After the Fires and Floods

By William S. Becker The people of Paradise, California, are going through a phase that virtually every community experiences after it is wiped out by a weather-related disaster. It is deciding whether to rebuild, where to rebuild, and how to rebuild smarter than it was. In the process, Paradise and the other communities destroyed by weather can set examples for others as global climate change causes more severe fires, floods, hurricanes and sea-level rise. Every disaster teaches hard lessons the hard way. Flooded communities discover, and in many cases rediscover, how vulnerable they are. If they are smart, they will rebuild away from floodplains, on higher ground if it’s available. Individual homes and businesses will probably make sure they have flood insurance in the future. Communities leveled by hurricane-force winds learn to rebuild with more sturdy construction and roof tie-downs. Towns destroyed by tornadoes learn to incorporate shelters into their buildings, starting with schools, hospitals and homes. For Paradise, where more than 50 people died and more than 8,000 homes and businesses were burned to the ground last week, local

November 16th, 2018|home|

Stop Arguing. Rebuild America

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” – Buckminster Fuller By William S. Becker Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that our politics is a mess right now. Thanks to Donald Trump, Republicans have become the Party of Fear and Division, with allies like Alex Jones and David Duke. Democrats do not seem to have a coherent vision for the country, except that it should not include Donald Trump. Some are afraid that our divisions are so deep and emotional that they could lead to armed conflict. Last year, Foreign Policy magazine asked several national security experts to evaluate the risks of a second civil war. Their responses ranged from a 5% chance to a 95% chance.  The consensus was 35%. The reasons ranged from weak institutions, tribalism, echo chambers, acrimonious public dialogue and the acceptance of violence as a form of protest, to social media trolling, entrenched polarization and the number of hate groups in America (917 last year including 623 antigovernment groups and 165 armed militias). Yet there is much on which we

November 12th, 2018|home, Uncategorized|

Can the House Tackle Climate Change?

By William S. Becker Now that Democrats will control the House of Representatives, curious people want to know: Can the new majority do anything about global climate change? The answer is yes it can. Legislation would be tough. In the current political climate, the Senate is ready to defeat, and the President will veto, any climate bill the House produces. However, the new House can raise the temperature for Congress to finally act on global warming. There is new urgency for a federal response.  The world’s climate scientists reported last month that nations have only 12 years to make radical changes in energy use. Ice core samples show the concentration of climate-altering carbon pollution in the atmosphere today is higher than it has been in at least 800,000 years, and it’s still rising. While Washington fiddles, climate change is increasing the intensity of fires, floods, hurricanes, heat waves and sea-level rise. More Americans are at greater risk of injury or death and more property is being destroyed. States, localities and businesses have stepped into the leadership void, but the necessary scope and speed of

November 10th, 2018|home|

The Hope at the Heart of the Apocalyptic Climate Change Report

Along with their latest dire predictions, the world’s leading climate scientists offered a new path forward—but will anyone take it? BY JASON HICKELReposted from Foreign Policy When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a new special report last week, it came with both good news and bad. The good news is that the carbon budget for staying under 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming is larger than we thought, so we have a bit more time to act. The bad news is that the consequences of overshooting that threshold are very, very bad. The catastrophes that we once believed would be triggered by only 2 degrees of warming are likely to occur at this lower threshold, including widespread collapse of food yields and extreme levels of human displacement. The IPCC has issued a clear and trenchant call for action—its most urgent yet. It says we need to cut annual global emissions by half in the next 12 years and hit net zero by the middle of the century. It would be difficult to overstate how dramatic this trajectory is. It requires nothing

October 26th, 2018|home, Uncategorized|

New Study: Energy Efficiency Gains Must Speed Up

By Steven Nadel Energy-saving efforts continue to deliver vast gains, but their progress is slowing and will need at least a doubling of investment in order to reach global sustainability goals, according to the International Energy Agency’s new Energy Efficiency 2018 market report, released last week. The sixth annual report by the IEA, a Paris-based organization formed and led by 30 developed countries, includes striking data on the value of energy efficiency. While global energy use has grown by a third since 2000, the figure below shows that the increase would have been more than 50% greater without efficiency. However, while efficiency savings are substantial, the IEA finds that the rate of improvement is slowing. The chart below shows that global energy intensity (energy use per unit GDP) fell by 2.5% in 2011, but that the rate of improvement slowed to 1.7% in 2017, and would have dipped even more, to 1.2%, if the 3.9% improvement in China were not included. The IEA shows the importance of energy efficiency actions to meeting the global sustainability goals of the Paris Agreement.  It provides

October 25th, 2018|home, Uncategorized|

Why young people want to put the government on trial

By William S. Becker Why, we might ask, have 21 young Americans fought so hard for so long to take the United States government to court for contributing to global climate change? Why are they determined to take their lawsuit, Juliana v United States, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary? The answer is simple. Although presidents and congresses have known about climate change and its costly impacts for more than 50 years, their response has been woefully and dangerously inadequate. So, the Julianas, as I call them, have turned to the courts. Although the Julianas could not have anticipated it when they filed their lawsuit in 2015, things have become far worse. Under Donald Trump, the federal government is not only ignoring global warming; it is actively promoting and producing the greenhouse gas pollution that is responsible for global warming. In fact, after some glimmers of hope during the Obama presidency, we have a Congress and president who are again putting the United States on a path that leads to uncontrolled pollution and irreversible disasters. Trump has scrapped the comprehensive climate

October 24th, 2018|home|

What We Should Be Doing About Weather Disasters

By William S. Becker After every devastating weather disaster, a reporter standing in the floodwaters or rubble tells us, “It may take months or even years, but the people here are determined to rebuild.” It is the promise of a happy-ever-after-ending, the way we like all our stories to end. It is the assurance that the human spirit will triumph. But the real question after each disaster is whether its victims will demonstrate the triumph of human intelligence over stupidity. The long-time pattern of disaster recovery in this country has been families and entire communities rebuilding in the same disaster zones over and over again, hoping for different results. The federal government helps them do it. It could be a homing instinct or the resistance to change or the dogged determination to prevail over nature or all of the above, but generations of disaster victims have rolled the dice to rebuild their homes and communities back in the floodplains and forestlands and on the same shorelines that destroyed them. Real estate developers have helped pressure city officials not to

October 13th, 2018|home|

New from the IPCC: 12 years left to keep warming to 1.5oC

From The Guardian: The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on October 8, 2018, say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C. What difference would restricting warming to 1.5C make? A key finding of the new IPCC report is the dramatic difference that restricting warming to 1.5C above pre industrial levels would have on the global environment. The scientists found: By 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5C compared with 2C. Extreme heat waves will be experienced by 14% of the world's population at least once

October 9th, 2018|home|

Clean Energy, the Economy and Jobs

Our leaders should know it. Our candidates should know it. Our policymakers should know it. Clean energy is America's most dynamic job-producer today. That's not all. It reduces air pollution, improves public health, prevents energy price shocks, gives us greater energy independence, offers consumers energy choice, increases disposable household incomes, boosts business profits, makes our industries more competitive, and much much more. Here in detail are many of the reasons the United States should make a rapid transition to clean energy. As the 2018 midterm elections approach, six of every 10 Americans say the U.S. government is not doing enough to protect the environment.[1] Three-quarters of Americans favor the production of wind and solar energy over more oil, gas and coal. Most say they want higher emission and pollution standards, stronger enforcement of environmental regulations, mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions and a national carbon tax to encourage less carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution. A majority of Americans say they want environmental protection even if it risks economic growth. As experience proves, however, economic growth need not be sacrificed for environmental

October 8th, 2018|home|

On the Path to “Hothouse Earth”

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Aug. 14, 2018 Excerpts from "Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene" Will Steffen, Johan Rockström, Katherine Richardson, Timothy M. Lenton, Carl Folke, Diana Liverman, Colin P. Summerhayes, Anthony D. Barnosky, Sarah E. Cornell, Michel Crucifix, Jonathan F. Donges, Ingo Fetzer, Steven J. Lade, Marten Scheffer, Ricarda Winkelmann, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber PNAS August 14, 2018 115 (33) 8252-8259; published ahead of print August 6, 2018 Edited by William C. Clark, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, and approved July 6, 2018 (received for review June 19, 2018) Abstract We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced. Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than at any time in the Holocene. We examine the evidence that such a threshold might exist and where it might be. If the threshold is crossed, the

Just Out: State of the Climate 2017

Every year, hundreds of scientists from around the world analyze data on climate conditions and issue a State of the Climate Report. This year's report, covering 2017, shows that a variety of records were set for the Earth's temperature, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG), and sea level rise. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says it is especially concerned about how rapidly temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations are rising. Here are some highlights. Global temperatures: Each of the last four years set a new record high for the Earth’s temperature. Temperatures across land and seas ranked as the second or third highest since record-keeping began in the 1800s. The temperature was 1.8°F above average in 2014; 1.98 F above average in 2015 and 2017; and 2.16% average in 2016, NOAA said. The top 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1997 and the four warmest years on record have taken place since 2014. NOAA explains, "Given the size and tremendous heat capacity of the global oceans, it takes a massive amount of accumulated heat energy to raise Earth’s average

August 6th, 2018|home|

“We’ve never seen anything like this…”

In case you haven’t noticed, several new words and phrases have become more common in newspapers and on the evening news lately. They are used so often, in fact, that they are replacing “war torn nation” and “’tis the season” as the tritest phrases in the news business. This would be trivial except for one thing: The words reveal something very important about our times and about our upcoming elections. Here are some of them: Unprecedented Record-breaking Not in my lifetime Disaster Tragic Loss Victims Deaths Homeless Floods Heat Wildfire Firefighter Drought Evacuation Everything lost New normal These are part of the emerging lexicon of climate change.  We don’t have to rely on computer models and climatologists anymore to know whether global warming is real. Millions of Americans, as well as billions of people worldwide, are experiencing it first-hand. The people who still deny that climate change is real -- including the President of the United States, his Cabinet and more than half of the members of Congress -- are looking more and more ridiculous, like the proverbial ostriches with