It's Worse Than You Think: A Climate Change Reader Full of Doom
And a little bit of hope.
Climate activists and scientists catch a lot of flak for “doomsaying.” If anything, they’ve been holding back.
As Bill McGuire tells The Guardian,
“I know a lot of people working in climate science who say one thing in public but a very different thing in private.
In confidence, they are all much more scared about the future we face, but they won’t admit that in public. I call this climate appeasement and I believe it only makes things worse. The world needs to know how bad things are going to get before we can hope to start to tackle the crisis.”
Yeah, climate appeasement is the perfect phrase.
The recent COP27 conference didn’t get a lot of front-page coverage last week, but it deserves the world’s immediate attention. I guarantee you, it matters far more than anything else trending right now.
For the first time, countries have started debating whether it’s even possible to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius now. As one researcher said, “While everyone knows the 1.5-degree target is off the table, it is not openly discussed in official sessions.” That’s ominous, because scientists agreed it was a critical threshold. It means that our governments have failed. They know.
They just won’t admit it.
This post is part 1 of a series. Here, I’m going to lay out the truth, backed up with sources. In the next, I’ll focus on what to do.
Raising the earth’s average temperature 1-2 degrees doesn’t sound like a big deal. The mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about what it really means. Once you cross that line, “we start getting into scenarios that make most dystopian horror movies look like children’s coloring books.”
Here’s some specifics:
Multiple breadbasket failures.
Lethal heatwaves and droughts.
The collapse of fish hatcheries.
Stronger hurricanes, and tornadoes than we’ve ever seen.
More derechos (giant, powerful storms).
Epic coastal flooding.
Supply chain implosion.
I’m not a scientist, but I’m someone who’s spent the last several years reading about climate change every day while imagining my future. By 2030, a lot of Americans will be lucky if they can get water from their kitchen faucet. They’ll be lucky if they can find food at a grocery store.
They’ll be lucky if they have an air conditioner to make it through heat waves with temperatures at 110 F and above.
They’ll be lucky if the power grid can hold.
We keep hearing that we’re going to cut our emissions in half by 2030. In all honesty, that ship has sunk. We’re not even coming close. As multiple climate news outlets have said, we’re actually on track to produce more emissions by 2030. Some estimates say we’ll overshoot our goals by at least 50 percent.
If you keep hearing “the future of the human race is at stake,” that’s because it’s true.
It’s not just the future of the human race.
It’s your retirement plan.
It’s your kids.
A quick look at the news
Here’s a look at what’s been happening this year:
Barron’s just ran a story telling us “the water shortage is worse than you think.” In addition to historic droughts on the Colorado and Mississippi rivers, the Ogallala Aquifer is projected to run dry in three decades or less. The U.S. relies on that aquifer for the vast majority of its agriculture. The way we’re pumping water out of there to compensate for raging droughts in the corn belt (see below), we might wind up draining the aquifer even faster. Let’s also correct a common fallacy: It’s not like everything’s going to be all good until the last drop. We’re going to feel the hurt progressively as the aquifer depletes.
Over the summer, The New Yorker ran a piece on the water wars shaping up in the suburbs of Arizona. As another local news piece shows, water scarcity is even starting to fuel conspiracy theories. As one expert says, “Frankly, everyday people couldn't care less about how water gets into their taps...until it stops.” We know who benefits from the spread of conspiracies, don’t we?
A story in Grist highlights a new report on the economic cost of climate disasters. According to the study, more than 90 percent of the U.S. has already experienced a disaster either caused or made worse by global warming in the last ten years, with the total cost landing at around $740 billion. That pretty much blows apart any argument that green initiatives hurt the economy.
Historic droughts on the Mississippi River cut barge traffic almost in half this fall. A piece in Forbes projects $20 billion in losses. They’re not dancing around the facts. They come right out and say, “it’s really messing things up.” They also talk about the impact of drought on crop yields.
In late August, Bloomberg ran a story showing how the world’s rivers, canals, and reservoirs “are turning to dust.” Warming temperatures have reduced snowpack during the winter, and that’s shriveling rivers across Europe, Asia, and North America. Drastic water cuts are starting to hit places like Arizona and Nevada, but they’ll be spreading as other regions dry up. The droughts will hurt industry, too, because major sectors rely on hydropower.
Alaska canceled their snow crab season this year, after watching the population crash from nearly 12 billion to less than 2 billion. The population crash overlaps with a major marine heat wave.
France is bracing for “catastrophic” food shortages after a summer of severe droughts and heat waves. They’re looking at crop losses between 25 and 35 percent on everything from vegetables to potatoes.
Britain is also expecting up to 50 percent crop failures across the board. They’re having to slaughter cattle earlier because they can’t afford to feed and water them. It’s expected to get worse in 2023. They’re also dealing with a bad egg shortage, thanks to the worst outbreak of avian flu on record. Global warming has made it a permanent fixture of the poultry market.
We could be looking at similar losses next year.
Drought has upended agriculture in the U.S., too. Last week, Louisiana declared a state of disaster over droughts and floods that cost them $500 million in crop losses. Most of the state remains in severe drought.
The winter wheat season is off to “its worst start on record” this year, with 72 percent of the corn belt in serious drought. An incoming arctic wave promises to make everything worse. Global warming doesn’t just lead to warmer temperatures. It leads to chaotic, unpredictable weather.
A record number of black bears are venturing into neighborhoods in the U.S., rummaging through trash and even breaking into people’s homes to find food. There’s been more than 60 bear burglaries this year. Climate change has led to an acorn failure. It could wind up crashing entire ecosystems in the northeastern states, as the shortages wash up the food chain.
We could go on with these stories.
I think you get it.
Read these books
If you’re tired of going back and forth with friends and family on this issue, you can share this post and give them these books:
Bill McGuire gets right to the point. He’s a retired British professor who spent his career studying climate hazards. He describes exactly what’s happening to the planet and why scientists can’t sleep at night. He talks about our rivers drying up. He talks about breadbasket failures and climate wars. He talks about farmers committing suicide. He backs up everything with studies.
Like Bill McGuire, Gaia Vince doesn’t hold back. She’s a science journalist who got fed up with all the wishful thinking out there. From the beginning, she throws ice water on anyone’s fantasies about having our cake and eating it too—avoiding the worst while still living with first-world comforts.
As Gaia tells it, most scientists know we probably won’t stay below 1.5 degrees of warming. We’re looking at 3 and 4 degrees of warming now, and that’s just the averages. Some places will get way hotter.
That kind of warming “would render the planet unrecognizable from anything that humans have ever experienced.”
That’s our future.
This book also hits hard.
It’s also short and readable. Salamon focuses on overcoming your own climate grief and empowering yourself. She assumes you already have some sense of how bad things have gotten, but you don’t know what to do about it. Before focusing on climate action, she was a clinical psychologist.
She knows what she’s talking about.
Britt Wray covers a lot of the same territory as Magaret Klein Salamon, but she goes further. It’s a longer book, with more examples and stories of how climate change is destroying indigenous communities around the world.
Wray spends a lot of time talking about communication. It’s a good book for anyone who wants ideas for conveying the urgency of the threats we’re facing with honesty, without giving in to doom and despair.
She’s a postdoc fellow at Stanford.
(So, smart as hell.)
Paul Hawken specializes in practical action that scales up. Regeneration is an ambitious book, but it’s also incredibly readable. Basically, this book explains how we could fix the planet in one generation. It would be hard. It would take years of sustained effort and cooperation.
But it’s doable.
Renewable energy isn’t the silver bullet we’re being promised. The authors examine an enormous amount of evidence that shows how dams, solar panels, and wind farms aren’t that green to begin with. They rely heavily on fossil fuels for production and maintenance. It’s not even clear that we have the raw resources to produce enough renewable energy infrastructure to meet our energy demands. In fact, we probably don’t. Worst of all, these renewables aren’t displacing coal and natural gas. Every year, our energy use grows faster than we can build solar and wind farms. We’re simply stacking green energy on top of fossil fuels. We have no choice here. We have to consume less electricity. We have to buy less.
Honestly, it means no more vacations. No more concerts. No more private jets for billionaires. No more virgin plastic for anyone.
No more endless economic growth.
Above all, no more wars.
A lot of us are trying to figure out how we can survive a future filled with storms, droughts, floods, and bread basket failures.
David Pogue answers all of those questions. He’s not a crazy survivalist prepper. He doesn’t talk about bunkers and beans.
Instead, he takes the home improvement approach. Your best odds lie in figuring out what kinds of threats you’re most likely to face, and actually preparing for them. Worried about storms? Heat waves? Floods?
There’s a lot of simple, practical things you can do.
It’s a great reference.
You are not alone.
If you’ve been feeling climate dread, here’s the most important point.
You are not alone.
There are millions of people out here who get it. We understand the stakes. More and more people are getting it every day.
That’s a reason to hope.
It’s our turn now.
The point of this post is to underscore how serious things are. They’re much worse than the media lets on. That doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. It does mean that we can’t sit around and wait for politicians and CEOs. They’re clearly not doing anything but offering false hope and hollow promises.
It’s up to us now. If you want to make changes, there’s plenty of articles on how to start. I’ve written a few of them. My next post will be a mega-list of practical steps. I’m going to make everyone an action plan, not just about how to mitigate the damage, but how to get through this mess.
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