Category: Climate Change

The GOP Debate: By Ignoring Climate Change, They Lose the Only One That Matters

Ultimately, global climate change is the singular issue of our time. Oh, there are lots of other issues vying for near-term center stage, and I have opinions about most of them. Income inequality threatens our way of life in the West; police violence and the larger police state formation issues are crucial to the underlying justice of our culture; women’s right to govern their own health and rule their own bodies is under renewed and vicious attack which must be repelled.

But when I think about the Big Political Questions, I like to ask myself “In 100 years, how much difference will this make?” And judged against that yardstick, every single issue other than global climate change pales. Because the simple truth is that the human destruction that is being caused and will continue to be caused — and to rapidly escalate — by the horrific damage we have been doing to the planet for the past century or more will reduce the human population by a huge amount, perhaps rendering us extinct in far less time than most of us think or believe.

So if we’re not even around in a century or two, how much real difference will it make if we continue income inequality, violence, ridiculous human rights violations, and a thousand other “bad things” we encounter? Sadly, not much.

That’s why I’ve become a single issue voter who defaults to progressive parties and politics on all the other issues. I demand that any party or politico seeking my support be crystal clear in its/her/his/their support for all the drastic action necessary to reduce the long-term impacts of climate change and I don’t much care what they do on any other issue.

In the two-headed monstrosity that was a so-called “debate” last night among 17 people who want to stand as the Republican Party’s nominee for President in 2016, the question of global climate change received essentially zero attention. Of course, that didn’t matter for a number of reasons, not the least of which is we already know where all of these would-be leaders stand. They see global climate change as a hoax which, even if it’s real, is a natural occurrence and has nothing to do with human conduct and is therefore something about which we cannot do anything.

By its conduct and its stance on this one issue, the GOP has disqualified itself from any consideration whatsoever for my support for the foreseeable future. I know; they don’t care. They didn’t have it to begin with (though I have on occasion voted for Republicans where I thought the GOP candidate superior to the others). I’m a progressive, so there’s no room in the GOP tent for me. And they don’t care about me, either, because I’m not like them.

But they need to get the message. And they will eventually, as they see their beachfront properties disappear and their inland properties become the new beachfronts. Maybe then, when their billion-dollar investments and their multi-million dollar mansions are under water, they’ll wake up. But probably not. They’ll probably just ask for a government bailout, which they’ll receive from the Congress they own.

Ultimately, though, humanity loses if the GOP and other climate deniers win.


Interactive Bloomberg Chart Makes it Clear: Global Warming is Our Doing


This is one of the clearest data representations I’ve seen demonstrating the truth of the argument that it is human factors that produce greenhouse gases that is the primary driver of global climate change.

Globe on fire in folded human handsIn separate takes (keep clicking at the bottom of the screen), the chart (from Bloomberg, hardly a bastion of the “L” word), maps all of the major proposed “explanations” for global climate change that are not — at least entirely — humanity’s doing: the natural orbit variations of the earth; solar activity; volcanoes; all for those combined; deforestation; ozone pollution; and, aerosol pollution.

The bottom line: Nope, it really is greenhouse gases, which are caused by human pollution-based behaviors which can be modified with no scientific breakthroughs or major policy initiatives. All it takes is for enough human beings to become aware of the problem and willing to do something about it.

Yep, that’s “all it takes.”

When is a Religious “Principle” Not a Religious “Principle”? When It’s Politically Inconvenient

GOP Presidential hopeful Jeb! (no-last-name-needed) hides behind his adopted Catholicism to defend his position on marriage equality but declines to take his Pope’s teachings about the environment at face value. In doing so, he follows in the grand tradition of the liberal wing of the Catholic Church which has long displayed a kind of “cafeteria Catholicism” (a term I borrowed from American Conservative columnist Rob Dreher).

But if he reserves the right to disavow Pope Francis’ teachings on climate change as revealed in the Pontiff’s release last week of a major encyclical on the subject, then he can’t justify his opposition to gay marriage solely on the basis of Church teachings. He simply can’t have it both ways without revealing a kind of political pragmatism that defies any claim to political principle.

In a story posted on Grist, columnist Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “the candidate seems to follow Catholic teachings when they align with the Republican Party — and dismiss them when they don’t.” Furthermore, he denounced the climate change encyclical even before it was released and, therefore, clearly without having read it. Good, practicing Catholics are not required to agree with or follow the Pope’s teachings as embodied in his encyclicals, but they are required to give those views thoughtful and careful consideration, according to this article from the Catholic News Agency.

Nearly one-third of Congress is Catholic. If all of these politicians were good, practicing Catholics, they would be expected to give serious consideration to Pope Francis’ well-researched and incisive (as well as insightful) teachings on this complex subject. (Yes, I have in fact read the 180-page document in its entirety, which I suspect few if any of those in Congress have done.) If they did that, I suspect it would dramatically shift the tenor of the debate in Congress on climate change policy.

McKibben to Obama: Here’s a Climate Change To Do List for Your Last 18 Months

Environmental champion Bill McKibben, the guy who pioneered investigation of what we now call global climate change, has issued a special open letter to President Barack Obama urging him to take more aggressive action in his remaining months in office. He suggests that there is still time — but not much — for Obama to become known to history as a climate change champion.

Here, in brief summary, are the key steps McKibben encourages Obama to consider as he wraps up his eight years as President. The list is derived from one prepared by a team of scientists at Nature magazine.

  1. Say no to the Keystone XL Pipeline once and for all. Those Canadian Tar Sands oil deposits are among those scientists agree must stay in the ground.
  2. Stop all Arctic drilling. Same rationale as the Keystone XL Pipeline; this is oil best left in place.
  3. Stop the sale of coal rights in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming dead in its tracks.
  4. Reverse your stand favoring vastly increased offshore drilling in the United States.

As McKibben notes in the full article (which I commend to your attention), these are all things the President can do without Congress, which is about the only way he can get anything done in Washington these days.

How about it, Mr. President? What’s your earth legacy going to be?


China May Provide Breath of Fresh Air, Be Key to Avoiding Climate Change’s Worst Outcomes

I love to put positive spin on stories that seem not to have such an angle.

Today, at Grist, a story appeared that suggested that China may be so far ahead of its announced plan to reduce greenhouse gases that, “The world could stay within the internationally agreed-upon limit of 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) of warming above pre-industrial levels.”

Say what!?

That’s right. According to a report [PDF] from the prestigious London School of Economics and reported on Grist, China’s move away from dirty coal is accelerating to a point where, emissions “could peak even earlier than” now promised and begin to fall rapidly thereafter. Based on earlier studies and Chinese commitments, it has been estimated that “China’s greenhouse gas emissions are likely to peak, and then begin to taper, around 2025.” But the new analysis suggests the picture might be much, much rosier.

How deliciously ironic would it be if China, a Communist nation of planned economies and tight government control, is able to make such a dramatic change in policy while the Republican Congress of the United States continues to argue that climate change isn’t real and in any case isn’t humanity’s doing? You can see it coming, right? China — not singlehandedly but in large part — staves off the worst of the effects of global climate change, thus essentially saving the human race, and the conservative knuckle-draggers in this country point to their success and say, “See? We told you global climate change wasn’t real and that y’all were just alarmists!”


Saline-Resistant Rice: More Hope for Dealing With Climate Change

It is almost certainly not true that technology will ride to the rescue of the planet as it warms past catastrophic levels but technology can and is helping to mitigate some of the damage being done by humans to Gaia.

The latest one to cross my desk is the breeding (without genetic modification) of new strains of rice that grow fine in salty water. This is proving particularly interesting in Bangladesh, the world’s sixth-largest rice producer. Even though farmers there are reluctant to adopt new seeds, increasing visible evidence suggesting that the new rice is as tasty and nutritious as the older form but thrives in the super-salinated water that has arisen in the Bangladesh delta regions, is beginning to have an impact.

Check out the whole story on this blog post.


“So What You’re Saying Is…” Reasons for Hope on Climate Change

David Roberts at posted a column a couple of weeks ago responding to peoples’ reactions to an earlier piece he’d written on the problems associated with trying to prevent the global temperature from exceeding a 2-degree Centigrade temperature increase in the next 50 years. The original piece was fairly pessimistic, but factual. In response, he got a range of comments, most of which, he says, were reactions to things he decidedly did not say. Teasing out of his responses to those mistaken assumptions, Roberts says what he really wants us to hear are:

It’s not hopeless. “Social change is non-linear. What will be technologically feasible in 2050, or 2080? What political changes will take place between now and then? We have virtually no idea.” Although he admits that, ” He continues, “Hoping for a fundamental shift in human consciousness and politics in the next 10 to 15 years amounts to hoping for a miracle. That’s what hoping for 2°C means — banking on a miracle. Which is fine. It’s great to have hope!”

Only ostriches benefit from keeping their heads in the sand as the globe warms up. And that's temporary.

Only ostriches benefit from keeping their heads in the sand as the globe warms up. And that’s temporary.

We should not give up. “We can’t un-ring the bell, though; every bit of CO2-driven warming is, for human intents and purposes, permanent. Sorry, then, but no one’s allowed to give up — our children and grandchildren will still be fighting this battle. Even if it does become finally, physically impossible to hit 2°C, so what? Carbon emissions still need to be driven to zero as quickly as possible to avoid even higher temperatures. The fight remains the same, no matter the temperature outcome.”

We should not abandon the target temperature. “The 2°C limit can be a useful marker, a statement of common purpose, without being the primary policy driver. For policy, there are more useful, less abstract, less distant goals, like the percentage of clean electricity in the power system, the rate of deforestation, or the level of investment in clean energy RD&D and infrastructure.”

Scientists are not big fat liars. Roberts points out that he did not “accuse scientists of faking anything, despite what a few Twitter trolls concluded. Climate modelers don’t have to make anything up or lie about anything to make 2°C scenarios work. They just have to tweak various contestable assumptions with a wide range of plausible inputs.” He admits that scientists could do a better job of communicating that information and those limitations but sheepishly suggests that scientists “can’t do everything.” Responsible reporters covering the subject have an obligation here as well.

So what is he saying? “Right now we are mitigating for 4°C and adapting for 2°C; we need to do the opposite. If we’re going to hit 3°C or 4°C this century, we need to start making the investments necessary to ameliorate the effects (a process somewhat deceptively known as “adaptation”). This is especially true in poorer countries already ill-prepared for natural disasters, food and water shortages, and resource conflicts. [T]he task ahead remains the same: to get to zero carbon, or as close as possible, as soon as possible; to prepare for a hotter, more volatile future; to protect the most vulnerable, who did the least to cause the problem; and, along the way, to tell the truth about how we’re doing.”

This summary is just that, a summary. I encourage you to read the piece in its entirety. It’s not as hopeless as it sometimes seems, but it’s certainly not a rosy outlook either, particularly if politicians and governments keep playing the ostrich.

Some Good Climate News: China Cuts CO2 More Than UK Total Output

A report on the Independent site Sunday said that China reduced its CO2 emissions during the first four months of this year by the same amount that the UK produced during that period. Assuming they are accurate, those numbers are encouraging.

China is the world’s largest or second largest contributor to global climate change (depending on whose numbers you like) and this reduction comes almost entirely in the coal sector, the biggest offending producers of CO2 throughout the world. China has shuttered more than 1,000 coal plants in recent months. If the trend line continues, by the end of this year China will have effected the largest cuts in greenhouse gases of any nation.

This is quite an about-face from a government that two years ago indicated no interest in discussing the problem or contributing to its solution and it seems to me to be a positive, encouraging sign that world leaders are beginning to pay attention even if it is too little, too late.


Obama’s Environmental Legacy is Forever Tarnished With Sticky Black Petroleum

Illustration Courtesy of Living Green Magazine

Illustration Courtesy of Living Green Magazine

At this point in his presidency, Barack Obama should be focused on his long-term legacy. And there is, I continue to argue, no long-term issue of greater importance than global climate change. On that subject, his legacy has been a mixed bag when circumstances demanded concerted focus. A strategy he and his team have called “all of the above” is an inevitable disaster. Today, he drove the final nail into the coffin, perhaps of humanity.

By approving oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Seas, Obama and his energy experts have gone all in on the last barrier on earth to the unwise and ultimately suicidal exploitation of fossil fuel deposits. This blisteringly idiotic policy is so incredibly irresponsible that it’s hard to imagine its largest backer — the President himself — can sleep with himself in its wake. Every shred of scientific evidence available on the subject that isn’t tainted by research grants from Big Oil and its cronies screams at the clear and present danger this policy poses, not just (or even primarily) for America but for the planet.

By attempting to be the Great Compromiser on every significant issue of his Presidency, Mr. Obama has dragged his legacy through the muck and grime of the criminally profitable petroleum industry. “All of the above” doesn’t work when any of the above is permanently and unarguably fatal. Faced with the real opportunity to lead this nation into the leadership position on the environment and to guide humanity to an avoidance of at least the most severe effects of climate change, this President chose instead to kowtow to those who saw jobs as being opposed to environmentally sound policy, who argued that financial health trumped human survival, who stuck their heads in the oil-drenched sand and promised that technology would somehow magically come forth to solve the problem before mankind became extinct.

That will almost certainly not be the scenario that plays out here. Instead, what is left of humanity in 50 or 100 years will look back on Barack Obama as one of the most short-sighted, poorly advised centrist leaders in world history. But I guess if you preside over the ultimate destruction of the race, you don’t have to think about your legacy.

Sure, Obama has done some short-term good. Sure he was better than either of his Republican opponents would have been. But “better than the other guy” almost never translates to “good”. He was and is the lesser of two bad choices but he was a bad choice nonetheless.

I cry when I stop to think that my beautiful grandchildren will likely grow to maturity in a world that is hostile, dominated by a small handful (perhaps even just one) of cabals who own everything and all the governments. Our last glimmer of hope — which I had foolishly thought would be advocated and carried forward by a young outsider with a social conscience — lies in the creation of a New Earth. A New Earth dominated by a higher consciousness that makes the sacred journey from Me to We. A New Earth that recognizes the planet as our home and our partner, not a resource to be exploited unthinkingly for pure profit. A New Earth which elects leaders with the future generations in mind.

In my brighter, more optimistic, calm moments, I believe we will get there before it’s too late. But there are times when I doubt that. It seems so few of us are thinking about this problem existentially.

And the President we elected twice has, by compromising where no accommodation could or would work, turned his back on all of us.

That is his legacy.

Another Rubicon Crossed: Average CO2 Levels Top 400 Barrier

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today confirmed what scientists have been predicting: the average worldwide concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million (ppm). This is one of the main indicators of the reality of global climate change, in case we needed more.

global_climate_change_4You may think this is a yawner. Another “milestone” that “alarmists” like me keep bringing up in some misguided effort to get greater control of your life or tax you into oblivion or whatever you fear. If you do think that, you’re wrong. Flatly and fatally wrong.

What’s important when it comes to climate is not what the weather is doing today or even what happened over the last year. It’s about long-term impact. And here’s the historical arc of CO2 concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere:

  • This level of concentration has not been seen on Earth for two million years. Million!
  • In pre-industrial times, the concentration was just under 300ppm. It’s gone up 220ppm since the dawn of industrialization.
  • And here’s the scary one: Fully half of that post-industrial rise has taken place during the last 35 years or so.

So the situation is dire. It’s getting worse. And it’s getting worse faster than ever.

Carbon dioxide has unique long-term effects on climate change that are largely “irreversible” for one thousand years after emissions stop (zero further emissions) even though carbon dioxide tends toward equilibrium with the ocean on a scale of 100 years, according to the article on CO2 on, which summarizes many other sources.

It’s well past time for us to be thinking about our children and our grandchildren and their children and grandchildren and what kind of planet we are destroying for them. Inaction now is immoral by any standard.