The Climate Reality
We are hovering around 400 ppm for carbon in the atmosphere which is 50 ppm beyond the safe threshold; 350 ppm. The planet, as a result of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere, has warmed by 0.85 °C (Celsius), or 1.5 °F (Fahrenheit), since pre-industrial times. It is now the scientific consensus that the warming of our planet is a result of anthropogenic (human induced) climate change. The effects of global warming at the 0.85 °C threshold is already noticeable. Regardless of how bad things have gotten already, they pale in comparison to the effects that have yet to come. "We’re hurtling toward catastrophe but nobody wants to hear about it or do anything to avert it." – Paul Krugman
- Island nations are being forced from their home lands due to rising sea levels.
- Ocean acidification is off the charts and is disrupting the natural cycles of ocean life.
- The emergence of what marine scientists call "dead zones" – areas devoid of ocean life – are growing in number and size.
- The oceans have already lost 40% of their phytoplankton – they are natural carbon sequesters as well as the base of the global oceanic food chain – due to the effects of acidification and the atmospheric temperature fluctuations, they are at risk of further depletion.
- Record high temperatures in December, again... including: New York, The entire North-East United States, Florida, the Bay Area in California (including Christmas records in San Francisco), Maryland (and arecord high for Baltimore), Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), Los Angeles (California), Virginia, Denver (Colorado), Canton (Ohio), Austin (Texas), Connecticut, Southern Massachusetts, Alaska, etc...
- Record high temperatures for November... worldwide, it was the hottest November on record according to the National Climate Data Center.
- Record low temperatures, again... including lows for: San Francisco (two weeks before the record highs), Denver (Colorado) (back to back record setting lows...), Oklahoma, Montana, Oregon, etc...
- Unusual weather... More severe, record setting, super-storms. The latest one being Super-Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). Sadly, this devastating storm killed nearly 8,000 people while displacing over 4 million others when it struck the Philippines in November.
- More and more drought... For California in particular, the lack of rain in 2013 has been unprecedented, "The driest year on record is turning the golden hills of California to dust, drying up wells, pastures and cash reserves in a season that is traditionally lush and generous."California just had its third consecutive dry winter with no relief in sight. The result: Increased wildfire activity, continued agricultural losses, and more strained water supplies throughout the state. In fact, records have been broken all over the state according to the National Weather Service. San Jose only saw 3.8 inches in 2013, 10.2 inches short of its yearly average. Oakland only had 3.39 inches in 2013, 19.41 inches below average. San Francisco, prior to 2013, saw its driest year in 1917 with only 9 inches of rain. The city has hadless than 6 inches of rain in 2013. Santa Cruz only had 4.78 inches of rain, shattering the 1929 record when it saw slightly less than 12 inches of rain. Los Angeles had a shockingly low 3.6 inches of rain (their yearly average is 14.91 inches).
- Back in September, the U.S. drought monitor showed 50.7% of the United States experiencing drought. Rationing orders were made for the state of California this month, and in 2014, California could experience "historic" drought conditions. We had 31 states experiencing water shortages in 2013 and 8 more states with regional water shortages.
- The Arctic Ice is nearly gone – no more arctic ice means no more reflecting of sunlight; now our oceans will absorb the rays... leading to further warming.
- The melting of the arctic ice will expose the carbon and methane rich Arctic permafrost, unleashing copious amounts of carbon and methane into the atmosphere. Charles Miller of NASA's JPL says: "Permafrost soils are warming... As heat from Earth's surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as CO2 and methane... greatly exacerbating global warming."
- John Nissen, from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, suggests that if the arctic ice truly disappears due to the increased warming, then a catastrophic Arctic methane feedback loop will kick in. The world will instantly be in a state of planetary emergency.
- "Governments must put two and two together, and pull out all stops to save the Arctic sea ice or we will starve," reads an announcement from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG). "Research from US scientist, Jennifer Francis, suggests that the retreat of sea ice is causing a disruption of jet stream behavior, producing weather extremes... Weather extremes being experienced in the UK and elsewhere could be due to this disruption of weather systems as the Arctic warms relative to the tropics. The weather extremes from last year (2012) are causing real problems for farmers, not only in the UK, but in US and many grain-producing countries. World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue," Says AMEG.
- Dahr Jamail, wrote a sobering article in December on the current climate crisis we are in. "A study published in the prestigious journal Nature this past July suggested that a 50-gigaton “burp” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is highly possible at anytime." Wrote Jamail, "That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide."
- The planet is losing biodiversity at an alarming rate. According to UN Environmental Scientists, 150-200 species of plants, insects, birds and mammals become extinct every 24 hours.
- Over the past 5 years, more than a quarter-trillion honey bees have perished. This is a die-off that has been far under-reported considering that "bees pollinate almost 40% of our food in the U.S., all our cotton, provide us with 2.65 billion pounds of honey and 44 million pounds of beeswax annually."
- The Monarchs and other species of butterflies are disappearing. "The decline of monarchs in Mexico is part of a 20-year trend that seems to be getting more pronounced." And more recently, the trend has gotten severe. The changes to the climate and environment have nearly eliminated the Monarch butterflies' main sources of food and shelter along their migration paths. We've seen a 60% population drop from 2012 to 2013.
- December 28, 2013, marked the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). And according to National Geographic: "20,000 Species Are Near Extinction."
- According to the Union of Concerned Scientists: "10% of all global warming emissions result from deforestation, and this practice destroys irreplaceable forests that are home to endangered species and a resource for forest-dependent communities."
Doing The New Math
"These days, dire warnings aren’t the delusional raving of cranks. They’re what come out of the most widely respected climate models, devised by the leading researchers. The prognosis for the planet has gotten much, much worse in just the last few years." – Paul Krugman
The first number: 2 °C
During the 2010 Cancun Agreements, the international community pledged to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 2 °C. Bill McKibben has described the significance of this number as the "bottomest of bottom lines" if our aim is to avoid the catastrophic effects of a warming planet. If we pass the 2 °C checkpoint, we will inevitably kick start the irreversible, positive feedback loops of permafrost, methane hydrates, and methane ice. The 2 °C threshold, however, is considered to be a conservative threshold for what many call the "tipping point" – the point at which the 350 ppm target is no longer possible.
James Hansen, in a recent publication noted that the "target of limiting warming to 2 °C has been widely adopted..." According to Hansen's findings, however, "this may be a case of inching toward a better answer." He concludes that the "gradual approach is itself very dangerous, because of the climate system's inertia." (Hansen suggests a 1 °C threshold). In his opinion, "aiming for the 2 °C pathway would be foolhardy." Given the current trajectory of warming, we are on pace for 3.5 °C by 2035, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Faith Birol, the IEA Chief Economist, says the current CO2 trend "is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6 °C, which would have devastating consequences for the planet.”
The second number: 499
Bill McKibben's article in Rolling Stone Magazine established a carbon budget of 565 gigatons of CO2 in order to have an 80% chance of staying below the 2 °C threshold (i.e., an 80% chance to keep the planet habitable). Since 2007, we have added 200 GtCO2, i.e., we have added ~33 GtCO2 to the atmosphere on a yearly basis. Assuming that the numbers McKibben used to get the 565 was based on 2011 data, then we have likely added ~66 GtCO2 since then. That brings McKibben's number to 499 GtCO2. (James Hansen's number, by the way, is 477 GtCO2. Keep in mind that McKibben and Hansen use different assumptions and different sets of data on past CO2 emissions.)
Prior to the recession, emissions increased at a rate of 3.5% per year. Despite the economic recession in 2010, we saw a 5% increase in emissions. Since then, we have seen a 2-3% rise in emissions. If we burn at the rate we are burning now, we are looking at ~33 gigatons of CO2 per year, with year on year growth of CO2 emissions climbing at a rate of 2-3%... that means we pass the point of no return on December 7, 2023 (at 2% growth), or March 18, 2023 (at 3% growth). Assuming we stop the growth, we will pass 2 °C on February 3, 2026... my 37th birthday.
The IPCC data, which projects the need to "shut off" carbon emissions by 2034, uses the 2% increase in their projections. While 2% is preferable to 3%, the reality is, based on the rate at which fossil fuel infrastructure is continually expanding, 2% remains a conservative estimate until nations begin to seriously address the issue of climate change. The IPCC projections are based on a carbon budget that gives our species a 66% chance of staying below the 2 °C threshold; thus, the IPCC allows quite a bit more CO2 to be emitted in their future projections.
The third number: 2,860
All I can say about this number since it was originally transcribed by McKibben – it got a little bigger. And guess what? The fossil fuel exploration continues to expand... Right now, fossil fuel companies have already allocated $674 Billion to seek new fossil fuel resources to add to their already astronomical 2,860 GtCO2 of emissions from known reserves.
I would hope that everyone would answer No! Instead of creating jobs, they are investing their money in search for more profits. $674 Billion to explore for more oil and gas... They have no intentions of slowing down. They intend to remain profitable for a long, long time. And they plan to profit at the expense of our planet's vitality and at the expense of future generations.
To rationalize the extent of the problems that we face, consider this: What happens if we put Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Peabody Energy, BP, Shell and Consol Energy out of business? That only saves us 3.148 GtCO2 per year... So, when climate science says we have 10-12 years to divest, even taking out the energy mammoths would only add 1 or 2 years before the same emissions threshold is reached. If we expect to see our species thrive beyond 2050, we must step up our activism – and we must step it up now.
That is climate change in a nutshell. 83% of all (currently) known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground; period. And we have 10 years to do most of the work.
The Fourth Number: ½
A recent study out of Princeton seems to point to an even lower number than both Hansen and McKibben. According to the new study, even if CO2 emissions were to come to a sudden halt, the CO2 that is already in Earth's atmosphere could continue to warm the planet for hundreds of years. The Princeton University-led research team published their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study suggests that it may take significantly less carbon than originally thought in order to surpass the 2 °C threshold that most scientists consider unsafe. Their models show that, over time, the ocean adsorbs less and less heat. The lingering warming effect the researchers found suggests that the 2-degree point may be reached with much less carbon, said first author Thomas Frölicher.
"If our results are correct, the total carbon emissions required to stay below 2 degrees of warming would have to be three-quarters of previous estimates, only 750 billion tons instead of 1,000 billion tons of carbon," said Frölicher. "Thus, limiting the warming to 2 degrees would require keeping future cumulative carbon emissions below 250 billion tons, only half of the already emitted amount of 500 billion tons."
The researchers' work seems to conflict with the scientific consensus who believe that the global temperature would turn constant or decline if GHG emissions were to suddenly come to a halt. Prior research, however, didn't consider the future depreciation of the oceans' ability to absorb heat from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide dissipates in the atmosphere, eventually; but the ocean, which is typically responsible for removing heat from the atmosphere, over time, loses that heat capturing ability, absorbing less and less. The residual heat that is no longer absorbed will eventually offset the cooling that decreased emissions would have immediately provided. "This is illustrative of how difficult it may be to reverse climate change – we stop the emissions, but still get an increase in the global mean temperature," Frölicher said.
If the Princeton study is correct with their analysis of "ocean-heat uptake efficacy" and the depreciation of this efficacy over time, then the real carbon budget would be closer to 250 GtCO2, i.e., one-half the carbon budget that McKibben and Hansen have postulated. Thus, in order to stay below 2 °C with only 250 gigatons of CO2 to spare, we would have to keep 91.2% of all known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. If the Princeton analysis is correct, then based on the rate we are emitting CO2 on a yearly basis, we will pass the 2 °C threshold on April 16th, 2020 (at 3% growth), August 22nd, 2020 (at 2% growth), or July 20th, 2021, if emission growth stops. This study, in my opinion, makes a very sound argument for the methodologies and assumptions that they use in their model. Such an oceanic depreciation in heat uptake efficacy makes sense scientifically; whether or not this effect will be as drastic as the study claims remains to be seen. Either way, we must step up our activism. If we do not put an end to this fossil fuel madness, we are lost.
Step It Up
Divestment of colleges is very symbolic, and the symbolic effect has been very significant and powerful. But we must be more active and direct with our actions. Trying to pass regulations, on the other hand, will not help our fight given the limited time we have to create the necessary changes. Regulations normalize the destruction, they regulate the activists, and they are wasting our limited time and efforts.
"A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success." – Elbert Hubbard
The Calculus of Climate Activism
The World Is A Vampire
Our quenchless capitalism has driven us to the brink of ecological destruction. And our endless consumption has given way to the rampant industrialization of this beautiful planet. It has resulted in the poisoning of earth's precious waters, the extinction of innocent species, the destruction of our majestic forests, the genocide of future generations, the polluting of our air, and the desecration of our planet.
In spite of the science and our overwhelming demands, the never-ending extraction of fossil fuels persists. This barbaric consumption is killing the planet. Our relentless addiction to fossil fuels is exasperating the climate crisis. This unmitigated exploitation of natural resources is eroding our precious ecosystems. They call it economic progress; it is a blueprint for momentary triumph – an illusory obscurity with unimaginable consequences. Mankind has fallen victim to the subservient delusion that a prosperous life is somehow fulfilled through heedless consumption, monetary wealth, and individual achievement.
The same philosophy that once gave birth to a nation has cultivated the illusion of imaginary self-importance; obscuring the inexorable conclusion that our insatiable lust for capitalistic splendor is extinguishing the habitability of our planet. These are the repulsive byproducts of a human psyche plagued by ignorance. Our malignant obsessions; mankind's arrogant thirst to consume in perpetuity; our heinous inability to recognize the fallacy of infinite consumption in a finite world; these deplorable characteristics of human nature have manifested a perilous journey towards environmental catastrophe.
"So anyone who says that we shouldn’t act on climate change because of uncertainty is really inviting you to ride towards a brick wall at 80 km/h because it might not hurt. Are you feeling lucky?" – Stephan Lewandowsky
The encroaching climate crisis is a slow motion train wreck; and here we are, watching the world crumble; standing motionless in a burning room.
The Road To Perdition
Must we wait for another environmental disaster to get angry? If we had another oil catastrophe, would we be able to finally attain the selfless capacity to rise above the complacent comforts of society? If it was your land about to be fracked, would you finally have a reason to resist? If there was an oil spill on your front lawn, would that finally merit a real response? If your children started to get nosebleeds from nearby acidization, would you have enough conviction to say that enough is enough? If you were trapped in the middle of a drought, would climate change seem real enough for you? How high must the seas rise before we start taking action? How much more science do we need on climate change before we are finally convinced that a substantial change is needed to avert complete disaster?
When will we have the courage to stand up to our fossil fuel addiction and demand that it be cured? When will we have the audacity to disobey authority for the sake of morality? When will we have the confidence to finally make our stand, as they carelessly desecrate our planet? We are willfully blinded by our faith in the system. We have been given the right to vote, to have a voice in the democratic process. They allow us to speak while disallowing progress. The allow us to vote while ignoring our cries for justice. Government has given us these tools and they continue to undermine our collective pleas for a sustainable planet. They will continue to issue permits, and they'll continue to enforce their despicable environmental laws. They will pass their worthless regulations, and they will continue to effectively normalize the degradation of our planet. When will we have the courage to stand in their way? When will we finally say, "No, we will not tolerate this!" When will we end our silence?
Has there not been enough environmental suffering? What are we waiting for? How much ecocide must we endure before people are willing to take to the streets? What will it take for us to begin a true climate movement? When will we have the courage to take real action? "We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard, and too damned cheap." ~Kurt Vonnegut
When will we have the courage to look upon these profiteering fools and see them for the pitiful scum they are? When will our vision of the pending climate catastrophe become so surreal, that we are forced to declare that enough is enough? When will the omnipresence of inaction finally end? How close to the two degree threshold must we get before civil disobedience is finally deemed necessary? “The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting in what you sincerely and reflectively hold to be the best interests of your community.” – Susan Sontag
“If we lose, then what have we lost compared to not trying? I have always believed that the courage to try is more important than the end result. If you never try, then you will never create that future possibility."
We have no more time for hope. We have no more time to be complacent. If we honestly expect to win this climate battle, we must stop relying on others to do it for us – this is our fight; and wither we like it or not, we are the ones who will have to change it. "When we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we’re in will somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free—truly free—to honestly start working to resolve it. I would say that when hope dies, action begins." –Derrick Jensen
As David Roberts explains, we must still have faith in one another; and we must be optimistic that we can, and will, bring about the changes we seek. “The weight of climate change, like any weight, is easier to bear with others.... And there are many, many others. They are out there, men and women of extraordinary imagination, courage, and perseverance, pouring themselves into this fight for a better future. You are not alone. And as long as you are not alone, there is always hope." There is always hope that we will be successful, but we mustn't place our hopes outside of ourselves. We must take responsibility and confront these problems head on. Have confidence in yourself, and trust in your convictions. Be optimistic about the future, and have the courage to do what is necessary. "It always seems impossible until it's done." – Nelson Mandela
Our moral imperative to act on climate change has never been more urgent. We must all find the courage to stand up and fight. You are the only person who can optimize your virtue. Stop hoping that all your problems will be fixed – start fixing them. Don't hope for a better world – make the world a better place. Don't hope for climate action – start acting on climate. And stop hoping for the world to change – be the change, and change the world.
"The lead negotiator for the Philippines at the Climate Conference in Doha, Naderev (Yeb) Saño, could not keep back the tears as he made a passionate appeal for real action on climate change." –One World TV
"I appeal to all, please, no more delays, no more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around...
"The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people...
"I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?" – Yeb Saño (2012 Climate Conference in Doha)
The Moral Imperative
Martin Luther King Jr. once said: "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people." Don't be silent any longer. It's time to get serious about our mission. Move beyond complacency, move beyond advocacy, and rise above the status of passive solidarity. It's time to take the higher ground in this fight. It's time to start taking action. This is our future and this is our time.
You have the power to strengthen this movement – your activism empowers us all. We must have the courage to fight for climate justice – and when we have each other, there is nothing that can stop us from owning our fears. Another world is possible. A world without pollution, without ecocide, without destruction; A world with clean air, with safe water, with environmental prosperity. The comforts of today pale in comparison to the comforts of tomorrow – a new world is waiting. Future generations are depending on our activism – the planet needs its' climate avengers. It is our moral imperative to act on climate – and the time for action is now.
"Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as crazy, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." – Shawna Larson