To follow up on the press release from the pipeline protestors at the State House … The vastness of the climate issue really requires us to organize our thoughts a bit. Some things are more important than others; there is a hierarchy of needs; and some of our multitudinous priorities and desires are simply irreconcilable with each other.
Global warming is an existential threat to civilization, and methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. It leaks every step of the way from fracking to transport to your household.
A wholesale collapse of Pine Island and Thwaites would set off a catastrophe. Giant icebergs would stream away from Antarctica like a parade of frozen soldiers. All over the world, high tides would creep higher, slowly burying every shoreline on the planet, flooding coastal cities and creating hundreds of millions of climate refugees.
All this could play out in a mere 20 to 50 years — much too quickly for humanity to adapt.
“With marine ice cliff instability, sea-level rise for the next century is potentially much larger than we thought it might be five or 10 years ago,” Poinar says.
A lot of this newfound concern is driven by the research of two climatologists: Rob DeConto at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and David Pollard at Penn State University. A study they published last year was the first to incorporate the latest understanding of marine ice-cliff instability into a continent-scale model of Antarctica.
Their results drove estimates for how high the seas could rise this century sharply higher. “Antarctic model raises prospect of unstoppable ice collapse,” read the headline in the scientific journal Nature, a publication not known for hyperbole.
Instead of a three-foot increase in ocean levels by the end of the century, six feet was more likely, according to DeConto and Pollard’s findings. But if carbon emissions continue to track on something resembling a worst-case scenario, the full 11 feet of ice locked in West Antarctica might be freed up, their study showed.
In geological terms, that is less than a blip in time. In human terms, it simply cannot be accommodated. Ice doesn’t care about our needs or wants; it just melts. Water seeks its own level, regardless of the cleverness of our argumentation or political comfort levels. This reality is what our grandchildren — whom will we will know, love and cherish — will inherit.
I’ll be honest. Writing this article felt like screaming.
I have two small kids. I’m more unsure of their future than ever. I’m not really sure what else to say, or do.
On behalf of all living things on Earth, please, let’s wake up and act.https://t.co/fHqGilul3G
— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) November 21, 2017
This is a matter of survival; you simply cannot “balance other priorities” with that. Governor Baker’s actions on climate are within this context; and also that of Trump administration’s galloping evil. We are on our own, and nobody else is going to do this for us. Whatever levers of power to be pulled, whatever ground to be gained, whatever barricades are to be mounted against these terrible consequences of wicked ignorance — it’s going to happen here, now, in our own Massachusetts. This is it.
Baker wishes to avoid taking sides. He imagines himself as the adult in the room, the Solomonic arbiter of competing priorities:
“As a general rule our strategy on this stuff has been to make sure we don’t take options off the table,” Baker told reporters when asked about protesters who filled his office lobby Wednesday and returned to Beacon Hill on Thursday. “There are always options and possibilities that are not foreseen, and we shouldn’t be painting ourselves into a corner, especially in a sector like this where the changes are coming fast and furious.”
He doesn’t see that we have already painted ourselves into a corner. Under the circumstances, there is no sane option to continue with natural gas for a generation. We must wean ourselves off of it, post-haste. Green the grid; electrify everything must be our motto.
Wen Stephenson, former On Point producer turned climate activist, was one of 26 people arrested last week in the State House. As he writes in The Nation:
Anyone who claims to accept climate science and to take climate seriously simply cannot support building out new fossil-fuel infrastructure at this late date, locking in carbon and methane emissions for decades to come, far beyond the point at which the IPCC tells us, and the Paris Agreement affirms, we must decarbonize our energy systems. It’s an emergency situation, and at some point—as we should have long ago—we need to act like it.
Doubtless Baker is hearing from ISO-NE’s CEO Gordon van Welie, who always warns about insufficient pipeline capacity and the possibility of rate spikes. Never mind that pipeline capacity was apparently manipulated, Enron-style, to jack up prices in the cold winter of 2015. The local economic benefits of energy efficiency and renewables are widely recognized. Under the circumstances, even the strictly short-term, myopic, next-quarter business case for gas is exceptionally weak.
Seasoned lobbyist and friend-of-the-blog Judy Meredith talks about giving politicians “hero opportunities” — a chance to champion a cause, get out in front, look like a champion. As I wrote a few months ago, given his comfortable approval ratings, Governor Baker could actively advocate for:
- 3% yearly Renewable Portfolio Standard increase. RPS standards, which are effective, popular, and real. The Trump administration can try to prop up coal in all the nutty ways it wants, but it can’t make us buy the stuff.
- Instituting a carbon fee/dividend — particularly one that reinvests the proceeds into greater efficiency;
- Plugging gas leaks;
- Pledging 100% renewable energy by 2050 (California has pledged 100% by 2045);
- Fund the MBTA; don’t reform without revenue to maintain, expand, and modernize.
The bottom line is that our citizens should not have to get arrested to prevent Governor Baker from contributing to our collective suicide-by-climate. Cutting the baby in half is not an option. He has to choose.