“Out of time.”
These are the phrases being used lately to report on the climate emergency.
Here are some recent headlines:
- Associated Press: “Heat wave grips US West amid fear of a new, hotter normal”
- Yahoo: “’The climate scientists have said this is coming.’ Extreme heat new normal as 110-degree temperatures blanket region”
- The Washington Post: “Climate change has gotten deadly. It will get worse.”
- CBS News: “NOAA’s ‘new normal’ climate report is anything but normal”
- MSNBC: “Extreme Weather Is ‘New Normal’ Thanks To Decades Of Climate Inaction”
All we need to do these days is step outside to see, smell, and feel the destruction of climate change accelerating.
Smoke from West Coast wildfires, for example, stretched as far as New York and New Jersey last week, degrading air quality for millions thousands of miles away.
Lake Powell’s water level is the lowest it’s been in half a century.
Unprecedented storms in Europe causing the worst floods Germany has experienced in nearly six decades were responsible for hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars in damage.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), February 2020 was the coldest on record in six years even though this winter ranked among the top-10 warmest in the Northern hemisphere.
This is climate change.
And it’s only just getting started.
Several scientists previously optimistic about our ability to mitigate the worst are now becoming more cynical.
A 1972 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study, “The Limits to Growth”, predicted several outcomes for possibilities when industrial civilization expansion clashed with the planet’s finite resources.
Sustainability analyst for accounting firm KPMG, Gaya Herrington, regarded as “a rising star in efforts to place data analysis at the center of efforts to curb climate breakdown,” has returned to the study to apply it to today.
Her conclusion: the collapse of civilization the 49-year-old study predicted is right on time.
As The Guardian recently reported:
“Coming amid a cascade of alarming environmental events, from western US and Siberian wildfires to German floods and a report that suggests the Amazon rainforest may no longer be able to perform as a carbon sink, Herrington’s work predicted the collapse could come around 2040 if current trends held.”
That’s in 19 years.
Herrington told The Guardian:
“The MIT scientists said we needed to act now to achieve a smooth transition and avoid costs. That didn’t happen, so we’re seeing the impact of climate change.”
“The key finding of my study is that we still have a choice to align with a scenario that does not end in collapse.”
The Guardian reported:
“The analysis draws upon several public health studies to conclude that for every 4,434 metric tons of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere beyond the 2020 rate of emissions, one person globally will die prematurely from the increased temperature. This additional CO2 is equivalent to the current lifetime emissions of 3.5 Americans.”
According to the study’s author, Daniel Bressler of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, this is “a vast underestimate” since the figures account solely for heat-related deaths, not those resulting from floods, storms, crop failures, and other climate crisis impacts.
Climate research scientist, Dr. Jason Box, recently told progressive talk show host and author Thom Hartmann that the arctic, which has been a carbon-trapping “sink” for millions of years, has shifted to a carbon-emitting source.
As Hartmann explained in a recent piece “Civilization-Ending Climate Change Is Knocking On Our Door:”
“There are several times more carbon trapped in the arctic permafrost than in our entire atmosphere right now, and as the region warms two to three times faster than the more temperate regions, that carbon, trapped in permafrost and below shallow ice layers, is beginning to seep into the atmosphere as methane and CO2.”
But we still have 19 years to get our act together before total climate and ecological breakdown, right?
Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center, argues:
“Extreme heatwaves, drought, wildfires and flooding events like those we’ve seen in recent summers will become commonplace. Many coastal cities and communities around the globe will be increasingly inundated by high tides and storm surges. Longer, more intense droughts will destroy cropland and force agricultural communities to uproot their families in search of a better life. The devastation of coral reefs around the world will worsen, wiping out fisheries that provide staple protein for millions of people. All of these impacts are happening now. If we don’t act fast, many communities, cultures and species will cease to exist.”
Michael E. Mann, Penn State University distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center, author of several books, most recently The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back our Planet, warns:
“We must now choose between two paths as we face our future. One leads to massive suffering and collapse of our civilizational infrastructure. The other leads to a prosperous future for us, our children and grandchildren. But it requires that we leave fossil fuels behind. The choice is ours.”
University at Buffalo assistant professor of environment and sustainability, Holly Jean Buck, adds:
“If we don’t succeed in transitioning away from fossil fuels globally, we could face an uneven world where a few rich countries congratulate themselves for going green, and a few oil producer nations are supplying the rest of the world with dirty fuel, which they use because they don’t have alternatives. In that world, greenhouse gas concentrations keep rising. Climate change exacerbates the risk of war and conflict.”
We’ve seen over the past four years how absent American example and leadership causes other countries to shrug off their environmental commitments.
The good news is, since his first day in office two months ago, President Biden has been working to either reverse or review “the former guy’s” all-out assault on the environment, including establishing the most progressive climate policy in history, demanding the federal government pause and review oil and gas drilling on federal land, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and electrifying the government’s vehicle fleet.
In total, 21 federal agencies will now be parcel to an all-encompassing climate network.
General Motors (GM) has announced plans to phase out gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035 and go “carbon neutral” by 2040.
One of President Biden’s recent climate actions involved cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline permit that previously pumped Canadian tar sands through the middle of the country down to the Gulf of Mexico.
The bad news is Joe Biden is not the consistent progressive his initial months in office might suggest.
He has always been an incrementalist.
He still refuses to ban fracking.
He has vociferously distanced himself from the Green New Deal, the non-binding bicameral resolution calling for 100 percent net zero-emission power by 2030, a federal jobs guarantee, solid union jobs retrofitting and re-building crumbling infrastructure, universal health care, and affordable housing.
In a good-faith if not futile attempt to try to negotiate with climate change-denying republicans, Biden announced this week a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal that does not include the “critical initiatives on climate change that I proposed.”
While politics is messy, and it is naive to assume we are always going to get what we want, no matter how urgently we need it, the climate doesn’t recognize negotiation.
It doesn’t acknowledge bipartisan hand-shaking and deal-making.
Historic climate catastrophes, devastating floods, wildfires, hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, acidic oceans, inundated cities, extreme and persistent heat waves, and ocean circulation and the jet stream at their weakest in over a millenia, threaten to eliminate all life on Earth.
That isn’t hyperbole.
Look at the numbers.
Listen to the scientists.
We must now implement the measures we can take to avoid a bleak, hostile future environment.
A coalition of American environmental groups is urging the Biden administration to commit to slashing carbon emissions by at least half by the end of the decade.
A new Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) report is calling on the new White House to commit to a “whole of government effort” toward the climate crisis, including a push for zero-emissions US-sold cars by 2035, a renewable energy clean electricity standard, and new methane emissions regulations in oil and gas drilling.
Congress is already queued up.
Last year Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and other progressive lawmakers introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act to “abolish dozens of tax loopholes, subsidies, and other special interest giveaways littered throughout the federal tax code.”
This alone would save taxpayers up to $150 billion over the next decade.
This is the example the United States has needed to set for years, and with a congressional majority and the White House in Democratic control, there is no reason to kick the proverbial can further down the road.
If “America is back,” let’s be the climate leader the world needs, not because America prides itself on being “the best,” but because our unique position as the global exemplar, for better or worse, requires it.
When it comes to the climate catastrophe, we not only have no more time to lose; climate change is not something a single nation can tackle singlehandedly.
We witnessed the immediate impact rolling back CO2 emissions has last year when it took a pandemic to stop us in our tracks.
The United States can, should, and must lead the world in preserving what is left of the environment before we pass too many tipping points to address.
Image credit: Fabius Maximus