Friday, July 6, 2018

Heat waves and "worst-case" scenarios; Scott Pruitt resigns.

I am not a climate scientist, but as a mathematician I think I understand something about differential equations and "feedback" loops.

I have believed for several years now that actual climate scientists have been taking special care to avoid their real understanding to climate change -- deliberately softening their feelings of deep pessimism over its speed and intensity. Consider what climatologist Nick Humphrey says in his blog about the recent heat wave.

He concludes:

 In addition to the immediate impact on sea ice, there is also the impact on permafrost. Or perhaps, what was “permafrost”. More of these kind of intense heat events now hitting the Arctic at the height of summer will result in more rapid destruction of land permafrost as well as heating of the shallow waters just offshore where sub-sea permafrost is located, allowed for increasingly more carbon dioxide and methane to be released into the atmosphere, speeding up global warming and resulting climate change, including effects on storm patterns in the mid-latitudes.

In other words, we are entering the era of the "feedback loop": Heating creates melting which increases the rate of heating. This results in not just a simple increase in (global) warming, but exponential increase (and maybe worse) in warming, We are not talking about a disaster for our grandchildren anymore (bad enough, of course) but a disaster for our children and probably many of us.  A week of temperatures in the mid-nineties in the Northeast will be the norm for spring-summer-fall seasons here. It will be worse in other places: death-dealing heat waves lasting weeks; and, eventually (in years, not decades) these will be the norm just about everywhere in previously "temperate" regions.

This can not be blamed on the Trump administration.  This is on all of us, especially the major industrialized nations, especially the ones which industrialized first and most (England, Europe, US). Fossil-fuel consumption in China, India, Brazil etc will simply make things much worse. What we are seeing now will not go away: exponential heating and melting will continue for maybe a century, maybe more: surely more if we do nothing

Although it has not received anything like the attention it deserves, Bill McKibben's book Eaarth, I think, pulls few punches in giving a pretty fair account of the "new" planet we will have to face and live on as the effects of climate feedback become worse.

Politics will have 2 important roles to play:

1. Making industrial and economic changes that will diminish (radically) greenhouse gas pollution.

2. Making sure that we protect humans and food crops from the thermal (and social) devastation that will result from what has already happened and is happening.

Given the political "climate", I'm pretty certain that neither of these things will happen for decades. The wealthy will flee to their bastions of air-conditioning, private food supplies, armed force and protective walls. The Koch brothers and their friends will fight to the last to preserve coal and oil and their personal enclaves and wealth. Hundreds of thousands then millions then hundreds of millions (and more) will be "on their own" to face the new world of unrelenting heat and rising water levels (which will not be "lifting all boats" for sure).

We can all try, for the sake of our families, friends and relatives, to work to implement points 1 and 2 above, and hope for the best. I'm sorry to say that that's about all I can take away from this recent heat wave and the almost-pointless resignation of Scott Pruitt.

 

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