deadly heat

Frightening numbers: Biosphere heating accelerates

The Earth is warming at an astounding speed, equivalent to absorbing 907 times the USA’s annual energy use, far faster than biological species can adapt



by Manuel Garcia Jr.
Reposted, with permission, from the author’s blog, July 6, 2020

At this time, the Biosphere is warming at a rate of 3.03×1015 Watts, which is equivalent to a temperature rate-of-rise of 0.0167°C/year. The warming rate has been increasing steadily since the 19th century, when it was on average “zero” except for natural fluctuations (plus and minus) that were hundreds of times smaller than today’s warming rate.

The total energy use by the United States in 2019 was 100 quadrillion BTU (British Thermal Units), which is equivalent to 1.055×1020 Joules. Averaged out over the 31,557,600 seconds in a year implies a use rate of 3.34×1012 Watts during 2019.

From the above two observations, we can deduce that the current rate of Biosphere warming on a yearly basis is equivalent to the yearly energy use in 2019 of 907 United States of Americas.

The total increase in the heat energy of the Biosphere since 1910 is 5.725×1024 Joules, with a corresponding increase of its temperature by 1°C. That heat energy increase over the last 110 years is equivalent to 54,260 years of U.S. energy use at its 2019 amount, per year.

So, today the Biosphere is warming at a rate equivalent to it absorbing the total energy used by the U.S. in 2019, every 9 hours and 40 minutes.

In 2008, I estimated the energy of a large hurricane to be 6.944×1017 Joules.[1] Thus, 152 such hurricanes amount to the same total energy as that used by the U.S. during 2019.

The heat energy increase of the Biosphere during 2019 was 9.56×1022 Joules, with a corresponding temperature increase of 0.0167°C. That heat energy increase is the energetic equivalent of 137,741 hurricanes. Now, of course, that Biosphere heat increase during 2019 did not all go into making hurricanes, but it should be easy enough to see that a small fraction (for a whopping amount) went into intensifying the weather and producing more and stronger hurricanes (and consequent flooding).

Two clear observations from all this are:

  • the Biosphere is warming at an astounding rate, even if “we don’t notice it” because we gauge it by the annual change in average global surface temperature (which is in hundredths of degrees °C per year);
  • the immense amount of heat added to the Biosphere every year is increasingly intensifying every aspect of weather and climate, and consequently driving profound changes to all of Earth’s environments.

Those environmental changes directly affect habitability, and species viability, because they are occurring at a rate orders of magnitude faster than the speed at which biological evolution can respond to environmental pressures.

What should we do about it all?

That is obvious: ditch capitalism and socio-economic inequities worldwide; ditch all forms of bigotry, intolerance, racism, war and social negativity; form a unified planetary political administration for the management of a socialist Earth; deploy reasonable technical mitigation strategies (like drastic reductions in the use of fossil fuels, transforming the transportation infrastructure); implement very deep and comprehensive social adaptation behaviors (“lifestyle changes,” eliminating consumerism, scrupulously protecting biodiversity, resettlement of populations displaced by permanent inundation or uninhabitable drought and heat, worldwide sharing of food production).

None of this will actually stop global warming, as the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere (assuming it has a lifetime there of thousands of years [2]) has us programmed to warm by about another 1°C to 2°C within two centuries, even if we immediately and permanently shut off all our greenhouse gas emissions.

But, such an improved civilization would experience the least amount of suffering — which would be equitably distributed — from the consequences of advancing global warming; and it would contribute minimally toward exacerbating future global warming.

Notes
[1] The Energy of a Hurricane, Counterpunch, September 5, 2008
[2] Global Warming and Cooling After CO2 Shutoff at +1.5°C, manuelgarciajr.com, June 20, 2020

 

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Posted in Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Science

3 Responses to Frightening numbers: Biosphere heating accelerates

  1. Ian Angus July 28, 2020 at 7:42 pm #

    Canadian Leftie — You are assuming that the temperature increase will be linear. In fact, as this article says, “The warming rate has been increasing steadily since the 19th century.” If we hit tipping points (may already have happened) we could experience even more rapid increases. For the view of leading Earth System scientists, see Climate change in the Anthropocene: An unstoppable drive to Hothouse Earth?

    So the time needed to “remedy the situation,” is not unlimited. In fact, it is short …

    • Canadian Leftie July 28, 2020 at 9:55 pm #

      Of course – you’re quite correct.I suppose one of the challenges here is estimating the slope of that exponential function amidst a variety of unknowns.

  2. Canadian Leftie July 28, 2020 at 7:22 pm #

    Since 1/0.167=59.88, doesn’t that mean it will take 60 years for global temps to increase by 1 degree? That’s not nearly as scary as some forecasts. (And also assumes we do nothing to remedy the situation.)

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