(Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash.com)
Sorry, Greta Thunberg.
I have children of the same age. I accompanied them on a Friday for Future demonstration here in Münster, Germany. 6000 demonstrators! Great! Congrats!
To see this colorful, loud crowd makes me really happy. And it breaks my heart at the same time. That may be the reason why I find it really hard to write this article. It took me weeks.
It fills me with grief to say we are too late.
In my 56 years of life I have not being able to leave another world for you. I apologize for that.
I don’t want to betray you and tell the whole story.
Be welcome to read it.
Or leave, if you don’t want to – for any reason.
Evidence, Interpretation, Opinion, Belief
Know yourself. Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.Ann Landers
In this way the idea of a scientific method is turned upside down. But I’m afraid that’s how it’s often done. Then what you want to hear is true.
I want to understand evidence as a result of a clean scientific methodology. The highest level of evidence are secondary, peer-reviewed studies published in high-impact journals or meta-reviews.
Sometimes I will consider observations that do not meet these criteria to be evident. For example, if a curve of the development of the Arctic ice volume increasingly points downwards, there is no need for a big theory to see where it will land in a few years.
Interpretation or connecting the dots is the second step without which there can be no further knowledge.
Evidence and interpretation are clearly to distinguish from opinions (“We’ll solve the problem technically.”) or beliefs (“I don’t belief in anthropogenic climate change.”). Opinions or beliefs are no adequate answers to evidence. It just happens on a different level.
CO2 and Global Temperature
By burning fossil fuels, intensified since the industrial revolution, which began around 1750, we have increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The following graph shows, that the CO2 data recorded by scripps.ucsd.edu at Mauna Loa, Hawaii has hit the 415 ppm (parts per million) mark in May 2019. If I could only have one graphic in this article, I would take it.
Since 800,000 years the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere had not passed 300 ppm.
So far, it’s just bare data. The next graph suggests a strong correlation between CO2 and the global average temperature.
Since 420,000 years the red temperature curve and the blue CO2 curve run surprisingly parallel.
Our study unambiguously shows one-way causality between the total Greenhouse Gases and GMTA (global mean surface temperature anomalies). Specifically, it is confirmed that the former, especially CO2, are the main causal drivers of the recent warming.Stips et al, 2016
Despite global efforts like the Paris agreement in 2015 the CO2 level still increases. The temperature will follow.
David Wasdell of the Apollo Gaia Project criticises this 1.5 target in his report Climate Dynamics: Facing the Harsh Realities of Now, 2015.
In this one hour long presentation by Professor David Wasdell of the Apollo Gaia Project he explains that we have no available carbon budget and that we are on a trajectory of well over 10 degrees C. This sort of global temperature rise guarantees the total collapse of the biosphere as we know it.Kevin Hester
David Wasdell calls the future consequences of CO2 emissions “implicit temperature increase”.
And now today, at 400 ppm, we have an implicit increase of about 4°C as a result of current concentrations of CO2. But we have also emitted nitrous oxide, ozone, methane and CFCs. … There are about 487ppm carbon dioxide equivalent already in the atmosphere. The implicit temperature increase from that is now about 6.2°C … (Contrast that with the increase of 1.5°C which is what the computer models are predicting.)Wasdell’s harsh reality presentation as pdf
Guy McPherson sees no way for humans to survive such a rise in global-average temperature.
David Wasdell clearly contradicts the IPCC’s advice to politicians that we can still emit a budget of 200-250 gigatons of carbon.
We have already overshot the 2 degree boundary by some 323 thousand million tonnes of emitted carbon.David Wasdell
Despite the diversity of complex systems, from markets to ecosystems to crowd behavior, there are remarkable similarities. For most of the time such systems are stable. However, many complex systems have critical thresholds, called tipping points, when the system shifts abruptly from one state to another. This has been studied in many systems including market crashes, abrupt climate change, fisheries collapse, and asthma attacks. Despite the complexity and number of parameters within such systems, the meta-state of the system may often be dependent on just one or two key state variables.David Korowicz: Tipping Point, March 2010
The egg on the edge of the table is quite a good metaphor for how systems react to exceeding a tipping point. The egg is in equilibrium and only a small impulse brings the center of gravity over the edge of the table. Especially a raw egg will change its structure very fast in a chaotic way. In this case, however, I would not say that it returns to a state of equilibrium. It is simply broken.
In case of climate change a tipping point has been exceeded if we could speak of abrupt climate change.
David Korowicz about the role of positive feedbacks:
For example, as the climate warms it drives up emissions of methane from the artic tundra, which drives further climate change, which leads to further exponential growth in emissions. This could trigger other tipping points such as a die-off in the amazon, itself driving further emissions. Such positive feedbacks could mean that whatever humanity does would no longer matter as its impact would be swamped by the acceleration of much larger scale processes.
I’d like to repeat that: “…that whatever humanity does would no longer matter as its impact would be swamped by the acceleration of much larger scale processes.“
In advance it is difficult to determine tipping points, but if we observe abrupt reactions and unstable states we can be sure that we have passed one.
Arctic Ice Melt
The situation in the Arctic, our important air conditioning, indicates we have crossed tipping points here. The jet stream is now mostly fractured and chaotic. This leads to unstable and extreme weather situations.
Albedo is an effect that a decline in ice and snow cover reduces the reflection of the sunlight. In the Arctic Ocean this has a huge impact.
As Professor Peter Wadhams, University of Cambridge, once calculated, a collapse of the sea ice would go hand in hand with dramatic loss of snow and ice cover on land in the Arctic. The albedo change resulting from the snowline retreat on land is similarly large as the retreat of sea ice, so the combined impact could be well over 2 W/sq m. To put this in context, albedo changes in the Arctic alone could more than double the net radiative forcing resulting from the emissions caused by all people of the world.Sam Carana, arctic-news, Sept. 2016
Well, this is not from a peer-reviewed paper, but it’s Mathematics and Physics. And it’s quoted from one of the most important Arctic experts. His conclusion to double the effect of all emissions is remarkable. I am honored, that Peter Wadhams has answered this article, see comments.
In fact it’s not as bad as that – we have a paper out showing that it is more like 40% – but this is still a big amplification factor, and I have to agree with the figures being put forward on other sources of warming. We are in a bad way, but the remedy is not to despair but to go flat out for a cost-effective direct air capture method, to be applied immediately. Carbon emission reduction alone is hopeless.Prof. Peter Wadhams in the commentary
The change of albedo is only one feedback mechanisms.
Latent Heat is another feedback.
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. For the Arctic Ocean that means, the more there are areas without ice the energy (from sunlight) that is absorbed by the ocean water will increase rapidly. The latent heat effect will trigger other feedbacks like albedo. It will at least speed heating the Arctic.
Up to now Guy McPherson has mentioned Wieslaw Maslowski’s prediction, that we’ll have an ice free Arctic in 2016 +- 3 years. In this video he withdraws this assessment. Using linear projections have led to misjudgments. Supercomputers and complex models bring much more reliable results.
According to Maslowski exact predictions can be made about the development of the Arctic Sea-Ice-Volume for 6 months. He is quite sure that we won’t have a blue ocean event (nearly ice-free Arctic ocean) in the summer of 2019. He remains vague when we can expect an ice-free Arctic.
If we look at the curve of Yearly Minimum Arctic Ice Volume it is obvious that the ice volume is decreasing. We may have an ice-free Arctic for a short period in summer in one of the next years. And if we only take albedo and latent heat as two feedback mechanisms it is obvious to predict that the climate patterns at least of the northern hemisphere will change dramatically.
Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov, field researcher, have been warning for years that there are huge amounts of methane hydrates at the sea floor of the East Siberia Arctic Shelf. Because the ocean is quite shallow and the water is heating, there could be a burst of 50 GT methane “highly possible for abrupt release at any time“.
Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. This 50 GT burst can lead to an increase of the global average temperature significantly. But the results are confusing.
Authors calculated that such a release would cause 1.3°C warming by 2100.Sam Carana
And in a much shorter periode:
Professor Peter Wadhams co-authored a study that calculated that methane release from the sea floor of the Arctic Ocean could yield 0.6°C warming of the planet in 5 years.Sam Carana
These two predictions, + 1.3 C by 2100 and + 0.6 C in 5 years are not satisfying.
I have asked Sam Carana (https://www.facebook.com/SamCarana) how he came to his prediction of “1.1°C warming due to methane releases from clathrates at the seafloor” by 2026. His answer:
The 1.1 C rise due to seafloor methane was arrived at after an intense analysis of literature and taking into account a large number of variables.
Natalia Shakhova compares the East Siberian Arctic Shelf to a “bottle of champagne”. Once the bottle is open, there is no way back.
So the gas produces within this bottle and it keeps accumulating as long as the cork serves as an impermeable lid. This lid is subsea permafrost. … While this lid is impermeable, there is nothing to worry about. But when this lid loses its integrity, this is when we start worrying.Shakhova, Interview with Nick Breeze, June 2017
A methane outbreak alone could catapult the situation in the Arctic beyond tipping points.
She (Shakhova) explained that the transition from the methane being frozen in the permafrost, either on land or in the shallow northern shores of the East Siberian Arctic, “is not gradual. When it comes to phase transition, it appears to be a relatively short, jump-like transformation from one state of the process to another state. The difference between the two states is like the difference between a closed valve and an open valve. This kind of a release is like the unsealing of an over-pressurized pipeline.”truthout: The Methane Monster Roars, 2015
With the 50 GT methane outburst and an abrupt global temperature rise of 1.1 C, we must therefore calculate from the lowest edge of the expected increases.
A paper in Geosciences dated 23 November 2018 indicates up to 8516 ppm by volume in the Yamal region of Siberia , indicating the great potential for terrestrial permafrost to warm the planet in the near future. In other words, it is not only the 50-Gt burst of methane … that poses an existential threat based on methane alone.Guy McPherson
And not enough:
The study by Wilkerson et al. shows that nitrous oxide emissions from thawing Alaskan permafrost are about twelve times higher than previously assumed. A 2018 study by Yang et al. points at the danger of large nitrous oxide releases from thawing permafrost in Tibet. Even more nitrous oxide could be released from Antarctica.Sam Carana
Terrestrial permafrost is already melting all over the world. “Positive” feedback loops are in full swing.
Water Vapor is a Greenhouse Gas
Believe it or not, water vapor doubles the heating effect of other sources.
Measuring the effect of water vapor on climate warming, by American Geophysical Union, 18 March 2014:
Water vapor is a potent greenhouse gas. In the atmosphere, the concentration of water vapor increases with the temperature, setting up a powerful positive feedback loop. This water vapor feedback is the strongest known positive feedback, with the potential to roughly double the effect of warming caused by other sources.
More than 90 percent of the warming that has happened on Earth over the past 50 years has occurred in the ocean. Recent studies estimate that warming of the upper oceans accounts for about 63 percent of the total increase in the amount of stored heat in the climate system from 1971 to 2010, and warming from 700 meters down to the ocean floor adds about another 30 percent.Climate.gov, 01 Aug 2018
More heat stored in the ocean now means more will inevitably return to the atmosphere. “A couple of El Niño events will do the trick,” said England. The warm water and calm winds of this periodic Pacific tropical condition are “a big way to get subsurface heat back to the surface.”YaleEnvironment360, 30 March 2015
El Niños are events where ocean currents bring warm water to the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The resulting air circulations disperse heat and water vapor into the atmosphere.
The relative new Central Pacific El Niño events have a higher frequency in recent decades relative to past centuries according to Mandy B. Freund et al. in Nature Geoscience 2019.
“The Conversation”, 06 May 2019: El Niño has rapidly become stronger and stranger, according to coral records.
A new category of El Niño has become far more prevalent in the last few decades than at any time in the past four centuries. Over the same period, traditional El Niño events have become more intense.
As we can see in the graphic, strong El Niño events (the red columns) are able to boost the global temperature by 0.2-0.3 °C.
While the human civilization is increasingly emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, aerosols are simultaneously injected into the atmosphere.
Aerosols are atmospheric particles, which have an overall cooling influence on climate by reflecting sunlight back into space. Sources of human-generated aerosols include the use of fossil fuels and burning of vegetation.
Without this umbrella effect of aerosols the atmosphere would be much hotter. Therefore reducing carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels will provoke a further heating.
According to Levy et al. on 20 May 2013 in the Journal of Geophysical Research would as little as a 35% reduction lead to 1 °C temperature rise. This increase would occur within days or a few weeks.
Rosenfeld et al. in Science from 8 Feb 2019 consider the aerolsol masking effect to be greatly underestimated.
A rapid reduction of industrial activities is therefore not a good idea.
The Paris Agreement has called for a limitation of global warming to well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels; and to limit the increase to 1.5 °C.
The baseline is forever shifting. If we consider that Thomas Savery had a coal fired pump working in 1698 surely we should consider at least 1700 as a baseline rather that 1750 or any later date.Kevin Hester
Searching for current data you’ll find it for example at NASA, a U.S. agency. The last mean temperature anomaly from 2018 is +0.8 °C. These data are often used in publications and suggest that we still have plenty of room for +2°C.
The blue curve shows the global annual mean temperature anomalies. For the baseline, the zero mark, an average of temperature anomalies is taken from 1951 to 1980. You can speculate what the reason for choosing the baseline is.
The red line is adjusted to a preinstustrial baseline from 1750, as Sam Carana suggested.
In 2018 we had a global temperature 1.57 °C above preindustrial levels. In the strong El Nino year 2016 we have hit the mark of +1.7 °C. The polinomial trend line is near 1.7 °C.
In April 2019 Sam Carana estimates 2019 could be 1.85°C warmer than preindustrial .
Even the European Union Institute for Security Studies anticipates in the report “Global Trends to 2030” the extinction of mankind in the worst case:
An increase of 1.5 degrees is the maximum the planet can tolerate; should temperatures increase further beyond 2030, we will face even more droughts, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people; the likely demise of the most vulnerable populations – and at worst, the extinction of humankind altogether.Florence Gaub et al., 08 April 2019
Strona and Bradshow use the phrase “annihilate planetary life” in the title of their paper in nature.com from 13 Nov. 2018:
Co-extinctions annihilate planetary life during extreme environmental change
Our paper demonstrates that even the most tolerant species ultimately succumb to extinction when the less-tolerant species on which they depend disappear.Giovanni Strona
As the study points out, life on Earth will already have disappeared with a 5°C rise.
Aarhus University: Mammals cannot evolve fast enough to escape current extinction crisis
Humans are exterminating animal and plant species so quickly that nature’s built-in defense mechanism, evolution, cannot keep up. An Aarhus-led research team calculated that if current conservation efforts are not improved, so many mammal species will become extinct during the next five decades that nature will need 3 to 5 million years to recover.
And just to mention it: We are mammals too.
The environmental changes are with a factor of 10,000 faster than evolutionary changes, said Guy McPherson, professor emeritus for evolutionary biology.
Guy McPherson’s article summarizes in Weekly Hybris, May 2019: Seven Distinct Paths to Loss of Habitat for Humans
To put it simply, our fate as a species is sealed. We’re headed for extinction in the very near term despite warnings dating more than 150 years.Guy McPherson, Extinction Foretold, Extinction Ignored, May 2019
To sum up
Only from the mentioned sources we can expect at least a further heating of 4-5°C. The maximum estimates lead to well above +10 °C in a matter of months or a few years.
A reduction of the aerosol masking effect would have the most rapid effect. Here we are talking about days or a few weeks. The previous CO2 in the atmosphere and future emissions will continue to have their effect for many decades to come.
What shall You do during the time left?
After all these facts, interpretations and opinions you may agree that our time left will be shorter than expected.
I know it’s not an easy step to accept that. That’s a challenge.
Kate Manser has condensed the confrontation with death into this formula:
You might die tomorrow – So live todayKate Manser
What is most important in your life?
What shall You do during the time left?
Please take a few minutes and write in a comment what is on your mind.
Many thanks to Guy McPherson, to whom I owe most of the insights processed here. And just as much thanks to Sam Carana. Although she/he/they only publishes on this subject under a pseudonym, I think she/he/they is one of the most reliable scientists. And thanks to Kevin Hester, who supported me writing this text. He’s a man with the biggest warrior heart I know.