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Apocalypse fairly shortly

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How are things going on the climate change front?

A new study tracking the planet’s vital signs has found that many of the key indicators of the global climate crisis are getting worse and either approaching, or exceeding, key tipping points as the earth heats up.

Overall, the study found some 16 out of 31 tracked planetary vital signs, including greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat content and ice mass, set worrying new records.

“There is growing evidence we are getting close to or have already gone beyond tipping points associated with important parts of the Earth system,” said William Ripple, an ecologist at Oregon State University who co-authored the new research, in a statement.

“The updated planetary vital signs we present largely reflect the consequences of unrelenting business as usual,” said Ripple, adding that “a major lesson from Covid-19 is that even colossally decreased transportation and consumption are not nearly enough and that, instead, transformational system changes are required.”

While the pandemic shut down economies and shifted the way people think about work, school and travel, it did little to reduce the overall global carbon emissions. Fossil fuel use dipped slightly in 2020, but the authors of a report published in the journal BioScience say that carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide “have all set new year-to-date records for atmospheric concentrations in both 2020 and 2021”.

In April 2021, carbon dioxide concentration reached 416 parts per million, the highest monthly global average concentration ever recorded. The five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2015, and 2020 was the second hottest year in history.

Is there anything that can shake Americans out of our complacency about the end of the world as we know it?

This is the kind of thing that can actually have an effect, I think:

Chaos erupted at Bill West’s business in Page, Arizona, last week when he was forced to tell dozens of paid clients their summer vacations were either canceled or on hold – effective immediately.

West, the owner of a houseboat timeshare company, was scrambling after record-low water levels at Lake Powell – one of the most popular motorized boating destinations in the US – disrupted recreational and tourism activities throughout the region.

The National Park Service abruptly announced earlier this month that houseboats could no longer use the Wahweap Launch Ramp, the busiest boat launch site in the area. Boats already cast out into the water were warned they had less than a week to return to land, or risk getting marooned.

West sat in traffic for more than an hour last Friday trying to corral 30 of his houseboat timeshares from the 180-mile-long reservoir before the final deadline. Dozens of vehicles stretched for at least a mile waiting for their turn on a concrete ramp that no longer reached the water. Even four-wheel-drive trucks were getting stuck in the mud as the Lake Powell shoreline retreated faster than federal water managers expected.

During what should have been prime houseboat vacation season, West says he’s forced to cancel timeshare reservations for more than 200 trips this summer. With his business slamming to a halt, he says he may have to lay off as many as 40 employees.

“This is a crisis for our community that is just as bad as Covid,” West said of Page, which has a population of 7,500 and is the main service hub for Lake Powell. “It is peak season and the whole town is being hit hard – the restaurants, the grocery stores, the bars, we are all feeling it.”

While climate change has exacerbated wildfires, heatwaves and flash floods this summer, it is also taking a heavy toll on the tourism industry that’s dependent on Lake Powell. Last week the water line reached a historic low of 3,554ft, a level that has not been seen since 1969, when the reservoir was first filled. The giant reservoir is currently three-quarters empty and will keep dropping at least through next spring due to record low snowpack levels in the Colorado River basin.

I mean not this thing specifically, but dozens and hundreds of things like this, as the radical change in the climate becomes more and more evident to ordinary people on a day to day level.

Obviously this is a huge collective action problem, and like several other current topics it’s one that’s difficult to contemplate with any sense of optimism. Nevertheless, just like things such as the slide of the American political system toward authoritarian ethno-nationalism, denial is the worst possible response.

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