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Planetary health and '12 years' to act

Posted on 14 June 2019 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections by Jeffrey Kiehl

Life makes us wake up to needed changes.

A visit to the doctor’s office and accompanied tests indicate you have been diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Your doctor indicates two pathways to addressing the condition before things get worse. You can change your lifestyle, or you can take medication with possible side effects. If you accept the medical facts and adopt the first recommendation, then you will set a goal.

For example, “I will lose 20 pounds over the next three months and diligently monitor my glucose levels.” You talk with health and wellness experts and come up with a plan to reach those goals. Up to this point you have been in the stages of symptom diagnosis and receiving expert advice. Now, the hard work begins: You actually have to change the way you have been living your life.

You need to eat differently and exercise more, and you need to do these things every day for the rest of your life. You also need to monitor your progress to ensure you are meeting your goals. Initially, you may even question the accuracy of the diagnosis, or your doctor’s conclusion. You may even seek a second opinion. You wonder how long you can wait to change the way you have been living.

Of course, in any life-threatening situation, the answer to the question of “How long can I wait?” is obvious: You can’t, can’t wait. You must make changes in your lifestyle immediately. You must overcome any and all resistances to act.

Doing so, you discover that you lose weight and your glucose levels dramatically decline. You may even obtain a new diagnosis that you are no longer “pre-diabetic.” These are not easy goals to accomplish. Overcoming years of lifestyle behaviors is hard work. You will need encouragement and help from others, but it is possible. The other challenging part of this journey is to stick with the plan even after you have achieved your goals. Complacency will lead you back to the “at risk” category.

Climate prescription: ’12 years left’ to cut emissions

We find ourselves in a similar, but even more challenging, situation, regarding climate change. Over the past eight months, since an October report from leading global scientists, we hear repeated warnings that we have “12 years left” to address climate change. Specifically, we have 12 years left to significantly reduce global carbon emissions if we are to have more than a 50 percent chance of keeping global warming below 1.5°C (about 2.7°F).

Over the past few months the warnings have become more dire, indicating that we will exceed 1.5°C much earlier than thought and that even a 2°C target will be challenging to meet. Although the difference between 1.5° and 2.0° may not sound important, in terms of global warming, it is quite significant. It is the difference between moderate to very high risk of heatwave deaths, agricultural collapse, and extreme weather damages. A very recent study indicates that when one considers national emissions rather than global emissions, the U.S. will be unable to meet the Paris accords goal by 2100. Couple these projections with observed accelerating changes in the cryosphere, and extreme weather events, ocean warming, melting permafrost … and things are quite dire.

‘Time for a new clinical diagnosis: global climate anxiety disorder’

My clinical colleagues report more people are coming to them with what can be best described as severe climate change anxiety and distress. They suffer from symptoms of severe anxiety in response to learning about climate change and reading or listening to online stories about it.

Perhaps it is time for a new clinical diagnosis: global climate anxiety disorder (GCAD). But let’s not pathologize what some people are feeling, as we should all be disturbed by what is happening to the climate system. We should fear for the future of our children and grandchildren.

And rather than reaching a point that precludes our acting, we must resolve to do all that is possible to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, personally and collectively.

We have a fact-based diagnosis. We have expert advice on what we need to do to avoid the worst consequences of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide. And as with the safe levels of glucose for a healthy body, we know the safe levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide for a healthy planet. As with a physician’s advice to a pre-diabetic, experts have even provided pathways to reach these levels.

The patient asks the doctor:

  • How much time do I have to deal with this problem?
  • How long can I wait before I make the recommended changes in lifestyle?
  • Do I really have to reduce my carbohydrates?
  • Can’t I live reasonably well with higher glucose levels?

We ask similar questions concerning climate change. The well-publicized statements that we have “12 years left” before we miss the target of holding global temperatures below 1.5° (or 25 years left to limit warming to 2.0°C) can be interpreted as a plan of waiting and then acting. The truth of the matter is we need to act now. Adding another 0.5°C warming to the present 1.0°C comes with significant disruption to planetary and human health. Adding an additional 0.5° to 1.5°C pushes symptoms like heatwave deaths, displacement of millions driven away from populated coastlines by sea-level rise, and high risks to agricultural productivity into the extreme danger range.

Giving up unhealthy lifestyles leads to ‘personal wellness’

And as with our personal health situation, we (and our planet) move from a condition of pre-diabetes to untreated diabetes … with all of its deadly health consequences.

It really comes down to how willing we are as individuals and societies to change our lifestyle. Interestingly, when you ask people how they feel after reducing their carbs, losing that weight and increasing their daily exercise leads them to appreciate how much better they feel. They have more energy, feel better about themselves, and enjoy life more. The seeming “sacrifice of giving up” has turned into improved personal wellness.

It is quite likely we will discover similar improvements to our wellness once we resolve to live a low-carbon lifestyle. Indeed, people who have made this transition already express such experiences.

We need to support one another in making the required changes to limit global warming. We need to convey the benefits of giving up our old unhealthy lifestyles to create a healthy environment for all of us.

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Comments 1 to 11:

  1. All makes sense except I don't think the analogy with the doctor is so great. If we get sick we do something about it, because it effects us directly. Climate change is different because it requires empathy for future generations, and a common complaint is what difference would it make if I cut my carbon footrprint, because Im just one person, especially when a lot of people aren't cutting theirs? What is the counter to those arguments?

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  2. nigelj@1

    "...what difference would it make if I cut my carbon footprint, because I'm just one person, especially when a lot of people aren't cutting theirs?"

    My counter to that is to explain that reality is result of Everybody's actions. Everybody's actions add up into the future reality. Every tiny harm done is Harm Done in the Big Picture.

    We are stuck with the reality already created by the actions people took in the past. The choices Everybody makes now create the future. And resistance to correction because the required correction is larger now and must be achieved more rapidly and would require giving up developed perceptions of prosperity and opportunity is a harmful attempt to escape responsibility.

    It is almost impossible for a person's actions to be Truly Neutral. Actions are either helpful or harmful to different degrees.

    People should choose to improve their awareness and understanding and strive to help develop a sustainable and improvable future for humanity. The alternative is Harmful. There is no compromise space. A person being less helpful than they can be is being harmful.

    That is a harsh reality. But Reality is Harsh.

    And being harmful cannot be excused by some claim of helpfulness by the harmful person. Helping someone across the street does not give a person permission to push someone onto the street. The only evaluation that legitimately balances help vs. harm is when the same person is experiencing the help and the harm and doing it to themselves. And even then, society collectively has a responsibility to try to correct the thinking of a person who would choose to actually harm themselves because of a perceived personal benefit.

    It is grossly harmful and unethical and immoral for a person to choose to 'not be less harmful or not be helpful' and attempt to excuse their choice by claiming that others may also behave that way.

    For a very robust presentation of this reasoning read Derek Parfit's "Reasons and Persons".

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  3. OPOFEVER@ 2:

    Nice words, but only words.

    Each individual can make choices, yes, but a few percent of us making choices ain't going to do much.

    Governments have to make the choices on behalf of their voters. And in places like the USA in particular, government imposed rules such as those meet hysterical opposition from half the population on the grounds that they violate constitutional freedoms.

    (The same might be said about speed limits, taxes, metal detectors at airports and anything else that any individual might consider an "imposition", but rationality is not the strong suite here.

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  4. Wol @3,

    My 'words' were a presentation of understanding in response to nigelj's query about how to respond when someone says <the quote at the top of my response which is quoted from nigelj's comment @1>

    When responding to someone all you have are 'words'.

    I suggested what I consider to be a rather robust basis of understanding that can be used to formulate the 'words' used to respond to such a statement.

    Reality is the result of everyone making their choices based on their understanding.

    Leadership that will pursue improving understanding to increase the helpful altruistic empathetic understanding among the population would be nice.

    Competitions for popularity and profit amplified by misleading marketing that can appeal to 'selfish gut reaction and related harmful correction resistant confirmation bias and motivated reasoning' rather than 'helpful thoughtful consideration to improve understanding and be more helpful, less harmful' will undeniably develop more harmfully selfish people.

    The 'words' used to try to correct harmful incorrect understanding need to be as robustly defensible as possible. Motivated reasoning and confirmation bias do have limits. Some people may still be harmful after improving their understanding, but they will find fewer people they can get support from as more people develop improved awareness and understanding of how harmful some status and leadership competitors actually are.

    The response I suggest to anyone you encounter who claims a constitutional right to be harmfully selfish is to point out any of the many examples of the harmful behaviours (like those motivated by greed and intolerance), that developed popularity and profit to the detriment of others. And point out the resistance to correction of that activity. And indicate that it is undeniable incorrect to claim that

    "people freer to believe whatever they want to excuse doing what they please in pursuit of status relative to others, personal benefit or gratification does not develop Good results. The evidence is that harmful results that are difficult to correct get developed ... including the harmful belief that people's constitutional rights are being infringed on by any restriction on what they can get away with".

    That presentation of understanding makes it rather undeniable that the United Right and anyone supporting that type of political group is the cause of harmful divisive resistance to correction of understandably unsustainable attitudes and actions that unacceptably developed popularity or profitability.

    And it should be clear that compromising the required understood correction of attitudes and actions, just to get along (not upset someone), is also a very harmful thing for people to do, especially leaders in a society. A society with too many of those Winners and Leaders (people who are not excellent examples of Humanity), will not have a sustainable future.

    A Good Time For a Portion of Humanity, for as long as can be gotten away with, based on Harmful Unsustainable attitudes and actions Always Ends and Never ends Well.

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  5. Wol @3, yes things are like that, but we have to break through and OPOF is just proposing a few ideas. Its really important to get across to people that quoting the constitution to inhibit change is not what the document intends. The constitution is about limiting government over reach, (and fair enough)  not limiting all that governments should do. This should be obvious in the articles,  and the most probable intent of the writers. I hope that people  can see this.

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  6. OPOF:

    People should choose to improve their awareness and understanding and strive to help develop a sustainable and improvable future for humanity. The alternative is Harmful. There is no compromise space. A person being less helpful than they can be is being harmful.

    WRT climate, anyone who transfers, or causes to be transferred, any fossil carbon to the atmosphere is being harmful. But how many people are prepared to go wholly off grid and be self-sufficient in all their requirements?  In economic terms, AGW is a Drama of the Commons, that has already turned tragic for multitudes. Individual, voluntary internalization of marginal climate-change costs may detectably reduce fossil carbon emissions, but can't overcome the free-rider problem. Only collective action can. Collective actions on multiple scales are implemented by government. In the USA, nominally, you and I would muster a voting plurality for an effective national carbon price.  How do we do that?

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  7. Mal Adapted @6,

    You appear to be missing the majority of my point.

    Improving awareness and understanding and striving to help develop a sustainable and improvable future for humanity includes everything 'helpful'.

    And helpful things include any and all actions that help achieve any of the Sustainable Developoment Goals (SDGs) and not supporting any group that tries to impede achieving and improving on any of the SDGs:

    • no longer considering voting for a political party that has a history of some of its members incorrectly resisting the improvement of understanding regarding climate science.
    • Understanding what economic activities are harmful and no longer supporting them.
    • helping others increase their understanding that achieving and improving on the SDGs is the only viable future for humanity.
    • Being willing to Govern and Limit the behaviour of Others even if they angrily resist being corrected.

    That last one is the hardest part, but is essential. It requires an end of believing that compromising and pragmatism are helpful. It also requires the open admission that without altruism governing and limiting what is going on harmful unsustainable activity will become popular and profitable and develop powerful resistance to correction.

    Compromise and pragmatism can harmfully excuse resistance to correction of harmful unsustainable beliefs and activities. The Green New Deal more directly addresses the problem, with little compromise or 'pragmatism'. It is very helpful at raising awareness of the unacceptable reality that has been developed, even though it jarringly angers the harmfully correction resistant. The worst of that group are determined not to change their minds. But many supporters of that political attitude are just 'harmfully naive'.

    The USA Republicans and Democrats have compromised and pragmatically given over degrees of leadership of their party to harmful correction resistance. The Republicans have almost completely abdicated helpful leadership. The elderly among the Democrats coyly limit how much they allow helpful altruism to Govern and Limit their political marketing and actions.

    The understandable threat to the future of Humanity is Limited Altruistic Governing. And the major cause of that developed problem is a lack of penalty for developing and delivering misleading marketing appeals that encourage correction resistance, are harmful to achieving and improving on any of the Sustainable Development Goals.

    Misleading marketing produces harmful unsustainable results in competitions for status where value or worthiness is not effectively evaluated based on Helpful Altruistic Merit. That is especially true of competitions for popularity and profitability that do not have effective penalties for misleading harmful correction resistant marketing, particularly political marketing, resulting in powerful resistance to correction of harmful developments.

    Everyone familiar with what has been happening regarding improvement of awareness and understanding of climate science and the required correction of developed beliefs and actions in the global population (those wanting to improve understanding as well as those who are correction resistant), can see what I am pointing out. But some people will resist accepting the understanding because of a powerful developed liking for something that does not deserve to be liked so much.

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  8. My comment @7, and earlier presentations of my developing understanding (seeking feedback to improve it), may appear to require 'almost impossible expectations of humans' because of incorrect beliefs about the fundamentals of human nature.

    An improved awareness and understanding of the nature of humans is that the behaviour of each human is based on a 'potential diversity of starting dispositions initially present in varying degrees (selfish, altruistic, inquisitive, cautious, reflective, impulsive, and so many more)' that their experience (especially education, formal as well as personal pursuits) can significantly alter (through learning choices).

    What I point out being required can be learned by every human. The wealthier or more influential they are, the more they should be expected to understand it and act accordingly as Good Helpful Altruistic Examples - acting with Humanity (the poorest can be excused if they act more selfishly trying to survive). It is the basic requirements of a responsible professional engineer, and any other responsible person applying their better understanding to helpfully govern and limit what is going on, even if it angers a client.

    Constant pursuit of improved awareness and understanding of all areas of application of understanding is essential to the sustainability of that activity and its helpfulness (non-harmfulness), to the future of global humanity. Governing and limiting potentially more popular or more profitable, but harmfully incorrect, interests is essential to the future of any culture or institution.

    Increasing that awareness and understanding to the point where Good Helpful Altruism effectively Governs and Limits potentially harmful more selfish short-term interests is a requirement for Humanity, or any subset of humans, to have a future. Without that being the ruling consideration, devolution to Harmful Divisive Competition for Perceptions of Status (defence of understandably unacceptable aspects of the Status Quo or desired Status Quo) can be expected.

    Tragically, in supposedly more advanced societies, Humanity can be seen to be significantly challenged by the incorrect over-development of many harmful activities and attitudes. The improvement of awareness and understanding and the required corrections face powerful resistance due to incorrectly and unsustainably developed perceptions of prosperity, opportunity and status that are the result of Too Much Winning of Status through understandably harmful actions.

    The incorrect continuation of over-development of fossil fuel abuse through the past 30 years proves that point rather conclusively. It has gotten so bad that many people in supposedly more advanced nations now vote to support 'protection of harmfully incorrectly developed perceptions of prosperity, opportunity and status' that would have to be given up if the harm being done to the future of humanity was to be responsibly limited. The result is irresponsible harmfully misleading leadership increasing their chances of winning by appealing for votes of harmfully correction resistant people.

    Many nations, businesses or people who are 'supposedly more advanced' especially dislike the following points of the fundamental understanding that was established more than 30 years ago as the basis for the corrective Climate Actions. The more developed and wealthier nations, businesses or individuals:

    • owe a debt for the harm done by the impacts of their 'advancement through the harmful use of fossil fuels'.
    • must lead the correction (curtailing their benefit from fossil fuel use) and provide the good example of ways of behaving that the less developed can aspire to develop towards.
    • must help the less fortunate more directly develop in the correct direction, limiting how far they follow the incorrect harmful development paths of the current day Winners.

    My MBA education in the 1980s included the awareness that misleading marketing can be a powerful way to temporarily attract support and appear to be successful. It is clear that international abilities to penalize misleading marketing will probably become a requirement (international penalties on wealthy and powerful nations, corporations and individuals for failing to properly Govern marketing). It would be best if everyone simply chose to improve their awareness and understanding and helped rather than harmed the achievement and improvement of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially the wealthier and more influential. But that clearly will not 'naturally develop' as long as misleading marketing can be gotten away with uncorrected.

    None of this is new understanding. What is new is the growing popularity of resistance to improving awareness and understanding which is incorrectly encouraged by people who support things that do not deserve to be supported because they desire something that does not deserve to be desired.

    Among the most harmful are the voters who harmfully like a Political Party because of One Main Personal Interest that over-powers their awareness of all the other harmful things they actually also support by supporting the Party. They may be aware of the need to do something about climate change impacts, but they will have a more powerful excuse to vote for a Party that resists those corrections. And in some cases that incorrect excuse is a desire to support Free Market Economics (without including the understanding of the importance of every aspect of that activity being Governed and Limited by Good Helpful Altruism).

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  9. Being that the ice core samples from Greenland show that over the last 10,000 years, the earth has been on average 3 degrees celcius warmer than today, how can anyone conclude this current round of warming is entirely manmade? What also troubles me is the fact that the Medieval Warm Period was written out of the history books by the IPCC hockey stick graph. As well the impact of the 500 year period of cooling known as the Little Ice Age was not acknowledged by the hockey stick graph. Brian Fagan in his book, "The Little Ice Age" describes how glaciers in the European Alps or New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere began growing once the earth began to cool. Entire villages and swaths of rainforest were obliterated by advancing glaciers. The hockey stick graph ignores the fact that the Earth was a lot warmer when the Vikings settled Greenland and Iceland. If as the ice core samples show, the Earth was a few degrees warmer during the Medieval Warm Period than it is today, then the polar ice cap was smaller and thinner than even now and quite possibly the alarm being sounded by certain climate scientists is uncalled for as this is a normal cycle that goes back and forth. 

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  10. "ice core samples from Greenland show that over the last 10,000 years, the earth has been on average 3 degrees celcius warmer than today"

    Global temperature reconstructions show this to be untrue.

    Last 20,000 years

    "how can anyone conclude this current round of warming is entirely manmade?"

    Because actual scientists, using the well-understood physics of our world, have established that it is only when the anthropogenic forcing is included that the observed warming can be explained.

    Natural vs Anthropogenic Climate Forcings, per the NCA4, Volume 2:

    Forcings, NCA4

    Fun Factoid:  Changes in the sun's output falling on the Earth are about 0.05 Watts/meter squared.

    By comparison, human activities warm the Earth by about 2.83 Watts/meter squared (AR5, WG1, Chapter 8, section 8.3.2, p. 676).

    What this means is that the warming driven by the GHGs coming from the human burning of fossil fuels since 1750 is over 50 times greater than the slight extra warming coming from the Sun itself over that same time interval.

    Radiative forcing 1750-2011

    "What also troubles me is the fact that the Medieval Warm Period was written out of the history books by the IPCC hockey stick graph. As well the impact of the 500 year period of cooling known as the Little Ice Age"

    Another meme.  Here's the "Hockey Stick For The Most Recent 1,700 Years", from the Trump Administration in 2017:

    Last 1,700 years

    "the Earth was a lot warmer when the Vikings settled Greenland and Iceland"

    Alreay refuted, but here's global temperatures with the period of the Viking occupation of Greenland highlighted:

    Viking temps

    And here's the temperatures from the GISP2 core from Greenland, with the instrumental temperature measurements taken from that same location added in for context:

    Greenland last 10,000 years to 2017

    "the Earth was a few degrees warmer during the Medieval Warm Period than it is today, then the polar ice cap was smaller and thinner than even now"

    Your temperature claims were already refuted, but we have observational data to 1850 and proxy data going back millennia documenting Arctic sea ice extent changes over time.

    For example, here's the last 1,500 years, from NOAA's Arctic Report card 2017:

    Last 1,500 years in the Arctic

    You'll need to raise your game to compete in this venue.  In this venue, the onus is on YOU to be able to support your claims (each claim) with source citations, preferably to credible sources.  Further, many of your claims are already refuted on separate posts here (thousands exist, use the Search function to find the most appropriate post to make your claims and to stake your reputation on). 

    I'm sure that the moderation staff would prefer to not intervene here, but I'm equally sure that they will if you continue to post what is essentially a Gish Gallop of memes refuted many times before (PRATT). 

    Read the Comments Policy and construct your comments to comply with it and my advice to you and all will be fine.

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  11. Philosopherkeys @9,

    You begin your comment with a question:-

    Being that the ice core samples from Greenland show that over the last 10,000 years, the earth has been on average 3 degrees celcius warmer than today, how can anyone conclude this current round of warming is entirely manmade?

    The basis for this question, that Greenland core cores show today's temperature 3 deg celsius below the average of the last 10,000 years: this assertion has been addressedby Daniel Bailey @10 with a corrected version of the Easterbrook graph. Yet even the Easterbrook graph does not show today's temperature 3 deg celsius below the average of the last 10,000 years. Even the maximum of the last 10,000 years is not 3 deg C warmer than today.

    So my question is: - Can you provide the source of data that does show today's temperature 3 deg celsius below the average of the last 10,000 years?

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