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In which I clumsily tie one hand behind my back
Can we take on the climate disaster and the Trump disaster simultaneously?
Despite Taylor Swift’s and Beyonce’s and Barbie’s best efforts to cheer us up, this summer just past was dominated by two sets of truly dismal statistics. One came from climatologists: all of us (except the ones who died in floods, hurricanes, and fires) lived through the hottest stretch of weather any human society has ever known. The other came from pollsters: Donald Trump and Joe Biden are essentially tied in the presidential race.
Neither trend shows signs of change as the leaves start to turn: September was even more anomalously hot than June, July, and August, and last week seemed most out of whack of all. And the latest Washington Post poll had Trump up 10. These two disasters are bearing down on us in real time, and fighting them simultaneously presents a real dilemma. We need to push the White House to take key action to stem the climate crisis, but we need to do it without damaging the chances to defeat Trump next November; it’s like performing CPR without breaking a rib. Not easy, but possible.
Apologies in advance. This is a long and atypical screed, written largely so I can figure out my own thinking. Regular service will resume shortly; thanks to all those who pay the modest and voluntary subscription fee, even if you’re not quite getting your money’s worth today.
To put the dilemma in concrete terms, consider this example. I wrote recently about the need to block new LNG export terminals in the Gulf. These are outlets to send fracked gas that we don’t need here to be burned somewhere else, mostly Asia. If we build them at the pace that industry wants, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with them will outweigh all the progress we’ve made in this country this century; just one, CP2, comes with twenty times the emissions of the Willow oil complex. And they are a disaster for the people and communities they damage and displace—mostly, of course, poor people and communities of color. And Joe Biden could block this expansion: the LNG terminals require an export license from his Department of Energy certifying that they are in the public interest, which they manifestly are not. These terminals would lock in, for the next forty years (the next ten presidential terms) the ongoing use of fossil fuels that scientists have told us we must stop burning as fast as is humanly possible.
But of course it’s in certain people’s interests to build them and they will do their best to press the president for those permits: the Democratic governor of Louisiana, for interest, has been a big backer of CP2; likewise the labor unions that will build and staff it. Big donors too, and the power structure that worked hard in the Obama-Biden administration to push fracking. And parts of the administration insists that exporting natural gas is necessary for the defense of Ukraine (though we’ve already built the infrastructure necessary to meet that challenge) or to project American power generally. Above all, of course, are the oil companies that own those reserves that otherwise would languish underground; they have already deformed our politics in recent decades; their wealth is such that they present a real danger to Biden’s chances in the 2024 election.
The most straightforward response would be to present our own danger to those chances: to say, in essence, block these projects or we will not vote for you. And some of that is happening. At the recent climate march in New York, much of the rhetoric was aimed at the president, some of it uncomfortably (one lady with a bullhorn kept trying to gin up support for her simple chant, “Fuck Biden,” which is the very same message on many a Trump yard sign in my rural precincts). The polling indicates that young people are, for the moment, withholding support from his re-election, above all because he permitted the Willow project despite an aggressive campaign on TikTok. People with a cause have leverage in election years that vanishes the rest of the time; it’s hard to yield up any of that leverage. Even to say what seems to me honest and clear—that Biden has done more on the climate than the presidents before him, and that the IRA money he managed somehow to get Manchin to support is speeding up the clean energy transition—seems like a concession that diminishes this leverage. And in any kind of fight leverage is hard to gain and painful to squander.
And yet there’s no mystery about what would happen to these projects if Trump defeated Biden—he’d permit all of them in a heartbeat, while ending the Biden administration’s growing efforts to deal with environmental justice issues. There’s nothing mysterious here: his first act in his first term was to try and revive the Keystone Pipeline; if someone told Donald Trump that there was money to be made drilling oil at Old Faithful, he’d make sure he got his cut and consider shutting down the geyser a bonus. And people will tell him things like that. In fact, an alliance of rightwing groups including the Kochs and the Heritage Foundation have already compiled a thousand-page blueprint that, according to the Guardian, includes an attack on every possible environmental initiative.
The guide’s chapter on the US Department of Energy proposes eliminating three agency offices that are crucial for the energy transition, and also calls to slash funding to the agency’s grid deployment office in an effort to stymie renewable energy deployment
The plan, which would hugely expand gas infrastructure, was authored by Bernard McNamee, a former official at the agency. McNamee was also a Trump appointee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He previously led the far-right Texas Public Policy Foundation, which fights environmental regulation, and served as a senior adviser to the Republican senator Ted Cruz.
Another chapter focuses on gutting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and moving it away from its focus on the climate crisis. It proposes cutting the agency’s environmental justice and public engagement functions, while shrinking it as a whole by terminating new hires in “low-value programs”, E&E News reported.
In other words, things that are hard now could get much worse for the environment, and for vulnerable communities. And though the climate is the existential issue of our time, it’s not the only issue; a Trump administration would also bring, as night follows day, more trouble for gay people and trans people, for reproductive freedom and for immigrants, for poor people and union workers, for civil liberties and for doctors; it would buttress the worst dictators around the world, including the ones, besides us, doing the most damage to the climate; his closest friends include the Saudis and the Russians. He has, just in the last week, threatened to execute generals who don’t agree with him, and to launch investigations of tv networks who criticize him; he is running, as he has said repeatedly, for vengeance. It’s entirely possible that a fragile democracy would not survive another encounter with him.
And so it seems to me we don’t have the freedom of fighting Biden with every tool at our disposal; we are constrained to do it with one hand tied behind our back. On a hundred topics we have to press for what a dangerous moment requires, but we have to do it without the threat of withholding our votes. I, at least, am willing to say that I will support him in 2024, and more, that I will work to turn out the vote for him.
I’m not sure that that concession to reality handicaps us entirely.
To return to the question of LNG buildout, for example, I think I can see ways we can make the case without making the threat. It’s the Department of Energy, under Jennifer Granholm, that officially makes the call on whether or not to grant the export licenses that make these giant terminals worth building, so one good way to begin is by reminding them of all the good things this administration has said about decarbonization. In November of last year, for instance, the president said “Russia’s war only enhances the urgency of the need to transition the world off this dependency on fossil fuels,” precisely the kind of transition that flooding the world with cheap natural gas impedes. We can demand that the DOE let Biden be Biden.
And in this case the politics are not impossible. Fracked gas is not the same as oil, because oil is used to make gasoline, and the price of gasoline is, as one former president said to me at a memorable lunch not long ago, “the single most salient fact in American politics.” When the president blocks oil drilling, which he very much should, he opens himself to rough attack (indeed, at the moment the Saudis seem to be trying to raise the global price of crude to help their once and future benefactor). But if the president blocked fracked gas export, he could argue quite powerfully that he was doing it to protect American consumers; after all, the price to run a gas furnace, for those still waiting to convert to cheaper electric heat pumps, will go up as we export more gas. As one oil industry veteran watching the expansion of export terminals near his Louisiana home told me, “If they keep this L.N.G. buildout, your electric bills are going to go way up, and your food costs, too,” Allaire, the oil-industry veteran, said. “Ninety per cent of our fertilizer in the United States is made with natural gas. If the price goes up, because we’re shipping it abroad, well, the price of vegetables goes up, too.
Even so, that argument won’t win Biden votes in the hydrocarbon heartland of Louisiana or Texas, which is where most of the fracked gas lies. But he’s not going to win Louisiana or Texas anyway, and indeed he could and should start making the case that fracking is simply going too far even for the comfort of people in those places. As the Times made clear in a landmark series of articles last week, the nature of fracking, which was always environmentally destructive, is becoming essentially suicidal: a new round of “monster fracks” has become the industry norm in the last decade, and they use so much water that in oil-producing regions, aquifer levels have fallen by up to 58 feet a year. At some point, too, even Texans are going to notice that it’s getting too hot in the summer for a decent life.
Biden and his surrogates can make all these arguments, as well as the straightforward reminder that he built enough of this stuff that we were able to supply Europe with the gas it needed in the first hard winter after the Ukraine fight, and that we have capacity to keep that flow coming as long as we need to. If the White House made this case aggressively, it could perhaps in the process undo some of the political damage that came with the Willow decision; he could even point out that between then and now we’ve had the hottest weather in human history, and that we have to react in some dramatic way to news like that. It’s not that he won’t pay a price—the oil industry will see to that—but that the price might be manageable, and in political terms worth paying: new surveys, for instance, show young voters less inclined to support him, in large part because they perceive him as tepid on climate. This is a chance to show that he gets not just the demand side of the equation that he started tackling with the IRA, but also the supply side that he promised to act on during the 2020 campaign but then backed away from under pressure from Manchin.
I have some confidence that we could make a case like this because we’ve done it before. At precisely this point in the election cycle in 2011 we were gearing up the Keystone fight, and trying to persuade President Obama to push pause on the approval process for that boondoggle. But the people that needed to press Obama also, for the most part, liked Obama. He was our first Black president, and a man of charisma, insight, and rare political talent; there was widespread desire for him to succeed; hell, I’d been one of the first people to sign up on Environmentalists for Obama in the 2008 campaign. So we billed what we were doing as an effort to “open up space so Obama can do what we know he wants to.” You could call this disingenuous or you could call it hopeful; we thought it was realistic. We quoted endlessly from his speech the night he accepted the nomination, the one where he said that in his administration “the rise of the oceans would begin to slow.” And when we showed up outside the White House to get arrested, we told people to wear their Obama buttons.
This is more of a bank shot than some people are comfortable with—easier, obviously, to say ‘do what we want or we won’t vote for you.’ But it seems even more necessary now. In 2012 the other option was Mitt Romney, who was sane. And in any event it worked; Obama understood the implied pressure, and did put a moratorium on Keystone, a project he eventually rejected in his second term. It was a big win.
There is, of course, one other way to square this circle, and that is to decide you’ll support neither Biden or Trump, but some other candidate entirely. And I don’t begrudge people that choice, because I made it once, in the first election I voted in. In fact, I persuaded my college newspaper to endorse one Barry Commoner, environmentalist candidate of the Citizens Party—which meant that in the most fateful election (so far) of my life I did nothing to help defeat Ronald Reagan.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr intimated this week that he’s going to leave the Democratic primaries and instead run in the general election, damaging Biden’s chances. I confess I don’t know how to talk about him; Kennedy, once an environmentalist, has become a conspiracy theorist, convinced that vaccines are a plot and that “climate change is being used to control us through fear.” Facts falter; this is Musk’s new world, where every attempt at reason crashes hard into paranoia and pretty soon you’re talking about George Soros or prosecuting Anthony Fauci or ‘the Jews.’
But there is someone running from a world I do understand and feel a part of: Cornel West, of the Green Party. He’s a fascinating writer and thinker, and my kind of Christian. I served alongside him once, both of us appointed by Bernie Sanders as two of his five representatives to the 2016 Democratic platform-writing committee, where I was struck by the span of his knowledge and the quickness of his mind, far quicker than mine. And I just enjoyed him; we spent one long walk through the streets of DC talking about the career of the great guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe, long before the Elvis biopic made her into a bit of an icon. I imagine I’m in more agreement with him about more issues than anyone else who will be on the ballot (though not all issues; having opposed American imperialism in Iraq, I feel dutybound to oppose the even more blatant Russian imperialism in Ukraine). But I won’t be voting for him.
One reason, of course, is that third parties in our system function, among other things, as spoilers. That’s why I’ve worked to pass ranked choice voting in jurisdictions across America, and with increasing success. If I lived in Maine, I might well vote for West to endorse his ideas, confident that my ballot would likely end up in Biden’s column. But I wouldn’t do it elsewhere; if the 2024 election is as close as current polls indicate, then West could end up playing the same sad role that Ralph Nader did in 2000 and Jill Stein in 2016. (Even Nader, it should be noted, has offered to help Biden in 2024.)
But there’s a deeper set of reasons that steer me toward Biden.
One is that the Green Party seems to me to over-identify politics with elections. Elections are important, obviously—but politics goes on 365 days a year. I’ve never quite understood why the Greens in this country (unlike Europe) seem to appear mostly at presidential election time; my friend Ted Glick, a longtime Green stalwart (and someone I’ve been to jail with) put it succinctly a few years ago:
“The US Green Party needs a strategic turn. It needs to consciously reject the losing strategy of running someone for President every four years. It needs to take a much more critical look at other-than-local campaigns unless there has been an organized base built and resources are available in the state or district a candidate might run in. It should concentrate virtually all of its resources on magnifying the number and improving the quality of the kind of local campaigns that are run, leading to a growing number of winners, more members, a stronger organization and better relations with the broad progressive movement.”
Another reason—related—is that the Greens have tended to view elections fundamentally as a moral choice. In a fascinating interview earlier this year with Wen Stephenson (who I’ve also gone to jail with), West reflected on Barack Obama, and on Raphael Warnock, his fellow minister and the senator from Georgia: “The best the Democratic Party can do is Barack Obama, is Raphael Warnock. You say, wait a minute, these folks are tied to militarism; they’re tied to Wall Street… Brother Raphael falls far short of Brother Martin [Luther King].”
Which is certainly true—among American political leaders, everyone falls short of Dr. King as a prophetic voice. And prophecy is a vitally important part of politics; it announces the vision and builds the momentum. But elective office often demands a different set of skills: the ability to compromise, forge consensus, accommodate interests that would otherwise have the power to block progress. Politics clearly presents a moral choice; to what side will you pledge your life? (And most of the result isn’t glamorous in any way; it’s just the endless work of organizing). But elections seem to me to offer a binary choice: which of these two people will allow for the most progress? Which will allow us, working at politics the other 364 days of the year, to push and prod, and which will just shut us out.
It’s worth remembering, by the way, that King himself was involved in three presidential elections. In 1960 he said he couldn’t take a side—but he and his family let it be known how grateful they were that JFK had phoned Coretta and local officials when he was jailed shortly before the election. His father—overcoming not only a lifetime of Republican affiliation, but also a Baptist distaste for Roman Catholics—announced his support of Kennedy, and the campaign put out millions of copies of a pamphlet (called the “Blue Bomb” for the color of paper it was printed on) in the days before the election. Widely distributed in Black churches, it played a large role in increasing the share of Black votes that went to the Democrat. And given the narrow margin, that was very likely the deciding factor in ushering in the New Frontier.
In 1964, King straight-up campaigned for LBJ, who had signed serious civil rights legislation in the wake of Birmingham and Selma; he was clearly as bent on prevent the campaign of Barry Goldwater, arguably the most out-of-right-field candidate of a major party before Donald Trump (though with none of his narcissistic vitriol or personal corruption). A Goldwater win, King said, would proceed “a great dark night of social destruction;” it’s worth watching the film of King on the stump on Los Angeles street corners. “In these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail,” he said, “all men of good will must make the right decisions.”
King broke with LBJ in the 1968 campaign—as with many Americans, the morass in Vietnam had become a bridge too far. A group of liberal stalwarts—the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Congressman Allard Lowenstein, socialist pioneer Norman Thomas—tried to persuade him to run for president, heading a ticket that would also include Dr. Benjamin Spock, prominent baby doctor and antiwar advocate. King apparently considered it briefly, but then said “I have come to think of my role as one which operates outside the realm of partisan politics.” As the chroniclers of nonviolent movements Paul and Mark Engler put it, “opting against a presidential run, he instead launched the “Poor People’s Campaign,” which proposed a major wave of disruptive protest in Washington, DC, designed to compel action around economic inequality. “We believe that if this campaign succeeds, nonviolence will once again be the dominant instrument for social change—and jobs and income will be put in the hands of the tormented poor.”
King’s decision doesn’t mean West is wrong to run; it means only that prophecy can have other outlets, some of them potentially richer than a failed presidential candidacy. One possibility, of course, would be to do what Bernie Sanders did, and run for the Democratic nomination, on the theory that until we have something like ranked choice voting the party was the only practical vehicle for advancing a progressive agenda. West served ably as a Bernie surrogate, including on that platform committee, but when Clinton secured the nomination he decided to back Green Party candidate Jill Stein instead; I drew the opposite conclusion, but more importantly so did Bernie, in two straight campaigns, swallowing his displeasure at the machinations of the Dem insiders and trading his support for a series of important promises from Biden. The most important of those led to White House support for the Build Back Better bill, which was steadily and painfully pared by the Congress, where Dems barely held a majority, into the Inflation Reduction Act. Which was, truth be told, more than most of us had expected; there’s an argument that Biden, now out walking UAW picket lines, is serving a vision somewhere between Bernie’s and his own (and there’s an argument that he may have gotten more than a president Bernie could have with the same Senate).
At any rate, the moral standing is not clear cut. I’d hoped to talk to West about all this, but he wrote back in an email to say he was too busy running for president—which I entirely believe, having seen enough campaigns to know that they are all-consuming experiences. “We must speak to the issues of poverty, ecological catastrophe, medical care for all, mass incarceration and militarism,” he said, which seems true enough to me. And he did answer one question—he was, he said, listening to a lot of Curtis Mayfield as he dashed from one event to the next. Which, I have to say, came close to swaying me: “People Get Ready” would make an excellent national anthem.
I was thinking of all of this the other night, when a woman named Heather Booth zoomed in to a class I was teaching at Middlebury College about the roots of social change. She’s a hero of mine. In 1964, at the age of 18, she was one of those northern college students who went south to register Mississippi voters during Freedom Summer. In fact, she was in the second cohort, and so the night before her departure word came that Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner were missing and presumed murdered. She went anyway, and spent the summer working with legends like Fannie Lou Hamer; returning to Chicago, she pioneered the Jane collective that arranged abortion services for at least 11,000 women in the years before Roe v. Wade; she went on to found the Midwest Academy, which has trained thousands of organizers, and civil rights hero Julian Bond (I was arrested with him too) asked her to lead the NAACP’s Voter Education Fund. She has, in other words, been as faithful a progressive as it’s possible to imagine; “I’m a radical,” she said, “because I want to get at the root of problems.” But she also worked hard on the Clinton campaign, and ran senior and progressive outreach for the Biden effort in 2020 (I know her because we work together on the board of Third Act, which organizes people over 60 for progressive action). She talked to the students about her own life, but mostly she talked to them about theirs—about what difference they could make if they could find a place to step in and push.
Pushing is what Biden needs, on climate perhaps above all; we’re up against a ticking clock. Do I wish he had broken with tradition and decided not to run for a second term? Yes; we need a new generation of leaders. Do I wish had had more Bernie in him? I do. But can I realistically think of a scenario where I wouldn’t vote for him—wouldn’t knock doors for him--next November? No.
No one would confuse Joe Biden for Dr. King, or any other prophetic leader; he’s deeply transactional. Still, I think you can make at least a muted case for the moral worth of his presidency. My potted version of American history goes like this: from the New Deal through Jimmy Carter (happy 99!) we were, in some basic way, engaged in the group project of trying to make America a better place; it was halting, contentious, imperfect, but the measure of success was some kind of national progress. The Reagan vision, which dominated my adult political life, was of a highly individualized look-out-for-your-own-self world; government, which is just another way of saying all of us working together, was “the problem, not the solution.” In this world, suckers pay taxes. That has yielded a nation and a world of desperate and cartoonish inequality, and a world where the polar ice caps are rapidly melting.
Biden, it seems to me, is trying to return us to that group project, recapitulating not the Clinton or the Obama presidencies but the LBJ years (which, um, makes a bit of sense since Johnson was the first president he voted for). This past month he even revived the Peace Corps of his youth, this time to take on climate change. Call it all a move in the direction of solidarity. And as the climate unravels, solidarity strikes me as being almost as important as solar power.
I don’t need that argument to vote and work for him; I’d support a chicken salad sandwich to stop the return of Donald Trump to power. But it helps.
And now—and thank you for bearing with me through this long screed—back to work blocking fossil fuel expansion…
In other energy and climate news (abbreviated version because I’m pushing the max length Substack allows):
+The people behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline, not content with having wired our political system to remove most of the environmental checks usually required, are now gunning for local residents who protest against their plans, suing 40 people and two organizations.
Alan Graf, an attorney who in the past has monitored pipeline protests as an observer with the National Lawyers Guild, said the company is trying to silence its critics with a heavy handed threat of legal action and financial losses.
“This is a SLAPP suit on steroids,” Graf said, referring to what are called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.
“It is pure, outright intimidation,” he said. “They don’t care about winning the case. They care about getting their lawyers and legal staff to try to intimidate the common people who are out there trying to do something right.”
+It’s possible you missed National Honey Month in September, but it’s not too late to urge New York lawmakers to pass the Birds and Bees Protection Act, to safeguard pollinators.
+A remarkable story from Audrey Gray in Mother Jones about two older women in Phoenix helping to protect people there from the ever-rising heat.
“Welcome, welcome!” said Corine Hill-Hicks whenever the door swung open. She and Lucy McCray, both retired elementary school teachers who still addressed each other as “Mrs. Hill-Hicks” and “Mrs. McCray,” were the intake crew, known by the center’s regulars as “The Ladies,” a.k.a. “The Golden Brown Girls.” They’d both endured recent tragedies—Mrs. Hill-Hicks, a vibrantly dressed and apple-cheeked woman of 64, suffered two strokes that left her using a rolling walker. Mrs. McCray, tiny, prim, and 22 years older, had lost Bobby, her husband of more than 50 years. They drove themselves over to Wesley every weekday to volunteer-host the center’s heat respite rooms, and somehow, they made it fun.
+So glad to see the AARP start swinging into action on energy issues, at least in California. There’s no question they’re the most effective lobby in the country, and now they’re helping with the IRA rollout
+ClimateAid concert next weekend in Portland (the Maine one). Hear from Terry Tempest Williams, Rick Bass, Maggie Rogers, all kinds of music. See you there
Meanwhile in northern New England, the debate about Vermont’s biomass burning power plant is coming to a head over expansion plans. It’s a bad idea; we need to burn less stuff.
+Big new campaign launching at Third Act and elsewhere to get the excellent people at Costco to pressure Citibank, their credit-card provider; it appears that Costco’s biggest carbon emissions come from its financial vendors
+Carbon capture appears not to be working very well. DeSmogBlog followed up on twelve plants around the world
Findings include a litany of missed carbon capture targets; cost-overruns, and billions of dollars of costs to taxpayers in the form of subsidies. In Mississippi, for instance,
As climate policies began to call for a coal power phase-out in the early 2000s, carbon capture became a means to keep the coal industry alive in a “cleaner” form. Building upon a Bush Administration program, in 2008, the Kemper CCS facility was proposed as the flagship project of the U.S. government’s Clean Coal Power Initiative, receiving $407 million in federal subsidies. The plant, operated by Southern Energy company, was designed to gasify lignite (brown coal) and capture the carbon before combustion.
However, the plant never reached its target of capturing 65 percent of its carbon emissions, which would have amounted to 3.0 million tonnes of CO2 per year. First, construction was delayed, and the initially estimated cost of $3 billion ballooned to $7.5 billion. Despite this massive increase in investment, the project’s coal gasification process did not operate reliably during testing as leaks were discovered.
In 2017, carbon capture operations were suspended as ongoing problems made the venture unprofitable. In 2021, the mothballed carbon capture unit was demolished. Today, the remaining Kemper power plant simply burns fossil gas, and “clean coal” remains an expensive and unproven emissions-reduction measure worldwide
+”Wind energy projects are more likely to be opposed by wealthy, white communities,” a new study finds. Which makes sense, since poor communities of color get to breathe the smoke those windmills would displace… Indeed, as researcher Leah Stokes pointed out:
“Fossil fuel plants are predominantly located in poorer communities and communities of color,” Stokes explained. “These plants create pollution. We need to replace fossil fuel power plants with clean energy, like wind and solar. When wealthier, whiter communities oppose wind energy projects in their backyards, they extend the lifetime of fossil fuel projects. This is an injustice.”
In the study, researchers used the term “energy privilege” to describe this environmental justice challenge: opposing clean energy is a privilege because wealthy white communities can continue to consume goods and services from burning fossil fuels while lower-income communities and communities of color bear the brunt of that pollution.
+Enbridge—the company that brought you the Dakota Access pipeline—wants to dramatically expand its natural gas pipe network in the northeast. Dubbed Project Maple (I guess for the tree that’s being hard hit by climate change), the “pipeline runs from northern New Jersey through parts of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and into Massachusetts, where it feeds into the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station and then connects to another pipeline north of Boston.” I predict this will go badly.
+If you go on Twitter (bad idea), you’ll be reminded constantly by bots that the ‘cliamte is always changing.’ Of course, but as veteran scientist Michael Mann points out in an LA Times oped, never this fast
Consider the warming event that paleoclimatologists point to as the best natural comparison for the rapid greenhouse-driven trend we’re seeing now. The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum happened 56 million years ago, roughly 10 million years after the demise of the dinosaurs, which itself was caused by climate change (a massive asteroid impact event led to a global dust storm and, in turn, rapid cooling). The PETM warming resulted from an unusually large and rapid injection of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from volcanic eruptions in Iceland. Global temperatures increased by approximately 10 degrees Fahrenheit in as little as 10,000 years, rising from an already steamy baseline of 80 degrees Fahrenheit possibly up to a sauna-like 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
That warming rate of about 0.1 degree Fahrenheit per century is extremely rapid by geological standards. But it’s still roughly 10 times slower than the warming today.
+Swiss glaciers have lost ten percent of their volume in the last two years. It doesn’t take a great mathematician to plot the outcome of that curve.
Experts have stopped measuring the ice on some glaciers as there is essentially none left. Glacier Monitoring in Switzerland (Glamos), which monitors 176 glaciers, recently halted measurements at the St Annafirn glacier in the central Swiss canton of Uri since it had mostly melted.
Matthias Huss, the head of Glamos, said: “We just had some dead ice left. It’s a combination of climate change that makes such extreme events more likely, and the very bad combination of meteorological extremes. If we continue at this rate … we will see every year such bad years.”
Meanwhile, Canada’s huge fires just keep on burning.
Yellowknife — the territorial capital of the Northwest Territories — was fully evacuated just over a month ago and residents returned home this month. On Saturday, the city again found itself menaced by nearby fires, this time by thick smoke that turned skies dark orange.
“Tiny shards of ash fluttered to the surface of dimly apocalyptic streets,” wrote Cabin Radio, a local news source for Yellowknife. “By 10am, the sky outside remained remarkably and eerily dark.”
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