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A War Reporter Covers “The End of Ice”–And It Will Change the Way You Think About Climate Catastrophe

2Photos: Getty Images Animation: The Intercept

A WAR REPORTER COVERS “THE END OF ICE” — AND IT WILL CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK ABOUT CLIMATE CATASTROPHE

FOCUSING ON BREATH and gratitude, Dahr Jamail’s latest book, “The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption,” stitches together personal introspection and gut-wrenching interviews with leading climate experts. The rapidly receding glaciers of Denali National Park, home to the highest peak in North America, inspired the book’s title. “Seven years of climbing in Alaska had provided me with a front-row seat from where I could witness the dramatic impact of human-caused climate disruption,” Jamail writes.

With vividly descriptive storytelling, Jamail pushes further north into the Arctic Circle where warming is occurring at double speed. He surveys rapid changes in the Pribilof Islands, where indigenous communities have had to contend with die-offs affecting seabirds, fur seals, fish, and more — a collapsing food web. The story continues in the fragile Great Barrier Reef, utterly ravaged by the warming ocean. South Florida is faring no better: Jamail finds that 2.46 million of the state’s acreage will be submerged within his lifetime. Experts are aghast everywhere Jamail visits. In the Amazon, rich in biodiversity, the consequences are especially enormous.

“The End of Ice” readers won’t find calls for technology-based solutions, politicians, mitigating emissions, or the Green New Deal to save us.

Describing the current state of the planet, Jamail likens it to someone in hospice care. The global mean temperature is already 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Not half a decade ago, leading climate scientist James Hansen warned that that one degree would usher in a crisis of sea level rise, melting Arctic ice, and extreme weather. He concluded that the goal of limiting global warming to only 2 degrees was “very dangerous.”

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Silver Linings in the Very Dark Cloud of Climate Catastrophe

SILVER LININGS IN THE VERY DARK CLOUD OF CLIMATE CATASTROPHE

We actually do not have all the time in the world, so I am going to be bold.  What you do after you finish reading this is your business and ultimately, that is exactly as it should be. We may all be facets of a larger Oneness, tiny sparks of the Divine dwelling in human form, but for the moment—allowing the potential truth of a larger connection–we are very clearly individuals, each with our own experience and outlook. We have our own ways of coping and to some extent, each of us charts a unique course through this life. We are often granted some choice about how we live and how we die, though most of us vastly prefer to focus on the former.  

Even there, we tend to let life happen, getting pulled from one urgency to another amusement without full consciousness of how we spend the time. “Where did the time go?” is a plaintive query, often-expressed. “Time flies!” When you are having fun, when you are busy, when you aren’t fully present.  Life happens to us  more often than most of us would like to admit.  But still, we can always meet it–our life—where we find it today and choose differently how we experience the flow of time, how we interact with the circumstances we have been given and crafted for ourselves.  Such is the beauty of being alive.

As for dying—it is arguably the biggest taboo in first world cultures.  Whereas nearly every shamanic tradition teaches students the imperative of carrying death close by at all times, we’re not so comfortable dealing with it in the West, and thus we lose out on a lot of life.  

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Climate Change and the Limits of Reason

Climate Change and the Limits of Reason

Modern urban-industrial man is given to the raping of anything and everything natural on which he can fasten his talons.  He rapes the sea; he rapes the soil; the natural resources of the earth.  He rapes the atmosphere.  He rapes the future of his own civilization.  Instead of living off of nature’s surplus, which he ought to do, he lives off its substance. He would not need to do this were he less numerous, and were he content to live a more simple life.  But he is prepared neither to reduce his numbers nor to lead a simpler and more healthful life.  So he goes on destroying his own environment, like a vast horde of locusts.  And he must be expected, persisting blindly as he does in this depraved process,to put an end to his own existence within the next century.  The years 2000 to 2050 should witness, in fact, the end of the great Western civilization.  The Chinese, more prudent and less spoiled, no less given to over-population but prepared to be more ruthless in the control of its effects, may inherent the ruins.

– George Kennan, diary entry, March 21, 1977

But as I grow older I realize how limited a part reason plays in the conduct of men.  They believe what they want to—and although liable to shipwreck they generally get off with a hole in the bottom of their boat and stick an old coat into that.

– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (to Harold Laski), December 26, 1917

We all see what’s happening, we read it in the headlines every day, but seeing isn’t believing and believing isn’t accepting.

– Roy Scranton, We’re Doomed. Now What?

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World wakes up to scale of climate challenge, so what should a Labor government do?

World wakes up to scale of climate challenge, so what should a Labor government do?

Quite suddenly, in the wake of the recent IPCC report, it’s become commonplace to talk about a global climate emergency. Al Gore told PBS on 12 October: “We have a global emergency. You use a phrase like that and some people immediately say, ‘okay calm down, it can’t be that bad.’ But it it is.”

On 9 October, a stunning editorial was published in the UK. “The Guardian view on climate change: a global emergency” opened with the sentence: “Climate change is an existential risk to the human race.”

Image Source: Climate Code Red.

A year ago, that would have been extraordinary, but no longer. (An existential risk is one that poses permanent large negative consequences to humanity which can never be undone, or an adverse outcome that would either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential).

n many ways, the recent IPCC report on 1.5°C was too conservative, overestimating the length time till we hit 
1.5°C, and failing to account for crucial feedbacks in the climate system.

Yet the report’s evidence was that 2°C of warming would be catastrophic in so many ways, including for sea-level rise, for coral systems, and for food and water security of hundreds of millions of people, if not more.

The current Paris commitments are a path to 3.4°C of warming, and closer to 5°C when the full range of feedbacks are included.

But even an understatement of the evidence leads to radical conclusions. In response to the report’s release, there was a certain shock and awe, for example by Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone (“What’s Another Way to Say ‘We’re F-cked’?”) and David Wallace-Wells in New York Magazine (“UN Says Climate Genocide Is Coming. It’s Actually Worse Than That”).

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Climate catastrophe: The median is NOT the message

Climate catastrophe: The median is NOT the message

Anyone who has followed the climate change issue in the last 30 years knows that official forecasts provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are quickly upended by developments and have often been obsolete before they were issued.

The latest report from the IPCC is the first, however, to abandon the measured tone of its previous ones and foretell what it considers a climate catastrophe for human civilization unless the world makes an abrupt U-turn and begins dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions almost immediately.

And yet, even this forecast is probably too conservative in its pronouncements. That’s according to Michael Mann, a climate researcher whose famous “hockey stick” graph has been central to understanding the rise in global temperatures and has been replicated again and again using other measures of historical worldwide temperatures.

What is little understood by the public is that humans have been underestimating the pace and impact of climate change since Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius first suggested in 1896 that the globe was warming due to emissions of carbon dioxide.

Which brings me to a broader point: The public tends to hear most often about the median values or middle-of-the road scenarios in any forecast, sometimes called the reference case. (Very little emphasis is put on the range of possibilities. For example, the IPCC in 2000 forecast that global average temperature could be 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Centigrade higher than the 1990 level by 2100.)

Today, we find ourselves fretting that going beyond a 1.5-degree increase from pre-industrial times will spell catastrophe involving global agriculture, severe weather, sea-level rise, and disease epidemics. Previously, 2 degrees was thought to be the threshold for severe irretrievable consequences resulting from climate change.

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We Need an Ecological Civilization Before It’s Too Late

We Need an Ecological Civilization Before It’s Too Late

In the face of climate breakdown and ecological overshoot, alluring promises of “green growth” are no more than magical thinking. We need to restructure the fundamentals of our global cultural/economic system to cultivate an “ecological civilization”: one that prioritizes the health of living systems over short-term wealth production. 

We’ve now been warned by the world’s leading climate scientists that we have just twelve years to limit climate catastrophe. The UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has put the world on notice that going from a 1.5° to 2.0° C rise in temperature above preindustrial levels would have disastrous consequences across the board, with unprecedented flooding, drought, ocean devastation, and famine.

Oxfam_East_Africa_-_A_mass_grave_for_children_in_Dadaab
A global crisis of famine and mass starvation looms unless we can turn around the trajectory of our civilization

Meanwhile, the world’s current policies have us on track for more than 3° increase by the end of this century, and climate scientists publish dire warnings that amplifying feedbacks could make things far worse than even these projections, and thus place at risk the very continuation of our civilization. We need, according to the IPCC, “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” But what exactly does that mean?

Last month, at the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco, luminaries such as Governor Jerry Brown, Michael Bloomberg, and Al Gore gave their version of what’s needed with an ambitious report entitled “Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Century by the New Climate Economy.” It trumpets a New Growth Agenda: through enlightened strategic initiatives, they claim, it’s possible to transition to a low-carbon economy that could generate millions more jobs, raise trillions of dollars for green investment, and lead to higher global GDP growth.

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Some Thoughts On Climate Change

Some Thoughts On Climate Change

A new IPCC report written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries who analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies says we’re looking at climate catastrophe as early as 2040 unless changes are made worldwide on a scale and speed which has no historic precedent. $54 trillion worth of damage is predicted to result from the 1.5 degree Celsius rise in global average temperatures we’re expected to be facing at that time if drastic changes are not made.

To be clear, when climate scientists talk about a 1.5 degree hike in global average temperatures, they are not saying that days will tend to be around 1.5 degrees warmer, which doesn’t sound bad at all. What they are saying is that there will be drastic heat spikes which elevate the overall average by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) around the globe. This means moving into a world which sees sea levels rising and destroying coastal and island civilizations, it means mass famine due to destruction of crops from heat spikes in summer months, freezes in the winter and other extreme weather events, it means potential worldwide violence and predation as livable regions and resources become scarce on a rapidly changing planet.

This is coming off the back of the Trump administration’s seamless shift from claiming climate change is a Chinese hoax to saying it’s very real and very bad but there’s nothing that can be done about it. In a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Trump’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that a temporary freeze in fuel efficiency requirements for cars won’t be that big of a deal in terms of environmental impact because we’re headed toward a four degree Celsius increase in global average temperatures by the end of the century and avoiding that “would require substantial increases in technology innovation and adoption compared to today’s levels and would require the economy and the vehicle fleet to move away from the use of fossil fuels, which is not currently technologically feasible or economically feasible.”

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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