Thursday, December 8, 2016

Getting Loopy

Took a ride on the loop-d-loop...
That's when I fell in love
Down at Palisades Park
      -Freddy Cannon

Run, run,run
    -Dell Shannon


     Its true that our political situation is now expressing it's essential loopiness, (Climate denier to head EPA) and there is some loopiness in the weather  the jet stream is getting wobbly, and the poles are too hot. -Artcic air to hit 35-55F above normal

.   But the loops I am thinking of now are the loop in the climate models - the feedback loops.   Some of the are negative loops, which tend to reduce to CO2, but most seem to be "positive" loops which despite their name, tend to make things worse.

      A recent study has brought put a degree of precision on one of the loops - carbon releases from land and sea and the fact that  the ocean and land tend to hold less carbon as they get warmer.   So co2 in the air causes heat on land and sea, and heat causes more co2 releaases from the land and sea to the air.     Robert Scribbler has a useful article  that explains the study in more detail.  Its worth taking a look at, because the implications are pretty astounding.   

Here are a two quotes

"Sadly, soil respiration is just one potential feedback mechanism that can produce added greenhouse gasses as the Earth warms. Warming oceans take in less carbon and are capable of producing their own carbon sources as they acidify and as methane seeps proliferate. Forests that burn due to heat and drought produce their own carbon sources. But increasing soil respiration, which has also been called the compost bomb, represents what is probably one of the most immediate and likely large sources of carbon feedback."


What this means is that the stakes for cutting human carbon emissions to zero as swiftly as possible just got a whole hell of a lot higher. If we fail to do this, we will easily be on track for 5-7 C or worse warming by the end of this Century. And this level of warming happening so soon and over so short a timeframe is an event that few, if any, current human civilizations are likely to survive. Furthermore, if we are to avoid terribly harmful warming over longer periods, we must not only rapidly transition to renewable energy sources. We must also somehow learn to pull carbon, on net, out of the atmosphere in rather high volumes.

    As Robert points out, thanks to natural gas and renewable power, the amount of carbon the world puts into the air has actually begun to stop rising, and begun to reach a plateau.   Unfortunately the actual concentration of CO2 in the air has not stopped rising. .  it continues to rise at a record breaking pace.   Which naturally leads to the question :  Where is this extra carbon coming from?"    It appears that some of the additional CO2 is a result of that the carbon feedback from the ocean and land.  

        As the feedback increases, the warming increases, at an accelerating rate.   The study shows a fairly wide range of outcomes,  but it may be useful to consider the worst case scenario.  Because as our information has gotten better, it seems that the scientific studies are generally conservative.  

      With that in mind, take look at the graph from the study,   As I read it, the worst case is 4 degrees by 2040.


From The Independent

And Robert points out that the study itself is conservative. 
"And it is also worth noting that the study categorizes its own findings as conservative estimates. That the world could, as an outside risk, see as much as four times the amount of carbon feedback (or as much as 2.7 ppm of CO2 per year) coming from soil if respiration is more efficient and wide-ranging than expected. If a larger portion of the surface soil carbon in newly warmed regions becomes a part of the climate system as microbes activate."
Is the study legit?  Apparently so.
"Professor Michael Mann, of Penn State University in the US, who led research that produced the famous “hockey stick” graph showing how humans were dramatically increasing the Earth’s temperature, told The Independent the new paper appeared "sound and the conclusions quite defensible".

It is pretty well accepted that 4 degrees is bad .  (!)
"The thing is, if 2 degrees C is extremely dangerous, 4 degrees C is absolutely catastrophic. In fact, according to the latest science, says Anderson, “a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.”
From here and here   
Professor Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change in Britain, was quoted in The Scotsman  ahead of the 2009 Copenhagen conference saying the consequences were ‘‘terrifying’’.
‘‘For humanity it’s a matter of life or death ... we will not make all human beings extinct, as a few people with the right sort of resources may put themselves in the right parts of the world and survive. But I think it’s extremely unlikely that we wouldn’t have mass death at 4 degrees.
‘‘If you have got a population of 9 billion by 2050 and you hit 4 degrees, 5 degrees or 6 degrees, you might have half a billion people surviving.’’

      OK, this is pretty bad. And of course well before 2040, other odd things will occur.   As this article points out
"...the climate crisis will not appear as a climate crisis, at least not to most people in the U.S.  Rather, it will appear as a political crisis, often precipitated by economic upheaval.  It will come in the form of migration, of course, but also in the form of poverty and a growing underclass of people uprooted from their old livelihoods, with little support from a government and society stretched too thin by mounting crises.  Very likely it will have racist component, which doesn’t mean that there will all of a sudden be more horrible and bad people.  Rather, it means that when ecological and thus economic crises squeeze people, trust horizons shrink, fault lines widen, and people (good enlightened urban liberals, we are seeing, as well) become more tribal.  As Trump so clearly shows, these shrinking trust horizons are exceedingly easy to manipulate."
   However, it would be mistake to try to blame these crises on Trump or conservatives.  The author notes           
"I am repeatedly struck with how ignorant the average well-educated, politically-involved, often graduate-educated membr of the liberal elite is about issues having to do with the climate and the magnitude of the crisis that awaits our inaction.  ...... For these liberals, the climate remains an abstraction, one that “we” are “better on” (“we don’t deny climate change, they do!”), which is apparently enough for now. 

But the facts speak well enough for themselves, the problem is almost no one bothers to learn them, nor has the university or powerful centers of journalism taken a lead in mainstreaming ecological awareness.  So, for the sake of review, here are just a few (or many) basics.  Even the best case scenario has us on a path to warm the globe by around two degrees centigrade, though our actions and expectations are aiming at a place much warmer than that.   The damage that this alone will cause—never mind all the other ecological disasters occurring simultaneously—will ravage our way of life.  There is little reason to expect our current world order to survive the climate crisis unless we make drastic changes, especially in our consumption.  For climate change is not only about it getting hotter, it is about unravelling the web of ecological connections that maintain life as we know it.  To this end, I think most liberals remain oblivious to the delicate nature of ecological equilibriums and to the extent to which nature provides us with irreplaceable “services,” like clean(ish) water, soil, pollination, air, relative weather predictability, a balance among species (including pests and pestilence), a check on the spread of disease, and the list could go on

And yet anyone who tries too hard to assert the importance of climate issues or suggest that ecological destruction has to do with real human beings and their suffering is accused of being insufficiently concerned about other pressing issues that are already on the table.  Anyone who forefronts climate destruction, I have heard it said multiple times, is simply writing from a race, class, and gender subject-position that makes him or her insufficiently aware about the real problems affecting real people.  Unaware of the also basic fact that Americans (6% of the world population) consume about a quarter of all natural resources and create about a quarter of all emissions, these same “informed liberals” still cheer-on a rising U.S. GDP, while preparing to participate enthusiastically in this year’s “healthy retail season.”  This is not a blind-spot; this is an eclipse.  Liberal America, at least the part of it that makes a “decent” income, it bears mentioning, is also a greater squanderer of nature than less affluent rural America, the latter’s transfixion with NASCAR and ATV’s, and our membership in the Sierra Club, notwithstanding.  A couple of airplane flights, not to mention a second home in the country, is all it takes to send your own carbon footprint into orbit.  But such entitlements remain a third-rail of political discussion today.


Using  easy labels will not be helpful in understanding each other, and harder still understanding ourselves

"We are just doing what we were taught, following the expectations that we received from our formal education and informal socialization.  We certainly are not trying to make the planet uninhabitable, in fact many of strive to do just the opposite.  But the numbers do not lie and as history will someday be told, Americans led the charge towards the climate-cliff, cheering themselves on with great enthusiasm and little self-doubt.  It is far easier to put your own consumption and expectations about it into an accurate global perspective if you are not in the habit of dividing the world into good vs. evil."

We are heading into some really hard times.  We will be tempted to frame the problems in terms of good guys and bad guys  (and of course we will always be the "good" guys)  , of us and them.   And that will probably not be useful.  We will need to accept that we all created this mess, and will need to cooperate  to get through it.

"The whole system thinking that obliges one to admit our own complicity, and requires one to understand, to try to engage with the feelings and beliefs that people very different from oneself might have, to have sympathy for other’s with whom we may appear to have irreconcilable differences, puts us very close to the teachings of most religions. "

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