This Friday, School Is Out—and the Climate Strike Is On!

NRDC, by Courtney Lindwall, Sep 16, 2019
[Editor:  See also Benicia’s nearest Climate Strike: Saturday Sept 21, Walnut Creek.  For other locations and more info, check out Sept. 20 Climate Strike and 350 Bay Area’s work through Youth vs Apocalypse, the youth‐led environmental justice program.  – RS]

This Friday, School Is Out—and the Climate Strike Is On!

In protests around the globe, the next generation is sending a collective message to world leaders to act on climate change. Here, four teenage activists tell us their personal reasons for striking.
Clockwise from top left: Courtesy of Abe Gobellan, courtesy of Sabirah Binth Mahmud, Maggie Murray/courtesy of Anna Siegel, courtesy of Cody Clark

A little over a year ago, Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old from Stockholm, stayed home from school one day to conduct her own climate change protest outside the Swedish Parliament building. She skipped school the next day, too, and the day after that, and the week after that, again and again, until she was striking every Friday—but no longer alone. Thunberg’s protests inspired weekly #fridaysforfuture school strikes in cities around the world, sparking a movement of young people demanding climate action—and justice.

They have good reason to strike. By the time today’s high school seniors turn 50, scientists predict that the average annual number of days in the United States on which the heat index exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit will have doubled. Worldwide, humanity will face more frequent devastating storms, year-round wildfire “seasons,” and rapidly rising sea levels that threaten to displace more than 800 million people. That is, unless today’s leaders and industries come together, now, to curb carbon emissions enough to hold global average warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius—the recognized threshold to prevent the escalation of the most dire climate consequences.

At the U.N. Climate Action Summit next week, representatives from nearly every nation will meet in New York City to discuss that goal. But three days beforehand, to make certain the concerns of their generation are brought to the table, millions of students and other young people plan to walk out of their schools or workplaces in what could be the largest climate strike yet. Friday’s strike kicks off a week of thousands of events worldwide. At a separate event last Monday, Thunberg, now 16, said, “I want September 20th to be another tipping point, a social tipping point” that gives world leaders “a feeling that they cannot embarrass themselves now, that they have too many people watching them.”

Below, we introduce you to a small sample of those who will be watching. These four young Americans come from different places and backgrounds, and their primary motivations for striking vary. But what connects them with each other and with the rest of the strikers is painfully obvious: They’re fighting for their futures.

Abe Gobellan is city coordinator in Greenville, North Carolina, for Earth Uprising, an organization that brings together young people across the world to fight for climate action. Courtesy of Abe Gobellan
Abe Gobellan, 16

Greenville, North Carolina

I strike for the underrepresented communities—the ones affected the most, but whose faces are seldom seen in the climate movement. In my area, these people are the ones who get hit the hardest when we have hurricanes. And they still haven’t recovered from the last one when they get hit again. They are the communities who get flooded the most, who see the most damage, and who suffer the most deaths. I strike because my local representatives and city mayors have either not spoken about the climate crisis or have lied about their climate action plans. I strike because I want a livable future and a sustainable planet to live on and for upcoming generations to be able to experience this beautiful planet too.

Anna Siegel is in the eighth grade and the lead organizer for Maine’s Youth Climate Strike. In March she helped organize a 1,000-person strike in Portland. Maggie Murray/courtesy of Anna Siegel
Anna Siegel, 13
Portland, Maine

I strike because we have deafened our ears to the earth. I strike because we have blinded ourselves to the natural world. Animals are my passion—they have been ever since I was little. I dreamed of researching wildlife, to understand why not all animals are thriving. However, it wasn’t until I was older that I truly realized the extent to which humans are harming biodiversity. For the first time, I faltered when I told people my dream to study wildlife. I wasn’t so sure anymore that the work I wanted to do would be possible in a few decades. What if there weren’t any intact habitats left by then? What if every research paper was another devastating report? Those worries are why I strike—so the children of tomorrow can fall in love with the natural world, just as I have.

Sabirah Binth Mahmud is the lead organizer for the Youth Climate Strike in Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Sabirah Binth Mahmud
Sabirah Binth Mahmud, 16

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I will be striking along with youth across the world because my family in Bangladesh is dying. Unlike us, who live in the United States surrounded by the privileges of this country, my family continues to suffer from floods, mass fires, and air pollution every single day. I’ve lost three cousins already due to childhood cancer and one of my nephews due to a flood in which he drowned. These climate disasters that we might see once in our lives are their everyday realities, and this country that my family calls home is soon to perish. That is why I’m striking along with the global youth against the climate crisis. No one deserves to have these climate disasters as their daily life, and we need to take action against this growing normality.

As a high school junior, Cody Clark organized a climate strike in Youngstown, Ohio, earlier this year. Courtesy of Cody Clark
Cody Clark, 16

Youngstown, Ohio

I am climate striking because everything I know is being affected by the climate crisis. It’s getting hotter. Only a few rooms in our school have AC, and feeling the heat of the day and trying to study is getting harder. My best friend in California had to miss weeks of school because of smog and wildfire smoke in the air. Earthquakes literally and figuratively shake my town, which is full of injection wells from fracking, yet fossil fuel executives are still trying to convince us to use plastic straws. It’s time fossil fuel corporations are held accountable. Everything we all know will be torn down if we don’t act now. But if we DO act now, imagine the world we could create! My friends and I are tired of our futures being put on the back burner. It’s our time. Strike with us.

Something strange is happening to Greenland’s ice sheet

What should be like a snowcone is becoming more like a popsicle, speeding up the runoff from the melting ice sheet.

When the remnants of Europe’s second summertime heat wave migrated over Greenland in late July, more than half of the ice sheet’s surface started melting for the first time since 2012. A study published Wednesday in Nature shows that mega-melts like that one, which are being amplified by climate change, aren’t just causing Greenland to shed billions of tons of ice. They’re causing the remaining ice to become denser.

“Ice slabs”—solid planks of ice that can span hundreds of square miles and grow to be 50 feet thick—are spreading across the porous, air pocket-filled surface of the Greenland ice sheet as it melts and refreezes more often. From 2001 to 2014, the slabs expanded in area by about 25,000 square miles, forming an impermeable barrier the size of West Virginia that prevents meltwater from trickling down through the ice. Instead, the meltwater becomes runoff that flows overland, eventually making its way out to sea.

As the ice slabs continue to spread, the study’s authors predict more and more of Greenland’s surface will become a “runoff zone,” boosting the ice sheet’s contribution to global sea level rise and, perhaps, causing unexpected changes.

It’s easy to think of Greenland as a solid, impenetrable hunk of ice. But in reality about 80 percent of the ice sheet’s surface is like a snowcone: A dusting of fresh snowfall covers a thick layer of old snow, called firn, that’s slowly being compressed into glacier ice but still contains plenty of air pockets. When the top of this snow cone melts in the summer, liquid water percolates down into the firn, which soaks it up like a 100-foot-thick sponge.

MacFerrin and his colleagues got their first hint that the firn may be losing its absorbency in the spring of 2012, when they were drilling boreholes through the firn in southwest Greenland. They started finding dense, compacted layers of ice in core after core, just below the seasonal snow layer. It was, MacFerrin says, as if a “turtle shell” had formed over the firn.

MacFerrin and his colleagues immediately wondered whether that shell might be preventing meltwater from percolating into the firn.

“That was May of 2012,” MacFerrin says. “And July was this record-breaking melt year, and we got our answer very quickly.”

That summer, for the first time on record, meltwater from this part of Greenland visibly started to flow away as runoff.

Realizing they had witnessed something significant, the researchers set about drilling more cores over a larger region to see how extensive the ice shell was. They discovered that it spanned a transect 25 miles long and was having widespread effects on local hydrology.

Those findings, published in 2016 in Nature Climate Change, were the springboard for the new study. Using radar data from NASA’s IceBridge airborne campaign, as well as ground-based surveys, MacFerrin and his colleagues have now created a first-of-its-kind map of ice slabs across the entire surface of Greenland.

Based on modelling results, the researchers think the shell began to form and spread widely in the early 2000s. As of 2014, it covered some 4 percent of Greenland’s surface, according to the new analysis. Every summer that extensive melting occurs, it gets thicker and spreads inland to colder, higher ground.

“Every handful of years, these big melt summers are doing a number on the firn,” MacFerrin says. “That’s causing this whole process to grow inland pretty quickly.”

This photo is a segment of a firn core, essentially a baby ice slab that eventually will grow into a meters-thick slab of ice.


Sea level rise and unexpected consequences 

Ice slabs have already caused Greenland’s runoff zone to expand by about 26 percent, according to the new study. So far the additional runoff has only added about a millimeter to global sea levels. Greenland now contributes a little under a millimeter per year to rising sea levels, through a combination of icebergs breaking off glaciers and melt occurring at the surface and base of the ice sheet.

But if Greenland’s surface hardens more, runoff could rise dramatically. Under a worst-case scenario where carbon emissions continue to climb until the end of the century, the researchers calculated that ice slab proliferation could add up to 3 inches of sea level rise by 2100, boosting the ice sheet’s overall sea level rise contribution by nearly a third. In both a middle-of-the-road scenario where emissions peak by mid-century and the high emissions one, the amount of runoff from Greenland’s interior roughly doubles by century’s end.

But more runoff is only one potential consequence of the transformation taking place in Greenland’s ice. Kristin Poinar, a glaciologist at the University of Buffalo who wasn’t involved in the study, pointed out that slabs of solid ice aren’t nearly as reflective as bright white snowfall.

“And so, if we start getting these ice slabs forming near the ice sheet’s surface, it could potentially…cause the ice sheet to absorb more solar radiation and warm up,” she says. “And that would create more ice slabs.”

And runoff from ice slabs doesn’t have to flow into the ocean, said Indrani Das, a glaciologist at Columbia University who wasn’t involved in the study. She worries about how it could seep into the large crevasses that exist at lower elevations on the ice sheet. From there, the runoff could, potentially, flow all the way down to bedrock, lubricating the zone where the ice makes contact with it.

“That could make the ice sheet flow faster,” Das says, which could cause glaciers to spill their contents into the ocean more quickly, like ice cream sliding off a piece of cake.

To Poinar, the most significant contribution of the new study is that it will allow scientists to improve their projections of future sea level rise, giving coastal communities the information they need to prepare. At the same time, the study highlights the fact that the more carbon we spew into the atmosphere, the more we’re likely to transform Earth’s northern ice sheet in insidious and unexpected ways. And that could have consequences that are difficult to anticipate.

“We have never observed an ice sheet behaving this way before,” Poinar says. “It’s unprecedented in human scientific history.”

The widely recited “12-year deadline” to avert catastrophe is wrong — and right

New York Times, by Gernot Wagner and Constantine Samaras, 9/19/19

Do We Really Have Only 12 Years to Avoid Climate Disaster?

Sliding Down the Climate Slope
Credit Chase Dekker/Wild-Life Images, via Moment –Getty Images Plus

Twelve years is at once an eternity and right around the corner. Just ask any parent watching their kids grow up. So it hits home when a growing chorus of often young voices — from proponents of the Green New Deal to the global Youth Climate Strike — says forcefully that the world has 12 years left to avoid disastrous climate change. This is just the latest dire warning about time running out issued over the past 20 years. But this deadline is different — it’s both entirely wrong, and oh so right.

The idea of a 12-year deadline arose last fall with the release of a special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The United Nations group of climate scientists from around the world said that if the planet’s governments want to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial temperatures, a mere 1 degree Fahrenheit above today’s levels, society will have to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about half by 2030, declining further to net zero by around midcentury. The “about” and “around” typically get dropped in translation, rendering the outcome falsely precise, especially in headlines about the report. The Guardian, for example, announced: “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns U.N.”

Now, of course, it would be 11 years.

Technically, this deadline is wrong, not least because it is much too precise. The world won’t end in 2030 if emissions don’t decline. The NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel summed it up perfectly: “Climate change isn’t a cliff we fall off, but a slope we slide down.”

That’s one of the many reasons climate change is such a difficult problem. There’s no obvious stop sign, no simple red line. The reverse is also true: There won’t be a superhero ending to this movie, a point when climate change will have been “solved.” Our children and grandchildren — and theirs — will be managing the impacts of climate change for decades and centuries to come.

Still, the equation is simple: fewer emissions equal a more hospitable climate. Rising average temperatures make extreme heat more likely, hurricanes and storms more intense and threaten fresh water supplies. Climate impacts have already started to hit.

Halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 would be a tall order, to say the least. Changes to infrastructure take a long time. Cars on the road today are on average about 12 years old, and a new car sold in 2020 could still be on the road in 2040 or later. Power plants are built to stay in service much longer. There are a few coal-fired electric power plants in the United States that first began operation in the 1950s and are still producing electricity today. The inherent inertia that society is up against makes a climate action deadline of about a decade not just a sensible option, but an imperative.

We need to speed up the transition to clean and efficient transportation, electricity, industry, agriculture and buildings, and also make infrastructure and human systems more resilient. Achieving this requires much more than business as usual. It demands an enormous public and private undertaking of policy commitments, investments and innovation initiatives. Ten to 12 years is close enough to focus minds and attention. It’s far enough to allow for the necessary fundamental, systemic changes to take effect. None of that guarantees success.

For one, there is plenty of climate hurt already built in, regardless of how much emissions are cut this coming decade. Second, emissions reductions aiming to limit global average temperatures to 2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 or 2ºC) are not assured of success. Even if the world started out along a path to limit temperatures to, say, 3.6ºF, a chance remains that temperatures climb (much) higher. Some of the I.P.C.C.’s latest “2ºC pathways” go up to a 50-50 chance of exceeding that level. That’s a planetary game of chance no one should want to play, and precisely why deep decarbonization needs to go hand-in-hand with strong and equitable resilience efforts. But it’s not too late to reduce emissions — it will never be too late. It’s hard to imagine a world where we will regret having reduced emissions.

Achieving big reductions in emissions in less than a dozen years requires political action now, or at least soon after the next presidential election. Whether it is the Green New Deal, fundamental green tax reform, or a combination of any of the comprehensive climate plans being proposed now — there are plenty of options that could be taken to bend the emissions trajectory toward zero both in the United States and around the world. The young people, like the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, speaking on behalf of millions are correct in calling for bold climate action now.

With children, days might last forever, but years fly by. Something similar applies to climate policy. The current days of delay and debates can seem to drag on forever, but the next presidential election is right around the corner, and so is 2030. Concrete, realistic deadlines focus the mind and jump-start action. And jump-start we must.

Gernot Wagner is a clinical associate professor at New York University and the co-author of “Climate Shock.” Constantine Samaras is an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University, where he is director of the Center for Engineering and Resilience for Climate Adaptation.

Not just another Trump scandal – this one might actually bring him down

The New York Times, by Nicholas Fandos, Eileen Sullivan, Julian E. Barnes and Matthew Rosenberg, Sep 19, 2019

Watchdog Refuses to Detail Whistle-Blower Complaint About Trump

The complaint, being discussed in a closed meeting with House lawmakers, addresses a commitment that President Trump was said to have made to a world leader.
Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said none of the previous directors of national intelligence had ever refused to provide a whistle-blower complaint to Congress. Credit Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The internal watchdog for American spy agencies declined repeatedly in a briefing on Thursday to disclose to lawmakers the content of a potentially explosive whistle-blower complaint that is said to involve a discussion between President Trump and a foreign leader, members of Congress said.

During a private session on Capitol Hill, Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, told lawmakers he was unable to confirm or deny anything about the substance of the complaint, including whether it involved the president, according to committee members.

The complaint, which prompted a standoff between Congress and Mr. Trump’s top intelligence official, involves a commitment that Mr. Trump made in a communication with another world leader, according to a person familiar with the complaint. The Washington Post first reported the nature of the discussion. The acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has refused to give the complaint to Congress, as is generally required by law, the latest in a series of fights over information between the Democratic-led House and the White House.

Few details of the whistle-blower complaint are known, including the identity of the world leader. And it is not obvious how a communication between Mr. Trump and a foreign leader could meet the legal standards for a whistle-blower complaint that the inspector general would deem an “urgent concern.”

Under the law, the complaint has to concern the existence of an intelligence activity that violates the law, rules or regulations, or otherwise amounts to mismanagement, waste, abuse, or a danger to public safety. But a conversation between two foreign leaders is not itself an intelligence activity.

And while Mr. Trump may have discussed intelligence activities with the foreign leader, he enjoys broad power as president to declassify intelligence secrets, order the intelligence community to act and otherwise direct the conduct of foreign policy as he sees fit, legal experts said.

Mr. Trump regularly speaks with foreign leaders and often takes a freewheeling approach. Some current and former officials said that what an intelligence official took to be a troubling commitment could have been an innocuous comment. But there has long been concern among some in the intelligence agencies that the information they share with the president is being politicized.

Andrew P. Bakaj, a former C.I.A. and Pentagon official whose legal practice specializes in whistle-blower and security clearance issues, confirmed that he is representing the official who filed the complaint. Mr. Bakaj declined to identify his client or to comment.

Mr. Trump denied wrongdoing on Thursday, explaining that he would not “say something inappropriate” on calls where aides and intelligence officials from both sides routinely listen in.

But whatever Mr. Trump said was startling enough to prompt the intelligence official to file a formal whistle-blower complaint on Aug. 12 to the inspector general for the intelligence agencies. Such a complaint is lodged through a formal process intended to protect the whistle-blower from retaliation.

Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been locked in the standoff with Mr. Maguire over the complaint for nearly a week. He said Mr. Maguire told him that he had been instructed not to give the complaint to Congress, and that the complaint addressed privileged information — meaning the president or people close to him were involved.

Mr. Schiff told reporters after the briefing that he still did not know the contents of the complaint and had been unable to get an answer to whether the White House had been involved in suppressing it.

“I don’t think this is a problem of the law,” he said. “I think the law is written very clearly. I think the law is just fine. The problem lies elsewhere. And we’re determined to do everything we can to determine what this urgent concern is, to make sure that the national security is protected and to make sure that this whistle-blower is protected.”

Mr. Schiff said he would explore potential recourse with the House’s general counsel to try to force the release of the complaint, including potentially suing for it in court.

Mr. Schiff has said that none of the previous directors of national intelligence, a position created in 2004, had ever refused to provide a whistle-blower complaint to Congress. The House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena last week to compel Mr. Maguire to appear before the panel. He briefly refused but relented on Wednesday, and is now scheduled to appear before the committee in an open hearing next week.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, said on Thursday that he and the committee’s Republican chairman, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, also expected both the inspector general and acting director to brief them early next week and “clear this issue up.”

Mr. Maguire and Mr. Atkinson are at odds over how the complaint should be handled. Mr. Atkinson has indicated the matter should be investigated, and alerted the House and Senate Intelligence committees, while Mr. Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, says the complaint does not fall within the agencies’ purview because it does not involve a member of the intelligence community — a network of 17 agencies that does not include the White House.

[Read a pair of letters from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence about the complaint.]

The inspector general of the intelligence community “determined that this complaint is both credible and urgent, and that it should be transmitted to Congress under the clear letter of the law,” Mr. Schiff, Democrat of California, said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said the law is “very clear” that the whistle-blower complaint must be handed over to Congress.

“The Inspector General determines what level of concern it is,” said Mr. King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Once the determination is made,” he added, the director of national intelligence “has a ministerial responsibility to share that with Congress. It is not discretionary.”

“This is based upon the principle of separation of powers and Congress’s oversight responsibility,” Mr. King said.

Mr. Maguire was named the acting director in August, after the president had announced that the previous director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, would be stepping down. Mr. Trump had planned to nominate Representative John Ratcliffe, Republican of Texas, a Trump loyalist without an extensive background in intelligence. But the president dropped the plan after lawmakers from both parties raised concerns about Mr. Ratcliffe’s qualifications and possible exaggerations on his resume.

The reports about the whistle-blower complaint touched off speculation about what Mr. Trump said and to whom.

In the weeks before the complaint was filed, Mr. Trump spoke with President Vladimir V. Putin of RussiaPrime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan and the prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte.

And current and former intelligence officials have expressed surprise that during his first few months as president, Mr. Trump shared classified information provided by an ally, Israel, with the Russian foreign minister.

Such disclosures are not illegal, but Mr. Trump flouted intelligence-sharing decorum by sharing an ally’s intelligence without express permission.

Mr. King expressed some doubt about how serious the underlying complaint might be.

“I am a little concerned it is being overblown,” Mr. King said. “On the other hand, it may be significant. But we won’t know that for a few days.”

Charlie Savage contributed reporting.  Matthew Rosenberg, a Washington-based correspondent, was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on Donald Trump and Russia. He previously spent 15 years as a foreign correspondent in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.  Nicholas Fandos is a reporter in the Washington bureau covering Congress.  Eileen Sullivan is the morning breaking news correspondent in Washington. She previously worked for The Associated Press for a decade, covering national security and criminal justice.  Julian E. Barnes is a national security reporter based in Washington, covering the intelligence agencies. Before joining The Times in 2018, he wrote about security matters for the Wall Street Journal.