Climate Concerns Plummet to New Lows

The reason we think climate change is so important now is because it is happening at an historic rapid rate.

— Dr.Stephen Harrison, Glaciologist, Exeter University, Documentary on Climatic Change- Global Warming narrated by Tom Brokaw, Discovery Channel, 2006

Nevertheless, throughout the world, concern about climate change has plummeted to new lows. Ironically, this is happening at the very time when the ravages caused by climate change are straightforward and accelerating. The lackadaisical attitude by the public, as registered in a recent GlobeScan poll, explains why and how radical climate change is morphing into an unstoppable destructive force. People do not care enough to influence the politics that are necessary to stop the prospect of Armageddon!

Catastrophe could occur quickly, according to Professor Stephen Pacala, Director, Princeton Environmental Institute, “There is a class of almost instantaneous climate change that I call ‘monsters behind the door’. I call them ‘monsters’ because were they to occur today, they would be catastrophic.” (Ibid)

Regardless, the world community shrugs its collective shoulders. According to GlobeScan, an internationally renowned public opinion research consultancy headquartered in London, San Francisco & Toronto, as of February 25, 2013:

Environmental concerns among citizens around the world have been falling since 2009 and have now reached twenty-year lows.

These poll findings were drawn from GlobeScan’s annual tracking poll of people across 22 countries, including a universe of 22,812 people polled in face-to-face or telephonic interviews over the second half of 2012. The poll shows that the seriousness of concern about climate change has plummeted since the unsuccessful UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December 2009.

According to GlobeScan Chairman Doug Miller:

Scientists report that evidence of environmental damage is stronger than ever— but our data shows that economic crisis and a lack of political leadership mean that the public are starting to tune out.

Meanwhile, not only are scientists reporting increased evidence of environmental damage, corporate giants like Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance company, say climate change has contributed to a five-fold increase in weather-related disasters since 1980, clearly ringing the clarion bell that, as time passes, climate change is turning more destructive to the world economy.

This brings to the fore the question of what is behind the disconnect between public perception and climate change?

One answer is politics. For example, just recently Senator Lisa Murkowski (R Alaska), Ranking Member, U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, introduced her energy plan, which includes: Drilling in the Polar Bear Seas and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and drilling on both the east and the west coasts of the continental U.S., plus immediate KXL approval and possibly cuts in renewable energy investments. This is a prime example of retrograde politics at work in the face of impending climatic disaster. Is it any wonder the public is not overly concerned about the threats of climate change when the nation’s highest ranking leaders show absolutely no concern and even go so far as to recommend the possibility of cutting investments in renewables.

According to NASA’s monitoring of Alaska’s (Senator Murkowski’s) Columbia Glacier, which feeds into Prince William Sound, the massive glacier has retreated up the fjord more than 12 miles since 1980 and lost half of its total thickness and volume. The Columbia Glacier is now retreating at a speed of 50 feet per day, which is 8 times faster than 30 years ago. One has to wonder what Senator Murkowski thinks about the disappearing glacier right before her eyes. On the other hand, maybe Senator Murkowski needs to spend more time in the field to fully understand the challenges of global warming because, in many respects, Alaska is the “canary in the coal mine” for radical climate change.

Kate Sheppard’s article, “Lisa Murkowski: Climate Change Double Agent”, Mother Jones, March 29, 2010, is smack dab on target, suggesting the senator has two-timed environmentalists who took bait a few years ago, assuming she was a rare, reasonable Republican they could count on. In 2006, she broke Republican ranks by stating: “I believe it is a reality that man is contributing to the current warming trend. Accordingly, it is appropriate and quite frankly our responsibility, to take steps to curb the growth of greenhouse gases.”

As it happens, Senator Murkowski really is a double agent! Her statement of six years ago is the polar opposite of her current push for more fossil fuel exploration in highly sensitive environmental areas while nixing renewables, because they are too costly. Is it possible that she has been insidiously injected with Inhofe-A-1 climate change denial serum?

Regardless of what Senator Murkowski’s motives are, she is in formidable company because the U.S. president and Congress both extol the virtues of “drill baby drill” in America’s quest to achieve fossil fuel independence. Meanwhile, renewable energy resources like wind and solar are a distant second thought and could be subject to cuts, if Murkowski has her way.

But, seriously, why not “renewable energy independence” rather than “fossil fuel independence?”

Still, it remains a mystery as to why our nation’s leaders shun our nation’s top scientists, for example:

Changes that we’ve seen in the past decade are much too large, much too pronounced now to be simply explained away as just part of a natural cycle. There’s something more fundamental hitting on the climate system now.

— Dr. Mark Serreze, Director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (“NSIDC”), University of Colorado at Boulder.

Meanwhile, and in consideration of environmentalists’ efforts, what does it take to gain the public’s respect and attention of the dangers of climate change? One answer could be: Maybe politicians and the public will take notice when suffocating people start dropping dead in the streets of China or when gushing water from the rapid glacial melt of today turns to a trickle tomorrow, as glaciers die off, ending water supplies and crop irrigation for over 2 billion people.

Consider the following, which is a result of excessive burning of fossil fuels: Only two months ago, some residents on the streets of Beijing were spotted wearing military-issue gas masks, and office workers were seen wearing surgical masks at their desks!

An extensive study conducted by DARA, headquartered in Madrid, Geneva, and Washington, D.C. and Climate Vulnerable Forum (a global partnership of 11 founding countries) concluded: “Climate change is already contributing to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people a year and costing the world more than $1.2 trillion, wiping 1.6% annually from global GDP.” (Fiona Harvey- environmental correspondent, ”Climate Change is Already Damaging Global Economy, Report Finds”, The Guardian, September 25, 2012.)

This same article quotes Michael Zammit Cutajar, former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: “Climate change is not just a distant threat but a present danger – its economic impact is already with us.”

Radical climate change is severe weather, intense floods, parched-land droughts, ultra-fierce tornadoes, super hurricanes, loss of the world’s glacial water towers, dying marine life, and rising seas, which over time will cascade into a fractured civilization with hordes of tribal groups roaming the planet in search of sustenance, similar to life under the emergence of Cro-Magnon 40-50,000 years ago.

Climatologists are in agreement that climate change is interrelated across the entire spectrum of weather, causing normal weather patterns to turn more severe. For example, Katrina, which flooded 80% of New Orleans, was the deadliest hurricane to ever hit the Gulf, reaching speeds up to 175 mph.

And, climate change causes weather patterns to turn more unpredictable, like Hurricane Sandy hitting the East Coast after the hurricane season, costing $71 billion. How often do hurricanes flood the entire East Coast?

Severe weather patterns are also hurling blazes at the planet; e.g., Australia in 2006 experienced its worst extreme heat wave in two decades accounting for nine deaths and wild fires raging throughout the countryside during what was normally Australia’s wet season. Chicago in 1995 suffered record-breaking heat, causing 739 deaths. In Europe in 2003 record-breaking heat took at least 30,000 lives, which was the biggest natural disaster in Europe on record (Alok Jha, Boiled Alive, The Guardian, July 25, 2006.) At the time, The Earth Policy Institute claimed: “Even more extreme weather events lie ahead.” Shaoni Bhattcharya, “European Heatwave Caused 35,000 Deaths”, New Scientist, October 10, 2003.

Just several months ago in 2012, Mid-America’s farm belt baked, experiencing its worst drought since the 1950s, and droughts have become embedded around the world the past few years; e.g., Russia, and Syria, which are two of the world’s breadbaskets. These extreme weather events are happening now in real time and taking extraordinary numbers of lives while endangering the world food supply. The cause of these embedded droughts is: The warming Arctic alters stratospheric jet streams over the Northern Hemisphere, thus, interfering with normal weather patterns, allowing droughts to become embedded.

Climate change’s influence on rising sea levels is already impacting countries like Tuvalu, a Polynesian nation of 10,554 people in the South Pacific. Tides are increasingly higher and lasting much longer than ever before; e.g., high tides normally occurred irregularly during January and February of every year. Now, abnormally high tides occur regularly six months of the year and the flooding is more widespread. As a result, serious erosion has already destroyed some of the smaller islands in the area, and Tuvalu’s days are numbered.

Tuvalu is drowning!

Meanwhile, other parts of the planet are drying up. For example, in northern China rural farmlands have endured steadily decreasing rainfall for three decades, and almost no rain at all the past few years. As a result, 1,000 square miles of China farmland turns to desert every year, and the rate of desertification has doubled since 1950. This same pattern is occurring in southern Africa and in India, losing precious farmland to the ravages of a mean-spirited climate.

Climate Damage in America – The Early Signs of Trouble

The National Climate Assessment – U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, D.C., is the most comprehensive report on climate change in the U.S., tracking the damage of climate change in America, to wit:

The widespread and prolonged extreme heat wave of 2011 and 2012 was unprecedented over the past 130 years. Cities like St. Louis, Chicago, and Cincinnati reported spikes in hospital admissions and deaths.

Flood damage has increased in the Great Plains, Midwest, and the Northeast, where Hurricanes Irene and Sandy caused 180 deaths and almost $100 billion in damage.

In the Southeast, Louisiana State Highway 1, which supports 90% of the country’s offshore oil production, already floods during high tide.

Rising seas have contaminated water wells in Hallandale Beach, Florida because of salt water contamination.

In 2011 Wichita, Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas, and Austin experienced a record number of 100-degree days. The 2011 Texas and Oklahoma drought costs farmers and ranchers more than $10 billion, and the continuation of drought into 2012 forced ranchers to liquidate large herds of cattle. Additionally, almost 3,000 homes were destroyed in Texas alone from wildfires that raged across parched, dried-out prairies.

The early arrival of spring weather is severely impacting crops in the Midwest. For example, early blooming fruit trees in Michigan have been decimated by subsequent cold snaps, causing $60 million in cherry tree crop losses.

Midwest rainstorms and snowstorms have grown more intense by a factor of 45% since 1958.  The Midwest has recently experienced “1-in-300-year-flood-events” more than once.

In the Northwest, mountain snow pack is off 30% since the 1950s and spring snow pack leaves 30 days earlier. In turn, hydropower generation and resultant irrigation for $17 billion of crops and wildlife habitat is increasingly threatened.

The shellfish industry is currently losing larvae because of excessive ocean acidity as a result of exorbitant CO2 absorbed into the ocean, threatening the existence of a $500 million shellfish industry and thousands of jobs, prompting an appeal to Washington, D.C. from the State of Washington.

Large swaths of coastal land in Washington and Oregon are now within a few feet of the high tide line, threatening homes, roads, and ferry terminals.

Alaska- “The Canary in the Coal Mine”

In Barrow, Alaska (pop. 4,500), climate change is more palpable than anywhere else in America. The town hugs the edge of the continent at the junction of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. In 1973 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) selected Barrow as one of the five key spots on the globe to conduct atmospheric baseline studies. According to Dan Endre, who ran the NOAA base for 25 years: “Whatever is going to happen in the rest of the world happens first and to the greatest extent in the Arctic… The Arctic is the mirror of the world,” Barrow, Alaska: Ground Zero for Climate Change, by Bob Reiss, Smithsonian, March 2010.

The canary is woozy: The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet; summer sea ice in the region has shrunk by nearly 50% over the past 25 years; winter temperatures are several degrees Fahrenheit warmer than a few decades ago.

In Barrow’s surrounding area, climate change is on full display in nature. Each year the sea ice is getting thinner and arriving later. Coastal storms have become vicious and have forced entire communities to move miles inland because the shore ice that previously protected them is gone. Fish species never before seen from warmer waters to the south are appearing in the Eskimos’ nets. Insects that nobody has seen before, like spruce bark beetles, which kill trees, have arrived for the first time from the south. Tundra lakes, which have been a home to migrating birds for centuries, are disappearing and river banks, without enough ice to shore them up, are eroding and filing waterways with silt.

Villages throughout Alaska’s coastline are starting to relocate people away from the coasts. For example, the school building in Newtok, Alaska will be destroyed within 5 years by an eroding coastline.

Permafrost thawing in Alaska is currently threatening massive pipelines, roads, and infrastructure and repairs may cost up to $6 billion over the next two decades.

Additionally, warmer, drier summers in Alaska have resulted in more large fires the past 10 years than in any decade since recordkeeping began.

Climate Change and Public Apathy

In the face of the reality of destruction caused by radical climate change, a Pew Research Center study found: “U.S. Public Still Unconvinced on Climate Change,” Worldwatch Institute, March 4, 2013:

Fewer U.S. citizens consider climate change to be a ‘serious threat’ compared to two years ago, even as scientific evidence demonstrates that the problem has become increasingly severe…. U.S. residents have been subjected to many confusing messages this year from conservative media, fossil fuel-dependent industries, and politicians who question the scientific certainty of climate change.

The reason behind the public’s apathy, according to Dr. Riley Dunlap, an environmental sociologist at Oklahoma State University:

We’re starting to see the effect of this constant barrage of denial penetrating society. There is constant belittling of climate change.

Further damaging the issue, “… members of Congress are receiving more phone calls from constituents who oppose…. measures for climate legislation,” says David Foster, Executive Director of the Blue Green Alliance, a partnership of U.S. labor and environmentalists.

According to GlobeScan Chairman, Doug Miller: “Those who care about mobilizing public opinion on the environment need to find new messages in order to reinvigorate a stalled debate.”

A recent article in Rupert Murdock’s News Corporation’s The Wall Street Journal (WSJ”) sums up the nearly vertical uphill battle environmentalists face to arouse public interest: No Need to Panic About Global Warming, The Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2013. The article mentions, in an editor’s note, that 16 scientists listed at the end of the article signed on. Well, well, well, maybe it is not surprising that it is not difficult to find 16 scientists in the world to sign onto something as outrageously laughable as this article. After all, there are thousands of scientists running about. But, why only 16 scientists when thousands are available?

The Wall Street Journal’s self-serving article, which denigrates the actuality and impact of global warming, begins: “A candidate for public office in any contemporary democracy may have to consider what, if anything, to do about ‘global warming.’ Candidates should understand that the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true. In fact, a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed.”  This statement may, or may not, be true, who really knows for sure, but the contrived article does nothing to address the reality of destruction caused by climate change and/or how to fix it since the article essentially states “no harm, no foul” by global warming.

Coincidentally, the WSJ article appears just before the widely anticipated announcement on the XL Pipeline. Hm-m-m. What a coincidence!

Here’s a quote from the article: “And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.” This soothing pitch is reminiscent of listening to TV’s Mister Rogers’ reassuring voice instruct kids in how to build a tooth pick house.

A warning to those who read the full WSJ article: Be sure to hold your nose. It stinks that badly, and it is full of holes and well-constructed PR traps, and coincidentally, addressed to: elected officials, candidates, and politicians, as mentioned often within the Journal’s fossil fuel apologia.

Meanwhile, in breathtaking contrast to America’s WSJ, China’s state-run media consistently concedes that man made climate change is proven science, and it is dangerous. Consequently, the government of China is rapidly installing renewable sources of energy, even as it emits more coal-burning CO2 than any other country on the planet. At least the Chinese government has the moxie to publicly recognize the true gravity of the problem.

According to Cheng Haining, senior engineer at China’s Qinghai Province’s Surveying and Mapping Bureau, seventy percent (70%) of the glaciers in the headwaters of the Lancang River (one of SE Asia’s most important rivers, known as the “Danube of the East”) have melted and disappeared (what’ll happen when the final 30% disappear?) Another study by the province shows 80 glaciers that provide water for the Yellow River (the “mother river” and the cradle of Chinese civilization) are shrinking, and the Yangtze River (responsible for 20% of China’s economy) is threatened by glacial loss as well. Here’s why: Meteorological stations in the area show temperatures are at 50-year highs, and sustaining.

“The melting of the glaciers could lead to a water shortage and even a dry-up of the rivers in the long run, and consequent ecological disasters like wetland retreat and desertification,” according to Xin Yuanhong, an engineer with the Qinghai Hydrography and Geology Study Center.

“In the long run, glaciers are vital lifelines for Asian rivers such as the Indus and the Ganges… Once they vanish, water supplies in those regions will be in peril,” says Qin Dahe, a researcher at Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Significantly, 80% of China’s crop irrigation comes from glaciers. For India the number is 60%.

The candid admission by Chinese scientists about the disappearance of glaciers is in stark contrast to the WSJ’s insipid article denigrating global warming.

All of which prompts a question: How do the 16 scientists who signed the WSJ article explain the world’s disappearing glaciers, if not because of global warming? What else could it be?

Thus, the evidence shows that Communist China is more forthright, and honest, with its citizens about climate change than is democratic America, assuming The Wall Street Journal is representative of America’s democracy at work. But, on second thought, that is probably a misplaced assumption.

The Solution

The solution is a massive, Apollo moon-mission type, nationwide initiative to convert usage of fossil fuels to: solar, wind, geothermal, wave, hydro, and biomass. The technology is readily available, and scholars at Stanford University and the University of California/Davis have a 10-20 year implementation plan ready to go for 100% conversion. In turn, this would foster the biggest economic bonanza for the nation’s economy and employment since the invention of the Model-T.

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide, like Z magazine, European Project on Ocean Acidification, Ecosocialism Canada, Climate Himalaya, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Comite Valmy, and UK Progressive. He has been interviewed about climate change on Pacifica Radio, KPFK, FM90.7, Indymedia On Air and World View Show/UK. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.