New Graph Shows, “We’re really in a very different Arctic”

See this article detailing that arctic sea ice right now is below the mean of ice extent for even the 2000’s, (not to mention previous decades), with 53 days to go before the minimum for the year will be reached. Another wake up call in a long series of them.

http://www.businessinsider.com/arctic-ice-melting-chart-2017-7

 

The Controversy Over “The Uninhabitable Earth”

David Wallace-Well’s article on the danger of runaway climate change, (here I post the annotated edition because it fleshes out more of the scientific evidence Wells based his story on), has apparently become the most read article in New York magazine’s history. I found the piece insightful. I thought it was mainly on-track in terms of laying out what  worst-case scenarios of climate change would look like, (from what  I understand at least),  if business as usual use of fossil fuels continues over the rest of the century.

Some climatologists and science journalists have criticized the article for being incorrect on some points of climate science, but mainly because it offers up a “doomsday scenario” that they think will do more harm than good when it comes to efforts to deal with climate change.

Michael Mann, for example- a climate scientist who has done very important work and also taken on climate denial very publicly, and faced threats and attack for it, (and who I respect a lot), said of the Wells article:

“”I have to say that I am not a fan of this sort of doomist framing…. It is important to be up front about the risks of unmitigated climate change, and I frequently criticize those who understate the risks. But there is also a danger in overstating the science in a way that presents the problem as unsolvable, and feeds a sense of doom, inevitability and hopelessness.”.

Read a fuller rebuttal by Mann here.

Mann points out scientific mistakes in the Wells piece related to the pace of methane release, what he calls a mischaracterization by Wells of a recent study updating satellite warming data sets, etc.

I’m not a climatologist. I take Mann at his word on the criticisms of the science. But to me his arguments, as well as those of others who I’ve read, are mainly not really refuting Wells scientific claims, as much as they are making a political argument that popularizing such extreme views of what could come to pass (Wells clearly says this could happen, not that it will happen), do more harm than good because they frighten people into inaction.

Other’s have commented well in mainly upholding the Wells piece and responding to these criticisms, for instance see this funny and provocative  piece on Vox by David Roberts, and this piece by Susan Mathews of Slate.

(I do also have to say as an aside,  that Wells, who interviewed dozens of climate scientists in laying the groundwork for writing his story and who’s arguments seem to flow from this science, vs. something else-also published his full interview with Mann here, which hews more closely I think,  to what Well’s is actually advancing in his article. Mann agrees in the interview, on the importance of considering nightmare scenarios that are possible, if unlikely, and what these might look like.)

I encourage everyone to read the pieces linked here, and others,  and jump into the controversy!

I can’t go into depth right now on all of this, but to comment in basic terms.  Either Wells piece is mainly representing scenarios that are possible based on the actual science of what we understand at this point, or it isn’t, first of all. And I think it is. If this is the case, a political argument that says the piece “isn’t helpful” in convincing people of the need for action on climate change is just that-a political argument. It shouldn’t be fuzzy that its criticism of the article is political mainly, and not on what is wrong with the piece scientifically.

Also, much of this political criticism comes from a certain view that itself I believe  fails to understand the political situation and depth of the problem we face in dealing fundamentally with the climate crisis.

The views behind some of these criticisms, I believe at least,  see the lack of action on climate change as largely coming from the right wing, denialists, skeptics and “authoritarian” types like Trump, combined with a lack of knowledge generally in society about science and climate change. And I believe they see much greater hope to deal with climate with the Obamas and Merkels of the world in power, as well as economic trends toward use of green energy in the world as it is, etc.

There are clearly real differences in strategy between the Obamas and Trumps, and I’m not arguing there is completely no difference between the two when it comes to combating climate change, or in terms of where things will end up for the planet. But I think the problem is not just climate denialism or Trumpism or even anti-science thinking. That is a huge problem we face, a very real threat right now that needs to be recognized and combated. In fact, Trump and Pence-the whole fascist cabal, needs to be driven out of power by us for many reasons, including because of the tremendous danger they represent to the planet’s environment.

But a deeper problem, and the basic source of  the fascist anti-science Trumpian nonsense itself, is the system of capitalism itself. Anyone who wants to argue against the fact that the leading mainstream figures over the last decades of western civilization and “democracy”, (including Al Gore and Bill Clinton),  have not brought us the climate and overall environmental crisis, has their head in the sand.

And more deeply, it’s not just a matter of what any of these leaders will personally want or not want to do, or what their “legacy” will compel their desires to do, but what the underlying dynamics of the capitalist system, driven by ruthless competition and ruled by profit-in command, will allow them to do. This is why despite Obama’s clear understanding that climate change is a great threat, he could only make goals to limit emissions in very modest amounts, and then these goals were not even met. This is also why the Paris accords don’t do nearly enough in taking the kinds of dramatic efforts needed to really save the planet. Even though it is completely monstrous that Trump pulled the U.S. out of these accords.

Again, I’m not arguing , “they’re all the same”. I am arguing, given the scope and pace of the climate crisis, (and adding to that, not just the climate crisis, but the overall environmental and biological crisis-including the advancing sixth extinction – or what a recent PNAS piece terms the “biological annihilation” taking place on earth-see next article on blog)-to base approaches on simply convincing this system and its representatives to do the right thing and save the planet, is complete folly. We actually need massive resistance by millions to force change, and in my thinking, a revolution and a new system that is not based on the competitive, expand or die drive that is inherent in capitalism.

So arguments criticizing Wells for “doomsday” thinking, I think are based on, and seriously misassess even what we are up against in truly dealing with the climate crisis, not to mention the overall environmental crisis. And beyond that, they don’t have a grasp that those in power will never, and fundamentally can never, deal with these crises from the viewpoint of the interests of all of humanity, and especially the poorest of humanity, who their whole rule rests on exploiting and oppressing.

This is the case even when there are real differences among them on how seriously to take climate change and what actions to take to combat it.

I can’t go further on this now, but those are some basic thoughts.

CJ

Important new scientific study on “biological annihilation via the on-going sixth mass extinction”

A new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has come out authored by Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Erlich and Rodolfo Dirzo.

This is a really important piece of work investigating how the “sixth mass extinction” of species is proceeding and further raising the alarm about the great danger.

The study’s significance page says,

“The strong focus on species extinctions, a critical aspect of the contemporary pulse of biological extinction, leads to a common misimpression that Earth’s biota is not immediately threatened, just slowly entering an episode of major biodiversity loss. This view overlooks the current trends of population declines and extinctions. Using a sample of 27,600 terrestrial vertebrate species, and a more detailed analysis of 177 mammal species, we show the extremely high degree of population decay in vertebrates, even in common “species of low concern.” Dwindling population sizes and range shrinkages amount to a massive anthropogenic erosion of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services essential to civilization. This ‘biological annihilation’ underlines the seriousness for humanity of Earth’s ongoing sixth mass extinction event.”

Further, the abstract states, “humanity needs to address anthropogenic population extirpation and decimation immediately”.

The study has been somewhat, at least, controversial, with some saying it overstates the danger, (other right-wing and fascist forces just attacking its supposed “alarmism”)  but I think it makes a strong case that the danger is very real and lies not just in extinctions-(for example 200 species of vertebrates going extinct in last century)- but also the vast decline in numbers of individuals of species and populations of species, and their ranges, that is rapidly advancing today.

There is debate over the study’s “strong language” and especially its use of the term, “biological annihilation”. According to the UK Guardian’s popular piece on the study, Ceballos, who led the work told them, “The situation has become so bad it would not be ethical not to use strong language.”

Actually “biological annihilation” I think is quite accurate and entirely appropriate to describe what’s happening. This is a very worrisome wake-up call about the need to address this, as well as understand and move against the causes of this-which I view as a capitalist system and resulting world culture unable to control continual expansion and annihilation of nature.

It’s up to us to save the planet, its species and its people.

Curtis

 

Fresh Air Interview with Paul Nicklen

Check out this riveting interview by Terry Gross on Fresh Air with nature photographer Paul Nicklen-on his amazing experiences with polar wildlife and commentary on polar ecosystems in peril. It very vividly brings home the stakes of climate change and habitat destruction, from a deeply personal angle.

http://www.npr.org/2017/06/06/531735345/polar-photographer-shares-his-view-of-a-ferocious-but-fragile-ecosystem

Scott Pruitt’s Ridiculous Ramblings on CO2 and Climate Change

By Curtis Johnson

originally published March 13, 2017, reposted here in light of Pruitt’s nonsense of the EPA hosting “debates” on climate change.

This week, Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, denied that carbon dioxide was a main cause of global warming. In an interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box, Pruitt said, “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

First off, Pruitt is just lying. It is challenging to measure the impact of human activity on climate, but scientists are now doing it with increasing precision. And among climate scientists who have studied “human activity on the climate,” there is 97 percent agreement, basic unanimity or what scientists call consensus, that not only is climate change happening as a result of human activity, but that it is clearly caused by the burning of fossil fuels and other human practices that produce CO2 and other greenhouse gases.1

And second—really, Pruitt? We should believe you? You, who have absolutely zero knowledge and zero expertise to determine this? Instead of believing the thousands of climate scientists who have studied this issue from many angles, over decades, and found that human-caused climate change is real and evidence for it is overwhelming? Somehow you have authority or legitimacy to speak as an expert on this, when your whole career and position has been as a toady for fossil fuel conglomerates? When you have slavishly copied memos written by energy companies who stand to earn millions in profits, into your press releases, to brazenly cover efforts to eviscerate climate and clean water standards that would give some protection to people and nature?

And what do you have to back up your conclusion with? What evidence can you bring to explain what the planet is experiencing? Tell us, how would you explain the cause of rising sea levels and the disappearance of islands and coastlines worldwide? How would you explain the melting and shrinking of Arctic and Greenland polar ice masses, which is being measured year by year?2 How would you explain the global average temperature records being broken in 2016, and before that in 2015, and 2014? And that of the Earth’s 17 warmest years in recorded history, 16 have occurred since 2000?3 And how these temperatures are rising in close step with the rise of carbon dioxide levels measured independently by 40 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sites worldwide?4 Or the fact that the greenhouse effect—the connection between levels of certain gases like CO2 in the atmosphere with warming of the Earth—is a well-established scientific fact and has been understood since the late 1800s?5,6

How, Pruitt, do you explain the increasingly severe storms that have destroyed people’s lives—like those fueled by warming oceans that killed thousands and displaced millions in the 2010 flooding in Pakistan, or the occurrence in recent years of the most powerful hurricanes in recorded history, such as Haiyan in the Philippines, where 10,000 people drowned or were swept out to sea?7 Or the recent studies documenting how warming is decreasing oxygen in the seas, threatening to disrupt ocean life critical to all life on this planet?8

The idea that anyone should believe you—or reality-denying lunatics like Trump, who claims climate change is a hoax—and the confusion and lies you’re spreading that production of greenhouse gases by capitalist energy production is not connected to global warming, would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous. You would have us disbelieve mountains of evidence, thousands of scientific studies, and glaring reality. The truth is, yes, human activity—and its production of greenhouse gases along with other practices—is warming the planet, changing the climate, and helping destroy the basis for much of Earth’s natural world, and the basis, too, for human beings to continue to exist on this planet.

That a man like Pruitt would be given authority to head a government agency that supposedly has as its whole reason-to-be the protection of nature and the safety and health of people makes this regime totally illegitimate. That the president of supposedly the “most advanced” country in the world would appoint such a man, and himself claim climate change is a hoax, demonstrates, as do many other things, the complete illegitimacy of this regime. And what does it say about this capitalist-imperialist system which, due to its inexorable drive for profit and its expand-or-die competitive dynamic, has now brought forward a “Trump” and is rushing headlong to make things worse?

This regime is moving to eliminate programs that research or monitor climate change. It’s planning to erode or eliminate whole programs and sections of government agencies that would limit climate change. It’s on a mission to eliminate protections and limits on plundering the environment by wiping out all manner of regulations and rules. An all-out savage war on the natural world is being launched by this regime, in the service of unfettering unlimited feasting and plunder by U.S. capitalist monopolies. If this is allowed to fully unfold, it will guarantee, and further intensify, the accelerating erosion of ecosystems. It will put humanity—especially the poorest and most oppressed of humanity who have done the least to cause this—in the crosshairs of eco-catastrophe.

The Trump/Pence cabal is not only denying climate change and its connection to human activity but is working to hamstring the ability of people to prevent such an engulfing catastrophe already swirling like floodwaters around our legs. This should scream out another sharp alarm—along with all the other outrages they are carrying out—that this fascist regime must be swept from power at the soonest possible time.


1. Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers, IPCC

2. Arctic Sea Ice & News Analysis, National Snow & Ice Data Center

3. “Earth Sets a Record Temperature for Third Straight Year,” New York Times, January 8, 2017

4. Carbon dioxide levels rose at record pace for 2nd straight year, NOAA

5. What Is the Greenhouse Effect? Livescience.com

6. Greenhouse effect, Wikipedia

7. “The Human Cost of Climate Change,” http://www.revcom.us

8. “It’s official: the oceans are losing oxygen, posing growing threats to marine life,” Washington Post, February 15, 2017

CURTIS JOHNSON

Curtis Johnson is a research scientist and freelance writer who has reported on the Gulf oil spill, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the extinction crisis and the climate crisis, as well as other environmental topics.

The Planet Is in Our Hands: Countering Trump’s Climate Crimes

Curtis Johnson, Truthout | Op-Ed

In light of the tremendous stakes of the climate crisis for the future of life on Earth, Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord was a monstrous act. It came after previous acts by the regime to gut climate and other environmental protections, undermine the Endangered Species Act and protections for wildlife, open public lands and the oceans to further exploitation of fossil fuels, put science-deniers who are hostile to protecting the environment and the public in charge of key government environmental positions, suppress climate research and scrub climate change information from government websites.

Taken together, Trump’s order to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, which would have cut emissions from US power plants, and his Paris decision mean that instead of US greenhouse gas emissions falling, they will likely remain at the level they are, or even rise. The result? Worsening an already growing climate cataclysm. Trump’s actions are predicted by scientists to make it that much more difficult to prevent the world from breaching temperature limits needed to prevent dangerous climate change. The longer that deep cuts in emissions are avoided, the more serious the damage will be, and the less likely climate disaster can be prevented.

Trump’s decision may also mean that other countries are less likely to meet their Paris goals, despite statements from some that they remain committed to the accord.

Given these impacts, Trump’s decisions on climate and the environment should be called what they are: crimes against the planet, against life and against human beings.

“America First” — the Planet and People Be Damned

Trump justified his decision in the most selfish and chauvinist of terms:

This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States. The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement — they went wild; they were so happy — for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.

He went on to claim that the Paris accord would have meant massive loss of jobs and shuttering of coal plants in the US, while other countries like China and India expanded their own, and other unacceptable economic losses. Trump thinly lied that he wants to renegotiate the agreement to make it “more fair” to the US and that the US would remain “the world’s leader on environmental issues.”

Firstly, it must be said, there is no country on the Earth more responsible for climate change and its depredations on species and humans than the US. The US is today the second largest contributor to greenhouse emissions. China now produces more greenhouse gases than the US, but US emissions per person are more than those in China and India combined. This doesn’t even include the fact that much production in China and India contributing to emissions is done for the international market, essentially for the benefit of the wealthier countries.

Additionally, the US is far in the lead of any other country in producing the largest portion of greenhouse emissions over time that have built up. It’s responsible for fully 20 percent of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere. But Trump and his people don’t care anything about this. They don’t care about what damage has been and is being done, or the responsibility of the US to alleviate the destruction for which it is responsible. In fact, as part of this decision, Trump said he would stop US contributions to the Green Climate Fund, the UN-sponsored program to assist poorer countries to develop by investing in cleaner energy technologies. Instead, Trump says all that matters is what is an “advantage for America.” So, in essence, what damage the US emissions have already caused, and what happens going forward to the rest of humanity or the species of the planet, are of no consequence. That’s not acceptable.

Some critics of Trump say the decision to pull from the accord “will only hurt the US” and its standing in the world, and so the US should stay in for this reason. But people in this country should not identify their own interests as the same as those who hold power in this country, which are in fact opposed to the interests of the majority of people here and throughout the world.

Further, Trump completely misunderstands (or is just trying to cover up) that the Paris accords and goals for each country were set by each country on a voluntary basis. Whether and how they are met is also completely voluntary. Some call this the “beauty” of the agreement, but it is actually one of the big problems with the accord, because all of these countries are only making steps they precisely think won’t harm their own “economic and national interests” too much, whether the planet can stand it or not.

So, under this voluntary agreement, there was no forced shuttering of factories or job losses by any country on any other country, including on the US. This is entirely false and meant to create a dangerous and vengeful “we’re the victim” narrative. And let’s be truthful; Trump does not care about the lives of coal miners. And it is not other countries that are eliminating coal jobs, but the workings of the capitalist market itself (of which Trump is a personification), principally the outcompeting of coal by natural gas production — yet another destructive fossil fuel. Trump’s figures for his “argument,” like most everything else from this president, are just falsehoods. In this case, they are based on cherry-picking worst-case scenarios from studies commissioned by a group known as the American Council for Capital Formation, which is composed of some of the largest fossil fuel and other pro-business interests. (Point by point fact-checking and refutations on Trump’s justifications have been done elsewhere; one of the best is here.)

Further, any country or leader who can only promise jobs for people (like increasing coal mining jobs) that would contribute further to the destruction of the natural world that all species and humans need to survive and thrive is entirely illegitimate.

A very important point that needs to be made in all of this is that Trump’s Paris decision is not just a big “screw you” to the planet and the people worldwide, it is also a further “doubling down” on attempts to consolidate a fascist form of government. It doesn’t stand alone, and can’t be understood correctly apart from the moves by this regime and its allies on every level to silence the press, to attack the rule of law, to attack protest and democratic rights, enforce a vicious white supremacy and misogyny, unleash vile deportations and hatred toward immigrants, and threaten the world, even former allies under the signboard of “America First.”

It’s a further attempt to coalesce an unthinking, anti-scientific, anti-evidence, “post-truth” and vicious ethos as the ruling norm, where reason, concern for others (besides white Americans) and critical thinking are seen as weak, and worthy of not just disdain, but destruction. Trump’s Paris decision came in the same week that white supremacist, brown-shirt types wielding knives on both coasts targeted people of color and then killed them or others who stood up for them. Trump’s Paris decision resonated with these types of fascist elements throughout our society.

Trump’s portrayal of a victimized US that has been taken advantage of by the rest of the world and is now being laughed at is chillingly reminiscent of Hitler’s constant assertions that Germany had been betrayed — “stabbed in the back” by foreign enemies and abetted by domestic ones. Let’s not forget how this was a key way the Nazis galvanized the population to unthinking obedience, and to lay down their lives in committing the most atrocious crimes against others. We cannot allow this to be repeated.

All of this raises further the need for mass repudiation, denunciation and resolute resistance to stop Trump and this whole fascist regime, and to force them out before they can do further untold damage.

The Climate Stakes

A November 2016 report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) predicted that if all countries meet their current Paris goals, (including those by the US), the result would still be a 3 degree Celsius temperature rise. So, what is needed is emissions cuts not just meeting the Paris goals, but cuts that would actually prevent temperatures from exceeding a 1.5-degree Celsius rise — a level we are already dangerously close to. This planetary need demands an emergency footing.

Obama set as an aspirational goal for the Paris accord, a US 26-28 percent cut in emissions below 2005 levels by 2025. According to Climate Action Tracker, the US, even with Obama’s policies fully realized, was on track to cut emissions only 10 percent by 2025.

But now even these small cuts that fall far short of the declared US Paris goal, (which wouldn’t cut emissions enough), are being tossed aside by the Trump regime. Trump’s decision to pull out of Paris, to seek to do away with any restrictions on burning of fossil fuels at a time when the necessity of protecting life and people is immediate, makes this president and all his cronies that support this entirely illegitimate and a tremendous danger to the future.

What are the stakes if global temperatures are not kept below the 2-degree Celsius aspirational goal of Paris? Increases beyond this would make it much more likely that the Arctic, Greenland and parts of the Antarctic ice caps, as well as glaciers worldwide — already rapidly melting — will be locked into a death spiral. This could rapidly escalate the release of methane and carbon locked in permafrost and in frozen ocean hydrates, which are already releasing greenhouse emissions with just the approximately 1 degree Celsius warming that has already occurred.

The vast impacts of this — from further transforming the planet’s weather patterns and its climate system, to undermining key planetary ecosystems that sustain life, to sea level rise, to spreading drought and more damaging storms, and to increasing conflict, wars and mass forced migrations (especially impacting the poorest people on the planet) — can only be called catastrophic. When looked at in interaction with extinction of species, transformations of the world’s oceans, the death of coral reefs, habitat destruction and many other related building threats to world ecosystems, it’s clear that such a scenario must be prevented to sustain a livable planet.

Stopping Trump’s Regime, Saving the Planet

Some commentators are arguing that since the EU and other countries are vowing to uphold the Paris accord and meet their climate goals, and that a number of governors and mayors in the US have also said they intend to follow through on cutting emissions in line with original US proposals, that Trump’s decision may not be too harmful. And that because of changes in the viability and lowered cost of new sustainable energy technologies, Trump’s aim to stick with and even expand fossil fuel production is destined to fall by the wayside. This line of thinking says, in effect, that the destructiveness of everything this regime is trying to do (and not do) on climate will just be pushed aside by the sweep of history. I believe this is mistaken and would steer people away from seeing the seriousness of this decision and the need to resist it.

It’s true that wind, solar power and other new sustainable energy technologies are spreading and taking hold in ways not seen previously with the ordinary workings of things. Also, that states or cities actually significantly cutting emissions would be a positive thing. But a much more drastic and rapid transformation of the world’s energy system — a more or less immediate decision to stop extractions of the dirtiest of fossil fuels and an overall plan for rapid elimination of fossil fuel use in general and a switch to general use of sustainable technologies — is really what’s required, given the emergency state of the climate crisis.

This is what’s needed now — not piecemeal or moderate cuts in line with profitability for large capitalist interests. This will not occur by hoping for “the adults in the room” in government to do the right thing, waiting for the next election or by identifying what is needed as what is in line with “US economic interests.” This can only occur by people in the US joining with people around the world — standing up, rising up to save life on our planet, taking the future into our hands. This starts with stopping Trump and his whole administration from carrying out their dangerous direction on this and every front.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

CURTIS JOHNSON

Curtis Johnson is a research scientist and freelance writer who has reported on the Gulf oil spill, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the extinction crisis and the climate crisis, as well as other environmental topics.