Saving the World Before it’s Too Late

“The world from our childhood is no longer here. Our young children today are seeing so much change, but it is difficult for them to understand the pace. We are losing so much of our culture and connections to the resources from our ocean and lands.”

Arctic Indigenous Peoples spokesperson

One interesting fact about the climate crisis is the massive disconnect between the scientific reality and what the average person has known, understood and believed in the decades since climate scientists became seriously concerned in the 1950s. For example, it’s been nearly 65 years since one of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century, Roger Revelle, Director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, predicted that burning fossil fuels and adding carbon to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide could “in 50 years or so…have a violent effect on the Earth’s climate.”

It’s been 55 years since President Lyndon Johnson warned the U.S. Congress that human beings had “altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through…a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

It’s been over 40 years since Robert M. White, the first administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wrote, “We now understand that … carbon dioxide released during the burning of fossil fuels, can have consequences for climate that pose a considerable threat to future society.…The potential…impacts [are] ominous.”

Shortly after this, the Jason scientists, “a secretive group of Cold War science advisers,” that most Americans have never heard of, predicted that “atmospheric CO2 might double by the year 2035, resulting in mean global temperature increases of 2 to 3°C, and polar warming of as much as 10 to 12°C.”

As predicted long ago, “the Arctic climate is changing faster than anywhere else on earth” and Alaska winter temperatures are already 6 to 9°F warmer now than they were in 1970.

It’s been over 40 years since the National Academy of Sciences issued the Charney report, concluding: “If carbon dioxide continues to increase, [we] find no reason to doubt that climate changes will result, and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible.”

They found “incontrovertible evidence that the atmosphere is indeed changing and that we ourselves contribute to that change” and wrote, “Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide is steadily increasing, and these changes are linked with man’s use of fossil fuels and exploitation of the land.”

At the time of this report, atmospheric concentration of CO2 was about 335 parts per million (ppm), approximately 55 ppm above the preindustrial level of 280 ppm. It reached nearly 416 ppm last May and is rising about 3.5 ppm per year. The burning question for scientists in 1979 (as it is today) was to predict how warm the earth would become when we doubled atmospheric levels of CO2 to 560 ppm. This is referred to as “climate sensitivity.”

These authors concluded, “that the equilibrium surface global warming due to doubled CO2 will be in the range 1.5°C to 4.5°C, with the most probable value near 3°C. In other words, while Jimmy Carter was still our president, a few of our top climate scientists predicted that our planet would warm as much as 3°F to 8°F as the result of our greenhouse gas emissions. Interestingly, most scientists still believe this prediction is pretty accurate.

It’s been over 30 years since Bill McKibben published The End of Nature, the first book written for nonscientists to focus on humanity’s inadvertent assault on its own life-support system.

It’s been 25 years since the world’s scientists gathered, reviewed the totality of published climate science studies and released a report acknowledging that human activity is a likely cause of the warming of the global atmosphere.” This was the second report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report confirmed that CO2 “remains the most important contributor to” human-caused climate change and projections of a steadily hotter world and unremitting sea level rise means we are altering “the Earth’s climate to an extent unprecedented in human history.” The report also found “that many important aspects of climate change are effectively irreversible.”

It’s been over 20 years since Ross Gelbspan published his book, The Heat is On: The Climate Crisis, the Cover-Up, the Prescription in which he wrote, “The reason most Americans don’t know what is happening to the climate is that the oil and coal industries have spent millions of dollars to persuade them that global warming isn’t happening.”

It’s been nearly 14 years since I first laid eyes on the 2006 Time magazine Special Report on Global Warming featuring an image of a polar bear on thin ice on the cover and the ominous warning that we should all be “VERY WORRIED.” In response, I went to my local bookstore and bought all the global warming books I could find (which was two copies of the same book – in those days there weren’t a lot of books devoted to this issue). I bought two copies of Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists Have Fueled the Climate Crisis – and What We Can Do to Avert Disaster. In his book, Gelbspan described the problem and offered solutions but worried “whether or not there is still time to implement them. Absent a sudden, worldwide energy revolution – with all the fundamental changes in our current economic environment that such a transition requires – the answer seems depressingly apparent.”

Soon after, I began buying books like The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth by Tim Flannery and Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert and Robert Henson’s book, The Rough Guide to Climate Change: The Symptoms, the Science, the Solutions, an excellent, detailed and comprehensive review of the state of the science at the time and an important precursor to his updated text, The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change.

Years later, I did a favorable review of Henson’s book on another Internet site, which Bob read and messaged his appreciation. And then in 2013 we both attended a five-day Communicating Climate Science conference at Snow Mountain Ranch in the Colorado Rockies sponsored by the American Geophysical Union. I got to know Bob and many other major climate scientists and was impressed by their brilliance, their dedication to their scientific work and their obvious concern that the message of their life’s work was not being heard, understood and acted upon.

For those who do not know, Robert Henson is a weather and climate science writer at Weather Underground, the second most visited weather website globally, attracting more than 47 million visitors per month.

From 1990 through 2015, he was a science writer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, where he produced many hundreds of articles. Henson received his B.A. degree in meteorology and psychology from Rice University and an M.A. in journalism with a focus in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma.

Henson is also the author of Weather on the Air: A History of Broadcast Meteorology and coauthor of the textbooks Meteorology Today, now in its 12th edition, and Essentials of Meteorology, now in its 8th edition. He has produced lay-friendly summaries of National Research Council reports on climate stabilization targets and on Earth science applications from space. As a freelance author, Henson has written for Nature, Scientific American, AIR & SPACE/Smithsonian, Technology Review, American Scientist, and more than 50 other online and print publications.

And he was my guest for the hour on my Wake-Up Call radio program which will be broadcast on KKRN on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 at 88.5 FM. If you miss the broadcast, you can listen to it in the archives at kkrn.org.

When we listen to the wise ones like Bob Henson, we are reminded, as I have laid out here that the science of climate change is not new. We have known since before our civil war that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and helps keep our planet warm enough to sustain life. But as Bob explains, since our CO2 emissions are invisible and their consequences relatively slow to develop and easy to ignore, we are not responding with the urgency required

And yet, as Bob explains, the science keeps getting stronger as the problem worsens. Recently for example, scientists have been able to detect “the clear fingerprint of long-term, human-induced global warming…in any global single-day snapshot of weather since 2012.”

The hot world that scientists have been warning us about for decades is now here. The last six years have been the hottest years ever recorded and last summer, “400 all-time temperature records were broken across the globe. And now, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (CCCS), officially announced that last month was “the hottest January in its data record.”

Meanwhile, scientists are expressing alarm at the discovery of “warm water beneath Antarctica’s ‘doomsday glacier,’ a nickname used because it is one of Antarctica’s fastest melting glaciers.” According to one of the researchers, the finding “suggests that (the glacier) may be undergoing an unstoppable retreat that has huge implications for global sea-level rise.”

Considered by some scientists “as the most vulnerable and significant glacier in the world when it comes to sea-level-rise,” the massive Thwaites glacier, at 74,000-square-miles, is about the size of the 16th largest state in the union, South Dakota. If it collapses, it “could release a mass of water roughly the size of Florida or Great Britain,” and “raise global sea levels by more than three feet.”

Robert Henson describes himself as a “worried optimist,” by which he means there is plenty to worry about with our changing climate but he insists it’s not too late to save the world for ourselves, our children and future generations. He views humans as a resilient species. But, as he and others have been warning about for several decades, we have no more time to lose.

Douglas Craig
Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 30 years. He believes in magic and is a Dawes fan.

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16 Responses

  1. One thing that I think has confused a lot of people was how the planet seemed that it was warming in the late 60s and 70s, and then seemed not to be warming so much. I remember my college professor in 1970 saying that some people thought it was happening, but now they don’t.

    What occurs to me is that we haven’t allowed for the amount of stuff that was clogging our atmosphere from the above ground atomic/nuclear bomb testing. When we finally stopped doing that, it seems that the planet was started to heal from that.

    But we Baby Boomers then hit adulthood, and the number of cars on the highway massively increased, which led to more and larger refineries, oil drilling, fracking, etc. And the laws against deliberately polluting weren’t keeping up.

    It’s time to seek safe alternative fuels and take care of the planet so there will be something good left for the generations after us. Please!

  2. Avatar James Montgomery says:

    OK, Doug, all scientifically-minded people believe that we are warming the planet thru carbon emissions, tho the alarmist predictions may be overstated. (Remember that the climate-change models are brought to us by the same people who do the 10-day weather reports.)
    A few facts, as opposed to predictions, should be noted:
    The earth has warmed 1 degree C since 1880. It took me quite a bit of searching to find this fact. 1 degree C is quite significant, actually, but apparently it is not dramatic enough for the media to publish. Sea levels have increased 10 inches in that time. Another fact seldom publicized, is that the Antarctic ice sheet is actually growing, tho not as fast as the Arctic is melting. This anomaly needs explanation.
    This is not to deny the problem, but simply to tone down the rhetoric.
    At this time, there is little point in further consciousness building. What we need are technological alternatives to carbon-burning technologies. In other words, quit preaching and start inventing. I respect your commitment to this cause, and the importance of the problem, but I had hoped to read about solutions, not just more dire predictions. You have a fine mind. I mean this sincerely. Perhaps you could now focus it on actual solutions to the problem.
    Some possibilities:
    Molten-salt nuclear reactors. Current nuclear technologies are incredibly dangerous, but molten-salt reactors actually remove radioactivity from the planet. Worth looking into, with an open mind.
    Realistic analysis of current alternatives: hydroelectric, wind, solar.
    Electric cars. Still problematic but improving. Elon Musk has released his patents in the area to the public domain.
    Population growth. We all know real solutions to pollution problems of all kinds are more difficult in high-population scenarios. Why will no one talk about this?
    A way to retrofit currently-existing cars and trucks with electric or hydrogen fuel-cells. Building new cars, even electrics, uses huge amounts of resources.
    Thank you, Doug. This matters.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      If you’ve hung around on ANC long enough, you know that Doug thinks he knows more about climate change than the vast majority of climatologists. He sincerely thinks his self-taught expertise—extensively influenced by typical right-wing anti-science propaganda of the type that offers utterly ridiculous refutations of organic evolution—trumps the expertise of research scientists in the field. He thinks he’s right—and they’re all biased, chasing money, or just flat wrong.

      And I know you’re being flippant, but the climate change models are not brought to us by the same people who give us the 10-day weather forecast. That analogy is similar to and about as powerful as: The research M.D.s who are making great strides toward preventing Alzheimer’s disease and treating cancer with genetically modified antibodies are the same people who tell us to go home, drink a lot of fluids, take acetaminophen, rest, and come back in a week if you’re not better.

      • Avatar Randy says:

        Can you share with us a few of your most highly respected sources of climate science information so we can compare the sources you base your perspectives on to the sources Doug uses?

      • Avatar Randy says:

        Don’t know where my last post went but I do know that Doug has an entire library of climate science books and I know that he strives above all to seek out the most accurate, science based information available. Maybe you can point out the points you disagree with from Dougs post and share with us the sources you use for your climate science information so we can all have the most truthful and accurate information possible.

      • Avatar Doug Cook says:

        Geez…I didn’t even make a comment and you still feel the need to jump on me.

        • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

          Doug — You’ve posted a sizable collection of comments on climate change here on ANC, and that’s created a record—you’ve made your views well known. I point them out because you’ve made yourself our resident AGW denier.

          I didn’t mean to imply that you’re alone among self-trained expert climatologists. Fox News has a bundle of them. Twitter has tens of thousands. Trump says he knows more about climate change than anyone.

    • Avatar Randy says:

      “Alarmist predictions”? There is not a single organization of professional, working climate scientists from any country on earth that does not agree that we are facing a climate catastrophe and the only way out of it is to first stop burning fossil fuels, make drastic changes in the way we generate and use energy and begin rebuilding our failing biosphere. Most alarming is the fact that we have a president who is armed with a dominant media that spreads lies and misinformation about the material facts of AGW and who’s adminstration is busy erasing the science while unleashing corporate pillage without restraint. Our population should be alarmed.

      According to NOAA the Antarctic ice sheet is not growing.

      https://www.climate.gov/news-features/features/antarctica-colder-arctic-it’s-still-losing-ice

      Solutions have been well mapped out and are easy to find.

      https://www.drawdown.org/solutions

  3. Avatar Randy says:

    According to all science based projections global temperatures can only continue to rise and will continue to rise in accordance with the co2 we add to our atmosphere. Continued rising of global temps are only one side of this catastrophe and the other is ocean acidification which is currently disrupting fisheries and the shell fish industry and threatens the ecological integrity of oceans world wide.

    https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/2019-concludes-decade-of-exceptional-global-heat-and-high-impact-weather

  4. Douglas Craig Douglas Craig says:

    Thank you Theresa for this comment: “It’s time to seek safe alternative fuels and take care of the planet so there will be something good left for the generations after us.” Thank you James for your comments. I have a few comments in response. When anyone uses the phrase “alarmist predictions,” I admit I squirm a little. As Randy often points out, alarmism suggests someone who is outside the mainstream and is exaggerating a problem. However, all the data I turn to are from highly respected, peer-reviewed climate science studies. For example, the IPCC, a very conservative group of thousands of scientists and representatives from every government on Earth carefully reviews all the available studies and produces reports on which everyone in the IPCC and each nation agrees on word for word. This is hardly alarmist. It is this group that stated in January of 2018 that if we hope to avoid another 1/2 degree warming (Celsius), we must live within a carbon budget of 420 billion tons of CO2 emissions. That was two years and 80 billion tons ago. We are now down to 340 billion tons. A year from now we will be down to 300 billion tons. This means in about 2028 or 2029, we will likely exhaust the budget and will be on our way to 2 degree C warming and beyond. Even today at only 1 degree C warming (1.8 degrees F) we are seeing the collapse of every ecosystem on Earth including the world’s oceans’ coral reefs which have only 10-30 years left. That means over one million species in the ocean including 1/4 of all fish who have depended on coral reefs for millions of years to survive will be extremely threatened. We should be alarmed by this fact alone. And as bad California’s and Australia’s fires have been, it is nothing to what is coming as we continue to heat up and dry out the planet. Regarding the Antarctic, a 2018 study found it lost 43 billion tons of ice each year from 2002 and 2012 and this increased to an annual loss of 220 billion tons from 2012 to 2017. This is not rhetoric. It is science. And I am not preaching. I am informing. I am warning. Worldwide we are seeing massive extinctions of insect populations including bumblebees. We rely on these and other bees to pollinate our crops including apples, almonds, blueberries, cherries, avocados, cucumbers, onions, grapefruit, kiwi, watermelon, cantaloupe, squash and macadamia nuts, to name a tiny few. A hotter planet is not the only factor in the loss of bees but it has been identified as the main cause of bumble bee “mass extinction” in a recent study. And yes I am alarmed that we are not all alarmed by this. I have provided solutions many times over the years here and elsewhere but here is a list of 10 solutions that anyone could come up with in a few minutes time: 1) Stop subsidizing fossil fuels. 2) Increase subsidies for alternative fuels. We have wasted trillions of dollars in failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Imagine what we could have accomplished spending that here on completely ending our reliance on fossil fuels. 3) Disinvest from fossil fuels. 4) Put a fair price on carbon and pass carbon fee and dividend legislation. 5) Massively invest in carbon capture and sequestration research. 6) Educate the public on the climate crisis. 7) Elect enlightened leaders on the local, state and federal level who understand the unfolding climate emergency and will respond appropriately. Here in Northern California, I am unable to name a single politician currently in office who represents me in local, state or federal government who is taking effective action on the climate crisis. 8) I encourage everyone to stop eating meat. 9) Fly less or not at all. 10) Plant trillions of trees.

    And thanks Steve and Randy for their comments. Just to clarify, when Steve wrote this: “If you’ve hung around on ANC long enough, you know that Doug thinks he knows more about climate change than the vast majority of climatologists,” I believe he is not referring to me but another Doug C who often comments on ANC articles.

  5. Avatar Randy Compton says:

    “Conservative estimates put U.S. direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry at roughly $20 billion per year; with 20 percent currently allocated to coal and 80 percent to natural gas and crude oil. European Union subsidies are estimated to total 55 billion euros annually.”

    https://www.eesi.org/papers/view/fact-sheet-fossil-fuel-subsidies-a-closer-look-at-tax-breaks-and-societal-costs

  6. Avatar Randy says:

    Brown University

    “Table 1, below, summarizes the direct war costs – the OCO budget – and war-related
    costs through FY2019. These include war-related increases in overall military spending,
    care for veterans, Homeland Security spending, and interest payments on borrowing for
    the wars. Including the other areas of war-related spending, the estimate for total US war-
    related spending allocated through FY2019 is $4.9 trillion.3 But because the US is
    contractually and morally obligated to pay for the care of the post-9/11 veterans through
    their lifetimes, it is prudent to include the costs of care for existing post-9/11 veterans
    through the next several decades. This means that the US has spent or is obligated to
    spend $5.9 trillion in current dollars through FY2019. 4 Table 1 represents this
    bottom-line breakdown for spent and obligated costs.”

    https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2018/Crawford_Costs%20of%20War%20Estimates%20Through%20FY2019%20.pdf

    • Avatar Doug Cook says:

      Randy, Those of us that made sacrafices to serve our country deserve the benefits that are given to us. I could have made a lot more money flying commercial rather than being a pilot in the military. Do you believe we shouldn’t care for our veterans? Would you be in favor of eliminating the military altogether?

  7. Avatar Randy says:

    ” I am unable to name a single politician currently in office who represents me in local, state or federal government who is taking effective action on the climate crisis. ”

    Not only are our leaders not taking effective action on AGW, few of them are willing to even acknowledge the scientific realities of AGW and our top level representatives, Trump, LaMalfa and the Dahle’s stand in complete denial of material science.

  8. Avatar Annelise Pierce says:

    Doug Craig; I continue to be so thankful for your voice on this topic in your community. I got the book you recommended, on practical solutions to climate change, from the library and read it. I’m learning. This post helps me to see the foundation that you write from and that too is very helpful. This is a hot topic now (excuse the terrible play on words) but you remind us that this has been brewing for a long time and you have been getting educated and connected in the interim. Thank you again for your service to the community through this education.

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