Global warming intensifies: Additional evidence
Bob Sheak, June 18, 2021
In this post, I follow up and add information to what I wrote in my post of May 25, 2021, “The climate crisis intensifies, while meaningful political solutions remain elusive.” The main purpose of the present piece is to provide more context and additional evidence regarding the unfolding and escalating crisis, one that has for decades (at least) been taking a terrible toll on humanity and nature and one that is rapidly growing more destructive. The evidence is not uplifting but it is factual. Unfortunately, those in the U.S. who want to deny or avoid any meaningful action represent powerful forces in the society.
In the May 25 post, I referred to climate scientist Michael E. Mann’s new book, The New Climate War, who writes that “our planet has now warmed into the danger zone, and we are not taking the measures necessary to avert the largest global crisis we have ever faced.” In order to address this situation, “we must understand the mind of the enemy” (p. 1). The enemy includes the fossil-fuel corporations (e.g., ExxonMobil, Shell, BP) and their supporters, the billionaire plutocrats “like the Koch brothers, the Mercers, and the Scaifes,” who have “funneled billions of dollars into a disinformation campaign beginning in the least 1980s and working to discredit the science behind human-caused climate change and its linkage with fossil-fuel burning” (pp. 2-3). This enemy additionally includes those in government in the U.S. and abroad who deny or dismiss the seriousness of global warming and use their positions to protect and advance the interests of the fossil-fuel industry and other polluters.”
At the same time, there may be even more powerful forces, politically and in social movements, that are working to address this existential challenge and engage with others in education, mobilization, and politics to address the crisis. In reviewing Mann’s book, Richard Schiffman notes that, in the final analysis, Mann is optimistic (https://new-scientist.com/article/mg24933160-300-the-new-climate-war-reasons-to-be-optimistic-about-the-future). His optimism is “heartened by the upswell of youth activism and the rapid development of green technologies. Even investors are beginning to flee from fossil fuels.”
The earth is heating up
Some background: A new geological epoch?
We are living in a geological epoch of human-generated increasingly disruptive and catastrophic climate changes that pose an existential threat to humanity. The International Union of Geological Sciences has been considering the evidence on whether the earth has entered a new geological epoch, one referred to as the Anthropocene. This is defined as an epoch in which the activities of humans have become the dominant force, an increasingly deleterious one, in shaping the planet. The concept was first introduced by climatologist Paul Crutzen in 2000. Ian Angus, author of the 2016 book facing the Anthropocene: fossil capitalism and the crisis of the earth system, was interviewed about the concept on The Real News. (http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31<emid=74&jumival=17159).
Angus gives us some context.
“Well, geologists divide the history of the entire Earth, the billions of years that our planet has been here, into various divisions which mark the different stages of life and the conditions of life in the history of our planet. We have for the last 12,000 years been in what’s called the Holocene, that came about when the Ice Ages ended. All the glaciers retreated, and we’ve had 12,000 years of relatively stable climate. Everything’s been very predictable. It’s the period in which agriculture was invented and all large civilizations were born.
“What became clear in the late 20th century to some scientists was that humanity’s activities have become so great that they were actually changing the way that the world functions. Not just changing individual environments or ecosystems but changing fundamental things about the way the world works. Global warming being the best known of those, but of course the destruction of the ozone layer, and so on. So, the Holocene epoch, some scientists began to argue, was coming to an end. We had moved out of that period of long-term stability and we’re moving into a very different time.”
The crux of this view is that human activities have come to represent the dominant forces in shaping the earth’s ecosphere. There’s no debate about this in the climate science community. Human activities that emit greenhouse gases have had and are having a significant and increasingly negative impact on ecosystems and human societies. At the same time, the debate over whether we are in a new geological period continues, including such questions as to when it exactly started (https://eos.org/articles/the-difficulty-of-defining-the-anthropocene).
A scientific consensus
In a post from September 28, 2018, titled “Reigning in Climate Change,” I submitted that the scientific evidence is overwhelming in agreement that human-caused, increasingly disruptive climate change, is occurring. There are multiple books, an increasing body of scientific research, and a host of in-depth journalistic articles based on authoritative sources that confirm the existence of the phenomenon. Most climate scientists have long endorsed the evidence-based proposition that the climate is changing and that it is happening at an accelerating rate.
Andrea Germanos reports that in November, 2017, nearly 17,000 scientists from 180 countries issued a warning to humanity about the advanced and unfolding disruptive changes in the “biosphere” in a letter published in the international journal BioScience. (2017). Unless humanity, that is the world’ governments, set about making transformative changes in their societies soon, the scientists believe that the best evidenced indicates that there will be “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” The scientists are especially troubled by actually observed trends, that is, of rising greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, agricultural production, and the sixth mass extinction event underway” (http://commondreams.org/news/2017/11/13/over-1500-scientists-just-issued-second-notice-humanity-can-we-listen-now). With respect to agriculture, they are referring to the dominant agriculture system that relies on chemical fertilizers that degrade soil, generates carbon emissions, and overutilize and contaminate water sources.
An overview from Wikipedia of the scientific consensus.
Several studies have been done to establish that a consensus does exist. “Among the most-cited is a 2013 study of nearly 12,000 abstracts of peer-reviewed papers on climate science published since 1990, of which just over 4,000 papers expressed an opinion on the cause of recent global warming. Of these, 97% agree, explicitly or implicitly, that global warming is happening and is human-caused. It is “extremely likely” that this warming arises from “… human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases …” in the atmosphere. Natural change alone would have had a slight cooling effect rather than a warming effect.
“This scientific opinion is expressed in synthesis reports, by scientific bodies of national or international standing, and by surveys of opinion among climate scientists. Individual scientists, universities, and laboratories contribute to the overall scientific opinion via their peer-reviewed publications, and the areas of collective agreement and relative certainty are summarised in these respected reports and surveys. The IPCC‘s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) was completed in 2014. Its conclusions are summarized below:
- “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia”.
- “Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years”.
- Human influence on the climate system is clear.It is extremely likely (95-100% probability) that human influence was the dominant cause of global warming between 1951-2010.
- Without new policies to mitigate climate change, projections suggest an increase in global mean temperature in 2100 of 4.8 to 7 °C, relative to pre-industrial levels (median values; the range is 2.5 to 7.8 °C including climate uncertainty).
Wikipedia reports that all national or international science academies and scientific societies agree that global warming is a major challenge. “No scientific body of national or international standing maintains a formal opinion dissenting from any of these main points.” Furthermore, evidence from the prestigious National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) indicates that the hottest years on record are all recent years: 2015, 2016, 2017, and, by all the current evidence, 2018 (https://www.ecowatch.com/hottest-four-years-ever-259119422.html).
The IPCC’s sixth assessment report has been delayed due to the pandemic and is now scheduled to be released in May of 2022.
Some consequences of global warming
Consistent with this evidence, there are a growing number of severe weather events each year, including wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, and floods. The snow-ice covers in the polar regions are shrinking, coral reefs are dying, water tables are falling, desertification is spreading, and the oceans are warming and undergoing massive acidification. Some of the changes compound the problems. Extensive deforestation is reducing one of the earth’s most important “carbon sinks,” that is, the ability of forests to take carbon out of the atmosphere. And there are other examples. As the ice/snow sheets in the arctic are reduced, more of the sun’s ultra-violet rays are retained on earth rather than reflected into space. There is also the danger that as the permafrost in northern regions (e.g., Siberia) melts that enormous volumes of methane will be released into the atmosphere. Bill McKibben made the prescient argument in 2010 in his book eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet that the earth’s climate system had already been transformed in ways that made life as we know it increasingly precarious.
I summarized the following information on “tipping points” in a post titled “The realty and challenges of the climate crisis” on December 28, 2019. The evidence is based on scientific research documenting that as greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, more of the sun’s heat is trapped in the earth’s atmosphere, temperatures rise, and climate-related disruptions and catastrophes occur more frequently and intensily. Soon, by 2050 according to some estimates – if not sooner – climate scientists tell us the effects of climate change will reach a point where they overwhelm societal or international capacities to recover. They are called “tipping points.” Bob Berwyn writes on how scientists think we are closer to or have already reached climate tipping points (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27112019/climate-tipping-points-permafrost-forests-ice-antarctica-greenland-amazon-nature).
As Berwyn reports, scientists are warning that a point of no return, where “‘abrupt and irreversible changes’ to the climate system could be triggered by small changes in the global temperatures to create ‘a new, less habitable, hothouse climate state.’” And there are “indications that exceeding tipping points in one system, such as the loss of Arctic Sea ice, can increase the risk of crossing tipping points in others.” In an article for Nature, cited by Berwyn, “scientists focused on nine parts of the climate system susceptible to tipping points, some of them interconnected:
• Arctic sea ice, which is critical for reflecting the sun’s energy back into space but is disappearing as the planet warms.
• The Greenland Ice Sheet, which could raise sea level 20 feet if it melts.
• Boreal forests, which would release more carbon dioxide (CO2) than they absorb if they die and decay or burn.
• Permafrost, which releases methane and other greenhouse gases as it thaws.
• The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a key ocean current, which would shift global weather patterns if it slowed down or stopped.
• The Amazon rainforest, which could flip from a net absorber of greenhouse gases to a major emitter.
• Warm-water corals, which will die on a large scale as the ocean warms, affecting commercial and subsistence fisheries.
• The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which would raise sea level by at least 10 feet if it melted entirely and is already threatened by warming from above and below.
• Parts of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet that would also raise sea level significantly if they melted.
Naomi Oreskes and Nicholas Stern give the following examples of how the climate-induced ravages in one part of the climate crisis can affect other parts, with catastrophic effects on societies (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/23/opinion/climate-change-costs.html). They give the following examples: “a sudden rapid loss of Greenland or West Antarctic land ice could lead to much higher sea levels and storm surges, which would contaminate water supplies, destroy coastal cities, force out their residents, and cause turmoil and conflict,” or “increased heat decreases food production, which leads to widespread malnutrition, which diminishes the capacity of people to withstand heat and disease and makes it effectively impossible for them to adapt to climate change,” or “Sustained extreme heat may also decrease industrial productivity, bringing about economic depressions.” But they refer to an even “worst-case scenario,” in which “climate impacts could set off a feedback loop in which climate change leads to economic losses, which lead to social and political disruption, which undermines both democracy and our capacity to prevent further climate damage. These sorts of cascading effects are rarely captured in economic models of climate impacts. And this set of known omissions does not, of course, include additional risks that we may have failed to have identified.”
(Anthony D. Barnosky and Elizabeth A. Hadly have devoted an entire book to the subject: Tipping Points for Planet Earth: How Close are We to the Edge.)
Current evidence from the EPA
In an article published on May 12, 2021, in The Washington Post, Dino Grandoni and Brady Dennis report on how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had just “released a detailed and disturbing account of the startling changes that Earth’s warming had on parts of the United States during Trump’s presidency” (https://washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/05/12/us-has-entered-unprecedented-climate-territory-epa-warns). This occurs after years in which “Donald Trump and his deputies played down the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and delayed the release of an Environmental Protection Agency report detailing climate-related damage.” They add: “Trump questioned the idea that burning fossil fuels was warming the planet and endangering Americans’ lives and livelihoods, and his administration delayed an update to the EPA’s peer-reviewed report on climate change indicators, first published in 2010. As a result, the report offers a snapshot of the extent to which the science around climate change grew more detailed and robust during Trump’s term [though not made public] even as his administration at times tried to stifle those findings.”
Elected officials and the public will now belatedly have access to the EPA’s evidence documenting, for example, “the destruction of year-round permafrost in Alaska, loss of winter ice on the Great Lakes and spike in summer heat waves in U.S. cities all signal that climate change is intensifying.” And for the first time, the agency “has said such changes are being driven at least in part by human-caused global warming,” a fact never acknowledged by the Trump administration.
Grandoni and Dennis also report that “EPA staffers said the data detail how the nation has entered unprecedented territory, in which climate effects are more visible, changing faster and becoming more extreme. Collectively, the indicators present “multiple lines of evidence that climate change is occurring now and here in the U.S., affecting public health and the environment,” the agency said.” In preparing the report, the agency compiled a list of 54 climate change indicators used in identifying data across academia, nonprofit institutions and other government agencies to come to its conclusions. For example, the EPA report finds that in 2020 “ocean heat reached its highest level in recorded history,and itfuelsmarine heat waves and coral bleaching.” Additionally: “The extent of Arctic Sea ice also was the second smallest on record dating to 1979. Wildfire and pollen seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer.” Here are further examples.
“Heat waves are occurring about three times more often than they did in the 1960s, the agency found, averaging about six times a year. In turn, Americans are blasting air conditioners to stay cool during the hot months, which has nearly doubled summer energy use over the past half-century and added even more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
At nearly every spot measured in Alaska, permafrost has warmed since 1978. The biggest temperature increases were found in the northernmost reaches of the state, where the thawing of the once permanently frozen soil has made it more difficult for Native Alaskans to store wild game underground and for drillers to transport oil by pipeline.
“The agency also released data that shows coastal flooding is happening more often at all 33 spots studied up and down the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts.”
Current evidence from NASA and NOAA
In an article published in The Guardian on June 17, 2021, Victoria Bekiempis reports on new findings from scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the “Earth’s ‘energy imbalance approximately doubled’ from 2005 to 2019. The increase was described as ‘alarming’” and unprecedented (https://theguardian.com/science/2021/jun/17/earth-trapping-heat-study-nasa-noaa). In technical terms, “‘Energy imbalance’ refers to the difference between how much of the Sun’s ‘radiative energy’ is absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere and surface, compared to how much ‘thermal infrared radiation’ bounces back into space.” The NASA report finds that “A positive energy imbalance means the Earth system is gaining energy, causing the planet to heat up.” The key finding is that the earth “is trapping nearly twice as much heat as it did in 2005.” NASA described the new finding as an “unprecedented” increase amid the climate crisis.” The data comes from “comparing data from satellite sensors – which track how much energy enters and exits Earth’s system – and data from ocean floats.” The rising heat level stems from increases in greenhouse gas emissions that “keep heat in Earth’s atmosphere, trapping radiation that would otherwise move into space.”
An overview of selected evidence
Isabelle Gerrestsen offers the BBC’s “round-up of where we are on climate change at the start of 2021, according to five crucial measures of climate health” (https://bbc.com/future/articles/20210108/where-we-are-on-cliimate-change-in-five-charts). I add supplementary evidence.
1 – CO2 levels, according to Gerrestsen,reached record heights in 2020, topping of at 417 parts per million in May. The trend has been for CO2 levels to rise every year since at least 1958. “We have put 100ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere in the last 60 years,” says Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute for climate change and the environment at Imperial College London. That is 100 times faster than previous natural increases, such as those that occurred towards the end of the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago.”
A note on the geological history of CO2 in the atmosphere
Joseph Romm writes: “At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago, CO2 levels in the atmosphere were approximately 280 parts per million (ppm) (Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know, pp. 1-2). Indeed, he writes, “going back a total of 800,000 years – CO2 levels generally never exceeded 280-300 ppm” (p. 16). Now, as reported by Doyle Rice in USA Today on May 4, 2018, carbon dioxide comprised 410 ppm. Rice cites the Scripps Institute of Oceanography as his source and notes that, according to Scripps, this quantity is the “highest in at least the past 800,000 years.” Be clear, there is agreement on this mind-boggling point by major scientific sources on climate change, with virtual unanimity among climate scientists.
Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reach historic highs despite the economic slowdown during the pandemic
Despite the pandemic and as economies around the world declined, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, hit historically high levels, according to a report in The Washington Post by Brady Dennis and Seven Mufson (https://washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/06/07/atmospheric-carbon-dioxide-hits-record-levels). After declining early in the pandemic, “human-caused emissions rebounded fairly quickly.”
There was indeed a temporary decline. “In 2020, primary energy demand decreased nearly 4 percent, and global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions fell by 5.8 percent, according to the International Energy Agency — the largest annual percentage decline since World War II.” They reached a level that prevailed in 2012, not enough to change the world’s current warming trajectory. But emission levels soon rebounded.
There were 417 parts per million in the atmosphere in May 2020, rising to 419 ppm in May 2021. To reiterate, CO2 levels were approximately 280 parts per million 250 years ago at the dawning of the industrial revolution (Joseph Romm, Climate Change, pp. 1-2). The International Energy Agency (IEA), Dennis and Mufson write, “expects global carbon emissions to surge this year as parts of the world rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. The group projected in April that emissions are on track to reach the second-largest annual rise on record.”
Pieter Tans, a senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, told them that the record-breaking finding for May 2021 is “significant in that it shows we are still fully on the wrong track.” But it’s hardly surprising, Tans noted, as “humans continue to add about 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution to the atmosphere each year. He also said that the only way to “avoid catastrophic changes to the climate will require reducing that number to zero as quickly as possible.” Corinee Le Quere, research professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia concurs that the CO2 concentrations will only stop rising “when the emissions approach zero.” At the same time, the situation is not yet hopeless. Tans “holds out hope that the world will be able to put itself on a better path. The science of how to do that exists, he said, but what remains unclear is whether societies can muster the kind of action that has yet to materialize.”
“Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Hits Highest Level in Over 4 Million Years”
This is the headline of Brett Wilkens article in Common Dreams on June 7, 2021 (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/06/07/atmospheric-carbon-dioxide-hits-highest-level-over-4-million-years). He reports on the findings from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California who have ascertained through their research that the May 2021 measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere were, as already mentioned, a monthly average level of 419 parts per million, up from 417 ppm in May 2020. The researchers add that this level of CO2 concentration is “now comparable to where it was during the Pliocene Climatic Optimum, between 4.1 and 4.5 million years ago, when CO2 was close to, or above 400 ppm.” Wilkens notes that for a time in April “atmospheric CO2 concentrations surged past 420 ppm for the first time in recorded history.” These and other scientific findings will help to inform officials at the “upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference—also known as COP26—which will be held in Glasgow, Scotland this November.”
2. Record heat. Gerrestsen writes: “The past decade was the hottest on record. The year 2020 was more than 1.2C hotter than the average year in the 19th Century. In Europe it was the hottest year ever, while globally 2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest.” The record-breaking temperatures “triggered the largest wildfires ever recorded in the US states of California and Colorado, and the “black summer” of fires in eastern Australia.”
Record-breaking heat across U.S. west
In an article published on June 15, 2021, for The Washington Post, Matthew Cappucci reports on an historic heat wave that is bringing more than 40 million Americans to triple-digit heat, “with some spots soaring over 120 degrees as records fall across the West. He continues: “The heat in many areas is dangerous, prompting excessive-heat warnings in seven states where temperatures will be hazardous to human health” (https://washingtonpost.com/weather/2021/06/15/record-heat-western-us-draught). Furthermore, the heat “reinforces a devastating drought that continues to reshape the landscape of the West while bolstering worries of what lurks ahead in the fall come fire season. More than half of the western United States is gripped by ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the two most severe categories.”
He gives the following examples, among others. (1) “On Monday [June 14, 2021], records were shattered in the desert Southwest and the Rockies, including in Tucson, where highs hit 112 degrees. Las Vegas spiked to 110” and expected to reach 113 degrees. (2) “Highs in Phoenix reached 112 degrees on Monday and didn’t fall below 90 until after 3 a.m. They’re slated to crest at 116 or 117 degrees on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before ‘only’ hitting 114 degrees on Saturday. That would set a record every day through Friday.” (3) “Los Angeles should join the triple-digit club as well, hitting 100 degrees on Tuesday before settling into the mid-90s on Wednesday.” (4) “Death Valley, Calif., famous for holding the highest temperature ever observed on the planet, is expected to hit 125 degrees for the remaining days this week. It hit 118 degrees Monday, the nation’s hottest temperature. Wednesday and Thursday could feature highs of 127 degrees, near its June record.” (5) “In California’s Central Valley, most places will hit 90 degrees on Tuesday, but the real heat starts Wednesday — widespread temperatures between 100 and 105 will be the story for places like Redding, Sacramento and Fresno, where excessive-heat warnings are in effect. On Thursday, highs could flirt with 110 degrees, with temperatures approaching 110 on Friday and Saturday. Sacramento could establish a record Thursday by as much as 7 degrees.” (6) “Casper, Wyo., is aiming for 102 degrees Tuesday. Salt Lake City, which hit 102 degrees on Saturday and spiked to 103 on Monday, could come close to tying or breaking the June record of 105 degrees as the mercury continues to soar on Tuesday.”
3. Arctic ice, according to Gerrestsen, reached 38C in eastern Siberia [100.4 degrees Fahrenheit] in June 2020, “the hottest ever recorded within the Arctic Circle. The heatwave accelerated the melting of sea ice in the East Siberian and Laptev seas and delayed the usual Arctic freeze by almost two months.” Furthermore, the melting ice means that less of the heat from the Sun is reflected back into space, more is absorbed by the ocean, and the global temperature rises with all of the myriad environmental damaging effects.
Kenny Stancil, staff writer for Common Dreams, reports on findings from The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP). The central point of the AMAP report is this: “Over the past five decades, the Arctic has warmed three times faster than the world as a whole, leading to rapid and widespread melting of ice and other far-reaching consequences that are important not only to local communities and ecosystems but to the fate of life on planet Earth” (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/05/20/real-hotspot-study-shows-arctic-warming-3-times-faster-rest-of-earth). Specifically, the AMAP finds that “the Arctic’s annual mean surface temperature surged by 3.1ºC between 1971 and 2019, compared with a 1ºC rise in the global average during the same time period” and “Arctic warming has been accompanied by a decrease in snow cover and sea and land ice; an increase in permafrost thaw and rainfall; and an uptick in extreme events.”
Bob Berwyn reports for Inside Climate News on May 20, 2021, on new research documenting how one of the largest Antarctic glaciers is breaking up and the implications (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11062821/the-acceleration-of-an-antarctic-glacier-shows-how-global-warming-can-rapidly-break-up-polar-ice-and-raise-sea-level). The glacier in question is the Pine Island Glacier, a significant part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. According to Berwyn’s reporting, the “Pine Island Glacier is one of two big ice streams that drains the California-size West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is more than a mile thick in places and would raise sea level by about 10 feet if it melts completely.” He quotes the co-author of the study, Pierre Dutrieux, a polar researcher with the British Antarctic Survey. “If this process was to continue, then that would be a problem. That would basically change everything we were predicting in the past. But if that was just like a small hiccup, and now the glacier stabilizes again, then we basically go back to saying the ocean and the atmosphere are driving everything. We’re not saying everything has to be thrown away, but it is pointing to something that was unexpected.” “Currently,” Berwyn reports, “West Antarctic ice shelves are retreating between .5 and 2 miles per year, but other research suggests that, during periods of global warming millions of years ago, some ice shelves may have retreated 6 miles per year. That rate determines how fast sea level rises.”
Overall, the new study provides more evidence that global warming impacts on West Antarctica are intensifying. Dutrieux is quoted: “Just what we’ve seen over the last 20 to 30 years, that’s pretty rapid on the scale of a glacier. They operate on a scale of tens of thousands of years, so to see this much change in a few decades is rather dramatic. The processes we’d been studying in this region were leading to an irreversible collapse, but at a fairly measured pace.” The new findings indicate that “[t]hings could be much more abrupt if we lose the rest of that ice shelf.”
4. Permafrost (from Gerrestsen) “Across the northern hemisphere, permafrost – the ground that remains frozen year-round for two or more years – is warming rapidly. When air temperatures reached 38C (100F) in Siberia in the summer of 2020, land temperatures in several parts of the Arctic Circle hit a record 45C (113F), accelerating the thawing of permafrost in the region. Both continuous permafrost (long, uninterrupted stretches of permafrost) and discontinuous (a more fragmented kind) are in decline.” The permafrost across Siberia, Greenland, Canada, and the Arctic holds “twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does – almost 1,600 billion tonnes. Much of that carbon is stored in the form of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming impact 84 times higher than CO2.”
Wikipedia defines permafrost as “ground that continuously remains below 0 °C (32 °F) for two or more years (often for thousands of years), located on land or under the ocean (https://en/wikipedia.org/wiki/Permafrost). According to Wikipedia, “Permafrost does not have to be the first layer that is on the ground. It can be from an inch to several miles deep under the Earth’s surface. Some of the most common permafrost locations are in the Northern Hemisphere. Around 15% of the Northern Hemisphere or 11% of the global surface is underlain by permafrost, including substantial areas of Alaska, Greenland, Canada and Siberia. It can also be located on mountaintops in the Southern Hemisphere and beneath ice-free areas in the Antarctic. Permafrost frequently occurs in ground ice, but it can also be present in non-porous bedrock. Permafrost is formed from ice holding various types of soil, sand, and rock in combination.”
New research by Monique S. Patzner and an international team of researchers discovered that the quantity of methane gas released from the organic matter as permafrost melts is greater than previously thought (https://sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/2102/09113807.html). It has long been known by scientists that “microorganisms play a key role in the release of CO2 [as methane] as permafrost melts. Microorganisms activated as soil thaws convert dead plants and other organic material into greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.” However, until now, it thought that the mineral iron, also in permafrost, bound the gases so as to limit somewhat the amount of gas released into the atmosphere or oceans. The research by Patzner and her colleagues found that “bacteria incapacitate iron’s carbon trapping ability, resulting in the release of vast amounts of CO2. This is an entirely new discovery.” The bacteria use the iron as another food source. More research is needed to determine just how much additional gas will be released; however, it will be greater than scientists previously projected.
5. Forests (from Gerrestsen) – “Since 1990 the world has lost 178 million hectares of forest (690,000 square miles) – an area the size of Libya. Over the past three decades, the rate of deforestation has slowed but experts say it isn’t fast enough, given the vital role forests play in curbing global warming. In 2015-20 the annual deforestation rate was 10 million hectares (39,000 square miles, or about the size of Iceland), compared to 12 million hectares (46,000 square miles) in the previous five years.” While Europe and Asia are regaining temperate forests, South America and Africa are losing tropical forests, most dramatically in Brazil, the Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia. “When forests are cut down or burned, the soil is disturbed and carbon dioxide is released.” Gerretsen points out that the “World Economic Forum launched a campaign this year to plant one trillion trees to absorb carbon. However, she also writes,” While planting trees might help cancel out the last 10 years of CO2 emissions, it cannot solve the climate crisis on its own.” She quotes Bonnie Waring, senior lecturer at the Grantham Institute, who says, “Protecting existing forests is even more important than planting new ones. Every time an ecosystem is disturbed, you see carbon lost.” The most cost-effective and productive way to capture CO2 and boost overall biodiversity is to allow forests “to regrow naturally and rewilding huge areas of land, a process known as natural regeneration, is the most cost-effective and productive way to capture CO2 and boost overall biodiversity, according to Waring.
In a rational society and world, the evidence that documents the intensification of global warming and the threat it poses to humanity and life on earth would lead to appropriate and proportional U.S. and other government responses.
Over the last four years, Trump and his administration often denied the realty of global warming, while withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement, reversing fuel efficiency standards, opening up public land to oil and gas mining, and ending the ban on the export of gas and oil exports, and loading up the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies with people who supported his anti-scientific views. Trump’s policies had the full support of Republicans in the U.S. Congress, fossil-fuel corporations, billionaires like the Kochs, trade associations, right-wing think tanks, and right-wing media.
President Biden and congressional Democrats have taken an approach to the climate crisis is diametrically opposite to Trump’s. They accept the scientific evidence, recognize the increasingly severe consequences, and have proposed major legislation to address this massive problem. Jake Johnson provides an update, reporting on how Democrats in the Senate’s Budget Committee are pushing for a $6 trillion infrastructure bill (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/06/17/led-sanders-senate-dems-weigh-6-trillion-infrastructure-bill-bipartisan-talks-fail). He points out that the “$6 trillion plan would go well beyond the roughly $4 trillion in spending that President Joe Biden proposed in his two-pronged infrastructure and safety-net package, which consists of the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan.” There is currently circulating in the Senate a two-page document (pdf) listing 11 potential pay-fors, including a reduction in the massive IRS tax gap and ‘asset recycling.’” Of course, Senate Republicans will try to stop any such legislation via the filibuster.
In the meantime, a bipartisan group of 20 senators led Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have proposed a bill “for just $579 billion in new spending, a figure that a number of Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate have rejected as badly inadequate to address the country’s dire infrastructure needs and make necessary investments in green energy.”
At this time, it is not clear how Senate Democrats and Biden will reconcile the differences in their proposals and whether Biden will agree to break up his proposal into smaller bills. Additionally, when faced with an inevitable Republican filibuster in the Senate and regardless of how much Biden and the Democrats may compromise, the Democrats will only advance legislation dealing with the climate crisis in the Senate if they can unify their caucus and by-pass a Republican filibuster. While U.S. politics delay and perhaps end up stopping any meaningful government response to the climate crisis, signs of the accelerating crisis proliferate in the U.S. and around the world.
In conclusion, Kate Aronoff suggests that a massive grassroots movement is a necessary component of any successful effort to quell the climate crisis. Here’s a small sample of what she writes in her book, Over-Heated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet – and How We Fight Back.
“Decarbonizing the global economy and adapting to the climate-changed century ahead will be the single hardest and most important thing our species has ever done. It’s impossible without a big, democratic government and massive state investment, as well as the dismantling of the most powerful industry that has ever existed. That, in turn, seems dangerously far off unless some crucial mass of people see the Green New Deal as their path to a better life and manage to overcome the rank and racist divide-and-conquer politics that have been so successful at stopping efforts to turn these United States into a more perfect union, and this planet into a fairer place….Indeed, many of the good ideas now percolating around the climate movement can be traced back to grassroots struggles waged by people whose home lay in the path of fossils fuel infrastructure and its consequences….” (p. 358)