I was able to connect with Paul Beckwith first on March 20th, 2016 and more recently on May 18, 2018. We discussed the current state of Climate Change and what it means for global economic prospects. Professor Beckwith is a noted expert on Abrupt Climate Change. He is a professor at the University of Ottawa.
Prf. Beckwith starts by explaining, “I think the warming of the Arctic is destabilizing the climate system. The disruption of the temperature gradient between the Arctic and the temperate regions is what sets up weather patterns like the Jetstream. The Jetstream has basically broken down at this stage. The Whole arctic region is getting much darker due to sea ice loss, which leads to increased heat absorption, which then leads to accelerated glacial and ice melt.”
Climate change leads to drastic transitions and weather instability; higher temperatures mean more evaporation and more severe weather events.
In January of 2018 the arctic experienced a 40 degree temperature increase in a week, and this was during a time when the arctic was in 24 hours darkness. This has accelerated loss of sea ice in recent months, further disrupting the Jet Stream.
These changes in the climate have led to large scale methane releases according to Prf. Beckwith. Methane is a hundred times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. “In Siberia, on land and on the continental shelf, Russian scientists have detected large increases in methane releases in a short period of time.” Methane is frozen and trapped on the sea floor and in permafrost. As temperatures rise, chemical bonds break down, methane gets released into the atmosphere.
Recent data shows elevated levels of Methane released in Antarctica which has not been seen prior to a few months ago. Prof Beckwith says this is due to water flowing under glacier, releasing methane from underlying bedrock and landmass. Presence of methane is a “canary in the coal mine” of something more dire occurring under the glaciers. Accelerated glacial melt leads to accelerated sea level rise.
He continues, “One of the things that is very concerning is people are talking about making changes to behavior and policy for 20 years or a hundred years down the road, like with the Paris Accords. I don’t think we have that kind of time.” I agree with him. Climate change is accelerating — CO2 concentration and temperatures are rising at an increasing rate. As Tom Keene of Bloomberg is famous for saying, “slope matters”.
Prof. Beckwith says, “People don’t have an understanding or appreciation of exponential growth means”.
A review of Mauna Loa Observatory measurements shows the growth of CO2 concentrations accelerating. In April 2018 CO2 was 410.31 ppm. In February 2016 CO2 was 404.16 ppm. In February 2015 CO2 measured 400.31 ppm. In February 2014 CO2 was 398.10 ppm. ( https://www.co2.earth/ )
I asked if there are any actions that we can take to reverse the course we are currently on? He described a strategy he calls a “three legged bar stool” that consists of three strategies. “Society desperately needs a multi-pronged approach to survive ongoing abrupt climate system change: Leg 1: zeroing fossil fuel emissions now, Leg 2: halting extreme Arctic temperature rise using marine cloud brightening, Leg 3: removing CO2 from atmosphere/ocean using sea borne algae. Without 3 legs society topples, like the barstool. A harsh reality…”
Prof. Beckwith notes that the technology exists to make the changes outlined above. What is required is political will and a motivated public to support the effort. He say, “More people are aware of the problem and the solutions, but we have to do better.”
I asked Prf. Beckwith about the melt rate in Greenland and Antarctica. He stated melt rate is doubling every 5-7 years for last 20 years.
I asked him, if we are talking about jump conditions with increasing temps and concentrations, If climate change is accelerating rapidly, then isn’t it likely that a doubling every 5-7yrs could turn into a doubling every 5 years, and then 3 years? “Exactly, I agree completely”. He continues, “I don’t think a lot people realize that there is no going back. We are in the negative and there is no return to the way things used to be”.
As glaciers melt, sea level rise will accelerate. This will impact all aspects of the economy. Towns, houses, infrastructure and businesses in low lying areas will be swallowed up by the sea.
What does he think the economic impact will be on the globe? He says “By implementing the three legs of the stool it could lead to economic growth, but there are a lot of segments that are going to be hurt. Disruptions in food supply like that which occurred in 2012 and led to the revolutions in North Africa will become more common and more acute.”
I pointed out the current (February 2018) drought in Argentina has affected global crop prices. “Exactly, and Argentina’s economy is struggling to deal with the impact of climate change. It is a sign of things to come.”
I asked Prf. Beckwith, how do you think civilization should adapt? “I think civilization needs to recognize abrupt climate change is a modern day emergency. We need a ‘Manhattan Project”-style approach. We have to adopt the 3 legged bar stool strategy as soon as possible.”
It is my belief that we are in a completely different economic environment. When I talk to people about financial planning and I suggest that they should sell their shore house due to the rise of sea levels in the near future. When that house is gone it is going to create a $500,000 or a million dollar hole in their net worth. People’s response has been “Well it hasn’t changed so far, why would things change now?”
Things are changing.
I am always happy to discuss these issues in more detail. Feel free to reach out to me.
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Additional information on Prf. Beckwith can be found at http://paulbeckwith.net/