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In this post, Paul Beckwith provides a climate system summary – where we are – and points out how we’re already living with climate disruption. Climate change is not something that only future generations will have to contend with. Climate change is happening now, today and tomorrow and the day after that. The choices we make in the next few years may well determine the future of humanity. (Editor~Rolly Montpeller-BoomerWarrior).

Living With Climate Disruption - System Update, boomer warrior

The Air We Breathe

The presence of GHGs (greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere is vital to sustain life on our planet. These GHGs trap heat and keep the global average surface temperature of the planet at about 15°C, versus a chilly -18°C, which would be our temperature without the GHGs.

We have changed the chemistry of the atmosphere, specifically of the concentrations of the GHGs. Concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased about 40% since the start of the industrial revolution (from a tight range between 180 to 280 ppm over at least the last million years) to 400 ppm. Concentrations of methane have increased by more than 2.5x since the start of the industrial revolution (from a tight range of 350 to 700 ppb) to over 1800 ppm. The additional heat trapped has warmed our planet by over 0.8°C over the last century, with most of that rise (0.6°C) occurring in the last 3 or 4 decades.

Oceans and Global Sea Levels

Over 90% of the heat trapped on the surface of the planet is increasing the temperature of the ocean water. The increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere acidify the rainfall, and have increased the acidity of the oceans by about 40% in the last 3 to 4 decades (pH of the open ocean has dropped from 8.2 down to 8.05 on the logarithmic scale). An increased drop to a pH of 7.8 will prevent calcium based shells from forming, and threaten the entire food chain of the oceans. Changes in ocean currents, and vertical temperature profiles are leading to more stratification and less overturning which is required to transport nutrients to the surface for phytoplankton to thrive.

Global sea levels are presently rising at a rate of 3.4 mm per year, compared to a rate of about 2 mm per year a few decades ago. Melt rates on Greenland have doubled in the last 4 to 5 years, and melt rates on the Antarctica Peninsula have increased even faster. Based on the last several decades, melt rates have had a doubling period of around 7 years or so. If this trend continues, we can expect a sea level rise approaching 7 meters by 2070.

Living With Climate Disruption - System Update, boomer warrior


Higher global average temperatures have increased the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere by about 4% over the last several decades, and around 6% since the start of the industrial revolution. Changes in heat distribution from uneven heating with latitude has slowed the jet streams and caused them to become wavier and fractured, and has changed the statistics of weather. We now have higher frequencies, intensities, and longer-duration extreme weather events and also a change in location of where these events occur.

Feedback loops

The sensitivity of the climate system to increased levels of GHGs appears to be much higher than previously expected due to many powerful reinforcing feedbacks.

Living With Climate Disruption - System Update, boomer warrior

Arctic temperature amplification from exponentially declining sea ice and spring snow cover are the strongest feedbacks in our climate system today. The average albedo (reflectivity) of the Arctic region has decreased from 52% to a present day value of 48% over 3 or 4 decades. The increased absorption of energy in the Arctic has increased the temperature at high latitudes at rates up to 6 to 8x the global average temperature change. The reduced temperature difference between the Arctic and equator has reduced the west to east speed of the jet streams causing them to slow and become wavier and more fractured, and directly causing a large change in the statistics of our global weather.

Methane gas emissions have been rapidly rising in the Arctic region from the terrestrial permafrost and the continental shelf marine sediments, most notably on the ESAS (Eastern Siberia Arctic Shelf). The extremely potent ability of methane to warm the planet (global warming potential GWP is >150, 86, and 34 times for methane relative to carbon dioxide on a few year, several decade, and century timescale, respectively) makes increased emissions an extremely dangerous risk to our well-being on the planet.

My overall assessment: Our climate system is presently undergoing preliminary stages of abrupt climate change. If allowed to continue, the planet climate system is quite capable of undergoing an average global temperature increase of 5°C to 6°C over a decade or two. Precedence for changes at such a large rate can be found at numerous times in the paleo-records. From my chair, I conclude that it is vital that we slash greenhouse gas emissions and undergo a crash program of climate engineering to cool the Arctic region and keep the methane in place in the permafrost and ocean sediments.

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  1. I suppose when the issues of methane, arctic warming and albedo reach the back doors of most the developed world, including its policymakers, then folks like Paul Beckwith and Russian scientists will be listened to. Yet, there seems to be no good reason they are not being listened now.

    • Danny – right now the climate world is focused on pricing carbon and the reduction of carbon emissions. The recent UN meeting in New York will be followed by another conference in Lima in December 2014 and then the big one, the Paris2015 Summit. That’s the big one. World leaders will try again to forge a legally binding agreement for the reduction of emissions. Good luck with that I say.

      In the meantime, methane is rearing its ugly head. Would it be too much to ask these same leaders to juggle both methane and carbon at the same time? What do you think?

      Thanks for your comments.

  2. The statistics speak for themselves… and most people can’t really refute them now that most parts of the world are experiencing unusual weather events of some kind and everyone can cite examples.

    What worries me, is that these same people seem to believe that these are naturally occurring cycles (suggesting that our record keeping doesn’t go far enough back in history to record similar events).
    A lot of people don’t equate their own choice of activities as being part of the solution… leaving it to the politians to sort out. Case in point, I saw two men with gasoline powered (and very noisy) leaf-blowers, clearing a patch of ground where garden rakes would more than adequate to do the job . Why do we persist in this madness? Why do we blame every one else but ourselves for destroying our own ecosystem.

    I don’t think that individual countries can get past the wrangling stage of “who did what when!” The blame game dictates who pays the most, and who the least, which is self-defeating from the start of any agreement. We only have to look at the shaky solidarity of the “European Union” as an example. It is on the verge of collapse over the debt of most of the nations to Germany. It is a good idea gone completely wrong!

    For the Climate Summit in Paris (Dec 2015), there needs to be some fast development of “green” enegy technologies to replace what we have. The Nobel prize has just been awarded for the development of LED lighting, so at least people are thinking alonga these lines. But for a “solution” we must get beyond the blame game and all act responsibly! It is time for action, not rhetoric!

    • Thank you once again for your insightful comments. I agree with your analysis of Paris2015. Obama’s approach will be to use a “name and shame” strategy to force countries to comply. But it will be a voluntary agreement and not legally binding. Perhaps more countries including China, the US and others which had not ratified Kyoto, will sign the Paris agreement but it will have no teeth. I hope I’m wrong.

      The Peoples March in New York seems to have revived the climate movement but as Naomi Klein says, this is just a glimpse of the movement we need.

  3. It’s time to take the future into and demand the retirement of 750 refineries begin. Call on the captains of the petroleum industry to meet and agree on a global schedule to shut down and dismantle them over the next two decades. That action within the oil sector would satisfy the 5%-9% annual reduction espoused by Dr. James Hansen and the German Advisory Council on Global Change ( while simultaneous reductions must also occur within the coal and natural gas sectors. But we need to get started right away. Pick a CEO and Write away!

    • Doug – you’re right. We need to use every tool in our tool box and get going. The debate is over. Fossil fuels are destroying life on the planet. We cannot wait for world leaders to negotiate global legally binding agreements on carbon and methane emissions reduction. The best we can hope for in Paris2015 is a voluntary agreement based on Obama’s name and shame strategy. In other words, more of the same.

      There is no one coming to save us.

      The Peoples March has re-ignited an interest for climate action. But as Naomi Klein says, this is only a glimpse of the movement we need.

      Thanks for sharing the two links – I will check them out.


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