Because now giant sequoias are starting to die where they stand. And it’s been my job to document it. Last summer, our park botanist requested a photo log of declining sequoia health. So each week when I was out in the field, I took pictures of several groups of dying sequoias, snapping photos from the same GPS point each time. Then I carefully labeled each photo with the date and location and dropped it into a folder on the park’s internal network. These photos won’t do anything to save the trees. But it seems important, somehow, to provide our grandchildren with some kind of record of the time we realized we might be losing the largest trees on Earth.
The global economy could lose between $150 trillion to $792 trillion by 2100 if nations fail to meet their current targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new analysis in the journal Nature Communications. In contrast, it would cost G20 countries just $16 trillion to $103 trillion to limit warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, the analysis said.
The United States’ investment to avoid the effects of severe warming, for example, would be from $5.4 trillion to $33 trillion. The study, led by economists at the Beijing Institute of Technology, called such investments and policy decisions “a self-preservation strategy” for nations. It also found that if countries manage to meet their current targets, known as nationally determined contributions, most will actually experience economic gains in the long-run.
Um, fixing it sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
New aerial data from Professor Hughes and other scientists released on Monday shows example after example of overheating and damage along the reef, a 1,500-mile natural wonder. The survey amounts to an updated X-ray for a dying patient, with the markers of illness being the telltale white of coral that has lost its color, visible from the air and in the water.
The world’s oceans, which absorb 93 percent of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases that humans send into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, are warming up 40 percent faster on average than scientists estimated six years ago.
Nature is under constant pressure from humanity. But when large-scale systems are failing before our eyes, you have to wonder what the trophic consequences will be.
I’m not sure if the rampant degradation of the natural world–particularly its icons, like the Great Barrier Reef or the Amazon rainforest–will ever trigger a real shift in human culture and practice. I suppose, eventually. Now would be good, though.
Watching this video will make you very sad (backstory here). It should. It is heartbreaking.
But the real question is: what are we collectively willing to do about it, if anything? Is it enough to inspire changes in the choices we make and the way we live. Because how humanity lives (what it values and what it doesn’t) is what is starving this polar bear.
Here is just a partial list of all the things we can do that relate to this polar bear and his fate: have fewer children, eat less or no meat, drive less (and walk, bike, or use public transportation more), stop flying so much, reduce electricity consumption, shower a few times a week instead of every day, stop buying so much stuff, and stop wasting so much food. Vote for politicians who believe climate change is happening and are willing to ask for sacrifices to deal with it. Support leaders who are fighting global inequality. Support the global education of women, and family planning. Put the lives and needs of ALL species, and stewardship and conservation of the natural world, above your personal convenience. In short, simplify your life and radically reduce its environmental footprint. What else?
Yes, it involves doing less of a lot of things marketers and our culture want us to do a lot of. Doing fewer things that we associate with comfort and convenience. To live in a way that is radically different from the way we have been raised and acculturated to live. But it really isn’t that hard. And it feels good, because it feels right, to DO something.
So let’s work our way through the list, and then we can honestly lament the condition of this polar bear. Because our tears won’t do him any good. Only actions.
There’s nothing like a good graphic to help emphasize that we live in abnormal times. Sure, this is still more disaster porn. But it is justified. The key point in this latest NOAA report (apart from the mounting evidence that climate change is happening fast, and that entire eco-systems will have trouble adapting) is that Arctic ice melt presages Greenland ice melt. And it is the Greenland ice that, if and when melted, will raise sea levels by about, um….25 feet.
I’ve been a big advocate of using your personal choices to reduce your climate and environmental footprint–because you can and it DOES make a difference. So I am happy to see this sort of research:
Maya Almaraz, a postdoctoral researcher who works with Houlton at UC Davis, said she wishes she had a magic wand that could make everyone understand just how powerful their food choices can be.
“A lot of people feel really helpless when it comes to climate change, like they can’t make a difference,” said Almaraz. “What our research is showing is that your personal decisions really can have a big impact.”
Different foods have vastly different carbon footprints. Swap your steak for fish, for example, and you get an eight-fold reduction in emissions. And if you’re game to switch that to beans or lentils your emissions drop to near zero. It really gets interesting when lots of us start making similar changes.
Go forth, and eat wisely, and maybe others around you will be inspired to do the same…
The idea that wealthier people consume more and emit for greenhouse gases won’t surprise you. But the concentration of global emissions among the planet’s wealthiest might.
How much wealth do you need to be in the richest 10%? $68,800. So now we have a very clear picture of where (most of) the problem lies, and who should (mostly) bear the expense and burden of reducing carbon emissions–and it is not the world’s developing populations. Just in case that wasn’t already clear.
At the same time, the unrelenting rise in greenhouse-gas emissions in developing countries is propelled by an unbending reality identified way back in 2005 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, when he said, “The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge.”
At the same time, as well, other fundamental forces will continue to drive polluted China and smog-choked India to move away from unfettered coal combustion as a path to progress. An expanding middle class is already demanding cleaner air and sustainable transportation choices — just as similar forces enabled pollution cleanups in the United States in the last century.
But Revkin’s analysis is relative to a baseline that is already taking us toward disaster. Under President Trump we will just get there a little faster instead of a lot faster.
He goes on to discuss the environmental movement and whether it should go all out with demonstrations and civil disobedience to keep oil in the ground and prevent pipelines from being built. I am entirely sympathetic with the emotions behind mass action, but I think President Trump and the Republican Congress will enjoy throwing lots of greens into jail. Instead, I wish the environmental movement would adapt a strategy of humble and sincere personal responsibility and action. That is something others can get behind, regardless of their political leanings.
Finally, Revkin notes that the Supreme Court has ruled that carbon emissions are classified as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, which mandates that a Trump government limit them (or be subject to lawsuits). That is somewhat soothing, but very much underestimates what a Trump Supreme Court will do with environmental law and corporate regulations, especially if Trump gets another appointment–for Breyer or Ginsburg, say–beyond filling the seat Obama should have been allowed to fill.
Also, it is said Trump is leaning toward this guy for administrator of the EPA. That tells you all you need to know about how hard he will work to evade all the limits Revkin finds hopeful.
So don’t get distracted by all the back and forth about how terrible (or not) President Trump will be. It doesn’t really matter. Instead, I take hope from continuing to try to live in a way that values and conserves the natural world and all the nonhuman species out there who are struggling with our presence. In my fantasy world enough people do that to form a new political movement that can flourish amid the rubble of the failing two-party circus. No one in government, not even Myron Ebell or President Trump, can prevent that.
It should perhaps be called “During The Flood” because anthropogenic change is already starting to flood parts of our planet. And giving anyone the sense that climate disaster is out there in the future somewhere instead of right here, right now is probably a bad idea. But credit to Leo for fighting the good fight and pushing on climate issues with persistence and sincerity.
I haven’t seen this new doc yet, but the full version popped up on YouTube, courtesy of National Geographic. So here it is: