Category Archives: Science

Confessions of a Global Warming Alarmist

Last week, I was sobered to read a note of sincere concern from a close friend who – like me – belongs to the American evangelical movement. In reference to my increasingly shrill warnings about the consequences of climate inaction, this person wrote, in effect: “The only note you can sound right now is the Chicken Little note.”

Chicken Little. The sky is falling. Global warming alarmist.

Well, let’s be thankful for all God’s blessings, however they might sometimes seem to sting: It is rare to find a friend who loves you enough to tell you the truth as he or she sees it. But if your friends don’t share your sense of alarm, it’s also important to recognize this truth: Like my honest friend, they probably believe you’re a little nuts. You’re a climate fundamentalist. Of course, they are kind enough to tolerate you – as one would with a conspiracy theorist or a grouchy old uncle. But you’re still an alarmist.

As you alone know, they don’t recognize the agony you’ve gone through not to yield to the hopelessness of the unfolding data. This is the tortured debate among climate communication experts: How do you speak the scientific truth without causing everyone to simply give up and wait for the end to come? You see it in virtually all climate reports. Regardless of the factual content, the final narrative will always be the same: We can still solve this! The time to act is now!

What’s the point of reporting the factual implications if they push us over the brink into tomorrow-we-die fatalism? So you try to soften the implications of your words. And yet, your witness seems impossibly dour to people who don’t spend their time digesting the implications of our abuse of the creation, as you do. Your friends and your family think you’re Chicken Little.

So, with my friend’s letter in hand, I read with renewed interest an article in last week’s New Yorker magazine by Pulitzer-Prize winner Elizabeth Kolbert, dealing with the technical matter of “carbon dioxide removal” or “negative emissions” – the mostly theoretical idea of sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing it safely forever. (Note: This isn’t the same as carbon capture and sequestration [CCS], which pulls the carbon out of smokestacks. This is full-bore geo-engineering, where vast infrastructure parses through the entire atmosphere to hunt down and trap excess carbon, and store it away forever out of reach of the earth’s climate systems.) This is truly radical stuff.

Reading about “negative emissions,” my interest was piqued, not by the technology, cost or logistical hurdles, but by the unspoken hopelessness of the facts that served as the backdrop for the discussion. We are now discussing “negative emissions,” not because it’s a terrific – or even feasible – idea, but because we can’t imagine a survivable world without this technology. Consider with me a few of the facts presented by Kolbert:

“Catastrophe,” while once cited in hyperbole, now occupies a prominent place in the scientific lexicon. Kolbert recounts the facts: “This past April, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record four hundred and ten parts per million. The amount of CO2 in the air now is probably greater than it’s been at any time since the mid-Pliocene, three and a half million years ago, when there was a lot less ice at the poles and sea levels were sixty feet higher. This year’s record will be surpassed next year, and next year’s the year after that. Even if every country fulfills the pledges made in the Paris climate accord—and the United States has said that it doesn’t intend to—carbon dioxide could soon reach levels that, it’s widely agreed, will lead to catastrophe, assuming it hasn’t already done so.

“As the world warmed, it started to change, first gradually and then suddenly. By now, the globe is at least one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it was [at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution], and the consequences are becoming ever more apparent. Heat waves are hotter, rainstorms more intense, and droughts drier. The wildfire season is growing longer, and fires, like the ones that recently ravaged Northern California, more numerous. Sea levels are rising, and the rate of rise is accelerating.”

In light of what we have already done, there is nothing we can do to stop the earth from warming at least to levels targeted as dangerous by every country under the Paris Acord: “Meanwhile, still more warming is locked in. There’s so much inertia in the climate system, which is as vast as the earth itself, that the globe has yet to fully adjust to the hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide that have been added to the atmosphere in the past few decades. It’s been calculated that to equilibrate to current CO2 levels the planet still needs to warm by half a degree [in addition to one degree already in the books]. And every ten days another billion tons of carbon dioxide are released. Last month, the World Meteorological Organization announced that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere jumped by a record amount in 2016.”

Few voices are telling us how radical are the personal and societal changes needed to salvage a world whose climate can support its species, including humanity: “When the I.P.C.C. went looking for ways to hold the temperature increase under two degrees Celsius, it found the math punishing. Global emissions would have to fall rapidly and dramatically—pretty much down to zero by the middle of this century. (This would entail, among other things, replacing most of the world’s power plants, revamping its agricultural systems, and eliminating gasoline-powered vehicles, all within the next few decades.) Alternatively, humanity could, in effect, go into hock. It could allow CO2 levels temporarily to exceed the two-degree threshold—a situation that’s become known as ‘overshoot’—and then, via negative emissions, pull the excess CO2 out of the air.”

The odds against us are more daunting than climate communication experts will ever advise us to admit: “The I.P.C.C. considered more than a thousand possible scenarios. Of these, only a hundred and sixteen limit warming to below two degrees, and of these a hundred and eight involve negative emissions. In many below-two-degree scenarios, the quantity of negative emissions called for reaches the same order of magnitude as the ‘positive’ emissions being produced today.”

Please, my friends, let that sink in. More than one thousand scientific models have been run. Only sixteen conclude that humanity can keep global warming to two degrees Celsius. Of those sixteen, only eight reach that conclusion without reliance on massive, arguably-fictional geo-engineering technologies that actually suck up and hide the pollution that we are emitting today. And, even those assume immediate Herculean efforts at every national and sub-national level – efforts that we are still refusing to adopt as a country, and perhaps as a world.

For me, this dismal narrative explains, to a considerable degree, the renewed interest in biblical lamentation among young people of faith. The prophets and psalmists saw the Babylonian exile coming; others wept in captivity as they remembered their homeland; they raised their complaint to God with bitter tears. They maintained profound hope rooted in God’s faithfulness; but sunny, can-do optimism is nowhere to be found.

And today, you share much with those prophets and psalmists. You have tasted God’s grace in creation and redemption; you have placed your hope in his love. Yet you also know that God’s love is not a magical antidote to suffering in this world, whether personal or societal. Genocide, starvation, famine, pandemic and flood afflict all of mankind, in virtually every age, regardless of faith commitments.

And yet, you pray “thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” And in this age, that might make you an alarmist, like me. We must resist the arrogance of dogmatic certainty. But some things are terrifyingly clear. Our walk of faith today is to work and to speak for those who cannot speak. And finally, to pray for faith to believe that this world’s Maker will ultimately be just, despite the calamity we are bringing upon his beloved planet.

 

Read Elizabeth Kolbert’s article here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/11/20/can-carbon-dioxide-removal-save-the-world

Connections: Anti-Refugee Furor and Censored Science

 

Two items in today’s news are connected in ways you may not have considered.

  • First, the voters of France chose their next President: Emmanuel Macron, a centrist newcomer to politics, over neo-Fascist Marine Le Pen, by a wide margin. Europe, France and global markets breathed a deep sigh of relief. Despite admiration on the part of both Putin’s Kremlin and Trump’s White House, Le Pen and her Front National were rejected by two thirds of French voters. And while the champagne is undoubtedly still flowing in Parisian cafes, one ominous fact remains: A right-wing party widely associated with racism, white nationalism, Holocaust denial and anti-refugee frenzy garnered the votes of one in three French men and women.
  • Second, in Washington, the Trump regime took steps to muzzle climate research at the EPA, firing two scientists from its science advisory board in the late after-hours on Friday, and pushing for an 84 percent cut in funding for the board overall. The move is widely understood to be part of a broad effort to muzzle science within the EPA, and to unleash the power of the fossil-fuel industry.

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt leading the charge to suppress climate science at the Agency

Climate science suppression among Washington’s new rulers. Refugee hysteria in a large segment of the French electorate. So what’s the connection? Maybe it’s obvious to you. Maybe not.

Our Western democracies have proven to be much less resilient to systemic shocks than we might have believed. Sure, there were some nasty events in Europe during the last century. There were Nazis, and Fascists, and Bolsheviks and such. But who can imagine our world slipping back into that abyss? It would take massive tectonic shifts for us to return to those dark days, no? Surely, we’ve progressed way beyond such risks, right?

But in 2006, something happened that threatened to undo our civil democratic order. It must have seemed a distant grief to Western democracies in those days: An epic drought hit the Middle East. And it overstayed its welcome in Syria, Turkey and Iraq for four long years. In Syria, the drought forced hundreds of thousands of farmers to abandon their fields and migrate to urban centers, exacerbating sectarian conflicts long held in check by Bashar al-Assad’s repressive regime. The resulting civil war has so far displaced four million desperate refugees, roughly half of them now crowding Europe’s displacement camps and resettlement communities. A couple of million refugees.

Now, consider the result of this wave of migrants:

  • Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. Granted, the arguments for Brexit were varied, but fear of immigrants dominated to the debate. No one believes that the Brits would have cast off the European bow lines if not for the wave of refugees from the Middle East.
  • And Hungary: Right-wing nationalists now run the country.
  • And in Poland, where the right-wing authoritarian regime has clamped down on public protest and intimidated the judiciary.
  • And in Austria, where anti-immigrant nationalists recently came within a whisker of winning the election.
  • And even in progressive Netherlands, the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders finished a strong second in the latest election.
  • And here across the pond, there’s the United States, where the new president took power in a campaign launched on fear of Mexican criminals and “rapists.”

And finally, yesterday in France, Marine Le Pen and her anti-immigrant Front National garnered the votes of one in three voters. Sure, centrist Macron came away with the win; but the neo-Fascists made the most of the social disruption caused by the influx of foreigners.

A few million refugees, and the Western democracies are thrown into chaos.

And that brings us to the second piece of news: Trump’s EPA is silencing its climate scientists, most recently firing two of its top science advisors, and planning to cut funding for its science advisory board by a draconian 84%. Evidently, they plan on having almost no one remaining there to speak for science.

The connection is still a bit cloudy? Here’s the point: Mass human migration tends to have catastrophic effects on otherwise stable societies. The exodus from Syria is widely recognized as an event driven by a vanishingly rare drought, made much more extreme by the climatic warming afflicting the region. The Syrian Civil War is often placed alongside Darfur as one of the first climate wars of this age.

But it’s not remotely the last. Today’s wave of Syrian refugees is now projected to look like a rounding error in the coming wave of human migration that awaits the world during the next generation. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world will have to absorb between 250 million and one billion “climate change refugees” over the next 50 years. Maybe one hundred times more than we have seen in Syria. Maybe three hundred times more. Fleeing drought, famine, resource conflicts, sea-level rise and flooding made worse by climate change.

How will we respond to such an enormous crisis? Well, a wise society could begin with Option One: build infrastructure, establish resettlement programs, educate the public and foster dialogue with affected communities. Or it could go with Option Two: pour its resources into bombs, bullets, border guards and walls. But our choice will be informed at least in part by the extent that we accept our responsibility for the conditions driving the mass migration. And that’s where the science is so troubling. Scientists know that it’s greenhouse gases principally driving this climatic chaos. And we’re among the world’s worst greenhouse gas gluttons.

The Trump regime has bet the ranch on Option Two. Billions more for the world’s largest military and border walls, while silencing the science that exposes the consequences of our carbon binge.

So you knew it, of course. The rise of anti-refugee movements in the West goes hand-in-glove with the efforts to suppress the science explaining one of the principal underlying causes of mass human migration. This, of course, will become impossible in the years ahead, when it will be largely too late to change course.

We still have time, today, however, to respond. Will we listen to the scientists, and our own better angels, or will we fire them and charge headlong into the abyss?

Please, dear friends, raise your voices to be sure that we listen to wisdom.

While Washington Implodes, Nature Keeps Obeying Its Laws

The daily barrage of recklessness coming out of the nation’s capitol has us riveted. Mass deportation! Muzzle the scientists! To hell with the refugees! Build more nukes! Repay the Kremlin! Un-insure the poor! Terminate the EPA! Trample on native rights! Bring back the bathroom bills!

It’s hard to look the other way.

But the other way is where we must look. Because nature doesn’t care about the latest midnight Tweet or executive order. After back-to-back-to-back record hot years, the creation is groaning again. The Arctic melt is now happening so fast that it’s hard to predict the climate effects in store for us and our children.

So take a look. It’s not Tweeting, or speechifying, or giving TV interviews. IT’S MELTING.

Source: http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/charctic-interactive-sea-ice-graph/

 

 

Trump’s Cabinet and Invincible “Doubt”

I’ve been doing this for a long time now. Ten years ago, it was clear enough that human pollution was jeopardizing a livable future for my children. Clear enough to lead me to commit before God that I would dedicate what remained of my life to prevent or mitigate tragedy.

There was no honest debate about the facts at the time. The earth was warming. From a scientific perspective, the pace of warming was terrifying. The graph was, in fact, a “hockey stick.” Worse yet, we were pouring more and more of the gases that cause the heating into the atmosphere. For centuries, the atmospheric chemistry had been well understood. More of these gases would cause more warming. And with thicker and thicker blankets of earth-warming gases every year, we weren’t just committing the earth to a continuation of last year’s warming, melting and disruption, we were accelerating the pace.

CO2 concentrations off the charts.      Source: NASA

Then my grandchildren began to come along, adding new urgency to my task. We began to see new record after new record: a hotter world, year after year; faster polar ice melting; accelerated rise in sea levels; more and more extreme weather events; massive die-offs of marine ecosystems; mass human migration from regions beset by epic droughts; a spike in billion-dollar storm events.

It became clearer than ever that I’d chosen the right fight.

But always, always, there were opponents. And they weren’t a few scattered voices. They were everywhere. Certainly, dominating the Republican narrative. But also, the evangelical movement. You’re an alarmist. You’re a tax-happy liberal. This is a big hoax. How else can scientists get rich? Relax, God is in control.

Pruitt, Tillerson and Perry.         Source: Common Dreams

When I started, the claim was that global warming simply wasn’t happening. It was “the world’s biggest hoax.” Scientists were “cooking the books.” When outright rejection of temperature records became completely untenable, then those same records were selectively cited to argue for the “warming pause.”  Yes, it once was warming, but that’s over now.

Of course, that’s now impossible to argue, given three straight years of off-the-charts global heat and polar melting. So the “doubters” changed their tactic. Sure, it’s warming, they said. But no one knows why. Things go up; things go down. Change is inevitable. No one knows why for sure.

But sooner or later, the scientific community would be heard. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, NASA and NOAA all made it clear, as did every major scientific society in the world: greenhouse gases from fossil fuels are the main contributors to climatic disruptions we’re seeing all over the globe.

For a time, the “doubters” muddled by, insisting that they were not scientists, and couldn’t be expected to answer basic questions on the topic. But this only lasted for a couple of years, till it began to dawn on people that they were also not oncologists, but still got treated for cancer when diagnosed.

And that brings us to today’s new talking points being rolled out by the Trump transition team. Scott Pruitt for EPA, Rick Perry for Energy, Rex Tillerson for State: they’re all reading from the same script:

Sure, climate change is real. Sure, greenhouse gases are a big part of the problem. BUT, we don’t know how much, or what the future will hold. We don’t know for sure the best way to fix the problem. So, we need to keep debating this.

Let’s keep talking, because no one is positively certain what the future will hold.

What’s the common thread in all these arguments over the years? For an economy addicted to fossil fuels, we’ve got wonderful news: We don’t need to do anything. We can stop the global efforts at climate action, while we talk. We can stop the transition to a clean electric grid, while we talk. We can stop helping flooding and drought-stricken countries, while we talk.

And we can talk for a long, long time.

Please, dear friends: Don’t let them talk while our Father’s world – and our children’s only home – flirts with tipping points to runaway heating. What to do? Start by joining Climate Caretakers, and begin to learn, pray and act to protect the creation.

Plant Hardiness Zones Racing Toward the Poles

“Sweetheart, what hardiness zone are we in?” It’s getting late in the fall season, and Barbara is reading up on whether or not to bring her thyme plants indoors.

What plant hardiness zone are we in?

What hardiness zone are we in?

Like all growers, we care about plant hardiness zones. They guide us with regard to planting times and suitable plant varieties. They tell nurseries when to ship saplings to us, and when we ought to plant them. Just now, they’re going to settle for Barbara whether or not to dig up her thyme. But at the moment, I somehow can’t remember.

“I think we’re in seven. Or maybe six. Let me check.”

There are eight plant hardiness zones in the United States, as determined by the USDA. Zone 3 is a thin strip up along the Canadian border. Only the hardiest plants will survive the winter up there. Zone 10 is basically South Florida, where winter is always balmy.

It turns out I had a good reason for my confusion about our zone at Good Hand Farm. When we started farming here, almost all of New Jersey was Zone 6. Fifteen years later, it’s basically all Zone 7. The plant hardiness zone has moved about 200 miles north in sixteen years. That’s about twelve miles per year, around here.

But it’s happening just about everywhere. In 1990, virtually all of Kentucky was Zone 6. By 2006, the whole state was zone 7. In the Upper Midwest, the border between Zones 4 and 5 ran through Sioux City, Iowa. Now it runs through Minneapolis, more than 200 miles north. Virtually every state has experienced one zone change in less than twenty years. At this pace, in one century, New Jersey would be about four hardiness zones hotter, like Miami, or maybe South Texas.

changes15

Notice the black zone (Zone 3): Almost all gone since 1990.

Repeat that: New Jersey would be like South Texas in one century.

So, how do you grow trees when you’re changing the climate this rapidly? Trees can live for hundreds of years. Two sugar maples out our front door are nearly two centuries old. What happens to them now, as every couple decades ushers in a whole new climatic zone? And what happens to our forests, brimming with cold-weather species, but now subject to increasing heat every decade?

We are performing a massive, uncontrolled experiment upon ourselves, and upon all the creatures who share our communities. When are we going to grasp how reckless it is to radically alter climate conditions within a single human generation?

Climate change is real. It’s high time our politicians own up to the fact, and begin to work on solutions. Why not contact your Congressional representatives, and ask them where they stand? Otherwise, you might have New Jersey feeling like South Texas or Miami. And if so, those places would feel like something straight out of your worst nightmares.

The time to do something is now. This world belongs to God, and we’ll surely have to account to him for what we’ve done to it — or for our silence while others did so.

Contact your Congressional Representatives.

NEWSFLASH: Earth Just Had a Not-Record-Hot Month!

It had to happen sooner or later. After sixteen consecutive months of record monthly global heat since record-keeping began, September 2016 fell short of the prior September’s heat by a scant 0.04 degrees Celsius, making it only the second hottest September in the last 137 years.

That is, if you believe the National Oceanic & Aeronautic Administration (NOAA). If you prefer NASA’s analysis, the record heat continues, with this September edging out last September’s record heat by a razor thin margin.

NASA's global temperature has been this color for many, many months

NASA’s global temperature map has been this color for many, many months

Of course, we still run into people who remind us that temperatures go up, and they also go down. So with all these record hot months recently, we looked for the most recent record low month, and found it! It was February 1929, eight months before the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression.

Facts are stubborn things. It’s been a long time since the earth has been cool, and the string of record hot global temperatures is becoming downright terrifying. The politicians who control Congress may wish they could hide it, but they simply can’t cling to “I’m-not-sure” any longer, without condemning our children to a dismal future.

My own congressman (Scott Garrett, Republican NJ-5th) is one of these climate-science deniers. I beg him, as I hope you will beg yours: It’s not too late yet. God’s entire creation is in peril from our reckless carbon binge. You may hate the solutions that have been proposed to date. Fine. Propose your own. But we’re not the only ones who have children. When we are dead, and answerable to the Lord of Creation, all of our kids — yours included — will inherit whatever world we have left them.

Isn’t it time we decided to do something to spare them from the chaos we are leaving behind?

The Debate: Breaking the Silence on Climate Change

When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump squared off Monday night before 100 million viewers, they covered a lot of important ground – including their visions of prosperity, security, and the direction of our country.

Outside the debate venue, a group of students and young people from Young Evangelicals for Climate Action joined hands to pray and demand that the moderator and candidates address the threat of  manmade climate change to humans and God’s creation. Observing the debate from home, I’d have to say that their prayers were answered, if only just as a start.

Young Evangelicals for Climate Action praying outside the debate venue

Young Evangelicals for Climate Action demand that candidates present climate change plans at Hofstra Univ.

Yes, Clinton did stake her flag on making the U.S. “the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.” She even got specific: “We can deploy a half a billion more solar panels. We can have enough clean energy to power every home. We can build a new modern electric grid. That’s a lot of jobs. That’s a lot of new economic activity.”

And she challenged Trump on his longstanding climate denialism: “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.”

Of course, Trump denied the charge: “I did not — I do not say that. I do not say that.” The mid-sentence change in verb tenses (“do” not “did”) provided a bit of a fig leaf for the billionaire. As almost everyone knows, Trump tweeted the “Chinese climate hoax” idea in 2012. In fact, he has been recorded on video or in his tweets eleven times calling global warming a hoax, as recently as July 26, 2016.

So, “I did not” clearly doesn’t fly. But “I do not” is one of those imponderables: As-I-stand-on-this-stage, I do not? Well, okay then. We’ll wait for tomorrow.

Well, in fact, tomorrow arrived. The morning after the debate, Trump’s campaign manager said that the candidate has traded the “climate hoax” narrative for new story: “He believes that global warming is naturally occurring,” said Kellyanne Conway.

Naturally occurring. Well that’s something. In the last month, Mr. Trump has learned a lot of new things. He’s discovered that there is no hoax going on, despite four years of being certain that the opposite was true. But even more remarkable, he’s learned that global warming is happening due to natural causes, not manmade carbon emissions.

Natural causes? So, where he did he do his research on this? We decided to look:

  • Maybe the U.S. National Academy of Science? We checked, but no luck there: “Scientists know that recent climate change is largely caused by human activities,” they write in a landmark study, “from an understanding of basic physics, comparing observations with models, and fingerprinting the detailed patterns of climate change caused by different human and natural influences.”
  • Okay, how about the world’s largest scientific society – the American Association for the Advancement of Science? Hmm, strike two. Their website banner trumpets the conclusion before you even get to the details: “Based on the evidence, about 97% of climate scientists agree that human-caused climate change is happening.” We kept looking.
  • How about the peer-reviewed science journals, like Science or Nature? More bad news. They virtually all agree that “climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
  • Well, there must be someone. How about any American or international association of sciences from any discipline whatsoever? We checked. Again, no dice. Just this summer, 31 scientific societies representing millions of geologists, chemists, biologists, agronomists, mathematicians and researchers from many other specialties wrote to Congress to inform our leaders that “greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver” behind climate change, and warned of “broad negative impacts on society, including the global economy, natural resources, and human health.”

We’re not giving up, and will let you know when we find where Trump got his new scientific information, or whatever else he may have found instead.

In our view, this debate was not wasted. People are now talking. Twitter is abuzz with references to climate denial. Perhaps voters may see their choice this year as a choice for the future of the world’s ecosystems. That would be redemptive, we think.

Young Evangelicals, thank you for your prayers and your demand for open discourse. Whatever our political leanings might be, we now have a fuller idea of where our country – and our world – might go regarding the climate crisis in the next four years. Clinton promises to lead a transition to a clean power economy. Trump promises to stop the transition – stop the Clean Power Plan, the global Climate Accord struck in Paris, and to turn back the clock on the burning of coal to where it was when our grandparents were young.

We have a choice. And the faithful witness of Young Evangelicals has helped us to see it more clearly.