The Universal Notebook: No hope for Kiribati

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Anyone in Maine who can’t see that climate change is real is a complete fill-in-the-blank.

The Gulf of Maine is heating up faster than almost any other body of water in the world, resulting in major changes in habitat. Add ocean acidification to the warmer waters and you can say hello to invasive green crabs and good-bye to clams, mussels, oysters, lobsters and cod. On the positive side, the growing season in Maine is now a week or two longer than it once was.

Anyone who doesn’t think human activity is the cause of these dramatic changes is an even bigger fill-in-the-blank. Conservative flat-Earthers, of course, see climate change as a one-world plot to grab power and make money. As far as they are concerned, the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change has anthropogenic causes, which runs 92 percent to 97 percent, depending on who’s doing the measuring, is just an academic con game. “Climate change is good for getting grants.”

While 92 percent of scientists and 59 percent to 75 percent of Americans (again depending on source) agree that climate change is a serious human-created problem, only 38 percent of conservative Republicans and just 29 percent of tea party Republicans agree. That’s one of many reasons I never want to see another Republican president.

On the hopeful side, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris produced an agreement among the 195 participating nations to limit the increase in the “global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”

“I believe this moment can be a turning point for the world,” President Barack Obama said, calling the Paris agreement “the best chance we have to save the one planet that we’ve got.”

“This didn’t save the planet” cautioned arch-druid Bill McKibben, author of “The End of Nature” and co-founder of the climate action organization “But it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

I’m afraid I’m skeptical that the Paris climate agreement will make a significant difference. That’s because 55 of the top polluting nations in the world have to ratify it before it goes into effect and Republicans in Congress were planning to torpedo it even before it was made.

“The next president could simply tear it up,” warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as soon as the Paris agreement was announced. A good reason never to elect another Republican president.

So not only do we have to contend with the existential dilemma of climate change, we are also faced with obstructionist climate change deniers who would rather shill for the oil industry and risk human extinction than admit they might be wrong. Contrition and cooperation are not in the vocabulary of conservatives.

The Rev. Richard Killmer, a retired Presbyterian minister, attended the Paris climate summit as an official observer for the Christian Reformed Church of North America. First Parish Church in Yarmouth (not a CRCNA member, but the local church Rich Killmer attends) commissioned him on Nov. 22, so I will defer to his judgement that the Paris agreement will turn out to be meaningful.

“We’re talking about major changes,” Killmer insists. “We’re talking about being carbon neutral by 2070.”

Killmer says the most meaningful speech he heard in Paris was by Hungary’s President Janos Ader, who spoke of “this recurring dream” of talking to his at-yet-unborn grandchild.

“My grandchild says the following to me: Grandpa, I grew up to be an adult in a period when the impacts of climate change posed a direct threat to human civilization. I still have this nagging question however. Could you have stopped in your own time all that has happened by today? Why didn’t you listen to scientists? Why did you disregard scientific evidence?”

I’ve got six grandchildren. Climate disaster is not hypothetical to me. Did I mention I’d hate to see another Republican president?

There are political, economic, scientific and technological dimensions to climate change, but Killmer believes it is the moral dimension that is driving the call to action. Poor people in poor countries are facing climate catastrophes because of the unsustainable lifestyles that you and I live.

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati, in fact, may become the first casualty of climate change. Just two meters above sea level, Kiribati is being inundated as ice caps melt and sea levels rise. In Paris, Kiribati’s president thanked Fiji for agreeing to take in his people when they lose their homeland.

“There is no hope for Kiribati,” Killmer says.

Let’s just hope it’s not too late for the rest of us.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • David Treadwell

    As usual, you make good sense. And as usual, climate-change deniers will ignore good sense. Keep up the good fight.

    • poppypapa

      “Climate change?” I thought it was global warming, David. Have you abandoned that prior “overwhelming scientific consensus?” So which is it: are we warming, cooling, or just changing?

      Can you cite historic periods when climate did not change?

      • Just Sayin’

        The scientific community has switched terminology to Climate Change, because the phrase “Global Warming” was challenged by idiotic congressmen bringing snowballs in to work, and other shortsighted people pointing to local cold snaps as snarky ‘proof’ against global warming.

        The net result of climate change isn’t warmer temps for everyone, but weather with more extreme, unpredictable and severe behavior, thus climate change is a much more fitting descriptive term than global warming ever was.

        Climate has always changed, but it is doing so in more severe ways that are increasingly dangerous to us, to the point that even the US Military is planning responses to the dangers of climate change, and dickering over terminology is nothing but wasted energy and time in the face of a very real problem.

      • Christopher White

        We are experiencing ‘Climate Change’, namely ‘Global Warming’. The changes are thought by a solid majority of researchers to be caused by humans adding CO2 and other ‘greenhouse’ gases into the atmosphere along with such other human activities as deforestation of the rainforests. Among the results of this are that high altitude temperatures are dropping while surface temperatures are rising. Other effects include oceanic acidification, areas of desertification, glacial melting, and so on.

        One of the reasons this is striking is that a significant body of thought holds that the planet’s NATURALLY occurring climate change should have been toward a cooling trend.

        But then, you have no real interest in the science, do you? Your only interest is in making this a simplistic left versus right, liberal versus conservative, political argument in which anyone who disagrees with you on, say, whether the Man in the Blaine House is an out-of-control bully or not must, by definition, be wrong on any and all other issues. Willfully rejecting science due to politics is beyond foolish.

        • EABeem

          Don’t bother, Chris. In the case of Prof. Poppycock, we just call it “Hot Air” and move on.

        • poppypapa

          Kale; too much kale is the real culprit. Word is Eddie is even going to try the new kale cigarettes and the kale koffee for his Kuerig.

    • Aliyah33

      No offense to EABeem, but good sense reasonably includes looking at both sides of the issue and asking more questions. In researching climate change aka global warming, I wonder why a think tank first thought up the concept (namely The Club of Rome in the late 60s early 70s; check UN site for available documents, books).

      I also wonder why Judicial Watch has yet to receive the scientific data used as basis for climate change…why has the Navy already reported the gulf stream has stopped…if 80% of the world’s volcanoes are under the oceans, could that be the real reason for increased ocean acidity?…Why have earthquakes increased in both frequency and magnitude and in places never before reported…Why is the Earth’s magnetosphere deteriorating…why is the Earth slowing down in rotation…why are there massive animal die-offs, and sinkholes…why are the Inuits telling us the earth is wobbling and the sun and star aren’t where the elders knew them to be…why is Indonesia sinking? And why is there so much money in the climate change program agenda given to companies for alternative energy sources, manufacturing going bankrupt and leaving with the money?

      No doubt man made actions negatively impact our Earth, and we all need to think about respecting our home, cleaning it up and protecting it. But to this extent – is it possible for C02 emissions to be the link to all of this? I think not. Too many people have gotten wealthy on the concept, and laughing at us for buying it hook, line, and sinker.

  • Chew H Bird

    We know is the climate is warming at a more rapid pace than usual. We know that humans are impacting the rate of warming. This is not rocket science.

    The above noted, meetings, agendas, goal setting, and debate will have little to no impact on the rate of climate change.

    As much as we (in some circles) are making an effort to reduce our impact on the environment, there are many nations in the world who are seeking to industrialize or have far less consideration of the environment based upon a different government perspective.

    The sad fact is reducing our global impact will have no positive result. The only way to achieve a reduction in human contribution to climate change is to actually reverse our foot print and that simply will not happen as long as we want heat in the winter, air conditioning in the summer, electricity at our fingertips, and individualized transportation in non urban areas.

    The entire discussion (in my opinion), needs to be re-framed in order to have even minimal global response (other than political hot air). The problem is not global warming or saving the earth… Our planet will survive humans just as it survived the dinosaurs and the ice ages. The real issue is our own survival and the fundamental core problem is our population.

    Every species on this planet increases and decreases in population based on environmental conditions such as food, water, temperature, predators, and disease. Because we have created short term solutions to these problems we now have more people who live longer, consume additional resources, and contribute more to pollution. This scenario will not change until the environment adapts to the point where the number of humans on the planet is reduced.

    Political policies regarding climate change are the environmental equivalent of raising the congressional debt ceiling in that sooner or later we have to pay the bill.

    Another sad fact is the cleanest energy is the one we want least… Nuclear energy, with high priced disposal into outer space, combined with solar, wind, and hydro power is the unfortunate best we can do at the current time to reduce our dirty energy.

  • poppypapa

    “Studies show….” seems to fit this subject well.

    Did you know that funded studies by Transit Oriented Development experts predicted, among other things, that Brunswick, right now, in the present, would be experiencing nearly $2 million a week in increased retail sales due to the arrival of the Downeaster in town? That’s a lot of beer and hamburgers at the two station eateries. Plus something like 900 new jobs?

    And local officials swallowed the predictions and rationale whole as they made ‘investments’ on behalf of the little people and the Bowdoin Alum developer of Station Property.

    Here’s what I want to know from Eddie and the Experts (a new version of the Weavers?) is how once they get their hands on the global thermostat, and start temperatures headed downward, at what point will they say “whoa, that’s cool enough,” and how will they halt the downward trajectory and stabilize things at their “ideal temperature?” Will everyone have to fire up all their appliances and idle their IC engines in the driveway?

    And by the way, who will be the Climate god that sets the ideal temperature and gives the command?

    How you comin’ on your banjo lessons, Eddie?

    • Christopher White

      Difficult to know how to respond to such an inane and willfully twisted piece of ‘logic’. Should we ignore three decades of research by hundreds of scientists from around the planet because the predictions of the economic impact of the Downeaster on Brunswick made by one research group were faulty? We’re long past apples & oranges here; we’re into comparing apples with moonrocks.

      The idea of a ‘global thermostat’ that ‘Experts’ would dial down under the direction of a ‘Climate God’ reeks of paranoia, if not outright lunacy.

      If you’ve taken your kid to see 100 doctors about a persistent and climbing fever and better than 9 out of 10 of those doctors advise you to stop feeding your kid soda, warning you that if the trend continues your kid will definitely suffer and might die, do you look at your stock in Pepsico and decide it is worth the risk they might all be wrong? Maybe you would.

      • Chew H Bird

        I think the real issue being raised is when I was in college in the 1970s scientists and studies showed we were heading for a global ice age…

        • EABeem

          I hope you’re not suggesting that we should abandon science and just wing it.

          • Chew H Bird

            Of course not. However, science relies on factual information, (not opinions or media infused perspective). That our perception of climate fluctuation has changed completely over the past 40 years demonstrates that whatever information we believe to be accurate is always subject to change based upon new information.

            The bottom line is we are unable to cure the common cold and the information we have today about our contributions to global pollution (which is the actual issue), will likely change as we learn and discover more about how our planet works.

            We have made many mistakes regarding our environment and will probably continue to do so as our population grows. Just as the fox population grows to keep pace with increased numbers of rabbits, I have little doubt our planet will adapt to keep pace with the growing human population. It is simply how things work, and our population growth is the is the ultimate culprit regarding our contribution to the health (or lack thereof) regarding our environment. Until we address this issue whatever we do to improve the environment will continue to fail. Reducing the “pollution deficit” is the same as reducing the budget deficit with the eventual result being a catastrophic failure of the system.

          • Christopher White

            A highly convoluted way of obscuring a few simple things. First, as your initial response notes, 50 years ago climate scientists looking at the long term trends and data were predicting that if the NATURAL cycles continued we were due to enter a period of cooling. When the data showed the reverse was occurring and the planet was warming instead scientists began to seek to understand why this was happening. This led to the current strong consensus the cause was the degree [pun intended] of human intervention in the natural systems responsible for climate.

            Your claim the planet will ‘adapt to keep pace with the growing human population’ is probably true. Whether that adaptation is one we, as humans, will like or benefit from, however is another question entirely. We can choose to allow ‘mother nature’ to do her thing, flood our coastal cities, dry up farmlands, and all the other devastating … to humans … things science predicts and actual events confirm will and are happening. Or we can seek to do what we know will help keep the planet habitable for our species.

            The only argument against attempting to alter course is to avoid inconveniencing the 1% currently holding vast economic and political (as well as mechanical) power who will need to lose some degree of advantage over the other 99% of humans on the planet as we transition to new approaches to powering and providing for our human species’ various needs.

          • Chew H Bird

            What I am saying is unless the entire global population works to reduce the harmful impact of human pollutants the eventual outcome will be tragic for humanity. With many less developed countries seeking to gain access to modern resources, and nations already developed seeking to retain their position, the reality of actually reversing the warming process is likely beyond the tipping point leaving the two remaining questions: How does our species intend to survive the catastrophic failure brought on by advancement and who makes those decisions?

          • EABeem

            That’s what the UN conference concluded, too, and why all the nations of the world promised to reduce greenhouse gases. And that’s what I said in the column. Can’t figure out who or what you are arguing with.

          • Chew H Bird

            What I am saying is we have been unable to bring peace to the Middle East. We are not capable of curing the common cold. We are good at creating policies and legislation that result in increased paperwork for business and expand the power of government. We are good at short term gratification and very poor at resolving long term realities. Heck, a budget “victory” is when the rate of debt increase is reduced instead of actually reducing the debt.

            Talking and negotiating will not resolve the long term issues facing humanities long term environmental impact on our plant. History demonstrates that people only accomplish such unity when confronted with tangible and horrifying realities (think “imminent threat”).

            Reducing pollution, increasing food supplies, increasing water supply, providing heat and shelter, will not provide the solution. My argument is we can waste time with these half measures predetermined to fail, or we can find a way to reduce our planets population without violence or harm. There are no other viable options for a long term solution.

          • EABeem

            Remember Zero Population Growth (ZPG)? Another scientific artifact of the past. You’re right. We do need to figure out how to maintain a sustainable world population, but it’s not going to hurt to reduce pollution as much as possible.

          • Christopher White

            Sounds an awful lot like a justification for doing nothing because we cannot wave a magic wand and ‘solve’ the problem of global warming immediately. It sets up population as the underlying problem, which may or may not be true. It also plays into the narrative that equates ‘progress’ with use of fossil fuels and the technologies associated with those fuels. Furthermore, it pretends that we Americans, who have been the greatest consumers of fossil fuels for the longest time, need not shoulder our responsibility because our population is far less than the population of the developing world.

            We regularly spend time, money, and energy doing what we can to mitigate the negative effects of problems that remain unsolvable; think auto safety features, think drug treatment. Efforts in those areas can be judged as doing major good, if one looks at certain metrics, or being totally ineffective, if one defines success as the complete elimination of automobile accidents or drug addiction. Why would we NOT do what we can to lessen and mitigate the problem of global warming?

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  • Christopher Pala

    As you can see, scientists say there’s quite a lot of hope.

    • Aliyah33

      Thank you for the links. Yes, there’s hope.