This post is a continuously updated compilation of news and opinion on our ever-worsening climate calamity. Items are posted chronologically:
The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.
NASA released global temperature data showing that this September tied with 2005 for the warmest September on record.
Climate change will pose sharp risks to the world’s food supply in coming decades, potentially undermining crop production and driving up prices at a time when the demand for food is expected to soar, scientists have found.
If greenhouse emissions continue their steady escalation, temperatures across most of the earth will rise to levels with no recorded precedent by the middle of this century.
Climate scientists are 95% confident — that is to say, surer than ever — that humans are responsible for at least “half of the observed increase in global average surface temperatures since the 1950s.” …weather events that have previously been classified as “storms of the century” could become the storm of “every 20 years or less.”
Sea ice cover in the Arctic has shrunk to the sixth lowest extent on record, according to figures from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).
Every climate scientist I’ve spoken to has said we will blow past 550 ppm [carbon dioxide concentrations] if we continue to put off action. Indeed, we’re on track for well past 800 ppm. Continued inaction on climate change risks the end of modern civilization as we know it.
Northeast Asia is on fire. Yesterday temperatures in Shanghai hit an all-time high of 105.4ºF (40.8ºC), the hottest day in the coastal megacity since Chinese officials began keeping records some 140 years ago — during the Qing dynasty.
Little should surprise us in a world where intolerable injustices are widely ignored, from preventable hunger, poverty and disease to irreversible environmental destruction to the global oppression of girls and women; where wealth disparities are at record levels and wealthy bankers are bailed out by the people they’ve bankrupted; where huge corporations pay no taxes and get subsidized by the public; where a war based on lies and deceptions that resulted in unimaginable carnage is heralded as a success; where the assault on basic rights and liberties is greeted with a yawn — if not a cheer; where sports games arouse more passion and emotion than a million babies dying; where a minor celebrity infraction receives more attention than an epidemic of sexual violence in which young girls have their insides shredded with broken bottles and sticks of wood.
In this atmosphere of denial and self-destruction, few things capture the zeitgeist better than the American right’s reckless dismissal of climate change:
Late last week, the nation’s pre-eminent scientific advisory group, the National Research Council arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report called “America’s Climate Choices.” As scientific reports go, its key findings were straightforward and unequivocal: “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.” Among those risks in the USA: more intense and frequent heat waves, threats to coastal communities from rising sea levels, and greater drying of the arid Southwest.
Coincidentally, USA TODAY’s Dan Vergano reported Monday, a statistics journal retracted a federally funded study that had become a touchstone among climate-change deniers. The retraction followed complaints of plagiarism and use of unreliable sources, such as Wikipedia. Taken together, these developments ought to leave the deniers in the same position as the “birthers,” who continue to challenge President Obama’s American citizenship — a vocal minority that refuses to accept overwhelming evidence.
Here are the facts:
The more carbon that gets released into the atmosphere, the higher the average temperature rises. That’s a scientific fact. Human activities, such as driving, flying, building and even turning on the lights, are the biggest contributor to the release of carbon. That too, is a fact.
Yet millions of Americans, including most Republican officials, are in absolute denial.
Anecdotal evidence continues to mount that the Tea Party is another manifestation of a rightwing phenomenon whereby carefully crafted talking points are force-fed to the public through Fox, talk radio, chain emails and other communication mechanisms, then regurgitated in the form of deeply-held convictions.
I say “force-fed” because if you tune in to these outlets, it’s a relentless stream of indoctrination:
Liberals are worse than terrorists — Global warming is a hoax — Obama is a Kenyan socialist — Gays are trying to corrupt our children — “Big government” is oppressing us — All Muslims are bent on our destruction — “Activist judges” are trying to undermine the Constitution – The Constitution’s two main tenets are that everyone should have the right to carry assault weapons and that America is a Christian nation.
A fundamental characteristic of Tea Partiers’ views is the vehement embrace of ideas with little or no grounding in knowledge or comprehension and the parroting of Fox-style soundbites as though they were carefully considered positions. Following are a number of examples.
At a candidate forum here last week, Representative Baron P. Hill, a threatened Democratic incumbent in a largely conservative southern Indiana district, was endeavoring to explain his unpopular vote for the House cap-and-trade energy bill. It will create jobs in Indiana, reduce foreign oil imports and address global warming, Mr. Hill said at a debate with Todd Young, a novice Republican candidate who is supported by an array of Indiana Tea Party groups and is a climate change skeptic. “Climate change is real, and man is causing it,” Mr. Hill said, echoing most climate scientists. “That is indisputable. And we have to do something about it.”
A rain of boos showered Mr. Hill, including a hearty growl from Norman Dennison, a 50-year-old electrician and founder of the Corydon Tea Party. “It’s a flat-out lie,” Mr. Dennison said in an interview after the debate, adding that he had based his view on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and the teaching of Scripture. “I read my Bible,” Mr. Dennison said. “He made this earth for us to utilize.”
Skepticism and outright denial of global warming are among the articles of faith of the Tea Party movement, here in Indiana and across the country. For some, it is a matter of religious conviction; for others, it is driven by distrust of those they call the elites. And for others still, efforts to address climate change are seen as a conspiracy to impose world government and a sweeping redistribution of wealth. But all are wary of the Obama administration’s plans to regulate carbon dioxide, a ubiquitous gas, which will require the expansion of government authority into nearly every corner of the economy.
“This so-called climate science is just ridiculous,” said Kelly Khuri, founder of the Clark County Tea Party Patriots. “I think it’s all cyclical.” “Carbon regulation, cap and trade, it’s all just a money-control avenue,” Ms. Khuri added. “Some people say I’m extreme, but they said the John Birch Society was extreme, too.”
A new study by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University shows that most Americans who say they want more limited government also call Social Security and Medicare “very important.” They want Washington to be involved in schools and to help reduce poverty. Nearly half want the government to maintain a role in regulating health care.
The study suggests that come January, politicians in both parties will confront a challenging and sometimes contradictory reality about what Americans really think about their government. Although Republicans, and many Democrats, have tried to demonize Washington, they must contend with the fact that most major government programs remain enormously popular, including some that politicians have singled out for stiff criticism.
The Tea Party movement has further sought to spruce up its historical bona fides by laying claim to the United States Constitution. Many Tea Party members subscribe to a literal reading of the national charter as a way of bolstering their opposition to deficit spending, bank bailouts and President Obama’s health care plan. A Tea Party manifesto, called the Contract From America, even contains a rigid provision stipulating that all legislation passed by Congress should specify the precise clause in the Constitution giving Congress the power to pass such a law — an idea touted Thursday by the House Republican leadership.
But any movement that regularly summons the ghosts of the founders as a like-minded group of theorists ends up promoting an uncomfortably one-sided reading of history.
The truth is that the disputatious founders — who were revolutionaries, not choir boys — seldom agreed about anything. Never has the country produced a more brilliantly argumentative, individualistic or opinionated group of politicians. Far from being a soft-spoken epoch of genteel sages, the founding period was noisy and clamorous, rife with vitriolic polemics and partisan backbiting. Instead of bequeathing to posterity a set of universally shared opinions, engraved in marble, the founders shaped a series of fiercely fought debates that reverberate down to the present day. Right along with the rest of America, the Tea Party has inherited these open-ended feuds, which are profoundly embedded in our political culture.
No single group should ever presume to claim special ownership of the founding fathers or the Constitution they wrought with such skill and ingenuity. Those lofty figures, along with the seminal document they brought forth, form a sacred part of our common heritage as Americans. They should be used for the richness and diversity of their arguments, not tampered with for partisan purposes. The Dutch historian Pieter Geyl once famously asserted that history was an argument without an end. Our contentious founders, who could agree on little else, would certainly have agreed on that.
These clips hammer home the reality of a low-information nation:
The point is not to denigrate or minimize people’s views, but to demonstrate that the views are often based on erroneous information, misinformation or outright lies delivered by cynical millionaires like Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
If you’re going to ‘defend’ the Constitution or deny global warming or reject “big government”, you might want to do your own research before taking the word of Constitutional scholars and climatologists like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Christine O’Donnell.
Or as I put it recently: Only in the Tea Party can you defend a Constitution you haven’t read, deny climate change you’re causing and slam government programs you support.
UPDATE: Further evidence of the disconnect between beliefs and facts:
A Bloomberg National Poll finds that by a two-to-one margin, likely voters in the midterm elections think taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program won’t be recovered.
The facts: The Obama administration cut taxes for middle-class Americans, has overseen an economy that has grown for the past four quarters and expects to make a profit on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to rescue Wall Street banks.
Said pollster Ann Selzer: “The public view of the economy is at odds with the facts, and the blame has to go to the Democrats. It does not matter much if you make change, if you do not communicate change.”
You know things are bad when Democrats are message-hopping faster then John McCain in 2008 and when Democratic leaders and pundits take comfort in comparing President Obama’s approval ratings to the low points of previous presidents.
We shouldn’t find much solace knowing that Reagan also experienced a trough and climbed out of it. History and politics may be cyclical, but life is not. Our trajectory on global warming, for instance, is linear: the longer we allow the forces of denial to hold sway, the more likely we are to hit the point of irreversibility.
Moreover, the election of Barack Obama was a singular moment: the first African-American president elected to replace the most reactionary and radical administration in our history, following a campaign where a woman nearly shattered the ultimate glass ceiling. The force and momentum of those factors and the unprecedented engagement and hope it generated should never have dissipated so rapidly. This is not some mundane political cycle, this is a travesty.
It didn’t have to be this way.
There was a telling paragraph in Peter Baker’s recent Education of a President:
“We’re all a lot more cynical now,” one aide told me. The easy answer is to blame the Republicans, and White House aides do that with exuberance. But they are also looking at their own misjudgments, the hubris that led them to think they really could defy the laws of politics. “It’s not that we believed our own press or press releases, but there was definitely a sense at the beginning that we could really change Washington,” another White House official told me. “ ‘Arrogance’ isn’t the right word, but we were overconfident.”
It’s easy to cross the line from confidence, an essential component of success, to over-confidence, an ingredient of failure. Thinking back to the (justified) euphoria around President Obama’s inauguration, it’s easy to understand why many Democrats crossed that line. But that’s not to say there weren’t warning signs of the disaster to come. The flaps over Donnie McClurkin and Rick Warren were portents, signaling to Obama and Democratic lawmakers that the transition from hope to action was beginning.
I warned about over-confidence as far back as March of 2009, when I argued against bickering with Rush Limbaugh from the White House podium:
I know it’s hard for Democrats to appreciate how quickly political fortunes turn — the glow of victory, the high of electoral success gives a sense of inevitability and invincibility, of permanence. But there’s nothing permanent about power. The tide will turn again, and the engine that will drive it is the fury stirred by the likes of Limbaugh. Feeding that machine, expanding and enhancing it is a mistake. A serious one.
It’s a truism that victory makes every decision seem genius, defeat, the reverse. Democrats, now in power, have a sense of triumph that makes every decision feel smart, every chess move a checkmate. Thus the “Rush strategy” foisted on those of us who have spent the past decade trying to point out how noxious and pernicious Limbaugh and his ilk have been (and continue to be), and how detrimental the anger they’ve stoked.
Empowering Limbaugh in the hopes of a bank-shot against Republicans will yield the opposite result: Limbaugh will become more powerful, Republicans will relish his increased influence and allow him to do their dirty work.
It’s easy to feel like the old era is gone, the old demons slain, that we WON, that nobody’s afraid of the once-vaunted Republican attack machine. … but the seeds of Democratic defeat are planted not by Republican elected officials, who, like McCain, will carry the Bush albatross for years to come, but by those who can freely fan the flames of outrage, who can fight dirty, who can bend and break the rules with impunity, who can tear down their opponents’ integrity and character, and whose apparent reward (as in the case of Ann Coulter) is to be given yet a larger platform. No thanks.
My narrow point was that the dirty work of battling Limbaugh should not rise to the level of the White House. It would only empower him and his blathering cohorts. Surrogates could do that. My larger point was that the lesson from campaign 2008 should not be that there was now an indomitable, web-fueled Democratic force that would sweep away all rightwing resistance. If anything, the right would now fight harder and uglier. Decades in the making, the well-oiled rightwing attack machine wasn’t about to sputter out and die.
So who exactly was the White House official referring to when he/she told Peter Baker “we were overconfident”? I doubt it’s President Obama, since he is too disciplined, introspective and self-aware to lapse into over-confidence. I don’t really think it’s a single individual (though Rahm Emanuel’s famous bluster is emblematic of it) but it’s more a mindset that took over the White House and Democratic leadership, a mindset that denigrated the left’s concerns, that toyed with Limbaugh, that embraced faux-bipartisanship, that began taking measurements for Mount Rushmore, that scoffed at the Tea Party, that relied on an ephemeral email list and the myth of online dominance to convince itself that the GOP was permanently marginalized.
The problem with over-confidence as opposed to mere confidence is that the former makes you insular, the latter motivates you to solicit – and appreciate – external advice. The former leads Democratic insiders to slap down the ‘petulant’ left, the latter compels them to crowdsource strategy rather than rely on the “wisdom” of the same old Beltway strategists, pundits and pollsters.
The big question now is whether the impending electoral train wreck will convert Democratic over-confidence to defeatism or whether the White House can find confidence where they should have sought it all these months, in core progressive principles and values.
Part of the subtext of rightwing anti-environmentalism is that worrying about the planet betrays “softness,” that it’s the domain of “weak” liberals.
Which is why Democrats often feel compelled to couch the climate issue in energy security terms.
Any discussion of how we’re ravaging the earth, altering our climate and polluting the air is off limits for green-bashers, but I’m sure this is perfectly acceptable:
With insurgents increasingly attacking the American fuel supply convoys that lumber across the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan, the military is pushing aggressively to develop, test and deploy renewable energy to decrease its need to transport fossil fuels.
Last week, a Marine company from California arrived in the rugged outback of Helmand Province bearing novel equipment: portable solar panels that fold up into boxes; energy-conserving lights; solar tent shields that provide shade and electricity; solar chargers for computers and communications equipment.
The 150 Marines of Company I, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, will be the first to take renewable technology into a battle zone, where the new equipment will replace diesel and kerosene-based fuels that would ordinarily generate power to run their encampment.
Even as Congress has struggled unsuccessfully to pass an energy bill and many states have put renewable energy on hold because of the recession, the military this year has pushed rapidly forward. After a decade of waging wars in remote corners of the globe where fuel is not readily available, senior commanders have come to see overdependence on fossil fuel as a big liability, and renewable technologies — which have become more reliable and less expensive over the past few years — as providing a potential answer.
Who knows if this is authentic:
Osama bin Laden has expressed concern about global climate change and flooding in Pakistan, in an audiotape aired on the Internet, his first public remarks since March, a monitoring group said Friday. “The number of victims caused by climate change is very big… bigger than the victims of wars,” said the voice, whose authenticity could not be immediately verified and made available by SITE Intelligence Group.
Assuming it is real, there’s something strange and disconcerting about a terrorist mastermind, the world’s most wanted man, sitting in some mountain cave, being more worried about climate change than millions of conservative Americans. How backward can a position be when a monster like Osama bin Laden embraces a more enlightened view?
David Corn has an excellent post on the GOP’s new pledge:
The House Republicans on Thursday released a manifesto outlining what they intend to do should they triumph in the coming congressional elections. The glossy document, which is adorned with photographs of the Statue of Liberty, Mt. Rushmore, and cowboys, is high-mindedly titled “A Pledge to America: A New Governing Agenda Built on the Priorities of Our Nation, the Principles We Stand For & America’s Founding Values.” And it offers few surprises … Below is a list of words and phrases and the number of times they are each mentioned in the 45-page “Pledge.”
Climate change: 0
Environment: 1 (“political environment”)
Alternative energy: 0
This comports with the right’s stunningly irresponsible and dangerous tendency to deny a threat that dwarfs virtually anything humanity faces.
We live in an age of denial, willfully suffocating the life out of our planet, our only home, while pretending everything will turn out just fine. It is irresponsibility and selfishness on a cosmic scale. The following photo, distributed by Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser is instantly iconic. It depicts a river of dead sea life and it will haunt you after a single glance:
Here’s a close-up:
What you see above isn’t a rural gravel road. It’s a Louisiana waterway, its surface completely covered with dead sea life — a mishmash of species of fish, crabs, stingray and eel. New Orleans CBS affiliate WWL-TV reports that even a whale was found dead in the area.
Fish kills are fairly common along the Gulf Coast, particularly during the summer in the area near the mouth of the Mississippi, the site of this kill. The area is rife with dead zones — stretches where sudden oxygen depletion can cause widespread death. But those kills tend to be limited to a single species of fish, rather than the broad sort of die-off involved in this kill.
And therein lies the concern of Gulf residents, who suspect this may be yet another side effect of the catastrophic BP oil spill.
Ignore this story: scientists discover thick layer of oil on Gulf seafloor [Update: BP walks back its role]
Exxon was a prominent member of the now-defunct Global Climate Coalition, one of the first industry groups established in 1989 to refute findings of the then-newly formed UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Since Exxon’s 1998 merger with Mobil, the oil giant has spent $23 million on stoking opposition to climate action, Greenpeace said. It continues to fund 28 groups that run denial campaigns, according to the report, though the oil giant is hardly alone in betting against climate change.
The report said that the think tanks at the forefront of challenging the science of warming — such as the Heartland Institute, the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) — receive a majority of their climate-related funds from a raft of utility, coal, oil and car interests.
…I can think of few things more irresponsible and reprehensible than gambling with humanity’s future by pretending that our actions have no consequences. This is about the world my daughter will inhabit, so it’s as personal as it gets for me. And it is truly disturbing that rather than use the Gulf calamity as an inflection point and an opportunity to wake the country out of its environmental stupor, a Democratic administration would aid and abet oil companies in ‘disappearing’ the BP spill.
It’s obvious why the White House and Democratic leaders don’t want to discuss the dangers and damaging effects of the spill: it’s bad for their electoral prospects in November.
In that context, you can see why this explosive story will go absolutely nowhere:
Scientists on a research vessel in the Gulf of Mexico are finding a substantial layer of oily sediment stretching for dozens of miles in all directions. Their discovery suggests that a lot of oil from the Deepwater Horizon didn’t simply evaporate or dissipate into the water — it has settled to the seafloor.
The Research Vessel Oceanus sailed on Aug. 21 on a mission to figure out what happened to the more than 4 million barrels of oil that gushed into the water. Onboard, Samantha Joye, a professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia, says she suddenly has a pretty good idea about where a lot of it ended up. It’s showing up in samples of the seafloor, between the well site and the coast.
“I’ve collected literally hundreds of sediment cores from the Gulf of Mexico, including around this area. And I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said in an interview via satellite phone from the boat.
Joye describes seeing layers of oily material — in some places more than 2 inches thick — covering the bottom of the seafloor.
“It’s very fluffy and porous. And there are little tar balls in there you can see that look like microscopic cauliflower heads,” she says.
It’s very clearly a fresh layer. Right below it she finds much more typical seafloor mud. And in that layer, she finds recently dead shrimp, worms and other invertebrates.
So far, the research vessel has traveled in a large “X” across the Gulf within a few dozen miles of the well. Scientists have taken eight sets of samples, and Joye says they all contain this layer. It’s thin in some places, inches thick in others. Eventually, scientists hope to collect enough samples to figure out how much oil is now settling to the seafloor.
“It’s starting to sound like a tremendous amount of oil. And we haven’t even sampled close to the wellhead yet,” she says.
UPDATE: MSNBC has more on the ‘Slime highway’ of BP oil:
Samples taken from the seafloor near BP’s blown-out wellhead indicate miles of murky, oily residue sitting atop hard sediment. Moreover, inside that residue are dead shrimp, zooplankton, worms and other invertebrates.
“I expected to find oil on the sea floor,” Samantha Joye, a University of Georgia marine sciences professor, said Monday morning in a ship-to-shore telephone interview. “I did not expect to find this much. I didn’t expect to find layers two inches thick.”
If it is BP oil, it could undermine the federal government’s estimate that 75 percent of the spill either evaporated, was cleaned up or was consumed by natural microbes.
What the scientists do already know is that the oil is not coming naturally from below the surface.
“What we found today is not a natural seep,” Joye wrote in her blog on Sept. 5 when the first surprise sediment was found.
Kate Sheppard comments:
Joye is not the first to report finding oil on the Gulf floor; researchers from the University of South Florida reported last month that oil has been collecting below.
This of course makes it even more clear that the government’s claim last month that the “vast majority” of the oil was gone in the Gulf is simply not true. By all indications, our understanding of where the oil went is still far from complete.
UPDATE II: This jaw-dropping piece from Fortune, BP walks back its role in the gulf oil spill, should have all Americans steaming mad:
As the last tar balls settle on the bottom of the Gulf, it looks like BP may have some extra cash on hand.
The company might not have to pay all of the $20 billion in claims, incoming BP (BP) CEO Bob Dudley told analysts on Monday. This is the latest move in BP’s ongoing effort to back out of the spotlight since the spill.