A simple & scary picture

Sean Kelly article

Sean Kelly’s Saturday article (“Cowardice: What Morrison and Albanese have in common on climate”) in The Age/Sydney Morning-Herald is the epitome of charged concision. Beyond Kelly’s major (and obvious to me) point that Morrison is not seizing the the climate emergency gauntlet in any shape or form, and that Albanese won’t rock Morrison’s boat because he sees that as a way to winning the next election, Kelly also chats to Will Steffen about the numbers.

Steffen’s picture is as clear as can be and I’ll lay it out even more brutally. The Paris Agreement is meant to keep us well under +2C (we’re at +1 now). +2C will slam humanity. The countries that signed Paris then volunteered emissions reduction plans that total up lower than necessary; if they meet these plans, we’ll be at +3C. These countries are not on target, no, no, no, and Australia is one of the worst; if everyone behaves like Australia, we’ll hit +4C … catastrophic. Looking at Australia, yes Morrison is correct that gas is better than coal and is a useful bridge, but that’s only using existing gas, not extracting more. Pumping up more gas from the ground will make +2C impossible. Ergo, Morrison and Albanese are both cowards.

Megafires are not academic

Forbes reporter/columnist Ariel Cohen had me back down a rabbit hole with his article “The age of the ‘megafire’ is upon us.” Recent news had reprised the grief I experienced at our 2020 megafires here in Australia, which Cohen aptly says “killed more than 30 people, destroyed 6,000 homes and businesses, and burned 20% of the country’s forest.” Cohen is an analyst, not prone to hyperbole, but he quotes scientists saying we’ll look back at 2020’s fires as a fond memory, and even he concludes with the same message: “What we are seeing on the West Coast and around the world will soon shift from an anomaly to the new normal. The age of the megafire is upon us.”

I’m also observing with pulsing dismay the irrational push to view all these megafires as just a target for better forest management, while discounting any global warming footprint. The rationalist in me, the actuary, combines with the writer to foretell slow inevitable cycles of people resisting the science, then getting burnt out and killed, before, before eventually (too late, too late) the reality sinks in. Right now, in my mourning state of mind, humanity might not respond/adapt to the age of the megafire for another decade. How can this be so?

“It’s time to retreat” from amped-up wildfires

David Wallace-Wells article

Another brilliant opinion piece by David Wallace-Wells in New York Magazine, “California can’t afford to wait for climate action.” Like many I’ve watched the reprise of Australia’s 2020 global warming wildfire hell in America’s West with horror. It was difficult to imagine when it happened here (albeit it far from me), it’s difficult now. The article is well worth a read. Wallace-Wells makes three points. First, even if (let’s say, if we’re feeling optimistic today, when) we cut emissions to zero, wildfires in California (and by extension, through Australia) will continue to worsen dramatically over the next couple of decades. Second, the landscape itself will survive but not so our sprawled habitations. Third, regardless of anything else, we need to do what we’re resisting doing, namely respond and adapt. And that may well mean, as Wallace-Wells quotes climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer tweeting, retreating. Laws need to be enacted to prevent people building in areas now rendered essentially uninhabitable by global warming.

Goodell & Hallam


It’s one of those days. Jeff Goodell issued a blistering warning to humanity a couple of days ago, his article “Climate apocalypse now” in Rolling Stone. Conclusion? “Maybe the real message that Mother Nature is sending with these storms and fires in the midst of the Republican National Convention is not to Trump, but to us. And it says this: You can have four more years of Trump, or you can have a habitable planet. But you can’t have both.”

I watched The Troublemaker again. A sob as I heard Roger Hallam: “I mean I’ve had hundreds, literally hundreds of conversations with people, where people said the same thing, right? I know and now I’m going to do something. … This is the archetypical stuff of life.”

A day. One of those.


Whooping Crane L3-15

Whooping Cranes L3-15 and L5-15 hatched in captivity in Maryland in 2015. At year’s end, they were brought down to Louisiana and released into freedom. Five months later, a man and his young accomplice shot them. They recovered one carcass and cut off its legs in order to remove and hide tracking bands. Now, four years on, the man has been sentenced to parole, community service, a hefty fine, and $75,000 in restitution costs. The International Crane Foundation article on the matter contains four heartbreaking images (of which I use one) of L3-15 and L5-15 in water, in the air, and as a corpse. Such a disturbing tale, one I can’t shake from mind. As the sentencing judge put it: “I think these birds are basically priceless.”

Watching Hallam

The Troublemaker movie

It’s been a roiling day. A currawong roused me out of bed, a good start, but I was restless. I reviewed a book about birding, another positive step. An Edinburgh International Book Festival event featuring Frans Timmerman, an architect of the EU Green Deal, wasn’t boring, like I thought it would be, but perky. Then I began watching a documentary, just released, called The Troublemaker. Made by Sasha Snow, it’s a looke at Roger Hallam, cofounder of Extinction Rebellion. I’ve watched a number of “performances” of various sorts by Hallam and found him to be my sort of person: relentlessly analytical and courageous. I had no idea whether The Troublemaker would make an impression (a number of recent well-meaning climate change books/movies have been fine but not exceptional) or even a difference (I too seek the truth, don’t I?), but a stunning opening scene of global imagery segues into Hallam’s first words:

Like all middle-class kids, you’re brought up in a world that you think is good and fair and sensible. And, you know, it’s going to be a breeze. And then one day, you realize that it’s not like that. You think you’re great, you think everything is going fine, you think you rule the world. And suddenly, bang. … So it’s the greatest morality tale of all time.

Just like that, tears sprang forth and I gave a sob. Hallam encapsulates what I’ve known for three decades. I brace for the rest of the movie. Right now, I don’t need my life to be shifted even more than the last three years have done, but I’m braced for The Troublemaker

Some fine news for White-naped Cranes

White-naped Cranes in Mongolia

Just under half of the world’s struggling, lurching population of some 6,000 White-naped Cranes winter at the fabled Poyang Lakes in China (I dream of visiting), and around 60 pairs migrate north to breed in a remote area of wetlands and grasslands in northeast Mongolia, in the Khurkh-Khuiten River Valleys (KKRV). (Excuse me if I get the precise facts wrong, it’s a complex situation.) They’re stately, impressive birds (the image is from the article below). I’ve written about how around the world, governments are sneaking in habitat/species destroying/disrupting actions under Covid-19 cover, all bad new, but now I’m cheered. The International Crane Foundation has just advised (“Mongolia protects core breeding area for declining White-naped Cranes“) that the Mongolian government (in May, I think) has declared a 200,000-hectare national nature reserve at the KKRV. Hope, hope, hope.

Bad actors act while we’re diverted

ICF Bugle graphic

The graphic above is from the July issue of The Bugle, ICF’s regular magazine, in fact the graphic is from the “notes from the President,” Rich Beilfuss. The Bugle is a monthly highlight for me, and never more so than during this period of pandemic lockdown. Much of the issue is about how ICF has adjusted to crisis conditions, very interesting stuff, but I was intrigued and distressed by Beilfuss’s acknowledgment of how those seeking to plunge crane species closer to the edge are behaving:

The global pandemic has not slowed the threats to cranes and the vital places they (and we) need. Plans for ill-conceived dams and other negative land-use changes have proliferated worldwide during the crisis while attention is diverted.

I shouldn’t have been shocked. Exactly the same dynamic is occurring in the more general global arena of climate action/inaction: bad actors are moving fast while we’re preoccupied. Stay alert, I whisper to myself.

I cheer a hero

Hans-Otto Pörtner

Generating internal cheer during lockdown isn’t always possible. Looking outward, seeing a hero, and cheering, that’s something that can help. I noticed that on Tuesday, the IPCC announced the 39-strong “core writing team” charged with penning the existentially vital Synthesis Report of AR6 (the Sixth Assessment Report) due in 2022. I glowed with appreciation. And a couple of days later, IPCC pushed out a 59-second interview with a softly spoken biologist and physiologist who co-chairs Working Group II. Take a look, take a listen, and be impressed with the man’s unassuming dedication. Hans Pörtner: ” … humans are changing the planet so much that … we have to bring the planet onto a more sustainable path, and how to do this is a very exciting task ahead of us.”