We'll be locked into "extremely dangerous" climate change in 5 years if we continue as is

Invoking FDR: Where Is the Leadership on Climate Change?

Kelly Rigg's spells out climate crisis urgency. If we keep drifting along as we have been, in five years we'll be locked into extremely dangerous climate change. This includes (see the article's second diagram) 50% chance for collapse of Atlantic ocean circulation, one meter sea level rise by 2100, 60% risk the Greenland Ice Sheet will eventually collapse, 40 to 70% species extinction worldwide, and dieback of both Boreal forest and the Amazon rain forest.

According to the International Energy Agency, "without further action, by 2017 all CO2 emissions permitted in the 450 Scenario will be "locked-in" by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc." Bear in mind that the "450 scenario" -- whereby the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere stabilizes at 450 ppm -- only gives us a 50-50 chance of keeping temperature rise below 2°C. Also note that a 2°C target in itself is not exactly safe -- it's now being described as the threshold between 'dangerous' and 'extremely dangerous' climate change.

Maybe this is the sort of thing Woody Allen had in mind when he quipped, "More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly." [emphasis mine]


Tags: Climate Change, Climate Destabilization, locked in to disaster, mass extinction, ocean circulation collapse, sea level rise

Views: 215

Replies to This Discussion

Very serious problem with the climate.

What are some proposed changes to help fix this problem?

Electric cars? Maybe other sources of energy?

There already is a solution. Liquid biofuels can be made from algae in seawater. There are two problems with this: 1) It would take up a significant amount of seacost, which are in high demand for expensive seaside cottages.  2) It would compete with the oil industry.

The US Navy already has this technology developed, and they are using it somewhat.


It's a carbon-neutral source of fuel.

Cars are a major part of the problem, but there are many other sources of the problem. One is coal-fired plants. Those make electricity, which is one reason that electric cars by themselves are not "the answer".

The developing world is a major source for coal usage. They rightly tell the wealthier countries, the US, Japan, and western Europe, that they cannot "afford" to build other "cleaner" sources of energy. While the classically industrialized world puts in this elaborate system of emissions standards and carbon credits, it makes the whole thing disingenuous when we continue to buy products from the developing world - with their lower wages/living standards plus their very lax environmental standards. They pollute while producing this stuff, then it is transported thousands of miles by diesel-powered ships. What's the difference between buying things that were produced with lots of greenhouse gasses overseas or in our own countries? Globally: Nothing. There's just less soot in your neighbourhood.

Unfortunately, the changes greenhouse gasses bring to the atmosphere are global and (almost) irreversible - especially in our lifetimes. In fact, if humans just disappeared (somehow), and we stopped human production of greenhouse gasses, inertia would continue global warming for a few decades - to calamity.

Paradoxically coal pollution with a great deal of particulate matter has a global cooling effect, partly offsetting the effects of the greenhouse gasses.

Anyway, as this continues, and the Greenland ice sheet melts, it will raise the sea levels by 7 metres (22 ft). This will not only have dire effects on coastal cities, but on low-lying poor countries such as Bangladesh. I can see several scenarios that could happen with that, none very pretty.

As countries that are closer to the equator heat up and become not able to support their populations, people will move toward the poles. That will work for a short time, until the more northern, and to a lesser extent very southern, countries cannot take any more refugees. Desperate people will do anything. Wars over this are inevitable.

Even if we stop all of this now, it's pretty much inevitable that the earth get to 500 ppm CO2, which has devastating consequences for life on earth. If the earth's oceans stop circulating, the bottoms become anoxic - without oxygen, which has dire consequences beyond just heating up. The worst of these would be something called a Canfield Ocean.

Thanks for the link Beth KZ. This implies that a cessation of the Global Conveyor Belt and consequent development of a benthic anoxic layer would do far more than create a deep dead zone which produced hydrogen sulfide. Such a layer would extract molybdenum from the ocean and in time render it uninhabitable for eukaryotes. A planet 71% covered by a Canfield Ocean would be extremely difficult for human survival, given that we don't just depend of the oceans for food but also for most of our oxygen. The boreal forests and Amazon would already be compromised by the time this unfolded, so CO2 build up would escalate while oxygen production would be minimized. Our descendents would need oxygen concentrators just to walk on the surface.

The notion of what a lowered oxygen level would do is indeed an interesting one. It appears to be happening NOW, and it was predicted in about 1800. I wrote about it on my own blog, Cynics for a Better Tomorrow - Peak Oxygen, and I'll copy it here.

Note that in a world with mainly or completely Canfield Oceans, that the earth's atmosphere would be almost devoid of oxygen - below the 6% O2 that is the bare minimum for human survival. It was the Oxygen Catastrophe at the end of the Cambrian Period that ended all but a very few Canfield Oceans or lakes. The Black Sea is the only part of the ocean currently anoxic, and there are a couple of these anoxic lakes in Africa, and one in Canada, and perhaps a few more. One in Cameroun burst out of its banks, and suffocated the people in the village below. Humankind, and nearly all life on earth as we know it would be long-gone before there were many of these anoxic or "Canfield" waterbodies.

Peak Oxygen

Another problem that will likely begin causing major problems is oxygen depletion. This is caused by a number of man-made problems, including desertification, larger and larger “dead zones” in the oceans, cutting of old forest and rain forest for wood and/or to grow crops without nearly the oxygen-producing plant matter, our continuing to burn more and more fossil fuels and thus “oxygenating” their carbon. Along with the Carbon dioxide and Carbon monoxide increase comes lowered levels of oxygen in the atmosphere. The “dead zones” correspond with a severe decrease in the number of phytoplankton, which provide 40% of the earth’s atmospheric oxygen, measured at a decrease of 1% per year since 1950. Then you combine that with rainforest depletion which provides a significant portion of the rest… and you don’t have a
pretty picture.

According to The Oxygen Crisis

Compared to prehistoric times, the level of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere has declined by over a third and in polluted cities the decline may be more than 50%. This change in the makeup of the air we breathe has potentially serious implications for our health. Indeed, it could ultimately threaten the survival of human life on earth, according to Roddy Newman, who is drafting a new book, The Oxygen Crisis.

Professor Robert Berner of Yale University has researched oxygen levels in prehistoric times by chemically analysing air bubbles trapped in fossilised tree amber. He suggests that humans breathed a much more oxygen-rich air 10,000 years ago.

Oxygen levels are generally 21% of the earth’s atmosphere globally, although this number drops to 19% in many areas, and as low as 12% over major industrialized cities. (Professor Ervin Laszlo)

More people are using oxygen cannisters than ever before, because the oxygen levels in their environment are too low to adequately sustain them. Consider: How many people are you seeing in public carrying oxygen bottles as compared to how many you saw 30 years ago. It’s a LOT higher, even comparing the same groups (elderly, heart patients, lung patients, etc). Of course, more people are surviving diseases that they did not a few decades ago, but most of those “miraculous survivors” are not seen in public. No, your great grandma didn’t need oxygen when she died 30 years ago. Your grandma though has been using it for years. Even young people with health concerns, like recent pneumonia, are using oxygen!

Oxygen levels of under 6% in the atmosphere will not sustain life. As oxygen levels lower, there won’t even be much to concentrate for oxygen bottles. At least not for a few billion years until the sun reaches its “oxygen cycle”. :)

Depletion of oxygen has been created by humans, to get more stuff, faster and better (as they told me in my grade school propaganda film). It will reverse if humans stop…. stop clearcutting, stop desertification, stop producing dead zones in oceans. Other human-caused problems, including acid rain, exasperates these problems.

This is not a new problem. It has been accelerating since about 1800, the start of the Industrial Revolution . Baron Kelvin of Largs wrote a scholarly paper, On the End of Free Oxygen in 1901. The fundamentals of Lord Kelvin’s issues have not changed, but have greatly accelerated.

A question is can we stop all of this at the current population level? Peak oxygen appears to be long past.

Mass hypoxia, the ensuing confusion, then panic, and finally mass asphyxiation is one of the least appealing ways for humankind to go.

This article back up what you say about peak oxygen.

Climate change makes metabolism test invalid, scientists find

Scientists from the Department for Health have shown for the first time how climate change is having a major impact on tests to measure metabolism. The researchers found that changes in the atmosphere mean the metabolic assessment could be inaccurate by up to seven per cent. The assessment, known as 'indirect calorimetry' is the most widespread 'gold standard' method of metabolic assessment. It was developed over a 100 years ago based on assumptions about the amount of oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air we breathe.

The test is used by researchers and clinicians to determine resting metabolic rate which is the amount of energy required to maintain vital functions at rest. But now Dr James Betts and his team have found that an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere means the original assumptions are incorrect. Dr Betts said: "While the change in our atmosphere is, rightly, best known in terms of the impact it is having on our climate and the environment, it seems rising CO2 and, moreover, the lesser known fall in O2 have never been accounted for when considering how our bodies process the air we breathe." [emphasis mine]

Lord Kelvin seemed to assume a fixed amount of oxygen, while we examine cycles. Nevertheless, as you say, peak oxygen is long past.

While predictions of runaway greenhouse effect are on the minds of some climate activists, I find no quantitative models predicting how much fossil fuel will lock in a Canfield Ocean. Of course, predicting responses of populations of marine organisms is far more complex.

Obviously, Canfield Ocean conditions pose a credible human extinction risk. And this risk arises at lower temperatures than runaway greenhouse effect.

... an oxygen-free "Canfield ocean" (named after the scientist who discovered it), a condition similar to that which now exists in the Black Sea. Canfield oceans occur when global warming melts too much polar ice, releasing so much cold water that the normal ocean currents which circulate water from deep to shallow and keep the oceans oxygen-rich are disrupted. Once this happens, the oxygen-breathing fish and other sea creatures quickly consume all the oxygen left in the water and then suffocate. The remaining oxygen-free water can sustain only anaerobic purple bacteria which require no oxygen to live; by filling up the ocean, these bacteria would also turn the ocean purple.

Anaerobic purple bacteria in a Canfield ocean produce massive quantities of hydrogen sulphide gas, which then bubbles to the surface and poisons animals on land. Hydrogen sulphide also damages the ozone layer, exposing the remaining animals and plants to deadly levels of ultraviolet rays from the sun...

Thus global warming has caused mass extinctions on both land and sea which can only be described as apocalyptic.

How far away is this? We don't know exactly how much polar ice has to melt to create a Canfield ocean and another mass extinction, but we do know the following:


Using [current carbon dioxide emission] rates, which work out to about 120 parts per million per century, we might expect carbon dioxide levels to hit 500 to 600 parts per million by the year 2100. That would be the same carbon dioxide levels that were most recently present sometime in the past 40 million years -- or more relevant, it would be equivalent to times when there was little or no ice even at the poles. (Pages 164-5)

In other words, by the year 2100, within two or three generations, carbon dioxide levels will be high enough to virtually ensure another polar melt. This will likely set into motion a Canfield ocean and mass extinction which humanity may not survive. [emphasis mine]

Global warming and mass extinction of life on Earth

In other words, when we hit 500 to 600 ppm we may lock in the same conditions which kept land animals from recovering from the Permian extinction for 50 million years.

So why isn't Bill McKibben warning us about this risk?

Oops, typo. This Dead zone lasted 5 million years, not 50 million. The article didn't say the Dead Zone's ocean was a Canfield ocean, but at 40° C, which they said is too hot for photosynthesis, surely it would have stratified.

Tropical Collapse in Early Triassic Caused by Lethal Heat: Extreme ...

Kelly Rigg's article indicates we wouldn't be locked into 450 ppm until we've carried out business as usual for five more years. You think we're already locked in to 500 ppm, but the end result would be be the same soon enough. Obama's ludicrous 10% improvement for vehicle efficiency by 2025 shows how unlikely we'll reverse course in time.

S, Beth KZ, we're in substantial agreement about the serious risks of Climate Change.

I consider one more problem, when looking into the near future, which no one else seems to take seriously, the fragility of nuclear power plants. As sea levels rise and rivers heat and fluctuate, I anticipate that Fukushima will be followed by other melt downs around the globe within a decade. We came close last year with Fort Calhoun and Cooper Nuclear Station. As a government's resources are stretched thin by other Climate Destabilization emergencies and their refugees, its capacity to simultaneously cope with Nuclear Power Plant cooling, flooding and emergency power problems will dwindle. As of July there were 59,245 nuclear power plants.

At this stage of the game, I don't think that CO2 levels would stay under 500 ppm even if humans just vanished somehow. There's no possible mechanism by which that could just go "poof". Even a universally fatal pandemic would leave a lot of rotting corpses around - not just human ones, but of domestic animals that depend upon us.

We no longer "risk" climate change. It's here. It's happening. The question now is how much, how fast, and is there anything that can be done to slow it down or reverse it?
The answer is that we do not know. Probably, if we'd stop emitting greenhouse gasses, it would at least slow down.

For instance, these "bigger" or "supersized" hurricanes - category 1 or 2 hurricanes which are several hundred miles across - are becoming the "new normal". Hurricanes such as Isaac (or Ike a few years ago) were unheard of a decade ago.

I fear that the "tipping point" on this was reached sometime in the mid-late 1980s - like 1987 or so. Had we taken the problem seriously then, it probably could have been averted. Now, we're in damage control mode. Plus, inertia exists, so it will get worse before it gets better - baring something like a supervolcanic eruption such as caused "the little ice age".

There's something out there that slows down government effectiveness - called the "Data Quality Control Act" - which dictates, among other things, that money cannot be spent on natural phenomenon until they have been studied, are repeatable, and have been "peer reviewed" by the Data Quality Act (DQA) "Peer Review" board. This board have to be scientists who are experts in the field, who have nothing personal to gain no matter what. So, they cannot be working in the industry, or living in an effected area, yet they are required to know about it. (???) So, they can't convene such a board, and the issue becomes moot after some period of time. That's part of what is slowing down drought relief to the stricken counties in the country - the plurality of all counties in the US.

This whole thing is currently hampering the fighting of a fire in northwest Nebraska, near Chadron, NE. There are over 100 square miles of grassland and forest land on fire. After 2 days, the Forest Service has gotten the okay to use 2 of its firefighting helicopters in this. Meanwhile, the town of Chadron, NE, has fire in its city limits, and the only help they are getting is from volunteer fire departments from regional communities - and there are only a few of them.

The fact that this area has not had any grass/forest fires in over 30 years is part of what is providing the tinder for it. It's also what stands in the way of having "historic data" on the issue.

My main point here is that if the government cannot manage a forest/grass fire started by a lightening strike, they would have no chance in a more serious emergency! Observe the effectiveness on how they handled the emergency which was Hurricane Katrina! That was pathetic even by third-world standards!

Nuclear power is dangerous. We saw Chernobyl, we saw Three Mile Island. We've recently seen 4 plants in Japan. There are not a lot of options. Hydroelectric is used to capacity. Wind power is used extensively - and has its own problem of initial investment and the fact that it takes some farmland out of use. Natural gas  is not a real benefit over petroleum - it still creates CO2 (and possibly some CO). Biofuels are not really an option, both because it takes more BTUs in natural gas to "cook" the biofuels than the biofuels produce. Plus, US law that requires 40% of the corn crop to go to fuels is being criticized by the UN during a year of drought - and worldwide famine. As I said, algae is a real option. Correction: It WAS being used by the Navy, until they were ordered by Congress to stop doing that. It was started as an alternative to having the Navy dependent upon foreign oil.

We're going to have meltdowns (and worse) of nuclear plants. That's a certainty. We'll use them because that's what's available.

The solution is to use less energy. Riding your bike is going to have very little effect on it. It's going to be a major change in the way of life especially for the US, but will be a major change in the rest of the industrialized world. It'll be tragic for the "developing" world.

The use of fossil fuels enabled the world to go from about 1 billion people in 1800 to about 7 billion now - through enabling enough clean water, food, leisure time to develop such things as medical advances, full variety of foods available all year, transportation of both people and goods, communication over long distances instantaneously, and on and on. It's increased the lifespan from about 45 to about 80 (different in different countries) Loss of the fossil fuels will necessarily require a falling back to a (mostly) pre-industrial lifestyle.

The real question is will we do this in an orderly fashion or will we do it in a disorderly one? Proposals to do this in an orderly manner raise shrieks from the religious, as it interferes with "God's will". A disorderly manner would be unpleasant and hurtful to everyone and to the environment itself - possibly leading to extinction of humans as well as many other species.

The notion of having some magic bullet technological solution that will fix the whole issue of global warming is part of what is stopping anyone from doing what we can with the technology we do have. These possible future technologies are science fiction for now. We cannot bet our future on something that we don't have and don't see coming soon.

I find it difficult to believe that

...the "Data Quality Control Act" - which dictates, among other things, that money cannot be spent on natural phenomenon until they have been studied, are repeatable, and have been "peer reviewed" by the Data Quality Act (DQA) "Peer Review" board.

is used to justify delaying disaster response. To me this makes no sense at all, that the government can't distinguish data collection on slowly changing natural phenomena from emergency response. That's surreal. To refuse to deploy fire fighting helicopters because there's no historic data on the frequency of wildfires in that area, that's madness.

Beth KZ, you mention that

The use of fossil fuels ... increased the lifespan from about 45 to about 80 (different in different countries). Loss of the fossil fuels will necessarily require a falling back to a (mostly) pre-industrial lifestyle.

I assume you imply that loss of fossil fuels will require the lifespan to drop to abut 45 again. Granted that, at least in the short term, degradation from climate change will decrease lifespan. However, I optimistically envision a future where we collectively find the mental and social resources to limit our population to a sustainable level. Assuming that solar energy technology continues to make progress at 7% cheaper per decade, we could reduce the human footprint in time to avoid a catastrophic fall to preindustrial lifespans.

My optimism springs from a hope that we'll be able to make the leap to collective maturity on the back of quantum computing and a more inclusive global information network. Part of what holds us back, I think, is the human limit in seeing and discussing data patterns. With quantum computing applied to the massive data problem of "seeing" how we're changing our planet, perhaps enough people will "get it" from interactive displays that make the overwhelming scale and complexity simple enough for our primitive brains.

If we can study "heart rate and mean arterial blood pressure fractal dynamics in ... patients ... using a multifractal analysis technique" perhaps we'll be able to crunch the data of global change as well, presenting the results for everyone's intuitive grasp.

Top nuclear experts admit we don't have the technology to clean up Fukushima.

Top Nuclear Experts: Technology Doesn’t Yet Exist to Clean Up Fukus...

AP reports:

Hiroshi Tasaka, a nuclear engineer and professor at Tama University who advised the prime minister after the disaster …  said the government target of removing all the rods by the end of next year may prove too optimistic because of many unknowns, the need to develop new technology and the risk of aftershocks.

The world leader in decommissioning nuclear reactors, and one of the main contractors hired to clean up Fukushima – EnergySolutions – made a similar point in May:

Concerning the extraction of fuel debris [at Fukushima], which is considered the most challenging process, “There is no technology which may be directly applied,” said [top EnergySolutions executive] Morant.

A top American government nuclear expert – William D. Magwood – told the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works:

It is very difficult to overstate how difficult the work is going to be at that site. There will need to be new technologies and new methodologies created to be able to enable them to clean the site up and some of these technologies don’t exist yet, so there’s a long way to go with that …. There’s a long, long way to go.

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