Welcome to this week’s edition of our Friday Quality Linkage column. Normally we would recommend that you brew a fresh cup of coffee, find a comfortable place, and relax. I’m not sure how easy the “relaxing” part will be this week, because we’re going to be covering climate change and its sooner-than-expected consequences.
I apologize in advance for being such a bummer this week, but this is important stuff! We all need to be talking about this and taking it seriously. So settle in, folks, it’s gonna get grim.
First, here is a recent Rolling Stone piece by Eric Holthaus that shows the worst impacts of climate change are already starting to happen — and much faster than climate scientists expected:
Michael Mann, another prominent climate scientist, recently said of the unexpectedly sudden Atlantic slowdown, “This is yet another example of where observations suggest that climate model predictions may be too conservative when it comes to the pace at which certain aspects of climate change are proceeding.”
“I used to think it was kind of hard to make things in the ocean go extinct,” James Barry of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California told the Seattle Times in 2013. “But this change we’re seeing is happening so fast it’s almost instantaneous.”
Last month, Holthaus wrote a piece for Slate detailing the findings of a (not yet peer reviewed, but still terrifying) study that paints a dire picture for the world’s coastal cities in the coming decades:
The study—written by James Hansen, NASA’s former lead climate scientist, and 16 co-authors, many of whom are considered among the top in their fields—concludes that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates, resulting in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years. The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, brings new importance to a feedback loop in the ocean near Antarctica that results in cooler freshwater from melting glaciers forcing warmer, saltier water underneath the ice sheets, speeding up the melting rate. […]
The implications are mindboggling: In the study’s likely scenario, New York City—and every other coastal city on the planet—may only have a few more decades of habitability left.
Over at The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert provides additional context to that study:
Meanwhile, holding warming to two degrees (Celsius) would, at this point, require a herculean effort—one that the same world leaders who agreed to the Copenhagen Accord now seem unwilling or unable to make. A number of commentators have recently questioned whether, practically speaking, it is even still possible.
Given the dire warnings of the articles above, I’m reminded of this clip from s03e03 of HBO’s The Newsroom, which aired last November. In it, an EPA official is invited for an on-air interview about a report that shows it’s already too late to prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change.
I recently discovered The Adaptors, a well-produced podcast dedicated to the topic of climate change and how it affects everyday . Anyone who hasn’t been following climate news might assume it would be a dull and dreary show, but host Flora Lichtman and producer Katherine Wells manage to make it fun and engaging.
The first two episodes I listened to are the same ones I would recommend to others:
Listeners call the show’s climate confessions hotline (1-844-U-FESS-UP) and leave voicemails about their climate guilt, whether it’s using too much toilet paper, or leaving the sink running while brushing their teeth (this one seems exceedingly easy to fix?), or feeling ashamed that they own a car in a big city. Afterward, Katie Mandes of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and climate researcher Susanne Moser provide counseling, of sorts.
On this episode, they invite Travis Rieder to discuss the ethics of population control, as well as the carbon impact that can result from having even one kid, much less several. It’s a touchy subject to be sure, but as the father of a little boy myself, it’s something I think about a lot. In fact, this episode articulates thoughts I’ve held about population for years.
Stuart Palley has spent the last two fire seasons photographing wildfires for his extraordinary Terra Flamma series, and discusses his process over at TIME. I’m not sure if “sublime” is the appropriate word here, but the photos do have a certain beauty to them.
One thing is for sure: Palley will have no shortage of fires to capture in the coming years, as the world’s climate continues to rise.
Author Margaret Atwood doesn’t pull any punches on the realities of climate change:
Both the Florida cute trick and the Canadian map one originate in worries about the Future, and the bad things that may happen in that future; also the desire to deny these things or sweep them under the carpet so business can go on as usual, leaving the young folks and future generations to deal with the mess and chaos that will result from a changed climate, and then pay the bill. Because there will be a bill: the cost will be high, not only in money but in human lives. The laws of chemistry and physics are unrelenting, and they don’t give second chances. In fact, that bill is already coming due.
There are many other effects, from species extinction to the spread of diseases to a decline in overall food production, but the main point is that these effects are not happening in some dim, distant future. They are happening now.
But there’s a sliver of hope near the end:
There are many smart people applying themselves to these problems, and many new technologies emerging. On my desk right now is a list of 15 of them. Some take carbon directly out of the air and turn it into other materials, such as cement. Others capture carbon by regenerating degraded tropical rainforests — a fast and cheap method — or sequestering carbon in the soil by means of biochar, which has the added benefit of increasing soil fertility. Some use algae, which can also be used to make biofuel. One makes a carbon-sequestering asphalt. Carbon has been recycled ever since plant life emerged on earth; these technologies and enterprises are enhancing that process.
Samuel Alexander, writing for The Conversation, brings us the sobering news that humans are demanding far too much of our planet. In fact, we’re living as though we have the resources of four or five planet Earths.
According to the most recent data from the Global Footprint Network, humanity as a whole is currently in ecological overshoot, demanding one and a half planet’s worth of Earth’s biocapacity. As the global population continues its trend toward 11 billion people, and while the growth fetish continues to shape the global economy, the extent of overshoot is only going to increase.
Put otherwise, based on my calculations, if the whole world came to look like one of our most successful ecovillages, we would still need one and a half planet’s worth of Earth’s biocapacity. Dwell on that for a moment.
Brooke Jarvis visited Papua New Guinea and was confronted with the issue of climate change more directly than even she had anticipated:
Elias had heard that ice was melting, but hadn’t heard why. No amount of reading or writing about climate change can really prepare you to look into the face of someone who will soon flee her home and explain the greenhouse effect.
Similar to the previous link, novelist Alan Heathcock made a visit that provided real perspective about the climate problem:
I feel badly, not just because others don’t care, but because I was reluctant to care, too. It’s hard to make people care because there’s a general mistrust of desperation, as if a desperate person has replaced logic with emotion, truth with exaggeration. Each night I’ve gone through my notes and fact-checked the farmers, doubting what they told me. Even after seeing the land and meeting the people I second-guessed their claims and statistics, only to find, time and again, they were telling the truth.
People tend to write off climate concerns as something that only affects poor people in faraway places, too distant to be concerned about. But it’s happening right here, right now.
Even if you’re not someone who denies climate change entirely, you must understand this isn’t just a problem for your great-grandchildren to deal with. We will likely feel its effects within our own lifetimes. Our children certainly will.
Got any suggestions for articles, videos, stories, photographs, and any other links you think we should be posting in our weekly Quality Linkage? Please do let us know on Twitter.