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kottke.org posts about Global Warming

Bill Nye to Climate Change Naysayers: “Grow the Fuck Up”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2019

In the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver discusses the Green New Deal and carbon pricing. Oliver invited beloved children’s science educator Bill Nye to help him explain a few things and Nye delivered a short but passionate speech about what’s at stake in the political battle over climate change:

I’ve got an experiment for you. Safety glasses on. By the end of this century, if emissions keep rising, the average temperature on earth could go up another four to eight degrees. What I’m saying is: the planet’s on fucking fire!

There are a lot of things we could do to put it out. Are any of them free? No, of course not. Nothing’s free you idiots! Grow the fuck up, you’re not children anymore. I didn’t mind explaining photosynthesis to you when you were 12. But you’re adults now and this is an actual crisis, got it? Safety glasses off, motherfuckers.

The entire segment is worth watching (particularly if you haven’t been keeping up on what the Green New Deal actually is) but Nye’s closing remarks are at ~18:30 for the impatient.

Barack Obama’s Spring 2019 Book Recommendations

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2019

Moment Of Lift

In a recent Facebook post, President Obama 1 shared a few books that he’s been reading recently. At the tippy top is Melinda Gates’ The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.

When you lift up women, you lift up everybody — families, communities, entire countries. That’s not just the right approach; it’s backed up by research and countless real-world examples. In her book, Melinda tells the stories of the inspiring people she’s met through her work all over the world, digs into the data, and powerfully illustrates issues that need our attention — from child marriage to gender inequity in the workplace. I’ve called Melinda an impatient optimist and that’s what she delivers here — the urgency to tackle these problems and the unwavering belief that solving them is indeed possible.

From a short excerpt of the book:

In my travels, I’ve learned about hundreds of millions of women who want to decide for themselves whether and when to have children, but they can’t. They have no access to contraceptives. And there are many other rights and privileges that women and girls are denied: The right to decide whether and when and whom to marry. The right to go to school. Earn an income. Work outside the home. Walk outside the home. Spend their own money. Shape their budget. Start a business. Get a loan. Own property. Divorce a husband. See a doctor. Run for office. Ride a bike. Drive a car. Go to college. Study computers. Find investors. All these rights are denied to women in some parts of the world. Sometimes these rights are denied under law, but even when they’re allowed by law, they’re still often denied by cultural bias against women.

Two of the top ten solutions on Paul Hawken’s list for slowing the effects of climate change are “educating girls” and “family planning”, which taken together would have a greater impact on reversing climate change than any other thing on the list.

Obama also recommends Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a book I’ve been curious about ever since it was published. Friends have recommended it and the cover always catches my eye in the bookstore even though I’m never specifically looking for it. I don’t even know why I’ve been resisting it…just ordered it!

  1. President Obama. That two-word phrase still fills me with so many conflicting emotions that I can’t even process it. I imagine it’s the same way for a lot of other people (on both sides of the political spectrum).

Eight Ways to Teach Climate Change in School

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2019

According to a poll conducted by NPR/Ipsos, over 80% of American parents want climate change to be taught in our schools, but only 42% of the teachers polled say that they teach it in their classrooms.

If they don’t hear about it at home, will kids learn about climate change in school? To answer this question, NPR/Ipsos also completed a nationally representative survey of around 500 teachers. These educators were even more likely than the general public to believe in climate change and to support teaching climate change.

In fact, 86% of teachers believe climate change should be taught in schools. In theory.

But in practice, it’s more complicated. More than half — 55% — of teachers we surveyed said they do not cover climate change in their own classrooms or even talk to their students about it.

The most common reason given? Nearly two-thirds (65%) said it’s outside their subject area.

NPR education correspondent Anya Kamenetz shared 8 Ways To Teach Climate Change In Almost Any Classroom, regardless of what subject you teach.

5. Assign a research project, multimedia presentation or speech.

Gay Collins teaches public speaking at Waterford High School in Waterford, Conn. She is interested in “civil discourse” as a tool for problem-solving, so she encourages her students “to shape their speeches around critical topics, like the use of plastics, minimalism, and other environmental issues.

I am, however, still hung up on the 12% of teachers polled who said that the world’s climate is not changing.

Climate Poll Teachers

David Attenborough on How to Save Our Planet

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2019

In this short video essay, David Attenborough succinctly describes the main problem of the anthropocene (that modern humans are not living sustainably as they once could as hunter gatherers), explains the effect we’ve had on the planet, and then suggests how we can fix things (italics mine):

The plan for our planet is remarkably simple. Reduce our impact by making sure that everything we do, we can do forever.

Sustainability is such a buzzword these days that I have long since stopped thinking about what it actually means; Attenborough nails it with “making sure that everything we do, we can do forever”. The Earth seems infinite in scope but not with 7, 8, or 9 billion humans hungry for food, thirsty for water, and lusty for status & entertainment.

The simple plan Attenborough describes has four parts:

1. Phase out fossil fuels and replace them with renewables.
2. Upgrading to efficient food production and reducing our consumption of meat.
3. Proper worldwide ocean management.
4. Rewilding the world.

As he allows, it’s a bit more complicated than that — check out Paul Hawken’s list for a more detailed list of things we can do to fight climate change.

Fighting Climate Change with CO2-Eating “Ideal Plants”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2019

At the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Dr. Joanne Chory is working on a project to create plants capable of storing more carbon for a longer period of time than normal plants in order to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Suberin — also known as cork — is a naturally occurring carbon-rich substance found in plant roots. It absorbs carbon yet resists decomposition (which releases carbon back into the atmosphere), enriches soil and helps plants resist stress.

By understanding and improving just a few genetic pathways in plants, Salk’s plant biologists believe they can help plants grow bigger, more robust root systems that absorb larger amounts of carbon, burying it in the ground in the form of suberin.

The Salk team will use cutting-edge genetic and genomic techniques to develop these Salk Ideal Plants.

Salk Ideal Plants

According to this piece in the Guardian on the project, one of the techniques they’re using is CRISPR, basically a genetic copy/paste system. Once the team demonstrates they can grow these larger root systems in model plants, they’ll genetically transfer that capability to the world’s largest food crops like rice, wheat, and corn.

As a bonus, the team believes that Ideal Plants will have other positive effects:

In addition to mitigating climate change, the enhanced root systems will help protect plants from stresses caused by climate changes and the additional carbon in the soil will make the soil richer, promoting better crop yields and more food for a growing global population.

This project is firmly on the wizard end of the wizards vs prophets spectrum.

How Does Venice Work?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2019

The canals, the sewers, the buildings, the bridges and the rest of the Venice’s infrastructure has all been engineered to deal with a particularly challenging environment: not-particularly-solid ground constantly battered by salt water. In this short film, we learn how the city works and what steps have been taken over the centuries to ensure the smooth function of the city.

Whether Venice can survive the severe sea level rise coming in the next few decades is still an open question. (thx, david)

Winter Is Coming, the Climate Change Message at the Heart of Game of Thrones

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

In a Q&A with the NY Times back in October, George R.R. Martin connected the goings-on in Westeros with the challenges raised by climate change here in the real world.

The people in Westeros are fighting their individual battles over power and status and wealth. And those are so distracting them that they’re ignoring the threat of “winter is coming,” which has the potential to destroy all of them and to destroy their world. And there is a great parallel there to, I think, what I see this planet doing here, where we’re fighting our own battles. We’re fighting over issues, important issues, mind you — foreign policy, domestic policy, civil rights, social responsibility, social justice. All of these things are important. But while we’re tearing ourselves apart over this and expending so much energy, there exists this threat of climate change, which, to my mind, is conclusively proved by most of the data and 99.9 percent of the scientific community. And it really has the potential to destroy our world. And we’re ignoring that while we worry about the next election and issues that people are concerned about, like jobs. Jobs are a very important issue, of course. All of these things are important issues. But none of them are important if, like, we’re dead and our cities are under the ocean. So really, climate change should be the number one priority for any politician who is capable of looking past the next election. But unfortunately, there are only a handful of those. We spend 10 times as much energy and thought and debate in the media discussing whether or not N.F.L. players should stand for the national anthem than this threat that’s going to destroy our world.

That message has always lurked in the background of the HBO show but seemed closer to the surface in the latest episode — mild spoilers! — which finds several factions that were formerly set against each other in various configurations all working together to defeat a much more threatening common enemy. It is quite difficult, nearly impossible even, to imagine a similar coalition of Democrats, Republicans, Democratic Socialists, Libertarians, and everyone in between allied with each other to combat climate change, but we’re going have to get there somehow. We either do it soon and get the world we want or we continue to do very little and pay a much heavier price later for a world that no one wants.

Update: See also Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s recap of the first episode of the current season of Game of Thrones. Wait, what?!

And as much as Dany wants to take on her family’s enemies and take back the Iron Throne, she knows that she must first fight the army of the dead that threatens all mankind. This is a revolutionary idea, in Westeros or anywhere else. A queen who declares that she doesn’t serve the interests of the rich and powerful? A ruler who doesn’t want to control the political system but to break the system as it is known? It’s no wonder that the people she meets in Westeros are skeptical.

The Extinction Symbol

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

Extinction Symbol

With its recent use by the participants in the Extinction Rebellion, the extinction symbol has become much more widely known, on its way to becoming the peace symbol of the climate movement.

The symbol above represents extinction. The circle signifies the planet, while the hourglass inside serves as a warning that time is rapidly running out for many species. The world is currently undergoing a mass extinction event, and this symbol is intended to help raise awareness of the urgent need for change in order to address this crisis. Estimates are that somewhere between 30,000 and 140,000 species are becoming extinct every year in what scientists have named the Holocene, or Sixth Mass Extinction. This ongoing process of destruction is being caused by the impact of human activity. Within the next few decades approximately 50% of all species that now exist will have become extinct. Such a catastrophic loss of biodiversity is highly likely to cause widespread ecosystem collapse and consequently render the planet uninhabitable for humans.

The symbol and a stencil template are available for download “for non-commercial purposes”.

There’s a disclaimer at the bottom of the page about merchandise, which reads in part:

No extinction symbol merchandise exists, and it never will do. The free use of the extinction symbol by individuals in their personal artwork or other forms of expression is strongly welcomed and encouraged, but any form of commercial use of the symbol is completely against its ethos and should therefore be refrained from. To reiterate, please do not use the symbol on any items that will be sold, or for any other fundraising purposes. There are no exceptions to this policy.

Here’s the thing: I want a t-shirt with the extinction symbol on it so I can signify my support (in a small way) for climate justice. If I’m reading this correctly, I can make a t-shirt for myself but not have one made for me? Or can I have a single print-on-demand shirt made for me at cost? Making my own shirt (I’d need to buy a bunch of single-use supplies) or getting a one-off printed doesn’t seem very climate-friendly at all. How about taking orders from other interested folks (like you all) and selling the shirts at cost? That seems much more climate-friendly but also firmly against the symbol maker’s strict policy.

I think we’re bumping up against an inconvenient truth about capitalism here: it is sometimes (or perhaps even often) the most efficient and least wasteful way to produce something because it’s actually a deeply collectivist endeavor. Let’s say you’re holding a climate protest, 100,000 people are coming, and those people want to bring shirts or signs or other protest equipment to the protest to “advertise” their displeasure to those watching, near and far. Is it more climate friendly for all those people to individually buy supplies and each produce their own things or would it be better to rely on a organization whose sole purpose is to produce protest supplies (using carbon-free energy and materials) and pay them more than the cost of the supplies so they can provide their employees a living wage and even advertise their services a little so they can actually remain in the protest supplies business and take even more advantage of economies of scale to keep prices down? Run it as a non-profit if you’d like. That seems far less wasteful to me than people buying one-off supplies, even on a group basis.

You might interject here that producing anything that uses any natural resources for such a protest is wasteful and unethical. I think that’s a fair point! What’s the ROI for protest materials? Is it wasteful to spend a little CO2 now to possibly save a bunch of CO2 in the future or is it smart? Gah, all I want is a shirt to express myself! Are there any simple and ethical solutions in a world that’s so densely networked and interconnected?

David Attenborough Hosts “Climate Change: The Facts”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

From the BBC and hosted by David Attenborough, “Climate Change: The Facts” is an hour-long program on the science of climate change and what we might be able to do about it.

Sir David’s new programme laid out the science behind climate change, the impact it is having right now and the steps that can be taken to fight it.

“In the 20 years since I first started talking about the impact of climate change on our world, conditions have changed far faster than I ever imagined,” Sir David stated in the film.

“It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies.”

With each successive nature series, Attenborough has become more vocal about the effects of climate change on our planet and its plant and animal populations. In his new Netflix series Our Planet, climate change takes center stage.

Compared to its predecessors, the series also frames the value of nature in a new way. Usually Attenborough’s programs establish a place or a species as a thing of remarkable beauty-this soulful orangutan, that industrious bird of paradise-before warning that it is somehow imperilled. The value of the creature is its existence. We may never see a polar bear, but we take pleasure from knowing that they’re out there. In “Our Planet,” the value of nature is presented as something much closer to home, and more practical. Attenborough reminds viewers again and again of the connections that link these far-flung ecosystems to our own species’s survival. Protect the sea otter because it’s lovely, if you like, but also because it keeps in check the sea urchins that otherwise mow down kelp forests, which act as crucial carbon sinks. “We are part of nature. We aren’t separate from nature,” Attenborough told me.

Only Mass Protests Can Prevent “an Ecological Apocalypse”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

In an opinion piece for the Guardian, George Monbiot argues that mass protests are “essential” to force a political response to climate change.

As the environmental crisis accelerates, and as protest movements like YouthStrike4Climate and Extinction Rebellion make it harder not to see what we face, people discover more inventive means of shutting their eyes and shedding responsibility. Underlying these excuses is a deep-rooted belief that if we really are in trouble, someone somewhere will come to our rescue: “they” won’t let it happen. But there is no they, just us.

The political class, as anyone who has followed its progress over the past three years can surely now see, is chaotic, unwilling and, in isolation, strategically incapable of addressing even short-term crises, let alone a vast existential predicament.

This paragraph neatly summarizes a bunch of important points about climate change and our current system (italics mine):

Every nonlinear transformation in history has taken people by surprise. As Alexei Yurchak explains in his book about the collapse of the Soviet Union — Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More — systems look immutable until they suddenly disintegrate. As soon as they do, the disintegration retrospectively looks inevitable. Our system — characterised by perpetual economic growth on a planet that is not growing — will inevitably implode. The only question is whether the transformation is planned or unplanned. Our task is to ensure it is planned, and fast. We need to conceive and build a new system based on the principle that every generation, everywhere has an equal right to enjoy natural wealth.

As I wrote several years ago, “nonlinear systems, man”.

Going Real Estate Shopping in a Climate Change-Threatened Miami

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2019

Sarah Miller went looking for real estate in Miami, a place where the sea level could rise between one and three feet in the next 30 years. As she discovered, the real estate agents there have gotten good at deflecting buyers’ concerns about such matters.

I asked how the flooding was.

“There are pump stations everywhere, and the roads were raised,” he said. “So that’s all been fixed.”

“Fixed,” I said. “Wow. Amazing.”

I asked how the hurricanes were.

He said that because the hurricanes came from the tropics, from the south and this was the west side of Miami Beach, they were not that bad in this neighborhood. “Oh, right,” I said, as if that made any sense.

I asked him if he liked it here. “I love it,” he said. “It is one of the most thriving cities in the country, it’s growing rapidly.” He pointed to a row of buildings in a neighborhood called Edgewater that were all just three years old. “That skyline was all built in the last three years.”

Wow, I said, just in the last three years… “They’re not worried about sea level rise?”

“It’s definitely something the city is trying to combat. They are fighting it, by raising everything. But so far, it hasn’t been an issue.”

I couldn’t wait to steal this line, slightly altered. “I am afraid of dying, sure, but so far, it hasn’t been an issue.”

Later, I texted Kristina Hill, an associate professor of urban ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, whose main work is helping coastal communities adapt to climate change. I told her that a real estate agent had just told me hurricanes were weaker near Sunset Harbour, because it was in the east side of Miami, and hurricanes come from the south. She wrote back, “That’s ridiculous!”

The analysis of why Amsterdam and Miami are quite dissimilar when it comes to their respective responses to climate change is enlightening.

The Big Plan in the Netherlands depends on walls. Since Miami is built on limestone, which soaks up water like a sponge, walls are not very useful. In Miami, sea water will just go under a wall, like a salty ghost.

A Light Installation in a Scottish Coastal Town Vividly Shows Future Sea Level Rise

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2019

Lines Sea Level

Lines Sea Level

Lines (57° 59´N, 7° 16´W) is a light installation in Lochmaddy, Scotland that visualizes how much the sea level will rise if our climate keeps changing at its current pace. Co-collaborators Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyvirta installed sensors to detect high tide, which then illuminates lights showing what the high tide will look like in the future.

The installation explores the catastrophic impact of our relationship with nature and its long-term effects. The work provokes a dialogue on how the rising sea levels will affect coastal areas, its inhabitants and land usage in the future.

This is specifically relevant in the low lying island archipelago of Uist in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, and in particular to Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre in Lochmaddy where the installation is situated. The Centre cannot develop on its existing site due to predicted storm surge sea levels.

(via colossal)

“The Age of Climate Panic Is Here”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2019

David Wallace-Wells, who you may remember from his 2017 New York magazine piece, has written an opinion piece about climate change for the NY Times called Time to Panic. In it, he urges that it’s time for urgent human action on climate change…time to stop treating it like a problem and start treating it like the crisis it is.

The age of climate panic is here. Last summer, a heat wave baked the entire Northern Hemisphere, killing dozens from Quebec to Japan. Some of the most destructive wildfires in California history turned more than a million acres to ash, along the way melting the tires and the sneakers of those trying to escape the flames. Pacific hurricanes forced three million people in China to flee and wiped away almost all of Hawaii’s East Island.

We are living today in a world that has warmed by just one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 1800s, when records began on a global scale. We are adding planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at a rate faster than at any point in human history since the beginning of industrialization.

In October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released what has become known as its “Doomsday” report — “a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen,” as one United Nations official described it — detailing climate effects at 1.5 and two degrees Celsius of warming (2.7 and 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). At the opening of a major United Nations conference two months later, David Attenborough, the mellifluous voice of the BBC’s “Planet Earth” and now an environmental conscience for the English-speaking world, put it even more bleakly: “If we don’t take action,” he said, “the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

Scientists have felt this way for a while. But they have not often talked like it. For decades, there were few things with a worse reputation than “alarmism” among those studying climate change.

This is a bit strange. You don’t typically hear from public health experts about the need for circumspection in describing the risks of carcinogens, for instance. The climatologist James Hansen, who testified before Congress about global warming in 1988, has called the phenomenon “scientific reticence” and chastised his colleagues for it — for editing their own observations so conscientiously that they failed to communicate how dire the threat actually was.

This essay is adapted from Wallace-Wells’ new book The Uninhabitable Earth, which is out tomorrow:

In his travelogue of our near future, David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await — food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe. But the world will be remade by warming in more profound ways as well, transforming our politics, our culture, our relationship to technology, and our sense of history. It will be all-encompassing, shaping and distorting nearly every aspect of human life as it is lived today.

The Colonization of the Americas Cooled the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2019

A new paper from researchers at University College London argues that the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americans after Columbus’s landing in 1492 had a significant effect on the Earth’s global climate and was a major cause of the Little Ice Age, the dip in global temperatures from the 16th to the 19th centuries. They estimate that 55 million indigenous people died during Europe’s conquest of the Americas (~90% of the population), and the 56 million hectares of land that they had cleared of vegetation (roughly the area of Kenya) was then reclaimed by forests, which then took in more carbon dioxide, reduced the greenhouse effect, and caused the Earth to cool. From the paper’s conclusion:

We calculate that this led to an additional 7.4 Pg C being removed from the atmosphere and stored on the land surface in the 1500s. This was a change from the 1400s of 9.9 Pg C (5 ppm CO2). Including feedback processes this contributed between 47% and 67% of the 15-22 Pg C (7-10 ppm CO2) decline in atmospheric CO2 between 1520 CE and 1610 CE seen in Antarctic ice core records. These changes show that the Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas is necessary for a parsimonious explanation of the anomalous decrease in atmospheric CO2 at that time and the resulting decline in global surface air temperatures.

Little Ice Age Graph

The authors also assert that this effect of human action on global climate marks the beginning of the Anthropocene epoch.

I first heard about this theory from Charles Mann’s excellent 1493, which led me to William Ruddiman’s 2003 paper. I heard about this most recent study from Mann too… he called it “most careful study of the impacts of Euro conquest of Americas I’ve yet seen”.

If you’re not up for reading the paper itself, you can check out the coverage from the BBC, the Guardian, Nature, or the NY Times.

It’s So Cold Out! Where’s the Global Warming?!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

In what is now an annual tradition, when the temperatures in some part of the US plunge below zero degrees on the Fahrenheit scale, some nitwit Republican climate change-denier live-tweets from the back pocket of industry something like “It’s so cold out where’s the global warming when we need it???? #OwnTheLibs”. This time around, it was our very own Shitwhistle-in-Chief who tweeted merrily about the current polar vortex bearing down on the Midwest:

In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!

Some time ago, Randall Munroe addressed what severe cold in the US has to do with climate change on XKCD: it used to be colder a lot more often but we don’t really remember it.

XKCD Cold Weather Global Warming

When I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin, I recall experiencing overnight low temperatures in the -30°F to -40°F range several times and vividly remember being stranded in my house for a week in 1996 when the all-time record low for the state (-55°F) was established in nearby Couderay.

Munroe’s observation isn’t even the whole story. Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, writes that the polar vortex bringing cold air into the Midwest is connected to the rapidly warming Arctic.

Because of rapid Arctic warming, the north/south temperature difference has diminished. This reduces pressure differences between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, weakening jet stream winds. And just as slow-moving rivers typically take a winding route, a slower-flowing jet stream tends to meander.

Large north/south undulations in the jet stream generate wave energy in the atmosphere. If they are wavy and persistent enough, the energy can travel upward and disrupt the stratospheric polar vortex. Sometimes this upper vortex becomes so distorted that it splits into two or more swirling eddies.

These “daughter” vortices tend to wander southward, bringing their very cold air with them and leaving behind a warmer-than-normal Arctic.

(via @mkonnikova)

Climate Change Is Stealing Our Children’s Futures

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2018

On Wednesday, 15-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the UN plenary meeting at the COP24 climate talks in Poland. In it, she blasted world and business leaders for their political inaction on climate change, calling them immature (italics mine).

But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.

But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.

The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.

“You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.” Damn. Thunberg has been leading school strikes for climate justice in Sweden and is calling for worldwide strikes in schools today. She recently gave a talk at TEDxStockholm about her climate activism.

In October, Masha Gessen profiled Thunberg for the New Yorker.

Thunberg developed her special interest in climate change when she was nine years old and in the third grade. “They were always talking about how we should turn off lights, save water, not throw out food,” she told me. “I asked why and they explained about climate change. And I thought this was very strange. If humans could really change the climate, everyone would be talking about it and people wouldn’t be talking about anything else. But this wasn’t happening.” Turnberg has an uncanny ability to concentrate, which she also attributes to her autism. “I can do the same thing for hours,” she said. Or, as it turns out, for years. She began researching climate change and has stayed on the topic for six years. She has stopped eating meat and buying anything that is not absolutely necessary. In 2015, she stopped flying on airplanes, and a year later, her mother followed suit, giving up an international performing career. The family has installed solar batteries and has started growing their own vegetables on an allotment outside the city. To meet me in central Stockholm, Thunberg and her father rode their bikes for about half an hour; the family has an electric car that they use only when necessary.

Update: Thunberg does not mince words. At a lunchtime panel at Davos (featuring Bono and Jane Goodall), she told the room:

Some people say that the climate crisis is something that we all have created. But that is not true, because if everyone is guilty then no one is to blame. And someone is to blame. Some people, some companies, some decision makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.

Greenland, Land of Unending Ice

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2018

Swiss nature photographer Stefan Forster has been visiting Greenland for eight years, documenting the ice, glaciers, icebergs, and wildlife of this “magical country”. For his latest video, Greenland - The Land of Unending Ice, he visited several parts of the country to witness a glacier calving, icebergs from above, the aurora borealis, and a changing landscape.

Today quiet and untouched places are becoming more and more rare. On my first visit to Greenland, I was fascinated by the incredible power of nature that can be felt everywhere. But during the last years things have changed. The amount of icebergs is increasing savagely. Glaciers I’m visiting every year are retreating not meters but kilometers a year and the unending amount of ice seems to be endless. There is nothing more beautiful than an iceberg — everyone is unique and the light reflecting from its surface is magical. It’s sad how close beauty and decay can be seen in an iceberg.

A new study published in Nature says that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting at its fastest rate in 350 years.

“From a historical perspective, today’s melt rates are off the charts,” Sarah Das, a glaciologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and co-author of the new study, said in a statement. “We found a 50 percent increase in total ice sheet meltwater runoff versus the start of the industrial era, and a 30 percent increase since the 20th century alone.”

Forster also ran into an interesting technical problem while using his drones to capture video:

But the hardest thing of flying in Greenland is the fact, that every 2-3 minutes the difference between the magnetic north and the geographic north (which are not the same place — especially so far north) causing a fatal p-gps flight error and the drone is flying away (also the camera’s horizon).

Climate Change is Already Drastically Altering the World’s Climate Zones

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2018

In an article published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Nicola Jones details some of the ways that the Earth’s climate zones have shifted in response to our changing climate. Each effect is accompanied by a map, so you can actually see the magnitude. Her first example is that the tropics are getting bigger by 30 miles per decade.

In a paper published in August, Lu and colleagues tracked how and why the Hadley cell is expanding. They found that since satellite records started in the late 1970s, the edges of the tropics have been moving at about 0.2-0.3 degrees of latitude per decade (in both the north and the south) .The change is already dramatic in some areas, Lu says — the average over 30 years is about a degree of latitude, or approximately 70 miles, but in some spots the dry expansion is larger. The result is that the boundary between where it’s getting wetter and where it’s getting drier is pushing farther north, making even countries as far north as Germany and Britain drier. Meanwhile, already dry Mediterranean countries are really feeling the change: In 2016, for example, the eastern Mediterranean region had its worst drought in 900 years. The last time the tropics expanded northward (from 1568 to 1634, due to natural climate fluctuations), droughts helped to trigger the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Two quick things to note here. 1. As Jones states a couple of paragraphs above this one, the “tropics” are actually mostly dry. We think of weather in the tropics as hot and wet, but it’s actually hot and dry. The expanding tropics means hotter, drier weather for more of the planet. 2. Re: that bit on the Ottoman empire, I bet there’s an interesting book to be written on how climate change (natural and not) is a huge and unacknowledged driver of socioeconomic & political change (the Little Ice Age, the role of climate change in driving the Syrian civil war, the migrant caravan in Mexico may be climate driven, etc.)

Back to the article, some of the other shifts highlighted are:

- Tornado alley in the US has shifted 500 miles east in 30 years.
- Plant hardiness zones are moving north in the US at 13 miles per decade.
- The permafrost line has moved 80 miles north in 50 years in parts of Canada.
- The wheat belt is pushing poleward at up to 160 miles per decade.

Here’s the maps showing the shift in tornadic activity:

Tornado Shift

Climates shift and people have to move. Two more decades of this and you’re going to see hundreds of millions of climate refugees that the world is not equipped to handle.

Update: I received a couple of responses that consider climate’s role in history: Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis and Climate Change and the Health of Nations by Anthony McMichael. (thx, @ThomasintVeld & jonathan)

A Brief History of America’s Shameful Inaction on Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

Vox has updated their video on how US politicians talked about climate change over the past 12 years. Until recently, climate change was more or less a bipartisan issue. Democrats and Republicans alike publicly acknowledged that climate change was happening, that humans were at least partially responsible, and that we needed to do something about it. Perhaps Republicans were a little less sincere in their desire for action and all politicians were not as urgent in their response as the situation required, but at a minimum, they all believed what scientists were saying.

Then, as this video shows, after the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and the Republican victories in the 2010 midterms, things shifted. Republicans increasingly came out saying, well, the science isn’t settled on this, we don’t know what is causing climate change, so we’re not going to do anything about it. They did this in part because their big political donors wanted them to.

Those divisions did not happen by themselves. Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil.

Government rules intended to slow climate change are “making people’s lives worse rather than better,” Charles Koch explained in a rare interview last year with Fortune, arguing that despite the costs, these efforts would make “very little difference in the future on what the temperature or the weather will be.”

I posted about the first installment of this video last year and watching it again hit me about as hard as it did the first time around. The amount of cynicism and lack of integrity & sense of duty here is staggering. What tiny tiny minds. [Insert a lot of swearing about Republicans here that I will get email about so I’ll just save us all some time and skip it. But seriously, fuck these assholes.]

Climate Scientists: Humans Have Only 12 Years to Limit Devastating Climate Changes

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2018

In a 700-page report detailing the latest research on climate change, a UN panel of scientists strongly warns that unless we make “massive and unprecedented changes to global energy infrastructure to limit global warming to moderate levels” to limit the world’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, there will be widespread coastal flooding, food shortages, wildfires, and other issues related to climate change. If you are 60 or under, these changes will occur in your lifetime. From the NY Times:

A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

The report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.

The report “is quite a shock, and quite concerning,” said Bill Hare, an author of previous I.P.C.C. reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics, a nonprofit organization. “We were not aware of this just a few years ago.” The report was the first to be commissioned by world leaders under the Paris agreement, the 2015 pact by nations to fight global warming.

And from the Washington Post:

The transformation described in the document is breathtaking, and the speed of change required raises inevitable questions about its feasibility.

Most strikingly, the document says the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, which amount to more than 40 billion tons per year, would have to be on an extremely steep downward path by 2030 to either hold the world entirely below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or allow only a brief “overshoot” in temperatures. As of 2018, emissions appeared to be still rising, not yet showing the clear peak that would need to occur before any decline.

Overall reductions in emissions in the next decade would probably need to be more than 1 billion tons per year, larger than the current emissions of all but a few of the very largest emitting countries. By 2050, the report calls for a total or near-total phaseout of the burning of coal.

If you’d like to dive into the report itself, two good places to start are the headline statements and the summary for policymakers.

How Do We Know Recent Climate Changes Are Caused By Humans?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2018

One of the ways that climatologists know that the dramatically increasing amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide (and corresponding temperature increase) is caused by human activity is by measuring changing land use and how much fossil fuel has been burned over the last few hundred years. From a 2004 RealClimate article:

One way that we know that human activities are responsible for the increased CO2 is simply by looking at historical records of human activities. Since the industrial revolution, we have been burning fossil fuels and clearing and burning forested land at an unprecedented rate, and these processes convert organic carbon into CO2. Careful accounting of the amount of fossil fuel that has been extracted and combusted, and how much land clearing has occurred, shows that we have produced far more CO2 than now remains in the atmosphere. The roughly 500 billion metric tons of carbon we have produced is enough to have raised the atmospheric concentration of CO2 to nearly 500 ppm. The concentrations have not reached that level because the ocean and the terrestrial biosphere have the capacity to absorb some of the CO2 we produce. However, it is the fact that we produce CO2 faster than the ocean and biosphere can absorb it that explains the observed increase.

That was back when the CO2 concentration was ~380 parts per million…it’s now ~407 ppm. That is pretty convincing evidence all by itself…the inputs match the outputs.

But there is also extremely compelling corroborating evidence that has to do with what kind of carbon is being released into the atmosphere — the smoking gun of anthropogenic climate change, if you will. For several hundred years before the start of the 19th century, the CO2 in the atmosphere contained a more-or-less consistent ratio of two carbon isotopes: carbon-12 and carbon-13 (which contains one more neutron than carbon-12 and is therefore heavier). Plants prefer consuming the lighter carbon-12 over carbon-13 and since fossil fuels are ultimately made from decayed plants, when you burn them, they disproportionately produce carbon-12 (when compared to atmospheric CO2).

So if you’re burning a bunch of oil and coal, you’d expect to see carbon-12 levels in the atmosphere go up…and that’s exactly what scientists have found. If you graph the amount of carbon-12 present in the atmosphere over time, you can see very clearly that it begins rising in lockstep with CO2 concentration right around when people began burning a lot of fossil fuels circa 1800.

Light Carbon Graph

You can read more about how scientists took these measurements in the 2004 RealClimate article I mentioned above. Meteorologist Eric Holthaus says learning about these measurements “propelled me to a career in climate” and I can totally see why — this is really persuasive.

We almost stopped climate change in the 80s. What happened?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2018

Steinmetz Desert

The New York Times Magazine has devoted its entire issue this weekend to a single article by Nathanial Rich: Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.

The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris climate agreement — the nonbinding, unenforceable and already unheeded treaty signed on Earth Day in 2016 — hoped to restrict warming to two degrees. The odds of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are one in 20. If by miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. The climate scientist James Hansen has called two-degree warming “a prescription for long-term disaster.” Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. Three-degree warming is a prescription for short-term disaster: forests in the Arctic and the loss of most coastal cities. Robert Watson, a former director of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has argued that three-degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees: Europe in permanent drought; vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia swallowed by the sea; the Colorado River thinned to a trickle; the American Southwest largely uninhabitable. The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world’s leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization.

Is it a comfort or a curse, the knowledge that we could have avoided all this?

Because in the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis. The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions — far closer than we’ve come since. During those years, the conditions for success could not have been more favorable. The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way — nothing except ourselves.

Photo by George Steinmetz, who did the photography for the Times piece.

Update: For a critical reading of Rich’s piece, check out this Twitter thread by Alex Steffen.

I notice that reactions to “Losing Earth” seem divided along a pretty straight-forward line: Those who work in climate science, journalism or advocacy-and those who don’t.

Folks who don’t work on climate for a living seem more positive about the piece than those who do.

There’s a reason for that: It’s a long essay that gets its subject wrong, and the ways it goes wrong are ways many of us who work on climate have seen again and again. It’s work that doesn’t know its history, and so makes old mistakes.

Weirdly central in Nathaniel Rich’s story is the claim that there existed a time before politics, when climate change was not hampered by opposition: “The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way…”

This is simply untrue.

He doubles down on the idea by explicitly exonerating high-CO2 industries + the GOP

“A common boogeyman today is the fossil-fuel industry, which in recent decades has committed to playing the role of villain with comic-book bravado. …Nor can the Republican Party be blamed.”

Robinson Meyer makes a similar point at The Atlantic.

The thrust of this history seems to suggest that powerful figures in the Republican Party were already skeptical of human-caused climate change by 1980. These leaders had not yet converted most Republican rank-and-file voters to their view, and indeed there may have been a few supporters of climate action in the party. But by and large, the most influential administration officials muddied climate science and weakened climate policy.

If Rich seems a little too charitable to the G.O.P, he lets fossil-fuel interests off the hook entirely. It’s likely that oil executives knew humans were triggering climate change before Rich’s story even picks up.

James Hansen’s 1988 climate predictions have proved to be remarkably accurate

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2018

In 1988, Dr. James Hansen testified in front of Congress about the future dangers of climate change caused by human activity. That same year, the results of a study released by Hansen and his team at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies detailed three possible scenarios for possible future warming. Their middle-of-the-road prediction has proved to be remarkably accurate over the past 30 years.

Hansen Warming Trend

Changes in the human effects that influence Earth’s global energy imbalance (a.k.a. ‘anthropogenic radiative forcings’) have in reality been closest to Hansen’s Scenario B, but about 20-30% weaker thanks to the success of the Montreal Protocol in phasing out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Hansen’s climate model projected that under Scenario B, global surface air temperatures would warm about 0.84°C between 1988 and 2017. But with a global energy imbalance 20-30% lower, it would have predicted a global surface warming closer to 0.6-0.7°C by this year.

The actual 1988-2017 temperature increase was about 0.6°C. Hansen’s 1988 global climate model was almost spot-on.

Scientists have known this was happening for decades and have been telling our government officials about it for more than 30 years. Our present inaction on a national level on this is shameful and “the global poor, the disenfranchised, the young, and the yet-to-be-born” will soon pay the price.

See also a brief history of America’s shameful inaction on climate change.

Are we completely fucked because of climate change?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2018

In a review of William T. Vollman’s Carbon Ideologies, a two-volume set of books that the review calls “the Infinite Jest of climate books”, Wen Stephenson succinctly answers a question about our climate that is on many people’s minds: Are we completely fucked because of climate change?

Yes, of course, we’re fucked. (Though it’s important to specify the “we” in this formulation, because the global poor, the disenfranchised, the young, and the yet-to-be-born are certifiably far more fucked than such affluent, white, middle-aged Americans as Vollmann and myself.) But here’s the thing: with climate change as with so much else, all fuckedness is relative. Climate catastrophe is not a binary win or lose, solution or no-solution, fucked or not-fucked situation. Just how fucked we/they will be — that is, what kind of civilization, or any sort of social justice, will be possible in the coming centuries or decades — depends on many things, including all sorts of historic, built-in systemic injustices we know all too well, and any number of contingencies we can’t foresee. But most of all it depends on what we do right now, in our lifetimes. And by that I mean: what we do politically, not only on climate but across the board, because large-scale political action — the kind that moves whole countries and economies in ways commensurate with the scale and urgency of the situation — has always been the only thing that matters here. (I really don’t care about your personal carbon footprint. I mean, please do try to lower it, because that’s a good thing to do, but fussing and guilt-tripping over one’s individual contribution to climate change is neither an intellectually nor a morally serious response to a global systemic crisis. That this still needs to be said in 2018 is, to say the least, somewhat disappointing.)

I got this via Robinson Meyer, who calls it “as good an answer as I’ve seen”.

Global warming blankets

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2018

Using simple graphic representations of annual temperatures (like this one posted by climate scientist Ed Hawkins), people are knitting and crocheting blankets that show just how warm the Earth has gotten over the past few decades. See Katie Stumpf’s blanket, for example.

Global Warming Blankets

According to climate scientist (and crocheter) Ellie Highwood, these blankets are a subset of “temperature blankets” made to represent, for example, daily temperatures over the course of a year in a particular location. The blanket she crocheted used NOAA data of global mean temperature anomalies for a 101-year period ending 2016.

I then devised a colour scale using 15 different colours each representing a 0.1 °C data bin. So everything between 0 and 0.099 was in one colour for example. Making a code for these colours, the time series can be rewritten as in the table below. It is up to the creator to then choose the colours to match this scale, and indeed which years to include. I was making a baby sized blanket so chose the last 100 years, 1916-2016.

If you read her post, she provides instructions for making your own global warming blanket.

P.S. You might think that with the Earth’s atmosphere getting warmer on average, these blankets would ironically be less necessary that they would have been 50 years ago. But climate change is also responsible for more extreme winter weather events — think global weirding in addition to global warming. So keep those blankets handy!

Degrees of Uncertainty

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2018

Degrees of Uncertainty is an upcoming documentary by Neil Halloran that “uses data-driven animation to explore the topic of global warming”. It’s based on this XKCD comic of A Timeline of Earth’s Average Temperature.

Halloran is a creator of the excellent The Fallen of World War II interactive documentary, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with the topic of climate change.

I recommend that you read The Wizard and the Prophet

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2018

The Wizard And The Prophet

A couple of weeks ago, I finished Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet. Normally I shy away from terms like “must-read” or “important” when talking about books, but I’m making an exception for this one. The Wizard and the Prophet is an important book, and I urge you to read it. (The chapter on climate change, including its fascinating history, is alone worth the effort.)

Mann is the author of 1491 and 1493 (both excellent, particularly 1491, which is one of my favorite nonfiction books ever) and I’ve been thinking of this one as the natural third part of a trilogy — it easily could have been called 2092. The Wizard and the Prophet is about two “dueling visions” of how humanity can provide food, energy, housing, and the pursuit of happiness to an estimated population of 10 billion in 2050 and beyond. According to Mann, this struggle is exemplified by two men: William Vogt and Norman Bourlag. The book, in a nutshell:

Vogt, born in 1902, laid out the basic ideas for the modern environmental movement. In particular, he founded what the Hampshire College demographer Betsy Hartmann has called “apocalyptic environmentalism” — the belief that unless humankind drastically reduces consumption its growing numbers and appetite will overwhelm the planet’s ecosystems. In best-selling books and powerful speeches, Vogt argued that affluence is not our greatest achievement but our biggest problem. Our prosperity is temporary, he said, because it is based on taking more from Earth than it can give. If we continue, the unavoidable result will be devastation on a global scale, perhaps including our extinction. Cut back! Cut back! was his mantra. Otherwise everyone will lose!

Borlaug, born twelve years later, has become the emblem of what has been termed “techno-optimism” or “cornucopianism” — the view that science and technology, properly applied, can help us produce our way out of our predicament. Exemplifying this idea, Borlaug was the primary figure in the research that in the 1960s created the “Green Revolution,” the combination of high-yielding crop varieties and agronomic techniques that raised grain harvests around the world, helping to avert tens of millions of deaths from hunger. To Borlaug, affluence was not the problem but the solution. Only by getting richer, smarter, and more knowledgeable can humankind create the science that will resolve our environmental dilemmas. Innovate! Innovate! was Borlaug’s cry. Only in that way can everyone win!

Or put more succinctly:

Prophets look at the world as finite, and people as constrained by their environment. Wizards see possibilities as inexhaustible, and humans as wily managers of the planet. One views growth and development as the lot and blessing of our species; others regard stability and preservation as our future and our goal. Wizards regard Earth as a toolbox, its contents freely available for use; Prophets think of the natural world as embodying an overarching order that should not casually be disturbed.

To combat climate change, should we stop flying (as meteorologist Eric Holthaus has urged) & switch to renewable energy or should we capture carbon from coal plants & build nuclear power plants? GMO crops or community-based organic farming? How can 10 billion people be happy and prosperous without ruining the planet?

I came to this book with an open mind, and came away far more informed about the debate but even more unsure about the way forward. The book offers no easy answers — it’s difficult to tell where Mann himself stands on the wizard/prophet continuum (although I would suspect more wizard than prophet, which is likely my leaning as well) — but it does ask many of the right questions. Wizards can order the book from Amazon while Prophets should seek it out at their local bookstore or library.

Further reading: an interview with Mann in Grist; Can Planet Earth Feed 10 Billion People?, an Atlantic article by Mann; The Edge of the Petri Dish, a piece by Mann in The Breakthrough; State of the Species, a 2012 piece by Mann that was an early attempt at W vs P; and The Wizard and the Prophet: On Steven Pinker and Yuval Noah Harari.

A map of the world after four degrees of warming

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2018

Four Degrees World Map

In this speculative world map published in 2009, New Scientist imagines what the world might look like if (or more likely, when) the Earth warms by 4ºC. Many current coastal areas would be underwater and much of the most heavily populated areas of the Earth would be desert or otherwise uninhabitable while the northern parts of Canada and Russia would become the new bread baskets of the world. But on the plus side, western Antartica would be habitable and possibly “densely populated with high rise cities”. In an article that accompanied the map, Gaia Vince wrote:

Imagine, for the purposes of this thought experiment, that we have 9 billion people to save — 2 billion more than live on the planet today. A wholesale relocation of the world’s population according to the geography of resources means abandoning huge tracts of the globe and moving people to where the water is. Most climate models agree that the far north and south of the planet will see an increase in precipitation. In the northern hemisphere this includes Canada, Siberia, Scandinavia and newly ice-free parts of Greenland; in the southern hemisphere, Patagonia, Tasmania and the far north of Australia, New Zealand and perhaps newly ice-free parts of the western Antarctic coast.

The citizens of the world’s wealthiest and most populous nations will become climate refugees, which means things are going to get really, really ugly for everyone else.

The death of an Alaskan glacier

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2017

Rick Brown owns an adventure tour company called Adventure Sixty North in Seward, Alaska, a small town on an inlet of the Kenai Peninsula. They offer guided hikes and kayaking tours of the surrounding country, including ice hikes on the Exit Glacier.

In this video, Brown talks very simply and powerfully about the changes that he’s witnessed in the glacier and in Alaska in his long career as a guide…like that the Exit Glacier is currently retreating 10 to 15 feet per day.

Normally I think the park will tell you that it retreats about 150 feet per year. Right now they’re looking at 10 to 15 feet per day. You’re seeing the big crevasses that used to be blue up on top of the compression zones now down in the toe of the glacier just falling over. Something that normally would take hundreds of years we’re seeing probably in a matter of a year or two.

You can see a map of how much the glacier has retreated since 1950. But it’s not just the glacier…other changes are occurring in Alaska.

We’re seeing a change in the wildlife. We have villages that are being relocated. We get storms up here that if they were happening down in the lower 48, we’d name them something. Our ten-year floods are happening every other year now. You can drive to our town and look at what’s going on, and if you can’t see what’s happening, then I think that you must be blind. Normally I would need a plow here in my office and we need a lawnmower.

While Seward is not quite so far north, I couldn’t help but think of Eric Holthaus’s recent piece on how the fundamental character of the Arctic has changed, possibly for good. Namely, that it won’t be frozen anymore:

Last week, at a New Orleans conference center that once doubled as a storm shelter for thousands during Hurricane Katrina, a group of polar scientists made a startling declaration: The Arctic as we once knew it is no more.

The region is now definitively trending toward an ice-free state, the scientists said, with wide-ranging ramifications for ecosystems, national security, and the stability of the global climate system. It was a fitting venue for an eye-opening reminder that, on its current path, civilization is engaged in an existential gamble with the planet’s life-support system.

In an accompanying annual report on the Arctic’s health — titled “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades” — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees all official U.S. research in the region, coined a term: “New Arctic.”

What an astonishing thing. Perhaps in 20 years, when someone over the age of 35 uses a phrase like “Arctic cold” as a stand-in for extremely cold weather, their kids won’t know what the hell they’re referring to. (via @JossFong)

Melting Antarctic glaciers could raise global sea level 11 feet by 2100

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2017

Writing for Grist, Eric Holthaus reports on some research about a pair of fast-melting glaciers in Antarctica that could add 11 feet to the global sea level.

The glaciers of Pine Island Bay are two of the largest and fastest-melting in Antarctica. (A Rolling Stone feature earlier this year dubbed Thwaites “The Doomsday Glacier.”) Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour 11 feet of sea-level rise into the world’s oceans — an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet. For that reason, finding out how fast these glaciers will collapse is one of the most important scientific questions in the world today.

To figure that out, scientists have been looking back to the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago, when global temperatures stood at roughly their current levels. The bad news? There’s growing evidence that the Pine Island Bay glaciers collapsed rapidly back then, flooding the world’s coastlines - partially the result of something called “marine ice-cliff instability.”

The ocean floor gets deeper toward the center of this part of Antarctica, so each new iceberg that breaks away exposes taller and taller cliffs. Ice gets so heavy that these taller cliffs can’t support their own weight. Once they start to crumble, the destruction would be unstoppable.

“Ice is only so strong, so it will collapse if these cliffs reach a certain height,” explains Kristin Poinar, a glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “We need to know how fast it’s going to happen.”

Eleven feet of sea level rise would be, uh, hugely problematic for the world’s coastal areas:

Three feet of sea-level rise would be bad, leading to more frequent flooding of U.S. cities such as New Orleans, Houston, New York, and Miami. Pacific Island nations, like the Marshall Islands, would lose most of their territory. Unfortunately, it now seems like three feet is possible only under the rosiest of scenarios.

At six feet, though, around 12 million people in the United States would be displaced, and the world’s most vulnerable megacities, like Shanghai, Mumbai, and Ho Chi Minh City, could be wiped off the map.

At 11 feet, land currently inhabited by hundreds of millions of people worldwide would wind up underwater. South Florida would be largely uninhabitable; floods on the scale of Hurricane Sandy would strike twice a month in New York and New Jersey, as the tug of the moon alone would be enough to send tidewaters into homes and buildings.

Alarming, but read the whole article. Scientists are still trying to figure out how probable this scenario is…early days still.

Update: The site Climate Feedback, a network of scientists that evaluates media coverage of climate change, recently rated Holthaus’ piece as “high” on the credibility scale and described it as both “accurate” and “alarmist”.

Scientists who reviewed the article found that while it accurately described recent research on these processes, it should have provided more accurate context on the timescale of these sea level rise scenarios and the scientific uncertainty about how likely these scenarios are to come to pass.