It’s cold outside but the planet is warming, putting everything at risk
Bob Sheak – February 3, 2019
The weather outside in Ohio has been record-breakingly cold at times in January. Bear in mind, though, this is about weather, which is about the local and sometimes regional conditions that exist at given places and times. It can be cold and snowy in some places across the planet, very hot and dry in others, with a huge number of weather variations in other locations. Climate change, the warming of the whole planet, involves a much larger and more encompassing phenomenon that affects and interacts with weather systems everywhere, but that is simultaneously changing vital aspects of the biosphere in ways that undermine the conditions necessary for human life and other forms of life on the planet. The National Geographic encyclopedia defines biosphere as “the parts of the Earth where life exists,” and, continuing, it ‘extends from the deepest root systems of trees, to the dark environment of ocean trenches, to lush rain forests and high mountaintops” (https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/biosphere). According to recent UN and NOAA reports, we don’t have much time to save the biosphere, including humanity, from the massive and escalating “human” assaults that are occurring.
Weather versus Climate
Joseph Romm, one of the country’s most influential communicators on climate science and solutions,” provides an oft-cited distinction between weather and climate in his book Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know. He writes: “The weather is the set of atmospheric conditions you experience at a specific time and place. It is hot or cold? Is it rainy or dry? Is it sunny or cloudy? The climate is the statistical average of these weather conditions over a long period of time, typically decades. Is it a tropic climate or a polar climate? Is it a rainforest or a desert?” (p. 31). This distinction is generally useful, but to clarify, the forces that are propelling climate change are affecting local community, regions, countries, and the whole planet.
Authoritative measures that indicate global warming is taking place and rising typically an average of measures taken around the entire planet. Then there are anomalies, or climate phenomenon that are not fully understood. The cold spell that is griped the Midwest and Northeast in January is the result of frigid air coming from a “polar vortex” in the north pole. The National Weather Service describes the vortex as follows:
“The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. It ALWAYS exists near the poles, but weakens in summer and strengthens in winter. The term ‘vortex’ refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the Poles. Many times during winter in the northern hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream…. This occurs fairly regularly during wintertime and is often associated with large outbreaks of Arctic air in the United States” (https://www.weather.gov/safety/cold-polar-vortex).
It is not clear to me how – or whether – the polar vortex is influenced by or interacts with climate change, that is, what causes it to expand at times. But the existence of the polar vortex is another indication of how complex the earth’s climate is. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the climate is changing – and growing warmer – in ways that are harmful to life on the planet. This is confirmed by the nearly 100 percent agreement among scientists who study the subject and by the research they conduct. One recent indication of this virtually universal agreement appeared in an article published in the journal Bioscience in December 2017(https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/67/12/1026/4605229). The highlight of the article is that 15,364 scientists from 184 countries signed a letter giving “notice” that humanity does not have much time to curtail and reverse accelerating climate change.
The Trend: More hot periods than cold ones
As suggested, the changing climate is producing more and more “extreme weather events.” Romm writes: “while we will continue to have record-setting cold temperatures in places, the ratio of record-setting hot days to record-setting cold days will grow over time, which has been measured” (p. 32). Climate Nexus tracks all this and substantiates Romm’s contention as follows: “Record-breaking high temperatures are now outnumbering record lows by an average decadal ratio of 2:1. Record highs are occurring more often than record lows due to climate change.” And: “In a stable climate, the ratio of new record highs to new record lows is approximately even. However in our warming climate, record highs have begun to outpace record lows, with the imbalance growing for the past three decades. This trend is one of the clearest signals of climate change that we experience directly.”
Other research findings come to similar conclusions. A study published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres shows that “extreme heat events both in the summer and in the winter are increasing across the U.S. and Canada, while extreme cold events in summer and winter are declining,” so that “there are more extremely hot days during the summer as well as more days that are considered extremely hot for the time of year, like abnormally warm days in the winter” (https://phys.org/news/2018-11-extreme-summer-winter.html). And research by Richard Davy published in the same journal finds that “[o]bservations from the last fifty years have shown that the nights have been warming much faster than the days. Analysis of the causes of this more rapid warming at night shows that this is likely to continue in the coming decades” (https://phys.org/news/2016-03-nights-warmer-faster-days.html)
The Greenhouse gas effect
Romm describes this physical phenomenon as follows. “The sun pours out intense amounts of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, including ultraviolet and infrared…. Of the solar energy hitting the top of the atmosphere, one third is reflected back into space – by the atmosphere itself and the Earth’s surface (land, ocean, and ice). The rest is absorbed, mostly by the Earth, especially our oceans. This process heats up the planet.”
Romm continues his explanation, pointing out that certain types of infrared radiation are trapped in earth’s atmosphere by naturally occurring atmospheric gases. He refers to them as greenhouse gases, “including water, methane (CH4), and carbon dioxide (CO2),” and others [e.g., nitrous oxide], which “act as a partial blanket that helps keep the planet as much as 60 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it otherwise would be, which is ideal for humans.” However, various human activities, particularly those involving the use of fossil fuels, have put huge volumes of additional greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere.
[See report by The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions for a full list of greenhouse gases and how much they each contribute to climate change. Carbon dioxide is by far the most prevalent of these gases (https://www.c2es.org/content/main-greenhouse-gases).]
The numbers are striking. According to Romm,
“At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago, CO2 levels in the atmosphere were approximately 280 parts per million (ppm). Since then, humankind has been pouring billions of tons of extra greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing more and more heat to be trapped. The main human-caused greenhouse gas is CO2, and the rate of growth of human-caused CO2 emissions has been accelerating. Emissions today  are six times than they were in 1950” – and are now 400 parts per million” (pp. 1-2)
The National Aeronautical and Space Agency (NASA) provides some further details on the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere and how the information is collected, as follows:
“Ancient air bubbles trapped in ice enable us to step back in time and see what Earth’s atmosphere, and climate, were like in the distant past. They tell us that levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are higher than they have been at any time in the past 400,000 years [other estimates extend back further]. During ice ages, CO2 levels were around 200 parts per million (ppm), and during the warmer interglacial periods, they hovered around 280 ppm (see fluctuations in the graph [go to source for this]). In 2013, CO2 levels surpassed 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history. This recent relentless rise in CO2 shows a remarkably constant relationship with fossil-fuel burning, and can be well accounted for based on the simple premise that about 60 percent of fossil-fuel emissions stay in the air” (https://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/24/graphic-the-relentless-rise-of-carbon-dioxide).
In his just published book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, the intrepid climate chronicler Dahr Jamail refers to even more stark numbers, writing: “The earth has not seen current atmospheric CO2 levels since the Pliocene, some 3 million years ago.” Furthermore, he writes: “Our planet is rapidly changing, and what we are witnessing is unlike anything that has occurred in human, or even geologic history.” Additionally:
“Evidence shows that greenhouse gas emissions are causing the Earth to warm ten times faster than it should, and the ramifications of this are being felt, quite literally, throughout the entire biosphere.” The signs are readily observable and have been documented by reams of scientific research. Here are some examples Jamail refers to.
“Oceans are warming at unprecedented rates, droughts and wildfires of increasing severity and frequency are altering forests around the globe, and the Earth’s cryosphere – the parts of the earth so cold that water is frozen into ice or snow – is melting at an accelerating rate. The subsea permafrost in the Arctic is thawing, and we could experience a methane ‘burp’ of previously trapped gas at any moment, causing the equivalent of several times the total amount of CO2 humans have emitted to be released into the atmosphere.”
With respect to ice melting, there is further ominous evidence. “In North America, 70 percent of the glaciers in western Canada are projected to be gone by 2100. Montana’s Glacier National Park will most likely not have an active glacier by 2030. The Matanuska Glacier’s ancient ice is, by now, rapidly vanishing. Dramatic changes are occurring even in the planet’s highest and coldest places. Even Mount Everest…is transforming, as thousands of glaciers across the Himalayas will likely shrink by up to 99 percent by 2100” (p. 6).
Among other such climate-relevant facts, Jamail notes, “Seventeen of the eighteen hottest years ever recorded have occurred since the year 2001” (pp. 4-5).
In an article published in the New Scientist, Michael Le Page reports on a new forecast by Richard Betts of the Met Office Hadley Centre in the UK. According to Bett’s calculations, the average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is likely to rise by 2.8 parts per million to 411 ppm in 2019 (https://www.newscientist.com/article/2191881-carbon-dioxide-levels-will-soar-past-the-410-ppm-milestone-in-2019). The rate of accumulation has risen to this level from “less that 1 ppm a year in the 1950s.” The long-term trend is “remorselessly clear.”
The fossil-fuel dependence
The extraordinary buildup of greenhouse gases stems largely from the combustion of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal). We have a society, as do other “modern” societies, that depends on fossil fuels as the primary energy sources. The great majority of us depend on electricity from power plants that burn mostly coal and gas to heat and cool our homes and businesses, on gasoline to fuel the cars we drive or busses we ride, on fossil fuels to make travel and trade between countries by air or sea feasible, on fossil fuels to keep industries producing and distributing the seemingly endless goods and services that we buy. There is more. It takes energy to extract the minerals that are essential for many of the products that industry turns out. It takes oil and gas to fuel the machinery and manufacture the fertilizers and herbicides for most of the farms that produce our food. There are energy-producing alternatives in the form of solar, wind, and geothermal energy and they are growing as a percentage of U.S. energy use. There is a growing organic farm sector as well. However, the evidence indicates renewables and organic farming are not growing fast enough to replace fossil fuels much or lower greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine provides short summary reports on energy. Here is one point from the report that’s relevant to the present discussion.
“The United States gets 81% of its total energy from oil, coal, and natural gas, all of which are fossil fuels. We depend on those fuels to heat our homes, run our vehicles, power industry and manufacturing, and provide us with electricity. Eventually, the degree to which we depend on fossil fuels will have to decline as the planet’s known supplies diminish, the difficulty and cost of tapping remaining reserves increase, and the effect of their continued use on our planet grows more critical. But shifting to new energy sources will take time” (http://needtoknow.nas.edu/energy/energy-sources/fossil-fuels).
In an article published in Washington Post, journalists Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney remind us:
“In October , a top U.N.-back scientific panel found that nations have barely a decade to take ‘unprecedented’ actions and cut their emissions in half by 2030 to prevent the worst consequences of climate change. The panel’s report found ‘no documented historic precedent’ for the rapid changes to the infrastructure of society that would be needed to hold warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above industrial levels” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/energy-environment/2018/12/05/we-are-in-trouble-global-emissions-reched-new-record-high/?utm_term=6aeb414fca63).
Thus far, however, there is too little progress toward meeting this goal or even the higher one of 2.0 degrees. In an article published in The Guardian, Fiona Harvey reports on research that finds “[r]emoving coal from the global energy mix is taking too long, too many forests are still being destroyed, and fossil fuel subsidies are ongoing despite their distorting effect on the market” (https://theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/22/analysis-warns-lack-progress-2020-global-emissions-target). Analysis by the World Resource Institute discloses, according to Harvey, that there is “insufficient progress in agriculture to stop harmful practices that increase carbon dioxide production, and heavy industry is not doing enough to use energy more efficiently.” Consequently, global greenhouse gas emissions are likely to go on rising into the next decades beyond the 1.5C or 2C warming thresholds “that scientists have identified as key to the future safety of the planet.” Harvey refers to some positive developments in the increased use of renewable energy, in curtailing greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, and in some efforts from the public and private sector. Still not enough.
Caught in a climate quagmire
As the greenhouse blanket thickens in the atmosphere, temperatures rise, and this leads to all sorts of immediate and long-term, some likely to be permanent, climate disruptions and catastrophes. Tom Engelhardt, author and creator of the website TomDispatch, offers the following summary of what we have wrought in an essay titled “Living on a Quagmire Planet: This Could Get a Lot Uglier” (https://counterpunch.org/2019/01/09/living-on-a-quagmire-planet-this-could-get-a-lot-uglier).
“In case you haven’t instantly guessed — and I suspect you have — I’m thinking about what’s happening to the place known to its English-speaking inhabitants as Earth. It no longer takes a scientist or a probing intelligence to know that the planet that welcomed humanity all these thousands of years has begun to appear a good deal less gracious thanks to humanity’s burning of fossil fuels and the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By now, no matter where you live, you should know the litany well enough, including (just to start down a long list): temperatures that are soaring and only promise to rise yet more; a record melting of Arctic ice; a record heating of ocean waters; ever fiercer storms; ever fiercer wildfires(and ever longer fire seasons); rising sea levels that promise to begin drowning coastal cities sometime later this century; the coming of mega-droughts and devastating heat waves (that by 2100 may, for instance, make the now heavily populated North China plain uninhabitable).
“Nor do you have to be a scientist these days to draw a few obvious conclusions about trends on a planet where the last four years are the hottest on record and 20 of the last 22 years qualify as the warmest yet. And keep in mind that most of this was already clear enough at the moment in planetary history when a near-majority of Americans elected as president an ardent climate-change denier, as were so many in the party of which he became the orange-haired face. And also keep in mind that the very term climate-change denier no longer seems faintly apt as a description for him, ‘his’ party, or the crew he’s put in control of the government. Instead, they are proving to be the most enthusiastic group of climate-change aiders and abettors imaginable.
“In other words, the administration heading the country that, historically, has been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases is now in the business — from leaving the Paris climate accord to opening the way for methane gas releases, from expanding offshore drilling to encouraging Arctic drilling, from freeing coal plants to release more mercury into the atmosphere to rejecting its own climate-change study — of doing more of the same until the end of time. And that’s certainly a testament to something. Ultimately, though, what it’s doing may be less important than what it isn’t doing. On a planet on which, according to the latest U.N. report, there are only perhaps a dozen years left to keep the long-term global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees centigrade, the Trump administration is wasting time in the worst way imaginable.”
There is so much to say about the increasingly destructive effects of climate change. But, given the importance of immigration in today’s politics, it is worth noting that the disruptive and catastrophic changes accompanying climate change are a factor – and a growing one – in driving people off their land and out of their communities. I discussed this in an earlier post on July 12, 2018 titled “Trump’s legally questionable, ill-advised, and cruel attacks on refugees.” In an article for Inside Climate News, Neela Banerjee offers the following information from the International Organization for Migration relevant to this issue. (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19012019/migration-climate-change-trump-state-department-guidance-diplomats-gao-report).
“…the IOM found that since 2008, an average of 25.3 million people have been newly displaced annually, the vast majority due to disasters rather than violence. In 2016, 97 percent of people fled their homes because of “disasters triggered by climate and weather-related hazards,” the IOM said.
“In the U.S., the national security apparatus has described climate change for years as a “threat multiplier”—the extra pressure that could destabilize countries where resources such as water and arable land are limited and governance is weak. In a 2015 report to Congress, the Pentagon pointed to the Syrian civil war as an example of how climate change can aggravate the fragility of a nation already beset by tensions and unpopular leaders.
“Researchers are now looking into how drought and higher temperatures fueled by climate change might be driving the migration of thousands of people from Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua northward to Mexico and the United States. The migration has become a political flashpoint in the U.S., as President Trump’s insistence on funding for a controversial border wall to deter migrants has led to the longest government shutdown in American history.”
Trump and his right-wing allies use their power to stymie any efforts to deal with climate change
Richard North Patterson brings our attention to how Trump and his allies, especially the Republican Party, are using their power to undermine or stop governmental efforts to address climate change (https://huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-trumps-climate-change_us_5c3f9be1e4b04e4f74). Patterson describes their behavior as immoral, that is, they intentionally put their personal and political interests ahead of what are the all too obvious disasters stemming from, in this case, climate change. For one thing, they ignore “last year’s inventory” of climate-related catastrophes:
“Heat waves killed people from Montreal to Karachi to Tokoyo, drought hit the Horn of Africa, the largest and deadliest wildfires in the state’s history swept California, another set of wildfires made the air in Portland worse than in Beijing, and two lethal hurricanes hit the East Coast within a month. Ocean temperatures are rising much faster than previously thought, destroying marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and intensifying hurricanes.”
They ignore as well, that the “Earth’s five warmest years on record have occurred since 2010” and “dismiss the scientific consensus that humans have played a critical role” and are warning that “we are running out of time to avoid the catastrophic” or the proliferating catastrophic events linked to climate change. We are facing increased droughts and changing rainfall patterns that are making “it harder to plant and harvest crops and harder for crops to survive.” And: “The scarcity of drinking water will increase the already intensifying competition for water, and the resultant increases “in mass migration, conflict and a breakdown in overburdened health care systems.”
Patterson identifies the specific aspects of the immorality Trump and the Republican Party embody. They don’t care about “anyone beyond” themselves, their families, and their friends. The don’t think it’s important to protect future generations. They don’t feel any obligation to “help – or refrain from harming – people.” They don’t care that “America is a principal driver of climate change.” The put their “personal profit and convenience above the survival of our planet.” They dismiss or ignore the scientific consensus on climate change and believe what they wish to believe. They do not feel obliged to be a steward for a sustainable environment. In other words, in extreme ways, they support the neoliberal policies that have been part and parcel of the Republican and even mainstream political discourse since at least the Reagan years, policies that buttress corporate power through lower taxes, deregulation, privatization of government programs, massive government subsidies for fossil fuels, no effective legal limits on political contributions, and so on.
The immorality is also reflected in how Trump “seeded his administration with corporate lobbyists bent on gutting strictures on polluters.” How so? “Notably, his initial appointees to run the EPA and Interior – Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke…combined environmental despoliation with personal corruption.” Their mission was to “dismantle environmental protection, suppress scientific reality and portray environmentalists and scientists as ultraliberal hysterics indifferent to American jobs.” When asked about “his own government’s comprehensive National Climate Assessment, Trump said, ‘I don’t believe it.” He radically weakened “major efforts to date against man-made global warming: rules restricting greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and power plants.” He “jettisoned Obama’s Clean Power Plan, loosened fuel economy standards, diminished restrictions on methane emissions and terminated Obama’s plan to phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons – powerful heat-trapping gases – in air conditioners and refrigerators.”
With all that has transpired, Patterson still believes that there is time to stop and reverse the class-biased, environmentally destructive policies of Trump and the Republican Party. There is time, he maintains, to educate and marshal people to elect representatives to government who would initiate “a transition to clean energy” and to change their individual lives in environmentally-beneficial ways. And he sees the proposal for a Green New Deal going in the right direction, as it proposes that “by 2030, we generate all electricity from renewable sources, build a national energy-efficient smart grid, upgrade our homes and workplaces for energy efficiency, transition our industries away from fossil fuels and create millions of jobs to help effectuate these transformations.”
Where does all this leave us here in the U.S.?
Amidst all the bad news, there are positive developments, as the previous paragraph suggests. Additionally, those who are convinced by the scientific evidence that there is increasingly dangerous and accelerating climate change represent a majority of the population. The big question is whether these forces will be able to combat and turn back the special interests, most prominently reflected in corporate power and rogue administrations like that of Trump’s. In the following paragraphs, I refer to examples of those who are acting or have taken positions that acknowledge and accept the scientific evidence on climate change. This is undoubtedly good, but it doesn’t mean that they will be able to coalesce and press ahead on a strong energy policy that is able to win elections.
The list includes 97 percent or so of all climate scientists, environmentalists representing many diverse orientations, most Democrats in elected office, some minor political parties such as the U.S. Green Party, and hundreds of mayors and city councils that have made commitments to clean energy.
Recent polls find also that a large majority of Americans believe that climate change is occurring, that it is harmful, and that it is the result of human activities. Oliver Milman reports on a Yale University climate communication poll that found “72% of polled Americans now say global warming is personally important to them,” the highest level since Yale started to ask this question in 2008. And “73% of Americans now say global warming is happening, outnumbering those who don’t by five to one.” A smaller percentage, but still a majority of 62% attribute the primary cause of the problem to human activities. And: About two-thirds of Americans believe that global warming is influencing the weather, in the wake of a string of deadly extreme events in the US. About half say the disastrous wildfires in California and Hurricanes Florence and Michael, which flattened parts of North Carolina and Florida, were worsened because of rising global temperatures” (https://theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/22/climate-change-concern-americans-poll).
Even the heads of U.S. intelligence agencies and military chiefs of staff recognize the dire impacts of unfolding climate change. Neela Banerjee reports for Inside Climate News on U.S. intelligence officials, including the National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and directors of the FBI, CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency that climate change poses multiple threats to the world. She also refers to recent concerns expressed by the Pentagon (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/30102019/worldwide-threat-assessment-climate-change-intelligence-agencies-national-security).
Banerjee writes: “The nation’s intelligence community warned in its annual assessment of worldwide threats that climate change and other kinds of environmental degradation pose risks to global stability because they are ‘likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.’ The threat assessment refers to:
“Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security,” said the report, which represents the consensus view among top intelligence officials. “Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution.”
Banerjee also notes that “In just the past two weeks, the Pentagon, in a report to Congress, described extreme weather and climate risks to dozens of critical military installations” and that “Urban coastal areas of South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Western Hemisphere that could be battered by extreme weather and aggravated by rising sea levels.” And: “It says ‘damage to communication, energy, and transportation infrastructure could affect low-lying military bases, inflict economic costs, and cause human displacement and loss of life,’ noting that “last year, Hurricane Michael inflicted an estimated $5 billion in damage on Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.”
In an article for Inside Climate News, Nicholas Kusnetz provides further evidence of the military’s concern with climate (http://insideclimatenews.org/news/18012019/military-bases-climate-change-risks-wildfires-flooding-defense-department-report-congress). He writes:
“A new Department of Defense report lists climate change vulnerabilities at 79 key military facilities, including risks from wildfires and severe weather, like this 2018 storm that damaged buildings and caused flooding at an Air Force base in Texas. Credit: Airman 1st Class Marco A. Gomez/U.S. Air Force
A new Pentagon report identifies significant risks from climate change at scores of military bases and says the Defense Department is taking protective measures against the looming threat.”
The Challenges in the United States
Can the diverse interests reflected in the previous section be reconciled in ways that produce a unified political force to reduce, stop and/or reverse climate change and do so before it is too late. This would mean a force strong enough to displace the politically the right-wing and corporate forces that now have so much control over the government and other institutional sectors of the society. But the key is political. As it stands now, there is no unified political force capable of taking control of the government in ways that would truly solve the climate crisis. There are diverse views – and interests – on how to proceed, even within the Democratic Party. Some favor incremental changes that do not alter the basic institutional arrangements of power and wealth (e.g., the Pentagon, intelligence agencies), while others want comprehensive change (e.g., those who call for a green new deal and the rapid phasing out of fossil fuels) or incremental change (e.g., a carbon tax).
Dahr Jamail, has devoted much of his journalistic career to helping to keep us updated on the accumulating research that documents the reality of “anthropomorphic climate disruption.” His articles have been published online at Truthdig for years. Along the way, he has also had to cope with the emotional despair of what he has seen and learned. While he has lost hope that we will be able to curtail our fossil-fuel, commodified, and profit-based economy, he has not given up on the active life he has had. Jamail writes this at the end of a recent article that captures his viewpoint.
“For me, these days, it all begins and end with doing my best to listen to the Earth, with trying my hardest to understand how best to serve, how to devote myself to doing everything possible for the planet, no matter the increasingly bleak prognosis for this time in human history.
“Perhaps if we listen deeply enough and regularly enough, we ourselves will become the song this planet needs to hear” (https://commondreams.org/views/2019/01/15/we-cant-undo-planet-crisis).
He brings together in his new book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, years of experience and knowledge from reading scientific, environmental, and governmental reports, journalistic accounts, combined with interviews with experts and local and indigenous people as he travels around the world to see for himself the effects of anthropogenic climate disruption. Jamail describes how ecosystems in the oceans, on mountaintops, in coastal cities (Miami, Mumbai), in towns in the Alaskan northwest, in the Amazon, in whole countries (e.g., Bangladesh), in forests, and all around the planet are being devastatingly altered by rising temperatures. Here’s a paragraph from the book that captures just one aspect of the predicament in which we humans find ourselves.
“Renown climate scientist James Hansen and some esteemed colleagues ‘published a study showing that even if global temperatures were kept with 2degees Celsius of preindustrial baseline levels, unstoppable melting of the Antarctic and in Greenland is already on track to raise sea levels by as much as three meters by just 2050.” Jamail cites other evidence on sea level rise, showing that the low-lying Mekong Delta in Vietnam is less than two meters above sea level. “At least 30 million people in Bangladesh along with be displaced by a one-meter rise in sea levels.” There is more. “One study shows that sea level rise will expose millions around the world to river flooding, particularly in the United States, Africa, Asia, and Central Europe,” while “the number of people in Asia alone impact by river flooding is projected to increase from 70 million to 156 million by 2040.”
Jamail’s courageous quest for the truth may serve as an example to strengthen and legitimate the resolve of others who are engaged in more politically direct paths than he? In the meantime, don’t let the frigid weather distract you from the realty of climate change and how too many of our elected “leaders” are leading us up a path of no return.