Michael Slate Interview with Dahr Jamail

Climate Disruption and a Warning to Humanity

January 1, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


The following is excerpted from a December 8, 2017 interview with Dahr Jamail on The Michael Slate Show on KPFK Pacifica radio.

Revolution/revcom.us features interviews from The Michael Slate Show to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theatre, music and literature, science, sports, and politics. The views expressed by those interviewed are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere by Revolution/revcom.us.

Michael Slate: I am very pleased to welcome to the show journalist and author Dahr Jamail. Dahr began a recent article in his Climate Disruption series by observing the signs of runaway Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD) continue to mount with each passing month. Dahr, welcome to the show. Let’s begin with what you mean by Anthropogenic Climate Disruption.

Dahr Jamail: That is simply a more scientifically precise wording of climate change and global warming because given the context of this country with how strong the fossil fuel denial movement is and how well funded it is, those of us reporting on it need to be as precise as possible. So, Anthropogenic (Human Cause) and then Climate Disruption is a much more precise description of what is happening than global warming or climate change—because literally the amount of CO2 [carbon dioxide] that we’ve introduced into the atmosphere, it isn’t just literally causing climate change or global warming because in some places things are even far colder. It is essentially throwing the climate into chaos. So climate disruption is just a more accurate way to describe what’s happening.

Michael Slate: So when you are talking about climate disruption, you are talking about a threat to the planet. This is a real threat and we have to do something about it or face the consequences which could be terrible.

Dahr Jamail: That’s right! We’re already in the Sixth Mass Extinction. There are now a couple of different peer-reviewed, scientific reports published in extremely esteemed journals that show that. That’s not news, that’s old news. Those reports... the first was published over a year ago now. So, we’re in the Sixth Mass Extinction. We triggered it by what we’ve done to the planet by pollution, deforestation, etc. but especially with climate disruption.

We’ve literally changed the composition of the atmosphere and the chemistry of the ocean. And so even just last year, we saw last year’s CO2 increase in the atmosphere that we generated was a 50 percent increase over what the average was in the last decade alone. So, we’re looking at a situation where we’re changing the chemistry and the content of the Arctic Ocean to where it’s starting to look more like the Atlantic Ocean. So the food webs are getting completely disrupted. And that is not just in the Arctic, but across the globe. And this year again is on track to certainly be within the top three warmest years in history, which basically just means the top three hottest years ever recorded are the last three years. That’s the trend that we’re on and that’s clearly been the trend that we’ve been on for a while and it certainly looks like it’s not one that’s going to stop anytime soon.

I think this forces us to really look at what are our reactions and what are our emotional responses and are we gonna really take this information and behave accordingly. It’s making the planet change to the point where arable land, season changes, temperature extremes, droughts, extreme weather events, etcetera are going to make it far, far more difficult to feed people on the planet at the rate at which we’re changing things. Simply put, plants and nature and agriculture can’t keep up with the changes that we’re imposing on the planet.

Michael Slate: You say that this could be global mass extinction and that this could be an event that is possible by 2100.

Dahr Jamail: It has already started. The Sixth Mass Extinction, we’re in it; it’s officially begun. So that’s not something that’s going to happen far off into the future. There have been other reports that have come out that have said that it could possibly start by 2100. And again, I would point to reports that have already been published that I cited in earlier climate dispatches. It’s a situation where, again, the catastrophic events are already upon us.

What I’m trying to show in my articles and the book I’m working on now and that will come out next year by New Press, is that there is no more future tense about these worst case scenarios. We’re in it, we’re living in it, this is what it looks like. And it’s going to keep amplifying and intensifying because runaway feedback loops are non-linear. And if you look at the graph and the visualization, there’s some brilliant ones that have been produced by Climate Central and other groups that literally show these visuals of the temperature increase since the advent of the Industrial Revolution [1800-1850]. And if you look at literally in just the last few years they start to go exponential. They start to go non-linear whereas before that there had been sort of a linear progression.

Again, it doesn’t mean that there’s going to be some Hollywood version of all of a sudden tomorrow we wake up and all the animals are dead. But again if we look at it through the human time frame at which this is unfolding compared to a geological time frame... again, let me give you an example. The worst mass extinction in the history of the planet is the Permian Mass Extinction 253 million years ago—over 90 percent of life on Earth was annihilated. Now, most scientists believe that was caused by a giant volcanic event in the traps in Siberia that over 80,000 years released enough CO2 into the atmosphere to warm that planet enough to where the Arctic melted enough that the methane trapped in the permafrost there was released and that really kicked it into overdrive and that was the death knell of that mass extinction event. We’re literally replicating that process. We’ve released enough CO2 into the atmosphere already that we’ve warmed temperatures a little bit more than 1 degree Celsius [roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit] since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution....

Michael Slate: When you we talk about 1 or 2 degree Celsius rise—just so people can be clear here, what exactly does that mean?

Dahr Jamail: When we talk about climate disruption and temperature increase and CO2 increase, it’s always compared to pre-industrial revolution baseline levels. So we’re comparing it to what was going on in the planet temperature-wise and CO2 [carbon dioxide] content before the Industrial Revolution began and before we began injecting large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. So when we say there’s been a 1 degree C rise—when I write about it, I generally write about it from the perspective of when the Industrial Revolution began. So essentially it meant that this is how much we’ve warmed the planet since we started burning fossil fuels. So that gives you some idea of a time frame and that we generally mean somewhere around 1800 or 1850. Again, it’s arguable when the Industrial Revolution actually began. Some people say it began with the advent of agriculture. But we’re talking about essentially machinery and burning fossil fuels when it comes to climate disruption. So generally between 1800 and 1850, that’s the baseline that we talk about. So, we’re raising temperatures and CO2 content starting at that baseline.

Michael Slate: When you write about the situation today, you paint a very powerful picture of the overall situation. But you also then dig into some of the particular way things are developing today as a result of what is happening overall. So let’s talk about some of the particulars that can be seen today, the things that people can look at as real physical evidence. For example, let’s talk about trees. There’s a general importance to the existence of trees on the planet and you put what’s happening to trees in an overall worldwide context, and what’s happening to forests and their relationship to the ability of the human species and other species to survive.

Dahr Jamail: That’s right. And again this should have been something I mentioned when giving the broad brush strokes about context and everything and there’s also sort of a disclaimer. When we talk about these changes, and I’m bringing this up about trees for a reason. When we talk about trees we can’t ever attribute everything that’s happening to them only to climate disruption. Climate disruption might just be playing a role in a portion of it or it might be by far and away the biggest factor. You can never say that one single event is only attributable to climate disruption. So we talk about trees, deforestation—intentional deforestation, burning down forests, chopping them down to turn them into fields for agriculture or just for human encroachment, people wanting to develop land there, put houses there and so on. But certainly climate disruption is always a factor and in some areas it is the leading factor.

Forests usually exist in equilibrium with the area where they live, or always exist in that equilibrium. But when we start ramping up temperatures and bringing in droughts and there’s catastrophic flooding events, that’s going to start wiping out forests at an unnatural rate and that’s what we’re seeing too. That, coupled with human deforestation. Just last year the total amount of global tree cover loss was an area the same size as the country of New Zealand. That’s a little bit more than 73 million acres, which was a 51 percent increase over just the previous year. And when we talk about losing trees, this is also critical—that’s habitats for birds, insects, and wild life.

Trees play an iconic role. It’s almost like the polar bears, if you want to save the planet, plant a tree. It’s an iconic symbol of the environment. Trees sequester carbon, they release clean oxygen into the atmosphere. They store water, their roots help store more water in the ground, not just for them but for everything in them, meaning insects, birds, animals, other shrubs, other vegetation in the forest. They play a critical component. And then in the mountains, this is why mountains are considered water towers, because trees keep all that moisture in the mountains. They keep the soils moist. They help store water. They shade snowpacks so the snowpacks can last longer. And all of that benefits us, living downstream of all that, an entire eco-system is reliant upon trees. So when we’re wiping out trees at this staggering rate; again, it’s an extremely alarming situation that people need to pay attention to.

Michael Slate: Continuing along with some of the particular manifestations of this planetary crisis, you talk about the heat and a baking planet and at the same time you talk about apocalyptic rainfalls and rising sea levels posing a danger to the planet. How do these two things come together as part of the crisis?

Dahr Jamail: That’s a really good point and that’s again why we use climate disruption instead of just global warming. Global warming kind of makes it sound more linear whereas disruption means more chaos. The water realm is where the chaos comes to the fore, so when we warm the atmosphere it can hold more moisture and that’s one of the key factors as to why we are having such incredible rain events like what happened with Hurricane Harvey down in Houston this summer, by far the single largest rainfall event in the history of this country. And so we had these catastrophic floods and then because of heat and because of shifting weather patterns and disruptive weather patterns we’ll have these long extended droughts.

For instance, I live up on the Olympic Peninsula and there’s literally a temperate rain forest out here in Olympic National Park and two or three years ago we had a severe drought in a couple of the rain forests and even wild fires in one of the rain forests and this is in an area that pre climate disruption would typically get 200 plus inches of rainfall in one year. And so it’s caused this tremendous imbalance where the heat is melting out glaciers and snowpacks in the mountains. So then with the advent of warmer and earlier springs, all that water is released. We have floods happening down river that certainly are out of the bounds of normal record keeping, meaning breaking records. And then of course that snowpack is gone and that leads to these intense droughts through the summer that we’re becoming very acquainted with out here on the West Coast and in the general western U.S., from Colorado on out in our direction. And then of course, we have these extreme droughts persisting and look at what’s happening in California as we speak. Here we are in the middle of December and we have these incredible wildfires down in Southern California....

Michael Slate: Let’s talk about ocean acidity and sea life as part of this overall crisis.

Dahr Jamail: What water acidification is... the broad brush explanation is that when we introduce as much CO2 concentration into the atmosphere as we have, which is now 130 parts per million greater than it ever was prior to the advent of industry and us burning fossil fuels, then a huge amount of that CO2 is going to be absorbed into the ocean. And then that literally is changing the chemistry of the oceans and causing them to become more acidic. Obviously that’s going to affect sea life and have huge impacts on corals. So anything with a calcium shell, like crabs and shrimp and sea life such as this as well as coral and its ability to continue to exist. It’s going to have obvious detrimental impact on all those organisms and it already has....

Michael Slate: As we move to a conclusion let’s talk about something that you speak to a lot: the need for people to have a reality check and that being that the dominant cause of all this, the dominant cause of Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD) is in fact human activity. I want to talk about that and particularly in relation to the denial and reality of all this and Trump and what he has done in relation to all this.

Dahr Jamail: That’s right, I always conclude my dispatches with the Denial and Reality section. And with the Denial section I could do dispatches only on denial given the Trump administration and that he has populated it with these advocates of the fossil fuel industry. You have people like Scott Pruitt, the former attorney general of the State of Oklahoma who has sued the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) numerous times and who is extremely pro fracking and pro fossil fuel as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. It would be funny if the consequences weren’t so dire.

[Government] scientists are prevented from going to conferences if they are going to be talking about climate disruption. They’re scrubbing government websites of the words “climate change” and “global warming,” literally scrubbing them. This is happening with the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and several other places. The National Institutes of Health and all of these other websites are being scrubbed, budgets cut, research cut, and scientists being prevented from doing their jobs.

It’s an extremely worrisome situation. And it’s really a worst-case scenario in a sense because at this time if we were to have any hope of... not of stopping climate disruption, that went out the window a long time ago—but doing something to seriously try to mitigate impacts, meaning that if we made some dramatic changes on a global level, with governments coordinating the actions, maybe we could mitigate it. Maybe we could keep from getting into the higher ends of the worst-case scenario. I think we’re already locked into the worst-case scenario but maybe we could take the edge off. Instead we’ve got this maniac, lunatic administration that is just stomping on the gas accelerator across the board. And that’s the last thing we need to be doing right now.

Michael Slate: You spoke about this new development of 15 thousand scientists who recently issued a catastrophic warning to humanity about this situation.

Dahr Jamail: Right! 15,000 scientists wrote what they called a letter to humanity. And they were basically calling it a warning to humanity. It came from the Union of Concerned Scientists and basically talked about if we don’t get our act together immediately and promptly and start having that widespread, globally coordinated action that I was just talking about, then it’s going to be too late to change our course from basically wiping ourselves out. They don’t put it that dramatically, but they call it a failing trajectory that we’re on and time is running out. Stating the obvious, they say that the Earth is our only home and that we are making it an unlivable place. And without immediate, dramatic changes it is going to be too late to do anything. That just came out within the last month signed by 15,000 scientists. And they say that we have given this notice before, back in the late 1990s the Union of Concerned Scientists did a similar thing and now they have issued an even more dire warning.

Dahr Jamail writes regularly on the climate and the destruction of the planet and every living thing on it. His monthly Climate Dispatches can be found on Truthout.org.



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