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What are the near-term climate Pearl Harbors?

By Joe Romm  

"What are the near-term climate Pearl Harbors?"

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[Note: Buried in this post is a request for your predictions or ideas.]

Andy Revkin saw my post on Hansen Sunday night and e-mailed me some questions and then turned my reply into a post at Dot Earth, “Joe Romm on Hansen’s Mistakes, Cap’s Limits.”

To Revkin’s question of what might drive action strong enough to avoid the worst, I cited my post on “The harsh lessons of the financial bailout” — in particular a key driver is “bad things must be happening to regular people right now.” One of the media’s greatest failings is ‘underinforming’ people that “Bad things are happening to real people right now thanks in part to human-caused climate change — droughts, wildfires, flooding, extreme weather, and on and on.” I listed a perfect recent example: “my article criticizing the NYT on the bark beetle story“.

Building on what I wrote about Hansen:

We will need a WWII-style approach, but that can only happen after we get the global warming Pearl Harbor or, more likely, multiple Pearl Harbors.

Revkin then asked “What kind of wake-up call does Mr. Romm think is conceivable on a time scale relevant to near-term policy?”

My quick response is below — but I am certainly interested in your thoughts on what kind of climatic mini-catastrophes might move public and policymaker opinion over the next decade. Preferably these “mini-catastrophes” would not themselves be evidence that we had waited too long and passed the point of no return.

Here is my list — I await yours:

Mutliple Pearl Harbors over the next decade — half or more of these happening:

  1. Arctic goes ice free before 2020. It would be a big, visible global shock.
  2. Rapid warming over next decade, as recent Nature and Science article suggests is quite possible (posts here and here)
  3. Continued (unexpected) surge in methane
  4. A megadrought hitting the SW comparable to what has hit southern Australia.
  5. More superstorms, like Katrina
  6. A heatwave as bad as Europe’s 2003 one.
  7. Something unpredicted but clearly linked to climate, like the bark beetle devastation.
  8. Accelerated mass loss in Greenland and/or Antarctica, perhaps with another huge ice shelf breaking off, but in any case coupled with another measurable rise in the rate of sea level rise.
  9. The Fifth Assessment Report (2012-2013) really spelling out what we face with no punches pulled.

I say multiple events because we need a critical mass understanding the climate is changing catastrophically. Multiple events will be needed to make the case that this is global and climate-related, as opposed to local and weather-related.

For me and others, one Hurricane Katrina was enough to motivate more action, but the superstorm’s devastation could not and cannot be directly linked to climate change. It was clear evidence of what kind of catastrophes we will face in a world of superstorms and rising seas — and it is now painfully clear that future Katrinas will be worse (see “Nature: Hurricanes ARE getting fiercer — and it’s going to get much worse” and “Why future Katrinas and Gustavs will be MUCH worse, Part 2“).

And yes, for a large fraction of the population, no evidence will prove persuasive (see “The Deniers are winning, but only with the GOP“). We will have to save them in spite of their willful and self-destructive ignorance, assuming they don’t stop us.

“The science is beyond dispute… Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.”

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71 Responses to What are the near-term climate Pearl Harbors?

  1. roy says:

    A couple of possibilities:
    1. non-nominal raise in sea level in a 2-3 year period. permanent flooding
    2. Some sort of (better than) Perfect Storm(s)
    3. Mega forest fire
    4. Dramatic kind of ocean die off or decay (e.g., acres of dead fish in Miami)
    5. Mass migration or mass starvation (I mean more than even now)
    6. World-wide youth uprising (Please Please Please!)

    Also, it seems a little off to use the term “pearl harbors” as the war on is an extremely tired metaphor and further, the Japanese are our friends and have been so for almost 60 years. Finally it’s an international crisis not just a drama for the USA.

  2. rpauli says:

    Pearl Harbor is not quite right. It was almost a total surprise, and was not our making.

    Our upcoming disaster is known but not well described. It is caused by our own activity. And we perpetuate our blunder which increases the disaster.

    What historical event is there to compare?

  3. Steve Bloom says:

    Joe, I don’t think sea ice qualifies. If it was going to do the job we would have seen a stronger response to 2007. Really, no single event is going to do it. It’ll have to be a combination.

  4. David B. Benson says:

    Unfortunat4ely, I figure that most are like the proverbial frog in the slowly warming pot.

    Feels good until it boils; too late then. :-(

  5. Dan Borroff says:

    Joe;

    I’d label it “How many Katrina’s?” or, alternatively “How many Titanic’s?”

    The human mind is a thin veneer of rationality over a mass of emotions. (Some brain researchers call the existence of rationality into doubt – just emotions controlled in a way that optimizes survival and reduces social discord.) When we can reach that visceral point in the brain we have an opportunity to connect and to teach.

    There is another way – humor allows the brain to connect on all levels, lower level survival / base of the brain, with the outer layers.

    Much like Tina Fey was able to wake people up to Sarah Palin’s genuinely frightening persona we should hope that our best comedians will stop the deniers in their tracks.

    At the same time I’d say:

    1. Major supercell outbreak takes out major population centers, ie: Dallas, Oklahoma City (oil towns).

    2. Massive tropical cyclones / hurricanes do same – particularly if it were DC, New York, Beijing, or Shanghai. (global warming denial centers)

    3. Collapse of major mountain due to thawing, Mt. Rainier, Alps, Mt. Fuji, or a really big collapse in China.

    4. Devastating fires in Atlanta, San Francisco or San Jose, North Carolina.

    5. Collapse of the US (or international – why think small?) insurance industry due to claims for disasters.

  6. Russ says:

    @ rpauli – Pearl Harbor is not quite right. It was almost a total surprise, and was not our making.

    Well, I guess that notion is at least true of those who were in command at the time. It of course shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone; on the contrary it was the most likely result of the quarantine policy.

    That’s why the conspiracy theory has had such legs – if you rule that out, it becomes extremely difficult to explain how America was caught with its pants down like that.

    @ the original question: Lots of people hoped Katrina would be the wake-up event for climate change awareness and demand for action.

    (That didn’t quite work out – but I’ve long believed it was the tipping point for the public’s perception of the stupidity and arrogant, sociopathic incompetence of the Bush admin in general, and that this epiphany immediately manifested in a turning against the “war”. So for that at least we can praise fate for Katrina.)

    I wondered earlier this year if nasty pollution at the Olympics might have any epiphany potential for the TV-watching masses. Again, apparently not – just more occasions for frivolous crap, like PC clucking over those athletes who took the perfectly reasonable precaution of wearing breathing protection.

    I’m sorry, I guess I despair… I think by the time any sense gets knocked into these empty skulls, it’ll be too late.

  7. alex says:

    Climate change is right off the menu in the UK at the moment. This winter has been unusually cold and we have snow twice already (some winters we hardly see it at all). With the current financial crisis grabbing the headlines there isn’t room for much else.

    A very hot summer and/or unusually early spring, plus the breaking of some record (e.g. the hottest March since …) is usually enough to get CC back on the front pages.

    Meanwhile I was pleased to see that the UK was one of the few countries to be on track with their Kyoto committments. No idea why though – I don’t see many people changing their behaviour. It’s probably got more to do with our switch from coal to gas.

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=from-bad-to-worse-with-greenhouse-gas-emissions

    “The U.K. and the Principality of Monaco are the only two European countries that, after pledging to reduce emissions (by 12.5 percent and 8 percent, respectively) by 2012, appear to be on track.”

  8. rpauli says:

    Russ – you are right about how a conspiracy grows legs … which we have now in the form of professional AGW denier campaigns and greenwashing – heavily funded by carbon fuel industries. But this suggests a huge paradigm shift: the courts and global warming lawsuits.

    The case of KIVALINA v ExxonMobil etc – if it goes to the plaintiffs will radically shutdown the pro-carbon propaganda machine. If the courts rule that Exxon and others created a nuisance by promoting a false notion against global warming, then then liability would be attached to mis-information. A big change. The ruling could affect all media outlets and advertisers.

    I think there are a handful of other climate cases in the courts – may be important enough to add to a list of big changes.

  9. Brian M says:

    Simple. A category 4 hitting the east coast between DC and Boston. Maybe even a strong cat 3. There is simply no substitute for the east coast bias of media coverage. If it doesn’t affect the east coast, especially NYC, it’s a sound bite. But a Katrina or Gustav slamming into Long Island would be lead story for year.

  10. Will Koroluk says:

    Joe:
    I think Steve Bloom might be right in thinking that it will take a combination of events to awaken the general public to the perils of climate change. But if one could be singled out, it might be the surge in methane you suggested. That, certainly, is likely to be one result from the thawing of the permafrost that lies across northern Canada, northern Europe and Siberia. In Canada we already have had cases of public buildings ‘floating’ first as the permafrost beneath them thawed, and finally having to be closed because of structural damage.
    By itself, closing a single public building would mean nothing to the general public, but as the phenomenon builds, we will one day have to say that $xxx million in buildings have had to be closed because . . .
    In other words, it will have to be something that hits people in their pocketbooks. A few drowned polar bears won’t do it. Nor will flooding in Bangladesh. But, in North America at least, if it costs tax dollars, people will take note.
    Much of the permafrost problem will occur in Siberia, of course, which makes me wonder if your blog should perhaps pay somewhat more attention than it does to non-American concerns. We’re all in this together.

  11. hapa says:

    what historical event is there to compare, well that’s what everybody’s talking about now, it would be, the end of ANY civilization, unable to escape the dead weight of its assumptions and its cosmology when under very different physical conditions.

    i don’t think there can be a pearl harbor–like event or sequence that catalyzes world-round sentiment, even though early last year i said i thought we were in the middle of the needed mental transition.

    and yes, it’s because it’s a global problem, without an enemy, so rather than enjoy a moment of clear opportunity for cooperative effort, facing such dire trouble, people invent enemies. convert it to an inter-tribal conflict and beat them at something. i don’t know what.

    it will be very hard to reach a global epiphany when the powers-that-be are playing us all against each other to keep the profits flowing up the ladder and to consolidate political control in various undemocratic institutions. you know, it’s like, oh, wow, what a surprise, the WTO is standing between us and a major greening effort, NOBODY was talking about THAT possibility.

    “no one could have predicted…”

    which brings up the other side of the “pearl harbor” analogy. when pearl harbor happened, we were already basically at war with japan. right? everybody knows that, right? both sides had already committed serious fouls? popular support in the US came after DC had taken things pretty far down the road to war?

    i say this because it’s important to know that political tipping points do not appear like icebergs in the night. for instance. “9/11 changed everything” — changed it so much that we…

    went to war with a completed unrelated country that the sitting president’s party had been trying to decapitate for a decade.

    oh, and we also created “the department of homeland security,” which was essentially a formal declaration of intent to finalize the militarization of local police forces as had been done in the previous decades, as part of the “war on drugs.”

    neither of these things were in and of themselves necessary counterterrorism measures.

    but they were consistent with the thinking of the time in the halls of power.

    so even if you get some public “pearl harbor” shift, what the American Revolving Door Association of America does with that public sentiment is in no way required to meet our expectations of sensible response.

  12. hapa says:

    *went to war with a completely unrelated country

  13. Gail Zawacki says:

    Um, I’m beating the same drum but hey…

    ALL species of trees are doomed, here on the east coast of USA. In just the last few months it has become clear, we will lose ALL the trees here, within 10 years and quite likely sooner.

    This will of course, cause the extermination of many other forms of life that exist in the woods.

    You can ignore this for another year or two.

    Then, it will become impossible to ignore, to the detriment of all of us, and future generations.

  14. danny bloom says:

    Joe
    Did you see news about my possible class action lawsuit at the ICC int he Hague against all world leaders for manslaugher? See here:

    http://northwardho.blogspot.com

    Skeptics at http://wattsupwiththat.com are commenting, over 200 so far, mostly angry at me for even THINKING of this.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/11/22/litigious-lunacy/#comment-59275

    See DeSmogBlog by Mitchell Anderson too.

    As for your very good idea about “Mutliple Pearl Harbors over the next decade — with half or more of these happening”:

    I vote for these:

    1) Arctic goes ice free before 2020. I have bets out on this. It would be a big, visible global shock.

    4) A megadrought hitting the SW comparable to what has hit southern Australia.

    8) Accelerated mass loss in Greenland and/or Antarctica, perhaps with another huge ice shelf breaking off, but in any case coupled with another measurable rise in the rate of sea level rise,

    9) The Fifth Assessment Report (2012-2013) really spelling out what we face with no punches pulled.

  15. Lamont says:

    We’re coming out of a solar minimum now, and combine that with an el nino year and we should solidly break every record out there soon. Combine that with the methane release/melting permafrost issue that is likely to get worse soon and there should be effects (e.g. ice free arctic) which cause some seriously major pucker factor in people who are still waffling.

  16. Kathy N. says:

    Joe you listed all the ones on my list not fair. Just kidding , seriously thought the year 2005 combined with the heat wave of 2003 in Europe, unending drought in Auss and Africa. Now have these all happen in the year of the first ice free Artic in our life time. And than Breaking News
    “Methane Emissions from Perma Frost Loss reach critical levels”
    My best guess is for these to combine around 2012

    In this year we reach a solar max (if predictions are true)that’s going to be big. We catch a glancing blow from a CME. Power grid problems no AC,
    dark hot nights, blazing hot days and sea level rising.
    Global Warming/Climate Change becomes a reality to most everyone.

    That is what I think it will take to wake up the world!

  17. Wes Rolley says:

    The real danger is that none of those things on Joe’s list will occur in any alarming fashion. We plod from year to year. The thirty year average used by weather forecasters to tell you how today compares to others will, of course, climb and so the appearances will be that nothing alarming is happening. The frog in the slowly warming pot is a very apt analogy.

    From my viewpoint, living near San Jose, CA is that the water supply in California continues to decline while the population continues to expand. At some point, people will begin to understand that building more dams is not a good solution when there is no more water… but the biggest complaint I hear now is that water bills are going up and the water district staff is paid too high of a salary. It just has not sunken in.

    The problems of energy, the economy and global warming are so conjoined as to be inseparable. Will we fix the economy and energy problems at the expense of the climate? Probably, because all of those solutions have to go through Congress.

  18. TomG says:

    Too many items that I personally consider a Pearl Harbor are too remote and are for the most part out of the public eye. Greenland, Arctic sea ice and retreating glaciers are examples. Outa sight, outa mind…
    I agree with Brian, a direct hit from a Cat 4 on New York City has “the in your face” requirement.
    But how about a Cat 2 or 3 hitting Los Angeles for the next shot?
    For a third punch a massive heat wave stretching across central North America. Everything tinder dry. Massive destruction of corn and wheat crops; plus, if a large portion of the bark beetle damaged forests go up in flames the smoke would probably go as far as Washington DC.

  19. john says:

    One way of thinking about this is to ask whether we have ever– as a species, culture or even a society – acted in advance of an impending catastrophe, and, if so, to ask what about it made us act.

    One possible candidate — the cold war. The memo from X set the “war” in motion before the threat was nuclear. And yet nationalism and “tribal” wars are an integral part of who we are, so that may not pertain.

    Unfortunately, what comes to mind when I try to envision other cases, is the opposite, in the form of Barbara Tuchman’s The Marches of Folly — 7 cases where we walked willingly and knowingly into disaster.

    But I’m going to go with Frost on this — fire. Fire and drought. Massive mega-fires consuming thousands of square miles in a disease ridden and parched forest (the boreal forests in British Columbia and Alberta are ripe should there be a couple of dry seasons). This seems sadly possible, and the resulting smoke and particulate load would be global and devastating.

    the entire soutwest is also ripe.

    The average acres burned in wildfires in the US annually has doubled since 2000, so it will take a lot to make a dent in homo sapiens, sapiens — man the double wise.

  20. dwight says:

    This idea from our friends at The Onion might do the trick:

    http://tinyurl.com/57cosv

  21. The wakeup call will have to involve popular culture or impact consumer products. Those are the influencers in the lives of the general population, the people who don’t read climate-related blogs and don’t post comments on them.

    It took Rock Hudson’s AIDS and related death to make it real for most people. Magic Johnson’s HIV status made it realer still for millions more.

    Climate change is going to have to kill a celebrity or two before people will believe it’s a serious problem. If it could wipe out an entire awards show worth then you’d really have something that would inspire action.

    Or climate change will have to cutoff the flow of popular products that consumers demand and expect, whether it be supplies of chocolate milk, or Redbull, Pampers, Big Macs, iPods, Legos, Guitar Hero or heaven forbid Blackberries. Imagine if climate change cutoff all cell phone signals. The mass population would surely believe that a crisis of life or death proportions had arrived. You’d have entire generations marching in the streets demanding action

    But these same people will watch fires burn, glaciers melt, seas rise and storms rage and never bat an eye or connect them with climate change and the steps we need to take to stop it.

  22. Greg says:

    Look at what the government’s environmental intelligence research money is going to and you will know what catastrophes to national security, both short-term and medium term are of most concern to the intelligence community (early funding can be found here http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/1996_rpt/hpsci97f.htm):

    A global pandemic begun in the tropics is the most statistically probable near-term event to “surprise” us. Not the types that attack weakened immune systems but those of us who are healthiest. Small changes in temperature over time unleash statistically significant mutations in viruses that are currently in other mammalian species and would devastate human populations with very few changes needed for crossover.

  23. paulm says:

    1 An intellectual African American climate convert president (happened)

    2 Regular extreme heat waves, including massive power outages (due over the next couple of years)

    3 Another big storm in the Gulf. Intense record tornado events. (at this rate the US will be hit every other year by one or more)

    4 Snow/glacial melt water crisis (soon??)

    5 Constant super bush/forest fires (happening)

    6 Arctic free of Summer Ice (next year or the one after)

    7 Large collapse of Ices Sheets with sudden measurable increases in sea levels. Small Island panic with mass migration, property devaluation and economic ruin. (due in the next 5 – 10 years)

    Basically, on review, the whole thing is depressing – were fried. We are going to be lucky if we get through this. Thanks a lot for bring this up Joe.

  24. JCH says:

    Having a President who does not lie to them about global warming is going to come as a real Pearl Harbor-sized shocker to a lot of folks.

  25. jorleh says:

    You had one relevant point: the melting ice masses of Greenland and Antarctica.

    The only solution we have is the potential energy of these ice masses. Can´t you make any calculations? And why not?

  26. Two things I have not seen yet…

    1. Green (instead of white Christmases)
    2. A good visualisation about biodiversity and what we are doing to it and what it means for us.

    (more “wars” around oil)

  27. This is the wrong question, given that we can’t cause any of this stuff to happen.

    [JR: Of course we can't cause it to happen. This is a purely speculative exercise in response to a Revkin question.]

  28. danny Bloom says:

    Joe
    I wonder if CLIMATE TSUNAMIS might be better than Pearl Harbors? Not sure if the Japanese will like such a theme? Then again, …..

    Here is what some skeptic deniers are saying over at
    http://wattsupwiththat.com under the Litigous Lunacy post:

    To take that list:

    1) Arctic goes ice free before 2020. I have bets out on this. It would be a big, visible global shock.
    -Arctic ice is cyclical, and driven by currents. It is rebounding. By 2020 it will be more. Check Cryosphere, the daily satellite report. Get out of your bets.

    2) Rapid warming over next decade, as recent Nature and Science article suggests is quite possible
    (posts here and here)
    -Why should it? It has been cooling for awhile, and the PDO looks like temps will continue down for awhile. And, more importantly, none of the changes over the last 100 years up or down have been significant.
    3) Continued (unexpected) surge in methane
    -Uexpected by whom? Describe ’surge’.
    4) A megadrought hitting the SW comparable to what has hit southern Australia.
    -Please study the history of droughts. Droughts come and go. They did before AGW, and they will long after AGW.
    5) More superstorms, like Katrina
    -Danny, you do realize that Katrina was not a ’super storm’? That its damage was due to levee failure? It was a cat3 storm when it hit Mississppi/Louisiana
    6) A heatwave as bad as Europe’s 2003 one.
    - While your list is sort of morbid the way you depend on betting on bad things to get your way, betting on summer heat waves, when summer is when heat waves happen, is sort of sad. If heatwaves mean AGW is ‘real’, then harsh winters mean AGW is not real.
    7) Something unpredicted but clearly linked to climate, like the bark beetle devastation.
    -Bark beetles were due to monoculture forests and poor land use management.
    8) Accelerated mass loss in Greenland and/or Antarctica, perhaps with another huge ice shelf breaking off, but in any case coupled with another measurable rise in the rate of sea level rise,
    -You do hope for doom. The mass budget is of Greenland is not in dangerous shape, and Antarctica is growing. Worldwide sea ice is growing.
    9) The Fifth Assessment Report (2012-2013) really spelling out what we face with no punches pulled.
    So the political program of the IPCC has done its best to scare us, and we just won’t get sacred enough?
    If I was actually concerned about something really bad happening to the world, and I kept finding out that my fears were not being confirmed by reality, I would be glad.
    It seems that you and many others involved with promoting AGW are very distressed when the apocalypse keeps getting delayed, and predictions about it keep getting proven wrong.
    Why?

    [JR: That is more disinformation per line than I've ever seen. In any case, the author didn't read any of my links, that address most of this nonsense. The key point, of course, is that climate is changing faster than the models predicted, not slower.]

  29. Hector says:

    So you’re hoping that a terrible catastrophe happens just to prove your theory right? So your ego counts more than thousands of lives?

    I think this indeed is the topping point where I am skipping over the skeptics fence…

    [JR: I am not "hoping" anything happens. I am trying to answer the question posed by Revkin as to what mini-catastrophe(s) might happen in the near term that could motivate the action needed to avoid multiple unmitigated catastrophe is in the longer-term. The catastrophes are inevitable if we listen to people like you. Hoping they do or do not happen is irrelevant.

    Hope can't change what is to come -- only strong action now can. It is apparently your ego that counts more than the purely preventable suffering of billions of people for decades if not centuries to come.

    And this is not "my theory." It is the well verified reality of human-caused climate change.

    At least have the honesty to admit that you were a denier before writing this comment.]

  30. vakibs says:

    We don’t have to wait for any of these things to happen.

    Arctic becoming ice-free ? Antarctic perma-frost melting ?

    These are not just warning bells. These are climate tipping points – clear signals that the global climate system has passed beyond our control.

    Our entire effort should be to “prevent” climate tipping points. Not about having wet dreams on them.

    To prevent them from happening, we need fool-proof solutions. Not token measures such as annual CO2 emissions reducitons. By fool proof solutions, I mean an absolute moratorium on fossil fuel use. This can be achieved directly via the market, even with a business-as-usual pace.

    1) Oil & natural gas are bound to go very expensive. Users will automatically modulate their behavior based on these prices.

    2) Electric batteries are bound to become more powerful, we will see a lot of lithium-based transport vehicles

    3) Microprocessors will become cheaper, and they can be employed to monitor power usage and wastage. We will automatically encourage efficient energy use.

    4) The general public is revisiting their opinions on nuclear power plants. Irrespective of how much bad propaganda is done against nuclear, normal people will inevitably reach the truth on nuclear, in this information-free age. Blogs and books will advocate the truth on nuclear energy : that it is the environmentally most beneficial form of energy, that it has a brilliant safety record, that it has the least construction costs, and that nuclear waste is a solved problem via reactors like IFRs. More nuclear power means death to coal.

    5) People will get impatient with token measures such as concentrated solar thermal plants which will never make a dent on the energy landscape. They better show results soon or make way for more sensible options.

  31. DavidC says:

    Aren’t (1) and (3) – “Arctic goes ice free” and “surge in methane” rather large tipping points? As in “oops, we’re too late”?

    The loss of Arctic ice / albedo effect would have massive consequences for ocean temperature. And once methane starts flowing out of the Siberian permafrost or from clathrate in large volumes, then… get your toasting forks and marshmallows ready.

    As for the “wake up call” – there’s nothing that’s going to shake many from their denial. All evidence for anthropogenic climate change is evidence for The Great Socialist GW Conspiracy. Just go read (take an Aspirin before you start reading) some climate threads on Digg for evidence of that. That said, I ‘like’ Brian M’s suggestion: big storm(s) hitting cities that should not see them.

    Another one might be a monster storm in the Gulf that wipes out the majority of oil / gas production and processing. Energy prices rocket, Joe SUV pays attention.

    After ~three years of reading up on the science behind climate change, and subsequently arguing with wingnuts, I don’t hold out much hope. The only silver lining is that the USA will soon have a scientifically literate president – let’s hope he is not too late and not too constrained by the global economic FUBAR.

    Over in the UK we have a PM who makes lots of fine speeches about the pressing urgency of climate change but seems to do little else. Given the ignorance and apathy of a worrying percentage of the British population (http://www.ipsos-mori.com/_assets/pdfs/public%20attitudes%20to%20climate%20change%20-%20for%20website%20-%20final.pdf), he can get away with it with little political cost. ExxonMobil, et al sure did a good job with their propaganda campaign.

  32. Hmpf says:

    @ Dan Borroff: You mean: http://flickr.com/photos/misskatrine/2666042035/ ? ;-)

    Question (kind of echoing what the two previous posters said): isn’t it horribly likely that, once we begin to see big, undeniable impacts that are going to affect the U.S. and Europe severely enough to make the majority of the population feel that fighting climate change should be priority number one on the political agenda, we’ll be well past the tipping points and into an ever-worsening spiral of truly catastrophic climate change that will likely leave the planet only marginally habitable?

    And, if that is true, isn’t saying that waiting for these kinds of impacts to happen is the only way we can ‘hope’ to mobilise the masses essentially the same as saying, ‘we’re toast; enjoy watching the endgame’?

    Or have I been reading too much ‘alarmist propaganda’ on the internet?

  33. Danny says:

    I am not sure I understand the exercise. Who should such a Pearl Harbor-like event stir into action? Environmentalists? The general population? The government? Business and industry? As for the Pearl Harbor analogy, I am not sure it is correct either. During World War II, the attack on Pearl Harbor convinced the American public that Japan was a powerful enemy that must be defeated. Who is the enemy here? Nature? The planet? Heavy industry? Is the objective all-out war against that enemy or is it reconciliation?

    [JR: Enviros are stirred to action. We need everyone else. The enemy is human-caused climate change.]

    Having said all that, what will impact the population and stir the government to attack is an attack on the wallet of the average citizen. For most people, the long-term impacts of carbon-based fuels to the environment, for instance, is largely relegated to talk shows and the media. Unless you live in New Orleans, storms like Katrina make for good news copy and a couple of days of great viewing on CNN. On the other hand, a sudden price hike at the gasoline pump had people demanding immediate solutions. Imagine the impact if gas jumped to $10 a gallon with little hope of the price going down. You would be amazed at how quickly people demand action.

    [JR: Gosh, you're a denier/delayer. Who would have guessed? And if we listen to folks like you, $10 gasoline is inevitable.]

  34. Ecostew says:

    As you mentioned a drought is the SW resulting in compact non-compliance, which results in a call on two major rivers (Colorado and Rio Grande).

  35. Perhaps expressions of intellectual honesty and moral courage in our time are radical things to do because they are so rarely in evidence.

    Is it not yet time careful and capable people in large numbers begin to behave honestly and courageously rather than remain silent and comfortable by choosing to follow greedy leaders who are irresponsibly pursuing the patently unsustainable business-as-usual expansion of the global political economy, an unbridled, rampant expansion of big-business activities that is resulting in the massive extirpation of biodiversity, the relentless degradation of our environs, the reckless ravage of Earth’s body and perhaps the endangerment of humanity?

    Hurry up, please. Now is the moment for humane, civil action.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001
    http://sustainabilityscience.org/content.html?contentid=1176

  36. paulm says:

    Couple of others…

    1 Collapse of ski holidays due to lack of snow and the bankruptcies of ski resorts. I think it is going to be a close call for the 2010 winter Olympics in Whistler, BC. If that’s canceled then theres a big wakeup call.

    2 Flying for the public becomes critical due to Carbon Tax. If we’re serious about curbing CO2, flying will have to go – soon. Airlines will go bankrupt and the whole industry will be grounded.

    The general realization of GW and its consequences will be like a tipping point. I think most will swing from having their heads in the sand to outright panic. There is a lot riding on Obama’s shoulders.

  37. Lou Grinzo says:

    This issue–what event or series of events would kick us in the teeth and force us to take serious action on the climate front–is something I’ve pondered a lot.

    Speaking as an economist (but please don’t hold that against me), I doubt that anything on Joe’s original list would do the trick, with one exception. There’s simply too many highly funded (and/or ideologically driven) forces telling us not to believe our lying eyes for most of them to have any real effect. Methane in the atmosphere, melting polar caps, etc. will all be dismissed by mainstream consumers and voters too focused on immediate problems.

    One poster mentioned something like a cat 3 or 4 storm hitting the NE corridor of the US, and that just might do the trick. But again, don’t underestimate the willingness of the deniers to say ANYTHING to dismiss even a tragedy of that magnitude; I’m sure at least 30 to 40% of the US population would still shrug it off as a one-time fluke and go back to business as usual as soon as the images left the front pages, the TV, and the net news sites.

    This is my biggest single concern in the energy and environmental arena: The relative time span between public awareness of the looming climate chaos situation and the lead time we need to deal with it.

  38. crf says:

    People don’t need to be convinced. I think they largely are convinced. What is needed is not a catastrophic event, but simply a leader who will start to get the job done. Every leader in the world at least partially acknowledges the problem, but their talk and actions are disconnected from what climate science considers needed to avoid even worst-case scenarios, let alone more probable, but still serious, changes.

    People are sheeplike. The majority will follow and defend whatever policy is put forward. Right now that policy is fiddling. So people think we should fiddle.

    Reporters, in general, write about the world as if the general public makes policy through their elected representatives. And that public whims are extremely important in the ultimate decisions taken by politicians. Sometimes that’s true. It’s mostly a charade to make people feel good about living in a democracy.

  39. Now that Obama has been elected, I believe the conversation will change. We’ve had 8 years of an anti environmental administration which set the tone for the rest of the country to a certain extent. “Yes we can” is not just a slogan, it’s a different mind set. It’s about intention.
    There’s an organization called the Hunger Project that seeks to end world hunger. Their philosophy is that if you want to bring about change, you need to change the conversation. In a world where people say things like “there will always be starving people” or “there’s not enough food” or “it’s survival of the fittest” (I’m sure we’ve all heard such remarks about hunger, war poverty etc. ) that’s not a constructive conversation. It’s intent is failure. It presupposes failure.

    We’ve been having a bad conversation for the past 8 years.

    Dan Borroff says

    There is another way – humor allows the brain to connect on all levels, lower level survival / base of the brain, with the outer layers.

    Much like Tina Fey was able to wake people up to Sarah Palin’s genuinely frightening persona we should hope that our best comedians will stop the deniers in their tracks.

    That’s better

    “The survival of the fittest” seems to me an idea that has taken root in conservative thinking, to a lesser extent in the American mind set in general. Since it’s borrowed from evolution theory, it seems to me to come from a perversion of what evolution means. Isn’t evolution as much about adaptation and symbiosis as it is about competition?

    And as used in conservative thinking, it goes hand in hand with ” us and them” thinking. And environmentalists as “bad” liberals follows.

    This kind of thinking can also turn personal responsibility into every man for himself.

    Maybe it would help if the media went about balancing their reporting by having guest panels on global warming made up of consensus climate scientists and skeptic climate scientists in proportion to the actual numbers. I’m trying to visualize what that would look like.

  40. Danny says:

    JR, I would hardly call myself a denier. I am simply stating what other people are saying–that people have an innate capacity to wring their hands in anguish and carry on with their lives unless the impact of climate change affects them directly. Like Lou Grinzo says above: “don’t underestimate the willingness of the deniers to say ANYTHING to dismiss even a tragedy of that magnitude; I’m sure at least 30 to 40% of the US population would still shrug it off as a one-time fluke and go back to business as usual as soon as the images left the front pages, the TV, and the net news sites.” Most people will not respond to a crisis unless it has some immediate, tangible impact on them, and for the impact to be long-term, it would have to be national, not regional. We all watched Katrina for a month, until the next big news story drew our attention away from it. That is the tragedy of the human experience: a very short attention span, and a remarkable failure to learn from past problems.

    As for who the enemy is, I would phrase it somewhat differently. It is not “human-caused climate change” but “humans causing climate change,” i.e., big corporations, carbon fuel industries, corporate logging, etc., etc. The vast masses of people need a tangible enemy, not some abstract concept that most Americans do not fully understand. Oil and coal companies succeed because they successfully show shiny, happy people extolling the “benefits” of their products. If we are to succeed with a green approach, we have to be more aggressive showing the dangers of their products through mass media (in other words, a blog post, no matter how poignant, can never compete with a 30-second ad during the Superbowl).

    The problem is that right now, we spend far too much time preaching to the choir, when that effort should really be spent preaching to the masses. Until then, I agree with paulm: canceling the Winter Olympics or a steep carbon tax on flying will have the most impact because they will affect people directly. I would add to that a steep tax on gasoline to cover the hidden subsidies to the oil companies and the cost of any wars for oil.

  41. JCH says:

    Three years before Pearl Harbor there was almost no support in the United States for a war with Japan, even though it was readily apparent that Japanese behavior was very bad. Most people assume that was true right up until radio reports announced the surprise attack to Americans on December 7, 1941.

    In point of fact, FDR’s careful radio explanations of the Japanese threat had moved a majority of Americans to supporting a war with Japan in the year prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Gallup did the polls.

    So I’m sticking with my point. A President who is willing to deal squarely with the science and truthfully explaining it to the American people will require no climate Pearl Harbor.

  42. William says:

    How about “The Day After Tomorrow, 2: Earth’s Revenge”

  43. Norris Dale says:

    I’m surprised that none of this learned crew has suggested an epidemic of tropical mosquito-borne disease in the Northeast or North Central states. Right off-hand, West Nile virus comes to mind, although Eastern equine encephalitis might work. It’s clear that these diseases, along with their carriers, are migrating north with warming climate. Along those lines, I guess, we could have someone killed by a crocodile in the Hudson, too.

  44. Bob Wallace says:

    I think crf is on the right track…

    “People don’t need to be convinced. I think they largely are convinced. What is needed is not a catastrophic event, but simply a leader who will start to get the job done. ”

    Take a moment and read this Gallup report about how Americans are thinking about global climate change and about what they are willing to do.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/27298/Americans-Assess-What-They-Can-Reduce-Global-Warming.aspx

    The real deniers/disbelievers are down around 10%. One does not control political decisions with only ten percent of the vote.

    People are ready to make personal changes. They are ready to pay more taxes to fix the problem. They are ready for about anything but locating a new nuclear facility near their house.

    Twenty-eight percent of the population believes that we are likely to have “Extreme” weather/climate effects in the next 50 years. Another 38% thinks the effects will be “Major”.

    That’s 64% of the population. Obama won the presidency with only 53%.

    I don’t think we should spend time looking for a “Pearl Harbor” or “9/11″ event (or set of events) to spur the country into action. The country is ready to do something.

    Better to increase education for those who are receptive. (Just ignore the portion of the 10% who are so twisted that they will not be turned.)

    We might greatly benefit from an educational program that makes people aware of how quickly things are changing and how short that “50 years” window may be. Something along the lines of

    OK, you know that the climate is changing. But are you aware of how quickly it’s happening?

    Lots of us have been thinking that the changes would make life bad for our great grandchildren – the generations 50 years and longer from now.

    And are you aware of what might happen to you, your children, and your grandchildren? Those who will live during the next 50 years….

    Then come up with clever ways of illustrating the change that has occurred and how the near future is likely to be.

    And we are, I believe, about to enjoy good leadership for the first time in many years. We’re going to get a reality based, pragmatic administration backed up by a problem solving legislative branch that’s interested in the welfare of all Americans rather than the welfare of a few select corporations.

  45. Ronald says:

    A big boomming voice from the sky. For about 5 minutes everyday for 2 years.

    Consider how we have accepted motor vehicle crashes and the damage they cause. some 43 thousand deaths a year and every year in the United States. The deaths around the world obviously more. If we had 43 thousand people die in motor vehicle crashes all on one day, or if 43 thousand people died in plane crashes every year, we would have a different reaction.

    But we seem to be able to accept tradgedies that are spread out better than new or novel ones. If there is a plane crash with 5 people who died we’ll hear about it for 30 seconds on the national news. If the plane had 100 people, we’ll hear about it for 5 minutes. If there were 100 single motor vehicle crashes around the country that one person died it, it will not make the national news at all. I would like to see for one week all the networks run all the fatal motor vehicle deaths in the country with 10 seconds used to describe each one. That would raise the awareness of motor vehicle crashes. It also might get a lot of TV sets turned off or channels switched.

    But is a story about some natural disaster somewhere going to get recorded often enough to change enough people minds to action? doubtful. Except for the websites I log into, I only hear about global warming every 3 months for maybe seconds. except that thing on the weather channel which isn’t there anymore.

  46. Katy Y says:

    Worldwide famines, hurricanes, starvation, water wars–these clearly haven’t motivated many people yet (and I agree that it will take climate leaders to make real changes). Your average person is also worrying about paying their bills/tuition/etc.etc…

    So when something hits your pocketbook, you notice.

    I agree with the others that it will take a combination of natural catastrophes, especially ones that impact industrialized nations (which is what will get the most sound bites ). But most likely, it will be how these events will impact the economy–property damage, insurance, water prices, etc.

    I’d love for more people to explore this idea further, either here or on my blog (www.internationalrivers.org/en/node/3532).

  47. Linda S says:

    Joe, this is a question which has intrigued me as well. I often ask deniers/delayers, “What would have to happen to convince you that global warming was a real and present danger?” The answer is invariably, “A sudden, dramatic rise in the sea level.” And of all the potential effects, that is probably the least likely to occur. Any weather related phenomena, ie drought, Katrina, wildfires, is dismissed by unbelievers as a natural event (we have always had hurricanes, always will . . . )

    So, I guess the only ‘Pearl Harbour’ I can imagine is a huge chunk of the WAIS breaking off, sliding into the sea, creating worldwide tsunamis and resulting in a sudden, dramatic rise in the sea level that floods major ports and brings international shipping to a screeching halt. Yep, that should do it.

    Actually, the question is an important one and relates not just to the deniers but to the choir as well. If we are to get CO2 to level off at 450 ppm, or, as Hansen advocates, bring it back to 350, we are going to have to make a real commitment both nationally and internationally. Half measures aren’t going to do it. People may say they are for taking action, but when action starts affecting their wallets or impinging on their freedom of choice, they may find their commitment wavering. I hope it doesn’t take a Pearl Habour, but I’m inclined to agree that it very well might.

  48. Joe says:

    Linda — Although I included it in my list, the “sudden, dramatic rise in the sea level” is probably the most catastrophic even and the clearest evidence we’ve waited too long.

  49. Karel says:

    I would suggest that radical decisions from major companies and governments might convince the people more than natural catastrophes can do:

    1. China deciding to stop building any new coal plants, and to phase out all existing ones after only 20 years of operation.
    2. ExxonMobil admitting they were wrong to deny or delay, and focusing radically on renewables.
    3. Shell and Chevron deciding to cease profitable oil production from Canadian tar sands.
    4. Major energy companies voluntarily closing down profitable coal plants.

    As the situation is very severe, major companies will realize they have no other option but acting very drastically, otherwise undergoing the same fate as some large Detroit automakers. These unexpected events will cause massive shocks among the general public, driving further strong action at home and among the companies and governments that did not react yet.

    I might be wrong, but I believe this is what will happen, much faster as anyone can imagine now. Something like 2010-2012, maybe sooner.

    Being optimist that things will eventually change very fast, I am still wondering whether it will be fast enough to prevent some positive feedback systems (like Permafrost melting) taking it over from us.

  50. Mark Shapiro says:

    Joe – thanks to you and Andy Revkin for posing the Big Question, and for provoking a remarkably thoughtful comment thread.

    As several have suggested, it’s a trick question: an AGW Pearl Harbor is unlikely, and it’s because AGW is like nothing else humans have ever faced. Nothing. Ever.

    Yes, a Cat 5 hitting NYC, massive wildfires, dengue fever in Atlanta, or a tsunami from an ice sheet collapse would be dramatic, but the MSM would cover the drama very well, and host a “debate” about the causes with equal time for deniers. And as the quotes from the wattisupwiththat blog demonstrate , the deniers have unlimited quantities of “la-la-la-I can’t hear you”.

    And it would likely be too late.

    So a quick suggestion before I make dinner: remind the powerful folks– say congressmen and Fortune 500 CEOs– that their reputations, their legacies, are on the line. If and when AGW bites down hard and irrevocably, their reputations will be in ashes. How do they want to be remembered?

  51. Rich says:

    Joe,

    Is it clear that ‘wake up calls’ will inspire positive action on climate change? If the causes of our current inaction run deep enough, don’t we run a real danger that such events may be as likely to inspire counterproductive as productive responses?

    Here’s a pre-print of an article Steven Gardiner has written that argues (if I understand it correctly) for something like this thesis. Here’s a line from Gardiner’s paper:

    At first glance, then, it appears, that the abrupt paradigm does undercuts all three of the major explanations for political inertia we’ve considered. But I shall now argue that in the case of the last two explanations, this appearance is deceptive. Instead, it is plausible to think that the possibility of abrupt climate change will actually make the intergenerational problem worse, rather than better, and that the psychological problem will add to this sad state of affairs. http://faculty.washington.edu/smgard/GardinerSavedDRAFT.pdf

    I worry that focus on such events, likely or not, makes addressing the fundamental causes of the problem no easier, and that focusing on them may distract from dealing with those issues.

    But I admit, nothing is terribly clear or obvious here.

  52. Rick says:

    I’m still having trouble buying the AGW thing, but to go along with the thread lets say it’s going on and big problems are on the way.

    I agree with the folks who say people will not be sufficiently moved by various calamities to demand change of environmental policy. I don’t see that happening at all. Also I don’t see Obama getting anything going in that direction. He has his hands full with the financial mess and his decisions will be forced.

    One decision he will be forced to make is this. Increase stockpiles of coal. We operate on a 30 day supply system and it’s just too fragile. The financial system runs on that and he can’t afford any financial hiccups at this point. The anti coal talk will prove to be just talk. Obama will be forced to make decisions to keep the fires burning.

    can’t say it really bothers me though.

  53. Joe – After years of (justifiably) criticizing media coverage,
    you and Revkin have stumbled into a recurring implicit premise.
    I disagree with it, so let’s unbundle these issues,
    and make them *explicit*:

    I assert that “facts” are irrelevant, even if they are “Pearl Harbors”.
    What matters is how facts (or falsehoods) are *perceived* and
    *interpreted*. We can wait — helplessly — for climate change
    to cause fatal “facts on the ground”. Or we can alter *perceptions*,
    *interpretations*, and *emotions* proactively, so that
    “facts in the mind” prevent those irreversible “facts on the ground”.

    Another commenter mentioned 43,000 traffic deaths/year. That’s
    an irrelevant fact. But what if there were “credible” allegations
    that an Al Qaeda sleeper cell in a GM factory had been sabotaging
    the steering gear on a new car assembly line, to cause those deaths?

    Now we have an emotionally-compelling interpretation/story —
    a PLOT, complete with ENEMY, MEANS, MOTIVATION,
    and innocent human VICTIMS.

    Fact: Bad climate impacts *are* happening to regular people right now.

    The people in the Sundarbans delta are genuinely innocent VICTIMS.
    Every morning and night, many families must shore-up their dikes,
    and bail. It’s a losing battle. And India has erected over 1,500 miles
    of a double-walled 10-foot barbed wire barrier to stop climate refugees
    migrating from the Bangladeshi side.

    Television could make that suffering *perceived* in America —
    a “Reality Telenovela”. But this PLOT needs an ENEMY.

    How about the USA, since America currently emits 22% of GHGs
    (and cumulatively, is responsible for a greater percentage)?
    Isn’t America responsible for resettling 22% of those refugees?
    The Colin Powell doctrine would say,
    “You broke 22% of it, you fix 22% of it”!

    No, that won’t work. We have to be the “Good Guys” in any PLOT.
    America can’t be the villain. So who’s the ENEMY?
    Those who deceived America, and hijacked our good intentions.
    Those who *knowingly* spread DISINFORMATION and DENIAL.

    High-profile trials for Crimes Against Humanity and Nature
    are not only ethically appropriate. More important,
    they would be *productive* in filling gaps in the PLOT,
    in legitimizing the facts, impacts, and risks of climate change,
    and in driving strong actions toward a solution.

    Balthazar Garzon — what have you done for us lately?

    (“Kivalina v. Exxon Mobil” —
    http://www.narf.org/cases/globalwarming.html
    is a noble effort, but we can’t afford to wait for American justice.
    Justice delayed is climate change denied.)

  54. Jean says:

    I think a major media take over has to happen.People in Oklahoma practice group think ..if they hear it often enough they have a chance to participate in Democracy and actually act in their own self interest…

  55. WKirkland says:

    Joe
    I wonder if the economic downturn might not be taken advantage of. What would the effect be of moving to a 4 day work-week in the US? US + Western Europe? Add China? What if, of the three days of no work, one was also a no-drive? Or odd-even? Seems to me there might be high advantage to some such set of schemes.

  56. I would add major coral bleaching of the world’s coral reefs to the list of “Pearl Harbours”, particularly for countries that have coral reefs such as Australia, Indonesia, and the US.

    We have already had two instances of mass coral bleaching around the globe linked to climate change, in 1998 and 2002, and while they caused alarm at the time, many people still believe that coral reefs are healthy and robust in the face of rising temperatures due to climate change (I don’t think many people are aware of the ocean acidification issue).

    The highly visible effects of mass coral bleaching are clear evidence that something big is very wrong, in a similar manner as the dramatic loss of Arctic Ice.

    Given the vulnerability of coral reefs to global warming and ocean acidification, their beauty, and their iconic status for many people, they can used as “flagship ecosystems” to garner public support for very strong action.

    Cf. http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/cel_op_mcgrath.pdf

  57. Modesty says:

    When perceptions change, for whatever reasons, more decision makers will act boldly.

    But. That’s. Not. Leadership.

    “The Harvard study concluded that the policies grew out of President Thabo Mbeki’s denial of the well-established scientific consensus about the viral cause of AIDS and the essential role of antiretroviral drugs in treating it.

    Coming in the wake of Mr. Mbeki’s ouster in September after a power struggle in his party, the African National Congress, the report has reignited questions about why Mr. Mbeki, a man of great acumen, was so influenced by AIDS denialists.

    And it has again caused soul-searching about why his colleagues in the party did not act earlier to challenge his resistance to broadly accepted methods of treating and preventing AIDS.

    Reckoning with a legacy of such policies, Mr. Mbeki’s’s successor, Kgalema Motlanthe, acted on the first day of his presidency two months ago to remove the health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, a polarizing figure who had proposed garlic, lemon juice and beetroot as AIDS remedies.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/26/world/africa/26aids.html?ref=africa

  58. Remember all those big fires in the Amazon and Southeast Asia back in 1997? We could lose our major tropical rain forests to forest fires. Within several years a Big Burn could increase the excess CO2 (that beyond 280 ppm; we’re now at 387) by nearly half–giving us an abrupt climate change with even more than a 50% rise in climate problems. Burn Locally, Collapse Globally.

    And the 2005 Amazonia drought was really scary until it started raining again in October. That monster drought was from the same tropical overheating that created the hurricane alley for Katrina and Rita. The heat bleached and killed half of the coral reefs in the Caribbean.

    A Big Burn can happen at any time, judging from these two episodes. It isn’t just a gradual problem to approach by gradual fixes over a half century.

    Nor is it just the global fever: because of the ocean acidification, we really have to draw down CO2 concentration in the air, not just reduce emissions (which are the equivalent of cutting back to one pack a day and thus getting worse more slowly).

    Our climate fix must be big and quick. We have to sink a lot of circulating carbon in order to back out of the danger zone we’re in.

  59. paulm says:

    I dont know if anyone has posted the link to Andrews article …

    Is World in Obama’s ‘Shock and Trance’ Mode?
    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/25/is-world-in-obamas-shock-and-trance-mode/

    “Is the world poised to make the transition from shock to trance on climate policy — using the terminology that President-elect Barack Obama chose to describe America’s cyclical interest in moving beyond fossil fuels? ”

    Couple more wake up events ….
    The massive flooding going on round the world due to increase intense precipitation .
    This got the UK seriously thinking and acting about GW …
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/2259698.stm

    Extensive multiple Airport sit ins in protest to climate inaction. Not only does this draw attention to the issue but it also reduces CO2 emissions.

    Thai protesters shut down airport
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7749399.stm

  60. Dear Bill Calvin,

    The road ahead will not be an easy one, I suppose; precisely because the mistakes our not-so-great generation of elders are making now simply cannot be repeated by our children. Thankfully, new leaders are emerging. Some have called this phenomenon the appearance of “transformational” leadership. That is also what I am observing.

    The unrestricted consolidation of filthy lucre and political/military power, the unbridled expansion of economic globalization, the unrestrained per-capita overconsumption of limited resources and the unchecked human overpopulation on the relatively small, evidently finite and noticeably frangible planetary home God blesses us to inhabit, could soon become unsustainable. Perhaps the humane, reasonable, sensible and wise regulation of these activities will make make it possible for the family of humanity to build a patently sustainable, distinctly human world order, one that adequately enough models key biological systems and physical structures of Earth.

    New leaders with new ideas are coming forward. A new day is dawning. My hope is for members of our generation to become helpfully engaged by openly acknowledging and effectively addressing the challenges presented to humankind rather than by perversely mounting a “rear-guard action” in denial of looming, human-driven threats to human wellbeing and environmental health.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

    Steven Earl Salmony

    AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population,

    established 2001

    http://sustainabilityscience.org/content.html?contentid=1176

  61. Anna Haynes says:

    Sure wish I had a “recommend” button, for these comments. Among my favorites -

    John’s
    > One way of thinking about this is to ask whether we have ever– as a species, culture or even a society – acted in advance of an impending catastrophe, and, if so, to ask what about it made us act.

    Lou Grinzo’s
    > There’s simply too many highly funded (and/or ideologically driven) forces telling us not to believe our lying eyes for most of [the things on Joe's list] to have any real effect.

    Richard Mercer’s
    > Maybe it would help if the media went about balancing their reporting by having guest panels on global warming made up of consensus climate scientists and skeptic climate scientists in proportion to the actual numbers.

    (me: that is a *very* cool idea. Maybe tthey could tape interviews with 1 of each, then play the tapes for a duration that’s in proportion to the speaker’s position’s prevalence?)

    Danny’s
    > The problem is that right now, we spend far too much time preaching to the choir, when that effort should really be spent preaching to the masses.

    Mark Shapiro’s
    > Remind the powerful folks– say congressmen and Fortune 500 CEOs– that their reputations, their legacies, are on the line. If and when AGW bites down hard and irrevocably, their reputations will be in ashes. How do they want to be remembered?

  62. Just as I was beginning to feel a little sanguine about prospects for tackling climate change in the new administration, I read this sobering post by George Monbiot, entitled “One Shot Left” [http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/11/25/one-shot-left/].
    “Barack Obama’s speech to the US climate summit last week was an astonishing development. It shows that, in this respect at least, there really is a prospect of profound political change in America. But while he described a workable plan for dealing with the problem perceived by the Earth Summit of 1992, the measures he proposes are now hopelessly out of date…The trajectory both Barack Obama and Gordon Brown have proposed – an 80% cut by 2050 – means reducing emissions by an average of 2% a year. This programme… is likely to commit the world to at least four or five degrees of warming, which means the likely collapse of human civilisation across much of the planet.”
    He says (quoting a paper by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research) that the very effort to transition to alternatives to fossil fueled energy will increase GHGE’s unacceptably. So we have no time for anything but a drastic decrease of energy use, commensurate with the deepest economic depression (of course, we just might be getting that)–on the order of 50% over the next 5 years–something that has zero chance of political palatability.

  63. paulm says:

    This is it folks, the tidy is turning. 2008!

    Consumers rank climate concerns ahead of economy
    • Consumers around the world want governments to stop haggling and start acting on climate change, survey finds
    • Nearly half of all 12,000 respondents in 12 countries chose climate change ahead of the economy
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/nov/26/climate-change-carbon-emissions

  64. DoDaMan says:

    A couple of unrelated weather events are just that; unrelated. Losing ALL the trees on the East Coast? C’mon, due to what? Glaciers and glacial ice will melt every summer. Folks, it’s time to put down the newspapers and begin looking at the data. Recent weather has dropped the global temp by .6 degrees C. This while CO2 has risen over the same time period. CO2 as a pollutant? Then reduce your “carbon footprint” and stop breathing. Sorry to break it to you folks, but the earth is not that bad off and not getting worse fast. Try getting off the pavement for more than an afternoons walk on a trail. Spend some time out of doors away from your cities, learn something about which you are talking about and the hysteria will drop from your minds. Why exactly do you hate your own species so? Look at the enormous gains we have made since the 1st Earth Day. Whatever you do, stop the self-righteous preaching and get off the pavement awhile and then tell me how all-powerful we really are.

  65. msn nickleri says:

    Sure wish I had a “recommend” button, for these comments. Among my favorites -

    John’s
    > One way of thinking about this is to ask whether we have ever– as a species, culture or even a society – acted in advance of an impending catastrophe, and, if so, to ask what about it made us act.

    Lou Grinzo’s
    > There’s simply too many highly funded (and/or ideologically driven) forces telling us not to believe our lying eyes for most of [the things on Joe’s list] to have any real effect.

  66. Lillian says:

    Seattle here,

    “We’ve got some difficult days ahead.” said MLK. And we are dumber than yeast.

    We won’t solve our problems even with an immense change of world-wide character. We need more than we want to believe we need. Only once have I seen what my mind is capable of, and then spent forty years avoiding it. The impossible is the only thing really left. I expect there are others like me. Are you willing to remember? Did you have the experience? Did you make another being move with simply the power of your mind? A being asleep?

    We need a new power, much as I don’t want anything to do with it. I want to deny it.

  67. Sasparilla says:

    I want to second Bill Calvin’s idea of a huge part or a majority of the Amazon drying and burning away as another one of the Pearl Harbors – its one of the CO2 tipping points as well unfortunately and we get to see it happen.

  68. Craig says:

    In order to spur widespread concern and serious action, a major climate event will need to be coupled with energy shortages. Climatic disasters alone are not enough to raise global alarms bells. Despite nagging doubts, most people will always believe that climate and weather are just too complex and mysterious to ever be linked directly to human generated carbon emissions. But pile an energy shortage onto natural disasters and suddenly the nation begins to paid heed. We witnessed that last summer with spiking fuel prices.

    Another criteria, in my opinion, is that the event must occur fairly close to home. The melting of the summer Arctic ice cap by 2020, while being a major eye opener, happens for most people in a far and distant land they see only on computer or television screens. The same is largely true for melting in Antarctica (that is, of course, until rising sea levels begin to cause disruptions for shore dwellers). A bush fire, however, sweeping through SE Australia (as we witnessed recently) brings the issue literally to people’s doorsteps.

    A third condition that will determine the debate is race and wealth. If the events (stress on plural because a single event like Katrina has seemingly proven that multiple disasters are necessary to jolt public consciousness) occur in a wealthy industrialized country, public concern will force the media to honestly and accurately address the science behind climate. However, rising oceans and the resulting increased soil salinity in places like Bangladesh will not have the same effect. For whatever reasons (and I’ll let the sociologists tackle these) disasters in poor and underdeveloped countries do not punctuate the bubble many citizens of wealthy countries inhabit.

    The double whammy of any event listed below and skyrocketing oil prices would irrevocably sear the issue into people’s minds:

    1. Major and frequent forest fires throughout the Rockies
    2. A blistering heat wave in Europe, Australia, or North America similar to the 2003 heat wave across Europe.
    3. Major and frequent bush fires in Australia
    4. The die off of huge swaths of forests (sadly even more widespread than what we are witnessing today) from insect invasions.
    5. A prolonged and severe drought in SW America.

  69. Sriram M says:

    How about the melting and mining of Tibetan glacier results in water shortages throughout South, Southeast and East Asia. Millions die of exposure to polluted freshwater sources.

    Beyond Katrina; more US metropolitans get hit by Superstorms and then flood. That might bring the message home…finally

  70. Cynthia says:

    I don’t think the arctic being ice free or methane gas gushing out, etc, is really going to sway most people because most don’t research climate change or understand it. I think it will have to be something really big that slaps them across the face–like a major city going underwater (again). They can’t see the methane rising or the arctic sea ice (unless they live in that area!). They can see thousands of people fleeing an inundated coast (on the news). As my mom says, “I don’t know about this GW issue; I never see anything on the news about it!” It will have to affect their senses profoundly; not just their intellect. (Maybe extreme heat, major cities flooded, etc.)

  71. Cynthia says:

    What you don’t understand, Dodaman, is that the danger is not self evident to the ordinary person at this time (unless he’s researched the issue of climate change). You won’t be able to see much climate change if you go out for a walk, as you suggested. The Joker is methane gas and the arctic contains trillions of tons of this stuff. Carbon dioxide is just the stimulus that will set off the methane. Furthermore, most of the warming is “in the pipelines”, not realized yet because the oceans are absorbing most of the CO2 we emit. When the oceans become saturated (shortly) then we will have hell on earth. Research the topic, read “Methane Catastrophes in Earth’s past and Near Future”, watch the video, ” A Really Inconvenient Truth” (Cybersalon)with Dan Miller, then come back and comment. You obviously know nothing about this subject!