Human Activities Produce More Carbon Emissions Than Volcanoes.)

Given the crucial nature of what has now become an essential conflict over the fate of the Earth herself, it’s worth asking yourself the question — which side are you on? The darkness of climate change is upon us and the need to make such a choice could not be more clear or resonant.

Nevada Monopoly Fossil Fuels vs Solar Fight Goes National

An example of this struggle in microcosm took place during December through January of 2015 in Nevada. Emboldened by similar decisions in Arizona, monopoly utilities moved to protect their carbon-polluting infrastructures by pushing the state government (made up of a majority of republicans to include the governor — Sandoval) to impose restrictive fees on solar energy use throughout the state. Targeting rooftop solar energy systems, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUCN — also made up entirely of republicans) voted to, across the board, increase costs for rooftop solar users by both slashing incentives and imposing draconian fees. The decision negatively impacted 12,000 current solar customers using rooftop power to include families, schools and even public libraries.

Solar City, a leading solar energy provider in Nevada has since decided to completely remove its industry from the state. The decision came after this statement:

“[The PUC] has effectively shut down the rooftop-solar industry and taken the extraordinary step to punish over 12,000 existing solar customers, including schools, with exorbitant fees in what appears to be an attempt to protect the profits of the state’s largest utility. All three members of the PUC, who voted unanimously to change the rules, were appointed by Governor Sandoval.”

“Most disturbing is the PUC’s decision to retroactively sabotage existing solar customers’ investments by changing the rules on them. The Nevada government encouraged these people to go solar with financial incentives and pro-solar policies, and now the same government is punishing them for their decision with new costs they couldn’t have foreseen. These actions are certainly unethical, unprecedented, and possibly unlawful. While the rest of the country embraces a clean energy future, Nevada is moving backwards.”

Nevada Pro Solar Protesters

(Solar energy supporters protest Nevada’s draconian solar fees in a January 13 action outside the PUC headquarters. Under the initial ruling even existing solar users would have been penalized. Now a new ‘compromise’ offered by PUC will ‘only’ provide a severe disincentive for pretty much every other Nevada resident to adopt solar energy for their home or business. Image source: Ecowatch.)

Nevada’s PUC decision smacks of a monopoly power generation protection scheme. One that has made it impossible for solar installers to operate in the state. As result, Nevada’s two other top solar installers (Vivint and Sunrun) have now followed Solar City’s example and decided to halt operations in Nevada. The jobs impact from just these three solar providers closing shop is a net loss of 6,000. But with hundreds of small solar installers active in Nevada before the ruling, the economic and environmental damage is likely to be ongoing and long-term.

As Vox noted on January 20th:

For the state’s monopoly utility, it’s a successful attempt to avoid competition. For the well-funded conservative groups fighting the spread of solar around the country, it’s the first decisive victory. For most Nevadans, however, it represents an own goal, a senseless act of self-sabotage.

But what happens in Nevada, apparently, doesn’t really end up staying in Nevada. After Harry Reid, a Nevada Senator, questioned the decision’s legality, national voices began to take up the cause as well. Hillary Clinton spoke out against the decision. Bernie Sanders — running a strong challenge to Hillary in this year’s democratic nomination campaign — noted that the PUC board’s decision was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Martin O’Malley, also a democratic presidential candidate, implied that the decision was an intentional ‘sabotage’ of the solar energy industry.

PUCN has since offered to ‘grandfather’ in existing solar users. But the war to stop rooftop solar growth by this fossil fuel powered utility appears to have jumped back into Arizona where another large utility is seeking to impose similar exorbitant fees.

26 Red States Appeal Supreme Court to Rule on Clean Power Plan

As if Nevada’s war against rooftop solar industry within its own state wasn’t bad enough, a group of 26 states currently governed by fossil fuel industry funded republicans are now submitting a Supreme Court challenge to Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The group has re-stated the now typical and jaded republican claim that the EPA doesn’t retain the legal authority to regulate carbon emissions. The new claim is predicated on the statement that EPA will force fossil fuels out of business, stating that the federal government does not retain the authority to effectively ban the use of a particular set of fuels.

It’s a convoluted appeal that smacks of past states rights arguments regarding every kind of dangerous, toxic or nefarious trade from slavery, to firearms, to tobacco. The appeal letter demands an ‘immediate stay’ on the Clean Power Plan (a cessation of implementation). It seeks to sanctify as ‘legal right’ the ability of coal plants to remain open and to continue pollution. It attacks federal government decisions that would support renewable energy as a solution to climate change (without using the words climate change once in the document, which itself required a supreme manipulation of legalese to achieve). And it uses language that implies state policy directives and goals supersede those of the federal government.

UCS-Clean-Power-Plan-costs-and-benefits

(According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the benefits of the Clean Power Plan far outweigh the costs. The fossil fuel industry and their political allies don’t want you to know this basic fact. Image source: The Union of Concerned Scientists.)

The appeal holds up as evidence the fact that numerous coal plants will be forced to close during 2016 as states attempt to come into compliance with the Clean Power Plan. Plants the republicans are seeking to keep open for their industry sponsors. Plants whose emissions republicans continue to fight to lock in.

The statement is, in essence, an attempt to make an end run around the typical court appeals process which will take months. Such a delay would force states, by law, to move to comply with the EPA standard before any Supreme Court ruling. An action that smacks of desperation on the part of the fossil fuel industry and its backers.

We should be very clear — any effective action on climate change will require that fossil fuel generating power plants be closed down early. That they will not be permitted to emit their toxic, hothouse extinction forcing, gasses into the atmosphere on and on into the coming decades. This is a moral decision that is as necessary for the survival of human civilizations as it for many of the innocent creatures now living on our planet. The authors of the above letter know this, which is why the language is crafted in such a way as to attack the very rational underpinnings of that understanding.

New Study Says US Can Go 100 Percent Renewables Without Nuclear

As the fossil fuel industry fights through all its various political agents to retain dominance and not lose ground against a burgeoning renewable energy sector and an environmental movement morally compelled to reduce harm by preventing the worst impacts of human-caused climate change from being realized, a new study released today provides still more hope for a rapid transition away from a horribly damaging dumping of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that existing technologies including upgraded powerlines connected to wind and solar energy power stations across the US could provide 80 percent of the electricity for the United States by 2030. The upgraded power lines would link the various regional power sectors in the US. In turn, these sectors would share renewable energy across the entire grid structure of the United States. Such sharing would vastly reduce the intermittency of renewable energy without the need for large-scale energy storage systems. A windstorm in Kansas could thus provide electricity to Gulf Coast residents sitting in still air. Sunlight falling at dawn in DC could, in a similar way, power street lamps during the dark of still night in LA.

The study authors note:

Carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation are a major cause of anthropogenic climate change. The deployment of wind and solar power reduces these emissions, but is subject to the variability of the weather. In the present study, we calculate the … configuration of variable electrical power generators using weather data with high spatial … resolution over the contiguous US. Our results show that when using future anticipated costs for wind and solar, carbon dioxide emissions from the US electricity sector can be reduced by up to 80% relative to 1990 levels, without an increase in the levelized cost of electricity. The reductions are possible with current technologies and without electrical storage. Wind and solar power increase their share of electricity production as the system grows to encompass large-scale weather patterns. This reduction in carbon emissions is achieved by moving away from a regionally divided electricity sector to a national system enabled by high-voltage direct-current transmission (emphasis added).

The reason why large grid structures able to efficiently transport  renewable energy from individually modular and intermittent systems works is due to the fact that there’s always wind blowing or sun shining somewhere on the Earth. The more inter-connected and efficient the grid, the more it is enabled to tap and move this energy from place to place and greatly, overall, reduce the intermittency of wind and solar for the entire structure.

It’s worth noting that such a system would radically alter current power generating and distribution structures. US utilities would tend to shift more from power providers to grid operators — electrical power middle-men that move energy from distributed power sources to far-flung customers.

Renewable Energy Projected to Dominate Electricity Markets by 2030

But not only is renewable energy advancing as a result of scientific viability studies, these sources of non-carbon-based power, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), are poised to leap into positions of market dominance over the next 25 years. The report, cited by Joe Romm today and published by IEA in November, indicates that renewables will produce more than 50 percent of the world’s electricity by 2030 and will have leapt into a position of significant dominance by 2040.

IEA Power by Source 2030

(Renewables shown as dominating the electrical power market by 2040 in this IEA graph.)

Disturbingly, IEA also notes a continued growth in the consumption of coal and gas. So if the IEA report is correct, carbon emissions for the power sector would continue to increase through 2040, which would be a bad outcome for the world’s climate and for life on Earth. Specifically, it would put us on a path toward around 2.7 C warming this Century and about 5-6 C warming long term — which would be about enough to push CO2 levels above 550 ppm and melt most or all of the ice on planet Earth should such high greenhouse gas concentrations be maintained.

However, Joe Romm finds some cause for optimism. Joe notes that China’s coal emissions may have peaked in 2013 and that China is rapidly adding renewable energy capacity. According to Climate Progress:

… this projection is not what would happen if the nations of world pursued the kind of aggressive policies they unanimously agreed to in Paris to avoid very dangerous warming and stay below total warming of 2°C. That would effectively end fossil fuel emissions by 2100. Indeed, the IEA forecast does not fully take into account what now appears to be an unexpectedly rapid shift away from coal in China. As a result, in its chart, coal power generation increases substantially by 2040. …. Goldman Sachs, for one, believes global coal consumption for power generation peaked by in 2013.

The IEA itself notes that one of its key assumptions may be too conservative: “China is becoming the wild card of coal markets, with the risks to our projection of a plateau and then a slow decline in coal demand arguably weighted to the downside.” I think the plateau and slow decline scenario was plausible a year ago, but China’s coal consumption dropped nearly 3 percent in 2014, at least 5 percent in 2015, and one analyst in Beijing projected recently, “coal consumption will drop by between 2.5 percent and 3 percent in 2016.” Beijing keeps adding new policies to slash coal use, as detailed in a major analysis last month from the Center for American Progress, which concluded “Chinese coal consumption enters downward spiral.”

If Joe’s correct, then it appears that the entire fossil fuel based electricity industry is now in a fight for its life. One it must inevitably lose for so many of the rest of us and of much of life here on Earth to survive. So when you hear talk coming from state regulators about coal industry losses, preserving rates and markets, or preventing coal and gas plants from being shut down, you should remember — there’s a critical choice being made here. One to cut off the short term prosperity of the fossil fuel special interests to prevent centuries upon centuries of devastation, death and pain here on Earth for future generations and for the entirety of the natural world. And it’s for this reason that we must make the entirely moral choice to send coal, gas and oil on its way. To leave these fuels from hell where they belong — in the ground.

We certainly do not need these toxic hothouse fuels and we can most certainly survive without them. In fact, our future survival and opportunities for future prosperity absolutely depend on the cessation of their burning, and soon.

Links:

Solar City Stopping Sales, Installations After PUC Ruling

Nevada’s Strange Decision to Throttle its Own Solar Industry

26 Republican Led States Challenge Clean Power Plan

Support 350.org

Future Cost-Competitive Energy Systems and Their Impact on CO2 Emissions

Better Power Lines Would Help the US Supercharge Renewable Energy

World Energy Outlook 2015

By 2030, Renewables Will be the World’s Primary Energy Source

Hat tip to Scott

 

 

Playing Chicken With Hothouse Extinction — Obama’s Shameful Shell Drilling Approval

Earlier this week President Obama made one of the worst decisions of his presidency. He decided to ignore the concerns of thousands of protesters and more than 60 percent of the American public over the issue of climate change. He decided to approve a dangerous plunging of new wells into unstable, clathrate-laden seabeds in the Arctic. Effectively, he’s deciding to play a dangerous game of chicken with a natural world that’s been riled and wounded by climate change. And in this game he puts us all at risk.

It’s a bad move that sends all the wrong signals. It demonstrates an attachment to the old, limited resource dominance based, policies that cause so many problems and that keep us dependent on fossil fuels for far too long.

Shell Drilling approved for Arctic

(Shell is now approved to poke holes into the Arctic seabed in a mad, climate-destroying, quest for oil. The Arctic, overall, is a terribly risky place for drilling. Ice, storms, and drilling regions laden with explosive and warming clathrate all result in increased risks for blow outs, destruction of equipment, loss of life and related oil spills. But the worst threat of all comes from the resource itself. The future of a life-sustaining world and the future of continued fossil fuel burning are completely incompatible. Image source: Greenpeace/Mark Meyer.)

To this point, each new productive well, each new coal plant, each new gas fired plant, each new internal combustion engine extends the lifespan of fossil fuel burning. And that’s something we shouldn’t be investing in at the moment. We are pushing well past the dangerous 400 parts per million CO2 threshold. Adding all other greenhouse gasses together, the gross heat trapping is now equivalent to nearly 485 parts per million CO2e. Even maintaining these thresholds will raise the world’s temperatures by as much as 3.8 C over 500 years (and possibly break the 2 C threshold this Century). And that’s if the world’s carbons stores, long buried in ice beneath glaciers, permafrost and cooler seas, long kept safe within healthy forests, do not release through the warming and burning that will come under such a major jump in temperatures.

We have a window now. A brief window where we can draw down carbon emissions fast enough to allow some of that excess of heat trapping gasses to fall out. To give our ailing oceans and biosphere the chance to take up some of that carbon and prevent this very high risk scenario. But taking advantage of that window involves saying farewell to the age of fossil fuel burning.

So it’s the height of shame and short-sightedness for Obama to have approved the Shell project, especially after so many worked so hard to put his feet to the fire. So many people — who put their necks on the line in acts of noble, nonviolent protest to protect their children and loved ones from more carbon spewing oil wells sunk into the warming Arctic seabed — just got the message loud and clear from Obama: ‘we’re not really too concerned about our future.’

Portland Protest

(During late July and early August, protesters in Portland managed to briefly delay Shell’s drilling expedition. It was a loud and clear signal from the public to Obama — we don’t want the future climate wreckage Shell is attempting to help lock in. It was a noble plea Obama has now blithely ignored. Image source: Greenpeace/Tim Aubrey.)

Playing Dangerous Games of Climate Chicken

Obama has done many good things with regards to climate change. Many things madcatter, drill, baby, drill republicans would have never done. He’s using the EPA to regulate carbon, he’s committed to cutting overall carbon emissions by more than 30 percent through 2030 (which is, I have to say a good move, but not fast enough), he’s pushed CAFE standards through the roof, and he’s helped to drive solar energy prices lower even faster than they would have been lowered otherwise. He’s at least helped to delay the Keystone Pipeline.

But, sometimes, as with fracking, as with other new pipeline construction, and as with the Shell Arctic drilling expedition, his policies cut against the grain of a necessarily rapid reduction in carbon emissions. Such backsliding is shameful and there is, at this time when human caused climate change is displacing people, on average at the rate of 8,000 each day, when heatwaves are now killers that stretch hospitals to the breaking point, when we have crossed or are crossing the Eemian boundary which implies a 20-25 feet of sea level rise for our cities and islands, when James Hansen’s storms are brewing in the North Atlantic, and when a monster El Nino is cracking wide the Pacific to ooze out yet more heat, there is absolutely no excuse for it.

Obama is not like republicans. He, unlike that mad beyond nightmares political set, is at least influenceable, at least somewhat sensitive to the great dangers we’ve stoked to new life. For his support relies, in large part, on those of us who are very concerned about climate change. And for the backward action of the Shell approval our appropriate response is shaming. We need a leader who’s a climate hawk — not someone who’s going to risk our future and our children’s future in a dangerously irresponsible game of climate chicken.

Links:

Obama Gives Shell Final OK to Drill in the Arctic

Portland Activists Force Shell to Turn Around

Greenpeace

Mark Meyer

Tim Aubrey

Hat Tip to Caroline

Fossil Fuel Ecocide Forces Starving Polar Bear to Hold Breath For Three Minutes in Seal Hunt

(A starving polar bear is forced to hold breath for a record three minutes in a failed hunt for seals.)

Like so many other innocent creatures on this planet, polar bears are facing ever-worsening life-threatening conditions due to the fossil fuel industry’s insistence to keep burning, and to keep us dependent on their horrific energy sources. The bears’ Arctic home has been transformed in ways that are profound and terrible. The sea ice they used for hunting grounds is greatly depleted. The seals they hunted for prey have ever-more-numerous avenues of escape into dark and warming waters.

It’s a merciless and terrible burning. One that encompasses many genocides together. Ecocide, ecological shock, growth shock, the sixth great extinction. All words to describe what we now watch. What fossil fuel industry influence is preventing us from stopping. But to the bears themselves, it’s a wrenching torture. A forced orphaning and starvation combined as the bears grow increasingly emaciated, weak, and desperate. Transformed into walking skeletal beings, they’re ghosting off toward the obliteration fossil fuel interests are sentencing them to.

(Plunging Arctic sea ice driven by Northern Hemisphere polar amplification is the chief agent of habitat loss and extinction pressure for polar bears. As you can see in the superbly rendered video above by Andy Robinson, the fall has been merciless and precipitous.)

To a climate change denier, the plight of these poor creatures is a subject of ridicule and derision. ‘Who cares about stupid bears’ is the rallying cry of heartless ignoramuses everywhere. They’d rather us be worried about our own petty day-to-day existences. The back and forth, stuck in traffic, want more money, pay less taxes, fear of far off ISIS daily grind of the right wing soundtrack. Or when the tinny siren song of that ever-more-stuffed-with-straw appeal fails it’s back to the old — pretend it’s not happening — trick. Starving polar bears so desperate that they’re now forced to hibernate in summer to conserve energy must be photo-shopped by some imaginary government agency after all, right?

Deny as deniers do, for the bears it’s all too real. For one bear in particular, recently filmed in the above video, it was a life and death struggle. Not some narcissist’s thrill like the needless poaching of innocent wild lions for blood-sport in Africa. No, for this bear, success in the hunt meant a continuation of blessed life. A second chance to keep going, to keep living in the great world. Failure meant weakness, fading, pain and death.

The bear, in dire need of food, was forced to hunt in a way it was not adapted to — by stalking in the water. It was forced, in desperation to swim toward near-water seals. And it was forced to hold its breath underwater. Hold it for longer than any polar bear ever witnessed. Hold it for a full 3 minutes where a mere 72 seconds was the previous record. It was as if the starved bear had been forced to perform impossible feats — or die. That’s the situation the callous greed and disregard of some have put them in. Do the impossible, or just die.

Gaunt and Emaciated Polar Bear that Broke Diving Record

(The gaunt, emaciated and obviously starving polar bear that broke the recent diving record in a photo by Rinie van Meurs. Image source: Meurs Study and The Weather Network.)

This bear’s struggle is not one occurring in isolation. It’s not just the struggle of a single individual. But the struggle of an entire race that is now being torn from the fabric of existence.

The cliche phrase to say at this time is that we are all responsible. That we all share the guilt. But it’s not true. In fact to say such a thing is a terrible lie providing an out for the real perpetrators of this egregious harm. There are some of us who want to change the bear’s situation. Some of us who want to improve its chances. Some of us who want to cut the destructive fossil fuel threads that bind the bear and us all to a terrible and ever worsening ecocide. The ones who want to help are not the problem. The ones attempting again and again to stop the ongoing damage are not the guilty party.

But the deniers and the fossil fuel industry the deniers wittingly or unwittingly serve are entirely different. They don’t care one whit about bears suffering an all-too-real existential crisis. And it seems they don’t care about their own children’s rising existential crisis either. They are the ones who deserve blame. For they are the authors of this great harm.

Links/Credits:

This one’s for Colorado Bob

Polar Bear Forced to Hold Breath for a Record Three Minutes

Record Breaking Polar Bear Spurs Climate Concerns

Food Situation so Bad, Polar Bears now Hibernate During Summer

Sea Ice Volume Decline By Andy Robinson

Dangerously Beyond 350: CO2 to Remain Above 400 PPM For Most of 2015

For 2015, CO2 levels will remain above the dangerous 400 parts per million level for almost 2/3 of the year. A perilous new record for a human-warmed world.

The last time global CO2 levels averaged above 400 parts per million was more than 3 million years ago during the Pliocene. A period that was just beginning to see the dawn of humankind (Australopithecus emerged about 2.5 million years ago). It was a world of 25-75 foot higher seas. A world where much of Greenland and West Antarctica was ice free. A world that took hundreds of thousands of years to settle into its climate patterns.

2014 Begins at 400 ppm +

(A bad start of 2015 — CO2 levels on January 1st exceeded 400 PPM. Most of the year will see levels in excess of this dangerously high atmospheric value. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

But the current human tool-using species that is now warming the Earth so drastically would have to wait for about 2.8 million more years and for far cooler climes to develop. And that species would set conditions for a rapid shift to climate states not seen for 3 million years in just decades through a hellish pace of fossil fuel burning.  For in just one century we’ve propelled ourselves back to that deep time. Back to a world climate state that is entirely alien to what we, and so many other animals, are accustomed to.

For this year, human fossil fuel emissions will push 2015 to reach or exceed those 400 ppm levels for around 7-8 months running. By 2016, it’s possible that 300 part per million levels — the ones that dominated our environment for most of the 20th Century — will be little more than a melancholy memory as humans face off against a series of increasingly dangerous  geophysical changes.

All set off by the inexorable burning of fossil fuels. A malpractice that simply must stop.

An All Too Steep Ramp-up Toward The Hothouse

Current human fossil fuel burning coupled with a few, still somewhat contained, environmental carbon feedbacks are enough to push an annual atmospheric CO2 increase of 2.2 parts per million each year. It’s a pace of initial greenhouse gas heat forcing never before seen in all of Earth’s geological past — even during the greatest global hothouse extinction events. The fruits of dumping 36 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each and every year.

petm_vs_modern_emissions

(Rate of carbon emission at more than 30 billion tons of CO2 each year vs the PETM [Note that WeatherUnderground has erroneously labeled CO2 as Carbon in the graph]– which was the most recent hothouse extinction 55 million years ago. It’s enough to push an atmospheric temperature rise on the scale of a mass extinction over the course of decades rather than millenia. It’s also worth noting that with CO2 emissions at 36 gigatons in 2013 [vs the above graph results from 2010] and CO2e emissions just shy of 50 gigatons this trajectory is even steeper than the graph depicts. Image source: WeatherUnderground.)

As a result, if current rates of burning continue or increase, we will see 450 parts per million levels well exceeded within about two decades. And that threshold will undeniably lock in at least 2 C worth of warming together with a growing carbon feedback from the Earth System itself.

484 PPM CO2e For 2015

But this drastic pace of atmospheric greenhouse gas additions doesn’t tell the whole story. For if you add up all the other gasses humans have dumped into the atmosphere, all the methane and HCFs, all the industrial chemicals, you end up with a CO2 equivalent number (CO2e) far greater than the present CO2 measure. And that CO2e measure is set to hit 484 parts per million this year (With a nearly 50 gigaton annual increase in CO2e gasses each year). A level that, if it correlates with past climates, will push warming by 1.9 C this century and 3.8 C after the entire Earth System responds. A level not seen in at least 13 million years.

A rather terrible situation to say the least. For at these levels, even the great ice sheets of Antarctica proper were much reduced and sea levels were 85-120 feet higher than they are today. And continuing to burn begs the very worst hothouse extinction consequences that come from wrecking the world’s oceans.

Very Hard Work to Get Back to 350 PPM

Near the end of the first decade of the 21st Century Dr. James Hansen, former head of GISS at NASA advised the world community that the likely safe level of global CO2 was below 350 parts per million. This assertion flew in the face of some in the international community who were pushing for an established ‘safe’ level of 450 parts per million and below. A level, of course, which would allow for the burning of quite a bit more of the world’s fossil fuel reserves.

But Hansen wouldn’t compromise. He felt it would be a betrayal to future generations. To his grandchildren. To all our grandchildren. So he set the safe limit at 350 parts per million with the caveat that we may need to reduce it further.

In 2008, during the year Hansen set the 350 parts per million level, CO2 levels peaked at around 386 parts per million. For 2015, just 7 years later, levels will peak at around 404 parts per million. A rampant increase directly in the wrong direction.

In order for rates of CO2 increase to begin to taper off, the world simply must stop burning so much in the way of fossil fuels. And even a full cessation of fossil fuel use would still result in some emissions unless both farming and construction were altered to reduce carbon emissions. Beyond this, atmospheric carbon capture through various methods to include fixing carbon capture and storage facilities to biomass generation and other land use and chemical based techniques are the most likely to be effective.

Such a transition and change is as difficult as it is necessary. For the world as we know it simply cannot continue along its current path. Hansen was right and we should have listened 7 years ago. We should have listened in 1988 at his first major climate hearing. But we didn’t. And so valuable time was wasted.

Let’s not make the same mistake in 2015.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

2015 Begins With CO2 Above the 400 PPM Mark

WeatherUnderground

2013 CO2 Emissions Will Set Record High

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell: Living in a World at 480 PPM CO2e

Scientific Hat Tip to Dr. James Hansen and Dr. Ralph Keeling

The Good News — 56% of New Energy Installed For First Half of 2014 Was Renewable; The Bad News — 40% Was Natural Gas

New installed Capacity 2014

Good news and bad news. But first, the good news…

For the first half of 2014, a total of 56% percent of newly installed electricity generation capacity within the US came from wind and solar energy sources. In total, that’s more than 3,300 gigawatts of new power from non carbon emitting energy generation for the first six months of 2014 alone.

Solar energy, in particular, saw a major increase from 2013 — jumping 47% in new installed capacity over the same period last year. In total, the US now boasts more than 15 gigawatts of solar energy generation capacity — racing to catch up to US wind generating capacity that now stands at nearly 62 gigawatts.

A majority of new solar power generation came from utility-based projects. But strong new additions in residential solar power also buoyed total additions. The massive leap in new solar capacity was spurred by rapidly falling panel prices combined with much more robust avenues for those seeking to install solar — at the individual, agency, and utility scale. Municipal and institutional solar power generation also saw a substantial leap with government buildings, libraries, schools and churches taking the solar plunge.

Wind showed a substantial recovery from the first half of 2013, which only saw 2 megawatts of new wind after conservatives in Congress spear-headed an assault on the renewable energy production tax credit in an attempt to stymie new alternative energy sources. The blood-letting pushed wind off a track in which it was gaining between 5-10 gigawatts of new power generation annually during 2008 to 2012. Due to falling wind prices and rising gas and coal prices, however, wind appears to be staging a comeback to previous rates of adoption.

Overall, it’s an excellent start to a year that will almost certainly see more major new alternative energy resource additions.

Natural Gas — A Bridge to More Carbon Emissions

As for the bad news, 40% of the new generation capacity came from natural gas…

Natural gas has been promoted as a ‘bridge to clean energy.’ But the fact that each new natural gas plant installation extends the life-time of US carbon emissions is a black eye on this green-washed claim.

It’s true that natural gas emits less carbon when burned than coal. But the ground-water endangering fracking process also leaks a portion of the fracked gas into the atmosphere as methane. And methane is 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20 year time-frame. Adding in the effect of methane leakage makes fracked natural gas as bad or nearly as bad as coal when taking into account the total industrial cycle heat forcing.

In addition, as noted above, continuing to construct natural gas plants now locks the US into an economic commitment to keep burning natural gas far into the future. In this way, on this path, our economy will continue to emit large volumes of carbon well past mid century. And given an immediately imminent and dangerous hothouse warming crisis, we simply can’t afford to keep emitting for so long.

In essence, we should be pushing to have all new energy capacity come from renewables even as we work to shut down existing carbon-fired power plants as rapidly as possible. And the already existing carbon-based infrastructure is massive — composing nearly 430 gigawatts of generating capacity for natural gas and 304 gigawatts for coal. We should be looking at ways to rapidly reduce this massive, carbon-emitting monstrosity. Not continue to add more to it.

In fact, a new research study found that by adding new natural gas capacity, CO2 emissions were increased as the potential for new renewable energy additions were crowded out by competition and as the life-span of fossil fuel based infrastructure was extended. In essence, these common-sense findings are a strong argument for no new fossil fuel based additions at all.

Some of our more rational government officials have paid lip-service to the notion that the US should take a leading role on climate change. And this is a very valuable sentiment. However, real leadership does not involve adding new fossil fuel capacity or seeking new fossil fuel resources. True climate leadership is based in rapidly phasing out the burning of fossil fuels entirely, not locking them in for decades of continued use.

Links:

New US Power in 2014: More than Half Renewable So Far

Memo to Obama: Expanded Natural Gas Worsens Climate Change

US Power Generating Capacity Additions During First Half of 2014

Study: Effect of Natural Gas Supply on Renewable Energy and CO2 Emission

 

 

Heat, Wind Ahead of Pacific Storm Spikes King Fire Hazard; Potential Blocking Pattern Shift Underway

King Fire Sep 23

(King Fire Complex fanned by strong, hot southwesterly flow on September 23, 2014 — a rising fire danger through Thursday in advance of an approaching Pacific storm system. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

A powerful storm system off the US and Canadian Northwest Coasts may deliver much-needed rains to central and northern California by Thursday — but not before pulling warm, dry winds up from the south in advance of the storm’s approach. The heat and winds, expected to reach 15-25 mph later today, will heighten danger for the over 7,400 firefighters already battling the 90,000 acre King Fire.

As of earlier today, the fire was 35% contained after the army of firefighters, aided by a spate of mountain drizzle, tirelessly worked through the weekend to staunch the blaze. But the new in-rush of hot, dry winds today and tomorrow will fan the still energetic wildfire, increasing the threat to more than 21,000 structures ringing the fire’s edge.

Already, ten people have suffered injuries and 32 structures were destroyed even as 2,700 people are currently evacuated from areas most vulnerable to the still-raging fire. Given the influx of more dangerous conditions, fire fighting personnel will be hard pressed to prevent further damage from an already costly and harmful blaze.

Strong Storm Approaches the Western US

(Strong storm approaches the Western US as the ridge and associated blocking high shift eastward. Change in year and half long blocking pattern? Image source: NOAA-GOES.)

Fire Amidst Record Drought

The King Fire erupted in Central and Eastern California during mid September as century scale drought conditions continued to scorch the state. As of today, more than 50% of the state remains under the most extreme drought level with 100 percent of California suffering from some degree of drought.

This past weekend’s light rains did little to help. However, a strengthening storm track in the Pacific is likely to deliver at least some moisture to Northern and Central California by Thursday. A blocking high pressure ridge that has persisted off the US West Coast for more than a year and a half has also shifted — moving inland toward the Central and Western US. This shift appears to be slowly opening the door to some moisture for California.

Blocking Pattern Shift

(University of Maine Jet Stream modeling shows an eastward shift in the year and a half long blocking pattern and associated ridge over Western North America and the Northeastern Pacific. In today’s graphic, the ridge has shifted into the Central US with associated Rossby-Wave type troughs over both the Eastern US and Eastern Pacific. Notably both troughs now host powerful storm systems in the range of 975 mb and lower. Image source: University of Maine.)

An atmospheric pattern more favorable for El Nino development may also be favoring increased precipitation for California. However, it is still too early to determine whether a pattern favoring drought reduction is firmly in place.

Conditions in Context

Under the current rapid and powerfully enhancing regime of human-caused heating of the Earth’s oceans, ice, and atmosphere, we can expect the US West and Southwest to continue to dry as the storm track shifts northward and as rising temperatures bake more and more of the moisture out of the soil. A significant increase in the occurrence of drought in the US Southwest since the 1970s is likely a part of this larger trend, one that will almost certainly worsen as human-caused climate change intensifies.

In addition, an increasing eccentricity in the Jet Stream associated with Northern Hemisphere polar heat amplification has resulted in far more persistent weather patterns. Dome scientific studies have found that these patterns, associated with powerful Rossby-type wave patterns in the Jet Stream, have appeared with increasing frequency since the mid 2000s. As a result, cooler stormier patterns tend to persist in one region while dry, hot conditions have tended to persist in other regions. This new climate regime appears to be enhancing an already amplified drought pattern for the US West even as it has pumped up storm patterns for regions east and north. It is also worth noting that a number of studies have also found a link between major sea ice losses in the Arctic since 2007 and the intensity of the current California drought.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

NOAA-GOES

University of Maine

King Fire Update: 2,000 Firefighters add Manpower to those Battling Massive Blaze

Worst Case Carbon Dioxide Emissions Increases Continue — Hitting 40 Billion Tons Per Year in 2013

A new report from the Global Carbon Project shows the world’s machines are belching more carbon dioxide than ever before. The report, which measures global CO2 emissions, found that gases from all sources jumped by more than 750 million tons during 2013 — a 2.3 percent increase in the dangerous hothouse gas over already extreme 2012 emission levels.

In total, 39.8 billion tons of CO2 hit the atmosphere in 2013, up from about 39.1 billion tons in 2012.

Global Carbon Emissions vs RCP Scenario

(Global carbon emissions continued along a worst-case track during 2013. Note that estimated temperature increases are for this century only. For context, it took 12,000 years for the world to warm 5 degrees Celsius at the end of the last ice age. Image source: Global Carbon Project.)

On the current track, global CO2 emissions will double in about 30 years. This pace of emissions increase is along the worst-case path projected by the UN’s IPCC. One that will hit 8.5 watts per meter squared of additional warming at the top of the Earth’s atmosphere and greater than 1,000 ppm CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas heat forcing by the end of this century.

Such a massive increase from human sources does not include amplifying feedback emissions from global methane or CO2 stores such as those now apparently destabilizing in the Arctic. Such emissions could add an additional 20 to 30 percent or greater heat forcing on top of the human forcing, according to scientific estimates, by the end of this century.

The massive blow would be more than enough to trigger a hothouse extinction event — one that could well rival or exceed the Permian (also known as ‘the great dying’) in its ferocity due to the very rapid pace of the human heat accumulation.

IPCC impacts

(IPCC impacts graphic taking into account the RCP 8.5 scenario. Image source: IPCC.)

During 2013, the greatest CO2 emitter by a wide margin was China at nearly 10 billion tons of CO2 all on its own. The US came in a distant second at about 5.5 billion tons with India nearing the 2 billion ton mark and taking the dubious rank of #3 CO2 emitter.

Overall, the pace of emission increase was slightly slower than during 2012, which showed a 2.5% increase over 2011. The lag was due, in part, to slowing economic growth in coal-reliant China. The massive emitter has lately shown trends toward lowering its carbon out-gassing as it half-heartedly pushes for cleaner air and less coal use. The US, on the other hand, showed a jump in carbon emissions as a trend toward greater natural gas usage whip-lashed back toward coal due to higher natural gas prices.

Greater adoption of renewable energy has slowed global carbon emission from absolute worst case levels. However, the pace of renewable adoption and increasing energy efficiency is not yet enough to knock the world off the horrific RCP 8.5 track. Such a switch would require a much stronger commitment from India and China together with an ever more rapid pace of transition away from fossil fuels for the developed world. To this point, both India and China have ominously opted out of a global climate summit to be held at the UN tomorrow. There, 120 global leaders will push for ways to rapidly reduce carbon emissions. But without buy-in from India and China, such measures may well be overwhelmed by increasing emissions from these very large and increasingly heavily mechanized Asian economies.

CO2 minimum september

(Global CO2 concentrations as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

Meanwhile, global CO2 levels were hovering near their annual minimum at just above 395 parts per million after hitting a maximum level near 402 parts per million in May of 2014. At current rates of increase, global CO2 is likely to remain above the 400 parts per million concentration year-round within less than three years.

For context, the last time CO2 levels were this high, global temperatures were 2-3 degrees Celsius hotter than they were today and sea levels were at least 75 feet higher. But since humans emit a number of other powerful greenhouse gasses, the global CO2 measure alone doesn’t take into account the entire picture. If all other human heat trapping gasses are added in, the global CO2 equivalent heat forcing (CO2e) is around 481 ppm, which is enough to increase temperatures, long-term by about 3.8 degrees Celsius and to melt more than half of the world’s current ice sheets.

At the current pace of emission it will take less than 30 years to lock in a 550 ppm CO2 equivalent value — enough to melt all the ice on Earth and to raise temperatures by between 5 and 6 degrees Celsius long-term.

As such, the need for rapid transition to renewables together with reduction in harmful consumption could hardly be more urgent. With ever more harmful impacts being locked in with each passing year, the world needed strong global climate policy action yesterday. But action today will be better than waiting another decade or more as the situation continues to worsen.

Links:

The Global Carbon Project

The Global Carbon Budget 2014

World Carbon Emissions Hit Record High during 2013

Global Rise Reported in 2013 Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Keeling Curve

Global Carbon Project Carbon Atlas

IPCC

“Hey! Ho! Fossil Fuels Have Got to Go!” — World Sees Largest Climate March in History Amidst Mounting Dangers

(PBS expose covering the 2014 Climate March shows that nearly 1,500 organizations including environmentalists, faith-based groups, small business groups, economic and social justice organizations, and student organizations participated in this historic event.)

According to the National Climate Data Center, the summer of 2014 was the hottest in the global record. It was a season of record wildfires, sea surface temperatures far above the 20th Century average, and of record droughts and rainfall events around the globe. And it was a year in which the ability of nations to provide food for the world’s seven billion and growing population amidst a mounting tally of extreme droughts and floods was called increasingly into question.

On Sunday September 24, 2014, the ever-more alarmed people of the world responded.

In New York City, an estimated 410,000 took to the streets to protest the broad failure by global governments and businesses to effectively respond to the growing threat of an ever-increasing fossil fuel emission that is rapidly pushing Earth toward a dangerous hothouse environment. In London, nearly 50,000 protesters gathered as Melbourne, Australia saw 30,000 climate marchers. 25,000 lifted their voices in Paris, 15,000 marched through Berlin, and 5,000 gathered in Rio de Janeiro.

Overall, more than 2,500 protest events occurred in 166 countries around the world. Total participation is now estimated to be more than 750,000 — the largest and most widespread climate protest in history.

Climate March Grist

(Hundreds of thousands gather in New York City for Climate March. Image source: Grist.)

In New York City, the massive march began at 11:30 AM at Columbus Circle near Central Park. More than 550 buses disgorged passengers bearing signs labeled with a variety of apt sayings including: “There is No Planet B,” “Carbon Tax Now,” “Go Vegan,” “This Country has a Koch Problem,” “Never, Never Vote Republican,” and “We Can’t Burn all the Oil on the Planet and Still Live on It.”

The march, which included more than 50,000 students, numerous members of the scientific community, and such notables as Bill McKibben, Ban Ki-moon, Jane Goodall, Vandana Shiva, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Leonardo DiCaprio, and Al Gore, at times stretched to fully 4 miles in length. Loud chants such as “Hey! Ho! Fossil fuels have got to go!” rocked what many still believe to be the center of global capital.

I Can't believe I'm having to protest this

(Sign speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Image source: Here.)

The rallies came just two days before a global climate summit was scheduled to convene on Tuesday, September 22. The summit, which will include more than 120 world leaders aims to provide more aggressive measures to attack the vast and growing threat of carbon pollution. As of 2013, recent studies showed that human hothouse emissions jumped by another 2.3% — primarily driven by increases in China, India and the U.S. Ominously, both China and India — previous bad actors on climate change due to astronomical increases in coal burning — have decided to opt out of the current climate summit.

A press conference held prior to the climate march drove home the growing plight of millions of people around the world already staring down the face of fossil-fuel inflicted harm. A number that is likely to jump to billions unless our race toward a hothouse extinction is rapidly halted.

peoples-climate-march17

(Is this a game? Image source: Here.)

Stanley Sturgil, a retired coal miner from Kentucky now suffering from black lung made this statement at a press conference before the march:

“Today I march because I want to behold a brighter future. We have destroyed ourselves. We have destroyed our health and I’m here because our political leaders have failed us.”

Marshall Island resident Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner also made this deeply resonant statement:

“We need to act now… We only have one atmosphere and we of the Marshall Islands only have one land we call home. We don’t want to move and we shouldn’t have to move.”

Sadly, if world leaders continue to fail to hear the pleas of their increasingly foundering constituents, residents of the Marshall Islands won’t be the only ones on the move. The migration, under business as usual carbon emissions and an emerging and deadly hothouse world will comprise a majority of the human race.

Links:

Hundreds of Thousands Turn out for People’s Climate March

Summer of 2014 Hottest on Record

Climate Change Summit: Global Rallies Demand Action

Great Photos From the Climate March

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