Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, writer and creator of “How Stuff Works” is a contributor to WRAL TechWire. Brain takes a serious as well as entertaining look at a world of possibilities for Earth and the human race. He’s also author of “The Doomsday Book: The Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Threats.”
RALEIGH – In Climate Change news last week, there were four headlines that should send a tingle of fear down the spine of every human being. Taken together, these four articles represent an approaching tragedy of the highest order for planet Earth and humanity. It is a true doomsday scenario. These four headlines should cause humanity to wake up, take notice, and change course:
- ‘Soon it will be unrecognisable’: total climate meltdown cannot be stopped, says expert
- Scientists say temperatures are getting ‘hotter faster’ than their tools can calculate
- Why the Arctic Is Warming 4 Times as Fast as the Rest of Earth
- The perfect storm – The ripple effects of concurrent crises are leading the world on a path to crushing hunger, and the possibility of more war
Let’s quickly look at what these four articles are talking about so we can see the full, combined picture.
Total climate meltdown
“The world needs to know how bad things are going to get before we can hope to start to tackle the crisis.”
Then there is this quote, talking about how quickly the effects of global heating are growing:
“These changes underline one of the most startling aspects of climate breakdown: the speed with which global average temperature rises translate into extreme weather. ‘Just look at what is happening already to a world which has only heated up by just over one degree,’ says McGuire. ‘It turns out the climate is changing for the worse far quicker than predicted by early climate models. That’s something that was never expected.’”
And then there is this:
“Anything above 1.5C will see a world plagued by intense summer heat, extreme drought, devastating floods, reduced crop yields, rapidly melting ice sheets and surging sea levels. A rise of 2C and above will seriously threaten the stability of global society, McGuire argues.”
When he says, “Anything above 1.5C”, what he means is that planet Earth had an average surface temperature in the pre-industrial era – the era before humans started burning fossil fuels to any great degree. Now, after humanity has added a trillion and a half tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, the average surface temperature is 1.2 degrees C higher. As this number keeps growing, conditions on Earth will become significantly worse than today. See this video for details:
In short: Bill McGuire is painting a dire picture here with severe side effects from global heating.
Temperatures rising faster than expected
Then we look at the second article and we get confirmation of one of McGuire’s key points:
“In Europe and other parts of the world we are seeing more and more record-breaking heatwaves causing extreme temperatures that have become hotter faster than in most climate models,” said Friederike Otto from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, who leads the WWA project. “It’s a worrying finding that suggests that if carbon emissions are not rapidly cut, the consequences of climate change on extreme heat in Europe, which already is extremely deadly, could be even worse than we previously thought.”
This is two separate sources talking about climate change and heating global happening faster than anyone expected.
Arctic is warming four times faster
Then the third article piles on with another terrible fact. While the majority of planet Earth is warming at one rate, the North Pole region of Earth is warming four times faster. Why is this happening? According to the third article:
“You may have heard that the Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet, in large part due to a gnarly feedback loop: As more sea ice melts, it exposes darker waters, which absorb more of the sun’s energy, further accelerating the melt. That’s wrong, as it turns out. Things are actually even worse. Those underlying warming processes, known as Arctic amplification, are indeed happening. But their rate is far more catastrophic than scientists first understood. Thanks to a torrent of temperature data, by late 2021 researchers were estimating that the region is actually warming more than four times faster than the rest of Earth, with huge consequences for the whole planet.”
Eventually all the sea ice in the Arctic will be gone in the summertime. With the ice gone, all bets are off when it comes to climate extremes. The Arctic circle will warm up more and more. The jet stream will become unstable, leading to unheard of weather phenomena. The biggest problem this will create is melting permafrost:
“Warming temperatures are thawing frozen soil known as permafrost. When that permafrost loses water, it collapses, dragging down any infrastructure in or above it, like pipelines, roads, and buildings.”
Think about the Alaska oil pipeline as just one piece of a much larger picture. If enough permafrost melts, the pipeline breaks down and it becomes a huge problem. A lot of infrastructure up north will collapse.
The other problem with melting permafrost is that it releases carbon dioxide and methane trapped in the soil into the atmosphere. The fear is that this creates another gigantic, terrible feedback loop, where these permafrost gases cause global heating to increase, which melts more permafrost, and so on. See this video for details of how bad this problem could get:
A Perfect Storm for famine
Then the fourth article looks at the effect that climate change plus other factors will have on food supplies this year. And it is looking terrible in the worst-case scenario because several forces are combining to create this perfect storm:
- We already have crop failures caused by heatwaves and/or drought in places like India, Kansas, Europe, and Africa. All of these failures are affecting global food supplies
- Then there are disruptions in the global fertilizer marketplace. Fertilizer is either unavailable or far more expensive. With less fertilizer, the size of harvests declines even more.
- Then there are all of the supply chain problems caused by Covid making it harder to move things like food and fertilizer and spare parts around.
- Fuel prices are much higher, and just about every piece of farm equipment needs fuel. Therefore, any food that does grow needs to be more expensive to cover increased fuel costs.
- Then there are the effects of Russia’s war on Ukraine, where Ukraine’s grain production is down due to the fighting and bombing, and the grain supplies they have are trapped in warehouses and silos because the ports have been closed.
What this all means is that there could be millions of people dying in the near future because they either cannot afford or cannot obtain the food they need to survive. Climate change is not the sole cause of this problem, but it is a big contributor. This video helps to explain what drought caused by climate change can do to a place like Italy:
One Year Ago
All of this bad news piles on top of a report issued one year ago. In this case, 14,000 scientists had come together to create a paper warning humanity about what is coming.
“There are some phrases that should stop you in your tracks. The warning of a future that holds “untold suffering” is one of them. That is exactly what scientists from around the world are cautioning will happen if we don’t take the threat of climate change seriously. In a paper published Wednesday in the journal BioScience, more than 14,000 scientists from 153 countries signed their name to research that warns of an incoming climate emergency.”
How many more warnings does humanity need?
All of these terrible things are happening or are being predicted because of Climate Change. Humanity is facing a Climate Catastrophe of epic proportions. Therefore, a rational species would now be taking extraordinary measures in an attempt to stave off or at least diminish this catastrophe as best it can. However, humanity appears to be doing essentially nothing.
- Fossil fuel use is at an all-time high, rather than declining.
- Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are at an all-time high and rising, rather than declining.
- Ocean acidity is at an all-time high, with no end in sight.
- Earth’s average surface temperatures are trending higher and higher rather than declining.
- Heatwaves are getting worse and worse.
- Glaciers and ice sheets are melting more and more rapidly. Sea levels will be rising faster than ever.
- The world’s rainforests are being burned and cut down at an ever-increasing pace. Just this week Brazil announced [plans for a new trans-Amazon highway which will only bring more destruction]( https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jul/29/paved-highway-to-run-through-amazon-gains-initial-approval-in-brazil).
For example, during the same week as all this bad news appeared, giant fossil fuel companies reported record earnings and profits yet again.
“On Friday, ExxonMobil reported an unprecedented $17.85bn (£14.77bn) profit for the second quarter, nearly four times as much as the same period a year ago, and Chevron made a record $11.62bn (£9.61bn). The sky-high profits were announced one day after the UK’s Shell shattered its own profit record.”
Climate change is happening, primarily, because of these fossil fuel companies. Because we burn fossil fuels in such massive quantities and release so many gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, our planet is inexorably heating up. Therefore, we must ask:
- Why aren’t we reining in the fossil fuel companies with carbon fees/taxes ?
- Why aren’t we forcing the fossil fuel companies to use their enormous profits to extract their carbon dioxide emissions back out of the atmosphere?
- Why isn’t there a gigantic global effort to eliminate every aspect of fossil fuels from our economies as quickly as possible so these fossil fuel companies become extinct?
The United States would be a natural leader here. We have the technology. We have the know-how. And then we could be a leader helping the rest of the world to make the transition as well at breakneck speed.
In World War II the nations of planet Earth ridiculously ramped up the production of guns, bullets, bombs, airplanes, warships, tanks, etc. Example: Humanity produced 231,000 war planes in 1944 alone, solely for the purpose of blowing each other up. The Earth’s major economies could invest in that same kind of intense global effort around clean energy right now. Humanity should completely eliminate all fossil fuel power plants very quickly, and the United States would be a natural leader of the effort.
Will humanity act in time? This is the existential question that humanity faces today. Unless humanity stops burning fossil fuels and starts extracting gigatons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, all will be lost.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kzQob3LfDg – Humanity has only a handful of decades to avoid a devastating ‘Hothouse Earth’
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1ChxLmpbz4 – Arctic Methane. Has 2020 triggered a tipping point?
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuiQtLAUi6U – Climate change catastrophe: What does melting Permafrost mean for our planet? | 60 Minutes Australia
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0kWvBEbtbI – Millions in East Africa face famine triggered by drought
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnp5tjKU-9k – Kenya’s worst drought in decades creates humanitarian crisis
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8nJesnhuNc – Italy’s drought-hit farmers face sea water threat
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7E4Eg_ixHBw – Italian authorities: ‘70% of crops are gone’ in Po River Delta