Hope or despair

When originally considering names for my blog, I had briefly considered ‘green man in a red circle’, a take on my tree hugger self being flanked by some conservative republican neighbors. I quickly dismissed the name as I wanted to stay away from politics as much as possible and not make it the backdrop for my blog. I continue to want to avoid making climate change a political issue, knowing that in order to take meaningful action on protecting the environment, we need action independent of political affiliations. However, after the recent U.S. midterm election results and the somber feeling I awoke with today, it seems worthy of some reflection.

As I have said previously, I do not consider myself to be a member of any political party but knowing that many of the politicians who were just elected continue to deny the science of climate change is disheartening. A few of the pre-election debate quotes are listed below for reference:

  • “I don’t necessarily think the climate is changing” Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
  • “97% of some of the liberal scientists polled believe that humans are doing this, this is not settled science.  Just like perhaps, many of those same scientists, 97% perhaps, believe there is no God.  But they don’t know, there is no science on that, so scientists like the rest of us humans can have beliefs but that doesn’t make it science.” Congressman Todd Rokita (R-IN)
  • “Global temperatures have not risen in 15 years, so there might be climate change but we are not seeing that reflected in temperatures.” Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
  • “I, uh, googled this issue a couple of days ago and see that there are 31,000 scientists who say that human action is not causing the global warming at all.  And in fact the last 17 years there has not been global warming.  The temperature has been very stable for the last 17 years.” Steve Pearce (R-NM)

This list could go on but the point here is that the big loser in this recent election might very well be the environment. Even if the democrats had taken majority in this election, the same statement might still hold true. There has been very little meaningful action taken in the U.S. on climate change regardless of who has been in office.

This election fell on the heels of the most recent IPCC synthesis report which highlighted how the atmosphere is getting warmer as are the oceans, which are also getting more acidic. It outlined the causes (CO2 and methane) and added how natural forces have not contributed to temperature rise and how human activity is the primary culprit. It discussed in detail the impacts of sea level rise, thawing permafrost, global changes in weather patterns, plant and animal adaptation issues, human health issues, and food supply challenges. It concludes with data on what specific mitigation steps and what different levels of CO2 parts per million will mean in terms of warming and sea level rise.

So given what we know to be true about the current earth and political climates, how can we proceed with making any progress on climate change policy? The answer is the same regardless of who is in political power; stand up and speak up. No important issue in human history has ever been overcome with the shrug of the shoulders or by giving in to despair. As a people we must demand more from our leaders and this needs to be done by contacting them and ensuring your voice is heard.

The late Gaylord Nelson (Senator and Governor from Wisconsin and founder of Earth Day) once said “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around” and we need to keep that perspective and understand that the economy will mean very little should we continue to move our planet towards un-inhabitability. He also said “The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” This is also very true and we need to speak up now so future generations do not loathe us.

Earth day Every day

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Earth Day is a tradition of bringing environmental concerns in to our consciousness.  While we no longer accept air pollution as ‘prosperity’ or use leaded gasoline like we did 44 years ago when Earth Day began, there is still plenty of room for improvement.  As a collective society, we still have not completely accepted our role in climate change nor have we made serious efforts to improve our behavior.

Thinking about the current dependencies we have on fossil fuels is astounding.  In one quick example; we step in to a car which (likely) burns oil and gas, many components of the car are made from plastics which are derived from oil, the street we drive on is oil based, the tires are oil based, the food we are going to pick up at the store is encased in plastic and goes in a plastic bag and we pay for the stuff with, you guessed it plastic.

While eliminating fossil fuels from our everyday lives might seem impossible, we need to make more significant iterative steps towards changing.  The greenhouse effect has been well understood since the late 1800’s and any peer reviewed science article will tell you that pulling resources out of the earth and burning them is not a long term sustainable practice.  Our planet and our atmosphere are not limitless so we need to stop treating them like an infinite toilet bowl.  Thanks to my good friend Tim for letting me paraphrase and plagiarize much of the detail below.

Recent reports by the world’s best scientists stress that the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans.  Observed impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and people’s livelihoods.  The observed impacts are occurring from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest – nobody is untouched.  More intense and frequent weather events such as flooding, drought and fire have occurred and will become worse.  Unchecked carbon emissions put at risk agriculture, global security, human health, water resources and the economy.  The reports also conclude that there are opportunities to respond to these risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage if we wait much longer to implement policies to deal with them.

I have three requests of you.

First – If you don’t know about climate change or are unsure about it I hope that you would take 30 minutes to read the first two documents below (the third is bonus material).  The papers in the following URLs are derived from the best climate scientists we have in the world and all are rooted in peer reviewed science.

  1. The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change – This 20 page report is one of the best, easy to read summaries, that I have seen.  It is written by the American Association for the Advancement of Science who is the group behind Science magazine and one of the world’s largest non-governmental science organizations.
  2. A Discussion on Climate Change: Evidence and Causes – This summary paper is from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council is designed to summarize the science of climate change for general audience consumption – it too is excellent.
  3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report – this is a detailed report (warning it’s long) with lots of “in the weeds science” on climate change and the risks associated with it.

Some people have the general opinion that climate change is a “naturally occurring event”, a “hoax”, something conjured up by “alarmists”, is a “conspiracy” or something similar.  If you know someone like this encourage them with an open heart and mind to watch the PBS Frontline report “Climate of Doubt” and/or read the peer-reviewed Drexel University study on the climate change countermovement.

Second – Contact your U.S. Senators and U.S. House of Representative on a quarterly basis and let them know you’d like to see congressional action, now, to address climate change.   Climate change has been made to be a political issue – it is not.  Thermometers don’t care if you are Republican or Democrat.  Climate change is a moral, economic, and national security issue and Congress should be implementing policies on how to solve it.  Waiting has not and will not help anybody.

Third – Please speak to friends and family about this very important topic and/or forward this link to them.  The great news is that we have the technology to meet the challenge.  However, we have a short window to invoke policies that will allow the greatness of the United States to be innovative and be a world leader in staving off the greatest risks of human caused climate change.

Finally, I used to think that climate change was something I was concerned about for my kids as they got older – this was false thinking.  For 29 years in a row global temperatures have been above the 20th century average and 13 of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred in in the 21st century.  Climate change risks the lives of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world, the planet we have been entrusted to care for by God, our economy, our own families health, and our kids/grandkids future(s).  We have the solutions to avoid the risks and damage.  Please join me in having respectful conversations with those you know and with our elected officials about climate change.

Geoengineering

In the cold war era, the U.S. and Soviets looked at ways to weaponize weather as a means of gaining a strategic advantage in war.  In the 1980’s, water providers and ski resorts (Vail, Breckenridge, Winter Park, etc.) began helping to fund a cloud-seeding program in Colorado’s north-central mountains with hopes of improving ski conditions and boosting stream flows along with reservoir storage.  That state weather modification program was deemed a success and continues today with the Colorado Water Conservation Board issuing permits and setting the ground rules (no reverse pun intended).  The Colorado cloud seeding program consists of large metal burners loaded with powdered silver iodide which gets vaporized at a high temperature, sending wisps of smoke into the sky.  The tiny dust particles and nuclei help pull additional moisture from the atmosphere as silver iodide is conducive to ice crystal formation at cold temperatures.  Experts believe that this program would be even more effective if the operation was completed at high altitude.

It is logical for anyone without a financial stake in the “success” of this project to ask common sense questions about the potential unintended consequences of such a program.  For example; If we are wringing every bit of moisture from the atmosphere that we can to help ski resorts, does that leave less moisture for the great plains or other moisture dependent agriculture areas?  Is there any correlation to the recent Colorado floods and wild fires?  Does anyone with the exception of those who will profit from this practice really think this is a good idea?  Shouldn’t this be managed on a more global scale as now Wyoming and other states are starting to implement their own programs?  The questions could go on and on.

In the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports there is dialog on potential geoengineering solutions to slow down climate change.  One significant item referenced is Solar Radiation Management (SRM).  SRM is a proposal for mitigating the warming of Earth by reflecting a percentage of the sun’s light and heat back into space.  This is proposed to be accomplished in one of two ways; whitening existing clouds or by introducing new more reflective clouds in to the atmosphere.  There are hundreds of patents that have been filed for everything from injecting seawater into existing clouds to spraying stratospheric aerosols from airplanes that include chemicals like aluminum and barium.  Historically when volcanic eruptions have sent plumes of fine particle sediment in to the stratosphere it has resided there for up to a year and led to cooling so it is logical to assume manmade particles would have a similar effect.

According to the latest full report from the IPCC, ‘SRM remains untested and unimplemented’.  Despite that statement, there is growing evidence that SRM programs have already been implemented for over a decade for ‘proof of concept’ and scientific studies in the U.S. and abroad.  There are numerous news reports in cities through the U.S. that have been reporting on this on and off for a decade and there are organizations that exist for the sole purpose of governance on the subject and similar.  Searching for details on SRM’s or chemtrails using your favorite search engine can lead you down a path that feels like an episode of X-files so I am purposefully not including any links and hoping you will do some research yourself.

While I have no knowledge if SRM’s are already being used or not I feel the need to ask the same question as I did in the Colorado weather modification paragraph; does anyone with the exception of those who will profit from this practice really think this is a good idea?  Assuming we moved forward with SRM’s we might see temperature rise mitigation but it would have no positive effect on ocean acidification and would contribute to additional air and water quality issues along with negative health implications.  In addition, blotting out the sun would reduce the effectiveness of transitioning away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy solutions like solar.

In my opinion, our burning of fossil fuels has been enough deliberate alteration of the ecosystem.  Implementing SRM’s is just digging the whole deeper and making it more difficult to do the right thing.  What needs to be done to fix this issue is pretty obvious but until more people get their voice heard, nothing is going to change so I encourage you to educate yourself using scientifically peer researched material and engage in a conversation.  The more quickly climate change becomes an acceptable topic of conversation as opposed to a polarizing political issue, the better off we will all be.  Until then, perhaps buy some stock in companies that make vitamin D.

Mythbusters

SkepticsvRealists

In this first installment to discuss climate change I am going to cover the current myths that climate skeptics frequently use to cast doubt and ensure that society sticks with the status quo.  Doubt is the primary strategy and historically has been an effective means of creating confusion and slowing progress.  The Marshall Institute and others effectively created a false public perception of scientific uncertainty over the negative effects of second hand smoke, tobacco smoking, the existence of acid rain, the connection between CFC’s and ozone depletion, as well as climate change.  Perhaps the most memorable was in the 1960’s when actors would be dressed up as doctors to say that cigarette smoking was safe and posed no danger.  The doubt campaign was effective with tobacco for decades and has been with climate change as well.  The primary current denier myths are as follows:

  1. It’s not happening – This is becoming an increasingly difficult argument for climate change deniers to use but many still maintain that the planet is not warming despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  If you limit the scope of the data being reviewed it is possible to show evidence of cooling as the included animated gif  shows, however if you look at the full data set, warming is definitive.  Over 97% of expert climate scientists agree that climate change is happening and that humans are largely to blame.  In response to this and the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate deniers resurrected the Oregon Petition where they collected over 31,000 “scientific” signatures urging the US government to reject global warming based on a lack of any scientific merit.  It turns out that the requirement to be considered an expert on climatology was a bachelor of science degree regardless of field of expertise.   Less than 1% of the individuals had a background in climatology and only .5% had a background in climate change science.  The fifth IPCC report is due out this fall and will reinforce what is already scientifically certain.  In addition, July 2013 was the 341st consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.
  2. It’s Natural –  First, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased about 40 percent since humans started using dirty energy. Second, the carbon from dirty energy has a unique chemical signature that differentiates it from other sources of carbon so we can confirm that it’s coming from us. Third, we know it is not natural forces like the sun that are responsible for the recent increase in global temperatures because while the lower level of the atmosphere is warming, the middle layer is cooling. If the sun were responsible for most of the recent temperature change on Earth, both layers of the atmosphere would be warming. The earth does have natural variations of its axial tilt, orbit, and more which work on known cycles that take tens of thousands of years to complete.  When these natural cycles come together it results in warming as well as ice ages.  We are not in one of those cycles that could be responsible for the warming we are experiencing.  In addition, in the past 800,000 years we have never been higher than 300ppm co2 and we are now at 400.  The link between co2 and warming is undeniable and rather than showing ice core charts and all kinds of other items, let’s let Bill Nye show us a simple experiment.
  3. It’s not bad, more co2 is actually good – This might be my personal favorite, in part because Michelle Bachmann went on at length on the house floor about how carbon dioxide is natural and makes up only 3% of the atmosphere.  Actually it is .03%, Michelle was only off by a factor of 100.  Plant food is one way co2 is described.  While true that plants use co2 in photosynthesis, there is certainly no merit in the argument that we should continue to add to the atmosphere and this myth warrants little rebuttal based on the known link between co2 and warming.
  4. It’s too hard – The argument that the problem is too big to tackle or that it would ruin our economy garners a lot of momentum.  To state that the problem is complicated and will require some sacrifice is a gross understatement.  At a recent shareholder meeting Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson asked “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”  Here in lies the fictitious conundrum.  Perhaps ensuring humanity has a habitable planet to live on should be a sufficient enough answer.  Often in life the hardest things to do are the most rewarding and create the best life experiences.  Whether or not moving away from fossil fuels and coal is hard or not is irrelevant, there is no other option.  The financial and human costs of inactivity far outweigh any costs of taking action.  There is no single technology that is going to save us, we will require a portfolio approach as we innovate.  Sadly the US is lagging behind other countries in taking what is likely the single most important step in moving forward, but more to follow on that in a future entry.