Pull on the seat-belt in your gas-guzzling car, folks, and strap in for the worst ride of our lives.

This fall, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a critical report warning that humans have about 12 years — until 2030 — before global warming reaches a catastrophic level.

The report concludes, frighteningly, that the world can’t allow global temperatures to warm past 1.5 degrees Celsius, or there will quite literally be hell to pay. And unless we take drastic action, we’re already all set to get there.

Consider this your all-hands-on-deck, siren-blaring warning that we need to act comprehensively to mitigate climate change now — or forever hold our peace.

The IPCC predicts an increased risk of devastating climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food, water, security, and economic growth.

As sea levels and global temperatures rise, low-lying communities will disappear and heat-related deaths will increase, along with diseases like dengue fever and malaria. Areas that cease to be inhabitable by humans will fuel an accelerated refugee crisis, while resources like agriculture and crops will be decimated in key areas impacted by climate change.

That’s just a few of the highlights of the Ten Plagues-like punishment we’ll get for endangering our planet. We’re facing a pretty grim future — and that’s even if we manage to cap the rise at 1.5 degrees, which we’re not on track to do.

For those of us who are pretty young like me, our golden years may be anything but.

Before you slip quietly into your doomsday bunker or start praying that someone invents interstellar space travel, there’s an urgent message of hope: We’ve got a little bit of time to save the only home planet we’ve got. And it’s going to take all of us to do it.

While dire, the report also contains some critically useful recommendations.

Governments, companies, indigenous peoples, local communities, and individuals all have a critical role to play to solve this crisis. We can and must act quickly and collaboratively on a local and global scale before it’s too late. Acting alone or failing to cooperate, the IPCC report emphasizes, will fall short.

The Paris Climate Agreement isn’t going to be enough — we need massive, World War Two-level mobilization. The victory will be that we get a living, healthy planet.

The report also highlights the need to consider justice and equity as we consider solutions.

Some nations, like the United States, are leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and other accelerants of climate change. Others contribute less to emissions but are more vulnerable to catastrophic damage. A number of low-lying nations (on whose approval the Paris Agreement depended) will literally be underwater if temperatures rise beyond the IPCC’s limit.

The point being: The countries that have contributed the most to climate change need to contribute the most to fixing it — and to helping those who suffer most to adapt.

What can you do, right here, right now, besides giving up meat, your car, or plastic bags and straws?

Urge your local or state government to commit to 100 percent renewable energy in the next decade. Get your community and your state to ban the use of fracking and other fossil fuel production that will drive us to doomsday that much quicker, not to mention the other dangerous risks to people’s health.

Call on the federal government to implement the recommendations of the IPCC report, and commit to working with the rest of the world to act swiftly.

And if you vote, remember the planet when you do.

Five Midterm Votes That Could Have an Outsize Impact on Climate Change

A rally in support of Initiative 1631, which would establish a carbon tax in Washington State, in Lacey, Wash., this month.CreditCreditTed S. Warren/Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — This is the era of deregulation in the nation’s capital: President Trump is rolling back Obama-era climate change regulations that would have cut planet-warming pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes, and he has vowed to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, the 2015 accord under which nearly every nation pledged to limit greenhouse gas pollution.

At the state level, though, advocates and lawmakers around the country are fighting back.

In some states, questions of climate change policy are on the ballot. While advocates generally agree that national programs, rather than state and local efforts, will be required to tackle global warming, there are a handful of policies on five midterm ballots that could have an outsize impact on the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution, and the direction of national policy.

Gov. Jay Inslee, left, gathered signatures for a carbon tax proposal in Seattle in June.CreditPhuong Le/Associated Press

Voters in Washington State will decide next week whether to pass the country’s first tax on carbon dioxide pollution.

Passage of the measure, known as Initiative 1631, would be seen as a bellwether that could resonate around the country and even the world, as climate scientists and economists push a carbon tax as the central solution to climate change.

Its rejection would most likely be seen as a sign that carbon taxes are not politically viable in the United States.

“If it passed, it would be the first time voters in the U.S. approve a price on carbon,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. “That would be unprecedented, and it would be huge.”

The Washington governor, Jay Inslee, has already tried and failed twice to pass the nation’s first tax on planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions. But both backers and opponents of the idea see his current push as more likely to gain traction, partly because, this time, the plan includes specific guidelines on what to do with the revenue. Funds from the tax would go toward programs to reduce global warming, like the development of wind and solar energy.

“It’s definitely got momentum,” said Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a pro-fossil-fuel think tank that opposes carbon taxes and that supplied the Trump administration with its energy policy blueprint. “If it passes, it will give advocates a glimmer of hope that they can replicate it.”

The measure would impose a tax of $15 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution in Washington starting in 2020, with the cost increasing $2 a year after that, until the state meets certain emissions targets.

Opponents of the measure, including oil companies like BP and the industrial conglomerate Koch Industries, have poured $28 million into the fight, the most money that has ever been spent to campaign on a ballot initiative in the state, according to data compiled by the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.


Aubrey Dunn, the departing New Mexico land commissioner. His successor will regulate methane leaks from oil and gas operations. CreditKris McNeil/New Mexico State Land Office, via Associated Press

In New Mexico, a race to become the state’s next public lands commissioner is drawing attention from national environmental groups and one of the country’s largest oil companies.

At stake is a job with the authority to regulate the emissions of methane, a powerful planet-warming greenhouse gas that leaks from oil and gas operations and is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere.

In New Mexico, methane leaks are a big deal. Leaks from oil and gas operations in and around the state have created the nation’s largest methane cloud, about the size of Delaware, over the state’s Four Corners region.

Voters will choose between Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat who has vowed to crack down on leaks of methane, and Patrick Lyons, a Republican who was commissioner of public lands from 2003 until 2010. He has the backing of the oil industry, including a $2 million contribution by Chevron to the political action committee supporting his campaign.

The winner will oversee the use of New Mexico’s nine million acres of public land that have been designated for generating revenue for the state, largely through the leasing to oil and gas companies.

“The New Mexico land commissioner is the most powerful land manager in the country,” said Demis Foster, executive director of Conservation Voters New Mexico. “They oversee more lands like this than anywhere else and we have the largest methane cloud possibly on Earth.”

“And the oil companies that leak that methane want Pat Lyons to be their landlord,” Ms. Foster added.

Mr. Lyons’ campaign manager, Deborah Bransford, pushed back on that criticism. Mr. Lyons has pledged to rein in methane leaks on oil and gas wells, she noted. He has not endorsed the tougher measures, notably fines for methane leaks, proposed by Ms. Garcia Richard.

Regarding donations to Mr. Lyons’ campaign from national oil companies that oppose methane regulations, Ms. Bransford said: “We can’t control where they donate the money. But they certainly understand that Commissioner Lyons is supportive of the industry and is willing to work with them.”


The Boulder Solar project in Boulder City, Nev.CreditDavid Walter Banks for The New York Times

Voters in two of the nation’s sunniest states will vote on whether to ramp up the use of renewable electricity sources, particularly solar power. In both states, the ballot initiative would require electric utilities to produce 50 percent of their electricity from wind and solar by 2030, up from current requirements of 25 percent by 2025 in Nevada, and 15 percent by 2025 in Arizona.

Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C., already have such programs, known as Renewable Portfolio Standards, although only a handful — those in California, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey and Vermont — are as ambitious as those proposed in Nevada and Arizona.

Passage of the initiatives is far from certain. Last year, Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada vetoed a bill that would have increased the state’s renewable energy mandate to a less-ambitious 40 percent by 2050. And in Arizona, electric utilities have campaigned against the measure, citing the cost.

Some policy experts say the mandates for more renewable power will drive down the cost, leading to a market-driven spread of cleaner energy.

“When you get this kind of ambitious investment from states, it drives down costs across the country,” said Dallas Burtraw, an expert in electricity policy at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan Washington research organization focused on energy and environment economics. “We’re already seeing this as a result of the state programs in place, and growing the club of states with these very ambitious mandates will take this further.”

In Colorado, the boom in fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has led to a surge in oil and natural gas production and millions of dollars in new tax revenue. It has also raised fears that the process has poisoned residents’ water.

Next week, Coloradans will vote on a regulation designed to scale back how much fracking would be permitted. While the proposed rule would not go as far as the outright bans on fracking in Maryland, New York and Vermont, oil and gas companies fear that, if enacted, the Colorado proposal could spread to other states, curtailing the national oil and gas boom that was precipitated a decade ago by breakthroughs in fracking.

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.

Coral Davenport covers energy and environmental policy, with a focus on climate

Puffins: Harbingers of Climate Change


These small ocean birds are the proverbial canary in the coal mine as the ecology of their habitat worsens.

November 5, 2018

This article appears in the Fall 2018 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here

Audrey Holstead watched a puffin rocket in from the ocean with a beak dripping with fish. It zoomed over boulders in front of her bird blind and dropped with pinpoint accuracy into a narrow, dark crevice.

Holstead’s skin crawled with electricity. Puffins come ashore with fish for only one reason: to feed a chick. This was the first feeding of the season observed at this particular hole. It belonged to the 173rd breeding pair of Atlantic puffins on Eastern Egg Rock, an island six miles off Pemaquid Point on Maine’s midcoast. That set a new record for the National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin, one of the world’s most famous bird restoration efforts. The season finished with 178 breeding pairs.

“I just wanted to jump up and down and scream to the world,” Holstead says. “I did a little wiggly dance.”

Holstead’s victory jig was one of several in the 45th summer of the project founded by Steve Kress, National Audubon Society’s executive director of seabird restoration and vice president for bird conservation. I was his co-author and photographer on the 2015 book Project Puffin: The Improbable Quest to Bring a Beloved Seabird Back to Egg Rock.

For nearly a century, the island went without puffins, eliminated by the 1880s by coastal dwellers hungry for the birds’ meat and eggs. Kress dreamed of bringing them back while teaching about birds at Audubon’s Hog Island summer camp up the Muscongus Bay coast from Pemaquid Point.

The only problem was that no seabird had ever been restored to an island where people killed it off.

In 1973, Kress convinced the Canadian government to let him translocate puffin chicks from 800 miles away in Newfoundland. Kress and colleagues fed fish to chicks in handmade sod burrows on Egg Rock until they fledged. The team then set up decoys and mirrors to make the birds perceive abundance when they returned as adults to breed.

Kress hoped the chicks would return to Egg Rock rather than Newfoundland. He guessed right. The first puffins returned in 1977 and began breeding in 1981. Today, 1,300 pairs of puffins breed on five islands in the state, most of the birds being managed in a partnership between Project Puffin and the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The bird now fuels the local economy with boat tours all along the coast.

Derrick Z. Jackson

As warming waters move their ranges northward, butterfish (above) have begun to replace herring and other more appropriate fish as food sources. Unfortunately, the butterfish’s oval shape makes it difficult for puffin chicks to swallow, causing many to starve.

The techniques used to bring back puffins have been used to re-establish or relocate 65 species of seabirds in 17 countries. A spectacular example is the 1996 return of the common murre, an auk cousin of the puffin, to Devil’s Slide rock, a 900-feet-high coastal sea stack south of San Francisco. The rock’s colony of 3,000 murre was wiped out by a massive oil spill in 1986.

After a barren decade, a team of climbers advised by Kress and now-longtime Project Puffin colleague Sue “Seabird Sue” Schubel, scaled the rock to install decoys, mirrors, and solar-powered soundtracks. A murre landed the very next day. Breeding occurred that year and the colony today is again 3,000 birds.

The murre success came back full circle this year to Maine. That bird was also wiped out in the state in the late 19th century. Inspired by Devil’s Slide, Project Puffin started trying to bring murres back to the island of Matinicus Rock. This summer, researchers discovered four healthy murre chicks under boulders.

For Kress, 72, seeing this bird was as close as he could come to welcoming back the similar-looking, twice-as-tall great auk, which was driven to extinction in the mid-1800s.

“When the murres came back to Devil’s Slide, the lead person of that project, Harry Carter, gave me a cigar and said, ‘Keep this until murres return to Maine,’” Kress says. “I still have that cigar. Now I’ll have to light it up with Seabird Sue.”

Kress says the murre chicks are proof that his project is still “reaping rewards of work done over long decades. We can bring back whole communities. It’s wild and exciting to be on the forefront of restoration. The murres show us that momentum is still rolling in the right direction.”


EVEN AS MAINE’S PUFFINS and murres make history, a malicious momentum is rolling in from the wrong direction to fog the future. Project Puffin is in the giant Gulf of Maine, which extends up from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia. The gulf is unique for its swirl of the cold Labrador Current and the warm Gulf Stream. The diversity of water has allowed for a wide range both of birds at the southern end of their North American breeding limits, like puffins and Arctic terns, and birds at the northern end of their nesting range, such as species of herons, ibises, and oystercatchers.

But climate change is making those currents go haywire, warming the Gulf of Maine faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans. The Labrador Current is being disrupted by freshwater runoff from warming and melting Greenland ice sheets, the Gulf Stream is pushing northward, and warmer air in the jet stream is transferring more heat into the ocean as it flows off the East Coast.

To understand how fast that change is occurring, Andrew Thomas, professor of oceanography at the University of Maine, puts it like this: The duration of summer-like sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine is extending by about two days every year.

Today, the duration of summer temperatures is two months longer than it was 35 years ago.

“It is a head-scratching number,” Thomas says. “It’s a perfect storm of perfect impacts. When I first saw the numbers, I couldn’t believe it. I did the calculation three more times. I got the same numbers no matter how I plotted it. This is something I never expected.”

Nor did Kress when he started his project. His puffins are now sentinels warning us of what we are doing to our oceans. They tell us via the fish they bring to their chicks.

Take herring, a workhorse forage fish. Whales, sharks, seals, and porpoises eat them underwater. Humans eat them out of cans, grind them into nutritional supplements and pet food, and throw them back in the water for lobster bait.

Young herring are an ideal fish for many seabird species because of their high fat content and streamlined bodies that are easy for chicks to eat. When the first breeding puffin was spotted flying into an Eastern Egg Rock burrow in 1981, the project’s newsletter proudly proclaimed that its beak was “packed full of glistening herring!” A 1985 newsletter said, “This is the puffin’s principal and most nutritious food.”

No more. Herring have virtually disappeared from the puffin diet. Overfishing crashed their commercial population in the late 1970s. Despite federally managed rebuilding of stocks to “robust” status in 2015, the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration still cut the allowable 2018 catch in half over fears of record low numbers of young herring.

The herring that do exist are being driven farther out and deeper into the ocean by warmer water. According to Rutgers University marine biologist Malin Pinsky, the “center of abundance” for Atlantic herring has slipped from 200 feet of ocean depth in the late 1960s to 250 feet today.

“We have to start facing the fact that some fish may not be coming back in range of the birds.”

That begins to fall out of range of a bird whose record diving depth is 200 feet. A 2012 study on Petit Manan Island found that most puffin dives were above 50 feet. “The fish might still be there, but it’s not going to help the birds if the fish go down too deep,” says Linda Welch, who has worked as a biologist for two decades at the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, which manages Petit Manan. “We have to start facing the fact that some fish may not be coming back in range of the birds.”

Other iconic New England species show similar trends. Pinsky says the core abundance of lobster has moved north 155 miles since the early 1970s and yellowtail flounder have moved north 145 miles since the 1960s.

Fish more associated with mid-Atlantic waters, such as black sea bass, are showing up in bigger numbers in the Gulf of Maine as their core population has moved up from the latitude of Virginia Beach to that of Trenton, New Jersey. Red hake have moved up from the latitude of Trenton to that of Boston.

“It’s like shaking a snow globe and waiting to see how things settle down,” says Pinsky. “And it may not settle down unless we get our greenhouse gases down.”

To view these shifts in another way with another animal, it’s as if in just one human lifetime, the northern range of the American alligator had moved up from the swamps of northernmost North Carolina to hailing distance of the Washington, D.C., suburbs (this might be a particularly appropriate analogy, given how America is mired in the swamp of political inaction on climate change).

“We’ve flipped into a new, disturbing phase, an alarming new normal,” says Janet Nye, a professor of marine and atmospheric sciences at Stony Brook University. She was a member of a groundbreaking 2015 study that determined that the continued collapse of New England’s iconic cod fishery was significantly due to overfishing and the failure of commercial catch limits to account for the effect of ocean warming on cod.

“What’s really interesting is that no one yet has taken a hard look at the interactions between different species,” she adds. “We’ve typically taken a look at one species at a time to see how temperature change alters their range and distribution. The next step is trying to understand how that affects how species interact with each other.”


SEABIRDS AND FISH ARE rapidly helping us to understand that interaction, and sometimes tell us stories of government success. In recent years, puffins on some islands have brought to their chicks large numbers of small haddock and Acadian redfish, species that rebounded with federal regulation. A 2017 NOAA report said haddock, a cousin of cod, “is currently at an all-time high.”

Derrick Z. Jackson

Solar-powered soundtracks, mirrors, and decoys (shown above) have been used over the years by Steve Kress and his team to lure puffins to nest on Eastern Egg Rock.

But with water temperatures soaring to all-time highs, redfish and haddock are two of the fish projected to decline in the Gulf of Maine, according to a study last year led by Kristin Kleisner, a former NOAA researcher who is now a senior ocean scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. That study also found that white hake, the top replacement of herring for Maine puffins, will also decline in abundance as the gulf’s surface waters may warm by another six or seven degrees this century.

“A huge question is which species can co-exist with each other in a new area,” Kleisner says. “There are definitely fish that will leave the Gulf of Maine or not recover. It may not be all doom and gloom if there are other fish that move in that are still nutritious. But puffins are in a hot spot. They may or may not adapt.”

How hot is this spot for puffins? In 2012, the Gulf of Maine had its warmest waters on record. The 2012 summer temperature was 3.7 degrees Fahrenheit above historical averages. Less than a four-degree difference means little to humans who can shed clothes. For fish, four degrees is like being forced to wear a parka on Miami Beach.

As the puffins’ familiar fish “shed clothes” by fleeing for colder water, fish are showing up in their diet that are “shedding” the waters to the south. One is the butterfish, whose core population has moved just since 2004 from the latitude of central Virginia to the latitude of central New Jersey.

Large butterfish are a plague to puffins, especially if they arrive early in the season when their oval shape makes it difficult for newly hatched chicks to eat, causing many to starve. The upward push of butterfish coincided with the 2012 heat and was a major challenge for puffins. Petit Manan saw its breeding puffin count crash from 104 pairs in 2009 to 47 pairs by 2013. Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge and Matinicus Rock, each of which is home to more than 500 pairs of puffins, fledged only one out of every ten chicks in 2013, a record low.

Since then, there have been years of slightly cooler water and breeding success for puffins. Last year, Egg Rock hit 172 pairs of puffins. Seal and Matinicus fledged four out of every five chicks.

But the summer of 2018 was a maddening rollercoaster of the best and the worst things that could happen for puffins. The season started fine with ample haddock and white hake. Puffins began breeding in their record numbers.

Then, a July ocean heat wave sent the water to near-2012 levels. Haddock and hake largely disappeared at Eastern Egg Rock. Butterfish started showing up. On Matinicus Rock, supervisor Frank Mayer said he saw 25 to 30 chicks dead of starvation in an 85-nest study area. On Seal Island, supervisor Keenan Yakola found seven dead chicks in 60 study burrows, surrounded by rotting whole butterfish. Surviving chicks were dramatically underweight.

“What scares me is what we don’t know,” said Yakola, a graduate fellow at the Interior Department’s Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, housed at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This was his fourth year as Seal supervisor. “Are water temperatures causing mismatches in spawning and [in] when the fish are available to seabirds?

If herring are gone and hake decline, what comes next?

If herring are gone and hake decline, what comes next? We’ve had big butterfish years in the past but now the frequency of butterfish years when little else is present is concerning. In 2016 and 2018, we saw the number of feedings declining, some days we saw no feeding, possibly because the adults have to spend hours looking for food.”

Yakola’s graduate adviser and climate coordinator at the climate center, Michelle Staudinger, says she saw on Seal Island the surreal sight of puffins and terns bringing in goosefish. Otherwise known as monkfish, the fish is often considered one of the ugliest in the sea, with a body that is almost all head and mouth. “That was shocking,” Staudinger says. “What is a bird doing eating that? Why is a bird bringing that in? Seabirds like fish they can slurp down like spaghetti. This is like trying to eat a hamburger in one bite.”

Puffin chicks were in such poor condition by late July that Eastern Egg Rock intern Kay Garlick-Ott, a 22-year-old graduate of Pomona College, said, “You can actually feel the lack of food in the bird. You expect your fingers to hit something like bones, but it was just a puffball. When I pulled it out of its burrow, I knew it wasn’t right. It was so sad.”

But in yet one more twist, there was a last-minute reprieve for puffin chicks that clung to life in Maine. By the second week in August, a time when most chicks normally would have fledged, parents found a surprise final wave of hake and haddock to feed offspring, bringing home as many as 18 feedings a day. The chicks, sensing they needed the food to survive their first winter, stayed in their burrows an unprecedented full month longer than normal to fatten up. Just before Labor Day, there were at least 20 chicks still in burrows on Seal Island. On Eastern Egg Rock, Kress observed a puffin feeding on September 6, a date by which the birds have usually vacated for the winter.

“I’ve never seen a year that started out promising, then turned troubling with butterfish and very few feedings per day, and then reversed with many feedings per day,” Kress says. “It’s kind of symbolic for the last several years. It adds to the idea that it’s a roll of the dice as to how this unfolds. I was very impressed with the puffins’ ability to come up with the strategy of slow development. But we’ve never seen such slow development that then reversed itself to faster development.”

Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, which found that the 2018 waters reached their second-highest recorded temperature of nearly 69 degrees Fahrenheit on August 8, says Americans are further gambling with the future with the deterioration of data. He says prior and proposed federal research cutbacks are curtailing or ending studies of plankton abundance, the foundation of marine life, and letting aging weather buoys fall into disrepair.

“Thank goodness we can observe what’s happening to seabirds,” Pershing says. “But it’s getting harder and harder to study what drives those changes. Without hard data, it’s hard to get ahead of what the gulf will look like.”

Tony Diamond, emeritus professor of wildlife ecology at the University of New Brunswick and one of Kress’s longtime colleagues, is not sure how much stress the puffins can take before they take some sort of leave. When Kress first asked the Canadian government for chicks, top wildlife officials at first refused, postulating that at the first sign of ecosystem stress, the birds would retreat back over the border and make the experiment a waste of time.

Nearly a half-century later, the fear of retreat or worse is not just in Maine but also in the Atlantic puffin’s strongholds of Iceland, Norway, and the United Kingdom. Similar environmental scenarios are so worrisome that the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List changed the bird’s status from one of “least concern” to “vulnerable” in 2015.

Canada’s top home for puffins in the Gulf of Maine, Machias Seal Island, has 5,500 pairs, and Diamond fears for them as well. Its own roulette of fish crashes has resulted in puffins going from fledging two out of every three chicks from 1995 to 2005 to only every other one ever since.

“The puffins are a hardy bird [capable of living into their 30s], and they can handle a few bad years,” Diamond says. “But now things are hitting us at a time scale we’ve never known. We used to kill birds for feathers and meat. We stopped that a century ago with management, and the birds came back. Now we’re causing them to die again to support our lifestyles in a new way. They’ve become collateral damage for our consumption.

“Unless we do something drastic for the fish, I fear there won’t be much work for a puffin researcher in the Gulf of Maine 50 years from now.”

That’s not what today’s puffin researchers want to hear. Kress has long entrusted his islands to members of the next generation, for them to spend hours observing in the blinds, to contort themselves upside down to reach down into boulders to band chicks, and occasionally rush outside to get rid of puffin and tern predators such as gulls, eagles, and falcons overhead or mink and otter that swim from island to island.

Besides Holstead and Garlick-Ott, the Egg Rock crew when I visited in July included Laura Brazier, a 27-year-old graduate of Loyola University in Maryland with a wildlife conservation master’s degree from University College Dublin; Nicole Faber, 24, a graduate of Bowdoin College; and Blanca Gonzalez, 29, a graduate of the Autonomous University of Madrid with a master’s in animal behavior from Cordoba University.

They contrasted the struggle for the puffins and terns to find the right fish with all the concern people show for pandas, whales, the 2015 killing of Cecil the lion, and even conservation efforts for lobsters. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the University of Maine, and NOAA found that conservation efforts established by the lobster industry can maintain a stable industry in the face of climate change, averting the collapse that hit southeastern New England.

Derrick Z. Jackson

Steve Kress and his team on the coast of Maine

“It was devastating when the switch to butterfish occurred,” Faber says. “The worst is watching a tern chick trying to stretch its mouth, get the fish halfway down. You see this great lump in their neck. Then when they realize they can’t get it down, they hack it out on the ground. Then they try it over and over and the fish just gets covered in sticks and dirt. It’s horrible. It’s something I didn’t expect when I was told I’d be studying fish.”

Holstead recalled another tern chick that kept rejecting a butterfish and its parent picking it up over and over again to keep trying to feed it. “I’m sitting in the blind mentally screaming to myself, ‘Drop the stupid thing! Go find something else! You want your chick to die!?’ I wince every time I see it.”

Brazier was spending her fourth summer on Project Puffin and her second as Egg Rock supervisor. She has traveled the world to assist the conservation of penguins in South Africa, turtles in Greece, hares in the Yukon, and albatrosses on Midway Atoll. This winter, she is headed to Antarctica for penguin research.

For all that travel for creatures that inspire movies like March of the Penguins or books like Carl Safina’s Voyage of the Turtle and Eye of the Albatross, Brazier has spent the last four summers realizing that a puffin is only as beautiful as the oily fish it eats.

“When I see puffins fly into the burrow with butterfish, I think, ‘Puffin, stop!’” Brazier says. “But we can’t make them stop and they don’t seem to have the ability to realize what they’re catching. Last year was so insanely good. This year, as the summer deteriorated, puffins were loafing less, probably because they had less time to hang around and needed more time to find fish. You just wonder sometimes when their energy is going to run out.”


ONE THING THAT WILL NOT run out is the energy of the interns. Just as Kress returned the puffin to Maine against many odds to heal an environmental wound of the 19th century, the interns say this summer’s difficulties make them that much more dedicated not to let 21st-century problems reopen those wounds. They are quite clear that Project Puffin’s efforts are being hurt by President Trump’s and the Republican Congress’s attempted gutting of environmental protections. Many of those protections, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, were enacted in the 1970s, just as Kress began bringing puffins back.

The administration is also trying to allow commercial fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, 130 miles off Cape Cod. President Obama gave this region permanent protection because it has canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon and many previously unknown species of deep-sea corals. It also is a prime feeding area for whales, turtles, and late-winter puffins that fatten up here before migrating to Maine to breed.

From this seven-acre rock, the interns are fighting back by giving people a more vivid picture of what the puffin faces.

“We can transfer anger against Trump into something positive,” Gonzalez says. “We know conservation science is not a field to get rich and famous. But we have passion.”

The question, of course, is when society will feel and honor this passion with a movement to prevent rollbacks of existing environmental laws and reverse the long-term threat to puffins, fish, and humans—climate change.

“The political environment makes me really appreciate everyone who is working out here,” Faber says. “It’s so easy to feel totally devastated and crushed by a government that wants to pollute everything again. We have to keep the resolve to not let it happen.”

Brazier, the veteran of the group, says: “Sometimes I wonder what we’re doing out here in the grand scheme of things. What is the part that five people on this tiny island do to save the planet? So many people out there are complacent and I know not everybody is going to care about the fish.

“But I have to remember that none of what we’re seeing out here was here when the project started. That’s how I stay hopeful.”

As long as they have hope, so do the puffins.

Ten simple changes to help save the planet

We know that climate change is happening – but there are plenty of things individuals can do to help mitigate it. Here’s your handy guide to the most effective strategies.

In a new report published in September 2018, the world’s leading climate scientists made their starkest warning so far: our current actions are not enough for us to meet our target of 1.5C of warming. We need to do more.

It’s settled science that climate change is real, and we’re starting to see some of the ways that it affects us. It increases the likelihood of flooding in Miami and elsewhere, threatens the millions of people living along the Brahmaputra Riverin north-eastern India and disrupts the sex life of plants and animals.

So we don’t need to ask whether climate change is happening – or whether humans are causing it. Instead, we need to ask: “what can we do?”

What can you do that will have the biggest impact? Here’s our guide.

1. What is the single most important thing humanity has to do in the coming years – and what does that mean for me?

The number one goal? Limiting the use of fossil fuels such as oil, carbon and natural gas and replacing them with renewable and cleaner sources of energy, all while increasing energy efficiency. “We need to cut CO2 emissions almost in half (45%) by the end of the next decade,” says Kimberly Nicholas, associate professor of sustainability science at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS), in Sweden.

The number one goal is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources

To mitigate climate change, the number one goal is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources (Credit: Getty)

The road towards that transition includes daily decisions within your reach – like driving and flying less, switching to a ‘green’ energy provider and changing what you eat and buy.

Of course, it’s true that climate change won’t be solved by your buying or driving habits alone – although many experts agree these are important, and can influence others to make changes too (more on that later). Other changes are needed that can only be made on a bigger, system-wide basis – like revamping our subsidy system for the energy and food industries, which continue to reward fossil fuels, or setting new rules and incentives for sectors like farming, deforestation and waste management.

One good example of the importance of this regards refrigerants. An advocacy group of researchers, business-people and NGOs called Drawdown found that getting rid of HFCs (chemicals used in fridges and air conditioning)  was the number-one most effective policy to reduce emissions. That’s because they are up to 9,000 more warming for the atmosphere than CO2. The good news is that we have made global progress on this, and two years ago 170 countries agreed to start phasing out HFCs in 2019.

This is important because we need “unprecedented changes in all aspects of society to deal with climate change, says the IPCC report. “Everyone is going to have to be involved,” says Debra Robert, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the group tasked with the report.

2. Changing how industries are run or subsidised doesn’t sound like anything I can influence… can I?

You can. Individuals need to exercise their rights both as citizens and as consumers, Robert and other experts say, putting pressure on their governments and on companies to make the system-wide changes that are needed.

Another way, increasingly undertaken by universities, faith groups and recently even at a countrywide level, is to ‘divest’ funds out of polluting activities – such as avoiding stocks in fossil fuels, or banks that invest in high-emission industries. By getting rid of financial instruments related to the fossil fuel industry, organisations can both take climate action and reap economic benefits.

3. Other than that, what’s the best daily action I can take?

One 2017 study co-authored by Lund University’s Nicholas ranked 148 individual actions on climate change according to their impact. Going car-free was the number-one most effective action an individual could take (except not having kids – but more on that on that later). Cars are more polluting compared to other means of transportation like walking, biking or using public transport.

One ranking found that going car-free is the most effective action one person can take

One ranking found that going car-free is the most effective action one person can take (Credit: Getty)

In industrialised countries such as European nations, getting rid of your car can reduce 2.5 tonnes of CO2 – about one-fourth of the average yearly emissions (9.2 tonnes) contributed by each person in developed countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

“We should choose more efficient vehicles and, whenever possible, switch directly to electric vehicles,” says Maria Virginia Vilarino, co-author of the mitigation chapter in the IPCC’s latest report.

4. But isn’t renewable energy extremely expensive?

Actually, renewables like wind and solar are becoming increasingly cheap across the world (although final costs are subject to local circumstances). The latest report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) found that several of the most commonly used renewables, like solar, geothermal, bioenergy, hydropower and onshore wind, will be on par with or cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020. Some are already more cost-effective.

Solar energy is now the cheapest source of electricity for many households

Solar energy is now the cheapest source of electricity for many households in Latin America, Asia and Africa (Credit: Getty)

The cost of utility-scale solar panels has fallen 73% since 2010, for example, making solar energy the cheapest source of electricity for many households in Latin America, Asia and Africa.  In the UK, onshore wind and solar are competitive with gas and by 2025 will be the cheapest source of electricity generation.

Some critics argue that these prices disregard the price of integrating renewables on the electricity system – but recent evidence suggests these costs are ‘modest’ and manageable for the grid.

5. Could I make a difference by changing my diet?

That’s a big one, too. In fact, after fossil fuels, the food industry – and in particular the meat and dairy sector – is one of the most important contributors to climate change. If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the US.

If cattle were their own nation, they’d be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases

If cattle were their own nation, they’d be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (Credit: Getty)

The meat industry contributes to global warming in three major ways. Firstly, cows’ burping from processing food releases lots of methane, a greenhouse gas. Secondly, we feed them with other potential sources of food, like maize and soy, which makes for a very inefficient process. And finally, they also require lots of water, fertilisers that can release greenhouse gases, and plenty of land – some of which come from cleared forests, another source of carbon emissions.

By reducing your consumption of animal protein by half, you can cut your diet’s carbon footprint by more than 40%

You don’t have to go vegetarian or vegan to make a difference: cut down gradually and become a ‘flexitarian’. By reducing your consumption of animal protein by half, you can cut your diet’s carbon footprint by more than 40%. A larger-scale approach could be something like banning meat across an organisation, as office-sharing company WeWork did in 2018.

This explainer of sustainable diets by the World Resources Institute (WIR) and its longer associated reportprovides more answers to questions about food and carbon emissions.

6. How harmful are my flying habits?

Planes run on fossil fuels, and we haven’t figured out a scaleable alternative. Although some early efforts to use solar panels to fly around the world have had success, we are still decades away from commercial flights running on solar energy.

A normal transatlantic round-trip flight can release around 1.6 tonnes of CO2 – almost as much as the average yearly emissions of one person in India.

A normal transatlantic round-trip flight can release around 1.6 tonnes of CO2, according to Nicholas’s study – almost as much as the average yearly emissions of one person in India. This also highlights the inequality of climate change: while everyone will be affected, only a minority of humans fly and even fewer people take planes often.

There are groups of scientists and members of the public who have decided to give up flying or who fly less. Virtual meetings, holidaying in local destinations or using trains instead of planes all are ways to cut down.

Wondering how much your travel contributes to climate change? Measure your carbon emissions in this calculator by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

7. Should I be shopping differently?

Most likely. That’s because everything we buy has a carbon footprint, either in the way it is produced or in how it is transported.

For instance, the clothing sector represents around 3% of the world’s global production emissions of CO2, mostly because of the use of energy to produce attire. The hectic pace of fast fashion contributes to this figure as clothes are discarded or fall apart after short periods.

The clothing sector makes up about 3% of the world’s CO2 emissions

The clothing sector makes up about 3% of the world’s CO2 emissions (Credit: Getty)

International transport, including maritime and air shipping, also has an impact. Groceries shipped from Chile and Australia to Europe, or the other way around, have more ‘food miles’ and usually a higher footprint than local produce. But this is not always the case, as some countries grow out-of-season crops in energy-intensive greenhouses – so the best approach is to eat food that is both locally grown and seasonal. Even so, eating vegetarian still beats only purchasing local.

8. Should I think about how many children I have (or don’t have)?

Nicholas’s study concluded that having fewer children is the best way to reduce your contribution to climate change, with almost 60 tonnes of CO2 avoided per year. But this result has been contentious – and it leads to other questions.

One is whether you are responsible for children’s climate emissions, and the other is where are these babies born.

If you are responsible for your kids’ emissions, are your parents responsible for yours? And if you are not, how should we consider the fact that more people will likely have more carbon emissions? We also could ask whether having offspring is a human right beyond questioning. And we could ask if having children is necessarily a bad thing for solving climate change: our challenges may mean we will need more problem-solvers in future generations, not fewer.

Those are hard, philosophical questions – and we’re not going to try to answer them here.

Children lead to more CO2 emissions – but they may also be future problem-solvers

Children lead to more CO2 emissions – but they may also be future environmentally-minded problem-solvers (Credit: Getty)

What we do know is that no two people have the same emissions. Although the average human releases around 5 tonnes of CO2 per year, each country has very different circumstances: developed nations like the US and South Korea have higher national averages (16.5 tonnes and 11.5 tonnes per person, respectively) than developing countries like Pakistan and Philippines (around 1 tonne each). Even within national borders, richer people have higher emissions than people with less access to goods and services. So if you choose to take this question into account, you have to remember that it’s not just about how many children you have – it’s where (and who) you are.

9. But if I eat less meat or take fewer flights, that’s just me – how much of a difference can that really make?

Actually, it’s not just you. Social scientists have found that when one person makes a sustainability-oriented decision, other people do too.

Here are four examples:

Social scientists believe this occurs because we constantly evaluate what our peers are doing and we adjust our beliefs and actions accordingly. When people see their neighbours taking environmental action, like conserving energy, they infer that people like them also value sustainability and feel more compelled to act.

10. What if I just can’t avoid that flight, or cut down on driving?

If you simply can’t make every change that’s needed, consider offsetting your emissions with a trusted green project – not a ‘get out of jail free card’, but another resource in your toolbox to compensate that unavoidable flight or car trip. The UN Climate Convention keeps a portfolio of dozens of projects around the world you can contribute to. To find out how many emissions you need to ‘buy’ back, you can use its handy carbon footprint calculator.

Whether you are a coffee farmer in Colombia or a homeowner in California, climate change will have an impact on your life. But the opposite is also true: your actions will influence the planet for the coming decades – for better or for worse.


Diego Arguedas Ortiz is a science and climate change reporter for BBC Future.

Trump’s failure to fight climate change is a crime against humanity

Trump administration dismisses EPA scientists 02:35

Jeffrey Sachs is a professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author; view more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN)President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and others who oppose action to address human-induced climate change should be held accountable for climate crimes against humanity. They are the authors and agents of systematic policies that deny basic human rights to their own citizens and people around the world, including the rights to life, health, and property. These politicians have blood on their hands, and the death toll continues to rise.

Trump remains in willful denial of the thousands of deaths caused by his government’s inept, under-funded, and under-motivated response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year. The image that will remain in history is of the President gleefully throwing paper towels for a photo op as the people of Puerto Rico around him suffered and died of neglect. Last month, Hurricane Florence claimed at least 48 deaths, with more likely to come in its aftermath. This past week Hurricane Michael has claimed at least 32 lives, with more than a thousand people reportedly still missing. The final death toll will likely soar in the months ahead as the residual consequences of the storm become more clear.
As the Earth warms due to the continued burning of coal, oil, and gas, climate-related disasters that include high-intensity hurricanes, floods, droughts, extreme precipitation, forest fires, and heat waves, pose rising dangers to life and property. Hurricanes become more destructive as warmer ocean waters feed more energy to the storms. Warmer air also carries more moisture for devastating rainfalls, while rising sea levels lead to more flooding.
Yet Trump and his minions are the loyal servants of the fossil-fuel industry, which fill Republican partycampaign coffers. Trump has also stalled the fight against climate change by pulling out of the Paris Agreement. The politicians thereby deprive the people of their lives and property out of profound cynicism, greed, and willful scientific ignorance.
The first job of government is to protect the public. Real protection requires climate action on several fronts: educating the public about the growing dire risks of human-induced climate change; enacting legislation and regulations to ensure that families and businesses are kept out of harm’s way, for example by stopping construction in flood plains, and investing in sustainable infrastructure to counteract rising sea levels; anticipating the rising frequency of high-intensity climate-related disasters through science-based preparedness following through on properly scaled disaster-response during and after storm events; and most importantly for the future, spearheading the rapid transition to zero-carbon energy to prevent much greater calamities in the years ahead.
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This straightforward to-do list is the opposite of what Trump and his cronies are doing. Trump blithely disregards scientific findings about climate change and thereby exposes the nation to unprecedented risks. The officials he has appointed to the Environmental Protection Agency and other relevant parts of government are industry cronies and lobbyists far more interested in self-enrichment, padding their accounts, and helping their once-and-future employers than in doing their current jobs.
Trump’s mishandling of last year’s Puerto Rico disaster in the wake of Hurricane Maria is grounds itself for impeachment and trial. Thousands of citizens died unnecessarily on Trump’s watch because the administration could not be stirred to proper action before, during, and after the hurricane.
Two independent, detailed epidemiological studies, using different methodologies — one led by researchers at Harvard University and the other by researchers at George Washington University— have estimated that thousands died in the aftermath of Maria.
While dozens died during the storm, thousands more died as a result of the residual effects of the storm. Maria downed electricity and wreaked havoc on the ability of Puerto Ricans to meet their life-sustaining needs by disrupting access to health services, safe water, and transportation. They died, in short, from the storm, and ultimately from inadequate disaster prevention, preparedness and response.
Yet when the George Washington University study was released in September, the President responded by saying, “I think we did a fantastic job” in Puerto Rico. He brazenly denied the death count, without any attempt whatsoever to understand or learn from the findings.
Recent scientific studies underscore the dire emergency ahead. Professor James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climatologists, has demonstrated that the Earth’s climate has moved above the temperature range that supported the entire 10,000 years of civilization. The risks of catastrophic sea level rise are upon us. A group of world-leading ecologists recently highlighted that critical Earth systems could spiral out of control. The Nobel-prize winning Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change has also just released a harrowing report showing that the world has just a few years left to move decisively towards renewable energy if it hopes to achieve the globally agreed target to limit warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average temperature of the planet.
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The huge bills for Hurricanes Florence and Michael will now start rolling in: funerals, suffering, sorting through debris, and perhaps $30 billion in losses that could have been reduced dramatically through science-based planning and foresight. The American people are paying a heavy cost for the cynicism and cruelty of politicians in the pocket of the fossil-fuel industry. It is time to hold these reckless politicians to account.

Post-Hurricane Looters

Deputies in Bay County, Florida, who are working in Hurricane Michael’s shattering aftermath, have arrested about 10 suspected looters each night since the storm made landfall a week ago, according to authorities.

Bay County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Jimmy Stanford told the News Herald in an article published Tuesday that the looters have targeted businesses and homes. They are almost always armed.

“Most our officers lost their homes, have been working 16- to 18-hour shifts with no sleep, no shower; and now they’re encountering armed individuals,” Stanford told the publication. “It’s a stressful time for everyone in Bay County.”

The county is home to Florida’s Mexico Beach, a small town on the Gulf Coast that was in the bullseye of Hurricane Michael. It is also home to Panama City and Tyndall Air Force Base, which suffered “widespread catastrophic damage” from the storm.

In Callaway, a Panama City suburb, resident Victoria Smith said her purse was snatched out of her hands while she was sleeping. The front door to her home was open to let a breeze come through. With the breeze came burglars.

“I must’ve been so exhausted from everything in the past days I didn’t hear them come in,” she told the News Herald. “They just snatched my purse out of my hands and ran.”

“It was all we had,” she added.

Pictures showed police detaining people on suspicion of looting and a sign warning people.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said this week that he surveyed the hurricane damage in Bay County with FEMA Administrator Brock Long “so he could see firsthand the damage and total loss suffered by our Gulf Coast and Panhandle communities.” Scott said in a news release that “so many families have lost everything.”

FEMA has approved Transitional Sheltering Assistance for county residents, allowing eligible storm survivors to get short-term lodging in motels or hotels with costs covered by FEMA. Those eligible are people who can’t return to their homes for an extended period because of disaster-related damage or an inability to get to their communities, Scott’s office said.

Rick Scott


Following my request, and approval by @FEMA, families in Bay, Franklin, Gulf, Leon, Taylor, Wakulla, Calhoun, Liberty, Jackson, Gadsden, Holmes & Washington are now eligible for Individual Assistance. Visit http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov 

Few countries are meeting the Paris climate goals. Here are the ones that are.

Dead trees stand in a recently deforested section of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

This week, a top scientific body studying climate change released a terrifying report. The world has just a decade to take “unprecedented” action to cut carbon emissions and hold global warming to a moderate — but still dangerous and disruptive — level. That would require a “rapid and far-reaching” transformation of the world’s economy, one of such scale and magnitude that it has no historical equivalent.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that nearly every country will need to significantly scale up the commitments made under the 2015 Paris climate accord if humans hope to avoid disaster. Under that agreement, 195 countries pledged to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions to try to keep global warming under two degrees Celsius.

But it’s hard to imagine that will happen, as almost no country is doing a good job meeting the relatively modest goals in place. (The United States was a signatory of the 2015 Paris agreement, but last year President Trump announced that Washington was pulling out of the pact.)

The Climate Action Tracker, a project run by a group of three climate-research organizations, has been monitoring the progress of 32 countries in meeting the Paris accord goals. Taken together, those 32 countries account for 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The tracker’s goal is to provide an “up-to-date assessment of countries’ individual reduction targets and with an overview of their combined effects.” It looks at how much greenhouse gas each country emits right now; what it has committed to change on paper; and how well it’s following through on those promises.

As the graphic below shows, the group found that most major polluters are making few, if any, efforts to meet their goals. By Climate Action’s calculations, “critically insufficient countries” failed to even commit to cutting emissions significantly on paper. Only seven countries have made commitments or efforts that would achieve the goal of the Paris accord.

A graphic from the Climate Action Tracker shows the efforts of the world’s larger greenhouse gas producers to reduce those emissions in accord with the Paris climate agreement.

But there are bright spots:


The North African nation is one of only two countries with a plan to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions far enough to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, an important threshold for staving off some of the worst effects of climate change. Morocco has promised to halt its growth of greenhouse gas emissions by commissioning large-scale renewable energy projects. The country has commissioned the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world, scaled up its natural-gas imports and cut back fossil-fuel subsidies. Morocco is on track to get 42 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.


The West African nation is the only other country on track to cut its carbon output in line with a 1.5 degree Celsius rise. According to Climate Action Tracker, it’s one of the only developing countries in the world to lay out a plan that would “bend its emissions in a downward trajectory.” A major part of that plan is a massive reforestation project it’s running to stop environmental erosion and degradation by planting trees.


One of the world’s biggest economies, with one of the fastest-growing renewable energy programs, India could meet its goal of generating 40 percent of its energy from non-fossil-fuel sources as early as the end of this year. It has done that by declining to open new coal-fired plants and promoting electric vehicles.


Like most industrialized nations, the United Kingdom is struggling to cut its emissions. But the nation deserves special mention as the only developed economy in the world to create a body to track how well the country is meeting its Paris agreement commitments and how the country could do better. Britain is also working toward an ambitious plan to reduce its emissions to “net zero” by 2050.

Read more:

The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say

Climate scientists are struggling to find the right words for very bad news

Who drew it? Trump asks of dire climate report, appearing to mistrust 91 scientific experts

Our planet is in crisis. We don’t have time for Trump’s foolishness.

Hurricane Florence is one of many signs of climate change, and those who deny it are complicit in the destruction, meteorologist Eric Holthaus says. 


October 8 at 6:58 PM

Here is how to interpret the alarming new United Nations-sponsored report on global warming: We are living in a horror movie. The world needs statesmen to lead the way to safety. Instead, we have President Trump, who essentially says, “Hey, let’s all head to the dark, creepy basement where the chain saws and razor-sharp axes are kept. What could go wrong?”

The answer is almost everything, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The impact of human-induced warming is worse than previously feared, the report released Monday says, and only drastic, coordinated action will keep the damage short of catastrophe.

To this point, climate change has been a slow-motion calamity whose impacts, month to month and year to year, have been hard to perceive. Unfortunately, according to the report, that is about to change.

The burning of fossil fuels on an industrial scale has raised global temperatures by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. That may not sound like much, but look at the consequences we’re already seeing: Stronger, slower, wetter tropical storms. Unprecedented heat waves. Devastating floods. Dying coral reefs. A never-before-seen summer shipping lane across the Arctic Ocean.

Meanwhile, humankind continues to pump heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a tragically self-destructive rate. The IPCC calculates that a further temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius — almost inevitable, given our dependence on coal, oil and gas — would be challenging but manageable. An increase of about 2 degrees, however, would be disastrous.

What’s the difference? With a 1.5-degree rise, about 14 percent of the world’s population would be vulnerable to severe and deadly heat waves every five years; with a 2-degree rise, that figure jumps to 37 percent. With a 1.5-degree rise, an additional 350 million city dwellers worldwide will face water shortages; with a 2-degree rise, 411 million people will suffer such drought. With a 1.5-degree rise, coral reefs will experience “very frequent mass mortalities”; with a 2-degree rise, coral reefs will “mostly disappear.”

U.N. scientists warn of limited time to control climate change

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said there is no precedent for the sweeping changes required to control the planet’s warming. 

Small differences can have huge impacts. Under the 1.5-degree scenario, up to 69 million people will be newly exposed to flooding. Under the 2-degree scenario — which the report estimates would boost sea-level rise by as much as 36 inches — the number rises to 80 million.

Please don’t dismiss all of this as just another boring compendium of carefully hedged facts and figures. I have followed the IPCC’s research since covering the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The new report strikes a different tone that combines weary fatalism with hair-on-fire alarm. In dry, just-the-facts language, it predicts declining fisheries, failing crops, more widespread risk from tropical diseases such as malaria, economic dislocation in the most-affected countries — and, by logical extension, greater political instability.

All of these impacts are bad with 1.5 more degrees of temperature rise. With 2 degrees they are much, much worse.

The obvious solution is to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. The IPCC says emissions need to decline by at least 40 percent by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050, if we are to hold warming to 1.5 degrees. Yet last year, according to the International Energy Agency, global emissions hit an all-time high.

Since 2016, representatives of 195 nations — including all the big emitters — signed on to the landmark Paris agreement calling for systematic emissions reductions beginning in 2020. But Trump, who has ignorantly called climate change a “hoax,” decided to withdraw the United States from the pact. Even worse, Trump is aggressively trying to increase reliance on coal, which contributes a disproportionate amount of carbon dioxide emissions compared with other fossil fuels.

U.S. carbon emissions actually fell slightly in 2017, because of the expansion of the renewable energy sector. But Trump administration policies are designed to reverse that trend; and if they fail to do so, it will be because the rest of the world is already moving toward clean energy — a huge economic shift that threatens to leave the United States behind.

When you read the IPCC report, you see that what the world really needs is visionary leadership. As the world’s greatest economic power and its second-largest carbon emitter, the United States is uniquely capable of shepherding a global transition to renewable energy. Instead, the Trump administration rejects the science of climate change and actively favors dirty energy sources over clean ones.

Humanity has no time for such foolishness. “I’m the president of the United States. I’m not the president of the globe,” Trump thundered at a recent rally. On what planet does he think this nation resides?

Read more from Eugene Robinson’s archivefollow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook. You can also join him Tuesdays at 1 p.m. for a live Q&A.

Is Global Warming Fueling Increased Wildfire Risks?

The effects of global warming on temperature, precipitation levels, and soil moisture are turning many of our forests into kindling during wildfire season.

As the climate warms, moisture and precipitation levels are changing, with wet areas becoming wetter and dry areas becoming drier.

Higher spring and summer temperatures and earlier spring snowmelt typically cause soils to be drier for longer, increasing the likelihood of drought and a longer wildfire season, particularly in the western United States.

These hot, dry conditions also increase the likelihood that wildfires will be more intense and long-burning once they are started by lightning strikes or human error.

The costs of wildfires, in terms of risks to human life and health, property damage, and state and federal dollars, are devastating, and they are only likely to increase unless we better address the risks of wildfires and reduce our activities that lead to further climate change.

Wildfires are already on the rise

Wildfires in the western United States have been increasing in frequency and duration since the mid-1980s. Between 1986 and 2003, wildfires occurred nearly four times as often, burned more than six times the land area, and lasted almost five times as long when compared to the period between 1970 and 1986.

Natural cycles, human activities like land-use change and fire exclusion, and human-caused climate change can all influence the likelihood of wildfires. Many of the areas that have seen increased wildfire activity, like Yosemite National Park and the Northern Rockies, are protected from or relatively unaffected by human land-use change, suggesting that climate change is a major factor driving the increase in wildfires in these places.

Precipitation patterns, global warming, and wildfires

Though the current trend of increasing severe wildfire frequency in parts of the US is projected to continue as the climate warms, droughts and wildfires are not equally likely to occur every year.

Natural, cyclical weather occurrences such as El Niño events also affect the likelihood of wildfires by affecting levels of precipitation and moisture and lead to year-by-year variability in the potential for drought and wildfires regionally.

Nonetheless, because temperatures and precipitation levels are projected to alter further over the course of the 21st century, the overall potential for wildfires in the western United States is projected to increase.

As the world warms, we can expect more wildfires

US wildfire seasons—especially those in years with higher wildfire potential—are projected to lengthen, with the Southwest’s season of fire potential lengthening from seven months to all year long. Additionally, the likelihood that individual wildfires become severe is expected to increase.

Researchers project that moist, forested areas are the most likely to face greater threats from wildfires as conditions in those areas become drier and hotter.

Surprisingly, some dry grasslands may be less at risk of catching fire because the intense aridity is likely to prevent these grasses from growing at all, leaving these areas so barren that they are likely to lack the fodder for wildfires to start and spread.

A conflagration of costs

The economic costs of wildfires can be crippling. Data on total US property damage from wildfires are hard to come by, but the costs are estimated to be on the level of hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

In addition to property damage, wildfires cost states and the federal government millions in fire-suppression management. The US Forest Service’s yearly fire-suppression costs have exceeded $1 billion for 13 of the 18 years between 2000 and 2017. In 2015, these costs exceeded $2 billion, and in 2017 they totaled almost $3 billion. The risk to property owners is particularly acute in areas at the “wildland-urban interface.” In California alone, this area includes more than 5 million homes in coastal southern California, the Bay Area, and northeast of Sacramento.

The environmental and health costs of wildfires are also considerable. Not only do wildfires threaten lives directly, but they have the potential to increase local air pollution, exacerbating lung diseases and causing breathing difficulties even in healthy individuals.

Additionally, a counterintuitive aspect of mountain forest wildfires is their ability to increase flash flood risk. The loss of vegetation from wildfires and the inability of burned soil to absorb moisture can cause flash floods in lower-lying areas when rains do come in the days and months following fires, especially to the semi-arid Southwest.

Wildfire safety and prevention

Greenhouse-gas emissions from human activities are raising global temperatures and changing the climate, leading to a likely rise in wildfire severity and frequency.

But it is not too late to act. What we do now has the power to influence the frequency and severity of these fires and their effects on us.

By engaging in fire safety efforts—creating buffer zones between human habitation and susceptible forests, and meeting home and city fire-safety standards—we can help reduce our current risks, and by taking steps to reduce our impact on the climate, we can help to keep our forests, our homes, and our health safe.

Learn more

Listen to fire expert Prof. John Bailey talk about wildfires in the US on the Got Science? Podcast:

We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN

A firefighter battles a wildfire in California
 A firefighter battles a fire in California. The world is currently 1C warmer than preindustrial levels. Photograph: Ringo HW Chiu/AP

The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on Monday say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreementpledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.

The half-degree difference could also prevent corals from being completely eradicated and ease pressure on the Arctic, according to the 1.5C study, which was launched after approval at a final plenary of all 195 countries in Incheon in South Korea that saw delegates hugging one another, with some in tears.

Quick guide

What difference would restricting warming to 1.5C make?


A key finding of the new IPCC report is the dramatic difference that restricting warming to 1.5C above pre industrial levels would have on the global environment.

The scientists found:

• By 2100, global sea level rise would be 10cm lower with global warming of 1.5C compared with 2C.

• Extreme heatwaves will be experienced by 14% of the world’s population at least once every five years at 1.5C. But that figure rises to more than a third of the planet if temperatures rise to 2C

• Arctic sea ice would remain during most summers if warming is kept to 1.5C. But at 2C, ice free summers are 10 times more likely, leading to greater habitat losses for polar bears, whales, seals and sea birds.

• If warming is kept to 1.5C, coral reefs will still decline by 70-90% but if temperatures rise to 2C virtually all of the world’s reefs would be lost

“It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now,” said Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the working group on impacts. “This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.”

Policymakers commissioned the report at the Paris climate talks in 2016, but since then the gap between science and politics has widened. Donald Trump has promised to withdraw the US – the world’s biggest source of historical emissions – from the accord. The first round of Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday put Jair Bolsonaro into a strong position to carry out his threat to do the same and also open the Amazon rainforest to agribusiness.

The world is currently 1C warmer than preindustrial levels. Following devastating hurricanes in the US, record droughts in Cape Town and forest fires in the Arctic, the IPCC makes clear that climate change is already happening, upgraded its risk warning from previous reports, and warned that every fraction of additional warming would worsen the impact.

Scientists who reviewed the 6,000 works referenced in the report, said the change caused by just half a degree came as a revelation. “We can see there is a difference and it’s substantial,” Roberts said.

At 1.5C the proportion of the global population exposed to water stress could be 50% lower than at 2C, it notes. Food scarcity would be less of a problem and hundreds of millions fewer people, particularly in poor countries, would be at risk of climate-related poverty.

Attendees take a photo before the opening of the 48th session of the IPCC in Incheon
 Attendees take a photo before the opening of the 48th session of the IPCC in Incheon. Photograph: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

At 2C extremely hot days, such as those experienced in the northern hemisphere this summer, would become more severe and common, increasing heat-related deaths and causing more forest fires.

But the greatest difference would be to nature. Insects, which are vital for pollination of crops, and plants are almost twice as likely to lose half their habitat at 2C compared with 1.5C. Corals would be 99% lost at the higher of the two temperatures, but more than 10% have a chance of surviving if the lower target is reached.


Sea-level rise would affect 10 million more people by 2100 if the half-degree extra warming brought a forecast 10cm additional pressure on coastlines. The number affected would increase substantially in the following centuries due to locked-in ice melt.

Oceans are already suffering from elevated acidity and lower levels of oxygen as a result of climate change. One model shows marine fisheries would lose 3m tonnes at 2C, twice the decline at 1.5C.

Sea ice-free summers in the Arctic, which is warming two to three times fast than the world average, would come once every 100 years at 1.5C, but every 10 years with half a degree more of global warming.

Time and carbon budgets are running out. By mid-century, a shift to the lower goal would require a supercharged roll-back of emissions sources that have built up over the past 250 years.

The IPCC maps out four pathways to achieve 1.5C, with different combinations of land use and technological change. Reforestation is essential to all of them as are shifts to electric transport systems and greater adoption of carbon capture technology.

Carbon pollution would have to be cut by 45% by 2030 – compared with a 20% cut under the 2C pathway – and come down to zero by 2050, compared with 2075 for 2C. This would require carbon prices that are three to four times higher than for a 2C target. But the costs of doing nothing would be far higher.

“We have presented governments with pretty hard choices. We have pointed out the enormous benefits of keeping to 1.5C, and also the unprecedented shift in energy systems and transport that would be needed to achieve that,” said Jim Skea, a co-chair of the working group on mitigation. “We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it.”

He said the main finding of his group was the need for urgency. Although unexpectedly good progress has been made in the adoption of renewable energy, deforestation for agriculture was turning a natural carbon sink into a source of emissions. Carbon capture and storage projects, which are essential for reducing emissions in the concrete and waste disposal industries, have also ground to a halt.

Reversing these trends is essential if the world has any chance of reaching 1.5C without relying on the untried technology of solar radiation modification and other forms of geo-engineering, which could have negative consequences.

A nearly ice-free Northwest Passage in the Arctic in August 2016
 A nearly ice-free Northwest Passage in the Arctic in August 2016. Photograph: VIIRS/Suomi NPP/Nasa

In the run-up to the final week of negotiations, there were fears the text of the report would be watered down by the US, Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich countries that are reluctant to consider more ambitious cuts. The authors said nothing of substance was cut from a text.

Bob Ward, of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, said the final document was “incredibly conservative” because it did not mention the likely rise in climate-driven refugees or the danger of tipping points that could push the world on to an irreversible path of extreme warming.

The report will be presented to governments at the UN climate conference in Poland at the end of this year. But analysts say there is much work to be done, with even pro-Paris deal nations involved in fossil fuel extraction that runs against the spirit of their commitments. Britain is pushing ahead with gas fracking, Norway with oil exploration in the Arctic, and the German government wants to tear down Hambach forest to dig for coal.

At the current level of commitments, the world is on course for a disastrous 3C of warming. The report authors are refuseing to accept defeat, believing the increasingly visible damage caused by climate change will shift opinion their way.

“I hope this can change the world,” said Jiang Kejun of China’s semi-governmental Energy Research Institute, who is one of the authors. “Two years ago, even I didn’t believe 1.5C was possible but when I look at the options I have confidence it can be done. I want to use this report to do something big in China.”

The timing was good, he said, because the Chinese government was drawing up a long-term plan for 2050 and there was more awareness among the population about the problem of rising temperatures. “People in Beijing have never experienced so many hot days as this summer. It’s made them talk more about climate change.”

Regardless of the US and Brazil, he said, China, Europe and major cities could push ahead. “We can set an example and show what can be done. This is more about technology than politics.”

James Hansen, the former Nasa scientist who helped raised the alarm about climate change, said both 1.5C and 2C would take humanity into uncharted and dangerous territory because they were both well above the Holocene-era range in which human civilisation developed. But he said there was a huge difference between the two: “1.5C gives young people and the next generation a fighting chance of getting back to the Holocene or close to it. That is probably necessary if we want to keep shorelines where they are and preserve our coastal cities.”

Johan Rockström, a co-author of the recent Hothouse Earth report, said scientists never previously discussed 1.5C, which was initially seen as a political concession to small island states. But he said opinion had shifted in the past few years along with growing evidence of climate instability and the approach of tipping points that might push the world off a course that could be controlled by emissions reductions.

“Climate change is occurring earlier and more rapidly than expected. Even at the current level of 1C warming, it is painful,” he told the Guardian. “This report is really important. It has a scientific robustness that shows 1.5C is not just a political concession. There is a growing recognition that 2C is dangerous.”