I believe the persistent, cold and snowy winter we've had over much of the eastern half of the United States (and similar events in Europe) is very likely due to the ever-more chaotic movements of the Jet Stream in the northern hemisphere. It appears that the Jet Stream has become unhinged in recent years because of the decreasing temperature differential between the Arctic and Earth's mid-latitudes. Needless to say, that growing heat imbalance is one result of human-caused global warming.
That is the view of Rutgers scientist Jennifer Francis. The circumstantial evidence supporting her hypothesis is becoming overwhelming, although there is no "smoking gun'" which "proves" her theory. Thus there are dissenting scientists (like Kevin Trenberth) and the jury is said to be out on this one (see here, here, and here).
Even if Jennifer Francis is wrong, it's clear that something very unusual has been going on in the last 3 or 4 years, not just in the United States but all over the world. We're seeing some very striking and extreme (not to mention damaging) weather patterns. Disregarding time scales, which are always confusing for humans, it is clear as far as the Big Picture is concerned that the shit is hitting the fan.
And yet I continue to see the same climate change babbling which humans always engage in (Discover Magazine, February 4, 2014). And follow the links there-in if endless babbling is irresistable to you.
Nothing I can say will dispel the confusion, but I'd like it to be on the record for future generations that at least a few humans on Earth in the year 2014 did indeed know what is very likely going on. (That would be me and some of my readers.) I'm going to keep this as simple as possible. Necessarily, I will have to leave out many details and assumptions as I attempt to cut through reams of human bullshit on climate risk.
Well, I'm a Big Picture kind of guy. Here goes nothing.
Assessing Climate Change Risk
The physics (heat-trapping properties) of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere is well-established. Hence I will ignore it.
The hypothesis stating that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the Earth's land surface, acidifying and warming the oceans and melting ice is well-established. Hence I will take it for granted.
The risk from climate change can be evaluated as a function of surface temperature increase, acidification/warming of the oceans and melting ice. The more of these we get, the higher the risk.
How much surface temperature increase and ice melting we will have in the 21st century is essentially a function of three variables.
- the climate sensitivity of the Earth (graph below) with respect to a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 levels (~550 ppm)
- the amount of economic growth (global GDP measured in constant dollars) humans strive for and achieve during the 21st century
- the energy mix which supports that growth
Regarding the second point, humans generally assume that economic growth is Inevitable and Good, an assumption which is itself an outgrowth of the dominant secular religion called Progress. Therefore, the growth assumption is rarely questioned and rarely explicitly stated.
Regarding the third point, the more fossil energy humans consume, the higher emissions will be. Using a thermodynamic model of human expansion, which is the only kind of model which matters in this context, there is a constant relationship between economic growth and energy consumption, meaning that the more growth you achieve, the more energy you require.
Humans are generally confused by all three of the variables listed above. That is the source of all babbling on climate change risk.
There are two "stories" humans tell themselves about climate change risk.
- fossil fuel emissions are not changing the climate (i.e., the climate sensitivity = 0, or is negligible)
- economic growth is Inevitable and Good and can be achieved by swapping out fossil energy and switching to renewable and "clean" sources instead. Climate sensitivity is assumed to be in the usual range (2.0 - 4.5° centigrade).
The first confusion is called climate denialism (or some such thing). The second confusion defines the usual "we can have our cake and eat it too" view of the future. Whenever you see someone babbling about climate change risk, the person in question is assuming one of these two views, or some trivial variant of them, even when those assumptions are not made explicit. Both of these views are delusional.
Outside of deniers, who don't acknowledge any risk from emissions, climate change risk is always assessed by the "have your cake and eat it too" crowd. Since these people assume without question that economic growth is Inevitable and Good, they believe (also without question) that the risk to the global economy of replacing fossil energy with "clean" and renewable energy is negligible.
It should be clear to you now that both views suggest that humans are unable to come to grips with reality and thus assess risk correctly in big matters like the Earth's climate. Either the risk of increasing emissions = 0 (deniers) or the risk to the global economy = 0 (cake-eaters).
What we actually observe behaviorally is that humans are doing nothing substantial to mitigate climate change risk. This conspicuous lack of action is explained away (with much babbling or handwringing) by saying that
- the science is wrong (deniers).
- the transition to "clean" renewable energy requires lots of innovation and hard work—it's a global Manhattan Project which will go on for years—but is achievable if the right economic incentives are put into place (e.g., a carbon tax). Unfortunately, there is an evil conspiracy among the world's fossil energy providers which seeks to obstruct mitigation efforts and, apparently, the world's monied elites, including virtually all its politicians, are in on it (cake-eaters).
The first assumption is false. The second one is ludicrous.
The simple fact is that there is great risk in doing something substantial (attempting to move quickly on a global-scale to non-fossil energy sources) and there is great risk in doing nothing (emissions continue unabated). Ultimately, both risks are the same. Both risks imperil the future existence of humanity's global industrial civilization in anything like its current form.
I believe the unacknowledged risk to the global economy resulting from doing something substantial to mitigate climate change risk is the single biggest factor preventing effective action to reduce that risk. It is easy to say "do something!" It is much harder to convert our global energy supply to predominantly renewable sources without bringing down the world economy. If one examines closely what must be done to convert our global energy supply to renewable, "clean" sources in a time-frame which makes a difference, the transition seems to be impossible.
The fact that humans are "choosing" to do nothing rather than something suggests to me that striving for population or economic (consumption) growth is sacrosanct and thus can not be seriously questioned. If that assumption is correct, and there is a never-ending abundance of empirical evidence which supports it, then we already know what will happen in the future—there will much babbling and no significant action taken to mitigate climate risk.
So there is it. I just wanted to be on the record without getting into the hairy but ultimately insignificant details.
Will somebody please put this post in a secure, climate-proof time capsule to be opened in the year 2100?