My Notes for Climate Change

Jul 2017
Kettering, Ohio USA
Unit 3

Since the Industrial Revolution, global average temperature has increased by about 1°C (1.8°F).
“Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years.” The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the top four in the past four years.5 2016 was the hottest year on the historical record.6 “Global surface temperature in 2017 was the second highest in the period of instrumental measurements in the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis. The high 2017 temperature, unlike the record 2016 temperature, was obtained without any boost from tropical El Niño warming.” 7

The warming is not evenly distributed. Some areas have warmed much more. Parts of the Arctic have warmed by 2° - 3°C (3.6°-5.4°F) just since the 1950s.

“Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0-700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.” 10

For the understanding of global warming it helps to have some insight into the carbon cycle: “The biosphere is maintained by a complex set of delicately balanced systems which are still poorly understood. The atmospheric conditions that permit life to exist were themselves created in part by the action of living things. The early plants removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and added oxygen, making animal life possible. Dead plants, both the remains of marine plankton and terrestrial vegetation, were buried and fossilized as coal, oil and gas, and their carbonate skeletons became layers of limestone, locking a significant part of the Earth's carbon away in geological formations. Carbon cycles through the biosphere, as plants take up carbon dioxide to make organic matter, while animals and decomposers return the carbon dioxide to the oceans and atmosphere.”

Atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide are called greenhouse gases because they act similar to the glass in a greenhouse by trapping heat. Or more specifically worded: “the greenhouse gases are transparent to most incoming (short wave) radiation from the sun, which passes through the atmosphere and hits the Earth. The Earth is warmed by this radiation, and in response radiates infrared (long wave) energy back into space. That is where greenhouse gases come into play. These atmospheric gases absorb some of the outgoing infrared radiation, trapping the heat energy in the atmosphere and thereby warming the Earth.”

The greenhouse effect has kept the Earth’s average surface temperature stabilized at around 13.5°C (56.3°F) in radiative balance for the last 10,000 years or so, up until the industrial revolution (see image 1). Without it our Earth would be 28 - 32°C colder! Life on Earth is only possible because of this greenhouse effect.

Whenever it is spring and summer in the Northern Hemisphere (which has much more land mass than the Southern Hemisphere), CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere fall, because its vegetation is sequestering (taking in) CO2

Scientists collected data on the atmospheric concentrations of these three greenhouse gases during the past 1000 years. As you can see on the curves below, for a long time their levels were pretty constant with only minor variations, but then they started to increase dramatically in the 19th century.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is emitted primarily by burning fossil fuels and by the clearing of forests. CO2 remains in our atmosphere for many decades and some of it for many thousands of years. Methane (CH4) is emitted from landfills, coalmines, oil and gas operations, beef production and rice paddies. Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas. It stays in the atmosphere for about 12 years. In the short term, methane is 86 times more powerful in trapping heat than CO2. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is emitted by nitrogen based fertilizers and industrial activities. It stays in the atmosphere on average for 114 years.

“The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.”

We should also be aware of another category of greenhouse gases, the Fluorocarbons or F-gases. Chemical engineers have designed these gases specifically to trap heat. That’s why they are very powerful greenhouse gases. These chemicals are used mainly “in refrigeration and air conditioning, but also as solvents, as blowing agents in foams, as aerosols or propellants, and in fire extinguishers. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculated that the cumulative buildup of these gases in the atmosphere was responsible for at least 17% of global warming due to human activities in 2005. The most commonly used F-gases are the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs were developed by the chemical industry in response to the discovery of damage to the Earth’s ozone layer due to chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) use. But this development ignored the known global warming effect of the newer chemicals. Fortunately, there are environmentally safe, efficient, technologically proven, and commercially available alternatives to F-gases in almost all domestic and commercial applications.”18 The chemical industry has so far resisted the use of these natural alternatives. As many F-gases stay in the atmosphere for a very long time it is extremely important that we discontinue their use and production.

“Adding CO2 to the air is like throwing another blanket on the bed. It reduces Earth's heat radiation to space, so there's a temporary energy imbalance. More energy is coming in than going out, until Earth warms up enough to again radiate to space as much energy as it absorbs from the Sun. So the key quantity is Earth's energy imbalance. Is there more energy coming in than going out? If so, more warming is in the pipeline. It will occur without adding any more greenhouse gasses.

“Now finally, we can measure Earth's energy imbalance precisely by measuring the heat content in Earth's heat reservoirs. The biggest reservoir, the ocean, was the least well measured, until more than 3,000 Argo floats were distributed around the world's ocean.These floats reveal that the upper half of the ocean is gaining heat at a substantial rate. The deep ocean is also gaining heat at a smaller rate, and energy is going into the net melting of ice all around the planet. And the land, to depths of tens of meters, is also warming.

“The total energy imbalance now is about six-tenths of a watt per square meter. That may not sound like much, but when added up over the whole world, it's enormous. It's about 20 times greater than the rate of energy use by all of humanity. It's equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day 365 days per year. That's how much extra energy Earth is gaining each day. This imbalance, if we want to stabilize climate, means that we must reduce CO2 from 391 ppm (now at about 400ppm) back to 350 ppm. That is the change needed to restore energy balance and prevent further warming.”

If greenhouse gases were held constant at today's level, it is estimated that it would take several decades for their full impact to be felt. The Earth would continue to warm until the climate is in balance with the current greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, CO2 levels are not constant but are continuing to rise, which will change the climate and the living conditions on Earth in a very dangerous way.

“We know from earlier civilizations that the lead indicators of economic decline were environmental, not economic. The trees went first, then the soil, and finally the civilization itself. To archeologists, the sequence is all too familiar.” 1

Two Examples: The ancient Sumerian civilization flourished on the central floodplain of the Euphrates River in the fourth millennium BC. The Sumerians had the first written language and built the first cities. They had a very productive agriculture with a sophisticated irrigation system. Unfortunately their irrigation system caused salination of the soil because of water evaporation. For a while the Sumerians could survive by planting more salt tolerant crops. However, their civilization collapsed and until today their once fertile land is almost a desert, with only little vegetation.

Easter Island in the South Pacific was settled around ad 400. Its civilization flourished on a volcanic island with rich soils and lush vegetation, including trees that grew 25 meters (82 feet) tall with trunks 2 meters (6,6 feet) in diameter. Archeological records indicate that the islanders ate mainly seafood, principally dolphins—a mammal that could only be caught by harpoon from large sea-going canoes. The Easter Island society flourished for several centuries, reaching an estimated population of 20,000. As its human numbers gradually increased, tree cutting exceeded the sustainable yield of forests. Eventually the large trees that were needed to build the sturdy canoes disappeared, depriving islanders of access to the dolphins and dramatically shrinking their food supply. The archeological record shows that at some point human bones became intermingled with the dolphin bones, suggesting a desperate society that had resorted to cannibalism. Today the island has fewer than 4,000 residents. 3

In other parts of the world, similar events happened in the past. A culture flourished. Population grew. Demand on the environment increased. Civilization reached a peak, then declined and collapsed because the environment could not sustain it any longer.

The situation today is unique because this time the whole planet is at stake and therefore civilization as we know it. "Our global economy is outgrowing the capacity of the Earth to support it, moving our early twenty-first century civilization ever closer to decline and possible collapse. ... We are consuming renewable resources faster than they can regenerate. Forests are shrinking, grasslands are deteriorating, water tables are falling, fisheries are collapsing, and soils are eroding. We are using up oil at a pace that leaves little time to plan beyond peak oil. And we are discharging greenhouse gases into the atmosphere faster than nature can absorb them, setting the stage for a rise in the earth’s temperature well above any since agriculture began."

Current estimates for temperature rise by the end of this century is 4°C if we continue with business as usual. It's hard to imagine a 4°C warmer world. Scientist James Hansen tells how our world could potentially look like with 2.8°C warming:

“Our best information comes from the Earth’s history. The last time that the Earth was 2.8°C (5°F) warmer was three million years ago, when sea level was about 24m (80 feet) higher. Twenty-four meters! (Eighty feet!) In that case, the United States would lose most East Coast cities: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Miami; indeed, practically the entire state of Florida would be under water. Fifty million people in the US live below that sea level. Other places would fare worse. China would have 250 million displaced persons. Bangladesh would produce 120 million refugees, practically the entire nation. India would lose the land of 150 million people.

“A rise in sea level, necessarily, begins slowly. Massive ice sheets must be softened and weakened before rapid disintegration and melting occurs and the sea level rises. It may require as much as a few centuries to produce most of the longterm response. But the inertia of ice sheets is not our ally against the effects of global warming. The Earth’s history reveals cases in which sea level, once ice sheets began to collapse, rose one meter (3.3 feet) every twenty years for centuries. That would be a calamity for hundreds of cities around the world, most of them far larger than New Orleans. Devastation from a rising sea occurs as the result of local storms which can be expected to cause repeated retreats from transitory shorelines and rebuilding away from them.”

• The projected sea-level rise scenario as described in the previous two paragraphs is based on a 2.8°C (5°F) warming. “Present emission trends put the world plausibly on a path toward 4°C (7.2°F) warming within the century. Such a warming level and associated sea-level rise of 0.5 to 1 meter, or more, by 2100 would not be the end point: a further warming to levels over 6°C (10.8°F), with several meters of sea-level rise, would likely occur over the following centuries.” 6 More recent scientific research projects significantly larger sea-level rise by the end of the century as you will see in Unit 4.

• Inertia of the Climate System: Even if we could keep carbon dioxide levels stable at today's levels, the planet would continue to warm for decades. It takes a long time for the oceans to warm. As long as they are still in the process of warming, the atmosphere cannot reach equilibrium. Unfortunately we are not even on a path to stabilize CO2 levels. On the contrary, CO2 concentrations are continuing to rise every year.

• The Limit of Carbon Sinks: Almost half of the CO2 which humanity has emitted since the industrial revolution has been absorbed by plants during photosynthesis, especially by trees, and by the water and phytoplankton in the oceans. Without this absorption, the warming we have already experienced would have been stronger. However, this process has already started to change because there is a limit to this carbon sink. Due to warmer temperatures, some old growth forests are now releasing more CO2 than absorbing. The oceans used to be a huge carbon sink as well, but some show signs that they are close to reaching their capacity to absorb CO2.

• Aerosol Pollution: The burning of fossil fuels not only emits greenhouse gases, but also toxic air pollutants, especially sulfate aerosols. (In this context, aerosols are not spray cans, but tiny atmospheric particles.) These aerosols are a serious health hazard (lung disease) and cause acid rain and crop losses. Ironically they have a cooling effect on the local climate as they reflect some of the sun’s rays back into space. Of course, we cannot consider them a “solution” to the climate crisis because of their negative effects. Also they remain in the lower atmosphere for only several weeks while greenhouse gases stay many decades and centuries. Cleaning up our air pollution will have some warming effect on the climate.

The inertia of the climate system, the carbon sinks, and aerosol pollution have so far clouded the effects of climate change. Without these factors, the warming we would have experienced so far would have been considerably greater. Now, with the climate system changing to new patterns, carbon sinks reaching their limits, and (hopefully) aerosol pollution diminishing (with pollution control and reduction of fossil fuel burning), the warming will accelerate and its impacts become much more severe.

Many feedback mechanisms (self-reinforcing cycles) can accelerate the warming of the Earth. The following are the most important known feedbacks:

• Ice - Albedo: Snow and ice are the best reflectors of solar radiation. Water on the other hand is the worst reflector. It absorbs most of the heat. Expansive thawing of ice and snow, therefore, increases the absorption of solar energy. This ice - albedo feedback is believed to be the major reason why the Arctic is warming so rapidly. (see Unit 3, Part 1, section 1).

• Melting of the Permafrost: When permafrost melts, organic material that has been frozen for thousands, even millions of years, will break down, and in the process release CO2 and methane. 7 Once permafrost starts to melt over extensive areas, for example in Alaska or Siberia, it initiates a feedback mechanism that intensifies the thaw. As the huge volume of thawed vegetation breaks down, it will release immense amounts of greenhouse gases. Once the process reaches this point of no return it will continually affect the global climate regardless of whether we reduce our carbon emissions or not. “In most parts of Alaska, the (near surface) permafrost has warmed by 1.7°C (3°F) since the early 1980s. In some parts of the state it has warmed by nearly 3.3°C (6°F).” 8 Researchers found expansive areas in western Siberia, which have started to melt and turn into mud and lakes. Billions of tons of methane could be released into the atmosphere. Methane is about 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Sergei Kirpotin at Tomsk State University in western Siberia who made the discovery said that the situation was an "ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming". 9

A report by UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) on Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost projects the following. “Arctic and alpine air temperatures are expected to increase at roughly twice the global rate and climate projections indicate substantial loss of permafrost by 2100. A global temperature increase of 3°C means a 6°C increase in the Arctic, resulting in anywhere between 30 to 85% loss of near-surface permafrost. Such widespread permafrost degradation will permanently change local hydrology, increasing the frequency of fire and erosion disturbances. The number of wetlands and lakes will increase in continuous permafrost zones and decrease in discontinuous zones, but will decrease overall as the continuous permafrost zone shrinks, impacting critical habitat, particularly for migratory birds. Risks associated with rock fall and erosion will increase, particularly in cold mountain areas. Damage to critical infrastructure, such as buildings and roads, will incur significant social and economic costs.” 10 The most far-reaching implications of the thawing of permafrost is the amplification of anthropogenic climate change.

• Water Vapor: The warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold. As the planet is warming up, there is more water vapor in the atmosphere. Water vapor is a powerful natural greenhouse gas, which magnifies the impact of man-made greenhouse gases.

Any of these and possibly other feedback mechanisms could bring the Earth's climate system to a tipping point. We don't know where that tipping point is. It's quite likely that the planet will cross over that threshold without humanity noticing. Once we will wake up to that reality, it will be too late because this is an irreversible process. Some scientists think that we are already close to that point. "Computer models of the Earth's climate suggest that a critical threshold is approaching. Crossing over it will be easy, crossing back quite likely impossible." 11

How long will human impact on the climate last? A very long time, because of the long lifespan of CO2 in the atmosphere. This has to do with the carbon cycle.

“The excess CO2 in the atmosphere is absorbed and transformed into carbon in trees, mucky soils, and dissolved in the ocean, and so the warming begins to subside. The oceans are a big player in this story, absorbing a majority of the CO2 we release, on a timescale of centuries.”12

“The long atmospheric lifetime of CO2 implies that global warming will last a long time. The warming to expect in the distant future depends on how much CO2 is released. A ‘moderate’ CO2 release might be 1000-2000 Gton C, which could be achieved by business-as-usual for the coming century but leaving some fossil fuels in the ground. A ‘large’ release would be 4000-5000Gton C, which is essentially all of the fossil carbon. Global mean temperature spikes for a few centuries, perhaps by as much as 5-8°C depending on the amount of carbon released. This is more warming than the IPCC forecast for the year 2100, because it takes a century or two for a full climate warming response to play out. It takes that long to warm the ocean. In the forecast for the year 2100, there is still excess warming “in the pipline” which has been paid for, as excess CO2 in the atmosphere, but not yet delivered.

The excess CO2 in the atmosphere one thousand or ten thousand years in the future may not be the exact same CO2 molecules that come from the coal, because CO2 molecules are continuously exchanged between the atmosphere, the ocean, and the land biosphere. But the models show that the atmospheric load of CO2 would be higher if CO2 is released now than if it is not.”13

20 to 25% of fossil fuel CO2 will still persist after a thousand years, and 10 to 12% will still remain in the atmosphere after ten thousand years.14

All prospects for the future are only estimates based on certain assumptions. We really don’t know how exactly climate change will play out, how fast temperatures will rise or how specific geographical regions will be affected, although climate science has made much progress in the past years about regional climate-change impacts. The climate system is extremely complex. The two main uncertainties are:

1. The threshold of numerous feedbacks that will reinforce the warming, how these feedbacks will interact in the very complex climate system, and how sensitive the climate system will react.

2. Human behavior: we don’t know how much greenhouse gases humans will emit in the future. That’s why climate models calculate different emissions scenarios.

The graph below illustrates that point very well. It is from the report by the Working Group 1 of the IPCC issued on Sept. 30, 2013.15 You can see two emission scenarios. The red curve shows the projected temperature rise under a scenario of business as usual. The reddish field shows the uncertainty in the projections. Temperature rise could be anywhere between about 2.4 and 5.7°C (4.3 and 10.3°F), but the most likely is the mean which is indicated as the red line heading to 4°C (7.2°F). The blue line indicates a scenario with strong emissions reductions. With this scenario, global warming can be stopped below 2°C (3.6°F). The emissions reductions required for that scenario are massive. Currently we are well on the path of the red line. The blue line is much less realistic.
Sep 2012
Unit 3 Since the Industrial Revolution, global average temperature has increased by about 1°C (1.8°F)...
We've heard that a lot, and at the same time nobody is willing to say--
--what the 'global average temperature' is now,​
--what the 'global average temperature' was in 1760,​
--how it was measured (i.e., what part of the globe's temperature was measured, what degree of accuracy, etc.,​
--what are the measured temperatures for similar time frames over previous millenia that show how the current change is different.​

While some here will say that these concerns are not valid, there are billions of people in the world who may feel they are. So need to remember what our mission is --advancing the Cause. This means we don't care whose faction is right and which is wrong. Instead, we make an effort to insure that factional talking points are not misunderstood to be officially endorsed by the Baha'i community. If we're not careful we can end up making unwelcome billions of people who may not be aligned w/ a partisan faction pushing our favorite opinion.
Jan 2012
@Pete in Panama Just for information, I don’t like the way diverging views are being treated either, and it grieves me to see that being sponsored by the Wilmette Institute. I said I would go with you wherever you want to go, but I’ve changed my mind. Not because of where you’re going, but because I’ve decided not to read or post in this forum, or any other Baha’i forum, any more.
Sep 2010
Normanton, Far North West Queensland
@Pete in Panama Just for information, I don’t like the way diverging views are being treated either, and it grieves me to see that being sponsored by the Wilmette Institute. I said I would go with you wherever you want to go, but I’ve changed my mind. Not because of where you’re going, but because I’ve decided not to read or post in this forum, or any other Baha’i forum, any more.
Jim, it sounds that life is not so good at this time, this is the age of great mental tests and as such, I will wish you always well and happy.

Regards Tony
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Sep 2012
...While some here will say that these concerns are not valid, there are billions of people in the world who may feel they are. So need to remember what our mission is --advancing the Cause...
@Pete in Panama I see what your priorities are...
Tree rings and ice-cores for historical temperatures. Global temperature record - Wikipedia With many references back to PNAS papers.
These are all extremely important points, none of which can be overlooked. Thanks so much both of you for bringing to my attention something here that's become a source of confusion on my part --it's the fact that on the one hand we're in a new age and we care about what's right and wrong, and on the other hand something that's right for this age is consultation. We can consult about issues that are at the same time both vitally important and can end up causing vicious polarization.

On the one hand (from here): “we are a religion and not qualified to pass on scientific matters.” This means that it is not our core belief that "since the Industrial Revolution, global average temperature has increased by about 1°C (1.8°F)". There are very good people who are searching for Truth in this age and need to hear about this new Revelation. Our reality must be we first establish world unity and then after that our unified world will do good.

On the other hand this dispensation tells us that we can and should consult on the issue of Climate Change which for most people has become merely a battleground for vicious partisan polarization. With a spirit of love and respect we can agree (also from here): that "sound scientific methods, produce knowledge that can be acted upon; ultimately, the outcomes of action must stand the test of further scientific inquiry and the objective facts of the physical world. In the spectrum of issues under discussion—which includes the extent of human contribution, projections of the possible future consequences, and alternatives for response..."

Good. Let's consult about Climate, and Duane has already given us a head start by sharing the opinion that "since the Industrial Revolution, global average temperature has increased by about 1°C (1.8°F)...". After I suggested that we needed measured temperatures Traveller shared the above links so --let's consider that "tree rings and ice-cores" and anomalies are not historical temperatures. Imagine that your doctor tells you that your loved one has a life-threatening fever. You ask what the temperature is and the doctor says "a thermometer tells us that the number of degrees is more than it was when the number was less". The doctor is simply not communicating and we still don't know what the temperature is.

Are we together both on what the Sacred Text says and what our scientific observations are?
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Jan 2012
@Pete in Panama I've decided for now to stay away from all Baha'i forums. I think I see the same problem that you see, but I won't discuss it here. I disagree with your solution to the problem. That disagreement between you and me, about how to respond to the problems we're seeing in what Baha'is are doing, is the first thing that I would want to consult about, in any consultation between you and me. If you want to have any consultation with me, it will have to start there. We can do it privately or at Religious Forums, or maybe somewhere else if you want to, but not in a Baha'i Forum.
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Mar 2015
Bend area, Oregon
I have been following with interest these threads on Climate Change. Thank you Pete for initially putting it "out there". I have hesitated to comment due to my lack of qualifications to address the topic. Though at this point in the “consultation”, and considering the impacts of climate change whatever be the cause(s), I offer these words of Bahá'u'lláh for consideration as the conversation moves ahead:

“They who are the beloved of God, in whatever place they gather and whomsoever they may meet, must evince, in their attitude towards God, and in the manner of their celebration of His praise and glory, such humility and submissiveness that every atom of the dust beneath their feet may attest the depth of their devotion. The conversation carried by these holy souls should be informed with such power that these same atoms of dust will be thrilled by its influence. They should conduct themselves in such manner that the earth upon which they tread may never be allowed to address to them such words as these: “I am to be preferred above you. For witness, how patient I am in bearing the burden which the husbandman layeth upon me. I am the instrument that continually imparteth unto all beings the blessings with which He Who is the Source of all grace hath entrusted me. Notwithstanding the honor conferred upon me, and the unnumbered evidences of my wealth—a wealth that supplieth the needs of all creation—behold the measure of my humility, witness with what absolute submissiveness I allow myself to be trodden beneath the feet of men….” (Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, Chapter V)

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