Even if humanity were to stop throwing carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere today, a catastrophic rise in sea levels of six meters may be inevitable. Two previous prehistoric interglacial periods, in which the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere was believed to be about what it is today, resulted in dramatic rising of the oceans.
High-latitude ice sheets are melting, and given that global warming is most pronounced in the Arctic, it may already be too late stop a rise in sea levels that would flood out hundreds of millions around the world. Two new papers, the latest in a series of scientific studies, paint a picture considerably less rosy than conventional ideas that major damage can still be avoided.
One of these papers, a nine-scientist report led by geologist Andrea Dutton at the University of Florida published in the journal Science, found that modest rises in global temperatures in the past led to sea levels rising at least six meters. She summarized the findings this way to Climate Central:
“Even if we meet that 2°C target, in the past with those types of temperatures, we may be committing ourselves to this level of sea level rise in the long term. The decisions we make now about where we want to be in 2100 commit us on a pathway where we can’t go back. Once these ice sheets start to melt, the changes become irreversible.”
Professor Dutton was referencing the widely held belief that catastrophic damage can be avoided if global warming is held to no more than 2 degrees C. from pre-industrial levels. The “permissible” level may be less than that, however. More sophisticated “sea-level reconstructions” through interdisciplinary studies of geological evidence and better understanding of the behavior of ice sheets enabled the paper’s authors to infer that temperatures only slightly higher than what we are experiencing today upset the climatic balance. A summary of the paper concludes:
“[D]uring the last interglacial — a warm period between ice ages 125,000 years ago — the global average temperature was similar to the present and this was linked to a sea-level rise of 6-9 meters, caused by melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica. Around 400,000 years ago, when global average temperatures were estimated to be between 1 to 2°C higher than preindustrial levels, sea levels reached 6-13 meters [higher.]”
“Small” changes have big consequences
More alarming, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere then was lower than it is today. Although geological forces pushing and pulling Earth’s surface can’t be precisely calculated, and thus introduce uncertainty in the actual level of the oceans in the geologic record, the greater uncertainty lies at the higher level of estimates. The paper’s summary said:
“Noticeably, during these two periods, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere remained around 280 parts per million (ppm). The scientists also looked at sea level during the Pliocene, three million years ago, when carbon dioxide levels reached around 400 ppm — similar to today’s levels. They hypothesized that sea level was at least 6 metres higher than today and potentially substantially higher. … While the global average temperature rises of 1 to 3°C seem small, they were, like today, linked with magnified temperature increases in the polar regions which sustained over many thousands of years.”
A second paper, State of the Climate in 2014, reports that Arctic sea-surface temperatures are rising faster than overall global temperatures, ice caps across the Northern Hemisphere continue to shrink, record high permafrost temperatures are being recorded in northern Alaska and melting of the Greenland ice cap is accelerating. The paper, a collaboration of 413 scientists from 58 countries, reports that, even if greenhouse gases were frozen at current levels, the oceans would continue to warm for centuries and thus lead to rising sea levels.
Carbon dioxide thrown into the air stays in the atmosphere for a long time and warming oceans will retain added heat and transfer that back to the atmosphere. This is already leading to warming oceans, State of the Climate reports:
“Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are preventing heat radiated from Earth’s surface from escaping into space as freely as it used to; most of the excess heat is being stored in the upper ocean. As a result, upper ocean heat content has increased significantly over the past two decades.”
The Science and State of the Climate papers back previous studies that conclude “there is no going back” — the excess heat stored in oceans will be released back into the atmosphere for centuries to come — and that Earth is crossing multiple points of no return.
Ice melts in front of our eyes
Two worrisome trends are that the eight lowest Arctic Ocean sea-ice extents have all occurred in the past eight years, and that the extent of the melting of the Greenland ice sheet during summer 2014 was faster than the 1981-to-2000 average 90 percent of the time. Antarctic ice is not yet showing accelerated melting, State of the Climate reports, but the paper does note that short-term extremes in temperatures have become more frequent on the continent.
Nor does that mean that all is well in Antarctica. Two scientific papers published in 2014 suggest the West Antarctic ice sheet has become dangerously weakened. One finds that a “large sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet … has passed the point of no return” and the other finds that the ice sheet has become sufficiently unstable to possibly collapse in as few as 200 years. That is a long time by ordinary human standards, but very brief in geological terms, and would add greatly to rising sea levels.
So what would a six-meter increase in ocean levels mean? More than 440,000 square miles (1.14 million square kilometers), where 375 million people, would go under water, according to Climate Central.
The current path humanity is walking is to throw more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Current plans by political leaders to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 and completely by 2100 are woefully inadequate, but even those goals will be difficult to achieve. The metabolism of capitalism, and all its incentives, is for more growth and thus more anthropogenic warming. And although reversing global warming is impossible without reducing consumption, that, too, is impossible under capitalism because a typical advanced capitalist country 60 to 70 percent of the economy is accounted for by household spending.
Because of the growth imperative of capitalism — the need to grow or die forces enterprises into never-ending innovations to cut costs — economic growth of 2.5 percent is necessary to maintain the unemployment rate where it is and “substantially stronger growth than that” is necessary for a rapid decrease, according to a former White House Council of Economic Advisers chair, Christina Romer. Capitalism will not guarantee new jobs for those made unemployed by closing down polluting industries, adding incentives to maintain them. “Free trade” agreements accelerate global warming because supply lines are stretched around the world and production is moved to the places with the lowest wages and weakest regulations. And as conventional sources of energy are depleted, more extreme measures are taken, including the exploitation of tar sands, adding still more greenhouse gases.
Our descendants are not likely to believe that short-term corporate profits and unsustainable consumption were a fair tradeoff for a world left much less habitable.
Did you see James Hansen et al.’s new paper which was all over the headlines a couple days ago? He says that the doubling time for West Antarctica ice mass loss may be as little as 10 years. This means we could have several meters SLR within this century. We’re headed for a bottleneck event for our species. You wouldn’t know it though. If you turn on the television, the mainstream news is preoccupied with the antics of Donald trump.
Here it is:
Former Top NASA Scientist Predicts Catastrophic Rise In Sea Levels
Thanks for bring the paper to our attention. Had I been aware of it, I would have discussed it. According to the article to which you linked, the paper is getting some flak because it has not yet been peer-reviewed. But his conclusions are not substantially different from those papers I did quote from above. From the article summarizing the Hansen paper:
The world’s peoples have become a subject of the largest experiment humanity has ever undertaken, and none of us knows how much, or how fast, the future climate will change. The nightmare scenario of disruptions to the Gulf Stream from Greenland glacier melts could have disastrous consequences for northern Europe, in particular Britain and Ireland.
The reason for the pushback on the study is that it conflicts with the IPCC’s BAU-friendly projections which have all too often proven to be overly conservative and wrong.
Checking 20 years worth of projections shows that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has consistently underestimated the pace and impacts of global warming
The IPCC not only consistently under-estimates global warming, but it greatly under-estimates the future cost of combating global warming. Consistent with the mistaken North American liberal/European social democratic belief that “green capitalism” will save us.
Donald Trump is the voice of the system in a certain sense: the American expression of a decrepit imperial ruling class unable to see past its own BS. This is the type to which the Reagan Restoration was devoted, and look what it’s getting us. Acceleration on the road to ruin.
He is a grotesque but true reflection of the system. Shoehorning environmental problems into the capitalist market for solutions is the ongoing joke. The other option is to simply deny them. This guy’s ignorance would be comical if it wasn’t so dangerous, tragic, and representative of a large percentage of the population:
Donald only likes winners so we losers that are on the ground floor, fuck us! Donald is over invested in high-rises. But Tubularsock isn’t scared, I enjoy fishing.
It would be very fun to have Trump finish enumerating his list of losers, which undoubtedly includes those who cash Social Security checks and use Medicare for health insurance. Again, it’s the voice of the system.
As for his danger, I see it as a big step toward less danger to have all the core assumptions being said so plainly. The same ideology resides at the heart of Clintonism and the Democratic Party.
And Trump does not actually speak for a very large percentage of the population, I think. That’s important to remember. His supporters are deeply crazy and also closely allied with quasi-official dogmas about the perfection and uniqueness of America, but they are a distinct minority of the population. http://act.boldprogressives.org/survey/pci_bigideas_poll_results/
Donald Trump’s list of “losers” would be long, indeed — basically everybody who doesn’t rent or own in one of his buildings, gamble in his casinos, appear on his television show or think he is the genius of all times. Especially those who don’t think he’s a genius. With several millions dollars less, he’d be the annoying bore at the end of the bar you couldn’t get away from fast enough.
Telling Video in which Clinton gets heckled by climate change activist. She basically says why we cannot take immediate action: we need fossil fuels for the economy.
The truth is that moving towards renewable energy helps the economy by creating jobs. Either Clinton has become so insulated in her ivory tower that she isn’t aware of this – or she’s lying. It’s hard to believe she’s that uninformed.
Maybe she’s waiting for approval from Wal-Mart.
This is a market based problem lets us know not to use the Market to find solutions.
“Green capitalism” is indeed an illusion.
The question to ask after the liar Clinton’s response, which immediately went to “what about all the jobs in fossil fuels sector?” is – why didn’t she suggest that every person on Earth could realistically, with combined political and societal will, enjoy free, clean energy? Answer: because she plays real-life Monopoly for keeps (see overwhelmingly disturbing response to Gaddafi death), at the expense of everyday people around the world. It’s worth repeating – Hillary Clinton (same for Jeb Bush) are liars of the highest order, and absolutely dangerous entities / choices for president.
There is an argument to be made that energy, like banking, should be seen as a public good (similar to water, sewers and basic infrastructure) and therefore should be brought under public control and operated like a utility. I don’t believe that making something a public utility necessary means it should be free. For example, public transit systems should charge something because they are a significant expense. But the charges should be less than they are, and subsidized as a public good.
In the face of any environmental calamity, unfolding or potential, there is no solution within the framework of an economy that operates for profit.
If a solution is actually implemented, it is only incidentally so. Someone, somewhere, among the ranks of the moneyed and influential, saw an opportunity and was in position to exploit it.
One should therefore, by default, be suspicious of any issue being flogged in the mainstream media and by establishment bureaucracies (i.e., the corporate controlled “government” agencies) and specifically of the ‘solutions’ they are fielding or promoting to what may in fact may be a real or potential catastrophe.
If the MSM seem to be heeding the noise from the left in relation to the environment and in this instance to the issue of climate change, something is up. The left may be in the process of being used or co-opted in spite of themselves.
Here, for example, is angle that to my mind is often neglected among those concerned about global warming:
“Obama’s Cap and Trade Carbon Emissions Bill – A Stealth Scheme to License Pollution and Fraud – by Stephen Lendman (http://www.globalresearch.ca/obama-s-cap-and-trade-carbon-emissions-bill-a-stealth-scheme-to-license-pollution-and-fraud/14297)
If the capitalists are lining up behind the initiative, if the mass media are talking up the issue (even if only in an apparently contentious fashion, which by the way is arguably not the case on the issue of global warming), then it is not unreasonable to take pause and to inquire into both their motivations and the proposed institutional structures attendant upon their proposals.
Capital and the people who embody it don’t love you and the environment, or if they do, they love their money even more, so that if they have to choose, well . . .
It therefore behooves us to carefully scrutinize both the science and the political dimensions that pertain to this issue.
Very well put, Norman. It is important to raise the issue of “cap and trade” schemes, which turn out to be ways to profit from pollution. Richard Smith, in his paper Green Capitalism: The God That Failed, provides a thorough discussion of this. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as capitalists, in particular financiers, are able to find ways to profit — at our expense — from ever more human activities, including those that were never subjected to the “market” before.
“Cap and trade” schemes are integral to the mistaken, and dangerous, idea that “green capitalism” will save the world. The system that creates the problems and exacerbates the problem can’t be the solution to the problem.
Thanks for the link, Pete. On the reading list for this evening.
James Hansen’s controversial sea level rise paper has now been published online
The paper has 16 co-authors in addition to James Hansen, so it’s not only him. From the abstract, these two passages jump out:
The authors say that ice-sheet instabilities have been under-estimated, and attempt to re-produce sea-level rise during the last inter-glacial period, when temperatures were less than 1 degree C. warmer than today. Their estimate of sea levels then being five to nine meters higher than today is certainly consistent with the other papers discussed in this blog post. The criticisms of this paper seem to center on it predicting more rapid sea-level rise than the IPCC, but the IPCC’s report is clearly watered down for political reasons.
That so many scientists are independently coming to the similar conclusions ought to get our attention. As should the fact that human-caused warming is happening far faster than whatever natural processes induced warming periods in the prehistoric past.
I suggest using industrialism rather than capitalism because the former is more inclusive, worldwide, and the later has become a flash word of little value.
“Industrialism” is a product of capitalism; that is, capitalism is the cause of industrial development. Capitalism is the name for the economic system that has enveloped the world and a different world means a different economic system. And as capitalism is a totalizing system that steadily ensnares more human activity and more of the natural world within its profit- and accumulation-driven imperatives, we can’t understand why we are in the world that we live in, much less devise a way out of it, without calling things by their real names. To not use the word “capitalism” is to obfuscate and therefore render impossible the creation of a better world.
Industrialism exists under strict Sharia banking and business processes, among others, but the negative results are the same as under capitalism therefore my suggestion for language change seems valid and more accurate..
I have written at length in ‘ Industrialism-Amen-to-That ‘, if you care to give it a glance.
That rampant consumerism and continued industrial activity is leading humanity to choke on its own production is true enough. But, again, “industrialism” is not something that somehow appears out of thin air, as some sort of mysterious phenomenon. You write:
I am sorry to have to tell you this, but that definition is without meaning. What do you mean there is no trade? Do manufactured products, raw materials, original-equipment components and finished products arrive by teleportation? By magic? Humanity has never had so much trade. That agriculture is not part of the economy is, shall we say, a head-scratching proposition.
The line of thought you are pursuing takes all politics and economics out of the equation, and thus eliminates not only the ability to grasp the structure of the current world economic system but thereby any possibility of change for the better. Moreover, what makes you think sharia banking and business processes aren’t part of the global capitalist system? Do you honestly believe Islamic countries are somehow outside the world capitalist system? If so, how do you account for so many countries’ dependence on Northern capital? On Iran’s economy being brought to its knees by Western sanctions?
Capitalism, and thus investment for industrial development, could not function without finance, and the recurrent crises of capitalist instability lead to more capital being thrown into speculation, because it is more profitable than investment, which in turns makes finance capital (i.e., Wall Street, the City, etc.) more powerful and a larger component of the economy. We need to analyze cause, not effect, and grasp the difference between the two.
I concede. Capitalism is the Great Satan. The evil one has conceived and sired seven billion minions worldwide who consume about ten and one half billion meals a day every day. He profits? I guess so. Most of these are cooked meals so he has them use up of lots of precious fuel feeding themselves. More profit for him? I suppose so. The great imp has promised to saddle us with two billion motor vehicles on the road by 2020, half are to be cars. More fuel and raw materials used up. Profit for him? Of course…Well, I think so.
Unfortunately, all the attention bestowed upon the Great Satan Capitalism has had us stray off topic from
“We may have already committed ourselves to 6-meter sea rise”, another of his dirty tricks.
I suggest beginning a concerted effort to establish terrace farming on very hill, monadnock, and gentle rise that has southern exposure and dependable irrigation before G.S. gets his clutches on them or the seas rise. We’ll supply his minions at cost when they paddle up. Starve the Satanic beast!
One wonders if characters like ibonobos are just bumblers or paid agents trying to sow discord and unreason. In any event, we can’t afford such sloppy thinking and cynicism.
I consider devoting three full paragraphs to the”Donald” is to ‘sow discord and unreason’ in what could have been a serious discussion of a great peril.
Changing the subject will get you nowhere, i. You started the thread above, and did so with a sophomoric call to blame blame industrialism and stop talking about capitalism. When questioned, you then tipped over into cynical incoherence. You can do better. Think harder. Being distraught is not enough.
I considered using CAPS for this reply but then I would be considered distraught. Since you don’t get it, let me explain in lower case what I have been trying to point out. I have never diminished the role or importance of some forms of capitalism in creating the mess we have now. As an American, how could I? Rather humbly; I dared suggest, it capitalism, belongs under a broader heading: industrialism, which might be helpful in reminding us that the big machines make things worse faster than the small ones ever did, regardless of profit motive or the lack thereof.
Once again, ibonobos, capitalism is the cause and industrialism is the effect of the cause. Bigger machines and more automation and supply lines being stretched around the world are products of the relentless competitive pressures of capitalism. Capitalism is the system within which industrial development occurs.
“Industrialism” is not a system; it is simply a name you are attaching to a particular manifestation of a larger, totalizing system. Financialization is another product of capitalist development; the iron grip of the financial industry does not exist independent of the broader system that creates it.
Ibonobos, with all due respect, you don’t even know what you’ve been saying Nobody denies that bigger and more machines can make more waste and pollution. What you started talking was talking about the social system as being industrialism rather than capitalism. That is a totally different claim than the one you seem to want to rescue yourself with now. You also have not said whether you think 9 billion people can live without some kind of industrialism.
If I may interject here, I’d like to state that when you label capitalism as the Great Satan (presumably sarcastically), you’re not helping matters any. Capitalism is a very dynamic economic system and because of its need for profit, it is also very innovative. That questing for newness, in the its search for profitability, has led to some great improvements in our lifestyles. But it also has a dark side, one of whose manifestations is climate change. To label capitalism as the Great Satan is a mistake, because it is not evil, in and of itself. To do so also casts us in the role of victims, which we are not: we are the causes of our predicament. I’ve long maintained that Pogo was right: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” There are alternative economic systems that are more fair, just and sustainable. It is a mistake to be fixated on the so-called evils of capitalism. Does capitalism have to go away? Yes, it does. But in order for that to happen, we have to understand that in each waking moment, we reproduce capitalism. It is us, not the Great Satan, that has to be examined.
We do not reproduce capitalism. Capitalism is a power structure. People have vastly different degrees of influence over this structure. If you can’t keep that simple fact straight, people will not listen to you.
I don’t appreciate your arrogance and I’m sure ibonobos doesn’t, either.
You’re correct, Alcuin, I don’t. Let me say in closing that this is too important a topic to have so many resort to making a pissing contest of it. I’m eighty three so it’s probably not going to be my problem. When the tide rises I’ll be seeing it from below. To my younger colleagues, good luck with the yellow snow olympics.
In a series of comments on an earlier post on Systemic Disorder, I challenged Norman Pilon’s favorable presentation of the work of Henrik Svensmark. A comment that he posted included a link to a YouTube video that was uploaded by LaRouche NY/NJ. I have no use for the ideas of Svensmark as I consider him to be a proponent of stage 2 climate denial. As for LaRouche, there is not much that I can say other than that I think he is a crank and that a video uploaded by one of his followers does not merit my attention.
Systemic Disorder was launched in 2012, if memory serves me correctly, and I’ve followed the blog from the beginning. The author is one of the very few in the blogosphere who makes the connection between the invention of capitalism, starting in 14th century England, and our current predicament.
I believe that it is critical for people to take off their rose-colored glasses and take a good hard look at the capitalist economic system. Once the core principle of capitalism is understood, which is to produce items of exchange value so that surplus value can be extracted from the worker, everything else falls into place. Climate change is happening, it is caused by humans and every objection to those two facts can be understood by studying the 5 stages of climate change denial.
Capitalism is a very dynamic economic system and resists all attempts to change it because it appeals to the egoism of every human individual. What has been lost is the balance between individualism and community. We have a choice: continue on as we have for the last 500 years and face an increasingly difficult future or recognize that we have to cooperate to solve our dilemma. Is that an easy task? No, not at all. It doesn’t help that people go off on tangential arguments touting the truth of LaRouche, Svensmark, green capitalism, industrialism vs. capitalism and thousands of other extraneous and divisive topics. The bottom line is that humanity, like every other species of life, consumes and reproduces until it doesn’t. Humanity is in a dialectical relationship with its environment, a relationship that is getting increasingly tenuous. Climate change is just one manifestation of that reality. Environmental destruction, pollution and radioactive waste are at the top of a list of many other manifestations. And capitalism, with its incessant demand for growth, is the root cause of it all.
Marx was right when he claimed, in the Communist Manifesto, that bourgeois society is like “the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”
There is a blog out there called Nature Bats Last that I think is unduly alarmist. I think Mr. McPherson subscribes to stage 5 of climate change denial. But his central, if undisclosed, thesis, that nature bats last, is undeniable.
Will humanity survive? Perhaps, perhaps not. Does that matter in the larger scheme of things? Not at all.
We witness environmental destruction, economic collapse and widening social inequity. We are quick to put the blame on corrupt politicians and governments controlled by powerful corporations, the MICC, military industrial congressional complex.
Yet, the true enemy is us, when we fail to seriously examine our needs vs wants.
Rather that satisfying our needs we succumb to our wants with a sense of entitlement that we deserve to live a life of plentiful and incessant luxury.
Nothing is going to change unless each and every one of us brings a halt to wanton consumerism.
Consumerism is surely choking the planet, and there is no doubt we will have to consume less in the future, something most in the global North are far from prepared to face, particularly in North America. But consumerist excess doesn’t fall out of the sky; it is an indispensable prop of late capitalism. Advanced capitalist countries tend to have 60 to 70 percent of their economies accounted for by household spending. Drastically reduce that consumption in a capitalist economy, and that economy crashes into a depression.
So reducing consumerism is no easy task. And runaway consumerism is stimulated in endless ways though a never-ending barrage of advertising and propaganda, and as a (poor) compensation for lives stunted by corporate authoritarianism on the job and the broader lack of democracy in our lives and lack of control over social decision-making. Yes, we do fail when we do not seriously examine our needs versus wants. But we will also fail if we don’t examine the larger structural issues and systems that form the basis of our failures, and if we don’t change those, we have very little chance of changing beliefs in entitlements and consumerism.
Not sure I could disagree more with a short comment, SS. We are quick to put the blame on elites? And that is wrong? Where’s your evidence for either of those assumptions?
Meanwhile, the huge flaw in your “blame everybody” argument is popular opinion, which is quite clearly decent and progressive on ecological topics, but which gets utterly dismissed by our elites.
FWIW, there is also no such thing as “consumerism.” We live in a corporate capitalist world with a corporate capitalist culture. To trade in the word “consumer” as a label for product users and citizens is to help the enemy. http://goo.gl/JpclF0
Greens are such terrible sociologists. It’s a real problem.
“Nothing is going to change unless each and every one of us brings a halt to wanton consumerism.”
That’s preposterous in several directions, too. First of all, it’s totally apolitical and depoliticizing, denying that all it takes is a majority (and sometimes only a strong and active minority) to make change. It also implies that each and every one of us is equally responsible for what exists.
I am not sure what is the point you are trying to make.
We are slaves of neo-liberal capitalism. Under slavery one didn’t have a choice. At least today you can opt out of the system. For example, every time you use your credit card you are paying the banks. They are rapidly moving towards a cashless society and towards total monetary control.
Change will only happen when enough of us stand up and fight the current system. That is true democracy.
I say, cut up your credit card. Turn off your TV. Park your car. Go for a walk and stay out of the shopping mall. Carry no debt. Carry no burden. Live a happy life.
Change only happens when enough people organize to force the change. But organize is the key word here. I am not arguing against cutting up credit cards and turning off the TV. But those kinds of individual acts are insufficient by themselves. We really can’t opt out of the system unless we’re willing to live off the land in a forest, and not too many of us would want to do that. We can, as you rightly suggest, cooperate with the system as little as possible. But it will still take a massive, organized movement across borders to bring about a better, democratic world in addition to our individual acts.
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