Britain Succumbs to Fear — Europe Shattered by Deteriorating Physical and Political Climate

In Central India, during 2016, millions of farmers who have lost their livelihoods due to a persistent drought made worse by climate change are migrating to the cities. The climate change induced monsoonal delays and ever-worsening drought conditions forced this most recent wave of climate change refugees to make a stark choice — move or watch their families starve.

It’s a repeat of a scene that happened in Syria during 2006 through 2010, but on a much larger scale. A scene that will repeat again and again. In Bangladesh and the other low lying coastal and delta regions of the world, hundreds of millions will be uprooted by sea level rise. In the US Southwest, India, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Southern Europe hundreds of millions more will be uprooted by drought. All because we, as a global civilization, failed to work together to halt fossil fuel burning soon enough and prevent a temperature increase great enough to wreck cities, states, and regions and to start to destabilize human civilization.

Punjab Well

(In India, water sources like this Punjab well and major rivers are running dry. Climate change is melting glaciers in the Himalayas even as it is helping to delay the seasonal monsoon. As a result, millions of farmers have lost their livelihoods and are migrating to the cities. It’s a situation similar to what occurred in Syria, but one that is likely to ultimately produce a much larger wave of migrants. Will we, as a global community, do all we can to help and welcome these migrants? Will we provide the systems of global and national equality that are necessary to achieve this result? Or will we fear them, allowing such fear to have a deleterious effect on our various political systems as occurred in Britain last week? Image source: Commons.)

The Need For Global Unity and Equality in the Face of Severe Climate Externalities

It has always been a wondrous and difficult ideal to strive for global unity. During the 20th Century, the United Nations was established in the hopes of preventing cataclysmic world wars lead by nuclear-armed states. From these global treaties sprang numerous other agreements. These in turn facilitated trade and cooperation on a larger scale than ever before. In the 1980s and 1990s an international treaty called The Montreal Protocal enabled the prevention of a global catastrophe in the form of the loss of the protective ozone layer by internationally regulating the use of ozone-destroying chemicals. This was the first time global governments effectively worked together to prevent a major harmful geophysical change to the Earth System by reigning in corporate excess and, to one degree or another, agreeing to set aside short term gain in favor of long term sustainability.

The hope and example provided by this rational policy has since been undermined by what could best be defined as the deleterious influence of individual and corporate special interests. In many cases, international trade agreements — the upshot of global cooperation — have been co-opted by various corporate powers to promote private interests in the name of international unity. Trade has been used to erode the political power of national unions, to force fossil fuel dependence in various regions, and to undermine equality based policies of national governments around the world. Such use of international trade policies has promoted an increasing tragedy of exploitation of public and natural resources by private entities in which equality has been undermined, wealth has been concentrated at the top, environmental regulations have been removed, circumvented, or ignored, and the global atmosphere has been polluted with a devastating volume of greenhouse gasses.

Extreme Rainfall Events

(Greenhouse gas pollution forces global temperatures higher which in turn increases evaporation and loads the atmosphere up with moisture, which in turn drives increasing instances of extreme rainfall events on one end of the weather spectrum and extreme drought conditions on the other end. Over recent years, rainfall records have been shattered with greater and greater frequency as a result. And incidences of extreme flooding, like that seen last week in West Virginia, which has damaged or destroyed 500 homes, adds to the wave of climate refugees and lends urgency to need to work together on a global scale to mitigate the damage by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to help the displaced. Hat tip to Peter Sinclair for the above image provided by the 2015 Lehmann extreme rainfall study.)

If the Montreal Protocol and the Paris Climate Summit represent the best face of global cooperation, then trade agreements like TTIP can represent its dark side. One set gives an example of how the world must work together now in order to preserve the foundation of global civilization. The other has often become little more than a divisive monetary and political power grab by numerous giant corporations now ranging the globe (the Godzilla Zombie Corps of Growth Shock). One has the potential to save the world. The other — if it leads to increasing wealth inequality, increasing externalization of harms, loss of government regulatory control of corporations, and privatization of public assets — will inevitably wreck it.

Brexit — The Culmination of Greed, Fear, and Climate Change

By the end of the 20th Century and the start of the 21st Century global unity was coming under strain due to these forces of systemic inequality and harm eroding global monetary policies coupling with the rising impacts of human caused climate change. Creation of laissez-faire markets combined with fossil fuel based energy dominance to first help drive major commodity price spikes in the early to mid 2000s and then to generate the wave of crashes during the 2008 financial meltdown. Corporate pushed austerity measures generated increasing inequality in Europe post collapse even as climate change enabled a wave of Middle Eastern refugees moving westward — spurred on by the Syrian drought. The synergistically destructive forces of rising inequality and fear of migrants — fueled by right wing political voices across Europe — generated large cracks in Europe’s economic union. Failure to identify the causes of loss of income, pensions, and healthcare among Europeans as the result of corporate-driven austerity measures lead to a wrongful scape-goating of migrants and inflamed hatred across the continent.

In Europe last week, these socially destructive cracks widened yet again. A campaign emerging out of a xenophobic UK-based right wing group named Brexit (feeding on the same anxieties as Trump in the US) leveraged mass migration fears to run a successful campaign against the UK remaining within the European Union. A primary focus of the Brexit movement was targeting Syrian migrants — the very individuals who lost their livelihoods due to a climate change induced drought. People who basically had to make the same choice as many living in India today — move or starve.

Underlying the xenophobic fears that helped spur the UK’s vote for EU succession was concern over the TTIP — a treaty that the EU is now considering and that many think would open the UK’s National Healthcare System to a deleterious privatization. Brexit capitalized on these fears by claiming that both migrants and the EU were a threat to UK citizens’ access to healthcare. In truth, TTIP is probably a worse threat to UK healthcare than migrants, but this particular concern fed into the overall Brexit fear mongering. And it was this combination of a very real threat of loss of equality and economic security driven by laissez-faire economic policies together with the ultimately imagined and inflamed fear of scapegoat migrants that spurred the UK’s economic secession.

The Dark Consequences of Economic Systems Engineered to Optimize Wealth Concentration and Externalize Harm

The thing to learn from all this is that market liberalization (a negative venture that all too often fosters wealth concentration, market collapse, and extremely harmful pollution and is not to be confused with the liberation of people, which is an entirely positive venture) and a failure to regulate and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions leads to very destructive political consequences. On the right, what we’ve seen is a fostering of immigrant scape-goating and climate change denial as a political smoke screen to mask the environmental and economic harms that their policies are causing. And the reliance on these two explosive communications strategies seeds a combined attack on science and destabilization of political systems. One that by itself represents a threat to the underpinnings of functioning and benevolent advanced societies.

Bakersfield Fire

(Erskine Fire burns along the southern rim of California’s Central Valley in 105 degree [F] heat on Sunday. The fire, which has now destroyed 250 structures and killed two people, is just one of many examples of how extreme events spurred by climate change can render people homeless. Sea level rise, drought, extreme rains, extreme cyclones, wildfires, and crop loss are all caused or made worse by climate change. Such events will inevitably result in a growing wave of global migrants. If we are to expect human civilization to survive without spiraling into worsening conflict, we must establish plans now to help those displaced by climate change and to ensure that those hosting migrant populations do not have fears and hatreds inflamed by rising inequality. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

When facing climate change, we will have to first deal with the problems caused by failed neo-liberal thinking. We cannot deal with climate change without the necessary regulations on greenhouse gasses. And we absolutely cannot deal with climate change effectively in a situation where global inequality is worsened and social stresses threaten to tear the very institutions that allow us to cooperate apart. Joe Romm was absolutely right in his most recent essay — we have a choice now. Cooperate to deal with climate change and inequality — or fail. Fail in the ugliest most heinous way possible as hatred, xenophobia, and competition for resources tears international institutions and states apart. For, in the end, cooperation in dealing with climate change means that we will have to promote fairness and equality as a means to reduce a stability-wrecking panic. We will have to make the solemn and reassuring promise to help each other. To help those who are starving and migrating. To help those who are losing healthcare benefits and economic prospects. To help them both and to at the same time stem the spread of combined exploitation and global poverty.

In places like India and Bangladesh, in the US Southwest, in Brazil, in Southern Europe, in Africa, and along the coastal cities of the world, the next wave of migrants is building. They include many of the people who are now reading this blog. Will we do the moral, just thing — as the Pope has urged us — and resolve ourselves to help them? Will we ultimately resolve to help ourselves? For climate change is a crisis that prefers no race, no location, no nationality. And in the end it will make refugees of us all.

Links:

Drought Migrants Flee to India’s Cities

Brexit, Trump Just the Beginning, Climate Will Drive Refugees and Resentment

LANCE-MODIS

Commons

West Virginia’s Deadly Flooding Disaster

Extreme Rainfall Events Increased Under Global Warming

Growth Shock

California Today: Wildfires Earlier Than Ever

Cameron Forced to Back Down From NHS TTIP Deal

The Keeling Curve (Please Support Public, Non Special Interest Based Science)

Pope Francis’s Encyclical

Hat tip to Peter Sinclair

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to 65 Karin

Hat tip to Webej

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Monitor Shows Carbon Monoxide Spikes to 40,000 Parts Per Billion over California on February 26 — What the Heck is Going On?

Hint: it’s a glitch.

*****

On February 26, The Global Forecast System model recorded an (unconfirmed) intense and wide-ranging carbon monoxide (CO) spike over the US West Coast. A region stretching from British Columbia, through Washington and Oregon, and on over most of California experienced CO readings ranging from about 5,000 parts per billion over the mountains of Southwestern Canada to as high as 40,000 parts per billion over Southern California. Very high peak readings appear to have occurred from Northern California near Eureka and along a line south and eastward over much of Central California to an extreme peak zone just north and west of Los Angeles near Palmdale.

40000 ppbv

(Very large [unconfirmed] CO spike over Western North America near major geological features on February 26, 2016. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

For reference, these (unconfirmed) readings in the Nullschool Monitor were between 25 and 200 times above typical background CO levels of about 200 parts per billion and up to twelve times higher than second highest peak readings over polluted regions of China during the same period.

Major Spike Appeared in Just 3 Hours Starting February 25th

Human-based carbon monoxide sources are not generally known to produce spike readings so high and so wide-ranging over such a short interval of time. It would typically take a considerable emission many days to build up under a stagnant air mass. And, to this point, we do have a couple of dome high pressure systems which have tended to form near the California region over recent days. That said, surface winds in the region at 5-15 mph over most areas could hardly be considered stagnant. In addition, the current spike appears over an interval of three hours in the Nullschool data — going from zero coverage to covering all of California and parts of Nevada, Oregon, Washington and BC over that single short interval. It’s a very brief period for such a large and wide-ranging peak reading to appear so soon. One that would require a rather extraordinary pulse of pollution to produce the readings indicated on February 25-26.

Wildfires could produce a longer-term emissions spike under stagnant air as well. However, the wildfires now reported for California are small and isolated. They have flared, off and on, under drought conditions, for weeks without resulting in any significant large fire outbreaks or related major pollution spikes. So it appears unlikely that they are the source of the current burst. Other events related to the ongoing California drought may have had an impact (apparently, burning of desiccated trees from California’s orchards is currently quite widespread due to ongoing drought conditions remaining in place since 2012). However, such instances would have to have been very sudden and wide-ranging to produce the spike we saw on the 25th and 26th.  Canadian wildfires — of which there have been very small and low intensity hotspot events recently (noteworthy due to their anomalous appearance out of season, if not for their intensity)  — were very far from peak readings in California and did not produce even a moderate level of emissions (undetectable from the visible MODIS sensor).

The Earthquake Precursor Hypothesis

A final suspect for this preliminary observation (which has gotten much hype in social media circles over recent days) is geological. As the apparent spike in the monitor occurs over large fault lines, volcanoes, and above other active geological features along the US and Canadian West, it appears that activity within these features might have produced a brief if intense burp of this gas. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) readings — another geological gas — were also elevated in the monitor, with peak readings again appearing in Southwestern California.

It’s worth noting that no major US or Canadian geological organization has yet made any report on this particularly large CO spike. However, a piece of scientific research in Nature Asia, by K. S. Jayaraman notes that major CO and SO2 spikes may be an indication that future earthquake activity is on the way. According to Nature this kind of intense CO spike occurred prior to a 7.6 magnitude earthquake that shook Gujara in 2001 killing 20,000 people:

Singh said that CO levels were taken by an instrument onboard NASA’s Terra satellite — launched in 2009 — circling the earth in a polar orbit at a height of 705 km. The instrument measures CO concentrations at different heights and also computes the total amount of the gas in a vertical column of air above the earth surface.

Analysis of the satellite data showed a large peak in CO concentrations during January 19 and 20 — a week before the main earthquake event. On January 19, the total CO in the vertical column was also higher than usual. After the 26 January earthquake the concentration of the gas dropped.

According to the scientists, CO gas is forced out of the earth due to the build up of stress prior to the earthquake “influencing the hydrological regime around the epicentre.”

But before we tilt too far into alarmism on this particular possibility, we should consider the fact that the above paper appears to have had no confirmation or further comment in the sciences at this time. So the predictive usefulness of large CO spikes prior to earthquakes remains quite uncertain. And, as noted above, no major geological information outlet has made any warning or comment on earthquake risk.

Furthermore, there’s been no observed spike in earthquake activity along any of the major fault lines over the past week according to USGS observations. Contrary to what some irresponsible analysts have been implying, earthquake activity in the California region over the past 7 days was well within the normal range. At 161 over the past week, this small number is not indicative of any abnormal activity near the various active fault lines. Each year, Southern California alone experiences 10,000 earthquakes, most of which are so small that people don’t even feel them.

The US geological survey also maintains that:

There is no scientifically plausible way of predicting the occurrence of a particular earthquake. The USGS can and does make statements about earthquake rates, describing the places most likely to produce earthquakes in the long term. It is important to note that prediction, as people expect it, requires predicting the magnitude, timing, and location of the future earthquake, which is not currently possible.

Thus the apparent, current very large West Coast CO spike near major fault lines (and over regions suffering from what is now a very severe five-year drought) in this particular monitor remains a bit of a mystery.

Or is it all Just a Glitch?

Considering that all the wildfire and human potential sources for the CO pulse are unlikely to produce the spike in the Nullschool data, that we have no warning of potential impending geological activity from the major agencies, and that we have had no other reports from related agencies to confirm the spike, we should also consider that there may well be something wrong with the monitor. Artifacts can appear in the satellite model data and it’s not unheard of to get a spike reading due to other signals impacting how physical models interpret sensor data.

Carbon Monoxide Hourly Observations San Bernandino

(Hourly carbon monoxide observations in Central San Bernardino do not match high surface CO measures recorded by the GEOS 5 model. Similar lower atmospheric readings come from station observations throughout Southern and Central California. Image source: California AMQD.)

To this point, lack of confirmation at ground reporting stations for high CO readings appearing in the GEOS 5 monitor increase the likelihood that these high peak readings were a glitch or an artifact in the physical data. A cursory view of local warnings shows no local CO air quality alerts for the areas indicated in the Nullschool data set (You can view a list of the local monitors here). Analysis of this data also shows much lower CO readings from these stations in the range of 400 to 1200 parts per billion — quite a bit lower than what the GEOS 5 monitor is showing.

So what we have is one model showing a very high CO spike, but none of the related ground monitors picking it up. Since there are hundreds of ground stations in this region, it seems quite a bit less likely that there is something wrong with each of the readings coming from these stations than from the GEOS 5 model itself.

This begs the question — was there some kind of false positive that confused GEOS 5? Was there some other signal that tripped the model to show such a high reading? But to these points, a general lack of overall confirmation from the hundreds of ground sensors scattered across the region seems to point to the likelihood that such elevated readings in the GEOS 5 monitor were a glitch, an artifact, or a false reading for this atmospheric level.

UPDATED: Final Confirmation — It’s A Model Algorithm Error

Dr. Gavin Schmidt, head of GISS NASA, has confirmed the glitch in his twitter feed which you can read here. He notes:

The Elevated Carbon Monoxide concentrations in the GEOS 5 products since February 25 of 2016 are incorrect. They are the consequence of unrealistic CO emissions computed by our biomass burning algorithm, which is based on satellite observation of fires… GMAO is working to correct this problem.

An excellent further explanation has been given by Bryan, a blogger over at Of Tech and Learning. His explanation is as follows:

“It’s pure coincidence that at MOPITT resumed data collection over western North America while its operating temperature was still stabilizing. Had the instrument’s temperature remained unstable for a few days, it would have looked like the whole globe was erupting gas. If MOPITT has started collecting data over the south pole, open ocean, or some other obscure location, I doubt anyone would have noticed and made a big fuss. MOPITT uses light collected in the infrared part of the spectrum. Based on Terra’s system status, the CO, CO2 and SO2 data collected by MOPITT on the 25th and 26th of February should be highly suspect. On the Earth map, the CO, CO2, and SO2 levels spike sometime between 1pm and 4pm Pacific time on Feb. 25th, which is between 2100 UTC on the 25th and 0000 UTC on the 26th. This is precisely during the time window when MOPITT’s operating temperature is still unstable.”

So a glitch does appear to be the cause of the current CO spike in the Nullschool data.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

AMQD Data

Dr Gavin Schmidt’s Twitter Feed

Active Fire Maps

Canadian Fire Maps

Cascadia Subduction Zone

The San Andreas Fault Line

Carbon Monoxide May Signal Earthquake

Paradise Burning

Copernicus Monitoring System

An Explanation of Carbon Monoxide Concentrations on US West Coast

Hat tip to Mike

Hat tip to MlParrish

Hat tip to WeHappyFew

Hat tip to Coopgeek

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Bryan

Hat tip to FishOutofWater

Hat tip to Jim Benison

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