11. CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE WARMING OF THE PLANET
*Please note – I have omitted an article in the New Yorker by Bill McKibben because of its length. You can read it in its entirety by going online. Bill McKibben has written a number of essays for the New Yorker. The date of this essay was November 28, 2018. It’s called, “How Extreme Weather is Shrinking the Planet” is a must read.
It is one of the many Crisis Updates by McKibben. In the fall of 2021, McKibben stopped providing his Crisis Update essays. He wrote six essays.
This essay is a sneak preview of his latest book, which will came out in the spring of 2019 on Apr 15, 2019. It was called — “Falter,” about threats to the planet. It combines fear of bad outcomes with hope for good ...
The worldwide climate change organization 350.0rg was conceived in part by Bill McKibben of Ripton, Vermont. In 2016, 350.0rg took on the fossil fuel industry more directly than ever, as well as keeping the pressure on world governments to "close the gap" between the commitments they made in Paris and what the science actually says the world must do to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
With wildfires, heat waves, and rising sea levels, large tracts of the earth are at risk of becoming uninhabitable. All the while, the fossil-fuel industry continues its assault on the planet.
Thirty years ago, the New Yorker published “The End of Nature,” a long article about what was then called the greenhouse effect. McKibben was in his twenties when he wrote it. He went out on an intellectual limb: climate science was still young. But the data were persuasive, and freighted with sadness. I read the book.
He said, we were spewing so much carbon into the atmosphere that nature was no longer a force beyond our influence—and humanity, with its capacity for industry and heedlessness, had come to affect every cubic meter of the planet’s air, every inch of its surface, every drop of its water. Scientists underlined this notion a decade later when they began referring to our era as the Anthropocene, the world made by man.
As this essay goes to press, California is ablaze. A big fire near Los Angeles forced the evacuation of Malibu, and an even larger fire, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, has become the most destructive in California’s history. After a summer of unprecedented high temperatures and a fall “rainy season” with less than half the usual precipitation, the northern firestorm turned a city called Paradise into an inferno within an hour, razing more than ten thousand buildings and killing at least sixty-three people; more than six hundred others are missing. The authorities brought in cadaver dogs, a lab to match evacuees’ DNA with swabs taken from the dead, and anthropologists from California State University at Chico to advise on how to identify bodies from charred bone fragments.
Opts, I changed my mind. You can read the article by McKibben below in a few pages.
CURRENT CHANGES IN CLIMATE CHANGE
Climate change (or what some call climate disruption or chaos) is addressed in terms of how it affects the world of plants, wildlife, insects, birds, and yes, us humans. We can no longer ignore how the warming of the earth is having a profound impact on the natural world and our lives. Sub-tropical plants now grow outside at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens like camellias.
David Schmidt, a fellow community gardener did not dig up his gladiolus in the fall of 2019. What was unusual is that the glads wintered over and flowered in the summer 2020. Something disruptive is definitely happening down here on earth.
Our warming climate has increased the spread of the invasives: Amur honeysuckle, buckthorn, wild parsnips, Japanese hops, rosa multiflora, and Oriental bittersweet in the woods and fields and gardens. These non-native plants form clusters and thick masses and are difficult to eradicate. Let’s not forget poison ivy and the fact that kudzu, a highly invasive plant, has already moved up from the deep southeast to Massachusetts.
Polar bears, the world’s largest bear species, spend over half their time hunting. They rely heavily on sea ice to access the high-fat food supply they need to survive. As the ice sheets shrink, polar bears are forced onto land. They become undernourished and less capable of feeding their cubs. As the sea ice melts, polar bears are dying.
It's possible that the Earth's fragile artic ecosystem could soon be filled with noisy drillers and extensive pollution. In the oceans -- oil spills cause fur-bearing mammals like sea otters to lose their water repellency. They suffer from hypothermia. Whales and dolphins inhale the oil -- impacting their lung function. Many die.
Elizabeth Kolbert has written a book we all should read. It’s called The Sixth Extinction. Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five Mass Extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around it’s about climate change and how the cataclysm is happening because of human carelessness.
The summer of 2020 brought serious drought and dry weather to many parts of the country including Vermont. Out west, wildfires consumed many parts of California and the Northwest. And in the far north, icebergs melted, and the seas rose higher on islands in the Pacific. A scientific report from April 2021 stated that the world’s glaciers are melting faster than ever, losing 31 percent more snow and ice per year than they did 15 years earlier. Scientists blame human-caused global warming from fossil fuels. Half the world’s glacial loss is coming from the United States and Canada. Alaska’s melt rate are among the highest on the planet with the Columbia glacier retreating about 115 feet per year. In Iceland, a funeral was held for the loss of a small glacier.
2020 brought many examples of the deadly consequences of our failure to address climate risks. Record-breaking hurricanes, wildfires, and drought—on top of the COVID-19 pandemic—battered communities across the nation. Already in 2021, the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest has become the deadliest weather-related event in Washington state history. With temperatures near 120 degrees, power grids were overwhelmed, and hundreds were hospitalized for heat related illnesses. Dozens of heat related deaths have been reported in the region. Wildfires are rampaging throughout the Western states.
The Red Alert - In August of 2021, the world's climate scientists just sounded a "Red Alert for humanity." The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Nobel Prize-winning body that synthesizes and summarizes the state of climate science, stating that the climate is already causing irreversible damage and the worst is yet to come and we must act immediately and on a massive scale to save lives and species from a planet set to spiral out of control.
From the U.S. to Brazil, Siberia to Turkey, Italy to Greece, we're witnessing fires raging across the globe, consuming forests, lives, wildlife, and our future. Fires have also razed natural savanna grasslands, burning within and around Indigenous territories. The combination of extreme heat and prolonged drought have led to the worst fires in almost a decade. s.
It's all connected. The burning season of Amazon forest has also begun. A historic drought, rampant deforestation, and lax environmental regulations mean this year is likely to be a devastating year for fires. However, unlike in the U.S. and around the world, fires don't occur naturally in the Amazon rainforest. They are set deliberately to clear deforested areas to make way for agriculture or renew existing pasture.
The coastal tourist village of Mendocino is almost out of water. The town has no central water system and is trucking water in. Ryan Rhoades, superintendent of the Mendocino City Community Services District, which manages the town's water, said he receives daily reports of homes with dry wells. "People are scared," he said.
The extreme heat is also impacting birds. In Seattle, more than 100 juvenile Caspian Terns perished when they fled rooftop nests, plunging to the pavement below. In eastern Oregon and Tucson, Arizona, hundreds of fledgling Cooper’s and Swainson’s Hawks have abandoned their nests too early. Birds are telling us in the clearest way possible that we must act urgently to address climate change. Extreme heat has been causing Cooper’s Hawks and other birds to abandon their nests too early.
Heatwaves, floods, forest fires, and hurricanes are becoming common across the globe. Fossil fuels are driving this climate chaos. But financial institutions like pension funds are still backing them. These funds allow the oil, gas, and coal industries to pollute communities and harm wildlife. We need to cut off the money to Big Oil. Big Oil knew the dangers of climate change for decades and chose not to act, valuing profits over the future of life on Earth.
Nearly all public pension funds in the United States are invested in fossil fuel companies -- using tax dollars to support powerful polluters that are causing climate chaos. From tar sands and gas pipelines to fracking wells and offshore drilling -- retirement savings are being invested to support these projects. This polluting industry will not stop on its own.
MORE DETAILED INOFRMATION ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND GLOBAL DISRUPTION
While I was digging carrots and beets in my community garden, the Thwaites Glacier was melting and reshaping our planet. A hole wider than the island of Manhattan is eating away at its base, making it one of Antarctica’s fastest-melting glaciers. During the last five years, fourteen billion tons of ice have melted, an ominous signal that the glacier itself is melting faster than scientists thought possible.
What especially worries scientists is if the melting accelerates, that is, if all the ice on Thwaites is lost, it would raise ocean levels an additional 2 feet, according to the NASA study. But the glacier also backstops neighboring glaciers. If those glaciers also melt, sea levels could rise an additional eight feet, researchers warn. If the glacier melts entirely, it would be enough to make parts of Miami, New York, and San Francisco uninhabitable .
The collapse of the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica could significantly affect global sea levels. It already drains an area roughly the size of Britain or the US state of Florida, accounting for around four per cent of global sea-level rise — an amount that has doubled since the mid-1990s. These fast-moving glaciers are considered the “weak underbelly” of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). The hole in the bottom of the world may seem far away, but the Midwest Polar Vortex and the Australian heat wave are up close and personal reminders that the burning of fossil fuels has brought catastrophe to our lives.
The Polar Vortex - The frigid air we’ve experienced in winter is the polar vortex, which is a real meteorological phenomenon, not just a sensational headline. It's a whirling mass of cold air circulating in the mid- to upper-levels of the atmosphere, present every winter. It usually stays closer to the poles but sometimes breaks apart, sending chunks of Arctic air southward into the U.S. during winter.
The polar vortex has resulted in some shockingly cold temperatures in recent years. The National Weather Service in Chicago forecasted 2019 to be the coldest Arctic outbreak in 25 years and perhaps since records have been kept - temperatures in Chicago were 20 below zero. Low temperatures from 5 to 15 below zero were common in Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Albany, and Burlington, with wind chills as low as 40 below.
Is the polar vortex connected to climate change? A counterintuitive theory about the polar vortex is gaining ground in the climate-science community: Regional cold air outbreaks may be getting an "assist" from global warming. While it may not seem to make sense at first glance, scientifically it's consistent with the extremes expected from climate change.
Overall, Earth is warming due to climate change, but areas near the North Pole are warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the globe. This "Arctic Amplification" is especially pronounced in winter. When warm air invades the Arctic Circle, it weakens the polar vortex, displacing cold air masses southward into Europe, Asia, and the United States. You might think of it as a once tight-knit circulation unraveling, slinging pieces of cold air outward.
Evidence for this was presented in a research paper published in the Journal of the American Meteorological Society in 2017. Essentially, it suggests climate change can contribute to a more extreme, wavy jet stream, hurling cold air masses farther south.
When the polar vortex is weak or "perturbed," the flow of air is weaker and meanders north and south (rather than west to east). This allows a redistribution of air masses where cold air from the Arctic spills into the mid-latitudes and warm air from the subtropics is carried into the Arctic.
UN Climate Report 2020
A wide-ranging UN climate report shows that climate change is having a major effect on all aspects of the environment, as well as on the health and wellbeing of the global population. The report documents physical signs of climate change – such as increasing land and ocean heat, accelerating sea level rise and melting ice.
Several heat records have been broken in recent years and decades: the report confirms that 2019 was the second warmest year on record, and 2010-2019 was the warmest decade on record. Since the 1980s, each successive decade has been warmer than any preceding decade since 1850.
A recent decade forecast indicates that a new annual global temperature record is likely in the next five years. It is a matter of time”, added the WMO Secretary-General.
In Australia wildfires sparked global CO2 increases. 2020 has seen the warmest January recorded on record. Ongoing warming in Antarctica saw large-scale ice melt and the fracturing of a glacier, with repercussions for sea level rise, and carbon dioxide emissions spiked following the devastating Australian bushfires, which spread smoke and pollutants around the world.
Australia’s 2018-2019 summer was the hottest ever recorded, reaching a peak of 41.9 degrees centigrade on December 18. Australia's seven hottest days on record, and nine of the 10 hottest, occurred in 2019.
The country was not the only place affected by extreme heat, or wildfires. Heat records were broken in several European countries, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Even Nordic countries saw record-breaking temperatures, including Finland, which registered a high of 33.2 degrees in the capital, Helsinki.
Several high latitude regions, including Siberia and Alaska, saw high levels of fire activity, as did some parts of the Arctic, where it was previously extremely rare. Indonesia and neighboring countries had their the most significant fire season since 2015, and total fire activity in South America was the highest since 2010.
The Widespread Impacts of Ocean Warming
Ice floating on the waters of Prince Gustav Channel in Antarctica, where an ice shelf (Prince Gustav Ice Shelf) of more than 28 km used to exist. The ice shelf has since retreated and collapsed.
Greenhouse gas emissions continued to grow in 2019, leading to increased ocean heat, and such phenomena as rising sea levels, the altering of ocean currents, melting floating ice shelves, and dramatic changes in marine ecosystems.
The ocean has seen increased acidification and deoxygenation, with negative impacts on marine life, and the wellbeing of people who depend on ocean ecosystems. At the poles, sea ice continues to decline, and glaciers shrunk yet again, for the 32nd consecutive year.
Between 2002 and 2016, the Greenland ice sheet lost some 260 Gigatonnes of ice per year, with a peak loss of 458 Gigatonnes in 2011/12. The 2019 loss of 329 Gigatonnes, was well above average. 1 gigaton equals 1 billion or 1,000,000,000 metric tons (a metric ton is 1000 kilograms); 1 metric ton = 2204.6 pounds (an English system ton is 2000 pounds).
Unprecedented Floods and Droughts
In 2019, extreme weather events, some of which were unprecedented in scale, took place in many parts of the world. The monsoon season saw rainfall above the long-term average in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and flooding led to the loss of some 2,200 lives in the region.
Parts of South America were hit by floods in January, whilst Iran was badly affected in late March and early April. In the US, total economic losses from flooding were estimated at around $20 billion. Other regions suffered a severe lack of water. Australia has its driest year on record, and Southern Africa, Central America and parts of South America received abnormally low rains.
2019 also saw an above-average number of tropical cyclones, with 72 in the northern hemisphere, and 27 in the southern hemisphere. Some notably destructive cyclones were Idai, which caused widespread devastation in Mozambique and the east coast of Africa; Dorian, who hit the Bahamas and remained almost stationary for some 24 hours; and Hagibis, which caused severe flooding in Japan.
The news of rapidly spreading fires in the Amazon is devastating. We've been on the ground, restoring Amazon forests, working with local communities, Indigenous People and local governments for decades and I want you to know that our efforts will only ramp up further in the weeks and months ahead. Because we're committed to critical landscapes like the Amazon for the long-term. Please read on...
Brazil - Brazil is famous for its lush rainforests, with green as far as the eye can see. An incredible array of animals and plants — some that have never been seen by humans — thrive under the rich canopy.
But the rainforest is shrinking. Tree by tree, chunks of one of the Earth's most precious treasures are being destroyed, as threats from unsustainable ranching and agriculture, as well as illegal logging, grow.
It's easy to feel helpless as we see some of our planet's most gorgeous and ancient forests disappearing. Take the beloved Amazon rainforest: it is home to more than a third of the planet's animals and plants, to 10% of the world's biodiversity and plays a major role in regulating the Earth's climate. But more than one-fifth of the forest is gone forever, and the rest is at grave risk.
The Conservancy and our partners are determined to protect the precious rainforest that remains, and we know just how to do it. An example is our work with agroforestry systems because growing food crops and native trees together can boost incomes and food security while replenishing soil, sequestering carbon and nurturing wildlife. It's a win for the environment and for local communities!
Also, in the Atlantic Forest, another key portion of the Brazilian territory more than 35 million new native trees are growing, and 39,000 acres of degraded areas have been restored thanks to our collective efforts since 2006.
The Hottest Month
July of 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth.
This summer hasn't just felt like the hottest ever — it actually has been. July 2019 is now officially the hottest month on record since record-keeping began 140 years ago. 2020 and 2021 were even hotter.
The average global temperature last month was 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Thursday. It follows the hottest June ever recorded, marking one of the hottest summers in recent history. Previously, July 2016 held the record for the hottest month ever. As of now, 2019 is tied with 2017 as the second-warmest year on record.
NOAA - The last five Julys have been the five hottest of all time, and last month marked the 415th consecutive month with above-average global temperatures, scientists at NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information said.
Climate Change More
NASA program "OMG" trying to find out how fast Greenland's ice is melting. Activists mourn the first Icelandic glacier lost to climate change. Alaska, Central Europe, northern and southwestern parts of Asia, and parts of Africa and Australia suffered the most intense departures from normal high temperatures, experiencing their hottest year to date.
This summer has been marked globally by dangerous heat waves. A deadly heat wave gripped more than half of the U.S. in mid-July, causing at least six deaths across the country. Europe also found faced life-threatening warming conditions last month, with France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain all hitting record temperatures. It hit 100 degrees in London and 109 in Paris — the highest temperature ever recorded there.
On the last day of the month, the heat wave moved from Europe to Greenland, melting its ice sheets at dramatic rates. Eleven billion tons of ice melted across the country in just one day — its biggest melt of the season.
The Arctic sea ice extent set a record low for July at 726,000 square miles (19.8%) below the 1981–2010 average and 30,900 square miles below the now second-lowest July sea ice extent set in 2012, according to an analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center using data from NOAA and NASA.
Scientists continue to warn that human activity is heating the planet at a dangerous rate, and high temperatures pose a more lethal threat to humans than any other type of extreme weather event. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies recently warned the threat posed by extreme heat "will only become more serious and more widespread as the climate crisis continues."
The Arctic is BURNING, with fires so big you can see them from space! The planet hasn’t seen anything like it in 10,000 years -- July was the hottest month ever recorded! This isn’t global warming. It’s global scorching. And it’s about to get much, much worse…
Some have already given up on tackling climate change. But the truth is, we already have all the tools we need to create a thriving clean, green global economy! Renewable energy is now often cheaper than fossil fuels, and around the world, an inspiring movement of young leaders is rising, determined to secure a 100% clean future for all of us.
More Climate Notes
Climate Reality Check: Global Carbon Pollution Up In 2018
After several years of little growth, global emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide experienced their largest jump in seven years, discouraging scientists. World carbon dioxide emissions are estimated to have risen 2.7 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to three studies from the Global Carbon Project, an international scientific collaboration of academics, governments and industry that tracks greenhouse gas emissions. The calculations, announced during negotiations to put the 2015 Paris climate accord into effect, puts some of the landmark agreement’s goals nearly out of reach, scientists said.
“This is terrible news,” said Andrew Jones, co-director of Climate Interactive, which models greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures but was not part of the research. “Every year that we delay serious climate action, the Paris goals become more difficult to meet.”
The studies concluded that this year the world would spew 40.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide, up from 39.8 billion tons IN 2017.
The four biggest polluters are China, the United States, India and the European Union.
The U.S., which had been steadily decreasing its carbon pollution, showed a significant rise in emissions — up 2.5 percent — for the first time since 2013. China, the globe’s biggest carbon emitter, saw its largest increase since 2011: 4.6 percent. For the U.S., it was a combination of a hot summer and cold winter that required more electricity use for heating and cooling. For China, it was an economic stimulus that pushed coal-powered manufacturing.
Fossil fuels still account for 81 percent of the world’s energy use. The burning of coal, oil and gas release carbon dioxide, which warms the Earth.
The Paris accord set two goals. The long-held goal would limit global warming to no more than 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) from now, with a more ambitious goal of limiting warming to 0.9 degrees (0.5 degrees Celsius) from now. The trend is such that the world would have to be lucky to keep warming to 1.8 degrees.
Overall, the world is spewing about 1,300 tons of carbon dioxide into the air every second. Coal is the biggest carbon emitter and is rising. And while countries are using more renewable fuels and trying to reduce carbon from electricity production, emissions from cars and planes are steadily increasing.
Global carbon dioxide emissions have increased 55 percent in the last 20 years, the calculations show. At the same time, Earth has warmed on average about two-thirds of a degree according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
CLIMATE CHANGE UPDATES 2018
From human health to the world's food supply, from water scarcity to widespread migration and violence, the threats from climate change are much larger than previously thought. Global warming boosted rainfall in some of the USA's worst hurricanes, study suggests.
FYI - Sperm don't like heat, so climate change could damage male fertility.
Researchers studied how climate change will increase heat waves, wildfires, sea level rise, hurricanes, flooding, drought and shortages of clean water. Humanity's burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal that power our world releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the Earth's atmosphere has caused the planet to warm to levels that cannot be explained by natural causes.
And in many places, several threats will be happening at once.
“It’s just going to be crazy," study lead author Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii. He said, “We cannot imagine what will happen when all these things happen at the same time.”
To better understand the threats, we face, Mora and his colleagues reviewed more than 3,200 scientific papers and found 467 ways that climate change has affected all aspects of human civilization and the Earth itself. In other words, by the end of the century, folks will have to endure not just one or two climate hazards, but potentially three, four or more at the same time. Coastal regions in tropical areas will see the most, according to the study.
Mora predicted that by 2100 the number of hazards occurring concurrently will increase, making it even more difficult for people to cope. For example, in New York in 2100, people will endure four separate climate hazards, including drought, sea-level rise, extreme rainfall and high heat. By that time, Los Angeles will deal with three.
CLIMATE DISRUPTION SUMMER 2018 CONTINUED
May was the hottest month on record in the 48 contiguous states - the hottest since record keeping began in 1915.
The Antarctic lost nearly 3 trillion metric tons of ice since the early 1990s, according to a landmark study published in the journal Nature. The new findings are the result of the most complete satellite survey of Antarctic ice sheet change to date, involving 84 scientists from 44 international organizations (including NASA and the European Space Agency).
Worryingly, the paper demonstrated that the rate of ice loss has tripled in recent times. Prior to 2012 the continent was losing ice at a rate of around 76 billion metric tons per year. But in the period between 2012 and 2017, the figure jumped to a staggering 219 billion metric tons per year. This equates to a 0.6-millimeter annual rise in global sea levels. (In total, sea levels are rising about 3 millimeters a year, according to NASA.)
A CONTINUATION OF McKibben’s ARTICLE
Late in 2017, a United Nations agency announced that the number of chronically malnourished people in the world, after a decade of decline, had started to grow again—by thirty-eight million, to a total of eight hundred and fifteen million, “largely due to the proliferation of violent conflicts and climate-related shocks.” In June 2018, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. found that child labor, after years of falling, was growing, “driven in part by an increase in conflicts and climate-induced disasters.”
In 2015, at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris, the world’s governments, noting that the earth has so far warmed a little more than one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, set a goal of holding the increase this century to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), with a fallback target of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Scientists have warned for decades that climate change would lead to extreme weather. Shortly before the I.P.C.C. report was published, Hurricane Michael, the strongest hurricane ever to hit the Florida Panhandle, inflicted thirty billion dollars’ worth of material damage and killed forty-five people.
Human beings have always experienced wars and truces, crashes and recoveries, famines and terrorism. We’ve endured tyrants and outlasted perverse ideologies. Climate change is different. As a team of scientists recently pointed out in the journal Nature Climate Change, the physical shifts we’re inflicting on the planet will “extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far.”
The poorest and most vulnerable will pay the highest price. But already, even in the most affluent areas, many of us hesitate to walk across a grassy meadow because of the proliferation of ticks bearing Lyme disease which have come with the hot weather; we have found ourselves unable to swim off beaches, because jellyfish, which thrive as warming seas kill off other marine life, have taken over the water
There are at least four other episodes in the earth’s half-billion-year history of animal life when CO2 has poured into the atmosphere in greater volumes, but perhaps never at greater speeds. Even at the end of the Permian Age, when huge injections of CO2 from volcanoes burning through coal deposits culminated in “The Great Dying,” the CO2 content of the atmosphere grew at perhaps a tenth of the current pace. Two centuries ago, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was two hundred and seventy-five parts per million; it has now topped four hundred parts per million and is rising more than two parts per million each year. The extra heat that we trap near the planet every day is equivalent to the heat from four hundred thousand bombs the size of the one that was dropped on Hiroshima.
As a result, in the past thirty years we’ve seen all twenty of the hottest years ever recorded. The melting of ice caps and glaciers and the rising levels of our oceans and seas, initially predicted for the end of the century, have occurred decades early.
We are off the literal charts as well. In August, I visited Greenland, where, one day, with a small group of scientists and activists, I took a boat from the village of Narsaq to a glacier on a nearby fjord. As we made our way across a broad bay, I glanced up at the electronic chart above the captain’s wheel, where a blinking icon showed that we were a mile inland. The captain explained that the chart was from five years ago, when the water around us was still ice. The American glaciologist Jason Box, who organized the trip, chose our landing site. “We called this place the Eagle Glacier because of its shape,” he said. The name, too, was five years old. “The head and the wings of the bird have melted away. I don’t know what we should call it now, but the eagle is dead.”
There were two poets among the crew, Aka Niviana, who is Greenlandic, and Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, from the low-lying Marshall Islands, in the Pacific, where “king tides” recently washed through living rooms and unearthed graveyards. A small lens of fresh water has supported life on the Marshall Islands’ atolls for millennia, but, as salt water intrudes, breadfruit trees and banana palms wilt and die. As the Greenlandic ice we were gazing at continues to melt, the water will drown Jetnil-Kijiner’s homeland. About a third of the carbon responsible for these changes has come from the United States.
A few days after the boat trip, the two poets and I accompanied the scientists to another fjord, where they needed to change the memory card on a camera that tracks the retreat of the ice sheet. As we took off for the flight home over the snout of a giant glacier, an eight-story chunk calved off the face and crashed into the ocean. I’d never seen anything quite like it for sheer power—the waves rose twenty feet as it plunged into the dark water. You could imagine the same waves washing through the Marshalls. You could almost sense the ice elevating the ocean by a sliver—along the seafront in Mumbai, which already floods on a stormy day, and at the Battery in Manhattan, where the seawall rises just a few feet above the water.
Each year, another twenty-four thousand people abandon Vietnam’s sublimely fertile Mekong Delta as crop fields are polluted with salt. As sea ice melts along the Alaskan coast, there is nothing to protect towns, cities, and native villages from the waves. In Mexico Beach, Florida, which was all but eradicated by Hurricane Michael, a resident told the Washington Post, “The older people can’t rebuild; it’s too late in their lives. Who is going to be left? Who is going to care?”
In one week at the end of last year, I read accounts from Louisiana, where government officials were finalizing a plan to relocate thousands of people threatened by the rising Gulf (“Not everybody is going to live where they are now and continue their way of life, and that is a terrible, and emotional, reality to face,” one state official said); from Hawaii, where, according to a new study, thirty-eight miles of coastal roads will become impassable in the next few decades; and from Jakarta, a city with a population of ten million, where a rising Java Sea had flooded the streets. In the first days of 2018, a nor’easter flooded downtown Boston; dumpsters and cars floated through the financial district. “If anyone wants to question global warming, just see where the flood zones are,” Marty Walsh, the mayor of Boston, told reporters. “Some of those zones did not flood thirty years ago.”
But it’s not clear where to go. As with the rising seas, rising temperatures have begun to narrow the margins of our inhabitation, this time in the hot continental interiors. Nine of the ten deadliest heat waves in human history have occurred since 2000. In India, the rise in temperature since 1960 (about one degree Fahrenheit) has increased the chance of mass heat-related deaths by a hundred and fifty per cent. The summer of 2018 was the hottest ever measured in certain areas. For a couple of days in June, temperatures in cities in Pakistan and Iran peaked at slightly above a hundred- and twenty-nine-degrees Fahrenheit, the highest reliably recorded temperatures ever measured. The same heat wave, nearer the shore of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, combined triple-digit temperatures with soaring humidity levels to produce a heat index of more than a hundred- and forty-degrees Fahrenheit. June 26th was the warmest night in history, with the mercury in one Omani city remaining above a hundred- and nine-degrees Fahrenheit until morning. In July, a heat wave in Montreal killed more than seventy people, and Death Valley, which often sets American records, registered the hottest month ever seen on our planet. Africa recorded its highest temperature in June, the Korean Peninsula in July, and Europe in August. The Times reported that, in Algeria, employees at a petroleum plant walked off the job as the temperature neared a hundred and twenty-four degrees. “We couldn’t keep up,” one worker told the reporter. “It was impossible to do the work.”
As the planet warms, a crescent-shaped area encompassing parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the North China Plain, where about 1.5 billion people (a fifth of humanity) live, is at high risk of such temperatures in the next half century. Across this belt, extreme heat waves that currently happen once every generation could, by the end of the century, become “annual events with temperatures close to the threshold for several weeks each year, which could lead to famine and mass migration.” By 2070, tropical regions that now get one day of truly oppressive humid heat a year can expect between a hundred and two hundred and fifty days, if the current levels of greenhouse-gas emissions continue
Humans share the planet with many other creatures, of course. We have already managed to kill off sixty per cent of the world’s wildlife since 1970 by destroying their habitats, and now higher temperatures are starting to take their toll. A new study found that peak-dwelling birds were going extinct; as temperatures climb, the birds can no longer find relief on higher terrain. Coral reefs, rich in biodiversity, may soon be a tenth of their current size.
As some people flee humidity and rising sea levels, others will be forced to relocate in order to find enough water to survive. In late 2017, a study led by Manoj Joshi, of the University of East Anglia, found that, by 2050, if temperatures rise by two degrees a quarter of the earth will experience serious drought and desertification. The early signs are clear: São Paulo came within days of running out of water last year, as did Cape Town this spring. In the fall, a record drought in Germany lowered the level of the Elbe to below twenty inches and reduced the corn harvest by forty per cent. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research concluded in a recent study that, as the number of days that reach eighty-six degrees Fahrenheit or higher increases, corn and soybean yields across the U.S. grain belt could fall by between twenty-two and forty-nine per cent. We’ve already over pumped the aquifers that lie beneath most of the world’s breadbaskets; without the means to irrigate, we may encounter a repeat of the nineteen-thirties, when droughts and deep plowing led to the Dust Bowl—this time with no way of fixing the problem. Back then, the Okies fled to California, but California is no longer a green oasis. A hundred million trees died in the record drought that gripped the Golden State for much of this decade. The dead limbs helped spread the waves of fire, as scientists earlier this year warned that they could.
Thirty years ago, some believed that warmer temperatures would expand the field of play, turning the Arctic into the new Midwest. As Rex Tillerson, then the C.E.O. of Exxon, cheerfully put it in 2012, “Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around—we’ll adapt to that.” But there is no rich topsoil in the far North; instead, the ground is underlaid with permafrost, which can be found beneath a fifth of the Northern Hemisphere. As the permafrost melts, it releases more carbon into the atmosphere. The thawing layer cracks roads, tilts houses, and uproots trees to create what scientists call “drunken forests.” Ninety scientists who released a joint report in 2017 concluded that economic losses from a warming Arctic could approach ninety trillion dollars in the course of the century, considerably outweighing whatever savings may have resulted from shorter shipping routes as the Northwest Passage unfreezes.
Churchill, Manitoba, on the edge of the Hudson Bay, in Canada, is connected to the rest of the country by a single rail line. In the spring of 2017, record floods washed away much of the track. OmniTrax, which owns the line, tried to cancel its contract with the government, declaring what lawyers call a “force majeure,” an unforeseen event beyond its responsibility. “To fix things in this era of climate change—well, it’s fixed, but you don’t count on it being the fix forever,” an engineer for the company explained at a media briefing in July. This summer, the Canadian government reopened the rail at a cost of a hundred and seventeen million dollars—about a hundred and ninety thousand dollars per Churchill resident. There is no reason to think the fix will last, and every reason to believe that our world will keep contracting.
All this has played out more or less as scientists warned, albeit faster. What has defied expectations is the slowness of the response. The climatologist James Hansen testified before Congress about the dangers of human-caused climate change thirty years ago. Since then, carbon emissions have increased with each year except 2009 (the height of the global recession) and the newest data show that 2018 will set another record. Simple inertia and the human tendency to prioritize short-term gains have played a role, but the fossil-fuel industry’s contribution has been by far the most damaging. Alex Steffen, an environmental writer, coined the term “predatory delay” to describe “the blocking or slowing of needed change, in order to make money off unsustainable, unjust systems in the meantime.” The behavior of the oil companies, which have pulled off perhaps the most consequential deception in mankind’s history, is a prime example.
As journalists at InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times have revealed since 2015, Exxon, the world’s largest oil company, understood that its product was contributing to climate change a decade before Hansen testified. In July 1977, James F. Black, one of Exxon’s senior scientists, addressed many of the company’s top leaders in New York, explaining the earliest research on the greenhouse effect. “There is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon-dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” he said, according to a written version of the speech, which was later recorded, and which was obtained by InsideClimate News. In 1978, speaking to the company’s executives, Black estimated that a doubling of the carbon-dioxide concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by between two and three degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit), and as much as ten degrees Celsius (eighteen degrees Fahrenheit) at the poles. By Anthony Lane
Exxon spent millions of dollars researching the problem. It outfitted an oil tanker, the Esso Atlantic, with CO2 detectors to measure how fast the oceans could absorb excess carbon, and hired mathematicians to build sophisticated climate models. By 1982, they had concluded that even the company’s earlier estimates were probably too low. In a private corporate primer, they wrote that heading off global warming and “potentially catastrophic events” would “require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion.”
An investigation by the L.A. Times revealed that Exxon executives took these warnings seriously. Ken Croasdale, a senior researcher for the company’s Canadian subsidiary, led a team that investigated the positive and negative effects of warming on Exxon’s Arctic operations. In 1991, he found that greenhouse gases were rising due to the burning of fossil fuels. “Nobody disputes this fact,” he said. The following year, he wrote that “global warming can only help lower exploration and development costs” in the Beaufort Sea. Drilling season in the Arctic, he correctly predicted, would increase from two months to as many as five months. At the same time, he said, the rise in the sea level could threaten onshore infrastructure and create bigger waves that would damage offshore drilling structures. Thawing permafrost could make the earth buckle and slide under buildings and pipelines. As a result of these findings, Exxon and other major oil companies began laying plans to move into the Arctic, and started to build their new drilling platforms with higher decks, to compensate for the anticipated rises in sea level.
The implications of the exposés were startling. Not only did Exxon and other companies know that scientists like Hansen were right; they used his NASA climate models to figure out how low their drilling costs in the Arctic would eventually fall. Had Exxon and its peers passed on what they knew to the public, geological history would look very different today. The problem of climate change would not be solved, but the crisis would, most likely, now be receding. In 1989, an international ban on chlorine-containing man-made chemicals that had been eroding the earth’s ozone layer went into effect. Last month, researchers reported that the ozone layer was on track to fully heal by 2060. But that was a relatively easy fight because the chemicals in question were not central to the world’s economy, and the manufacturers had readily available substitutes to sell. In the case of global warming, the culprit is fossil fuel, the most lucrative commodity on earth, and so the companies responsible took a different tack.
A document uncovered by the L.A. Times showed that, a month after Hansen’s testimony, in 1988, an unnamed Exxon “public affairs manager” issued an internal memo recommending that the company “emphasize the uncertainty” in the scientific data about climate change. Within a few years, Exxon, Chevron, Shell, Amoco, and others had joined the Global Climate Coalition, “to coordinate business participation in the international policy debate” on global warming. The G.C.C. coordinated with the National Coal Association and the American Petroleum Institute on a campaign, via letters and telephone calls, to prevent a tax on fossil fuels, and produced a video in which the agency insisted that more carbon dioxide would “end world hunger” by promoting plant growth. With such efforts, it ginned up opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, the first global initiative to address climate change.
In October 1997, two months before the Kyoto meeting, Lee Raymond, Exxon’s president and C.E.O., who had overseen the science department that in the nineteen-eighties produced the findings about climate change, gave a speech in Beijing to the World Petroleum Congress, in which he maintained that the earth was actually cooling. The idea that cutting fossil-fuel emissions could have an effect on the climate, he said, defied common sense. “It is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be affected whether policies are enacted now, or twenty years from now,” he went on. Exxon’s own scientists had already shown each of these premises to be wrong.
On a December morning in 1997 at the Kyoto Convention Center, after a long night of negotiation, the developed nations reached a tentative accord on climate change. Exhausted delegates lay slumped on couches in the corridor, or on the floor in their suits, but most of them were grinning. Imperfect and limited though the agreement was, it seemed that momentum had gathered behind fighting climate change. But as I watched the delegates cheering and clapping, an American lobbyist, who had been coordinating much of the opposition to the accord, turned to me and said, “I can’t wait to get back to Washington, where we’ve got this under control.”
He was right. On January 29, 2001, nine days after George W. Bush was inaugurated, Lee Raymond visited his old friend Vice-President Dick Cheney, who had just stepped down as the C.E.O. of the oil-drilling giant Halliburton. Cheney helped persuade Bush to abandon his campaign promise to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Within the year, Frank Luntz, a Republican consultant for Bush, had produced an internal memo that made a doctrine of the strategy that the G.C.C. had hit on a decade earlier. “Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community,” Luntz wrote in the memo, which was obtained by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based organization. “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”
The strategy of muddling the public’s impression of climate science has proved to be highly effective. In 2017, polls found that almost ninety per cent of Americans did not know that there was a scientific consensus on global warming. Raymond retired in 2006, after the company posted the biggest corporate profits in history, and his final annual salary was four hundred million dollars. His successor, Rex Tillerson, signed a five-hundred-billion-dollar deal to explore for oil in the rapidly thawing Russian Arctic, and in 2012 was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship. In 2016, Tillerson, at his last shareholder meeting before he briefly joined the Trump Administration as Secretary of State, said, “The world is going to have to continue using fossil fuels, whether they like it or not.”
It’s by no means clear whether Exxon’s deception and obfuscation are illegal. The company has long maintained that it “has tracked the scientific consensus on climate change, and its research on the issue has been published in publicly available peer-reviewed journals.” The First Amendment preserves one’s right to lie, although, in October, New York State Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood filed suit against Exxon for lying to investors, which is a crime. What is certain is that the industry’s campaign cost us the efforts of the human generation that might have made the crucial difference in the climate fight.
Exxon’s behavior is shocking, but not entirely surprising. Philip Morris lied about the effects of cigarette smoking before the government stood up to Big Tobacco. The mystery that historians will have to unravel is what went so wrong in our governance and our culture that we have done, essentially, nothing to stand up to the fossil-fuel industry.
There are undoubtedly myriad intellectual, psychological, and political sources for our inaction, but I cannot help thinking that the influence of Ayn Rand, the Russian émigré novelist, may have played a role. Rand’s disquisitions on the “virtue of selfishness” and unbridled capitalism are admired by many American politicians and economists—Paul Ryan, Tillerson, Mike Pompeo, Andrew Puzder, and Donald Trump, among them. Trump, who has called “The Fountainhead” his favorite book, said that the novel “relates to business and beauty and life and inner emotions. That book relates to . . . everything.” Long after Rand’s death, in 1982, the libertarian gospel of the novel continues to sway our politics: Government is bad. Solidarity is a trap. Taxes are theft. The Koch brothers, whose enormous fortune derives in large part from the mining and refining of oil and gas, have peddled a similar message, broadening the efforts that Exxon-funded groups like the Global Climate Coalition spearheaded in the late nineteen-eighties.
Fossil-fuel companies and electric utilities, often led by Koch-linked groups, have put up fierce resistance to change. In Kansas, Koch allies helped turn mandated targets for renewable energy into voluntary commitments. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker’s administration prohibited state land officials from talking about climate change. In North Carolina, the state legislature, in conjunction with real-estate interests, effectively banned policymakers from using scientific estimates of sea-level rise in the coastal-planning process. Earlier this year, Americans for Prosperity, the most important Koch front group, waged a campaign against new bus routes and light-rail service in Tennessee, invoking human liberty. “If someone has the freedom to go where they want, do what they want, they’re not going to choose public transit,” a spokeswoman for the group explained. In Florida, an anti-renewable-subsidy ballot measure invoked the “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice.”
Such efforts help explain why, in 2017, the growth of American residential solar installations came to a halt even before March 2018, when President Trump imposed a thirty-per-cent tariff on solar panels, and why the number of solar jobs fell in the U.S. for the first time since the industry’s great expansion began, a decade earlier. In February, at the Department of Energy, Rick Perry—who once skipped his own arraignment on two felony charges, which were eventually dismissed, in order to attend a Koch brothers event—issued a new projection in which he announced that the U.S. would go on emitting carbon at current levels through 2050; this means that our nation would use up all the planet’s remaining carbon budget if we plan on meeting the 1.5-degree target. Skepticism about the scientific consensus, Perry told the media in 2017, is a sign of a “wise, intellectually engaged person.”
Of all the environmental reversals made by the Trump Administration, the most devastating was its decision, last year, to withdraw from the Paris accords, making the U.S., the largest single historical source of carbon, the only nation not engaged in international efforts to control it. As the Washington Post reported, the withdrawal was the result of a collaborative venture. Among the anti-government ideologues and fossil-fuel lobbyists responsible was Myron Ebell, who was at Trump’s side in the Rose Garden during the withdrawal announcement, and who, at Frontiers of Freedom, had helped run a “complex influence campaign” in support of the tobacco industry. Ebell is a director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which was founded in 1984 to advance “the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty,” and which funds the Cooler Heads Coalition, “an informal and ad-hoc group focused on dispelling the myths of global warming,” of which Ebell is the chairman. Also instrumental were the Heartland Institute and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. After Trump’s election, these groups sent a letter reminding him of his campaign pledge to pull America out. The C.E.I. ran a TV spot: “Mr. President, don’t listen to the swamp. Keep your promise.” And, despite the objections of most of his advisers, he did. The coalition had used its power to slow us down precisely at the moment when we needed to speed up. As a result, the particular politics of one country for one half-century will have changed the geological history of the earth.
We are on a path to self-destruction, and yet there is nothing inevitable about our fate. Solar panels and wind turbines are now among the least expensive ways to produce energy. Storage batteries are cheaper and more efficient than ever. We could move quickly if we chose to, but we’d need to opt for solidarity and coordination on a global scale. The chances of that look slim. In Russia, the second-largest petrostate after the U.S., Vladimir Putin believes that “climate change could be tied to some global cycles on Earth or even of planetary significance.” Saudi Arabia, the third-largest petrostate, tried to water down the recent I.P.C.C. report. Jair Bolsonaro, the newly elected President of Brazil, has vowed to institute policies that would dramatically accelerate the deforestation of the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest. Meanwhile, Exxon recently announced a plan to spend a million dollars—about a hundredth of what the company spends each month in search of new oil and gas—to back the fight for a carbon tax of forty dollars a ton. At a press conference, some of the I.P.C.C.’s authors laughed out loud at the idea that such a tax would, this late in the game, have sufficient impact.
The possibility of swift change lies in people coming together in movements large enough to shift the Zeitgeist. In recent years, despairing at the slow progress, I’ve been one of many to protest pipelines and to call attention to Big Oil’s deceptions. The movement is growing. Since 2015, when four hundred thousand people marched in the streets of New York before the Paris climate talks, activists—often led by indigenous groups and communities living on the front lines of climate change—have blocked pipelines, forced the cancellation of new coal mines, helped keep the major oil companies out of the American Arctic, and persuaded dozens of cities to commit to one-hundred-per-cent renewable energy.
Each of these efforts has played out in the shadow of the industry’s unflagging campaign to maximize profits and prevent change. Voters in Washington State were initially supportive of a measure on last month’s ballot which would have imposed the nation’s first carbon tax—a modest fee that won support from such figures as Bill Gates. But the major oil companies spent record sums to defeat it. In Colorado, a similarly modest referendum that would have forced frackers to move their rigs away from houses and schools went down after the oil industry outspent citizen groups forty to one. This fall, California’s legislators committed to using only renewable energy by 2045, which was a great victory in the world’s fifth-largest economy. But the governor refused to stop signing new permits for oil wells, even in the middle of the state’s largest cities, where asthma rates are high.
New kinds of activism keep springing up. In Sweden this fall, a one-person school boycott by a fifteen-year-old girl named Greta Thunberg helped galvanize attention across Scandinavia. At the end of October, a new British group, Extinction Rebellion—its name both a reflection of the dire science and a potentially feisty response—announced plans for a campaign of civil disobedience. Last week, fifty-one young people were arrested in Nancy Pelosi’s office for staging a sit-in, demanding that the Democrats embrace a “Green New Deal” that would address the global climate crisis with policies to create jobs in renewable energy. They may have picked a winning issue: several polls have shown that even Republicans favor more government support for solar panels. This battle is epic and undecided. If we miss the two-degree target, we will fight to prevent a rise of three degrees, and then four. It’s a long escalator down to Hell.
Last June, I went to Cape Canaveral to watch Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket lift off. When the moment came, it was as I’d always imagined: the clouds of steam venting in the minutes before launch, the immensely bright column of flame erupting. With remarkable slowness, the rocket began to rise, the grip of gravity yielding to the force of its engines. It is the most awesome technological spectacle human beings have produced.
Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson are among the billionaires who have spent some of their fortunes on space travel—a last-ditch effort to expand the human zone of habitability. In November 2016, Stephen Hawking gave humanity a deadline of a thousand years to leave Earth. Six months later, he revised the timetable to a century. In June 2017, he told an audience that “spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves.” He continued, “Earth is under threat from so many areas that it is difficult for me to be positive.”
But escaping the wreckage is, almost certainly, a fantasy. Even if astronauts did cross the thirty-four million miles to Mars, they’d need to go underground to survive there. To what end? The multimillion-dollar attempts at building a “biosphere” in the Southwestern desert in 1991 ended in abject failure. Kim Stanley Robinson, the author of a trilogy of novels about the colonization of Mars, recently called such projects a “moral hazard.” “People think if we fuck up here on Earth we can always go to Mars or the stars,” he said. “It’s pernicious.”
The dream of interplanetary colonization also distracts us from acknowledging the unbearable beauty of the planet we already inhabit. The day before the launch, I went on a tour of the vast grounds of the Kennedy Space Center with NASA’s public-affairs officer, Greg Harland, and the biologist Don Dankert. I’d been warned beforehand by other NASA officials not to broach the topic of global warming; in any event, NASA’s predicament became obvious as soon as we climbed up on a dune overlooking Launch Complex 39, from which the Apollo missions left for the moon, and where any future Mars mission would likely begin. The launchpad is a quarter of a mile from the ocean—a perfect location, in the sense that, if something goes wrong, the rockets will fall into the sea, but not so perfect, since that sea is now rising. NASA started worrying about this sometime after the turn of the century, and formed a Dune Vulnerability Team.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy, even at a distance of a couple of hundred miles, churned up waves strong enough to break through the barrier of dunes along the Atlantic shoreline of the Space Center and very nearly swamped the launch complexes. Dankert had millions of cubic yards of sand excavated from a nearby Air Force base, and saw to it that a hundred and eighty thousand native shrubs were planted to hold the sand in place. So far, the new dunes have yielded little ground to storms and hurricanes. But what impressed me more than the dunes was the men’s deep appreciation of their landscape. “Kennedy Space Center shares real estate with the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge,” Harland said. “We use less than ten per cent for our industrial purposes.”
“When you look at the beach, it’s like eighteen-seventies Florida—the longest undisturbed stretch on the Atlantic Coast,” Dankert said. “We launch people into space from the middle of a wildlife refuge. That’s amazing.”
The two men talked for a long time about their favorite local species—the brown pelicans that were skimming the ocean, the Florida scrub jays. While rebuilding the dunes, they carefully bucket-trapped and relocated dozens of gopher tortoises. Before I left, they drove me half an hour across the swamp to a pond near the Space Center’s headquarters building, just to show me some alligators. Menacing snouts were visible beneath the water, but I was more interested in the sign that had been posted at each corner of the pond explaining that the alligators were native species, not pets. “Putting any food in the water for any reason will cause them to become accustomed to people and possibly dangerous,” it went on, adding that, if that should happen, “they must be removed and destroyed.”
Something about the sign moved me tremendously. It would have been easy enough to poison the pond, just as it would have been easy enough to bulldoze the dunes without a thought for the tortoises. But NASA hadn’t done so, because of a long series of laws that draw on an emerging understanding of who we are. In 1867, John Muir, one of the first Western environmentalists, walked from Louisville, Kentucky, to Florida, a trip that inspired his first heretical thoughts about the meaning of being human. “The world, we are told, was made especially for man—a presumption not supported by all the facts,” Muir wrote in his diary. “A numerous class of men are painfully astonished whenever they find anything, living or dead, in all God’s universe, which they cannot eat or render in some way what they call useful to themselves.” Muir’s proof that this self-centeredness was misguided was the alligator, which he could hear roaring in the Florida swamp as he camped nearby, and which clearly caused man mostly trouble. But these animals were wonderful nonetheless, Muir decided—remarkable creatures perfectly adapted to their landscape. “I have better thoughts of those alligators now that I’ve seen them at home,” he wrote. In his diary, he addressed the creatures directly: “Honorable representatives of the great saurian of an older creation, may you long enjoy your lilies and rushes, and be blessed now and then with a mouthful of terror-stricken man by way of dainty.”
That evening, Harland and Dankert drew a crude map to help me find the beach, north of Patrick Air Force Base and south of the spot where, in 1965, Barbara Eden emerged from her bottle to greet her astronaut at the start of the TV series “I Dream of Jeannie.” There, they said, I could wait out the hours until the pre-dawn rocket launch and perhaps spot a loggerhead sea turtle coming ashore to lay her eggs. And so I sat on the sand. The beach was deserted, and under a near-full moon I watched as a turtle trundled from the sea and lumbered deliberately to a spot near the dune, where she used her powerful legs to excavate a pit. She spent an hour laying eggs, and even from thirty yards away you could hear her heavy breathing in between the whispers of the waves. And then, having covered her clutch, she tracked back to the ocean, in the fashion of others like her for the past hundred and twenty million years. An earlier version of this piece misstated the year that Hurricane Sandy occurred.
Further Report 2018 - A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change painted a far direr picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought. The report describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population. The report was the first to be commissioned by world leaders under the Paris agreement, the 2015 pact by nations to fight global warming.
The authors found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. Previous work had focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by a larger number, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, because that was the threshold scientists previously considered for the most severe effects of climate change.
In 2018, California experienced the most devastating fire season on record. Hurricanes ravaged North Carolina and Florida this fall. In June, new heat records were set all around the world. A total of 7,579 fires burned an area of 1,667,855 acres, the largest amount of burned acreage recorded in a California fire season, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the National Interagency Fire Center, as of November 11. The fires caused over $2.975 billion in damages, including $1.366 billion in fire suppression costs. The fires are due to a severe drought and strong Santa Anna winds.
November 2018 - Ten large wildfires have been burning in California, the largest of which is the Camp Fire near Chico. As of Tuesday, that blaze had burned more than 151,000 acres and was 70 percent contained. At least 79 people died in the fire, and hundreds are still missing. Nearly 13,000 homes have been destroyed, mostly in Paradise and Magalia since the fire started on Nov. 8.
Smoke from the fires has been festering over California for days, but recently it was picked up by upper-level winds heading south and east. A band of haze stretches across more than a dozen states from Southern California to Massachusetts.
Smoke and fine particulate concentrations have been high. Schools have been closed and people are wearing masks in the San Francisco area hundreds of miles to the south of the fires. I have spoken to friends who live in the Bay area who are wearing masks.
Black Friday — 13 federal agencies released a major new scientific report detailing the consequences of climate change in the United States. The findings are stark: If we don’t take action now, the damage will knock off as much as 10% of the American economy by 2100. That's hundreds of billions of dollars, every year. And let’s be clear — the report may tally the cost in dollars, but the toll will be a very human one, with lives lost and homes destroyed year after year.
FYI - Transportation, particularly automobiles, makes up about 40 percent of the carbon emissions in Vermont.
The weather continues to be weird. One day, it's below zero and then it snows heavy and then the temperatures rise above freezing and then the snow melts with puddles of water. Today, you just don't know what the weather will bring. In the past, there were variables but today, it's much more extreme. I wish our current winters were like the good ole days when there were high banks of snow along back-country roads.
End of McKibben Essay - This article appeared in the print edition of the November 26, 2018, issue, with the headline “Life on a Shrinking Planet.“ Bill McKibben, a former New Yorker staff writer, is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org and the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College. His new book “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?” will be out in the spring. I mentioned this at the beginning of the essay.
THE WINTER OF 2014-2015, THE POLAR VORTEX AND GLOBAL WARMING
Precipitation was below normal across most of Northern New York, especially the Saint Lawrence Valley, with some locations running a several inch deficit. Vermont was closer to normal, being closer to the mean winter storm track south and east of the region. Burlington, VT finished the winter 0.97 inches below normal.
This gave way to an increasing volume and intensity of cold air masses diving into the northeastern United States, bringing us a below normal January in terms of temperature. The mean storm track also set up shop well off to our south and east leading to Boston’s and Southern New England’s historic run of snow events from late January through February, while northern New York and central and northern Vermont were caught on the northwestern fringe. February then came along and unleashed one of the coldest months on record to a lot of the region.
December was a relatively mild month, but was also very cloudy and ran a surplus in the snow department. The month started off with a 50-degree high at Burlington, however that was soon followed by a turn to a cloudier and snowier period with at least a trace or greater of snow recorded on each of the first fourteen days of the month. This stretch also featured the season’s largest snowstorm for the majority of the region, from December 9th – 11th, which brought a widespread 8 to 16 inches of snow for most, with some locally lower and higher amounts.
The script then suddenly flipped for the last two weeks when warming temperatures and a rainstorm threatened the prospects of a White Christmas. The official station at Burlington held on just long enough to declare a White Christmas, however the 54-degree Christmas Day in a midst of several other 40-to-50-degree days did the snowpack in and Burlington finished the month of December with no snow on the ground.
January was largely uneventful for the North Country with a relatively mild start and a pair of 40+ degree highs, followed by a descent downward into the depths of winter. The coldest morning of the month was on January 8th where temperatures bottomed out in the teens and twenties below zero. The high of 33 degrees on January 25th would be the last temperature above freezing for the next 27 days. The end of the month then featured the southern and eastern New England Blizzard on January 26th & 27th,
February brought brutal and near record-to-record cold to the North Country. The month featured numerous nights of widespread below zero temperatures, even bottoming out at -10 to -30 quite a few times, as well as several bouts of extreme wind chills. It
Table 1. February 2015 Average Temperatures, Departures from Normal, and Ranking among February’s as well as all months.
only once went above freezing at Burlington, and that was only for a few hours on the 22nd. 26 out of the 28 days of the month were below normal as well. As seen in Table 1 below, departures for the month were between 13 and 15 degrees below the 1981 – 2010 Climate Normal, and finished as a Top 3 Coldest February at all of our climate sites. At our relatively newer sites of Massena, NY and Montpelier, VT, it was the coldest February on record (dating back to 1948). The month also finished in the Top 7 for any month for all sites, and actually tied with the coldest month on record at Massena (January 1994). February was also quite dry with the storm track largely to our south and east. At most of our climate sites, the month finished with about 1 to 2 inches of liquid equivalent precipitation, about 1 inch below the climate normal. The driest locations were in the northern Champlain Valley and northern Saint Lawrence Valleys where only a half inch to 1 inch fell.
The largest snowstorm of the month came on Groundhog Day (February 2nd) where a widespread 5 to 10 inches of snow fell across the region. There were three main large arctic outbreaks (Feb 1st – 6th, Feb 13th – 18th, and Feb 23rd – 24th) that sent low temperatures plummeting well below zero and gave us days that hovered in the single digits. The morning of the 24th was the coldest of the entire season with Island Pond, VT taking home the honors of being the coldest at -36 degrees. This month also saw the second consecutive year that Lake Champlain “closed”, meaning the lake had full ice coverage. This occurred on February 16th.
Warmest: 42°- Mount Tabor, VT Feb 22nd Coldest: -36°- Island Pond, VT Feb 24thDuring the cold winter of 2015, I kept my sanity by cross-country skiing out on Lake Champlain. I've noticed that late in the day when the sun is going down over the Adirondack Mountains, I'll see on the bay before me rounded, oval and myriad shapes of frozen water-like pools in turquoise as I'm skiing west toward the sun. When I get close to the colors, they diminish and when I ski back towards home, I see greenish blue colors again. It's amazing what the light of sunset can do so late in the day. Sometimes I even pretend I'm in the Caribbean on a sandy beach looking out at the all the colors in the water. The "Chuckster" commented, "I don't want to say anything but here you go again with those poetic nuances." He went on to say, "All you ever talk about is the cold weather and the colors out on the lake." I respond with, “What can I say.”
Ice Loss and the Polar Vortex: How a Warming Arctic Fuels Cold Snaps. The loss of sea ice may be weakening the polar vortex, allowing cold blasts to dip south from the Arctic, across North America, Europe and Russia, a new study says.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News Sep 28, 2017
MORE ON THE POLAR VORTEX AND GLOBAL WARMING
A strong polar vortex (left, from December 2013) is centered over the Arctic. A weakened polar vortex (right, from January 2014) allows cold air to dip farther south. Credit: NOAA
When winter sets in, "polar vortex" becomes one of the most dreaded phrases in the Northern Hemisphere. It's enough to send shivers even before the first blast of bitter cold arrives.
New research shows that some northern regions have been getting hit with these extreme cold spells more frequently over the past four decades, even as the planet as a whole has warmed. While it may seem counterintuitive, the scientists believe these bitter cold snaps are connected to the warming of the Arctic and the effects that that warming is having on the winds of the stratospheric polar vortex, high above the Earth's surface.
Here's what scientists involved in the research think is happening: The evidence is clear that the Arctic has been warming faster than the rest of the planet. That warming is reducing the amount of Arctic sea ice, allowing more heat to escape from the ocean. The scientists think that the ocean energy that is being released is causing a weakening of the polar vortex winds over the Arctic, which normally keep cold air centered over the polar region. That weakening is then allowing cold polar air to slip southward more often.
The polar vortex has always varied in strength, but the study found that the weaker phases are lasting longer and coinciding with cold winters in Northern Europe and Russia.
"The shift toward more persistent weaker states of the polar vortex lets Arctic air spill out and threaten Russia and Europe with extreme cold
Some other scientists aren't as sure that melting sea ice affects the polar vortex so strongly. They think other factors, like long-term variations in sea surface temperatures like El Niño, and changes in the tropics, might play bigger roles.
Kretschmer and her colleagues focused on the region from Scandinavia through Siberia, where winter snow cover has increased, and average winter temperatures have dropped since 1990. Co-author Judah Cohen, a climate researcher at MIT, said the results also provide new clues about how the Arctic affects cold extremes in the U.S.
The study tracked changes in the polar vortex in the months of December and January between 1979 and 2015. It concluded that the polar vortex is primed for extreme cold outbreaks for longer stretches—from 5.3 days during the first half of the study period to 14.1 days in the second half. During the same time, average winter surface temperatures in northern Eurasia declined.
Previous studies have also concluded that the changes in the stratosphere are important. "Without the stratospheric changes, we can't explain why we see an increase in cold days over Eurasia," Handorf said.
A Step Toward More Accurate Forecasts
Along with helping explain how melting sea ice affects the atmosphere, the new study is a step toward more accurate seasonal forecasts that can help prepare communities for extreme conditions, Cohen said.
Models used in forecasting don't currently anticipate these changes in the polar vortex, he said. Comparing polar vortex phases with temperatures in the study area and data on sea ice extent can potentially improve forecasts two to six weeks in advance, he said.
With that information, scientists soon may be able to say that, when the sea ice forms very late in the Arctic Ocean north of Russia, people living eastern Scandinavia and Siberia should prepare for harsh early winter conditions.
"You can take one view or another, but the research helps make people think about the effects and how to forecast them. What we know for sure is, the Arctic is warming and losing ice and the forcing is there," he said, referring to the potential effect of melting sea ice on weather patterns. Pinpointing the impacts on areas where millions of people live, he said, would pay off for those communities.
January 2019 Ice
A new study reminds us of the alarming rate at which ice is melting. As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries.
Ten feet is how much the sea level could rise this century if the oceans continue to rise at their current rate. A new study on Antarctic sea ice collapse, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that warming ocean waters produced a 6-fold increase in annual mass loss from the Antarctic ice sheet between 1979 and 2017. The continent has lost 278 billion tons of ice per year since 2009 compared to the 44 billion a year it was losing in the 1980s.
Even just compared to last year, Antarctic ice is melting 15 percent faster. East Antarctica, which was thought to be relatively stable year to year, is now losing 56 billion tons of ice per year.
The study’s lead author, glaciologist Eric Rignot, senior project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says “This region is probably more sensitive to climate [change] than has traditionally been assumed, and that’s important to know, because it holds even more ice than West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula together.” “That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries,” adds Rignot.
The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) contains enough ice to raise sea levels 20 feet, while the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) contains enough to raise them 170 feet. Although it would take centuries to melt all of the ice completely, the researchers say that there could be a devastating sea level rise in this century.
The study was conducted by Rignot and his team and comprises the longest-ever assessment of the Antarctic ice mass. The project spanned four decades, during which the team examined 18 regions encompassing 176 basins, as well as surrounding islands.
Judging by the fact that recent studies have labeled last year as the hottest on record, with increasing ocean warming, it is likely that the predictions based on this data will become reality if the United States, and the world, don’t take drastic action soon. The oceans currently provide a critical buffer for the rest of the planet, absorbing 93 percent of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases humans dump into the atmosphere.
Another study from the National Academy of Sciences finds that the changing climate is causing Greenland’s massive ice sheets to melt much faster than previously thought. This shocking reality could mean dire implications for coastal and low-lying cities worldwide.
Staggeringly, just 100 companies cause over 70 percent of global emissions that fuel the Greenland melt. Yes, you read that right! Who tops that list? ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron — dirty “leaders” in the fossil fuel industry that are funding political campaigns nationwide.
CLIMATE DISRUPTION: WEATHER REPORT HEAT & RAIN SUMMER 2015
According to AccuWeather, the Northeast in 2015 endured more 90-degree days in summer than in 2014. Late August and September in 2015 brought sweltering temperatures in Vermont in the 90s with high humidity.
Warmth from Central Canada and the northern Plains flowed into the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic bringing above normal temperatures and drier conditions. In fact, June brought the third highest total of rainfall to Vermont in 2015. It was the wettest May in U.S. history. Droughts continued in the far West along with numerous wildfires. Washington and Oregon experienced major wildfires as did British Columbia.
Following a record hot May in which much snow cover melted off early, Alaska saw no less than 152 fires erupt over the weekend of June 21-22. The numbers have only grown further since then, and stood at 319 active fires with more than a million acres burned in June alone.
India suffered from extreme heat and drought and thousands of people died.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON WARMING AND CLIMATE DISRUPTION
There can be no doubt that the world is warming. July’s 2018 heat wave is one for the books across the globe. Countries across four continents smashed their own temperatures marks this month. The temperature reached 95.2 degrees in Surrey, England and 106 degrees in Kumagaya, Japan where over 65 people died. In Sweden, 50 forest fires erupted and out west in U.S. wildfires have spread throughout the region causing massive destruction. In southern Finland, the temperature hit 91.9, the hottest day since 1914.
The drought out west has spurred extreme measures to protect the wild horses. Volunteers are hauling water and food to remote grazing lands. Parts of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico are under the most severe category of drought. California is experiencing the largest wildfires in recent times. British Columbia also has major wildfires. But the oceans are in trouble.
Besides climate change plastic pollution and overfishing present a massive threat to our ocean ecosystems. We need to take swift action now to protect our oceans from the Arctic to Antarctica – from Pole to Pole.
Greenpeace is calling for ocean sanctuaries that will set aside 30% of our world’s oceans as permanent marine reserves by 2030. It’s ambitious, but these are the solutions that we need. The time is now — the United Nations could make it happen in the next six months as they negotiate a bold new global oceans treaty
Decades of exploitation have destroyed and degraded much of the Earth’s natural forests. In fact, we’ve already lost half of global forest land. In the Amazon, the very real threat of mass deforestation for soy and cattle production is on the rise. In Indonesia, massive multinational corporations are clearcutting rainforest and burning peatlands for palm oil