On Monday morning President Obama headed to Alaska—the front lines of climate change—for a trip the White House is calling “a spotlight on what Alaskans in particular have come to know: Climate change is one of the biggest threats we face, it is being driven by human activity, and it is disrupting Americans’ lives right now.”
Problem is, those words fall flat when compared with Obama’s mixed record on climate. The widely publicized trip comes at a delicate moment for the president. Barely two weeks ago, his administration gave Royal Dutch Shell final approval to drill for oil offshore Alaska’s northwest Arctic coast—not exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from someone who professes to be “leading by example.”
The leases that allow Shell to drill in the Arctic were awarded by the George W. Bush administration, and the president had limited options to block them. Still, as ThinkProgress notes, Obama could have outright canceled Shell’s lease, or begun a process to declare the region a marine protected area, making future leases nearly impossible. Neither of these actions would be easy to do, but either would have sent a powerful message to industry: Starting now, climate change concerns trump energy exploration, period.
Climate activists vociferously opposed the approval of Shell’s permit: Last month a group of protesters in kayaks briefly blockaded an Arctic-bound Shell support ship while it was in a Portland, Oregon, port. In recent days Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate for president, has also voiced her opposition.
One progressive activist group, Credo Action, has called the unfortunate juxtaposition of Obama’s words and actions his “Mission Accomplished” moment, in reference to Bush’s declaration of victory in the Iraq war. I agree.
… For many environmental activists, Obama’s approval of Shell’s Arctic drilling permit is the icing on an extremely hypocritical cake.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – The president of Shell Oil Co. said exploratory drilling off Alaska’s northwest coast is going well despite stormy weather last week that caused the company to halt operations for a few days.
And in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Marvin Odum said he expects further protests against the company’s plans for Arctic drilling like the ones in Seattle and Portland where activists in kayaks tried to block Shell vessels.
Arctic offshore drilling is bitterly opposed by environmental groups that say a spill cannot be cleaned in ice-choked waters and that industrial activity will harm polar bears, walrus and ice seals already harmed by diminished sea ice.
In Seattle, Shell faced protests on the water by “kayaktivists” upset over the company staging equipment in the city. In Portland, Oregon, Greenpeace USA protesters hung from the St. Johns Bridge to delay a Shell support vessel, from heading to the Arctic.
“I think the right assumptions for me to make are, it’s not going to go away,” Odum said. “We saw quite a bit of very public opposition when we were in the Pacific Northwest.”
Odum said he’s “110 percent ready” to work with people who want to find ways to improve drilling.
“I do have an issue with those that oppose who use illegal means or put the safety of themselves or the safety of anybody associated with this operation at risk,” he said.
Odum said good progress is being made on the first well off Alaska’s northwest coast.
“We had a few days in the last week where we couldn’t operate because of the weather,” he said. “Now we’re coming out of that and it looks like we’re moving into a time period of good weather.”
President Barack Obama this week is in Alaska rallying support for measures to combat climate change, such as limits on carbon emissions.
Odum is staying in the same hotel as the president – the Hotel Captain Cook.
While environmentalists praise the president for curbing greenhouse gases, they pillory him for granting Shell permission to drill in the Chukchi Sea for the first time in 24 years.
Oil will continue to be needed as the United States transitions to more renewable energy, Odum said.
“Oil will be required for a long time,” Odum said. “Let’s take a really close look at developing our own resources, control how it’s done and get all the benefits that go along with it.”
Shell in two years of exploratory drilling and with up to six wells hopes to confirm a vast reservoir of oil. If it’s found, Shell could apply for production permits and move oil by undersea pipe to the Alaska shore and then overland across northern Alaska to the trans-Alaska pipeline. That could take more than a decade.
Odum is confident exploration can be done safely, and the overriding factor dictating whether Shell completes an exploratory well this year will be safety.
Shell is operating under strict Arctic rules put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Arctic offshore drilling has been scrutinized in the courts in lawsuits brought by drilling opponents, Odum said.
“It’s probably fair to say, this is the most scrutinized, analyzed project – oil and gas project – probably anywhere in the world. I’m actually sure of that,” he said.
All the scrutiny, along with Shell’s own internal review, have gone into safety considerations. It’s in the company’s best interest, he said.
“We can’t afford to have a problem here,” Odum said.
The following article from Truthout.org covers all that I was going to go over in Part 2 of Global Warming: the Future is Now, so here’s this instead:
The US is now officially in the worst wildfire season in its history, as almost 7.5 million acres across the country have burned up since spring.
Articles about ACD’s impacts are now being published in more mainstream outlets, carrying titles that include verbiage like “the point of no return,” and it is high time for that, given what we are witnessing.
A recently published study by the UK-US Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Reliance revealed that “major shocks” to worldwide food production will become at least three times more likely within the next 25 years due to increasingly extreme weather events generated by ACD. One of the coauthors of the report warned of a “very frightening” future due to the synthesis of ACD and food demands from a constantly growing global population.
Meanwhile, July officially became the hottest month ever recorded on the planet, setting 2015 on course to easily become the hottest year ever recorded.
This month’s dispatch is replete with evidence of our growing crisis, including record-breaking amounts of ice being released from Greenland, more species under threat of extinction, and millions of acres of the planet burning up in wildfires across North America alone.
A trove of papers recently released in the journal Science have warned that the planet’s forests are all under major threat of being annihilated, due to the ever-expanding human footprint, coupled with ACD. The introduction to the studies reads: “These papers document how humans have fundamentally altered forests across the globe and warn of potential broad-scale future declines in forest health, given increased demand for land and forest products combined with rapid climate change.”
Speaking of which, another recent report, this one coming from the Center for Global Development, showed that the planet is on a trajectory to lose an amount of tropical forest land equivalent to the size of India by 2050.
Meanwhile, geologists with the US Geological Survey and researchers from the University of Vermont recently showed that Washington DC is, quite literally, sinking into the sea. “It’s ironic that the nation’s capital – the place least responsive to the dangers of climate change – is sitting in one of the worst spots it could be,” senior author of the paper, Paul Bierman, said. “Will the Congress just sit there with their feet getting ever wetter?”
At the moment, the answer to his question is obvious: The lawmakers that frequent our capital city are making no bold moves to address that city’s flooded future.
Food production, as aforementioned, is being dramatically undermined by ACD. In Nigeria, the country’s ability to feed itself is rapidly diminishing due to higher temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns. At least half the farmers there had been unable to even plant their crops at the time of this writing.
Animal species continue to bear the brunt of ACD all over the globe as well.
A recent study showed that in the UK, ACD is generating severe droughts that have placed several species of butterflies there at risk of extinction.
Another report showed how a disease spreading rapidly across the planet’s tadpole populations is now threatening the global frog population. Scientists who authored the report warn that this is further evidence of the sixth great extinction event the earth is now experiencing.
Another dismaying development: The ever-shrinking area of sea ice is deleteriously impacting the Arctic’s walrus population. This season could see another dramatic beaching event like that of last summer, in which 35,000 walruses dragged themselves out of the sea and onto a beach due to lack of sea ice.
Meanwhile, the ongoing drought in California has caused an “emergency situation” for trees in that state, as lack of water is causing unprecedented die-offs. The drought there is also wiping out several of the native fish populations, of which many are expected to disappear within the next two years if the drought persists.
Lastly in this section, unprecedented heat coupled with an intense drought has caused “glacial outbursts” on Washington State’s Mount Rainier. “Outbursts” occur when large pools of ice-melt form within the glaciers, then plunge from within the glacier, sending torrents of silt-filled water, boulders and trees down the slopes of the mountain, wiping out anything in its path.
While these outbursts have happened periodically throughout history, they are expected to increase in both frequency and severity as ACD progresses.
As usual, circumstances on the water front continue to worsen around the planet.
In the Pacific Northwestern region of the US, over a quarter million sockeye salmon heading up the Columbia River have either died or are in the process of dying due to warmer water temperatures. Biologists warn that at least half of this year’s returning fish will be wiped out, and ultimately as much as 80 percent of the total fish population could perish. Both Oregon and Washington states have already instituted closures of sport fishing due to the warmer waters and drought conditions persisting in both states.
In the Eastern Pacific Ocean, a giant bloom of toxic algae that is a threat to the health of both ocean species and humans alike spans from southern California all the way up to Alaska. Researchers are linking the size and intensity of the bloom to ACD. The bloom is already killing off sea lions that inhabit the coast and is still not showing signs of going away. Researchers said it was the largest bloom they had ever seen.
A report showed how ACD is in the process of rapidly reversing a natural phenomenon of 1,800 years of ocean cooling, while another study revealed that ocean acidification will continue and likely worsen, even if carbon sequestration and cleanup efforts were to begin in an immediate and dramatic fashion.
Back on land, droughts around the globe continue to make headlines.
One in Puerto Rico, that continues to worsen, has caused that country’s government to extend its dramatic water rationing measures, which have now been ongoing for weeks.
A study published in Geophysical Research Letters unequivocally linked California’s severe drought to ACD, saying that ACD has already “substantially increased” both the frequency and intensity of future droughts.
More news around the California drought emerged, showing that the river that runs through San Jose, the 10th largest city in the US, has dried up completely, severely harming fish and wildlife dependent on the water for their survival.
NASA released findings showing that California’s Central Valley, where the bulk of all the farming in the state takes place, is literally sinking, due to how much groundwater is being drawn out to compensate for the drought conditions. It is yet another destructive feedback loop: ACD has caused the drought to be far more severe than normal, which has caused humans to over-pump groundwater, leading to the sinking of the land.
The world’s glaciers are in peril. A disturbing report has shown that they have shrunk to their lowest levels ever witnessed in the history of record-keeping. They are melting at an accelerating rate – two to three times faster than the 20th century average melt rate.
As if to punctuate the findings of the report, the world’s fastest-melting glaciers, located in Greenland, recently lost the largest amount of ice on record in just a 48-hour period.
As a result of the incredible melting rates of glaciers, snowpack and ice fields around the globe, sea levels are now rising faster than ever.
Thus, as recently released research shows, global communities and cities located on river deltas – which includes over a quarter of a billion people – are at risk and will have to relocate.
Given the extensive record-breaking drought that has afflicted most of the western US, the fact that this summer’s fire season came in with a roar came as little surprise. Hardly halfway through the summer, fires across California, Washington, Colorado and in Glacier National Park in Montana were making headlines.
By early August, nearly 10,000 firefighters in California alone were battling at least 20 wildfires that had already forced more than 13,000 people to evacuate their homes.
Shortly thereafter, thousands of wildfires were raging across drought-plagued California, and before the middle of the month, a staggering 300,000 new acres were burning each day up in Alaska, where fires had scorched over 6 million acres thus far in the year, and hundreds of fires continued to burn. That makes this year already the second-largest wildfire season in Alaska’s history, with more of the summer remaining.
Reports have emerged warning of the impact of the fires upon Alaska’s permafrost: They have removed millions of acres of the tundra and forest that previously protected the frozen ground.
In early August, the US Forest Service announced that for the first time in the history of that department, it needed to spend over half of its entire budget on fighting wildfires.
Despite this, given the record-breaking drought conditions across the west, large numbers of the fires were left to burn out of control, due to high winds, dry conditions, and lack of fire-fighting capabilities and resources.
In case anyone had any doubt about how hot the planet is already becoming, the Iranian city of Bandar Mahshahr experienced a heat index of 165 degrees in August, nearly setting a world record for heat index measurements, which factor in humidity along with temperature.
In July, incredibly hot temperatures in Tajikistan caused a rapid melting of glaciers, which triggered flooding and mudslides that generated nearly 1,000 ACD refugees.
Meanwhile, across the Middle East in August, more than 20 people died and nearly 100 had to be hospitalized due to incinerating heat that baked the region, along with intense humidity levels. Basra, Iraq, saw 123 degrees, and the Iraqi government had to instate a four-day “holiday” so people wouldn’t feel obliged to work in the stifling heat.
Lastly in this section, a recent report stated that Texas will likely see a dramatic escalation in heat-related deaths and coastal extreme storm-related losses in the upcoming decades due to escalating ACD impacts.
Denial and Reality
There is never a dull moment in the “Denial and Reality” section.
Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton’s stated plan to address abrupt ACD, which amounts to federal subsidies for solar panels, was immediately labeled as “silly” in early August, just after Clinton’s plan was announced, by leading climate scientist James Hansen, who headed NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies for more than three decades.
“You cannot solve the problem without a fundamental change, and that means you have to make the price of fossil fuels honest, “Hansen said of her plan. “Subsidizing solar panels is not going to solve the problem.”
During a recent forum, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz went on the record expressing full-on denial of ACD, saying that the debate about ACD was a “device” used by liberals to appeal to “environmentalist billionaires and their campaign donations.”
On another front, builders in San Francisco are moving forward with plans to construct major bay-front developments of office space and homes worth more than $21 billion, in areas that are extremely susceptible to flooding – despite dire warnings of imminent sea-level rise.
On the bad news front for the deniers, however, a recent study showed there is absolutely no link between sunspot activity and ACD … a fabricated argument the deniers enjoy trotting out to try to “disprove” reality.
More bad news for the deniers comes, once again, from the Pope, who set up an annual Catholic Church “day of care” for the environment. The Pope said the day would be a chance for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to “thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”
And Catholics aren’t the only faith leaders working to do something to address ACD.
Islamic religious and environmental leaders from around the world recently issued a call to rich countries, along with those that are oil producers, to end all fossil fuel use by 2050 and to begin rapidly ramping up the institution and use of renewable energy sources.
The Islamic leadership, which issued “The Islamic Climate Declaration,” said the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims have “a religious duty to fight climate change.”
The final blow to ACD deniers in this month’s dispatch comes from none other than the US Department of Defense, which issued a report to Congress that said that ACD poses a “present security threat” that is not only a “long-term risk,” but poses immediate short-term threats as well.
In this Aug. 7, 2015, photo a team of scientists climb Sholes Glacier in Mount Baker, Wash. (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes)
Looking at the news on the subject lately, it would seem that the Pacific Coast is climate change central. Starting with the sad excuse for a snowpack last winter and the near total lack of rains since then that’s led to the current and ongoing drought, which in turn is contributing to the catastrophic fires across the West, it’s looking like Nature has set her sights on our part of the planet.
But the fact is, global warming is a worldwide problem. July has joined a dozen or more previous months in getting overall “hottest on record” nods—like it or not.
If you’ve been following this blog recently, you might have had your fill of Okanogan Complex fire updates, or general articles with anecdotes about the other changes to predictable patterns the Earth is undergoing thanks to Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (or simply, too many humans creating too many tons of carbon). And if you’re any kind of self-respecting misanthrope like me, you may be wondering why it all matters. Certainly not so any future generations of humans can enjoy this wonderful place in the cosmos.
No, there’s much more than just us that’s worthy of our concern in this climate change catastrophe.
Global warming is about more than our comfort level or success. The harsh reality is that climate change is a major factor in the ongoing biodiversity emergency contributing to our current extinction spasm, namely The Sixth Great Mass Extinction–the one that we humans are causing and will more than likely be our undoing.
All of the West’s weather woes lead back to a blocking ridge of high pressure which is associated with the massive “blob” of warm water that’s been stuck for some time now off the West Coast and wreaking havoc with otherwise dependable patterns. A March 2008 interpretive handout from the USFWS, “Seabirds of the Pacific Northwest,” that I picked up at Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon, actually does a surprisingly good job of spelling out the situation we’re in.
Changing Ocean Conditions
Weather is a major factor in sea bird success on the North Pacific coast. In productive breeding years, ocean winds cause an upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water which results in a plankton bloom. Plankton are the base of the food chain upon which larger fish and ultimately sea birds depend. In El Nino years the ocean warms which alters ocean currents and prevents upwelling. This results in a crash in prey populations causing large-scale breeding failure and adult mortality in sea birds.
Expected rises in ocean temperature due to global climate change may be similar in effect to El Nino events. However, unlike El Nino which is short-term natural phenomena that disrupts marine food webs periodically, global climate change represents a more pervasive and permanent change in the ecosystem, the consequences of which are unknown. In fact, climate change is often perceived to be a future threat, but the reality for our marine wildlife is that it is happening now and scientists are struggling to unravel the interrelationships within marine ecosystems to predict how those systems will respond.
I was going to title this post “Connecting the Dots on Climate Change,” but since this map only has one dot and it happens to be centered over “the blob” –climate change’s tie-in to everything that’s actively plaguing the West–I’ll let Canada’s The Weather Network explain it in excerpts from their article, “This weird ocean blob is linked to our worst weather. Here’s how”: Rodrigo Cokting Staff writer Wednesday, April 15, 2015
The devastating winter in Atlantic Canada, the drought in California and the lack of snow in many BC ski resorts all have one thing it common: The Blob, an unusually warm mass of water in the Pacific Ocean that stretches from Alaska to Mexico.
The Blob, past and present, plays a key role in extreme weather and disruptions to the natural world across North America during the past two years, and is likely to do so for another year at least.
Described first by University of Washington climate scientist Dr. Nicholas Bond, The Blob is a large body of water sitting off the west coast, stretching from the American state of Alaska all the way to Baja California, Mexico. This anomaly first appeared in the Pacific ocean during the winter of 2013 to 2014, about 800 kilometres off the coast and brought remarkably warm water to the region. Peak temperatures anomalies at one point were greater than 2.5C.
The Blob has since moved towards the coast and is connected to some of the biggest environment stories since the shift. Snow regularly appeared as rain on the west coast, leaving plenty of ski resorts wondering where all the snow went. Cities all across the Maritimes broke snowfall records in 2015 with places like Saint John, New Brunswick exceeding their previous record high by nearly 70 centimeters. California finds itself in the middle of the worst drought to affect the state in more than 100 years. Salmon are changing their natural pathways. Birds are showing up dead along both coasts. It’s at the point now where meteorologists consult its position and importance when compiling forecasts.
Scientists are taking a closer look at the extent that The Blob can affect the world. Meteorologists at The Weather Network have been factoring in the warm water since it first appeared in the Pacific.
“This phenomena was a very important consideration in developing our past several seasonal outlooks and it is a significant factor as we look at the upcoming summer,” The Weather Network’s Dr. Doug Gillham said. “[These new studies] identify a key variable that we used to make our predictions.”
But to understand the Blob, you need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
“The actual wave pattern that causes the anomaly in the east originates in the equatorial pacific,” University of Washington’s Dennis Hartmann said. “It’s kind of like El Niño except in a different location. It’s characterized by a high pressure centre off the west coast of North America.”
Hartmann says that this pattern, often called pseudo-El Niño follows a large arc trajectory to affect North America, and has many consequences including the formation of the Blob.
The warmer water of The Blob, in turn, has a direct relationship with air temperatures and humidity levels over the nearby land, which contributed to the warm and dry winter that much of the West Coast saw the last couple of years.
“I’m confident this effect is extending to British Columbia,” he said. “It doesn’t make much of a difference in circulation patterns like wind but it does seem to impact the temperature and moisture properties over the area.”
The lack of moisture could have affected the wildfire season that plagued the northwestern parts of North America.
“When there are warmer winters the landscape dries out that much faster and the fire season becomes longer,” Bond said, explaining how the Blob could have had a secondary impact on the West Coast. “Oceans also affected humidity so conceivably it could have an effect on likelihood of thunderstorms but right now that’s just pure speculation.”
While the West Coast has had winter with above average temperatures, the East Coast suffered from the opposite problem.
“The pattern set up a weather dipole along North America. Cold and snow in the east while keeping things dry in the west,” Hartmann said. “The combination of the ridge to the west and through in the east pulled the cold air into places like Chicago.”
And it’s not just Canada feeling the consequences of the pattern. California has been going through a rough time, struggling to find water. Hartmann believes that recently, the drought may have a link to all these weather problems.
“This pattern contributed to the drought in California,” Hartmann said. “They’ve been having it for four years but the pattern made it worse during the last two years.”
But it’s not just people feeling the effect of the Blob. The anomaly is having troubling consequences on the wildlife according to Dr. Ian Perry, a research scientists with Fisheries & Oceans Canada.
“October and November saw some the highest water temps we’ve ever seen in certain locations along the B.C. coast. The temperatures in that warm body of water are about 3.5 to 4 degrees above normal. It’s the kind of temperature excursion we might statistically expect once every 400 years,” Perry said. “Coastal temperatures in some locations have been recorded since the 1930s and we’ve never seen some of these numbers.”
These warm waters have led to interesting changes in the wildlife including a redistribution of some species.
“The warm water has brought a lot of animals that we might usually see further south into B.C. and into Alaska,” Perry said. “We’ve seen albacore tuna as far up as into Alaska. Normally they might go as far north as Washington.”
The Pacific salmon has an even more peculiar behavior change due to the Blob. The species usually returns to the Fraser river in B.C. via one of two routes. Most of them come in through the southern part of Vancouver Island, swimming through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the international boundary between Canada and the United states.
But due to the warm water, the salmon are taking the longer route home swimming around northern B.C. and back down. The warm water is acting like a big plug and forcing the fish to bypass their preferred way back home.
“This has implications because we have a treaty with the U.S., that allows them to fish Pacific salmon. They get a certain amount of the catch because the normal route goes through the Strait of Juan de Fuca which is accessible to both U.S. and Canadian fishermen,” Perry said. “This time it’s been mostly Canadian fishermen that had access to the fish.”
If the Blob continues it could affect more than just swimming patterns. Perry says it could also lead to decreased populations in the following years.
“The salmon coming back spent much of their winter route in the north Pacific. They might come back a little bit skinnier but we don’t really expect major impact in the numbers,” Perry said. “The real question will be the fish going out in 2015. If these warm conditions stay along the coast, the juvenile salmon going out may starve and not survive well. There could be fewer salmon coming back in 2015, then 2016, then 2017.”
Warm water spells trouble for young salmon due to the difference in the zooplankton it contains,much smaller and less nutritious than the type that inhabits cold water.
“It’s the difference between having a roast beef dinner every night versus eating a stalk of celery every night,” Perry explained.
While we’ll have to wait and see if the salmon will be affected by the Blob, a bird commonly seen in B.C. is already suffering the devastating effect of the less nutritious water.
Cassin’s auklet is a small, chunky seabird that commonly breeds off the northern tip of Vancouver Island. After a successful breeding period during the spring of 2014, the birds have washing up dead all across the shore between Washington and Oregon at rates as high as 100 times the normal amount.
“It’s a combination of two things: the good breeding that happened in spring and the warm water that came toward the coast. A lot of these young birds were not familiar enough with how to find food in a different environment,” Perry said. “A lot of the birds that wash up ashore appear to be starving.”
It’s becoming clearer with every passing day that The Blob is going to have serious ramifications for as long as it stays in the ocean, and at least for now it seems to be comfortably parked off the west coast.
“It’s still there now and still pretty anomalous so the coastal weather and coastal biology will continue to be affected by that,” Hartmann said before adding that other conditions could mitigate the effect.
A pair of August 25, 2015 articles in the Daily Astorian hint to the dire straits we’re all in today:
Last fall, tens of thousands of the Cassin’s auklet, a small seabird, died. Parish said there was a correlation between warmer waters and a change in the distribution of food.
“We’re kind of hoping we don’t have another repeat season,” she said. “The North Pacific is pretty darn warm and has been for some time,” Parish said.
But there is usually upwelling, making it cooler along the coast and providing the common murre “a fair amount of food.”
Josh Saranpaa, assistant director of the Wildlife Center of the North Coast in Astoria, said the center has received about 12 birds a day over the past month, many from Cannon Beach. The majority, about 90 percent, are common murres.
“Every bird we’re seeing is starving to death,” he said. “It’s pretty bad.”
With warming ocean temperatures, fish are diving deeper than the birds can handle in some areas, he added.
The high number of starving adults along the North Coast, even experienced scavenger birds, indicates a “serious sign of a stressed ecosystem,” Parish said.
Saranpaa said seabirds are biological indicators, a way to check an environment’s health…
Richard Leakey, in his book, the Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind, points out that, “marine regression” is associated with nearly all the previous mass extinctions. With warming, ocean acidification, jellyfish and toxic algae replacing plankton blooms throughout the areas, it’s starting to look like marine regression is happening here. Perhaps I should have titled this post, Mass Extinction: The future is now.
Stay tuned for Part 2
Over 7 million acres have burned [so far…The smoke has spread all across the state]
by Matt Ford Aug 22, 2015
The three firefighters’ deaths marked a dangerous week for fire crews battling blazes throughout the West. Over 7.2 million acres have burned this year, according to the federal National Interagency Fire Center, with 1.3 million of those acres actively burning on Thursday. In the Pacific Northwest alone, wildfires grew from 85,000 acres to 625,000 acres in only a week. Canadian firefighters also struggled with blazes this summer, with over 690,000 acres burned in British Columbia as of August 4, according to the Globe and Mail.
Fire season is a difficult time for Western states in any year, but the dire lack of rainfall in recent years has exacerbated the current threat. Most news outlets refer to the crisis as “the California drought.” In fact, the drought exists in some form across the entire Western United States:
One hundred percent of the state of Nevada is in drought — with 40 percent in the extreme drought category. Over to the southeast, 93 percent of Arizona’s territory is in some form of drought. Even Washington state, far to the north, finds all of its territory in drought and 32 percent of its land in extreme doubt.
Although some media outlets have focused on almonds, a much larger contributor to warming temperatures and drying landscapes is climate change. A study published in Geophysical Research Letters on Thursday estimated that climate change’s effects exacerbated the Western drought by an additional 15 to 20 percent. That same day, NOAA announced that July 2015 was the hottest month since recordkeeping began in January 1880. As climate change continues to worsen, longer and more intense droughts are likely.
Per Espen Stoknes, a Norwegian psychologist and economist, has been doing a lot of thinking about a question that has bedeviled climate scientists for years: Why have humans so far failed to deal with the looming threat posed by climate change?
That question is the focus of his recent book, What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming, in which he analyzes what he calls the five psychological barriers that have made it difficult to deal realistically with the climate crisis. Those include: the distant nature of the problem (it’s far off in time and often in other parts of the globe); the doom-and-gloom scenarios about the impacts of climate change, which make people feel powerless to do anything about it; and the psychological defenses that people have to avoid feeling guilty about their own contributions to fossil fuel emissions.
In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Stoknes – who co-founded three clean energy companies and helps lead the BI Center for Climate Strategy at the Norwegian Business School – talks about these barriers and about how the discussion of climate change needs to be reframed. “We need a new kind of stories,” he says, “stories that tell us that nature is resilient and can rebound and get back to a healthier state, if we give it a chance to do so.”
Yale Environment 360: Scientists and journalists have been warning us for years about climate change. But you say the message is not getting across. Why not?
Per Espen Stoknes: My work starts with what I call the psychological climate paradox. Long-term surveys show that people were more concerned with climate change in wealthy democracies 25 years ago than they are today. So the more science, the more Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments we have, the more the evidence accumulates, the less concerned the public is. To the rational mind this is a complete mystery.
You’re suggesting that the initial impact of news about climate change actually moved the meter a bit, but after the initial alarm the meter went back to the default position, and people became unconcerned again?
Absolutely. In the late 1980s this was a novel scare, we hadn’t heard much about it before. [Scientist] Jim Hansen really broke the story in the international news media in 1988. … At that point there was a wave of environmental concern. The earth came to seem fragile in a new way. But as this news was out there for longer, we started habituating to it. And when it began to be clear that our own lifestyle was responsible for these new threats, then several psychological barriers started to introduce themselves and create a backlash of denial.
Why did you write this book?
It gradually became clear that the time has come when we need to shift from talking about the climate system to talking about people’s responses to climate science. How can it be that we are behaving in such a self-destructive way, that we are seemingly inevitably pushing the planet way beyond the 2-degree [Celsius] limit that scientists have proposed [for avoiding dangerous climate change]?
Climate scientists have been trying to educate us on this for so long that they are frustrated and exhausted and feeling exasperated. Some have become cynical saying that it seems as if humans are wired to self-destruct, maybe our genes aren’t well equipped to deal with these long-term issues. It seems we prefer to eat all our cake today and not care about the coming decades.
Is there any way around this inability to think in the long term?
The question that really drives me and that fuels my research is: Is humanity up to the task, or are we inevitably short-term thinkers? Or to put it a bit more constructively, what are the conditions under which humans will begin to think and act for the long term as far as the climate is concerned? Is it possible to pinpoint the mechanisms or functions in the human psyche that would enable us to act for the long term? And if so, what are they and how can they be strengthened?
Is the rejection of climate science a global phenomenon?
We need to be clear that this is a cultural phenomenon. Because in countries like Thailand and the Philippines, or in Latin America and countries in Southern Europe, the concern about climate change is very high. So it is an issue that particularly pertains to people in wealthy democracies. It is much more difficult for somebody in Bangladesh who is acutely vulnerable, who lives on the coast, to say that sea level rise is not happening, because they are actually experiencing it. If a drought takes away a farmer’s crops or a monsoon fails, it means destitution. But here [in the United States and Western Europe], we can always go to a store and buy stuff produced elsewhere, because we have the money to distance ourselves from the immediate impact of weather disruptions.
It is much more difficult to allow that cultural psychology to interfere when you are face-to-face with a failed monsoon or a drought, and your seeds are lost.
Why is it so hard for people in the developed world to come to terms with climate change?
There are five main psychological barriers: distance, doom, dissonance, denial, and identity. This is what the book is about. And the reason climate science communication is so difficult is that it triggers these barriers one after the other.
The first barrier is distance. If you look at the IPCC report or other science, they are using graphs charting different variables which typically end with the year 2100. So you are positioning the facts in a way that creates a psychological distance – it is so far in the future that it feels less important, and the sense of urgency goes down. I mean, when is the last time you made a decision for the next century?
People think this is far off – it is not here and now, it’s also up there in the Arctic or Antarctica, it affects other people, not me, I’ll be old before this really happens, other people are responsible, not me. We distance ourselves from it in so many ways that the pure facts are not sufficient to generate a sustained sense of risk.
Another factor that discourages people from dealing with climate change is the fact that it is so often presented as a doom-and-gloom scenario. Studies show that more than 80 percent of news articles relating to the IPCC assessment reports primarily employed the catastrophe frame. Only 2 percent were using what I call the opportunity frame.
What we know from psychological studies is that if you overuse fear-inducing imagery, what you get is fear and guilt in people, and this makes people more passive, which counteracts engagement. This includes creativity as well. If you give people a guilt or fear-inducing message and then ask them to solve a problem that requires creative thought, there is a statistically significant reduction in the amount of creativity that people come up with to formulate solutions.
Another of the barriers you cite is dissonance. What do you mean by that?
Dissonance is the inner discomfort when I feel like a hypocrite – when my knowledge of climate change is not matched by my actions to stop it. We know that our fossil energy use contributes to global warming, yet we continue to drive, fly, eat beef, or heat with fossil fuels, then dissonance sets in.
Psychologists have found that people are pretty creative in finding ways to defuse this tension between thoughts and deeds. One strategy to deal with this might be to say, “Well, I don’t personally emit that much carbon, it’s the Chinese, the corporations or somebody else who does that. It’s my neighbor with the big SUV, or my friend who flies more than I do.” Another strategy is to doubt. So we say that it is really not certain that C02 causes global warming. Or some physicist said that it’s the sun activity that is causing it.
We can understand why the fossil fuel industry might have an economic interest to spread such ideas, but why do people want to believe this misinformation? If I can believe the doubters, then my dissonance goes away. I don’t need to feel bad about myself.
That’s where denial fits in?
Yes. The next level is the full out denial, where we negate, ignore, or otherwise avoid acknowledging the unsettling facts about climate change. The word denial has perhaps been overused as a pejorative against the other side who are [portrayed as] immoral, or ignorant, or the enemy. But psychological denial is a process that we all have and use. It is a way that we defend ourselves.
Those who reject climate change are getting back at those who criticize their lifestyles, and want to tell them how to live. So when Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio talk about climate change, they are not necessarily stupid or ignorant or immoral, but they are reinforcing a social contract that says this is an issue that we are not supposed to take seriously.
This ties into our sense of identity. Each of us has a sense of self that is based in certain values – a professional self, a political self, a national identity. We just naturally look for information that confirms our existing values and notions, and filter away whatever challenges them.
Psychologists know that if you criticize people to try to make them change, it may only reinforce their resistance. This has been empirically demonstrated by Dan Kahan at Yale, who found that the more science conservative ideologues know, the more likely they were to get it wrong on climate change. They use all they know about science to criticize climate science and defend their values.
So what are your recommendations in terms of how we need to reframe the discussion of climate change to be more effective in reaching people?
We need a new kind of stories, stories that tell us that nature is resilient and can rebound and get back to a healthier state, if we give it a chance to do so. We need stories that tell us that we can collaborate with nature, that we can, as Pope Francis has urged, be stewards and partners of the natural world rather than dominators of it. We need stories about a new kind of happiness not based on material consumption.
Since we have a pretty good understanding of the barriers, that is a good place to start. We need to flip the barriers over so they become successful strategies. Rather than something distant, communicators need to make climate change feel like something that is near, personal, and urgent. Rather than doom, we need to emphasize the opportunities that the crisis affords us.
Climate change is an opportunity for economic development – an entire energy system has to be redesigned from the wastefulness of the previous century to a much smarter mode of doing things. It’s a great opportunity to improve global collaboration and knowledge sharing and to create a more just society. So climate change is a fantastic opportunity to encourage our global humanity to emerge. We need to be talking about this.
Overconsumption Pushing Earth Into Overshoot Earlier Each Year
TUCSON, Ariz. – Today is Earth Overshoot Day, the day humanity exhausts the resources the planet can replenish in a year. This year overshoot comes four and a half months too soon and a week earlier than last year. The Center for Biological Diversity is partnering with the Global Footprint Network to raise awareness about overshoot and the impact of unsustainable overconsumption on the planet.
“As we continue to clearcut trees, burn fossil fuels and consume wild animals, the Earth can’t keep up,” said Leigh Moyer, the Center’s population organizer. “We see evidence of this in shrinking habitat, the global climate crisis and crashes in wildlife populations. We’re blowing through nature’s capital, and wildlife and the planet are suffering for it.”
Overshoot takes into account the amount of resources used by the Earth’s human population and the waste we produce, particularly carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere. The Global Footprint Network calculates Earth Overshoot Day by dividing the amount of ecological resources the planet generates each year by humanity’s ecological footprint (the amount of land and water needed to produce the resources we consume and absorb the waste we create), then multiplying by 365, the number of days in a year. The result is the number of days that the Earth’s resources will last at humanity’s current rates of consumption. This year the planet’s resources lasted 224 days, or until Aug. 13. The rest of the year is in “overshoot.”
“We’re currently using more than the equivalent of one and a half Earths every year,” said Moyer. “And if everyone lived like Americans, we’d use four and a half Earths. Since we only have one Earth, this clearly isn’t sustainable.”
In addition to raising awareness about overshoot, the Center is launching a public petition urging the Target retail chain to discontinue use of single-use plastic shopping bags from its stores nationwide. Target positions itself as a sustainable retailer with goals to reduce waste and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, but continues to give away a billion plastic bags a year, many of which end up in landfills, as litter or as ocean pollution.
The Center’s Population and Sustainability program promotes a wide range of solutions to address overshoot, including reducing meat consumption, developing wildlife-friendly renewable energy sources, and universal access to birth control and family planning.
At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature – to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.