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Notes from a Changing Climate

[ 183 ] March 20, 2012 |

If I dare suggest that the shockingly warm temperatures in the eastern half of the country, temperatures that by a gigantic margin make up the biggest March heat wave in recorded history and quite possibly the warmest March in over 100,000 years, were indicative of climate change, commenters would say I am no better than someone suggesting a single snow shows that climate change isn’t happening, so here’s a couple of other points about our changing climate:

1. Climate change is leading to the rapid proliferation of bark beetles, destroying ecosystems, possibly dooming some species to extinction, and severely threatening the North American forestry industry.

2. In the last 2 years, a mere 42 million Asians have been displaced due to unusually severe weather.

3. Say adios to many of our world’s rarest forests. I recommend flying to visit them now, preferably on a jet that maximizes climate change.

4. Climate is changing so rapidly that scientists can see major changes in vegetation in a geological blink of an eye.

5. For as much as we believe in technology more than any other religion, technology is flat out not going to get us out of this mess.

But hey, I can wear shorts in March so fuck it.

Bill McKibben really sums up my thoughts on the matter:

Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Missouri, you should not ask yourself: I wonder if this is somehow related to the huge tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that—together they comprised the most active April for tornadoes in our history. But that doesn’t mean a thing.

It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advised to try and connect them in your mind with, say, the fires now burning across Texas—fires that have burned more of America by this date than any year in our history. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been—the drought is worse than the Dust Bowl. But do not wonder if it’s somehow connected.

If you did wonder, you’d have to also wonder about whether this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest—resulting in record flooding across the Mississippi—could somehow be related. And if you did that, then you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming. To the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold.

It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself, over and over, the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change. There have been tornadoes before, and floods—that’s the important thing. Just be careful to make sure you don’t let yourself wonder why all these records are happening at once: why we’ve had unprecedented megafloods from Australia to Pakistan in the last year. Why it’s just now that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years. Focus on the immediate casualties, watch the videotape from the store cameras as the shelves are blown over. Look at the anchorman up to the chest of his waders in the rising river.

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Comments (183)

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  1. p.a. says:

    pfft. gay marriage is the cause. so obvious.

  2. proverbialleadballoon says:

    hate to say it, but it’s too late. we’ve passed the tipping point. and if we haven’t, the tipping point is so close that we won’t slow down in time to not pass it. enjoy the ride.

    • Sherm says:

      You’re probably right, but i refuse to believe it because that is exactly what big business and their prostitutes posing as politicians and the press want us to believe. They want those who are not ignorant to the truth to feel defeated by the enormity of the truth.

      • proverbialleadballoon says:

        oh, i’m not defeated, sherm. the environment is the issue of most importance to me. i won’t ever back off. we can still take action to mitigate the damage that will come. but while we’re arguing with the rubes who deny science cuz ‘they don’t believe in it’, the clock is ticking. get used to a new reality is all i’m saying, because it’s here and it’s for reals.

        • Sherm says:

          Unfortunately, there is very little the individual can do. Its a massive problem which requires government intervention, and such intervention ain’t coming any time soon.

          • Charlie Sweatpants says:

            “Unfortunately, there is very little the individual can do. Its a massive problem which requires government intervention, and such intervention ain’t coming any time soon.”

            That’s the nut of it. Few things cause me more aggravation than when I hear someone pat themselves on the back for some minor lifestyle change “being green” or the like. Worse are all those articles in the mainstream press that basically boil down to “What’s better for the environment, boxers or briefs?”. But look on the bright side, as screwed up as our politics are, they’re more promising than international cooperation:

            http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Asia/Story/STIStory_779674.html

            “India will urge its airlines to boycott the European Union’s (EU) carbon charge scheme, raising the prospect of a global trade war over a law requiring flights in and out of Europe to pay for their greenhouse gas emissions.”

            Gonna be a fun century.

            • Hogan says:

              “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

  3. BKN in Canada says:

    Can you tell your kids that they will be the only ones in their class, or your spouse the only person in their office, who can’t have a winter vacation in the tropics? Will you be willing to get by with one vehicle, or no vehicle, in a city with poor transit service, even if it means your kids won’t be able to play team sports because you won’t be able to get them to practices? Are you willing to explain to your friends, neighbours and associates, for the nth time, why you don’t have a big-screen t.v., or a dog, or a(nother) kid, or a lawn mower, or a lawn etc., etc., even though you can clearly afford such things? If you can answer yes to a good portion of the above, you’re a stronger and greener person than I am.

    And no, green tech will not save us. Name me a supposed green technology, consumer-level, of the past 20 years that has delivered on its initial green promise(s).

    • UberMitch says:

      Wait, we aren’t supposed to have dogs anymore? Even the one I rescued from a shelter?

    • Furious Jorge says:

      I do several of those things already.

      It’s sad that you’ve given up because it’s just too hard not to conform.

      • Lee says:

        What I think BKN is doing is pointing out the practical difficulties in doing much about climate change on a political level. Doing anything substantive about climate is going to impose a lot on most ordinary people and the government.

        In the American/Canadian/Australian context; people are going to have to give up on the car-oriented suburban lifestyle that was toasted as the good life since the end of WWII. Denisities are going to have to increase, transit use increase, and car use decrease. Plus people are going to have less consumer products and not really be able to vacation as much as they did in the past.

        No politician with a chance of actually getting elected to office is going to want to say this to the electorate. Fewer are going to even want an attempt at implementing it. Radicals might be willing to adovcate these changes but radicals aren’t going to hold enough power to implement it.

        • Heron says:

          The horrific news is that what reductions in carbon consumption we don’t make ourselves, the Earth will make for us. The less livable the planet becomes, the less people will live on it.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Why are we supposed to assume that the circumstances in which people make individual choices won’t change at all? Why are we supposed to assume, for instance, that there will continue to be crappy transit service? Why are we supposed to assume that the housing choices available will steer us to cities that are hare to service with transit?

      Pointing out the challenge of making green choices in a brown society ignores the point of political action: to alter those circumstances.

    • wengler says:

      The elimination of CFCs. No more freon-based compressors in automobiles, refrigerators, etc.

      • Malaclypse says:

        And aerosol’s in hair spray.

      • elm says:

        And the hole in the ozone layer is much smaller than it was 20 years ago, although there is debate about how much of that is elimination of CFCs and how much is other factors, although my understanding is that there is consensus that eliminating CFCs had a at least a meaningful effect.

        • djw says:

          Yes, the Montreal protocol and subsequent agreements are as close to an unmitigated success as we’re going to see. Also: Acid rain. levels are down considerably from the 70’s in both the US and Europe, and the costs to industry have been a fraction of what we were told they would be.

      • proverbialleadballoon says:

        did you know the same guy that put lead into gasoline to reduce knock, invented chlorofluorocarbons. what a colossal asshole.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Name me a supposed green technology, consumer-level, of the past 20 years that has delivered on its initial green promise(s).

      Tankless hot water heaters.

    • Daniel says:

      I will just have to live near a city where I can use public transportation, instead of a car. Oh, and not make enough money for far-away vacations. And get a lot of my things second-hand. Wait, I already do those things…

    • Maria says:

      Is Loomis willing to forgo his annual international travel?

  4. c u n d gulag says:

    It’s a well established religious fact, that tornado’s, hurricanes, tsunami’s, and earthquakes, are all caused by insufficient Christian prayer.
    Either there were too many heathen religionists and/or non-believers in the town, and God didn’t hear the prayers, or the Christians there were to blame by not praying hard and often enough.

    Also too – too much Gay marriage.
    Also three – too many dark and swarthy people. Want proof? Why did God strike New Orleans with a hurricane, and not Livonia, Michigan, which is the whitest town in America – over 95% of white people?

    And so, if there is Global Weirding/Warming, we must start praying hard and often so that Jesus will save us all.

    Or, we can all clap harder, and maybe Tinkerbell will save us.

  5. UserGoogol says:

    Anecdotal evidence is still bullshit and always will be. We have actual hard science on our side, we don’t need to drag psuedoscientific “making connections between individual events” into the conversation. Individual events are devoid of meaning without being part of a rigorous data collection.

    • Marc says:

      There is a lot of current research being done on extreme events, and there are clear links to an overall warming trend. It’s not pseudo-science to say so. Things like extreme drought and floods are common outcomes of climate models, and relate directly to shifts in weather patterns.

      • UserGoogol says:

        Yes, and it’s the research itself that matters. The fact that you can find particular incidents which fit this trend is nice confirmation, (and obviously you’d need some such data points in order for the trend to be real) but it’s just gravy epistemologically speaking.

      • DrDick says:

        Speaking of such research, the coniferous forests of the northern Rockies are endangered by global warming as well. Because winters are milder, pine beetles are becoming much more common (they normally are killed off by winter cold) and destroying the trees.

    • UserGoogol says:

      Although to add, it’s not like these links are piddling little “it’s kinda warm out today” data points. But still, it just annoys me to see people acting like not being allowed to use anecdotal evidence is just a conservative conspiracy.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        Especially after so many years of plinking conservatives for it.

        Suddenly, you’re oppressing the earth by adhering to the same standards that the reality-based community has been insisting upon all along.

    • Njorl says:

      Anecdotal events are a useful rhetorical tool to force people to consider data.

      Mr A: Global warming is causing tornadoes. The people killed by tornadoes were killed by global warming.

      Mr B: You have no scientific evidence for that.

      Mr A: Are you willing to consider my evidence?

      Mr B: Yes.

      Mr A: I have evidence that we are experiencing anthropogenic global warming. I have climate change models which accurately predict the effects of global warming. Some of the effects predicted are catastrophic floods, hurricanes, droughts and a host of other disasters including tornadoes.

      Mr B: That doesn’t prove global warming is causing tornadoes.

      Mr A: Do you reject my data?

      Mr B: No.

      Mr A: Do you reject my models?

      Mr B: No, I reject your logic.

      Mr A: Hey, you’re right. So we agree that we are experiencing anthropogenic global warming which is inducing climate change which will inevitably cause catastrophic weather events which kill many people, but we can’t say for sure that it is causing these tornadoes.

      Mr B: Exactly.

      You make the inflammatory statements until your opponent agrees to enter a rigorously scientific arena. Then you crush him.

      That is an argument we should want to have. Get people’s attention with anecdotal disasters, and force them to think rigorously. The problem isn’t that people think the deniers are right. The problem is that people don’t think about it at all.

      One point I will certainly concede, climate scientists should not be the ones making these arguments. Climate scientists should be providing the data, the models and the predictions which get used in the rhetorical argument. Scientists rely on their reputation for critical thinking and honesty. Making such a rhetorical argument reduces the power of their science.

  6. Greco says:

    Yeah, well, algore is still fat.

  7. Njorl says:

    5. For as much as we believe in technology more than any other religion, technology is flat out not going to get us out of this mess.

    Then we’re not going to get out of this mess.

    The non-technological aspect of the solution is figuring out a way to get people to pay for and accept the technological part of the solution.

    • Lee says:

      On a related point, has anybody ever attempted to think about what sort of lifestyle is sustainable but at the same time still desirable by residents of the Developed World. I feel that the key to doing anything about climate change is figuring out what sort of life is sustainable and acceptable to First World People.

      • Charlie Sweatpants says:

        “I feel that the key to doing anything about climate change is figuring out what sort of life is sustainable and acceptable to First World People.”

        That’s the main thrust of Bill McKibben’s most recent book “Eaarth”. This is an oversimplification, but the basic idea is that we build communities that can get most of what they need relatively locally (including food and energy), and that those tighter knit communities will lead to a decrease in the need for pointless consumption because people won’t be miserable and isolated in giant houses where the only thing that makes them temporarily happy is a new car every other year.

        Even spoiled First World People might not hate living in a society where we eat better, have more people around us whose company we enjoy, and can maintain a national culture through the internet and mass communication. For a book that takes its title from the idea that we’ve already irrevocably damaged our habitat, it’s surprisingly heartening. And, since it’s a couple years old, you should be able to get it at the library without too much trouble.

        • BradP says:

          This is an oversimplification, but the basic idea is that we build communities that can get most of what they need relatively locally (including food and energy),

          Who is “we”? Rich white folk?

          They don’t have the best track record for this sort of thing.

        • Lee says:

          I have my doubts about the feasibility of this solution. It doesn’t seem to be the way that people decide to live if they have the choice. Rather it seems somethinh that requires force.

          Israel has the most succesful tract record of long term communal or cooperative villages maintained by people there voluntary rather than forcibly. Even then, most Israelis prefer towns and cities.

          • Charlie Sweatpants says:

            “Even then, most Israelis prefer towns and cities.”

            That’s something McKibben addresses. You say “local” and “community” and people imagine a tiny main street surrounded by farms or some kind of compound, but that’s not what he’s talking about. One of his examples is a small but intensely (albeit mostly or entirely organically) farmed area just south of Burlington, VT (pop 42k) that provides a shockingly high percentage of the town’s produce. Nor does he think New York City has to be abandoned, just that most of its food should come from someplace closer than a thousand miles away.

            It’s been a while since I read it, and I don’t have it handy so I can’t be more specific, but I’m a pretty skeptical and contrarian bastard when I hear arguments that sound a little too happy, and by the end I didn’t have many objections. He doesn’t sugarcoat things, and what he’s describing would mean a significant change, but, unlike the way we do things now, it might actually be able to last.

            • Lee says:

              This is another issue. Most major cities in today’s world are diverse. Generally, the different ethnic communities like having the necessary ingredients for their food available.

              I work in Chinatown in New York. If you tell the population that they can’t have their rice, dragon fruit, and durians, which really can’t be grown near New York, you are going to have some major problems.

      • Hogan says:

        How many First World people are we talking about?

      • Holden Pattern says:

        Well, here’s the thing. We can choose sooner, or we can let the planet choose for us later.

        The science is pretty clear that the planet will choose something much less palatable, but in the US, since you’ve got a significant number of god-botherers, lunatics, and fossil-fuel whores who will punish anyone who tries to address the problem sooner, we’re going to let the planet choose.

    • BradP says:

      Then we’re not going to get out of this mess.

      The non-technological aspect of the solution is figuring out a way to get people to pay for and accept the technological part of the solution.

      Behavior modification is the biggest and most hazardous part of fighting climate change.

      • Njorl says:

        No, behaviour modification is currently at an impossible level of difficulty.

        Carbon neutrality would probably triple energy costs with current technology. Modifying behaviour by tripling energy costs isn’t going to happen. People will decide that tornadoes aren’t that bad, especially if they are not happening in their part of the world.

        If we can improve that number, we make it easier to alter behaviour. If carbon neutrality costs can be lowered people will be willing to accept them. No amount of consciousness raising will work as well as telling people that it won’t cost that much.

        • BradP says:

          If we can improve that number, we make it easier to alter behaviour. If carbon neutrality costs can be lowered people will be willing to accept them. No amount of consciousness raising will work as well as telling people that it won’t cost that much.

          I agree with all of this.

          But making stuff cheaper isn’t really a problem. Or if it is a problem, its the sort of problem that usually works itself out.

          And I would also say that, without people becoming more conscious of the costs of pollution, there will always be a pollution premium, where the gains of cleaner technology are outweighed by consumption gains.

          • Sherm says:

            I find it hard to believe that we lack the technology to find a way to sequester carbon at fossil fuel power plants and to then switch over to all electric vehicles. That would put a huge dent into the problem, without impacting quality of life here in the first world.

              • Linnaeus says:

                Which is a more succinct reply that I was going to make: there are significant economic and political disincentives to do what Sherm suggests.

                • Sherm says:

                  Maybe I’m obtuse, but it seems like a no-brainer to me. What are the economic and political disincentives to sequestration? If we could accomplish what I suggested, we could open a new coal burning power plant a day without a worry.

                • Linnaeus says:

                  Oh, I don’t think it’s a bad idea, it’s just that given how vigorously the fossil fuel industry opposes such things as ending government subsides, I don’t see them signing on to mandating sequestering technology, unless that’s already happened and I’m unaware of it.

                • Holden Pattern says:

                  Sherm, we’re operating in a political environment in which one of the major political parties want to smash all regulations, don’t believe in AGW at all, and are funded by the people you would like to see do the work for carbon sequestration. The other party is flat-out frightened of anything that would raise taxes or energy costs, and many of them are also wholly-owned by the carbon industry.

                  In what world do you see your (eminently sensible) technical proposal actually being enacted in the US? And since we won’t, why would India or China?

                • Sherm says:

                  To Holden Pattern: The US has vast supplies of coal and natural gas. We could thus diminish CO2 emissions and eliminate our reliance on foreign oil by going with electric cars powered by power plants with mandated sequestration technology. To the extent that would be more costly than pour current system of purchasing oil at $110 per barrel, any cost increase could be ameliorated with defense cuts since we would no longer need to meddle in the middle east to ensure a steady supply of oil.

                • Holden Pattern says:

                  Sherm, we could do all that without your namby-pamby tree hugger SEEkwestrashun shit if those faggy Frisco liberals and pointy-heads in DC would just man the fuck up and let the captains of industry roam free.

                  See how that goes? You’re not dealing with rational actors here. Again, not disputing that you’re suggesting that we pursue a perfectly reasonable technical solution (if it works), just saying that the politics of the country are completely broken. The coal people won’t agree to it without subsidies, and the subsidies won’t happen because our politics are broken.

                  Also, too, what we do to the country to GET coal and natural gas is brutal and expensive in terms of environmental degradation and carbon release.

            • BradP says:

              That would put a huge dent into the problem, without impacting quality of life here in the first world.

              I do think electric cars will reach a point in the near future where they supplant gas-powered cars without all of the subsidies. I also think requiring powerplants to have a reasonable level of scrubbing would largely be unnoticeable as far as costs go.

              I don’t think it would make much of a dent in the problem though.

              • Sherm says:

                I can’t help but think that preventing the release of CO2 from power plants and going with only electric vehicles which emit no CO2 would be a big step towards a solution.

            • Njorl says:

              The cost to sequester 88% of CO2 emissions from a coal plant’s waste doubles the price of the electricity generated. Getting the next 11% of the CO2 triples the price. This is for a new plant built with capture in mind. Retrofitting would probably be more expensive. For gas plants, it is probably cheaper, but still expensive.

              A “clean coal” plant would produce electricity as expensively as solar (which is still very expensive, despite nearly miraculous gains).

  8. DrDick says:

    The island nation of Kiribati is looking to buy land from Fiji (or elsewhere) to relocate to, owing to rising sea levels. Since their land is all coral atolls, they are in fairly imminent danger of inundation. The Maldives and many other nations in the Pacific and Indian Ocean are in similar straits.

  9. Corey says:

    commenters would say I am no better than someone suggesting a single snow shows that climate change isn’t happening

    Those commenters would be right, you preening douche.

  10. Malaclypse says:

    What role do the Bavarian Illuminati play in this deception? Because, logically, deceit on this level can only be accomplished by either the Illuminati or the Jesuits, and this does not seem like the work of Ignatuis’ minions.

  11. S. cerevisiae says:

    The conspiracy is older and goes much deeper than you can possibly imagine: Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles

  12. […] (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}You could read idiotic anonymous trolls taking over comment threads on my previous posts or you could enrich yourself today by reading Andrew Hartman’s very interesting essay asking […]

  13. […] discussed at Lawyers, Guns and Money there’s lots of negative anecdotal evidence of the climate changing. However you don’t […]

  14. Walt says:

    Climate trolls are funny. “I’m going to go out and fuck the planet that we’re both living on! That’ll show you!”

    • Malaclypse says:

      What scares me is knowing that some segment of the population will be so very pissed off about CFL bulbs that they will do things like throw them in the public reservoir just to piss off liberals.

      • BradP says:

        I’m a little disappointed in you libs.

        You folks have a direct line to that twitching bundle of cells we call the conservative mind, and all you can get them to do is throw light bulbs in lakes and squeal the tires on slightly embarrassing American cars.

  15. John Protevi says:

    I’m thinking the trolling here is the midterm exam in one of SEK’s rhetoric classes. He’s on his way to monetizing his students’ labor and will get a cut of their take from Netvocates. The university admins will want their take, but will keep in low enough so as to incentivize other faculty member to try it as well.

    Hey, it’s as good a guess as any!

  16. […] * Erik Loomis vs. the MLA. Also on the Erik Loomis tip: Notes from a Changing Climate. […]

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