Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Crushing Weight of Climate Change

It used to be so much easier. There would be big news on climate change once, twice, maybe three times in a big week. It was mainly the science stuff at first. Research, analysis, projections. This might happen by 2100. We were on track to experience something else by 2050.

Then things changed. The world changed. It turned out that the projections, the forecasts, those 'alarmist' warnings were wrong. They got it wrong. All those scientists and their universities and government and non-governmental agencies misjudged. Things that were supposed to be 90 years off if we didn't mend our ways started turning up in just 10 years. The forecasts were out by a full lifetime and a bit.  Time we thought we had we never had, not in reality.

The focus changed. Knowledge, scientific research, peer-reviewed studies poured in like never before but in a "if it bleeds, it leads" world, the focus shifted to the bleeding - climate change you feel or, if you're one of us lucky ones, somebody else feels.

New normal. Severe weather events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration arrived. Floods and droughts of a dimension beyond human recollection spread around the world. The jet streams, those ribbons of fast-moving air currents that once prevented weather from crossing the boundary into climate, began to change, turning loopy, drawing cold polar air into temperate zones and hot temperate air into regions of ice and snow.  Rain fell where it wasn't needed while other areas got little or none. Flooding and droughts, often cyclical.

Climate change wore different faces in different places. Icy places melted - sea ice, ice caps, glaciers receded and disappeared. Hot places got hotter and drier. Tornadoes appeared in places with no known experience of them.  The eastern Mediterranean is predicted to soon experience hurricanes.  Pest infestations and migration sweeping through farmland and forest alike. Wildfires more vast and enduring than anything remotely normal. Crop failures and food insecurity. On and on.

We're still dealing with 'early onset' climate change, Climate Change 101. There are lessons we need to learn now, without delay. One of the most important is that climate change almost always works with accomplices. It doesn't need to be some standalone disaster. It seems to be most devastating when it operates as a catalyst for other risks. It is a 'force multiplier.'  The Syrian civil war is one example. In that country, sustained drought led to food shortages that inflamed tensions between Assad and his minority Allawites and the majority Sunni Muslim population.  Sunni Syrians rose up and the murderous, still ongoing civil war erupted.

The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, now reports that climate change has supplanted religion as the greatest impediment to peace in the Middle East. How that's going to unfold remains to be seen but what are now labeled "climate wars" seem destined to become another new normal.

The Arctic is on fire. Wildfires are sweeping the Arctic tundra. The permafrost is failing. In Svalbard, Norway, the northernmost settlement in the world, temperatures are now 7 degrees Celsius higher than 1970s norms. Svalbard, 1300 miles north of the Arctic Circle is losing its buildings as the permafrost gives way beneath them.

Mankind lurks behind these looming disasters. CBC had a report a couple of days ago about a study out of the University of Calgary of a burgeoning market for fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. Nothing particularly new there. OPEC and the International Energy Agency have been saying the same thing.

What that means is that any hope of meeting the IPCC prescription for carbon emissions cuts is gone. Yes the world is making impressive strides in alternative clean energy but fossil fuel consumption is also increasing just when we need those taps turned off. We, or at least our leaders, have made a choice. They've chosen the fossil fuel energy regime. They'll talk a good game but we're not in it to win. We've chosen to fail.

In Canada, Justin Trudeau has us on a path that will miss even Stephen Harper's lacklustre emissions target and that's far short of what's needed, what the world needs.

We know what the deal is. We slash carbon emissions or consign our world to climate catastrophe and we have no intention, none, of meeting the prescribed emissions cuts.  So much for our lofty "Canadian values."

Slashing carbon emissions was not just something nice for the grandkids. It was also our last best hope for buying time - time to implement adaptation strategies in the rapidly narrowing window of opportunity. We're not even working from the right page.

There's a new monotonous rhythm setting in. As one of the more advantaged countries we'll be spectators to the unfolding drama of climate change as it worsens in the coming decade.

A new phenomenon, climate departure, is expected to set in at various areas in the tropics beginning in two to three years, gradually spreading poleward until it reaches the temperate zone cities in 2047.

To put it another way, for a given geographic area, “the coldest year in the future will be warmer than the hottest year in the past,” said Camilo Mora, the lead scientist on a paper published in the journal Nature. 
Unprecedented climates will arrive even sooner in the tropics, Dr. Mora’s group predicts, putting increasing stress on human societies there, on the coral reefs that supply millions of people with fish, and on the world’s greatest forests.

“Go back in your life to think about the hottest, most traumatic event you have experienced,” Dr. Mora said in an interview. “What we’re saying is that very soon, that event is going to become the norm.”
Staying on top of climate change developments has become something of a depressing ordeal. There's a frantic quality to it. Everywhere you look, something is happening and it reaches from the equator to the polls.

It's hard to escape the sense that we're becoming inured to this unfolding disaster, hardened by its promiscuity. Maybe that will be just another part of  our transformation into Anthropocene Man.


Trailblazer said...

Just back from the gym.
I overheard a guy on a treadmill saying that 'the climate has always changed'.
Further earwigging suggested that he did not wish to change his lifestyle.
The same goes for most deniers.
Stick fingers in ear and repeat, I can't hear you when science is quoted.
I don't know a person that would like to change his or her lifestyle; we have it good the best living standard in history particularly in Canada.
I could use less fossil fuels and so could many others but our numbers are not high enough to make an iota of difference.
This is why to succeed we need the rationing of energy.
Kilowatts or kilojoules you are only rationed so much regardless of income or your garage of automobiles.
Whilst the family automobile has become the focus of our scorn we must not forget the huge amounts of energy that big business consumes where energy efficiency is only focused on corporate profit and not climate change.


John's aghast said...

Fuck you Corporate Canada. While my efforts may not be game changing (I make my own energy in collusion with the sun, and the vehicle I drive uses no fossil fuel derivatives) my grandchildren, should they survive, will say "He did what he could, gawd bless the old sole."

the salamander said...

.. ' the hottest, most traumatic moment' .. 'the norm'
that landed like a wicked ass punch.. a throat punch
Have to chew on that.. but will take a few tentative swings at that vicious fastball
I guess most are farm related.. or relate to wowser sunburn
(& related feverish delerious feelings.. I am not a fan of delerious..)

OK here goes..
Its July, the hay is already in the barn.. its now 90 degrees.. but but but..
and yes, to beat the late June rain we knew was coming.. or was upon us
we baled some hay and red clover a bit damp.. 'tough' as we called it
but not as tough as hay or alfalfa that was hit while curing, with rain
that was course 'tough' hay, little nutritional value, cattle hated it

I smelled 'must' .. a moulding sour smell in the mow
I walked the drive floor sniffing, wondering.. I was 18
The top floor of a barn can get very hot, direct sunshine, 90 degrees
like stifling hot, smothering.. go high atop the hay mow
close to the galvanized metal roof its like 120 or more

OK .. sez neighbor wise man Clayton Bacon..
ya gots to pull apart the hay mow Tom
find the rotting bale core.. sell it or give it to the mushroom factory
save the rest of the hay bales, save the barn, lest it spontaneously combust
(ever seen a barn fire ? I have. Livestock terror stricken
aint no volunteer fire department can 'put out' a barn fire)

So.. getting to the bottom of a section of hay mow
some 15 layers x 25 feet wide by 30 deep, we found heating bales
Bam.. hurled onto the main drive floor and dragged, forked, pushed outside downwind
choking on mould, black wet mould.. mebbe 280 red clover bales
the baler twine already rotted through, steaming hot to the touch
and in that 'hole' in the hay mow..
it had to be 125 degrees, no oxygen, smothering

Is that what we can expect ? To me as a farmboy teen
it was shocking, frightening, horrible, sickening
You could not breathe, you only floundered,
fish outta water like, flopping around
You stunk, you puked outside.. you pretty well wept
you swore never to repeat that mistake

The locals, and the Mennonites I worked with too.. had old sayings
'don't look up when you're haying' (re rain clouds)
'make hay when the sun shines' (needs little explanation)
But we need to look up now, look inside ourselves too
This is 'spaceship earth' .. THIS IS THE FARM..

Was it Tom Wolfe who wrote..
'he bought the farm' - 'augured in' ???
Do we have a shred.. of 'the right stuff' ..
or are we in the dreaded 'hammerhead stall' ..
good with plowing straight in.. like icarus.. in flames
I surely do wonder ...

Anonymous said...

As long as humankind continues to be committed to gorging on meat there's not much hope to reduce climate change. But, that's not where the conversation is, is it?

The production of meat for human consumption contributes more to climate change than all forms of transportation worldwide - United Nations.


The Mound of Sound said...

@ UU - Last, first:

The Mound of Sound said...

Sal, your account was so vivid it painted in colours. Must, yes I remember. It doesn't take much moisture to ruin a crop or worse. Barns, they're really just huge, neatly arranged stacks of kindling, aren't they? At least until the beams go.

After years of drought the American south has been inundated with rain, floods this year. A lot of farmers either watched their planting rot or were unable to get on the land at all. Their counterparts in Canada are said to be anticipating great prices because of the American disaster.

Must, yes I've seen it and I remember the heat. Yeah, that's a useful metaphor for what's underway. Our leaders think they can fill the silo with wet grain.

The Mound of Sound said...

TB, rationing is part of the solution. As Potsdam's Schellnhuber put it at the 2015 Paris climate summit, aspirational goals are fine but nothing short of an "induced implosion" of the global fossil fuel industry would work. Here we are, the bottom half of 2019, and fossil fuel sales are increasing. Carbon reigns supreme.

The Mound of Sound said...

That's one hell of an epitaph, John.

Anonymous said...

Globally producing meat for human consumption is more than just US agriculture versus US transportation. One example is the impact of gutting the Brazilian rain forests to produce beef.


The Mound of Sound said...

The same applies to any agricultural commodity, UU. Grow wheat, you burn fossil fuel. Agriculture also introduces a variety of environmentally harmful chemicals - herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers - that contaminate rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

There are several potentially existential threats confronting us, UU. Overpopulation and the related scourge of excess consumption of resources, soil degradation, species collapse and extinction, on and on. Our reckless approach to fossil fuels is different only in that it is the easiest threat to avert. We have terrific alternative energy sources but we're in the grip of the fossil energy giants, your Mr. Trudeau very much included. Our failure to abate our GHG emissions all but guarantees we'll fail at everything else.

Anonymous said...

And, most of the corn and soy grown in the US is for feed for animals. We need to reduce our reliance on eating meat if we are to have any meaningful impact on climate change.

Please also note the distinction between all forms of "transportation" globally versus producing meat for human consumption (growing feed, animal waste, transportation of animals, slaughtering, refrigeration, etc.)


The Mound of Sound said...

"We need to reduce our reliance on eating meat." Okay, UU, how do you see that happening? Schellnhuber warned that the only hope depended on governments acting. Governments, not consumers. The consumer nonsense is a distraction, a way to divert attention from the failure of governments, including your Mr. Trudeau's, to lead. A $30 dollar a ton carbon tax is not leadership, UU. If we're vexed by livestock emissions, slap meat with a meaningful tax, enough to reflect the direct and indirect emissions, thereby discouraging consumption. Polluter pays, eh? Perhaps you have a better idea?

Stu said...

I also think that a controlled-implosion of the fossil fuel industry requires a controlled shutdown of basically all industry.

Even "renewable" energy (PV/wind-turbines) has a massive carbon and environmental cost, and large amounts of fossil fuels are required for their production and transport. And after 20-30 years, you have to replace/recycle all of that, which requires more energy to transport etc..
(Just call me Debbie Downer)

This site is kind of neat, showing just how much energy and raw materials are required for different things:

the salamander said...

.. it was essentially the same on the prairies when a farm punk like me.. drove the combines deep into the night.. Care had to be taken re the moisture content.. or the grains (wheat, barley, oats, mixed grain) would heat.. in about 10 days.. spoil in the giant grain bins. Sileage (usually corn - was different .. far less critical.. but a truly valueable grain corn harvest, especially for seed corn.. being combined had to be within a certain % moisture.. Old timers simple chewed on the kernals.. and knew right away, the younger 'custom' harvesters I drove with had moisture meters..

I really missed the metaphor, but thanks for the props re the painting with words.. Planet Earth really is a living breathing farm.. not to mention our wild marine species. Are we squandering it ?? Yes. Are we trashing it?? Yes.. Are we overpopulating it ?? Yes ! The new term on the block is 'sustainable'.. whether wild species or agricultural practice.

I still 'don't get' why Harper gave away the Wheat Board and .. its assets.. the result was crippling for grain farmers with a bumper crop.. and not enough rail transportation cars.. oh but there were starving people without vital grains.. eating their broodstock overseas.. children in Africa starved and died.. and in other countries.. Clown move Mr Harper, you and Ray Novak made many.. just 'killer' policy.. for what ? Ego ??

My other angst is we have some bizarre wish to be an arms and armament superpower.. help kill people.. wherever the killing is deemed righteous.. especially brown folk. What's that all about?? Meanwhile we could be seeding & feeding a desperate world with irrigation capability and agricultural knowhow.. But no.. that's not the plan farmboy.. its the old resource stripping mantra.. where mainly foreign ownership gets royalty credits, drilling or scraping licences up the ying yang, money and OUR fresh water for nothing and their chicks for free.. WoW but are Andrew Scheer and Jason Kenney ever in heat over this doomed 'economic' fallacy.. cue the unicorns of Christy Clark.. and the buffalo shall roam..

We're well on our way to being a jerkwater cousin to The Getting Great Again calamity to the south.. open carry in many states, sling your AR on yer back and go take in a movie.. or some wings, or pizza or gas up the Caddy Escalade, load yer golf clubs & head to The Southern White House.. jerkwater supreme headquarters..

I guess I sound pissed.. I certainly hope so.. but right now I feel like farmboy.. trying to get through just one mow.. its 125 or 140 degrees down in the heart of the disaster.. the deep hole in the haymow.. and does it really matter.. We had 8 identical sections of mow BTW .. it was a big barn.. could raise 150 head in 3 big pens year round.. bought as 'feeders' .. and raised to 'finished beeves' .. chunky squared off lads n lassies.. fine Ontario steers n heifers, a few western carloads.. and I was wondering and remembering every load of hay I built in the fields.. and that many a load I hauled behind a tractor or truck to other farms.. ulp .. our 'name' was on those bales..

Anonymous said...

Let's add to the "cow" and "plane" thing. In one day, the average person breathes out around 500 litres of the greenhouse gas CO2 – which amounts to around 1kg in mass. This doesn’t sound much until you take into account the fact that the world’s population is around 6.8 billion, collectively breathing out around 2500 million tonnes of the stuff each year – which is around 7 per cent of the annual CO2 tonnage churned out by the burning of fossil fuel around the world.So, on the face of it, we humans are a significant contributor to global warming. So bring on more babies. There are people still producing 8 -10 12 Children per family with more mouths in which to feed beef. Anyong

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon 9:16