From Australia, Dr. Corey Bradshaw, Director of the Global Ecology Lab. Plus: If you worry about a giant “methane bomb” rising out of Arctic Seas, Canadian scientist Andrew MacDougall says let that go. And we will not go into a “hothouse” Earth any time soon.
BONUS: At the bottom of this blog, for anyone interested, I have posted my catalog of Alex Smith tunes running on SoundCloud. Bits from these songs appeared on Radio Ecoshock over the years. All were written using synthesizers in Ableton Live. I would like to thank the Ableton folks in Germany for helping me with an affordable copy of this music program, to make these non-profit radio shows.
COREY BRADSHAW: AVOIDING THE GHASTLY FUTURE
How bad is it? Even scientists can’t grasp the reality of what is happening on this planet. Trying to figure out where we are, where we really are, 17 expert scientists poured through over 150 essential papers. Their summary, published January 13th, is called “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future”. That seems pretty clear. The lead author, Professor Corey Bradshaw, is the Matthew Flinders Fellow in Global Ecology at Flinders University in Australia.
Professor Corey Bradshaw, Flinders U. Australia
OR WATCH THIS INTERVIEW AS VIDEO
I ask: why this new paper with Anne and Paul Ehrlich from Stanford and a whole crew of other great scientists? Bradshaw replies:
“…we all agree that things are bad, we all agree that we’re having trouble giving that message to, basically, the greater public. But also there seems to be quite a few of our colleagues who probably, because of individual specializations and the fact that they’re all terribly busy, can’t quite grasp all of the connecting parts in this complex, adaptive system that really work to create a perfect storm of circumstances that we say, in the paper, will lead to a ghastly future.
We wanted to hit a few things on the head, simultaneously. One of them was, it’s beyond just the biodiversity loss, there’s a lot of other components in the system that we need to take into account; that single solutions, there’s no silver bullet, we’ve talked about that before; and that the prognosis is pretty dire because none of the indicators are pointing in the right direction. We just wanted to lay our cards on the table, and say exactly what was going on, and not try to gloss over any of the challenges.”
Check out this joint article by Bradshaw, Daniel Blumstein and Paul Ehrlich in The Conversation.
THE PANDEMIC AND ENVIRONMENT
“I think the pandemic is a perfect example of how environmental destruction can affect all of us. That is ultimately the cause of these viruses shifting over from animals to humans. We’ve been warning human humanity about pandemics for decades, and some of them have happened already. This is probably the best example of that. Will they happen again? Of course, they will. Whey happen more frequently? Most likely. Will they be as virulent? We’re unsure of that component. But when you see economies on their knees, and people dying in droves and mass graves, you really have to be thick not to make the link to environmental our predicament.
Now it’s also things like natural disasters, which are a little bit more in your face. In Australia, in the last year, we had the worst disasters in our history and it was a real turning point in Australian politics. But then the pandemic came along, and we forgot about that. But bushfires are only going to get worse and worse, bushfires in California, bushfires in the Amazon, bushfires in Russia. These are just some of the things. We haven’t even mentioned cyclones, we haven’t mentioned sea level, but all of these things are making life worse for people. And just talk to the insurance industry. They’ve been on top of this stuff for decades because money is involved.”
WEAPONIZING THE ENVIRONMENT FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES
From the interview, Bradshaw says:
“as we state in the paper, the idea that environmentalism, in general, has become associated with a particular political ideology, and has been weaponized by certain other ideologies against largely left-leaning or progressive politics, despite the fact that environmental degradation affects us all equally… Well, I’ll qualify that. If you have a lot of money and you live in a place where there is some semblance of government regulation, and you can isolate yourself from some of the more imminent effects, you will be somewhat immune to the effects of an environmental cascade that the poorer, or more exposed population, will not.”
WHAT KEEPS HIM GOING?
“…the thing that gets me up in the morning is to try to make sure that my daughter’s life, while I’m convinced it won’t be as rosy as it is now, that it is not quite as ghastly. And anything that we do, any small successes we have, should be celebrated.”
My thanks to UK listener Paul Budge for his tip about this new Bradshaw et al paper.
Here is a good article in LiveScience about this new paper.
MY 2019 INTERVIEW WITH COREY BRADSHAW (still excellent!)
The Rules of Extinction
Posted on March 13, 2019, by Radio Ecoshock
Extinction is roaming the world. In truly shocking new science, Australian biologist Corey Bradshaw finds we are closer to the brink than anyone thought.
ANDREW MACDOUGALL – A STABLE CLIMATE IS POSSIBLE
How many times have we been told: even if we stop emissions today, Earth will continue warming for hundreds of years. Maybe that is not true. Perhaps we can stop global warming in its tracks, if we ever get to zero emissions. We investigate all that with the lead author of the study that offers a glint of hope. The paper: “Is there warming in the pipeline A multi-model analysis of the Zero Emissions Commitment from CO2”.
Dr. Andrew MacDougall is lead author of more than 16 peer-reviewed papers since 2008, which began well before his Doctorate. Andrew is Assistant Professor at the Department of Climate & Environment at St. Francis Xavier University, in Nova Scotia Canada. Full disclosure: I read the paper published in Biogeosciences. That is the open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union. This paper has 29 authors from all over the world. Some have appeared on this program. And still – I am not sure I believe it.
Dr. Andrew MacDougall, St. Francis Xavier, Canada
So I pepper Andrew with every objection I can think of. At least we have a possibility that Earth may not warm 4 degrees C or more – IF we can transition away from fossil fuel emissions in the next decade. That passes for good news these days, here on Radio Ecoshock.
As the new paper Abstract tell us:
“The Zero Emissions Commitment (ZEC) is the change in global mean temperature expected to occur following the cessation of net CO2 emissions and as such is a critical parameter for calculating the remaining carbon budget.”
How could we stop warming, despite the Earth Energy Imbalance, and all the feedbacks? In email, MacDougall tells me:
“What the Earth system models (climate models with carbon cycles) suggest is that if CO2 emissions were to go to zero global warming would approximately stop. This happens because when emissions decline towards zero the land carbon sink and ocean carbon sink continue to take CO2 out of the atmosphere, causing the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere to drop. The dropping CO2 concentration compensates for the residual warming effect, causing a roughly stable global temperature.”
“Confusion over committed warming mostly come from confusions between Constant Composition Commitment and Zero Emissions Commitment. Constant composition commitment asks how much warming would occur if the concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases were stabilized at either current or some future level. Model experiments for Constant Composition Commitment universally agree that warming would continue for centuries if CO2 concentration was stabilized (due to ocean heat uptake slowly diminishing). Constant Composition Commitment was prominently featured in the fourth assessment report of the IPCC which came out back in 2007.”
There are a lot of mixed message out there. For example this story from USA Today:
‘Past a point of no return’: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero still won’t stop global warming, study says
Doyle Rice USA TODAY November 12, 2020
Doyle Rice writes: “Even if human-caused greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced to zero, global temperatures may continue to rise for centuries afterward, according to a scientific study published Thursday.
’The world is already past a point of no return for global warming,’ the study authors report in the British journal Scientific Reports. The only way to stop the warming, they say, is that ‘enormous amounts of carbon dioxide have to be extracted from the atmosphere.’”
But this paper by Jorgen Randers and Ulrich Goluke suffered a lot of criticism from other scientists complaining the model they used was far too simple to make predictions. Penn State’s Michael Mann was one of several scientists objecting. And remember MacDougall’s explanation above, about what Zero Emissions Commitment really means.
BUT THE PERMAFROST?
How can the warming stop, even if we stop human emissions? One possible objection concerns as one 2020 paper put it: “self-sustained melting of permafrost even if all man-made GHG emissions stop in 2020.”
That was based on a study published in Nature by Jorgen Randers and Ulrich Goluke. Penn State’s Michael Mann was one of several scientists who discounted that work. Andrew MacDougall, did his Doctorate on permafrost thaw. I ask him: will warming from polar thaw continue, even if we reign in our emissions?
Then we have a study published in Environmental Research Letters on December 22, 2020 led by Sara Sayedi, The title is “Subsea permafrost carbon stocks and climate change sensitivity estimated by expert assessment”. They say methane from Siberia and elsewhere will keep leaking into the atmosphere for centuries. Be sure and tune in next week for my interview with Sara Sayedi. We’ll get into the so-called “Arctic methane bomb.”
A CANADIAN CLIMATE SCIENTIST!
It is a pleasant surprise to be talking with a Canadian climate scientist. We have a few names out there. I interviewed MacDougall’s Doctoral Supervisor Andrew Weaver, and some Canadian permafrost experts like Merritt Turetsky. But honestly, after the ten anti-science years of former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, it seems Canada fell out of a leadership role in climate science. Our current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he gets climate change as a primary threat. But he laments President Biden canceling the Keystone Pipeline and pours billions of taxpayer dollars into the Tar Sands.
HOW REALISTIC IS “NET ZERO EMISSIONS” ANYWAY?
Net Zero Emissions is so far away from where we are, it really is “a thought experiment”. Agriculture will certainly go full-tilt trying to feed 8 or 9 or 10 billion people, with all those emissions. Perhaps there will always be villagers in China and India digging coal out of holes and home-made mines. Renegade states will burn fossil fuels, and someone might have to fight a major war just to stop them.
Given we have no meaningful Carbon Capture and Storage or any technology to draw-down carbon at scale, it looks certain we will cross thresholds or tipping points that are irreversible. That is my opinion – but again, we learn from MacDougall et al that if we DO manage to get to Net Zero, there is hope the world will not continue to get even hotter. We might find a hot, difficult landing zone.
MORE SCIENCE NEWS THAT MATTERS
Alex here with updates on breaking climate news. You may have heard this planet is losing ice in record amounts, at an accelerating rate. Here is the summary from University of Leeds in the UK, seat of the lead author Dr. Thomas Slater. Quote:
“25 January 2021
Satellite observations are the best method for tracking ice loss, because the cryosphere is vast and remote. Using these, and some numerical models, the authors show that Earth has lost 28 trillion tonnes (Tt) of ice since 1994 from Arctic sea ice (7.6 Tt), ice shelves (6.5 Tt), mountain glaciers (6.1 Tt), the Greenland (3.8 Tt) and Antarctic ice sheets (2.5 Tt), and Antarctic sea ice (0.9 Tt). It has taken just 3.2 % of the excess energy Earth has absorbed due to climate warming to cause this ice loss.”
The paper is indeed called “Earth’s Ice Imbalance” as published in the EU journal Cryosphere on January 25, 2021. I already covered this record ice loss in my show last September 2020, with the same lead author, Thomas Slater. As I explain in the blog for that show: “Thomas Slater from Leeds University UK reports glacier ice loss has surpassed the worst case scenarios.” Radio Ecoshock was there 5 months ahead of the pack. Definitely listen to that interview in our 2020 show archive.
As we heard from our guest Andrew MacDougall, the excess energy absorbed in melting ice is one factor slowing down warming from our emissions. It acts like a kind of cushion, almost hiding our true situation. They call it the Earth Ice Imbalance. Scientists expect it will take at least thousands of years to melt all the ice off Greenland and Antarctica. That will make sea levels more than 200 feet higher than today.
The redistribution of mass as ice moves from fixed land into the global seas is so great it is affecting Earth’s orbit in a tiny way. Changed locations of weight may also add to existing geological stress points. Perhaps that will mean more earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, but we do not know for sure. I covered relationships between climate change and earthquakes in my Radio Ecoshock show “Earthquake Time Bombs!” with UK Geo-hazards expert Dr. Bill McGuire, author of the book “Waking the Giants”. Find that at my site, ecoshock.org, by selecting Programs, then Archives for 2016. All past shows are there for you free of charge, no sign-up required and no advertising.
EARTH ENERGY IMBALANCE – SMOG AND WARMING
Of course the ice energy imbalance is just part of a much large Earth Energy Imbalance in our changed atmosphere. In late December 2020 I put out a let-learn-together video about warming in the pipeline due to that imbalance. The champion warning about it is Dr. James Hansen, retired from NASA.
Part of the struggle is to discover how much extra heat is already looming over us, but hidden by our pollution. Various types of polluting particles like sulfates in the upper atmosphere reflect incoming energy from the sun back out into space. But that smog is short lived. It can be washed out in weeks by the rain. We may be living in a dangerous time, especially as pretty well every country works to clean up air pollution, which kills millions of people every year.
Now we have another voice on that scene. Cloud researcher Franziska Glassmeier, from Delft University Of Technology in the Netherlands, may have another bit of good news, if you can stand it. Her paper “Aerosol-cloud-climate cooling overestimated by ship-track data” was published in the journal Science on January 31st, 2021.
That doesn’t sound like much. But it turns out a lot of calculations of how much energy polluting clouds reflect back into space was based on a study of smog tracks left by shipping. Satellites can see the trails of diesel smoke laying along the major shipping routes and studied that. Dr. Glassmeier and her team “now show that this approach overestimates the cooling effect of aerosol addition by up to 200%. These findings underscore the need to quantify stratocumulus cloud responses to anthropogenic aerosols to understand the climate system.”
But what does it mean? It is possible there is less hidden warming “in the pipeline” than previously thought. Possible. That means a little less fear, because we can see the current ocean warming, violent storms and wildfires – may be closer to our current energy state, with less of a hot punch in the face to hit us if we clean up the air. We all need clean air to believe, from humans to animals to plants.
BILL GATES, CLIMATE AND PANDEMIC
Should we even talk about climate change while tens of thousands of people are dying from COVID-19 around the world? My heart aches for all the families that are now smaller, and maybe a bit emptier without cherished loved-ones. We ache for the kids whose lives have been darkened, and parents unable to sleep, worrying about keeping a roof and finding food. This is the toughest time I’ve seen and I’m ancient.
But listen to the guy who came late to climate awareness, Bill Gates. Last summer Gates published his article “COVID-19 is awful. Climate change could be worse.” He adds “But there are lessons from the current crisis that should guide our response to the next one.”
We cannot take a year off from the climate crisis.
I am heartened to see the new Biden/Harris Administration take this the climate crisis very seriously, during their first week in office, even while struggling with a massive pandemic tragedy. America has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. A raft of goodies Trump gave to the fossil fuel industry have been canceled, along with the Keystone Pipeline that was going to take dirty Tar Sands Oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico refineries.
Next week I’m going to talk part of the climate community out of a deeply held conviction- about climate doom. Making a radio show is a little like a performance by American protest singer David Rovics. He is the lefty troubadour. Check his music out at davidrovics.com.
Years ago I recorded one of David’s concerts in Vancouver. David can write a song that scorches anything. He told us: “basically I just keep singing until I have alienated everybody”. That is how it goes in radio too.
I’m Alex Smith. If you can afford to help me keep producing this program and making it available free to people all over the world, please make a donation or subscribe to a monthly plan here. I am grateful to listeners who have helped over the past few months. Thank you!
Join me next week on Radio Ecoshock. Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.
After a request from our Radio Ecoshock Facebook page, here is a list of my music. A few bars from these songs appeared in various shows. Some are better than others – but that is for you to decide. Good luck!
THE ALEX SMITH SONG CATALOG – TO END OF 2020
Songs by Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock, as found on SoundCloud
Tribute to Lucky Dube
Time of Trials
Star Dust Baby
Tribute to Michael Mariotte
Change This Thing
Climate HeeBie JeeBies
Why Should I?
Dreaming in the Dark
Carbon Society – Time to Go
She Did Not Say
Take the Money
Meditation Drone Music
Dance At Last
All the Beasts
Global Warming Song
Climate Ramble – Music and Quotes
Dance Until I Crash
Drum Wood – Dance Song
A Rockin Right
Rock Tall: Key climate quotes w. music
Step On It
Into the Blue Remix