Archive for the ‘Global Warming’ Category

The USA could use a disaster response corps

April 2, 2019

Click to enlarge. Source: Climate.gov.

Click to enlarge. Source: Climate.gov.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions down to zero is not enough.  Any Green New Deal needs a disaster relief component, because climate change is already bringing floods, fires and other emergencies.

The United States needs a Disaster Response Corps, organized along the lines of the original New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps, to deal with climate emergencies.  Like the CCC, it also would be a jobs program.

Right now disaster response is the responsibility of state and local governments, and non-profit organizations.  The federal government’s role is limited to coordination and providing financial aid.

Commonly volunteer groups, such as the Cajun Navy or Occupy Sandy, have to step in when organized relief efforts fail.

The outlook is for more and worse climate- and weather-related disasters.  It won’t be just fires and floods.  As droughts become worse, we can expect internal climate refugees, like the “okies” who were driven off the land during the Dust Bowl disaster in the 1930s.

My idea is that virtually anyone would be able to enlist in the Disaster Relief Corps for a fixed amount of time.  Enlistees would agree to accept military-type discipline and go where they’re sent.  The time between emergencies would be spent in training or maybe taking on some of the tasks of the 1930s CCC..

Pay would be comparable, in inflation-adjusted terms, to what CCC workers or enlisted soldiers got in the 1930s.  Enlistees could be discharged for misconduct, neglect of duty or refusal to follow orders.

The Corps’ mission should not be assigned to the military.  The military is for warriors; the Corps would be for rescuers.

It would be tricky to set it up in a way that didn’t undermine existing efforts, programs and volunteer efforts, but I think it could be done.

Maybe in time the U.S. could help fund a United Nations International Disaster Relief Corps.  There would be plenty of work for it to do.

Climate change is already upon us.  Cutting back in greenhouse gasses will limit how much worse it gets, but that won’t make it go away.  We have to deal with what’s already happening.

LINKS

U.S. Disaster Relief at Home and Abroad by Rocio Cara Labrador for the Council on Foreign Relations.

34 Disaster Relief Organizations, a list by Raptim Humanitarian Travel.  They’re doing good work.  But should they be expected to do it all?

Flood control and the failure of maintenance

April 2, 2019

Lambert Strether of Naked Capitalism wrote two good posts about how the floods in the Midwest reflect not only a changing climate, but a failure of government to maintain and improve flood control systems.

After disastrous floods in 1936, Congress authorized a construction program of dams, and channels to prevent a recurrence.  These dams and levees have not been maintained, with disastrous results.

One was a breach of the levees around New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  Strether cited similar failures of infrastructure in the Midwest now.

In the 1930s, we Americans were capable of national efforts that served the common good.  Now we don’t seem to be able to maintain what we have, even when obviously necessary.

As Strether noted, a 21st century flood control program would be less about dams, levees and channels and more about protecting wetlands and moving development back from flood plains, so that flood waters can be soaked him instead of directed elsewhere.   But the principle is the same.  The nation needs to come together again.

LINKS

‘Breaking Everywhere’: Flooding Bursts Midwest Levees and Tough Questions Follow by Mitch Smith and John Schwartz for the New York Times.

The New Deal, the Green New Deal and Flood Control by Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism.

More on Flood Control: The Missouri River, the Levees and the Gavins Point and Spencer Dams by Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism.

Global warming requires global action

March 28, 2019

Click to enlarge.  Source: The Conversation

We Americans have actually done quite a bit to cut back on greenhouse gas emission, as the chart above shows.

But while we and the other North Atlantic nations have been cutting back, China and other nations have been pumping out more.

The average Chinese doesn’t add all that much to global warming, compared to the average American.  But there are so many more Chinese than Americans that China as a nation does more heat up the world more than the USA does.

Click to enlarge. Source: The Conversation.

The problem is that, for now, the economic growth of China, India and the Global South in general requires more use of coal, oil and natural gas.  If I were Chinese or Indian, I would be unwilling to give up my hope of a better material standard of living while Americans and Europeans have so much more than I do and individually leave so larger a carbon footprint than I do.

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The needed radicalism of the Green New Deal

March 22, 2019

The Green New Deal resolution of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey is more radical and far-reaching than Franklin D. Roosevelt’s original New Deal.

The non-binding resolution calls for a mass mobilization of American government and society against catastrophic climate change, on a scale as great or even greater than mobilization to fight World War Two.

The mobilization Ocasio-Cortez and Markey call for would mean a closing down or drastic shrinkage of industries that depend on fossil fuels.  This would be a threat not only to the profits of powerful vested interests, but to the livelihoods of millions of good, hard-working people.   

That is why the Green New Deal is also a deal.  It includes social reform and a job creation program  to get buy-in from working people and minorities, who might otherwise

There are two problems with the resolution.  One is that it is too radical to gain political acceptance anytime soon.  The other is that, radical as it is, its proposals may not be enough to deal with the crisis.

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If you read my previous post or the text of the resolution, you’ll see that it is largely a wish list of the environmental and labor movements for the past 20 or so years.  Getting these movements on the same page would be a big accomplishment, because they haven’t always been friends.

The environmental movement has sometimes worked to the benefit of the well-to-do, such as subsidies for electric cars and solar panels, while putting the burden of change on the less-well-off, with higher gasoline and fuel prices.  The labor movement has sometimes accepted the argument that it is necessary to sacrifice health, safety and the environment just to protect jobs.

Working people have good reason to be suspicious of promises that, if they give up what they have, they’ll be given something else just as good or better.  This was the promise of NAFTA and the other trade agreements under the Clinton administration and after—that the loss of grungy industrial jobs will be offset by new bright, shiny high-tech jobs.  This didn’t happen.

An expression that occurs repeatedly in the resolution is “vulnerable and frontline communities.”  This refers to the communities left behind by de-industrialization and globalization during the past 30 years.  It also refers to the communities that will bear the brunt of climate change—usually poorer, often minorities, such as the people left stranded in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrine.  The resolution promises they won’t be left behind this time.

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What the Green New Deal proposes

March 22, 2019

ADDED 3/24/2019.  I MADE A BIG MISTAKE HERE.  THIS IS THE DRAFT PROPOSAL BY ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ, NOT THE VERSION THAT WAS ACTUALLY INTRODUCED.

The Green New Deal resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey proposes to address a climate change crisis and a social-economic crisis.  Here’s a quick summary of what they specifically propose.

  • Build infrastructure to create resiliency against climate change-related disasters
  • Repair and upgrade U.S. infrastructure, including ensuring universal access to clean water.
  • Meet 100% of power demand through clean and renewable energy sources
  • Build energy-efficient, distributed smart grids and ensure affordable access to electricity
  • Upgrade or replace every building in US for state-of-the-art energy efficiency
  • Massively expand clean manufacturing (such as solar panel factories, wind turbine factories, battery and storage manufacturing, energy-efficient manufacturing components) and remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing “as much as is technically feasible.”
  • Work with farmers and ranchers to create a sustainable, pollution and greenhouse gas-free, food system that ensures universal access to healthy food and expands independent family farming.
  • Totally overhaul transportation by massively expanding electric vehicle manufacturing, build charging stations everywhere, build high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becomes unnecessary and create affordable public transit available to all, with the goal of replacing every combustion-engine vehicle.
  • Mitigate long-term health effects of climate change and pollution
  • Remove greenhouse gases from our atmosphere and pollution through afforestation, preservation and other methods of restoring our natural ecosystems
  • Restore all our damaged and threatened ecosystems
  • Clean up all the existing hazardous waste sites and abandoned sites, identify new emission sources and create solutions to eliminate those emissions
  • Make the US the leader in addressing climate change and share our technology, expertise and products with the rest of the world to bring about a global Green New Deal.

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‘It is worse, much worse, than you think’

March 20, 2019

“It is worse, much worse than you think.”  So begins David Wallace-Wells’ THE UNINHABITABLE EARTH: Life After Warming (2019), one of the most important books I’ve read in years.  

It is not proof that global warming is taking place, and it is not a plan to mitigate or reduce global warming.  It is simply a compilation of all the ways that climate change is disrupting the world we live in, and what may happen if nothing is done.

The best-case scenario is a future like the present, only more so—more storms, more droughts, more floods, more wildfires, more tidal waves, more heat waves, but with the basic social order remaining intact.

The worst-case scenario, which can’t be ruled out, is that most or all of the earth’s surface becomes unfit for human habitation.

When I first heard about global warming, I wondered whether it was real.  I didn’t see how it was possible to measure average temperatures over the whole Earth to within a degree or so, or rise in average sea levels within inches.  Actually, I still don’t.

Still, I thought, the possibility of global warming provides one more reason for doing a lot of things that are desirable in themselves—reducing air and water pollution, switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Over the years I came to the realization that since the greenhouse effect was scientific fact, and since greenhouse gasses were being emitted into the air at an ever-increasing rate, there was bound to be a crisis sooner or later.

That crisis is now upon us.

Fourteen of the world’s 20 largest cities have experienced water shortages or drought.  Cape Town, South Africa, nearly ran out of water.  Freshwater lakes from Lake Mead to Lake Chad are drying up.  The number of major floods have quadrupled since 1980 and doubled since 2004.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is dying because of the warming ocean.  The melting of the Arctic ice cap has changed wind patterns in China in ways that caused life-threatening smog in major cities.

The summer of 2017, in the Northern Hemisphere, brought unprecedented extreme weather: three major  hurricanes arriving in quick succession in the Atlantic; the epic “500,000-year” rainfall of Hurricane Harvey, dropping on Houston a million gallons of water for every single person in the entire state of Texas; the wildfires of California, nine thousand of them burning through more than a million acres, and those in icy Greenland ten times bigger than those in 2014; the floods of South Asia, clearing 45 million from their homes.

Then the record- breaking summer of 2018 made 2017 seem positively idyllic.  It brought an unheard-of global heat wave, with temperatures killing 108 in Los Angeles, 122 in Pakistan and 124 in Algeria.  

In the world’s oceans, six hurricanes and tropical storms appeared on the radars at once, including one, Typhoon Mangkhut, that hit the Philippines and then Hong Kong, killing nearly a hundred and wreaking a billion dollars in damages, and another, Hurricane Florence, which more than doubled the average annual rainfall in North Carolina, killing more than 50 and inflicting $17 billion worth of damage.  

There were wildfires in Sweden, all the way to the Arctic Circle, and across so much of the American West that half the continent was fighting through smoke, those fires ultimately burning close to 1.5 million acres.  Parts of Yosemite National Park were closed, as were parts of Glacier National Park in Montana, where temperatures also topped 100.  In 1850, the area had 150 glaciers; today, all but 26 are melted.

The years to come will not be better.  One key fact about the greenhouse effect is that it is additive.  Nothing that is done to reduce greenhouse gasses in the future will remove the greenhouse gasses now in the atmosphere, at least not in the lifetime of any living person or their future children.

Another is that annual greenhouse gas emissions are still increasing.  Half of the emissions that occurred since the start of the industrial revolution took place in the last 30 years.

We can’t predict how successful the world’s nations will be in cutting back on fossil fuels and other sources of greenhouse gasses.  We can’t predict the exact impact of these gasses.

All we know for sure is that every addition to the world’s greenhouse gasses makes this worse.  And everything that is done to stop additional greenhouse gasses prevents things from being worse than they otherwise would be.

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Climate, migration and border militarization

March 13, 2019

Click to enlarge.

The two agencies of the U.S. government that take climate change most seriously are the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security.

They foresee droughts, floods and storms on a scale that will create global political instability and millions of climate refugees, mainly from countries already ravaged by war and poverty.  While other parts of the government dither and deny, they have spent billions since 2003 preparing for the coming emergency.

Their preparation, however, is not aimed at preventing or slowing down climate change, nor is it principally aimed at relieving distress.  Rather it is in protecting the U.S. homeland and American business interests from the desperate masses.

A journalist named Todd Miller did a good job of reporting on this in STORMING THE WALL: Climate Change, Migration and Homeland Security, published in 2017.

He attended a Defense, National Security and Climate Change conference in Washington, D.C., in 2015, attended by top military brass and government and corporate officials.  A NASA representative told how the Space Shuttle and F-35 fighter required chrome, columbium and titanium, which are sourced from South Africa, Congo and Zambia, all threatened with political instability due to climate change.

“If these stressing factor result in increased migration,” he said, “it will just increase the potential for instability and conflict,” which would affect the U.S. ability to obtain elements “critical to the alloys we need to support the system.”

It was at that meeting that Miller for the first time heard the expression, “military-environmental-industrial complex.”  Billions of dollars are being spent to, on the one hand, wean the U.S. military itself from dependence on fossil fuels and, on the other, maintain the political and economic status quo in the face of climate-driven upheaval.

He devoted several chapters of the book to migration from central America and Mexico into the southwest USA.  He showed that the border is not a line on the map separating the United States from Mexico.

The border area extends 100 miles into the interior of the United States, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acts like a military occupying force.  Miller noted that an order by President Obama against racial profiling specifically exempted the Department of Homeland Security.

It also extends down through Mexico into Central America, where there are a series of checkpoints, aided by U.S. military advisers and U.S. military equipment, designed to intercept migrants on their way.  There are fewer arrests nowadays at the international border, but this may not mean that fewer people are trying to cross the border.  It may just mean that more of them are intercepted before they get close.

The U.S. Coast Guard nowadays does more than guard the coasts.  After the 2010 earthquake, the Coast Guard patrolled the coast of Haiti, turning back anyone who tried to flee, and even set up a detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

Migrants leave their home countries for many reasons—commonly poverty, war, tyranny or crime.  But, in the words of a Marine Corps general, climate change is a “threat multiplier.”  Events such as the 2015 drought in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua make all the underlying social problems worse.

The United States is not unique.  The new “smart border” between Turkey and Syria has a new tower every 1,000 feet, a three-language alarm system, and “automated firing zones” supported by hovering zeppelin drones, Miller wrote.

Experts say floods and a rising sea will cause millions to flee Bangladesh.  India has a 2,000-mile ‘iron wall” on its border and soldiers with orders to shoot to kill.  More than 1,000 Bangladeshis were killed between 2001 and 2011 while trying to cross the border.

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Storms, floods and climate apartheid

March 6, 2019

An extreme city, according to Ashley Dawson, is a city in which extremes of rich and poor render it unable to deal with extreme weather events.

In case of storm and flood, the rich people on the high ground almost always get priority over the poor people down by the waterfront—what Dawson calls climate apartheid.

And the people who live in rich places, such as Houston, who are mostly lighter-skinned, get priority over the poorer places, such as Port-au-Prince or San Juan, who are mostly darker-skinned.

Beyond this, Dawson wrote, the incentives of a market economy will almost always favor real estate development over public safety.

The best way to protect cities from high water is to pull back from the shoreline and create or expand wetlands to sponge up the high water.

But property developers, not to mention individual homeowners, want seawalls to protect their investments and enable them to recover their sunk costs.  Our economic system is based on continued growth.  There is no incentive system for pulling back.

Dawson said this is as true of New York City, where he lives, as it is of any city in the world.

This is no small thing.  Nearly half the world’s 7 billion people now live in cities.  Virtually all of them are on ocean coastlines or other bodies of water.  In the Global South, drought is driving increasing numbers of poor people off the land and into urban slums.

Dawson does not view global warming as a doom we can avoid if we try hard enough.  He sees it as an emergency that is already upon us, and that most of us are unprepared for.

He does not view it as merely a scientific and technical problem.  He says it is a social justice issue—a question of who drowns (usually the poor and dark-skinned) and who is saved (usually the rich and light-skinned)

Click to enlarge

When Superstorm Sandy was about to hit New York City in 2012, the city government told residents of the potential flood areas to evacuate.  Soon after subway service was shut down, which meant that those without cars were stranded in their neighborhoods.  Soon after high water left thousands without access to electricity and heat, or to essential supplies.

The first responders were volunteers, including veterans of the Occupy Wall Street movement, who reconstituted themselves as Occupy Sandy.  They did whatever it took to provide food and water and rescue stranded elderly and disabled people on upper floors of apartment buildings.

The official disaster relief agencies showed up only a few days date and, according to Dawson, were happy to make use of Occupy Sandy and other volunteers, but reluctant to help or share information.  The reason, he said, is that the official organizations are engaged in a dog-eat-dog competition for funding and don’t want any of their rivals to gain an advantage.

Dawson wrote that when Mayor Michael Bloomberg showed up at the flood-stricken Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, the only people he wanted to talk to were the business owners.  They were the ones who got the funds to rebuild.  The neighborhood and Occupy Sandy leaders were brushed aside.

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Twenty years onward: the coming bad years

February 25, 2019

Sometimes I wish I could live for 20 more years to see what the future brings.  Most of the time I’m glad I’m 82 and almost certainly won’t.

I envision a USA very different from today—one shaped by a catastrophic climate change that can’t be averted, and by an economic collapse that can be averted only by drastic economic and political reforms that seem highly unlikely today.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine New York City during the Great Depression being hit by Superstorm Sandy.

Catastrophic climate change is usually discussed as a doom that will full upon us unless we accomplish X things by the year Y.  In fact, catastrophic climate change is already upon us.

We can by our actions influence how bad things are going to get, but existing greenhouse gasses will produce increasing numbers of floods, droughts, heavy snow storms and power outages.

We the citizens of Rochester N.Y., located as we are on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, are fortunate. Cities such as Miami and New Orleans will meet the fate of Atlantis, but we have a good chance to survive.

We’re not in danger of tidal waves.  We have had relatively few severe storms compared to other regions.  We have access to a relatively abundant supply of fresh water which, however, we are not caring for.

Climate crisis is likely to be combined with financial crisis.  Starting with the Reagan administration and especially since the Clinton administration, the U.S. government has turned over management of the economy to the financial markets.

There have been a series of financial crisis, each one worse than the one before.  The response of the U.S. government has been to rescue failed financial institutions, and allow the cycles to continue.

At some point, there will be a financial crisis too big to resolve.  Instead of financial institutions being “too big to fail,” they will be “too big to bail.”

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The younger generation’s new normal

December 3, 2018

No one under the age of 32 has ever experienced a cooler-than-average month on this planet.

LINK

The Earth has been warmer than average for 406 months in a row by Andrew Freedman for Axios.  Hat tip to kottke.org.

What’s really wrong with Trump’s administration

September 13, 2018

Most of the coverage of President Donald Trump is based on his constant stream of tweets and social media comments, which enables him to dominate the news.

Most of the rest is based in developments of the Mueller Russiagate investigation, which may or may not turn out to be what it’s cracked up to be.

What’s out of the spotlight is reporting about the Trump administration’s actual deeds and policies.

Trump has continued American policy of attempting to dominate the world through military threats and economic sanctions, despite their evident failure.   During the 2016 campaign, I saw some possibility that he, unlike Hillary Clinton, would try to wind down American military interventions.  He was either lying or, what I think is more likely, unable to control the national security establishment—what some of us call the “deep state.”

Trump has continued American policy to risk nuclear confrontation with Russia and North Korea, which puts the whole world in danger.  The national security establishment has undermined his feeble and inept attempts to make peace.  But evidently he has frightened the North and South Korean governments into trying to make peace among themselves, which is a good thing.

Trump does not even pay lip service to trying to avert catastrophic global warming.  Instead his policy is to promote fossil fuels over renewable energy, which will speed up climate change.

Nuclear war and global warming are the main existential threats to the nation and the world.  Trump has failed to address the first and is actively preventing action against the second.

Trump during the campaign promised to do something about the offshoring of American jobs, which is a real problem that the other candidates ignored.  But his threats and tariffs will not help because U.S. industry has become too entangled in international supply chains to free itself overnight.   What’s needed is a long-range industrial policy that will rebuild American industry, which neither party has so far attempted.

Trump during the campaign promised to reform immigration, which is another real issue other candidates ignored.  The cruel treatment of asylum seekers and long-time foreign residents is shameful and does not change the overall situation.  I think there is something to be said for a merit-based immigration system, but I admit I don’t have a complete answer to the immigration question.  But neither does Trump.

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Some short refreshers on climate change

August 9, 2018

Climate change is real.  It’s happening.  Here are some short refreshers on the basic facts.

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Global warming and local freezing

November 13, 2017

Double click to enlarge

Source: The Real News Network

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How long can they put their heads in the sand?

November 12, 2017

Double click to enlarge

Source: Real News Network.

“Reality,” according to the SF writer Philip K. Dick, “is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

“You can ignore reality,” the philosopher Ayn Rand reportedly said, “but you cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.”

How long can members of the Trump administration ignore the reality of climate change?

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Believe it or not

October 26, 2017

Click to enlarge

The changing politics of climate change

June 2, 2017

Hat tip to kottke.org.

An SF writer’s diagnosis and cure for capitalism

April 27, 2017

In the opening of Kim Stanley Robinson’s new SF novel, New York 2140, two unemployed financial software engineers known as Mutt and Jeff—unemployed because they refuse to design a possibly illegal program for high-speed trading—contemplate a flooded lower Manhattan from atop the former Metropolitan Life building.

One of them says he has figured out what’s wrong with capitalism.

The basic problem with capitalism, he says, is that the forces of the market forces producers to sell products below cost.

How can you sell below cost and survive?  By offloading your costs onto someone else—onto customers, onto neighbors, onto taxpayers, onto the wider community and onto future generations.

This enables an individual enterprise to survive (sometimes), but, in the long run, leads human society into bankruptcy.

In the novel, global warming has taken place, sea levels have risen and lower Manhattan is under water.  Skyscrapers such as the Met Life building are still survive amid a kind of new Venice.  Uptown Manhattan is 50 feet higher in elevation, and is dry.  In the middle is a tidal zone, where the poor and homeless congregate.

Some environmental problems have been solved, or at least are being coped with.  Gasoline, jet fuel and other fossil fuels no longer exist.  Air travel is by dirigible, ocean travel is by sailing ship and land vehicles are electric.   But the financial structure and distribution of income are more or less like they are now.

New skyscrapers—”superscrapers”—in uptown are owned by the world’s wealthy elite, as investments or as one of multiple homes, and are often vacant.

A hurricane late in the novel leaves many homeless.  They try to storm the vacant uptown towers, and are turned back by private security forces, who outgun the New York Police Department.

Rather than attempt a violent revolutionary overthrow, the common people attempt a political and economic jujitsu.

They join in a nationwide debt strike.  On a given day, they stop paying their mortgages, student loans and credit card balances.  The financial system is go highly leveraged with debt upon debt that it comes crashing down, just as in 2008.   So the financiers go to Washington for another bailout, just as they did then.

But this time, the President and Federal Reserve Chairman, who are in on the plan, act differently.  They tell the banks and investment companies that they would be bailed out only on one condition—that the government be given stock of equal value to the bailout, as was done in the bailout of General Motors.   Those who refuse this deal are allowed to fail.

Now the federal government has the authority to force the banks to act as public utilities.  And the huge profits that once flowed to the financial elite now flow to Washington, which makes it possible to adequately fund public education, infrastructure improvement, scientific research and all the other things the country needs.

And so the American people live happily—not ever after and not completely, but for a while.

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U.S. greenhouse emissions have fallen since 2000

January 14, 2017

gdp-ghg-and-co2-emissions

Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses remained level during the administration of George W. Bush and actually fell during the administration of Barack Obama, even though economic output rose.

This means that economic growth doesn’t depend on making global warming worse.  It means that, to the contrary, it is feasible to do something about global climate change.

It won’t mean that the Greenland ice cap will stop melting or the American Southwest will stop suffering from drought or coastal cities such as Miami or Houston will be safe.  It took a long time to create the buildup of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, and it will be a long time before they go away.

The benefit of reducing greenhouse gasses will go to future generations, not to us.  But is good news, just the same.

Part of this is due to technological progress, which has made renewal energy competitive (or more nearly competitive) with fossil fuels.  But credit also is due to the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy under President Bush and especially President Obama.

Sadly, this may all change for the worse under President Donald Trump, who denies the reality of human-made climate change and is filling his administration with climate change deniers.

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North Pole is 50 degrees warmer than usual

December 27, 2016

warmarctic585afeea1c000011070ecea7

The temperature of the Arctic is 50 degrees warmer than usual—so warm that it is off the chart for this map.

A warming Arctic in some ways is a good thing.  It frees up the Arctic Ocean for navigation and (which may or may not be a good thing) opens up the oil and mineral resources of the Arctic for exploitation.

But it disrupts the weather patterns throughout the whole Northern Hemisphere.  A melting Arctic ice cap changes ocean currents and a melting Greenland glacier raises the levels of the sea.

Meanwhile 2016 is on track to replace 2015 as the hottest year on record worldwide.

Stopping greenhouse gasses immediately would not reverse global warming within the lifetime of anyone now alive.   They will affect the world’s atmosphere for a long time to come.

The choice for the world’s policymakers is whether and how much to stop making things worse.   The choice for us, the citizens of free countries, is how much we care about those who will come after us.

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Trump and the coming climate refugee crisis

December 23, 2016

climaterefugeesmap

Click on this for a larger version of the map.

Donald Trump, along with many other Americans, is reluctant to admit refugees from foreign wars.   In Europe, there’s a backlash against admitting refugees.

Of course there might be fewer refugees if the United States and other governments hadn’t destroyed or tried to destroy functioning governments in Iraq, Libya and Syria.   A decade ago, Syria was a country that took in refugees, not a country from which refugees fled.

But within the next 10 years or so, the number of war refugees might be overtaken by the number of climate refugees—families fleeing drought, floods and hurricanes caused by global warming.

Think of the people fleeing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or people fleeing the Dust Bowl region in the 1980s.   Think of the crisis in Germany over hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other war-torn countries in the Middle East.

Now imagine this on a global scale and magnified 10-fold or 100-fold.

Most of the world’s governments, including the USA and China, have been slow to respond to the need to slow down climate change.  But President-elect Donald Trump is committed to policies that will actively make things worse!

Unless something important changes, a global climate refugee crisis is inevitable.

I can’t predict when the climate refugee crisis will hit—whether during the Trump administration or later.

I can predict that when it does, the United States will be the world’s scapegoat for everything bad that happens.

We Americans will deserve the blame for a lot of  it.  We will get the blame for all of it.

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A global view of global warming

November 12, 2016

My friend Hal Bauer recommended this video.  It depicts the reality of global warming—a good basic explanation for someone who hasn’t studied the subject, but with new information to some (including me) who think we are well-informed.

It runs for more than 90 minutes, which is a bit long to watch on a small screen.  But it’s broken up into brief episodes, showing the actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s world travel to educate himself about the subject.

The video ends with the USA and China, the world’s two largest industrial economies and the two largest producers of greenhouse gasses, agreeing in principle do set limits.  This was before the election of Donald Trump, who has said global warming is a hoax promoted by China to undermine the U.S. economy.

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Click on this to view the whole thing.

[Revised 11/15/2016]

A graphic history of global climate change

September 14, 2016

Source: xkcd: Earth Temperature Timeline

A realistic map of Louisiana

August 22, 2016

Walkable, inhabitable land area of Louisiana

Walkable, inhabitable land area of Louisiana

Southern Louisiana, like the Netherlands, is inhabitable because of the actions of humankind.  Just as the Dutch live behind their ocean dikes, Louisianans live behind their river levees.

Inadequate maintenance of the levees by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made the Hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005 worse than it might have been.

map-of-louisiana-citiesThere is a problem with the levees.  Southern Louisiana is part of the Mississippi River delta, built up of topsoil from a huge drainage area stretching from the Appalachians to the Rockies.  The wandering course of the Mississippi deposited this soil over a wide area.  With the levees, the Mississippi is confined to a narrow channel.  This prevents floods, but also prevents replenishment of the delta.  As a result, much of southern Louisiana, including New Orleans, is slowly sinking, creating a need for even higher levees.

There is a good side to this.  Sinking replaces dry land with swamps and wetlands.  Although swamps and wetlands are not walkable or inhabitable, they provide a buffer against ocean flooding by absorbing the water.

It’s complicated.  Global climate change will generate more floods, and make things even more complicated.

LINKS

Louisiana Loses Its Boot by Brett Carrington for Medium.  The source and explanation of the top map.  Also a good explanation of the need for accurate maps.

Taming the Floods, Dutch-style by Damien Carrington for The Guardian.

President Obama’s failure on climate change

July 27, 2016

President Obama was elected in 2008 based on promises to, among other things, do something about global warming.  My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey called my attention to an article highlighting his refusal to act.  Here’s an excerpt:

climatechange91740d8c51000401415d83d7d5ded446Obama has sufficient scientific resources at his command to know exactly what we are doing and failing to do. He came into office with control of both houses of Congress and a clear mandate to act on the climate crisis, with scientists the world over sounding all the necessary alarms.

But in pursuing an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, highlighted by the figurative explosion of fracking and the literal explosions of oil trains and deep sea drilling rigs, Obama has turned the US into the No. 1 producer of fossil fuels in the world.

The value of federal government subsidies for fossil-fuel exploration and production increased by 45 percent under his watch, even as he turned what were once climate “treaty” talks into a subterfuge for global inaction. This, from the guy who ran against “Drill, Baby Drill!”

Source: Truthout

True, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency has enacted regulations classifying greenhouse gasses as pollutants, which are intended to close down aging coal-fired electric power plants.  He has obtained subsidies to promote renewable energy.  And he has set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to be accomplished by future administrations.

But this has been offset by his promotion of the domestic oil and gas industry and his opposition to enforceable international climate treaties.

The problem is that there is no immediate political payoff from trying to slow down global warming.  The climate change that is manifesting itself right now—record-breaking temperatures, floods and droughts—is the result of decisions made or not made 30 or 40 years ago.

What is done—or not done—today about climate change will not change the present situation.  It will only help people 30 or 40 years from now.  There is little political incentive to do that.

Neither democratic government nor free-enterprise economic systems, assuming that this is what we have, would respond to the immediate concerns and wishes of the public, but not to warnings about future problems.  Not that socialist dictatorships have a better record!

The only answer, as I see it, is for climate change activists to do what Naomi Klein describes in her book, This Changes Everything, which is to join up with those who are fighting fossil fuel companies on other grounds—protection of property rights, Indian treaties, public health and the environment, and the authority of local government.

LINK

President Obama’s Lethal Climate Legacy by Zhiwa Woodbury for Truthout.

Will the Arctic be the next big arena of conflict?

December 9, 2015

Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

The warming Arctic is likely to be a new arena of conflict between Russia and the USA.

But unlike in current conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, there will be no question of democracy or a fight against terrorism to cloud the central issue—control of oil and gas resources and transportation routes.

The infrographic by the South China Morning Post provides a good snapshot of the situation.   The potential conflict in the Arctic is even more dangerous than existing conflicts, because of its potential for direct confrontation between the USA and Russia.

The other nations with the greatest physical presence in the Arctic are Canada and Denmark (which controls Greenland).   It will be interesting to see whether they will follow the lead of the United States or try to steer an independent course.

The irony of the situation is that the Arctic is being opened up by global warming, which causes the Arctic ice cap to shrink over time, and that the warming is caused mainly by burning of fossil fuels, but the new oil and gas supplied from the Arctic will make it easier and cheaper to keep on burning fossil fuels.

The best outcome would be for the Arctic powers to agree on sharing and conserving the region’s resources.  That doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.