This Week in Climate Change

The week of 11/28 to 12/4


  • The Department of the Army announced it would be halting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to review alternative routes. (HuffPo). Responses below.
  • A wildfire in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee left 13 dead and burned at least 18,000 acres. (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
  • U.S. oil exports have increased almost 1,300 percent since 2009. (Climate Central)
  • Clear cutting in the Amazon is on the rise (again) — Brazil lost 8,000 square km of rainforest between August 2015 and July 2016. That’s larger than the entire state of Delaware. (WaPo)
  • Much to the dismay of climate scientists, the House committee on Science, Space and technology tweeted a Breitbart article purporting that global temperatures have been dropping. (The Guardian)
  • Australian researchers announced that the Great Barrier Reef suffered its worst bleaching event on record in 2016. (Vox)
  • A report from the Global Carbon Project found that carbon emissions remained flat in 2016. Over the last three years, emissions haven remained about the same even as the global economy grew. (ThinkProgress)
  • A new study published in the Journal Nature found “empirical support for the long-held concern that rising temperatures stimulate the loss of soil C to the atmosphere, driving a positive land C–climate feedback that could accelerate planetary warming over the twenty-first century.” (WaPo)

Dakota Access Pipeline Fight

Brian Cladoosby, National Congress of American Indians president:

“This isn’t over, but it is enormously good news. All tribal peoples have prayed from the beginning for a peaceful solution, and this puts us back on track.”


Bill McKIbben, founder:

When native American protesters sat down in front of bulldozers to try and protect ancestral graves, they were met with attack dogs — the pictures looked like Birmingham, Alabama, circa 1963. But it went back further than that: the encampment, with its teepees and woodsmoke hovering in the valley, looked like something out of an 1840s painting. With the exception that this was not just one tribe: this was pretty much all of native North America. The flags of more than 200 Indian nations lined the rough dirt entrance road. Other Americans, drawn in part by a sense of shame at this part of our heritage, flooded in to help — when the announcement came today, there were thousands of military veterans on hand.

(The Guardian)

“I feel like I have my future back.”

“To me this is Selma. This is Birmingham. This is as big a civil rights movement and as big a civil rights moment as you’re ever going to see.”

City Lab mapped the last 30 years of oil and gas pipeline accidents. The video below shows accidents that killed or injured people.

“We are not stupid people. We are not ignorant people,” Former tribal council member Phyllis Young said in the meeting. “Do not underestimate the people of Standing Rock. We know what’s going on, and we know what belongs to us, and we know what we have to keep for our children and our grandchildren.”

Trump and Related

A senior Trump advisor announced that the president-elect plans to cut funding for NASA’s Earth science activities in favor of deep space projects.

Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research:

“We live on planet Earth and there is much to discover, and it is essential to track and monitor many things from space. Information on planet Earth and its atmosphere and oceans is essential for our way of life. Space research is a luxury, Earth observations are essential.”

(The Guardian)

If Trump decides to leave the Paris climate agreement, his fastest course of action would be to leave the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. That’s according to Steven Groves of the Heritage Foundation. (Vox)

Trump Chief of Staff Reince Preibus said that the administration still intends to leave the Paris agreement, despite Trump telling the New York Times that he would keep an open mind. (ThinkProgress)

When the history of the 20th century is written, I’m hopeful that historians will conclude that the most important technology developed during those bloody hundred years wasn’t the atom bomb, or the ability to manipulate genes, or even the Internet, but instead the technology of nonviolence. (I use the word “technology” advisedly here.) We had intimations of its power long before: In a sense, the most resounding moment in Western history, Jesus’s crucifixion, is a prototype of nonviolent action, one that launched the most successful movement in history. Nineteenth-century America saw Thoreau begin to think more systematically about civil disobedience as a technique. But it really fell to the 20th century, and Gandhi, to develop it as a coherent strategy, a process greatly furthered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his associates in this country, and by adherents around the world: Otpor in Eastern Europe, various participants in the Arab Spring, Buddhist monks in Burma, Wangari Maathai’s tree-planters, and so on… The real point of civil disobedience and the subsequent movements is less to pass specific legislation than it is to change the zeitgeist.

Climate change effects

NASA Easth Observatory

Areas in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park are dealing with year-to-date rainfall deficits of up to 20 inches. Through October, Tennessee is also having its third-warmest year on record. That’s ensured the entire state is mired in drought with the epicenter in the southeast part of the state that’s currently ablaze.

Whether climate change will make fires more common in the region is an ongoing area of research. It’s unclear if the Southeast will become wetter or drier due to climate change and that will have a big influence on future wildfire activity.

The region is likely to keep warming, though, and that means that any future dry spells will be more likely to lead to drought, creating more fuel for fires to burn.


By 1980, a report written by Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary and distributed to Exxon managers around the world stated matter-of-factly, “It is assumed that the major contributors of CO2 are the burning of fossil fuels…and oxidation of carbon stored in trees and soil humus…. There is no doubt that increases in fossil fuel usage and decreases in forest cover are aggravating the potential problem of increased CO2 in the atmosphere.”17 The next year Roger Cohen, director of Exxon’s Theoretical and Mathematical Sciences Laboratory, wrote in an internal memo that by 2030, projected cumulative carbon emissions could, after a delay, “produce effects which will indeed be catastrophic (at least for a substantial fraction of the earth’s population).”18

[N]ow, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.

Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.

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