New research from University College London and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution ("Anomalously Weak Labrador Sea Convection and Atlantic Overturning") found that the hiccups in the Great Conveyor Belt began around the time of the Industrial Revolution, when we -- for the first time in millions of years of human evolution -- started spewing billions of tons of fossil-fuel-derived carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The Great Conveyor Belt has been deteriorating ever since, and the speed of its disintegration is now alarming observers worldwide.
Scientists are concerned that we may even be close to a tipping point, where this river of warm, salty water could change or collapse rapidly and with little warning -- a change that probably would take tens of thousands of years to undo or reset.
As Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world's most respected climate scientists and the founder of the "hockey stick" that Al Gore popularized, told me on my radio/TV program April 24th:
"This is a potential tipping point in the climate system, which is to say it could happen very abruptly once it starts to happen. The danger is that we've already seen a substantial slowdown in this ocean circulation pattern, [and that] suggests the possibility that we could be right up against that tipping point where it essentially just shuts down."
Mann added that until the recent research came in, pretty much everybody thought we had 100 years or so before we needed to begin to even seriously consider this potentially catastrophic scenario:
"If you talked with climate modelers even 5 or 6 years ago, they would have told you that this scenario isn't likely to play out for at least another century or so. ... So something that we didn't expect to happen for the better part of a century is happening already."
And lest Americans think this will only be a European problem, shutting down the AMOC/Gulf Stream, which warms the American northeast, would also have a catastrophic impact on that region of the United States and Canada.
As NASA's scientists note on one of the few climate-change web pages the Trumpies haven't yet removed:
"Without the vast heat that these ocean currents deliver -- comparable to the power generation of a million nuclear power plants--Europe's average temperature would likely drop 5 to 10 degrees C (9 to 18 degrees F), and parts of eastern North America would be chilled somewhat less. Such a dip in temperature would be similar to global average temperatures toward the end of the last ice age roughly 20,000 years ago."
Compare that to the damage a mere 1 degrees C drop in the 1816 Year Without a Summer caused to both Europe and the eastern part of North America in 1816. Civilization -- and billions of people -- probably would simply no longer survive as we know it.
Like a long-term smoker who notices that he's beginning to cough up blood, it's long past the time we should have done something substantial and worldwide to wean off our addiction to fossil fuels. And as Republican politicians nationwide, supported in part by the Koch brothers' mind-boggling fossil-fuel fortune, continue to deny even the basic science of climate change, things are deteriorating daily.
Given the stakes -- the survival of much of the western world, and "civilization" as we know it -- we all must step up and become political activists.
Note to Republicans and GOP donors: It's no longer just your children and grandchildren whose lives you're ruining in a distant future when you think you'll be dead. If this happens as soon as it looks like it may, it will be you and your friends, too.
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