Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea

“Inconveniently, Earth is headed for a dead ocean. As founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Paul Watson has repeatedly said, “if the oceans die, we die.” After all, life on Earth originated in the ocean. According to an 8 April 2020 paper in Nature by Trisos and colleagues: ‘We project that future disruption of ecological assemblages as a result of climate change will be abrupt, because within any given ecological assemblage the exposure of most species to climate conditions beyond their realized niche limits occurs almost simultaneously. Under a high-emissions scenario (representative concentration pathway, or RCP 8.5), such abrupt exposure events begin before 2030.’ Again, these RCPs are very conservative.”—Dr. Guy McPherson

Planetary Hospice

By Dr. Guy McPherson

Paul Watson, of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Paul Watson, of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society: “If the oceans die, we die.” (Photo: Nordfoto/Reuters.)

Author’s Note: The conclusions I have reached based on research conducted by other scholars are often called extreme. This essay responds to the accusation of extremism by referring, again, to the peer-reviewed literature and major assessments upon which I base my conclusions.

Guy McPherson

BELLOWS FALLS Vermont—Weekly Hubris)—1 September 2022—As I indicated in the January 2022 issue of Weekly Hubris, even the stunningly conservative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that climate change is abrupt and irreversible. How abrupt? According to the IPCC, “current changes are more rapid than any known events in Earth’s history.” The irreversibility of climate change was attributed by the IPCC to an overheated ocean.

Perhaps the direst existential threat we face is posed by the first ice-free Arctic Ocean in history. Such an event is indifferent to politics. In addition, I suspect it is far too late for even the most radical, dedicated actions to overcome the additional planetary heating associated with the near-term ice-free Arctic Ocean.

The rapid transition from white ice and snow to dark blue will profoundly reduce albedo (i.e., reflectance). This transition to an ice-free Arctic Ocean is already proceeding more rapidly than any other such event in history. It is accelerating the self-reinforcing feedback loop already underway with respect to open water and albedo. According to a peer-reviewed paper in Geophysical Research Letters written by Kristina Pistone and colleagues and published on 20 June 2019, the transition to an ice-free Arctic Ocean is equivalent to 25 years of contemporary emissions, or 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide emissions. According to Pistone and colleagues, this warming would occur the May following the initial ice-free Arctic if it occurs during the preceding September.

The rapid warming of the Arctic Ocean is already leading to many species being found in the Arctic formerly found only in the tropics and subtropics. Various species of fish serve as the best examples, as they are easily documented.

Increased temperature in the Arctic region will almost certainly lead to the 50-gigaton burst of methane described by Natalia Shakhova and her research team in late 2008Such a burst of methane is, “highly possible at any time,” according to Shakhova on 24 July 2013. As reported by Shakhova during an interview on 24 November 2013, such a burst would rapidly warm the planet by 1 degree C or more. This rapid rate of environmental change threatens all life on Earth, as indicated by Strona and Bradshaw in their 13 November 2018 paper in the renowned, open-access, peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.

In addition to reduced albedo and increased methane, there are two other factors that will lead to rapid temperature rise at the global level: 1) loss of aerosol masking, about which I have written previously in this space and 2) additional water-vapor feedback. According to a July 2015 description offered by Skeptical Science, “water vapor feedback roughly doubles the amount of warming caused by CO2. So, if there is a 1°C change caused by CO2, the water vapor will cause the temperature to go up another 1°C.”

Another accusation often lobbed my way concerns my failure to connect calamitous events resulting from global warming, including 1) heat waves of an intensity, duration, and frequency greater than anything we have experienced before, 2) monsoon-like rainfall events of an intensity, duration, and frequency greater than anything we have experienced before, and 3) storms of an intensity, duration, and frequency greater than anything we have experienced before. My response to this accusation? More than a decade ago, I read a line that stuck with me: Don’t talk about the obvious; it’s a waste of everybody’s precious time.

Earth is at the highest global temperature ever achieved with any civilization present, according to a peer-reviewed paper written by James Hansen and 14 other colleagues and published on 18 July 2017. The paper appeared in Earth System Dynamics and was titled, “Young people’s burden: requirement of negative CO2 emissions.” I can assure you that the planet has not cooled over the course of the last five years.

All of this information indicates how volatile the situation has become. As we know, ongoing industrial activity will drive us to Pliocene-style conditions as soon as 2030, based on a peer-reviewed paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published in late 2018 that relied upon the IPCC’s Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). These RCPs ignore aerosol masking and dozens of self-reinforcing feedback loops. On the other hand, a reduction in industrial activity will cause significant additional planetary heating due to loss of aerosol masking.

Inconveniently, Earth is headed for a dead ocean. As founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Paul Watson has repeatedly said, “If the oceans die, we die.” After all, life on Earth originated in the ocean. According to an 8 April 2020 paper in Nature by Trisos and colleagues: “We project that future disruption of ecological assemblages as a result of climate change will be abrupt, because within any given ecological assemblage the exposure of most species to climate conditions beyond their realized niche limits occurs almost simultaneously. Under a high-emissions scenario (representative concentration pathway, or RCP 8.5), such abrupt exposure events begin before 2030  . . . . ” Again, these RCPs are very conservative.

If local and regional farmers are to be trusted, then they are having an increasingly difficult time growing food in this unpredictable climate. All Agricultural Hardiness Zones in the US have shifted northward in the last 20 years. This is very bad news. In New York, for example, the Hardiness Zone has shifted from a 5 to a 6 in the last 20 years, and even to a 7 on Long Island.

If you think life without ice on the Arctic Ocean will pose significant challenges for humans, imagine life without food. No ice for your mixed drink is one thing. No food for your plate is quite another.

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About Guy McPherson

Dr. Guy McPherson is an internationally recognized speaker, award-winning scientist, and one of the world’s leading authorities on abrupt climate change leading to near-term human extinction. He is professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, where he taught and conducted research for 20 years. His published works include 16 books and hundreds of scholarly articles. Dr. McPherson has been featured on television and radio and in several documentary films. He is a blogger and social critic who co-hosts his own radio show, “Nature Bats Last.” Dr. McPherson speaks to general audiences across the globe, and to scientists, students, educators, and not-for-profit and business leaders who seek their best available options when confronting Earth’s cataclysmic changes. Visit McPherson’s Author Page at amazon.com. (Author Head Shot Augment: René Laanen.)
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4 Responses to Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea

  1. Thomas Billings says:

    Maybe if I had been smart enough to go to school I would have the vocabulary to have an intelligent conversation with you. (Too late now) You are only 34 days
    older than I am so…….other than education and intellect we are basically identical.
    I have some questions and maybe a few answers. Number one question, “ should
    Humans be saved?

  2. Guy R McPherson says:

    Thank you for your comment, Thomas. Because I love all life on Earth, I’m a huge fan of humans persisting. The rapid rate of environmental change in our absence is sufficient to cause the near-term extinction of all life on Earth. The uncontrolled meltdown of the world’s many nuclear facilities will strip away stratospheric ozone, thereby causing the extinction of all life on Earth. It’s a two-fer. I’m not a fan.

  3. Chris says:

    I agree with a lot of what you say except what is your definition of “civilization”? The global temperature was 13 C higher than it is right now while the Dinosaurs walked the earth. To claim that “all life” would be extinguished with a rapid change simply isnt true. Human life? Maybe. But this planet is infested life. And life will continue forever short of a black hole or planetary impact that completely destroys the planet.

  4. Guy R McPherson says:

    I wish your words were accurate. Sadly, they are not.

    Wanting something to be true does not make it so. Abundant evidence I have cited previously in this space, and also in this essay, indicates quite clearly that we are driving all life to extinction because of the rapid rate of environmental change (ongoing, and also in the wake of our extinction). In addition, the meltdown of the world’s nuclear power plants will strip away stratospheric ozone, thus greatly increasing planetary overheating within a few minutes. As much as I’d like to believe otherwise, we’re done … and we are taking all life on Earth with us.