There are some things more important than the price of an mcf of natural gas or a barrel of oil

Hello From the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change — But Everything Is Different

By Bill McKibben   September 12, 2019 / 

McKibben is the author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? and a co-founder of

Let’s imagine for a moment that we’ve reached the middle of the century. It’s 2050, and we have a moment to reflect—the climate fight remains the consuming battle of our age, but its most intense phase may be in our rearview mirror. And so we can look back to see how we might have managed to dramatically change our society and economy. We had no other choice.

There was a point after 2020 when we began to collectively realize a few basic things.

One, we weren’t getting out of this unscathed. Climate change, even in its early stages, had begun to hurt: watching a California city literally called Paradise turn into hell inside of two hours made it clear that all Americans were at risk. When you breathe wildfire smoke half the summer in your Silicon Valley fortress, or struggle to find insurance for your Florida beach house, doubt creeps in even for those who imagined they were immune.

Two, there were actually some solutions. By 2020, renewable energy was the cheapest way to generate electricity around the planet—in fact, the cheapest way there ever had been. The engineers had done their job, taking sun and wind from quirky backyard DIY projects to cutting-edge technology. Batteries had plummeted down the same cost curve as renewable energy, so the fact that the sun went down at night no longer mattered quite so much—you could store its rays to use later.

And the third realization? People began to understand that the biggest reason we weren’t making full, fast use of these new technologies was the political power of the fossil-fuel industry. Investigative journalists had exposed its three-decade campaign of denial and disinformation, and attorneys general and plaintiffs’ lawyers were beginning to pick them apart. And just in time.

These trends first intersected powerfully on Election Day in 2020. The Halloween hurricane that crashed into the Gulf didn’t just take hundreds of lives and thousands of homes; it revealed a political seam that had begun to show up in polling data a year or two before. Of all the issues that made suburban Americans—women especially—­uneasy about President Trump, his stance on climate change was near the top. What had seemed a modest lead for the Democratic challenger widened during the last week of the campaign as damage reports from Louisiana and Mississippi rolled in; on election night it turned into a rout, and the analysts insisted that an under­appreciated “green vote” had played a vital part—after all, actual green parties in Canada, the U.K. and much of continental Europe were also outperforming expectations. Young voters were turning out in record numbers: the Greta Generation, as punsters were calling them, made climate change their No. 1 issue.

And when the new President took the oath of office, she didn’t disappoint. In her Inaugural Address, she pledged to immediately put America back in the Paris Agreement—but then she added, “We know by now that Paris is nowhere near enough. Even if all the countries followed all the promises made in that accord, the temperature would still rise more than 3°C (5°F or 6°F). If we let the planet warm that much, we won’t be able to have civilizations like the ones we’re used to. So we’re going to make the changes we need to make, and we’re going to make them fast.”

Fast, of course, is a word that doesn’t really apply to Capitol Hill or most of the world’s other Congresses, Parliaments and Central Committees. It took constant demonstrations from ever larger groups like Extinction Rebellion, and led by young activists especially from the communities suffering the most, to ensure that politicians feared an angry electorate more than an angry carbon lobby. But America, which historically had poured more carbon into the atmosphere than any other nation, did cease blocking progress. With the filibuster removed, the Senate passed—by the narrowest of margins—one bill after another to end subsidies for coal and gas and oil companies, began to tax the carbon they produced, and acted on the basic principles of the Green New Deal: funding the rapid deployment of solar panels and wind turbines, guaranteeing federal jobs for anyone who wanted that work, and putting an end to drilling and mining on federal lands.

Since those public lands trailed only China, the U.S., India and Russia as a source of carbon, that was a big deal. Its biggest impact was on Wall Street, where investors began to treat fossil-fuel stocks with increasing disdain. When BlackRock, the biggest money manager in the world, cleaned its basic passive index fund of coal, oil and gas stocks, the companies were essentially rendered off-limits to normal investors. As protesters began cutting up their Chase bank cards, the biggest lender to the fossil-fuel industry suddenly decided green investments made more sense. Even the staid insurance industry began refusing to underwrite new oil and gas pipelines—and shorn of its easy access to capital, the industry was also shorn of much of its political influence. Every quarter meant fewer voters who mined coal and more who installed solar panels, and that made political change even easier.

As America’s new leaders began trying to mend fences with other nations, climate action proved to be a crucial way to rebuild diplomatic trust. China and India had their own reasons for wanting swift action—mostly, the fact that smog-choked cities and ever deadlier heat waves were undermining the stability of the ruling regimes. When Beijing announced that its Belt and Road Initiative would run on renewable energy, not coal, the energy future of much of Asia changed overnight. When India started mandating electric cars and scooters for urban areas, the future of the internal-combustion engine was largely sealed. Teslas continued to attract upscale Americans, but the real numbers came from lower-priced electric cars pouring out of Asian factories. That was enough to finally convince even Detroit that a seismic shift was under way: when the first generation of Ford E-150 pickups debuted, with ads demonstrating their unmatched torque by showing them towing a million-pound locomotive, only the most unreconstructed motorheads were still insisting on the superiority of gas-powered rides.

Other easy technological gains came in our homes. After a century of keeping a tank of oil or gas in the basement for heating, people quickly discovered the appeal of air-source heat pumps, which turned the heat of the outdoors (even on those rare days when the temperature still dropped below zero) into comfortable indoor air. Gas burners gave way to induction cooktops. The last incandescent bulbs were in museums, and even most of the compact fluorescents had been long since replaced by LEDs. Electricity demand was up—but when people plugged in their electric vehicles at night, the ever growing fleet increasingly acted like a vast battery, smoothing out the curves as the wind dropped or the sun clouded. Some people stopped eating meat, and lots and lots of people ate less of it—a cultural transformation made easier by the fact that Impossible Burgers turned out to be at least as juicy as the pucks that fast-food chains had been slinging for years. The number of cows on the world’s farms started to drop, and with them the source of perhaps a fifth of emissions. More crucially, new diets reduced the pressure to cut down the remaining tropical rain forests to make way for grazing land.

In other words, the low-hanging fruit was quickly plucked, and the pluckers were well paid. Perhaps the fastest-growing business on the planet involved third-party firms that would retrofit a factory or an office with energy-efficient technology and simply take a cut of the savings on the monthly electric bill. Small businesses, and rural communities, began to notice the economic advantages of keeping the money paid for power relatively close to home instead of shipping it off to Houston or Riyadh. The world had wasted so much energy that much of the early work was easy, like losing weight by getting your hair cut.

But the early euphoria came to an end pretty quickly. By the end of the 2020s, it became clear we would have to pay the price of delaying action for decades.

For one thing, the cuts in emissions that scientists prescribed were almost impossibly deep. “If you’d started in 1990 when we first warned you, the job was manageable: you could have cut carbon a percent or two a year,” one eminent physicist explained. “But waiting 30 years turned a bunny slope into a black diamond.” As usual, the easy “solutions” turned out to be no help at all: fracked natural-gas wells were leaking vast quantities of methane into the atmosphere, and “biomass burning”—­cutting down forests to burn them for electricity—was putting a pulse of carbon into the air at precisely the wrong moment. (As it happened, the math showed letting trees stand was crucial for pulling carbon from the atmosphere—when secondary forests were allowed to grow, they sucked up a third or more of the excess carbon humanity was producing.) Environmentalists learned they needed to make some compromises, and so most of America’s aging nuclear reactors were left online past their decommissioning dates: that lower-carbon power supplemented the surging renewable industry in the early years, even as researchers continued work to see if fusion power, thorium reactors or some other advanced design could work.

The real problem, though, was that climate change itself kept accelerating, even as the world began trying to turn its energy and agriculture systems around. The giant slug of carbon that the world had put into the atmosphere—more since 1990 than in all of human history before—acted like a time-delayed fuse, and the temperature just kept rising. Worse, it appeared that scientists had systematically underestimated just how much damage each tenth of a degree would actually do, a point underscored in 2032 when a behemoth slice of the West Antarctic ice sheet slid majestically into the southern ocean, and all of a sudden the rise in sea level was being measured in feet, not inches. (Nothing, it turned out, could move Americans to embrace the metric system.) And the heating kept triggering feedback loops that in turn accelerated the heating: ever larger wildfires, for instance, kept pushing ever more carbon into the air, and their smoke blackened ice sheets that in turn melted even faster.

This hotter world produced an ongoing spate of emergencies: “forest-fire season” was now essentially year-round, and the warmer ocean kept hurricanes and typhoons boiling months past the old norms. And sometimes the damage was novel: ancient carcasses kept emerging from the melting permafrost of the north, and with them germs from illnesses long thought extinct. But the greatest crises were the slower, more inexorable ones: the ongoing drought and desertification was forcing huge numbers of Africans, Asians and Central Americans to move; in many places, the heat waves had literally become unbearable, with nighttime temperatures staying above 100°F and outdoor work all but impossible for weeks and months at a time. On low-lying ground like the Mekong Delta, the rising ocean salted fields essential to supplying the world with rice. The U.N. had long ago estimated the century could see a billion climate refugees, and it was beginning to appear it was unnervingly correct. What could the rich countries say? These were people who hadn’t caused the crisis now devouring their lives, and there weren’t enough walls and cages to keep them at bay, so the migrations kept roiling the politics of the planet.

There were, in fact, two possible ways forward. The most obvious path was a constant competition between nations and individuals to see who could thrive in this new climate regime, with luckier places turning themselves into fortresses above the flood. Indeed some people in some places tried to cling to old notions: plug in some solar panels and they could somehow return to a more naive world, where economic expansion was still the goal of every government.

But there was a second response that carried the day in most countries, as growing numbers of people came to understand that the ground beneath our feet had truly shifted. If the economy was the lens through which we’d viewed the world for a century, now survival was the only sensible basis on which to make decisions. Those decisions targeted not just carbon dioxide; these societies went after the wild inequality that also marked the age. The Green New Deal turned out to be everything the Koch brothers had most feared when it was introduced: a tool to make America a fairer, healthier, better-educated place. It was emulated around the world, just as America’s Clean Air Act had long served as a template for laws across the globe. Slowly both the Keeling Curve, measuring carbon in the atmosphere, and the Gini coefficient, measuring the distribution of wealth, began to flatten.

That’s where we are today. We clearly did not “escape” climate change or “solve” global warming—the temperature keeps climbing, though the rate of increase has lessened. It’s turned into a wretched century, which is considerably better than a catastrophic one. We ended up with the most profound and most dangerous physical changes in human history. Our civilization surely teetered—and an enormous number of people paid an unfair and overwhelming price—but it did not fall.

People have learned to defend what can be practically defended: expensive seawalls and pumps mean New York is still New York, though the Antarctic may yet have something to say on the subject. Other places we’ve learned to let go: much of the East Coast has moved in a few miles, to more defensible ground. Yes, that took trillions of dollars in real estate off the board—but the roads and the bridges would have cost trillions to defend, and even then the odds were bad.

Cities look different now—much more densely populated, as NIMBY defenses against new development gave way to an increasingly vibrant urbanism. Smart municipalities banned private cars from the center of town, opening up free public-transit systems and building civic fleets of self-driving cars that got rid of the space wasted on parking spots. But rural districts have changed too: the erratic weather put a premium on hands-on agricultural skills, which in turn provided opportunities for migrants arriving from ruined farmlands elsewhere. (Farming around solar panels has become a particular specialty.) America’s rail network is not quite as good as it was in the early 20th century, but it gets closer each year, which is good news since low-carbon air travel proved hard to get off the ground.

What’s changed most of all is the mood. The defiant notion that we would forever overcome nature has given way to pride of a different kind: increasingly we celebrate our ability to bend without breaking, to adapt as gracefully as possible to a natural world whose temper we’ve come to respect. When we look back to the start of the century we are, of course, angry that people did so little to slow the great heating: if we’d acknowledged climate change in earnest a decade or two earlier, we might have shaved a degree off the temperature, and a degree is measured in great pain and peril. But we also know it was hard for people to grasp what was happening: human history stretched back 10,000 years, and those millennia were physically stable, so it made emotional sense to assume that stability would stretch forward as well as past.

We know much better now: we know that we’ve knocked the planet off its foundations, and that our job, for the foreseeable centuries, is to absorb the bounces as she rolls. We’re dancing as nimbly as we can, and so far we haven’t crashed.

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This could very well be parts of south Louisiana. The climate crisis is happening now.

The Impact of Climate Change on Kivalina, Alaska

Alan Taylor  Sep 18, 2019


A questionable source exhibits one or more of the following: extreme bias, consistent promotion of propaganda/conspiracies, poor or no sourcing to credible information, a complete lack of transparency and/or is fake news. Fake News is the deliberate attempt to publish hoaxes and/or disinformation for the purpose of profit or influence (Learn More). Sources listed in the Questionable Category may be very untrustworthy and should be fact checked on a per article basis. Please note sources on this list are not considered fake news unless specifically written in the reasoning section for that source.

Interesting.  Your link to the mediabiasfactcheck goes to the American Thinker.  The questionable source definition certainly fits that conspiracy news site.

Think whatever you like, Mr. Henny Penny.

The climate changes every day. The weathermen and women and all other climate prognosticators can't predict with certainty what the weather will be tomorrow, next week, next year and most certainly not decades in the future.

Come...step into my world of conspiracy! Bwahaaahaaa

Thanks for the invitation, Dr. X, but I'll pass.  I prefer to live and work in the real world.  The public debate is over and deniers have lost.  You may however continue live in your partisan echo chamber and post whatever conspiracies and climate denials not backed by science that you may prefer.  The rest of us are moving on to a debate about what the response to the climate crisis should be.

Originally it was labeled global warming and now it is labeled climate change. It’s amazing to me a bartender from New York City is the champion of the green new deal.  It is also amazing to me that most of the people touting this propaganda live in major us cities and for the most part seem to have zero grasp of Mother Nature in general much less the major weather cycles that occur in a planet over time.  I am a country boy that lives outside. It gets cold in the winter and gets hot in the summer. I have also traveled quite a bit all over the world and most countries are not concerned about the environment and drinkable water is hard to come by. I believe God created this earth that I am in absolute awe of how the earth rotates perfectly each day and over time tilts a certain way and is an exact distance from a sun that gives just enough warmth to sustain life. Only mere imperfect humans with God complexes can be so naive to think they can control something so big and incomprehensible  . Most of the folks touting these scare tactics don’t believe in God and continue to state how awful things are when everyday I wake up and thank God for 1. The blessing of one more day 2. That I was born in the USA 3. God is in control and even if it is too hot or too cold. Lastly, just using common sense from an archeological standpoint civilizations are found under the surface of the earth all the time. My question would be what happened. 

Common sense seems to be a rare commodity these days. However, there is a growing number of qualified scientist who question the so called settled science of climate change. Some say the sun is entering a cooler period and that will have more effect on temperature than CO2 or other man made phenomenon. I am hoping for a cold winter, myself. With 2020 coming, our future depends upon it, IMHO. Thanks for your comments. Let's all enjoy the sunshine and clean fresh air this fall... and be courteous and respectful toward those with opinions we do not agree with. 

For a good read: The Rational Optimist, by Matt Ridly. The noble savage was not so noble. We've come so far and have so much to be thankful for. The fossil fuel industry has really created our modern society. With more common sense, and a sense of appreciation and knowledge of history, or young people would have more gratitude and respect towards the oil and gas industry. Just look around.

Bryan, the "some" are the 3%.  Or what's left of them.  Here is the bottom line for a historic view.  Our modern American economy and society were built on cheap energy.  There was a very rational reason for governments, federal and state, to incentivize the oil and gas business in the Twentieth Century.  The industry has taken that opening and run with it producing the longest and most lucrative list of tax breaks, exemptions and incentives while fighting most efforts to clean up their operations and the environment.  Here in Louisiana three or four generations were able to make careers, support a family and give their children advantages in life that many did not have in their day.  Those jobs are about half now and shrinking every year as there is less easy (economic) oil to produce and field operations become more automated.  Those without a college degree can still drive a truck but all the other jobs are fading fast.

Now the reality is that the decision to incentivize oil and gas has turned out to be a problem that was unforeseeable for 70 or 80 years depending on when a majority of Americans might have heeded the early warnings of climate change.  For the last 30 years the evidence has been building and the scientific community has been ratcheting up the warnings.  Now that the effects of the climate crisis are becoming more apparent and disturbing, a clear majority of Americans believe the science and support policies to address emissions.  The longer nothing is done, or we go backyard as we have for the last three years, the more disruptive the actions needed to address the more devastating affects of the climate crisis will be.  If those who understand the science and respect the coming generations who will live with the worst of the damage do not speak up, we will forever regret it.

New U.N. climate report: Massive change already here for world’s oceans and frozen regions

Growing coastal flooding is inevitable, and damage to corals and other marine life has already been unleashed. But scientists say the world still has time to avert even more severe consequences.

By Chris Mooney and  Brady Dennis  September 25 at 5:00 AM

Climate change is already causing staggering impacts on the oceans and ice-filled regions that encompass 80 percent of the Earth, and future damage from rising seas and melting glaciers is now all but certain, according to a sobering new report from the United Nations.

The warming climate is already killing coral reefs, supercharging monster storms, and fueling deadly marine heat waves and record losses of sea ice. And Wednesday’s report on the world’s oceans, glaciers, polar regions and ice sheets finds that such effects only foreshadow a more catastrophic future as long as greenhouse gas emissions remain unchecked.

Given current emissions levels, a number of serious impacts are essentially unavoidable, says the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Extreme floods that have historically struck some coastal cities and small island nations once every 100 years will become an annual occurrence by 2050, according to the IPCC. In addition, if emissions continue to increase, global sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century — around 12 percent higher than the group estimated as recently as 2013. Melting glaciers could harm water supplies, and warming oceans could wreck marine fisheries.

“As a result of excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the ocean today is higher, warmer, more acidic, less productive and holds less oxygen,” said Jane Lubchenco, a former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “The conclusion is inescapable: The impacts of climate change on the ocean are well underway. Unless we take very serious action very soon, these impacts will get worse — much, much worse.”

More than 100 scientists from around the world contributed to the latest report by the IPCC, which found that profound and potentially devastating consequences lie ahead for marine life, Arctic ecosystems and entire human societies if climate change continues unabated.

Wednesday’s report comes on the heels of other IPCC warnings about the grave threats climate change poses. Recently, the group detailed how the world’s land and water resources are facing “unprecedented” levels of exploitation and how those changes endanger the global food supply. Last fall, the IPCC also warned that the world must make rapid, sweeping changes to energy, transportation and other systems to hold warming below an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, a key threshold singled out in the Paris climate agreement.

The findings also come as world leaders gathered this week at the United Nations for a much-anticipated “climate summit” aimed at injecting new momentum into the flagging effort to persuade countries to do more to move away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner forms of energy. While dozens of smaller nations did unveil plans for coming years, the world’s largest emitters have stopped short of committing to transformational changes.

“The climate emergency is a race we are losing — but it is a race we can win if we change our ways now,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told world leaders Tuesday in his latest attempt to spur action. “Even our language has to adapt: What once was called ‘climate change’ is now truly a ‘climate crisis.’ … We are seeing unprecedented temperatures, unrelenting storms and undeniable science.”

The Washington Post recently detailed how shifting currents and worsening ocean heat events have already triggered die-offs of coastal clam species, worsening algal blooms and shifting fish catches in the South Atlantic along the coasts of Uruguay and Argentina, a hot spot for climate change. Wednesday’s report suggests similar changes are playing out across the world’s oceans — in some areas more than others.

One of the document’s most striking findings involves the rise in sea level, which is now being driven mainly by the rapid melting of ice in Greenland, Antarctica and the world’s smaller glaciers. Sea level rise is accelerating, and the world could see 3.6 feet in total sea level rise by the year 2100 in a very high-emissions scenario. In 2013, the IPCC had estimated that value at slightly over three feet.

But the truth is that even these estimates may be too small, because when scientists behind the report looked at an alternative method for gauging how much seas could rise — simply canvassing the views of experts — even larger estimates emerged. The group’s findings only highlight “likely” amounts of sea level rise, meaning they do not represent worst-case scenarios.

For some major coastal cities, a historical 100-year flood event will happen annually by the year 2050 even in a low emissions scenario, the report finds. That includes large cities such as Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok, Lima, Singapore, Barcelona and Sydney, according to the IPCC. In the United States, cities facing this fast-moving sea-level danger include Los Angeles, Miami, Savannah, Honolulu, San Juan, Key West and San Diego.

“The world’s coasts provide a home to around 1.9 billion people and over half of the world’s megacities — all of which are in grave danger if we don’t act immediately to prevent rising temperatures and sea levels,” Hildalgo said in a statement. “Extreme high temperatures, coastal flooding, and more frequent natural disasters are becoming the new normal ... This is what the climate crisis looks like now.”

Like coastal cities, various small island nations also face imminent dangers from rising seas and as a result have been among the most vocal in pushing for more-aggressive climate action.

Because sea level-rise greatly amplifies storm surge events, “flood levels are all of a sudden returning in many cases once a year by mid-century, and it just gets worse from there,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton climate scientist who led the report’s chapter on sea-level rise. “We’re talking about storms that, when they come, result in loss of life, loss of property, shut down cities."

Granted, the severity of a 100-year flood event varies greatly and will not always be disastrous in any one place, Oppenheimer said. Still, the finding underscores just how big a difference a steady rise in sea level can make — and how soon we are going to start to realize this.

Wednesday’s report also finds that while it may be possible to adapt to rising seas if global emissions are somehow kept low throughout the century, the system could still tip toward very large ice losses from Greenland and Antarctica. If that happens, the rate of sea-level rise could become truly catastrophic, especially by the years 2200 and 2300, when it could exceed 10 feet.

Ice loss is accelerating in Greenland and Antarctica, scientists found. Permafrost, which contains enormous amounts of carbon that can be released as it thaws, has warmed to “record high levels.” Summer Arctic sea ice extent is now probably lower than at any time in “at least 1,000 years,” and the oldest, thickest ice has already declined by 90 percent.

And then there is the entire world ocean. “Over the 21st century, the ocean is projected to transition to unprecedented conditions,” the report states.

The ocean is losing oxygen, growing more acidic, taking up an increasing amount of heat, and becoming more stratified, with warm water at the surface preventing cooler, nutrient rich waters from rising. All of these changes have profound consequences for marine ecosystems.

One of the most shocking findings involves “marine heat waves,” which have been blamed for mass deaths of corals, kelp forests and other key ocean organisms. The large majority of these events are already directly attributable to climate change, and by the year 2100, they will become 20 times more common in the best case, and 50 times as common in the absolute worst case, compared with the late 1800s, the report found.

Many of these changes to oceans and ice are unfolding in parts of the Earth where few people live, and so the shifts are not always readily visible to most humans. But the changes taking place there ultimately will affect people around the globe, in the form of rising seas and other impacts. And as those impacts worsen, so does the difficulty of adapting to them.

“People at the poles are experiencing climate change frequently, much more than the rest of us,” said Ted Schuur, one of the drafting authors of the report and a permafrost expert at Northern Arizona University. “But I think that’s in our future. Everybody living outside of these polar regions is going to start having these same effects.”

Lynn Scarlett, the vice president for policy and government relations at the Nature Conservancy and a top-ranking Interior Department official during the George W. Bush administration, said the grim findings in Wednesday’s report should be a call to action.

"We must not let these climate change impacts paralyze us,” she said in an email. “We must address root causes of climate change by slowing and eventually stopping accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions.”

There is much that humans can do to blunt the expected impacts in the meantime, she said, such as restoring mangroves and protecting reefs and marshes to reduce storm impacts on coastal communities.

“Alone, these measures cannot meet all the challenges of climate change to oceans and coasts, but they are doable, cost-effective and make a difference,” Scarlett said



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