Scientists are now mapping a world that is changing rapidly in often-terrifying ways. Climate disruption and world leaders' unwillingness to act have put us at risk of experiencing mega-droughts, the disappearance of coral reefs and other ecological impacts of an anthropogenically warming planet.
The UN World Meteorological Organization recently announced that 14 of the 15 hottest years ever recorded have occurred since 2000. Ponder that for a moment before reading further.
In what is perhaps eerily prophetic timing, this February marked the 50th anniversary of US President Lyndon B. Johnson's warning about carbon dioxide. In a 1965 special message to Congress, he warned about the buildup of carbon dioxide and said, in what would become the harbinger warning of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD):
Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places. This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.
The potential consequences of this warming are also multiplying, as witnessed by a recent NASA study that shows that the United States is "at risk of [a] mega-drought future." The research shows that the Southwest and Central Plains are both on course for super-droughts, which have not been witnessed in over 1,000 years.
In this month's climate dispatch, we document a wide range of research along similar lines: Scientists are now mapping a world that is changing rapidly in often terrifying ways.
After the single worst mountaineering accident in history took place last summer on Mount Everest, the standard climbing route for that mountain has become off limits. Many mountaineers, including this writer, credit ACD with making the section of the route where the deadly accident occurred more dangerous than ever before.
An increasing number of reports now demonstrate that ACD is leading to new disease outbreaks around the world. In fact, many scientists fear that ACD is already creating the ecological basis for infectious deadly diseases to spread to both new places and new hosts as the planet's atmosphere changes.
Other scientists are warning of a coming "climate plague," and say that exotic diseases like Ebola, SARS and West Nile virus will become "increasingly common" as ACD progresses. Less dramatically but equally pertinent, recent studies are already linking ACD to longer and more intense hay fever seasons in the United States.
Wildlife is reflecting the changes to the climate as well. Grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park emerged several weeks early from their winter hibernation due to the arrival of spring-like weather, with warmer temperatures and rain falling instead of the usual snow, according to a park spokesperson.
Dramatic acceleration of ACD and its impacts on agriculture mean that "profound" societal changes are needed in order to feed the world's ever-growing population.
Madagascar's lemur species, most of them already imperiled, are now being severely impacted by the effects of ACD, which will cause an average of half of their current habitats to be removed over the next 70 years.
Although it's not as though we needed any further evidence that ACD is real and progressing rapidly, a study recently published in Nature, drawn from evidence taken from ancient plankton fossils drilled from the ocean floor, supports current predictions about ACD, as it verifies what we are seeing today, and where it will lead, since it has happened in the past.
On the human front, a recent report shows how disasters resulting from ACD are pushing India's poorest children further into poverty and sometimes human trafficking, as parents are displaced.
Lastly, researchers at an annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in the United States reported that the dramatic acceleration of ACD and its impacts on agriculture mean that "profound" societal changes are needed in order to feed the world's ever-growing population. One example of these changes is the fact that, according to one of the scientists at the conference, in order to feed the planet between 2000 and 2050, agricultural output would have to produce the same amount of food as was produced in the last 500 years.
As usual, the impact of ACD is extremely clear when it comes to water and water-related issues around the globe.
In Alaska, the annual Iditarod sled dog race is in increasing jeopardy, as warmer temperatures and dwindling snow cover are making it more challenging to run the race. Mushers are having to skirt open-water sections of previously frozen rivers, run their teams and sleds over long sections of bare ground, and run their dogs at night because daytime temperatures are sometimes too warm.
In the Pacific Northwest, a possibly record-setting bad snow year is in full swing, as mountain snowfalls remain at record low levels, and forecasts for the rest of the season are calling for more of the same. By way of example, the snowpack in the Olympic Mountains is at only 8 percent of its usual level.
The planet is experiencing "unabated planetary warming" when one includes the vast amounts of greenhouse-trapped heat in the oceans.
A recent report revealed that anthropogenic air pollution in the northern hemisphere is reducing rainfall over Central America. Scientists explained that sun-masking pollution cools the northern hemisphere where most global industry is based. This then pushes the intertropical convergence zone (a rain band that encircles the globe) south because it moves toward the warmer hemisphere.
Researchers from the University of Arizona have shown that melting ice is causing the land to rise up in Iceland, and possibly elsewhere. The result of this could be a dramatic increase in the number of volcanic eruptions around the globe - yet another unintended consequence of ACD.
While it's no secret that glaciers are melting in Antarctica and Greenland, a recently published study provided new evidence that the carbon from melting glaciers is impacting the downstream food chains and having a significant impact on those ecosystems. This means substantial changes to the base of the food web, changes that will have clear ramifications for global fisheries and ultimately, humans' ability to feed themselves.
A recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, titled "Smothered Oceans: Extreme Oxygen Loss in Oceans Accompanied Past Global Climate Change," revealed that abrupt, extensive loss of oxygen occurred in the oceans when the global ice sheets melted approximately 10,000 to 17,000 years ago. These findings explain similar changes that are already occurring in the oceans right now.
New analysis of thousands of temperature measurements taken during deep ocean probes confirmed that the planet is experiencing "unabated planetary warming" when one includes the vast amounts of greenhouse-trapped heat in the oceans.
Life in the oceans is being impacted in what are increasingly obvious ways. Rutgers University professor Malin Pinsky, who studies the effects of ACD on fisheries, recently announced a study showing species redistribution (having to move to new areas due to temperature changes) of fluke, which are being pushed north toward cooler waters. Pinsky has already studied a similar phenomenon happening with flounder.
In California, nearly 1,000 sea lions have been washed ashore this year in what rehabilitation centers state is a growing crisis for the animals. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials are blaming warming ocean temperatures for the problem.
ACD-fueled drought continues to plague the planet, as the major vacillations between extreme dryness and floods grow increasingly common.
It's important to place this distressing news for the planet's oceans in a larger - and even more distressing - context. Now is a good time to recall an alarming 2011 report, in which the International Program on the State of the Ocean warned of mass extinction, based on the then-current rate of marine distress. The expert panel of scientists warned that a mass extinction event "unlike anything human history has ever seen" was coming, if the multifaceted degradation of the world's oceans continues.
Since 2011, destruction of the oceans has not only continued, but it has increased dramatically. A World Resources report states that all coral reefs will be gone by 2050 "if no actions are taken," a study published in BioScience states that oysters are already "functionally extinct" since their populations are decimated by overharvesting and disease, and the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, and others around the globe, continue to break size records.
Other water-related effects of climate disruption abound.
The massive snowfall in Boston this winter set all-time records for snow within 14, 20, and 30-day periods, and has been tied to ACD.
ACD-fueled drought continues to plague the planet, as the major vacillations between extreme dryness and floods grow increasingly common.
Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest and wealthiest city that typically has access to one-eighth of the fresh water on the planet, is now seeing its taps run dry as the region struggles to cope with "an unprecedented water crisis." And in the United States, California's drought continues to make front-page news, as usual. The state suffered one of its driest Januarys on record, indicating that, without a doubt, the state is headed into a fourth straight year of drought.
Also in California, scientists are seeing that state's shrinking snowpack as a harbinger of things to come. They are expecting the snowpack to shrink by at least one-third as the climate continues to warm in the coming decades, and expect that by the end of this century, more than half of what now functions as a massive natural freshwater reservoir could be gone.
Indeed, a recent NASA study warns us of an "unprecedented" North American drought, and shows that California is currently in the midst of its worst drought in more than 1,200 years. The study also shows how things are only going to get worse.
Meanwhile, the distress signals from the Arctic continue to make themselves known, in the form of melting ice.
A study recently published in the Journal of Climate shows that the amount of ice already lost in the Arctic dwarfs any of the ice gains that have occurred around Antarctica. ACD deniers had pointed toward increasing ice buildup in parts of the Antarctic as a sign that ACD was not happening, but this study blows that "argument" out of the water. "I hope that these results will make it clear that, globally, the Earth has lost sea ice over the past several decades, despite the Antarctic gains," wrote study author Claire Parkinson, a sea ice researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
Seattle-based urban planner Jeffrey Linn produced a series of maps that show what is going to occur as sea levels continue to rise and major cities are submerged in hundreds of feet of water. They are worth looking at closely.
A study just published in the journal Nature Communications shows that sea levels north of New York City "jumped by 128mm (5 inches)" in just two years. This is an unprecedented rate in the history of tide gauge records. The US scientists who authored the study warned that coastal areas now need to prepare for "short term and extreme sea level events."
Lastly, on the subject of rising sea levels, researchers recently reported that rising sea levels are already impacting Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the historic and iconic launch pads 39A and 39B are under threat as nearby beachfront is washing away at an alarming rate.
A recent state-commissioned study in the US projects between a 2.5 to 5.5-degree Fahrenheit temperature increase by 2050, which would bring more disease, crop damage and wildfires to the state of Colorado, along with other states in the center of the country.
To make matters worse, another recent report makes it clear that wildfire season in the United States, which used to be confined to the months of July and August, has grown two and a half months longer in the last 40 years - and continues to expand.
Beyond the US, a recent study in the New Scientist revealed that ACD-augmented wildfires could begin releasing radioactive material locked in contaminated forest soils around Chernobyl, allowing them to spread all over Europe.
A recent study published in Scientific Reports reveals that the forests' ability to suck carbon from the atmosphere is likely slowing down. The ramifications for this are obvious: With forests' ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere compromised, the impacts of ACD speed up dramatically.
Climate Central recently published an interactive tool called Winter Loses Its Cool, which allows you to see how daily low temperature projections for US cities are being impacted by ACD.
A modeling study published in LiveScience in February shows how ACD is spawning even more tornadoes in the US Southeast.
Another report - which shouldn't surprise anyone living in the frigid northeastern US - shows how ACD is clearly shifting the jet stream that drives the weather for that region. This has been evident throughout most of February, where record-breaking bitterly cold air from Siberia wracked the region, along with the eastern half of Canada, with incredibly low temperatures and record snowfalls. It is obvious that something is amiss with the planet's atmosphere when the US Northeast is getting weather, regularly now, that used to be found only within the Arctic Circle. As global temperatures slowly equalize as a result of ACD, the jet stream is no longer contained to its previous patterns.
January 2015 showed that worldwide temperatures are showing little sign of relenting from 2014's record high levels, as January matched the warmest records for the month in 125 years of data records, according to Japan's Meteorological Agency.
Lastly, the giant craters in Siberia that are believed to have been caused by methane gas eruptions in melting permafrost are now sparking fears of the unfolding of an Arctic natural disaster. That disaster would look like increasingly escalating temperatures that cause self-reinforcing feedback loops to kick in, and cause the permafrost in the Arctic to continue melting, hence releasing the rest of the trapped methane.
Denial and Reality
There is some big news on the ACD-denial front this month, as it was recently revealed how the deniers' favorite scientist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics' Wei-Hock Soon, has been taking cash from corporate interests - and the documents are there to prove it. He has accepted more than a cool $1.2 million in money from the fossil fuel industry, and opted not to disclose that minor conflict of interest in the vast majority of his so-called scientific papers.
Nevertheless, others who are taking massive amounts of cash from the fossil fuel industry, like the infamous Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), continue to spout on about how only God can cause climate change.
A recently published op-ed in LiveScience asks the question, "Is it safe to be a climate scientist?" given how aggressive and even dangerous the pushback has been against scientists for simply doing their jobs.
It's a legitimate question because given the fact that 2014 was the hottest year on record and all the other overwhelming evidence that ACD is in full swing and accelerating by the day, the denial movement has began to reach new heights of lying and propagandizing. By way of example, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's top business advisor Maurice Newman says that he believes ACD is a "myth."
"We are conditioning ourselves to ignore the information coming into our ears."
Meanwhile, talk of "geoengineering" as a "solution" for ACD continues to grow in frequency and volume, to the extent that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently issued two firmly pessimistic reports on the subject. The NAS refused to call it "geoengineering," however, instead calling it "climate intervention." The NAS panel rejects the use of the term "geoengineering" because, "We felt 'engineering' implied a level of control that is illusory," according to Dr. Marcia McNutt, who led the report committee.
Another, little-noticed factor that may be driving denial: noise pollution. A senior US scientist recently expressed concerns about how human-created noise is making us oblivious to the sound of nature. Rising background noise in some areas threatens to make people deaf to the sounds of birds, flowing water and wind blowing through trees, and the problem is exacerbated by people opting to use iPods during their hikes. "We are conditioning ourselves to ignore the information coming into our ears," the scientist said. Along with the fact that the majority of the global population now lacks regular access to wilderness, it is becoming ever easier for people to avoid thinking about ACD, since they are out of touch with the planet.
There have been important recent developments on the reality front for this section.
As a mitigation option, a recent Reuters story reminds us, "Giving more women who want it access to birth control to limit their family size, in both rich and poor countries, could be a hugely effective way to curb climate change, according to experts."
Truthout also recently published an analytical piece on this topic, noting that there are 225,000 people at the dinner table tonight who weren't there last night - and that the vast majority of carbon emissions are coming from so-called developed countries, rather than poorer "developing" countries.
In an action geared toward raising global awareness, Catholics in 45 countries aim to send an ACD message through their Lenten chain of fasting this year. In addition, Pope Francis' scheduled address to a joint session of Congress this fall is aiming to put Republican lawmakers who are ACD deniers square on the hot seat.
Given recent reports and events, let us remember the shockwaves caused in the global scientific community when, in 2010, Australian emeritus professor of microbiology Frank Fenner, who helped eradicate smallpox from the planet, predicted the human race would be extinct within the next 100 years. Believing humans will be unable to survive the ongoing twin-headed dragon of unbridled population explosion and overconsumption, Fenner stated unequivocally, "It's an irreversible situation. I think it's too late. I try not to express that because people are trying to do something, but they keep putting it off."
On that note, researchers at Oxford University recently compiled a "scientific assessment about the possibility of oblivion" that predicts various scenarios of how human civilization will most likely end.
With ACD listed as the No. 1 most likely way we perish, the list goes on to include other possibilities like global thermonuclear war, a global pandemic, ecological catastrophe and global system catastrophe. Only two of the 12 scenarios - major asteroid impact and a super volcano - were not anthropogenic.
Regarding ACD, the researchers believe the possibility of global coordination to mitigate the impacts to be the largest controllable factor in whether or not catastrophe can be prevented. However, they also warned that the impact of ACD would be strongest in poorer countries, and that large human die-offs stemming from migrations and famines would cause major global instability.