RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

McKibben writes: "For the sake of keeping things manageable, let's confine the discussion to a single continent and a single week: North America over the last seven days."

Bill McKibben. (photo:
Bill McKibben. (photo:

Stop Talking Right Now About the Threat of Climate Change. It's Here; It's Happening

By Bill McKibben, Guardian UK

12 September 17

Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, flash fires, droughts: all of them tell us one thing – we need to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and fast

or the sake of keeping things manageable, let’s confine the discussion to a single continent and a single week: North America over the last seven days.

In Houston they got down to the hard and unromantic work of recovery from what economists announced was probably the most expensive storm in US history, and which weather analysts confirmed was certainly the greatest rainfall event ever measured in the country – across much of its spread it was a once-in-25,000-years storm, meaning 12 times past the birth of Christ; in isolated spots it was a once-in-500,000-years storm, which means back when we lived in trees. Meanwhile, San Francisco not only beat its all-time high temperature record, it crushed it by 3F, which should be pretty much statistically impossible in a place with 150 years (that’s 55,000 days) of record-keeping.

That same hot weather broke records up and down the west coast, except in those places where a pall of smoke from immense forest fires kept the sun shaded – after a forest fire somehow managed to jump the mighty Columbia river from Oregon into Washington, residents of the Pacific Northwest reported that the ash was falling so thickly from the skies that it reminded them of the day Mount St Helens erupted in 1980.

That same heat, just a little farther inland, was causing a “flash drought” across the country’s wheat belt of North Dakota and Montana – the evaporation from record temperatures had shrivelled grain on the stalk to the point where some farmers weren’t bothering to harvest at all. In the Atlantic, of course, Irma was barrelling across the islands of the Caribbean (“It’s like someone with a lawnmower from the sky has gone over the island,” said one astounded resident of St Maarten). The storm, the first category five to hit Cuba in a hundred years, is currently battering the west coast of Florida after setting a record for the lowest barometric pressure ever measured in the Keys, and could easily break the 10-day-old record for economic catastrophe set by Harvey; it’s definitely changed the psychology of life in Florida for decades to come.

Oh, and while Irma spun, Hurricane Jose followed in its wake as a major hurricane, while in the Gulf of Mexico, Katia spun up into a frightening storm of her own, before crashing into the Mexican mainland almost directly across the peninsula from the spot where the strongest earthquake in 100 years had taken dozens of lives.

Leaving aside the earthquake, every one of these events jibes with what scientists and environmentalists have spent 30 fruitless years telling us to expect from global warming. (There’s actually fairly convincing evidence that climate change is triggering more seismic activity, but there’s no need to egg the pudding.)

That one long screed of news from one continent in one week (which could be written about many other continents and many other weeks – just check out the recent flooding in south Asia for instance) is a precise, pixelated portrait of a heating world. Because we have burned so much oil and gas and coal, we have put huge clouds of CO2 and methane in the air; because the structure of those molecules traps heat the planet has warmed; because the planet has warmed we can get heavier rainfalls, stronger winds, drier forests and fields. It’s not mysterious, not in any way. It’s not a run of bad luck. It’s not Donald Trump (though he’s obviously not helping). It’s not hellfire sent to punish us. It’s physics.

Maybe it was too much to expect that scientists’ warnings would really move people. (I mean, I wrote The End of Nature, the first book about all this 28 years ago this week, when I was 28 – and when my theory was still: “People will read my book, and then they will change.”) Maybe it’s like all the health warnings that you should eat fewer chips and drink less soda, which, to judge by belt-size, not many of us pay much mind. Until, maybe, you go to the doctor and he says: “Whoa, you’re in trouble.” Not “keep eating junk and some day you’ll be in trouble”, but: “You’re in trouble right now, today. As in, it looks to me like you’ve already had a small stroke or two.” Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are the equivalent of one of those transient ischaemic attacks – yeah, your face is drooping oddly on the left, but you can continue. Maybe. If you start taking your pills, eating right, exercising, getting your act together.

That’s the stage we’re at now – not the warning on the side of the pack, but the hacking cough that brings up blood. But what happens if you keep smoking? You get worse, till past a certain point you’re not continuing. We’ve increased the temperature of the Earth a little more than 1C so far, which has been enough extra heat to account for the horrors we’re currently witnessing. And with the momentum built into the system, we’re going to go somewhere near 2C, no matter what we do. That will be considerably worse than where we are now, but maybe it will be expensively endurable.

The problem is, our current business-as-usual trajectory takes us to a world that’s about 3.5C warmer. That is to say, even if we kept the promises we made at Paris (which Trump has already, of course, repudiated) we’re going to build a planet so hot that we can’t have civilisations. We have to seize the moment we’re in right now – the moment when we’re scared and vulnerable – and use it to dramatically reorient ourselves. The last three years have each broken the record for the hottest year ever measured – they’re a red flashing sign that says: “Snap out of it.” Not bend the trajectory somewhat, as the Paris accords envisioned, but simultaneously jam on the fossil fuel brakes and stand on the solar accelerator (and also find some metaphors that don’t rely on internal combustion).

We could do it. It’s not technologically impossible – study after study has shown we can get to 100% renewables at a manageable cost, more manageable all the time, since the price of solar panels and windmills keeps plummeting. Elon Musk is showing you can churn out electric cars with ever-lower sticker shock. In remote corners of Africa and Asia, peasants have begun leapfrogging past fossil fuel and going straight to the sun. The Danes just sold their last oil company and used the cash to build more windmills. There are just enough examples to make despair seem like the cowardly dodge it is. But everyone everywhere would have to move with similar speed, because this is in fact a race against time. Global warming is the first crisis that comes with a limit – solve it soon or don’t solve it. Winning slowly is just a different way of losing.

Winning fast enough to matter would mean, above all, standing up to the fossil fuel industry, so far the most powerful force on Earth. It would mean postponing other human enterprises and diverting other spending. That is, it would mean going on a war-like footing: not shooting at enemies, but focusing in the way that peoples and nations usually only focus when someone’s shooting at them. And something is. What do you think it means when your forests are on fire, your streets are underwater, and your buildings are collapsing? your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

-39 # Depressionborn 2017-09-12 19:39
Global warming is not happening. It is a colossal political money fraud. A big bucks lie. The fraud facts are out there, growing every day. here is just one of many:

Danish statistician Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, the President of the Copenhagen Consensus Center: 'We will spend at least one hundred trillion dollars in order to reduce the temperature by the end of the century by a grand total of three tenths of one degree...the equivalent of postponing warming by less than four years...Again, that is using the UN's own climate prediction model.'
'If the U.S. delivers for the whole century on the President Obama's very ambitious rhetoric, it would postpone global warming by about eight months at the end of the century.'
'But here is the biggest problem: These miniscule benefits do not come free -- quite the contrary. The cost of the UN Paris climate pact is likely to run 1 to 2 trillion dollars every year.'
+3 # Dust 2017-09-13 12:18
Well, as usual, make up your mind. Your initial assertion is that global warming doesn't exist, and it's a fraud and lie.

You then follow that with a quote that clearly, unequivocally states that global warming is occurring. The objection has nothing to do with the idea that climate change is a lie, but with the idea that the current solutions and methods are possibly inefficient.
-2 # Depressionborn 2017-09-20 14:40
Quoting Dust:
Well, as usual, make up your mind. Your initial assertion is that global warming doesn't exist, and it's a fraud and lie.

You then follow that with a quote that clearly, unequivocally states that global warming is occurring. The objection has nothing to do with the idea that climate change is a lie, but with the idea that the current solutions and methods are possibly inefficient.

My badly made point was that the tide is turning and that deniers are growing and gaining credence. One yesterday was more definitive that the predictions are failing.

30+ years in the temp business I read the actual data. Believe me, GW is a grand fraud.
+17 # Texas Aggie 2017-09-13 12:39
By quoting Bjorn Lomborg, you automatically lose the argument. He and his pronouncements have been shown to be fraudulent starting when he first popped onto the scene twenty years ago or so. The man has absolutely no understanding of science (he's an economist, not a statistician) as has been shown numerous times by just reading the stuff he writes. In addition his logic has been shown to be illogical to say the least.

As for whether or not global warming is happening, the actual measurements of temperature leave no doubt that it is indeed happening and the results in the real world have shown that it's happening even faster than predicted.
+4 # itsnowornever 2017-09-13 19:26
Hello. Peer reviewed science established 30 years ago. establishes that the frequency, intensity, and duration of storms is directly attributable to the past 100 years of industrializati on. Vested interests do not like what is already known; hence, they have been doing everything in their power to change the known facts.
+31 # PABLO DIABLO 2017-09-12 22:37
Some people believe in God without a shred of evidence, but don't believe in "climate change" with mounting evidence. But, more important is, do you really want to take the chance that "climate change" is not real?
+13 # lorenbliss 2017-09-13 04:10
Verily our ancestors learned of our dependence on Mother Earth by contemplating their own Mothers who birthed them from proud wombs and nurtured them at unbound breasts and soothed them with hands not yet crippled by misogyny. Verily they knew matricide as suicide. Verily they warned of its fatal consequences for all.

Such were their truths of mindfulness, sure as wind and rain and earth and fire, told and retold and chanted and sung and danced, diversities of metaphors, teachings everywhere the same:

Live in harmony with Our Lady of Earth Household.
Or summon the Lords of Chaos and die amidst ruin.


Until we were poisoned by toxins of unknown origin, a talking snake, ourselves envenomed by his shock-and-awe hallucinations; until we were subjugated by the serpent's master exposing himself as burning vegetation, brandishing stone tablets to immortalize his own sadism, flaunting fiery wheels to assert his apocalyptic omnipotence; until his patriarchy triumphed, his smallpox'd blankets murdering a continent, his capitalism murdering our entire planet...

And only Yeats mindful enough to ask, “what rough beast, its hour come round at last” now descends upon us.

But from where?

Thus are we schooled, whether by unacknowledged darkness from within or some truly unspeakable darkness from without.

+5 # elkingo 2017-09-13 13:21
Yea, verily. You are a poet. Never seen it put better. We have to get off our asses, now. But how?
0 # lorenbliss 2017-09-14 03:57
Thank you.
+3 # librarian1984 2017-09-14 07:23
By getting off our asses, that's how. As someone at the Convergence conference said, find the most progressive part in your town or state, work with them, and pressure them to work with other progressive organizations.

Unite! Organize!

#loren -- so good to see you!
+21 # Realist1948 2017-09-13 06:23
Despite the evidence of climate change, and despite the strong consensus among climate scientists that the burning of fossil fuels is causing climate change, we have individuals such as Senator James Inhofe who insist that it's all a "hoax." IMHO it is high time that citizens throughout the U.S. put pressure on Inhofe to resign.

Inhofe's reading of the Book of Genesis tells him, as he said on the Senate floor, that "God is still up there" and in control of climate. Although Inhofe has a constitutional right to believe in an invisible sky-god, he should not be allowed to inject his religious beliefs into policy debates.

Please visit the Facebook page
"Senator James Inhofe Must Go".
+8 # Texas Aggie 2017-09-13 12:49
One keeps hearing this same reaction from the religious freaks that for some reason humans won't be affected because god. Why do they think that the supernatural being that they worship isn't going to punish them for destroying what he made by designing the system in such a way that if you screw with it, it will screw you but good?

There is a Spanish saying that roughly translates into "Every sin has its own built in punishment." Sinning against Nature the way our society has been doing is bringing the house down around our heads, and there is no reason to expect whatever god you worship to protect you from the consequences of your own behavior.
+9 # wcandler1 2017-09-13 06:29
Note that as usual Bill makes no specific recommendation. I recommend a whole portfolio of actions, notably a $385 tax on carbon to restore oil price to $100 a barrel ($50 plus $50 tax) which it was between 2011 and 2014, and a whole lot more.
Why are we reopening the Houston refineries? Nature has shown they can be closed.
+8 # Texas Aggie 2017-09-13 12:51
Actually he did make specific recommendations , build renewable energy sources as fast as possible, wind and solar to name two. Switch to a renewable energy system.
+27 # tedrey 2017-09-13 08:24
All Bill McKibben writes is absolutely necessary, but there is another factor that must also be sucessfully faced.
We must also rein in the largest polluter, the American military colossus. That would be a twofer--actuall y a threefer--(1) make a large decrease in planetary heating, (2) slow down the gratuitous destruction of human lives and superstucture around the world, and (3) release a huge amount of manpower and funds for fighting the disastrous effects of climate change. (And anybody who thinks the military keeps us safer, or is even intended to by its boosters, has not been paying attention.) The other national militaries should follow; their people would insist on that, if we controlled ours.

Put soldiers to work fighting the real enemy, outraged nature. Get jobs for workers building up alternate energy sources, not death weapons. Put that money into real protection, not destruction. (Add the money the world is losing to repair losses to the climate every month.)

It will be tough, but we can't win this by half-way measures. The War machine is as essential a part of the problem as the fossil fuel industries. But the goal is even more essential--the survival of civilization.

End of rant . . . for this morning, anyway.
+18 # librarian1984 2017-09-13 09:44
Yes! How wonderful would it be if the military withdrew from our seven wars, downsized and devoted itself to combatting climate change, poverty and world hunger rather than the poor people of Yemen, Syria et al?

People used to be relieved when the US military came over the hill but not anymore. Now we're feared and hated -- and who suffers from the retaliation? Not people who live on estates and in gated communities. Let's repair the American brand and devote sufficent funds to positive activities such as helping others and improving our own citizens' lives.

I was at the People's Convergence conference this past weekend. Lee Camp reiterated that the US spends about $1trillion a year for the MIIC whereas world hunger could be eliminated for about $30 billion a year. Seems like a win-win-win -- if only our 'leaders' would pay attention to what the people actually want.
+2 # elkingo 2017-09-13 13:28
Right on! And it seems so obvious. What is the problem? Denial and people being comfortable and unconscious if they have any kind of comfort under capitalism. "Don't rock the boat"! We gotta do this overnight, but how?
+15 # Thinking 2017-09-13 08:53
In selling their last oil company and using the revenues to build more wind, the Danes are showing us to lead individually and not to wait for others to change. It's these early adopters that bring civilization to an earlier tipping point -- to saving ourselves. As Bill McKibben clarifies we must now focus our individual attentions with urgency.
Myself, I realize that I have slowed down in greening my life over the past 10 years plagued by some feelings of futility and aloneness. The green remodel became too much of a redecoration and my bike riding tapered off. Bill is telling me (to be more like the Danes) and move forward alone (if necessary) with urgency.
-25 # 2017-09-13 10:52
"For the sake of keeping things manageable, let’s confine the discussion to a single continent and a single week: North America over the last seven days." This is done not to keep things manageable but to cherry pick.

In context, hurricane and tornedo activity over the past decade has been at record lows both in terms of frequency and severity. But I guess McKibben wouldn't be satisfied unless we eradicated hurricanes and tornados completely. As long as one (or more) hurricanes and tornados pops up ever, such severe weather events will be blamed on global warming.

Lee Nason
New Bedford, Massachusetts
+8 # Texas Aggie 2017-09-13 12:56
Hurricane, typhoon and cyclone activity has most assuredly NOT been at low levels in terms of severity. Trying to claim otherwise is more than a bit provincial. Just check out the number of record breaking typhoons that have hit East Asia over the last decade. Look at some of the cyclones that have hit western Mexico.

As everyone is aware, there are no claims that the incidence of climatic disasters will increase. The physics of the situation says that each incident will be more powerful than it would have been otherwise if temperatures were what they were 150 years ago.
+6 # Thinking 2017-09-13 12:59
Are you cherry picking when you say hurricane activity has been at record lows over the past decade? Irma was the biggest ever in her class (Atlantic, not in the Gulf); Harvey had the most rain -- severity. Four in two weeks -- 3 on the map at once -- had not been seen before -- frequency and intensity.
+5 # elkingo 2017-09-13 13:24
It's not the hurricanes and tornadoes. It's their severity and frequency!!! Wake up!
+4 # Dust 2017-09-13 18:39
Well, no. You're wrong. If you would cite a source, then we could examine the attribution and see whether you actually reported it correctly, and (if you did) why it is wrong as well.

The issue of hurricane / tropical storm frequency / power and the relationship to climate change is a very good rebuttal to the constant accusation that scientists simply make things up to match a pre-determined conclusion. When it comes to frequency, there isn't any consensus in the scientific community, and the debate over what will happen is freely and openly published and discussed. While on the surface there has been a massive increase in hurricanes and tropical storms over the last 50 years, a number of recent papers (quite reasonably, it seems to me) all suggest that this increase is an artifact of improved detection and reporting rather than an absolute increase (Vecchi and Knutson 2008; Landsea et al 2010; Vecchi and Knutson 2011.; Villarini et al. 2011) The reporting-corre cted conclusions show a *slight* increase in frequency over the last 150 years, but the linear trend falls within the u/l bounds, and so is considered insignificant. But 'record low'? No.

Regarding storm strength, there is a clear and present correlation between SST and storm strength (Emmanuel 2005, Elsner 2008).

How increasing SST will influence storm behavior is an on-going scientific question, but clearly not an example of scientists writing to a pre-determined conclusion.
+1 # itsnowornever 2017-09-13 19:32
frequency, intensity, duration have vastly increased in the last 100 years due to industrializati on.
+1 # Thinking 2017-09-13 21:59
Are you cherry picking when you say hurricane activity has been at record lows over the past decade? Irma was the biggest ever in her class (Atlantic, not in the Gulf); Harvey had the most rain -- severity. Four in two weeks -- 3 on the map at once -- had not been seen before -- frequency and intensity.
+1 # draypoker 2017-09-20 08:32
This year is unusually active on the Hurricane front. It is entirely reasonable to assume it is related to the increasing level of CO2 in the atmosphere. The right response should be to have a worldwide plan to replace oil and coal burning by non-emitting energy sources.
-1 # Depressionborn 2017-09-20 14:58
can't stop it. t grows and grows. scientific deniers now grop more together. like this:

"Which is the real point: the climate models, which were created for the purpose of generating hysteria and government grants, are wrong. Observation trumps theory. What is extraordinary about our current situation is that the people who created the self-interested and politically-mot ivated models also control the temperature record, and they have been changing it to make their models, and their entitlement to billions in government grants, look better."

This is, in my [his] opinion, the greatest scandal in the history of science.
-1 # Depressionborn 2017-09-21 01:19
more gw fraud climate stuff:
"The headline in the London Times: “We were wrong — worst effects of climate change can be avoided, say experts Scientists admit that world is warming more slowly than predicted.” The analysis of Global Warming has been the one of the greatest absurd propositions of modern times. With a tiny fraction of data on climate from 1850 forward, the argument that man has created global warming is as absurd as looking at the Dow Jones Industrial Index for one month and concluding that it only rises. There has been a climate cycle to the arctic that has been reported all along. There was a warming period in 1939 and again in 1952 reported in newspapers of how Greenland was melting. They there have been periods of expansion of ice as we have see this past year. The bottom line – it’s just a cycle and we lack the ability to alter the climate of the earth"

[it is not getting warmer much]
-1 # Depressionborn 2017-09-21 15:49
Hi DUST, I checked gw and got this:
The settled "science," which is to say anti-science, is screeched by the left despite the fact that more than 4,000 scientists, including 72 Nobel Prize winners, from more than 100 nations signed the Heidelberg Appeal, which explicitly challenged politically correct science and warned against "irrational ideology" and "pseudoscientif ic arguments of false and nonrelevant data."

Even more interesting is the Oregon Petition from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, which explicitly stated that there was "no convincing scientific evidence" of global warming and noted that rising carbon dioxide is beneficial to plants and animals. This petition has been signed by more than 30,000 scientists in America.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.