The Lat­est on Cli­mate Change – and How We Are Now Mak­ing It Worse

Traveling Minds - - Table Of Contents - Photo by Robin Macmil­lan,

Cli­mate change is get­ting worse by the minute. And thanks to a com­bi­na­tion of cor­po­rate greed and cur­rent Amer­i­can pol­icy de­ci­sions, global tem­per­a­tures are go­ing to climb even higher, fast.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est data from the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NOAA), March 2017’s com­bined global av­er­age tem­per­a­ture over the land and ocean sur­faces was 1.05˚C (1.89˚F) above the av­er­age of the 20th cen­tury. That also makes it the sec­ond hottest March on record, af­ter last year’s peak.

The trend data and the graph­ics that go with it are not pretty. Monthly global-mean and Euro­pean-mean sur­face air tem­per­a­ture ano­ma­lies rel­a­tive to 1981-2010 from Jan­uary 1979 to April 2017. The darker-col­ored bars de­note the April val­ues. Source: Era-in­terim. (Credit: ECMWF, Coper­ni­cus Cli­mate Change Ser­vice)

The long-term trend of global warm­ing, there­fore, con­tin­ues its re­lent­less march up­ward. It is get­ting to be way too com­mon to re­port, but the re­sult­ing more pow­er­ful storms, deadly droughts, bru­tal heat that no hu­man can with­stand even now (es­pe­cially in sev­eral Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries) and ris­ing seas (see the April 2017 Tril­lions magazine ar­ti­cle “When It Comes to Cli­mate Change, We’re Al­ready Sunk”) look like they will just keep grow­ing as prob­lems on a cat­a­clysmic scale.

The Fos­sil Fuel In­dus­try Has Known About This for a Long Time

There is now no ques­tion that green­house gas emis­sions, mostly in the form of car­bon diox­ide, are be­hind the ma­jor uptick in global warm­ing over the past half-cen­tury. There is also no ques­tion that hu­man us­age is the rea­son why those CO2 emis­sions have climbed. Ex­haust from cars and trucks, power plants and man­u­fac­tur­ing, just to name a few of the ma­jor con­trib­u­tors, have pushed emis­sions to record lev­els. What of­ten does sur­prise peo­ple is that the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try it­self has been more than aware of its

con­tri­bu­tions to CO2 emis­sions and the im­pact of such emis­sions on global warm­ing for a long time. As for the emis­sions them­selves, when the Amer­i­can Pe­tro­leum In­sti­tute (API) was founded in 1919 – al­most a cen­tury ago – one of the ear­li­est is­sues it fo­cused on was the bad im­age its in­dus­try was al­ready be­gin­ning to cre­ate be­cause of ex­cess smoke hang­ing in the air where pe­tro­leum prod­ucts were be­ing heav­ily used. What was at first a light haze had in some ar­eas be­come a dirty, stink­ing and hard-to-breathe-in hang­ing layer of pol­lu­tion that could be­come a pub­lic re­la­tions and likely health night­mare for its cus­tomers. The API was rightly con­cerned that if it as a sup­pli­ers group did not do some­thing, gov­ern­ment-based en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion might be im­posed that could rep­re­sent a stran­gle­hold on the in­dus­try.

Even with­out the now-well-un­der­stood global warm­ing as­pect of this as a pri­mary fac­tor, in the late 1940s the API and its sur­ro­gate, the West­ern Oil and Gas As­so­ci­a­tion, de­cided they needed to take some ac­tion. They be­gan their own re­search into fos­sil fuel emis­sions, what bad things might come from them and what to do about them. They formed a spe­cial com­mit­tee to man­age all that – the aptly-named “Smoke and Fumes Com­mit­tee” – and be­gan con­duct­ing their own re­search. That group had some of the smartest brains in the field of petro­chem­i­cal re­search, with ex­pe­ri­ence par­tic­u­larly in ga­so­line, oil and coal-based fos­sil fuel sys­tems. Mem­ber com­pa­nies then in­cluded Esso (now part of Exxonmo­bil), Shell and both Union Oil and Stan­dard Oil of Cal­i­for­nia (now both part of Chevron).

To its credit, the Smoke and Fumes Com­mit­tee did pro­duce some ground­break­ing work. Many of its com­ments and con­clu­sions were re­mark­ably clear, well stated and even highly in­sight­ful as pre­dic­tions of what was to come. Con­sider th­ese ex­am­ples:

“Any­one who has been in the Los An­ge­les area dur­ing an ex­tended pe­riod of smog has smelled the odors aris­ing at times among the Hous­ton Ship Chan­nel and has flown over that great pall of coal smoke and dust which at times prac­ti­cally hides the ground from view... does not need to be told that air pol­lu­tion in those sec­tions of the United States has be­come a prob­lem of ut­most im­por­tance.” (Jenk­ins, Vance N., “The Pe­tro­leum In­dus­try Spon­sors Air Pol­lu­tion Re­search,” Fe­bru­ary 1954)

Hu­mans are very quickly “re­turn­ing to the at­mos­phere and oceans the con­cen­trated car­bon stored in sed­i­men­tary rocks over hun­dreds of mil­lions of years.” Fur­ther, “in con­tem­plat­ing the prob­a­bly large in­crease in CO2 pro­duc­tion by fos­sil fuel com­bus­tion in the com­ing decades, we con­clude that a to­tal in­crease of 20 to 40% in at­mo­spheric CO2 can be an­tic­i­pated.” (Rev­elle, Roger, and Hans E. Suess, “Car­bon Diox­ide Ex­change Be­tween At­mos­phere and Ocean and the Ques­tion of an In­crease of At­mo­spheric CO2 Dur­ing the Past Decades,” 1957)

“Man is now en­gaged in a vast geo­phys­i­cal ex­per­i­ment with his en­vi­ron­ment, the earth,” and could cre­ate con­di­tions where “the earth’s tem­per­a­ture in­creases sig­nif­i­cantly,” so much so that dra­matic events such as “the melt­ing of the Antarc­tic ice cap, a rise in ocean lev­els, warm­ing of the oceans and a de­crease in pho­to­syn­the­sis” could hap­pen. (Robin­son, Elmer, and R. C. Rob­bins, “Sources, Abun­dance, and Fate of Gaseous At­mo­spheric Pol­lu­tants,” pre­pared for the Amer­i­can Pe­tro­leum In­sti­tute, SRI Project PR-6755, pub­lished 1968)

A more de­tailed anal­y­sis of the whole Smoke and Fumes Com­mit­tee cover-up is avail­able in the Tril­lions June 2016 ar­ti­cle en­ti­tled “Big Oil’s Big Lies.”

Care­ful bal­anc­ing of the needs of the en­tire global ecosys­tem on the one hand (with the hu­man race and ev­ery other species at risk from the prospects of ex­ces­sive global warm­ing) ver­sus the crash of the en­tire fos­sil fuel in­dus­try was un­for­tu­nately too much for those watch­ing the fi­nan­cials at the API’S mem­ber com­pa­nies to con­sider. A mis­sion was then crafted to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to keep this kind of ex­cel­lent re­search from leak­ing out and even to cre­ate coun­ter­ar­gu­ments to show that the dire warn­ings about what could hap­pen were un­war­ranted.

Even while the truth was be­ing hid­den, how­ever, the re­searchers were them­selves at least clear enough about their own sci­ence.

Take this graph from a Novem­ber 12, 1982, memo en­ti­tled “CO2 Green­house Ef­fect” from M. B. Glaser, Man­ager of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs Pro­grams at Exxon Re­search and En­gi­neer­ing Com­pany. Based on a con­sid­er­able amount of nu­mer­i­cal mod­el­ing and the use of past data, the au­thor con­cludes that global tem­per­a­ture rises in amounts like what have al­ready been ob­served would likely be part of our 21st cen­tury fu­ture. Th­ese pre­dic­tions were made al­most 35 years ago and yet – still – al­most no one has heard of them. And even fewer have done any­thing about them.

The 2017 White House Opens Up the Emis­sions Spig­ots

Un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, many rul­ings, both of law and by ex­ec­u­tive or­der, had been in place within the United States to re­strict auto emis­sions and man­u­fac­tur­ing plant emis­sions. Per­mits to drill were be­ing re­stricted. And al­ter­na­tive en­ergy so­lu­tions were be­ing pushed ev­ery­where, so much so that Ok­la­homa has a glut of re­new­able en­ergy it is able to sell else­where and Cal­i­for­nia this year (for the first time) had a whole month where over 50% of its power needs were supplied from re­new­able sources.

Those were the old days, and with 2017 here, the United States can ex­pect even more CO2 emis­sions than ever reach­ing the at­mos­phere.

The un­elected Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and its an­tireg­u­la­tory-rules En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency head Scott Pruitt took charge. Now in place, this team has be­gun

re­set­ting auto emis­sions al­lowances higher and fuel ef­fi­ciency lev­els lower, a big win-win for the pe­tro­leum in­dus­try

the lift­ing of a mora­to­rium on coal min­ing on fed­eral lands

eas­ing the re­stric­tions from the Clean Power Plan, which im­poses emis­sions lim­its on the states

re­mov­ing reg­u­la­tions on hy­draulic frac­tur­ing and meth­ane emis­sions from oil and nat­u­ral gas wells, es­pe­cially on fed­eral lands

open­ing up new drilling op­por­tu­ni­ties in pre­vi­ously pro­tected ar­eas, like the Arc­tic and cer­tain off­shore ar­eas

As of the end of March 2017, un­elected Pres­i­dent Trump had also au­tho­rized var­i­ous pipe­line pro­jects such as the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line. Th­ese al­readyen­vi­ron­men­tally-dam­ag­ing pro­jects have been al­lowed to pro­ceed on the spe­cious ar­gu­ment that they will cre­ate many thou­sands of jobs (they won’t) when the truth is the only ones who will ben­e­fit from their con­struc­tion are those in the oil and gas in­dus­try. Ev­ery­one else is go­ing to suf­fer, from in­creased CO2 emis­sions and, in cases like the auto in­dus­try, where fuel ef­fi­ciency is be­ing al­lowed to ratchet down by in­cur­ring higher costs from the pur­chase of ad­di­tional ga­so­line.

And this is de­spite this cur­rently be­ing a time when there is al­ready a global pe­tro­leum glut world­wide.

So, in short or­der – and de­spite there be­ing any need for it from a purely eco­nomic stand­point – the oil in­dus­try is get­ting al­most ev­ery present it could ever have asked for from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Mean­while, green­house gas emis­sions are just spew­ing out more.

The Paris Cli­mate Change Ac­cord

One of then-can­di­date Trump’s state­ments in run­ning for of­fice was that he was con­sid­er­ing pulling out of the Paris Cli­mate Change agree­ment made by coun­tries all over the world in 2015.

That ac­cord had some very sim­ple ob­jec­tives with far­reach­ing con­se­quences. As ar­ti­cle 2 of the agree­ment, en­ti­tled “En­hanc­ing the Im­ple­men­ta­tion,” said, the aims of the agree­ment were in three parts:

“(a) Hold­ing the in­crease in the global av­er­age tem­per­a­ture to well be­low 2°C above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els and to pur­sue ef­forts to limit the tem­per­a­ture in­crease to 1.5°C above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els, rec­og­niz­ing that this would sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the risks and im­pacts of cli­mate change

“(b) In­creas­ing the abil­ity to adapt to the ad­verse im­pacts of cli­mate change and foster cli­mate re­silience and low green­house gas emis­sions de­vel­op­ment in a man­ner that does not threaten food pro­duc­tion

“(c) Mak­ing fi­nance flows con­sis­tent with a path­way to­wards low green­house gas emis­sions and cli­matere­silient de­vel­op­ment”

As of this writ­ing, Trump’s lawyers were study­ing other parts of the ac­cord where it cov­ers the is­sue of ad­just­ments to pre­vi­ously-agreed-upon tar­gets for emis­sions and global warm­ing. They were ap­par­ently try­ing to de­ter­mine if the White House might be able to get away with say­ing they were still signed up to the Paris ac­cord but that they had ad­justed their tar­gets down­ward. For some rea­son – prob­a­bly a mat­ter of face-sav­ing on the global stage, a rare con­sid­er­a­tion for Trump – the White House did not want to risk pulling out of the Paris agree­ment com­pletely.

The re­al­ity is that th­ese are only tar­gets and con­sid­ered in good faith. So, ar­gu­ing fine de­tails about ad­just­ing goals up­ward or down­ward as a way to “save face” is both un­nec­es­sary and a bit waste­ful in the use of le­gal re­sources.

The real is­sue will be whether the United States – the sec­ond-most-pol­lut­ing econ­omy in the world af­ter China – wants to stay on a lead­er­ship track with re­spect to the sup­port of re­new­able en­ergy and clamp down on green­house gas emis­sions. And un­der Pres­i­dent Trump, that an­swer is al­ready clear: The United States has no in­ter­est in stay­ing in the lead­er­ship role in curb­ing emis­sions. It is far more in­ter­ested in serv­ing the greed of the multi-bil­lion-dol­lar fos­sil fuel in­dus­try and its many part­ners.

The End?

Global warm­ing is go­ing to con­tinue and get worse faster in the near term, aided both by the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try and those it con­trols in the gov­ern­ment. The risk to life as we know it is get­ting way past crit­i­cal through­out the globe, and noth­ing seems to be do­ing any­thing more than slow­ing the pace of change slightly. And the United States’ cur­rent ac­tions to dam­age things fur­ther seem un­stop­pable, at least un­til the next Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

About the only hope one can of­fer in look­ing at the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is that as fast as Pres­i­dent Trump and Pruitt may be able to is­sue new ex­ec­u­tive or­ders and en­vi­ron­men­tal rul­ings, those can also be re­versed equally fast if a new ad­min­is­tra­tion comes into power. There is also some hope at the state level that lo­cal reg­u­la­tions on things like auto emis­sions in states like Cal­i­for­nia could be a place to cre­ate new reg­u­la­tions to push back against the pres­sures from the fed­eral lev­els.

Sur­face air tem­per­a­ture anom­aly for April 2017 rel­a­tive to the April av­er­age for the pe­riod 1981-2010. Source: Era-in­terim. (Credit: ECMWF, Coper­ni­cus Cli­mate Change Ser­vice)

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