California is burning with no end in sight. People are dying, houses are blackened hulks, forests are decimated — Why? Why is the Golden State an inferno with flames incinerating homes and trees in hills and valleys?
Several factors come into play, but all are linked to climate change. Global warming in California has resulted in shorter winters and reduced snowpack. The fire season starts earlier and ends later each year. With warmer spring and summer temperatures, drought is inevitable. Starved of moisture, vegetation and the soil are desiccated by the dry, intense heat. Undergrowth in the forests becomes abundant kindling that can ignite spontaneously, and the trees, stressed by extreme heat and lack of water, are unable to withstand the flames.
The Santa Ana winds rush from high pressure areas in the mountains to lower pressure at the coast. Channeled through mountain passes and canyons, their velocity accelerates, and the lower pressure compresses, warms and dries them out. The winds augment the parching of extreme heat and drought. Once the underbrush ignites, the wind propels and nourishes the wildfire, easily driving it across thousands of acres.
Though wildfires are a natural part of California’s bioregion, the fire season is an estimated 75 days longer now. The trends of rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall are expected to continue, and wildfires will keep pace. Each year during this decade has experienced a more destructive fire season, and there is no reason, given the paucity of effort in capping or lowering emissions, to expect deviation from this ominous trajectory.
An alarming, just published, report from Climate Central warns that flooding projected across the globe by 2050 will be far worse than previously thought. The areas affected are mostly in Asia, where millions live on or near the coast. Flooding by seawater implies not only inundation of homes, but the salting of cultivated fields. Worldwide, chronic floods will endanger 300 million people. By the end of this century, the high tide line will be permanently higher than the land where 200 million people now work, farm, and call home.
These dire predictions result from the discovery that coastal elevations are actually lower than previously estimated; hence more vulnerable to flooding, inundation and the contamination of freshwater. In fact, the incursions of saltwater could make the land uninhabitable even before it disappears under the sea.
The previous estimates of land elevation were calculated using data produced by satellite photography, which sees the tops of trees and buildings, thus overestimating the elevation of the land. The problem is particularly acute in areas of dense forest and close clusters of buildings. More accurate means of measurement, using lasers and overflights, are expensive and consequently not widely used.
Cities on the world’s coasts are the most densely populated areas on the planet, and most of them have low elevations. The older elevation estimates have been found to be too high on an average of approximately six to eight feet, which is the same as or even more than the highest sea level rise projections for all of the 21st century. The elevations of some American cities, including New York, Miami and Boston, were overestimated by an average of 15.5 feet.
As we now know, the rise in sea level occurs when the combustion of fossil fuels and other emissions caused by human activity pollute the atmosphere. The planet grows warmer, causing glaciers and ice sheets to melt and flow into the oceans. The increased volume of water raises the level of the sea.
The estimates of the number of people who will lose their farms and homes to floods of saltwater are based on moderate emissions cuts mandated by the Paris climate accords. (We are not currently meeting those goals.) If pollution and the subsequent greenhouse gases continue to increase, by the end of the century chronic flooding and permanent inundation will imperil the land that shelters and feeds 640 million people living now (actually more; based on 2010 data), close to 10 percent of the global population. Ironically, the people most likely to suffer are the ones least responsible for polluting emissions.
The United States is already experiencing the predicted effects of global warming. Hurricane Harvey caused epic flooding in Houston; diseases once confined to the tropics are increasingly occurring in the temperate zone; extreme heat is responsible for a sharp increase in deaths in Nevada and Arizona; wildfires are consuming California . . .
The loss of land and the resulting migration of climate refugees will surely give rise to humanitarian crises of unprecedented severity and have devastating effects on the world economy. Other aspects of global warming like drought and extreme heat will also have catastrophic consequences. All living creatures, from plants to insects, fish, birds and humans will have to flee their habitats and invade others. Some will survive; many won’t.
Day of the storm Boats race against the coming tempest back to a safe haven
It was the the middle of August and a big, national, summer holiday. Everyone except emergency crews and restaurant and hotel staff was on vacation. The heat and humidity were oppressive.
Then the storm came. It lasted, with varying intensity, through the night. The lightening was focused on Capri: it blazed through closed shutters, dousing the house with light. Reluctantly, because of the heat, we had to close every window and door; the shutters were ineffectual at keeping out the rain. The deafening thunderclaps pounded us from less than a mile away. I have never experienced a storm so violent. (Hurricanes are in another category.) We were warned that global warming would produce extreme weather…
Next morning, no power, no surprise. No power also meant no water. Big holiday. The electrician was away and the plumber didn’t answer his phone. The power company threw up its defenses and no one answered those calls either. Soon we found out that we were the only ones without power.
A full day passed. We carried buckets of water upstairs from the garden, where one tap was still flowing. We charged our portable devices at a neighbor’s house and left candles at the ready. Back home, it seemed quaint to carry lit candles from room to room as we readied for bed. No streaming movies, but thanks to our electronic devices, we could enjoy reading.
Fortunately, power was restored the next morning, lifting the sense of isolation and allowing us to appreciate the storm’s gift: refreshing, cool, dry air.
Twenty storms causing a billion dollars or more in damage have taken place since 2010, not including Hurricane Harvey, compared with nine billion-dollar floods in the full decade of the 1980s, according to inflation-adjusted estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Seven have hit just since 2016…
Warm water fuels the storms. Hurricanes and tropical storms suck up the moisture that evaporates from the warm water surface and dumps it as rainfall on the land.
Harvey, Katrina— If toxic politics don’t destroy America, global warming will. The Trump Administration has revoked the Paris accords to control climate change and is dismantling the E.P.A., which studies climate change and issues regulations that are designed to combat and slow it down.
Finally! A “monumental triumph,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Nearly 200 countries agreed to combat climate change after two weeks of tense negotiations and more than of 20 years of debate and dispute and failure to stabilize, let alone slow, global warming.
Climate change “requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries,” because it “represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet,” reads the agreement. The cap it sets on global warming is below 2˚ C., which is still not enough, according to many scientists.
“This agreement won’t save the planet, not even close,” climate activist and advocate Bill McKibben wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. It doesn’t include, for example, a specific timeline for phasing out fossil fuels.
But it is a giant step forward nonetheless. It is “the best chance to save the one planet we’ve got,” President Obama said in his remarks to the nation on Saturday.
“Big Oil’s long history with climate change,” posted September 19 on this blog, asserted that “Exxon Mobil has known for almost 40 years that fossil fuels pose a lethal threat to Earth and all its inhabitants.”
“Exxon’s Climate Concealment” was published today in the NY Times. The article deals with the same scandalous campaign of deceit, disinformation and denial by Exxon and other industry leaders that climate change is real and caused by burning fossil fuels. The Times clearly used the same source as VBI did, Inside Climate News, a nonprofit news organization with a Pulitzer-Prize-winning web-site, because the two articles are substantially the same.
Despite the satisfaction of “scooping” the Times by three weeks, I’m glad they eventually deemed the story worthy of publication. Their readership is (obviously) orders of magnitude greater than VBI’s, and the story is important. (No) thanks to Exxon we have wasted too much precious time trying to clean up their mess and switching to alternate forms of non-polluting energy. But petrodollars talk — very loudly — and there still remains a steep uphill climb to counteract Big Oil’s propaganda.
Birds killed by oil from the Exxon Valdez spillBig Oil
Was anyone really surprised last Wednesday when InsideClimateNews (ICN) revealed documents confirming that Exxon Mobil has known for almost 40 years that fossil fuels pose a lethal threat to Earth and all its inhabitants? ICN, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning web-site, published the first installment of an exposé of Exxon’s role in suppressing research on climate change and disseminating disinformation. (Exxon [then Esso] and Mobil merged in 1999.)
In 1977, James Black, a top technical expert at Exxon, informed a group of top-level oilmen at Exxon headquarters that
[T]here is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.
The following year Black persisted. Speaking to a wider audience, he warned that the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continued to increase and would raise temperatures everywhere, but especially at the poles. Continue reading →
Students enjoy the green roof over Lincoln Center’s elegant Lincoln Ristorante
The Chamber Society of Lincoln Center opened its season tonight. The concert, all Mozart, was as delightful as we have come to expect. But what totally knocked my sox off was a little story in the back of the Playbill.
I was thrilled to read that the buildings on the main campus of Lincoln Center are powered by renewable energy. Avery Fisher (philharmonic), Alice Tully (chamber music), the Film Center, the Lincoln restaurant, the Atrium, all of Juilliard, the heating and cooling plants for the Metropolitan Opera and the other theaters— all these use energy derived from the wind.
Solar panels, which should lower fuel bills further, are due to be installed on the roof of the Rose Building. It is estimated that as a result of these initiatives, Lincoln Center’s CO2 emissions will be more than 100 million pounds less over three years than they would have been with fossil fuel-based electricity.
If this large performing arts complex in the middle of Manhattan can go green, it stands to reason that all new buildings can incorporate similar measures.
What will you and your descendants eat in 2050? Will you enjoy a t-bone steak, a slice of swordfish, a chicken drumstick?
Not because you wouldn’t like to, but because that kind of food — animal flesh — will have become very rare. The developing world is clamoring for meat, but it doesn’t have the resources to enrich its diet with a fraction of the meat now consumed by the developed world. (You don’t have to go to Africa to see hunger. Fifteen percent of American households don’t have enough to eat.)
The oceans, expansive as they are, won’t yield the same food they do currently. Overfishing is pushing large fish like swordfish and tuna to the edge of extinction. Climate change and the increasing acidification of the oceans is resulting in changed habitats on land and in the sea that are no longer hospitable to the same species. Fish, land animals, birds and plants are responding to the changes in temperature on land and in the sea by migrating away from the equator and towards the poles in both hemispheres. They will not find the conditions that allowed them to thrive in their native habitats.
What then will humans eat? Where will we find a source of protein? The answer has a large yuck factor:
The Brothers Koch improved their standing in Forbes’ lisiting of the world’s billionaires by increasing their wealth by $9 billion each in the last year. That increase catapulted them from a tie at 12th place to a tie for sixth richest in the world, fourth in the U.S.
Charles and David Koch are worth $34 billion each. Their fortunes were originally made by their father in coal and oil, and Koch Industries continues to profit from dirty energy and chemicals. No surprise, then, that the Kochs are climate-change deniers. David, the younger of the two, shrewdly invests in philanthropy in addition to his many other interests. Lincoln Center and the New York-Prebyterian Hospital are among the beneficiaries, and so is WNET, the New York outlet of public television.
PBS planned to air a documentary featuring a candid and not always flattering portrait of David Koch, “the right-wing oil tycoon.” Government support of public broadcasting is now down to 12 percent, and local stations rely almost exclusively on gifts for their funding, so the $23 million contributed by David is far from inconsequential. Jane Meyer’s outstanding reporting traces the steps and the reasons that led to David Koch’s resignation from the board of WNET, notwithstanding the abrupt cancellation of the film in a futile attempt to placate the sensitive billionaire.
Why then, are we still burning coal and oil and gas?
There are many reasons. Coal is abundant in the U.S. and relatively cheap. So long as coal continues to generate huge corporate profits and the entrenched power of the fossil fuel industry intimidates or buys off politicians, coal-fired plants will continue to poison the earth and its inhabitants.
Corporate interests should not be able to buy legislators. When they do, the public interest and welfare be damned. Money talks and democracy dies. Continue reading →
You may have seen this, but even if you have, it’s worth watching again. There is so much crammed into two minutes that you can’t look away even for a nanosecond. The imminent future is included too. It’s a future that’s not too hard to predict.
The graph above shows the money spent by the gas and oil industry in lobbying Democratic (blue) and Republican (red) politicians in national elections from 1990-2012. The industry, which includes multinational and independent oil and gas producers and refiners, natural gas pipeline companies, gasoline service stations and fuel oil dealers, donated a total of almost $70 million in the 2012 election cycle. Ninety percent of that went to Republican candidates and 10 percent to Democrats. Seventy-five percent of the $238.7 million spent since 1990 by individuals and political action committees affiliated with oil and gas companies went to Republicans.
The top contributors in the oil and gas sector are:
It’s obvious that by accepting the millions generated by fossil fuel production the recipients of this largesse are bound to promote the interests of their benefactors. High on that list are the approval of the Keystone Pipeline and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the rejection of cap-and-trade legislation and the denial of climate change.
Extreme weather events like last year’s drought, catastrophic hurricanes and the upward trend in annual temperatures don’t convince the skeptics. Unlike conservative politicians in other countries, Republicans, especially Tea Party members, continue to deny the climate changes that the U.S. and the rest of the world are experiencing. The Pew Research Center reported last October that 56 percent of Democrats believe global warming is a big problem, but only 19 percent of Republicans do. Why? Why do Republicans dig in their heels in the face of so much evidence?
For one thing, libertarians and the extreme right, the same people who arm themselves against a despotic government takeover, are fond of conspiracy theories. They fear that warnings of global warming may be an excuse to raise taxes, part of a plot to take away their freedom and destroy jobs with laws like cap and trade. Republican political strategist and energy lobbyist Michael McKennasaid the issue “is a surrogate, a totem for how you feel about large government versus small government.”
Scientists and the readers who follow them know that the earth is warming very fast, even faster than anticipated. Ten of the last 15 years were the hottest ever in the U.S., and 2012 was the hottest of all. The worst drought since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s parched 64 percent of the lower 48 states, killed livestock and wiped out crops, resulting in a multi-billion dollar loss to American agriculture. Wildfires fueled by the heat and the drought laid waste to vast expanses, the largest on record.
The yearly global temperature in 2012 makes it the 36th consecutive year (since 1976) that the yearly global temperature was above the 20th-century average. Every year in the 21st century has been among the warmest in the 133-year record.
The rising temperatures on land and sea contributed to changes in weather patterns and extreme events in both hemispheres. (See the map above here.) China is in the grip of its coldest winter in 30 years; more than 650 people died in the frigid cold that froze most of Eurasia; floods inundated Pakistan, the U.K. and the Middle East; the strongest typhoon ever in the Philippines killed more than 900 people; severe snowstorms battered Sicily and southern Italy; Brazil is sweltering in record heat; snowstorms crippled the Middle East — and this is only a partial list of disasters attributable to global warming.
The mean temperature deviations recorded since 1967 are graphed in red. They clearly indicate a definite warming trend over 43 years. The snowfall amounts (in blue), however, don’t correlate at all with the temperatures.
Climate change means an increase in extreme weather events like recent superstorm Sandy, as well as extreme temperatures on both high and low ends. A week of frigid temperatures from the Great Plains to the Northeast doesn’t contradict the warming trend of the planet. Writing in the Guardian, Blogger Harry J Enten warns that
It’s important to remember that the last few days are a very small location and sample size. While the east is a tundra, Denver, Colorado is dealing with near-record highs with temperatures in the 60s. When we expand our look to over the past month, record high maximums and minimums are running 2 to 1 ahead of record low maximums and minimums in the United States. The United States’ average temperature in 2012 was 55.3F – 3.2F above the 20th-century average and 1F above the previous record, 1998.
Weather patterns have very many variables, which makes them incredibly complex. It’s the trends that are telling, much more than individual events.
Each year, four international science institutions compile temperature data from thousands of stations around the world and make independent judgments about whether the year was warmer or cooler than average. “The official records vary slightly because of subtle differences in the way we analyze the data,” said Reto Ruedy, climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “But they also agree extraordinarily well.”
All four records show peaks and valleys in sync with each other. All show rapid warming in the past few decades. All show the last decade has been the warmest on record.
Kicking off a series of posts on climate change on VBI is “It’s Time to Find Common Ground for Our Common Atmosphere.” The speed-drawing video has scientists of both red and blue persuasions finding common ground — areas of agreement on the dangers of global warming accelerated by greenhouse gases.
VBI has been quiet for over a week now— no surprise to my faithful readers.
I could say I’ve busy with the holidays, my daughter’s wedding plans, the necessity of tackling various to-dos that could no longer be postponed, making and keeping unpleasant but unavoidable appointments— I could say that’s why I haven’t written. I could think up many more reasons/excuses, some more valid than others.
Depression has many guises. At first, these pretexts are plausible and convincing, but as time grinds on and accomplishments become fewer and fewer, a sense of inevitability stifles the imagination and cripples attempts at forward movement. The result is a vicious cycle: the less you do, the more depressed you become; the more depressed, the less you do.
Unless, that is, something breaks the cycle, and you manage to accomplish something, no matter how small. Continue reading →