Tag Archives: climate change

It’s Not Easy Being Green

I recently received an email announcing this year’s “Greening the Statehouse” event sponsored annually by the Hoosier Environmental Council.

Greening the Statehouse will be held at the IMMI Conference Center in Westfield, Indiana on November 16th. The day will be filled with informative panels, presentations, and a keynote address all focused on solutions to the climate crisis. As you may recall, GTS is a full day that also includes a light breakfast and lunch. You can learn more at www.hecweb.org/gts

In my more optimistic moments, I think Americans are finally taking environmental concerns–notably, climate change–seriously. It is past time to do so.

I’ve followed the work of organizations like the Hoosier Environmental Council, and shared the dismay of rational people as we’ve watched the current administration not only block progress, but gleefully regress.

I know I’ve written this before, but the climate calculation is simple.

What will happen if the 97% of climate scientists who warn about climate change are proven wrong (or, as conspiracy theorists would have it–plotting to fool us for some mysterious reason), and we nevertheless listen to them?

What if we proceed to clean up our air and water, improve conservation and move to cleaner energy sources–and then find out that all those scientists were wrong?

In that case, we’ll be “stuck” with a healthier, cleaner environment–air our children and grandchildren can breathe and water they can drink; cheaper and more reliable energy sources, and fewer pesticides in our foods. Bummer. True, the bottom lines of fossil fuel companies will shrink, and they might lose some of the 60 billion dollars in yearly subsidies we taxpayers provide them, but those are the breaks in a market economy.

On the other hand, what if all those climate scientists are right, and we follow what passes for policy in the Trump administration–“saving” coal, subsidizing fossil fuels, failing to clean up our waterways, rolling back air pollution standards…and issuing warnings that wind turbines cause cancer?

In that case, we’ll hasten the time the earth can no longer support human life, at least not human life and civilization as we know it.

This “risk to reward” ratio seems like a no-brainer to me, and I am cautiously optimistic that most people are getting the message. The children certainly are–and it may be the children who save us. Greta Thunberg, the remarkable Swedish teenager, minced no words at the recent climate action summit in New York, telling world leaders “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” She accused them of ignoring the science behind the climate crisis, saying: ‘We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth – how dare you!”

Can we dare to hope that at least some of them were listening to her? Can we dare to hope that enough of us are working on voter turnout in 2020–turnout that will dislodge the corrupt and incompetent Trump Administration and install a scientifically-literate one in its place? Can we dare to hope that a majority of earth’s population has come to understand the magnitude–and imminence–of the threat?

I’m writing this in Indiana, where temperatures were in the nineties the first week of October.

If you can, go Green the Statehouse.

 

Subsidizing Our Own Destruction

That biblical admonition about “love of money” being the root of all evil continues to be pertinent.

We are now experiencing the initial effects of climate change–effects that scientists have warned about for many years–and sane people know that much worse is to come. Yet rather than directing resources to measures that will ameliorate it, governments all over the globe are continuing to subsidize behaviors that are known to make the problem worse.

The public is providing more than $1m per minute in global farm subsidies, much of which is driving the climate crisis and destruction of wildlife, according to a new report.

Just 1% of the $700bn (£560bn) a year given to farmers is used to benefit the environment, the analysis found. Much of the total instead promotes high-emission cattle production, forest destruction and pollution from the overuse of fertiliser.

The security of humanity is at risk without reform to these subsidies, a big reduction in meat eating in rich nations and other damaging uses of land, the report says. But redirecting the subsidies to storing carbon in soil, producing healthier food, cutting waste and growing trees is a huge opportunity, it says.

The report rejects the idea that subsidies are needed to supply cheap food. It found that the cost of the damage currently caused by agriculture is greater than the value of the food produced. New assessments in the report found producing healthy, sustainable food would actually cut food prices, as the condition of the land improves.

To add insult to injury, in the U.S., those subsidies disproportionately fatten the wallets of big corporate farming operations–not the small family farms urban folks envision when the subject is raised.

Nor is our pell-mell race toward self-destruction limited to farming. When I was researching my most recent book, I was astonished by the enormity of the subsidies of fossil fuels. Despite the fact that climate change is already affecting America’s weather, increasing the urgency of efforts to reduce carbon emissions and increase the development and use of clean energy sources, the United States spends billions of dollars a year subsidizing fossil fuels. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the United States has spent more subsidizing fossil fuels in recent years than it has on defense spending. The IMF found that when indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas were factored in, subsidies reached $649 billion in 2015, a year when Pentagon spending was $559 billion.

Most inexplicable of all is the fact that that amount includes 2.5 billion per year specifically earmarked for searching out new fossil fuel resources.

Oil Change International calculates that permanent tax breaks to the US fossil fuel industry are seven times larger than those for renewable energy. Several of those fossil fuel subsidies make it profitable to extract resources that it would not otherwise be cost-effective to extract.  Energy experts tell us that, at current prices, the production of nearly half of all U.S. oil would not be economically viable, but for federal and state subsidies.

The Obama administration had proposed to eliminate 60% of federal fossil fuel industry subsidies, but–surprise!– that proposal went nowhere.

During the 2015-2016 election cycle oil, gas, and coal companies spent $354 million in campaign contributions and lobbying. The industry received $29.4 billion in federal subsidies in total over those same years – reaping a 8,200% return on investment.

It is difficult to argue with the conclusion of the OCI report: “Removing these highly inefficient [fossil fuel] subsidies – which waste billions of dollars propping up an industry incompatible with safe climate limits – should be the first priority of fiscally responsible climate, energy, and tax reform policies.”

Our first priority should be the election of lawmakers who will not be seduced by “love of money” and who will work to save the planet for our children and grandchildren.

 

 

Climate Insanity

In Trump’s America, and especially in the wake of the increasing white nationalist mayhem he is encouraging, it’s easy to lose sight of the other damage being done by this utterly corrupt administration.

Take the administration’s wholesale rejection of science.

As Europe tightens restrictions on herbicides and pesticides found to be harmful to humans, the EPA rolls back similar restrictions. The panel of scientists that used to advise policymakers about such threats has been replaced by former lobbyists and industry hacks. Worse still, the administration refuses to admit that climate change is real. It has buried reports from reputable scientists, including those working for the Pentagon.

Last month, The Guardian carried a column by a scientist fired by the administration for insisting on reporting the facts.

The Trump administration’s hostility towards climate science is not new. Interior climate staffer Joel Clement’s reassignmentand the blocking of intelligence aide Rod Schoonover’s climate testimony, which forced both federal employees to resign in protest, are just two of the innumerable examples. These attempts to suppress climate science can manifest themselves in many ways. It starts with burying important climate reports and becomes something more insidious like stopping climate scientists from doing their jobs. In February 2019, I lost my job because I was a climate scientist in a climate-denying administration. And yet my story is no longer unique.

This is why on 22 July I filed a whistleblower complaint against the Trump administration. But this is not the only part to my story; I will also speak to Congress on 25 July about my treatment and the need for stronger scientific integrity protections.

I have worked at the National Park Service (NPS) for a total of eight years. I started out as an intern during the Bush administration, where I experienced nothing like this. I returned in 2012 after earning my PhD, when the NPS funded a project I designed to provide future sea level and storm surge estimates for 118 coastal parks under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. This kind of information is crucial in order for the NPS to adequately protect coastal parks against the future effects of the climate crisis.

I handed in the first draft of my scientific report in the summer of 2016 and, after the standard rigorous scientific peer review process, it was ready for release in early 2017. But once the new administration came into power, publication was repeatedly delayed, with increasingly vague explanations from my supervisors. So for months, I waited. And waited. I was still waiting when I went on maternity leave almost a year later in December 2017.

While she was on her maternity leave, she received an email from an NPS colleague, warning her that “senior leadership” was changing her report without her knowledge, eliminating all references to the human causes of the climate crisis. As she points out in her column, this went far beyond normal editorial adjustment. It was climate science denial, and she initiated a months-long battle over her findings.

Senior NPS officials tried repeatedly, often aggressively, to coerce me into deleting references to the human causes of the climate crisis from the report. They threatened to make the deletions without my approval if I would not agree, to release the report without naming me as the primary author, or not release it all. Each option would have been devastating to my career and for scientific integrity.

She stood firm. The NPS was forced to publish the report as written–and then the retaliation began. There were pay cuts. Her research funding was terminated. She eventually joined the growing exodus of scientists from federal agencies.

I think it was Neil DeGrasse Tyson who said “Reality doesn’t care if you believe in it.” While this administration protects the bottom lines of its donors, sea levels continue to rise, the planet continues to warm, and life on earth gets more precarious.

Trump and his “best people” aren’t just corrupt and inept; they are insane–and our children and grandchildren will suffer the consequences.

Stop The World…Your GOP In Action

Evidently, when Ivanka wasn’t being inappropriately intrusive at the recent G20 meeting in Tokyo, her father was trying to talk other heads of state into abandoning their commitments under the Paris accords.

If you harbor any doubt that what remains of the Republican Party is an uninformed and anti-intellectual Trump cult, the party’s assault on efforts to ward off the worst effects of climate change is the most obvious evidence.

What happened just recently in Oregon is an example.

A major climate-change bill, which [activists] had worked on for the last several years, was on the verge of passing the state legislature, which, since last year’s midterm elections, has been controlled by a supermajority of Democrats. Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, had campaigned on its policies, and planned to sign it. On climate policy, Brown had said, “Oregon can be the log that breaks the jam nationally.” Then, last week, eleven Republican state senators walked out of the statehouse, fled the capitol, and apparently hid out of state, in order to deny the rest of the Senate the necessary twenty-person quorum required to move the bill to a vote. Representatives of fringe right-wing militia groups said that they would protect the state senators “at any cost,” and that protesters supporting the bill at the capitol should be warned of their presence.

The proposal had gone through lengthy negotiations and public meetings. Lawmakers had taken citizens’ comments. The bill was supported by all nine of the state’s federally recognized Native American tribes, and even by the state’s electric utilities. Major corporations in the state supported it.

In order to defy both the majority of the legislature and public opinion, the Republican lawmakers simply fled.

On Friday, members of right-wing militia groups including the Three Percenters of Oregon, who took part in the 2016 takeoverof Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, posted a different form of encouragement on social media, saying that they were willing to provide the hiding senators “security” and “refuge.” They also appeared to be organizing a weekend protest at the capitol, scheduled for when lawmakers gathered on Saturday. A commenter on Facebook offeredto bring “a few pickup loads of manure” to drop on the capitol’s steps. An unnamed source told Will Sommer, of the Daily Beast, that “dozens of armed militia members have ‘mobilized’ to protect the state senators, and said there was potential for violence if law enforcement officials try to bring the senators back to Oregon.” In response, Oregon state troopers recommended that the capitol be closed on Saturday “due to a possible militia threat,” according to a spokeswoman from the Senate president’s office.

Poll after poll confirms that a substantial majority of Americans is concerned about climate change, and believes government should forcefully address it.

I’m old enough to remember when politicians would reflect popular opinion–even when they didn’t agree with it– in order to be re-elected. Thanks to the demise of genuine democracy–courtesy of Citizens United and gerrymandering, among other assaults–today’s Republican lawmakers are responsive only to one constituency: their donors, who prioritize today’s bottom line over tomorrow’s planetary survival.

In an administration notable for lack of consistency (not to mention competence),  there has been one area of single-mindedness: attacks on science accompanied by persistent rollbacks of environmental protections.

Self-destruction is by definition insane.

What if I had been told by trustworthy experts that my furnace had a 95% chance of  blowing up at any moment, but I refused to replace it because I wanted to augment my already fat bank account and there was a 5% chance it wouldn’t blow? That would be nuts. What good would my bank account do me if my furnace blew up and killed me?

Yet that is the position of today’s GOP.  There is no rational defense for that position, because it is indefensible. It is, quite literally, insane.

Unfortunately, in the immortal words of Tom Lehrer, “We’ll all go together when we go.”

 

It’s Not Easy Being Green…

There has been a lot of discussion about the “Green New Deal” proposed by several Democrats. Critics have pooh-poohed it as “pie in the sky,” while others have praised it for setting high aspirations.

As usual, Ed Brayton over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has cut through the sanctimony, pro and con.

It’s really just a set of goals, not a really specific program for how to achieve those goals. The resolution calls for a “10-year national mobilization” to work toward the end goal of ending greenhouse gas emissions and replacing all of our energy production with renewable sources. In order to keep the rise in global temperatures at 1.5% or lower, it sets these goals:

(A) global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from human sources of 40 to 60 percent from 2010 levels by 2030; and
(B) net-zero global emissions by 2050;

This doesn’t seem all that far-fetched to me. What I have long called for is a national program similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority project, which was a huge push from the federal government to electrify rural areas in that valley. It should be the policy of the government to invest enormous resources in the development of new renewable energy technologies (principally solar and wind), better battery storage and to replace the current electric grid with modern technology.

As Brayton points out, the measure also calls for conservation– especially through the upgrading of older buildings and building new ones with energy efficiency in mind.

At this point, the Green New Deal is primarily symbolic; its passage would signal recognition of the threat that climate change poses, and America’s determination to do everything we can to ameliorate that threat. Recent scientific reports have underlined the immediacy of the damage being done by a warming earth: insects are disappearing; oceans are warming and rising, contributing to extreme weather events; coral reefs are disappearing…the list goes on.

In a time of significant political polarization, climate change is the common enemy: we really are all in this together. At the very least, our quarreling and hostile tribes should be able to come together to combat the changes that threaten the planet. And as the U.N. Report makes clear, those changes are on our doorstep. 

Oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished and the sea level has risen. From 1901 to 2010, the global average sea level rose by 19 cm as oceans expanded due to warming and ice melted. The sea ice extent in the Arctic has shrunk in every successive decade since 1979, with 1.07 × 106 km² of ice loss per decade.

Given current concentrations and ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases, it is likely that the end of this century that global mean temperature will continue to rise above the pre-industrial leve. The world’s oceans will warm and ice melt will continue. Average sea level rise is predicted to be 24–30 cm by 2065 and 40–63 cm by 2100 relative to the reference period of 1986–2005. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries, even if emissions are stopped.

There is alarming evidence that important tipping points, leading to irreversible changes in major ecosystems and the planetary climate system, may already have been reached or passed. Ecosystems as diverse as the Amazon rainforest and the Arctic tundra, may be approaching thresholds of dramatic change through warming and drying. Mountain glaciers are in alarming retreat and the downstream effects of reduced water supply in the driest months will have repercussions that transcend generations.

I don’t think we can get “too ambitious.”