The oceans just keep getting hotter, even during this La Nina year, despite the pandemic. Dr. Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Scholar at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. Award-winning Canadian author Michael Harris on latest book “All We Want: Building the Life We Cannot Buy”. Plus: more heat records in January & the carbon capture failure.
KEVIN TRENBERTH ON OCEAN HEATING
Our guest is a widely known climate scientist. Dr. Kevin Trenberth is a Distinguished Scholar at NCAR – the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. He also works with the University of Auckland. Kevin was a lead author of the 2001 and 2007 IPCC Scientific Assessment of Climate Change.
From New Zealand, its an honor to welcome Kevin Trenberth back to Radio Ecoshock.
We talk about Kevin’s new paper published January 11, 2022 titled: “Another Record: Ocean Warming Continues through 2021 despite La Niña Conditions.” There are 23 authors, led by Lijing Cheng. The paper is Open Access, available free for you.
Read an authoritative introductory article about the new ocean heat study here in the Conversation.
Former NASA Chief Scientist James Hansen insists the key number is Earth’s Energy Imbalance – the difference between the amount of the Sun’s energy arriving on the planet, and how much energy escapes back to space. Now many scientists think the ocean, not the atmosphere or land, is the best place to measure that energy imbalance. And it’s not looking good. New heat arriving every day in the sea is greater than an atomic blast every second. The amount of growing heat at sea increased during 2020 by around 14 to 16 Zettajoules (ZJ). The new study shows what happened in 2021.
For this paper, the team employed two different assessments of the massive data collected by Argo buoys and other methods. One is from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics [(IAP)] at the Chinese Academy of Sciences [(CAS)]; the other is American: [a branch of NOAA], the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While models are used to develop conclusions about the cause of the warming, the actual warming cannot be disputed. The paper uses hard measurements collected around the world. These changes in ocean temperatures rise to the level of observed “facts”.
OVERWHELMING LA NINA
Findings from both institutes show the ocean is heating up, even in a La Nina year when we might expect it to cool. This is further proof that the impact of human-induced greenhouse gases are now larger than the natural cycle of La Nina, the cool phase in the Eastern Pacific, and El Nino, the heat releasing period. The role of La Nina/El Nino in ocean heating is counter-intuitive. In the interview, Kevin Trenberth explains WHY the ocean takes in more heat during La Nina, than El Nino – and the clearest explanation yet why those blistering El Nino hot years occur. Listen and learn.
This study looks at warming from the surface down to 2000 meters, or 6500 feet, way over a mile deep. Added heat will mix even deeper over time. The deeper heat goes, the longer it will take to come out, meaning global warming for centuries after humans stop using fossil fuels. We are leaving a hotter future for generations, and the ocean is the largest reason why.
And it doesn’t stop with heat. The paper says:
“Warmer oceans lead to a warmer and moister atmosphere that promotes more intense rainfall in all storms, especially hurricanes, thereby increasing the risk of flooding.”
Oceans have added a lot more heat in the last 30 years than in the previous 30. That is an alarming acceleration. The scientists find the pandemic did not reduce rising heat in the sea.
We were all impressed with the massive volcano erupting closer to Kevin in New Zealand, in the Pacific nation of Tonga. The smoke reached the stratosphere, meaning it will go global. Could the aerosols from the Hunga Tonga eruptions slow down global warming in 2022? Kevin Trenberth says initial estimates suggest not enough dust made it into the upper atmosphere from the Tonga blast – to cool the planet in any significant way. It was less than Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, which did lead to some cooling. Although greenhouse gases were much lower in 1991, at 355 parts per million, versus 412 ppm today.
Ranked in order, the five hottest years of the global ocean since 1955 are:
Can we see a pattern here?
KEVIN TRENBERTH’S FORTHCOMING BOOK
Kevin Trenberth is working on the new book “The Changing Flow of Energy Through the Climate System.” That comes out soon from Cambridge University Press. This follows his paper “Understanding climate change through Earth’s energy flows” published March 18, 2020 in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
PREVIOUS RADIO ECOSHOCK APPEARANCE
Posted on February 5, 2020 – Super-scientist Kevin Trenberth on record ocean warming: impacts now and for centuries to come.
Scientist Zeke Hausfather (@hausfath) reported this on Twitter, January 13 2020: “Ocean heat content in 2019 was the warmest on record by a sizable margin. Between 2018 and 2019 the oceans absorbed an amount of heat around four times larger than all the energy used by humans in the world.”
CLIMATE CRISIS NEWS FROM RADIO ECOSHOCK
Weather in the Northern Hemisphere is pretty insane this winter, going from spring-like mild to Arctic blasts. For many, it’s been storm after storm, a traumatic time. But the heated planet continues in the Southern Hemisphere.
Extreme heat killed millions of chickens in Uruguay this month. Both Brazil and Argentina went through a brutal heat wave. The worst part: the low temperatures at night were above 30 degrees C., or 86 Fahrenheit. During high heat, human physiology depends on cooling down at night. When that doesn’t happen, people suffer, and heat deaths go up.
(2) South America Brutal Heat Wave: Let's talk about the many records of highest minimum temperatures which are falling day after day. On 16 January Overnight Min. temperatures were 31.3C at IPTA-Chaco,Paraguay,30.5C in Formosa,Argentina and 30.4C in Uruguaiana AP ,Brazil. Tbc/ pic.twitter.com/g1llnUlG0S
— Extreme Temperatures Around The World (@extremetemps) January 16, 2022
AUSTRALIA: HOTTEST TEMPERATURE EVER RECORDED IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE!
Parts of Australia are damn hot. A few years ago they had to add another color to their weather maps to capture the new heat extremes. But in January 2022, the country reached the highest temperature ever measured in the Southern Hemisphere. Let me say that again, the highest temperature ever measured in the Southern Hemisphere! In Western Australia, it reached 50.7 C, about 123 degrees Fahrenheit. Perth reached above 50 degrees C several days in a row – relentless dangerous heat.
In a recent Australia Newsletter to the New York Times, Meghan Dansie says getting pummeled with cyclones and heat, can lead to a kind of resignation. Feeling powerless before such awesome forces, some Australians slip into denial of climate change. Of course, as Meghan notes, that also fits with Australia’s rash plans to increase coal mining. Australia is the world’s largest second exporter of coal, powering much of Asia with one of the dirtiest fuels in the world. We love you Australia, but coal is killing our future – and yours too!
CANADA: CARBON CAPTURE FAILURE (again)
But a Canadian can’t point any fingers. Heavy oil from Alberta tar sands may be the most polluting source of energy in the world. It’s not really oil, just sand gooey with black carbon. To make a hydrocarbon, like oil humans can burn in machines, they have to inject hydrogen into it, at high temperatures. Making hydrogen is also energy intensive, meaning more greenhouse gases.
One of the big players, Shell Oil, set up a carbon capture plant at their hydrogen production facility. Shell promotes this green action. Now it turns out, with a new report from Global Witness, the Shell facility produces more greenhouse gases than it captures. According to Shell, their Quest hydrogen production plant removed a puny 5 millions tons of carbon dioxide in the four years between 2015 and 2019. Global Witness found the same plant released 7.5 million tons of greenhouse gases during that time. That includes the super-warming gas methane, at least 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
The United Nations and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change totally rely on fantasies of carbon capture and storage to stay under 2 degrees C of warming by end of century. The only problem: we don’t have any. There are a couple of experimental carbon capture plants, notably one in Iceland. But counting on enough carbon capture to save us from global warming is believing in unicorns, as UK scientist Kevin Anderson says.
THREE CLIMATE ACTIVISTS ACQUITTED
In the UK, three climate activists were acquitted by a British jury. As Kenny Stancil reports in CommonDreams: “Reverend Sue Parfitt, 79; Father Martin Newell, 54; and former university lecturer Phil Kingston, 85, were all found not guilty of violating the Malicious Damages Act.” The three are part of Christian Climate Action, which is part of Extinction Rebellion. They claimed stopping a train was tiny and reasonable given the existential threat of climate change. The jury agreed.
TOO CLOSE TO DOOMSDAY? GET READY FOR TRANSAPOCALYPSE
No doubt you heard that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists kept their Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight. But Brian Kahn and Caitlin McGarry suggest it’s time to retire the clock. Unlike the measurable moment of a nuclear exchange, with relentless climate change, there never is a midnight for everyone. Writing in Gizmodo, January 20th, they say:
“But then there will never actually be a midnight for the climate crisis. Midnight arrives at different times for every person on Earth. Futurist Alex Steffen has said that the present is “transapocalyptic,” a phrase that perfectly encapsulates this form of existence.
“We live, today, in a world where some people worry about their family surviving the trip to the next source of water, and others fret over having to buy their second-favorite brand of coffee,” he wrote. “A transapocalypse is a spectrum.”
In that spectrum, there is no midnight. The bell will never toll for the planet. Instead, it’s just shades of night that we all live through at various points. Even when society halts our carbon-fueled nightmare by ending the use of fossil fuels, the return to daylight won’t be linear or evenly distributed.”
We should get Alex Steffen on Radio Ecoshock to talk about the “Transapocalypse”. But coming up next: how can we stop buying our way into Hell.
MICHAEL JOHN HARRIS: YOU CAN’T BUY HAPPINESS
Feeling down? Does your status need a boost? Buy something. Show the world who you are, from your car to your shoes. A thousand screens cajole and shout: buy this ticket to happiness. Canadian author Michael John Harris has a different prescription for what ails us. His first book won Canada’s top book award: “The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection.” His latest work is “All We Want: Building the Life We Cannot Buy”.
Although Harris published two books about disconnecting from the online world, to rediscover the virtue of solitude – he writes for the popular tech podcast “Command Line Heroes”. He explains it is all about balance.
CAN CONSUMERISM GO VIRTUAL?
After we discuss the way products stimulate brain cells, and how that can be used, I ask: can consumerism go virtual, greatly reducing environmental impacts from trading solid products.
Kid gamers can buy “tokens” giving more weapons or treasure, but nothing physical is exchanged. Bitcoin might be the same. Corporations may move away from physical products, which damage the environment, to virtual ones. In this way, consumer culture evades the deadline imposed by the physical world and carries on. Can consumer culture survive by going virtual?
BUILDING THE CONSUMER SELF
The founder of modern American advertising is Edward Bernays. Bernays’ uncle was Sigmund Freud, who Bernays wanted to consult (unsuccessfully) for tobacco companies, Bernays plotted to overcome the social taboo on women smoking, to double their market. He used the women’s liberation movement, declaring smoking in public to be lighting “torches of freedom.”
In the 1920’s, Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers wanted to “train” “a community” to:
“desire change, to want new things even before the old have been entirely consumed, yields a market to be measured more by desires than by needs. And man’s desires can be developed to that they will greatly overshadow his needs.”
And that is where we are today.
If billions of people identify themselves with things they own, creating a symbolic self until there is little self left – do you believe there is something inside us that can self-rescue, transcending thinghood? Or might that depend on other forces, an intrusion of reality, like fundamental disasters and catastrophe?
The book “All We Want” does not leave the reader stuck in a terminal dystopia. The surprise though, is Harris’s answer from the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. It turns out Aristotle’s experiences in the high consumption court of King Philip of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) brought Aristotle to reevaluate what happiness means. He called it Eudaimonia.
WIKI SAYS: Eudaimonia is a Greek word literally translating to the state or condition of ‘good spirit’, and which is commonly translated as ‘happiness’ or ‘welfare’. In the works of Aristotle, Eudaimonia was the term for the highest human good in older Greek tradition.
So life is not a game we can “win”. It is a daily, hourly choice of action, toward our better selves, that ends only when we end. There are no other prizes.
FASCINATING FACTOID: Your body is not all human!
“Human cells only make up 54 percent of the cells in your body – the others are bacteria, viruses, fungi, and archaea, all hitching a ride on a human-shaped spaceship. We could not survive without this alien microbiome any more than we could survive without the trees and animals and planet-sized systems operating outside our bodies…”
We literally cannot live without billions of living things human eyes cannot see. “I” am a colony of cooperative beings.
Read this handy review of the new book “All We Want” in the Vancouver publication “The Tyee”.
SIGN-OUT FROM ALEX
In future shows I will be looking more at the future. Suspiciously of course! We know governments and people around the world have notoriously failed to organized a common defense for coming generations, not to mention the miracle of all life on this planet. Now they have a new song. Is it another lullaby to sooth baby, while the building burns? Stay tuned.
Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.