What Happens in the Arctic…

arctic 2

We’re dead men walking.

Last summer a group of eminent climate scientists published a warning that we were close to a threshold where human induced warming could set off a cascade of positive feedbacks which would increase temperatures to Hothouse Earth, a 5-7C rise in temperature, the end of civilization and maybe even humanity. They warned that “Incremental linear changes to the present socioeconomic system are not enough to stabilize the Earth System. Widespread, rapid, and fundamental transformations will likely be required to reduce the risk of crossing the threshold and locking in the Hothouse Earth pathway; these include changes in behavior, technology and innovation, governance, and values”.

This month a UN report on climate change in the Arctic predicted that temperatures in the Arctic in winter would rise by 3-5C by 2050 and 5-9C by 2080 (if emissions continue to track at the medium to high IPCC scenario range with only the present limited Paris Accord action). The Arctic ocean is predicted to be ice free in summer by 2030 and 45% of Arctic permafrost is expected to melt this century.

Change of Arctic albedo and increasing greenhouse gases (GHGs) from melting permafrost are two key positive feedbacks – will their combined increase in temperature globally help turn soil and forests to sources of GHGs instead of carbon sinks?

The Steffen et el Hothouse Earth paper (complimented by the Gasser et el paper published in September) predicts that once this threshold has been crossed, heating will be irreversible. It won’t matter what we decide to do then.

Climate change has been an emergency since at least the unpredicted Arctic Big Melt in 2007 but now in 2019 fossil fuel production and use and GHG emissions still continue to rise. Mitigation is still confined to policies and instruments that don’t threaten markets or investment – a business friendly slow transitions in markets with government still in the golden straitjacket.

It’s a life or death situation but were still fighting by Marquess de Queensbeery rules. We’re caught in a riptide but we don’t want to wreck our hairdo by putting our head in the water and really swimming for it. Our house is on fire but everyone is frozen waiting for leadership ’cause calling the fire department isn’t allowed.

The conservative IPCC report in the fall is widely quoted as only 12 more years to reduce emissions enough to stay safe from dangerous climate change and Hothouse Earth style runaway warming and we are going to count it down year by year, as we have from at least Rio in 1992, while continuing to do less than nothing to save ourselves.

Dr. James Hansen told us back in 2009:

“Our global climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear, and there is a potential for rapid changes with effects that would be irreversible – if we do not promptly slow fossil fuel emissions during the next few decades.

Tipping points are fed by amplifying feedbacks. As Arctic sea ice melts, the darker ocean absorbs more sunlight and speeds melting. As tundra melts, methane a strong greenhouse gas, is released, causing more warming. As species are pressured and exterminated by shifting climate zones, ecosystems can collapse, destroying more species.”

But we did not slow emissions. Those in control, know nothings totally focused upon the economy, said ‘the climate is always changing’ and ‘technology will solve our problems’ and deliberately ignored and sidelined any debate that could have led to needed action and now it is too late. ‘Widespread, rapid, and fundamental transformations’ were and are a threat to business and therefor not allowed.

What must the schoolchildren (and all those who recognize that climate is an emergency) demand?

Emergency governments free of neoliberal constraint and with a primary mandate to reduce emissions of a scale needed. No new fossil infrastructure and a regulated managed decline of all fossil fuel production.

Bill Henderson is a frequent contributor to Countercurrents on Climate Change


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