Soggy Sunday: There can be no climate action without fresh water.

There are a lot of reasons why I keep stressing the need for ecosystem management as the core of our climate action. We have, throughout our history, been utterly dependent on the natural world, even as we have been destroying it in the name of endless “growth”. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the medicines that keep us alive, the materials we use to shelter ourselves from the elements – all of it ties back to so-called “nature”, because we are a part of it.

That means that as we work to end greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to the changes we’ve already caused, we must also change how we do business in other areas. Ending our direct contribution to warming will mean little if we increase other forms of pollution as we do it. It’s not as simple as swapping out what kind of fuel powers our society, and if we pretend that the climate is our only existential environmental threat, then we will continue driving ourselves toward extinction through other means.

A holistic approach is going to mean a lot of things, but when it comes down to it, none of that is possible without continual access to fresh water. That may seem obvious, but it’s cause for real concern, as this report made for COP27 discusses:

The report titled: “The essential drop to reach Net-Zero: Unpacking Freshwater’s Role in Climate Change Mitigation,” released November 9 2022 at COP27 in harm El-Sheikh, is the first-ever summary of current research on the role of water in climate mitigation. A key message is the need to better understand global water shortages and scarcity in order to plan climate targets that do not backfire in future. If not planned carefully, negative impacts of climate action on freshwater resources might threaten water security and even increase future adaptation and mitigation burdens.

“Most of the measures needed to reach net-zero carbon targets can have a big impact on already dwindling freshwater resources around the world,” said Dr Lan Wang Erlandsson from Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. “With better planning, such risks can be reduced or avoided.”

The report describes why, where, and how freshwater should be integrated into climate change mitigation plans to avoid unexpected consequences and costly policy mistakes. Even efforts usually associated with positive climate action – such as forest restoration or bioenergy – can have negative impacts if water supplies are not considered.

Done right, however, water-related and nature-based solutions can instead address both the climate crisis and other challenges, said Dr Malin Lundberg Ingemarsson from Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

“We have identified water risks, but also win-win solutions that are currently not used to their full potential. One example is restoration of forests and wetlands which bring social, ecological, and climate benefits all at once. Another example is that better wastewater treatment can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from untreated wastewater, while improving surface water and groundwater quality, and even provide renewable energy through biogas.”

That was when I decided I actually wanted to write about this a bit. “Nature-based solutions” are exactly what we need. As dangerous as heat waves and storms may be, one of the biggest dangers to our species is the breakdown of ecosystem services, of which most people seem to be largely unaware. I couldn’t say the exact numbers, but for all we must spend trillions on ending fossil fuel use, I think we should also spend trillions on ecosystem restoration and support. Even if we weren’t depleting both ground and surface water, and even if we weren’t poisoning what remains with reckless abandon, the melting of mountain glaciers around the world means that before long, billions could lose their primary water source. We need to be actively working to build up ecosystems, because they aren’t just affected by the weather, they affect the weather. Deforestation means less rainfall. That’s going to vary from ecosystem to ecosystem, but it’s not hard to understand.

Plants don’t just absorb rainwater, they also transfer it from the ground to the air. Trees in particular act as giant vaporizers, humidifying the air around their crowns. That, in turn, helps create rain downwind, or even sometimes right over the same forest. That movement of water, as I’ve discussed before, also moves heat around, which can help mitigate extreme heat, which affects everyone’s need for water. My insistence on viewing ourselves as a part of nature isn’t some spiritual feeling of connection, it’s a simple fact, supported by overwhelming evidence.

The report highlights five key messages on the interlinkage between water and mitigation:

• Climate mitigation measures depend on freshwater resources. Climate mitigation planning and action need to account for current and future freshwater availability.
•  Freshwater impacts – both positive and negative – need to be evaluated and included in climate mitigation planning and action.
•  Water and sanitation management can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. More efficient drinking water and sanitation services save precious freshwater resources and reduce emissions.
•  Nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change can deliver multiple benefits for people and the environment. Measures safeguarding freshwater resources, protecting biodiversity, and ensuring resilient livelihoods are crucial.
•  Joint water and climate governance need to be coordinated and strengthened. Mainstreaming freshwater in all climate mitigation planning and action requires polycentric and inclusive governance.

“Climate change mitigation efforts will not succeed if failing to consider water needs,” said Marianne Kjellén, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “Water must be part of powerful solutions for enhancing ecosystem resilience, preserving biodiversity and regenerative food and energy production systems. In short, water security needs to be factored in to climate action,” she adds.

There’s a part of me that simply cannot believe that that last thought needs to be spelled out. How could anybody possibly think that we could respond to the threat of climate change without factoring in water? Hasn’t everyone been talking about “the coming water wars” for years? But, of course, action on that end of things has been woefully inadequate, just as it has been in every other area. Not only that, but the system we’re trying to change uses war not just to control people, but also to generate profit. Those of us still connected to our humanity hear “water wars” and think of the horrors of war, and perhaps the horrors of water scarcity. The rich and powerful, particularly in the United States, think of all the money they’ll make by converting raw resources into dead bodies, ravaged landscapes, and fat paychecks. There’s also a rather large portion of the population that is ideologically committed to the belief that a magical being put this entire cosmos here for “us” (which means the rich and powerful) to do with as we see fit. So yeah – it needs to be spelled out. For a lot of people, I’m afraid we’ll have to change the world around them, and hope their minds change afterwards, but in the meantime, it’s good to figure out what we should be doing about the water problem.

While I hope to go through the report more thoroughly, and write about its contents, I’ve had such intentions in the past. I’m approaching a year of daily posting (not counting the time I took off for Raksha’s death), which is a strange new experience for me, so hopefully I’ll actually be able to follow through this time. Still, maintaining work on my current novel is a more important right now, so in the meantime, here’s a link to the report, all nicely laid out by section. If you want me make this project (or any other) more of a priority, I’ll take that into consideration once you sign up at patreon.com/oceanoxia and send me a message about it.

It is a simple fact that on this planet, water is life. It’s also a fact that when we have tried to, we’ve been able to clean up polluted bodies of water, restore ecosystems, and bring species back from the brink of extinction. We do have the resources and understanding to make the world better, all we lack is a political an economic system that values doing so.


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It’s not just the flooding: Hurricanes as heat pumps

While I don’t know a whole lot about the demographics of my readership, I’m going to assume that most of you have at least a passing familiarity with the water cycle. Maybe it’s just me, but when I learned about it as a kid, I learned about it as a description of the movement of water around the surface of the planet. The water cycle is about water. Straightforward, yes?

Then, a few years ago, I was writing a climate science lesson, and I had a minor revelation. The water cycle also describes the movement of energy in our atmosphere. When water evaporates, it effectively absorbs the heat required to keep it in a gaseous state. That cools off the place where the evaporation happens, which is why our own ability to regulate our temperatures relies heavily on evaporation. So now you have that water vapor, kept in that state by a combination of temperature and pressure. It rises up, and after a certain point reaches a low enough pressure and temperature to condense, which turns it into water droplets (clouds, rain, mist, etc), and warms up the air around them. That heat was just transported, as water vapor, from one part of the world to another. Of course, that same bit of water might absorb and release heat like that many times over before it falls back to the ground. If you watch clouds for long enough, on a mostly clear day, you can see some of them forming, or even some that fade in and out of existence as they move through pressure gradients shifting from gas to droplets, and back to gas again.

As I said, this may all be obvious to you, but for some reason it never really clicked in my head until I was actually studying the movement of heat energy in our atmosphere. From that perspective, when enough water fell on Pakistan to submerge one third of the entire country, a huge amount of heat was released into the air above. It’s been interesting to think about, but I couldn’t begin to tell you what predictive value that has for our day to day lives. It could mean that we should expect heat to follow flooding, but if the air warmed is pretty high up to begin with, would that follow? Further, all that water starts evaporating again, sucking up more heat. Fortunately, the world need not wait for people like me to puzzle this stuff out. A team out of Arizona has  found that when a tropical cyclone hits a city, it causes a spike in temperature in the days that follow. 

Three days after Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico in mid-September, the National Weather Service issued an extreme heat advisory, warning that the heat index – which incorporates humidity to calculate perceived temperature – could reach up to 109 degrees.

Above-average temperatures almost always follow tropical cyclones – which by definition include tropical storms and hurricanes – and may soar to nearly 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than average, according to a new University of Arizona-led study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The study’s authors stressed that their results are likely conservative estimates of just how high temperatures can climb following a cyclone.

Tropical cyclones often cause damage from strong winds, storm surges, intense rain and flooding, but extreme heat is an additional hazard, the researchers found. Above-average temperatures can occur days later and even in nearby areas that were not directly impacted by the storm.

“Multiple extreme events happening within a very short window of time can complicate disaster recovery,” said lead study author Zackry Guido, an assistant research professor in the university’s School of Natural Resources and Environment and the Arizona Institutes for Resilience: Solutions for Environment and Societies, or AIRES. “To medical providers, heat is a concern. Our results suggest that tropical cyclone preparedness should also include public information about heat risk.”

The research team analyzed 53 tropical cyclones in the eastern Caribbean between 1991 and 2020 and 205 interactions between the cyclones and 14 Caribbean cities. They found that the cities’ heat index values were always warmer than average after the storm.

“Everyone’s focus is on the destructive power of tropical storms and hurricanes – the storm surge, winds, flooding – and that’s obviously quite substantial, but our focus is on the combined hazard of storm and subsequent heat,” Guido said. “Hurricanes are massive heat pumps, redistributing heat for a large spatial distance around the center of the storm, and they leave massive destruction in their wake that can knock out the energy grid. That combination is often dangerous because it slows recovery and poses risks to human health.”

While the paper doesn’t explore how climate change may be impacting the phenomenon, the authors expect that high heat index values following tropical cyclones will increase in the future.

“It’s very easy to understand the climate change impacts of this,” Guido said. “Our future will likely have hurricanes dropping more intense rain and have more people in harm’s way. Then, if you drape on top of that a hotter environment, you will therefore expect a greater overall impact.”

That makes a lot of sense to me. The proportion of tropical cyclones that become hurricanes or typhoons is increasing in part because weaker ones are being cut off by increased wind shear, and in part because the oceans are warming so rapidly. The strength of the storm generally ties directly to sea surface temperatures, which means that the amount of heat that that storm pumps into an area is also going to go up.

In terms of impacts, a big storm like that means that in addition to the heat dumped, there’s also an increase in humidity (the other factor in the heat index). That means a higher chance of hitting “wet bulb” conditions, in which people can die fast without artificial cooling. Losing power – as so often happens – becomes that much more dangerous. At the same time, floods can contaminate the water supply, which could leave those trying to survive with a choice between lethal dehydration or drinking water that will probably make them sick.

I get why the water cycle wasn’t taught to me as a way that heat moves around in the atmosphere, but it seems that that’s a perspective we’ll need to keep in mind going forward.


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Combatting the frustration of slow change in a time of crisis

I talk a lot about the need for rapid systemic change, and I sometimes worry that I don’t do a good enough job drawing a line between the kinds of individual action for which I advocate, and the scale of change that I want to see in the world. I’ve been hoping for something to help build a sort of social momentum on climate change for a long time. Back in 2011 or so, I started advocating for members of the New England Quaker community who could, to contribute to a loan fund so members of that community could get zero-interest loans for stuff like solar panels, batteries, heat pumps, and so on. The idea was to have people pay back the loan out of savings on their power bills (always assuming they could afford to), and then contribute a little extra, as able, to grow the fund and help the next person. Ideally, over time, the number of people helped by that project would grow, and the speed at which they could make change would increase. There have definitely been a number of group efforts on solar panel installation since then, but I don’t know if anything that organized ever cropped up.

Since then, as you may have noticed, I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to address the systemic problems that are blocking climate action, but that basic principle remains the same – if you have the patience to do things right at the beginning, you build a movement that’s flexible, hard to eradicate, and capable of achieving great things seemingly overnight. Rebecca Solnit wrote an essay that discussed similar topics a while back, and she recently shared this cartoon illustrating a section of that essay.

For those of you who can’t see it, the image in the tweet is three horizontal, rectangular panels, arranged vertically under the title, “Mushroomed:”. The top panel has a picture of a single mushroom, the second shows several in a cluster, and the third shows a cross-section of the soil, revealing all of those mushrooms to be part of the same organism lying beneath the soil. The images are accompanied by the following excerpt from Solnit’s essay:

After a rain mushrooms appear on the surface of the earth as if from nowhere. Many come from a sometimes vast underground fungus that remains invisible and largely unknown. What we call mushrooms, mycologists call the fruiting body of the larger, less visible fungus.

The passage in question then goes on to make the metaphor explicit:

Uprisings and revolutions are often considered to be spontaneous, but it is the less visible long-term organising and groundwork – or underground work – that often laid the foundation. Changes in ideas and values also result from work done by writers, scholars, public intellectuals, social activists and participants in social media. To many, it seems insignificant or peripheral until very different outcomes emerge from transformed assumptions about who and what matters, who should be heard and believed, who has rights.

Right now we’re at the foundation-laying stage. We’re forming those underground connections (called “hyphae“, if you’re interested), and extending our ability to interact, pool resources, and plan for the future. For me, this process is frustrating, and painfully slow, but it’s important to recognize that the small actions we take can be part of much larger change, especially of those actions are made with the larger change in mind. Altering consumer choices is an “individual change”, but it’s one that has proven itself to be incapable of supporting the more dramatic change that we need. To switch back to the building metaphor, it’s a weak foundation. It might support a small shack above, but any attempt at something bigger will collapse.


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Good news: Bioengineered photosynthesis hack promises to dramatically increase yields in a variety of crops

Norman Borlaug is widely credited for saving a billion people from starvation. This comes from his development of high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties, which play a real role in the over-abundance of food we currently produce. It remains the fact that, despite hunger still being a big problem in the world, we produce enough food to feed billions more people than are currently alive. Nobody starves because we can’t feed them – they starve because their miserable deaths are more profitable than their lives. That said, I fully expect climate change to cause ever-increasing difficulties for the conventional farming practices on which we rely. This means that even if we do manage to build a society that values life, we may be hard-pressed to grow enough food to keep people alive on a rapidly warming planet. No matter what the future holds, Borlaug’s work will continue saving lives in to the future. It now appears that there may be another similar advance in another staple crop – soybeans:

Photosynthesis, the natural process all plants use to convert sunlight into energy and yield, is a surprisingly inefficient 100+ step process that RIPE researchers have been working to improve for more than a decade. In this first-of-its-kind work, recently published in Science, the group improved the VPZ construct within the soybean plant to improve photosynthesis and then conducted field trials to see if yield would be improved as a result.

The VPZ construct contains three genes that code for proteins of the xanthophyll cycle, which is a pigment cycle that helps in the photoprotection of the plants. Once in full sunlight, this cycle is activated in the leaves to protect them from damage, allowing leaves to dissipate the excess energy. However, when the leaves are shaded (by other leaves, clouds, or the sun moving in the sky) this photoprotection needs to switch off so the leaves can continue the photosynthesis process with a reserve of sunlight. It takes several minutes for the plant to switch off the protective mechanism, costing plants valuable time that could have been used for photosynthesis.

The overexpression of the three genes from the VPZ construct accelerates the process, so every time a leaf transitions from light to shade the photoprotection switches off faster. Leaves gain extra minutes of photosynthesis which, when added up throughout the entire growing season, increases the total photosynthetic rate. This research has shown that despite achieving a more than 20% increase in yield, seed quality was not impacted.

“Despite higher yield, seed protein content was unchanged. This suggests some of the extra energy gained from improved photosynthesis was likely diverted to the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the plant’s nodules,” said RIPE Director Stephen Long (CABBI/BSD/GEGC), Ikenberry Endowed University Chair of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology.

This is very, very, very good news. As a species, we currently get about 17% of our protein from the oceans, and that is devastating oceanic ecosystems. While many of us really need to decrease our protein intake, the fact remains that we need to stop commercial fishing. That means that we’re going to need alternate sources of protein – doubly so because we really ought to get rid of most animal agriculture (though we need to keep some for those with dietary restrictions, and we need to guarantee access to good food, so the decrease in animal agriculture doesn’t suddenly make it astronomically expensive to exist if you require meat to survive). As with most innovations, this one by itself isn’t going to solve all our problems. That said, this could solve a lot of problems, and make it much easier to feed people despite the decline in good farming conditions around the world.

What’s more, this innovation is not limited to soybeans – it seems like it could be used for a wide variety of crops:

The researchers first tested their idea in tobacco plants because of the ease of transforming the crop’s genetics and the amount of seeds that can be produced from a single plant. These factors allow researchers to go from genetic transformation to a field trial within months. Once the concept was proven in tobacco, they moved into the more complicated task of putting the genetics into a food crop, soybeans.

“Having now shown very substantial yield increases in both tobacco and soybean, two very different crops, suggests this has universal applicability,” said Long. “Our study shows that realizing yield improvements is strongly affected by the environment. It is critical to determine the repeatability of this result across environments and further improvements to ensure the environmental stability of the gain.”

Additional field tests of these transgenic soybean plants are being conducted this year, with results expected in early 2023.

“The major impact of this work is to open the roads for showing that we can bioengineer photosynthesis and improve yields to increase food production in major crops,” said De Souza. “It is the beginning of the confirmation that the ideas ingrained by the RIPE project are a successful means to improve yield in major food crops.”

The RIPE project and its sponsors are committed to ensuring Global Access and making the project’s technologies available to the farmers who need them the most.

“This has been a road of more than a quarter century for me personally,” said Long. “Starting first with a theoretical analysis of theoretical efficiency of crop photosynthesis, simulation of the complete process by high-performance computation, followed by application of optimization routines that indicated several bottlenecks in the process in our crops. Funding support over the past ten years has now allowed us to engineer alleviation of some of these indicated bottlenecks and test the products at field scale. After years of trial and tribulation, it is wonderfully rewarding to see such a spectacular result for the team.”

Combined with changes in farming practices, an increase in indoor farming, and increased reliance on things like microalgae and edible bacteria, this could save billions of lives, if we can build a society that sees that as a thing worth doing.


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Farmer: It looks like we’re avoiding mass famine this year.

The Majority Report has a farmer who calls in regularly from Nebraska, mostly to talk about the state of grain production both in the US, and globally. I’ve posted some of his calls before, because I find them useful. Longtime readers will know that I’ve been worried about the state of global food production for a while now, and that worry was increased by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, plus the many, record-breaking droughts that have been happening around the world this past year. As with a lot of good news relating to the climate, this is good because it means we’ve probably got a bit more time before catastrophe becomes unavoidable. That means more time for countries to try to change how they grow food.

I’ll be going more into this soon, but when it comes to food shortages, the middle and upper classes of rich, mostly white nations will see prices rise, but we are unlikely to actually starve at this stage. What will happen instead, is that food that would normally go to countries in Africa, in particular, will be diverted to places like the United States, Western Europe, and so on. It’s good that we’re probably not there yet, but make no mistake – that will come if we don’t change things. I’ve included a partial transcript of the video below, to cover Kowalski’s reasoning for this sort-of-rosy prediction.

[…]
It is looking like the U.S. is going to be producing very similar to last year. Not exactly a record, [but] mildly above average, which is good. Commodity prices have been coming down lately. There’s some good signs out of China that [their] summer crop was a bit better than they were expecting, but I personally won’t believe that until about December, when we know that definitively. They’ve done this before in order to drive down prices to buy South American grain cheap, but it looks like they probably are doing all right.

But aside from that. just there’s been too much heat in Europe. but they’re probably going to be okay. The U.S., the droughts in the southwest are still not great but there’s enough irrigation for now, so probably no major famine, but food prices will probably be up, especially in places like the Middle East and East Africa.

A lot of this is not good long term. If the fertilizer situation is not resolved… Basically, the ground can store nitrogen for a while, but from what I’ve been reading, a lot of places especially with marginal ground (particularly in like Africa and South America; [tropical soil is not as good as temperate soil, so] they rely more heavily on artificial fertilizers in order to have […] a crop that would be considered pretty poor in the States, and if they don’t get more fertilizer. they’re just there there isn’t going to be any left in the soil to use next year.

I know this might feel bleak for “good news”, but it’s important to remember that the fact that we know this stuff, means we have the ability to do something about it as a society. As ever, the goal is to build up our ability to wield collective power, so that we have the leverage to create change even if those at the top don’t want it.

It’s getting hotter, faster, and that trend is going to continue. After a certain point, drastic action is all that is left.

Apparently I meant to write about this back in September, but for reasons that are still unclear to me, I wasn’t able to make myself post daily back then. It’s not anything particularly new, but it’s important to keep in mind when thinking about politics, and about any plans we might have for the future. A little over a decade ago, I was part of a “climate working group” organized by myself and fellow New England Quakers. At that point in time, it seemed pretty clear that the biggest obstacle to direct action within our religious community, was that people honestly did not grasp the severity of the problem. However bad you think public understanding of the issue is now, it was much, much worse back then. I remember people who considered themselves environmental activists talking about preventing it from warming, and going back to normal, at a time when I was reading regular reports about ecosystems shifting around us, and feedback loops starting up.

So, we put together a presentation. We talked about why climate change was important to us personally, because that kind of framing tends to get through to people. And we played this video:

And then we talked about solutions. My goal at the time was to the community to lead by example. To pool their resources, and get every member of the community off of fossil fuels one at a time. I still think it was something that could have been done (the money was there, had its owners cared to spend it), and I know many members of the community have put up solar panels, installed batteries, and so on since then. But the contents of this video – especially the feedback loops it discusses – were new to a lot of people, and I remember being told that if I talked about things like storing food for emergencies, it’d just sound over the top and turn people off. Maybe that was right, I don’t know, but it didn’t sit right then or now. In case I haven’t mentioned it recently, having a store of food for emergencies is more than just buying extra food. It is that, but you need to use that food at the same time, and cycle through it so none of it is on the verge of spoiling when a crisis hits. You also want to be able to cook with the food you’ve set aside, and live on it. If it’s rice and beans, learn how to make it enjoyable, and add those spices to your store of food. If there’s a crisis, you don’t want to be figuring out how to make your food edible on top of whatever else is going on. It’s an actual skill that most people – myself included – aren’t very good at these days. Practice it now, so you’ll have that resource when you actually need it.

Because for all things seem bad now, it is almost certain that the rate of warming is going to increase over the next couple decades, and that is not going to be a pleasant experience for us, because our rulers have thus far refused to prepare.

James Hansen, a climate scientist who shook Washington when he told Congress 33 years ago that human emissions of greenhouse gases were cooking the planet, is now warning that he expects the rate of global warming to double in the next 20 years.

While still warning that it is carbon dioxide and methane that are driving global warming, Hansen said that, in this case, warming is being accelerated by the decline of other industrial pollutants that they’ve cleaned from it.

Plunging sulfate aerosol emissions from industrial sources, particularly shipping, could lead global temperatures to surge well beyond the levels prescribed by the Paris Climate Agreement as soon as 2040 “unless appropriate countermeasures are taken,” Hansen wrote, together with Makiko Sato, in a monthly temperature analysis published in August by the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Declining sulfate aerosols makes some clouds less reflective, enabling more solar radiation to reach and warm land and ocean surfaces.

I’ve written about this before, and it’s important to keep in mind. It’s one of the reasons that I think we need to consider geoengineering, even though it’s an extreme and dangerous thing to do. I don’t know the exact accuracy of the forecasts of civilizational collapse within 30 years – I don’t think anyone can know that for sure, but it is entirely within the realm of possibility. If we don’t change direction, I fear it’s more likely than not.

Since his Congressional testimony rattled Washington, D.C. a generation ago, Hansen’s climate warnings have grown more urgent, but they are still mostly unheeded. In 2006, when he was head of NASA’s GoddardInstitute for Space Studies, George W. Bush’s administration tried to stop him from speaking out about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

After 46 years with NASA, Hansen left in 2013 to focus on political and legal efforts to limit warming. His granddaughter, Sophie Kivlehan, is one of 21 young plaintiffs suing the U.S. government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by failing to take adequate action to address the human causes of climate change, such as greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, industry and electricity generation.

In Hansen’s latest warning, he said scientists are dangerously underestimating the climate impact of reducing sulfate aerosol pollution.

“Something is going on in addition to greenhouse warming,” Hansen wrote, noting that July’s average global temperature soared to its second-highest reading on record even though the Pacific Ocean is in a cooling La Niña phase that temporarily dampens signs of warming. Between now and 2040, he wrote that he expects the climate’s rate of warming to double in an “acceleration that can be traced to aerosols.”

That acceleration could lead to total warming of 2 degrees Celsius by 2040, the upper limit of the temperature range that countries in the Paris accord agreed was needed to prevent disastrous impacts from climate change. What’s more, Hansen and other researchers said the processes leading to the acceleration are not adequately measured, and some of the tools needed to gauge them aren’t even in place.

The article goes on to talk about aerosols, and how we know what we know, but I want to shift focus to something else.

I think it is very important to understand that the warming between here and 2 degrees will likely do a lot more damage than did the warming that got us here. First off, as the video at the top mentioned, there are a number of feedback loops that are also accelerating the warming, even without the monkey’s-paw consequences of reducing pollution. The warming we see over the next couple decades will be piling on top of already-collapsing glaciers and already-burning ecosystems. I think that means that we’re in for a couple decades where it really does feel like every year gets worse. Historically, when climate scientists have talked about warming, they’ve predicted a mix of warm years and cool years, and maybe even a decade or two of no warming at all, but I am increasingly skeptical of that prediction. It wouldn’t shock me if there was one or two years in the next 20 that were cooler than the decadal average, or that didn’t have any record-breaking “natural” disasters, but those will be the rarity.

Zoonotic diseases will also almost certainly keep popping up as desperate people start eating whatever they can to survive, and desperate animals start leaving their historic seclusion because their ecosystems are collapsing, and they can’t find food. This is going to be even more of a problem because the people at point of contact are increasingly going to have weakened immune systems from starvation, overheating, and so on.

All of this, as it has throughout history, will fuel war. War, as it has throughout history will cause environmental destruction, which in turn will make it harder to grow food.

Again, as I keep saying, there are ways we could be preparing, and saving lives, and making this process far easier for everyone. Feeding everyone means nobody has to eat wild animals to survive, which means fewer chances for us to catch diseases from animals. That, and making sure everyone has adequate water would go a long way to preventing war, along with a myriad of other crimes. We can shift agriculture indoors, and invest in new kinds of food production. We can invest in cleaning up existing toxic waste, and containing new waste. We can make sure that everyone has access to air conditioning for heat emergencies, and we can ensure that that is powered by renewable energy or nuclear power. We can invest in global access to free vaccination, for any and all diseases. We can reduce childhood mortality, and guarantee quality care for elders, even if not a single person left alive knows who they are. With those two, and universal access to sex ed and contraception, population growth will likely stagnate or decrease, making that less of a problem without a need for mass death. We have the knowledge and resources to do all of that and more.

What we can’t do, is do that while also protecting the wealth and power of our current ruling classes. There is simply too much to be done, to allow for such reckless indulgence. The scale of change matches the scale of the problem, which means that if we want to avoid billions of deaths this century, we need to take coordinated, deliberate action on a scale that has never been achieved in human history, with zero regard for profit or the immature pettiness of that minority whose sole drive in life is the will to power.

As ever, I am aware of the scale and difficulty of what I’m proposing, but what alternate path is less extreme in its consequences?

All we can do is fight for a better world, and since that’s something few of us are accustomed to doing, I continue to believe that we have to start with the basics, even if it seems agonizingly slow and inadequate. We don’t have time to do it halfway.


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Shock Doctrine: The U.S. Supreme Court has declared war on humanity.

The Supreme Court of the United States of America has declared war on humanity. The assault on bodily autonomy in overturning Roe v. Wade is already set to do incalculable amounts of harm for generations to come, and you think an increasingly fascist U.S. wouldn’t use its power to push this vicious ideology around the world, then I don’t think you’ve been paying attention.

Unfortunately, there’s more. The most recent outrage is the decision to gut the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions.

By a vote of 6 to 3, the court said that any time an agency does something big and new – in this case addressing climate change – the regulation is presumptively invalid, unless Congress has specifically authorized regulating in this sphere.

“That’s a very big deal because they’re not going to get it from Congress because Congress is essentially dysfunctional,” said Harvard law professor Richard Lazarus, an expert on environmental law. “This could not have come at a worse time” because “the consequences of climate change are increasingly dire and we’re running out of time to address it.”

As I understand it, this means that all regulations may be on the chopping block, if they’re not explicitly spelled out by Congress. That doesn’t just mean greenhouse gas emissions, it could theoretically gut the entirety of the agency system of the U.S., which has been the primary bulwark protecting the general public from the murderous greed of corporations.

From everything I can tell, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court is applying Shock Doctrine tactics. To quote Milton Friedman, the Prophet of Neoliberalism:

Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. What that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.

In this case, they are creating their own crisis, and using it to destroy barriers to corporate and oligarchic power. They want to take us back to the time of burning rivers an choking smog, and they want to do it in the middle of a warming event that already threatens humanity with extinction.

At this point, it’s starting to seem like the death of most of humanity is their goal.

They’re relying on the scale and speed of their action to shock institutions of power into inaction. They’re also relying on the majority that doesn’t like what’s happening being unable to do anything to stop it. At the moment, I’m worried that they’re right. It doesn’t seem like the Democratic party intends to do much of anything about what this court is doing. They certainly didn’t have any plan ready to go for this extremely predictable situation. It’s not just that we got the leaked Roe ruling, or that it was obvious the three Trump appointees lied about abortion to get on the court. It’s that these tactics have been a standard part of the US foreign policy playbook for decades. Many of those “centrist” politicians whose careers supposedly make them qualified to lead have been involved in inflicting this kind of treatment on other countries, so we have a pretty good idea of the playbook. If you haven’t read The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, I continue to think it’s essential to understanding what’s going on in the world today, and the audiobook is free.

I’m worried about what will come next, and I think you all should be as well. With climate change, habitat destruction, chemical pollution, and fascism all in the mix together, it feels like there’s no limit on how bad things could get. The Supreme Court of the United States has declared war on humanity, and they will wage that war whether we fight back or not. As always: Organize, train, practice coordinated action, and prepare for hard times.


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Video: Let’s talk about what they’re going after next…

Tired, angry, and a bit depressed. Unfortunately, as bad as the Roe v. Wade ruling is, it’s just the beginning. This isn’t going to end, probably for as long as the Supreme Court has its current makeup. They’re coming for other rights. They’re also coming for things like the EPA. Form networks. Organize. Think about who you can and cannot trust, and under what circumstances.

Important Video: Unsustainable water usage is reaching a crisis point for the Southwestern U.S.

Watch this video, or at least click through to youtube and read the transcript (click on the “…” next to the “save” option). The states that draw water from the Colorado River have very little time to find a way to eliminate one Arizona’s worth of water usage. Failing to do that means 25 million people could lose their electricity, because Lake Meade has almost dried up to the point that the Hoover Dam can no longer generate power reliably. I was recently talking to someone who was shocked that I would suggest we rebuild infrastructure and relocate people to make nationwide mass transit more viable.

The reality is that people are going to have to change and relocate either way, unless they want to be living without electricity in a notoriously hot and dry region, as the planet continues to heat. We are out of time.

Invasive species control: Where traditional environmentalism and climate activism align

Sometimes, when I think about climate change, I feel like there’s not much point to things like species preservation. If the rising temperature is going to kill most endangered species anyway, then what’s the point? At minimum, shouldn’t we invest all that money and effort into ending fossil fuel use?

The thing is, as I’ve mentioned before, we need those species. More accurately, we need functioning ecosystems, and those are made up of a diverse array of organisms. More than that, there’s ample evidence that in dealing with climate change and chemical pollution, actively working to support struggling ecosystems may help a great deal. Just as it would be dangerous to think we’re separate from the biosphere, it’s also dangerous to think that if we solve the fossil fuel problem, everything else will fall into place. In a world where we desperately need to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels, does it really matter if the plants are “local”, as long as they’re photosynthesizing and feeding insects?

Well, as it turns out, yes. It really does matter.

It is no secret that the ecological health of the planet is under serious threat. Scientists have previously identified invasive species, drought and an altered nitrogen cycle, driven in part by the widespread use of synthetic fertilizers, as among the most serious planetary challenges, with global climate change topping the list. Many have assumed that climate change would consistently amplify the negative effects of invasives—but, until now, there was no research to test that assumption.

“The good news,” says Bethany Bradley, professor of environmental conservation at UMass Amherst and the paper’s senior author, “is that the bad news isn’t quite as bad as we thought.”

To reach this conclusion, the team, led by Bianca Lopez, who conducted the research as part of her postdoctoral training at UMass Amherst, and Jenica Allen, professor of environmental conservation at UMass Amherst, conducted a meta-analysis of 95 previously published studies. From this earlier work, the researchers found 458 cases that reported on the ecological effects of invasive species combined with drought, nitrogen or global warming.

“What we found surprised us,” says Lopez. “There were a number of cases where the interactions made everything worse at the local scale, which is what we expected to see, but only about 25% of the time. The majority of the time, invasions and environmental change together didn’t make each other worse. Instead, the combined effects weren’t all that much more than the impact of invasive species alone.”

That surprised me, too, when I first read this, but have you ever seen what it looks like when an invasive plant takes over an area? Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my dad as he studied garlic mustard. It’s a biennial plant from the UK that can be used as an herb in cooking (hence the name), and is remarkably good at generating vast amounts of durable seeds. In the US, one plant setting seed is enough for them to start taking over. They spread so densely that nothing else can grow, and if you want to kill off a population, you have to uproot and remove the flowering plants every year for something like five years before you can be sure that there aren’t any seeds that will just sprout and undo all your work.

Another one I’ve worked with is honeysuckle – a woody shrub brought to the US from Asia as a decorative plant, if memory serves. Like the garlic mustard, when it takes over, it chokes out everything else, but the effect is more extreme and obvious. I’m not certain that it’s allelopathic, but it sure seems like it is, because nothing grows under them. Part of that is also because they put out leaves not just before trees do, but before spring wildflowers do. Normally, a forest will have a variety of plants growing in the understory, for a variety of reasons. In large parts of the U.S., honeysuckle forms such a dense layer that it’s like a green fog over the landscape in the early spring, and it’s just bare soil and dead leaves underneath that fog.

So really, it shouldn’t have surprised me. Invasive species cause major changes to the landscape when they take root, and it makes sense that an ecosystem that’s missing so many plant species will operate very differently from one that has a healthy level of diversity.

“What is so important about our findings,” says Allen, “is that they highlight the critical importance of managing invasive species at the local scale.” And the local scale is precisely the scale at which effective and swift action is most likely to happen.

In fact, as Allen points out, it already is. “Organizations like the Northeast Regional Invasive Species and Climate Change (RISCC) Network, which is a consortium of scientists and natural resource managers dedicated to sharing information and best practices about dealing with invasives, are already implementing a whole range of proactive practices to deal with invasive species.” And because confronting invasive species is comparatively cost-effective and doesn’t require future technological innovation, real progress can be made right now, especially by preventing the spread of invasive plants before they take over.

“Our work shows that dealing with invasive species now will make our ecosystems more climate resilient,” says Bradley.

And as we know, resilience is key. There’s a tendency among modern left-wing climate activists of dismissing the environmentalist movement of the 20th century. To a depressingly large degree, I think that’s valid. While the movement did have some real successes, it was rotten with white supremacy, colonialism, and outright lies about indigenous people “mismanaging” the land. I say it “was” that way, but it often still is. That said, the focus on native species and the control of invasive species continues to be something that they got right.

If you’re looking for something to do about climate change, and you’re not sure where to start, you could do worse than looking into local efforts to deal with invasive species, and joining with those. I’ll just say that if you’re new to this stuff, try to get some actual training before you start uprooting plants – sometimes it’s extremely hard to be certain what kind of thing you’re dealing with (that applies to animals and fungi as well), so look for efforts that are associated with a university of a nature center.

None of this stuff will lessen the need for revolutionary systemic change, but everything we can do to buy ourselves room to maneuver is worth doing. Helping your local ecosystem means helping your region with climate change, and if you do it with a group that’s already active, then it’s a way for you to network and organize.


If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!