Sixth Great Mass Extinction Event Begins
2015 on Pace to Become Hottest Year on Record
By Dahr Jamail
June 30, 2015 "Information
- At the end of May, a few friends and I opted to climb a
couple of the larger volcanoes in Washington State. We started on Mount Adams, a
12,280-foot peak in the southern part of the state.
were able to drive to the Cold Springs Campground at 5,600 feet, where the climb
would begin. This itself was an anomaly for late May, when the dirt road tended
to still be covered with snowpack. But not this year, one in which Washington's
Gov. Jay Inslee has already declared a statewide drought emergency, given this
year's record-low snowpack.
A few days later and much further north on Mount Baker, a
10,781-foot glacial-clad volcano not far from the border of Canada, we
experienced the same thing. We camped on terra firma at around 5,500 feet, in an
area that normally would have found us camping on several feet of snowpack. When
we headed up the peak, the route was already in late season (August) conditions.
We found ourselves having to navigate around several large open crevasses where
snow bridges that had offered access had already collapsed due to rising
temperatures and melting snow.
During our descent after visiting the summit, two of my
climbing partners punched through snow bridges over crevasses, and the lower
part of the route was more like a Slurpee than a glacier. I would not have
wanted to be on the mountain a day later than we were.
The signs of the increasing rapidity and intensification of
our warming planet are all around us. And bigger-picture reports, studies and
warnings are multiplying every day.
NASA recently released its
global temperature data for the month of May, and it was 1.3 degrees
Fahrenheit above the norm. The agency's data also revealed that 2015 has had the
hottest five months of any year ever recorded. As of right now, 2015 is already
hotter than last year, according to NASA; in fact, if it stays on the same
track, it will be the hottest year ever recorded for the planet.
Things are bad enough that President Obama's science adviser
warning that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is currently barreling
forward so quickly that the entire state of California could be "overwhelmed":
The state's efforts to adapt will be unable to keep pace with the rapidly
intensifying developments on the ground. Essentially, this means the state does
not have the financial nor physical resources to keep pace with rising seas,
drought and wildfires that are all becoming the norm there.
Scientists like Bill Nye ("the Science Guy") are
warning us to expect even more weather extremes as ACD progresses. For
example, they predict the recent deluge of rain and flooding in Texas will
become the norm for that state going forward.
A study recently
published in Nature Climate Change has shown that if carbon dioxide and
methane emissions are not dramatically cut extremely rapidly, ACD is set to
bring about the most dramatic and encompassing rearrangement of ocean
species in at least the last 3 million years. For example, the study shows that
by 2100, the polar regions, which currently host some of the most diverse and
widespread sea life on the planet, will likely be drained of much of their
It's not news that Arctic sea ice is melting at a
record-breaking pace and that the odds of there being summer ice-free periods by
next year are high. But an interesting twist resulting from this development is
that this thinning Arctic ice, along with a lack of air support, has officially
end to trekking expeditions to the North Pole this year ... and quite
All of these changes are portentous.
However, the most important development this month is clearly
recently published study in Science that states, unequivocally, that the
planet has officially entered its sixth mass extinction event. The study showed
that species are already being killed off at rates much faster than they were
during the other five extinction events, and warned ominously that humans could
very likely be among the first wave of species going extinct.
The lead author of the study, Gerardo Ceballos of the
Universidad Autónoma de México, told reporters that if current rates of ACD,
deforestation and pollution are allowed to continue, "Life would take many
millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear
Another alarming feature of the study is that it is admittedly
conservative. On page three it states: "We emphasize that our calculations very
likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis."
Study co-author Paul Ehrlich, a Bing professor of population
studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the
told Stanford News, "[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we
are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event. There are examples of
species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead."
As we explore ACD's impact upon the four quadrants of the
planet this month, we see developments that certainly confirm the aforementioned
As warming from ACD continues to fuel increases in diseases
and pests, moose in North America are dying by the thousands, according to a
recent scientific report.
report revealed recently that the warming waters in Long Island Sound are
dramatically altering fish populations, as summer flounder and sea bass that
usually prefer warm water are now appearing in the northern locale.
As California's mega-drought lumbers on, redwoods and other
iconic trees in that state are now dying in
numbers. As one example, Monterey pines - in one area that covers nearly 15
square acres - are already as much as 90 percent dead.
Even more disturbing is a recent report that polar bears have
killing and eating dolphins. That in itself isn't news, but the fact that it
happened this spring, instead of during the warmer summer months, has never been
NASA data has given us some remarkable graphics that show how the world's
aquifers are losing their water at "alarming" rates, according to scientists.
The data shows that more than half of the planet's 37 largest aquifers are being
depleted. Given that the groundwater reserves take thousands of years to
accumulate, one of the scientists described the situation as "critical."
São Paulo, Brazil, a mega-city of over 20 million people, has
been pushed to the verge of severe water rationing, as its
largest water reservoir is on pace to dry up completely by August.
In Chile, most of the ski areas have completely
bare slopes. Santiago, which sits below all the ski resorts, has seen a
scant 1.2 centimeters of rain this year, which is a jaw-dropping 86 percent less
North Korea is facing its
drought in recorded history, which has sparked fears of a worsening of
already severe food shortages.
worst regional drought in nearly 10 years is hammering southern Africa,
causing Zimbabweans to go hungry as crop failure has become rampant. The drought
threatens to persist.
Meanwhile Nicaragua, the country with the most abundant water
sources in its region (it even has the word "agua" as part of its very name), is
experiencing one of its
worst water shortages in five decades.
In the United States, a record drought in Oklahoma has given
wheat farmers there a
glimpse of what is to come, although recent wet weather has ended the
drought for now. Scientists are warning that the region should brace itself for
a growing number of hotter, drier days in the future.
Farms in Utah are being
wracked by drought, as officials in that state have begun rationing water,
causing farmers there to worry about even more cutbacks as summer progresses.
In California, the Salton Sea - the largest lake in the state
drying out of existence, giving us another indicator of how deep the drought
is now embedded in the state's climate.
In monetary terms, a
recent report shows that California's drought has taken at least a $2.7
billion toll on the state's agriculture. Obviously, that number is sure to
continue to rise.
As is happening globally now, residents in some towns in
central California are suffering from a
health crisis that stems from not having running water and breathing
increasingly dusty air, due to the drought. Respiratory problems are becoming
rampant throughout the state.
In Canada, John Pomeroy, the director of the Centre for
Hydrology at the University of Saskatchewan, recently spent time high up in the
Rocky Mountains, along the British Columbia-Alberta divide. He
witnessed clear signs of the highly damaging drought plaguing his country.
Due to record dry spells, dramatically decreased river flows and the shortage of
runoff water, Pomeroy said that western Canada is likely in the midst of a
The flip side of the water climate coin is flooding. In the
unprecedented amounts of rainfall across Texas and Oklahoma recently are
evidence of what happens when a warming atmosphere becomes saturated with more
water vapor than it used to be able to hold: yet another harbinger of our
Thus, it comes as no surprise that the latest National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration report showed that this May was the
wettest month ever recorded in the United States, despite the mega-drought
in California and the West. Obviously, scientists have linked these phenomena to
Dramatic changes are happening in most of the planet's highest
places, given the rapidly accelerating melting of glaciers. Even Mount Everest,
the highest point on earth, is witnessing massive changes. A
recent report in the journal The Cryosphere found that thousands of glaciers
across the Himalayas will likely shrink by 70 to 99 percent by 2100.
Thus, by the end of the century, it is feasible that Mount
Everest could be entirely without glaciers.
recent study linked intensifying weather events - like the extreme cold that
wracked the eastern United States last winter and spring, along with the record
flooding that hit Britain - to the rapid loss of Arctic ice. This doesn't bode
well, as the Arctic summer sea ice will likely begin to vanish entirely for
short periods, starting as early as next summer.
A unique photography project in Alaska has captured ACD
impacts over time in a stunning way. The photos are hard to look at, but
everyone should see them. They represent a kind of
before-and-after view of what ACD is doing to one of the most beautiful
areas on the planet. The project shows dramatically reduced glacial coverage in
multiple areas of Alaska, including areas that used to be heavily glaciated,
which are now completely ice-free.
The project became even more relevant when a
recent report was published that shows how glaciers in Alaska have lost 75
gigatons (75 billion metric tons) of ice per year, from 1994 through 2013.
In comparison, this number is roughly half of the amount of
ice loss for all of Antarctica (159 billion metric tons). This new data also
indicates that the Alaska region alone likely contributed several millimeters to
the global sea level rise in the past few decades.
The changing chemistry of the planet's atmosphere is causing
new positive feedback loops to occur. For example, in Mexico City, warmer
exacerbating the already horrible smog in that mega-city, as higher
temperatures mean that industrial pollutants are released more rapidly into the
recent report from NASA begins with this worrisome observation: "In the
third week of May, it was warmer in Fairbanks, Alaska, than in Washington, DC.
The small town of Eagle, Alaska, was hotter on May 23 than it has been on any
day in Houston or Dallas this year. In what has become a frequent occurrence in
the past few years, temperature profiles in North America appeared to be upside
The report, titled "Baked Alaska," includes a fascinating
temperature anomaly map, and notes:
On May 23, the air temperature at Fairbanks International
Airport reached 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), breaking the
record of 80°F (26.7°C) from 2002. That same day, thermometers hit 91°F
(32.8°C) in Eagle, marking the earliest 90-degree day in state history. The
town had nine consecutive days above 80°F. In Barrow, Alaska, on the shores
of the Arctic Ocean, temperatures climbed to 47°F on May 21, close to 18°F
above normal. Temperatures normally do not reach that high until mid-June.
Thus, not surprisingly, Alaska had its
hottest May in recorded history.
India, ranked as the third-largest emitter of greenhouse
gasses, recently had to cope with one of the single deadliest heat waves to ever
have hit the country, which killed over 2,500 people. The heat wave was at least
the fourth deadliest in world history.
"Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between
the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heat wave and the certainty of
another failed monsoon," Harsh Vardhan, India's earth sciences minister, told
Reuters. "It's not just an unusually hot summer; it is climate change."
As the heat and death toll continued to rise in India,
scientists asked if this was really a glimpse of earth's future: a planet
rife with skyrocketing temperatures and the human impacts to match.
Lastly in this section, a recent study published in
Geophysical Research Letters shows that the warming generated by carbon
dioxide released by burning coal exceeds the heat generated by said combustion
in a mere 34 days. In other words, ACD does not take years or decades for its
impacts to be felt, as was previously believed: Changes can happen alarmingly
As wildfires burn out of control from southern California all
the way up the West Coast of the United States and across Alaska, a report from
Union of Concerned Scientists is worth highlighting. The group has warned of
the direct links between ACD and drier soil, less moisture, changing
precipitation levels and patterns, droughts, and the increasing frequency and
severity of wildfires. Scientists emphasize that the connection between the
fires and ACD must be recognized and confronted.
Denial and Reality
This month, the voices of climate denial did not fail to
Not surprisingly, shareholders of the top two largest US oil
companies, Exxon and Chevron, recently
rejected proposals to add directors with expertise in studying ACD to their
boards. It'd be bad for profits, of course.
The oil giants got some help from the US House of
Representatives, which this month passed a bill that would
cuts to climate research done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
On the other hand, Pope Francis let loose on ACD deniers in
his recently released encyclical, in which he
stated unequivocally that "the bulk of global warming" is anthropogenic, and
called on everyone to take steps to mitigate the damage by reducing consumption
and reliance upon fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, another recently
report has shown that as carbon dioxide levels continue to increase over
time, the planet will become progressively less able to sequester carbon dioxide
in the soil or deep in the oceans, as both carbon sinks become supersaturated.
A climate researcher with the Woods Hole Research Center,
Susan Natali, recently
told a reporter that as global temperatures continue to increase,
thawing permafrost is releasing larger amounts of carbon dioxide and
methane, which of course cause temperatures to warm even further. Thus, the
positive feedback loop feeds upon itself, a phenomenon that underpins
"If all of the carbon of permafrost was
released, at that point, this is not going to be a habitable planet for
All of this information, taken together, paints an
increasingly bleak scene for the planet and its species - including, of
This could be why James Lovelock, the celebrated scientist
and environmentalist who created the Gaia hypothesis,
recently stated, "Saving the planet is a foolish, romantic
He added that as climate disruption spins further out of
control, "The civilizations of the northern hemisphere would be utterly
destroyed, no doubt about it. But it would give life elsewhere a chance to
recover. I think actually that Gaia might heave a sigh of relief."
Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author
The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan,
(Haymarket Books, 2009), and
Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in
Occupied Iraq, (Haymarket Books, 2007).
Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon,
Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last ten years, and has won the Martha
Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.
See also -
Pope demands 'action now' to save planet from
environmental ruin: Pope Francis demanded
swift action on Thursday to save the planet from environmental ruin, urging
world leaders to hear "the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor" and
plunging the Catholic Church into political controversy over climate change.