The climate is a-changin’ -- but the debate on climate change isn’t. As a result, climate scientists and environmental advocates appear to be fighting a losing battle: A recent poll of American attitudes toward climate change, put out in March by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, revealed that the number of climate skeptics in America is growing, and fewer voters view climate change as a scientifically affirmed or politically important issue.
With this news in mind, a two-man film crew has hit the back roads of America to, in their words, kick-start a new national conversation about climate change -- one that might circumvent heated politics by focusing on local perspectives.
According to this chart from Climate Central, record lows are about to be an artifact of the past. This year, 90 percent of daily record temperatures in the lower 48 states were record highs. In the absence of global warming, you'd expect a 50/50 ratio between record highs and record lows.
Members of Generation X are responding in a disturbing way to climate change -- with a big, collective shrug of indifference. Grist readers being the obvious exceptions, of course.
Only 22 percent expressed "high concern" about climate change in a 2011 survey [PDF] of about 3,000 Gen-Xers in their late 30s. This despite the fact that "Generation X is the most scientifically literate and best educated generation in American history," according to lead researcher Jon D. Miller.
The data come from the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, a University of Michigan-led project that has exhaustively tracked the views on various subjects of thousands of Gen-Xers since they were pimply-faced students attending high school across 26 states in 1987.
I've learned about so many new kinds of extreme weather in the last year or so -- thanks, global warming! First there were haboobs, then derechos, and now this thing, which might have been a tornado but might also have been a "water spout over land," i.e. a landspout. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR IT IS NOT A CANDYGRAM.
It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.
We dump billions of tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere each year. As a result, the concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by 40 percent. Excess carbon dioxide traps excess heat in the atmosphere. Excess heat causes extreme heat waves, droughts, and storms.
And that’s what we have been seeing. In June alone, 170 all-time high temperature records were broken or tied in the United States, and more than 24,000 daily high temperature records have been broken so far this year. If the climate weren’t changing, we would expect to see about the same number of record highs and record lows set each year due to random fluctuations. That’s what we were seeing 50 years ago, but during the last decade there were twice as many record highs as record lows. So far this year the ratio has been 10 to 1.
On Wednesday, the conservative American Enterprise Institute [AEI] hosted a secret meeting with other Washington, D.C., think tank officials, including members from several prominent liberal ones, to discuss how to build political support for a carbon pollution tax.
The discussion even apparently raised the subject of trying to get the upcoming post-election “lame duck” Congress to address the issue.
Representatives from such liberal groups as Union of Concerned Scientists, Public Citizen, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Brookings Institute, the Climate Action Network and Clean, Air-Cool Planet joined centrist groups such as the Concord Coalition, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and conservatives scholars from AEI and R Street, a group that broke away from the Heartland Institute.
And, yes, I agree with David Roberts, who says it’s time to dispense with “climate disclaimers,” i.e. the “well, gee, we don’t really know” qualifications about the relationship between climate change and these kinds of weather events. After all, as Grist reported recently, the government’s National Climatic Data Center calculated that if the climate weren’t warming, we wouldn’t expect to see another period as hot as the last 13 months have been until the year 124,652. Does anyone really believe that we’re experiencing “100,000-year” warmth? Me neither.
There’s also the effect the heat and drought are having on food prices; Bloomberg Businessweek reports that prices on grocery store shelves are already on the rise:
In May, retail prices of boneless hams, ground beef and cheese in the U.S. were close to all-time highs set earlier this year, while chicken breast jumped more than 12 percent during the first five months of the year, government data show.
“When people look at rising prices for hamburger, butter, eggs and other protein sources from higher corn costs, that’s when more money ends up in the food basket,” said Minneapolis- based Michael Swanson, a senior agricultural economist at Wells Fargo & Co., the biggest U.S. farm lender. “We were hoping for a break, and we aren’t going to get it.”
But it’s also worth considering what’s going on in the Midwest in light of today’s markup of the House Agriculture Committee’s draft of the new farm bill. [Update: The House Agriculture Committee approved the bill on July 12. There is still no date set for a vote by the full House.] While I reported on the outrageous cuts to food stamps in the House version last week, I didn’t get a chance to review the equally outrageous, effectively unrestricted expansion of crop insurance included in the bill. As the Environmental Working Group summed it up, the committee draft “would give unlimited taxpayer dollars to farmers who are already making record profits and less support to hungry kids who depend on federal assistance for food.”
Last May, a group of teenagers filed a series of lawsuits seeking to force the federal and state governments to take action on climate change. A key argument made in the lawsuits is that the atmosphere is a public trust -- or, as described in one brief, that it is a "fundamental natural resource necessarily entrusted to the care of our federal government … for its preservation and protection as a common property interest."
Yesterday, a state district court judge in Texas agreed.
Judge Gisela Triana issued a written decision finding that all natural resources are protected under the Public Trust Doctrine and the state constitution of Texas in a climate change lawsuit brought by youth (Angela Bonser-Lain, et al. v Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Case No. D-1-GN-11-002194). In deferring to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) decision to deny the Plaintiffs’ petition for rulemaking while other ongoing litigation over regulations ensues, the Judge concluded that the TCEQ’s determination that the Public Trust Doctrine is exclusively limited to the conservation of water, was legally invalid. ...
In her written decision, Judge Triana declares, “The Court will find that the Commission’s conclusion, that the public trust doctrine is exclusively limited to the conservation of water, is legally invalid. The doctrine includes all natural resources of the State.”
A fundamental aspect of the Anthropocene is that there’s nowhere on Earth that is left unexplored; humans have now touched and altered every part of the planet. But the Arctic and the Antarctic remain some of the least understood parts of the world.
Kevin Arrigo, an oceanographer and professor at Stanford University, is one of the few people actively investigating the state of the polar regions. Much of his work relies on measurements from satellites, but occasionally he still ventures to the poles to “ground truth” his data. And what he finds there can come as a complete surprise.
Recently, during a NASA-funded trip to the Arctic to study nutrient cycling, Arrigo was part of a team that uncovered a hitherto unknown occurrence of undersea life -- three feet below young Arctic sea ice. “Under that ice was productivity as high as you’d find anywhere in the world,” said Arrigo. The discovery attracted a lot of attention in the scientific community; previously, nobody thought so much primary production under the ice was possible. And it's not something that could have been observed from space.
Does it look like this is a result of climate change? “That’s the big question," said Arrigo. "There’s a lot of follow-up work to be done now.”