A Voice for Earth

Environmental and social justice and my personal experiences in the area.


2 Comments

Avengers Series Part I: Dire Reality

“The end is near. When I’m done, half of humanity will still exist, perfectly balanced, as all things should be…”

Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War

It’s a sad state of affairs when an action movie makes you question everything , as though you’re having some kind of existential crisis, but is it? Quite often the fictional, whether it’s a novel, a television show, or a movie, can have a bearing on real-world issues. I, myself, find that what we imagine on the page or the screen can trigger you to think far more than the cold, hard facts of a matter we encounter in the news media or in scientific studies. Not that facts should ever be disregarded, there’s enough of that going around in the fake news era already. Still, it is possible to allow for the questioning of reality based on a fantasy.

Reality

So let’s dissect the reality we have created for ourselves. We live on an amazing planet, the only one we know of in the universe to support life of any kind, much less a diverse and intricate biosphere. Life on Earth is no doubt resilient, having come through five major mass extinctions, and multiple smaller events interspersed between, throughout it’s long history. Each time, life has recovered and rebounded. A smattering of survivors becomes ecosystems brimming with almost countless species. But that’s the thing, life’s story is that of survivors, those generalist, often unremarkable species that pull through where specialists and fantastical beasts are the first to fall.

You see the meek really do inherit the Earth, not the mighty (sorry, Thor). That is why the dinosaurs were wiped out by the KT asteroid, but birds, insects, small reptiles, and to our sake, mammals, pulled through. This is why the megafauna of the Ice Age could not withstand a combination of rapid environmental change and human hunting pressures, yet smaller animals with more adaptability, made it.

All these crests and troughs of the living world have been happening for hundreds of millions of years, long before we came on the scene. The problem now is that we may be an agent of change that brings that crest crashing down into a sixth major extinction event. A phrase I often hear is that we are the asteroid this time, but I think that underestimates the degree of threat we pose. For we are potentially not just a big rock from space that makes a big bang, snuffing out three quarters of all species, no, we could be a second Great Dying.

This is what the end Permian-Triassic extinction is sometimes known as. It is the calamity that ushered in the age of the dinosaurs, but quite nearly put an end to complex life on Earth. 90% of living species went extinct with the oceans suffering the most. It is believed the massive volcanism of the Siberian Traps was largely responsible, though there’s also evidence of a significant asteroid impact at this time. Perhaps one is connected to the other. Either way, the flood basalt released gargantuan quantities of ash, sulphur, and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, leading to alternating volcanic winters and extreme warming periods before climate change triggered the release of unstable methane hydrates from the ocean floor. This methane supercharged warming, leading to the oceans suffocating from oxygen loss and the land being engulfed in unending heat and drought.

Millions of years passed before there was any true recovery, and it completely repainted the picture of life on Earth. So how do we humans compare to the force that nearly obliterated the living world? Disturbingly comparable to be honest.

You see, we are the Siberian Traps. We are akin to a globally distributed mega-eruption that is spewing mostly just greenhouse gases because we took issue with particulates and sulphur due to more obvious environmental crises like smog and acid rain. So that means unless we have a nuclear World War 3 (which doesn’t seem too far out of realm of possibility lately), no global winters, just straight-up warming, which may become an exponential problem if we liberate even a small fraction of the modern methane hydrates on our ocean floors.

Here I’ve laid out the consequences of just one of the pressures we apply to our buckling biosphere. Climate change is probably the most serious and far reaching, but it is hardly the only way in which we jeopordise the livability of our planet.

Right now, we are pulling fish out of the oceans so fast that we face virtually fish-less oceans by 2048. Our fishing methods are also decimating other species because of how unselective they are, pulling up juvenile fish, turtles, dolphins, sharks, and other sea life that end up being cast back into the water dead or dying.

The oceans are both acidifying and losing oxygen due to our emissions of carbon dioxide and massive amounts of agricultural pollutants that flow from our rivers. The acidification, caused by carbon dioxide dissolving in seawater to form carbonic acid, is another threat to sea-life as it prevents molluscs and small plankton from forming shells. This could undermine the whole ocean food chain. As for the deoxygenation, fertilisers and manure from our agricultural activities promote the growth of algal blooms, which consume oxygen as they decay. This can render entire areas as aquatic deserts where little life can live.  There is a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is the size of the state of New Jersey and a growing one in the Gulf of Oman.

There may well be more plastic in the oceans than fish by the middle of the century. Plastic will break down into smaller fragments in the rough and especially warmer waters, but these release chemicals that end up in the food chain, finding their way back to us. If there were ever a perfect example that there’s no such thing as throwing things away, this is it. This plastic also ensnares sea life, or larger animals like whales eat the plastic debris, clogging their digestive tracts, from which they die slowly.

We are destroying our usable soils, and farming as we know it might have to end in 60 years. This is caused by a mix of poor farming practices and environmental stressors such as climate change and deforestation.

The Amazon Rainforest, the so-called lungs of the Earth could collapse completely into a degraded savannah if just an additional 3% of its area is lost to either climate change or deforestation. Taken together with the decline of other forests and phytoplankton in the oceans, this could lead to deoxygenation of the atmosphere itself, which is thought to be something that occurred during the Great Dying.

And the big elephant in the room, animal agriculture, something that is more discussed lately and accepted as an environmental threat but previously, most people couldn’t abide the thought that what we put on our plates has an environmental footprint. Of course it does and of all the things we eat, animal products have the broadest reach, impacting climate change, ocean dead zones, species extinction, habitat loss, and water pollution. They also require vast quantities of our available land and fresh water.

Related image

Our Planetary Boundaries: Already, we are coming up against hard, natural limits to what our Earth’s systems can sustain, and others are creeping up. Image Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

This is just an overview of some of the broader environmental challenges we face with countless others that may only have local or regional impacts but collectively, are contributing to broader pollution and environmental degradation. We face a number of tipping points that we dare not cross. Perhaps it’s too late, and we already have, in which case there’s even a greater necessity for drastic action.

Yet the reality where heroes save the day and avenge the Earth is not the one we live in. At least, there isn’t enough people taking an active role in speaking out about these growing calamities, or taking direct action to draw more attention. Those that do are often silenced by an uncaring system, or even a deliberately malign one intent on maintaining the status quo for the sake of economics.

Ultimately, our world has limits, limits to what we can reasonably extract from it in a given amount of time and expect those resources to be renewed. There are limits to how much we can pollute and waste without engendering deleterious effects. There are limits to how much space we can occupy and still expect local ecosystems and the greater biosphere to remain stable.

Yet our culture and our economic model doesn’t believe in limits. Neither our mindset nor our capitalist system is built to even consider them. Our system demands continuous growth, which requires more inputs so the system can generate more wealth from making endless products from the natural capital we extract from the Earth. This is expected to go on and on and on without end, a mad belief that we can somehow derive infinity from a finite world.

Ultimately, the bubble we keep blowing hot air and hopium into will burst. Whether it will be struck down by multiple environmental tipping points being hit at once or one after the other hardly matters. If we continue on as we do, the day will come when life as we know it will be impossible.

We face a dystopian future to make the Hunger Games, Mad Max, or Blade Runner look like some kind of idyll to look forward to.

The climate will destabilise.

The oceans will broil and suffocate and die.

The forests will burn away to ash.

The majority of Earth’s species will go extinct.

People will be displaced by rising seas and expanding deserts.

People will starve.

People will go to war for what’s left.

Then? Who knows? Human extinction is not off the cards.

We’d all like to pretend that this isn’t happening, that this is not the reality we live in, and just go about our normal lives, blissfully unaware of exactly what’s going on even though in the back of our minds, we sense all is not well, and things can’t just keep going as they are.

We all hope someone else will save us, but there is no one else. There’s no soldiers, warriors, demi-gods, or any being or external force that is going to come down and undo all our wrongs for us. There are no superheroes waiting in the wings, ready to fight the corruption and greed and apathy that has gotten us to where we are now. We have to be those people, by speaking out, by demanding change from our leaders, and making change in our own lives. Avoiding the above demands we rapidly change our ways from the top down and the bottom up.

Thanos, despite being the villain, understood that the universe has physical laws and limits that cannot be overcome, that thinking everyone can have everything and that ultimate satisfaction for all is somehow reachable, is a joke. His answer to the problem of overpopulations is, of course, despicable, and definitely isn’t the solution. Logic would say less people means less demands on the Earth and therefore, less environmental destruction. However when you consider that the Earth can only realistically sustain a little under two billion people at the consumption levels of an average US citizen, you begin to see the problem. It would take four to five Earths to sustain the current world population at those levels.

However, I don’t think this population is optimal or that we should take drastic measures to reach it like draconian reproduction laws, mass sterilisation, or anything akin to Thanos’s egalitarian genocide. It’s indeed possible that the Earth could sustain our current numbers and more. It’s less about overall numbers and more about how much we’re willing to change as individuals and as a global civilization. It’s about whether we can fathom living differently and having different individual and societal values, or are we doomed to follow our current path to its inevitable end.

Only time will tell.

 

Image Source: Marvel Movies Fandom

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Our Finite War

“In time, you’ll know what it’s like to lose, to feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail all the same.”

Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War

 

The clock, we’re at war with it

Every week, every day, every hour

Ticking off our lists, rushing place to place, clawing back the minutes

And what for but to do more of the same, more “living”

 

Thinking, we’re bereft of it

Because we wage this war for worthless minutes

Minutes spent going around in circles

Never changing, never learning, never doing a damn thing different

 

We live in our personal microcosms

Consumed by our own battles and conflicts

Ignorant that as a whole, people are losing the wider struggle

Collectively, we are failing, falling, flat-lining

 

It’s this individualist obsession

Society’s great lie that it’s everyone for themselves

In a time when we need to come together like never before

That’s why our pointless war dooms us

 

We can’t see the forest for the trees

The car for the emissions, the cow for the beef

We fail to make the connections

And because of that, we fail to draw a line

 

We are riding a tsunami, racing towards an unyielding shore

The crash will come inevitably, painfully

Yet that future is a choice, one that stems for a desire for more

More stuff, more wealth, more nothings

 

Our war is waged against all that matters

For the sake of things that only matter because we decide they do

Economics, numbers in a computer, pieces of metal and paper

For this, we raze our Earth

 

We are sawing away at the branches of life supporting us

Cutting away at the airways, poisoning the arteries

All for more because we have no sense of enough

No boundaries for our greed

 

To me, this greed is about one thing, winning

Winning wars of trade, of politics, of blood

Nations and corporations one upping each other without real reason

An aimless zombie legion flying the capitalist colours

 

I quote Thanos because collectively, we’ve become the villain

We are our own antagonist, and we will be our own undoing

Because for all our winning, we’ve yet to feel what it’s like to lose

Our global regime knows only further, faster, not falter, failure

 

Then for those among us so painfully aware of our peril

Those who look unblinking at the destruction, the corruption, the suffering

Those who know that solutions are known and possible

But between us and them stand the few obstinate and the many indifferent

 

Between us and a brighter, fairer future for all are titans of obsolete industries

And those who turn a blind eye to cruelty, neglect, and killing

There are the politicians whose self-interest outstrips their values

And there are those who litter and waste carelessly, unthinking

 

And these are the decisions we’ve made, the path we’ve chosen

And destiny will arrive, no matter how we bemoan it, no matter where we run

Our fate is set because where we need to swing the wheel to avoid the cliff

We gently swerve in the hopes we’ll miss

 

Time, it’s against us, inexorably moving forward, indifferent

Reality, we deny it, preferring our safe, cozy bubble while it persists

Mind, the presence of we lack, trapped in the present, in screens and apps

Space, finite on our Earth, and yet we burn it up like so much dirt

Soul, we bury them, down, down ,down, where we can’t feel for our fellow beings

Power, the only coin in the game, but what happens when our ailing world…

…Upends the board on which we play?

 

Image: Infinity War Trailer


Leave a comment

Dumbass Trump Blustering as Earth Burns

When Trump was elected last year, it seemed surreal, like a ridiculous practical joke played by the American electorate and the electoral college on the rest of the world. As the disbelief dispersed afterwards, I think myself and many others wondered how could this be and what could this mean. Seven months on and despite his behavior on the campaign trail, it’s still hard to believe so much madness transpired in that amount of time. It’s like he’s had two terms already (by God, I wish that were the case).

I’ve been so bombarded with the constant awfulness coming out of his administration, and the now Republican dominated House and Senate, that it’s an effort not to grow numb to it all. Everything environmentally and socially responsible seems to be going out the window. Trump’s presidency is like shit-show the musical comes to crazy-town and now he’s taken his tour of insanity international with comically disastrous consequences. If only he weren’t the president of the United States, the greatest military power on Earth, the second greatest carbon polluter, and greatest cumulative carbon polluter, well, then I’d be able to laugh.

I could account for my lack of blogging with things happening in my own personal life but really, it’s been this nutty parade of unmitigated crap, falsehoods, and travesties that has put me off. It’s enough to read about it, let alone write about it, and so here’s to the journalists that keep on reporting on the the corruption and challenging the nonsensical. Still, I can’t let what happened this weekend pass without comment.

Trump exited the Paris Climate Agreement just 18 months after the vast majority of countries in the world negotiated it. He has joined a rather small club of nations who have not ratified it. Syria did not do so for obvious reasons, the country is war-torn and unable to make any such commitments. Nicaragua did not sign because they regard the treaty as not being strong enough.

That I have to give them.

The Paris Climate Agreement would have been a step in the right direction in the 80s or 90s and while it still technically is, it’s woefully insufficient in the face of the scale of the problem. At this stage, we need rapid decarbonisation and equally speedy deployment of renewable energy. Our transport and agricultural practices would also have to radically change, and we would need to also consider investing far more in carbon capture technology to make it viable. I’ve often heard that we need to react globally on the scale the US did in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor and joining WWII. Some people don’t care for the analogy, but what are we if not at war? The only difference is our enemies are not other nations but time, the forces of nature, and ourselves.

Paris only calls for nations to make modest reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases, targets which they can set for themselves, and those self-determined goals are not legally binding. Therefore, Nicaragua’s leaders are right. The treaty is weak, entirely dependent on the goodwill of its participants, but at least it had the support of almost all nations on Earth including the largest carbon emitters, or at least it did until Trump stuck to his inane campaign promise (and in my opinion, stuck it to Europe who failed to adequately fawn all over him on his clusterfuck overseas trip).

I could go on for several essays on how Paris is only the very beginning of what we need to tackle climate change, and how we need to make the bulk of the big changes necessary in the next two decades.  However, this is me venting and raging against the orange buffoon who now sits in the Oval Office, so I’m going to stay on topic.

Trump is moronic. He completely lacks understanding of what the climate accord is or does. He doesn’t even properly realize that he can’t just immediately pull the US out of it. At the earliest, nations can pull out with a year’s notice after it goes into effect, meaning that the earliest he could do this legitimately would be the day after the next presidential election.

Of course, he can do what he has been doing already, and this is the reason that Paris is so shamefully weak, and that is to keep the voluntary commitments but not implement them and even backtrack to whatever extent he wants on environmental and energy policy. Realistically speaking, him reneging on the Paris Agreement was more of a symbolic middle finger to the world, letting everyone know that he really means it when he says America first.

It is ironic that his primary motivation, at least officially, for pulling out was to bolster the US economy and protect jobs. He seems to be, either willfully or not, oblivious to the fact that the clean energy sector is producing more jobs than fossil fuels, especially coal which is in decline. Solar alone in 2016 created 17 times more jobs in the US than the rate of the overall economy. Wind power also employs far more people than coal, and renewables are on the up and up.

He also campaigned on ending what he perceives to be the US’s losing streak to China. Yet China has plowed funding into renewables and is seeing job growth in the sector, and the investment is forecast to create 13 million jobs by 2020. His policies and leaving the Paris Agreement will ultimately only make the US less competitive in a rapidly growing sector while giving China, India, and other nations an edge. His policies will, at best, stagnate the fossil fuel industry rather than accelerate its decline, which is what Obama’s policies would have done. Yet, given how dire our situation has become, we cannot afford even a stagnant fossil fuel industry. Emissions have to start coming down rapidly from here on out.

This is what drives me insane. In his arrogance, his bluster, and his stupidity, Donald Trump has thrown the US paddle overboard, folded his arms, and now sits there sullenly, while the rest of us desperately try to get our boat towards a horizon we need to reach, for behind us is the precipice of a waterfall, and we will not all survive the descent, if any of us.

The only thing that gives me solace is that as powerful as his office is, he cannot flip a switch and undo all the progress that has already been made, nor can he put the brakes on the inevitable changes in the energy sector. Renewables are still the future, as is climate action, if not in certain segments of American society and industry then it is so globally. It’s heartening that Trump faces massive backlash to his decision from around the world, that he faces dissension from within his own borders.

The US Climate Alliance, which started with three states, California, Washington, and New York, now includes Oregon, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island with more possibly to follow. They plan to continue to adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement, and they represent a massive chunk of US GDP and carbon emissions, meaning their continued efforts will have a significant impact on the US economy with them favoring the domestic clean energy and electric transport industries over fossil fuel energy and transport.

Though this may be enough for some to have cause for optimism, it’s still wholly inadequate. At the moment, we are allowing the free market and economics to be the sole drivers of investment in renewables and other technologies we need to face this crisis. Governments need to have a more hands-on approach and stop throwing out soft legislation and meager subsidies and instead focus policy on getting these technologies mainstream and dominant over fossil fuels as soon as is feasible. Doing less at this point is just irresponsible if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change and have a livable planet for future generations.

It is unfortunate that the current US president is a bull in a china shop who has surrounded himself with snakes in the grass. However, unlike Kyoto or other international agreements, we cannot let this administration dictate policy worldwide, nor can we allow its stubborn non-involvement to be an excuse to scale back action elsewhere.

Though Paris still leaves a lot to be desired, it’s all we’ve got so far, and the vast majority of the world seems to be sticking with it. What needs to happen now is that we continue to rapidly build on the successes of the agreement, to exceed our targets and exceed the next ones, and hope this eventually leads to stronger, more binding treaties that will ensure decarbonisation of the global economy happens, regardless of the current actions of the US federal government.

What we can also hope for, and what US citizens can work towards, is a political shift in 2018 and 2020 to boot Trump and representatives who are in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry, so that further action is not impeded and maybe it’ll be possible to get binding international climate treaties past the houses of Congress. If not, then we can still count on the autonomy of individual states. If enough of them are taking action, it’s going to be hard for those that are supporting fossil fuels and suppressing renewables to remain competitive nationally or globally.

In conclusion, trump sucks, but his suckiness is not a cause for falling into despair. He is one foolish man whose own arrogance and selfishness will be his undoing anyway. It can’t be long until at least some of his base realize he’s screwing them over, too. We can all live in hope that he’ll be only a one-term wonder. So as he bumbles on, we need to take our eyes away from Washington in hope of leadership and start being the leaders ourselves. Our governments, our mayors, our local councils, you and I need to demand change and make changes that will put further pressure on corporations and recalcitrant politicians to get in line on climate action.

So the world is still nearing the flames, but Donald Trump’s little hands can’t push us all the way in. Only we can do that by collective inaction or half-measures. Let’s hope we have the courage to pull back from the brink.

 

Image Source: The Daily Banter

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions.


1 Comment

Purveyors of Bullshit

After watching the documentary, Merchants of Doubt, you really have to question humanity, our modern-day values, and what we’ve become as a society. I don’t say that lightly, and it’s not to say that other documentaries I’ve seen haven’t had as great or an even greater impact on me, but it is the particular subject matter of this one in particular that really gnaws at your insides. It is the thought that businesses and individuals have knowingly placed people’s lives at risk for the sake of profit.

To be clear, the general premise of the documentary, that Big Business sells us lies so that we keep buying their product, is a well-known fact. Everyone’s heard of the lengths that the tobacco industry went to in order to defend their deadly product. Everyone with even passing knowledge of the environment knows what a climate denier is, and that it is generally the fossil fuel industry that promotes such views through complicit individuals and front groups. Yet it is realising the depths of their deception that really galls you.

We are being conned everyday by companies who care for nothing but their bottom-line, and that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that we often can’t do anything to address their deceit, at least not easily or quickly. These corporations make sure that they have their tendrils in all the right corners of government and the larger bureaucracy in order to subvert the regulatory process and streamline their route to profits. It also helps when independent research comes out against them to have government back-up.

The fact that those we elected are often a party to the dissemination and cover-up of corporate lies is an affront in itself and a can of worms I won’t get into here. I think it is telling enough that recently, Charles Koch was on the record as saying that he expects “something in return” on his political investments. That he and his brother, David, expect to spend nearly a billion dollars on the 2016 US presidential race makes you wonder what demands they could possibly make for that sum, and it is more than a little disturbing given their hard right-wing agenda.

Back to the documentary itself, based on the book of the same title by Naomi Oreskes, this game that businesses are playing has been ongoing for decades and probably became common practice after the tobacco industry started engaging in these tactics in the mid-20th century. Through their own research, it was discovered that smoking causes cancer (the late ‘50s), it contributes to heart disease (the 60s), and not long after that they confirmed that nicotine is addictive. So, having discovered that they were selling a lethal product which was highly addictive, what did they do?

They hired a PR firm to make their problem go away.

If that wasn’t bad enough, later in the 70s a link was drawn between cigarettes and rampant building fires. Instead of admitting the problem and investing money and research into designing a less incendiary product, the industry redirected the fault for the problem towards the furniture makers. It wasn’t that cigarettes cause fires, it’s just that furniture was too damn flammable. By infiltrating fire-fighting unions and getting them behind the idea, the furniture industry responded by stuffing their products with chemical fire retardants, thereby bringing more toxicity into people’s lives.

So to sum up, through acts of misdirection and confusing the public by muddying the science, the tobacco industry was successful for a long time in keeping the heat of its product and its profits. The same is happening now with climate change.

At this very moment, Exxon Mobil is under investigation for covering up evidence of climate change that its own scientists discovered would be a consequence of fossil fuel burning. Moreover, they stand accused of attempting to do exactly what the tobacco industry did; trying to create doubt the problem even exists.

They’ve done this by funding front groups to spread denialist propaganda, talking points that spread through the media like wildfire, or attempting to intervene in legislation for these problems through organisations like ALEC.

So, as much as I found this documentary informative, it made my blood boil. Again, I’m left wondering what have we become? Has greed and the money game come to dominate our collective psyche so much that we’re willing to put our own existence at risk? After all, money and the economy are just human constructs. They have no real physical value or meaning, only those that we give them.

Yes in order to perpetuate a free-for-all capitalistic society, built on rampant consumerism and the unsustainable extraction and consumption of the planet’s resources, we will make an existential threat into a minor trouble to be dealt with by future generations, or we’ll just make it into a none-thing, not something that is happening at all.

At least that’s what the fossil fuel industry have done with support from elements of government and other industries that profit from a delay in action on climate change.

People and companies responsible need to be held accountable. It needs to be made clear that misinformation that they have helped disseminate is an insidious attempt to protect their bottom line over the lives and livelihoods of people.

We cannot afford any further delays in action on the climate crisis if we have any hope of preserving our civilization and a recognisable, liveable world.

The message that I take from this documentary is that there are nasty, self-centred people out there out who are on a mission to delay any response to climate change for their own selfish ends, and to hell with what happens to the rest of us or the wider environment. However, there are also people out there who will speak the truth, and repeat it, and shout above the interference and the bald-faced lies.

We live in a time much like when people fought against slavery, for women’s rights, for labour rights, against apartheid. This is, as John Kerry put it, “the fight of our time”. Well, all we have built, all the hard-won rights and liberties are infringed upon by climate change to the extent that if we allow it to progress far enough, none of it will matter. Anything beyond survival will be a luxury.

Just like in all those social battles, there are people on the other side who want to maintain the status quo and will do so by nefarious means if they must. Climate change is either going to be the greatest challenge we collectively rise to and will put us on a path to an even better world, or it will be the challenge that overcomes us and decimates all we have achieved in the past few centuries, maybe even threatening our survival as a species.

Right now, the choice is in our hands. Do we stand up to those who would oppress the truth and us through their conniving deceptions, or will we stand by, say nothing, and watch the house burn down around us, long after the fossil fuel industry started it having pillaged the contents?

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.


2 Comments

Obama’s State of the Union, Reason to Be Hopeful about Climate Change?

(Image Source: Daily Kos)

The UK Met Office, NASA, NOAA, the Japanese Meteorological Agency, all have reported 2014 as officially the hottest year on record since 1880. 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since the beginning of this century. The one year in the 20th century that still makes the top ten list is 1998, a year when a super El Nino hugely bumped up global temperatures and now that year is fourth behind 2005 and 2010, which were both weak El Nino years, and now 2014, a year in which we had no El Nino at all. That last fact alone should be alerting us as to where we’re headed, a hotter, more extreme world less hospitable to the human species.

The UK Met Office has even predicted the possibility of 2015 being warmer again than last year, dependent on whether El Nino develops or not. This back-to-back record warm years occurrence has happened before, most recently as it happens in 1997 and 1998 when El Nino supercharged the climate system, bringing much higher average temperatures right across the globe. After that, temperature increases, on land especially, slowed, which created the denialist argument that climate change had somehow stopped, coining the label, “The Pause”. It has since been determined that warming did indeed continue, just mostly in the deep oceans and in the polar regions were monitoring has less coverage. However, the denier community has yet to stop beating that dead horse.

However, a better analogue for the potential 2014/15 back-to-back warmest years scenario are the years 1980 and 1981 where both years were record warm without El Nino developing. These two years were the beginning of nearly two decades of intense warming, so is it possible that the current record warmth is a signal that the hiatus in warming is ending, and we are about to enter another intense warming phase? No one can say for certain. It’s possible the slowdown will continue for years more, or it may end in the coming year or two in drastic fashion.

One thing is certain, though. It will end.

Whether it be this year or in ten years, climate change will get back in to high gear at some point in the future. With carbon dioxide levels passing 400ppm and with other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide also rising, there is no way to avoid further heating of our climate system, especially given the insufficient action we’ve taken thus far to curb it. Indeed, we are beyond any halting or reversal of this process. The carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere will continue to warm the Earth for centuries to come. This throws into doubt whether we can even hold warming this century below the much touted two-degree Celsius threshold.

So, do we just pack it in and call it day? Of course not! However, the actions we’ve taken so far must be just the tip of the iceberg compared to what we do from here on out.

President Obama gave a rousing State of the Union address to Congress that could even be described as somewhat combative against an institution that has attempted to thwart his every move since he was first elected to the Oval Office. Specifically in the part where he discusses climate change, he poked fun at the Tea Partiers’ constant use of the “I’m not a scientist” cop-out when challenged on their stance on the matter. He also stated rather defiantly that “I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts…”. He also alluded to the deal he struck with China, saying that now that the world’s two largest economies have come to an agreement on lowering emissions that it has encouraged other countries to step up.

That may well be the case, and such efforts are to be applauded, but the world needs more from the US, China, and other major polluters than words. As the president stated in his address, we need to act forcefully if the damage inflicted by climate change is to be kept within tolerable bounds. So far, what we have done could less be described as forceful and more a gentle nudge in the right direction. In order to have just a fifty percent chance, one in two, of keeping warming below two degrees Celsius, we would need to peak emissions globally by 2020 and from there on out, decrease them by 9-10% a year. Are we going to peak emissions in five years? Unlikely. Are we going to thereafter lower them by a tenth every year? Even less probable.

So our odds of staying below the two degree threshold are probably going to be significantly less than fifty percent, but is that reason to resign ourselves to hopelessness?

I, for one, don’t think so.

Even under the current paradigm, we have the chance to do right by the planet and future generations. Maybe our political systems are too slow to act and too hampered by lobbying interests, but I believe that real change is going to come from us, not government. The US government, as a whole, has already proven it’s intransigence when faced with facts.The Republican Party especially has done everything from outright denial that the problem exists, denying humans cause it, to claiming it not to be within their purview to comment or act upon. President Obama imploded that last tactic by letting Congress know there are plenty of experts out there they can listen to in order to inform their decision-making.

Despite this, hours after the State of the Union, the Senate put forth a highly unpopular bill to block protections of new parks or historical sites after the president applauding his administration’s role in protecting more public lands than any before him. They voted 98-1 that climate change is not a hoax but subsequently refused to acknowledge humanity’s role in causing it. Then, the new environmental chair of the Senate, Senator James Inhofe, took to the floor to regurgitate a long list of much debunked climate denier talking points. In the US administration at least, it’s fair to say that climate realists are in the minority. Therefore, it’s up to us.

It’s nice that Obama supports climate action, and that he is willing to use his executive powers to forward his agenda. Still, the kind of action required of us would need every part of the US government co-operating and every country in the world doing the same. We’re not there yet on a governmental level. So while loud voices within government calling for action such as President Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Sheldon Whitehouse is all well and good, it’s hard to take heart in it if their outcries are falling on deaf ears.

Individual action is what is needed, people everywhere demanding movement on the issue, demanding change.

This is possible. We change our own habits and make different choices to limit our carbon footprint, that is action. We speak out on social media, blogs, and other public forums, that is action. We march, we protest, we disobey (peacefully, of course), that is definitely action. Government action is slow partly because politicians require motivation in order to make hard decisions. Thousands upon thousands of people marching the streets can be that motivation, but sometimes even that is ignored. Therefore, our voices must be present everywhere. We must shout loud enough and long enough that we cannot be dismissed and if we are willing to make changes in our own lives and how we live, that sends a clear message to politicians and corporations that we are willing to step up, and now it’s their turn.

Links:

2014: Hottest Year in Recorded Human History

Two Degrees: Will we avoid dangerous climate change?

Even if emissions stop, carbon dioxide could warm Earth for centuries

Senate Votes 98-1 that ‘Climate Change Is Real And Not A Hoax’

New Senate Environmental Chair Gets His Gavel, Goes On A Rant Arguing Climate Science Is A Hoax

What would ‘wartime mobilization’ to fight climate change look like?

Report: Global Economies Must Decrease CO2 Emissions By 5 Times Current Levels

Hours After State Of The Union, Senate Targets National Parks

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.