Has Climate Consciousness Reached a Tipping Point?
By Jeff Turrentine
Nearly 20 years have passed since the journalist Malcolm Gladwell popularized the term tipping point, in his best-selling book of the same name. The phrase denotes the moment that a certain idea, behavior, or practice catches on exponentially and gains widespread currency throughout a culture. Having transcended its roots in sociological theory, the tipping point is now part of our everyday vernacular. We use it in scientific contexts to describe, for instance, the climatological point of no return that we'll hit if we allow average global temperatures to rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. But we also use it to describe everything from resistance movements to the disenchantment of hockey fans when their team is on a losing streak.
Right now, climate consciousness in America appears to be at a tipping point. The current discourse in this country surrounding the climate crisis, both its causes and its effects, feels bigger, more serious, and less contentious than it ever has before. The underlying message — that we can't wait any longer to curb carbon emissions, and that all the world's nations have to act in unison to get it done — is finally breaking through to people who hadn't been getting that message before.
Crowds pack the streets in lower Manhattan.
Rick Gershon / NRDC
Something out there has changed. Recent polls show that nearly 8 out of 10 Americans now acknowledge that human activity is fueling global warming, and half of them understand that we need to act within the next 10 years to escape its worst effects. You also see this attitudinal change in studies suggesting that the decades-old ideological divides between Americans on the issue are eroding and that people of all political stripes are finally beginning to see that we really are in this thing together. The shift is also apparent in the present media environment, one where journalists no longer feel obligated to frame the climate issue as some sort of a bogus "debate" and are instead just reporting the facts, as troubling as those facts may be.
As welcome as it is, this moment is long overdue. Scientists have been warning us about the consequences of global warming for decades, and environmentalists have been pressing for ameliorative action through emissions reductions and a transition to a clean energy economy. But fossil fuel companies, sensing a threat to their profitable status quo, launched a protracted and well-funded disinformation campaign, turning what should have been a common cause into a fractious, albeit false, debate. Their goals were to sow doubt and delay action — and they succeeded. While other countries around the world were taking their first steps to combat the climate crisis, Americans have been busy arguing over whether it even existed.
After Donald Trump's victory in 2016, the stalemate seemed finally to have broken, but not in a good way. With an open climate denier occupying the highest office in the land, many rightly worried that achieving large-scale climate action would only get more difficult. How, they wondered, could they win the hearts and minds of tens of millions of Americans who were inclined to believe the president's dashed-off climate tweets rather than the international scientific consensus? Even more troublingly: How could they ever reach critical mass — the tipping point — on climate action without getting these people on their side?
And then 2017 happened. The first year of Trump's presidency overlapped, coincidentally, with a series of climate-sensitive catastrophes that helped make it the most expensive year ever for weather-related disasters. California experienced its most destructive wildfire season on record, with more than 9,000 fires burning up nearly 1.4 million acres of land and killing dozens. In just one month, three massive hurricanes — Harvey, Irma, and Maria — battered coastlines in quick succession, killing more than 3,000 people along their path and causing more than $265 billion in damage, making 2017's hurricane season the costliest in U.S. history. Cities and states experienced record-high temperatures: Phoenix had its warmest year on record, and even cool and clammy San Francisco saw its mercury rise to a historic high of 106 degrees. By the end of the year, 2017 would earn the title of the second-hottest year on record — just behind 2016.
As scientists, journalists, and activists continued to emphasize the links between extreme weather events and anthropogenic climate change, it simply became harder and harder to deny the validity of those links. So you might say that the American people were primed to receive the message of the 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which detailed the full range of likely consequences of allowing more than 1.5 °C of warming. Media coverage of the IPCC's staggering findings was extensive — but as one Yale University–affiliated publication noted, the report's impact on public opinion was "unclear." Hard data had never proved persuasive to the skeptics before. Why, some wondered, should we expect the scientific facts to influence them now?
Children at the New York City climate strike.
Kristen Walsh / NRDC
Yet here we are, almost exactly a year later, and it seems safe to say that America's climate consciousness has reached a new level. Just check the local news today in practically any major U.S. city, where millions of young people and their older allies are participating in the Global Climate Strike. The protesters are galvanized and mobilized in a way that we haven't seen since the 1960s, when young Americans took to the streets and demanded — and ultimately won — monumental changes.
And if climate awareness hasn't yet reached critical mass, then it likely will by the end of next week, once all the images and accounts of the massive youth-led movement have circulated and sunk in — and not just with ordinary folks like you and me, but with representatives from all around the world at the United Nations. I truly expect we will come away from this moment changed in our focus, our attitudes, and our dedication to saving the planet and ourselves. And we'll have our children to thank for it.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The Washington Redskins will retire their controversial name and logo, the National Football League (NFL) team announced Monday.
By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
- New England Fishing Communities Being Destroyed by 'Climate ... ›
- Shrimp Fishing Banned in Gulf of Maine Due to Ocean Warming ... ›
- Atlantic Salmon Is All But Extinct as a Genetically Eroded Version of ... ›
A heat wave that set in over the South and Southwest left much of the U.S. blanketed in record-breaking triple digit temperatures over the weekend. The widespread and intense heat wave will last for weeks, making the magnitude and duration of its heat impressive, according to The Washington Post.
- Hot Weather and COVID-19: Added Threats of Reopening States in ... ›
- 50 Million Americans Are Currently Living Under Some Type of Heat ... ›
- Second Major Heat Wave This Summer Smashes Records Across ... ›
By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
- Anti-Racism Protests Are Not Driving Coronavirus Spikes, Data ... ›
- Cell Phone Tracking Analysis Shows Where Florida Springbreakers ... ›
NASA scientists say that warmer than average surface sea temperatures in the North Atlantic raise the concern for a more active hurricane season, as well as for wildfires in the Amazon thousands of miles away, according to Newsweek.
By Andrea Germanos
Oxfam International warned Thursday that up to 12,000 people could die each day by the end of the year as a result of hunger linked to the coronavirus pandemic—a daily death toll surpassing the daily mortality rate from Covid-19 itself.
- These 6 Men Have as Much Wealth as Half the World's Population ... ›
- Climate Change Forces 20 Million People to Flee Each Year, Oxfam ... ›
By Jun N. Aguirre
An oil spill on July 3 threatens a mangrove forest on the Philippine island of Guimaras, an area only just recovering from the country's largest spill in 2006.
- 15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native ... ›
- Mysterious Oil Spill on Massachusetts' Charles River Spurs Major ... ›
- Disastrous Russian Oil Spill Reaches Pristine Arctic Lake - EcoWatch ›