Year 3, Month 10, Day 11: Change Is Gonna Come

The Des Moines Register offers an op-ed titled: “Climate Change Is About Jobs And The Economy.” Indeed:

Climate chaos is not a future threat. It’s real, it’s here today, and it’s causing misery in Iowa. Left unchecked, it will get worse.

Iowa is ground central for climate change. Almost 60 percent of the state is in extreme drought, with 80 percent of its soils moisture deficient. Nearly three quarters of the corn crop is threatened, driving the price from $5.50 a bushel last year to over $8.

If food prices climb as predicted, a family of four will spend $600 more next year to buy food.

Hot enough for you? From rivers of dead fish to dry wells, Iowans are experiencing firsthand why America’s decade of ignoring climate science has been a horrible mistake. Both the International Energy Agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warn that unless we implement energy saving practices immediately we will, perhaps as early as 2017, lock in 6 degrees Celsius warming.

The impacts Iowa is experiencing now have come from a 1.5 degree warming. Unless Iowa acts to capture the green economy, it faces a grim prospect, both from the weather and from an economy strangled by its fossil fuel past.

Those old chestnuts are rattling around in my brain these days. Sent October 4:

When it comes to climate change, the old saying is really true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Once the greenhouse effect has accelerated, we won’t have very many options left — and the choices will range from devastatingly expensive to simply devastating. To be sure, addressing the aftereffects of our past century’s worth of fossil-fuel consumption won’t be cheap — but it’s going to be a heck of a lot cheaper if we start right away. Waiting until climate change intensifies to the point that its effects are inescapable and undeniable is like delaying therapy until the tumor becomes malignant.

Self-styled “skeptics” who deny the work of the international climate science community are doing America, and the world, a grave disservice. On environmental, humanitarian, and economic grounds, a robust and comprehensive strategy for mitigating the effects of global warming is the right thing to do.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 10: You Can’t Tuna Fish…

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune cites a report from the LA Times that as the oceans change, fish are shrinking:

It’s not just fish populations shrinking, according to a new study. Fish themselves will be much smaller within a few decades.

Global warming linked to greenhouse-gas emissions will cause the body weight of more than 600 types of marine fish to dwindle up to 24% between 2000 and 2050, according to a report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Additional factors, such as overfishing and pollution, will only make matters worse.

Ultimately, the changes “are expected to have large implications for trophic interactions, ecosystem functions, fisheries and global protein supply,” according to the study.

Aquatic creatures grow depending on the temperature, oxygen and resources available in water, according to researchers. Fish will struggle to breathe and develop as oceans become warmer and less oxygenated.

Rush Limbaugh thinks it’s environmentalists doing it, I’m sure. Sent October 2:

Leave aside that industrialized fishing and exploding human populations have already reduced world fish populations to a fraction of their former numbers. Leave aside that as oceans absorb excess CO2, they acidify, creating hostile conditions for much sea life. The news that climate change is affecting fishes’ physical size may seem surprising, but in a larger context it’s one among many unanticipated consequences proliferating in the wake of rising atmospheric CO2.

As we enter the Anthropocene Era, defined by human intervention in the climate, we’ll be facing a lot of surprises. While some will be pleasant (longer growing seasons in Northern latitudes may make farmers happy), the vast majority point to a more difficult life for our descendants, who may well find themselves gasping for oxygen as oceanic phytoplankton die off in record numbers.

Shrinking fish are just one more dismaying facet of a metastasizing planetary crisis, one we ignore at our peril. How many more such news items must we read before we finally act?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 6: What The Framp?

The Monterey County Weekly runs a devastating piece by Dan Linehan titled, “We are almost completely f%#&ed— Al Gore rallies citizen deputies to break through climate-change denial while there’s still (a little) hope.” Read the whole thing. Excerpt:

If Al Gore’s environmental truth was inconvenient before, now it’s outright uncomfortable.

Last year was the earth’s hottest on record. Ever. 

That triggered extremes: A drought-generated dust storm reached 50 miles wide and 6,000 feet tall, engulfing Phoenix, Ariz. Tropical Storm Irene hit Killington, Vt., which has a ski mountain tall enough to see Canada – and it’s not too often you see the words “tropical” and “Canada” in the same sentence. Typhoon Megi dumped 45 inches of rain on Taiwan in 48 hours, forcing more than 350,000 people to evacuate.

And this year has scorched 2011. Over a recent month-and-a-half stretch, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 1,692 counties disaster areas due to drought, with about 80 percent of the country’s agricultural land affected. This comes after Russia stopped exporting food due to weather-related crop failures and resulting shortages. The worst drought in more than 100 years hit both North Korea and South Korea. On July 15, Kuwait hit an all-time high of 128.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

National Geographic reports that between 1998 and 2011, there have been 87 severe weather events in the U.S., and each caused at least $1 billion in damages, though they were comparatively modest economically compared to Hurricane Katrina, which topped out at $146 billion. The total disaster price tag nearly doubled the cost of the previous 16-year period. 

Severe weather events, like stronger hurricanes, harsher droughts, wilder floods and fiercer firestorms, are happening with greater frequency. Scientists have been warning us that this – the wallop of planet warming hitting harder and more frequently – was coming.

Good, if agonizing, stuff. Sent September 29:

There is no “solution” to global climate change, because the metastasizing greenhouse effect and its epiphenomena are not one, but a multitude of problems. What we face is a richly complex set of puzzles: how to survive in a rapidly transforming environment, how to slow (and perhaps reverse) that transformation, and how to recognize the processes that have brought us to this point in our civilization’s history.

The key, as always, is education. We as individuals and as a society must understand the factors contributing to climate change: the physics of the greenhouse effect, the chemistry of methane and carbon dioxide, the immediate and long-term costs of fossil fuels, the inherent contradictions of an economy built on a model of continuous growth, and the relentless pressure of an increasing human population.

And, while learning, we must act — as individuals, as families, as communities, as states, as nations, and as a species under threat. Oherwise, the climate crisis will offer only a “final solution.”

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 16: Dinosaurs Are STILL Deadly

The Western Star (“Western Newfoundland’s only daily newspaper”) prints an article by David Suzuki called “A worrisome wet wake-up call from the Arctic.” Indeed:

According to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, record melt has occurred for the past six years. Both the NSIDC and the European Space Agency say ice is thinning at a rate 50 per cent faster than scientists predicted, mainly because of global warming, and that summer Arctic ice could soon disappear altogether.

The implications for global climate and weather, and for animals and people in the North, are enormous. One would think the urgency of this development would draw a swift and collaborative response from government, industry, media, and the public. Instead, news media have downplayed the issue, the only mention made of climate change at the recent Republican National Convention was to mock the science, and many government and industry leaders are rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of oil and gas extraction opportunities and shipping routes that will open up as the ice disappears.

We just don’t get it. As ice melts, more of the sun’s energy, which would normally be reflected back by the ice, is absorbed by the dark water, speeding up global climate change and warming the oceans. The Arctic is now heating at almost twice the rate as the rest of Earth. There’s also the danger that methane could be released as ice and permafrost melt. It’s a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide, so this would accelerate global warming even further. Scientists believe methane may also be uncovered by the warming Antarctic.

Hmmm? Mmphgh? Wha? Huh? No, I’m wide awake. I’ll be right there. (rolls over, shuts eyes)

Sent September 9:

A “wake-up call” from the melting Arctic? Perhaps. But it seems more likely that it is our industrial emissions that have woken a sleeping giant. When gigatonnes of methane (a greenhouse gas twenty times more powerful than CO2) enter the atmosphere as a consequence of the rapid thawing of the North, we humans may well discover that we should have heeded the alarms of climate scientists long ago.

Make no mistake: climatologists have been warning us for decades. The possibility of melting glaciers and ice caps was mentioned in the American popular press in the late 1950s; U.S. presidential advisers have been advocating action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions since the 1960s. The wake-up call actually came many years ago, but we’ve been hitting the snooze button instead of facing the facts: climate change is real, it’s human-caused, and it poses a profound existential threat to us and our civilization.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 8, Day 17: Quiet Out There! Do You Have Any Idea What Time It Is?

James Hansen again, this time reprinted in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

When I testified before the Senate in the hot summer of 1988, I warned of the kind of future that climate change would bring to us and our planet. I painted a grim picture of the consequences of steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels.

But I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic.

My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.

In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.

This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now.

These weather events are not simply an example of what climate change could bring. They are caused by climate change. The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.

Another Paul Revere letter. Sent August 6:

As far back as the Kennedy administration, scientists have warned that consequences of our CO2 emissions had the potential to transform Earth in potentially devastating ways — and politicians chose to leave the problem for someone else to solve. By the 1980s, climate science had grown more sophisticated, and experts predicted that genuine disaster loomed unless action was taken to limit our greenhouse emissions. Instead, the can was kicked again and again; the public was kept in the dark. During the Bush administration, NASA climatologist James Hansen’s report on the situation was blocked by politically-motivated censorship — and increasingly unhinged conservative media figures whipped up anti-science zealotry among their audiences. Climate scientists like Hansen, Michael Mann and many others routinely receive hate mail and death threats for reporting their findings.

Over two centuries ago, the Minutemen of Lexington and Concord responded unhesitatingly to a midnight warning, and our nation remains grateful. Now, a modern-day Paul Revere is trying to wake us up. Where would America be if the patriots of 1775 had hurled abuse and calumnies at that midnight rider before they rolled over and went back to sleep? And where will we be two centuries from now if we ignore James Hansen’s clear and urgent warnings?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 7, Day 25: “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.” (H.L. Mencken)

The Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot reports on a new poll that offers a sort of good news:

A majority of Americans say they think climate change is real, according to a new poll on Friday.

Six in ten believe weather patterns around the world have been more unstable in the last three years, The Washington Post/Stanford University poll found, and almost as many people said it has been hotter on average in that time than ever period. And as for what the two presidential candidates want to do about climate change, almost half of those polled say that President Barack Obama wants to take a lot of government action on global warming, while just 11 percent say they feel that’s a goal of Mitt Romney.

Just over half, or 55 percent, told pollsters they think a “great deal” or “good amount” can be done to combat future global warming, but 60 percent disagree.

Seven in ten Americans say they are not in favor of tax increases on electricity or gas, and 66 percent want tax breaks to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the Post reported. But 20 percent say they would like the government to not be involved at all with regulating greenhouse gases.

Just one problem….Sent July 14:

The laws of chemistry and physics were operating long before human beings began understanding them; indeed, they were operating long before there were human beings at all. Those same laws govern the greenhouse effect which now poses a significant threat to our species and the civilization we’ve developed over our countless millennia on Earth.

From a scientific perspective, it’s irrelevant that more people “believe” in climate change; whether we accept the data or not, it’s happening. From a political perspective, it’s irrelevant that the scientific consensus on climate change is overwhelming; what matters is what people believe to be true.

American energy and environmental policies must be firmly founded on measurable scientific reality, not blown this way and that by the endlessly changing winds of public opinion. The climate crisis is real, and humanity’s future hinges on whether our politicians can recognize that the emergency isn’t affected by electoral exigencies.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 5, Day 30: Wheeeeee!

The Chicago Tribune introduces us to the new “normal”:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Heavy rains, deep snowfalls, monster floods and killing droughts are signs of a “new normal” of extreme U.S. weather events fueled by climate change, scientists and government planners said on Wednesday.

“It’s a new normal and I really do think that global weirding is the best way to describe what we’re seeing,” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University told reporters.

“We are used to certain conditions and there’s a lot going on these days that is not what we’re used to, that is outside our current frame of reference,” Hayhoe said on a conference call with other experts, organized by the non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists.

Sent May 18:

Colder colds, hotter hots. Rainier rains and drier droughts. Stormier storms, disrupting more lives, more and more often. Welcome to the twenty-first century. And the twenty-second. And the twenty-third. Unlike the climate humanity’s been accustomed to for the past ten or twelve thousand years, our new “normal” is the environmental equivalent of a self-destructive alcoholic bender. Atmospheric CO2 will contribute to the greenhouse effect for centuries, which means that even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, we’d feel the effects of climate change for a long time to come. Is the inevitability of catastrophic weather events a rationale for inaction? Hardly. Rather, we’re faced with a crucial choice: every step we take towards reducing our consumption of oil and coal will mitigate the storms of future generations. Will we continue our profligate ways, or wake up and address the greatest threat humanity’s ever faced since the dawn of civilization?

Warren Senders