The great climate silence: we are on the edge of the abyss but we ignore it

We continue to plan for the future as if climate scientists don’t exist. The greatest shame is the absence of a sense of tragedy

Children play in Calcutta, one of the most polluted cities in India
‘How can we understand the miserable failure of contemporary thinking to come to grips with what now confronts us?’ Photograph: Piyal Adhikary/EPA

After 200,000 years of modern humans on a 4.5 billion-year-old Earth, we have arrived at new point in history: the Anthropocene. The change has come upon us with disorienting speed. It is the kind of shift that typically takes two or three or four generations to sink in.

Our best scientists tell us insistently that a calamity is unfolding, that the life-support systems of the Earth are being damaged in ways that threaten our survival. Yet in the face of these facts we carry on as usual.

Most citizens ignore or downplay the warnings; many of our intellectuals indulge in wishful thinking; and some influential voices declare that nothing at all is happening, that the scientists are deceiving us. Yet the evidence tells us that so powerful have humans become that we have entered this new and dangerous geological epoch, which is defined by the fact that the human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system.

This bizarre situation, in which we have become potent enough to change the course of the Earth yet seem unable to regulate ourselves, contradicts every modern belief about the kind of creature the human being is. So for some it is absurd to suggest that humankind could break out of the boundaries of history and inscribe itself as a geological force in deep time. Humans are too puny to change the climate, they insist, so it is outlandish to suggest we could change the geological time scale. Others assign the Earth and its evolution to the divine realm, so that it is not merely impertinence to suggest that humans can overrule the almighty, but blasphemy.

Many intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world, because the “world” consists only of humans engaging with humans, with nature no more than a passive backdrop to draw on as we please.

The “humans-only” orientation of the social sciences and humanities is reinforced by our total absorption in representations of reality derived from media, encouraging us to view the ecological crisis as a spectacle that takes place outside the bubble of our existence.

It is true that grasping the scale of what is happening requires not only breaking the bubble but also making the cognitive leap to “Earth system thinking” – that is, conceiving of the Earth as a single, complex, dynamic system. It is one thing to accept that human influence has spread across the landscape, the oceans and the atmosphere, but quite another to make the jump to understanding that human activities are disrupting the functioning of the Earth as a complex, dynamic, ever-evolving totality comprised of myriad interlocking processes.

But consider this astounding fact: with knowledge of the cycles that govern Earth’s rotation, including its tilt and wobble, paleo-climatologists are able to predict with reasonable certainty that the next ice age is due in 50,000 years’ time. Yet because carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for millennia, global warming from human activity in the 20th and 21st centuries is expected to suppress that ice age and quite possibly the following one, expected in 130,000 years.

If human activity occurring over a century or two can irreversibly transform the global climate for tens of thousands of years, we are prompted to rethink history and social analysis as a purely intra-human affair.

How should we understand the disquieting fact that a mass of scientific evidence about the Anthropocene, an unfolding event of colossal proportions, has been insufficient to induce a reasoned and fitting response?

For many, the accumulation of facts about ecological disruption seems to have a narcotising effect, all too apparent in popular attitudes to the crisis of the Earth system, and especially among opinion-makers and political leaders. A few have opened themselves to the full meaning of the Anthropocene, crossing a threshold by way of a gradual but ever-more disturbing process of evidence assimilation or, in some cases, after a realisation that breaks over them suddenly and with great force in response to an event or piece of information in itself quite small.

Beyond the science, the few alert to the plight of the Earth sense that something unfathomably great is taking place, conscious that we face a struggle between ruin and the possibility of some kind of salvation.

So today the greatest tragedy is the absence of a sense of the tragedy. The indifference of most to the Earth system’s disturbance may be attributed to a failure of reason or psychological weaknesses; but these seem inadequate to explain why we find ourselves on the edge of the abyss.

How can we understand the miserable failure of contemporary thinking to come to grips with what now confronts us? A few years after the second atomic bomb was dropped, Kazuo Ishiguro wrote a novel about the people of Nagasaki, a novel in which the bomb is never mentioned yet whose shadow falls over everyone. The Anthropocene’s shadow too falls over all of us.

Yet the bookshops are regularly replenished with tomes about world futures from our leading intellectuals of left and right in which the ecological crisis is barely mentioned. They write about the rise of China, clashing civilizations and machines that take over the world, composed and put forward as if climate scientists do not exist. They prognosticate about a future from which the dominant facts have been expunged, futurologists trapped in an obsolete past. It is the great silence.

I heard of a dinner party during which one of Europe’s most eminent psychoanalysts held forth ardently on every topic but fell mute when climate change was raised. He had nothing to say. For most of the intelligentsia, it is as if the projections of Earth scientists are so preposterous they can safely be ignored.

Perhaps the intellectual surrender is so complete because the forces we hoped would make the world a more civilised place – personal freedoms, democracy, material advance, technological power – are in truth paving the way to its destruction. The powers we most trusted have betrayed us; that which we believed would save us now threatens to devour us.

For some, the tension is resolved by rejecting the evidence, which is to say, by discarding the Enlightenment. For others, the response is to denigrate calls to heed the danger as a loss of faith in humanity, as if anguish for the Earth were a romantic illusion or superstitious regression.

Yet the Earth scientists continue to haunt us, following us around like wailing apparitions while we hurry on with our lives, turning around occasionally with irritation to hold up the crucifix of Progress.

This is an edited extract from Clive Hamilton’s Defiant Earth: The fate of humans in the Anthropocene, available now through Allen & Unwin. Clive Hamilton will be speaking at The School of Life in Sydney and Melbourne in June 2017

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/05/the-great-climate-silence-we-are-on-the-edge-of-the-abyss-but-we-ignore-it

Scientists in many disciplines see apocalypse, soon

It’s the end of the world and we know it:

Stephen Hawking is one of many scientists who see the possible near-term demise of our species. Spend that 401k!

It's the end of the world and we know it: Scientists in many disciplines see apocalypse, soon
(Credit: Getty/Everlite/Leon Neal/Photo Montage by Salon)

While apocalyptic beliefs about the end of the world have, historically, been the subject of religious speculation, they are increasingly common among some of the leading scientists today. This is a worrisome fact, given that science is based not on faith and private revelation, but on observation and empirical evidence.

Perhaps the most prominent figure with an anxious outlook on humanity’s future is Stephen Hawking. Last year, he wrote the following in a Guardian article:

Now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans. Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it.

There is not a single point here that is inaccurate or hyperbolic. For example, consider that the hottest 17 years on record have all occurred since 2000, with a single exception (namely, 1998), and with 2016 being the hottest ever. Although 2017 probably won’t break last year’s record, the UK’s Met Office projects that it “will still rank among the hottest years on record.” Studies also emphasize that there is a rapidly closing window for meaningful action on climate change. As the authors of one peer-reviewed paper put it:

The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far. Policy decisions made during this window are likely to result in changes to Earth’s climate system measured in millennia rather than human lifespans, with associated socioeconomic and ecological impacts that will exacerbate the risks and damages to society and ecosystems that are projected for the twenty-first century and propagate into the future for many thousands of years.

Furthermore, studies suggest that civilization will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than in all of human history, which stretches back some 200,000 years into the Pleistocene epoch. This is partly due to the ongoing problem of overpopulation, where Pew projects approximately 9.3 billion people living on spaceship Earth by 2050. According to the 2016 Living Planet Report, humanity needs 1.6 Earths to sustain our current rate of (over)consumption — in other words, unless something significant changes with respect to anthropogenic resource depletion, nature will force life as we know it to end.

Along these lines, scientists largely agree that human activity has pushed the biosphere into the sixth mass extinction event in the entire 4.5 billion year history of Earth. This appears to be the case even on the most optimistic assumptions about current rates of species extinctions, which may be occurring 10,000 times faster than the normal “background rate” of extinction. Other studies have found that, for example, the global population of wild vertebrates — that is, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians — has declined by a staggering 58 percent between 1970 and 2012. The biosphere is wilting in real time, and our own foolish actions are to blame.

As for disease, superbugs are a growing concern among researchers due to overuse of antibiotics among livestock and humans. These multi-drug-resistant bacteria are highly resistant to normal treatment routes, and already some 2 million people become sick from superbugs each year.

Perhaps the greatest risk here is that, as Brian Coombes puts it, “antibiotics are the foundation on which all modern medicine rests. Cancer chemotherapy, organ transplants, surgeries, and childbirth all rely on antibiotics to prevent infections. If you can’t treat those, then we lose the medical advances we have made in the last 50 years.” Indeed, this is why Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, claims that “Antimicrobial resistance poses a fundamental threat to human health, development and security.”

Making matters even worse, experts argue that the risk of a global pandemic is increasing. The reason is, in part, because of the growth of megacities. According to a United Nations estimate, “66 percent of the global population will live in urban centers by 2050.” The closer proximity of people will make the propagation of pathogens much easier, not to mention the fact that deadly germs can travel from one location to another at literally the speed of a jetliner. Furthermore, climate change will produce heat waves and flooding events that will create “more opportunity for waterborne diseases such as cholera and for disease vectors such as mosquitoes in new regions.” This is why some public health researchers conclude that “we are at greater risk than ever of experiencing large-scale outbreaks and global pandemics,” and that “the next outbreak contender will most likely be a surprise.”

Finally, the acidification of the world’s oceans is a catastrophe that hardly gets the attention it deserves. What’s happening is that the oceans are absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and this is causing their pH level to fall. One consequence is the destruction of coral reefs through a process called “bleaching.” Today, about 60 percent of coral reefs are in danger of bleaching, and about 10 percent are already underwater ghost towns.

Even more alarming, though, is the fact that the rate of ocean acidification is happening faster today than it occurred during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. That event is called the “Great Dying” because it was the most devastating mass extinction ever, resulting in some 95 percent of all species kicking the bucket. As the science journalist Eric Hand points out, whereas 2.4 gigatons of carbon were injected into the atmosphere per year during the Great Dying, about 10 gigatons are being injected per year by contemporary industrial society. Thus, the sixth mass extinction mentioned above, also called the Anthropocene extinction, could turn out to be perhaps even worse than the Permian-Triassic die-off.

So Hawking’s dire warning that we live in the most perilous period of our species’ existence is quite robust. In fact, considerations like these have led a number of other notable scientists to suggest that the collapse of global society could occur in the foreseeable future. The late microbiologist Frank Fenner, for example, whose virological work helped eliminate smallpox, predicted in 2010 that “humans will probably be extinct within 100 years, because of overpopulation, environmental destruction, and climate change.” Similarly, the Canadian biologist Neil Dawe reportedly “wouldn’t be surprised if the generation after him witness the extinction of humanity.” And the renowned ecologist Guy McPherson argues that humanity will follow the dodo into the evolutionary grave by 2026. (On the upside, maybe you don’t need to worry so much about that retirement plan.)

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists also recently moved the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to midnight, or doom, primarily because of President Donald J. Trump and the tsunami of anti-intellectualism that got him into the Oval Office. As Lawrence Krauss and David Titley wrote in a New York Times op-ed:

The United States now has a president who has promised to impede progress on both [curbing nuclear proliferation and solving climate change]. Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.

At two-and-a-half minutes before midnight, the Doomsday Clock is currently the closest to midnight that it’s been since 1953, after the U.S. and the Soviet Union had both detonated hydrogen bombs.

But so far we have mostly ignored threats to our existence that many leading risk scholars believe are the most serious, namely those associated with emerging technologies such as biotechnology, synthetic biology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. In general, these technologies are not only becoming more powerful at an exponential rate, according to Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, but increasingly accessible to small groups and even lone wolves. The result is that a growing number of individuals are being empowered to wreak unprecedented havoc on civilization. Consider the following nightmare disaster outlined by computer scientist Stuart Russell:

A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one- or two-gram shaped charge. You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China. You can program the code to say: “Here are thousands of photographs of the kinds of things I want to target.” A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel, so presumably you can also punch a hole in someone’s head. You can fit about three million of those in a semi-tractor-trailer. You can drive up I-95 with three trucks and have 10 million weapons attacking New York City. They don’t have to be very effective, only 5 or 10 percent of them have to find the target.

Russell adds that “there will be manufacturers producing millions of these weapons that people will be able to buy just like you can buy guns now, except millions of guns don’t matter unless you have a million soldiers. You need only three guys,” he concludes, to write the relevant computer code and launch these drones.

This scenario can be scaled up arbitrarily to involve, say, 500 million weaponized drones packed into several hundred semi-trucks strategically positioned around the world. The result could be a global catastrophe that brings civilization to its knees — no less than a nuclear terrorism attack or an engineered pandemic caused by a designer pathogen would severely disrupt modern life. As Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum put it in their captivating book “The Future of Violence,” we are heading toward an era of distributed offensive capabilities that is unlike anything our species has ever before encountered.

What sort of person might actually want to do this, though? Unfortunately, there are many types of people who would willingly destroy humanity. The list includes apocalyptic terrorists, psychopaths, psychotics, misanthropes, ecoterrorists, anarcho-primitivists, eco-anarchists, violent technophobes, militant neo-Luddites and even “morally good people” who maintain, for ethical reasons, that human suffering is so great that we would be better off not existing at all. Given the dual technology trends mentioned above, all it could take later this century is a single person or group to unilaterally end the great experiment called civilization forever.

It is considerations like these that have led risk scholars — some at top universities around the world — to specify disturbingly high probabilities of global disaster in the future. For example, the philosopher John Leslie claims that humanity has a 30 percent chance of extinction in the next five centuries. Less optimistically, an “informal” survey of experts at a conference hosted by Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute puts the probability of human extinction before 2100 at 19 percent. And Lord Martin Rees, co-founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University, argues that civilization has no better than a 50-50 likelihood of enduring into the next century.

To put this number in perspective, it means that the average American is about 4,000 times more likely to witness civilization implode than to die in an “air and space transport accident.” A child born today has a good chance of living to see the collapse of civilization, according to our best estimates.

Returning to religion, recent polls show that a huge portion of religious people believe that the end of the world is imminent. For example, a 2010 survey found that 41 percent of Christians in the U.S. believe that Jesus will either “definitely” or “probably” return by 2050. Similarly, 83 percent of Muslims in Afghanistan and 72 percent in Iraq claim that the Mahdi, Islam’s end-of-days messianic figure, will return within their lifetimes. The tragedy here, from a scientific perspective, is that such individuals are worried about the wrong apocalypse! Much more likely are catastrophes, calamities and cataclysms that cause unprecedented (and pointless) human suffering in a universe without any external source of purpose or meaning. At the extreme, an existential risk could tip our species into the eternal grave of extinction.

In a sense, though, religious people and scientists agree: We are in a unique moment of human history, one marked by an exceptionally high probability of disaster. The difference is that, for religious people, utopia stands on the other side of the apocalypse, whereas for scientists, there is nothing but darkness. To be clear, the situation is not by any means hopeless. In fact, there is hardly a threat before us — from climate change to the sixth mass extinction, from apocalyptic terrorism to a superintelligence takeover — that is inevitable. But without a concerted collective effort to avert catastrophe, the future could be as bad as any dystopian sci-fi writer has imagined.

Parts of this article draw from my forthcoming book “Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing: An Introduction to Existential Risks.”

March for Science on Earth Day to Resist Trump’s War on Facts

ENVIRONMENT
Drastic cuts to science-based agencies like the EPA are galvanizing scientists worldwide.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers and supporters protest job cuts during rally in Chicago, Illinois, March 2, 2017.
Photo Credit: John Gress Media Inc/Shutterstock

Science isn’t everything. But it is crucial to governing, decision-making, protecting human health and the environment and resolving questions and challenges around our existence.

Those determined to advance industrial interests over all else often attack science. We’ve seen it in Canada, with a decade of cuts to research funding and scientific programs, muzzling of government scientists and rejection of evidence regarding issues such as climate change.

We’re seeing worse in the United States. The new administration is proposing drastic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and others. Information about climate change and environmental protection is being scrubbed from government websites, and scientists are being muzzled. Meanwhile, the government is increasing spending on military and nuclear weapons programs.

There’s nothing wrong with challenging research, developing competing hypotheses and looking for flaws in studies. That’s how science works. But rejecting, eliminating, covering up or attacking evidence that might call into question government or industry priorities — evidence that might show how those priorities could lead to widespread harm — is unconscionable. It’s galling to me because I traded a scientific career for full-time communication work because good scientific information helps people make the best decisions to take us into the future.

Many scientists prefer to work quietly, letting their research speak for itself. But recent attacks are galvanizing scientists and supporters throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. The March for Science on Earth Day, April 22, has been building steam for months. The main march will take place in Washington, D.C., but more than 425 marches are planned around the world. That kicks off a week of action, culminating in the People’s Climate March on April 29, also focused on Washington but with satellite marches throughout the world.

The March for Science website says organizers are “advocating for evidence-based policymaking, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.”

The group’s 850,000-member Facebook page is inspiring, with “advocates, science educators, scientists, and concerned citizens” sharing personal testimonials about their reasons for marching and why science is important to them, along with ideas for posters and slogans, questions about the march, articles about science and exposés of climate disinformation sent to schools and science teachers by the anti-science Heartland Institute.

March participants are a wide-ranging group, from a neuroscientist who is marching “for the thousands of people suffering from spinal cord injury” to sci-fi fans who are marching “Because you can’t have science fiction without science!” to a scientist marching to honour “the many, many women and young girls interested or involved in science” to those marching “because we know climate change is real.”

Celebrating and advocating for science is a good way to mark Earth Day. I’ll be in Ottawa, where a march is also taking place. David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington and I will launch our new book, Just Cool It!, at an Ottawa Writers Festival event that also features Nishnaabeg musician, scholar and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

Climate change is one area where anti-science rhetoric and actions at the highest levels of society are endangering human health and survival. Our book is a comprehensive look at the history and implications of climate science, the barriers to confronting the crisis and the many solutions required to resolve it.

It’s discouraging to witness the current attacks on science, and the ever-increasing consequences of climate change, diminishing ocean health and other human-caused problems, but seeing so many people standing up for science and humanity is reason for optimism. Of all the many solutions to global warming and other environmental problems, none is as powerful as people getting together to demand change.

Every day should be Earth Day, but it’s good to have a special day to remind us of the importance of protecting the air, water, soil and biodiversity that we all depend on for health and survival. Politicians are supposed to work for the long-term well-being of people who elect them, not to advance the often short-sighted agendas of those who pay large sums of money to get their way regardless of the consequences. Standing together to make ourselves heard is one of the best ways to ensure they fulfill their responsibilities.

This article was originally published by the David Suzuki Foundation.

Stop Swooning Over Canada’s Justin Trudeau—The Man Is a Disaster for the Planet

NEWS & POLITICS

Donald Trump is a creep and unpleasant to look at, but at least he’s not a stunning hypocrite when it comes to climate change.

Photo Credit: Art Babych / Shutterstock.com

Donald Trump is so spectacularly horrible that it’s hard to look away (especially now that he’s discovered bombs). But precisely because everyone’s staring gape-mouthed in his direction, other world leaders are able to get away with almost anything. Don’t believe me? Look one nation north, at Justin Trudeau.

Look all you want, in fact – he sure is cute, the planet’s only sovereign leader who appears to have recently quit a boy band. And he’s mastered so beautifully the politics of inclusion: compassionate to immigrants, insistent on including women at every level of government. Give him great credit where it’s deserved: in lots of ways he’s the anti-Trump, and it’s no wonder Canadians swooned when he took over.

But when it comes to the defining issue of our day, climate change, he’s a brother to the old orange guy in DC.

Not rhetorically: Trudeau says all the right things, over and over. He’s got no Scott Pruitts in his cabinet: everyone who works for him says the right things. Indeed, they specialize in getting others to say them too – it was Canadian diplomats, and the country’s environment minister Catherine McKenna, who pushed at the Paris climate talks for a tougher-than-expected goal: holding the planet’s rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But those words are meaningless if you keep digging up more carbon and selling it to people to burn, and that’s exactly what Trudeau is doing. He’s hard at work pushing for new pipelines through Canada and the US to carry yet more oil out of Alberta’s tarsands, which is one of the greatest climate disasters on the planet.

Last month, speaking at a Houston petroleum industry gathering, he got a standing ovation from the oilmen for saying “No country would find 173bn barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.”

That is to say, Canada, which represents one-half of 1% of the planet’s population, is claiming the right to sell the oil that will use up a third of the earth’s remaining carbon budget. That is to say, Trump is a creep and a danger and unpleasant to look at, but at least he’s not a stunning hypocrite.Yes, 173bn barrels is indeed the estimate for recoverable oil in the tar sands. So let’s do some math. If Canada digs up that oil and sells it to people to burn, it will produce, according to the math whizzes at Oil Change International, 30% of the carbon necessary to take us past the 1.5 degree target that Canada helped set in Paris.

This having-your-cake-and-burning-it-too is central to Canada’s self-image/energy policy. McKenna, confronted by Canada’s veteran environmentalist David Suzuki, said tartly “we have an incredible climate change plan that includes putting a price on carbon pollution, also investing in clean innovation. But we also know we need to get our natural resources to market and we’re doing both”. Right.

But doing the second negates the first – in fact, it completely overwhelms it. If Canada is busy shipping carbon all over the world, it doesn’t matter all that much if every Tim Horton’s stopped selling donuts and started peddling solar panels instead.

Canada’s got company in this scam. Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull is supposed to be more sensitive than his predecessor, a Trump-like blowhard. When he signed on his nation to the Paris climate accords, he said, “it is clear the agreement was a watershed, a turning point and the adoption of a comprehensive strategy has galvanised the international community and spurred on global action.”

Which is a fine thing to say, or would be, if your government wasn’t backing plans for the largest coal mine on earth. That single mine, in a country of 20 million, will produce 362% of the annual carbon emissions that everyone in the Philippines produces in the course of a year. It is, obviously, mathematically and morally absurd.

Trump, of course, is working just as eagerly to please the fossil fuel industry – he’s instructed the Bureau of Land Management to make permitting even easier for new oil and gas projects, for instance. And frackers won’t even have to keep track of how much methane they’re spewing under his new guidelines. And why should they? If you believe, as Trump apparently does, that global warming is a delusion, a hoax, a mirage, you might as well get out of the way.

Trump’s insulting the planet, in other words. But at least he’s not pretending otherwise.

Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College, the founder of 350.org, an international climate campaign, and the winner of the 2014 Right Livelihood Award.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/justin-trudeau-disaster-planet?akid=15430.265072.LweZcM&rd=1&src=newsletter1075651&t=14

Trump’s stance on climate change is a gift to the Chinese

America’s loss is China’s gain:

America’s whiplash-inducing reversal on climate change is China’s gain. Here’s why

America's loss is China's gain: Trump’s stance on climate change is a gift to the Chinese
China’s President Xi Jinping waves after speaking at the CEO summit during the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Lima, Peru, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)(Credit: AP)
This piece originally appeared on BillMoyers.com.

In January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a speech in which he framed both himself and his country as the answer to Trumpism — as proponents of globalization and as proponents of climate action.

“All signatories should stick to it instead of walking away from it, as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations,” Xi said of the Paris Agreement, without explicitly mentioning Trump’s assertion that the US may withdraw from it. “We should join hands and rise to the challenge,” he told the elites gathered at the conference. “Let us boost confidence, take actions and work together for a bright future.”

China’s bid to become the world’s climate leader is more than just a noble enterprise. Of course, staving off the worst impacts of climate change will spare Chinese lives, and limiting sea level rise will help to protect Chinese cities and the agricultural regions on which the country’s enormous population depends. But there are also reasons for China to green its economy that aren’t explicitly tied to climate: China is tired of the smoggy cities, and the attendant health issues, that come with coal-fired power plants. Furthermore, renewable energy represents a growth area for the country’s economy, which could be facing stagnation. In fact, worldwide, the Paris Agreement is expected to generate $19 trillion in wealth — and China hopes to capitalize on the opportunity.

The United States and China were once the world’s key allies in the fight against climate change. In November 2014, President Barack Obama traveled to Beijing and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Few knew it at the time, but their meeting would produce an agreement that paved the way for the Paris negotiations.

In that November 2014 announcement, Obama said the United States would commit to cutting emissions immediately — by up to 28 percent by 2025 — while Xi promised to put in place policies that would lead to China’s emissions peaking by 2030. The deal was denounced by conservatives in the United States as a giveaway to China, but the notoriously coal-loving country exceeded its promise and expectations by quickly ramping up renewables. Obama, meanwhile, put in place the Clean Power Plan and other regulations aimed at cutting America’s CO2 emissions.

The United States and China had thrown up some the biggest stumbling blocks during past U.N.-orchestrated efforts to put a climate deal in place. The fact that they were now openly acknowledging, through joint, public pronouncements, that climate change must be confronted and that both countries would put in place policies that did so, was a turning point in the two-decade-long effort to cement a global deal.

The following December, a year and a month after Obama and Xi’s announcement, the Paris Agreement was finalized.

Since signing the agreement, China has continued to encourage growth in renewables. By 2020, the country hopes to get 15 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources, a push that the government will fund with a $361 billion investment in renewables and nuclear energy that will create 13 million jobs for Chinese citizens. That would put China on track to meet its commitment under the Paris Agreement to get 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Meanwhile, the country, which was at one time bringing two new coal power plants online every week, has seen its coal consumption fall three years in a row and is canceling construction on coal plants, anticipating there won’t be much use for them.

The United States, on the other hand, has moved in the other direction. This week, Donald Trump started the process of undoing Obama’s climate change programs, and hasn’t made up his mind yet about whether to exit the Paris Agreement or simply ignore it. Surrounded by coal miners at yesterday’s executive order signing, Trump triumphantly announced that rolling back Obama’s Clean Power Plan would revive the US’ failing coal industry, though in practice his policies, which may be good for coal CEOs, are unlikely to create many jobs due to automation and other technological advances.

China, meanwhile, is looking for another country to replace the US as its partner in global climate efforts. The EU might be able to step into the role. Beijing has asked Brussels to schedule the annual China-EU summit for earlier this year than usual, with climate change as one of the items on the agenda.

Perhaps the greatest irony in this whole saga is Donald Trump’s go-to reason for dismissing climate change: That it is a hoax perpetrated to aid the Chinese.

Climate change is not a hoax perpetrated to aid the Chinese. Ironically, President Trump’s failure to address it makes way for China to thrive, both economically and diplomatically.

But there is another hoax at play here: The claim, repeated just recently by Trump EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, that there is still debate among climate scientists about whether global warming is caused by humans. That hoax was foisted on the American people by polluting companies and the think tanks they fund, repeated again and again by faux experts who specialize in sowing doubt.

One such expert is Trump’s transition team head, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He spent years casting doubt on climate change — and before that, worked for tobacco companies to cast doubt on the dangers of smoking. Ebell was most recently found at an annual conference put together by the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, where he was among those fretting that Trump’s climate change-denying EPA head and oil company CEO secretary of state were, in fact, too pro-environment to fully prevent climate action. “Secretary Rex Tillerson may be from Texas and he may have been the CEO of Exxon, but he is part of the swamp,” Ebell said.

The oil industry, which once funded this sort of propaganda, has created a monster it is powerless to stop. Many companies, including Exxon, which played a prominent role in obfuscating climate science, want the president to stay in the Paris Agreement, which will, in the short term, incentivize countries to turn away from coal electricity and potentially embrace natural gas, a product in which the oil industry is already heavily invested and is more than happy to sell. The president, however, remains skeptical of the agreement and of climate science, as his advisers battle among themselves — the plutocrats versus the nationalists — to determine whether the administration will keep America in the climate change agreement or bail.

That Trump has bought into polluters’ hoax so thoroughly is America’s, and the world’s, loss — but in the short term, it’s China’s gain.

http://www.salon.com/2017/04/02/trumps-stance-on-climate-change-is-a-gift-to-china_partner/?source=newsletter

12 Glaring Omissions, Contradictions and Lies Bernie Sanders Spotted in Trump’s Address

NEWS & POLITICS
The Vermont senator slammed the president’s speech in a video response.

Former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear issued a formal Democratic response to Trump’s address to Congress Tuesday. But the most blistering reply may belong to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who took to Facebook shortly thereafter. “I wanted to say a few words about what [Trump] didn’t say, because when you analyze the speech sometimes what is more important is what somebody does not say as opposed to what they actually say,” he began.

Below are 12 glaring omissions, contradictions and lies Sanders spotted in Trump’s address.

1. Social Security and Medicare

“At a time when over half of all older Americans have no retirement savings, I did not hear President Trump say one word, not one word about Social Security or Medicare,” Sanders pointed out.

“During the campaign, as we all remember, President Trump promised over and over and over again that he would not cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. But in his first address [to Congress], he didn’t even mention Social Security or Medicare once, not a single time.”

While Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted the programs would not be touched in an interview this past weekend, President Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, has defended such cuts.

“I urge President Trump, keep your promises, tell the American people, tweet to the American people that you will not cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” Sanders said.

2. Income and Wealth Inequality

Trump’s speech to Congress briefly touched on poverty in America. However, Sanders “did not hear President Trump mention the words ‘income and wealth inequality’ or the fact that we now have the widest gap between the very rich and everyone else since the 1920’s.”

3. Campaign Finance

“I did not hear President Trump mention the fact that as a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, a five-to-four decision, we now have a corrupt campaign finance system that is allowing billionaires to buy elections and undermine American democracy,” Sanders said.

To the first-time politician who has repeatedly boasted about funding his own campaign, Sanders asked, “How could you give a speech to the nation and not talk about that enormously important issue?”

4. Voter Suppression

In his speech, President Trump used the phrase “guided by the well-being of American citizens.”

“[But] not only did President Trump not mention the issue of voter suppression, what Republican governors are doing all over this country to make it harder for people to participate in our democracy, but the truth of the matter is his administration is now working, working overtime, with Republican governors to make it harder for young people, low-income people, senior citizens and people of color to vote,” Sanders explained. “That is an outrage.”

5. Climate Change

Perhaps most astoundingly, at a time when the scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activity, that it is already causing devastating problems in our country and all over the world, I did not hear President Trump say one word, not one word, about the need to combat climate change, the greatest environmental threat facing our planet,” Sanders hammered.

Not only did Trump not mention climate change, “he pledged to increase our dependency on fossil fuels,” Sanders added.

6. Criminal Justice

“At a time when we have more people in jail than any other country on earth, disproportionately African American, Latino, Native American, I did not hear President Trump say one word about how he was going to fix a broken criminal justice system,” Sanders pointed out.

“Yes, we must support the hard work of men and women in the police departments, in the sheriff’s departments all over this country, but we must also end the disgrace of having more people in jail than any other country on earth,” he added.

7. Higher Education

“At a time when we need the best-educated workforce in the world to compete in a highly competitive global economy, I did not hear President Trump say one word, not one word, about the need to lower the cost of college and to do what countries all over the world are doing, and that is to make public colleges and universities tuition-free,” Sanders said.

8. ‘Drain the Swamp’

“During his campaign, President Trump told us that he was going to take on Wall Street and ‘drain the swamp,'” Sanders reminded viewers. “Well, the swamp, big-time, is now in his administration, which has more millionaires and billionaires than any presidential administration in history.”

“Amazingly enough, for somebody who was going to ‘drain the swamp,’ who’s going to take on Wall Street, his chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, is the former president of Goldman Sachs, one of the major financial institutions that pay billions of dollars in fines for their illegal activity,” Sanders added.

9. Glass-Steagall Act

“I did not hear President Trump say one word about another campaign promise that he made to the American people, and that was to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act.”

In his speech, President Trump proposed a $1 trillion investment in American infrastructure, “but the specifics of the financing plan that he has provided us with so far are absolutely wrong,” Sanders concluded. “We cannot rebuild our infrastructure by providing billions of dollars in tax breaks to Wall Street and large corporations.”

10. Clean Water Rules

“Donald Trump said tonight that we need to ‘promote clean air and clean water.’… I had a difficult time not laughing out loud when he said that,” Sanders admitted, since, “On this very, very day, he signed an executive order rolling back President Obama’s clean water rules and has appointed the most anti-environmental EPA administrator in our nation’s history.”

11. Military Spending

“President Trump said [Tuesday night] that he wants to substantially increase funding for the Pentagon,” Sanders recalled. “What he didn’t say tonight is that he will come up with that $84 billion in increased funding for the Pentagon by slashing programs that benefit the working people of this country, that benefit the elderly, that benefit the children, the sick and the poor.”

12. Prescription Drug Costs

“As he did during his campaign, Donald Trump claimed that he would bring down the cost of prescription drugs,” Sanders told viewers. “A few weeks ago, he even said that the pharmaceutical industry was ‘getting away with murder,’ but if Donald Trump really wanted to take on the pharmaceutical industry, he would have told his Republican friends in the House and the Senate to pass legislation, which I [re]introduced today with 20 senators allowing Americans to import safe low-cost medicine from Canada.”

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/12-glaring-omissions-contradictions-and-lies-bernie-sanders-spotted-trumps-address?akid=15250.265072.TIYkRl&rd=1&src=newsletter1073104&t=2

Scientists have just detected a major change to the Earth’s oceans linked to a warming climate

February 15 at 1:00 PM

A large research synthesis, published in one of the world’s most influential scientific journals, has detected a decline in the amount of dissolved oxygen in oceans around the world — a long-predicted result of climate change that could have severe consequences for marine organisms if it continues.

The paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature by oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko and two colleagues from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, found a decline of more than 2 percent in ocean oxygen content worldwide between 1960 and 2010. The loss, however, showed up in some ocean basins more than others. The largest overall volume of oxygen was lost in the largest ocean — the Pacific — but as a percentage, the decline was sharpest in the Arctic Ocean, a region facing Earth’s most stark climate change.

The loss of ocean oxygen “has been assumed from models, and there have been lots of regional analysis that have shown local decline, but it has never been shown on the global scale, and never for the deep ocean,” said Schmidtko, who conducted the research with Lothar Stramma and Martin Visbeck, also of GEOMAR.

Ocean oxygen is vital to marine organisms, but also very delicate — unlike in the atmosphere, where gases mix together thoroughly, in the ocean that is far harder to accomplish, Schmidtko explained. Moreover, he added, just 1 percent of all the Earth’s available oxygen mixes into the ocean; the vast majority remains in the air.

Climate change models predict the oceans will lose oxygen because of several factors. Most obvious is simply that warmer water holds less dissolved gases, including oxygen. “It’s the same reason we keep our sparkling drinks pretty cold,” Schmidtko said.

But another factor is the growing stratification of ocean waters. Oxygen enters the ocean at its surface, from the atmosphere and from the photosynthetic activity of marine microorganisms. But as that upper layer warms up, the oxygen-rich waters are less likely to mix down into cooler layers of the ocean because the warm waters are less dense and do not sink as readily.

“When the upper ocean warms, less water gets down deep, and so therefore, the oxygen supply to the deep ocean is shut down or significantly reduced,” Schmidtko said.

The new study represents a synthesis of literally “millions” of separate ocean measurements over time, according to GEOMAR. The authors then used interpolation techniques for areas of the ocean where they lacked measurements.

The resulting study attributes less than 15 percent of the total oxygen loss to sheer warmer temperatures, which create less solubility. The rest was attributed to other factors, such as a lack of mixing.

Matthew Long, an oceanographer from the National Center for Atmospheric Research who has published on ocean oxygen loss, said he considers the new results “robust” and a “major advance in synthesizing observations to examine oxygen trends on a global scale.”

Long was not involved in the current work, but his research had previously demonstrated that ocean oxygen loss was expected to occur and that it should soon be possible to demonstrate that in the real world through measurements, despite the complexities involved in studying the global ocean and deducing trends about it.

That’s just what the new study has done.

“Natural variations have obscured our ability to definitively detect this signal in observations,” Long said in an email. “In this study, however, Schmidtko et al. synthesize all available observations to show a global-scale decline in oxygen that conforms to the patterns we expect from human-driven climate warming. They do not make a definitive attribution statement, but the data are consistent with and strongly suggestive of human-driven warming as a root cause of the oxygen decline.

“It is alarming to see this signal begin to emerge clearly in the observational data,” he added.

“Schmidtko and colleagues’ findings should ring yet more alarm bells about the consequences of global warming,” added Denis Gilbert, a researcher with the Maurice Lamontagne Institute at Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Quebec, in an accompanying commentary on the study also published in Nature.

Because oxygen in the global ocean is not evenly distributed, the 2 percent overall decline means there is a much larger decline in some areas of the ocean than others.

Moreover, the ocean already contains so-called oxygen minimum zones, generally found in the middle depths. The great fear is that their expansion upward, into habitats where fish and other organism thrive, will reduce the available habitat for marine organisms.

In shallower waters, meanwhile, the development of ocean “hypoxic” areas, or so-called “dead zones,” may also be influenced in part by declining oxygen content overall.

On top of all of that, declining ocean oxygen can also worsen global warming in a feedback loop. In or near low oxygen areas of the oceans, microorganisms tend to produce nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, Gilbert writes. Thus the new study “implies that production rates and efflux to the atmosphere of nitrous oxide … will probably have increased.”

The new study underscores once again that some of the most profound consequences of climate change are occurring in the oceans, rather than on land. In recent years, incursions of warm ocean water have caused large die-offs of coral reefs, and in some cases, kelp forests as well. Meanwhile, warmer oceans have also begun to destabilize glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, and as they melt, these glaciers freshen the ocean waters and potentially change the nature of their circulation.

When it comes to ocean deoxygenation, as climate change continues, this trend should also increase — studies suggest a loss of up to 7 percent of the ocean’s oxygen by 2100. At the end of the current paper, the researchers are blunt about the consequences of a continuing loss of oceanic oxygen.

“Far-reaching implications for marine ecosystems and fisheries can be expected,” they write.

If carbon emissions continue unabated, expanding oceans and massive ice melt would threaten global coastal communities, according to new projections.
(Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)