Waking up in Death Valley to hottest month ever recorded

Climatic clippings: Waking up in Death Valley to hottest month ever recorded

Climatic clippings of July-August 2018

Death Valley in California has just set a scary record for “hottest month ever recorded on our planet”. The last months have brought massive wildfires and record numbers dying from heat stress. But here is something to reflect on: What appears on the surface like terribly bad and sad news may actually be really good news.

In recent years, extreme weather events have hit harder and harder in the poorest and least developed countries of the world. In the rich part of the world, it may have been on the evening news in a flash, but only if there were dramatic pictures to illustrate it and without any reporting on the background, the scientific explanations, what is causing this havoc – how this is connected with the air pollution and the carbon emissions we produce. Our airplanes, coal-fired power plants, deforestation, and so on.

In the last couple of months, however, extreme and deadly weather conditions have now officially by Western media been recognised as a so-called “global crisis”. Is this nature having decided to finally give the Western world a kind of climatic wake-up call after decades of procrastination? The kind of call which is highly needed in order for people to understand what it is climate scientists have been warning us about in a very clear language since the 1980s.

It’s been a devastating summer in the United States with as many as 89 wild fires currently burning across 14 states. President Trump, who doesn’t believe in climate change, declared areas of California in a state of emergency. A record 1.7 million hectares of land have already been scorched and eight people lost their lives in the flames.

91 people were killed by the wildfires in Greece, which also declared a state of emergency. Directly linked to the heat wave there have so far been accounts of 70 deaths in Canada, 65 in Pakistan and 29 in South Korea. In Japan, both flooding and heat have killed more than 300 people. Myanmar floods force more than 100,000 to flee homes, 11 people reported dead, and rising.

Fish in the European rivers are dying. Unprecedented forest fires in Sweden above the arctic circle. Australia is battling the worst drought on record. Farmers and their livestock are in serious trouble, losing millions of dollars.

A billion people around the planet struggle with the effects of climate change. Welcome to ‘Death Valley’.

This leaves us with two urgent topics to figure out: how will we solve this crisis?, and: how will we hold those accountable who have brought us into this mess? We deal with these questions on a weekly basis in our podcast The Sustainable Hour, but on this page, let’s just have a look at what is happening at the moment – the kind of news stories and information that our mainstream media people normally have failed to deliver to us, but which it is now beginning to pick up on:

“Earth is smouldering. From Seattle to Siberia this summer, flames have consumed swathes of the northern hemisphere. (…) Calamities, once considered freakish, are now commonplace.”
~ The Economist

» CNN – 5 August 2018:
Our climate plans are in pieces as killer summer shreds records

» Salon – 5 August 2018:
On climate change, it’s time to start panicking
“The crisis over global warming warrants an unparalleled response.”

» Salon – 2 August 2018:
The world is hot, on fire, and flooding. Climate change is here
“Greece and much of the Mediterranean region is projected to turn into desert over the next several decades”

» The Economist – 2 August 2018:
The world is losing the war against climate change
“Rising energy demand means use of fossil fuels is heading in the wrong direction.”

A single weather phenomenon such as the current heat wave, which Europe and the US is experiencing, cannot be said to be solely due to climate change. Sure. But as an American climate scientist formulated it, this is the “face of climate change”. Climate change fuels it. Researchers tell us that our air pollution is the reason we are getting more and more extreme weather events. This is what it boils down to.

And that’s why the bad news are good news. Because they help create that groundswell of willingness to act and to invest in new ways of doing things, based on climate-safe, non-pollution methods and technologies.

Below follows some glimpses from the media newsstream in the recent days and weeks, and at the end, a few links and suggestions to what we need to do about it all.

“Current efforts unlikely to help avoid tipping point”

“Key points:
• Study found the climate is heading for a tipping point that could make the planet uninhabitable
• It could cause temperatures up to 5C higher than pre-industrial averages
• Current global efforts to curb emissions are “unlikely” to prevent the dangerous situation”

» ABC News – 7 August 2018:
Earth at risk of ‘hothouse climate’ where efforts to reduce emissions will have no impact, study finds

» Los Angeles Times – 5 August 2018:
California’s destructive summer brings blunt talk about climate change
“California has been getting hotter for some time, but July was in a league of its own.”


“More people must start raising their voices”

If not the call from 301 Danish climate researchers and scientists and in addition this summer’s hot flashes would be sufficient to create the kind of crisis awareness we need, then more people must start raising their voices

Excerpt of editorial by Jørgen Steen Nielsen in the Danish newspaper Information on 6 August 2018 (in Danish language and for subscribers only)

“With sweat on the forehead and anxiety in the eyes, people come and ask, “What should we do? What should I do?”
One answers what they already know: “Fly less, eat fewer red steaks, leave the car, take the bicycle, spend a little less.”
Perhaps they are living some of it, perhaps not. But the fear of the eyes does not disappear. Because it feels so insufficient. Because it IS insufficient.

This summer has nurtured an existential confusion. Heat waves and extreme droughts have held vast parts of Europe and the United States in an iron grip through months. People see their lawns fade, agriculture experiences huge yield losses – for Danish farmers alone the loss is DKK5.8 billion – forests burn uncontrollably, fish die in line with falling water levels and oxygen content.

And while people in some places lose life as victims of heat or fire, the rest of us just sweat and read about 46°C degrees in Portugal this weekend and 49°C degrees or more in California’s Death Valley for two out of three days throughout July.”

“The Danes are one of the least climate-friendly people on the planet. We fly and eat without putting any restrictions on ourselves, because it would not make a difference, if we did, the rationale sounds. But that doesn’t hold.”
~ Mickey Gjerris, bioethical author and lecturer

“The tragic irony is that the more of society’s funds we spend to protect ourselves from the effects of climate change, the less will be left to prevent climate change from escalating further. It is now over ten years ago since the comprehensive report to the British government, ‘The Stern Review’, showed that prevention in terms of the necessary reductions of greenhouse gas emissions can be implemented for one per cent of global GDP per year, whereas the cost of not mitigating – NOT getting our greenhouse gas emissions under control – could end up costing us five to 20 per cent of GDP.

The problem is that mitigation is about big and long-term investment decisions in the transition. They often meet resistance from short-sighted vested interests and require both political visions and political courage. Then it’s so much easier only to open the money box whenever an extreme weather catastrophe hits us.”

»Information – 24 July 2018:
It’s stupid to keep the money box closed until the forest is burning
“A tragic irony is that the more of the funds we use to protect us from forest fires, floods and other effects of climate change, the less is left to prevent climate change from escalating.” Editorial by Jørgen Steen Nielsen


What will it cost to fix it?

Certain facts and figures are good to be aware of. Such as the estimate which was published in Nature Energy in June 2018, that the world must invest an additional $460 billion per year in climate solutions over 12 years to have any hopes of hitting 1.5°C degrees.

Investments in clean energy are currently too few and far between, falling well below the level needed to deliver on the Paris Climate Agreement, or to sufficiently counter climate change.

The International Energy Agency has estimated that renewable energy will require $20,000 billion of investment up until 2050, with twice as much needed for investments in energy efficiency in buildings, industry and transport.

$20,000 billion is a huge figure. On the other hand, we learned last week that the computer company Apple – as the first U.S. company ever – has reached a $1 trillion valuation. That’s $1,000 billion, or $1,000,000,000,000. If the renewable industry saw the entire world invest the equivalent of 20 times the value of Apple, we’d be on track to solve the climate crisis.

But that is not what is happening. In 2015 and 2016, the world’s seven major industrial democracies spent at least $100 billion annually to prop up oil, gas and coal consumption at home and abroad – despite their pledge to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.

Air travel
Air travel is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, currently accounting for about three per cent of emissions worldwide.

The world continues to deforest 15 billion trees every year. Since the beginning of human civilisation, the global tree count has fallen by 46 percent.


Climatic clippings – July-August 2018

Below are some random media clippings about our changing planet. The latest weeks’ ‘climatic clippings’ tell, once again, a dramatic story about a changing Europe, America, Australia, Victoria, and Geelong.

“Right now, we are living in the hottest month of one of the hottest years in all of human history. Longer, more intense heat waves are the most well-documented and deadliest consequence of climate change. It’s not too late for radical solutions.”
~ Eric Holthaus, meteorologist

Scientists: “Yep, this is climate change”

There is a crisis in this world – and it’s getting worse. What we experience as “extreme” right now will be tomorrow’s normal weather – that is: if we allow the air pollution from burning coal, oil and gas for energy, the ongoing clearing of forests and our many other climate-disrupting activities, to continue unregulated.

One international team of researchers, climate scientists and meteorologists after the other are telling us this.

Until now, scientists have been very careful with avoiding to call out one single extreme weather event with statements such as “that’s because of our air pollution,” or “that’s because of climate change”.

“It’s not: ‘Climate change flooded my house’. It’s: ‘Climate change changed the chances of flooding my house’,” explains climate scientist Michael Wehner for instance. And the media has been following this advice.

But after having analysed recent months’ heat wave across large parts of the northern hemisphere, scientists now are saying, “Yep, this is climate change. This is man-made.”

An international team of climate researchers, collaborating in something called the ‘World Weather Attribution’ network, held a press conference in Brussels on Friday, where they said:

“We estimate that the probability to have such a heat or higher is generally more than two times higher today than if human activities had not altered climate.”

» www.worldweatherattribution.org

Expect more. That’s the verdict of climate scientists to the record-high temperatures this spring and summer in vastly different climate zones. The continental United States had its hottest month of May and the third-hottest month of June. Japan was walloped by record triple-digit temperatures, killing at least 86 people in what its meteorological agency bluntly called a “disaster.” And weather stations logged record-high temperatures on the edge of the Sahara and above the Arctic Circle.”

» New York Times – 30 July 2017:
How Record Heat Wreaked Havoc on Four Continents
“We talked to people who found themselves on the front lines of climate change this year. Here are their stories.”

Climate breakdown and process of civilisational collapse

“The extreme weather events of the summer of 2018 are not just symptoms of climate breakdown. They are early stage warnings of a protracted process of civilisational collapse as industrial societies face some of the opening symptoms of having already breached the limits of a safe climate.

These events are a taste of things to come on a business-as-usual trajectory. They elicit a sense of how industrial civilisational systems are vulnerable to collapse due to escalating climate impacts. And they highlight the urgent necessity of communities everywhere undertaking steps to achieve a systemic civilisational transition toward post-capitalist systems which can survive and prosper after fossil fuels.”
~ Nafeez Ahmed, journalist

» Medium | Insurge Intelligence – 2 August 2018:
Global heatwave is symptom of early stage cycle of civilisational collapse
“Welcome to a 1°C planet: the precursor of an 8°C catastrophe in 82 years if we keep burning up fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow.”

» The Guardian – 3 August 2018:
Climate change to cause humid heatwaves that will kill even healthy people
“If warming is not tackled, levels of humid heat that can kill within hours will affect millions across south Asia within decades, analysis finds”

» TIME – 3 August 2018:
Sweden’s Highest Peak Melts Away as Record Temperatures Hit Arctic Circle
“A summer heatwave in the Arctic circle has claimed a victim in Sweden’s highest point, a glacier on Kebnekaise mountain in the north of the country. Melting fueled by the heat has caused the peak to lose 13 feet in height.”

» CNET – 2 August 2018:
NOAA climate report says 2017 was crazy hot and greenhouse gassy
“We experienced the third warmest year on record in 2017, but there’s more bad news, says a study led by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

» Wired – 2 August 2018:
Climate change’s looming mental health crisis
“As with all health care, prevention is the best medicine. But in the case of climate change, we may be too late.”

» The Sacramento Bee – 1 August 2018:
Here’s another climate change concern: Superheated bugs in the soil, belching carbon
“A new study reports that soil microbes worldwide are increasing their emissions of carbon dioxide, mainly because higher temperatures caused by climate change.”

» The Guardian – 1 August 2018:
Unsurvivable heatwaves could strike heart of China by end of century
“The most populous region of the biggest polluter on Earth – China’s northern plain – will become uninhabitable in places if climate change is not curbed”

» The Guardian – 20 June 2017:
A third of the world now faces deadly heatwaves as result of climate change
“Study shows risks have climbed steadily since 1980, and the number of people in danger will grow to 48% by 2100 even if emissions are drastically reduced.”

. . .

Killer heatwaves

A few days ago, United Kingdom’s Environmental Audit Committee published a report, ‘Heatwaves: adapting to climate change’, which reaches the same conclusion.

Summers like in 2003, where a heatwave in the UK killed more than 2,000 people in the country, will be just another normal summer by 2040, the committee warns, but with up to 7,000 UK citizens dying from heat-related problems every summer.

“Failing to address the danger of heatwaves will threaten the wellbeing of an increasing number of vulnerable people.”

» Parliament.uk – 26 July 2018:
Heat-related deaths set to treble by 2050 unless Govt acts
“Prediction that higher temperatures which caused 2000+ deaths in 2003 will be summer norm by 2040s making adaptation to heatwaves a matter of life and death.”

» Download report (PDF)

» Short video with the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee:

. . .

This is “the face of climate change”

Extreme global weather is “the face of climate change” says the American climate scientist Michael E. Mann: “No one should be in the slightest surprised that we are seeing very serious heatwaves and associated impacts in many parts of the world.”

This is something governments can – and should – prepare for. But at the same time, we should already years ago have started doing everything we can to reduce the likelihood of all kinds of extreme weather events – by reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases as fast as possible.

The federal government in Australia, for one, is doing the complete opposite. It has sacked its climate scientists and dismantled its climate commission, it wants to stop the growth of the renewable energy industry and instead boost production and consumption of coal and gas, while it allows the country’s carbon emissions to be on the rise year after year.

Australians say in poll after poll that they are fully aware that this is a serious problem, but so far they have not been voting as if they really think it matters whenever there is an election with the opportunity it gives them to show politicians that the current inadequate climate policy-making is unacceptable.

And how are other governments doing?

» Consider retweeting:

. . .

Michael Wehner is senior staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA. He says that “For pretty much everywhere in the world … climate change has increased the severity of heat waves.”

“It’s helpful to think about it through a simplified analogy. There’s a bucket full of balls: Some are blue, and some are red. If we draw a blue ball, the weather will be moderate. If we draw a red ball, the weather will be extreme. Before global warming, the bucket contained almost entirely blue balls with a handful of red ones mixed in. Global warming is slowly swapping a few blue balls for red ones. If today there’s a hurricane, we know that a red ball was drawn. But we don’t know if it was one of the original red balls or one of the new ones contributed by climate change. What extreme event attribution does allow us to do is estimate how many red balls were added to the bucket.”

» Slate – 24 July 2018:
Can We Blame the Summer Heat Wave on Global Warming?

» Mother Jones – 27 July 2018:
Crops are dying. Forests are burning. This summer’s heat wave has fuelled natural disasters around the world

» The Guardian – 27 July 2018:
Almost all world’s oceans damaged by human impact, study finds
“The remaining wilderness areas, mostly in the remote Pacific and at the poles, need urgent protection from fishing and pollution, scientists say. There is only 13% left of the world’s oceans which humans haven’t yet damaged – with climate change to degrade the oceans further.”

» The Independent – 1 August 2018:
Large area of China could soon be virtually uninhabitable as deadly heatwaves become more intense, scientists warn
“Research adds to body of evidence showing heat-related deaths around world will increase dramatically in coming decades.” 

. . .

Losing Earth

“The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris climate agreement — the nonbinding, unenforceable and already unheeded treaty signed on Earth Day in 2016 — hoped to restrict warming to two degrees. The odds of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are one in 20. If by some miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. The climate scientist James Hansen has called two-degree warming “a prescription for long-term disaster.”

Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. Three-degree warming is a prescription for short-term disaster: forests in the Arctic and the loss of most coastal cities. Robert Watson, a former director of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has argued that three-degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees: Europe in permanent drought; vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia swallowed by the sea; the Colorado River thinned to a trickle; the American Southwest largely uninhabitable.

The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world’s leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization.

Is it a comfort or a curse, the knowledge that we could have avoided all this?

Because in the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis. The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions — far closer than we’ve come since. During those years, the conditions for success could not have been more favorable. The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way — nothing except ourselves.”
~ Nathaniel Rich in New York Times on 1 August 2018

» New York Times – 1 August 2018:
Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change

» The Atlantic | Science – 1 August 2018: 
The Problem With The New York Times’ Big Climate Story
“By portraying the early years of climate politics as a tragedy, the magazine lets Republicans and the fossil-fuel industry off the hook.”

» The Guardian – 6 August 2018:
The GOP and Big Oil can’t escape blame for climate change
“The New York Times magazine blames ‘human nature,’ but fingers have already been pointed at the true culprits.”

. . .

The age of sustainable development

Talk by the American economist Jeffrey D. Sachs

. . .

Zero Emissions Day

It’s up to each of us to take care of our planet at this point. Our biosphere and all its inhabitants are counting on us. Don’t count that anyone else is going to fix this problem with global warming, if you aren’t doing anything yourself.

“When you are part of driving something this large you have to stop every now and then… reflect on what’s working and what’s not working — and set a new course for where you really want to be.

Zero Emissions Day on 21 September 2018 provides just that opportunity – to benefit everything and everyone on our planet.”

» www.zeroemissionsday.org

. . .

» VICE – 2 August 2018:
An Optimist’s Guide to Solving Climate Change and Saving the World
“VICE asked experts what policies they would put in place to fight climate change and got some unexpected answers.”

. . .

Meanwhile, who is building the world’s biggest solar farm? Not USA, not Australia, not even China. Not any of the world’s richest countries. Egypt is.

The Egyptian solar farm is expected to generate as much as 1.8 gigawatts of electricity, or enough to power hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses. It will consist of 30 separate solar plants, the first of which began running in December, and employ 4,000 workers.

» Los Angeles Times – 30 July 2018:
The world’s largest solar farm rises in the remote Egyptian desert
“By 2025 Egypt will get 42% of its electricity from renewable sources.”

. . .

Comment clippings – from the social media stream

“Other countries will wait until it starts to effect their back pocket or becomes life threatening before they act!
Problem being it will be to f…g late?
We have been arguing over this potentially devastating issue for decades, the lies, cynicism, deception, apathy and corruption have become chronic!!
Unless the people stand together and demand real action on the accelerated and dangerous warming of our planet future generations and every living creature on this planet will suffer the consequences!”

~ Trevor May

“Last Thurs I had the pleasure of listening to Joelle Gergis who is a self proclaimed introvert. She is an academic at Melb University who has just written a book called ‘Sunburnt Country’. It’s about the history of climate change, plus its future. After her research into this topic which led to this book, such was her concern that she has been able to overcome her fears of public speaking to tour her book. Her take home messages: The science is in – our pollies aren’t doing enough – people being active can change this. When asked if she is prepared to use the term #climateemergency – without hesitation she said ‘yes’.

My contribution was asking her this question & then thanking Joelle for talking about the fact that we have all the solutions we need & the only thing lacking is political will.”
~ Anthony Gleeson

“Yes, she is right Tony. So are thousands of experts. So are we lesser pundits who have accepted the science now for decades. The question is when will the tipping point occur? When will people like Joelle, or yourself, or Ian Dunlop etc become the heroes? Maybe it won’t happen. Maybe we will sink beneath the waves and continue to deny the science just as they are doing in Miami. They say 16% is enough to control a public company. Maybe that is the number we have to get to with concerned and passionate people.”
~ Steve Posselt

Joelle Gergis: ‘Sunburnt Country: The History and Future of Climate Change in Australia’

. . .

Get involved