Climate change is already here

Carolyn Gramling writes:

The grim reality of climate change grabbed center stage in 2018.

This is the year we learned that the 2015 Paris Agreement on global warming won’t be enough to forestall significant impacts of climate change. And a new field of research explicitly attributed some extreme weather events to human-caused climate change. This one-two punch made it clear that climate change isn’t just something to worry about in the coming decades. It’s already here.

This looming problem was apparent three years ago when nearly all of the world’s nations agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial times by 2100. That pact was hard-won, but even then, some scientists sounded a note of caution: That target wouldn’t be stringent enough to prevent major changes.

So the United Nations took an unprecedented step. It commissioned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to examine how the world might fare if global warming were limited to 1.5 degrees instead of 2 degrees. That report, released in October, confirmed that half a degree can indeed make a world of difference. A half degree less warming means less sea level rise, fewer species lost due to vanished habitats and fewer life-threatening heat, drought and precipitation extremes.

There’s little time to reverse course. The IPCC report notes that the planet’s average temperature has already increased by nearly 1 degree since preindustrial times, and that rise is contributing to extinctions, lower crop yields and more frequent wildfires. At the end of 2017, three attribution studies for the first time determined that certain extreme events, including an extended marine heat wave in the Pacific Ocean known as “the Blob,” would not have happened without human-induced climate change. [Continue reading…]

The denial of climate change and the denial of racism rest on the same foundation

Ibram X. Kendi writes:

For two years, they formed a community of experts, about 1,000 in all, including 300 leading climate scientists inside and outside 13 federal agencies. For two years, they volunteered their time and expertise to produce the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

There is no parallel process to tackle the questions I study; there is no ongoing national racial assessment mandated by a law summarizing the impact of racism on the United States, now and in the future. Still, I can relate to these climate scientists.

From U.S. national assessments to the global assessments of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate scientists have been pumping out warnings for decades. Each warning about what will happen if there is not “substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse-gas emissions” has been more dreadful than the last. I can relate to their continuous stand on scientific certainty, their continuous travel toward scientific discovery, and their quest to cultivate and defend humanity from humanity. “I’m for humans,” the climate scientist Andrea Dutton recently tweeted.

The first volume of their Fourth National Climate Assessment, released last year, concluded that there is “no convincing alternative explanation” for global warming other than “human activities, especially emissions of greenhouses gases.” This year’s second volume, released into the mad dash of Black Friday sales and family reunions, stated, “More frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities.”

“I don’t believe it,” President Donald Trump said in response. “No. No. I don’t believe it.”

I have heard this before. I can relate.

“No. No. I’m not racist,” Trump has said repeatedly. Evidence be damned. [Continue reading…]

More Republicans than you think support action on climate change

Arlie Hochschild and David Hochschild write:

Democrats and Republicans have clashed fiercely on many issues — the Mueller investigation, immigration, gun control — but can the two parties come together on climate change, the biggest issue of all?

Most analysts say no. After all, since President Trump took office, the terms “global warming” and “climate change” have been expunged from some government websites. Mr. Trump says his “very high level of intelligence” has led him to reject the findings of 13 federal agencies, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Meteorological Organization.

But how many of his fellow Republicans agree? If we compare the extremes in each party — liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans — as the media often does, the split is clear. But if we compare all Republicans with all Democrats, we see a new and encouraging overlap.

In March, well before the most destructive wildfires in California history, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication polled 1,067 registered voters on climate change. The study found that while they disagree on the cause, majorities in both parties agree that the world is experiencing global warming and call for government action to address it. [Continue reading…]

Trump imperils our planet

In an editorial, the New York Times says:

It’s hard to believe but it was only three years ago this month — just after 7 p.m., Paris time, Dec. 12, to be precise — that delegates from more than 190 nations, clapping and cheering, whooping and weeping, rose to celebrate the Paris Agreement — the first genuinely collective response to the mounting threat of global warming. It was a largely aspirational document, without strong legal teeth and achieved only after contentious and exhausting negotiations. But for the first time in climate talks stretching back to 1992, it set forth specific, numerical pledges from each country to reduce emissions so that together they could keep atmospheric temperatures from barreling past a point of no return.

Two weeks ago, delegates met at a follow-up conference in Katowice, Poland, to address procedural questions left unsettled in Paris, including common accounting mechanisms and greater transparency in how countries report their emissions. In this the delegates largely succeeded, giving rise to the hope, as Brad Plumer put it in The Times, that “new rules would help build a virtuous cycle of trust and cooperation among countries, at a time when global politics seems increasingly fractured.”

But otherwise it was a hugely dispiriting event and a fitting coda to one of the most discouraging years in recent memory for anyone who cares about the health of the planet — a year marked by President Trump’s destructive, retrograde policies, by backsliding among big nations, by fresh data showing that carbon dioxide emissions are still going up, by ever more ominous signs (devastating wildfires and floods, frightening scientific reports) of what a future of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions is likely to bring. [Continue reading…]

The day I tasted climate change

James Temple writes:

In early November, gale-force winds whipped a brush fire into an inferno that nearly consumed the town of Paradise, California, and killed at least 86 people.

By the second morning, I could smell the fire from one foot outside my door in Berkeley, some 130 miles from the flames. Within a week, my eyes and throat stung even when I was indoors.

Air quality maps warned that the soot-filled air blanketing the Bay Area had reached “very unhealthy” levels. For days, nearly everyone wore masks as they walked their dogs, rode the train, and carried out errands. Most of those thin-paper respirators were of dubious value. Stores quickly ran out of the good ones—the “N-95s” that block 95% of fine particles—and sold out of air purifiers, too.

People traded tips about where they could be found, and rushed to stores rumored to have a new supply. Others packed up and drove hours away in search of a safe place to wait it out. By the time my masks arrived by mail, I was in Ohio, having decided to move up my Thanksgiving travel to escape the smoke.

Climate change doesn’t ignite wildfires, but it’s intensifying the hot, dry summer conditions that have helped fuel some of California’s deadliest and most destructive fires in recent years.

I’ve long understood that the dangers of global warming are real and rising. I’ve seen its power firsthand in the form of receding glaciers, dried lake beds, and Sierra tree stands taken down by bark beetles.

This is the first time, though, that I smelled and tasted it in my home.

Obviously, a sore throat and a flight change are trivial compared with the lives and homes lost in the Camp Fire. But after I spent a week living under a haze of smoke, it did resonate on a deeper level that we’re really going to let this happen.

Thousands if not millions of people are going to starve, drown, burn to death, or live out lives of misery because we’ve failed to pull together in the face of the ultimate tragedy of the commons. Many more will find themselves scrambling for basic survival goods and fretting over the prospect of more fires, more ferocious hurricanes, and summer days of blistering heat.

There’s no solving climate change any longer. There’s only living with it and doing everything in our power to limit the damage.

And seeing an entire community near one of the world’s richest regions all but wiped out, while retailers failed to meet critical public needs in the aftermath, left me with a dimmer view of our ability to grapple with the far greater challenges to come. [Continue reading…]

Brazil’s Amazon rain forest is in the crosshairs, as defenders step up

Andrew Revkin writes:

By now, anyone worried about the fate of the Amazon rain forest or the indigenous and traditional communities depending on this vast, rich ecosystem knows the litany of potentially devastating steps [Brazil’s newly elected far-right president, Jair] Bolsonaro has threatened to take.

He won on a platform mainly built around change and order after the worst string of corruption scandals and economic troubles in Brazil’s modern history.

But he also wooed rural landowners and businessmen, appealing to Brazil’s “beef, Bible, and bullet” political bloc. A big theme for this former military officer was taming and exploiting the country’s vast Amazon expanse. Beneath and within the extraordinary biological bounty of the lacework of rivers and towering forest canopies, enormous mineral and timber and hydropower resources remain unexploited.

Bolsonaro disparaged Brazil’s minorities and indigenous tribes and discounted their land claims, pledged to loosen forest and environmental regulations and enforcement, to open reserves to mining, and to ban international environmental groups. [Continue reading…]

Risks of ‘domino effect’ of ecological tipping points greater than thought, study says

The Guardian reports:

Policymakers have severely underestimated the risks of ecological tipping points, according to a study that shows 45% of all potential environmental collapses are interrelated and could amplify one another.

The authors said their paper, published in the journal Science, highlights how overstressed and overlapping natural systems are combining to throw up a growing number of unwelcome surprises.

“The risks are greater than assumed because the interactions are more dynamic,” said Juan Rocha of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “The important message is to recognise the wickedness of the problem that humanity faces.”

The study collated existing research on ecosystem transitions that can irreversibly tip to another state, such as coral reefs bleaching and being overrun by algae, forests becoming savannahs and ice sheets melting into oceans. It then cross-referenced the 30 types of shift to examine the impacts they might have on one another and human society.

Only 19% were entirely isolated. Another 36% shared a common cause, but were not likely to interact. The remaining 45% had the potential to create either a one-way domino effect or mutually reinforcing feedbacks. [Continue reading…]

The oil industry’s covert campaign to rewrite American car emissions rules

The New York Times reports:

When the Trump administration laid out a plan this year that would eventually allow cars to emit more pollution, automakers, the obvious winners from the proposal, balked. The changes, they said, went too far even for them.

But it turns out that there was a hidden beneficiary of the plan that was pushing for the changes all along: the nation’s oil industry.

In Congress, on Facebook and in statehouses nationwide, Marathon Petroleum, the country’s largest refiner, worked with powerful oil-industry groups and a conservative policy network financed by the billionaire industrialist Charles G. Koch to run a stealth campaign to roll back car emissions standards, a New York Times investigation has found.

The campaign’s main argument for significantly easing fuel efficiency standards — that the United States is so awash in oil it no longer needs to worry about energy conservation — clashed with decades of federal energy and environmental policy. [Continue reading…]

The Southwest may be deep into a climate-changed mega-drought

Robinson Meyer reports:

Every so often, the American West seems to lurch into something called a “mega-drought.” The rains falter, the rivers wither, and the forests become tinder boxes waiting for a spark. Mega-droughts are notoriously hard to study—the last one happened in the 16th century—but what we do know is worrisome. In the 1540s, a few wet years in the middle of a mega-drought may have triggered one of the worst disease epidemics ever recorded.

According to research unveiled last week, mega-droughts may no longer be history. On Thursday, a team of climate scientists argued that the American West may currently be experiencing its first mega-drought in more than 500 years. A record-breaking period of aridity set in around the year 2000 and continues to this day, they said.

“The last 19 years have been equivalent to the worst 19 years of the worst mega-droughts on record,” said Park Williams, a professor of bioclimatology at Columbia University, at a presentation of the work. Only three recent mega-droughts—in the late 800s, the mid-1100s, and the late 1500s—were worse than the current period, he added.

Climate change seems to be driving a good chunk of the problem. “The current drought is substantially worse than it would have been without global warming,” Williams said. The drought was 62 percent more severe than it would have been, he said, due to human-caused climate change. [Continue reading…]

At last, divestment is hitting the fossil fuel industry where it hurts

Bill McKibben writes:

I remember well the first institution to announce it was divesting from fossil fuel. It was 2012 and I was on the second week of a gruelling tour across the US trying to spark a movement. Our roadshow had been playing to packed houses down the west coast, and we’d crossed the continent to Portland, Maine. As a raucous crowd jammed the biggest theatre in town, a physicist named Stephen Mulkey took the mic. He was at the time president of the tiny Unity College in the state’s rural interior, and he announced that over the weekend its trustees had voted to sell their shares in coal, oil and gas companies. “The time is long overdue for all investors to take a hard look at the consequences of supporting an industry that persists in destructive practices,” he said.

Six years later, we have marked the 1,000th divestment in what has become by far the largest anti-corporate campaign of its kind. The latest to sell their shares – major French and Australian pension funds, and Brandeis University in Massachusetts – bring the total size of portfolios and endowments in the campaign to just under $8 trillion (£6.4tn).

The list of institutions that have cut their ties with this most destructive of industries encompasses religious institutions large and small (the World Council of Churches, the Unitarians, the Lutherans, the Islamic Society of North America, Japanese Buddhist temples, the diocese of Assisi); philanthropic foundations (even the Rockefeller family, heir to the first great oil fortune, divested its family charities); and colleges and universities from Edinburgh to Sydney to Honolulu are on board, with more joining each week. Forty big Catholic institutions have already divested; now a campaign is urging the Vatican bank itself to follow suit. Ditto with the Nobel Foundation, the world’s great art museums, and every other iconic institution that works for a better world. [Continue reading…]