Friday, May 31, 2019
It's Not Hard to See Where This is Heading
A really good soup usually has three or four key ingredients, stand outs that define the texture and flavour. The environment is like a soup and it is shaped by a handful of key ingredients - heat, humidity, ocean currents and air currents. Those Big Four are all in flux right now. They're no longer stable. They've shifted and that's changing the environment.
The atmosphere is hotter. Easiest thing in the world to prove. It's hotter pretty much everywhere but some areas, such as the Arctic, are even hotter than others. Hot air - high pressure. As the atmosphere over the Arctic has heated, the pressure gradient between the Arctic and temperate zones has weakened. The difference between them has narrowed. This has caused changes in the polar jet stream. It's gone lethargic and all wobbly at times, forming these Rossby waves that plunge far into the south and back up into the north transferring cold air deep into the south and hot southern air far into the north. That leads to weird situations like that period in February a few years back when Atlanta, Georgia was icebound while Barrow, Alaska basked in mid-60s temperatures. Can't be helped.
The oceans are also heating up. Easy to prove. Just ask the marine life - fish, marine mammals, birds - that are migrating pole-ward to cooler waters. The Maine lobster, once a staple of the local fishing fleet, is moving to Canada at a rate of about 45 miles per decade so far. The west coast has all sorts of newcomers from large populations of humpback whales, transient orca, dolphins, even pelicans.
The ocean is more than its creatures. All that heat it absorbs is circulated to keep regions, such as Europe, relatively mild in winter - or at least it used to. The Atlantic Conveyor is starting to turn less reliable. Oopsie.
The oceans absorb a good chunk of our man-made greenhouse gas emissions - or at least they used to. Just as we have a terrestrial or "surface carbon cycle" there's also an "oceanic carbon cycle" and it too is showing signs of profound change as this NASA article explains.
Hotter oceans also release more heat energy to the atmosphere and the hotter, moister air generates severe weather events of increasing frequency, duration and intensity.
So, what's the point? It's that, unless we give up on the carbon economy and transition rapidly to a clean energy regime, all of the things mentioned above are going to worsen. We've pretty much pushed this thing as far as she'll go. So, what are we doing about it? Not much at all.
OPEC, the International Energy Agency and other organizations forecast a steadily growing demand for fossil fuels for decades to come.
In Canada, our federal and many provincial governments are banking on it. There's a fossil fuel boom coming and they want in. But what about the heat and the humidity, the ocean currents and the jet streams and Rossby waves? That's where cognitive dissonance comes to the rescue and, boy, do they have that in spades.
But what about this looming mass extinction? Yeah, what about it? So what? And what about all these severe floods and protracted droughts? Yeah, what about 'em? What about food insecurity, dislocation, death and mass migration? Sucks to be them, eh?
Aside from some gestural responses, i.e. carbon taxes, we're not showing much appetite for real change, just the opposite. If the market for fossil fuels is going to grow faster than all others, perhaps another 40 per cent in the coming decades, it's a big thumbs down on decarbonization. We don't have the will to stop and that means we don't have resilience to endure what is coming, the future we alone ordain. It's the old adage that, if you're struggling to get out of a hole, the first rule is to stop digging. Only we're not interested in stopping this dig.
You can't have clean energy without stopping the fossil energy regime and, so long as the world has enough Donald Trumps and Jason Kenneys and Justin Trudeaus, we're not stopping. By the time we've rid ourselves of them, in that fantasy world, it will probably be too late in any event.
Stopping the fossil energy regime is akin to stopping a heavily laden ocean freighter going at full speed. It takes miles and miles and miles to stop and the rocky shore we're heading to is not that far off.