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What Are the Near-Term Climate Pearl Harbors? What Will Take Us from Procrastination to Action?

By Joe Romm on December 6, 2011 at 8:23 pm

"What Are the Near-Term Climate Pearl Harbors? What Will Take Us from Procrastination to Action?"

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So they [the Government] go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent…. Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger….  The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to its close.  In its place we are entering a period of consequences….  We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now….

– Winston Churchill, November 12, 1936, House of Commons

What kind of climatic mini-catastrophes might move public and policymaker opinion over the next decade?  Please share your thoughts below.

USS West Virginia burns and sinks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

U.S. Navy battleship USS West Virginia burns and sinks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii December 7, 1941. Reuters/USN

Wednesday marks the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  Seems like a good time to update my post from 3 years ago, “What are the near-term climate Pearl Harbors?

The genesis of that piece starts with an October 2008 post, “Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 7: The harsh lessons of the financial bailout.”  It concluded that a key driver of serious government action is “bad things must be happening to regular people right now.”  Shortly after that I wrote a post on the paper “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” by Hansen et al.  I noted the authors conclude:

The most difficult task, phase-out over the next 20-25 years of coal use that does not capture CO2, is herculean, yet feasible when compared with the efforts that went into World War II. The stakes, for all life on the planet, surpass those of any previous crisis. The greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable.

A NY Times blogger posed this question, “What kind of wake-up call does Mr. Romm think is conceivable on a time scale relevant to near-term policy?”

My reply was “Multiple Pearl Harbors over the next decade — half or more of these happening” followed by a list of 9 items.

Before repeating that list, let me note that I pointed out that 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 example: “my article criticizing the NYT on the bark beetle story“.  Things haven’t changed much.

If FDR had said, “Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked. But we’re still working to identify the perpetrators.”  Well, not bloody much would have happened.

Of course, the U.S. military had some warnings, but there was a massive volume of intelligence signals (“noise”) coming in.  Roberta Wohlstetter wrote in 1962: “To discriminate significant sound against this background of noise, one has to be listening for something or for one of several things….   One needs not only an ear but a variety of hypotheses that guide observation.”

The Japanese commander of the attack, Mitsuo Fuchida, was quite surprised he had achieved surprise.  Before the Russo-Japanese war of 1904, the Japanese Navy had used a surprise attack to destroy the Russian Pacific Fleet at anchor in Port Arthur.  Fuchida asked, “Had these Americans never heard of Port Arthur?

So if you have the right hypothesis or worldview, you can make sense out of “noisy” warnings.  If you don’t, then you will be oblivious even to signs that in retrospect will seem quite obvious.  Certainly future generations will be stunned by our obliviousness.

In the case of the almost non-stop series of “off the charts” extreme climatic events that many opinion leaders seem shocked about over and over again — they aren’t merely “explainable and predictable” after the fact.  They were very often predicted or warned about well in advance by serious people.  The powers that be simply choose to ignore the warnings because they don’t fit their world view.

Unfortunately for the nation and the world, there is no American Churchill on climate.  Quite the reverse:

  • One of the two major political parties in this country has chosen to double down on denial
  • The other political party has a remarkable number of feckless people on this crucial issue, including its nominal leader
  • We have an extraconstitutional, supermajority 60-vote requirement in the U.S. Senate for legislation, that gives the minority a stranglehold on our future

That lack of statesmenship means the country is not going to act on the basis of the increasingly dire warning of scientists (see Lonnie Thompson on why climatologists are speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization”).

No, things are going to have to get worse.  And it certainly will take more than one climate Pearl Harbor.  I fear it will take most of these happening over the span of a few years:

  1. Arctic goes [virtually] ice free before 2020. It would be a big, visible global shock.
  2. Rapid warming over next decade, as recent Nature and Science articles suggest is quite possible (posts here and here)
  3. Continued (unexpected) surge in methane
  4. A [multi-year] megadrought hitting the SW comparable to what hit southern Australia.
  5. More superstorms, like Katrina.
  6. A heatwave as bad as Europe’s 2003 one [Russia's in 2010 hitting the U.S. breadbasket].
  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.

And no, to preempt comments similar to one I had in the original post, I’m not “hoping” for those things to happen. Quite the reverse.  I have have been proposing strong emissions reductions for many, many years to minimize the chances of catastrophic impacts.  In any case, hope can’t change what is to come — only strong action now can.

That was my original list, only slightly modified.  I think it holds up, except for number 9.  The IPCC has not only undermined its credibility but demonstrated time and time again that it is incapable of spelling out what we face with no punches pulled — see “Blockbuster IPCC Chart Hints at Dust-Bowlification, But Report Is Mostly Silent on Warming’s Gravest Threat to Humanity.”

And, to be clear, the drought in Texas, though extreme, would have to go on for many years to match what happened in Australia.

BUT I think it’s a little clearer what scale monster heat wave starts to change people’s thinking (see Russian President Medvedev: “What is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past”).  We know that there’s an 80% Chance Russia’s 2010 July Heat Record Would Not Have Occurred Without Climate Warming.  We also know that the Monster crop-destroying Russian heat wave is projected to be once-in-a-decade event by 2060s (or sooner).

A year ago, Lester Brown explained to me that when the real food instability comes — if, for instance, the U.S. breadbasket gets hit with the type of 1000-year heat wave Russia did — then the big grain producers will ban exports, to make sure their people are fed.  In this scenario, if you don’t have your own food supplies or an important export item to barter — particularly oil — your country is going to have big, big problems feeding its people.  That might wake folks up a tad.

That may well be the biggest evolution of my thinking in the past 3 years, that it is food insecurity — and the daggers that climate change threaten it with — that will ultimately force action (see “Nature Publishes My Piece on Dust-Bowlification and the Grave Threat It Poses to Food Security“).

Your ideas are welcome.  You can read the original reader comments here.

I did note in the original piece that preferably these “mini-catastrophes”  would not themselves be evidence that we had waited too long and passed dangerous, irreversible tipping points.

One can argue that a big surge in methane would be evidence that we had waited too long (see “Climate Experts Warn Thawing Permafrost Could Cause 2.5 Times the Warming of Deforestation!“), but the likely rate of emissions from the tundra don’t change the nature of the actions, only their scale, which are already quite intense (see “The full global warming solution: How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm“).

If you want 350 ppm — or if you want 450 ppm in a (likely) world where the permafrost has begun to turn into the permamelt — then because we have listened to the siren song of delay for so long, we will need a WWII-style and WWII-scale effort.  As I noted in the conclusion to my book:

This national (and global) re-industrialization effort would be on the scale of what we did during World War II, except it would last far longer. “In nine months, the entire capacity of the prolific automobile industry had been converted to the production of tanks, guns, planes, and bombs,” explains Doris Kearns Goodwin in her 1994 book on the World War II homefront, No Ordinary Time. “The industry that once built 4 million cars a year was now building three fourths of the nation’s aircraft engines, one half of all tanks, and one third of all machine guns.”

The scale of the war effort was astonishing. The physicist Edward Teller tells the story of how Niels Bohr had insisted in 1939 that making a nuclear bomb would take an enormous national effort, one without any precedent. When Bohr came to see the huge Los Alamos facility years later, he said to Teller, “You see, I told you it couldn’t be done without turning the whole country into a factory. You have done just that.” And we did it in under five years.

But of course we had been attacked at Pearl Harbor, the world was at war, and the entire country was united against a common enemy. This made possible tax increases, rationing of items like tires and gasoline, comprehensive wage and price controls, a War Production Board with broad powers (it could mandate what clothing could be made for civilians), and a Controlled Material Plan that set allotments of critical materials (steel, copper, and aluminum) for different contractors.

How ironic that denial, driven in large part by conservative fear of big government, has created an “era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays” that will ultimately require somewhat bigger government (for several decades) to prevent catastrophe or, if the deniers truly “triumph,” then staggeringly huge government (for a century and probably much more) to “adapt” to a ruined world — see “Don’t believe in global warming? That’s not very conservative.”

The Pearl Harbors are here. The Churchills and FDRs aren’t.

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89 Responses to What Are the Near-Term Climate Pearl Harbors? What Will Take Us from Procrastination to Action?

  1. Leif says:

    I do not like any of those options Joe. I vote none of the above. Can’t we just make President Obama come out and quit treating us like Mushrooms and speak about the perils the Nation and the world faces, Endorse the Green Awakening Economy, conscript the money from the rich it is mostly stolen from the Nation’s coffers, the backs of generations of workers, the pollution and exploitation of the commons, the corruption of the government and even courts in the first place. Hell he could even pledge to pay it back for their corporation in rebooting the economy, immunity from prosecution and FULL CORPORATION in the effort as a sign of good will. Better then the whole ski**erie collapsing.

    • perceptiventity says:

      With all due respect to your otherwise thoughtful comments. This is a tad naive.
      No you can’t. The USA-nian presidents are shills for corporations and megabanks, which I am sure you’ve long suspected.Those who aren’t smokescreens like in other countries (Sudan,Belarus etc.) are plain and rude tyrans. They will all make profits untill the world ends and then retreat to their “strangelovean” bunkers. We need nonviolent revolution all over the world to take the power of production and wealth redistribution from them IMHO.

      these guys are great eye-openers
      http://www.extraenvironmentalist.com/

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Terrible events overseas won’t move the needle in the US. They’ll blame starvation in East Africa on the local warlords, like they did last time. As for US droughts and floods, Australia has been badly hammered already, and their response has been to expand coal exports. We’d put in the tar sands pipeline to lower gas prices.

    The deniers even have an ocean acidification cadre on Dot Earth, claiming that shellfish just love that extra acid in the water. And the quite efficient US food distribution system will see that starvation is rare in the event of a grain crop crash in the Midwest. We’ll buy up Argentina and Canada’s reserves and muddle through.

    It will take death and internal migration, in areas where the wet bulb temperature will kill people en masse. Remember, it happened in Europe a few years ago with their summer heat wave, when 30,000 people died at only about 105F (most didn’t have air conditioning). That woke up the whole continent.

    Candidates for local habitability collapse here in the US are Palm Springs, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Dallas. Window seals will crack and fail, air conditioning will crash, and it will be dangerous to be outside on a summer day. The F-250 hillbillies will emigrate, still spouting denier talking points, but will not be welcome in places like Seattle and Minneapolis. Remaining residents of Texas and Arizona will veer left politically, changing the national political balance. It will then be obvious that burning oil and coal, and promoting it to the suckers, got us into that mess, and aggressive action will begin. Probably about 2023.

    • Mark Harrigan says:

      Mike – I’m not overly proud of Oz’s coal exports but at least we have now implemented a serious carbon tax – so I hope we will start to see movementof our heavily fossil fueld dependent economy toward something more sustainable. It will hurt some but early action hurts less than later action.

      To be fair it is hard to directly attribute the Oz drought of last decade to climate change. Many do not and they cannot be proven wrong. After all Australia has a VERY long history of sustained droughts – http://www.bom.gov.au/lam/climate/levelthree/c20thc/drought.htm – many have been in my lifetime (I’m 53). All we can really say in the science is that the probability of extended/increased drought is increased.

      I don’t think that any one event will shift the public perception enough to eventually prompt real action. At Durban we’ve just kicked the can down the road. That’s just going to make the eventual changes more costly. I suspect it will take a combination of the Arctic ice sheet vanishing along with multiple heat waves, droughts and floods close to home in the west. :(

  3. Andy G says:

    Well Joe, after spending too much of a day in the comment section of Michael Mann’s letter to the Wall Street Journal, I have to say that I am not encouraged that the people I was communicating with would be moved by the events on your list. These are articulate and seemingly intelligent people who are absolutely convinced that Mike Mann is not a scientist but rather a hack who shames Penn State like Sandusky, that concerns about global warming are a sham (either to make money or deny personal freedoms), and that they are completely competent to make these and other determinations about the Earth’s climate.

    I agree with your premise that events will eventually get people to recognize the world is changing as predicted (I usually call this somebody’s “Oh *%#&” moment). But the depth of denial of scientific conclusions that I witnessed, and the willingness to move on immediately to the next denial point rather than engage about a specific topic, makes me think this moment will be a long time in coming for many people.

    I am growing more pessimistic about these people’s ability to attribute what they see with their own eyes to anything except natural variability. They simply will not accept that they might be partially responsible for these events, thereby relieving themselves of any obligation to do something about it.

    • Interesting Times says:

      Ayn Rand was seemingly intelligent and articulate, but emotionally retarded. So are the vast majority of regular commenters on the Murdoch-owned, once-revered-now-rag Wall Street Journal. They’re little more than Fox Nation frothers with better spelling skills (in other words, don’t expect to persuade them. Just pray there are fewer of them than it seems).

      • Leif says:

        It is obvious that there are fewer than it appears, just look at the money distribution. They appear large only because they have the money to hire hit men, goons, guards, mercenaries, media, courts and governments. They have spent billions of dollars, (just a cost of doing business and largely tax free) to get political cover and the best they can amass is the Tea Baggers, Certainly not the brightest bulbs on the street, (~25% of the population). Given that ~50% of the nation has lost hope in the democratic process and cannot be bothered or are disenfranchised, a 60% super majority, and vola, rule by the 1%. They have played their hand well and it would be all over but the shouting if it were not for that nagging Constitution thing. Of course the fact that they are ethically and morally bankrupt does not help either.

  4. Rich says:

    We’re still trying to convince a politically powerful portion of our population and their mindless followers that the science is even real at this point. IEA says we’ll pass safe levels of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2017. And how close are we to affecting any real change? Virtually none.

    My only hope is that the devastation we will inflict on ourselves will force us to realize how to live in harmony with the planet. We can live as comfortable lives as we do now, as long as we stop being so wasteful (err, excuse me so “free”).

    My only fear is that we afflict so much damage to the climate that we produce a runaway effect that we are unable to stop.

  5. Peter Mizla says:

    There will be no real action on emissions till the late 2020s when the climate begins to behave so radically the US Governments hand will be forced to do ‘something’.

    But by then 450ppm is at the doorstep. Right now I see nothing that will happen to prevent the worst case scenario from happening (A doubling of C02 from the PI era)

  6. Rob Jones says:

    Your list is pretty comprehensive Joe.
    I expect it will take food catastrophe to wake people from their apathy toward physics.
    Even then it will also take generational change. As Rich said otherwise intelligent people are not going to be swayed. Instead they will dig into their chosen position clutching at any straw to support their viewpoint.
    As a counter to your view I do hope a catastrophe happens soon. The sooner the better actually. And that is not because I want catastrophe but because the longer it takes to act the worse the overall consequences would be. I believe sufficient action will not come before catastrophe.

  7. Greg Junell says:

    In another six month, take a poll in Joplin. They truly know hell. Hard to believe but I can imagine there will still be people unconvinced that urgent national action isn’t necessary.

    If denial remains, that’s a measurable point of evidence that nothing of crisis will change minds.

    The human psychology could be that denial increases with either a) the level of incorrectness the individual will have to admit to or b) the level of sacrifice and work (change) that is required once admission of denial registers.

    Since much of the denier set follows the lead of authority (celebrity) opinion, the lynch pin is a change of media heads (ORielly, Rush, et al) not people living in river basins, deserts, tornado alley and at sea level.

    • John McCormick says:

      Greg, as real crisis sets in here in America watch the religionaires crank up the rapture machine.

  8. Colorado Bob says:

    “Get ready little lady,… hell is comin’ to breakfast “…..
    Lone Wati

    ScienceDaily (Dec. 5, 2011) — Two talks at a scientific conference this week will propose a common root for an enormous deluge in western Tennessee in May 2010, and a historic outbreak of tornadoes centered on Alabama in April 2011….. Martin calls the resulting band of wind a “superjet.”

    “There is reason to believe that in a warmer climate, this kind of overlapping of the jet streams that can lead to high-impact weather may be more frequent,” Martin says.

    That idea can be tested, Martin adds.

    “Historic weather data should tell us whether there has been a change in the frequency of these overlapping events, and whether that might be linked to a change in high impact-weather events. It’s an interesting lead that could help us understand one possible mechanism by which a warmer climate could lead to an increase in severe weather,” he says

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111205170101.htm

  9. David Smith says:

    Food shortages causing dramatically increased prices and less available options here in the USA will be a game changer. There is a limit to how much the middle class is willing to pay for basic food, a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk, before panic will set in. People don’t do hunger very well.

  10. David B. Benson says:

    I thought there was quite a thorough hit on the USA during 2010:
    Red River floods (again), wrecking a wheat crop.
    Mississippi River floods on the scale last seen around 1927, ruining more crops.
    Eastern seaboard triple whammy, wrecking still more.
    Texas burnup, with multiple crop losses.

    So much of the wheat crop was lost that the Palouse region became the #2 wheat producer in the nation; tain’t good globally, just for the wheat producers around here.

    But somehow Americans haven’t had enough yet…

  11. Greg Junell says:

    Potential Climate Surprise Attacks

    1. Abrupt ocean current disruption, serious climate change vs fishing or agriculture over enormous area.

    2. Abrupt ocean current disruption, very abrupt climate disaster in an area e.g. United Kingdom.

    3. Mega-fire, 20x any fire ever seen on earth. Across Siberia, Alaska or Canada.

    4. Ten plus Richter Scale quake event that can be attributed to rising land via shrinking glaciers.

    5. Oil geyser resulting not from drilling but thawing, run away and permanent flow.

    6. Megaton methane ignition event, “naturally” occurring massive fuel-air detonation.

    7. City (American) destroyed by basketball hail event.

    8. Lightning attack of unprecedented scope leaving billion dollar long lasting damage to grid infrastructure.

    9. Climate instigated agricultural collapse in Mexico brings unstoppable wave of refugees to United States.

    10. Pestilence ruins corn crop for many years in a row. Super bug. Super mold. Climate a trigger.

  12. Colorado Bob says:

    Chinese go online to vent anger over pollution
    by Staff Writers
    Beijing (AFP) Dec 6, 2011

    Millions of Chinese went online Tuesday to vent their anger over the thick smog that has blanketed Beijing in recent days, raising health fears and causing hundreds of flights to be cancelled.
    http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Chinese_go_online_to_vent_anger_over_pollution_999.html

  13. Ernest says:

    As with gasoline prices, I’d vote for food shortage and food prices. It has to be concrete, immediate, day to day. This along with unprecedented heat waves.

    (If it were arctic being ice free, some would even see an economic opportunity to profit as a new region to exploit …)

  14. Nope. Over the last 2 decades, humans have witnessed and ignore a series of Pearl Harbor climate events.

    Last year the main stream media yawned about the opening of the Northwest Passage.

    The public has a memory of just about 6 months. So any Australia/Russia-like wild fires, Pakistan/Australia-like floods, killer heatwaves, or even another Katrina will be forgotten over the winter months.

    However, a sea level surge might do much to awaken people. I hear that Pine Island glacier could release adding a fraction of an inch fairly quickly (months) – and increase the rate of rise thereafter.

    Finally, I have the LEAST faith in the new IPCC report release to do much – having just learned that Monsanto strongly influenced the 2007 report.

  15. Rich says:

    I think Greg Junell hits on an interesting point. The more people entrench themselves in denial the harder it will be to admit their mistake. They may very well be willing to push the world to its brink before they are forced to change their minds.

  16. Joan Savage says:

    The equivalent of a climate Pearl Harbor is an event that in hindsight is totally inexcusable and simultaneously reveals our unpreparedness.

    Near-term risks (12 months or less) could include levee failure in the areas of river systems that were stressed by flooding last May, heat-related illnesses that overwhelm emergency services’ capacity to treat them, or conflict between urban and rural water use that could turn violent. Even a mind-bogglingly wet snow storm that blots out memories of previous storms could be a moment of realization if the power grid and emergency services are not adequate. A cloud of dust the turns the Capitol and White House brown would be hard to explain away, but it would be almost a side-bar.

    Something will happen, because the momentum of climate change has ramped up and the ability to respond hasn’t ramped up proportionately.

  17. Sasparilla says:

    Joe, I think your idea climate induced food shortages being the lever that could induce action is on target – that’s something that could do it. If a Russia 2010 summer hit the heartland of the US, wiping out the crops to the point of scarceness in the US marketplace for an extended time period might cause enough political angst to make action on climate change occur – still a might.

    I think the rest, though horrifying, probably wouldn’t have much political effect here in the US.

    But whatever its going to be, it has to be irrefutable in people’s location with consequences right in people’s faces for a long period of time – creating enough of a public crisis to push the politicians to do something their “owners” do not want done (overcome political desires to maintain the status quo).

    A large rapid disruptive sea level rise would probably do the trick as well – but something large enough won’t be coming till much later (according to our best guesses at this point).

    At this point, I’m much less optimistic than I was in 2008 that we can realistically “get there” in time.

    While in 2008 I couldn’t imagine we (the world in general, but the US in particular) wouldn’t even try as we approached the point of no return – that seems not only a plausible outcome now, but a likely one. These years since our current president came into office has been quite an education as to where the rubber meats the road (for both parties and in particular the office of the President) here in the US.

    I do hope we “get there” in time, but it seems a long shot at best these days.

    Thanks for a good article Joe, something that should be done every few years just to focus on what we know and what has changed.

  18. Wes Rolley says:

    I too am among the pessimistic. I don’t see how you can not be if you are a thinking person. But when the going get tough, the tough get going, or we had better do that.

    I am 70. I don’t have a lot of time and won’t have to see the worst of things. But my children will. I would do anything for a leader who can show us a better future and then lead us there. Maybe it has to be done with music, as We Can Overcome became part of the core convictions of the Civil Rights Movement.

    What I hear now is an extolling of Middle Class wealth accumulation loaded with all of the gadgets of modern life. We don’t need gadgets. When a nation of consumers need economic growth to save the economy it only continues the pattern of consumption that fueled the current crisis.

    We need learn to live with the earth because it can live without us just fine.

  19. Colorado Bob says:

    Glaciers in the French Alps have lost a quarter of their area in the past 40 years, according to new research.

    In the late 1960s/early 1970s, the ice fields slipping down Mont Blanc and the surrounding mountains of the European range covered some 375 sq km.

    By the late 2000s, this area had fallen to about 275 sq km.

    The research has been presented at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, the world’s largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16025568

    • Spike says:

      Yup an end to their skiing holidays might make a few politicians (George Osbourne) and others in the feral elite wake up.

  20. Craig says:

    In my opinion, the WWII analogies are flawed. Not about the scale of the effort, I agree that will require a massive mobilization of economic resources.

    They are flawed because WWII tapped into our aggressive impulses. Yeah, people sacrificed material comforts for the common good. And our society was nearly united with shared purpose. But we had an enemy whose butt needed kicking. And the enemy had a face. Hitler, after all, was an easy guy to despise. Most importantly, this enemy threatened to invade our shores and toss us into a long black night.

    The fight against AGW has no face. Because it’s not really a fight at all. It is a forced transformation. In a real big, big hurry (based on everything I read on this blog and other sources) we are going to be required to change the way we do just about everything. Try to imagine the tremors that will ripple through the social fabric once the scale of this crisis becomes apparent. Normally these tremors would cause us to start beating the warm drums before marching off to fight the enemy at whatever cost. But in this case, we would be marching off to face ourselves, as if a great mirror were placed squarely in the center of the battlefield.

    A few thousand more years and maybe we could have evolved into a society prepared to handle a crisis like this. A highly equitable society that has figured out how to transform aggressive, individualistic impulses into largely shared benefits. But we don’t have a few thousand years. We have a half century, at most. Then the feedback processes start kicking in big time and all hope of a coordinated response is gone. Slashing emissions won’t do any good because the feedbacks will overwhelm our efforts. Geo-engineering will fail because it requires international cooperation among dozens of nation states, for a time period that amounts to essentially forever.

    So where does that leave us? With a brief window of opportunity that is rapidly closing. I just don’t see how we pull a “victory” out of this one.

  21. I would add to the list: repeated, massive coral bleaching across the globe destroying the Earth’s coral reef systems.

    But then the massive coral bleaching events across the globe in 1998 and 2002 didn’t change anyone’s views on climate change, except for coral reef scientists who had assumed corals were resilient to rising water temperatures until then.

  22. Jeff Huggins says:

    Strikingly Odd

    I find it strikingly odd that we’re wondering what Real Big Disaster will have to happen in order to wake people up and cause us to address climate change, when many people here aren’t even willing to say to the present Administration that they won’t vote for it (again) unless it gets SERIOUS — within its full available scope to do so — by doing things like utilizing (a lot) the bully pulpit, saying a clear NO to Keystone XL, and so forth.

    Our own choices (like that) serve to enable the “hardly any action” situation we’re in — politicians take us for granted, because we let ‘em! — and, at the same time, we seem to “sigh” in wonderment about what it will take to prompt the U.S. into action. I don’t get it?

    In other words, does it not seem like an inconsistency to argue that we must put up with anything President Obama does or doesn’t do, and vote for him no matter what, because of the “lesser of two evils” paradigm of voting, and then wonder “oh my gosh, what disaster will have to present itself before we in the U.S. will actually take action?”?

    For those who are Shakespeare fans, you’ll recognize these lines, spoken by Cassius to Brutus in ‘Julius Caesar’:

    Men at some time are masters of their fates.
    The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

    We are not utilizing the leverage that we do have, that we could have if we used it. So how long will it take for the U.S. to wake up? I don’t know. How long will it take for US to wake up?

    Be Well,

    Jeff

  23. Artful Dodger says:

    Joe, I’m afraid it’s “none of the above”. Look at the history of WWII. When Dresden was firebombed, Germans when back to work in roofless armaments factories. After the bloody attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it took an Imperial edict to shake loose the grip of Japanese militarists.

    Maybe this last is the best analogy. The West is captured by an oil-fueled elite. The Emperor is a mostly symbolic figurehead. It is not the population that must change their minds, it is the elite.

    Perhaps these are the “climate forcings” that Scientists should investigate.

  24. Dan Miller says:

    Slight corrections to the Churchill quote: “… of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays…” and “now entering”:

    “So they go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent… Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger. The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are now entering a period of consequences…. We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now…”

    Source: http://www.churchill-society-london.org.uk/Locusts.html

  25. Brian says:

    Like the gas price shocks of a year or so ago, I think we’ll start to see a focusing of public interest and concern as food prices begin to climb in response to decreasing agricultural productivity, coupled with water shortages and price hikes. Hitting the wallets of the western middle class will accelerate action. Soon enough? hope so.

  26. Peter Mizla says:

    2 degrees C warming too much?

    New perils seen to even modest warming

    Dec. 6, 2011
    Letting global temperatures rise even 2ºC – as the Copenhagen Climate Accord permitted – could trigger catastrophic sea-level rise and major social upheaval, scientists say.

    More coverage from the 2011 American Geophysical Union fall meeting

    SAN FRANCISCO – Amounts of warming previously thought to be safe may instead trigger widespread melting of the world’s ice sheets and other catastrophic impacts, scientists said Tuesday.

    Accelerating melting on the world’s ice sheets and other new observations have scientists concluding that even a two-degree Celsius rise in temperatures – a benchmark long seen as safe in global climate talks and other emissions reductions scenarios – could lead to an 80-foot rise in sea levels.

    “The dangerous level of global warming is less than what we thought a few years ago,” said James Hansen, director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “It was natural to think that a few degrees wasn’t so bad…. (But) a target of two degrees is actually a prescription for long-term disaster.”

    http://wwwp.dailyclimate.org/tdc-newsroom/2011/12/warming-caution

  27. perceptiventity says:

    It is all very well to talk about WWII effort but let us imagine it will take a commensurate amount of monetary effort and economic stimulae first.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_public_debt

    Can’t happen.

    Before Pearl Harbor USA (and the world for that matter) was relatively awash with cheap domestic oil. Where will the energy come from for WWII-style effort? Alaska/Alberta they say? The world will need to spaceship it from outside planetary confines but with the retired shuttle fleet…
    http://www.theoildrum.com/files/cclt20090516.png
    Can’t happen.

    It will take plenty of steel, silicon, carbon fiber and what have you to retool energy production and transportation in USA/world to become carbon negative or at least neutral.
    Peak and decline in natural resource extraction is also upon us. Just take my word for it ;D
    Can’t find more of those pesky and naughty and r a r e earth minerals.

    We are doing smth. and ought to try and will ,ofcourse, do plenty more when some real Big S..H..s The Fan but how on ‘here and now’ Earth could a WWII-scale effort happen? Please explain.

    Anxiously awaiting to be proven (partially ?) wrong. Please.

    Devided we fall. Unite this world!

  28. Salamano says:

    Can we perhaps come up with a better “Superstorm” than Katrina? In my opinion, the large majority of the “Super-storminess” of Katrina was due to faulty levees and poor city planning. Admittedly there was some decent storm surge in coastal Mississippi, but perhaps a Camille or an Andrew would be more “Super”. A land-falling category 3 hurricane doesn’t seem (in-and-of-itself) to be particularly ‘super’ in the perspective of history.

  29. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I am not an American so feel very reluctant to say anything about this but I have lived and worked in your country. Given that and given the massive over-reaction to 9/11, I think the only thing that is going to give the citizens of the USA pause is when we exclude you from all international forums on climate change and institute sanctions for your refusal to negotiate in good faith for the survial of life on Earth.

    I’m sorry, I really don’t want to be saying this but I can see no other way out.

    When this happens, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t, the USA will feel that it has been attacked to its core and has no choice but to retaliate – but against whom or what?

    The inernational community? Or climate change?

    The wars against nouns [poverty, drugs, terrorism] have just about run their course. Not much potential there.

    I am well aware that everybody is trying hard to keep the USA working cooperatively in the UN community but it’s bluddy hard work at the moment.

    If the USA suddenly feels attacked by the international community, what can or will it do? Take us all on? Nuke us all?

    I have no idea but it seems to me that in the face of a global threat and immense peer pressure for change, the USA has no option but to actually cooperate, as an equal in world affairs – perhaps for the first time?

    The USA is no longer the global power and it must realize it. This has moved beyond the power of nation states and is now truly global in a way that ‘global economics’ could never be.

    The real climate Pearl Harbour is about the people of the USA realizing that it is about the planet and not about themselves. That will only happen when the myths of invincibility, superiority etc are truly put to rest. Hopefully, it can be done peacebly. ME

    • Lewis W. says:

      This would be a start but it seems to me those in the global community with influence are members of the same intransigent cadre that have too much to lose by facing this crisis.

      Change is painful and change only comes about when changing is less painful than the status quo. I don’t like to contemplate what sorts of things could make the status quo painful enough for our so called leaders to say the “dirty hippies” are right.

      Our President can’t face his own hypocrisy between protests abroad and protests at home.

    • Kota says:

      Please!! For your lives and the lives of everything that has flourished on this planet evolving from the old atmosphere DO IT!! Don’t mince words – tell the USA you will have nothing to do with nations that are unwilling to try to stop destroying your biosphere. Simply appologize to those of us that would have our country commit. We understand and deeply wish we our government hadn’t been taken over by wealthy lying sycophants.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      Good one, Merrelyn, and I don’t like speaking out against my own country myself, but things are too far gone to worry about that.

      Americans are too xenophobic to care if we are excluded from international organizations, and people shaking fists at us in Durban won’t matter, either. It will actually provide fodder for the Far Right, which has long wanted us to withdraw from the UN. And the Right, thanks to oil company bribery of government and media, is still on the rise.

      Economic sanctions in the form of steep tariffs have to be the answer. They must be applied equally to countries such as China and, yes, Australia, in spite of your recent baby carbon price steps. There’s no excuse for flooding global markets with coal. And Kyoto type international agreements apparently are born dead- it’s time for the stick, not gentle persuasion.

      Tariffs would hurt the US economically a lot less than people think. Free trade has become conventional wisdom, but plenty of countries who make almost all of their own goods (such as India) are doing fine. South African industries flourished under sanctions.

      The real damage would be to US based international corporations and banks, who are invested in multinational capital and goods. Then we would get a reaction in DC.

  30. Buzz Belleville says:

    Well, it might not ‘move’ the public, but what I think will ultimately move U.S. policymakers is when some of the more progressive nations begin slapping tariffs on goods imported from countries (U.S. and China) that do not put a price on carbon.

    • Florifulgurator says:

      Carbon tariffs are of course an excellent idea. Alas it is against the common economic “wisdom” of free trade (which e.g. neglects a fundamental assumption of Pareto’s theory). Denial of economic basics is as strong as climate denial. Still methinks the self-enforcing spiral of denial (see Greg Junell’s comment #7) is much easier to break on economic things.

      So, a potential climate Pearl Harbor needs to have a huge economic price tag.

  31. Cugel says:

    It seems to me that whatever happens the denier response will be that “they” said it would be worse and so it isn’t really bad; that “they” said Washington DC would be under 20 feet of water so 2 feet is fine; that “they” said the Arctic would be ice-free by 2013 so ice-free in 2015 proves “them” all wrong; that “they” said there’d be no food available but you can still buy all you want if you have enough money.

    Personally, I think the personal experience of flooding after downpours is what will bring it home to many people in the developed world (where food is a small proportion of spending). Not, perhaps, the first experience, but certainly the second and third.

  32. Raul M. says:

    a WW2 effort is accurate showing the amount of change needed; but, maybe not so good in that it demonstrated humanities selfish interests between groups of people. The US was adamant that Mexico’s and Central Americas’ natural resources were needed for our efforts of “Freedom”, not so much their people’s for more than their labor to procure such.
    So we may have large elements of denial of our own history.

  33. catman306 says:

    Here are some messaging suggestions as an antidote to last week’s Frank Luntz story.

    Conservative Frank Luntz Has Set a Trap for Progressives — Here’s How to Outsmart Him and Boost the Occupy Movement
    Progressives’ basic morality needs to be talked about over and over again, in every corner of the country.

    http://www.alternet.org/story/153348/conservative_frank_luntz_has_set_a_trap_for_progressives_–_here's_how_to_outsmart_him_and_boost_the_occupy_movement?page=entire

  34. dbmetzger says:

    One foot in the right direction.
    Electric Rental Cars to Hit Paris Streets
    A new rental scheme for electric cars is to open in Paris on Monday. The program will allow commuters to hop in and out of 250 cars stationed across the city. http://www.newslook.com/videos/377971-electric-rental-cars-to-hit-paris-streets?autoplay=true

  35. Mark says:

    It is a good list, Joe, but read literally it all misses the mark. Most folks simply do not care about those things in the abstract, because we all suffer from

    OLD TIMER’S SYNDROME

    For example http://www.napsva.org/ChangingBaselines.html

    The bulk of US population just (unconsciously) cares about their ability to (unconsciously) adapt to the implications of your list. So the real question is, which of these climate pearl harbors will be impossible for us to manage and then clean up afterwards?

    Whatever the climate causitive Here is my list of pivot points:

    1. Not just expensive gas but no gas.

    2. Not just expensive food but empty shelves.

    3. No clean water at the tap

    4. No air conditioning

    5. No cable TV.

    Until climate change takes one of those away from a multi state region for more than a few months (or maybe years) I do not expect much to change in the US.

    • John McCormick says:

      Beer selling at $14 per six pack, if you can find it in the cooler.

      • Mark says:

        Nice.

        On the other hand, I clearly remember as a child my mother saying “If gas ever goes above one dollar a gallon, I WILL WALK EVERYWHERE I have to go.” How times (and our baselines) change! So I will go with “not just expensive beer, but no beer” and “not just expensive smokes but no tobacco”. Dare I include not just expensive ladies of the night but no s@@? Do not laugh, as my wife says, “If the decision were up to the globe’s women, the problem would be solved in ten years.” I believe her. See
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_strike

        • Colorado Bob says:

          Mark -
          Spot on …..
          The Natural World Vanishes:
          How Species Cease To Matter

          Once, on both sides of the Atlantic, fish such as salmon, eels, and, shad were abundant and played an important role in society, feeding millions and providing a livelihood for tens of thousands. But as these fish have steadily dwindled, humans have lost sight of their significance, with each generation accepting a diminished environment as the new norm.

          http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2258

  36. Lou Grinzo says:

    Now you’ve done it, Joe — you’ve posted again on my #1 hot button topic.

    I agree with Sasparilla (#17) and others that “it’s the food, stupid” (paraphrasing slightly). The only thing that will get enough of the right parties to sit up and pay attention to climate change and then do what’s needed will be deep and sustained pain. One really bad wheat or corn crop in the US won’t do it; it will have to be a series of such failures, all in a short enough time to overcome our extremely poor memory. (Again, ask people you don’t know, like the person ahead of you in line at the bank or Home Depot or the grocery store, what year Katrina hit New Orleans. I’ve done this. Unless you’re close to the Gulf Coast the odds are very good the person either won’t remember the year or won’t have any idea what Katrina is/was.)

    I also agree with Merelyn (#29) and others about trade sanctions as a way to leverage action. Frankly, that’s the only way it will happen (barring massive food supply issues) in a globalized economy. We can speculate endlessly about which countries will band together to pressure which other countries — it’s not obvious to me which way that will play out — but in today’s world we have two options for forcing a country to do something it doesn’t want to do: Arms and money. I vote for using money, and I suspect that’s how the world will vote, too.

    Peter (#26) brings up another issue that I think doesn’t get nearly enough scrutiny, the infamous 2C guardrail. As I understand it, this standard was not a scientific finding, but a political one based on what what was thought to be “feasible”. Regardless of the exact genesis of that guideline, one thing is indisputable: It was created long before all the “it’s worse than we thought” climate news of the last decade or so.

    As I pointed out nearly a year ago (http://www.grinzo.com/energy/2010/12/31/some-perspective-on-2c-for-the-new-year/), there was a 152-person committee formed by the UN with representatives from 58 countries, kind of a proto-IPCC (but without the strangling political oversight), that published their findings in the book Only One Earth in 1972(!). And a passage in that book (which I quote in the linked post) makes it abundantly clear that experts knew even 2C was a very big change. The text I quoted talks about how little change is needed to trigger a 2C swing in either direction, and ends with: “Downward, this is another ice age; upward, a return to an ice-free age. In either case, the effects are global and catastrophic.”

    It really is this simple: Humanity has to grow up very quickly and make the leap from petulant adolescent to responsible adult, and then act in our own best interest. Do we have enough time to make that radical transformation, when the problem at hand isn’t one we can shoot or bomb and doesn’t lend itself to hatred of the other (Hitler, plus the blatant racism in many US Propaganda images of the Japanese)? Only time will tell.

  37. fj says:

    Lots of good stuff in this post.

    Yes, we’ve had our climate Pearl Harbors and they will continue to accelerate in strength and frequency.

    Occupy Wall Street & Bill McKibbens’ 305.org are great signs where accelerating and extremely large-scale advocacy and action for social change for climate should be part of the tipping point with millions of people showing up in Washington and elsewhere

    Bloomberg news & new energy finance coverage is great

    Bloomberg philanthropies is most encouraging but probably should be radicalized a bit more and address the structural indirect violence inherent in the pathologies of power — which is difficult to understand and address — gates foundation also; but, these actions and much more will likely be necessary to move into survival mode at wartime speed.

    The Bloomberg NYC mayorial administration should also be radicalized a bit more as NYC can show a lot of leadership & produce replicable social, technological, & financial models and it may be moving in this direction

    The first fully scalable & disruptive oh-wow netzeroMobility solution set will likely have a major impact on change on several important fronts

  38. fj says:

    would like to believe that we are near a tipping point

    • Joe Romm says:

      Political, I assume.

      • fj says:

        Yes, but it also seems that there’s political convergence with climate events accelerating in strength and frequency clearly indicating the presence of climate tipping points and this decade will be most scary right before humanity stops hunkering down and goes at it with wartime speed; then, things will get exciting.

  39. Thorn says:

    At least with Pearl Harbor, we could punish a known enemy, thereby receive some relief. Climate change–we are our own enemy and no remedy will be able to offer relief for generations, if even then. Don’t you think that taking action after a climate Pearl Harbor is too late? What would you expect the results of that action to be?

    • Artful Dodger says:

      Hi Thorn,

      Over 200 years ago, that insightful English novelist ‘Mother Goose’ clearly laid out the future consequences of the pursuit of growth through unmitigated carbon pollution:

      “Humpty Dumpty sate [sic] on a wall,
      Humpti Dumpti [sic] had a great fall;
      Threescore men and threescore more,
      Cannot place Humpty Dumpty as he was before.”

      How prescient it was in 1803 to realize that dumping C02 into the atmosphere a million times faster than it was sequestered as hydrocarbons would fracture modern civilization.

      How brave it was to speak out at the time. Sadly, her voice is little heard in our modern society. Mores the pity.

  40. Spike says:

    What it is going to have to be is an enormous sudden impact on the wealthy countries, and I think that means North America, which the denialists cannot possibly succeed in dismissing as a natural event. Nobody in authority unfortunately gives a damn about the developing world, so disaster after disaster continues to accumulate there, as The guardian reports for the Sahel today

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2011/dec/07/sahel-facing-major-food-crisis?INTCMP=SRCH

    Have we ever lived through such immoral times?

  41. Gail Zawacki says:

    JR, you criticize (rightly) the IPCC for mincing words in their warnings, but both you and Lester Brown do the same thing about food.

    You must both know – just look at the US Dept. of Ag. website – that air pollution reduces the yield and quality of crops, and as the background levels rise, and the nitrogen cascade is out of control, the impact on annual and tree crops is increasing.

    It’s also well-established in scientific research that vegetation exposed to ozone is more likely to succumb to attacks from insects, disease and fungus. Higher temps from climate = more ozone. Increased ozone is also what kills people in heat waves…at least, that’s what the American Lung Association says. Why don’t you and Lester Brown tell people about this?

    It’s an important link – reactive nitrogen comes from the same industrial processes as CO2 causing climate change, but it seems to me, that people would be far more willing to make the sacrifices essential for our race to survive the converging catastrophes if they understood the very direct impact burning fuel has on their food supply.

    This is sort of off-topic, it’s the first segment of 3 of a short, excellent documentary about North Korea – but you will never take food for granted again after you see it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EgXGlRyrmo

    • catman306 says:

      Hunger changes everything. But unlike North Korea, America has guns, lot of guns.

      • Artful Dodger says:

        North Korea also has lots of guns. Some are pointed at the citizens. Some are pointed at South Korea. The rest are pointed at anyone who would dare dissent against the Party line. Overall, a thoroughly modern State.

  42. john atcheson says:

    I don’t believe the impetus for action will come from nature — clearly we aren’t moved by devastation of the natural systems and ecologies, nor do we measure and discuss the evolving tragedy of our global ecosystem in the media to any great extent. It’s become a cliche, but climate change is the proverbial boiling frog, left in the pot. We become inured to the changes, since they evolve as a process rather than occur as an event.

    What we do measure and obsess over is our economy. When climate change creates an economic event that is clearly attributable to warming, then and only then will we act.

    I agree with Joe and Lester Brown — that will most likely happen with regards to food and agriculture.

    The next most likely event would be a massive forest fire — either in the Amazon rain forest or in the boreal forests — on a scale that is unprecedented.

    Both are likely — and both would probably not happen until we’d passed irrevocable tipping points.

    Such is our tragedy

  43. Tim says:

    Some comments on the comments:

    (1) A massive transformation of “how we do just about everything” is quite certainly possible. Look at the way most Americans lived in 1880 and 1960 and 2010 to see that. At the turn of the 20th century, there were real worries, for example, that our cities would soon be drowning in horse manure. We know what changed that.

    (2) Big changes in the zeitgeist on a public issue can also occur. Look, for example, at the attitudes of educated Americans towards smoking in public places in 1970 vs. 2010.

    Joe Sixpack will eventually be forced to realize that right wing propaganda doesn’t trump physics – though I doubt he’ll ever hold the propagandists to account. (Look at how clueless he is concerning the criminals on Wall Street.) Ther problem is this: when the consensus shifts, the damage will not only be done, things will keep getting worse before … well, before they stop getting worse – and that’s all. It ain’t gonna get better. How will the knuckle-dragging morons deal with that?

    • Mark says:

      You give too much credit to Joe Sixpack. IMO, they will continue to vote according to kneejerk identification with propaganda. The difference is that Business As Usual makes Joe Sixpack comfortable in their daily life, more or less. Only when that comfy feeling is destroyed will Joe change, but Joe will simply shift his kneejerk allegiance to some other set of propaganda. If it happens to be clean tech and sustainability that will be a temporary move in the right direction. But only until Joe gets comfy in the new reality. And then the wheel will start anew.

      Assuming civilization survives, my greatest hope for the longterm is the possibility that the experience will be enshrined in our national and religious myths/stories/beliefs. Will a future Thanksgiving celebrate the original pilgrims who gave thanks for the bounty they found they could use, plus a new breed of pilgrims who give thanks for the bounty by perserving it? If not, then the lessons we face now will have to be repeated and repeated again until learned. Assuming we are still around. So longterm…. its the stories and myths about the pain that we leave behind after we recover that matter most to me. Nothing else can break the cycle.

  44. SecularAnimist says:

    Even if every one of those “climate Pearl Harbor” events on Joe’s list occurred simultaneously, the deniers would deny that they had anything to do with CO2 emissions, and the corporate media would report on them without mentioning any connection with global warming.

    • Artful Dodger says:

      Yes, S.A. there’s more than a little truth to your statement. Let me provide one small illustration which examines a popular denier meme, of the genre “Climate’s changed before”…

      Specifically, there was a claim that there was no sea ice at the North Pole in 1959. In support, a picture circulated the denial-sphere of the USS Skate, which was the first Nuclear submarine to surface at the North Pole, which it did on March 19, 1959. Denier’s like Tim Ball and mu Watts claim that this picture, which shows Skate surfaced with no sea ice around her, proves their case:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File%3AUSS_Skate_at_North_Pole_-_0857806.jpg

      There are just three problems with this meme. First, on March 17th, it is still dark at the North Pole. The polar night is 6 months long right at the pole. So the Sun doesn’t breech the horizon until the first day of Spring, which in 1959 was March 21. Yet, the picture clearly shows Skate bathed in diffuse daylight on a cloudy day. Ha!

      Second, March is the time of the greatest thickness and extent of sea ice during the annual cycle. For there to be no sea ice at the North Pole in March, it would mean that there was zero sea ice year round that year, a fanatastik and bold-faced lie. HaHa!

      Third, KLM airlines began test flights of a trans-polar route in 1959 with their brand spanking new Boeing 707s. They overflew the Geographic North Pole in March 1959, and guess what, it was covered with sea ice! HaHaHa!

      The remarkable thing about this meme is not it’s boldness, it is it’s durability. I first pointed out the above problems when the picture surfaced in July 2008. Then, it was a popular denialist reply to the record low sea Summer sea ice minimum of 2007.

      I see the caption on the main Wikipedia article that uses the photo has at last been updated to read “USS Skate – Skate (SSN-578), (Date and Location uncertain).” But the photo itself still says “USS Skate at North Pole”.

      Conclusion: never underestimate the tenacity of Denial. It’s strong stuff. When the Arctic sea ice pack finally does melt out, likely sometime between 2016 and 2020, look for this meme to go into full court press.

      P.S. Do any Dutch readers of C.P. have contacts inside KLM Airlines? Perhaps we could contact the Company’s Archivist to find the flight logs from the Polar flights in March 1959?

      Thanks, and Cheers!

  45. MightyDrunken says:

    We have the ability to consider the future, to make predictions based on the process of science which gives good results. This allows us to face up to threats which would otherwise be impossible to overcome. To steer ourselves away from catastrophe before it happens.

    As current and past political events have shown we squander this intelligence, it is wasted. This depletes my optimism for the future and is really quite a sad truth to face. If we had attacked the problem of global warming in the late 80′s when science showed us these posibilities, even the 70′s the future was fairly clear, tackling climate change would be easy. Instead we will delay action time and again like a lazy teenager. Meaning when we cannot ignore the problems they will be big problems of the here and now not the future.

    Therefore I predict that to get world wide action on the scale needed the events listed above will need to happen. They will have to be close to home. They will have to be extreme. They will happen multiple times, yearly, so they cannot be ignored.

  46. Alexander Harvey says:

    While you wait for the climate, you will time to ponder.

    1) The power of the community rests in its people.

    2) This is the truth that empowers democracies and tyrannies.

    3) Government is the excercise of that power.

    4) Politics is the means by which power is concentrated and directed.

    5) The power that Government excercises is on loan from the people.

    The first is axiomatic. To believe it will empower the rest.

    To cease in such belief results in bad consequences.

    “Land and Liberty” “Truth and Justice”

  47. John Tucker says:

    Ironic metaphor, with more than one community it can be applied to – considering the technological, high energy choice made to end that conflict.

  48. BA says:

    I think number 3 is going to be it: Continued (unexpected) surge in methane. I suspect very soon we will have irrefutable evidence that the arctic seabed is destabilizing and on track to rapidly release methane.

    The tipping point we need now is for relatively well educated, well off, middle “management” people in business, government, and politics to include journalist and the media to realize that having lots of money and big pay checks will not get them a pass in a runaway climate. When it dawns on them that they will not be exempt within their lifetime from the suffering inflicted by global warming—then they will want action like there is no tomorrow.

    Let us hope they choose a rapid reduction in CO2, a rapid build out of sustainable infrastructure, a rapid transition to sustainable agriculture, and not radical geo-engineering.

    One other thing may wake up the populace. If there is a global food shortage. We no longer store large quantities of grain and the way the markets have been rigged for profit and speculation we may well see our (the U.S.) harvest sold off to the highest bidder [During the Irish potato famine there was actually wheat available that was kept from the population.]. Last time I checked there were not any wheat fields, orchards, or rice paddies on Wall Street. The Hedge Fund managers and Goldman Sachs Employes might find themselves in a mob one day trying to get some food. I hope that dose not come to pass.

    • BA says:

      Right now it is a noisy, powerful minority that is tentatively held up by an under informed majority that wants very badly to believe they can depend on the statuesque. Such is human nature. But once the majority no longer believes they can depend on things as they are it can flip very vast. The question remains will it be fast enough.

      If I live to be seventy (2031) and things don’t change in a big way fast I think I will most likely live to experience food shortages, hunger, and maybe even famine—or worse. The biggest myth we tell ourselves is that it won’t happen here. Bunk!

      Sometimes when I listen to a good storm buffet the side of my house I think about how tentative that wall between me and the weather is—it is almost a figment of the imagination.

  49. Ric Merritt says:

    I regretfully disagree with those waiting for an “I told you so” moment, hoping the bad guys will get theirs when the revolution comes. (Baby boomers will recognize that formulation of the sentiment.)

    As even worse things happen, much of the denial will continue. Since it isn’t backed by logic and judgment today, there’s no reason to expect logic and judgment to suddenly spring into action.

  50. Robert Nagle says:

    In Texas, the drought has changed people’s kind of thinking. Nobody really blames it on climate change, but if it were to repeat again for 1 or 2 more years, Texans would start trying to blame someone. Texas lost 5 billion as a result of the drought this year. They also had dead trees, random fires and ugly looking lawns. If it persists, you have to deal with water shortages, increased food prices and more fires. That would really aggravate Texans. Would this change anything? I don’t know, but there’s a lot of money and politicians betting against climate change, and more drought could change people’s indifference on the subject.

  51. EDpeak says:

    “let me note that I pointed out that one of the media’s greatest failings is ‘underinforming’ people that “Bad things are happening to real people right”

    which leads us to a more cynical notion than:

    “It concluded that a key driver of serious government action is ‘bad things must be happening to regular people right now’ ”

    and that governments and their corporate masters will act only when “bad things are happening to ‘important’ (not ‘regular’) people”

    “How ironic that denial, driven in large part by conservative fear of big government, ”

    they are not afraid of big government, they love big government, when “big” means trillion dollars per year on militarism. It’s public-protecting government that they want “small” JR ‘gets’ this but without clicking the link it sounds like we ‘buy’ the notion that the right wing’s fear really is ‘government’ it is not: powerful huge government they simply love, so long as it’s big and powerful on their behalf and not on the behalf of the public.

  52. EDpeak says:

    if all the items happen, it will be sold to us as “god’s will” AND/OR as “this proves we need LESS regulation so as to stop stifling innovation, we’ve had TOO MUCH innovation” and such like justification.

    No number of ugly disasters will (by themselves) change things – it’s only if the masses of people move to make a chance, and if there is a change to the economic and with it the political, systems

  53. adelady says:

    I reckon we might see some acceptance of change if a few, high quality, advertising campaigns started up using the issue. There are some very clever campaigns selling solar in Australia just now. But this isn’t really about any particular product, it’s about making certain ideas acceptable and popular.

    This is another baby boomer reminder. Just how many years did it take for deodorant to become universally accepted? Society wasn’t sitting around bewailing the lack of such an item, but when it became available and was _sold_ to us as essential, we adopted it as a daily routine.

    Not being one of those creative commercial types, I can’t think of an example of something that’s not yet been done that I’d like to see, but experience tells us it would work.

    And just a couple of such campaigns would get other companies following the model. Within 18 months to 3 years you can change the public acceptance of just about any idea. Someone just needs to get clever. And get started.

  54. John Levering says:

    Only catastrophic negative economic impacts to all Americans including average citizens, corporations, investors and government entities resulting from many severe and directly attributable climate change related events will get this country to act on the scale that is needed.
    Ever since Katrina, with it and other climate change affected events following that Hurricane, I have said, “Surely this event will prompt serious action by America.” But not!
    However, particularly as has been shown since the recession began, Americans only think of their wallets. All other issues, including those not related to climate change fall by the wayside.
    It pains me greatly to see my fellow Americans miss turning this potentially catastrophic situation into a golden opportunity for our country and like the WWII analogy help save the world.
    Frankly, many of us have already taken the attitude that America as a historical leader of the world may fail in taking leadership in dealing with climate change and are hence are transitioning beyond those severe impacts that will result.
    Ironically many of the actions us who are comparatively few are taking could be applied now to head off the global warming-climate change effects in the first place.
    While we too will be negatively affected economically, we will be happier than those who only watch their wallets, yet albeit saddened by what has become of our surrounding environment and many of our brethren life forms in Nature.
    If worse comes to worse, maybe those of us who do survive our negligence to dealing with global warming will evolve to a wiser level in the development of the human species.

    • Lewis Cleverdon says:

      John – you might want to pay closer attention to the evidence that,
      if we fail to substantially lower global temperature enough soon enough to halt the interactive feedbacks,
      we shall have wasted our chance to avoid the extinction of our species as the feedbacks’ self-amplifying warming degrades the habitability of the planet.

      On our present trajectory, thoughts of the ‘development of the human species’ are just whistling in the dark. There are no natural negative feedbacks recognized by science capable of halting those positive warming feedbacks, thus assuming that our species will survive is not justified except by faith.

      And in faith terms, we have free will as to whether or not to allow materialist ideology to destroy the creation we inherited.

      Regards,

      Lewis

      • John Levering says:

        Lewis,

        Quite possibly true – we may not survive as a species, but making changes in lifestyles to adapt to climate change now will lower the carbon footprint of people who make those changes.

  55. Joe, item 4 on your list reads:

    “4. A [multi-year] megadrought hitting the SW comparable to what has hit southern Australia.”

    I suggest you removed the word “has” because it implies the multi-year drought is still happening in Australia.

    In fact it ended with large floods in 2010-2011, which you posted about: http://thinkprogress.org/green/2011/01/05/174882/australia-flood-coal/

  56. adelady says:

    How about something that’s not dramatic in the Pearl Harbout sense. Something that affects the way you live your life.

    No coffee?

    No chocolate!!??!

    One or both of these things is possible. And a seriously steep rise in price because of poor harvests is highly probable.

    These things matter a lot to a lot of people. And if they happen to coincide with higher prices for other food items they could be the straw that breaks the metaphorical back.

  57. Robert In New Orleans says:

    A measurable and sustained increase in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions due to the shifting of mass on the Earths crust.

  58. Solar Jim says:

    I read a book once (possibly Day of Deceit) that discussed eight deliberate actions the US took to antagonize Japan into attacking US territory so that isolationist American public opinion of that era could be changed into revenge, so FDR could help Churchill save England.

    Hey, they have WMD in Iraq that we needed to spend a trillion or three for, right?

  59. Raul M. says:

    it’s probably to realistic and without a cure.
    Insurance companies were talking about withdrawing coverage in Florida following the claims put in for the hurricanes. So State ramped up the state backed ins. last resort option and that coverage has become popular with the communities close to the coasts.
    That Ins. Co’s. Could be forced out of an area due to climate may have some large realizations for not just homeowners but for the financial markets.
    Last I heard one couldn’t get a home mortgage without home insurance and Florida could go bankrupt too.
    So “buying a home” could be a passé description of impersonating a mortgage co. in Fla. in the near future.

    • Raul M. says:

      And because many home sales are based on the perceptions of the buyer, the change of the housing markets ability to keep up with repairs could be the changing and deciding factor.
      So, the storm proof home might be the only one in a city of chaos.
      Better to have some supplies of provisions too, as well as, a practice of hydroponic food production.
      I think that the coating used to make for a white roof could have a light color added and it would still have great reflectivity and be a cool roof.
      Another advantage to the coating is that it protects the roof underneath. It keeps rain from coming through the shingles and it let’s the wind slide over without grabbing the shingles as might otherwise happen in a wind storm.
      Just a suggestion.

  60. J4zonian says:

    “How ironic that denial, driven in large part by conservative fear of big government, has created an “era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays” that will ultimately require somewhat bigger government…”

    Until we recognize this phenomena, and the importance of psychology in general, we’ll continue to see things happen that we see as ‘ironic’, that we could have prevented.

    ‘Ironic’ is what we call something when we don’t understand a system well enough to expect the results we see. This creation-of-what’s-feared is called projective identification in psychology, or ‘dreaming up’ by Arnold Mindell. It’s the process by which the actions that we think will solve our problems become twisted into the problems themselves. Because those problems, which are psychological whether we realize it or not, limit and skew our ability to perceive accurately, we take actions which instead of helping, actually cause what we feared. (the mechanisms by which that happens are fascinating but too complex for here)

    It works in groups too: the US and USSR mistrusted each other, built weapons that were meant by each to protect themselves, but which were perceived by the other as weapons meant to destroy the other and take over the world. (The saying ‘the best defense is a good offense’ blurs the boundary between the 2) Each development in response was interpreted the same way, and the result is the interactive ‘dreaming up’ of 2 aggressively hostile countries.

    • J4zonian says:

      the second paragraph in my above post should have been the last. Not sure what happened. It should read as follows:

      “How ironic that denial, driven in large part by conservative fear of big government, has created an “era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays” that will ultimately require somewhat bigger government…”

      ‘Ironic’ is what we call something when we don’t understand a system well enough to expect the results we see. This creation-of-what’s-feared is called projective identification in psychology, or ‘dreaming up’ by Arnold Mindell. It’s the process by which the actions that we think will solve our problems become twisted into the problems themselves. Because those problems, which are psychological whether we realize it or not, limit and skew our ability to perceive accurately, we take actions which instead of helping, actually cause what we feared. (the mechanisms by which that happens are fascinating but too complex for here)

      It works in groups too: the US and USSR mistrusted each other, built weapons that were meant by each to protect themselves, but which were perceived by the other as weapons meant to destroy the other and take over the world. (The saying ‘the best defense is a good offense’ blurs the boundary between the 2) Each development in response was interpreted the same way, and the result is the interactive ‘dreaming up’ of 2 aggressively hostile countries.

      Until we recognize this phenomena, and the importance of psychology in general, we’ll continue to see things happen that we see as ‘ironic’, that we could have prevented.