“A Brief History of the Climate Crisis,” final speech from Olean NY

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From the “Tomorrow is too late” event held in early March

by Nevin Oliphant

Four years ago, my family and I lived in Santa Clarita, California. A fireman knocked on our door one evening and told us we had to leave. A mile from our apartment we were driving down the road in front of a strip mall we shopped at and on the other side of the road the fire was coming down the hill a couple of hundred yards away. We stayed 75 miles away at my sister’s house for four days until we were allowed back into our apartment.

Later that same year, driving my daughters to their orthodontist appointment, we made it through a section of Los Angeles that was in flames just before they closed the freeway. My hour trip back home turned into 4 hours as we took a roundabout trip with millions of other people avoiding the fire.

The climate crisis is not around the corner, it is here. 2011 to 2020 was the hottest decade on record. Storms are more frequent and more severe. Droughts are increasingly severe worldwide. The ocean is warming and rising. Millions of species are at risk of extinction, and more pandemics are coming as habitats are destroyed. Poverty is increasing, creating massive migrations around the globe.

We’re seeing all of these things today, and it’ll be worse next year and much, much worse in the following years. How is this happening? Why didn’t we get a warning? Actually, we did. We chose to ignore the scientists and listen to corporate pundits and politicians because, after all, it’s just weather.

In 1896, over a hundred years ago, Svante Arrhenius predicted that changes in atmospheric CO2 would heat the surface with a “Greenhouse Effect.” Forty years later, in 1938, Guy Callendar published a study demonstrating that over the 45 years since 1890, atmospheric CO2 had risen by 10% and global temperature had risen by 0.5℃. In 1967 the first computer model of planet earth’s climate predicted a doubling of CO2in the atmosphere would result in a rise in global temperature of 2℃ (currently, the rise in CO2 is 50% and the corresponding temperature rise is 1.1℃).

A quick comment about science. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports involve 782 scientists (and hundreds more contributing authors) analyzing more than 66,000 peer-reviewed journal articles documenting research from hundreds of research institutions from 195 countries. These scientists are spending their life in search of the truth. And frankly, the counter opinions are, at most, a few scientists paid to have an opinion. Paid by the same wealthy corporations that pay our corporate politicians.

Since 1985 researchers have been drilling deep ice cores in Antarctica that have revealed data about the past climate. Levels of CO2 and methane had been constant for a thousand years, until the 1800s. Present levels of CO2 and methane are the highest they’ve been in 800,000 years. Researchers have also determined that the arctic is warming four times as fast as the rest of the world.

Methane is present in cold water under ice (and tundra) at very large levels, and it is now rising to the surface and escaping into the atmosphere in visible plumes. The temperature of the world has not fluctuated more than 1.5℃ over 14℃ in 12,000 years. We will exceed that in 10 years – we are currently on track for 2℃ to 9℃ or higher, depending on what we do.

Democratic politicians aren’t immune from criticism. President Biden has approved the ConocoPhillips Alaska Willow project, which had previously been approved by former president Trump. The project involves drilling in Alaska’s North Slope. Construction will take 30 years and add hundreds of millions of metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere along with all the environmental destruction that inevitably comes with drilling for oil and moving it thousands of miles through pipelines that leak, ships that sink and trains that derail.

Make no mistake – as the climate crisis deepens, you will face “never in a million years” crises in your lifetime. We need to act now to leave our children and grandchildren a healthy planet.

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