Reality bites

This excellent piece from meteorologist Nick Humphrey says it all :

Our Faustian Bargain with the Universe is Up

This is long, but I waste no one’s time. I want to address some issues here as they’ve been stated on multiple groups I follow by commenters related to weather, climate change and the permanence of humanity. Particularly the idea that a) climatologists are the only credible scientists to deal with the problem and discussion of the problem; b) the credibility of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections; c) how realistic the assessment is that humans face the likelihood of extinction as part of the ongoing 6th mass extinction already underway; d) the problem with the illness impacting our planet beyond just the changing climate.

1. Climate change is an interdisciplinary problem. Climate scientists are trained in various interconnections within the atmosphere-ocean-cryosphere systems…but they aren’t necessarily trained to understand biosphere impacts, societal impacts, or even all impacts on events in the real environment based on field work if they are more focused on modeling. Or real effects on extreme weather events. Such as the rapid collapse of sea ice and feedback mechanisms. Or the jet stream circulation or hurricanes. Marine biologists, conservation biologists, sociologists, political scientists, geologists, meteorologists, glaciologists, etc, really fill the gap where the climate scientists do not go because it simply isn’t their specialization or have the time to go in their research. I’m a meteorologist, not a climate scientist, but have some academic understanding of global climate and am doing interdisciplinary communication and focusing on extreme weather events and relationship to abrupt climate change.

2. While the IPCC does suggest there are paths to avoiding catastrophic climate change, the IPCC isn’t strictly a “scientific warehouse”.. It involves credible and well-seasoned scientists obviously, but also policymakers and governments who have varuous interests economically, politically and socially, as well as a desire to create a narrative with their populations. I feel like this should be common knowledge that even what the scientists put out (which is already overly conservative as the parties involved in the working groups must come to a consensus and it is based on research 5-10 yrs old), must be vetted by govt negotiators. This is actually one of the issues which tipped me off about how dire the situation was when the 5th assessment came out. Essentially making sure it’s not too dire or shows economic paths to success. Remember, the scientific consensus is already conservative and reality is much worse.

3. The paths laid out by the IPCC are based on the assumption that greenhouse gases can be removed from the atmosphere. Such tech does not exist to scale at this time for obvious regions of energy and land requirements. Paleoclimate records easily show that you aren’t going to simply stop global warming at +1.5-2 C by ending emissions (the current carbon dioxide equivalent concentration is 500 parts of million; 1700s concentration was ~275-280 ppm, even with other greenhouse gases). The 1.5 C report last autumn suggested another 0.6 C of warming was locked in based on recent emissions and we must be net zero carbon by 2050; but this is based purely on emissions from *humans*, removal of carbon on scales of hundreds of gigatons (basically removing what took plants tens of millions of years to sequester…bind as solid matter via plant growth…in *tens of years*…really? With what energy source…what land?) and fast feedback sensitivity. Water vapor…loss of sea ice and albedo…some effects from clouds…other feedbacks which are clearly showing an exponential behavior are simply neglected in models. Even the feedbacks which are easily seen and more quantifiable are accelerating much faster than expected.

4. Speaking of which…Permafrost is melting much faster than anticipated, methane is emitting at a higher rate than expected, nitrous oxide is emitting much faster than expected, sea ice is melting much faster than expected, alpine and polar glacial ice is melting much faster than expected, global forests are experiencing massive tree fatalities, globally acidification is accelerating, the ocean warming is accelerating faster than expected with extreme heat events increasing. The combination of thermal expansion and ice melt is causing a roughly 7 yr doubling time for sea level rise. And more.

5. Essentially, while “first-order” changes have been reasonably anticipated up until recently (carbon dioxide and fast feedback temperature response); however, the “2nd-order” effects of that warming…everything mentioned above and more are deteriorating much faster than modeled. But none of the IPCC projections include these accelerating 2nd-order effects. And these 2nd order changes are beginning to have profound feedback on the overall rate of the 1st-order changes (increasing the rate of global temperature rise) as well as causing their own more intense extremes not captured simply by looking at averages (massive Greenland surface melt in 2012, destabilizing jet stream circulation, weakening Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, extreme heat\drought in Europe in 2003 and 2018-19, decreasing forward speed and prolific rains of tropical cyclones, almost violent swings between polar opposite extremes in some places…extreme cold to extreme heat, extreme floods to extreme drought, etc). Much of these changes and trends are seen either in more detailed modeling or field research from the various disciplines. These changes threaten human civilization adaptability as well as those of other species.

6. One issue I find is consistently underplayed is the rate of change. Rising 2 C/3.6 F globally in a 1000 yrs is a big difference from rising 2 C in 250 yrs…most of which has occurred in just the past 30-40 yrs. Global land areas are experiencing temp anomalies of +1.6-2 C above preindustrial because of amplication of warming over land. Even worse in the Northern Hemisphere. The ability of ecosystems to adapt is stressed not by the different environmental conditions, but the rapid change and destabilization of the environmental conditions in what amounts to a blink of an eye.

7. Our global problems threatening our extinction and already causing global extinction are not just a climate change problem. It is an entropy and Jevon’s Paradox problem. The former from the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Entropy is the tendency for systems to evolve to disorder the more energy is transformed. More and more waste is being produced (greenhouse gases, plastics, industrial chemical, radiological, pharmaceutical, etc) which is literally turning the planet into a toxic soup, while forests, insects and large wildlife species are being annilhilated at accelerating rates. All in the name of “efficiency” of energy use, which ultimately accelerates consumption of resources (Jevon’s Paradox), but the energy efficiency is “local”, while the greater environmental system of Earth used to produce it is, as mentioned being flooded with useless waste, with the Earth “battery” being ground to dust. From the drive for more money (and worshipping those who take from so many, while those very people starve), to the dreams of electric cars, bigger buildings and artificial intelligence, to the desire to have the biggest, baddest militaries…there is a pathology of destruction which plagues so many humans on this planet. I am not immune to this…we are all complicit, some far more than others, but our increasingly raging planet does not know the difference. We all suffer.

On a personal note…I’ve been accused of being against advocating for “change”, being irresponsible for talking about dire impacts, being a member of a “doomer death cult” or asked “would you say that to the children of the world” as if they or me can do anything to change the outcome…and that’s just horrid things directed at me, not others I know.

No, I just know more than most and realize the full ghastliness of what we are facing in its totality and the humbling scale that most humans…who all strive…via their cars, cell phones, computers, internet, 4 to 5G services, planes and exotic vacations, buildings, or just their money…to arrogantly be gods over fellow humans and nature…in a universe governed by the laws of physics…have no appreciation for. Others are ignorant at the fault of those who wish them to be ignorant and stay in mental slavery and not demand accountability for their mistreatment and path to ruin. I live with this knowledge everyday and get on the hamster wheel like everyone else, raising my kid and making the most of life knowing our species will not last much longer, much like the others in the genus Homo.

I’m not an unhappy man (well most days) but I am a realist. I’ve made it my job to inform as many as possible who will listen or who wish to not be ignorant of what is happening to our once beautiful planet. We face the end of the reign of humans, many who are completely unwillfully ignorant and far less complicit on this path we are on, all while many other species are and will fall with us. We are perhaps special in that we are life in a Universe where complex life may be rare. But we were never so special so as to be immortal from its governing laws. The reality is that we did not appreciate those laws and now we have to pay our debt in the Faustian Bargain in the most unfair means possible.

-Meteorologist Nick Humphrey

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