As Earth Sizzles, Climate Denialists Rearrange Deck Chairs

Mesquite Dunes and Grapevine Mountains, Death Valley National Park. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

For those climate change denialists who argue humanity is too puny to affect the earth system, take a look at the latest news on our species’ impact on the planet’s axis. Apparently around the start of this century, the earth’s centerline moved, the New York Times reported June 28, and “earth’s spin started going off kilter.” The cause? It’s twofold. First, polar ice sheet and mountain glaciers melting “changed the way mass was distributed around the planet enough to influence its spin.” Second: “Colossal quantities of water pumped out of the ground for crops and households.”

This is alarming, to say the least. Because groundwater depletion ain’t about to stop anytime soon. Between 1960 and 2000, it “more than doubled, to about 75 trillion gallons a year.” That’s a lot of groundwater. It’s no wonder it shifted earth’s axis. “Variations in Earth’s gravity have revealed the staggering extent to which groundwater supplies have declined in particular regions, including India and the Central Valley of California.” At this rate, expensive ocean desalinization plants may well be the wave of the future. And, as the article notes, human activity and the global climate, which melt mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets, also shift the earth’s mass and hence its axis. So does impounding water behind dams.

So if we mere, tiny humans can change our planet’s axis, it’s pretty darn likely burning fossil fuels, thus pumping a trillion and a half tons of carbon into the atmosphere over centuries, could heat things up. Indeed, the lousy climate news just pours in. July 3 was the hottest day ever, a record broken by July 4. In fact, that first week in July smashed records, going back, on the fourth, 125,000 years. Meanwhile Spain geared up for prolonged heat of 112 degrees Fahrenheit, while by July 16 parts of China were hotter than Death Valley. This is not normal. This is bizarre, much hotter and sooner than even the most pessimistic scientific predictions.

That first week in July reached “the hottest global average since scientists began recording such data in 1979,” Truthout reported on the fifth. “The global temperature was bumped up by a heat wave blistering across the U.S. with an estimated 57 million people exposed to dangerous heat…with at least 14 heat related deaths across Louisiana and Texas as of last week and at least 112 deaths in Mexico…In June, a heat wave in India killed at least 96 people, and record heat is gripping swaths of China, northern Africa and the Antarctic.”

Meanwhile on July 10, Miami hit a 109-degree heat index. It was the thirtieth consecutive day with a 100 degree plus heat index, while “nearly 50 million Americans are set to face triple-digit temperatures this week,” according to the Washington Post July 10. “Heat advisories are in effect in Florida, Texas and New Mexico, while excessive heat watches and warnings blanket much of Arizona, Southern California and Nevada.” Temperatures were predicted to soar to 117 degrees in Phoenix. Ditto in Las Vegas, the weekend of July 15. As much of the nation sizzled, freak floods drowned New England and New York state. By July 16 the heat wave stretching from Florida to Oregon and covering everything in between had peaked, but that doesn’t mean things cooled down dramatically. And lest anyone wonder about the dangers of this extreme calefaction – in 2022 over 61,000 people died from record-smashing heat.

And that’s just the disaster on land. The oceans are too hot, also. On July 10 Colin McCarthy, an expert on extreme weather, tweeted: “A severe marine heatwave has emerged off the coast of Florida, as water temperatures have soared into the 90s. Multiple buoys in Everglades National Park are reporting water temperatures as high as 95 degrees Fahrenheit.” Worse is predicted for the planet’s oceans in August. That’s too hot. Such heat endangers marine wildlife and their ecosystems. It also means the ocean has difficulty acting as a heat sponge, which is, uh, a real problem. The oceans absorbed excess heat produced by us denizens of the capitalist west as we burned oil, coal and gas. Now, oceans begin to lose that capacity, and that spells trouble.

To make matters worse, as the Washington Post headlined July 6, “Reeling Arctic glaciers are leaving bubbling methane in their wake.” This is called a feedback loop, exacerbated by the albedo effect, which means in the absence of snow and ice, earth absorbs, rather than reflects back, more heat. As for the feedback loop, methane is the guilty party, being 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Melting glaciers, polar ice caps and frozen tundra all release methane, lots of it, which in turn warms the atmosphere even more, causing more melt and more heat.

“This is a feedback look that’s caused by climate change,” one scientist told the Post, which then noted the very concerning apparent age of this methane: “The fact that it appears to be ancient suggests it could be coming from very large underground reservoirs with the potential to unleash lots of gas.” Some of these regions with gas flows are millions of years old. Does this mean that at the rate we’re going, there could be palm trees at the north pole in our grandchildren’s lifetime? Who knows? But our fossil fuel tycoons and witless leaders say, why not roll the dice?

The problem is known. It has been known for generations, to scientists and to the oil, gas and coal companies who researched and then concealed the lethal effects of their product. Simply put, our social and political economy, structured around burning fossil fuels, heats the earth. The chief culprits in this profligate burning are wealthy countries and their massive organizations like the American military. Small, poor countries have small carbon footprints. This deadly pollution cannot be blamed on them or their so-called excessive birth-rate.

At the same time, industrial agriculture and gargantuan plastic waste just aggravate the climate catastrophe. But fabulously wealthy oligarchs and the countries they own are addicted to all of these destructive activities and likely won’t abandon their improvident lifestyle until it’s too late. Still, there are solutions that maybe even plutocracy could accept. Like solar panels on every building in the world and massive investment in wind power. Also, we could speed up the switch to electric vehicles. Promoting sustainable, organic, peasant farming to replace industrial, pesticide-dependent agriculture would help too. That’s just a start, because there’s lots more. Everybody who could make a difference knows all of this. Will any of those people – hello Biden? – move against our fatal political inertia? Now is the time.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.