A massive collapse of an ice sheet in Western Antarctica has begun and, according to scientists, is most likely an unstoppable event that will cause an inevitable rise in global sea levels of at least 10 feet.
The rise will be relatively slow at first, but by 2100 will ramp up sharply. This could happen sooner, warn the scientists, as the impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD/climate change) continue to intensify.
“This is really happening,” Thomas P. Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research, said. “There’s nothing to stop it now.”
On April 13, the world’s leading scientific body for the assessment of ACD warned of a “devastating rise of 4-5C if we carry on as we are.”
According to Mike Childs, the head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth, an increase to 4C warming would mean a “devastating” impact on agriculture and human civilization. Childs added that we would face even more extreme weather events and lose approximately 20-30 percent of the wildlife on the planet. This assessment may even be overly hopeful, given that humans have never lived on a planet at 3.5C or higher.
A report released in April by a joint Australian/US research team states that escalating CO2 emissions now threaten the entire marine food chain, given that more than 90 percent of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans.
The extreme temperature duality witnessed across the US this past winter is likely to become the norm, thanks to ACD, and it was again revealed who the largest CO2 emitters are. China, the US and India lead as the world’s largest polluters.
The rapidity with which ACD is progressing now is truly astounding. Greenhouse gas emissions grew in the first decade of the 21st century at a rate nearly double that of the previous 30 years combined – this, despite the massive economic downturn in 2008.
With full steam ahead for the industrial growth society that dominates the planet, this dispatch reveals another month of dramatic impacts and stunning reports that show, starkly, how humans are disfiguring all facets of the earth.
According to a recent study published in Nature, increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere could be lengthening the growing seasons of grasses and other plants. This might seem like good news, except that another study published in Nature about two weeks later revealed that increased CO2 emissions are making the world’s staple food crops of wheat, rice, maize and soybeans less nutritious, which is worsening the already serious health problems already suffered by the billions of malnourished people on the planet.
ACD is also playing a role in causing a dramatic increase in wheat rust, a fungal disease known as “the polio of the food world,” spreading from Africa to South and Central Asia, the Middle East and now Europe. This is causing calamitous losses for the world’s second most important grain crop after rice, and scientists are very concerned about the dangers this poses to global food security.
This is in addition to the increasing frequency of agricultural shocks caused by extreme weather events that are resulting in a surge in food prices that is hitting consumers, as well as everyone in the food chain, from farmers to agricultural traders to food manufacturers.
In the US, beef prices have already hit an all-time high, since extreme weather like massive droughts has thinned the country’s beef cattle herds to the lowest levels since 1951, when there was only half the number of people to feed.
The San Jose Tico Times in Costa Rica reported that ACD is causing the collapse of wildlife habitats, widespread animal extinction, water scarcity and the spreading of diseases across the already extremely vulnerable populations of Latin America. The region already has the highest biodiversity on the planet, but one-third of all coral-building species there are already threatened with extinction, and 40 percent of the mangrove species along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Central America are threatened with extinction.
Escalating temperatures across the US Southwest are causing changes for birds and reptiles – and while some are benefitting from said changes, others like jays and other birds could lose as much as 80 percent of their breeding range by 2100, are losing and becoming threatened with extinction.
In the Arctic region of the planet, permafrost stores vast amounts of organic material that is teeming with microbes. Scientists are now reporting that as the permafrost thaws, as it is now at ever-increasing rates, it is changing the composition of the vegetation in the Arctic by releasing these microbes and accelerating ACD. According to Jeff Chanton, an environmental scientist who was involved in the study, when the peat in the permafrost thaws, water floods the soil and the chemistry change in the soil increases greenhouse gas production.
Speaking of the Arctic, in Alaska the landscape is radically changing in the north as melting permafrost is causing forests to no longer grow straight, as trees are tilting and falling over.
Meanwhile, child psychiatrists, psychologists and educators are reporting escalating anxiety levels in youth, who are flooded with disconcerting talk and news about the destruction of our planet.
Water-related phenomena continue to be one of the more obvious ways to observe the impacts of ACD across the planet.
Storms bringing rainfall amounts and wind speeds more akin to hurricanes than spring showers deluged the Florida panhandle and parts of Alabama recently. In line with ACD trends, dramatic rainfall events like this have increased across the US, and in the Southeast, the frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased by approximately 25 percent over the 1958-2011 period.
In the Northeastern US, due to ACD storms like Hurricane Sandy that flooded New York are now 20 times more likely to occur than they were 170 years ago, according to a recent study.
In nearby New Jersey, local officials are appealing to the US Army Corps of Engineers to produce a method to stop the flooding which is expected to continue to worsen.
Across the country in California, while dealing with a record-setting drought, the state is simultaneously having to plan for flooding of its coastal cities, due to rising seas.
Rotterdam and Ho Chi Minh City are both on the front lines of ACD. Given that both sit on river deltas and are defined and threatened by their relationship to water, they are on the flood defensive and making preparations for what is to come.
Global sea levels already rising 2-3 millimeters annually, and increasing. But the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta is already sinking so rapidly that the local, relative sea level may be rising by up to 2 centimeters each year, according to a recent study.
On the other end of the spectrum are drought and drought-related problems.
In Alberta, Canada, among other places, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find enough drinking water. Many residents there are concerned about water tainted by agricultural runoff that is an increasingly common phenomenon due to ACD as extreme weather events like flooding become more frequent. The flooding then washes E. coli from horse manure into the drinking supply.
In New Mexico, water managers in Albuquerque are saying that the Rio Grande may hit a 40-year low this summer due to the ongoing drought in that state.
Meanwhile, west of there, the Colorado River’s stunted flow, coupled with ongoing drought, has shrunk water levels at Lake Mead to their lowest level in generations. The Lake Mead reservoir, which supplies 90 percent of Las Vegas’ water, is ebbing “as though a plug had been pulled from a bathtub drain.”
Due to the record-setting drought in California, tens of thousands of young salmon are literally having to be shipped to the Pacific in hopes of keeping them alive. This is because drought, ranging from moderate to exceptional, now covers 100 percent of the state for the first time in 15 years.
Local state media outlets are reporting that California’s water wars will reach a “new level of crazy’” this year, as farmers, environmental lawyers, wildlife groups, cities and even the Fresno County sheriff have posted thoughts in a siege of protests to state officials about the use of this year’s tiny snowpack and half-empty reservoirs.
While researchers tend to shy away from connecting weather extremes to ACD in real time, a recent study out of Utah State University now links ACD to California’s drought.
At Oregon’s Crater Lake, where having enough snow for recreation has rarely been an issue historically, the national park has been gradually losing its iconic snow for the past eight decades.
The drought that covers most of the southwest has caused a new problem in southern Colorado, where storms of tumbleweeds have invaded areas, blocking rural roads and irrigation canals, and even barricading homes and an elementary school.
The situation for southeast Colorado is bleak, as a new dust bowl appears to be setting in.
The impact of nearly four years of deep drought is showing itself in three ways: pastures have dried up or are choked with drifts of sand; tumbleweeds are blowing into tall hills against fences, homes and barns; and massive dust storms are erasing topsoil and making it harder to grow grain, wheat and sunflowers.
Water is now a major issue in Brazil, which holds the world’s largest fresh water reserves. Since most of Brazil’s water comes from the Amazon, ongoing drought and deforestation is causing the once abundant water source to no longer seem infinite.
In Northwestern Haiti, drought is so intense it is threatening the population there, where a lack of rain in recent months has killed crops in Haiti’s poorest region, and left people literally struggling to survive.
Across the Atlantic, South Sudan is now on the verge of the world’s worst famines in a quarter of a century. The UN now estimates that fully one third of the country’s population could be facing starvation due to inadequate agricultural production stemming from the lack of water.
In India, scientists are concerned about how pollution and rising temperatures are deleteriously impacting the monsoon, which accounts for three quarters of India’s annual rainfall.
In war-ravaged Syria, a looming drought could push millions more people there into hunger and escalate the already massive refugee crisis, according to the UN.
Scientists are now asking how much longer Mt. Everest might remain climbable. The April 18 icefall that claimed over a dozen lives was the single deadliest climbing accident in the mountain’s history. Yet, the massive icefall across an area that rarely sees them of such scope, was abruptly followed by several others across the route, underscoring how ACD is altering the face of the planet.
Ocean life continues to be dramatically impacted by ACD. The critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle’s migration routes are being altered due to ACD, as the beaches they use for hatching are shrinking.
Increasingly acidic ocean water is dissolving sea snails’ shells, according to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study. These impacts are clear off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington, where scientists have found evidence that increasing acidity of ocean waters is dissolving the shells of a key species at the base of the food chain.
In Washington State, above-average precipitation spawned in part by ACD helped cause the deadly landslide that buried dozens of homes. Experts with the US Geological Survey said that rainfall in the region where the slide occurred was 150-200 percent of the long-term average for February and March.
Up in the newly ice-free Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska, the waters that are vital to millions of seabirds that flock north every summer are being exploited by commercial shippers seeking shorter routes, according to a recent study.
A new method of analyzing publicly available data shows that the portion of days with warm weather in the US has increased by 25 percent over the past 50 years, and the graph is worth a look.
ACD and extreme weather events are threatening California’s air quality, according to the state’s pollution control officers. This is not good news, given that the American Lung Association recently released a report finding that almost 150 million people in the country live in areas where air pollution levels are already unhealthy to breathe – with particle and ozone pollution increasing the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks – and the situation is worsening.
New research also shows that suicides in Salt Lake County in Utah escalate during periods of elevated air pollution.
More confirmation for what is already known came in a new study that shows that Arctic methane emissions are “certain to trigger warming” as ACD continues to melt permafrost and release increasingly large amounts of methane into the atmosphere where it is creating a positive feedback loop.
Not surprisingly, the number and size of massive wildfires is increasing in the Western US due to rising temperatures and worsening drought from ACD, and new research shows that these trends will continue in the coming decades. This, along with several early-season fires and fires that are occurring at twice the normal rate already for this year, has caused California state officials to ramp up preparations for what could well be another record year of burns.
Researchers from the University of Utah released a report showing that over the last three decades, wildfires across the western US have, indeed, been growing both larger and more frequent.
Extreme heat and exceptionally dry conditions have already turned Oklahoma into a tinderbox, where multiple wildfires have already erupted during a heat wave that was unprecedented for this early in the season.
A different kind of fire has spread across North Dakota, where towering flames from oil and gas wells fill the sky above the Berthold Indian Reservation as the natural gas flares are causing grass fires, creating driving hazards, and contributing to CO2 emission and further accelerating ACD.
Things are even worse in the Amazon, where drought and deforestation are pushing the region towards a tipping point that will cause rapid, large-scale destruction during drier years, according to a recent study.
Denial and Reality
ACD has progressed enough that the UN has warned that renewable energy resources need to be increased three to four times if there is to be any hope of preventing a global catastrophe.
UN-appointed climate experts recently reported that since countries have already waited so long to take the dramatic actions necessary to lessen the impacts of ACD, only a dramatic worldwide effort over the next 15 years could stave off the disastrous ACD impacts to come.
Yet mitigating ACD is more challenging than ever, and becoming increasingly so with each passing day. CO2 emissions continue to set annual records, and nothing short of a wartime response is warranted. Nevertheless, governments around the world have made, at best, extremely weak efforts towards transitioning away from fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, the march of ACD continues unabated.
March 2014 was the fourth warmest March ever in recorded history, globally, according to recent NASA data. That makes March the 349th month (over 29 years straight) in which global temperatures were above the historic average.
Given that methane is already being released from melting Arctic permafrost at record levels, March also revealed the disconcerting fact that Northern Siberia was a full nine degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, with Norway and Denmark averaging temperatures nearly 7 degrees warmer than normal.
A recent study published in Nature Climate Change showed that part of East Antarctica is more vulnerable than expected to thawing that could trigger an unstoppable slide of ice into the ocean and raise world sea levels for thousands of years. According to the study, the area of Antarctica in question has enough ice to increase global sea levels by 10 to 13 feet. Antarctica holds enough ice to raise sea levels 188 feet if it ever all melts.
For those in the US who are still in ACD denial, who are now a distinct minority, Showtime has released an ACD TV series using movie stars as ACD correspondents to appeal to the mass market.
Even corporate media outlets are publishing and broadcasting information about the realities of ACD, like this data on region-specific particulars about how ACD will impact people across the US.
In case that wasn’t enough to drive home the point, Australia’s Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson told an audience in Washington that it has become inevitable that his country would have to resettle ACD refugees in the future.
Other preparations include US researchers from the University of Delaware racing the clock to try to develop chickens that will be able to survive on a hotter planet.
While not necessarily recent news, it came to the fore again that scientists are again considering a formal declaration that 1950 marked the dawn of a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene – an age defined by human impact on the planet, particular in the form of ACD.
In early May, the White House released the National Climate Assessment, which stated unequivocally that ACD is a clear and present danger, and has moved from a distant threat to a present-day reality, and that no US citizen will remain unscathed. The report, a culmination of five years of work, provides a comprehensive review of both observed and projected impacts of ACD. Key images and graphs can be viewed here.
Lastly and most importantly, if you choose only one link to view from this article, click this one – it will astound you to see in broad historical context (800,000 years) just how abruptly and profoundly humans have impacted the earth by pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. The visualization underscores the true massiveness of the crisis we are in.