Headlines abound this week that the world has a 50% chance of surpassing the dreaded 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in global temperature since pre-industrial levels. The media is reporting on a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) prediction released Monday that the globe could hit that mark briefly in 2026, which, the experts say, could give us a sampling of what living with catastrophic climate change would be like.
Reading the reports, I had to wonder, do the scientists, journalists, and public officials who worship in the church of 1.5 degrees Celsius, you know, ever actually go outdoors or read the headlines about what’s already happening in the world due to climate change? When the WMO was crunching its numbers and issuing its report, wildfires were ripping through New Mexico at an intensity usually experienced later in fire season, the Western US was pondering life without water and electricity from Lake Powell and Lake Mead, Southern California was dreading the possibility that it could run out of water in August, Northern California was concerned that saltwater could back up into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which would pollute a freshwater source millions of residents and farmers depend on, houses were falling into the ocean in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, hundreds of millions of people in India and Pakistan were enduring a two-month-old deadly heatwave, and France was preparing for a record drought. We’re even starting to see climate migration as Californians move out of their state to escape the heat, wildfires and water restrictions. This is just a partial list of the catastrophes we’re already experiencing, and, according to scientists, we’re only 1.1 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial temperature benchmark.
The WMO report was released a week after Science magazine published a curious report with the headline: “Use of ‘too hot’ climate models exaggerates impacts of global warming”. The article, the U.N., which for years has been sounding the alarm about climate change, was subtitled “U.N. report authors say researchers should avoid suspect models”. Their concern? That studies that predict the world will get hot faster than expected “threatens to undermine the credibility of climate science, some researchers fear.” Let me get this straight: The world is getting torched now and their biggest worry is “the credibility of climate science?”
I think UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres hit the mark in March when he said: “Despite growing pledges of climate action, global emissions are at an all-time high. They continue to rise. The latest science shows that climate disruption is causing havoc in every region – right now. We are in a race against time to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees. And we are losing.”
As someone who lives in South Florida, where sea level rise is already flooding many coastal communities and lurking just under the manicured lawns and streets in others, and who spent last summer camping his way across America to see firsthand how climate change is already impacting other parts of the country, I can tell you with great certainty that aggressive science isn’t the world’s biggest problem, current climate catastrophe is. During my adventure, I choked on smoke from wildfires ripping through the Rockies, saw Lake Powell shockingly depleted of water, houses teetering on cliff’s edge in Pacifica, Lake Shasta’s water way below its blaze orange banks, a gray dome where Mount Shasta would normally be covered in snow and even worse the northeast side of the mountain ablaze, a fire burning at a distance in Lassen National Peak that consumed half the surrounding forest after I left, the mushroom cloud signature of the Boot Fire in Oregon, and Mount Rainier low on snow after a record heatwave. Running from fire and smoke was an essential part of my summer vacation.
To me, the science I’m reading is out of whack with the reality I’m witnessing with my own eyes. I’m beyond worrying about 1.5 degrees Celsius and temperatures above that mark because we’ve already reached the point of global catastrophe.
There’s a lot of talk about how people are feeling frightened and helpless about climate change. Maybe the solution is to stop arguing over the science and tell them what they can do right now to make a difference through a series of public service announcements. For example, they need to know that they can make a difference today by: 1. Voting only for candidates who believe in climate change and are committed to fighting it; 2. Purchasing the most energy efficient vehicle they can afford; 3. Only driving when necessary, consolidating trips and sharing the ride; 4. Buying only what they truly need; 5. Weatherizing their homes and offices; 6. Purchasing energy efficient appliances; 7. Turning off appliances and electronics that are not in use; 8. Investing in renewable energy, such as solar panels and windmills for their homes and businesses; and 9. Eating a more plant-based diet. In short, they need to understand that we cannot, in fact, continue to live as we are, and continue to live on a habitable planet. The choice is stark, but real. And saving the planet will come at great sacrifice — including higher costs for energy, food and other goods.
Evidence abounds that we’re not running out of time to counter the catastrophic effects of climate change, we’re out of time. We need to act now or suffer even greater consequences.
The Unite Nation’s climate science panel released a report this week that was bad news for real estate subject to sea level rise, wildfires, drought and other environmental threats tied to global warming.
Researchers found that humans continue to burn more and more fossil fuels, which releases ever-increasing amounts of greenhouse gases, at a time when we need to drastically reduce output. At the current rate of emissions, we’re set to blow through the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase limit past reports set for this century. We’re headed for 3.2 degrees Celsius. At this point, even if nations realize their past greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, the world would still see 2.2 degrees or more of warming.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released a report that estimated US coastal cities and towns would see an average of a foot of sea level rise between now and 2050. That estimate was based on 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. If the globe warms much faster than that, the ocean will expand much faster and glaciers and ice sheets primarily in Greenland and Antarctica will melt faster contributing to faster and greater than predicted sea level rise.
U.S. coastal communities and private real estate owners are already spending billions of dollars to fend off sea level rise-driven floodwaters. They’re building and raising seawalls, installing pumps to remove floodwater, elevating land, homes, and government and commercial buildings, and hardening and/or elevating infrastructure, such as roads, sewer and water pipes and underground energy and communications equipment. If humans don’t drastically reduce their reliance on fossil fuels — such as coal, oil and natural gas — these projects won’t be enough. Last-resort measures such as managed retreat — property buyouts in flooded areas — will increasingly become the norm.
Faster and higher sea level rise will not only lead to more frequent tidal flooding of vulnerable coastal areas, it will also result in more powerful storm surges being driven further inland. All together, this will apply incredible pressure on the already strained insurance and mortgage markets in coastal communities.
UN report researchers say we need to cut all greenhouse gas emissions in half by the next decade. The best way to do this is by relying more heavily on renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. Improving energy efficiency in homes and businesses and energy conservation practices also play an important role.
Fortunately, these goals are within reach. For example, the cost per unit of solar energy is 85% less than it was in 2010. The cost per unit of wind power is 55% cheaper.
The X factor in all of this is our political will and personal commitment to changing our habits to achieve these objectives. The world’s nations have been less-than-honest about the efforts and results they’ve achieved so far in the fight against climate change, global warming, and sea level rise. Not being forthright with the facts is dangerous for us all. The simple fact is when we gaslight Earth, we’re the ones who get burned. The planet’s chemistry and physics are well-established, and the its rules can’t be broken without resulting in a world that is inhospitable to human life.
UN scientists say we have a very narrow and quickly closing window of opportunity to fend off the worst case global warming scenario. Each and every one of us has a role in preventing that outcome.
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal, climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.” — Hans-Otto Portner, Co-Chair of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations’ group that assesses the science related to climate change, issued a dire warning for humanity regarding climate change today. “To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions,” the IPCC said in a media release. “So far progress on adaptation is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks.”
The IPCC report is attractive massive media coverage not only for its strong wording but because of the urgency of its prediction that humans don’t have much longer to reduce the amount of fossil fuels — such as coal, oil and natural gas — it burns before it reaches a tipping point.
Businesses are taking notice. A Reuters article published today says governments and regulators are just starting to issue rules that require companies to alert investors to the impact climate change is having on their operations today and the threats they’ll face in the future.
Coastal real estate buyers, owners and investors, too, need to start gathering facts about the risk sea level rise poses to a property of interest and the neighborhood and community its located in. To make educated decisions, they need to know information such as if a property is currently experiencing sea level rise flooding, if it will in the near future, if roads and other critical infrastructure that serve the property are being impacted by flooding, and what the local government intends to do about it. They also need to know if the homeowner’s association or condo board, if there is one, plans to do to address sea level rise.
These types of questions will help them to gauge the impact sea level rise will have on maintenance and insurance costs, tax rates, association dues and special assessments, and, ultimately, property value. It will also give them an idea if there’s a threat that insurers and/or mortgage providers will stop providing policies and loans in a given area.
This might sound far-fetched to some people. But, just this month, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced a policy that they would not back mortgages in condo developments that weren’t properly maintained and that didn’t have the reserves to pay for routine and emergency maintenance. As sea level rises and damages more coastal real estate, it’s a good bet lenders will get tougher in approving loans in areas experiencing property-damaging sea level rise. This will impact the ability buyers to buy properties and of owners and investors to sell them.
While sounding negative, the IPCC report will actually have a positive effect if it spurs governments, businesses and individuals to get involved in the fight against climate change and global warming before the window of opportunity closes for good.
While it was encouraging to see over 100 world leaders attempt to grapple with the enormous challenges posed by human-driven climate change and global warming at this week’s COP26 (talk about a horrible acronym that does nothing to promote public understanding of the climate change crisis) summit in Scotland, the end result is, well, kind of depressing.
The meeting was hobbled from the start because leaders of two top-four greenhouse gas polluters — China, the worst offender, and Russia, the fourth worst — didn’t attend. (It’s important to note here that the US is the second worst generator of fossil fuel emissions and India is the third). Without China and Russia rolling up their sleeves and assisting in creating a coordinated, unified and overwhelming response to the climate change threat, the best the summit could accomplish was to commit to reducing methane emissions — methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas but it doesn’t remain in the atmosphere and accumulate like carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change — and stop deforestation by 2030. Both are certainly helpful goals, but they fall far short of the aggressive approach that’s actually needed today to protect humanity and wildlife by fending off even worse heatwaves, drought, tropical storms, wildfires, and inland and coastal flooding than we’re already witnessing today.
Some leaders have tried to label the conference a great success, but their assurances seem like gaslighting, essentially intended to assure the public that they are taking adequate steps to address climate change and reduce the climate change disasters we’re witnessing all around us when the reality is they’re falling far short of where humanity needs to be to avert even worse catastrophes. People can accept the gaslighting and merrily go along their way — many have certainly done it with Covid-19 — but, unfortunately, Earth, a product of basic astronomy, geology, chemistry, physics isn’t buying the lies. It can’t. As greenhouse gases created by the burning of fossil fuels continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, the planet will do exactly what science dictates and continue to warm and warm and warm.
In the weeks leading up to the summit and while it was actually being held, I read way too many opinion columns by politicians, pundits and even a few scientists that tried to reassure the world that everyone is over-reacting to climate change and that the problem will ultimately be solved by technology and other measures, which it’s important to note here, apparently don’t exist yet because greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing along with global temperatures, sea level rise flooding and other climate-related disasters. Their words reminded me of the reassurances we’ve been given by some politicians, pundits and even a few scientists that the Covid-19 pandemic could be solved without masks, social-distancing and even vaccinations. To me, their words are nothing but lies.
The truth about Covid-19 is that masks, social-distancing and vaccinations have saved lives. In fact, Dr. Deborah Birx, one of ex-president Trump’s Covid advisors, recently estimated that Covid-19 deaths could have been reduced by up to 40% in 2020 if the White House had consistently stressed the importance of mask-wearing, social distancing and testing before the vaccine was rolled out in 2021.
Similarly, the Los Angeles Times published an article in October that estimated my home state, Florida, which has lost nearly 60,000 residents, could have saved 18,000 lives if it had implemented the same strict infection prevention measures as California. Whereas California would have lost 34,000 more people if it followed Florida’s lax example.
The bottom line is a lot of Covid-19 deaths and misery could have been prevented if politicians, pundits, and even a few scientists had paid attention to the facts instead of gaslighting the public with dangerous anti-science statements that left the public angry, divided and vulnerable to infection. (A truly frightening aspect of all of this is that either of two leading spreaders of Covid-19 false information, Ex-president Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, may actually be elected president in 2024, which is sure to lead to four more years of anti-science climate chaos and wasted opportunity when we’re rapidly closing in on the point of no return.)
The climate change situation is no different than the Covid-19 debacle, but the stakes are much higher. As Earth is burning, the gaslighters are calling on us to save the silver — save the fossil fuel companies, save energy profits, save the power structure, save the wealthy’s standard of living, save the status quo — when what’s really needed is a concerted effort by nations and individuals to put out the flames using aggressive and innovative approaches NOW. The reality is if we don’t save Earth, if we don’t save The House — we — the rich, the poor, and those of modest means — will have no other place to go. We, in short, will perish in the flames.
Earth’s 4.5 billion-year-old geologic record is jam packed with species that perished in mass extinctions because they couldn’t adapt to environmental changes. It would be utterly insane to assume it can’t happen to us. The only difference between us and the extinct species is, they didn’t willingly create the circumstances that led to their own annihilation. We are.
At some point, we the people need to recognize in unison that the gaslighters who are insisting climate change isn’t a problem — that we can easily adapt to a hotter planet or save it through hail-Mary pass technology instead of taking concrete steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions right now — are leading us to ruin.
The greedy, the power-hungry, and the just plain ignorant among the gaslighters don’t surprise me. They’ve always been around. What surprises me is the normally level-headed politicians, pundits, and even a few scientists who are insisting that we all engage in climate change denial and/or wishful thinking that technology without radical change in our lifestyles, our approach to managing the earth, and yes, some shared financial pain, can save the planet. They act like climate change, global warming, and sea level rise are problems so far off in the future that we have plenty of time to deal with them when we clearly don’t.
As an avid traveler, camper and hiker, I have to wonder, if the gaslighters ever, you know, actually go outside? I do. And I can tell you in just a few short decades, Earth has become a very different place than the planet I grew up on.
Last summer, I took a road trip across America to see what climate change actually looks like. What I saw with my own eyes confirmed what the vast majority of climate scientists have concluded: the climate is changing negatively due to human created global warming, and it’s going to get far worse if we don’t take drastic steps to stop the the process today.
My trip started in South Florida, where coastal communities are already spending billions of dollars trying to fend off repeated bouts of sea level rise and storm surge flooding. From there, I drove north and tent camped my way up the Appalachians and Smokies, which are experiencing extreme flooding events from more powerful and long lasting hurricane and tropical storm remnants as well as global warming-supercharged local rainstorms.
After that I made a beeline west across the country’s breadbasket, which has been experiencing decades of yo-yoing extreme flooding or drought, and headed up into the Rockies, where I was immediately overcome by wildfire smoke. To avoid the smoke and the early-season wildfires that were generating it, I headed down to Utah’s Canyonlands, where Lake Powell was so drought-stricken that boat ramps ceased football fields short of the water’s edge.
Then it was off to California, where I saw houses in Pacifica at risk of tumbling into the ocean from sea level rise eroded cliffs. After that, I drove up to Lassen Volcanic National Park and got a whiff of wildfire smoke that portended the disaster to come. Half the park’s forests were consumed by flames shortly after I left.
Next, I drove northwest to Mount Shasta, which, was quite the shocking sight. An intense heatwave had melted away most of the mountain’s gorgeous snowcap and the northeast flank was ablaze. Unable to camp there, I decided to head north toward Oregon. Within an hour, I suffered a second shock: As I drove the I-5 bridge over Lake Shasta, I was nearly blinded by deep, exposed orange and yellow banks. The drought-stricken lake was at about 40 percent capacity, and, just like Lake Powell, the boat ramps ended in dirt.
During my drive further north into Oregon, I passed the towering atomic mushroom cloud signature of the raging Bootleg Fire. And farther up in Washington State I witnessed Mt. Rainier’s snowpack and glaciers melting away. The Olympic Peninsula was no escape either. The glaciers are melting away there, too, and sea level rise flooding and erosion are forcing a tribe of indigenous people to move their historic town further inland.
All of these sights were shocking to see. Equally shocking were seemingly endless stretches of blackened forests that had replaced the lush greenery I was used to seeing in the past.
In all of human history, we couldn’t have picked a worse time for people to try to gaslight the public for profit and political power. We need more intelligence, more science, more climate change policies and projects, more unity, more enthusiasm, more strength and more will to rein in climate change, global warming and sea level rise, not a bunch of false reassurances that somehow things will work out.
The truth is people can gaslight people all they want, but Earth, the ultimate judge and jury, can’t be gaslighted. Keep trying to gaslight Earth and we will be the ones who get burned.
I don’t want to leave this column with only a depressing message. I still believe we can take on the challenges posed by climate change, but it requires us all to get involved beginning today by:
1. Electing only those leaders who are dedicated to fighting against climate change;
2. Educating ourselves and our friends and family about the threat posed by climate change, global warming and sea level rise flooding;
3. Using energy wisely by weatherizing and increasing the energy efficiency of our homes and businesses, driving only when necessary and consolidating many trips into one, and turning off tv’s, computers and appliances when we’re not using them;
4. Buying the most energy efficient vehicle we can afford and taking public transportation and hopping on our bikes or walking whenever possible;
5. Eating a more plant-based diet, which cuts down on the release of methane in the production of meat, and doing everything we can to avoid food waste;
6. Buying durable products that we need not a bunch of frivolous junk that serves no purpose; and
7. Seeking other ways to reduce our energy consumption and pollution.
To avoid falling into climate despair and paralysis, I’m actively implementing the steps I’ve outlined above. I hope you will, too.
One of the major questions for coastal governments and real estate owners is: How fast will sea level rise flooding advance? According to the latest analysis by the United Nation’s Intragovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the answer is: Likely a lot sooner than we’d hoped.
IPCC scientists analyzed data from Antarctica and Greenland and determined that land-based ice and snow are melting six times faster than they did in the 1990s. This is in line with the group’s worst-case scenario.
At this pace of melting, IPCC experts estimate the oceans will rise nearly 7 extra inches over the 21 inches (1.75 feet) they’ve set as their mid-range global sea level rise prediction for the end of the century. That’s a total of 2 1/4 feet of sea level rise.
Andrew Shepherd, a professor of Earth Observations at the University of Leeds, told the Guardian newspaper that if sea levels rise as predicted in the latest estimate, 400 million people will be impacted by coastal flooding; that’s up from 360 million people earlier predicted. “These are not unlikely events with small impacts,” he told the paper. “They are already under way and will be devastating for coastal communities.”
Land-based ice and snow melting in Greenland and Antarctic contribute about a third of the global sea level rise total. The rest comes from expansion of the oceans as they warm and runoff from smaller glaciers.
Greenland and Antarctica seem like a long way away, but their meltwaters could ultimately decide the fate of billions of dollars worth of coastal real estate. To make informed decisions, property owners in at-risk areas need to keep up to date on the pace of ice and snow melt and the stability of their glaciers.