Climate Nihilism: Late to the Party

So last night, in a fevered state, I posted a despondent piece about the recent UN climate report. To sum up that rant: we are at the point of no return and we are not acting like a crisis is taking place, the only logical response is to live it up before they burn it up. I dubbed this response climate nihilism.

I woke up this morning to two comments on that post, one on the post itself from a stranger and another in an email from a friend and former housemate. It appears that I am late to the nihilist party and others have seen the writing on the wall for some time.

In last night’s fevered post, wanting to be fair to the climate optimists, I stated that we had made some gains in energy related greenhouse gas emissions. A commenter pointed out that:

[I]t is a fiction that “in the US energy related releases have been on decline.” Manufacturing got outsourced to third world countries, just as Lawrence Summers called for, so that others could suffer and die so that our Happy Meal toys could arrive across the plasticized oceans.

This is surely a good point, any releases in emissions is more than correlated with outsourcing of manufacturing. Consumption has not declined, auto travel has increased, and the easy fixes and outsourcing have been made. This is why US emissions are expected to be flat through 2050. This is why 4 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures are inevitable by century’s end.

In an email, someone commented that others are surely suffering from climate nihilism, he used Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example. Driving his humvee to a private airport to board his private jet to fly half way around the world to rail at us about climate change. If this isn’t nihilism, then what is it?

I want to add one more example of climate nihilism to this emerging puzzle. I use my local city as an example, not to single it out, but simply as an example of how business as usual is hastening our path to that 4 degree increase in temperature. There are nearly 300 cities in the US with population exceeding 100,000, and over 4,000 of them globally. So take this example and multiply it 4,000 fold. I use my local city as an example only because it is the one that I am most familiar with.

Back in June our city adopted a Climate Action and Adaptation plan. The plan calls for a 17 fold increase in public transit usage by 2035 and a 40 fold increase by 2050. Sounds good right? But here is the kicker, the very same week that they voted to adopt the plan, they also moved to further gut our already gutted public transit system. So, simultaneously stating that we are going to increase public transit by a fantastical amount while slashing public transit and all of this while a massive expansion of our airport is ongoing. Once again we can ask, if this isn’t nihilism, then what is it? I am pretty sure that at least 6 of the 7 city representatives would agree that climate change is an existential threat.

Now multiply this by all the places, all over the world, where similar things are taking place.

Lets project forward, we have already raised temperatures nearly 1 degree and we are seeing floods and droughts and storms and decreased farm output and all manner of effects. Two degrees isn’t just going to be twice as bad, it may very well be 10 times as bad or worse. And it has become clear that we will not move to stop it at 2 degrees. Then we have potential runaway effects, permafrost melting and releasing all the trapped methane, ice caps disappearing and reflecting less heat, increased water vapor trapping more heat, etc. If we stopped emissions today, it still may not be enough. And we are not going to stop emissions, while we are making some progress toward slowing the increase, every year sets a new record in the amount of emissions.

So as I awaken to climate nihilism, I also find that I am quite late to the party.

Climate Nihilism

This post was prompted by the release of the 2019 Emissions Gap Report put out by the UN recently.

It does not matter one whit what we do individually, we are fucked. Collectively there is a slim chance that we could save ourselves, but we are nowhere near meaningful collective action. And we are fast running out of time.

It has been common knowledge all of my adult life that climate change is real, and that if we want to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius that we must drastically cut emissions. Regardless of who has been in office, we have not made meaningful cuts. We are already half way to that 2 degree threshold.

According to the recently released UN report, we must achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 to stay within the 2 degree temperature rise. To achieve this we would need to cut global emissions by 7.6% per year starting in 2020. No one believes this is going to happen. Sure it is doable, but it will not happen.

80% of all releases globally are by the 20 most industrialized countries (G20). The remaining 175 countries release only 20% of emissions. This is a first world problem, we created it, we perpetuate it.

Here in the US, energy related releases have been in decline. But this decline is now being offset by increases in transportation related releases. Between 2000 and 2017 we made incremental improvements, but that has now stopped. Greenhouse gas emissions are expected to remain constant through 2050.

I don’t know if any of the climate deniers actually disbelieve the science or if they just say they don’t to pay homage to the ever expanding market. What I do know is that many who profess belief in global climate change are either lying or are outright evil. If those with power believed in catastrophic climate change would they be continuing to promote consumption and growth at any cost? Would they be building even more roads and airports? Or would they be pushing for a vast increase in mass transportation?

80% of emissions come from electric power, transportation and industry. While the remaining 20% are from agriculture, residential, and commercial. So even if we all made drastic personal lifestyle changes and reduced our personal impact by as much as half, it would not be close to being enough. Our elected officials fiddle while the planet burns, and no amount of personal responsibility will make a difference.

The only rational response at this point is nihilism, our personal choices are meaningless. I find this sad and troubling. But just because it is sad and troubling does not negate the fact that it is indubitably true.

Florida Panhandle

These photos were taken in March, just East of Apalachicola on the Gulf coast in the Florida panhandle.  When we were there we had the beach to ourselves.  It was almost white sand and surprisingly clean.  The fact that it was dog friendly was an added bonus.

Current predictions show the oil spill washing ashore here in about 4 days…

It is a pretty disgusting situation.

Debacle in the Gulf, Day 42

With over 33 million gallons of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, we are now being told that the spill may continue till August.

The amount of oil already leaked is equal to the volume of more than 50 Olympic sized pools. (That could triple by August [it could also triple due to simple re-calculations of the flow rate, remember it has already grown from 1000 barrels a day to 5000 and now to 19000])

If the oil magically stopped right now, we are still looking at massive fouling of beaches and wetlands from Galveston to Naples. And if when a hurricane comes it will be up the rivers and esturaries and into wetlands (hurricane season officially starts tomorrow).

Edit: I see that I missed a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a heavier than usual hurricane season.  To sum it up, it looks like this:

  • 14 to 23 Named Storms, the average is 11
  • 8 to 14 Hurricanes, the average is 6
  • 3 to 7 Major Hurricanes, the average is 2

Birds disappearing faster than thought

Birds disappearing faster than thought

The above article from the Seattle Post Intelligencer gives a gloomy outlook for the world’s bird species.

First the amphibians are going, going, on their way out. Now we learn that the birds, too, are going.  Perhaps as many as 1200 by century’s end.
12% of today’s species may be gone by 2100.

Scientists had thought that 120 bird species had gone extinct since 1500. Now we learn it has probably been more like 500. As much as 100 times faster than would occur naturally. And accelerating.

The sad part is that few will even notice….there will still be rock doves, European starlings, grackles, and cowbirds. But gone will be the gems; the warblers, the canaries, the finchs, the hummingbirds, the chickadees…

The world will be absent the morning melodies that we take for granted. If our grandchildren were born into a black and white world,how would we explain color to them? In the same way, how will we explain the quick flicker of color, the melodic aires, and the joy at their behaviours that we now take for granted?  For each loss we, too, become diminished.

Habitat destruction is listed as the primary cause, while chemical pollution, invasive species, climate change, and other factors contribute.

Still, the bulldozers roll onward…

Bird Links 

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