A World Getting Hotter
Hotter than hell used to be hyperbole! This summer has seen triple digit heat all over the U.S.; weird warming and weirder freezing conditions leaving crops destroyed; severe storms isolating thousands without electricity; droughts resulting in massive forest fires, and to date 46 heat related deaths.
Have we reached the tipping point? Has the long awaited and frequently touted apocalypse finally made its appearance? I don’t think so, but I do think we’ve got to make some changes pretty fast or our goose is cooked; and that may not be just a metaphor.
Global Climate Disruption: A Primer
First we have to understand what’s happening and why.
We owe our human existence to greenhouse gases – they’ve made our planet the nice warm cozy place to raise a family. The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, but there is also water vapor, methane, ozone, and nitrous oxide. These keep the sun’s rays close to the surface, warming water and land. Plant life conveniently exchanges carbon dioxide for oxygen, providing us with both something to breathe and eat.
Before the Industrial Revolution, we had about 275 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the air – it worked well for us. The Industrial Revolution, however, was a game changer in more ways than one. Not only did it pave the way for modern manufacturing and the comfortable lifestyle we covet, but it was based on burning our legacy from the dinosaur days – namely, fossil fuels: coal, oil, and its refinement, gasoline. For centuries we have been flooding the air with carbon dioxide and cutting the forests to make way for more people. We are now up to 393 ppm and climbing by about 2-3 ppm a year.
The scientific community has been warning us that there will be consequences to such rapid, human introduced heightened levels of greenhouse gases. In 2007, NASA climatologist James Hansen told a science conference that the bottom line for the planet was 350 ppm. That would be safe.
Unfortunately, the direction is only going upward, 393 ppm.
Scientists as Cassandra
Don’t remember Cassandra? In ancient Greek myth she came home with the victorious Greek general Agamemnon after ten years at Troy. Her burden to bear was to know the future and tell people, but no one would believe her – she would be sliced and diced by Agamemnon’s wife, but that’s another story.
So what have scientists been telling us will happen if we don’t get control of our addiction to coal, oil and gas, as well as the tendency to erase the rainforests?
Let’s make a list: increased surface temperatures; retreat of glaciers and melting of sea ice; rises in sea level; increases in intensity of extreme weather events such as heat waves, tornadoes, hurricanes, and heavy rainfall; longer, more severe droughts; species extinction; melting of permafrost (which speeds global warming); spread diseases because of increased range of insects; drops in agricultural yields; and acidification of oceans creating drops in fishing yields and death of coral reefs.
Now if this list was only theoretical, pointy-headed science stuff, one could ignore it, turn on the AC and eat some ice cream; but the reality is that it’s all happening! Evidence for the entire list has been reported and is growing. On July 16, 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released data saying that 55% of the continental U.S. was in a moderate to extreme drought. And they are discovering more: scientists recently learned that as temperatures rise more carbon dioxide is released from forest soils.
I don’t know about you gentle reader, but that stuff doesn’t sound healthy for humans and other living things. Why the hell aren’t we flashing those airport warnings: red alert, red alert? Why isn’t Cassandra being listened to?
Cui Bono (don’t you love this Greek and Latin stuff; can you tell I teach history?)
That little phrase up there means ‘to whose benefit’ and it’s a good question to ask when bad things are happening. The answer to this one isn’t rocket science: the coal, oil, and gasoline industries have ridden the tide of industrialization and are still high on the crest. They have lots of money, lots of political friends (most of the Republican Party), an entire television network (guess which one) and apparently would rather ride down our global Titanic rather than part with their loot. Sadly, their lucre can buy savvy ad agencies and influence television, radio, newspapers and Rupert Murdock on Twitter. All they have to do is plant doubt about climate science or cry economic catastrophe and the real catastrophe is ignored.
The developing world, India and China, are also in denial, striving to imitate the lifestyle of the West. With some justification, the Chinese and Indians ask why the West could build its comfort on coal and they can’t do the same. Domestic deniers can then say we won’t if they don’t. But change has to begin somewhere.
If you are going to sign up for the struggle for truth, justice and the American way, you should arm yourself. Peter Sinclair, Midland-based environmentalist, and his Climate Crock of the Week are great factual counters to the denier arguments and they’re readily available on YouTube. Also, www.realclimate.org is a site by real climate scientists as is the blog Climate Progress.
If you want something a little more immediate, let’s look at three arguments the defenders of carbon use.
Fight Denial with Science
Deniers: Climate scientists are not in agreement that global climate change is taking place.
In 2004, Naomi Oreskes writing in Science said…”there is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic (man-made) climate change…climate scientists have repeatedly tried to make this clear. It is time for the rest of us to listen.”1
In 2010, a Stanford University doctoral student, William R.L. Anderegg, compiled a database of 1,372 climate researchers and evaluated their positions. He found conclusive results, 97 to 98 percent of working climate scientists accept the evidence for human-induced climate change.2
The National Academy of Sciences released a report in 2011 called America’s Climate Choices. The report’s key findings: “climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.” Furthermore, this most prestigious of scientific organizations said, “these risks indicate a pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare for adapting to its impacts.”3
Deniers:We have had these warming and cooling spells in the past.
Well, yes, that’s what the deniers would say, but it just isn’t the same as today.
A 2011 Scientific American article discussed cyclical warming and cooling periods in earth’s history — natural ones. But they took a long time. Sixty-five million years ago, for example, the Cretaceous Hothouse was caused by volcanic eruptions, the warming lasted several million years and nearly all creatures had time to adapt or migrate. The authors are less sanguine about today — the changes are occurring within decades to hundreds of years, the result of humans burning fossil-fuels. The impact: “acidifying oceans; more extreme weather, glacier melting; sea-level rise”. 4 Your dinos warming and cooling aren’t today’s man-made warming.
Deniers: Weather is always variable; changes today are within the normal range of variation.
Oh yea, sure. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said that the past winter was the fourth-warmest on record in the United States. This spring, March, April, and May were the warmest since record keeping began in 1895. Associated Press science writer Seth Borensteinreported that 3,215 daily high temperature records were set in the month of June. The A.P. also reported 2.1 million acres have burned in wildfires, more than 113 million people in the U.S. were in areas under extreme heat advisories, two-thirds of the country is experiencing drought, and earlier in June, deluges flooded Minnesota and Florida.5
“This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level,” said Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona. “The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about.” 6
And there is nothing normal about the recent decade’s heat waves. Mark Hertsgaard in his 2011 book Hot: Living through the Next Fifty Years on Earth notes that places that are hot today will be much hotter in the future. “The effects will range from minor personal concerns – greater discomfort, sweatier bodies, shorter tempers–to deadly serious ones. A study sponsored by the European Union in 2008 that reexamined the data from its record summer heat of 2003 concluded that the heat wave caused at least 71,449 deaths.”7 Reports have been noting the vulnerability of the young and old to heat.
But wait a minute; you and I live in Michigan, center of the Great Lakes. In fact, recently we’ve tag-teamed on those freshwater treasures to rebrand ourselves the Great Lakes Bay Region, we have nothing to worry about — we’re in a great position to ride out the storm. Au contraire.
Michigan: On the Hot Seat
Climate data accumulated over the past 43 years shows that Michigan is the second fastest warming state in the country (Arizona is the first).8 Our winters are getting milder and our springs warmer, and this year we became only too aware of the results.
The early warming fooled our fruits and vegetables into budding early, then wham, the frost that followed wreaked havoc. Eighty percent of our sweet cherry crop and 90 percent of our tart cherries were destroyed. Michigan State University Extension has warned that Michigan’s blueberry crop is endangered. The Michigan Apple Committee reported that Michigan’s apple crop would be about 90 percent smaller this year because of the spring weather damage. Apples alone represent an estimated $900 million loss to Michigan’s economy.
Okay, if you’re not into fruits and vegetables how about water and air? Ozone is a great sunscreen when it’s up in sky — it stops ultraviolet rays from burning our skin. At ground level, ozone’s mixture of chemicals, sun and heat is scary. It causes a host of respiratory problems including increased asthma in kids. As a July 2, 2012, Detroit Free Press editorial noted, the eight-hour ozone level at a monitor in Detroit hit 110 parts per billion this summer, the highest rate detected in 20 years of monitoring.
At least we have the Great Lakes. Or will we? Scientists predict that reduced summer water levels are likely to diminish the recharge of groundwater and cause small streams to dry up; lake levels are expected to decline in both inland lakes and the Great Lakes, as more moisture evaporates due to warmer temperatures and less ice cover; and pressure to increase water extraction from the Great Lakes will grow.9
Wait, those are more than predictions, in the first week of July the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported Lakes Michigan and Huron were 8 inches lower than last year, while Lakes Erie and Ontario were 13 and 15 inches lower, respectively.
But we’ll at least have plenty to drink. Sure, but how much will we pay for it? It appears there will be less of it, and what remains will be more polluted. A 2008 study called Economic Impacts of Climate Change on Michigan has said: Public water sources originating at the Great Lakes may see their supplies compromised, as water levels decline. An additional stress on the system may come from more frequent rainfall events predicted by climate change models, which may cause flooding and a subsequent accumulation of pollutants, necessitating more expensive treatment of the resource.10
You might ask: are there any responsible adults in Michigan’s government that know any of this? As a matter of fact, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) in a 2011 paper called the Michigan Climate and Health Adaptation Plan sums things up pretty clearly: There is widespread scientific consensus that the world’s climate is changing. The effects of climate change are likely to include increasingly variable weather, heat waves, heavy precipitation events, flooding, droughts, intense storms, and air pollution. Each of these effects has the potential to negatively impact the health of Michigan’s citizens.11
But the focus is on adaptation, the proverbial band-aid. No government agency is working on reducing the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere. In fact, practices at the state level, including the little known Secondary Recovery (SEE: Michigan Legislature for Darwin Award) sacrifice precious water for oil, the very fossil fuel that creates the problem.
Governor Rick Snyder ran on a conservation platform but has not engaged on the climate issue either reactively or proactively. So what’s a citizen to do?
At the Crossroads: What You Can Do
If not the apocalypse, it’s pretty damn hot, and things aren’t getting any better. This leaves it up to individuals and public interest groups, as well as courageous elected officials willing to take on the fossil fuel lobby and their substantial political allies. We’ve got to drawback to 350 ppm of carbon dioxide.
Alternatives to fossil fuel exist: solar, wind, geothermal, and conservation. A combination could wean us off fossil fuels. All are sound ways to produce electricity or become more efficient without loss of lifestyle or economic progress, but they take time and funding.
Although several international conferences have been held, the U.S., India and China remain obstinate about committing to mandatory enforceable restrictions on burning fossil fuels for fear of restricting their economic development. In the U.S. the political costs to opposing the carbon interests also makes change difficult. So, again, what can we do?
There are many individual choices, lifestyle changes, and consumer decisions that each of us can do to reduce our carbon footprint, but space does not permit an adequate listing. I would encourage you to explore individual efforts through such websites as www.earth911.com, www.climatecare.org, or www.epa.gov/climatechange
The reality is, however, that it will take more than individual efforts. As the author of Hot: Living through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, Mark Hertsgaard says, “Individuals can plant trees, conserve water and do a thousand other valuable things, but it is government that must build seawalls and set overall energy and economic policies.”
To make a difference will require collective effort, joining numbers and resources to influence government. I would highly recommend joining and funding national organizations and their state affiliates such as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, and 350.org
We also must support those elected officials and candidates for elected office who support a sustainable environment. In order to make an informed electoral decision I would urge using the national League of Conservation Voters and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
In Michigan, we have a unique opportunity, thanks to the concerted effort of unions, businesses, and the environmental community coming together in a coalition called Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs. They have created a proposal for Michigan’s November 6, 2012, ballot that would require that 25 percent of Michigan’s energy come from renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass by 2025(SEE: Michigan’s Clean Renewable Electric Energy Standard)
According to the Michigan Environmental Council, the coalition estimates that a successful25 percent renewable energy standard would bring $10 billion of investment to Michigan, keep taxpayer dollars here in our state, and create tens of thousands of jobs for Michigan workers in the fast-growing clean energy sector. It would also help protect ratepayers from spikes and wild fluctuations in prices by diversifying the state’s energy grid. Costs for wind and sunlight will continue to be zero, compared to prices for coal delivered to Michigan, which have doubled since 2005.
More than 530,000 petition signatures have been submitted to the Michigan Secretary of State to place the issue on the ballot. But this will be a huge fight, with Michigan’s two major utilities, Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison (DTE Energy) joined by the Chamber of Commerce, opposing the initiative. This effort has a tremendous potential to redirect Michigan’s energy future and create jobs, we must see it pass.
Michigan has an opportunity to join several other Great Lakes’ states that have already declared for change, Illinois (25%), Minnesota (25%), Ohio (12.5%) and New York (30%), but we will have to overcome money power with people power.
Then there is our backyard. With the background you now have, talk to friends and family. Both the Saginaw Valley Sustainability Society (SVSS) and the Lone Tree Council raise consciousness around the 350 goal. The groups have held annual Mothers and Others March for Clean Energy in Bay City in May – watch for it. Next month they will have the Second Annual Green Concert at the World Cafe(SEE: AD on Page 2). SVSS has a community garden in Bay City and teaches ways to reduce individuals’ carbon footprint. Lone Tree Council works closely with state organizations like the Michigan Environmental Council and Sierra Club Mackinaw Chapter as well as national groups to oppose fossil fuel burning and address toxic ash from coal plants.
Bill McKibben, father of the 350 movement in his book The End of Nature said “There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad to pretend that it’s not really there.”
We are at a crossroads, and there is no more pretending – join us!
Those who would deny the reality of man-made global climate disruption should be reminded of the consensus: American Association for the Advancement of Science; American Meteorological Society; American Academy of Pediatrics; American Chemical Society; American Public Health Association; American Geophysical Union; American Medical Association; American Institute of Biological Sciences; National Research Council; U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
- “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change”, Naomi Oreskes, Science, December 3, 2004.
- “Study Affirms Consensus on Climate Change, Justin Gills, Green Blog, The New York Times, June 22, 2010.
- National Academies’ Office of News and Public Information at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-334-2138.
- “The Last Great Global Warming,” Lee R. Kump, Scientific American, July 2011, p. 57.
- “Climate Change: U.S. Heat Waves, Wildfires and Flooding Are ‘What Global Warming Looks Like”, Seth Borenstein, Associated Press, July 3, 2012.
- Borenstein, Associated, Press.
- Hertsgaard, Mark, Hot: Living through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011, p. 51.
- “Great Lakes Cities Smash Long-time Heat Records”, Jennifer Kalish, Great Lakes Echo, June 21, 2012.
- “Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region,” Union of Concerned Scientists and the Ecological Society of America, 2003.
- “Economic Impacts of Climate Change on Michigan”, A Review and Assessment Conducted by The Center for Integrative Environmental Research, University of Maryland, July 2008, p. 12
- “Michigan Climate and Health Adaptation Plan 2010-2015 Strategic Plan”, Michigan Department of Community Health Division of Environmental Health, January 18, 2011.
Michigan Legislature Nominated for Darwin Award * Oil for Water
The ‘Darwin Award’ is a tongue-in-cheek award created by Wendy Northcutt to recognize individuals who contribute to evolution by self-selecting themselves out of the gene pool through putting themselves unnecessarily in life-threatening situations.
Water makes life possible. Up to 60% of our bodies are composed of water, plus we drink it, wash with it, grow with it and fish in it. We also stupidly exchange it for oil at a rate of 8 gallons of water for 1 gallon of oil.
Secondary recovery of water flooding is a common method of extracting oil by injecting large amounts of water into old wells forcing the oil out. With nothing more than an application feel, Michigan allows local municipalities to sell our water to developers who then literally send it down a hole.
According to Hal Fitch, assistant supervisor of wells for the Michigan Office of Geological Survey, “When you drill up a field you might get 30 percent of the oil out of the reserve, so 70% is left behind. If you undertake secondary recovery, you can recover maybe another 20-25 percent.” But in Michigan, water flooding or secondary recovery is not on the legislature’s radar.
Larry Organek, an engineer for the Michigan Office of Geological Survey, said the state DEQ isn’t keeping records of how much water is being used in total for the more than 50 secondary recovery projects currently in operation in the state.
One local example of the process is in the Kawkawlin Project in Bay County. On the third phase of extraction this year the Muskegon Development Co. will flood old oil wells with up to 42,000 gallons of water a day. The water usage would last for up to 8 years, according to State records, for a total of more than 122 million gallons over the life of the project. That is water lost to drinking & irrigation and it mixes with brine and oil products underground.
The state requires no treatment. This is a single project and the state has fifty ongoing with no accounting. But it gets scarier. Michigan regulators say the practice of secondary recovery using water has been growing in the state in the wake of $4.00 a gallon gas prices, and crude oil about $100 a barrel.
Maybe when the state legislature gets done liberalizing fireworks, removing helmets from bikers, controlling women’s reproductive rights, and allowing developers to golf our dunes, they’ll recall why Michigan is called the Water Wonderland and get around to finding how much water we’re losing and tend to the business of more effectively protecting our most precious state resource.