Whitley's Journal

A World In Chaos

The world's weather is deteriorating much more rapidly than Art Bell and I ever dreamed possible when we were writing the Coming Global Superstorm. At the same time, the media and the government continue to take a wait-and-see posture. Worse, at a time when our world and our country are going to need imaginative and effective leadership, the only people who have any chance at gaining the U.S. Presidency are far from dynamic and will crumble under the pressure that the next few years are going to bring.

The situation is so bad right now that it takes my breath away. It's much, much worse than I ever dreamed possible. Essentially, the reason is that crucial currents, especially in the northern oceans, are under attack from very rapid climate change. As Superstorm points out, when these currents change course, the world's climate is drastically altered.

Whether a gigantic storm or series of storms is involved or not, there is going to be a cascade of climatic change accompanied by extraordinary weather violence over the next few years. I feel that the process has already started, and much earlier than we imagined possible just twelve months ago.

It is difficult to believe that last summer we were finishing Superstorm and I was wondering what kind of a timeline would be involved. I never dreamed that the changes that have come roaring at us like a hurricane since November would proceed this fast. But they have.

It does not now appear that there will be any warning. TBS, which bought Superstorm to make into a two-hour TV movie, is now dragging its heels, so even that chance of that level of warning is apparently going to be lost. In my worst nightmares, I fear that Ted Turner might have bought it just to take it out of the public eye. In any case, once the script outline was sent to his main story editor-with a recommendation from those below that the script be written- there was only silence in reply. Turner used to be a strong proponent of environmental action. But people change. Is he, now that the situation is getting desperate, becoming indifferent?

When we published Superstorm in January, we suffered general derision. This was despite the fact that the science of our basic theory-that fresh water flooding into the northern oceans can result in changes in current flows, with resultant drastic and sudden climate change-is not even controversial. As we point out in the book, it has been well established that this phenomenon has appeared before, and with powerful effects.

The media, led by the Today's show's Matt Lauer, chose to pretend that the solid science in our book was nothing more than fearmongering and hucksterism. As Art and I struggled through the interview with Lauer, I realized that we were sitting side-by-side with a human being who was, through arrogance and ignorance, doing something terribly evil. Lauer is not a brilliant man and has no idea of the consequences of his own irresponsible actions. He was just parroting the silliness of an equally limited young producer. But the effect was to mute our warning-in effect, to respond to our call to action with snickering indifference and silence.

Now, why has that position turned out to be so terribly, terribly wrong. Superstorm could have been the focal point of a whole new kind of environmental action. Instead, it has been ignored by those who might have reacted to its warnings and enacted its recommendations.

Because of people like Lauer and the various book reviewers who treated it in an equally dismissive manner, the danger that the book points to is being overlooked even though it now appears to be roaring straight into our faces like a monster tornado.

The most serious problems are these:

1. Temperature differences between the northern and southern tiers of the northern hemisphere are becoming extreme. This means that substantial potential energy is gathering, and weather patterns have the potential to change radically. Already, situations have existed this summer where there were temperatures in the 40s being recorded in Moscow while, in Greece, it was 120. The same phenomenon took place in the United States, with temperatures of 106 being reached in North Texas when it was in the 30s in Minnesota.

2. The temperature gradient between the troposphere and the upper atmosphere is getting more and more extreme. This is partly the reason that there is so much concern about contrails. High altitude contrails do not dissipate nearly as quickly as they used to, because the air through which the planes is traveling is so much colder. Although this obviously does not explain all of the low-altitude contrails being reported, it is an indication that another serious climate extreme is building, and rapidly. Because the air near the ground is so warm and the upper atmosphere so cold, there is more energy than ever before to drive cloud tops to extreme height. An outcome of this phenomenon was seen when unprecedented eight-pound blocks of hail fell in Spain last year. It is also in part responsible for the tendency of rain to deluge when it comes at all, and for extremely intense tornadoes and hurricanes to develop.

3. Both poles are in a rapid melt phase that was completely unpredicted by science as recently as three years ago. Just in the past few months, record-breaking icebergs have detached from the Antarctic. This is due to warmer Antarctic summers and generally warmer water underlying the floating ice shelves that surround the continent. The temperature differences seem small, but they are having a large effect. In addition, when these icebergs melt, they deposit trillions of gallons of fresh water into the southern ocean. This increases the rate of heat exchange in the water, meaning that the water becomes warmer in the Austral summer (the Northern Hemisphere's winter). Reduced temperature difference between polar and tropical oceans results in weaker currents. Also, the floating ice shelves are part of what keeps the ice sheets that cover the Antarctic continent stable. As they weaken, the potential for glaciers to slide into the sea rises. If this happens on a large scale in the Antarctic or Greenland, or both, sea levels would rise.

4. The Arctic is in even worse shape than the Antarctic. The north polarcap is melting, with some ill-informed scientists cheerfully predicting the opening of the fabled northeast passage next summer. (They generally work for oil companies, who will be able to ship product from Norway to Japan, for example, much more cheaply across this northern route through what is now permanent polar ice.) In fact, the melting of this polar cap is flooding the northern ocean with fresh water. Combined with this, the Greenland ice sheet is also melting to the tun of 50 billion gallons of water a year. Between the melt of the north polar cap and the Greenland ice sheet, an unprecedented and unexpectedly massive flow of fresh water is pouring into arctic waters. At the same time, higher than normal winds are blowing across the region, as they have been for some years, increasing melt rates and transferring more and more warmth to the oceans. This combination of factors is changing ocean conditions so rapidly that there is every reason to be concerned that crucial ocean currents are now at serious and immediate risk.

5. Indeed, there is evidence that current flows are changing and weakening right now. Last year, scientists at the University of Norway reported that the surface flow of the North Atlantic Current was weakening. More recently, there have been reports that the flow of the Labrador current is being affected by areas of very warm water.

All of these factors point in the same direction: the flow of the world's oceans, upon which our present climate depends, is potentially going to change, and sooner rather than later. Because our book was not understood and generally rejected, the danger that this poses continues to be ignored.

If this happens, there could easily be a release of energy that would look very much like the superstorm we predicted. Or it could be that a series of unconnected but extremely violent storms would take place. In either case, the changed flow of the oceans will leave behind a whole different climactic structure on earth. There is no way to predict alterations in growing seasons. There is no way to predict the effect this will have on planetary geopolitics. But there is one thing that is clear: all of these effects will be dramatic.

The last time that Greenland and Antarctic ice cores tell us that this happened was at the climax of a post-glacial warming trend around 11,000 years ago. There is substantial evidence from the fossil record that the northern hemisphere got very much colder, possibly over the course of a single season, and that this situation remained in effect for at least two hundred years. Were the same conditions to occur now, even without aninitiating superstorm, there would be a resultant dieback of our species due to famine, and along with it extraordinary social upheaval.

This is because the most drastic changes in climate will take place in the most advanced cultural areas, specifically North America and-most dangerously-Europe.

Europe is in extremely serious danger, and climactic conditions that have been occurring there since the storms of late 1999 would suggest that changes in the North Atlantic Current are already having an effect. Northern and southern European weather systems are now radically different and radically at odds. While the Balkans and Greece were sweltering in record-breaking heat and roads were literally melting in Turkey, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia were experiencing a cold, dank winter marked by pluvial deluges, floods and mudslides.

Even without a superstorm, crops have been harmed across Europe by these adverse weather conditions. While Europe does not contribute massively to world food supplies, it does, for the most part, feed itself. Most European countries are net food exporters. Should extensive crop failures take place there, Europe will begin to attempt food importation. Prices will rise. Countries like the United States will be faced with issues like breaking contracts already in place to supply foodstuffs to present deficit countries to feed Europe, leaving those countries to face famine on their own.

I would submit that this will pose the greatest leadership challenge in modern history, greater even than that faced during World War II. This challenge is liable to develop within the next few years. The idea of what will happen when George Bush or Al Gore attempt to meet it is sobering indeed. While both of these men seem to be earnest and decent enough, they are politicians rather than leaders. What this means is that they are geared to serve the interests that support them first, and the commonweal second, if at all. Thus, Bush serves big business and Gore serves big government and big labor. Nobody serves the real biggie-us, the big majority.

The situation was in a very similar situation in the late nineteenth century, when presidents were being elected who were generally political animals. However, we are now potentially facing a crisis of incredible proportions that no political animal is going to be equipped to meet. This is especially true because it is going to completely blindside the leadership.

Scientists, concerned for their careers, generally will not make radical predictions of any kind, even when they know the seriousness of the situation. This duty has fallen to a couple of personalities, myself and Art Bell, whom the establishment dismisses as professional alarmists who make a business of trading on people's fears. This is why Matt Lauer, the ultimate establishment spokesman, treated us as he did.

Unfortunately, this misunderstanding of us has led to a situation where a sort of environmental Pearl Harbor could occur, with the suddenly changing flow of the North Atlantic Current playing the role of the surprise attack.

Only the difference is that, in this case, the antagonist is going to win. Nature always does.

--Whitley Strieber

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