Welcome to the 17th edition of Collapse Catch-Up, a weekly newsletter that catches you up on the latest signs that we are living through the collapse of global industrial civilization. You can find the 16th edition here.
This week I have news about wildfire smoke smothering the Northeastern US, the rapid decline of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, record-high CO2 levels and temperature increases, the smallest wheat harvest in 60 years, pollution that is far worse that previously thought, an environmental disaster in Ukraine, and more tensions between the US and China.
Fire and Heat
The Northeastern United States and parts of Canada have spent the week shrouded in thick smoke from Canadian wildfires, which have created one of the worst wildfire pollution events in history.
The smoke has created a reddish-orange haze that looks like the surface of Mars, and it’s gotten so bad that the New York City skyline is barely visible. Many people have noted that the city looks like something out of a dystopian movie. Of course, it’s not a movie—it’s collapse. This is what climate breakdown looks like.
Dry weather and high heat in Canada have created the perfect conditions for wildfires, which are burning 14 times more land than usual for this time of year, making it the worst-ever start to the Canadian wildfire season. At the same time, the jet stream is dipping farther South the usual thanks to climate change, and it’s carrying smoke across the Northeastern US and Canada.
New York City now has the lowest air quality in the world, and millions of people have been advised to wear N95 masks when they’re outside. The smoke has disrupted daily life, with flights being delayed, baseball games being canceled, and schools suspending outdoor activities.
Meanwhile, the Canadian wildfires continue burning and spreading to new areas, prompting more evacuations. Nearly 700 firefighters from other nations have gone to Canada to help control the blazes, but it could be a while before the worst is over.
Down in Puerto Rico, residents have been enduring a life-threatening heat wave that is so bad, meteorologists are astonished. The island had record-breaking minimum and maximum temperatures for this time of year, with the heat index getting as high as 51°C in some places, and it’s going to get even worse in the coming years.
El Niño has officially arrived, which means that in the next couple of years, we will see higher temperatures, more droughts, more wildfires, and more extreme weather. Many climate scientists believe that thanks to El Niño, 2024 will be the year when the world first breaches 1.5°C of global warming, although some believe it could happen later this year.
The signs of global warming are everywhere. In Antarctica, the sea ice extent and thickness has been much lower in 2023 than previous years, bringing us into uncharted territory. However, the Arctic is a bigger concern as Arctic ice acts like an air conditioner for the planet.
As the Arctic warms, eventually there will come a day when the Arctic is temporarily ice free. When that happens, there will be less ice to reflect sunlight, which means the ocean will absorb more heat from the sun, which means the planet will warm up even faster. This is often referred to as a blue ocean event.
There hasn’t been a blue ocean event in the Arctic for millions of years. But now, scientists believe it will happen some time in the 2030s, about 10 years sooner than expected. A study published in Nature Communications suggests that sea ice will disappear completely in a September about a decade from now. This means it is already too late to save the Arctic summer ice.
With all these scary studies and terrifying weather events, you would think that humanity would at least slow down its burning of fossil fuels, but instead we are quickly burning through our carbon budget. Atmospheric CO2 reached 424 parts per million, a huge jump from last year.
As a result of CO2 levels not seen for millions of years, the planet is warming faster than ever in recorded history, going up by about 0.2°C per decade, according to a study published in Earth System Science Data.
Speaking at the Innovation Zero Congress in London, Professors Johan Rockstrom and Sir David King, both world-renowned climate scientists, warned that our current path will lead to “collapse of life on Earth.” They say that if we fail to limit warning to 1.5°C, we will trigger tipping points that switch Earth from a self-cooling to a self-heating planet.
So what are world leaders doing about this problem? Not much. Countries are beginning to make plans for COP28, but they can’t even agree to put a fossil fuel phase-out on the agenda, which makes you wonder why they bother having these conferences.
Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine rages on, and as it turns out, war is bad for the climate. A team of carbon accounting experts found that the first year of the war caused emissions on par with 27 million gas-powered cars, or the entire country of Belgium.
One of the biggest consequences of climate change is drought, and drought is taking a toll on breadbasket regions such as the American Midwest. It’s so bad in Kansas that farmers expect the coming wheat harvest to be the smallest in 60 years. In fact, Kansas is actually importing wheat from Europe.
It’s only going to get worse as the planet warms. According to a study published in the journal, NPJ Climate and Atmospheric Science, heat waves that kill crops have become 16 times more common over the past 40 years. That means that once-in-a-century heatwaves will now happen every 6 years.
People will struggle to survive in a hotter world. According to research published in Nature Sustainability, as many as 2 billion people will be living in dangerously hot places later this century. The people in the most danger are those living in parts of Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Northwest Australia, and South America.
Meanwhile, nations in the Global North aren’t facing as much heat as the Global South, which is unfair considering that most CO2 comes from industrialized nations in the North. Two researchers attempted to quantify how much well-off nations should pay poorer nations to make up for the damage their emissions have caused.
Their study was published in Nature Sustainability, and it found that wealthy countries owe poorer nations about $192 trillion by 2050. If poorer nations received $6 Trillion per year until then, they could use the money to decarbonize their economies and prepare for higher temperatures, But don’t count on that happening any time soon.
In a recent interview, climate envoy John Kerry commented on the world’s fast-growing population. The U.N. has predicted the planet will have 9.7 billion people by 2050, but Kerry said, “I don’t think it’s sustainable,” and “We need to figure out how we’re going to deal with the issue of sustainability and the numbers of people we’re trying to take care of on the planet.”
Disease and Pollution
The largest bird flu outbreak in history continues to kill countless wild birds and cause millions of poultry to be culled. And now, new research suggests that after the virus reached North America in mid-2021, something happened that caused it to become more deadly and more infectious.
Researchers emphasize that the virus still isn’t able to spread from human to human, but the more it mutates, the more likely that it eventually becomes transmissible among humans. The resulting pandemic would be much deadlier than the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking of Covid-19, a Dutch survey has found a significant increase in memory and concentration problems among adults since the start of the pandemic. According to the large-scale survey, memory and concentration problems, often referred to as “brain fog,” have risen 24% since the beginning of the pandemic.
Plastic pollution has gotten so bad that scientists have coined a new term: plasticosis. In a paper published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, researchers explain that when animals consume microplastics, it causes scar tissue throughout their organs, which slowly starves them, causes kidney and liver disease, and makes them more susceptible to pathogens.
Birds suffering from plasticosis have stunted growth, which makes it more difficult for them to migrate North or South. It’s yet another example of how human pollution is causing biodiversity loss all over the planet, in ways we are only just now beginning to understand.
A new report from Pacific Environment says that in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C, we need to cut plastic production by 75%. The report proposes a total phase-out of single-use plastics by 2040 and an end to virgin plastic production by 2030. This would be wonderful because right now, the US plastics industry alone is on track to produce more climate pollution per year than coal-fired plants.
Five months after the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment, where hazardous chemicals spilled and a controlled burn released toxic fumes, locals continue to suffer from symptoms such as rashes, bloody stools, and bile vomiting. This has led to a class action lawsuit which consolidates over 30 separate lawsuits.
But now the company responsible, Norfolk Southern, has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the car that derailed didn’t belong to them and that Federal law required them to transport a hazardous chemical.
This motion comes shortly after the Supreme Court sided with Republicans to weaken the Clean Water Act. This ruling will make it even easier for corporations to evade responsibility for actions that increase harmful pollution.
Speaking of evading responsibility, The Guardian and The New Lede have obtained documents which show that the agrochemicals company, Syngenta, attempted to influence scientific research regarding links between its weedkiller, paraquat, and Parkinson’s disease.
Multiple independent researchers have established a link between Parkinson’s and paraquat, but Syngenta attempted to cover this up by misleading regulators, rewriting scientific reports, and enlisting external researchers who authored papers that did not disclose any involvement with Syngenta. Typical corporate behavior.
By now, most people are aware that BPA is linked to all sorts of health problems including ADD, diabetes, and heart disease. As a result, companies started making BPA-free alternatives. But now it turns that many of these alternatives, such as bisphenol S and bisphenol F, are just as toxic as BPA, and some are even worse.
Over in the UK, scientists are warning that the food industry is facing a significant threat due to the declining number of pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Professor Simon Potts from the University of Reading said, “That shortfall translates not only into less yield but also lower-quality produce.” Of course, this isn’t just a problem for the UK. Global pollinator losses are already causing 500,000 premature deaths per year.
Economy and War
According to a United Nations-led report, more than a quarter of a billion people experienced severe hunger in 2022. There are many reasons including climate change, the war in Ukraine, and economic impacts caused by the pandemic. If the world economy goes into recession, it is likely that these numbers will rise.
According to top economic David Rosenberg, the US economy is a dead man walking and is in for a hard landing later this year. He also warned that if the Federal Reserve keeps raising rates aggressively, they will harm the economy even more.
One economic problem that most people overlook is the rising cost of insurance. Climate change is making parts of America uninsurable because of floods, wildfires, and hurricanes. State Farm has pulled out of California completely, and in Florida, homeowner insurance rates are four times the national average. Even state-run insurance companies are dropping policyholders.
Another problem that significantly affects the world economy is in war, and the war in Ukraine is about to get even more intense as Ukraine gets ready to launch its counteroffensive. Some people claim the counteroffensive has already begun, but Ukrainian officials say it hasn’t begun yet.
Last week, the Nova Kakhovka dam was destroyed by a suspected Russian attack. It resulted in floods that destroyed hundreds of homes and devastated tracts of rich farmland. Ukraine is calling it the worst environmental disaster since Chernobyl.
The destruction of the dam has released chemicals, fertilizers, and oil products stored in the flooded areas into the rivers and seas. Farmers fear the polluted water will make the farmland infertile and turn it into a desert as early as next year. This would be quite a blow as food production in Ukraine is already declining.
Meanwhile, tensions between the U.S. and China continue to increase. During a joint Canada-U.S. mission in the South China Sea, a Chinese warship came within 150 yards of hitting an American destroyer, which had to slow down and change course to avoid a collision. Captain Paul Mountford said the incident was “clearly instigated by the Chinese.”
The Chinese Defense Minister, General Li Shangfu, defended the Chinese warship, arguing that they were in Chinese territory. However, the US says they were in international waters and have international law on their side. But Shangfu said that the “so-called ‘rules-based international order’ never tells you what the rules are and who made these rules.”
In a speech made last week, Shangfu warned that conflict with the United States would be an “unbearable disaster” and that NATO-like alliances with Asian nations could “plunge the Asia-Pacific into a whirlpool of disputes and conflicts.”
That’s all for this week! Let me know if I missed anything or if you have any feedback.
I share this news to remind you that if you haven’t started preparing for the collapse of civilization, now is the time to start stockpiling supplies, learning basic skills, and making friends in your local community. As the world falls apart, it’s important that we help one another. If this news made you anxious, please visit this page for a list of resources that can help.
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