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.”
NASA says that 2015 was the hottest year ever recorded. July and August of 2016 are now the hottest months on record.
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.
Mark York replied on Permalink
It's a lot easier to say than do. $50-100k electric vehicles that can't pull anything including a drift boat trailer. Sure we can get rid of coal as I did in my novel Heat Wave, but if as Josh Fox wants to do eliminate natgas as a fuel, then we really are screwed. Both wind and solar take up a lot of land despoiling views of natural areas for sportsmen. There's no easy answer. Most people can do nothing, the rest won't.
Derec Bass replied on Permalink
I agree with your opinions with the exception of "Most people can do nothing, the rest won't". Study after study has proven that the number 1 source of greenhouse gas emissions is due to the production of livestock for human consumption. Estimates of emissions that I have seen range from double to four times the emissions of all the worlds vehicles combined. People don't want to hear that but its true. I don't think we all need to be vegan, I certainly don't want to, but what if we all cut our meat consumption in half? That would decrease the #1 source of emissions by 30-45%. But, that would mean a loss of jobs for cattle ranchers. Every solution will leave someone unhappy.
Daniel Carolan replied on Permalink
Thanks for this article. It is shocking to me how many sportsmen disregard climate change and continue to vote for a party who would do away with environmental regulations given the opportunity.
Jim Sawhill replied on Permalink
What is shocking to me is that you are listening to socialists rather than scientists - how about Roy Spencer, John Christy, Judith Curry, JoAnn Novam, Richard Lindtzen, The Idso's ???
If you want socialism, just say so, but don't disguise it with pseudo-science.
For edification, read:
social benefits of carbon (not pollution)
record foods (everywhere, not just in US)
that sustainability bs of Erlich is freshman lit bunk:
even for English major McKibben
Jim in Conroe replied on Permalink
And don't forget these two references:
Jack Donachy replied on Permalink
Thanks for a well-written article complete with sound references. Agreed, shifting to renewable energy sources is part of the long-term solution. Eating less meat? Is mostly a meaningless gesture. Leaving aside the fact that many cultures existed in harmony with nature for many thousands of years subsisting on meat-based diets, the fact is that a warming planet (and fished-out oceans, and an environment toxic with plastic, and poor air quality for 92% of world) isn't something we're going to fix through a change in diet, a magical technology-based solution or modest lifestyle changes. The factor driving this and virtually every other challenge we face is the one we collectively still refuse to talk about: overpopulation.
Jim in Conroe replied on Permalink
The unproven theory that climate change is anthropogenic is based on complex computer models, which can neither hind cast past climate change nor explain current climate phenomena. This brings their ability to forecast the future into serious doubt. Aside from the models, measurements may show that the climate is warming, but there is no evidence that man is causing it, rather than naturally occurring factors that have been in play for eons. The earth has been both warmer and colder than it is today, way before mankind appeared as an influencing factor.
Add to that the lack of political will to take the drastic steps required to return civilization to pre industrial conditions, the exorbitant costs and the reduction in the standards of living this would require, and the frustration of less developed nations trying to lift their populations out of poverty and privation, and you have a no-win situation.
Better to expend time and resources on measures to adapt to climate change. This requires the development of technologies and the implementation of measures that make energy less expensive and more widely available, not the other way around.