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A Grim Warning From Science --- Bill McKibben

Environment  (tags: animals, climate-change, CO2emissions, destruction, ecosystems, endangered, energy, environment, globalwarming, government, greenhousegases, habitatdestruction, healthconditions, nature, humans, oceans, politics, pollution, Sustainabililty, science, trees )

- 1004 days ago -
One of the things that makes Sandy different from Katrina is that it's a relatively clean story. The lessons of Katrina were numerous and painful--they had to do with race, with class, with the willful incompetence of a government that had put a -->

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. (0)
Friday November 2, 2012, 8:25 am
I will never forget Katrina and screaming at the television, GET THEM SOME HELP. Wrote all my congressmen and the President asking them to do something. Begging them. Thank you for posting this article.

Kit B. (276)
Friday November 2, 2012, 8:25 am
(Photo Credit: Flooded streets under the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn, New York, October 29, 2012. (Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo)

One of the things that makes Sandy different from Katrina is that it’s a relatively clean story. The lessons of Katrina were numerous and painful—they had to do with race, with class, with the willful incompetence of a government that had put a professional Arabian horse fancier in charge of its rescue efforts.

Sandy, by contrast, has been pretty straightforward. It’s hit rich, poor, and middle class Americans with nearly equal power, though of course the affluent always have it easier in the aftermath of tragedy. Government officials prepared forthrightly for its arrival, and have refrained from paralysis and bickering in its wake. Which allows us to concentrate on the only really useful message it might deliver: that we live in a changed world, where we need both to adapt to the changes, and to prevent further changes so great that adaptation will be impossible.

Science and its practical consort Engineering mostly come out of this week with enhanced reputations. For some years now, various researchers have been predicting that such a trauma was not just possible but almost certain, as we raised the temperature and with it the level of the sea—just this past summer, for instance, scientists demonstrated that seas were rising faster near the northeast United States (for reasons having to do with alterations to the Gulf Stream) than almost anyplace on the planet. They had described, in the long run, the loaded gun, right down to a set of documents describing the precise risk to the New York subway system.

As nature pulled the trigger in mid-October, when a tropical wave left Africa and moved into the Atlantic and began to spin, scientists were able to do the short-term work of hurricane forecasting with almost eerie precision. Days before Sandy came ashore we not only knew approximately where it would go, but that its barometric pressure would drop below previous records and hence that its gushing surge would set new marks. The computer models dealt with the weird hybrid nature of the storm—a tropical cyclone hitting a blocking front—with real aplomb; it was a bravura performance.

In so doing, it should shame at least a little those people who argue against the computer modeling of climate change on the grounds that “they can’t even tell the weather three days ahead of time—how can they predict the climate?” But in fact “they” can tell the weather, and in the process they saved thousands upon thousands of lives. They can tell the future too. No serious climate scientist believes that the sea will rise less than a meter this century, unless we get off fossil fuel with great speed; many anticipate it will rise far more. Think about what that means—as one researcher put it this week, it means that any average storm will become an insidious threat.

It’s possible that we can spend enough money to somehow protect Manhattan—and it’s possible that we can’t. It’s impossible to imagine that we will be able to protect, say, the Asian subcontinent, or the Pearl River delta of China, or any of the other crowded places imperiled by rising seas. In fact, the last year has seen even more serious flooding in Bangkok and Manila, and a recent study found that New York was only seventeenth on the list of cities at risk of such flooding, with Mumbai and Calcutta leading the league.

Having great scientists, and taking those scientists seriously, are two different things, of course. Our climate scientists—led by James Hansen, who lives in New Jersey and does his work from a NASA lab on the Upper West Side—have trotted patiently up to Capitol Hill every year for the last two decades to present their latest findings, and been entirely ignored, the fossil fuel industry having purchased one of our political parties and cowed the other. But it may be that firsthand experience will accomplish what academic studies have not—Governor Andrew Cuomo, for instance, was forthright in his declarations this week that climate change was a “reality,” that we were “vulnerable” as a result, and that we would need to adjust to deal with it.

But that adjustment can’t just be building new seawalls, because we’ll never catch up. The same researchers who predicted events like this week’s horror have warned that unless we cease burning coal and gas and oil the planet’s temperature—already elevated by a degree—will climb another four or five. At which point “civilization” will be another word for “ongoing emergency response.”

Building new defenses will be expensive but relatively popular; cracking down on the fossil fuel industry will be a great trial, and indeed Cuomo has an important test approaching. He must decide at some point in the coming years whether to allow fracking within the borders of the Empire State. A lead author of a very weak report from his Department of Environmental Conservation is a climate denier; after Sandy it will be interesting to see if the governor asks for a new study from people in touch with actual science. I think he might; as powerful as the fracking lobby is, the sight of a hundred apartment and office lobbies filled with seawater is more visceral. We’ve been given a warning by science, and a wake-up call by nature; it is up to us now to heed them.

By Bill McKibben | Common Dreams|

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of His most recent book is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Lois Jordan (60)
Friday November 2, 2012, 6:47 pm
Noted. Just a word about that "professional Arabian horse fancier in charge" of Katrina rescue efforts. Brown(ie) is all over the media stating that Obama acted too quickly....all I could do was laugh--these words coming from "heckuva job, Brownie!" Another point is that FEMA had been massively underfunded during the Bush Regime and Blackwater, a Private Corporation, was leading the rescue in New Orleans....unsuccessfully and horribly. Pres. Obama wisely funded FEMA, as did Bill Clinton, and he is owed great thanks for that.

Angelika R. (145)
Friday November 2, 2012, 6:48 pm
Excellent as are all his writings, thx Kit!

Angelika R. (145)
Friday November 2, 2012, 6:51 pm
WOW, after 45 mins submitting FINALLY worked! But will even this impress the baloney faction? I doubt it, guess they're waiting to have their butts grilled.

Kit B. (276)
Friday November 2, 2012, 7:09 pm

Angelika, I have a feeling there some standing in the street, knee-deep in ocean water proclaiming that this is not climate change. Governor Cuomo of New York said last evening, that debates no longer matter, there are floods in the subway, no electricity, hospitals closed and many people very hungry and it the time to clean up and rebuild. Re-build with an eye to the reality of what is actually happening. (para- phrased)
The full interview is available at the Rachel Maddow MsNBC web-site. He said much the same things in an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN.

Frank S. (491)
Friday November 2, 2012, 7:37 pm
It is very sad and tragic that humanity is hell bent on destroying the Earth and everything that depends upon it for life itself!

robyn m. (6)
Friday November 2, 2012, 7:42 pm
so so so sad

Past Member (0)
Friday November 2, 2012, 10:29 pm
Sadly noted. Thanks.

Susanne R. (249)
Friday November 2, 2012, 11:23 pm
What's so hard to understand about "we live in a changed world, where we need both to adapt to the changes, and to prevent further changes so great that adaptation will be impossible."? I'm glad to hear that Governor Cuomo is coming around and that Mayor Bloomberg is a believer, but we have to break the grip of the powerful lobbies that keep the fossil fuel industry in business with few regulations, and we have to keep Romney out of office! He stated very clearly during his acceptance speech at the RNC that he wasn't concerned about "rising ocean levels" or the state of the planet. He was concerned about "people." I guess he didn't notice the irony...

Craig Pittman (51)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 6:21 am
Very sadly it appears we are having to shift into the adapting phase to react to the effects of climate change. I note James Hansen's book 'Storms of My Grand Children.' Here is an environmental advocate who has tried for decades to get folks to make positive changes in the way they were living so as to lessen their impact on earth. Now he has written a message for his grandchildren saying that when they look at what has happened to the earth at least he can say he tried to something about it. Note - I am paraphrasing here. Many experts are saying that we may well be into a situation of too little too late.
I agree Susanne - Mitt Romney will end up standing in hip deep water in from of HIS house and still not connect the dots.

Craig Pittman (51)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 6:22 am
Thanks Kit for this story. Sadly this was not a one on storm.

Michael O. (178)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 6:46 am
I recently bought a copy of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet and am looking forward to reading it, as I have heard a lot about it from Kit and other good people here on Care2.

Thanks Kit!

Dave C. (236)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 7:23 am
thanks...bill mckibben one of my heroes.....unfortunately, if we don't act soon we will all have to get used to disasters like this.....

lee e. (114)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 11:06 am
It is a devastation here, the gas is inaccessible, the poor neighborhoods are indeed not getting priority treatment, and while Cuomo says he's thinking twice about climate change, I don't see him giving more thought to fracking! I found respect for Bloomberg for at least endorsing the President on the basis of who would be better solving the problem - but even Obama is trying to play two sides against the middle, since no candidate is free from the corrupting influence of corporate money and their "pay-back"!
Particularly hard for those who are on fixed incomes that the storm came at the end of the month, and to prepare for this storm costs a lot of money!
Brownie (the slime) had some cajones to crawl out from his putrid sewer and make the remarks he did! Un-f'ing believable!
NJ talks about rebuilding, I wonder how smart that is - these shore towns and cities are very vulnerable, and the storms (frankenstorms - aptly named), are more frequent - what insurance company in their right mind would offer insurance to these areas of susceptibility? I think they have a lot to re-think before we rebuild - making climate change a priority for the government, and the world - I signed so many petitions to include the subject on the debates - but NO - not a word, plenty of talk about who could out-do the other in taking steps by drilling for gas and fracking - oh yes "clean coal" as well - well whoop-de-do!
I'm pissed at the deniers, and as far as I'm concerned they are the traitors responsible for this man made monster of a storm and all of its devastation of lives and treasure.
We are individually responsible for these people who deny science, and to make sure that those pols in Congress and the WH - prioritize this business if if already isn't too late!

lee e. (114)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 11:12 am
PS - sorry I didn't give credit to you, Kit, and McKibben - a great article - thanks - I apologize for my rant!

Tamara Noforwardsplz (185)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 11:49 am
A very frightening and real picture indeed! Noted, twittered and shared. Lets hope we can wake up a few more ignorants and deniers. I live with a household full of them.

Kit B. (276)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 12:13 pm

That's okay Lee - I didn't write this one - I only wish I had. How many states were affected by this storm?

CT, DE, MA, MD, ME, NC, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VA, VT, and even Ohio had some flooding from the backlash of this storm. Isn't it time we take this seriously/

Debra Van Way (12)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 12:48 pm
One hopes this will wake people up, but I am not holding my breath. I have tried telling people for years that the climate was changing and not for the better-but they didn't listen. A few finally seem to be figuring it out but not nearly enough. I wish the government would do more to subsidize solar power-it is expensive still. People need to downsize homes, and build homes that take advantage of solar and wind energy. Big isn't always better and more and more stuff just ends up as more and more clutter. I am happy to see more companies are going towards sustainable building and supplies. Bamboo is wonderful-fast growing and beautiful for floors, etc. Becoming more self sufficient is a good idea-learn skills that don't cause pollution. If we don't-our children, their children and any future generations that survive won't have much of a life. Most of all stop wasting everything.

Mary Donnelly (47)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 4:49 pm
Excellent Post, again, thanks Kit.

Donnajean Bodnar (0)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 6:33 pm
Our world is ever changing, as it has for centuries. Expect the unexpected.

Nayra Padilha (10)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 7:12 pm
Great article, thanks

Monica D. (580)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 7:12 pm
Climate change is a very serious issue.

reece C. (29)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 7:28 pm
Wow, after reading this article, and the comments on Common Dreams, I have to say that I am glad to be a boomer. I'll be outta here sometime in the next twenty years or so, and will leave this problem behind. What I want to apologize for, is leaving you stuck with it.
Old Jimmy Carter, another boomer, lost an election because he told people in this country that we needed to begin immediately to conserve energy and stop our dependency on fossil fuels. He was laughed out of the white house and ridiculed by the petroleum institute. That was 35 years ago. Think anyone is listening now?

Kit B. (276)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 7:37 pm

Good question...Is anyone listening, yet? Like you I am a baby boomer and have studied this for many years, about 40 years. When climate science really opened up with the advantage of NASA photos to study, no one believed it would ever get this bad, that humans would react to protect themselves. Never underestimate the power of money or the stupidity of the human race.

Christine Stewart (133)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 8:28 pm
Thanks for posting.

patrica and edw jones (190)
Saturday November 3, 2012, 11:47 pm
Nature does not differentiate between rich and poor - but Governments do.

Ana Marija Rumbak (220)
Sunday November 4, 2012, 2:08 am
noted with thanks and hope...

Wim Zunnebeld (144)
Sunday November 4, 2012, 4:31 am
thx for posting

Lloyd H. (46)
Sunday November 4, 2012, 4:52 am
Poppycock! Surely you must know that science is "straight from the pit of Hell" to quote the Repug US Rep. (GA) Paul Broun. From Repug US Senator (OK) James Inhofe who says that climate change is a lie of arrogance; quoting Genesis 8:22, "as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night." then going on to say, "My point is, God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous." Now I must admit that it is hard to tell if Inhofe is insane enough to actually believes the religious crap he says or if his belief comes from the $1,352,523 in campaign donations from the Oil and Gas Cartels, $90,950 direct from Koch Industries. Let us remember that the Oil/Gas Cartels since 1996 have never given in total to all Dems more than $6 Million while the Repugs never received less than $16 Million. For the 2012 election the Oil/Gas Cartel total to all Dems was $4 Million to all the Repugs it was $39 Million, for 2012 Obama got a grand total of $720,780 for the O/G Cartels while Mitt Romney received $4,764,211. The average O/G Cartel donation to Dem candidates for US legislative office was $6,000 for the Repugs it was $49,000. They say money can not buy you love, although I do believe Limbaugh and Gingrich et alia prove otherwise, but it sure as hell can buy you Elected Officials.

Theodore Shayne (56)
Sunday November 4, 2012, 10:25 am
When the planet changes its patterns to maintain its health and to deal with the damage the human virus has caused it; climate change happens. Everything we do from oil drilling to fracking to mountaintop removal affects the planet which in turn revisits it on us.
Yes the hockey climate map was skewed to accommodate preconceived hypotheses and any scientist or researcher who did so should have been discredited and fired. There is no denying climate change. It's natural. If we want to survive then we must change our approach to the planet whatever it takes. Building seawalls as they do in Europe or dyke systems for the Gulf Coast as they do in the Netherlands is all well and good but fails to address the real problem - us and our attitude and behavior. New York and Boston and the rest of the eastern seaboard should be aware that they are on an intricate morass of interconnected minor fault lines just as Northridge, CA is. Everything in and on this planet is connected and there are dire consequences and repercussions for our behavior.

Kit B. (276)
Sunday November 4, 2012, 10:55 am

Some how a green star is just not sufficient to thank the many thoughtful and thought provoking comments left on this thread. Thank you for thinking about this very real problem.

greenplanet e. (156)
Sunday November 4, 2012, 2:03 pm
"Leave carbon in the ground".

I guess halting or slowing down the burning of fossil fuels won't be popular with some, but it's important.

greenplanet e. (156)
Sunday November 4, 2012, 2:15 pm

Cuomo and Maddow

Robert S. (115)
Sunday November 4, 2012, 2:38 pm
The so called "debate" on science regarding climate change has been an obvious and self serving lie for a long long time now. We should be way down the road in terms of mitigation and preparation for almost universally predicted outcomes. Damn them that hindered us, obscuring the truth for their own profit.

Gene Jacobson (266)
Monday November 5, 2012, 1:27 pm
"Science and its practical consort Engineering mostly come out of this week with enhanced reputations. For some years now, various researchers have been predicting that such a trauma was not just possible but almost certain, as we raised the temperature and with it the level of the sea—just this past summer, for instance, scientists demonstrated that seas were rising faster near the northeast United States (for reasons having to do with alterations to the Gulf Stream) than almost anyplace on the planet. They had described, in the long run, the loaded gun, right down to a set of documents describing the precise risk to the New York subway system."

Anyone who thinks this was a fluke storm, one of the "storms of the century" type that happen several times a year now is completely playing hide and seek with themselves. This IS the future. This IS what is coming on a global scale and it will not play favorites, there is no place on the planet that will be unaffected by the changes that are coming as the planet prepares to cleanse itself of the causes that have set these events in motion. That would be us, folks. This is not just another storm, it is the beginning of the worst climactic explosion in the history of history. We did this and we are going to pay the price for it. Storms are just the beginning, what comes next is also predicted by science and that will be much much worse, life as we know it is in severe jeopardy and our leaders still play hide the pea in their little shell game though it is probably now far too late to reverse and the proposed changes (by 2020) which no one has yet agreed on, well, too little too late. It is the generations past ours that will bear the full brunt of what is coming and it is for them my heart breaks as they had no hand in creating the monster they will have to deal with. We did that. Or our 1%er's did. They'll try to hide, but this is coming for them too, as for us all. Sickening the level of denial we'll shrink to even while the world churns out devastating blow after devastating blow. All the billions in the world won't save a single soul, including those with the billions. Horrible but fair. They'll at last come down to the level the rest of us live at and soon that will all be below sea level. Can't hide from that. Though I'm sure they'll try.
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