Climate Change: Rate of Acceleration

By Daniel Brouse and Sidd Mukherjee
August 25, 2023

How fast are humans causing the climate to change? When we started our experiments in the 1990's, we thought the time scale was in millenniums. If climate change were happening on a linear basis, we would have been correct; however, by the late 90's we were convinced climate change was non-linear.

By 2020, there was enough data to see the "doubling period" of some anthropogenic climate affects had gone from 100 years to 10 years. For instance the rate of sea level rise has gone from about 1.5 millimeters per year to over 3 millimeters. We expect to see the doubling period to continue to shrink raising the possibility of sea levels rising a foot/year by 2050.

Though the rate of change in climate disasters' intensity, duration, and likelihood vary according to the type of extreme weather, a "rule-of-thumb" can be derived from the Canada wildfires of 2023. The World Weather Attribution Organization found, "Climate change made the cumulative severity of Quebec's 2023 fire season to the end of July around 50% more intense, and seasons of this severity at least seven times more likely to occur."

50% more intense
7 x more likely

These numbers may be similar in other catastrophes like hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, floods, tornadoes, and sea level rise.

If the doubling time remains at 10 years, we could see extreme events 100% more intense and/or longer in duration, as well as, 14 times more likely to occur. As mentioned above, we expect the doubling time to be reduced. If the doubling time is 5 years, in ten years we could see 200% more intense and longer extreme weather events being 28 times more likely to occur.

At what rate is climate change accelerating?
A: Rapidly
As described above, we do not know the rate of acceleration other than to say it is more rapid than previously thought. In the summer of 2023, the extreme temperatures left most climate scientists shocked. The average earth surface temperature recorded record highs for months reaching over 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement calls for keeping temperatures below 1.5 degrees. Scientists concur that a rise of 2 degrees will trigger feedback loops and tipping points. Triggering these tipping points results in the CO2 stored in nature to be released. Though we do not know how much carbon is stored in nature, it would be reasonable to assume that the temperature could be pushed from 3 degrees to 6 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Humans can not thrive above a rise of 1.5 degrees. Humans can not survive if the temperature rises 6 degrees.

About the 2023 wildfires in Hawaii, Governor Josh Green said, "For perspective, we've had six fire emergencies this August, we had six fire emergencies between 1953 and 2003. That's how- how fast things are changing. I know that there is debate out there whether we should be talking about climate change or not. Well, let's be real world, climate change is here we are in the midst of it with a hotter planet, and fiercer storms."

About the catastrophic die-off of 10,000 emperor penguin chicks in the Antarctic, Dr. Caroline Holmes of the British Antarctic Survey (an expert on Antarctic sea-ice) said, "What we're seeing right now is so far outside what we've observed previously. We expected change but I don't think we expected so much change so rapidly."

What you can do today. How to save the planet.
Climate Change: The Equation
Climate Change: How Long Is "Ever"?
Climate Change: The End of Times

The Human Induced Climate Change Experiment

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