Painfully slow hurricanes, deadly heat, and cities without water: What the climate crisis will look like in the next 10 years, according to experts

venice flood
A woman walks in a flooded street during a period of seasonal high water in Venice, Italy, November 11, 2012. The water level in the canal city rose to 149 cm (59 inches) above normal. 
REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri
  • In the last few years, we’ve seen record-breaking temperatures, intense hurricanes and wildfires, and unprecedented ice melt.
  • All of these are predicted consequences of climate change and are expected to get worse in the coming years.
  • Addressing this threat in the next 10 years is critical: Scientists say the world must slash its carbon emissions in half by 2030 to avoid catastrophic warming.
  • Here’s what we can expect in the next decade.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more.

We only have a decade to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

That’s the warning the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put out last year. But so far, nations are not slashing emissions enough to keep Earth’s temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — the threshold established in the Paris climate agreement.

“What we know is that unabated climate change will really transform our world into something that is unrecognizable,” Kelly Levin, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute’s climate program, told Business Insider.

That transformation has already begun. The last few years saw record-breaking temperatures, catastrophic and bizarre storms, and unprecedented ice melt. That’s all likely to get worse by 2030.

Here’s what we can expect in the next 10 years.

Scientists attribute the increasing frequency of record-breaking temperatures, unprecedented ice melt, and extreme weather shifts to greenhouse-gas emissions.

greenland ice melt
Ice melts during a heatwave in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland on August 1, 2019. 
Caspar Haarloev from “Into the Ice” documentary via Reuters

Fossil fuels like coal contain compounds like carbon dioxide and methane, which trap heat from the sun. Extracting and burning these fuels for energy releases those gases into the atmosphere, where they accumulate and heat up the Earth over time.

“As long as we burn fossil fuels and load the atmosphere with carbon pollution, it all gets worse,” climate scientist Michael Mann told Business Insider in an email.

Last year, the IPCC warned that we only have until 2030 to act in order to avoid the worst consequences of severe climate change.

IPCC climate change
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chair Hoesung Lee, center, speaks during a press conference in Incheon, South Korea, October 8, 2018. 
Ahn Young-joon/AP

According to the IPCC, the world’s carbon emissions have to fall by 45% by 2030 to keep the world’s average temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

So the next 10 years are crucial for any efforts to slow this trend.

If Earth warms more than 1.5 degrees, scientists think the world’s ecosystems could start to collapse.

arctic sea ice melting
The 2015 Arctic sea ice summertime minimum was 699,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average, shown here as a gold line in a visual representation of a NASA analysis. 
NASA via Reuters

“The choices that we make today are going to have profound impacts,” Levin said.

Even if nations stick to the goals they set under the Paris climate agreement, emissions will still likely be too high, according to the IPCC.

Reuters paris agreement
President Donald Trump departs after announcing his decision that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, in Washington D.C., June 1, 2017. 
Reuters

Under the voluntary goals set in the Paris agreement, the world would still emit the equivalent of 52 to 58 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030, according to the report. (This is measured as an “equivalent” in order to factor in other greenhouse gases, like methane, which is 84 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.)

So far, most countries are not on track anyway.

Regardless of what actions we take, there are a few changes scientists know we’ll see in the next 10 years.

greenland ice melt
Satellite image shows meltwater ponding on the surface of the ice sheet in northwest Greenland near the sheet’s edge on Monday, July 30, 2019. 
NASA via Associated Press

That’s because the world will keep getting warmer even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases immediately.

In the worst case scenario, we might even the 1.5-degree temperature-rise mark by 2030.

global warming temperature climate change 2014 to 2018
This map shows Earth’s average global temperature from 2014 to 2018, as compared to a baseline average from 1951 to 1980, according to a NASA analysis. Yellows, oranges, and reds show regions warmer than the baseline. 
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The globe’s ice caps will continue to melt, and crucial ice sheets like the one in Greenland might start down an irreversible path toward disappearing completely.

greenland ice melt
Ice melt formed gushing white water in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland on August 1, 2019. 
Caspar Haarloev from “Into the Ice” documentary via Reuters

“Somewhere between 1.5 and 2 degrees, there’s a tipping point after which it will no longer be possible to maintain the Greenland Ice Sheet,” Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, told Inside Climate News. “What we don’t have a handle on is how quickly the Greenland Ice Sheet will be lost.”

Greenland’s ice is already approaching that tipping point, according to a study published in May. Whereas the melting that happened during warm cycles used to get balanced out when new ice formed during cool cycles, warm periods now cause significant meltdown and cool periods simply pause it.

That makes it difficult for the ice sheet to regenerate what it’s losing.

That will lead to more sea-level rise — about 0.3 to 0.6 feet on average globally by 2030, according to the US’ National Climate Assessment.

venice flood sea level rise
People walk in the flooded street during a period of seasonal high water in Venice, Italy, November 15, 2019. This week saw the city’s worst flooding in 50 years. 
REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri

In addition to melting ice, rising ocean temperatures cause seas to rise because warm water takes up more volume. As the globe heats up, scientists expect that simple fact of physics to account for about 75% of future sea-level rise.

The risk of high-tide flooding (which happens in the absence of storms or severe weather) is rapidly increasing for communities on the US Gulf and East Coasts.

king tide flooding florida
A motorbike navigates through floodwater caused by a seasonal king tide, October 17, 2016, in Hollywood, Florida. 
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

In 2018, the US Northeast saw a median of one major sunny-day flood per year. By 2030, projections suggest the region will see a median of five such floods per year. By 2045, that number could grow to 25 floods.

The rising seawater won’t be distributed evenly across the globe.

new orleans climate change
A Climate Central plug-in for Google Earth shows how New Orleans could disappear underwater by 2100. 
Google Earth/Climate Central

Low-lying countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, and the Seychelles are especially vulnerable. Rising oceans have already begun to threaten cities like Miami, New Orleans, Venice, Jakarta, and Lagos.

Some areas could see sea levels up to 6 feet higher by the end of the century.

Extra warmth and water means hurricanes will become slower and stronger. In the next decade, we’re likely to see more cyclones like Hurricane Dorian, which sat over the Bahamas for nearly 24 hours.

hurricane dorian satellite 130pm mon
Hurricane Dorian ground to a halt over the island of Grand Bahama on September 2, 2019. 
NOAA GOES-East

That’s because hurricanes use warm water as fuel, so as Earth’s oceans and air heat up, tropical storms get stronger, wetter, and slower.

Over the past 70 years or so, the speed of hurricanes and tropical storms has slowed about 10% on average, according to a 2018 study.

When storms are slower, their forceful winds, heavy rain, and surging tides have much more time to cause destruction. In the Bahamas, Dorian leveled entire towns.

Hurricane Dorian
Aliana Alexis of Haiti stands on the concrete slab of what is left of her home after destruction from Hurricane Dorian on Great Abaco Island, Bahamas, September 5, 2019. 
Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

“The slower you go, that means more rain. That means more time that you’re going to have those winds. That’s a long period of time to have hurricane-force winds,” National Hurricane Center director Ken Graham said in a Facebook Live video as Dorian approached the Bahamas.

A study published earlier this month found that the frequency of the most damaging hurricanes has increased 330% century-over-century.

To make matters worse, a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture. The peak rain rates of storms have increased by 30% over the past 60 years.

hurricane harvey
People evacuated their Houston homes after the area was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. 
David J. Phillip/AP

That means up to 4 inches of water per hour. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was a prime example of this: After it made landfall, Harvey weakened to a tropical storm then stalled for days, dumping unprecedented amounts of rain on the Houston area. Scientist Tom Di Liberto described it as the “storm that refused to leave.”

Hurricanes are likely to intensify more rapidly as well.

Hurricane Dorian
A woman seeks cover from wind, blowing sand, and rain whipped up by Hurricane Dorian as she walks in Cocoa Beach, Florida, September 2, 2019. 
Scott Olson/Getty Images

“It’s pretty well understood that if the water is warmer and it’s causing more moist air to come up, you have the potential of a storm to grow quickly and intensely,” Brian Haus, a researcher who simulates hurricanes at the University of Miami, previously told Business Insider.

Overall, extreme weather is expected grow more common and intense.

Screaming heat skull of death
In June 2019, France faced its worst heat wave since 2003. The heat map looked like a screaming skull. 
Meteoceil

“Certain types of extreme events in the US have already become more frequent and intense and long-lasting,” Levin said. “There’s no reason to think that we’re not going to start to see an amplification of what we’ve been seeing.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that, overall, climate change will kill an additional 241,000 people per year by 2030.

Rio Grande drought
Sandbars fill the Rio Grande north of Albuquerque, New Mexico, after sparse rainfall in the US Southern Plains caused drought conditions to worsen, February 18, 2018. 
Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press

The WHO expects that heat-related illnesses will be a major culprit, killing up to 121,464 additional people by 2030.

In the coming years, experts expect to see “day zeros” — the term for the moment when a city’s taps run dry.

chennai india water day zero
Residents gather to fill empty containers with water from a municipal tanker in Chennai, India, as the city faces a “day zero” water crisis, June 25, 2019. 
P. Ravikumar/Reuters

In January 2018, Cape Town, South Africa, got dangerously close to this reality: The government announced the city was three months from day zero. Residents successfully limited their water use enough to make it to the next rainy season, however.

The IPCC projects severe reductions in water resources for 8% of the global population from 2021 to 2040.

Dry vegetation in hot regions lights up easily, which means more frequent, bigger wildfires.

Kincade Fire firefighter
Firefighter Joe Zurilgen passes a burning home as the Kincade Fire rages in Healdsburg, California, on October 27, 2019. 
Noah Berger / AP

“Climate change, with rising temperatures and shifts in precipitation patterns, is amplifying the risk of wildfires and prolonging the season,” the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in a July release.

2016 study found that climate change nearly doubled the amount of forest that burned in the western US between 1984 and 2015, adding over 10 billion additional acres of burned area. In California in particular, the annual area burned in summer wildfires increased fivefold from 1972 to 2018.

We’re also likely to see more wildfires in the Arctic, which is warming almost twice as fast as the global average. That means Arctic sea ice is also disappearing.

greenland wildfire
Satellites detected the infrared signal of a wildfire near Sisimiut, Greenland on July 10, 2019. 
Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory

Rapid warming means that crucial sea ice is melting, which accelerates warming even more.

“You take what was a reflective surface, the white ice, and you expose darker oceans underneath it,” Levin said. “That can lead to a much greater absorption of solar radiation, and knock-on warming impacts as well as change of weather patterns.”

The Amazon rainforest is in trouble as well, largely because farmers and loggers are cutting it down so rapidly.

Amazon fire
An aerial view of a tract of the Amazon jungle burning as it gets cleared by loggers and farmers, August 23, 2019. 
REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

A 2008 study projected that humans would clear away 31% of the Amazon by 2030. Another 24% would be damaged by drought or logging, the study found.

People have already cut down 20% of the Amazon. If another 20% disappears, that could trigger a feedback loop known as a “dieback,” in which the forest could dry out and become a savannah.

“The risk of transforming the Amazon to a savannah-like state — it could have a tremendous impact for our ability worldwide to get a handle on the climate-change problem,” Levin said.

amazon deforestation in brazil
A September 15, 2009 photo shows a deforested area of the Amazon rainforest near Novo Progresso in Brazil’s northern state of Para. 
AP Photo/Andre Penner

That’s because the Amazon stores up to 140 billion tons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of 14 decades’ worth of human emissions. Releasing that would accelerate global warming.

“You have a vital carbon sink no longer acting as a carbon sink, but instead acting as a carbon source,” Levin added.

Other crucial ecosystems face collapse in the next decade as well. At present rates, it’s expected that 60% of all coral reefs will be highly or critically threatened by 2030.

bleached coral
Bleached coral in Tahiti, French Polynesia, late-May 2019. 
Luiz Rocha, California Academy of Sciences

High ocean temperatures can cause coral to expel the algae living in its tissue and turn white, a process called coral bleaching.

It’s an increasingly dire problem, given that oceans absorb 93% of the extra heat that greenhouse gases trap in the atmosphere. Recent research revealed that the seas are heating up 40% faster, on average, than the prior estimate.

The consequences of coral bleaching extend beyond the coral itself, since reefs house 25% of all marine life and provide the equivalent of $375 billion in goods and services each year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

About 55% of the world’s oceans could suffer due to rising temperatures, acidification, decreasing oxygen, and other symptoms of climate change by 2030.

sea turtle coral reuters
A green turtle lies on a bed of corals off the Malaysian island of Sipadan in the Celebes Sea, December 7, 2008. 
David Loh/Reuters

These largely irreversible changes will eventually force mass migrations of marine life, upend ocean ecosystems, and threaten human livelihoods that depend on the ocean, according to a 2017 study. Many species that can’t adapt could die out.

“Climate impacts are also going to exacerbate social inequality,” Levin said.

California Drought Farm
A farm worker picks table grapes in Maricopa, California, United States, July 24, 2015, during the fourth year of a drought. 
REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

That’s because people with fewer resources will be less able to avoid the worst impacts.

“That National Climate Assessment shows that residents, for example, in rural communities who often have less capacity to adapt, are going to be especially hard-hit given their dependence on agriculture,” Levin explained.

She added: “You can think also of the scenario of the poor who live in cities who could be at greater exposure to heat stress if they lack air conditioning and heat waves increase in frequency and duration.”

 More: https://www.businessinsider.com/climate-change-in-the-next-decade-2019-11#climate-impacts-are-also-going-to-exacerbate-social-inequality-levin-said-24

Record high global debt of $250 trillion ‘could curb efforts to tackle climate risk,’ report warns

PHOTO: Euro, Hong Kong dollar, U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, pound and Chinese 100 yuan banknotes are seen in this picture illustration.Jason Lee/Reuters, FILE
WATCHNews headlines today: Nov. 15, 2019

The global debt ballooned to a record high of more than $250 trillion and shows no sign of slowing down, according to a new report from the Institute of International Finance (IIF), which warned that this massive debt could impact international efforts to mitigate climate change.

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Worldwide debt surged by $7.5 trillion in the first half of 2019, urging researchers to predict that the global debt would exceed $255 trillion by the end of the year.

“Extended low interest rates and easy money has facilitated the accumulation of a bone crushing amount of debt over the last decade or so,” Dylan Riddle, a spokesperson for the IIF told ABC News in a statement. “This debt has helped fuel global growth, however, we must focus on managing the current debt load, and deploying resources for more productive means — like fighting climate change or investing in growth.”

The bulk of the global debt — or more than 60% — is from the U.S. and China, the report released on Thursday found. Meanwhile, emerging markets debt also hit a new record high of $71.4 trillion.

PHOTO: Euro, Hong Kong dollar, U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, pound and Chinese 100 yuan banknotes are seen in this picture illustration.Jason Lee/Reuters, FILE
Euro, Hong Kong dollar, U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, pound and Chinese 100 yuan banknotes are seen in this picture illustration.

The biggest increase in global debt over the past decade has been driven by governments and the non-financial corporate sector, according to the report.

At the end of their report, the economists warned that “high debt burdens could curb efforts to tackle climate risk.”

“Global climate finance flows remain far short of what’s needed for an effective transition to a low-carbon economy,” the IIF reported.

Citing the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s estimation in 2010 that an average of $3.5 trillion is needed annually to prevent global temperatures from increasing 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, the report said that “public and private finance flows will have to be scaled up rapidly.”

“This is a growing source of concern for high-debt countries that also have high exposure to climate risk,” the report added, listing Japan, Singapore, Korea “and even the U.S.”

Hidden debt and other “poorly understood contingent liabilities” can create additional uncertainty, the report said, “and could leave some sovereigns struggling to source international and domestic capital — including to combat climate change.”

Climate Change Might Hit the Economy Harder and Faster Than Thought

  • Oxford Economics report reviews latest scientific data
  • Global warming may shave off up to 7.5% of global GDP by 2050

How Rising Temperatures Can Fry the Economy

The economic effects of global warming may arrive sooner and with a bigger impact than previously thought, according to Oxford Economics in a report that compares recent scientific research with the economic literature on the costs of climate change.

In the absence of efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the earth could warm by 2 degrees celsius by 2050, cutting global gross domestic product by 2.5% to 7.5%, Oxford estimates, with the worst affected countries being in Africa and Asia. Longer term, a rise in temperatures of 4 degrees by 2100 could cut output by as much as 30%.

Economist James Nixon partly based his analysis on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. Older studies tended to predict the effects of even 4 or 5 degree of warming at no more than a few percent of global GDP and becoming significant only in the second half of the century, Nixon said, yet latest scientific findings show profound climate alterations already happening, including drought, flooding and extreme weather that affect economic activity.

Fighting Climate Change Will Help Economic Growth, Study Finds

“While over a 10-year horizon the costs seem unlikely to be significant enough to affect our forecasts, the window of indiscernibility looks to be closing rapidly,” Nixon said in the report. The effects are “big enough to be considered in our short-term economic forecasts for the first half of this century.”

Global greenhouse-gas pollution has risen for a second year, ending a lull in emissions and putting the world on track for further increases through 2040 unless governments take radical action.

Natural Solutions to Climate Change

We’re starting a new campaign to fight climate change the natural way

Audubon’s new report, Survival by Degrees, offers a jarring look at the impacts of climate change on the birds we love. In Washington state, over half of bird species will be vulnerable to extinction by the end of the century if we continue down our current path. But the most important takeaway from our latest report isn’t that birds are facing a crisis – it’s that we have the power in our hands to protect birds and people from the worst impacts of a changing climate.

By taking action – personally and politically – we can hold our planet’s increasing thermostat to 1.5 degrees Celsius. By doing so, we’ll protect 76% of bird species in North America. That’s a pretty big deal.

Combating climate change can seem like a daunting challenge, and it is, but we have the solutions we need to move the needle and make a difference, for birds and people. We know how to not only reduce emissions, but also how to leverage nature’s ability to sequester carbon, while also supporting healthy rural landscapes and economies.

Thanks in part to Audubon’s advocacy, Washington state is already on its way to 100% clean electricity and we’re continuing our efforts to ratchet down our state’s transportation emissions. We’re excited to continue this work, but starting in 2020, we’re also turning our attention to what’s called natural climate solutions, policies that protect and enhance Washington’s farms, fields, forests, and coastal habitat in order to sequester carbon emissions.

Our goal is to do what the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says is necessary: reach net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century. And here’s some good news: when we adopt policies that protect the birds of tomorrow by sequestering more carbon emissions, we also protect the habitat that birds need today.

We’re still working out the precise details of a policy that would set strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions and incorporate natural climate solutions into our state’s targets. For now though, Audubon Washington is working with stakeholders to refine and support legislation that would set up a “sustainable farm and fields” program. This program serves as an example of how our state can help support farmers and landowners who want to do what’s necessary to combat climate change, but just need a bit of support to make it happen.

Together, we’ve already achieved so much, setting an example of bold, aggressive climate action for other states and the federal government. But we can’t afford to slow down. Survival by Degrees shows us that there’s still time to act, but we must act quickly and aggressively, leveraging every solution we have to protect birds and people from our changing climate.

Join us in embracing natural solutions to climate change and we’ll help you understand how you can mobilize your community around natural solutions to climate change that will protect birds, now and into the future.

The climate chain reaction that threatens the heart of the Pacific

SHIRETOKO PENINSULA, Japan — Lined up along the side of their boat, the fishermen hauled a huge, heavy net up from swelling waves. At first, a few small jellyfish emerged, then a piece of plastic. Then net, and more net. Finally, all the way at the bottom: a small thrashing mass of silvery salmon.

It was just after dawn at the height of the autumn fishing season, but something was wrong.

“When are the fish coming?” boat captain Teruhiko Miura asked himself.

Teruhiko Miura, 53, captain of the Hokushin Maru, at a port in the town of Shari in Hokkaido, Japan.

The salmon catch is collapsing off Japan’s northern coast, plummeting by about 70 percent in the past 15 years. The disappearance of the fish coincides with another striking development: the loss of a unique blanket of sea ice that dips far below the Arctic to reach this shore.

Click any temperature underlined in the story to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit

The twin impacts — less ice, fewer salmon — are the products of rapid warming in the Sea of Okhotsk, wedged between Siberia and Japan. The area has warmed in some places by as much as 3 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times, making it one of the fastest-warming spots in the world, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the nonprofit organization Berkeley Earth.

Five-year average of temperature change compared with late 1800s

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1.5

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HOKKAIDOHOKKAIDOOymyakonOymyakon(Cold Pole)(Cold Pole)Sea of OkhotskSea of Okhotsk
Source: Berkeley Earth

That increase far outstrips the global average and exceeds the limit policymakers set in Paris in 2015 when they aimed to keep Earth’s average temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.

The rising temperatures are starting to shut down the single most dynamic sea ice factory on Earth. The intensity of ice generation in the northwestern Sea of Okhotsk exceeds that of any single place in the Arctic Ocean or Antarctica, and the sea ice reaches a lower latitude than anywhere else on the planet. Its decline has a cascade of consequences well beyond Japan as climate dominoes begin to fall.

When sea ice forms here, it expels huge amounts of salt into the frigid water below the surface, creating some of the densest ocean water on Earth. That water then sinks and travels east, carrying oxygen, iron and other key nutrients out into the northern Pacific Ocean, where marine life depends on it.

As the ice retreats, that nutrient-rich current is weakening, endangering the biological health of the vast northern Pacific — one of the most startling, and least discussed, effects of climate change so far observed.

“We call the Sea of Okhotsk the heart of the North Pacific,” said Kay Ohshima, a polar oceanographer at the Institute of Low Temperature Science at Hokkaido University. “But the Sea of Okhotsk is significantly warming, three times faster than the global mean.

“That causes the power of the heart to weaken,” he said.

The Sea of Okhotsk and Japan, seen from a highway on Russia’s Kunashir Island in March. (Elena Anosova/For The Washington Post)

Cascade of climate change

The cascade starts more than a thousand miles away in a uniquely frigid area of Siberia known as the “Cold Pole,” where the coldest temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere (-67.7 degrees Celsius) was measured in 1933.

The Cold Pole, too, is warming rapidly, by about 2.7 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times in the village of Oymyakon. That means the bitter north wind that blows down onto the Sea of Okhotsk is also warming.

The warmer wind inhibits the formation of sea ice. Across the Sea of Okhotsk, ice cover during the peak months of February and March has shrunk by nearly 30 percent in the past four decades, a vanishing of about 130,000 square miles of ice, an area larger than Arizona.

A region within the Sea of Okhotsk has experienced warming nearly three times the global average
18801900195019802018-20244ºF above 1880-1899average-10123ºC above 1880-1899average1.2ºC3.0ºCAnnual average for the regionFive-year rolling average
Source: Berkeley Earth

Masanori Ito, 67, recalls how, during his childhood, the ice would drift down from the sea’s northern reaches — a thick, white carpet descending on Abashiri, a city on the northeastern shore of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture.

“The drift ice used to arrive with a force, pushed and pushed from behind, from far out at sea,” said Ito, senior executive director at the Okhotsk Sightseeing Federation. It would pile up upon itself, forming “mountains over 10 meters high.”

Today, those mountains are long gone, and the coast of Hokkaido is hemmed in by ice for fewer than 25 days a year on average, said Arctic scientist Shuhei Takahashi, who runs the Okhotsk Sea Ice Museum of Hokkaido in Mombetsu.

A century ago, the coast typically had ice for more than 50 days each winter, Takahashi said. Based on current trends, he said, the drift ice could disappear entirely by the end of this century.

Children play what was called “Drift Ice Riding Play” or “Ryu-hyo Nori Asobi” at the Abashiri Port in the mid-1950s. (Courtesy of Keiichi Kikuchi)

Meanwhile, the ice itself is also changing. Those who know it well say it sounds different, less intense, no longer an indomitable winter colossus.

“Years ago, our nose hair froze and stuck out. And our eyelashes would get moist and go all white,” said Shigeru Yamai, 66, captain of the icebreaker Garinko II. “When we walked on the ice, we heard squeaking sounds. The sound today is different. It hardly gets that severe anymore.”

Salmon culture in peril

For fisherman Nobuo Sugimura, 63, the changing climate is evident in his steadily diminishing catch. At home after a fishing trip on Miura’s vessel the Hokushin Maru, Sugimura brought out his logbooks and diaries, pulling records for his most recent catch in late September and for the same period seven years ago.

In 2012, Sugimura’s records show he and fellow crew members brought in between 21 and 52 metric tons of fish per day. This year, the catch one day was a meager six tons.

“We had a bad time 30 or 40 years ago, and this reminds me of that,” he said. “But that only lasted a year or two, not this long.”

Fishermen on the Hokushin Maru haul salmon from the Sea of Okhotsk near the town of Utoro in Hokkaido, Japan.

Fisherman Nobuo Sugimura, 63, takes a break as the crew of the Hokushin Maru heads back to shore.

The crew of the Hokushin Maru ices its catch near Utoro.

In the nation that invented sushi, there is no region better known for its seafood than Hokkaido. And there is no fish more synonymous with Hokkaido, more central to its culture, than the salmon.

The relationship stretches back as long as humans have lived here. The indigenous Ainu people had 133 words for salmon and used its skin to make boots. The fish and its orange roe are critical ingredients in Hokkaido’s famous seafood sashimi rice bowl, savored by foodie tourists across this gourmet nation. The image of a bear clamping a salmon between its powerful jaws is an iconic symbol of Hokkaido, reproduced on T-shirts and in wood carvings on sale in almost every souvenir shop.

Though Hokkaido’s salmon hatcheries are working harder than ever, releasing a billion juvenile fish into the island’s rivers every spring, the number of returning chum salmon has declined sharply, from 68 million fish in 2003 to just 28 million in 2018. Nationwide, Japan’s annual chum salmon catch has also fallen from 258,000 metric tons in 2003, when a sharp decline began, to 80,000 last year, according to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission.

Salmon are highly sensitive to changes in water temperature. As they swim into the Sea of Okhotsk at the start of their long migration across the Pacific, the warmer waters act as a force field, pushing them off their ancient track.

Compelled to travel faster and farther to reach cooler northern waters, the young salmon use up stores of energy when they can least afford it. If they delay their departure date, they won’t survive at all.

The crew of the Hokushin Maru unloads its haul in Utoro.

Masahide Kaeriyama, an emeritus professor in the Arctic Research Center at Hokkaido University, said Japanese salmon migrate up what he calls a “ladder” of suitable temperatures. For more than a decade, he has been predicting that climate change would cut Hokkaido’s salmon catch in half. Now, he says global warming is happening even faster than he expected.

“As the optimal temperature moves away from Hokkaido, the ladder of migration is being taken away,” he said.

Japan’s loss has been Russia’s gain. Waters near the Siberian coast — once too cold for salmon — are now in the optimum range for the fish. Even as Japan’s catch began to decline in 2003, Russia’s chum salmon quadrupled to a record high of nearly 144,000 metric tons in 2015. The same phenomenon is happening around the world, as warmer waters cause key species to seek cooler habitats closer to the poles. The lobster population off the Northeast coast in the United States is seeing a similar disruption.

If the Hokkaido salmon survive the first leg of their journey, they move into the Bering Sea, and then on to the Gulf of Alaska for their second winter. By the age of 4 or 5, they return to Japan, to the very same river where they hatched.

The smaller number of returning fish is keenly felt on Hokkaido’s Shiretoko Peninsula, home to the largest concentration of brown bears in the world. Each fall, as the salmon amass offshore, the bears are waiting, splashing in the streams at the mouth of every river. Here, the iconic image of a bear catching a salmon comes to life.

People fish by the Onnebetsu River and the Sea of Okhotsk in late September.

An Ussuri brown bear snaps up a salmon with her cub on the shore near Rausu, Japan, in Hokkaido.

Sika deer wander near the Rusha River in Shiretoko National Park, Hokkaido.

Salmon nourish the bears, and the bears’ leftovers discarded in the forest nourish birds, insects and plants, creating “one of the richest integrated ecosystems in the world,” according to UNESCO, the educational, scientific and cultural agency of the United Nations.

UNESCO made Shiretoko National Park a World Heritage Site in 2005. But as the drift ice recedes and the salmon catch shrinks, UNESCO worries that the park’s unique ecosystem will be irrevocably damaged.

“Japanese people see salmon as a source of food,” Kaeriyama said. “But salmon is, in fact, the very foundation of the ecosystem where we live.”

An Ussuri brown bear near Rusha River in Shiretoko National Park in Hokkaido.

The heart of the Pacific

The link between sea ice and prosperity is not lost on the towns and cities of northern Hokkaido and the Shiretoko Peninsula, where the ice drives a vital tourism industry.

In the spring, as the ice melts and sunlight hits the water, the sea blooms with phytoplankton, the anchor of marine life and the base of the ocean’s food web.

That makes the Sea of Okhotsk a spectacularly bountiful stretch of water, home to whales and dolphins, sea lions and seals, scallop and crabs, and hundreds of species of fish. Its shores provide homes to many migratory and sea birds, from the largest owl in the world — the endangered Blakiston’s fish owl — to the heavy Steller’s sea eagle.

In Abashiri alone, about 110,000 people, nearly half of them foreigners, took sightseeing cruises last year across the vast expanse of sea ice. On the eastern side of the peninsula, tourist boats set out from the town of Rausu every winter to gaze at eagles perched on the ice and seals bobbing through it, and in the spring, summer and fall to watch humpback, sperm and killer whales splash through the waves.

Tourists descend to visit an ice exhibit at the Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum in the city of Abashiri in Hokkaido.

Tourists make their way through an ice exhibit at the Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum in Abashiri.

Sea creatures are preserved at the Okhotsk Sea Ice Museum of Hokkaido in Mombetsu, Japan.

Meanwhile, key nutrients, especially iron, flow into the Sea of Okhotsk from Russia’s Amur River. Undersea currents carry those nutrients into the North Pacific, forming an intermediate layer of water roughly 600 to 2,600 feet below the surface. Eventually, the water rises back up, bringing the iron that is vital for phytoplankton with it.

The Okhotsk sea ice decline jeopardizes that giant convection current. Ohshima, his fellow scientists from Hokkaido University and other institutions in Japan have documented a marked warming in the North Pacific’s intermediate layer, much more rapid than the general warming of the ocean — a sign that less cold, dense water is being formed in the Sea of Okhotsk.

Scientists have also documented growing zones in the North Pacific, at depths of about 1,300 and 2,300 feet, where ocean oxygen levels are in fast decline.

In other words, the “heart of the Pacific” is indeed weakening. The scientists don’t know all of the consequences yet, but they’re worried because of the irreplaceable contribution of the Sea of Okhotsk to a much larger region.

‘Until you feel it on your skin’

Back on Hokkaido, the falling salmon catch is triggering cascading economic impacts.

Last year, salmon processors paid high prices for dwindling supplies of Japanese chum salmon, only to find that consumers weren’t prepared to pay more. Japanese salmon was soon displaced by cheaper imports from places such as Norway, Chile, Russia and Alaska.

Tetsuya Shinya, head of the Abashiri Fisheries Cooperative, said he is reluctantly considering something once unthinkable: raising salmon on fish farms.

“It’s still not the right time to do it,” he said. “Even so, I feel we are getting into a pretty tough time.”

Fishermen unload salmon in September at a port in Utoro, Japan, on the Shiretoko Peninsula.

Buyers gather at a salmon auction Sept. 30 at the Abashiri Fisheries Cooperative in Hokkaido.

Tetsuya Shinya, the head of the Abashiri Fisheries Cooperative, in Hokkaido.

Wild salmon tend to be hardier and more resistant to changing temperatures than salmon reared in the more-controlled environment of a hatchery. One solution is a campaign to reduce Hokkaido’s dependence on salmon hatcheries by encouraging more wild salmon to return to the island’s rivers.

Scientists and volunteers are clearing rivers along the Shiretoko Peninsula, where anything from silt to concrete dams can prevent wild salmon from returning to spawn.

Among the volunteers is Yuto Sugimura, 32, the son of the fisherman whose records document the salmon’s startling decline.

Yuto said he never used to think much about climate change beyond what he saw on the news. But as he dove into the sea in September to set salmon nets, he didn’t need any records to tell him the temperature is rising.

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“I’ve been going under the water for 15 years, but these days it feels quite lukewarm,” he said.

“Until you feel it on your skin or experience it in reality, you don’t talk about it,” Yuto said of climate change.

“Today, with the changes in the water, I am beginning to feel it on my skin, and I am beginning to think about it.”

Kunashir Island across the sea from the Japanese town of Rausu in Hokkaido. The island is controlled by Russia but claimed by Japan.

Akiko Kashiwagi contributed to this story.

The Trump Administration’s Biggest Climate Lies

An aggressive disinformation campaign is borrowing from Big Tobacco’s playbook. Here’s what they’re feeding lawmakers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.

Scientists have been seriously investigating the subject of human-made climate change since the late 1950s and political leaders have been discussing it for nearly as long. In 1961, Alvin Weinberg, the director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, called carbon dioxide one of the “big problems” of the world “on whose solution the entire future of the human race depends.” Fast-forward nearly 30 years and, in 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), promising “concrete action to protect the planet.”

Today, with Puerto Rico still recovering from Hurricane Maria and fires burning across California, we know that did not happen. Despite hundreds of scientific reports and assessments, tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers, and countless conferences on the issue, man-made climate change is now a living crisis on this planet. Universities, foundations, churches, and individuals have indeed divested from fossil-fuel companies and, led by a 16-year-old Swedish girl, citizens across the globe have taken to the streets to express their outrage. Children have refused to go to school on Fridays to protest the potential loss of their future. And if you need a measure of how long some of us have been at this, in December, the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC will meet for the 25th time.

Scientists working on the issue have often told me that, once upon a time, they assumed, if they did their jobs, politicians would act upon the information. That, of course, hasn’t happened. Anything but, across much of the planet. Worse yet, science failed to have the necessary impact in significant part because of disinformation promoted by the major fossil-fuel companies, which have succeeded in diverting attention from climate change and successfully blocking meaningful action.

MAKING CLIMATE CHANGE GO AWAY

Much focus has been put on ExxonMobil’s history of disseminating disinformation, partly because of the documented discrepancies between what that company said in public about climate change and what its officials said (and funded) in private. Recently, a trial began in New York City accusing the company of misleading its investors, while Massachusetts is prosecuting ExxonMobil for misleading consumers as well.

If only it had just been that one company, but for more than 30 years, the fossil-fuel industry and its allies have denied the truth about anthropogenic global warming. They have systematically misled the American people and so purposely contributed to endless delays in dealing with the issue by, among other things, discounting and disparaging climate science, mispresenting scientific findings, and attempting to discredit climate scientists. These activities are documented in great detail in How Americans Were Deliberately Misled about Climate Change, a report I recently co-authored,as well as in my 2010 book and 2014 filmMerchants of Doubt.

A key aspect of the fossil-fuel industry’s disinformation campaign was the mobilization of “third-party allies”: organizations and groups with which it would collaborate and that, in some cases, it would be responsible for creating.

In the 1990s, these allied outfits included the Global Climate Coalition, the Cooler Heads Coalition, Informed Citizens for the Environment, and the Greening Earth Society. Like ExxonMobil, such groups endlessly promoted a public message of denial and doubt: that we weren’t really sure if climate change was happening; that the science wasn’t settled; that humanity could, in any case, readily adapt at a later date to any changes that did occur; and that addressing climate change directly would wreck the American economy. Two of these groups—Informed Citizens for the Environment and the Greening Earth Society—were, in fact, AstroTurf organizations, created and funded by a coal industry trade association but dressed up to look like grass-roots citizens’ action organizations.

Similar messaging was pursued by a network of think tanks promoting free market solutions to social problems, many with ties to the fossil-fuel industry. These included the George C. Marshall Institute, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heartland Institute. Often their politically motivated contrarian claims were presented in formats that make them look like the scientific reports whose findings they were contradicting.

In 2009, for instance, the Cato Institute issued a report that precisely mimicked the format, layout, and structure of the government’s US National Climate Assessment. Of course, it made claims thoroughly at odds with the actual report’s science. The industry also promoted disinformation through its trade associations, including the American Legislative Exchange Council, the American Petroleum Institute, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Both think tanks and trade organizations have been involved in personal attacks on the reputations of scientists. One of the earliest documented was on climate scientist Benjamin Santer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who showed that the observed increase in global temperatures could not be attributed to increased solar radiation. He served as the lead author of the Second Assessment Report of the UN’s prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, responsible for the 1995 conclusion that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human impact on the climate system.” Santer became the target of a vicious, arguably defamatory attack by physicists from the George C. Marshall Institute and the Global Climate Coalition, who accused him of fraud. Other climate scientists, including Michael Mann, Jonathan Overpeck, Malcolm Hughes, Ray Bradley, Katharine Hayhoe, Kevin Trenberth, and, I should note, myself, have been subject to harassment, investigation, hacked emails, and politically motivated freedom-of-information attacks.

When it came to industry disinformation, the role of third-party allies was on full display at the House Committee on Oversight hearings on climate change in late October. As their sole witness, the Republicans on that committee invited Mandy Gunasekera, the founder and president of Energy45, a group whose purpose, in its own words, is to “support the Trump energy agenda.”

Energy45 is part of a group known, bluntly enough, as the CO2Coalition and is a perfect example of what I’ve long thought of as zombie denialism in which older players spouting industry arguments suddenly reappear in new forms. In this case, in the 1990s and early 2000s, the George C. Marshall Institute was a leader in climate-change disinformation. From 1974-1999, its director, William O’Keefe, had also been the executive vice president and later CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. The Marshall Institute itself closed in 2015, only to re-emerge a few years later as the CO2Coalition.

1) The misleading claim that climate change will be “mild and manageable.”There is no scientific evidence to support this. On the contrary, literally hundreds of scientific reports over the past few decades, including those US National Climate Assessments, have affirmed that any warming above 2 degrees Centigrade will lead to grave and perhaps catastrophic effects on “health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth.” The UN’s IPCC has recently noted that avoiding the worst impacts of global warming will “require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy…infrastructure…and industrial systems.”

Recent events surrounding Hurricanes Sandy, Michael, Harvey, Maria, and Dorian, as well as the devastating wildfire at the ironically named town of Paradise, California, in 2018 and the fires across much of that state this fall, have shown that the impacts of climate change are already part of our lives and becoming unmanageable. Or if you want another sign of where this country is at this moment, consider a new report from the Army War College indicating that “the Department of Defense (DoD) is precariously unprepared for the national security implications of climate change-induced global security challenges.” And if the Pentagon isn’t prepared to manage climate change, it’s hard to imagine any part of the US government that might be.

2) The misleading claim that global prosperity is actually being driven by fossil fuels. No one denies that fossil fuels drove the Industrial Revolution and, in doing so, contributed substantively to rising living standards for hundreds of millions of people in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia. But the claim that fossil fuels are the essence of global prosperity today is, at best, a half-truth because what is at stake here isn’t the past but the future. Disruptive climate change fueled by greenhouse gas emissions from the use of oil, coal, and natural gas now threatens both the prosperity that parts of this planet have already achieved and future economic growth of just about any sort. Nicholas Stern, the former chief economist of the World Bank and one of the foremost experts on the economics of climate change, has put our situation succinctly this way: “High carbon growth self-destructs.”

3) A misleading claim that fossil fuels represent “cheap energy.” Fossil fuels are not cheap. When their external costs are included—that is, not just the price of extracting, distributing, and profiting from them, but what it will cost in all our lives once you add in the fires, extreme storms, flooding, health effects, and everything else that their carbon emissions into the atmosphere will bring about—they couldn’t be more expensive. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the cost to consumers above and beyond what we pay at the pump or in our electricity bills already comes to more than $5 trillion dollars annually. That’s trillion, not billion. Put another way, we are all paying a massive, largely unnoticed subsidy to the oil, gas, and coal industry to destroy our civilization. Among other things, those subsidies already “damage the environment, caus[e]… premature deaths through local air pollution, [and] exacerbat[e] congestion and other adverse side effects of vehicle use.”

4) A misleading claim about poverty and fossil fuels.That fossil fuels are the solution to the energy needs of the world’s poor is a tale being heavily promoted by ExxonMobil, among others. The idea that ExxonMobil is suddenly concerned about the plight of the global poor is, of course, laughable or its executives wouldn’t be planning (as they are) for significant increases in fossil-fuel production between now and 2030, while downplaying the threat of climate change. As Pope Francis, global justice leader Mary Robinson, and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon—as well as countless scientists and advocates of poverty reduction and global justice—have repeatedly emphasized, climate change will, above all, hurt the poor. It is they who will first be uprooted from their homes (and homelands); it is they who will be migrating into an increasingly hostile and walled-in world; it is they who will truly feel the heat, literal and figurative, of it all. A fossil-fuel company that cared about the poor would obviously not be committed, above all else, to pursuing a business model based on oil and gas exploration and development. The cynicism of this argument is truly astonishing.

Moreover, while it’s true that the poor need affordable energy, it is not true that they need fossil fuels.More than a billion people worldwide lack access (or, at least, reliable access) to electricity, but many of them also lack access to an electricity grid, which means fossil fuels are of little use to them. For such communities, solar and wind power are the only reasonable ways to go, the only ones that could rapidly and affordably be put in place and made available.

5) Misleading assertions about the costs of renewable energy. The cheap fossil fuel narrative is regularly coupled with misleading assertions about the allegedly high costs of renewable energy. According to Bloomberg News, however, in two-thirds of the world, solar is already the cheapest form of newly installed electricity generation, cheaper than nuclear, natural gas, or coal. Improvements in energy storage are needed to maximize the penetration of renewables, particularly in developed countries, but such improvements are happening quickly. Between 2010 and 2017, the price of battery storage decreased a startling 79 percent and most experts believe that, in the near future, many of the storage problems can and will be solved.

6) The false claim that, under President Trump, the United States has actually cut greenhouse gas emissions. Republicans have claimed not only that such emissions have fallen but that the United States under President Trump has done more to reduce emissions than any other country on the planet. One environmental reporter, who has described herself as “accustomed to hearing a lot of misinformation” about climate change, characterized this statement as “brazenly false.” In fact, US CO2 emissions spiked in 2018, increasing by 3.1 percent over 2017. Methane emissions are also on the rise and President Trump’s proposal to rollback methane standards will ensure that unhappy trend continues.

SCIENCE ISN’T ENOUGH

And by the way, when it comes to the oil companies, that’s just to start down a far longer list of misinformation and false claims they’ve been peddling for years. In our 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt, Erik Conway and I showed that the strategies and tactics used by Big Energy to deny the harm of fossil-fuel use were, in many cases, remarkably similar to those long used by the tobacco industry to deny the harm of tobacco use—and this was no coincidence. Many of the same PR firms, advertising agencies, and institutions were involved in both cases.

The tobacco industry was finally prosecuted by the Department of Justice, in part because of the ways in which the individual companies coordinated with each other and with third-party allies to present false information to consumers. Through congressional hearings and legal discovery, the industry was pegged with a wide range of activities it funded to mislead the American people. Something similar has occurred with Big Energy and the harm fossil fuels are doing to our lives, our civilization, our planet.

Still, a crucial question about the fossil-fuel industry remains to be fully explored: Which of its companies have funded the activities of the trade organizations and other third-party allies who deny the facts about climate change? In some cases, we already know the answers. In 2006, for instance, the Royal Society of the United Kingdo0m documented ExxonMobil’s funding of 39 organizations that promoted “inaccurate and misleading” views of climate science. The Society was able to identify $2.9 million spent to that end by that company in the year 2005 alone. That, of course, was just one year and clearly anything but the whole story.

Nearly all of these third-party allies are incorporated as 501(c)(3) institutions, which means they must be non-profit and nonpartisan. Often they claim to be involved in education (though miseducation would be the more accurate term). But they are clearly also involved in supporting an industry—Big Energy—that couldn’t be more for-profit and they have done many things to support what could only be called a partisan political agenda as well. After all, by its own admission, Energy45, to take just one example, exists to support the “Trump Energy Agenda.”

I’m an educator, not a lawyer, but as one I can say with confidence that the activities of these organizations are the opposite of educational. Typically, the Heartland Institute, for instance, has explicitly targeted schoolteachers with disinformation. In 2017, the institute sent a booklet to more than 200,000 of them, repeating the oft-cited contrarian claims that climate science is still a highly unsettled subject and that, even if climate change were occurring, it “would probably not be harmful.” Of this booklet, the director of the National Center for Science Education said, “It’s not science, but it’s dressed up to look like science. It’s clearly intended to confuse teachers.” The National Science Teaching Association has called it “propaganda” and advised teachers to place their copies in the recycling bin.

Yet, as much as we know about the activities of Heartland and other third-party allies of the fossil-fuel industry, because of loopholes in our laws we still lack basic information about who has funded and sustained them. Much of the funding at the moment still qualifies as “dark money.” Isn’t it time for citizens to demand that Congress investigate this network, as it and the Department of Justice once investigated the tobacco industry and its networks?

ExxonMobil loves to accuse me of being “an activist.” I am, in fact, a teacher and a scholar. Most of the time, I’d rather be home working on my next book, but that increasingly seems like less of an option when Big Energy’s climate-change scam is ongoing and our civilization is, quite literally, at stake. When citizens are inactive, democracy fails—and this time, if democracy fails, as burning California shows, so much else could fail as well. Science isn’t enough. The rest of us are needed. And we are needed now.

Luxurious living has made us a self-endangering species

PNAS first published November 7, 2019.
Tony E. Wong

The emission of greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere is a by-product of modern marvels such as the production of vast amounts of energy, heating and cooling inhospitable environments to be amenable to human existence, and traveling great distances faster than our saddle-sore ancestors ever dreamed possible. However, these luxuries come at a price: climate changes in the form of severe droughts, extreme precipitation and temperatures, increased frequency of flooding in coastal cities, global warming, and sea-level rise (1, 2). Rising seas pose a severe risk to coastal areas across the globe, with billions of US dollars in assets at risk and about 10% of the world’s population living within 10 m of sea level (3⇓–5). The price of our emissions is not felt immediately throughout the entire climate system, however, because processes such as ice sheet melt and the expansion of warming ocean water act over the course of centuries. Thus, even if all greenhouse gas emissions immediately ceased, our past emissions have already “locked in” some amount of continued global warming and sea-level rise. In PNAS, Nauels et al. (6) <<https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/10/31/1907461116>>examine how greenhouse gas emissions since 1750, and anticipated future emissions, contribute to global sea-level rise.

They find that emissions from 1750 to 1991 have committed us to about 60 cm of additional sea-level rise by the year 2300, relative to the mean from 1986 to 2005, with another 24 cm stemming from greenhouse gases emitted between 1991 and 2016. So, through our emissions thus far in modern human history, we have committed to a total sea-level rise of about 84 cm over the next couple of centuries. This is the price we pay for the luxury of about 200 y of relatively unchecked greenhouse gas emissions.

*************************************
Aug 6, 2018  Even if the Paris agreement is successfully implemented, the planet could still heat up by 5 degrees Celsius, scientists warn.
The lead authors say:
“Our study suggests that human-induced global warming of 2 degrees Celsius may trigger other Earth system processes, often called ‘feedbacks,’ that can drive further warming — even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases.”
And:
“These tipping elements can potentially act like a row of dominos. Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth toward another. It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over.”

Scientists declare climate emergency, establish global indicators for effective action

OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A global coalition of scientists led by William J. Ripple and Christopher Wolf of Oregon State University says “untold human suffering” is unavoidable without deep and lasting shifts in human activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and other factors related to climate change.

“Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis,” said Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology in the OSU College of Forestry. “Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

In a paper published today in BioScience, the authors, along with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from 153 countries, declare a climate emergency, present graphics showing trends as vital signs against which to measure progress, and provide a set of effective mitigating actions.

The scientists point to six areas in which humanity should take immediate steps to slow down the effects of a warming planet:

    • 1) Energy. Implement massive conservation practices; replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables; leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground; eliminate subsidies to fossil fuel companies; and impose carbon fees that are high enough to restrain the use of fossil fuels.
    • 2) Short-lived pollutants. Swiftly cut emissions of methane, soot, hydrofluorocarbons and other short-lived climate pollutants; doing so has the potential to reduce the short-term warming trend by more than 50% over the next few decades.
    • 3) Nature. Restore and protect ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, peatlands, wetlands and mangroves, and allow a larger share of these ecosystems to reach their ecological potential for sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas.
    • 4) Food. Eat more plants and consume fewer animal products. The dietary shift would significantly reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases and free up agricultural lands for growing human food rather than livestock feed. Reducing food waste is also critical – the scientists say at least one-third of all food produced ends up as garbage.
    • 5) Economy. Convert the economy to one that is carbon free to address human dependence on the biosphere and shift goals away from the growth of gross domestic product and the pursuit of affluence. Curb exploitation of ecosystems to maintain long-term biosphere sustainability.
    6) Population. Stabilize a global human population that is increasing by more than 200,000 people a day, using approaches that ensure social and economic justice.

“Mitigating and adapting to climate change while honoring the diversity of humans entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems,” the paper states. “We are encouraged by a recent surge of concern. Governmental bodies are making climate emergency declarations. Schoolchildren are striking. Ecocide lawsuits are proceeding in the courts. Grassroots citizen movements are demanding change, and many countries, states and provinces, cities, and businesses are responding. As an Alliance of World Scientists, we stand ready to assist decision makers in a just transition to a sustainable and equitable future.”

The graphs of vital signs in the paper illustrate several key climate-change indicators and factors over the last 40 years, since scientists from 50 nations met at the First World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979.

In recent decades, multiple other global assemblies have agreed that urgent action is essential, but greenhouse gas emissions are still rapidly rising. Other ominous signs from human activities include sustained increases in per-capita meat production, global tree cover loss and number of airline passengers.

There are also some encouraging signs – including decreases in global birth rates and decelerated forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon, and increases in wind and solar power – but even those measures are tinged with worry. The decline in birth rates has slowed over the last 20 years, for example, and the pace of Amazon forest loss appears to be starting to increase again.

“Global surface temperature, ocean heat content, extreme weather and its costs, sea level, ocean acidity, and area burned in the United States are all rising,” Ripple said. “Globally, ice is rapidly disappearing as demonstrated by decreases in minimum summer Arctic sea ice, Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, and glacier thickness. All of these rapid changes highlight the urgent need for action.”

###

Joining Ripple and Wolf, a postdoctoral scholar in the OSU College of Forestry, as authors are Thomas M. Newsome of the University of Sydney, Phoebe Barnard of the Biological Conservation Institute and the University of Cape Town, and William R. Moomaw of Tufts University.

More information on the project, the list of signatories and the Alliance of World Scientists is available here.

Two years ago, Ripple lead an international team of researchers in producing an article published in BioScience titled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” that was signed by more than 15,000 scientists in 184 countries.

The warning came with steps that can be taken to reverse negative trends, but the authors suggested it may take a groundswell of public pressure to convince political leaders to take corrective actions. Since 1992, when more than 1,700 scientists — including a majority of the living Nobel laureates in the sciences — signed a “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, global trends have worsened.

From Jane Fonda

I was just arrested for the fourth time in four weeks in a peaceful demonstration for climate action. And I’m not alone. Dozens of activists like you have joined me in Washington, D.C. where political elites and corporate lobbyists can’t ignore us.

As a long time climate activist, I felt as though I wasn’t doing enough about the climate crisis. I’ve been deeply inspired by the student climate strikers that are already giving up so much to fight for their right to a future. So for the rest of us — what are we willing to give up? What actions will we take for this urgent major crisis? 

There is only one year and one day until the next Presidential election. There’s so much at stake in 2020 — we can’t leave our planet and our communities in the hands of climate deniers and their corporate polluter allies. So today and everyday our movement must sound the alarm on the climate crisis, exposing Trump at every turn, and making sure he can’t hide his extinction agenda from the American public.

That’s why I launched Fire Drill Fridays — a weekly protest standing up for the climate crisis in collaboration with scientists, movement leaders, and people like you. We’re answering the call for action from young people and demanding our political leaders address the climate emergency.

And it’s also why I support Greenpeace.

Jim — if you have never donated to Greenpeace, now is the time. Please become a member of Greenpeace today by making your first donation to help us resist Trump’s agenda and support all of Greenpeace’s campaigns for people, forests, climate, and the planet!

We have a chance to take our resistance to a new level, and we absolutely have to take it. In these critical times, it’s crucial that we rise up and resist every one of the Trump administration’s attacks on clean air, clean water, and healthy communities. Together as the Resistance, we are more powerful than Trump’s anti-climate, anti-justice agenda.

I can no longer stand by and let our elected officials ignore — and even worse — empower the industries that are destroying our planet for profit.

I’ve been arrested every Friday because I believe we need climate action, and our leaders are not giving it to us. Until we are willing to disrupt business as usual, leaders will never act, and by the time that they do, it may be too late. Greenpeace is out there everyday, exposing polluters and resisting business as usual — and together, we’re helping to build this unstoppable movement.

Our work is clear, but we can’t do it without everyone on board. Can you chip in today to fund Greenpeace’s campaigns for a green and peaceful world?

Each Fire Drill Friday has a different focus as it relates to climate, and yesterday’s was all about women. While the climate crisis threatens everyone, it especially impacts vulnerable populations, including women and girls. In many places, extreme weather events increase the workload women have and adds enormous risk to their safety and security.

The truth is — climate change is a women’s issue! And women activists are creating the spaces where we can band together to fight for the many causes we hold dear to our hearts.

Around the world, young people and women like me are leading climate solutions, from stopping deforestation and improving agricultural practices to leading climate strikes and running for office. These are the kinds of real climate leaders the world needs.

You know how this contrasts with our misogynistic President. Our rights, our water, our climate, the health of our communities, and our whole planet are on the line. Taking on some of the world’s most powerful industries is no small task, but when millions of us come together to stand for what we believe is possible, I know we can do it.

The clock is ticking and our planet doesn’t need excuses. It needs all of us. It needs you. Your time. Your talents. Your gifts of support. Your belief in a greener, more peaceful future.

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Alaska is having a hell of a time growing sea ice

IMAGE: SEATOPS / IMAGEBROKER / SHUTTERSTOCK
Alaska, a rapidly changing realm, will never cease to amaze Rick Thoman, a veteran climate scientist at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy — even after a year of broken heat records and unprecedented losses of ice.

Now in the deep of fall, Alaska’s profound change continues. Record warm ocean temperatures mean that sea ice in the state’s northern waters is at historic lows for early November. The ice refuses to regrow.

“For old-timers like me, till the day I die, my jaw will drop at the sight of this stuff,” Thoman said.

“It has been a remarkable freeze-season (or lack of) so far,” noted Zack Labe, a climate scientist and PhD candidate at the University of California, Irvine. “Overall, the last month has featured large areas of open water north of Alaska and Siberia.”

The stagnant ice growth is most apparent in the Chukchi Sea, above and to the west of Alaska’s northernmost town of Utqiaġvik, which is, appropriately, also experiencing record warm air temperatures. Back in the cooler 20th century, sea ice would usually be present beyond Utqiaġvik’s shores.

But this early November, the main pack ice is still some 400 miles away.

That's a lot of open ocean.

That’s a lot of open ocean.

IMAGE: RICK THOMAN / ALASKA CENTER FOR CLIMATE ASSESSMENT AND POLICY

The slow freeze-up can be largely blamed on exceptionally warm ocean waters, emphasized Thoman. “We’ve got these incredibly warm seas,” he said.

How warm? The Chukchi Sea had its warmest June through September temperatures on record. Meanwhile, the Bering Sea, which has had a dismal show of sea ice all year, experienced its warmest May through September on record, Thoman said.

This means that instead of bright, white ice reflecting sunlight back into space, the dark open oceans were able to absorb bounties of warmth for months on end. “This summer we had an early melt and record low sea ice coverage in the Chukchi Sea,” explained Lars Kaleschke, a sea ice researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute’s Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research. “Consequently, the ocean could store more heat in its upper layers, which now delays the ice formation.”

These warm, open oceans must release this heat before ice can form. The waters will need to drop to about 28.5 degrees Fahrenheit — the freezing point of salty ocean water — to do that. When it comes to growing sea ice, simply frigid temperatures won’t cut it. “Thirty-five [Fahrenheit] may sound cold, but that’s not enough to make ice,” Thoman said.

These ice-free portions of ocean are a conspicuous consequence of a vicious cycle in the Arctic, called “Arctic amplification,” wherein the warming ocean melts ice, which then allows the oceans to grow even warmer. This, in turn, inhibits sea ice growth.

In large part, Arctic amplification is why the 13 lowest sea ice extents in the 40-year satellite record have all occurred in the last 13 years.

Alaska isn’t the only Arctic region now experiencing stagnant sea ice regrowth. Overall, Arctic sea ice is struggling. “The growth is well behind schedule in other areas,” noted Kaleschke. “The total ice extent is very low for the date, in fact, the second-lowest after 2016.”

“[Total sea ice extent] remains well below average,” added Labe. “This is contributing to the long-term Arctic amplification trend.”

Diminished sea ice and toppled records aren’t just one of the clearest indications of a rapidly changing climate; the warming Arctic also impacts powerful weather systems around the planet. There’s growing evidence that a warmer Arctic results in stagnant weather patterns, like the remarkable fall heat wave in the U.S. that occurred in late September and early October.

The lost sea ice has profound impacts for Alaskans, too. “Not only is sea ice important for their livelihoods, but it also acts as a barrier against coastal erosion from strong storm systems in the North Pacific,” said Labe.

A continually warming Arctic, however unpleasant, is a long-term trend and likely a prominent actor in the planet’s future, at least this century. “This is because of climate change mainly caused by human emission of greenhouse gases like CO2,” said Kaleschke.

Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions are now skyrocketing. CO2 levels haven’t been this high in at least 800,000 years — though more likely millions of years. What’s more, carbon levels are now rising at rates that are unprecedented in both the geologic and historic record.