Tag Archives: climate change

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.”

While Nero Fiddles…

Here is what truly terrifies me.

America is currently in thrall to the clown occupying the Oval Office. Every day there’s a new outrage, a new assault on democratic norms and the rule of law. If it isn’t the buffoon himself, it’s a member of what has to be the worst cabinet ever assembled. And we are all transfixed by the spectacle.

Meanwhile, the earth keeps warming.

Studies confirm that the rate at which the climate is changing is accelerating. Ice is melting faster than anticipated, the oceans are warming more quickly and feeding ever-stronger hurricanes, island nations are disappearing into rising seas.

And human health is endangered. According to a new review article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Earth may experience a net increase of 529,000 adult deaths by 2050, due to food shortages caused by climate change.

While the report has several other “take aways,” including new evidence of global warming, here are a few bearing on human health:

There are a number of health risks that operate through both direct and indirect links to climate change, including malnourishment, diarrheal disease, malaria and heatstroke.

An example of a direct health effect of climate change is heat-related death.

Other health effects are linked to climate change less directly. For example, rising temperatures can lead to changes in the range and distribution of vector-borne diseases, like malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.

Climate change is also linked to health effects that vary by factors such as geography, race and socioeconomic status. For example, the relative socioeconomic status of a country will to some extent determine the ability to cope with or mitigate the effects of climate change. Hotter regions of the world tend to be poorer, and these economies will face additional challenges as global temperatures rise.

An estimate for climate change-associated adult deaths resulting from expected changes to the food supply predicts a net increase of 529,000 deaths worldwide by 2050, which vastly exceed previous estimates by the World Health Organization.
This is a conservative estimate, because it does not include deaths from other climate-sensitive health outcomes and does not include morbidity or the effects associated with the disruption of health services from extreme weather and climate events.

A World Bank estimate suggests that “climate change could force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.”

The authors of the report note that there would be numerous health benefits if  global carbon emissions could be reduced to zero.  There would be less exposure to air pollution (which is estimated to account for 6.5 million premature deaths yearly). Shifting to a plant-based diet would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by  20 to 30 percent and would dramatically improve health outcomes, and shifting more transportation to walking, biking and public transportation from personal motor vehicles would not only reduce emissions, but would also encourage health-promoting physical activity.

Seems like a win/win to me.

This report adds to the steadily mounting evidence of the enormous threat to global civilization posed by climate change. Worse, the evidence shows that the threat is considerably more imminent than previous estimates suggested.

Meanwhile, rather than a sense of urgency, rather than a national effort to do what we can to avoid the worst of the likely consequences, we’re all watching the soap opera/gong show that is our current national government.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump tweets while the globe heats.

And we really, really don’t have time for this.

 

 

YES!

The Parkland students who mobilized in the wake of that school shooting have been a much-needed bright spot in our gridlocked and polarized political discussions about gun violence and the reach of the Second Amendment. But the most wonderful thing about this group of poised and effective youngsters is they aren’t the only ones. A young, determinedly activist generation is emerging, and demanding that we adults get our acts together.

Much of the activism concerns climate change. A 15-year old recently confronted world leaders at a U.N. meeting about climate change, demanding action.

This 15-year-old has got something to say, and on June 29th, the United Nations General Assembly heard him loud and clear.

Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez stood before the representativesand spoke earnestly and boldly (without notes, for the record) about the urgency of climate change, urging them to take action immediately. “What’s at stake right now is the existence of my generation,” he said in his speech. “In the last 20 years of negotiations, almost no agreements have been made on a bonding climate recovery plan,” he said.

Another 15-year old, Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, is also demanding action.

Fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg has been protesting for more than a month. Before the country’s parliamentary election on September 9th, she went on strike and sat on the steps of the parliament building, in Stockholm, every day during school hours for three weeks. Since the election, she has returned to school for four days a week; she now spends her Fridays on the steps of parliament. She is demanding that the government undertake a radical response to climate change. She told me that a number of members of parliament have come out to the steps to express support for her position, although every one of them has said that she should really be at school.

And in October, a federal court ruled that a lawsuit brought by American children, asserting that they have a constitutional right to a habitable planet, could proceed.

A lawyer for a group of young Americans suing the federal government over climate change said a judge’s decision Monday to allow the suit to move forward should clear the way for a trial to begin on Oct. 29.

The suit, which was brought by 21 children and young adults, accuses federal officials and oil industry executives of violating their due process rights by knowing for decades that carbon pollution poisons the environment, but doing nothing about it.

 “When the climate science is brought into the courtroom it will result in the judge finding that the government is committing constitutional violations,” said the lawyer for the kids, Phil Gregory.

It isn’t just climate change, however. In a suit that warms the cockles of my old, cold heart, Rhode Island, students are suing to force schools to teach civics.

Aleita Cook, 17, has never taken a class in government, civics or economics. In the two social studies classes she took in her four years at a technical high school in Providence, R.I. — one in American history, the other in world history — she learned mostly about wars, she said.

Left unanswered were many practical questions she had about modern citizenship, from how to vote to “what the point of taxes are.” As for politics, she said, “What is a Democrat, a Republican, an independent? Those things I had to figure out myself.”

Now she and other Rhode Island public school students and parents are filing a federal lawsuit against the state on Thursday, arguing that failing to prepare children for citizenship violates their rights under the United States Constitution.

The student plaintiffs allege that the state has failed to equip its students with the skills to “function productively as civic participants” and has failed to provide them with the information they need if they are to be capable of voting, serving on a jury and simply understanding the nation’s political and economic life.

The state allows local school districts to decide for themselves whether and how to teach civics, and the lawsuit says that leads to big discrepancies. Students in affluent towns often have access to a rich curriculum and a range of extracurricular activities, like debate teams and field trips to the State Legislature, that are beyond the reach of poorer schools.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs hope the case will have implications far beyond Rhode Island, and potentially prompt the Supreme Court to reconsider its 45-year-old ruling that equal access to a quality education is not a constitutionally guaranteed right.

I seem to recall a movie titled “The kids are all right.” These kids certainly are; in fact, they’re better than all right. They’re great.

I hope they kick our butts.

What We Don’t Know Is Hurting Us

There’s an old saying to the effect that it isn’t what we don’t know that hurts us, it’s what we know that isn’t so.

Misinformation, in other words, is more damaging than ignorance.

I agree–with a crucial caveat. The adage is only true when we are aware of our ignorance–when we recognize what information or skill we lack. As research continues to demonstrate, however, there’s a high correlation between ignorance of a particular subject-matter and ignorance of our own ignorance. (It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.)

That’s why lawmakers’ allergy to data and preference for evidence-free policy pronouncements are so maddening.

A while back, I read a column making the point that data is inevitably political. The government collects data in order to inform policy decisions, because in order to address issues, it is essential to understand the facts involved, to have a handle on what we academic types like to call “reality.”

The column that I read (and no longer remember where, or I’d link to it) considered the consequences of the Reagan Administration’s decision to stop collecting data on corporate market share. Without that information, policymakers have no idea how large the largest corporations have become. They lack evidence on the degree to which companies like Amazon, Walmart, et al can dominate a segment of the economy and effectively set the rules for that segment. It’s likely that this lack of data is a significant factor accounting for diminished anti-trust enforcement.

The problem goes well beyond economic data. For a considerable length of time, the United States has been mired in one of the nation’s periodic and damaging anti-intellectual periods, characterized by scorn for expertise and empirical evidence.  (Another troubling manifestation of that scorn is the reported evisceration of Congressional staff–the panels of employees with specialized knowledge that advise Congressional committees and individual Representatives on complicated and technical issues.)

Instead of evidence-based policy, we get faith-based lawmaking. Ideology trumps reality. (And yes, I meant that double entendre…)

Last year’s tax “reform” is a perfect example. It was patterned after Sam Brownback’s experiment in Kansas–an experiment that spectacularly crashed and burned. As NPR reported

In 2012, the Republican governor pushed reforms through the state Legislature that dramatically cut income taxes across the board. Brownback boasted the plan would deliver a “shot of adrenaline” to the Kansas economy.

But the opposite happened.

Revenues shrank, and the economy grew more slowly than in neighboring states and the country as a whole. Kansas’ bond rating plummeted, and the state cut funding to education and infrastructure.

You might think that Kansas’ experience would inform a similar effort at the federal level, that it would at least be taken into account even if it wasn’t considered dispositive, but clearly that didn’t happen.

It’s that same dismissive attitude about “facts” and “evidence” and “data”–not to mention science–that is the largest single impediment to serious efforts to slow the rate of climate change.

Some lawmakers who deny climate change ground their beliefs in religious literalism (making them ‘literally” faith-based), but most do so on the basis of the same free-market ideology that led them to dismiss results in Kansas, and oppose even the most reasonable regulations. (There’s a highly convenient aspect to that ideology, since it keeps campaign contributions flowing…but it would be a mistake to think everyone who subscribes to it does so only as a quid pro quo.)

If the country doesn’t emerge from this “Don’t bother me with the facts” era, we’re in for a world of hurt.

And speaking of literalism, the whole world will hurt.

 

 

Are Humans Just Self-Destructive?

Another hurricane is bearing down on the east coast; it’s projected to make landfall in the Carolinas, and to wreak havoc–massive rainfall, flooding–in Virginia and inland.

There are people in Puerto Rico still without power, and the island is still dealing with the aftermath of their hurricane. For that matter, Houston hasn’t completely recovered from Hurricane Harvey.

Only the determinedly ignorant continue to insist that these and other disasters are unrelated to climate change. As we’ve been repeatedly warned by scientists (you know–those elitists who actually know stuff), hurricanes gain strength over the warmer oceans that climate change has produced. Meanwhile, our determinedly ignorant President continues to relax environmental rules; most recently, rules limiting methane emissions.

Vox recently considered the insanity of America’s refusal to face facts. Environmental measures are not only necessary for the planet, they would save money. A lot of money.

$26 trillion by 2030.

That, according to the most authoritative research to date, is the amount of money humanity could save through a global shift to sustainable development.

It’s a lot of money. Before you break your brain trying to imagine it, just pause to make a note that it’s a positive sum (uh, extremelypositive), not negative. Net savings, not costs.

That might come as a surprise since decades of conservative and fossil fuel propaganda have made it conventional wisdom that cleaning up our act is expensive — that it costs more than the status quo. It is the argument hauled out against every single pollution regulation.

As the article points out, that argument has always been overstated, but these days, it’s demonstrably, massively wrong. The costs of fossil fuel extraction and pollution have gotten higher and the costs of clean energy have plunged–making it far less expensive to do the right thing than to continue pandering to uber-wealthy oil and gas interests. (Coal is already effectively dead–killed not by “guvment” regulations, but by the market.)

Arguments about the higher costs of clean energy have been less than honest for quite some time,

But these days, it has gotten almost impossible to make sustainability look like a bad deal.

Two forces are acting as a pincer, making the decision more and more obvious.

First, the future damages of climate change are coming into clearer focus, and, more to the point, the damages have arrived, here in the present, in brutal fashion.

And second, the costs of sustainable technologies and practices (e.g., solar panels) have fallen at a dizzying rate in recent years, especially in the energy sector.

The article (which is lengthy) goes on to provide the data that supports the point, complete with charts, citations to research and quotations from heads of state, including former (real President) Obama. I encourage you to click through and evaluate the evidence.
In my opinion, the article’s single most telling point was this acknowledgment of the central challenge we face.

For all their numbers, models, and charts, it’s the one thing reports like this can never tell us: how to conjure leadership and political will — how to induce business and political leaders to cooperate for mutual long-term benefit in spite of short-term differences.

But that’s just the basic human moral project, isn’t it? It’s the central dilemma of our nature and our history: how to cooperate across tribal lines, how to construct systems that bind and benefit widening circles of people. If we knew how to accelerate that process, we’d probably be doing it! Or rather, we are accelerating the process, as best we can, but it remains frustratingly slow.

Residents and visitors are currently evacuating the Carolinas. As they drive out–bumper to bumper, according to friends caught up in this particular event–we and they might think seriously about a world in which such evacuations become routine, at least until rising sea levels take back those beaches we like to visit.