Latest climate study predicts disaster for oceans, coastlines and life as we know it
A disturbing new climate change study predicts global temperature increases of up to 8 degrees Fahrenheit as atmospheric carbon concentrations double. Humanity, it’s clear, is close to missing the chance to avoid the worst ravages of fossil fuel pollution.
That level of warming would spell disaster for our oceans and coastal communities. Coral reefs would die; marine biodiversity would plummet. Flooding and extreme storms would pummel coastal residents. And ocean acidification and hypoxia would change the basic building blocks of marine life in dangerous, unpredictable ways.
This study is just the latest alarm going off to demand climate action now. We can’t wait any longer to stop drilling and mining for fossil fuels in our public lands and waters. Such public-lands extraction causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution.
We also have to end the fracking that has ratcheted up emissions and fed the petrochemical industry’s aggressive push to turn fracked gas into steeply increasing amounts of plastic, worsening the ocean plastic-pollution crisis.
The new four-year study, published in the journal Review of Geophysics by an international team of 25 top experts, indicates average global temperatures are now very likely to increase 4.1 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s at the high end of the range consistently predicted by major climate studies going back to 1979.
The study indicates a 95 percent certainty that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations — which we’re on target to hit in the next 50 years or so — would exceed the 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees celsius) worst-case goal that most nations agreed to in the Paris climate accord.
Beyond that threshold, climate scientists predict sea-level rise that will flood many coastal cities, intolerable heat waves and other extreme weather conditions and permanent damage to many ecosystems.
For example, summer Arctic sea ice would disappear in many years, likely causing ice seals, polar bears, walruses and other Alaskan and Arctic wildlife to spiral toward extinction. Along California’s coast, changing ocean chemistry could finally destroy the Dungeness crab, salmon and other economically important fisheries.
Yet, right now, in the face of this clarion call to quickly scale back carbon pollution, Big Oil and the Trump administration are stubbornly trying to take us in the opposite direction. They’re actively trying to expand oil drilling on the northern Alaska frontier and to allow drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge for the first time. The Trump administration is also quietly signaling plans to revive its stalled offshore drilling expansion in Florida and almost all U.S. oceans.
ExxonMobil is trying to restart its dormant offshore drilling rigs off Santa Barbara, reversing the shutdown triggered by a coastal oil pipeline failure that has prevented 34 million tons of climate pollution over the last five years.
In Louisiana, Formosa Plastics is trying to build one of the world’s largest petrochemical complexes, which would emit 13 million tons of greenhouse gases annually. Even more pollution would come from the fracking that precedes that manufacturing and the breakdown of plastics that follows.
None of this makes any sense in a sane world that takes climate change seriously. But to stave off the worst effects of climate change predicted in this terrifying new study, it won’t be enough to reverse the Trump administration’s most extreme policies.
The science is clear: We need a rapid phaseout of fossil fuel production, a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, complete decarbonization of the transportation system and a just transition to a new green economy.
Miyoko Sakashita is the director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program.