The Climate and a Very Hot Election Year

There have been 21 presidential debates, which, by and large, skirted the biggest issue affecting the most people, back-to-back, back-to-back, and back-to-back, and on and on record-setting planetary heat!

Nowadays, rather than hitting yearly heat records, the planet is hitting monthly heat records (maybe global warming’s accelerating): e.g.:

March was also the 11th consecutive month to set a record high for temperatures, which agencies started tracking in the 1800s. With the release on Tuesday of its global climate report, NOAA is the third independent agency — along with NASA and the Japan Meteorological Association — to reach similar findings, each using slightly different methods.1

Climate Change appears to be just lifting off the launch pad right before our eyes whilst presidential candidates huddle in air-conditioned arenas and target immigrants. Apprenticed politics?

Meanwhile, a recent interview with Berkeley Lab’s Bill Collins, one of the world’s most brilliant minds on climate science, serves to emphasize the gravity of what the upcoming national elections might mean for life, or loss of it.  More on that later.

Four to eight more years of politically ignoring the climate problem may very well spell disaster, as in “lights out,” especially for coastal communities like Miami Beach, which is already experiencing the heaviest flooding ever, to wit:

Since 2006, flooding in Miami Beach has spiked drastically, and a new study from the University of Miami used insurance claims, media reports and tidal gauges to determine just how wild the flooding has become. In the last decade, flooding has gone up 400 percent from high tides and 33 percent from rain, according to the study, published this week in the journal Ocean and Coastal Management.2

Miami Beach flooding has “spiked drastically,” measuring +400% in only one decade! Apparently, climate change is accelerating!

And, of course, there’s the Outer Banks, North Carolina’s iconic 200-mile island chain with gorgeous beaches, wild horses, 58,000 residents, and wondrous views at Cape Hatteras. Tourists flock there “but they may not know that the place itself is disappearing from the map,” according to an article in National Geographic (July 2014) “Rising Seas: Will the Outer Banks Survive?”

Portions of the 200-mile chain of islands are already collapsing. “We’re losing them right now… In the next ten years, it’s going to be awful,” claims Stanley Riggs, a coastal geologist at East Carolina University.

“It’s going to be awful” the next ten years sounds awful. Wistfully, that’s right around the corner; meanwhile, some island residents are moving beach houses off foundations back inland.

With no surprise, Miami Beach and the Outer Banks didn’t show up at the March 10th Republican presidential debate in Miami. They’re kinda under the weather.

Here is how the two major presumptive presidential candidates view galloping climate change:

Give Donald Trump credit for consistency. The Republican presidential front-runner repeatedly has said he isn’t ‘a believer’ that humans have played a significant role in the earth’s changing climate.  He said as much in an interview with talk show host Hugh Hewitt last year. He told “Fox & Friends” earlier this year that climate change ‘is just a very, very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money.3

Then again, Trump’s persona is “making a lot of money.” Isn’t it? But, of course, he’s awkwardly referring to people who “game the system.” Gambling, anyone?

Hillary Clinton:

Clinton’s bottom line was that she’ll stay the course set by the Obama administration, particularly on the Paris climate agreement and power plant regulations. ‘President Obama moved forward on gas mileage; he moved forward on the Clean Power Plan.4

Well… at least Hillary acknowledges anthropogenic climate change, which eliminates a lot of heavy-duty grunt work moving a mountain to gain political recognition of impending biosphere collapse, which may be well on its way. Dreadfully, the signals are too strong to ignore, way too strong to ignore, in fact, unbelievably strong. Hopefully, a lot of people will start “making a lot of money” installing renewables, and fast!

Assuredly, the debates ignored the pressing issue of survival in a world of horrific climate change already at work. Unfortunately, this cold-shoulder behavior depicts a debasement or dumbing-down of society, similar to leprosy transmitted via droplets from the nose and the mouth, decaying the body, dumbing-down leaches away eye-opening polemic discourse, which goes back as far as ancient Greece, serving to educate the public.

Bill Collins (director for the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division at Berkeley Lab)

Recent interview of Bill Collins at Science Theater: “Climate Change is Here. Now What?”. Collins was a Lead Author on the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for which the IPCC was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. The following excerpts, including random editorial comment, are from the 90-minute program at Science Theater:

“The information that politicians have needed to understand this problem has been out there for decades… There is plenty of information out there right now that says you should be extremely concerned about maintaining present course,” preserving an inhabitable planet.

Recognizing climate change:

We can see the change from space now… the earth is different than it has been in the past… if you go back a little ways, we’ve changed the composition of the earth’s atmosphere very dramatically… so, if I were testifying before Congress, I would say we have really great information that we have altered Earth, we mankind, we have entered into an era where mankind is a bigger actor, or at least as big an actor, on the planetary stage, as nature herself.

Climate Change Impact on RE

When asked about RE values in Miami Beach, Dr. Collins replied: “Florida is already experiencing flooding in a number of its communities because of sea level rise… Florida and many other coastal communities on the eastern seaboard, including North Carolina, are exhibiting a deep form of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” ignoring reality somehow brings peace of mind.

Sea Level Rise

As for a prediction:

We can set a floor… the floor is already a severe floor… based upon the fact that water expands as it is heated, and we have a pretty good idea of how hot the ocean is going to get this century, if we continue business as usual, that equals about a foot of sea level rise… if you then take land glaciers and the ice sheets, it triples the sea level rise, up to about three feet.

Unfortunately, Greenland just this past year opened up a new pathway for ice flow into the ocean, in its northeast corner. Already, a quarter of sea level rise right now is due to Greenland and Antarctica, which is clear evidence that the biggest active contributors of sea level rise are already in motion. It’s happening!

The Foundation for Civilization

The human species has relied upon having very stable and predictable zones where we know what we can grow, we know what will work in terms of agriculture, what will work in terms of cities, and we’ve enjoyed this since the dawn of agrarian agriculture 10,000 years ago, a very, very stable climate… what that’s meant is that California has experienced a Mediterranean climate, predictable pattern where we know we can grow grapes here…  if you go to Europe, we know that you can grow grapes really well in southern France, ever since the time of the Romans. That’s something we’ve relied on as a foundation for civilization. What we are doing right now; we are pulling the rug out from under that foundation.

Ergo, climate change is altering predictable weather zones after 10,000 years of stability.

The foundation is cracking!

For example, California water supply is affected by climate change. Where the water is falling moves because of climate change. In California, storm tracks are moving northward. This is measured from space and from the ground.

If we could instantly freeze in place the amount of GHG in the atmosphere today, we’d still see a 0.5C increase going forward, which would be pretty mild unless we maintain business as usual. That amount of warming (0.5C) is already baked-in from what we’ve done to the climate system. It is survivable. However, shamefully, what we are doing is accelerating the pace of change.

Renewables

On whether it is possible to reduce GHG emissions without simultaneously disrupting economies, Dr. Collins points to Germany 30% renewable with a vibrant economy. In the case of California, a commitment was made to cut carbon by one-half, and California now spends half as much carbon per dollar produced as the rest of the country combined. Still, California’s economy is doing well.

Climate Change is Manmade

There are two ways we know that mankind is causing climate change. The first is that we can compare what’s happening now to the geologic record, and in the geologic record, the big actors were changes in the sun and disturbance of volcanoes. Those both produced signatures in the temperature of the climate system that don’t match what we’re seeing now. The only way that we can explain the temperature signals that we’re we’re seeing now with the lower atmosphere warming and the upper atmosphere cooling, is an increase in GHG. There is no other physics that can explain that. Then you ask where is this GHG coming from? We know the answer to that too because carbon comes in different flavors. These are called isotopes. Plants like light isotopes. And, we see a different mix of these isotopes from fossil fuels. The only way to explain the increase in carbon dioxide in this atmosphere right now is from fossil fuel combustion… There is no serious debate about this.

End of Collins’ interview material.

Climate Politics MIA

November will be here in no time. It is unlikely that climate change will determine winners at the ballot box. It’s not one of the pressing issues, but maybe it should be!

Nevertheless, it is likely that a new president and Congress will be forced to meet the challenge head-on as, if, and when planetary heat continues setting records.  After all, the Arctic is a tinderbox of trouble just waiting to happen, and melting away like a mad banshee. A walloping amount of atmospheric heat-trapping methane (CH4) oscillates under the ice, which may become a forceful political wake-up call, way too late.

Arctic News, Saturday, May 28, 2016

Chances are that Arctic sea ice will be largely gone by September 2016. As the ice declines, the Arctic Ocean absorbs ever more sunlight. This is one out of numerous feedbacks that are hitting the Arctic. The danger is that, as these feedbacks start to kick in more, heat will reach the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean and trigger methane to be released in huge quantities from the Arctic Ocean seabed.5

Recently, an abrupt methane release from the Arctic Ocean seafloor did enter the atmosphere over the East Siberian Sea, showing up with levels as high as 2578 ppb [pre-industrial CH4 ran 300-800 ppb]. Such abrupt releases are indications that methane hydrates are destabilizing and are warnings that climate catastrophe is waiting to happen,

Runaway global warming is exactly like it sounds, an earth-shattering asteroid collision that turns the planet into a giant fireball. Be sure to vote!

  1. Tatiana Schlossberg, “2016 Already Shows Record Global Temperatures”, The New York Times, April 19, 2016. []
  2. Andrew MacFarlane, “Miami Beach Flooding Has Increased Dramatically Over the Past Decade, Study Says”, The Weather Channel, April 8, 2016. []
  3. Brady Dennis, The Washington Post, March 22, 2016. []
  4. Rebecca Leber, “Breaking Down Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sander’s Opposing Climate Change Views,” Newsweek, April 15, 2016. []
  5. Arctic News, May 28, 2016 []

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. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.