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Bill McKibben promises he won’t speak at your college graduation to tell you you will die from global warming-induced bubonic plague–is that swearsies, Bill?

April 15, 2019
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Lifelong global-warming apocalypse-monger Bill McKibben teams up with U.N. climate-change honcho Christiana Figueres to swear, swear, swear that they won’t be speaking at your college graduation unless your alma mater divests itself of fossil-fuel investments:

To have any chance of mitigating climate change, we need all people doing what they can…

That’s why the two of us, in addition to our work on climate change, have begun doing something else: refusing to accept honorary degrees from colleges that won’t divest their endowments of fossil fuels.

We’re under no illusion that our refusal to participate is a big deal. Of all the people at a college commencement, the honorary-degree recipient is the least important, but it is one more way for us to warn everyone that time is running out. We hope that others will follow our lead, as a reminder to college presidents and boards of trustees that society is quickly becoming disgruntled with inertia on this issue. Business as usual is the one thing we can’t afford.

McKibben and Figueres seem especially bent out of shape that their own undergrad alma maters, Harvard and Swarthmore respectively, haven’t hopped onto the climate-change-divestment bandwagon yet:

…[T]heir refusal to divest from fossil fuels has been painful for us to watch. So one of us has found himself sleeping in the shrubbery outside the Harvard president’s office as part of a large student protest for divestment.

That would be Bill, presumably.

Too bad, Harvard, because your newly minted grads will miss a chance to hear Bill rehash his latest the-end-is-near book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? Read this excerpt in Rolling Stone for some real excitement:

In 2015, a study in the Journal of Mathematical Biology pointed out that if the world’s oceans kept warming, by 2100 they might become hot enough to “stop oxygen production by phyto-plankton by disrupting the process of photosynthesis.” Given that two-thirds of the Earth’s oxygen comes from phytoplankton, that would “likely result in the mass mortality of animals and humans.”

A year later, above the Arctic Circle, in Siberia, a heat wave thawed a reindeer carcass that had been trapped in the permafrost. The exposed body released anthrax into nearby water and soil, infecting two thousand reindeer grazing nearby, and they in turn infected some humans; a twelve-year-old boy died. As it turns out, permafrost is a “very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark” — scientists have managed to revive an eight-million-year-old bacterium they found beneath the surface of a glacier. Researchers believe there are fragments of the Spanish flu virus, smallpox, and bubonic plague buried in Siberia and Alaska.

Or consider this: as ice sheets melt, they take weight off land, and that can trigger earthquakes — seismic activity is already increasing in Greenland and Alaska. Meanwhile, the added weight of the new seawater starts to bend the Earth’s crust. “That will give you a massive increase in volcanic activity. It’ll activate faults to create earthquakes, submarine landslides, tsunamis, the whole lot,” explained the director of University College London’s Hazard Centre.

Yikes! Earthquakes, lava, and bubonic plague!

There’s more scary stuff:

A 2017 study in Australia, home to some of the world’s highest-tech farming, found that “wheat productivity has flatlined as a direct result of climate change.” After tripling between 1900 and 1990, wheat yields had stagnated since, as temperatures increased a degree and rainfall declined by nearly a third. “The chance of that just being variable climate without the underlying factor [of climate change] is less than one in a hundred billion,” the researchers said, and it meant that despite all the expensive new technology farmers kept introducing, “they have succeeded only in standing still, not in moving forward.” Assuming the same trends continued, yields would actually start to decline inside of two decades, they reported….

{A]team of British researchers released a study demonstrating that even if you can grow plenty of food, the transportation system that distributes it runs through just fourteen major choke-points, and those are vulnerable to — you guessed it — massive disruption from climate change. For instance, U.S. rivers and canals carry a third of the world’s corn and soy, and they’ve been frequently shut down or crimped by flooding and drought in recent years…

Then there’s the protein deficiency:

The paper, in the journal Environmental Research, said that rising carbon dioxide levels, by speeding plant growth, seem to have reduced the amount of protein in basic staple crops, a finding so startling that, for many years, agronomists had overlooked hints that it was happening. But it seems to be true: when researchers grow grain at the carbon dioxide levels we expect for later this century, they find that minerals such as calcium and iron drop by 8 percent, and protein by about the same amount. In the developing world, where people rely on plants for their protein, that means huge reductions in nutrition: India alone could lose 5 percent of the protein in its total diet, putting 53 million people at new risk for protein deficiency. The loss of zinc, essential for maternal and infant health, could endanger 138 million people around the world. In 2018, rice researchers found “significantly less protein” when they grew eighteen varieties of rice in high–carbon dioxide test plots. “The idea that food became less nutritious was a surprise,” said one researcher.

And finally, the giant bugs:

[I]n August 2018, a massive new study found something just as frightening: crop pests were thriving in the new heat. “It gets better and better for them,” said one University of Colorado researcher. Even if we hit the UN target of limiting temperature rise to two degrees Celsius, pests should cut wheat yields by 46 percent, corn by 31 percent, and rice by 19 percent. “Warmer temperatures accelerate the metabolism of insect pests like aphids and corn borers at a predictable rate,” the researchers found. “That makes them hungrier[,] and warmer temperatures also speed up their reproduction.” Even fossilized plants from fifty million years ago make the point: “Plant damage from insects correlated with rising and falling temperatures, reaching a maximum during the warmest periods.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d want to skip the commencement ceremonies if they consisted of Bill McKibben predicting I’d be dead of smallpox, malnutrition, and oxygen deprivation before I got my student loans paid off.

Please, Bill and Christiana, you promise you’ll stay away?

Posted by Charlotte Allen


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