When we weren’t looking, global warming jumped out of the scientific journals and into the headlines. Now it’s poised to slam many of our favorite fisheries.
Stuff We See
Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that something strange is going on with the weather. Here in the northern Rockies, our snows come later and leave earlier. Our winters are warmer. Runoff in Montana now typically starts in March or April, rather than May or June. Air temperatures are climbing. We’re experiencing unprecedented droughts. Our rivers run lower and warmer in the summer — with less dissolved oxygen — which stresses trout and closes fisheries. Our forest fire seasons are several months longer, and our fires are more extreme. Millions of acres of trees are dead or dying from drought and disease, while devastating insect infestations are no longer held in check by cold winter temperatures.
Back East, there are more intense storms and floods, as well as increased coastal inundation from sea level rise. Temperatures are hotter. Tropical diseases are moving north. Ticks and mosquitoes are having a field day. In short, the old ‘normal’ just left town and the new ‘normal’ is looking pretty damn ugly.
Stuff We Know
We know exactly what’s happening. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences says: “Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time. It is now more certain than ever, based on many lines of evidence, that humans are changing Earth’s climate. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, accompanied by sea-level rise, a strong decline in Arctic sea ice, and other climate-related changes.”
The American Association for the Advancement of Science says: “The overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change documents both current impacts with significant costs and extraordinary future risks to society and natural systems.”
But what about scientific dissent? Well, despite what you may have heard, there is none. Four different studies - Oreskes (2004), Doran (2009), Anderegg (2010), Cook (2013) - put the expert scientific consensus on anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming right around 97%. More recently, Dr. James Powell, who was appointed to the National Science Board by President Reagan, examined every climate paper published in scientific literature in 2013 and 2014. His conclusion? “During 2013 and 2014, only 4 of 69,406 authors of peer-reviewed articles on global warming, 0.0058% or 1 in 17,352, rejected AGW. Thus, the consensus on AGW among publishing scientists is above 99.99%, verging on unanimity.”
69,402 climate experts accept human-caused global warming, while 4 reject it. Those numbers speak for themselves.
Who Else Agrees With Our Scientists?
Lots of people agree with our climate experts. The U.S. Military sees climate change as “a present security threat” and says: “We are already observing the impacts of climate change in shocks and stressors to vulnerable nations and communities, including in the United States, and in the Arctic, Middle East, Africa, Asia, and South America.”
Major U.S. companies like Apple, General Motors, IBM, Monsanto, Microsoft, Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Coca-Cola, American Express and Google have signed a pledge to act on climate change: “We recognize that delaying action on climate change will be costly in economic and human terms, while accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy will produce multiple benefits with regard to sustainable economic growth, public health, resilience to natural disasters, and the health of the global environment.”
Pope Francis says, “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
Even Oil Companies agree. ExxonMobile states: “The risk of climate change is clear and the risk warrants action. Increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere are having a warming effect.” ConocoPhillips says: “We recognize that human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels, is contributing to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere that can lead to adverse changes in global climate.” British Petroleum agrees. “BP recognizes that the existing trend of increasing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide is not consistent with limiting the global average temperature rise to 2°C or lower.” In addition, “BP believes that carbon pricing by governments is the most comprehensive and economically efficient policy to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”
Bad Stuff Will Happen
So what happens if we ignore our top scientists, keep burning fossil fuels, and force temperatures to rise? Bad stuff. Really bad stuff. The World Bank calls a 4°C temperature rise “devastating.” The U.S. Army says that “droughts, wildfires, heat waves, floods -- will continue to increase in both frequency and intensity.” Climate scientist Kevin Anderson, former director of the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, notes that, “a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.”
According to distinguished climate scientist and National Medal of Science winner Lonnie Thompson, “Climatologists, like other scientists, tend to be a stolid group. We are not given to theatrical rantings about falling skies. Most of us are far more comfortable in our laboratories or gathering data in the field than we are giving interviews to journalists or speaking before Congressional committees. Why then are climatologists speaking out about the dangers of global warming? The answer is that virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.”
Time Is Running Out
It’s clear that the problem is serious. So when do we need to stop injecting massive quantities of CO2 into the air? That answer is obvious as well: the sooner, the better. We are on the precipice of life-altering temperature increases and climate impacts. According to a comprehensive study by Professor Camilo Mora and his colleagues at the University of Hawaii, “Under a business-as-usual scenario, the index shows the average location on Earth will experience a radically different climate by 2047.”
Let that sink in for just a second. Under a business-as-usual scenario, our best estimates show that the average location on Earth will experience a radically different climate in 31 years.
We’ve blown through most of our carbon budget (please click here for relevant graphs) and now we need to make a choice. Either we stand up for our fishing, and for our children and grandchildren, or we live with the consequences.
The Solutions Are Good For America
Fortunately, we have viable alternatives to fossil fuels. If we shift away from coal, oil and gas and switch to clean, renewable forms of energy like wind, solar, and geothermal, we can not only stop the buildup of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere but we can also ensure that America, with its can-do spirit and history of innovation, leads the world forward with a resilient and prosperous clean energy economy.
Does it really make sense to trash our landscapes, pollute our air & water, destroy a livable climate, and chain ourselves to ever-diminishing, ever-harder-to-obtain fossil fuels? Or should we embrace technology and innovation while we focus on renewable energy and electric vehicles? Keep in mind that Michael Liebreich, Chairman of Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), tweeted last month: “Solar power delivers cheapest unsubsidized electricity ever, anywhere, by any technology.” He was referring to a new solar plant that will provide power in Chile for the amazing price of 2.91 cents per kilowatt-hour (the average residential price of electricity here in the U.S. is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.)
For a detailed look at climate change and clean energy solutions, take some time and watch climate expert and M.I.T.-trained physicist Joe Romm in this new YouTube video.
At the end of the day, we have a choice. We can accept the status-quo, continue burning fossil fuels, and consign our children and grandchildren to a future that we’d never, ever want for ourselves. Or, alternatively, we can protect our fisheries and our landscapes, stop sending our petro-dollars to foreign despots and terrorists, and pass along a strong, vibrant clean energy economy to future generations of Americans. It really is that simple. Either we act like leaders, sharing a powerful moral vision that will protect the America we know and love, or we turn our back on our kids and grandkids. It’s up to us to make the right call.