In Oklahoma this week, schools were closed because huge tornadoes were expected. An F-5 tornado had killed seven kids at a school in 2013, and officials decided the risk of a big twister this time was too great. On TV news, a mother said she was grateful for the decision.

“It never used to be like this,” she said.

Unusually severe tornadoes and storms have become more and more usual in recent years. The cause of the increases is climate change. The change is driven primarily by rising air and water temperatures.

The temperatures are rising because carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been rising for about 200 years as a result of human activities, mainly the waste from burning oil and coal. Animals are going extinct, oceans are rising, glaciers are melting, wildfires are destroying forestland, and unusually strong tornadoes are killing kids.

So what are we doing about it?

When the eight Arctic Council countries met earlier this month, they were unable to agree on a text mentioning “climate change” because one of the countries would not sign off on it. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, specifically. In his own public remarks, Pompeo instead pointed out that receding ice sheets would provide incredible opportunities for plundering the Arctic’s “undiscovered oil,” gas, uranium, gold, diamonds, “fisheries galore.”

While the tornadoes get bigger and the wildfires burn, the politicians fiddle for money.

 

BURNING

• January through April this year was the third-hottest globally on record for that time period, NOAA reported this week.

• A recent study found that between 1980 and 1990, Greenland’s glaciers were melting at rate that sent about 51 billion tons of ice into the ocean. Between 2010 and 2018, 286 billion tons went into the ocean, meaning that of the nearly 14 millimeters of sea-level rise in total caused in Greenland since 1972, half of it has occurred since 2010. The researchers predict the ice losses will get worse.

Another study found that increasing ocean temperatures have reduced the sustainable catch of 124 fish and shellfish species since 1938.

• Climate models developed for the United Nations’ 2021 assessment of global warming are starting to predict temperature rises so high (up to 5 degrees Celsius) that the scientists think the models must be faulty. Many previous models of global temperatures have underestimated the rises that actually occurred.

• A study published this month reports that rainfall increases in the Midwest between 1989 and 2016 were directly responsible for reductions in corn crops of as much as 37%. Heavy precipitation events have increased by up to 42% in parts of the Midwest since 1958 and are expected to become more frequent and more intense as a result of climate change.

• A report by scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency indicates that if climate change continues unchecked, effects such as rising sea levels and lake and stream temperatures, longer pollen seasons, increases in harmful algal blooms, wildfires, flooding and disease-carrying insects, among other things, will cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year. Some of the economic damage can be averted by taking immediate action, the report suggests. The human suffering, apparently, is a different matter.

 

FIDDLING

• President Donald Trump’s budget plan for 2020 would cut 13% of National Institutes of Health funding, 12% of National Science Foundation funding and 16.5% of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, hitting renewable energy and environmental research programs especially hard. The EPA and Interior, Agriculture and even Defense departments would see huge cuts to funding for science programs.

• Trump’s National Security Council has discussed forming an advisory committee whose mission will be to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change.

• In April, Trump signed executive orders that limit states’ abilities to regulate oil and gas projects.

• In April, the Senate confirmed David Bernhardt as secretary of the interior. Bernhardt is a former lobbyist for the oil and gas industry.

• In May, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement revised the Well Control Rule developed after the Deepwater Horizon disaster that poured about 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The revised rule relieves oil companies of many federal safety requirements and suggests they instead follow oil industry “recommended practices.”

• The Office of the Inspector General has opened an investigation into multiple conflict-of-interest complaints against Bernhardt.

• This month the U.S. House passed the Climate Action Now Act. It would prohibit federal funds from being used to leave the Paris Climate Accord, require the U.S. to comply with climate commitments, and require Trump to report within four months on plans to meet obligations. No Republicans supported it. It is unlikely to pass in the Senate because Republicans are the majority there.

• In April, the EPA published “Planning for Natural Disaster Debris,” offering advice for local planners on coping with the aftermath of floods, hurricanes and wildfires expected to increase in “frequency and intensity” as a result of climate change.

• In contrast, EPA Director Andrew Wheeler told a television interviewer that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.” What, me worry?

 

FIGHTING CHANCES

• German Chancellor Angela Merkel established a “climate cabinet” to plan for Germany to attain carbon-emissions neutrality by 2050.

• The British government has committed to phasing out coal-fired power by 2025.

• In March, a federal judge in Alaska declared a Trump order revoking a ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans illegal.

• A federal judge in Colorado who was appointed by Ronald Reagan ruled the approval by the Interior Department of two gas drilling plans was illegal, in part because the officials did not adequately consider environmental impacts in the plans.

• In February, the Senate passed, 98-2, a conservation bill that will protect millions of acres of land and rivers and establish four new national monuments.

• In April, Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed the nation’s first statewide ban on the use of Styrofoam food containers. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2021.

How many schools have to get flattened by huge tornadoes, and towns and whole countries need to get swamped by hurricanes like Michael, Florence, Irma and Maria before dead children become more important than the oil, gold and diamonds in the Arctic, no one knows.

 

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected]. His recent book is “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods,” available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.


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