What exactly are we up against? What is the scope and magnitude of the threats that we're facing? Consider these excerpts from Dahr Jamail's soon to be released book, "The End of Ice."
Our planet is rapidly changing, and what we are witnessing is unlike anything that has occurred in human, or even geological, history. The heat-trapping nature of CO2 and methane, both greenhouse gases, has been scientific fact for decades, and according to Nasa, “no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response”. Evidence shows that greenhouse gas emissions are causing the Earth to warm 10 times faster than it should, and the ramifications of this are being felt, quite literally, throughout the entire biosphere.
Oceans are warming at unprecedented rates, droughts and wildfires of increasing severity and frequency are altering forests around the globe, and the Earth’s cryosphere – the parts of the Earth so cold that water is frozen into ice or snow – is melting at an ever-accelerating rate. The subsea permafrost in the Arctic is thawing, and we could experience a methane “burp” of previously trapped gas at any moment, causing the equivalent of several times the total amount of CO2 humans have emitted to be released into the atmosphere. The results would be catastrophic.
Climate disruption also brings with it extreme weather such as hurricanes and floods. For instance, a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, leading to an increase in the frequency of severe major rain events, such as Hurricane Harvey over Houston in summer 2017, which dropped so much rain that the weight of the water actually caused the Earth’s crust to sink by 2cm.
Earth has not seen current atmospheric CO2 levels since the Pliocene epoch, some 3m years ago. Three-quarters of that CO2 will still be here in 500 years. It takes a decade to experience the full warming effects of CO2 emissions. Even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions, it would take another 25,000 years for most of what is currently in the atmosphere to be absorbed into the oceans
Climate disruption is progressing faster than ever, and faster than predicted. Seventeen of the 18 hottest years ever recorded have occurred since 2001. The distress signals from our overheated planet are all around us, with reports, studies and warnings increasing daily. Worst-case prediction made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the rise in temperatures, extreme weather, sea levels and CO2 levels in the atmosphere have fallen short of reality. Countless glaciers, rivers, lakes, forests and species are already vanishing at a pace never seen before, and all of this from increasing the global mean temperature by “only” 1C above the preindustrial baseline. Some scientists predict it could rise by as much as 10C by 2100. A study led by James Hansen, the former director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warned that the rise we have seen so far has already caused unstoppable melting in both the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.
...Modern life has compressed time and space. You can traverse the globe in a matter of hours, or gain information in nanoseconds. The price for this, along with everything we want, on demand, all the time, is a total disconnection from the planet that sustains our lives. ...The frenetic pace of contemporary life is having a devastating impact on this planet. Humans have transformed more than half the ice-free land on Earth. We have changed the composition of the atmosphere and the chemistry of the oceans from which we came. We now use more than half the planet’s readily accessible freshwater runoff, and the majority of the world’s major rivers have been either dammed or diverted.
As a species, we now hang over the abyss of a geoengineered future we have created for ourselves. At our insistence, our voracious appetite is consuming nature itself. We have refused to heed the warnings Earth has been sending, and there is no rescue team on its way.
...Kanayurak had told me that he was a volunteer gravedigger. The permafrost used to be 10-12 inches below the surface, so it would take three days of chipping with an ice pick to dig a grave. Now the permafrost is several feet below the surface, and softer, so he can dig a grave in a few hours.
Permafrost is a layer of ground that is continuously frozen for a period of two years or more. It contains dead plants that absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere centuries ago, and then froze before decomposing. When it thaws, microbial activity converts a large portion of that organic material into methane and CO2, which is released back into the atmosphere. According to a Nasa report, over hundreds of millennia, “Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon” – an estimated 1,400-1,850 gigatonnes, compared to 850 gigatonnes of carbon in Earth’s atmosphere.
...The changes in the permafrost happening across Alaska’s North Slope are due to some of the most dramatic temperature increases in the world. In 35 years of measurements here, the temperature at 20 metres below the ground has increased by 3C since Romanovsky’s first measurement, and at the surface of the permafrost one metre below the ground, the average temperature has increased by a staggering 5C since the mid-1980s. Even small increases bring the temperature of the permafrost closer to 0C. Crossing that line means the permafrost will start to thaw.
Scientists used to believe the permafrost was stable across the North Slope, and that it would not begin to thaw this century. Romanovsky said: “If you look at our records, however, and extrapolate into the future another 30 years, assuming changes continue as they have been for the last 30 years, the permafrost on the North Slope will hit 0C by 2050 or 2060 at the latest. Nobody was expecting this, and most people would be surprised to see this happen so soon.”
...a leaked draft report from US scientists across 13 federal agencies warned of a worst-case scenario of 18F warming over the Arctic between 2071 and 2100. The report also noted that the Arctic was losing more than 3.5% of its sea ice coverage every decade, that the extent of the September sea ice had declined more than 10% per decade, that the land ice was disappearing at an increasingly rapid rate and that the severity of winter storms was increasing because of warming temperatures.
The grim news seemed endless: the snow-free season on Alaska’s North Slope is lengthening. The year 2016 experienced the longest snow-free season in 115 years of record-keeping – roughly 45% longer than the average snow-free period over the previous four decades. The October temperature at Utqiagvik increased by a staggering 7.2C between 1979 and 2012.
We are already facing mass extinction. There is no removing the heat we have introduced into the oceans, nor the 40bn tons of CO2 we pump into the atmosphere every single year. There may be no changing what is happening, and far worse things are coming. How, then, shall we meet this?
Like so many people, I have wondered what to do at this time. Each of us now must find our own honest, natural response to the conditions that we have brought upon ourselves.
...While western colonialist culture believes in “rights”, many indigenous cultures teach of “obligations” that we are born into: obligations to those who came before, to those who will come after, and to the Earth itself. When I orient myself around the question of what my obligations are, a deeper question immediately arises: from this moment on, knowing what is happening to the planet, to what do I devote my life?Some may dismiss this as "disaster porn" but pornography isn't real. It's dark fantasy. There's no fantasy to climate change. It is science, a mountain of science, and it's as real as granite.
It is against this sobering reality that we are to measure the sincerity of our governments' responses to climate change and the threats it poses to us and to those who will follow us.
In the face of these dire threats, the Trudeau government remains unwavering in its pursuit of perpetual exponential growth which it sees, in great part, in the form of flooding world markets with high-carbon bitumen, the filthiest ersatz petroleum on the planet.
Ultimately we have to choose. Will it be the economy now or the environment now and for generations to come? There are compelling reasons for not acting on climate change beyond gestural responses such as a carbon tax. Many, perhaps most of us will be long dead before life on Earth turns truly harsh, or at least we hope so. Why should we sacrifice our current prosperity for the sake of generations as yet unborn? Besides, would it really do any good?
What is the line? What side are we on? To my mind, the line is the margin of nihilism. You either commit to the present and essentially condemn the future or you accept reasonable measures to cause as little damage and suffering as necessary to those who will inherit this country.
There is one truth that I know. We may not be able to bequeath to future generations a Canada that resembles the nation we have known and enjoyed. They may have to live in a degraded environment in a even more degraded world. Even if that is so, we still have a choice. We must choose how much worse we will make their future, how much worse than necessary.
Our government is making that choice on our behalf every day. This madness of sending an armada of bitumen-laden supertankers to foreign markets is an integral part of that choice. That same government's failure to marshal resources needed for the Herculean chore of adaptation, especially climate-proofing our essential infrastructure, is part of that choice.
I get accused, in some circles, of being a Trudeau "hater" for making these arguments. Often these same critics find references to science unwelcome, needless and even alarmist. Yet these aren't my predictions. They aren't my warnings. These are what we're being told by the best scientific minds of our day. What they're saying is being ignored by our governments and that dereliction I do hate.