Citizen Action Monitor

Evidence over past 12 months suggests climate change impacts are accelerating in frequency and intensity

Are recent record-setting, global weather events warning signs that we are running out of time to take action?

No 2500 Posted by fw, August 4, 2019

John Molyneux

“The idea of climate change is an event or process set in the relatively distant future, probably ‘not in our lifetimes’. This is reinforced by international conventions and agreements … which are full of projections and targets for 2030 and 2050. Most of the time people are preoccupied with the immediate problems in their lives … Tell them about something that is going to happen in thirty year’s time and the most likely responses are a) ignore it on the grounds that it may never happen or, if it does happen it will be after they are dead; b) ignore it on the grounds that by then the authorities will come up with ‘something’ to fix it. Even many political activists are likely to think it is a less immediate priority than many of the issues they are already focused on. In reality, however, dangerous climate change is not just something for the future but is visibly happening now and has been happening for a while.”John Molyneux, Rebel, The New Socialist Website

Are recent weather patterns a prescient warning that a changing climate is already upon us? Yes, according to John Molyneux, and time is running out. Molyneux is not a climate scientist. He is, however, an intelligent, responsibly informed British Trotskyist, retired academic and author living in Ireland where he is active in the Irish Social Workers Party and editor of the Irish Marxist Review.

In this, his article about the accelerated pace and severity of recent climate change events worldwide, Molyneux reviews the alarming evidence of a changing climate over the past 12 months, changes which led him to conclude time may be running out. He points to an emerging “scientific consensus that the situation is even more urgent than suggested by the IPCC’s twelve year schedule in 2018.” And he cites an alarming report by a BBC Environment correspondent, who titled his piece: Climate change: 12 years to save the planet? Make that 18 months.

In considering the political implications of this evidence, Molyneux asserts that existing government climate plans and international accords are “completely inadequate”. Moreover, given climate’s accelerated, catastrophic impacts, capitalism’s focus on GDP growth will only make matters worse. It comes an no surprise, therefore, that Trotskyist Molyneux says we must ensure that socialist voices and socialist arguments are heard within the rapidly growing resistance movements that are protesting the business-as-usual policymakers, as well as Trump’s brand of racism, fascism and barbarism.

Below is my slightly abridged repost of Molyneux’ article, featuring my added subheadings, text highlighting, and some bulletted reformatting. Alternatively, read the original article on Rebel, The New Socialist Website, by clicking on the following linked title.

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How fast is the climate changing? by John Molyneux, Rebel, The New Socialist Website, July 25, 2019

Are recent weather patterns a prescient warning that Climate Change is upon us? Yes, according to John Molyneux, and time is running out.

There’s a disconnection between our perception of the climate crisis and the reality of what’s happening

It is clear that there is now quite widespread public awareness of the fact that climate change is a reality and a serious threat to the future of humanity. And this is reflected to some extent in the mainstream media despite their reluctance to treat the issue as a real emergency. However, there is still a considerable disjunction between the way climate change is generally perceived and the reality of what is actually happening.

Climate action targets are often set for 2030 and 2050; but human attention focuses on what’s happening now

The idea of climate change is an event or process set in the relatively distant future, probably ‘not in our lifetimes’. This is reinforced by international conventions and agreements such as the Paris Accords and Leo Varadkar’s Climate Action Plan which are full of projections and targets for 2030 and 2050. Most of the time people are preoccupied with the immediate problems in their lives; work, paying the rent or mortgage, putting food on the table, the kids and so on. Tell them about something that is going to happen in thirty year’s time and the most likely responses are a) ignore it on the grounds that it may never happen or, if it does happen it will be after they are dead; b) ignore it on the grounds that by then the authorities will come up with “something” to fix it. Even many political activists are likely to think it is a less immediate priority than many of the issues they are already focused on.

Immediate Problem

In reality, dangerous climate change has been happening worldwide over the past 12 months

In reality, however, dangerous climate change is not just something for the future but is visibly happening now and has been happening for a while. I said earlier that the main impact of climate change would be via extreme weather events and their consequences. These could be listed primarily as:

  • excessive heat waves,
  • droughts,
  • forest fires,
  • excessive rainfall,
  • storms and flooding
  • with occasional exceptional and unusual cold spells.

All of these things have been clearly on display across the world over the last 12 months.

Here’s a July 2018 news report about record-setting heat records

Last year The Washington Post published an article titled Red-hot planet: All-time heat records set all over the world during the past week. It reported the following:

Numerous locations in the Northern Hemisphere have witnessed their hottest weather ever recorded over the past week.

Large areas of heat pressure or heat domes scattered around the hemisphere led to the sweltering temperatures. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports the heat is to blame for at least 54 deaths in southern Quebec, mostly in and near Montreal, which endured record high temperatures.

In Northern Siberia, along the coast of the Arctic Ocean—where weather observations are scarce—model analyses showed temperatures soaring 40 degrees above normal on July 5, to over 90 degrees.

 On Thursday, Africa likely witnessed its hottest temperature ever reliably measured. Ouargla, Algeria soared to 124.3 degrees (51.3 Celsius).

A massive and intense heat dome has consumed the eastern two-thirds of the United States and southeast Canada since late last week. It’s not only been hot but also exceptionally humid. Here are some of the notable all-time records set:

The University of California Los Angeles set its all-time high-temperature of 111 degrees on July 6.

Denver tied its all-time high-temperature record of 105 degrees on June 28.

Montreal recorded its highest temperature in recorded history, dating back 147 years, of 97.9 degrees (36.6 Celsius) on July 2.

This year, June recorded hottest June ever

In July of this year we learned that June 2019 was the hottest June since climate records began. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the average global temperature for June was 1.71°F (0.92°C) above the 20th century average of 59.9°F (15.5°C). In July we have already had another massive heat wave in North America and across Europe, including over 4O°C in Paris.

Record temperatures in Belgium and Netherlands

In the last day it is reported that Belgium and the Netherlands have recorded their highest ever temperatures

  • The Belgian town of Kleine Brogel in Limburg province hit 39.9°C (102°F), the hottest since records began in 1833.
  • A Eurostar train broke down in the extreme heat, trapping passengers,
  • meanwhile in the southern Dutch city of Eindhoven witnessed its highest temperature in 75 years of records at the Royal Meteorological Institute.

Between these heat waves:

  • we have had drought and devastating fires in California;
  • 50 C temperatures in much of Australia;
  • catastrophic cyclone in South East Africa;
  • major fires in Portugal and Northern Greece;
  • fires across Alaska and Siberia;
  • drought in Southern India with one city of 7 million people running out of water;
  • flooding in Nepal (90 dead and 1 million displaced) and Japan;
  • a heat wave across Northern China;
  • fires across Sweden; and
  • Iceland erecting a monument to a disappeared glacier.

In January/February this year, extraordinary cold spell in US and Canada

What is more, there was also the extraordinary cold spell in America in January/February of this year in which semi-arctic conditions swept down into the heart of the USA in what was a ‘polar vortex’ with temperatures as low as –30°C (The polar vortex is linked to climate change because rising temperatures in the Arctic affect the jet stream in the upper atmosphere driving cold winds south and drawing warm wind northward).

Time Running Out

Melting sea ice in Antarctica is an impending dangerous development

And there have been many other extreme and damaging weather events, far more than can be listed here. In terms of the immediate future—the next few years in other words—two other current developments are immensely important and dangerous. The first is the melting of sea ice in Antarctica:

Antarctica sea ice lost as much ice in 4 years as the Arctic lost in 34 years, creating a dangerous feedback loop

The vast expanse of sea ice around Antarctica has suffered a ‘precipitous’ fall since 2014, satellite data shows, and fell at a faster rate than seen in the Arctic. The plunge in the average annual extent means Antarctica lost as much sea ice in four years as the Arctic lost in 34 years. What makes this so dangerous is not its immediate impact on sea-levels (see above) but the fact that white ice reflects sunlight back into the atmosphere whereas dark oceans absorb and retain heat. In this way this vast melting of ice creates a feedback loop intensifying warming.

Arctic permafrost loss risks release of methane gas, a greater risk than CO2

Second, the question of the state of permafrost (soil, rock or sediment that is frozen for more than two consecutive years);

A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said they were astounded by how quickly a succession of unusually hot summers had destabilized the upper layers of giant subterranean ice blocks that had been frozen solid for millennia.

The loss of permafrost is significant because it is releasing vast amounts of methane. Indeed, in the first two decades after its release, methane is 84 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. In other words we have another major feedback loop.

Climate change risks are accelerating; e.g., melting of permafrost is 70 years ahead of predictions

Perhaps most important and alarming of all is the fact that all these developments—especially the loss of Antarctic ice and the Arctic permafrost—point to the probability that the IPCC’s dramatic warnings and predictions in 2018 are in fact conservative underestimations of what is really happening. Thus Antarctica has experienced air temperature increases of 3°C in its Peninsula. Although that might not seem very much, it is 5 times the mean rate of global warming as reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And the melting of permafrost is 70 years ahead of most scientific predictions.

In a related, alarming story, BBC says decisive carbon-cutting steps must be taken within 18 months

On 24 July, Matt McGrath, BBC Environment correspondent, put up the alarmingly headed post; Climate change: 12 years to save the planet? Make that 18 months. It states:

Do you remember the good old days when we had “12 years to save the planet? Now it seems, there’s a growing consensus that the next 18 months will be critical in dealing with the global heating crisis, among other environmental challenges.

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that to keep the rise in global temperatures below 1.5C this century, emissions of carbon dioxide would have to be cut by 45% by 2030. But today, observers recognise that the decisive, political steps to enable the cuts in carbon to take place will have to happen before the end of next year.

Scientific consensus says situation is more urgent than IPCC’s 12-year deadline

Again this does not mean there are only18 months before we all die; it is based on a timetable of forthcoming UN climate conferences which, it argued, will have to take decisive action in order to avert catastrophe. But it reinforces the point that the scientific consensus is now that the situation is even more urgent than suggested by the IPCC’s twelve year schedule in 2018.

Political implications

Existing government climate plans and international accords are “completely inadequate” 

All of this has enormous political implications. Firstly, it means all the various governmental plans and international accords that we have had so far are completely inadequate. Any politician which speaks in terms of targets for 2030 and 2050 simply doesn’t get it. By the time Ireland gets its promised 1 million electric cars in 2030 or reaches zero neutral carbon emissions by 2050 it is overwhelmingly likely that irreparable damage will have been done to our world.

How to plan for climate change when the near future may not be anything like the recent past

And mainstream political thinkers just don’t get it. David McWilliams [economist, writer, and journalist], for example, recently speculated in The Irish Times on the long-term efficacy of Chinese investment in Africa, noting that by 2100 one in four humans will be African — a prediction based on current trends continuing. … but in the whole article there was not one mention of climate change. In other words when it comes to ‘the real world’ of economics he imagines it is simply going to be business as usual for the next 80 years. There is no chance of this being the case.

Given climate’s accelerated catastrophic impacts, capitalism’s focus on GDP growth will make matters worse

Secondly, the whole question of system change not climate change is pushed even more to the fore. There have been innumerable debates over the years as to whether capitalism might possibly or could theoretically stop climate change. What is now manifestly the case is that it has not done so and isn’t going to do so in the time available.

Trotskyist author Molyneux says we need socialism nationally and internationally

We are going to need socialism—meaning a publicly owned and democratically planned economy, producing for human need, not profit. And we need this not only nationally but also internationally, both to prevent runaway climate change and to cope with the change already built into the system.

What will it be — socialist voices and socialist arguments or Trump’s racism, fascism and barbarism?

Lastly, there will be serious resistance; not just from school students and Extinction Rebellion but from many different quarters ranging from indigenous peoples to organized labour. If 3.5% of the population of Puerto Rico can mobilize against their governor over Hurricane Maria, sexism and homophobia, and the people of Sudan can overthrow their dictator, then people will resist the effects of climate change. The key issue for us is ensuring that socialist voices and socialist arguments are heard within this resistance. The alternative –personified by the looming figure of Donald Trump — points in the direction of racism, fascism and barbarism.

SEE RELATED

July Equalled If Not Surpassed The Hottest Month In History: UN, by Edith M. Lederer, HuffPost Canada, August 3, 2019 — The latest data from the World Meteorological Organization shows the month of July “at least equaled if not surpassed the hottest month in recorded history” — and it followed the hottest June ever, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday. He warned that if all nations don’t take immediate action to tackle climate change, extreme weather events happening now “are just the tip of the iceberg.

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