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Reality on the Ground

Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Climate Change Version

by ROBERT HUNZIKER

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted into the atmosphere and absorbed by the ocean may be invisible to the naked eye, but it is extraordinarily visible in its effect, as will be chronicled herein, and it shows up in the weirdest places.

Burning oil, gas, and coal spews tons upon tons upon tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, and similar to blowing up a balloon too much, the earth’s atmosphere can only hold so much before bad things start popping.

Are you sitting?

Imagine Baffin Bay in the Arctic Sea in the middle of winter, but ice is not able to thicken and form, like it always does, because of the disrupting interference of methane powerfully bubbling up from within the water. This happened in December 2013. (Source: Arctic News, December 15, 2013.) Along those same lines, whenever gas blocks mass, it is worthy of inclusion in Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

Additionally, two particularly huge and troubling ocean-to-atmospheric methane outbursts were recorded in the Arctic Ocean on Feb. 24, 2014, an event that most likely hasn’t occurred over the past 45 million years. This is also worthy of Ripley’s because whenever an event happens once in 45 million years, it automatically qualifies.

In Siberia, methane vents have increased in size from less than one meter (3+ feet) in diameter in the summer of 2010 to one kilometer (over ½ mile) in diameter in 2011. Trees are tipping over and dying as permafrost thaws as methane overpowers the countryside. These events indubitably qualify for inclusion in Ripley’s Believe it, or Not, Climate Change.

Because of methane venting in Siberia, natural gas transported from Russia to Europe is at risk as the infrastructure is subject to total disruption. “We are on the cusp of a tipping point in the climate. If the global climate warms another few tenths of a degree, a large expanse of the Siberian permafrost will start to melt uncontrollably,” Michael Marshall, Major Methane Release is Almost Inevitable, New Scientist, Feb. 21, 2013. This highly probable event pre-qualifies for Ripley’s, and it is likely to go to the very top of the list very quickly once all hell breaks loose.

Along those lines, “Experts say methane emissions from the Arctic have risen by almost one-third in just five years, and that sharply rising temperatures are to blame,” David Adam, environment correspondent, Arctic Permafrost Leaking Methane at Record Levels, Figures Show, The Guardian, Jan. 14, 2014.

According to reports by researchers at Australian National University and the British Antarctic Survey, in parts of Antarctica the summer ice melt is at its highest level in 1,000 years, (Source: Nerille J. Abram, et al, Acceleration of Snow Melt in an Antarctic Peninsula Ice Core During the Twentieth Century, Nature Geoscience 6, 404-411, doi: 10.1038/ngeo1787, March 4, 2013.) This once-in-a-1,000-year event certainly merits inclusion in Ripley’s.

Speaking of Antarctica, the collapsed Antarctic Larsen B Ice Shelf qualifies for Ripley’s in spades: “It was like the smashing of glasses at the throw of a stone,” according to geophysicist Douglas MacAyeal’s statement at an International Glaciological Society meeting in Beijing, Chain Reaction Shattered Huge Antarctica Ice Shelf, Nature, August 9, 2013.

“Scientists monitoring daily satellite images… watched in amazement as almost the entire Larsen B Ice Shelf splintered and collapsed in just over one month. They had never witnessed such a large area… disintegrate so rapidly,” (Source: NASA, Earth Observatory, World of Change/larsenb.)

Larsen B is the tenth major Antarctic ice shelf to collapse in recent times. The Larsen B, stable for 12,000 years, the size of a small state, suddenly collapsed within weeks. This certainly qualifies for inclusion in Ripley’s, with an asterisk, signaling danger: watch out ahead for disintegrating ice sheets. The Larsen B event is, at the least, comparable to Manhattan disappearing in a few weeks.

All eyes are on the Pine Island Glacier, which is 2/3rds the size of the UK. It may be next to go, and because knowledgeable scientists claim it is a “goner,” it must be included in Ripley’s.

Pine Island Glacier will raise the ocean ½ inch, but there’s a bigger reason for including it on the Ripley’s list, according to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Pine Island Glacier has “… reached a point of no return. The Pine Island Glacier, if it is unstable may have implications for the entire West Antarctica Ice Sheet,” G. Durand, et al, Retreat of Pine Island Glacier Controlled by Marine Ice-Sheet Instability, Nature Climate Change, doi: 10.1038/nclimagte, Jan. 12, 2014.

Scientists have an especially keen eye on Pine Island Glacier because it has a greater net contribution of ice to the sea of any other ice drainage basin in the world. The loss of Pine Island Glacier alone might raise sea level by half an inch, but if the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreats, this would raise sea level by more than 10 feet. (Source: Giant Antarctic Glacier Beyond Point of no Return, Research Says, PHYS ORG, Jan. 12, 2014.)
As for comparison/contrasting the size of West Antarctica, the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet (the ‘mother of all ice’), which covers an area bigger than the continental U.S., contains 85% of the world’s ice and could raise sea levels by over 200 feet, which, fortunately, would likely take centuries to collapse, maybe.

Plankton, which form the base of the marine food chain, may be on the verge of disappearing completely, Stephanie L. Hinder, et al, Multi-Decadal Range Changes vs. Thermal Adaptation for North East Atlantic Oceanic Copepods in the Face of Climate Change, Global Change Biology, Vol. 20, Issue 1, January 2014. The prospective loss of the base of the marine food chain qualifies, without any hesitation, for Ripley’s Believe it, or Not. How could it not?

Peruvian ice that took 1,600 years to accumulate has completely melted over the past 25 years (Source: L.G. Thompson, et al, Annually Resolved Ice Core Records of Tropical Climate Variability Over the Past ~ 1800 Years, Science, Vol. 340, No. 6135, May 24, 2013.) Absolutely, any time 1,600 years of ice accumulation can be whisked away in a short time span of 25 years, it qualifies for Ripley’s.

According to the University of Zurich, the Alps have lost ice mass equivalent to a three-story building, or 32 feet on average, over the past decade. This barely qualifies for Ripley’s, but a three-story building of ice mass loss is considerable.

The world’s glaciers are melting like crazy: How else would it have been possible, way back in 1991, for Ötzi the Iceman, who lived 3,300 years ago, to suddenly appear on the scene?

“In 2012, the contiguous United States (CONUS) average annual temperature of 55.3F was 3.2F above the 20th century average, and was the warmest year in the 1895-2012 period of record for the nation. The 2012 annual temperature was 1.0F warmer than the previous record warm year in 1998,” (Source: National Temperature and Precipitation Analysis, National Climatic Data Center, April 22, 2014.) This one-hundred-year temperature record belongs in Ripley’s simply because it is a 100-year record.

If Greenland’s ice melt goes “exponential,” which, according to some scientists, appears to be happening, this more than qualifies for Honorable Mention in Ripley’s, since Greenland contains the ice equivalent of 23 feet of sea level rise.

According to James Hansen, PhD (adjunct professor, Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University): “So, what are the shapes of the ice sheet mass loss curves for Greenland and West Antarctica? Is there evidence that they may be exponential? … The picture may begin to be clearer within the next several years. The problem is, by the time the data record is long enough to be convincing, it may be exceedingly difficult or impossible to prevent sea level rise of many meters,” James Hansen and Makiko Sato, Update of Greenland Ice Sheet Mass Loss: Exponential? Dec. 26, 2012.

Ninety-eight percent (98%) of Greenland’s ice surface experienced melting over July 8-15, 2012, a period of seven days, an astonishing feat considering this included the frigid high-altitude zones where temperatures seldom exceed the freezing mark (Source: Andrew Freedman, Record 2012 Greenland Melt Challenges Climate Models, Climate Central, June 18, 2013.) Considering the fact that only 40-50% of Greenland’s surface ordinarily turns slushy every summer, a 98% thawing of the surface in a stunningly scant 7 days time is indeed worthy of Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

According to Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of Physics of the Oceans, Potsdam University, Germany, speaking at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media (2013): “We still potentially are underestimating the instability of the ice sheets… IPCC has greatly revised its estimates of how unstable the Greenland ice sheet is.”

The rate of warming of the Pacific Ocean over the past 60 years is 15 times faster than at any time over the past 10,000 years, Yair Rosenthal, et al, Pacific Ocean Heat Content During the Past 10,000 Years, Science, Vol. 342, No. 6158, DOI: 10.1126, November 1, 2013. Anything that happens once in 10,000 years belongs in Ripley’s, no argument there.

And, according to NASA and NOAA, “In 2013 ocean warming rapidly escalated, rising… over three times the recent trend.” This fact gives the warming trend of the Pacific a full Ripley’s listing as well as an Honorable Mention. The repercussions are serious enough to warrant a dual listing as the new facts insinuate a faster demise for coral reefs, of which 20% are gone whilst 50% are on the verge of total collapse!

The dramatic increase in warming should push coral reef collapse over the edge sooner than forecast by Alex Rogers, PhD, professor of Conservation Biology, University of Oxford and scientific director, International Programme on the State of the Ocean, who says: “The changes we thought would happen in the future… We’re actually seeing them now,” State of the Ocean, OneWorld Video (UK), August 2011.

Here’s the final Ripley’s Believe it or Not Climate Change (“issue”): United States’ energy policy is energy independence by 2035 by fracking to death and possibly including the Keystone  XL Pipeline running along the top of the graveyards.

But, Scotland, which is already 40% renewable energy, has a national energy policy of 100% renewables by 2020, thereby achieving renewable energy independence 15 years ahead of U.S. fracking exploitation!

Post Script: “In reality, Republicans have long been at war with clean energy. They have ridiculed investments in solar and wind power, bashed energy-efficiency standards, attacked state moves to promote renewable energy and championed laws that would enshrine taxpayer subsidies for fossil fuels while stripping them from wind and solar,” Jeff Goodell, American author: Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future (Houghton Mifflin)

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at roberthunziker@icloud.com.