Existential Threat to Civilization’: Planetary Tipping Points Make Climate Bets Too Dangerous, Scientists Warn:



Thursday, November 28, 2019
Common Dreams
‘Existential Threat to Civilization’: Planetary Tipping Points Make Climate Bets Too Dangerous, Scientists Warn

“I don’t think people realize how little time we have left,” said one co-author of a new paper warning that the systems of the natural world could cascade out of control sooner than was previously thought.
Jon Queally, staff writer
While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) introduced the idea of tipping points two decades ago, the paper notes, it was long believed that what climatologists refer to as “large-scale discontinuities” in the planet’s natural system were “considered likely only if global warming exceeded 5°C above pre-industrial levels.” According to the researchers, however, more recent information and data—including the most recent IPCC summaries—suggest these frightening “tipping points could be exceede

While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) introduced the idea of tipping points two decades ago, the paper notes, it was long believed that what climatologists refer to as “large-scale discontinuities” in the planet’s natural system were “considered likely only if global warming exceeded 5°C above pre-industrial levels.” According to the researchers, however, more recent information and data—including the most recent IPCC summaries—suggest these frightening “tipping points could be exceeded even between 1 and 2 °C of warming”—that means this century, possibly within just decades. (Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image by Reto Stöckli)

Citing an “existential threat to civilization,” a group of top climate scientists have put out a new paper warning that the latest evidence related to climate tipping points—when natural systems reach their breaking point and cascading feedback loops accelerate collapse—could mean such dynamics are “more likely than was thought” and could come sooner as well.

In the paper, published as a commentary in the journal Nature on Wednesday, the group of researchers summarize the latest findings related to the threat of tipping points as part of effort to “identify knowledge gaps” and suggest ways to fill them. “We explore the effects of such large-scale changes,” the scientists explain, “how quickly they might unfold and whether we still have any control over them.”

“We’ll reach 1.5°C in one or two decades, and with three decades to decarbonize it’s clearly an emergency situation.” —Owen Gaffney, Stockholm Resilience Center

While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) introduced the idea of tipping points two decades ago, the paper notes, it was long believed that what climatologists refer to as “large-scale discontinuities” in the planet’s natural system were “considered likely only if global warming exceeded 5°C above pre-industrial levels.” According to the researchers, however, more recent information and data—including the most recent IPCC summaries—suggest these frightening “tipping points could be exceeded even between 1 and 2 °C of warming”—that means this century, possibly within just decades.

“I don’t think people realize how little time we have left,” Owen Gaffney, a global sustainability analyst at the Stockholm Resilience Center at Stockholm University and a co-author of the paper, told National Geographic. “We’ll reach 1.5°C in one or two decades, and with three decades to decarbonize it’s clearly an emergency situation.”

Gaffney added, “Without emergency action our children are likely to inherit a dangerously destabilized planet.”

According to the paper:

If current national pledges to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions are implemented—and that’s a big ‘if’—they are likely to result in at least 3°C of global warming. This is despite the goal of the 2015 Paris agreement to limit warming to well below 2°C. Some economists, assuming that climate tipping points are of very low probability (even if they would be catastrophic), have suggested that 3°C warming is optimal from a cost–benefit perspective. However, if tipping points are looking more likely, then the ‘optimal policy’ recommendation of simple cost–benefit climate-economy models4 aligns with those of the recent IPCC report2. In other words, warming must be limited to 1.5 °C. This requires an emergency response.

Among the key evidence that tipping points are underway, the paper highlights a litany of global hot spots where runaway warming could unleash—or is already unleashing—dangerous feedback loops. They include: frequent droughts in the Amazon rainforest; Artic sea ice reductions; slowdown in Atlantic Ocean currents; fires and pests in the northern Boreal forest; large scale coral reef die-offs; ice sheet loss in Greenland; permafrost thawing in Eastern Russia; and accelerating melting in both the West and East Antarctic.

In an interview with the Guardian, Professor Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter, the lead author of the article, said: “As a scientist, I just want to tell it how it is. It is not trying to be alarmist, but trying to treat the whole climate change problem as a risk management problem. It is what I consider the common sense way.”

“This article is not meant to be a counsel of despair. If we want to avoid the worst of these bad climate tipping points, we need to activate some positive social and economic tipping points [such as renewable energy] towards what should ultimately be a happier, flourishing, sustainable future for the generations to come.” —Prof. Tim Lenton, University of Exeter

Citing campaigners around the world, including young people this year who kicked off global climate strikes, Lenton acknowledge that these people understand what world leaders seem unwilling to accept or act upon. “We might already have crossed the threshold for a cascade of interrelated tipping points,” Lenton said. “The simple version is the schoolkids are right: we are seeing potentially irreversible changes in the climate system under way, or very close.”

In their paper, the scientists write that “the consideration of tipping points helps to define that we are in a climate emergency and strengthens this year’s chorus of calls for urgent climate action—from schoolchildren to scientists, cities and countries.”

Despite the frightening warnings and the scale of the threat, the researchers are not trying to be doom-and-gloomers who say that nothing can be done.

In his comments to the Guardian, Lenton said, “This article is not meant to be a counsel of despair. If we want to avoid the worst of these bad climate tipping points, we need to activate some positive social and economic tipping points [such as renewable energy] towards what should ultimately be a happier, flourishing, sustainable future for the generations to come.”

But the paper makes clear that the climate emergency is here in very profound ways.

“In our view, the evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency: both the risk and urgency of the situation are acute,” the paper states. The researchers even provide a mathematical risk equation:

The group of scientists also acknowledge that some in the scientific community believe their warnings exceed what the available evidence shows when it comes to the threat of tipping points or the timeline:

Some scientists counter that the possibility of global tipping remains highly speculative. It is our position that, given its huge impact and irreversible nature, any serious risk assessment must consider the evidence, however limited our understanding might still be. To err on the side of danger is not a responsible option.

If damaging tipping cascades can occur and a global tipping point cannot be ruled out, then this is an existential threat to civilization. No amount of economic cost–benefit analysis is going to help us. We need to change our approach to the climate problem.

The Guardian spoke to Professor Martin Siegert at Imperial College London, about the researchers’ paper and whether or not its warning comes in too heavy. “The new work is valuable,” Siegert said. “They are being a little speculative, but maybe you need to be.”

In the end, the new paper’s conclusion was twofold: more needs to be known about these crucial tipping points and that only urgent action can stave off the urgent threat an increasingly hotter world.

“We argue that the intervention time left to prevent tipping could already have shrunk towards zero, whereas the reaction time to achieve net zero emissions is 30 years at best,” the paper states. “Hence we might already have lost control of whether tipping happens. A saving grace is that the rate at which damage accumulates from tipping—and hence the risk posed—could still be under our control to some extent. ”

“The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril,” it concludes. “International action—not just words—must reflect this.”


NOAA’s Finding That Last Month Was Hottest June Ever Recorded Bolsters Calls for Radical Climate Action


July 18, 2019

As meteorologists warned Thursday that temperatures above 100°F are expected to impact two-thirds of the country this weekend, U.S. government scientists revealed that last month was the hottest June ever recorded—bolstering calls for radical global action on the climate emergency.

The revelation came in a new monthly climate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Scientists at the agency’s National Centers for Environmental Information found that “the global land and ocean surface temperature departure from average for June 2019 was the highest for the month of June in the 140-year NOAA global temperature dataset record, which dates back to 1880.”

Meteorologist Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground, explained that “the global heat in June is especially impressive and significant given that only a weak (and weakening) El Niño event was in place. As human-produced greenhouse gases continue to heat up our planet, most global heat records are set during El Niño periods, because the warm waters that spread upward and eastward across the surface of the tropical Pacific during El Niño transfer heat from the ocean to the atmosphere.”

According to NOAA, “Regionally, South America, Europe, Africa, the Hawaiian region, and the Gulf of Mexico had their warmest June in the 110-year record.” Central and Eastern Europe, North-Central Russia, Northeastern Canada and Southern parts of South America endured the most notable departures from average June temperatures.

And, as Masters noted, that high heat came with consequences:

Three billion-dollar weather-related disasters hit the Earth last month, according to the June 2019 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon: a severe weather outbreak in Europe ($1.1 billion), flooding in China ($9+ billion, including losses up until July 16), and a drought in India ($1.75 billion). In addition, severe weather outbreaks in the U.S. in late May and mid-March accumulated more than $1 billion in losses by the end of June, bringing the 2019 tally of billion-dollar weather disasters to 14.

Five of the disasters documented by Aon were in the United States. NOAA, in the climate anomalies and events section of its report, noted that higher than average rainfall across the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys and East Coast contributed to destructive flooding in those areas. Experts warn that as human behaviors continue to warm the planet, extreme weather events will become more intense and common.

NOAA scientists found that January through June tied with 2017 for the second-highest average temperature ever recorded in that six-month period over the past 140 years. Though 2016 still remains the hottest first six months of the year on record, last month beat 2016’s June temperature average by 0.04°F, with an average global temperature 1.71°F above the 20th century average.

Jonathan Erdman, a senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel, wrote Thursday that although the increases may seem small, “ultimately, what’s most important is not whether a given month is a fraction of a degree warmer or colder; rather, it’s the overall trend, which continues its upward climb since the late 1970s.”

In response to NOAA’s report, climate scientist Phil Duffy, president and executive director of Woods Hole Research Center, told Reuters that “action is urgently needed at the world, federal, state, and local levels to rapidly cut fossil fuel pollution and to protect and rebuild naturally stored carbon.”

The NOAA report, as Erdman noted, echoes conclusions about June temperatures by researchers at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the Japan Meteorological Agency, and Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).

Reacting to the C3S report earlier this month, the environmental advocacy group 350.org declared, “We need to act like this is the climate emergency it is.”

The findings about June come on the heels of new research from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) that shows without urgent global action to curb planet-heating human activities, “the number of days per year when the heat index—or ‘feels like’ temperature—exceeds 100°F would more than double from historical levels to an average of 36 across the country by midcentury and increase four-fold to an average of 54 by late century.”

The USC report warned that the global community must pursue ambitious climate action “if we wish to spare people in the United States and around the world the mortal dangers of extreme and relentless heat.”

The World to Come

January 29, 2019

The ruling elite’s goal is to keep us entertained, frightened and passive while they build draconian structures of oppression
Chris Hedges

These are the last, agonizing days of the American Empire.

These are the last, agonizing days of the American Empire.

The ruling elites are painfully aware that the foundations of American power are rotting. The outsourcing of manufacturing in the United States and the plunging of over half the population into poverty will, they know, not be reversed. The self-destructive government shutdown has been only one of numerous assaults on the efficiency of the administrative state. The failing roads, bridges and public transportation are making commerce and communications more difficult. The soaring government deficit, now almost a trillion dollars thanks to the Trump administration’s massive corporate tax cuts, cannot be eliminated. The seizure of the financial system by global speculators ensures, sooner rather than later, another financial meltdown. The dysfunction of democratic institutions, which vomit up con artists such as Donald Trump and hold as alternatives inept, corporate-indentured politicians such as Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, is cementing into place a new authoritarianism. The hollowing out of the pillars of the state, including the diplomatic corps and regulatory agencies, leaves the blunt force of the military as the only response to foreign disputes and fuels endless and futile foreign wars.

These are the last, agonizing days of the American Empire.

Just as ominous as the visible rot is the internal decay. Among all social classes there is a loss of faith in the government, widespread frustration, a sense of stagnation and entrapment, bitterness over unfulfilled expectations and promises, and a merging of fact and fiction so that civil and political discourse is no longer rooted in reality. The nation’s isolation by its traditional allies and its inability, especially in the face of environmental catastrophe, to articulate rational and visionary policies have shattered the mystique that is vital to power. “A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial,” George Orwell wrote. “That is when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud.” Our elites have exhausted fraud. Force is all they have left.

The United States is a wounded beast, bellowing and thrashing in its death throes. It can inflict tremendous damage, but it cannot recover. These are the last, agonizing days of the American Empire. The death blow will come when the dollar is dropped as the world’s reserve currency, a process already underway. The value of the dollar will plummet, setting off a severe depression and demanding instant contraction of the military overseas.

Seth A. Klarman, who runs the Baupost Group hedge fund, which manages about $27 billion, just sent a sobering 22-page letter to his investors. He pointed out that the nation’s ratio of government debt to gross domestic product from 2008 to 2017 exceeded 100 percent and is close to that in France, Canada, Britain and Spain. The debt crisis, he warned, could be the “seeds” of the next financial crisis. He decried the global unraveling of “social cohesion,” adding, “It can’t be business as usual amid constant protests, riots, shutdowns and escalating social tensions.”
“There is no way to know how much debt is too much, but America will inevitably reach an inflection point whereupon a suddenly more skeptical debt market will refuse to continue to lend to us at rates we can afford,” he said in the letter. “By the time such a crisis hits, it will likely be too late to get our house in order.”

The ruling elites, worried about impending financial collapse, are scrambling to cement into place harsh legal and physical forms of control to stymie what they fear could be widespread popular unrest, nascent forms of which can be seen in the strikes carried out by American teachers and the protests by the “yellow vests” in France.

The ruling ideology of neoliberalism, the ruling elites recognize, has been discredited across the political spectrum. This is forcing the elites to make unsavory alliances with neofascists, who in the United States are represented by the Christian right. This Christianized fascism is swiftly filling Trump’s ideological void. It is embodied in figures such as Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Brett Kavanaugh and Betsy DeVoss.

In its most virulent form, one that will be expressed once the economy goes into crisis, this Christian fascism will seek to purge the society of those branded as social deviants, including immigrants, Muslims, “secular humanist” artists and intellectuals, feminists, gays and lesbians, Native Americans and criminals—largely poor people of color—based on a perverted and heretical interpretation of the Bible. Abortion will be illegal. The death penalty will be mandated for a variety of crimes. Education will be dominated by white supremacist views of history, indoctrination and the teaching of creationism or “intelligent design.” The pantheon of new America heroes will include Robert E. Lee, Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon. The state will portray the white majority as victims.

This Christian fascism, like all forms of totalitarianism, wraps itself in a cloying piety, promising moral as well as physical renewal. The degradation of mass culture with its celebration of sexual sadism, graphic violence and personal dysfunction, its plagues of opioid addiction, suicide, gambling and alcoholism, along with social chaos and government dysfunction, will lend credibility to the Christian fascists’ promise of a return to a “Christian” purity. The cloak of this piety will be used to snuff out all civil liberties.

Central to any totalitarian ideology is a constant inquisition against supposedly clandestine and sinister groups held responsible for the country’s demise. Conspiracy theories, which already color Trump’s worldview, will proliferate. The ruling rhetoric will whipsaw the population, swinging from championing individualism and personal freedom to calling for abject subservience to those who claim to speak for the nation and God, from the sanctity of life to advocating the death penalty, unrestrained police violence and militarism, from love and compassion to the fear of being branded a heretic or traitor. A grotesque hypermasculinity will be celebrated. Violence will be held up as the mechanism to cleanse the society and the world of evil. Facts will be erased or altered. Lies will become true. Political language will be cognitive dissonance. The more the country declines, the more the paranoia and collective insanity will grow. All of these elements are present in varying forms within the culture and our failed democracy. They will become pronounced as the country unravels and the disease of totalitarianism spreads.

The ruling oligarchs, as in all failed states, will retreat into fortified compounds, many of which they are already preparing, where they will have access to basic services, health care, education, water, electricity and security largely denied to the wider population.

The ruling oligarchs, as in all failed states, will retreat into fortified compounds, many of which they are already preparing, where they will have access to basic services, health care, education, water, electricity and security largely denied to the wider population. The central government will be reduced to its most basic functions—internal and external security and collecting taxes. Severe poverty will cripple the lives of most citizens. Any essential service once provided by the state, from utilities to basic policing, will be privatized, expensive and inaccessible to those without resources. Trash will pile up in the streets. Crime will explode. The electrical grid and water systems—decrepit, poorly maintained and run by corporations—will repeatedly turn on and off.

The mass media will become nakedly Orwellian, chatting endlessly about a bright future and pretending America remains a great superpower. It will substitute political gossip for news—a corruption already far advanced—while insisting that the country is in an economic recovery or about to enter one. It will refuse to address ever-worsening social inequality, political and environmental deterioration and military debacles. Its primary role will be to peddle illusions so that an atomized public, fixated on its electronic screens, will be diverted from the collapse and see its plight as personal rather than collective. Dissent will become more difficult as critics are censored and attacked as responsible for the decline. Hate groups and hate crimes will proliferate and be tacitly empowered and condoned by the state. Mass shootings will be commonplace. The weak—especially children, women, the disabled, the sick and the elderly—will be exploited, abandoned or abused. The strong will be omnipotent.

There will still be money to be made. Corporations will sell anything for a profit—security, dwindling food supplies, fossil fuel, water, electricity, education, medical care, transportation—forcing citizens into debt peonage that will see their meager assets seized when they can’t make payments. The prison population, already the largest in the world, will expand along with the number of citizens forced to wear electronic monitors 24 hours a day. Big corporations will pay no income tax or at best a symbolic tax. They will be above the law, able to abuse and underpay workers and poison the environment without oversight or regulation.

As income inequality becomes more massive, financial titans such as Jeff Bezos, worth some $140 billion, will increasingly function as modern-day slaveholders. They will preside over financial empires where impoverished employees will live in run-down campers and trailer parks while toiling 12 hours a day in vast, poorly ventilated warehouses. These employees, paid subsistence wages, will be constantly recorded, tracked and monitored by digital devices. They will be fired when the punishing work conditions cripple their health. For many Amazon employees the future is now.

Work will be a form of serfdom for all but the upper elites and managers. Jeffrey Pfeffer in his book “Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance—and What We Can Do About It” quotes a survey in which 61 percent of employees said workplace stress had made them ill and 7 percent said they required hospitalization as a result. The stress of overwork, he writes, may cause 120,000 deaths annually in the United States. In China there are an estimated 1 million deaths a year from overwork.

This is the world the elites are preparing for by setting in place legal mechanisms and internal security forces to strip us of liberty.

We, too, must begin to prepare for this dystopia, not only to ensure our survival but to build mechanisms to blunt and attempt to overthrow the totalitarian power the elites expect to wield.

We, too, must begin to prepare for this dystopia, not only to ensure our survival but to build mechanisms to blunt and attempt to overthrow the totalitarian power the elites expect to wield. Alexander Herzen, speaking to a group of anarchists a century ago about how to overthrow the Russian czar, reminded his listeners that it was their job not to save a dying system but to replace it: “We think we are the doctors. We are the disease.” All efforts to reform the American system is capitulation. No progressive in the Democratic Party is going to rise up, take control of the party and save us. There is one ruling party. The corporate party. It may engage in petty, internecine warfare, as it did in the recent government shutdown. It may squabble over power and the spoils of power. It may come wrapped in more tolerant stances regarding women, LGBT rights and the dignity of people of color, but on the fundamental issues of war, internal security and corporate domination there is no divergence.

We must carry out organized civil disobedience and forms of non-cooperation to weaken corporate power. We must use, as in France, widespread and sustained social unrest to push back against the designs of our corporate masters. We must sever ourselves from reliance on corporations in order to build independent, sustainable communities and alternative forms of power. The less we need corporations the freer we will become. This will be true in every aspect of our lives, including food production, education, journalism, artistic expression and work. Life will have to be communal. No one, unless he or she is part of the ruling elite, will have the resources to survive alone.

The longer we pretend this dystopian world is not imminent, the more unprepared and disempowered we will be. The ruling elite’s goal is to keep us entertained, frightened and passive while they build draconian structures of oppression grounded in this dark reality. It is up to us to pit power against power. Ours against theirs. Even if we cannot alter the larger culture, we can at least create self-sustaining enclaves where we can approximate freedom. We can keep alive the burning embers of a world based on mutual aid rather than mutual exploitation. And this, given what lies in front of us, will be a victory.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Oct 1, 2018

Satellite communications network Iridium has unveiled a plan in collaboration with Amazon Web Services to provide an Internet of Things network for companies with access to locations previously inaccessible to the physical Internet.

The new service, which will be called CloudConnect, will build on Iridium’s existing IoT network by joining AWS’s Partner Network, providing a new options for its customers. According to a report last week by GeekWire:

“More and more Iridium customers are using cloud services as the basis of their IT infrastructure, and wanted a method for delivering cloud-based workloads to Iridium devices, said Tim Last, vice president and general manager of the IoT Line of Business at Iridium. That’s especially true for its small-and-medium size customers, but it extends up into larger equipment companies like Caterpillar that are using Iridium for vehicle maintenance diagnostics around the world.”

Currently, Iridium operates its satellite constellation on its own, but relies on SpaceX for getting them into orbit. A single Falcon 9 rocket is able to put 10 Iridium satellites into orbit.

AWS has reportedly begun hiring engineers with satellite experience, ostensibly with this new partnership in mind. And, with CEO Jeff Bezo’s open interest in space through Blue Origin, the likelihood of a space-based IoT wholly owned by Amazon cannot be out of the question.

Oct 1, 2018

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, is launching a new startup company that will reportedly “upend” his previous creation and provide an alternative to the existing Internet that has been dominated by the likes of Facebook and Google.

His startup, Inrupt, will be based on Berners-Lee’s intention that “the web is for everyone.” With the Internet shifting away now from that original promise, he said it’s time for a change that will restore the “excitement and creativity of its early days” through Solid, an open-source platform that was built with the express purpose of decentralizing the Internet.

According to the Inrupt website, Solid works across all data formats by “neutralizing data silos” and incompatibility issues that Berners-Lee says have limited innovation. By basing all future applications on the platform, he said, it will seem as though they are communicating with one another, making them “customized, enriching, and intelligent.”

In a statement on the site, Berners-Lee said:

“I’ve always believed the web is for everyone. That’s why I and others fight fiercely to protect it. The changes we’ve managed to bring have created a better and more connected world.

“But for all the good we’ve achieved, the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas. Today, I believe we’ve reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible—and necessary.”

Solid uses the existing web, but gives every user a choice about where his or her data is stored, who can access elements of it, and what apps he or she will use. It also allows the data to be transmitted to others, and to be used by multiple apps simultaneously.

Central to this will be the Personal Online Data store, or POD for short, which will give users “unprecedented control” over their personal data. They will be able to control who accesses that data, which Berners-Lee calls “personal empowerment through data.”

Solid’s website provides all of the resources a developer would need, and also features an “app builder” that allows users to create a Solid-based app “on your lunch break.” Berners-Lee said the first wave of apps based on the new platform are already under development.

In a recent interview with The Fast Company, Berners-Lee addressed the two 800 lb. gorillas in the room: Facebook and Google. He made it clear he has no intention of working with them on Solid:

“We are not talking to Facebook and Google about whether or not to introduce a complete change where all their business models are completely upended overnight. We are not asking their permission.”

You can be sure neither company will take such an existential threat with a grain of salt, either.

2100, and the Fundamental Fallacy of Climate Change Predictions


September 16, 2018

As a new global-warming charged hurricane dumps historic amounts of rain over the Carolinas, reporting on climate change is seeing another uptick. However varied the predictions, there is one number that will always be included in the article: 2100 – as in the year 2100. Or sometimes just “by the end of the century.”

Whatever level of frightful climate impacts are being envisioned, journalists, and the scientists they are reporting on, always feel compelled to tell us where things will be by 2100. Of course one year (or 100) is an arbitrary measure when it comes to the proceedings of nature – the planet is not punching a time clock, after all – but the problem with “2100” as a guidepost for climate change predictions goes well beyond that, and you don’t have to be a scientist to understand it.

# # #

When we put carbon (and other greenhouse gases) into the atmosphere, it causes the atmosphere to retain more heat. Scientists can do the math on how much carbon we’re generating and calculate (approximately) the amount of warming that will result.

But as we warm the atmosphere we also trigger natural processes on our planet that contribute even further to warming. They are called feedback loops, and they are very straightforward.

For instance, as the atmosphere warms up, the ice caps melt, and smaller ice caps mean less sunlight reflected back into space and more absorbed by blue water, as well as more methane (a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon) released from the thawing seabed – all of which contribute to more warming. Warmer and drier conditions have also led to larger forest fires and a longer forest fire season – just ask anyone in California – and all that smoke leads to more global warming.

However, unlike manmade production of carbon and methane that can – in theory, anyway – be controlled, reduced or even eliminated, these natural processes, once triggered, reinforce themselves. A smaller ice cap means more warming… which means an even smaller ice cap than before, which means even more warming than before leading to even faster shrinking of the ice caps – and so on. The smoke from massive forest fires leads to even drier and hotter conditions, which creates even larger forest fires than before creating even more smoke than before – and so on.

Melting ice caps and growing forest fires are just the two most obvious feedback loops, but scientists have identified more. And they are now all in motion, reinforcing themselves and adding to global warming in ways we can only begin to imagine.

Global warming is not a linear process, it’s a geometric one. It’s an accelerating process. And science, for all its wisdom, has no way to measure that.

Scientists tell us what the planet will be like in 2100 based on their understanding of the linear process of adding X amount of carbon to the atmosphere. But have they figured in an Arctic ice cap that could easily be gone in five years, and the extra heating that will result? How about the methane rising from permafrost melting around the world? Do they estimate how much larger forest fires will be in 10 years, and the effect of all that extra carbon rising into the atmosphere?

Worse yet, how can one calculate the results of a process that is accelerating at an unknown rate – and that will be accelerating even faster next year as it continues to reinforce itself? The simple answer is you can’t.

# # #

The challenge of making accurate predictions of climate change is not a secret. In 2012 Scientific America published an article noting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): “Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent.” (“Climate Science Predictions Prove Too Conservative” December 6, 2012)

Yet most climate scientists, and the reporters that cover them, still have a hard time coming to terms with the existence of feedback loops, or including them in their discussions and predictions. A good example is David Wallace-Wells, who wrote a meticulously researched and much discussed climate change cover story for New York magazine last summer entitled “The Uninhabitable Earth,” in which he outlined “worst case scenarios” for advancing climate change.

Wallace-Wells caught flak from parts of the scientific and activist community for being too pessimistic, even though his piece accurately portrayed what many scientists are saying. And even though his scenarios, while horrible, were not “worst case.” Notably, he never discussed the possibility of extinction – even though it is commonly accepted in the biological sciences that we are already well into the sixth great extinction event in our planet’s history. (See Elizabeth Kolbert’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Sixth Extinction, on the subject.)

Interestingly, and contrary to the widespread interpretation of his piece, Wallace-Wells pushed back against the “doomer” label he was given by some, and continued to cite “end of the century” predictions and how, given so much time, we could – and likely would – still avoid his worst case scenarios. He was still pushing the “2100” timeframe this summer in his article “How Did Climate Change Suddenly Become Old News”… although events now seemed to give him pause:

“Those worst-case scenarios are still quite unlikely, since they require both that we do nothing to alter our emissions path, which is still arcing upward, and that those unabated emissions bring us to climate outcomes on the far end of what’s possible by 2100.

But, this July, we already seem much farther along on those paths than even the most alarmist climate observers — e.g., me — would have predicted a year ago.”

Apparently the hottest July ever recorded on the planet, the largest forest fire in California’s history, wildfires above the Arctic Circle, and biblical rain and flooding in Japan that drove more than a million people from their homes caught Wallace-Wells’ attention. But these events came as no surprise to climate observers who have been paying attention to the feedback loops.

# # #

Finally, last month, a major new study emerged that challenges all our conventionally accepted predictions on climate change.

In a report published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 16 scientists warned that the IPCC’s estimates of climate change might be greatly underestimated, based on – you guessed it – the existence and operation of feedback loops. Remarkably enough, the IPCC barely mentions feedback loops in any of its reports and predictions. Many scientists have already been critical of the Paris Accord goals (which are based on IPCC predictions) as insufficient, but now we have a group of scientists concluding that the IPCC estimates themselves are likely way off the mark.

Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and one of the authors of the paper, describes the effects of feedback loops being like a row of dominoes: “Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth towards another. It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over.” The image of a runaway train was also invoked.

This dire imagery notwithstanding, the scientists writing this very disturbing paper felt compelled to include a note of hope and call to action – but as is often the case with such calls it sounds as if the scientists involved haven’t read a newspaper in a while … or perhaps believe in the societal equivalent of alchemy. “Collective human action is required”they note in the abstract summary. “Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies—and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.” And this all needs to be done more or less immediately, of course. Well, okay. But can we also try turning carbon into gold while we’re at it? You never know, after all.

In his coverage of this new study, a somewhat chastened Wallace-Wells, while granting the validity of the science behind the report and the fact that these ideas have been discussed for a while (albeit on “the fringe”), makes sure to point out that this “Hothouse Earth” scenario is not inevitable. The very fact that these scientists are talking about “runaway climate change,” though, suggests to him that “we should at least be worrying about the possibility. By which I mean: doing much, much more to halt warming in its tracks.”

# # #

Perhaps scientists and reporters feel obligated to include rays of hope in their work on climate change to be absolutely factual – who knows exactly what the future holds, after all? – or perhaps because no one, including them, wants to consider the possibility of extinction, or be that depressed. Scientists have children too.

Or maybe they truly feel that their increasingly dire warnings, properly understood, will motivate people to action. “Yes, the prospect of runaway climate change is terrifying. But this dead world is not our destiny. It’s entirely avoidable,” meteorologist Eric Holthaus wrote in Grist, adding “… implying otherwise is the same as giving up just as the fight gets tough.”

Maybe, although it’s hard to see what “fight” we would be giving up. Even putting aside the maniacs currently running our country and their headlong rush backwards on climate, as someone who has a decent number of educated, informed and socially conscious and active friends, I can tell you I virtually never hear the words “climate change” in conversation, nor do I see any new initiatives or movements forming. It seems most people are not being galvanized to action by these increasingly dire warnings, but rather paralyzed with fear.

Whatever the reason for most people’s lack of response to – or outright denial of -climate change, we will unfortunately have to continue this experiment in human behavior, because terrible climate news and equally dire warnings from scientists aren’t about to stop. In the wake the ground-breaking study on the impact of feedback loops came another new report, “What Lies Beneath: The Understatement of Existential Climate Risk,” by researchers with the National Centre for Climate Restoration in Australia; it argued that the existential threats posed by the climate crisis have still not penetrated the collective psyche of humanity and that nothing short of a war-time mobilization can stop climate change now. It was also reported in August that the oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up – something that has never happened in recorded history. And now we more than a million people evacuated for Hurricane Florence.

It is reasonable to assume that the millions of people fleeing fire, flood, and other climate change-induced extreme weather around the world are not thinking much about the end of the century. Neither should you. What befell them could happen to any of us next.

And whether you think climate change is already a runaway train, or that it can still be “halted in its tracks,” and whatever you believe you should do as a result of what you believe, you can stop worrying about 2100. The only moment we have to act is now.

Sept 17 2018

As I write, Typhoon Mangkhut and Hurricane Florence are still making waves on different continents leaving millions of people to pick up the cost of these two destructive storms.

In Asia, Typhoon Mangkhut is one of the most powerful storms to hit the region for decades. Although Mangkhut was downgraded from a typhoon to a tropical storm as it moved into southern China today, it has still left a trail of destruction from Hong Kong to the Philippines.

At least 65 people are dead, with the number likely to rise as frantic efforts are underway to rescue trapped miners in the country. In China, over 2.4 million people had been evacuated in southern China’s Guangdong due to the storm.

Meanwhile, in the US, although Hurricane Florence has weakened in the last two days, the authorities are still concerned about rising waters. The coastal city of 120,000 people of Wilmington, North Carolina, is currently cut off from the rest of the state because of heavy floods. Some seventeen people are now known to have died.

As bad as these storms are, could things actually get worse in the future? The short answer is yes. More and more commentators and scientists are warning that the ferocity of these storms is linked to climate change and yes, things could get worse.

Bloomberg commentator, David Fickling writes an article today, entitled: “You Can Blame Bad Storms on Climate Change” that says: “Climate change has dramatically increased the likelihood of several recent extreme weather events .. The frequency of extreme weather events in the U.S. and Canada has been rising for decades”.

As I blogged about last week, one study published last week estimated that Florence was stronger and would deposit 50 percent more rainfall due to climate change. The scientists stated: “We find that rainfall will be significantly increased by over 50% in the heaviest precipitating parts of the storm.”

One of the world’s most respected climate scientists, Michael E Mann, and co-author of The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening our Planet, Ruining our Politics and Driving us Crazy, has also weighed into the debate.

He writes that “What matters is that there is a consensus we’ll see stronger and worse flood-producing storms – and, in fact, we’re seeing them already.” He calls Hurricane Florence “a climatologically-amplified triple threat” of “wind damage” “storm surge” and “inland flooding.”

As Mann states: “Warmer oceans mean more moisture in the atmosphere. It’s one of the simplest relationships in all of meteorology: for each 1C of warming, there is about 7% more moisture in the air. That means those 1.5C-above-normal ocean temperatures have given the storm about 10% more moisture. All other things being equal, that implies about 10% more rainfall.”

He concludes: “Some headlines have reported that Florence is a warning of what is to come. But in reality, it is a warning of what has already arrived. Far worse is to come if we don’t get serious, in a hurry, about acting on climate change”.

Indeed, author Jeff Nesbit’s forthcoming book “This Is The Way The World Ends” is published later this month. At its height Florence was a category 4 Hurricane. Nesbit argues that “There is no such thing as a category 6 hurricane or tropical storm – yet. But a combination of warmer oceans and more water in the atmosphere could make the devastation of 2017 pale in comparison.”

He too warns that more water vapour and water temperatures could create “super storms” that “we haven’t seen before – and aren’t really prepared for”.

“No one in America has ever experienced the wrath and fury of a category 6 hurricane, which now genuinely seems possible and realistic. We’ve been lucky,” Nesbit writes: “Unofficial category 6 hurricanes have appeared in other parts of the world, and we’re seeing much stronger storms on a regular basis …. It’s only a matter of time before one hits the US.”

April 6 2018

REMOVE Scott Pruitt from the EPA

Letter to the Editor:

Its time to REMOVE Scott Pruitt from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Scott Pruitt is an ENEMY of environmental protection and has, in fact, turned the EPA is an Environmental Exploitation Agency for
corporate resource and profit-maximization interests. Our global environment is NOT for sale, it is the very foundation of our
sustenance and survival on this planet. Its time to REMOVE, prosecute and incarcerate current EPA administrator
Scott Pruitt and return the Environmental PROTECTION Agency back to the people of the United States
where it rightly and truly belongs.

Steve Jones
Global Environmentalist
Sedona, Arizona



see url:


see urls:






Tag Cloud