Even the best-case scenarios show us heading for 3°C of warming and far worse by 2100, says Dahr Jamail.
No 2422 Posted by fw, January 23, 2019
“My research also took me to the University of Miami, Coral Gables, where I met the chair of the department of geological science, Harold Wanless, an expert in sea-level rise. I asked him what he would say to people who think we still have time to mitigate the impacts of runaway climate change. ‘We can’t undo this,’ he replied. ‘How are you going to cool down the ocean? We’re already there.’ As if to underscore the point, Wanless told me that, in the past, carbon dioxide had varied from roughly 180 to 280 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere as the Earth shifted from glacial to interglacial periods. Linked to this 100-ppm fluctuation was about a 100-foot change in sea level. ‘Every 100-ppm CO2 increase in the atmosphere gives us 100 feet of sea level rise,’ he told me. ‘This happened when we went in and out of the Ice Age.’ As I knew, since the industrial revolution began, atmospheric CO2 has already increased from 280 to 410 ppm. ‘That’s 130 ppm in just the last 200 years,’ I pointed out to him. ‘That’s 130 feet of sea level rise that’s already baked into Earth’s climate system.’ He looked at me and nodded grimly. I couldn’t help thinking of that as a nod goodbye to coastal cities from Miami to Shanghai.” Dahr Jamail, Truthout
The above passage sets the bleak tone of Jamail’s account of what’s happening to planet Earth. He does not end on a note of hope. The best he can offer is that we should do everything possible for the planet even while knowing the odds are not in our favor. And even worse than not knowing the odds are not in our favor, is not caring that we don’t know.
“For me,” Jamail writes, “my goodbyes will involve spending as much time as I can on the glaciers in Washington State’s Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park near where I live, or far more modestly, taking in the trees around my home on a daily basis. It’s unclear, after all, how much longer such forest areas are likely to remain fully intact. I often visit a small natural altar I’ve created amid a circle of cedar trees growing around a decomposing mother tree. In this magical spot, I grieve and express my gratitude for the life that is still here. I also go to listen.”
Dahr Jamail, is an investigative reporter, author and Truthout staff reporter. His most recent book: The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption (The New Press, 2019).
Below is my abridged repost of Dahr Jamail’s article, including my added subheadings and highlighted text. Alternatively, read his complete piece on Truthout’s website by clicking on the following linked title.
The Loss Upon Us
For at least two decades, I’ve found my solace in the mountains. I lived in Alaska from 1996 to 2006 and more than a year of my life has been spent climbing on the glaciers of Denali and other peaks in the Alaska Range. Yet, that was a bittersweet time for me as the dramatic impacts of climate change were quickly becoming apparent, including fast-receding glaciers and warmer winter temperatures.
After years of war and then climate-change reporting, I regularly withdrew to the mountains to catch my breath. As I filled my lungs with alpine air, my heart would settle down and I could feel myself root back into the Earth.
“This is an explosion, a nuclear explosion of geologic change,” says ecologist about fast-shrinking glaciers
Later, my book research would take me back onto Denali’s fast-shrinking glaciers and also to Glacier National Park in Montana. There I met Dan Fagre, a US Geological Survey research ecologist and director of the Climate Change in Mountain Ecosystems Project. “This is an explosion,” he assured me, “a nuclear explosion of geologic change. This … exceeds the ability for normal adaptation. We’ve shoved it into overdrive and taken our hands off the wheel.” Despite its name, the park he studies is essentially guaranteed not to have any active glaciers by 2030, only 11 years from now.
“It’s too late to mitigate the impacts of runaway climate change,” says expert in sea level rise
My research also took me to the University of Miami, Coral Gables, where I met the chair of the department of geological science, Harold Wanless, an expert in sea-level rise. I asked him what he would say to people who think we still have time to mitigate the impacts of runaway climate change. “We can’t undo this,” he replied. “How are you going to cool down the ocean? We’re already there.”
“Every 100-ppm CO2 increase gives us 100 feet of sea level rise” and CO2 has increased 130 ppm in last 200 years, which is equivalent to a potential 130 feet of sea level rise
As if to underscore the point, Wanless told me that, in the past, carbon dioxide had varied from roughly 180 to 280 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere as the Earth shifted from glacial to interglacial periods. Linked to this 100-ppm fluctuation was about a 100-foot change in sea level. “Every 100-ppm CO2 increase in the atmosphere gives us 100 feet of sea level rise,” he told me. “This happened when we went in and out of the Ice Age.” As I knew, since the industrial revolution began, atmospheric CO2 has already increased from 280 to 410 ppm. “That’s 130 ppm in just the last 200 years,” I pointed out to him. “That’s 130 feet of sea level rise that’s already baked into Earth’s climate system.”
He looked at me and nodded grimly. I couldn’t help thinking of that as a nod goodbye to coastal cities from Miami to Shanghai.
Biological collapse of birds in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest
In July 2017, I traveled to Camp 41 in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, part of a project founded four decades ago by Thomas Lovejoy, known to many as the “godfather of biodiversity.” While visiting him, I also met Vitek Jirinec, an ornithologist from the Czech Republic who had held 11 different wildlife positions from Alaska to Jamaica. In the process, he became all too well acquainted with the signs of biological collapse among the birds he was studying. He’d watched as some Amazon populations like that of the black-tailed leaftosser declined by 95 percent; he’d observed how mosquitoes in Hawaii were killing off native bird populations; he’d explored how saltwater intrusion into Alaska’s permafrost was changing bird habitats there.
Plant and animal populations are being marooned within fragments of their remaining habitat
His tone turned somber as we discussed his research and a note of anger slowly crept into his voice. “The problem of animal and plant populations left marooned within various fragments [of their habitat] under circumstances that are untenable for the long term has begun showing up all over the land surface of the planet. The familiar questions recur: How many mountain gorillas inhabit the forested slopes of the Virunga volcanoes, along the shared borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda? How many tigers live in the Sariska Tiger Reserve of northwestern India? How many are left? How long can they survive?”
“The world is broken in pieces now”
As he continued, the anger in his voice became palpable, especially when he began discussing how “island biogeography” had come to the mainland and what was happening to animal populations marooned by human development on fragments of land in places like the Amazon. “How many grizzly bears occupy the North Cascades ecosystem, a discrete patch of mountain forest along the northern border of the state of Washington? Not enough. How many European brown bears are there in Italy’s Abruzzo National Park? Not enough. How many Florida panthers in Big Cypress Swamp? Not enough. How many Asiatic lions in the Forest of Gir? Not enough…. The world is broken in pieces now.”
“A Terrifying 12 Years”
The latest IPCC report has become a key talking point of US progressives – 12 terrifying years to cut emissions
In October 2018, 15 months after Jirinec’s words brought me to tears in the Amazon, the world’s leading climate scientists authored a report for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning us that we have just a dozen years left to limit the catastrophic impacts of climate change. The gist of it is this: we’ve already warmed the planet one degree Celsius. If we fail to limit that warming process to 1.5 degrees, even a half-degree more than that will significantly worsen extreme heat, flooding, widespread droughts and sea level increases, among other grim phenomena. The report has become a key talking point of political progressives in the US, who, like journalist and activist Naomi Klein, are now speaking of “a terrifying 12 years” left in which to cut fossil fuel emissions.
However, IPCCs reports have repeatedly been criticized as being politicized and overly conservative
There is, however, a problem with even this approach. It assumes that the scientific conclusions in the IPCC report are completely sound. It’s well known, however, that there’s been a political element built into the IPCC’s scientific process, based on the urge to get as many countries as possible on board the Paris climate agreement and other attempts to rein in climate change. To do that, such reports tend to use the lowest common denominator in their projections, which makes their science overly conservative (that is, overly optimistic).
And it’s a fantasy to believe we can transition “completely off fossil fuels in the reasonably near future”
In addition, new data suggest that the possibility of political will coalescing across the planet to shift the global economy completely off fossil fuels in the reasonably near future is essentially a fantasy. And that’s even if we could remove enough of the hundreds of billions of tons of CO2 already in our overburdened atmosphere to make a difference (not to speak of the heat similarly already lodged in the oceans).
“It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5 degree Celsius target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that,” Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist and a co-author of the IPCC report, told the Guardian just weeks before it was released. “While it’s technically possible, it’s extremely improbable, absent a real sea change in the way we evaluate risk. We are nowhere near that.”
Even the best-case scenarios show us heading for 3°C of warming and far worse by 2100
In fact, even best-case scenarios show us heading for at least a three-degree warming and, realistically speaking, we are undoubtedly on track for far worse than that by 2100, if not much sooner. Perhaps that’s why Shindell was so pessimistic.
In just 25 years the oceans have absorbed 60% more heat ANNUALLY than IPCC estimated in 2014 report
For example, a study published in Nature magazine, also released in October, showed that over the last quarter century, the oceans have absorbed 60 percent more heat annually than estimated in the 2014 IPCC report.
Moreover, oceans have already absorbed 93% of all heat added to our atmosphere
The study underscored that the globe’s oceans have, in fact, already absorbed 93 percent of all the heat humans have added to the atmosphere, that the climate system’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases is far higher than thought and that planetary warming is far more advanced than had previously been grasped.
And if the heat absorbed by the oceans had instead gone into the atmosphere, the global temperature would be 97°F
To give you an idea of how much heat the oceans have absorbed: if that heat had instead gone into the atmosphere, the global temperature would be 97 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it is today. For those who think that there are still 12 years left to change things, the question posed by Wanless seems painfully apt: How do we remove all the heat that’s already been absorbed by the oceans?
Warning: extinction of animal and plant species could lead to end of all life on the planet
Two weeks after that Nature article came out, a study in Scientific Reports warned that the extinction of animal and plant species due to climate change could lead to a “domino effect” that might, in the end, annihilate life on the planet. It suggested that organisms will die out at increasingly rapid rates because they depend on other species that are also on their way out. It’s a process the study calls “co-extinction.” According to its authors, a five to six degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures might be enough to annihilate most of Earth’s living creatures.
Horrific consequences of just 2°C temperature rise —
To put this in perspective: just a two degree rise will –
At 4°C of warming, grain yields will be halved, resulting in annual global food crises
At four degrees, global grain yields could drop by half, most likely resulting in annual worldwide food crises (along with far more war, general conflict and migration than at present).
We’re headed for 6°C of warming if we maintain our fossil-fuel driven economic system
The International Energy Agency has already shown that maintaining our current fossil-fueled economic system would virtually guarantee a six-degree rise in the Earth’s temperature before 2050.
Expect Earth to be 5°C warmer by 2050 say BP and Shell
To add insult to injury, a 2017 analysis from oil giants BP and Shell indicated that they expected the planet to be five degrees warmer by mid-century.
We’re no longer heading off a cliff, “we are now genuinely in free fall”
In late 2013, I wrote a piece for TomDispatch titled “Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice?” Even then, it was already clear enough that we were indeed heading off that cliff. More than five years later, a sober reading of the latest climate change science indicates that we are now genuinely in free fall.
The question is no longer whether or not we are going to fail, but how are we going to comport ourselves in the era of failure?
Listening While Saying Goodbye
An estimated 136,800 bird and mammal species are now going extinct EVERY DAY
It’s been estimated that between 150 and 200 plant, insect, bird and mammal species are already going extinct every day. In other words, during the two and a half years I worked on my book 136,800 species may have gone extinct.
How do we say goodbye to the loss of parts of the biosphere and thousands of species?
We have a finite amount of time left to coexist with significant parts of the biosphere, including glaciers, coral and thousands of species of plants, animals and insects.
We should do everything we can to save whatever is left, even knowing the odds are not in our favor
We’re going to have to learn how to say goodbye to them, part of which should involve doing everything we humanly can to save whatever is left, even knowing that the odds are stacked against us.
For Jamail, he visits a natural altar of cedar trees where he grieves and expresses his gratitude for life that is still here
For me, my goodbyes will involve spending as much time as I can on the glaciers in Washington State’s Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park near where I live, or far more modestly, taking in the trees around my home on a daily basis. It’s unclear, after all, how much longer such forest areas are likely to remain fully intact. I often visit a small natural altar I’ve created amid a circle of cedar trees growing around a decomposing mother tree. In this magical spot, I grieve and express my gratitude for the life that is still here. I also go to listen.
Where do you go to listen? And what are you hearing?
No matter how bleak the prognosis gets, Jamail will continue to do everything possible for Earth
For me, these days, it all begins and ends with doing my best to listen to the Earth, with trying my hardest to understand how best to serve, how to devote myself to doing everything possible for the planet, no matter the increasingly bleak prognosis for this time in human history.
Perhaps if we listen deeply enough and regularly enough, we ourselves will become the song this planet needs to hear.
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