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Climate Change Must Be Dealt With Before It Unleashes Millions Of Global-Warming Refugees

Lethal Heating - 23 September, 2018 - 18:10
South China Morning PostMike Rowse

Mike Rowse says mass migration, driven by war and politics, has already fuelled social discontent in Europe and America. But things may get much worse if climate change continues unchecked and leaves millions in at-risk countries homeless
Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar arrive at the border of Bangladesh in 2017. War and politics are common factors in mass migration, but soon climate change may be too. Photo: AFPMillions of people around the world are being forced from their homes by violent circumstances. Many more aspire to move to another country in search of a better life for themselves and their families. These twin drivers of mass migration are already triggering political trauma in destination countries. And now there’s a third factor with the potential to cause human suffering on a massive scale: climate change.
There are two broad groups of reasons why people up sticks and move to a different country: the necessity-push and the opportunity-pull. Up until now, probably the most common push factors have been war and politics. During the violent partition that accompanied the birth of India and Pakistan in 1947, millions scrambled to get on the “right” side of the new borders. Closer to home, the Vietnam war ended with hundreds of thousands of those associated with the losing regime fleeing from the south, many stopping over in Hong Kong on their way to safety in a sanctuary country.
More recently, the appalling civil war in Syria has displaced millions of its citizens, mostly to adjacent countries such as Turkey and Jordan, though about a million flooded into western Europe, and many settled in Germany. A military crackdown in Myanmar has forced over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. A question mark hangs over the residence rights of four million people in India, who have been left off a citizens’ register on suspicion of being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The pull factor in migration has undergone a step change in recent years, thanks to technological progress. The possibility of a better life somewhere else has historically been uncertain because of a lack of reliable information about what life “over there” was really like. It took time for news to filter back and it was safer to maintain the status quo.
A Canadian immigration officer interviews a Vietnamese family in a refugee camp in Sham Shui Po in 1979. Photo: C.Y. Yu But with the prevalence of mobile phones now, everyone can see for themselves pictures of what life is like in wealthy countries. The certainty of misery in poorer parts of the world can now be contrasted with images of well-fed people living more comfortable lives overseas.
The most desirable destination countries have struggled to cope with the throngs of arrivals both practically and politically. Recent election results in Europe have shown conclusively that anti-immigrant feelings run high. Italy’s new government has taken a hard line against would-be migrants from Africa, even turning ships away.
In Sweden, an anti-immigration party finished a close third behind two established middle-of-the-road parties in recent elections. German politics is still affected by the arrival of a million migrants in 2015 and 2016, mostly from Syria; the hard-right Alternative for Germany is now the main opposition party.
In Denmark, Austria and Hungary, to name a few, general public sentiment is against large numbers of people being allowed entry and settlement. Some analysts believe that immigration was a major factor in the Brexit vote in Britain, and in the election of Donald Trump in the United States. In Australia, the treatment of asylum seekers is a hot-button issue.
One of Donald Trump’s campaign promises was to build a border wall between Mexico and the US. Photo: AFP
In all of the cases, the exact causes vary, but cultural differences, religious beliefs and sometimes naked racism play some part.
Into this tricky mix, let us add climate change. The world’s climate has always varied through the ages, as the deniers never cease to point out. But the scientific community has reached a high degree of consensus that human activity – in particular, the widespread use of coal and other carbon-emitting fuels since the modern industrial era began – is causing global warming.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2018 is on track to be the fourth hottest year on record. Just three other years have been hotter: 2015, 2016 and 2017.
We in Hong Kong have just experienced the strongest typhoon on record. Scientists say there may be fewer – but bigger and stronger – such storms in future. At a global level, a real danger is that melting polar caps will cause sea levels to rise and leave several countries under water. Already, the government of the Maldives has held a cabinet meeting underwater to highlight the threat.
The islands’ population is under half a million – perhaps they could be squeezed into Sri Lanka. What about Fiji and other islands at risk in the Pacific? Maybe New Zealand could take them in. But what are we going to do if Bangladesh should slip beneath the waves? Where do we expect 163 million people to go?
An aerial view of an atoll in the Maldives, which faces dangers such as rising sea levels and more intense storms. Photo: Reuters
The world knows what it has to do to avert tragedy. The problem is the costs of coping with climate change, which have to be paid right here, right now, and which voters must be persuaded to cover. But in such a critical hour, the leader of the free world has abdicated responsibility.
Not content with pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord, Trump has put new emphasis on the coal industry in America. At his age, he might not need to worry about the long-term consequences of his pro-coal policy changes. But as a father and grandfather, he should be. His grandchildren in particular – like the rest of the world – will not forgive him.

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NASA launches Satellite To Precisely Track How Earth's Ice Is Melting

Lethal Heating - 23 September, 2018 - 17:18
The Guardian

The $1bn, decade-in-the-making creation can measure height and thickness of ice sheets to within a centimeter
The new satellite will provide a more complete picture of the planet’s ice loss. Photograph: Modis/Aqua/NASAThe world will soon have a much clearer picture of how quickly humans are melting Earth’s ice and expanding the seas, with data collected by a sophisticated satellite launched by NASA.
Every 91 days, the $1bn, decade-in-the-making creation will orbit over more than 1,000 paths. The satellite, about the size of a Smart car, will point six lasers at ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctica. It will then calculate how long the beams take to bounce back. NASA will be able to more accurately measure the heights of ice sheets and the thickness of remaining sea ice.
“With sea ice, we’ve been able to measure the extent (or area) really well since about 1980 … but what we haven’t been able to measure is the thickness,” said Tom Neumann, NASA’s deputy project scientist for the mission. “Thickness is a key piece of the puzzle because thinner sea ice is broken up more easily by storms. It melts faster. So it gives you some insight into why the area is changing the way it is.”
Melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica has increased the global sea level more than a millimeter per year, a third of the overall increase, according to NASA. Sea-level rise is getting faster, and seas could be several feet higher by the end of the century.
The IceSat-2, launched Saturday, replaces an original satellite that has been out of commission since 2009. Between 2003 and 2009, the measured sea ice lost 40% of its thickness, Neumann said.
Since then, NASA has used a plane to take more rudimentary measurements of ice melt for about a month per year in the Arctic and Antarctic. That covered less ground but allowed NASA to monitor the fastest changing parts of the ice sheets and sea ice.
Neumann said it’s possible the satellite will find ice loss beyond what NASA has measured so far. Gaps in data, including in east Antarctica, could show ice shrinking or growing.
The new satellite will provide more complete coverage and measure to within a centimeter.
“In the time it takes someone to blink, sort of half a second, IceSat-2 is going to collect 5,000 measurements in each of its six beams, and it’s going to do that every hour, every day … it’s a tremendous amount of data,” Neumann said.
Melting ice has increased sea levels more than a millimeter per year. Photograph: NASAWhile Donald Trump doubts the scientific consensus around man-made climate change and his administration is rescinding standards to stall warming, Neumann said multiple federal agencies want to see the satellite data when it starts coming back in October.
The US Geological Survey is interested in the elevation data, and the navy would like to look at how changes will affect shipping channels, he said. With ice melt, new routes are expected to open through the Arctic, significantly reducing shipping times.
NASA has an entire fleet of satellites observing Earth, including for signs of climate change. Trump this year proposed cutting the budget that funds many of the others.
Private companies and public interest groups and even the state of California have announced their own plans for climate-related satellites.
A collaboration between the Environmental Defense Fund and Harvard University is expected to launch in 2021 and as will pinpoint methane leaks from oil and gas operations.
Steven Hamburg, chief scientist for EDF, said researchers realized they could build the satellite faster and cheaper than the government. EDF research suggests oil and gas companies in the US leak 60% more methane than environmental regulators estimate.
Methane traps far more heat than the more common carbon dioxide. Because it is short-lived, cutting emissions would have a rapid impact on temperatures, Hamburg said.
The European Space Agency has a satellite that measures greenhouse gases, but it doesn’t specify in detail where leaks are happening. GHGSat, a private company, expects to launch a second greenhouse-gas-monitoring satellite soon.

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Energy Policy Captive To Lobbyists And 'Mad Ideologues', Tim Flannery Says

Lethal Heating - 23 September, 2018 - 16:54
The Guardian

Five years after the Climate Commission’s axing, its former head says there has been progress as well as setbacks
‘We’re being held hostage at a federal level,’ Tim Flannery told Guardian Australia. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the GuardianFive years since the Abbott government scrapped the Climate Commission, the environmentalist Tim Flannery says our energy policy remains hostage to lobbyists, political self-interest and “mad ideologues”.
But the organisation Flannery helped start from the ashes of Abbott’s climate bonfire, the Climate Council, says that attitudes have shifted substantially since 2013 – at least those outside federal parliament.
“We’re being held hostage at a federal level,” Flannery told Guardian Australia.
“It has been a disgrace. Our failures are the failures of a small group of politicians who are supposed to be acting in the national interest. Instead, they’re using energy policy as a cudgel, they’re listening to paid lobbyists and doing their bidding.”
“I don’t want to say any more because I’ll just get angry.”
Flannery was the chief commissioner of the Climate Commission, a government-backed research body whose remit was to communicate reliable and authoritative information about climate change.
The commission lasted just two years, and was almost immediately scrapped by the Abbott government after the 2013 election. Flannery and other commissioners decided to subsequently launch the Climate Council as an independent not-for-profit body.
“We raised $1.5m in 10 days,” recalls Amanda McKenzie, the council’s chief executive.
“At the time we went out, quite on a limb, because we had no funding. We said we will go ahead if the public backs us. It was the largest crowdfunding campaign in Australian history. Thousands of people were contributing.”
“I look back on that time as a really hopeful moment, thinking the community is behind us on this. More and more Australians are concerned about the issue. That concern has elevated over time.
“We had no idea that we would still be, five years later, battling for any action on an federal government level.”
Flannery points out that Australia’s emissions continue to increase “at a time when they need to be going down”. The federal government has abandoned any commitment to meeting the Paris emissions reduction targets. The new prime minister, Scott Morrison, famously used a lump of coal as a prop in parliament.
Scott Morrison with a lump of coal during Question Time in the House of Representatives. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAPThat state of affairs might cause some to question whether any progress had been made during the past five years. But putting federal politics to one side, both Flannery and McKenzie say strides have been made by individuals, local and state governments.
“I think [without the Climate Council] we’d be a long way behind in terms of public awareness, we’d be a huge distance behind,” Flannery said. “Those who were seeking to mislead would be [not held to account].”
“I’m immensely proud of it and I think we’ve made a huge difference”.
Flannery said the Climate Council initially sought to be a research and information body, filling the gap left by the disbanding of the commission. But in recent years it has taken on a broader remit, actively running programs to support action.
“We decided we needed to expand our remit, we’re running out of time to deal with this issue and we needed to pull out all stops.
“I think we’ve got to use every leverage point we can at the moment because we’re running out of time. We need to find those programs that work, get involved and start leading them.”
One of those programs, which Flannery says he is “most proud of”, is a partnership that supports local governments to transition to clean energy.
“What we didn’t realise [five years ago] was that state governments would step into the vacuum and that local governments would step into the vacuum,” McKenzie said.
In five years, the council has released more than 100 publications.
“If we had failed, it would not only have set back the entire climate change discussion in Australia, it would have given the conservatives an opportunity to say how little everyone cares about climate change,” Flannery said.
“There will be a need for the Climate Council I think for decades, because the problem isn’t going to be solved for decades. It’s a pretty tough thing to be pushing against this and find you’re constantly going backwards. But I’m nothing if not stubborn.”

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We Need To Do More To Understand How Climate Change And Conflict Are Linked. Here's Why

Lethal Heating - 22 September, 2018 - 19:14
World Economic ForumStockholm International Peace Research Institute

Previous studies have concluded that the effects of climate change can increase the risk of violent conflict Image: REUTERS/Amit Dave The impacts of climate change are increasingly viewed as global security risks, which will have far-reaching implications for both human and renewable natural systems.
Most climate–conflict research has focused on East Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
The SIPRI Insights paper, Climate change and violent conflict: Sparse evidence from South Asia and South East Asia, explores and summarizes the findings from a systematic literature review of climate–conflict research on South Asia and South East Asia.
Although these regions have been greatly affected by both climate change and conflict, there have only been a small number of rigorous academic studies that focus on the climate–conflict relationship.

Interlinked causes
While this constrains the ability to draw general conclusions, there is context-specific evidence that climate change can have an effect on the causes and dynamics of violent conflict in the region when: (a) it leads to a deterioration in people’s livelihoods; (b) it influences the tactical considerations of armed groups; (c) elites use it to exploit social vulnerabilities and resources; and (d) it displaces people and increases levels of migration.
In acknowledging that these mechanisms are often interlinked and more noticeable in some climatic, conflict and socio-economic contexts than in others, the need for more research in both South Asia and South East Asia is clear.

In summary, and acknowledging the limited evidence base, what can be gleaned about the linkages between climate change and violent conflict in South Asia and South East Asia?
The key finding from the systematic literature review is that knowledge is worryingly limited. In fact, countries such as Pakistan, Myanmar and Afghanistan, which are experiencing climate change and are host to notorious violent conflicts, are underrepresented in academic research.
Similarly, the low number of rigorous academic studies that have so far been conducted in the countries and regions of South Asia and South East Asia constrains the ability to draw broader conclusions about the regions as a whole.
Nonetheless, the studies reviewed confirm previous analyses and show that, under certain circumstances, climate change increases the risk of conflict.

Four mechanisms
Moreover, this study demonstrates that the four mechanisms identified in previous reviews of the climate–conflict linkage are also at play in the context of South Asia and South East Asia, albeit with notable differences.
Climate-related environmental change influences violent conflicts when: (a) it negatively affects people’s livelihoods; (b) it influences the tactical considerations of armed groups in ongoing conflicts; (c) elites exploit social vulnerabilities and resources; and (d) it displaces people and increases migration in vulnerable and highly vulnerable natural resource dependent contexts.
It is important to analyze and compare regions that, despite being vulnerable and highly exposed to climate change, are able to peacefully mitigate such stressors Due to the limited amount of rigorous empirical research on the climate–conflict linkage in South Asia and South East Asia, more research will be indispensable to refining understanding of how climate change might increase the risk of violence and under what circumstances it is likely to do so.
As violent conflicts are multi-causal, context-specific and develop over time, further research is essential not only to address knowledge gaps, but also to enable a more refined understanding of the applicability and adequacy of different response mechanisms in diverse contexts.
To this end, it is important to analyze and compare regions that, despite being vulnerable and highly exposed to climate change, are able to peacefully mitigate such stressors. Nonetheless, there are relevant lessons to draw from the available research.
The climate–conflict linkage primarily plays out in contexts that are already vulnerable to climate change, and where income is highly dependent on agriculture and fishing. Therefore, it is important to support the development of alternative sources of income, to increase the coping capacity of communities to manage temporary losses of income and to strengthen communities’ resilience in order to mitigate conflict risks.
Various scholars have made suggestions that this might entail insurance schemes that smooth out the annual income of vulnerable populations, a reduction in income sensitivity to climate conditions, legal reform and improved land rights, drought preparedness programmes and agricultural assistance.
Previous programmes, such as food assistance programmes, have been followed by either a decrease or an increase in violence at different periods of implementation, as they are likely to alter the power relations in a community.

Disaster risk management
The dynamics of violence following the implementation of projects need to be considered when policy responses are planned. The research therefore points to the need to develop conflict-sensitive analyses when designing and implementing disaster risk management and climate programming.
In conclusion, the underlying review illustrates the interplay between different mechanisms that link climate change and conflict.
To further understand the relationship and advance policy guidance on how to mitigate conflict risks, future research should address resource management, conflict prevention and disaster risk reduction in an integrated manner.
Future research needs to contribute in the following three key areas.

1) Addressing spatial and temporal differences.The impacts of climate change are expected to increase over time, but many climate-related disasters are seasonal and affect the dynamics of conflicts differently throughout the year. In addition, few studies address urban contexts despite increased urbanization and the vulnerability of urban centres in the region.

2) Making use of contextual understanding.Climate change and conflict events have different effects on different societies. It is therefore crucial to understand these context-specific differences in order to enable tailored responses. These should include local and marginalized communities. To provide contextually adequate responses that empower vulnerable groups, it is important to assess the needs, vulnerabilities and resilience of affected communities.

3) Taking account of institutional capacity and governance. The transnational character of climate change provides new challenges, but also increased relevance, for institutions and organizations. Where institutional capacity is low, there is an increased risk that aid will be mismanaged and the risk of conflict after a climatic event increases. It is therefore important to analyze how local, national and regional institutions are developing their ability to deal with these risks.

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On The Attack Against Climate Change

Lethal Heating - 22 September, 2018 - 17:13
New York TimesAlina Tugend

A woman collecting plastic in Haiti, where the Plastic Bank began its work three years ago. The company aims to stop plastic before it gets into the ocean. Credit Plastic BankThousands of organizations around the world are trying in big ways and small to confront the challenges of climate change. Here are 10 examples.
Under the Sea
Coral reefs are beautiful to look at, but they also play a crucial role as coastal barriers when storms or flooding hits, absorbing about 97 percent of wave energy.But because of rising temperatures, coral cover in the Caribbean is estimated to have decreased by about 80 percent in the last few decades, said Joseph Pollock, Caribbean coral strategy director at the Nature Conservancy. He added that in 2016, a marine heat wave was estimated to have killed about a third of the shallow corals on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.The Nature Conservancy in partnership with Secore International, a conservation organization and a leader in coral restoration, are using an innovative approach to address the problem: helping coral reproduction.Coral mating works this way, Dr. Pollock said: Many coral species spawn by putting out bundles of eggs and sperm one night a year.“It’s like the craziest singles bar ever,” he said.Researchers know when those nights are, so they go out, collect the eggs and sperm and then mix them together to cross-fertilize, grow them for a few days or weeks until they become coral juveniles, then place them back in the sea.The survival rate is about 10 percent, Dr. Pollock said, but that’s much better than the survival rate without the help of the scientists. And compared with other restoration techniques, the cross-fertilization creates greater genetic diversity, and that creates more resilience.The work is focused on the Caribbean now, but Dr. Pollock said the hope is that it can be used throughout the world.“The aim of the work is to develop tools and techniques that are low cost and don’t require a huge amount of super specialized personnel and infrastructure,” he said.One of the solar microgrids that have been installed by Resilient Power Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria knocked out most of the island’s power grid last year. Credit Resilient Power Puerto RicoA New Kind of Power
After Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico last year and knocked out almost all of its power grid, most residents were left without electricity for months. Jonathan Marvel, one of the founders of Marvel Architects, was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He wanted not only to help bring back power but also do it in a way that would be more environmentally sustainable than it was before the storm.So, with colleagues and friends, he created Resilient Power Puerto Rico, to develop and install solar microgrids for as many people as he could in the most efficient way possible. The organization, which received an early donation of batteries from Tesla, focused its efforts on areas with high-density, low-rise housing and installed the grids on rooftops of community centers that typically serve 3,000 to 4,000 people.Their work complements other efforts not only to rebuild the island but also to make its infrastructure more resilient and environmentally green.One benefit of the solar microgrids is that they can store solar power — allowing them to operate if the main power source is disrupted — which solar panels alone can’t do.So far, 28 microgrids have been installed, serving close to 100,000 people, Mr. Marvel said, and 30 more are almost finished. The cost, covered by donations from companies and individuals, is about $25,000 to $30,000 per solar hub.Almost all of the power on the island is supplied by fossil fuels, but Puerto Rico is “an ideal locale to use solar power and renewable energy because it has so many more solar days than in many parts of the world,” said Mr. Marvel, whose offices are based in Manhattan and San Juan. “We want to keep the candle burning with solar energy, not fossil fuel.”
Saving the Soil
The role that soil plays in climate change is often ignored, but changing the way it is managed could have a big impact on global warming.Unfortunately, most soil has become less productive, with environmental consequences, said Michael Doane, managing director for agriculture and food systems at the Nature Conservancy. That’s because it has been eroded through too much tilling, lack of adequate ground cover and a failure to diversify crops.“This living ecosystem has become dead and we’re trying to bring it back to life,” Mr. Doane said.One pilot program, now taking place on more than 100 American farms in about six states, is focused on reducing or eliminating the amount of tillage done on farms. It is done under the auspices of the Soil Health Partnership, a collaboration of environmental groups, farmers, academics and industry working to alter soil health practices.“Tillage is actually detrimental to soil,” he said. One of the main problems is that tilling releases carbon stored in the soil, which becomes carbon dioxide when exposed to air and contributes to global warming. Tilling also makes the earth more susceptible to erosion and less able to absorb heavy rainfalls.One solution is using plants — either rotating crops or using ground cover such as grass, depending on what’s needed to repair the soil — to cover the soil before and after the main cash crop is planted. Diverse plant cover has been found to make the soil healthier and helps control weeds, Mr. Doane said.“We want to try to avoid soil bare of plant cover,” he added. “Instead, our vision is a continuous living cover.” Calling it “nature’s solution to climate change,” he said the process of photosynthesis — where plants store the carbon in the soil and release oxygen — could be “a very cost-effective way to mitigate climate change.”This won’t work on every farm, because each is different, but “we know this works for many farmers in many situations — we have good data on that,” Mr. Doane said.And the process can make farms more productive by creating soil that can better hold water and recycle nutrients, meaning farmers can spend less money on fertilizer.“If we’re going to solve climate change,” he said, “We have to find economic solutions for people who don’t know they’re solving climate change.”
Up on the Roof
Keeping cool is becoming more and more difficult as temperatures across the world spike. In addition, air-conditioning uses hydrofluorocarbons, which contribute substantially to global warming.One solution, which numerous cities around the world have embraced, is called cool roofs, which is simply painting dark rooftops with a reflective white paint or wrapping them with a light membrane that reduces the absorption of heat. This not only addresses the “urban heat island” effect — urban areas tend to be significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas due to human activities — but also helps decrease strain on electric grids and alleviate air pollution.A Yale University study cites a finding that if every roof in the United States were painted white, the urban heat island effect would be decreased by one-third.New York City, for example, has a CoolRoofs Initiative. Since 2009, 5,000 volunteers have painted more than five million square feet of rooftops in the city, according to the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.In India, where only 10 percent of the households have air-conditioning units, two cities — Hyderabad and Ahmedabad — ran cool-roof demonstration projects. In Ahmedabad, volunteers and others painted 3,000 roofs in slum areas with white lime paint, said Anjali Jaiswal, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s India program. The environmental organization worked on the projects with local partners.DuPont, which has a research center in Hyderabad, owns Tyvek, a synthetic material that is often used in construction and can cover dark roofs. The company donated the material to cover 25 roofs in the city. Both paint and the coverings are considered equally effective, Ms. Jaiswal said.Cool roofs can reduce indoor temperature by three to nine degrees Fahrenheit, she added, for as little as seven cents a square foot or $4 a home.As incomes and temperatures rise, so is demand for air-conditioning, she said. An important aspect of addressing climate change will be both developing more environmentally friendly units and reducing the demand for them.Both Indian cities are now developing a citywide cool-roofs policy mandating them for all municipal buildings and working with business leaders’ corporate responsibility programs to expand them throughout the cities.For relatively little cost, Ms. Jaiswal said, cool roofs are “saving lives, reducing temperatures and responding to climate change.”
Turning Plastic Into Money
Collecting plastic to recycle as a way to earn money is nothing new. But David Katz, founder and chief executive of the Plastic Bank, has created a virtuous cycle of buying and reselling the plastic.The company’s idea, which last year received one of the United Nations’ “Momentum for Change” climate solutions awards, aims to stop plastic before it even gets to the ocean by having collectors pick it up around canals, waterways and other areas that lead into the ocean. Through partnerships between the Plastic Bank and major corporations such as the German-based Henkel, the plastic is then reused. That cuts down on the emissions that cause greenhouse gasses used to make new plastic.According to research from the nonprofit Earth Day Network, about eight million metric tons of plastic pollution are discarded into the ocean every year, equivalent to one garbage truck full of plastics being dumped every minute.Plastic Bank, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, started its work in Haiti three years ago; now about 2,000 collectors there can either receive cash, buy goods or services — such as cooking oil, LED lights or topping off pay-as-you-go cellphones — at one of the 40 recycling outlets around the country. They also have the ability, through the Plastic Bank’s app developed in partnership with IBM, to transfer the money into an online savings account.In Haiti, where more than half the people live on less than $2 a day, a full-time collector can receive several dollars a day, Mr. Katz said.The company also trains and supports local people who run the recycling outlets.The Plastic Bank has expanded to Brazil, and Indonesia; this month, it opened its first site in the Philippines and in the first week, Mr. Katz said, collected around 120,000 bottles.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
Constance Okollet had never heard of climate change, but she knew that her village in Uganda had been devastated by a 2007 flood that affected most of the country. She knew the weather was growing increasingly unpredictable, making the farming of the typical crops such as maize, sorghum and millet ever more difficult and sending a population that had been poor but self-sufficient spiraling into destitution.“We thought God was punishing us,” Ms. Okollet said. She suggested to her neighbors that they form a group to help one another and was elected to lead what was soon called the Osukuru United Women Network.At first, they helped each other in small ways, such as pooling their savings. Then in 2009, Ms. Okollet heard on the radio that Oxfam, the global relief organization, was holding a meeting focused on food insecurity in the area, and she decided to go.Once at the meeting, she said: “They kept talking about climate change and I asked, ‘What are you people talking about? What do you mean by that?’”She learned. And she and other members of the network (which now includes some men) have since begun awareness education about climate change — its impact and how to adapt — through workshops in churches and wherever people gather.They have undertaken numerous larger projects as well. The network received a $5,000 grant from the Global Greengrants Fund, a nonprofit that provides small grants to local groups working on environmental issues. The money went to buy six teams of oxen, which are much faster than the traditional hand tilling. An acre can be tilled in two days, compared with a hoe, which can take four weeks. Ms. Okollet said. This makes it easier to time the planting to good weather.Two years ago, 60 members of the network were also flown to Nairobi, Kenya, to learn how to make and sell charcoal briquettes; deforestation means firewood is scarce and the briquettes in any case are greener. They mix ash, dry leaves and water, which when dried, actually even cook better than wood, she said.“We also sell the briquettes to make money — even $1 can help,” she said. “You can pay your school fees or start a small business, and you don’t have to take a loan from the bank.”Peatland restoration outside Moscow. The abandonment of drained peatlands in parts of Russia has created not only widespread land degradation but also huge quantities of carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. Credit Kirill ShahmatovRestoring Peatlands
Peatlands may not be the first thing people think about when focusing on climate change, but the abandonment of drained peatlands in parts of Russia has created not only widespread land degradation, but also huge quantities of carbon dioxide, through peat oxidation. And carbon dioxide contributes to global warming.Over the decades, millions of acres have been drained and used for agriculture, forestry and the extraction of peat, a fuel used for heating and electrical energy. But when it was no longer profitable to dig out the peat, many of the areas were deserted, said Jozef Bednar, project manager for Wetlands International.“Peatland ecosystems play a crucial role in global climate,” said Dr. Bednar, noting that they store several times more carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas than any other ecosystem. As such, he added, “the world’s peat bogs represent an important ‘carbon sink’ — a place where carbon dioxide is stored below ground and can’t escape into the atmosphere and exacerbate global warming.”Dr. Bednar offered one staggering number: Peatlands cover only 3 percent of the global total land area, but emit twice as much carbon dioxide as the world’s forests, which cover more than 30 percent. The peatlands drained by people are prone to fires and the accompanying smoke spreads long distances, creating serious health problems.Wetlands International, along with its partners under the International Climate Initiative of the German government, began a major restoration of the peatlands after the extensive peat fires in the Moscow region in 2010. The goal is to return the peatlands to their original waterlogged state. With the help of experts, this is done by correctly blocking drainage ditches and channels so the peatlands’ water-storage capacity is re-established, Dr. Bednar said.The project was awarded a United National “Momentum for Change” climate solutions award last year and, to date, about 100,000 acres of drained peatlands have been restored in Russia and the process can be replicated in other countries facing the same problem, he added.
Climate Literacy
Climate and climate change are complicated, and while schools are a good place to learn about it, not all teachers have the knowledge and resources to teach the topic. That’s why the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a partnership of federal agencies, education-focused nongovernmental organizations, teachers and scientists wrote “The Essential Principles of Climate Literacy,” a curriculum guide for teachers.Available since 2009, but in the process of being updated for release at the end of the year, it is for at all ages and all forms of education, said Frank Niepold, a senior climate education program manager for NOAA and lead author of the guide.“In the 1990s, less than 1 percent of the national standards for science education was related to climate change. Now about 30 percent is,” he added.At the same time, the partnership established a website, Cleanet.org, that offers climate and energy educational resources — including quizzes- and guidance for teachers.Mr. Niepold estimated that over 50 percent of children in kindergarten through 12th grade nationwide are learning from all or some of the climate literacy framework, and “we’re on our way to 75 percent,” he said.Other countries are also using the guide in creating their own curriculums and standards, he added, and this month the National Science Teachers Association released its position paper on teaching climate science, referencing the Essentials of Climate Literacy as one of its sources.“Students are aware of climate change and want to know more and want to be part of solving it,” Mr. Niepold said. “And they know that requires an understanding of the fundamentals.”An Ethiopian baby delivered with help from WeCareSolar, a nonprofit whose Solar Suitcases have been received by 3,500 facilities in 27 developing countries. Credit Liz HaleFighting Energy Poverty
When Laura Stachel, an obstetrician, took a two-week trip to a remote hospital in Nigeria 10 years ago, she was interested in maternal health, not solar energy. But what she saw there changed her mind and her life.She knew maternal mortality was high: Worldwide, Dr. Stachel said, about 300,000 women and two million newborns die every year from pregnancy and childbirth complications. But she did not realize the extent of what has been called energy poverty.The hospital in northern Nigeria that she visited did not have electricity for 12 hours a day. Daytime cesarean sections were done by ambient light, and once, when it occurred in the middle of the night and the power went out, one was performed by the light of Dr. Stachel’s headlamp.She told the stories to her husband, Hal Aronson, who holds a doctorate in environmental sociology and has focused on solar energy issues for years. He designed and built what is now called a Solar Suitcase: solar equipment that is easy to transport, install and use in areas where power supplies are unreliable.The kit, the size of a suitcase, comes with everything needed from solar panels to medical lighting to fetal monitors. As news about the Solar Suitcases was spreading, Dr. Stachel and Dr. Aronson also started the nonprofit WeCareSolar, which has received grants from foundations, corporations and individuals. Last year, it received a United Nations “Momentum for Change” climate solutions award.Working in partnership with nonprofits and United Nations agencies, about 3,500 facilities in 27 developing countries around the world have received the Solar Suitcases. It costs $3,000 to support a clinic with a Solar Suitcase for five years, Dr. Stachel said, including all the equipment, transportation and training.The organization also works to train local people to install and maintain solar power.The health impact is clear, but so is the impact on the environment, she said. Diesel fuel generators and kerosene lamps are polluting and generate carbon dioxide. But perhaps even more important, the move toward solar would reduce the reliance on fossil fuel — something that some major American hospitals are now trying to do.“We could leapfrog right past that and go right to clean, green electricity,” she said.
Greener Refrigeration
Supermarkets around the world are major users of hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, which contribute to ozone depletion and global warming — and in Chile, they are the biggest user. So, it is fitting that a supermarket chain called Jumbo has become the first in the country to adopt new refrigeration technology that is far more climate friendly than traditional methods.The new refrigeration technology uses transcritical CO2, which is a refrigerant that has a much smaller effect on the ozone layer and global warming. Hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants had replaced ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, but because their effects on global warming are so severe, there has been a worldwide effort to find a replacement. Hydrofluorocarbons have 1,000 times the heat-trapping potency of carbon dioxide.Under the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment, countries must meet specific targets and timelines to replace hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants with more environmentally friendly alternatives.So far, Jumbo has installed the systems in three supermarkets in Chile and will convert four more stores in the near future, said Claudia Paratori Cortés, coordinator of the Ozone Unit in in the Office of Climate Change in Chile’s Ministry of Environment.Ms. Cortés said comparisons between two types of refrigeration — transcritical C02 and one containing hydrofluorocarbons — found that the transcritical C02 systems were 20 percent to 40 percent more energy efficient, saving around $20,000 annually.In addition, she said, the residual heat from the transcritical CO2 systems can be used to heat water and therefore save energy.
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Geologists Are Feuding About The Collapse Of Civilization

Lethal Heating - 22 September, 2018 - 16:40
The Atlantic*

The year’s most acrimonious scientific fight is a mega-drama over a mega-drought.

Asmaa Waguih / Reuters
This summer, the decree went out: We are living in a new geological chapter in the planet’s 4.5-billion-year history.
For a certain corner of the world, this was big news. You have probably heard of the Jurassic period (when dinosaurs ruled the Earth) or the Cambrian explosion (when complex animal life arose). Now we had a new name for our own neighborhood in time: We modern humans—you, me, and Jesus of Nazareth—were all born in the Meghalayan age. According to the global governing body of geologists, this new era began 4,200 years ago, when a global mega-drought sent ancient societies around the world into starvation and collapse.
How interesting!, you may think. I love science! And perhaps in an earlier era, that’s all you would have had to think. The dawn of the Meghalayan would have earned some wide-eyed headlines, made life slightly easier for a few researchers, and promptly been relegated to a second-round Jeopardy! question.
Instead, the Meghalayan kicked off one of the cattiest, most intransigent fights among earth scientists that I can remember—a battle that now concerns some of the most profound questions up for scholarly debate today, including the importance of climate change, the likelihood of societal collapse, and the ultimate place of humanity in the universe.
Not that you would always know this from listening to them. “What the fuck is the Meghalayan?” a tenured professor of geology asked me in July. “It’s silly,” another said. Meanwhile, the new age’s beleaguered advocates claimed an “incredible press campaign” had misrepresented their work.
This week, the fight spilled into the pages of one of the country’s most prestigious journals, as a critic raised a new concern with the embattled age. A short article published Thursday in Science contends that the Meghalayan is premised on faulty archaeology. There is scant evidence, it says, that the worldwide mega-drought around 2200 B.C., which started the Meghalayan, brought ancient society to its knees.
“There was no sudden, universal civilizational collapse,” writes Guy Middleton, a visiting archaeologist at Newcastle University, in the piece. “Overall, the archaeological and historical evidence suggests that 2200 B.C. was not a threshold date.”Middleton’s point is larger than just the Meghalayan: He is siding with a group of scholars, mostly at European universities, that argues that climate change has almost never led to war or total ruin in the past. He writes as much in his piece: “Climate change never inevitably results in societal collapse, though it can pose serious challenges, as it does today.” Does climate change cause more war?
The Meghalayan’s architects did not mince words in their response.
“This is a totally misleading piece of writing, which displays a lamentable grasp of the facts,” said Mike Walker, a professor at the University of Wales and the leader of the team that proposed the Meghalayan.
“I do not see a single accurate claim,” agreed Harvey Weiss, a professor of archaeology at Yale who, also helped write the Meghalayan proposal.
In a series of emails, Weiss lambasted his critic’s credentials. “Middleton, a pop-archeology writer, failed archaeology Ph.D., and English-as-a-second-language instructor in Japan, now claims archeo-expertise in matters about which he knows nothing, and gets great audience in Science—of all journals!” he wrote.
“For me, the most intriguing question is, ‘Why does Science publish this rubbish?’” he said in another message, sent several hours later under the subject line “and Weiss added … ”
“I see you’ve been talking to Harvey Weiss!” Middleton replied when I told him about some of these charges without identifying their source. Middleton is the author of a book about societal collapse, and he holds a doctorate in Aegean prehistory. He has also “proudly” taught English for Academic Purposes classes at Tokyo University and Northumbria University, he said, writing: “It has put bread on the table since 2002 and paid me through my Ph.D.”
It wasn’t always clear that the Meghalayan would arouse this level of controversy. The new age was meant to be an aid for geologists and climate scientists who study the past 11,700 years of Earth’s history. This period of time—called the Holocene epoch—contains nearly all of modern human history and is crucial to the study of contemporary climate change.
But much to the chagrin of some scientists, the Holocene epoch is not clearly chunked into subdivisions. This ambiguity makes it hard to compare scientific conclusions: One researcher might consider the year 2000 B.C. to be “late Holocene”; another might think it the “mid-Holocene.” So in 2010, the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which standardizes geological timelines, convened a panel to fix this problem by subdividing the Holocene into thirds.After years of discussion and debate, the commission finalized those new subdivisions in July. The “late Holocene,” it said, would start with the advent of a global mega-drought 4,200 years ago. Since the best record of this worldwide drying event comes from a stalactite in Meghalaya, India, the new age would be called the Meghalayan.The July paper proposing the new age described the mega-drought of 2200 B.C. as “one of the most pronounced climatic events” to afflict human communities since the end of the Ice Age. It offers a tour of a world in catastrophe circa 2200 B.C.: In Egypt, the Old Kingdom “seems to have collapsed” after the Nile’s floods faltered. In Mesopotamia, the Akkadian empire crumbled, a disaster “linked to sudden acidification.” Throughout the Levant, people abandoned towns and cities. In modern-day Pakistan, the urban Harappan civilization—which once flourished in the Indus Valley—transitioned to a “rural, post-urban society.” In China, multiple Neolithic cultures failed. Settlement around the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers seems to have reached a nadir.
Middleton disputes almost all of these conclusions. Take Egypt, for instance. The pharaoh did lose power during that period, he writes, but he largely chalks this up to bureaucratic changes: “There was no disruption to Egyptian civilization, no dark age, and no mass starvation and death,” he writes.
Weiss directly contests some of these claims. “The great hallmarks of the Old Kingdom, the pyramid royal tombs cease to be built after the … mega-drought,” he said in an email. “Central government diffused to the provinces. Nile flow was diminished significantly—and thereby agricultural revenues for Old Kingdom pharaohs and their pyramid constructions.”
“I don’t think you can point to just the climate and say that the climate caused the collapse of the Old Kingdom,” said Peter Der Manuelian, a professor of Egyptology at Harvard who was not connected to either Meghalayan effort. “There’s also changes to the kingship, to the bureaucracy, economic factors, and also this general desiccation [of the environment]. Some people lean more toward the climate, and some lean more toward economics or the kingship.”
But he agreed that there was “definitely some fragmentation” in the Old Kingdom around 2200 B.C. “But thinking these days is that it was not anarchy, total collapse, and chaos and starvation,” he said.
Middleton takes a skeptical view of the idea that the 23rd century B.C. was especially devastating for human society. “I think that if you take a two-century period, you are indeed likely to find lots of changes and potentially things that modern scholars might sometimes term collapse (not necessarily helpfully),” he told me in an email. “Two hundred years separates us from the Napoleonic Wars … Take any 200 years of archaic or classical Greece or modern Europe and see how much the world changes in different ways.”He declined to say whether the Meghalayan should be reexamined. “The Meghalayan may exist stratigraphically, that is ultimately for geologists to determine,” he told me. “As a threshold for human cultures, and in terms of the archaeology, the Meghalayan seems to me to be questionable and rather pointless.”Walker, the professor who led the Meghalayan team, told me that “the archaeological record has no relevance whatsoever” in helping to set the new age. The mega-drought that set in 4,200 years ago is the important boundary in time, he said, adding: “I cannot understand why Science, which is supposed to be a flagship journal for global science, would publish such a poorly researched article as this.”
Middleton’s article ran as a short, two-page “perspective” in Science. In a statement, a spokeswoman for Science said that articles like Middleton’s “are examined by members of Science’s Board of Reviewing Editors (outside practicing scientists) who are experts in the related topic, as well as by Science’s in-house editors who handle papers in related areas.”
Middleton’s “call for archaeologists to pursue more interdisciplinary collaborations and publish in journals so that their latest assessments are visible to the wider discourse—for further evaluation—is one that makes it a good candidate for a perspective,” she added.
Even if Middleton’s criticism prompts no change to the Meghalayan, it points to a scholarly battle that remains unresolved. As I wrote earlier this year, scholars across economics and the social sciences currently do not agree about whether environmental change increases the chance of war and societal collapse. European scholars tend to dispute such a link; American scholars have mostly affirmed it.
“A decade ago Jared Diamond’s book was called Collapse. But reading it carefully suggested that numerous societies had actually survived remarkably in the face of environmental adversity,” said Simon Dalby, a professor of political economy at the Balsillie School of International Affairs who mostly disputes a climate-conflict connection. The next few centuries “are likely to be much less conducive to human flourishing than the last few centuries, but humanity will survive unless some major disease event transpires.”

*Robinson Meyer is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers climate change and technology. 

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At This Rate, Earth Risks Sea Level Rise Of 20 To 30 Feet, Historical Analysis Shows

Lethal Heating - 21 September, 2018 - 18:53
Washington PostChris Mooney

New research finds that a vast area of Antarctica retreated when Earth’s temperatures weren’t much warmer than they are now.
A flotilla of tabular icebergs adrift in the Southern Ocean, near the outlet of the Wilkes Subglacial Basin, East Antarctica. (Christina Riesselman)Temperatures not much warmer than the planet is experiencing now were sufficient to melt a major part of the East Antarctic ice sheet in Earth’s past, scientists reported Wednesday, including during one era about 125,000 years ago when sea levels were as much as 20 to 30 feet higher than they are now.
“It doesn’t need to be a very big warming, as long as it stays 2 degrees warmer for a sufficient time, this is the end game,” said David Wilson, a geologist at Imperial College London and one of the authors of the new research, which was published in Nature. Scientists at institutions in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Spain also contributed to the work.
The research concerns a little-studied region called the Wilkes Subglacial Basin, which is roughly the size of California and Texas combined and contains more than 10 feet of potential sea-level rise. Fronted by three enormous glaciers named Cook, Mertz and Ninnis, the Wilkes is known to be vulnerable to fast retreat because the ice here is not standing on land and instead is rising up from a deep depression in the ocean floor.
Moreover, that depression grows deeper as you move from the current icy coastline of the Wilkes farther inland toward the South Pole, a downhill slope that could facilitate rapid ice loss.
What the new science adds is that during past warm periods in Earth’s history, some or all of the ice in the Wilkes Subglacial Basin seems to have gone away. That’s an inference researchers made by studying the record of sediments in the seafloor just off the coast of the current ice front.
Here, they found several layers of sediments that appeared to come from beneath where the ice currently lies, providing a hint that when these layers of the seafloor were laid down, Wilkes contained either less ice or no ice at all.
Those sediments corresponded in time to several well-known past warm periods, when seas rose considerably. But what’s worrying is that these eras were in many cases not much warmer than the planet already is right now.
The shape of the bedrock beneath Antarctica, showing the very deep Wilkes Subglacial Basin, using data from the Bedmap2 project. (Stewart Jamieson/Durham University).Humans have caused about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming above the preindustrial planetary temperatures experienced before the year 1880 or so. The world has pledged to avoid a warming above 2 degrees Celsius, and even hopes to hold the warming to 1.5 degrees, but current promises made by countries are not nearly enough to prevent these outcomes.
In other words, we are already on a course that could heat the planet enough to melt some or all of the Wilkes Basin.
“We say 2 degrees beyond preindustrial, and we’re already beyond preindustrial,” Wilson said. “So this is potentially the kinds of temperatures we could see this century.”
The study cannot reveal, however, just how quickly ice emptied out of the Wilkes Basin. The past warm periods in question are thought to have been driven by slight variations in Earth’s orbit as it rotates around the sun, leading to stronger summer heat. That warmth was maintained for thousands of years.
“What we definitely can say is that during the [geological] stages where temperatures were warm for a couple of degrees for a couple of millennia, this is where we see a distinct signature in our records,” Wilson said. “We can’t necessarily say things didn’t happen quick, but we can’t resolve that in our data.”
The new research “contributes to the mounting pile of evidence that East Antarctica is not as stable as we thought,” Isabella Velicogna, a glaciologist at the University of California at Irvine, said by email. Velicogna was not directly involved in the paper.
“What I found particularly interesting is that the authors came to their conclusions using a data record off shore, not directly beneath the ice (which would be ideal), but this is clearly putting more incentive into studying this part of East Antarctica in more detail,” she wrote.
“The only way to obtain unequivocal evidence of the ice sheet retreat they describe is to drill through the ice sheet itself into the basin,” added Reed Scherer, an Antarctic expert at Northern Illinois University. “Until that gets done, this study from just offshore provides the clearest evidence yet that marine terminating glaciers of both East and West Antarctica are at risk for the future as global temperatures rise.”
The new research comes just as the U.S. and British governments prepare to launch a multiyear research project to study Antarctica’s huge and remote Thwaites glacier, which is in West Antarctica and is viewed as the largest risk to coastlines in this century.
The situations of Thwaites and Wilkes are eerily similar — both feature enormous amounts of ice resting on the seafloor, rather than on land, and downward slopes that create what scientists call a “marine ice sheet instability.” And both contain enough ice to unlock 10 feet or more of sea-level rise.
Thwaites is “sitting in a very unfortunate spot … resting over some of the deepest bedrock in West Antarctica,” Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., said at a planning event at Columbia University on Wednesday.
The new study suggests that Thwaites is the beginning, not the end, of our worries. One key difference, though, is that Thwaites is already losing 50 billion tons of ice per year, whereas the Wilkes region appears to be relatively unchanged for now, according to Wilson.
But it may simply be that while the world is already warm enough to awaken West Antarctica, just a bit more warmth will cause the same to happen to parts of the much larger East Antarctic ice sheet. That would not only explain a lot about the link between past sea levels and past temperatures in Earth’s history — it would further illuminate the future we’re heading toward.

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Why Australia Is Heading For Epic Failure On Carbon Emissions

Lethal Heating - 21 September, 2018 - 18:42
New DailyJames Fernyhough

Under current policies Australia will miss its Paris commitments by 21 percentage points. Photo: GettySince replacing Malcolm Turnbull a month ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has seemingly taken climate change mitigation off the policy table altogether.
His new energy minister, Angus Taylor, says carbon emissions don’t matter because we’re already on track to meet our Paris Agreement targets “without interventions” – a claim that The New Daily debunked here.
Given the Morrison government’s dropping of any pretence of a climate policy, The New Daily thought it worth taking a thorough look at exactly how Australia is doing on the greenhouse gas emissions front.
We asked three simple questions: What are Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions? Who or what is responsible for them? And how are we planning to reduce them?
The answers were surprisingly easy to find. They were all contained in this 40-page document from Mr Taylor’s own department, the Department of Environment and Energy. It made for grim reading.
In summary: Australia released 554 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases last year, and that’s set to go up, not down, by 2030; the single biggest contributor to this is coal-fired electricity generation, with car exhaust fumes and cow belches not far behind; and as things stand we are doing very little at a national level to deal with this dire problem.

The four main culprits
The government highlights eight main sources of greenhouse gas emission, all listed in the chart below. For simplicity’s sake we’ll concentrate on the four biggest ones: electricity generation, direct combustion, transport and agriculture.


Electricity generation
Electricity generation is by far the biggest contributor to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and as the graphic below shows, coal is by far the biggest resource used to generate electricity.
In 2017 electricity generation accounted for 190 Mt CO2-e. That’s 34 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions.
(Side note: Mt CO2-e means million tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalent measure of greenhouse gases. Other greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
Given solar, wind and hydro are emissions free, the vast bulk of that 190 million tonnes comes from gas, liquid fuel and, above all, coal.

The Rudd-Gillard Labor government introduced two key policies that significantly reduced emissions from the electricity sector: the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and the carbon tax.
The closure of the Hazelwood coal-fired power station and the planned closure of the Liddell coal-fired power station in 2022 will also push emissions down.
However, the Coalition scrapped the carbon tax, and will not renew the RET when it expires in 2020. So after Liddell closes, there are no policies or events that will further reduce emissions in the sector.
Malcolm Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee would have forced electricity generators to reduce their emissions, but Mr Morrison has already dropped that policy.
As a result, the COAG Energy Council predicts the sector is now on track to miss its 2030 target of a 26 to 28 per cent emissions reduction on 2005 levels.

A strange aspect of all this …
This brings up an important point. Under the Paris Agreement, the Coalition government agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 – across the entire economy.
The electricity sector is by far the biggest emitter in the economy, and one in which emissions can be quite easily reduced. However, the government has only ever aimed to reduce emissions in this sector by that same figure, 26 to 28 per cent.
Given the success of previous measures, a more aggressive renewables policy, for example, combined with a NEG-style policy or even an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax, could theoretically push emissions down by much more than the 26 to 28 per cent target.
The electricity sector, in other words, could quite easily do more of the heavy lifting on emissions reduction for the entire economy, if the government decided to make that a priority.

The other three
It would make sense to do this, because as things stand reducing emissions in the transport and agriculture sectors is going to be extremely difficult.
Emissions from both sectors, in fact, are on track to rise significantly. Transport in particular: thanks to the rapidly increasing population, emissions are expected to go from 96 million tonnes of carbon in 2017 to 112 million in 2030.
The federal government formed the ‘Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions’ in 2015, but as yet little solid policy has emerged from it.
Emissions from agriculture come primarily from the methane produced during cows’ and sheep’ digestion processes (we’re talking burps, not farts). Reducing emissions would mean reducing the number of livestock, which would likely be seen as an outright assault on the beef, lamb and dairy industries – not a fight many politicians will want to start.
Emissions from direct combustion – that is, the burning of fossil fuels to heat homes and power industry – is set to decline by 2 per cent between now and 2030. However there does not appear to be any clear national policy to reduce it by any more than this – though there is a lot states can do and are doing in this area.
All of which leaves us where exactly? If we’re to meet even the most modest emissions reduction target of 26 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, our greenhouse gas emissions should be no more than 437 Mt CO2-e. On current trends they will be 570 Mt CO2-e – just 5 per cent below 2005 levels.
Which means we’re on track to miss our 2030 Paris Agreement targets by a massive 21 percentage points.

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Australian Businesses Must Do More To Disclose Climate Change Risks To Investors, ASIC Says

Lethal Heating - 21 September, 2018 - 16:58
The Guardian

Financial analysts say regulator’s report makes it clear ‘many Australian companies are not meeting their legal requirements’
A vehicle passes through a flooded street. An Asic review found few listed companies outside of the ASX 200 were disclosing climate change risks to their investors. Photograph: STR/AAP Australian companies should be doing more to disclose risks to their business from climate change, according to a report by the corporate regulator Asic.
The review, published on Thursday, examined climate risk disclosures by 60 companies in the ASX 300, in 25 recent initial public offering (IPO) prospectuses, and across 15,000 annual reports.
Of the 60 companies, Asic found 17% identified climate change as a material risk to their business.
The regulator said that while most ASX 100 companies had considered the potential risks posed to them by climate change at least to some extent, the practice of disclosing these risks to investors was “considerably fragmented, with information provided to the market in differing forms across a wide range of means of disclosure”.
“In some cases, the review found climate risk disclosures to be far too general, and of limited use to investors,” Asic said in a statement.
The review found few listed companies outside of the ASX 200 were disclosing climate risks to their investors.
Discussion of climate change in annual reports had also gone backwards, particularly for companies outside the ASX 100.
It found the percentage of annual reports of all listed companies that contained climate change-related content had fallen from 22% in 2011 to 14% in 2017.
“Climate change is a foreseeable risk facing many listed companies in the Australian market in a range of different industries,” the Asic commissioner John Price said.
“Directors and officers of listed companies need to understand and continually reassess existing and emerging risks (including climate risk) that may affect the company’s business – for better or for worse.”
He said climate change disclosure practices were still evolving and Asic would “monitor market practice as it continues to evolve and develop in this area”.
But financial analysts said the report highlights problems with Australia’s generic risk disclosure laws for companies and the understanding of how they apply to climate change.
“It shows there’s a difference between what Asic says the laws say and what companies are doing,” said Will van de Pol, a campaigner at Market Forces.
“It’s clear from this report and our financial research that many Australian companies are not meeting their legal requirements.
“It means that investors are being left in the dark about the risk to the companies that they own from climate change.”
He said it was up to investors to demand detailed risk disclosure from companies and for the regulator to take action against companies that failed to meet disclosure requirements.
Dan Gocher, director of climate and environment at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, said the results in the review suggested mandatory reporting of climate risks might need to be considered.
“In the absence of that, this is the result,” he said. “It points to a systemic issue. Without mandatory reporting from Asic it will require a cultural change.”
He said investors should be taking action against companies that weren’t making progress.
“We’re suggesting they used the tools that they’ve got and the only ones are voting against directors and voting against remuneration,” he said.

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Planet At Risk Of Heading Towards “Hothouse Earth” State

Lethal Heating - 20 September, 2018 - 16:09
Stockholm Resilience Centre

Keeping global warming to within 1.5-2°C may be more difficult than previously assessed
A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that there is a risk of Earth entering “Hothouse Earth” conditions where the climate in the long term will stabilize at a global average of 4-5°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures and sea level 10-60 m higher than today. Photo: rudy_ath/Wikimedia Commons Story highlights
  • Even if the carbon emission reductions called for in the Paris Agreement are met, there is a risk of Earth entering what the scientists call “Hothouse Earth” conditions
  • A “Hothouse Earth” climate will in the long term stabilize at a global average of 4-5°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures with sea level 10-60 m higher than today
  • Maximizing the chances of avoiding a “Hothouse Earth” requires not only reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions but also enhancement and/or creation of new biological carbon stores
An international team of scientists has published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) showing that even if the carbon emission reductions called for in the Paris Agreement are met, there is a risk of Earth entering what the scientists call “Hothouse Earth” conditions.
A “Hothouse Earth” climate will in the long term stabilize at a global average of 4-5°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures with sea level 10-60 m higher than today, the paper says.
The authors conclude it is now urgent to greatly accelerate the transition towards an emission-free world economy.
"Human emissions of greenhouse gas are not the sole determinant of temperature on Earth. Our study suggests that human-induced global warming of 2°C may trigger other Earth system processes, often called “feedbacks”, that can drive further warming - even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases," says lead author Will Steffen from the Australian National University and Stockholm Resilience Centre.
"Avoiding this scenario requires a redirection of human actions from exploitation to stewardship of the Earth system.”
Currently, global average temperatures are just over 1°C above pre-industrial and rising at 0.17°C per decade.
Places on Earth will become uninhabitable if “Hothouse Earth” becomes the reality
Johan Rockström, co-authorPlaces on Earth will become uninhabitable
The authors of the study consider ten natural feedback processes, some of which are “tipping elements” that lead to abrupt change if a critical threshold is crossed. These feedbacks could turn from being a “friend” that stores carbon to a “foe” that emits it uncontrollably in a warmer world.
These feedbacks are: permafrost thaw, loss of methane hydrates from the ocean floor, weakening land and ocean carbon sinks, increasing bacterial respiration in the oceans, Amazon rainforest dieback, boreal forest dieback, reduction of northern hemisphere snow cover, loss of Arctic summer sea ice, and reduction of Antarctic sea ice and polar ice sheets.
"These tipping elements can potentially act like a row of dominoes. Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth towards another. It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over. Places on Earth will become uninhabitable if “Hothouse Earth” becomes the reality," warns co-author Johan Rockström, former executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and incoming co-director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, says, "We show how industrial-age greenhouse gas emissions force our climate, and ultimately the Earth system, out of balance. In particular, we address tipping elements in the planetary machinery that might, once a certain stress level has been passed, one by one change fundamentally, rapidly, and perhaps irreversibly. This cascade of events may tip the entire Earth system into a new mode of operation.”
“What we do not know yet is whether the climate system can be safely 'parked' near 2°C above preindustrial levels, as the Paris Agreement envisages. Or if it will, once pushed so far, slip down the slope towards a hothouse planet. Research must assess this risk as soon as possible."

Global map of potential tipping cascades. The individual tipping elements are color-coded according to estimated thresholds in global average surface temperature (tipping points; 18,43). Arrows show the potential interactions among the tipping elements, based on expert elicitation, which could generate cascades. Note that although the risk for tipping (loss of) the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is proposed at >5 degrees Celsius, some marine-based sectors in East Antarctica may be vulnerable at lower temperatures.Cutting greenhouse gases is not enough
Maximizing the chances of avoiding a “Hothouse Earth” requires not only reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions but also enhancement and/or creation of new biological carbon stores, for example, through improved forest, agricultural and soil management; biodiversity conservation; and technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground, the paper says.
Critically, the study emphasizes that these measures must be underpinned by fundamental societal changes that are required to maintain a “Stabilized Earth” where temperatures are ~2°C warmer that the pre-industrial.
"Climate and other global changes show us that we humans are impacting the Earth system at the global level. This means that we as a global community can also manage our relationship with the system to influence future planetary conditions. This study identifies some of the levers that can be used to do so," concludes co-author, Katherine Richardson from Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen.

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What Do Gen X And Gen Y Worry About Most? Climate Change

Lethal Heating - 20 September, 2018 - 16:09
University of Melbourne - Julia Cook | Hernán Cuervo | Jenny Chesters

Climate change is their number one cause for concern and they aren’t impressed by government efforts to tackle environmental challenges
Takver/FlickrTwo generations of Australians believe one of the most important issues facing the country right now is climate change.
The latest Life Patterns report by the University of Melbourne shows that many members of both Gen X and Gen Y see climate change as Australia’s most significant and urgent issue.


For many members of Gen X and Gen Y in Australia, climate change is the most pressing issue facing the country. Picture: Takver/FlickrWhile people in Gen X are worried specifically about what climate change will mean for their own children, those in Gen Y are generally more concerned about the impact of climate change on future generations.
Generally, when many of us think about the issues that concern us we commonly focus on things that impact upon our day-to-day lives. But, when we asked Australians from the two generations to nominate the three most important issues facing the nation, many set aside individual concerns, turning instead to a collective, global issue.
The Life Patterns study is a two-decade project following two groups of Australians since they left school – one now aged 44-45 that left school in 1991 (our ‘Gen X’ cohort) and another now aged 29-30 that left school in 2006 (our ‘Gen Y’ cohort).
It aims to provide a holistic understanding of the ways in which young (and not-so-young) Australians are responding to our rapidly changing world.

Climate change and the future
Many of the older participants say their concerns for the environment are linked directly to their worries over the future their children could face.
One mother from rural Victoria states: The uncertain climate-change reality is an enormous concern for me regarding my children’s future.
Members of the younger group have similar concerns. One female participant working in administration and management in Melbourne says: [We need to] make sure as a generation we minimise our environmental footprint and contribute to leaving this planet in way that supports future generations.


For Gen X in particular, their concerns about the environment relate to how their children will fare in a climate change future. Picture: Getty ImagesThis subtle difference is grounded in specifically who they are concerned about.
The older group is generally more worried about the impact of environmental issues on their own children, while the younger cohort worry about the impact on future generations more generally.

Putting climate change on the agenda
However, while specific views of what actually needs to be done varies, participants from both groups consistently expressed grave concerns about the general lack of action towards climate change mitigation from the current government.
A man in the Gen X group who is married with one child and living in Melbourne writes: Government inaction on climate change in this country is a crying shame. Look at what they are doing in terms of addressing climate change in California, in Germany, in Scandinavia, even in China. But here, it’s all too hard apparently.
Similarly, a woman in the Gen Y group living with her partner in regional NSW says: I’m concerned about the environment and the lack of action by government to fix problems.

On a more personal note…
Job security, drug abuse and housing affordability came in as issues number two, three and four for the younger cohort.
In contrast, the older cohort ranked these issues far below cost of living, which came in at number two, followed closely by security/terrorism, politics/government, the economy and education.


The environment was the most important issue for both the Gen X and the Gen Y cohorts in the latest Life Patterns report. Picture: SuppliedThese differences can be explained in large part by differing life stages.
At the age of 28 or 29, many younger participants who are looking to settle down and start a family are confronted with increasingly difficult property and job markets. But, at the age of 43 or 44, the older participants who have already started a family are dealing with the everyday expenses associated with education and childcare.
So, Gen Y participants are concerned primarily with issues around their ability to access the resources they feel they need for a worthwhile life, while Gen X participants are more concerned about issues directly relating to social stability.
A member of the younger group living in Sydney says: I have a Master’s degree and my wife is well paid, we are not in a position to buy a home near Sydney in the next five to eight years. No matter how hard we try and save, the goalposts keep shifting and so too the dream of raising a family in a home of our own.
In contrast, a member of the older group living in Canberra with his wife and two children says: Economic policies in Australia are failing to support local productivity and creating uncertainty and instability.
For the most part, as much as these perspectives provide a snapshot of contemporary Australia, they also reflect two generations’ different life stages.
But in a world where we usually only hear about the generational divide – climate change and its future impact for the environment is a pressing concern shared by young and not-so-young Australians.

The Life Patterns study has been supported by a number of grants from the Australian Research Council.

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Morrison Now Officially Worse Than Abbott On Climate Change

Lethal Heating - 19 September, 2018 - 18:10
Crikey

The Morrison government now officially has no climate policy, which makes it even worse than the Abbott government in a crucial policy area.
Image credit: Mick Tsikas/AAPWith the next COAG meeting in October cancelled because the government is too divided and confused to work out its policy positions, and no position in crucial areas like energy and the economy, it’s clear that the Morrison government is big on mateship, a fair go and other ockerisms, but bereft of policy.
There’s one key area, however, where the lack of policy isn’t the result of confusion, incompetence, division or needing a new treasurer or minister to get up to speed, but quite deliberate. The Morrison government will literally have no climate policy.
“The renewable energy target is going to wind down from 2020, it reaches its peak in 2020, and we won’t be replacing that with anything,” climate denialist Energy Minister Angus Taylor proudly said yesterday.
Since 2009, the Coalition has serially dumped (after initially supporting) a carbon price, then rejected a clean energy target, ruled out (after briefly ruling in) an emission intensity scheme, approved Josh Frydenberg’s National Energy Guarantee (NEG) overwhelmingly in the joint party room, then dramatically overhauled it, then dumped it altogether in the space of a few days. It also declared war on renewables under Tony Abbott, declared its love for big renewables projects like Snowy Hydro 2.0 under Turnbull, and is now praising “fair dinkum” — i.e. fossil fuel — power under the coal-toting Morrison.
Along the way, it used its “soil magic” business handout program, the Emission Reduction Fund, as a fig leaf for its lack of climate policy, but dramatically scaled that back from its original form in opposition, cut it further in government, and finally stopped funding it altogether in recent budgets.
That means that the Morrison government is more climate denialist than Tony Abbott: it doesn’t even have the fig leaf ERF, which continues to dribble out funding to business and farmer mendicants but which will soon expire. The Coalition has actually gone backwards from the heady days when Abbott declared climate science was “crap”, and no longer even bothers to pay lip service to the idea of addressing climate change.
There is talk that the ERF will be revived with an infusion of funds. But that doesn’t count as a credible policy: the cost of using the ERF to meet Australia’s Paris emissions reduction targets will be between $100 billion and $250 billion, according to the government’s friends at the Australian Industry Group. Short of discovering a quarter-trillion dollars down the back of the couch, Australia will become one of the few developed countries in the world that simply refuses to address its carbon emissions.

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Energy Minister's Electorate Backs Higher Emissions Reduction Target, Poll Shows

Lethal Heating - 19 September, 2018 - 14:20
The Guardian

ReachTel poll of Angus Taylor’s voters finds 42.3% want Australia to cut emissions more deeply
Energy minister Angus Taylor says the Coalition has no intention of extending or replacing the renewable energy target in question time on Tuesday. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian More voters in the electorate of the new energy minister, Angus Taylor, support an emissions reduction target for electricity and a higher national target than the Paris commitment than oppose those positions.
A ReachTel poll of 690 residents across the federal electorate of Hume, which reaches from Boorowa in the southern tablelands of New South Wales to Camden on Sydney’s southern fringe, was commissioned by the Australia Institute. It found the sample was divided over a range of climate and energy questions, but more people supported stronger action on emissions reduction than opposed it.
Asked whether the government’s Paris target of 26% to 28% should be increased “so Australia reduces emissions faster, decreased so Australia does less, or kept the same” – 42.3% said increased, 29.4% said kept the same, and 22.5% said reduced.
Asked whether the now dumped national energy guarantee should include an emissions reduction target, 47.8% said yes, and 39.3% said no.
There was also local opposition to coal, with 63.7% of the sample either supporting or strongly supporting a moratorium on building new coal mines, while 67.4% supported the Morrison government reviewing the Adani coal mine’s environmental approval.
Ben Oquist, the executive director of the Australia Institute, said the poll results suggested voters in rural electorates, “just like the population overall, are not enamoured with coal and they want more action on climate change, not less”.
Taylor confirmed in question time on Tuesday that the Morrison government would not replace the renewable energy target with an alternative policy after it wound down in 2020.
Taylor confirmed there would be no policy to reduce emissions in the electricity sector during an answer to the Greens MP Adam Bandt in question time on Tuesday.
Bandt asked whether the RET could be extended beyond 2020 given there was currently no policy mechanism to replace it, and the lack of settled policy could threaten investment in low-emissions technology.
The energy minister flatly rejected the idea. “The truth of the matter is the renewable energy target is going to wind down from 2020, it reaches its peak in 2020, and we won’t be replacing that with anything.”
Taylor said there was no need to focus on emissions reduction, because emissions in electricity would fall by 26% “without additional intervention” – a declaration that contradicts advice from the Energy Security Board.
The Coalition’s plan to 2030 was to replace the RET with the national energy guarantee, which imposed an emissions reduction target for electricity.
But Malcolm Turnbull abandoned the Neg as one of his last acts in the prime ministership, and the policy has now been junked officially by the cabinet under Scott Morrison’s leadership.
Bandt later declared the Liberals were “openly boasting that they have no renewable energy policy”. He said the RET needed to be extended beyond 2020 “to avoid a valley of death for renewable energy”.
“Over 2018 and 2019, new renewables are going up in Australia at record rates. This is in large part due to the RET, which even the Energy Security Board and Reserve Bank have said is a big driver of future power bill cuts,” Bandt said.
“But the RET runs out in 2020 and now the minister has confirmed that there’s no renewables policy to take its place. If the RET isn’t extended, there’s a real risk that the next government will not be able to implement a new policy in time to avoid an investment drought.”
Labor also jumped on Taylor’s declaration. The shadow climate change minister, Mark Butler, branded Taylor the minister “for higher power prices and anti-renewables”.

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Angus Taylor Confirms Government 'Won't Be Replacing' Renewable Energy Target

Lethal Heating - 19 September, 2018 - 14:17
Fairfax

Energy Minister Angus Taylor has confirmed the Morrison government will not replace the renewable energy target after it peaks in 2020, officially creating a policy vacuum that opponents say will stifle clean energy investment and lead to higher prices.
In question time on Tuesday, Greens MP Adam Bandt challenged Mr Taylor to extend the target until 2022 to avoid a disastrous plunge in renewables investment when the current target ends.
“The renewable energy target is going to wind down from 2020, it reaches its peak in 2020, and we won't be replacing that with anything,” Mr Taylor said.

Minister for Energy Angus Taylor has told the House of Representatives that the Coalition will wind down their renewable energy target from 2020.

The target involves the creation of tradeable certificates which encourage electricity from renewable sources. It aims for 23.5 per cent of Australia's energy to be sourced from clean sources such as wind and solar by 2020.
As prime minister, Tony Abbott wound back the scheme and as recently as last week reportedly agitated against it at a meeting attended by Mr Taylor.
Mr Taylor, who has campaigned against wind farms, said Australia will reach its target to cut emissions from the electricity sector by 26 per cent “without additional intervention”.
Mr Taylor has previously campaigned against wind farms. Photo: SuppliedHe said a 50 per cent renewable energy target in South Australia had led to some of the highest electricity prices in the country.
Labor’s pledge for a 45 per cent emissions reduction across the economy would mean “we will all pay more for our electricity,” he said.“We are absolutely confident that in the absence of those subsidies, we will get the investment we need in the network,” he said.Chief Scientist Alan Finkel least year recommended the government adopt a 'clean energy target' to replace the expiring renewables target. The Coalition declined to adopt that recommendation, saying the rapidly falling cost of renewable energy meant subsidies were no longer required.
It instead developed the National Energy Guarantee, which proposed to address the so-called “trilemma” of energy affordability, reliability and emissions.
However Prime Minister Scott Morrison dumped emissions reduction from the government’s energy agenda following his ascension to the top job.An annual index released on Tuesday put Australia in the bottom three ranking for environmental policy among wealthy nations.
The Center for Global Development's commitment to development index said the environment was “one of Australia’s weaker policy fields ... largely due to its poor performance curbing climate change”.
The government is now wholly focused on making energy supplies more reliable and affordable, including through the implementation of select recommendations from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s report into energy pricing.Mr Taylor told Parliament the government would “back investment in fair dinkum reliable generation because that's what this country needs”.
It also intends to set a price safety net for all customers and stop “rip-offs from the big energy companies".“We will drive prices down, that's our policy, those opposite will drive them up,” he said.

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Australia's Rank On Global Development Index Hurt By Climate Change Inaction

Lethal Heating - 18 September, 2018 - 18:59
The Guardian

Australia ranks 14 after New Zealand, with Scandinavian countries in top three spots
The report points to Australia’s low petrol taxes, high fossil fuel production and high emissions per capita. Photograph: Ashley Cooper/Alamy Australia’s commitment to global development has improved over the past year, driven by strong trade, education and finance outreach to the developing world, but it has been criticised for its poor action on the environment and climate change.
The Centre for Global Development annually ranks 27 wealthy countries on their commitment to development across the policy areas of aid, finance, technology, environment, trade, security and migration.
The Commitment to Development Index is dominated by Scandinavian countries – which fill the top three spots – and European countries, which complete the top 12. The world’s biggest economy, the US, is at number 23 on the list: it has the worst aid and finance ranking of the assessed countries.
Australia trails New Zealand (13th), in 14th position overall, with a jump of four spots on last year. Australia and New Zealand are the highest ranked non-European nations on the index.
Report author, Ian Mitchell, said: “Australia’s trade policies are among the most development-friendly and the foreign aid it gives is high quality. But if Australia wants to become a development leader, it needs to increase the quantity of aid, and tackle environmental issues and focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
The report said that, on the environment, Australia was a laggard.
“Its low rank is largely due to its poor performance curbing climate change. It has very low gasoline taxes (only the United States and Canada have lower), high fossil fuel production and the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita of all [index] countries, although it has also had among the steepest emissions reductions over the past 10 years.
“Australia is also the third-largest tropical timber importer.”
Australia has a strong trade rating in the index, ranking third of all countries on that policy, with low tariffs and agricultural subsidies.
“It’s a leader in providing equal access to goods from development countries … its barriers to trade in services are also low,” the report said.
It also ranks well on migration “in part because of its exceptionally open borders for students from developing countries”.
“Its integration policies are also above average. But Australia could improve the number of refugees and asylum seekers it accepts. The proportion of positive asylum decisions is below average and has fallen for the past three years. The number of refugees in Australia is below average relative to population and relative to land area.”
The report also said Australia’s treatment of migrants would be improved by ratifying the convention on the treatment of migrant workers and the migration for employment convention.
Australia has dedicated just 0.23% of its gross national income towards development assistance, a decrease on 2016, and its smallest contribution in 15 years. Australia’s aid contribution has been falling for half a decade.
The UN set out the 0.7% commitment to development spending in 1970, and it has been consistently reaffirmed as a benchmark since. But few countries meet it.
“[Australia’s] foreign aid is of good quality, however,” the report found. “Australia spends 70% of its aid bilaterally and 30% multilaterally.”
Mitchell told Guardian Australia that the dominance of Scandinavian and European countries was a product of historical commitment, community expectation and conscious government policy.
“When you talk to the officials in these countries, they take it competitively, it’s something that has a profile in the public arena, it’s a matter of pride in their public policy.”
He said the 0.7% of GNI target for aid spending – when compared with Nato’s declared 2% goal for defence budgets – was a sensible and achievable target.
“I think if all the countries got there, the acceleration of development would be substantial, and we’d live in a much more prosperous world, and that would be to the benefit of everybody and every country’s national interest.”
But Mitchell said the current global uncertainty – the retreat to economic isolationism through tariffs and trade wars, and the rise of populist nationalism – was a threat to the progress and prosperity of developing countries.
“I think the move against migation, against open trade, will damage development. We’ve had a remarkable period of development over the last half a century, with open trade, rising aid levels. And I think that’s in real danger.”
The president of the Centre for Global Development, Masood Ahmed, said: “Good development policy is about much more than foreign aid.
“While aid is important, policymakers in rich countries need to assess all the ways their choices, from the environment to trade to migration, help or hinder developing countries.”

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The Big Problem With Climate Storytelling--And How To Fix It

Lethal Heating - 18 September, 2018 - 11:45
ForbesSolitaire Townsend*

Harrison Ford against climate change GCAS2018
“Let’s kick this monster’s ass!” roared Harrison Ford at the Global Climate Action Summit yesterday.
Now, as a girl, Indiana Jones and Han Solo got me hooked on storytelling, character and yes, fighting monsters. So, the idea of climate change as a monster story hooked my imagination.
But there’s a problem.
Because if you review most climate messages in the media, then this story actually has two acts: man makes monster, then monster destroys man.
It’s a grand morality tale which neatly fits a primordial structure in our subconscious. This plot sings to something deep within us, a tale we’ve told since we sat around fires weaving myths in the dark. From the Minotaur and the crazed Golems of ancient legend to the morality plays of medieval England and the modern incarnations of rampaging Godzilla born from a nuclear test, or the AI dystopias of the Terminator or the Matrix. We learned this narrative arc in childhood, even if we only discovered the science of carbon dioxide as an adult.
Climate change isn’t presented to the public as plucky rebels against the empire. Instead climate is told as a Frankenstein story: that with our avarice and vanity, we have created the horror that will ultimately defeat us.
The narrative necessity of this climate story is hard to escape. Throughout this summer of ‘hothouse earth,’ and the decades leading up to it, this human hubris story has been the basic blueprint of climate change messaging.
For decades I’ve advised campaigners, policymakers and businesses to oppose this narrative, and tell the story of climate solutions instead. Last year, I asked the global research firm Ipsos to check which message--destruction or solution--was winning. They surveyed adults aged between 16-64 across 26 countries asking if they believed ‘we can deal with climate change’?
The results were encouraging, with the majority of us (56%) reasonably optimistic about solutions, agreeing that we might be able to solve climate change. And I expected the result showing 20% of people are now pessimists, who think we have the ability and technology to deal with the climate threat, but not the willpower to do so. Also, it’s worth mentioning that climate deniers make up only 4% of the global population (although they are remarkably over-represented in online comments sections).
But one finding was profoundly shocking. The survey revealed that 14% of people across the world are now what I call ‘climate fatalists’; who believe that humans are doomed. And as we dug into the data, we found that a staggering number of them are young. Worldwide, 22% of those aged 16-35 believe that it is now too late to stop climate change. In some countries, the number of young fatalists is even higher: with 39% of under-35s in India, 30% in Brazil, 27% in Spain and Sweden, and nearly 30% of young people in the USA believing there is no escape from this monster.
Climate Optimist Chart climateoptimist.org
Why does that matter? Considering the severity of the science, wouldn’t these young fatalists be better dubbed as ‘climate realists,’ preparing for a dystopian future they can’t avoid?
None of us can predict the future, but we can see the mess of the present. Psychologists call fatalism a ‘defeatist performance belief’ and claim it’s disastrous for mental health. Fatalistic attitudes dissuade people from trying to improve their lives, allow anti-social behaviour and even undermine physical health. It seems this climate fatalism may indeed be fatal to wellbeing, ambition and action in the young. And it could also be fatal for climate solutions, because assuming nothing is worth it, means you need do nothing. Fatalism is the enemy of action. And the climate-Frankenstein story is creeping into people’s psyche, sucking the will to act from them.
Today’s tragedy of climate change, with the moral that man is the real monster, is so narratively satisfying it’s become dangerously believable. For many environmentalists, giving up this story would be a wrench. Even those who understand the dangerous psychology of fatalism struggle with their own addiction to the ‘it’s all our own fault, and we deserve what's coming' narrative.
I sometimes feel that we are collectively doing everything we can to make the ending as poignantly noir as possible. It's as if we actually want the horrifying denouement: the narrative necessity driving us to fulfil the tragic role.
And we can’t replace this climate disaster story with a policy, a clear argument or a set of facts. We have science, politics, profit and cultural norms all in tension between the causes and solutions to climate change. A merging and rippling of factual factors like the rough surface of an unquiet sea. But below all of that, there is the deep tide of story. The story must have an ending, it must pass through its scenes, and our collective unconscious won't allow for anything else.
Only a story can beat a story.
So, what has the narrative power to replace the current plot? Climate change can’t be a comedy, a love story or a rags-to-riches tale. And the monster of our making is all too real.
But every 8-year-old knows how to kill a monster. Harry Potter knows it, Dorothy in Oz knows it, Beowulf knows it, James Bond and Sam of the Shire know it. It’s the story that killed Dracula and blew up the Death Star. At its most simple – it’s the hero’s journey.
In every group of script-writers or novelists, Joseph Campbell’s 1949 tome The Hero With A Thousand Faces is treated as a totemic icon. After a life dedicated to researching mythology, Campbell set out the ‘meta-myth’ of mankind. Simply put, this is a journey where courage, friendship and guile are pitched against overwhelming odds. This ‘overcoming the monster’ story often works best when a new generation, the youth, rally against the threat created (or allowed) by the old. You have told, read and watched this story all your life. The small against the big. The downtrodden against the overlord. Plucky humanity against the growing darkness.
If climate change were an asteroid, alien invasion or Hans Gruber type baddie we’d know exactly what to throw at it (Bruce Willis in all cases). The narrative wheels would start turning as we slotted ourselves neatly into a heroic plot track.
This is the new climate story we desperately need. Of overcoming the odds rather than being overwhelmed by them.
The story starts when we find the courage to believe in something worth fighting for: holding onto hope even in the face of unimaginable odds. To say ‘I have a dream’ or ‘it always feels impossible until it’s done’. Then we harness the power of friendship and alliances. We love a plot twist where enemies become allies. And for climate change, we’re going to need unexpected allies indeed.
And the magic elixir of the heroic story has always been guile. Tricking the monster, inventing a solution, spotting a fatal flaw and exploiting it. From Indiana Jones feigning zombiedom in the Temple of Doom, John McClane taping a gun to his back, or Eowyn revealing her gender on the battlefields of Gondor. Heroes invent and misdirect their way around unsurmountable odds. This is the most crucial part of our new climate story – and we’ve already found that magical way to trick ourselves out of the jaws of doom. Electric cars, solar panels and wind turbines are just the start of the innovation explosion coming from carbon constraint. Renewable energy is the ultimate cheat of the climate monsters’ plans (not least because our inventiveness is a more believable ploy than our self-sacrifice.)
We must teach our children this new ‘heroes’ journey’ story of climate change. And it’s not a small story, nor a short one. This is an epic. We face a gargantuan, enormous and near impossible task. We need our Henry V before the battle of Agincourt declaiming, “We few, we happy few”, Frodo holding the ring and nervously offering, “I will take it, though I do not know the way” and Ripley rising in her rig and shouting, “Get away from her, you bitch!”.
We need swashbuckling daring, bravery and courage, guile and desperate invention, unlikely friendships and alliances forged in fire.
I invite you to become the hero of this climate journey, rather than a doomed bit-part player. Instead of grief, we need your grit and bravado.
So that solving climate change becomes the greatest story of the 21st century.

*Solitaire Townsend is co-founder of the global change agency, Futerra, and author of The Happy Hero - How To Change Your Life By Changing The World.

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Climate Change Should Transform How We Live And Care For Each Other

Lethal Heating - 18 September, 2018 - 09:09
Climate CouncilHilary Bambrick*

On August 16, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service posted on Facebook “there’s 79 bush and grass fires across the state, with 32 uncontained…And we’ve just checked. Yes, it’s still winter”.
That same day saw Queensland enact a total fire ban across the south-east.
This earliest ever start to the eastern Australia fire season is just one of the many signs that our climate is changing.

This same month, Europe has suffered through record heat, Athens burned, fire tornadoes engulfed California, and Tokyo recorded its highest ever temperatures.
Sweden enlisted overseas firefighting personnel and expertise to cope with their increasingly fire-prone landscape, manifesting as firestorms in the Arctic Circle.
In Kerala in India’s south, massive floods displaced 800,000 people and directly killed more than 350.
Around the same time, the entire state of New South Wales was declared to be in drought.
These aren’t isolated, statistically unusual events that just happened to coincide. Records are now continually being broken as we experience new extremes. They are off the charts, and we better get used to it.
Here in Australia we’re being newly challenged by increasingly hot days, severe bushfires, storms and floods, and prolonged drought, while sea-level rise is threatening housing and infrastructure in our coastal cities.
Our new extremes of heat and other severe weather mean we now need to re-imagine how our towns and cities function, ensure we provide essential climate safety services, and rethink how we go about our daily lives and care for others.
Escalating temperatures are putting more lives at risk. Older people and those with chronic health conditions are especially vulnerable, but so are people living in poor thermally performing houses, or in less green parts of the city, or who don’t have air-conditioning or can’t afford to run it, or who don’t feel safe to open their windows at night, or who are less mobile, or who are socially isolated, or who don’t have a home, or who work outside.
In recognition of increasingly hot summers, Queensland has just opened up a conversation about changing the start date of the school year to attempt to shorten the season where children’s capacity to learn, and their wellbeing, is adversely affected by heat.
Similarly, we also need to rethink how we structure our daily activity, including what standard work and school hours look like, so as to minimise exposure to dangerous temperatures while working or during the commute.
Rescheduling sporting events to protect both the players and the crowds from worsening heat should no longer be delayed, highlighted by the on-court temperatures hitting 69 degrees C during the most recent Australian Open.
Next year’s review of national building standards is none too soon, as we’re a long way from ensuring structures are suitable to the current climate in which they are situated, let alone what’s on the way.
Take a journey through the expanding footprint of Western Sydney and you’ll see large houses with black roofs and no eaves on small blocks with no trees, oriented inappropriately so as to maximise developer income, and each with air-conditioning to make up for poor design and materials. Just this last summer the temperature in Penrith soared to 47.3 degrees; the last thing cities need are more energy-inefficient hot boxes.
We also don’t need to grow our cities ever outwards and over prime agricultural land, or further into bushland that is increasingly fire-prone.
A more thoughtful, climate-ready approach to urban development would ensure cooler cities through ample greenspace and heat-reflective materials, welcoming and accessible public amenities where people can escape from the heat, and mixed-use street plans that encourage community-building and active transport rather than isolation and car use.
Such a city would run on affordable and effective public transport that reduces congestion, improves mobility and withstands climate extremes. Within these cities, small scale urban farming and community gardening can bring people together, forge stronger links with food production and the environment on which we depend, and provide refuge for key pollinator species of bees and birds.
We need to prioritise investment in affordable, reliable renewable energy to address the health impacts of climate change and minimise risk to the most vulnerable.
As outdoor temperatures soar, nights no longer cool down, and heat waves become seemingly interminable, cheap and clean energy will directly save lives. Now is the time to invest in this clean energy future for all rather than continue to prop up a dirty, dangerous and increasingly expensive fossil fuel industry.
A well planned, timely energy transition will be good for workers and their communities, and provide much needed certainty in the energy sector.
Major climate related events should no longer come as a surprise; the reactive, short-term responses to acute events, such as the tax levy implemented following the 2011 Queensland floods, are inadequate and unsustainable.
We need to plan now for future climate shocks even if we’re not one hundred per cent sure the shape that they will take or where they will occur. They may seem unpredictable yet the fact of these events is entirely foreseeable.
When a major event strikes, we also need to move beyond our traditional stoic tendency to simply rebuild and replace what was lost and face the hard truth that it might instead be time to up stumps and move.
That once peaceful bushland community may be at risk of repeated catastrophic infernos. That one-in-a-hundred-year floodplain may soon see a major deluge every 7 years.
That family farm that was managed productively for 100 years may never again see significant rainfall. A dose of climate reality is unpleasant but necessary medicine. We need to know our place, understand more deeply the environment on which we depend, and become more adept at being caretakers of the land.
In our increasingly hostile climate, we will also need to take greater care of others. Checking up on family and looking out for our older neighbours during a heat wave or other emergency saves lives. This neighbourliness should extend regionally, as Pacific islands are lost to sea level rise, and island livelihoods are lost to unprecedented cyclones.
As a wealthy and robust neighbour, Australia can afford to provide refuge to people whose nations are damaged by climate change. Given our role as a major emitter of greenhouse gases through both our home industries and our exports, it is also the morally right thing to do.
It’s not only the wellbeing of people that matters and that requires our additional care during extreme weather, but also animals.
What do we do when we can’t take a beloved pet to an evacuation centre? What happens to the horses when a farm is threatened by bushfire? How are dairy cattle managed and given relief during extreme heat? How do we provide care for bush animals injured in fire?
Unfortunately as resources of land, water and food become more severely threatened by climate change, we risk shifting away from a culture of offering care and shelter and towards greater conflict, with civil disturbance, war and mass population displacement the likely outcome when people fight for survival.
The changes we need to make to meet the challenges of climate change are not just structural, but cultural as well, and require a shift in thinking from short term electoral cycles to long term adaptive planning; from mere survival to a society that flourishes.
Rethinking how we structure our physical, economic and social worlds to be more mindful of the environment, build strong communities and a culture of care, and reduce socioeconomic disadvantage, will have a profound impact on how we as a nation experience and cope with our increasingly hostile climate.
Some of these things, such as checking in on our neighbours more often, require just a little tweaking in the way that we do things. Others, such as rethinking our transport and energy systems, are necessarily transformative.
We can plan now for the inevitable to ease these transitions, to be adaptive rather than merely reactive. We can choose the directions we take and the Australia we wish to live in. The time to do this is now.

*Professor Hilary Bambrick is Head of the School of Public Health and Social Work at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). She is an environmental epidemiologist and bioanthropologist researching health impacts and adaptation, especially in more vulnerable communities. Working in Australia, the Pacific, Asia and Africa, her research is focused on the health challenges facing communities and the ways in which to strengthen climate resilience.

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Australia Has No Climate-Change Policy — Again

Lethal Heating - 17 September, 2018 - 20:14
NatureAdam Morton

Scientists say the country will now struggle to meet it commitments to the Paris agreement.
Large parts of Australia are enduring a crippling drought. Credit: David Gray/ReutersAustralia’s new prime minister has abandoned the country’s policy for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. Climate scientists say the move means the government has effectively dropped its commitment to the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
“They’ve walked away from Paris without saying it, hoping no one would notice,” says Lesley Hughes, a climate-change scientist at Macquarie University in Sydney. Without a policy to cut carbon dioxide pollution, the government is dropping its international commitment by default, she says.
Australia now becomes the second advanced economy after the United States to drop emissions-reduction policies since the 2015 Paris climate conference. President Donald Trump signed an executive order to start removing climate regulations in March 2017 and pulled the US out of the Paris agreement in June 2017.
Australia’s effective abandonment of Paris can be traced back to late August, when the ruling conservative Liberal Party abruptly replaced former leader Malcolm Turnbull with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The leadership change came after some party members objected to a policy that would have required electricity companies to meet emissions targets. Morrison subsequently said that he was abandoning the policy, called the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), and would instead focus on reducing the cost of energy for the public.
The NEG is the fourth national climate policy rejected by Australia’s conservative government since it was elected in 2013, and comes as large parts of country feel the effects of global warming — a crippling drought grips the eastern states and dozens of bushfires have erupted unseasonably early in those regions.
Some government members have even suggested that the country should join the Trump administration in officially withdrawing from the Paris agreement. Morrison has rejected this idea. He says Australia is on track to meet the target it announced before the Paris conference: to cut emissions by 26–28% below 2005 levels by 2030.
But there is little evidence to suggest the government will be able to meet this target without new policies. In August, government advisers said it was unlikely that the electricity sector, responsible for one-third of Australia’s emissions, would reduce its emissions by 26% unless a policy was introduced to drive cleaner energy generation over the next decade.
National emissions have risen each year since 2014, when the government repealed laws requiring big industrial emitters to pay for their emissions. There are also no significant policies to reduce the other major sources of pollution, such as transport, agriculture, heavy industry and mining, which together generate nearly two-thirds of Australia’s carbon emissions.
Although the NEG was a modest policy, proposed after several more effective schemes failed to win political support, it had the potential to win the backing of the centre-left opposition Labor Party, says John Church, a specialist in sea-level rise at the Climate Change Research Centre (CCRC) at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. That would have enabled the policy to pass through parliament and into law. The policy also had the support of the business community, which has been calling for climate and energy strategies that encourage investment in new and cleaner power plants, he says. “Walking away from it was a disaster.”
Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, an authority on heatwaves, also at the CCRC, says government motivation to do something about climate change seems to have disappeared altogether. When she briefed senior officials on the latest climate-change science in August, she left the meeting feeling optimistic that more policies were coming. “People were trying to get things done, but now that’s not the case at all,” she says. “I’m extremely frustrated.”

Public concern
The decision to drop the policy also goes against the public’s support for action on climate change, says Hughes. A poll of 1,756 people, published on 12 September by research and advocacy organization the Australia Institute, found that 73% of respondents were concerned about climate change and 68% wanted domestic climate targets in line with the country’s Paris commitment.
But Australia’s lack of climate policy could be short-lived. A national election is due by May 2019, and recent polls suggest that the Labor Party, led by former union boss Bill Shorten, is favoured to win. Labor says it would set a new emissions target of a 45% cut by 2030, although it has not revealed how it would reach the target. In the meantime, some states have mandated ambitious renewable-energy targets, and business leaders say investment in clean energy is increasing because it is now the cheapest option.

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'Tsunami' Of New Wind And Solar Projects Drives Renewables Output To A Record

Lethal Heating - 17 September, 2018 - 19:44
Fairfax - Peter Hannam

Large-scale solar's contribution to the grid is just beginning to soar. Photo: Supplied Talking points
  • Wind, solar and hydro supplied 25.6% of the National Electricity Market in August.
  • South Australia led mainland states, with renewables including solar supplying 58% of power.
  • SA and Victoria, the mainland states with the largest clean energy share, had the lowest wholesale prices.
  • New renewables planned to be online by the end of 2020 would equal almost a 10th of generation over the past year.
Renewable energy supplied more than a quarter of the National Electricity Market last month amid windy weather and a "tsunami of new wind and solar projects" reaching completion, The Australia Institute said.
The progressive think tank's latest energy and emission audit found renewables including hydro and rooftop solar generated a record 25.6 per cent of electricity supplied to the market that serves about four in five Australians.
Clean energy's share of total grid supply for the 12 months to August was 16.1 per cent, beating the previous peak reached in the 12 months to 2014 when hydro plants went full-bore to take advantage of the carbon price before its scrapping by the Abbott government.
When rooftop solar is added, the 12-month share rose to 19.7 per cent - or not far shy of the 2020 Renewable Energy Target set for large-scale renewables.

Source: The Australia InstituteWholesale prices - which are one component of what households and businesses pay for power - were lowest last month in South Australia at $72 per megawatt-hour. The state sourced 55 per cent of electricity from renewables and 58 per cent when rooftop solar was added, Hugh Saddler, an analyst with The Australia Institute, said.
Victoria's price of $79 per MW-hour was next lowest among mainland states. Renewable projects are surging in that state, with their share of supply jumping by a half in three years from 12.3 per cent to 18.9 per cent.
NSW had the most expensive wholesale power last month at $82 per MW-hour. Clean energy - including hydro running hard - reached only 14 per cent of supply in the state. NSW sources 12 per cent of its power from Victoria or Queensland, the report found.
There were record levels of renewable energy in August. Photo: SuppliedCoal debate
Dr Saddler said since the end of April, new wind farms had lifted capacity by 14 per cent while new solar farms had almost doubled capacity, though from a much smaller base.
"There's no sign of any slowdown of new projects coming on line," he said, noting these would include the 928 MW of new capacity announced last week by the Andrews government as part of its Victorian Renewable Energy Target.
Over the next two years new renewables would increase capacity by almost a 10th, or the equivalent of twice the size of AGL's ailing Liddell coal-fired power plant, the report estimates.
Despite the surge in renewables, the Morrison government continued to discuss the prospect of new coal-fired power stations, a stance at odds with market trends.
"The future is about coal - but about when the coal-fired power stations close," Dr Saddler, who is also an honorary professor at the Australian National University, said.
The rise of renewables meant emissions from the electricity sector continued to retreat, with wind and solar nudging out black coal-fired power. Still, rising fossil fuel use in the transport sector meant total energy combustion emissions "are basically flat", he said.

'Bodyblow'
In a separate blow to coal-fired power, Japan's Marubeni Corporation, one of world's largest developers of coal plants, was reported to be withdrawing from new projects.
Japan's Nikkei said Marubeni would also halve the ownership of plants it already held by 2030 and accelerate its shift to renewable energy.
Tim Buckley, an analyst with anti-fossil fuel group the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said the news that Marubeni was shifting its global weight behind renewables was "a bodyblow to the global coal industry and a profoundly important endorsement of the aims of the Paris Climate Agreement".
"It is inevitable that other global coal plant developers like POSCO of South Korea, Siemens of Germany and GE of America will be forced to evaluate their own position in light of Marubeni’s decision," he said.

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Utilities Have A Problem: The Public Wants 100% Renewable Energy, And Quick

Lethal Heating - 16 September, 2018 - 17:29
VoxDavid Roberts

The industry is groping for ways to talk the public down.
American as apple pie. ShutterstockRenewable energy is hot. It has incredible momentum, not only in terms of deployment and costs but in terms of public opinion and cultural cachet. To put it simply: Everyone loves renewable energy. It’s cleaner, it’s high-tech, it’s new jobs, it’s the future.
And so more and more big energy customers are demanding the full meal deal: 100 percent renewable energy.
The Sierra Club notes that so far in the US, more than 80 cities, five counties, and two states have committed to 100 percent renewables. Six cities have already hit the target.
The group RE100 tracks 144 private companies across the globe that have committed to 100 percent renewables, including Google, Ikea, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Nike, GM, and, uh, Lego.
The timing of all these targets (and thus their stringency) varies, everywhere from 2020 to 2050, but cumulatively, they are beginning to add up. Even if policymakers never force power utilities to produce renewable energy through mandates, if all the biggest customers demand it, utilities will be mandated to produce it in all but name.
The rapid spread and evident popularity of the 100 percent target has created an alarming situation for power utilities. Suffice to say, while there are some visionary utilities in the country, as an industry, they tend to be extremely small-c conservative.
They do not like the idea of being forced to transition entirely to renewable energy, certainly not in the next 10 to 15 years. For one thing, most of them don’t believe the technology exists to make 100 percent work reliably; they believe that even with lots of storage, variable renewables will need to be balanced out by “dispatchable” power plants like natural gas. For another thing, getting to 100 percent quickly would mean lots of “stranded assets,” i.e., shutting down profitable fossil fuel power plants.
LightRocket via Getty Images In short, their customers are stampeding in a direction that terrifies them.
The industry’s dilemma is brought home by a recent bit of market research and polling done on behalf of the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for utilities. It was distributed at a recent meeting of EEI board members and executives and shared with me.
The work was done by the market research firm Maslansky & Partners, which analyzed existing utility messaging, interviewed utility execs and environmentalists, ran a national opinion survey, and did a couple of three-hour sit-downs with “media informed customers” in Minneapolis and Phoenix.
The results are striking. They do a great job of laying out the public opinion landscape on renewables, showing where different groups have advantages and disadvantages.
The takeaway: Renewables are a public opinion juggernaut. Being against them is no longer an option. The industry’s best and only hope is to slow down the stampede a bit (and that’s what they plan to try).

100 percent renewables is a wildly popular goal
The core of the industry’s dilemma is captured in this slide (on the left is the industry perspective):




Utilities don’t think it is wise or feasible to go 100 percent renewables. But the public loves it.
And I mean loves it. Check out these numbers from the opinion survey:


In our polarized age, here is something we almost all agree on: Renewable energy is awesome.
Here’s the most striking slide in the presentation:


In case you don’t feel like squinting, let me draw your attention to the fact that a majority of those surveyed (51 percent) believe that 100 percent renewables is a good idea even if it raises their energy bills by 30 percent.
That is wild. As anyone who’s been in politics a while knows, Americans don’t generally like people raising their bills, much less by a third. A majority that still favors it? That is political dynamite.
Insofar as utilities were in a public relations war over renewables, they’ve lost. They face a tidal wave. So what can they do?

Explaining why 100% renewables is impossible backfires
What they can’t do is tell customers why they can’t do it. Customers do not want to hear excuses.
They tested the following message (this is an excerpt, with emphasis added): “Today, we can choose between a balanced energy mix, which provides reliable energy whenever we need it, and 100% renewable energy. But we cannot have both. We also need to consider the costs. ... The logistics, resources, and costs would be immense.”
Nope. Customers didn’t want to hear it.
“You could tell what side he was leaning toward,” said one Phoenix focus-group participant. “He offered no solutions. It was just problem, problem, problem.”
“I want to hear about how the work would get done,” said a Minneapolis participant. “I don’t want to hear him complain about how much work it will take.”
Other can’t-do arguments drew similar reactions:


Can’t-do arguments get a company branded as anti-renewables, and that means Bad Guy. After that, customers aren’t listening.
If they want people to keep listening, utilities must begin by convincing them that they are on board with renewables. Thus, the very first piece of advice on “framing the conversation” reads, “Positive, pro-renewable message first ... every time.”
An anti-renewables message, even a message that implies anti-renewables, is simply untenable.
That is worth noting. It’s something I’m not sure US climate hawks or political types have entirely internalized. There aren’t many contested political issues on which public opinion is so unequivocally on one side.

The public might be willing to let the experts work out the details
So utilities must convince customers that they support renewable energy, first thing, off the bat. (The best way to do that, of the options tested, was telling customers about investments — highlighting the rising level of investment in renewables. Money talks.)
If they can make that key connection, then they can swing the conversation around. Once customers are convinced that utilities are sincere about supporting renewables, they become more open to the message that getting to 100 percent will take some time, that it needs to be done deliberately, and that costs need to be taken into account.
“Given the cost and the complexities of it, it should be done gradually,” one Phoenix respondent said. “Not the next five years, but maybe by the end of our lifetimes,” said another.
The researchers tested the following message (excerpted): “[A balanced energy mix] helps us maintain consistent service for our customers and avoids over-reliance on a single fuel type or technology. This means we’re able to bring our customers increasingly more renewable energy without asking them to compromise on reliability or cost.”
That worked much better. “It seemed like we all have the same goal that we’re working toward,” said a respondent in Minneapolis. “In the meantime, they’ll use a balance to serve us. It’s sensible.”
In fact, in terms of reasons not to rely entirely on renewables, by far the most potent argument was that it would slow the transition to clean energy: “We can get to cleaner energy faster and more effectively if we use a range of sources and technologies.”
The state-of-the-art message for utilities, then, is this: Yes, we want to pursue renewables, but to protect consumers, we want to do it in a way that is “balanced, gradual, affordable, [and] reliable.” That means we should avoid, ahem, “short-term mandates.”




(How much this message will merely cover for efforts to block legislation and slow the transition depends on the utility.)

On renewables, “yes, but” is the only countermessage left
So where does this leave us in terms of the messaging landscape?
In the 100 percent renewables debate, there are roughly three camps, at least among the researchers, energy executives, climate advocates, and journalists who pay attention to these sorts of things.
The first, with most activists and advocates, supports 100 percent renewables as a clear, intuitive, and inspiring target, an effective way to rally public support and speed the transition.
The second camp believes that the cheaper, safer way to get to carbon-free electricity is not to rely entirely on renewables but to supplement them with “firm” zero-carbon alternatives like hydro, nuclear, geothermal, biomass, or fossil fuels with carbon capture and sequestration. (See this paper, from a group of MIT researchers, for the best articulation of that argument.) This camp supports the strategy California has taken, which is to mandate 100 percent “zero carbon” rather than “renewable” resources, to leave flexibility.
The third camp, containing many utilities and conservatives, flatly doesn’t believe 100 percent carbon-free electricity is possible anytime soon, and would just as soon not close working fossil fuel power plants before the end of their profitable lives. They would like to continue balancing the rising share of renewables with natural gas.
The first camp has won the public’s heart. Big time. Everyone, even those gritting their teeth, has to signal support for renewables if they want to be taken seriously.
There is some room for the third camp to convince the public that the transition to renewables needs to proceed carefully and “gradually.” That’s the ground advocates and utilities will be fighting on in coming years: not whether to go, but how fast. (There’s a lot of room within “not the next five years, but maybe by the end of our lifetimes.”)
Get used to it. ShutterstockAnd there is some room for the second camp to convince the public that the transition to clean energy is best achieved by relying on sources beyond renewable energy, or at least by not locking ourselves into renewables prematurely. One of the survey’s findings is that under a range of questions, the public does not have a strong preference between increasing renewables and reducing carbon emissions. I doubt most people differentiate the two at all — they are vaguely good, environmental-ish things.
Similarly, I doubt the public at large will care much about the distinction between “renewable” and “clean,” which serves as a pretty good argument for the California approach. (The California approach, or at least earlier variants of it, has helped keep existing nuclear plants running in Illinois and New York.)
But these are implementation details. The decarbonization ship has sailed. Renewable energy is in the vanguard and, at least for now, it appears unstoppable. At this point, it is difficult to imagine what could turn the public against it. (Perhaps a giant wind spill?) The more relevant question is when lawmakers will catch on to renewable energy’s full political potential.
The basic message from the public, if I could pull together all the strands of the research, is this: We want clean, modern energy, and we’ll pay for it. We’re willing to let experts work out the details, but we don’t want to hear that it can’t be done. Just do it.
Utilities can’t make that sentiment go away, though they can and will try to soften it. In the meantime, in the off-chance that their messaging efforts fail, they’d better get serious about giving customers the clean energy they want.

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