Global Warming, Environmental Variability, and Infectious Disease


Scientists predict global warming will increase the spread of infectious diseases at the same time it amplifies the intensity of storms, floods, droughts, fires, and other problems. I haven’t followed the disease issue closely, but I think the current global failure with COVID-19 gives us a preview of what this will be like. From increased public health expenses to extensive travel restrictions, civilization will face increasing challenges and will eventually crumble first in poorer nations, regions, and neighborhoods, and finally in wealthy areas.
This story from Nature describes COVID-19’s growing death toll and its deadly contribution to other diseases.

COVID-19 and Infectious Disease in India.
Health workers administer polio vaccines to children in Islamabad in January as an armed police officer stands nearby for protection. Vaccinators have previously been attacked in Pakistan, where rumours persist about immunizations being harmful. (Sohail Shahzad/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

We are All Scientists

You are a Scientist

I heard someone ask “why do scientists lie so much.” Thinking about how I would answer, and with my grandchildren in mind, I composed the following statement:

Postscript: The Time is Growing Short

I published the blog post below in 2017. It discusses a scientific analysis and climate-change warning published in the journal Nature.
The critical element of the scientists’ conclusion was the absolutely necessity to begin immediately reducing CO2 emissions. Progress was pinned to six milestones that had to be reached by 2020. Here we are in 2020. Unfortunately, global CO2 emissions increased in 2018 and 2019 and none of the six milestones was reached. Likewise, the other disasters I mentioned are continuing to accelerate. The likelihood that human civilization will continue to progress and flourish in years to come is perhaps exactly equal to the number of times “biodiversity” or “global wildlife extinction” has been mentioned in the Democratic presidential debates: Zero. But who knows? Perhaps this year’s weather will provoke a massive mobilization similar to what it took to combat the Nazis.

[Alfred E. Neuman said “What, me worry?” — perhaps he was our spokesperson after all, eh Joe?]

The 2017 Blog Post

GR [in 2017]:  An article from June, 2016 should be on everyone’s mind now. Here’s my discussion followed by a link to the article.

A group of scientists analyzed the sources of CO2 and the dynamic relationship between the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere and global temperature to devise a global carbon budget they could use to assess the effect of timing of changes in CO2 emissions. The analysis enabled them to calculate the changes we must make to preserve a livable climate. You’ll have to read the article to see the individual sources of CO2 that must be adjusted. I wanted to mention the timing for the budget. The analysis shows that if CO2 emissions begin to fall immediately and reach zero in 30 years, we will remain within the global warming limits set by the Paris treaty. After the flat emissions of 2014, 2015, and 2016, the authors believed that the fall in emissions was ready to begin. This is good, because their budget shows that if we wait to 2020 to start tapering off CO2 production, we only get 20 years to reach zero emissions. If we wait to 2025, we get less than 10 years to reach zero. Transforming our energy use that quickly would be impossible.

SO, how are we doing. Six months after the analysis was published, we find that 2017 emissions have gone up, not down. Lot’s of positive changes have begun, but we have to wait to see what happens in 2018. If we begin to taper off CO2 emissions by 2020, we will have 20 years to reach zero emissions. I suggest you take a look at the six milestones the authors believe must be reached by 2020. Then you can monitor the world’s progress toward painful climate change (the Paris treaty) or disastrous climate change (with too many storms, fires, heat waves, and rising seas).

Climate change is just one of the approaching disasters. Human population and its impact is growing, wildlife species are going extinct at incredible rates, freshwater supplies are dropping, and toxic wastes are building up. If we can’t do much more than take our CO2 emissions to zero over the next 20 years, most of the diversity and beauty of life on Earth will disappear.

Christiana Figueres and colleagues set out a six-point plan for turning the tide of the world’s carbon dioxide by 2020. NATURE.COM

Saving Nature and Human Civilization

Government Inaction on the Climate Emergency

More than 90% of the countries signing the Paris Climate Agreement have failed to meet their target emission reductions. Some countries, notably the U. S., have instead grown their emissions beyond the worst-case predictions.


The original goal was to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees celsius (2.7 degrees fahrenheit). However, national actions that would keep warming below 2 degrees celsius (3.6 degrees fahrenheit) were acceptable. Only three countries are on track to do either of these. Most are on the way to increases of 3 or 4 degrees celsius. Scientist fear that these higher increases will wipe out human civilization.

Government Inaction on the Mass Extinction of Wildlife

At the same time global warming is threatening humanity, global wildlife numbers are plummeting. This itself threatens the survival of human civilization even without the compounding effect of global warming. Under threat here is the soil, the foundation of life on Earth. And in the oceans, the delicate chemical and temperature balance that allows abundant marine life to exist.

The Extinction Rebellion

As the majority of the world’s citizens become aware that both climate and extinction are in danger of spiraling out of control, there are growing efforts to direct our governments to take action. Since the time India separated from the British Empire, we have all known that peaceful demonstration and protest can force major changes. The Student Strike, the progressive politics embodied by the Green New Deal, and The Sunrise Movement are starting to have an impact on government policies. It is essential that these groups welcome and endorse the efforts of the Extinction Rebellion. It is essential that all of us take part in local demonstrations sponsored by these and other groups concerned with avoiding extinction.


Photo: Rupert Read

Here are the basic demands of the Extinction Rebellion. I expect these will be expanded in the months ahead:


These demands only represent XR US. They are still in the process of development.

  1. That the Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, it must reverse all policies not in alignment with that position and must work alongside the media to communicate the urgency for change including what individuals, communities and businesses need to do.
  2. The Government must enact legally-binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and take further action to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It must cooperate internationally so that the global economy runs on no more than half a planet’s worth of resources per year.

  3. We do not trust our Government to make the bold, swift and long-term changes necessary to achieve these changes and we do not intend to hand further power to our politicians. Instead we demand a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes, as we rise from the wreckage, creating a democracy fit for purpose.

  4. We demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and poor communities for years of environmental injustice, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity, and repairs the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of human and all species, in order to maintain a livable, just planet for all.

The first U. S. XR (Extinction Rebellion) events begin tomorrow.

Storms and Global Warming

Midwest Storms and Flooding

NASA Image

Though you will see very little about this on major news media, the Midwest cyclone of three weeks ago set records and is still causing problems for many people. More than 500,000 domestic livestock and unknown numbers of wild animals have drowned.  “Across the nation 34 river gauges are in major flood stage, 55 in moderate and many of those are in the Midwest. With 2 feet of snow (water equivalent of 2 to 4 inches) possible mid to late week – and rapid spring melt starting late weekend – concerns for river more flooding. “— Jeff Berardelli (@WeatherProf) April 8, 2019

Climate Disaster Will Continue for More Than 100 Years

This spring’s record-setting storms are just the beginning. In fact, they will seem quite feeble compared to what’s coming. Of course, no one is surprised since scientists have warned us for years that this would happen (, and We should get a break next year as El Niño fades, but the year after could be the worst yet. And the year after could be the worst and the year after that could be the worst . . . .

Planners must prepare for the likelihood that disasters will continue for at least the next 200 years. If we cut GHG emissions to zero within 10 to 12 years, Earth’s climate systems could stabilize by then. If we continue burning fossil fuels, stabilization will take longer.

Like the March “bomb cyclone,” it might set some records.

CO2 Emissions Must be Cut Now


It’s (Past) Time to Cut CO2 Emissions

Greetings:  I’m repeating this post from three years ago as a reminder that we have a deadly national emergency slipping up on us that will kill far more people than COVID-19. If you click the CO2 link in the sidebar you can see that we haven’t yet begun responding by cutting emissions. 

Yesterday at my house we received 2.25″ of rain (with hail) in less than an hour. In arid regions, that’s a lot. The gutters clogged with hail, spilled over, and contributed to ponding in the yard that came within 1/4 inch of flowing over the patio door sills. I have a flood wall planned, and hope there’s still time to get it built before another intense storm comes along.

We can expect increasing storm size and intensity because of the amount of CO2 we have already released into the atmosphere. If we could limit emissions and subsequent temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius, the storms would continue to grow, but away from the coasts, little flood walls and rooftop solar panels would probably let most of us survive. However, limiting the storms by limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees celsius is impossible now. We might still limit the increase to 2 degrees, but we have to act fast.

The graph below shows the best scientific estimates of the cumulative effect of delays. If emissions begin to fall now, we can stay below 2 degrees of rise if we reach zero by 2040. If emissions do not begin falling until 2025, we must reach zero by 2033 to stay below 2 degrees. Eight years? Having had a strong taste of the coming catastrophe by then, we might try. But the effort itself would be so costly, we probably wouldn’t make it. Dropping to zero in 21 years if we begin now will be incredibly difficult. It will require a global switch to wartime economies dedicated to building renewable energy and making emission cuts. Emissions are still rising as we approach 2020, and reaching zero in 21 years seems unlikely.

All we can count on for sure is that nature will force human emissions to begin falling in about 20 years due to massive loss of life as heatwaves and wildfires increase, and as farms, water delivery, power delivery, and transportation fail. That’s when positive feedbacks, including the ice-free arctic, melting permafrost, soil erosion, and other sources of CO2 will begin growing without our contribution. At that point, our species could begin spiraling down toward extinction.

Christiana Figueres and colleagues published the graph below last year. I blogged about it last December. You can find a link to the original article there.

To keep all this positive, glass half full and so on, I will close by saying that the world’s scientists could be wrong about climate and we will all win the lottery next week.

Methane Releases May Be Accelerating

Methane Release (Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton

Greenhouse Gas, Methane, Release May be Accelerating

Methane (CH4) released from warming permafrost is one of the scariest of the possible climate-change feedbacks. Goes like this: Arctic warms > permafrost melts > methane escapes > this increases solar heat trapping in Earth’s atmosphere > this accelerates Arctic warming > permafrost melting accelerates > methane release accelerates > solar heat trapping accelerates > . . . . As Earth warms, its radiant heat will gradually overcome the barrier imposed by greenhouse gasses. Eventually, the atmosphere will find a new balance between incoming solar energy and outgoing heat. Reaching the new balance will take hundreds, probably thousands, of years. Earth will probably be uninhabitable by large-bodied organisms long before that.

Don’t you wish your politicians and fellow citizens would realize that this issue is way more important than whether or not some college student waved his penis in a girl’s face? Of course, that crap needs to stop, but let’s just stop it and let it assume the minor position among today’s concern that it merits, and turn our attention to scarier events.

News of methane releases is accelerating. If researchers begin finding lots of lakes like this one, we could have passed the point at which we can slow global warming.

Losing Earth & Hothouse Earth

Flash Droughts Are Becoming More Common.

I wanted to bookmark two well-written articles on climate change that contain useful information. Nothing better than a blog post for making a record.

Here is a link to download Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. The article describes the apocalypse that will probably occur if Earth warms by two degrees Celsius.

“Our study suggests that human-induced global warming of two degrees Celsius may trigger other Earth system processes, often called “feedbacks,” that can drive further warming – even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases,” –Will Steffen, lead author of the study published in the journal PNAS.

The article is catching lots of attention, but not as much as the Sunday NY Times article by Nathaniel Rich. All the major news media are discussing that article: Losing Earth; the Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.

“Like most human questions, the carbon-dioxide question will come down to fear. At some point, the fears of young people will overwhelm the fears of the old. Some time after that, the young will amass enough power to act. It will be too late to avoid some catastrophes, but perhaps not others” — Nathaniel Rich, NYT.

Reading Losing Earth followed by Trajectories provides excellent context for the need for climate action.

Helping Wildlife Survive the Sixth Mass Extinction

Preserving Critical Habitats Will Help More Wildlife Survive

This morning, an article by Andrew Suggitt (How wildlife will keep cool. . . .) made me think again about refugia. Earlier, I concluded that unlike ice ages, global warming would leave no refugia in which pockets of wildlife would survive. I was picturing a pervasive atmospheric impact instead of a discontinuous physical impact by tongues of glacial ice. I was wrong. The best habitats for wildlife, the ones along streams, in deep shaded canyons, and those in areas of diverse topography will sustain more wildlife as climate changes. Preserving those habitats is an essential goal for wildlife conservation.

Rick Turley. Approaching Wind River Canyon.

Unfortunately, the best habitats for wildlife are the most desirable for humans. Worldwide, farming and home construction have destroyed the richest valley-floor habitats, and roads have filled the floors of canyons and narrow valleys. In the arid region where I live, livestock graze along rare desert streams and around lakes and marshes.

Preserving critical habitats is not a new idea. Conservation organizations have programs that identify and urge protection of important habitats. The National Audubon Society, for instance, has initiated the Climate Strongholds program that focuses on the needs of individual species. The program has strong citizen-scientist opportunities for participation. Read about it here.

Most wildlife species will be lost over the next few decades and centuries, but it will be possible to prevent some of the losses through preservation of critical habitats. As changing weather patterns force governments to respond to the climate emergency, nature conservation advocates must work hard to explain the critical role nature plays in human survival and to convince governments to protect the best wildlife habitats.

Half for Nature

Current climate projections suggest that global carrying capacity will drastically decline over the next few centuries. Human civilization as we know and imagine it now will not survive. Once the Earth’s energy budget stabilizes, people can begin to rebuild cities and networks and evolution can begin to rebuild natural plant and animal diversity. For the immediate future of 300 – 400 years, we must advocate for the “Best” for nature. Saving Half for Nature will be important as rebuilding begins.

I hope that saving the “Best” is a practical goal. Instead of plants and animals, there may be masses of people jammed into cool mountain canyons and camping along streams. Impacts of food and fuel gathering could block wildlife and make the mass extinction worse.

World Scientists Warning to Humanity

Scientists Warn of Global Dangers

Tomorrow is World Population Day. A good day to take note of the warnings coming from the world’s scientists.
“Humanity is on a collision course with Nature.
A damaged Nature will survive. We may not.
We must change course to avert an ecological disaster.”
Twenty-five years ago, 1700 scientists published a warning and recommendations for controlling environmental pollution and population growth. Except for global efforts to curtail ozone emissions, the warning had no effect. Last fall, more than 20,000 scientists issued a new warning urging efforts to change our disastrous path toward global ecosystem devastation. If you agree that action is needed, please sign up to show support. Scientists, other individuals, businesses, and organizations sign here:

You can read the article here:  You can also download the PDF file here:  Warning_article_with_supp_11-13-17.