Earth Changes Accelerate in 2017

The Thomas Fire looking toward Santa Barbara, California from Sisar Peak on Dec. 10, 2017.

2017 was quite a year with lots to process. Despite all the focus on Trump, it’s hard not to see the climate disasters as the biggest story of the year. Once summer arrived it was one after another after another.

The US was especially whacked. Three Category 4 hurricanes struck American territories in less than a month between August and September causing $350 billion in damages. This was by far the most damage ever incurred in a hurricane season. Among other islands Puerto Rico was just mangled with nearly half a million homes destroyed or severely damaged. Hundreds of thousands had to leave and many people died. 2017 showed that climate chaos is having a noticeable impact on many lives even in the developed world.

Satellite map showing burn scars from the Thomas fire.

The wildfires in 2017 were also outrageous. British Columbia, Canada had its worst fire season in the summer and major centers nearby were smoked out for weeks. Spain and Portugal also had brutal fires. Wine country in Northern California looked like it got blown off the map in October. An area larger than the size of New York City was burned. Southern California’s Thomas fire consumed as much territory in one week in December as the nearby Zaca fire did over eight weeks in summer 2007.

Off the coast of Alaska sea ice is now in massive retreat from the warming oceans. Possibly as a result, the high in Barrow (latitude 71°N) on December 21, 2017 was above freezing or 36°F higher than average. On the other side of the world a section of the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula broke off in 2017 as illustrated below. The separated iceberg is the size of Delaware or twice the water volume of Lake Erie. A smaller iceberg four times the size of Manhattan is disintegrating off Pine Island glacier in West Antarctica.

Cumulative human overburden from decades of consuming everything and living far beyond Earth’s natural support ability is at the root of the problem. As a result dramatic environmental and climate impacts are now revealing themselves globally. People need to psychologically ready themselves for much greater changes and impacts in the years ahead.