California Storms Shift North, Another Round of Huge Waves Slam into Ireland

We may be seeing stormy conditions for California start to tamp down in the near future. Meanwhile, gnarly 35 foot waves strike Ireland.

Big Waves off Ireland, UK as Series of Storms Gather in the North Atlantic

Significant wave heights are in the range of 25-30 feet off Ireland as a progression of storms focuses on both Ireland and the UK over the next five days.

Jebi Threatens Japan with 170 Mph Winds


The most intense tropical cyclone of 2018 — Jebi — is churning through the Western Pacific. Japan is now in the bull’s eye of the projected path.

“Dramatic Thinning” — Arctic Sea Ice Enters Record Low Territory as Northern Polar Region Heats Up

The Arctic sea ice is melting. It is melting far more rapidly than ever expected.

This loss is measured in the form of square kilometers melted, in the form of ice thinned, in the form of new, blue water visible. Yet it is a loss beyond mere numbers and measures. A loss that has a profound impact to the Earth and its climate systems.

Weather patterns, the rate of warming in the Arctic, the rate of tundra melt, seabed warming, and carbon store release. The rate of glacial loss in Greenland. All are impacted by sea ice loss and related ocean warming.

And today, we mark another new record low. The most recent in a long series, with likely many more thinning ice days to come.

*   *   *   *

Earlier this week there were indications that Arctic sea ice extent may begin exploring new record low values in the Wednesday through Friday timeframe. And the March 4 measure finds NSIDC values sliding below previous records for the date set just 8 years ago.

Ever since Monday, extent values have been falling by an average rate of 10,000 square kilometers each day. A steady progression of warm air fronts through the Barents coupled with well above average temperatures in the Bering and near Alaska region have generated heat pressure along the ice edge and well into the Central Arctic.

As of today, we have extreme temperature departures in the range of +20 degrees Celsius above average in the Barents northward through to the polar zone. From the Bering through Alaska and into the Southern Beaufort near the Mackenzie Delta departures are in the range of +5 to +20 C above average.

global surface temperature anomaly March 5

(Polar amplification seen ramping up today in the GFS model analysis provided by Climate Reanalyzer. Exceptional warming of +20 above average occurred in vulnerable sea ice edge regions as extent values dropped to new record lows. Image source: The University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer)

These two hot spots, together with another warm pool over Greenland have shoved the Arctic, as a whole, into the +2 C range. A rather high departure that is only forecast to worsen in the GFS model summary over the coming days.

The added warmth, wind, and waves in these ice edge regions drove these extent losses and now, as of Wednesday, values had fallen to 14,383,000 square kilometers. By comparison the previous record low for the day in 2006 was 14,411,000 square kilometers, so the new record is 28,000 square kilometers lower. An area approximately the size of the State of Maryland. 2011 now comes in as third lowest for the day at 14,451,000 square kilometers or 68,000 square kilometers above the 2015 value.

Go back 30 years and the contrast is even more stunning with 1979 extent values for March 4 at 16,514,000 square kilometers. This places the new record fully 2,131,000 square kilometers lower than sea ice extent measures for the same date 36 years ago. A total loss of ice coverage roughly equal to Greenland (2,166,000 square kilometers).


(Sea ice extent for March 5 of 2015 [bottom blue line] drops to record low levels in the NSIDC measure. The other record low years for the date — 2006 [pink] and 2011 [orange] — are provided for reference along with 1979 [top blue line]. Image source: National Snow and Ice Data Center.)

But given the current time of year, a period where ice at low levels has tended to rebound, and given the fact that we are facing growing warmth in key ice edge regions, there is risk that record losses will continue to mount over the coming days.

GFS forecast models show warm fronts continuing to advance along a very strong south to north wind pattern stretching across most of the Atlantic. A wind pattern that today pulls tropical air off the underbelly of a high pressure system just north of Jamaica, funnels this warm air north and eastward over the currents of the Gulf Stream, dumps the flow into a raging low pressure (at 950 mb) just south of Greenland which then shoves the flow into a gale raging north of Scandinavia and south of Svalbard. A strong warm frontal boundary following in the wake of the most recent warm air invasion that, yesterday, swept past the pole.

It’s a meridional pattern stretching from 20 North Latitude in the Tropical Atlantic all the way to 90 North Latitude at the pole. One that features a contiguous frontal boundary stretching from Yucatan Mexico to halfway between Svalbard and Iceland along a daisy chain of lows south and east of Greenland. A flow that is complicit in both melt along the borders of the Barents and ice thinning in the Kara and on past the 80 North Latitude line in the Arctic Ocean.


(Amazingly vast frontal system and meridional pattern stretching from the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, across the North Atlantic and on into the Arctic. Reference point at 55.6 N and 34.6 W shows storm force winds proceeding almost due south to north. Screen capture in real time at 2:51 PM EST March 5, 2015. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data  Source: Global Forecast System Model.)

This fire hose of warm air pouring up from the Atlantic will intensify over coming days as it fills the bowl of the Barents with heat, which GFS is predicting will balloon northward over the pole. By Sunday the temperature departures are predicted to peak in an extreme +4 C for the entire Arctic.

Most of the heat fueling this departure will come from the warm air invasion over the Atlantic Ocean zone. A secondary, but also very intense temperature departure is predicted to emerge along the Jet Stream ridge pattern stretching to the Mackenzie Delta region. There temperatures will also show isolated spikes in the +20 C above the 1979-2000 average range.

For the sea ice, such departures are very bad timing — hitting vulnerable regions hard just prior to traditional melt season start and possibly developing a rather low launching pad for the 2015 melt season. As such, there is high risk for continuing and expanding record lows for sea ice extent over at least the next five days.

Arctic heat spike

(Global Forecast System Model surface temperature anomaly forecast for Sunday, March 8 shows polar amplification ramping up to an extraordinary +3.99 C for the entire Arctic. Note the extreme positive temperature departures in a very large zone north of the Barents and in the Central Arctic Basin as well as the somewhat smaller but still extreme area of much warmer than normal temperatures over the Mackenzie Delta region. Image source: The University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer.)

New Record Lows Amidst Dramatic Thinning

The most recent record lows and threat of these low measures deepening come amidst new scientific reports finding an ominous and extreme thinning of sea ice in the Central Arctic Ocean near the pole. The study found that between 1975 and 2012 Central Arctic Sea Ice thinned from 11.7 feet to 4.1 feet.

Such thinning represents a loss of fully 65 percent of the sea ice volume for the Central Arctic Ocean over this period. But yearly average sea ice thinning paled in comparison to losses seen during September. For that month, sea ice thickness plunged from 9.8 feet to merely 1.4 feet — a stunning drop of 85% over the 37 years of measurements.

Study Author Ron Lindsay of the Applied Physics Lab at UW notes:

“The ice is thinning dramatically. We knew the ice was thinning, but we now have additional confirmation on how fast, and we can see that it’s not slowing down.”

Axel Schweiger, a polar scientist and contributor to the UW study added:

At least for the central Arctic basin, even our most drastic thinning estimate was slower than measured by these observations.”

A 1.4 foot average sea ice thickness for September is very thin. Tissue paper thin when it comes to sea ice. And the 4.1 foot yearly average isn’t much better. A fragile skein vulnerable to the continued assault of elemental heat we keep driving into the Arctic. Given this major loss, noted fragility, and ongoing exploration of record low values, risks for blue ocean events in this region are on the rise.

*   *   *   *

UPDATE: On March 5, 2015 new record extent lows deepened in the NSIDC measure. By that date extent measures had fallen another 25,000 square kilometers to 14,358,000. The drop deepens losses and widens the gap between 2006 (second lowest on record) and 2015 to 74,000 square kilometers — or an area roughly the size of South Carolina.

Conditions — major heat build up along the ice edge zones, especially in the Barents region — continue to favor suppressed and reduced sea ice levels over the coming days. Updates on this evolving sensitive situation near the start of melt season will continue.


National Snow and Ice Data Center

The University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer

Global Forecast System Model

Earth Nullschool

Arctic Sea Ice Thinning Dramatically

Arctic Sea Ice Flirts with New Record Lows

Hat Tips:

Scientific Hat tip to Ron Lindsay and Axel Schweiger

Scientific Hat tip to the UW applied Physics research team

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Kevin Jones

Colorado Bob


2015 El Nino to Bring Back-to-Back Hottest Years on Record?

For the past six months, the Pacific Ocean has been very, very warm. A vast and unsettling expanse of record heat building from the tropics on through the mid lattitudes and into the Arctic.

Sea surface temperatures across a broad swath of ocean from the equator on north and eastward have consistently measured between 0.5 and 5 degrees Celsius above average. A lazy reverse C pattern of heat stretching from the equator running up along the west coast of North America and then re-curving westward just south of the polar zone.

It is a pattern that is indicative of a well developed positive phase Pacific Decadal Oscillation. A kind of pattern that results in very warm sea surface temperatures for much of the Pacific. And a pattern that tends to favor the formation of El Nino.

As of December 2014, PDO values had climbed to their highest on record. And with these high sea surface temperature values related to PDO, the Pacific also seemed to be quietly settling into what, at first, appeared to be a mild El Nino.

Chances For 2015 El Nino Rise

The key value for El Nino is a measurement for sea surface temperatures along a region of the Central Equatorial Pacific known as Nino 3.4. Stretching from about 160 West to 120 West Longitude, this expansive zone of ocean waters below Hawaii tends to warm with the onset of El Nino.


(Nino 3.4 zone in center of frame on the Earth Nullschool Sea Surface Temperature anomaly map for March 4, 2015 shows warm waters again building in the Central Pacific. Averages in the zone for this date are around +0.75 C above normal. Note the + 2 C hot pool just to the western edge of the zone [orange-yellow coloration] and the +4 C hot pools [yellow coloration] off the US West Coast. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: Global Forecast Systems Model.)

The threshold NOAA uses to determine El Nino is a sea surface temperature anomaly for this area of +0.5 degrees C above average. And ever since September of 2014, sea surface temperatures have been hovering above the +0.5 C line.

NOAA’s determination for El Nino requires 5 three month average periods in which Nino 3.4 exceeds this mark. And it looks like, so far, four out of five of those periods have met the El Nino requirement. September, October and November (SON) averaged +0.5 C. October, November and December (OND) averaged +0.7 C. And November, December and January (NDJ) averaged +0.7 C. With all weekly measures for February coming in near or above January values, it appears the DJF value will post somewhere near +0.6 C (please see NOAA’s Weekly ENSO Status Report).

Even if March values dropped to +0.4 C, a weak El Nino would emerge in the Pacific during Spring of 2015. However, sea surface temperatures for this zone are not falling as we enter March. They are instead ramping higher.

New Warm Kelvin Wave Forming

For beneath the Central Pacific a new pool of warm water is forming. It is rising to the surface, providing yet another shot of heat to an equatorial region teetering on the threshold of El Nino. A new Kelvin Wave that carries with it more than enough energy to tip the scales for a 2015 event:

El Nino Kelvin Wave

(Warm Kelvin Wave again forming in the Pacific. This event will likely be enough to push 2015 into El Nino. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

The Kelvin Wave will slowly rise to the surface, elongate and transfer some of its latent heat to the sea surface and atmosphere. Driving this Kelvin Wave along are west wind backbursts that today were in the range of 25 mph sustained with gusts to 35. These gusts are continuing to drive warm water eastward and downward, providing more energy for the Kelvin Wave as well as any emerging El Nino. A set of winds that could well grow stronger as a weather pattern know as the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is predicted to ramp up, bringing stormy weather and more counter trade wind air flows across the Western Pacific equatorial zone.

These combined factors have spurred Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology to post a renewed El Nino Watch. NOAA is also showing a heightened chance for El Nino, with a near 60% probability for the event emerging late winter or early spring.

Meanwhile, some models for the Nino 3.4 region show continued warming along with a heightening El Nino throughout 2015:

2015 El Nino

(BoM Nino 3.4 sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) prediction model shows El Nino building throughout 2015. Note that the Australia BoM SSTA threshold is +0.8 C for Nino 3.4 while NOAA’s threshold is SSTA in excess of +0.5 C for seven months running. Image source: Bureau of Meterology.)

Back-to-Back Record Hot Years?

The +1.9 C peak and rising prediction for Nino 3.4 in the above graphic is indicative of a relatively strong El Nino by mid November of this year (for reference, the 1998 Super El Nino peaked at around +2.3 C for this region while 2010 peaked at +1.5 C). But even a far milder El Nino would likely have far-ranging consequences, especially in a world that has been pushed to keep warming and warming by the massive human fossil fuel emission.

All that heat again building along the equatorial Pacific would likely shove the Earth’s oceans and atmospheres again above record thresholds. And that would mean that 2014’s record as the hottest year for the Earth’s surface may only stand for but a few seasons more.

The risks for another record hot year for 2015 are, therefore, again rising.


As of March 5, 2014, NOAA has now officially declared weak El Nino conditions for the Equatorial Pacific. Please see this related discussion LINK.


Bad Climate Outcomes

NOAA’s Weekly ENSO Status Report


Australia’s Bureau of Meterology

Earth Nullschool

Global Forecast Systems Model

Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO)

Hat Tips:

Colorado Bob


Scientific Hat tip to Kevin Trenberth and Michael Mann


Typhoon Season 2013: Anomalously Hot Pacific Disgorges Record 52 Cyclones by Early December

Back in January, on January 1rst in fact, the first cyclone of this year’s Eastern Pacific Typhoon season formed. It would be one of at least 52 tropical depressions, storms, and typhoons that would rake through this vulnerable region over the next 11 months — resulting in over 7,000 deaths and tying a record for the most storms set 49 years ago in 1964.

The typhoon season that would repeatedly rake the Phillippines with monster storms and disgorge the strongest cyclone — Haiyan — to ever make landfall came on, at least in part, due to anomalously hot Pacific Ocean waters. Throughout the year, a large swath of the Western Pacific remained between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius above the 1979-2000 average. This stretch of water reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer of 2013, contributing to the extremely hot air mass that set off temperature record after temperature record in southeastern China from late July through early August.

According to reports from NOAA, not only was this mass of water very warm, its warmth extended far into the depths of the Pacific. NOAA’s report: Deep Warm Water Fuels Haiyan Intensification linked the anomalously deep and hot water to Haiyan’s rapid intensification as well as provided a basis for understanding why so many cyclones had formed during the, very prolific, typhoon season of 2013.

Pacific Ocean Heat Intensity -- Available Energy in Joules

(Anomalously hot and deep Pacific Ocean waters detected by NOAA sensor in early November)

NOAA noted:

The intensification of Super Typhoon Haiyan is being fueled by “ideal” environmental conditions – namely low wind shear and warm ocean temperatures. Maximum sustained winds are currently at 195 mph, well above the Category 5 classification used for Atlantic and East Pacific hurricanes. Plotted here is the average Tropical Cyclone Heat Potential product for October 28 – November 3, 2013, taken directly from NOAA View. This dataset, developed by NOAA/AOML, shows the total amount of heat energy available for the storm to absorb, not just on the surface, but integrated through the water column. Deeper, warmer pools of water are colored purple, though any region colored from pink to purple has sufficient energy to fuel storm intensification. The dotted line represents the best-track and forecast data as of 16:00 UTC on November 7, 2013.

It will only take the formation of one more cyclone to break the all-time record number of storms formed back in 1964. With 6 cyclones having formed since Haiyan ripped through the Philippines in early November and with Pacific Ocean temperatures remaining anomalously hot, it appears possible that 2013 will break this long-standing record.

For years, researchers have debated whether increasing ocean heat content due to human caused global warming will result in more numerous tropical cyclones. Heat is the primary driver for the formation and strengthening of these storms and with average global temperatures increasing at the rate of at least .2 degrees Celsius per decade, that driver continues to strengthen. At the very least, researchers agree that the strongest storms will likely be stronger. But tropical cyclone formation is complex and other factors, such as large areas of dust stirred up from expanding deserts, may also act to suppress storms in a warming world, at least in some basins.

One factor that has not been explored in depth is what appears to be a steadily growing length of hurricane seasons. In almost all basins, storms appear to be forming earlier and earlier in the year. Climatological peaks for typhoon seasons are still occurring at the usual time. But the warming oceans appear to be setting the stage for year-round tropical cyclone formation. A tropical cyclone typically needs water temperatures of at least 75 degrees (Fahrenheit) to form. And with pools of water at this temperature and above expanding even during what is typically winter it would seem that the basic ingredients for year-round storm formation are steadily being provided.


Deep Warm Water Fuels Haiyan Intensification

Pacific Typhoon Season 2013

Winter 2013-2014: Sea Ice Loss Locks Jet Stream into Severe Winter Storm Pattern For Most of US

It happened to Europe last year. A persistent erosion of Arctic sea ice set off changes to the polar jet stream that locked in place a severe winter weather pattern that pummeled the central and western European countries for much of the winter. Storm after storm piled snow high in locations that typically saw only modest winter precipitation while other areas were simply buried. The US also took a glancing blow from this extreme storm configuration. But now, with a large trough in the polar Jet remaining locked in place for almost a year, the US from the Rockies eastward appears to be in the line of fire for some very severe winter weather.

In other regions from Alaska to Eastern Europe, record or near record warmth and dryness have settled in with a large swath of eastern Europe showing average temperatures more than 6 degrees Celsius above the seasonal average. Over the extreme northern Pacific, adjacent to Alaska and the Bering Sea, seasonal temperature range from 4-12 degrees Celsius above average. And it is this extreme northward invasion of warm air that is displacing polar and Arctic air masses toward the east and south, putting much of the US in the firing line for strange and severe winter weather.

Just this week, the tale was one of record ice storms throughout the central and eastern US with hundreds of flights cancelled, deadly traffic pile-ups, and holiday shopping disrupted. On the east coast, from Virginia to Maine, workers and shoppers alike were treated to three days straight of snow turning to sleet and freezing rain and then turning back again to snow. With storms like these hitting in early December and with the pattern in the Jet Stream taking on such an extreme configuration, it appears possible that the winter of 2013-2014 could be a very, very stormy one indeed.

A Tale of Jet Streams and Melting Sea Ice

To understand how human caused global warming can make winter storms more severe in some areas while other areas hardly experience winter at all, one should first take a look at two major governors of Northern Hemisphere weather: the circumpolar Jet Stream and Arctic sea ice.

An extreme difference between the temperatures at high northern latitudes and at more temperate latitudes has driven a very rapid flow of upper level air called the Jet Stream for almost all of human meteorological reckoning. This high temperature difference drove powerful upper level winds from west to east. These winds tended to modulate only slightly and when they did, powerful weather events tended to occur.

Locking a greater portion of this cold air in place was the northern hemisphere ice cap, most of which was composed of a large swath of sea ice covering much of the northern oceans. This high volume of cold, reflective ice kept temperatures up north very, very low and provided the massive temperature differences which kept the Jet Stream predominantly flat with only occasional and more moderate severe weather causing ripples and bulges.

But since 1979, massive volumes of sea ice have been lost due to an immense and ongoing human caused warming trend taking hold in the Arctic. As human greenhouse gas emissions sky-rocketed, Arctic temperatures rapidly increased far faster than the global average. By this year, human greenhouse gas emissions had driven CO2 levels to the highest seen in more than 3 million years while Arctic temperatures are now warmer than at any time in the past 150,000 years. Sea ice retreat has been equally unprecedented with average winter values now 15-20% below extent measures seen during 1979 and with end summer sea ice extent values now a stunning 35-50% below that of 1979. Sea ice volume, the measure of total ice including its thickness, has shown even more stunning losses since 1979 with seasonal winter values 30-35% lower than in 1979 and end summer values between 65 and 80% lower during recent years.

JAXA sea ice Dec 9 2013

(Sea ice extent measure composed by JAXA. The light gray dotted line on the top shows sea ice extent averages during the 1980s. The three record lowest years — 2007, 2011 and 2012 — are shown in green, blue, and orange. The most recent year, 2013, is shown in red. Note the persistent and rapid melt trend.)

The loss of hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of sea ice radically reduces the Arctic Ocean’s ability to keep the Arctic cold. To the contrary, we see larger areas of open water that, in turn, radiate ocean heat into the atmosphere throughout winter. As a result the temperature difference between the Arctic and temperate regions is less and this, in turn, slows down the Jet Stream.

When the Jet Stream slows, it tends to meander. And when it meanders it creates very deep troughs and very large ridges. In the ridges, we get unseasonably hot temperatures along with increased risk of drought. And in the troughs, Arctic air swoops down to collide with warmer, moist air in a series of powerful storms. During the summer time, the hot, dry zones can bring deadly heat waves, record droughts, and major wildfires while the cooler stormier zones can bring epic rainfall events or even link up with tropical cyclones to result in highly severe hybrid storms. During the winter time, the hot zones can almost completely obliterate the winter season, while the stormy cooler zones can result in snow storm after snow storm.

Don’t believe me? Then take a look at what weather experts Jeff Masters and Jennifer Francis have to say on the matter:

Polar Warmth and Rossby Wave Pattern Going into Winter 2013-2014

As noted above, a powerful and continuous ridge in the Jet Stream over the north eastern Pacific near Alaska has persistently provided an equally powerful down-sloping trough over much of the US over the past year. The December 10 Jet Stream configuration map shows this pattern remaining locked in place:

Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream 10 Dec 2013

(Image source: California Regional Weather Server)

Note the strong multi-channel ridge to the south of Alaska and to the west of Canada diving down into a deep trough with convergent upper level air flows over the central and eastern US.

On the map, we also see powerful ridges and correlating warmer regions over Europe, Central Asia, and the western Pacific. These large meanders are now typical to the highly weakened Jet Stream pattern we have seen in recent years due to loss of polar sea ice.

Global temperature maps also show anomalously warm temperature departures for much of the Arctic as well as for regions beneath these powerful jet stream ridges. Note that the only northern hemisphere region showing strong anomalously cool conditions is a large swath adjacent to the large trough over North America and southern Greenland.

Global Temperature Averages Dec 1-7 2013

(Global Temperature Averages and Anomalies vs 1981-2010 mean. Image source: NOAA)

Temperature averages in the Arctic region of Kamchatka, the Bering Sea, the Chukchi Sea and Alaska have ranged between 11- and 12 degrees Celsius above average for the first week of December with much of the Arctic showing 4-12 degrees Celsius above average readings. The US and southern Canada, conversely, have shown temperatures 4-10 degress Celsius below average. It is also worth noting the massive swath of 3-12 C above average temperatures stretching all the way from the Middle East to the west coast of Greenland.

Overall, the prevalence of high latitude warmth and a continued high amplitude Rossby wave pattern trough over much of the US is a very conducive pattern for severe winter weather over the coming weeks. Most likely, this pattern will continue to persist through at least early to mid winter. So for the US and especially from the Rockies to the east coast, a progression of strong storms is likely to continue as winter advances.


California Regional Weather Server



Supporting Research:

Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes

Impact of sea ice cover changes on Northern Hemisphere atmospheric winter circulation

Impact of declining sea ice on winter snowfall cover

Weather extremes provoked by trapping giant waves in the atmosphere

Quasi-resonant amplification of planetary waves and recent Northern Hemisphere weather extremes.

Growth Shock Launch: “I Have a Confession to Make … We are in Trouble”

Some of you may have noted my absence. I’ve been nose-deep in completing the launch of a book that has been about 10 years in the making: Growth Shock. It developed both from my experience as an emerging threats expert for Jane’s Information Group and related consulting efforts, later from my connection to thousands of wonderful young people, many of them disadvantaged, through a 6 six year schools campaign, and finally through participation in the direct actions that were Occupy Wall Street and the 2012 Stop the Pipeline demonstration sponsored by in Washington, DC.

At some point, in the support of these direct actions for positive change, I developed the notion of channeling my energies and talents into works as actions. Growth Shock is the first of these. (Learn more in Growth Shock, Going on Offense and Setting an Example for Kindness Economics.)

Growth Shock Cover Art

(Growth Shock now available)

In support of these efforts, at least 60% of the book’s proceeds will go to (40%) and to direct funding for freedom from fossil fuels (FEFF) for individuals, localities and communities (20%). But I’m not stopping with these actions. An upcoming third speculative fiction novel in the Luthiel’s Song series will be re-named The Death of Winter and I will be organizing a campaign to raise energy transition funds for public schools around the sales campaign for this book (more on this later). Another publication effort examining the loss of glacial and sea ice and its consequences will direct funds to scientific research through the Dark Snow Project and to help support  James Hansen’s continued work at Columbia University. A fourth and still unnamed publication will also be directed toward reinvigorating policy efforts to rationally and benevolently restrain human population with an ultimate goal to bringing it, along with consumption, back into balance with Earth Systems and to back out of our current and dangerous overshoot. These efforts will likely take years to complete. But they are now on the table.

The Death of Winter

Luthiel’s Song Book III to be re-named: The Death of Winter

This is not at all to denigrate the need for direct action, campaigning, and demonstration. When possible, I will continue to participate in these efforts. But my goal will be to organize my life and my means of life support to also support systems that re-invigorate, restore, renew, and enlighten. This is the basis for the kindness economics proposed in Growth Shock — that our life works re-weave humankind back into the web of life, that we stop breaking it, and that we develop human technologies and thought systems that support life, rather than harm it.

But we’re a long, long way from any of that. And, at this very late hour, some of us are only just beginning to respond as others still languish or remain trapped, captives to systems of harmful consumption and harmful action. Meanwhile, climate change, overpopulation, resource depletion and the institutionalized and greed re-inforced systems that lock the technologies, policies, cultures and thought-systems that cause such harm in place are now in a critical phase of crisis, a phase where harm from these four forces is ramping ever higher, causing great fractures through the structures of modern civilization. Like the metaphorical lemmings, we still run headlong toward the precipice. Sooner or later, we will go over.

Unless we stop. Unless we back away.

We haven’t done this yet. We haven’t even slowed down. And, for this reason, we are in deep, deep trouble.

What follows is an opener to the book Growth Shock. But for you, I’ll provide a bit of qualification. The situation is a shade or two worse than even what I describe in the intro. Though I still believe it is possible for us to stop, to turn around and to make the needed changes, the effort required will be so great that the difference between the death-fed and destruction-creating human world of now and the vital, healthy, sustainable, and reinvigorating the heartbeat of nature human world of our best future is a vast chasm. A great rift that may well be impossible to cross for individuals, communities, and nations. This does not diminish our need to try, to at least make a grand attempt before being overwhelmed by the darkness. To level all our intellect, creativity and tool making abilities toward effecting a positive change, toward reversing the terrible disaster we’ve now set in motion that has already been, for many of the innocent creatures of our world, a horrible apocalypse…


Excerpted from Growth Shock:

I have a confession to make. One that is not easy to vocalize. One that is equally difficult to listen to. My confession is not one of a personal nature. I am not revealing my own, petty, individual sins. Instead, I’m making a confession for us all. A revelation of the ongoing and maturing tragedy of our race. One we will each need to be made aware of soon if we are to effectively act. For the age of excess is rapidly coming to a close and we are now entering a difficult and hard to manage age of consequences.

My confession is simply this: we are in trouble. A kind of trouble that is both typical to all living creatures and beyond the scope of anything we humans have yet witnessed. A kind of trouble that is both born of the natural world and directly caused by us.

Our trouble is that over the course of the next century we will run head-long into a number of very difficult to manage shocks that are the result of our unsustainable growth. How we confront these shocks will determine whether or not human civilization survives to reach the 22nd, 23rd, or 24th centuries or whether we, at the very least, encounter a coming age of darkness and decline.

That we will encounter some trouble is now unavoidable. At this point, all we can do is seek to reduce the scale of that trouble and lessen the harm that is its inevitable result. A decade or two ago, if we had acted sooner and with due urgency, we might have prevented harm. But harm is already upon us, growing worse with each passing year. And though our trouble has already become apparent to many, we still languish, squandering the time and effort needed to manage the emerging shocks even as they grow more deadly and dangerous.

If we decide to confront these troubles, what lies before us are many decades or more of sustained effort to reduce the damage we have inflicted upon ourselves efforts from which may arise a new golden age should we overcome these troubles. For pushing beyond our current limits through renewable energy systems, providing direct supports to heal the living world we depend on, establishing more kind and inclusive economic systems, and undergoing the general transition to sustainability necessary to deal with our current crisis results in an ever-expanding justice and prosperity. The potential for a true world without end.

If we do not act, a massive and rapid decline of human civilizations, a mass extinction in the oceans and on land, and a radical re-shaping of the Earth’s environment to a state far more hostile to humankind are all in the offing.

This is my confession. For it is the truth or our age. It is our dire tragedy, and our great hope. For we are living in the age of Growth Shock.

Growth Shock and Our Climate Change Choices: Mitigation and Adaptation, or Harm

Climate change, a topic that once was the purview of scientists and academics, has now become a central issue in today’s political and social discussion. The primary reason for this shift is the emergence of increasingly abnormal, damaging, and severe weather events that have come with greater and greater frequency to plague the world’s cities, states and nations. Tornadoes have devoured entire towns, hurricanes have become more numerous and powerful, freak hybrid superstorms are now a serious risk, 100 year flood events have become commonplace, wildfires are now endemic, causing damage in the billions of dollars annually, and immense country-spanning droughts now range the globe.

A secondary reason for our growing awareness is that it is becoming obvious that the world’s ice sheets are in rapid retreat even as sea levels are on the rise. Nine out of ten glaciers are in decline. The great ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland lose hundreds of cubic miles of ice annually. The resultant sea level rise driven by this melt and by thermal expansion of the oceans puts entire cities, states and nations into existential crisis. By the end of this century, practically all of south Florida may be little more than a shrinking archipelago. Some Pacific island nations are planning their inevitable evacuation to places like Australia, New Zealand, or the continents. Almost all coastal cities will be forced to expend significant monies and resources over the next century if they are to have any hope of warding off the rising seas and more powerful storms. An effort that, in the end, may well prove in vain.

It is a slow motion disaster movie script that plays before our eyes now, almost weekly, on the evening news. And there are many, many events that the mainstream media does not cover, likely due to the fact that it has become saturated with stories of this kind.

Growth Shock and Climate Change

Unfortunately this rising climate change emergency is just one aspect of a larger crisis of civilization-wide Growth Shock. Growth Shock is a dangerous condition brought on by a combination of our inexorably expanding global population, our over consumption of renewable and non-renewable resources, and the damage to our environment via carbon pollution that results in climate change. These three forces are all enabled by a great human limiter — Greed — which has been institutionalized in so many of the world’s corporations and is deeply imbedded both explicitly and implicitly in the world’s political systems and ideologies. So to solve climate change, we will also have to do much better at solving the problems of overpopulation, dangerous and violent methods of resource consumption, and the underlying disease of human greed.

To this point it is worth considering a statement from the ground-breaking sustainability work The Limits to Growth:

“If a society’s implicit goals are to exploit nature, enrich the elites, and ignore the long term, then that society will develop technologies and markets that destroy the environment, widen the gap between the rich and the poor, and optimize for short term gains. In short, that society develops technologies and markets that hasten a collapse instead of preventing it.”

I have also just completed my own work on the issue entitled Growth Shock: Tragedy and Hope at the Limits of a Finite World which will see electronic publication within the next two weeks.

Here is the cover image, brilliantly rendered by Matthew Friedman, in which the Vitruvian Man (representing the unsustainable and exploitative structures of humankind) seems to have grown too big for his own good and struggles unhappily against the globe’s confines:

Growth Shock Cover Art

The roll-out for this work will proceed over the next two weeks and it will be managed in such a way as to responsibly redistribute proceeds to charitable causes that, in my view, have been most effective in working to reduce the harm caused by Growth Shock and the related climate emergency (more on this later).

In any case, as climate change is one of the four forces enabling Growth Shock, we have come to a time where we are compelled to make choices and act in ways that prevent further harm through mitigation, to attempt to adapt to the growing nightmare that is now upon us, or to make the choice to fail to act and therefore increase the degree and velocity of harm coming down the pipe.


The obvious and worsening climate emergency that we are now just starting to experience has galvanized a growing cadre of grass roots organizations and individuals dedicated to the cause of preventing as much of the coming damage as possible. These advocates of mitigation believe that strong action now has the greatest chance of reducing future harm. And their efforts and advocacy are based in the sciences. With extreme weather and damaging events ramping up at 400 ppm CO2, the situation is bound to be far worse at 450, 550, 700, or the 900 ppm CO2 predicted under business as usual by the end of this century. Mitigation advocates are clear in the understanding that the less CO2 and other greenhouse gasses we emit, the less dangerous the ultimate crisis will become.

Mitigation and preventing future harm, therefore, must rely on a combination of efforts. Rapidly increasing renewable energy development will be needed to replace a large enough portion of fossil fuel use to sustain life support systems for the planet’s 7 billion human beings. This will involve a politically difficult replacement of fossil energy sources with clean sources like wind and solar as well as the regulation and eventual elimination of carbon emissions altogether. A more efficient use of space and, over all, more efficient life styles will also do much to prevent damage through both reducing energy and materials consumption. Such a transition will be difficult under current economies that are designed to endlessly increase the consumption of materials, labor, and resources all while funneling wealth to the top of social systems. These social and economic structures dangerously enhance the level of damage we cause and so must be challenged and called into question if we are to make much head-way.

To this point, a large shift away from the massive agribusiness of meat farming may well be needed. Today, more than 65 billion livestock are estimated to be held in states of captivity far more brutal and intolerable than even the worst-treated of human criminals. The lifespans of most of these creatures is doomed to a tortuously short 1-4 years and the unspeakable suffering many experience during their times as livestock animals is a black scar of atrocity born by our race.

An estimated 40% of the world’s grain crop goes to supporting this terrible and inhumane manifestation of food industry. Further, the lion’s share of the 30% of human greenhouse gas emissions attributed to human agriculture is based in the meat industry. As such, our industry enhanced dependence on harming animals for food and materials is likely to have to be greatly abated as part of a comprehensive climate change mitigation action. In any case, the amoral practices required by industry to produce such high volumes of meat render it ethically as well as physically unsustainable.

A true comprehensive mitigation will also have to redefine current paradigms of growth and wealth generation. Economic systems will have to become less focused on short term gains and concentrating wealth at the top and more focused on long-term prosperity and survivability through a more equal sharing of and access to more limited resources. The exploitative paradigm of pure capitalism has failed and failed again. This is largely due to the fact that pure capitalism tends to demand all responsibility be placed on the less fortunate and successful masses as the more fortunate are enabled to behave as little more than privileged anarchists. To mitigate the social shocks that are inevitable during a climate crisis and to reign in the massive, excessive and abusive over-use of resources by the wealthy, more responsibility must be demanded from the most privileged members of societies. Wealth compression, therefore, is an effective tool in reducing the harm caused by an over-consumption of resources at the upper rungs of civilization where some members consume more than 100,000 times the resources of a subsistence farmer and about 3,000 times the resources of a person living in today’s middle class.

Since the levels of exploitation and consumption that have enabled climate change to run rampant are encouraged and required by today’s neo-liberal and globalized brand of capitalism, this manifestation of capitalism must be reigned in, caged and defanged if we are to have much hope of mitigating the larger crisis of climate change.


Since we missed our chance to mitigate much of the damage from climate change by about 30 years (we’d have been much better off if we began rapid CO2 reductions, sustainability and wealth compression efforts in the 70s and 80s), a massive effort to adapt to the changes now set in motion will probably be necessary. It is likely that we’ve already locked in many decades of increasingly severe weather, and, likely, centuries of rising seas. Ultimate sea level rise based on the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere will probably terminate at between 15 and 75 feet higher than the current day (rising at between 5 and 15 feet per century). These changes are probably locked in now even if we halt all CO2 emissions today. But, more likely, our best realistic hope is probably to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels at around 450 parts per million, which would result in higher-end damages being locked in for centuries.

As a result, if we are to continue to have powerful, resilient civilizations at the global and continental levels, then we must do serious work to make those civilizations more resilient. Entire cities may have to be moved or surrounded by increasingly tall flood barriers. New port systems will have to be devised to cope with changing sea levels. Architects and engineers will have to alter building and structure design to deal with more vicious storms and weather conditions. Farming will have to become more adaptive. The world’s agricultural systems will have to do more with less. Most likely, humans will have to rely more on grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts (which are more efficient ways to transfer energy and nutrients to the human body) and far less on meat (also a mitigation as described above). We may need to expend resources to ensure that our fellow living creatures, which provide essential life support services, do not become extinct. In short, what damage we cannot prevent via mitigation, we will have to learn to adapt to. As such, human civilization will probably need to take more responsibility in both defending itself and the natural world from the harm that is now coming.


With carbon pollution already reaching dangerous and excessive levels, any choices that do not mitigate (prevent) or help adapt to future climate change result in an increasing degree and velocity of harm. These choices include climate change denial — which not only insanely disputes the basic physical science behind the effect of greenhouse gasses on Earth’s climate but also ignorantly attributes current increasingly severe weather, temperature and sea level rise to a scientific ‘natural variability’ that denial proponents, purposefully or through blatant stupidity, misrepresent and misunderstand. This is not to confuse those who are understandably scared by the force that is climate change and have succumbed to the natural, though in this case irrational, human response to withdraw from and avoid danger. Political climate change denial seeks to exploit this natural human response for short term political and economic gain and, as such, must be viewed as anathema. Human denial and avoidance of harm, however, is a basic instinct-driven response that must be rationally addressed. In the case of harm caused by climate change, the only rational way to avoid it is through mitigation and adaptation. Denial of the physical forces of the universe unleashed by human over-consumption and institutionalized greed, on the other hand, is little more than a withdrawal into the realm of wishful thinking. Denial, in both cases, causes inaction and paralysis, enables the continuation of business as usual, and, therefore, increases harm.

To this point, any efforts to slow down or reduce mitigation efforts also increases the velocity and force of the harm now rushing toward us. Pressures to slowly mitigate and gradually adapt may seem rational at first, but result in a less tenable future long term. Responses need to be measured, organized and swift — like the emergency procession to lifeboats aboard a sinking ship. Irrationally clinging to damaging systems for as long as possible amounts to playing fiddle on the deck as the critical time to find a place aboard a lifeboat trickles away.

Depression is another natural human response to challenges that far exceed the scope of an individual to overcome. In this case, social depression over climate change has manifest in a form of doomerism that clings to the notion that any action in the face of a growing crisis is futile. To the doomers, I would like to say this:

If there is even a small chance that mitigation and adaptation will bring us through the crisis, then shouldn’t we pursue all efforts and make that likelihood as great as possible? What if the British and the French had simply given up in the face of what, to them, must have seemed an invincible German military juggernaut during the early days of World War II (in fact, their early denial that a problem existed at all set up the conditions for this terrible war in the first place)? To the doomers I would say that the more we fail to respond, the worse the crisis becomes. And a crisis always seems most insurmountable at its start and just before creative response is initiated. Though it is true that many civilizations have failed in the past when confronted with problems that are similar to ours and that climate change, especially, tends to crush civilizations by creating problems that are outside of its ability to evolve and adapt, failure to respond almost always ensures collapse. We may argue now that response is too little too late, but we really won’t know unless we’ve expended all efforts. And so all efforts are, therefore, entirely moral and appropriate.

Lastly, a number of entrenched special interests are heavily invested in harm. These include the world’s fossil fuel companies, the industrial meat industries, a number of investment banking firms that support and profit from such activities via financing, and a large supply chain of industries that produce products based on these activities. Since the resources and profits of these industries are, in part, shared with broader society via the stock market and through the production of cheap, easy to access, goods and services, many states, cities and individuals are also, wittingly or unwittingly invested in harm. As such, a turning away from harm will require conscious choices on the part of individuals, cities, states and industries to not only divest in stock portfolios that profit from harm but also to actively change behavior, methods of consumption and materials use. As we begin this process, entrenched industries and individuals that profit from harmful and exploitative activities are likely to dig in and fight every step of the way. They will attempt to deny us product choices via legislation and market dominance even as they attempt to pretend that harm coming from their practices is both natural and inevitable (directly or indirectly enhancing denialism and doomerism). This institutionalized, irrational and entrenched manifestation of human greed represents the center of gravity of harm coming from human systems and, if we can address it, it is likely that both denial and doomerism will fade.

Considering Moral Responses

In the end, any action that delays or prevents a swift, encompassing, and organized response to climate change increases the level of harm that we are in for. Such a choice, whether conscious or not, is essentially amoral in that it reduces civilization’s chance to survive an emerging existential crisis. A choice that eventually results in an escalating level of damage and loss of lives and livelihoods.

So we’ve come to a tough pass and these, whether we realize it or not, are our choices:

1. To prevent and mitigate harm.

2. To do our best to adapt to the harm that is coming.

3. Or to increase the degree and velocity of harm by failing to act.

My best hopes are for your courage to make the just choices for the sake of you, your family, and for all of us. This is our responsibility to ourselves and each other. And the time to act is now, now, NOW.

Sea Ice Volume Edging Back Into Record Low Territory


(Image source: PIOMAS)

Despite an ongoing and precipitous trend of sea ice loss, it still happens now and then. As cold air invades and re-freeze sets in, pace of new ice formation spikes and we get the potential for a bit of ‘recovery’ in sea ice area and extent by March-April following record summer losses. The trend for sea ice area and extent for these months is still down, however. According to NSIDC, extent is falling at a pace of about 2.5% per decade during March and April. This pace of loss is quite modest when compared to summer losses, even though the long-term trend is still down.

Sea ice volume, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. The measure of total ice area + ice thickness as determined by PIOMAS has crept steadily and rapidly downward during both winter and summer months. Though the total loss below the 1979-2012 average is slightly greater for summer (approx. 9,000 cubic kilometers) it does not greatly exceed the loss seen during winter months (about 7,000 cubic kilometers) since 1979. (Percent losses for summer exceed 25% per decade while percent losses for winter are about 13% per decade. So the pace of summer volume loss in this measure is still much greater.)

There is, however, one small wrinkle in this observation. Winter sea ice volume measurements have tended to cluster in a given range before taking large steps down during certain years. Summer, on the other hand, has shown more steady and consistent melt with large step years spaced out by many years of more moderate melt.

So it was little surprise when sea ice volume tied and slightly exceeded March 2011 and 2012 measurements for brief periods during the winter of 2013, edging above the record low value by about 70 cubic kilometers on certain days.

Now, PIOMAS shows pace of volume melt rapidly increasing through mid April. And this new melt has brought Arctic sea ice volume back into record low territory, edging about 80 cubic kilometers below the record set in 2011 for that time.

Sea ice volume is the critical measure now that validation from satellite instruments has clarified the accuracy of PIOMAS modeling. Area and extent only measure the surface as visible from above. But the total proportion of remaining ice is captured by current volume measurements. And what PIOMAS is showing, at this point, is that sea ice volume in the Arctic is currently lower than it has ever been in modern reckoning.



Video Chronicle of an Arctic in Catastrophic Transition

Kenneth Dunton, Professor of Marine Sciences at the University of Texas, Austin, in the above video describes what he calles “The New Arctic.” It is a sobering video describing a landscape at the beginning of a difficult transition. He talks about adaptation. And, to a certain degree, we will all have to adapt to changes we are now causing to the world’s environments. How difficult these changes will be will, ultimately hinge upon how soon we can reduce then cease the burning of all fossil fuels.

What Dr. Dunton describes is the start of a difficult situation. One that will be with us for many years, decades, and perhaps centuries to come.


Arctic Death Spiral The Video

Worth Reading: March 22, 2013

In the news today, the GOP has renewed broad-reaching efforts to limit alternative energy development and expand carbon pollution. NOAA forecasts a warm spring with half the country likely to see flooding while the other half experiences drought. Renewable energy production gets a boost from Apple as wind energy begins to bounce back after a legislative assault by Republicans. And China shows slowing increases in oil consumption (likely due to high prices) even as it remains on track to increase coal consumption 10% by 2015.

Warnings from the OECD on emissions ramped up as it sought carbon taxes from big polluters like China and the US. And 4th graders show the world that, yes, a transition to renewable energy is possible with just a little crowd-sourcing gumption.

Joe Romm exposes Theda Skocpol for double speak, misanalysis and blaming the victim in the legislative failure of Cap-and-Trade: Theda Skocpol Doubles Down With Self-Contradictory, Blame-The-Victim Misanalysis of Cap-And-Trade Failure.

Ryan Koronowski exposes the GOP’s ongoing and deliberate anti-reality climate change denial efforts in a piece that makes the movie Space Balls seem more factually plausible than the current republican narrative on human-caused global warming: When Reality is Biased, Get New Facts.

Dr. Snow produces an excellent analysis of sea ice conditions past, present and future: Arctic Sea Ice Melt: Looking Forward, Looking Back.

NOAA’s spring outlook is for a mix of drought, floods and above average temperatures: Drought and Floods in NOAA’s ‘Mixed Bag’ Spring Outlook.

Blogger Fish out of Water produces this excellent analysis of The Winter the Polar Vortex Collapsed.

Nice, sarcastic, article on why we ‘should’ approve the Keystone XL Pipeline: Let Us Count The Ways Keystone Approval Helps Us: Memo From Houston.

Republicans want to turn the budget plan from Senate Democrats into a “legislative sledgehammer” against President Obama’s green agenda, Organizing for Action warned Thursday: Pro-Obama group signals more emphasis on climate, green policies.

Members of GOP House that voted for big money giveaways for oil companies received over $38 million dollars from these big carbon polluters: GOP Voting For House Budget’s Big Oil Giveaway Receive $38 Million In Oil Cash.

GOP Senator Roy Blunt seeks to use Carbon Tax vote as a vehicle for attacking those concerned about climate change. But will this move blow up in his face? GOP Lawmaker wants Senate on record about carbon taxes.

Chinese lust for growth no match for high oil prices: For oil markets, China isn’t what it used to be.

China on track to increase dirty coal consumption another 10% by 2015. Not good news for climate change. Not at all. The Beijing Syndrome.

Canadian and US citizen efforts to block pipelines linking to Alberta’s Tar Sands expand: Canadian and U.S. natives vow to block oil pipelines.

Wind Energy installations picking up in US: Renewed Tax Credit Buoys Wind-Power Projects.

Fourth Grade class raises 5,800 dollars to fund solar energy projects: Fourth Grade Class Uses Kickstarter to Finance a Solar Array Multiple Times Over.

GOP seeks to exclude exports from efforts aimed at limiting carbon emissions: Senate budget measure would forbid considering emissions from exports.

Zero carbon economy not possible? Tell that to Apple, which now runs 75% on renewables: Apple makes renewable energy push with solar, fuel cells.

OECD urges big polluters to put a price on carbon. Push includes China, US: China is urged to use carbon tax to tackle pollution.

Historic US Drought Hangs on Through Spring 2013; Despite Slow Improvement, May Continue Into Summer


A historic US Drought that began in Texas in 2011, receded for a brief time, and then expanded to cover as much as 65% of the continental United States still troubles much of the country. Currently, according to reports from the US Drought Monitor, more than 53% percent of the contiguous United States still suffers from some level of drought.

Dryness persisted across much of the western US during winter. However, beneficial rains and snows did alleviate some drought in the center of the country. These drought conditions put the US wheat crop at risk throughout much of winter. While concern remains that wheat harvests will be below average, precipitation in parts of Iowa and other portions of the mid-west may have mitigated some of the damage.

Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming are still feeling the drought’s worst effects. Texas has been forced to tap into its emergency fund as it enters its third year of drought. Water shortages have led to the lowest cattle stocks for the state since 1952 and sparked an ongoing conflict over water with New Mexico. Texas and New Mexico’s conflict over water is now awaiting a resolution from the US Supreme Court.

Drought Forecast Spring 2013

Unfortunately, current forecasts by NOAA indicate persistent and intensifying drought in many of the hardest hit areas. While Nebraska and North Dakota may see some relief, much of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming remain under the gun. Further, forecasts indicate that conditions could worsen in Texas, Arizona, and California, while also spreading into much of Florida.

It looks like the next three months will see much of the US continuing to suffer from drought. Although the heat and dryness are not as severe as 2012, impacts are likely to remain high for hardest hit states. Overall, agriculture may not take as heavy a blow in 2013 as in 2012, but serious challenges will remain for many of the nation’s farmers. On the bright side, improvement appears likely through much of the US grain states of Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas and Indiana. So, hopefully, improvement in these regions will help balance continued and increasing trouble in the west.

Taking into account the Texas drought of 2011, the historic drought of 2012, and the current drought, large portions of the US are now entering their third year of drought. A combination of a warming globe and weather patterns favorable for drought likely contributed to last year’s damage. In 2013, weather patterns that would normally contribute to drought have moderated somewhat but the persistent, long-term impacts of global warming remain. And these changes are predicted to result in a drying of the Southwestern states of the US to continue long-term.


Climate Change, Resource Depletion Making Oil Dependence Economically Unsustainable

Over the past few months, we’ve been focusing primarily on climate change’s amplifying impacts and increasing damage to human societies. But with this month’s Department of Energy Short Term Energy Outlook (STEO) report, it is important to take a step back and examine again the powerful economic headwind that is resource depletion.

In context, oil, gas, and coal companies have, over the past few years, been fighting an epic political and public relations battle for the hearts and minds of the American people. We can hardly avoid the commercials. The endless repetitions of ‘we agree’ glossing over oil companies agendas on television again, and again, and again. We can hardly avoid the slanted news reports. The hit pieces that are put out on the Chevy Volt with almost weekly recurrence, the most recent one coming from Reuters. And we can certainly not avoid the massive political influence the fossil fuel companies have exerted on the political process this year in the Presidential, National, and State elections.

The energy future of the United States and our climate and economic health will, in many ways, depend on whether or not the fossil fuel companies, led by the oil companies, again gain dominance over both our energy and our political systems. In short, oil, gas, and coal have no future. And tieing our futures to those dirty, dangerous and depleting fuels is like grabbing hold of a 200 lb iron weight while struggling to tread water in a stormy ocean.

Why? Well, for starters, the oil companies aren’t any where near close to telling us the truth about the economic viability of their fuels.

The first set of misinformation is well established. The fossil fuel companies, much like the tobacco companies of a by-gone day, much like the south which depended on slave labor for their economic prosperity, aren’t telling us the whole story. In the case of climate change, they’ve actively waged numerous vicious public relations campaigns not only aimed at misinforming the public on the urgency of the climate crisis. They’ve also funded numerous attack campaigns leveled directly against the climate scientists themselves. Such a wide-spread war on science hasn’t been seen since the Renaissance. It has resulted in many scientists receiving death threats. But the broader damage is to society which is now facing the worst climate crisis ever in human history. The trouble fossil fuel emissions have brewed up in our atmosphere could easily be called Biblical. And whether or not we respond to this threat in a timely fashion is a matter of life and death for human civilization and for the human beings who depend upon it for survival.

Though the issue of climate change is pretty broadly understood, the second issue making oil non-viable as an economic resource is less well understood. And, though probably less harmful overall than climate change, its revelation gives lie to the assertion by oil companies that its fuels are a resource necessary for economic growth. To the contrary, the fuel is economically destructive. Why? Because it has depleted to the point that it is no longer economically viable to remove an increasing portion from the ground.

Just last week, reports from fracturing companies found that as oil prices dropped in June, July and early August a number of wells in the tight oil fields of North Dakota and Texas were idled. Why? Simply because these companies could not make a profit on oil costing less than $90 per barrel. This very high marginal cost of oil is bumping up against the level at which world economies suffer from recession. A range that the current economic malaise is proving is between $100-$150 dollars per barrel. The oil is just getting too darn expensive for a world economy to run on.

Then this month’s STEO report rolled in showing preliminary data that doesn’t bode well for the future of world oil production.

But before we go into this month’s STEO report, we should talk for a moment about the ridiculous papers being put out by the world’s oil establishment. Just last month, a former oil executive published a paper entitled “Oil the Next Revolution.” Just looking at the title brings up a little of a chuckle. Wasn’t oil last century’s revolution? Making such an extraordinary claim would require extraordinary evidence. But Leonardo Maugeri completely fails to deliver. First, he makes a highly spurious claim that world oil production will reach 110 million barrels per day by 2020. He does this by tinkering with the decline rates — he assumes a less than 2% decline rate for the world’s existing and future oil fields, the real rate is somewhere between 4 and 7 percent. Next, he makes extremely optimistic predictions about the world’s ability to economically produce tight oil like that in the Bakken. Finally, he conflates natural gas liquids with oil production. Unfortunately, natural gas liquids aren’t so easily fungible with oil, requiring highly specialized refineries to turn into diesel fuel. Maugeri claims a total of 49 million barrels per day of new oil conflated with natural gas liquids gets us to this 110 million barrels per day by 2020 in an environment of very low decline rates and very fungible natural gas liquids.

Maugeri is vastly wrong. He is wrong when it comes to the decline rate. He is wrong when it comes to the fungibility of natural gas liquids. And he is wrong on the ability of the world to economically add 49 million barrels per day of new supply. And this is where I return to the marginal price of fractured oil. $90 today. That’s what’s required to lift the new oil up out of the ground. What does Maugeri assume for his price of oil in 2020? Maugeri assumes oil will remain above $70 per barrel.

Maugeri already got the price wrong. We can’t maintain 89 million barrels per day at less than $90 per barrel.

Enter this month’s most recent STEO report. Now the first number we want to look at is consumption. Consumption is the best measure for world demand. Despite misinformation to the contrary, world demand has been very high since 2004. The only time in which the world experienced a reduction in demand was during the Great Recession in 2008 and the downturn that followed in 2009. At all other times during this period, demand was going up. Today, according to the STEO report, world oil consumption/demand is sitting at around 90.17 million barrels per day. Now just keep that number in your mind.

Now let’s look at the next number. World supply. That number is 88.41 million barrels per day. Immediately, we can do a little math and figure out that supply is less than demand by about 1.76 million barrels per day. This situation would tend to support a high price of oil. Well higher, in fact, than the marginal cost of producing a barrel of oil. And what was the average price? About $94 per barrel over the month of August just $4 per barrel above the supposed marginal cost of production. But let’s hold here on prices and talk a little bit more about supply.

In August, total world oil supply fell by 160,000 barrels per day from July. This isn’t too big of a deal at first blush. But it does follow a fall in oil supply of about 140,000 barrels per day from June, another fall of 130,000 barrels per day from May, and another fall of 120,000 barrels per day from April. This total of 550,000 barrels per day loss in production over the course of four months is not what one would expect to see if the world were on the verge of roaring to 110 million barrels per day within 8 years. In fact, we should see, on average, an 800,000 barrel per day increase over the same time period if that were the case.

But the overlying data isn’t what’s most disturbing. It’s where the losses come from. From July to August of 2012, US oil production fell by 300,000 barrels per day. Part of this loss is due to the fact that marginal, high cost, fields were idled due to the falling price of oil. In other words, these fields could not produce oil economically and were temporarily shut during a period when oil prices averaged at about $94 per barrel! Other losses likely came from ethanol production due to the fact that corn took a huge hit in this year’s climate-change induced drought (it is worth noting that, these days, ethanol counts as oil).

What brought down US oil production in the month of August can best be described as a combination of oil depletion and climate change.

But before we depart from the oil supply picture, let’s take a look at one other country — Russia. In the STEO report, Russia is listed as the Former Soviet Union. It includes all the oil producing states formerly part of the Soviet Union (FSU). Notably, August saw FSU production fall by 261,000 barrels per day to its lowest levels since August of 2009. This drop is an ominous sign for the prospects of world oil production. Russia relies on a number of very large depleting oil fields for the bulk of its production. Major efforts have been made to enhance production. But, according to the most recent reports, these efforts appear to be falling short.

Back to the larger picture, it appears that world oil production has stalled and fallen back into a slow decline. And there are troubling signs coming from both Russia and the United States.

Now, with these less than happy thoughts in mind, let’s go back to demand, supply, and price. Normally, in a natural environment, the price of oil would be allowed to rise so that new supply could come to market to meet demand. We have supply shortfall. We have marginal production waiting on the sidelines. So why isn’t price rising? What’s holding back price?

One need only look at the current world economic situation to see what’s keeping price in its gate. The world is, essentially, lurching about at the brink of another recession. Any bump in oil prices may kick the world back over the edge. So, in this event, high marginal prices of oil are bumping directly up against the world’s economic ability to sustain demand. And given the current leeching away of world oil supply, that ability is again placed in serious doubt.

Given these factors, it is increasingly clear that the world’s oil companies aren’t telling us the truth. Despite every economic contortion possible, oil is simply no longer a viable means to sustain and grow the world’s economies long-term. It is too expensive to extract. Its marginal prices are too high to bear. And the damage it inflicts on world economies through the ongoing and amplifying force of climate change creates an external insult that further reduces the abilities of economies to rationally function. Simply put, the oil is unsustainable and the faster we are able to both increase efficiencies, alternatives like the Volt, and the proportion of our renewable energy allotment, the better off we will be.

As for the oil companies endless re-assertions. We decidedly do not agree.


Barrow Data Shows Large Methane Pulse: Erroneous Reading or Reason For Concern?

Over the past few days, observations of anomalously high methane readings have been coming in from Barrow Alaska. These four reading show a jump of ground level methane concentration at Barrow to 2090-2140 parts per billion (ppb). This is a massive increase over previous measurements of around 1890 ppb. You can see these readings in the graph above in the form of four orange dots in the far upper right hand of the graph.

Barrow is just one reporting station around the Arctic. So, in order to validate any large pulse in methane, we would have to see high readings around the Arctic. As yet, this doesn’t appear to be happening.

In addition, sometimes methane data gets corrupted by bad sensors or faulty process. The result can be anomalously high readings. This has happened before and there is good reason to suspect that these high readings could be caused by a failure of the methane monitoring process.

All that said, this year has seen a number of very strong global warming signals in the Arctic. We’ve seen record warmth over much of the region. We’ve seen record sea ice melt and a trend that shows a potential for ice free Arctic seas within ten years. And we’ve seen an immense increase in melt over the Greenland ice sheet. The sea ice melt is particularly troubling because it is occurring in weather conditions that should not be conducive for melt. And what this points to is a lot of latent heat in the Arctic doing the melting.

So given this context, it would be very unwise to ignore an anomalously high set of methane readings at Barrow. The reason is that heat can destabilize frozen sea bed or tundra methane and result in large pulses of methane hitting the atmosphere. These pulses can contribute large volumes of methane that can dramatically increase atmospheric concentrations. In addition, the over-all trend in the satellite record over the last ten years is for increasing pulses of methane emitted from the Arctic from September to January. Each year, the methane signal has been stronger, so this trend is also cause for concern.

It is still likely that these numbers are the result of error or faulty equipment. But there is a small but not insignificant possibility, perhaps a 20 or 30 percent chance, that this pulse showing up in the Barrow data is real. The fact that four observations are now showing anomalously high readings and that these readings are continuing to rise is serious cause for concern and needs close monitoring.

A large methane pulse in the Arctic this year would be a terrible result. It would add an amplifying global warming feedback to the already strong feedback of sea ice loss and loss of Greenland reflectivity. It would also show that the Arctic environment and the methane stores there are far more sensitive to temperature changes than most scientists had expected. So these observations at Barrow are serious cause for concern.


I got a response from Andy Crotwell a NOAA scientist specializing in greenhouse gas emissions. He notes that the wind on the day these samples were taken was likely from a developed area where methane readings would have been higher. So he’s pretty sure these are not representative of the Arctic environment and will be listed as outliers in the data.


Doomsday Arguments in Context: Global Warming and The Consequences of Inaction

It’s a bit odd the degree of cognitive dissonance one encounters when trying to explain what’s happening due to global warming. When trying to explain a range of bad possibilities, you’ll often easily find yourself pigeon-holed in one of two slots: ‘normal’ or ‘Chicken Little.’

‘Normal’ is the slot people ignore because they’re too comfortable and the pace of change is seen as too slow to be of immediate concern. ‘Chicken Little’ is discounted because, well, the sky can’t really be falling, can it?

When confronting this level of cognitive dissonance, it’s helpful to look at other major problems we’ve managed to deal with by communicating and managing effective responses. For example, the ozone hole was a problem that would have resulted in terrible damage, had we not responded. Also, unfettered nuclear weapons becoming more and more widely available would have resulted in terribly increased risk the weapons would actually be used. These are both problems we managed to varying degrees of effect. Both are problems we staved off through responsible action.

Often, people think in terms of ‘the end of the world.’ But in the powerful modern age, where technology and massive civilizations can do severe harm without even trying, this possibility is a simple fact of the power of human civilization. Is the end of the world a global nuclear holocaust? Is it an unchecked ozone hole? Is it run away global warming? A Venus syndrome that James Hansen reminds us is certainly possible if fossil fuel emissions aren’t ramped down?They are the risk cost of a powerful human civilization. But, if we act well, these risks need not be outcomes.

When looking at these potential emerging threats, it’s not really a question of what’s inevitable. It’s just a question of what can happen if we don’t respond. If we don’t act with grave respect for both the power that is ours and for the way in which our living, dynamic world is now so fragile to the forces we can unleash.

So, ‘end of the world,’ is really a false characterization. A better term for the whole issue is the terrible consequences of a failure to act. Of a failure to plan well for the future. Of a failure to husband those fragile systems we rely on so much for our prosperity, well being, and survival. These are the problems of all civilizations, great or small. Ours have just grown to fill the scope of an entire world.

Responses to problems, on the other hand, have powerful and lasting effects, taking seconds, minutes and hours off any doomsday clock’s countdown to midnight. They help ensure the path for our civilization’s continuance and toward hope and progress for future generations.

As an example, if we responded to global warming back in the 80s, we wouldn’t be suffering as much in the way of extreme weather and rapid sea ice melt. We would have likely stabilized CO2 at below or near 350 ppm. No end of the world in this scenario.
If we respond now, we likely have substantial heat and sea level rise for about a century or two. We likely have moderate food trouble and we likely have some dislocation due to changing world climates and coastlines. But we probably avoid most of the very bad consequences. If we respond soon, things will probably be worse — a very difficult but manageable period of a few centuries if we work together. If we respond late, starting in the 2030s, say, things are very, very bad for hundreds of years. But we probably manage to survive. Hopefully.

But if we don’t respond at all? If we reach 1000 ppm CO2? Well that’s the climate equivalent of launch all missiles. At that point it doesn’t look tough. It looks a lot like a doomsday scenario.

The urgency of climate change is that after a certain point, change is locked in. If you start trying to change once the really bad consequences start to occur, then it may well be too late. And that is one reason why the people who are advocating response to climate change now do so with such great urgency. We know that the responsible thing, the most prudent course, is to deal with the problem now and not wait until things get much worse.

As for what’s locked in now? Well, as mentioned above, it’s not doomsday. But, it does knock a few more chunks out of the sky, so to speak. To say the least, things are bound to get much more chaotic and difficult to manage before they get better. And that’s with a rapid response taking place today. This was not the situation 30 years ago. So there is serious cause for urgency. For establishing the responses yesterday. And there is even more reason to be irate at the foot-dragging and destructive delays that are happening now due to fossil fuel influence on politics. Each delay does bring the doomsday clock that much closer to midnight. And watching that clock wind down is not a pleasant pass-time, to say the least.

As for Chicken Little? Well, those of us who keep an eye on these things can point out a few places were the sky has already fallen. So it’s probably a good idea to make certain the rest doesn’t come tumbling down.

Japanese Space Agency Shows New Record Low For Arctic Sea Ice Extent, Record Set in 2007 Falls


The Japanses Space Agency recorded a new record low for sea ice extent this morning. The new low, now 4,189,000 square kilometers is about 20,000 square kilometers below the previous record low set in 2007.

2007 was a year of extreme melt, making it even more important that these records have fallen, again, in such a short span. Many climate change deniers had claimed that sea ice in the Arctic would begin to recover. This clearly hasn’t happened and the trend established by human-forced climate change has continued despite a massive effort underway to cloud the issue.

NSIDC, another measure tracking sea ice extent shows that ice is still slightly above the record low for that monitor. With the current rate of melt, the NSIDC measure will likely show a new record for tomorrow or the day after.

I’ll leave you with a fully resolved picture of the polar sea ice from August 23rd provided by JAXA:



Greenland Shatters Previous Melt Record Set in 2010; One Month of Melt Yet to Go

(Photo Credit: Marco Tedesco)

According to reports from Arctic researchers headed by Marco Tedesco, Greenland broke the melt record set in 2010 on August 8th of this year. With one month of melt still remaining, it appears that Greenland is now set to shatter all previous melt records since observations began 30 years ago.

This record melt coincided with the hottest summer Greenland has experienced in at least 123 years, the last time melting covered the entire ice sheet, as indicated by ice core data. It has also resulted in structural damage to parts of Greenland’s infrastructure.

“With more yet to come in August, this year’s overall melting will fall way above the old records. That’s a Goliath year — the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979,” noted researcher Marco Tedesco, assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences from The City College of New York.

Tedesco and his fellow researchers made use of an array of microwave sensors aboard a US Air Force Satellite system called the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. These sensors tracked melt over the Greenland ice sheet and established enough data to conclude that 2012 melt had entered record territory by August 8th.

The data Tedesco produced showed extreme melting in every region of Greenland including the higher elevation areas to the north. In these higher elevation areas, melt generally only continues for a few days. This year, so far, melt in these areas has occurred for more than two months running.

“Part of the meltwater will refreeze and part of the meltwater will run off to create streams and eventually take off into the sea and contribute to sea-level rise or the hydrological cycle,” Tedesco said during an interview with the magazine LiveScience.

Melt water also tends to bore holes through the ice sheet, finding its way to the bottom where it serves as a lubricant that can speed the movement of glaciers heading to sea.

For much of this summer, Greenland has experienced long periods of record warmth. This has likely contributed to increased melt volumes and durations. In addition, sea ice, which tends to serve as an atmospheric insulator for the Greenland ice sheet has diminished to record lows for much of the summer. This one-two punch is having a severe impact on Greenland’s ice sheet and is likely a major contributor to the record melt we’ve seen this summer.

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With One Month of Melt Remaining, Arctic Sea Ice Flirts With New Record Lows


Today Arctic sea ice area, according to Cryosphere Today, measured 3,097,000 square kilometers. This is about 30,000 square kilometers above the third and fourth lowest level ever recorded and about 105,000 square kilometers above the record lows for sea ice area set in 2007 and 2011. With one month of melt still remaining, we are currently well within striking distance of a new record low for sea ice area this year. And when one considers that over 140,000 square kilometers of sea ice was lost during one day of last week, any similar weather event would almost certainly put us into new record territory.

For the day, sea ice area is currently at an all-time record low.

Sea ice extent, though lagging sea ice area, is also currently in record low territory. The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) is currently showing sea ice extent at 5,020,000 square kilometers, a record low for today and about 800,000 square kilometers above the record low set for 2007. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is showing sea ice area measurements that are currently at all-time lows for the date and about 700,000 square kilometers above record low values set in 2007.

Most recent values for sea ice volume from the Polar Science Center (PIOMAS) show that we are also in record low territory there as well. And a new set of research by UK scientists has made similar findings to PIOMAS scientists, noting in a recent BBC report that the Arctic may experience ice free periods during summer in as little as 10 years.

Given these recent reports on record lows and potentials, it is worth noting that the vast majority of scientists very recently believed that the Arctic might experience ice free periods during summer as late as 100 years from now. Sea ice melt model runs indicated similar results. But observations of actual melt and response to business as usual global warming has resulted in a much more rapid melt than expected.

Arctic sea ice is a kind of canary in the coal mine for global warming. The reason is that sea ice has a powerful influence on global climate. First, it reflects sunlight away from the Earth, causing the Earth to absorb less radiation and, therefore, be quite a bit cooler. Second, darker water absorbs much more sunlight, so much so that researchers have found that open areas of water are as much as 5 degrees Celsius warmer than nearby waters covered in ice. Third, the Arctic Ocean and surrounding tundra, when exposed to higher temperatures, emit high volumes of methane gas. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is at least 20 times as potent as CO2. And the Arctic contains enough of this methane to drastically increase human-caused global warming.

And then there is the issue of Greenland. Sea ice serves as a kind of insulator that protects Greenland from warm air to the south. With much of the sea ice gone for longer and longer periods, Greenland will be exposed to warmer winds from the south and from within the Arctic itself. Losing the sea ice is like Greenland losing its heat shield. So one can expect more rapid melting from Greenland as sea ice continues its decline. It is also worth noting that Greenland did not retain ice in the geological past when CO2 levels reached current levels near 400 ppm. And with Greenland’s ice melting, seas would rise by as much as 23 feet.

Current scientific estimates for sea level rise by the end of this century are in the range of 50 centimeters to 2 meters. The upper range of this estimate would have dramatic consequences for cities, regions, and nations around the world. But given the rapid rate of sea ice melt, these estimates could also be as far off as the previous estimates for sea ice melt were.

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Arctic Sea Ice Area Decline Pauses, Sea Ice Extent Continues Record Fall


After a very rapid decline in sea ice area over the past couple of weeks, melt seems to have paused for a day or two. Current sea ice area values are around 3.11 million square kilometers. This is a value only about 200,000 square kilometers above the record low set in 2007. With one month of melt remaining, it appears likely that record low, or near record low territory will be reached by mid-September.

According to the NSIDC and JAXA, sea ice extent continued its rapid fall. Both JAXA and the NSIDC are now showing Arctic Sea Ice extent in record low territory for today’s date:



And like current measures of sea ice area, these extent numbers show sea ice very close to all time record lows.

Weather events and water temperatures in the Arctic will likely determine whether sea ice continues to show rapid decline and breaches the record set in 2007. Another weather event like last week’s Arctic cyclone or even just a warm wind event will likely push sea ice to new all-time record lows. With four weeks of melt remaining, it appears ample opportunity for such events exist.

A quick look at the current Sea Ice Outlook shows about half the models predicting an end of summer sea ice extent lower than 2007:


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