Progressing Toward Disaster

"The pledges that countries are making to battle climate change would still allow the world to heat up by more than 6 degrees Fahrenheit, a new analysis shows, a level that scientists say is likely to produce catastrophes ranging from food shortages to widespread extinctions of plant and animal life. ...
The planet has already warmed by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the temperature that prevailed before the Industrial Revolution, representing an enormous addition of heat. Virtually every piece of land ice on Earth is melting, the sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, droughts and other weather extremes are intensifying, and the global food system has shown signs of instability.
At a meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in 2010, climate negotiators from nearly 200 countries agreed that they would try to limit the warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the preindustrial temperature, a level that would require that emissions from fossil fuels largely cease within a few decades."
- Justin Gillis and Somini Senguptasept, Limited Progress Seen Even as More Nations Step Up on Climate, New York Times, Sept. 28, 2015

If we do what humanity has always done in the past, we’re likely to burn all the fossil fuels, and then have a hard landing at a time of high population, with an unbearable climate posing existential risks, at just the time when we’re facing the crisis fossil fuels running out. That will hardly make for ideal conditions under which to decarbonize, and there is a severe risk civilization will collapse, leaving our descendants with few resources to deal with the unbearable environment we will have bequeathed them.
- Raymond Pierrehumbert, "Your Dot" contribution, NYT, Feb 15, 2015

“This long-term view shows that the next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far.”
- Consequences of 21st Century Policy for Multi-Millennial Climate and Sea-Level Change, quoted in The Climate Ahead, Ed Hayward, Boston College News, Feb. 11, 2016

If we move quickly enough to meet the goal of 80 percent clean power by 2030, then the world’s carbon dioxide levels would fall below the relative safety of 350 parts per million by the end of the century. The planet would stop heating up, or at least the pace of that heating would slow substantially. That’s as close to winning this war as we could plausibly get. We’d endure lots of damage in the meantime, but not the civilization-scale destruction we currently face. (Even if all of the world’s nations meet the pledges they made in the Paris accord, carbon dioxide is currently on a path to hit 500 or 600 parts per million by century’s end—a path if not to hell, then to someplace with a similar setting on the thermostat.)
- Bill McKibben, A World at War, New Republic, August 15, 2016

We’ve known that climate change was a threat since at least 1988, and the United States has done almost nothing to stop it. Today it might be too late. ...
Climate change is hard to think about not only because it’s complex and politically contentious, not only because it’s cognitively almost impossible to keep in mind the intricate relationships that tie together an oil well in Venezuela, Siberian permafrost, Saudi F-15s bombing a Yemeni wedding, subsidence along the Jersey Shore, albedo effect near Kangerlussuaq, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the polar vortex, shampoo, California cattle, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, leukemia, plastic, paper, the Sixth Extinction, Zika, and the basic decisions we make every day, are forced to make every day, in a world we didn’t choose but were thrown into. No, it’s not just because it’s mind-bendingly difficult to connect the dots. Climate change is hard to think about because it’s depressing and scary.
Thinking seriously about climate change forces us to face the fact that nobody’s driving the car, nobody’s in charge, nobody knows how to “fix it.” And even if we had a driver, there’s a bigger problem: no car. There’s no mechanism for uniting the entire human species to move together in one direction.
- Roy Scranton, When the Next Hurricane Hits Texas, NYT, Oct. 7, 2016

From the common barn swallow to the exotic giraffe, thousands of animal species are in precipitous decline, a sign that an irreversible era of mass extinction is underway, new research finds.
- TATIANA SCHLOSSBERG, Era of ‘Biological Annihilation’ Is Underway, Scientists Warn, NYT, JULY 11, 2017

In April, Mr. Turnbull met with Mr. Adani and later told reporters that the mine “will create tens of thousands of jobs,” adding, “Plainly, there is a huge economic benefit from a big project of this kind, assuming it’s built and it proceeds.”

If Adani and other mines in the Galilee Basin go ahead and reach maximum production, coal from the region would release as much as 700 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, or nearly as much as Germany generates in emissions, according to a study by Greenpeace.
- https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/14/world/australia/australia-adani-carmichael-coal-mine.html

After declaring that “climate change is an issue determining our destiny as mankind,” Ms. Merkel acknowledged that Germany was likely to miss the goals it had set itself for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 because of its continued reliance on coal power. ...
... the European Union... is currently on pace to fall short of its 2030 emissions goals.... ...
... the world’s nations are still failing to prevent drastic global warming in the decades ahead. ...
... industrial emissions of greenhouse gases have not yet peaked — instead, they are likely to rise again in 2017, driven in part by a rebound in coal use in China.
- BRAD PLUMER, At Bonn Climate Talks, Stakes Get Higher in Gamble on Planet’s Future, NYT, NOV. 18, 2017

Twenty-five years ago this month, more than 1,500 prominent scientists, including over half of the living Nobel laureates, issued a manifesto titled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” in which they admonished, “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.” ...
This month a new coalition of scientists, led by researchers at Oregon State University, published a new warning: “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.” ...
“Soon,” they write, “it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out.” Over 15,000 scientists have signed the new call to action....
- ANTHONY DOERR, Anthony Doerr: We Were Warned, NYT, NOV. 18, 2017

To stay below 2 degrees Celsius of warming, global emissions would likely have to peak in the next few years and then be cut by half every decade all the way down to zero by midcentury.
- BRAD PLUMER, At Bonn Climate Talks, Stakes Get Higher in Gamble on Planet’s Future, NYT, NOV. 18, 2017

Opening the remote Arctic refuge to oil and gas drilling is a longtime Republican priority....
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and other Republicans say drilling can be done safely with new technology, while ensuring a steady energy supply for West Coast refineries.

Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said opening the refuge to drilling is "the single-most important step we can take to strengthen our long-term energy security and create new wealth."
- THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Tax Bill Boosts Oil, Gas Drilling _ and Renewable Energy, DEC. 16, 2017

Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, won a decades-long battle on Wednesday to open part of an Arctic wildlife reserve in her state to oil and gas drilling....
- REUTERS, Fight Over Alaska Arctic Drilling Has Just Begun, Opponents Vow, DEC. 20, 2017

If the world wants to avoid drastic global warming this century, we’ll need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions sharply in the years ahead.

For now, however, we’re still moving in the opposite direction: Carbon dioxide emissions from the use of coal, oil and natural gas increased 1.4 percent globally in 2017... the International Energy Agency reported on Thursday. ...
“The overall share of fossil fuels in global energy demand in 2017 remained at 81 percent,” the agency’s report said, “a level that has remained stable for more than three decades despite strong growth in renewables.” ...
A particularly hot summer in China also led the country to run its existing coal plants more often to power air conditioning. ...
The agency noted that many countries appear to be easing up on government policies to improve energy efficiency.
- Brad Plumer, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rose Last Year. Here Are the Top 5 Reasons., NYT, March 22, 2018

Mr. Pruitt spent most of his first year on the job working to roll back dozens of environmental regulations, while appearing to try to dismantle the very agency he headed. Environmentalists were horrified, but his efforts quickly made him a favorite of President Trump’s. He appeared to be using his newfound prominence to position himself to run for national office — senator of his home state of Oklahoma, followed by a shot at the White House. But things took a turn over the last few months, as a cascade of revelations emerged about his office’s alleged ethical missteps.... ...
Any one of the revelations might not have been enough to damage Mr. Pruitt’s standing with his boss, but the unending stream of allegations has caused irritation at the White House. A big blow came in mid-April, when the Government Accountability Office concluded that the E.P.A. broke the law when it installed a $43,000 secure phone booth for his office. Mr. Pruitt is now the subject of 11 federal investigations.

Nonetheless, Mr. Pruitt still has champions, particularly among a far-right cadre who deny the established science of human-caused climate change and see Mr. Pruitt as the best hope of undoing the government’s policies to curb fossil fuel pollution.
- Coral Davenport, Covering Scott Pruitt, Beige Career Lawyer and Master of the Non-Answer, NYT, April 29, 2018

He had long been trying to raise the alarm without success, and so had other scientists. But then, on June 23, 1988 — 30 years ago Saturday — a Colorado senator named Tim Wirth convened yet another hearing on the topic. Dr. Hansen was one of several scientists on the witness list. ...
His near certainty that human emissions were already altering the climate caught the attention of a sweltering nation, catapulting Dr. Hansen to overnight fame. That year, 1988, would go on to be the hottest in a global temperature record stretching back to the 19th century. ...
''As emissions have soared, the planet has warmed relentlessly, just as he said it would; 1988 is not even in the top 20 warmest years now. Every year of this century has been hotter.

The ocean is rising, as Dr. Hansen predicted, and the pace seems to be accelerating. The great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are dumping ever-rising volumes of water into the sea. Coastal flooding is increasing rapidly in the United States. The Arctic Ocean ice cap has shrunk drastically.

If his warning in 1988 had been met with a national policy to reduce emissions, other countries might have followed, and the world would be in much better shape.

But within a few years after he raised the alarm, fossil-fuel interests and libertarian ideologues began financing a campaign of lies about climate research. The issue bogged down in Congress, and to this day that body has taken no action remotely commensurate with the threat.
- Justin Gillis, A Prophet of Doom Was Right About the Climate, NYT, June 23, 2018

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