Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mass Extinction, Conservative Style

The reason for the Conservative resistance to the fact that worldwide climate change is man-made is obvious: corporations are responsible, anything done to halt the advancing catastrophe of worldwide destruction will eat into their profits, and Conservatives are the mouthpieces of laissez-faire capitalism.

In a news story by Justin Gillis at, "Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears," we learn the worst:

"The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, scientists reported Friday, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years.

Chris Stewart/Associated Press

The average carbon dioxide reading surpassed 400 parts per million at the research facility atop the Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii for the 24 hours that ended at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

"Scientific instruments showed that the gas had reached an average daily level above 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.

"The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.

“'It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,' said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new reading.

"Ralph Keeling, who runs another monitoring program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said a continuing rise could be catastrophic. “It means we are quickly losing the possibility of keeping the climate below what people thought were possibly tolerable thresholds,” he said.

"Virtually every automobile ride, every plane trip and, in most places, every flip of a light switch adds carbon dioxide to the air, and relatively little money is being spent to find and deploy alternative technologies.

"China is now the largest emitter, but Americans have been consuming fossil fuels extensively for far longer, and experts say the United States is more responsible than any other nation for the high level.

"Carbon dioxide rises and falls on a seasonal cycle, and the level will dip below 400 this summer as leaf growth in the Northern Hemisphere pulls about 10 billion tons of carbon out of the air. But experts say that will be a brief reprieve — the moment is approaching when no measurement of the ambient air anywhere on earth, in any season, will produce a reading below 400.

“'It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” said Maureen E. Raymo, a scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a unit of Columbia University.'

"From studying air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists know that going back 800,000 years, the carbon dioxide level oscillated in a tight band, from about 180 parts per million in the depths of ice ages to about 280 during the warm periods between. The evidence shows that global temperatures and CO2 levels are tightly linked.

"For the entire period of human civilization, roughly 8,000 years, the carbon dioxide level was relatively stable near that upper bound. But the burning of fossil fuels has caused a 41 percent increase in the heat-trapping gas since the Industrial Revolution, a mere geological instant, and scientists say the climate is beginning to react, though they expect far larger changes in the future.

"Indirect measurements suggest that the last time the carbon dioxide level was this high was at least three million years ago, during an epoch called the Pliocene. Geological research shows that the climate then was far warmer than today, the world’s ice caps were smaller, and the sea level might have been as much as 60 or 80 feet higher.

"Experts fear that humanity may be precipitating a return to such conditions — except this time, billions of people are in harm’s way.

“'It takes a long time to melt ice, but we’re doing it,' Dr. Keeling said. 'It’s scary.'"

"Countries have adopted an official target to limit the damage from global warming, with 450 parts per million seen as the maximum level compatible with that goal. 'Unless things slow down, we’ll probably get there in well under 25 years,' Ralph Keeling said.

"Yet many countries, including China and the United States, have refused to adopt binding national targets. Scientists say that unless far greater efforts are made soon, the goal of limiting the warming will become impossible without severe economic disruption.

"Climate-change contrarians, who have little scientific credibility but are politically influential in Washington, point out that carbon dioxide represents only a tiny fraction of the air — as of Thursday’s reading, exactly 0.04 percent. “The CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rather undramatic,” a Republican congressman from California, Dana Rohrabacher, said in a Congressional hearing several years ago.

"But climate scientists reject that argument, saying it is like claiming that a tiny bit of arsenic or cobra venom cannot have much effect. Research shows that even at such low levels, carbon dioxide is potent at trapping heat near the surface of the earth.

“'If you’re looking to stave off climate perturbations that I don’t believe our culture is ready to adapt to, then significant reductions in CO2 emissions have to occur right away,' said Mark Pagani, a Yale geochemist who studies climates of the past. 'I feel like the time to do something was yesterday.'”

And in a story to bring up the very immediate past, reprints a story from John Vidal at The Guardian, "Scientists: Long winter in U.S. the result of melting Arctic ice cap," wherein "Melting sea ice, exposing huge parts of the ocean to the atmosphere, explains extreme weather both hot and cold.":

"Climate scientists have linked the massive snowstorms and bitter spring weather now being experienced across Britain and large parts of Europe and north America to the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice.

"Both the extent and the volume of the sea ice that forms and melts each year in the Arctic oceanfell to an historic low last autumn, and satellite records published on Monday by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, show the ice extent is close to the minimum recorded for this time of year."

(For the rest of the story, click here -->

In a rather tame analysis of the effect of polar melting ocean levels, "How Stuff Works" tries to dismiss the facts just a bit, but ending with the observation, "The rise will come from thermal expansion of the ocean and from melting glaciers and ice sheets. Twenty inches is no small amount -- it could have a big effect on coastal cities, especially during storms.":

"If the rising temperature affects glaciers and icebergs, could the polar ice caps be in danger of melting and causing the oceans to rise? This could happen, but no one knows when it might happen.

"The main ice covered landmass is Antarctica at the South Pole, with about 90 percent of the world's ice (and 70 percent of its fresh water). Antarctica is covered with ice an average of 2,133 meters (7,000 feet) thick. If all of the Antarctic ice melted, sea levels around the world would rise about 61 meters (200 feet). But the average temperature in Antarctica is -37°C, so the ice there is in no danger of melting. In fact in most parts of the continent it never gets above freezing.

"At the other end of the world, the North Pole, the ice is not nearly as thick as at the South Pole. The ice floats on the Arctic Ocean. If it melted sea levels would not be affecte­d.

"There is a significant amount of ice covering Greenland, which would add another 7 meters (20 feet) to the oceans if it melted. Because Greenland is closer to the equator than Antarctica, the temperatures there are higher, so the ice is more likely to melt.

"But there might be a less dramatic reason than polar ice melting for the higher ocean level -- the higher temperature of the water. Water is most dense at 4 degrees Celsius. Above and below this temperature, the density of water decreases (the same weight of water occupies a bigger space). So as the overall temperature of the water increases it naturally expands a little bit making the oceans rise.

But actual events have a way of dooming the most innocuous of predictions, as we see in our final post, repeating the story from Dan Vergano at USA Today, "Arctic summers may be ice free sooner than predicted," reporting that "Increasing melting of Arctic sea ice during recent summers points to the loss of Earth's polar ice cap within the next few decades, say federal researchers, sooner than previously projected.":

And Now...

"Arctic Ocean summer ice may melt completely "possibly within the next decade or two," say federal scientists.

"Climate scientists have projected the North Pole will lose its summer ice cap after 2050 due to a warming climate melting sea ice. But a new study in theGeophysical Research Letters journal, led by James Overland of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, used three methods of projecting future ice cover and predicts summers with no ice much sooner.

"'(A)ll three suggest nearly sea ice-free summers in the Arctic before the middle of this century,' says study co-author Muyin Wang of NOAA's Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean, in a statement.

"The estimates produce ranges for an ice-free Arctic from 2020 to after 2040. 'This paper should not be used as an argument against further modeling, but quite the opposite,' says the study. 'It is reasonable to conclude Arctic sea ice loss is very likely to occur in the first rather than the second half of the 21st Century, with a possibility of loss within a decade or two.'

"The amount of Arctic sea ice increases each winter and decreases in summer. It reached its maximum winter amount in March, about 5.81 million square miles, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center. That was well below the average seen in previous decades.

"Simply extending summertime ice melting trends into the future in a straight line predicts an ice-free summertime Arctic by 2020, the study shows. Adding a few random ups and downs to current melting trends pushes it back to 2030, while a more complicated model suggest an ice-free Arctic won't appear until after 2040, most likely around the year 2060. But none of the methods see the polar ice cap remaining intact in the long run, Wang notes.

"Disappearance of the summertime ice sheet will lead to cascading effects throughout the Arctic food chain, for everything from plankton to fish to polar bears and other creatures living there. Geopolitical jousting over navigation and mining rights have already started, amid concerns about landslides due to melting permafrost and other land effects."

Overpopulation may be the main cause of the worst of our problems today (, and the subject of human extinction is a reminder of an old anecdote where when an alien visitor to earth replied to the question, "What is the common factor in the other planets in our universe," by answering, "They all discovered the internal combustion engine."

This has been a scientific report rather than a political one, but the political implications are:

1.  Big Money and their mouthpieces, the Conservatives, have been vociferously denying the fact that climate change is man-made, and, 2. the emissions causing climate change have been caused by the effects of industrialization, the former poster child of unbridled capitalism, and 3.  their denial, coupled with vast sums of money to keep maintaining the falsehood of climate change denial alive in the national media, may expedite untold damage to the world and its people -- perhaps even to the brink of extinction.

While we may be chasing the industrialists who caused the problem down the streets sometime in the future, along with the Conservative leaders and propagandists who kept us from fighting climate change before it was too late, we wonder every day if we haven't reached the tipping point, if we shouldn't start chasing them down the streets now in revenge for our upcoming extinction sometime Back To The Future.


"If Stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?"

Will Rogers

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