Tag Archives: climate change

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

Tobacco Wars, Climate Wars: Who are to Blame?

After more than ten years of legal maneuvering and appeals, tobacco giants R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, Altria and Lorillard finally ran out of options and admitted, in court-mandated newspaper advertisements, what they denied for decades — that they had been addicting and killing millions of people as a core business strategy. Here’s the ad that came in the morning paper.
Irony #1: The Big Tobacco maneuvering actually worked. During the long delay, non-digital news readership has declined sharply. You’re only seeing it because we’re posting it online.

Irony #2: The ad sits opposite a story about today’s equivalent of the Tobacco Wars, climate change and climate denial. The rapid melting of Peru’s glaciers portends the end of survival for Peruvian farming communities watered by Andean glacial streams and rivers. The water supply for these communities and farms is dwindling as the glaciers disappear.

On average, a citizen of Peru emits 1.9 tons of CO2 per year. The global average is higher: 4.9 tons. The average American, however, emits a whopping 16.4 tons — more than triple the world average. And we are the only country in the world that refuses to share in the global effort to stop climate chaos.

Imagine with me: What will your advertisement look like? Will you claim that you at least tried? Try writing it out. Tell yourself the details. Then, maybe, follow the link below to see what else you can do.

Learn more about the melting of Peru’s glaciers: http://nyti.ms/2A70TRD

Learn more about reducing your own carbon emissions: http://bit.ly/2xczf05

I Need Thee Every Hour, Most Gracious Toyota

This has been an excruciating couple of weeks for any of us who keep a prayerful eye on the earth’s ecosystems. Hurricane Harvey, which wreaked billions in damage on Houston and the Gulf Coast, ranked as the worst rainstorm ever to hit North America, more than doubling previous records. Hurricane Irma devastated the Caribbean, clocking in as the hurricane with the longest sustained Cat-5 winds on record. Space images revealed three simultaneous hurricanes in the Atlantic at one time. India, Bangladesh and Nepal lost more than one thousand souls to drowning due to record-strong monsoons. The Pacific Northwest choked under a shroud of haze from massive wildfires.

Satellite images of hurricanes Irma, Jose and Katia

Strange weather happens. But this is not normal. The creation is groaning in ways that prior generations never heard. We look for who’s to blame. Surely there’s someone. Of course, we can rightly blame the Trump administration, as they censor climate science, shackle NASA and NOAA from their leading climate science roles, lease more public lands for coal mining, and thumb their noses at national and global efforts to address climate chaos.

Some blame God, assuring us that heaven is in control, and that our actions as a nation and world are essentially His problem to fix, without any effort on our part.

But any honest assessment must also include us among the culprits: You and me. Our culture is carbon crazy; but in particular, we have gone car crazy. We love our cars. We have a right to our cars! We couldn’t live without our cars! To varying degrees? Sure. But it’s time to address our addiction, and its effect on the world around us.

Cars and travel account for more than a quarter of US greenhouse gas emissions, among the world’s highest. We may bemoan the super-sized American appetite for carbon, but it’s no good trying to solve it while living nearly every aspect of our lives behind the wheel. We simply have to take our addiction seriously.

And it won’t be easy. This became painfully obvious to Barbara and me on the weekend as we traveled from New Jersey to North Carolina for a week of grandchild-care. On the way, we pulled our Prius into a Chick-Fil-A restaurant for a quick sandwich. To our amazement, the restaurant had only six parking spaces – all full – with double lines of cars snaking slowly into an enormous tandem drive-thru complex. No room at Chick-Fil-A for people willing to turn off the engine for lunch.

Double rows of cars at Chick-Fil-A drive-thru

Nearly a decade ago, I committed never to use any drive-thru again, so that was that.

We hurried on. Steak-and-Shake was next door, and there were parking vacancies. But with all the cars waiting in line for the drive-up window, the staff had little time for us humans on foot. A simple hamburger lunch ended up costing us an hour.

Reaching our destination in Carolina, we ventured out into Durham on Sunday morning for church, passing mile after mile of nearly vacant highways, overpasses and exit ramps, with no human structures anywhere in sight. A vast web of asphalt built to assure that the next generation of cars would have plenty of room to run and play. Light rail? Bike paths? None in sight. Just miles and miles of roads for our precious cars. (Precious! We needs them!)

Coffee without moving a muscle

On Monday morning, I took one of my grandchildren to school, since there’s no school bus available. Blocks away from the school, cars were lined up along the curb to drop off the kids without the hassle of stepping out from behind the wheel. We zipped past a long line of brake lights and tailpipes, left the car, and hoofed it a short hop to the 2nd-grade classroom – past scores, or even hundreds, of cars belching exhaust as they inched their way toward the drive-up entrance. At pick-up time in the afternoon, it was the same story: a nearly endless procession of parents in SUVs crawling their way toward waiting children – all presumably able to walk; all seemingly unable to imagine a world of natural human mobility.

My dear creation-caring friends, I recognize how committed you are to advocacy for climate action. You voted; you called your congressional representatives; maybe you marched through the heart of your city bearing signs with compelling slogans. A year from now, you’ll have your chance to vote into office men and women who will care for the earth and its most vulnerable children. But at some point, we are going to have to begin modeling lives that break with our American love affair. At some point, we’re going to have to get out of the car, plant our feet on the ground, and begin to reclaim the right to move ourselves without fouling the air.

American madness: cars snake in an endless line to the school drop-off

Why not start this way: If you are able to walk, why not commit before God today that you can do without the drive-thru line? At the bank, the coffee shop, the restaurant, at school or even (believe it or not) at church, you can join those who model a certain level of care for the earth by shutting off the motor, and standing on your own feet. It won’t save the world, of course. For that, we’ll all need to take a thousand steps. But maybe this will make the next one a bit easier.

Thanks for reading, thanks for walking, and God bless you.

P.S. For good measure, one last picture for those of us who participate in church on Sundays. I know, I know: It’s absolutely nuts.

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.

Climate Orphans: What You Did For Fokandraza, You Did For Me

“As Donald Trump Denies Climate Change, These Kids Die of It.”

That’s the title of an article written last week by Nicholas Kristof, op-ed columnist for the New York Times. For the article and related video, Kristof travels to Madagascar, the enormous island off the coast of eastern Africa, pictured as a lush paradise in the popular animated children’s movie series. Now, southern Madagascar is little more than a desert wasteland. Major rivers are reduced to muddy puddles. Forests and farm fields are now dust spotted with cactus, where starving children nibble around sharp thorns to put something in their bellies.

So, meet two little boys, Fokandraza and Foriavi, among the millions now dubbed “climate orphans” – their parents having left long ago to find work and money in desperate hopes of feeding the family. They live with their aunt, who can’t afford to feed her own children, let alone Fokandraza and Foriavi.

“If I were smart, I’d go and find a better life,” says the starving boys’ aunt. “But these kids are so sweet, I can’t leave them.”

Kristof asks the boys: “Have you eaten anything today?”

Fokandraza’s stick-thin arms hang limply at his sides. “No.”

Kristof: “Have you drunk water today?”

“No.”

Foriavi can’t even stay awake during the interview.

Kristof: “I don’t blame the aunt. The situation is more my fault than hers. Here’s the paradox of climate change: It’s mainly caused by affluent people. People like us. And those who suffer the most are the poor and vulnerable.”

So maybe we don’t care all that much about climate change here in affluent America. Our president elect certainly doesn’t, and has promised to gut all global and national efforts to deal with the crisis. But now we know Fokandraza and Foriavi, the faces of a world facing runaway climate chaos.

Remember their names: Fokandraza and Foriavi. We will certainly hear them again, when the Son of Man comes again in his glory. “What you did for Fokandraza and Foriavi, you did for me. And what you did not do for them, you did not do for me.” (Adapted from Matthew 25: 31-46)

How will we answer, brothers and sisters? How will we answer?

What to do? For starters, go to the Climate Caretakers website and take the climate pledge — to learn, pray and act on climate. Every week, you’ll receive an email helping you in your prayers. This week, you’ll be praying for Fokandraza and Foriavi, and for Donald Trump.

Why is the Electoral College a Concern for Earth-Keepers?

What we Americans think about the Electoral College is – now as always – almost certainly driven by what it does to our party’s electoral prospects. This year, Trump won the Electoral College, but millions more people voted for Clinton. So it’s almost certainly predictable: If we went for Trump, then we’re for the Electoral College; if we preferred Clinton, we hate it.

But for earth keepers, the arguments for and against Electoral College are pretty serious concerns. That’s because a strong majority of Americans are concerned about God’s creation and threats to its health and survival. About two-thirds of us now say we’re worried about climate change. Lopsided majorities of Democrats feel strongly about climate action. About half of Republicans agree. And yet, our electoral system has given us a president elect who calls climate change a hoax and “bullsh**.” He’s sworn to reverse his predecessor’s environmental policies, and to disrupt the global climate agreement sealed in Paris last year among 195 nations. He’s stacked his cabinet with fossil-fuel advocates, even picking the chairman of the world’s biggest oil company for its most powerful position – Secretary of State.

So no matter which party we might like best – or dislike least – it’s worth asking honestly if this is really what democracy looks like. Does the Electoral College really make sense? Much has been written about the Electoral College’s roots in slave-holding states, and these accounts can be useful for historians. But let’s not even go there. Today, does a system like the Electoral College make sense for any of the world’s democracies? Here are some factors to consider.

The Electoral College makes Presidential voting almost meaningless for most Americans

“Sure I’d vote, but I’m from California.”

You’ve heard something like this from your friends in solid-Red or solid-Blue states before, haven’t you? What difference did it make if I pulled the lever for Hillary or Trump in New York, Texas, Indiana or Illinois? Let alone California? All those states are going solidly one way or the other. In fact, 30 states representing 320 Electoral College votes are all considered solid for one party or the other (see complete list below). Presidential candidates don’t campaign in those states; they don’t listen to voters there; they don’t bother getting out the vote there. And once elected, they don’t lose much sleep over the interests of those citizens either.

Real Clear Politics highlights president-deciding states in gray.

If you’re among the huge majority of Americans living in one of these non-swing states, presidential democracy is a spectator event for you. You’re not part of the conversation. Instead, you’re just watching voters in 14 “swing states” to see what they’ll do to choose the next president. Thanks for your interest, but voters in Florida will handle this one for you. And in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia (plus seven other small states).

So we lament low voter turnout in our country, but ignore the obvious: Our system removes most of the incentives for going to the polls. It’s the Electoral College, folks.

The Electoral College makes my vote count more than your vote

In the U.S. we have about one elector for every 600,000 people. Californians have a somewhat worse deal. Their 38 million people have only one elector for every 692,000 people. Those extra 92,000 Californians for each elector simply don’t count. With 55 electoral votes, that’s about five million Californians who really don’t matter. Too bad for California.

But North Dakota has a much sweeter deal. Of course, their tiny population – smaller than the cities of Charlotte or Columbus – gets to send two Senators to Washington. Good for them. But their presidential votes also have an outsized impact. They get one elector for every 250,000 people. That’s huge. One vote in North Dakota is worth about three votes in California. (Actually, about 2.7 votes.) But would anyone ever design a system like that in a modern democracy?

The Electoral College hands unelected officials the keys to the presidency

On Monday, the Electoral College convened to cast their votes, sealing the win for Donald Trump, as expected. But Trump and Clinton weren’t the only ones who tallied votes. John Kasich got a vote. So did the aging libertarian, Ron Paul. Retired Secretary of State Colin Powell got three votes, even though he was never a candidate. Finally, Bernie Sanders and tribal leader Faith Spotted Eagle each notched a vote.

The electors who cast votes like these have traditionally been called “faithless electors.” They may be faithless, but there’s nothing illegal or even reprehensible about what they’ve done. In fact, many Americans were hoping for a revolt this year, banking upon the Electoral College to nullify the election results. It didn’t happen, of course, nor has it overturned an election during our country’s history. But this year’s election warns us that precedent means very little in our day. We could easily see the day when large numbers of electors decide to thwart the will of voters. This would be perfectly legal.

It will take a transformation of heart among Americans for us to take our place among the nations in caring for God’s creation. But for starters, why don’t we take another look at how we choose our most important officials? Maybe we should consider something a little more like, well, democracy?

Solid Blue:

  • California (55)
  • New York (29)
  • Illinois (20)
  • New Jersey (14)
  • Washington (12)
  • Massachusetts (11)
  • Maryland (10)
  • Hawaii (4)
  • Rhode Island (4)
  • Vermont (3)
  • District Of Columbia (3)
  • Delaware (3)

Solid Red:

  • Texas (38)
  • Indiana (11)
  • Tennessee (11)
  • Missouri (10)
  • Alabama (9)
  • Louisiana (8)
  • Kentucky (8)
  • Oklahoma (7)
  • Mississippi (6)
  • Arkansas (6)
  • Utah (6)
  • Kansas (6)
  • West Virginia (5)
  • Nebraska (4)
  • Idaho (4)
  • North Dakota (3)
  • Montana (3)
  • South Dakota (3)
  • Alaska (3)
  • Nebraska CD2 (1)