by Frank Thomas
U.S. Government Denial of Speed and Potential of Catastrophic Destruction of Earth Warming Up 3-5 Degrees Celsius by 2050
Yes, CO2 levels, relative to a geological time frame, have been exploding FAST since 1960 due to burning coal, oil and gas – a process that traps heat in the atmosphere for many hundreds of years. Human activities now release annually 43 billion tons of CO2 equivalent including methane. Global CO2 emissions are now increasing 2.2 ppm/year, reaching a concentration of 405 ppm today - a trend I projected in Part 2, Table 2 of a 4 Part Study – The Transition to Renewable Energy Is Going Too Slowly … by Frank Thomas and John Lawrence.
I’m afraid we are headed irreversibly to a 480-490 ppm CO2 concentration by 2050 at an average CO2 increase of 2.2 ppm/year over next 37 years. Irreversibility is inevitable if China cannot rapidly get off its horrendous +65% dependence on dirty coal energy. Same applies for India whose annual CO2 emissions are one-fifth that of China’s, but are picking up steam. These two nations comprise 2.8 billion people of whom at least 2 billion have an average standard-of-living and consumption pattern an average person of our country perhaps had 100 years ago! This factor plus powerful positive feedbacks building up with rising CO2 emissions spell some alarming prospects of mankind avoiding a 4-5 degree Celsius temperature increase by 2050.
A consensus of scientists in a report (Interglacials of the Last 800,000 Years, by Past Interglacials Working Group of AGU Publications, March 5, 2016) are now predicting that the huge rise in atmospheric CO2 occurring so FAST geologically will likely vastly extend our Holocene interglacial life cycle well beyond an expected 5,000 years to 50,000 years - before the next strong drop in the northern hemisphere insolation(i.e., the amount of solar radiation received by earth’s surface) will occur! The threshold for a cold glacial depends not only on insolation but also on atmospheric CO2 content. This stunning news makes it ever more critical to stabilize and reduce a growing sky-high atmospheric CO2 concentration of 405ppm today to 350ppm by 2050.
We can consider ourselves “lucky” today (a strange choice of words, I’ll admit) that the sun’s radiation is much dimmer at a far, far lower insolation than in the prior Eemian interglacial - when sea levels rose 6-9 meters higher than sea levels now at much lower CO2 concentrations of 250-300 ppm. Eemian’s peak seasonal insolation in the Northern Hemisphere was further intensified by a perihelion occurring in the summer rather than the winter. A perihelion is when the earth is closest to the sun. This now occurs in winter when the earth is farthest from the sun.
Luckily, insolation from orbital forcings is expected to continue much lower the next century and beyond. According to scientists, sun radiation during our Holocene interglacial will remain dimmer for a very long time. If Eemian’s thousands of years of strong insolation and feedbacks, and summer perihelion had taken place in our last century with the far higher atmospheric CO2 levels of recent decades, our current earth temperatures, ice-sheet melt and sea levels would likely be trending HIGHER than what occurred during Eemian. BUT a modest Holocene insolation and/or a peak seasonal summer earth warming perihelion together with our super high and rising CO2 concentrations is a planet heating-up recipe for an unfathomable climate disaster in this century.
Extensive analysis of air bubbles trapped in ancient ice sheets show that CO2 atmospheric concentrations had remained within a 170-280ppm range for the past 800,000 years. During this time, a number of ±100,000 year glacial cycles occurred with ±20,000 year warming interglacials in between. Often, coincidences of solar maximums and variations in earth’s orbit first triggered temperature changes, later amplified by CO2, CH4, N2O greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists believe rising temperatures at the end of glacials likely created positive feedbacks of outgassings of ocean-stored CO2 built up over thousands of years. So too today, one might think - given the extraordinary FAST warming up of oceans down to 700 meters from the extremely high CO2 emissions absorbed by oceans - that a substantial outgassing of ocean-stored CO2 (and CH4 in non-deep waters) might well occur this century and onward.
Compared to the thousands of years of glacials and interglacials cycles over the past 800,000 years, we have progressed from a CO2 concentration of 280 ppm in 1750 to 405ppm today and rising - all in a TINY 268 years. And 75% of that increase occurred even FASTER in a TINY, TINY 58 years from 310 ppm in 1960 to 405 ppm in 2018. Same applies to methane which almost tripled from 700 ppb in 1750 to an average of 1,860 ppb (and has hit peaks recently of over 3,000 ppb).
The oceans currently absorb and store over 90% of the excess heat trapped in the atmosphere. If the oceans were not absorbing it, average surface temperatures on land would double from 59F to 122F (50 degrees Celsius) - an unlivable world. Surface ocean heat warms water beneath the sea ice, melting the Arctic ice from below. As the ice retreats, more sunlight is absorbed by the Arctic Ocean instead of being reflected into space. This in turn extends the Arctic summer season. As temperatures keep rising, stronger winds cause more heat to enter the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
This is the world of man-made climate change showing its face with record, prolonged, extreme temperatures; massive, repetitive floods and fires; loss of many lives and enormously costly physical destruction. This is just the beginning. The CHANCES and TIME left to mitigate, delay, adapt to, even avoid some of the worst effects of global warming are getting less and less.
The Trump Administration is scientifically blind to the fact - and doesn’t seem to give a damn - that human-induced greenhouse gas warming of the earth by +3-5 degrees Celsius is a planet-killing event all living species will feel. The Administration is also blind to reality that, unlike dirty coal, oil and natural gas reserves are finite. In essence, they will be depleted, technically and cost-wise unexplorable by 2075 … a time when our 7.7 billion population today will have risen by 2.5 billion to +10 billion by 2075 - a TINY 57 years from now!
I want to remain hopeful against all odds that president Trump (or his successor) and his climate-change science denier gang WAKE UP to the priority for a RAPID societal systemic transition to green energy sources (sun, wind, hydro, nuclear, geothermal, etc.) and adoption of green living styles in a multiple of small and big creative ways related to, for example: vehicle size and energy efficiency, frequency of vehicle use: greatly extended bicycle use and paths; mass transit systems; green agriculture methods, management of manure, livestock, deforestation; far shorter food supply distances, eating non-meat foods; heating and air-conditioning systems; green energy use in airplane travel; well-designed tree-planting/strengthening programs (especially in cities), strict control of deforestation, etc. …
The risks of not taking aggressive actions top-down and bottom-up are HUGE. Nations like the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Scotland, the Netherlands (finally), Spain and others as well as states like California and at least 15 other U.S. states fully recognize the urgency for everyone - individuals, communities, governments, corporations, research institutions - to support plans and policies that help stabilize and sharply reduce global atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions and concentrations to less than 15 billion tons annually and 350 ppm by 2050.
Given our science-denial government and egregiously polarized society and political system, are these critical climate aims a pipe dream? Perhaps. But I find it extremely hard to give up on our nation’s ability to TIMELY come together and get its act right on such critical fundamental issues to mankind … in the case of human-induced climate change, an issue affecting the livability of all living species.
Frank Thomas, August 6, 2018, The Netherlands
A graduate of Bowdoin and Dartmouth colleges, for many years Frank was an independent management consultant and entrepreneur working with Dutch international shipbuilding and offshore oil/gas contracting firms. In past years up to recent retirement at 77, he has been a trainer for firms such as ING, DSM, Siemens, the Dutch Ministries of Foreign and Economic Affairs and Justice in the Hague and also a teacher/lecturer at The Hague University and NTI University in Leiden. Subjects covered have included finance, commercial law, legal writing, report writing, presentations, etc. All his time now is devoted to research for writings on grave national and global issues.