Tragedy is like strong acid – it dissolves away all but the very gold of truth.D.H. Lawrence
(Photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash.com)
Abrupt climate change leading to near term human extinction is a tragedy. Let us develop this drama step by step to dis-cover the gold.
Since ancient Greek drama tragedies follow a special plot.
Shakespearean tragedies follow these rules too. I’ll take Macbeth as an example.
Similarity (Mac…) to actual persons is purely coincidental.
Act I of Near Term Human Extinction: CO2
In the first Act of a tragedy the protagonists and the main conflict are introduced.
In case of Macbeth the three “Weird Women” give Macbeth a prophecy that he will be King. Lady Macbeth persuades him to kill the king that very night.
Well, in our case of abrupt climate change the protagonist is the civilization. Our conflict: being successful and growing as a civilization means to have access to seemingly endless sources of energy, fossil fuels. That the CO2 level in the atmosphere is close corresponding to global warming is clear.
# Source: slide-show Climate Change by Octavia Woods
Of course, the CO2 level has always fluctuated. Even without human beings the level occilated between 180 and 280 ppm (parts per million) over the last 400,000 years. Since some years it‘s jumping up vertically. CO2 has passed 400 ppm in 2015.
The graph is unmistakable, CO2 concentration and global temperature are running in parallel. It‘s no doubt: there is a strong connection between CO2 and global warming.
And – there is a time lag until CO2 takes full effect. Even if it would be possible to stop CO2 emission at once and to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, the global warming will increase for the next years.
Act II of Near Term Human Extinction: Feedback Loops
Escalating action: Macbeth becomes a murderer on Duncan’s sleeping servants and assumes the throne as the new King of Scotland. Once Macbeth is gone on the dark side, he can‘t stop anymore.
Now the climate is getting creepy too.
Feedback loops are self reinforcing mechanisms – also called vicious cycle. Once they are set in motion they accelerate. There are dozens of feedback loops that are pushing the global heating. Let‘s look at two of them.
1) Albedo effect
While the Arctic sea ice is melting in an accelerating way, the sunlight isn‘t reflected from the white surface anymore, like it‘s used to. The Artic Ocean has a very huge expansion, it‘s an ocean. More and more sunlight is absorbed by the water. That are really huge amounts of energy that are now warming the water.
This heat energy is melting the ice. The ice volume is decreasing more and more. So we have less reflection of sunlight, less Albedo (effect). The ocean water absorbs more energy …
When the Arctic Ocean is ice free, first in summer, then more and more over the whole year, we have a physical effect that will heat the Arctic Ocean even more: the latent heat effect. If you melt one kg of ice (near 0° C), the same energy you have used for melting will heat this kg of water (near 0° C) to 80° C. Once the Arctic Ocean is ice-free there is no way back. All the catastrophic changes of climate patterns we are witnessing now are children’s games in comparison.
2) Methane Monster
The second feedback effect of many loops I want to mention is the increasing release of methane. Besides many areas in the world where methane is stored the Siberian Arctic Shelf is one of the most important. This is a shallow part of the Arctic Ocean. There are huge recources of methane hydrate at the sea floor and in the sediments beneath. This is a kind of frozen methane captured in a cage of frozen water molecules. If methane hydrate is melting, the methane is increasing the volume by a factor of 120. Methane is a very potent green house gas.
# graph: by Sam Carana on arctic news
So the atmospheric temperature is increasing. More ice is melting, the water of the Arctic Ocean is heating, more methane is released …
Having in mind that these are only two self-reinforcing feedbacks, it is obvious that we are at the beginning of a very strong acceleration of the temperature of the Arctic. The global temperature will follow. This is exponential growth.
Act III of Near Term Human Extinction: Point of no return
Macbeth has passed the Point of no return. He murders his friend Banquo and becomes a tyrant. Full of fear and premonitions he meets Banquo’s ghost.
Well, climate disruption has passed points of no return too.
Among other tipping points Natalia Shakhova describes a special point of no return: The champagne bottle is open. Huge amounts of methane are stored in the subsea sediments of the Arctic Siberian shelf. There is a layer of permafrost, that hinders methane to be released from the sediments beneath.
While this lid is impermeable, there is nothing to worry about. But when this lid loses its integrity, this is when we start worrying.
– Natalia Shakhova
Once the bottle of methane deposits of the subsea sediments is uncorked, there is no way to stop this process.
Listen to Paul Beckwith’s commentaries on this:
There is a series of such tipping points. Having this in mind, Guy McPherson concludes in 2016 that the global temperature could increase +10 C within 10 years. Then the climate equilibrium is finally out of balance and humans are still gone.
Act IV of Near Term Human Extinction: Global Dimming
Postponement and Hope
Macbeth has a glimmer of hope from a second prophecy. But to send murderers to Macduff and slaughter his wife and children doesn’t save him.
Although global dimming shadows the planet there is no hope.
Global dimming means that atmospheric aerosol particles shadow the planet. So without this umbrella the global temperature would be 1-3 C higher. During the terror attacks 9/11 the civil aviation was stopped over USA. In some days an increase of 1 C could be observed. This has been a regional effect.
A civilization collapse – at least a part of the global economy, supply systems, transportation etc. could push the global temperature in some days or weeks. That would trigger many feedback mechanisms and – if not already passed – many tipping points.
This is a classical dilemma:
If we reduce or stop burning fossil fuels, we push the global heating.
If we burn fossil fuels until they run short, we push the global heating.
There is no right or wrong. No solution.
Act V of Near Term Human Extinction: Catastrophe
Lady Macbeth is going crazy. She tries to wash off imaginary bloodstains from her hands and kills herself. Macbeth realizes too late that he has misinterpreted the witches’ words. Macduff kills and beheads him.
Habitat, habitat, habitat
The biggest misunderstanding:
We can easily stand a temperature difference of 20 or 30 C°, just by wearing winter coat, gloves and a cap. So, a jump of 2 to 3 C° will be no problem for us humans. Right?
In the summer 2018 we could witness that the very, very long dry heat period had destroyed the crop cultivation in many regions of Europe. Some farmers in Germany did‘t have any or very few cattle feed left. They have to buy fodder during the winter and they are bankrupt, without agricultural funds, European or national.
Well, we have survived this drought, fortunately. But this example shows how the climate systems are changing. Weather patterns are more and more extreme, they don’t stick to seasons or the usal regions. The most important air-conditioner of our planet stutters.
I have seen a documentation in TV about the ability of rain forests to adapt to global heating. Scientists tried do measure how long it takes that tree species „walk up the mountains“ to escape the warming temperatures. I don‘t remember the exact data but it took some years to „move“ some meters in higher regions. That’s way too slow.
We could discuss, if humans can survive without trees. But this is only one example that living beings on our planet are not able to survive these fast changes. The environmental changes are with a factor of 10,000 faster than evolutionary changes, said Guy McPherson, professor emeritus for evolutionary biology.
FTE 013 ~ Biology for Doomers
Humans can easily adept to huge changes of temperature, but we are losing our habitat, our food, all the organisms that help to grow our food, a healthy chemistry of the atmosphere, clean water … We will not be the last species, that is leaving this planet earth.
If these informations are relative new for you, you may experience overwhelming emotional responses. That‘s absolutely normal. Most people won‘t read this. Or they try to avoid any emotional distress by denying the arguments. Maybe the conclusions are wrong that we are in a phase of near term human extinction. I hope so. But our situation is serious.
Anyway, It’s worth dealing with life and death. Our time is short. And if it‘s shorter than expected, live is even more precious.