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Climate change – the ongoing disaster

Written By: - Date published: 10:00 am, February 12th, 2019 - 32 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment, farming, global warming, science - Tags:

In my youth back in the late 1970s and early 80s, I did a BSc in Earth Sciences. That gave me a sense of geological time where a million years was a relatively short period of time. It also made me realise that the human historical framework of decades and centuries was but a blink of an eye.

Finding that massive geological processes resulting from human activity are happening within my lifetime gives me a major sense of temporal discontinuity. The Met office in the UK are predicting the warmest 10 years globally since records began in 1850. 

Which is a correct but limited view. It is going to be the warmest that it has been in hundreds of thousands of years. We’re heading for global temperatures that our planetary home hasn’t seen for 10’s of millions of years.

Click for larger image.

Those teeny red dots on the right of the this logarithmic time graph show temperatures relative to the expected average world temperature of 1960-1990. About 2 degrees Celsius in 2050, and 4 degrees in 2100. I suspect that both of these are conservative estimates. After all they are based on the conservative IPCC reports which only includes estimates of climate change process in their reports when the evidence is pretty overwhelming.

What many people seem to fail to realise is just how much our species is a direct product of the ice age we have been in for the last 40 million years when Antarctica started to glaciate at the south pole. It dropped the world into another long fridge period.

Starting about 3 million years the world started to get significiant glacial periods largely as a response to orbital patterns. That was when we evolved as a species.

Over the last 10,000 years after the last glacial, in a period of extraordinary climatic stability, we managed to develop a civilisation capable of supporting an extraordinary population growth spread over the whole world.

When I was born in 1959, the world’s population was about 3 billion. Now it is close to 7.5 billion. Most of that population growth is dependent on food grown using farming techniques based on relatively stable climates. That climatic stability for food production won’t continue as the extreme weather from shifts in climate keep impacting.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has published an analysis of five major international datasets showing that the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22.

“Temperatures are only part of the story. Extreme and high impact weather affected many countries and millions of people, with devastating repercussions for economies and ecosystems in 2018,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

“Many of the extreme weather events are consistent with what we expect from a changing climate. This is a reality we need to face up to. Greenhouse gas emission reduction and climate adaptation measures should be a top global priority,” he said.

Other researchers in the field said the new forecast for the next five years was in line with expectations, given the record level of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere in 2018.

BBC via Radio NZ

Currently in human time frames, this is a slow ongoing disaster. It shows in the shifts in weather patterns causing heatwaves, flooding, and fire around Australia and NZ. But also in the freezing in recent decades in the northern hemisphere as cold air from the Arctic gets pushed south as the winds around the north pole change. It is a basic bit of science that slogan fixated idiots like Donald Trump clearly fail to understand.

More heat in the climate drives more extreme movements in the air, and the oceans. And it is all happening so damn fast that there are no obvious references in geological history. No-one is really sure exactly what is will happen as climate change continues to accelerate. And accelerate it will.

All of the existing scientific estimates on the effects of climate are just that – estimates based on conservative and sparse data. The only thing that is consistent in the development of the scientific estimates of climate change over the last 4 decades is that the best estimates have consistently under-estimated the rate of change.

While this is going to cause problems for various parts of humanity as they get burnt out, flooded out, washed out, or frozen as the climate shifts. Similarly there will be farming disasters like the recent droughts followed by floods in Queensland that are suspected to have killed half a million cattle last week. That isn’t where the real problems lie.

We are unlikely to have the kind of catastrophic failure in the biosphere in the next centuries that is so beloved of dystopian movies. Insurance premiums and hardening against foreseeable risks will shift the more stupid behaviors like living and farming on flood plains or at the very edge of oceans (or below existing sea levels!).

But the disruption, famine, and disease that shifts in climate and weather patterns bring are the classic causes of breakdowns in human political systems leading to wars and direct societal disasters. That is what we need to really need to harden our civilisation against.

32 comments on “Climate change – the ongoing disaster”

  1. Dennis Frank 1

    Which is why we must design for resilience. All public policy from here on must be based on this necessity. Survival requires it.

    National remain in denial of this. Labour are going with the zeitgeist due to their leader taking the initiative. I’ve seen no sign NZF have a clue. To be fair, as far as I know the GP hasn’t acknowledged the necessity of resilience design either, but it is implied within their traditional framing (sustainability).

    First step is appraisal of the legislation pending from the coalition. Will it form a satisfactory basis on which to proceed? Will the terms of reference for the Climate Commission include prioritising resilience design?

    Excellent choice of graph there, Lynn. Makes the Holocene stand out dramatically as a long period of stability thanks to Gaia, and your red dots show our shift out of that towards huge instability. The old Al Gore hockey stick done much better…

  2. greywarshark 2

    Thanks for those details lprent. And good that a cerebral comment from Dennis F is the first.

  3. Macro 3

    Excellent post Lynn. Right up there as an overall summary of climatic conditions and the fact that up until very recently humans have evolved and lived in a Goldilocks period of stable climate.
    The future is not looking good – and we as a species will have an awful lot to do if we are to survive.
    But added to the problem of increasing global temperatures rising sea levels and continuing loss of arable land is the staggering and depressing collapse of biodiversity.
    I’m not sure if readers here have seen this series of articles in the Guardian yesterday on the dramatic collapse of insect populations globally, which carries the message that with the current rate of decline in insect populations of around 2.5% pa, insects will become extinct on Earth by the end of the century. This is a huge wake up call because if that were the case, then human survival along, with all other species on the planet would be under threat as well.

    I guess the denial camp will seize on the WMO’s announcement

    The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has published an analysis of five major international datasets showing that the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22.
    and twist it as usual.

    “No warming for 22 years”

    If I believed in Hell, then I believe there would be a special place for these people there, and they would be really feeling the warming. 😈

  4. greywarshark 4

    Forward-thinking moves from Tuhoe mentioned by Rod Oram on Radionz in his slot after 11 am on Tuesdays.

    Te Kura Whare received Living Building Challenge certification in May 2017. Your building is New Zealand’s first to accomplish this concept, and one of only 15 certified Living Buildings in the world at that time. You can find more information about this on the International Living Future Institute website.


    (Another Oram comment about business in NZ is about the sale of Methven which has profits only rising by 2% I think he said, so a bit unsatisfactory for the sharemarket. About to be sold as a company. There is a block of 19% being sold by previous executive – is there a NZ investment fund ready to buy into one of our good businesses?

    Is this an example of a good company that is not growing profit to satisfy – perhaps we cannot expect to receive so much in a more balanced, realistic NZ, and world. Be content to have a small stable business?)

  5. One Two 5

     Although 60 GHz has traditionally been avoided due to its high absorption of oxygen and water

    With such disregard to the severity of impacts on oxygen and water…is it any wonder…

    Pending diasters which will amplify the on-going disasters…

    • greywarshark 5.1

      One Two
      Can you please stop talking in coded language meant for the minority initiates and give the rest of us some detail of what you are referring to.

      Introducing Facebook’s new terrestrial connectivity systems — Terragraph and Project ARIES
      Terragraph is a 60 GHz, multi-node wireless system focused on bringing high-speed internet connectivity to dense urban areas. Utilizing commercial off-the-shelf components and leveraging the cloud for intensive data processing, the Terragraph system is optimized for high-volume, low-cost production.

      • One Two 5.1.1

        Hi GW,

        My recent posts on tecnhnology as they relate to the environment are to highlight the drive which exists behind technological development and deployment…

        The developments are devoid of consideration to non-machines…except as collateral and as the very workers who could ultimately extinct themselves while participating in building this experiment…for a pay check…

        60ghz specifically many years ago was identified as the frequency which inhibits the orbital properties of electrons in the oxygen molecules and prevents the oxygen molecules from binding to the hemoglobin in our blood…

        Yet big tech have specifically selected these frequency bands for deployment…

        2.4ghz (WiFi) which has been the standard for years is the frequency of the water molecule which becomes destabilized when exposed…

        Immune system degradation leads to illness and disease…

        No silos!

        • Dennis Frank

          Well, as a facebook-free-zone, I can only suggest that users organise to collectively lobby their service-provider’s corporate management, pointing out that negative effect on human biological process and likely averse health consequences!

          • One Two

            Stop using and buying wireless devices may not prevent what is coming…

            Perversely, climate change responses might be the only action that prevents the technological machinery from devouring life…

            The danger seems not to be observed by enough users though, and like all addicts, will continue to keep using…

            Technology , and worse, the ‘science’ that comes before the technology and facilitates tech development is without doubt a central contributer to not only climate change…but directly to human illness and death as well as animal, insect extinctions and environmental damage…

            Technology. Wireless Technology!

            • greywarshark

              I’m confused – which technology should we try to limit our use of?
              There are a lot of thoughts going on in your head. Spell them out for us.

              • One Two

                Any device which connects into carrier networks using a wireless interface.

                Primarily: Summary

                Wifi – including fixed wireless (home/office/school routers) and hot spots of any type (retail/commercial)
                Home/office computers/laptops

                LTE – Mobile roaming data when you’re away from wifi range (consider it when not at home on a mobile device) also includes using mobile device as a tethered hot spot
                Can also include laptops with data sim active

                In short – it all needs to stop because…

                Wireless Frequencies = modulation/bandwidth

                Modulation/Bandwidth = radiation

                Radiation = damage to all living things

                That is based on current technology and network frequencies only…1G / 2G / 3G / 4G / 4.5G

                If the ‘Internet of Technology’ 5G onwards becomes globally active then forget climate change…

                It’s over at that point!

                • DJ Ward

                  I think your confusing what Radiation is vs wavelengths.

                  There is radiation as in bits of atoms flying in space crashing into your body’s atoms. Very dangerous to health
                  There is wavelengths that in effect stretch and compress the vacuum of space, emitted from its source in all directions at the speed of light. It radiates from its source. Which is why it gets confused with radiation above, but it’s not the same thing.

                  Yes if you get the wavelength correct, for eg in resonance you can heat atoms, or compounds as in the home microwave with water. We are constantly exposed to wavelengths from our enviroment naturally, from pretty much everything. It has risks but I’ve never seen research showing anything other than very small dangers of cellphone use.

                  I’m pretty sure that any known resonate wavelength would not be used for mobile phones.

                  • One Two

                    I think your confusing what Radiation is vs wavelengths.


                    Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are invisible areas of energy, often referred to as radiation, that are associated with the use of electrical power and various forms of natural and man-made lighting. … Ionizing: high-level radiation which has the potential for cellular and DNA damage

                    I’m also referring to non-ionizing as radiation…for your reference…

                  • Tricledrown

                    D J Warped Science is not your strong point.

                    • DJ Ward

                      X Ray’s and Gamma rays can ionise atoms but normal wavelengths like radio waves can’t.

                      the emission of energy as electromagnetic waves or as moving subatomic particles, especially high-energy particles which cause ionisation.

                      So what’s ‘One Two’ talking about?
                      Radiation is in 2 ways as I described. One is harmful (particles) and the other is all encompassing, like all the universe is relating with you. For example in extremely high energy levels like an MRI, both EMF and radio waves combined at high levels do no harm.
                      It’s a false argument I hear often. Particles radiation is not the same as wavelength radiation. Particles have mass, wavelengths have no mass.
                      It’s not high energy particles from radioactive elements or X-rays from atom splitting. It can’t be EMF because they are not at X ray of Gamma ray frequencies. So all that’s left is what occurs in microwaves with resonate frequencies.

                      Maybe Tricledown you can explain things. Because I’m not getting what One Two is trying to say.

                    • McFlock

                      Talk about the blind leading the blind, lol.

                      Radiation is in 2 ways as I described. One is harmful (particles) and the other is all encompassing, like all the universe is relating with you. For example in extremely high energy levels like an MRI, both EMF and radio waves combined at high levels do no harm.

                      DJ, firstly 1-2 is indeed a complete nutbar. But on the other hand, you’re very wrong.

                      Secondly, particle radiation (alphad, beta, and neutron) isn’t always damaging – alpha particles have very low penetration. But electromagnetic radiation (visible light, magnetic resonance, commercial radio waves, microwaves & radar, UV rays, and gamma rays, etc) can indeed be very dangerous – the higher end of the specrum for ionising radiation (gamma radiation), but resonance in some atoms and molecules (e.g. water and microwaves) can also simply result in heat (infrared electromagnetic energy).

                    • McFlock

                      excuse the stray D typo on alpha. And the thought that occurs in the light of day is of course that electromagnetic radiation is both a particle and a wave, anyway lol

                    • greywarshark

                      Reading D J Ward
                      I don’t know how we have managed all these years on this blog and elsewhere when he was not round to put us right on all matters.

                      I have a very amusing book of comments amassed from The Guardian called ‘I Think I Know Where You’re Going Wrong’. It is funny, and witty where there are additional comments.
                      It’s a great self-deprecating aid.

                • greywarshark

                  Thanks for answer One Two I didn’t know anything about that.

  6. SHG 6

    Climate change is nothing if we lose insects in this century.

  7. Dennis Frank 7

    Meanwhile, the Nats are still trying to push fake climate science onto the public. Latest culprit identified on Stuff: https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/110499590/national-party-mp-unsure-whats-scientifically-accurate-wades-into-methane-debate

    Matt Brown asks “why did Kaikōura MP Stuart Smith take to Facebook last month to declare “Agriculture is NOT the major source of NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions”, refuting the stance of the Ministry for the Environment, Landcare Research, and the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.”

    Probably because being naughty is such fun. “Smith said a friend, a university professor, told him methane was not an issue and should be measured in a different way, as the current method overstated its impact.” Un-named, this friend.

    “A report prepared by Dr Andy Reisinger of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, written for the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, showed that to stabilise the warming coming from New Zealand’s current methane emissions would require a 10 to 20 per cent cut in methane emissions. Clark said a 20 to 30 per cent cut in methane emissions was required to stabilise warming to the 1990 level.”

    And Simon Upton is the PCE!! Will he discipline the stroppy Nat? Or will he just roll his eyes, reflecting that misinterpreting science is too normal to bother about?

  8. cleangreen 8

    Yes folks very true thanks Iprent;

    We are ‘reaping what we have sown’ as even the fire watchers are now saying climate change is here now.

    The genie is out of the bottle now we dear.
    We need to head what fire scientist Grant Pearce, from Scion Rural Fire Research Group is saying now..


    NIWA hotspot watch said; Areas deemed hotspots continued to expand during the past week in the North Island. A large hotspot now encompasses nearly all of Northland, Auckland, northern Waikato, and the Coromandel Peninsula. Additional hotspots are in place in coastal Taranaki, central and southern Manawatu-Whanganui, Wellington City and Porirua, northern Hawke’s Bay along with parts of Gisborne and Bay of Plenty.


    “Fire managers have reported that current fire danger levels are the highest they’ve seen in almost 20 years and NIWA’s soil moisture maps are showing significant soil moisture deficits across the region.”
    He said that Nelson, as well as other parts of the country, were likely to see more of these types of wildfire events in future with climate change becoming more prominent.
    “Modelling of potential future changes in fire danger indicates that the number of severe fire weather days is likely to increase in many parts of the country.

    Current fire danger levels ‘at highest in nearly 20 years’
    Fire scientist Grant Pearce, from Scion Rural Fire Research Group, said the Nelson region had a history of significant forest fires.
    “The 1981 Hira fire occurred at a similar time of year (5 February), and is closest in size to the current event.”
    The region also experiences 9-10 days per year on average of very high and extreme forest fire danger, Mr Pearce said.
    “However, in a bad fire season as many as 16-17 days of very high and extreme fire danger may occur. This year alone, Nelson has seen seven days of very high, and eight days of extreme forest fire danger, since the beginning of January, with the recent heatwave being a major contributor to this.
    “Fire managers have reported that current fire danger levels are the highest they’ve seen in almost 20 years and NIWA’s soil moisture maps are showing significant soil moisture deficits across the region.”

  9. Pat 9

    “But the disruption, famine, and disease that shifts in climate and weather patterns bring are the classic causes of breakdowns in human political systems leading to wars and direct societal disasters. That is what we need to really need to harden our civilisation against.”

    and we cant….people being what they are….the only real mitigation is a massive attempt to forestall the worst impacts by ceasing emissions, yesterday….and we wont do that either.

  10. Tony Veitch [not etc.] 10

    A scientist discussing the catastrophic decline in insects on tele on Monday night used the term ‘the 6th mass extinction.’

    I think this is the first time I’ve heard it on main stream media.

    Almost everyone is aware of climate change, but oh so few are cognisant with just how bad things will become before our own folly does us all in (and most other forms of life as well.)

    The next couple of decades, if we as a species last that long, are going to be rocky in ways we cannot really imagine.

    A lot of the filthy rich are aware how bad things will become – hence the bolt holes in New Zealand. But the irony of 1500 private jets flying into Davos to discuss climate change!

    We all needed to throw away our car keys yesterday if we are to have any chance of getting through what’s coming.

    It sure as hell doesn’t look good.

  11. Stuart Munro 11

    I find it interesting how far we are from a joined up response at a national level. The Greens are keen to stop coal mining, but we’re not really hearing a transport strategy that will begin to wean us off petrochemicals yet. Part of the problem I think is carbon credits. The same business folk who avoid or cheat on their taxes will do the same with carbon. Have done so already with their fake eastern bloc credits and not been punished.

    No biodiesel program. No butanol. No policy level shift to local production or to develop robustness in critical supply chains like food. Hell, we’re not even genuinely recycling our plastics yet, much less recovering all our metals, which take a fair amount of carbon based reduction to produce.

    These are the kind of hard questions a real opposition would be asking – but we’ve only got this sad-arsed bunch of second rate comedians. Whatever will become of us.

    • greywarshark 11.1

      Comedians good, RW politicians bad. I must speak up for comedians, we must stop using that word as a pejorative. Heaven knows it is only the regular little laugh and ridicule of how we think and do, that keeps us going, from going mad, and from weeping.

  12. Griff 12

    One of the most well informed posts I have seen in a long time thanks lprent .

    The disruption of the polar vortex is also possibly in NZ’s future if the ice melt to the south continues to accelerate.

    Another often overlooked risk for NZ is tropical cyclones moving pole ward. We simply to not build here for the sort of sustained winds a reasonable tropical cyclone will bring . With the warming oceans around us It is a matter of when not if we get hit by a real Category 3 or stronger storm. Many of us remember events like Bola and Giselle as cyclones when they are cold core ex tropical storms that are not the real deal. If you want to see what destruction a Category 3 storm will bring here google cyclone Tracy.

    A blue green party may be not such a bad idea if they can skew national even slightly towards reality.
    With the future unfolding we need all the influence towards taking climate change seriously we can get .

  13. timeforacupoftea 13

    Don’t complain about climate change.

    There is going to be plenty jobs available for sure.

    Everyone should be issued with a shovel and wheelbarrow at birth far better and more useful than a iPhone !

    Green Blue Party be blowed, I look forward to a RED / Blue Party.

  14. WeTheBleeple 14

    Actual ground on fire. not the grass, not the forest. The ground.

    Now do we want to talk about water retention?

  15. WeTheBleeple 15

    This is interesting. The game Civilisation VI has climate change as a game mechanic included in the new expansion. here’s an expert reviewing it.

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