I know my contributions are puny, lack clout, and, being now in my 100th year, I perhaps have less need than many others to worry about how the state of our planet a few decades from now will impact me personally, but it is morally imperative that I join all of you out there as we all must mobilize immediately to accept, fight, and win the war to save our world and its civilizations. Experts warn us we have a mere 12 years to win the fight.
We guilty humans owe it to all living beings as well as those yet to be. But, first, the controversy:
Many chemical compounds behave as greenhouse gases. Short wave sunlight heats the surface, longer-wave (infrared) heat is re-radiated and absorbed by greenhouse gases allowing less heat to escape back to space. Many greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, such as water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, while others are synthetic. Those that are man-made include the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and Perfluorocarbons (PFCs), as well as sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Concentrations of both natural and man-made gases have been rising since the industrial revolution. As the global population and our reliance on fossil fuels (such as coal, oil and natural gas) has dramatically multiplied, so emissions of these gases have risen. While gases such as carbon dioxide occur naturally in the atmosphere, through our interference with the carbon cycle (by burning forest lands, or mining and burning fossil fuels), we artificially move carbon from solid storage to its gaseous state, thereby increasing atmospheric concentrations.
We were first warned of the dangers of human greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in 1824 by the French scientist, Joseph Fourier, followed in 1860 by the Irish physicist, John Tyndall. Today, Wikipedia recognizes 185 world organizations combating climate change. Currently, youth movements are growing worldwide and include student groups in some 850 universities. Concerned youth groups in over a dozen countries are suing their federal governments for insufficient action on climate. Numerous magazines, including the UK’s “New Scientist” that explains, in the current and next 3 weekly issues, what you and I must do, urge doable actions. Deniers are led by Saudi Arabia, the US government and the fossil fuel industry. George C. Marshall and Ronald Reagan downplayed the problem and resisted research funding. Today Trump has hurt the environment, supported the fossil fuel industry, reduced emission controls, and put current profits above a safe future.
A 2008 study by the University of Central Florida analysed the sources of environmentally-skeptical literature published in the USA. This demonstrated that 92% of the literature was partly or wholly affiliated with conservative think tanks. Later research from 2015 identified 4,556 individuals with overlapping network ties to 164 organizations which are responsible for the most efforts to downplay the threat of climate change.
Deniers are also downplaying the Fourth National Climate Assessment of Nov 2018 which claims that the consequences of climate change will leave no part of the U.S. untouched and that the warming will increase wildfires, crumble infrastructure, worsen air quality, destroy crops, and lead to more frequent disease outbreaks. It also finds that global warming could shrink the U.S. economy by as much as 10% by the end of the century. In places like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, saltwater will taint drinking water. The fire season may spread to the southeast. In Alaska, communities will be forced to relocate. The report puts a shocking price tag by 2100 on climate change: $141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from sea level rise and $32 billion from infrastructure damage. President Donald Trump has slashed environmental regulations at home and undermined global climate change treaties abroad. Just two days before the new report was released, he tweeted “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast shatters all records. Whatever happened to Global Warming?”
Since the 2010 Supreme Court “Citizens United” ruling, money has poured in to deniers who remind us that, in the last 650,000 years, there have been 7 cycles of ice ages, the last retreat beginning 11,700 years ago. Quite true, but these were gradual. The current surge is rapid. Causes, other than orbital, must be to blame.
Livestock and Clean Meat: A year ago I greatly reduced my meat intake because the cattle industry contributes 18% of human-generated greenhouse gases, promotes extensive deforestation to create more grazing land that now is 26% of the world’s ice-free surface and 79% of agricultural land, and the raising for slaughter 39 million cattle annually in the USA, livestock emits 16.5 tons of gases per human per year compared to a world average of 5. It takes 38 pounds of feed and 1800 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef. Investors like Richard Branson and Bill Gates are backing clean meat that is now emerging from the labs in North America, Israel, China, the Netherlands, and the UK where in 2013 a clean-meat hamburger was publicly cooked and eaten. Clean meat starts with animal cells that are taught in the lab to create meat. It is a lengthy and expensive process that will likely take another ten years to achieve and to better livestock prices, to engineer flavours, to convince meat eaters to switch, and to redirect the immense livestock industry.
Permafrost: Global warming in the Arctic is double the rate of the rest of the world thus aggravating an old building problem of soil and gravel expanding and shrinking due to seasonal freezing and thawing. Retention of insulating snow cover is desired which requires buildings built on stilts to avoid heated floors melting it. Much of the solid land I trod 60 years ago has melted and slid into the Arctic ocean.
In Iqualuit, population 7,500 and now capital of Nunavut, thus attracting many new buildings, the government is working with the Canadian Space Agency to locate and map areas of bedrock close to the surface to locate new buildings and roads and to minimize the patchwork.
Russia, with a much greater Arctic population and 63% of its total land subject to permafrost, has extensive problems and expenses. Rail lines have been abandoned due to broken and warped rails and with sections hanging in air as the ground under them has melted way. In Norilsk, an attractive modern city of 175,000, 60% of the buildings are damaged and 10% abandoned.
Melting permafrost releases carbon, methane, and the biggest pool of mercury on the planet.
Thermosyphons, narrow tubes that pull heat passively from the ground, are gaining greater use as they are easy to install and less expensive than other remedies.
Health Concerns: Researchers believe that global warming is already responsible for some 150,000 deaths each year, and fear that the number may well double by 2030 even if we start getting serious about emissions reductions today. Health and climate scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the University of Wisconsin at Madison published these findings in 2017 in the science journal “Nature”. Besides killing people, global warming also contributes to some five million human illnesses every year, Some of the ways global warming negatively affects human health—especially in developing nations—include: speeding the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever; creating conditions that lead to potentially fatal malnutrition and diarrhea; and increasing the frequency and severity of heat waves, floods, and other weather-related disasters.
Backing up WHO’s findings is a study by Stanford civil and environmental engineer, Mark Jacobson, showing a direct link between rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and increased human mortality. He found that the added air pollution caused by each degree Celsius increase in temperature caused by CO2 leads to about 1,000 additional deaths in the U.S. and many more cases of respiratory illness and asthma. Jacobson estimates as many as 20,000 air-pollution-related deaths may occur worldwide each year with each 1̊ C increase.
Skeptics, like atmospheric physicist Fred Singer, claim that cold weather snaps cause more human deaths than warm temperatures and heat waves. “The elderly die in inadequately heated homes. People get skull fractures from falls on the ice. Men die of heart attacks while shoveling snow, people get colds, flu, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases, infectious diseases proliferate, hospital admissions rise.” Singer, founder of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, concludes that since global warming would raise maximum summer temperatures modestly while raising winter minimum temperatures significantly, it “should help reduce human death rates.”
A team of Harvard researchers found otherwise. Their July 2007 study, published in the peer-reviewed “Occupational and Environment Medicine”, found that global warming is likely to cause more deaths in summer because of higher temperatures, but not fewer deaths in milder winters. In analysing weather data related to the deaths of 6.5 million people in 50 American cities between 1989 and 2000, the researchers found that during two-day cold snaps there was a 1.59 percent increase in deaths because of the extreme temperatures. But in similar periods of extremely hot weather, mortality rates increased 5.74%. Rising temperatures also permit mosquitoes and ticks, carrying such threats as dengue and zika, to enlarge their range.
Terrain Changes: In Canada, farming has expanded northward with a 2-week extension of the growing season. Forests in Alberta are being cut down to create more farmland that has doubled in price and can now grow soybeans and corn as well as wheat. Bangladesh, the Maldives, and the Andaman Islands have lost land affecting millions. Rising warmer seas have also submerged five islands in the South Pacific and six others have lost substantial land. Other losers include: St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean that has shrunk 90 sq km since 1961, a quarter of its land mass. Ecuador has lost 28,500 sq km, Vietnam 4.7% of its total area, Bulgaria 1.9%, Seychelles 1.1%. Cuba ,9%, Sweden .75%, Iraq .7%, Azerbaijan .7%, El Salvador .6%, and Japan .6%
Municipalities lack the funds to study, and prepare for, the predicted increase in extreme heat days from 4 to 30, or extreme precipitation days doubled to 9. In Canada, Kingston, Ontario, is rated the best prepared.
COP24 (Conference of the Parties), the 24th annual Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, hosted for 2 weeks in December 2018 by Poland in Katowice, the heart of coal country, was attended by over 30,000 delegates from 196 countries and the Vatican. Poland had hosted the 2008 conference in Poznan and the 2013 one in Warsaw. The first conference was held in Berlin in 1995. This year, in Katowice, numerous peaceful marches by groups of activists were excessively monitored by large contingents of heavily armed police plus groups of others who refused to reveal their identity to reporters.
For the Katowice report, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Russia, and Kuwait blocked language “welcoming” the landmark IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change formed in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization) climate report of October 2018, which warned of the catastrophic effects of a global temperature increase of 1.5̊ Celsius (2.7̊ F) beyond which global crises could unfold at a rapid pace. They insisted “welcome,” be exchanged to “noted”.
However. The assembled nations approved a set of guidelines aimed at helping migrants driven from their homes by climate change. Despite Trump’s pledge to withdraw, the U.S. remains in the Paris agreement (for now) and has sent a delegation of 44 people to Poland, largely from the State Department but also from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, and even the White House. Many of these career government officials remain deeply engaged, but for what purpose?
It could have been very humorous to watch, as I did, if it was not so serious and shameful. After giving a talk on the necessity to retain a thriving fossil fuel industry to a skeptical audience, the special assistant to the U.S. president for international energy and environment, Wells Griffith, was spotted standing alone by Amy Goodman who had a team from the PBS news show “Democracy Now!” there for the entire conference. She introduced herself, microphone in hand, seeking an interview. He excused himself and walked away, breaking into a sprint up and down stairs for a quarter of a mile, closely pursued by persistent Amy, followed by her camera crew, until he found refuge in the room reserved for the U.S. delegation, closing the door to Amy.
For those bound to an industrial economy it is painful to change. Their disappointing inputs to COP24 were the same as COP23 in Bonn, Germany. At the Paris accord Obama promised $3 billion towards a $100 billion loan to the Green Climate Fund but only $1 billion was paid before Trump denied further loans. Countries have become “developed” on the backs of centuries of greenhouse gas emissions that are now making large parts of the world uninhabitable. They owe suffering poor and low-emission countries financial help free of onerous paybacks. COP24 did impose transparency on Paris accord promises but postponed needed actions until COP25. A most memorable image is that of 15-year-old Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, who had organised school strikes in Sweden and held daily press conferences at COP24 to drive home her message: “Platitudes and warm words just aren't enough anymore. "We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis."
Sunrise Movement: Meanwhile in the USA, during COP24, over 1,000 climate activists flooded Capitol Hill, demanding congress members and incoming House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, back a Green New Deal Committee proposed by Congressmember-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Over 140 were arrested as members of the youth climate group, Sunrise Movement, who occupied and lobbied at congressional offices. Twenty-six congressmembers have backed the formation of the Green New Deal Select Committee thus far, including Jim McGovern, the incoming chair of the House Rules Committee, who voiced his support after an exchange with activists. Pelosi’s office has said it will meet with representatives from Sunrise Movement.
Extinction Rebellion: The depth of world activism is broadcast by the rapid growth of the Extinction Rebellion. Started in the U.K. only 6 months ago, it has spread to 35 countries in 5 continents and has 190 affiliates with 100,000 members. Delegates were sent to COP24 and plans are being made for a week-long international rebellion in April. The movement started with a declaration of rebellion in front of the parliament buildings then members blocked 5 bridges in central London. For 6 hours members shut down The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy by using super glue to attach themselves to the doors.
Life on this planet may be brief, flawed, and cruel, but it is also beautiful, enjoyable, and challenging. It is worth preserving - and improving. It needs our help. Free rides are not for us. Bloggers, too, are joining the challenge!
Ye Olde Scribe