Beginning in posts here in 2011, the impacts on our grandchildren of governmental policy failures became the term used to create context about our failures as a people.
If you follow climate news you know the a heat dome impacted California and the Pacific Northwest last month. Firefighters battled 44 large wildfires that have burned nearly 700,000 acres. One of the coldest inhabited places on the planet, Verkhoyansk, Siberia, the land surface temperature was 118 degrees. And these are not isolated events:
Katharine Hayhoe, a 49-year-old climate scientist at Texas Tech University and chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy, noted “These extremes are something we knew were coming, the suffering that is here and now is because we have not heeded the warnings sufficiently.”
Hayhoe was only 14 when Congressional leaders first began reciting, repeating, warnings of impending climate change.
Indeed, the "alarmist" headline read "ACTION IS URGED TO AVERT GLOBAL CLIMATE SHIFT." Of course that was 35 years ago in a December 1985 New York Times article that told us:
"Scientists have warned that carbon dioxide, from the burning of fossil fuels, and other man-made gases, such as methane and chlorofluorocarbons, are accumulating in the atmosphere. These gases trap in the earth's atmosphere solar infrared radiation that would otherwise escape back into space. Projections based on mathematical models indicate the average temperature at the surface of the earth, starting by the end of this century, could increase by as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100."
Elements of the post that follows appeared here previously, but given the recent climate "warming" impacts we need to be certain that readers be given the opportunity to consider its message.
Because agencies of the United States government and the Chinese government recently have accepted as inevitable a near-maximum catastrophic impact from Climate Change, the subject must be taken up again. The May 2018 Chinese study, which corresponds to the July official projections accepted and published by the Trump Administration, is unequivocal.
Of course, almost no living person in the Baby Boom generation (or older) will be alive to experience the full catastrophic impact even in the earliest year of the Chinese models - 2064. And at least half of the Gen X generation will be gone before the Chinese model's "most likely" full catastrophic impact year - 2084.
That means Climate Change is still a somewhat abstract concept to the generations of people who voted in the greatest percentages in the latest elections - excluding those who died from the recent heat. And too many of them keep telling themselves it is a lie as they try to figure out how to stay in their home until they die, in many cases despite regular flooding or wildfires or both.
And by "them" I must include "me" because as I wrote in 2016 Al Gore's campaign on climate policy beginning "40 years ago, he..., well, kids..., my generation failed him and you."
We have already changed the world catastrophically
As explained in a previous post here, Elizabeth Kolbert is a Pulitzer Prize winning author who has won many awards for her extensive writings on Climate Change. In that post a quote from the 2015 update to her 2006 Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change summed up the situation (emphasis added):
In the years since I wrote this book I’ve been asked hundreds of variations on the question: “What should I do?” What people seem to be looking for is both advice on concrete actions they can take and the assurance that what they do will make a difference. Given the paralysis of the political system, the time lag built into the climate system, and the high likelihood that the threshold of DAI [dangerous anthropogenic interference] has now been crossed, it’s difficult to offer such assurances. We have already changed the world dramatically, indeed quite probably catastrophically. But even when it comes to catastrophe, distinctions can be made. What we choose to do—or not to do—in the coming decades will determine the future both for our own kind and for the millions of other species with whom we share this planet. It is possible that we could still limit warming to around two degrees Celsius, and it is also possible that we could lock in warming of six degrees Celsius or more. These two possibilities represent radically different worlds.
In her 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History she explains that the Earth is in the midst of a man-made sixth extinction, chronicling previous mass extinction events, and comparing them to the accelerated, widespread extinctions of our present time. In a July 2014 interview on The Daily Show with John Stewart promoting the book at the end they both acknowledge a kind of despair:
Unfortunately, in 2018 in both the U.S. and China formal findings have been made that we have "locked in warming" of 4°± Celsius most likely within 60 years.
Under the direction of the Trump Administration the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with the cooperation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued aDraft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Year 2021–2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks proposing reduced average fuel economy standards for those vehicles.
The DEIS has determined that the draft official policy of the United States government will be acceptance of a near worst case scenario, a 4.387°C (7.876°F) global temperature rise since 1880 by 2100. That is because any lesser scenario would require deep cuts in carbon emissions to avoid this drastic warming. A lesser scenario “would require substantial increases in technology innovation and adoption compared to today’s levels...which is not currently technologically feasible or economically feasible.”
In May 2018 a collaborative research team from China published a new analysis that shows the Earth's climate would increase by 4 °C, compared to pre-industrial levels, most likely by 2084. They found that most of the models projected an increase of 4°C as early as 2064 and as late as 2095, with 2084 appearing as the median year.
"Our ultimate goal is to provide a comprehensive picture of the mean and extreme climate changes associated with higher levels of global warming based on state-of-the art climate models, which is of high interest to the decision-makers and the public," said Dabang Jiang, a senior researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Perhaps some would want to dismiss both government agencies as being too pessimistic. The problem is in 1995, now 26 years ago, then Vice-President Gore reflected on his experienced reality in a 1995 New York Times article:
"We are in an unusual predicament as a global civilization," Al Gore said when I interviewed him early in his Vice Presidency. "The maximum that is politically feasible, even the maximum that is politically imaginable right now, still falls short of the minimum that is scientifically and ecologically necessary."
In other words, as Kobert outlined in The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History various species have already gone extinct. Others are adapting, doing things like moving to higher elevations. But they haven't experienced anything close to the impacts of an increase of 4°C which will strain every species including humans.
All of which should lead us back 90 years to the Dust Bowl Era pictured at the beginning of this post.
In his 1933 novel To A God Unknown, John Steinbeck tells an allegorical tale of the California experience. The protagonist, Joseph, comes to California to create his future. He discovers a place of apparent wealth and promise. And indeed he appears to be achieving all that he dreams. But over time, tragedies strike and a drought undoes his life work.
Late 19th and early 20th Century immigrants to Californian hadn't read To A God Unknown. Instead they believed that water was an endless resource of wealth for future Californians. Unfortunately that wasn't true. It was Johnny Carson who observed that California has four seasons: Fire, Earthquake, Flood, and Drought. But mid-20th Century Californians didn't hear that.
Lands that once were orchards in Southern California. the San Francisco Peninsula, and Santa Clara County, and farms in the Central Valley became subdivisions of housing for large populations, urban/suburban populations that were now dependent upon that water for human consumption competing with the remaining agricultural interests. In 2009 the Southern San Joaquin Valley became the first area in the State to suffer significantly from the return of centuries of drought that received intermittent decades of relief.
No one can say we weren't warned.