What Is Climate Change? Is It Different From Global Warming?
Climate change is actually not a new phenomenon. Scientists have been studying the connection between human activity and the effect on the climate since the 1800s, although it took until the 1950s to find evidence suggesting a link.
Since then, the amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases) in the atmosphere have steadily increased, taking a sharp jump in the late 1980s when the summer of 1988 became the warmest on record. (There have been many records broken since then.) But climate change is not a synonym for global warming.
The term global warming entered the lexicon in the 1950s, but didn't become a common buzzword until a few decades later when more people started taking notice of a warming climate. Except climate change encompasses a greater realm than just rising temperatures. Trapped gases also affect sea-level rise, animal habitats, biodiversity and weather patterns. For example, Texas' severe winter storms in February 2021 demonstrate how the climate isn't merely warming.
Why Is Climate Change Important? Why Does It Matter?
Marc Guitard / Moment / Getty Images
Despite efforts from forward thinkers such as SpaceX Founder Elon Musk to colonize Mars, Earth remains our home for the foreseeable future, and the more human activity negatively impacts the climate, the less habitable it will become. It's estimated that Earth has already warmed about one degree Celsius, or two degrees Fahrenheit, since the start of the Industrial Revolution around the 1750s, although climate change tracking didn't start until the late 1800s. That warming number may not sound like much, but this increase has already resulted in more frequent and severe wildfires, hurricanes, floods, droughts and winter storms, to name some examples.
Then there's biodiversity loss, another fallout of climate change that's threatening rainforests and coral reefs and accelerating species extinction. Take rainforests, which act as natural carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But as rampant deforestation is occurring everywhere from Brazil's Amazon to Borneo, fewer trees mean that rainforests are becoming carbon sources, emitting more carbon than they're absorbing. Meanwhile, coral reefs are dying as warming ocean temperatures trigger bleaching events, which cause corals to reject algae, their main food and life source. Fewer trees, coral reefs and other habitats also equate to fewer species. Known as the sixth mass extinction, a 2019 UN report revealed that up to a million plant and animal species could become extinct within decades.
It can be easy to overlook climate change in day-to-day life, or even realize that climate change is behind it. Notice there's yet another romaine lettuce recall due to E. Coli? Research suggests that E. Coli bacteria are becoming more common in our food sources as it adapts to climate change. Can't find your favorite brand of coffee beans anymore? Or that the price has doubled? Climate change is affecting that too. Climate change is also worsening air quality and seasonal allergies, along with polluting tap water. Not least, many preliminary studies have also drawn a line between climate change and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that is still gripping much of the world. Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently until the root causes, such as deforestation, are addressed.
Speaking of larger-scale issues, global water scarcity is already happening more frequently. The Caribbean is facing water shortages due to rising temperatures and decreased rainfall; Australia's dams may run dry by 2022 as severe wildfires increase and Cape Town, South Africa has already faced running out of water.
As touched upon earlier, it's one thing to be inconvenienced by a lack of romaine lettuce for a couple of weeks or higher coffee bean prices, but reports warn how climate change will continue to threaten global food security, to the point of triggering a worldwide food crisis if temperatures surpass two degrees Celsius.
Many of these factors are already contributing to climate migration, forcing large numbers of people to relocate to other parts of the world in search of better living conditions.
Unless more immediate, drastic action is taken to combat climate change, future generations will have to contend with worst-case scenario projections by the end of the 21st century, not limited to coastal cities going underwater, including Miami; lethal heat levels from South Asia to Central Africa; and more frequent extreme weather events involving hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, droughts, floods, blizzards and more.
What's Happening and Why?
Fiddlers Ferry power station in Warrington, UK. Chris Conway / Moment / Getty Images
The Earth's temperature has largely remained stable until industrial times and the introduction of greenhouse gases. These gases have forced the atmosphere to retain heat, as evidenced by rising global temperatures. As the planet grows warmer, glaciers melt faster, sea levels rise, severe flooding increases and droughts and extreme weather events become more deadly.
The Greenhouse Effect
In the late 1800s, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius studied the connection between the amount of atmospheric carbon and its ability to warm and cool the Earth, and while his initial calculations suggested extreme warming as carbon increased, researchers didn't start to take human-induced climate change seriously until the late 20th century.
But proof of human-led climate change can be traced to the 1850s, and satellites are among the ways that scientists have been tracking increased greenhouse gases and their climate impact in more recent years. Climate researchers have also documented warmer oceans, ocean acidification, shrinking ice sheets, decreased snow amounts and extreme weather as among the events resulting from greenhouse gases heating the planet.
Numerous factors contribute to the production of greenhouse gases, known as the greenhouse effect. One of the biggest causes involve burning fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas, to power everything from cars to daily energy needs (electricity, heat). From 1970-2011, fossil fuels have comprised 78 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Big Ag is another greenhouse contributor, particularly beef production, with the industry adding 10 percent in 2019. This is attributed to clearing land for crops and grazing and growing feed, along with methane produced by cows themselves. In the U.S. alone, Americans consumed 27.3 billion pounds of beef in 2019.
Then there's rampant deforestation occurring everywhere from the Amazon to Borneo. A 2021 study from Rainforest Foundation Norway found that two-thirds of the world's rainforests have already been destroyed or degraded. In Brazil, deforestation reached a 12-year-high in 2020 under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. As it stands, reports predict that the Amazon rainforest will collapse by 2064. Rainforests are important carbon sinks, meaning the trees capture and remove carbon from the atmosphere. As rainforests collapse, the remaining trees will begin emitting more greenhouse gases than they're absorbing.
Meanwhile, a recent study revealed that abandoned oil and gas wells are leaking more methane than previously believed, with U.S. wells contributing up to 20 percent of annual methane emissions.
Not least is the cement industry. Cement is heavily used throughout the global construction industry, and accounts for around eight percent of carbon dioxide emissions.
Natural Climate Change
Granted, natural climate change exists as well, and can be traced throughout history, from solar radiation triggering the Ice Ages to the asteroid strike that rapidly raised global temperatures and eliminated dinosaurs and many other species in the process. Other sources of natural climate change impacts include volcano eruptions, ocean currents and orbital changes, but these sources generally have smaller and shorter-term environmental impacts.
How We Can Combat Climate Change
Participant holding a sign at the climate march on Sept. 20, 2020, in Manhattan. A coalition of climate, Indigenous and racial justice groups gathered at Columbus Circle to kick off Climate Week with the Climate Justice Through Racial Justice march. Erik McGregor / LightRocket / Getty Images
While the latest studies and numbers can often feel discouraging about society's ability to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening, there's still time to take action.
As a Society
In 2015 at COP 21 in Paris, 197 countries came together to sign the Paris Agreement, an international climate change treaty agreeing to limit global warming in this century to two degrees Celsius, and ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels; it's believed that the planet has warmed one degree Celsius since 1750. Studies show that staying within the two-degree range will prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening. Achieving this goal requires participating parties to drastically slash greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later. However, there have already been numerous setbacks since then, from former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Agreement in 2020 to world leaders, such as China, the world's biggest polluter, failing to enact aggressive climate action plans. Yet many of the treaty participants have been slow to implement changes, putting the world on track to hit 3.2 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century even if the initial goals are met. However, it's worth noting that U.S. President Joe Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement in 2021, and pledged to cut greenhouse gases in half by 2030.
Then there's the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 global agreement to phase out ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals that were commonly used in air-conditioning, refrigeration and aerosols. Recent studies show that parts of the ozone are recovering, proving that a unified commitment to combatting climate change issues does make a difference.
On a smaller scale, carbon offset initiatives allow companies and individuals to invest in environmental programs that offset the amount of carbon that's produced through work or lifestyle. For example, major companies (and carbon emitters) such as United Airlines and Shell have pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in part by participating in carbon offset programs that remove carbon from the atmosphere. The problem is that these companies are still producing high levels of fossil fuel emissions.
While individuals can make a small impact through carbon offsets, the greater responsibility lies with carbon-emitting corporations to find and implement greener energy alternatives. This translates to car companies producing electric instead of gas vehicles or airlines exploring alternative fuel sources. It also requires major companies to rely more on solar and wind energy for their energy needs.
In Our Own Lives
While it's up to corporations to do the heavy lifting of carbon reduction, that doesn't mean individuals can't make a difference. Adopting a vegan lifestyle, using public transportation, switching to an electric car and becoming a more conscious consumer are all ways to help combat climate change.
Consuming meat relies on clearing land for crops and animals, while raising and killing livestock contributes to about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization. By comparison, choosing a plant-based diet could reduce greenhouse gas footprints by as much as 70 percent, especially when choosing local produce and products.
Riding public trains, subways, buses, trams, ferries and other types of public transportation is another easy way to lower your carbon footprint, considering that gas-powered vehicles contribute 95 percent of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Electric cars and trucks have come down in price as more manufacturers enter the field, and these produce far lower emissions than their gas counterparts. Hybrid vehicles are another good alternative for lowering individual emission contributions.
Buying locally produced food and items is another way to maintain a lower carbon footprint, as the products aren't shipped or driven long distances. Supporting small companies that are committed to sustainability is another option, especially when it comes to clothes. Fast fashion has become a popular option thanks to its price point, but often comes at the expense of the environment and can involve unethical overseas labor practices. Not least, plastic saturates every corner of the consumer market, but it's possible to find non-plastic alternatives with a little research, from reusable produce bags to baby bottles.
Those interested in becoming even more involved can join local climate action organizations. Popular groups include the Sunrise Movement, Fridays for Future, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, to name a few. Voting, volunteering, calling local representatives and participating in climate marches are additional ways to raise your voice.
It's taken centuries to reach a climate tipping point, with just a matter of decades left to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening. But there's still hope of controlling a warming climate as long as individuals, companies and nations make an immediate concerted effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions. As the world already experienced with the COVID-19 pandemic, a rapid unified response can make all the difference.
Meredith Rosenberg is a senior editor at EcoWatch. She holds a Master's from the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in NYC and a B.A. from Temple University in Philadelphia.
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By Mark Hertsgaard
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
Joe Manchin has never been this famous. People around the world now know that the West Virginia Democrat is the essential 50th vote in the U.S. Senate that president Joe Biden needs to pass his agenda into law. That includes Biden's climate agenda. Which doesn't bode well for defusing the climate emergency, given Manchin's longstanding opposition to ambitious climate action.
It turns out that the Senator wielding this awesome power – America's climate decider-in-chief, one might call him – has a massive climate conflict of interest. Joe Manchin, investigative journalism has revealed, is a modern-day coal baron.
Financial records detailed by reporter Alex Kotch for the Center for Media and Democracy and published in the Guardian show that Manchin makes roughly half a million dollars a year in dividends from millions of dollars of coal company stock he owns. The stock is held in Enersystems, Inc, a company Manchin started in 1988 and later gave to his son, Joseph, to run.
Coal has been the primary driver of global warming since coal began fueling the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain 250 years ago. Today, the science is clear: coal must be phased out, starting immediately and around the world, to keep the 1.5°C target within reach.
Scientists estimate that 90% of today's coal reserves must be left in the ground. No new coal-fired power plants should be built. Existing plants should quickly shift to solar and wind, augmented by reducing electricity demand with better energy efficiency in buildings and machinery (which also saves money and produces more jobs).
This is not a vision that gladdens a coal baron's heart. The idea of eliminating fossil fuels is "very, very disturbing," Manchin said in July when specifics of Biden's climate agenda surfaced. Behind the scenes, Manchin reportedly has objected to Biden's plan to penalize electric utilities that don't quit coal as fast as science dictates.
The White House is not selling it this way, but the huge budget bill now under feverish negotiations on Capitol Hill is as much as anything a climate bill. The clean electricity performance program and other measures in this budget reconciliation bill are the core of Biden's plan to slash U.S. climate pollution in half by 2030, a reduction science says is necessary to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C and avoid cataclysmic climate change.
Apparently keen to delay a vote on the bill – but not on the bipartisan infrastructure bill containing billions in subsidies for climate harming programs like making hydrogen from methane – Manchin asked on CNN, "What is the urgency?" of passing the larger bill. Like ExxonMobil, the senator appears to have jettisoned outright climate denial in favor of its more presentable, but no less lethal, cousin: climate delay.
Soon Biden will join other world leaders at the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, described as a "now or never" moment for efforts to preserve a livable planet. Biden and his international climate envoy, John Kerry, have been leaning on other nations, especially China, to step up their commitments. But Biden can only press that case successfully in Glasgow if Congress passes the budget bill, and with its climate provisions intact.
That will depend in no small part on Manchin, who as the Democrats' 50th vote in the Senate now holds what amounts to veto power over U.S. climate policy.
It's not illegal for Senator Manchin to own millions of dollars of coal stock – indeed, it illustrates the old saw that the real scandal in Washington is what's legal – but it certainly raises questions about his impartiality on climate policy. Should any lawmaker with such a sizable financial conflict of interest wield decisive influence over what the U.S. government does about a life-and-death issue like the climate emergency? Shouldn't there be public discussion about whether that lawmaker should recuse himself from such deliberations?
In the realm of law, a judge who had anything like this level of financial conflict in a case would have to recuse and let a different judge handle the proceedings. The legal profession's code of ethics dictates this approach not only because a judge's financial interest would tempt them to rule in their own favor. It's also because the two parties litigating the case and the broader public could not have faith that justice had been done by a judge with such a conflict.
Why shouldn't a similar standard apply to the American public's faith in government policy, especially when what's at stake is, you know, the future of life on Earth? Manchin could still vote for the budget bill; he just couldn't touch its climate provisions.
Joe Manchin is surrounded by a gaggle of reporters whenever he steps outside his Senate office, and he frequently appears on the agenda-setting Sunday morning TV shows. With votes on the budget bill fast approaching and the Glasgow summit starting October 31, it's high time that journalists press America's climate decider-in-chief about his glaring conflict of interest – and why he shouldn't step aside from U.S. climate deliberations.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) speaks to reporters outside of the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 30, 2021 in Washington, DC. Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images
This story originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story. Mark Hertsgaard is Covering Climate Now's executive director.
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What about all 41 released in 2021?
We had a lot of questions when we heard that Hallmark was releasing 41 Christmas movies this year alone. First off, how? Secondly, do I have the time to watch them all? Do I have the energy to watch all 41 (mentally and physically) so as not to miss out on this timeless holiday tradition? How much electricity would that even require?
With the holidays approaching, we thought you might like the answer to the question us solar nerds are asking: how many solar panels does it take to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie?
Don't celebrate Christmas or watch Hallmark movies? Fret not. This framework can help you understand the amount of power it takes to watch any movie, TV show, sports game or even provide electricity to your entire home.
How Much Electricity Does It Take to Power a TV?
The easiest place to start is by measuring the amount of electricity it requires to power your TV (to really do this right would require doing a full life-cycle assessment of your TV, cable box or console, etc., but we'll keep things simple for now). In this context, electricity pulled to power your TV is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh), a unit of energy equal to one kilowatt (1,000 watts) of power sustained for one hour. Think about kW as horsepower, and kWh as the speed of the car.
Say you had a 100-watt light bulb. By definition, a light bulb is labeled 100-watt because it requires 100 watt-hours of energy to run for one hour.
We can use the same method in measuring the amount of electricity necessary to power your TV. First, you'll need to find the wattage of your TV. We'll use an average size of about 150 W, which Payless Power says is the amount of power a 50-inch LCD TV.
Following this logic, we now know that it takes 150 watt-hours of energy to power this TV for one hour. Plasma TVs of the same size can be around 300 W, whereas an energy-efficient LED TV might be closer to 100 W.
Next question to answer would be: How long do we have to power our TVs with solar for some "A Princess for Christmas" action?
How Long Are Hallmark Christmas Movies?
Hallmark Christmas movies are made to air on TV and are about 90 minutes in length (aimed to line up with a two-hour airtime on cable). For simplicity's sake, let's use the two-hour figure.
Applying our simple logic, we know that powering a 150 W TV for two hours would require 300 watt-hours of electricity (150 watts x 2 hours).
- A three-hour baseball game would require 450 watt-hours (150 watts x 3 hours).
- A half-hour episode of Seinfeld would require 75 watt-hours (150 watts x .5 hours).
- Say you set a reasonable goal of limiting yourself to 10 Hallmark Christmas movies this season. Twenty hours of Hallmark movie magic would set you back 3,000 watt-hours of electricity, or 3 kWh (150 watts x 20 hours).
Starting to make sense?
So, How Many Solar Panels Does It Take To Watch a Hallmark Christmas movie?
We've measured our figure of 300 watt-hours of energy necessary to watch one Hallmark Christmas movie on a standard TV. So, how many watt-hours of electricity does one solar panel produce?
Our favorite solar panels average around 350 W. One 350-W solar panel will produce 350 watt-hours of electricity when receiving direct sunlight for one hour. Assuming this panel gets around five hours of direct sunlight in a given day, one 350-W panel would generate 1,750 watt-hours of electricity (1.75 kWh). If you live in a very sunny region, factor in a little more conversion (maybe 2 kWh), and if you live further north your energy might be closer to 1.5 kWh.
For simplicity, let's stick with the median figure of 1.75 kWh generated in one day. How many hours of energy would this provide your TV?
- Let's first convert the 150 watt figure in kilowatts for our calculation: 150 W / 1,000 kW = .15 kW
- Next, divide the power generated by the panel by the kilowatts needed to power your TV: 1.75 kWh / .15 kW = 11.7 hours of TV.
- That means that, in one day, a single 350 W solar panel will produce enough energy to watch nearly six full-length Hallmark Christmas movies (5.85 to be exact).
Now the fun part. How many solar panels does it take to watch just the 41 Hallmark Christmas movies released in 2021? What about every Hallmark Christmas movie ever made? If you didn't want to wait the number of days required, that figure is equivalent to how many panels you would need to generate that same amount of energy in one day.
(Assuming a constant of five hours of direct sunlight per day on a 350-watt solar panel)
EcoWatch Illustration by Devon Gailey
|Approximate Runtime||Energy Required||Number of Charging Days Needed if You Have One Solar Panel|
|One Hallmark Christmas Movie||2 hours||0.3 kWh||<1 Day|
|Average Baseball Game||3 hours||0.45 kWh||<1 Day|
|Entire Season of Survivor||16 hours||2.4 kWh||1.4 Days|
12 Hallmark Christmas Movies
(A full day!)
|24 hours||3.6 kWh||2.1 Days|
41 Hallmark Christmas Movies
|82 hours||12.3 kWh||7.1 Days|
|100 Hallmark Christmas Movies||200 hours||30 kWh||17.2 Days|
|278 Hallmark Christmas Movies||556 hours||83.4 kWh||47.7 Days|
So, there you have it. On a sunny day, one solar panel is more than enough to provide the electricity you need to watch just one Hallmark Christmas movie. From there, we hope you have the tools necessary to calculate the solar energy necessary to power just about anything.
Powering Your Holidays with Solar
Using these formulas, you could even calculate how many solar panels you need to power your entire home. According to the EIA, in 2020, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was roughly 30 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per day — the same amount of power it takes to watch 100 Hallmark Christmas movies.
With the same formula, we can divide 30 kWh by 1.75 (kWh generated by one panel in one day assuming the same constants) and get about 17 solar panels necessary to offset a home's daily use, a 6 kW system. Add one or two panels if you live at a northern latitude, and subtract a few if you live farther south and get more sunlight per day.
Of course, panel efficiency and the actual amount of energy you consume will all factor into how many panels you actually need for your home. But it's a safe bet that purchasing even one panel to power your television will help offset your home's energy use — especially if you're planning on binge-watching hours of iconic cinema to get you in the holiday spirit.
By Carter Dillard
In 2019 a study linked climate change and hotter weather to early childbirth in the United States. "That's enough to take somebody from what's considered to be a pretty healthy pregnancy into a 'we are somewhat worried' pregnancy," said Alan Barreca, a UCLA professor of environment and human health and lead author of the study.
Prior to this, several studies showed that the most effective way to mitigate the climate crisis, in terms of individual behavior, was to choose a smaller family, and have fewer children than one normally would.
That means the best thing we can do to protect our kids is to change the way we plan families. If you think about that statement, it makes sense: Planning ahead is much more effective than simply reacting to a situation. But as the climate crisis kills off nature and superheats the planet at an accelerating rate, pregnancies give us a beautiful window to see the interconnection in one stark way — at the nexus between the human world and the nonhuman world and the environment we are overrunning — and to consider the best solution to the problem.
There's something hidden in this question that could be preventing the world from taking the effective action necessary to deal with the climate crisis, and related crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. What do we mean by the environment? What are we protecting from the climate crisis, and wish to have in the future? This is called the normative baseline problem, and it halts progress on policy and action as we struggle at the crossroads of different ways to go, between more anthropogenic and less anthropogenic choices.
The baseline problem tends to linger when we consider things in terms of human welfare. If we switch to a framework of human freedom, our preference should become clear. Should infants be free of the ravages of an anthropogenic climate? How can we be free from others without restoring nature, or adhering to the highest environmental baseline possible? Freedom from the power of others is contingent upon restoring nature and the wild — or a baseline based on the absence of human power — and pursuing the highest form of environmental protection. Freedom from others logically starts with the nonhuman world or the rewilding of our planet.
The Baseline Problem
There is a cognitive dissonance prevalent in our species of evaluating something without thinking through the normative baselines, or the things against which we are making the evaluation. For example, I might think that — relative to how I will feel in a minute's time — it is a good idea to gorge on doughnuts right now. If I had really considered how I would feel later, and especially in the long run, and if I keep making the same decision, I would realize that I should have thought beyond the short term, or made the decision at a later point of time.
The world made the baseline mistake in developing environmental policy decades ago, choosing to treat nature as a resource for humans. The baseline was too low and allowed policies that fell short; indeed, it is one of the reasons our planet continues to superheat. We are making that same mistake now with regard to COVID-19, by financially stimulating factory farming and other forms of ecocide that degrade the buffer (or social distancing) between people that our pre-Anthropocene environment offered. Degrading that "natural buffer" exacerbates the risk of pandemics and determines how we can react to them. As the New Republic reported, the next pandemic could be hiding in the Arctic permafrost.
Solving the baseline problem will allow us to trace these calamities — like the unfolding death of the Great Barrier Reef — and help us back to an ultimate source, and, perhaps, to a solution. We can no longer use a baseline for environmental policy that treats nature or the nonhuman world as a human resource. This is the baseline most environmentalists use, and the one that created the Anthropocene era in which we find the world today. A much higher baseline would view nature as something that ought to be a nonhuman habitat or the homes of sentient species who have a right to survive and thrive. This would be a restorative baseline, and the one more consistent with animal liberation. Such a baseline would be most protective against things like climate change and the pandemics it drives. A policy based on this baseline would revolve around ensuring our children have the only environment proven — over millennia‚ that allows humans and all species to thrive. It would seek to eliminate the way the absence of nature in our lives is degrading our psyches.
In other words, what should our environment be like? What environment do our kids deserve? Do we want to raise kids with antisocial personalities who will plague their future generations with the same issues? Can we avoid doing so? Our choices to answer that question are being cut off as corporate and government forces convert nature into profits for the uber-wealthy. Our freedom to choose, our freedom through nature, is being taken away from us.
Whether we and our children have a right to that higher baseline and environment — what our future ought to look like — underlies the climate debates and the culture wars over how we respond to COVID-19. In this context, the debate centers around whether we should prioritize economic growth over preserving nature, and the protection of human life. The debate is between those who favor a lower environmental baseline and economic growth and those who favor a higher baseline and human rights, like the right of the most vulnerable groups to survive the pandemic.
It is a debate that is now being fought out in federal court. The case will determine a lot about what it means to be free in America — for us and for our kids.
Here is the key to that case, something many people miss. In order for us to be free, wilderness — or the relative absence of human domination over nature — has to remain and be protected as a potential baseline against the imposition of human power. Without it, we will lose our point of orientation to know what it means to be free from others. Or as Senator Frank Church of Idaho said in helping to pass the Wilderness Act of 1964, that "without wilderness this country will become a cage." Consider this, and the uber-wealthy class: People like Elon Musk insert themselves between us and nature in order to overrun it and promote increased population growth to accelerate that process. They envision a future in which the world is one big market, or a place they can dominate as the alternative — or the free world of Thoreau — recedes into extinction.
It's hard to think outside of the box when there is no outside, when there is no alternative to a man-made, human-dominated world. Anti-environmental groups who wish to convert the entire world into a market that is owned by a powerful few, who are now even eyeing the resources in space, know and exploit this fact. When I am in nature, in the wild, I can see the box or cage from the outside. I am free because I have that perspective, point of orientation, or baseline. Shouldn't we ensure that our kids have the same choice, and can see from that perspective?
The founders of this country thought so. They understood how crucial it was to have a baseline that could be used to judge and orient ourselves against human power, and wrote it into the Declaration of Independence, using the concept of wilderness and nature as the foundation upon which to build the latticework of the American social contract. They understood that human rights and democracy are objective values and should orient around an external and objective point like nature. In the Declaration, they explicitly assured it to our progeny.
No Freedom Without Nature
In the case, which is now on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Seeding Sovereignty, two nonprofits, allege that the federal government's policy of ignoring the climate crisis — and in many cases knowingly exacerbating it — violates Americans' right to be free because it is destroying our environment relative to the higher, or restorative baseline. The concept of constitutional freedom can be complex but one way to unpack it is by dividing it into positive and negative freedoms — or the right to be free from the nonconsensual impact other people have on you, and the freedom to choose how to live your life. The plaintiffs allege our government is violating both these freedoms.
Consider the impact of the climate crisis on pregnant women, as the baseline environment, which generations of American mothers have enjoyed, and is now being degraded. Not only are the mothers and their babies subject to the disastrous and long-term impacts of the crisis, but their choices and opportunities in life are being cut off by such long-term impacts. Instead of addressing this issue, the government's policies internationally have shifted the benefits to polluters, who use the wealth to minimize the harm of the crisis upon themselves and expand their own choices in life by ensuring poorer health, additional costs of care, etc. This case argues that because we have the right to be free from others and to live our lives as we choose, such government policies violate the Constitution, which protects us from these and similar intrusions. How can we have a right to be free from relatively nonintrusive things like government surveillance, as the Supreme Court has always held, but not be free from life-threatening ecological impacts? We do have such a right — a right to a natural and restorative environmental baseline, or the highest possible standard of environmental protection, which stands as a wall between us and those who would use nature for their own profits, and prevents from further endangering pregnant women and their children, and exacerbating pandemics in the future. Having that right is what it means to be free.
Taking a Revolutionary Perspective and Acting on It
The case of Juliana v. United States, which was filed in 2015 by 21 youth and organizational plaintiff Earth Guardians, is powerful and differs significantly from other constitutional litigations regarding the climate crisis as it is focused on anthropocentric standards for environmental protection, and relies on the role of nature, and wilderness, in particular, in the American Revolution and the founding of the country. Could the Founding Fathers have imagined that Americans would one day be so impacted by others, that nature would be so degraded, that our own environment threatened pregnancy? How would they have wanted us to react to that threat and our rights to be free from others, and free to live our lives as we see fit, relative to the environmental baseline they enjoyed and extolled as a necessary condition of freedom? This country is built on a promise to our progeny and we know the people who are making it impossible to keep that promise.
This is not about fealty to our Founding Fathers or some other form of nationalism masquerading as liberalism. If we don't orient our political systems around the absence of human power and the restoration of nature, we are adopting a concept of freedom that is incoherent. That, in turn, poses serious legitimacy problems for any form of governance, making consensual political association physically impossible. In other words, without the absence of human power — or nature or the nonhuman world — it becomes impossible to consent to human power. We cannot allow ourselves to simply embrace — and foist upon future generations — a world where we cannot be free from others' harmful influence, in which freedom from the power of others does not exist and political liberty is replaced by a degrading form of consumerist freedom. In such a world, freedom is more economic than political, and the average person's role is reduced to being a buyer and seller in a world market rather than that of an empowered citizen in free democracies surrounded by nature. Those promoting such an emaciated form of freedom, and blocking family planning reforms that would ensure people are empowered as truly free and equal might be thought of as pre-constitutional, but it is preventing the intergenerational constituting or coming together of people as truly self-determining.
The move away from a lower or resource-based baseline has begun, in part, with the recognition that humans and the environment are inextricably linked, which is a partial move away from the view of nature as a resource and separate from humanity. The next steps involve understanding exactly what we mean by the concept of nature and why we value it, and moving from the descriptive realm to the normative or evaluative realm — the realm of law and human rights — where we can articulate exactly how nature should be part of us and part of who we as a species should be. And when it comes to taking action, a useful perspective would be understanding that the fight for nature involves liberating the most vulnerable entities in the world — future generations and nonhumans. This involves universal reform of our family planning system. One effective option would be to liberate them by seizing the resources of those at the top of the power and population pyramid that Nobel laureate Steven Chu recognized and using those resources to fund universal family planning programs that promote smaller and more equitable families. And while we have been taught that countries like the United States were "constituted" by god-like wealthy white men in the past, new scholarship argues that this idea is nonsense and that if we assume political power derives from actual people, we are constantly either constituting legitimate democracies or deconstituting into illegitimate "pre-constitutional" political states, depending on the family planning systems at play.
Do you think the idea of linking equity and a universal ethic of smaller families to population and family planning sounds far-fetched? Others, like Michael Moore and David Brooks, are already making the connection in the mainstream.
The war on nature has turned into a war against us and our kids. We cannot afford to make the baseline mistake in the face of threats like the climate crisis, COVID-19, mass extinction and many other interrelated catastrophes. That is what the case is about: arguing that our fundamental human rights include a right and responsibility to nature, which in essence means seeing ourselves as guests of nature, and not its master. It is an argument that completely gels with changes around the country to limit destructive and mythical property rights, such as those over animals and over specific parts of our environment, in favor of a form of personhood that would protect the most vulnerable entities in the world.
And whether courts recognize that right to be free in nature or not, the tide of those willing to fight for the highest standard of environmental protection, and to protect those most vulnerable will continue to rise all the way up to the doorsteps of our oppressors — specifically those who push for a lower environmental baseline and economic growth over our right and responsibility to nature.
Carter Dillard is the founder of HavingKids.org. He served as an Honors Program Attorney at the United States Department of Justice and served with a national security law agency before developing a comprehensive account of reforming family planning for the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal. He has begun to implement the transition to child-centric "Fair Start" family planning, both as a member of the Steering Committee of the Population Ethics and Policy Research Project, and as a visiting scholar of the Uehiro Center, both at the University of Oxford.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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By Jeff Goodell
The Earth's climate has always been a work in progress. In the 4.5 billion years the planet has been spinning around the sun, ice ages have come and gone, interrupted by epochs of intense heat. The highest mountain range in Texas was once an underwater reef. Camels wandered in evergreen forests in the Arctic. Then a few million years later, 400 feet of ice formed over what is now New York City. But amid this geologic mayhem, humans have gotten lucky. For the past 10,000 years, virtually the entire stretch of human civilization, people have lived in what scientists call "a Goldilocks climate" — not too hot, not too cold, just right.
Now, our luck is running out. The industrialized nations of the world are dumping 34 billion tons or so of carbon into the atmosphere every year, which is roughly 10 times faster than Mother Nature ever did on her own, even during past mass extinction events. As a result, global temperatures have risen 1.2 C since we began burning coal, and the past seven years have been the warmest seven years on record. The Earth's temperature is rising faster today than at any time since the end of the last ice age, 11,300 years ago. We are pushing ourselves out of a Goldilocks climate and into something entirely different — quite literally, a different world than humans have ever lived in before.
How hot will the summers get in India and Pakistan, and how will tens of thousands of deaths from extreme heat impact the stability of the region (both nations have nuclear weapons)? How close is the West Antarctic ice sheet to collapse, and what does the risk of five or six feet of sea-level rise mean for people living in mobile homes on the Gulf Coast? The truth is, no one knows for sure. We are in uncharted terrain. "We're now in a world where the past is no longer a good guide to the future," said Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor of engineering at Princeton University. "We have to get much better at preparing for the unexpected."
By all indications, President Biden and his team understand all this. And it's hard not to feel that after 30 years of dithering and denial and hypocrisy, the fight to save the climate has finally begun in earnest. In the 2020 election, nearly 70 percent of Biden's voters said climate change was a top issue for them. Biden has staffed his administration with the climate A-team, from Gina McCarthy as domestic climate czar to John Kerry as international climate envoy. He has made racial and environmental justice a top priority. And perhaps most important of all, he sees the climate crisis as an opportunity to reinvent the U.S. economy and create millions of new jobs.
"I think in Obama's mind, it was always about tackling the climate challenge, not making the climate challenge the central element of your economic policy," says John Podesta, a Democratic power broker and special adviser to President Obama who played a key role in negotiating the Paris Agreement. "Biden's team is different. It is really the core of their economic strategy to make transformation of the energy systems the driver of innovation, growth, and job creation, justice and equity."
Of course, there have been hopeful moments before: the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, when the nations of the world first came together to limit CO2 emissions; the success of Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2006; the election of Obama in 2008 ("This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal," Obama said in his speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination that year); the Paris Agreement in 2015, when China finally engaged in climate talks. But all of these moments, in the end, led to nothing. If you look at the only metric that really matters — a graph of the percentage of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere — it has been on a long, steady upward climb. More CO2 equals more heat. To put it bluntly, all our scientific knowledge, all the political speeches, all the activism and protest marches have done zero to stop the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.
But hope rises again. The economic winds are lifting Biden's sails: The cost of wind and solar power has plummeted by 90 percent or so over the past decade, and in many parts of the world it's the cheapest way to generate electricity. Meanwhile, fossil-fuel dinosaurs are tottering: Big Coal is collapsing in real time and may disappear from American life in the next decade or so. ExxonMobil lost $22 billion last year and in August was delisted from the S&P 500. GM, long the staunch fossil-fuel loyalist of the U.S. auto industry, has pledged to go all-electric by 2035.
Globally, the signs of change are equally inspiring. Eight of the 10 largest economies have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. China, by far the world's largest carbon polluter in terms of raw tonnage (on a per capita basis, the U.S. and several other countries pollute far more), has promised to become carbon neutral by 2060. Some 400 companies, including Microsoft, Unilever, Facebook, Ford, Nestlé, and Pepsi, have committed to reduce carbon pollution consistent with the United Nations' 1.5 C target, which scientists have determined is the threshold of dangerous climate change. Many of these same companies are now calling on the Biden administration to cut overall U.S. carbon pollution by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, a goal consistent with the 1.5 C target.
Big Money is also waking up to the risks and benefits of climate action. In his annual letter to investors, Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, which manages $7.8 trillion in assets, challenged companies "to disclose a plan for how their business model will be compatible with a net-zero economy." In her confirmation hearing, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called climate change "an existential threat" and promised to create a team to examine the risks and integrate them into financial policy-making.
Still, these are only baby steps in a very long journey. And the clock is ticking. "When it comes to the climate crisis," says futurist Alex Steffen, "speed is everything." Every molecule of carbon we dump into the atmosphere is another molecule of carbon that will warm the climate for centuries to come, and in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, reshape the world we live in. The changes we are making are not reversible. If we magically stopped all carbon pollution tomorrow, the Earth's temperature would level off, but warm seas would continue melting the ice sheets and seas would keep rising for decades, if not centuries (last time carbon levels were as high as they are today, sea levels were 70 feet higher). Ocean acidification, caused by high CO2 levels, is already dissolving coral reefs and is having a major impact on the ocean food chain. Even after emissions stop, it will take the ocean thousands of years to recover.
Cutting carbon fast would slow these changes and reduce the risk of other climate catastrophes. But despite the world's newfound ambition, political leaders are not moving anywhere near fast enough. Even the goal of holding future warming to 2 C, which is a centerpiece of the Paris Agreement and considered the outer limits of a Goldilocks climate for much of the planet, is nearly out of reach. As a recent paper in Nature pointed out: "On current trends, the probability of staying below 2 C of warming is only five percent." If all countries meet the commitment they made in the 2015 Paris Agreement and continue to reduce emissions at the same rate after 2030, the paper argued, the probability of remaining below 2 C of warming rises to 26 percent ("As if a 26 percent chance was good," Swedish climate wunderkind Greta Thunberg pointed out in a tweet).
The great danger is not climate denial. The great danger is climate delay. Instead of pushing for changes tomorrow, world leaders and CEOs like to make virtuous-sounding statements about what they will do in 2050. And then in 2050, they will make virtuous-sounding statements about what they will do in 2070. Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather calls this the "empty radicalism" of long-term goals.
What's needed is action now. As climate envoy John Kerry put it at the World Sustainable Development Summit in February: "We have to now phase out coal five times faster than we have been. We have to increase tree cover five times faster than we have been. We have to ramp up renewable energy six times faster than we are. We have to transition to [electric vehicles] 22 times faster."
As an example of the seriousness of Biden's near-term ambition, he has proposed transitioning to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, which means goodbye natural-gas plants, goodbye coal plants, and hello electric cars and battery storage. It's an astonishingly ambitious proposal, one that would require a remaking of the digital backbone of America at a breakneck speed. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, but if Biden is serious about getting it done, it will require retooling permitting laws and the environmental-review process that often stalls big infrastructure projects.
Demanding action now will also require shutting down the international financing schemes that support fossil fuels. China, Japan, and South Korea all claim to be doing their part in making carbon reductions at home, while at the same time they are financing 70,000 megawatts of coal power in places like Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia. In addition, state-run oil companies in places like China, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia are on course to spend more than $400 billion over the next decade to expand oil infrastructure and exploration.
The goal of net-zero emissions is also problematic. "Net zero" is not the same thing as zero. It means that carbon pollution is either eliminated or offset by other processes that remove carbon from the atmosphere, such as forests or machines that capture CO2. Some of these offsets and technologies are more legit than others, opening the door to scams that claim to eliminate more carbon than they do.
In a way, the economic chaos caused by the pandemic has created a historic opportunity for the Biden administration. As one White House adviser tells me, "If you are going to pump billions of dollars into the economy, why not use those dollars to help us transition away from fossil fuels?" This is one of the central ideas behind Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure bill, which is now being negotiated in Congress. The bill includes a wide variety of climate-related initiatives, shaped around the twin pillars of Biden-era policy: clean-energy jobs and climate justice.
Already the pushback is fierce, especially in states that have benefited from the fracking boom. "The climate fight going forward is really about natural gas," says Leah Stokes, author of Short Circuiting Policy, an analysis of how special interests have derailed clean-energy policy for 30 years. Shortly after Biden issued his first round of executive orders aimed at the climate crisis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference in the middle of the gas fields "to make clear that Texas is going to protect the oil-and-gas industry from any type of hostile attack launched from Washington, D.C." In Florida, two bills were introduced that would preempt local governments from implementing plans to lower carbon pollution. In California and New York, residents are fighting transmission lines for offshore wind farms. Republicans, along with stalwart fossil-fuel allies like the Heritage Foundation, recently convened a private retreat in Utah to plot ways to "reclaim the narrative" on climate, while Republican Senators like Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn continue to recycle tired old rants about how the Paris Agreement is destroying American jobs.
None of this is surprising. And the fight will only get bigger and more ruthless as the clean-energy transition accelerates. Fossil fuels are emblematic of a culture, a way of life, a political hierarchy, and an empire of wealth that will not go quietly into the night.
Even among climate activists and progressives, there is wide disagreement about the best path forward. In Pennsylvania, Rep. Conor Lamb, a Democrat who supports Biden's climate goals, sees natural gas as indispensable. "You can't turn off natural gas in our society, at least in the Northeast of the United States at this time," Lamb tells me. "You just can't do it." Lamb advocates investments in expensive and unproven technology like carbon capture that could extend the life of fossil fuels. Then there are the eternal battles over nuclear power as a source of clean energy, which Lamb also supports. Others, like UC Berkeley energy professor Daniel Kammen, remain skeptical: "If low-cost, reliable, entirely safe nuclear can prove itself out, this is wonderful. . . . But there's a lot of big ifs."
More important, the fight for a stable climate is increasingly inseparable from a fight for justice and equity. Catherine Coleman Flowers, who was on a task force that helped shape Biden's climate policy during his campaign, grew up and works in Lowndes County, Alabama. "I see a lot of poverty here," Flowers says. "And I see a lot of people who suffer from the impacts of climate change — whether it is heat, or disease, or poor sanitation and polluted drinking water. You can't separate one from the other. They put sewage lagoons next to the houses of poor people, not rich people. They put oil pipelines through poor neighborhoods, not rich ones."
Internationally, rich nations of the world pledged to "mobilize" $100 billion by 2020 through the U.N.'s Green Climate Fund to help developing nations adapt to climate change. But only about $10 billion materialized. The U.S. was among the worst actors: Of the $3 billion President Obama promised, he funded only $1 billion before Trump canceled further payments (Biden has promised to make good on the commitment, and then some).
Whatever happens with Biden's climate and energy initiatives, we're living in a new world now. The faster we cut carbon, the more manageable the changes will be. But change is coming. The biggest fights of the future are less likely to be about natural gas and nuclear power than about sea walls and migration policies. "Adaptation is not sexy," says Alice Hill, who was an adviser to the Obama administration. "But it is inevitable." As climate impacts escalate, dangerous techno-fixes, such as solar geoengineering, which involves spraying particles into the stratosphere to reflect away sunlight and cool the planet, will likely become more tempting and more divisive, perhaps further diluting the will to quickly cut carbon pollution.
For more than 30 years now, scientists and politicians have been aware that our hellbent consumption of fossil fuels could push us out of the Goldilocks zone and force humans to live in a world we have never inhabited before. As Biden's push for climate action gets real, we will learn a lot about how serious human beings are about living on this planet, and how far the powerful and privileged are willing to go to reduce the suffering of the poor and vulnerable. If political leaders don't take the climate crisis seriously now, with all they know, with all they have been through already, will they ever? "Climate advocates keep saying, 'This is it, this is it, this is it,'" warns Podesta. "But this really is it. If we don't amp up and accelerate the energy transformation in this decade, we're goners — really goners."
This story originally appeared in Rolling Stone and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Sam Baker
What really makes this reporter's stomach churn thinking about climate change? Thawing permafrost. A scenario where it all melts, releasing copious amounts of CO2 and methane (it holds twice as much carbon as the atmosphere holds right now), and there's no going back.
But what's at the top of the list of concerns for those who study how climate change is unfolding – on ice sheets and urban street corners, in oceans and farm fields – the climate scientists themselves?
DW asked a dozen experts spanning climatology, entomology, oceanography and yes, permafrost research, what keeps them up at night when it comes to the climate.
The Greatest Unknown – People
Nana Ama Browne Klutse studies changing weather with climate models at the University of Ghana. While she says tipping points like permafrost thaw worry her, she also worries how individuals will handle changing climates.
"What can you do as an individual to avoid the impact of climate change?" she asked. "We need government policies for resilience, building of community, city resilience. Then we need that global action."
Climate scientist Ruth Mottram studies the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and sea level rise for the Danish Meteorological Institute, but it's not the science that worries her.
"I'm less concerned that there are unknown processes going on that we don't understand, and there could potentially be some unforeseen catastrophe on the way," she said. "We know what a lot of the impacts are going to be. I think what keeps me awake at night in a metaphorical sense is really the interaction between the physical system and how human societies are going to handle it."
Giving the example of sea level, she says we will see a meter rise this century — in our lifetimes or that of our children — and will have to make tough decisions about our coastal cities. But she says it won't end there.
"I think that human societies have not really grasped what that means and that adaptation to sea level rise is going to be a long process and we are going to be doing it for hundreds of years," said Mottram, suggesting that we start thinking in terms of the lifetimes of cities (hundreds of years) rather than just human lifetimes.
Protecting the Vulnerable
Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Permafrost Laboratory, said that while he thinks about how what happens in the Arctic will affect the rest of the world, his concerns are much more local.
"We should remember that there are still some people living in the Arctic," he said. Around 4 million people in fact who would have to deal with the real-life consequences of solid ground thawing beneath their feet and houses. "Changes in these local or regional kind of climates and environments, they impact these people and some of these impacts could be very severe."
Closer to the planet's other pole, Carolina Vera fears that existing inequalities will only be exacerbated by climate change.
"Climate change is already impacting the most vulnerable sectors of our planet," said Vera, who studies climate variability as a principal researcher for the National Council of Science of Argentina, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires and chief of staff for Argentina's Ministry of Science and Technology. Her work has led her to incorporate local knowledge and data collection into studies, involving communities that are balancing the problems of deforestation with their need to farm.
Heat and New Extremes
Perhaps not surprisingly, global heating is a key concern for many researchers, like Dim Coumou, who studies extreme weather at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Of most concern to him are heat and humidity extremes in the tropics – especially highly populated parts like West Africa, Pakistan and India – which will make it unbearable to be outside. When cooling down by sweating is no longer possible, people can't work outside and therefore can't grow food. The likely result being mass migration.
But it's not just the tropics.
Closely related to heat is the increase in extreme weather brought on by a warming climate. Coumou and his colleagues' research shows how changes to the jet stream will lead to more extreme weather in Europe, including floods and droughts.
This increase in extreme weather is climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker's biggest climate concern.
"A warmer atmosphere can hold more water in it and when it rains, it rains heavily leading to floods. A warmer ocean can lead to stronger tropical cyclones," said Babiker, who works for the East African Climate Center ICPAC in Nairobi. He explained that cyclones gain more energy from warmer water.
"We have seen evidence of all these events," he said. "The strongest tropical cyclones to impact the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia, and Mozambique occurred in the past 20 years!"
Science for Solutions
Pests, drought and flooding are on Esther Ngumbi's mind too.
An entomologist and professor of African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she said that what keeps her up at night is the thought: "How can my science truly help?"
Ngumbi's work on pest and drought-resistant crops is driven by her concerns for vulnerable farmers who live in countries lacking social safety nets, where one season of crop devastation due to insects can mean going hungry and being unable to pay for their children's education.
"That truly makes me wake up every day and go to the lab to understand how my research can contribute to solutions that we need," she said.
Natasha Picone – an urban climatologist at the National University of Central Buenos Aires – says it's the solutions that occupy her thoughts too.
"With the pandemic, I realized that we are not doing enough for changing our cities to be more livable," she said. Her research informs urban planners about phenomena such as the urban heat island effect, air pollution and urban run-off that can lead to flooding. "If we don't change the path now, it will be really difficult to go back."
Weighing on the mind of oceanographer Renata Hanae Nagai at the University of Parana in Brazil is her four-year-old nephew and what his life will look like in a warmer world, but he also gives her hope. During a recent trip to the beach to watch nesting turtles, he warned others to leave the turtles alone.
She sees this same care in her students – learning about problems and coming up with solutions.
"People are the solution," she said. "We try, even under the hardest conditions."
'Scientists are Humans' Too
"For me, that's like morally totally unacceptable what they do – they lie," said the climate physicist from Maynooth University in Ireland, reflecting on encountering such people at public talks. "I mean, you can't argue with climate."
But this only pushes Caesar to better communicate what the science shows.
They Worry About Us
A common thread of this (rather unscientific) survey is that while we laypeople might be worrying about what the science says, climate scientists are often worrying about us.
"Scientists always think about what are the results of their studies, how are they important for, you know, for usual people, for normal people," the permafrost scientist told me. While doing his research, Romanovsky said he's always thinking about "how this could be used to make life of people easier or more predictable."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By David Reichmuth
Over the last month, I've seen a number of opinion articles attacking electric vehicles (EVs). Sadly, this comes as no surprise: now that the Biden administration is introducing federal policies to accelerate the roll out of electric vehicles, we were bound to see a reaction from those that oppose reducing climate changing emissions and petroleum use.
Some of the opposition will come from auto companies that want to delay the transition to electric vehicles, but others will be from fossil fuel interests or climate deniers. But it really doesn't matter why they're trying to mislead the public about electric vehicles.The important thing is that you know that this is familiar and worn-out disinformation, designed to sow doubt and confusion. Here are some of the truths about EVs, so that you can spot misleading attacks.
1. EVs aren't the perfect solution for the future of transportation – they're just much, much better than gasoline vehicles.
EVs offer us a way to have personal mobility with much fewer global warming emissions than gasoline vehicles. It's clear that the emissions from driving on electricity are lower than those from using a gasoline vehicle, even when accounting for electricity generation. Our most recent analysis shows that, across the country, driving electric is cleaner than even the most efficient gasoline car. As our electric grid continues to get cleaner (with lower coal use and more renewable energy sources), the climate benefit from electric vehicles is increasing. And, of course, because they avoid burning gasoline, electric vehicles can reduce tailpipe emissions that lead to harmful air pollution across the country and put us on the path to reducing the pollution and environmental degradation that is associated with extracting and refining petroleum.
Of course, there are emissions from building every vehicle. Because of battery manufacturing, climate emissions from building electric vehicles are slightly higher those from manufacturing a gasoline vehicle. However, those increased emissions are quickly (within 6 to 16 months depending on location) made up from the savings from using electricity in place of gasoline. As we increase the production of EVs, it will be important to work to minimize manufacturing emissions by reducing energy use in the extraction and preparation of battery materials and by the recycling and reuse of used batteries.
It will also be important to hold all companies to environmental and human rights standards for their manufacturing and supply chains. Auto companies and battery suppliers need to source products and raw materials in a sustainable and ethical way. Greater transparency from manufacturers would be helpful in this area. Some have started to disclose details on their supply chain and make commitments to improve their practices. We also need to remember this goes beyond electric cars; we should be asking the same sorts of questions about our consumer-electronics companies and yes even the companies that produce and extract petroleum products and other fossil fuels.
2. EV sales are a small fraction of U.S. autos now, but that's going to change.
A common line used to argue against EVs is that they have historically made up a small fraction of the sales in the U.S. and therefore they can't possibly make a difference in our emissions. Others try to use the fact that fewer EVs were sold than gasoline cars to mean that EV's just aren't very popular.
These backwards-looking approaches could be used to dismiss any new technology, not just EVs. For example, in 2000 only 2.5% of households had broadband internet access. Of course that didn't mean that home internet wasn't going to be a transformative technology. We can't look in the rear view mirror to see the road ahead for EVs.
It's obvious if we look back 10 years ago that the number and the capability of EVs was not at the level needed to replace gasoline vehicles. The good news is that in 2021, the EV landscape is vastly changed from even 5 years ago. New car buyers now have multiple options for long range EVs and can choose compelling options from more automakers than ever before. Currently, plug in cars make up about 2 percent of all sales in the U.S., but the number is higher in areas that have sought to accelerate the market via regulation and incentives. For example, in California, EV sales were over 8% of all new car sales in the state, showing the potential for higher sales elsewhere in the country with the use regulations, incentives, and customer awareness efforts.
3. EVs are much more than the Tesla Model S.
Tesla gets the lion's share of attention in the EV market, and for good reason. Tesla has led in plug-in car sales and the introduction of the Tesla Model S in 2012 changed many people's impression of what an electric car is. While some may have thought EVs were "golf carts", unstylish, or boring before, it would be hard to apply those labels to Tesla's Model S. However, Tesla's success (and press coverage) has now meant that the Tesla brand or the Model S is used synonymously with "EV."
Tesla has been a game changer in the EV market, but there are many more plug-in options now than the Tesla Model S. We're seeing many more affordable EVs on the market, though they often get much less press coverage. As more automakers introduce EV models and production volumes of plug-in vehicles increase, we are seeing even long-range battery electric cars being offered for lower than the MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price) of the average new car in the U.S. (estimated to be over $40,000 in 2019). The majority of EVs sold in 2020 were models with a base model MSRP under $40,000 and only a fifth of models had a starting price over $60,000. Those who are critical of EVs would like to portray all plug-ins as high-priced luxury vehicles, but that simply isn't the case in 2021. Both here and abroad, automakers are increasing electric vehicle production, pushing down prices and making more options available to buyers.
Despite the proliferation of anti-EV arguments in the press, these arguments are old and long-debunked — dubious even when they were introduced, but downright silly after a decade of advancement in the EV market.
The majority of EVs sold in 2020 were models with a starting price (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price) under $40,000 and only a fifth of models had a starting price over $60,000.
Now is the time to accelerate the switch to EVs.
With the impacts of climate change becoming more evident every year and the clear science on the health harms of air pollution, it's imperative that we switch from gasoline to electric vehicles as soon as possible. To make this happen, we need to use all of the policy tools available.
Federal and state incentives are vital in the short term to make buying EVs easier for more people. Battery prices (and therefore EV prices) are dropping as the scale of production ramps up, but incentives are vital now to offset the extra initial cost of EVs.
We also need to use existing greenhouse gas emissions and air quality regulations to make sure the aspirations of automakers to go electric become reality. This means setting both strong federal standards for emissions and using California's authority under the Clean Air Act to require zero emission vehicles. Because the Clean Air Act also allows other states to adopt the California standards, there are now 11 states representing 30% of the U.S. population now moving forward with zero emission clean car standards to reduce their residents' exposure to tailpipe pollution and put their states on a path to lower carbon emissions and more states are poised to enact these standards.
Some have argued that we shouldn't rush this transition or wait until electricity and EVs are perfectly clean to start rolling out electric vehicles. There might be value in those propositions if there was not such urgency in the need to reduce emissions and clear costs for delay. Every gasoline vehicle we put on the road today means 10 to 20 years of pollution over its lifetime, and the climate-warming tailpipe pollutants accumulate in the atmosphere accumulate over time. If we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we can't afford to keep putting tailpipes on the road.
David Reichmuth is a senior engineer in the Clean Transportation Program with the Union of Concerned Scientists, focusing on oil savings and vehicle electrification.
Reposted with permission from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
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By Jake Johnson
On the heels of President Joe Biden's proclamation formally marking Indigenous Peoples' Day, a coalition of Indigenous and environmental leaders on Sunday delivered a blunt message to the White House: "We don't need performative proclamations, our communities are dying."
The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) — a broad alliance of tribes, Indigenous rights groups, labor organizations, and others — said in a statement that since taking office earlier this year, "Biden has consistently fallen short of protecting the water that sustains all life on Mother Earth and continuously failed to honor our treaties."
Specifically, IEN pointed to the president's refusal to block Enbridge's Line 3 replacement project, which Indigenous groups have worked tirelessly to stop for years in the face of brutal police repression and arrests. Oil started flowing through the sprawling pipeline — which could have the equivalent climate impact of 50 new coal-fired power plants — earlier this month, and its opponents have vowed to keep up their legal and on-the-ground fights as the Biden administration continues to defend the tar sands project.
A group of indigenous people and activists raise their fists as they pass sections of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline construction during the Treaty People Walk for Water event near the La Salle Lake State Park in Solway, Minnesota on Aug. 7, 2021. KEREM YUCEL / AFP via Getty Images
"If Presidet Biden was committed to honoring the treaties and strengthening sovereignty, he would implement a policy of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent by executive authority and act swiftly to mitigate the climate chaos that has engulfed our communities by ending the anti-Indigenous U.S. legacy of fossil fuel extractivism," IEN said. "We have had enough of your empty words. Our communities need clean water, land returned, divestment from the fossil fuel industry, and healing from residential school traumas."
"Proclamations don't erase the police surveillance of Indigenous peoples standing for our land and water, beatings, and imprisonment for those trying to stop pipelines, fracking, [liquefied natural gas], uranium, and other extractive industries from devastating our ecosystems and our bodies and violating our rights," the coalition added. "No proclamations needed until there is justice for the original stewards of these lands."
IEN's statement came just ahead of a five-day "People vs. Fossil Fuels" mobilization targeting the Biden White House over its inadequate climate policies.
While Biden has promised to listen to the science and treat the climate crisis like an "existential threat," he has continued to pursue drilling initiatives that could ramp up U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and intensify planetary warming.
This week, according to organizers, thousands of Indigenous people and their allies in the climate movement are expected to descend on the White House and engage in "mass civil disobedience" to demand that Biden "declare a climate emergency and stop all new fossil fuel projects."
On Monday morning, IEN organizers wrote "Expect Us" on the statue of Andrew Jackson in front of the White House.
"Our people are older than the idea of the United States of America. We are the original stewards of this land and will continue to fight for the natural and spiritual knowledge of our Mother who sustains our life-ways," IEN said in a statement Monday. "We are the grandchildren of the strong spirits who have survived your residential schools, your pipelines and mines, your reservations and relocation and your forced assimilation and genocide."
"We carry the prayers and intentions of our ancestors and are unafraid," the group added. "Another world is possible, may all colonizers fall."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Derrick Z. Jackson
I am the very accidental Black nature lover.
I was a typical urban boy in Milwaukee and a rabid sports fan in the 1960s. The most significant eagles to me played football in Philadelphia. The first cardinal I ever paid attention to was Bob Gibson throwing fastballs for St. Louis. My first confirmed sighting of an oriole was Frank Robinson blasting home runs for Baltimore. Bears and lions were fauna native to Chicago and Detroit and invasive species in Green Bay.
A dismal failure at actual sports, I did the next-best thing. I became a sportswriter and photographer. In college, I covered high school sports for the Milwaukee Journal. I shot for the Associated Press at Green Bay Packers games and the 1974 National Basketball Association (NBA) finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics. By 1979, at the age of 23, I was covering the New York Knicks and the NBA finals for Newsday.
That was my idea of climbing a summit, clueless of other ranges to scale.
That same year, I met a Black woman named Michelle Holmes. She was a medical student at Harvard University. In our first fall of dating, she said, "Let's go see the foliage."
I responded, "What's foliage?"
A stunned Michelle said, "You know, foliage…foliage? You're kidding. You don't know what foliage is?"
Bald Eagle – just north of the A.T. near Umbagog Wildlife Refuge in New Hampshire. Derrick Z. Jackson
Suddenly, I flashed back to the drives in the fall from Milwaukee to Green Bay for Packers games, with farm fields rimmed by yellow, orange, and red trees. "Oh, do you mean the changing of the leaves?" Michelle nodded affirmatively and then moved on to proclaiming that we would go see the leaves on a four-day holiday weekend.
Puzzled by the notion that this would take up a whole weekend, I asked:
"How long can you look at a red leaf?"
That weekend, Michelle chose a mountain to climb. She chose no slouch. It was Mt. Tecumseh, listed as one of the White Mountain's 4,000 footers (there is an ongoing debate as to whether it is just 3,995 feet). As we ascended, a fog so dense enveloped the mountain that my attempt to shout died inches from my lips. At the summit, Michelle despaired that I would never go hiking again because our view was the equivalent of being shrouded under a white bedsheet.
Then, hot and sweaty, I saw beads of dew glistening from a pine tree. I shook the tree to give myself a shower. The cooling effect, combined with the seductive scent of the pine, sent me into an ecstasy that shocked me. "This feels and smells sooooo good!" I told her.
At that moment, I was hooked on nature. Over the next decade, all our vacations, eventually with two little boys, involved camping in the outdoors. We camped in national parks from Acadia to Death Valley, from the Virgin Islands to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and from the Everglades to Kings Canyon/Sequoia and Yosemite. We camped in national forests from New Hampshire to New Mexico. In 1988, we quit our old jobs at the same time and drove from Boston to Alaska, car-camping for six weeks among glaciers, eagles, moose, otters, bears, and puffins and dazzled by fields of lupines and vistas of towering peaks across from spits.
Soon after I took up my new job as a metro columnist at the Boston Globe, I was asked to give a talk at predominantly Black Roxbury Community College. In the question-and-answer period after my set speech, a young Black man asked me about my hobbies.
"Birdwatching," I responded.
That started a giggle that rolled like a tsunami into rollicking laughter in a room of 200 people. I asked the young man, "Why do you think everyone is laughing?" He said, "You know."
I knew where he was going, but I played dumb and said, "No, I don't know, so tell me."
He said, "You know what I mean."
I said, "What do you mean?"
He said, "You know, birdwatching … that's a White thing."
A fresh wave of laughter swept through the room. After it subsided, I said:
"I figured that's what you'd say. Here's what I think." I rattled off the names of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and all the world of marchers and protestors who agitated for civil rights, then said:
"They didn't talk about it this way, but I look at what they were fighting for, and I don't think it was just about voting rights, lunch counters, bus seats, and school desegregation. In an unspoken way, I think they also risked their lives and shed blood for our right to enjoy and take ownership of this whole nation. For me, that means my right to enjoy national parks, to care about the birds, and to feel my presence is equal to anyone else's."
More than 30 years later, ownership, stewardship, and my assertion that birdwatching, the outdoors, and the environment is everyone's thing has become urgent to the point of emergency. On the more pleasant and personal side, Michelle's love of the outdoors led her to section-hike the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) over thirteen years, finishing in 2019. I probably did about 700 miles of the Trail supporting her, including glorious traverses of the Smokies and much of the White Mountains.
Michelle's getting me to love nature led me to become the coauthor and photographer of two books on the restoration of Atlantic puffins to islands off the coast of Maine, where they had been hunted into local extinction for nearly a century. For two decades, we together have escorted a diverse set of urban Scouts into the wilds, from canoe camping in Maine to ten nights of backpacking at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Our troop's commitment to diversity led to one of our girls being in the 2021 inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts.
On the less pleasant side, climate change now bears down on us with unbearable temperatures, rising seas, and devastating storms. Black and Latinx families are disproportionately suffering from the impacts in heat islands in redlined neighborhoods and displacement by hurricanes such as Katrina in New Orleans and Harvey in Houston. That is on top of the decades of systemic environmental injustice of Black and Brown families living in injurious, disproportionate, asthmatic proximity to refining and burning of fossil fuels in industry and transportation. The chronic illnesses due to that proximity are considered a major factor in why the COVID-19 Black and Brown death rate remains double that of White victims.
Derrick Z. Jackson with his son, Tano Holmes, and wife, Michelle Holmes, at Chimney Pond in Baxter State Park, Maine. Derrick Z. Jackson
Belying the laughter of that Roxbury Community College audience over my birdwatching, people of color have for several years now actually felt more strongly than White people that climate change must be dealt with immediately. A 2015 New York Times poll found that 79 percent of Latinx respondents considered climate change to be an important problem, compared to 63 percent of White respondents. By a two to one margin, Latinx respondents considered climate change a global problem worthy of U.S. aid to low-income countries for climate mitigation.
In 2020 New York Times election battleground state polls, 84 percent of Black respondents nationally said they worry about their community being harmed by climate change, compared to 55 percent of White respondents. In Florida, two of three Black respondents and three of four Latinx respondents worry about their lives being impacted by rising seas. In Arizona, three of four Latinx respondents worry about being impacted by rising temperatures. Only half of White respondents worry about climate impacts in Florida and Arizona.
This racial divide in climate change concern is critically germane to those who envision an outdoors recreation scene where Black and Brown people backpack along trails such as the A.T. in proportion to their share of the nation's population. According to the very latest analysis by the Brookings Institution, the White population in the U.S., once close to 90 percent for the first half of the 20th century, will likely slip under 60 percent in the 2020 census. That means that four of every ten hikers over all and every other hiker under the age of 25 should be of color to mirror the demographics of this country.
As an outdoor enthusiast, bird author, and journalist, I straddle a knife's edge between the enjoyment and conservation of natural beauty and the ugliness of environmental injustice and the very public racial turmoil that has engulfed many old-line environmental organizations as staff people of color demand much more than token inclusiveness from White executives. I'm appreciative of the increasing number of books and essays by Black people chronicling their individual journeys into nature and digging for a more truthful history of the Black experience in outdoor spaces, which includes helping to build and protect national parks, only to endure segregated facilities during Jim Crow.
As someone who — again inspired by Michelle's vision — ritually camped with Black friends on Memorial Day weekend from our mid-20s to our mid-40s, I smile when I read of new hiking groups, outdoor collaboratives, and environmental journalist networks led by people of color. I wrote in celebration over the 2020 presidential election and the Georgia Senate runoffs for how environmental justice voters showed up big, so big that President Biden's cabinet has an unprecedented number of officials with a track record of fighting against unjust pollution and poisoning of communities of color.
Of course, all this represents just the beginning of a new day. How bright that day becomes will significantly depend on how the predominately White environmental and conservation world responds to all of this. Last year, amid the upheaval over police brutality that ignited sweeping reexaminations of systemic racism, legacy environmental groups claimed to understand they had a role in the reckoning.
Michelle Holmes traversing the Bigelow Mountains on the A.T. in Maine. Derrick Z. Jackson
Websites are full of acknowledgement that the land we all hike on was stolen from Indigenous peoples. Several organizations offered confessionals on the past racist beliefs of founders and decades of White supremacy culture that alienated potential talent of color. Many groups have made environmental justice part of their portfolio and forging partnerships with communities to assist in their fights against pollution and systemically poor infrastructure.
It has finally dawned on environmental leaders, at least rhetorically, that a movement symbolized so long by melting ice and polar bears must meld into a more holistic vision. It is hard to invite people to put on some hiking boots to meditate on the carpets of trillium and tunnels of rhododendron along the A.T. in the South or marvel at scarlet tanagers zipping through the canopy or ravens soaring around the barren peaks of the New Hampshire White Mountains if they can't open their windows in the city during a heat wave because of blowing industrial soot. At some point, environmentalism and environmental justice must stop being two separate words.
The polls say people of color in the U.S. understand that more clearly than White residents. The former are ready to get cracking on getting rid of pollution and being full players and leaders in the green economy, while the latter remains hesitant. In a survey last fall commissioned by West Harlem Environmental Action (WEACT) and the Environmental Defense Fund, 60 percent of Black adults say they are very concerned about air pollution in their community, compared to only 32 percent of White adults. Black and Latinx respondents score higher than White respondents on saying "Clean energy jobs are for people like me."
The reality is that old-line environmental groups face an unspoken challenge equal to any effort to create safe spaces for people of color in the outdoors or in their offices.
They must work toward unity among White people about the urgency of climate change, its interplay with environmental injustice, long-term threats to our economy, and the unavoidable need to part with tax dollars both domestically and abroad for clean-ups and clean energy. The hardest part will be to convince White people of their collective systemic privileges to delay, avoid, or recover from the worst impacts of a boiling planet.
The advantages are endless. In hot places, it could be the affordability of air conditioning and living in naturally cooler areas because of tree canopies and parks. In coastal areas, it could be sturdier homes, car ownership to evacuate to higher ground, or quicker access to federal emergency funds if homes are damaged or destroyed after floods and hurricanes. Just about everywhere, it is the relative lack of living with — and choking on — fossil soot. Groundbreaking studies have shown that, while White people account for most of the pollution in consumer activity, Black and Latinx communities disproportionately breathe it in.
Environmental groups must get White people to account for these advantages in an equitable climate strategy on the daily home-front to have any long-term credibility on inviting people of color into the outdoors on the weekend. As of now, White people collectively refuse to account for them. A 2019 Pew survey found that, while 68 percent of Black respondents thought White people benefit "a great deal" from advantages Black people don't have, only 23 percent of White respondents said they benefit a great deal from their advantages. A 2020 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 23 percent of White respondents said they receive "too many special advantages."
White denial of advantage cannot be soft-pedaled by environmental leaders after the surge of White supremacy during and after the two terms of Barack Obama, the nation's first Black president. The last decade has seen the tragedies in Charlottesville, Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina, the police and vigilante murders of Black people, and the insurrection of January 6, 2021. They cannot be soft-pedaled as forces are on a relentless march to roll back or stymie environmental protections that would degrade daily life and the outdoors for all of us. Denial of advantage is its own fatal disadvantage. Take COVID-19. Black and Brown people remain twice as likely to die from infections, yet 350,000 White people have died. Try to find the advantage there.
In imagining equality in the United States, Martin Luther King, Jr., invoked the imagery of the outdoors in his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech. He said:
"Let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
"But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring."
Now that we are reimagining the outdoors for all, on every mountainside, we must come to grips that this quest is no longer just about my wife getting me to look at a red leaf or old-line environmental groups hiring "outreach" staff to get people of color out into pristine wilderness.
Environmentalism also must ring down from the mountains to ring out soot in our cities, fight for clean water, and protect people from the rising seas. If we can replace environmental injustice with a true commitment toward pristine environs where people live every day, I can guarantee that a whole lot of people will feel a lot more welcome to climb an actual summit and shake down some dew from a tree.
Derrick Z. Jackson is the 2021 Scripps Howard winner for Excellence in Opinion Writing and the 2021 winner in both Social Justice and Sports commentary from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He is co-author of "The Puffin Plan," winner in Teen Nonfiction from the Independent Book Publishers Association. Published in 2020 by Tumblehome Books.
Reposted with permission from AT Journeys (the magazine of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy).
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By Tim Radford
London, 15 February, 2021. Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a "Break Glass in Case of Emergency" kind of tool.
But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change − driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.
The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.
But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.
Not for Dummies
There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.
People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They'd be wrong.
First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) U.S. Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.
Then Gates writes as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies.
Crude oil, he calculates, "is cheaper than a soft drink." By mid-century "climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly."
And population growth creates prodigious demands: by 2060, the world's building stock will double. "That's like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years."
I call it a disarming book: yes, he concedes that the world is not lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do; yes, he flew a private plane to the Paris Conference in 2015. He doesn't deny being a rich guy with an opinion and an "absurdly high" carbon footprint. But he believes it is an informed opinion, and he's always trying to learn more.
And then he gets on with clarifying the big challenges. Yes, there's no choice: the world has to get to zero-carbon. It's going to be difficult to achieve the technologies, the political will, the international consensus. Humans have to accomplish something gigantic, much faster than anything ever done before.
He turns to the details: the questions that need to be addressed; the separate problems of electrical energy, of manufacture, of diet and agriculture, of transport, of adaptation; government policy, citizen choice and so on.
He touches on biofuels, nuclear power ("this might sound self-serving, given that I own an advanced nuclear company"), global development, global health, international co-operation and individual choices, all with the same brisk clarity. There already exists a huge literature of climate change: this is a useful addition.
That may be because he keeps the message simple from the start. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none.
"There are two numbers you need to know about climate change," he writes in his opening sentences. "The first is 51 billion. The second is zero."
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
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Hurricane Ida made landfall near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, just before noon local time on Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, 7 mph short of being just the fifth Category 5 storm to ever hit the U.S.
The storm, which made landfall on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall, then ground across the "toe" of the state's "boot" for about the next 16 hours, causing massive damage. The storm knocked out all eight transmission lines that deliver power, plummeting all of New Orleans into darkness.
More than 1.1 million customers were without power in Louisiana and Mississippi as of 7:00 a.m. Monday. Heavy rain, combined with storm surge, caused catastrophic impacts along the southeast coast of Louisiana with life-threatening flash flooding, according to the National Weather Service.
Ida rapidly intensified from a Category 1 to a Category 4 Major Hurricane in less than 24 hours, supercharged by exceptionally warm waters in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico — phenomena driven and made more common by climate change caused by human extraction and combustion of fossil fuels.
The rapid intensification limited forewarning and prevented large-scale evacuation efforts, especially for those who are disabled or those unable to afford to evacuate — a crisis compounded by looming evictions in the region. Flooding was especially severe in LaPlace, leaving many residents stranded. So far, only one death has been officially reported, a number sadly almost certain to rise.
The impact of the climate-supercharged storm will be made far worse by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, itself made worse by the widespread denial and rejection of science. As of 4:00 a.m. local time, now-Tropical Storm Ida had passed into southwest Mississippi, bringing heavy rainfall, and more flooding.
As reported by The Associated Press:
Ida struck as hospitals and their intensive care units were filled with patients from the fourth surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, sparked by the highly contagious delta variant and low vaccination rates across Louisiana.
Daily tallies of new cases in Louisiana went from a few hundred a day through much of the spring and early summer to thousands a day by late July. Gov. John Bel Edwards told The Associated Press on Sunday that more than 2,400 COVID-19 patients are in Louisiana hospitals, saying the state was in a "very dangerous place with our hospitals."
The governor also said 22 nursing homes and 18 assisted living facilities have been evacuated, though evacuating the largest hospitals was not an option because there simply aren't other places to send them. Anticipating that power could be out for weeks in places, Edwards said a big focus will be on making sure there is enough generator power and water at hospitals so they can keep up with vital patient needs such as providing oxygen or powering ventilators.
"I hate to say it this way, but we have a lot of people on ventilators today and they don't work without electricity," he said.
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By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet is the latest must-read book by leading climate change scientist and communicator Michael Mann of Penn State University.
Published Jan. 12, 2021, The New Climate War describes how outright denial of the physical evidence of human-caused climate change simply is no longer credible. It describes in explicit detail how forces of denial and delay – fossil fuel companies, right-wing partisans, media and talking heads, and oil-funded governments – continue to profit from our dependence on fossil fuels. It explores how they have shifted to new tactics, using "an array of powerful Ds: disinformation, deceit, divisiveness, deflection, delay, despair-mongering, and doomism."
In better understanding how prospects for climate action still are threatened, readers will learn fascinating climate history and science, and will be uplifted by Mann's take on how close society may be to a tipping point on solving the climate crisis. "A clean energy revolution and climate stabilization are achievable with current technology," Mann writes. "All we require are policies to incentivize the needed shift."
The new Mann book consists of nine sections:
The first two chapters, "The Architects of Misinformation and Misdirection" and "The Climate Wars," outline the history of climate science denial over the years.
The Crying Indian' and the Birth of the Deflection Campaign details how vested interests use deflection campaigns to defeat policies they dislike. A classic example is the iconic "Crying Indian" commercial of the 1970s, which alerted viewers to accumulating glass bottle and can waste litter. The commercial was part of a successful deflection campaign by the beverage industry to blame the public rather than corporations, emphasizing individual responsibility over collective action and regulations.
It's YOUR Fault describes how fossil fuel interests, using deflection campaigns, "are actually all too happy to talk about the environment. They just want to keep the conversation around individual responsibility, not systemic change or corporate culpability." Mann also details how deflection campaigns criticize individuals for their air travel to attend conferences.
Internet bots and trolls from oil-rich Russia are also involved in deflection campaigns, Mann writes. He writes that barbs aimed at 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton "appeared to come from the environmental left, criticizing her climate policies (for example, her position on fracking). We now know that many of those attacks were actually Russian trolls and bots seeking to convince younger, greener progressives that there was no difference between the two candidates (so they might as well stay home)." Mann writes also that Russia is believed to have helped instigate the 2018 'Yellow Vest' revolts that undercut French governmental efforts to introduce a carbon tax.
Mann describes a number of "wedge" campaigns run to divide climate advocates. He points to a 2020 news story in The Guardian reporting that "the social media conversation over the climate crisis is being reshaped by an army of automated Twitter bots." That article estimated that "a quarter of all tweets about climate on an average day are produced by bots," with a goal of "distorting the online discourse to include far more climate science denialism than it would otherwise."
Put a Price on It. Or Not. This chapter begins with Mann's concerns that "the fuel industry has been granted the greatest market subsidy ever: the privilege to dump its waste products into the atmosphere at no charge." When implicit subsidies are included like the health costs and environmental pollution damage, including the damage done by climate change, Mann writes, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated subsidies of over $5 trillion were paid in the year 2015 alone. These subsidies need to end, Mann argues, preferring a price on carbon emissions to force polluters to pay for the climate damage done by their product, fossil fuels, and a tilt giving an advantage to clean and renewable energy forms.
Mann rejects flat-out concerns over a potential carbon tax. For instance, he writes that "whether a carbon tax is progressive or regressive depends on how it is designed. A fee-and-dividend method, for example, returns any revenue raised back to the people."
Mann also expresses support for supply-side measures like "blocking pipeline construction, banning fracking, stopping mountain-top-removal coal mining, divesting in fossil fuel companies, and putting a halt to most new fossil fuel infrastructure."
In Sinking the Competition, Mann backs explicit incentives for renewable energy and elimination of incentives for fossil fuels. He says fossil fuel interests and their backers have "put their thumbs on the scale by promoting programs that favor fossil fuel energy while sabotaging those that incentivize renewables, and engaging in propaganda campaigns to discredit renewable energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels."
The Non-Solution Solution chapter details Mann's concerns that those opposing climate action promote "solutions" (natural gas, carbon capture, geo-engineering) that Mann argues aren't real solutions at all. "Part of their strategy is using soothing words and terms – 'bridge fuels,' 'clean coal,' 'adaptation,' 'resilience' – that convey the illusion of action but, in context, are empty promises," he writes. Mann's preferred "viable path forward on climate involves a combination of energy efficiency, electrification, and decarbonization of the grid through an array of complementary renewable energy sources. The problem is that fossil fuel interests lose out in that scenario, and so they have used their immense wealth and influence to stymie any efforts to move in that direction."
The Truth Is Bad Enough decries obsessive pessimism and "doomism" as unhelpful to tackling the climate crisis. "Exaggeration of the climate threat by purveyors of doom – we'll call them 'doomists' – is unhelpful at best," he writes. "Indeed, doomism today arguably poses a greater threat to climate action than outright denial. For if catastrophic warming of the planet were truly inevitable and there were no agency on our part in averting it, why should we do anything?"
Meeting the Challenge presents a summary of Dr. Mann's four-point battle plan, which he outlines in the introduction to the book:
Disregard the Doomsayers: The misguided belief that "it's too late" to act has been co-opted by fossil fuel interests and those advocating for them, Mann argues. It's just another way of legitimizing business-as-usual and a continued reliance on fossil fuels. Overt doom and gloom arguments should be ignored.
A Child Shall Lead Them: Youths are fighting to save their planet, and there is a moral authority and clarity in their message that only the most jaded can disregard. Youths are the game-changers climate advocates have been waiting for, and their actions, methods, and idealism are models for all.
Educate, Educate, Educate: Most hard-core climate-change deniers are unmovable, with an ideology impervious to facts. Don't waste time and effort trying to convince them. Instead, work with and help inform victims of climate change disinformation campaigns so they can join efforts to combat the climate challenge.
Changing the System Requires Systemic Change: Those responsible for fossil fuel disinformation engage in either-or arguments rather than address larger systemic issues and consider incentives. Policies need to incentivize shifts away from fossil fuel burning toward a clean, green global economy, and those policies warrant the support of elected leaders.
The bottom line on The New Climate War: The book could benefit from more graphics and cartoons as complements to its 267 pages of text. Overall, though, the book still is a must-read for every climate-savvy and climate-dependent. (Only air breathers need apply!)
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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By Chris McGreal
After a century of wielding extraordinary economic and political power, America's petroleum giants face a reckoning for driving the greatest existential threat of our lifetimes.
An unprecedented wave of lawsuits, filed by cities and states across the US, aim to hold the oil and gas industry to account for the environmental devastation caused by fossil fuels – and covering up what they knew along the way.
Coastal cities struggling to keep rising sea levels at bay, midwestern states watching "mega-rains" destroy crops and homes, and fishing communities losing catches to warming waters, are now demanding the oil conglomerates pay damages and take urgent action to reduce further harm from burning fossil fuels.
But, even more strikingly, the nearly two dozen lawsuits are underpinned by accusations that the industry severely aggravated the environmental crisis with a decades-long campaign of lies and deceit to suppress warnings from their own scientists about the impact of fossil fuels on the climate and dupe the American public.
The environmentalist Bill McKibben once characterized the fossil fuel industry's behavior as "the most consequential cover-up in US history". And now for the first time in decades, the lawsuits chart a path toward public accountability that climate activists say has the potential to rival big tobacco's downfall after it concealed the real dangers of smoking.
"We are at an inflection point," said Daniel Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment.
"Things have to get worse for the oil companies," he added. "Even if they've got a pretty good chance of winning the litigation in places, the discovery of pretty clearcut wrong doing – that they knew their product was bad and they were lying to the public – really weakens the industry's ability to resist legislation and settlements."
For decades, the country's leading oil and gas companies have understood the science of climate change and the dangers posed by fossil fuels. Year after year, top executives heard it from their own scientists whose warnings were explicit and often dire.
In 1979, an Exxon study said that burning fossil fuels "will cause dramatic environmental effects" in the coming decades.
"The potential problem is great and urgent," it concluded.
But instead of heeding the evidence of the research they were funding, major oil firms worked together to bury the findings and manufacture a counter narrative to undermine the growing scientific consensus around climate science. The fossil fuel industry's campaign to create uncertainty paid off for decades by muddying public understanding of the growing dangers from global heating and stalling political action.
The urgency of the crisis is not in doubt. A draft United Nations report, leaked last week, warns that the consequences of the climate crisis, including rising seas, intense heat and ecosystem collapse, will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades even if fossil fuel emissions are curbed.
To investigate the lengths of the oil and gas industry's deceptions – and the disastrous consequences for communities across the country – the Guardian is launching a year-long series tracking the unprecedented efforts to hold the fossil fuel industry to account.
The legal process is expected to take years. Cities in California filed the first lawsuits back in 2017, and they have been tied down by disputes over jurisdiction, with the oil companies fighting with limited success to get them moved from state to federal courts where they think the law is more favorable.
But climate activists see opportunities long before verdicts are rendered in the US. The legal process is expected to add to already damning revelations of the energy giants' closely held secrets. If history is a guide, those developments could in turn alter public opinion in favor of regulations that the oil and gas companies spent years fighting off.
A string of other recent victories for climate activists already points to a shift in the industry's power.
Last month, a Dutch court ordered Shell to cut its global carbon emissions by 45% by the end of the decade. The same day, in Houston, an activist hedge fund forced three new directors on to the board of the US's largest oil firm, ExxonMobil, to address climate issues. Investors at Chevron also voted to cut emissions from the petroleum products it sells.
Earlier this month, developers of the Keystone XL pipeline cancelled the project after more than a decade of unrelenting opposition over environmental concerns. And although a federal court last year threw out a lawsuit brought by 21 young Americans who say the US government violated their constitutional rights by exacerbating climate change, the Biden administration recently agreed to settlement talks in a symbolic gesture aimed to appease younger voters.
For all that, American lawyers say the legal reasoning behind foreign court judgments are unlikely to carry much weight in the US and domestic law is largely untested. In 2018, a federal court knocked back New York City's initial attempt to force big oil to cover the costs of the climate crisis by saying that its global nature requires a political, not legal, remedy.
Other regional lawsuits are inching their way through the courts. From Charleston, South Carolina, to Boulder, Colorado, and Maui, Hawaii, communities are seeking to force the industry to use its huge profits to pay for the damage and to oblige energy companies to treat the climate crisis for what it is – a global emergency.
Municipalities such as Imperial Beach, California – the poorest city in San Diego county with a budget less than Exxon chief executive's annual pay – faces rising waters on three sides without the necessary funding to build protective barriers. They claim oil companies created a "public nuisance" by fuelling the climate crisis. They seek to recover the cost of repairing the damage and constructing defences.
The public nuisance claim, also pursued by Honolulu, San Francisco and Rhode Island, follows a legal strategy with a record of success in other types of litigation. In 2019, Oklahoma's attorney general won compensation of nearly half a billion dollars against the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson over its false marketing of powerful prescription painkillers on the grounds it created a public nuisance by contributing to the opioid epidemic in the state.
Other climate lawsuits, including one filed in Minnesota, allege the oil firms' campaigns of deception and denial about the climate crisis amount to fraud. Minnesota is suing Exxon, Koch Industries and an industry trade group for breaches of state law for deceptive trade practices, false advertising and consumer fraud over what the lawsuit characterises as distortions and lies about climate science.
The midwestern state, which has seen temperatures rise faster than the US and global averages, said scorching temperatures and "mega-rains" have devastated farming and flooded people out of their homes, with low-income and minority families most at risk.
Minnesota's attorney general, Keith Ellison, claims in his lawsuit that for years Exxon orchestrated a campaign to bury the evidence of environmental damage caused by burning fossil fuels "with disturbing success".
"Defendants spent millions on advertising and public relations because they understood that an accurate understanding of climate change would affect their ability to continue to earn profits by conducting business as usual," Ellison said in his lawsuit.
Farber said cases rooted in claims that the petroleum industry lied have the most promising chance of success.
"To the extent the plaintiffs can point to misconduct, like telling everybody there's no such thing as climate change when your scientists have told you the opposite, that might give the courts a greater feeling of comfort that they're not trying to take over the US energy system," he said.
Fighting the Facts
Almost all the lawsuits draw on the oil industry's own records as the foundation for claims that it covered up the growing threat to life caused by its products.
Shell, like other oil companies, had decades to prepare for those consequences after it was forewarned by its own research. In 1958, one of its executives, Charles Jones, presented a paper to the industry's trade group, the American Petroleum Institute (API), warning about increased carbon emissions from car exhaust. Other research followed through the 1960s, leading a White House advisory committee to express concern at "measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate" by 2000.
API's own reports flagged up "significant temperature changes" by the end of the twentieth century.
The largest oil company in the US, Exxon, was hearing the same from its researchers.
Year after year, Exxon scientists recorded the evidence about the dangers of burning fossil fuels. In 1978, its science adviser, James Black, warned that there was a "window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategy might become critical".
Exxon set up equipment on a supertanker, the Esso Atlantic, to monitor carbon dioxide in seawater and the air. In 1982, the company's scientists drew up a graph accurately plotting an increase in the globe's temperature to date.
"The 1980s revealed an established consensus among scientists," the Minnesota lawsuit against Exxon says. "A 1982 internal Exxon document … explicitly declares that the science was 'unanimous' and that climate change would 'bring about significant changes in the earth's climate'."
Then the monitoring on the Esso Atlantic was suddenly called off and other research downgraded.
What followed was what Naomi Oreskes, co-author of the report America Misled, called a "systematic, organised campaign by Exxon and other oil companies to sow doubt about the science and prevent meaningful action".
The report accused the energy companies of not only polluting the air but also "the information landscape" by replicating the cigarette makers' playbook of cherry-picking data, using fake experts and promoting conspiracy theories to attack a growing scientific consensus.
Many of the lawsuits draw on a raft of Exxon documents held at the University of Texas, and uncovered by the Columbia Journalism School and the Los Angeles Times in 2015.
Among them is a 1988 Exxon memo laying out a strategy to push for a "balanced scientific approach", which meant giving equal weight to hard evidence and climate change denialism. That move bore fruit in parts of the media into the 2000s as the oil industry repositioned global heating as theory, not fact, contributing to the most deep-rooted climate denialism in any developed country.
The company placed advertisements in major American newspapers to sow doubt. One in the New York Times in 2000, under the headline "Unsettled Science", compared climate data to changing weather forecasts. It claimed scientists were divided, when an overwhelming consensus already backed the evidence of a growing climate crisis, and said that the supposed doubts meant it was too soon to act.
Exxon's chairman and chief executive, Lee Raymond, told industry executives in 1996 that "scientific evidence remains inconclusive as to whether human activities affect global climate".
"It's a long and dangerous leap to conclude that we should, therefore, cut fossil fuel use," he said.
Documents show that his company's scientists were telling Exxon's management that the real danger lay in the failure to do exactly that.
In 2019, Martin Hoffert, a professor of physics at New York University, told a congressional hearing that as a consultant to Exxon on climate modelling in the 1980s, he worked on eight scientific papers for the company that showed fossil fuel burning was "increasingly having a perceptible influence on Earth's climate".
Hoffert said he "hoped that the work would help to persuade Exxon to invest in developing energy solutions the world needed". That was not the result.
"Exxon was publicly promoting views that its own scientists knew were wrong, and we knew that because we were the major group working on this. This was immoral and has greatly set back efforts to address climate change," said Hoffert.
"They deliberately created doubt when internal research confirmed how serious a threat it was. As a result, in my opinion, homes and livelihoods will likely be destroyed and lives lost."
Exxon worked alongside Chevron, Shell, BP and smaller oil firms to shift attention away from the growing climate crisis. They funded the industry's trade body, API, as it drew up a multimillion-dollar plan to ensure that "climate change becomes a non- issue" through disinformation. The plan said "victory will be achieved" when "recognition of uncertainties become part of the 'conventional wisdom'".
The fossil fuel industry also used its considerable resources to pour billions of dollars into political lobbying to block unfavourable laws and to fund front organisations with neutral and scientific-sounding names, such as the Global Climate Coalition (GCC). In 2001, the US state department told the GCC that President George W Bush rejected the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "in part, based on input from you".
Exxon alone has funded more than 40 groups to deny climate science, including the George C Marshall Institute, which one lawsuit claims orchestrated a "sham petition" denying manmade global climate change. It was later denounced by the National Academy of Science as "a deliberate attempt to mislead scientists".
Drilling DownTo Sharon Eubanks the conspiracy to deny science sounded very familiar. From 2000, she led the US justice department's legal team against nine tobacco firms in one of the largest civil cases filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (Rico) Act, which was designed to combat organised crime.
In 2006, a federal judge found that the industry had spent decades committing a huge fraud on the American public by lying about the dangers of smoking and pushing cigarettes to young people.
Eubanks said that when she looked at the fossil fuel industry's strategy, she immediately recognised big tobacco's playbook.
"Big oil was engaged in exactly the same type of behaviour that the tobacco companies engaged in and were found liable for fraud on a massive scale," said Eubanks. "The cover-up, the denial of the problem, the funding of scientists to question the science. The same pattern. And some of the same lawyers represent both tobacco and big oil."
The danger for the fossil fuel industry is that the parallels do not end there.
The legal process is likely to oblige the oil conglomerates to turn over years of internal communications revealing what they knew about climate change, when and how they responded. Given what has already come out from Exxon, they are unlikely to help the industry's case.
Eubanks, who is now advising attorneys general and others suing the oil industry, said a turning point in her action against big tobacco came with the discovery of internal company memos in a state case in Minnesota. They included language that talked about recruiting young people as "replacement smokers" for those who died from cigarettes.
"I think the public was particularly stunned by some of the content of the documents and the talk about the need for bigger bags to take home all the money they were going to make from getting people to smoke," said Eubanks.
The exposure of the tobacco companies' internal communications shifted the public mood and the politics, helping to open the door to legislation to curb smoking that the industry had been successfully resisting for decades.
Farber, the Berkeley law professor, said the discovery process carries a similar danger for the oil companies because it is likely to expose yet more evidence that they set out to deceive. He said that will undercut any attempt by the energy giants to claim in court that they were ignorant of the damage they were causing.
Farber said it will also be difficult for the oil industry to resist the weight of US lawsuits, shareholder activism and shifting public and political opinion. "It might push them towards settlement or supporting legislation that releases some from liability in return for some major concessions such as a large tax to finance responses to climate change."
The alternative, said Farber, is to take their chance on judges and juries who may be increasingly inclined to take the climate crisis seriously.
"They may think this is an emergency that requires a response. That the oil companies should be held responsible for the harm they've caused and that could be very expensive," he said. "If they lose, it's catastrophic ultimately."
This story originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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