Friday, May 30, 2014

Weathergirl goes rogue

Weathergirl goes rogue
Published on Sep 3, 2012

Arctic ice cover just reached its lowest point in recorded history. Pippa goes off script and drops some science. For more, check out
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Filmed at Strut Studios in Vancouver:

Starring Pippa Mackie and Kai Nagata. Written by Heather Libby.

Climate change is simple: David Roberts

Climate change is simple: David Roberts
Published on Jun 12, 2012
David Roberts is staff writer at In "Climate Change is Simple" he describes the causes and effects of climate change in blunt, plain terms.

On April 16, 2012, speakers and attendees gathered at TEDxTheEvergreenStateCollege: Hello Climate Change to reflect on the ability -- and responsibility -- of formal and informal education to inspire and empower action in this era of climate change.

Buried carbon causes deep concern

Hidden menace: a vast store of organic carbon lies beneath the wind-blown soil of the Great Plains

Buried carbon causes deep concern
Tim Radford, May 30, 2014

Deep beneath the Great Plains of America, a vast buried store of organic carbon has been discovered by scientists − a hidden record of bygone climate, and a potentially serious danger to the future climate

LONDON, 30 May − Geographers in the US have found a new factor in the carbon cycle, and – all too ominously – a new potential source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. They have identified huge deposits of fossil soils, rich in organic carbon, buried beneath the Great Plains of America.

The discovery is evidence that the subterranean soils could be a rich store, or sink, for ancient atmospheric carbon. But if the soil is exposed – by erosion, or by human activities such as agriculture, deforestation or mining – this treasure trove of ancient charred vegetation, now covered by wind-blown soils, could blow back into the atmosphere and add to global warming.

Erika Marin-Spiotta, a biogeographer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her colleagues report in Nature Geoscience that what is known as Brady soil – ancient buried soil − formed more than 13,500 years ago in Nebraska, Kansas and other Great Plains states.
Glacial retreat

It now lies more than six metres below the surface, and it was buried by a vast deposit of loess – wind-blown dust – about 10,000 years ago, when the glaciers began to retreat from North America.

The significance is not that it survived the end of the Ice Age and the colonisation of the Great Plains by grazing animals, but in the fact that it is there at all, at such depths. Calculations about the world stock of soil carbon have focused on the topsoil, and the role of root systems, decaying vegetation, microbes and fungi in the natural carbon cycle. Now the climate scientists who play with models of the carbon cycle will have to think again.

“There is a lot of carbon at depths where nobody is measuring,” said Dr Marin-Spiotta. “It was assumed that there was little carbon in deeper soils. Most studies are done only in the top 30 centimetres. Our study is showing that we are grossly underestimating carbon in soils.”

The researchers have enough evidence to put together a picture of a stormy past in an almost empty continent. The tract of prairie that now contains the Brady soil was never glaciated. As the glaciers retreated from the rest of the continent, the climate warmed, the vegetation regime changed, and it became scorched by wildfire − “an incredible amount of fire” according to the report’s author.
Thick band

Before the ash, charred wood, and singed fibres and stalks of the prairie grasses could begin to decompose and turn back into carbon dioxide, it was covered by the accumulating loess. It now exists as a metre-thick band of dark soil far below the surface − a hidden record of bygone climate.

The researchers calculate that, altogether, there could be as much as 2.7 billion tonnes of potentially reactive carbon below the Great Plains. And what happened in the Plains, could have happened in many other parts of the world. The implication is that such deposits could exist anywhere, and could just as easily be a potential contributor to global warming if disturbed. – Climate News Network

The Power of Poop: Using Humor to Inspire Kids About Climate Change

The Power of Poop: Using Humor to Inspire Kids About Climate Change
Denis Thomopoulos 05/29/2014

I've been a cartoonist since the day I picked up my first crayon. I was a kindergartener at Unqua Elementary in Massapequa, NY. I drew a rabbit that looked more like a jellyfish and insisted it was Bugs Bunny. There was no turning back.

Approximately a million and one drawings later, when I was a junior at Georgetown University, I drew a red hippo, named him Simon and put him on a college t-shirt. I sold a lot of shirts. As he evolved, Simon developed a sunny, wide-eyed expression that made people laugh. I'm still selling shirts.

I went on to grown-up things like graduate school and jobs in advertising, media, and entertainment. But not only did I keep drawing Simon, I soon found myself creating jungle friends for him like Peep the Bird and Billy the Zebra. Before long, I had this...

I first syndicated It's A Jungle Out There to an educational network called Lightspan, then to companies like AOL Kids, National Geographic Kids, and Paramount. The kids market became my primary niche.

Now ever since I was a kid, I've been a fan of Charles Schultz's Peanuts. I still can't get enough of poor old Charlie Brown and the Red-Haired Girl or Lucy and her psychiatry booth. Beyond the fun and games, Schultz taught me something: cartoon characters can have real-life issues. A funny comic strip can be serious too.

There are very serious issues affecting animals and the environment. My jungle characters began to speak up, and who was I to stand in their way? One of my monkeys, Yoshi, lost a sister to poaching. Peep and Simon noticed the snow on their beloved Mt. Kilimanjaro melting due to climate change. They couldn't remain silent.

Here's a comic I drew about Suzanne, a bird and fortune teller, talking about global warming on a hot day. Note the nod to Schulz...

When cartoon characters talk about their problems, kids hear them - and discover that they can do something to help. I like to think of this as eco-tainment, part of the eco-lution process.

On, a kid can enjoy an eco-themed cartoonlet and then click to help save jungle or feed an orphaned monkey. And if that eco-minded kid is then inspired to turn off the computer and go explore the great outdoors, that's an added bonus.

It's my big hope that kids will love my new half-hour cartoon musical, The Power of Poop (and other ways to save the world!). For all its poop jokes, the cartoon gives a science-based lesson on the powerful effect on climate change of methane and carbon dioxide. The music, the humor, and the jungle animals keep the fun going. Along the adventure, kids learn what they can do to make a difference. Even the little things can go a long way.

Henry, pictured below, is a kid who really loves The Power of Poop. After seeing the premiere, he was inspired to throw a climate change bake sale to save carbon-absorbing jungle (which is still disappearing at an alarming rate despite Henry's efforts). Henry and his family have raised $280 so far -- and they're just getting started!

NASA, as concerned about climate change as any federal agency, has hosted several screenings of the cartoon at their Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.

And a recent Los Angeles screening of The Power of Poop led to "A Planting and Painting Day" in Marina Del Rey where local students came together with their community to create gardens and murals featuring the story's characters.

From composting to recycling, there are all kinds of useful eco habits kids can adopt. It's my hope that The Power of Poop, for all of its playfulness, can inspire action on one of the most serious issues of our time.

Here's an eco-taining clip that explains how the power of poop effects climate change. Enjoy with your friends and family and let's preserve our incredible world for today's kids - and tomorrow's too!

Great climate change comedy moments in video clips

Sacha Baron Cohen's comedy character Ali G. Photo by John Rogers/Getty Images

Great climate change comedy moments in video clips
From Will Ferrell to Ali G, here's a pick of some of the funniest moments in climate change comedy

Graham Readfearn, 28 May 2014

This is the 50th post on Planet Oz, so let’s take a brief celebratory turn down Productivity Dive Way before heading along that popular commuter route Distracting Things On The Internet Road.

Once there, nestle down for this selection of great comedy moments in climate change with a nice brew of organic fairly traded coffee made using a carbon neutral machine (served in a reusable cup from low energy intensity materials).

I apologise to your bosses in advance. If swearing offends, then don’t say you weren’t warned. Because you were. Just then. That was the warning.

Enjoy, and thanks for all the comments, engagement and sharing.

Great Moments in Climate Change Comedy

Will Ferrell's President George W. Bush thinks about “global warmings”, tee ball and lava flows. Watch on YouTube.

John Oliver

That thing you get on current affairs shows where they have one dude filling half of the screen saying global warming is bad and is caused by humans and the other half of the screen has someone saying humans have nothing to do with it and even if we did, then whatever.


John Oliver was sick of the false balance too, so he held a “statistically representative climate change debate” on his new show Last Week Tonight. Watch on YouTube.

The Onion

What should we be teaching kids in school? The Onion spoof news service reports how a school district in the US has decided to present both “Global warming and the Biblical Armageddon” as legitimate theories about how the world will come to a horrific end. Watch on YouTube.

Arj Barker

I’ve heard of magnetism and God as causes for climate change, but US stand-up Arj Barker has his own theory. Watch on YouTube.

Jazz Twemlow

“Tonight on the everything is possible news,” comedian and writer Jazz Twemlow considers accusations of bias against Australia’s public broadcaster because it had scientists on a science show. Watch on YouTube.

Ali G

Before Kazakhstan’s cultural attaché Borat Sagdiyev and Austrian fashion presenter Brüno Gehard, Sacha Baron Cohen gave us Ali G.

The Staines-based alter ego asks some experts about the environment and recycling.

“Ain’t it dirty to use somefin dat as been used before?” Watch on YouTube.

[bonus content: Australian satirists The Chasers interview British climate science sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton, who they tell us Monckton is just another Sacha Baron Cohen character].

John Nikolakopoulos

Australian Filmmaker John Nikolakopoulos was trying to tap “directly into the corporate mindset” when he made this parody promotional video for a fake coal company’s new climate change public relations strategy. If you don’t like f-bombs, head for cover now. Watch on YouTube.

David Mitchell

David Mitchell, the perpetually mildly annoyed UK comedian and writer, thinks about a perpetual furniture company that won’t squander resources by making cheap furniture from “MDF and hope”. Watch on YouTube.

In a previous video, he had already solved climate change.

The Onion again

More from The Onion, reporting how a new coal industry report warns too many wind turbines could blow the earth out of its orbit. Watch on YouTube.

Sean Lock

Ever catch yourself wondering if all that recycling and thriftiness with resources is really making a difference? If so, British comedian Sean Lock shares your pain, especially after visiting the US. Watch on YouTube.


It’s important to end on a song.

There are loads of songs out there about climate change, especially if you ignore the actual content of the songs and just go off the title.

There was The Divine Comedy’s Everybody Knows (Except You), Disco Inferno (Burn, Baby Burn) from The Trammps or perhaps even the 1998 Bluetones album Return to the Last Chance Saloon which had to have been written about next year’s United Nations climate change meeting in Paris.

Actually, there was an undergrad student from the University of Minnesota who composed a cello piece based on satellite temperature data, but you couldn’t dance to it.

There’s also this, from Australian group Tripod. Watch on YouTube.

    We are killing species at 1000 times the natural rate

    We are killing species at 1000 times the natural rate
    Peter Aldhous, 29 May 2014

    First the bad news. Humans are driving species to extinction at around 1000 times the natural rate, at the top of the range of an earlier estimate. We also don't know how many species we can afford to lose.

    Now the good news. Armed with your smartphone, you can help conservationists save them.

    The new estimate of the global rate of extinction comes from Stuart Pimm of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and colleagues. It updates a calculation Pimm's team released in 1995, that human activities were driving species out of existence at 100 to 1000 times the background rate (Science,

    It turns out that Pimm's earlier calculations both underestimated the rate at which species are now disappearing, and overestimated the background rate over the past 10 to 20 million years.

    Gone gone gone

    The Red List assessments of endangered species, conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), are key to Pimm's analysis. They have evolved from patchy lists of threatened species into comprehensive surveys of animal groups and regions.

    "Twenty years ago we simply didn't have the breadth of underlying data with 70,000 species assessments in hand," says team member Thomas Brooks of the IUCN in Gland, Switzerland.

    By studying animals' DNA, biologists have also created family trees for many groups of animals, allowing them to calculate when new species emerged. On average, it seems each vertebrate species gives rise to a new species once every 10 million years.

    It's hard to measure the natural rate of extinction, but there is a workaround. Before we started destroying habitats, new species seem to have been appearing faster than old ones disappeared. That means the natural extinction rate cannot be higher than the rate at which they were forming, says Pimm.

    For the most part, the higher estimate of the modern extinction rate is not caused by any acceleration in extinctions since 1995. One exception is an increase in threats to amphibians, partly due to the global spread of the killer chytrid fungus.

    Save everything

    The big unknown is what the high current extinction rate means for the health of entire ecosystems. Some researchers have suggested "sustainable" targets for species' loss, but there's still no scientific way to predict at what point cumulative extinctions cause an ecosystem to collapse. "People who say that are pulling numbers out of the air," says Pimm.

    Still, it seems unlikely that extinctions running at 1000 times the background rate can be sustained for long. "You can be sure that there will be a price to be paid," says Brooks.

    Pimm's team has also compiled detailed global maps of biodiversity, showing the numbers of threatened species and total species richness in a global grid consisting of squares 10 kilometres across.

    Such maps can help conservationists decide what to do.

    For instance, Pimm and his colleague Clinton Jenkins of the Institute for Ecological Research in Nazaré Paulista, Brazil, noticed high numbers of threatened species on Brazil's Atlantic coast. Local forests were being cleared for cattle ranching. So they are working with a Brazilian group, the Golden Lion Tamarin Association, to buy land and reconnect isolated forest fragments.

    But conservationists need more data, and you can help, through projects like iNaturalist. Users share photos of the creatures they see via iPhone and Android apps, and experts identify them. "Right now, someone is posting an observation about every 30 seconds," says co-director Scott Loarie of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

    It's simple. If we can't change our economic system, our number's up

    'The mother narrative to all this is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots.' Photograph: Alamy

    It's simple. If we can't change our economic system, our number's up
    It's the great taboo of our age – and the inability to discuss the pursuit of perpetual growth will prove humanity's undoing

    George Monbiot, 27 May 2014 The Guardian

    Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham.

    Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It's 2.5 billion billion solar systems. It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.

    To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues miraculously vanished, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.

    Economic growth is an artefact of the use of fossil fuels. Before large amounts of coal were extracted, every upswing in industrial production would be met with a downswing in agricultural production, as the charcoal or horse power required by industry reduced the land available for growing food. Every prior industrial revolution collapsed, as growth could not be sustained. But coal broke this cycle and enabled – for a few hundred years – the phenomenon we now call sustained growth.

    It was neither capitalism nor communism that made possible the progress and pathologies (total war, the unprecedented concentration of global wealth, planetary destruction) of the modern age. It was coal, followed by oil and gas. The meta-trend, the mother narrative, is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots. Now, with the accessible reserves exhausted, we must ransack the hidden corners of the planet to sustain our impossible proposition.

    On Friday, a few days after scientists announced that the collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet is now inevitable, the Ecuadorean government decided toallow oil drilling in the heart of the Yasuni national park. It had made an offer to other governments: if they gave it half the value of the oil in that part of the park, it would leave the stuff in the ground. You could see this as either blackmail or fair trade. Ecuador is poor, its oil deposits are rich. Why, the government argued, should it leave them untouched without compensation when everyone else is drilling down to the inner circle of hell? It asked for $3.6bn and received $13m. The result is that Petroamazonas, a company with a colourful record of destruction and spills, will now enter one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, in which a hectare of rainforest is said to contain more species than exist in the entire continent of North America.

    Yasuni national park. Murray Cooper/Minden Pictures/Corbis

    The UK oil firm Soco is now hoping to penetrate Africa's oldest national park, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo; one of the last strongholds of the mountain gorilla and the okapi, of chimpanzees and forest elephants. In Britain, where a possible 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil has just been identified in the south-east, the government fantasises about turning the leafy suburbs into a new Niger delta. To this end it's changing the trespass laws to enable drilling without consent and offering lavish bribes to local people. These new reserves solve nothing. They do not end our hunger for resources; they exacerbate it.

    The trajectory of compound growth shows that the scouring of the planet has only just begun. As the volume of the global economy expands, everywhere that contains something concentrated, unusual, precious, will be sought out and exploited, its resources extracted and dispersed, the world's diverse and differentiated marvels reduced to the same grey stubble.

    Some people try to solve the impossible equation with the myth of dematerialisation: the claim that as processes become more efficient and gadgets are miniaturised, we use, in aggregate, fewer materials. There is no sign that this is happening. Iron ore production has risen 180% in 10 years. The trade body Forest Industries tells us that "global paper consumption is at a record high level and it will continue to grow". If, in the digital age, we won't reduce even our consumption of paper, what hope is there for other commodities?

    Look at the lives of the super-rich, who set the pace for global consumption. Are their yachts getting smaller? Their houses? Their artworks? Their purchase of rare woods, rare fish, rare stone? Those with the means buy ever bigger houses to store the growing stash of stuff they will not live long enough to use. By unremarked accretions, ever more of the surface of the planet is used to extract, manufacture and store things we don't need. Perhaps it's unsurprising that fantasies about colonising space – which tell us we can export our problems instead of solving them – have resurfaced.

    As the philosopher Michael Rowan points out, the inevitabilities of compound growth mean that if last year's predicted global growth rate for 2014 (3.1%) is sustained, even if we miraculously reduced the consumption of raw materials by 90%, we delay the inevitable by just 75 years. Efficiency solves nothing while growth continues.

    The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth's living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence. As a result, they are mentioned almost nowhere. They are the 21st century's great taboo, the subjects guaranteed to alienate your friends and neighbours. We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle-class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topic that demands our attention.

    Statements of the bleeding obvious, the outcomes of basic arithmetic, are treated as exotic and unpardonable distractions, while the impossible proposition by which we live is regarded as so sane and normal and unremarkable that it isn't worthy of mention. That's how you measure the depth of this problem: by our inability even to discuss it.

    Thursday, May 29, 2014

    Melting Polar Ice Caps A "Ticking Timebomb" For Earth's Climate System

    Melting Polar Ice Caps A "Ticking Timebomb" For Earth's Climate System
    TheRealNews Published on May 28, 2014

    Journalist Dahr Jamail & Professor Peter Wadhams say the resulting release of methane will lead to massive climate disruption, and that we have reached a point of no return

    Wednesday, May 28, 2014

    Rapid climate changes more deadly than asteroid impacts in Earth’s past

    Rapid climate changes more deadly than asteroid impacts in Earth’s past – study shows. (via Skeptical Science)

    Posted on 27 May 2014 by howardlee The link between rapid climate changes and mass extinctions has been strengthened in a recent paper by Jourdan et al in “Geology.” The authors demonstrate that the extraordinarily huge volcanic eruptions of the…

    Tuesday, May 27, 2014

    Something Is Seriously Wrong on the East Coast - and It's Killing All the Baby Puffins


    Something Is Seriously Wrong on the East Coast—and It's Killing All the Baby Puffins
    Disappearing puffins, stray whales, invading sailfish: The North Atlantic is in a bad way. Here's why.

    Rowan Jacobsen

    THE NEW POSTER CHILD for climate change had his coming-out party in June 2012, when Petey the puffin chick first went live into thousands of homes and schools all over the world. The "Puffin Cam" capturing baby Petey's every chirp had been set up on Maine's Seal Island by Stephen Kress, "The Puffin Man," who founded the Audubon Society's Project Puffin in 1973. Puffins, whose orange bills and furrowed eyes make them look like penguins dressed as sad clowns, used to nest on many islands off the Maine coast, but 300 years of hunting for their meat, eggs, and feathers nearly wiped them out. Project Puffin transplanted young puffins from Newfoundland to several islands in Maine, and after years of effort the colonies were reestablished and the project became one of Audubon's great success stories. By 2013, about 1,000 puffin pairs were nesting in Maine.

    Now, thanks to a grant from the Annenberg Foundation, the Puffin Cam offered new opportunities for research and outreach. Puffin parents dote on their single chick, sheltering it in a two-foot burrow beneath rocky ledges and bringing it piles of small fish each day. Researchers would get to watch live puffin feeding behavior for the first time, and schoolkids around the world would be falling for Petey.

    But Kress soon noticed that something was wrong. Puffins dine primarily on hake and herring, two teardrop-shaped fish that have always been abundant in the Gulf of Maine. But Petey's parents brought him mostly butterfish, which are shaped more like saucers. Kress watched Petey repeatedly pick up butterfish and try to swallow them. The video is absurd and tragic, because the butterfish is wider than the little gray fluff ball, who keeps tossing his head back, trying to choke down the fish, only to drop it, shaking with the effort. Petey tries again and again, but he never manages it. For weeks, his parents kept bringing him butterfish, and he kept struggling. Eventually, he began moving less and less. On July 20, Petey expired in front of a live audience. Puffin snuff.

    "When he died, there was a huge outcry from viewers," Kress tells me. "But we thought, 'Well, that's nature.' They don't all live. It's normal to have some chicks die." Puffins successfully raise chicks 77 percent of the time, and Petey's parents had a good track record; Kress assumed they were just unlucky. Then he checked the other 64 burrows he was tracking: Only 31 percent had successfully fledged. He saw dead chicks and piles of rotting butterfish everywhere. "That," he says, "was the epiphany."

    Why would the veteran puffin parents of Maine start bringing their chicks food they couldn't swallow? Only because they had no choice. Herring and hake had dramatically declined in the waters surrounding Seal Island, and by August, Kress had a pretty good idea why: The water was much too hot.

    Karen Minot

    ON A MAP, the Gulf of Maine looks like an unremarkable bulge of the North Atlantic, but it is unique. A submerged ridge between Cape Cod and the tip of Nova Scotia turns it into a nearly self-contained bowl. Warm water surging up the East Coast glances off those banks and heads for Europe, bypassing the Gulf of Maine and leaving it shockingly cold. (I'm looking at you, Old Orchard Beach!) Meanwhile, frigid, nutrient-rich water from off the coasts of Labrador and Nova Scotia feeds into the Gulf through a deep channel and gets sucked into the powerful counterclockwise currents. Whipped by that vortex, and churned by the largest tides in the world (52 feet in one bay), the Gulf of Maine acts like a giant blender, constantly whisking nutrients up off the bottom, where they generally settle. At the surface, microscopic plants called phytoplankton combine those nutrients with the sunlight of the lengthening spring days to reproduce like mad. That's how the thick, green soup that feeds the Gulf's food web gets made. The soup is so cold that its diversity is low, but the cold-water specialists that are adapted to it do incredibly well.

    At least, they used to.

    Like much of the country, the Northeast experienced the warmest March on record in 2012, and the year just stayed hot after that. Records weren't merely shattered; they were ground into dust. Temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, which has been warming faster than almost any other marine environment on Earth, shot far higher than anyone had ever recorded, and the place's personality changed. The spring bloom of phytoplankton occurred exceptionally early, before most animals were ready to take advantage of it. Lobsters shifted toward shore a month ahead of schedule, leading to record landings and the lowest prices in 18 years.

    Hake and herring, meanwhile, got the hell out of Dodge, heading for cooler waters. In all, at least 14 Gulf of Maine fish species have been shifting northward or deeper in search of relief. That left the puffins little to feed their chicks except butterfish, a more southerly species that has recently proliferated in the Gulf. Butterfish have also been growing larger during the past few years of intense warmth, and that, thinks Stephen Kress, might be a key. "Fish start growing in response to changes in water temperature and food," he says. "The earlier that cycle starts, the bigger they're gonna be. What seems to have happened in 2012 is that the butterfish got a head start on the puffins. If it was a little smaller, the butterfish might actually be a fine meal for a puffin chick. But if it's too big, then it's just the opposite. That's one of the interesting things about climate change. It's the slight nuances that can have huge effects on species."

    Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo

    LIFE WOULD GO ON without puffins. Unfortunately, these clowns of the sea seem to be the canaries in the western Atlantic coal mine. Their decline is an ominous sign in a system that supports everything from the last 400 North Atlantic right whales to the $2 billion lobster industry.

    The next sign of deep weirdness arrived in December 2012, when Florida beachcombers began spotting hundreds of what appeared to be penguins soaring above the Miami surf.They turned out to be razorbills, close relatives of puffins that also call the Gulf of Maine home.

    Razorbills should be high on your reincarnation wish list. Superb fliers, they can also plunge into the sea and pursue fish underwater by flapping their wings—while dressed in black tie. James Bond, eat your heart out.

    But normally, they do all this in the North Atlantic. Suddenly thousands of them had decided to move to Florida. The consensus was that they had simply kept going in a desperate attempt to find food—and that it couldn't end well for them. It didn't. By early 2013, hundreds of dead razorbills had washed up along East Coast beaches, most emaciated. So did 40 puffins. "That's very rare," Kress says. In fact, finding even a single dead puffin on the beach is unusual. "They're tough little guys! They'll live 30 years or more."

    The weirdness continued. In the spring of 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made its semiannual trawl survey of the Gulf of Maine, dragging a net at dozens of points throughout the Gulf and counting, weighing, and measuring everything caught. There were plenty of butterfish and mountains of spiny dogfish, a small shark that used to be relatively rare in the Gulf of Maine but now owns the place. There were very few cod, the fish that made New England, that lured thousands of fishing boats from Europe, that fed millions of people over the centuries. NOAA slashed the 2013 quota for cod to a pittance, putting hundreds of enraged fishermen out of work.

    In recent history, the average ocean surface temperature of the Gulf of Maine has hovered around 44 degrees Fahrenheit. 2013 was the second-warmest year in the Gulf in three decades, with an average surface temperature of 46.6 degrees. But it was nowhere near the freakish spike to 47.5 degrees in 2012, and the phytoplankton did not repeat its crazy early bloom. Instead, it didn't bloom at all. "So poorly developed, its extent was below detection limits" was how NOAA put it in its Ecosystem Advisory, sounding surprisingly calm, considering it was saying the marine equivalent of "No grass sprouted in New England this year." Phytoplankton feeds some tiny fish and shrimp directly, but more often it feeds zooplankton, the bugs of the sea, and these in turn feed everything from herring to whales. The undetectable phytoplankton bloom did not bode well for zooplankton, and sure enough, that spring NOAA broke the grim news: "The biomass of zooplankton was the lowest on record." Even this dirge doesn't do justice to the dramatic deviation from the organisms' historical norm: Their numbers bounced along in a comfortable range for 35 years before taking a gut-wrenching nosedive in 2013.

    By the time of that announcement, Project Puffin was starting its 2013 season. With spring temperatures closer to normal, Kress had hoped that his Seal Island puffins would return to their fruitful ways, but only two-thirds of the colony showed up. Still, a new chick was chosen for the Puffin Cam feed, and viewers named her Hope. For a while, all went well. Kress saw fewer butterfish being delivered, and Hope flourished. But soon Kress noticed that fewer birds than usual were hanging out at the Loafing Ledge, a rocky ridge where the parents socialize between feedings. Then he realized that the time between chick feedings was considerably longer than normal. The puffins were having to range much farther to find fish.

    Too far, as it turned out. Although Hope successfully fledged on August 21, she was one of the few lucky ones. Only 10 percent of the puffin chicks survived in 2013—the worst year on record. "We've never seen two down years like this," Kress told me. "The puffins really tanked."

    And how could they not? The Gulf of Maine, the great food processor of the western Atlantic, was almost out of food.

    USUALLY, A SYSTEM as large and complex as the Gulf of Maine, sloshing with natural noise and randomness, will disappoint any human desire to fit it into a tidy narrative. It can take years to tease a clear trend out of the data. But by late 2013, things were so skewed that you could see the canaries dropping everywhere you looked.

    November 30: Researchers announced that instead of the dozens of endangered right whales they normally spot in the Gulf of Maine during their fall aerial survey, they had They were quick to note that the whales couldn't all be dead, just missing—probably off in search of food. Sure enough, in January 2014, 12 of the same species of whale were spotted in Cape Cod Bay, where food is more plentiful.

    By now, you'll have no trouble filling in this sentence from the December 4 Portland Press Herald: "This summer, a survey indicated that the northern shrimp stock was at its ____ ____ since the annual trawl survey began in 1984." That's right: lowest level. In fact, the sweet Gulf of Maine shrimp—a closely guarded secret in New England—had collapsed so completely that regulators closed the 2014 season and warned of "little prospect of recovery in the near future." It takes shrimp four to five years to reach harvest size, and few of the shrimp born in the Gulf of Maine since 2009 have survived. If shrimp miraculously produce a bumper crop this year, there might be a few to eat in 2018. In the meantime, throw some butterfish on the barbie.

    Or maybe sailfish or cobia, two Florida species hooked by bewildered New England anglers in 2013. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute scrambled to find a bright side, publishing a paper (PDF) on the commercial potential of former Virginia standbys like black sea bass, longfin squid, and scup, which are new regulars in the Gulf. Admirable adaptability, and undoubtedly a few quick-moving fishermen will profit from the regime change. But I don't relish life in a world where only the hyperadapters survive.

    "A puffin is an excellent example of a specialist bird that is going to be vulnerable to climate change," Kress says. "For a specialist bird like a warbler or a seabird, which relies on a small range of foods but lives in a vast area, if something goes wrong anywhere in the migratory range of that bird, it's in big trouble. And its ability to adapt is less than a bird with a more generalist lifestyle like a gull or a crow. Those highly adaptive birds are going to have the advantage in the long run. We see that vividly with the pictures of Petey trying to wolf down that oversized butterfish. It's scary. But it's a glimpse into a possible future."

    Or present. We tend to think of climate change as incremental and inexorable, like seeing old friends age at the annual reunion. There are some new wrinkles, a step has been lost, and you know there's no going back, but at least you can still look forward to years of friendship. But ecosystems are wired with tipping points. A tweak here and there can make things unrecognizable tomorrow. Glaciers melt. Forests ignite. And suddenly your old pal isn't answering her phone anymore.

    Yes, we can adapt. Us and the gulls and the rats. But it will be awfully lonely out there.

    For 40 years, Stephen Kress has traveled to the same Maine islands each spring, has watched the same puffin couples return year after year to raise their chicks. Now he doesn't know what to think. "I've seen colonies go up and down, and I know one year doesn't make a pattern, but you can't help but wonder. We've worked decades to build those populations up, and in 2013 we lost a third. That's pretty dramatic."

    Still, Kress, who calls himself a perennial optimist ("Who else would start Project Puffin?"), will head back out this May, on the heels of this winter's cold snap. He plans to outfit a few birds with GPS devices in hopes of finding the key places where they feed and overwinter. Perhaps there are new refuges to be found, places just a little colder or more resilient, where a puffin can still be a puffin. In May, the Puffin Cam will go live, a new chick will get a new name, and a fresh batch of schoolkids will tune in to get a look at their brave new world.

    Monday, May 26, 2014

    Graphic: If we hit a climate-system tipping point because of methane, our carbon dioxide problem is immaterial

    “We have to control methane immediately, and natural gas is the largest methane pollution source in the United States. If we hit a climate-system tipping point because of methane, our carbon dioxide problem is immaterial. We have to get a handle on methane, or increasingly risk global catastrophe.”

    ‘Catastrophe’ Claim Adds Fuel to Methane Debate

    Excess methane is often burned off from oil and gas production and distribution systems.
    Credit: Center for Enabling New Technologies Through Catalysis

    ‘Catastrophe’ Claim Adds Fuel to Methane Debate
    Bobby Magill, May 15th, 2014

    A Cornell University scientist's claims that oil and gas development is so harmful to the climate that methane emissions and oil and gas production in general need to be cut back immediately to avoid a "global catastrophe" are adding more fuel to the scientific debate over the climate implications of shale oil and gas production.

    Fossil fuels production is the largest methane pollution source in the U.S., and ignoring those emissions will lead to a climate change “tipping point” from which there is no return, Cornell environmental biology professor Robert Howarth said in a statement Wednesday. He was unavailable for an interview.

    Though scientists say there are avenues to preventing catastrophe other than curbing methane emissions, Howarth’s previous research with Cornell environmental engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea and others concluded that the climate impact of natural gas produced from shale — most of which involves hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — may be worse than that of coal and crude oil. That's because methane leaks from natural gas production have a greater effect on the climate than carbon dioxide emissions, Howarth said.

    Over a 100-year timeframe, methane is about 34 times as potent as a climate change-driving greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and over 20 years, it's 86 times more potent. Of all the greenhouse gases released by humans globally, methane contributes more than 40 percent of all radiative forcing, a measure of trapped heat in the atmosphere and a measuring stick of a changing climate, Howarth said.

    “We have to control methane immediately, and natural gas is the largest methane pollution source in the United States,” Howarth said. “If we hit a climate-system tipping point because of methane, our carbon dioxide problem is immaterial. We have to get a handle on methane, or increasingly risk global catastrophe.”

    Howarth's research is controversial, with the energy industry trying to discredit his work and other scientists questioning his methods. Those questions come amid a steady stream of studies released over the past year that strongly suggest either that methane emissions emanating from oil and gas fields are greater than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates or that the impact those emissions will have on climate change is extremely complex and difficult to determine. And even many scientists who agree with Howarth's research say there are other ways to curb methane emissions without shutting down natural gas production.

    In other words, Howarth's critics say, methane's effect on the climate is too complicated to demand that emissions be cut dramatically and immediately.

    Howarth's new paper, to be published May 20 in the journal “Energy Science and Engineering,” reviews much of the oil and gas-related methane emissions research conducted nationwide over the 4 years since his initial methane research was published in 2011, and in the context of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment report released last year.

    Howarth’s conclusion: Producing natural gas of any kind has a worse greenhouse gas footprint than burning coal and crude oil over a 20-year timeframe. In other words, the idea that natural gas is a “bridge fuel” between carbon-producing coal and clean renewable energy sources simply isn’t true, especially if natural gas is used for home heating, the study says.

    At best, Howarth said natural gas might lead to a “very modest” reduction in greenhouse gas emissions if it is used in place of coal to generate electricity and only with “unprecedented” investment in natural gas infrastructure and regulatory oversight.

    The paper is the latest in a long line of recent studies suggesting that methane emissions from shale oil and natural gas production and distribution equipment is much greater than previously thought.

    A study by researchers from Purdue and Cornell universities published in April showed that natural gas drilling could emit up to 1,000 times the methane previously thought.

    Just last week, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder released a study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration atmospheric scientist Gabrielle Petron showing that an airplane flying over a large northeast Colorado shale oil and gas field measured atmospheric methane concentrations three times greater than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates for the area.

    EPA estimates are based on oil industry-reported data. In the EPA’s summary of its latest greenhouse gas emissions inventory, the agency cited one of Petron’s earlier methane emissions studies as evidence that the EPA’s industry-based methane estimates differ from the results of research that involves actual emissions measurements. The summary says the EPA “has engaged with researchers” on how measurements could improve understanding of inventory estimates.

    “These discrepancies are substantial,” Petron said in a May 7 statement. “Emission estimates or ‘inventories’ are the primary tool that policymakers and regulators use to evaluate air quality and climate impacts of various sources, including oil and gas sources. If they’re off, it’s important to know.”

    But different methods of measuring methane emissions get different results, and it's critical those differences be reconciled, said Robert Jackson, a professor of global environmental change at Duke University whose research has shown methane leaks are a hazard in natural gas distribution systems in the U.S.

    By using an airplane to fly over an oil and gas field to directly measure methane concentrations in the air, Petron's study used a "top-down" approach to estimating oil and gas field emissions. Other scientists have used a "bottom up" approach by measuring emissions from oil and gas facilities on the ground, a method used in a University of Texas study published last year suggesting fracked natural gas wells leak less methane than the EPA previously estimated.

    The simplest explanation for the discrepancy is that a few oil and gas wells emit a lot of methane, while others measured in "bottom up" studies release much less methane, Jackson said. Hundreds or thousands of wells would have to be sampled on the ground for the "bottom up" studies to accurately measure emissions, he said.

    "The key point is the data that have come in in the last couple of years, it's not a huge dataset," Jackson said. "The data that have come in seem to suggest the EPA estimates are too low. Will they turn out that they're high enough that Bob Howarth is right? We don't know that yet, and it may not be the case."

    The overall implications of natural gas production on a changing climate are extremely complicated, a Duke University study published in April by researchers Richard Newall and Daniel Raimi concluded.

    Natural gas use can increase overall energy use and alter economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions, but it's unclear whether that means an increase or decrease in those emissions, and without specific emission targets, trends in atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions aren't likely to change even with widespread use of natural gas, Newall and Raimi conclude.

    Howarth disagrees, saying there’s enough evidence that the climate implications of methane emissions from oil and gas development could be catastrophic and that it’s important to act now.

    Crude oil tanks in northeast Colorado's suburban Wattenberg oil field, where measurements showed atmospheric methane concentrations were three times the levels reported in EPA inventories. Scientists say most of that methane came from the oil and gas operations in the area.
    Credit: Bobby Magill

    If shale oil and gas methane emissions aren’t reined in quickly, the earth could warm a critical 2°C within 15 to 35 years, he said. In order for the earth to avoid the most serious consequences of global warming, the planet’s average temperature cannot warm more than 2°C above where it was in the 1800s. Global average temperatures have already warmed 1°C.

    Lawrence Cathles, a Cornell earth and atmospheric sciences professor whose criticism of Howarth's previous research made national headlines along with Howarth's rebuttal, said the science does not support Howarth's claim that immediate curbs on methane emissions are necessary to avoid the 2°C warming threshold.

    "For methane to be a significant climate driver between now and 2035, its rate of increase in the atmosphere would need to accelerate dramatically, and so far we don't see this happening," Cathles said. "Curbs on methane emissions are desirable, but they will make a small player in climate change even smaller, and reducing emission rates below present levels is not a matter of necessity in controlling global warming."

    Cathles said that substituting natural gas for coal in electricity generation would have an immediate benefit and methane leakage rates from natural gas systems would have to be much greater than they are now.

    "My perception is that Howarth's views do not represent the views of most of the scientists that have considered these issues carefully, and that, contrary to the suggestions made in the subject paper, recent studies do not support the very high leakage rates he needs to make natural gas a 'bridge to nowhere.' "

    Drew Shindell, a NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies scientist on whose research Howarth draws but was not involved in Howarth's study, said that Howarth’s research is sound, but slashing methane emissions from natural gas isn’t the only way to keep global warming under 2°C.

    Keeping the earth from warming will involve more than cutting carbon dioxide emissions alone or methane alone. Cutting a combination of some CO2, some methane, some black carbon and anything else that contributes to radiative forcing could keep warming down, too, Shindell said.

    Regarding Howarth’s views denying that natural gas is a bridge fuel, Shindell said Howarth is pointing out that unless the methane leak rate from natural gas production and distribution is extraordinarily low, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal doesn’t exist.

    If natural gas could be produced with the very lowest possible methane leak rate, natural gas might come out ahead of coal for greenhouse gases, Shindell said.

    “Whether that’s feasible, I don’t know,” he said.

    In his paper, Howarth is adamant that replacing climate-changing coal with climate-changing natural gas does nothing to slow global warming.

    “Society needs to wean itself from the addiction to fossil fuels as quickly as possible,” Howarth said in a statement. “But to replace some fossil fuels — coal, oil — with another, like natural gas, will not suffice as an approach to take on global warming. Rather, we should embrace the technologies of the 21st century and convert our energy systems to ones that rely on wind, solar and water power.”

    Jackson said he wouldn't quite go so far as to call for running away from natural gas.

    "We need to do everything we can to cut methane emissions right now," Jackson said. "Using less natural gas might be one approach, but given that we are going to continue to use natural gas, my research (focuses on) how can we detect leaks quickly and fix them cheaply to reduce that leakage term?"

    Shifting over completely to renewables would be great for human health and the environment, "but that's not the world we live in," Jackson said. "I want to know if you turn the spigot off for natural gas, do we get wind or do we get a new coal plant? And Bob (Howarth) might say that even if we got a coal plant, that's a good thing. It's not so black and white for me."

    2014 Commencement Speakers Call For Action On Climate Change, In 5 Powerful Quotes

    2014 Commencement Speakers Call For Action On Climate Change, In 5 Powerful Quotes
    REBECCA LEBER, MAY 23, 2014

    2014 college graduates have never experienced a month that was not warmer than average. These same graduates have seen the fossil fuel divestment movement and anti-Keystone XL activism grow at their schools, as more and more recognize how fossil fuels affect them now and in the future. This year, their commencement speakers — political leaders, scientists, and journalists — realized that too, using their platform to talk climate change.

    These five speakers did more than just give a nod to the issue, however. They called for 100 percent clean energy, slammed climate deniers, and linked it to worldwide stability:

    1. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, at University of Maryland, had a jab at climate change deniers. “To those who say climate change is not caused by human activity or that addressing it will harm the economy, let’s encourage them to go to college, too, and to study physics and to study economics, but for the rest of us, let’s get to work.”

    2. Bill Nye the Science Guy, at University of Massachusetts Lowell, called out the conspiracy theorists delaying action on the climate. “Conspiracy theories are for lazy people,” he said. “People that don’t want to get down to the business at hand. Instead of just doing less, we have to find ways of doing more with less. That’s the key to the future.”

    3. Secretary of State John Kerry, at Boston College, said the “Flat Earth Society” is taking a gamble with world stability. “You might not see climate change as an immediate threat to your job, your community, or your families,” Kerry said. “But let me tell you, it is.” He continued, “climate change is directly related to the potential of greater conflict and greater instability. I’m telling you that there are people in parts of the world — in Africa today, they fight each other over water. They kill each over it. And if glaciers are melting and there’s less water available and more people, that is a challenge we have to face.”

    3. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, at University of Massachusetts Amherst, delivered an unexpected call for the state to go coal-free in four years. “Two [Massachusetts coal burning power plants] remain: Brayton Point in the South Coast region and Mt. Tom, just down the road. Within the next four years, both should shut down and Massachusetts should finally end all reliance on conventional coal generation.”

    5. New Yorker Magazine Editor David Reminck, at Syracuse University, singled out President Obama. “[W]hat about our refusal to look squarely at the degradation of the planet we inhabit? In the last election cycle many candidates refused even to acknowledge the hard science, irrefutable science, of climate change. The president, while readily accepting the facts, has done far too little to alter them. How long are we, are you, prepared to wait?”

    The 95% Doctrine - Climate Change as a Weapon of Mass Destruction

    The 95% Doctrine - Climate Change as a Weapon of Mass Destruction 
    Tom Engelhardt, May 22, 2014.

    Who could forget? At the time, in the fall of 2002, there was such a drumbeat of “information” from top figures in the Bush administration about the secret Iraqi program to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and so endanger the United States. And who -- other than a few suckers -- could have doubted that Saddam Hussein was eventually going to get a nuclear weapon? The only question, as our vice president suggested on “Meet the Press,” was: Would it take one year or five? And he wasn’t alone in his fears, since there was plenty of proof of what was going on. For starters, there were those “specially designed aluminum tubes” that the Iraqi autocrat had ordered as components for centrifuges to enrich uranium in his thriving nuclear weapons program. Reporters Judith Miller and Michael Gordon hit the front page of the New York Times with that story on September 8, 2002.

    Then there were those “mushroom clouds” that Condoleezza Rice, our national security advisor, was so publicly worried about -- the ones destined to rise over American cities if we didn’t do something to stop Saddam. As she fretted in a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer on that same September 8th, “[W]e don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” No, indeed, and nor, it turned out, did Congress!

    And just in case you weren’t anxious enough about the looming Iraqi threat, there were those unmanned aerial vehicles -- Saddam’s drones! -- that could be armed with chemical or biological WMD from his arsenal and flown over America’s East Coast cities with unimaginable results. President George W. Bush went on TV to talk about them and congressional votes were changed in favor of war thanks to hair-raising secret administration briefings about them on Capitol Hill.

    In the end, it turned out that Saddam had no weapons program, no nuclear bomb in the offing, no centrifuges for those aluminum pipes, no biological or chemical weapons caches, and no drone aircraft to deliver his nonexistent weapons of mass destruction (nor any ships capable of putting those nonexistent robotic planes in the vicinity of the U.S. coast). But what if he had? Who wanted to take that chance? Not Vice President Dick Cheney, certainly. Inside the Bush administration he propounded something that journalist Ron Suskind later dubbed the “one percent doctrine.” Its essence was this: if there was even a 1% chance of an attack on the United States, especially involving weapons of mass destruction, it must be dealt with as if it were a 95%-100% certainty.

    Here’s the curious thing: if you look back on America's apocalyptic fears of destruction during the first 14 years of this century, they largely involved three city-busting weapons that were fantasies of Washington’s fertile imperial imagination. There was that “bomb” of Saddam’s, which provided part of the pretext for a much-desired invasion of Iraq. There was the “bomb” of the mullahs, the Iranian fundamentalist regime that we’ve just loved to hate ever since they repaid us, in 1979, for the CIA’s overthrow of an elected government in 1953 and the installation of the Shah by taking the staff of the U.S. embassy in Tehran hostage. If you believed the news from Washington and Tel Aviv, the Iranians, too, were perilously close to producing a nuclear weapon or at least repeatedly on the verge of the verge of doing so. The production of that “Iranian bomb” has, for years, been a focus of American policy in the Middle East, the “brink” beyond which war has endlessly loomed. And yet there was and is no Iranian bomb, nor evidence that the Iranians were or are on the verge of producing one.

    Finally, of course, there was al-Qaeda’s bomb, the “dirty bomb” that organization might somehow assemble, transport to the U.S., and set off in an American city, or the “loose nuke,” maybe from the Pakistani arsenal, with which it might do the same. This is the third fantasy bomb that has riveted American attention in these last years, even though there is less evidence for or likelihood of its imminent existence than of the Iraqi and Iranian ones.

    To sum up, the strange thing about end-of-the-world-as-we’ve-known-it scenarios from Washington, post-9/11, is this: with a single exception, they involved only non-existent weapons of mass destruction. A fourth weapon -- one that existed but played a more modest role in Washington’s fantasies -- was North Korea’s perfectly real bomb, which in these years the North Koreans were incapable of delivering to American shores.

    The "Good News" About Climate Change

    In a world in which nuclear weapons remain a crucial coin of the realm when it comes to global power, none of these examples could quite be classified as 0% dangers. Saddam had once had anuclear program, just not in 2002-2003, and also chemical weapons, which he used against Iranian troops in his 1980s war with their country (with the help of targeting information from the U.S. military) and against his own Kurdish population. The Iranians might (or might not) have been preparing their nuclear program for a possible weapons breakout capability, and al-Qaeda certainly would not have rejected a loose nuke, if one were available (though that organization’s ability to use it would still have been questionable).

    In the meantime, the giant arsenals of WMD in existence, the American, Russian, Chinese, Israeli, Pakistani, and Indian ones that might actually have left a crippled or devastated planet behind, remained largely off the American radar screen. In the case of the Indian arsenal, the Bush administration actually lent an indirect hand to its expansion. So it was twenty-first-century typical when President Obama, trying to put Russia's recent actions in the Ukraine in perspective, said, “Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”

    Once again, an American president was focused on a bomb that would raise a mushroom cloud over Manhattan. And which bomb, exactly, was that, Mr. President?

    Of course, there was a weapon of mass destruction that could indeed do staggering damage to or someday simply drown New York City, Washington D.C., Miami, and other East coast cities. It had its own efficient delivery systems -- no nonexistent drones or Islamic fanatics needed. And unlike the Iraqi, Iranian, or al-Qaeda bombs, it was guaranteed to be delivered to our shores unless preventive action was taken soon. No one needed to hunt for its secret facilities. It was a weapons system whose production plants sat in full view right here in the United States, as well as in Europe, China, and India, as well as in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, and other energy states.

    So here’s a question I’d like any of you living in or visiting Wyoming to ask the former vice president, should you run into him in a state that’s notoriously thin on population: How would he feel about acting preventively, if instead of a 1% chance that some country with weapons of mass destruction might use them against us, there was at least a 95% -- and likely as not a 100% -- chance of them being set off on our soil? Let’s be conservative, since the question is being posed to a well-known neoconservative. Ask him whether he would be in favor of pursuing the 95% doctrine the way he was the 1% version.

    After all, thanks to a grim report in 2013 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we know that there is now a 95%-100% likelihood that “human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming [of the planet] since the mid-20th century.” We know as well that the warming of the planet -- thanks to the fossil fuel system we live by and the greenhouse gases it deposits in the atmosphere -- is already doing real damage to our world and specifically to the United States, as a recent scientific report released by the White House made clear. We also know, with grimly reasonable certainty, what kinds of damage those 95%-100% odds are likely totranslate into in the decades, and even centuries, to come if nothing changes radically: a temperature rise by century’s end that could exceed 10 degrees Fahrenheit, cascading species extinctions, staggeringly severe droughts across larger parts of the planet (as in the present long-term drought in the American West and Southwest), far more severe rainfall across other areas, more intense storms causing far greater damage, devastating heat waves on a scale no one in human history has ever experienced, masses of refugees, rising global food prices, and among other catastrophes on the human agenda, rising sea levels that will drown coastal areas of the planet.

    From two scientific studies just released, for example, comes thenews that the West Antarctic ice sheet, one of the great ice accumulations on the planet, has now begun a process of melting and collapse that could, centuries from now, raise world sea levels by a nightmarish 10 to 13 feet. That mass of ice is, according to the lead authors of one of the studies, already in “irreversible retreat,” which means -- no matter what acts are taken from now on -- a future death sentence for some of the world's great cities. (And that’s without even the melting of the Greenland ice shield, not to speak of the rest of the ice in Antarctica.)

    All of this, of course, will happen mainly because we humans continue to burn fossil fuels at an unprecedented rate and soannually deposit carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at record levels. In other words, we’re talking about weapons of mass destruction of a new kind. While some of their effects are already in play, the planetary destruction that nuclear weapons could cause almost instantaneously, or at least (given “nuclear winter” scenarios) within months, will, with climate change, take decades, if not centuries, to deliver its full, devastating planetary impact.

    When we speak of WMD, we usually think of weapons -- nuclear, biological, or chemical -- that are delivered in a measurable moment in time. Consider climate change, then, a WMD on a particularly long fuse, already lit and there for any of us to see. Unlike the feared Iranian bomb or the Pakistani arsenal, you don’t need the CIA or the NSA to ferret such "weaponry" out. From oil wells to fracking structures, deep sea drilling rigs to platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, the machinery that produces this kind of WMD and ensures that it is continuously delivered to its planetary targets is in plain sight. Powerful as it may be, destructive as it will be, those who control it have faith that, being so long developing, it can remain in the open without panicking populations or calling any kind of destruction down on them.

    The companies and energy states that produce such WMD remain remarkably open about what they’re doing. Generally speaking, they don’t hesitate to make public, or even boast about, their plans for the wholesale destruction of the planet, though of course they are never described that way. Nonetheless, if an Iraqi autocrat or Iranian mullahs spoke in similar fashion about producing nuclear weapons and how they were to be used, they would be toast.

    Take ExxonMobil, one of the most profitable corporations in history. In early April, it released two reports that focused on how the company, as Bill McKibben has written, “planned to deal with the fact that [it] and other oil giants have many times more carbon in their collective reserves than scientists say we can safely burn." He went on:

    The company said that government restrictions that would force it to keep its [fossil fuel] reserves in the ground were 'highly unlikely,' and that they would not only dig them all up and burn them, but would continue to search for more gas and oil -- a search that currently consumes about $100 million of its investors’ money every single day. 'Based on this analysis, we are confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become "stranded."'

    In other words, Exxon plans to exploit whatever fossil fuel reserves it possesses to their fullest extent. Government leaders involved in supporting the production of such weapons of mass destruction and their use are often similarly open about it, even while also discussing steps to mitigate their destructive effects. Take the White House, for instance. Here was a statement President Obama proudly made in Oklahoma in March 2012 on his energy policy:

    Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That's important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75% of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.

    Similarly, on May 5th, just before the White House was to reveal that grim report on climate change in America, and with a Congress incapable of passing even the most rudimentary climate legislation aimed at making the country modestly more energy efficient, senior Obama adviser John Podesta appeared in the White House briefing room to brag about the administration’s “green” energy policy. “The United States,” he said, “is now the largest producer of natural gas in the world and the largest producer of gas and oil in the world. It's projected that the United States will continue to be the largest producer of natural gas through 2030. For six straight months now, we've produced more oil here at home than we've imported from overseas. So that's all a good-news story.”

    Good news indeed, and from Vladmir Putin’s Russia, which just expanded its vast oil and gas holdings by a Maine-sized chunk of the Black Sea off Crimea, to Chinese “carbon bombs,” to Saudi Arabian production guarantees, similar “good-news stories” are similarly promoted. In essence, the creation of ever more greenhouse gases -- of, that is, the engine of our future destruction -- remains a “good news” story for ruling elites on planet Earth.

    Weapons of Planetary Destruction

    We know exactly what Dick Cheney -- ready to go to war on a 1% possibility that some country might mean us harm -- would answer, if asked about acting on the 95% doctrine. Who can doubt that his response would be similar to those of the giant energy companies, which have funded so much climate-change denialism and false science over the years? He would claim that the science simply isn’t “certain” enough (though “uncertainty” can, in fact, cut two ways), that before we commit vast sums to taking on the phenomenon, we need to know far more, and that, in any case, climate-change science is driven by a political agenda.

    For Cheney & Co., it seemed obvious that acting on a 1% possibility was a sensible way to go in America’s “defense” and it’s no less gospel for them that acting on at least a 95% possibility isn’t. For the Republican Party as a whole, climate-change denial is by now nothing less than a litmus testof loyalty, and so even a 101% doctrine wouldn’t do when it comes to fossil fuels and this planet.

    No point, of course, in blaming this on fossil fuels or even the carbon dioxide they give off when burned. These are no more weapons of mass destruction than are uranium-235 and plutonium-239. In this case, the weaponry is the production system that’s been set up to find, extract, sell at staggering profits, and burn those fossil fuels, and so create a greenhouse-gas planet. With climate change, there is no “Little Boy” or “Fat Man” equivalent, no simple weapon to focus on. In this sense, fracking is the weapons system, as is deep-sea drilling, as are those pipelines, and the gas stations, and the coal-fueled power plants, and the millions of cars filling global roads, and the accountants of the most profitable corporations in history.

    All of it -- everything that brings endless fossil fuels to market, makes those fuels eminently burnable, and helps suppress the development of non-fossil fuel alternatives -- is the WMD. The CEOs of the planet's giant energy corporations are the dangerous mullahs, the true fundamentalists, of planet Earth, since they are promoting a faith in fossil fuels which is guaranteed to lead us to some version of End Times.

    Perhaps we need a new category of weapons with a new acronym to focus us on the nature of our present 95%-100% circumstances. Call them weapons of planetary destruction (WPD) or weapons of planetary harm (WPH). Only two weapons systems would clearly fit such categories. One would be nuclear weapons which, even in a localized war between Pakistan and India, could create some version of “nuclear winter” in which the planet was cut off from the sun by so much smoke and soot that it would grow colder fast, experience a massive loss of crops, of growing seasons, and of life. In the case of a major exchange of such weapons, we would be talking about “the sixth extinction” of planetary history.

    Though on a different and harder to grasp time-scale, the burning of fossil fuels could end in a similar fashion -- with a series of “irreversible” disasters that could essentially burn us and much other life off the Earth. This system of destruction on a planetary scale, facilitated by most of the ruling and corporate elites on the planet, is becoming (to bring into play another category not usually used in connection with climate change) the ultimate “crime against humanity” and, in fact, against most living things. It is becoming a “terracide.”