“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.

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

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.”

Dare we hope for good news about coal, gas, and oil?

Dirty coal

Angus Hervey at Future Crunch has a brilliantly written, comprehensive article out called “2020 Is The Worst Year Ever For Fossil Fuels.” I read it on a tough day of writing and my heart soared, for Hervey paints a picture in which Covid-19, by pummeling energy demand, may well have accelerated the transition to renewable energy. The coal, gas, and oil sectors are reeling, according to him, producing a perfect storm whereby post-pandemic recovery will see cheaper wind and solar will surge. All three industries could see huge write-offs and the kind of economic justice we’ve only dared dream about. Hervey often stresses all three industries might prove more resilient than the decline-into-basket-case picture he portrays, but his detailed analysis puts him on the side of the optimists. Fingers crossed, world, fingers crossed.

Plant trees by all means but that won’t save us

Jeff Goodell article

Ever-dependable, sane Jeff Goodell turns his attention, in a Rolling Stone article “Why planting trees won’t save us,” to the simplistic, dangerous idea that we should just plant a trillion trees and all will be okay. If you’re not clear on the issues involved, by all means read the wonderfully written article, but a moment’s thought should kybosh the “trillion trees” myth.

Of course, in an environment at equilibrium, a forest or wood is much better than a pasture. Trees do take in and store carbon. Deforestation, such as the criminal razing of the Amazon, is a measurable contributor to our global warming and its existing and coming impacts. But mindlessly conducting random working bees to plant trees willy nilly is often pointless. If a tree falls down or gets diseased or, most likely, burns down a few years after planting, all that sequestered carbon is released. Net impact of the planting: zero. Plant a tree right now in a bushfire-prone area in Australia and you’re wasting your time. Sure, if we can convert a savannah into a permanent rainforest, we’re refreshing Mother Earth, but where is that kind of targeting referred to in the “trillion trees” spin?

Plant huge swathes of virgin forest and look after them for a long time … do that and our grandchildren will smile upon you. But such genuine stewardship is not being spruiked in the evasive “trillion trees” propoganda. For that propaganda seeks to divert us from what our grandchildren really need: close coal plants and mine it no more; close gas plants and drill it no more; switch cars to electric and drill oil no more.

Defiance 43

Biden advisor

Brilliant news. The best step forward on climate change in 2020 is a change of U.S. president