Transcript: If We Don't Fight Like Hell On Climate, We're Screwed! - 18 November '16
Thom Hartmann: This is Chris Mooney and Jason Samenow writing in today's Washington Post November seventeenth, yesterday's Washington Post and this is, as Joe Biden would say, a BFD. This is huge. The last couple of winters here in Washington DC - and I'm particularly sensitive to this because of where and how I live and, you know, our insulation situation, shall we say - have been bitterly and unseasonably and unusually and record-breakingly cold.
And those of you who have been listening to this program for years, you'll remember the first time we had one of these so called polar vortexes was I believe four or maybe five years ago. It probably wasn't the first one that had ever happened but it was the first one that I knew about and it was the first one that happened when I was living down at the
marina and, you know, living on a boat where, you know, it's not, you don't have storm windows. It's not that well insulated. And Louise and I ended up basically living in our bedroom because we can heat it. There's just little tiny portholes, right? They don't have a lot of heat loss in there and then the the challenge for the rest of the boat was just keeping the pipes from freezing and, you know, keeping the hall warm.
But the the weather was so cold because actual Arctic - as in polar, as in North Pole - actual Arctic air had drooled all the way down to Washington DC. In fact, some of it had drooled as far south as Georgia and was killing crops and things. And people were like, "how did this happen? What's going on?" And then the answer was, "well, there's some kind of wild storm going on in the Arctic and it's just basically blowing cold air down here." And they called it the polar vortex.
Turns out it's a little more complicated than that. There is a wall of air, there's a river of air that circles the North Pole. We refer to it as the jet stream. That air moves very fast, right, relative to the ground speed. I mean, it's at high altitudes so the actual speed is probably a little lower, but, you know, relative to ground speed it can be traveling well over a hundred miles an hour. And it reverses, you know, it travels in the opposite direction from the rotation the Earth. So the Earth rotates east to west and the jet stream runs west to east and as a basically a circle around the North Pole.
And the jet stream, by and large, at least the polar part of the jet stream, has historically kept cold polar air over the North Pole which keeps the North Pole frozen year-round. Which is a good thing because two-and-a-half million years ago the North Pole was actually dry land and had a lot of things growing on it and those things that grew died and, you know, as the North Pole sank - or as the seas rose, actually - that vegetable matter decomposed and became methane clathrates
There is something on the order, according to Charles Miller the scientist from NASA who studies this, and he gave us this information on my television program, I've replayed it here on the radio program, we had him on just a few months ago. He's also in the movie that Leo DiCaprio and I made called "Methane", excuse me, called "Last Hours" which, you know, you can, you know, easily just google it or find it on YouTube.
And basically he said that there are ten thousand billion tons of methane clathrates, of frozen methane. Methane, it's like Snow Cone. right? It's methane that's locked up in little crystals of ice. Methane - CH4 - is 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, although over a period of about a hundred years and it all breaks down to carbon dioxide. But over the short term it's, so that sometimes they'll say, "well, it's 20 times more powerful". That's like over a 80-year period. But, you know, over a 20-year period, 80 times more powerful.
Ten thousand billion tons of methane just in the Arctic, just in the permafrost around the sea and in the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. Now, from 1850 until today - just to put this in context - keep, remember that number: ten thousand billion tons of carbon in the Arctic. From 1850 to today, we have gone from around 260 parts-per-million as I recall of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to over 400, which is producing global warming.
And so we've got wild, right at this moment, wildfires running across the American South / Southeast, drought in the American Southwest, deserts moving south across the Middle East which displaced a million Syrian farmers four or five years ago and turned their farms into desert and they ended up in the major cities of Syria. You know, angry, homeless, broke and the Syrian government did not respond well which produced the revolution. It wasn't just Syria, by the way. The same thing was happening in Egypt and Tunisia and all around. So you've got that going on, right?
Global warming, since 1850 to today we have burned 350 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. So this little tiny 350 billion tons has produced roughly 1.2 degrees Celsius of global warming and another degree in the pipeline. We're going to hit two degrees. There's no way to stop that now. And that's if we stopped burning all carbon worldwide tomorrow morning, which ain't going to happen. 350 billion tons. There are ten thousand billion tons in the Arctic which will be released if the Arctic warms up enough because the thing that keeps that stuff frozen at the bottom of the sea and frozen in the permafrost is the fact that the temperature's below zero - below zero Celsius, below 32 Fahrenheit.
So, to the story. This is Chris Mooney and Jason Samenow. I strongly recommend you read this article. It's in the Washington Post. The headline: "The North Pole is an insane 36 degrees warmer than normal as winter descends."
"Twitter’s expert Arctic watchers also are stunned. Zack Labe, a PhD student at the University of California at Irvine who studies the Arctic, tweeted out an image on Wednesday from the Danish Meteorological Institute showing Arctic temperatures about 20 degrees Celsius higher...
Thom Hartmann: That's 36 degrees Fahrenheit.
... higher than normal above 80 degrees North Latitude."
Thom Hartmann: In other words, in the polar region.
This is the second year in a row that temperatures near the North Pole have risen to freakishly warm levels. During 2015’s final days, the temperature near the Pole spiked to the melting point thanks to a massive storm that pumped warm air into the region.
Thom Hartmann: So, and as I pointed out back several years ago and I was saying this, you know, we had Michael Mann on, we had other people on, I was talking about this and I was saying, is it possible that when that polar air comes, drools, down here because the jet stream - I started this whole explanation of the jet stream, OK?
The thing that makes the jet stream as strong as it is to be able to hold that Arctic air up over the Arctic is the difference in temperature between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes. Big temperature differences create strong winds. You, we all know this, you know, when a cold front comes through what do you get? You get wind. Winds and storms. And the stronger the cold front, the higher the winds. And all the cold front is, is a difference in temperature between the air behind the front and the air in front of the front.
So, essentially the jet stream is held in place by what you could argue is this giant cold front which was the Arctic because it was warmer down here. Well, as the Arctic started, now the Arctic is warming six times faster than the rest of the earth, and as the Arctic started warming what happened to the jet stream? What happened to that river of air that was acting like a wall, a big beautiful wall with no doors in it, that was blocking, that was keeping that cold air up in the Arctic, which was keeping the Arctic frozen and was keeping us, you know, with cold winters in latitudes like Washington DC, but not brutal winters. And DC is not known for these kind of brutal winters.
And I was asking the question, is it possible that when that Arctic air comes down here it picks up amazing amounts of heat from the soil, from our industrial production, from power plants, from whatever, and then when it goes back up to the Arctic it takes that warm air back up there and rapidly accelerates the rate at which the Arctic is heating. In other words, have we hit a tipping point or have we passed a tipping point for melting the Arctic? And if so, how long will it be before that tipping point becomes the tipping point for melting that methane? Because we know from the fossil record that the melting of the methane clathrates around the world - they're around the margins of most continents - and there's tens of thousands of billions of tons of them worldwide. I mean, ten thousand billion tons just in the Arctic.
We know from the fossil record that the K-T extinction might have been stimulated by an asteroid but it led to this global warming, that the Permian extinction, the PETM (the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum), that virtually all and probably all of the major mass extinctions that have killed all the large animals like us have been caused by massive - at their peak - have been caused by massive releases of methane into the atmosphere.
Are we heading in that direction? And as the, you know, again, back to this article in The Washington Post which is just, you know, quoting a bunch of scientific publications.
"Francis cited the work of Judah Cohen, a forecaster with Atmospheric and Environmental Research, who has linked odd jet stream behavior with cold air over Siberia." Indeed, another Arctic expert, James Overland with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that the jet stream at the moment is well configured to transport warmth northward into the Arctic." ...
The whole situation is pretty extreme, several experts agreed.
"Abnormally warm air has flooded the Arctic since October. Richard James, a meteorologist who pens a blog on ...
Thom Hartmann: Now see again, this is because the jet stream is breaking down because it's not cold enough up there to hold the jet stream, which means in all probability that this is not only the new normal, this is just the beginning of the new normal.
Richard James... analyzed 19 weather stations surrounding the Arctic Ocean and found that the average temperature was about 4 degrees (2 Celsius) above the record set in 1998." Since November, temperatures have risen even higher.
Thom Hartmann: He wrote on his blog:
"It is amazing to see that the warmth has become even more pronounced since the end of October."
Thom Hartmann: Ah, let's see...
"Mark Serreze, who heads the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, agrees that something odd is going on. Not only are air temperatures unusually warm, but water temperatures are as well."
Thom Hartmann: He writes...
“There are some areas in the Arctic Ocean that are as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit above right average now. It’s pretty crazy.”
Thom Hartmann: That's the water. It's the water that's keeping the methane frozen.
"What’s happening, he explains, is sort of a 'double whammy.' On the one hand, there is a 'very warm underlying ocean' due to the lack of sea ice forming above it."
Thom Hartmann: See, when you lose the ice, it's no longer reflecting heat back out, the sun's heat back out into deep space. Now you've got blue water instead of white snow and it's holding that heat. He says:
"But, at the same time, kinks in the jet stream have allowed warm air to flow northward and frigid Arctic air to descend... The sea ice is at a record low ... for this time of year, that’s one thing," Serreze said. "And why it’s so low — again, there’s so much heat in the upper ocean in these ice-free areas, the ice just can’t form right now. The ocean’s just got to get rid of this heat somehow, and it’s having a hard time doing so. The situation this winter could set the Arctic’s ice up for very thin conditions and a possible record low next year."
Thom Hartmann: Low in the amount of ice, which should scare the crap out of us, frankly.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has a take on this on his website greatagain.gov. I will share that with you after the break.
OK, so, as promised, I laid out for you the, how dire the situation is in the Arctic right now as the result of our having burned 350 billion tons of fossil fuels between 1850 and today.
On the Trump website greatagain.gov under Energy Independence, Donald Trump's people write:
"America is sitting on a treasure trove of untapped energy. In fact, America possesses more combined coal, oil, and natural gas resources than any other nation on Earth. These resources represent trillions of dollars in economic output and countless American jobs, particularly for the poorest Americans.
Rather than continuing the current path to undermine and block America’s fossil fuel producers, the Trump Administration will encourage the production of these resources by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters. We will streamline the permitting process for all energy projects... and rescind the job-destroying executive actions under his Administration. We will end the war on coal, and rescind the coal mining lease moratorium."
Thom Hartmann: We're screwed. We'll be back.
Announcer: You're listening to the Thom Hartmann Program. Call (202) 808-9925.
Thom Hartmann: And I shouldn't say we're screwed. If this goes unchallenged we're screwed. So you and I have to challenge the hell out of this for the next four years.
Transcribed by Sue Nethercott.