The Road to Glasgow - the Mess We're Already In, a Recap

One measure of how critical the climate crisis has become is the early-onset impacts we're already enduring. Severe storm events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration; unbearable heat waves; wildfires that now spread from the tropics into the far north above the Arctic Circle; mega-droughts and mega-floods; no corner of the planet has been spared. 

We're in a fullblown climate emergency but name one country that has placed the climate crisis as its top priority. Certainly not the schizophrenic Trudeau government that is defending and expanding climate-wrecking pipelines to flood world markets with ultra-high carbon, low value, ersatz petroleum - i.e. bitumen. We've had four decades of empty rhetoric from our governments, Liberal and Tory, but now the clock is running out and we're not remotely prepared for what's coming, even in the short term.


“We have built a civilization based on a world that doesn’t exist anymore,” as Katharine Hayhoe, a [Canadian born, evangelical] climate scientist at Texas Tech University and chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, puts it.

The world has already heated up by around 1.2C, on average, since the preindustrial era, pushing humanity beyond almost all historical boundaries. Cranking up the temperature of the entire globe this much within little more than a century is, in fact, extraordinary, with the oceans alone absorbing the heat equivalent of five Hiroshima atomic bombs dropping into the water every second.

“We are conducting an unprecedented experiment with our planet,” said Hayhoe. “The temperature has only moved a few tenths of a degree for us until now, just small wiggles in the road. But now we are hitting a curve we’ve never seen before.”

It's here. Now. This isn't just your grandkids' problem.

This year has provided bitter evidence that even current levels of warming are disastrous, with astounding floods in Germany and China, Hades-like fires from Canada to California to Greece and rain, rather than snow, falling for the first time at the summit of a rapidly melting Greenland. “No amount of global warming can be considered safe and people are already dying from climate change,” said Amanda Maycock, an expert in climate dynamics at the University of Leeds.

Wet Bulb 35 has arrived.

Beyond 1.5C, the heat in tropical regions of the world will push societies to the limits, with stifling humidity preventing sweat from evaporating and making it difficult for people to cool down. Extreme heatwaves could make parts of the Middle East too hot for humans to endure, scientists have found, with rising temperatures also posing enormous risks for China and India.

A severe heatwave historically expected once a decade will happen every other year at 2C. “Something our great-grandparents maybe experienced once a lifetime will become a regular event,” said Rogelj. 

This is what awaits Red State America, coastal Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, perhaps beginning as soon as the next decade. (Apologies for the blurred image)  The American southeast and Gulf Coast are also going to be hammered by tornadoes and hurricanes of increasing frequency, intensity and duration. Some meteorologists are calling for a new hurricane designation, Class 6.

Severe heat stress


Yes, it's getting hotter. Yes, we're already on the receiving end of our warmer, wetter atmosphere. But look on the good side. 90 per cent of our excess heating has been absorbed by our oceans. If it wasn't for that we'd literally be toast. That's the good news.

Albert Einstein taught us that "energy can neither be created nor destroyed." That heat energy our oceans have absorbed hasn't gone anywhere. It's still in the oceans and that's thanks to some very favourable (lucky) conditions. But, what goes down will eventually come back up.

For decades, the earth’s oceans have soaked up more than nine-tenths of the atmosphere’s excess heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions. By stowing that extra energy in their depths, oceans have spared the planet from feeling the full effects of humanity’s carbon overindulgence.

But as those gases build in the air, an energy overload is rising below the waves. A raft of recent research finds that the ocean has been heating faster and deeper than scientists had previously thought. And there are new signs that the oceans might be starting to release some of that pent-up thermal energy, which could contribute to significant global temperature increases in the coming years.

Pacific trade winds, for instance, which have been unusually strong for the past two decades thanks to a 20- to 30-year cycle called the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation, have been pumping atmospheric heat down into the western Pacific. The winds are powered up by the cycle’s current negative, or cool, phase. But scientists say that when the cycle eventually swings back to its positive, warm phase, which history suggests could occur within a decade, the winds will wind down, the pumping will let up, and buried heat will rise back into the atmosphere.

The oceans have been absorbing atmospheric heat equivalent to five Hiroshima bombs per second. That's a lot of heat, enough to have already triggered a mass migration of marine life - fish, marine mammals, even sea birds - out of warmer tropical seas ever poleward.  The good news is that, if the oceans begin belching that heat back into the atmosphere, it will be a slow, gradual process that could last a millennia or two.

How much can we bear?

Beyond 1.5C, the heat in tropical regions of the world will push societies to the limits, with stifling humidity preventing sweat from evaporating and making it difficult for people to cool down. Extreme heatwaves could make parts of the Middle East too hot for humans to endure, scientists have found, with rising temperatures also posing enormous risks for China and India.

A severe heatwave historically expected once a decade will happen every other year at 2C. “Something our great-grandparents maybe experienced once a lifetime will become a regular event,” said Rogelj. Globally, an extra 4.9 million people will die each year from extreme heat should the average temperature race beyond this point, scientists have estimated.







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