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The Most Important Issue Facing this Generation is Climate Change. But Will it Come Up at Tonight’s Presidential Debate?

Climate change is threatening cities and island nations with sea-level rise, spurring mass die-offs of sea life, generating extreme weather events with amazing frequency, and posing a rising threat to global food and water supplies. It is no longer just an issue for future generations. It’s a global crisis now, and it’s getting worse. But will the 2016 presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, even be afforded the opportunity to mention it in tonight’s debate?

5-year-temperature-average-ipcc

(IPCC’s global warming index just recently hit 1 C above 1861-1880 temperatures in the five-year average. These temperatures are in the range of the Eemian interglacial period when global ocean levels were 15-25 feet higher than they are today. Furthermore, the current rate of warming at 0.18 C every ten years is about 30-40 times faster than at the end of the last ice age. We’re now in the process of unleashing geological forces capable of producing a mass extinction event on human timescales. Image source: Global Warming Index.)

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The 2016 presidential candidates’ stances on the most important issue facing this generation couldn’t be clearer.

Donald Trump believes climate change is a hoax, wants to increase fossil-fuel burning until the planet bakes and the oceans putrefy, plans to shut down the EPA, wants to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement, can’t wait to kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and has a noted penchant for attacking climate change solutions like wind power. Trump’s stances on climate change are so appalling that 375 of the world’s top scientists, including Stephen Hawking and 30 Nobel Prize winners, issued an open letter to the U.S. electorate, essentially pleading that we not vote for Trump on the basis of climate change alone.

The letter notes:

The United States can and must be a major player in developing innovative solutions to the problem of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Nations that find innovative ways of decarbonizing energy systems and sequestering CO2 will be the economic leaders of the 21st century. Walking away from Paris makes it less likely that the U.S. will have a global leadership role, politically, economically, or morally. We cannot afford to cross that tipping point.

Hillary Clinton, by comparison, wants to push a big solar energy build-out, support electric vehicles, cut carbon emissions, and ensure that policies like COP 21 and Obama’s Clean Power Plan are enacted and enhanced. Though some climate hawks might not be completely satisfied with Clinton’s record on climate change (we’re going to have to do quite a bit more than what Clinton is shooting for), the reality is that Clinton’s proposed climate policies are aimed at building on and improving Obama’s initial plans.

rapid-renewable-power-growth-under-clinton

(Clinton plans to push renewable energy growth even faster than rates that would be achieved under Obama’s Clean Power plan. By contrast, Trump’s policies would severely reduce current initiatives, likely resulting in less than 10 percent of energy generation from clean sources by 2030. Image source: Hillary for America.)

Clinton’s overall push is for U.S. renewable energy leadership and climate action:

I won’t let anyone take us backward, deny our economy the benefits of harnessing an clean energy future, or force our children to endure the catastrophe that would result from unchecked climate change.

Hermione versus Voldemort on a Tilted Stage

It’s pretty obvious that the difference between Trump and Clinton on an issue that involves the safety and wellbeing of pretty much everyone living on Earth is stark, so much so that Joe Romm at Climate Progress has aptly characterized the debate as a contest between Hermione Granger and Voldemort.

But will the 80 million viewers of tonight’s debate actually get a chance to listen to the candidates’ stances and views on an issue that will impact them from now until the end of their natural lives? Will the debate moderator Lester Holt, a registered Republican, field questions on climate change? Or will a deafening dome of silence fall over the issue, as ice caps melt, seas rise, droughts expand, extreme weather events worsen, ocean health declines, and global temperature records continue to be shattered?

(Republican downplaying of climate change exposed by Jason Box in this poignant video. It’s stark, really, what we’re dealing with.)

Moreover, will Holt act as a moderator, or will he check out as Matt Lauer did during the dual ‘interviews’ of Clinton and Trump last month, essentially abandoning the field to Trump who is well-known for spewing out a barrage of false statements in an attempt to score points? To this point, Joe Romm notes:

…persuasive liars have an inherent advantage in any debate that is effectively unmoderated and unrefereed. This is true not merely in political debates but also in most other kinds of public debates.

Unfortunately, on the issue of fair Presidential debate representation for climate change, the record isn’t too great in 2016 so far. According to Media Matters, only 22 out of nearly 1,500 debate questions have covered climate change. As a result, a critical issue of public safety, national security, and, ultimately, survival, is not being presented to the American people. It’s a failure that generates a false impression that climate change isn’t a real problem — a lack of representation that, in the end, is both irresponsible and dangerous.

Links:

Yes, Donald Trump Did Call Climate Change a Hoax

Trump’s Plan to Drill, Baby, Drill

How Donald Trump Lost his Fight to Kill Wind Farms in Scotland

Hillary’s Plan for Half a Billion Solar Panels

COP 21

Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Hillary for America

Hermione vs Voldemort

‘Climate People’ to Debate Moderators: Survival Matters

Hat tip to Ailsa

Hat tip to DT Lange

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Climate Change Denying Donald Trump Aims to Scrap Landmark Paris Treaty

“Earth’s 2015 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880.” — NASA.

“America’s leadership in Paris has put the world on the path to a clean energy future that will create jobs and save lives.” — Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” — Donald Trump.

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In late 2015, at the Paris Climate Summit (COP 21), the world made history by agreeing to rapid carbon emissions reductions in an effort to prevent catastrophic climate change. The Summit, which has earned criticism from climate activists claiming its resulting treaty doesn’t go far enough and attacks from a fossil fuel industry which would necessarily be phased out as the global community pushes for a transition to low and zero carbon energy sources, forged the strongest international climate treaty yet. As such, it represented a huge leap forward in global climate policy.

(“You’ve Been Trumped” Trailer highlights Trump’s bullying of the Scottish people and fighting to take down wind farms in his push to build a golf course in Scotland. See also — Injurious to the American People.)

As the treaty was being hammered out in Paris, COP 21 quickly became a central topic of debate in the 2016 US Presidential Election. Republicans, who have made a brand name out of pandering for fossil fuel corporate campaign dollars by making ever-more outrageous public professions of climate change denial, practically tripped over each other in their efforts to denounce the treaty.

Ted Cruz, the main contender to Trump, held what could best be described as a circus of climate change denial on the floor of Congress while the Paris Summit was unfolding. Chris Christie — who was still in the race at the time, but now appears to be Trump’s most likely VP candidate — blithely stated “There’s no climate crisis.” Not to be outdone, Trump coined a new conspiracy theory. Fanning both the flames of climate change denial and US workers’ fears of losing jobs to the Chinese he outrageously claimed “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” As if all the climate scientists in the world were somehow involved in some sort of secret deal with the Chinese to wreck US manufacturing. As if wind, solar and electric vehicles didn’t represent a massive new avenue for US manufacturing growth and a potential for jobs expansion not seen since the middle of the 20th Century.

Today, as the Presidential Primaries began to enter their final races, Trump apparently decided that his blanket assertion that climate scientists were involved in shady deals with the Chinese probably wasn’t going to cut it. Making a herculean effort to issue a more serious statement on Paris, Trump today claimed that he would seek to renegotiate the treaty or to withdraw from it altogether. Since the US has already committed to the treaty — pledging to reduce carbon emissions by between 26 and 28 percent through 2030 — Trump’s new claims could be taken only slightly more seriously than his earlier Chinese global conspiracy allegations. For even in the event that he is elected, he would have difficulty withdrawing as that process would take five years and much of the action had already been locked in.

NASA temperature graph

(As this NASA graphic shows, 2015 was the hottest year on record. If current trends hold, 2016 will be significantly hotter at near 1.3 C above the 1880-1899 preindustrial baseline. Donald Trump doesn’t believe the scientists at NASA are telling the truth. And he has pledged to attempt to withdraw or renegotiate a critical international agreement aimed at reducing the rate of future temperature increases. Image source: NASA.)

What we should seriously consider, however, is Trump’s potential to wreck a path of ongoing emissions reductions that has been carefully crafted over the past 8 years. Trump’s statements should instead be interpreted as a signaled intent to harm the spirit of global cooperation on carbon emissions reductions that the US — in its Paris leadership during late 2015 — engendered. Trump casts blame on the Chinese, makes false claims that US commitments already in place are hurtful to the US economy, and appears ready to open a war on ramping rates of renewable energy adoption in the US. Harmful words considering the fact that renewable energy now creates five times more jobs than coal and that hundreds of US cities rely on healthy oceans, stable coastlines and predictable growing seasons for their own economic well-being.

Regarding Trump’s statement, Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said today in the Guardian:

“This is another example of Trump’s dangerous lack of judgement and the very real impacts it could have for all of us. Trump now not only denies the science of climate change, but also the politics and economics of it. America’s leadership in Paris has put the world on the path to a clean energy future that will create jobs and save lives. Fortunately, Trump’s rhetoric is not going to stop the Paris agreement, nor should it given the benefits of action and the costs of ignorance.”

Trump’s words engender and epitomize what has been an ongoing effort by him, and his republican allies, to spread climate ignorance and to prevent helpful climate action. In essence, Trump is pledging to block what is now a building global effort to save lives and prevent harm. An effort that every person of conscience and right mind should now be undertaking.

Links:

Injurious to the American People

Cruz Takes a Stand Against Science

Chris Christie: There’s No Climate Change

Trump Paris Statement Shows that 2016 is Most Important Election Yet

NASA

Trump Wouldn’t be Able to Derail Paris Deal

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Caroline

Climate Change — Why 2016 May be the Most Important Election in US History

“I have talked to scientists all over the world. And what they are telling me — if we don’t get our act together — this planet could be 5-10 degrees warmer by the end of this Century! Cataclysmic problems for this planet! This is a national crisis!” — Bernie Sanders, Michigan Democratic Debate, March 6th.

 

(Bernie Sanders pledges to end fracking and tackle climate change in the Michigan Democratic debate last night.)

Last night, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton gave a spirited debate over substantive issues. To someone who respects political figures who address problems and actively seek solutions, it was a welcome respite from the most recent low-information, public action denigrating, Republican wrangle. But one two-minute segment in Hillary and Bernie’s exchange really stood out for me. And it’s the clip streaming above where Bernie Sanders tackles the critical issue that is human-caused climate change.

And we should be very clear. Bernie is absolutely right — it’s a national crisis that will become an existential crisis if we don’t act swiftly, if we don’t act well, and if we aren’t also pretty amazingly lucky.

A Tough, Tough Issue of Critical Importance

Like many who write on this issue, I often find it difficult not to fall into crushing despair. With each post, it’s like seeing the life-blood of our world slowly drip away. It’s a tough, tough issue.

The posts appear to have an impact. There’s a vigorous discussion going on in the comments section. People are actively identifying problems, taking action, doing their best to contribute to solutions. To spread the word. To develop a sense of urgency. But despite the response here, despite the actions of a vast spectrum of other responsible groups around the world, and despite a growing warning and outcry from the scientific community, the world itself seems to be moving far too slowly to effectively confront the crisis.

The Keeling Curve March

(Atmospheric CO2 is now reaching levels comparable to those seen during the Middle Miocene. A period of time when the world was both much warmer than today and sea levels were far, far higher. Each year that greenhouse gas emissions continue, more heat, more sea level rise, and more future dangerous climate change is locked in. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

To be clear, fossil fuel burning now pumps out enough heat trapping gas to equal one Permian Extinction producing volcanic prominence active on every major continent on the Earth and all going off at the same time. It’s a really big deal. One that people probably aren’t quite so aware of because, well, volcanoes are individually more spectacular than billions of tailpipes, coal and gas turbines, and smokestacks. All efficiently, but relatively quietly, throwing up that hothouse extinction producing pallor. One that hangs invisible in the air. But one whose effects are all-too-real.

The 2 C Goal is Pretty Bad; Continued Burning is Far Worse

Attempts to face down this growing threat became apparent in a flurry of new urgency at the Paris Climate Summit. There the strongest international agreement yet on preventing catastrophic climate change was forged as global climate policy makers appeared to have begun to get a whiff of the gravity of our current situation. But the new agreement doesn’t yet produce enough in the way of committed action to prevent 2 C warming this Century. And it’s pretty clear that Paris’s policies will meet stiff opposition from fossil fuel special interests — who exert far too much influence and control over the world’s various political bodies and governing systems even as they have managed to block many helpful policies and pollute public awareness through the active promotion of climate change denial.

2 C warming by 2100, even if we were to make the monumental strides necessary to achieve that limit, is by itself pretty terrible. Though nowhere near as catastrophic as the 3, 4, 5 or 6 C levels of heating that are entirely possible if the world keeps going all out to extract and burn coal, oil and gas, it’s a rate of temperature increase not seen in 55 million years and a level of warming not seen in 2-3 million years. It locks in severe heatwaves the likes of which we’ve never seen before, terrible wildfires, extraordinary rainfall and droughts, monster storms, city-wrecking sea level rise, habitat loss, ocean health decline, glacial melt on a scale that changes the very complexion of the Earth, sea ice winnowing away to a shadow of its former coverage, amplifying Earth System feedbacks, and a whole host of other problems. It also means that the Earth continues to heat up for hundreds of years more unless greenhouse gasses are somehow drawn down — resulting in a long term warming in the range of 4 C so long as climate sensitivity is about what we’ve come to expect from our study of paleoclimate.

Probably the Worst Crisis Humankind has Ever Faced — Which Makes the 2016 Election Absolutely Critical

Even achieving that rather difficult but probably survivable future will necessitate very swift action. For each year in which a peak in human greenhouse gas emissions is delayed, the more difficult it becomes to limit future warming.

Rates of warming based on global emissions and climate sensitivity

(Amount of warming this Century expected under differing emissions reduction and climate sensitivity scenarios. In the above graph TCRE stands for transient climate response to emissions. It’s basically how much warming you get short term as a result of accumulated greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Note that greenhouse gas emissions need to decline by more than 2 percent per year starting now if we are to have much confidence in avoiding 2 C warming this Century. It’s also worth noting that even a slow decline rate from near now likely locks in about 3 C warming this Century. Image source: Impact of Delay in Reducing CO2 Emissions.)

To this point, if the best case global policy can currently produce is a future in which the world’s temperatures warm by 2 C by 2100, then we have a serious problem. If that’s the case, then what it really boils down to is the fact that civilization this Century faces an existential crisis. A level of geophysical upheaval worse than the end of the last ice age that may all end up being crammed into the next 300 years with a good chunk of it happening this Century.

This is one of the toughest challenges humankind has ever faced. And its solutions require an unprecedented level of government involvement and activism. It’s for these reasons why it’s pretty amazing that climate change isn’t the central subject of every Presidential debate this year. For who we elect as President will have a significant and important role to play in confronting or facing down this crisis. But so far, candidate comments on climate change have been limited to only the briefest of questions and responses on the democratic side, and to a chilling and all-encompassing climate change denial on the republican side.

This is not how a nation readies itself to effectively confront a very serious crisis. Whispers and denial are not enough. We need strong statements and bold action.

To my mind, so far, Bernie Sanders has been the only candidate to address the problem with the level of urgency the situation warrants. And I suspect he would speak to it more if the question and answer format of the recent debates were not so limiting. Hillary’s own statements seem positive, but it’s pretty clear that much of this is due to Bernie’s own responsible and persistent prodding. A little more ardor on her part would be reassuring.

But the point here is that, according to many of the world’s top climate scientists, we are in a worsening global crisis at this time. If there was ever a time when government climate policy should be front and center as a political issue, then it is now. Rapid and radical efforts are now necessary and warranted. So we should praise Bernie for raising what is an absolutely critical issue. And we should criticize pretty much everyone else for downplaying and denying it.

Links:

Bernie Sanders on Fracking and Climate Change

Impact of Delay in Reducing CO2 Emissions

The Keeling Curve

Hat tip to Caroline (Thank you for your activism)

 

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