Friday, September 10, 2021

‘If Allowed to Continue at Present Rates’

Here are a few excerpts from past Adirondack conferences preparing audiences for climate change, severe weather events, and consequences.

Photo: Post Hurricane Irene streambank and instream restoration efforts on the E. Branch Ausable River. Photo by Dave Gibson

September, 1989: George Woodwell, global ecologist and then director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, from an address at the Ausable Club, St. Hubert’s, Keene:

By cutting vast tracts of the world’s forests without replacement, humans are seriously adding to the atmospheric pool of CO2 and diminishing the natural background modulating effect of the earth’s lungs – our forests. A 25% increase in atmospheric CO2 since the mid-19th century, if allowed to continue at present rates, will have a severe impact on our climate. It, in addition to even more dramatic increases in methane and other greenhouse gases, will inevitably lead to global warming and climatic changes on a large scale. Ecological and societal changes, many of which may drastically affect the Adirondack Park, are sure to follow.

Note: A mere 32 years after Dr. Woodwell’s address, the increase in atmospheric CO2 since 1850 has gone from 25% to nearly 50% – 417 ppm. The earth has not experienced such a concentration in over 800,000 years.

September, 1992: Wendy O’Neil, ecologist with the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and staff member with the Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century, from an address at Sagamore Great Camp, Raquette Lake:

I ask you to consider your own view of the benefits ecological systems provide you. In the late 1960s, my high school teacher challenged all of us with an essay question on a biology exam. It was: What would you think if you saw the following bumper sticker: “Have You Thanked a Green Plant Today?” Today, I wonder how much a hospital charges a patient for twenty-four hours of supplemental oxygen. Trees and other green plants provide oxygen we use continually yet we seldom make this connection…

We tend to take nature’s services for granted because we don’t have to pay money for most of them…we are aware of the services that contribute to daily functions because we pay for them with money we earn and spend as consumers and taxpayers. For example, we understand directly the problems we face when a road corridor is blocked and cannot be used for travel. A travel corridor in nature which can be altered through weather is a river. In the spring of 1992, the Ausable River was jammed by ice flows and flooded its banks. Traffic was blocked, some residents were evacuated, and property damage resulted. In this case, we have enough understanding to measure economically the expense it caused for road repair, rescue, flood monitoring and property repair or replacement. We know this because the river system impacted us in the support systems of our society that we measure.

What we do not know is the intricate workings of the river that brought about the flooding and what the long-term costs to society and the river system will be if the river is left to its own course or the river course is altered through dredging, channelization or other means…. These are very real and very sensitive issues that come forth when ecological and economic systems are out of balance. A detailed inventory of the river system is needed so that we know its natural processes, rhythms and inner workings. If we know the inner workings, then we are able to focus on the parts that may need adjustment from time to time. Dredging a river is an immediate response, yet we really do not know enough about this river to predict the response of this action…we make a lot of decisions on managing the land and waterscapes based on human need without integrating the ecological principles of the natural world that will, over time, impact human settlement.

I again ask you to consider your own roots in nature, and then to help with ecological analysis. By examining how we are interdependent with the natural systems around us, ecological understanding will follow.

Nov. 2003, Dr. Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, Onondaga Nation, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy) and Associate Professor of American Studies at the State University of New York, Buffalo, from an address at the Crowne Plaza, Lake Placid:

We can’t have peace without health and maintaining the health of the earth is fundamental to our own health and future well-being. People are parasites who don’t put bac what they take. An aggressive human population is eating everything off the face of the earth. Our values today are not survival values. If we don’t change our values, we won’t survive.

We need a long-term vision to protect the interests of the seventh generation. The question is, how do we get that vision back in our leadership? We need to ask, what values are driving us. Are we stewards, or are we part of the problem?

We can learn much about stewardship and life from the Amish, who teach us about the values of community, simplicity and peace. We need to be inclusive. We need to work together.

February, 2007: Prof. Nicholas Robinson, Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law, Pace University School of Law, from an address at the Center for the Forest Preserve, Niskayuna:

What we now know about these climatic phenomena in the Adirondacks is that the climate change models predict that such effects will recur. Rather than reacting to each incident, we should begin to anticipate them and plan for contingencies. Preparations for intense weather events induced by climate change can entail everything from realigning trails to reissuing maps showing that some campsites are no more. It can mean limiting the number of hikers and campers in risk prone locations or at-risk prone times. New York may well need to rebuild its corps of Forest Rangers and restore their many faceted independent functions. Ill equipped public water supplies will need buffering, and publicly owned sewage treatment systems will need to be upgraded to deal with changed design specifications that anticipate the new climatic conditions. Distributed energy resources, independent of any grid, will be needed for resilience. All this is a State-wide responsibility and is not just the burden of the local communities that live around the Forest Preserve.

Developing preparedness for the effects of climate change will need to be a statewide, a national, and an international undertaking. State support for such preparedness will not flow to the Adirondacks automatically. Adirondackers will find it essential to embrace the mandate of Article XIV in order to give the Adirondacks a priority claim on the State’s planning and adaptation funding and expertise. Since the Adirondacks, and the Forest Preserve, are unique in their vast scale, and their essential hydrologic and biological roles in the Northeast of America, they deserve priority treatment based on an objective scientific analysis. Nonetheless, considering that the greatest number of voters in New York cluster along the Atlantic seacoast, encountering the effects of sea level rise, and that they too can claim a legitimate priority, what will ensure that the Adirondacks get the care they deserve? As a matter of law and policy, the Constitution provides the answer, and it is Article XIV. There is no way to escape the logic of law and precedent: the New York Constitution requires care and protection for the Forest Preserve.

We need to rethink today’s conventional wisdom. The scientific message is clear: business as usual is coming to an end. The time may have come to recommend that the Governor and Legislature enact a biodiversity law for the Adirondacks, both to integrate the many duties that DEC, and other State agencies, have with respect to the Forest Preserve, and also to prepare the Forest Preserve and all within the Adirondack Park to better prepare to cope with the effects of climate change.

November, 2012: Prof. Curt Stager, Natural Science/Biology, Paul Smith’s College, from an address at the Paul Smith’s Visitor Interpretive Center:

As the North Country changes under the pressures of backcountry development, invasive species, climate change and other factors, it is increasingly important for diverse practitioners and organizations to work together in developing new and effective visions for stewardship. The changes you observe in the environment could be highly relevant to understanding how climate changes impacts the park. Keep written records, and pass them on. There is a crucial job to be done by amateur naturalists in keeping good natural history records and data. Anybody can help Adirondack Park do a much better job in local monitoring of events in nature, and preserving and communicating that information for use today and tomorrow. 


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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

40 Responses

  1. Big Burly says:

    Hard to know where to start with questions about all these assertions that are cited.

    The rise of CO2 while significant has not changed significantly the relative proportion in the earth’s atmosphere of this essential ingredient necessary for plant life. Green houses and silviculture facilities greatly increase the amount of CO2 with young plants to foster growth.

    There are many actions we can take to assure the fitness of our planet. CO2 concentration is not a metric to measure success.

  2. Dave Greene says:

    > The rise of CO2 while significant has not changed significantly the relative proportion in the earth’s atmosphere…

    The measurements are fairly simple, as these things go, and they clearly don’t support that statement. The relative proportion has doubled, in an incredibly short time (geologically speaking):

    Yes, it’s technically _possible_ that this doubling of concentration won’t have all of the bad effects that are predicted. This is an experiment that’s never been done before, so of course nobody knows for sure exactly how it’s going to turn out.

    But since we don’t have several spare planets available to do scientific experiments on, it’s really really not safe to assume that everything is going to be okay, just because more CO2 is a good thing in a greenhouse. What CO2 seems to be doing on the farm I’m working on right now is making poison ivy grow and take over fields, a lot faster than it ever has before.

    • JohnL says:

      So Dave, you think ‘it’ seems to be making poison ivy grow ‘faster than before’. Oh well, now it all makes sense. Let’s shut down the US economy while letting China, India, etal do nothing. Seems perfectly reasonable. Thanks for the insight.

      • Jim S. says:

        Right on John, why should we do the right thing if no one else does!

        • JohnL says:

          Not my point JS. We (US) do a lot in this area. It would be much more productive for our government to put some serious pressure on China, India, et al to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING. What do we hear about their lack of action? Crickets. Instead, ‘they’ keep giving us heck for not doing enough. Very one-sided.

          • Boreas says:

            We cannot bargain from a position of strength. We are addicted to cheap Asian products. Right now, they own our ass.

  3. Mick Finn says:

    Several studies have shown that managed forests sequester 400% more CO2 than natural succession forests.

  4. Boreas says:

    In my opinion, it is really too late to slow down or reverse the climate changes that are in motion. It is obvious the amount of political misinformation surrounding the subject will assure our fate – whatever that may be.

    We need to be focusing now on how to ameliorate the effects of climate change that is certain to continue. Once it hit the iceberg, pointing fingers on the Titanic wouldn’t have kept it afloat and saved lives. We need to be focusing on the issue of rising oceans and coastal populations. We need to focus on predicting which food-producing areas of the world that will be ruined and which will become arable – which areas will become desert and which will become temperate.

    Our species is not yet mature or responsible enough to live within the dictates of Nature, and this isn’t compatible with our sustainability on the planet. If WE don’t change, our fate won’t change. Earth will eventually recover from our interference.


      Exactly. While we need to continue to alter our climate changing behavior, it is time to begin the process of amelioration of the effects of climate change.

      We would be best served if we could respond rationally, scientifically with the easiest responses. Of course the best first step would be to stop arguing that climate change isn’t happening. Remember many of Titanic’s life boats were launched half empty.

      • Boreas says:

        “Remember many of Titanic’s life boats were launched half empty.”

        Indeed! This is likely humanity’s greatest challenge. Not how to stop change, but how to live with it. Will our global politics fall in line for a common cause like we did with CFC’s decades ago (the ozone layer is still recovering – but recovering nonetheless), or will panic, starvation, and war be our future?

    • Daniel Ling says:

      I agree that we need to continue to work in every way we can to mitigate climate impacts, but to suggest we shouldn’t even try to slow or reverse it, is terribly unwise.

      The central issue, after all, is simply air pollution. Should we not continue to slow and even reverse the cumulative impacts of air pollution, when we know that it causes millions of cases of cardiac and respiratory disease per year in the US alone, resulting in yens of millions of missed work and school days annually, and that the ocean is acidifying at such a rate (30% increase overall) that our ecologically critical coral reefs are dying at unprecedented rates, carbonate tests are dissolving and food chain base organisms often cannot even lay down new layers of shell for their own survival? Air pollution now threatens the Earth’s entire ecosystem, from the bottom of the chain to the top, directly.

      In addition to mitigating, it’s impacts, we do need to continue all efforts to reign in air pollution, including carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, etc. Make no mistake, we need to up our game.

      The most important issue of all IMO is education. For this, David Gibson is to be commended. As a science educator, I think we are doing a terrible job of educating our population about science, and it shows. America is rapidly falling behind, and becoming an anti-intellectual, anti-science, and even anti-democracy society. High school graduates cannot define “fact,” “hypothesis” or “theory,” and they do not regularly practice critical thinking, even in science class. It’s no wonder they have no idea where to turn for factual information (Ex: Fox News and Facebook), let alone how to discriminate between scientific and unscientific sources.

  5. louis curth says:

    Dave Gibson offers excerpts on climate change from several respected sources for our consideration. In response Boreas adds; “If We don’t change, our fate won’t change.”

    Sadly, I don’t sense that a requisite groundswell for climate change is yet occurring. Greta Thunberg steadfastly rallies young people, but the strategic silence of Republicans continues within the halls of power at every level of government. Bill McKibben tirelessly calls for action on climate change in books, speeches and protests, but our climate discourse is moribund. Now, in desperation, Bill has launched “Third Act”, a call to action aimed specifically at the over 60 baby boomers who seems to have abandoned their earlier causes and their idealistic fervor to make the world a better place. Perhaps he hopes to reach those among our comfortable, well heeled elders, who mistakenly channel their wealth and political activism to help the political imposters and charlatans who denigrate the evidence of climate danger. Perhaps he also seeks to rekindle the energy and humanity of people who, once upon a time, believed in America as a caring community where all of us could put aside our differences and work together within what Boreas so aptly says is; “to live within the dictates of Nature.”

    On this sacred day of 9/11, thoughtful Americans are reflecting on these last twenty years. What did we do wrong, and how could we do better in our role as the world’s superpower. Shouldn’t we also be pondering the ramifications of climate change and what we must do now if life on earth is to survive in the future?

  6. Vanessa B says:

    Hmm. Hard to provide a productive comment on this one, because there’s so little positive that I have to say. People my age carry a LOT of strong emotions towards generations previous that have understood the science and yet done nothing to prevent the crisis that we will live to see.

    It’s never too late, but to be honest, I don’t have a lot of optimism. That’s not an excuse to stop advocating for change – the natural systems and other species of the world are worth it – but it gets tough when dealing with humans.

    Why? Because fundamentally, the climate crisis is a political problem. I’m not even going to directly address the comment above which tries to blame Asia for the problem. That’s so indicative of the exact attitude that makes people my age want to scream, frankly.

    We sit here in the richest, most technologically advanced, and though I don’t agree many people older would tell me most politically advanced empire the planet has ever seen. When it comes to making money, the ambitions of the scions of our society have no bounds. And yet we’re happy to kill the hopes and ambitions of all generations that will come after us. Happy to, many of us. It’s infuriating. In the name of “freedom,” many glibly say, as they deny any modicum of freedom to millions of the future.

    A small warning to please not come at me on this one in the replies. I’m mourning a dead relative here. You should go out and sit on your Adirondack porch and watch the swaying of the pines, for all of us who won’t be able to by the time they’re your age, or at all. 🙁

    • Zephyr says:

      Hey, Vanessa, I usually agree with you, but it is beneath you to throw out a bunch of assertions blaming older people and then warning people not to argue the point because of your personal troubles. Be better than that! We are all in this together, richer and poorer, younger and older, from every part of the globe, and we have to work together to get out of it. Blaming and pointing fingers will get us nowhere on this problem. I may be a lot older than you, but I have lived for many years off the grid with no mains power, water, Internet, or most of the stuff that every young person takes for granted. I know what it means to tread very lightly on the earth, and I could happily live with a tiny energy budget compared to the average. Sure our parents and their parents weren’t perfect, but they did a lot of things today’s parents should be doing too. We walked two miles to school, or rode our bikes, and most families had one old car and maybe one B&W TV. We didn’t drive much. Walked or rode bikes everywhere. My dad and mom worked near home and walked to work. No a/c, no Internet, turned off the lights whenever we left a room, and a lot of people only heated the ground floor of their homes. Ran the hot water heater on the lowest setting. I grew up with the windows open in my bedroom year-round because of the fresh air and my parents didn’t heat half the house. Most of my clothes were purchased second hand. We didn’t fly on vacations. Sure, we weren’t perfect stewards of the planet, but our energy footprint was a tiny fraction of what the typical family burns through today. There are some things younger people might need to adapt to that us older folks do right now–less travel, more walking, more cooking at home, and I still turn off the lights whenever I leave a room and unplug a bunch of stuff all the time. Young people think I am crazy, but I know that every little bit of energy makes a difference.

      • Zephyr says:

        By the way, until younger people vote they will not have the say in our politics or the future of our environment they should. If someone doesn’t vote they have no right to blame those that do vote for their choices. Vote and make your wishes happen!

        • Boreas says:

          Bingo! Voting may not make your wishes happen, but it is much less likely if you don’t vote!

          • Zephyr says:

            “Voter turnout was highest among those ages 65 to 74 at 76.0%, while the percentage was lowest among those ages 18 to 24 at 51.4%. Overall, voter turnout increased as age increased, with the exception of 75-plus which had a turnout rate that was below 65-74 year-olds and not significantly different than the turnout for 55 to 64 year-olds.”

            • Vanessa B says:

              Okey dokey, a lot to say in reply. First – “blame” isn’t the intention at all here. Well, not specifically to older generations alone, who you’re certainly correct had overall a LOT less impact on the planet than the average millenial. Millennials and zoomers have bad habits too, which I’ll get back to in a sec.

              I’m sorry to have offended if I did so, truly. I am going through some stuff which isn’t an excuse, but which is kinda related to this overall discussion in a weird way.

              I guess when I said “a lot of emotions,” I really do mean a lot of emotions. Younger people are objectively less able to better their lives in modern America and I don’t think any of us disagree on the overall sociological phenomena causing these issues. What’s really, really tough is managing the expectations of “success,” when we’re statistically just starting at a worse place, and then don’t often get empathy when we suggest ideas for improvement. And I’ll also go back to the following (lol long comment alert) but many of us DO have lots of empathy with older generations, deep and genuine connections. But where the breakdown can happen is when youth powered movements are dismissed and belittled, which absolutely happens from all quarters, not just by a generation or even a particular political wing. (Though imo the right does tend to look down on under 40s a lot more specifically).

              As for young people voting: I grant the statistics but for years keep trying to get anyone to understand the story behind them. I personally, before the age of 35 have worked (like really worked, 100s of hours) on 3 presidential campaigns, 2 congressional, and lots of little races. I’ve canvassed so many people I don’t remember when I started. But I’m happier with the impact of my non-electoral activism, because non-electoral organizing gets to the why. I admit that few people are interested to learn why (some) young people don’t vote. The two major themes? Young people don’t have time due to work for survival, and they don’t have access due to the crappy voting laws of too many US states. Neither of these issues are unique and are compounded for people suffering from multiple systems of oppressions. The younger generation is poorer and more racially diverse – both risk factors for not having access to a ballot. So I’d ask that anyone think about how they can give more people access – there is absolutely a post 2020 trend to deny the vote to as many as possible, and that impacts young people enormously.

              Finally, I guess the most terrifying part for younger people is deciding how to conduct our lives as the natural world deteriorates. I have been feeling this really hard because I will have a daughter in January. It’s a LOT harder than it should be to try to give back to the planet and be the change I want to be. For example – I spent 2 hours alone over the last weekend in a truly Kafkaesque discussion over whether it’s safe to inherent an expired infant car seat. Why are infant car seats “expire-able”? Did you know we apparently ship many of the American expired seats to Mexico for Mexican kids to have supposedly unsafe riding experiences? My relatives in India were laughing at the whole damn discussion – my husband was brought home from the hospital on a bus! Are Americans even allowed to take home a baby on a bus? (Seriously, hospital doesn’t seem to think so.) It’s totally moot even though I live in the city, because public transportation to the hospital I will deliver at takes 3 times the time as just driving, ergo more carbon, and therefore I’ve already made a non-green decision with barely any control over the situation.

              The point being: right now, American society is engineered heavily against the necessary changes we’ll need to make the planet livable past another 50-100 years. Individual AND political action are necessary, and imo it’s the lack of political will that really grinds the gears of younger people. It’s no one groups fault, but the situation we’re in is grim. The vast majority of the country wants big changes – across the generational spectrum – but this country isn’t enough of a democracy right now to really deliver. I think young people really bear the brunt of the combined lack of access to the vote but hightened expectation that we need to figure out how to succeed in a situation stacked against us.

              But again, all of this is just one perspective. As always, it’s just a grain of salt in a big ocean.

              • Zephyr says:

                Lots of good points, but I still don’t understand why younger people don’t vote. Yes, some are trying to further prevent many from voting, but as it stands today I would argue that many people in this country have it far, far easier to vote than at most times in the past. I’m not sure that today’s younger people vote at a lower rate than in the past either. Bottom line is that bellyaching about politics and policies on social media are not as effective as simply voting, again and again and again. If you care about climate change your vote is the single most important action you can take.

                • Vanessa B says:

                  I 100% agree, and in a place like NY, I further would say that as a millenial, there’s like 0 excuse unless your work situation is truly prohibitive. And not many of ours are in comparison to zoomers. And not just for presidential either – it doesn’t take too much these days to educate yourself on local politics either.

                  In a place like TX – very different kettle o fish. I do think pointing out those differences are worth it. I hear a lot among friends about “well why does my vote matter due to the electoral college and how rigged the Senate is etc,” and the counter to that is that you’re fortunate in the Northeast to have ballot access at all. Your local reps can make a critical difference in your lives and often will listen a lot more closely than federal anyway. Get involved locally is my biggest mantra.

      • Vanessa B says:

        Zephyr, gonna reply more substantively in a sec but here I will pause to note: off-grid living is super super cool :). Kudos to you for making this part of your life – I really mean it, do NOT mean to be patronizing here, hope it doesn’t come off that way. I follow a LOT of folks who are nomads or off-grid on YouTube – it’s much bigger than the movie “Nomadland” last year. If you’re curious what this movement is up to, and it’s definitely not just younger folks, YouTube is an encyclopedia. I’d recommend staying away from the “prepper” political people, but there are lots of folks with varying and interesting politics that detail tons of methods of greening one’s life. I’ve learned a ton from them.

        I had an entire article with a section dedicated to off-grid that I was just short of sending to Melissa H to publish here in the Almanack. Life caught up, but it’s a topic worth studying. The book “Shelter from the Machine” was excellent and inspired me to learn more on this topic.

        • Zephyr says:

          I was just using my off-grid experience to point out that it is possible to live a rewarding life while using less energy, which is one thing that younger generations can learn from looking at the past. I used to have a friend who lived in an old Florida house that was designed and built long before air conditioning was available. First it was raised well above any flooding on pilings, had huge overhanging eaves that created deep porches on all sides, and instead of windows it had floor to ceiling shuttered doors that could swing wide open letting any breeze pass through the home constantly. It was on a large enough lot to be totally surrounded by tall, shadowing trees that filtered the harsh sun. Absolutely the most pleasant place I have ever visited in Florida, and with no energy-burning a/c in sight. Yes, not everyone can live like that, but we can all learn a lot of useful climate-fighting techniques by looking to the past. In upstate NY I know farmers that have returned to tilling their land as their great-grandfathers might have, avoiding the use of heavily oil dependent fertilizers. One of my pet peeves is that many new schools are not easily accessible by walkers or bicycle riders. I have read that in the Netherlands kids bike on their own to school from age 4 on. Back in the day schools were built within communities and not on the outskirts where they are impossible to get to unless you drive or take a bus. Every single school, and most public buildings, should be walk and bike friendly. Etc. etc.

          • Vanessa B says:

            We have (millenial) friends with this long-time dream of starting an awesome green, no-till farm, and their goal is to do so in upstate NY! We had a huge chat about it over dinner a few weeks ago and my husband and I are even considering investing in the project, because they’re ambitious but short on $$…. But this is another example of a situation where the expectations of “success” in life are grinding this couple down. They’ve already scaled back the goal by several years. The thought of raising kids without enough financial stability weighs heavily on them. All of the contributions we want to make are often deferred, and I don’t know that people around us are always aware of how much effort millennials and zoomers put into dreams they hope will have a global effect.

  7. louis curth says:

    In theory, Zephyr is right that our votes are the most important action we can take, and Vanessa is right that we need to get involved locally. That is what the founders had in mind, or so our social studies teachers told us back when they taught such things. Yet our modern politics seems to have gotten a lot more complicated, and as a result, our elections are becoming a lot less fair and democratic for today’s American voters.

    So how do we local voters use our theoretical power to reign in the unrestricted flow of dark money and corporate K Street money, or the cronyism, or the gerrymandering, or racism, or wedge issues, or voter suppression or even the ultimate abuse of democracy – that violent insurrection at the Capitol last January 6, 2021, incited by Donald Trump to prevent the lawful transfer of the presidency? I guess If you are an Adirondack Republican, you just keep on being silent no matter what, and hope that the voters won’t notice when American democracy gets rendered meaningless and our climate problems worsen until the “dictates of nature” step in.

  8. Pete says:

    Addressing climate change is necessary, including efforts to reduce man-made causes. However adopting regulations that severely impact our economy but have relatively minor impacts on pollution and climate do not make sense. The fact is that the US is already at the top in terms of environmental regulations. Also whatever we do locally or even in the entire country is only a small percentage of the planet. Additionally, we can cripple our economy and make everything we produce more expensive, make exporting more difficult, raise consumer costs, etc., while much of the world including our adversaries such as China have much less restrictions. It will do us no good to ‘lead by example’ to the point that we become a second or third rate economic and military power while other places are profiting and not following our lead anyway, because once our world standing diminishes our ‘lead by example’ strategy will be even less effective.

    • Zephyr says:

      Addressing climate change is far better for the economy than standing by while destructive storms, wildfires, droughts, floods, etc. destroy communities, businesses, and economies. Already, solar and wind power are challenging fossil fuel generation on a pure cost basis, while at the same time generating new jobs. I have seen a reduction in my personal energy bill by adopting LED lights everywhere possible. People owning electric cars report vastly reduced maintenance and fueling costs, and already the lifetime cost of owning an EV is lower than an equivalent fossil fuel vehicle. There will always be winners and losers, but fighting climate change can be good for the overall economy.

    • Michael R Kennedy says:

      So your solution is basically to partially bury your head in the sand. Bandaid mitigation isn’t going to work in the long run. We have to bite the bullet and change our carbon footprint. Runaway greenhouse effect is not desirable. We can live with less and be happier. We can become just as powerful by leading by example.

    • Vanessa B says:

      Addressing the climate crisis will do literally the opposite of crippling the economy. On the contrary, doing so is the only thing that can save it. All of the nations that keep being cited as “irresponsible” here in a problematic way are doing that – **especially China, even though they for sure still burn a lot of carbon.

      But the most sure fire way to drive America into serious, crippling poverty is to pretend we can trash the natural world and and everything will be fine. Louisiana is getting another hurricane this week, on top of Ida. Let’s be amoral jerks and forget the human suffering for a sec, and just think about economics: there isn’t enough oil to burn forever, and bigger upon bigger hurricanes will just trash all our rigs as we keep pumping carbon into the atmosphere to make bigger hurricanes. Wildfires will threaten factories, office buildings, etc. The 120 degree days in the northwest this year literally melted bridges. How do you get to consumers who are burned, drowned, dying of climate produced disease and heat exhaustion? Even ignoring that, dwindling supplies of fossil fuels will drive prices beyond what any company can pay.

      I personally don’t find most of what Americans call “capitalism” to be moral, but for the life of me I do not get why the capitalist barrons think they’re just gonna ride this stuff out with fortunes intact. The tech bros will probably survive, but everyone financially tied to fossil fuels are literally doomed, one way or another. Any of them that don’t get that are fools, and don’t deserve a dime of investment or to be taken seriously.

      • JB says:

        Vanessa, I certainly agree with you on most of what you are saying (literally installing an electric car charging station this week). But I think that the real scary thing is that “Peak Oil”, the point at which oil scarcity completely cripples an oil-dependent global economy, is farther off into the future than maybe was thought a few decades ago, before experimental technologies had been tried and tested to unlock massive unconventional “pseudo-oil” reserves. And I also think that all of the mega-rich individuals and corporations who have fossil fuels in their portfolios will be just fine, no matter what happens to the economy or the climate. It’s the rest of us who are in for a shock, especially considering how little proactive thought about logistics and detail is actually coming out of “capitalism”, if we can even call it that anymore (a topic for another time).

        For example, Zephyr mentioned the issue of decoupling fossil fuels and global agriculture, since fossil fuel-intensive ammonia fertilizers supply half of all nitrogen input to the world’s crops–either by switching to electrolysis of water versus steam reforming natural gas for hydrogen feedstock for the Haber process (even more energy intensive), or by growing more nitrogen-fixing legumes (which will require at least twice as much land to sustain current yields), or perhaps by doing something else (like decreasing the human population that we need to feed). But, even setting aside things like the potentially environmentally devastating costs of renewable energy done wrong (think Hydro-Quebec-sized reservoirs and huge mining operations for rare or toxic materials like tellurium, indium, cadmium, lithium, etc. for photovoltaics and batteries, and so on) or the economic bottlenecks that will almost certainly result at some point, how do we find scalable and less damaging alternatives to fossil fuel-dependent commodities like plastics (steam cracking of fossil fuel-based hydrocarbons for monomers and additive feedstock vs. agriculture-intensive and currently impractical bioplastics vs. wood-intensive paper vs. the modern impracticalities of glass), detergents (steam cracking of more hydrocarbons as feedstock for the Ziegler process vs. massive palm and coconut oil plantations), pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, paints and coatings, building materials, industrially-essential lubricants and catalysts, etc.? All of these things are literally produced in the millions of tons per year, relying upon millions of tons of petroleum feedstock and thousands of intermediate chemical processes, and our society is not seriously even considering how to replace more than maybe a few dozen of those industrial processes. The point is that our society owes a great deal of debt to fossil fuels; most of our quality of life gains of the past century are literally an outgrowth of the oil industry. Phasing that industry out to any real extent would involve nothing less than radically changing almost everything about our modern lives. Our houses, our clothes, the colors on our walls, and just about every other mass-produced thing would need to fundamentally change by design, rather than by simple substitution of fossil fuels with bio-renewables. Modern people were doomed to a life of disappointment the moment that James Young invented paraffin lamp oil. Or, rather, we were doomed to an economic boom-bust cycle that will be more bust than boom for the rest of our late-stage-capitalism lives. The trick now will be to accept the laws of physics and realize that the Star Wars movies were not scientifically accurate.

        • Zephyr says:

          JB, I think that too many people dismiss the really low-hanging fruit to fight climate change–reduce overall energy use with some simple changes that in many cases have very little downsides other than the difficulty of changing people’s habits, and they may actually have upsides in better health. Just for example, what if everyone heated and cooled their homes a little less? Do cars and trucks really need 300 HP? Require every school and public building be accessible on foot and by bicycle? What if we mandated one day a week of no shopping like used to be the default for religious reasons? I would argue that might also mean a day of rest for many. Slowing shipping down by a few miles per hour would result in vast fuel savings. Same with highway speeds. Choose lighter colors for rooftops in warm climates. Choose lighter colors for pavement in cities. Refuse to insure anything within say 1/2 mile of a coastline or flood zone. Sure, people can stay there, but they have to pay for their bad choices. Lots of stuff can be done that would be quick, relatively easy technically, but might be horrible politically. The problem is we are ruled by people terrified of angering their rich patrons.

          • JB says:

            Zephyr, very good point. That sort of goes along with what I was saying. We’re not going to replace bunker oil burning container shipping any time soon, but producing more end-products domestically, shipping more slowly and utilizing rotor sails could probably reduce consumption by more than a quarter. No matter what, people who are accustomed to massive chemical and energy consumption, with little or no conservation, need to realize that this stuff is just simply not possible without massive amounts of fossil petroleum.

        • Vanessa B says:

          Question if I may: I first read about peak oil over 15 years ago from a source that only covered it tangentially related to a lot of other stuff, in a book that looking back was interesting to my teenage self but doesn’t really hold water now.

          But that doesn’t mean the concept isn’t legit – we are totally gonna run out of oil. I think the question is when, if we keep burning at present rates. Do you have a recommendation for a good source to read on this topic? Many thanks!

          • JB says:

            Yes, there is a finite amount of fossil fuels, at least on human timescales. We know that despite how little we know about geochemical processes. My understanding is that it’s going to get more expensive to extract in our lifetimes–we could burn less for energy, but we are so reliant upon petroleum for so much more than just energy that we don’t really have a choice but to keep refining the stuff in large quantities. That is why I think that the kinds of supply chain disruptions, inflation, growing inequality, etc. of the past year are going to be an economic reality for the rest of our lives, regardless of any Green New Deal, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0.

            THE analysis of the unconventional oil boom is “Maugeri, L. (2012). Oil: the next revolution.”. From the introduction: “Oil is not in short supply. From a purely physical point of view, there are huge volumes of conventional and unconventional oils still to be developed, with no ‘peak-oil’ in sight. The real problems concerning future oil production are above the surface, not beneath it, and relate to political decisions and geopolitical instability.” Though the report is outdated, Maugeri was one of those rare experts who seemed to be able to predict the future: “… if an oil price collapse were to occur after 2015, a prolonged phase of overproduction could take place, because production capacity would have already expanded and production costs would have decreased as expected … The opposite could also happen. A sudden rebound of the world economy could strain the equilibrium of oil demand and supply, particularly if accompanied by geopolitical tensions. This scenario, however, would support an even stronger rush to develop new oil reserves and
            production.” …Sound familiar?

            The most famous book on the history of the industry is Daniel Yergin’s “The prize: The epic quest for oil, money & power. ” I admit to not having read more than a small part of this massive treatise. And it cannot possibly include nearly everything history-related, even everything known before its original publication date of 1990 (for example, it only mentions the name James Young once).

            Sadly, there is no real comprehensive volume that I am aware of examining how much, if any, that we can do to replace petroleum-dependent industrial chemistry processes. I’m not sure if you have any organic chemistry under your belt, but that would certainly help if you are more interested in any of that. Learning about how reliant our society is upon processes that can only be economically scaled utilizing fossil fuel feedstock involves a lot of technical jargon and references like Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry or Google Patents. I have always had a lot of interests that overlap with that field, so I have picked things up here and there over the years. I am nowhere near an expert.

            Lastly, one simple spark that ended up accelerated my armchair personal interest in the larger global supply chain was a short little book, which I happened to stumbleupon about 10 years ago when I should have been finishing college, called The Toaster Project. It’s about a British college student who attempted to build a toaster from literally from the ground up–mining minerals, refining steel, making bioplastic (there is an interesting anecdote about calling a major oil company to get some raw crude to make actual plastic, but being turned down). It doesn’t resemble anything even close to state-of-the-art organic chemistry or industrial grey literature, but I am not ashamed to admit that it was $10 and a climatologically average autumn afternoon very well spent! Often the most sophisticated philosophical breakthroughs are to be found in those things that seem the most frivolous and childish.

  9. JB says:

    Before even reading the content of this post, Dr. Oren Lyons was on my mind. It seems that Mr. Gibson has already beaten me to the punch! Growing up not far from the Onondaga Nation, I cannot help but feel a sense of kinship with such determined and impassioned advocates for that special place, so beautiful, biodiverse and unique, yet so polluted, imperilled and neglected. The indigenous perspective is one of warmth and welcoming of others, but also one that is acutely aware of the damage that people can do. To quote a recent @OnondogaNation Twitter post: “Sge•noñ’ Dave Matthews Band and welcome back to our sacred lake! Please remember to #DontDrinktheWater and to stay on the paved paths while visiting.”

    Then, I continued on, to the commentaries. The gang’s all here. As usual, Boreas is dependably, unerringly and precisely pragmatic with a good measured helping of benthically-deep ecology; Zephyr is no stranger to pragmatism, either, with the jaded yet optimistic humanism of a dignified habitué; Vanessa nailed it on the millenarian angst, the back-to-naturism amidst the fear of missing out on the foregone glory of planet Earth herself; and louis curth reliably synthesizes it all into digestible form, pulling back the lens even farther for posterity. I hope that I will not detract from any of those interesting perspectives with a comment of my own (and I hope that I will not seem loftily outré, either).

    Part of the conundrum here is the paradox of human abstraction, specifically the abstraction of the part versus the whole. Connection to place (“place attachment”) is fading by the wayside in a global, hypermobile world, and it is paradoxically difficult to care for the world in its entirety without a deep connection to any of its infinitesimal parts. Scientific inquiry, enlightened epistemology, and complex technologies to diminish vast expanses of space and time at whim promise us the power to overcome the restraints that have chained our knowable worlds the specific domains of our solitary experiences, but these modern developments also do not defer to anything that is native to the world that begat them–not the passions of the human heart nor the harmonies that have sustained and rooted us through the eons into the natural world.

    Worse, as we lose connection to place, and we lose places to anthropogenic change, we lose culture. Culture is a way of life adapted to specific conditions. And ultimately, as I see it, this loss of culture is the source of the angst of the new generations that evokes such powerful feelings of anger and despair. Sure, youth have always rebelled against older generations and newer cultures have always replaced older ones–I know this despite my lack of seniority in this conversation. But as one from the under-forty demographic, I also know that my generation and the ones that came after me are having to chart their own paths through very novel territory; physical instability on a global scale is fostering rebellion, which leads to a mutual belligerence that fosters more rebellion and more physical instability. It is not just grumpy old Trumpists who feel that established institutions are failing to provide them with acceptable paths forward. And maybe this type of social phenomenon is something through which civilizations can and have sustained themselves, but we have no precedent for the responsible use of our modern technologies and, more importantly, these new systems of knowledge.

    The sky will always look like it is falling to those who are looking down from an altitude of 2 million feet, and everything will seem to be too far away to do anything about it. Bad ideas become more powerful when they can travel across oceans and continents in milliseconds. The natural world becomes nothing more than a kaleidoscopic collection of megapixels when nothing can escape the lens of the ubiquitous camera phone. Consequently, it is becoming hard to understand what it truly means when data points represent physical locations, physical locations that cannot be refreshed or retouched, or shared by billions of people while remaining just as beautiful–while remaining just as meaningful to the beholder.

    As the next generations reckon with the dissonance between phantasmagoria and nature, between the two walls of the chasm that channels the kalos of young minds, we can watch the collective trains of thought evolving in real time: Parody teen reality television morphed into tongue-in-cheek wilderness survival shows, which a new domesticated vanguard took entirely too seriously, until finally assimilating into capitalist society as cottagecore social media personalities, whose unrealistic portrayal of bliss continues to cause yet another generation to feel badly about their own lives. Eventually, all of us will need to figure all of this out–neither have the older generations fared so well in the face of rapid mass adoption of disruptive new technologies and the new ideologies that follow in their wake. The amplified cries of unhappiness will not be the death knell of this generation, just as emotion has not completely overcome any generation that has come before us–this, too, must pass, even if the ineffable portentousness of objective reality remains. No, our ultimate undoing can and will only come from one place: the prodigious consumption and generation of previously impossible opiates of the masses, hyperbolically stronger, more sophisticated, more spectacular, and evermore harmful. An apocalypse can only fall upon a world that is already blind to it.

  10. louis curth says:

    Thirty three responses and counting in response to Dave Gibson’s thought provoking piece on our climate woes. Sorry JB. This discussion is way beyond anything that I can synthesize. However, it does remind me of of similar discussions among the environmental idealists of the Upper Hudson Environmental Action Committee (UHEAC) back in the 1970s.

    Our board meetings were at various homes. We might be comfortably ensconced at Olmstedville with Peter and Ann Hornbeck, or by the river with Paul and Linda Little, or even at my place (except in mud season). Like the Almanack commenters here, we loved to get deep into our discussions until, invariably Grace Huggard,our older and wiser secretary, a longtime activist with the League of Women Voters, would sigh and exclaim; “It’s getting late and we need to call the question so we can all go home tonight.”

    So I guess I would only say to all you commenters; IT IS LATE, and we need to “call the question” on climate change and act or there won’t be much left worth saving of our beautiful earth for Vanessa’s baby or my granddaughter or any of the rest of the world’s young people.

    At the risk of repeating myself, we the people – all of us – MUST begin by looking past our differences and becoming a real community once again. We need to get involved locally and politically. We must demand better from our elected leaders of both parties. They need to work together for the good of all of us – not just the corporations and the billionaires. As for the Republicans, my former party, they need to stop their strategic silence in the face of the lies and conspiracies that threaten the very core of America’s democracy, and get back to the work of the people – all the people.

    • Zephyr says:

      “As for the Republicans, my former party, they need to stop their strategic silence in the face of the lies and conspiracies that threaten the very core of America’s democracy, and get back to the work of the people – all the people.”

      Single most important thing any registered Republican can do is quit the party and send a letter to your local party chair explaining that you will not support a party or any candidate that doesn’t renounce the crazy that the party has become. My wife is a registered Independent, so periodically I get to excoriate the sad Republicans who show up at our door looking for her vote. They seem to have given up in recent years, knowing I will give them an earful.

      • Zephyr says:

        Unfortunately, this is the direction the Republican Party has chosen and we need to fight it at every level:

      • JB says:

        Reminds me of a scary phone call that I got last year. Heavy breathing, muffled young voices of diabolical “oh, we’re going to destroy them; they can’t hide from us; etc.” I was so utterly freaked out until I got the nerve to call back and realized that Stefanik’s campaign had butt-dialed me!

        Life is becoming less and less eudaimonically appealing between the extremes of human behavior. I personally do not think that a life between extremes is objectively becoming less meaningful, but that it is some kind of mass psychology phenomenon of a society that has given up on its own future and resigned itself to living in the cold and dark vacuum of subjective verisimilitude. I say that, of course, as someone who lives more of an extreme and purist lifestyle than is possible for most. Coming back down to earth is the hard part, at least for me, a child of this modern age.

        • Zephyr says:

          Exhibit B: “If there’s anything that needs replacing in this country — and in the Republican party — it’s the hateful rhetoric that Ms. Stefanik and far too many of her colleagues so shamelessly spew.”

          • JohnL says:

            You’ve GOT to be kidding me Z. One person writes in and gives an unsubstantiated account of a ‘butt dial’ they got and you go to the races based on that. The hateful rhetoric in this country started in earnest the day President Trump was elected and was done by ‘your’ party and it lasted from that day forward. You couldn’t stand it that your annointed one, HRC, was a horrible candidate and got beaten. Several unsuccessful impeachments later, again, by your party, and we are where we are. It’s undeniable, or, as you like to say about climate change, er, global warming, or whatever you call it these days…..settled science. That’s all I’m going to say, unless, of course, you make some other outragous statement