10 Important Climate Change Facts: Untangling Bob Hinnrich’s Climate Denial

We have nothing against free speech, but we do have a problem with dangerous misinformation being presented as fact. This was the case on December 19, 2013, when against the objections of many, Chair Jim Richardson invited climate change denier Bob Hinnrichs to present what he called, “a scientific look at global warming data” to the Santa Barbara Air Pollution Control District Board — the entity responsible for regulating emissions in our county.

Many unbiased scientific experts on climate change are living and working in our area who could advise the board, but Chair Richardson who is also Mayor of Solvang, chose to invite a denier with no background in climate science. Mr. Hinnrichs also did not disclose his ties to the fossil fuel industry.  He is co-founder of a gas detection company (Pacific Advanced Technology) that sells to the oil and gas industry.

There is a lack of logical consistency in Mr. Hinnrichs’ arguments. (It is both getting warmer and not getting warmer. CO2 both is and is not a greenhouse gas.) His goal seems to be to confuse the issue and cast doubt on all facets of climate science. Below we clarify some of the outrageous and misleading information presented to the APCD Board on December 19.

For a quick overview of main indicators of climate change, please review the NASA website.

Below are 10 important facts to know about climate change.

1. 97 out of 100 climate experts agree humans are causing global warming. 

From NASA blog: http://climate.nasa.gov/blog/938

Several independent surveys find 97% of climate scientists who are actively publishing peer-reviewed climate research agree that humans are causing global warming. On top of this overwhelming consensus, all National Academies of Science around the world endorse the consensus view of human caused global warming, as expressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).Movements that deny a scientific consensus seek to cast doubt on the fact that a consensus exists. One technique is the use of fake experts, citing scientists who have little to no expertise in the particular field of science. The OISM Petition Project cited by Mr. Hinnrichs claims 31,000 scientists disagree with the scientific consensus on global warming. However, around 99.9% of the scientists listed in the Petition Project are not climate scientists. The petition is open to anyone with a Bachelor of Science or higher and includes medical doctors, mechanical engineers and computer scientists.

2. The principle finding represented by Mann’s “hockey stick” – that the warming trend and temperatures over the last few decades are unprecedented over at least the last 600 years – has been verified and strengthened over time.

An independent assessment of Mann’s hockey stick was conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (Wahl 2007). They reconstructed temperatures employing a variety of statistical techniques (with and without principal components analysis). Their results found slightly different temperatures in the early 15th Century. However, they confirmed the principal results of the original hockey stick – that the warming trend and temperatures over the last few decades are unprecedented over at least the last 600 years.

Since 1999, there have been many independent reconstructions of past temperatures, using a variety of proxy data and a number of different methodologies. All find the same result – that the last few decades are the hottest in the last 500 to 2000 years (depending on how far back the reconstruction goes).

 3. Scientists have ruled out solar radiation as the cause of recent global temperature changes. The sun has actually contributed a cooling influence in recent decades.

It’s true that solar radiation has caused temperature changes in the past as we moved from ice ages to warmer periods, but this is not going on right now.  Mr. Hinnrichs’ claim that the sun is the cause of recent warming has been debunked so many times that one geophysicist  (Ray Pierrehumbert) said the solar argument is, “a coffin with so many nails in it already that the hard part is finding a place to hammer in a new one.” 

The charts Mr. Hinnrichs uses are from Willie Soon who has received over $1,000,000 from petroleum and coal interests since 2001 and frequently speaks at climate change denial events.

In reality, over the last 35 years of global warming, sun and climate have been moving in opposite directions. The sun has actually contributed a slight cooling influence in recent decades (Lockwood 2008).

Annual global temperature change (thin light red) with 11 year moving average of temperature (thick dark red). Temperature from NASA GISS. Annual Total Solar Irradiance (thin light blue) with 11 year moving average of TSI (thick dark blue). TSI from 1880 to 1978 from Krivova et al 2007 (data). TSI from 1979 to 2009 from PMOD.

4. Sea level rise is accelerating and poses a direct and imminent threat to Santa Barbara

Mr. Hinnrich’s claim that sea level increase has been constant is demonstrably false as sea level rise is accelerating. The deliberately misleading chart he used was also from Willie Soon.

From 1880 to the early 1900’s, sea level was rising at around 1mm per year. Throughout most of the 20th century, sea levels have been rising at around 2mm per year. In the latter 20th century, it’s reached 3mm per year. (Skeptical science)

Projections for our area is that we could see up to 5 feet of sea level rise this century. We would lose our beaches – critical for our tourist economy. Bluffs would retreat 270-525 feet; cliff-side housing and amenities like Shoreline park would be gone, and our airport would be under water. (City of Santa Barbara Sea-Level Rise Vulnerability Study)

Global mean sea level from 1870 to 2006 with one standard deviation error estimates (Church 2008).

 5. Arguing that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas is like arguing about gravity. This is settled science.  

Mr. Hinnrichs presents a red herring in arguing that carbon increase follows a temperature rise. Of course in past natural cycles when the sun caused warming, that warming happened first – by definition. The sun warmed the oceans which then released CO2, which then caused more warming. However, even in that case, such as during the last glacial-interglacial transition, about 90% of the global warming occurred after the CO2 increase. (Skeptical science)

Regardless, that’s not what’s happening today.  Temperature increase is following the increase in CO2. CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is increasing at a frightening rate. It’s now at a level (400 parts per million) higher than it’s been in 800,000 years.

We’ve only begun to see the temperature increase that is the inevitable result of that level of CO2 in the atmosphere. We’ve only begun to see the disasters – the floods, fires, droughts, crop failures and species extinctions that will be the result of the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Waiting to see how catastrophic it will get before we act is insane.


This shows carbon dioxide concentration and temperature over past 800,000 years. We’re now at 400 ppm, unprecedented in human history. We’ve only begun to see the temperature impacts of the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere as it takes time for the radiative forcing to heat the oceans. If we do not reduce emissions over the next couple of decades, we’ll reach 600 or more ppm and face the risk of run-away global warming that we will not be able to contain.

 6. It is getting warmer. It is NOT getting cooler. 13 of the hottest years ever recorded have occurred in the past 15 years.

Mr. Hinnrichs’ claim of a recent “cooling trend” is a dead giveaway that he is not interested in presenting facts.

The 2000 to 2010 period was the warmest decade on record so far. All of the warmest years have been since 1998 and 2013 continues the underlying, long-term warming trend. The coldest years now are warmer than the hottest years before 1998. (World Meteorological Society)

According to NOAA, the globally-averaged temperature for November 2013 was the highest for November since record keeping began in 1880. November 2013 also marks the 37th consecutive November and 345th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The first 11 months of 2013 tied with 2002 as the fourth warmest such period on record, with a combined global land and ocean average surface temperature of 1.12°F (0.62°C) above the 20th century average of 57.0°F (13.9°C). The margin of error is ±0.18°F (0.10°C). (NOAA)

Scientists have drawn direct connections between extreme  weather events around the world and global warming. For instance, researchers at the University of Melbourne calculated that the devastating heat wave and fires in Australia last summer were 5 times more likely because of global warming. (Livescience)

image (1)

To show a “cooling trend”, you have to cherry-pick your data like crazy.

7. Climate models have already predicted many of the phenomena for which we now have empirical evidence. Climate models form a reliable guide to potential climate change.

Mr. Hinnrichs’ claims that it’s hard to model the climate, the UNEP was wrong about climate refugees and that global cooling would be more serious than warming are all beside the point.

According to the World Health Organization, although global warming may bring some localized benefits, such as fewer winter deaths in temperate climates and increased food production in certain areas, the overall health effects of a changing climate are likely to be overwhelmingly negative. Climate change affects social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. (WHO)

We are seeing the impacts of climate change in increased deaths from disease and disaster now. For instance, 4 million people were displaced recently by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippians. (NY Times)

The climate models, far from being melodramatic, may be conservative in the predictions they produce. For example, here’s a graph of sea level rise:

image (2)

Sea level change. Tide gauge data are indicated in red and satellite data in blue. The grey band shows the projections of the IPCC Third Assessment report (Copenhagen Diagnosis 2009). Here, the models have understated the problem. In reality the events are all within the upper range of the model’s predictions. All models have limits – uncertainties – for they are modeling chaotic systems. However, all models improve over time, and with increasing sources of real-world information such as satellites, the output of climate models can be constantly refined to increase their power and usefulness.

8. 90% of glaciers are in retreat. Arctic sea ice is at record lows.  

The answer is not only clear but it is definitive and based on the scientific literature. Globally glaciers are losing ice at an extensive rate (Figure 1). There are still situations in which glaciers gain or lose ice more than typical for one region or another but the long term trends are all the same, and about 90% of glaciers are shrinking worldwide (Figure 2). (Skeptical science)

Figure 1: Long-term changes in glacier volume adapted from Cogley 2009


Figure 2:  Percentage of shrinking and growing glaciers in 2008–2009, from the 2011 WGMSreport

Arctic sea ice grows and shrinks seasonally, with an annual minimum in September. In 1979, when satellites first measured it, September Arctic sea ice extent was roughly equivalent to the area of Australia. Since then it has declined by about a third, equivalent to losing Western Australia – outstripping all projections. (Skeptical science)


(Image sourceCopenhagen Diagnosis.)

(Image sourceNational Snow and Ice Data Center.)

9. Warmer air holds more moisture. There is 4% more moisture in the air over the oceans than there was 30 years ago. This means both more rain AND MORE SNOW.

Mr. Hinnrichs claim that record snowfall is inconsistent with a warming world betrays a lack of understanding of the link between global warming and extreme precipitation. Warming causes more moisture in the air which leads to more extreme precipitation events. This includes more heavy snowstorms in regions where snowfall conditions are favourable. Far from contradicting global warming, record snowfall is predicted by climate models and consistent with our expectation of more extreme precipitation events. (Skeptical science)


10. Climate change is increasing the intensity of hurricanes, causing more floods and extreme precipitation events, increasing the severity of droughts and fires, acidifying the ocean and putting entire ecosystems at risk. This is the standard consensus view.

All areas of the United States are being affected. Just read the 2013 Federal Climate Assessment report for a summary of the extreme impacts of climate change.

No one has claimed that there are more lightening deaths due to climate change and consensus is that impact of climate change on tornadoes is unknown so Mr. Hinnrichs irrelevant graphs of these are beside the point.

In Santa Barbara County, climate change poses a direct threat to our economy. Our largest crops, strawberries and wine, are temperature sensitive and could be wiped out. (Mercury News)

Our businesses and homes are at risk from fire. We are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and drought, and our freeway can be cut off by flooding.

Even if there was much less certainty about human-caused global warming than there is, the existential threat is so great that it would make sense to reduce emissions simply as insurance.

That change needs to happen now. The longer we wait, the harder it will be.

Santa Barbara County’s Global Warming Hall of Shame

Santa Maria Energy has been placing full-page ads in local papers objecting to the fact that County Supervisors required them to offset some of their greenhouse gas emissions. They think it’s “unfair” they don’t get an unlimited license to pollute for free and pass along the costs to the rest of us.

We are experiencing the impacts of climate change now. We are seeing more intense and deadly storms, record-breaking fires and droughts, spreading tropical diseases, heat waves and rising seas. The oceans are more acidic affecting the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest and people’s livelihoods. Our local agricultural economy and our children’s future are at risk.

What is “unfair” is that people are suffering and dying today from the impacts of global warming, including 5600+ people from one of the largest storms ever recorded in the Philippines, and Santa Maria Energy is quibbling about a sixty cent per barrel cut in their profits.

What is “unfair” is that Santa Maria Energy is threatening politicians for taking a modest step to limit greenhouse gas emissions, even though according to polling by the Public Policy Institute of California, 81% of Californians want oil companies to reduce emissions.

The Santa Maria Energy project will be one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the County, generating over 87,000 tons of emissions per year, or the equivalent of adding 17,000+ cars to our roads. The recent decision by County Supervisors requires the company reduce or purchase offsets for emissions above a 10,000 ton per year threshold. The cost for them will be peanuts, an estimated half-a-million bucks a year out of $110 million a year in revenues.

The politicians who should be “judged in the court of public opinion” are not the Supervisors whose decision Santa Maria Energy doesn’t like, but the politicians who went out of their way to advocate for Santa Maria Energy’s right to pollute for free — some even outright denying global warming.

That dubious list includes:

Steve Lavagnino, County Supervisor
Peter Adam, County Supervisor
Michael Bennett, Mayor Pro Tempore Goleta
Jim Richardson, Mayor of Solvang
John Linn, Mayor of Lompoc
DeWayne Holmdahl, City Council of Lompoc
Frances Romero, Mayor City of Guadalupe
Alice Patino, Mayor Santa Maria

The majority of County residents want our Supervisors to ensure oil companies are operating safely, paying for their pollution, and held accountable. They do not want politicians who are in the pocket of the oil companies. Santa Maria Energy’s call to action is a blatant attempt to buy our elections and will be resisted.

Climate Group 350 Santa Barbara Holds Candlelight Vigil for Typhoon Victims in Philippines


Published in Noozhawk:

Climate group 350 Santa Barbara held a candlelight vigil on Nov. 26 at De la Guerra Plaza followed by a silent walk to Stearns Wharf to honor victims of Typhoon Haiyan, a category 5 “super storm” that struck the Philippines last month.
The slightly out-of-season and unusually intense storm is estimated to have killed 10,000 people and displaced 14 million people.

Climate change educator Katie Davis played a recording of the speech that Yeb Saño, lead climate negotiator from the Philippines, delivered to the United Nations climate talks. He called Haiyan a “climate nightmare” and urged international leaders to take drastic actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week, MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel and colleagues ran a computer model they use to forecast the wind speeds in a storm like Haiyan and ran it with the climate conditions that were present in the 1980s, before the warming of the last few decades. They concluded that the thermal conditions of 30 years ago would have produced a typhoon 30 to 40 percent less destructive.

Currently the world has an atmospheric concentration of 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide — the primary gas responsible for the global trend in warming since the industrial revolution. Scientists agree that 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide. In order for us to prevent more intense wildfires, droughts and storms like Haiyan, Katrina and Sandy, we we must cut carbon emissions down to this level.

350 Santa Barbara is a volunteer organized, autonomous local chapter of 350.org. Click here for more information.

HIGHLY BIASED JOURNALISM: 85 Percent of Santa Barbara News-Press Opinions Favor Fossil Fuel Industry

Santa Barbara, October 20, 2013 –

On her website, Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McGraw says, “To do our job right covering local issues and regional governments, we must report without bias and we must be balanced in our coverage. We must uphold the truth; it is essential to the integrity of the News-Press. That is our unalienable right under the First Amendment; it is also our moral duty.”

Climate Group 350 Santa Barbara analyzed three months of syndicated and guest opinion pieces published in the Santa Barbara News-Press regarding energy issues. The group discovered that 85 percent of syndicated or guest opinion pieces printed in the last three months regarding the fossil fuel industry presented arguments in favor of expanded drilling, fracking, a California “shale boom,” the Santa Maria Energy project, or expressed opposition to increased taxation of oil companies. During the same period, 80 percent of published opinions about the renewable energy industry were negative

News-Press Favors The Fossil Fuel Industry.

News-Press Favors The Fossil Fuel Industry.

News-Press Opposes Renewable Energy Industry.

News-Press Opposes Renewable Energy Industry.


Caldwell Gets Called Out!


Calling Out Caldwell

Edit 8/14/13: We’ve launched a petition campaign against the Santa Maria Energy project. Please sign and share widely!

After Katie Davis published an article “California the new Keystone situation?” that ran in the Santa Barbara News Press, Santa Maria Times and Lompoc Register calling attention to the fact that California is on the front lines of the climate battle, Andy Caldwell attacked her in the News Press as “Al Gore Light.” This attack inspired thoughtful responses from the Santa Barbara community on the urgent need to push back against denial and take more assertive actions to address climate change.

Below is a collection of some of the responses from across the spectrum — including UCSB Professors, the former Santa Barbara District Attorney, a local artist and businesspeople.

The article by Katie Davis on local impacts on climate change was insightful, incisive, informative, and powerful.  Apparently Andy Caldwell thought so too, since he devoted his column to attacking her as “Al Gore Light.”  I consider this a badge of honor, but it would have been better if he had actually looked into the information that she shared and responded to it in the same thoughtful manner.  He denied that fracking takes place here, yet it was reported in the News Press that numerous fracking projects have been approved in the Santa Barbara Channel over the past two decades, including the largest offshore fracking operation along the California coast by Venoco in 2010.  According to a Venoco spokesperson, fracking is more efficient on land than underwater.  Hence the need to be vigilant about proposed fracking operations in the Monterey shale formation which covers a portion of our county and is the largest shale oil reserve in the country.  I appreciate that Ms. Davis has alerted us to this reality.

Anna Campbell
Santa Barbara, CA

How long will we be postponing the energy transition toward cleaner and more renewable fuels? Embarking on fracking and other means to extract more gas and oil from shale (essentially scraping the bottom of the barrel) only delays this transition and makes our climate much worse than it would be without extending fossil fuel usage. It’s time to take seriously our responsibilities to protect future generations against extreme climate perturbations and associated consequences. It’s time that we drastically reduce our fossil fuel usage and divest from it.

In a recent column, Andy Caldwell states that “by all accounts, we will be 80 percent dependent on fossil fuel for several more decades.” I am not sure what accounts you refer to. If it is the International Energy Agency (IEA), we know it has been wrong many times on production estimations and price projections. It admits that itself. The IEA also implies in its own reports that if we were to use all the fossil fuels available, at the end of several decades the temperature would have increased far beyond 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit over the pre-industrial average, the warming accepted as the threshold beyond which much more climate instability could arise. This will happen unless we are able to capture most of the CO2 and other greenhouse gases emissions, and we are far from capable of that at this time. So this continued dependence on fossil fuel is not a tolerable outlook for the survival of our species and certainly not one that we should accept at this time as a given.

It is true that we are only a small part of this planet and emerging countries are quickly producing emission levels like ours. We have to remember a few things though. First, the climate impact we are experiencing now comes from the emissions of the developed world because of the long lifetime of CO2. Much of the CO2 we emit remains in the atmosphere for centuries: we have a huge responsibility because of our past actions, and we must take the lead on the clean energy transition. Second, developing countries are also developing alternative renewable energy sources. China is the world solar and wind energy leader and is moving very fast in those energies to avoid not only climate impacts but also air pollution for its newly enriched middle class. So if only from an economic perspective, it behooves us to develop new energy sources to remain competitive with China when the broader shift to clean energy occurs in the near future. Our investments in those energies are not keeping pace with those of China that are supported by robust government support. But that does not negate the fact that we have to engage China and India in their own emission reductions. And that won’t happen if we don’t reduce ours.

Yes, the US has reduced its CO2 emission by 10 percent since 2005, but it’s not only because of drilling for gas. It is also because of the economic recession, people driving less and flying less, using less electricity (particularly for industrial activities), driving more fuel-efficient cars, and a large increase in the use of wind power for electricity. Let’s keep those reductions coming but not by drilling gas from deep shale which results in emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that will modify climate further, but instead by changing our way of using energy in both quantity and type. Californians can take the lead to ensure a quality of life for our descendants of which we are all proud.

Catherine Gautier
Professor Emeritus of Geography at UCSB

Andy Caldwell’s guest opinion (8/7 “Al Gore light denies energy reality”) mimics ‘climate denier’ tactics drummed up and advance by the fossil fuel industry and other ‘climate deniers.’

Mr. Caldwell starts his convoluted piece with two canards, a) that the ‘real’ question is whether we use oil from California or the Middle East, as if this are the only two choices, and b) that it is inevitable that we will have to remain addicted to fossil fuels “for several more decades.” Both of these are false statements. Don’t take my word for it.

The last four Republican presidents (Nixon,Reagan, Bush and Bush) appointees to head the Environmental Protection Agency, namely, William Ruckelshaus, Lee Thomas, William Reilly and Christine Todd Whitman, state unequivocally (8/1/2013 NYTimes, “A Republican Case for Climate Action”) that climate change is real. It is substantially caused by humans’ use of fossil fuels. They state that it unequivocally has warmed the planet and oceans and caused sea levels to rise and arctic ice to melt.

The four Republicans conclude that, “the only uncertainty about our warming world is how bad the changes will get, and how soon. What is most clear is that there is no time to waste.”

Their joint declaration is built on solid, “common-­sense conservative principles.” These are: to protect the health of the American people, to work with the best technology available, to “trust the innovation of American business and in the markets to find the best solutions for the least cost.”

Prior administrations controlled environmental challenges, like “the pollution of our rivers, dramatized when the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire in 1969;; the hole in the ozone layer;; and the devastation wrought by acid rain.”

Each of these disasters was eradicated through political and public policy problem-­solving, not name calling. These Republican administrators were not cowed by powerful corporate interests.

For example, the threat of acid rain was reduced by “pioneering, market-­based emissions-­trading system adopted under the first President Bush in 1990. And despite critics’ warnings, our economy has continued to grow.”

The four former Republican EPA heads urge politicians of all stripes to cooperate and find solutions to reduce greenhouse gases, including a market approaches like a “carbon tax,” and a nonpartisan combination of legislative and regulatory actions.

Mr. Caldwell’s knee-­jerk call for more drilling, including the existential threat to our water supplies by fracking with toxic chemicals and huge quantities of water, demonstrates how desperate the fossil fuel interests have become;; how fearful they are that we have to switch renewable energy sources, over which they do not have a stranglehold.

According to the four Republican, we did not solve critical environmental problems by ignoring underlying causes or decrying those offering common-­sense solutions to solve them. We have averted crises through solutions supported by science, common-­sense, conservative principles and market-­based problem solving.

I for one want to thank Katie Davis, and the many more like her, who raise their voices and stand strong for common-­sense solutions-­-­now-­-­not “several decades later.”

Stan Roden
Former SB County DA (1974-­1982) and proud Al Gore Climate Reality graduate-­-­ 8/1/2013 (an Al Gore ‘acolyte,’ if you will)

One thing we should all be aware of about Andy Caldwell is that he is the head of an organization that promotes the oil and gas industry agenda. That is his job, and financial support comes from them. One thing I have noticed about the people who deny climate change and the importance of addressing this problem is that they are mesmerized by the money one way or another that is coming from fossil fuels. It may be campaign funds or future jobs or even tax money.  This makes it hard for them to see that climate change is the biggest threat to face us since World War Two, possibly bigger.  Part of their job is to bash renewable sources of energy and try and prevent their adoption. Development of renewables has been stymied by this type of thinking for 30 years, blocking subsidies while subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and not counting the external costs of carbon pollution.  Even if it costs us more, we cannot risk catastrophic climate changes that will surely cost billions and untold suffering just so large corporations can pollute for free and make huge profits. Yes, we need energy, and there are other cleaner options which will generate a lot of jobs.  Also Mr. Caldwell’s data about China is out of date. The pollution there is so terrible that they are changing course; hundreds of thousands of deaths attributed to air pollution and the deserts advancing on Bejing are not being ignored.

John Broberg
Santa Barbara, CA

This article started out as a reply to Andy Caldwell’s recent editorial on the views of Katie Davis (“Al Gore light denies energy reality,” SBNP, August 7, 2013). There were so many things wrong with his piece that my reply grew too long for a letter to the editor of a paper which I don’t even read anyway.

Caldwell begins by posing the wrong question, namely: “The tantamount question this Al Gore acolyte [referring to Katie Davis] refuses to ask is whether we should produce the oil we need domestically or import it from the Middle East? “ The choices presented sound reasonable, but they are not the only ones available to us, and neither is a good choice anymore. They are the product of a twentieth-century worldview that will no longer cut it in the world we live in today.

The bind we are in is complicated, but very real. The first step of the only way out is to accept this, and to conclude that we have to do something, something big and smart.

Respect for climate science is required in this debate, and the author either doesn’t understand the science (the most charitable possibility) or is intentionally misreading and misrepresenting it, quite possibly due to a longstanding close affiliation with Santa Barbara County’s one percent. My primary affiliation (and Katie’s) is with the ninety-nine percent of the people on the planet who are better served by political and economic policies based on the science. Both Katie and I are proud to be members of the local 350.org chapter that is working on getting the city of Santa Barbara to divest from fossil fuels and stopping fracking in Santa Barbara County (find us at http://350sb.org/). Restoring Earth’s atmosphere to no more than 350 parts per million of CO2 is another way to state a safe planetary boundary for human life; unfortunately, we passed 400 ppm in May.

Let’s “Do the math,” as environmental hero and co-founder of the amazing global climate justice organization 350.org, Bill McKibben put it in the hot summer of 2012 (a year which turned out to be the hottest in the history of the United States). McKibben’s highly influential piece, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math: Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe – and that make clear who the real enemy is” (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719) clearly outlines our predicament: 1) the science and all the world’s governments tell us in order to avoid dangerous and likely catastrophic climate change by 2050, we must limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit for the Celsius-challenged), 2) to stay under 2 degrees the remaining atmospheric space that can be used up by burning fossil fuels is roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide, and (here’s the really terrifying part that makes clear who the real enemy is), 3) 2,795 gigatons (give or take a few) is “the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher.”

Thus, unlike Mr. Caldwell, scientifically-informed studies do not imagine that we will remain up to 80 percent dependent on fossil fuels “for several decades.” If we are, the planet as we know it is finished. It’s as simple as that. The inescapable conclusion is that eighty percent of the current reserves of all the fossil fuel companies and exporting countries in the world must stay in the ground (mind you, the scientific community reckons that 565 gigatons more of emissions gives us only an eighty percent chance of staying under 2 degrees – question: Would you cross a busy street if you only had an 80 percent chance of making it alive?).

You can’t solve long-term problems with short-term solutions, especially when those solutions make the main problem worse. Fracking, for example, is not the panacea we are being sold: there are serious issues with the extent of groundwater contamination (important studies are starting to come in), and with the amount of methane the process releases into the atmosphere, an unsolved technological obstacle at the moment. Why, then, are we rushing into it in the United States? Is it really about our national security, or is it rather about exploiting land and people as quickly as possible by our enemies in the fossil fuel industry? Is it going the bridge to a low-carbon economy, or is it actually delaying what must be done to save us all? Does it really benefit the families and communities where it exists when all the costs to their health, safety, and sense of well-being are added up? A powerful indictment of the industry and a smart guide to our “energy-economy-climate situation” is Richard Heinberg’s Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future. Heinberg concludes the book with the sentence: “Everything depends on recognizing the mirage for what it is, and getting on with the project of the century.” Mr. Feldman and friends would do well to read this book before our next debate, or before claiming that fracking “is not being used on the Central Coast.”

The notion that the U.S. should delay taking action on climate change because China is the main culprit (note that this concedes the undeniable (get it?) point that climate change is man-made and real) overlooks the history of and overall responsibility for the problem. While it is true that the greenhouse emissions produced by China’s 1,347 million people have recently surpassed the annual total produced by the 312 million of us here in the United States, the U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world and an economic giant because our five percent of the world’s population has put up some 29 percent of all the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the mid-1800s and currently has an annual carbon footprint of 19.22 tons per capital. China, with about 17 percent of the world’s population has put up less than 10 percent of total emissions over the same 150 year period and has a carbon footprint of 4.59 tons per capital). By my global justice accounting, this makes the U.S. responsible for roughly 12 times as much of the problem as China. It also distorts the politics of the problem (the right of all developing nations to overcome poverty), and ignores the impressive recent (if long overdue) commitment by China to fight its horrendous pollution in a serious way, to move faster toward renewables, and to outfund and outproduce the far more technologically superior U.S. when it comes to solar, wind, and other clean technologies.

Mr. Caldwell goes on to claim that “energy independence is a national security issue. Oil also offers high paying jobs, taxes, and royalties, things we often take for granted. For instance, California’s university system was built by oil money.” What we need, as the math makes clear, is to do away with our dependence on fossil fuels altogether. True energy independence requires the development and mass production of clean, safe, renewable energy sources (nuclear does not come under this heading, Mr. Caldwell). The horrific costs of George Bush’s cruel and immoral war for Iraqi oil is probably the plainest argument against a future tied resolutely to fossil fuels. If the U.S. economy was capable of completing re-orienting its world-leading auto industry for the war effort during WWII, we could, should, and must consider doing the same thing to fight climate change, a worthier cause than our current war on terror (recently declared null and void by President Obama). All the more reason, then, to explore whether our national security would be better served by spending a lot less on the quest for “full spectrum” military dominance and a lot more on a new energy and transportation infrastructure.

Nor is it the full truth that “California’s university system was built by oil money” as argued by Mr. Caldwell. It was built by our tax dollars, not just oil profits and jobs. Perhaps the UC can now repay the favor that oil money has done it by showing leadership in building the sustainable low-carbon economy we must achieve, and by getting out of oil money as quickly as we can make that happen. UCSB is leading the way in both of these efforts, with the great work of the new Institute for Energy Efficiency, and many UCSB science and Engineering faculty, and becoming the first UC where both student and faculty legislatures have passed resolutions calling on the UC Regents to divest the general endowment pool of its fossil-fuel holdings (about $300 million of a $6.2 billion fund). See http://gofossilfree.org/ for a report on the surging national campaign calling on universities, cities, and faith-based organizations to divest their endowments from fossil fuels – “If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage. We believe that educational and religious institutions, city and state governments, and other institutions that serve the public good should divest from fossil fuels”).

Speaking of jobs (as fossil fuelers always do), we have to learn that clean energy is the far better investment: it creates more jobs than the same amount spent on fossil fuels, it is better for our health, and way better for the climate, meaning prosperity and better health for our children and our children’s children. It’s high time that we discard the outmoded paradigm that privileges economic growth at all costs over the environment (and always pits them against each other in a crisis) and embrace instead the new, more positive and inspiring paradigm of “Prosperity without Growth” advocated by British climate visionary Tim Jackson (in a report of the same name available at http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/data/files/publications/prosperity_without_growth_report.pdf).

Let’s think about that title: Prosperity without growth. Behind it is the idea that we are destroying our planet with a suicidal system that encourages “people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like” (the words are those of Australian environmental activist and scholar Clive Hamilton, author of Growth Fetish and Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough). Contrary to what we are led to believe in this culture, prosperity and happiness are not well correlated with gross national product or carbon footprint (if they were we would be more prosperous and happier than we are). Yet we have the potential to achieve these intangible goods by changing the aims and rules of the game. To get there, we must drop the Keystone XL pipeline, shut down the coal industry (here and in China), stop the fracking rush that will poison our wells and releases the deadly greenhouse gas methane, and instead reinvest massively and rapidly in a sustainable (i.e. low-carbon) economy. This would unleash a green jobs bonanza that would cut down our unacceptable and unsustainable levels of unemployment, foreclosure, and debt, and put millions of Americans to work as we rebuild the energy, transportation, home, and construction sectors of our economy. Such exciting and fulfilling work would be part of the solution rather than the problem.

And it is doable, even with the rigged game we are all forced to play in now. Christian Parenti’s recent piece, “A Radical Approach to the Climate Crisis,” is actually a sober discussion of the true nature of our climate predicament, and an innovative, practicable, and an inspiring plan for moving quickly toward a better, greener future, worth quoting at length:

According to clean-tech experts, innovation is now less important than rapid, large-scale implementation. In other words, developing a clean-energy economy is not about new gadgets but about new policies. Most of the energy technologies we need already exist…. The fastest, simplest way to do it is to reorient government procurement away from fossil fuel energy and toward clean energy and technology—to use the government’s vast spending power to create a market for green energy. Elsewhere, I have called this the Big Green Buy. Consider this: federal, state, and local government constitute more than 38 percent of our GDP. In more concrete terms, Uncle Sam owns or leases more than 430,000 buildings (mostly large office buildings) and 650,000 vehicles. (Add state and local government activity, and all those numbers grow by about a third again.) The federal government is the world’s largest consumer of energy and vehicles, and the nation’s largest greenhouse gas emitter….

Executive Order 13514, which Obama signed in 2009, directed all federal agencies to “increase energy efficiency; measure, report, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from direct and indirect activities; conserve and protect water resources through efficiency, reuse, and storm water management; eliminate waste, recycle, and prevent pollution; leverage agency acquisitions to foster markets for sustainable technologies and environmentally preferable materials, products, and services; design, construct, maintain, and operate high performance sustainable buildings in sustainable locations.”

The executive order also stipulates that federal agencies immediately start purchasing 95 percent through green-certified programs and achieve a 28 percent greenhouse gas reduction by 2020. But it has not been robustly implemented (see the whole article at http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/a-radical-approach-to-the-climate-crisis).

Now, how do we get the government to implement its own order, when we know that Washington has been captured by our real enemy — the fossil-fuel industry? I know of only one sure way: stepping up to the challenge of fighting the defining problem of the twenty-first century and building the greatest social movement the world has ever seen. Parenti, having taken us this far, passes the baton to us at this point: “Far be it from me to say exactly how such movements should be built, other than the way they always have been: by trial and error and with good leadership.”

It can be done. We have to muster the hope and energy to get up every day and do it, in ways large and small. The U.S. can show leadership in the most momentous challenge of our lifetimes and leave a legacy to the future that we can all be proud of, if we are brave and loving enough to do it.

John Foran

Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies
UCSB, and Co-Director, International Institute of Climate Action and Theory (www.iicat.org)