Freak Storms and Butterfly Die-Offs: Welcome to the Future We've Been Warning You About
The year 2015 will go down in history, at least until next year, as the hottest year ever recorded on the planet.
By a wide margin, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2015 "shattered" global temperature records, beating out the previous hottest year (2014) easily.
Extreme weather events, fueled by anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), continue to pile up, to the extent that they are quickly becoming normalized.
In late December 2015, a freakish oceanic storm moved into the Arctic where it pushed temperatures 50 degrees above normal, even causing melting at the North Pole in the dead of winter.
December brought wild weather events in other places too, as the UK saw its single wettest month ever recorded, with nearly double the average rainfall. That month in the UK also shattered temperature records, with an average temperature that was 4.1 degrees Celsius higher than the long-term average.
Worldwide, December saw the planetary temperature increased to 1.4 degrees Celsius above the 1890 average. The annual increase of warming for that month, compared to the previous December, according to Japan's Meteorological Agency, was the equivalent of cramming 20 years of anthropogenic warming into just one 12-month warming period.
And warming trends are not slowing down. They are, instead, continuing to speed up.
The UK's Meteorological Office recently released its global temperature forecast, and the agency is already predicting that 2016 will most likely be even warmer than 2015.
A look at recent scientific reports, coupled with extreme weather events around the world, show that this prediction is already well on its way to becoming a reality.
In parts of California, so much groundwater has been pumped from the earth that the land is literally sinking, an issue that is now costing that state billions of dollars as it struggles to repair damaged infrastructure.
Of course, humans are not the only ones affected by these rapid, sweeping changes. Large die-offs of birds, whales, antelope and other animals across the globe are now being attributed, in large part, to ACD.
"Unprecedented" numbers of murre seabirds have met their fate in a massive die-off across large areas of Alaska, and scientists are attributing it to starvation caused by ecosystem changes fueled by ACD. This isn't a huge surprise; data from studies from both 2007 and 2012 warned that melting snow and permafrost were causing huge drops in lemming populations, which would impact food sources for many species, causing a rippling effect across the entire ecosystem of that part of the world.
It's not just fauna that is threatened - flora is also experiencing ACD-fueled die-offs. Across the US Southwest, a recent study warns that ACD could likely trigger a "massive" die-off of coniferous trees, including junipers and pinon pines, sometime during this century.
In the UK, the Butterfly Conservation charity recently released a study showing that three-quarters of the UK's butterfly species have declined in just the past 40 years. Along with habitat destruction and the increased use of pesticides, ACD was named as one of the primary culprits.
ACD is even affecting the behavior of our planet as it makes its way around the solar system. Climate disruption has now been shown to be causing the rotation of the entire planet to slow, thus making days longer in length. This is due to the amount of melting taking place across the world's glaciers, which is adding to global sea level rise from that melt water, which is what is slowing down rotation.
Melting ice in Antarctica, both on land and in the water, is causing a large number of countries to position themselves on the icy continent in an effort to exert influence, looking forward to the day when the treaties that currently protect that continent from resource extraction and militarization expire.
In Europe, the future of most of the continent's ski industry is in doubt, as ACD-fueled temperatures are resulting in less snow and seasons are shortening.
Increasing planetary temperatures are now heating up all of the oceans - much faster than we previously thought. In fact, a recent study shows that the deep ocean has warmed as much in the last 20 years as it had during the previous 100 years combined.
Those warming water temperatures cause the water to expand, adding to rising sea levels already augmented by the ongoing melting of the planetary ice. The rising sea levels are particularly evident in Miami, where multimillion-dollar homes, roads and businesses are already being encroached upon by the sea. Eventually, they will be abandoned.
Making matters worse, even the depletion of groundwater from aquifers in places like California has recently been shown to be adding to rising sea levels, since much of it ends up flowing into the oceans.
Meanwhile, within the oceans themselves, life as we've always known it is well on its way to being completely transformed. The extreme El NiÃ±o we are experiencing now, amplified by ACD, is warming water temperatures so much that major coral bleaching events, along with coral death events, are becoming widespread.
Water temperatures have already increased enough in the Indian Ocean that there has been a reduction in phytoplankton (the base of the food chain) by 20 percent, which means the food chain is rapidly diminishing. Thus, scientists are warning that the entire ocean could well become an "ecological desert" if things continue as they are.
"We seem to be spending more and more time out at sea looking for catch," a 54-year-old fisherman who operates his boat up to 90 miles off the coast of Sri Lanka told Reuters recently. "Where there were fish for decades, now there is very little. It is strange, but all of us have been noticing that."
A recent study by 16 authors shows that Greenland alone has lost more than 9 trillion tons of ice since 1900. And the rate of ice loss is increasing dramatically, with a doubling of ice loss per year between 2003 and 2010, compared to what the rate was throughout the last century.
To make matters worse, another recent study shows that Greenland is going to contribute in yet another way to global sea level rise, by the fact that rising global temperatures are changing Greenland's ability to store excess water, which means more melting ice is likely running into the ocean than was previously believed.
Greenland saw a recent major melting event in January, of all months, which is disconcerting, to say the least.
In Australia, data from that country's Bureau of Meteorology show that three of the five hottest years ever recorded there have happened in the last three years.
Hence, experts recently warned that parts of Australia are now so dry and hot that the risk of bushfires has increased dramatically. Since November 2015, massive portions of the country have burned in ferocious fires, where locals have told of "Armageddon-like" infernos that have raged through their areas.
"From my experience, fires appear to be getting more intense, harder to fight, harder to plan for ... and this is having an impact on firefighting strategies," Darin Sullivan, a 25-year veteran New South Wales state firefighter, told AFP.
"Biblical" flooding in the UK, record heat across southern Australia, a January hurricane in the North Atlantic and winter tornadoes in Texas were just a few of the highlights of a year of increasingly extreme weather events amped up by ACD.
In terms of hurricanes, the planet saw nine Category 5 storms in 2015, which was the second-highest number in recorded history.
In the United States, the East Coast saw the warmest Christmas Eve in recorded history as heat waves swept the Eastern Seaboard, finding many people wearing shorts on Christmas Day.
A look at a few charts really brings home just how much warmer 2015 was, more than any other year in recorded history. Graphs outlining, for example, the dramatic increase in the number of global land and ocean temperature anomalies, make the dramatic changes the planet is undergoing starkly apparent.
In the Arctic, there is yet more bad news. A recent report from scientists found that we may well be grossly underestimating the amount of methane emissions happening there. Methane, as a greenhouse gas, is 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a 20-year timescale, and methane emissions in the Arctic are ramping up on an annual basis as the permafrost continues to melt at record rates.
Denial and Reality
It should come as little surprise that Sen. Ted Cruz leads the denial section in this month's climate dispatch. The Republican presidential candidate, in the wake of the COP21 climate summit in Paris, said that if he were elected president he would withdraw the United States from the climate agreement.
In direct contradiction to Cruz's statement, a Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that the majority of US Republicans actually support collaborating with other countries to work to mitigate ACD, and are even willing to take steps to do so.
More bad news for Exxon and the oil giant's peers: It came to light recently that the company, along with Texaco, Shell and every other major oil company, were aware of the dangers of ACD as far back as the 1970s.
I'm unsure whether to classify this as denial or reality, but it also came to light recently that aircraft pollution was not included in the Paris climate deal. The head of the European Union climate program stated the obvious, saying that the omission could cause "a very big problem." Aviation and shipping amount to 5 percent of total global carbon emissions.
Squarely in reality, the head of the World Meteorological Society issued a bleak warning recently, stating that the world "faces food shortages and mass migration" caused by ACD, as well as growing water shortages and a lack of arable land.
If you thought there were a lot of extreme weather events in 2015, a senior meteorologist warned that we haven't seen anything yet, and should prepare for much more to come. Plus, of course, 2016 is likely to be even warmer than 2015.
Underscoring the importance of dealing with ACD, Pope Francis has inspired the entire Catholic clergy to join the environmental movement.
This month's dispatch ends with a little perspective on how much human actions have altered the planet. A recent study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research shows that ACD is likely set to disrupt the natural cycle of planetary ice ages, and will cause the delay of the next ice age until about 100,000 years from now. Without ACD, we would have expected another ice age in about 50,000 years