UN Report: Human-Caused Climate Disruption Is “Severe, Pervasive, Irreversible”
“Why is it . . . that in this world there are men [and women] whose hearts have been so numbed, whose sentiments of honor and delicacy have been so deadened, that one sees them pleased and amused by what degrades and soils them?” – Marquis de Sade
A recently released draft of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Synthesis Report concluded that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is fully upon us, will dramatically worsen unless something is done immediately – and that something is on the level of a wartime response. The report noted that ACD is “severe … pervasive … irreversible.”
The authors of the draft report used the word “risk” 351 times, “vulnerable” or “vulnerability” 61 times, and “irreversible” 48 times, and added: “The report found that companies and governments had identified reserves of these [fossil] fuels at least four times larger than could safely be burned if global warming is to be kept to a tolerable level.”
The world is already on track to be at least 4 degrees Celsius warmer before the end of the century due to missed carbon targets, while incredibly, worry over short-term costs of investments to address the risks resulting from runaway ACD continues to paralyze any meaningful action toward its mitigation.
As though that’s not enough bad news, the World Meteorological Organization announced in early September that global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations reached record levels in 2013, and are rising at their fastest rate since 1984.
The UN also announced that the usual “cushions” against ACD, like forests and oceans absorbing carbon dioxide, are less effective at doing so as carbon dioxide levels continue to ramp up.
Recently, a team of scientists completed a series of flights over California to develop new methods of detecting and measuring carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere for NASA. “Our understanding of methane emissions from many important sources remains poor,” the principal investigator on the study, Ira Leifer, told Truthout: “For example, a recent review of many field studies over the last decade concluded that industrial fossil fuel emissions – the primary methane source – had been underestimated by a factor of approximately two.”
Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that the IPCC expects will have a greater overall impact in the near term on the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, is approximately 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Surprisingly, with all the talk of carbon dioxide, most mainstream environmentalists are barely addressing the impact of methane on ACD.
A recently released study based on detailed satellite imagery shows that the world’s two largest ice sheets, Greenland and the West Antarctic, are now melting at the fastest rates ever recorded. This ice sheet loss has more than doubled in the last five years. By 2100, ice melt from Antarctica alone will most likely raise sea levels more than 14 inches.
Another study published in the journal Science shows that in the last 20 years, human-caused climate change has become the primary driver of glacial melt.
Overall warming trends continue, as carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise at ever-increasing levels. Globally, May 2014 was the warmest May since global temperature records began in the 1800s. Annually, 2013 tied 2003 as the fourth warmest year globally since 1880.
The truth is undeniable: As the World Health Organization warned recently, ACD is the single greatest threat to human health this century.
As we review studies, reports and planetary indicators of ACD progression over the last month, all signs point toward an accelerating escalation of catastrophic impacts.
A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists brings extremely disconcerting news: Trees in the Rocky Mountains are dying from “no obvious cause,” and scientists suggested that the massive amount of tree death is due simply to ACD-produced hotter and drier conditions. The report added that trees over this massive area are facing a “triple assault – tree-killing insects, wildfires, and heat and drought – that could fundamentally alter these forests as we know them.”
Another distressing report comes from the Audubon Society, that shows that half of all North American bird species, half, are threatened with severe population decline by 2080 due to shifting habitats caused by ACD.
“Massive deaths” in seabird colonies in Iceland have been linked to ACD-generated changes in the climate and ocean. Scientists there are reporting “sobering” descriptions of vast numbers of chick die-offs and entire colonies being abandoned.
Everywhere on earth, massive amounts of carbon are locked in our soil. A recent study, however, shows that this carbon has become far more vulnerable to rising temperatures than previously thought, and researchers showed that microbes in the soil are now far more likely to escalate the release of carbon dioxide in our already warming world.
Farmers across Africa are struggling, as they now face “failed seasons” as a result of being overwhelmed by ACD, according to a recent report on the entire continent’s agricultural sector. The report noted that if climate trends continue unabated, malnourishment in sub-Saharan Africa could increase by 40 percent.
Another stark warning for global food production comes in the realm of planetary food security, which faces a mounting threat from pests taking advantage of ripening harvests. The report, published in the Global Ecology and Biogeology journal, points to ACD as the cause. The report concluded: “Fungal pathogens lead the global invasion of agriculture,” and added, “Climate change is likely to influence future distributions.”
We are losing land due to ACD impacts, including reasons beyond simple sea level rise. A recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) nationwide analysis shows that from 1996 to 2011 the US Gulf Coast region lost 996 square miles of wetlands due to land subsidence and erosion, storms, human-made changes, sea level rise and other factors.
Trees are bearing the brunt of ACD impact as well. California’s iconic giant sequoias are under threat from ongoing impacts of ACD, another study warned. The already lower numbers of the trees are now being threatened by drought, increasing temperatures and wildfires.
In fact, landscapes are being transformed at California’s higher elevations due to ACD, as major changes in that state’s mountain forests are yet another threat to California’s dwindling water supplies.
California’s epic drought is now being shown to be, quite literally, moving mountains. Some of the mountains there have uplifted more than half an inch in just the last year and a half due to the massive amount of water lost in the drought that is no longer weighing down the land, according to a recent study.
Like the Gulf Coast wetlands, islands in the Pacific Ocean are being lost to rising seas. A town in the Solomon Islands has become the first in the Pacific to have to relocate due to ACD. A new town, at a higher elevation on a larger nearby island, is being built and the residents will begin to move there in stages.
The world’s oceans, which absorb the vast majority of the carbon dioxide humans are pumping into the atmosphere, continue to show deleterious impacts from ACD.
While US and Canadian tribal coastal communities’ ancestral connections to the bounty of the oceans span thousands of years, increasing ocean acidification is negatively impacting sea life the tribes have relied upon, hence threatening both the cultural and economic resiliency of tribes.
Similarly, in Alaska, ACD is now threatening the food sources of many Native Alaskans who depend on hunting and fishing in the Bering Sea, since specific ice and weather conditions are crucial to success – and those conditions are now increasingly unpredictable.
Warming waters are also now sending millions of salmon to Canada, at least half of which used to go to Washington State instead. The Swinomish tribe in Washington, which have a reservation with 95 percent of its borders along the ocean, is worried about how rising sea levels and storm surges will threaten their way of life as the planet continues to warm.
The waters of the Gulf of Maine are heating up faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, and are now under threat of losing their populations of cod and lobster, according to scientists.
On the broader front, NOAA recently listed 20 species of coral as threatened with extinction due to ACD, overfishing and pollution, the agency recently announced. Prior to this, there were only two species of coral listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Meanwhile, ACD has augmented epic flooding – the worst in a century – in Pakistan and India. The floods, a symptom of continually worsening Himalayan flooding, have killed at least 460 people and displaced nearly 1 million.
Water issues continue to plague much of the continental United States, where melting permafrost is now causing worsening water quality throughout the Rocky Mountains, where government land managers cite nearly 40,000 abandoned mines, the majority of which run into drainages.
Meanwhile, torrential rains in the Midwestern United States and along the Atlantic Coast recently underscored the struggles urban areas have in coping with flooding from intense storms in a warming climate. More common episodic torrential rains and heavy flooding in cities in both the Midwest and along the Atlantic Coast are highlighting what many climate researchers describe as the new “normal” for severe rainfall in the United States.
A recent US Geological Survey report showed that ACD has been evidenced in an alteration of the flow of the Missouri River, which has changed significantly over the last half century. This change has led to massive water shortages in Montana and Wyoming, while simultaneously leading to increased flooding in the Dakotas.
California’s ongoing, record-setting drought has caused the state’s legislature to recently approve a proposal asking voters for over $7 billion in water-infrastructure projects.
In a recent development, hundreds of residents in the rural San Joaquin Valley can no longer get drinking water from their home faucets because the extreme drought has dried up their individual wells, according to government officials and community groups.
There is widespread alarm across that state’s agricultural areas, as now aquifers are being pumped lower – at rates scientists have warned are both historic and unsustainable.
The aquifers, which provide fresh water that compensates for surface water that is lost from drought-depleted lakes, rivers and reservoirs, will dry up sooner rather than later at current over-pumping rates, which will lead to an even greater catastrophe, experts are warning.
Bill Patzert, long referred to by his colleagues in the science community as the “Prophet of California Climate,” has made dire predictions about California’s severe drought, and they are anything but good. Patzert pointed out how in the 1980s and 1990s, Hoover Dam at Lake Mead was nearly overflowing on a regular basis. Today, however, Lake Mead barely reaches 39 percent capacity, and reservoirs across the West are at record lows. His predictions are not without basis, as the entire Southwestern United States is experiencing such broad drought that the region is now having to learn how to cope with haboobs, which are the type of sandstorms common in the Middle East, where the name originated.
In fact, scientists recently warned that the odds for a megadrought (a drought lasting more than 30 years) in that region, which is home to more than 70 million people, have recently increased dramatically. One of the scientists who authored the report said that this means the United States would be experiencing something not seen in historical climate records in over 2,000 years. “For the southwestern US, I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper, told the Cornell Chronicle. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought.”
As if the epic drought isn’t enough, California also must figure out whether many of its airports, utilities and water agencies are planning properly for future sea-level rise.
Yet it is not only the United States that has to deal with massive ACD-generated droughts, as droughts worldwide are now threatening the future of both food and water supplies, as well as the global economy.
By way of example, in the third largest city in Pakistan, Karachi, people are thirsting for water and began protesting with a single request: access to drinking water at least once a week.
In the Middle East, an ongoing water war is now a regular feature between Syria, Iraq and other countries in the region. Many analysts believe the uprisings in Syria and Egypt were catalyzed by ongoing droughts, which led to socio-economic unrest.
Farmers in New South Wales, Australia, are having a rough go of it as well, as they are facing the worst drought they’ve seen in 100 years.
Severe drought is becoming commonplace around the world. In Sarawak Borneo, large rivers are drying up, while in Brazil drought has prompted water rationing in 19 cities, undermined hydropower generation and escalated greenhouse gas emissions, and is ratcheting up tensions as various states within that country battle for the dwindling water resources.
Meanwhile, the Pacific nation of Kiribati plans to relocate its entire population within 20 years, due to the fact that scientists agree that ACD will create problems like access to potable water and rising seas.
Up in the Arctic, sea ice has been dwindling since the 1950s, according to a recent study. Researchers at the University of Washington and NASA released their report, showing that sea ice had declined by more than one-third in the western Arctic, and by more than half in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
Citing an academic report, a Chinese newspaper recently reported that the Tibetan plateau, whose glaciers supply water to hundreds of millions of people in Asia, were warmer over the past 50 years than at any stage in the past two millennia.
Lastly in this section, scientists now see “unambiguous evidence” that human activities are causing the world’s glaciers to melt faster.
While it is already known that “urban heat islands” are warming their surrounding rural areas, ACD is also increasing these already hot temperatures in many cities around the United States. By way of example, in the summers Albuquerque gets as much as 22 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than nearby rural areas.
More evidence came to light to tie the mysterious (and massive) holes that opened up in the ground in Siberia to ACD, revealing how increasing thawing of the “permafrost” likely played a key role in what appear to be huge releases of methane from underground.
Just as disconcertingly, scientists also recently discovered what they referred to as “widespread methane leakage” coming from at least 570 vents along the ocean floor just off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.
In the atmosphere, methane is a greenhouse gas that, on a relatively short-term time scale, is far more destructive than carbon dioxide. It is 23 times as powerful as carbon dioxide per molecule on a 100-year timescale, and 105 times more potent when it comes to heating the planet on a 20-year timescale.
The summer of 2014 in the United States will be remembered for its massive droughts, huge wildfires and a large array of broken heat records, and ACD scientists have warned that it is a harbinger for much worse things to come.
The 2014 wildfire season in Washington State, while not yet over, has already been one of the most destructive and costly on record, officials from the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said. Since the beginning of the season up until the end of August, the DNR said wildfires in Washington had burned 363,000 acres, or 550 square miles of land, destroying homes along the way. That’s about six times worse than the average amount of acres burned per year in Washington, state forest officials said. Fighting the fires has been costly, too – the state says it spent $81 million this year, even though its annual budget is only $25 million. “It’s been a staggering year, and a great challenge,” state forester Aaron Everett said, according to the News Tribune.
Speaking of wildfires, Canada saw one of its hottest and driest summers in decades. The number of wildfires in the Northwest Territories, whose summer was the hottest and driest in 50 years, is more than six times higher than its 25-year average, and as of late August, a total of 162 wildfires were burning in British Columbia alone.
Another recent study of Alaska’s Yukon Flats concluded that boreal forests in the area were experiencing wildfires at a frequency that outstrips any prior period in the last 10,000 years, which also means that the rate is twice as high as it was 500 to 1,000 years ago.
Denial and Reality
Unfortunately, one needn’t ever have to look too far to find more ACD-denial lunacy.
This August, New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown became a member of a long list of Republicans who have disdain for the science behind ACD. Despite having previously stated that ACD is real, Brown now denies that ACD has been scientifically proven.
In stark contrast to the Republican Party’s public stance on Capitol Hill, many Republicans are now privately supporting action towards mitigating the impacts of ACD, and privately acknowledge the vast scientific consensus that human activity is at least in part responsible for ACD in addition to recognizing the need to deal with the problem.
While global economic impacts from ACD are already prevalent, the Asian Development Bank recently announced that ACD will cut South Asia’s growth by nearly 9 percent before the end of this century unless world governments work harder to mitigate the problem.
Many deniers had claimed the planet to be in the midst of an ACD “slowdown.” (Despite the fact that, for example, according to NOAA data, July registered the fourth warmest month globally on record.) However, it turns out that recent studies have revealed that even though there has been a slowdown in the increase in average global temperatures for the last 15 years, after decades of rapid warming, excess heat is being stored in the depths of the Atlantic, hence showing that there isn’t technically a “slowdown.”
The 15-year slowdown had been pounced upon by ACD deniers, who hypothesized that everything from volcanic eruptions to sulphur from Chinese power stations could be the cause.
This being the case, Richard Allan from the University of Reading warned that while overall temperatures will continue to rise somewhat more slowly as this excess heat continues to be stored in oceanic depths, we should expect surface temperatures to rise rapidly within a decade from now.
Given the rapidity and severity of runaway ACD, the hard reality is that it is going to take far, far more than an officially permitted activist march, funded in part by BP, Duke Energy and Dow Chemical, to generate the systemic revolution needed to mitigate ACD in a real way.