age of stupid image

The movie ‘The Age of Stupid’ shows the fate of Las Vegas and the world in 2055 if we do nothing to stop climate change. // photo from ‘The Age of Stupid’

So, we’re still here. The Mayans weren’t signaling an end of the world, only an end to an era.

On the other hand, that means we are not off the hook on climate change, which could hasten the end of the world as we know it.

To close out the year, here’s a list in no particular order of  the top 10 warning signals. … Well, I don’t know if they are the top 10, but they are 10 that sure alarmed me. Feel free to add reports you’ve seen in the comments:

1. A report commissioned by the World Bank outlines the severe effects from a 4-degree-Celsius temperature rise even if countries meet current pledges to cut emissions. If they fail that, the results would be even worse. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said: “This report is a sobering look at what a 4-degree-Celsius warmer world would look like. There would be massive disruption in some of our most basic systems—water supply, the viability of coastal cities, entire populations that live in low-lying areas. But moreover, it has implications for disaster risk management. It has implications for food supply. And most importantly for us, the worst impacts are going to happen in the poorest countries, to the poorest people.” Read the World Bank report here or Amy Goodman’s segment on the report here.

2. Last month, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization reported that greenhouse gas emission in 2011 broke all records. “Between 1990 and 2011 there was a 30% increase in radiative forcing—the warming effect on our climate—because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping, long-lived gases,” the report said. The report also said that methane in the atmosphere reached “a new high of about 1813 parts per billion (ppb) in 2011, or 259% of the pre-industrial level, due to increased emissions from anthropogenic sources.” Although methane levels had been leveling off, since 2007 they have been on the rise again. (That is also the time frame for the boom in fracking, but the report doesn’t list a cause). Methane lasts about a dozen years in the atmosphere, compared with 100 years for CO2, but it holds far more heat-trapping gases while there. Compared over 100 years, it’s 21 times worse for the climate than CO2; compared over 20 years, it’s 72 times worse.

3. The U.N. Environment Program reported last month that keeping global warming to 2 degrees C this century, which nations around the world agreed was the safe level, is increasingly unlikely. Its Emissions Gap Report said that instead of declining, “total greenhouse gas emissions have risen from around 40 [gigatons] in 2000 to an estimated 50.1 Gt in 2010.” This report brings a new twist on the admonition to “mind the gap.” At this rate, global temperatures could rise a very uncomfortable 3 to 5 degrees C (or 5.4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, the report said.
4. A University of Pennsylvania study has found that sea levels worldwide are rising 60 percent faster than was anticipated by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “This study shows once again that the IPCC is far from alarmist, but in fact has underestimated the problem of climate change,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, the German oceanographer and climatologist who led the study. “That applies not just for sea-level rise, but also to extreme events and the Arctic sea-ice loss.” Reports on the study are here and here.

5. NOAA’s Arctic Report Card reported a “rare, nearly ice-sheet-wide [surface] melt” of Greenland’s glacier this summer. The annual melt season was also the longest on record. When Greenland surface ice thaws, it reflects less sunlight, which in turn accelerates warming.

6. Arctic sea ice also hit a record low this summer. “The last six years have the six smallest minimum extents since satellite observations began in 1979,” the Arctic Report Card said. NOAA’s Climate Watch magazine also notes the loss of old, thick ice and the prevalence of young, salty new ice that is more prone to melting.

7.  A study in the journal Science shows the world’s biggest, oldest trees are dying off at an alarming rate from a combination of climate change (heat, drought, forest fires) , logging, land clearing, disease and insect attacks (also linked to warming). The New York Times has a report here.  Nate McDowell, a staff scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico studies tree deaths.

8. The 1990 predictions from climate scientists for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have proved quite accurate, according to a report in the journal Nature Climate Change. They are not making this stuff up — or exaggerating.

9. “Every year counts,” according to Thomas Stocker, a professor of climate and environmental physics at the University of Bern in Switzerland, in a paper in the journal Science in November. “I am a fundamentally optimistic person, but it is getting more and more difficult, because I see the message of science has not fundamentally changed from when I started working in this field, which was 20 years ago.” he told

10. Biodiversity and ecosystems are already in trouble because of climate change, according to a report led by the U.S. Geological Survey. The report lists population declines, a shift in where species range, localized extinctions (those species that can’t shift are the ones facing extinction), “interactions among species that have not existed in the past,” and “mismatches” of timing and distribution of plants and animals. For example, pollinators arrive after plants have bloomed, oceans are too warm for fish eggs to survive or plants emerge too soon for young caribou to survive. Common Dreams wrote about the study here.

Other signs of climate disruption abound (record drought, record low water levels on the Mississippi River, record forest fires, record damage from storms, projections of food shortages……).  As Lester Brown said at Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s recent Drilling Down conference, “Time is our scarcest resource.”

–elisabeth hoffman



red-hot dice

August 6, 2012


James Hansen says droughts we have been experiencing can be linked to climate change.//photo by Tomas Castelazo/Wikimedia

Nothing like searing heat outside to focus the mind on a changing climate. Or warnings from NASA’s James E. Hansen, whose latest analysis indicates that climate change is already producing extreme weather.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post today, he discusses his and his colleagues’ analysis of the last six decades of global temperatures. Hansen, who first warned in 1988 about global warming brought on by the burning of fossil fuels, writes, “My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.” This latest analysis, to be published tomorrow in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.”

Again, as he did in 1988, Hansen uses dice to show our predicament. Fifty years ago, weather was variable but more predictable. Two sides of the die were colored white, or normal; two sides were blue, or cooler than normal; and two sides were red, or warmer than normal. “Rolling the die again and again, or season after season, you would get an equal variation of weather over time.”  Now, the dice are loaded, he said, with four sides colored red, or warmer than usual.

He says the heat waves in 2003 in Europe and 2010 in Russia, and the droughts last year in Texas and Oklahoma, “can each be attributed to climate change.” This hot summer “likely” will be as well. “These weather events are not simply an example of what climate change could bring — they are caused by climate change. The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills,” he said.

Using bell curve graphs and big dice, Hansen also explains the analysis — and the implications — in an interview yesterday on PBS’ “NewsHour.” “What I didn’t think about at the time in the 1980s was that as we push the climate toward … these higher temperatures, the extremes, the highest temperatures, will be very extreme.” The temperature increase in the last few decades, he said, is enough to “change the frequency of these extreme events by a large amount” and has “now driven our climate outside the range that’s existed the last 10,000 years,” the time when human civilization developed. “It’s the large anomalies that have the practical impact,” such as in droughts, wildfires and heat waves.

According to the Guardian, scientists from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) carried the same message when testifying Wednesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“It is critical to understand that the link between climate change and the kinds of extremes that lead to disaster is clear,” said climate scientist Dr. Christopher Field, a lead author of the IPCC report.

Dr. James McCarthy, professor at Harvard University and author of several IPCC climate studies, also said that as greenhouse gases continue to rise, natural events like El Niño cycles “will wreak even more havoc as they break old records for warm and wet conditions across much of the globe, because they will be occurring upon a higher baseline of warming.” The Washington Post and New York Times didn’t cover the hearing. The Baltimore Sun covered the hearing, with a focus on how Maryland must adapt to climate change.  (Reminder: Comments on the state’s draft Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan are due Aug. 17 email: )

According to the Guardian, the hearing devolved into an exchange about whether global warming was a hoax — with Republican Sens. James Inhofe (Okla.) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.) on the hoax side, and Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on the other. Sanders responded with a 40-minute speech to the Senate the next day, in which he urged Inhofe to reconsider his position.

“There is much more to be said [about global warming] because here on the floor of the Senate we are saying virtually nothing. …We look pretty dumb to the rest of the world by ignoring what many scientists believe is the major environmental crisis of our time, which, if we don’t get a handle on, will have profound impacts on the well-being of this country and countries throughout this world.”

elisabeth hoffman


Wheat berry salad/photo by Julian Hoffman-Mateya

If visions of hamburgers and hot dogs are dancing in your head this July 4th eve, you might want to consider that livestock and their byproducts contribute at least 32.6 billion tons of CO2 equivalents each year, or 51 percent  of  greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). That’s the number Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang arrived at in a report for World Watch Institute.  In their report, Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are cows, pigs, and chickens?, they concluded that previous studies had  undercounted or overlooked many sources of emissions.  

Already taken into account in other research, chiefly a 2006 report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),  were the emissions from land cleared to graze livestock and grow feed, and then to process and transport  those burgers and sausages. The FAO study concluded that 18 percent of GHG emissions were related to animal consumption. But that study discounted, for example, breathing by cows and even suggested that livestock, before they are consumed, are a carbon sink. Goodland and Anhang find that notion absurd, noting that the amount of carbon stored in grazing cows is “trivial” compared to the amount stored in the forests that had to be cleared. So breathing by cows doesn’t get a pass from them:  “Livestock (like automobiles) are a human invention and convenience, not part of pre-human times, and a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no more natural than one from an auto tailpipe.”

Some of the other GHG sources overlooked in the earlier studies: the higher temperatures needed to cook meat – often on charcoal (even at your cookout);  the disposal of GHG-emitting livestock waste in landfills; production, distribution and disposal of the packaging required for meats (which, for sanitary reasons, has to be more intensive than for non-meats); the use of fluorocarbons, which is needed  for cooling livestock much more than for non-meats (think large fans needed to keep pigs and cows cool); the reduction in GHG emissions from photosynthesis that is forgone because 26 percent of land worldwide is used for grazing livestock and 33 percent of arable land is used for growing feed; and the “carbon intensive medical treatment of millions of cases worldwide of zoonotic illnesses (such as swine flu) and chronic degenerative illnesses (such as coronary heart disease, cancers, diabetes, and hypertension leading to strokes) linked to the consumption of livestock products.”

So, meat consumption is bad for the planet, bad for human health, and, from the animal’s point of view, bad for animals. A trifecta.  Pick your reason to forgo meat …or pick your poison.

Philip Wollen, an Australian philanthropist and former VP of Citibank,  also has made a passionate argument for not eating animals. He notes, for example, “If everyone ate a Western diet, we would need 2 Planet Earths to feed them. We only have one. And she is dying” and “Greenhouse gas from livestock is 50% more than transport . . . . . planes, trains, trucks, cars, and ships.”

But what will you eat?

Here’s a simple yet colorful, delicious and filling recipe for July 4th that is better for the planet, you and the animals. It’s from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  You could always have corn on the cob with it.

Wheat berry salad with peanuts and fresh and dried fruit 

3 ripe peaches (or more)

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1/8 to 1/4 cup olive oil

2 T red wine vinegar

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups cooked whole wheat berries  (about a cup dried)

1/2 large or 1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced, separated into rings (or I use 4 or 5 green onions, chopped)

1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries

1/2 cup roasted peanuts (or walnuts or pistachios)

1)      Whisk the herb, oil and vinegar along with some salt and pepper in a bowl.

2)      Cut up the peaches and add to the oil and vinegar mix  (cut peaches over the bowl so you use the juices)

3)      Add the cooked wheat berries, onion and dried fruit. Toss and adjust seasonings

4)      Serve topped with the peanuts (Best not to mix the peanuts into the salad because if you have leftovers, the nuts get soggy. blah)

Note for the wheat berries: I rinse about  1 1/4 c organic wheat berries and put them in a pot with enough water to cover the berries by about 1-1/2 inches. I bring that to a boil and cook for maybe 8  mins. Then I turn off the heat and walk away until I’m ready to assemble the salad. You don’t want the wheat berries to get too soggy, so don’t use too much water. The berries are chewy when done. With this method, you don’t have to leave the pot boiling for 40 or 45 mins., so you use less energy. Works with rice, too. 

Happy Fourth….

—Elisabeth Hoffman

Lore joins teens at a rally in front of the courthouse. Photo by Ruth Alice

Yesterday morning in US District Court in DC, Kids vs Global Warming asked that their case against the US government be allowed to proceed. Kids vs Global Warming says in its lawsuit that the US govt has an obligation to protect the atmosphere for current and future generations. They are asking the feds to lower emissions of CO2 by at least 6 percent a year starting in 2013.  Today, the judge heard a motion from industry groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, to dismiss the suit. The lead plaintiff is 17-year-old Alec Loorz, who saw An Inconvenient Truth and became an activist at age 12. (The suit is Alec L. et. al vs. Lisa P. Jackson, et. al., although the defendants include the heads of Commerce, Interior, Commerce, Defense, Energy, and Agriculture departments.)

David Swanson, who spoke at the rally outside the hearing, posted this blog about the day.

The Atlantic and also had articles about Alec and his lawsuit.

“I think a lot of young people realize that this is an urgent time, and that we’re not going to solve this problem just by riding our bikes more,” Alec Loorz said in an interview in The Atlantic.