The First Week of Summer Tells of the Catastrophe Unfolding

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA’s Canadian Representative

07/03/18

Ring-billed gull.
By Crisco 1492 [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Hundreds of baby ring-billed gulls tumbled from rooftops, facing certain death, just as summer arrived. An intense heatwave arrived too, with projections by meteorologists that 2018 would be the hottest year on record. A new study came out reporting that bad news for anther gull species, the Heermann’s gull. Finally, a friend of mine, a bear biologist, had his paper outlining declines in the southernmost population of polar bears published.The same week all of this was happening, I was still hearing how the American president remained in denial about global climate change. We call it that because the deniers can’t get their heads around the idea that global “warming” does not mean that there are no cold days or record-breaking cold spells. I suspect the only polar bear Donald Trump may have seen would be in a zoo or maybe in his son’s trophy room, and yet he says they’ve never been in better shape. Of course, he lies – continually, I know – but why do people believe him?

As reported here on February 15, ring-billed gulls are in decline in Ontario. They often nest on flat rooftops, but don’t jump off! The gulls were from one to four weeks old. Toronto Wildlife Center sent out a distress call for help as they were overwhelmed with baby gulls. The wildlife rehab community responded, but why was it happening in the first place? The roofs were so hot that the birds were being burned alive.

Burning baby gulls are a symptom of a world in trouble.

Heermann’s gulls are beautiful gray gulls with white heads that are found along the California and Mexican coastlines. Researchers analyzed their population growth using models employing “normal” and high oceanic sea surface temperature (SST) conditions. Normally, there was about a 4% population growth rate, but with increasingly warm SST events, the predicted population growth goes down to a negative 15%. The gulls do fine even though there are high SSTs every four or five years – the historic figure – but now that warm SSTs are dramatically increasing, more gulls will die than are hatched, which is a route to endangerment.

That’s a tad esoteric, but then there is that study of the world’s most southerly polar bears, intensely surveyed over many years. It found that the number of bears in James Bay and the southern end of Hudson Bay has declined 17% – from 943 to 780 – in the past five years. That’s a trend, and it supports all of the other news emerging, especially here in Canada, for the simple reason the higher the degree of latitude the more pronounced the effects from climate change.

My point is that this happened only in the first week of summer. How long can the deniers remain in denial? I hope it’s not until their own feet burn and, like those baby gulls, they have nowhere to go, because unlike those gulls, rescue will not happen.

Advertisements

Barents Sea seems to have crossed a climate tipping point

This is probably what a climate tipping point looks like—and we’re past it.

Enlarge / A cloud-covered Barents Sea, showing sea ice encroaching from the Arctic Ocean to the north.

Many of the threats we know are associated with climate change are slow moving. Gradually rising seas, a steady uptick in extreme weather events, and more all mean that change will come gradually to much of the globe. But we also recognize that there can be tipping points, where certain aspects of our climate system shift suddenly to new behaviors.

The challenge with tipping points is that they’re often easiest to identify in retrospect. We have some indications that our climate has experienced them in the past, but reconstructing how quickly a system tipped over or the forces that drove the change can be difficult. Now, a team of Norwegian scientists is suggesting it has watched the climate reach a tipping point: the loss of Arctic sea ice has flipped the Barents Sea from acting as a buffer between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans to something closer to an arm of the Atlantic.

Decades of data

The Norwegian work doesn’t rely on any new breakthrough in technology. Instead, it’s built on the longterm collection of data. The Barents Sea has been monitored for things like temperature, ice cover, and salinity, in some cases extending back over 50 years. This provides a good baseline to pick up longterm changes. And, in the case of the Barents Sea in particular, it’s meant we’ve happened to have been watching as a major change took place.

The Barents Sea lies north of Norway and Russia, bounded by Arctic islands like Svalbard and Franz Josef Land. To its west is the North Atlantic, and the Arctic Ocean is to its north. And data from prior to the year 2000 indicates that the Barents acted as a buffer between the two oceans.

To the north, the Arctic Ocean has been dominated by sea ice, which spreads into the Barents during the winter. The ice acts as a barrier to exchanging heat with the atmosphere and blocks sunlight from reaching the ocean water, helping keep the Arctic colder in the summer. As it melts, the Barents also creates a layer of fresh water that doesn’t mix well with the salt water below it, and it is light enough to remain at the surface. The water of the Atlantic is warmer but saltier and better mixed across its depths.

In between, in the Barents, the two influences create a layer of intermediate water. The Arctic surface water and sea ice helps keep the Barents fresher and cool. And while the Barents is warmed from below by the dense, salty Atlantic water, it’s not enough to allow the two layers to mix thoroughly. This helps keep the Barents Sea’s surface water cold and fresh, encouraging it to freeze over during the winter.

The researchers behind the new work say that this layered structure was “remarkably stable” from 1970 all the way through 2011. But change started coming to the area even as the layers persisted. The atmosphere over the Arctic has warmed faster than any other region on the planet. In part because of that, the amount of ice covering the Arctic Ocean began to decline dramatically. It reached what were then record lows in 2007 and 2008. As a result, the Barents Sea was relatively ice-free in the Arctic summer, decreasing the fresh water present in the surface layer.

Sea-ice drift into the Barents sea dropped enough so that the 2010-2015 average was 40 percent lower than the 1979-2009 mean. The researchers checked precipitation at some islands on the edge of the Barents Sea, and they confirmed that the loss of fresh water at the surface was due to the loss of ice rather than a change in weather patterns.

(For context, the Barents Sea is essentially ice-free at the moment, even though the melt season typically extends through September.)

Triple threat

The loss of ice also means that the surface water in this area is exchanging heat with the atmosphere and absorbing more sunlight during the long Arctic summer days. These two have combined to heat the top 100m of water dramatically. If the mean of its temperature from 1970-1999 is taken as a baseline, the temperatures from 2010-2016 are nearly four standard deviations higher. 2016—the most recent year we have validated data for—was 6.3 standard deviations higher.

This has the effect of heating the intermediate water from above. Meanwhile, the warm Atlantic water will heat it from below. As a result, the cold intermediate water has essentially vanished from the Barents Sea, turning the area into a basin dominated by Atlantic water. The entire water column, from surface to the sea floor, has both warmed and gotten saltier, all starting in the late-2000s.

While dramatic, that in and of itself doesn’t make for a tipping point. But the authors argue that the present conditions make it extremely difficult for the sea ice to re-establish itself during the winter: “Increased Atlantic Water inflow has recently enlarged the area where sea ice cannot form, causing reductions in the sea-ice extent.” The water both starts out warmer and has increased salt content, making freezing more difficult.

In essence, the authors argue that the entire Barents Sea has started to behave as an arm of the Atlantic. Unless some external factor re-establishes the layer of fresh water on the surface, “the entire region could soon have a warm and well-mixed water-column structure and be part of the Atlantic domain.”

Tip of the ice

From a strictly human-centric position, the changes aren’t necessarily a terrible thing. In terms of ecosystems, the authors describe the Barents as “divided into two regions with distinct climate regimes—the north having a cold and harsh Arctic climate and ice-associated ecosystem, while the south has a favorable Atlantic climate with a rich ecosystem and lucrative fisheries.” The expansion of these fisheries, while coming at the cost of the native ecosystem, could prove a boon for the countries bordering the region.

But the general gist of the study is considerably more ominous: not only have we discovered a climate tipping point, but we’ve spotted it after the system has probably already flipped into a new regime. It also provides some sense of what to expect from the future. Rather than seeing the entire planet experience a few dramatic changes, we’re likely to see lots of regional tipping points that have more of a local effect. The future will be the sum of these events and their interactions, making it a bit harder to predict which changes we should be planning for.

Seabirds Washing Up Dead; Scientists Investigating

A dead murre lies on the sand where it washed ashore in Nome in June 2018.

SEABIRDS have once again been found washed up on beaches in Western Alaska.

Beginning in May, birds have been reported dead or behaving strangely in communities throughout the Bering Strait region, from Shishmaref to Unalakleet and on St. Lawrence Island.

Large-scale die-offs of seabirds and other marine animals have been occurring around the state for several years, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) wants to know why. That takes the help of boots-on-the-ground partners across Alaska.

Gay Sheffield is one of those partners. She’s a marine biologist with Alaska Sea Grant in Nome, and she has helped coordinate the collection of dead birds. She says only one bird has been tested so far this year: a murre, collected in Unalakleet in May.

“The murre was tested for harmful algal blooms, tested for avian cholera, was tested for bird flu, and a full necropsy—or a little bird autopsy—was done, and the result was that the bird had starved to death.”

But, she says, knowing that a bird ultimately didn’t get enough food doesn’t answer the larger question of why it died.

Robb Kaler is a wildlife biologist at USFWS’s Migratory Bird Management office in Anchorage. He’s been monitoring the seabird die-offs statewide.

“They’re dying of starvation, but there might be other contributing factors.”

Kaler says factors contributing to bird deaths could include neurotoxin poisoning from algal blooms, increased storminess, or shifts in the type of fish available to birds to eat. And, he says, many of the factors could be connected to warming sea surface temperatures off the coast of Alaska.

Both Sheffield and Kaler underscored the importance of collecting more freshly dead birds. More samples mean more testing — and more information that can be returned to communities where healthy seabirds mean food security.

Kaler says:

“We need to provide them with answers on whether these birds are safe to consume or not, whether their eggs are safe to consume.”

Several birds were recently collected from Shishmaref and Gambell. Test results are forthcoming.

To report a seabird or other marine animal found dead or behaving strangely, contact Gay Sheffield at 434-1149 or Brandon Ahmasuk at Kawerak at 443-4265. You can also call U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Dead Seabird Hotline at (866) 527-3358.

Image at top: A dead murre that washed ashore in Nome in June 2018. Photo: Zoe Grueskin, KNOM.

Trump Skipping G7 Climate Meeting on Climate, Clean Energy, Oceans

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with President Trump. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

President Donald Trump headed for the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Canada on Friday but will be leaving before Saturday’s meeting on climate changeclean energy and oceans. The White House said an aide will take Trump’s place, CNN reported.

The announcement of his early departure comes amid a brewing war on tariffs. French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a joint press conference on Thursday they intended to challenge Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports at the G7 summit, according to the Associated Press.

Trump will depart for Singapore on Saturday for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“I am heading for Canada and the G-7 for talks that will mostly center on the long time unfair trade practiced against the United States,” the president tweeted today. “From there I go to Singapore and talks with North Korea on Denuclearization. Won’t be talking about the Russian Witch Hunt Hoax for a while!”

Frankly, it’s not surprising that Trump wants to skip the climate meeting with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the UK. The president doesn’t believe in climate science, he wants to dramatically expand offshore oil drilling along the nation’s coasts, and his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement has created a significant rift between the U.S. and its G7 allies.

In fact, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt also ducked out of a G7 meeting of environment ministers in Italy last June.

Just look at how incongruous the aims of the G7 meeting are compared to Trump’s pro-fossil fuel agenda:

  1. How can the G7 accelerate the transition to low carbon, climate resilient economies? What issues, areas, or initiatives should the G7 prioritize?
  2. How can the G7 create a cleaner environment for future generations, while also creating jobs and growth that benefits everyone?
  3. What are the most important issues facing our oceans and coastal communities today? How should the G7 work together to address these issues, including as it relates to expanding conservation, eliminating pollution, and promoting the sustainable use of maritime resources?
  4. How can the G7 advance gender equality and women’s empowerment through its actions related to climate change, oceans and clean growth?

As Earther noted, “One can hope Trump’s absence will reduce distractions.” Perhaps, as the website suggested, the meeting can instead focus on the Trudeau government’s recent $4.5 billion purchase of the controversial Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline.

Better yet, the G7 leaders can talk about a new report from Britain’s Overseas Development Institute. The report revealed that their governments continue to subsidize at least $100 billion a year in subsidies for the production and use of coaloil and gas, despite repeated pledges to phase out fossil fuels by 2025.

Pope warns oil executives: Climate change may ‘destroy civilization’

Pope warns oil executives: Climate change may ‘destroy civilization’
© Getty Images

Pope Francis on Saturday issued a dire warning to top oil executives, saying that climate change could “destroy civilization.”

At a two-day conference at the Vatican, the pope called climate change a challenge of “epochal proportions,” according to Reuters.

He also said that the world must move toward using clean energy and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

“Civilization requires energy but energy use must not destroy civilization,” Francis said.

The conference, organized by the University of Notre Dame in the United States, brought together executives from asset manager BlackRock, BP and Norwegian oil and energy company Equinor, among others.

The event was prompted by Francis’s 2015 papal encyclical blaming humans for climate change and criticizing world leaders for not acting swiftly enough to address it.

The conference comes a little less than a year after President Trumppulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. Trump has referred to global warming as a “hoax” and drawn criticism from the scientific community for stacking his administration with officials who deny the human role in climate change. During a meeting with Trump, the pope gave him a copy of the encyclical.

The pope told the group Saturday that global issues like poverty are “interconnected” to concerns about global warming and access to electricity.

“We know that the challenges facing us are interconnected,” he said, according to Reuters. “If we are to eliminate poverty and hunger … the more than one billion people without electricity today need to gain access to it.”

“But that energy should also be clean, by a reduction in the systematic use of fossil fuels,” he added. “Our desire to ensure energy for all must not lead to the undesired effect of a spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.”

Marine Heat Waves, Changing Ocean Currents and Capitalism’s Threat to Life

It would have been unthinkable not many years ago to imagine the impending death of the Great Barrier Reef. The world’s largest living structure and a world heritage site unsurpassed for its tremendous beauty, the Great Barrier Reef has been one of the planet’s most important ecosystems. Now, after consecutive years of prolonged, extreme marine heat waves in 2016 and 2017, one-half of the reef is dead.

Yet the reef, which has gone through immense challenges over millions of years of changing climates, is not entirely gone yet. Leading coral reef scientist Terry Hughes recently told the Guardian that, “The Great Barrier Reef is certainly threatened by climate change, but it is not doomed if we deal very quickly with greenhouse gas emissions. Our study shows that coral reefs are already shifting radically in response to unprecedented heatwaves.”

Further work from other research teams documented in April that globally, marine heat waves have increased in frequency and are of longer duration. Scientists from the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes and the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies published a study finding that between 1925 and 2016, marine heat waves occurred 34 percent more often, and lasted 17 percent longer. The result has been a 54 percent increase in the number of marine heat wave days happening each year globally.

The study brought together a range of ocean temperature data over the time period studied. Controlling for climate variability, the authors were able to determine that the increase in marine heat waves was related to an increase in sea surface temperature. “With more than 90 percent of the heat from human-caused global warming going into our oceans, it is likely marine heat waves will continue to increase,” said study co-author Neil Holbrook from the University of Tasmania.

The paper cites the impact of recent marine heat waves in a number of the world’s oceans, concluding that, “These events resulted in substantial ecological and economic impacts, including sustained loss of kelp forests, coral bleaching, reduced surface chlorophyll levels due to increased surface layer stratification, mass mortality of marine invertebrates due to heat stress, rapid long-distance species’ range shifts and associated reshaping of community structure, fishery closures or quota changes, and even intensified economic tensions between nations.”

The news of increasing ocean heat waves and their devastating impact is truly alarming, especially in connection with the many other signs of accelerating climate change and general ecological crisis, including in just the past several months.

Arctic, Antarctic Melt and the Ocean Conveyor Belt

After another abnormally warm year in large parts of the Arctic region, including mid-winter temperatures that went above freezing at the North pole, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported April 2018 essentially tied for the lowest Arctic sea ice extent on record with April 2016. More worrying, not only was the sea ice coverage at a historic April low, but the amount of thicker, multi-year ice cover “has declined from 61 percent in 1984 to 34 percent in 2018. In addition, only 2 percent of the ice age cover is categorized as five-plus years, the least amount recorded during the winter period,” according to the Center.

With the Arctic warming at twice the global average, less ice is forming and more is melting in summer so less of the ice lasts through the warmer months to become multi-year ice. New ice forms in fall and winter, but this ice is now increasingly new, younger ice, instead of building on the thicker and more stable multi-year ice. As ice melts and ice coverage is increasingly younger, less thick and less stable, sea ice is being lost, and the Arctic Ocean is becoming more open in summer. The increasingly ice-free open ocean absorbs the sun’s energy much more readily than the ice-covered ocean, accelerating warming. This dangerous positive feedback loop underway in the Arctic is already impacting climate worldwide.

For the Arctic itself, the disappearing ice threatens to devastate the species and ecosystems that have evolved in connection with it. The decline of Arctic ice and ecosystems, forced by greenhouse gas emissions from the predominant capitalist economies of the planet, also threatens genocide for the culture and way of life of Indigenous peoples throughout the region who have lived for millennia in an ice-covered world.

Another recently published study has shown that melting glaciers in East and West Antarctica are freshening the surrounding ocean and slowing the formation of ocean “bottom water.” Normally, Antarctic bottom water is formed by the sinking of cold, salty water that results as sea ice forms and pushes out salt into surrounding waters. This cold, dense water sinks, mixes with and cools warmer salty water brought by deep ocean currents to Antarctica. But this process is now slowing because of increased glacial freshwater melt. The warm water is stratified, trapped at the bottom, where it is further speeding the melt of Antarctic glaciers from below in these regions. It’s another feedback loop that will likely accelerate sea level rise.

In the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, as well as in the Arctic regions off Norway and Greenland, the process of very dense, cold, salty water sinking is a major factor in causing overturning circulation in the world’s oceans. This is called thermohaline circulation, the process whereby deep-ocean currents are generated by differences in the water’s density, which is controlled by temperature (thermo) and salinity (haline). This is also known as the “ocean conveyor belt.” Ocean currents are very complex and dynamic processes with many factors involved. Essentially though, the ocean conveyor belt drives deep ocean currents that course powerfully around the globe, overturning and mixing enormous quantities of water. In certain regions, this creates upwelling — bringing nutrient-rich water from the ocean’s bottom back to the surface, fueling life. The conveyor belt currents are also a central factor in distributing heat around the planet and stabilizing the Earth’s climate.

Melting sea ice and glaciers are now pouring more fresh water into the ocean, making the waters where this occurs less salty and dense, so less likely to sink. The effects of freshening waters on thermohaline circulation and ocean currents in the Southern Ocean are not yet known, but studies on the North Atlantic this year found that increasing fresh water melt in the Arctic has caused a slowdown in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current (AMOC). One of the studies suggested the slowdown has been around 15 percent since 1950. Climatologist Michael Mann said the AMOC slowdown is “happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict” and, “I think we’re close to a tipping point.”

What acceleration of ice melt and changing ocean currents will mean for sea level rise that threatens the world coastlines, islands and huge swaths of humanity; for the impact on world climate; and for ocean life and ecosystems that humans also rely on to eat and breathe, is difficult to exactly predict. Nonetheless, it’s clear the climate crisis is already extreme and accelerating. Much depends on whether human society acts quickly to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions currently warming the planet, and takes other urgent steps to prevent ecological disaster.

Instead of being reduced, however, carbon emissions continue to grow, recently measured at 410 parts per million, a level not seen in millions of years. In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that April 2018 was the 400th straight month that global temperatures were warmer than average.

The Problems of Trump and Capitalism

Faced with this situation of potential ecological catastrophe, Trump and his allies who wield power in the US, lie that global warming is a fabrication, a hoax, or impossible to confirm. They deny the overwhelming evidence and cover over clearly demonstrated science. But this isn’t just a denial of reality, as bad as that is. This is, as The New York Times journalist Justin Gillis said of Scott Pruitt’s denial of climate change, a “civilization-threatening lie.” This is a conscious act that sows confusion, denies people knowledge and prevents them from being able to respond to the existential danger climate change represents. Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Interior Department and other agencies are moving as fully and as quickly as they can to overturn or eliminate every rule, regulation and barrier that stands in the way of fossil fuel development and use. Their goal is to protect the “freedom” of giant corporations to plunder the natural world to maximize their profitability, and to enhance US “energy dominance,” no matter the destruction it brings.

At the end of May, the EPA announced its official proposal to rollback Obama-era regulations requiring automakers to make cars with higher fuel efficiency standards. If adopted, the likely result is a large increase of greenhouse emissions by the US, already by far the leading contributor to global warming historically. In January, Interior Department head Ryan Zinke announced plans to open up 90 percent of the country’s offshore coastal regions to oil drilling.

Companies have already applied for permits to begin work to develop new oil and gas projects in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, the largest and most pristine wildlife refuge in the country. Moreover, according to a piece in the Hill, “drilling into the refuge is just the tip of the iceberg. Trump is aggressively pushing Arctic drilling projects on water and land, selling off vast tracts of public lands and oceans, and rolling back drilling safety regulations meant to prevent catastrophic oil spills.”

In May, the White House canceled the vital NASA Carbon Monitoring System that uses satellite and aircraft instruments to track carbon and methane emissions and monitors country’s commitments to greenhouse gas cuts.

Bigger Than Trump

What the Trump regime is doing environmentally (and otherwise) is a threat to planetary life that must be stopped. This crisis, however, didn’t begin with Trump. The operation of the entire world capitalist system has raised greenhouse gases to the level they are and brought us to this juncture. Trump is just the latest and most destructive manifestation of an omnicidal system. The problem we face is that power rests in the hands of a capitalist class that is incapable of confronting our current ecological unraveling as the emergency it is.

The result is a crisis that is inexorably accelerating, with essentially nothing on the level actually needed being done to stop it. Instead of being able to respond from the need to protect life on Earth and world humanity, the capitalist rulers are constrained by the interests and needs of their system for profitability to contend with and beat out rivals.

Karl Marx said presciently of capitalist economic relations, “Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange, and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”

The capitalist competitive drive for accumulation is why, despite moves by Obama to limit drilling in some places and make modest cuts to greenhouse emissions, fracking and oil and gas production skyrocketed under his administration. It’s also why Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who campaigned as a climate change fighter and protector of First Nations rights, has now promised to sink billions of Canadian government dollars into buying the Trans Mountain pipeline that investors were just about to pull out of. Trudeau said of the huge reserves of tar sands oil, the production of which is poisoning Indigenous people and lands in Alberta and the full burning of which would mean climate catastrophe, “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there.”

Exactly. No capitalist country would. That’s exactly why capitalism cannot be allowed to continue to rule and destroy our planet. Winning a better world, is up to us. What better day to begin, than World Ocean’s Day.

Antarctica’s Largest Iceberg Is About to Die … Near the Equator

Antarctica's Largest Iceberg Is About to Die ... Near the Equator
After 18 years of drifting, Antarctica’s largest iceberg is about to melt away near South America.

Credit: NASA/ International Space Station

If being far from home ever gets you down, just be glad you aren’t also melting.

NASA scientists reported that, after drifting for nearly 20 years, the largest iceberg ever to break away from Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf is about to disappear forever.

Now floating northwest of the South Georgia islands near the tail of South America, the iceberg — named B-15 — has traveled more than 6,600 miles (10,000 kilometers) from the ice shelf and is veering dangerously close to the equator. [Photos: Diving Beneath Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf

Satellite images taken from the International Space Station (ISS) on May 22 confirm that the remains of the iceberg are on a crash course with warm tropical waters, where growing pools of meltwater will soon “work [their] way through the iceberg like a set of knives,” NASA glaciologist Kelly Brunt said in a statement.

The freewheelin’, formerly Connecticut-size iceberg first embarked on its long cruise after breaking away from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000, NASA said. At the time, it was the largest single chunk of ice ever to split off from the shelf, measuring 160 nautical miles long and 20 nautical miles wide. (That’s a total area of 3,200 square nautical miles — larger than the island of Jamaica.)

Iceberg B-15 broke off of the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000, floated three quarters of the way around Antarctica and is now veering north toward its doom.
Iceberg B-15 broke off of the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000, floated three quarters of the way around Antarctica and is now veering north toward its doom.

Credit: NASA/ International Space Station

Currents swept the berg three-quarters of the way around Antarctica; then, it suddenly shifted northward into the southern Atlantic Ocean within the past year or two, NASA said.

The stately raft of ice has gradually splintered into many smaller pieces, most of which have already melted. Today, only four chunks remain with a large enough surface area to be trackable by the National Ice Center (20 square nautical miles is the minimum).

The chunk observed from the ISS last month (its name is B-15Z) still has a surface area of about 50 square nautical miles, but it is likely nearing the end of its journey as it floats ever closer to the equator. According to NASA, icebergs have been known to rapidly melt once they drift into this region. A large fracture is already visible at B-15Z’s center, and smaller pieces are crumbling away from its edges.

B-15 will be missed. But its fans may take solace in knowing that, thanks to climate change, another “largest iceberg ever” will probably break away soon enough.

Climate Change Has Run Its Course

Its descent into social-justice identity politics is the last gasp of a cause that has lost its vitality.

Climate Change Has Run Its Course
ILLUSTRATION: DAVID GOTHARD

Climate change is over. No, I’m not saying the climate will not change in the future, or that human influence on the climate is negligible. I mean simply that climate change is no longer a pre-eminent policy issue. All that remains is boilerplate rhetoric from the political class, frivolous nuisance lawsuits, and bureaucratic mandates on behalf of special-interest renewable-energy rent seekers.

Judged by deeds rather than words, most national governments are backing away from forced-marched decarbonization. You can date the arc of climate change as a policy priority from 1988, when highly publicized congressional hearings first elevated the issue, to 2018. President Trump’s ostentatious withdrawal from the Paris Agreement merely ratified a trend long becoming evident.

A good indicator of why climate change as an issue is over can be found early in the text of the Paris Agreement. The “nonbinding” pact declares that climate action must include concern for “gender equality, empowerment of women, and intergenerational equity” as well as “the importance for some of the concept of ‘climate justice.’ ” Another is Sarah Myhre’s address at the most recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union, in which she proclaimed that climate change cannot fully be addressed without also grappling with the misogyny and social injustice that have perpetuated the problem for decades.

The descent of climate change into the abyss of social-justice identity politics represents the last gasp of a cause that has lost its vitality. Climate alarm is like a car alarm—a blaring noise people are tuning out.

This outcome was predictable. Political scientist Anthony Downs described the downward trajectory of many political movements in an article for the Public Interest, “Up and Down With Ecology: The ‘Issue-Attention Cycle,’ ” published in 1972, long before the climate-change campaign began. Observing the movements that had arisen to address issues like crime, poverty and even the U.S.-Soviet space race, Mr. Downs discerned a five-stage cycle through which political issues pass regularly.

The first stage involves groups of experts and activists calling attention to a public problem, which leads quickly to the second stage, wherein the alarmed media and political class discover the issue. The second stage typically includes a large amount of euphoric enthusiasm—you might call it the “dopamine” stage—as activists conceive the issue in terms of global peril and salvation. This tendency explains the fanaticism with which divinity-school dropouts Al Gore and Jerry Brown have warned of climate change.

Then comes the third stage: the hinge. As Mr. Downs explains, there soon comes “a gradually spreading realization that the cost of ‘solving’ the problem is very high indeed.” That’s where we’ve been since the United Nations’ traveling climate circus committed itself to the fanatical mission of massive near-term reductions in fossil fuel consumption, codified in unrealistic proposals like the Kyoto Protocol. This third stage, Mr. Downs continues, “becomes almost imperceptibly transformed into the fourth stage: a gradual decline in the intensity of public interest in the problem.”

While opinion surveys find that roughly half of Americans regard climate change as a problem, the issue has never achieved high salience among the public, despite the drumbeat of alarm from the climate campaign. Americans have consistently ranked climate change the 19th or 20th of 20 leading issues on the annual Pew Research Center poll, while Gallup’s yearly survey of environmental issues typically ranks climate change far behind air and water pollution.

“In the final stage,” Mr. Downs concludes, “an issue that has been replaced at the center of public concern moves into a prolonged limbo—a twilight realm of lesser attention or spasmodic recurrences of interest.” Mr. Downs predicted correctly that environmental issues would suffer this decline, because solving such issues involves painful trade-offs that committed climate activists would rather not make.

A case in point is climate campaigners’ push for clean energy, whereas they write off nuclear power because it doesn’t fit their green utopian vision. A new study of climate-related philanthropy by Matthew Nisbet found that of the $556.7 million green-leaning foundations spent from 2011-15, “not a single grant supported work on promoting or reducing the cost of nuclear energy.” The major emphasis of green giving was “devoted to mobilizing public opinion and to opposing the fossil fuel industry.”

Scientists who are genuinely worried about the potential for catastrophic climate change ought to be the most outraged at how the left politicized the issue and how the international policy community narrowed the range of acceptable responses. Treating climate change as a planet-scale problem that could be solved only by an international regulatory scheme transformed the issue into a political creed for committed believers. Causes that live by politics, die by politics.

Mr. Hayward is a senior resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

An Extreme Climate Forces Extreme Measures as Worst-Case Predictions Are Realized

Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Report

Mt. Rainier. (Photo: George Artwood; Edited: LW / TO)Mt. Rainier. (Photo: George Artwood; Edited: LW / TO)

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” — Aldo Leopold

Mountaineering, which has become more of a balm and solace for me than ever before, is an increasingly bittersweet experience. While the internal freedoms experienced continue to match the external while up in the high country, being on and amongst glaciers today entails being on one of the most dramatic front lines of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).

A small team of us worked our way across icy slopes of Mount Rainier in Washington State en route to a satellite peak recently, weaving our way through and around crevasses, only to find our route ultimately made impassible. According to route photos and information from just a few years ago, the third glacier we were to traverse had melted and broken up dramatically, leaving us with no choice but to turn around and plan another route, for another day.

Despite Mount Rainier being the most glaciated peak in the contiguous 48 US states, it is losing its ice rapidly now. Like most glaciers around the world, we are watching them vanish before our very eyes. At current rates of planetary warming, we will almost assuredly be hard pressed to find an active glacier in the 48 US states by 2100.

But it becomes obvious that these dramatic changes should be expected when we look at the bigger picture of ACD today.

Earth’s worst-case warming scenarios are probably the most likely now. Ice and glaciers around the world are melting far more quickly than believed possible even just a short while ago — the Greenland Ice Sheet is threatening to collapse, and is already slowing ocean currents, which could collapse far faster than expected as well.

We are losing potentially dozens of species every day.

Sea levels are rising at an increasingly rapid pace, and projections have already doubled for this century alone, not even to speak of what the next century will bring. The seas are warming as well, with each of the last five years having set a new record for the warmest they have ever been since humans have been on the planet. Widespread death of marine life is at a record pace, and we are likely already on the edge of an anoxic event as oceans are depleted of oxygen. Half of all the marine life on the planet has already been lost since just 1970.

Already in the Sixth Mass Extinction Event Earth has known, this one triggered by humans, we are losing potentially dozens of species every day already.

The Great Barrier Reef, the single largest reef system on Earth, has been changed “forever,” according to scientists, who have described the bleaching events that are wiping out the reef as “unprecedented” and “catastrophic.”

Freshwater from melting glaciers is likely already shifting the circulation of the oceans, causing scientists to warn that one of the worst-case predictions about ACD could already be happening. This circulation shift will ultimately lead to faster-rising seas and superstorms, along with shifting of entire climates for vast swaths of the planet.

Bizarre phenomena are already happening to what ice is left in the Arctic, and the sea ice of the Bering Sea never melted out so quickly or early in the season as it did this year.

Esteemed 86-year-old social scientist Mayer Hillman recently told the Guardian, humans are “doomed” due to what we have done to the planet. “The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so.”

While people like Hillman and dispatches like this continue to show us how very far along we already are regarding ACD, the time to savor our relationship to the planet — and each other — has never been more pressing than it is right now.

We must take this information in if we are to have an accurate map of reality, so as to better navigate the time we have left on Earth.

Earth

While it’s long been known that nations emitting the least carbon around the world are those most damaged by ACD, a recent study showed another layer to this effect: “tropical inequality,” is how the study puts their finding, which shows that the countries emitting the least carbon are also typically those which experience the greatest temperature swings from ACD, along with their respective impacts like droughts, floods, wildfires and extreme weather events.

While the UN has projected, conservatively, 200 million ACD refugees by 2050, even within the US, thousands of people are already facing displacement, and the number is sure to grow.

Marine salvage experts are hoping to use ships to tug icebergs from the Antarctic to Cape Town in order to help create a temporary solution to that city’s ongoing drought.

Yet another study has shown how ACD is shifting the times nature is able to eat, this time focusing in on 88 specific species that are being impacted. The study showed that these species’ biological feeding times are moving out of sync an average of six days every decade. For example, nearby where I live, Lake Washington’s plant plankton are blooming 34 days earlier than the zooplankton that eat them, which means the entire base of that ecosystem’s food chain is being deleteriously impacted.

Another report showed that as the planet continues to warm apace, energy demand for air conditioners and refrigeration are projected to jump 90 percent over 2017 levels. This also, of course, brings about a corresponding increase in CO2 emissions from the increased use of such devices.

Lastly in this section, as glacier melting around the planet continues to increase, the melting is destabilizing mountain slopes and literally causing mountainsides to collapse, sometimes falling into the sea.

Water

Rising sea levels are now threatening to burst a more than $1 trillion real estate bubble, as a recent study has shown a “pricing signal from climate change.” The study revealed how in Miami, housing values of homes located at lower elevations have not kept apace with rates of appreciation of homes located at higher elevations along the coastal areas. Another even broader study, “Disaster on the Horizon: The Price Effect of Sea Level Rise,” showed that homes which are exposed to sea level rise are already being priced 7 percent lower than homes the same distance from the coast but which are less exposed to flooding.

Given that most people’s savings are tied up in their home, when the home loses all of its value from sea level rise causing an economic bubble to burst, one can imagine the myriad problems this will generate across South Florida.

Large portions of the Western US are expected to have “above-average” potential for “significant” wildfire activity this year.

Almost needless to say, Florida’s Everglades National Park is under threat not just from sea level rise (the highest point in the park is four feet), but from the fact that the mangroves there are facing death also from the rising seas, according to a recent study.

The mangroves are literally being drowned by rising seas, and consequently, the land they hold steady from the sea is being washed away, allowing the seas to encroach upon more land even faster. “They are done,” Randall Parkinson, affiliated with the study, told the Guardian of the mangroves. “The sea will continue to rise and the question now is whether they will be replaced by open water. I think they will. The outlook is pretty grim. What’s mind boggling is that we are facing the inundation of south Florida this century.”

Up the coast from Florida in North Carolina, “sunny day flooding” (caused by sea level rise) is happening decades sooner than previously predicted, according to a recent report. “Sunny day flooding” is tidal flooding, which is a (for now) temporary inundation of low-lying areas during high tides.

Another recent study showed how Galveston, Texas, is under increasing threat from sea level rise, as this will make the island that much more vulnerable to more extreme hurricanes in the future. The study showed how hurricanes of the future will cause 65 percent more people there to become displaced, and five times as many buildings to be damaged. The study also showed how, already, more than 60 percent of the Gulf Coast and most of the bay shorelines are already retreating in those areas where 25 percent of the entire population of Texas lives.

The NOAA recently confirmed a sharp rise in methane — a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than CO2 — in the atmosphere over a 10-year time frame.

Meanwhile, the US military paid for a study on sea level rise, and the results are sobering. The study showed that thousands of these low-lying tropical islands’ populations will become rootless; and their water supplies are already threatened “in the very near future” — an issue that will, of course, bring security concerns of its own.

The other side of the coin of ACD’s impacts in the watery realms is drought.

recent report showed that droughts across the Southwestern US will continue and prolong the threat of wildfires in that region. With mountain snowpacks already low in many of those states, such as Colorado and New Mexico, this summer will likely prove to be yet another exceptional wildfire season.

Another recent study showed how farmers along the arid-humid boundary that runs along the 100th meridian in the US will most likely be hit by dramatic ACD impacts like drought. The arid-humid boundary has shifted 100 miles eastward, bringing arid conditions further into what was formerly farmland.

Ongoing drought across Kansas has set the stage for what could be that state’s smallest wheat crop since 1989, likely a harbinger of things to come as that region continues to dry further.

In California, another study has underscored what we’ve known for years now, which is that extreme droughts and floods there are set to worsen as ACD progresses. The frequency of what the study refers to as “precipitation whiplash events” of shifting from droughts to floods will worsen across the state, but in Southern California, will double by 2100.

Over in Afghanistan, the lowest snowfall and rain in years over this last winter has led to the onset of a major drought that is already sounding alarms across that US-occupied war-torn country. Twenty of the 34 provinces of that country are already “suffering badly,” according to a report.

Climate Disruption Dispatches

An overheated atmosphere is able to hold more moisture, hence the ongoing increase of dramatic rainfall events like the recent one in India, where a rainstorm killed at least 91 people, and injured more than 160 as houses collapsed and trees were toppled.

Meanwhile, up in Alaska, this winter saw a record low in sea ice coverage. Winter sea ice cover across the Bering Sea was literally half that of the previous record low. “There’s never ever been anything remotely like this for sea ice,” Rick Thoman, an Alaska-based climatologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told Scientific American about the new record-low.

Signs of the times of extremity we are living in abound, like in South Africa, where marine salvage experts are hoping to realize a plan to use ships to tug icebergs from the Antarctic all the way to Cape Town in order to help create a temporary solution to that city’s ongoing drought and water crisis.

Oslo, Norway, has moved forward with banning all cars from the city by 2019.

Lastly in this section, scientists recently discovered yet another ACD-related feedback loop: This one is a result of warming temperatures around the globe contributing to increasing growth in freshwater plants within the world’s lakes in recent decades, which will cause the amount of methane emitted from lakes to double.

Fire

The National Interagency Fire Center with the USDA Forest Service has predicted that this year will be a “challenging” wildfire year across the country. Large portions of the Western US are expected to have “above-average” potential for “significant” wildfire activity this year, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington.

Not included in that list of states was Florida, where by early May, wildfires in Big Cypress National Park had burned more than 38,000 acres, and a fire in the Texas panhandle had burned more than 30,000 acres.

Air

In Pakistan, recent temperatures are reported to have cracked 50.2 degrees Celsius (122.3 degrees Fahrenheit) in Nawabshah, located about 127 miles northeast of Karachi. A regional newspaper there reported that the heat was so intense it caused people to pass out and that “business activities came to a halt” in a district of 1.1 million people. That area saw a record of 45.5° C (113.9° F) in March, setting an all-time March record for the entire country.

Warmer than normal temperatures in the US are afflicting places like Miami, where it is now warmer and wetter for far more of the year than it used to be. This sets the stage for that region to become more friendly to mosquitoes, hence increasing the likelihood that the Zika virus could return to Miami. Meanwhile, tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease are rapidly spreading across the US, with some fearing that Lyme disease could already be the first epidemic related to ACD.

The NOAA recently confirmed a sharp rise in methane — a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than CO2 — in the atmosphere over a 10-year time frame. The atmosphere already has two and a half times more methane than it did before the industrial revolution began, and now scientists are working to understand how in just the past decade, methane levels have increased as rapidly as they have.

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have, for the first time ever recorded, surpassed 410 parts per million (ppm), and sustained that increase for more than a month.

Another interesting unintended consequence of ACD is how it is likely to cut down on the amount of dust being blown into the atmosphere from the Sahara Desert by up to 100 million tons every year. This would act to starve the Amazon rainforest of much-needed nutrients, in addition to causing temperatures to rise across the North Atlantic. The amount of dust will decrease because warmer temperatures mean less wind, and hence less dust. The lack of dust means the rainforest will not get as much iron and phosphorous in the dust for its plants and marine life.

Denial and Reality

In April, the US Senate confirmed ACD-denying Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine from Oklahoma as the head of NASA. Bridenstine has no scientific credentials and does not believe humans are to blame for ACD.

Wasting no time, by early May, the agency, under Bridenstine, had ended NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System, which had been, at least up until then, a $10 million annual effort to fund programs intended to improve the monitoring of carbon emissions around the world.

While this is just the latest in ACD-denial antics from the Trump administration that are having catastrophic impacts on the environment and climate, the denialism is thankfully grossly outweighed by reality.

The city of Oslo, Norway, has moved forward with banning all cars from the city by 2019.

Pakistan is attempting to plant 1 billion trees, and the World Bank has announced it will no longer fund oil and gas exploration.

Meanwhile, deeply troubling signs of how far along the planet is regarding ACD continue apace.

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have, for the first time ever recorded, surpassed 410 parts per million (ppm), and sustained that increase for more than a month.

It is worth noting that human beings did not exist on the planet the last time there was this much CO2 in the air. CO2 is now over 100 ppm higher than any of the direct measurements that have been taken from Antarctic ice cores over the last 800,000 years, and most likely substantially higher than anything Earth has experienced for at least 15 million years, including eras when the planet was mostly ice-free.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

BEEF EATERS CONTRIBUTE ALMOST HALF OF THE U.S.’S DIET-RELATED GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS

Nearly half of the United States’ diet-related greenhouse gas emissions result from only 20 percent of Americans’ dietary choices, a new study finds.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, finds that Americans with the highest levels of beef consumption account for 72 percent of the increase in diet-related emissions between the highest- and lowest-impact groups in the study, which produces about eight times the amount of emissions compared to the lowest-impact group. The study’s researchers attribute this to the fact that animal-based foods, particularly cow-based, contribute significantly higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions per pound than plant-based foods.

“Reducing the impact of our diets could achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emission in the United States,” said lead author Martin Heller, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, in a press release. “It’s climate action that is accessible to everyone, because we all decide on a daily basis what we eat.”

This study is one of the few to break down the environmental impacts of individual self-selected diets, as opposed to other studies that evaluate environmental effects of diets at the aggregate level. “Such work is essential for estimating a distribution of impacts, which, in turn, is key to recommending policies for driving consumer demand towards lower environmental impacts,” the study states.