Climate Change is hitting us Now & will only Worsen: When will We Start Acting Like Adults?

(By Tom Giesen)

Americans tell us through a recent Gallop poll that upward of 65% of them know global warming is happening. However, only 36% feel that it will pose a serious threat to their way of life. But that conclusion is dead wrong; our way of life is changing dramatically.

The physical evidence across the globe – rapidly melting glaciers and melting ice on Greenland and Antarctica; sea level rise; ocean acidification and the associated loss of 40% (!) of oceanic phytoplankton; later snowfall and earlier melt – all these are physically observable evidence of rapid, ongoing global warming processes. These are not theories, not modeling, but physical evidence. These phenomena have been widely reported – we all see them.

The scientific and physical evidence is clear that we must have massive reductions in emissions before 2020. Moreover, the world is likely facing an energy shortage if it goes on depending on hydrocarbons. A great chorus of misinformation from Leonardo Maugeri and many others since 2012 would have it that we are blessed with essentially unlimited fossil fuel resources. But the truth is that while there are large hydrocarbon resources in the earth, the cost to develop them is huge – mostly in dollars, but also in environmental damage and economic chaos.

The oil industry, over the past 3 years, spent a trillion dollars to increase oil production, but only managed partially to offset age-related declines in old conventional fields. Recent announcements from oil industry spokespeople presage price increases and related shortages of affordable oil and gasoline. Our energy use will diminish due to the greatly increased costs to produce oil and the resulting unaffordable prices.

In any case, fossil fuel production, global warming and our economy are all linked. Since about 1950, supply shock has created eleven oil price spikes which appear to have induced a recession in each instance. Fossil fuels, the economy and global warming are just one subject – each depends on the others.

Fracking, deep-well offshore drilling and tar sands oil are truly filthy enterprises. But we use about a million barrels of imported tar sands oil a day, and millions of barrels of fracked oil. Hydraulic fracturing is fraught with real environmental dangers.

Do a Google search for images of “tar-sands mining and waste water” and look them over carefully. You already know about BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster. By our failure to take action, we facilitate egregious harm to innocent people and the environment.

We have all had exposure to enough information to conclude that action is mandatory, but we don’t act. Science – loved by us as the facilitator of the radical technological transformation of our society over the last century or more – is now ignored, because taking it seriously would mean going into crisis mode and risking inconvenience. It seems to be easier to be couch potatoes and let ourselves be entertained instead.

The US must lead by example. It is a very sick game to claim our inaction is justified because other countries don’t join us in addressing the problem. Our inaction is self-abusive. We must take action in any case.

Traditional politics (currently in a stupefying gridlock) will not work to create the changes needed. Other efforts and other venues that capitol hill and state legislatures are needed. Neighbors could, instead, organize as an action group and get noticed. Grassroots disinvestment from coal and other dirty energy can play an important part. Crowd-funding green energy projects, as with Mosaic, is increasingly possible. Homeowners in much of the country can actually save money (an average of $80 a month) by installing solar panels, for which they still get a hefty Federal tax break, savings that increase if they drive an electric vehicle or switch to public transport or bicycling. In some states, such as California and Colorado, companies will rent the PV panels to homeowners, so that the price of admission falls to $1000.

We have failed to plan for the coming energy crisis; instead we face unplanned chaos. We have failed to take climate change and energy issues seriously. These failures are an avoidance of our duties to act like adults: gather information, make plans, and carry them out. Action must replace apathy.

(Tom Giesen in an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon, teaching global warming science and natural resource policy.)

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5 Responses

  1. As one of your fellow Oregonians my advice to you is, if you have not done so already, buy a farm in the lovely countryside somewhere in our state and stop spitting in the wind. As an adjunct history professor I am sorry to state that the game is over – history is the story of children with matches, of madmen with knives (a perspective some will call realist, others defeatist). Way back in 1988 I lamented to the professor from whom I learned Greek that we had to do something about climate change. I will never forget his prophetic dismissal of my concern: “We aren’t going to do anything about it. We are going to go on until one day we wake up and just can’t go on anymore”. I dismissed him as cynical, but he was right.

    Running a small farm helps me to understand the human dynamics of climate change. Animals will, contrary to their own interest, consume everything in sight that they can eat until there is nothing left; they manure in their own house; they befoul with their excreta the very water they drink. It offers something of a metaphor for human environmental devastation. The Europeans came to our beautiful Pacific Northwest and within a very short space of time polluted its rivers (would anyone eat a sturgeon out of the Columbia or Willamette these days?), ruined much of its temperate rain forest, and seriously degraded its fisheries. As a boy I saw tuna the size of small cars unloaded on the docks of Astoria – where are they now?

    Now we want to run carbon fuels along the rails and highways of the northwest to our ports – carbon that comes back to bite us in our oceans, rivers, and lakes. What a grotesque sick joke that, when we should be fighting climate change, we are instead having to fight the 35% of the rubes who consistently vote for the vast criminal enterprise that is the GOP, and the GOP itself – who are fighting mightily to bring about ecological apocalypse, and, in fact, arguably view this very act as a source of pride if not actually fundamental to their tribal identity (not that the Dems have been as forthcoming about the nature of this crisis as they should be – certainly not!). And they have enormous financial resources on which to draw. What is Green Peace, or the Sierra Club, or 350.org compared to the deep pockets of Koch and Exxon? Nothing.

    The politics is screwed up, the public is befuddled if not actively apathetic (nay, hostile), and the sands in the hourglass have about run out to act. No Alexander will show up to cut this Gordion Knot (hell, the senate is set to go back to the party of those set on destroying the planet) – to quote King Agamemnon from Homer’s Iliad, “Let us each man go to his own country”. Or, as Juan Cole wrote of Iraq in 2005: “Sometimes you are just screwed”. This time it just happens to be the minor cosmos that is our biosphere that appears to be in the cross hairs.

  2. My guess is that humans will make some marginal progress against emissions over twenty or thirty years and then muddle through in the filth and heat for a long time watching the last of what was beautiful shrivel and die. Air conditioned gardens until the ground water is all gone?

  3. Do you really think we (U.S.) will do better when there is Duke Energy controlling governors of states? The people have shown they don’t want to take this country back. It is over. We are in the minority and it is only going to get worse.

    • Progressives and intellectuals are always in a minority except when the US is in the midst of a giant existential crisis. It doesn’t yet seem existential to the lumpen and provincial classes. They distrust us and don’t read. When they do believe it will be too late.

      The key, of course, is to mobilize governments as it was done under FDR in WW II. It took Pearl Harbor and the Nazi declaration of war against us a few days later to accomplish that.

      Of course we’ve got to do it on our own even if others just ignore it. What choice is there?

  4. We will never start behaving as adults. We will destroy the planet and get angry with “them” when it is far too late. Pogo said, “We have met the enemy than they is Us” about 60 years ago, and no one has learned it yet. It is pretty pathetic watching the human race shit in its wells, and kill itself off for the profit of 87 filthy rich people.

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