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'The atmosphere is being radicalized' by climate change

Posted on 24 October 2016 by dana1981

Climate change’s impacts on extreme weather and society are becoming increasingly clear and undeniable. While we are making progress in solving the problem, we’re still moving too slowly, and one of the two political parties governing the world’s strongest superpower continues to deny the science. This led astrophysicist Katie Mack to make the following suggestion, related to a common refrain from Donald Trump and Republican Party leaders:

Maybe governments will actually listen if we stop saying "extreme weather" & "climate change" & just say the atmosphere is being radicalized

Global warming intensified Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew set a number of records. Its record-breaking rainfall and storm surge caused historic flooding and destructive winds along the coasts of Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. Hillary Clinton touched upon the science linking global warming and hurricane impacts in a recent speech in Florida:

At Climate Progress, Joe Romm summarized the various ways in which global warming makes hurricanes like Matthew more intense:

  • Hotter sea surface and upper ocean temperatures fuel hurricanes, leading to more of the strongest (Category 4 and 5) storms.
  • Hotter ocean temperatures also cause more rapid intensification of hurricanes, and the most intense storms are those that undergo rapid intensification.
  • Global warming causes sea level rise, which creates larger storm surges and thus worse flooding.
  • Global warming also adds more water vapor to the atmosphere, which causes more intense rainfall and exacerbates flooding.

In short, global warming made Hurricane Matthew and its impacts more severe, and will lead to more such devastating hurricanes in the future.

Arctic sea ice is disappearing

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2016 tied for the second-lowest annual Arctic sea ice minimum extent. However, that only accounts for the amount of ice on the surface of the ocean. The ice has also become thinner due to the warming oceans. As a result, we’ve lost about three-quarters of the volume of sea ice in the Arctic ocean in less than four decades, as this video created by Andy Lee Robinson illustrates:

That decline is well outside the range of natural variability over the past 1,500 years, and several studies have found that human-caused global warming is the primary driver of the disappearing Arctic sea ice.

Global temperatures keep shattering records

2014 was the hottest year since our measurements began, breaking the record set in 2010, which had broken the record set in 2005. A year later we saw the temperature record shattered once again in 2015, by more than a tenth of a degree Celsius. This year we’ll see the record broken once again, likely by an even larger margin. Every month in 2016 except June has been the hottest ever recorded. That has never happened before, nor have we ever seen three consecutive record-breaking hot years. It’s simply unprecedented.


The western USA is dry and burning

California is in the midst of a 5-year drought; its worst in over a millennium. 100% of the state is currently experiencing drought conditions, with over 20% of the state in “exceptional” drought – the most severe category.

The drought has created conditions ripe for severe wildfire seasons.

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Comments 1 to 10:

  1. Policy makers who are denying climate science or are indifferent to it while running for office as "leaders" have no business whatsoever as a leader. they are foot draggers politically connected by their doners - which taken 5 minutes can easily follow the money. Therefore, in my humble opinion - there needs to be bite behind this bark of denial.  I would propose the next hyper floods should have famouse policy members names on them.  Example 2018 Donald Trump Flood kills 16 people as rivers swell and many lose theier homes.  There has to be punishment and these followers not leaders need to have equal amounts of money cost to tax payers - we need to get rough — nhow is the time to take it to them with no uncertain terms.  I would hope the namby pamby would either grow a pair or find their spine.  The rest of us are tired not seeing punishment attached — its time to make them pay a price —  God damn it the world is sure paying - lets make it a two way street.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] While we appreciate your passion on this matter, we also ask you to keep the discussion civil.

  2. I realize this gets 'off topic' from the typical climate discussions, however, I think it's important to identify also the perspectives that climate change and potential mitigations (e.g. renewable energy) will have in other areas - two in particular.

    1. Energy (fossil fuels) and terrorism money - the US absolutely has the potential to produce all its energy needs from wind and solar. It is an infrastructure and cost issue, not a 'capability' issue.

    Doing so (and other world nations following suit) means fossil fuels lose value - rapidly (stranded assets). This means entities such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, etc. are all at risk of losing their primary sources of national revenues - it also means that none of the money spent on fossil fuels purchased from these nations can be filtered into radical religous sects or terrorist groups. Mitigating climate change won't "solve" terrorism, but one aspect of it (shifting away from oil resources) may certainly alter whether these radical groups can get any funding, and where that funding will come from.

    2.  U.S. 'green energy' and trade - we have a massive trade deficit in the US, because we import from areas where labor costs are cheap, and fossil fuels used to ship those products globally are 'cheap'.

    If 'renewable energy' were tied to international trade costs (e.g. 'true' costs of fuels for shipping; carbon 'tariffs' or taxes on products produced using fossil fuels), and the US develops a 'green' energy grid, you immediately gain better cost-competitiveness for things 'made in USA' (or made locally or anywhere they are produced and shipped using carbon-free energy).  

    The entities that have large infrastructure investements in maintaining the status quo (fossil fuel producers/nations; companies and nations with factories and 'on the ground' investments where labor is cheap) stand to lose out with a carbon tax or any form of trade tariffs on products made with carbon-based energy. It's not only the "Exxons" of the world. 

    Climate change, as temperatures continue to rise, is going to be disruptive.

    Upsetting the 'norm' of a worldwide economy  and worldwide infrastructure that's been designed to run off carbon based energy for over a century, is also going to be disruptive.

    The real challenge we have as a society is figuring out which political leaders can craft transitional laws and framework to minimize the economic disruptions as we shift away from fossil fuels, and recognizing the benefits and opportunities that will be available and really helping some of these heavily 'carbon-energy embedded' companies and entities to benefit from the new 'rules', rather than making them out as 'the enemy' and as 'those who will lose out'. When these entities believe they will lose out, they are going to dig in their heels, and continue to fund climate-denial groups to maintain their status-quo revenue streams for as long as possible.

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  3. Solar systems and wind farms use weak enegy income to intermttedly provide some electricity during their limited life times. They cannot provide the liquid fuels required by most forms of transport. These are facts that determine 'renewable' energy systems can only fill a niche role in the operation of industrialized civilization, despite the views of many people who do not understand that physical reality.

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  4. @3 denisaf,

     Actually I believe a lot of transportation can be replaced by stored electric vehicles. However your point is well taken. Probably not all. That's why I have posted multiple times on various threads here that a 3 pronged approach is probably best. Here and here are a couple examples.

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  5. Denisaf,

    Jacobson 2015 shows that renewable energy can supply 100% of all power.  Jacobson won the 2015 Cozzarelli Prize from the National Academy of Science for best paper in the PNAS for this work.  

    Your wild, unsupported claim that renewable energy cannot supply all energy is simply false.  The comments policy requires links to peer reviewed data that supports your claims.  Please provide links to support your wild claim that renewable energy cannot provide all power.  

    In 100 years fossil fuels will run out if we do not stop using them today.   What do you expect to take their place when cheap liquid fuels are no longer available?  Why can't we build out WWS as Jacobson describes now, instead of waiting for fossil fuels to run out.  Already coal is becoming uneconomic in competition with wind and solar.  Your argument does not withstand the most basic evaluation.

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  6. denisaf @3, solar systems and wind farms can straight forwardly provide hydrogen as a fuel through electrolysis.  More importantly, there are a variety of methods to convert CO2 into useful fuels, including:

    CO2 to Jet Fuel (Electricity)

    CO2 to Methanol (Heat)

    CO2 to Ethanol (Electricity)

    CO2 to Methane (Sunlight)

    CO2 to Jet Fuel (Sunlight)

    CO2 to diesel (Biological)

    The first three can be driven by solar systems and wind farms; while the hydrogen (from electrolysis) is a key ingredient in some of the others.  None of these methods is commercial yet, but there is every reason to think at least some of them will be.  The first process (or a similar more efficient process) is currently planned to by the US Navy as a future supplier of jet fuel for naval operations, with electricity drawn from nuclear reactors in air craft carriers, so we can expect that process to be developed to a commercial stage.  In addition, Space X is planning to use solar power plus CO2 to generate fuel at Mars for return trips in its projected Mars program.

    In short, while renewable energy is only capable of supplying 100% of land, stationary energy (including for electric trains, and recharging batteries for electric cars) with todays technology, it is not constrained to that role by physics, but by current, and temporary technological limits. 

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  7. Michael Sweet @5, as you say in about 100 years oil will be used up. This is one of the things that persuades me that we might as well go ahead with alternative energy, because we will run out of oil eventually. Climate change is sort of a trigger that has come unexpectedly. Its not a major factor that persuades me, but all these things do add up.

    If by some miracle global warming is not as bad as predicted (just to be clear I think we have a big problem), the oil will always be in the ground if we need it. Our options will always be open, in terms of energy sources. But if we warm the climate, that will be a one way trip, and very hard to reverse.

    However new technologies like renewable energy are dropping in price and becoming attractive on an economic basis, regardless of the global warming issue. And another thing with new technology: it often has numerous unpredictable advantages and uses. Witness how microprocessors have revolutionised phones. When contemplating choices relating to climate change, it pays to factor in all the potential benefits from new technology, because its highly probable there will be many.

    I find the argument that electricity can’t resolve all transport problems rather frustrating. It can reduce a huge percentage of fossil fuel reliance. Surely that's what counts.

    Aircraft emissions are more challenging, but can be offset by growing forests or some other non- carbon based fuel source could be used like ammonia, or some completely new form of fuel.

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  8. I just think radicalising the atmosphere is a bit sensationalist. Maybe restructuring the atmosphere has the right sound. And we all know how restructuring ends, not always very well.

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  9. denisaf

    "They cannot provide the liquid fuels required by most forms of transport. "

    Where liquid fuels are not required:

    • Electric cars can currently meet daily commuting type range, which is the vast majority of personal car usage.
    • Electric trucks, buses etc can similarly do daily delivery range tasks now.
    • Electric heavy gauge rail does not need liquid fuels.
    • Light Rail/Trams can currently operate electrically and do not need liquid fuels.
    • Similarly, electric trolley buses are common in Eastern Europe - no liquid fuel required.
    • Stand-alone electric buses that us inductive or overhead charging at stops are being trialled in Europe - no liquid fuels.
    • Short range aviation with batteries is possible.

    Where liquid fuel might be required:

    • Longer range aviation. Hard to see an alternative.
    • Shipping. Solar and wind can contribute to reducing the energy demands of a ship, but unlikely to supply more than a modest fraction
    • Long distance personal car use. Battery recharge en route can meet this need but requires longer 'recharge stops'. Liquid fuels only needed if we want fast turn-around time at 'refueling stops'
    • Long distance road transport. Similar. Time vs convenience/cost trade off.

    So aviation and shipping need something like liquid fuels Long distance land trasnport only needs it if we value time more highly than other factors.

    So if we are willing to wear longer long distance land journeys, we only need liquid (or compressed gas) fuels for aviation and shipping. And we can source those from renewables via electrolosys, chemical synthesis, biofuels etc.

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  10. I do not agree 100% with the essay or any of the comments. I loved them all; this is a necessary conversation. Thanks, everybody!

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