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Do Americans Believe in Climate Change?

How about a little good news for a change? True, 2019 marked the end of the hottest decade in recorded history, and the second-hottest year. But as a nation, we seem to be noticing. Americans do believe in climate change and every year we believe in it more.

 

Americans think climate change is a bigger problem than economic inequality, racism, illegal immigration, or terrorism. Think about that for a second. As a nation, we believe climate change is more of a problem than Mexican caravans, the late Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, and the sixty percent of struggling adults in our country who live paycheck to paycheck.

 

Let me take the risk of boring you with some statistics. Forty-eight percent of us believe climate change is "a very big problem." That's up from forty percent in 2016. Another twenty-four percent think climate change is "a moderately big problem," while only twenty-seven percent think it's "a small problem" or "not a problem at all."

 

What's more, Americans believe that climate is manmade. Fifty-two percent agree that Earth is "getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels." That's up from 45 percent three years ago.

Those responses come from the Pew Research Center, a highly respected "nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world." The survey was conducted in September 2019, with a national probability sample of 2,004 adults 18+.

 

What makes the growing belief in climate change more heartening is that in 2019, the United States experienced less of an increase in temperature than the rest of the planet. Look at the heat map and notice how the color code of the US compares to Central Europe or Antarctica. The Great Plains states were one of the few parts of the world that were actually cooler in 2019.

 

Of course, there's bad news, as well. We're as divided about climate change as we are about all the other major issues the nation is facing. Seventy-three percent of Democrats and Independents who "lean Democrat" believe climate change is "a very big problem." Only 17 percent of Republicans and Independent "leaners" agree.

 

It's sad, but we didn't need the Pew study to tell us that science is being sacrificed on the altar of politics. And that it will take politics to bring science back to the forefront. I'm looking forward to a very noisy election year.

 

Next post, I'll dig deeper into the underlying reasons for the increasing belief in climate change. But here's a hint: "It's the weather, stupid."

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The Limits of Optimism

As we usher in 2020, this eponymous year for perfect vision, I find it very difficult to see a rosy future for the planet. Flaming neon orange seems to be winning out.

 

An entire continent is burning in the southern hemisphere, while the prime minister vacations in Hawaii and panders to the coal industry for more donations. The "police are now working on the premise arson is to blame," while the deputy prime minister floats the idea that the real culprit is "horse manure, self-combusting." The only explanation for this mad climate-change denial is that when the temperature regularly soars to 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, it tends to fry the brain.

 

In Washington the Trump administration continues its war on science, ignoring, distorting, or marginalizing any and all scientific data, first and foremost but not exclusively, any data that relates to climate change. As the evisceration of the Environmental Protection Agency and other watchdog organizations continues unabated, and rules and regulations meant to protect the health and well-being of ordinary citizens are consigned to the trash bin, the White House trumpets "Businesses are finally being freed of Washington's overreach and the American economy is flourishing as a result."

 

Meanwhile, the Greenland ice sheet continues to melt seven times faster than in the 1990s, the UN climate change conference in Madrid ends in disarray, and half a billion animals are likely to perish in the living Hell down under. The Green New Deal remains a third-rail issue, and according to a Vegas sports book, reflecting how people are betting in real time, Trumps' odds of winning reelection after ordering the assassination of an Iranian general are at an all time high.

 

David Brooks, the New York Times' cuddly conservative columnist, thinks the prediction of a Trump victory is wishful thinking. In his own version of same, a column entitled, "A Ridiculously Optimistic History of the Next Decade," he foresees a landslide for the Dems, including winning both houses of Congress. As he segued from politics into his prognosis for cultural and social issues, I was relishing his wisdom and prescience until I reached the last line and realized that not once in this "ridiculously optimistic" assessment, had he made his forecast known about the fight against climate change. In fact, climate change is never mentioned. What does that say about the limits of optimism?

 

Happy 20/20.

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Happy New Year to All!

"Article II gives me the power to do anything I want!"

As I said in my previous post, it's not easy to keep politics out of a discussion of climate change. Particularly as I sit in my office and watch and hear a typical New York metro-area December thunderstorm roll by.

 

So Happy New Year to all, and let's cheer on Greta and Nancy and a practical version of the Green New Deal!...Garth

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David vs. Goliath

It's not easy to keep politics out of a discussion of climate change. It's particularly difficult as I write this post while watching the historic impeachment proceedings against a president who is the point man for climate change deniers. So I will not try.

 

Immediately after President Trump lost out to climate activist Greta Thunberg as Time magazine's Person of the Year, he mockingly tweeted, "So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!"

 

To further assuage his perceived humiliation, @TrumpWarRoom released this mock-up of what the Time magazine cover should look like, along with the message, "When it comes to keeping his promises, there's only one Person Of The Year." According to the release, those promises he's already kept include "America First Trade Deals" and "Building the Wall."

 

As a reminder, Greta is a 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl who has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. At the United Nations Climate Action Summit in September, she criticized world leaders for slow walking the fight against climate change, saying, "you are failing us, but the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you, and if you choose to fail us, I say, we will never forgive you."

 

President Trump is the 73-year-old president of the United States. After his last annual physical in February, his personal physician declared him to be in "very good health." Nonetheless, he displays all the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which according to the Mayo Clinic is "a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others." He is also the husband of Melania Trump, who has launched an anti-cyberbullying initiative, "Be Best."

 

So what have we learned from these sparse facts, other than, arguably, our president has more mental health issues than Greta? He has a skinnier neck than Adam Schiff, he would look better if he lost sixty or seventy pounds, and he and Mrs. Trump don't talk.

 

What no one had to tell us is that David defeated Goliath. Or that President Trump is a bully, he is prone to exaggeration or outright lies, and he sullies the dignity of his office and the reputation of our nation.

 

Go Greta! Go Nancy!

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Life on the "Barbie"

Sydney Harbor

No, not the doll. The backyard grill.

 

Used to be that Australians were best known for that iconic Tourism Commission commercial where Crocodile Dundee promised Americans to "slip a shrimp on the barbie." Today, it's the Australian people themselves who are getting broiled.

 

Bushfires, as they're referred to Down Under, have been raging across the country for months, fed by a severe, ongoing drought, high winds, and summer temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. As many as 140 fires have been blazing in the past few days. Six lives and more than 700 homes have been lost. A megafire north of Sydney—"it's too big to put out"—that has been burning since early November, has transformed the "Emerald City" sky into an unhealthy and depressing palette of orange and gray and ocher.

 

This unfolding disaster is happening in a country whose government is in the same state of denial about climate change as the Trump administration. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has suggested that some types of climate change demonstrations should be outlawed, and has refused to meet with firefighters who are desperate for more resources to battle the flames.

 

As reservoirs run dry in Australia, and tough water restrictions are imposed, we can be thankful that according to our president, we have nothing to worry about over here, other than our need to "flush the toilet 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once."

 

Taking a short break from hurling invective about the impeachment inquiry, the noted germophobe-in-chief elaborated on his concerns by saying, "You go into a new building or a new house or a new home and they have standards, only you don't get water. You can't wash your hands practically, there's so little water comes out of the faucet. And the end result is you leave the faucet on and it takes you much longer to wash your hands…They end up using more water. So (the) EPA is looking at that very strongly at my suggestion."

 

Presumably our president's suggestion is to roll back regulations on low-flush toilets and controlled-flow faucets. Sadly, arguing for our use of more water on an increasingly water-starved planet, doesn't reach the standard of a high crime or misdemeanor. It's merely inane and shortsighted, but what else is new?

 

            Breaking NewsTime has named Greta Thunberg as their "Person of the Year." More on that next week.

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In Case You're Missing It...

Our Man in Appalachia

The media's attention is focused on Washington, where the impeachment hearings are entering a new phase, and on London, where the 70th anniversary of the NATO alliance is being celebrated, affording the president yet another opportunity to hobnob with the queen, as well as to be ridiculed by our European allies and depart in a huff. (There was no hobnobbing with Boris Johnson, at his request, or with Prince Andrew, a man the president seemingly "doesn't know.")

 

Lost in the shuffle is the far less entertaining current meeting in Madrid. More than 50 world leaders—our president not among them—are gathering for the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, running from December 2 to December 19. The conference comes on the heels of the latest annual UN climate change assessment, which states, "The summary findings are bleak."

 

According to the report, global greenhouse gas emissions have grown by 1.5 percent per year over the past decade. The report warned that to avoid the worst effects of climate change by 2050, such as more intense droughts, stronger storms, and widespread population migration and hunger, emissions must decline by 7.6 percent every year from 2020 onwards. This formidable challenge was summed up by the UN Secretary-General at the opening ceremony in Madrid—the planet is "close to a point of no return."

 

Much to the surprise and chagrin of the Republicans in Congress, the Democrats are finding time to tend to important business beyond the "star chamber" proceedings of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi flew to Madrid to tell the world, "By coming here we want to say to everyone we are still in, the United States is still in," and that, "Our delegation is here to send a message that Congress's commitment to take action on the climate crisis is iron clad." Brave words, but Article Two of the Constitution is broad and contentious, and it's unlikely that the House, by itself, would have the power to override the dictates of a short-sighted Chief Executive.

 

Do you suppose it's merely a coincidence that our president took the formal step to remove the United States from the Paris climate accords, effective November 4, 2020. FYI, election day is November 3. Beware the possibility of the "first major accomplishment of the second Trump administration."

 

So there's a lot more at stake in the ongoing impeachment proceedings and the upcoming election—for the senate as well as the presidency—than whether the current sizable derriere will continue to hold court in the oval office. The results could potentially determine the fate of the planet.

 

                                        - For those of you who are wondering, we ate the last of 2019's tomatoes yesterday, December 3.                                            Not as good as warm off the vine, but far tastier than store-bought.

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Is Venice Drowning?

Why are they smiling?

Photo: The Atlantic

Do you need to ask? Venice, "La Serenissima", is no longer so serene. In fact, between the increased frequency of the aqua alta or extreme high tide, the hordes of smiling, carefree tourists who descend on the city every day, and the prospect of rising sea levels brought on by climate change, the city is in a state of crisis, currently and permanently.

 

The city is built on hundreds of thousands of wooden pilings that connect and shore up more than 100 small islands that dot the Venetian lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. The roughly quarter million residents are vastly outnumbered by thirty million annual visitors, many who arrive on hundreds of giant cruise ships, some of which tie up only yards away from the Doge's Palace. Every day, they add about 16 million pounds of "live weight" that batters the streets in a city that needs no additional help in slowly subsiding into the sea.

 

As Venice sinks, the waters rise. The aqua alta now strikes the city with increased frequency—from 10 to 60 times a year—and increased severity—as much as six feet above normal. The future is even bleaker, and not just for Venice. According to a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications, rising sea levels could impact three times as many people by 2050 as previously thought, and all but drown some of the world's great coastal cities. Bangkok, Mumbai, Shanghai, and Alexandria can now be added to the list of usual suspects, such as Miami, New York, and Boston.

 

The knock-on effects will be horrendous, principally on population migration patterns. If people and politicians in Europe or America think they have a problem now, imagine what it might be when tens of millions of people are literally left homeless? 

 

Serious fiction usually tiptoes around the problem of climate change, but Gun Island, a new novel by literary award-winning writer Amitav Ghosh, confronts the migration issue head on. It's the story of displaced people, some of them literally from India and Bangladesh, and one of them more philosophically and temperamentally from Brooklyn. Ironically, the colorful cast of characters all end up in Venice, where so many Bangladeshis work the menial jobs. There, they bear witness to the aqua alta and the appalling cost to humanity of a changing climate. 

 

If you read Gun Island, I guarantee it will make you think.

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The Tomato Whisperer

Late Harvest, October 31, 2019

I come from generations of farmers on both sides of my family. So as soon as I bought a house outside New York City, it was natural for me to begin tending a vegetable garden. For years I could count on a killing frost here in northern Westchester County no later than the first week of October. Last year, it arrived on October 29. This year it was November 1. We gathered in the last of the tomatoes to ripen indoors on Halloween day.

 

Global warming, right?

 

So how to explain that when I woke up yesterday morning, less than two weeks later, the temperature was 17 degrees? And by midday, it was only up to a balmy 28? And my lettuce and chard is hanging on for dear life, despite being covered by thick sheets of plastic?

 

Because it's climate change.

 

The polar vortex has made an early appearance this year, and two-thirds of the nation is in its icy grip. While wildfires are still burning in California, the coldest temperatures ever recorded in November have been reported in Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. Snow is on the ground in 49 of the 50 states, including the peaks of the volcanoes in Hawaii. Florida has no snow, but it does have wind chill temperatures as low as 20 degrees.

 

Short-term weather should never be confused with long-term climate. But these extreme cold snaps have become more frequent and severe in recent years. So have heat waves, torrential rains, and destructive tornadoes and hurricanes. And so have knock-on effects like devastating floods, the aforementioned wildfires, and longer and longer growing seasons in my vegetable garden.

 

Scientists have been loath to link a "weird weather" event like the current cold snap to a changing climate. But even that is gradually changing. As a backyard farmer, and a commonsense layman, the link seems indisputable. I listen to the tomatoes.

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Au Revoir, Paris...

... or as many people say, "Good-bye and Good Riddance"

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

It was easy to miss with the growing uproar over impeachment, but last Monday was a sad day for our nation and our planet. The Trump administration kept a campaign promise by formally notifying the United Nations that the United States would withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change. In that accord, the US agreed to cut heat-trapping gases 26% below 2005 levels by 2025.

 

The withdrawal will not officially take effect until a year from now, but that is irrelevant. No further action will be taken to reduce emissions, and the stable genius in the White House will undoubtedly attempt to take actions to increase them, such as continuing to challenge California's right to set stricter tailpipe standards for automobiles.

 

Secretary of State Pompeo issued a statement saying that the agreement would be an "unfair economic burden imposed on American workers, businesses and taxpayers." He made no mention of the existential burdens the withdrawal will impose on every country and every person on the globe, especially those not yet born.

 

Former Vice President and climate crusader Al Gore countered with, "No one person or party can stop our momentum to solve the climate crisis, but those who try will be remembered for their complacency, complicity, and mendacity in attempting to sacrifice the planet for their greed."

 

Gore also noted that a new president would be able to reverse the decision in 30 days or less. "This decision is ultimately in the hands of the voters," he said.

 

Sounds like marching orders to me.

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Is California Burning?

from the NY Times

Seriously, do you have to ask? In case you were wondering, the wildfires that are currently ravaging the state have as much to do with climate change as they do with the ineptitude of Pacific Gas & Electric. PG&E has been serving California since early in the last century, and yes, their equipment is getting older and more prone to failure. But an errant random spark is harmless, or the fire it starts is easily controllable, unless higher temperatures and reduced rainfall have turned shrubbery into tinder and the hot, dry Santa Ana winds come howling out of the Nevada desert at hurricane force, topping out at more than 80 miles per hour and spreading glowing embers like a Cuisinart without a lid. 

 

Not convinced that climate change is the culprit? Correlation is not causation, but the following should make you think. According to NOAH, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the past five years have been the five warmest years on record. Also according to NOAH, only four times since the middle of last century has has the total area burned in a single year by wildfires in the United States exceeded 13,900 square miles, an area larger than Belgium. It just so happens that all four fire-prone years were in the same decade as the five warmest years—this decade. Can any rational thinker really chalk up the coincidence to an unfortunate run of "weird weather?"*

 

The thing about climate change is that it's not only the first-order effects like scorching temperatures and drought that do the damage. It's the so-called knock-on effects like the California wildfires that destroy property, disrupt lives (200,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in Northern California alone), and sometimes end them. And also the knock-on effects of the knock-on effects, like PG&E turning off electrical power to a million and a half customers for days on end in a futile attempt to prevent another errant random spark from ever happening.

 

What matters for today is that the brave firefighters get this Hell-on-Earth under control and that no more lives or property are lost. What matters for tomorrow is raising consciousness about how much suffering climate change can and will cause, even before temperatures and sea levels rise to life-threatening levels. Let's hope tragedies don't have to become commonplace before the public and the politicians start to take weird weather and its knock-on effects seriously.

 

*Weird weather is how the climate change denier in my novel, The Eleventh Grieve, explains away the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events and trends, such as the recent streak of "hottest years on record," or the nine tornados that ripped through Dallas, Texas last weekend at 140 mph, sparing lives but causing $2 billion in property damage.

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