Trump’s Presidency Brings Us Closer to Midnight on the Doomsday Clock


The legendary Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), which tracks issues related to technology and global security, has issued a terrifying warning: We are less than two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday clock. It’s very bad news, representing “the most dangerous situation that humanity has ever faced.”

What makes this moment so perilous? The scientists’ statement includes warnings over the cyber-weaponization of information, the spread of artificial intelligence (AI) in making military decisions, the destruction of treaties meant to limit the spread of nuclear weapons, the abandonment of global agreements to limit climate chaos, the spread of genetic engineering and synthetic biology technologies, and more. It does not account for the escalated likelihood of atomic reactor disasters, but based on at least one BAS publication, it should.

Since 1947, this prestigious band of elite scientists and global thinkers has been putting out a “clock” meant to time the peril of a global apocalypse. First issued at the dawn of the Cold War, it has mostly focused on the dangers of atomic warfare. Its countdown to Armageddon has been set as far away as 17 minutes from midnight, a hypothetical time of human extinction. That relatively optimistic assessment came in 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the definitive end of the Cold War.

In 2018, the BAS set it at two minutes, the closest to catastrophe it had ever been. They repeated that estimate in 2019. But this year’s announcement has taken us inside the two-minute warning with a hair-raising litany of likely lethal catastrophes set to occur within 100 theoretical seconds.

Donald Trump is mentioned only once by name, in conjunction with his decision to trash the Paris Accords on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. The scientists urge “whoever wins the 2020 election” to reinstate the U.S. commitment limiting carbon and other climate-destroying emissions. The BAS also cites Brazilian dictator Jair Bolsonaro for his decision to allow the destruction of the Amazon, with huge impacts on climate.

The BAS strives to maintain a non-partisan image. But Trump’s presence in the White House clearly hangs over any assessment of humankind’s survivability. The specter of his finger on the nuclear, ecological and financial buttons for the next four years hangs over humankind like a pall but goes otherwise unmentioned in this Doomsday assessment.

Also unmentioned is the question of more than 450 atomic power reactors worldwide. A small but vocal outlier coterie has argued that nuclear energy combats global warming by emitting less carbon that coal burners. But the Bulletin recently enshrined a major assessment by the esteemed Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, warning that commercial reactors pose a serious threat to human survival on this planet.

Published in August 2019, “The false promise of nuclear power in an age of climate change” argues that the 450 atomic reactors now deteriorating worldwide pose an existential threat to our survival. Writing with Professor Naomi Oreskes, Lifton warns that atomic energy “is expensive and poses grave dangers to our physical and psychological well-being.” Citing costs of nuclear juice at $100 per megawatt-hour versus $50 for solar and $30-40 for onshore wind, the authors say that the industry suffers from a “negative learning curve,” driving nuke costs constantly higher while those for renewables head consistently down.

Citing the unsolved problem of radioactive waste management, the BAS article warns of the ongoing impacts of major disasters like Fukushima and Chernobyl (and potentially more to come), whose fallout kills humans and does untold damage to the global ecology. Lipton and Oreskes say we need to free ourselves “from the false hope that a technology designed for ultimate destruction” can lead to our salvation. They favor making “renewable energies integral to the American way of life.”

In addition to nuclear and climate issues, the 2020 Doomsday assessment emphasizes some relatively new concerns. “In the last year,” it says, “many governments used cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns to sow distrust in institutions and among nations, undermining domestic and international efforts to foster peace and protect the planet.”

By attacking both science and the fabric of international peace accords, some global leaders have created “a situation that will, if unaddressed, lead to catastrophe, sooner rather than later.”

That situation includes AI and hypersonic warfare, both escalating “at a frenzied pace.” Now used in ultra-fast attacks, AI is dangerously vulnerable to “hacking and manipulation” while making “kill decisions without human supervision.” In nuclear command and control systems, the BAS warns, research and experience have demonstrated the vulnerability of these systems to “hacking and manipulation.”

This is an absolutely terrifying brew. The spread of disinformation, the contempt for science and expert opinion, the undermining of global agreements on arms control, and climate change are all deadly. Add in the new world of AI and hyper-sonic warfare, then pile on autocrats like Trump and Bolsonaro, and finish with the certainty of more disasters from 450 crumbling, obsolete atomic reactors.

All in all, it’s small wonder the Bulletin has taken us past the two-minute warning. It will clearly take every ounce of our activist strength to save our species from the final






“A nasty, brutal fight”: what a US-Iran war would look like

An Iranian military truck carries a US-made Hawk air-defense missile system during a parade on the occasion of the country’s Army Day on April 18, 2017 in Tehran.
An Iranian military truck carries a US-made Hawk air-defense missile system during a parade on the occasion of the country’s Army Day on April 18, 2017 in Tehran.
 Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

The bottom line: It’d be hell on earth.

intraceable, ruthless proxies spreading chaos on multiple continents. Costly miscalculations. And thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — killed in a conflict that would dwarf the war in Iraq.

Welcome to the US-Iran war, which has the potential to be one of the worst conflicts in history.

The Thursday night killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who led Iranian covert operations and intelligence and was one of the country’s most senior leaders, brought Washington and Tehran closer to fighting that war. Iran has every incentive to retaliate, experts says, using its proxies to target US commercial interests in the Middle East, American allies, or even American troops and diplomats hunkered down in regional bases and embassies.

It’s partly why the Eurasia Group, a prominent international consulting firm, now puts the chance of “a limited or major military confrontation” at 40 percent.

But the seeds of conflict weren’t planted with Thursday’s airstrikes alone. Washington and Tehran have remained locked in a months-long standoff that only continues to escalate. The US imposed crushing sanctions on Iran’s economy over its support for terrorism and its growing missile program, among other things, after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal last year; Iran has fought back by violating parts of the nuclear agreement, bombing oil tankers, and downing an American military drone.

The crisis has become more acute over the past week. An Iranian-backed militia killed an American contractor while wounding others in rocket attacks, leading the Trump administration to order retaliatory strikes on five targets in Iraq and Syria that killed 25 of the militia’s fighters. In protest, the militia — Ketaib Hezbollah — organized a rally outside the US embassy in Baghdad where some got inside the compound and set parts of it ablaze.

That led Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to tell reporters on Thursday that “if we get word of attacks, we will take pre-emptive action as well to protect American forces, protect American lives,” adding “the game has changed.” The US killed Soleimani hours after that statement, underscoring that change.

Importantly, experts note that neither country wants a full-blown conflict, with President Donald Trump saying he prefers “peace” when it comes to Iran. But the possibility of war breaking out anyway shouldn’t be discounted, especially now that Iran’s leadership has sworn to avenge Soleimani. “The great nation of Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted Friday morning.

Hassan Rouhani


The flag of General Soleimani in defense of the country’s territorial integrity and the fight against terrorism and extremism in the region will be raised, and the path of resistance to US excesses will continue. The great nation of Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime.

22.6K people are talking about this

Which means US-Iran relations teeter on a knife edge, and it won’t take much more to knock them off. So to understand just how bad the situation could get, I asked eight current and former White House, Pentagon, and intelligence officials, as well as Middle East experts, last July about how a war between the US and Iran might play out.

The bottom line: It would be hell on earth.

“This would be a violent convulsion similar to chaos of the Arab Spring inflicted on the region for years,” said Ilan Goldenberg, the Defense Department’s Iran team chief from 2009 to 2012, with the potential for it to get “so much worse than Iraq.”

How the US-Iran war starts

US-imposed sanctions have tanked Iran’s economy, and Tehran desperately wants them lifted. But with few options to compel the Trump administration to change course, Iranian leaders may choose a more violent tactic to make their point, especially after Soleimani’s death.

Iranian forces could bomb an American oil tanker traveling through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital waterway for the global energy trade aggressively patrolled by Tehran’s forces, causing loss of life or a catastrophic oil spill. The country’s skillful hackers could launch a major cyberattack on regional allies like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.

Israel could kill an Iranian nuclear scientist, leading Iran to strike back and drawing the US into the spat, especially if Tehran responds forcefully. Or Iranian-linked proxies could target and murder American troops and diplomats in Iraq.

That last option is particularly likely, experts say. After all, Iran bombed US Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 and killed more than 600 US troops during the Iraq War. Taking this step may seem extreme, but “Iran could convince itself that it could do this,” Goldenberg, now at the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington, told me.

At that point, it’d be nearly impossible for the Trump administration not to respond in kind. The recommendations given to the president would correspond to whatever action Iran took.

If Tehran destroyed an oil tanker, killing people and causing an oil spill, the US might destroy some of Iran’s ships. If Iran took out another US military drone, the US might take out some of Iran’s air defenses. And if Iranian-backed militants killed Americans in Iraq, then US troops stationed there could retaliate, killing militia fighters and targeting their bases of operation in return. The US could even bomb certain training grounds inside Iran or kill high-level officials.

Fire and smoke billowing from the Norwegian-owned Front Altair oil tanker attacked in the waters of the Gulf of Oman on June 13, 2019. The US blames Iran for the bombing.
Fire and smoke billowing from the Norwegian-owned Front Altair oil tanker attacked in the waters of the Gulf of Oman on June 13, 2019. The US blames Iran for the bombing.
 AFP/Getty Images

It’s at this point that both sides would need to communicate their red lines to each other and how not to cross them. The problem is there are no direct channels between the two countries and they don’t particularly trust each other. So the situation could easily spiral out of control.

Messaging “is often more important than physical action,” Jasmine El-Gamal, formerly a Middle East adviser at the Pentagon, told me. “Action without corresponding messaging, public or private, could most certainly lead to escalation because the other side is free to interpret the action as they wish.”

Which means the initial tit-for-tat would serve as the precursor to much more bloodshed.

“What are we going to be wrong about?”

You may have heard the phrase “the fog of war.” It refers to how hard it is for opposing sides to know what’s going on in the heat of battle. It’s particularly difficult when they don’t talk to one another, as is the case with the US and Iran.

Which means that the way the US and Iran interpret each other’s next moves would mainly come down to guesswork.

Eric Brewer, who spent years in the intelligence community before joining Trump’s National Security Council to work on Iran, told me that’s when the Pentagon and other parts of the government rely heavily on their best-laid plans.

The problem, he noted, is that wars rarely play out as even the smartest officials think they will. A guiding question for him, then, is “what are we going to be wrong about?”

Here’s one scenario in which the US might get something wrong — and open up the door to chaos: After America launches its first set of retaliatory strikes, Iran decides to scatter its missiles to different parts of the country.

Now the Trump administration has to figure out why Iran did that. Some people in the administration might think it’s because Tehran plans to attack US embassies, troops, or allies in the region and is moving its missiles into position to do so. Others might believe that it was merely for defensive reasons, with Iran essentially trying to protect its missile arsenal from being taken out by future US strikes.

Without a clear answer, which interpretation wins out comes down to which camp in the Trump administration is the most persuasive. And if the camp that believes Iran is about to launch missile strikes wins, they could convince the president to take preemptive action against Iran.

That could be a good thing if they were right; after all, they’d have made sure Iran couldn’t carry out those planned attacks. But what if they were wrong? What if the other camp guessed correctly that Iran was merely moving its missiles around because it was scared the US would strike once more? In that case, the US would have bombed Iran again, this time for essentially no reason — thus looking like the aggressor.

That could cause Iran to retaliate with a bigger attack, setting off a spiral that could end in full-scale war.

Iran could make a grave error too. Imagine Trump sends thousands of troops, say 25,000, along with advanced warplanes to the Middle East in the hope that they’ll deter Iran from escalating the conflict any further.

Tehran could just as easily read that buildup as preparation for a US invasion. If that’s the case, Iranian forces could choose to strike first in an effort to complicate the perceived incursion.

US Navy sailors on the flight deck of USS Abraham Lincoln on May 10, 2019 in the Red Sea.
US Navy sailors on the flight deck of USS Abraham Lincoln on May 10, 2019, in the Red Sea.
 Mass Communication Specialist Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Amber Smalley/US Navy via Getty Images

Of course, cooler heads could prevail in those moments. But experts say the political pressures on both Washington and Tehran not to be attacked first — and not to be embarrassed or look weak — might be too strong for the countries’ leaders to ignore.

“Unintended civilian casualties or other collateral damage is always possible, and it is not clear that this administration — or any administration — understands what Iran’s own red lines are,” El-Gamal, now at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, told me. “As such, the greatest risk of a full-blown war comes from one side miscalculating the other’s tolerance” for conflict.

If that proves true, and the US and Iran officially escalate their fighting to more than a few one-off attacks, it’s war.

What the US-Iran war might look like

At this point, it’s hard to be very precise about a hypothetical full-blown conflict. We know it would feature a series of moves and countermoves, we know it’d be very messy and confusing, and we know it’d be extremely deadly.

But unlike with the path to war, it’s less useful to offer a play-by-play of what could happen. So with that in mind, it’s better to look at what the US and Iranian war plans would likely be — to better understand the devastation each could exact.

How the US might try to win the war

The US strategy would almost certainly involve using overwhelming air and naval power to beat Iran into submission early on. “You don’t poke the beehive, you take the whole thing down,” Goldenberg said.

The US military would bomb Iranian ships, parked warplanes, missile sites, nuclear facilities, and training grounds, as well as launch cyberattacks on much of the country’s military infrastructure. The goal would be to degrade Iran’s conventional forces within the first few days and weeks, making it even harder for Tehran to resist American strength.

That plan definitely makes sense as an opening salvo, experts say, but it will come nowhere close to winning the war.

“It’s very unlikely that the Iranians would capitulate,” Michael Hanna, a Middle East expert at the Century Foundation in New York, told me. “It’s almost impossible to imagine that a massive air campaign will produce the desired result. It’s only going to produce escalation, not surrender.”

It won’t help that a sustained barrage of airstrikes will likely lead to thousands of Iranians dead, among them innocent civilians. That, among other things, could galvanize Iranian society against the US and put it firmly behind the regime, even though it has in many ways treated the population horribly over decades in power.

There’s another risk: A 2002 war game showed that Iran could sink an American ship and kill US sailors, even though the US Navy is far more powerful. If the Islamic Republic’s forces succeeded in doing that, it could provide a searing image that could serve as a propaganda coup for the Iranians. Washington won’t garner the same amount of enthusiasm for destroying Iranian warships — that’s what’s supposed to happen.

An Iranian Army soldier stands guard on a military speed boat, passing by a submarine during the “Velayat-90” navy exercises in the Strait of Hormuz on December 28, 2011.
An Iranian Army soldier stands guard on a military speedboat, passing by a submarine during the “Velayat-90” navy exercises in the Strait of Hormuz on December 28, 2011.
 Ali Mohammadi/AFP/Getty Images

Trump has already signaled he doesn’t want to send ground troops into Iran or even spend a long time fighting the country. That tracks with his own inclinations to keep the US out of foreign wars, particularly in the Middle East. But with hawkish aides at his side, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, there’s a chance they could convince him not to look weak and to go all-in and grasp victory.

But the options facing the president at that point will be extremely problematic, experts say.

The riskiest one — by far — would be to invade Iran. The logistics alone boggle the mind, and any attempt to try it would be seen from miles away. “There’s no surprise invasion of Iran,” Brewer, who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, told me.

Iran has nearly three times the amount of people Iraq did in 2003, when the war began, and is about three and a half times as big. In fact, it’s the world’s 17th-largest country, with territory greater than France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and Portugal combined.

The geography is also treacherous. It has small mountain ranges along some of its borders. Entering from the Afghanistan side in the east would mean traversing two deserts. Trying to get in from the west could also prove difficult even with Turkey — a NATO ally — as a bordering nation. After all, Ankara wouldn’t let the US use Turkey to invade Iraq, and its relations with Washington have only soured since.

The US could try to enter Iran the way Saddam Hussein did during the Iran-Iraq war, near a water pass bordering Iran’s southwest. But it’s swampy — the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet there — and relatively easy to protect. Plus, an invading force would run up against the Zagros Mountains after passing through, just like Saddam’s forces did.

It’s for these reasons that the private intelligence firm Stratfor called Iran a “fortress” back in 2011. If Trump chose to launch an incursion, he’d likely need around 1.6 million troops to take control of the capital and country, a force so big it would overwhelm America’s ability to host them in regional bases. By contrast, America never had more than 180,000 service members in Iraq.

And there’s the human cost. A US-Iran war would likely lead to thousands or hundreds of thousands of dead. Trying to forcibly remove the country’s leadership, experts say, might drive that total into the millions.

That helps explain why nations in the region hope they won’t see a fight. Goldenberg, who traveled recently to meet with officials in the Gulf, said that none of them wanted a US-Iran war. European nations will also worry greatly about millions of refugees streaming into the continent, which would put immense pressure on governments already dealing with the fallout of the Syrian refugee crisis. Israel also would worry about Iranian proxies targeting it (more on that below).

Meanwhile, countries like Russia and China — both friendly to Iran — would try to curtail the fighting and exploit it at the same time, the Century Foundation’s Hanna told me. China depends heavily on its goods traveling through the Strait of Hormuz, so it would probably call for calm and for Tehran not to close down the waterway. Russia would likely demand restraint as well, but use the opportunity to solidify its ties with the Islamic Republic.

President Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, stand side by side in the group picture at the G20 summit on June 28, 2019.
President Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, stand side by side in the group picture at the G20 summit on June 28, 2019.
 Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance via Getty Images

And since both countries have veto power on the UN Security Council, they could ruin any political legitimacy for the war that the US may aim to gain through that body.

The hope for the Trump administration would therefore be that the conflict ends soon after the opening salvos begin. If it doesn’t, and Iran resists, all that’d really be left are a slew of bad options to make a horrid situation much, much worse.

How Iran might try to win the war

Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart left his post as the No. 2 at US Cyber Command in 2019, ending a decorated four-decade career. Toward the end of it, he spent his time at the forefront of the military intelligence and cybersecurity communities.

If anyone has the most up-to-date information on how Iran may fight the US, then, it’s Stewart.

“The Iranian strategy would be to avoid, where possible, direct conventional force-on-force operations,” he wrote for the Cipher Brief on July 2, 2019. “They would attempt to impose cost on a global scale, striking at US interests through cyber operations and targeted terrorism with the intent of expanding the conflict, while encouraging the international community to restrain America’s actions.”

In other words, Tehran can’t match Washington’s firepower. But it can spread chaos in the Middle East and around the world, hoping that a war-weary US public, an intervention-skeptical president, and an angered international community cause America to stand down.

That may seem like a huge task — and it is — but experts believe the Islamic Republic has the capability, knowhow, and will to pull off such an ambitious campaign. “The Iranians can escalate the situation in a lot of different ways and in a lot of different places,” Hanna told me. “They have the capacity to do a lot of damage.”

Take what it could do in the Middle East. Iran’s vast network of proxies and elite units — like Soleimani’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — could be activated to kill American troops, diplomats, and citizens throughout the region. US troops in Syria are poorly defended and have little support, making them easy targets, experts say. America also has thousands of civilians, troops, and contractors in Iraq, many of whom work in areas near where Iranian militias operate within the country.

US allies would also be prime targets. Hezbollah, an Iran-backed terrorist group in Lebanon, might attack Israel with rockets and start its own brutal fight. We’ve heard this story before: In 2006, they battled in a month-long war where the militant group fired more than 4,000 rockets into Israel, and Israeli forces fired around 7,000 bombs and missiles into Lebanon.

About 160 Israelis troops and civilians died, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and about 1,100 Lebanese — most of them civilians — perished, per Human Rights Watch, a US-headquartered advocacy organization. It also reports about 4,400 Lebanese were injured, and around 1 million people were displaced.

But that’s not all. Iran could encourage terrorist organizations or other proxies to strike inside Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Gulf nations. Last year, it planned and executed drone strikes on two major Saudi oil facilities deep inside the kingdom, convulsing world markets. Its support for Houthis rebels in Yemen would mostly certainly increase, offering them more weapons and funds to attack Saudi Arabia’s airports, military bases, and energy plants.

The US government on April 8, 2019 said it had designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization, marking the first time a US government has made such a designation on a foreign government’s organization.
The US government on April 8, 2019, said it had designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization, marking the first time a US government has made such a designation on a foreign government’s organization.
 Rouzbeh Fouladi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Experts note that the Islamic Republic likely has sleeper cells in Europe and Latin America, and they could resurface in dramatic and violent ways. In 1994, for example, Iranian-linked terrorists bombed the hub of the Jewish community in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and injuring roughly 300 more.

That remains the largest terrorist attack in Latin America’s history, and the possibility for an even bigger one exists. In 2018, Argentina arrested two men suspected of having ties with Hezbollah.

But Chris Musselman, formerly the National Security Council’s counterterrorism director under Trump, told me the US and its allies may have the most trouble containing the proxy swarm in Western Africa.

“We could see a conflict that spread quickly to places the US may not be able to protect people, and it’s a fight that we are grossly unprepared for,” he said, adding that there’s a strong Hezbollah presence in the region and American embassy security there isn’t great. Making matters worse, he continued, the US isn’t particularly good at collecting intelligence there, meaning some militants could operate relatively under the radar.

“This isn’t really a law enforcement function that US can take on a global scale,” he said. It would require that countries unwittingly hosting proxies to lead on defeating the Iranian-linked fighters, with US support when needed.

The chaos would also extend into the cyber realm. Iran is a major threat to the US in cyberspace. Starting in 2011, Iran attacked more than 40 American banks, including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. The attack made it so the banks had trouble serving its customers and customers had trouble using the bank’s services.

In 2012, Iran released malware into the networks of Saudi Aramco, a major oil company, which erased documents, emails, and other files on around 75 percent of the company’s computers — replacing them with an image of a burning American flag.

In the middle of a war, one could imagine Tehran’s hackers wreaking even more havoc.

“I would expect them to have begun selected targeting through socially-engineered phishing activities focused on the oil and gas sector, the financial sector and the electric power grid in that order,” Stewart wrote. “There may be instances now where they already have some persistent access. If they do, I expect they would use it, or risk losing the access and employ that capability early in the escalation of the crisis.”

Recent reports indicate that Iranian cyberwarriors have stepped up their online operations, with a particular emphasis on preparing to attack US firms. Among other moves, they’re aiming to trick employees at major businesses to hand over passwords and other vital information, giving them greater access to a firm’s networks.

“When you combine this increase with past destructive attacks launched by Iranian-linked actors, we’re concerned enough about the potential for new destructive attacks to continue sounding the alarm,” Christopher Krebs, a top cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security, told Foreign Policy last July.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a graduation ceremony of the Iranian Navy cadets in the city of Noshahr on September 30, 2015.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a graduation ceremony of the Iranian Navy cadets in the city of Noshahr on September 30, 2015.
 Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

All of this — proxies striking around the world, cyberattacks on enterprise — would happen while Iran continued to resist conventional American forces.

In the Strait of Hormuz, for instance, Iranian sailors could use speedboats to place bombs on oil tankers or place mines in the water to destroy US warships. The Islamic Republic’s submarines would also play a huge part in trying to sink an American vessel. And the nation’s anti-ship missiles and drones could prove constant and deadly nuisances.

Should US troops try to enter Iranian territory on land, Iranian ground forces would also push back on them fiercely using insurgent-like tactics while the US painfully marches toward Tehran.

Put together, Brewer notes succinctly, a US-Iran war would be “a nasty, brutal fight.”

Aftermath: “The worst-case scenarios here are quite serious”

Imagine, as we already have, that the earlier stages of strife escalate to a major war. That’s already bad enough. But assume for a moment not only that the fighting takes place, but that the US does the unlikely and near impossible: It invades and overthrows the Iranian regime (which Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton, at least, has openly called for in the past).

If that happens, it’s worth keeping two things in mind.

First, experts say upward of a million people — troops from both sides as well as Iranian men, women, and children, and American diplomats and contractors — likely will have died by that point. Cities will burn and smolder. Those who survived the conflict will mainly live in a state of economic devastation for years and some, perhaps, will pick up arms and form insurgent groups to fight the invading US force.

Second, power abhors a vacuum. With no entrenched regime in place, multiple authority figures from Iran’s clerical and military circles, among others, will jockey for control. Those sides could split into violent factions, initiating a civil war that would bring more carnage to the country. Millions more refugees might flock out of the country, overwhelming already taxed nations nearby, and ungoverned pockets will give terrorist groups new safe havens from which to operate.

Iran would be on the verge of being a failed state, if it wasn’t already by that point, and the US would be the main reason why. To turn the tide, America may feel compelled to help rebuild the country at the cost of billions of dollars, years of effort, and likely more dead. It could also choose to withdraw, leaving behind a gaping wound in the center of the Middle East.

In some ways, then, what comes after the war could be worse than the war itself. It should therefore not be lost on anyone: A US-Iran war would be a bloody hell during and after the fighting. It’s a good thing neither Trump nor Iran’s leadership currently wants a conflict. But if they change their minds, only carnage follows.

“The worst-case scenarios here are quite serious,” Hanna told me.

Refugees on April 5, 2019, camp out in Greece as they flee violence in the Middle East.
Refugees on April 5, 2019, camp out in Greece as they flee violence in the Middle East.
 Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Greta Thunberg’s fans are upset she didn’t win the Nobel Prize, but a peace expert says she should have never been a contender

greta thunberg
Greta Thunberg began her youth climate-strike movement in Sweden. 
Anders Hellberg

  • Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Sweden, has become the face of climate-change activism.
  • Thunberg launched the Fridays For Future movement — or School Strike for Climate — last year. It encourages students to skip school to demand action on climate change from their governments.
  • The teenager was nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, but the award went to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who brokered his nation’s peace with the neighboring Eritrea.
  • While Thunberg has remained silent about the snub so far, the Nobel Committee’s selection has sparked an outcry on social media.
  • One peace expert told The Washington Post that Thunberg was passed over because there “isn’t scientific consensus that there’s a relationship between climate change — or resource scarcity, more broadly — and armed conflict.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On Friday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thunberg launched the Fridays For Future movement — or School Strike for Climate — last year. It encourages students to skip school to demand action on climate change from their governments. The movement earned her a nomination for this year’s peace prize in March.

Instead of the teenager, however, the Nobel Committee said it selected Ahmed for his “efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation and for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.”

The prime minister worked out the principles for a peace agreement to end the long stalemate between the two countries, the committee added.

Thunberg’s fans are not happy

Thunberg, who is fairly communicative on Twitter and Instagram, has been unusually silent since the announcement. (Granted, that might have something to do with the fact that she’s in Denver preparing for this week’s Fridays For Future climate strike.)

Thunberg entered the global spotlight over the past year as the leader of a youth movement that’s pushing governments and corporations to address the climate crisis. She launched Fridays For Future when she was in ninth grade by staging a strike for two weeks outside the Swedish parliament. Now Thunberg spends every Friday on strike.

In March, more than 1 million young people in 123 countries skipped school and took to the streets to support Thunberg’s cause. Six months later, on September 20, she was joined by an estimated 4 million people in 161 countries during the largest climate-change demonstration in history.

Some of the teenager’s most vocal critics, including the conservative host Piers Morgan of “Good Morning Britain,” jumped in to fill Thunberg’s silence with remarks of their own about the Nobel Committee’s decision.

“How DARE they actually give it to someone who forged peace?!!!!” he tweeted.

Morgan was poking fun at Thunberg’s iconic speech at the United Nations General Assembly last month, in which she chastised world leaders who she said were looking to her for hope regarding climate change. “How dare you,” Thunburg thundered. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

Since Thunberg was nominated for the Nobel prize in March, her followers and fan base have continued to grow. Some of those supporters, while disappointed by her snub, were quick to mention the teenager’s impact on the climate debate.

Anirudh Narayanan@UhKneeRude

Even though @GretaThunberg didn’t win the peace prize this time round, the awareness and sense of responsibility she has inspired around the world is an award far greater! the fight has only just begun though! Let’s take the powers to school about

See Anirudh Narayanan’s other Tweets

Why didn’t Thunberg win?

Norwegian Socialist MP Freddy André Øvstegård, who was among those who nominated Thunberg for the award, told The Guardian that she “has launched a mass movement which I see as a major contribution to peace.”

“We have proposed Greta Thunberg because if we do nothing to halt climate change, it will be the cause of wars, conflict, and refugees,” he said.

The head of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, Henrik Urdal, told The Post that he left Thunberg off the Nobel Peace Prize shortlist he suggested to the prize committee because there “isn’t scientific consensus that there is a linear relationship between climate change — or resource scarcity, more broadly — and armed conflict.”

FILE PHOTO: 16-year-old Swedish Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo
Thunberg at the United Nations. 

But that doesn’t mean climate change isn’t linked to peace. The US Pentagon classifies climate change as a “threat multiplier,” meaning it can worsen other sources of instability and conflict. Heat waves, hurricanes, and other climate-change-related consequences like sea-level rise can exacerbate competition for natural resources and ethnic tensions.

Thunberg’s possible prize would not have been the first awarded for work that increases climate-change awareness — 12 years ago, former US Vice President Al Gore and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change took home the honors.

But Urdal added that such a pick was less likely today because the Nobel Committee had been sticking far more closely to the vision of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish businessman who founded the awards.

According to Nobel, the Nobel laureate needed to be a figure who had advanced the “abolition or reduction of standing armies.”

Unfortunately for Thunberg and her supporters, her climate activism apparently didn’t fit that bill.

SEE ALSO: Greta Thunberg addressed world leaders through tears: ‘How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.’

More: Environment Greta Thunberg Climate Change climate change strike

It’s 2019. Why Haven’t Humans Gone Back to the Moon Since the Apollo Missions?

On Dec. 13, 1972, scientist-astronaut Harrison Schmitt is photographed standing next to a huge boulder during the final Apollo moon-landing mission, Apollo 17. This mosaic is made from two photos shot by fellow Apollo 17 moonwalker Eugene Cernan.

On Dec. 13, 1972, scientist-astronaut Harrison Schmitt is photographed standing next to a huge boulder during the final Apollo moon-landing mission, Apollo 17. This mosaic is made from two photos shot by fellow Apollo 17 moonwalker Eugene Cernan.
(Image: © Eugene Cernan/NASA)

In retrospect, Apollo 11 was even more exceptional than we thought.

NASA put two astronauts on the moon on July 20, 1969, just eight years after President John F. Kennedy announced the audacious goal and a mere 12 years after the dawn of the Space Age.

Five more crewed missions hit the gray dirt after Apollo 11, the last of them, Apollo 17, touching down in December 1972.

Related: Apollo 11 at 50: A Complete Guide to the Historic Moon Landing

Volume 0%

More coverage:

Humanity hasn’t been back to Earth’s nearest neighbor since (though many of our robotic probes have). NASA has mounted multiple crewed moon projects since Apollo, including the ambitious Constellation Program in the mid-2000s, but none of them have gone the distance.

So what was different about Apollo? It was incubated in a very particular environment, experts say — the Cold War space race with the Soviet Union.

“This was war by another means — it really was,” Roger Launius, who served as NASA’s chief historian from 1990 to 2002 and wrote the recently published book “Apollo’s Legacy” (Smithsonian Books, 2019), told “And we have not had that since.”

Apollo 11 Moon Landing Reconstructed Using Orbiter Imagery
Volume 0%

The Soviet Union fired the first few salvos in this proxy war. The nation launched the first-ever satellite, Sputnik 1, in October 1957 and put the first person in space, Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961. These shows of technological might worried U.S. officials, who wanted a big win of their own. And they believed putting the first boots on the moon would do the trick.

This wasn’t viewed as empty flexing. The United States wanted, among other things, to show the world that the future lay with its political and economic systems, not those of its communist rival.

“The Apollo days were not, fundamentally, about going to the moon,” John Logsdon, a professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C., told “They were about demonstrating American global leadership in a zero-sum Cold War competition with the Soviet Union.”

Watch NASA’s Artemis-1 Mission Launch to Moon in New Animation
Volume 0%

So NASA got the resources it needed to pull off its moon shot. And those resources were immense — about $25.8 billion for Apollo from 1960 through 1973, or nearly $264 billion in today’s dollars. During the mid-1960s, NASA got about 4.5% of the federal budget — 10 times greater than its current share.

The stakes haven’t been nearly as high since the end of the Cold War, so subsequent moon projects haven’t enjoyed such sustained support. (They likely also suffered from some been-there-done-that sentiment.) For example, the Constellation Program, which took shape under President George W. Bush, was canceled in 2010 by President Barack Obama.

Obama directed NASA to instead send astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid. But President Donald Trump nixed that plan in 2017, putting the agency back on course for the moon.

Watch Apollo 11’s Moon Landing in Amazing Simulation
Volume 0%

NASA initially targeted 2028 for the first crewed lunar landing since the Apollo days. But this past March, Vice President Mike Pence instructed NASA to get it done by 2024.

The accelerated timeline might actually make this newest moon shot more achievable, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said, citing the “political risk” that doomed Constellation and other programs.

Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins Talk With Trump For Apollo 50th Anniversary
Volume 0%

Political risk exists “because priorities change, budgets change, administrations change, Congresses change,” Bridenstine said May 14 in a town-hall address to NASA employees.

“So, how do we retire as much political risk as possible?” he added. “We accelerate the program. Basically, the shorter the program is, the less time it takes, the less political risk we endure. In other words, we can accomplish the end state.”

The 2024 landing is part of a program called Artemis, which aims to build up a long-term, sustainable human presence at and around the moon. The main goal is to lay the foundation for crewed trips to the ultimate human-spaceflight destination: Mars. NASA aims to put boots on the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s.

As Polar Ice Cap Recedes, The U.S. Navy Looks North

An F/A-18 Super Hornet gets ready to fly off the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Gulf of Alaska.

Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media

The U.S. Navy is looking north.

As climate change melts ice that has long blocked the region off from transit and industry, the military is figuring out how to expand its presence in the waters of the high north, primarily off the coast of Alaska.

Driving the push is that much of the commercial activity and development interest in the region is coming from nations that the Pentagon considers rivals, such as Russia and China.

The Navy’s presence in Alaska has waxed and waned over the years. The state has abundant Army and Air Force assets, with the Coast Guard spread throughout. The Navy runs submarine exercises beneath the sea ice off Alaska’s northern coast.

But until last year, no U.S. aircraft carrier had ventured above the Arctic Circle in almost three decades. The USS Harry S. Truman took part in naval exercises in the Norwegian Sea last October, the first such vessel to sail that far north since 1991.

And for the first time in a decade, this May, an aircraft carrier strike group — led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt — sailed to Alaska as part of Northern Edge, a biennial large-scale military exercise that brings together personnel from all the military branches — airmen, Marines, soldiers, seamen and Coast Guardsman. The Navy always participates, but this year, it was out in force.

Lt. Cmdr. Alex Diaz oversees traffic on the USS Theodore Roosevelt flight deck.

Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media

Rear Adm. Daniel Dwyer commands the nine ships in the Roosevelt strike group. Speaking on an observation deck several stories above the flight deck, he said climate change is adding a new urgency to training like this one as marine activity increases in Arctic waters.

“You see the shrinking of the polar ice cap, opening of sea lanes, more traffic through those areas,” Dwyer said. “It’s the Navy’s responsibility to protect America through those approaches.”

The Defense Department views the threat of military conflict in the Arctic as low, but it is alarmed by increasing activity in the region from Russia and China. A 2018 reportby the Government Accountability Office on the Navy’s role in the Arctic notes that abundant natural resources like gas, minerals and fish stocks are becoming more accessible as the polar ice cap melts, bringing “competing sovereignty claims.”

Defending U.S. interests in the Arctic

As the Roosevelt cruised through the Gulf of Alaska, F/A-18 Super Hornets took off and landed at a brisk clip. Each takeoff is a full-body experience for those on deck, shaking everything from one’s shoes to teeth. Planes are launched by a steam catapult system powered by the ship’s nuclear reactors.

Some of the jets flew more than 100 miles toward mainland Alaska and continued on past mountain ranges to sync up with Air Force and Marine Corps counterparts operating in the airspace around Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks. Then they returned to the Roosevelt. The whole trip lasts about four hours.

For the first time in a decade, an aircraft carrier strike group — led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt — sailed to Alaska as part of Northern Edge, a biennial large-scale military exercise.

Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media

To land, the Super Hornets suddenly dropped out of the sky dangling a hook that snagged at wires bringing them from full speed to full stop in 183 feet. It looked less like a car braking and more like a roller coaster slamming still to give riders one last jolt.

“We are catching anywhere from six to 25 aircraft on this recovery,” crackled a voice over a loudspeaker on the deck. “I’m not sure yet [how many]. If they show up on the ball, we’re gonna catch ’em.”

The deck was coordinated chaos, with crew members and aircraft rotating through intricate maneuvers like a baroque ballet, billows of steam from the launch equipment periodically billowing past.

The deck crews are referred to as “skittles” because they wear uniforms that are color-coordinated to match their jobs. Much like the candy, most of the rainbow is represented. Greens take care of takeoffs and landings. Reds handle ordnance. Purples deal with fuel and are referred to as “grapes.”

The Navy says that given what is expected of it in the region, crews are trained and equipped to carry out their missions as well as any other nation’s navy.

“Regardless of the conditions: day, night, good weather, bad weather, flat seas, heavy seas, it’s the same procedure every time,” Dwyer said of the jets taking off below just as a helicopter set down on the flight deck.

A shifting focus to the “high north”

Speaking at this year’s Coast Guard Academy commencement, national security adviser John Bolton said the military will play a part “reasserting” American influence over the Arctic.

“We want the high north to be a region of low tension, where no country seeks to coerce others through military buildup or economic exploitation,” Bolton told graduates.

The Trump administration is expected to unveil a new Arctic strategy sometime this month.

Forecasters anticipate diminishing ice will reliably open up northern sea lanes, thus cutting down the time and cost moving freight from Asia to Europe but causing a rise in vessel traffic.

The military is candid that the warming climate is opening up transit routes that sea ice has long locked in. Right now, though, the U.S. naval presence is minimal.

F/A-18 Super Hornet is launched by a steam-powered catapult off the USS Theodore Roosevelt during naval exercises in the Gulf of Alaska.

Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media

“If you’re gonna be a neighbor, you have to be in the neighborhood,” said Vice Adm. John Alexander, commander of the Navy’s 3rd Fleet, which is responsible for the Northern Pacific, including the Bering Sea and Alaskan Arctic.

“We’re going to have to ensure that there’s free and open transit of those waters,” Alexander said.

But the Navy faces major impediments to expanding its presence in a maritime environment as harsh as the Arctic. According to the GAO report, most of the Navy’s surface ships aren’t “designed to operate in icy water.”

The authors note that Navy officials have stated that “contractor construction yards currently lack expertise in the design for construction of winterized, ice-capable surface combatant and amphibious warfare ships.”

After years of study, the Defense Department has yet to pick a location and design for a strategic port in the vicinity of the Arctic that can permanently accommodate a strong Navy presence.

And even if the military can operate in the Arctic, it still has to get there. For now, the region’s waters are solidly frozen over for much of the year. According to the Coast Guard, Russia has more than 40 icebreakers, including three new gargantuan nuclear-powered vessels designed to ply sea lanes along the northern sea route. The U.S. military, by contrast, has just two working icebreakers.

This story comes from American Homefront, a military and veterans reporting project from NPR and member stations.

The roar of military jets triggers a crusade for quiet

As ‘Growlers’ shatter the calm of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, a push for quiet grows.

Gordon Hempton searches for silence in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park.
Shawn Parkin

On a chilly March morning, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton and his assistant, Laura Giannone, hiked into a glade of moss-draped maples in the Hoh Rainforest of northwest Washington’s Olympic National Park. They set up a tripod topped with ultra-sensitive recording equipment to listen to the murmurings of a landscape just then awakening from winter dormancy.

Above the low rush of the nearby Hoh River, the melodic trills of songbirds rippled through a still-leafless canopy. Then, suddenly, the low thrum of a jet aircraft built in waves until it eclipsed every other sound. Within half an hour, three more jets roared overhead.

Hempton has spent more than a decade fighting for quiet in this forest — the traditional homeland of the Hoh Indian Tribe, who lived here before it was a national park and now have a reservation at the mouth of the Hoh River. In 2005, Hempton dubbed a spot deep in the Hoh “One Square Inch of Silence,” and created an eponymous foundation to raise awareness about noise pollution. But he couldn’t stop the sonic intrusions from ramped up commercial air traffic and the Navy’s growing fleet of “Growler” jets training over the Olympic Peninsula. “In just a few years, this has gone from one of the quietest places on Earth to an airshow,” he told me.

As the Hoh got noisier, rather than concede defeat, Hempton broadened his effort into a global crusade. In 2018, he launched Quiet Parks International (QPI), to certify places that are relatively noise-free, in a bid to lure quiet-seeking tourists and thereby add economic leverage to preservation efforts. For Hempton, the sounds of nature are as critical to a national park as its wildlife or scenic vistas, and as the world gets louder, the importance of protecting quiet refuges as places of rejuvenation grows. “Our culture has been so impacted by noise pollution,” he said, “that we have almost lost our ability to really listen.”

Gordon Hempton has spent over a decade raising awareness of noise pollution.
Shawn Parkin

EVERYWHERE, PEOPLE ARE BECOMING MORE AWARE OF THE NOISE IN THEIR LIVES.Food critics routinely carry noise meters to restaurants, towns are banning gas-powered leaf blowers, and noise-metering apps are providing crowdsourced guides to refuges of quiet in cities worldwide. As evidence mounts that the stress of noise raises the risk of heart disease and stroke, so does interest in escaping the clamor.

Hempton visited the Hoh in March with Giannone, an Evergreen State College senior majoring in audio engineering and acoustic ecology, to train her in data collection for the Quiet Parks International certification. After recording, they went over her notes. The ambient sound averaged 25 decibels (whisper-quiet) and the peak noise, from a jet, hit nearly 70 decibels (vacuum-cleaner loud). Mix in the distant hum of vehicles and a chainsaw’s whine, and the longest period of unadulterated nature was just three minutes. By contrast, a cornerstone of the Quiet Park certification will be a noise-free interval of at least 15 minutes. The Hoh met that requirement easily — until recently.

“This is really incredible,” Hempton said, after Giannone tallied the noise intrusions. “This is a national park, and natural quiet is on the list of protected natural resources,” along with native plants, historic sites and dark night skies, among other assets.

Noise pollution in wilderness is not about loudness per se, according to Frank Turina, a program manager with the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division. Rather, it’s about how unnatural sounds can shatter “the sense of naturalness” essential to a wilderness experience, he said. “One of the biggest ways that civilization creeps into wilderness is through noise.”

Noise has particularly severe effects on wildlife. Research shows that the din of humanity remains pervasive in protected areas. Intrusive sound disrupts animals’ ability to navigate, avoid predators, locate food and find mates — beaching marine life, altering birdsong and causing stress that’s linked to shorter lifespans. “Obviously, we aren’t the only ones listening,” Hempton told me. “But we are the only ones who can choose to listen; wildlife listen to survive.”

Hempton hopes that the “quiet park” standards, which are still being finalized, help. Similar certifications, or “ecolabels,” have helped boost other environmental causes, including the Blue Flag beaches, created to protect fragile coastal environments, and the Dark Sky Places of the International Dark-Sky Association, which battles light pollution. Much of the work of QPI will involve cultivating an appreciation of quiet through educational programs and partnerships. For example, QPI partnered with a virtual-reality education nonprofit to create a VR tour of the Hoh to teach kids about noise pollution and ecology. Furthermore, the label will give tourists information they currently lack. Hempton suspects many will favor noise-free options. “We know from history that underlying every social movement is a widespread need for something that’s valued, but not being provided,” he said. “I feel all the ingredients for a social movement for quiet.”

The U.S. Navy’s Growler, an aircraft designed for electronic warfare.
U.S. Navy

CERTIFICATIONS HIGHLIGHT WHAT PEOPLE VALUE, according to Rob Smith, northwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association, and “a quiet park label says that the sounds of nature matter.” If local communities and the managers of Olympic National Park bid for a quiet-park certification, he said, “it would give us something to point to with the Navy to say, ‘This needs protection, too.’ ”

A few weeks after Hempton and Giannone visited the Hoh, the Navy released a final environmental assessment for its plan to add even more Growler jet training over the Olympic Peninsula — from the current 82 jets to 118 by 2022. The Growlers, which specialize in jamming enemy radar and communications, are named for their very loud, low-frequency roar.

Residents across the Olympic Peninsula have forged the Sound Defense Alliance to fight the expansion, lobbying to spread the jets around the country rather than have them all at Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. Sherry Schaaf, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Forks, about 20 miles northwest of the Hoh Rainforest, and her boyfriend, David Youngberg, are two of the anti-noise locals. Schaaf sometimes rents her house to people visiting Olympic National Park, and she and Youngberg often chat up out-of-towners. “Many of them talk about the quiet and how beautiful it is,” Schaaf said. “But they also say, ‘We heard the planes, and it was so loud and rumbling that we couldn’t even hear ourselves talk.’ ”

Since 2000, the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division has helped park managers across the country minimize noise by, for instance, restricting snowmobiles. But overflights are the biggest noise threat in backcountry areas, and the Federal Aviation Administration, not the Park Service, controls airspace. While the Park Service can request flight-pattern changes, as it successfully did for Rocky Mountain National Park, it can’t force the issue.

For their part, Navy officials said they work to minimize the Growlers’ disturbance by, for example, using flight simulators and other virtual training tools. But spreading out the Growler squadrons would involve costly inefficiencies and logistical complications that “would degrade the Growler community’s overall effectiveness,” according to a 2018 environmental impact statement. And Michael Welding, the Navy’s public affairs officer on Whidbey Island, pointed out that the vast majority of noise complaints are from people living near the Growler airfields, where pilots do low-altitude training, rather than from visitors to Olympic National Park.

Still, the roar of the jets is clearly audible in the park. Whether visitor numbers will fall significantly if overflights intensify is an open question: Research on whether eco-certifications influence tourists’ destination decisions is mixed. But profits aside, Vinod Sasidharan, a professor at San Diego State University who specializes in sustainable tourism, said certifications are often more about “raising awareness and setting transparent standards” within the tourism industry.

And tourism is vital for the Olympic Peninsula, said Youngberg, who spent more than two decades in the Navy, including deployment on an aircraft carrier during the Gulf War. Every year, about 3 million people visit Olympic National Park, pumping $385 million into the local economy in 2017, according to the Park Service. The park also supports more than 3,500 jobs in a region where unemployment is about double the national rate. Youngberg pointed out the decline of the region’s timber and fishing industries. “We’re a pretty poor county,” he said, “and it’s going to crush us if we lose tourism and our reputation for beauty, and peace and quiet.”

This story was supported by a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network.

Chris Berdik is a freelance journalist in Milton, Massachusetts. He covers science and education, and he’s the author of Mind Over Mind, a book about placebos in medicine and beyond. 

US warns China, Russia over Arctic amid environmental shifts

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the Trump administration is moving to assert America’s presence in the Arctic. He’s warning China and Russia that the U.S. won’t stand for aggressive moves into the region that’s rapidly opening up to development and commerce as temperatures warm and sea ice melts.

Pompeo says in a speech in Finland that the U.S. will compete for influence in the Arctic and counter attempts to make it the strategic preserve of any one or two nations. He says rule of law must prevail for the Arctic to remain peaceful.

The speech comes a day before Pompeo attends a meeting of the Arctic Council at a time of profound shifts in the region’s environment and widespread criticism of the Trump administration’s skepticism of climate change

History Shows Joe Biden 3.0 Is a Bad Idea

So Joe’s in now, and really, thank God. The corporate neoliberal “center” is dreadfully under-represented in the current tiny field of potential Democratic nominees. In the event candidates Buttigieg, Harris, O’Rourke, Booker, Klobuchar, Moulton, Inslee, Hickenlooper and Gillibrand fail to successfully advocate for continuing 30 years of failed conservative “centrist” Democratic policies, former Senator and Vice President Joe Biden (D-Delaware) will be there to shoot the gap.


“The third time’s lucky,” reads Alexander Hilsop’s 1862 compendium of Scottish proverbs. I guess we’re all going to find out how true that is over the course of the 79 weeks standing between this ragged little patch of time and the 2020 presidential election. Senator Biden’s first run at the brass ring began on June 9, 1987, and ended in searing disgrace only 106 days later after his campaign was subsumed by plagiarism accusations and his questionable relationship with the facts of his own life.

Biden kicked off his third presidential run on Thursday with an ominous and somewhat cumbersome 6:00 am tweet — “[E]verything that has made America — America — is at stake.” The announcement tweet failed to mention Biden’s plans to attend a big-dollar fundraiser hosted by David Cohen, chief lobbyist for Comcast, the most despised company in the country. This, morosely, is par for a very long course.

Though he labels himself a friend to working people, Biden has a record of harming workers that spans decades. “His energetic work on behalf of the credit card companies has earned him the affection of the banking industry,” wrote Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2002, “and protected him from any well-funded challengers for his Senate seat.”

“State laws have made Delaware the domicile of choice for corporations, especially banks,” writes Andrew Cockburn for Harpers, “and it competes for business with more notorious entrepôts such as the Cayman Islands. Over half of all US public companies are legally headquartered there.” Joe Biden spent 36 years as a Delaware senator until Obama raised him up in 2008, and during that time he served his core constituency with vigor.

Biden voted in favor of one of the most ruthlessly anti-worker bills in modern legislative history, the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, depriving millions of the protections provided by Chapter 7 bankruptcy. For this, and for his pro-corporate labors stretching all the way back to 1978, he has earned the financial devotion of the too-big-to-fail club many times over.

Millennial voters are touted as the sleeping giant of the 2020 election: Turn them out in large numbers, goes the thinking, and you can practically start measuring the drapes in the Oval Office today. If this is true, and I believe it is, candidate Biden began his campaign behind an eight-ball roughly the size of, well, Delaware.

“Student debt broke $1.5 trillion in the first quarter of 2018 according to the Federal Reserve,” writes Mark Provost for Truthout. “Twenty percent of student borrowers default on their loan payments. Delaware’s own senator and former vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, is at the center of the decades-long campaign by lenders to eviscerate consumer debt protections.”

Biden became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1987, at a time when Republicans were running actively racist campaigns under the gossamer veil of being “tough on crime.” Chairman Biden, who was about to spend 106 days failing to become president at the time, was not about to miss the boat. By 1994, he had become the Democratic champion for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a vicious piece of legislation which ushered in an age of mass incarceration that lawmakers today are still laboring to dismantle.

Biden’s problems on the matter of race go far beyond his full-throated support for the 1994 crime bill. “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the Black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers,’” he said in 1975 regarding school desegregation. “‘In order to even the score, we must now give the Black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race.’ I don’t buy that.”

You can expect to see that quote at least once a day for as long as his campaign remains active. One can try to shrug off a 44-year-old quote as the words of a man whose opinions on race have “evolved” — he shared the ticket with Obama! — but his record on the issue is unavoidably long and bleak. “Joe Biden’s greatest strength is that he’s been in the mainstream of American politics for the last 50 years,” writes the NBCpolitics blog, The Fix. “And that’s his greatest weakness, too.”

In this, Biden mirrors the history of the party whose nomination he seeks, a party that was firmly on the wrong side of racial justice until the middle of the 1960s. “My state was a slave state,” he told Fox News in 2006. “My state is a border state. My state has the eighth-largest Black population in the country. My state is anything [but] a Northeast liberal state.” Later that same year, before a mostly Republican crowd in South Carolina, Biden joked that Delaware only stayed in the Union during the Civil War “because we couldn’t figure out how to get to the South.”

Joe Biden voted in favor of George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. I have spent the last 17 years of my life writing about that horrific war, and expect to still be writing about it right up until they wind me in my shroud. There is no lack of irony to be found in the fact that Biden ultimately decided not to run for president in 1992 because he voted against George H.W. Bush’s Gulf War resolution, believing that vote irretrievably damaged his chances for victory. Some 26 years later, his vote in favor of a different Iraq war will be around his neck like a blood-soaked millstone, and justly so.

And then there is the matter of Anita Hill, which rolls many of the most pressing issues of the day — women’s rights, the patriarchy, racism, the conservative balance of the Supreme Court, collusion with a Republican Party that thinks “bipartisanship” is hilarious — into a very hard ball.

“Joe Biden was the ringleader of the hostile and sexist hearing that put Anita Hill, not Clarence Thomas, on trial,” writes Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of the women’s group, UltraViolet. “In doing so, Biden caused tremendous harm to all survivors, he set back the movement, and he helped put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. This is not a subject he can sweep under the rug. This is not something he can just get out of the way before announcing his candidacy. This is not something one line in a speech or interview will fix.”

Prior to announcing his candidacy, Biden expressed regret for his treatment of Anita Hill, going so far as to say “I’m sorry” on the Todayshow in September 2018, which speaks volumes about how long he has been contemplating this campaign (Hill was not present in the studio to hear the apology). On the day he announced this third run, CNBC reported that Biden had spoken to Hill personally. “They had a private discussion,” said a campaign spokesperson, “where he shared with her directly his regret for what she endured and his admiration for everything she has done to change the culture around sexual harassment in this country.”

According to The New York Times, however, Hill was having none of it. “Ms. Hill, in an interview Wednesday, said she left the conversation feeling deeply unsatisfied and declined to characterize his words to her as an apology,” reported the Times. “She said she is not convinced that Mr. Biden truly accepts the harm he caused her and other women who suffered sexual harassment and gender violence.”

“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying I’m sorry for what happened to you,” Hill is quoted as saying. “I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose. The focus on apology, to me, is one thing. But he needs to give an apology to the other women and to the American public because we know now how deeply disappointed Americans around the country were about what they saw. And not just women. There are women and men now who have just really lost confidence in our government to respond to the problem of gender violence.”

Joe Biden’s first three public endorsements — from conservative Democratic Senators Chris Coons (Delaware), Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Doug Jones (Alabama) — tell you all you need to know about who is rooting for his candidacy. A significant number of the policies he has devoted his life to are simply terrible. He’s a bannerman for a failed Democratic Party experiment, and the only people who don’t seem capable of perceiving that failure are the “centrist” Democrats cheering him on.

Biden is planning to run on the same “But I can win!” platform that worked out so poorly in the last election. The politics blog Crystal Ball labels him as potentially “The Most Experienced New President Ever,” which was also what some people were saying about Hillary Clinton in 2016. Even in the short time between now and then, a great many Democratic voters have demonstrably left him behind.

Three decades of watching conservative Democrats assist Republicans as they drove the country to the right is enough already. Alexander Hilsop’s proverb, I strongly suspect, is dead wrong on this one. Joe Biden is leading in the polls at the moment, but if he’s still in the race after Super Tuesday, I will be stunned. At least he’ll know how to find the exit. He’s done it before.

Joe Biden’s Legislative History Under Scrutiny as He Enters 2020 Race

Former Vice President Joe Biden has entered the 2020 race for the White House, becoming the 20th Democrat to seek the nomination in the largest and most diverse field of Democratic candidates ever to run for president. Biden will face scrutiny for his long and checkered record in the coming weeks, including his 1994 crime bill, that helped fuel mass incarceration with financial incentives to keep people behind bars, and his handling of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991. Biden is also known for close ties to the financial industry and voting to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the weeks before Biden announced his bid for the presidency, at least seven women stepped forward to accuse him of inappropriate touching. We speak with Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor for Harper’s magazine, about Biden’s record. His recent piece is headlined “No Joe! Joe Biden’s disastrous legislative legacy.”


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Former Vice President Joe Biden has entered the 2020 race for the White House, becoming the 20th Democrat to seek the nomination in the largest and most diverse field of Democratic candidates to ever run for president. Biden will hold his first fundraiser tonight in Philadelphia. It will be hosted by Comcast’s chief lobbyist, David Cohen.

AMY GOODMAN: In a campaign video released on social media this morning, Biden took aim at President Trump’s response to the 2017 “Unite the Right” march of white nationalists in Charlottesville. He began by talking about Charlottesville, the home of Thomas Jefferson, and then went on to talk about what happened most recently.

JOE BIDEN: It was there in August of 2017 we saw Klansmen and white supremacists and neo-Nazis come out in the open, their crazed faces illuminated by torches, veins bulging, and bearing the fangs of racism, chanting the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the ’30s. And they were met by a courageous group of Americans, and a violent clash ensued. And a brave young woman lost her life. And that’s when we heard the words of the president of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation. He said there were, quote, “some very fine people on both sides.” “Very fine people on both sides”? With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s Joe Biden announcing his run for president. As a longtime senator from Delaware, Biden has run twice before for the Democratic nomination. The last time was in 2008, when he ultimately became then-Senator Barack Obama’s running mate. Biden’s third bid for the presidency comes in a Democratic political climate that is notably more progressive than the last time he sought the nomination.

Biden will face scrutiny for his long and checkered record in the coming weeks, including his 1994 crime bill that helped fuel mass incarceration with financial incentives to keep people behind bars. Biden has also long faced criticism for his handling of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991. At the time, Biden was the chair of the Senate Judiciary committee. Biden is also known for close ties to the financial industry, notably helping push through a 2005 bill that made it harder for consumers to declare bankruptcy. According to The New York Times, the credit card issuer MBNAwas Biden’s top donor from 1989 to 2010.

AMY GOODMAN: One of Biden’s key legislative achievements was the 2005 bankruptcy law that made it harder to reduce student debt, preventing most Americans from claiming bankruptcy protections for private student loans. He also voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the weeks before Biden announced his bid for the presidency, at least seven women stepped forward to accuse him of inappropriate touching.

Well, last month, I spoke with Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor forHarper’s magazine, about Biden’s potential run for the presidency and his recent piece headlined “No Joe!” “Joe Biden’s disastrous legislative legacy” was the subtitle. I began in Part 2 of this discussion by asking Andrew Cockburn about Biden’s role in the 1994 crime bill.

ANDREW COCKBURN: He teamed up with Strom Thurmond, this sort of very aged, old segregationist from South Carolina, you know, really the face of — the face of everything that we’d been trying to get away from. And it was really, you know, Joe — he thought this was going to really propel him to the top. As he said to a former aide, who told me — I think it was around about 1990 — the aide was telling me how he, Joe, was always trying to hold hearings on crime and drugs. Every week, his poor staff had to sit around dreaming up a new excuse for a hearing on crime and drugs. And as Biden said to his staffer, he said, “I want when people hear the words ‘crime’ and ‘drugs,’ I want them to think ‘Joe Biden.’” I mean, he was really running, you know, like a — like George Bush Sr., on a sort of Willie Horton. You know, it’s astonishing that this man, this politician, should be considered a front-runner for the Democrats.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, could he simply say he’s changed since then, that he’s completely reversed his position?

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, not really. I mean, he sort of — he’s flubbed on a few things. I mean, he changed — you know, he’s apologized for a few things — not, I note, on busing; not on choice, where his record is truly terrible. He has said that he’s kind of sorry, a bit sorry, about his crime legislation. And he said he’s sorry he voted for the financial deregulation, the key repeal of Glass-Steagall. He said that was the worst vote ever — ever of his entire career, which I’m — there’s a lot of competition there. So, but even if — you know, just thinking of his political viability, supposing he has to go through the campaign saying, “Well, I’m sorry I did what I did on busing. I’m sorry I did what I did on crime. I’m sorry I did what I did on banks,” he’s going to sound like another shifty politician.

AMY GOODMAN: And on Anita Hill, “I’m sorry what I did on Anita Hill”?

ANDREW COCKBURN: And Anita Hill, “I’m really sorry about Anita Hill.” He’s expressed some regret for that, I should admit. So, you know, basically, his record has very little that’s good about it. You know, he has his sort of shtick of being the friend of the working man, but, you know, he’s been a much better and closer friend of the financial industry.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what happened with Neil Kinnock, the speech.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, very bizarre, that. He, Neil Kinnock, who at that time was the leader of the Labour Party, had this standard stump speech.

AMY GOODMAN: In Britain.

ANDREW COCKBURN: In Britain, yeah, British Labour Party. And he would — in his stump speech, he would say that, you know, he was — why was it that he was the first Kinnock in a thousand years to go to college, and Mrs. Kinnock, he invoked, too, as being the first from her family to go to college. And he made a moving sort of rags-to-riches sort of piece out of that. And Biden — Biden heard this, or his speechwriter did, and thought, “That sounds good,” and simply substituted the word “Biden”: “Why am I the first Biden in a thousand years to go to college?” and so on, so forth. And, well, what’s particularly ironic about it is that Neil Kinnock was known in Britain as the “Welsh windbag,” because he went on and on. And, of course, Biden himself is a terrible windbag. So, it was really bizarre to have one windbag plagiarizing another.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about Iraq. In 2002, former chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, Scott Ritter, said, quote, “Sen. Joe Biden is running a sham hearing. It is clear that Biden and most of the Congressional leadership have pre-ordained a conclusion that seeks to remove Saddam Hussein from power regardless of the facts, and are using these hearings to provide political cover for a massive military attack on Iraq. These hearings have nothing to do with an objective search for the truth, but rather seek to line up like-minded witnesses who will buttress this pre-determined result,” Ritter said. That same year, in 2002, Senator Biden said, quote, “We must be clear with the American people that we are committing to Iraq for the long haul; not just the day after, but the decade after. … I am absolutely confident the President will not take us to war alone,” he said. Talk about the significance of that then, and then what it could mean for today.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, it fits into Biden’s, you know, worldview, or, well, behavior on the international stage, throughout, which is as, you know, a very hard-line hawk. You know, as you just said, or as Ritter said at the time, Biden was really doing everything he could to assist George Bush in the run-up to the illegal invasion of Iraq. You know, on the Foreign Relations Committee, he summoned just pro-invasion witnesses. As far as I know, he was certainly not one of the famous of the five senators who took the trouble to go down and read the National Intelligence Estimate, that Senator Bob Graham has talked about, which was locked away down in the basement, which would have told them that there was a lot of doubts in the intelligence community as to whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and so forth. No, he just — he wanted — you know, he was all for war, and he was all for occupation, as you said.

And that fits in with, you know, his record since, most notably as vice president. Obama made him, made Vice President Biden — gave him really the — well, the Iraq file, but also the Ukraine file. And Biden used that to be an ardent proponent of, you know, more arms for Ukraine, for intervention in what is really a civil war in Ukraine. Of course, his family — his son — had very extensive business ties in Ukraine, which doesn’t look too good. His son Hunter was on the board of the Ukrainian gas company. So, you know, Biden, whenever he’s been given the chance, he’s been for armed intervention. He was ardently for the expansion of NATO, the post-1990 — in the 1990s, which, you know, is really the root cause of the renewed — sort of the new Cold War. I mean, Biden was there. It’s no surprise that he describes John McCain as his best friend in the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: Biden also said, in 2002, “I do not believe this is a rush to war; I believe it’s a march to peace and security.” So, Andrew Cockburn, if you could comment on his two runs for president, both failed? You know, all the media is saying the polls show he’s the — you know, number one now, followed by Bernie Sanders. But, of course, he’s got the biggest name recognition nationally. He was vice president for eight years under President Obama.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, that’s right. I mean, it is largely a factor of name recognition. But also, I mean, we have to think about those two runs. And what it showed — first of all, there was, as we’ve discussed, this astonishing gaffe in 1988, where he wasn’t just plagiarizing this British politician, by the way. It turned out that his speeches also had extensive passages lifted from Robert Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, unbelievably. So, you know, it’s kind of — it’s hard to explain this really sort of mental issue. But then that sank his — it’s not clear that his campaign was going anywhere, anyway, at that time.

And then, in 2008, you know, he didn’t even have that excuse of a plagiarism. I mean, he made an astonishing remark about Barack Obama early on, where he described him as “clean.” I mean, it was a very sort of racist — almost racist-sounding, patronizing remark. And he got nowhere. You know, he really sputtered in his campaign, sputtered and died.

So it’s pretty bizarre to me, this sort of — this cheering squad for Biden: you know, “Run, Joe! Run!” And I think, actually, what you — clip you showed, featured, of him at the firefighters’ convention yesterday, was very telling, because sounded like I can hear Donald Trump invoking, you know, low energy again. He didn’t sound like a, you know, ready-to-go politician at all to me. He sounded sort of rather weary. I have the feeling sometimes that he — in his heart, he doesn’t want to do it. That’s why we’ve had this sort of Hamlet performance for months now. And the people around him, all these longtime aides, this is their chance for, you know, a ticket in the big game, to be in on a big-time presidential campaign, and they’re kind of pushing him into it.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think, you know, if he does run, those poll numbers will come down in a hurry. He’s not an effective campaigner. He hates preparation. He hates like debate prep. He’s not a great fundraiser. He doesn’t like having to sort of kowtow to big donors to get money. He’s got such an inflated ego. I really think that he is not — I’m not the only person saying this; people who’ve known him for a long time think the same — that he would really — what he really wants is to be anointed — you know, “Please, Mr. Biden, please come and be our candidate. Please come and be our president” — without having to go through the hard grind, the incredible exhaustion, of a modern presidential campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew, could you talk about the media’s coverage of him? You are really among the first, if not the first one, in this period, to start really seriously analyzing Joe Biden’s record as a senator and then as a vice president. Then the rest of the media started, well, repeating some of what you had to say.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, yes. So, thank you. That’s kind. But that is true. But, I mean, the pack — you know, now they’re all busy at work, like CNN digging out that very damning clip you played earlier. And there’s going to be a lot more of that. I mean, already there’s things I didn’t know that are coming up. And just imagine what it’s going to be like when he has 12 other Democrats, you know, sort of chasing him around the ring. It’s going to be like Lord of the Flies or something. It’s, you know, the people — you know, oppo researchers can be pretty good these days, and there’s a lot to come out.

And he has — you know, he has so many deficiencies as a candidate, including, I should say, because the Republicans are already saying it, a “me, too” problem. I mean, if you look on sort of Republican websites and Twitter accounts, there’s a montage going around of Joe Biden with women at photo ops, including some quite young women — children, really — you know, apparently fondling them. I’m sure it’s all very just avuncular and everything, but as one person, one political fundraiser and operative, said to me — a lady said, “I was never talking to him when he wasn’t stroking my back.” You know, he’s very tactile, which, I’m sure, is entirely innocent. But, you know, don’t think that the Republicans won’t make a lot of lot of hay with that, and probably his Democratic rivals, too.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor forHarper’smagazine. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to

When we come back, we look at a New York Times exposé detailing how Navy SEALs, who witnessed their platoon chief, Eddie Gallagher, commit war crimes in Iraq, were encouraged by their superiors not to speak out, and told they could lose their jobs for reporting him. Gallagher goes on trial for murder next month. We’ll speak with New York Times journalist Dave Philipps. Stay with us.

How Feedback Loops Are Driving Runaway Climate Change

If you think this summer has been intense as far as record warm temperatures, wildfires, drought, and flooding events around the Northern Hemisphere, you haven’t seen anything yet — unless you happen to live in the Arctic.

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), air temperatures there are increasing at an “unprecedented rate” — twice as fast as they are around the rest of the globe. NOAA’s 2017 Arctic Report Card states unequivocally that the Arctic “shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades.”

The Executive Summary of the report also adds, “Arctic paleo-reconstructions, which extend back millions of years, indicate that the magnitude and pace of the 21st century sea-ice decline and surface ocean warming is unprecedented in at least the last 1,500 years and likely much longer.”

recent report from National Geographic revealed that some of the ground in the Arctic is no longer freezing, even during the winter. Along with causing other problems, this will become yet another feedback loop in the Arctic, causing yet more greenhouse gasses to be released from permafrost than are already being released and impacting the entire planet.

The simplest explanation for a positive climate feedback loop is this: The more something happens, the more it happens. One of the most well-known examples is the melting of sea ice in the Arctic during the summer, which is accelerating. As greater amounts of Arctic summer sea ice melt away, less sunlight is reflected back into space. Hence, more light is absorbed into the ocean, which warms it and causes more ice to melt, and on and on.

One of his concerns about a feedback loop already at play in the Arctic is how the heating of that region is already being amplified by ocean currents that transport warmer, more southerly waters northwards into Arctic seabed waters where it can affect methane deposits in submerged permafrost and sub-seabed methane hydrates.

“The release of this methane contributes powerfully to overall warming – methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, which actually has a bigger effect [on] the atmosphere’s radiative balance than carbon dioxide on decadal timescales,” Dr. Leifer told Truthout.

Although climate is generally thought to occur on century timescales, human timescales and ecological adaptation timescales are measured in decades instead of centuries, and this is now how many climate processes are being monitored given the rapidity of human-forced planetary warming.

Dr. Peter Wadhams is a world-renowned expert who has been studying Arctic sea ice for decades.

His prognosis for the Arctic sea ice is grim: He says it is in its “death spiral.”

“Multi-year ice is now much less than 10 percent of the area of the ice cover; it was 60 percent or more before 2000,” Dr. Wadhams told Truthout. “[Sea ice] extent in summer is down to 50 percent of its value in the 1980s.”

Dr. Wadhams, who is also the President of the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Ocean (IAPSO), noted that this primary feedback loop is much further along than most of us realize.

“I see the summer sea ice disappearing by the early 2020s,” Wadhams said. He noted that the change of albedo (a measure of reflection of solar radiation) due to the loss of sea ice and snowline retreat across the Arctic “is sufficient to add 50 percent to the warming effect of CO2 emissions alone.”

Alarmingly, on August 21, Arctic scientists told The Guardian that the oldest and strongest sea ice in the Arctic had broken up for the first time in recorded history. One of them described the event as “scary,” in part because it occurred off the north coast of Greenland, which is normally frozen year-round. The region has long been believed to be “the last ice area”: It was thought, at least until now, to be the final place that would hold out against the melting impacts from an increasingly warmer planet.

Abrupt Acceleration

Temperatures are rising most strongly in the Arctic, with some areas already showing an increase of as much as 5.7 degrees Celsius (10.26 degrees Fahrenheit).

Dr. Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute in Washington, DC, explained to Truthout how, now that the Arctic is warmer, the temperature gradient between the tropics and the traditionally cold Arctic is reduced.

With a reduced gradient, the movement of warmth from low to high latitudes is slowed. As Earth rotates, this leads to a wavier jet stream that can carry low latitude warmth up to Alaska and elsewhere in the Arctic, and the southward reach of cold air in the Arctic to lower latitudes. This explains why New Orleans, for example, has recently experienced unusual freezing winter weather.

“In addition, the waves in the jet stream that result are shifting to the east less rapidly, which means the unusual weather patterns that are more frequently occurring are moving eastward less rapidly,” Dr. MacCracken explained. “So both wet and dry periods are lasting longer, contributing to both excessively wet (e.g., flooding) and excessively dry (e.g., wildfire) conditions.”

Dr. Wadhams is concerned about this as well.

“The jet stream effect is because Arctic air is warming faster than tropical air, so the temperature difference is decreasing,” he explained. “This reduces the driving force on the jet stream, so it then meanders, which brings hot air to the higher latitudes (and cold air to some low latitudes).”

Summer weather patterns are now increasingly likely to become stalled out over places like North America, portions of Asia, and Europe, according to a recent climate study that showed how a warming Arctic is causing heatwaves in other places to become more intense and persistent due to a slowing of the jet stream.

Dr. Leifer warned that as these processes continue and the Arctic continues to heat up faster than the tropics, the pole-equator temperature difference that controls our weather and causes three major weather circulation “cells” — tropical, mid-latitude, and arctic — will merge into a single weather cell. A similar merging of weather cells occurred during the time of the dinosaurs.

“The jet stream, which controls seasonal storms in the midlatitudes, is a result of these three cells, and would disappear in a single weather cell planet, dramatically altering rain patterns and almost certainly heralding an ecosystem catastrophe,” Leifer explained. “The plants that underlie the food chain would be replaced by others that the local animals (insects to apex predators) could not utilize — in short, an abrupt acceleration of the current Great Anthropocene Extinction event.”

The diminishment of the jet stream also contributes to another potentially catastrophic feedback loop within the Arctic seabed: Changes to the jet stream are causing longer and more intense heat waves to occur across the Arctic, which of course causes the Arctic Ocean to warm further.

Kevin Lister, an associate with the Climate Restoration Foundation in Washington, DC, co-authored a paper with Dr. MacCracken for the United Nations that addressed the crisis in the Arctic, among other climate disruption-related issues.

Unlike the most commonly accepted idea that global temperatures should not be allowed to increase by more than 1.5°C, Lister told Truthout that the planet reaching 1.5°C above baseline “is fundamentally dangerous and that the rate of change we are seeing today means we will not even be able to stop the temperature at this level.”

Lister said this conclusion was reached, in part, due to initial observations from Dr. Wadhams regarding how the loss of sea ice was amplifying rates of change in the Arctic.

Lister told Truthout that “methane emissions [in the Arctic] are already a severe risk,” and that he and Dr. MacCracken’s UN paper shows that once temperatures started rising they would be largely unstoppable due to the interacting nature of the feedback mechanisms.

“Thus, one feedback mechanism, such as sea ice melting, can trigger another, such as methane releases, which then accelerates the first in a tightening spiral,” he explained. “In reality, there are many critical feedback mechanisms and the interlocking effects between them means that the climate is far more unstable and irreversible than we are led to believe, and the climate’s change is likely to follow a super exponential progression once the temperature rises above a certain level.”

Dr. Leifer, who has been studying Arctic methane for years, shares the same concern.

“There is the potential for seabed methane deposits off Greenland to be destabilized by the input of warm melt water and also heat transport,” he said, in addition to having pointed out that this process has been occurring in other areas around the Arctic for many years.

As I have written in the past, we are currently facing the very real possibility of a major methane release in the Arctic. Such a release would be a catastrophe for the global climate — and the survival of humans and other species.

Could a Dire Situation Lead to a “War for Survival”?

Lister and Dr. MacCracken both believe that the global focus on a maximum allowable temperature increase target of 1.5°C above baseline is both dangerous and unachievable. Most media and governmental attention has centered on keeping the Earth from warming 2°C over pre-industrial revolution baseline temperatures, and ideally limiting warming to 1.5°C. This is based on a politically agreed upon goal set forth during the 2015 Paris Climate talks, which were nonbinding.

“It reflects the way that intergovernmental climate change policy has been managed which has been to arbitrarily set a temperature target, which was firstly 2°C and then latterly 1.5°C, and then to see if economic and political policy can deliver an appropriate carbon budget,” Lister explained. “This is clearly not a rational way to develop climate change policy.”

Lister and Dr. MacCracken both believe that, in an ideal world, the process would be the other way round; governments would decide a safe temperature rise based on the best science and then set an appropriate climate change policy. But this is not the world we live in.

Mark Serreze, the director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, recently pointed out how the Arctic climate system has entered uncharted territory, so that even computer models are “no longer providing a reliable guide to the future.”

Dr. Leifer said that even if we prepare for the inevitable sea level rise from Greenland melting alone, accelerated melting there is “very bad,” as it reduces the time to implement plans. However, he noted, most countries are not in preparation mode to begin with.

“For example, a forward-looking society would encourage relocation through, say, tax incentives and disincentives from, say, most of Florida, to higher ground — even purely on a hurricane insurance basis,” he said. “Sadly, forward-looking is incompatible with our political system’s biannual money festival, aka elections. Still, very few other countries are doing better — excepting some northern European countries, like Holland — despite differences.”

The impacts of climate disruption aren’t waiting for our preparations, or lack thereof. Dr. Leifer believes that, sooner or later, the sea levels will rise dramatically.

Once this happens, he believes coastal cities will have to be abandoned due to sea level rise and increasingly destructive hurricanes. He believes that the sooner that departure happens, the less destruction and loss of human lives we will experience.

Dr. Leifer also expressed concern about the changes to the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which is currently weakening and already at its weakest in at least the last 1,600 years.

Dr. MacCracken told Truthout that his greatest concern about Arctic feedback loops is that of the melting of the plateau of the Greenland Ice Sheet. He explained that the meltwater and warmth at the surface is penetrating down into the ice sheet, softening it enough that the glacial ice has started flowing outward, and as this happens, the surface of the ice sinks to lower altitudes.

This kicks in a feedback loop that ultimately causes warming to accelerate, which causes the ice to flow faster, which further accelerates the melting.

“The ice making up the Greenland Ice Sheet holds about the equivalent of 6-7 meters (~20 feet) of global sea level rise, and glaciological evidence makes clear that an order of approximately half of that melted during the last interglacial about 125,000 years ago, contributing significantly to the 4-8 meter rise in sea level at that time,” Dr. MacCracken said.

He pointed out that this rise was caused by a 1°C temperature increase, similar to the temperature increase Earth is experiencing right now (1.16°C above baseline).

“At that time, the atmospheric CO2 concentration was near 300 ppm and the warming was due to differences in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun; today, the orbital parameters are less favorable to significant warming, but the CO2 concentration is a good bit higher and growing,” Dr. MacCracken said. “And its warming influence acts all year long, making it not surprising that the loss of mass of ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet is going up rapidly with a stronger and stronger influence on sea level around the world.”

The rapidly melting Greenland Ice Sheet is precisely what is causing the AMOC to slow.

Moreover, an Arctic that is continuing to warm could lead to the failure of the Gulf Current, Dr. Leifer said.

“The resultant deep freeze that would hit Europe would destroy European agriculture and likely lead to a massive war for survival,” he warned.