Climate activist Greta Thunberg is Time's Person of the Year

In barely months, a 16 year-old Swedish activist has changed the record on climate change, drawing the attention of the world to a problem as it becomes critical--and the contemptuous wrath of politicians and pundits who think she'll go away if they just call her a stupid little brat again. Greta Thunberg is Time's Person of the Year for 2019.

We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow,” she says, tugging on the sleeve of her blue sweatshirt. “That is all we are saying.”

It’s a simple truth, delivered by a teenage girl in a fateful moment. The sailboat, La Vagabonde, will shepherd Thunberg to the Port of Lisbon, and from there she will travel to Madrid, where the United Nations is hosting this year’s climate conference. It is the last such summit before nations commit to new plans to meet a major deadline set by the Paris Agreement. Unless they agree on transformative action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the world’s temperature rise since the Industrial Revolution will hit the 1.5°C mark—an eventuality that scientists warn will expose some 350 million additional people to drought and push roughly 120 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.

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Photo proof: Greta Thunberg is a time traveler who has come here to save us from ourselves

Found in the the University of Washington Libraries's Special Collections, this c.1898 photo of badass climate activist Greta Thunberg proves that she is a time traveler who is here to save us from ourselves. Or, perhaps Twitter user @bucketofmoney is correct: "The Greta Thunberg time-travel conspiracy theorists have got it wrong: the photo is from the future."

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Rats' nests are rich with unrecorded history and urgent scientific data

Pack rats, aka woodrats, build their nests, called middens, from plant debris, rocks, animal parts, paper, and almost any other bits of detritus nearby. Frequently, they urinate on their middens. The urine crystalizes and encases the nest material, preserving it for as long as 50,000 years by some estimates. For paleobotanists, middens are a great source of information about how flora has changed over time. Zoologists study the animal remains and poop. And climatologists analyze the material for insight into past climates, even the most recent ice age that ended more than 11,000 years ago. In Smithsonian, Sadie Witkowski digs into the topic, including a story about what historians learned excavating rats' nests in the walls of the 1808 Charleston, South Carolina home of slave trader Nathaniel Russel:

Among the mass of organic matter, they found sewing pins, buttons, marbles, part of a uniform waistcoat, and even fragments of printed paper that could be dated to November 1833. The paper was darkened and curled but still legible once it was gently opened.

“It was protected from rain and moisture, and even though it’s sooty, it didn’t burn,” (University of Delaware art conservator Susan) Buck says. “So we just have all these fragile materials that normally wouldn’t survive.” Among the material, the team recovered scraps of an early writing primer, suggesting some of the enslaved workers living in the kitchen house has been learning to read and write.

To move beyond the written record, historians and conservators have looked for new clues in unlikely places.

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Italy: Venice council flooded after 'NO' vote on climate change measures

Oops. Awkward. Read the rest

VIDEO: Hurricane destruction, one century in one minute

This video visualizes a century of tropical storm destruction in one minute. Read the rest

There's 22 million gallons of nuclear waste under a concrete dome on a Pacific Island, and it's sinking

The Los Angeles Times has a harrowing new story about Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Japanese forces invaded the small Pacific nation and its residents during World War I, and the United States did the same during World War II under that classic guise of "liberation." But the US was hardly acting altruistically, at the time nor since then. The islands' location made it a prime strategic military base in the Pacific. It was also isolated enough to make it a convenient nuclear testing site—if you disregarded the 72,000 people who lived there, of course.

Between 1946 and 1962, US military experiments produced 108 megatons of nuclear yield in the Marshall Islands— about 80% of the country's total radioactive waste output from nuclear testing. That's the equivalent 1.6 atomic bombs dropped every day for 12 years. And after the US decided to gradually cede control of the land back to the Marshallese people, we just kind of … left it all behind.  We were kind enough to pour a bunch of concrete on top of the 22 million gallons of nuclear waste left behind on one specific island, creating the Runit Dome.

But that dome is still there. And the concrete is starting to crack. And sea levels are rising rapidly, particularly in the Pacific, further accelerating that erosion process. Now the Dome—affectionately and appropriately called "The Tomb" by the locals—is threatening to leach all of that nuclear waste into the land and the ocean.

I realize that an island-sized nuclear waste dump called "The Tomb" in the middle of the Pacific Ocean sounds like some straight-up Godzilla sci-fi shit. Read the rest

What happens when climate change ravages graveyards?

I spend more time than I probably should wondering when the luxury condo trend will finally come for the dead. Real estate is expensive, and there's lots of valuable land in urban areas that could be used for yet-another fancy steel-and-glass skyscraper used to hide foreign money—if it wasn't for the cemeteries that currently take up all that space. I even have a half-finished short story in a notebook somewhere riffing on the classic Stephen King scenario of towns built on Native American burial grounds, except it's just luxury condos built up on the corpses of, well, everyone.

But I was thinking too far ahead. Because I didn't stop to think about what happens to those graveyards now, as flooding and earthquakes and more extreme weather disturb the soil under which our loved ones have been laid to their eternal rests. As a recent article in Scientific American gruesomely details, coffins are already body-surfing through the streets of Louisiana during storms:

The caskets and their surface vaults are sealed airtight, so pressure builds inside them when a hurricane or flash flood covers them in water. Moisture weakens the vault seal, and eventually the water begins to bubble with dead air—the tell-tale sign a casket is ready to pop out of its grave, Hunter said.

“You hear the bubbles, you see the bubbles, and you know that seal is weakening because of that immense amount of pressure. And then the lid comes off,” he said.

The visual of bubbling coffins popping out of the ground is scary enough. Read the rest

UK officials blame asthmatics for the carbon footprints of 180,000 cars

Because we live on a divergent Hellworld timeline where everything is too comically absurd to be real except for the fact that it is, the BBC published an article about the need for asthmatics like me to step up our roles in fighting climate change. This is just the very beginning of it:

Many people with asthma could cut their carbon footprint and help save the environment by switching to "greener" medications, UK researchers say.

Making the swap would have as big an "eco" impact as turning vegetarian or becoming an avid recycler, they say.

As a lifelong asthmatic, I find it difficult to articulate the inherent bullshittery of this concept without smashing my laptop in a fit of hyperventilation. But that would require me to use my rescue inhaler to save my own life (and then I'd also be without a computer, which would make things even more difficult). But I'm going to try my best.

The initial premise here is based on the fact that some aerosol sprays contribute significantly to climate change. This apparently includes metered-dose inhalers—like the rescue one I use when my lungs stop working—which rely on hydrofluoroalkane in order to release that little misting burst of asthma medicine. In the UK, this is estimated to account for about 4 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions produced by the National Health Service and the related medical industry.

On the surface, there's nothing inherently wrong with pointing this out—indeed, the medical industry should find greener ways to do things! Read the rest

Humanity isn't likely to extinguish itself, writes SETI scientist

Climate change. Pandemics. Nuclear war. While these are undoubtedly devastating realities or possibilities, could they wipe out humanity entirely? Highly unlikely, writes Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute. From Quartz:

A century ago, the Spanish flu caused a staggering 20-50 million deaths, more than WWI. Still, the toll amounted to less than 3% of the world population. As ghastly as it was, the Spanish flu didn’t even rise to the level of decimation; viruses can slay, but they can’t annihilate. If past mortality is prologue, a millennial has less chance of succumbing to a new pandemic than dying in an auto accident.

OK, well what about climate change, now recognized as a non-hoax by 75% of Americans? It’s not the heat per se that will waste us, but the knock-on effects. Low-lying nations will turn into aquariums and Caribbean countries will be pummeled and pelted by savage storms....

The World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, 5 million people will perish due to the consequences of climate change. Nonetheless, if aliens visit Earth in 2050, they’ll still find billions of humans. Indeed, probably more than walk the planet today...

However, there’s at least one lethal bullet we might never be able to dodge: a gamma ray burst. This cosmic phenomenon could sterilize our planet in short order. Such bursts are not frequent—they’re thought to be the final gasps of collapsing, massive stars—but if one were to occur in our own galaxy, the results could be truly catastrophic, resulting in destruction of our protective atmosphere.

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Florida GOP finally admits that maybe they shouldn't have banned the phrase "climate change" after all

Climate change is real. The state of Florida is particularly susceptible to its effects, being a largely coastal landmass. Hurricanes and floods strike with increasing frequency, damaging or outright destroying homes, businesses, and public infrastructure. As a result, maintenance and repair costs are rising, too. And that doesn't even touch on the human impact—the elderly residents killed by extreme temperatures, and the food- and mosquito-borne diseases that mutate and spread through the swampy heat. The latest studies predict a two-foot rise in sea level over the next forty years.

But you wouldn't know any of that from a visit to the Florida Statehouse at any point during the reign of Republican Governor Rick Scott, however. That's because Scott had implemented an unofficial policy banning the use of "climate change" and "global warming" in all official government communications ("unofficial" only in that Scott was a conniving politician who understood that you can't legally ban words in the United States, but you can use your authority to bully people out of using them anyway). It's the same tactic that the Trump Administration has used to steamroll federal scientists. From the Miami Herald:

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

Kristina Trotta, another former DEP employee who worked in Miami, said her supervisor told her not to use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in a 2014 staff meeting.

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California sues Trump over climate-warming tailpipe emissions rollback

California and 23 other states are suing to stop the Trump administration's shocking legal reversal of states' authority to set their own rules on climate-warming tailpipe emissions. Read the rest

Hasan Minhaj roasts Justin Trudeau on climate hypocrisy

If Vladimir Putin didn't convince you that good pecs and hair do not qualify you to govern, I give you Justin Trudeau, Canada's prime ministerial princeling whose years in office have proven that there is no policy so progressive that he will not back it -- provided he never has to do anything to make it happen. Read the rest

Hurricane Dorian: satellite images show Grand Bahama mostly underwater

Satellite monitoring company ICEYE composed this image, based upon satellite shots of the storm-drenched Bahamas, which shows how much of Grand Bahama went underwater as Hurricane Dorian arrived. Read the rest

Errol Morris and Bob Odenkirk team up to "capture the absurdity and the desperation" of climate change

Director Errol Morris made a bunch of darkly funny 30-second spots about climate change starring Bob Odenkirk.

From his director's statement:

I have never had any trouble believing in climate change, global warming, or whatever you want to call it. The scientific evidence is overwhelming. Galileo famously replied to Archbishop Piccolomini (or some other Vatican prelate), “And yet it moves.” Today we could just as well say, “And yet it changes.” But what to do about it? Logic rarely convinces anybody of anything. Climate change has become yet another vehicle for political polarization. If Al Gore said the Earth was round there would be political opposition insisting that the Earth was flat. It’s all so preposterous, so contemptible.

I’ve created nineteen thirty-second spots that profile a character I created: Admiral Horatio Horntower. He’s an admiral of a fleet of one and perhaps the last man on Earth. Hopefully it captures the absurdity and the desperation of our current situation. No pie graphs, no PowerPoint—just a blithering idiot played by one of my favorite actors, Bob Odenkirk.

Image: Errol Morris/YouTube Read the rest

As Amazon burns, Trump wants to log world’s largest intact temperate rainforest in Alaska

Illegitimate, popular-vote-losing president Donald J. Trump, just yesterday:

“I’m an environmentalist. A lot of people don’t understand that. I think I know more about the environment than most people.” Read the rest

Europe just suffered through the hottest June in recorded history

Here in Alberta, Canada, it's been a frigging miserable summer so far: cold, full of rain and precious little sun. For weeks, I've been mumbling under my breath, in tooth-grinding resentment, that I should have stayed in Mexico for the rest of the year. I'm not asking for much, just a few weeks of clear skies and a temperature that peaks over 20°C for a few days in a row. Not everyone in the world, however, have the same aspirations. According to data interpreted by the Copernicus Climate Change Service (a European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts joint,) This past month was the hottest June in recorded European history.

From The CCCS:

Summer has barely begun, but temperature records are already being broken. Data released today show that the European-average temperature for June 2019 was higher than for any other June on record. Average temperatures were more than 2°C above normal and it has become the hottest June ever recorded.

Although not as persistent as that of summer 2018, this short heat wave, caused by a mass of hot air coming from the Sahara Desert, was intense. The five days of unusually high temperatures followed days with record-breaking temperatures further east in Europe. This led to the month as a whole being around 1°C above the previous record for June, set in 1999, and about 1°C higher than expected from the trend in recent decades.

The report goes on to mention that linking the temperature increase directly to climate change is a bit tricky as "...such extreme weather events are expected to become more common as the planet continues to warm under increasing greenhouse gas concentrations." So uh, yeah... Read the rest

Hailstorm carpets parts of Guadalajara in a 1.5m layer of ice

Yesterday, Guadalajara's 30'C heatwave broke suddenly when, at 1:50AM, the nighttime temperature suddenly plunged from 22C to 14C, causing small, sub-1cm hailstones to form and fall in great profusion, carpeting parts of the city in an 1.5m-thick layer of ice. Read the rest

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