The Bond Fire, driven by high winds, burns the hillsides west of Santiago Canyon Road near Silverado Canyon on Thursday, December 3, 2020. (Photo: Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Congress Dithers as the World Burns

Congress dithers over a few trillion dollars that could begin to change our nation’s emissions course and help save us all from a flaming nightmare.

While Republicans dependent on fossil fuel and other billionaires in the "Koch Network" continue to deny even the existence of man-made global warming, the IPCC just came out with their first report to say that there's absolute certainty that much of the extreme weather our planet is experiencing is caused by our burning fossil fuels into the atmosphere.

There is no longer any doubt that global warming is here and wreaking havoc, the report says; the science is "unequivocal." Over 14,000 different peer-reviewed studies were used to compile this report, and its results are stunning.

Congress must stop "debating" whether or not to address climate change and instead mobilize this country the way we did to fight World War II.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres said this moment represents "a code red for humanity" and adds, "There is no time for delay and no room for excuses."

Meanwhile, Congress dithers over a few trillion dollars that could begin to change our nation's emissions' course and help save us all from a flaming nightmare.

But instead of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide emissions declining, the report points out that global emissions of all three continue, and the rate of emission continues to increase. As a result, we're close to hitting an absolute ceiling of 1.5 degrees Celsius that, if passed, will turn the world into a hellscape for humans and most other animals and plants.

The world, the IPCC report notes, can release another 500 billion tons of CO2 before we crash through that ceiling; in 1990 we were putting about 35 billion tons of CO2 a year into the atmosphere, while today we're pumping out over 50 billion tons a year and rising.

As reporters point out in The Washington Post, we're changing the atmosphere so rapidly that the only viable comparison was when a meteor struck the planet 66 million years ago. The result of that dramatic increase in CO2 was a wave of climate change that rendered everything larger than a crocodile extinct...including all the large dinosaurs.

Meanwhile, Congress dithers over a few trillion dollars.

Even more alarming, if we push global warming to the point where it thaws large parts of the arctic, all bets are off. As Brady Dennis and Sarah Kaplan note in the Post article referenced above:

"Warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius also carries increased risk of setting off feedback processes that cause climate change to accelerate. Higher temperatures will thaw Arctic permafrost, potentially unleashing carbon that has been locked in a deep freeze for thousands of years. Methane trapped in the deep sea could make its way into the atmosphere. Wildfires could turn millions more acres of carbon-rich forests into a source of additional greenhouse gases." [emphasis mine]

At the bottom of this post is a short, 10-minute video we produced a few years ago that outlines how just such a scenario--methane trapped in the deep sea making its way into the atmosphere--played out 250 million years ago. Spoiler alert: it killed 95% of all life on Earth, creating a period called "The Great Dying."

What we know now with a high level of certainty (the phrases "virtually certain" and "high confidence" are used over 100 times in the IPCC report) is that global warming will play out in one of three scenarios, although each could pop up regionally as well. They are:

1. {up to 1.5 degrees} Weather and sea level rise are disruptive and expensive, but humans figure out ways to adapt and stop burning fossil fuels in time to prevent the worst outcomes. Countries adapt, albeit painfully and with serious disruption, but eventually humanity moves on with new non-fossil fuel energy sources.

2. {1.5 to an unknown, probably around 2-4 degrees} Warming so remodels the planet that large food-producing areas become wastelands leading to widespread famine and billions of climate refugees. Cities buckle under the lack of food and influx of people desperate for food and shelter causing civilization itself to collapse. Local and even worldwide wars over resources like fresh water and food-growing-land kill much of the world's population and push the survivors back to a stone-age or tribal existence.

3. {Over 5 degrees} Warming hits a runaway phase, releasing so much carbon from the arctic tundra and shallow seacoast methane clathrates that the planet warms over 7 degrees Celsius and a Permian Mass Extinction-like events hits us. After tens of millions of years the planet reboots itself and another species rises to take our place at the top of the food chain, the way mammals replaced the dinosaurs after the last great extinction 66 million years ago.

There are scientists around the world who argue each of these three scenarios, although the focus of the world and the IPCC is on limiting the damage to scenario one. If it truly is possible, if we haven't yet passed too many irreversible tipping points that would lead to the second or third scenarios, then all of our economic and political will must be focused on ending the planet's use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

Which means arguments like Republicans and "conservative" Democrats make that we "must pay for" green infrastructure "without raising corporate and billionaires' taxes" must be seen as the narcissistic obscenity they are. Option one is the least dangerous possible outcome of our current path, and if these idiots can't even take that seriously they deserve the condemnation of civilized society worldwide.

Meanwhile, Congress dithers over a few trillion dollars.

Scientists are expressing a deep concern for the future, as the fossil fuel industry and the billionaires it's made continue to pump out lies and disinformation as recently as last month while controlling much of the world's politics, including the entire Republican Party in the US, as well as more than a few Democrats.

But regardless of their denial, global warming is now hitting us in a way that's so forceful it can no longer be ignored. And "next generation" climate modeling, reported in the AAAS's journal Science, rings major alarm bells:

"A host of global climate models developed for the United Nations' next major assessment of global warming due in 2021," they write, "are now showing a puzzling but undeniable trend: They are running hotter than they have in the past. In earlier models, doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide over preindustrial levels led models to predict somewhere between 2degC and 4.5degC of warming once the planet came into balance. But in at least eight of the next-generation models, produced by leading centers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and France, that 'equilibrium climate sensitivity' has come in at 5degC or warmer."

Regardless of the numbers, we're already seeing the impact of global warming in our weather. And it's ugly.

Because most of the heat-reflecting arctic ice sheet has melted, being replaced by heat-trapping dark water, the upper-atmosphere's Jet Stream has lost most of its force and rigidity.

The Jet Stream is a river of fast-moving air that used to be largely trapped between the cold arctic and the more temperate mid-latitudes of northern Canada and northern Europe/Russia. Staying in its chute between those two temperature extremes, it flowed in a relatively continuous stream from west to east, pushing weather across the Northern Hemisphere with it.

The Jet Stream is responsible for the old saying that every part of the country thinks is unique to it (I've lived in Michigan, Vermont, Georgia, New Hampshire, Germany, Washington DC and Oregon - in every place, people say this): "If you don't like the weather, just wait a day."

But we've been about two months without meaningful rain here in Oregon, a place that's on the edge of a temperate rain forest. Hundred-year-old trees are in shock; hillsides are brown, and the forests are burning with a ferocity firefighters say they've never before seen.

Just south of us in California they shut down the Lake Oroville powerplant because of the persistent drought that's collapsing rivers and threatens to remake the entire west coast into scrub desert.

On the other side of the world, Greece and Lebanon are on fire, as are parts of the arctic tundra across Siberia. In the US, the Pacific Northwest saw a week of temperatures around 115 degrees Fahrenheit, and parts of Canada were hotter than Saudi Arabia; an entire town burst into flames in the face of the drought and 120 degree heat. This week, Portland will again hit 103, a temperature that only 50 years ago was a "hot day" in Phoenix.

This is all happening because the Jet Stream has become "drunk," lacking as it does the pressure from the temperature differential between a now-warmer arctic and the mid-latitudes. It's wandering as far south as Texas in the Spring (and bringing arctic cold with it, collapsing the privatized Texas power grid) while "stalling" during the summer across the norther part of our country and leaving in place "heat domes."

We've had to learn phrases like "bomb cyclones" and "heat domes" to describe extreme heat and cold never before seen in America. Right before our eyes, the weather and biological landscape of much of the northern hemisphere is being changed by this anomalous Jet Stream behavior.

Meanwhile, Congress dithers over a few trillion dollars.

To our east in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf Stream or "Great Conveyor Belt" is now, scientists say, in a "drunken" state similar to the Jet Stream and could collapse altogether in the near future. The Gulf Stream is a river of warm water that flows from the southern asian part of the Pacific Ocean, around the southern tip of South Africa, and brings heat up along the east coasts of South, Central and North America.

It finally leaves North America and runs from the coast of Newfoundland across the Atlantic toward the United Kingdom, releasing its load of heat into the atmosphere above the North Atlantic which is why London, Paris and Berlin, with latitudes north of Montana and North Dakota, don't experience the same brutal, crop-killing winters.

The collapse of the Gulf Stream, the result of a flood of cold, fresh water pouring into it from Greenland's melting glaciers, could unleash Siberia-like winters on western Europe, disrupting crops and provoking civilizational clashes over food and living space.

Meanwhile, Congress dithers over a few trillion dollars.

We lost four full years when Donald Trump took over the White House and shattered the EPA, moving half their scientists out to the Midwest while the other half chose to simply retire.

Like Hungary's dictator Viktor Orban, who insists global warming is "a hoax invented by Barack Obama," Trump radically increased our emissions by selling off huge swaths of government-owned public lands for oil and gas drilling while putting fossil fuel executives in charge of both the EPA and the Interior Department, and then filling many of the top positions in both agencies with fossil fuel industry toadies (many of whom are still there).

We're slowly rebuilding, but we need leadership and a rapid response to this crisis. Congress must stop "debating" whether or not to address climate change and instead mobilize this country the way we did to fight World War II. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment.

You can contact your member of Congress by calling 202-224-3121. Even if you're as pissed off at their inaction as I am, remember to be polite when you call as the person answering the phone is probably just an intern taking messages. But they do compile those messages, and rightwing groups funded by fossil fuel billionaires are bragging about how many thousands of calls to Congress they're mobilizing to stop anything that resembles a Green New Deal.

Call Congress now and then join one of the many great groups dedicated to stopping climate change. Cutting our personal carbon footprints is satisfying, but will ultimately be a futile effort if there's not a major change in policy at the federal level. The future of the world is at stake.

This article, which appears here with permission, was first published on The Hartmann Report.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.