Climate crisis — where we’re headed, how much time is left

I mentioned yesterday that I was pivoting back to the climate crisis in a major way.

As part of that pivot, I’ll be talking with Jay Ackroyd this evening for a full hour on his show Virtually Speaking.

Virtually SpeakingThe details:

When: Thursday, May 2, 9 pm ET
Where: Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd
Link: The Virtually Speaking site or the BlogTalkRadio site

The link at BlogTalkRadio works for listening live and listening later. In addition, Virtually Speaking is available as an iTunes podcast. I’ve been a subscriber for years and find the selection surprisingly broad. (For example, this week’s Virtually Speaking Science show covered … dinosaurs, entirely by coincidence.)

What we’ll be talking about

Tonight the hour will cover the basics of the climate crisis story from a lay perspective. We’ll look at life on earth and the mass-extinction events that mark the end of million-year-long geological eras (for example, the one that ended when the dinos died).

We’ll also take a look at earth temperatures across the long sweep, from 500 million years ago until now, and note that only recently has the climate been stable enough for man to move from hunter-gatherer to “civilized” with settled communities and farming. We’ll have a chart that shows that to a remarkable degree.

Why do the mass extinctions matter? Because according to James Hansen, a NASA scientist and one of the leading researchers in this field, we’re facing another mass-extinction event very soon, one a massive scale.

Climate via Shutterstock

Climate via Shutterstock

Our discussion of earth’s past will include material from this post:

The climate crisis in three easy charts

Information about James Hansen’s prediction is available here (scroll down for the mass extinction quote):

Hansen on 3°C: Quarter to half of species on earth may die from global warming

And we’ll take a look at where we’re headed and how long will it take to get there. My thoughts on that, after studying climate literature for most of last year, are here:

Your Climate Crisis elevator speech

Thoughts on climate crisis speed — My personal climate model

Bottom line, we do have time, but not a ton of it. I’ll attempt to detail what life on earth looks like in 2100 if we fail, and what the world looks like if we succeed.

The road to success is clear — there’s only one path. I’ll be discussing that with Jay as well. Please tune in if you can. Thanks!


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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30 Responses to “Climate crisis — where we’re headed, how much time is left”

  1. Van Swearingen says:

    Oh my. Yup, that’s bad.

  2. karmanot says:

    Two words: Easter Island.

  3. Papa Bear says:

    My service dog saves my life several times a week–what’s the Amish done for me lately?

  4. karmanot says:

    “I also believe that how people treat their animals is an important indicator of their……well, let us say “moral fiber.” I feel the same!

  5. condew says:

    I know, and when I was growing up, a lot of them made their living growing tobacco. But they have been easier on the environment than most, and I hope one day they will be growing massive amounts of organic vegetables.

  6. Zorba says:

    I admire the Amish in so very many ways, as a hard-working, upright people. They are definitely self-reliant, and have never used “modern” conveniences, including cars and electricity (well, the Beachy Amish do allow cars, among other things). However, before you nominate the Amish for sainthood, you should take a look at the puppy mills that some of them run. See and
    And while I realize that this is not all of them, and this is not directly connected to the climate crisis, I also believe that how people treat their animals is an important indicator of their……well, let us say “moral fiber.” We are all interconnected, including our pets.

  7. GeorgeMokray says:

    Utility companies are already complaining that their current business model is in jeopardy, even with the relatively small penetration of renewables into the US market. There is also a political backlash against renewables with assaults beginning on net metering and other regulatory practices that allow household energy production and distribution.|

    Besides this sustainability and green “ecological” stuff is all a UN George Soros Agenda 21 plot. The black helicopters are coming for our golfs.

  8. GeorgeMokray says:

    You don’t even have to talk about climate change. For 20 years, I’ve argued that climate change is moot. Just push the economic and competitive advantages, one of which is the fun a truly hard problem like zero emissions and 100% renewables is in the current material culture.

    If you do sell this on climate change alone, you will turn off the reactionary conservatives and others. I start from Solar IS Civil Defense ( ), which can even appeal to survivalists, and work from there.

  9. Ford Prefect says:

    Because the people who make fossil fuels will be unhappy.

    Also, solar is unpopular with corporate types because it decentralizes and effectively democratizes energy production. Your utility company doesn’t not want you to become independent of them.

    It’s not about “what’s good.” It’s about “who wins and who loses.”

  10. condew says:

    Yes, there is a point at which the ads become so onerous that even if you want to support the website by allowing them, they are just too much in the way to not try to block them.

  11. condew says:

    I’d say the Amish have always been environmentally conscious Christians. Self-reliant and eschewing the internal combustion engine for generations. Unfortunately, just as our way of life is being forced to change by climate change, they are being forced to join us due to their own population pressures.

  12. condew says:

    The water for the family farm my mother grew up on was pumped by a windmill for at least 3 generations. Wind pumped the water for two families and a dairy herd. Wind power has worked for so long I can’t imagine anybody questioning its practical value.

  13. condew says:

    I’ve never understood why energy efficiency is also not getting a whole lot of support in politics. Whether you believe in man-made climate change or not, why pay $50/month for fossil fuel to burn when you could just insulate better once and save money on fuel forever?

    Further, energy efficiency has got to be a competitive advantage; if your competitor is spending more on energy than you are, doesn’t that improve your market edge and profits?

  14. GeorgeMokray says:

    There are a few things we can do now that have immediate reductions in climate change effects: energy efficiency which should be easy and profitable in the US where we “reject” over 57% of the energy we produce, and eliminating as completely as possible short-lived climate forcers like tropospheric ozone, black carbon, and methane as a tropo ozone precursor. Eliminating short-lived climate forcers has ancillary benefits in terms of human health, especially for mothers and children in the developing world where wood and dung fires produce lots of black carbon and respiratory disease, and makes the North/South who pays? debate completely beside the point as the health and economic benefits pay for the new(er) technology in extremely short order, even in the poorest countries.

    I also say that Solar IS Civil Defense and an easy way to ease into renewables (as well as provide basic electricity for the billion and a third, billion and a half people who do not yet have access to it in the world today):

  15. I’m quite pessimistic because the ‘status quo’ guys are well organized, well funded, and there are an awful lot of them.

    The most effective ones tend to be as glib as hell, and speak with great authority.

    Example: Science 2.0 – a site operated by Hank Campbell. Who is Mr. Campbell? “I am socially libertarian and fiscally conservative…” The gentleman attended Duquesne, but what he studied there and whether or not he graduated I was quite unable to discover.

    *** It makes environmental activists crazy, in that ‘believe scientists when science agrees with us but scientists are out to kill us when science doesn’t agree’ kind of way, but a large study of U.S. adults found that the more science they knew and the more independent they were, the less they were worried about climate change. ***

    That’s right. The more you know about science the less you worry about climate change. This ‘large study’ listed 7 authors. Five were affiliated with law schools and the other two psychology departments.

    *** What do they mean by old and tired renewable energy schemes? They rightly note that wind energy has been tried since the agricultural revolution in Europe – the 13th century. Today, it is slightly more efficient but not by much and due to the remote locations it requires it would mean waiting for battery technology to improve in order to really be a replacement for fossil fuels. ***

    That whole column dumps on wind energy.

    So far as I can tell this guy does nothing besides throwing paper sacks of feces at the rotating oscillator.

    But a person has to admit, as a libertarian propagandist and fog-maker, he does an admirable job.

    And he has a LOT of company on the internet tubes.

  16. Whitewitch says:

    Sadly, I think our planet will need to spit us all out in order to cleanse itself. I honestly don’t think there are many conservatives or christians that will even consider finding a fix for something of this magnitude, in the matter of christians a fix for something their god will save them from if they are righteous.

    For all their statements about leaving debt for the children being such a horrible thing, it is amazing that they don’t care what kind of World they are leaving them. I have surrendered to nature and actually embrace the day no humans walk this place.

  17. GaiusPublius says:

    All good points, Myrddin. I’ve been writing for a while, though, that I think we’re past the point where a smooth transition is possible. IMO, the choices are a lurching, discontinuous sudden transition to “something other than carbon” OR the collapse of a civilization-sustaining climate in any but the northern realms.

    See the middle chart here:

    Between 12-10,000 years ago, the climate stabilized from successive glaciation to its current relatively smooth path (not counting Industrial warming). That’s coincident with our species moving out of hunter-gatherer lives and into the start of “civilization” — communities and farming. That’s the alternative to the lurching transition. In a +7°C world, what we call civilization will shrink to the north and could well disappear.

    As I see it, the choice is pretty binary — hard-stop with carbon, even if it causes huge dislocations in energy supply for a while, or life in a +7°C world. And again, we have that 5-10 year window to work this out.

    Mes centimes,


  18. GaiusPublius says:

    Great link. Head’s up, folks; it’s a must-click. Thanks!


  19. emjayay says:

    It is an absurdity that we haven’t cut the military budget by a half or three quarters and spend the money instead on addressing climate change. The military also burns a lot of oil.
    Urban areas in the Northeast, just to discuss a fave topic of mine, use tons of electricity for air conditioning and tons of oil and gas for heating uninsulated buildings. New York City even still allows burning of low grades of oil in old boilers. No one should be burning any oil for heating. Many homeowners or landlords are not intelligent enough to do anything about the situation even if energy costs were quadrupled (which isn’t going to happen), and of course the air conditioning cost is usually not on the landlords anyway. Just to address this situation, one small part of the energy picture, I would directly offer free window upgrades – windows that are twice as insulating as even normal older double pane ones are available, and there are still single pane windows around – and wall and roof insulation and refitting modern energy efficient heating systems. Modern furnaces and boilers and water heaters can be multiple times more efficient than older ones. Incentives, which hardly seem to exist anyway, are not enough.

    And no one should be burning coal for anything.

    In a few years besides species extinction we will have Florida underwater (no problem) and coastal cities as well (problem). The cost of dealing with sea level rise alone would be many multiples of the cost of slashing energy, particularly dirty energy, use as fast as possible by any means anyone can think of.

    Meanwhile, Congress can do nothing about anything.

  20. Ford Prefect says:

    Naomi Klein reminds us once again that even environmental groups are profiting off of global warming:

    Let’s review: 1) government is bought; 2) many “green” groups are bought; 3) most “leadership” on this issue has proven ineffective at best; 4) those environmentalists who aren’t bought or incompetent are being criminalized as “terrorists”; 5) elections are meaningless exercises in which we get to choose between two corporate candidates.

    Welcome to Dystopia!

  21. This site nearly drove me crazy with the pop-ups, so I began trying various ‘browser addons’ to control them. After many such tries, finally I stumbled on Ghostery. It has killed almost all of them, but I did have to do an edit to allow Disqus to function.

  22. emjayay says:

    I just posted the same thing on another thread. Glad to hear is isn’t just me. I couldn’t tell what I was typing because the pop-up was covering half of the comment box. I’ve never seen pop-ups before without a tiny “X” hidden somewhere.

  23. pappyvet says:

    I sure wish i could get rid of the ads that pop up over the comment box Its an ad choice and I cant get rid of them

  24. pappyvet says:

    Agreed, TTThats all folks !

  25. nicho says:

    It’s like smoking. By the time you notice the most serious effects and wake up, you’re already over the falls.

  26. I’m afraid that like Wiley Coyote we’ve gone over the edge and we’re just waiting for gravity and the Acme rocket strapped on our back to take effect.
    I think it’s important to consider that when you talk about 25 to 50% of all species going extinct, humans are just another species. We tend to over estimate our importance in the greater scheme.

  27. pappyvet says:

    Climate crisis — where we’re headed, how much time is left
    To the edge and not much

  28. guest1 says:

    Legalize and grow lots of hemp, reduces carbon and helps the economy

  29. MyrddinWilt says:

    The good news on climate change is that there has been a big policy change in China. They are making a huge investment in wind and solar.

    This makes sense from every point of view, there is simply not enough coal or oil to support a Chinese economy consuming carbon fuels at the rate of the US economy.

    The bad news is that despite the move to renewables, Chinas carbon use is increasing, even though the rate of increase has fallen.

    The big gating factor for renewables in the US right now is the hopeless state of the distribution system. As Atrios keeps pointing out, why cant we stop pissing money away on the military toys for McCain and Graham and the Pentagon and build some nice stuff instead? For the prices of one useless carrier to go with the other 13, the US could build a high speed rail link between two major cities. Even if it was a white elephant it could not possibly be more useless than the carrier and it would create far more jobs. Or they could fix the electricity distribution system in the North East.

    A billion dollars buys a heck of a lot of windmills. And once a windmill is installed it pretty much runs itself for the next 30 years. There are some maintenance costs as you would expect from something that has moving parts and is left outside all the time. But so do coal fired power stations.

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