Category Archives: Climate Change

A Grave Climate Warning, Buried on Black Friday

Repost from The Atlantic

In a massive new report, federal scientists contradict President Trump and assert that climate change is an intensifying danger to the United States. Too bad it came out on a holiday.

By Robinson Meyer, NOV 23, 2018

Firefighters battle the King Fire near Fresh Pond, California, in September 2014.
Firefighters battle the King Fire near Fresh Pond, California, in September 2014. NOAH BERGER / REUTERS

On Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, the federal government published a massive and dire new report on climate change. The report warns, repeatedly and directly, that climate change could soon imperil the American way of life, transforming every region of the country, imposing frustrating costs on the economy, and harming the health of virtually every citizen.

Most significantly, the National Climate Assessment—which is endorsed by NASA, NOAA, the Department of Defense, and 10 other federal scientific agencies—contradicts nearly every position taken on the issue by President Donald Trump. Where the president has insisted that fighting global warming will harm the economy, the report responds: Climate change, if left unchecked, could eventually cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year, and kill thousands of Americans to boot. Where the president has said that the climate will “probably” “change back,” the report replies: Many consequences of climate change will last for millennia, and some (such as the extinction of plant and animal species) will be permanent.

The report is a huge achievement for American science. It represents cumulative decades of work from more than 300 authors. Since 2015, scientists from across the U.S. government, state universities, and businesses have read thousands of studies, summarizing and collating them into this document. By law, a National Climate Assessment like this must be published every four years.

It may seem like a funny report to dump on the public on Black Friday, when most Americans care more about recovering from Thanksgiving dinner than they do about adapting to the grave conclusions of climate science. Indeed, who ordered the report to come out today?

It’s a good question with no obvious answer.


The report is blunt: Climate change is happening now, and humans are causing it. “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities,” declares its first sentence. “The assumption that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past is no longer valid.”

At this point, such an idea might be common wisdom—but this does not make it any less shocking, or less correct. For centuries, humans have lived near the ocean, assuming that the sea will not often move from its fixed location. They have planted wheat at its time, and corn at its time, assuming that the harvest will not often falter. They have delighted in December snow, and looked forward to springtime blossoms, assuming that the seasons will not shift from their course.

Now, the sea is lifting above its shore, the harvest is faltering, and the seasons arrive and depart in disorder.

The report tells this story, laying simple fact on simple fact so as to build a terrible edifice. Since 1901, the United States has warmed 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat waves now arrive earlier in the year and abate later than they did in the 1960s. Mountain snowpack in the West has shrunk dramatically in the past half century. Sixteen of the warmest 17 years on record have occurred since 2000.

Houses lay submerged in floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston in August 2017. The National Climate Assessment warns that climate change will make catastrophic floods more likely. (Adrees Latif / Reuters)

This trend “can only be explained by the effects that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, have had on the climate,” the report says. It warns that if humans wish to avoid 3.6 degrees of warming, they must dramatically cut this kind of pollution by 2040. On the other hand, if greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, then the Earth could warm by as much as 9 degrees by 2100.

“It shows us that climate change is not a distant issue. It’s not about plants, or animals, or a future generation. It’s about us, living now,” says Katharine Hayhoe, an author of the report and an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University.

The report visits each region of the country, describing the local upheavals wrought by a global transformation. Across the Southeast, massive wildfires—like those seen now in California—could soon become a regular occurrence, smothering Atlanta and other cities in toxic smog, it warns. In New England and the mid-Atlantic, it says, oceanfront barrier islands could erode and narrow. And in the Midwest, it forecasts plunging yields of corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice.

Its projections of sea-level rise are just as ominous. If carbon pollution continues to rise, a huge swath of the Atlantic coast—from North Carolina to Maine—will see sea-level rise of five feet by 2100. New Orleans, Houston, and the Gulf Coast could also face five feet of rising seas. Even Los Angeles and San Francisco could see the Pacific Ocean rise by three feet.

Even if humanity were to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, the report forecasts that New Orleans could still see five feet of sea-level rise by 2100.

Andrew Light, another author of the report and a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, said that although the report cannot make policy recommendations, it might be read as an endorsement of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“If the United States were to try and achieve the targets in the Paris Agreement, then things will be bad, but we can manage,” he said. “But if we don’t meet them, then we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of lives every year that are at risk because of climate change. And hundreds of billions of dollars.”


If you think the Friday after Thanksgiving seems like an odd day to publish such a major report, you’re right. The assessment was originally scheduled to be released in December at a large scientific conference in Washington, D.C. But earlier this week, officials announced that the report would come out two weeks early, on the afternoon of Black Friday. When politically inconvenient news is published in the final hours of a workweek, politicos call it a “Friday news dump.” Publishing a dire climate report in the final hours of Black Friday might be the biggest Friday news dump of them all.

So who ordered such a dump? During a press conference on Friday, the report’s directors in the government repeatedly declined to say. “It’s out earlier than expected,” said Monica Allen, a spokeswoman for NOAA. “This report has not been altered or revised in any way to reflect political considerations.”

Yet the change in scheduling took the report’s authors by surprise. John Bruno, an author of the report and a coral biologist at the University of North Carolina, told me that he only learned last Friday that the report would be released today. “There was no explanation or justification,” he said. “The [assessment] leadership implied the timing was being dictated by another entity, but did not say who that was.”

Hayhoe told me she only learned on Tuesday that the report would be released on Friday. At the time, she was preparing three pies for a family Thanksgiving. She put the pies aside and picked up her laptop  to submit any final revisions to the document.

The White House did not respond directly when asked who had ordered such a change. It also did not respond directly when asked if the report would lead President Trump to reconsider his beliefs.

But a White House spokeswoman did send me a lengthy statement saying that “the United States leads the world in providing affordable, abundant, and secure energy to our citizens, while also leading the world in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.” (This is only true if you start counting in 2005, when U.S. emissions peaked.) The spokeswoman said this new assessment was based on the “most-extreme scenario,” and promised any future report would have a “more transparent and data-driven process.”

Not that Hayhoe ever had high expectations about President Trump’s reaction to the report. “It wasn’t the hope that the federal government would look at it and go, ‘Oh my goodness! I see the light,’” she told me.

Rather, she said, she hoped the report would inform the public: “This isn’t information that’s only for the federal government. This is information that every city needs, every state needs, increasingly every business needs, and every homeowner needs. This is information that every human needs.”

“It’s not that we care about a 1-degree increase in global temperature in the abstract,” she said. “We care about water, we care about food, we care about the economy—and every single one of those things is being affected by climate change today.”

    America Voted. The Climate Lost.

    Repost from The New Republic
    [Editor: Benicia wasn’t alone in this last election, suffering from the intrusion of Big Oil’s Big Money.  Oil companies ratcheted up their meddling in local politics all across the land.  This article highlights only a few: oil interests apparently spent $20 million in WA and $40 million in CO defeating key measures (carbon fee & fracking safety rules respectively).  – R.S.]

    Fossil fuel companies spent record amounts to oppose pro-climate ballot initiatives, and it paid off.

    By EMILY ATKIN, November 7, 2018

    The last two years in American politics have spelled trouble for the global climate, thanks largely to the Trump administration. And the next two years probably won’t be much better, given the results of Tuesday’s midterm elections.

    Voters failed to pass a historic ballot initiative in Washington state to create the first-ever carbon tax in the United States. They rejected a ballot measure to increase renewable energy in Arizona, and to limit fracking in Colorado. Some of Congress’ most outspoken climate deniers held onto their seats. Several candidates who ran on explicitly pro-climate agendas lost.

    Democrats did not quite get the blue wave they wanted, but it was even worse for environmentalists. There was no green wave whatsoever. That’s partially because of record political spending by the fossil fuel industry to oppose pro-climate initiatives, but also because of the Democratic Party’s failure as a whole to draw much attention to the issue.

    The midterm elections were always going to be consequential for climate change. The world’s governments only have about twelve years to implement policies that can limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s the point at which catastrophic impacts begin, according to a recent report from an international consortium of scientists.

    The U.S., as the largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, is essential to achieving that target. But for the last two years, the U.S. government has been ignoring the need to reduce emissions—and in many cases, actively working against it. Along with withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, President Donald Trump has been attempting to repeal and weaken existing climate regulation, with the support of the Republican-controlled Congress.

    The midterms gave voters two opportunities to change America’s course on climate change. They could have elected a Congress that would no longer support Trump’s anti-climate agenda. And they could have approved strong statewide climate policies to counter the federal government’s inaction.

    Voters took the first opportunity, but only slightly. Democrats won the House of Representatives, making it near-impossible for Trump to pass any anti-climate legislation.

    But voters didn’t elect many candidates who ran on pro-climate agendas. Environmentalists had hoped that Florida, being on the front lines of climate change, would make history in that regard. But Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, a climate champion, was unseated by Governor Rick Scott, a Republican accused of banning the word climate from state government websites. And Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, who pledged to act swiftly on climate, lost to a Republican who has dismissed the problem.

    Voters rejected almost every opportunity to enact strong state-level climate policies.The biggest failure by far was in Washington. Initiative 1631 would have made the state the first in the country to charge polluters for their emissions. The proceeds from the carbon fee could have provided Washington with “as much as $1 billion annually by 2023 to fund government programs related to climate change,” Fortune reported, and “potentially kickstart a national movement to staunch greenhouse gases.” The measure lost by 12 percentage points.

    The renewable energy ballot initiative in Arizona also presented a big opportunity to reduce emissions. Proposition 127 would have required electric companies in Arizona to get half of their power from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2030. (In a rare win for the environment on Tuesday, Nevada voters passed their own version of that initiative.) Proposition 112, Colorado’s ballot initiative to keep oil and gas drilling operations away from where people live, was far more about protecting public health than it was about limiting climate change. But the effect would have been to limit further fossil fuel extraction in the state.

    The oil and gas industry spent quite a lot of money opposing all of these pro-climate ballot initiatives. The campaign against Washington’s carbon fee “raised $20 million, 99 percent of which has come from oil and gas,” according to Vox. The carbon fee was thus one of the most expensive ballot initiative fights in Washington state history. The renewable energy fight in Arizona was also the most expensive in state history because of oil industry spending. The same was true for Colorado’s anti-fracking measure, as the oil and gas industry clearly spent nearly $40 million opposing it.

    While Tuesday’s results show the impact of massive political spending by the fossil fuel lobby, they also shine a light on Democrats’ failure to mobilize voters on the issue. The Democratic Party has failed to treat climate change with much, if any urgency this election season. According to The New York Times, the “vast majority” of the party’s candidates did not mention the problem “in digital or TV ads, in their campaign literature or on social media.” And the party’s leaders in Congress have given little indication that they intend to prioritize climate change in the future. Is it any wonder voters weren’t excited about solving the problem, either?


    Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Nevada voters rejected Question 6, a ballot initiative on renewable energy. The measure won. 

    Emily Atkin is a staff writer at The New Republic.

      SF Chron Perspective: Facing the coming flood with a sense of optimism

      Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

      Facing the coming flood with sense of optimism

      By Caille Millner, Oct. 19, 2018 2:12 p.m.
      The 2017 Russian River flood in Guerneville. A new U.N. climate report says we have about 12 years to do something huge on climate change. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle 2017

      After I read the United Nations’ new apocalyptic climate change report, I looked to see when my house was going to be underwater.

      For this grim task, I set out to model different possibilities with an online sea level rise tool from Cal-Adapt, a public database for research from California scientists and researchers. (Isn’t the internet amazing? It provides those of us who believe in climate change with all the tools we need to find out when it’s going to swallow us whole, and those of us who aren’t willing to be convinced with all the conspiracy theories we need for political arguments.)

      I zoomed in to my street and tried the tool’s first option, “no rise.”

      My neighborhood remained gray and dry, untouched by the neon blues of inundation.

      Comforted, I tried half a meter. That’s about 1.6 feet, which sounded like a lot until I remembered that the California Coastal Commission has told cities to be prepared for more than 10 feet of ocean rise by 2100.

      My house wasn’t underwater yet, but suddenly I could no longer get downtown. Nearly 10 feet of water had inundated the area just north of Mission Bay. San Francisco had lost an Interstate 280 exit, and it’s pretty much assured that all of my Muni buses were getting re-routed as well.

      I switched to 1 meter (about 3.3 feet).

      My house was still OK, but the water was approaching fast.

      Many buildings in the surrounding neighborhoods, including Mission Bay and the Dogpatch, were underwater at least some of the time. The Bayview and Hunters Point neighborhoods were receding into marshland. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors just approved the construction of a new community in India Basin this week that’s going to be soggy as soon as it’s built.

      At 1.41 meters (4.6 feet), Hunters Point was half as large as it should have been, South Beach was surrounded by water on all sides, and Interstate 280 was swamped heading out of Potrero Hill.

      Ten feet of ocean rise by 2100. I imagined myself standing on my roof and waving a white T-shirt for rescue. In fact, I should start practicing right now — according to that new U.N. climate report, the party starts in just 12 years. Given the level of anxiety I feel about all of this, it’s going to take me at least six years just to loosen up my spine.

      Bad joke, I know. And the truth of the matter is that cynical humor — which is quite frankly the most natural human reaction to the news that the world is about to be flooded and there’s nothing you personally can do to stop it — is not going to get us out of this mess.

      So what kind of attitude will get us out of this?

      I’ve been thinking about that a lot, partially because I’m so terrified by all of the political inaction and partially because I’ve noticed so many otherwise indomitable people responding to the news on climate change with a sense of helplessness.

      Like cynical humor, helplessness is a natural reaction. But it won’t work, and neither will telling other people to give up the benefits of modernity to save the Earth. (Everyone I meet in Berkeley is eager to tell me how climate change will evaporate if we all just stop flying on planes, eating meat and having children, but I have yet to see any of them take their own advice.)

      What might work?

      Optimism.

      It’s hard to find optimism anywhere in America in October 2018, but I’m finding it in the lawsuit brought by 21 young people against the U.S. government for failing to tackle climate change.

      Levi Draheim, 10 (center), and other youth activists suing the Trump administration over climate change in San Francisco on Dec. 11. Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle 2017

      It’s scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 29, and while the Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to block it from happening, something about their action feels … antediluvian. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the children are unshaken by the size of the fight they’ve taken on.

      “I believe that the momentum is on our side,” said one of the plaintiffs, then-17-year-old Nathan Baring, when the kids were presenting their lawsuit before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in December.

      The youngest plaintiff, 11-year-old Levi Draheim of Florida, has said that if he doesn’t do this, he may not have a home when he’s older.

      It’s the simplest reason to take on this fight, and it’s also the most inspiring one. It smacks of can-do spirit, a trait that used to be associated with American values. I think it’s time we brought it back again.

      Why not make fighting climate change our next national challenge, like putting a man on the moon once was? Why not at least believe we can do that, and behave accordingly?

      I can tell you this much: Optimistic action sounds like a lot more fun than clicking for your personal flood zone.

      Caille Millner is an editorial writer and Datebook columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. She has worked at the paper since 2006. On the editorial board, she covers a wide range of topics including business, finance, technology, education and local politics. For Datebook, she writes a weekly column on culture.She is the recipient of the Scripps-Howard Foundation’s Walker Stone Award in Editorial Writing and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Editorial Writing Award.