I Told You Not to Worry About the Climate

“This is the Captain speaking. First, let me make this absolutely clear: there is no reason to worry.”

On a mid-morning in May, the telephone rang in the modest home of the mayor of Tangier, a village of 470 people on tiny Tangier Island, 12 miles off the coast of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay. It was the president of the United States calling. If you lived there, you would not know which to think more odd; that the president was calling James “Ooker” Eskridge, or that Ooker was in his house to take the call, on a fair-weather weekday, and not on the water crabbing (he had been warned the call was coming).

If you live anywhere else on the planet Earth, you will be hard put to decide which part of the ensuing conversation was the most strange. Continue reading

Turns Out We Won’t Always Have Paris

In the movie Casablanca, Rick and Ilsa had a great time in Paris, then the world descended into war. In real l;fe, we really aren’t going to have any reason to remember Paris.

Politicians around the world have perfected the art of appearing to do something about a problem, when actually doing something about it would harm the financial interests of their industrial sponsors. This was never better illustrated than by the Paris Climate Accord.

If anyone is paying attention to words any more, please note that the thing is called an “accord,” or “agreement,” not a treaty —  because treaties are binding, and cannot be violated without consequences. An “accord,” on the other hand, is a statement of a wish, as in “wouldn’t it be nice if we had world peace?” A treaty says, “If you attack my friend I will beat you to a bloody pulp,” whereas an accord says, “I really wish you wouldn’t speak harshly to my friend.”

If anyone is paying attention to science (or simply arithmetic) any more, please note that the primary goal of this accord is to limit global warming caused by industrial pollution to two degrees Celsius. So far, since the Industrial Revolution began we have raised the world’s temperature by almost one degree (.8 degree Celsius), so we’re already halfway there, with the rate of warming steadily increasing. Moreover, the warming effects of greenhouse gases have a 40-year cycle, so whatever we do to reduce them now will not have any effect on temperatures until about 2060. There is no possibility that warming will be limited to two degrees by any actions taken now, if in fact anyone ever does take any significant action.  Continue reading

Let’s Watch 50 Minutes

In a whole year of covering climate change, the TV networks, all of them combined, didn’t even get to 60 minutes.

On their evening and Sunday news programs during 2016, the four major American television networks devoted 50 minutes of their airtime to covering climate change. No, that’s not 50 minutes a week, or each, it’s all of them combined for the whole year. 50 minutes (according to a study by Media Matters). CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox (which is cable, and does not have an evening newscast but is prominent among Sunday news shows), all of them, all year, produced enough content about climate change to fill a single edition of 60 Minutes.

This was in a year that was, worldwide, the hottest year on record and the third year in a row to set that record; a year that set records in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, sea level, shrinkage of glaciers and sea ice in the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica; that saw wildfires, tornadoes, floods, storms and droughts of unprecedented numbers and severity; and in which 120 nations gathered in Paris to actually start to think about planning to do something about all this. But 50 minutes was all it took to tell the tales. And that was a decline of 66% from the meager amount of time they spent on the subject in 2015. Continue reading

American Cities Fight for Their Lives — Alone

The city of Homer, Alaska, achingly beautiful, is fighting for its life against a relentless enemy. Like several other American cities, it is losing its war. The government in Washington insists it’s not happening.

This American city of 5,000 people is under siege by an implacable enemy. Its food supply has been poisoned, its water supply affected, its main industry crippled, it loses big chunks of its territory every month or so, and several times the enemy has almost severed its only road out. The city has committed all its resources to the fight and regularly pleads with the state government for help, but the state is so besieged by other towns and cities, also under attack, that there is not enough to go around. Appeals to the national government are pointless because in the view of the national government, the enemy does not exist. Continue reading

The Luxury Cruise to the End of the World

crystal serenity

This is how you watch the end of the world — aboard the Crystal Serenity, marinating in luxury.

Sorry, you missed it. But if you had known about it — I don’t know why you didn’t get the memo — and if you had $120,000 lying around ($22,000 for steerage) you could have joined 1,000-plus passengers served by 700 crew on the first luxury cruise from Seward, Alaska to New York City via the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean. Once solid ice, the Northwest Passage became navigable in theory in 2007 because of climate change.

According to the brochure, the good ship Crystal Serenity is “an abomination—a massive, diesel-burning, waste-dumping, ice-destroying, golf-ball-smacking middle finger to what remains of the planet, courtesy of precisely 1,089 of its richest and most destructive inhabitants. And it’s all made possible by runaway climate change, the existential global crisis that these same people and their ilk have disproportionately helped to create.”

Continue reading

US Climate Migrations About to Begin

Too close for comfort: rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico are turning the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, LA, into the first U.S. climate refugees. (Photo by Karen Apricot/Flickr)

Too close for comfort: rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico are turning the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, LA, into the first U.S. climate refugees. (Photo by Karen Apricot/Flickr)

Does the Congress know about this? The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in January approved grants of about a billion dollars to communities in 13 states to help the deal with climate change — a problem that according to a majority of the leaders of Congress, and a majority of the members of the Senate, does not exist. Among those grants was one for $48 million to help move an entire Louisiana community to higher ground as rising seas obliterate its land. This is a first for America. It is hardly the last. Continue reading

The Worst Reporting on Climate Change. Ever. (So Far.)

boiling frog

If the warming is siow, the frog is happy. (Photo by Purple Sloq/Flickr)

In describing our progress toward a well-educated and -informed citizenry, served by a free and fearless press, seeking a smoothly functioning democratic republic, do you believe in devolution, or are you a destructionist? That is, do you think we are rotting away from within, or is God punishing us? It’s probably too late to have that discussion; when you’re in a sinking scow, you can lament the lack of a luxury cruiser only so long, then you have to shut up and swim.

The low water mark (to twist the metaphor) of our society’s deteriorating journalism, its increasingly muddled grasp of scientific discoveries, and its atrophied ability to speak its own native language — not to mention its suffocating narcissism — was expressed in a single news story recently whose pungency and brevity would have been admirable if the perpetrators had intended it. Continue reading

Charades in Paris

sea level rise

“A rising sea today submerged the hall in which COP21 negotiators were debating what to do about sea level rise.” You think that’s fantasy? Take a look at what COP21 is actually, really doing.

Charades: an absurd pretense intended to create a pleasant or respectable appearance. Paris: site of the 2015 conference of COP21 (or, if you insist: Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 21st Session). Yes, it’s the 21st time the participants have gathered to congratulate themselves for finally getting serious about climate change, with the promise that this time they will not only be serious about it, they will actually do something about it.

Of course they haven’t been; and of course they won’t. The only principle to which they have been committed, leaders of the industrialized and developing nations alike, is the first principle of industrialized politics: always appear to be doing something, but never do anything.  To do something about climate change would negatively affect one or more of the Leaders’ industrial patrons on whom most of them depend to stay in office; but a Leader must always appear to be doing something about something lest the starving, choking, drowning peasants rise up and ruin the business plan. Continue reading

Beware the Tides of March

Blue Sky Flooding

US Highway 80, only access to Tybee Island, Georgia, underwater on October 27. It was the worst flood since a Category 2 hurricane in 1935. No rain, no wind, just an implacably rising sea.

When I first published Brace for Impact, six years ago, I did not give climate change its own chapter. I thought it was a slow-moving threat multiplier, that would exacerbate the effects of more immediate damage done by by polluters, industrial agriculture, peak oil and the like. Boy, has that changed. The onslaughts of drought, heat, savage storms and sea level rise have accelerated beyond the expectations of scientists just a few years ago, and as we come around the turn to the home stretch, climate change is neck and neck with the various other existential threats to the industrial age. The finish line, of course, being the place where we are all finished. Continue reading

A Tsunami of Climate Refugees is Drowning Europe

refugees-greek-sea

Can you imagine what it would take for you to take your family on a vessel like this to cross an angry sea to a foreign country, just to stay alive? This boat is bound for a Greek island from North Africa.

One of the most desperate and destructive diasporas in history is rolling out of the parched regions of Africa and the Middle East, over Europe, toward extinction. They are being called refugees from war, but the wars they are fleeing have their origins in the desperation of people who have no food, and they have no food because of the savage droughts being inflicted on their countries by global climate change. Hence, it is perfectly legitimate, and more importantly it is honest, to call them climate refugees.

(Among all 423 current candidates for US President, only Martin O’Malley demonstrated a grasp of this reality when he said that climate change is responsible for the rise of ISIS. He was almost universally ridiculed for saying it, and this tiny, lonely spark of sense fell on wet ground and was instantly extinguished.) Continue reading