David Wallace-Wells on climate: ‘People should be scared – I’m scared’ — The Guardian #ActOnClimate

From The Guardian (Jonathan Watts):

David Wallace-Wells’s apocalyptic depiction of a world made uninhabitable by climate chaos caused an outcry when it was published in New York magazine in 2017. Based on the worst-case scenarios foreseen by science, his article portrayed a world of drought, plague and famine, in which acidified oceans drown coastal homelands, dormant diseases are released from ancient ice, conflicts surge, economies collapse, human cognitive abilities decline and heat stress becomes more intolerable in New York City than in present-day Bahrain. Critics called this irresponsibly alarmist. Supporters said it was a long-overdue antidote to climate complacency. Whatever your view, it was among the best-read climate articles in US history. Now he is back with a book-length follow-up.

Jonathan Watts: You have written a hell of a book. Your now-famous opening lines – “It’s worse, much worse, than you think” – are like a voice from a nightmare. Are you deliberately upsetting people about the climate?

David Wallace-Wells: That is one of the intentions. My hope is first of all to tell the story as I see it. That has a couple of components. One is to show the crisis is happening much faster and is more all-encompassing than people think. And then also to think how those dramatic changes are going to cascade through the lives we live, the way we relate to one another, our politics, our culture, our psychology, all that stuff. I would like people to be scared of what is possible because I’m scared. And because I am motivated by fear, I also hope they will be motivated.

The sense of speed comes across very strongly. It is as if people have got used to seeing the climate crisis as an old horror film with slow-lurching zombies but, in your version, the zombies are the much faster, scarier ones you see in modern horror films. You address the risks of heat death, hunger, drowning, wildfire, dying oceans, economic collapse and conflict, and suggest the climate problem driving them has super-accelerated beyond what many people think.

That is the thing that first opened my eyes to the change. When I learned the astonishing fact that more than half of the carbon we have emitted into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels was emitted in the past 25 years, that really shocked me. This means we have burned more fossil fuels since the UN established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) than in all of the centuries before – so we have done more damage knowingly than we ever managed in ignorance. That is a horrifying fact. It also means we are engineering our own devastation practically in real time. How much will depend on how we act, how we behave, how we respond.

Xcel Energy proposes to close two of its coal-fired generating units at Comanche, indicated by smokestacks at right. The stack at left, for the plant completed in 2010, provides energy for a portion of Aspen and for the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys. In the foreground is the largest solar farm east of the Rocky Mountains at its opening. Photo/Allen Best

The book is based on the piece you wrote for New York magazine last year that focused on worst-case climate scenarios. Were you prepared for the storm that caused?

It had about 6m page views. Within a couple of days, it was the most-read article we had ever published. It was a true phenomenon. That was thrilling in a way because the conventional wisdom about climate writing – at least in American journalism – was that it was traffic Kryptonite, that nobody would read these stories. I felt that was in part because we had left a lot of storytelling tools on the table and weren’t embracing a certain kind of writing that might reach people dramatically. I felt the article was a proof of concept for that.

In the book, you focus more on warming of around 2-4C, which is more likely than the worst-case scenarios, though still bad enough. Was this different approach an attempt to tighten up because there was quite a lot of scientific pushback on some of the claims you made in the original article?

I had anticipated a pushback. I wrote in the original article about scientific reticence and the way many researchers were reluctant to talk about their own scary findings in public in the terms they might have included in their papers. But I do not feel the science of my story was irresponsible. We ended up publishing four corrections to the piece. What it motivated me to do – and not just me, but my fact checker and the editor – was to publish this fully annotated version of the piece within a couple of days, in which we footnoted every fact with a paper. I do believe that basically answered that first reflexive criticism of the piece as being scientifically irresponsible.

There were also questions about rhetoric. Scientists said your article was “hyperbolic” and “exaggerated”, and your alarmism was as irresponsible as climate denial. In the book, you are unapologetic. You write: “The facts are hysterical” and the only way to address them is with the language of theology and mythology. Is this Armaggeddonising a way to reach new audiences and break down barriers?

Yes, and to activate people who are only casually engaged. To me, that is the most important messaging mission. It is important to mobilise people who at the moment are concerned, but basically complacent, and turn them into people who are much more activated and essentially voting about climate as a first-order political priority rather than a third- or fourth-order priority – judging politicians on the basis of their climate policy.

Disruption is important. But to what extent? You talk of last year’s UN IPCC 1.5C report. It is a science paper and it is sober. It spells out the huge – and horrifying – differences between 1.5C and 2C of warming, and the actions we need to take right now if we are to avoid the extra half a degree, which will require a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030. You say the message of the report is: “It’s OK now to freak out.” But I guess most scientists would say: “Don’t freak out! Act! Focus! Do not succumb to paralysing fear.” Is “freak out” what you really mean?

The short answer is yes. We should not sit back and feel complacent that the world beyond us will figure this out without political pressure. We cannot continue on the path we are on and believe our future will be secure and stable. We need to dramatically change our climate policy globally. That was the very clear message of the UN report. You are right that, in a certain way, it was written soberly, but it is also the case that it was saying we need mobilisation on the scale that we saw in the second world war in Europe and the US – and that is not a keep-calm message. It is saying we have to light the fuse and get going.

On the question of what kind of motivation is most effective, I don’t believe fear and alarm are the only options; there is a place for hope and optimism. There are many shades in between. But fear is what animated me. We do not tell people only about the positive benefits of quitting smoking. We tell them about what will happen to them if they smoke. And to go back to the second world war analogy, we did not mobilise in that way because we were optimistic about the future. We mobilised in that way out of fear, because we thought nazism was an existential threat. And climate change is obviously an existential threat and it is naive to imagine we could respond to it without some people being scared. I think it is silly to throw that rhetorical tool away. My basic perspective is that any story that sticks is a good one. If you can get people engaged, it is good, however you do it.

But I also come to this subject not as an advocate, not as an environmentalist. I have been drawn into that role to some extent as a result of this work. I come into it as a journalist and as a storyteller and, at some level, the imperative for me is to tell the story true, to tell it as I see it. As you say, and as I wrote in the book, it is simply the case that the facts are hysterical. To shy away from that, I think, is irresponsible – in part because it would encourage complacency but also from the basic truth-telling level. We know these things are true to the extent that scientists can know them. I don’t think the public should be shielded from them.

What struck me in the book was that you shake the reader up and say, “Look, wake up, get going!”, and yet there isn’t much there in terms of where to go next. You delved into solutions, but you didn’t give them much chance of achieving anything. Do you believe there isn’t much out there that could help us?

I think the book does a fair amount of hope-giving. The most important thing anybody can do is vote. If people are mobilised, we can relatively quickly usher in – perhaps not globally, but in many of the more important nations – a much stronger commitment to a more aggressive climate policy.

My hope is that the US and China, with support from some other countries, start making dramatic investments in [negative-emissions] climate technology in the near future. I’m sceptical of conventional decarbonisation. We will need these additional technologies. We need to invest in them quickly.

Putting hope in technology is the excuse George HW Bush gave for not doing anything decisive in the late 1980s when he was president and it is the message of the Trump administration. You don’t sound as if you are aligned with them. What about a carbon tax?

We have to do everything we can. I would absolutely support a carbon tax and what we are talking about now in the US: a green new deal of massive investment in renewable energy. But when you look around the world, small taxes on carbon haven’t had a meaningful impact. I think we have to learn from that and realise we need much more aggressive taxes or other solutions.

In the past year, we have seen more radical action such as student strikers led by Greta Thunberg and protests by Extinction Rebellion. Do you think groups like this are useful?

Absolutely. I’m an enormous admirer of Thunberg and I am in awe of how much energy and attention Extinction Rebellion has generated in such a short time. I think their imperative to tell the truth is very important and powerful.

Would you join?

They are organising another major event soon in New York that I will be going to. Temperamentally, and by background, I am not an activist and I still think of myself primarily as a journalist and storyteller. But no matter how disinclined you are, how temperamentally reluctant you are to be a joiner, it is hard to think about the state of the climate and not be called to action.

What about individual choices? Early in the book, you state very clearly you are not environmentalist, you eat meat, and you think it is better to have economic growth than protect nature. But then you write: “Like many Americans, I am fatally complacent and wilfully deluded.” That was your starting point. How has writing this book changed you?

Everybody should live according to their values. There are people who want to radically change their lives to reduce their carbon footprint, and there are people who want to make symbolic gestures. Air travel is the one thing that I really do feel guilty about. I make choices about travel with that in mind in a way that I didn’t even a year ago.

And meat?

Personally, I don’t feel that it is my thing. I admire people who give up meat for this reason. I think globally we need to be eating less meat, especially those of us in the wealthy parts of world who eat too much of it; for health reasons, too. But if I go from eating three hamburgers a year to zero, the impact on my carbon footprint is quite trivial. I have to say right now it feels so overwhelmingly the case that political action is the most important thing anyone could do, including me, that it overwhelms any of the other things.

In the book, you ask whether it is moral to have children in this climate. In the past year, you have done just that. What hope do have that your child won’t live in the uninhabitable world of your title?

I come at the question of hope from the perspective that truly total devastation is possible and something close to that is where we are heading now. So every degree cooler, every tick of temperature that we prevent, is an improvement and therefore a reason for hope. So, if we stabilise the planet at 3C that is better than 3.5C, 2.5C is better than 3C, and so on.

For reasons independent of climate, I wanted to have children. Most people do. I don’t think this is an impulse we need to disavow before we have finished the final act of this story. I think it is a reason to fight now so that we can continue to have those children and continue to live in the ways we want to live. It is possible regardless of how bad the news from science is.

David Wallace-Wells’s The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future is out on 19 February.

@ColoradoClimate: Weekly #Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Taking snowplows to new heights – News on TAP

This Denver Water crew has a 6.5-mile driveway to clear to keep dams safe and water flowing during winter months.

Source: Taking snowplows to new heights – News on TAP

Survey says … Denver Water pro is passionate about his profession – News on TAP

In addition to his job at Denver Water, Bryan Douglass is the newly elected Jefferson County Surveyor.

Source: Survey says … Denver Water pro is passionate about his profession – News on TAP

Denver Water experts roll the dice on drought – News on TAP

It may be snowing outside but Denver’s water experts are continuing to plan for future droughts.

Source: Denver Water experts roll the dice on drought – News on TAP

Dan Gibbs confirmed as Director of the #Colorado Department of Natural Resources

Dan Gibbs via Twitter

From The Summit Daily (Deepan Dutta):

The senate confirmed Gibbs unanimously in a 34-0 vote, with one abstention. Gibbs had already been preparing for the role in the weeks since he resigned as Summit County commissioner, meeting staff and attending meetings to get up to speed on the department’s work.

The state agencies Gibbs will oversee include the Division of Forestry; Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety; the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; the Colorado Avalanche Information Center; the State Land Board; the Water Conservation Board and the state’s Division of Water Resources.

Gibbs said he was thrilled to be confirmed, and was already engaged in high-level work, including the seven-state Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency plans that is seeking to create an updated water distribution compact in the West.

“It’s really amazing being a part of that, and being part of those important conversations happening right now,” Gibbs said. “What we do will have legacy impact on how we manage the Colorado River moving forward. It involves everything from human services to road and bridge to environmental health, I’m learning about a lot of different positions.”

Along with conserving water, other precious natural resources Gibbs oversees includes Parks and Wildlife, which will be the largest department under Gibbs’ purview with 900 employees. One of his priorities with CPW is to find a more sustainable funding model for the agency aside from hunting and fishing license fees…

Gibbs, who had served as a Congressional staffer, state house representative and state senator before his eight years as commissioner, said that his experience working at the federal, state and local levels made him realize the unnecessary barriers that spring up between various levels of government. He plans to use his experience to negotiate among the different players and break down those barriers.

“I want to work to try to demolish those silos isolating them from each other,” Gibbs said. “I want to look at how we manage our land, water and minerals and do what’s best for Colorado as a whole, not just piecemeal management based on federal, state and local ownership. I want a more holistic approach on how we manage and steward on natural resources.”

Ultimately, Gibbs’ most important responsibility as steward of the state’s natural resources is to preserve them for later generations, so they can experience and enjoy the grandeur and freedom this wild country has to offer.

“I have two young kids, and every day I wake up thinking about how we can shape natural resources policy not just now, but for future generations,” Gibbs said. “With 80,000 people moving to the state every year, a lot of it depends on how we manage growth, and how to avoid loving our natural resources to death.”

The City of Montrose scores $400,000 grant from @CWCB_DNR for Uncompahgre River through town

River Bottom Park Uncompahgre River. Photo credit: PhilipScheetzPhoto via the City of Montrose

From The Montrose Daily Press (Andrew Kiser):

Parts of the Uncompahgre River have become “unstable” and “injured” over time due to past land use practices, leaving some areas packed with landfill material like debris and rubble, City Engineer Scott Murphy said.

But now, the City of Montrose will be able to refine portions of the river, in part due to a $400,000 grant given to the city by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The funds come through the Colorado Watershed Restoration Program to enhance the Uncompahgre.

The grant will begin the first phase of river restoration improvements for 0.65 miles of the Uncompahgre within city limits…

Additionally, aerial images have shown the river channel has migrated around 400 feet in some places over the past 50 years, Murphy indicated.

“It’s a pretty unstable breach of the river which is bad for the habibat because once the fish habibat gets established it gets wiped out as the river moves,” he said.

City of Montrose grant coordinator Kendall Cramer also said the Uncompahgre has experienced flow modifications and encroachment, which has developed a wider channel, bank stabilization issues and a lack of aquatic and riparian habitat.

“It’s an excellent project that’s going to enhance the river corridor,” Cramer said. “It’ll invest in the Uncompahgre River, which is one of our greatest assets in terms of tourism and recreation.”

He added the project will fix those problems as well as create better aquatic environments, stabilize the river banks and give the public better access to the water.

The city is hopeful this project will be the first step in receiving a gold medal fishery designation within the Uncompahgre River, Murphy said. Once completed, this section of the river will join a section of the Gunnison River which connects to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and joins the Gunnison Gorge…

The project design is being done by Ecological Resource Consultants, which won the bid for it in 2017. The River Restoration Committee and volunteers have helped the project come to fruition and have given input on the design, Cramer said.

The city anticipates construction to begin in winter of 2019-2020. Due to the river flow, work has to be completed within a four-month timeframe of November to February, when the water is at its lowest point.