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
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.