CALIFORNIA AND ITS FIRES: A climate reckoning


If you are just going to continue to pollute the water and continue to pollute the land and continue to grow polluted poisoned food, what on earth is anybody possibly thinking the end result will be? (Erin Brockovich)

Human-caused climate change is not an opinion. It’s scientific fact.

Ever since Charles “David” Keeling (1928-2005), an American scientist at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, first presented his findings to the American Philosophical Society in 1968, his conclusion that atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing primarily due to the actions of mankind has become one of the most polarizing subjects in American politics. CALIFORNIA AND ITS FIRES

And all these years later, with definitive evidence that the Earth’s temperature is rising and despite all the increasingly catastrophic weather events, almost a quarter of Americans believe that there is no solid evidence that the Earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades. Almost 30 percent of Americans don’t view global warming as a serious problem. And there are others who don’t think humans play a part in the climate crisis, meaning that nothing we do — burning fossil fuels, deforestation, automobiles and airplanes, factories, toxic waste, and factory farms and mega-dairies — has any impact on the planet. CALIFORNIA AND ITS FIRES

And, yet, 23 million Americans do agree that the current climate is human caused. The world’s leading climate scientists have concluded that human activities are almost certainly the main cause of the warming observed since the middle of the 20th century, when Keeling started his research.

During this same period of time, over a half-century now, carbon dioxide has been entering into the atmosphere at an alarmingly high rate — faster than any other time in recorded history. At the same time, the planet has seen a stunning run of record-breaking temperature stretches, with 10 of the warmest years on record occurring after 1998. CALIFORNIA AND ITS FIRES

It’s not that the world hasn’t had more carbon dioxide, it’s not that the world hasn’t been warmer. The problem is the speed at which things are changing. (Bill Nye)

Humanity is at a crossroads. In California, deadly and destructive wildfires in recent years are some of the largest ever recorded. As of September 21 2020, Beta is the third named storm in the Gulf of Mexico in less than a month, and the 23rd of this hurricane season. This is just the second season to exhaust the alphabetical list of storm names set before the season. The first year that happened was 2005, when there were a record 27 named storms.

Keeling’s legacy includes a mea­surement program that endures to this day, providing an authoritative record of atmospheric CO2 concen­trations that is a cornerstone of climate science today. The Keeling Curve, the iconic graph that presents these data, is a powerful symbol of the human impact on the environ­ment and the role of fossil fuels in global climate change.

Recently, the measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa passed 400 parts per million (on September 9, 2020, the measurement was 412.55 ppm), a 42 percent increase from preindustrial levels. CALIFORNIA AND ITS FIRES

Each of the past three decades has been warmer than any preceding decade since records began in 1850. August 2020 was the hottest on record around these parts.

An increase of 2°C compared to the temperature in preindustrial times (mid 20th century) is seen by scientists as the threshold beyond which there is a much higher risk that dangerous and possibly catastrophic changes in the global environment will occur. For this reason, the international community has recognized the need to keep warming below 2°C. Currently, we are halfway there as the Earth has warmed 1°C (1.85°F) in the past century.

God gave us the Earth to till and to keep in a balanced and respectful way. (Pope Francis)

Even one-half of a degree is a big deal. It will mean Arctic melting and sea level rises that will displace hundreds of millions of people. If immigration a political concern, then it would be best to reverse the rising global temperature now before hundreds of island nations are submerged due to a rising ocean.

It means massive species loss, and habitat loss for many species struggling to survive. It means life-threatening heat waves, water shortages, and coastal flooding. It means the loss of coral reefs in the oceans. CALIFORNIA AND ITS FIRES

 There have been five mass extinction events in the Earth’s history, each wiping out between 70% and 95% of the species of plants, animals, and microorganisms. Mass extinctions are just as severe as their name suggests. The most recent, 66 million years ago, saw dinosaurs disappear. 

The past events were caused by catastrophic alterations of the environment, including massive volcanic eruptions or collision with an asteroid. The sixth mass extinction — the one happening now — is different: Scientists say it’s caused by humans.

We shall need a substantially new way of thinking if humanity is to survive. (Albert Einstein, 1954)

New York City is home to a 62-foot-wide electronic clock with a 15-digit display called the Metronome, a public art display. The clock just received an update: It now displays the remaining years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds before the climate change deadline. Translation: We don’t have much time to put on the brakes, turn the car around, and reverse course. (Democracy Now photo)

Nations have delayed curbing their greenhouse gas emissions for so long that warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) is now all but inevitable. At current rates of warming, the world will likely cross the 1.5 degree threshold between 2030 and 2052, well within the lifetime of most who are alive today. CALIFORNIA AND ITS FIRES

To stay below 2 degrees, emissions have to decline to zero by around 2075. Virtually all of the coal plants and gasoline-burning vehicles on the planet would need to be quickly replaced with zero-carbon alternatives.

And 1.5 degrees is a best-case scenario. Without an extremely rapid (and perhaps unrealistic) globally collective push to zero out fossil fuel emissions and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher in the 21st century looks more likely, according to climate scientists.

If the world — “world” meaning humans and their countries’ governing bodies — continues to ignore the facts that have been peer-reviewed, documented, and tested, there will continue to be unprecedented extinction rates, threatened ecosystems, and severe consequences for human survival.

Immediate action must be taken by individuals, corporations, and governments. In the U.S., which has tremendous influence in the world, citizens can take immediate productive action by voting for only for politicians who understand that climate change exists, is a catastrophic emergency, and have a plan for combatting the crisis. This is priority number one.

The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change. (Greta Thunberg)

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8 thoughts on “CALIFORNIA AND ITS FIRES: A climate reckoning

  • September 21, 2020 at 5:57 pm


    • September 22, 2020 at 7:05 am

      Typical. It’s all caps, keyboard warrior types like you that helped put us in this position. But hey, it’s all about you, right?

  • September 21, 2020 at 9:40 pm

    Kudos to you Sarah Elliot for bringing this very important topic to the forefront. Having lived through the first season to use Greek names for hurricanes in Louisiana and Florida I know first hand what havoc and tragedy they bring. Arctic ice is shrinking, forests and towns are on fire, sea levels are rising. I would think this should bother everyone. Taking the time to try to educate is noble but to have a more tangible effect people should VOTE for those who believe in science.

  • September 22, 2020 at 7:09 am

    Thank you for the education about climate change. The article was put together very well and is quite compelling.

  • September 22, 2020 at 8:51 am

    Sorry but the world is not going to change, most of the masses will continue to live as they currently do, let’s be realistic. Whatever climate change is occurring is inevitable, a few opinionated idealists here and there will not change mass population behaviors. Humans will do what they have always done when there are big evironmental changes – they will move to more favorable locales. Who is right or wrong about climate change will, in the end, mean nothing.

  • September 22, 2020 at 11:15 am

    I agree with the above comment; while there are changes in behavior occurring, it likely won’t be enough. Browbeating people about it does nothing. Do what you can individually that is actually meaningful And not just symbolic with a good attitude and you will maximize your influence on others,

  • September 22, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    Sarah, thank you for the article—NOW is the time to talk about it!
    It isn’t what Everyone needs to do—it’s what Each one needs to do.
    It’s about our children and grandchildren and future generations.

  • September 22, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    well clearly you have done a good journalist job of engaging thought and discussion on this critical and divisive topic: climate changes, global warming rates and human involvement. According to Dr. Katherine Hayhoe, Texas A & M educator, climatoligist and Christian, the most effective thing each of us can actually do is to TALK ABOUT IT. With everyone and anyone, family, friend, governmental office holder, teacher, child and so on. We CAN do this. We must get on it. No matter what you believe, you have seen the raging fires world-wide, not just in the forests of America; you have surely heard of the extreme hurricanes, tornadoes, floods around the globe in the past decade. Please vote. Please let go of accusation, assumption and find common ground. In 3 Rivers.


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