Boston Climate & Sea-Level Update – January 2019

[This information represents the Boston news component of a lager series: Climate & Sea-Level Update: Digital Dispatches from a World on the Edge]


Since the October 2018 update, scientific evidence of the mounting climate crisis has continued to accumulate.  At the same time, central governments in the United States and in other parts of the world have effectively retreated both in their capacity and stated intentions to cope with our global climate emergency.  This leaves citizens around the world with a new kind of crisis which calls out for a new kind of strategy to assure the survival of global civilization.  There are signs that it is emerging, but the question of pace is crucial.  Can global consciousness develop fast enough and effectively enough to devise strategies for survival in the face of the onrush of climate-driven catastrophes?

The Mounting Scientific Evidence:
In the last six months, since the summer of 2018, there has been a crescendo of scientific reports reaching the public on the scope and gravity of the global climate crisis.  In August, an important report was published by scientists warning of “hothouse earth” conditions that could lead to the imminent threat to modern civilization.  This report was followed shortly by a further statement from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), making it clear that they estimated the world had only 12 years left to reverse its excessive use of carbon fuels before climate change could reach the point of no return, well beyond human capacity to stabilize it in any way.

In addition to this information, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its 2018 annual “Arctic Report Card,” indicating that the Arctic was warming at an alarming and dangerous rates.  This U.S. government study was followed in early December by a report of the United Nations’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warning of worrisome trends and patterns of global weather.

Perhaps most important for the United States, by the end of November, 13 government agencies in mutual consultation issued Volume II of the “Fourth National Climate Assessment.”  This report was undertaken as a Congressionally mandated study to provide up-to-date information for the public and policy-makers about the impact climate change is having and will be expected to have on sectors of the American economy and specific regions of the country.  It is a massive study with in excess of 1,600 pages of well documented detail that will prove useful for individuals, cities, states and regional planning organizations in devising means of adapting to climate change in the decades ahead.

Despite the internationally recognized character of its scope and the quality of its detailed conclusions about the likely impacts of climate change on the United States society and economy, President Trump said he did not “believe it.”  Moreover, the Trump administration tried to minimize the importance of the report by having it released on “black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving — calculating, perhaps, that its significance would be overlooked in the weekend news and entertainment cycle as the public was distracted by post-Thanksgiving football games and purchasing in the pre-Christmas retail frenzy.

The disturbing news from climate scientists continued unceasingly in the new year, 2019, as a report from the Rhodium Group, — an independent research firm that tracks CO2 emissions in the U.S. — made it clear that U.S. carbon emissions are on the rise again after having slowed down in previous years.  Moreover, the Met Office in England projects that 2019 is likely to represent an even greater outpouring of carbon to the atmosphere.  Further scientific reports about the oceans indicated that the rate of ocean warming has been greater than previously estimated.

This news was published as a further report indicates that the Greenland ice-sheet is melting at four times the previously estimated rate — a fact that will accelerate the rate of sea-level rise on the coastal cities of the United States and the rest of the world.  Further, scientists have now recorded evidence that indicates the entire Arctic climate regime may now have reached or may shortly reach a tipping point of no return as it changes into a warmer Atlantic system, unknown in the last twelve thousand years.   The news of the loss of ice in Antarctica is equally alarming, particularly for its implications concerning global sea-level rise by the end of this century.   Finally, the process of  ocean acidification due to the absorption of increased atmospheric CO2 has threatened the entire reproduction of many vital forms of marine life on the planet.

U.S. Government Publicly Ridiculed in International Climate Meetings:
In the midst of the mounting evidence of the gravity of fossil-fuel induced climate change from scientists around the world the United Nations’ 24th Conference of Parties (COP 24) convened in Katowice, Poland to work our a “rule book” for implementing the Paris 2015 climate accord.  This conference was largely ignored by the corporate press in America, but it received more extensive coverage through alternate press sources.  Although the United States never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and the current administration has announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Global Climate agreement of 2015, the Trump Administration nevertheless sent a delegation to the meetings with the expressed intention of promoting further fossil fuel extraction and coal usage.

greta-challengeAs if this were not enough of an embarrassment, the entire assembled group of international delegates was addressed by Greta Thurnberg — a 15-year old Swedish school girl  — who scolded all of the world’s leaders of the Trump generation for abdicating their responsibility for the climate crisis and foisting its solution onto the shoulders of the younger generation who have been blocked in their constant efforts to avert the collective collapse of the civilization they will inherit.  The following month she issued a further strongly worded challenge to business and government leaders attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.  Her appeal has already had a marked success well beyond its immediate target audience, as students elsewhere in Europe have followed her lead to go on “strike” in protest to the enduring inaction of nation-states on the evident crisis of carbon emissions.  As Greta has turned sixteen since her initial action in Sweden and appearance at the Katowice, Poland COP24 meeting, her message has inspired tens of thousands of young citizens to protest government and corporate inaction and the movement is being taken up around the world.

Accelerated Reckless Fossil-Fuel Exploitation:
Far from restraining its carbon-intensive policies, the Trump administration has redoubled its efforts to exploit fossil fuels.  It is seeking to replace, Scott Pruitt, the disgraced and departed head of the Environmental Projection Agency (EPA), with Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyest for Murray Coal — one of the largest coal extractors the United States.  At the same time, before his resignation as Interior Secretary, under suspicion of illegal activities, Ryan Zinke presided over the “opening up” of public lands and off-shore drilling areas for oil and gas exploration.

Even a report of “dire risk” from the military about the importance of climate change for national security is effectively being ignored by the President.  In January 2019 the Pentagon issued a brief report entitled: “Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense,” but it appears that now that all the Generals who used to be in the White House entourage are gone from the administration, this military warning is likely to be overlooked.

At the same time, the suspension of normal government functions due to the government shutdown provoked by the President’s ultimatum on “the wall,” has led directly to the lapse of monitoring programs to assure the health and safety of the American public.  Several main government sources of climate news have been effectively “shut down” because of the partial government “shut down” now currently underway in the United States.

Beyond The Failed State:
It is perhaps not an exaggeration to suggest that the United States has become a “failed state” in reference to climate change policy.  As the climate change evidence becomes undeniable, the state itself has effectively shut down.  At the central government level it has demonstrated that it has become a totally owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel industries, doing their bidding with enthusiasm.   In this role it is doing everything wrong through its actions both to accelerate the rate of climate change on the one hand and obstruct any positive efforts to address the global climate crisis which it is working so hard to provoke.

Fortunately, federal government actions and policies do not tell the whole story of what is now going on in America.  President Trump’s actions have provoked the nation’s governors and mayors to respond with their own creative policies to address climate change.  In addition, non-governmental organizations like the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and the Sierra Club have begun to articulate particular climate policies on their own.  Individual donors and notable investment figures have recognized the urgency of responding to climate change with new initiatives they are crafting.  These initiatives are likely to increase as people begin to see how climate change is already affecting the value of their homes and the survivability of the lives of their children.


“You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”

For their part, educational institutions have developed freely accessible courses on climate change and public health as well as climate change and energy to inform the wider public.  So far, it is not yet clear that these “electronic instruction packages” from elite online institutions will be enough to do the trick of both informing and motivating the public.  What may be more effective in this regard is citizen-based courses focused on particular aspects of climate vulnerability that affect people locally so that they can join or create citizen groups to design meaningful ways to build climate resilience in their own communities.  These courses are beginning to emerge as people throughout the country realize that they need to know more and that the scope and pace of the changing climate is overwhelming the capacity of traditional institutions to keep them informed or provide guidance on how to act.

For previous Boston Climate & Sea-Level Updates see:

View the global Climate & Sea-Level Update – “Home Page.”

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