As North Pole Melts in November, Wildfires Rage Across US Well Into WinterMonday, 12 December 2016 00:00 By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Report
This is the first anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) dispatch to be written since the election, which heralded the arrival of a president-elect who will become the only western leader who is an ACD denier.
While President Obama remained clearly in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry, with his unwillingness to take the radical actions necessary to mitigate (if even nominally) the already-dire impacts of ACD, he was, at least, willing to admit we live in a crisis never seen before.
As if underscoring the specter of Trump -- and Obama's failure to take appropriate measures, as the proverbial Titanic gurgles ever downward -- the Arctic has been especially warm over the last few weeks. During the second half of November, temperatures at the North Pole were a shocking 36 degrees warmer than normal.
During a time when winter usually sets in and the Arctic sea ice freezes up, ice has been melting instead of freezing. Temperatures in late November were akin to what they normally are at the end of August.
It was Gaia sending yet another unmistakable message, and it was profound enough that Bob Henson with the WeatherUnderground said, "There are weather and climate records, and then there are truly exceptional events that leave all others in the dust. Such has been the case across Earth's high latitudes during this last quarter of 2016."
For perspective, add 36 degrees to whatever your weather is right now, wherever you are. How normal is that? Think about how plants and animals in your area would or wouldn't adapt to that. What would happen to your food and water supply?
To give you another idea of how dramatically things have already changed in the Arctic as the region is in the midst of an ecological disintegration, Captain Cook's records of the region from 1778 reveal a literally different world. His expedition was stopped from sailing north of the Bering Strait by "ice which was as compact as a Wall and seemed to be ten or twelve feet high at least," according to the captain's journal.
In continued attempts to sail further north, Cook's ships followed this ice edge all the way to Siberia, but to no avail.
Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, longtime climate scientists are emphasizing that we're currently seeing an unprecedented situation. Two days after it was revealed that temperatures at the North Pole were 36 degrees above normal, Walt Meier, a research scientist with the Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, who has tracked sea ice data going back to 1979, announced, "It looks like, since the beginning of October, that for the first time we are seeing both the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice running at record low levels."
According to a recent report by the World Meteorological Organization, Earth is now on track to hit 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter than preindustrial temperatures before the end of this year.
According to the recently released annual "Emissions Gap Report" from the UN's Environmental Program (UNEP), current Paris Climate Agreement emissions cuts will still result in 3.5C of planetary warming by 2100. "Current commitments will reduce emissions by no more than a third of the levels required by 2030 to avert disaster," two UNEP leaders warned in the report's introduction.
Recently published research in a prestigious scientific journal shows that ACD is likely already progressing so rapidly that scientists are warning it could well already be "game over." Because the research shows that Earth's climate could be far more sensitive to greenhouse gases than previously believed, they are warning of a temperature rise that is on the "apocalyptic side of bad:" more than 7C within one lifetime from now.
Less importantly, but still shocking and useful to consider (especially since plenty of people seem to believe economics are more important than a habitable planet): Another recent report estimates that the world economy will lose $12 trillion due to ACD damages alone.
A recent report in Bloomberg News lays out the fact that Americans around the US (Florida, Louisiana, East Coast island areas, Alaska, etc.) are already being forced to move due to ACD impacts like storms, erosion and rising seas.
Meanwhile, the global immigration crisis caused by ACD continues apace. A recent report shows that global military leaders have warned of an "unimaginable" global refugee crisis if business as usual persists, and, of course, there is no real sign of it abating.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Cheney, a member of the US Department of State's foreign affairs policy board and CEO of the American Security Project, said, "We're already seeing migration of large numbers of people around the world because of food scarcity, water insecurity and extreme weather, and this is set to become the new normal."
An example of this within the US comes in the form of record-setting wildfires that have been burning across vast swaths of the southeast well into November. You'll find more on this below in the "Fire" section, but it's crucial to note that one of the wildfires scorching Tennessee is the largest in a century, and perhaps in the history of record-keeping. At least a dozen people have died across the southeast from the November wildfires, which are continuing to burn at the time of this writing.
The overview of the oceans continues to grow ever more bleak. A recent reportindicates that ocean life is literally suffocating from low oxygen levels caused by ACD. The report shows that oceans, coastal seas, estuaries, and many rivers and lakes are experiencing dramatic declines in dissolved oxygen levels, and this phenomenon is occurring at a global level now.
As a whole, 2016 has been bleak news for anyone interested in the future of the planet. The World Meteorological Organization recently announced that this year is already "very likely" to be the world's warmest ever. 2015 was the previous hottest year on record, and at that time it was the hottest year since record-keeping began.
Die-offs of planetary flora and fauna continue to increase in scope and frequency.
A recent report revealed how rising sea levels are pushing saltwater further into US wetlands across the coastal southeast, as well as along parts of the east coast, killing trees from Florida all the way up to New Jersey.
Meanwhile in California, a US Forest Service official recently called the ongoing die-off of what is now over 100 million trees there "unprecedented," and blamed the brunt of it on the ongoing ACD-fueled drought afflicting that state.
Similarly, a recent study published in the journal Global Change Biology showed that yellow cedars in Alaska and British Columbia, trees that can live for 1,000 years, are now dying off over vast areas due to warming from ACD. Trees across 1,500 square miles are now undergoing a die-off linked directly to ACD, and the forecast for them is grim, since approximately half of the forested area that is currently considered suitable for the yellow cedars will no longer be so by 2100 due to ongoing temperature rise and shifting of winter precipitation from snow to rainfall.
Another disturbing report showed that the world has hundreds of millions fewer birds than it did just a few decades ago, thanks to ACD impacts, dwindling habitat, hunters and pollution.
In the Arctic region of Russia, more than 80,000 reindeer have died as a result of retreating Arctic sea ice.
In a massive new study in the journal Nature, scores of international authors have documented a climate "feedback loop" that they say will likely make ACD considerably worse in upcoming decades. The study addresses the soil-carbon loop in the climate system, which deals primarily with Earth's soils. Soils store a massive amount of carbon in their plants, and the roots of plants that have lived and died there. Scientists have long since warned that as warming increases, microorganisms living in soils would naturally respond by increasing their respiration rates, a process that then releases more CO2 or methane into the atmosphere. The new study shows that this process is already happening.
As usual, the impacts of ACD across the planet are the most pronounced and obvious in the watery realms (which are increasingly losing their water).
A recently published study showed that, due to dramatically changed vegetation across the Mediterranean region, Spain could be a desert by the year 2100.
Across Africa, ongoing drought is destabilizing countries as it persists. It is the worst drought in 35 years, and has left more than 21 million people in need of food assistance. Unfortunately, yet not surprisingly, the United Nation's Special Envoy Macharia Kamau told journalists in Mozambique recently, "The crisis has yet to peak."
Drought continues plaguing large sections of China. In one region, China's largest freshwater lake is rapidly turning into prairie, as it has neared low-level lines nearly two months earlier than it has done historically.
Meanwhile in Bolivia, President Evo Morales has told people to "prepare for the worst" as the small Andean Mountain country is wracked by a historic drought. Reservoirs that supply water to Bolivia's largest city are now nearly empty. The drought is primarily fueled by vanishing glaciers across the country, which are a key supplier of water during the dry season. Of course, the glaciers are melting away at record rates due primarily to ACD.
Closer to home, in Utah, recent NASA satellite imagery reveals that the Great Salt Lake is drying up rapidly, as five years of drought have seen the lake's area decrease by 40 percent.
Meanwhile, yet another study was published recently tying US western states' record low snowpack to ACD.
The climate has warmed so much in Canada, that the city of Montreal has invested $7.3 million to save its ice skating rinks. Incredibly, the money will be used to buy refrigerated ice skating rinks.
Looking further north, Russia, China and other countries are rapidly stepping up plans to exploit melting Arctic sea ice by making preparations for their large cargo ships to use the soon-to-be new shipping lanes. Once shipping begins, it will only be a matter of time before the inevitable environmental disasters start to occur in the Arctic.
In Antarctica things continue to worsen, as odd rifts in the middle of the ice shelf of that continent's Pine Island Glacier might be a sign of a new mechanism that could lead to that glacier's collapse, as well as the collapse of other glaciers.
Sea level rise continues apace. A recently published study shows us that ACD is set to cause the most rapid of sea level rise ever experienced in human history, which will make it challenging, to say the least, for megacities on the coasts to adapt. So far, several island and coastal towns facing sea level rise in the far north have had to relocate entirely.
On that note, the first female head of a Pacific Island nation, Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands, recently told the press that ACD is a "matter of life and death" for her country.
Lastly in this section, a sign of things to come: In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, the town of Nichols, South Carolina was damaged so heavily by flooding that it is an open question as to whether it will be rebuilt at all.
Wildfires across the US continued to burn far into November, another sign of how far along we are, in terms of ACD impacts. Increasingly, there is no longer a contained wildfire "season," as the planet continues to warm apace.
From the southern US all the way up to New England, November saw fires burning across the country.
Meteorologist Stu Ostro spoke of "surreal" smoke across Atlanta, Georgia; while in Chattanooga, Tennessee hundreds of people were hospitalized from smoke inhalation, while air quality alerts were issued across the Carolinas and Georgia.
By late November, thousands of firefighters had mobilized to fight fires across the southeast, an area that rarely sees wildfires beyond the end of summer. At least 15 major wildfires across the region had, at the time of this writing, burned in excess of 15,500 acres -- including more than 15,000 acres in Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- and have led to several deaths.
Also in November, wildfires were burning across parts of New York, North Dakota and New Hampshire as well.
Welcome to the future of the US, where wildfires will be burning well into winter.
Temperature records across the planet continue to be set at a record pace.
In the US, November saw several stunning examples of this. The mile-high city of Denver, Colorado saw 78 degrees well into November, while Dallas, Texas saw 88 degrees in the middle of that month.
As aforementioned, the Arctic saw stunningly warm temperatures in November, when one day in the latter part of that month several locations saw temperatures spike well over 36 degrees above average.
Meanwhile, global "weirding" continues, as a recent study showed that the polar vortex is shifting due to ACD, which means winters in eastern North America will be longer. The polar vortex is a zone of frigid air that encircles the Arctic and makes its presence known the most during the winter months.
Also in the Arctic, as that region warms, another recently published study showed that more ancient diseases that were buried deep in the permafrost will be released, posing increasing threats to humans and wildlife. Last summer, anthrax killed a 12-year-old boy in a remote area of Siberia, and at least 20 others in Siberia were diagnosed with the disease. (Twenty may not seem like a large number, but bear in mind that this is an extremely lightly populated area.) Scientists are expressing concern over the fact that infectious microorganisms are now emerging from their deep freeze as permafrost across the entire Arctic continues to melt at unprecedented rates.
Lastly, and quite alarmingly, another recent study showed that the planet is far more sensitive to greenhouse gas levels than previously believed. It showed that climate models are likely underestimating how sensitive the planet is, due to the fact that the greenhouse effect will be amplified the more temperatures increase.
This means the pace of ACD is about to accelerate.
Denial and Reality
Almost needless to say, the most important act of denial over the last month was the US electing an ACD denier into the highest office in the country. President-elect Trump now actively threatens to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreements, eviscerate the EPA and appoint fossil-fuel loyalists into key government positions.
Trump has already said he will strip NASA's Earth Science Division, which conducts vast arrays of studies around ACD and its ongoing impacts across the planet, of funding. A member of Trump's cabal is calling the move a crackdown on "politicized science."
Steve Bannon, who has emerged as Trump's chief strategist, has extreme views on many subjects, including ACD, which he calls an elaborate hoax. He refers to renewable energy as "a scam." Bannon is known for helping influence Trump's "views" on ACD and has called environmentalists "greentards" and "totally fucking wrong on climate change."
As is now well known, Trump has claimed that ACD is a "Chinese hoax." Inconveniently for Trump, during the recent UN Climate Summit in Morocco, China's vice foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, told reporters that Trump is wrong to have accused China of portraying ACD as a "hoax." "Look at the history of climate change negotiations, in fact [they were] launched in the late '80s under the administration of Republican President Reagan and George Bush, supported by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)," Liu told reporters, according to Bloomberg and reports from within the Chinese media.
The Republican Party, which continues to remain the only major political party on the planet that denies the reality of ACD, continues to be funded, backed and heavily controlled by the fossil fuel industry, hence its denial of ACD in order to protect profit-making.
Meanwhile, there is more news on the reality front than is even possible to keep up with.
The government of Australia's New South Wales recently unveiled a plan by which it aims to reach zero CO2 emissions by the year 2050 in order to work towards mitigating the worsening impacts of ACD as best as it can. It will do so primarily by making a concerted effort to shift over to renewable energies and increase battery storage capacity.
On a sobering note, a recently published study showed that the average American is responsible for melting 538 square feet of Arctic summer sea ice each year.
The UN's World Meteorological Organization announced in November that the past five years were the hottest ever on record, and that greenhouse gas emissions have increased the risks of extreme weather events by as much as tenfold.
Disturbingly, a recently published study that surveyed more than 250 different plants and animals found that their ability to adapt to changes in rainfall and temperature cannot keep pace with ACD-generated changes in their environments. In short, this means that the climate is changing "too fast" for species, according to the report.
Not that validation from fossil fuel companies is necessary to confirm the reality of ACD, but it is indeed nice to have. On November 1, Simon Henry, the chief financial officer for Shell, the world's second-largest oil company, said demand for oil will begin dropping permanently in the next five to 15 years, according to an article in World Oil. He went on to admit that his company will focus on making money by focusing on natural gas and renewable energy.
To conclude this month's dispatch, it's worth quoting the UN, which in November provided a very apocalyptic vision of the future of ACD, painting a picture of a changed world filled with famine, war and disease.
"We will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy; the growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver," the UN warned, via its Environment Program. The UNEP released a report that predicted the Earth's temperature is already set to increase by up to 3.4C (above the preindustrial temperature baseline) by 2100. This temperature change should take at least tens of thousands of years to occur naturally, but will have been attained by humans in just a little over two centuries.
It is worth remembering that the rapidly increasing global temperature has consistently outpaced even the worst-case predictions by the UN. Predictions of warming that reaches 8C by 2100 have not been uncommon, with some predictions reaching 12C. Bear in mind that humans have never lived on a 3.5C-warmed planet.