top 10 signs of a climate apocalypse

December 27, 2012

age of stupid image

The movie ‘The Age of Stupid’ shows the fate of Las Vegas and the world in 2055 if we do nothing to stop climate change. // photo from ‘The Age of Stupid’

So, we’re still here. The Mayans weren’t signaling an end of the world, only an end to an era.

On the other hand, that means we are not off the hook on climate change, which could hasten the end of the world as we know it.

To close out the year, here’s a list in no particular order of  the top 10 warning signals. … Well, I don’t know if they are the top 10, but they are 10 that sure alarmed me. Feel free to add reports you’ve seen in the comments:

1. A report commissioned by the World Bank outlines the severe effects from a 4-degree-Celsius temperature rise even if countries meet current pledges to cut emissions. If they fail that, the results would be even worse. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said: “This report is a sobering look at what a 4-degree-Celsius warmer world would look like. There would be massive disruption in some of our most basic systems—water supply, the viability of coastal cities, entire populations that live in low-lying areas. But moreover, it has implications for disaster risk management. It has implications for food supply. And most importantly for us, the worst impacts are going to happen in the poorest countries, to the poorest people.” Read the World Bank report here or Amy Goodman’s segment on the report here.

2. Last month, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization reported that greenhouse gas emission in 2011 broke all records. “Between 1990 and 2011 there was a 30% increase in radiative forcing—the warming effect on our climate—because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping, long-lived gases,” the report said. The report also said that methane in the atmosphere reached “a new high of about 1813 parts per billion (ppb) in 2011, or 259% of the pre-industrial level, due to increased emissions from anthropogenic sources.” Although methane levels had been leveling off, since 2007 they have been on the rise again. (That is also the time frame for the boom in fracking, but the report doesn’t list a cause). Methane lasts about a dozen years in the atmosphere, compared with 100 years for CO2, but it holds far more heat-trapping gases while there. Compared over 100 years, it’s 21 times worse for the climate than CO2; compared over 20 years, it’s 72 times worse.

3. The U.N. Environment Program reported last month that keeping global warming to 2 degrees C this century, which nations around the world agreed was the safe level, is increasingly unlikely. Its Emissions Gap Report said that instead of declining, “total greenhouse gas emissions have risen from around 40 [gigatons] in 2000 to an estimated 50.1 Gt in 2010.” This report brings a new twist on the admonition to “mind the gap.” At this rate, global temperatures could rise a very uncomfortable 3 to 5 degrees C (or 5.4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, the report said.
4. A University of Pennsylvania study has found that sea levels worldwide are rising 60 percent faster than was anticipated by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “This study shows once again that the IPCC is far from alarmist, but in fact has underestimated the problem of climate change,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, the German oceanographer and climatologist who led the study. “That applies not just for sea-level rise, but also to extreme events and the Arctic sea-ice loss.” Reports on the study are here and here.

5. NOAA’s Arctic Report Card reported a “rare, nearly ice-sheet-wide [surface] melt” of Greenland’s glacier this summer. The annual melt season was also the longest on record. When Greenland surface ice thaws, it reflects less sunlight, which in turn accelerates warming.

6. Arctic sea ice also hit a record low this summer. “The last six years have the six smallest minimum extents since satellite observations began in 1979,” the Arctic Report Card said. NOAA’s Climate Watch magazine also notes the loss of old, thick ice and the prevalence of young, salty new ice that is more prone to melting.

7.  A study in the journal Science shows the world’s biggest, oldest trees are dying off at an alarming rate from a combination of climate change (heat, drought, forest fires) , logging, land clearing, disease and insect attacks (also linked to warming). The New York Times has a report here.  Nate McDowell, a staff scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico studies tree deaths.

8. The 1990 predictions from climate scientists for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have proved quite accurate, according to a report in the journal Nature Climate Change. They are not making this stuff up — or exaggerating.

9. “Every year counts,” according to Thomas Stocker, a professor of climate and environmental physics at the University of Bern in Switzerland, in a paper in the journal Science in November. “I am a fundamentally optimistic person, but it is getting more and more difficult, because I see the message of science has not fundamentally changed from when I started working in this field, which was 20 years ago.” he told

10. Biodiversity and ecosystems are already in trouble because of climate change, according to a report led by the U.S. Geological Survey. The report lists population declines, a shift in where species range, localized extinctions (those species that can’t shift are the ones facing extinction), “interactions among species that have not existed in the past,” and “mismatches” of timing and distribution of plants and animals. For example, pollinators arrive after plants have bloomed, oceans are too warm for fish eggs to survive or plants emerge too soon for young caribou to survive. Common Dreams wrote about the study here.

Other signs of climate disruption abound (record drought, record low water levels on the Mississippi River, record forest fires, record damage from storms, projections of food shortages……).  As Lester Brown said at Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s recent Drilling Down conference, “Time is our scarcest resource.”

–elisabeth hoffman



One Response to “top 10 signs of a climate apocalypse”

  1. Susan O'Keely said

    Love the post

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