Posts Tagged 'Climate'

On Denialism

Did you see Trump’s Coal Ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, say she believes “both sides” of the science on climate change? She and her husband, the Kentucky coal king, are major contributors to Trump’s campaign and inauguration. They also funnel money into his hotels, one of the major conduits of corruption flowing to the Trump Organization crime family. (His most fervent supporters in the Senate and House are also big spenders at his properties, with the pallid trollop Lindsay Graham as number-one bootlicker.)

Ah, “both sides.” Such inestimable damage corporate media has done with claiming to provide balance. 99.9-something % of the world’s scientists versus a handful of cranks is hardly balance. Of course, there’s rarely push back from the media to statements like Craft’s. Follow-ups like:

“Can you name one scientist or one peer reviewed study or one peer reviewed journal at all on the side that denies anthropomorphic warming?”

“Who actually makes up this side you also believe in?”

“What do you mean by “believe”?

“Or, put another way, how can you believe in two completely contradictory things at the same time?”

“Were you aware that scientists working for the oil, gas, and coal companies figured this all out half a century ago but their bosses chose to ignore them, bury the data, and fund the obscurantism and denialism you’re now peddling?

“Are you in the pay of the carbon industries …oh, that’s right, you are the carbon industry! Question withdrawn.”

Someone on their game — and Trump’s grifter scumbag crew are rarely on their game — might offer up the name of Bjorn Lomborg. But he doesn’t deny the reality of climate change, he’s just skeptical about what should be done about it.

I’m fascinated by the denialism complex. There’s the instrumental cynicism of the plutocratic funders of denialism, as they build their redoubts against radical climate transformations to protect their own, because they know what is coming. (I hear On The Beach will be remade in New Zealand instead of Australia.) There’s the denialism of Murdoch’s sluts; I don’t frankly know what they believe, but that’s immaterial; it’s what they perform. And then there’s the denialism of the serf-like supporters of denialism, parroting and serving their masters. Some of these folks have been brainwashed by religious and conspiracy thinking, which are not, after all, dissimilar. How well they fit the Trump cult.

Physics is complicated. The planet is complicated. The greenhouse metaphor, on the other hand, is not so complicated. But denialists aren’t looking at the evidence. They’re not actually making an argument against the science. They’re making an argument against science and rationality. They’re making an argument for rejectionist know-nothingism, militant stupidity, vicious irrationality. It’s all quite fascist, which is why it meshes so well with the Republican-authoritarian attack on democracy, as in the attack on the facts as we know them.

Check out Sarah Dry’s new book Waters of the World. There’s an absolutely fascinating century and a half of questioning, exploration, and experiment in the unraveling, per her subtitle, “of the mysteries of our oceans, atmosphere, and ice sheets.” A so very human achievement, flushed away by the epistemological nihilists.

Colonial Sea Birds Feeling the Heat

Warmer oceans=fewer fish=starving birds. This is a report from Alaska, where it’s been a bad year for North Pacific pelagics.

Nine years ago when I was Iceland, we went to a famed Atlantic Puffin nesting site. But it had been abandoned since the last time this tour group was there. Some locals we ran into said there just weren’t any fish offshore anymore.

I took the photo above on the Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast of the UK, in 2015. Censuses on the islands mark 2003 as the peak year of breeding Puffins (55,674). In 2018 there were 43,956 pairs, actually up 9% from 2013. Five year censuses were the norm, but concern about shrinking food sources have lead them to begin yearly ones.

More Puffins.
More Razorbills.
More Common Murres.

The Corporate Killers

Over and over again, industry has attacked science to further the profitability of… killing. The paradigm is Big Tobacco: cover up your own evidence and fund obfuscation and denial. The oil and gas oligarchy has followed that playbook: they knew about global warming decades ago; they knew pumping carbon into the atmosphere would heat the planet; but they carried on, suppressing their own scientists’ reports, funding doubt and lies, giving birth to thousands of social media crazies who don’t even have to be paid to spread the Petroleum Institute of America’s disinformation, ignorance, and calumny.

But as Gary Fuller shows in The Invisible Killer, this is all old hat for the corporate killers. The leaded gas industry pulled the same trick. Knowing it was poisonous — even the ancient Romans knew it was bad news — DuPont (Joe Biden’s feudal lords), Standard Oil (one of whose successors is Exxon…), and General Motors founded the Ethel Corporation and then proceed to lie, deny, and savage critics who said pumping lead into the environment was a deadly idea. Note that these producers of tetraethyl lead (TEL) as a gasoline additive made damn sure to keep the word “lead” out of their corporate name and PR. They knew, but they proceeded to poison the planet anyway, shortening lives, destroying cognitive ability.

Fuller introduced me to Thomas Midgley (1889-1944), the chemist and inventor who not only gave us lead additive but also the CFC known as Freon, the ozone-destroying gas once used in refrigerators and air conditioners. Somebody else could easily have been responsible for either of these deadly inventions, but what a ruinous double-header for one man! He’s been described as the person who “had more impact on the atmosphere than any single organism in earth history.” He seems to have strangled himself to death in the home-made system of pulleys he used after he was stricken with polio.

Acid rain? Ditto. When Norwegians pointed to British smokestacks as the source of sulfur from burning coal that was destroying Scandinavian forests and waterbodies, the industry obfuscated, discredited, belittled, delayed. Here the flip side was that the British power industry was then nationalized, so it was government doing the lying and attacking. Typically, it’s industry and government working together incestuously until — unless — the government is wrested from its corporate-capture.

Fuller’s book is also discussed in this New York Review article, along with a couple of other books and reports on the topic of air pollution, a problem we DID NOT actually fix in the 1970s.. Our lives are still being shortened by air pollution. And industry is still blocking clean up, still making money at the expense of premature human deaths, still assaulting the planet.

Is This It?

I intended this to be a humorous send-off to summer. The Turkey Vultures were cleaning up the day after some jumped-up apes — reader, you know the species intimately — partied on the beach at Croton Point.
Species that eat our garbage may be doing ok, but others not so much. God-damn, we are doing such a number on our only planet!

You saw the news? Bird populations have plummeted in North America. Here’s the actual study in Science.
Warblers are particularly hard hit.
This really isn’t news to birders. We live on anecdotes, and the veterans will tell you that there used to be more. Ebird and spring radar say the same thing.
This is a Cape May Warbler, spotted yesterday in Green-Wood.

We keep destroying habitat. Right here, for instance, in NYC, the “economic development” and “parks” people do it all the time. Two of the endless cases: wetlands imperiled in Staten Island and habitat for endangered Rusty Blackbirds threatened with paving in the Bronx.

We keep poisoning the food chain.

We keep heating the atmosphere, which has effects throughout the biosphere.

The outdoor and feral cat fans, who all claim to be “animal lovers” (ok, they love one invasive species, I’ll give the fuckers that) keep up the murderous pressure.
Common Yellowthroat.

Remember the baselines: kids today will think this is all normal tomorrow.

Climate Strike Prep

This Friday is the beginning of a week of the Global Climate Strike. Some resources:

Fridays for Future youth activism training program.

NYC student organizing guide.

Climate Strike educator toolkit.

Climate Strike Arts Kit, from whence this David Solnit fire-extinguisher logo comes.

People’s Climate Movement NYC.

Petition for teachers, educators, & faculty.

Here’s some history about general strikes, which are not completely alien to the U.S.

On the necessity of striking.

On the model of Extinction Rebellion: activism as an antidote to despair, and as something better than “hope”.


The Old English word unweder means bad, bad weather, a storm or tempest “so extreme that it seems to have come from another climate or time altogether” writes Robert MacFarlane in Underland. Exploring the rapidly shrinking ice of Greenland near the end of his new “deep time journey,” he’s in the thick of this uncanny weather.

“A ‘glacial pace’ used to mean movement so slow as to be almost static. Today’s glaciers, however, surge, retreat, vanish. The recession of Himalayan glaciers threatens the livelihoods and lives of more than a billion people in Asia, who depend on the water that is seasonally stored and released by these ice rivers.” India is already experiencing crushing heat. As is Europe, which saw all its records (the longest climate history in the world) shattered late last month.

There’s an awful lot in this book. The section on fungal tree interactions and communication is particularly fine. It will make you sad to see a street tree, which is basically an orphan. The section on nuclear waste, and efforts to warn future life-forms AWAY from it, is particularly horrific. The nuclear industry and its acolytes still push more power plants, but the problem of radioactive waste remains. They are trying to figure out a warning systems that needs to understood for as long as the human species exists… and beyond. The nonhuman needs to know, too. But by what right do we poison the future?

MacFarlane has an eye for the telling quote, too. “Are we being good ancestors?” asked Jonas Salk in the early 1990s. “What we excrete comes back to consume us,” wrote Don DeLillo in Underworld.

Wind At The Back

Just next month, a new edition of Lyall Watson’s Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind.

The title is iffy and I question its dependence on the Gaia hypothesis for its overarching theme. This seems par for course of Watson, who was a prolific popularizer of science who verged into the paranormal and New Age foolishness, where he seems to have confused curiosity for credulousness.

But, the woo-woo aside, there’s much to be gleaned in this encyclopedia of fascinations. By all means take a ride in its swirling currents.

The book originally came out in 1984, which perhaps explains why, for something about the thin but all important layer between rock and space, it takes its time getting to the greenhouse effect. Watson was… optimistic about the coming climate shift: “This is bound to affect economic and political stability and to change our coastlines and our lives, but it could also be the making of a new world — one worth getting excited about all over again.” Like many a peppy prognosticator, he is no longer around to check his opinion.

What I most take away from the book are the pages on aeroplankton. The air is its own ecosystem. It’s absolutely packed with lifeforms. Insects, of course. Tons of them. What else are the swallows and swifts gobbling up overhead? And spiders, lots and lots and lots of spiders, although I’ll wager less than in Watson’s day. Ditto the other insects. (Windshields used to be covered with dead bugs after night drives, but no more, cf: Michael McCarthy’s The Moth Snowstorm.) There’s pollen, too, as your nose knows, from ten thousand species of wind-pollinated plants.

And there lots of bacteria and viruses. Also spores, of fungi, lichens, mosses, liverworts, ferns. Then there’s the dust, from plowed field, desert, volcanoes.

From more recent research: 56 million metric tons of dust per year crosses the Pacific to North America, and that’s just one pathway; “the earth’s atmosphere is like a conveyor belt for microbes”; “it is now understood that even dead cells can play a functional role in weather and climate as cloud and ice condensation nuclei.”

Don’t forget the pollution which settles on the ice of the poles, reducing its albedo, meaning less reflection and more heat in the atmosphere.

“”…the latin root anima, meaning both ‘wind’ and ‘spirit’ — which leads ultimately to animus the ‘soul,’ animare to fill with ‘breath,’ and ultimately ‘animal.’ And the root spirare to ‘breath,’ from which comes ‘spirit,’ ‘aspire,’ and , in the end, ‘inspiration.'” [Not to mention ”conspire,” to breath together.]

A dictionary of wind blows through the final pages of Watson’s book. Oe, Halny, Williwaw, Waltzing Jinn, Chinook. I remember the latter from my year in Calgary: sudden thaws would pour down from the Rockies in winter. Spring came early, for a day or two.

Hey, fun for the kids: how the world has warmed, down to the local level, and predictions on increasing warming in the place where you live.

Two Degrees

“What happens if one changes a systems’s parameters — the temperature, the weather, the climate? What will collapse and what will endure? Who will live and who will die?”

A two-degree rise in global mean temperature, which now sounds optimistically low for the results of global warming this century, may be compared with effects of the two degree drop during the Little Ice Age. Nature’s Mutiny, by Philipp Blom, details how, in the words of the subtitle, “the Little Ice Age of the long seventeenth century transformed the west and shaped the present.” The entire socio-political fabric of western civ. was ripped to pieces. Millions died of war, disease, and starvation from Spain to Russia. Irrationalism became triumphant with messiah-mountebanks running amuck. Some 50,000 people were burned or otherwise executed as witches, often blamed for crop failures, earthquakes, hail storms.

Feudalism was obliterated. Capitalism was born along with it’s eviler twin colonialism. In 1607, the first summer at Jamestown (Virginia) was the driest in nearly 800 years. The colony was reduced to cannibalism before reinforcements arrived from England.

The past is not prologue, of course, but using this model, we should think hard about massive demographic transformation, profound changes in political economy, and a radical up-rooting of everything we’ve known — in one-two-three generations. Of course, all this has already begun. The news from the Greenland, Alaska, Antarctica, the Himalayas… New Orleans, is all bad.

In these pages, I discovered William Shakespeare doing some script-doctoring for the play Sir Thomas More. He wrote this speech for More’s character. This fictional (the real More was fairly awful) More is confronting an anti-immigrant mob, asking them to put themselves in the place of strangers in a strange land — say someplace of virulent nativists, for-profit concentration camps, fascist thugs in uniform, orange pancake makeup-wearing ogres:

Why, you must needs be strangers, would you be pleas’d
To find a nation of such barbarous temper
That breaking out in hideous violence
Would not afford you an abode on earth.
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, not that the elements
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But charter’d unto them? What would you think
To be us’d thus? This is the strangers’ case
And this your mountainish inhumanity.

“As you know, this is not a new issue.”

Recently, I cited this April 1979 report, The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate, from the Jasons to the DOE.

That same year saw the publication of Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment, by the Ad Hoc Study Group on Carbon Dioxide and Climate. It’s conclusion: “It appears that the warming will eventually occur, and the associated regional climatic changes so important to the assessment of socioeconomic consequences may well be significant, but unfortunately the latter cannot yet be adequately projected.”

Two years earlier, Frank Press penned this letter to President Jimmy Carter. He wrote: “The potential effect on the environment of a climate fluctuation of such rapidity could be catastrophic and calls for an impact assessment of unprecedented importance and difficulty.” Press served four presidents as a science advisor; he was director of Carter’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. The title of today’s post also comes from this letter. Carter was a fairly insipid neocon abroad and a neoliberal at home. His redemptory glow stems from his post-White House career. He didn’t do diddly about Press’s letter, or the other reports (noted above) during his administration, in fact, quite the opposite, and one assumes that that is what he will be remembered for in 2100, if anything.

Decades before all this, Svante Arrhenius made the first quantitative predictions for the greenhouse effect. (As analogies go, the atmospheric greenhouse is one of my favorites.) He was, of course, preceded by others. For instance, in the 1820s, Joseph Fourier said the Earth should have been colder than it was because of its distance from the Sun; he postulated that our atmosphere was an insulator. Ding, ding! Claude Pouillet finessed Fourier’s work in the following decade. In 1856, Eunice Newton Foote’s paper at the AAAS (being female, she wasn’t allowed to read it herself) noted that the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would effect temperature.

Charles Keeling, who died in 2005, gave his name to the Keeling Curve, which charts the CO2 build up in the atmosphere. This has been measured at the base of Mauna Loa since 1958. The NSF stopped funding him in the early 1960s, although his work was cited in their 1963 report on the increasing amounts of heat-trapping gasses. In 1965, LBJ’s Science Advisory Committee produced a big report on pollution, including the hazardous increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. Some of the challenges in that report were met, even by the ghastly Richard Nixon. Before Trump, we’d done wonders to clean up our air, water, and food — but the atmosphere was left alone by the lot of them.

Today, a well-funded effort by the petroleum industry — whose own scientists were talking of all this half a century ago, — has sown doubt and confusion amidst the scientifically illiterate. (Speaking of which, did you see the news about the GOP Governor of Alaska demanding 41% evisceration of the U of Alaska’s budget: these fucks know ignorance pays off for them.) The fanaticism of true-believers in falsehood is manifest in the attempts to deny physics, and erase this science out of history. They’re doing this at Trump’s EPA, not Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.

But hiding data won’t change the facts, or the effects of those facts. Those are proceeding apace.

Next Sunday: that time a two degree change in the global average changed the world.

Sinister Snails

Little freshwater mollusks in the Physa genus, according to the iNaturalist community. The aperture is on the left side, hence sinistral. In the Sylvan Water. How did they get here? Did they arrive via muddy duck feet, a noted transportation system for plants and animals?Less than a centimeter long, with some smaller. To the nearly six-foot tall observer, they look like tiny rocks.

Nathaniel Rich’s NYTimes Magazine article on climate change last summer has been expanded into a book called Losing Earth: A Recent History.

This review provides a good synopsis. It also notes something Rich dug up that I’d never heard of before, a JASON (scientific advisors) report to the Department of Energy. The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate was published in 1979. Nineteen-fucking-seventy-nine. I tracked it down. The brainiacs suggest that if current conditions etc. continued the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide would double by 2035 and the resulting warmer planet would have ominous results the world over. The report was largely ignored. 1979!

Since then, the carbon giants, whose own scientists told them the same thing, have so successfully poisoned so many susceptible minds, that the likes of the Oregon situation is unfolding.


Bookmark and Share

Join 686 other subscribers
Nature Blog Network