Watching The World Burn

"We are here to awaken from the illusion of separation" Thich Nhat Hanh.

I believe in science. For most of my professional career I worked at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. While scientists are folks like anyone else, with egos and flaws, science is a method for understanding our world through experiment and observation. A century ago, quantum physics showed that the world is connected, similar to waves on the surface of a vast ocean of energy. In a connected world, nothing can be thrown "away". To pretend otherwise is foolish and shortsighted.

Humans burn 90 millions barrels of oil every day, and about the same amount of energy in the form of coal and natural gas. It took life over 63 million years to sequester that carbon, and we have consumed about a third of all the coal and half of all the oil in a few centuries, dumping all that carbon into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2).

The first mention of fossil fuel emissions effecting climate was in 1896. Measurements started in the late 1950s, show that atmospheric CO2 is increasing more rapidly each year. During the 1980s, Exxon and Shell had extensive research groups to investigate the issue, concluding that is was a problem. The concern was first presented to the House of Representatives in 1987.

By 1990, however, the oil industry decided to protect profits rather than the planet. Following the example of the tobacco industry's denial of the harmful effects of smoking, the oil industry shut down research and began funding a campaign to cast doubt on the integrity of scientific findings regarding climate change. Several states are currently investigating Exxon for fraud for failing to notify investors of the business risks of climate change. Last week 62% of the Exxon stockholders voted to require the annual report to include environmental risks.

By the late 1990s the global scientific community had agreed that human released carbon was driving climate change. By then, insurance losses due to extreme weather events were making headline news. The issue became more critical, and it became politically polarized. The Pentagon recognizes climate change as a threat to national security, but Republicans assert climate change is a hoax, as an article of party purity. This makes sense when you look at who gets fossil fuel political funding.

Some climate changes, like rising sea levels, are slow and most people consider this an issue for the distant future. However, in Florida sea levels are rising much faster than other areas. The Republicans controlling Florida have made it illegal to mention sea level rise, so Miami is spending more then $400 million to deal with "sunny day flooding" during high tides. Virginia and New Jersey are facing similar problems with coastal areas repeatedly flooding, causing a crisis in affordable flood insurance.

A larger concern is that reality is non-linear, and can exhibit abrupt changes. There are tipping points, where slowly shifting fundamental conditions result in sudden changes. Lightening bolts, branches breaking, and earthquakes are good examples. The climate has tipping points as well.

Arctic methane is one of those tipping points. In the short term, methane is 87 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Massive amounts of frozen methane are stored in the permafrost and the sea floor. The Arctic is heating twice as fast as the rest of the planet, and numerous methane plumes have been detected in the Arctic Ocean, growing ten times larger over the last decade. Permafrost craters due to explosive methane release were detected in Siberia several years ago, and a recent survey counted more than 7000. A runaway methane release would spike global temperatures by 5°-10°C within a decade, destroying global agriculture, rapidly leading to human extinction. Some investigators think this has already started. Military strategists know that you have to prepare for what is possible, not just what is likely.

Some years ago, a young relative set his bed on fire while playing with matches. He quietly closed the bedroom door and joined the family to watch TV. By the time the neighbors alerted his parents, the house could not be saved.

Trump and the Republican leadership have chosen to risk your grandchildren so that their corporate backers can continue to profit. Like the little boy, they have decided to close the door and watch reality TV while the world burns.