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09.18 'Terrifying' New Climate Models Warn of 6-7°C of Warming by 2100 If Emissions Not Slashed

09.17 New Report Details 10 'Critical Transitions' to Tackle the Climate Crisis and Feed the World

09.16 Common pesticide makes migrating birds anorexic [Neonicotinoids, again...]

09.16 ACT plans far-reaching electrification of vehicles and homes in drive to reduce emissions

09.16 'Like a sunburn on your lungs': how does the climate crisis impact health? [Important]

09.16 $1m a minute: the farming subsidies destroying the world [Important]

09.15 German Study: Alarming Levels of Dangerous Plastics in Children's Bodies

09.15 Sea levels may rise more rapidly due to Greenland ice melt

09.15 The world has a third pole – and it's melting quickly

09.14 Not Just the Bees, First-of-Its-Kind Study Shows Neonics May Be Killing Birds Too [A GESTALT: Like happened at Boeing, deregulation has displaced scientific and engineering professionalism in many companies and governments to focus on profits/economics almost exclusively. But after similar failure of scientific rigor, die-off reports of bees, worms and sea-life, generally, there must be a moritorium on production, sale and use of all potentially dangerous chemicals!]

09.13 Trump Rollback of Key EPA Water Protection Rule Denounced as 'Callous' and 'Immoral' Giveaway to Big Polluters

09.13 Worms fail to thrive in soil containing microplastics – study

09.13 Dolphins in Channel carry 'toxic cocktail' of chemicals [What is safe to eat?]

09.11 How Can We Address Climate Change Through Agriculture? [3:43 video]

09.11 New solar tech could revolutionise electricity production

09.11 'It can kill you in seconds': the deadly algae on Brittany's beaches

09.10 How to look after your mental health

09.10 Who’s Ready for the Electric Moped Moment? [Uses car lanes instead of sidewalks!]

09.09 The Climate Investment That Promises 400 Percent Returns

09.09 Suicide rates are rising across the US, especially in rural areas

09.08 Blend solar panels with agriculture, new study recommends

09.08 Before Hurricane Dorian, Charleston Already Had a Flooding Crisis

News Media Matters

09.16 From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing's Glass House

09.15 'No Policy, No Facts, Just Displays of Violence': Ocasio-Cortez Says Hysterical Ad Proves GOP Has No Response to Progressive Vision [0:30 video]

09.14 Sanders Campaign Hits Back Against 'Dishonest' Biden Attack on Medicare for All [The facts don't lie, but America's media totally does lie when paid by advertisers to distort single-payer as more expensive: 1:35 video]

09.12 Media bias is OK – if it's honest [‘It should be obvious that there can’t be such a thing as a neutral journalist.’]

Daily: FAIR Blog
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US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'

09.18 Why Trump Can’t Learn: An Educated Guess by a Veteran Teacher [Might dyslexia explain the Republican party, generally?]

09.18 'Heartless and Unconscionable': Outrage as General Motors Cuts Off Healthcare for 50,000 Striking Workers [Hideous corporate behavior putting 50,000 families at greater health and bankruptcy risk.]

09.18 Whole Foods Will Cut Health-Care Benefits for Nearly 2,000 Employees [Hideous corporate behavior putting 2,000 families at greater health and bankruptcy risk.]

09.18 US healthcare is booming. So why do one in five workers live in poverty?

09.18 Greta Thunberg to Congress: ‘You’re not trying hard enough. Sorry’

09.17 'The silenced': meet the climate whistleblowers muzzled by Trump

09.17 Democrats have long blamed 'culture' for black poverty. Joe Biden is no exception

09.17 The Guardian view on the future of work: share out the benefits

09.16 America is stuck with Brett Kavanaugh

09.16 Sanders Responds to Biden's Praise for Pharma Companies: 'Their Behavior Is Literally Killing People Every Day'

09.15 'Americans are waking up': two thirds say climate crisis must be addressed

09.15 The Plutocratic War on People: Centrists and Conservatives are Ignoring the Giant Elephant in Our National Living Room

09.14 The U.S. Health-Care System Found a Way to Make Peanuts Cost $4,200

09.14 California church leaders 'used homeless as forced labour' [A coarsening of public behavior...]

09.14 Taco Bell customer who was treating homeless group to meals says she was kicked out of restaurant [A coarsening of public behavior...]

09.14 We Asked Prosecutors if Health Insurance Companies Care About Fraud. They Laughed at Us.

09.14 Elizabeth Warren’s Health Care Plan Still Leaves a Lot of Unanswered Questions

09.14 Medicare for All Would Cut Poverty by Over 20 Percent

Justice Matters

09.14 NY AG uncovers $1 billion in Sackler family wire transfers amid opioid probe: report

09.12 'Decades of Progress Are at Stake' as Trump Reaches 150 Lifetime Judicial Appointments and Right-Wing Court Takeover Accelerates

09.12 JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR ISSUES SCATHING DISSENT TO SUPREME COURT'S ASYLUM RULE DECISION: THE STAKES 'COULD NOT BE HIGHER'

09.11 Former top FEMA officials arrested on fraud charges in Puerto Rico

09.09 The great break-up of Big Tech is finally beginning [Facebook and Google effectuate the evil of data analytics]

High Crimes vs. Human Rights
Economics & Corrupt Capitalism

09.12 The insidious ideology pushing us towards a Brexit cliff-edge

09.12 Boeing's travails show what's wrong with modern capitalism

International & Futurism

09.18 If the world ran on sun, it wouldn’t fight over oil [1:45 video]

09.17 ONLY A GREEN NEW DEAL CAN DOUSE THE FIRES OF ECO-FASCISM

09.17 The Guardian view on Modi’s 100 days: trashing lives and the constitution

09.17 The Observer view on the threat posed to Israel by another Benjamin Netanyahu victory

09.17 For Palestinians, Israel’s elections promise nothing but defeat

09.17 I now look back on my 20 years of climate activism as a colossal failure

09.17 The world ignored the warning signs – and now the Middle East is on the brink

09.16 EXCLUSIVE: Iranian drones launched from Iraq carried out attacks on Saudi oil plants

09.16 'We walk with our heads high': the women who care for country by fighting fire with fire

09.16 Inheritance tax would be scrapped by the Brexit party – good news for the very rich

09.16 Tunisian exit polls suggest shock victory for political outsiders

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  Beyond the point of no return
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ENVIRONMENT:

Beyond the point of no return

It's too late to stop climate change—so what do we do now?

by Ross Gelbspan

Even if humanity decided tomorrow to replace its coal- and oil-burning energy sources with noncarbon sources—it would still be too late to avert major climate disruptions.
As the pace of global warming kicks into overdrive, the hollow optimism of climate activists, along with the desperate responses of some of the world's most prominent climate scientists, is preventing us from focusing on the survival requirements of the human enterprise.

The environmental establishment continues to peddle the notion that we can solve the climate problem.

We can't.

We have failed to meet nature's deadline. In the next few years, this world will experience progressively more ominous and destabilizing changes. These will happen either incrementally—or in sudden, abrupt jumps.

Under either scenario, it seems inevitable that we will soon be confronted by water shortages, crop failures, increasing damages from extreme weather events, collapsing infrastructures, and, potentially, breakdowns in the democratic process itself.

*    *    *

Start with the climate activists, who are telling us only a partial truth.

Virtually all of the national and grassroots climate groups are pushing hard to reduce carbon emissions. The most aggressive are working to change America's entire energy structure from one based on coal and oil to a new energy future based on noncarbon technologies—as they should.

The Step It Up campaign inspired more than 1,500 protests in all 50 states this year, and is hoping to build on that impact by joining forces with the 1Sky climate campaign. The Campus Climate Challenge is planning a new and more energetic clean energy campaign. Focus the Nation continues to exhort colleges and universities around the country to green their campuses. Al Gore's dedication to bringing the climate crisis to public attention won him a well-deserved Nobel Prize, and he's using his newfound credibility to push even harder for action against climate change. The large Washington-based environmental groups are pressing to improve climate and energy bills that are moving through Congress—even though the bills are clearly inadequate to the challenge before us.

But even assuming the wildest possible success of their initiatives—that humanity decided tomorrow to replace its coal- and oil-burning energy sources with noncarbon sources—it would still be too late to avert major climate disruptions. No national energy infrastructure can be transformed within a decade.

All these initiatives address only one part of the coming reality. They recall the kind of frenzied scrambling that is characteristic of trauma victims—a frantic focus on other issues, any other issues—that allows people to avoid the central take-home message of the trauma: in this case, the overwhelming power of inflamed nature.

*    *    *

Within the last two years, a number of leading scientists—including Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), British ecologist James Lovelock, and NASA scientist James Hansen—have all declared that humanity is about to pass or already has passed a "tipping point" in terms of global warming. The IPCC, which reflects the findings of more than 2,000 scientists from over 100 countries, recently stated that it is "very unlikely" that we will avoid the coming era of "dangerous climate change."

The truth is that we may already be witnessing the early stages of runaway climate change in the melting of the Arctic, the increase in storm intensity, the accelerating extinctions of species, and the prolonged nature of recurring droughts.

Moreover, some scientists now fear that the warming is taking on its own momentum—driven by internal feedbacks that are independent of the human-generated carbon layer in the atmosphere.

Consider these examples:

  • Despite growing public awareness of global warming, the world's carbon emissions are rising nearly three times faster than they did in the 1990s. As a result, many scientists tell us that the official, government-sanctioned forecasts of coming changes are understating the threat facing the world.
  • A rise of 2 degrees C over preindustrial temperatures is now virtually inevitable, according to the IPCC, as the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is approaching the destabilizing level of 450 parts per million. That rise will bring drought, hunger, disease, and flooding to millions of people around the world.
  • Scientists predict a steady rise in temperatures beginning in about two years—with at least half of the years between 2009 and 2019 surpassing the average global temperature in 1998, to date, the hottest year on record.
  • Given the unexpected speed with which Antarctica is melting, coupled with the increasing melt rates in the Arctic and Greenland, the rate of sea-level rise has doubled— with scientists now raising their prediction of ocean rise by century's end from about three feet to about six feet.
  • Scientists discovered that a recent, unexplained surge of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is due to more greenhouse gases escaping from trees, plants, and soils—which have traditionally buffered the warming by absorbing the gases. In the lingo of climate scientists, carbon sinks are turning into carbon sources. Because the added warmth is making vegetation less able to absorb our carbon emissions, scientists expect the rate of warming to jump substantially in the coming years.
  • The intensity of hurricanes around the world has doubled in the last decade. As Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research explained, "If you take the last 10 years, we've had twice the number of category-5 hurricanes than any other [10-year period] on record."
  • In Australia, a new, permanent state of drought in the country's breadbasket has cut crop yields by over 30 percent.
    In Australia, a new, permanent state of drought in the country's breadbasket has cut crop yields by over 30 percent. The 1-in-1,000-year drought exemplifies a little-noted impact of climate change. As the atmosphere warms, it tightens the vortex of the winds that swirl around the poles. One result is that the water that traditionally evaporated from the Southern Ocean and rained down over New South Wales is now being pulled back into Antarctica— drying out the southeastern quadrant of Australia and contributing to the buildup of glaciers in the Antarctic—the only area on the planet where glaciers are increasing.

As one prominent climate scientist said recently, "We are seeing impacts today that we did not expect to see until 2085."[1]

*    *    *

The panic among climate scientists is expressing itself in geoengineering proposals that are half-baked, fantastically futuristic, and, in some cases, reckless. Put forth by otherwise sober and respected scientists, the schemes are intended to basically allow us to continue burning coal and oil.

Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen, for example, is proposing to spray aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reduce the amount of sunlight hitting earth. Tom M. L. Wigley, a highly esteemed climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), ran scenarios of stratospheric sulfate injection—on the scale of the estimated 10 million tons of sulfur emitted when Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991—through supercomputer models of the climate, and reported that Crutzen's idea would, indeed, seem to work. The scheme was highlighted in a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times by Ken Caldeira, a climate researcher at the Carnegie Institution.

Unfortunately, the seeding of the atmosphere with sun-reflecting particles would trigger a global drought, according to a study by other researchers. "It is a Band-Aid fix that does not work," said study co-author Kevin Trenberth of NCAR. The eruption of Pinatubo was followed by a significant drop-off of rainfall over land and a record decrease in runoff and freshwater discharge into the ocean, according to a recently published study by Trenberth and other scientists.

The noted British ecologist James Lovelock recently proposed the idea of installing deepwater pipes on the ocean floor to pump cold water to the surface to enhance the ocean's ability to absorb carbon dioxide. Others suggest dumping iron filings into the ocean to increase the growth of algae which, in turn, would absorb more carbon dioxide.

These proposals fail to seriously acknowledge the possibility of unanticipated impacts on ocean dynamics or marine ecosystems or atmospheric conditions. We have no idea what would result from efforts to geoengineer our way around nature's roadblock.

At a recent conference, Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defense Council noted, "These types of proposals are multiplying around the world, and there is no structure in place to evaluate if any of them work. People are going after these gigantic projects without any thoughtful, rational process."

What these scientists are offering us are technological expressions of their own supercharged sense of desperation.

*    *    *

To be fair, the reality that faces us all is extremely difficult to deal with—as much from an existential as from a scientific point of view.

Climate change won't kill all of us—but it will dramatically reduce the human population through the warming-driven spread of infectious disease, the collapse of agriculture in traditionally fertile areas, and the increasing scarcity of fresh drinking water.
Climate change won't kill all of us—but it will dramatically reduce the human population through the warming-driven spread of infectious disease, the collapse of agriculture in traditionally fertile areas, and the increasing scarcity of fresh drinking water. (Witness the 1-in-100-year drought in the southeastern U.S., which has been threatening drinking water supplies in Georgia and other states.)

Those problems will be dramatically intensified by an influx of environmental refugees whose crops are destroyed by weather extremes or whose freshwater sources have dried up or whose homelands are going under from rising sea levels.

In March, the U.S. Army War College sponsored a conference on the security implications of climate change. "Climate change is a national security issue," retired General Gordon R. Sullivan, chair of the Military Advisory Board and former Army chief of staff, said in releasing a report that grew out of the conference. "[C]limate instability will lead to instability in geopolitics and impact American military operations around the world."

One frequently overlooked potential casualty of accelerating climate change may be our tradition of democracy (corrupted as it already is). When governments have been confronted by breakdowns, they have frequently resorted to totalitarian measures to keep order in the face of chaos. It is not hard to imagine a state of emergency morphing into a much longer state of siege, especially since heat-trapping carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for about 100 years.

Add the escalating squeeze on our oil supplies, which could intensify our meanest instincts, and you have the ingredients for a long period of repression and conflict.

Ominously, this plays into the scenario, thoughtfully explored by Naomi Klein, that the community of multinational corporations will seize on the coming catastrophes to elbow aside governments as agents of rescue and reconstruction— but only for communities that can afford to pay. This dark vision implies the increasing insulation of the world's wealthy minority from the rest of humanity —buying protection for their fortressed communities from the Halliburtons, Bechtels, and Blackwaters of the world while the majority of the poor are left to scramble for survival among the ruins.

The only antidote to that kind of future is a revitalization of government—an elevation of public mission above private interest and an end to the free-market fundamentalism that has blinded much of the American public with its mindless belief in the divine power of markets. In short, it requires a revival of a system of participatory democracy that reflects our collective values far more accurately than the corporate state into which we have slid.

Unfortunately, we seem to be living in an age of historical amnesia. One wonders whether our institutional memory still recalls the impulses that gave rise to our constitution—or whether we have substituted a belief in efficiency, economic rationalization, and profit maximization for our traditional pursuit of a finely calibrated balance between individual liberties and social justice.

*    *    *

From a more personal viewpoint, an acknowledgement of the reality of escalating climate change plays havoc with one's sense of future. It is almost as though a lone ocean voyager were suddenly to lose sight of the North Star. It deprives one of an inner sense of navigation. To live without at least an open-ended sense of future (even if it's not an optimistic one) is to open one's self to a morass of conflicting impulses—from the anticipated thrill of a reckless plunge into hedonism to a profoundly demoralizing sense of hopelessness and a feeling that a lifelong guiding sense of purpose has suddenly evaporated.

This slow-motion collapse of the planet leaves us with the bitterest kind of awakening. For parents of young children, it provokes the most intimate kind of despair. For people whose happiness derives from a fulfilling sense of achievement in their work, this realization feels like a sudden, violent mugging. For those who feel a debt to all those past generations who worked so hard to create this civilization we have enjoyed, it feels like the ultimate trashing of history and tradition. For anyone anywhere who truly absorbs this reality and all that it implies, this realization leads into the deepest center of grief.

There needs to be another kind of thinking that centers neither on the profoundly dishonest denial promoted by the coal and oil industries, nor the misleading optimism of the environmental movement, nor the fatalistic indifference of the majority of people who just don't want to know.

There needs to be a vision that accommodates both the truth of the coming cataclysm and the profoundly human need for a sense of future.

That vision needs to be framed by the truly global nature of the problem. It starts with the recognition that this historical era of nationalism has become a stubborn, increasingly toxic impediment to our collective future. We all need to begin to think of ourselves—now—as citizens of one profoundly distressed planet.

I think that understanding involves a recognition that a clean environment is about far more than endangered species, toxic substances, and the "dead zones" that keep spreading off our shorelines. A clean environment is a basic human right. And without it, all the other human rights for which we have worked so hard will end up as grotesque caricatures of some of our deepest aspirations.

Fortuitously, the timing of the climate crisis does coincide with other worldwide trends. Like it or not, the economy is becoming globalized. The globalization of communications now makes it possible for anyone to communicate with anyone else anywhere else in the world. And, since it is no respecter of national boundaries, the global climate makes us one.

At the same time, the coming changes clearly suggest that, to the extent possible, we should be eating locally and regionally grown food—to minimize the CO2 generated by factory farming and long-distance food transport. We should also be preparing to take our energy from a decentralized system using whichever noncarbon energy technologies are best suited to their natural surroundings—solar in sunny areas, offshore wave and tidal power in coastal areas, wind farms in the world's wind corridors, and geothermal almost everywhere. (It may even be feasible to maintain a low-level coal-fired grid, of about 15 percent of current capacity, as a back-up for days the wind doesn't blow or the sun doesn't shine.) But it's critical to stop thinking in terms of centralized energy systems and to begin thinking in terms of localized, decentralized technologies.

At the level of social organization, the coming changes imply the need to conduct something like 80 percent of our governance at the local grassroots level through some sort of consensual democratic process—with the remaining 20 percent conducted by representatives at the global level.

*    *    *

For some years, I have been promoting a policy bundle of three specific strategies as one model for jump-starting a global transition to clean energy. Those policies, which are spelled out in my book Boiling Point and on my website, include:

  • Redirecting more than $250 billion in subsidies in industrial countries away from coal and oil and putting them behind carbon-free technologies;
  • Creating a fund of about $300 billion a year for a decade, to transfer clean energy to poor countries; and
  • Adopting within the Kyoto framework a mandatory progressive fossil-fuel efficiency standard that would go up by 5 percent a year until the 80 percent global reduction is attained.

The initial impulse behind these strategies was to craft a policy bundle to stabilize the climate—and at the same time create millions of jobs, especially in developing countries. Initially, I, along with the other people who helped formulate them, envisioned these solutions as a way to undermine the economic desperation that gives rise to so much anti-U.S. sentiment. They would, we hoped, turn impoverished and dependent countries into trading partners. They would raise living standards abroad without compromising ours. They would jump the renewable energy industry into a central driving engine of growth for the global economy and, ultimately, yield a far more equitable, more secure, and more prosperous world.

Unfortunately, given all the apathy, indifference, and antagonism to taking real action, nature has now relegated that earlier vision to the rear-view mirror.

But this kind of global public-works plan, if initiated in the near term, could still provide a platform to bring the people of the world together around a common global project that transcends traditional alliances and national antagonisms—even in today's profoundly fractured, degraded, and combative world. Along the way, it could also provide decentralized stand-alone energy sources for disconnected social communities in a post-crash world.

The key to our survival as a civil species during an era of profound natural upheaval lies in an enhanced sense of community. If we maintain the fiction that we can thrive as isolated individuals, we will find ourselves at the same emotional dead end as the current crop of survivalists: an existence marked by defensiveness, mistrust, suspicion, and fear.

As nature washes away our resources, overwhelms our infrastructures, and splinters our political alignments, our survival will depend increasingly on our willingness to join together as a global community. As the former Argentine climate negotiator, Raul Estrada-Oyuela, said, "We are all adrift in the same boat—and there's no way half the boat is going to sink."[2]

To keep ourselves afloat, we need to change the economic and political structures that determine how we behave. In this case, we need to elevate the ethic of cooperation over the deeply ingrained reflex of competition. We need to elevate our biological similarities over our geographical differences. We need, in the face of this oncoming onslaught, to reorganize our social structures to reflect our most humane collective aspirations.

There is no body of expertise —no authoritative answers—for this one. We are crossing a threshold into uncharted territory. And since there is no precedent to guide us, we are left with only our own hearts to consult, whatever courage we can muster, our instinctive dedication to a human future—and the intellectual integrity to look reality in the eye.

*    *    *

Footnotes:

[1] Author's conversation with Dr. Paul Epstein, of the Center for Health and the Global Environment of Harvard Medical School, September, 2006.

[2] Raul Estrada-Oyuela, Argentine negotiator, at the U.N Convention on Climate Change in Kyoto, Japan, December, 1997.


Ross Gelbspan is retired from a 30-year career as an editor and reporter at The Philadelphia Bulletin, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. He is author of The Heat Is On and Boiling Point, and he maintains the website heatisonline.org.

This column originally appeared on the GristMill site, and is republished here with their permission.


Copyright © 2007 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on December 13, 2007.
 

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