Post #227: Game Over? Report Card on Our Planet’s Environment

Unrelenting Warming

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report for 2019 indicates that most experts point to environmental problems as being the most serious threats to global stability—just as they found in the previous two years (www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Global_Risks_Report_2019.pdf). That report follows on one in October 2018 by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It said with “high confidence” that at the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, “global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.” Avoiding the worst-case consequences would require measures that have “no documented historic precedent” (https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/).

As Americans see the evidence of climate-influenced destruction, they’re on edge: Seventy-two percent of those polled late last year considered climate change “important,” a 15-percentage point increase over 2015. Sixty-nine percent were “worried” about it (www.nytimes.com/2019/01/22/climate/americans-global-warming-poll.html).

So here we are again, facing another round of bad news on the environment. Actually, the news is worse this time around. 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record; 2015-2017 are the other three. The Arctic experienced its second-warmest year ever. The head of the World Meteorological Organization said: “The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years. The degree of warming during the past four years has been exceptional, both on land and in the ocean” (www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/06/global-temperatures-2018-record-climate-change-global-warming).

Rising sea levels, according to the IPCC, “will continue beyond 2100 even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C in the 21st century (high confidence). Marine ice sheet instability in Antarctica and/or irreversible loss of the Greenland ice sheet could result in multi-metre rise in sea level over hundreds to thousands of years.” Greenland’s and Antarctica’s ice loss has recently received extensive media coverage as scientists have discovered just how far off their earlier predictions were (www.nytimes.com/2019/01/21/climate/greenland-ice.html;
http://www.cnn.com/2019/01/14/world/climate-change-antarctica-ice-melt-twin-studies/index.html). Antarctica’s enormous ice reserves are melting six times faster now than they were between 1979 and 1989. Glacier melting in the Himalayas, on which South Asian agriculture is heavily dependent, is proceeding at a very fast pace—so much so that by the end of this century, two-thirds of the glaciers may be gone at current climate change rates, and one-third under the most optimistic climate change scenarios (www.nytimes.com/2019/02/04/world/asia/himalayas-glaciers-warming.html).

Ocean temperatures are the warmest on record, and the warming is occurring at a terrifying pace: 40 to 50 percent faster than the United Nations had previously estimated (www.cnn.com/2019/01/10/world/ocean-warming-faster/index.html. That could spell trouble for marine ecosystems, phytoplankton in particular. These basic food organisms sustain the underwater food chain. If they die off or shift, as is already detectable in changing ocean color, the impact on fisheries will be catastrophic (www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/02/04/climate-change-cause-oceans-become-more-blue-green-study/2766120002/)

Rising seas also threaten water supplies and US island-based military installations (www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/04/25/climate-change-could-make-thousands-of-tropical-islands-uninhabitable-in-coming-decades-new-study-says/). No wonder the Pentagon, in its latest risk assessment, considers climate change a threat to national security. It can wipe countries off the map. Kiribati, the island group in the southwest Pacific, is a case in point (www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/07/26/feature/this-is-what-happens-when-climate-change-forces-an-entire-country-to-seek-higher-ground/). A nation disappearing due to climate change is something that’s never happened before and, so far, is something people seem unable to imagine.

Time for Mega-solutions

Several conclusions are readily apparent from this information. First, planet-wide environmental deterioration is happening faster—much faster—than scientists had anticipated. Second, the kind of deterioration now taking place, involving oceans and glaciers in particular, tell us that life itself is already endangered in many parts of the globe. Third, some consequences of climate change, such as rising seas, are irreversible. Fourth, resistance to scientific findings and their implications for political, economic, and social changes constitutes nothing short of criminal negligence. Fifth, people are more aware of and concerned about climate change than ever before, if the US poll mentioned above is accurate.

Sixth, solutions to the problem must be up to the scale of the problem. Tiny, personal steps to reduce carbon footprints feel good, but it’s panic time, folks (www.nytimes.com/2019/02/16/opinion/sunday/fear-panic-climate-change-warming.html). In the US, the renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben suggests two priority steps: switching immediately away from fossil fuels and protecting cities and coastal areas from ocean inundation (www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/were-not-even-close-to-being-prepared-for-the-rising-waters/2017/11/09/441f4752-97d7-11e7-87fc-c3f7ee4035c9_story.html). Strict efficiency standards for industry and autos, and a carbon tax such as has been enacted in Europe, would significantly reduce carbon emissions. Then there’s the Green New Deal resolution introduced in the US Congress by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (https://apps.npr.org/documents/document.html?id=5731829-Ocasio-Cortez-Green-New-Deal-Resolution). The resolution calls for a “ten-year national mobilization” to bring carbon emissions down to zero via a combination of renewable energy, infrastructure repairs, and community-level projects.

The next Democratic president should declare a national emergency, identifying climate change as a top-priority national security matter and presenting the Congress with an agenda for climate-change legislation.

As the IPCC report makes clear, mitigating climate change requires across-the-board and multilevel changes, from sustained international cooperation, including funding the most affected developing countries, to addressing poverty and health care deficits. Political leaders, who always have excuses for ignoring problems that will outlive them, can point to other issues that require their immediate attention. Even the most liberal among them hesitate to embrace the up-front financial costs and social challenges of a serious climate change agenda, though they know full well that the benefits of a green economy—in jobs, energy, reduced waste, and public health, for instance—will outweigh the costs.

That leaves the fight up to this generation of ordinary citizens. How inspiring to learn that all across Europe, tens of thousands of young people are demanding action to save the planet. They are organizing a “global strike” on March 15 (www.washingtonpost.com/world/we-dont-have-time-anymore-in-face-of-climate-change-young-people-across-europe-are-protesting-for-their-future/2019/02/14/fb2d10ca-2b04-11e9-906e-9d55b6451eb4_story.html).* But if their elders won’t act, or even acknowledge the urgency of global warming, it is hard to imagine that all the wonderful grassroots environmental and energy initiatives underway around the world will be enough to save us and future generations.
—————-
*Watch a video of a 16-year old Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, who says: “Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2QxFM9y0tY)

Categories: Tags: , , , ,

5 Comments

  1. It goes without saying I completely agree with Mel’s findings. Two points: Tikkun Magazine offered up a “Global Marshall Plan.” Might not a global Marshall Plan be pursued in the case of climate change? Named after Gen. George C Marshall with his economic program to save Europe as a result of WWII; might not entire governments, along with private enterprise (I hate to say it—capitalism [along the Economist magazine’s lines]) be recruited to purse our common goals?

    Two, with a refusal to address the topic of overpopulation, any talk of any plan, Marshall or otherwise, is so much hogwash. The noted scientist and futurist, Isaac Asimov, said it best: “you can decrease the birth rate or increase the death rate. Take your pick.”

  2. I’ve been writing and advocating High Speed Rail here in CA and as a spring board for HSR to all cities up to 500 miles apart. I’m also a believer in nuclear fission , albeit with newer technologies that can reduce power plant waste. Take science seriously., and stop giving weight to know-nothing blather.

    Always good to hear from you.

  3. Mel,

    Thank you for this, as bleak as it is. Bleak because it is indeed hard to imagine the older, in-power generation responding with the alacrity and crisis-driven energy required. The trend not explicitly discussed is right there in plain sight. Each successive IPCC Report signals the alarm of impending doom if we don’t inhibit our ecologically destructive ways, and each time the tipping point deadline gets closer. At this pace, in another four years we can expect the scientists to say, “Forget it. Too late.”

    All the talk of the environmentally sensitive among us has focused on various sorts of action ever since the time Rachel Carson woke us up with /Silent Spring/. We’ve been cajoling one another and hopefully inspiring others to do the environmentally right thing, but the masses, and more importantly key social and political leaders, have ignored our Green example, ignored the warnings of Carson and others, and flatly ignored reality–too often for selfish, mostly greedy reasons. I’d be depressed and in despair if I weren’t an existentialist who thinks this whole thing is just temporary anyway…. But sheesh! How stupidly self-destructive can our species be? Quite, as it turns out.

    -Joe / Chengdu

  4. Hi Mel:

    “Game Over?” is over-stated. Game getting tougher is what ought to be said, and it will get still tougher. Apparently no American is familiar with the Nicholas Stern report in the UK of some 20 years ago.

    You promised feedback on “Top Ten Essential Ideas,” which I have largely completed, and, I think, on “Top Ten Science Reports,” which serves as an Appendix (and can be a stand-alone); it still needs some fleshing out, this week or next. Our thinking is quite parallel in many respects, but you cite the media reports on most reports and not the source documents. Feel free to use any and all of the links to the original reports, most of which you know of, but several you don’t.

    Comments on your six conclusions:

    1. Deterioration is happening fast. Yes, and not fully conveyed by enough scientists. 2. Life now endangered in many parts of globe. See WWF report on vertebrates; I also have to find and add the cites for a couple of reports on invertebrates. Biodiversity if a blindspot for Republicans, who suffer from nature deficit disorder, for starters. 3. Some consequences are irreversible. Yes, but can be slowed; mitigation needed as well as adaptation. 4. Resistance to science is “criminal negligence.” Yeah, but stupidity is not a crime, as we know. Reaction to Global Green Deal has mostly been hysterical nonsense, but I have yet to see anyone criticize this. Yes, the beefeaters will still have their beef. Let’s hope that they die off soon,esp. you know who. 5. People are more aware and concerned about climate change than ever. Yes, reflected in acceptance by some Dem candidates of the poorly-wrought Green New Deal. 6. Solutions must be up to scale; it’s panic time. There are no “solutions,” only good policy that is better than bad policy but still has downsides. “Panic time” not here yet until more people feel the costs, which are not well-estimated. 7. Political leaders know that the benefits of a serious climate agenda outweigh the costs. This may be true, but I know of no leader who is underscoring the benefits, which is why the GND is so easily shot down by the polluting plutocrats as socialism, Maduroism, pie-in-sky, or merely costly.

    Your turn to sharpen my arguments,

    Thanks, Mike

  5. ECOCIDE
    The things you care about the most,
    Forget them all – they’re toast,
    This cancer kills its host.
    From coast to shining coast,

    The Silent Spring’s begun,
    It will take out everyone,
    The rich, poor, old and young,
    Our swansong’s being sung

    Don’t pretend it’s news to you,
    You know what you failed to do.
    No excuses, please, my friend,
    For you’ve known how this will end.

    We kill the birds and bees,
    We cut down all the trees,
    Poison the air we breathe,
    Stone-deaf to Nature’s pleas.

    The bought-and-paid-for lied,
    But facts can’t be denied,
    What’s not dying has already died,
    We’re committing Ecocide.

    You know this to be true.
    Now it all depends on you,
    Our world we have to mend
    Or you know how this will end.

    The clever chimp’s conceit,
    Was with Nature to compete,
    With our destruction near complete,
    It is time to face defeat.

    We had our moment in the sun,
    There was much we might have done,
    But the countdown’s now begun.
    Has the human race been run?

    There can be no escape
    For the crime of planetary rape.
    So the onus is on you
    The right thing now to do.
    You have a planet to defend,
    If not….
    Well, you know how this will end.

    © Richard Pryke

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s