New Scientific Studies on the Dangers of Global Climate Change

by Orpheus Reed | October 28, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


Two scientific studies in the past month have again underscored the emergency facing humanity from climate change and the urgent need for humanity to come together to wrench things away from the direction they are heading with "business as usual."

On October 10, researchers at the University of Hawai`i published a paper in the leading scientific journal Nature on the timing of "climate departure" for the planet as a whole and for particular cities and regions all over the globe. A co-author of the paper, geographer Abby Frazier, explained the meaning of this to the environmental news magazine Living on Earth: "What we did is we looked at the minimum and maximum temperatures that every location has experienced in the last 150 years and we set those as the bounds of historical variability, and we then determined the year that the temperature goes outside of those bounds, of the minimum and maximum that we've seen in the last 150 years and we named that as the year of climate departure-when it goes outside the bounds and does not come back in."

What this means is that in the years after the point of "climate departure," the coldest average year on the earth as a whole will be hotter than the hottest average year of all years between 1860 and 2005.

Climate departure means in essence that a radical change to a different climate has occurred.

The study used the results of many climate research studies and models. In a scenario where greenhouse gases from burning of oil, coal, gas, and deforestation, etc. continue to rise at the same rate as they are now—a "business as usual" scenario—the scientists found that this date of climate departure for the average temperature of the earth as a whole will occur in 2047.

This change will occur at different rates at different places, with the fastest point of climate departure occurring in the tropics. In some areas this will happen as early as 2020, less than a decade from now. This is alarming news in several ways. Frazier points out that most of the world's population is concentrated near the tropics and that many of the poorest countries in the world are also there. She says, "So these countries that are going to be hit first by unprecedented climates have the least economic capacity to respond, and these countries have ironically contributed the least to this change in the first place." So this will dangerously impact lives of people in this region, especially people in the poor, oppressed countries of Central and South America, Asia, and Africa.

The reason this hits the tropics first is that there is only a small natural variation in climate there. So it doesn't take much to push it outside the bounds of what normally occurs. This is very dangerous to species in this region, which have evolved to live within a narrow range of climatic conditions. The tropics contain the largest biodiversity of species on Earth. Frazier said that it's hard to predict the precise impacts on specific species, but the responses could be massive. "We've seen responses in species for recent extreme events that we've experienced, and we've seen species that try to move, other species that try to adapt to the changes, and others experience massive die-offs or even extinction. So we can expect responses along the whole spectrum."

While many of these changes are already in motion and there is a built-up warming momentum already underway, the study also indicated that these changes could be slowed if there are serious and dramatic efforts to slow down the rate of greenhouse gas emissions.

This study comes on the heels of the release of the fifth report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in late September. The IPCC is a panel of climate scientists representing countries from around the world. These reports have been coming out for 25 years. With each report, the reality of how the climate is changing and the fact that this is happening because of human influence becomes clearer, and the threat this poses to the future of life on Earth becomes sharper.

Among the main findings of this study are:

  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia (thousands of years). The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have decreased, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have steadily gone up.
  • In the Northern Hemisphere, the last three decades were likely the warmest three decades in the last 1,400 years.
  • Over the last 20 years, the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland have been losing mass, glaciers continue to shrink worldwide and Arctic sea ice continues to decrease.
  • The amounts of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide (greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere have each increased to levels not seen in at least 800,000 years. The ocean has sucked up 30 percent of the human-produced carbon dioxide, causing it to acidify. This acidification is "virtually certain" to get worse according to the IPCC.
  • Global sea levels will continue to rise during this century, with predictions they could rise as much as three feet. (This would threaten areas where hundreds of millions live, including major cities, such as New York, London, Shanghai, Sydney, Venice, Miami, and New Orleans.) This will get much worse in the next two centuries if greenhouse emissions continue to rise.
  • Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries, even if emissions of CO2 are completely stopped. So a large part of the warming that is occurring is irreversible for centuries, even if emissions drop to zero.

While the IPCC findings represent important overall scientific truths and trends and the dangers these pose to the planet, if anything, its findings about the extent of the climate emergency are more conservative than reality. Michael Mann is one of a number of climate scientists who criticized the IPCC for playing it safe. Mann said the IPCC is being overly cautious in its predictions to avoid being further attacked by climate change deniers. The climate blog Real Climate says, "The IPCC statements form a kind of lowest common denominator on which many researchers can agree."

While all the ins and outs of the political struggle on this panel are not open, the IPCC is a panel overseen by the world's governments. These are the same governments that have taken the world down the road to this climate emergency by their increasing and relentless burning of fossil fuels and deforestation in the economic pattern that is integral to the functioning of capitalism-imperialism. So "oversight" of the IPCC by such political forces is bound to impact and curtail what its reports can say.

For 25 years the IPCC reports have warned of these dangers, even if at times underplaying them, and yet no meaningful change has come from those in power in the U.S. or any of the major powers controlling the world and dominating the planet. Carbon emissions continue to rise. The relentless drive to seek out, extract, and burn even harder-to-find, even more carbon-polluting and extreme "unconventional" forms of fossil fuels only increases, despite world leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama wringing their hands about the danger of climate change. For over 20 years there have been international conferences on the danger of climate change and the scientists have been ringing the alarm louder and louder. None of this has made a dent in the trajectory of destruction. This system and these leaders are completely and totally incapable of making the kind of massive, urgent changes and transformations that the situation demands. For them to do so would require unallowable setbacks to their drive for economic growth to "out eat" the other capitalist sharks in the water and, especially, to their strategic power in the world.

The world must be wrenched from their hands and set on a different course through revolution. What is so needed, and possible, is this revolution to bring into being a new socialist system, on the road to a communist world. (See "Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development" and the Constitution for a New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal). This is the only real hope for a future where humanity could be mobilized for the first time, to seriously address and combat the climate emergency. This represents the only real hope for humanity to liberate itself and save its own future, while working to save as much as possible of all of Earth's species.


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