Whitley's Journal

Climate Change: What to Watch For

My appearance on Coast-to-Coast AM on December 20 and my last journal entry resulted in some ferociously angry email from climate change deniers, as well as some more considered letters. Most of the 'denier' email had an element of hysteria about it, which I associate with fear. In fact, it was pitiful, the sound of people shrieking in terror. And why not? Nobody wants this to be true. I certainly don't. But it is true, and we are facing a great deal of disruption both now, with the superheated summers and the violent winters we are having, and in the future, when things are going to be worse unless we end the false debate and take dramatic action. While there is a natural cycle involved, we can, at the least slow it down and save ourselves, at least until we can get some breathing room. And I mean that both proverbially and literally.

In fact, climate change denial is on its last legs. It has never been more than a fantasy, in any case, but almost everybody can now see that the changes are real and are happening. The only missing piece of the puzzle is that climate scientists are afraid to tell the truth: that a group of changes, some understood and others not, have apparently combined to cause the process to become faster than they expected. I say 'they' because I have always expected the changes to come to a climax, and for that climax to be quite dramatic.

Climate change denial originated as a motive on the part of a few large corporations to protect their profits in the short term. Of course, in the long term these same companies will not only have their profits destroyed, they are themselves likely to be destroyed, but unfortunately, too few corporate leaders think much past the immediate effect of profitability on their stock price. They concern themselves not with the next century, but with the next few months.

These companies sent evangelists into the conservative and Christian fundamentalist communities, and obtained the support of conservative radio talkers and Fox News, in order to transform what was essentially a greed-based motive into a political and quasi-religious cause. So it now appears that climate change denial is in some way a moral cause. But it is not a moral cause. It is not about the survival of freedom, or, in fact, about the survival of anybody except those few--read corporate top dogs, rich radio talkers and their ilk--with the resources to ride out things like famines.

I would not be surprised to find out that many of these people know perfectly well that they are hastening the catastrophe by duping the American people into a false debate, instead of the dynamic action that is essential to the survival of the average person, including the average American. They want a smaller world population, and are using the delays they are causing to insure that they get it. Many of their own followers will fall victim, and they know it, but I suspect that they simply don't care.

The reason I say this is that the core of the problem is beyond dispute. This is because the data regarding carbon dioxide buildup that has been gathered by the Mauna Loa Observatory since the 1950s is not in dispute, and the fact that carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere can easily be proved, and it is entirely clear that, as CO2 concentrations rise, so do temperatures. Denial of these simple facts is an outright lie on the part of the professional deniers, and wishful thinking on the part of their terrified followers.

Many Christian groups and churches have changed their positions in recent years, and it is time for secular conservatives to do the same. This is not about politics and the climate change debate is, to put it bluntly, fake, and everything you have read or heard to the contrary is either a mistake or a lie, and in most cases it is an outright lie.

We will see serious climate change and it is on its way down the pike right now. It's far too late to affect what is going to happen over the next five years by reducing carbon emissions now. Over the longer term it may help, but it could also backfire on us, as I will discuss.

What we can do is to watch for evidence that sudden climate change is coming, and prepare as best we can. There is unfortunately no way to tell where one might go for safety. I suppose a farm with an excellent deep well might help. In the Northern Hemisphere, if that farm is relatively near the Pacific Ocean, or at least on the western side of the Continental Divide and not in a desert, it will experience less heating during the next phase of the process, but farms like that are few and far between. Good ground water is not plentiful in the relevant areas.

The things to watch for are these: First, extreme oscillations between summer heat and winter cold, and bizarre anomalies like heat waves in the Arctic taking place as cold waves strike farther south; Second, radical changes in ocean currents; Third, the release of methane hydrates frozen under the Arctic Ocean into the atmosphere.

The first of these conditions is already being met with increasing frequency. Judging from the cold that is gripping the United Kingdom for the second year in a row, the second is being met by a decline in the flow of the Gulf Stream. It may also be that the bizarre snowfall experienced last week in Australia, where it is now summer, is a sign of a weakining current.

The most crucial thing to watch for are stories that the Arctic Ocean is bubbling like carbonated water. The media will be laughing about this, of course, if it reports it at all, but don't be fooled. It is the most serious danger sign that any human being has witnessed since it last happened at the close of the last ice age.

Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas, and when it enters the atmosphere in large quantities, the air heats very rapidly. We can see this clearly in the climate record from the distant past.

It will usher in the next phase of the process, which is extreme planetary heating coupled with a rapid decline in air flow. As temperatures rise in the far north and south, the atmospheric jet streams will follow the oceanic currents and weaken. Many cities will become unliveable, especially in the third world. The first world, which has paid attention to pollution, will survive far longer. But you can expect places like Tehran, Beijing, Lima and many others to become almost immediately unliveable. It will happen too fast for many people, and the first stage of the human dieback will take place in cities that have ignored pollution controls.

Following this will be a series of three or four summers of extreme heat, and there will be areas above and below the tropics where temperatures will become non-survivable for human beings and most large animals. This is when the core of the dieback will happen. The tropics and desert areas will not see the same dramatic change as the temperate zones and the arctic areas.

After this, the methane will dissipate, as it is a short-lived gas, and this, plus the dramatic decline in human activity, will result in a sudden shift to a much colder climate. Ironically, the only thing that might stave off another ice age is the amount of carbon dioxide left in the atmosphere by human activity going on now. If that happens, the planet will return to a temperate state, and presumably the survivors will be able to leave their bunkers and congratulate themselves on surviving the disaster that they tricked their followers into experiencing full force.

I cannot stand the idea of this cynical elite being the representative future of mankind. I want my children to survive, and your children to survive. But more than that, I want them not to experience the suffering I have described above. I want them to live the same kind of happy, prosperous lives we have lived.

There is only one way that that may happen--and it's going to be a near thing: we must give the lie to climate change denial, and accept reality. It is happening, and this little, wonderful band of creatures called human, lost on our tiny blue planet, must band together and find the love that lies deep in all of our hearts, and start a war on climate change unlike any war that has ever before been fought.

If we radically curtail CO2 emissions now, it will help. There will still be disruptions, but probably survivable ones. And we Americans must not look to other nations to take up this challenge first. We are the leading nation of the world, and the world is at present dying because our leadership has failed. On behalf of the future, we must look past the greedy lies that are deceiving us, and lead the world into the liveable future that we can still attain--just.

A great journal, thanks for writing this.

Thanks Whitley. As always, your straightforward, clear-eyed perspective cuts through all the superfluous arguments that, sadly, continue to stall any useful high-level action (even as Mother Nature is 'acting out' in previously unthinkable ways on a daily basis). It used to be enough if good, hard-working citizens would pitch in and 'do their part' to get us through humanitarian disasters and disruptions. This time, all the hard work and dedication one individual makes means nothing if our leaders aren't engaged in the process of tending to the health of our home - planet Earth. There are those who can't accept these truths Whitley, but so many of us are grateful that you keep speaking these truths. And, it looks as though you'll have to keep on saying them - many times over....

The problem I have with the carbon tax etc is that some of the criminal corporations are poised to make a lot of money off it. I just don't see any reason to believe that any government will actually use that money to do what needs to be done.

What we've got here is (a) failure to disambiguate. You see, some people you just can't reach...at least with anecdotes and sloppy science. The "doubters" are perfectly legitimate in their criticisms of what has become a somewhat faith-based science. I have to laugh when I hear the converted go on about this mythical unanimity existing in the scientific community, it doesn't exist. The unfortunate uninformed predictions of a few “lauded” climatologists combined with the alarmist hysteria of self-appointed climate prophets (e.g. Al Gore) have only clouded the issue further.

Climatology is slowly adopting the "giggle" factor that already surrounds Ufology much due in part to a lot of opportunistic clowns, who despite meaning well, have forsaken objectivity for alarmism. Interestingly enough I mostly agree with these folks. I agree with them on the point that there is a cataclysmic danger lurking in the shadows of our ignorance. I disagree that we know precisely what that danger is and how to stop it. We *cannot* go forth and pretend that we understand a problem which is certainly beyond the human scale of intellect. This is a problem involving unimaginable magnitudes and inconceivable nuances (i.e. chaos theory). However we must understand to an acceptable degree of error how climate really works. Somehow.

How do we effectively deal with this looming specter? Well for one, let's finally be intellectually honest. I cannot zealously march under this "climate change" banner purely out of faith for I would be no better than the right-wing ditto-heads that march under theirs. My banner will read: "Look I don't know for sure but statistically something's amiss, can we just play it safe until we know better?"

Secondly, stop pretending that we know a damn thing and try throwing everything we have at understanding how weather works at large scales. Oh but we can't, because the government is too busy worrying about social justice and corporate welfare. Admittedly the first goal is highly laudable but doesn't accomplish a thing when people are killing each other for food 10 years later. Does anyone believe that Obama will wake up one fine morning realizing that he should orchestrate the multi-national Manhattan Project-scale effort required to effectively model long-term weather patterns? No, he won't, at least not until it's too late, and unfortunately that's the magnitude of this effort; it will require thousands of minds from tens of nations with billions of dollars. Here's hoping that NOAA has their budget increased 1000x's for next year (not holding breath).

We're in for deadly interesting times I believe. We're helpless to our ignorance and the fate that comes with it, that I know. And thanks to you Whitley, for opening our eyes to these terrible possibilities, because without the dark it’s impossible to see the light.

Thank you Whitley. As always, a voice of reason in the wilderness.

Yes, it's true that climate is changing. No, I don't believe that it is entirely due to man's activities. That's where the machine went wrong, trying to sell the notion of a single cause with a simple solution (the carbon tax.) As someone said, the carbon tax is a tax on breathing.

I did grow up in the Midwest, and I remember decades of very stable weather that allowed us to maximize corn yields with 120 day varieties. No more.

In their own nutty way, the Tea Party is right: giving our present national government more money is stupid. What they don't steal they will waste.

Real change comes from the bottom up. Those at the top always have the largest vested interest in the status quo. They have the power to change, but not the desire.

The hope is at the bottom. It is millions of little people driving less, keeping their old cars longer, growing some food, having fewer children, adding insulation and putting some solar on their roof.

Regarding methane, it sounds like this year and next the releases will far outweigh anything we can do to reduce our own emissions. We may all need to work with our families, friends, and neighbors to survive this as best we can. Help is not coming from Washington.

Former Scientific American Editor in Chief, John Rennie discusses his ScientificAmerica.com article, " 7 Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense."
You can read it or click 'play' to listen to the podcast.

One of the problems the climate change lobby created for itself was changing its brand.
After years of talking about global warming they dropped that for some reason and started talking about climate change but recommending the same solution.
They were caught fiddling with the data and when challenged could not produce the data that was used to support their position, apparently having deleted it. As a computer person, I have unlimited contempt for that.
If the problem is as serious as they say it is, they should be utterly serious about safeguarding their data and totally open about sharing it.
Yes, a panel of inquiry backed them up, but by then it was too late- their credibility was destroyed.
Right now watching the winter weather does give us cause for concern.
There are no food reserves in the world and we could be on the brink of mass starvation- we can't afford to lose even a single crop year.
This could manifest next summer, the summer of 2011, 9 months from now.
A carbon tax won't do anything about that because they tell us it would take years to make a change.
The green channel on directv recently played a program called "Why Egypt Fell."
Around 2200 BC there were many years of drought in Egypt. At the same time there was a mini-iceage in Europe, caused by the slowing of the Atlantic current that Whitley and Art Bell talked about 10 years ago.
The severe winter we are seeing, the 2nd in a row, may have more to do with sudden cooling than it does with slow warming.

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