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By Sharan Street
Published Jul 31, 2023

To avoid the worst climate impacts, humans must halve carbon emissions to stay below 1.5C of global heating. To avoid the worst climate impacts, humans must halve carbon emissions to stay below 1.5C of global heating. Image credit: Prazis Images   Shutterstock

A Matter of Degrees

Robert Frost’s poem “Fire and Ice” makes for a convenient shorthand description of the end of civilization—one made more visceral as climate change accelerates. What was reputedly on Frost’s mind, however, was an event much further in the future. Literary historians say that the piece was sparked by Frost’s conversation with Harlow Shapley, one of the founding fathers of modern astronomy, who told the poet that five billion years down the road, Earth would either to be consumed by an expanding sun or fall away from its life-giving rays and into a permanent ice age.

As California goes through its own year of ice and fire, so does the rest of the globe. And the end game seems to creep ever closer.

The consensus among scientists who study climate change is that human activity is fueling planet-altering climate change, and unless drastic steps are taken, consequences will be dire.

The Source of Denial

In response, California Local‘s Jonathan Vankin looked at the powerful forces that have attempted to deny this growing consensus, starting back with an attack on renowned cosmologist Carl Sagan in the 1970s that eventually led to a more recent campaign to downplay the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions.

In a companion article, Vankin explores the fruits of climate-change deniers’ labors. He examines the scientific facts behind 10 frequently heard claims made to diminish worries over climate change.

In addition to consensus on the cause of climate change, scientists and policy wonks also agree on how to avoid hitting a number of “tipping points” that could set humanity on the road to disaster. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, assembled by top climate experts and approved by all the world’s governments, comes to this conclusion: “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.” A chart produced by the IPCC shows which steps will reduce emissions at the lowest cost, and these are the top five: expanding wind and solar, increasing energy efficiency, stopping deforestation, and reducing methane emissions.

It Started With ‘Star Wars’: Understanding Climate Denial

The surprising history of climate change denial can be traced back to fears over nuclear war.
To understand climate change denial, we must go back to the Ronald Reagan presidency and his proposal for the “Star Wars” space-based missile defense system.

10 Frequently Heard Claims Made by Climate Deniers

Now-retired Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) was the most outspoken climate denier in Congress for many years.
Here are 10 of the most often-heard climate change denial claims and arguments. Do any of them hold any water?

California Confronts the Crisis

Though there’s strong consensus on the scientific side, the realm of politics is where things get murky. Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s environment editor, wrote in Down to Earth, his weekly newsletter on climate change, “A wise person, who’d spent his life on the policy frontline, once told me: ‘If politics was about evidence, it would be easy.’”

Even within the ranks of those who are actively pushing toward “decarbonization” to mitigate the most disastrous effects of climate change, there is disagreement. 

Take the Inflation Reduction Act, so far the most significant climate law in the United States, according to climate historian Josh Lappen. In a piece for Heatmap, a website that explores “climate and energy transition issues,” Lappen writes that fissures are emerging in the coalition that allowed the Inflation Reduction Act to move forward—one made up of environmentalists, the clean energy industry, and a group Lappen calls “green growthers,” who push for large-scale green power despite environmental costs.

These battles take place in Washington, D.C. But what can we do here, 3,000 miles away? Plenty. Vankin reports on seven significant measures California has taken since the 1960s to lead the fight against air pollution and climate change.

There is also much to be done to fight climate change on the local level. The Institute for Local Government uses its Beacon Program to recognize voluntary efforts by cities, counties and special districts to promote sustainability. The ILG lists 15 participating counties, and it’s a pleasure to note that six of these are counties where California Local is active. In three of these—Monterey, Nevada and Santa Cruz counties—not only the county but every single municipality is participating.

Will it be too little, too late? Only time will tell—and unlike in the future contemplated by Robert Frost, that time will not be measured in the billions of years.

A new scientific analysis suggests that the Gulf Stream system could collapse between 2025 and 2095, with a “central estimate of 2050 if global carbon emissions are not reduced,” notes a story published July 25 by the Guardian. Unlike the scientifically inaccurate scenario envisioned by “master of disaster” director Roland Emmerich in The Day After Tomorrow (2004)—with Dennis Quaid traipsing about a frozen neo-Ice Age—in reality, changes in the Gulf Stream would likely lead to severe disruptions in rain patterns, threats to the Antarctic ice sheets and rising sea levels on the East Coast. In other words, it would put humanity even deeper into hot water.

7 Ways California Leads the Battle Against Climate Change

Air pollution, such as seen here in Los Angeles circa 1972, contains greenhouse gases which cause the climate to change.
Since 1947, California has led the United States in the fight against climate change. Here is a list of some of the steps the state has taken to battle global warming, greenhouse gases and air pollution.

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