Compounding problems for sea level rise…

28 01 2015

Another guest post by Mark Cochrane…..

One of the larger concerns in recent years has been the question of just how fast sea levels might rise due to collapsing ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland. In the IPCC AR4 report (2007) there was considerable furor because the 2005 cut off for literature and the natural conservative nature of the ‘consensus’ interpretation resulted in estimates of sea level rise that were known to be too low at the time of publication: specifically, from 0.18 to 0.59 m by 2100, depending on which scenario you chose and the low-to-high extremes. In the more recent AR5 report (2013), they conclude that for the best of emissions cases, if we start immediate and extensive carbon emission reductions (RCP 2.6), sea level is expected to rise by 28-61 cm by 2100, while in the worst of cases (RCP 8.5) sea level rise is expected to be 52-98 cm. This is still conservative but much better than the AR4 estimates.

The real question is whether sea level rise occurs at close to a linear rate (fixed amount per year) that is slow and easily projected, or if it is increasing at a nonlinear rate (fixed percentage per year) that could yield unpleasant surprises in future years? Dr. Richard Alley (2010) compared projections of sea level rise going forward and basically found that most included 1m within their error range, with the exception of one serious outlier at 5m made by Dr. James Hansen (2005, 2007, 2012). Hansen’s predictions have not been well-received by the community of experts on ice sheet dynamics. They point out that, so far, there has been nothing like the amount of sea level rise observed that would be necessary to reach 5m in a linear fashion. Hansen however premises his ideas of rapid ice sheet collapse on nonlinear phenomenon caused by things like glacial melt water being transported to the base of the ice sheets and acting as a lubricant to speed their movement dramatically.

In the mean time, more traditional approaches to looking at glacial melting rates have had values centered more on 1 meter, to maybe 2 meters under worst conditions, of sea level rise by 2100 (NOAA 2012). Hansen has been intransigent in his estimations and the rates of sea level rise keep exceeding the best estimates of the ‘experts’. Glacial melt within dynamic ice sheet models has typically been modelled based on simple top down melting with unchanging processes for explaining the ongoing flow of ice sheets. However, the accelerating rates of observed ice sheet flow and disintegrating ice shelves have led to reappraisals of what is going on. As I recently detailed (post #2340), warmer ocean waters have been melting ice sheets from underneath in some regions, removing the stable grounding lines and now the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is in irreversible collapse (Rignot et al 2014, Joughlin et al. 2014).

Similarly, Pollard et al. (2014) have recently tried to improve continental ice sheet models by adding the processes of oceanic melting and hydrofracturing (melt water from the surface pouring into cracks and forcing them further apart) and also account for ice cliff failures (when they get so large the ice face crumbles). Both processes they added are based on observations made in the field in recent years. They looked at the effects on both the WAIS and the Eastern Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS). The interesting thing (to me at least) is that cliff failure and hydrofracture combine to cause very large changes in expected sea level rise that either process alone does not create. By itself, cliff failure does little to accelerate collapse over the standard model representation. Conversely, hydrofracturing, by itself, causes expected sea level rise to roughly double from 2 to 4 m over thousands of years. When both processes are included though, the sea level rises by 17 m, with about 4 m happening in the first 100 years! Clearly the two processes interact to strongly enhance the collapse rate.  The EAIS collapses slowly over thousands of years but the WAIS collapses in decades.

The Pollard et al (2014) paper is not expressly addressing our future as it was aimed at explaining formerly unexplainable sea level rises during some previous interglacial periods – which their results ended up matching fairly closely. They forced their model using 400 ppm CO2 so it isn’t wildly different from what we currently have though.  In the model, roughly 3 m of sea rise come from the WAIS alone, within 100 years. If you add the much slower response of the EAIS and the undiscussed but very similar ice sheet collapse from Greenland, suddenly Hansen’s 5 m sea level rise call doesn’t look so outlandish after all. Interestingly, the senior author on the Pollard et al. paper is none other than Richard Alley who previously did not see how such rapid ice sheet collapse could be occurring.

This still doesn’t mean that we definitely will get 5 m of sea level rise in this century (let’s pray that we don’t!) but it certainly increases the perceived risks of much larger sea level rises than the IPCC AR5 report states (again). It also helps explain the increasing rates of sea level rise from 1.0 mm/yr to 3.0 mm/yr in recent decades. Things seem to be proceeding in a decidedly nonlinear way.


It’s hopeless….. enjoy it!

22 01 2013

pollardDave Pollard, whom I introduced to Damnthematrix some time ago, is at it again……  it’s so so nice to run into a good blogger every now and again…

At his website, Dave posted Ten Things To Do When You’re Feeling Hopeless. This resonated with me so much, I’m going to discuss it with you here…..

  1. Give up hope: That’s right, get off the hope/despair roller coaster and realize once and for all it’s hopeless! You should have known when a US presidential candidate won an election on a platform of mere ‘hope’ that it was time to give it up. Derrick Jensen explains how and why to get Beyond Hope:

    The more I understand hope, the more I realize that all along it deserved to be in [Pandora’s] box with the plagues, sorrow, and mischief; that it serves the needs of those in power as surely as belief in a distant heaven; that hope is really nothing more than a secular way of keeping us in line… People sometimes ask me, ‘If things are so bad, why don’t you just kill yourself?’ The answer is that life is really, really good. I am a complex enough being that I can hold in my heart the understanding that we are really, really fucked, and at the same time that life is really, really good. I am full of rage, sorrow, joy, love, hate, despair, happiness, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and a thousand other feelings. We are really fucked. Life is still really good… Many people are afraid to feel despair. They fear that if they allow themselves to perceive how desperate our situation really is, they must then be perpetually miserable. They forget that it is possible to feel many things at once. They also forget that despair is an entirely appropriate response to a desperate situation.

    Years ago, after giving one of my very first Peak Oil presentations to a branch of hopeful Greens Party members, I was told in no uncertain terms by an older member of said branch that my presentation was deficient in that it gave no hope for her teenage daughter who was present…..  I admit, I had not given the issue any thought, because, frankly, I had already reached the stage where I thought there were actually no solutions to keeping business as usual going, and surely members of the Greens Party already knew this…..  Now of course I realise that most people who vote Green do so because they believe in false hope, that the world can be run on wind and solar power.  I don’t know how to fix that.  In many ways, “hopeful people” are actually as intransigent as climate change deniers!  They’re hooked on HOPIUM…..

  2. Explore your gifts and passions with someone you love: Get together with someone you love and tell each other what you really care about, what you have real passion for, and what you think really needs to be done in the world, that you think you could actually contribute to usefully, and would really enjoy doing. Then tell each other what you think each other’s gifts to the world are, the things that other person is, in your view, uniquely good at doing. I bet you’ll feel things starting to shift, in ways that are practical, and intentional, instead of just desperately, uselessly hopeful.

    I do this with my wife constantly……  I can vouch it works…

  3. Be good to yourself: If you’ve been reading the previous points, you should now appreciate that it’s perfectly understandable, even sensible, to feel hopeless. We’re fucked, and you know it, but still you’re doing your part, taking responsibility, doing important work to mitigate or help adapt to the hopeless future we all face, right? So ease off. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Give yourself a break. Pamper yourself. Have a long hot bath by candlelight, with your favourite music playing. Go for a walk in the moonlight, or sleep under the stars. Play something, or just play around, by yourself or with those you love. Have chocolate by the fire. Celebrate the fact that you’re smart enough, informed enough, strong enough, sensitive enough, to feel utterly hopeless. You have to love that!

    He’s right you know…. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  I celebrate with chocolate, beer, espresso coffee (not all at once!!), and loads of good cooking….  you really need to do this.  I remember a couple of years ago totally shocking a friend of Glenda’s when she asked me what goals I had set for the year and answering…  none!  I’ve already achieved everything, I don’t want anything else…  of course now I have the Tassie experiment as a new goal to look forward to.

  4. Cry (like an elephant): Research suggests that crying is a natural response to stress and grief, with enormous therapeutic value: “Tears aren’t just salt water; they contain leucine enkephalin, an endorphin that modulates pain, and hormones such as prolactin and adrenocorticotropic hormone, released at times of stress. Tears [might] be the body’s way of flushing out excess stress hormones… a safety valve.” Elephants, with exceptionally large brains and memories, visit the sites of pack-mates’ past deaths or suffering every day for years, to remember and to cry, according to research by Jeff Masson. It’s natural, it feels good, and it’s good for you. So why does our culture not want us to cry when we feel hopeless? Hmmm.

    I don’t do this anywhere near enough.  I think I’ve become so immune to the whole catastrophe that I no longer even feel bad about it…  Not even death makes me cry anymore.  Even when my goat died last year, I was upset, but I didn’t cry.  I accept it as inevitable, I’m ready for it, I don’t even care.  I think.  I won’t really know until either my mother or Glenda’s mother dies.  Maybe it’ll come back to me..

  5. Listen to kids talk about what they care about: Kids are hopeless. By that I mean that, until their parents, peers and the education system brainwash them to start planning and hoping for their future, and living inside their heads, they live in the present, without hope. By listening to them we can relearn what it means to live without the need to hope, to just accept and be.

    I have young nieces and nephews.  All they seem to care about is what’s on the nearest screen.  It’s all they appear to care about these days as far as I’m concerned….

  6. Learn to be “present” like wild creatures: Like young children, wild creatures don’t live in hope. They too live in the real world, in the present. They have much to teach us about the First Principles of living, hopelessly: Be generous. Value your time. Live naturally. Learn to be present, your own way — meditation, exercise, walks in the woods — whatever works for you. Hope and hopelessness are both about the future. When you are present, neither has any hold on you.

    You can’t live like us and not do this.  One thing’s for sure, I need to learn to meditate.

  7. Talk with other hopeless people: We’re all part of the Earth organism, and it’s hopeless for all of us, so acknowledging that and starting to talk about it knowingly and honestly is the first step in making peace with our hopelessness, and with our collective grief. Perhaps it’s time to challenge the taboo in our culture that we must not admit to, or talk about, the hopelessness of our situation, and our feelings of hopelessness. You might start with someone you care about who you haven’t talked with in a long time. Right now, yeah, leave a message if you have to, and persevere. When you do converse, forget about catching up on old news or talking about future plans. Talk about what you’re doing and feeling right now. Including the feelings of hopelessness. Bring them into your present and they’ll bring you into the present in return, and out of the “hopeless” future.

    As it happens, I do know lots of hopeless people, but most of them live rather far away, so the only way I can talk to them is over this piece of technology.  It’s better than nothing, but I have to admit to looking forward to having more hopeless people around me in Tassie…..  it’s definitely one of the reasons I want to go there….

  8. Avoid unactionable news and “self-help” books: The media don’t have a clue, and the “news” is all about what has already happened, dumbed down, sensationalized and oversimplified to the point of meaninglessness. And skip the “good news” pap and the technophiles’ gee-whiz “future’s so bright and green I gotta wear shades” new invention news, too. It’s all designed to make you feel hopeful, so you don’t rise up and do something dangerous or appropriate to the worst of the perpetrators who have, in fact, made everything hopeless. And while you’re dispensing with hopeless reading, throw out all those so-called “self-help” books with their glib prescriptions for you how you should live. There are gazillions of them out there, clogging the aisles of bookstores everywhere. Most of their readers will tell you (even as they buy more of them, stupidly, hopefully): They don’t work! Things are the way they are for a reason. You are the way you are for a reason. Accept what is. Appreciate it. Make peace with it. It’s all good. It’s absurd to hope that some stupid book is going to change it. Donate your “self-help” money instead to those who truly embrace hopelessness, like the local homeless people, or your local food bank, or animal rescue centre, or radical activist group. And when you’re picking what to read, choose poetry and stories about the present, not nostalgic or traumatic stories about the past or cautionary tales about the future.

    A friend actually invited us to a “self help” seminar recently…..  I was appalled.  What was the matter with her?  All she needed to do was talk to ME!  Obviously we declined…  I toss religious belief in with that self help crap…  doesn’t do you any good.  Can’t understand what happened to critical thinking, must’ve gone out the window with whatever is on TV.  Speaking of TV, I almost never watch commercial TV…  can’t stand the ads for starters, but the quality is also appalling.  And even when watching what’s on the ABC or SBS I’m choosy….

  9. Dream: Dreams are alternate realities, and they are realities we can create and control. When you give vent to your imagination, it can manifest, ‘real-ize’ wonderful inventions — works of art, with amazing healing, communicating, inspirational and transformative power. Your dreams are clues to your gift to the world

    I only have one dream right now…..  moving to Tassie of course.  At my age (it’s obvious Pollard is much younger than me!) , you should’ve achieved pretty well everything you needed or wanted to.

  10. Fall in love: I have no advice at all on how to do this. All I know is that it works. It’s risky and addictive, for sure, and for most of us its most blissful effects wear off too fast. But nature has given us this wonderful state of foolish, invincible, chemical-induced grace, and it makes us immune to both hope and hopelessness.

    This one……  I don’t think my wife of 35 years will allow!  I can remember (dimly….) being in love…  go for it!

Preparing for Collapse: Non-Attachment, NOT Detachment

21 12 2012

Guest post by Dave Pollard.pollard

This essay was originally published at

There is something seemingly unfathomable to the human mind about exponential curves. As I wrote last fall:

There is an old story about the invention of the chessboard, in which the inventor as his reward asks for one grain of wheat on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, and doubling until all 64 squares are full. The seemingly modest request adds up to many times more than all the wheat the world has ever produced. The purpose of the story is to teach about our inability to grasp the impact and unsustainability of accelerating increases in anything, particularly in the final stages. Even when more than half of the squares have been filled the inventor’s request still seems manageable. It is only when it is too late that its impossibility is realized.

Even when almost all the squares have been filled, the request still seems manageable. We are now living in a world where almost all the squares have been filled. We have used up the easy-to-get half of the Earth’s resources, which accumulated over billions of years. We have used most of that in the last two centuries, and most of that in the last two decades. In the process we have destabilized the planet’s climate systems. We are nearing what is now being called “peak everything”.


And there is certainly nothing “normal” to human eyes in what mathematicians call a “normal curve”, at least when time is the independent variable. We always seem to perceive the future as much like the present, only more so, and our favourite works of utopian and dystopian fiction turn out to be mostly somewhat hyperbolised reflections on the best or worst of the world as it was when the authors wrote them.

Even when we try to conceive of the downside of the normal curve — sharp at first and then tailing off slowly — we can only see everything going backwards, back to the way it was when the curve was at that height before. A simple, rapid decline, like those that befell previous civilizations and unsustainable cultures, is unimaginable. We can’t picture it because it’s never been that way for us. Even the current set of collapsnik writers, like James Kunstler, portray a post-collapse future that is almost nostalgically like the old American West.

In recent months, we have seen the news from climate scientists become exponentially worse. A decade ago we were hand-wringing about a 1C rise in average global temperature by 2100. A year ago it was a 2C rise by 2050 and a 4C rise by 2100. Now it appears all but certain that our failure to consider the “positive feedback loops” inherent in our astonishingly delicately-balanced climate systems made us absurdly optimistic, and a 6C rise by 2050 is quite possible. I can’t blame you if you haven’t been keeping up — neither had I. Two recent videos, one by Grist’s David Roberts and a second, even more recent one by fellow collapsnik Guy McPherson, will bring you up to speed.

The message of these videos, and the data underlying them, is simple, but it’s a lot like hearing news of a terrible and sudden loss in the family, the death of someone you knew was at risk but somehow believed would get through it, or at least last a while longer. It’s too soon. It can’t be that fast. We cannot accept it, as the trickster piles a mountain of grain onto the third-to-last square of the chessboard.

The message is two-fold:

Not only are we fucked, but it’s coming much sooner than we expected. It’s coming in the first half of this century, not the second. By 2050 life for all but the simplest and most well-protected species on this planet will almost certainly be impossible, except for small numbers in a few marginal areas.
The whole issue of mitigation and the need for activism is now more-or-less moot. Even if we were to collectively and massively change our behaviour starting tomorrow, it would only delay collapse by a few years, and quite possible make the collapse even more catastrophic. Until recently there was at least a chance that perhaps a combination of behaviour change and the reduced availability of cheap fossil fuels might combine to pull us back from the brink, or at least make a much-changed and simpler life possible for a much smaller population of humans and other creatures. That chance is gone.

The climate scientists, abetted by the ecological economists, have pronounced the certain and imminent (i.e. within most of our lifetimes) death of the vast majority of life on our planet, including the human species. Now, we can mourn. Most of our human family will continue to fall into one of the three categories of non-acceptance of this pronouncement that I wrote about in my If We Had a Better Story post:

The incredulous: Those who either know so little or haven’t had the opportunity to think about what they know, that they find the idea of collapse preposterous, unimaginable, and/or unthinkable.
The hopeful: Those who believe that collapse is not inevitable or can be significantly mitigated, or believe that even if it is inevitable and can’t be significantly mitigated, we should try anyway.
The deniers: Those who are intimidated or offended by, or overwhelmed with anger and/or guilt at, the very idea of collapse.

None of these are unusual reactions to horrific news, but they’re likely to be crazy-making to those of us who are past this stage, and trying to get on with preparing ourselves and those we love for what is to come.

The most intriguing reaction is from collapsniks like Derrick Jensen and John Duffy who, against hope, want us to work (as they do, indefatigably and to their great credit) to kill the economy. John starts out his essay by saying “We are going to go extinct.” and near the end says:

If we want to not die, then we need to stop doing the things that are going to kill us… We need deindustrialisation, and we need to wring the bloody neck of capitalism, before hanging it, drawing it, quartering it, and setting the remaining bits of its corpse on fire to make sure it can’t rise from the dead like the unholy zombie that it is… This is all to say, I can’t fight my enemies and my allies at the same time. Liberals, lefties, environmentalists and everyone else who purports to give a damn has to give up on being capitalism apologists who somehow think we can keep this gravy train of mass consumption going.

It’s a great rant, but he’s like the lover of the recently-declared-dead patient who insists on trying CPR interminably and punching the people trying to take the defibrillators away from him. Or, perhaps, he’s like the angry griever trying to assemble a posse to kill the ones he believes caused the death of the one he loves. It’s understandable, but it’s futile. It’s too late.

In the comments to John’s post, Paul Chefurka writes:

I’m not particularly angry or outraged any more. Once I was, but now I’m just fascinated, amazed, amused, bemused, curious. I attach no moral dimension to this unfolding any more, though once I did. Now there is no blame, no more agonized wishes to rewrite the past, no more fearful visions of a shattered future.

We are what we are, we did what we did, we ended up here.

I’m very curious to see what comes next. Aren’t you?

Paul didn’t get a terribly sympathetic response, so I wrote to Paul and asked him how he had managed to reach this stage of acceptance. I also asked him about a gorgeously-written and deeply-moving recent article in Orion, Gaze Even Here, about “evoking a consciousness of brokenness”, in which the author, Trebbe Johnson, says that she and her companions found solace in spending time “gazing” at clearcuts and videos of animals dying in oil-slicks until their grief and anger and revulsion turned to curiosity, acceptance, compassion and even love. I mentioned that some people in my circles had seen my attempts at non-attachment, at letting go of what I know I cannot change, as detachment, as an emotional shutting down or turning away. Paul replied:

I’ve faced the same accusations about detachment. They generally come from activists for whom action is the inner imperative, and who have no exposure to Buddhist principles. Also, they haven’t hit bottom yet, which is why the still think that action is an answer. Only once someone hits the bottom and bounces off the rocks do they usually start looking for truly radical responses like non-attachment.

As a first thought – perhaps what Ms. Johnson is suggesting isn’t really that radical at all. What she’s suggesting is a starting point for someone who wants to wake up in this new world. It’s where Joanna Macy begins as well. The bigger question may be, where do you go once you’ve taken the grief on board – how do you find the will to move, and how do you pick your direction? This is where doing deep inner work around grief, shame and the Shadow come in.

Out of that work comes the beginning of non-attachment. To people who conflate it with detachment, I explain that non-attachment is what allows me to confront the big issues directly, to engage fully but not be paralysed by emotion. It’s not an abdication of feeling, but a way of seeing the world around me with complete clarity and doing what the world needs, rather than being selfish and getting mired in my own suffering.

Sometimes that helps people understand, but for a lot of activists it’s still a step too far. They are still focused on their own suffering, and in order to validate their response they have defined that suffering as a virtue. It’s not, it’s a trap. Non-attachment is the most functional way out that I’ve discovered so far.

What are the elements of non-attachment that might be applied to coping with the knowledge of the inevitable collapse of organized society amidst the chaos of economic collapse and runaway climate change? What makes sense to gaze at, and what should we, for our own sanity, leave unseen? How can we be, and act, in a fully engaged, joyful, curious, productive, useful-to-others way, without becoming either “detached” (emotionally disconnected or inured) or exhausted? Here are some of my early thoughts on this:

1. We cannot, must not, prescribe one “right” behaviour or approach for everyone. We are all different, and the best way for each of us to cope will be different. What’s important is to patiently wait for those we care about to realize what is ahead, and then support them to find their own way to cope with it productively.

2. I think it could help to develop, working with climate scientists and enlightened (non-classical) economists and energy analysts and artists and musicians and film-makers, a set of nuanced, candid, non-idealized, non-sensationalized visions or stories of what our world in collapse will look like, by 2020, 2030, 2040 and 2050, and then, as Trebbe might put it, to “gaze” at them. These stories would be based on data, and on an appreciation of history of how people behave in an accelerating (but not relentless) series of cascading crises where there is no scapegoat, no one to blame, where everyone is largely in the same boat. These stories would be focused on what collapse will mean for the day-to-day lives of people living in cities, towns, the country, in nations at different levels of “development”. My guess is that for most of the world, in the already-struggling nations and places, life will not be much different, except that the death rate (mostly from disease and malnutrition) will be somewhat higher and the birth rate much lower. We have a lot to learn, I think, from people in the third world, in impoverished cities, and in the streets, who are already living with collapse. The image below shows in red/purple/white areas that, due to climate change-induced chronic drought, will be largely uninhabitable within a few decades, so our stories for them, billions of people, would likely be stories of migration. The stories would be varied, and stark, and, perhaps to our surprise, inspiring and astonishing.

Map of serious chronic drought areas, per research simulations by UCAR/NCAR, an agency of the National Science Foundation. This map is forecasts for the 2060s, but is based on outdated climate change data, so it is likely to come true considerably earlier. Thanks to for the link.

3. Perhaps most importantly, we will all be better off, I think, if we were to learn non-attachment, empathy, presence, resilience, relocalisation, community building, and a host of other skills and capacities, technical and ‘soft’, so that we can tolerate the changes we will face to our way of living and the very foolish actions many (with the most to lose, in wealth or power) will inevitably try to do, unsuccessfully, to “control” the situation. We must expect the emergence of charismatic dictators, genocides, civil wars, geo-engineering, the burning of almost everything flammable for fuel and electricity, and cults, and deal with them the best we can without letting them unhinge us. We may be fortunate enough that as our centralized systems collapse, the resources for possible authoritarian atrocities will rapidly diminish, so the decline could be relatively peaceful, if not free of suffering or misery. We may well discover that crisis brings out the best in us, but should be prepared in case it brings out, in some, the worst. We may find that, with a sufficient voluntary decrease in birth rates (not an unlikely scenario), over the coming decades we might reach a human population level well below one billion without a dramatic increase in death rates, though we should be prepared for a rising death toll and what it may do to our collective psyches. In all of this, non-attachment and presence can enable us to live, even through these crises, lives of love and joy and appreciation for the miracle of life.

A final thought, and one that perhaps is the most unimaginable of all for those of us brought up to believe the way we live now is the only way to live. What’s on the right side of the normal curve, after collapse, isn’t another growth cycle. It’s the proverbial long tail. We may become an endangered species by century’s end, but we’re unlikely to become extinct for several millennia after that — just increasingly few in numbers and increasingly irrelevant to the ecosystems and recovery of the planet from yet another great extinction. Without vast amounts of cheap energy to power technology, we’re just not going to be very well adapted to post 21st-century Earth. Just as we don’t notice the 200 species going extinct every day, I doubt that the species that thrive after the great extinction will notice the death of the last of the species that once believed it could rule the Earth forever.

Thanks to Tree for the link to the Orion article, to the authors of the articles/videos cited above, to Sue Bullock for the link to Kill the Economy, to John Duffy for the link to the Grist video, and to Paul Chefurka for the ideas prompting this article.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.