From Negligence to Malevolence: How the Climate Crisis has Gone Critical

by on July 21, 2021 · 3 comments

in Environment

By David Helvarg / The Progressive / July 20, 2021

In June, record heat waves hit Russia, Northern Europe, Canada, and the United States. When these increasingly common weather phenomena began killing hundreds of people, the U.S. media focused its coverage on a single record breaking 116-degree day in Portland, Oregon.

When unprecedented flooding in Germany and Western Europe had killed more than 100 people by July 16, I watched as three U.S. network news shows rolled that report into coverage of the West’s wildfires and California’s worst drought in 1,200 years.

Yet, none of the three main TV news outlets—NBC, CBS, or ABC—mentioned climate change, avoiding the most obvious news hook. A group of scientists later released a rapid assessment report concluding Oregon’s heat wave could not have happened without human-induced climate change.

When more than a billion intertidal sea creatures (including mussels, anemones, and sea stars)  recently broiled to death in the Pacific Northwest, it got limited attention from the media. At the same time, there’s been almost no national coverage of the millions of dead marine animals, including dolphins and sea turtles, that continue to wash ashore in St. Petersburg, Florida, due to recurrent red tides linked to pollution and warming waters.

The cause of the collapsed condominium towers in Surfside, Florida, may take months to determine. But one suspected contributing cause is saltwater intrusion from sea-level rise filling the porous limestone on which much of south Florida is built. If that’s the case, the impacts could redefine life in the Sunshine State.

There’s also been little discussion of how the migration of refugees from Central America was spurred by two major storms, Eta and Iota, and a long drought that has displaced farmers and others in Honduras and Guatemala.

When I was seven years old growing up in New York City, there were an average of eight summer days that exceeded 90 degrees. Today, sixty-three years later, there’s an average of eleven days a year when this happens. (You can use a database created by The New York Times to look up this information for your own community.)

I long ago moved to California, where the wildfire disasters could soon be eclipsed by sea-level rise that could see a seven-foot surge in this century, according to the state’s legislative analyst’s office. This would displace up to half a million Californians at a cost of more than $150 billion, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Service.

Climate change is separate from, but also contributing to, global species extinction that’s happening faster than at any time in the past sixty-six million years—when a meteor took out the dinosaurs. Today, the planet’s sixth extinction primarily involves the direct killing of animals and habitat destruction from human causes other than climate change.

Since 1970, half of the large wild mammals on earth have disappeared. (Actually, we know where they went—onto our plates and trophy walls.) North America’s wild birds have declined by almost a third.

And yet, Mexico has just permitted fishing in the last refuge of the remaining ten known vaquitas, a small species of porpoise that will soon join China’s river dolphins in the void of extinction. With fewer than 400 members left, the much larger North American right whale that migrates along the crowded eastern seaboard of the United States may not be far behind.

Wisconsin’s acclaimed conservationist Aldo Leopold once said, “To save every cog and wheel is the first precaution of the intelligent tinkerer.” We’ve been tinkering with nature for a long time, but not very intelligently. As hunter-gatherers, we maintained a fair balance with other parts of the living machine that is our earth’s ecosystem.

But since the agricultural revolution and even more so since the fossil-fuel-fired Industrial Revolution that helped increase our numbers dramatically (from less than three billion people to almost eight billion in my short lifetime), we’ve moved from negligence to malevolence.

Today, we scientifically understand how our corporate agricultural and fishing practices are eliminating a majority of the other animals on our planet, but continue to do so.

The climate and conservation proposals in President Joe Biden and the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” reconciliation package are exceedingly modest. They include incentives for electrifying transportation and shifting to non-carbon energy sources such as wind and solar, as well as across-the-board carbon emissions reductions aimed at keeping the United States in line with the world’s pledge to not let global temperatures rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Those are all decent ideas, the kind Jimmy Carter was promoting 45 years ago. But today they’re far from enough. We’ve reached the point where the catastrophic impacts of climate change that have loomed for decades (largely ignored, scoffed at, and mocked by industry-backed skeptics) have finally begun to threaten human civilization as we know it.

Currently, we’re on course to hit 2 degrees within thirty to forty years. That’s very bad news.

Unfortunately, our climate pledge does not count “feedback loops,” something climate scientists have been warning about for the past thirty years. These include wildfires turning forests from carbon sequesterers into carbon emitters, as “black carbon” from these fires and other sources darken arctic ice and glaciers, making them absorb rather than reflect heat, accelerating their own melting.

And then there’s the “off-gassing” of methane long-trapped in the now-melting Arctic permafrost. All of these represent sources of carbon far exceeding what has been released in the past 200 years of industrial burning of coal and oil. Talk about unleashing the Kraken.

The Earth will endure, but the rise of intelligence among primates may, after five million years, prove another evolutionary dead end.

Given all this, it’s hard to understand the right’s determination in launching a culture war against Biden’s climate and environmental proposals, which call for common sense survival  strategies including protecting 30 percent of our land and waters, including world-class biological reserves such as the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, by 2030.

Our most realistic hope now is to work to achieve “triage”—a state where we might be able to save what we can while we can. If we can ensure that Biden’s modest climate initiatives are passed into law, we might be in a position to begin the major work of the next century: intelligent tinkering to promote ecosystem restoration.

Editordude: Please go to the original for links.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank J July 22, 2021 at 3:48 pm

If you consider yourself a member of the only political party in the civilized world denying the climate crisis, and you are a parent… Are you guilty of child abuse?


Frank J July 22, 2021 at 3:49 pm

That was just a general question not directed to the author!


sealintheSelkirks July 23, 2021 at 1:11 pm

Frank J, even being a re-post this author was just repeating extremely optimistic and very conservative viewpoints, and is STILL using the oilman Wbush’s mouthpiece Frank Luntz’s ridiculous term climate ‘Change’ that Luntz deliberately invented to steal the science narrative away from ‘Global Warming’ due to people reacting very negatively to that far more accurate description. It worked amazingly well, too well. People became complacent and even more apathetic. Maybe not so much at the moment but…

There are many climate and environmental scientists that for decades have predicted exactly what we are seeing today, and not with that ‘decades from now’ tone that this article had. Eminent scientists like Dr. Andrew Glikson and Dr. Peter Wadhams and so many others that have been made invisible by the corporate media but they have been far more accurate than the IPCC which is, after all, a totally politicized body due to government representatives ie: politicians getting to edit what will be made public. That isn’t science, it is censorship.

Go to this site where 32 scientists are posting their research that never gets into the corporate news narrative:

Then scroll down to the July 3rd posting. It’s the Methane, dude, not just the CO2. Take a deep breath and read that article then start reading all the others past and present.

Another very comprehensive website is climate activist Kevin Hester’s New Zealand climate site: Please listen to some of the podcast interviews with such people as Glikson…

Disclosure: I post a lot of article links on this site.

According to these experts the planet is already over 2’C from the normal that was before the start of industrialization, and there isn’t any doubt that the Arctic is over 3’C which is why it is melting and the Northern Hemispheric Jet Stream is now being called “deranged.” You might want to look up Dr. Natalia Shakova the Arctic methane expert from U of Alaska Anchorage…

When I moved to this mountain property 18 years ago by the Canadian border the last frost was always in June. Always! It has radically changed and very very quickly due to that looping Jet Stream. This year the first 80’F day was April 29th (I’ve actually had fresh powder snow falling on that day before, hiking hills with a snowboard on my back). The first 90’F day was May 16th, the first 100’F day was June 2nd. It hasn’t been under 90’F since June 18th! I just experienced over 100’F from June 25th through July 15th with a high of 116’F on June 29th with major hazardous air quality from all the smoke from fires. It’s been in the 90s since July 18th hit 102’F. Again. The hot months start about now, the end of July through September, and I don’t think the first frost will be anywhere near Labor Day which also used to be normal.

I watched another fire erupt on Wednesday west across the valley behind the Huckleberry Range ridgeline at 4:30 in the afternoon. Huge column of smoke suddenly rising about 6-10 miles s/sw of me. Freaky! Air is pm 2.5 from the fires for a couple of weeks now and nobody goes outside without an N95 because when your eyes feel like they are full of sand and gritty/itchy, you don’t want that stuff in your lungs! The layers one sees in the morning over everything…

This ain’t change. Screw Frank Luntz and his hogwash. This is catastrophic climate chaos.



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