This is the third in my Series, presented with research, data, articles, links, context, and opinions. I hope you enjoy the Series, and please feel free to contact me directly. We can discuss a multitude of regional & world issues and explore potential solutions. I’d look forward to hearing from you.
Series: Looming Economic Crisis
Series: Population Growth and Aging
Global Warming and Climate Change
By now, we may all know climate change is rapidly destroying our planet. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) reports 17 of the 18 hottest years on record (since 1880) have all occurred since 2000. 2017 was the second hottest year on record, only the previous year 2016 was warmer.
Glaciers are melting at a record rate, they’ve thinned more than 10 meters since 1980. Millions of people are facing hardship due to extreme weather: floods, wildfires, drought, desertification, lack of fresh water, extreme heat, hurricanes, loss of fishing industries, pollution/smog, and more.
By the middle of this century, experts estimate that climate change is likely to displace between 150 and 300 million people. If this group formed a country, it would be the fourth-largest in the world, roughly the equivalent population of the United States.
More than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issued a “Warning to Humanity” to warn climate change will destroy our world. This was a follow-up (Second Notice) after the original Warning was penned 25 years ago, by more than 1,700 independent scientists – including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences.
A different report by experts says we’re already past the point of no return, “the window for avoiding dangerous climate change has already closed.” The planet faces “committed warming” by 2.7 degrees (°C) before 2100 if fossil fuels are burned at current rates for another 15 years. Committed warming will certainly push us past the arbitrary 2°C temperature rise set by the Paris Accord, even if we, fantastically, were to cease all carbon emissions immediately.
Sea level rise in the 20th century was the fastest of the past 3,000 years. By continuing to delay significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, we risk handing young people alive today a bill for more than USD $500 trillion in inherent costs from global warming. All future generations will be punished even more.
And yet… Many Americans still don’t believe a climate crisis exists:
Earth Overshoot Day is an annual event when humanity’s consumption outstrips Earth’s production of resources. This benchmark day is getting earlier and earlier in the year. 1970 was the last year it fell beyond the calendar year – where resources were abundant enough to meet needs. In 1983 in was still late-November. By 2000 it had crept into late September.
Last year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 2nd.
There are many complex factors contributing to global warming and climate change that warrant more attention and action. This isn’t just warming or change, it’s a full-blown Climate Crisis. What is climate crisis? Yeah, it’s THIS. And, yes, it’s already here.
Just monitoring glacier melt isn’t enough. Most experts isolate sea level rise projections based on very limited data sets. More needs to be done.
Full attention is needed.
Systemic change is required.
Optimized solutions need to be implemented. Quickly.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions get most of the attention. There is now more CO2 in the atmosphere than anytime in the past 15 million years. Carbon dioxide is emitted whenever fossil fuels are burned, it is considered the “largest” contributor to global warming because it is so common. Yes, CO2 surpassing 400 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere is a big deal. But there are other greenhouse gases that are vitally important to monitor and reduce as well.
Indonesia is the third largest country in CO2 emissions. In 2015 Indonesian forest fires released 11.3 million tons of carbon per day – more than the entire European Union (8.9 million tons). These fires, among some of the most carbon-rich sequestrations in the world, were largely deforestation efforts towards palm oil and/or paper production in the name of short-term profits.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) isn’t just for dentists, car enthusiasts, and ravers. Every year, an estimated 17 million tons of nitrogen are released to the atmosphere as N2O. Nitrous oxide only makes up a tiny amount of the atmosphere (less than one-thousandth as abundant as CO2), but N2O is 200 to 300 times more effective in trapping heat than carbon dioxide, a single molecule has 298 times the global warming potential of a carbon dioxide molecule. It also has the longest atmospheric lifecycle of any greenhouse gas – it can take up to 150 years for it to break down. The process that removes nitrous oxide from the atmosphere also depletes ozone, so its destructive properties are even more significant.
Nitrous oxide emissions are created in various ways. Much is from farming and livestock waste management, where nitrogen-rich fertilizers, feed, and soil amendments are used. Burning wood and fossil fuels also produce N2O. Sewage treatment plants may be one of the largest sources on nitrous oxide. Less is known about the causes of N2O, but it is now believed the oceans also create a large amount – possibly from microorganisms.
Coastal and intertidal regions with animal and livestock water runoff might be producing nitrous oxide at rates 60 times faster than other coastal areas. Since the Industrial Revolution, nitrous oxide levels have increased by 16% in the atmosphere.
Due to its long lifetime in the atmosphere, nitrous oxide we release today and have produced in recent years will still be trapping heat until 2150.
Methane (CH4) is the primary component of natural gas and a common fuel source. This gas is produced in large volumes from sewage and animal waste. Methane breaks down rather quickly (about 12 years), but it is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide because of how effectively it absorbs heat.
When methane breaks down, it decomposes into carbon dioxide and water vapor. Also not good.
Water vapor is by far the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Changes in its concentration are considered the result of climate feedbacks or feedback loops – related to warming itself more than a direct result of emissions or industrialization. As temperatures rise, more water evaporates from rivers, oceans, reservoirs, soil, ground water and then absorbs more thermal IR energy radiated from the Earth, trapping heat at its surface.
Because of its abundance and effects, water vapor also amplifies the warming effect of other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Water vapor probably accounts for 60% of the warming effect.
Due to rising temperatures, many places around the world are facing desertification. Each year 12 million hectares worldwide are lost to land degradation and desertification, affecting 1.5 billion people – and the desertification rate is increasing. Drylands comprise over 40% of the Earth’s land area and are home to more than 2 billion people. Every year, desertification causes an estimated USD $42 billion in lost crops and incomes. By 2050, half of all agricultural land in Latin America will be subject to desertification.
Drought is one of the most difficult climate change elements to deal with. Weather patterns change as the Earth warms. We’re seeing the warm Pacific Ocean Jet Stream cross over the north pole to the Atlantic Ocean, weakening the cold circumpolar winds . Animal and insect species are adapting to varying climates at broader latitudes – affecting crops, forests, and wetland areas alike. The overall changes in land areas to more arid and less arable conditions, along with increasing withdrawal of underground water resources, is diminishing localized water supplies. Rivers run shallower, lakes are depleted; rainfall lessened.
South Africa’s Cape Town will likely run out of water by April 2018. The extreme prolonged drought conditions in the Middle East almost certainly contributed to strife in Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen. Drought in the Eastern Mediterranean is the worst in 900 years. More than 2.5 billion people don’t have reliable access to clean, safe, fresh drinking water.
Major cities are likely to face water shortages in the near future. No place on Earth seems immune to drought. Not only is groundwater being used up, but landfills are leaching toxins into our water table and drinking water supplies. Untreated human and animal waste is used in poor countries as crop fertilizer and railroads are still dumping sewage straight onto train tracks. These waste cycles can destroy massive fresh drinking water resources and create massive health risks.
Drought is creating famine and plague. There have been cholera outbreaks in India, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Ghana, Somalia, Yemen, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, Nepal, and many other countries.
Since warmer air can hold more water content, clouds carry larger volumes of precipitation to points further inland. This climate change factor has contributed to devastation. Urbanization has led to more pavement and less water absorption into open land. Coastal erosion is another contributor.
More than 1,000 died in South Asia floods during the 2017 summer. Montego Bay in Jamaica flooded when the equivalent to one month’s average rain fell in just four hours. Beijing suffered its heaviest rainstorm and worst flooding of the past 60 years. More than 2 feet of rain fell over three days in Baton Rouge, damaging 92,000 homes, disrupting 20,000 businesses, affecting hundreds of thousands, causing $110 million in agricultural losses, and responsible for over $10 billion in damage.
Near Houston, Texas, five feet of rain (153.9 cm) fell from Hurricane Harvey over a nine day period. Some places got four feet of rain in less than 48 hours! This is not normal. But perhaps the “1,000-year event” is unimaginably becoming the new normal?
Extreme heat is the deadliest natural disaster in the United States, killing more people on average than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods combined. Daily record high temperatures are occurring much more frequently than record lows. In the absence of global warming, the expectation would be for a roughly equal number of record high and record low daily temperatures. By mid-century, scientists expect 20 record highs for every record low.
Nearly two-thirds of all Americans, 210 million, live in counties vulnerable to health threats from unexpectedly high summer temperatures. It became so hot in Phoenix that more than 40 airplane flights were grounded. San Francisco, a city known for its supremely mild summers and cool marine layer, smashed its record high with 106°F last summer, and nearby Livermore hit 114.
This is happening all around the world. India, Pakistan, Yemen, South Asia… all have faced extreme heat the past two summers. India is surpassing 50°C temperatures each recent summer. 51°C temperatures during record heat waves are producing life-threatening and fatal 35°C wet bulb temperatures. These latent heat temperatures have never been faced before and are related to deaths, heat strokes, and heat stress. This new trend is forcing countries to prepare cooling centers for the poor and those without air conditioning.
Since 2000, the number of people exposed to heat waves increased by about 125 million. Each 2 degrees Fahrenheit rise in temperatures reduces global wheat production by 6% and rice grain yields by 10%. Warmer temperatures are expanding the range of infections – and mosquitoes – increasing the rate of dengue, malaria, and Zika. Extreme weather has also caused an estimated $129 billion in economic losses due to drop in work productivity for people in manual, outdoor labor jobs.
In 2017, California experienced its most devastating and costly wildfire season in history. Climate change and warming trends certainly played a major part.
Previous years of drought mixed with a moist winter that fostered lush growth that later dried out… A large near-record strength dome of high pressure originated over desert areas, producing a system of hot and dry air. That air descended westward from the mountains towards the Pacific coast and got hotter and drier, due to a process called adiabatic compression – whereby the pressure on a parcel of air increases as it descends, decreasing its volume, and thus increasing its temperature.
Unfortunately, all of this hot air occurred exactly as the worst wildfire season hit much of California. Along with suspected negligence by the local utilities company, PG&E, wildfires quickly ravaged entire wine country communities in Napa and Sonoma counties.
Around the world, others have recently faced catastrophic fire seasons as well. Unprecedented wildfires arose where ice and permafrost usually cover carbon-rich peat moss in Greenland and Alaska. Spain, Portugal, Italy, Romania, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Chile, Canada, and Siberia have all experienced massive wildfires recently.
Scientists say wildfires are likely to become increasingly frequent and widespread. Kevin Trenberth at the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the U.S. explains, “There is a real climate change component to this and the risk is going up… Extra heat is available. That heat has to go somewhere… The first thing that happens is that it goes into drying – it dries out plants and increases the risk of wildfires.”
The oceans absorb about 30% of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere every year. As the carbon dioxide increases in the oceans, it changes the chemistry of seawater. This is ocean acidification. Seawater becomes more acidic and reduces carbonate ions – an important building block for marine life like coral and oyster shells.
Ocean pH has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1 since the Industrial Revolution, and is expected to fall another 0.3 to 0.4 pH by the end of the century. A drop in pH of 0.1 might not seem like a lot, but the pH scale, like the Richter Scale for measuring earthquakes, is logarithmic. For example, pH 4.0 is ten times more acidic than pH 5.0 and 100 times more acidic than pH 6.0. If we continue at current rates, seawater pH by the end of the century may drop to 7.8 or 7.7, creating an ocean more acidic than any seen in the past 20 million years or more.
Our beautiful and fragile coral reefs are dying. Above-average sea temperatures are causing bleaching across 38 countries and are the result of human-induced global climate change, rather than from local pollution. One of the main issues is that warmer sea surface temperatures (SSTs) prohibit water, oxygen, and nutrients mixing down through the water column. In other words, warmer ocean temperatures exacerbate the problems of global warming.
Coral reefs cover only 0.2% of the ocean’s floor, yet are home to more than 25% of all marine fish species.
More than 450 million people live within 60 kilometers of coral reefs, the majority deriving income directly or indirectly from them.
Coral reefs can yield 15 tons of fish and other seafood per square kilometer each year. The total economic value of Indonesia’s reefs is estimated at USD $1.6 billion annually and the Philippine’s at USD $1.1 billion annually. But more than 80% of the world’s shallow reefs are severely over-fished.
The extent of coral reef loss near-shore in Florida Bay has declined by up to 87.5% and estimates to finer-scale loss in live coral cover exceeds 90% in some locations in recent decades. It is likely that 60% of the world’s coral reefs will be destroyed within the next 30 years.
93% of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has died as a result of coral bleaching. Beyond its beauty, the Great Barrier Reef generates USD $4.45 billion in tourism revenue annually and supports nearly 70,000 jobs.
Sea Level Rise
“Sea-level rise is one of the central facts of our time, as real as gravity,” Jeff Goodell writes in his excellent book about climate change The Water Will Come. “It will reshape our world in ways most of us can only dimly imagine.”
In Goodell’s book, he devotes three of its twelve chapters to Miami and Miami Beach. He tells of a cocktail hour after a conference on the Economic Impact of Sea Level Rise in Miami. Talking to a real estate broker about whether they should be required to disclose flood risks related to sea-level rise, “That would be idiotic,” she told him, gulping down a gin and tonic. “It would just kill the market.”
“The risks of sea level rise to coastal cities must be taken seriously… Our best, most current science predicts that ice cap melting and thermal expansion of seawater will produce a combined average rise of up to 6.6 feet by the beginning of the next century.”
There is enough water stored as ice to raise sea level 230 feet.
Oceans absorb about 90 percent of the increased heat from climate change. Ocean warming will be a significant component of sea level rise. Because warmer water expands in volume, about a third of the current rate of sea level rise is due to thermal expansion of the oceans.
The Earth has already warmed by more than 1 degree Celsius since pre-Industrial levels. Scientists estimate that if it warms by 4 to 5 degrees Celsius (7.2 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit), which is projected to happen by the end of the century if we don’t act on climate change, then all the ice will eventually melt. That’s 230 feet of sea level rise.
But, that is simply the total volume of ice melt displaced as water. Now, again, consider thermal expansion. The actual sea level rise could be much worse.
Ninety percent of the planet’s freshwater ice is locked up in Antarctica’s ice cap and nine percent in Greenland’s. Today, the ice sheet that’s inarguably melting fastest is Greenland. That giant block of ice, which has the potential to raise global sea levels by 23 feet if it melts in its entirety, is losing some 200 billion tons of ice each year. That rate has doubled from the 1900s to the 2000s.