As Coasts Flood, why isn’t the Corporate Press asking Candidates about Climate Change?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The US corporate press is letting the presidential candidates set the agenda. Occasionally someone will step out of line, as Fox’s Megyn Kelly did when she pressed Donald Trump on his misogyny and general disrespect of women. But virtually no one in the mass media has held the candidates’ feet together on climate change.

February 2016 was the hottest February on record. While the El Nino / El Nino cycle and other weather cycles can cause fluke weather, the graph of average global temperatures in the past 50 years shows that the increased heat last month isn’t a fluke. At least some important part of the change isn’t just weather (one-off incidents), it is climate (trending change over time).

Here’s what 2015 looked like with regard to average global temperature compared to the hottest years on record:

ytd-horserace-annual-2015 h/t NOAA

You’ll note how the hottest years on record are the recent ones, and how 2015 outstripped even them.

Climate scientists are discovering that they’ve been low-balling us on estimates of the impact of global warming.

A hotter earth created by the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases humans are spewing at catastrophic rates into the atmosphere (by burning coal and gas to heat their homes and provide electricity to office buildings, burning gasoline to move their cars, and by engaging in unsustainable agricultural practices) is causing sea levels to rise. Surface ice is melting and increasing the volume of water in the oceans. Moreover, water expands as it warms.

We knew that the seas are rising, even if former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney wanted to make fun of this assertion.

But a new study has discovered that the rate of sea level rise is faster now than anything seen for 2800 years, when Shalmaneser IV was ruling the Assyrian Empire in northern Iraq.

Worse, the rate of sea level rise is speeding up! Some 75% of coastal floods in the US during the past decade or so were caused by human-induced global warming, up from 50% in the 1950s.

The number of coastal flooding days in the US has doubled since the 1980s. The Guardian, quoting a new study, observes, “In San Francisco, the number of human-caused flooding events is almost three times above the unaltered trend while Charleston in South Carolina endured 219 flooding days between 2005 and 2014, with the vast majority climate change-driven.” The difference is that people in San Francisco know exactly why this is happening to them, whereas on the whole people in Charleston are burying their heads in the increasingly waterlogged sand.

The finding of increased coastal flooding beyond what nature would have been responsible for, and the finding that such flooding is more and more common and destructive, is only one alarming new insight.

Arctic sea ice has been shrinking 3% a year since satellite observations began in 1979. This year, a conjuncture of El Nino and the Arctic Oscillation has brought freakishly warm air to the top of the world. The extent of sea ice will be smaller this winter than ever recorded in modern history. Some of this freakish arctic heat wave is just weather, i.e. a one-off set of incidents. But as the steady 3% shrinkage demonstrates, some of it is climate, i.e. a long term trend. Arctic ice melt can exacerbate global warming because ice reflects sunlight back into space but dark sea water absorbs it. (These things are complicated, since water vapor can increase cloud cover, which also reflects sunlight; but ice is more efficient in this regard, so we’re looking at net heating).

Arctic ice melting can also affect ocean currents. The big danger is a slow-down of the Atlantic tropical conveyor belt that brings warm water up north. If it is interrupted, ironically enough, climate change causing warming most places could plunge parts of the Northern Hemisphere back into a period of glaciation! That is, not only are we possibly looking at the end of Miami and New Orleans, but Toronto may be in trouble too, at least for a while (the last time such glaciation was caused by the interrupted current, it lasted about a thousand years).

By burning all these fossil fuels at such a massive rate, we’re doing the equivalent of setting off thousands of atomic bombs in the atmosphere. We’re re-engineering the only planet we have, without so much as a schematic.

We deserve to know what people who want to be president think about all this, and what they intend to do about it. With the exception of Bernie Sanders, they aren’t volunteering to tell us. The journalists have to ask them.

It is also possible that corporate capitalism, which both runs the candidates and runs the so-called “news” companies, is about as good at dealing with a rapidly changing environment as the dodo was. Contrary to its self-depiction as agile and efficient, it seems lumbering and blind. Seen a dodo lately? Maybe look in the mirror.

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Related video:

Mint: “Seas are rising way faster than any time in past 2,800 years”

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12 Responses

  1. Climate change has gotten so pronounced and obvious that I think even die hard conservatives are close to giving up on their denial and are instead trying to tell us it’s not man made. I was glad to see the point made by Professor Cole on possible glaciation, something I learned about a couple of years ago from a TV science show. More than Toronto, the British Isles could also be tremendously affected in a negative way. This is even more important than wars in the Middle East or terrorism, or anything else and it is a sign of the times that candidates aren’t even asked about it.

    • “even die hard conservatives are close to giving up on their denial and are instead trying to tell us it’s not man made” This is a strange sentence. The whole debate has been, is, and will continue to be whether climate change is man-made.

      • You obviously haven’t read much of the denialists. So many have argued that there is no global warming, that the data were cooked, that they aren’t taking the fight measurements, that such and such a year was not the hottest year on record, and so on. Another one is that the climate scientists are doing it for the money–in order to get research grants they are manufacturing this fake crisis. I have probably read such arguments hundreds of times.

      • Here are the standard A B C’s of denial:
        A. It isn’t happening.
        B. It isn’t our fault.
        C. Fixing it would be too hard, too expensive, too something. Or even “It’ll be good for us”.

        A, B and C are all aimed at
        D. Delay. Create false doubt to delay having to change harmful practices.

        A, B and C are argued in parallel, incoherence not withstanding. For more information google “Doubt is our product” and The Denialists’s deck of cards

        • You left out part D: “Blame it on the Democrats.”
          It’s only a matter of time before the wingnuts start blaming everything on President Obama…

  2. Thank you very much for this information, Juan.

    That’s an excellent and humorous point make point you make at the end. Both our economic leaders yet I think even more so, our political leaders, are the greatest obstacles to the actual implementation of the collective human intelligence we so desperately need to see made real.

  3. I think it’s hard for politicians that pray at the wall of tax cuts to discuss a subject that may require a lot of public spending. Unless of course it’s for “defense”. There was no political outrage when Obama proposed modernization of the nuclear arsenal that could cost a trillion dollars over the next 30 years, link to armscontrol.org. No “where’s the money coming from?” screaming.

    The commercial mass media knows that it’s better all around, for advertising revenue and candidate comfort, to stage food fights instead of challenging the candidates to come to grips with a very significant and unpleasant reality.

    To get things moving it will probably require that some very politically powerful conservative deniers switch sides and take the herd along with them. Sort of a “NIxon goes to China” moment. Hate to say it, but right now only the seriously deficient Trump/Christie combo have that potential, and Christie happens not to be a denier.

    Just one more thing that has to wait till the genetic engineers can get those pigs in the air.

  4. The problem is that media equates climate change with things like terrorism, pollution, etc.

    Climate change causes terrorism, as well as a host of other “problems”. Attempting to solve climate change will slowly change many of the others. Ignoring climate change exacerbates many of the others.

    Very simple once you understand the relationship between our “problems”.

  5. Man-made climate collapse handled by corporate media is the very best example of a generation-long concerted LIE-OF-OMISSION which has been institutionalized and is now part of our culture.

  6. Now watch closely how the rich try to get someone else to pay to build seawalls to protect their property. The problem they will encounter is that the American Right has taught its followers that the cosmopolitan cities that trade with the evil outside world are enemies of the American Way of Life and deserve to be destroyed. Cruz’s favorite conspiracy theory is Agenda 21, the evil UN plot to force everyone to live in pinko cities.

  7. The Federal Triangle in DC will be 40 feet under at high tide. That should make the sharks happy.

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