Two years ago when Al Gore warned that climate change was a threat, the flat-earthers in congress said the VP was as misguided as Darwin.
This week, congressional climate skeptics got support for their position as news from all corners confirmed that the weather everywhere is “CAVU” (a pilot’s term for blissful weather – “Ceilings And Visibility Unlimited”.) Everything‘s hunky-dory.
By way of proof that all is bliss, I offer this summery of the weeks’ weather news.
On Monday, Montana closed a 50-mile stretch of Interstate 90 because the flooding was so severe that it left several thousand Lodge Grass residents cut off from the rest of the state. Governor Schweitzer declared a statewide emergency as massive areas in southeaster Montana went underwater.
On Sunday an F4 tornado with sustained winds of 198 miles per hour ripped through Missouri and leveled major parts of Joplin, injuring at least 500 and killing 116 people. Experts trace the cause to the surface water in the Gulf of Mexico that is 2 degrees warmer than normal.
The Navy announced that they are planning to police expanding world seas that will cover about a fifth more of the earth, the result of melting ice in the Arctic.
Flooding from melting winter ice in Siberia is causing profound changes. Winters that used to reach 50C are a comparatively mild 30C which is causing permafrost to melt. The nomadic people of the tundra’s are having to buy refrigerators in a land where the permafrost previously kept meat cold during the winter.
That mecca of European winter sports, The Swiss Alps, is threatened by less snow and more melting ice. The temperature increase is such that scientists predict the Alps will split into two sections.
Mayor Daily and now Mayor Emanuel are proceeding with plans to deal with a new climate in the windy city. Chicago will be more like the deep south. The NY Times reported that in the twenty century, Chicago averaged fewer than 15 days over 90 degrees, but by the end of this century it will have as many as 72 days. Heat-related deaths will reach 1,200 a year. Weather extremes — freezes and fast thaws — will create billions of dollars’ worth of damage to building facades, bridges and roads.
Russia, where severe drought and heat cut into that nation’s wheat production last year, has this week reported 421 wildfires in a 24 hour period covering a 450 square mile area. The fires were mainly confined to remote parts of Siberia and the Urals, but the area on fire is twice the size of that for the same period last year.
In related news, Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, analyzed the campaign statements of the more than 100 new GOP members of Congress, and found 50% of them to be climate change skeptics.
Congresses’ new zero based budget trend is healthy, though sacred cows limit the options. Military spending won’t be touched since the folks we put in congress are of the “it’s-always-been-done-that-way” mindset. Of course the biggest reason for budgetary untouchables is that lobbyists pay leaders to champion the status quo.
They pay them to obey, not to be visionaries and they get what they pay for. That will be even clearer when you watch the congressional horse trading that’s going on. You can’t miss the single biggest weakness in our democracy: our shortsightedness.
Three fast examples:
Even the flat-earthers who don’t believe in science have to notice that local weather patterns point to something meteorologically awry. The last decade, our warmest in recorded history, produced exaggerated weather patterns with more intense rains, drought, hurricanes, and tornadoes. The bad weather is hitting harder and lasting longer.
Ask North Carolinians about the more than 60 tornadoes that hit this week. (NC used to average 19 a year.) Globally, ask the Russians about their terrible drought or the Pakistanis about their floods.
The congressional response to this is to cut the EPA’s budget by a third, degrading our carbon emissions enforcement capability. Is anybody thinking how much it costs to rebuild those towns in North Carolina, or the St. Louis Airport or the city of New Orleans, and the list gets longer daily? Since we have to pay for weather damage, why not pay up front, cut carbon and do our part to reduce the weather chaos?
A second example of the fog on congressional eye-glasses relates to the BP disaster. Little of significance has changed by way of tighter rig safety standards since the spill. (Do you think there is any connection between legislative inaction and the fact that Exxon will announce 10 Billion dollar record profits this week, even as gas streaks past $4 a gallon?) Sure, we achieve modest enforcement savings by sitting on our thumbs, but we will pay a multiple of what we save when we have to clean up the next major coastal spill. And be sure that there will be one.
One more example of our myopia. The current budget negotiations will divert dollars from America’s investment in renewable energies, better rail transportation, a more efficient electric grid and the myriad of other options that cut carbon emissions or wean us off of foreign oil. Would a smart businessman really do this? Is it clever commerce to cede the renewables technology race to China, India, and Germany in the name of short term budget restraint?
The biggest problem isn’t the budget. It’s the people who to spend it. They are supposed to be visionaries, but they’re more like the god Apollo chose as his prophet. The Greek god Tiresias, it turns out, was blind.
Grain production is falling even as population growth is upping the demand for grain. The global population needs a growth of 3.5% in wheat production and 6% for corn production in 2011 just to keep current with present demand. An obvious result of the drop in grain production? Food prices are escalating.
The issue is further impacted when grains are diverted to produce biofuels. Currently about 7% of corn and seed oil go for biofuel production, and surely less dependence on foreign petroleum is essential. But at the same time shifting 7% of the corn supply for fuel production adds to grain shortages even as it boosts food prices. Grain for fuel is a win-win but also a lose-lose solution.
In 1798 Thomas Malthus warned in his famous An Essay on the Principle of Populationthat population growth might outpace the global food supply.
I wonder what the old boy would say if he’d known of climate change.
(Why pro-green folks will have their cake and eat it too.)
With the initial phases of the new environmental regulations set to kick in, the flat-earthers are lining up to do battle. The plan is to emasculate the EPA with budget cuts that make enforcement increasingly difficult. Add to that the planned legal challenges by some states that will argue that the Feds and the Courts have no constitutional right to interfere with business…unless it’s to wave a legislative Pinocchio wand and turn a business into a real live person a la Citizens United.
Green advocates will have their hands full in 2011 when Michigan Republican Representative Fred Upton sits to chair the House Energy Committee. The former believer in climate change underwent a conversion after getting a few checks from the petroleum industry. That plus Speaker Boenher’s implied threat of the loss of his committee chairmanship. After that, Upton became a flat earther as fast as you can say “winds gusts to 60.”
To be fair, Upton’s recent conversion to the flat-earther world view relies on his belief that tougher emissions regulations are also tough on the economy–the House’s first priority. But others disagree. This week Massachusetts announced a plan to curb heat-trapping gases emitted by homes, business and cars so that in ten years they will be 25% below 1990 levels. What’ll that do to the state’s recovering economy? Only good according to Ian Bowels, the State’s Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Bowles says his studies show that emissions cuts will products a net gain in statewide jobs. Bowles further argues that, “People who have studied this find you can get your first 20-30 percent of greenhouse-gas cuts without making significant economic trade-offs.”
Consider Bowle’s comments in light of our recent blog on how vital the growing recycling industry is to the Commonwealth State and a light will go on. Going green has actually supported that state’s economy and it has grown jobs.
It means we can have our cake and eat it too. Not to mention save our bacon.
And if you think this is photoshop science fiction, think again. This week the My Green Mind blog reports the Arctic Sea has melted so dramatically in the last four summers, that researchers say the region will be ice free in September of 2030. Earth will look like our picture, because according to the AFP and the LA Times, we are losing arctic ice coverage at the rate of 11% annually.
Arctic ice coverage has fallen below 1.93 million square miles and occurrences of a similar rate of shrinking have all happened in the past four years, according to a report from the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Simply put, they report more ice is melting in spring and summer and less is forming in the winter. The ice region is warming quickly, impacting everything from polar animal life to world weather patterns. In 2008, the loss of sea ice turned the polar bear into the first federally designated endangered species, officially a victim of climate change.
But the long term effects of the loss of our Earth’s “refrigerator” extend beyond polar animal life. For example, mid planet regions that count on snowfall for their water supply and for tourism will have to cope with the declining snow fall.
NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) similarly reported the Arctic ice coverage was 22% below the average taken from the period of 1979 to year 2000. The minimum this year was 25% below a 31-year average (1979-2010), a deficit of 625,000 square miles.
Of added concern following rising sea levels is what will happen when mother nature “photoshops” portions of the globe’s land masses, turning them blue too. At least those who deny climate change will have plenty of water for their tea bags.
Is it even possible to stem the tide of global warming? What hardware would accomplish a roll back in global carbon dioxide emissions, say to cut them in half by 2050?
According to Copenhagen based green author Bjorn Lomborg, the good news is that a 50% emissions reduction is doable. We simply need to build a mere:
30 new nuclear plans
400 biomass power plants
two massive-sized hydrocarbon facilities
42 coal and gas power plans with a better carbon-capture technology
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the list above is not what we need to build by 2050. It’s what we’d have to build each year until 2050. The global price tag to do that is $5 trillion a year, says Bjorn Lomborg. An amount that’s as likely to get spent as the US congress is to join hands and sing Kumbaya.
So we’re supposed to throw up our hands and wait for the tidal waves? Nope, says Lomborg. The solution is a huge, federally subsidized R&D investment in solid-state physics and electrics engineering. Its aim is to make solar power cost-beneficial for the common electricity user. Said in other words, presently solar, wind and other green energies represent a paltry 0.6 percent of global energy consumption. Lomborg argues that R&D investment could lower the cost of solar panels, boost their efficiency and make solar affordable for the millions, dramatically raising that percentage.
Lomborg cites the example of mainframe computers, unaffordable for the common man in the nineteen-seventies, now ubiquitous because R&D dramatically reduced P.C. costs and they became are as common as toasters. Make solar electricity similarly cheaper, less expensive than fossil fuel electricity, and the market forces will accomplish our clean energy goals. Makes cents to me.
Bjorn Lomborg is the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool it and is one of both Esquire and Time Magazines’ most influential people of the twenty-first century.
Our comments on an article in the Providence Journal, July 29, 2010
Those who dispute climate change may want to plan their next vacation on beautiful New Moore Island, a tiny paradise in the Bay of Bengal in the Sunderbans. If you go, don’t worry about the dispute that’s been raging for years over the sovereignty of the island, claimed both India and by Bangladesh as their own.
Don’t worry because the island has disappeared. Completely. It’s gone. Vanished.
Scientists confirm the 3 by 3.5 kilometer island has fallen victim to the world’s rising water levels, a result of the climate change some insist isn’t happening. It took global warming to end the contention between the two nations. Now you see it. Now you don’t.
Incidentally New Moore Island isn’t alone. The AP reports that at least five other island in the region are also threatened by the rising waters. Some scientists predict that by 2050, 20 million people will be displaced by rising sea levels. The nearby island of Lohachara was submerged in 1996, forcing its inhabitants to move to the mainland in Ghoramara.
Scientists at the School of Oceanographic Studies in Jadavpur point to an alarming increase in the rate of sea level rise over the past decade in the Bay of Bengal. Until 2000, sea levels rose at a rate of about 3 millimeters annually. For the past decade, that rate has increased to 5 millimeters.
The My Green Mind blog, by the way, is written in the US in Rhode Island where few if any are questioning the reality of either rising waters or climate change these days. The rain fall total for March in Rhode Island was 15.39 inches, unprecedented in 100 years of weather history according to the National Weather Season.
Comments by My Green Mind’s I Michael Grossman. We’d love to have your thoughts on this issue.