by Grace Nichols
ALBANY: Steven Leibo, Phd, a Sage Colleges Professor of International History and Politics, as well as an International Affairs Commentator on WAMC Northeast Public Radio, came to speak to us about the Climate Change crisis. Dr. Leibo has been a constant presence on the academic and environmental scene in the Capital Region for the past several years, in a recognizable fisherman’s cap, speaking, holding seminars and films, and keeping us focused on change.
Dr. Leibo gave a gigantic amount of information very fast; a speedy powerpoint chock full of images and statistics galloped across the screen like a runaway roller coaster that is taking the world’s population with it.
Dr. Leibo reviewed the evidence of ice cores and the dissolved gases within them, that climate have changed over the last many years and CO2/methane values within the ice, going back 1 million years. He also pointed out that climate science itself is rapidly evolving and that the Inconvenient Truth, a source which has informed many of us about climate change was based on the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report of 2011 which was based on data from the 1990s. Our more recent observations and understandings support:
1) Climate change in the past progressed much faster than previously thought.
2) There isn’t a smooth escalator of gradual change; change has come in bursts.
3) Future changes are happening much faster than expected.
And therefore, this isn’t an issue for “our children”: The Climate Crisis has arrived.
Dr. Leibo says that hominids have been on Earth 4.4 million years and for most of that time there was an erratic climate reality to which these primates adapted. Only in the last 11.5 thousand years has a stabilizing environment allowed the agricultural revolution to unfold. The oceans began to settle down and we have been having the era of the “Long Summer.” Dr. Leibo believes that the building up of surpluses allowed for the building of civilizations and the protection for small climate failures. As this gave us protection against minor climatic changes, it also made us more vulnerable to big climatic changes, as society was mores static, with specialized workers who were not as adapted to moving quickly and leaving everything behind.
Right at the beginning of the talk, Dr. Leibo took a side route into the competing economic systems that arose at that point, resulting in Corporate Globalized Capital and the rise of China and India. As he puts it, the shift to the energy of the dead (coal and oil, which are hydrocarbon remains of ancient life) allowed fantastic expenditures of energy with the accompanying release of carbon into the atmosphere. Economic Growth per capita around the world was growing ten times faster than population growth; population itself has expanded from a billion in 1776 to 6.89 billion people at present. The United States has led the way, though in 2007, China passed the US in its annual CO2 emissions per year.
Dr. Leibo’s message is that there is essentially no reputable scientific debate regarding the reality of human caused climate change. He quotes the September, 2006 Scientific American issue as announcing “The Debate on Global Warming is Over.” The debate, so far as environmentalists are concerned, was over in the 1980s though resistance from industry is strong. Dr. Leibo recommends that we read The Climate Coverup, The Crusade to Deny Global Warming by James Hoggan with Richard Littlemore which chronicles an attempt to convince the public of an uncertainty that doesn’t exist.
The next segment of the talk explained the mechanism of the greenhouse effect and ability of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane to trap heat. Here on Earth, in 2011, our atmospheric carbon is 393.09 ppm which is 37% above preindustrial amounts. The hottest years on record are 2010, 2005, 2009, 2007, and 1998; each decade since the 1980s has been the hottest decade on record.
Dr. Leibo’s powerpoint showed before and after shots of many of the world’s glaciers and horrifying photos of societies caught in floods and storms, as well as areas of extreme drought; droughts lead to wildfires and they are occurring on a massive scale.
We were peppered with examples: August 2010, Northwest Pakistan – massive floods; Norway’s Hurricane Dagmar, Dec. 2011; 2003 European heat wave with 15,000 deaths in France and 20,000 deaths in Italy; a temperature of 129 degrees in Pakistan in 2010; Texas, 2011 – Summer temperatures off the chart compared to all previously recorded temperatures. The number of examples were staggering, coupled with photos of pure misery from multiple places on every continent.
There has been a doubling of category 4 and 5 hurricanes according to Morris Bender et al in Science magazine of Jan 22, 2010.
Dr. Leibo, himself, has travelled quite extensively and recounted first person reports from residents of the Hudson Bay; all over the Artic permafrost is melting. This in turn releases a lot of methane as the vegetation which depends on the permafrost rots. This accelerates climate change. When the glaciers melt, they also release trapped methane.
Wildfires also contribute to climate change through deforestation which cuts down on carbon sequestration. These are what we call positive feedback – when a mechanism increases the cause of a phenomena creating more of the same.
Dr. Leibo shared with us many projections of what can and will happen; as the ice shelves collapse, the sea level rise will happen quickly. A meter rise will establish 100 million refugees. Two meters rise will result in 200 million refugees. Though I can’t vouch for these numbers, it is perfectly clear that massive levels of displacement, escalating disease, famine, and conflict will accompany any substantial sea level rise.
Dr. Leibo believes the United States has been the slowest and most reluctant to respond to Climate Change because of the legacy of resistance to Government Regulation, stemming from a laissez-faire economic approach. Yet, there are some good developments in the US: Obama has given billions to new energy projects and energy efficiency research. There has been progress in high speed transportation; he has used his purchasing power to push alternatives to cars; the US Air Force is on board with the Air Force Jet One going faster than the speed of sound on biofuel. Coal fired plants are no longer being built. We are building more geothermal energy facilities. The EPA is getting stronger. There is more social action, such as the Tar Sands actions, aimed at halting Climate Change.
On the worldwide level, China has been a clean energy investor, investing 34.6 billion dollars; they are leaders in research and development in Carbon Capture and Sequestration. He cites geothermal development in Indonesia, Solar and Wind development in South Korea and green jobs growth around the world.
The United States has been lagging. As Obama has remarked, “We were the leaders in solar. We owned clean energy economy in the 1980’s. Guess what? China Leads in solar energy and Germany leads in Wind.” Congress failed to pass the Clean Energy Bill, and we are the only major nation without one. We have resisted treaties from Kyoto forward. The United States commitment to energy alternatives needs to increase dramatically.
We cannot stop Climate Change; it has begun. But with vast commitment and immediate action as a world community, we can decrease the horrible consequences.
This presentation did not focus on biodiversity and the consequences of climate change to the Natural World. There was no information about developing local economies, changing our lifestyles or living green. Instead, it focused on human society and comparative national economic policies, while dramatizing the gravity of our situation as a vulnerable species with complete dependence upon the Earth and her Atmosphere.
Published in March/April, 2012 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter