Arif Hasan and Ben Natan discuss the President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords and what it means for the United States and the world when it comes to climate change. A quick rundown on the realities of climate change precedes a discussion about solutions. They also briefly touch on the politics of terror and the new Wonder Woman movie.
Use the audio player above or download the episode directly. The audio player is also embedded throughout the article.We’re now on iTunes and Stitcher. Alternatively, you can subscribe using our RSS feed.
Episode Notes (Leaks):
The Intercept’s initial report on this new round of leaks is seismic. Find the story here.
My intuition that the Intercept fucked up in protecting their source might be closer to correct than I initially thought. Here’s one way the NSA could have tracked where the leaks came from.
Today, The Intercept released documents on election tampering from an NSA leaker. Later, the arrest warrant request for an NSA contractor named “Reality Winner” was published, showing how they tracked her down because she had printed out the documents and sent them to The Intercept. The document posted by the Intercept isn’t the original PDF file, but a PDF containing the pictures of the printed version that was then later scanned in.
The problem is that most new printers print nearly invisibly yellow dots that track down exactly when and where documents, any document, is printed. Because the NSA logs all printing jobs on its printers, it can use this to match up precisely who printed the document.
Here’s the New York Times story that does a bit more to elucidate on Reality Winner’s arrest.
“Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation’s security and undermines public faith in government,” he said. “People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation.”
Espionage Act charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, although conventional leak cases have typically resulted in prison terms of one to three years.
Once rare, leak cases have become far more common in the 21st century, in part because of electronic trails that make it easier for investigators to determine who both had access to a leaked document and was in contact with a reporter. Depending on how they are counted, the Obama administration brought nine or 10 leak-related prosecutions — about twice as many as were brought under all previous presidencies combined.
Our Russia, Russia, Russia episode discusses the genesis of the Russia scandal and what it means in terms of Russia’s larger geostrategic goals.
Episode Notes (Terrorism):
First, listen to our episode on civilian strikes. In it, we discuss much of what causes international terrorism and how those might inform our potential solutions.
Trump’s first response to the London terror attack was to lie about mayor Sadiq Khan’s words, intentionally leaving out context in order to distort meaning.
Trump’s decision to respond to the London attack first by using it to promote his immigration policies, and then by picking a fight with the city’s mayor, is likely to darken the shadow already hanging over his proposed state visit to the UK later this year.
In the two weeks following the announcement of the visit in January, nearly 2 million people signed an online petition in the UK calling for it be cancelled. Khan himself said Trump that should not be allowed to come to London until he revoked his proposed ban on travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries. Trump is vociferously campaigning for the ban to be approved by US courts.
Incidentally, the Manchester bomber was reported by the Muslim community two years ago. There’s quite a bit of information on him in the Independent.
Episode Notes (Anthropogenic Warming):
The IPCC’s report on warming stands, but the important figures from the report that indicate that warming is real and anthropogenic aren’t just found in the global mean temperature rise. You can find a summary of all of the proxy and ancillary evidence of global climate change that have meaningful consequences in today’s society in this Union of Concerned Scientists piece. They list a number of factors, including:
- Glacier retreat
- Permafrost melt
- Agricultural shifts
- Changes in migration patterns
- Summer sea ice area
- Air temperatures
- Ocean temperatures
- Rising CO2 levels as measured by parts-per-million in the atmosphere
- Strings of “hottest years on record”
- Increases in storm frequency
- Increases in storm intensity
- Longer, more intense and more frequent heat waves
- Wildfire incidence increases
The UCS has a good summary on the reasoning behind anthropogenically driven warming, too.
So how do scientists know that today’s warming is primarily caused by humans putting too much carbon in the atmosphere when we burn coal, oil, and gas or cut down forests?
There are human fingerprints on carbon overload. When humans burn coal, oil and gas (fossil fuels) to generate electricity or drive our cars, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, where it traps heat. A carbon molecule that comes from fossil fuels and deforestation is “lighter” than the combined signal of those from other sources. As scientists measure the “weight” of carbon in the atmosphere over time they see a clear increase in the lighter molecules from fossil fuel and deforestation sources that correspond closely to the known trend in emissions.[2,3]
Natural changes alone can’t explain the temperature changes we’ve seen. For a computer model to accurately project the future climate, scientists must first ensure that it accurately reproduces observed temperature changes. When the models include only recorded natural climate drivers—such as the sun’s intensity—the models cannot accurately reproduce the observed warming of the past half century. When human-induced climate drivers are also included in the models, then they accurately capture recent temperature increases in the atmosphere and in the oceans.[4,5,6] When all the natural and human-induced climate drivers are compared to one another, the dramatic accumulation of carbon from human sources is by far the largest climate change driver over the past half century.
Lower-level atmosphere—which contains the carbon load—is expanding. The boundary between the lower atmosphere (troposphere) and the higher atmosphere (stratosphere) has shifted upward in recent decades. See the ozone FAQ for a figure illustrating the layers of the atmosphere.[6,7,8] This boundary has likely changed because heat-trapping gases accumulate in the lower atmosphere and that atmospheric layer expands as it heats up (much like warming the air in a balloon). And because less heat is escaping into the higher atmosphere, it is likely cooling. This differential would not occur if the sun was the sole climate driver, as solar changes would warm both atmospheric layers, and certainly would not have warmed one while cooling the other.
The EPA has deleted much of its climate change data, so it is sometimes difficult to find their old reports, but a 2006 report was summarized in this blog, which talked about the cow issue we mentioned on the podcast. The rise in CO2e emissions from livestock constitutes two percent of the emissions problem, whereas the contributions of vehicles alone is eight times the amount. When combined with electrical production, that rises to fifteen times the amount. And hey, animal feed changes might be able to resolve the issue!
The financial backing of climate skeptics is strong. It’s one reason why a global conspiracy doesn’t make much sense—individually, scientists gain much more notoriety and can earn more money by becoming a public advocate against climate legislation or by participating in slanted studies.
We know these studies carry implicit bias because of the funding networks behind them. The Scientific American did a good job covering a study of those financial networks and how they’ve become much more difficult to trace since 2007.
The arguments used to case doubt on climate scientists include a myth about how scientists thought the earth was cooling in the 1970s. Even the same journal that published the now-widely cited study predicting global cooling published a good number of opposing studies projecting warming. Another paper predicting cooling because it had radically underestimated the amount of CO2 being put into the atmosphere and projected an increase in aerosols that never appeared.
The consensus National Academy of Sciences issued a report in 1975 arguing that there was not enough of an understanding of climate science to make strong predictions about climate going forward, but that it was more likely that warming effects from CO2 were more significant than cooling effects from aerosol.
A 2008 article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society examined all the published studies from this time period to weigh what was really going on in climate science. It showed that there were far more studies projecting global warming than expressing concern about cooling. But that reality wasn’t reflected in what the public heard at the time.
Even the author of the now-famous Time article regrets his role in what is now a common argument for climate skeptics to cast doubt on scientists. Even by the end of the 1970s, we reached a consensus that we’d hit warming, not stasis or cooling:
But people who obsess about these few instances of cooling-focused press are being a bit selective. It’s not as if the concept of global warming was absent from the 1970s media (or even the 1950s or 1960s media). A 1977 New York Times headline read “Climate Peril May Force Limits on Coal and Oil, Carter Aide Says,” for example. Two years later the same paper ran a story that began, “There is a real possibility that some people now in their infancy will live to a time when the ice at the North Pole will have melted, a change that would cause swift and perhaps catastrophic changes in climate.” And the better stories about aerosol pollution all mentioned the warming influence of CO2 emissions.
As for the actual scientific debate about the net effect of aerosols and CO2, it was pretty well settled before the calendar flipped to 1980. Columbia University’s Wally Broecker wrote a 1975 paper (which was also covered in The New York Times) that argued that anthropogenic warming was due to resume; it even correctly estimated the amount of warming we would see before the close of the 20th century. A notable 1978 paper led by NASA’s James Hansen used the 1963 eruption of Mount Agung to refine models of aerosols.
And in 1979, the US National Academy of Sciences published a new report chaired by MIT’s Jule Charney. Rather than lamenting our inability to predict climate changes, this landmark “Charney Report” focused on quantifying Earth’s climatic sensitivity to atmospheric CO2.
The report stated, “We believe, therefore, that the equilibrium surface global warming due to doubled CO2 will be in the range 1.5°C to 4.5°C, with the most probable value near 3°C.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because the two most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports have said the same thing.
For those looking for a climate science toolbox of explanations and arguments about the various controversies underpinning climate science data, check out Skeptical Science for a comprehensive list of tools and arguments put together by the climate change advocacy community, including explanations for arguments tailored for basic, intermediate or advanced understandings of scientific literature.
There’s an incredible story in the Washington Post about a science teacher using excursions into nature in order to overcome inherent biases in a region that is skeptical of climate change, but nevertheless impacted by its presence.
The military has become increasingly concerned about climate change.
That’s because some of the Defense Department’s top officials have already expressed their fears that a warming planet poses serious threats to the US. Defense Secretary James Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee that climate change would make the world less stable and require the entire government to curb it. Obama’s last defense chief, Ashton Carter, said that climate change was a top strategic challenge for the US on par with terrorism and North Korea’s nuclear program.
In 2015, the Pentagon released a report detailing its concerns about climate change. The military is worried about increasing destabilization, the prospect of bases going underwater, flows of refugees, climate control costs and more.
So, to recap: US military installations are starting to flood, and could be inundated by the end of the century. Places where troops already serve — like in the Middle East — will continue to get hotter, which will cost the US more blood and treasure. And, that increased heat will make certain areas less stable, which could lead to an increase in terrorism — the very trend the US is working so hard to reverse.
Episode Notes (Paris Climate Accords):
Trump’s claims on India and China are not only outdated, but the opposite of true. Pod Save America reported that India has invested massive amounts of money and attention to solar and wind power generation. They put forward a goal of 100 GWh produced from renewable sources, which a lot of people thought was impossible. But they’ve already created 15 GWh of solar energy and the market for solar energy has exploded in India, and it looks like they’ll meet their goal. They’ve canceled production of coal plants because they’ve created a solar market so efficient it already outpaces coal as an energy source.
The Washington Post corroborated that and added a note about China.
But experts now predict that China’s carbon emissions will peak, and then begin to decline, significantly earlier than the country’s 2030 target, and the country is investing more in renewable energy than any other nation, pledging a further $360 billion by 2020.
. . .
Meanwhile, India — which set a target of increasing its renewable power capacity to 175 gigawatts by 2022 — has exceeded its targets for wind power this fiscal year and has made some strides in increasing its solar capacity, according to a study from the World Resources Institute. Recent low solar prices may make renewable power increasingly competitive, the study said.
The New York Times has also reported that China has canceled 103 coal plants.
We mentioned that there’s local approaches to the problem of the United States pulling out of the climate arrangement. I found many of those resources in this excellent Brookings Institution piece. It makes good arguments about the force of the deal despite it being voluntary in nature, but it also provides resources for localities attempting to make progress on climate change.
And yet, for all that, a measure of consolation can be had in the fact that state and local governments across the United States are already moving to limit the global fallout by renewing their own commitments to clean energy, which is the most important component of America’s contribution to the global climate solution.
. . .
As it happens, advocates of global climate action shrewdly devised a structure for these contributions that parallels that for nations. States and localities may, like nations, decide for themselves to set emissions reductions targets and declare these to the world. The Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) portal provides a platform that makes all other stakeholders aware of such pledges by registering them with the international community. Over 6,000 commitments by subnational governments around the world have been registered on the NAZCA portal to date. Verification that these jurisdictions are making progress toward fulfilling their commitments is provided by NAZCA’s eight internationally recognized partners, which have established standardized measuring and reporting methods.
Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine has pointed out that the predictions conservatives made about the Paris climate agreement have already become wrong:
Rather than lagging behind their promised targets, India and China are actually surpassing them. According to Climate Action Tracker, India, which had promised to reduce the emissions intensity of its economy by 33–35 percent by 2030, is now on track to reduce it by 42–45 percent by that date. China promised its total emissions would peak by 2030 — an ambitious goal for a rapidly industrializing economy. It is running at least a decade ahead of that goal.
. . .
Why are these countries blowing past their targets? Because the cost of zero-emissions energy sources is plunging. In India, solar energy not only costs less than energy from new coal plants, it costs less than energy from existing coal plants
. . .
The dominant spirit of conservative thought — or, more precisely, verbal gestures that seek to resemble thought — is not even skepticism but a trolling impulse. The aim is not so much to reason toward a policy conservatives would favor as to pierce the liberal claim to the moral high ground.
In case you wanted it, here’s John Oliver on the Paris climate agreement.