Shift Happens

By Samatha Davis

This presentation was delivered to the congregation of Mountain Light UUC on 2016 April 03. (Degrees mentioned are in Fahrenheit.)

Can anyone really say with a straight face that global warming is not happening? We know that's a yes but... Historians may look to 2015 as the year when shift really started hitting the fan – not only the bizarre mystery of trump supporters but about the horrific happenings around the world.

The pervasive influence of human activity on the earth and its atmosphere is profound. Staggering increases in plastic, aluminum, and concrete are changing the face of the planet. The burning of fossil fuels has doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and warmed the globe.

If it seems like our storms and floods are intensifying, it's because they are! Melting ice will raise the sea level six feet this century. The rains will flush pollutants like fertilizer and livestock waste into our waterways.

Besides flooding, another extreme weather event is record temperatures. Last year was the hottest year ever recorded. The previous record was held just the year before!!! In fact, 14 of the last 15 years have been the warmest! [The one exception – 1998.]

Wildfire seasons are getting longer! In California, with the worst drought in a millennium, a 50-acre brush fire swelled seventy-fold in hours, jumping across I-15 during rush hour! And, not a few days later, they were pounded with intense summer rains.

In Washington state's Olympic National Park, the rainforest caught fire for the first time in living memory! If we continue, the global average temperature will rise 11 degrees by 2100. And all of this is happening much faster than previously thought!

Another weather event is directly related to terrorism! [Bill Nye]

Water shortages in Syria have caused farmers to move into cities where their children become disaffected by the shortage of employment. The population there has ballooned from 9 million to almost 14 million. So, many are susceptible to the lure of extremists. Climatologists say Syria is a grim preview of what's in store for the rest of the world.

They are now saying that the east and west coasts of the U.S. will be wiped out within our children's lifetimes!! (And by the year 2025, the United Kingdom will no longer be.)

The IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is the largest body of international scientists ever assembled to study a scientific issue. There are over 2500 scientists from 130 countries who have concluded that most of the warming in the past 50 years is because of human activity. Its findings are endorsed by all of the G8 nations, as well as China, India, and Brazil.

But, despite this, there are still a number of climate change deniers. They are not climate scientists and do not participate in international conferences. Instead, they focus on the media... the general public... and policymakers to delay action on climate change. Many no longer deny climate change (that would sound really ignorant), they just argue that the cost of taking action is too high... or worse, that it's too late!! But it's not!!

The worldwide transition from fossil fuels to renewables is under way, not only because of climate change but because of the health impact of breathing air polluted by burning fossil fuels. Three million people die every year became of outdoor air pollution!!!

The stakes are high, and you only have to look at food security. Corn, wheat, and rice are vulnerable to higher temperatures. Shrinking food sources will drive prices to unprecedented levels.

Rising sea level is also a threat to the world's most populous cities. The cost of building dams and levees combined with the rising food prices will bring the world economy to its knees!!

[The number of those living in poverty will grow from 700 million to 900 million without climate change. With climate change, there will be another 100 million due to food prices alone!]

An example of what climate change has been doing is in Antarctica. For tens of millions of years, soft-bodied organisms like starfish, mollusks, and sponges have lived in the frigid water off Antarctica's continental shelf. But, because of climate change, they face a devastating threat from shell-crushing king crabs.

The shallow waters adjacent to where they live has warmed by 2 ½ degrees (by the way, that's twice the average rate worldwide), thereby reaching the king crabs' survival level of 34 degrees! If they do invade and decimate Antarctica's ecosystem, it will show how climate change will impoverish the world.

We now can not turn back the clock! We can not prevent the earth's temperature from rising. That is already happening!! But, if we move quickly to cut carbon emissions, we may be able to slow the rise and prevent climate change from spiraling out of control.

But... What about utility companies? They will either have to adapt... or raise prices – but doing that will encourage the installation of more solar panels! And, this leads to what is commonly described as a death spiral for utility companies. It recently happened in Germany when they found themselves on the brink of bankruptcy. A similar situation could happen here, especially in the sun-rich southwest U.S. where there is a huge growth of rooftop installations

Thankfully, we are quickly moving away from fossil fuels. The U.S. is the number two coal consumer, after China, yet from 2007 to 2013, coal use dropped 18%.

Obama's Clean Power Plan establishes the first-ever national standard to limit carbon pollution from power plants. Previously, power plants could release as much pollution as they wanted.

The industry claimed that the 1990 Clean Air Act (by the Environmental Protection Agency) would cost $100 billion. It cost only one tenth of that... and delivered economic benefits thirty times higher!

It is true that getting rid of our environmental regulations, would save money, but only in the short run. Beyond the quality-of-life issues, the costs would quickly mount: more hospital visits for respiratory conditions, lost time at school for asthma attacks, and lower productivity from sick workers.

Living in a polluted country is not only dangerous, it's also expensive! The final clean care act sets flexible and achievable standards to reduce CO2 emissions 32% by 2030.

There's also the rising availability of natural gas because of hydraulic fracturing. But, while natural gas emits only half as much CO2 as coal, it's worse for the climate because of the extensive leakage of methane gas from wells, pipelines, and tanks, and from the decomposition of waste in landfills and from agriculture. [See paper on methane leak near Los Angeles.]

Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. It has a hidden danger. It traps more heat than CO2... about 30 times more!

[Scientists are now focusing on the way it's released into the atmosphere. CO2 is emitted through the burning of fossil fuels, while methane is a large natural emission component.]

This emission is from warming permafrost in the northern latitudes. Permafrost is frozen ground and mostly undisturbed by bacterial decomposition. But as the earth warms (the Arctic especially), the permafrost melts and soil decomposition accelerates. This plant material that has accumulated over thousands of years, is concentrated into the top ten feet of the permafrost which contains twice as much carbon as is present in our atmosphere now!

As for oil, the other major source of global CO2 emissions, its use is fading because people are driving less and because of fuel-efficient cars. Powering cars with wind energy, would cost the equivalent of one dollar per gallon of gas.

Something that is not generally realized, is that the oil industry is very dependent on government handouts. In 2013, governments worldwide subsidized the fossil fuel industry with $600 billion, giving this aging industry over five times the mere $120 billion for renewables. Now that federal and state governments are investing in companies that provide renewables, this comes at a price. In effect, taxpayers' money is used to subsidize climate change.

But every time they try to clean the air, lobbyists know they need to scare the public. Companies like ExxonMobil and Shell recently said the world will continue to remain heavily on oil and anyone who thinks otherwise, is dreaming! They continually deny the problems that exist while using their political muscle to fight and maintain their relevance.

It's apparent that if the world takes climate change seriously, much of the oil, coal, and natural gas will never be used. Analysts call this the bursting of the carbon bubble, and they will become stranded assets.

But this has happened throughout history... The shift from whale oil to kerosene... or from the horse and buggy to the automobile. In the 1890s, New York City was swamped with horse manure. Horses were dropping a million pounds a day creating a sanitation crisis. The automobile arrived and almost overnight, it replaced horses and cleaned up the streets. Shift happens!

As each new extreme weather event reminds us, avoiding a major disruption to life as we know it, depends on dramatically reducing carbon emissions. And it must be done quickly. Previous transitions, like that from wood to coal, took decades, but the bulk of this transition now, must be condensed into the next ten years.

Now, we are investing in sources of energy that can last as long as the earth itself. It will be expensive to transition, but it's an expense that is minuscule compared to what it will cost if we don't!!

The Cap and Trade system is emissions trading where you have a legal limit on the amount that an economy can emit each year. Carbon tax is based on greenhouse gases generated by burning fossil fuels. The government allocates a limited number of permits. Polluters that want to increase their emissions must buy permits from others willing to sell them.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan used Cap & Trade to phase out leaded gasoline. In 1989, under George W. Bush, Cap & Trade was used to tackle the problem of acid rain. Those emissions were cut more quickly and cheaply than expected and the economic benefits outweighed the costs 40-to–one!

These Cap-and-Trade systems have worked in nine of the northeastern states since 2008 and in California since 2013. In fact, in 2007, Marco Rubio (wisely) argued that Florida should take advantage of this, but sadly, when he was a Presidential candidate, he changed his stance. He even says he never supported the Cap-and-Trade system!! He blames China for drilling anywhere in the world they can get a hold of.

But truthfully, China is taking serious action to curb its coal consumption and is launching the world's largest Cap-and-Trade system. They are a leader in adding renewable energy capacity. Why? Because air pollution kills a half a million Chinese every year. The smog and the filth has caused political unrest, something authorities fear most. Watching people wear anti-toxin masks in the capital (Beijing) is pretty embarrassing.

The only two GOP candidates who say we should take action now, to curb global warming, dropped out of the race in the beginning. [Lindsey Graham & George Pataki]

Climate change doubters have recently lost one of their key talking points. Ted Cruz and others use "the remote sensing system" to measure temperature. The data now shows a warming of 0.18 degrees Fahrenheit since 1998. And ground temperature measurements, which scientists call more accurate, all show warming in the past 18 years. So those who claim there is no warming, can not claim that anymore! [See paper]

The Republican Party now stands alone as the climate-denying major political party in the world.

The Republican Party is no longer the party of Reagan. Ronald Reagan listened to scientists and signed an international agreement to curb pollution!

In 2010, the Senate killed a major climate change bill that would have created a national Cap-and-Trade system. The bill's defeat set back climate policy for years! So, the Obama Administration regrouped and pursued a new avenue: the EPA's (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations on carbon emissions. These rules have an advantage over the Cap-and-Trade system – Obama could implement them via executive order, and congress couldn't stop him. When they went to work on the 1,560-page Clean Power Act, they found something surprising. Not only do EPA regulations allow states to set up carbon trading markets, they also make Cap and Trade the default mechanism. Each state will need to cut its carbon emissions by shuttering power plants, subsidizing renewables, and/or imposing fees on polluters. These fees are actually a carbon tax!!

If Republicans hated the idea of Cap and Trade, maybe they shouldn't have come up with the idea in the first place. (Actually, a Democrat Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell gets credit for leading the legislative change.) So, it was a bipartisan idea, championed by a Republican President.

Perhaps Obama didn't fulfill the "hope and change" rhetoric that got him elected, but during his time, his era has produced much more sweeping change than most of his supporters or detractors realize. Gays can now marry and openly serve in the military. The health industry has been dramatically reformed and modernized.

Obama not only rolled back the Bush tax cuts for the top 1% but Reagan's as well. That wouldn't have happened under Romney. These higher rates for the rich generated $70 billion a year. Predictions by his critics were proved false. Gasoline prices didn't soar... the economy didn't collapse. Twice as many private-sector jobs were added than under George W. Unemployment is a full point lower than the rate Romney promised to achieve by end of 2016!! No, asking the rich to pay somewhat more in taxes while helping the less fortunate won't destroy the economy!!!

Carbon emissions are dropping. Solar and wind energy is booming, and Obama helped forge an international agreement on climate change. This president, who is dismissed as a talker by many, proved to be a doer. He said: "We have a moral obligation to leave the next generation a planet that is not polluted!"

My summary is condensed from an article written by Jeffrey Lockwood in the UU World magazine, 2016.

Climate change is not about saving humanity. We will suffer, but our species will survive sea levels and droughts. Extinction is unlikely.

So why stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere? Because it's ultimately about saving our souls, not our bodies. We are stealing from future generations!

What sort of planet are leaving our children? The answer is: "Not enough!"

But more importantly, what sort of humanity do we want as our legacy? As it is, we are running out of ice caps, arable soil, coral reefs, fresh water, coastal cities, and livable land.

The answer to that question should be, a place where we learned to say: "Enough!!"

Notes and Information

  • Global warming and climate change are not the same thing. They are causally related. Greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming which in turn causes climate change, the extreme weather events we are now experiencing.
  • Movie, release date: 2015 March 26, The Burden tells the story of fossil fuel dependency as the greatest threat to the military and why they are leading the transition to clean energy.
  • During the summer of 2015, 21 American youths filed a suit to force the Obama administration to enact a bold, science-based climate plan, saying that the government has known since the 1960s that carbon pollution (from fossil fuels) directly contributes to global warming. A decision is expected this spring, 2016.
  • Global warming is the long-term trend of a rising average global temperature.
  • Climate change (weather events) is the change in the global climate which results in the increasing average global temperature. An example would be changes in rain patterns increased droughts, heat waves, and other extreme weather.
  • These two are causally related but not the same thing. Greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming which in turn causes climate change (weather events).
  • Some say they changed the name from global warming to climate change, but it is not true. The IPCC was created back in 1988, and the "CC" stands for "Climate Change"!

    Other Republicans:
    Paul Ryan (WI)
    Orrin Hatch (UT)
    Rick Scott (Governor of FL)
    Scott Perry (PA)
    Rand Paul (KY)
    Bobby Jindal (LA)
    **** about 165 Republicans in office!

    G8: France, Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Japan, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, European Union (Russia suspended 2014).

    75% Democrats worry about our planet while only 40% of Republicans care. So I thought I'd see which Democrats are deniers:

    Mary Landrieu (former Governor of Louisianan), ExxonMobil & Citgo's refinery funded her.

    Collin Peterson (MN) said if global warming, then farmers could grow more corn!!

    Joe Manchin (WV) supports coal production, doesn't support environmental issues, receives money from coal brokerage firm.

    Nick Rahall (former WV) supports coal.

    Dan Boren (former OK) against coal because of initial cost.

    Three Democrats joined Senate Republicans in denial of climate change to kill Bernie Sander's amendment. They are Claire McCaskill, Mark Warner, and Heidi Heitkamp. So, it's not enough to vote democrat. Sometimes Democratic politics are as much a problem as Republican.

    Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth about Al Gore's campaigning to educate us about global warming.

    Movie: The Burden tells the story of fossil fuel dependency as the greatest security threat and why the military is leading the transition to clean energy. Release date: 2015 March 27.

    Summer of 2015, 21 Americans ages 8-19 filed a suit to force the Obama administration to enact a bold, science-based climate plan... saying the government has known since the 1960s that carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels directly contributes to global warming. A decision expected this spring.