Threat Assessment

Weather: A novel

Global Climate in 2015-2019: Climate change accelerates

Every Democrat should run on Trump’s disastrous budget proposal

What most keeps you up at night? Thinking about Trump or climate change? Which is the worst threat? Or maybe it’s getting the kids off to school tomorrow?

The answer for many would be Trump, who thrusts himself constantly before us, one high crime and misdemeanor after another, every day a new offense to law and the polity. Climate change recedes to the background because our field of view is so narrow. And yet the daily impacts of both are sometimes comparable, I think.

Jenny Offill’s novel Weather plays with both threats by putting them in the context of a Brooklyn librarian’s daily life concerns and patterns. Lizzie’s words, full of insight and humor, carry the freight of Trumpism and climate change that are behind her daily attempts to succor people and keep a normal life going. She wonders whether to buy a gun. The book plays with the metaphor of weather and how we are all connected.

The impacts of climate short-term are fires, floods, famine and storms—all mostly determined by changes in weather. Weather is our barometer. Long-term, the changes predicted are more frightening and less predictable: sea level rise, heat, populations on the move, illnesses increasing, vast ecological changes. But it seems less and less possible to diminish these to the background, as Lizzie’s life demonstrates.

At one point she interrupts her thoughts with:

People Also Ask
What will disappear from stores first?
Why do humans need myths?
Do we live in the Anthropocene?
What is the cultural trance?
Is it wrong to eat meat?
What is surveillance capitalism?
How can we save the bees?
What is the internet of things?
When will humans go extinct?

Trump is small potatoes compared to this. Or is he? Each daily dose of scandal displaces the last. As in climate change, the effects pile up and accelerate. Look at Trump’s proposed 2021 budget! The push for political change finally becomes inescapable. The push to deal with climate change will become so.

Flight of the Bumblebees

Climate Change Could Push Bumblebees to Extinction

Bumblebee Decline Linked With Extreme Heat Waves

Climate Change: It’s a Buzzkill for Bumblebees, Study Finds

A major study has documented what has long been suspected: the bees are dying, and the world’s plants and biodiversity will suffer from that. Bumblebee extinction seems to be underway, and populations have declined across Europe by 17 percent and in America by some 46 percent.

The study found that over a 115-year period nearly half of the North American regions home to bumblebees lost all their populations. That’s called extinction, and it’s irreversible. The pattern was observed across a number of studies.

Bees are the great pollinators, as we know. According to one report:

Tomatoes, squash, and berries are just some of the crops we can thank bees for pollinating. Animal pollinators like bees, birds, and butterflies could be responsible for up to 1 out of every 3 bites of food we eat, the US Department of Agriculture says.

Honeybees have also been affected. Climate change and its consequent heat waves are the major cause, since bees can’t tolerate a rapidly heating climate. The study predicted “with surprising accuracy” how changes of bumblebee communities and species have reflected the pressures of increasing heat. More detailed studies are called for. Changes from farming, land use and pesticides are another factor.

Said one of the study’s authors: “What I suspect is that you wind up with this really terrible one-two punch. Climate change is making bees want to move to new places, and then you have things like pesticides and human land uses that are stopping them from moving.”

How Bad is Bad Enough?

Emissions—the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading

 We may avoid the very worst climate scenario. But the next-worst is still pretty awful.

 ‘Collapsologie’: Constructing an Idea of How Things Fall Apart

What if many of the predictions of upcoming climate disaster have been based on faulty premises? What if the worst-case scenario has been way overdone? Climate scientists model their projections for the future on greatest and fewest emissions discharges. If the projections are wrong there are big implications for us all.

Climate science has been questioned in a recent Nature article which is rocking a lot of boats. The authors propose that the commonly accepted worst-case (“business as usual”) scenario is based on faulty assumptions, a major one being coal consumption.

Emission pathways to get to RCP8.5 [the worst-case scenario] generally require an unprecedented fivefold increase in coal use by the end of the century, an amount larger than some estimates of recoverable coal reserves. It is thought that global coal use peaked in 2013, and although increases are still possible, many energy forecasts expect it to flatline over the next few decades. Furthermore, the falling cost of clean energy sources is a trend that is unlikely to reverse, even in the absence of new climate policies.

The world is still on course for a 3-degree Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warming, which is more likely but still catastrophic. Says the Washington Post, “That’s severe—it would be three times the amount of change that the world has seen—but appreciably different from 4 to 5 degrees Celsius (7.2 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit).” The Nature graph shows the problem in a nutshell.

Some experts still say the worst-case RCP 8.5 scenario is still possible and there should be plenty of concern. Among other things, the possibilities of climate feedback loops, as from melting permafrost, are what “keeps us climate scientists up at night.”

Then there are the collapsologues, those folks mostly but not exclusively in France, who believe the world is heading for total collapse. They think we have crossed the threshold of “burning the totality of the earth’s stocks of fossil fuels and heating the atmosphere well beyond 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius—which most scientists now conclude is the red line for averting the worst effects of global warming. That these thresholds are violable does not, however, mean that transgressing them will be any less devastating.”

This way of thinking derives in part from Jared Diamond’s fascinating 2005 book Collapse and owes something to David Wallace Wells’ more recent The Uninhabitable Earth, a bestseller. Collapsologues predict dreadful outcomes and conflicts and look at efforts like the Green New Deal as wishful thinking, illusions. Their critique finds that “the fatal weakness of traditional environmentalism is its inability to think beyond economic growth.” There is always “the inexorable question of limits.”

Their answers to all this involve religions and “bio-resilient pastoral communities,” responses we have heard before. Yet these folks must be taken seriously.

The collapsologues do point to real contradictions in contemporary environmentalism. Collapsologie is really just a name for a very serious problem: the frivolousness and injustice of much of what passes for solutions to our current impasse. That some form of mystical antinomianism should emerge from this void recalls the philosopher Michel de Certeau’s saying: “When the political withers, the religious reawakens.”

The Young Girl and the Fatuous President

Trump and the Teenager: A Climate Showdown at Davos

 Climate experts agree: “Steve Mnuchin should go back to college”—not Greta Thunberg

 Trump Roars, and Davos Shrugs

Mr. Trump’s Davos insults referred to above were typically illiterate and haughty. We must reject, he said,

the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse. They are the errors [heirs?] of yesterday’s fortune tellers, and we have them and I have them. And they want to see us do badly, but we don’t let that happen. . . . This is not a time for pessimism. This is a time for optimism. Fear and doubt is not a good thought process, because this is a time for tremendous hope and joy and optimism and action.

After this word salad, the Treasury Secretary had to get into the act. Mr. Mnuchin said, “Is she the chief economist? Or who is she? I’m confused.” After claiming his remarks were “a joke” that was allegedly “funny,” Mnuchin added: “After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us.”

What a sense of humor this guy has. And the crowd at Davos was not amused. Trump & Co.’s blabby promotion of the U.S. was generally seen as something no longer interesting or relevant.

“He is a moron,” a European energy executive said of Trump. “Do we have time for it? No. We have to change our whole company to get carbon-neutral.”

“Greta is great,” said an executive for a Japanese manufacturer. “Even if she can’t deliver, she is needed to balance Trump in conversation and that seems to be happening.”

Turning Off Fossil Fuel Funding

Why the Climate Movement’s Next Big Target Is Wall Street

Want to Do Something About Climate Change? Follow the Money

BlackRock C.E.O. Larry Fink: Climate Crisis Will Reshape Finance

The financing spigot has provided way over half a trillion dollars during the last three years to America’s fossil fuel producers. That’s from just four Wall Street banks—JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. This money invariably goes for the worst kinds of anti-climate projects, like oil pipelines.

Only a very few of the largest companies, like Exxon Mobil, can self-finance their projects. The others are wired to the biggest banks and investment firms, and the climate movement is beginning to take note of the problem.

Though many banking institutions have branded themselves as green, the world’s top 33 largest banks collectively provided $1.9 trillion in financing for coal, oil, and gas companies since countries put forth the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015.

Bill McKibben has organized StopTheMoneyPipeline.Com to “demand that banks, asset managers and insurance companies stop funding, insuring and investing in climate destruction.” Just getting started, the group has targeted Chase, BlackRock Asset Managers (with its nearly $7 trillion in investments) and Liberty Mutual Insurance—all of whom could stop fossil financing tomorrow without any real damage to their business.

McKibben writes that “These titans may be too big to pressure. Yet if we could get just one offending bank to move toward divesting from fossil fuels, the ripple effects would be both swift and global.” And even now, BlackRock’s website leads off with the statement that “Sustainability, and climate change in particular, are transforming investments.” They post a letter from CEO Larry Fink about “how climate risk is an investment risk” and how sustainable strategies are the future. Maybe Fink and McKibben can now have lunch.

Several writers predict a sort of domino effect if even one of these “banks” (what an outmoded term for these guys!) gets serious about this kind of funding strategy. Fink wrote that he believes “we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.” He would “introduce new funds that shun fossil fuel-oriented stocks, move more aggressively to vote against management teams that are not making progress on sustainability.”

We would note that sustainability is always a tricky and ambiguous word, but let’s give Larry credit for evidently trying finally to monitor the fossil funding spigot.  According to one of Bloomberg’s opinion writers, his letter marks the end of the road for coal.

The Fire Next Time

Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide

Don’t Let Australia’s Crisis Go to Waste

Public anger builds against Morrison

I borrow the title of James Baldwin’s 1963 best-seller that articulated his personal agonies in the civil rights movement. In our time what could galvanize people to stop the burning? I wish I had the skill and talent of Baldwin. A major part of Australia has already gone up in flames. The Amazon rainforest has just about reached a fiery tipping point. Will Africa be next?

Scott Morrison, Australia’s coal-fired prime minister, is leading his country to suicide, opines Richard Flanagan, a novelist whose recent piece caught the terror and the drama of what’s happening there.

The images of the fires are a cross between “Mad Max” and “On the Beach”: thousands driven onto beaches in a dull orange haze, crowded tableaux of people and animals almost medieval in their strange muteness—half-Bruegel, half-Bosch, ringed by fire, survivors’ faces hidden behind masks and swimming goggles. Day turns to night as smoke extinguishes all light in the horrifying minutes before the red glow announces the imminence of the inferno. Flames leaping 200 feet into the air. Fire tornadoes. Terrified children at the helm of dinghies, piloting away from the flames, refugees in their own country.

Bloomberg’s Daniel Moss puts the crisis in terms of statistics and money. But the problem is much more personal than that. And it’s the blindness of leadership that permitted the crisis come to its present head.

An area larger than Ireland has been destroyed, at least 25 people are dead, 2,000 homes have been razed, and 25 million acres of forest and bush have been wiped out. As many as a billion animals may have been incinerated since September, some species almost to extinction. Tourism, farming and consumer confidence have taken a hit. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been lambasted for too little action, too late. His government announced a $1.4 billion recovery fund over the weekend; with more than 100 fires still tearing through the country’s most populous state, more is bound to be needed.

Morrison’s government still maintains there is “no direct link between climate change and the country’s devastating bushfires, despite public anger, the anguish of victims and warnings from scientists.” This is more than ignorance; it’s murder. Morrison is captive to the coal industry and takes his stance from other climate criminals like Trump and Bolsonaro.

Finally, the activists are on the march in nine Australian cities. Led by student organizations, “tens of thousands” are expected to march this weekend. Melbourne will host the biggest protest. Yet it will take more than activism to displace Morrison & Company. It will take political power.

In 1963 Baldwin asked, “Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?” Now, it seems, some Australians have no choice except to flee to the sea shore, as in a bad apocalyptic movie. The leadership of climate deniers may not yet go up in smoke but we can hope for their eviction, and soon.

Greta in Winter

https://mailchi.mp/0f7569e82bdf/greta-in-winter?e=5b4a442b0a

My cousin’s husband writes a good, chatty blog about life in Vermont and other things. He just sent this one on, which is a revelation about the trials of running an electric car in the harsh Vermont winters. At the same time Bill Schubart sees the value in electrics, in fact their necessity.

This fall for only the second time in my life, I bought a new car. It’s an emission-free Nissan Leaf. I named it “Greta.” Last night, I ran into a friend who has a Tesla all-electric vehicle (AEV) also named “Greta.” I’m now wondering how many AEVs there are in the world bearing the Swedish teenager’s name.

I’m comfortable saying it was the extraordinary courage of this young woman who could be my granddaughter that drove my decision to go all-electric. “Okay boomer,” I said to myself, “It’s your turn to help leave a habitable world for the next generation.

When Green Mountain Power held a get-acquainted session on AEVs for its customers, my wife and I drove up. They had most current models available there for customers to test drive and dealers to answer questions. I chose the Leaf and, thrilled that I fit in it, took it for a spin. It was a distinctly different experience… silence, no auto-shifting clunks. I learned that by using the eco-pedal, I didn’t need the brake pedal and could extend Greta’s range. I was hooked!

I’m 1200 miles into Greta and my early experience with her sent me searching for the encyclopedic instruction manual in the glove compartment. Like most consumers, I had read the FAQ’s and thought I knew it all. At the time of purchase, my key question was driving range between charges, a deciding factor for most potential buyers. The range is nominally 150 miles. My benchmark was the 88-mile roundtrip between my home in Hinesburg and Montpelier.

I set out on my first excursion with a full 152 miles on the meter. When I got to Montpelier, I expected to find it down 44 miles, but it was, in fact, down twice that – about 66 miles left to go before I needed a charge. This didn’t register, so before heading home, I pulled out the manual and read what I’d neglected to read before committing to Greta.

Like all living things, her capacity is temperature-dependent. It was 10 above zero when I left the house and I had turned on the heat to make it worse as both heat and lights reduce Greta’s range. I risked the straight shot home and made it with 12 miles to go by turning off the heat and arrived home in a near cadaverous chill, scraping my frozen breath from the inside of the windshield with a credit card. Did this mean driving at night with no lights and no heat? Should I buy a flashlight and a wool blanket for Greta?

I also learned Greta’s batteries can be severely damaged by exposure to temperatures below minus 13. I’ve lived in Vermont for 70 years and have yet to experience a winter where it didn’t get colder than that. I remember a sunny, dry winter day in Lincoln at 38 below. Could Greta even survive here, much less provide frigid transportation beyond a few miles from home? I began to worry.

But I’ve learned that by monitoring the temperature and my energy usage as I drive, using the eco-pedal to recharge as I drive, charging every night at home during off-peak hours, I can manage quite well and I haven’t eaten in a gas station in two months. I’m finding more and more charging stations, all searchable on my cellphone. Besides if it’s freezing cold and I have a round trip to Montpelier, a stop at Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex for a quick charge, a latte, and a croissant isn’t much of a price to pay for doing my part. Sometimes, slowing life down enhances  it.

But more important than my comfort are the larger environmental implications of continuing to burn fossil fuel. According to a recent VTDigger article, transportation accounts for 43% of the state’s carbon emissions and in spite of earnest expressions of concerns and many unfulfilled commitments, emissions have increased in recent years and are 16% higher than they were in 1990.

. . . As I get even older than I am now, I know that much of the remaining work I have left to do on earth is to try and leave a better, more just place for my children and grandchildren.

It’s disheartening to hear special interests and climate deniers froth on about their temporal material interests. I wonder what they think when they gather over the holidays with their children and grandchildren. As they play together, do they never imagine their progeny trying to make it in a world of uncontrollable fires, floods and rising sea levels, massive climate migrations, and dying food systems, all so they can drive a fossil fuel car or get their convenience foods in unrecyclable plastic? Our children comprise a quarter of our country. They will inherit our mess.

In Matthew 5:5 from the Sermon on the Mount, one of the Beatitudes tells us the meek shall inherit the earth. Our children are finding their voice and are no longer meek. We owe it to them to listen.

Sometimes when I’m driving Greta late at night. I stare at the energy meters on the dashboard anxious about whether I’ll make it home, I hear Greta whisper to me, “Okay boomer, you did good.”

To a brave New Year !

The Politics May Kill Us

Interstate 66, west of Washington, DC

The Challenging Politics of Climate Change

 How the Climate Crisis Is Killing Us, in 9 Alarming Charts

 Americans Increasingly See Climate Change as a Crisis, Poll Shows

 Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution leads off her piece on climate and politics with a great quote from Colin Jost of Saturday Night Live (10/13/18):

We don’t really worry about climate change because it’s too overwhelming and we’re already in too deep. It’s like if you owe your bookie $1,000, you’re like, ‘OK, I’ve got to pay this dude back.’ But if you owe your bookie $1 million dollars, you’re like, ‘I guess I’m just going to die.’

So there are many reasons Americans (in particular) resist climate change, and Kamarck goes on to document these in a lengthy but very worthwhile essay you should read. In the most recent decade of Gallup’s polling, for instance, we learn that “almost half of the public believes that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated.” A series of natural disasters and dramatic weather events leaves the public mostly unmoved. Jobs, the economy and healthcare top their list of concerns.

Then there’s partisanship. And the complex nature of the climate crisis. Plus jurisdiction and accountability: who’s responsible? by whose laws? And the lack of trust in government—at a new low since the administration of G.W. Bush. Finally, our elites demonstrate a lack of imagination, such as described by Amitav Ghosh in The Great Derangement (reviewed here): we don’t talk about climate in fiction or television or film. Is it too threatening?

Matt Simon in Wired tells us how climate is slowly killing us, referencing a massive study in The Lancet, a medical journal, on climate change and human health. Says one of the authors about living in a world 4 degrees warmer than in preindustrial times:

We have no idea what that looks like from a public health perspective, but we know it is catastrophic. . . . We know that it has the potential to undermine the last 50 years of gains in public health and overwhelm the health systems we rely on.

Simon’s series of graphics should properly scare you. Here’s one:

Scorched by Heat Waves

On he goes, with measures of wildfires roaring, diseases blooming, air conditioning heating up cities, crops declining, etc.

In the face of all this a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll tells us that “A growing number of Americans describe climate change as a crisis, and two-thirds say President Trump is doing too little to tackle the problem.”

About 8 in 10 “say that human activity is fueling climate change, and roughly half believe action is urgently needed within the next decade if humanity is to avert its worst effects. Nearly 4 in 10 now say climate change is a “crisis,” up from less than a quarter five years ago.”

That story was posted September 13 of this year, Kamarck’s on September 23. So who’s right? With a well-earned mistrust of polls, I vote for Kamarck because she uses a wider time spread.

We have a lot of work to do.

Impeachment: More Time, More Evidence

The Impeachment Question

Climate Change in the American Mind: April 2019

Trump’s failure to fight climate change is a crime against humanity

Maybe if the Democrats can pull off their wonderful stunt of withholding the Impeachment Articles until McConnell gives them a “fair deal” in the Senate trial, that will give them time to explore some of the more outrageous things the Articles didn’t cover. That’s a long way of saying they need more evidence. I doubt that people will be convinced solely by what was presented to the House. If the Dems can hold out for more time and more investigations, the stain of impeachment will only spread.

Trump’s waffling and bluster about climate change could be one of those areas to explore. Some 69 percent of Americans believe that the climate crisis is very real and/or very threatening. One other ripe area is the Mueller report, which has been all but forgotten in the proceedings. It doesn’t pertain strictly to climate change but reveals an abundance of illegalities and obstructions. Linda Greenhouse of The Times:

The 182-page volume 2, which analyzes thirty-eight separate incidents as potential obstructions of justice . . .  reads like a cross between Wolf Hall and Richard III, depicting the White House under the shadow of the Russia investigation in a constant state of crisis, as the president’s top aides struggle to both serve their master and save their own skins—not only from his wrath but from the potential legal consequences of carrying out his orders.

My thinking is that people need more time to absorb the depth and extent of Trump’s behavior, which is an essential part of his failure to address climate change.

In August Jeffrey Sachs called this failure “a crime against humanity” and indicted Marco Rubio, Rick Scott and Ted Cruz along with Trump. He cites their total failure to respond to the hurricanes in Houston, Puerto Rico, North Carolina and Florida, in which literally thousands have died. “The first job of government is to protect the public,” and that requires education, legislation, full-scale preparedness and disaster response. Trump and his crew have deliberately ignored all this and made matters worse by eviscerating the EPA and slamming environmental science.

Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic in a reductive piece finds that Trump’s belief in carbonism explains all his actions over climate, including backing out of the Paris Agreement.

Carbonism is a belief that fossil fuels—which send carbon pollution spewing into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change and ocean acidification—have inherent virtue. That they are better, in fact, than other energy sources.

Well, Robinson, who couldn’t have figured that one out? Most of the world lives off carbon in its varied forms. “China burns over half of the world’s coal and will account for 50% of global CO2 emissions by 2030”: thus from Kenneth Richard, a smart climate writer who goes beyond carbonism. Remember that in July Trump delivered a major speech on environment without a mention of climate change.

The point of my declamation here is to urge the Democrats to explore the fiascoes of Trump & Co. on climate and see whether they can establish any more “crimes against humanity.” It will be but one of many he has committed.

Meditations on a Runaway Crisis

I make it a practice here of giving you three linked articles at the outset that reflect, to some degree, my opinions. It’s part of the tradition of argument to bolster one’s opinions with evidence. So maybe it’s time for my opinions unfiltered.

Climate has become an imponderable, a cloud that never dispenses rain, a storm that never breaks. By that I mean the more we understand the depths of climate change, the more stymied we are in doing something about it. Most of us who aren’t deniers recognize the enormity of the problem but despair of moving the political forces that are needed to attack it. We are immobilized.

As the heat, storms, floods and droughts become increasingly common, more and more people report instances of “climate grief,” high anxiety and depression about what they see ahead. It seems like “a massive government conspiracy to kill us all,” with people increasingly reporting feelings of despair and panic.

I’m not there yet, still too much of a rationalist to give in to despair, still looking to implement answers that are staring us in the face. I ask, what causes this immobility in the face of disaster? Are we like the fools who went to New Zealand’s White Island to watch the volcano explode and got killed in the process?

Climate is like impeachment—the perfect disaster for the Trump era. We all stand by watching a process unfold that we can’t affect while Republicans blow smoke and defend the indefensible. As the climate outlook gets grimmer, with shocking UN reports and more detailed studies, we learn that the oceans are far worse off than we thought, that permafrost thawing in the Arctic will blow holes in our predictions of CO2 in the atmosphere, that the time to apply any fix gets shorter and shorter.

Some offer up palliatives like the Green New Deal when they should be pursuing more achievable first steps like a carbon tax. Some seem to wallow in their grief when they should be out marching in protest. Others look to a false savior like Trump or Boris. All seem to fear for the future.

I have no simple answers but one: get out of yourself and do something that will have political impact. You don’t need therapy, you need action. Politics is the key to all reform efforts and it must be the first response to climate change. Immediately, let’s vote out the Republicans, who are simply “unreachable” on climate. It’s a time for taking sides. The second step is to unify the unwieldy Democrats behind an achievable, staged program of amelioration. The right is always motivated by fear; let the left be motivated by solidarity and action.

David Roberts of Vox put it well here:

To motivate people to action, you have to give them meaningful changes to fight for, people to fight alongside, and, just as importantly, enemies to fight against. You can’t stay on the sidelines, welcoming everyone to the table. You have to pick a side.

Finally, grieving over climate is like grieving over Trump: it gets you nowhere. Pick a side and get to work. Accept the fact that, whether you like it or not, climate will be a political battle.