Are We Looking At A Mass Extinction Event?

If you or someone you know needs proof that global climate change is real and is happening before our very eyes, you could go to the "State of the Climate Report" put together by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But just turning on the television or opening the newspaper these days should be enough to raise alarms.

Over the weekend for instance, Ellicott City, just up the road in Maryland, was nearly washed away in a 1000-year flooding event similar to what recently happened in West Virginia.

Across the world, more than 150 people were killed in floods in India and 1.1 million more Indians were displaced in flooding that wiped out large swatches of infrastructure and agricultural land.

Out in the Western United States, firefighters north of Los Angeles were finally able to control the "Sand Fire" that burned for nearly two weeks, destroyed 18 homes and burned a total of over 41,000 acres, meanwhile the "Soberanes Fire" has already scorched over 43,000 acres and has only been 18% contained.

And in fact,10 of the 20 largest wildfires in California's history have burned in the last 10 years.

Then there are the risks of climate change that don't have to do with extreme weather events, like the toxic algal blooms off of the coast of Florida, or the dormant anthrax that's been released from the melting soils in Siberia, or the Cold War-era nuclear research site in the Greenland ice sheet that could leech biological, chemical, and radioactive waste into the environment as that ice sheet melts.

In response to the "State of the Climate" report that NOAA released, renowned climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann told the Guardian that "The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. They are playing out before us, in real time. The 2015 numbers drive that home."

The report describes a "toppling of several symbolic mileposts" in 2015, and makes it clearer than ever that climate change is real, that human activity is the primary driver, and that we're watching the effects play out in real time.

The year 2015 was one-tenth of a degree Celsius hotter than 2014, making it the warmest year on record; but, based on the fact that the last 14 months have all been record-breaking months, 2016 is likely to take that record from 2015.

Our oceans also saw record breaking oceanic temperatures in 2015: the Pacific was 2C warmer than the long-term average, and the Arctic reached a shocking 8C above average.

Other significant changes described in the "State of the Climate" report for 2015 include the Arctic hitting its lowest recorded maximum sea ice extent in February of 2015, the world's alpine glaciers registering a net annual loss of ice for the 36th year in a row, and the Greenland ice sheet melting over more than 50% of its surface.

This year, Greenland's melt season started two months earlier than usual and scientists are now very concerned about what could happen if this rate of warming continues, or accelerates.

But what's really terrifying isn't the melting itself, it's what will be released if we don't take immediate action to curb the climate change that's happened because of the 350 billion tons of carbon we've already burned into the atmosphere since 1850.

Dr. Charles Miller with NASA's Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) astonished me recently when he estimated that there are 1,500 BILLION tons of carbon locked in the Arctic soils, and nearly 10,000 BILLION tons of methane clathrates trapped at the bottom of the Arctic sea.

Right now we've already warmed the planet by 1C, and because of the delayed impacts of dumping carbon into the atmosphere, we've likely already locked in another 1C of warming on top of that, and what Dr. Miller's data suggests is that we could see another 1C of warming if just 10 to 20% of the permafrost melts in the Arctic.

And all over the planet we're already experiencing the effects of ice melt in the Arctic as more open water in the Arctic leads to more evaporation: like the collapse of the jet stream and the extremely cold winters we've seen on the East Coast of the United States.

Some scientists now fear that as ice-melt accelerates in the Arctic, we could see that 1,500 billion tons of land-based carbon and 10,000 billion tons of sea-based methane released into the atmosphere from the permafrost and from beneath the Arctic Sea where it's been trapped for hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.

If that happens, some scientists estimate that we would see a mass extinction event on the level of the Permian extinction, when up to 96% of the all marine species and 70% of all land-based species on the planet were wiped out, and it's unlikely that humans would be one of the surviving species.

That path to extinction though, started with our addiction to fossil fuel.

To save human and other life as we know it on this planet, we need to put a price on carbon NOW, and we need to hold those who fund climate deniers accountable for knowing the risks of our fossil fuel addiction for decades, and lying to the public about it.

Our next president needs to get serious about taking the lead to fight climate change by investing in a modern-day Manhattan Project-scale effort to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and to aggressively transform our energy infrastructure to 100% renewable as soon as possible.

Our survival as a species may well depend on it.


Old_Curmudgeon 6 years 33 weeks ago


{… a rhyme …}

Homo sapiens? Well, no.

“Sapiens” is quite the wrong term.

In stupidity’s suicidal woe

our species will squirm like a worm.


timallard's picture
timallard 6 years 33 weeks ago

"Time is up." ... too true. Forget boiling water for watts, it uses the Steam-Age's totally inefficient thermal method.

To get a Watt on-the-wire using steam takes 2-Joules, the Joules are waste-heat, a direct heating of the planet, it's air, soils and water so to understand how bad this is the analog is Arctic sea-ice albedo-loss.

With today's albedo-loss it's worth 25-years of USA power compared to the previous average 1980-2000 sea-ice cover, about 3,800-Terajoule-hours/yr for USA power = 95,000-Twh a year in energy, 1-Watt = 1-Joule.

Global steam capacity is some 18,000-Twh/year so the waste-heat is 36,000-Twh/year of direct heating; to compare: 38000÷95000 = 38% of albedo-loss for impacts.

We have direct control over this waste-heat.

End the Steam-Age, there's no excuse to keep it at any level of science.

Intermittent Instigator's picture
Intermittent In... 6 years 33 weeks ago


...didn't follow all that much of that.

...didn't know we were still in the steam age, even.

(heard that a guy named Rumsey (?) actually ushered it in, though Watt got the credit)

Sho'nuf seems like maybe we's got us an albedo-loss(?) 'round our necks.

Slingshot69's picture
Slingshot69 6 years 33 weeks ago

Hey Tom... I've been listening to you for years and always hear you attributing NAFTA to Bill Clinton. What needs to be pointed out whenever the subject arises is that George HW Bush negotiated and "signed" the NAFTA treaty. In the midst of the Senate ratification hearings of the treaty, HW lost reelection (posibly in part to his agreement of NAFTA??) and it was ultimately Bill Clinton that Ratified the treaty with his signature, but the terms of the agreement are 100% owned by George Bush. Even the Wikipedia page for NAFTA shows a picture of George Bush at the serimonial signing with the other presidents that were party to the agreement. Just my humble $.02

Lloyd Lutterman's picture
Lloyd Lutterman 6 years 33 weeks ago

Where are the daytime driving insects you use to have to clean off your windsheild, no not night, just daytime driving. Insects, pollenators are the first domino, and especially Americans mutilate busy bees as theyre busy collecting from corporate term "weeds". Your God made one mistake and it wasn't "weeds or pests".

boblecht 6 years 33 weeks ago

Thom, I hear you using the term "global warming" to describe climate change dynamics that have been obvious to all except the most intoxicated and catatonic observers (and kool-aid sipping Republicans) for at least the past 5 years. Language is important. Is it not time we described this rapidly accelerating climate change as "global heating" or even "global superheating" since it is changing at a much more rapid pace than our best climate scientists predicted in recent years? We need media language to convey a much greater sense of urgency in discussing this problem, and "global superheating" seems to me an accurate term to describe it.

PowerToThePeople 6 years 33 weeks ago

I think it's time to stop hanging on to the hope that we're going to stop this. We aren't even doing the minimum. If we stopped burning all fossil fuels tomorrow, the positive feedback loops that climatologists have identified will continue warming the planet exponentially (by definition of feedback loop).

We're screwed. It's over. Enjoy what remains of your life and humanity.

c-gull's picture
c-gull 6 years 33 weeks ago

The addiction is capitalism. Commercial fisherman for example, when confronted with dwindling numbers of a desired species, turn to other less desirable species and rather than try to help marine ecosystems just continue to change species when the one they are fishing for gets rare. We are now getting down to jellyfish. This is no joke. Over-harvest and the effects of pollution, warming, plastics and increased C02 concentrations in the oceans are setting back ecological succession about 500 million years.

Commercial interests in China are now farming jellyfish in an attempt to corner the market. Shrimp fisherman in Georgia have turned to netting jellyfish which they sell for a few cents per pound. When the jellyfish are gone--that's it folks.

Remember the passenger pigeon-probably not-but there were billions of them in North America. The capitalism minded business people refused to believe that a species so numerous could ever go extinct. Business men fought hard to keep any laws to protect this species from ever getting passed. The government went along with business because they wanted to deny American Indians a food source. The last passenger pigeon died in 1914.

Mass extinction is now possible. We cannot afford to play the hierarchical capitalistic game anymore. We need to fire the Republican and Democratic political parties and stop pretending that we have democracy. I mean get real- we have two ego maniac candidates for president, a republican congress that won't do a dam thing, and a democratic congress that stands by and watches. Hypocrisy on steroids.

Step out of the old box-vote Green or some other third party.

rds7777's picture
rds7777 6 years 33 weeks ago


For God's sake Thom, why don't you mention the harmful effects of animal agriculture every time you write about global warming. You always discuss fossil fuel but seldom expand on the equally crucial component of eating meat. i know you are vegetarian (vegan?) and have discussed this before but why not go into this every time the topic of global warming is brought up. The most important single thing any one person can do to decrease global warming is to stop or at least decrease the amount of meat you consume. Come on Thom. This is too important to ignore.

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