"The impact of industrially packaged quanta of energy on the social environment tends to be degrading, exhausting, and enslaving, and these effects come into play even before those which threaten the pollution of the physical environment and the extinction of the (human) race."
- Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich, 1973 article in Le Monde
This month's dispatch surveys global calls for massive carbon dioxide cuts from the European Union (EU) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that are still not enough to truly mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) or stem the massive wildlife disruptions that are now occurring globally, and highlights other glaring signs of an increasingly unstable climate across the globe.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has concluded that, "Coal will nearly overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017 . . . without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change."
A recently announced EU plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions 40 percent by 2030 was called "too weak" by IPCC Vice Chair Professor Jim Skea, who added that this goal will commit future governments to "extraordinary and unprecedented" emissions cuts.
Earlier this year, the World Meteorological Organization reported that the world is roughly five times as prone to disaster as it was just 40 years ago.
China and the United States recently unveiled new pledges on greenhouse gas emissions. President Barack Obama claimed that the move was "historic" as he set a new goal of reducing US levels between 26 and 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. Meanwhile China did not set a specific target, but said its emissions would peak by 2030. Again, considering how far along the planet already is in terms of ACD impacts with every year continuing to see new emission records set globally, these gestures seem more symbolic than of a magnitude geared toward true mitigation.
Perhaps the same can be said of the recent IPCC statement, which announced that fossil fuel use must be completely eradicated by 2100.
And the warning signs of progressing ACD continue to mount.
The United Kingdom's chief scientist recently warned that the planet's oceans face a "serious and growing risk" from anthropogenic carbon emissions.
Earlier this year, the World Meteorological Organization reported that the world is roughly five times as prone to disaster as it was just 40 years ago.
Given what we've seen thus far, the warning is dire indeed.
This last month saw several ACD-related impacts across the earth.
Caribou feces found in a 700-year-old ice layer were found to contain a virus, which reminded us once again of unintended consequences from overheating the planet. According to the report published in New Scientist, potential threats to people and wildlife through melting caused by ACD are increasing. "The find confirms that virus particles are very good 'time capsules' that preserve their core genomic material, making it likely that many prehistoric viruses are still infectious to plants, animals or humans," said Jean-Michel Claverie of the Aix-Marseille University School of Medicine in France, who was part of the team who found the virus.
Warmer winters in Alaska are causing increasing numbers of geese to forego their usual 3,300-mile migration, evidence of how climate disruptions are heavily impacting wildlife. Scientists have documented how increasing numbers of Pacific black brant are doing this. Prior to 1977, fewer than 3,000 of them wintered in Alaska. In recent years, however, more than 40,000 have remained, and as many as 50,000 stayed last year.
Long referred to as the "lungs of the planet," the Amazon rainforest has been degraded to the point where it is actually losing its ability to regulate weather systems.
"The temperatures now in winter are much warmer," said David Ward, a researcher at US Geological Survey's Alaska Science Center, who conducted the research along with scientists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. "In years past you'd often have ice that would build up in these lagoons, and the eelgrass would be unavailable for the winter period. But now that's changing. The change not only causes a disturbance in the natural rhythms of the geese, but will have unknown ramifications throughout the ecological system the geese are part of."
Further south in California, sandhill cranes are finding their habitat squeezed by the ongoing drought in that state, as more and more of the birds are being forced into smaller areas, and farmers and scientists are pointing toward the ACD-exacerbated drought as the culprit.
Over in Europe, common birds like the sparrow and skylark are in decline across the continent, having decreased by more than 420 million in the last three decades, according to a recent study.
A recent report from a global analytics firm described ACD as a "threat multiplier" for 32 farming-dependent nations, which, it said, now face an "extreme risk" of conflict or civil unrest over the next 30 years.
ACD has been added to the list of causes for fewer bees in the United Kingdom, according to new research. The study showed that the increase in global temperature could be disrupting the "synchronization" that has evolved over millennia between bees and the plants they pollinate.
Long referred to as the "lungs of the planet," a stunning new report by Brazil's leading scientists revealed how the Amazon rainforest has been degraded to the point where it is actually losing its ability to regulate weather systems.
Speaking of degradation, over 50 percent of China's arable land is now degraded, according to the official state news agency Xinhua. This means that the country now has a reduced capacity to produce food for the world's largest population, and ACD is named as one of the leading causes.
Lastly on the earth front, if you are feeling down about all the bad news about ACD, there's good reason. Professor Camille Parmesan, an ACD researcher who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for her work as a lead author of the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, is blaming her depression on ACD.
"I don't know of a single scientist that's not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost," Parmesan said in the National Wildlife Federation's 2012 report, "The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States: And Why the US Mental Health Care System is Not Adequately Prepared." "It's gotten to be so depressing that I'm not sure I'm going to go back to this particular site again," she said in reference to an ocean reef she had studied since 2002, "because I just know I'm going to see more and more of it dead, and bleached, and covered with brown algae."
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission recently cancelled Maine's shrimp season for the second straight year. A committee report said the 2014 spring shrimp survey showed the shrimp population for this year was at its lowest level in 31 years, and worse than last years, and attributed the dramatic decline in the shrimp population to rising ocean temperatures.
And these impacts aren't just evident in the Northeast United States.
"The glaciers now seem to have melted back up to positions they haven't been in for 4,000 years or more."
In the Northwest, bizarre sea life visitors are showing up as a result of historic warming occurring in the Northern Pacific Ocean. An ocean sunfish turned up in the net of some researchers in Alaskan waters. The ocean sunfish is usually found in the tropics or more temperate waters, and are incredibly rare in Alaska. A few days later, another showed up. "No one had ever talked about seeing one alive," Wyatt Fournier, a research fish biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said. "Not only did we get two aboard in one week, but my commercial-fishing buddies started telling me they were bumping into them when fishing for salmon."
The waters of Panama, which contain 290 square kilometers of coral reefs, are facing multiple threats, from increased marine traffic to pollution, but the worst is rising sea temperatures.
In the far north, a UK scientist has warned that melting Arctic ice is likely the cause of increasingly extreme weather in the United Kingdom, and that a more turbulent Arctic Ocean will impact currents like the Gulf Stream. This is particularly troubling when one considers the fact that the Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the global average.
Speaking of melting ice, scientist Jon Riedel, who has been studying glaciers there for more than 30 years, announced that North Cascades National Park has lost roughly 50 percent of its glacier area since 1900, and added, "That's pretty typical for mountain ranges around the world." Riedel said that in the last few decades, glaciers in the Northwest have melted faster than ever before.
"I think I have never, anywhere, seen such a large increase in temperature over such a short period."
"The glaciers now seem to have melted back up to positions they haven't been in for 4,000 years or more," Riedel said, and went on to explain how natural influences alone could not possibly account for glacial retreat on such a scale. "As a scientist, every time I come back here, this place has changed," he said.
Up in Alaska, the massive Harding Icefield on the Kenai Peninsula is showing dramatic signs of melting. According to measurements taken by scientists this fall, nearly 28 vertical feet of ice was lost. The Exit Glacier, which spills out of the ice field, has retreated more than in any other single year since annual mapping of its terminus began.
Among scientists, it is common knowledge that the Arctic is the "canary in the coal mine" of ACD, as it is warming faster than the rest of the planet, as aforementioned. Evidence of this appeared this past summer when temperatures soared by 7 degrees Celsius in Barrow on the north slope of the state. Scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks attribute the rise to ACD and the loss of Arctic sea ice, and point toward how the 7-degree Celsius increase blows a hole in international efforts aimed at preventing global temperatures from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Gerd Wendler, the lead author of the study and a professor emeritus at the university's International Arctic Research Center, said he was "astonished" at the findings, and told the Alaska Dispatch News: "I think I have never, anywhere, seen such a large increase in temperature over such a short period."
As ACD continues to melt the Arctic sea ice and consistently pushes back its summertime boundaries to record-setting high latitudes, NASA has begun flying missions to study how these new developments will impact global weather.
California's future droughts will be deeper and longer than even the current drought that is wracking the state.
Meanwhile down in the Southern Hemisphere, Sao Paulo in Brazil, Latin America's largest metropolis, may soon run out of water. Given that this mega-city of 20 million residents and the country's financial hub already is seeing many of its taps run dry, the future looks dire. At the time of this writing, the lakes that supply half of all the water to the city have been drained of 96 percent of their water capacity, as Brazil is in the midst of its worst drought in 80 years.
Looking eastward, the United Kingdom is on course to experience both one of the warmest and wettest years since record keeping began, generating fears that future droughts and flash floods will likely cost lives.
In the United States, with California now into the fourth year of its record-setting drought, the small farm town of Stratford is seeing its ground sink due to farmers having pumped so much water out of the ground that the water table below the town has fallen 100 feet in two years.
Adding insult to injury, NOAA recently released its Winter Outlook, which shows the drought in California to continue to intensify.
In fact, recent research by scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the US Geological Survey show that California's future droughts will be deeper and longer than even the current drought that is wracking the state.
A collection of maps on the topic of water use provide a clear picture of why the entire western United States is in deep trouble when it comes to future freshwater supplies.
US coastal cities are now flooding regularly during high tides, thanks in large part to rising seas from ACD.
In fact, the situation has progressed far enough along already that scientists are predicting that Utah will no longer have a snow skiing industry, since ACD will prevent snow from falling there by the end of this century.
Across the globe, the groundwater supply crisis is becoming so severe that the depletion of groundwater is now driving many conflicts around the globe, according to a leading NASA scientist.
Meanwhile, the city of Boston is reconsidering its relationship with the sea, since sea levels are rising and the land there is kinking. Hence, people there are investigating the possibility of copying Venice and Amsterdam, and making Boston a city of canals.
Given that US coastal cities are now flooding regularly during high tides, thanks in large part to rising seas from ACD, little has actually been done to defend them against the continuation of rising seas, and recent reports show that "nobody is truly ready."
That said, Jakarta, the most populous city in Java, is sinking. The city has begun building a massive wall to try to stave off the rising seas that are already flooding homes nearly two miles from the coast.
Tornadoes in the United States are increasingly coming in "swarms," rather than as isolated twisters.
Speaking of flooding, nearly 10 billion gallons of sewer overflows poured into southeastern Michigan's waters during record-setting flooding in August, which sounded alarms about the deteriorating water quality in the Great Lakes hydrological system.
And Michigan is not alone in struggling with this problem. As storms continue to intensify due to ACD, sanitation departments throughout the US Midwest are struggling to keep apace with more frequent and intense runoff.
Lastly for this section, oceanographers recently reported that larger "dead zones," (oxygen-depleted water) in the oceans are expected to intensify and grow due to ACD. According to the study, 94 percent of places where dead zones have been shown to exist are located in areas where average temperatures are expected to rise by approximately 4 degrees Fahrenheit by the turn of the century.
US government meteorologists published a study illustrating yet another trend toward increasingly extreme weather events emerging in recent years. Their study found that tornadoes in the United States are increasingly coming in "swarms," rather than as isolated twisters.
Recently, the first "big heat event" smashed Australian temperature records, when that country's first major heat wave came more than a month ahead of the official start of summer. The October heat wave set daily maximum temperature records at more than 20 stations, in addition to the fact that the duration of the warmth was also exceptional, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
As aforementioned, the Amazon is in big trouble, which means of course the planet is, when it comes to the crumbling ecosystems' impact on the planet. But another report, this one in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that the forests there are drying out due to lack of rainfall, causing yet more carbon to be emitted into the atmosphere, in what is yet another positive feedback loop resulting from ACD.
Lastly in this section, according to scientists from NASA and NOAA, the Antarctic ozone hole reached its annual peak in September, and the size of this year's hole was 9.3 million square miles, an area roughly the size of the entire continent of North America.
Denial and Reality
In the United States, ACD-denial tactics never cease to amaze.
A libertarian think tank sued the White House, not exactly the bastion of ACD-mitigation action itself, for a video that tied ACD to last year's "polar vortex" that raked much of the country with extreme low temperatures.
Senate Republicans are targeting the already feeble federal government's efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
If you haven't noticed, the "I'm not a scientist" meme, or variations thereof, has been the primary talking point for Republicans when it comes to ACD. When any group of politicians, lobbyists or corporate spokespeople begins saying the exact same thing, you know they are being coached.
Rupert Murdoch's company is now concerned about ACD. The parent company of Fox News lost millions of dollars due to Superstorm Sandy, so now they are warning that ACD will likely bring even more extreme weather.
Immediately following the US midterm elections, with their new majority, Senate Republicans are targeting the already feeble federal government's efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) - the incoming Senate majority leader - said he feels a "deep responsibility" to stop power plant regulations, and that his top priority is "to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in."
A recent article in the Toronto Star reminds us that geo-engineering schemes that are proposed to mitigate ACD are more like something out of a third-rate science fiction novel than something that would actually work, according to climate scientists.
The South Miami City Commission recently voted in favor of allowing Florida's 23 southern counties to secede and create a new state called "South Florida." This is a result of growing frustration and concern over rising sea levels and lack of ACD mitigation actions by the ACD-denying state leaders.
Another factor related to ACD is overpopulation - which tends to be shied away from most of the time, despite the obvious fact that more people consuming greater amounts of resources on an already far overtaxed planet is an equation that does not provide a happy ending. Finally, more folks are beginning to address overpopulation as another important mitigation method.
Inter Press Service recently reminded us how those populations which are already taking it on the chin from ACD in the form of massive floods, intense heat waves and rising seas are those who are the most vulnerable.
Lastly this month, in the wake of recent news of global emissions rising 2.3 percent in 2013 to set yet another record and marking the largest year-to-year increase in 30 years, the IPCC announced that the world isn't moving anywhere near fast enough to have a chance at mitigating the impacts of ACD in any real way.