Global warming will accelerate as oceans reach limits of remediation

If humanity stopped all production of greenhouse gases today, Earth would experience several decades more of additional global warming. That is not simply because the carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases thrown into the atmosphere by human activity won’t disappear in a day, but because the oceans can’t continue to act as shock absorbers.

Earth has tipped into a heat imbalance since 1970, and this excess heating has thus far been greatly ameliorated because the world’s oceans have absorbed 93 percent of the enhanced heating since the 1970s. This accumulated heat is not permanently stored, but can be released back into the atmosphere, potentially providing significant feedback that would accelerate global warming.

The latest in a series of scientific reports detailing the disastrous course of global warming, “Explaining Ocean Warming: Causes, Effects and Consequences,” concludes that the mean global ocean temperature will increase by as much as 4 degrees Celsius by 2100. In addition to the increasingly unstable weather, more potent tropical cyclones, displacements of aquatic life and boost to atmospheric temperatures that such a rise would cause, massive amounts of frozen methane hydrate in the depth of the seas could be thawed, adding a potent new source of greenhouse gases.

Retreating glacier in Greenland (photo by Bastique)

Retreating glacier in Greenland (photo by Bastique)

Dozens of climate scientists from around the world contributed peer-reviewed work to the report, research that in turn is based on more than 500 peer-reviews papers. The report builds on the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which in turn was the basis for the Paris climate summit in late 2015. That summit was noteworthy in setting a goal of limiting the increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, instead of the previous target of a 2-degree rise, often cited as the outer limit before uncontrollable changes are inevitable.

But even if all the national pledges of the Paris climate summit were achieved, global temperatures would rise 2.2 to 3.4 degrees C. by 2100, and the likelihood of all those pledges actually being met are minuscule as there are no enforcement mechanisms. A list of major countries’ pledges reveal a failure to make adequate progress, with many pledges dependent on “cap and trade” scenarios that often amount to subsidies for polluters.

Paris climate summit pledges inadequate

The “Explaining Ocean Warming” report does not sugar-coat that, stating in the conclusion that a fulfillment of the Paris pledges would not result in a return to hospitable conditions. The report says:

“[T]hey actually represent a ‘minimum ambition’ to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Achieving the ‘minimum ambition’ will already bring major changes in the functioning and resources of the ocean as we know them. Exacerbating an already concerning situation is the fact that the absorptive role of the ocean is also predicted to decline in the 21st Century, suggesting that the physics and chemistry of the ocean will be significantly different by 2100. As atmospheric CO2 continues to increase as a result of our activities, the solutions (i.e. mitigate, protect, repair, adapt) become fewer and less effective, thus decreasing the long-term ability of humankind to cope with the changes in the ocean that are now being observed.”

Annual global sea surface temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2015. (Source: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Annual global sea surface temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2015. (Source: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

The report explains that, volume to volume, sea water is 4,000 more times efficient at retaining heat than is air, providing thus far a buffer to further global warming. But how long can the oceans do this? And at what cost? Coral reefs are dying, sea life patterns are changing, fisheries are in danger of collapsing and oceans are becoming more acidic. Further changes are locked in for decades ahead already, and humanity is ill prepared for this as the stresses on the seas through this excess warming are barely understood. The report says:

“[T]he consequences of increasing human activities have indeed injected vast quantities of heat into the ocean, shielding humanity on land, in so doing, from the worst effects of climate change. This regulating function, however, happens at the cost of profound alterations to the ocean’s physics and chemistry that lead especially to ocean warming and acidification, and consequently sea-level rise. … The problem is that we know ocean warming is driving change in the ocean — this is well documented — but the consequences of these changes decades down the line are far from clear.”

The 13 warmest years for sea surface temperatures have all occurred since 1997, with 2015 the highest yet and eclipsing the previous record of 2014. Parallel to that, August 2016 was the 16th consecutive month that overall global temperatures were the highest on record.

How high and fast will the seas rise?

The continuing building up of heat portends a potentially catastrophic rise in sea level. Two papers published last year calculate that, because of the greenhouse gases already emitted, humanity has already committed itself to a six-meter rise in sea level, and a paper published earlier this year predicts that seas could rise “several meters” in 50 to 150 years.

Changes in the warming influence of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. (Source: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Changes in the warming influence of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. (Source: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

A still more pessimistic National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist, Margaret Davidson (giving her personal opinion, a NOAA publicist stresses), says that sea level could rise by as much as three meters by 2050 to 2060, a faster rise than current projections. She cites studies being done on the West Antarctic ice sheet. It is important to remember that the scientific controversy centers on the speed of global warming, not its existence — 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human activity is causing global warming, according to a NOAA study that also found the highest levels of agreement correlate with higher levels of expertise.

A major problem is that global warming, as with the associated environmental problems, can’t be solved within the capitalism that has caused, and is accelerating, the problem. All incentives under capitalism are for more growth and thus more greenhouse-gas emissions, and there is no provision to provide new jobs for the many people who would be displaced should the heavily polluting industries in which they work were to be shut down in the interest of the environment. The private capital that profits from environmental devastation is allowed to externalize the costs onto society, an inequality built into the system. The concept of “green capitalism” is a dangerous chimera.

There is no alternative to a dramatic change in the organization of the global economy and consumption patterns. That means significant reductions in energy consumption, an impossibility within a system that requires constant, unending growth. The rosy predictions of magical technology that will allow business as usual while scrubbing the atmosphere of new greenhouse gases, relied upon in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that was in turn the basis for the Paris climate summit pledges, are not realistic, environmentalists say, and thus an illusion. Earth’s environment is crossing multiple points of no return — business as usual is impossible.

If we are to be serious about reversing global warming and repairing the environment, we have to create an economic system based on human need that is stable as a steady-state system and under democratic control, rather than our present authoritarian system that is designed to maximize private profit. That is necessary for economic and political reasons, but the environmental crisis adds another dimension. Otherwise, we “will sleepwalk ourselves into a nightmare, where no level of conservation action in the future will be enough,” in the concluding words of the “Explaining Ocean Warming” report. The task is enormous, but the consequences are even bigger.

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38 comments on “Global warming will accelerate as oceans reach limits of remediation

  1. newtonfinn says:

    Thank you for clearly laying out the bottom line on climate change. But let me select a quote from the informative piece and ask a question: “we have to create an economic system based on human need that is stable as a steady-state system and under democratic control…” I couldn’t agree more, but it’s the last term that troubles me, and, perhaps you as well.

    If the average American–and the average person in other countries (not all, thankfully)–does not yet understand the climate change problem and how the capitalist system and consumer lifestyle set the stage for the global catastrophe already underway, how does democracy enter into the solution? At times it appears that “the people” are their own worst enemy, and this may be one of the most horrendous examples.

    Sometimes I think about Castro, and his strong-arm, top-down strategy that violated democratic principles, but, at the same time, I believe, were necessary to keeping the Cuban revolution alive and ward off relentless American aggression against it, camouflaged as the promotion of “freedom.” I would love to consider your responses to this paradox.

    Ideally, “the people” should act, which is the thrust of your thoughtful blog. But so many of “the people,” as things now stand, would act wrongly. Trump’s momentum is Exhibit A of my argument. So assuming that enlightened leadership emerged, perhaps by revolution, in a country where the average person was in ignorance or denial of climate change, wouldn’t democracy become an impediment to doing what had to be done?

    • Newton, you are asking questions that get to the root; questions to which we need to find answers.

      The potential today for revolutionary action across the global North, and especially in the U.S., is zero. That is a plain fact, and the rise of hard right and neo-fascist movements across the North is a sure sign that the Left has been unable to provide answers for the masses of people who see (and experience) how badly capitalism is treating them. Most people don’t see their troubles as capitalism coming home to roost but rather lash out at scapegoats, encouraged by the hard right.

      It is a cliché, I admit, to say that massive education is needed, and quickly. That cliché is nonetheless correct. On the other hand, we have little time to spare. Drastic action is needed now. There is no simple path through this contradiction. The light in this dark picture is that young people are much open to socialist possibilities than their elders, and thus more willing to critique capitalism as a failed system.

      All that said, we are in the place we are. Do we want democracy (even if the formal and not actual kind we “enjoy” today) or do we want a future for our descendants and the planet? Is this an inevitable choice? As the 21st century rolls on, there will be no choice but to deal with the immense consequences of global warming and of the unsustainability of capitalism. We can begin to deal with the problems now or we can wait until conditions have deteriorated so badly that there is no choice but to react, in drastically worse circumstances.

      That, in the end, is the bottom-line question that will be faced; the question of “democracy or enlightened leadership” flows from that. If may be that democracy becomes an impediment to survival. On the other hand, democracy can become the path to survival if it is a true democracy — one of economic democracy, without which there can be no political democracy. Transcending capitalism, and putting an end to the corporate domination and propaganda that does so much to shape popular opinion, opens up all possibilities.

      But then I am putting the cart before the horse here, aren’t I? That theoretical world of economic and political democracy is a world that can only be created by a revolution generated by a global uprising of working people. No such revolution is possible under present circumstances. But what alternative do we have to keep speaking and writing?

      • ken says:

        By “democracy or enlightened leadership” you really mean to say “enlightened democracy or enlightened leadership”. Laws, guns and money are human fabrications for societal organization and control. We will be one step closer to fixing the problem when we get our heads around the fact that our expectation of positive return on investment with interest bearing money is at the heart of the problem.

      • The simple fact that cancels every intelligent observation on the subject of Global Warming is that people will not act against their short-term best interests to save themselves in the long-term, unless they are scared sh*tless. And, as long as business interests and corporate media labor so diligently to keep people from becoming alarmed, to bolster their optimism for the sake of the economy, science knows of nothing that would save the biosphere of the planet Earth from incineration in runaway greenhouse effect. Now that we set a new global mean surface heating record yearly, we have moved into the combustion phase, which, if we have been warming since the beginning of the industrial revolution, will probably not last longer than 30 years before human life could be impossible on the planet Earth. From here on, its going to get faster and faster and faster. I believe there still may be a solution, but we are running out of time and soon there will be no possible hope to slow down the rate of heating, so it will depend upon people becoming informed on a global and massive scale; it will depend upon the people of the world being shocked awake. I have been working on this for many years, and I believe I have what would do it, but I am nobody, live in a camper, and it would need promotion. Under our present economic and political system, there is no chance, we are toast, a cataclysmic reorganization of society would be required, but people will only consent if it is from the bottom up. American Christians need to be persuaded to cease their resistance by a voice that speaks to them. They will not hear an academic voice, because most of them do not have the prerequisite education and distrust those who do. My researches have found something amazing that could very likely shock these people into wakefulness. There will be no solution to Global Warming until the problem is understood socially, until the forces of disbelief are understood and neutralized. I believe that my not for profit work, “The Hidden History of Eunuchs, the End of the World and Other Uncomfortable Matters,” would solve this problem, but it needs endorsement. This work explains the situation so that simple-minded people can understand; preaching to the choir, like your blog (sorry bout that) is not going to do it. Re-education on a massive scale that reaches those who need it most is what is needed now.

        The mentioned work can be read at the google drive site listed among “my details.”.

        • Greetings, Dale. Using whatever arguments that can be made to appeal to the broad part of the population not yet convinced of the dangers of global warming, and to goad into action the broad part that recognizes global warming but believes techno-fixes will arrive to save the day, is surely what is urgently necessary.

          Humanity will deal with the consequences of global warming, either when forced to as coastal cities are swamped and agriculture is disrupted (among other problems) or by acting sooner rather than later. Most of us are preaching to the choir (I know I am not an exception) but we can hope others not already like-minded also read and perhaps become convinced. A movement is built one person at a time.

          • Greetings to you, Pete. I think that your site is responding to the situation and your emphasis on its “systemic” significance is right on, but I am troubled by how leisurely and comfortable you sound. Obviously, you have not had time to read the Preface to my work. I doubt if you would be sounding so secure in your observations, if you had. Maybe you didn’t know that they are reporting more “mysterious” bird deaths from St. Petersburg to Boston and Newport this summer. Are you watching the phytoplankton, the dead zones, and atmospheric oxygen depletion? You are not scared; perhaps it is because you think that these things are progressing at a rate that will be no more than an inconvenience to you, but you are wrong about that, and I think my Preface would convince you of it.

            Global Warming is an extremely complex problem, as you must know, with technological, economic, political, social and psychological elements, that all need to be appreciated, especially the psychological. People’s minds boggle at the notion that life for all time could end, and that it depends upon what we do now. We have nothing to stop runaway greenhouse effect and the incineration of the Earth’s biosphere, and the faith that something will be invented in time to save us is totally unsupportable.

            The thing is, Pete, it will soon be too late to do anything meaningful to stop what is coming, and you seem like you still think that your life means something. You have the blaze voice of an academic, concentrated on some little facet of the problem, without looking at the big picture. What the heck is “activism,” how should it be defined today? Shouldn’t that be up to someone like you? The big picture is hard to look at; it is unthinkable, and yet we must think about it and people must be compelled to think about it. I’m sorry for my impatience, but I know what is coming; I’ve done the work. You might have a listen to Alex Smith at Radioshock.com. In his “Extreme Weather News & Science” you can get a sense of the despair and barely restrained panic of at least a couple of climate scientists, so I am not the only one who thinks that it is time for alarm and drastic measures. When you claim that “humanity will deal with the consequences of global warming,” and that “a movement is built one person at a time,” it tells me that you are like everyone else and don’t know what to do. This advise applies well to ordinary problems, which Global Warming isn’t. Standard approaches are not going to do it for this one. You might read the Preface to my work; I’d be interested to hear what you think. I’ve done you the favor of criticizing your work, let’s see if you can return the favor.

            • Dale, if you believe I am being “complacent” or that I am “comfortable,” you have not read much of this blog. Sounding the alarms on global warming, and what is in store not too far in the future, is a regular feature here. Articles with titles like “We may have already committed ourselves to 6-meter sea-level rise” and “Business as usual at Paris summit won’t stop global warming” would not likely strike many people as “complacent.”

              When I write that humanity will deal with the consequences of global warming, what is meant is there will no choice but to deal with it — either we do so now, while there is still a chance to avert catastrophic change, or it will be dealt with decades from now in drastically worse circumstances as global warming spirals out of control. My argument is that we must do so now, and that transcending capitalism is necessary as solving global warming is an impossibility while capitalism dominates the globe.

              I find it interesting that some readers, not only you, consider me an academic. I am not; I am a street activist who has learned theory, without which practice is ineffective. Maybe I would have been an academic if I had to do it all over again, but the past is past.

              • Pete, my sense is that you are one of the few who are trying to respond effectively to what is happening, that you understand something about the great divide between what the public generally believes and the implication of what the scientists are telling us and that you realize the deadly necessity that this rift be closed, and that you have a sense for the urgency, but you seem to think that you are immune from the epidemic of denial. You are like everyone else, me too, we want to save the world, as long as we don’t have to give up our comforts and conveniences. In other words, we haven’t yet taken Global Warming seriously, As far as I know, you have never managed to isolate the primary obstacles to a meaningful engagement with the problem of global warming. If you are going to resist something, to fight it, you need to know as much as you can about what precisely it is you must fight. American business, their organizations, think-tanks etc., in league with American Christians, primarily evangelicals, comprise the ideological and passionate base of those who must be broken and scattered, their arguments must be obliterated in the harshest terms, they must be shamed. Please do not try to persuade me that you are not complacent, you live in America, probably indoors, you enjoy our affluence as much as I do, and you are as reluctant as I am to do with less. As always, the biggest obstacle to our doing the right thing is ourselves, our vanity, pride, and our egocentric way of assessing reality. Ecological consciousness is a different way of seeing the world that minimizes the importance of individuals to see the “big picture,” where the species of human being is actually in peril.

                I didn’t think that you were an academic, but as a journalist your researches have certainly acquainted you with plenty of academic work and it has influenced the development of your voice. I could have gone that way but I want to be able to say something to people who haven’t hand much education, so my voice is less authoritative and more visceral. You do have one important point right, in my humble opinion; you know that the problem of global warming cannot be addressed effectively within our present economic system, but you don’t seem to know exactly why. I won’t suggest that you read my Preface again; I know how busy you are.

              • John Allen says:

                Apparently the education,(public), has failed miserably to inform the matter of global warming and the impending doom ahead. I graduated high school in 1972 and the science and biology were very aware of the upcoming problems. My biology II class actually went to the 4 corners,NM, power plant to help show the impact of burning coal and the CO2 emissions from the huge plant. So also, on the 1st Earth Day we had various lectures on population and pollution from oil and coal. Did the future educators just stick their heads in the sand and forget about the impending disaster to come? There needs to be a new massive education re-organization to help the people become aware of this massive problem. Start with the children and they can help to change the system,(capitalism), that is eventually going to fail; not if but when, which is the unanswerable question. Thanks for the thoughtful blog and I’ll keep up with your posts. JA

              • Greetings, John, and thank you for your kind comments.

                “Massive education” seems to me a necessary start, but the corporate mass media is a huge barrier to education as it is not immune from the massive dis-information campaign funded by energy companies and others who have bought into those companies’ agenda.

                The general dumbing-down of popular culture surely plays a role here. I remember watching a rerun of one of Lucy Ball’s later sitcoms (in which she played an employee at a bank); one of the show’s running gags was the cheapness of the bank manager. In one episode, she went down to the bank manager’s vault, and after was asked how deep it was. She replied, “I don’t know, but I think we passed the Moho.” Even as a 12-year-old in the early 1970s (albeit one with a strong interest in astronomy) I got the joke — the “Moho” being a short-hand reference to the geological layer where the Earth’s crust meets the mantle (named for a Croatian scientist, Andrija Mohorovičić).

                Can we imagine a TV sitcom making such a joke today? I can’t. Certainly there is a big emphasis on science education today, via “STEM” initiatives, but science to what end? The corporatization of education, at all levels, is intended to reduce education to vocational training schools for corporate employment. On the other hand, what is happening to the climate can’t be denied, and eventually there will be no choice but to face dramatic changes. Better early then late, of course.

        • Steady State says:

          Dale, I read you loud and clear. All I can add is that this is what we call a “wicked problem” and no one knows how to fix it. Our government is as corrupt as Wall Street which has usurped the Hill. Since 2008, they have all given themselves $4 TRILLION while the rest of the population sleeps. Michael Hudson touches on this at
          http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/20/celebrating-the-one-percent-is-inequality-really-good-for-the-economy/
          and covers in in great detail in his recent book “Killing The Host”.
          Personally, I see that we have passed the tipping point.

          • People give up too easily, and who the heck is the “we” who call it a “wicked problem,” as though it can be dismissed because it is a hard one. Most people either don’t accept that it is a problem, or else they don’t know how to define the problem: is it technological, psychological, political, social, economic? Peoples minds just collapse at its immensity and complexity. People are lazy.

            • Steady State says:

              Dale, I believe you fully understand who is the “we”. For starters, anyone taking the time and having the interest to read this blog is part of the “we”.

              I would not claim that people are lazy. I believe that the vast percentage of the population prefer to be in a hopeful state of mind rather than succumb to negativism. Because of this they sink into a subconscious state of denial. I believe the tipping point has already been passed. Humanity took a wrong turn in social organization when money was invented.

              • “I would not claim that people are lazy. I believe that the vast percentage of the population prefer to be in a hopeful state of mind rather than succumb to negativism. Because of this they sink into a subconscious state of denial. I believe the tipping point has already been passed. Humanity took a wrong turn in social organization when money was invented.”

                Pete, not only the “vast percentage” but everyone prefers optimism to depression; hope is more popular than sex, which is part of the problem. Consumerism cannot exist without optimism, so a massive and under-appreciated program of propaganda is employed to prop up hope and ward of the scourge of negativism. Propping up hope has become industrial, for the good of the economy.

                Lovelock also thinks that sufficient tipping points have already been passed to doom the planet Earth. However, there are a number of things that Lovelock hasn’t considered, and nothing has yet sealed our doom, not even money, but the clock is ticking and if people cannot be soon scared awake, then the zombie apocalypse will begin, probably in Venezuela, then spreading to visit the rest of us. See my contribution: The Future Came Early, WATCH OUT: https://goo.gl/GLAlu5

      • “Speaking and writing,” is of course essential, but even more important is listening and reading, so that speaking and writing remains informed and relevant. There is a huge black hole in our political histories, which helps to explain why everything seems so impossible to change these days. People do not even know what their options are because certain knowledge has been suppressed for the sake of the economy and the prevailing political system we call “democracy.” Even professional political scientists and historians are unaware of how political eunuchism was used for thousands of years; they uniformly believe that Oriental kingship was just another version of western or European kingship, but that is because eunuchism is such a neglected subject in academia and because it was the ancient world’s solution to the antisocial tendencies of a strong aristocracy. You should know that capitalist organization has never really penetrated the Oriental world, because eunuchism is the only antidote that history has ever found for tendency of societies to become dominated by those with the money, the “greedy dogs who can never have enough,” as the Bible calls them. To discuss matters such as “leadership,” and even government, without knowing how eunuchs governed and how Oriental kingship functioned, is to spin your wheels without traction. We don’t have to be as feeble as we seem, but a little work would be required. An informed people could slow down and stop Global Warming, but people are lazy until they are scared.

    • Saurab says:

      That is a very pertinent point you have raised. While most people in developed countries are in denial or “agnostic” about climate change, people in developing countries (like India, where I am from) are after the Western modern of “development” despite knowing about the importance of nature (because many livelihoods and religious beliefs are based on this).

      Even government initiatives are trying to achieve development and growth accepting the crisis of global warming. The Modi govt. has launched a massive project to switch to solar energy, and simultaneously is looking to increase coal mining and consumption.

      This nonsensical approach is seen in other countries as well. Before we look to change the styles of governance, it’s important to get rid of the capitalism mindset. And this is a problem as big as climate change. Human generations seem to act like the ocean; absorbing the mindset around and keeping that with them until a major shock forces them to change. The WW2 was the last major shock that led to the rise of America and it’s scientific expeditions. Before that, it was the French Revolution. We need something like this before climate change combat begins in earnest.

  2. Saurab says:

    I found this to be a very well researched article, and very articulately put forward.

    It is sad that people who can make big decisions are only willing to make tiny ones that makes them seem like they are doing something, but they are actually not.

    I haven’t yet read reports on the Paris Summit (it’s high time), but from what I’ve read here, it seems like a joke.

    The other points you raised in the comment above are also true, though. We cannot expect a change in capitalist thinking, and most people (including me) are trying to convince the masses that development is possible in an eco-friendly way as well. Only after this can we slowly switch to a mindset of ecological development over economic development (I believe that it will be one more generation before that happens). I only hope that is not tooo late.

    Scientifically, I was really impressed with the way you put forth your arguments. It is true that oceans have been a big buffer in the current climate change situation, and that buffer is likely to fail in the coming decades. Unfortunately, it’s hard to make people understand this because it’s hard to explain science in layman terms. It is also unfortunate that science is a field where it easy to contradict findings, and this causes massive confusion. Even more, for the non-scientific population.

    Therein lies the challenge for the current generation of scientists. Educating the current generation in the right way will ensure that mindset changes in one generation and we can act quickly.

    • Greetings, Saurab. The buffer provided by the oceans has been greatly under-appreciated, and even the authors of the report say even scientists have only begun to appreciate this in the past decade. Perhaps one way of getting this point across to laypeople is to make an analogy with the lag in the time oceans take to warm and chill in contrast to adjoining land.

      Certainly, the lack of scientific literacy (something that seems particularly acute in the U.S.) makes it easy for demagogues and paid hirelings to throw doubt on settled science, and the drive by U.S. corporate executives and hedge fund operators to strip education of courses designed to facilitate the development of critical thinking faculties in students is not helping.

      Those factors are crucial, since the U.S. corporate media holds much power to drive global agendas and shape opinions. Then we have the rise of the far right across Europe, and developing countries like India that want Western-style consumerism, and the task becomes daunting. Mindsets do indeed change radically in the span of one generation, but we likely don’t have much more time than that.

  3. ken says:

    Oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface. Oceans constitute one enormous heat sink and buffer as you said. They are also one enormous sink and buffer of CO2. If ocean water acidity is on the rise then something must surely be out of balance.

  4. Jerry says:

    My sense of this is sadly nothing will change. Since the days of Rachel Carson and Silent Spring people have warned of climate change, even going back to I believe Lyndon Johnson warning of climate change, and very little has changed. Why? Because the global and corporate elites have already made their “contingency” plans to to avoid the effects of climate change. Yes global warming will impact everyone but I am pretty sure the hardest hit will be the masses. Many, many blogs and science reports have been written and the beat goes on. As I tell my wife when the media reports on issues such as violence or climate change and nothing changes, “They Know”!! and do not care because they believe their millions will allow them to escape the harshest consequences. Recent news reports of the Wells Fargo scam where the director of the scam retired with $125 million or the EpiPen price gouging where the Mylan Ceo received a huge bonus and pay increase, and are receiving no jail time shows that the people at the top of the feudal food chain believe they are above it all. Jersey shore gone due to Hurricane Sandy, oh well. Louisiana again a disaster area, oh well, California a land of cinders, oh well. As long as the Bush’s, Kochs, Adelsons, Saudi Elites, and Sports Stars have their castles fortified they do not care about the peasants in the village. If their is going to be change it will have to be bloody as I believe the militarized police and homeland security will make sure to keep the masses from storming the castle. Towards the end of the documentary Century of the Self the uprisings of the 60’s were reminded of the force of the state in the shootings at Kent State in 1970. I am for non violence but in this case I am reminded of the quote “With great victory comes great sacrifice”. Will the people be willing to give up their consumption lifestyle and will they be willing to sacrifice their lives to fight the state for the children of the future? When I see Haliburton helping to rebuild Louisiana after the recent floods instead of rebuilding Iraq for the oil barons then I will begin to have hope. As I am 57 I am not hopeful for the world my 24 year old son will inherit.

  5. iamselma says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this piece. I’m not sure if you referenced it, but Jeremy Rifkin’s 1992 masterpiece “Beyond Beef” demonstrably proved, 25 years before the UN report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, that cattle production is the single largest contributing factor to global warming, one which continues to decimate the rain forests, and turn all arable land on the planet into pasture for cattle. Feeding the earth’s population when the US and Western capitalist societies use such a disproportionate amount of land and resources to produce meat, is impossible. And the methane this produces is killing us as well. The practice of factory farming, along with the insane amount of plastics in our oceans and land, is an almost insurmountable problem. I do not believe that merely adopting vegan eating practices will be a panacea, but it certainly will make an enormous difference. The question is without rationing and a war effort, how to convince millions of people to adopt necessary changes, and how to get the agribusiness to stop the slaughterhouse and meat production system that produces meat from the 50 billion animals killed each year.

    The toxic load from the plastics and chemical industry, and nuclear waste, further compromise the planet’s ability to sustain life.

    I’ve seen photos of showing the millions of automobile tires that are dumped in the oceans. How can anyone solve this problem alone? That would be a dredging effort of staggering proportions, in addition to the rest of earth’s problems. And I do not subscribe to the Silicon Valley utopians who think that technology will solve our problems. We simply have no mechanism to recycle that many tires or dispose of that much waste and spill off from chemical manufacture.

    In just skimming the comments, I see that everyone has a lot of thoughtful analysis and insight as do you, into the root causes of this crisis.

    • Steady-State says:

      It’s so easy to put the blame on someone else such as the oil companies or the government when we need to look into the mirror and stare right at the problem. The first step begins with YOU. Stop eating beef. Stop driving cars. I may also suggest move your money, pay with cash, pay no interest, embrace the Really Really Free Market, promote the Gift Economy, buy local, join co-operatives, work less, enjoy life more at a slower pace.

    • No doubt that animal agriculture is a significant, and under-appreciated, source of greenhouse gases. But there is no definitive evidence that it is the largest component of them. In 2013, I wrote an article about animal agriculture discussing a paper that concludes livestock contributes at least 51 percent of annual greenhouse-gas emissions.

      I wrote about it because I found it interesting, and we do need to discuss the topic. But here’s the weakness: If livestock has been drastically under-counted (as the authors of this paper argue), then other sources must be over-counted, because the total of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and other greenhouse gases are known with precision. The authors were unable to say what is under-counted, which they need to be able to do to make their case.

      Having said that, I completely agree that technology will not solve our problems. Even if we could recycle more items, that’s insufficient, and it’s the easiest of the three R’s. Reduce is the hardest one of those three R’s, but the one that is most necessary. We will have to consume much less and use much less energy to achieve sustainability, and there’s no utopia that will get us around that. And curbing agribusiness must be a part of the solution.

  6. Jerry says:

    By the way I live in a Far NW suburb of Chicago and as I write I new gas station is being built in an area that does not need it! Going east about over a mile from the new gas station on the same road are TWO gas stations already. Going west for about 3 miles on the same road as the new gas station are TWO other gas stations. I believe the new gas station will be a Casey’s whose main products are gas and pizza. We have plenty of pizza joints and gas stations. But in the current neoliberal society this is not about need, this is about a new tax source and a few jobs.

    I live in Illinois and the state is in financial crisis so the small towns are desperate for new taxes and jobs and will sell their soul for capitalism. If corporations and the rich in Illinois would pay their share and the corrupt government would get its act together maybe we would not have to be extorted by the gas barons for jobs. We have seen this all over the world (Greece, Puerto Rico) and the US.

    If a corporation is not given tax breaks etc. they will threaten to move. And with less and less of a tax base when counties, cities, or school systems need funding they turn to private loans and hedge funds and when the loans cannot be paid hedge funds and corporate sycophants will move in to privatize everything. In most circles that is extortion but alas as I mentioned in my previous post corporate america is immune to criminal justice.

    • I grew up in northern New Jersey in a town filled with shopping malls and sprawl-type development. A string of Republican mayors always said the town needed more development to keep taxes down. When people got sick of it, they elected a Democrat who promised to halt development. Not only did that Democrat lie, allowing more development, but he wound up being arrested and convicted for taking bribes from developers.

      Switching parties in elections is moving chairs on the Titanic; at best there might be some temporary amelioration. All the world’s major parties are firmly committed to neoliberalism and austerity. Not wanting to be accused of allowing jobs to leave, public office holders will cave in to the most extortionist demands.

      I agree with your earlier comment that the world’s corporate elite really do believe they build a wall high enough to keep the world at bay. They will ultimately find that is not so. They can shoot peasants coming with pitchforks, but if all the peasants grab their pitchforks, they can’t have enough security to keep everybody else out and themselves in.

  7. Andy says:

    I believe you have incorrectly cited the paper from Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics above. I find only the statement that “we conclude that multi-meter sea level rise would become practically unavoidable, probably within 50–150 years”. Several meters is not “six to nine” meters. I largely agree with the sentiments of your post above, but this mis-quote gives a sense of unnecessary alarm-ism. If I am not mistaken, I believe you should correct or clarify those statements.

    • You are referencing a paper that I discussed at length in an April 7 article, “No planet for optimists: Coastal flooding may come sooner than we fear.” Here is what I wrote then:

      “In this scenario, the melted freshwater will additionally increase warming, thereby creating a feedback loop that will accelerate the loss of polar ice sheets, thus accelerating the rate of sea-level rise. How fast? Fast enough that the sea level could rise ‘several meters,’ possibly six to nine meters, in 50 to 150 years.”

      The direct quote, as you noted, is “several meters.” The passage in this post that you are questioning states, “a paper published earlier this year predicts that seas could rise possibly six to nine meters, in 50 to 150 years.” So, “six to nine meters” is not stated as a flat prediction, but as a possibility. I went back and double-checked the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics paper, titled “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms,” and on the second page of the abstract, there is this passage:

      “These climate feedbacks aid interpretation of events late in the prior interglacial, when sea level rose to +6–9m with evidence of extreme storms while Earth was less than 1 C warmer than today.”

      So what we read is that a prior interglacial warm period with temperatures below the target of 2 degrees above the pre-industrial average ultimately led to sea levels six- to nine-meters above that of today. Thus, the authors are suggesting that a six- to nine-meter future rise in sea levels is a realistic possibility.

      I could have been less brisk in describing the paper’s conclusion in the current post, but rightly or wrongly I assumed that a curious reader could click on the link, read the far longer discussion from April and from there examine the paper. I hope I have made a reasonable case for writing the questioned passage.

      • Andy says:

        I did find the original PDF of the journal article and read it in it’s entirety. Thank you for providing a link. I think you make a reasonable case for why you wrote the passage, my point is simply that what you wrote is still incorrect. Nowhere does the original article state or even imply a rise of sea level of “six to nine meters, in 50 to 150 years.” It is the time frame of the statement that makes it incorrect and seem alarmist. While the 6 to 9 meters rise may be possible based on paleo evidence as the authors suggested, they are referring to the possibility of that level of increase only over the time scale of a glacial cycle. Your statement conflates and confuses the amount of increase with the rate of increase, by attaching “in 50 to 150 years” immediately after the possible “six to nine meters” rise. 6-9 meters of sea level over 150 years is a very different thing, than 6-9 meters over several thousand years.

        I did not bring up this issue to be priggish or pedantic, so excuse the tone if that was how you received it. I chose to comment because I found your blog (seems to be a rather interesting one that I may follow 🙂 ) by way of another article on the topic linking back to yours as the original source for the statement about 6-9 meters in 50-150 years. Obviously the author of that article did not bother to check the original source for such a bold prediction, leading him to further misquote the journal article’s authors, and so it goes with a game of telephone. These are the sorts of things deniers pick up on to point their fingers and scream chicken little.

        • I don’t find you pedantic at all. Although I don’t hide that I have a point of view, I do strive to be as accurate as humanly possible. After your response, I dug up my original printout of the paper, and my notes written on it. Your argument that I am conflating two different aspects of the paper is reasonable.

          The paper does say that a sea level rise of “several meters” is possible in 50 to 150 years, and that in itself is a prediction that foresees a catastrophic rise in ocean levels as happening much faster than most predictions. It is true that the paper does not quantify a specific level, but it does repeatedly discuss the six- to nine-meter rise of the past, and that the rise was rapid, not necessarily over “several thousand years.”

          So I’d say, in reviewing the paper, that what it states falls in between our positions. Still, I acknowledge that a tweak in my wording is necessary. I have substituted “a paper published earlier this year predicts that seas could rise ‘several meters’ in 50 to 150 years” for the original text that stated “a paper published earlier this year predicts that seas could rise possibly six to nine meters, in 50 to 150 years.” I will also tweak the wording of the April 7 article to differentiate them more clearly.

  8. […] danger. That’s because the “window of opportunity” to contain it is near to closing.    Global warming will accelerate as oceans reach limits of remediation. Climate change action can be stopped by Trans Pacific […]

  9. Don Hawkins says:

    Pete,
    Just read your post. Very true and a little back up my blog and others..

    https://doubledealingbrazencharlatans.wordpress.com/

    Don Hawkins

  10. George Job says:

    Thank you for this. Excellent review
    Also Please read:
    “Our planet has actually changed colour,” Peter Wadhams, A Farewell to Ice (Allen Lane an imprint of Penguin Books, 2016).
    at:
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/19/loss-of-planet-reflectivity-an-impending-catastrophe/

    Coastal communities, like Miami, Fl. already spend millions annually pumping sea water.

    Always thought it would be a “Day After Tomorrow” scenario where Farewell to Ice equates to ocean currents rapid cooling then dawning of new ice age?

  11. Steady-State says:

    A message to the One-Percent

    Laws, guns and money are all human fabrications for societal organization, control and world dominance.

    You have created $4 Trillion out of nothing and given it all to yourselves.
    You are above the law and immune from prosecution.
    You have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the Earth ten times over.

    When the planet is all messed up, I hope you enjoy living on it.

  12. John Rhoads says:

    The trick is to localize which is the reciprocal of government dependency. Something tells me basic income is a stepping stone away from capitalism although you see it for how a capitalist might leverage it to his advantage. That advantage would be short lived as people would be incentivized to band together and detach from monolithic capitalist enterprises. There would be drift from being an employee to being self employed as the strength in numbers would create autonomous funding sources previously unavailable. Think of basic income as a unrestricted new source of crowd funding that is completely unregulated. The hope is that worker owned coops would take root over capitalist businesses and a mandate to not scale to far out from home. Two things will happen with basic income which ironically satisfies both the small government advocates and the local-not-global crowd. Central Government becomes less important while local autonomy becomes more important.

    • I don’t see how a basic income would lead to the development of cooperatives. I also advocate cooperative development, but we’ll have to advocate this directly rather than hoping it is the byproduct of something else. A basic income doesn’t effect the relations of capitalism, and even if it could be implemented without a cut to government services and cuts to wages, it might actually stabilize capitalism (temporarily) because the extra money would inject a jolt into the economy through new consumer spending, which I suppose is one of the aims of advocates.

      But, again, the massive movement that would be required to bring this about — and maintain it — would be so enormous that we’d be better off pushing for real changes. I would argue that it is much better to advocate for what we want rather than work toward a utopian reform of a failing system.

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