What Would You Do?

Fire is a natural part of the boreal forest—an ecosystem dominated by black and white spruce. This species is designed to burn and has cones that release their seeds when under intense heat. (Photo: S. Rupp)Photo by Scott Rupp — http://news.uaf.edu/four-million-acres-burned-questions-alaskas-future/


Today, a headline in The New York Times caught my attention. It read:

Global Warming Cited as Wildfires Increase in Fragile Boreal Forest

Here’s a link to the article:


And here’s the first paragraph:

Scientists have been warning for decades that climate change is a threat to the immense tracts of forest that ring the Northern Hemisphere, with rising temperatures, drying trees and earlier melting of snow contributing to a growing number of wildfires.

The first paragraph of the article notes that scientists, for decades, have been warning that global warming would lead to fires like the one that recently devastated Ft. McMurray, Canada.

I know from personal experience that scientists have been predicting for decades a future of increasingly common wildfires in boreal forests. Fifteen to twenty years ago, some of my professors were among the scientists who made those predictions, along with a number of other predictions about the effects of global warming. Much of what they foresaw back then is coming true now.

So if I seem like an alarmist regarding the state of the environment, I hope you will put yourself in the place of someone who began studying scientists’ theories and empirical research decades ago and is now seeing researchers’ predictions come true. And while you’re at it, consider that I’ve also learned over the years that we’re in line for ever-worsening ecological and social disasters.

And now, I’d appreciate your advice. If you were me, how would you handle knowing that our best hope of avoiding ongoing ecological catastrophes is to reduce the stress that we’re putting on the planet? What would you do to motivate people to act?



CNN aired 23.5 minutes of American Petroleum Institute ads over two weeks, compared to just five minutes of coverage about climate change or the temperature


Check out the story that goes with the above headline here: http://ecowatch.com/2016/04/26/cnn-fossil-fuel-ads/


The fact that time devoted to oil-industry ads dwarfs time spent on climate change is not a coincidence. Advertisers avoid sponsoring environmental stories on news programs, based in part on the supposition that an informed public would demand big changes, and those changes would be bad for business. So the media report environmental stories in inverse proportion to their importance, and the public assumes that environmental degradation isn’t worth worrying about because the media rarely cover it. And the media rarely cover environmental stories because polls show that the public doesn’t realize the importance of such stories, and because advertisers don’t want to foot the bill for environmental stories that could have a negative impact on their bottom lines. 

So, in my little way, I try to inform people about what’s happening. The big media organizations have the budgets and the talent to do a much better job than I will ever do, but they seem to be more interested in fulfilling their responsibility to their stockholders than fulfilling their responsibility to the public.  I, on the other hand, have only to answer to my conscience.

And my conscience tells me that I have a responsibility to talk about what I know.  I’ve been studying environmental issues for over 30 years, and I know that things are bad and they’re getting worse at an accelerating rate. We’re rushing headlong into a chaotic world of our own making — a world of cascading social, economic, medical, and ecological catastrophies. Our children and grandchildren will blame us. They will say, “You knew or should have known that your wasteful activities would create environmental havoc down the road. Why didn’t you do something while there was still time?”

Are Pleasant Winters Adding to Public Apathy?


In many parts of the U.S., including Kansas where I live, winter never arrived this year. It was replaced by an extended autumn, which blended by mid-February into an early spring.


When friends commented on the delightful weather in January or February, my typical response was, “We’re going to get stuck with a myriad of bad consequences due to climate change, so we might as well enjoy the good ones — few though they may be.” I wondered, however, if the pleasant wintertime weather would add to people’s apathy.

Recently, a pair of professors wondered the same thing. In search of an answer they looked at the relationship between the weather throughout the U.S. and the population distribution. They found that “[f]or a vast majority of Americans, the weather is simply becoming more pleasant.” They concluded:

To those of us who believe climate change is the most profound challenge of our age, our discovery is both illuminating and disheartening. In previous work, we’ve shown that Americans make sense of climate change in part through their personal experience of the weather. Our new findings suggest that the weather changes caused by global warming cannot be relied on to spur the public to demand policies that address the problem. By the time the weather changes for the worse later in this century, it may be too late…. [So] when we do discuss temperatures, we should acknowledge the temporarily pleasant side effects of global warming. But then we should stress that these agreeable conditions will one day vanish — like ice on a warm winter day.

If you’d like to take a look at the entire article, “Global Warming Feels Quite Pleasant,” by Patrick J. Egan and Megan Mullin, you can find it here:



The Poll Climate Deniers Point To and Why It’s a Crock


There are still a surprisingly large number of people who think that scientists haven’t reached a consensus on climate change. In making their case, some of those contrarians point to an online petition, signed by over 31,000 “scientists,” which states:

There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.[1]

So wow, huh? A petition with the signatures of more than 31,000 scientists seems quite impressive. I mean, if 31,000 scientists say climate change is a bunch of hooey, who am I to argue? But as Glenn Kessler wrote in his “Fact Checker” column for The Washington Post, “Only 9,000 of the [31,000+] signers actually have PhDs, and the list of signers’ qualifications shows only a relatively small percentage with expertise on climate research. One study estimated that under the petition’s rather expansive definition of a ‘scientist,’ more than 10 million Americans would be qualified to sign it.”[2] That same study found that only 39 individual climatologists—that is, people who actually study climate for a living—signed the petition. The remainder of the 31,000 signers came from the following fields:[3]

  • Computers and Math
  • Engineering
  • Chemistry
  • Environment
  • Physics and Aerospace
  • Medicine
  • Biochemistry, Biology, and Agriculture
  • General Science

Meanwhile, a peer-reviewed study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that “97-98% of the [nearly 1,400] climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC [anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change] outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”[4]  Similarly, scientists who analyzed nearly 12,000 climate studies that appeared in peer-reviewed scientific journals, between 1991 and 2011, concluded: “Among papers expressing a position on AGW [anthropogenic global warming], an overwhelming percentage (97.2% based on self-ratings, 97.1% based on abstract ratings) endorses the scientific consensus on AGW.”[5]

So, on the one hand, you have between 97 and 98 percent of 12,000 published climate scientists agreeing that humans are causing climate change, and, on the other, you have 39 climatologists (not 39 percent of 31,000, mind you, just 39 individuals) signing an online petition that says there’s no “convincing scientific evidence” that humans are causing climate change. Now, which of those two positions do you think is more likely to be correct?

*       *       *       *       *       *       *

I mention the petition and the peer-reviewed studies because I’m convinced that it’s crucial we recognize that climate change is real and that we’re causing it. If we face the truth, we’re more likely to do whatever is necessary to change our course and avert disaster.

Need more evidence that climate change is an existential threat? Check out this article from today’s Washington Post:

“How Earth Itself Has Dramatically Upped the Stakes for the Paris Climate Accord,” by Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis.


Need more arguments to use on climate deniers? Check out: “Yes, You Should Listen to Bill Nye Instead of Sarah Palin on Climate Change.”


*       *       *       *       *       *       *



[1] Global Warming Petition Project. “31,487 American scientists have signed this petition, including 9,029 with PhDs.” http://www.petitionproject.org/index.php

[2] Kessler, Glenn. “Rick Perry’s Made-Up ‘Facts’ About Climate Change.” Washington Post, August 18, 2011. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/rick-perrys-made-up-facts-about-climate-change/2011/08/17/gIQApVF5LJ_blog.html

[3] Angliss. “Guest Post: Scrutinizing the 31,000 Scientissts in the OISM Petition Project. March 11, 2010. http://www.skepticalscience.com/scrutinising-31000-scientists-in-the-OISM-P

[4] Anderegg, William R. L., James W. Prall, Jacob Harold, and Stephen H. Schneider. “Expert Credibility in Climate Change.” PNAS. June 21, 2010. http://www.pnas.org/content/107/27/12107.abstract

[5] Cook, John, Dana Nuccitelli, Sarah A. Green, et al. 2013. “Quantifying the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming in the Scientific Literature.” Environmental Research Letters. Vol. 8, p. 6.




Spring began a good month early in Kansas City. Crocuses were blooming by mid-February; daffodils were up before the end of the month.


By now, magnolias, forsythias,  and crabapples, are done. Redbuds and azaleas are on their way out . . .

. . . but wild violets and lilacs are at their peak.

And, of course, their are plenty of dandelions.


Clearly, we’re not lacking for blossoms. But something is missing? What is it? Bees.

Almost every afternoon, I walk for an hour or so, and during flower season, I listen for buzzing and look for bees hovering around blooms.  Although a variety of plants have been blossoming for a couple of months now, I’ve yet to see a single bee.

But guess what. I’m happy to report a bit of good news (for a change). Garden-care giant Ortho announced today (April 12, 2016) that by 2021 it will discontinue the production of pesticides containing neonicotinoids, a class of chemicals that are particularly harmful to bees.

You can read all about it here:



The above picture is of a forsythia bush that I saw blooming on December 15th and again today, March 7th.

Although I lived away from Kansas City for most of my adult life, I remember the winter weather of my childhood, and let me tell you: What we have in K.C. now isn’t it. When I was a kid, winters were cold and drab. The ground in early March was generally covered with patches of ice and dirty snow, all shades of gray. This year, we’ve gone from roses and forsythias blooming in mid-December to magnolias and forsythias blooming in early March. As for snow, we had a couple of dustings, but they melted swiftly away.

On a walk this afternoon, I saw crocuses, daffodils, vinca, spirea, magnolias and forsythias in full bloom; crab apples and redbuds a day or two away from blooming, and yellow-green baby leaves on many of the trees and shrubs.

Unfortunately for the rest of the world, weird weather events aren’t confined to Kansas City; they’re occurring all over the planet. Did you see, for example, the story about the organizers of the Iditarod having train-loads of snow sent to Anchorage for the start of the annual dog-sled race? If you haven’t seen it and would like to, here’s a link: 




No, it’s a weathered, shredded plastic grocery bag.


Inevitably, when I’m out for a walk, I see plastic bags blowing in the wind or snagged by a branch and flapping in the air. Often, I pick the bags up and carry them with me till I get to a store with a recycling barrel. Plastic bags weigh next to nothing., so carrying them for a little while isn’t a big deal.

I realize, of course, that picking up and recycling a bag or two makes approximately zero difference in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, I’m pretty certain that an individual turtle or sea bird or some other marine creature will be spared harm because I took a second to pick up a plastic bag.

What’s happening in the world’s oceans is appalling. If you haven’t read this before, you might think that I’m making it up, but, in fact, there are continent-sized patches of floating garbage in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.* And most of that garbage is plastic. Consequently, more than half of the Earth’s sea turtles and almost all of its sea birds have ingested plastic.

So if you’re out for a walk and you see a plastic bag blowing by, you can prevent it from landing in a creek or a storm drain and being carried by the current to a river and then to the ocean and then to the stomach of a century-old tortoise by picking the bag up and recycling it. If recycling is too inconvenient, throwing the bag away in a trash can will at least keep it from ending up in the stomach of some marine creature.

http://education.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/   http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100302-new-ocean-trash-garbage-patch/   http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/04/140404-garbage-patch-indian-ocean-debris-malaysian-plane/

If your nerves can stand it, check out one or both of the stories linked below.

By 2050, Our Oceans Will Hold More Plastic Than Fish


By 2050, There Will Be More Plastic Than Fish in the World’s Oceans, Study Says