National Security and Climate Change

“There is a relationship between carbon emissions and our national security.”  General Gordon R. Sullivan (ret,) chairman of the Military Advisory Board and former Army Chief of Staff

RAdm Len Hering Speaks in Coronado about the Effect of Climate Change on National Security 

Human-induced climate change: Is it acknowledged in places that count? There must be institutions in the United States that have to deal with the very real consequences of climate change, and the military is one of them.

Why the military must concern itself with climate change was the topic of  retired Rear Admiral Len Hering’s lecture on Wednesday evening, November 12, at the Coronado Community Center. Entitled National Security and Climate Change, the lecture was sponsored by Citizens Climate Lobby, and Rear Admiral Hering was introduced by Coronado Mayor Casey Tanaka (who, incidentally, rode his bike to the event.)  Hering addressed the problem of a growing human population and the many industrial-age human activities that are degrading the planet, causing climate change and its consequences.  What in particular concerns the military is the increase of national security risks around the globe.

Rear Admiral Hering’s background includes a degree in marine biology and experience dealing with problems related to issues of planet health encountered during his years as a captain in the US Navy, stationed here in San Diego. Following retirement from the Navy, Hering demonstrated leadership with the promotion and installation of sustainable technologies, most notably during his years at the University of San Diego. He is the current Executive Director of the California Center for Sustainable Energy.

Using the following series of maps, Hering made the point that the regions of the earth that will be most affected by extremes of precipitation are the world’s breadbaskets. One salient example he gave was the conflict in Syria, a country now in its 15th year of drought. Because its agricultural output has been seriously degraded by years of drought, Syria is a nation easily destabilized, which is exactly what events in the news tell us has been happening. The crowded Middle East, with dwindling resources to feed an increasing number of inhabitants is the current global poster child for the conflicts that will arise, as people identify with their own ethnic, national or religious group against others in the fight for the most basic of resources, water. In this way, issues of a political and religious nature camouflage the true one: survival of one’s own.

 

This series of maps shows the potential fir future drought as the 21st century progresses.  The maps use the Palmer Drought Severity Index, where a reading of -4 or below is considered extreme.  Regions colored blue or green are considered less likely to experience drought, whereas those in purple and red could face unusually extreme drought.

This series of maps shows the potential fir future drought as the 21st century progresses. The maps use the Palmer Drought Severity Index, where a reading of -4 or below is considered extreme. Regions colored blue or green are considered less likely to experience drought, whereas those in purple and red could face unusually extreme drought.

(Courtesy Wiley Interdisciplinary Review)

Another kind of human suffering described by Hering is the displacement of entire communities due to flooding and sea-level rise.  The example he gave was the loss of small farms in coastal Bangladesh to sea-level rise and flooding from storm surges that render the soil too salty for farming.  Climate-change refugees have spilled over into northeastern India especially.  The obvious result has been deadly conflict between the refugees and the long-time inhabitants of the region where the refugees have been resettling.

Hering’s talk juxtaposed such examples of human dislocation with the wastefulness of human activity in more prosperous industrialized nations.  The clear picture is that the poor will suffer the most, and long before we in the U.S. will feel the most devastating effects of climate change.

The loss of coastal lands will affect many in varying degrees worldwide. Miami and Coronado will see the loss of valuable property, including a prominent military base. The Philippines, with an average altitude of only eight feet faces enormous human losses, not just to sea-level rise but also to intense storms due to its location along the Western Pacific’s Typhoon Alley.  As many as 12 million climate-change refugees will likely be created. Other, smaller Pacific Island nations, balmy paradises like Kiribati, will cease to exist, their inhabitants all becoming refugees.

In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, causing enormous loss of property and dislocation of mostly poor people.  The inhabited areas of the Philippines, Hering pointed out, is mostly low-lying, averaging only 8 feet in elevation, and therefore vulnerable to sea level rise as well as typhoons.

In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, causing enormous loss of property and dislocation of mostly poor people. The inhabited areas of the Philippines, Hering pointed out, is mostly low-lying, averaging only 8 feet in elevation, and therefore vulnerable to sea level rise as well as typhoons.

Bringing the consequences closer to our own shores, Hering quoted Admiral Sam Locklear, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, as warning that climate change is the greatest long-term security threat in the Pacific region.

RAdm. Hering explained other climate-change-induced security threats: the opening up of Arctic waters, which will give hostile nations greater freedom of movement; ocean warming and the disruption of air and water currents, causing extreme weather events that result in loss of lives, livelihoods and property; the degraded health of the oceans affecting the food chain and ultimately the main source of protein for 70% of the world’s human population; diminished world water supplies causing the devastation of farms and farm-animal husbandry, leading to terrible food insecurities; the thawing of the permafrost which will accelerate the release of methane into the atmosphere and, in turn, further accelerate atmospheric warming.  Some of these are political threats, but others are existential, promoting fear, turmoil, irrational political movements and violence, all serious threats to peace and stability — and, in this globally-connected world, to our own security.

Throughout his lecture, Hering’s passion for confronting climate change and promoting sustainability was dramatized by the tone of his voice and the energy in his gestures. His strong belief in the responsibility of the U.S. and other prosperous and privileged nations came through in every aspect of his talk, which included food waste, general pollution, and industrial degradation as well as climate change.  A photograph of his grandchildren personalized a theme he returned to time and again: This is not about us; it’s about our children and grandchildren, the future of humanity.

Watch for SD350’s New PSA

Have you spotted our PSA on TV, radio, or online?  Tell us!

SanDiego350 is currently contacting over 50 media outlets to air our new climate change Public Service Announcement.  The PSA invites the audience, who may already be concerned about climate change, to become active in the climate movement with SanDiego350. The first TV stations to confirm they would air the PSA, starting July 17, were the Spanish-language Entravision/Univision affiliates KBNT, KDTF, LATV, XHAS and DDTV. Six other stations including Channel 10 KGTV ABC, Channel 8 KFMB CBS, and Channel 9 KUSI have indicated they will try to air it.

The stations aren’t able to tell us when the PSA will air. IF YOU SEE OR HEAR OUR PSA, PLEASE EMAIL Louise Russell at louiserussell9@icloud.com, indicating the station and the approximate time it aired.  That will help us track how the air time is adding up. If you haven’t seen the PSA, here’s what to watch for:

Image for PSA Blog Post-Crop Top

SD350’s PSA invites viewers to join the climate movement.

The 30-second PSA was put together by a team of SanDiego350 volunteers with technical assistance from Gregg Brandalise of Blindfold Studios, Poway (pro bono) and also from Patrick Espinosa of Cypress Productions, San Diego.  It can be viewed at sandiego350.org.

Posted by Bonnie for Louise.

Climate Chat Notes: Speaking for the Oceans

On Thursday, March 6, at San Diego’s World Resources Simulation Center, Ocean Scientists for Informed Policy (OSIP) shared their impressions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) in Warsaw, Poland

In San Diego, if you want to get involved in a spirited and informed discussion about addressing climate change, a Climate Chat sponsored by SD350.org is the place you will find it.  On the first Thursday evening of March, four members of OSIP returned from their recent experience at the Warsaw COP with concerns that give us at SD350.org even more reason to commit to our own mission, combating climate change.

March 6th Climate Chat with panel of OSIP representatives - at the WRSC Photo courtesy of Steven Shultz

March 6th Climate Chat with panel of OSIP representatives – at the WRSC
Photo courtesy of Steven Shultz

Walking into the large open room of downtown’s World Resources Simulation Center, one sees a series of video screens encircling the room.  On the screens are photos of three young Scripps ocean scientists, Yassir Eddebbar, Natalya Gallo and Lauren Linsmayer, taken with Christina Higuera, chairperson of the UNFCC COP in Warsaw.  Later these screens will feature a lively video of two other OSIP delegates, the media team of Nick Obradovich and Kate Furby, making themselves comfortable on beanbags while they strategize their next move: how to poll the delegates to find out what they actually know about ocean science.  It turns out most know very little.  More on that later.

Scripps Ocean Scientists Show Their Dedication

It would be hard to find a brighter and more energized group of young people anywhere than these members of OSIP.  How they found time, amidst work on their PhDs, to organize themselves as a delegation to COP and then as a panel to field questions at an open forum about the effect of climate change on the oceans is a testament to their commitment to inform the public about current ocean science.

This evening, four of them are here: three Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) scientists, Natalya, Yassir, and pilot-whale researcher Amy van Cise, along with Nick, who is a UCSD political science graduate student.  Before the evening is over, they have convinced this audience that they know their science and, furthermore, they understand the diplomatic and political obstacles facing those who would save the oceans.  When the forum closes, the four stay to answer the questions that keep coming.

Obstacles to Combating Climate Change Provoke Lively Discussion

This is the third Climate Chat sponsored by SD350.org and it has attracted a good audience.  Those of us who arrived early have seats on comfortable stools at high tables with computers in this high energy, high tech venue.  Those who arrive later find places around the room in office space and on assorted chairs and couches.  It’s a full house.  After brief introductions, a call for questions from the floor draws out some daunting obstacles facing any effort to protect the oceans.  An energized discussion of them ensues.

For these graduate students, primary among those obstacles is that scientists who do research and understand what’s happening cannot themselves advocate for ocean-friendly policies.  If they do, they stand to lose credibility, for both themselves and their disciplines. For most scientists, especially young ones who are establishing their reputations, that’s not a risk worth taking.  They need others – like us at SD350.org – to advocate for the oceans as a significant aspect of our combating-climate-change mission.

In response to a question about the efficacy of COP itself, Yassir brings up a knotty diplomatic problem:  No nation owns the oceans, so who bears the responsibility for caring for them?  It will take international cooperation, which in turn will require political will from the politicians of COP member nations.  With many nations looking to the US, the world’s largest economy, for world leadership, progress in forging international commitment to reducing CO2 is currently doubtful.  The money that turns the wheels of our political system, so much of it coming from the fossil fuel industry, makes it difficult even for those politicians who see the need to act now.

That brings attention to another, related obstacle: the lack of urgency among the general public, who haven’t personally felt the consequences of climate change.  This complacency prevents politicians from having the confidence to take action, even if they understand that climate change is real and that human beings are causing most of it.  Without this populist counterbalance to the money poured into their campaigns from the oil industry, politicians are unlikely to stand up for pro-planet policies that defy their major political contributors.  Again, that’s where we at SD350.org come into the picture.  We must work to engender the political urgency needed for positive action.

Interest in Ocean Science Strong Among COP Delegates

Ocean Scientist Natalya Gallo at COP19, Warsaw

Ocean Scientist Natalya Gallo at COP19, Warsaw

Despite the gloomy political picture, the ocean-science panelists found something positive while in Warsaw:  They perceived among the delegates to the conference a hunger for information about the oceans.  Two Scripps scientists – one of them, Natalya Gallo of this evening’s panel – earned venues to present their science at the Warsaw conference.  Their presentations had standing-room-only audiences – a heartening sight to the scientists.

The evidence of such interest in ocean science, plus the energy and commitment of these ocean scientists, makes it obvious that they should continue their efforts.  They should go to the Lima COP later this year with their skills at communicating the data of ocean science; then continue on to Paris in 2015, where a new treaty will be drafted, this time with more specific language relating to the oceans — likely thanks in large measure to their efforts.

 

SD350.org’s Challenge

Meanwhile, it is our job at SD350.org, informed by the latest ocean science, to carry the message of the oceans into the political arena, where we will work on the seemingly intractable problem of generating the political will to combat climate change.  This Climate Chat was, in a way, a passing of the torch from OSIP to us.

Those of us who enjoyed and learned from the Climate Chat owe much thanks to SD350.org’s Dr. Janina Moretti for her hard work in bringing this successful event to fruition and to SIO for putting SD350.org in touch with OSIP.

_____________________________________________________________

Check out Ocean Scientists for Informed Policy

Creative Commons License This text by Bonnie Mosse Funk is used here by permission of the author, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: The Green Bible

Published by Harper-Collins, The Green Bible has a cover of 100% all-natural cotton-linen, symbolizing its Earth-nurturing orientation.  The translation used is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), 1999, but  the volume’s contents offer more than just another version of the Bible itself.  The Green Bible is a “green-letter edition,” the green font serving to highlight those portions of the text that feature creation, God’s relationship to creation, how all the elements of creation — land, water, air, plants, animals, humans — are interdependent, how nature responds to God and to human dysfunction, and how we are called to care for creation.   The main idea behind it all is that what God created belongs to God, and it is therefore the responsibility of human beings, as faithful stewards,  to protect and care for Earth.

Prefacing The Green Bible are twelve scholarly essays written from twelve different perspectives, but all with a “green” approach to theology and to understanding the Bible’s intellectual and moral grounding: respect for creation is seen as respect for ourselves and the earth, as well as for God.  This edition of the Bible has value for the contents of its prefacing essays alone.  The writers cover a wide spectrum of Jewish and Christian thought, but because this is a Bible featuring both the Hebrew and the Christian texts published in a single volume as commonly used by Christians, it is more weighted towards the Christian perspective.

A thought-provoking commentary on biblical word-play explains that the name of the first man, Adam, means “man” in the sense of human being.  God formed Adam into an earth-dwelling creature from adamah which means “soil.”  So, now imagine the Genesis creation story being recited orally, as it must have been in the earliest times of the Hebrew people: the choice of these two words adam and adamah when heard together by the listeners would have evoked a semantic-poetic relationship between humans and the earth — a relationship evincing the notion that humans belong to the earth, and not the other way around.

Permeating several of the prefacing essays is the motif of “the suffering earth.”  Theologically, this motif is a powerful symbol of human beings being out of communion with the will of God.  One passage that illustrates this is from the prophet Isaiah:    The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants,  for they have transgressed laws, violated statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.                                                                      

The idea that humans have the ability to devastate the earth by either willful or thoughtless behavior — as anyone who knows the story of Noah understands — is hardly a new one.  It follows, then,  that we must rethink our values and change some of our ways in order to preserve a healthy earth, an idea that is also not altogether new; a turn, or perhaps a return, to ways of life that respect nature is glorified in many verses of the Bible, most notably in the Psalms.  In the following verses from Psalm 65, nature is personified as filled with joy at being treated respectfully by human kind:    The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy; the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain.                                                      

Implicit in these two verses is that when Earth is healthy, humans prosper; the relationship is, to borrow a term from biology, symbiotic, or mutually beneficial.  Such an outlook sees sustainability and morality as intertwined in its vision of a healthy planet — incidentally an outlook promoted by the Roman papacy in its encyclicals.

Following the biblical texts, in addition to the usual topical index — in this case a “Green Subject Index” — The Green Bible offers a guidebook for studying the Bible through a green lens.  “The Green Bible Trail Guide” is divided into six sections: two based on the goodness of creation, and one each on connectedness to the earth, social justice, sin and redemption — all of them as regards our relationship to the earth and, similarly, to all of our fellow human beings.  Each section poses questions that remind readers of their role in the larger picture of the health of the planet and how to fulfill that role by living simpler, more thoughtful lives.

Finally, The Green Bible contains a section entitled “Where Do We Go from Here?”  This section offers practical advice for individuals, families and faith communities on how we humans might conduct our daily lives so as to lessen the burden each of us puts on the earth because of our presence here, especially in a land of material prosperity and inducements to excess.  Some of the suggestions — fifty altogether — are humorously quaint but still relevant, like Grandmother’s advice: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” and the Depression-era penny-wisdom of turning out the light when we leave a room.   Planting a vegetable garden is the ultimate in eating local produce, while another suggests that we test our purchase of “needs” by waiting, and then by spending the money necessary to purchase an item of quality that will last a long time.

While there are many versions of the Bible, The Green Bible offers a path to Bible study and daily living that envisions our human behavior playing a vital role in sustaining the health of the earth.  The prefacing essays demonstrate that such an interpretation is consistent with the values of both the Hebrew and the Christian testaments.  Here, in The Green Bible, aided by passages highlighted in green font, readers can find a biblically-grounded spiritual, moral, and practical guide to sustaining the health of our earth.

 


Pipeline Visions

The Keystone pipeline project will save America.  It will be a testament to our values of entrepreneurial virtue and economic prosperity … or so one hears from its proponents.  But the double mirror of history, while it allows us to look back in chagrin at our follies, also urges us – for the future’s sake – to look forward.  A paradox, to be sure, but then paradoxes speak to our sense that something needs to be carefully examined.

The pipeline is expected to seed the jobs that will lead us out of this post-recessionary period of (steadily receding) high unemployment.  Building it will, of course, employ a team of engineers whose advice will be heeded … up to a point – that point being where the construction cost over-runs become unsettling to an oil company’s governing board.   Technical decisions will leak into the board room with disastrous consequences because the pertinent analysis will no longer be about design, route and materials, but about cost vs. risk.

The workers – draftsmen, construction workers, and their suppliers, along with entrepreneurs who see an opportunity and spring into action to support all this activity in various ingenious ways – will create a temporary economic flurry.  Once the construction effort has subsided, though, maintenance crews of a far smaller number will find employment.  These are the ones who will see first-hand the consequences of the board room over-riding the engineering team.

And so the monstrous hollow snake will be built to stream oil from the ravaged Canadian landscape to the Gulf where it will be transported to its final destinations: ports of the world whose economies are even hungrier for carbon-based fuel than the US believes itself to be, as witnessed by their willingness to pay more for the product than we think we should have to pay.  Unfortunately, this oil won’t do much to lower the price of gas at the pump, not here anyway, unless one still believes in the trickle-down unicorn.

The short-cuts taken during construction, to speed completion and prevent further cost over-runs, will cause alarm in the board chairman’s office, not for the long-term damage of spilled crude to arable land and the aquifers that feed them, but for the difficulty in hiding it from the public in a land of media freedom.  Stock-holders will be furious.  Congressional hearings will ensue with much drama and righteous indignation.  Where were the regulators?  It will all be as redundant as the absurd expression “déjà-vu all over again.”

Such a predictable narrative: the rush to profit, the fulfillment of greed, the promise of broad-based benefit, and the chagrin of the faithful who trumpeted the power of new-found oil to bring down the price of gas at the pump and sold that line to a gullible public.  And this scenario doesn’t even address larger issues of the increasingly devastating effects of extracting, transporting and burning all that fossil fuel.

Of course, there is an alternate vision: one of an informed public that refuses to buy that line because it has looked into history’s double mirror and seen … the re-run.

 

 

Global Warming Stalled?

WHERE THE “MISSING HEAT” HAS GONE

The years since the turn of the 21st century have seen a temporary lull, or pause, in the rise of global atmospheric temperatures.  Yet the causes of rising temperatures — especially the burning of fossil fuels that increases the atmosphere’s CO2 burden — are still with us.  So where has the excess heat been going for the last decade or so, if not into the atmosphere?  This question has generated a flurry of inquiry by climate scientists.  The results of their recent research, added to an already vast store of data about global warming, point to the ocean’s depths as the repository of the missing heat.

A graph of the Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index clearly demonstrates the warming trend that has characterized the climate since the beginning of the 20th century — the ten warmest years of the 132-year record having occurred since 1998.

Following the 5-year running mean on the graph, we see that steep rises are offset at intervals by pauses, some brief and others more extended.  In particular, we see a pause beginning around the turn of the 21st century and continuing into the present.  Given the overall upward trajectory seen on the graph, we might reasonably expect that this current pause will end as they all have, and the rise in temperature will resume apace.  In fact, climate scientists have been predicting this for the longer term.  A statement issued in March of 2011 by Britain’s Meteorological Office reads,

“… even if greenhouse gas emissions are substantially reduced, the long lifespan of CO2 in the atmosphere means that we cannot avoid further climate change due to CO2 already in the atmosphere. […] Despite the uncertainties, all models show that the Earth will warm in the next century, with a consistent geographical pattern.”

This statement clearly affirms what is currently understood about future global warming.

A lull in the overall rise in atmospheric temperature may be newsworthy, and it has drawn a number of news outlets to seize upon it as if it were a new trend.  The message in a recent Fox video broadcast is that climate change has stalled.  That would certainly be good news for our planet, if it were true.  But this message relies on a selective reading of the data, “global temperatures have remained flat over the last ten years” being the only reference to climate history in the broadcast.   Such an interpretation singles out 10 years showing a short-term pause, while it ignores over 130 years of data showing the long-term rise in global temperatures.

Selecting only a portion of the data that conflicts with the data as a whole is cherry-picking, a tactic commonly used to misinform the public.  As is typical of cherry-picking, the picture is incomplete and leads to a false conclusion.  The whole of the data gives the complete picture: that atmospheric temperatures have been rising, despite pauses, for well over a century.

Over the decade or so of the current lull in temperature rise, climate scientists have continued to monitor Earth’s climate systems in an effort to discern how these pauses in a long trend of atmospheric warming occur.  What they have come to understand is that the ocean’s depths have been absorbing the preponderance of the missing heat; in fact, the temperature rise in the deep ocean – below 700 meters – has even been accelerating since the turn of the 21st century.  This acceleration in the rise of deep ocean temperatures contrasts with a deceleration in the rise of the ocean’s surface temperature, and the corresponding pause in the rise of atmospheric temperatures.

Balmaseda _et Al ._ocean _heat _content

Source:  Balmaseda et al., (2013)

During this pause, Earth’s overall climate is simply undergoing a redistribution of heat between the two systems, atmosphere and ocean.  The ocean, by absorbing over 93% of the excess heat, strives to “catch up” to the previously faster-warming atmosphere.  Warmed by the atmosphere, surface water is drawn down to the depths where it mixes with the colder water, gradually warming the depths.  This dynamic overturning of waters also brings colder water up to the surface, where the temperature rise has seen a deceleration. Thus, the current pause in the rise of atmospheric temperatures does not mean that global warming has stalled, but rather that its locus is the depths of the ocean.

Retrospectively tested computer models show that for the rest of the 21st century, as atmospheric temperatures continue their rise, there will be other temporary pauses, or periods when temperatures level off, like the one we are experiencing now.  Commenting on a study of such computer models conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, climate researcher Kevin Trenberth speaks to this future:  “This study suggests the missing energy has indeed been buried in the ocean. The heat has not disappeared, and so it cannot be ignored. It must have consequences.”

Reinforced by mounting scientific evidence, Trenberth’s warning tells us this current pause must not be construed as a reason to relax vigilance.  We must continue to advocate for policies that discourage fossil fuel consumption and encourage the development of other sources of energy.  Pauses in the inexorable rise in global temperatures are just that:  only pauses – and they are part of the overall picture of continuing global climate change.

 


 

 

Not Just for Tree Huggers

Citizen’s Guides to Climate Change: How to Sort it All Out without Getting a PhD

This posting is the third in a series on how you can figure out what’s going on with climate change, without having to get a PhD in climatology and without going crazy from the conflicting messages in the media. My first post showed how you can bypass the media confusion by finding out what real scientists are saying. My second one showed how strongly scientists agree on the basic facts: Earth is warming. We’re causing it. The biggest contribution is burning fossil fuels, which accumulates heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We need to burn less fossil fuel to keep the effects from getting too extreme.

In this post, I’d like to acquaint you with some of the people besides scientists who are concerned about climate change. Some of them may surprise you. Who they are and what issues they identify may give you a sense for why mitigating climate change is important for all of us.

It is no surprise that environmentalists call for climate action. If we continue increasing fossil fuel consumption, people who are small children today could experience, within their lifetimes, an increase in earth’s average surface temperature of 2 to 5 ºC (4 to 9 ºF), which is nearly as great as that between the last Ice Age and today. That rapid change would disrupt ecosystems all over the world. As warming exceeds 4 ºC, there is a risk of major extinctions, involving 40 to 70 % of the plants and animals assessed in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We can preserve much more of the natural world if we burn less fossil fuel and limit the warming to 2 ºC or so. Because extinct species are gone forever, the decisions we make over the next few decades will determine how much poorer a world we leave to every human generation that comes after us.

What you might not have guessed is that the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, World Health Organization and other groups concerned with human health are also calling for action to minimize global warming and prepare healthcare systems to cope with it. These groups point out that climate change can affect people’s health in a variety of ways, including extreme heat and drought that hurt agriculture and increase malnutrition; injury and disease from more severe floods and hurricanes; water pollution due to flooding and drought; higher temperatures that worsen the chemistry of air pollution; and expanded ranges of pests that spread disease.

Another group taking climate change very seriously is the American military. Recent reports from the US Department of Defense and intelligence agencies have looked at climate change as a concrete threat to national security. Global warming brings more drought to places already too dry, more flooding to places already plagued by floods, and less food and water to people who already have too little, especially in parts of Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean where social tensions are high, governments are weak and resources for coping with disaster are lacking. In such places, the added climate stresses may exacerbate existing risks of violence and political instability. As the military describe it, global warming is a threat multiplier.

We have already seen violence exacerbated by the kinds of environmental stresses that climate change will increase. The genocide in Darfur, for example, may have happened in part because expanding deserts forced herders into land occupied by farmers with different tribal, ethnic and religious identities. Violence has also occurred in India between natives and migrants forced out of Bangladesh by flooding and rising sea levels. As global temperatures rise, the environmental stresses and the resulting conflicts will continue to increase.

Although the military have focused on climate change as a destabilizing force in poor countries, it is a very real problem for richer ones as well. The US Department of Agriculture has been looking at how global warming might affect food production in the United States. The effects they describe are complicated, difficult to project, and likely to vary by crop and by region. However, some of the most recent analyses indicate that, if fossil fuel burning increases as it could well do, corn and soybean yields in the US could fall by as much as 60 to 80% by the end of this century. The losses will be much less if we minimize the global temperature change by burning less fossil fuel.

As these crop-yield projections illustrate, radically changing the climate can have real economic consequences that are potentially serious but hard to predict. One group that knows about dealing with uncertain risks of economic loss is the insurance industry. Many leading insurers, noting the ongoing increase in the number and severity of weather disasters, have called for action to minimize climate change. Another leader in insurance, Lloyd’s of London, has looked at climate change from a broader business perspective. They start with the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-caused climate change. They then identify a number of consequences that could affect businesses worldwide:

  • Water scarcity
  • Food production not meeting demand
  • Risks of mass migration from poor to rich countries
  • Risks of increased international conflict and insecurity
  • The increased unpredictability of a warmer world

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Departments of Defense and Agriculture, and Lloyd’s of London are looking at climate change not as environmentalists, but because it is their job to assess risks and plan for them. Looking at the same science from somewhat different points of view, they each find that global warming presents significant challenges for our society.

A common thread in their analyses is that climate change can affect our lives in complex ways, with potentially big, but imperfectly known consequences. Climate change is about making choices in the face of imperfect information. Doctors, generals and insurance companies do that all the time. What we know for certain is that we have a real problem, and that the risks will increase as global temperatures rise. Our choice is how much risk we want to tolerate, and how quickly we are willing to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. The more quickly we do that, the richer and more secure will be our world and the one we leave to our children.

Creative Commons License This material by William F. Avrin is used here by permission of the author, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
 

 

Open letter to the California Federation of Teachers

California Teachers for Fossil Fuel Divestment and SanDiego350.org sincerely thank the California Federation of Teachers for backing a resolution calling for CalSTRS and CalPERS to divest from fossil fuels. Your bold step in asking the two largest pension fund investors in the United States to remove the collective wealth of the education workers you represent, workers that spend their professional lives preparing others for the future, from being used in the fossil fuels industry, is the kind of tectonic shift this world needs.

Climate change must be addressed now and that means radically reducing our dependency on fossil fuels. Every fossil fuel tentacle, every branch that can be cut moves us forward in stopping our dependency on fossil fuels. The tentacle you have asked to be cut is a tentacle that relies on the income produced from investing in fossil fuels. There is no denying that the fossil fuel industries provide the best return, the best bang for the buck, and we have a significant amount of our collective wealth in our CalSTRS and CalPERS pensions invested in fossil fuels. However, we must look beyond today, this quarter, this year; we must think about the coming decade or two.

The science of climate change is very clear; we have at most a decade to begin taking bold action to avoid the worst that climate change could bring. So we are faced with a choice: begin significantly cutting our fossil fuels dependency now and maybe face an economic issue manifested to us in CalSTRS and CalPERS by a drop in investment revenue brought in by fossil fuels, or don’t cut our fossil fuel dependency and face broad environmental and social catastrophes unheard of by humankind.

If in this critical decade, we the people demand real action on climate change and that demand is followed by real action to greatly reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, the value of fossil fuel stocks will drop and those holding them will take the hit. Action on cutting carbon dioxide emissions doesn’t mean that we don’t provide alternatives in energy, and investing in these alternatives on a scale to meet the demand of replacing fossil fuels presents great opportunities for pension funds like ours.

If action isn’t taken on carbon dioxide emissions, the continued holding of fossil fuel stocks may not matter much in the decades ahead. As our youngest teachers begin to retire, what effect will our current choice of investments have on their future? Global insurance firms, military planners, government agencies dealing with water for agriculture and inland water transport, and many coastal communities and nations all see climate change as the most significant threat to the future for maintaining stable societies everywhere. How will a portfolio heavily invested in fossil fuels look thirty years from now if the threat of climate change is real? What future will there be for our students?

Divesting from fossil fuels is not just a sound proactive step to protect our collective wealth; it is an action that speaks to others that now is the time for action, for after now there will be no time left to make a difference. We ask you to go to our website, www.teachersfordivestment.com, and sign our petition. It’s going to take all of us working together to bring about the change that is needed. It will take the kind of leadership the CFT showed in choosing to support the resolution for fossil fuel divestment. CFT has boldly stepped forward and reinforced that California educators are about preparing others for their future, and that their students will not be facing a radically different planet due to climate change. We at California Teachers for Fossil Fuel Divestment and SanDiego350.org applaud your actions.

Thank you,

Gary Waayers

Member of: AFT Guild 1931; Palomar Faculty Federation;
California Teachers for Fossil Fuel Divestment;
SanDiego350.org

Tactics of the Misinformation Machine

In an online video, a local weather broadcaster presents information contrary to conclusions accepted by 97-98% of climate scientists.  This makes him a local voice for the misinformation machine.  His voice can be heard re-tooling old tactics as he seeks to dispute the ever-increasing evidence that humans have altered Earth’s climate.

A common tactic used by the misinformation machine is the attempt to discredit – without evidence – the source of valid climate-change information.  Typically, the machine’s voice makes the unsupported claim that government-sponsored entities such as the National Science Foundation will fund only studies that promote the global-warming scare.  The only possible purpose for such an unjustified claim is to engender cynicism about science – cynicism that will be available for exploitation in the future.  By seeding doubt, the misinformation machine pre-sets the tone they hope will enable them to question hard-to-swallow conclusions soon to arrive.

As a matter of principle, scientists insist on certainty.  During the long period of accumulating sufficient data, the climate scientists themselves have been withholding their anticipated conclusions.  For example, in her online video, climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe does not allow herself to be drawn prematurely into concluding that recent extreme weather events are caused by climate change, despite her acceptance of the data so far.  While such reticence is clear evidence of professional integrity, the misinformation machine misrepresents it as doubt or, by a hyper-extension of logic, as a lack of consensus among climate scientists.  In this way, the misinformation machine tries to use the principled caution of climate experts to undermine the public’s perception of the climate science community, so they will not be heeded when the time comes – and it’s not far off – that the science about extreme weather events is secure.

Climate science and the data that support it may seem esoteric, but weather itself is not.  Weather is something we of the public all experience, which makes it a form of common knowledge.  To exploit our common experience of the weather, one attempt to confuse the public is to point out – using the following historical weather data chart below as a visual aid – that temperatures world-wide are rising by “only” tenths of degrees (as seen on the vertical axis.)

Average global temperature over the last ~2,000 years.  Note the massive uptick on the far right side. (Science)

We of the general public, in our day-to-day experience of weather, might easily be convinced to see this trend as insignificant – after all, what’s a degree or so, one way or the other?  Such an interpretation deceptively leaves out the climate-history context that the last Ice Age came about because of a drop of “only” nine degrees in overall mean world temperature. As if that weren’t enough, the misinformation machine ignores “the massive uptick” of the last half century, which really clarifies the relationship of current weather to historical climate changes.

Blustering forward, the misinformation machine goes on to ridicule the historical research itself, which uses data collected from ice cores and fossilized life forms.  Seemingly esoteric, such research is easy for a non-scientist commentator to dismiss as irrelevant.   And thus it becomes apparent that distorting, ignoring and deriding the data is the only tactic available when those data have become so overwhelmingly supportive of climate change.

The misinformation machine seeks to frame public perception of the expected conclusion:  climate change does indeed have a causal relationship to recent extreme weather events.  When this conclusion arrives — as given the trajectory of the extreme-weather-events data it inevitably will — it will be irrefutable on scientific grounds.   For this reason, the purveyors of misinformation have been trying to prepare the public mind to reject it.  But  obfuscating tactics will fall before the clarity of overwhelming science.

 

Comprehend the Consensus

Citizen’s Guides to Climate Change: How to Sort it All Out without Getting a PhD

Scientists are telling us clearly that we’re changing the climate and need to do something about it. Yet, what we hear in the media can be so confused that many people feel they can never figure out what to think about climate change. If you feel that way, this posting is the second in a series on how you can get to the truth about the climate.

My first post showed how you can get started by finding out what actual scientists are saying, rather than trying to puzzle out the Al-Gore/talk-radio argument that the media sometimes make climate science seem to be. A good next step is to appreciate just how strongly and consistently scientists agree on the essential facts of climate change.

One expression of that consensus is in the statements on climate change by science organizations all over the world. Those organizations include the national science academies of at least 32 countries (links: 1,2,3,4,5). They include professional organizations in earth sciences (6,7,8,9,10), meteorology (11,12,13,14,15), physics, chemistry and biology. They also include the National Academy of Sciences, America’s foremost science advisory board, whose members serve without pay and are elected for distinguished achievement. These statements all affirm certain basic facts: The climate is changing. It is virtually certain that we are causing it. We need to burn less fossil fuel, to stop heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide from accumulating in our atmosphere.

A 2010 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences took another approach to sizing up the scientific consensus: They counted. The authors identified the community of scientists who are most actively working on climate change, based on the number of peer-reviewed scientific papers each scientist had published, and how often those papers had been cited by others in the field. They looked at all the papers that those scientists had published. They then counted up how many of the scientists supported or challenged the basic understanding of human-caused climate change summarized in the Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They found that 97 to 98 percent of the scientists actually working on climate change supported that common scientific understanding. Other studies have found similar results. That nearly unanimous agreement among climate specialists, together with the supporting statements by national academies and professional organizations in related areas of science, indicates that scientists are in overwhelming agreement about the reality, human causes and urgency of climate change.

Another measure of how well settled the science of climate change is, is how consistent the scientists’ understanding has been over time. You can see that consistency in the very first Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In that 1990 report, scientists reviewed the research up to that time, and summarized what we knew then about climate change. They identified most of the key points that you can see in the most recent Assessment Report from 2007. To list just a few of the biggest ones:

  • Global warming happens because we are accumulating carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, mostly by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
  • We know the warming will happen both from the physics of the climate system and from geologic records that tell us about past climates.
  • The details of how the climate changes depend on the behavior of clouds, snow, ice, water vapor, winds and ocean currents, which affect and are affected by the warming.
  • We can see the warming trend in records from weather stations, satellites, balloons, buoys and other tools that measure land, sea and atmospheric temperatures, as well as sea level rise and the retreat of glaciers.

That warming trend was measurable by 1990, though the data weren’t yet strong enough to rule out natural fluctuations as the cause. By 2007, the trend was unmistakable, and the scientists estimated that there was less than a ten-percent chance that anything other than human causes could explain all their measurements of trends in different aspects of the climate. The main change in the science was that the understanding had gotten clearer, a few apparent anomalies had been resolved, and the evidence supporting the basic model had become even more massive.

These few sentences don’t nearly do justice to the amount of evidence that supports the scientific consensus. Indeed, one of the remarkable things about global-warming science is the sheer number of different ways in which the scientists have checked and cross-checked their understanding.  The National Research Council, an agency associated with the National Academy of Sciences, has a 40-page booklet that summarizes some of the many lines of evidence in language that non-scientists can understand. I hope to show you a few examples in future postings.

This posting’s bottom line is simple but crucial: You might not hear it on TV, but scientists have reached an overwhelming consensus that climate change is real, happening now, human-caused, and a problem we urgently need to deal with. Knowing that matters because, once people hear how strong the scientific agreement is, they are much more likely to agree that climate action now is one of our highest priorities.

Creative Commons License This material by William F. Avrin is used here by permission of the author, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.