Dahr Jamail | Climate Disruption Could Pose “Existential Threat” by 2050


Monday, October 02, 2017By Dahr JamailTruthout | Report 
(Photo: Billy Wilson; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Billy Wilson; Edited: LW / TO)

It is often painful to write these monthly dispatches, chronicling what has happened to the Earth over the previous several weeks. Every month I’m taken aback by how rapidly the changes are unfolding. Take my word for this: These pieces are as emotionally challenging for me to write as they are for you to read.

Over the several years I’ve been producing these climate disruption dispatches, I’ve mostly received messages of gratitude from readers, because as hard as these are to read, most people are keen to have the information.

Sometimes there is the reader, however, who asks why I only focus on the negative. “Why don’t you write about something positive, like renewable energy or lawsuits being filed against members of the Trump administration who are actively attacking the environment?” one person asked. This past June someone (clearly not a journalist) asked me why I didn’t write about solutions, because, “What you write about is just so depressing!”

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

I spend time in the mountains near where I live nearly every week. It centers me, reminds me of what is important, and keeps me sane during these increasingly dystopian days. When I go, I bring a compass and the most updated, accurate map available.

While in the mountains, I am grappling with this reality: The Earth is unraveling due to human-forced warming. We’ve changed the composition of the atmosphere, and are acidifying the oceans. The cryosphere is melting before our very eyes, and the seas are rising. Global wildlife populations have decreased nearly 60 percent since just the 1970s, and the current extinction rate of species is 1,000 times the normal background rate. Functional coral reefs could be completely gone by 2050, and oceans could be completely free of fish by 2048 due to anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), overfishing, pollution and habitat loss.

And there is nothing to indicate that governments around the globe are doing anything remotely serious enough to mitigate ACD impacts, in order to prevent the worst-case scenarios from unfolding.

That there will be a massive die-off of humans seems inevitable, and the extinction of our species is very much a possibility.

This is terrifying, heartbreaking, enraging information to take in.

Thus, dear reader, I ask: Do you want an accurate map in order to make the best decisions possible about what to do with your time, and how to use your life? Is it worth the emotional turmoil — worth working through the five stages of grief — in order to live an awakened life, to live in the real, to situate yourself to decide how to serve the planet and other living beings while the storms rage?


ACD is progressing dramatically and abruptly.

Hurricane Harvey led to the single largest rain event in US history, which was then followed in short order by Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded by satellites.

In Canada, rapidly thawing permafrost is already releasing massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, which fuels a positive feedback loop of ACD: The warming atmosphere causes the permafrost to thaw and release CO2, which warms the atmosphere further, and the cycle feeds on itself. Another aspect of this that is particularly noteworthy is the fact that there is twice as much carbon locked up in the permafrost as there is in the atmosphere.

Another recent report showed that volcanic eruptions triggered one of the most rapid warming events in the Earth’s history, 56 million years ago. That means CO2 was the factor that caused the warming at that time, and this fact is underscored by the reality that current CO2 emission levels are even higher than they were then.

A paper from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, published in mid-September, warned of a small but distinct possibility that abrupt ACD could pose an “existential threat” to the survival of humans by 2050.

Scripps went on to propose two new classifications for ACD: catastrophic (meaning that the majority of humanity would struggle to adapt to the change) and existential (meaning that humanity would not be able to adapt to the change.)


recent study showed that deforestation has twice the negative impact on ACD as previously believed. Deforestation has two main negative impacts. First, the trees are burned and they immediately release their stored carbon into the atmosphere. Then, farms are created in their place, which go on to release other greenhouse gasses like methane and nitrous oxide. Furthermore, without trees to act as a carbon sink, less carbon dioxide is being removed from the atmosphere.

Climate Disruption Dispatches

Meanwhile, trees continue to have a bad time of it, thanks to ACD impacts. Tree-killing beetles are spreading much more quickly into northern US forests, according to another recent study, due to increasingly warm temperatures driven by ACD. For example, southern pine beetles — one of the most aggressive tree-killing insects, which cause ecosystem harm and increase risk of forest fires — are moving northward as their ranges are expanding dramatically due to hotter temperatures.

Stunningly, data from Nevada’s Geodetic Lab showed that flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Houston pushed down the Earth’s crust two centimeters. This is because the amount of water released from the storm weighed 275 trillion pounds.

Another recent report showed that ACD could, indirectly, make earthquakes worse. For example, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes could be triggered by ACD impacts in this way: Melting glaciers remove water supplies for a city, which responds by building a large water reservoir. Reservoirs are often built along fault lines, so they lubricate the fault. This lubrication, coupled with draining and filling the reservoirs over the seasons, changes the water pressure at the bottom and creates instability and cracks, which can lead to more earthquakes.


In the watery realms, there have been significant developments.

For the first time in history, in late August a tanker crossed the northern sea route without an icebreaker. A 300-meter long Russian commercial liquefied natural gas ship carried the gas from Norway to South Korea in just six and a half days, setting the record.

The ongoing and increasing loss of the Arctic summer sea ice is impacting the Atlantic Ocean water circulation system, according to a recent report from Yale news. Scientists said the ongoing loss of Arctic sea ice is playing a very active role in altering the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), a current that plays a major role in both regional and global climate systems.

“Sea ice loss is clearly important among the mechanisms that could potentially contribute to AMOC collapse,” Wei Liu, a Yale postdoctoral associate, told Yale News. Also speaking to Yale News, climate scientist Alexey Fedorov said, “In our experiments we saw a potential loss of 30% to 50% of AMOC’s strength due to Arctic sea ice loss. That is a significant amount, and it would accelerate the collapse of AMOC if it were to occur.”

It’s worth noting that AMOC affects the climate of all of the countries on the Atlantic rim, especially those in Europe, but also has climate impacts far, far beyond those, including weather patterns around the entire globe.

A warmed atmosphere can hold more moisture, so epic flooding events should no longer come as a surprise to anyone paying attention to how the planet is responding to human-forced warming.

In August, flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal killed at least 1,200 people and displaced millions. Monsoon rains in India were so intense, a building in Mumbai collapsed from them, killing at least 21 people and trapping more than a dozen. Thirty-two million people were impacted by the flooding in India, while another 8.6 million in Bangladesh and 1.7 million in Nepal also suffered.

A recent book about sea-level rise, The Water Will Come, showed that 145 million people live less than three feet above sea level, which according to the author, Jeff Goodell, will create multiple generations of climate refugees. The book estimates there will be 200 million climate refugees by 2050 from sea level rise alone, and even discusses the possibility of seas rising 55 feet.

The flip side of this is drought.

recent report showed that the number of droughts plaguing Jordan could double by the year 2100 as a result of ACD. This is worrisome, given that the conflict in Syria has its roots in a multi-year drought that hit that country. Additionally, the warning for Jordan is ominous because that situation will be exacerbated by the fact that whenever the conflict in Syria does end, assuming that happens, farmers will return and resume their work, which will be an additional strain on already meager water supplies.


Recent Truthout articles have addressed the massive wildfires across the US West over the summer.

And the fires continued.

By early September, a wildfire in Oregon scorched the picturesque Columbia River Gorge and rained ash and burning embers across communities several miles away. At least 10,000 acres burned, sending hundreds of residents in the area to flee their homes.

Another recent report reminded us, again, how extreme heat and drought are fueling the wildfires. Heat and fire records were broken throughout the summer across the US and Canadian Wests, and the report predicted, of course, that these trends will continue and likely worsen over time.


In the wake of the two major hurricanes that struck the US this season, while Harvey was still besieging Houston with record rains, climate scientist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress, “The kind of stalled weather pattern that is drenching Houston is precisely the sort of pattern we expect because of climate change.”

Mann had, earlier in 2017, co-authored a study that showed how ACD is changing atmospheric circulation, including the jet stream, in a way that causes an “increase in persistent weather extremes” during summers.

The two major hurricanes caused scientists to express concern publicly that this may become the new normal for the planet.

“But historically unusual weather is no longer freakish,” wrote Jonathan Watts in The Guardian. “The floods that hit Houston last week were described as a once-in-500-years event because records suggested there was only a 0.2% chance of such heavy rainfall. However, precedent is an increasingly unreliable guide in a changing climate. In the past three years, Texas has been hit by three 100- to 500-year events, according to local media.”

Another report from August revealed that global temperatures are rising much faster over land than over oceans, according to NASA data. In other words, overall warming is speeding up everywhere, but particularly over land, where we humans happen to live. The recently released data show that temperatures over land are warming approximately twice as fast as those over water, and the disparity in the warming over land compared to the oceans is increasing rapidly.

Denial and Reality

As usual, there is plenty of fodder on the ACD-denial front.

Not surprisingly, given the pathetic “coverage” corporate media has given (or, more accurately, not given at all) to ACD, mainstream media coverage of the recent major hurricanes to strike the US failed to even mention ACD, despite its critical impact on how rapidly each storm developed.

The Trump so-called administration continues to work feverishly and consistently to scrub any mention of ACD from government departments and websites.

The National Institutes of Health, over the summer, deleted several ACD references from its website. One report showed that there were at least five instances of “climate change” being changed to “climate” on the website.

A scientist with Northeastern University was asked to remove references to ACD from a grant proposal to ACD-denialist Rick Perry’s Department of Energy (DOE). “I have been asked to contact you to update the wording in your proposal abstract to remove words such as ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change,’ read a message the scientist received from an official at DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, according to the Washington Post. “This is being asked as we have to meet the President’s budget language restrictions and we don’t want to make any changes without your knowledge or consent.”

Meanwhile, Trump recently named ACD-denier Republican Congressman Jim Bridenstine from Oklahoma to run NASA. Bridenstine has zero scientific credentials, and had even demanded that then President Obama apologize for funding climate science research.

Also, a recent report underscored the reality that many of us have known for a long time: The 3 percent of scientific papers which deny that ACD is real are all flawed. Researchers attempted to replicate the results of the 3 percent of papers and found biased, faulty results.

“Every single one of those analyses had an error — in their assumptions, methodology, or analysis — that, when corrected, brought their results into line with the scientific consensus,” Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, wrote in a Facebook post. Hayhoe worked with a team of researchers investigating 38 papers that denied ACD published in peer-reviewed journals in the last decade,.

On the reality front, France recently announced plans to end all oil and gas production in less than 25 years. France’s President Emmanuel Macron is aiming to make France carbon neutral by 2050.

Meanwhile, many are now questioning whether the UN’s Climate Assessment process has become obsolete. Why? Because the schedule of issuing large Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports on ACD every seven years, which is the current model, is clearly too slow, given how rapidly ACD is progressing, and considering all the scientific research being done to keep pace.
Hayhoe, who has become a leading and very outspoken climate scientist, told Inside Climate News, the IPCC’s long process that produces its assessment reports is “obsolete, outdated, and a waste of experts’ valuable time.”

Lastly for this month — and quite disturbingly — a scientific paper published recently in the journal Science Advances, titled “Thresholds of Catastrophe in the Earth System,” shows that if humans continue adding carbon to the oceans as we are on course to do, a global mass extinction event could be triggered by 2100.


Huge discovery about Global Warming shocks scientists

Huge discovery about Global Warming shocks scientists

An astonishing new study claims that there may be a ticking time bomb right under our toes, as the soil could be responsible for significant carbon emissions.

A remarkable new study published in the journal Science indicates that carbon emissions from warming soils could be a lot higher than we previously thought, and it could result in a chain of events that would greatly intensify global warming. Researchers found that there was a major uptick in carbon production in microbes found within soil at the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts.

Scientists used underground cables to heat some of the soil plots in the forest, raising the temperature by about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while unheated plots were set aside as control for the experiment. After about 10 years, scientists measured again and found that carbon emissions from heated soil had greatly increased. After a seven year period where emissions declined again, the carbon emissions went on an upward trajectory once again for six more years.

In the final three years of the study, the carbon emissions from the soil went down again. Both times there was a decline in emissions, scientists think that the microbes were simply adjusting to the new temperatures, and as a result they think that it is just the calm before the storm, as it were. The 26-year study is the biggest of its kind and could result in breakthroughs in how we study and understand global warming and climate change.

The full statement from the Marine Biological Laboratory follows below.

After 26 years, the world’s longest-running experiment to discover how warming temperatures affect forest soils has revealed a surprising, cyclical response: Soil warming stimulates periods of abundant carbon release from the soil to the atmosphere alternating with periods of no detectable loss in soil carbon stores. Overall, the results indicate that in a warming world, a self-reinforcing and perhaps uncontrollable carbon feedback will occur between forest soils and the climate system, adding to the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by burning fossil fuels and accelerating global warming. The study, led by Jerry Melillo, Distinguished Scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), appears in the October 6 issue of Science.

Melillo and colleagues began this pioneering experiment in 1991 in a deciduous forest stand at the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts. They buried electrical cables in a set of plots and heated the soil 5° C above the ambient temperature of control plots. Over the course of the 26-year experiment (which still continues), the warmed plots lost 17 percent of the carbon that had been stored in organic matter in the top 60 centimeters of soil.

“To put this in context,” Melillo says, “each year, mostly from fossil fuel burning, we are releasing about 10 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere. That’s what’s causing the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and global warming. The world’s soils contain about 3,500 billion metric tons of carbon. If a significant amount of that soil carbon is added to the atmosphere, due to microbial activity in warmer soils, that will accelerate the global warming process. And once this self-reinforcing feedback begins, there is no easy way to turn it off. There is no switch to flip.”

Over the course of the experiment, Melillo’s team observed fluctuations in the rate of soil carbon emission from the heated plots, indicating cycles in the capacity of soil microbes to degrade organic matter and release carbon. Phase I (1991 to 2000) was a period of substantial soil carbon loss that was rapid at first, then slowed to near zero. In Phase II (2001-2007), there was no difference in carbon emissions between the warmed and the control plots. During that time, the soil microbial community in the warmed plots was undergoing reorganization that led to changes in the community’s structure and function. In Phase III (2008-2013), carbon release from heated plots again exceeded that from control plots. This coincided with a continued shift in the soil microbial community. Microbes that can degrade more recalcitrant soil organic matter, such as lignin, became more dominant, as shown by genomic and extracellular enzyme analyses. In Phase IV (2014 to current), carbon emissions from the heated plots have again dropped, suggesting that another reorganization of the soil microbial community could be underway. If the cyclical pattern continues, Phase IV will eventually transition to another phase of higher carbon loss from the heated plots.

“This work emphasizes the value of long-term ecological studies that are the hallmark of research at the MBL’s Ecosystems Center,” says David Mark Welch, MBL’s Director of Research. “These large field studies, combined with modeling and an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the role of microbial communities in ecosystem dynamics, provide new insight to the challenges posed by climate change.”

“The future is a warmer future. How much warmer is the issue,” Melillo says. “In terms of carbon emissions from fossil fuels, we could control that. We could shut down coal-fired power plants, for example. But if the microbes in all landscapes respond to warming in the same way as we’ve observed in mid-latitude forest soils, this self-reinforcing feedback phenomenon will go on for a while and we are not going to be able to turn those microbes off. Of special concern is the big pool of easily decomposed carbon that is frozen in Artic soils. As those soils thaw out, this feedback phenomenon would be an important component of the climate system, with climate change feeding itself in a warming world.”

Collaborators in this study include S.D. Frey, M.A. Knorr, and A.S. Grandy of the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment; K.M. DeAngelis of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst’s Department of Microbiology; W.J. Werner and M.J. Bernard of the Marine Biological Laboratory; F.P. Bowles of Research Designs in Lyme, N.H.; and G. Pold of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.

Melillo, J.M. et al (2017) Long-Term Pattern and Magnitude of Soil Carbon Feedback to the Climate System in a Warming World. Science DOI:

The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery – exploring fundamental biology, understanding marine biodiversity and the environment, and informing the human condition through research and education. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.

Goodbye – and good riddance – to livestock farming

Cows in field
 ‘Grazing is not just slightly inefficient; it is stupendously wasteful.’ Photograph: Peter Cade/Getty Images

What will future generations, looking back on our age, see as its monstrosities? We think of slavery, the subjugation of women, judicial torture, the murder of heretics, imperial conquest and genocide, the first world war and the rise of fascism, and ask ourselves how people could have failed to see the horror of what they did. What madness of our times will revolt our descendants?

There are plenty to choose from. But one of them, I believe, will be the mass incarceration of animals, to enable us to eat their flesh or eggs or drink their milk. While we call ourselves animal lovers, and lavish kindness on our dogs and cats, we inflict brutal deprivations on billions of animals that are just as capable of suffering. The hypocrisy is so rank that future generations will marvel at how we could have failed to see it.

The shift will occur with the advent of cheap artificial meat. Technological change has often helped to catalyse ethical change. The $300m deal China signed last month to buy lab-grown meat marks the beginning of the end of livestock farming. But it won’t happen quickly: the great suffering is likely to continue for many years.

The answer, we are told by celebrity chefs and food writers, is to keep livestock outdoors: eat free-range beef or lamb, not battery pork. But all this does is to swap one disaster – mass cruelty – for another: mass destruction. Almost all forms of animal farming cause environmental damage, but none more so than keeping them outdoors. The reason is inefficiency. Grazing is not just slightly inefficient, it is stupendously wasteful. Roughly twice as much of the world’s surface is used for grazing as for growing crops, yet animals fed entirely on pasture produce just one gram out of the 81g of protein consumed per person per day.

A paper in Science of the Total Environment reports that “livestock production is the single largest driver of habitat loss”. Grazing livestock are a fully automated system for ecological destruction: you need only release them on to the land and they do the rest, browsing out tree seedlings, simplifying complex ecosystems. Their keepers augment this assault by slaughtering large predators.

Flock of sheep
 ‘Sheep supply around 1% of our diet in terms of calories. Yet they occupy around 4m hectares of the uplands.’ Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

In the UK, for example, sheep supply around 1% of our diet in terms of calories. Yet they occupy around 4m hectares of the uplands. This is more or less equivalent to all the land under crops in this country, and more than twice the area of the built environment (1.7m hectares). The rich mosaic of rainforest and other habitats that once covered our hills has been erased, the wildlife reduced to a handful of hardy species. The damage caused is out of all proportion to the meat produced.

Replacing the meat in our diets with soya spectacularly reduces the land area required per kilo of protein: by 70% in the case of chicken, 89% in the case of pork and 97% in the case of beef. One study suggests that if we were all to switch to a plant-based diet, 15m hectares of land in Britain currently used for farming could be returned to nature. Alternatively, this country could feed 200 million people. An end to animal farming would be the salvation of the world’s wildlife, our natural wonders and magnificent habitats.

Understandably, those who keep animals have pushed back against such facts, using an ingenious argument. Livestock grazing, they claim, can suck carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the soil, reducing or even reversing global warming. In a TED talk watched by 4 million people, the rancher Allan Savory claims that his “holistic” grazing could absorb enough carbon to return the world’s atmosphere to pre-industrial levels. His inability, when I interviewed him, to substantiate his claims has done nothing to dent their popularity.

Similar statements have been made by Graham Harvey, the agricultural story editor of the BBC Radio 4 serial The Archers – he claims that the prairies in the US could absorb all the carbon “that’s gone into the atmosphere for the whole planet since we industrialised” – and amplified by the Campaign to Protect Rural EnglandFarmers’ organisations all over the world now noisily promote this view.

report this week by the Food Climate Research Network, called Grazed and Confused, seeks to resolve the question: can keeping livestock outdoors cause a net reduction in greenhouse gases? The authors spent two years investigating the issue. They cite 300 sources. Their answer is unequivocal. No.

It is true, they find, that some grazing systems are better than others. Under some circumstances, plants growing on pastures will accumulate carbon under the ground, through the expansion of their root systems and the laying down of leaf litter. But the claims of people such as Savory and Harvey are “dangerously misleading”. The evidence supporting additional carbon storage through the special systems these livestock crusaders propose (variously described as “holistic”, “regenerative”, “mob”, or “adaptive” grazing) is weak and contradictory, and suggests that if there’s an effect at all, it is small.

The best that can be done is to remove between 20% and 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions grazing livestock produce. Even this might be an overestimate: a paper published this week in the journal Carbon Balance and Management suggests that the amount of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) farm animals produce has been understated. In either case, carbon storage in pastures cannot compensate for the animals’ own climate impacts, let alone those of industrial civilisation. I would like to see the TED team post a warning on Savory’s video, before even more people are misled.

As the final argument crumbles, we are left facing an uncomfortable fact: animal farming looks as incompatible with a sustained future for humans and other species as mining coal.

That vast expanse of pastureland, from which we obtain so little at such great environmental cost, would be better used for rewilding: the mass restoration of nature. Not only would this help to reverse the catastrophic decline in habitats and the diversity and abundance of wildlife, but the returning forests, wetlands and savannahs are likely to absorb far more carbon than even the most sophisticated forms of grazing.

The end of animal farming might be hard to swallow. But we are a resilient and adaptable species. We have undergone a series of astonishing changes: the adoption of sedentarism, of agriculture, of cities, of industry.

Now it is time for a new revolution, almost as profound as those other great shifts: the switch to a plant-based diet. The technology is – depending on how close an approximation to meat you demand (Quorn seems almost indistinguishable from chicken or mince to me) – either here or just around the corner. The ethical switch is happening already: even today, there are half a million vegans in the land of roast beef. It’s time to abandon the excuses, the fake facts and false comforts. It is time to see our moral choices as our descendants will.

 George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

Food Climate Research Network debunks notion that grass-fed is better for climate

Farm animals, and the consumption of meat and dairy, are a major contributor to the problem of climate change. It is well-established that the livestock sector contributes some 14.5% [at least!] of global greenhouse gas emissions, but there is less agreement on the specific climate impact of different types of animals and production systems. Most controversy surrounds the debate on ‘grass-fed’ beef and how its climate impact compares with other types of meat or meat produced in more intensive systems.

Some have argued that grazing animals can actually stimulate grass to be more productive and put down deeper roots, drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it in soils. Others go even further, arguing that this carbon sequestration can, in fact, offset all other emissions from ruminants, and in doing so solve our climate problems.

It is safe to say that this debate has left people either polarised or confused. Is grass-fed better or is it worse for the climate? What’s actually true?

Report findings

This report finds that better management of grass-fed livestock, while worthwhile in and of itself, does not offer a significant solution to climate change as only under very specific conditions can they help sequester carbon. This sequestering of carbon is even then small, time-limited, reversible and substantially outweighed by the greenhouse gas emissions these grazing animals generate. The report concludes that although there can be other benefits to grazing livestock – solving climate change isn’t one of them.

Many thanks,

Samuel Lee-Gammage, Food Climate Research Network, University of Oxford

Samuel Lee-Gammage

Research and Communications Officer

Food Climate Research Network – FCRN

Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford



It’s long been believed that livestock and global warming can be linked to each other. A new study, however, suggests that people might have been too conservative in estimating the amount of methane released by cows and other animals, and its impact on our environment.

As noted by the Washington Post, it is generally accepted that carbon dioxide, the “most important warming agent” in climate change, mainly originates from the burning of fossil fuels, with other factors, such as deforestation, playing a part in these emissions. Methane, on the other hand, comes from more ambiguous sources, which makes the recent rise in atmospheric methane levels especially concerning. Some experts have pointed to fracking as the main reason behind this rise, while others have suggested that agriculture should be blamed for higher atmospheric methane levels.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Carbon Balance and Management, a team of scientists looked at the possible link between livestock and global warming. According to lead author Julie Wolf, a plant physiologist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, livestock methane emissions were responsible for a significant 11 percent increase in overall methane levels “in a recent year,” as compared to previously estimated figures. Forbes wrote that these earlier figures were used as a basis for the 2006 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“[Livestock methane emissions are] not the biggest contributor to the annual methane budget in the atmosphere, but it may be the biggest contributor to increases in the atmospheric budget over recent years,” said Wolf in a statement.

The impact of livestock on global warming had long been underestimated, based on the study’s results, Forbeswrote. Wolf and her colleagues discovered that some of the low estimates had dated back multiple decades, which suggested that the older statistics did not consider variables such as land and animal use. Furthermore, Wolf added that breeding has resulted in larger animals who require more food, and when that is combined with today’s trends in livestock management, both factors can also result in higher methane emissions.

Considering a few other present-day observations, which included the decreasing reliance on cattle to pull farm equipment, and the likelihood that manure will be stored in open pits rather than used as fertilizer on the fields, Wolf and her team believe that livestock emissions resulted in about 120 million additional grams of methane.

The storage of manure in large pits, in particular, was cited as a key driver in the higher-than-expected livestock methane emission levels, as this process causes bacteria to create twice as much methane than usual. The researchers estimated a 36.7 percent increase in global methane emissions, as compared to the IPCC’s 11-year-old estimate, as a result of the above process. The levels of methane produced when cattle and other animals pass gas was also higher, but not by that much, as levels were estimated to be 8.4 percent greater than the figures on record.

Going forward, Wolf hopes that her team’s research and new estimates will encourage scientists and other decision-makers to come up with more precise figures and more accurate research regarding the link between livestock emissions and global warming.

[Featured Image by By Steve Oehlenschlager/Shutterstock]

We’ve Grossly Underestimated How Much Cow Farts Are Contributing to Global Warming


Image: AP

A new NASA-sponsored study shows that global methane emissions produced by livestock are 11 percent higher than estimates made last decade. Because methane is a particularly nasty greenhouse gas, the new finding means it’s going to be even tougher to combat climate change than we realized.

We’ve known for quite some time that greenhouse gases produced by cattle, sheep, and pigs are a significant contributor to global warming, but the new research, published in Carbon Balance and Management, shows it’s worse than we thought. Revised figures of methane produced by livestock in 2011 were 11 percent higher than estimates made in 2006 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—a now out-of-date estimate.

It’s hard to believe that belches, farts, and poop from livestock could have any kind of global atmospheric effect, but it’s an issue of scale, and the nature of methane itself.

There are approximately 1.5 billion cows on the planet, each and every one of them expelling upwards of 30 to 50 gallons of methane each day. We typically think of farts as being the culprit, but belches are actually the primary source of cattle-produced methane, accounting for 95 percent of the problematic greenhouse gas.

And problematic it is. Methane is about 30 times more efficient at trapping the Sun’s radiative heat than carbon dioxide over a timescale of about a century. There may be more CO2 in the atmosphere than methane, but by unit, it’s the more destructive greenhouse gas. Both NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System research initiative and the Joint Global Change Research Institute (JGCRI) contributed to the study.


Wolf’s team re-evaluated the data used to produce the IPCC 2006 methane emissions estimates. The prior estimates were based on relatively modest rates of methane increases from 2000 to 2006, but things changed dramatically afterwards, increasing 10-fold over the course of the next 10 years. The new figures factor an 8.4 percent increase in methane emissions from digestion (otherwise known as “enteric fermentation”) in dairy cows and other cattle, and a 36.7 percent increase in methane from manure, compared to previous IPCC-based estimates. The new report shows that methane accounted for approximately 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. Other human activities, such as the production and transport of gas, oil and coal, along with the decay of our organic waste, also contribute to global methane emissions.

Importantly, the new estimates are 15 percent higher than global estimates produced by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and four percent higher than EDGAR (Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research).

“In many regions of the world, livestock numbers are changing, and breeding has resulted in larger animals with higher intakes of food,” noted Wolf in a release. “This, along with changes in livestock management, can lead to higher methane emissions.” To which she added: “Direct measurements of methane emissions are not available for all sources of methane. Thus, emissions are reported as estimates based on different methods and assumptions. In this study, we created new per-animal emissions factors—that is measures of the average amount of CH4 discharged by animals into the atmosphere—and new estimates of global livestock methane emissions.”

The new research shows that methane emissions slowed in the US, Canada, and Europe, but they’re rising elsewhere. Very likely, the rest of the world is catching up to first-world standards in terms of meat and dairy consumption.

“Among global regions, there was notable variability in trends in estimated emissions over recent decades,” said Ghassem Asrar, Director of JGCRI and a co-author of the new study. “For example, we found that total livestock methane emissions have increased the most in rapidly developing regions of Asia, Latin America, and Africa…We found the largest increases in annual emissions to be over the northern tropics, followed by the southern tropics.”

It’s not immediately clear how, or even if, these revised figures will impact livestock production or public policy, but at the individual level, it suggests we should cut back on our consumption of meat and dairy. The privilege we have over these animals, it would appear, now comes at a hefty price.

Update: An earlier version of this article included a statement suggesting that methane will exert a global warming potential 28 times greater than that of CO2 over then next 100 years. While methane has a unit for unit GWP that’s about 30 times that of CO2 on 100 year timescales, CO2 is still the dominant greenhosue gas in our atmosphere because there is so much more of it. The sentence in question has been removed.

[Carbon Balance and Management]

McCain resumes his quest for climate change action


The senator bucks his party on climate change, after years of silence.

On Sunday, Sen. John McCain said it’s time to sit down again and figure out some “common-sense solutions” to climate change. The Arizona Republican made his cautious remarks on CNN when asked why others in his party act as if climate change is not real. In recent days, President Donald Trump and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt brushed off questions about climate change and Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, the storms that killed dozens of people and caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damages in the South. Trump and most of McCain’s Republican colleagues in Congress are busy reversing former President Barack Obama’s climate change agenda.

McCain, who recently started treatment for an aggressive type of brain cancer, told CNN the climate is being altered in “unprecedented” ways. Nuclear and renewable energy need to be part of the solution: “Solar and other technologies make it cheaper for energy for many of the American people, including a state like mine where we have lots of sunshine,” he added.

This isn’t the first time McCain has bucked his own party on climate change, although he hasn’t been prominent on the issue since his loss to Obama in 2008. “He embraces being the voice of the maverick in the Republican Party; speaking truth to power,” says Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University in North Carolina. “Climate change is one of the big issues where he wants to do this with President Trump.”

McCain diverged from his party on climate change after an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for president. In 2000, McCain was followed around New Hampshire by a recent college graduate who wore a makeshift superhero costume and called himself Captain Climate Change. Instead of sending security guards after him, McCain publicly discussed climate change with him at campaign events.

Back in the Senate, McCain stuck with the issue, Floyd Deschamps, a longtime McCain aide, remembers. “When he came back off the campaign in 2000, he talked about how many younger voters asked him where he stood on climate change and what his policy was on climate change,” Deschamps says. “At the time, he really didn’t have a policy.” That spring and summer, as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, McCain held hearings on climate science. Starting in 2001, he drafted the first bipartisan climate change legislation with Joe Lieberman, at the time a Democratic senator from Connecticut. They worked together for years trying to push it through Congress, despite the opposition of most congressional Republicans and President George W. Bush.

Sen. John McCain, left, and frequent ally former Sen. Joe Lieberman at the Munich Security Conference in 2010.

Their bill used a market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, allowing companies to buy and sell permission to pollute. When McCain forced a vote in 2003 on the so-called cap-and-trade bill, it was defeated 44-53. But support kept broadening, eventually drawing endorsements from major electric utilities. “McCain changed the political dynamic of the issue in the United States,” recalls Profeta, who at the time was Lieberman’s counsel for the environment.

McCain won his party’s nomination for president in 2008 and he and his Democratic rival, Obama, both supported climate change legislation.

The next year, with Democrats in charge, the House passed a cap-and-trade bill that differed in significant ways from McCain and Lieberman’s and drew criticism from McCain. In the Senate, a McCain ally, Sen. Lyndsey Graham, R-S.C., was a key player. McCain, who faced reelection, was not.

“It did seem a bit like a betrayal; at the time I assumed it was politics and I still do,” remembers Katharine Jacobs, a University of Arizona professor and director of its Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions. She worked on climate science in the Obama White House.

Without Republican support or strong leadership from Obama, the Senate version imploded in 2010. There have been no serious efforts to revive climate change legislation since then.

So when McCain suggested on CNN that the time has come to readdress climate legislation, Democrats took notice. “When you have an administration that is in denial mode about climate change, to have a senator as prominent as McCain make an opening — I think it’s an opening we should take advantage of,” says Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources committee.

McCain has already slowed the reversal of Obama’s climate change policies. In May he unexpectedly joined two other Republican senators in voting to keep a Bureau of Land Management rule designed to limit emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas operations.

Still, even as he defied his own party, McCain lashed out at his likeliest allies in any climate deal. In his remarks on CNN, he criticized environmentalists for dismissing nuclear power as an important part of the solution.

Confidants say McCain never stopped supporting action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But as a legislator with a lot of priorities, he gave his time to issues that seemed more likely to benefit from his attention. “Going all the way back to when he ran for president, he’s always been an advocate for action concerning climate change,” says Grant Woods, a former Arizona attorney general who has long advised McCain and co-chaired his 2010 campaign. “He did that even in Republican primaries when it wasn’t that popular. I think it’s just a matter of: He’s got a lot of things on his plate. He’s never changed his position.”

Given the entrenched partisan divide on the issue, a climate deal is unlikely in the near future. And it’s not yet clear how strongly McCain might push for action to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

For future climate legislation to succeed, senators from both parties will have to come to an agreement, says Profeta: “I don’t think that deal is ripe though. You need some triggering event to allow people to come off hardened positions. I think in the end we will price carbon. I pray that Sen. McCain is part of it.”

Hurricane Harvey, 25,000-Year Storm: Enhanced or Caused by Climate Change?

By Bruce MeltonClimate Discovery | News Analysis

Members of the South Carolina’s Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (SC-HART) perform rescue operations in Port Arthur, Texas, August 31, 2017. The SC-HART team consists of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from the South Carolina Army National Guard with four Soldiers who are partnered with three rescue swimmers from the State Task Force and provide hoist rescue capabilities. Multiple states and agencies nationwide were called to assist citizens impacted by the epic amount of rainfall in Texas and Louisiana from Hurricane Harvey. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez)Members of the South Carolina’s Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (SC-HART) perform rescue operations in Port Arthur, Texas, August 31, 2017. The SC-HART team consists of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from the South Carolina Army National Guard with four Soldiers who are partnered with three rescue swimmers from the State Task Force and provide hoist rescue capabilities. Multiple states and agencies nationwide were called to assist citizens impacted by the epic amount of rainfall in Texas and Louisiana from Hurricane Harvey. (Photo: US Air National Guard / Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez)

It was a 25,000-year storm. Its area of 24-inch rainfall was 50 to 100 times greater than anything previously recorded in the lower 48. Up to a million cars may have been flooded. In Harris County alone, 136,000 homes were flooded. Yet the official word from academia on Hurricane Harvey was that it “may have been enhanced” by climate change. When are we going start using professional judgement like doctors and engineers use to keep us safe, instead of the absolutes of certainty with science? Because of certainty in science, we cannot admit that Hurricane Harvey and other extraordinary weather extremes like Harvey were caused by climate change. Not only are we are exposing our culture to grave risk, but by not using professional judgement to make this call, we perpetuate climate pollution reform inaction that has solely created this great risk.

Hurricane Harvey Total Rainfall: The black dashed line is approximate area of 24 inch rainfall. the blue and red dots are rain fall reporting stations. In excess of 15,000 square miles received about two feet of rain or more. Hurricane Harvey Total Rainfall: The black dashed line is approximate area of 24 inch rainfall. the blue and red dots are rain fall reporting stations. In excess of 15,000 square miles received about two feet of rain or more.“We can’t tell if this particular weather event was caused by climate change or not.” This is one of the most dangerous climate science statements in history. It comes from certainty in statistics and it defines how scientists speak of their findings. There will always be a chance that a weather event could have occurred in either our old climate or our new climate. Generally, if there is a 1 in 20 chance, or even a 1 in 10 chance that something is not 100% for sure, we get this dangerous quote from scientists. The concept is based on an event that happens five or ten percent of the time and is directly related to the terms from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of “extremely likely (5%)” and “very likely (10%)”. It is this “certainty” in science that is getting us into trouble.

Harvey had a one in 25,000 chance of occurring in any given year — in our old climate. Therefore, Harvey should happen once every 25,000 years. Sorting this out with science takes time that we simple do not have.

Regardless of the risks, science must adhere to principles of “certainty.” But doctors and engineers are not bound by certainty. Harvey, and Sandy, Ike, Charlie all those record breaking Pacific Cat 5 cyclones recently, these are not normal hurricanes. Though the science says they will get bigger and more extreme with warming, why don’t climate scientists just come out and say the obvious?

Take Harvey for example. Those first reports of Harvey being a 1,000 year storm were obviously not correct. This is obvious to me, a hydrologist for 30 years. But everyone else must rely on what the media says.  n this case, a very well credited sicentists atthe University of Wisconsin used the tools available  to evaluate the worst 24 hour rainfall period of Harvey, that proved to be a 1,000-year storm, and then that went rogue. This 1,000-years storm represented an overnight “core dump” or rainfall. This is what a dying, land bound, stalled out hurricane does; it dumps all of its rain in the central core, at night. Houston saw three of these core dumps on three successive nights. But three 1,000-year storms ion three successive nights is not a 1,000-year storm. As we know now from the good work of the folks at Metstat, this entire event 120 hours of rain, was a 25,000-year storm.

What doctors and engineers do to keep us safe is they use professional judgement. They take the certainty of science and apply it to life using risk to gauge whether or not action is demanded. If the uncertainty is high, but the risk is grave, say with cancer, or auto crash mortality, the decision is simple. Treat the risk as if it was a sure thing.  If the risk is high enough with professional judgement, the event becomes certain enough for action to be taken. Do we wait and see if the projections of climate changes are scientifically certain before we act, or do we use professional judgement?

The U.S. Continental 24-hour rainfall record was set in Alvin in 1979 during tropical storm Claudette. Claudette’s rains of greater than 24 inches covered 400 to 500 square miles. David Roth, Weather Prediction Center, Camp Springs, Maryland National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.The US Continental 24-hour rainfall record was set in Alvin in 1979 during tropical storm Claudette. Claudette’s rains of greater than 24 inches covered 400 to 500 square miles. David Roth, Weather Prediction Center, Camp Springs, Maryland National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.

 Harvey’s Climate Change Certainty

A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor. A warmer ocean has more energy for a storm’s development. Warmer water evaporates faster, putting even more moisture in the atmosphere. Deeper ocean warming now present in the Gulf of Mexico creates less cooling of the ocean surface from mixing caused by hurricane wind and waves, which allows more heat to be transferred to the atmosphere. And dynamics: dynamics are those processes like when we look into a pot of water on the stove and see convection, or warmer water rising from the bottom of the pot. As our average air temperature increases, rising air moves faster.

When moist air rises, because the temperature falls with altitude, the moisture condenses into clouds. This condensation releases heat, which makes the air rise even faster, allowing more moisture to condense faster, releasing heat even faster. This is the hurricane heat engine. Climate change is like steroids for hurricanes.

In other words, climate change is a nonlinear process.  That is, a little warming does not create a little more hurricane, it creates a lot more, like a population explosion or an avalanche. Climate change is almost exclusively a nonlinear thing. A little warming puts a lot more energy in the weather.

The most extreme Cat 4 and Cat 5 hurricanes have already been shown to be increasing in strength and numbers, and are expected to double in numbers by century’s end and total hurricane cumulative energy to increase by 20 percent — based on scientific certainty. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their 2013 report says there has been, “a virtually certain increase in the frequency and intensity of the strongest tropical cyclones since the 1970s in that region [the Atlantic basin].” They are referring here to Cat 4 and Cat 5 storms.

Also based on scientific certainty, Antarctica was not supposed to begin losing ice until after 2100 (IPCC 2007.)

Amelia’s 24 inch rains covered 500 to 600 square miles. David Roth, Weather Prediction Center, Camp Springs, Maryland National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.Amelia’s 24 inch rains covered 500 to 600 square miles. David Roth, Weather Prediction Center, Camp Springs, Maryland National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.As of the 2013 IPCC report, Antarctica has now begun to lose ice (nearly as much as Greenland.) It was not because Antarctica suddenly began losing ice; the first publishing on Antarctic ice loss was in 1996. The reason is scientific certainty. We knew all along that Antarctica was losing ice, but the statistical certainty just wasn’t there. Like, we know the Russians helped Trump win the election, but not enough is known yet to send people to prison.

It is because of this certainty characteristic of science that virtually every climate impact we are seeing today is happening ahead of schedule: Arctic sea ice loss, Gulf Stream shutdown, beach erosion, polar subsea methane venting, high altitude and high latitude ecosystem collapse from insect attack, and the flip of Amazon from carbon sink to carbon source. All are happening decades to a century or more ahead of schedule, because scientific certainty could not say for sure that these things would happen as they have been happening, when these things were first published.

Harvey, the Jet Stream, the Polar Vortex and the Jelly Roll

The jet stream is a river of air flowing around the earth that is formed by the earth’s rotation. Embedded within the jet stream are waves similar to the “haystack” waves that form in river rapids. They are called Rossby waves in meteorology. These waves “pick up” the jet stream and the two interact with one another creating meanders that push cold fronts and weather systems around the planet. So literally, these meanders in the jet stream move our weather west to east across the planet, following the jet stream’s north/south meanders.

Hadley Cells have expanded over Texas. Where the air in the Hadley Cells descends, steering currents are weak. Image from: COMET Program, a part of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research’s (UCAR’s) Community Programs (UCP) and is sponsored by NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS).

Hadley Cells have expanded over Texas. Where the air in the Hadley Cells descends, steering currents are weak. Image from: COMET Program, a part of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research’s (UCAR’s) Community Programs (UCP) and is sponsored by NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS).Hadley Cells have expanded over Texas. Where the air in the Hadley Cells descends, steering currents are weak. Image from: COMET Program, a part of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research’s (UCAR’s) Community Programs (UCP) and is sponsored by NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS).For about ten years now, we have known that these Rossby waves slow when Earth warms. The slowing is caused by the difference in temperature between the tropics and the poles; this is called arctic amplification where the poles warm more than the rest of the planet. It is these Rossby waves that researchers headed by Michael Mann form Penn State, and including the German Academy of Sciences, University of Minnesota at Duluth, and the University of Amsterdam, have published about in a continuing line of diverse research findings from across the globe. These findings reveal observations of slowing and stalling of the jet stream’s march across the planet because of warming. This new work adds to the already established body of research and increases the “certainty” that events like hurricane Harvey were a product of climate change.

The far advanced northern location of the jet stream too, a condition created by expansion of subtropical circulation cells (Hadley cells) is also a part of the puzzle.  These Hadley cells exist on either side of the equator and wrap around earth like a giant jelly roll. They are caused by hot air rising in the tropics, flowing north in the upper atmosphere and descending somewhere at the boundary of the subtropics — right over Texas. The position of Hadley cells is part of what determines where the jet stream flows around the earth. With expanded Hadley cells, the jet stream sets up farther north. The farther north the jet stream is, the less likely steering currents will pick up a tropical system and move it along. Riechler summarized the available work on expansion of Hadley Cells as an indicator of climate change and showed a 1.4 degree increase northward in the northern edge of the Hadley Cells per decade since 1979. This “shift” is nearly 400 miles.

Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 was the 17th most costly catastrophe in the US produced 30 to 40 inches of rain and $11.9 billion in damages. The area of 24″ rainfall was about 600 square miles.

Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 was the 17th most costly catastrophe in the U.S. produced 30 to 40 inches of rain and $11.9 billion in damages. The area of 24″ rainfall was about 600 square miles.Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 was the 17th most costly catastrophe in the US produced 30 to 40 inches of rain and $11.9 billion in damages. The area of 24″ rainfall was about 600 square miles.The slowing and stalling of weather systems caused by all these things has been attributed to drought and flood in recent decades. Most notably, Hurricane Sandy’s infamous left turn into New York City and New Jersey was caused because of a stalled high pressure system over Greenland. The “left turn” made by Sandy had literally never occurred before, since records began being kept. The big Texas and Oklahoma drought in 2011 and the recent drought in California were all impacted by stalled Rossby waves.

Stalls are not new to hurricanes, but five day stalls are pretty crazy. A normal stall is a day or maybe two. Longer stalls have happened and these are responsible for the heaviest rainfall totals we have recorded. Hurricanes generally though, tend to move along. So with normal hurricane rain math of 10 inches a day, a couple of days stall give us 20 to 30 inches. Stall for two more days and we see fifty inches.

As an aside, the polar vortex is another part of this discussion that is related, that we hear about often in winter with blizzards. The polar vortex is simply a meandering, relatively tightly spinning area of air at the poles caused because our world is round and air flows around it because it spins. The polar vortex wanders around in the arctic like a spinning top wobbles, drunkenly and naturally. When Rossby waves slow, the polar vortex wobble increases, pulling polar air farther south as the wobbles meander southward with the increasing wobbliness. You can see the polar vortex wobbling about in the NASA video above.

Extreme Extremes

The strongest hurricane (by wind speed) ever to hit the US at the time, creating the biggest storm surge ever recorded, was Camille in 1969 with a record 22 foot surge. It struck virtually the exact same spot as Katrina, but Katrina in 2005 had a surge of 28 feet. Hurricane Sandy’s record shattering impacts in 2012 were caused after Sandy had been downgraded to a tropical storm just before it made landfall. Not even a hurricane, it carried a storm surge of 14 feet, whereas a Category 1 hurricane has a normal storm surge of 4 to 5 feet (a Cat 2 is 6 to 8 feet, Cat 3 is 9 to 12, and a Cat 4 has a normal surge of 13 to 18 feet.) Ike, at Galveston in 2008, was a Cat 2 storm with a 22 foot storm surge.

Four-foot rainfall events of note are rare, but two of them have happened in Texas; Amelia in 1978 and Claudette in 1979. Amelia had the all-time North American continent rainfall event record at 48 inches and Claudette had the all-time 24-hour rainfall record of 45 inches. Seeing as both of these storm happened in Texas, one might say Texas is a little bit prone to these events which would likely be a pretty valid statement.

Enhancement of the stall is happening now because of two different things: Rossby waves and Hadley cells.  Enhancement of rainfall quantity is happening in four different ways: increased moisture capacity, warmer ocean, deeper warming, and increased dynamics. If the enhancement was just a little bit, the answer to the question of “caused” or “enhanced” would not be so important.

Another clue as to the responsibility of climate change lies in the extreme extent of the rains and this consideration is profound. Hurricanes stalls are not rare. Both the 24-hour and total event rainfall records in the US were caused by stalled tropical systems. Hurricane Amelia and Tropical Storm Claudette created 24 inches of rainfall over an area in the mid hundreds of square miles each. The vast difference with Harvey is that he created rainfall in excess of 24 inches in an area in of about 18,000 square miles. The area of 24 inch rainfall covered by Harvey was 36 to 45 times more than the previous all-time records.

Enhanced or Caused?

Was Harvey “enhanced” or “caused” by climate change? Ask a scientist and certainty compels them to say “enhanced.” But would Harvey have been such an incredible disaster if it had of not stalled, or stalled less? Did the climate change slowed Rossby waves and the expanded jelly roll Hadley Cells cause four feet of rain in Houston, when a normally hurricane would have created two, three, or even four days less rain?

There is a distinct line between a weather catastrophe and just another weather event. Is it fair to say that climate change only “enhanced” this event when there is the distinct possibility that it would not have occurred at all without the stall, or the increased moisture in the warmer atmosphere, or the extra warm water, or the extra deep extra warm water, or the extra dynamics?

It is the astonishing increase in area of massive rainfall that really holds Harvey apart from storms that were simply “enhanced” by climate change. How many more of these events will we have to endure before we begin to rightly call them as they are?

If you ask climate scientist, or a media person or elected leader, or a plain old scientists who watches the news and listens to what the scientists say, we know what the answer will be. When are we going to begin using professional judgement to communicate the risk that current warming has already created to our society? That yes, current warming is very dangerous and we don’t have to wait for 1.5 or 2 degrees C of warming for it to become dangerous. When too, are we going to change our climate culture from one that only seeks to limit warming to some level that we see now is far too dangerous, rather than returning our climate to a safe and healthy state?

Harvey was definitely “caused” by climate change. Without climate change, Harvey would have just been another 25 inch tropical system in Houston, And this supposition assumes that the stall would have happened anyway. Without the stall, because the storm hit 150 miles away, Houston could have been left high and dry with hardly a drop of rain.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.


Bruce Melton is a professional engineer, environmental researcher, filmmaker, author and CEO of the Climate Change Now Initiative in Austin, Texas. The Climate Change Now Initiative is a nonprofit outreach organization reporting the latest discoveries in climate science in plain English. Information on his book, Climate Discovery Chronicles, can be found along with more climate change writing, climate science outreach and critical environmental issue documentary films at ClimateDiscovery.org. Images copyright Bruce Melton and the Climate Change Now Initiative except where referenced otherwise.

Climate Change Is Complex. We’ve Got Answers to Your Questions.


Climate change? Global warming? What do we call it?

Both are accurate, but they mean different things.

You can think of global warming as one type of climate change. The broader term covers changes beyond warmer temperatures, such as shifting rainfall patterns.

President Trump has claimed that scientists stopped referring to global warming and started calling it climate change because “the weather has been so cold” in winter. But the claim is false. Scientists have used both terms for decades.

2.How much is the Earth heating up?

Two degrees is more significant than it sounds.

As of early 2017, the Earth had warmed by roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit (more than 1 degree Celsius) since 1880, when records began at a global scale. The number may sound low, but as an average over the surface of an entire planet, it is actually high, which explains why much of the world’s land ice is starting to melt and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace. If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, scientists say, the global warming could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would undermine the planet’s capacity to support a large human population.

3.What is the greenhouse effect, and
how does it cause global warming?

We’ve known about it for more than a century. Really.

In the 19th century, scientists discovered that certain gases in the air trap and slow down heat that would otherwise escape to space. Carbon dioxide is a major player; without any of it in the air, the Earth would be a frozen wasteland. The first prediction that the planet would warm as humans released more of the gas was made in 1896. The gas has increased 43 percent above the pre-industrial level so far, and the Earth has warmed by roughly the amount that scientists predicted it would.

4.How do we know humans are responsible
for the increase in carbon dioxide?

This one is nailed down.

Hard evidence, including studies that use radioactivity to distinguish industrial emissions from natural emissions, shows that the extra gas is coming from human activity. Carbon dioxide levels rose and fell naturally in the long-ago past, but those changes took thousands of years. Geologists say that humans are now pumping the gas into the air much faster than nature has ever done.

5.Could natural factors be the cause of the warming?


In theory, they could be. If the sun were to start putting out more radiation, for instance, that would definitely warm the Earth. But scientists have looked carefully at the natural factors known to influence planetary temperature and found that they are not changing nearly enough. The warming is extremely rapid on the geologic time scale, and no other factor can explain it as well as human emissions of greenhouse gases.

6.Why do people deny the science of climate change?

Mostly because of ideology.

Instead of negotiating over climate change policies and trying to make them more market-oriented, some political conservatives have taken the approach of blocking them by trying to undermine the science.

President Trump has sometimes claimed that scientists are engaged in a worldwide hoax to fool the public, or that global warming was invented by China to disable American industry. The climate denialists’ arguments have become so strained that even oil and coal companies have distanced themselves publicly, though some still help to finance the campaigns of politicians who espouse such views.

Trump administration quick to quell rumors that US will stay in Paris Climate Accord

[Sorry, it was only a rumor…]

By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
September 20, 2017, 3:27:22 PM EDT

Rumors spread over the weekend that President Donald Trump will remain in the Paris Climate Agreement, in contrast to previous claims made by Trump that the United States would withdraw from the agreement.

Uncertainty arose about the U.S. stance on the climate agreement after American officials attended a meeting with climate ministers on Saturday in Montreal, Canada.

A European diplomat told reporters that a Trump administration envoy appeared to signal a softening stance.

Trump UN Climate

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

However, the Trump administration was quick to deny these statements.

“There has been no change in the United States’ position on the Paris agreement,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said. “As the president has made abundantly clear, the United States is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country.”

Trump announced in June that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris agreement, but may be open to “renegotiate” the accord on terms more favorable to the U.S.

The Paris agreement was among one of the many topics discussed at the United Nations General Assembly this week, as Trump made his address.

On the sidelines of the U.N. meetings on Monday, Gary Cohn, head of the National Economic Council, met with about a dozen climate ministers from large-economy nations to discuss the U.S. position on the Paris agreement.

“I made the president’s position unambiguous, to where the president stands and where the administration stands on Paris,” Cohn said to reporters following the meeting. “We reaffirmed the president’s statement that he made in the Rose Garden, and we continue to reinforce what the president is saying.”

Trump Paris Climate

In this Thursday, June 1, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks about the U.S. role in the Paris climate change accord in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The Paris Climate Accord is an agreement made in 2015 between nearly 200 nations pledging to voluntary mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to keep the global temperature from rising no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels over the course of the next century.

It takes a country four years to withdraw from the agreement. If the U.S. follows through on the pullout, it will be a part of the agreement until two days after Trump’s first term ends.

The decision for the U.S. to pullout of the agreement has been met with great criticism, from both U.S. citizens and U.S. allies. There are multiple impacts of the pullout on the U.S. and its relation in international affairs.

Trump announces US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement
What Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement means for the US
How the world has changed since the Paris Climate Pact

Nearly 70 percent of registered voters believe that the U.S. should participate in the Paris Climate Agreement, according to a study produced by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York, Jay Inslee of Washington, and Jerry Brown of California created the U.S. Climate Alliance in response to the U.S. federal government’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. This bi-partisan coalition of states, which now includes 13 states and Puerto Rico, is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris agreement.

The members of the alliance have spoken out about their stance and have signed a petition urging President Trump to keep the U.S. in the Paris agreement.

State climate alliance

In this May 24, 2017, file photo, California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during the joint Netherlands and California Environmental Protection Agency conference called, “Climate is Big Business,” at the Presidio in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Many foreign leaders have spoken out on their disapproval of Trump’s decision.

Most recently, the French President Emmanuel Macron used his inaugural speech at the United Nations General Assembly this week to rebuke many of the points that Trump made in his speech just two hours earlier, including his position on the climate agreement.

“Our challenges are global, and more than ever we need multilateralism,” Macron said during his address to the assembly. “Walls don’t protect us; what protects us is our joint willingness to change history. We are all linked.”

Macron also ruled out any renegotiation of the Paris agreement, and said the rest of the world will go ahead with or without the U.S.

Foreign anti trump climate

Greenpeace protesters stand in silence with banners outside the U.S. embassy in Madrid, Spain, Friday, June 2, 2017. The protesters gathered at the gates of the United States embassy in the Spanish capital to protest President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the world’s second-largest carbon dioxide emitter out of the Paris climate agreement. Small banners read ‘Climate SOS’ and ‘We’ll go ahead without you.’ (AP Photo/Paul White)

Foreign anti trump climate

The top candidates of the Green Party for the Germany’s parliamentary elections, Katrin Goering-Eckardt, center left, and Cem Ozdemir, center, protest against US President Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement in front the the US embassy in Berlin, Germany, Friday, June 2, 2017. (Britta Pedersen/dpa via AP)

Furthermore, the recent occurrence of back-to-back extreme hurricanes, Irma and Harvey, brought the impact of climate change into the United Nations General Assembly on Monday.

“This season fits a pattern: Changes to our climate are making extreme weather events more severe and frequent, pushing communities into a viscous cycle of shock and recovery,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

Extreme weather linked to climate change has an impact around the globe ranging from floods in southern Asia to landslides and droughts in Africa. The world must develop adaptation measures in response and must work together to reduce carbon emissions, according to Guterres.

Other nations chimed in to stress the need for developing strategies to combat the potential risks of climate change.

“For many, climate change is a matter that can be subject to scientific debate, but for others, like us, the Caribbeans, it’s an atmospheric phenomenon of a ferocity and an intensity that we’ve never seen before,” Danilo Medina, president of the Dominican Republic, said.

AP DR Thurs eve

A home flattened by Hurricane Irma lies in a pile in Nagua, Dominican Republic, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Irma cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees. (AP Photo/Tatiana Fernandez)

The recent extreme weather events have raised the question of whether Trump has changed his view on climate change. Trump has notoriously called climate change a “hoax” that was created by and for the Chinese in a tweet.

When pressed whether he had changed his views on climate change, Trump avoided the question and contradicted previous statements that he made about the storms.

“We’ve had bigger storms than this,” Trump said to reporters on Sept. 14, after touring damage from Hurricane Irma on Florida’s west coast.

“If you go back into the 1930s and the 1940s, and you take a look, we’ve had storms over the years that have been bigger than this,” Trump said. “If you go back into the teens, you’ll see storms that were as big or bigger. So we did have two horrific storms, epic storms, but if you go back into the ’30s and ’40s, and you go back into the teens, you’ll see storms that were very similar and even bigger, OK?”

This statement is in contraction to earlier statements and tweets.

Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen. Be safe and get out of its way,if possible. Federal G is ready!

The link between the recent hurricanes and climate change is not yet fully understood. Scientists have different approaches to understanding the linkage between hurricanes and climate change, according to a Scientific American article published by Michael Mann, Thomas Peterson and Susan Hassol.

There are two fundamentally different ways of addressing the role of climate change in extreme weather events. These different perspectives can contribute to public confusion.

The first approach is to account for the simple physical processes and what role they may be playing in hurricanes.

“There are certain indisputable linkages that we can talk about immediately because they have already been vetted in general rather than for any specific storm,” the Scientific American article read.

These physical processes include higher sea surface temperatures (SST) contributing to the flooding power of a hurricane and sea level rise contributing to the coastal flooding associated with recent major hurricanes.

“The seemingly modest 1 foot of sea level rise off the New York City and New Jersey coast made a Sandy-like storm surge of 14 feet far more likely, and led to 25 additional square miles of flooding and several billion extra dollars of damage,” the article read.

Superstorm Sandy

In this Nov. 15, 2012, file photo, Dean Rasinya poses with a street sign for Irving Walk salvaged from wreckage in Queens, New York. A fire destroyed more than 100 homes in the area during Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

The other approach used involves a climatological “CSI,” running simulations of a climate model both with and without the impact of human-generated greenhouse gas increases. This is used to help detect a trend and attribute an event in part to those increases.

These approaches complement each other, as they add different perspectives and tools to determine the relationship between human activity and extreme weather events.

“There is much that we know based on physics, and we should state those things clearly and immediately, as they can provide insights that can help guide people as they begin to recover and plan for the future,” the Scientific American article concluded.

recent NOAA report found that it is “premature to conclude that human activities … have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity.”

However, the report also found that human activity “may have already caused changes” and that global warming “will likely cause tropical cyclones globally to be more intense on average,” “lead to an increase in the occurrence of very intense tropical cyclone(s),” and “will likely cause tropical cyclones to have substantially higher rainfall rates than present-day ones.”