CO2 Emissions Must be Cut Now

It’s Time to Cut CO2 Emissions

Yesterday at my house we received 2.25″ of rain (with hail) in less than an hour. In arid regions, that’s a lot. The gutters clogged with hail, spilled over, and contributed to ponding in the yard that came within 1/4 inch of flowing over the patio door sills. I have a flood wall planned, and hope there’s still time to get it built before another intense storm comes along.

We can expect increasing storm size and intensity because of the amount of CO2 we have already released into the atmosphere. If we could limit emissions and subsequent temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius, the storms would continue to grow, but away from the coasts, little flood walls and rooftop solar panels would probably let most of us survive. However, limiting the storms by limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees celsius is impossible now. We might still limit the increase to 2 degrees, but we have to act fast.

The graph below shows the best scientific estimates of the cumulative effect of delays. If emissions begin to fall now, we can stay below 2 degrees of rise if we reach zero by 2040. If emissions do not begin falling until 2025, we must reach zero by 2033 to stay below 2 degrees. Eight years? Having had a strong taste of the coming catastrophe by then, we might try. But the effort itself would be so costly, we probably wouldn’t make it. Dropping to zero in 21 years if we begin now will be incredibly difficult. It will require a global switch to wartime economies dedicated to building renewable energy and making emission cuts. Emissions are still rising as we approach 2020, and reaching zero in 21 years seems unlikely.

All we can count on for sure is that nature will force human emissions to begin falling in about 20 years due to massive loss of life as heatwaves and wildfires increase, and as farms, water delivery, power delivery, and transportation fail. That’s when positive feedbacks, including the ice-free arctic, melting permafrost, soil erosion, and other sources of CO2 will begin growing without our contribution. At that point, our species could begin spiraling down toward extinction.

Christiana Figueres and colleagues published the graph below last year. I blogged about it last December. You can find a link to the original article there.

To keep all this positive, glass half full and so on, I will close by saying that the world’s scientists could be wrong about climate and we will all win the lottery next week.

Switch to Renewable Energy

Storm Coming (NASA)

GR–Ode to concerned scientists: They see the danger, they blow the horns and clang the bells, and they wait. But the ramparts remain empty. They turn to their family and friends, but dreamlike their voices are too soft and none respond.

“Fifteen thousand scientists have issued a dire warning to humanity about impending collapse but virtually no-one takes notice. Ultimately, our global systems, which are designed for perpetual growth, need to be fundamentally restructured to avoid the worst-case outcome.

“For a moment, the most important news in the entire world flashed across the media like a shooting star in the night sky. Then it was gone. In November, over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued a dire warning to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, they declared, we are facing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” They warned that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

“This is not the first such notice. Twenty-five years ago, in 1992, 1,700 scientists (including the majority of living Nobel laureates) sent a similarly worded warning to governmental leaders around the world. In ringing tones, they called for a recognition of the earth’s fragility and a new ethic arising from the realization that “we all have but one lifeboat.”

“This second warning contains a series of charts showing how utterly the world’s leaders ignored what they were told twenty-five years earlier. Whether it’s CO2 emissions, temperature change, ocean dead zones, freshwater resources, vertebrate species, or total forest cover, the grim charts virtually all point in the same dismal direction, indicating continued momentum toward doomsday. The chart for marine catch shows something even scarier: in 1996, the catch peaked at 130 million tonnes and in spite of massively increased industrial fishing, it’s been declining ever since—a harbinger of the kind of overshoot that unsustainable exploitation threatens across the board.” –Jeremy Lent (What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse?).

How Many of You Switched to Renewable Energy?

In recent posts, I described the warnings of impending disaster. I didn’t expect to have an impact, and I wasn’t wrong. As Jeremy Lint points out in the article above, the media avoidance of unappetizing topics is too complete. And of course, our leaders in power avoid the subject in their subservience to wealth. My first hint that good advice for avoiding collapse would be futile was the minimal response to my discovery of the simple and inexpensive means for everyone to switch their homes from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy. Like Pangloss, I’ve remained hopeful. But I read that book, and now I’ve turned to a more practical concern; the post-anthropocene survivors, the weeds, have absorbed my attention. Today’s weed is Shepherdspurse, a foreign but familiar little mustard that feeds butterflies and yields medicines for us humans.

New Fire Danger Threatens to Worsen Most Disastrous Wildfire Season in California History by Dr. Jeff Masters | Category 6 | Weather Underground

GR: This year’s fire season isn’t over. Southern California will have hot wind and high temperatures for the next few days. The article below from the Weather Underground has information about current conditions and past comparisons. This event calls attention to the deepening environmental crises global warming is causing. While we should be focusing in disaster planning, Congress is wrangling over how much more of the forest timber companies can cut in the name of wildfire management. If you are unfamiliar with this issue, I highly recommend the article by George Wuerthner that is introduced here.

“A record-breaking heat wave will build over Southern California over the weekend and peak on Tuesday, bringing triple-digit temperatures that could set marks for the hottest temperatures ever recorded so late in the year in the Los Angeles area. Accompanying the heat will be the notorious Santa Ana winds, which will bring a multi-day period of critical fire danger, Saturday through Tuesday.

“According to NOAA, the hottest temperatures ever recorded after October 23 in Southern California (along with the Weather Underground forecast for Tuesday) were:

  • 105°F Riverside, 10/28/1915 (WU forecast for Tuesday: 100°F)
  • 101°F LAX Airport, 11/1/1966 (WU forecast for Tuesday: 96°F)
  • 101°F Longbeach, 11/1/1966 (WU forecast for Tuesday: 100°F)
  • 100°F Downtown Los Angeles, 11/1/1966 (WU forecast for Tuesday: 101°F)
  • 100°F Burbank/Glendale/Pasadena, 10/26/2003 (WU forecast for Tuesday: 99°F)
  • 100°F San Diego, 11/4/2010 (WU forecast for Tuesday: 91°F)
  • 99°F Bakersfield, 10/27/1906 (WU forecast for Tuesday: 90°F)

“The heat wave and Santa Ana winds will be caused by a large near-record-strength dome of high pressure expected to settle in over the Great Basin, a few hundred miles northeast of Los Angeles. The difference in pressure between this high-pressure system and lower pressure over Southern California will drive gusty northeast winds over Southern California. Since these winds will originate over desert areas, they will be hot and dry. As the air descends from the mountains to the coast, the air will get hotter and drier, due to adiabatic compression—the process whereby the pressure on a parcel of air increases as it descends, decreasing its volume, and thus increasing its temperature as work is done on it.

Figure 1. Fire weather outlooks for Saturday, October 21, issued by the NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center at midday Friday (left), and into next week (Days 3-8) issued late Thursday (right). The Day 3-8 outlooks do not indicate risk level, but forecasters noted: “A prolonged period of at least moderate offshore winds and critical fire weather conditions will be likely across much of southern CA from Day 3/Saturday through Day 6/Tuesday.” Image credit: NOAA/NWS/SPC.

A four-day period of critical fire danger

“As of 11 am EDT Friday, fire weather conditions are predicted by the NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center to be in the “elevated” to “critical” range Saturday through Tuesday across the coastal mountain ranges and foothills north of the Los Angeles Basin (fire weather alert levels come in three levels of severity: “elevated”, “critical”, and “extreme”.) Wind gusts of 35 – 50 mph will be capable of causing rapid spread of any fires that might ignite, though these winds will not be as strong as the ones that created the deadly firestorm in California’s wine country earlier this month. The fire danger increases through Tuesday, as the heat builds, and relative humidities below 10% are expected in many areas. Conditions at night will not help firefighting efforts much, as temperatures will only cool down to the mid-70s, with low humidity and strong winds. By Wednesday, the heat and fire danger will begin to diminish as the Santa Ana winds die down and cooler, more humid air moves in, but temperatures will still be in the mid-90s in the Los Angeles area. Such a long period of extreme heat and Santa Ana winds mean that any fires that do ignite will be difficult to control and will potentially burn a large area.” –Jeff Masters (New Fire Danger Threatens to Worsen Most Disastrous Wildfire Season in California History by Dr. Jeff Masters | Category 6 | Weather Underground).

Figure 3. The number of acres burned in California has been increasing since 1970, due to a warmer and drier climate, in combination with fire suppression policies that have left more fuel to burn. As we wrote in our October 13 post, human-driven climate change and development patterns are making destructive firestorms more likely. The average length of the wildfire season in the western U.S. is more than 3 months longer than in 1970, largely due to climate change, according to Climate Central.

Stark Evidence: A Warmer World Is Sparking More and Bigger Wildfires

GR: When it’s warmer, there is greater possibility of fires starting, spreading, and intensifying. As the climate system strives to reach a new equilibrium, droughts, heatwaves, and fires will become more frequent.

As burned areas grow, weeds will spread. As fire frequency increases, fire-tolerant ecosystems dominated by weeds will become persistent. This will occur when there is not enough time between fires for trees to replace the weeds. We’ve already seen this happening in the western U. S. as fire tolerant cheatgrass has replaced much of the sagebrush ecosystem. New hyperactive fire regimes are in the global forecast for nature’s shift to a new equilibrium in the warmer Earth of the Anthropocene. Fires added to farms, domestic livestock, and all the other human impacts will shift the land from forests to weedlands of reduced diversity, stability, and carrying capacity. More about weeds.

Wildfire near Mariposa, California. JOSH EDELSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The increase in forest fires, seen this summer from North America to the Mediterranean to Siberia, is directly linked to climate change, scientists say. And as the world continues to warm, there will be greater risk for fires on nearly every continent.

“On a single hot, dry day this summer, an astonishing 140 wildfires leapt to life across British Columbia. “Friday, July 7 was just crazy,” says Mike Flannigan, director of the wildland fire partnership at the University of Alberta. A state of emergency was declared. By the end of summer, more than 1,000 fires had been triggered across the Canadian province, burning a record nearly 3 million acres of forest—nearly 10 times the average in British Columbia over the last decade. As the fires got bigger and hotter, even aerial attacks became useless. “It’s like spitting on a campfire,” says Flannigan. “It doesn’t do much other than making a pretty picture for the newspapers.”

“Forest fires are natural. But the number and extent of the fires being seen today are not. These fires are man-made, or at least man-worsened.

“Evidence is becoming more and more overwhelming,” says Flannigan, that climate change is spreading fires around the world. Globally, the length of the fire weather season increased by nearly 19 percent between 1978 and 2013, thanks to longer seasons of warm, dry weather in one-quarter of the planet’s forests. In the western United States, for example, the wildfire season has grown from five months in the 1970s to seven months today.

“The number-crunching now shows an increased risk for fire on nearly every continent, says Flannigan, though most of the work has focused on North America, where there is a larger pot of funding for such research. In the western U.S., where fires ravaged Oregon this summer, the annual burned area has, on average, gone from less than 250,000 acres in 1985 to more than 1.2 million acres in 2015; human-caused climate change has been blamed for doubling the total area burned over that time.

“Similarly, for fire-ravaged British Columbia, an analysis from this July estimates that climate change has made extreme fire events in western Canada 1.5-6 times more likely.

“So how much worse are things set to get? Scientists are getting far better at untangling the relationship between extreme weather and climate change.

“Pinning any specific environmental event on climate change is a tricky business, though the science of weather attribution has grown in leaps and bounds over the past decades. Individual wildfires are still near the bottom of the list of things that can easily be pegged to a changing climate, thanks to all the other factors in the mix. If people break up forests into smaller chunks through logging or agriculture, that can limit the spread of forest fires; on the other hand, some trees burn faster than others (younger trees are greener, so burn slower), and shrubs under a tree canopy can make fire more intense. A particularly rainy year can paradoxically increase fire risk if the rain comes in springtime, by boosting the volume of vegetation available to burn later in the season. Natural weather patterns like El Niño can have a dramatic effect on precipitation, and so on fire.”

“If we have higher temps, we have a greater probability of fire starting, fire spreading, and fire intensifying.”

Nicola Jones: Stark Evidence: A Warmer World Is Sparking More and Bigger Wildfires – Yale E360