WORLD WILD ANIMAL DAY AND GLOBAL WARMING
I have just received an email outlining the latest research on global warming. It is indeed harrowing but those of us who have followed the science know that this only confirms what some scientists have been discussing these past decades. Attached to that email is the following statement from American Bishops in 2007 and unusually they include scientific statistics from that time (2007). Today the situation is far worse, yet we as individuals and as societies stumble towards the abyss in some sort of collective psychosis, seemingly incapable of altering our ways. As today is World Wild Animal Day (4th Oct) I thought I would pull together some strands in the hope of highlighting the interconnectedness of our creation and how we as individuals may take an important step in both reducing climate change and the suffering of animals. I present the Bishop’s Statement, followed by a short piece on extinction. I continue with some comments and science from my forthcoming book on how we as individuals can make an immediate difference to the situation, followed by an article outlining the latest research.
GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE: A Moral and Spiritual Challenge (May 23, 2007).
The following statement, “Global Climate Change: A Moral and Spiritual Challenge,” was adopted by the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) at their May 23, 2007 session at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood, NY. The document conveys a theological understanding of the role of the human person and the environment, with particular emphasis on climate change.
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“For favorable weather, an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and temperate seasons, Let us pray to the Lord.” At every Divine Liturgy the Orthodox Church repeats this petition.
The Book of Prayers (Euchologion) contains numerous prayers for gardens, animals, crops, water and weather conditions. In her wisdom, then, the Church has always known that human beings are dependent upon the grace of God through the world around us to nurture and sustain civilized society. Indeed, “God has worked our salvation through the material world” (St. John Damascene, “On the Divine Images,” 1, 16). While God is the Source of all that we have, and His presence fills the entire world (see Acts 17.28), we humans share a God-given responsibility to care for His creation and offer it back to Him in thanksgiving for all that we have and are. “Thine own of thine own, we offer unto thee, in behalf of all and for all.”
The action of returning creation back to God in gratitude and praise summarizes the commands that God gave humanity in the first chapters of Genesis. These commandments are intended to guide us into a fullness of the spiritual and material goods that we need. God tells us to “have dominion over the earth” (Genesis 1.28), which means that we are to care for the earth as the Lord would care for it. In the original Hebrew, the word for dominion (radah) means to rule in the place of the Lord. In the Greek Septuagint, the word for full dominion (katakyrieuo) contains the root word kyrios, the same word that we use for Christ as Lord Ruler over all. From this, it follows that our responsibility as human beings is to enter into His will and to rule as the Lord would rule.
“We are all personally responsible to identify and adopt appropriate moral and ethical approaches to the changing conditions of the world.”
God also tells us that we are “to cultivate and keep the Garden of Eden” (Genesis 2.15, LXX). The literal meaning of this passage is that humans are required to serve the earth as well as to protect it from desecration or exploitation. We are responsible to God for how we use and care for the earth in order that all people may have a sufficiency of all that is needful. It is through our proper use of the material and natural world that God is worshipped:
“Through heaven and earth and sea, through wood and stone… through all of creation visible and invisible, we offer veneration and honor to the Creator” (Leontius of Cyprus, Sermon 3 on Icons).
What is further implied in the same commandment is thanksgiving to God for all that we have received through the physical world. Thus, each person has a “priestly” responsibility before God (1 Peter 2.5) to offer back to God that which belongs to Him. All this is implied in the Divine Liturgy, when the presbyter offers back to God what He has placed into human care. Indeed, the commandment “to cultivate and keep” the Garden implies an expectation that we are to share the things of the world with those who are suffering, with those in need, and to have concern for the good of humanity and the entire creation. Even though our first parents fell away through disobedience, our Lord restored this priestly responsibility to humanity through His life-giving Death and Resurrection.
“Immediate measures must be taken to reduce the impact of these changes to the world’s climate. If we fail to act now, the changes that are already underway will intensify and create catastrophic conditions.”
In our day, however, society has failed to remember these holy mandates about the right conduct of human beings. In our pride, gratitude has often been replaced with greed. As a people, we have forgotten God and foregone our mandated responsibilities. We no longer strive for sufficiency and moderation in all things. Too often, instead of receiving the gifts of God as He would bestow them, we heedlessly take from the earth and needlessly waste its resources, disregarding the impact at our greed exerts upon the life of our neighbors and the life of the world. There is no doubt that the pollution and degradation of the world is directly related to the pollution and the degradation of our hearts. “Look within yourself,” writes St. Nilus of Ancyra, “and there you will see the entire world.” (Epistles 2,119)
As Church leaders, our concern is service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who’s Gospel of love teaches us that our response to the welfare of our neighbor and respect for the creation are expressions of our love for God. This means that we are all personally responsible to identify and adopt appropriate moral and ethical approaches to the changing conditions of the world.
Faithful to the responsibility that we have been given within God’s good creation, it is prudent for us to listen to the world’s scientific leaders as they describe changes occurring in the world’s climate, changes that are already being experienced by many people throughout the world. Global climate change assumes many different shapes and appearances within our own country. In Alaska, for instance, the average temperature has risen by 7º, causing glaciers to retreat and the Arctic Ocean to lose its summer ice. In Florida, Hawaii and the islands of the Caribbean, coral reefs are dying. In ocean waters such as those off the coast of San Francisco, higher temperatures now result in lower concentrations of plankton, reducing a primary food source for fish and bird life, and ultimately, for humans. Across the western states, a modest increase in temperature has contributed to a six-fold increase in forest fires over the past two decades. In many parts of America, previously distant tropical diseases, such as West Nile virus, are appearing as a direct result of rising temperatures.
These are all clear signs of a rapidly changing climate. It cannot be predicted in precise detail how climate change is going to unfold, but the seriousness of this situation is widely accepted. And, while it is true that the world’s climate has also undergone changes in past centuries, three crucial considerations make the current changes serious and unprecedented:
The rapid extent of temperature increase is historically unparalleled. Past changes in climate occurred over extended periods of time and were considerably less severe.
The human role in changing the climate is unique today. In earlier centuries, people did not have the technological capability to make such radical changes to the planet as are now taking place.
The impact that climate change will exert upon society is great and diverse, inevitably including conditions which deeply disrupt the lives and livelihoods of people on an unprecedented scale.
Climatologists label these changes as the result of measurable increases of carbon dioxide and other so-called “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere. These gases are produced primarily by the burning or combustion of gasoline, coal and other fossil fuels. Among the many consequences, the atmosphere and the oceans are warming; wind and rainfall patterns are changing; and sea levels are rising. Forces of climate change also increase the acidity of the oceans; they raise the ferocity of storms, especially hurricanes; they cause droughts and heat waves to become more intense; and, in some areas, they disrupt normal agriculture. Furthermore, the changes are not occurring evenly: some parts of the world experience drought and others greater rainfall, even flooding. Importantly, the conditions that we observe now are only the early alterations to our climate. Much larger and far more disruptive changes will result unless we reduce the forces causing climate change.
It should be clear to all of us that immediate measures must be taken to reduce the impact of these changes to the world’s climate. If we fail to act now, the changes that are already underway will intensify and create catastrophic conditions. A contributing root cause of these changes to our climate is a lifestyle that contains unintended, but nevertheless destructive side effects. It may be that no person intends to harm the environment, but the excessive use of fossil fuels is degrading and destroying the life of creation.
“We wish to emphasize the seriousness and the urgency of the situation. To persist in a path of excess and waste, at the expense of our neighbors and beyond the capability of the planet to support the lifestyle responsible for these changes, is not only folly; it jeopardizes the survival of God’s creation…. In the end, this is not only is it sinful; it is no less than suicidal.”
Moreover, the impact of our thoughtless actions is felt disproportionately by the poorest and most vulnerable, those most likely to live in marginal areas. By our lack of awareness, then, we risk incurring the condemnation of those who “grind the face of the poor” (Isaiah 3.15). As Church leaders, it is our responsibility to speak to this condition inasmuch as it represents a grave moral and spiritual problem.
Therefore, we wish to emphasize the urgency of the situation. To persist in a path of excess and waste, at the expense of our neighbors and beyond the capability of the planet to support the lifestyle directly responsible for these changes, is not only folly; it jeopardizes the survival of God’s creation, the planet that we all share. In the end, not only is it sinful; it is no less than suicidal.
But there is hope. Society can alter its behavior and avoid the more serious consequences of climate change. To do this, however, we must work together to reduce the way that we have exploited the earth’s resources, especially its fossil fuels. As Americans, we comprise barely 4% of the world’s people; yet we consume over 25% of its resources and energy. Justice and charity for our neighbors demand a more frugal, simple way of living in order to conserve the fruits of creation.
In order to make the required changes, we are called to pray first and foremost for a change in our personal attitudes and habits, in spite of any accompanying inconvenience. Such is the depth of metanoia or repentance. The issue is not merely our response to climate change, but our failure to obey God. We must live in a manner that is consistent with what we believe and pray. Our heart must be “merciful, burning with love for the whole of creation” (Abba Isaac the Syrian, Mystic Treatises, Homily 48). At minimum, this means caring about the effect of our lives upon our neighbors, respecting the natural environment, and demonstrating a willingness to live within the means of our planet. Such a change will invariably require reduction in our consumption of fossil fuels as well as acceptance of alternative energy sources such as solar or wind power, and other such methods that minimize our impact upon the world. We can do these things, but it will require intentional effort from each of us.
Nevertheless, we cannot stop there. We must also learn all that we can about the emerging situation of climate change. We must set an example in the way that we choose to live, reaching out and informing others about this threat. We must discuss with parishioners and – since climate change is not only an issue for Orthodox Christians –– we must raise the issue before public officials and elected representatives at the city, state and national levels. We are all responsible for this situation, and each one of us can do something to address the problem.
In each generation, God sends some great tests that challenge the life and future of society. One of the tests for our time is whether we will be obedient to the commands that God has given to us by exercising self-restraint in our use of energy, or whether we will ignore those commands and continue to seek the comforts and excesses that over-reliance on fossil fuels involves.
At every Divine Liturgy, we pray for seasonable weather. Let us enter into this prayer and amend our lives in whatever ways may be necessary to meet the divine command that we care for the earth as the Lord’s. If we can do this, if we can render our lives as a blessing rather than a curse for our neighbors and for the whole creation, then, God willing, we may live and flourish. This is not an optional matter. We will be judged by the choices we make. The Scriptures bluntly tell us that if we destroy the earth, then God will destroy us (see Revelation 11:18).
Let us all recall the commands of God regarding our use of the earth. Let us respond to the divine commandments so that the blessings of God may be abundantly upon us. And let us responsibly discern the right, holy and proper way to live in this time of change and challenge. Then we shall “perceive everything in the light of the Creator God” (St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 4, 58).
As previously stated, this was 2007 and yet despite our Patriarchs and Bishops continuing to highlight the problems of global warming, little effective action is being taken by our governments. I now present extracts from a short article on extinction in the non-human animal world to focus attention of the loss of Wild Animal species.
ANIMALS THAT HAVE GONE EXTINCT IN THE LAST 100 YEARS
The following article by Laura Goldman in September 2018 informs us that nearly 500 species have gone extinct during the last century–and that in most cases, we humans are to blame. Of course this is an underestimate, for we cannot tell how many unknown species have disappeared due to the destruction of native rainforests across the globe. Nonetheless it is a reminder that when we speak of climate change and human actions we tend to forget the devastation to non-human animal species that also comes from our selfish indulgences.
According to a 2015 study by the National Autonomous University (UNAM), 477 species have disappeared since 1900 due to our degradation and destruction of their natural habitats. The researchers said it was the largest mass extinction of species in history. Last year, Stanford University biologists discovered declining populations for more than 30 percent of all vertebrates. On average, two vertebrate species go extinct every year. One of the researchers referred to this as “a biological annihilation occurring globally.”
These are just some of the animals that have gone extinct in the past 100 years. To help prevent more species from meeting the same fate, the Stanford biologists recommend curbing human overpopulation and consumption. Humans must stop believing “the fiction that perpetual growth can occur on a finite planet,” the researchers urged. For a photograph see Wikimedia Commons
- Passenger pigeons, which disappeared just over a century ago, once numbered in the billions and were the most populous birds on Earth. They could reach speeds of up to 60 mph as they flew over North America, the huge flocks actually darkening the sky. Unfortunately, when Europeans arrived, they found the pigeons to be a source of cheap meat. Every year, tens of millions of the bird were killed. By the early 20th century there was only one captive survivor, Martha, who died at the Cincinnati Zoo in September 1914.
- Carolina Parakeet (1918)
Once the only parrot species native to the eastern United States, Carolina parakeets had the heartfelt but dangerous habit of remaining beside injured or dead flock members, making them easy targets for hunters.Bottom of Form Although flocks were still occasionally being observed from New York to the Rocky Mountains in the early 1900s, they had disappeared by 1918, when the last captive Carolina parakeet died at the Cincinnati Zoo – in the same cage where the last passenger pigeon had died four years earlier. For a photograph see Wikimedia Commons
- Heath Hen (1932)
These hens, native to the northeast U.S., were once known as a source for “poor man’s food.” Although the state of New York passed legislation back in 1791 protecting this species, they continued to be hunted. By the mid-1800s, they could only be found on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Within 50 years, poaching, disease and feral cats led to their near demise. Thanks to a 1908 hunting ban and the creation of a preserve, the heath hen population rebounded to over 2,000. Tragically, a fire six years later killed most of the hens. The last surviving heath hen, Booming Ben, died in 1932.
- Tasmanian Tiger (1936)
Looking more like a dog than a tiger, the Tasmanian tiger was the largest modern carnivorous marsupial. It roamed Australia and Tasmania until its extinction due to hunting, disease, human encroachment and the introduction of dogs. The last known survivor died in captivity at Tasmania’s Hobart Zoo in 1936. For a photograph see Wikimedia Commons
- Gravenche (1950)
These freshwater whitefish were once plentiful in Lake Geneva, between France and Switzerland. In fact, over two-thirds of the fish caught in the lake were these bottom feeders, and that’s what led to their demise. The last Gravenche was seen back in 1950. For a photographs see Wikimedia Commons
- Japanese Sea Lion (1974)
These sea lions used to make their homes in the Sea of Japan, where they were hunted for their skins, bones, fat and even their whiskers. By the early 20th century, over 3,000 of them were being killed every year, and their natural habitat was pretty much destroyed during the sea battles of World War II. The last unofficial sighting of a Japanese sea lion was about 30 years later, in 1974. For a photograph see: Wikimedia Commons
- Pyrenean Ibex (2000)
This subspecies of the Spanish ibex made the Pyrenees Mountains its home. It’s not known what caused them to start disappearing in the 19th and 20th centuries. By 2000, they were extinct. A 2009 attempt to clone a Pyrenean ibex failed when the female died shortly after she was born. For a photograph see: Wikimedia Commons
- Caribbean Monk Seal (2008)
Hunted since the late 1600s for their meat, fur and oil, the final nail in the coffin for this species was coastal development that led to the destruction of their habitat in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The Caribbean monk seal was declared extinct in 2008. It has the sad distinction of being the first type of seal to go extinct because of humans.
- Western Black Rhinoceros (2011)
These rhinos used to roam sub-Saharan Africa. Because of poaching, their population dropped to just a few hundred in the 1980s. By 2001, as demand for rhino horn grew, only five of these rhinos remained on earth. None have been seen since 2006, and the species was officially declared extinct in 2011.
10. Pinta Island Tortoise (2012)
While these tortoises were once plentiful on this small island, the last survivor—Lonesome George, who was believed to be around 100 years old—died six years ago. The causes of their extinction were being hunted by sailors and fishermen, as well as the introduction of goats to the island, which destroyed the vegetation the tortoises ate to survive. For a photographs see: Wikimedia Commons
In light of the above I present some arguments from my book where I argue that we as individual can make a difference and that our Church can play an important part in effecting change.
A WAY FORWARD FOR ALL CREATED BEINGS
If our governments cannot provide meaningful legislation to curb our excesses, and of course they cannot do so in democratic societies, is there a way forward for us as individuals and leaders of our Church? I have already written on how St Cyril of Jerusalem defines hunting as the “pomp of the devil” and a “soul-subverting exercise” and we have a recent statement from Bishop Isaias of Tamasou in Cyprus, that hunting for fun is a sin. I argue that it is time for our leaders to make a statement that killing animals for fun, ‘sport’ or ‘recreation’ is against the teachings of Christianity and should be banned from Church land. Here, I focus on how we as individuals can make a difference and if our Church made a similar declaration the effect would be considerable. Whilst it might seem a radical suggestion I propose that if we chose/advocated the non-violent diet of veganism, God’s original choice for us, this would not only reduce the number of animals who suffer in the ‘animal industries’ but in so doing would quickly reduce the many environmental problems associated with animal food production. Most people are unaware of the impact of our diet on global warming and so it is important to highlight some points here. Our increasing desire to consume animal products has resulted in the breeding of such vast numbers of animals that serious negative impacts have arisen for our environments. Knight (2013) provides us with the following important scientific information.
- In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (Steinfeld et al,) calculated that when measured as carbon dioxide (CO2), 18 percent of worldwide greenhouse gases (GHGs) – totaling 7.5 billion tons annually, result from the production of cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs and poultry. These emissions result from land-clearing for feed crop production and grazing, from the animals themselves, and from the transportation and processing of animal products. In contrast, all forms of transportation combined were estimated to produce around 13.5 percent of global GHGs.
- The GHGs produced by animal production are composed of CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and ammonia. Steinfeld and colleagues calculated that the livestock sector is responsible for 9 percent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions-that is, those attributable to human activity-which mostly arise from deforestation caused by the encroachment of feed crops and pastures. Animal production occupies some 30 percent of the Earth’s land surface and is increasingly driving deforestation, particularly in Latin America. [Circa] seventy percent of previously forested Amazonian land has now been converted to pastures, with feed crops covering a large part of the remainder.
- Animals kept for production emit 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, which has been calculated as exerting seventy-two times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2, over a twenty year time frame, mostly from gastrointestinal fermentation by ruminants (particularly, cows and sheep). They also emit 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide with 296 times the GWP of CO2, the great majority of which is released from manure. They also emit 64 percent of anthropogenic ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain and ecosystem acidification.
- In 2009 Goodland and Anhang calculated that at least 22 billion tons of CO2 emissions attributable to animal production were not counted and at least 3 billion tons were misallocated by Steinfeld and colleagues. Uncounted sources included livestock respiration, deforestation and methane underestimates. They concluded that animal production actually accounts for at least 51 percent of worldwide GHGs and probably significantly more. Although the precise figures remain under study, it is nevertheless clear that the GHGs resulting from animal production are one of the largest contributors to modern climate change.
These are some of the important facts for us to consider. Despite these facts, the impact of the animal-based diet on global warming continues to be underestimated and underreported. I have fluctuated between being a vegan or vegetarian, depending on the country I lived in, these past 50 years and until recently have never sought to influence others for I believed that my own ethical choices should not be imposed on others (husband, children, society in general). Today the situation is different – it is vital for us to understand the ramifications of our dietary choices and that we can make a difference if we change them. It is not at all easy to give up animal products but Christianity informs us that we are to sacrifice and repent if our actions cause harm to others.
In addition to this argument, we may use the argument of self-interest as a motivating factor, for there is significant scientific evidence of how our abstinence from an animal-based diet could have immediate beneficial results for our water sources, climate change and thus our future survival. We do not need to wait for world/government agreements in order to effect change.
This brief extract from the book partially outlines the human and environmental aspect of this theme but what about the animals, what do we know of their suffering in these industries? If we as individuals or as leaders of our Church are to engage with the subject of the suffering creation, we need to acquaint ourselves with the available knowledge not only on the environmental impact of an animal-based diet but also on the suffering involved for the animals in the systems used for there are clear soteriological implications resulting from our choices. There is a huge amount of research in this area and here I condense some of that research whilst referencing others:
- In order to meet the requirements of industrial production and high-density housing, animals are routinely branded with hot irons, dehorned, de-beaked, de-tailed and castrated without any sedation or painkillers…piglets have tails cut off and males are castrated by crushing or pulling off their testicles without analgesics, even though these procedures cause “considerable pain” (Broom and Fraser 1997). The same happens to lambs…The price for the mutilation is high for individual animals. Piglets show signs of pain for up to a week afterwards (including trembling, lethargy, vomiting and leg shaking). In lambs, stress hormone levels take a huge leap and they show signs of significant pain for four hours or more. Dairy calves who are dehorned show pain for six or more hours afterwards (Turner 2006). Birds too are mutilated without analgesics; beaks are trimmed and at times inside toes are also cut. After debeaking the animals will experience acute pain for circa two days and chronic pain lasts for up to six weeks (Duncan 2001). As stock numbers are vast, illness and injuries are likely to go undetected and result from high density, lack of space, lack of mental stimulation and physical exhaustion; physical and mental health problems quickly arise (Broom & Fraser 2007). Veal calves are often kept in tiny enclosures and tied down by their necks and quickly succumb to “abnormal behaviour and ill health” (Turner 2006; European Commission 1995). Intensive egg production weakens bones and leads to lameness, osteoporosis and painful fractures as all calcium and minerals are used for eggs causing “both acute and chronic pain”…it can also lead to internal haemorrhages, starvation and ultimately death which will be painful and “lingering” (Webster 2004:184). Cows suffer from mastitis and lameness (Stokka et al, 1997) and kept pregnant to keep milk yields high, (Vernelli 2005; Turner 2006).
There is no other reason for these practices other than the desire for increased profit; the “evil profit” that Met. Kallistos describes in Chapter Six of my forthcoming book. From this arises the challenging question that once we know of the suffering involved in the production of our food and we continue to consume those products are we guilty of being indifferent to the suffering of a large portion of God’s creation? The subsequent question is whether the required “spiritual revolution” so often called for by our Patriarchs and Bishops should apply to our treatment of the animals within these industries? If the answer is no, we ought to examine why we have made the choice to exclude billions of animals from receiving compassion, mercy and justice. If we conclude that they are simply for that use, then I believe we are in danger of continuing the mind-set of domination rather than dominion spoken of above, which in turn, indicates that only human suffering is relevant to God. I submit that this mind-set is against the teachings of the Eastern Orthodox Church and tantamount to the type of heresy the early Fathers fought so hard to overthrow. …………………………………………………………………………………….
To conclude this piece, I present an edited version of the article by Dahr Jamail, 1st Oct 2018, who introduces the dangers of runaway climate change and the existential threat that this represents for all of us.
How Feedback Loops Are Driving Runaway Climate Change
IF you think this summer has been intense as far as record warm temperatures, wildfires, drought, and flooding events around the Northern Hemisphere, you haven’t seen anything yet — unless you happen to live in the Arctic.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), air temperatures there are increasing at an “unprecedented rate” — twice as fast as they are around the rest of the globe. NOAA’s 2017 Arctic Report Card states unequivocally that the Arctic “shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades.” The Executive Summary of the report also adds, “Arctic paleo-reconstructions, which extend back millions of years, indicate that the magnitude and pace of the 21st century sea-ice decline and surface ocean warming is unprecedented in at least the last 1,500 years and likely much longer.”
A recent report from National Geographic revealed that some of the ground in the Arctic is no longer freezing, even during the winter. Along with causing other problems, this will become yet another feedback loop in the Arctic, causing yet more greenhouse gasses to be released from permafrost than are already being released and impacting the entire planet.
The simplest explanation for a positive climate feedback loop is this: The more something happens, the more it happens. One of the most well-known examples is the melting of sea ice in the Arctic during the summer, which is accelerating. As greater amounts of Arctic summer sea ice melt away, less sunlight is reflected back into space. Hence, more light is absorbed into the ocean, which warms it and causes more ice to melt, and on and on.
Dr. Ira Leifer is an academic researcher who specializes in bubble-related oceanographic processes (such as subsea bubble plumes emanating from the ocean floor), satellite remote sensing, and air pollution. Working closely with NASA on some of his projects, Leifer uses the agency’s satellite data to study methane in the Arctic and its role in climate disruption. One of his concerns about a feedback loop already at play in the Arctic is how the heating of that region is already being amplified by ocean currents that transport warmer, more southerly waters northwards into Arctic seabed waters where it can affect methane deposits in submerged permafrost and sub-seabed methane hydrates.
“The release of this methane contributes powerfully to overall warming – methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, which actually has a bigger effect [on] the atmosphere’s radiative balance than carbon dioxide on decadal timescales” (Dr. Leifer).
Although climate is generally thought to occur on century timescales, human timescales and ecological adaptation timescales are measured in decades instead of centuries, and this is now how many climate processes are being monitored given the rapidity of human-forced planetary warming.
Dr. Peter Wadhams is a world-renowned expert who has been studying Arctic sea ice for decades. His prognosis for the Arctic sea ice is grim: He says it is in its “death spiral.”
“Multi-year ice is now much less than 10 percent of the area of the ice cover; it was 60 percent or more before 2000,” Dr. Wadhams states that “[Sea ice] extent in summer is down to 50 percent of its value in the 1980s.”
Dr. Wadhams, who is also the President of the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Ocean (IAPSO), noted that this primary feedback loop is much further along than most of us realize.
“I see the summer sea ice disappearing by the early 2020s,” Wadhams said. He noted that the change of albedo (a measure of reflection of solar radiation) due to the loss of sea ice and snowline retreat across the Arctic “is sufficient to add 50 percent to the warming effect of CO2 emissions alone.”
Alarmingly, on August 21, Arctic scientists told The Guardian that the oldest and strongest sea ice in the Arctic had broken up for the first time in recorded history. One of them described the event as “scary,” in part because it occurred off the north coast of Greenland, which is normally frozen year-round. The region has long been believed to be “the last ice area”: It was thought, at least until now, to be the final place that would hold out against the melting impacts from an increasingly warmer planet.
Temperatures are rising most strongly in the Arctic, with some areas already showing an increase of as much as 5.7 degrees Celsius (10.26 degrees Fahrenheit). Dr. Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute in Washington, DC, explained how, now that the Arctic is warmer, the temperature gradient between the tropics and the traditionally cold Arctic is reduced. With a reduced gradient, the movement of warmth from low to high latitudes is slowed. As Earth rotates, this leads to a wavier jet stream that can carry low latitude warmth up to Alaska and elsewhere in the Arctic, and the southward reach of cold air in the Arctic to lower latitudes. This explains why New Orleans, for example, has recently experienced unusual freezing winter weather.
“In addition, the waves in the jet stream that result are shifting to the east less rapidly, which means the unusual weather patterns that are more frequently occurring are moving eastward less rapidly,” Dr. MacCracken explained. “So both wet and dry periods are lasting longer, contributing to both excessively wet (e.g., flooding) and excessively dry (e.g., wildfire) conditions.”
Dr. Wadhams is concerned about this as well.
“The jet stream effect is because Arctic air is warming faster than tropical air, so the temperature difference is decreasing,” he explained. “This reduces the driving force on the jet stream, so it then meanders, which brings hot air to the higher latitudes (and cold air to some low latitudes).”
Summer weather patterns are now increasingly likely to become stalled out over places like North America, portions of Asia, and Europe, according to a recent climate study that showed how a warming Arctic is causing heatwaves in other places to become more intense and persistent due to a slowing of the jet stream. Dr. Leifer warned that as these processes continue and the Arctic continues to heat up faster than the tropics, the pole-equator temperature difference that controls our weather and causes three major weather circulation “cells” — tropical, mid-latitude, and arctic — will merge into a single weather cell. A similar merging of weather cells occurred during the time of the dinosaurs.
“The jet stream, which controls seasonal storms in the midlatitudes, is a result of these three cells, and would disappear in a single weather cell planet, dramatically altering rain patterns and almost certainly heralding an ecosystem catastrophe,” Leifer explained. “The plants that underlie the food chain would be replaced by others that the local animals (insects to apex predators) could not utilize — in short, an abrupt acceleration of the current Great Anthropocene Extinction event.”
The diminishment of the jet stream also contributes to another potentially catastrophic feedback loop within the Arctic seabed: Changes to the jet stream are causing longer and more intense heat waves to occur across the Arctic, which of course causes the Arctic Ocean to warm further. Kevin Lister, an associate with the Climate Restoration Foundation in Washington, DC, co-authored a paper with Dr. MacCracken for the United Nations that addressed the crisis in the Arctic, among other climate disruption-related issues. Unlike the most commonly accepted idea that global temperatures should not be allowed to increase by more than 1.5°C, Lister stated that the planet reaching 1.5°C above baseline “is fundamentally dangerous and that the rate of change we are seeing today means we will not even be able to stop the temperature at this level.”
Lister said this conclusion was reached, in part, due to initial observations from Dr. Wadhams regarding how the loss of sea ice was amplifying rates of change in the Arctic. Lister states that “methane emissions [in the Arctic] are already a severe risk,” and that he and Dr. MacCracken’s UN paper shows that once temperatures started rising they would be largely unstoppable due to the interacting nature of the feedback mechanisms.
“Thus, one feedback mechanism, such as sea ice melting, can trigger another, such as methane releases, which then accelerates the first in a tightening spiral,” he explained. “In reality, there are many critical feedback mechanisms and the interlocking effects between them means that the climate is far more unstable and irreversible than we are led to believe, and the climate’s change is likely to follow a super exponential progression once the temperature rises above a certain level.”
Dr. Leifer, who has been studying Arctic methane for years, shares the same concern.
“There is the potential for seabed methane deposits off Greenland to be destabilized by the input of warm melt water and also heat transport,” he said, in addition to having pointed out that this process has been occurring in other areas around the Arctic for many years.
As I have written in the past, we are currently facing the very real possibility of a major methane release in the Arctic. Such a release would be a catastrophe for the global climate — and the survival of humans and other species.
Could a Dire Situation Lead to a “War for Survival”?
Lister and Dr. MacCracken both believe that the global focus on a maximum allowable temperature increase target of 1.5°C above baseline is both dangerous and unachievable. Most media and governmental attention has centered on keeping the Earth from warming 2°C over pre-industrial revolution baseline temperatures, and ideally limiting warming to 1.5°C. This is based on a politically agreed upon goal set forth during the 2015 Paris Climate talks, which were nonbinding.
“It reflects the way that intergovernmental climate change policy has been managed which has been to arbitrarily set a temperature target, which was firstly 2°C and then latterly 1.5°C, and then to see if economic and political policy can deliver an appropriate carbon budget,” Lister explained. “This is clearly not a rational way to develop climate change policy.”
Lister and Dr. MacCracken both believe that, in an ideal world, the process would be the other way round; governments would decide a safe temperature rise based on the best science and then set an appropriate climate change policy. But this is not the world we live in.
Mark Serreze, the director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, recently pointed out how the Arctic climate system has entered uncharted territory, so that even computer models are “no longer providing a reliable guide to the future.”
Dr. Leifer said that even if we prepare for the inevitable sea level rise from Greenland melting alone, accelerated melting there is “very bad,” as it reduces the time to implement plans. However, he noted, most countries are not in preparation mode to begin with.
“For example, a forward-looking society would encourage relocation through, say, tax incentives and disincentives from, say, most of Florida, to higher ground — even purely on a hurricane insurance basis,” he said. “Sadly, forward-looking is incompatible with our political system’s biannual money festival, aka elections. Still, very few other countries are doing better — excepting some northern European countries, like Holland — despite differences.”
The impacts of climate disruption aren’t waiting for our preparations, or lack thereof. Dr. Leifer believes that, sooner or later, the sea levels will rise dramatically. Once this happens, he believes coastal cities will have to be abandoned due to sea level rise and increasingly destructive hurricanes. He believes that the sooner that departure happens, the less destruction and loss of human lives we will experience.
The Slowing and Potential Failure of the Gulf Current (AMOC)
Dr. Leifer also expressed concern about the changes to the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which is currently weakening and already at its weakest in at least the last 1,600 years. Dr. MacCracken states that his greatest concern about Arctic feedback loops is that of the melting of the plateau of the Greenland Ice Sheet. He explained that the meltwater and warmth at the surface is penetrating down into the ice sheet, softening it enough that the glacial ice has started flowing outward, and as this happens, the surface of the ice sinks to lower altitudes. This kicks in a feedback loop that ultimately causes warming to accelerate, which causes the ice to flow faster, which further accelerates the melting.
“The ice making up the Greenland Ice Sheet holds about the equivalent of 6-7 meters (~20 feet) of global sea level rise, and glaciological evidence makes clear that an order of approximately half of that melted during the last interglacial about 125,000 years ago, contributing significantly to the 4-8 meter rise in sea level at that time,” Dr. MacCracken said. He pointed out that this rise was caused by a 1°C temperature increase, similar to the temperature increase Earth is experiencing right now (1.16°C above baseline).
“At that time, the atmospheric CO2 concentration was near 300 ppm and the warming was due to differences in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Today, the orbital parameters are less favorable to significant warming, but the CO2 concentration is a good bit higher and growing,” Dr. MacCracken said. “And its warming influence acts all year long, making it not surprising that the loss of mass of ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet is going up rapidly with a stronger and stronger influence on sea level around the world.”
The rapidly melting Greenland Ice Sheet is precisely what is causing the AMOC to slow. Moreover, an Arctic that is continuing to warm could lead to the failure of the Gulf Current, Dr. Leifer said.
“The resultant deep freeze that would hit Europe would destroy European agriculture and likely lead to a massive war for survival,” he warned.
Full article available at : https://truthout.org/articles/how-feedback-loops-are-driving-runaway-climate-change/ …………………………………………………………………………………..
We may now better understand the urgency in the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s recent 1st September declaration. This World Wild Animal Day focuses our attention, or should do, that is time for us all to take stock and make changes in the choices we make and the way we live.
 Knight, A, “Animal Agriculture and Climate Change,” in The Global Guide to Animal Protection, ed. A. Linzey, 254-256. Urbana, Chicago and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2013.
 The carbon footprint produced by animals is as follows: cow 16Kg CO2 per 1Kg of meat; sheep 13Kg CO2; pig 5Kg CO2; chicken 4.4Kg CO2 as compared to mussels, which hardly register on the scale, Horizon, “Should I Eat Meat?” Also, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Report (2006) “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues & Options.” UNFA Report (2013) “Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock.” European Commission, (2010) “Roadmap for Moving to a Low-Carbon Economy in 2050.” International Food Policy Research Institute, (2009) “Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation.” Organic Centre State of Science Review, “Impacts of Organic Farming on the Efficiency of Energy Use in Agriculture.” The Royal Society, (2010) “Energy and the Food System.” United Nations Environmental Programme Convention on Biodiversity (2007) “Biodiversity and Climate Change.” World Bank Agriculture & Rural Development Department, Report (2009) “Minding The Stock: Bringing Public Policy to Bear on Livestock Sector Development.” International Panel on Climate Change “Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change.”
 Aaltola, Animal Suffering, 34-45. Aaltola provides many other reports and scientific studies, which outline numerous examples of suffering. Also, Broom & Nimon, 1999, 2001; European Commission, 1995, 2001, 2012; Mench, 2002, 2008; Sanotra, Berg and Lund, 2003; Julain, 2004; Appleby 2007. For other references to misuse and cruelty, see the European Commission Reports (1995, 2001, and 2012) and the Compassion in World Farming website: http://www.ciwf.org.