The Inevitability of Radical Climate Change

Readers of this article will likely live to see climate change so disruptive and damaging that it will alter the Western world’s standard of living. In fact, the onset of radical climate change is already evident. It has already started. This article will examine the incipience of this far-reaching event, which will change the world forever.

Radical climate change is already upon us, and it will only get worse, decade-by-decade, because world governments refuse to address the issue in a meaningful and corrective manner. Climate talks amongst nations (19 meetings, so far) are merely gabfests where a bunch of dignitaries meet to pontificate but never achieve.

One after another, after another, public treasuries spend millions to send delegations to climate talks without success, and it is becoming crystal clear that the developing nations and the developed nations will never harmonize until radical climate change is so obviously destructive that there is no choice but to come to terms. Then, they’ll meet and come together with a plan, but it will be too late.

Meanwhile, the world’s climate is  radically changing right before our eyes, but like all issues outside of mainstream news, the clairvoyance of the few (scientists) is seldom heeded by the many.

Indisputable Evidence of Radical Climate Change in the Ocean

The impending dangers of climate change are mostly hidden from public view. This may explain why the problem is under-appreciated and under-reported. From the Arctic to Antarctica climate abnormalities are dangerously lurking on the surface and in the water.

For example, one extremely serious problem starts at the base of the food chain in the ocean. This is the result of acidification because of the ocean absorbing excessive quantities of carbon dioxide (30% of CO2 emissions) caused by burning fossil fuels, as well as excessive amounts of heat (90% of the planet’s heat.) In consequence, marine phytoplankton, of which there are 5,000 species, are negatively affected, thus, threatening the base of the food chain. As well, and regarding humankind, phytoplankton is responsible for half of the Earth’s oxygen; every other breath you take comes from these mysterious, wondrous organisms.

Here are some examples of acidification at work: Elevated levels of domoic acid, the agent of Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning, have been reported in the coastal waters of Southern California. And, along the U.S. West Coast scientists are witnessing, in real time, the devastating impact of acidification in oyster fisheries.

According to Jane Luchenco, former director of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the effects of acidification are already present in some oyster fisheries, like the West Coast of the U.S.  According to Luchenco, “You can actually see this happening… It’s not something a long way into the future. It is a very big problem.”

In the Southern Ocean, scientists, using electron microscopes, have measured severe shell dissolution of Pteropods, which are at the base of the food chain and a food source for everything from krill to large whales.

And, off the Northern Coast of California scientists are finding water that’s acidic enough to start dissolving seashells. As a consequence, the base of the marine food chain is already in the early stages of a struggle to reproduce and survive because of acidification caused by fossil fuel CO2 emissions.

“If the current carbon dioxide emission trends continue… the ocean will continue to undergo acidification, to an extent and at rates that have not occurred for tens of millions of years… nearly all marine life forms that build calcium carbonate shells and skeletons studied by scientists thus far have shown deterioration due to increasing carbon dioxide levels in seawater.” 1

According to an article, Ocean Acidification, National Geographic, April 2011, “… in 2008 a group of more than 150 leading researchers issued a declaration stating that they were deeply concerned by recent, rapid changes in ocean chemistry, which could within decades severely affect marine organisms, food webs, biodiversity, and fisheries.” Alas, this is already happening.

Moreover, coral reefs around the world are under attack. Again, the problem is excessive levels of CO2: When atmospheric CO2 levels increase and absorb into the ocean carbonate ions become scarcer in the water. Studies reveal that coral skeleton growth has been shown to decline linearly as the carbonate concentration declines because of excessive CO2 levels.

Coral reefs are as crucial to marine life as food, water and air are to humans. Up to nine million marine species live on or around coral reefs. Worldwide, twenty percent (20%) of coral reefs are already gone and another fifty percent (50%) are on the verge of total collapse.

According to Dr. Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, OneWorld (UK) Video, August 2011: “I think if we continue on the current trajectory, we are looking at a mass extinction of marine species even if only coral reef systems go down, which it looks like they will certainly by the end of the century.”

Along these lines, scientists are only too aware of how damaging excessive amounts of fossil fuel emissions are to the ocean, and they have repeatedly expressed alarm. Nevertheless, the general public and mainstream media only see the surface of the water, which never changes. However, according to the International Programme on the State of the Ocean d/d October 3, 2013, “The next mass extinction may have already begun.”

Methane & Altered Jet Streams

Methane, which has been trapped in hydrates and permafrost for millennia, is only now starting to escape into the atmosphere in enormous quantities because of the dramatic climatic changes in the Arctic, which is warming 2-3 times faster than elsewhere on the planet. This poses a serious threat of runaway global warming, leading to a sweltering planetary environment.

Additionally, the climate change abnormalities in the Arctic are altering the jet streams, which, in turn, negatively impacts weather patterns all across the Northern Hemisphere. This is happening in real time right now.

“Could the World be in Imminent Danger and Nobody is Telling?” (An assessment by the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG): 
”Uniquely and fearlessly AMEG has studied key non-linear trends in the Earth-human System and reached the stunning conclusion that the planet stands at the edge of abrupt and catastrophic climate change as a result of an unprecedented rate of change in the Arctic.” Furthermore, according to AMEG, here’s the risk: “An extremely high international security risk of acute climate disruption followed by runaway global warming.”

Methane (CH4) is over twenty times more powerful, over a 100-year period, per molecule, than is carbon dioxide (CO2).  Or, put another way, methane is more effectual than carbon dioxide at absorbing infrared radiation emitted from the earth’s surface and preventing it from escaping into space. Methane, during its first few years upon entering the atmosphere, is 100 times as powerful as an equal weight of CO2.

As it happens, it appears excessive levels of methane are just now starting to seriously impact the Earth’s atmosphere in a big way!

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, as of February 2013, methane levels in the atmosphere are measured at 1,874 ppb (parts per billion). This level, in an historical context, is more than twice as high as any time since 400,000 years before the industrial revolution. In the past, methane has ranged between 300-400 ppb during glacial periods and 600-700 ppb during warm interglacial periods.

“There are three huge reservoirs of Arctic methane till recently safely controlled by the Arctic freezing cold environment. They are now all releasing additional methane to the atmosphere as the Arctic rapidly warms.” (Arctic Methane, Arctic Methane Emergency Group).

As of a couple of years ago, the Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev, surveying 10,000 square miles of sea off the coast of Eastern Siberia, made a terrifying discovery of “fountains” of methane one-half mile across erupting from Arctic sea ice, coming to surface like a boiling pot of water on a stove top. The research team located more than 100 fountains, and they believe there could be thousands. These are methane fields on a scale never before witnessed by scientists.

In stark contrast to these warnings by scientists, the climate denialists or cooling crowd have been crowing just recently about a revival of the Arctic sea ice in 2013, but their calculations only measure the  “extent” of sea ice. Au contraire: Sea ice “extent” is a two dimensional measurement. Whereas, three dimensions, including thickness, gives volume (the Arctic has already lost 40% of its volume) and on this basis the sea ice is decreasing by the year, every year for 30 years. However, the final numbers for 2012-13 are not yet known for certain, and may have gone up for one year, as occasionally happens in any given year.

There is, however, evidence of continued ice loss during the most recent season, according to Mass Balance Buoy readings conducted by the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory; here are two actual (real) Mass Balance Buoy readings of ice thickness (gain or loss) during the 2012-13 Arctic ice melt season: (#1) 2012D-ID Code: 300025010123530 in Multi-Year Ice in Beaufort Sea from 8/27/2012 ice thickness of 335cm to 8/28/2013 ice thickness 157cm, a loss of six (6’) feet; (#2) 2012M – ID Code: 300025010206570 in Multi-Year Ice at Fram Straight (Deployed by Norwegian Polar Institute) 8/29/2012 ice thickness 250cm to 9/02/2013 ice thickness 121cm, a loss of four (4’) feet.

Additionally, the ice melt and warming at the Arctic instigates a critical climatic problem; i.e., disruption of the jet streams. Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University has presented research to the scientific community that demonstrates that Arctic sea ice loss and warming impacts upper-level atmospheric circulation such that, “… slowing its winds and increasing its tendency to make contorted high-amplitude loops. Such high-amplitude loops in the upper level wind pattern (and associated jet stream) increase the probability of persistent (that is, longer-duration) weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere potentially leading to extreme weather due to longer-duration cold spells, snow events, heat waves, flooding events, and drought conditions.” And, isn’t this exactly what has been happening?

In fact, the results of this phenomenon of the warming Arctic disrupting the jet streams, which are found at the top of the troposphere at 35,000-40,000 feet (7-9 miles high), have shown up in disturbingly abnormal weather patterns all across the hemisphere.

For example, a slow-moving jet stream was behind a blocking weather pattern in the U.S. in 2012, causing the worst drought in 50 years; Syria’s embedded drought from 2006-11 is the most severe set of crop failures ever in the Fertile Crescent; India had two major droughts in four years with rainfall levels 70% below normal in the Punjab breadbasket; in 2010 then-PM Putin halted grain shipments by Russia because of drought conditions (worst in 40 years); China’s four-year drought is affecting 400 million people; China has the most severe drought conditions in the world (the worst in 200 years), and the list goes on and on.

And, the floods caused by embedded jet streams: Colorado in 2013 (once in 100-year flooding), Eastern Europe in 2013 (worst in 500 years); UK in 2012 (wettest since 1766); Canadian extreme flash floods (worst in 50 years), massive flooding in Pakistan (a once in 100-year flood) lasting for over one month, and the list goes on and on.

These extreme weather conditions, as a result of radical climate change, are normally classified as once-in-one-hundred-year events, but they’re happening yearly.

The world food supply is threatened by extreme drought and extreme flooding, and according to the Council on Foreign Relations, “… when you see rapidly rising food prices, of course it leads to instability. We’ve seen [this] in the last five years across many countries, and you see rising food prices translate almost directly into street protests.” 2

“Nations reliant on food imports, including Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sudan are especially vulnerable to unrest, according to a report by the National Intelligence Council… More than 60 food riots erupted worldwide from 2007 to 2009.” 3

Water Supplies Threatened as Glaciers Melt Around the World

The sudden appearance of Ötzi the Iceman frozen in the Alps (1991) may have been an early harbinger of the threat to water supplies around the world because glaciers are one of the world’s largest and most dependable water sources for billions of people, but the glaciers are melting very rapidly. Over time, the losses of glacial water supplies will likely lead to panic, political unrest, and ground wars.

In the high altitudes of South America 1,600 years of ice formation melted in 25 years according to a recent scientific expedition, which found extraordinarily large portions of the Quelccaya Ice Cap melting away in just 25 years. Quelccaya is world’s largest tropical ice sheet.

Meredith A. Kelly, glacial geomorphologist (Dartmouth College), calculates the current melting at Quelccaya at least as fast, if not faster, than anything in the geological record books since the end of the last ice age.

“Throughout the Andes, glaciers are now melting so rapidly that scientists have grown deeply concerned about water supplies for the people living there.” 4

According to a study by the European Topic Centre on Air Pollution and Climate Change Mitigation (ETC/ACM), from 2000 to 2010, Alpine glaciers, on average, each lost more than 32.5 feet of thickness. Samuel Nussbaumer of World Glacier Monitoring Service, University of Zurich says the rate of shrinkage is increasing by the year, and he claims rising temperatures are the main explanation. “These ice giants could disappear literally in the space of a human lifetime, or even less,” according to Sergio Savoia of the WWF’s Alpine office.

The Alpine glaciers serve as Europe’s water tower, similar to how the Tibetan Plateau, the “Third Pole,” serves as the water tower for India and China and neighboring countries. And, Chinese scientists report significant measured glacial melting over the past 30 years. As well, the glaciers feed the big, commercial rivers like the Yangtze, Rhone, Po, and the Danube. And, India and China are both dependent upon the glaciers for crop irrigation for a couple billion people.

The fallout from radical global climate change, on a worst-case basis, will result in society reverting to a Paleolithic economy like the hunter-gatherer societies around 500,000 B.C. with war-like factions composed of roughshod groups taking matters into their own hands, as desperate people resort to desperate measures when fighting for survival. After all, by then, lame governments will have proven ineffective; why not take matters into one’s own hands, as marauding thugs crash through the gates.

Solution

The inevitability of an era of radical climate change, altering every aspect of life, is nearly baked into the cake. Here’s why: Coal! Between China and India alone there are 1,200 new coal burning plants on the drawing boards, which is the easiest, cheapest way to produce electricity and power industrial plants, even though non-polluting renewables are equally up to the task, but more costly.

Already, China consumes as much coal as the U.S., the European Union, and Japan combined. And, consider this: According to David Mohler, Duke Power’s chief technology officer: “… China is preparing, by 2025, for 350 million people to live in cities that don’t exist now… They have to build the equivalent of the U.S. electrical system— that is, almost as much added capacity as the entire U.S. grid—by 2025. It took us 120 years.” 5

The only practicable solution to this festering problem of radical climate change is to get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible by switching to renewable energy sources. However, it is extremely unlikely this will happen soon enough.

Both of the major U.S. political parties are gloating over upcoming “American Energy Independence” as the result of the use of hydraulic fracking recovery techniques for oil and gas whereby they utilize extreme high pressure to forcibly inject a concoction of fluids containing toxic carcinogenic chemicals underground.

Yes! They forcibly inject toxic carcinogenic chemicals underground!

  1. Dr. Richard Feely and Dr. Christopher Sabine. Oceanographers, “Carbon Dioxide and Our Ocean Legacy”, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, April 2006. []
  2. Isobel Coleman/Interview, “U.S. Drought and Rising Global Food Prices”, Council on Foreign Relations, August 2, 2012. []
  3. Tony C. Dreibus & Elizabeth Campbell.  “Global Food Reserves Falling as Drought Wilts Crops”, Bloomberg News, August 9, 2012. []
  4. Justin Gillis, “In Sign of Warming, 1,600 Years of Ice in Andes Melted in 25 Years”, The New York Times/International Herald Tribune, April 4, 2013. []
  5. James Fallows.  “Dirty Coal, Clean Future“, The Atlantic, December. 2010. []

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide, like Z magazine, European Project on Ocean Acidification, Ecosocialism Canada, Climate Himalaya, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Comite Valmy, and UK Progressive. He has been interviewed about climate change on Pacifica Radio, KPFK, FM90.7, Indymedia On Air and World View Show/UK. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.