Tag - carbon

A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never!


Op-ed by Bill McKibben, Published: May 24 in Washington Post

Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Mo., you should not wonder: Is this somehow related to the tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that (which, together, comprised the most active April for tornadoes in U.S. history). No, that doesn’t mean a thing.

It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advisable to try to connect them in your mind with, say, the fires burning across Texas — fires that have burned more of America at this point this year than any wildfires have in previous years. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been — the drought is worse than that of the Dust Bowl. But do not wonder if they’re somehow connected.

If you did wonder, you see, you would also have to wonder about whether this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest — resulting in record flooding along the Mississippi — could somehow be related. And then you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming, and to the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air.

It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change. There have been tornadoes before, and floods — that’s the important thing. Just be careful to make sure you don’t let yourself wonder why all these record-breaking events are happening in such proximity — that is, why there have been unprecedented megafloods in Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in the past year. Why it’s just now that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years. No, better to focus on the immediate casualties, watch the videotape from the store cameras as the shelves are blown over. Look at the news anchorman standing in his waders in the rising river as the water approaches his chest.

Because if you asked yourself what it meant that the Amazon has just come through its second hundred-year drought in the past five years, or that the pine forests across the western part of this continent have been obliterated by a beetle in the past decade — well, you might have to ask other questions. Such as: Should President Obama really just have opened a huge swath of Wyoming to new coal mining? Should Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sign a permit this summer allowing a huge new pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta? You might also have to ask yourself: Do we have a bigger problem than $4-a-gallon gasoline?

Better to join with the U.S. House of Representatives, which voted 240 to 184 this spring to defeat a resolution saying simply that “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.” Propose your own physics; ignore physics altogether. Just don’t start asking yourself whether there might be some relation among last year’s failed grain harvest from the Russian heat wave, and Queensland’s failed grain harvest from its record flood, and France’s and Germany’s current drought-related crop failures, and the death of the winter wheat crop in Texas, and the inability of Midwestern farmers to get corn planted in their sodden fields. Surely the record food prices are just freak outliers, not signs of anything systemic.

It’s very important to stay calm. If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies. If worst ever did come to worst, it’s reassuring to remember what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told the Environmental Protection Agency in a recent filing: that there’s no need to worry because “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.” I’m pretty sure that’s what residents are telling themselves in Joplin today.

Bill McKibben is founder of the global climate campaign 350.org and a distinguished scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont.

To leave it in the ground -or not.

This is a copy of a comment I made at ClimateProgress almost two years ago. It needs to be repeated.


Why do we accept the talk about “lowering the emission”, when we might as well saying “leaving the fossil carbon in the ground”. A reduction of the human induced emissions of CO2 implies that carbon eventually is not taken out from the ground. If you want to reduce emissions by 80%, you have to reduce the amount of coal/gas/oil you dig up by approximately… 80%. (If this is enough is another story). And it needs to be done pretty soon, maybe some years ago.

A. No world leaders dare to talk public about the consequences of not digging up the carbon (for ex Who will get it? How to tackle poverty? What will happen with Russian and Saudi economy? What about all pensions (voters) invested in carbon industry?).
B. No world leaders dare to talk about the fact that whatever carbon is brought up from the ground, it will eventually be emitted as CO2 (Maybe not by me or you, but by somebody). Instead we accept the talk about lowering our own emissions as if that was enough.

Implication for those who argue we can “save climate” with wind power, low energy light bulbs, efficient cars, personal reduction of emission, carbon trading etc: It is NOT saving ourselves from catastrophic climate changes. It is however maintaining welfare when we have done what we have to do, namely: Leaving the fossil carbon in the ground (and the trees on the ground). Not just a plan or a goal for the future, but actually leaving it there. For a start.

Not even talking about leaving the carbon in the ground makes me a bit pessimistic about our capability to deal with our own the future, added upon all the knowledge we have about climate scenarios and the lack of strategies for dealing with major consequences.

As long as there is an acceptance for a baseline that says it is okay to bring up the coal/gas/oil as long as you use it efficiently, we are failing.
We need to understand that we no longer have access to the carbon stored in the sediments. We have to survive without it. With it, many peoples won’t.

Al Gore speech

July 17, 2008 Al Gore gave a speech to challenge USA to deal with the major problem facing the nation. Economic, Environmental and dependence upon Foreign natural resources.

He compared the challenge to the time when America decided to put a man on the moon within ten years. The challenge today is to produce 100% of its electricity from renewable resources within ten years.

Now this clearly is a vision. And USA has show us before that they can accomplish things once they get a goal and starts moving towards it. They put a man on the moon. And it was done after eight years.

What are we doing in Sweden? It is not that we don’t have the knowledge. It is not that we don’t know the answer. It is not that we can’t understand the opportunities…

We are waiting for a leader to step forward. And if we can’t find the leader among our own 9 million inhabitants, or none of them understand that he or she is a leader, we will still be waiting while somebody else takes the initiative.

No, I’m not going to spend to much time criticizing the lack of Swedish true initiatives and leadership. I salute the initiative and leadership and vision shown by Al Gore.

See the short video at YouTube (5 minutes).

Or the total speech at Wecansolveit.org (27 minutes).