While passengers arriving from West Africa at Dulles International Airport last week were having their temperatures taken, this woman was sitting on the other side of the airport, in the Departures area, wearing a homemade, head-to-toe Hazmat suit.
The woman's paranoia might be excused if she were concerned about seasonal flu, which kills up to half a million people a year. But of all the things we can be seriously worried about right now (like mass extinction), catching Ebola in the Departures area of an airport is not one of them.
In a sane world, it would be headline news. Everything else would immediately come to a screeching halt to make way for a massive, worldwide attempt to turn things around. (Of course, in a sane world, the whole thing would never have happened in the first place!)
In our insane world, however, the news from the World Wildlife Fund telling us that in the last 40 years we've killed off roughly half the world's wildlife went by largely unnoticed.
How could such a thing have happened?
What's behind the massive floods in Phoenix and Las Vegas that caused unprecedented death and destruction this week, along with the deepening megadrought in California, the chilly summer in several Midwestern states, and all the other weird weather effects this year?
For a simple answer, look to the latest figures on greenhouse gases from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Last year, they went through the roof, once again, with CO2 hitting 396 parts per million, the highest annual level since we started keeping records.
No human being has ever witnessed greenhouse gases at this level. Scientists say the last time Planet Earth was like this was probably about 2 million years ago, during the Pleistocene Era.
Their reign lasted roughly 170 million years, and the latest news is that what finally did them in wasn't simply the notorious asteroid that slammed into the Yucatan 65 million years ago. According to a new study, if the asteroid had hit just a little earlier or later (a few million years either way), the dinosaurs might well still be around today.
The new Cosmos series continues to take down those who prefer to believe that the Earth is flat, that we were all created in six days, and that we're not in the middle of a human-caused climate crisis. In this clip, Neil deGrasse Tyson explains why global warming can give you a freezing winter.
One of the six major glaciers being eroded from below by warm water
What does it mean when two major studies this week tell us that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is "collapsing"?
It means that another critical tipping point has been passed – one that will add probably another 13 feet to sea levels around the world.
You'd think that the very ominous tone of the National Climate Assessment, with its devastating, point-by-point analysis of how climate change is already wreaking havoc in every corner of the United States might finally have Congress sitting up and taking notice.
Or maybe you wouldn't. In which case you'd be right. In fact, it's all just business as usual in the nation's capital, where perhaps the most depressingly ironic comments, this week, were from Congressmen who now concede that human-caused climate change is real, but who still oppose taking action on the basis that this will hurt jobs for miners.
There's a terrible irony right there in the opening sequence of the first episode of the new Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously.
Nelly Montez describes what happened to her and thousands of other workers when Cargill, one of the world's largest factory farm operations, closed its slaughterhouse in the small town of Plainview, Texas. As she explains it:
In this week's climate-change quiz, we ask: Who wrote the following when discussing how to avoid the growing global catastrophe?
The glass is either half empty or half full. I choose to believe it is half full … Technology both creates unforeseen problems and then sets about solving them. My bet is on human ingenuity.
A tech start-up entrepreneur trying to sell a new invention that will supposedly save the world?
A Congress person who's bought and paid for by the oil lobby?
Derrick Jensen is one of the few people you'll come across who are passionate about both the "environment" and all the living creatures.
(Climate change activists barely ever mention our fellow animals, and most of the humane organizations, including the "no-kill movement", seem blissfully unaware that the entire planet is being killed, not just homeless pets.)
With 20 books behind him – including Deep Green Resistance, a strategy to save the planet before it's altogether too late; and Endgame, which explains why no human civilization can ever be sustainable and that therefore "Love does not imply pacifism" – Jensen is one of the leaders (some say the philosopher-poet) of a growing movement to take action on behalf of all living beings on this planet before there's literally nothing and no one left alive.
Scientists tend to err on the side of being ultra-conservative. It's built into the system. Their work is always being reviewed and picked apart by other scientists, so they don't want to be caught out making claims that they can't fully support.
Nor do most scientists want to be seen as advocates. They prefer to see themselves as purveyors of information, not of opinion – especially when it comes to hot-button topics like climate change.
All of which is why the latest report from the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is turning heads. Bottom line: This report is a giant alarm call.
At the end of her talk at the Seattle Town Hall about her book The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert takes questions from the audience. The final question is from a boy in his mid-teens. He's the only one at the microphone who's likely to be around when this the extinction process has gone into high gear. So, what does he ask?
Various blogs, including this one, have noted that the Sunday morning network news shows have been devoting no more than a few minutes each year to climate change. But this week, in the face of worldwide floods, droughts, snow storms and heat waves, they finally braved the elements, tiptoed up to the plate, and timidly asked: Are we humans really changing the climate?
Here's how it went:
How do you talk about the end of the world on a comedy show?
That was the challenge for Jon Stewart when he invited Elizabeth Kolbert onto The Daily Show to talk about her new book The Sixth Extinction. (Watch the clip here.)
Bengt Holst is bewildered. He can't figure out why everyone is so upset about his zoo knocking off Marius the giraffe.
Holst is the science director at the Copenhagen Zoo, and it all makes perfect sense to him. He's like the super-logical, totally insensitive husband who can't understand why his "irrational" wife only gets madder when he tries to explain his latest dumb remark.
"A giraffe is not a pet," he told reporters. "It’s not like a dog or cat that becomes part of the family. We do it to ensure a healthy population. It is a wild animal."
As if that explains it.
By now, more people are at least beginning to understand that we have a serious problem with climate change. Scientists used to tell us that we need to stop carbon dioxide going over 350 ppm in the atmosphere. That was considered to be the tipping point – the point of no return. Last year, it topped 400 ppm.
So, where are we at now?
It's surely the most important question in the world today: Why are we humans driving the Earth into a Sixth Great Extinction – an extinction event that will likely include our own species?
Why, despite the fact that there are more animal protection groups and more environmental organizations than ever before, is the situation for our fellow animals and the whole world of nature getting worse by the day?
For a long time, there have been newspaper stories and covers of magazines that talked about "The end of antibiotics? (question mark)" Well, now I would say you can change the title to "The end of antibiotics – period."
That's Dr. Arjun Srinivasan – one of an impressive lineup of doctors and scientists on "Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria", an episode of PBS Frontline that explains how we have come to the end of the antibiotic era. Not "in danger of coming to" the end of the line, but inexorably now arriving there.
Basically, we're returning to the pre-antibiotic era when people routinely died from infections that, for the last hundred years, have been treated with a simple course of penicillin and other antibiotics that followed.
This was the Muir Glacier in Alaska in 1882. And here it is side-by-side with a photo from the exact same spot, taken by Bruce F. Molnia in August, 2005:
With huge floods in Colorado, fires in California, twin hurricanes on the two coasts of Mexico, and all the other weather catastrophes of the summer season, we're already way beyond the question of what's happening and why. The big questions now are how rapidly is the climate catastrophe unfolding, and what regions are going to be hit worst.
Colorado, it turns out, is in a kind of anti-Goldilocks zone.