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(AU Royal Commission) Climate Action Still Key: Ex-Fire Chiefs

6 hours 2 min ago
Canberra Times - AAP

Former emergency service chiefs say the bushfire royal commission is doomed to fail.Former emergency service chiefs say Scott Morrison's bushfires royal commission doesn't take the heat off the federal government to take real action on dangerous climate change.
Emergency Leaders for Climate Action say credible measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions are "the only way to keep Australians safe".
"The root cause of this horror summer is climate change, driven by the burning of coal, oil, and gas," former Emergency Management Victoria commissioner Craig Lapsley said in a statement on Thursday.
Mr Lapsley said this season's bushfires were so severe that areas where hazard reduction burns had been carried out - and even mown lawns - were torched.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday announced the long-awaited commission.
He said while it would "acknowledge" climate change the inquiry would focus on practical action to make Australians safer.
"My priority is to ... better protect and equip Australians for living in hotter, drier and longer summers," Mr Morrison said in a statement.
Former Queensland Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Lee Johnson welcomed the prime minister's acknowledgement that climate change contributed to the recent unprecedented bushfires.
"(But) in addition to focusing on adaptation and resilience measures to cope with a worsening climate, the federal government must urgently take measures to bring down emissions and tackle climate change to prevent bushfire danger from increasing further," Mr Johnson said in a statement.
"Credible climate action is the only way to keep Australians safe."
Mr Johnson said Australia wouldn't remain the lucky country if it continued to "delay, distract, and deflect attention away from the core problem we face - which is that climate change is driving worsening extreme weather".
The royal commission is due to report by late August with the federal government keen to receive recommendations ahead of the next fire season.
The inquiry will look at the resourcing of fire services, hazard reduction, land clearing and planning laws.
Former Defence chief Mark Binskin has been picked to lead the commission alongside two assistants.
Thousands of homes were destroyed and 33 people died in horrific blazes that burned across Australia in the 2019-20 bushfire season.

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Every Child On Earth Faces 'Existential Threats' From Climate Change, Report Finds

6 hours 12 min ago
TIMEMahita Gajanan

Teenage Climate Crisis activists from various climate activism groups protesting in Westminster during the first UK Students Strike Over Climate Change march of 2020 on February 14, 2020 in London, England. Getty Images—2020 Ollie MillingtonEvery child on Earth faces an uncertain future due to the effects of climate change and not one country is doing enough to ensure its children’s sustained wellbeing, a new report says.The findings, compiled by over 40 child and adolescent health experts in a commission convened by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the medical journal The Lancet, show that the health and future for every child and teen in the world is under threat. Climate change, ecological degradation and advertising practices that push harmful products toward youth are just some factors that have created an uncertain future for children, the report says.
“Despite improvements in child and adolescent health over the past 20 years, progress has stalled, and is set to reverse,” said Helen Clark, co-chair of the Commission and the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, in a UNICEF statement about the report. “It has been estimated that around 250 million children under five years old in low- and middle-income countries are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential, based on proxy measures of stunting and poverty. But of even greater concern, every child worldwide now faces existential threats from climate change and commercial pressures.”
In the short term, survival rates for children are among the highest they’ve been in history, Stefan Peterson, chief of health at UNICEF and one of the study’s authors, tells TIME. But, he says, rampant inequality and marketing practices have threatened the future of overall developments in nutrition and survival.
“The gains are not shared equally within countries and between the countries of the world,” he says, adding that children are increasingly exposed to marketing tactics for unhealthy foods, drugs and gambling — products that are harmful to health and further drive climate change. “It’s threatening children, and by extension, humanity.”
The report includes an index of 180 countries that compares findings on three measures of child wellbeing: flourishing, sustainability and equity. These three categories include factors like health, education, nutrition, sustainability, greenhouse gas emissions, and income gaps.
“The poorest countries have a long way to go towards supporting their children’s ability to live healthy lives, but wealthier countries threaten the future of all children through carbon pollution, on course to cause runaway climate change and environmental disaster,” the authors write in the report. “Not a single country performed well on all three measures of child flourishing, sustainability, and equity.”
The study ranked Norway, South Korea and the Netherlands as the highest based on these factors. Chad, Somalia, Niger, Mali and the Central African Republic ranked the lowest.
But when the study authors took into account the per capita carbon emissions of the countries and compared it with performance on child flourishing, the countries where children face the some of the worst odds emit less carbon than countries where children have a higher chance of surviving and flourishing. The United States, Australia, Saudi Arabia are among the 10 worst carbon emitters globally. The current level of carbon emissions is pushing the world closer to dangerous levels of climate change.
“There’s a huge global inequity here in that children who benefit least from carbon emissions are the ones paying the biggest price in other parts of the world,” Peterson says.
Peterson and the dozens of other health professionals that worked on the report recommend reframing societal priorities to put children at the center of new policies. This includes a significant financial investment to ensure their health. Beyond monetary investments in healthcare, the authors urge people across all sectors, from housing to energy to transport, to work together to ensure future survival. They also encourage taking children’s voices into account. “Citizen participation and community action, including the voices of children themselves, are powerful forces for change that must be mobilized to reach the [Sustainable Development Goals],” they write.

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UN Ruling Could Be A Game-Changer For Climate Refugees And Climate Action

6 hours 12 min ago
The Conversation
In this October 2011 photo, members of the Royal New Zealand defense force pump sea water into holding tanks ready to be used by the desalination plant in Funafuti, Tuvalu, South Pacific. The atolls of Tuvalu are at grave risk due to rising sea levels and contaminated ground water. AP Photo/Alastair Grant   
Yvonne Su
PhD, International Development and Political Science, University of Guelph, Canada
    The recent ruling by the United Nations that governments cannot return people to countries where their lives might be threatened by climate change is a potential game-changer — not just for climate refugees, but also for global climate action.
    The UN Human Rights Committee’s landmark ruling made clear that “without robust national and international efforts, the effects of climate change in receiving states may expose individuals to violations of their rights … thereby triggering the non-refoulement obligations of sending states.”
    The ruling elaborates further to say:
    “Given the risk of an entire country becoming submerged under water is such an extreme risk, the conditions of life in such a country may become incompatible with the right to life with dignity before the risk is realized.” The judgment relates to the case of Ioane Teitiota, a man from the Pacific island of Kiribati.
    In 2015, Teitiota applied for protection from New Zealand after arguing his life and his family members’ lives were at risk due to the effects of climate change and sea level rise.
    The South Pacific atoll Kiribati is seen in an aerial view. There are fears that climate change could wipe out their entire Pacific archipelago. AP Photo/Richard VogelThe Republic of Kiribati is considered one of the countries most at risk of being rendered uninhabitable by rising sea levels. The UN committee ruled, however, that in the time that might happen — 10 to 15 years — there could be “intervening acts by the Republic of Kiribati, with the assistance of the international community, to take affirmative measures to protect and, where necessary, relocate its population.”
    As a result, the committee ruled against Teitiota on the basis that his life was not at imminent risk.

    Climate refugees acknowledged
    Teitiota did not become the world’s first climate refugee, but the committee’s ruling essentially recognized that climate refugees do exist, a first for the UN body. The ruling acknowledges a legal basis for refugee protection for those whose lives are imminently threatened by climate change.
    For several decades, academics and policy-makers alike have debated the existence of climate refugees, with many asserting that because migration can be fuelled by many factors, climate change cannot be singled out as the sole driver of any movement.
    However, with the acceleration of the climate crisis over the last 10 years, people are increasingly being displaced by disasters, desertification and coastal erosion linked to climate change.
    In this October 2015 photo, young children of a family that relocated from a drought area gather at their home in northwestern China. AP Photo/Ng Han GuanThe UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, confirmed that the recent ruling means those displaced by climate change should be treated like refugees by recipient countries. Grandi noted:
    “The ruling says if you have an immediate threat to your life due to climate change, due to the climate emergency, and if you cross the border and go to another country, you should not be sent back because you would be at risk of your life, just like in a war or in a situation of persecution.”Grandi and some media commentators have predicted the ruling may open the door to surges of legal claims by displaced people globally. But the burden of proof that someone’s life is under imminent threat by climate change remains high.
    Teitiota’s case is a good example. Despite his arguments that sea level rise, overpopulation and salt-water intrusion were threatening his life and the lives of his family, the New Zealand court and the UN Human Rights Committee ruled against him, saying he could not prove that his life was in imminent danger.

    Floodgates not open yet
    And so while this latest UN ruling is a momentous first step in international law, it by no means opens the floodgates to surges of climate refugees.
    But it does represent a win for global climate action. It’s not legally binding, but it illustrates to governments around the world that climate change will have an increasing impact on their legal obligations under international law. This is great news for citizens and governments of small island states who have long pushed for climate action but have been met with delays and rejections.
    UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the Pacific Islands Forum in May 2019 in Suva, Fiji. Fiji Broadcasting via APFor example, during last year’s Pacific Island Forum that brings together 16 Pacific island nations, as well as Australia and New Zealand, the 16 islands put forward the Tuvalu Declaration to ask for more action on climate change.
    But sections of the original declaration were struck down due to reservations from Australia and New Zealand.
    Australia reportedly had concerns about emissions reductions, coal use and funding for the UN’s Green Climate Fund, while New Zealand also expressed concern about the fund.
    Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama criticized the final declaration, tweeting: “We came together in a nation that risks disappearing to the seas, but unfortunately, we settled for the status quo in our communique.”
    #PIF2019: We came together in a nation that risks disappearing to the seas, but unfortunately, we settled for the status quo in our communique. Watered-down climate language has real consequences –– like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds. pic.twitter.com/6pTyjZs1rS— Frank Bainimarama (@FijiPM) August 15, 2019
    In this photo evacuees board a Navy ship that plucked hundreds of people from beaches amid devastating bushfires. Australian Department of Defence via APTuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga also told Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison:
    “You are concerned about saving your economies … I’m concerned about saving my people.”Ironically, following bushfires that recently raged across Australia and displaced thousands, concerns have arisen that Australia will soon have to deal with its own climate refugees.
    The pressure is mounting for world leaders to take serious climate action to aggressively curb greenhouse gas emissions. The latest UN ruling is step towards improving the lives of those most vulnerable and affected by climate change.

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    The End Of Australia As We Know It

    20 February, 2020 - 04:10
    New York TimesDamien Cave | Photographs Matthew Abbott

    What many of us have witnessed this fire season feels alive and monstrous. With climate change forcing a relaxed country to stumble toward new ways of work, leisure and life, will politics follow?
    Firefighters on the outskirts of Bredbo, New South Wales, Australia, on Feb. 1.SYDNEY, Australia — In a country where there has always been more space than people, where the land and wildlife are cherished like a Picasso, nature is closing in. Fueled by climate change and the world’s refusal to address it, the fires that have burned across Australia are not just destroying lives, or turning forests as large as nations into ashen moonscapes.
    They are also forcing Australians to imagine an entirely new way of life. When summer is feared. When air filters hum in homes that are bunkers, with kids kept indoors. When birdsong and the rustle of marsupials in the bush give way to an eerie, smoky silence.
    “I am standing here a traveler from a new reality, a burning Australia,” Lynette Wallworth, an Australian filmmaker, told a crowd of international executives and politicians in Davos, Switzerland, last month. “What was feared and what was warned is no longer in our future, a topic for debate — it is here.”
    “We have seen,” she added, “the unfolding wings of climate change.”
    Like the fires, it’s a metaphor that lingers. What many of us have witnessed this fire season does feel alive, like a monstrous gathering force threatening to devour what we hold most dear on a continent that will grow only hotter, drier and more flammable as global temperatures rise.
    It’s also a hint of what may be coming to a town, city or country near you.
    And in a land usually associated with relaxed optimism, anxiety and trauma have taken hold. A recent Australia Institute survey found that 57 percent of Australians have been directly affected by the bush fires or their smoke. With officials in New South Wales announcing Thursday that heavy rain had helped them finally extinguish or control all the state’s fires that have raged this Australian summer, the country seems to be reflecting and wondering what comes next.
    Burned bush land on the outskirts of Bredbo, Australia, this month.Politics have been a focal point — one of frustration for most Australians. The conservative government is still playing down the role of climate change, despite polls showing public anger hitting feverish levels. And yet what’s emerging alongside public protest may prove more potent.
    In interviews all over the fire zone since September, it’s been clear that Australians are reconsidering far more than energy and emissions. They are stumbling toward new ways of living: Housing, holiday travel, work, leisure, food and water are all being reconsidered.
    “If there’s not a major shift that comes out of this, we’re doomed,” said Robyn Eckersley, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne who has written extensively about environmental policy around the world. “It does change everything — or it should.”
    Professor Eckersley is one of many for whom climate change has shifted from the distant and theoretical to the personal and emotional.
    Before the fires peaked last month, she and I had often spoken in dry terms about Australia and climate change policy. This last time, as she sat in a vacation home southwest of Melbourne, where smoky haze closed a nearby beach, she told me about a friend driving south from Brisbane, “by all these towns and farms he couldn’t imagine bouncing back.”
    Australia, she argued, must accept that the most inhabited parts of the country can no longer be trusted to stay temperate — and, she added, “that means massive changes in what we do and the rhythm of our work and play.”
    A volunteer firefighter from Tasmania near Cathcart this month.More specifically, she said, the economy needs to change, not just moving away from fossil fuels, a major export, but also from thirsty crops like rice and cotton.
    Building regulations will probably stiffen too, she said. Already, there are signs of growing interest in designs that offer protections from bush fires, and regulators are looking at whether commercial properties need to be made more fireproof as well.
    The biggest shifts, however, may not be structural so much as cultural.
    Climate change threatens heavy pillars of Australian identity: a life lived outdoors, an international role where the country “punches above its weight,” and an emphasis on egalitarianism that, according to some historians, is rooted in Australia’s settlement by convicts.
    Since the fires started, tens of millions of acres have been incinerated in areas that are deeply connected to the national psyche. If you’re American, imagine Cape Cod, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Sierra Nevadas and California’s Pacific Coast, all rolled into one — and burned.
    It’s “a place of childhood vacations and dreams,” as one of Australia’s great novelists, Thomas Keneally, recently wrote.
    For months on end, driving through these areas, where tourism, agriculture, retirement and bohemian living all meet for flat whites at the local cafe, has meant checking reports for closed roads and wondering if the thick clouds of smoke in the distance mean immediate danger.
    There’s an absurdity even to the signs. The ones that aren’t melted warn of wet roads. Just beyond them are trees black as coal and koalas and kangaroos robbed of life.
    The fear of ferocious nature can be tough to shake. Fires are still burning south and west of New South Wales, and to many, the recent rain near Sydney felt as biblical as the infernos the storms put out — some areas got more than two feet, flooding rivers and parched earth hardened by years of drought.
    Last month in Cobargo, a dairy and horse town six hours’ drive from Sydney, I stood silently waiting for the start of an outdoor funeral for a father and son who had died in the fires a few weeks earlier. When the wind kicked up, everyone near me snapped their heads toward where a fire burned less than a mile away.
    A funeral on Jan. 24 for Robert Salway and his son, Patrick, in Cobargo. They died trying to protect their property from a bush fire on New Year’s Eve.“It just hasn’t stopped,” said an older man in a cowboy hat.
    No other sentiment has better captured Australia’s mood.
    That same day, in the coastal town of Eden, government officials welcomed a cruise ship, declaring the area safe for tourists. A week later, another burst of fire turned the sky over Eden blood red, forcing residents nearby to evacuate.
    It’s no wonder that all across the area, known as the South Coast, the streets in summer have looked closer to the quiet found in winter. Perhaps, some now say, that’s how it should be.
    “We should no longer schedule our summer holidays over the Christmas season,” Professor Eckersley said. “Maybe they should be in March or April.”
    “Certainly, we should rethink when and whether we go to all the places in the summer where we might be trapped,” she added.
    David Bowman, a climate scientist in Tasmania who wrote an article calling for the end of the summer school holiday, which went viral, said Australia’s experience could help the world understand just how much climate change can reorder the way we live.
    “You can’t pretend that this is sustainable,” he said. “If that’s true, you’re going to have to do something different.”
    Tourists in Lake Conjola, a popular vacation destination, took refuge on a beach on New Year’s Eve.Smoke may be more of a catalyst than flame. For much of the summer, a fog of soot has smothered Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. In Sydney alone, there were 81 days of hazardous, very poor or poor air quality last year, more than the previous 10 years combined. And until the recent rains, the smell of smoke often returned.
    Mike Cannon-Brookes, Australia’s most famous tech billionaire, called it part of a broader awakening.
    “It’s bringing home the viscerality of what science and scientists have been telling us is going to happen,” he said.
    There’s unity in that, as so many have seen climate change up close and personal. But there’s also inequality. The air filters selling out at hardware stores last month cost close to $1,000 each. In December, I heard surfers in the waves at Bondi Beach deciding to get out early to avoid breathing in too much smoke and ash — but farther west, where working-class immigrants cluster, I met a bicycle delivery driver who said he could work only a couple of hours before feeling sick.
    Mr. Cannon-Brookes said Australia could seize the moment and become a leader in climate innovation. Ms. Wallworth, the filmmaker, echoed that sentiment: What if the country’s leaders did not run from the problem of climate change, but instead harnessed the country’s desire to act?
    “If only our leaders would call on us and say, ‘Look, this is a turning point moment for us; the natural world in Australia, that’s our cathedral, and it’s burning — our land and the animals we love are being killed,’” she said.
    Destroyed property in Conjola Park.“If they called on us to make radical change, the nation would do it.”
    In “The Lucky Country,” the 1964 book of essays by Donald Horne that is often described as a wake-up call to an unimaginative nation, Australians are deemed tolerant of mediocrity, but “adaptable when a way is shown.”
    One afternoon, I traveled to the Sutherland Shire, near where Prime Minister Scott Morrison lives, with Horne’s comments on my mind.
    Near a bus stop, I met Bob Gallagher, 71, a retired state employee with thick white hair. He felt strongly that the criticism of Mr. Morrison for not doing enough about climate change was unfair.
    “The first thing the government needs to do is run the economy,” Mr. Gallagher said. “I just don’t understand what these climate change people want.”
    I asked him to imagine a version of Ms. Wallworth’s dream — an Australia with a prime minister who shouted to the world: “What we all love, this unique country, is being destroyed by inaction. We’ll punch above our weight, but we can’t do it alone. We need your help.”
    Mr. Gallagher listened without interrupting. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. “I could support that.”
    The remains of a bush fire in Bell. 
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    How Climate Experts Think About Raising Children Who Will Inherit A Planet In Crisis

    20 February, 2020 - 04:05
    Washington PostCaitlin Gibson

    Parents should help their children envision a future that is happy and safe, climate scientist Sarah Myhre says — but to do that, they must first process their own sense of fear and loss. (Jovelle Tamayo/for The Washington Post)



    In the midst of a winter that hasn’t felt much like one, as the coldest temperatures retreated to the highest latitudes, Jedediah Britton-Purdy carried his 5-month-old son, James, outside their home in New York City to bask in the unseasonable warmth. As a professor of environmental law at Columbia University, Britton-Purdy was acutely aware of the ominous implications of the city’s record highs. As a new father, what was there to do but revel in his child’s first true sense of springtime?
    “These are the first beautiful days he is feeling: We walk out in the warm sun, we laugh together, we look at a tree,” Britton-Purdy says. “Yet the experience is infused with all of this harm, all of this damage that has made this beautiful, beautiful day that I’m having with him.” He sighs. “We really haven’t figured out, he and I, what to do with that yet.”
    When Jedediah Britton-Purdy became a father, his perception of the world and the threats against it shifted, he says. (Family photo)What to do with that — a world that is breaking down, and a child who is growing up? Parents are meant to be guardians and guides, the ones to help their offspring make sense of the present and envision a future. Philosophically, and practically, this is a daunting task in the best of times — and these are not the best of times, particularly if one happens to be a climate scientist, or an environmental justice activist, or anyone whose profession demands a constant, clear-eyed acknowledgment of the damage wrought by the climate crisis.
    But this clarity can also be a gift, one that forces a sincere engagement with the problem. When Britton-Purdy became a father, his perception of the world and the threats against it shifted; the crisis, he says, took on a new immediacy.
    “My own temperament is that I’ve always been able to go on, even with a sense of loss, and have kind of a cheerful attitude toward the future as a practical matter,” he says. “But now that I feel personally and intimately anchored in the future in a different way, I feel a different kind of fear. The fear is right up against my heart in a way that makes it harder to think about what comes next.”
    After the birth of her son four years ago, climate scientist Kate Marvel experienced what she calls “a very profound revelation.” Marvel’s work for NASA and Columbia University involves projecting the future — not predicting, she emphasizes, but presenting possibilities of what could happen. Those projections once felt abstract. “But then I’m realizing, ‘Oh my God, somebody I love is going to be 35 in 2050,’ ” she says. “And that was just a very visceral thing for me.”
    One day last year, Marvel and her son stepped aboard the shuttle that runs between Grand Central Terminal and Times Square in New York City, and found themselves surrounded by a brilliant, bustling coral reef; the subway car was wrapped in an ad for David Attenborough’s “Our Planet” series. Her little boy was awestruck.
    “And I remember thinking, suddenly: This may be the closest thing he ever sees to an actual coral reef,” she says. “I felt a jolt at that.”
    But Marvel does not dwell on those sorts of thoughts, and when people ask her, as they often do, whether she is filled with existential dread as a climate scientist and a mother, she tells them emphatically that she is not. Her work has taught her that what matters is what we do right now, and the urgency of that edict leaves no room, no time for despondence.
    “I think, when a lot of people talk about climate change and having kids, they’re looking to the future and despairing,” she says. “For me, it makes me look at the present and be incredibly resolved.”
    In the face of potential climate catastrophe, some have questioned whether it’s moral to become a parent — is such a burden fair to the broken planet,climate scientist in Seattle and the mother of a 6-year-old son, rejects this line of thinking. You can’t save humanity by abandoning it, she says, and these sorts of messages are harmful to the children who are already here.
    “It’s really important to let kids know that they were born into a changing world, that they did not betray the world by being born, and that they are born into a time where they can do profound good,” saysscientist Sarah Myhre, shown with her 6-year-old son, Ansel, and her fiance, Zac Reynolds. (Jovelle Tamayo/for The Washington Post)“Kids are listening to that, and what they hear is that their presence in this world is a violation of the world itself,” she says. “It’s really important to let kids know that they were born into a changing world, that they did not betray the world by being born, and that they are born into a time where they can do profound good and have really transcendent, powerful impacts on the world.”
    That is what she’ll tell her son, when he’s old enough to ask about his future; for now, Myhre is focused on helping her son become the strongest, kindest person he can be.
    “I believe that the through line for us, as communities, as individuals, is the humanity that we bring to solving problems,” she says. “Our ethic of care, our empathy, our stewardship of one another. And so I think that stewarding that particular aspect of my son’s internal life is really important to me, so that he is coming to the world with a robust, empathetic, integrated sense of self.”
    This means that her family prioritizes quality time together, she says. “I have made a large pivot in my life, as a parent, toward the cultivation of joy on a daily basis,” she says. “It’s easy to say and a lot harder to do — because joy requires us to be vulnerable, it requires us to be in the moment.”
    Joy is what Britton-Purdy wants for his son, too, and so he will pause on a walk to place the infant’s fingers against the knobby bark of a tree, and someday he will show his child how to use a knot of twigs to dam the flow of creekwater, the way he once did as a young boy on the farm in West Virginia where his family still lives. He will teach James to marvel at nature wherever he can find it.
    “I want James to have an intimate foreground of experience that is really connected with the life of things, and the amazing wonder of living things, and not have his first thought be that it’s all going away,” Britton-Purdy says.
    And when it is time to talk about what is going away, he will remind his son that things have always been going away, that the natural world has been inexorably altered by humanity for centuries. Britton-Purdy wants James to knows this: that beauty and change and loss have always coexisted.
    “We have to not exaggerate or distort what it was like, or the nature of what’s being lost,” he says, “or else we will fall into a nostalgia for a world that never was.”
    There is resilience to be found in an honest accounting of our past, says Heather McTeer Toney, a former regional Environmental Protection Agency administrator and national field director for Moms Clean Air Force. As an environmental justice activist and African American woman, she wants to instill the perseverance and perspective of her ancestors in her 3-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter: “We’ve had no choice other than to figure out how we’re going to adapt and live,” she says. “This is not new to us.”
    “I do not want my children operating in fear. I do not want them operating in a mind-set that all hope is lost,” says Heather McTeer Toney, center with her family on a visit to Yellowstone National Park. (Family photo)Sometimes, after her children have gone to bed, she and her husband talk about where they should take the kids, the places they should see quickly, before they are irreparably changed. But when she speaks to her children about what lies ahead, there is no lingering in sorrow; she is determined that they will thrive.
    “My entire ancestral line is built on, ‘You have to figure out how to make it work, how to survive, because no one is going to help you,’ ” she says. “I do not want my children operating in fear. I do not want them operating in a mind-set that all hope is lost. That is not my mind-set.”
    A rash of violent storms recently swept through their town in Mississippi, and when the house lost power, Toney saw her teenager immediately reach for a flashlight and her smartphone. The storms, Toney says, have become more frequent lately, more severe, and she knows this pattern will worsen in the years ahead. She watched her daughter cradling her phone and thought of what would happen when, eventually, the battery died.
    Toney’s response was pragmatic: She would show her daughter where the candles were kept, and teach her to make her own light.
    How do we tell our children stories about the lives they might live, and the planet they will live on, with an ending that is still filled with possibility?
    “It is true that everything is going to have to change, and it’s going to change one way or another — either because we’re undergoing profound climatic shifts, or because we’re going to have to change the way we get energy and the way we run society,” Kate Marvel says. “Especially for young people who have these amazing imaginations, that gives them space to dream. And I think right now we’re really just focusing on the nightmares.”
    Parents must help their children imagine a future that is happy and safe, Sarah Myhre agrees — but to do that, they must first process their own sense of fear and loss. “If parents can’t transcend and make sense out of their feelings, and derive action and meaning from their feelings, then they are stuck,” she says, “and they are going to transpose that stuckness, that anxiety, onto their children.”
    This has always been the work of parenting, all the more essential now in extraordinary times: to hold a steady balance between grief and gratitude, to find a way to move with purpose through a world that brims with both beauty and heartbreak.
    Myhre feels this tension most in the North Cascades, where the snowline is receding steadily up the mountainsides — where, in recent years, the ski resorts she grew up frequenting have sometimes opened late and closed early. Throughout her formative years, there was nowhere that brought Myhre greater joy, and it has become her son’s favorite place, too. But someday in his adulthood, she knows, he won’t be able to ski on those slopes anymore.
    “There is this finite and precious window that he’s in right now,” she says, “and it’s going to shut.”
    This winter, Myhre has taken her child to the mountains every chance she gets. With each visit, his movements become more self-assured, more confident, more ecstatic. She follows through the snow, watching her son and his world transforming.

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    Too Many Rich Folks

    20 February, 2020 - 04:00
    Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the BiosphereAnne H. Ehrlich | Paul R. Ehrlich

    It is more important now than ever to talk about population. What will we do if we continue to grow at exponential rates? What are ethical, viable strategies to decrease population?
    Pixabay
    • Anne Ehrlich is the American co-author of several books on overpopulation and ecology with her husband, Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich. She is associate director of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University.
    • Paul Ehrlich is an American biologist, best known for his warnings about the consequences of population growth and limited resources. He is the Bing Professor of Population Studies of the Department of Biology of Stanford University and president of Stanford's Center for Conservation Biology.
    • Too Many Rich Folks was first published in 1989.
    There is a widespread misapprehension that the population problem centers in the poor countries. In the popular view, the “population problem” is being caused by Indian peasants, African herders, macho Latin American men, and the like. And a casual glance at demographic statistics might easily persuade the unsophisticated that this is correct. The population growth rate in Kenya is over 4 per cent, which if unchanged would double the population in only 17 years. The average growth rate for the less developed world (excluding China) is 2.4 per cent (doubling time 29 years), and travelers virtually anywhere in the developing world are greeted by huge numbers of children under the age of fifteen, who make up roughly 40 to 50 per cent of the population.
    In contrast, rich nations have either very slow growth rates (well under 1 per cent), have reached zero population growth (ZPG), or in some cases such as West Germany and Hungary actually have shrinking populations. So, one might assume that, if Bangladeshis and Rwandans would just learn to use condoms, everything would be just fine.
    Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Rapid population growth, and overpopulation itself, do create serious problems for poor countries; indeed, they explain why most of them seem unable to escape poverty.
    But population growth and overpopulation among the rich are creating a lethal situation for the entire world. It is the rich who dump most of the carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere. It is the rich who generate acid rain. And the rich are “strip-mining” the seas and pushing the world towards a gigantic fisheries collapse. The oil staining the shores of Prince William Sound was intended for the gas-guzzling cars of North America. The agricultural technology of the rich is destroying soils and draining supplies of underground water around the globe. And the rich are wood-chipping many tropical forests in order to make cardboard to wrap around their electronic products.
    It is not crude numbers of people or population density per se that should concern us; it is the impact of people on the life support systems and resources of the planet. That impact can be conceived as the product of three factors: population size (P); some measure of affluence or consumption per capita (A); and an index of the environmental damage done by the technologies used to supply each unit of affluence (T). The entire population-resource-environment crisis can be encapsulated in the equation:
    I = P x A x T (I = PAT)The I = PAT equation explains (in very simplified terms) why the industrialized nations, regardless of comparative population size or density (people per square kilometer), must be considered to have much more severe population problems than any poor nation. Unfortunately, nations do not even try to keep statistics on the average per capita environmental impact of their citizens; and it would be difficult to calculate precisely if they did.  In order to make reasonable comparisons of affluence per person, we have chosen a surrogate statistic: per capita use of commercial energy. This is a rather reasonable surrogate, since much environmental damage is done in the processes of extracting and mobilizing energy, and even more is done by its use. Per capita commercial energy use over simplifies by combining the A and T factors into a single unit of per capita impact, but that cannot be avoided. Generally, there is no convenient way to separate A and T using national statistics.
    But the legitimacy of using the surrogate can be seen by considering how societies handle energy. Hundreds of thousands of birds and sea mammals killed at Prince William Sound in Alaska, the death of lakes and forests in eastern North America and northern Europe from acid precipitation, and roughly three-quarters of the contribution to global warming that is due to carbon dioxide released in burning fossil fuels, all follow from the mobilization of energy to power overdeveloped societies. Global warming, entrained by huge releases of carbon dioxide, the acidification of ecosystems resulting from emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides from factories, power plants, and automobile exhausts, are examples of damage caused by energy use. That damage is no respecter of wealth or national boundaries; its consequences are visited on the poor as much as the rich who enjoy the benefits of using the energy.
    Energy is also used in paving over natural ecosystems to create super highways and parking lots to serve automobiles; energy is required to produce the plastic and paper and aluminium cans that clog landfills and festoon highways and seashores; energy powers the boats that slaughter whales and deplete fisheries; energy is used to produce pesticides and cool the offices of Arizona developers as they plan the further unsustainable suburbanization of the American desert Southwest; energy warms the offices of oil company officials in Anchorage as they plan the “development” of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge.
    Energy is being used to pump aquifers dry around the world to support a temporary increase in grain production, and energy lets us fly in jet aircraft 30,000 feet above the circular irrigation patterns created by the pumping — energy that caused environmental damage when oil was pumped out of the ground and now is causing environmental damage as jet exhausts are spewed into the atmosphere. And, of course, energy damages when used to mine ores, win metals from those ores, and use those metals and other energy-intensive materials to manufacture automobiles, aircraft, TVs, refrigerators, and all the other paraphernalia of civilization.
    Poor people don’t use much energy, so they don’t contribute much to the damage caused by mobilizing it. The average Bangladeshi is not surrounded by plastic gadgets, the average Bolivian doesn’t fly in jet aircraft, the average Kenyan farmer doesn’t have a tractor or a pickup, the average Chinese does not have air-conditioning or central heating in his apartment. Of slightly over 400 million motor vehicles in the world in 1980, 150 million were in the United States, 36 million in Japan, 24 million in Germany, 1.7 million each in India and China, and 0.18 million in Nigeria.
    So statistics on per capita commercial energy use are a reasonable index of the responsibility for damage to the environment and the consumption of resources by an average citizen of a nation. By that measure, a baby born in the United States represents twice the disaster for Earth as one born in Sweden or the USSR, three times one born in Italy, 13 times one born in Brazil, 35 times one in India, 140 times one in Bangladesh or Kenya, and 280 times one in Chad, Rwanda, Haiti, or Nepal.
    These numbers can be somewhat misleading in several respects. Both Sweden and the Soviet Union use about half as much energy per capita as Americans. But the Swedes use it much more efficiently to produce a roughly equal standard of living, whereas Soviet energy use is much less efficient, and their standard of living is considerably less than half that of the United States (and much more pollution is produced).
    In most developing countries, including the last six named above, people overwhelmingly depend for energy on locally cut fuelwood, not commercially sold fossil fuels, hydropower, or charcoal, so their actual energy consumption is understated. The average Indian is certainly not eight times richer than a citizen of Chad or Haiti!
    Nevertheless, as a rule of thumb, the concept is useful. There are more than three times as many Indians as Americans, so, as a rough estimate, the United States contributes about 10 times as much to the deterioration of Earth’s life support systems as does India. By the same standard, the United States has 300 times the negative impact on the world’s environment and resources as Bangladesh, and Sweden is 25 times more dangerous to our future than Kenya. These statistics should lay to rest once and for all the myth that population pressures are generated principally by rapid population growth in poor nations.
    There is another way to look at the disproportionate negative impact of rich nations on civilization’s future. The entire planet is now grossly overpopulated by a very simple standard. The present 5.3 billion people could not be supported if humanity were living on its income — primarily solar energy, whether captured by plants in the process of photosynthesis or by human-made devices such as solar heat collectors, solar electric cells, dams, or windmills.
    Far from living on its income, however, civilization is increasingly dependent on its capital, a one-time bonanza of nonrenewable resources inherited from the planet. These resources include the fossil fuels, high-grade mineral ores, and most importantly, rich agricultural soils, underground stores of “ice-age” water, and biotic diversity — all the other species of plants, animals, and microorganisms — with which human beings share Earth.
    In the process of depleting this capital, humanity is rapidly destroying the very systems that supply us with income. And people in industrial countries use a vastly disproportionate share of the capital. They are the principal depleters of fossil fuels and high-grade mineral ores. With less than a quarter of the world’s population, citizens of rich nations control some four-fifths of its resources. They and the technologies they have spread around the world are responsible for more than their share of the depletion of soils and groundwater, and they have played a major role in causing the destruction of biodiversity, both within their national territories and elsewhere.
    Overpopulation in industrial nations obviously represents a much greater threat to the health of ecosystems than does population growth in developing nations. The 1.2 billion people in the developed world contribute disproportionately to global warming, being responsible for about four-fifths of the injection of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere caused by burning fossil fuels. Most of the responsibility for ozone depletion, acid precipitation, and oceanic pollution can be laid at the doorstep of industrial nations. So can the environmental consequences of much cash-crop agriculture, mining operations, and oil drilling and shipping worldwide. And industrialized nations share responsibility with developing countries for the roughly one-quarter of atmospheric CO2 buildup caused by tropical deforestation.
    While people in rich nations must shoulder responsibility for civilization’s resource depletion and environmental deterioration, they are also in a better position to lead the way in making the necessary changes to improve the human predicament. Still-growing populations, after decades of slackening growth, could soon achieve zero population growth and begin shrinking. Rather than lament the shift to an “older” population, people in developed countries could celebrate and encourage the trend. The smaller the population (P), if per-capita consumption or affluence (A) and technologies (T) remain the same, the less the environmental impact (I).
    But the affluence and technology factors also can be more easily reduced in rich countries than in poor ones. Energy consumption could be substantially lowered through conservation in virtually all developed nations. Considerable progress in that direction was made in the United States, one of the world’s more energy-wasteful nations, between 1977 and 1987, largely as a response to higher petroleum prices and growing dependency on imported oil. Unfortunately, the Reagan administration terminated or phased out most of the governmental incentives to conserve energy or develop alternative sources that had been put in place during the 1970s. By the late 1980s, Americans were reverting to their old bad habits, although the possibilities for energy conservation had only begun to be tapped. Far from lowering the standard of living, the changes that were implemented, as well as those that remain possible, reduce energy costs to consumers and substantially lessen pollution.
    Beyond conservation, many fairly painless changes could be made in the energy mix of most developed nations that would markedly reduce the release of CO2 to the atmosphere. By substituting natural gas for coal, for instance, CO2 emissions could be cut by about 50 per cent for the same energy benefit — and, again, less pollution. And renewable energy sources, especially solar-generated electricity, are increasingly practical substitutes for fossil fuels.
    Apart from energy, most developed nations have ample room to shift to more environmentally benign technologies (thus reducing T). What is needed are economic incentives for manufacturers to take account of the costs of transport, distribution, use, and disposal of products, not just production costs, in making decisions. This could prove tricky, as corporations increasingly shift manufacturing processes to poor countries to avoid higher labor costs and environmental restrictions in the home countries. As the global economy becomes more and more integrated, international standardization of environmental regulations may become necessary.
    If the overdeveloped nations of the world fail to reduce their environmental impacts, working as far as possible on all three factors — population, consumption, and technology — they can hardly expect the developing world to do so. And without reductions in CO2, and other greenhouse emissions by the rich, growing energy use by the poor nations will accelerate the greenhouse buildup. The sheer size and growth rates of populations in developing nations, along with their altogether reasonable aspirations and plans for development, virtually guarantee such an acceleration.
    To illustrate, suppose that China halted its population growth at about 1.2 billion (unlikely as that seems) and only doubled its per capita energy consumption, using its abundant supplies of coal. At that, its per capita consumption of energy would still be only 14 percent of the average American’s; yet that apparently modest increase would cancel the benefits of Americans giving up all use of coal (currently supplying about 20 percent of US energy) and not replacing it with a carbon-based fuel. Similarly, if India achieved success in ending its population growth at 2 billion, and doubled its per capita energy use to about 7 percent of present US consumption, it too would offset the foregoing of US coal. Unfortunately, Americans can only give up coal-burning once.
    So, while the rich nations today are the primary culprits in generating global warming (and numerous other environmental problems), an alarming potential for greatly increasing these problems resides in the poor countries, largely because the P factor is both so large and still growing so fast. If poor nations are to have any chance at all to end their population growth humanely and to develop their economies, the rich must scale back their assaults on the planet’s life-support systems.
    Viewed in this light, the situation clearly requires cooperation among all nations in implementing solutions to the human predicament. If the habitability of Earth is to be preserved for all our descendants, we have no choice but to end and reverse population growth, limit our consumption of resources, replace damaging technologies with gentler ones, and attempt to design a better, more sustainable civilization.
    Having pioneered in today’s destructive development, it seems only appropriate for the rich countries to lead in setting things right — by moving toward population shrinkage.

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    Guest Post: The Irreversible Emissions Of A Permafrost ‘Tipping Point’

    19 February, 2020 - 04:03
    Carbon Brief Christina Schädel

    Permafrost thaw in the Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska. Credit: Natural History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo. Dr Christina SchädelDr Christina Schädel is assistant research professor in the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at Northern Arizona University. She is also lead coordinator of the Permafrost Carbon Network and co-leader of the Permafrost Collaboration Team. Across vast swaths of the northern hemisphere’s higher reaches, frozen ground holds billions of tonnes of carbon.
    As global temperatures rise, this “permafrost” land is at increasing risk of thawing out, potentially releasing its long-held carbon into the atmosphere.
    Abrupt permafrost thaw is one of the most frequently discussed “tipping points” that could be crossed in a warming world.
    However, research suggests that, while this thawing is already underway, it can be slowed with climate change mitigation.
    Yet, what is irreversible is the escape of the carbon that has been – and is being – emitted.
    The carbon released from permafrost goes into the atmosphere and stays there, exacerbating global warming.
    Tipping pointsThis article is part of a week-long special series on “tipping points”, where a changing climate could push parts of the Earth system into abrupt or irreversible change
    In short, what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.

    Permafrost and the global climate
    Permafrost is ground that has been frozen for at least two consecutive years.
    Its thickness ranges from less than one metre to more than a kilometre.
    Typically, it sits beneath an “active layer” that thaws and refreezes every year.
    A warming climate puts this perennially frozen ground at risk. When temperatures rise, permafrost thaws – it does not melt.
    There is a simple analogy: compare what happens to an ice cube and a frozen chicken when they are taken out of the freezer.
    At room temperature, the former will have melted, leaving a small pool of water, but the chicken will have thawed, leaving a raw chicken.
    Eventually, that chicken will start to decompose.
    This is exactly what happens to permafrost when temperatures increase.
    One quarter of the landmass of the northern hemisphere is underlain by permafrost, which acts like Earth’s gigantic freezer and keeps enormous amounts of organic matter frozen.
    Global permafrost map, International Permafrost Association. Credit: Brown, J., O.J. Ferrians, Jr., J.A. Heginbottom, and E.S. Melnikov, eds. 1997. Circum-Arctic map of permafrost and ground-ice conditions. Washington, DC: U.S. Geological Survey in Cooperation with the Circum-Pacific Council for Energy and Mineral Resources. Circum-Pacific Map Series CP-45, scale 1:10,000,000, 1 sheet. This organic material includes the remnants of dead plants, animals and microbes that accumulated in the soil and were frozen into permafrost thousands of years ago.
    Permafrost including ancient bones (left image) and organic material (right image) in the Permafrost tunnel near Fox, Alaska. Credit: C. SchädelArctic temperatures have been increasing more than twice as fast as the global average. This has caused permafrost thaw in many locations and triggered newly awakened microbes to decompose the organic material thereby releasing CO2 or methane into the atmosphere.
    Both gases are greenhouse gases, but methane is 28-36 times more potent than CO2 over a century. However, there is more CO2 than methane in the atmosphere and methane is oxidised to CO2 on timescales of about a decade. So, it is the change in atmospheric CO2 concentration that really matters for long-term climate change.

    Carbon release from permafrost
    So, what role will permafrost play in future carbon emissions? And is there a tipping point that could trigger rapid thaw?
    Scientists estimate that there is about twice as much carbon stored in permafrost as circulating in the atmosphere. This is approximately 1460bn-1600bn tonnes of carbon.
    Most of it is currently frozen and preserved, but if even a small fraction is released into the atmosphere, the emissions would likely be large – potentially similar in magnitude to carbon release from other environmental fluxes, such as deforestation.
    This would still be about one order of magnitude smaller than emissions from fossil-fuel burning by the end of this century. Nevertheless, every additional molecule of CO2 or methane added to the atmosphere accelerates climate change and affects the whole planet and its climate.
    Collapsing permafrost with large ice volume. Credit: A. BalserTo our current knowledge, carbon release from permafrost is a gradual and sustained process that continually adds carbon to the atmosphere – thus, further reinforcing warming.
    Once the organic matter within permafrost decomposes and releases CO2 and methane, there is no getting it back. In this sense, permafrost thaw is irreversible – meeting one of the conditions of the definition of a tipping point.
    However, recent research suggests that if temperature rise were to slow and stop, permafrost thaw, too, would slow – and potentially stop, thus, preventing further emissions.
    This suggests that permafrost as a whole will not have shifted to a completely new state – as is the case with some tipping points, such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. As a result, it would be possible to prevent further emissions were global warming to be halted.
    But, as things stand, permafrost thaw has already been observed in many locations in the Arctic. And as the recent special report on the ocean and cryosphere by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) points out, warming this century will cause substantial emissions from permafrost:
    “By 2100, near-surface permafrost area will decrease by 2-66% for RCP2.6 and 30–99% for RCP8.5. This could release 10s to 100s of gigatonnes of carbon as CO2 and methane to the atmosphere for RCP8.5, with the potential to accelerate climate change.”How to add certainty to permafrost carbon release
    The ultimate contribution of permafrost carbon to climate change depends on a variety of factors: how much of the carbon will come out as CO2 or methane, for example, and how much can plants and trees offset some of the additional carbon release.
    Permafrost degradation can occur as gradual top down thaw or as abrupt collapse of thawing soil. Both processes release carbon to the atmosphere. Gradual top-down thaw is the result of warmer air temperatures causing the soil to thaw from the top down, whereas abrupt thaw occurs suddenly and unpredictably.
    Permafrost can contain up to 80% ice. If the ice melts – remember the ice does melt even though the soil does not – the ground suddenly collapses and deep layers get exposed to air temperature.
    Collapsing ground can leave the landscape pockmarked by “thermokarst” lakes, filled with meltwater, rain and snow. These wet conditions can promote the release of the more potent greenhouse gas methane.
    Thermokarst landscape. Credit: A. BalserIn uplands, natural drainage creates drier soil conditions after permafrost thaw, thereby accelerating organic matter decomposition and releasing large amounts of CO2. The ultimate impact of carbon release from permafrost will be stronger when a larger percentage of the permafrost zone dries out after thaw.
    What fraction of the landscape will become wetter or drier after thaw depends on the distribution of ground ice, but current ice measurements are only sporadic and better spatial coverage and more up to date measurements are urgently needed.
    Another important factor in the carbon balance of the permafrost zone is the carbon uptake by plants. The question is how much carbon release from thawing permafrost can be offset by increased plant growth? Plants take up carbon from the atmosphere and use it to grow and maintain their metabolism.
    Warmer conditions in the Arctic and all its associated changes stimulate plant growth, which means that some of the carbon added to the atmosphere from thawing permafrost is taken up by the boost to plant growth. But it is unclear how much carbon will be offset by plants and it is unclear how sustained this process is.
    Improving model projections of permafrost carbon release is crucial in determining the overall impact of thawing permafrost to the global climate. Recent results from the Canadian Arctic show that permafrost thaw is happening a lot earlier than scientists expected given current model projections.
    For the moment, models only account for gradual top-down thaw, but recent estimates show that abrupt thaw and collapsing soil could double carbon release from permafrost. One thing is clear: the less temperatures increase in the Arctic, the more permafrost will stay frozen and the more carbon will stay locked up in permafrost.

    Methane hydrates
    Often mentioned in the same breath as permafrost thaw is the potential danger associated with the breakdown of methane hydrates, also known as “clathrates”. This is methane “ice” that forms at low temperatures and high pressures in continental margin marine sediments or within and beneath permafrost.
    Of particular concern are the methane hydrates stored beneath the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), a shallow coastal region to the north of Russia. Studies have suggested that thawing permafrost is releasing this methane, letting it bubble up and out of the seawater. This has led to research warning that the escape of large quantities of methane could have “catastrophic consequences for the climate system” and media reports of an impending “methane timebomb”.
    Graphic: Carbon Brief. © EsriIn conversation with Dr Carolyn Ruppel, chief scientist for the US Geological Survey’s Gas Hydrates Project, she tells me that methane hydrates trap about one-sixth of Earth’s methane carbon and that some deposits may, in fact, be degrading now as the climate warms. But, she says:
    “If the methane released during gas hydrate degradation reaches the ocean, it would mostly be consumed by bacteria in the water column and not reach the atmosphere.  In permafrost areas, degrading gas hydrate is usually deeply buried, so permafrost thaw is the more important contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.”While there “may be substantial methane leaking from Arctic continental shelves in areas of thawing subsea permafrost”, says Ruppel, “studies have shown that the flux rates are probably overestimated and the most likely source of the leaking methane is not thawing gas hydrates”. She adds:
    “Permafrost-associated hydrates are not that widespread and often occur deeper than the shallower sources of methane that can more readily leak into the atmosphere.”So, the latest research suggests that a methane bomb from thawing hydrates is not on the horizon. However, for permafrost, the science shows that thaw is already underway and the carbon it is releasing will already be contributing to our warming climate.

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    Guest Post: How Close Is The West Antarctic Ice Sheet To A ‘Tipping Point’?

    19 February, 2020 - 04:02
    Carbon Brief - Christina Hulbe

    Satellite image of Pine Island glacier in West Antarctica. Credit: NG Images / Alamy Stock Photo. Prof Christina HulbeProf Christina Hulbe is a geophysicist in the National School of Surveying at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Between its east and west ice sheets and its peninsula, Antarctica holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by around 60m.
    The West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS) is a relatively small part, containing an amount of ice equivalent to 3.3m of sea level rise. Yet, most of it sits in a precarious position and is considered “theoretically unstable”.
    As a result, how the WAIS will change in response to human-caused warming is generally thought to be the largest source of uncertainty for long-term sea level projections.
    Tipping pointsThis article is part of a week-long special series on “tipping points”, where a changing climate could push parts of the Earth system into abrupt or irreversible change
    The most pressing aspect of this uncertainty is understanding whether instability thresholds of ice have been crossed, whether the retreat we are now measuring is destined to continue, and whether ice that appears unchanging today will remain that way in the future.
    The latest research says that the threshold for irreversible loss of the WAIS likely lies between 1.5C and 2C of global average warming above pre-industrial levels. With warming already at around 1.1C and the Paris Agreement aiming to limit warming to 1.5C or “well-below 2C”, the margins for avoiding this threshold are fine indeed.

    Marine ice sheet
    According to the recent special report on the ocean and cryosphere (SROCC) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there are two main controls on how much global sea levels will rise this century: future human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and how warming affects the Antarctic ice sheet. The IPCC says:
    “Beyond 2050, uncertainty in climate change induced SLR [sea level rise] increases substantially due to uncertainties in emission scenarios and the associated climate changes, and the response of the Antarctic ice sheet in a warmer world.”The concern around the vulnerability of the WAIS principally lies in something called “marine ice sheet instability” (MISI) – “marine” because the base of the ice sheet is below sea level and “instability” for the fact that, once it starts, the retreat is self-sustaining.
    Ice sheets can be thought of as huge freshwater reservoirs. Snow accumulates in the cold interior, slowly compacts to become glacier ice and then begins to flow like a very thick fluid back toward the ocean.
    In some places, the ice reaches the coast and floats on the ocean surface, forming an ice shelf. The boundary between ice resting on the land surface (or the sea floor in the case of a marine ice sheet) is called the “grounding line”. The grounding line is where water stored in the ice sheet returns to the ocean. And when it moves seaward, we say the ice sheet has a positive “mass balance” – that is to say, it is gaining more ice mass than it is losing back to the sea.
    But when the grounding line retreats, the balance is negative. A negative ice sheet balance means a positive contribution to the ocean and, thus, to global sea level.

    Instability
    This basic picture of ice sheet mass balance is all you need to understand why glaciologists are concerned about MISI.
    Changes to the ice shelf on the floating side of the grounding line – such as thinning – can cause ice on the grounded side to lift off from the seafloor. As this ice floats, the grounding line will retreat. Because the ice flows more rapidly when it is floating than it does when grounded, the rate of ice flow near the grounding line will increase. Stretching caused by the faster flow becomes a new source of thinning near the grounding line.
    This is illustrated in the figure below. As the newly floating ice flows and thins more quickly, it can cause more ice to lift off and float, driving the grounding line back.
    In addition, the areas of the ice sheet at risk of MISI have a reverse, or “retrograde” gradient, which means it gets deeper further inland. As the grounding line retreats further into thicker parts of the ice sheet, the flow speeds up, further increasing ice loss. The reverse gradient makes this process self-sustaining as a positive feedback loop – this is what makes MISI an instability.
    Illustration of Marine Ice Sheet Instability, or MISI. Thinning of the buttressing ice shelf leads to acceleration of the ice sheet flow and thinning of the marine-terminated ice margin. Because bedrock under the ice sheet is sloping towards ice sheet interior, thinning of the ice causes retreat of the grounding line followed by an increase of the seaward ice flux, further thinning of the ice margin, and further retreat of the grounding line. Credit: IPCC SROCC (2019) Fig CB8.1aIt is not clear yet if the MISI threshold has been crossed anywhere in Antarctica. We do know that grounding lines are retreating along the Amundsen Sea coastline – most spectacularly on the Thwaites Glacier. And the driver for the retreat appears to be relatively warm ocean water – about 2C warmer than the historical average – flowing toward the grounding line and causing stronger than usual melting.
    Graphic: Carbon Brief. Credit: Quantarctica/Norwegian Polar Institute.

    If the instability has not started and if the ocean warming stops, then the grounding line should find a new balancing point at a new location. But if it has started, then the retreat will continue no matter what happens next.

    Faster flow
    Even if the threshold has been crossed – or even if it is crossed in the future – the retreat can proceed at different rates depending on how hard we were “pushing” when it started.
    Here’s how that works. The instability depends on a balance of forces within the ice sheet. A force due to gravity causes the ice to flow at a speed that depends in part on its thickness and its surface slope.
    A larger melt rate on the floating side and faster flow across the grounding line will draw down the surface of the ice more quickly than smaller rates will. The faster draw-down generates a steeper surface slope and, thus, faster flow and faster retreat.
    Pine Island Glacier ice shelf rift. Credit: NASA Image Collection / Alamy Stock Photo.
    A modelling study of this feedback, published last year, found that when MISI started with a larger push (a larger melt rate), it proceeded more quickly than when it started with a smaller push, even after the extra melting was removed.
    This means that even if MISI is invoked, cutting global emissions and slowing warming will give more time to get ready for its consequences.

    Ice cliffs
    There appears to be a second source of instability for marine ice sheets – one that comes into play if the ice shelves are lost entirely.
    Some of the most spectacular images of glacier change are of iceberg calving – in other words, breaking off – from the heavily crevassed fronts of marine-terminating glaciers.
    This calving is caused by melting of the underside of the ice shelf, as well as “hydro-fracturing” – where meltwater forming on the surface of the ice shelf seeps into the ice and causes cracking – or a combination of the two.
    How quickly calving happens depends on the height of the ice cliff face above the waterline – the higher the cliff stands above the water, the larger the calving rate.
    As is the case for MISI, the declining gradient of seafloor beneath the WAIS means that as the ice cliff retreats into thicker ice it will continue to expose an ever-higher cliff to the ocean and the calving rate must increase.
    This process, illustrated below, is called “marine ice cliff instability” (MICI). The theory suggests that where the height of a glacier face exceeds around 100m above the ocean surface, the cliff will be too tall to support its own weight. It will, therefore, inevitably collapse, exposing a similarly tall cliff face behind it, which, too, will collapse. And so on.
    The IPCC’s SROCC says that “Thwaites Glacier is particularly important because it extends into the interior of the WAIS, where the bed is >2000m below sea level in places”. (Although, the SROCC also notes that while MISI requires a retrograde bed slope to occur, MICI could even happen on a flat or seaward-inclined bed.)
    This recently identified process is not as well studied as MISI, but this is sure to change in the years ahead, as scientists continue to observe fast-changing systems such as the Thwaites Glacier.
    Illustration of Marine Ice Cliff Instability. If the cliff is tall enough (at least ~800m of total ice thickness, or about 100m of ice above the water line), the stresses at the cliff face exceed the strength of the ice, and the cliff fails structurally in repeated calving events. Credit: IPCC SROCC (2019) Fig CB8.1bA Nature study in 2016 on MICI concluded that Antarctica “has the potential to contribute more than a metre of sea level rise by 2100 and more than 15 metres by 2500”. More recent research concluded this is likely to be an overestimate, but noted it is not yet clear what role MICI could play this century. Another study has also suggested that rapid loss of ice through MICI may be mitigated by a slower loss of the ice shelves that hold the glaciers back.

    Threshold close
    Late last year, a large team of modellers assessed different studies of ice sheet response to the Paris climate target to keep global average warming “well below” 2C.
    The models all point in the same direction. Namely, that the threshold for irreversible ice loss in both the Greenland ice sheet and the WAIS is somewhere between 1.5C and 2C global average warming. And we are already at a bit more than 1C warming right now.
    This 1.5-2C window is key for the “survival of Antarctic ice shelves”, the review paper explained, and thus their “buttressing” effect on the glaciers they hold back.
    GlossaryRCP2.6: The RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) are scenarios of future concentrations of greenhouse gases and other forcings. RCP2.6 (also sometimes referred to as “RCP3-PD”) is a “peak and decline” scenario where stringent mitigation… Read More Another threshold may lie between 2C and 2.7C, the authors added. Reaching this level of global temperature rise could trigger the “activation of several larger systems, such as the Ross and Ronne-Filchner drainage basins, and onset of much larger SLR contributions”.
    The Ross and Ronne-Filchner are the two largest ice shelves in Antarctica. These could be substantially reduced “within 100–300 years”, another study says, in scenarios where global emissions exceed the RCP2.6 scenario. This emissions pathway is generally considered to be consistent with limiting warming to 2C.
    These findings imply that preventing substantial Antarctic ice loss relies on limiting global emissions to – or below – RCP2.6. As the paper concludes: “Crossing these thresholds implies commitment to large ice-sheet changes and SLR that may take thousands of years to be fully realised and be irreversible on longer timescales.”

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    Guest Post: Could The Atlantic Overturning Circulation ‘Shut Down’?

    19 February, 2020 - 04:01
    Carbon Brief Richard Wood | Laura Jackson

    An argo float measures ocean temperatures. Credit: Argo program, Germany/Ifremer. Generally, we think of climate change as a gradual process: the more greenhouse gases that humans emit, the more the climate will change. But are there any “points of no return” that commit us to irreversible change?
    The “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation”, known as “AMOC”, is one of the major current systems in the world’s oceans and plays a crucial role in regulating climate.
    It is driven by a delicate balance of ocean temperatures and salinity, which is at risk from being upset by a warming climate.
    The latest research suggests that AMOC is very likely to weaken this century, but a collapse is very unlikely. However, scientists are some way from being able to define exactly how much warming might push AMOC past a tipping point.

    Overturning
    The figure below shows an illustration of the AMOC. In the North Atlantic, warm water from the subtropics travels northwards near the surface and cold – and, hence, more dense – water is travelling southwards at depth, typically 2–4km below the surface.
    In the north, the warm surface water is cooled by the overlying atmosphere, converted to cold, dense water, and sinks to supply the deep, southward branch. Elsewhere, the cold water upwells and is warmed, re-supplying the upper, warm branch and completing the circuit.
    Schematic of the AMOC. The red pathways show warmer water nearer the surface, while the purple pathways show colder, more dense water moving at depth. Credit: Met OfficeCould the AMOC collapse? Tipping pointsThis article is part of a week-long special series on “tipping points”, where a changing climate could push parts of the Earth system into abrupt or irreversible change
    The AMOC is vulnerable to climate change. As the atmosphere warms due to increasing greenhouse gases, the ability of the ocean to lose heat from the North Atlantic surface is diminished and one of the driving factors of the AMOC is weakened.
    Climate-model projections of global warming this century consistently point to a weakening of the AMOC. The most recent assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the fifth assessment report (AR5) and special report on oceans and cryosphere in a changing climate (SROCC) – both conclude that the AMOC is “very likely” to weaken over the 21st century.
    Such a weakening would have a cooling effect on climate around the North Atlantic region, as the northward heat supply is slowed down. This effect is included in the climate projections, but the direct warming effect from rising concentrations of greenhouse gases is stronger, so the net result is still warming over land regions.
    But more dramatic changes are theoretically possible. A “tipping point” may exist beyond which the current strong AMOC becomes unsustainable.
    Evidence for this goes back to a seminal paper published in 1961 by one of the fathers of modern oceanography, Henry Stommel. Stommel realised that the AMOC is a kind of competition between the effects of temperature and salinity, both of which influence the density of seawater.











    The figure below illustrates the different possible AMOC states. In today’s climate, temperature dominates and the cold, dense high latitude water drives a strong AMOC (red curve). But in other climate states it is possible for fresh water (from rainfall or ice melt) to freshen – and so lighten – the high-latitude water; in this case, the water is not dense enough to drive the AMOC, which collapses (blue curve).
    If the freshwater input to the Atlantic were strong enough – from rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet, for example – the blue dot would move to the right in the figure. According to Stommel’s model, at some point the strong AMOC state (red) becomes unsustainable and the AMOC collapses to the “off” state (blue). Then, even if the driving climate change were later reversed (the blue dot moving back to the left on the figure), the AMOC would stay on the blue curve and would not switch back on again until the climate had overshot the present day conditions in the opposite direction. This phenomenon is known as “hysteresis”.
    Tipping points and hysteresis of the AMOC in Stommel’s simple model. Possible states of the AMOC depend on the amount of freshwater input to the Atlantic Ocean (x-axis). AMOC strength is shown on the y-axis. [Note that both are measured in Sverdrups (Sv), where 1 Sv denotes one million cubic metres of water transported per second.] When there is low freshwater input, temperature dominates the flow and only a strong AMOC is possible (red curve). For high freshwater input, only a collapsed state is possible (blue curve). In between, both states are possible. If the freshwater input were to increase beyond a critical value (the tipping point), the AMOC would collapse. Then, even if the freshwater input were returned to its original state, the AMOC would remain off. Credit: Met Office.











    Long-term projections
    Stommel’s idea has evolved over the years, but the fundamental insight is still relevant. There is evidence that AMOC changes may have played a role in some major climate shifts of the past – most recently around 8,200 years ago as the world was emerging from the last ice age.
    At that time, a huge lake in northwest Canada was being held back by an ice wall. As temperatures warmed the ice wall collapsed, depositing the fresh water from the lake into the North Atlantic and interrupting the AMOC. A major cooling at this time can be seen in palaeoclimatic records across North America, Greenland and Europe.
    Comprehensive climate models generally do not project a complete shutdown of the AMOC in the 21st century, but recently models have been run further into the future. Under scenarios of continued high greenhouse gas concentrations, a number of models project an effective AMOC shutdown by 2300.
    Model projections of the future AMOC do range widely, though. As a result, on the question of what level of global warming would result in an AMOC shutdown, it is unlikely that the scientific community will see any convergence in the near future.
    While the fundamental mechanism that destabilises the AMOC in Stommel’s original model appears to be important in climate models, there are other processes that are trying to stabilise the AMOC. Many of these processes are difficult to model quantitatively, especially with the limited resolution that is possible with current computing power. So our AMOC projections will continue to be subject to quite some uncertainty for some time to come.
    Taking all the evidence into account, the IPCC’s AR5 and SROCC concluded that an AMOC collapse before 2100 was “very unlikely” (pdf). However, the impacts of passing an AMOC tipping point would be huge, so it is best viewed as a “low probability, high impact” scenario.

    What would be the impacts of a collapse?
    Climate models can be used to assess the impact on climate if the AMOC were to shut down completely. By adding large amounts of fresh water to the North Atlantic in a model, scientists artificially lighten the cold, dense water that forms the lower branch of the loop. This stops the AMOC and we can then look at the impact on climate.
    The figure below illustrates the changes that result in one such experiment. Shutdown of the AMOC results in a cooling (blue shading) of the whole northern hemisphere, particularly the regions closest to the zone of North Atlantic heat loss (the “radiator” of the North Atlantic central heating system). In these regions the cooling exceeds the projected warming due to greenhouse gases, so a complete shutdown in the 21st century, while very unlikely, could result in a net cooling in regions such as western Europe.
    Modelled change in surface temperature (C) following an artificially induced collapse of the AMOC. Shading indicates cooling (blue) or warming (orange and red). Reprinted by permission from Springer. Jackson et al. (2015) Global and European climate impacts of a slowdown of the AMOC in a high resolution GCM, Climate Dynamics.Other impacts include major shifts in rainfall patterns, increases in winter storms over Europe and a sea level rise of up to 50cm around the North Atlantic basin. In many regions these effects would exacerbate the trends due to global warming. While such model experiments are artificial “what if?” scenarios, they illustrate the magnitude of the changes that could result from an AMOC collapse. The impacts on agriculture, wildlife, transport, energy demand and coastal infrastructure would be complex, but we can be certain that there would be major socioeconomic consequences. For example, one study showed a 50% reduction in grass productivity in major grazing regions of the western UK and Ireland.

    What can be done about the risk of a collapse?
    As explained above, scientists are some way from being able to confidently define a level of global warming at which the AMOC would be at risk of crossing a tipping point.
    However, it may be possible to manage the risk of AMOC collapse, even without knowing how likely it is.
    To take a domestic analogy: I know that it is possible, but unlikely, that my house will burn down – it is a low-probability, high-impact event. I don’t have much idea of how probable it is that I will have a fire, but I can manage the risk anyway by getting the electrical wiring checked and by installing smoke alarms. The wiring check reduces the chance of a fire, while the smoke alarm gives me early warning if a fire starts so that the impact can be reduced – by evacuating the house and calling the fire brigade.
    Recently, along with colleagues at the University of Exeter, we have been exploring the possibility of developing an early-warning system for AMOC tipping.
    Using a simple model, we have shown that the way the salinities of the subtropical and subpolar Atlantic evolve over time can give an early indication if the AMOC is on the path to a collapse, possibly decades before any major weakening has been seen in the AMOC itself.
    It is early days for this research, but by monitoring such an indicator it may be possible to give more time to prepare for the consequences of an AMOC collapse, or to adopt more aggressive climate change mitigation measures to get the AMOC onto a more stable pathway.

    Outstanding questions
    As the world gets to grips with the challenges of meeting the targets of the Paris climate accord, interest is increasing in climate pathways that temporarily overshoot the final target level. It is important that such overshoots do not cross any irreversible thresholds on the way to the final destination, so research on tipping points needs to link theoretical results to these more practical questions.
    Much of the modelling of AMOC tipping points to date has used idealised scenarios of freshwater input to the North Atlantic. This is relevant to some past AMOC changes, but to model future climate change we need to understand what happens when warming and freshening are taking place together.
    This is a more challenging problem because the number of relevant processes and feedbacks is increased. Some of these processes operate at small scales that models struggle to resolve with current computing power. Improving the modelling of key AMOC processes needs patience and long-term commitment, but will eventually pay dividends in more confident AMOC predictions.
    Research on early warning of AMOC collapse is in its infancy, but may be a fruitful way to respond to the risk. One thing is for sure: early warning will require continuous observations of key aspects of the AMOC.
    AMOC monitoring entered a new era in 2004 with RAPID-MOCHA, an array of moored instruments that spans the width of the Atlantic at latitude 26.5 degrees north and provides continuous monitoring of the AMOC. Before this there had only been five snapshots of the circulation spread over 47 years.
    Results have already changed our understanding of how the AMOC varies in time: for example, an unexpected dip in the AMOC – observed in Autumn 2009 – is thought to have played a role in the unusually cold European winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11.
    More recently, a similar monitoring array has been installed further north in the subpolar Atlantic. Along with continuous measurements of temperature and salinity from drifting Argo floats, oceanographers now have an unprecedented database to study this crucial element of our climate system and give the world a chance to prepare for any nasty surprises.

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    Study: One-Third Of Plant And Animal Species Could Be Gone In 50 Years

    18 February, 2020 - 04:03
    University of Arizona - Daniel Stolte

    University of Arizona researchers studied recent extinctions from climate change to estimate the loss of plant and animal species by 2070. Their results suggest that as many as one in three species could face extinction unless warming is reduced.
    The common giant tree frog from Madagascar is one of many species impacted by recent climate change. (Photo: John J. Wiens)
    Accurately predicting biodiversity loss from climate change requires a detailed understanding of what aspects of climate change cause extinctions, and what mechanisms may allow species to survive.
    A new study by University of Arizona researchers presents detailed estimates of global extinction from climate change by 2070. By combining information on recent extinctions from climate change, rates of species movement and different projections of future climate, they estimate that one in three species of plants and animals may face extinction. Their results are based on data from hundreds of plant and animal species surveyed around the globe.
    A dead Alligator Juniper from Arizona. Unable to cope with rising temperature extremes, repeated surveys have shown that this species is literally being pushed up the mountain slopes under the impact of climate change. (Photo: Ramona Walls)Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study likely is the first to estimate broad-scale extinction patterns from climate change by incorporating data from recent climate-related extinctions and from rates of species movements.
    To estimate the rates of future extinctions from climate change, Cristian Román-Palacios and John J. Wiens, both in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, looked to the recent past. Specifically, they examined local extinctions that have already happened, based on studies of repeated surveys of plants and animals over time.
    Román-Palacios and Wiens analyzed data from 538 species and 581 sites around the world. They focused on plant and animal species that were surveyed at the same sites over time, at least 10 years apart. They generated climate data from the time of the earliest survey of each site and the more recent survey. They found that 44% of the 538 species had already gone extinct at one or more sites.
    "By analyzing the change in 19 climatic variables at each site, we could determine which variables drive local extinctions and how much change a population can tolerate without going extinct," Román-Palacios said. "We also estimated how quickly populations can move to try and escape rising temperatures. When we put all of these pieces of information together for each species, we can come up with detailed estimates of global extinction rates for hundreds of plant and animal species."
    The study identified maximum annual temperatures — the hottest daily highs in summer — as the key variable that best explains whether a population will go extinct. Surprisingly, the researchers found that average yearly temperatures showed smaller changes at sites with local extinction, even though average temperatures are widely used as a proxy for overall climate change. 
    "This means that using changes in mean annual temperatures to predict extinction from climate change might be positively misleading," Wiens said.
    Previous studies have focused on dispersal — or migration to cooler habitats — as a means for species to "escape" from warming climates. However, the authors of the current study found that most species will not be able to disperse quickly enough to avoid extinction, based on their past rates of movement. Instead, they found that many species were able to tolerate some increases in maximum temperatures, but only up to a point. They found that about 50% of the species had local extinctions if maximum temperatures increased by more than 0.5 degrees Celsius, and 95% if temperatures increase by more than 2.9 degrees Celsius.
    Projections of species loss depend on how much climate will warm in the future.
    "In a way, it's a 'choose your own adventure,'" Wiens said. "If we stick to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species on Earth by 2070. But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half of all animal and plant species, based on our results."
    The paper's projections of species loss are similar for plants and animals, but extinctions are projected to be two to four times more common in the tropics than in temperate regions.
    "This is a big problem, because the majority of plant and animal species occur in the tropics," Román-Palacios said.

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    (AU) Mammal That Mates Itself To Death Will Struggle Under Climate Change, Scientists Say

    18 February, 2020 - 04:02
    Newsweek



    A small Australian mammal that mates itself to death will struggle under climate change, scientist have said.
    For a study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, a team of researchers investigated how climate change may affect the yellow-footed antechinus, or Antechinus flavipes—a marsupial that has a rare and unusual mating behavior known as "male semelparity." This is where a whole generation of males die in their first mating season.
    In the case of the yellow-footed antechinus, the mating season may last two to three weeks and takes place in the Australian winter and spring months, depending on where in the country a given population is located. In this time the males succumb to stress and exhaustion after having copulated with so many female partners.In the latest paper, the scientists found that if this marsupial experiences warmer temperatures during the early stages of its life, it may be less capable of adapting to and surviving the winter. The marsupials are born between September and November and so they spend their first months in the Australian summer and autumn, which are expected to become hotter under climate change. This could mean that many males will be unable to survive the winter in future, so would be incapable of mating.
    The scientists, led by Clare Stawski from the University of New England and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, exposed captive-bred juveniles to either "cold" or "warm" temperatures—17 and 25 degrees Celsius (63 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit.) The mammals were about 100 days old at the beginning of this experiment, and had just finished being weaned by their mothers.
    Stawski and colleagues then monitored various factors such as body mass and the activity levels of the animals.
    Once the juveniles had reached adult size, at around 220 days of age, the scientists conducted a series of temperature tests and measured the basal metabolic rate—the number of calories required to keep the body functioning at the most basic level while it is resting—of the animals.
    In one test, the mammals were placed in a chamber where the temperature was 18 degrees Celsius. This was then increased by 4 degree Celsius increments every two hours, until the temperature reached 30 degrees.
    In the second test, the initial temperature in the chamber began at 14 degrees Celsius and was reduced to 10 degrees after three hours.
    The results showed that temperatures experienced by juvenile yellow-footed antechinuses during development can impact the behavior and physiology of the animal.
    Juveniles placed in the "cold" group just after being weaned were able to adapt their metabolic rate as the temperature around them changed. But the metabolic rate of those juveniles that had initially been placed in the warm group did not change when exposed to colder temperatures.
    Stock photo: A yellow-footed antechinus. iStockAccording to the researchers, this indicates that the juveniles raised in warm conditions may have less "phenotypic plasticity"—the ability of an organism to adapt to environmental influences.
    This has significant implications for the yellow-footed antechinus given temperatures in Australia are expected to rise with climate change, according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)—an Australian government agency.
    "We hypothesize that as individuals raised in warm conditions appear to have less phenotypic flexibility, they may not be able to respond effectively to prolonged increases in temperature and therefore struggle throughout winter," Stawski told ABC News.
    This lack of phenotypic plasticity in juveniles raised in warm conditions does not bode well for a species that is dependent on a single breeding event and experiences "a complete population turnover," the authors wrote in the study.
    This makes the species particularly vulnerable to potentially deadly environmental events, such as heatwaves, which are expected to become more common under climate change, according to CSIRO.
    If these events occur in the periods when there are no males, and only pregnant or lactating females, there is a chance that significant numbers of females could die, meaning fewer offspring, leading to a subsequent reduction in the population.
    While the latest study focused only on the yellow-footed antechinus, which has a relatively wide distribution across Australia, other species in the same genus (group of species) with smaller ranges may be even more severely affected by climate change, Andrew Baker from the Queensland University of Technology, Australia, who was not involved in the paper, told ABC.
    Scientists only know about a handful of species that display male semelparity. Most of these are invertebrates, or animals without a backbone, making Antechinus an unusual case.
    The Frontiers in Physiology paper is not the only recent piece of research to highlight the plight of animals in Australia under climate change.
    One study published in the journal Biological Conservation found that populations of the iconic platypus were at risk in the face of increasingly dry conditions. The researchers found that under current climate projections, platypus numbers could decline by up to 73 percent by 2070.

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    Landing A Blow Against Climate Change

    18 February, 2020 - 04:01
    Project Syndicate - 

    For the last decade, bioenergy has been confined to the sidelines of climate-policy debates, owing to the environmental problems associated with its production. But recent innovations have made this option for supplying sustainable, renewable energy not just viable, but necessary.
    Kambou Sia/AFP via Getty ImagesBONN – In the face of climate change, providing reliable supplies of renewable energy to all who need it has become one of the biggest development challenges of our time. Meeting the international community’s commitment to keep global warming below 1.5-2°C, relative to preindustrial levels, will require expanded use of bioenergy, carbon storage and capture, land-based mitigation strategies like reforestation, and other measures.
    The problem is that these potential solutions tend to be discussed only at the margins of international policy circles, if at all. And yet experts estimate that the global carbon budget – the amount of additional carbon dioxide we can still emit without triggering potentially catastrophic climate change – will run out in a mere ten years. That means there is an urgent need to ramp up bioenergy and land-based mitigation options. We already have the science to do so, and the longer we delay, the greater the possibility that these methods will no longer be viable.
    Renewable energy is the best option for averting the most destructive effects of climate change. For six of the last seven years, the global growth of renewable-energy capacity has outpaced that of non-renewables. But while solar and wind are blazing new trails, they still are not meeting global demand.
    A decade ago, bioenergy was seen as the most likely candidate to close or at least reduce the supply gap. But its development has stalled for two major reasons. First, efforts to promote it had negative unintended consequences. The incentives used to scale it up led to the rapid conversion of invaluable virgin land. Tropical forests and other vital ecosystems were transformed into biofuel production zones, creating new threats of food insecurity, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, land degradation, and desertification.
    In its Special Report on Climate Change and Land last August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that scale and context are the two most important factors to consider when assessing the costs and benefits of biofuel production. Large monocultural biofuel farms simply are not viable. But biofuel farms that are appropriately placed and fully integrated with other activities in the landscape can be sustained ecologically.
    Equally important is the context in which biofuels are being produced – meaning the type of land being used, the variety of biofuel crops being grown, and the climate-management regimes that are in place. The costs associated with biofuel production are significantly reduced when it occurs on previously degraded land, or on land that has been freed up through improved agriculture or livestock management.
    Under the 1.5°C warming scenario, an estimated 700 million hectares of land will be needed for bioenergy feedstocks. There are multiple ways to achieve this level of bioenergy production sustainably. For example, policies to reduce food waste could free up to 140 million additional hectares. And some portion of the two billion hectares of land that have been degraded in past decades could be restored.
    The second reason that bioenergy stalled is that it, too, emits carbon. This challenge persists, because the process of carbon capture remains contentious. We simply do not know what long-term effects might follow from capturing carbon and compressing it into hard rock for storage underground. But academic researchers and the private sector are working on innovations to make the technology viable. Compressed carbon, for example, could be used as a building material, which would be a game changer if scaled up to industrial-level use.
    Moreover, whereas traditional bioenergy feedstocks such as acacia, sugarcane, sweet sorghum, managed forests, and animal waste pose sustainability challenges, researchers at the University of Oxford are now experimenting with the more water-efficient succulent plants. Again, succulents could be a game changer, particularly for dryland populations who have a lot of arid degraded land suitable for cultivation. Many of these communities desperately need energy, but would struggle to maintain solar and wind facilities, owing to the constant threat posed by dust and sandstorms.
    In Garalo commune, Mali, for example, small-scale farmers are using 600 hectares previously allocated to water-guzzling cotton crops to supply jatropha oil to a hybrid power plant. And in Sweden, the total share of biomass used as fuel – most of it sourced from managed forests – reached 47% in 2017, according to Statistics Sweden. Successful models such as these can show us the way forward.
    Ultimately, a reliable supply of energy is just as important as an adequate supply of productive land. That will be especially true in the coming decades, when the global population is expected to exceed 9.7 billion people. And yet, if global warming is allowed to reach 3°C, the ensuing climatic effects would make almost all land-based mitigation options useless.
    That means we must act now to prevent the loss of vital land resources. We need stronger governance mechanisms to keep food, energy, and environmental needs in balance. Failing to unleash the full potential of the land-based mitigation options that are currently at our disposal would be an unforgiveable failure, imposing severe consequences on people who have contributed the least to climate change.
    Bioenergy and land-based mitigation are not silver bullets. But they will buy us some time. As such, they must be part of the broader response to climate change. The next decade may be our last chance to get the land working for everyone.

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    ‘The Only Uncertainty Is How Long We’ll Last’: A Worst Case Scenario For The Climate In 2050*

    17 February, 2020 - 04:00
    The Guardian - Christiana Figueres | Tom Rivett-Carnac

    The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, a new book by the architects of the Paris climate accords, offers two contrasting visions for how the world might look in thirty years (read the best case scenario here)
    ‘The air can taste slightly acidic, sometimes making you feel nauseated.’ Photograph: Arctic-Images/Corbis The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis is a passionate call to arms written by Christiana Figures and Tom Rivett-Carnac.
    Christiana Figueres was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2010-2016 and the public face of the most pivotal climate agreement in history, the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Tom Rivett-Carnac was Christiana's political strategist. Together they are the co-founders of Global Optimism, an organization focused on creating environmental and social change.
    They outline two scenarios for our future:
    • How life on Earth will be by 2050 if we fail to meet the Paris Agreement climate targets; or
    • How it will look and feel to live in a carbon neutral, regenerative world.
    It is 2050. Beyond the emissions reductions registered in 2015, no further efforts were made to control emissions. We are heading for a world that will be more than 3C warmer by 2100.
    The first thing that hits you is the air. In many places around the world, the air is hot, heavy and, depending on the day, clogged with particulate pollution. Your eyes often water. Your cough never seems to disappear. You think about some countries in Asia, where, out of consideration, sick people used to wear white masks to protect others from airborne infection. Now you often wear a mask to protect yourself from air pollution. You can no longer simply walk out your front door and breathe fresh air: there might not be any. Instead, before opening doors or windows in the morning, you check your phone to see what the air quality will be.
    Melting permafrost releases ancient microbes today’s humans have never been exposed to and have no resistance to Fewer people work outdoors and even indoors the air can taste slightly acidic, sometimes making you feel nauseated. The last coal furnaces closed 10 years ago, but that hasn’t made much difference in air quality around the world because you are still breathing dangerous exhaust fumes from millions of cars and buses everywhere. Our world is getting hotter. Over the next two decades, projections tell us that temperatures in some areas of the globe will rise even higher, an irreversible development now utterly beyond our control. Oceans, forests, plants, trees and soil had for many years absorbed half the carbon dioxide we spewed out. Now there are few forests left, most of them either logged or consumed by wildfire, and the permafrost is belching greenhouse gases into an already overburdened atmosphere. The increasing heat of the Earth is suffocating us and in five to 10 years, vast swaths of the planet will be increasingly inhospitable to humans. We don’t know how hospitable the arid regions of Australia, South Africa and the western United States will be by 2100. No one knows what the future holds for their children and grandchildren: tipping point after tipping point is being reached, casting doubt on the form of future civilisation. Some say that humans will be cast to the winds again, gathering in small tribes, hunkered down and living on whatever patch of land might sustain them.
    More moisture in the air and higher sea surface temperatures have caused a surge in extreme hurricanes and tropical storms. Recently, coastal cities in Bangladesh, Mexico, the United States and elsewhere have suffered brutal infrastructure destruction and extreme flooding, killing many thousands and displacing millions. This happens with increasing frequency now. Every day, because of rising water levels, some part of the world must evacuate to higher ground. Every day, the news shows images of mothers with babies strapped to their backs, wading through floodwaters and homes ripped apart by vicious currents that resemble mountain rivers. News stories tell of people living in houses with water up to their ankles because they have nowhere else to go, their children coughing and wheezing because of the mould growing in their beds, insurance companies declaring bankruptcy, leaving survivors without resources to rebuild their lives. Contaminated water supplies, sea salt intrusions and agricultural runoff are the order of the day. Because multiple disasters are often happening simultaneously, it can take weeks or even months for basic food and water relief to reach areas pummelled by extreme floods. Diseases such as malaria, dengue, cholera, respiratory illnesses and malnutrition are rampant.
    The aftermath of a wildfire in northern California, November 2018. Photograph: Noah Berger/APYou try not to think about the 2 billion people who live in the hottest parts of the world, where, for upwards of 45 days per year, temperatures skyrocket to 60C (140F), a point at which the human body cannot be outside for longer than about six hours because it loses the ability to cool itself down. Places such as central India are becoming increasingly challenging to inhabit. Mass migrations to less hot rural areas are beset by a host of refugee problems, civil unrest and bloodshed over diminished water availability.
    Food production swings wildly from month to month, season to season, depending on where you live. More people are starving than ever before. Climate zones have shifted, so some new areas have become available for agriculture (Alaska, the Arctic), while others have dried up (Mexico, California). Still others are unstable because of the extreme heat, never mind flooding, wildfire and tornadoes. This makes the food supply in general highly unpredictable. Global trade has slowed as countries seek to hold on to their own resources.
    Countries with enough food are resolute about holding on to it. As a result, food riots, coups and civil wars are throwing the world’s most vulnerable from the frying pan into the fire. As developed countries seek to seal their borders from mass migration, they too feel the consequences. Most countries’ armies are now just highly militarised border patrols. Some countries are letting people in, but only under conditions approaching indentured servitude.
    A young boy picks material from a rubbish dump in Taez, Yemen. Photograph: Ahmad Al-Basha/AFP via Getty ImagesThose living within stable countries may be physically safe, yes, but the psychological toll is mounting. With each new tipping point passed, they feel hope slipping away. There is no chance of stopping the runaway warming of our planet and no doubt we are slowly but surely heading towards some kind of collapse. And not just because it’s too hot. Melting permafrost is also releasing ancient microbes that today’s humans have never been exposed to and, as a result, have no resistance to. Diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks are rampant as these species flourish in the changed climate, spreading to previously safe parts of the planet, increasingly overwhelming us. Worse still, the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance has only intensified as the population has grown denser in inhabitable areas and temperatures continue to rise.The demise of the human species is being discussed more and more. For many, the only uncertainty is how long we’ll last, how many more generations will see the light of day. Suicides are the most obvious manifestation of the prevailing despair, but there are other indications: a sense of bottomless loss, unbearable guilt and fierce resentment at previous generations who didn’t do what was necessary to ward off this unstoppable calamity.

    * This is an edited extract from The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis

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    ‘Air Is Cleaner Than Before The Industrial Revolution’: A Best Case Scenario For The Climate In 2050*

    17 February, 2020 - 04:00
    The Guardian - Christiana Figueres | Tom Rivett-Carnac

    The Future We Choose, a new book by the architects of the Paris climate accords, offers contrasting visions for how the world might look in thirty years (read the worst case scenario here)
    ‘The ambient feeling of living on what has again become a green planet has been transformative.’ Photograph: Ichiro/Getty Images The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis is a passionate call to arms written by Christiana Figures and Tom Rivett-Carnac.
    Christiana Figueres was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2010-2016 and the public face of the most pivotal climate agreement in history, the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Tom Rivett-Carnac was Christiana's political strategist. Together they are the co-founders of Global Optimism, an organization focused on creating environmental and social change.
    They outline two scenarios for our future:
    • How life on Earth will be by 2050 if we fail to meet the Paris Agreement climate targets; or
    • How it will look and feel to live in a carbon neutral, regenerative world.
    It is 2050. We have been successful at halving emissions every decade since 2020. We are heading for a world that will be no more than 1.5C warmer by 2100.
    In most places in the world, the air is moist and fresh, even in cities. It feels a lot like walking through a forest and very likely this is exactly what you are doing. The air is cleaner than it has been since before the Industrial Revolution. We have trees to thank for that. They are everywhere.
    It wasn’t the single solution we required, but the proliferation of trees bought us the time we needed to vanquish carbon emissions. When we started, it was purely practical, a tactic to combat climate crisis by relocating the carbon: the trees took carbon dioxide out of the air, released oxygen and put the carbon back where it belongs, in the soil. This, of course, helped to diminish climate crisis, but the benefits were even greater. On every sensory level, the ambient feeling of living on what has again become a green planet has been transformative, especially in cities.
    Reimagining and restructuring cities was crucial to solving the climate challenge puzzle. But further steps had to be taken, which meant that global rewilding efforts had to reach well beyond the cities. The forest cover worldwide is now 50% and agriculture has evolved to become more tree-based. The result is that many countries are unrecognisable, in a good way. No one seems to miss wide-open plains or monocultures. Now we have shady groves of nut and orchards, timber land interspersed with grazing, parkland areas that spread for miles, new havens for our regenerated population of pollinators.
    Drones organised along aerial corridors are now delivering packages, further reducing the need for vehiclesA major part of the shift to net-zero emissions was a focus on electricity; achieving the goal required not only an overhaul of existing infrastructure but also a structural shift. In some ways, breaking up grids and decentralising power proved easy. We no longer burn fossil fuels. Most of our energy now comes from renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydro. All homes and buildings produce their own electricity – every available surface is covered with solar paint that contains millions of nanoparticles, which harvest energy from the sunlight, and every windy spot has a wind turbine. If you live on a particularly sunny or windy hill, your house might harvest more energy than it can use, in which case the energy will simply flow back to the smart grid. Because there is no combustion cost, energy is basically free. It is also more abundant and more efficiently used than ever.
    Homes and buildings all over the world are becoming self-sustaining far beyond their electrical needs. For example, all buildings now collect rainwater and manage their own water use. Renewable sources of electricity make possible localised desalination, which means clean drinking water can now be produced on demand anywhere in the world. We also use it to irrigate hydroponic gardens, flush toilets and shower.
     ‘The electric motor is simply a better way of powering vehicles.’ Photograph: Lucinda Merano/Getty Images/EyeEmPetrol and diesel cars are anachronisms. Most countries banned their manufacture in 2030, but it took another 15 years to get internal combustion engines off the road completely.
    What’s strange is that it took us so long to realise that the electric motor is simply a better way of powering vehicles. It gives you more torque, more speed when you need it, and the ability to recapture energy when you brake and it requires dramatically less maintenance.
    We also share cars without thinking twice. In fact, regulating and ensuring the safety of driverless ride sharing were the biggest transportation hurdles for cities to overcome. The goal has been to eliminate private ownership of vehicles by 2050 in major metropolitan areas. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re making progress.
    We have also reduced land transport needs. Drones organised along aerial corridors are now delivering packages, further reducing the need for vehicles. Thus we are currently narrowing roads, eliminating parking spaces and investing in urban planning projects that make it easier to walk and bike in the city.
    While we may have successfully reduced carbon emissions, we’re still dealing with the aftereffects of record levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The long-living greenhouse gases have nowhere to go other than the already-loaded atmosphere, so they are still causing increasingly extreme weather, though it’s less extreme than it would have been had we continued to burn fossil fuels.
    Glaciers and Arctic ice are still melting and the sea is still rising. Severe droughts and desertification are occurring in the western United States, the Mediterranean and parts of China. Ongoing extreme weather and resource degradation continue to multiply existing disparities in income, public health, food security and water availability. But now governments have recognised climate crisis factors for the threat multipliers that they are. That awareness allows us to predict downstream problems and head them off before they become humanitarian crises.
    Everyone understands that we are all in this together. A disaster that occurs in one country is likely to occur in another in only a matter of years. It took us a while to realise that if we worked out how to save the Pacific islands from rising sea levels this year, then we might find a way to save Rotterdam in another five years.
    The zeitgeist has shifted profoundly. How we feel about the world has changed, deeply. And, unexpectedly, so has how we feel about one another.
    ‘All homes and buildings produce their own electricity.’ Photograph: Lari Bat/Getty Images/iStockphotoWhen the alarm bells rang in 2020, thanks in large part to the youth movement, we realised that we suffered from too much consumption, competition, and greedy self-interest. Our commitment to these values and our drive for profit and status had led us to steamroll our environment. As a species, we were out of control and the result was the near-collapse of our world.
    We emerged from the climate crisis as more mature members of the community of life, capable of not only restoring ecosystems but also of unfolding our dormant potentials of human strength and discernment. Humanity was only ever as doomed as it believed itself to be. Vanquishing that belief was our true legacy.

    * This is an edited extract from The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis

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    (AU) Climate Summit Calls For Urgent Action After Australia's Fire-Hit Summer

    17 February, 2020 - 04:00
    The Guardian

    Forceful declaration calls for governments to set short-term zero emissions target to avoid catastrophic warming
    A firefighter near Potato Point on NSW south coast on 23 January. A Climate Emergency Summit held in Melbourne this weekend has called the bushfire crisis a ‘harbinger of life and death on a hotter earth’. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The GuardianThe megafires of Australia’s summer “are a harbinger of life and death on a hotter Earth”, a climate summit has said in a forceful declaration for urgent and dramatic climate action.
    The Climate Emergency Summit, held in Melbourne this week and of which Guardian Australia was a partner, released a declaration saying the warming world was a clear threat to Australian society and civilisation.
    “The climate is already dangerous – in Australia and the Antarctic, in Asia and the Pacific – right around the world. The Earth is unacceptably too hot now,” the declaration said.
    “If the climate warms 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the Great Barrier Reef will likely be lost, sea levels could rise metres and massive global carbon stores such as the Amazon and Greenland, will hit tipping points, releasing millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.”
    Signatories to the declaration included Ian Dunlop, Carmen Lawrence, John Hewson, Tim Costello and Kerryn Phelps. It warned that even the Paris agreement emissions reduction targets would put the world on a path to 3.5C warming by 2100, and 4C to 5C warming “when long-term climate-system feedbacks were factored in”.
    “National security analysts warn that 3C may result in “outright social chaos”, and 4C is considered incompatible with the maintenance of human civilisation.
    “Climate change must be accepted as an overriding threat to national and human security, with the response being the highest priority at national and global levels.”
    The declaration called on governments to commit to rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero, to drawing down carbon concentrations already in the atmosphere, and to integrating adaptation and resilience measures into restructured national and global economies.
    The executive director of Micah Australia, Tim Costello, told the Guardian the declaration was a rallying cry to emphasise the critical nature of the climate challenge.
    “This summit was people from military, agriculture, from politics, from economics: we’re all frustrated, we want to see action and a breakthrough, we’re all working hard in our areas, but none of us actually know what will be the tipping point, when it will finally be widely realised that this is an emergency and we have to decarbonise,” Costello said.
    “Like people understood the emergency of war, there will be a suspension of politics and human rights if we don’t deal with climate.”
    He said party politics had failed Australia, and shown itself incapable of dealing with the climate emergency.
    And, he argued, climate change as an existential threat had long been a reality for communities across Australia’s region.
    “I have seen the poorest communities already losing lives and livelihoods for years from climate change. Now it is our existential challenge after these bushfires, whereas at the Pacific Islands Forum our prime minister was told ‘it is only economic for you, it is existential survival for us’.”
    The declaration said Australia’s political leaders were especially culpable, guilty of short-term political expediency, which had left Australians acutely exposed to the impacts of climate change.
    “The first duty of a government is to protect the people, their well-being and livelihoods. Instead, Australian governments have left the community largely unprepared for the disasters now unfolding, and for the extensive changes required to maintain a cohesive society as climate change impacts escalate.”
    The declaration argued it was in Australia’s self-interest to demand greater global action on climate change, and a continued reliance on fossil fuel resources was unsustainable, both economically and environmentally.
    Australia was the world’s fourth largest carbon polluter, exports included, and one of the countries most exposed to climate change, the declaration said.
    “It makes no sense to build our economy on fossil fuel resources, practices and technologies which are unsustainable, particularly when Australia has some of the best clean energy resources and opportunities in the world.”

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    The Trio Of Obstacles On Climate Change

    16 February, 2020 - 04:00
    AFR - Willem Buiter

    It's not denialism but the economics of emissions reductions that is the real barrier to mitigating the climate crisis.
    Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images Willem BuiterWillem Buiter, a former chief economist at Citigroup, is a visiting professor at Columbia University Despite the buzz around climate action at this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, the world’s current environmental prospects look grim. There are three obstacles: climate-change denial; the economics of reducing greenhouse-gas (GHGs) emissions; and the politics of mitigation policies, which tend to be highly regressive.
    According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global carbon-dioxide emissions must be cut 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, and then eliminated entirely by 2050, to have even a reasonable chance of preventing global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. “We need quick wins,” warns the United Nations Environment Program in its latest Emissions Gap Report, “or the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement will slip out of reach.”
    That is an understatement. Even if the current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the 2015 Paris accord are met, emissions in 2030 will be 38 per cent above where they need to be. Global average temperatures will be on track to rise by a disastrous 2.9-3.4°C by 2100, with continuing increases thereafter. The NDC targets would need to be roughly tripled just to limit warming to 2°C, and would have to increase fivefold to achieve the 1.5°C goal.
    That is not going to happen. The only time in recent history when CO2 emissions have looked as though they might plateau was in 2014-2016, owing to weak global growth. According to the Global Carbon Project, emissions have since increased again, by 2.7 per cent in 2018 and 0.6 per cent in 2019. Making matters worse, the December 2019 UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) was a dismal failure, resulting in no new climate pledges or clear messages of intent for this year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow.
    To limit global warming to less than 2°C, however, would require an average effective price of $75 per ton by 2030.Why is humanity so reluctant to save itself? First, many people simply do not accept the predictions issued by climate scientists. But denialism is the least serious of the three main obstacles. There will always be a minority for whom facts and logic are unwelcome distractions. Yet even US President Donald Trump must realise by now that climate change will undermine the future viability and profitability of Mar-a-Lago.
    As the real-world costs of climate-driven disasters mount over time, denialism will become less of an issue. Indeed, a November 2019 Yale University survey finds that 62 per cent of registered voters in the United States already would support a president “declaring global warming a national emergency if Congress does not act”.
    The second major challenge is that GHG emissions are the quintessential global economic externality. Climate change doesn’t respect borders; GHGs emitted anywhere will affect everyone eventually. That means there is a massive free-rider problem. Under current circumstances, it will always be individually rational to let others cut back on their emissions rather than doing so yourself. The only way to correct this problem is through collective rationality or enlightened self-interest. But given the current state of multilateralism, expecting a truly global effort in pursuit of the common good is a tall order.The third obstacle is that effective policies to reduce GHG emissions disproportionately hurt the poor (both globally and within countries). The International Monetary Fund recently calculated that the current effective global price of CO2 emissions is a mere $2 per ton. To limit global warming to less than 2°C, however, would require an average effective price of $75 per ton by 2030.
    In India, China, and many other countries, coal-fired power plants will likely continue to be built for years to come.I agree with Harvard University economist Kenneth Rogoff that a uniform global carbon-emissions tax is likely to be the best solution to the climate challenge, at least from an environmental perspective.
    But with such a tax in place, average household electricity prices over the next decade would increase cumulatively by 45 per cent, and gasoline prices by 15 per cent. Hence, even within rich countries, the distributional consequences would be difficult to handle, as France’s government found out after it tried to introduce a modest fuel tax in 2018. Worse, since the 1980s, effective redistributive fiscal mechanisms in most advanced economies have been emasculated.
    Moreover, the larger distributional burden of a global carbon tax would fall disproportionately on poor countries that are hoping to pursue rapid development in the coming decades. Around 570 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa alone lack access to basic electricity; globally, the number is closer to 1.2 billion.
    Needless to say, long-overdue growth in developing and emerging economies will bring massive increases in energy consumption and GHG emissions.
    In India, China, and many other countries, coal-fired power plants will likely continue to be built for years to come. Clean and renewable energy from solar and wind will complement, but not displace, fossil fuels in these countries. Despite the strides made in battery storage technology, the intermittency problems associated with wind and solar imply a continuing role for fossil fuels and nuclear power.
    Consider India, which accounts for 7 per cent of annual global GHG emissions, making it the world’s fourth-largest emitter, after China (27 per cent), the US (15 per cent), and the European Union (10 per cent). That is despite the fact that India’s per capita energy consumption is around one-tenth of America’s. And even if that figure doubles by 2030, it will still be only half of what China’s was in 2015.
    Countries like India and those in Sub-Saharan Africa are not going to sacrifice their economic development for the sake of emissions reductions. The only way to square the circle is to extend financial aid to developing and emerging economies undergoing unavoidably energy-intensive development, so that they can afford to internalise the GHG externality through an appropriately steep tax on emissions.
    Unfortunately, sustained large-scale international aid programs are deeply unpopular. And given that domestic fiscal solidarity is already wanting, cross-border fiscal solidarity seems like a non-starter. Unless and until that changes, an existential crisis of our own making will only worsen.

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    Can We Have Prosperity Without Growth?

    16 February, 2020 - 04:00
    New Yorker

    The critique of economic growth, once a fringe position, is gaining widespread attention in the face of the climate crisis.
    The degrowth movement would overhaul social values and production patterns. Illustration by Till Lauer
    In 1930, the English economist John Maynard Keynes took a break from writing about the problems of the interwar economy and indulged in a bit of futurology. In an essay entitled “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” he speculated that by the year 2030 capital investment and technological progress would have raised living standards as much as eightfold, creating a society so rich that people would work as little as fifteen hours a week, devoting the rest of their time to leisure and other “non-economic purposes.” As striving for greater affluence faded, he predicted, “the love of money as a possession . . . will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity.”

    This transformation hasn’t taken place yet, and most economic policymakers remain committed to maximizing the rate of economic growth. But Keynes’s predictions weren’t entirely off base. After a century in which G.D.P. per person has gone up more than sixfold in the United States, a vigorous debate has arisen about the feasibility and wisdom of creating and consuming ever more stuff, year after year. On the left, increasing alarm about climate change and other environmental threats has given birth to the “degrowth” movement, which calls on advanced countries to embrace zero or even negative G.D.P. growth. “The faster we produce and consume goods, the more we damage the environment,” Giorgos Kallis, an ecological economist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, writes in his manifesto, “Degrowth.” “There is no way to both have your cake and eat it, here. If humanity is not to destroy the planet’s life support systems, the global economy should slow down.” In “Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities,” Vaclav Smil, a Czech-Canadian environmental scientist, complains that economists haven’t grasped “the synergistic functioning of civilization and the biosphere,” yet they “maintain a monopoly on supplying their physically impossible narratives of continuing growth that guide decisions made by national governments and companies.”

    Once confined to the margins, the ecological critique of economic growth has gained widespread attention. At a United Nations climate-change summit in September, the teen-age Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg declared, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” The degrowth movement has its own academic journals and conferences. Some of its adherents favor dismantling the entirety of global capitalism, not just the fossil-fuel industry. Others envisage “post-growth capitalism,” in which production for profit would continue, but the economy would be reorganized along very different lines. In the influential book “Prosperity Without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow,” Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey, in England, calls on Western countries to shift their economies from mass-market production to local services—such as nursing, teaching, and handicrafts—that could be less resource-intensive. Jackson doesn’t underestimate the scale of the changes, in social values as well as in production patterns, that such a transformation would entail, but he sounds an optimistic note: “People can flourish without endlessly accumulating more stuff. Another world is possible.”

    Even within mainstream economics, the growth orthodoxy is being challenged, and not merely because of a heightened awareness of environmental perils. In “Good Economics for Hard Times,” two winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, point out that a larger G.D.P. doesn’t necessarily mean a rise in human well-being—especially if it isn’t distributed equitably—and the pursuit of it can sometimes be counterproductive. “Nothing in either our theory or the data proves the highest G.D.P. per capita is generally desirable,” Banerjee and Duflo, a husband-and-wife team who teach at M.I.T., write.

    The two made their reputations by applying rigorous experimental methods to investigate what types of policy interventions work in poor communities; they conducted randomized controlled trials, in which one group of people was subjected to a given policy intervention—paying parents to keep their children in school, say—and a control group wasn’t. Drawing on their findings, Banerjee and Duflo argue that, rather than chase “the growth mirage,” governments should concentrate on specific measures with proven benefits, such as helping the poorest members of society get access to health care, education, and social advancement.

    Banerjee and Duflo also maintain that in advanced countries like the United States the misguided pursuit of economic growth since the Reagan-Thatcher revolution has contributed to a rise in inequality, mortality rates, and political polarization. When the benefits of growth are mainly captured by an élite, they warn, social disaster can result.

    That’s not to say that Banerjee and Duflo are opposed to economic growth. In a recent essay for Foreign Affairs, they noted that, since 1990, the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day—the World Bank’s definition of extreme poverty—fell from nearly two billion to around seven hundred million. “In addition to increasing people’s income, steadily expanding G.D.P.s have allowed governments (and others) to spend more on schools, hospitals, medicines, and income transfers to the poor,” they wrote. Yet for advanced countries, in particular, they think policies that slow G.D.P. growth may prove to be beneficial, especially if the result is that the fruits of growth are shared more widely. In this sense, Banerjee and Duflo might be termed “slowthers”—a label that certainly applies to Dietrich Vollrath, an economist at the University of Houston and the author of “Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy Is a Sign of Success.”

    As his subtitle suggests, he thinks that slower rates of economic growth in advanced countries are nothing to worry about. Between 1950 and 2000, G.D.P. per person in the U.S. rose at an annual rate of more than three per cent. Since 2000, the growth rate has slowed to about two per cent. (Donald Trump has not, as he promised, boosted over-all G.D.P. growth to four or five per cent.) The phenomenon of slow growth is often bemoaned as “secular stagnation,” a term popularized by Lawrence Summers, the Harvard economist and former Treasury Secretary. Yet Vollrath argues that slower growth is appropriate for a society as rich and industrially developed as ours. Unlike other growth skeptics, he doesn’t base his case on environmental concerns or rising inequality or the shortcomings of G.D.P. as a measurement. Rather, he explains this phenomenon as the result of personal choices—the core of economic orthodoxy.

    Vollrath offers a detailed decomposition of the sources of economic growth, which uses a mathematical technique that the eminent M.I.T. economist Robert Solow pioneered in the nineteen-fifties. The movement of women into the workplace provided a onetime boost to the labor supply; in its aftermath, other trends dragged down the growth curve. As countries like the United States have become richer and richer, Vollrath points out, their inhabitants have chosen to spend less time at work and to have smaller families—the result of higher wages and the advent of contraceptive pills. G.D.P. growth slows when the growth of the labor force declines. But this isn’t any sort of failure, in Vollrath’s view: it reflects “the advance of women’s rights and economic success.”

    Vollrath estimates that about two-thirds of the recent slowdown in G.D.P. growth can be accounted for by the decline in the growth of labor inputs. He also cites a switch in spending patterns from tangible goods—such as clothes, cars, and furniture—to services, such as child care, health care, and spa treatments. In 1950, spending on services accounted for forty per cent of G.D.P.; today, the proportion is more than seventy per cent. And service industries, which tend to be labor-intensive, exhibit lower rates of productivity growth than goods-producing industries, which are often factory-based. (The person who cuts your hair isn’t getting more efficient; the plant that makes his or her scissors probably is.) Since rising productivity is a key component of G.D.P. growth, that growth will be further constrained by the expansion of the service sector. But, again, this isn’t necessarily a failure. “In the end, that reallocation of economic activity away from goods and into services comes down to our success,” Vollrath writes. “We’ve gotten so productive at making goods that this has freed up our money to spend on services.”

    Taken together, slower growth in the labor force and the shift to services can explain almost all the recent slowdown, according to Vollrath. He’s unimpressed by many other explanations that have been offered, such as sluggish rates of capital investment, rising trade pressures, soaring inequality, shrinking technological possibilities, or an increase in monopoly power. In his account, it all flows from the choices we’ve made: “Slow growth, it turns out, is the optimal response to massive economic success.”

    Vollrath’s analysis implies that all the major economies are likely to see slower growth rates as their populations age—a pattern first established in Japan during the nineteen-nineties. But two-per-cent growth isn’t negligible. If the U.S. economy continues to expand at this rate, it will have doubled in size by 2055, and a century from now it will be almost eight times its current size. If you think about growth-compounding in other rich countries, and developing economies growing at somewhat faster rates, you can readily summon up scenarios in which, by the end of the next century, global G.D.P. has risen fiftyfold, or even a hundredfold.

    Is such a scenario environmentally sustainable? Proponents of “green growth,” who now include many European governments, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and all the remaining U.S. Democratic Presidential candidates, insist that it is. They say that, given the right policy measures and continued technological progress, we can enjoy perpetual growth and prosperity while also reducing carbon emissions and our consumption of natural resources. A 2018 report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an international group of economists, government officials, and business leaders, declared, “We are on the cusp of a new economic era: one where growth is driven by the interaction between rapid technological innovation, sustainable infrastructure investment, and increased resource productivity. We can have growth that is strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive.”


    This judgment reflected a belief in what’s sometimes termed “absolute decoupling”—a prospect in which G.D.P. can grow while carbon emissions decline. The environmental economists Alex Bowen and Cameron Hepburn have conjectured that, by 2050, absolute decoupling may appear “to have been a relatively easy challenge,” as renewables become significantly cheaper than fossil fuels. They endorse scientific research into green technology, and hefty taxes on fossil fuels, but oppose the idea of stopping economic growth. From an environmental perspective, they write, “it would be counterproductive; recessions have slowed and in some cases derailed efforts to adopt cleaner modes of production.”

    For a time, official carbon-emissions figures seemed to support this argument. Between 2000 and 2013, Britain’s G.D.P. grew by twenty-seven per cent while emissions fell by nine per cent, Kate Raworth, an English economist and author, noted in her thought-provoking book, “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist,” published in 2017. The pattern was similar in the United States: G.D.P. up, emissions down. Globally, carbon emissions were flat between 2014 and 2016, according to figures from the International Energy Agency. Unfortunately, this trend didn’t last. According to a recent report from the Global Carbon Project, carbon emissions worldwide have been edging up in each of the past three years.

    The pause in the rise of emissions may well have been the temporary product of a depressed economy—the Great Recession and its aftermath—and the shift from coal to natural gas, which can’t be repeated. According to a recent report by the United Nations and a number of climate-research institutes, “Governments are planning to produce about 50% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with a 2°C pathway and 120% more than would be consistent with a 1.5°C pathway.” (Those were the targets established in the 2016 Paris Agreement.) In a recent review of the literature about green growth, Giorgos Kallis and Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, concluded that “green growth is likely to be a misguided objective, and that policymakers need to look toward alternative strategies.”

    Can such “alternative strategies” be implemented without huge ruptures? For decades, economists have cautioned that they can’t. “If growth were to be abandoned as an objective of policy, democracy too would have to be abandoned,” Wilfred Beckerman, an Oxford economist, wrote in “In Defense of Economic Growth,” which appeared in 1974. “The costs of deliberate non-growth, in terms of the political and social transformation that would be required in society, are astronomical.” Beckerman was responding to the publication of “The Limits to Growth,” a widely read report by an international team of environmental scientists and other experts who warned that unrestrained G.D.P. growth would lead to disaster, as natural resources such as fossil fuels and industrial metals ran out. Beckerman said that the authors of “The Limits to Growth” had greatly underestimated the capacity of technology and the market system to produce a cleaner and less resource-intensive type of economic growth—the same argument that proponents of green growth make today.

    Whether or not you share this optimism about technology, it’s clear that any comprehensive degrowth strategy would have to deal with distributional conflicts in the developed world and poverty in the developing world. As long as G.D.P. is steadily rising, all groups in society can, in theory, see their living standards rise at the same time. Beckerman argued that this was the key to avoiding such conflict. But, if growth were abandoned, helping the worst off would pit winners against losers. The fact that, in many Western countries over the past couple of decades, slower growth has been accompanied by rising political polarization suggests that Beckerman may have been on to something.

    Some degrowth proponents say that distributional conflicts could be resolved through work-sharing and income transfers. A decade ago, Peter A. Victor, an emeritus professor of environmental economics at York University, in Toronto, built a computer model, since updated, to see what would happen to the Canadian economy under various scenarios. In a degrowth scenario, G.D.P. per person was gradually reduced by roughly fifty per cent over thirty years, but offsetting policies—such as work-sharing, redistributive-income transfers, and adult-education programs—were also introduced. Reporting his results in a 2011 paper, Victor wrote, “There are very substantial reductions in unemployment, the human poverty index and the debt to GDP ratio. Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by nearly 80%. This reduction results from the decline in GDP and a very substantial carbon tax.”

    More recently, Kallis and other degrowthers have called for the introduction of a universal basic income, which would guarantee people some level of subsistence. Last year, when progressive Democrats unveiled their plan for a Green New Deal, aiming to create a zero-emission economy by 2050, it included a federal job guarantee; some backers also advocate a universal basic income. Yet Green New Deal proponents appear to be in favor of green growth rather than degrowth. Some sponsors of the plan have even argued that it would eventually pay for itself through economic growth.

    There’s another challenge for growth skeptics: how would they reduce global poverty? China and India lifted millions out of extreme deprivation by integrating their countries into the global capitalist economy, supplying low-cost goods and services to more advanced countries. The process involved mass rural-to-urban migration, the proliferation of sweatshops, and environmental degradation. But the eventual result was higher incomes and, in some places, the emergence of a new middle class that is loath to give up its gains. If major industrialized economies were to cut back their consumption and reorganize along more communal lines, who would buy all the components and gadgets and clothes that developing countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Vietnam produce? What would happen to the economies of African countries such as Ethiopia, Ghana, and Rwanda, which have seen rapid G.D.P. growth in recent years, as they, too, have started to join the world economy? Degrowthers have yet to provide a convincing answer to these questions.

    Given the scale of the environmental threat and the need to lift up poor countries, some sort of green-growth policy would seem to be the only option, but it may involve emphasizing “green” over “growth.” Kate Raworth has proposed that we adopt environmentally sound policies even when we’re uncertain how they will affect the long-term rate of growth. There are plenty of such policies available. To begin with, all major countries could take more definitive steps to meet their Paris Agreement commitments by investing heavily in renewable sources of energy, shutting down any remaining coal-fired power plants, and introducing a carbon tax to discourage the use of fossil fuels. According to Ian Parry, an economist at the World Bank, a carbon tax of thirty-five dollars per ton, which would raise the price of gasoline by about ten per cent and the cost of electricity by roughly twenty-five per cent, would be sufficient for many countries, including China, India, and the United Kingdom, to meet their emissions pledges. A carbon tax of this kind would raise a lot of money, which could be used to finance green investments or reduce other taxes, or even be handed out to the public as a carbon dividend.

    Taking energy efficiency seriously is also vital. In a 2018 piece for the New Left Review, Robert Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has helped design Green New Deal plans for a number of states, listed several measures that can be taken, including insulating old buildings to reduce heat loss, requiring cars to be more fuel efficient, expanding public transportation, and reducing energy use in the industrial sector. “Expanding energy-efficiency investment,” he pointed out, “supports rising living standards because, by definition, it saves money for energy consumers.”

    To ameliorate the effects of slower G.D.P. growth, policies such as work-sharing and universal basic income could also be considered—especially if the warnings about artificial intelligence eliminating huge numbers of jobs turn out to be true. In the United Kingdom, the New Economics Foundation has called for the standard workweek to be shortened from thirty-five to twenty-one hours, a proposal that harks back to Victor’s modelling and Keynes’s 1930 essay. Proposals like these would have to be financed by higher taxes, particularly on the wealthy, but that redistributive aspect is a feature, not a bug. In a low-growth world, it is essential to share what growth there is more equitably. Otherwise, as Beckerman argued many years ago, the consequences could be catastrophic.

    Finally, rethinking economic growth may well require loosening the grip on modern life exercised by competitive consumption, which undergirds the incessant demand for expansion. Keynes, a Cambridge aesthete, believed that people whose basic economic needs had been satisfied would naturally gravitate to other, non-economic pursuits, perhaps embracing the arts and nature. A century of experience suggests that this was wishful thinking. As Raworth writes, “Reversing consumerism’s financial and cultural dominance in public and private life is set to be one of the twenty-first century’s most gripping psychological dramas.”

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    (AU) What Are The Full Economic Costs To Australia From Climate Change?

    16 February, 2020 - 04:00
    Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute - Tom Kompas

    In the face of extreme weather events,  modelling shows the economic benefits of emissions reduction far outweigh the costs

    Tom KompasTom Kompas is a Professor of Environmental Economics and Biosecurity in the School of Biosciences and the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences at the University of Melbourne.
    He is also one of three Chief Investigators in the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis (CEBRA), Research Group Director of the Centre for Environmental and Economic Research (CEER) at the University of Melbourne, and the Foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Biosecurity and Environmental Economics at the Australian National University (ANU). It certainly appears that the effects of climate change are happening faster than we thought.
    We have more destructive hurricanes and devasting fires burn on virtually every continent.
    Weather is more extreme and water supplies are shrinking in many parts of the world, with droughts threatening landscapes, farms, livelihoods and food security.
    We also know that sea-level rise is accelerating, threatening not only Pacific Island Nations but major cities (e.g., Miami, Singapore, Shanghai) and coastal areas throughout the world.
    The ocean is warming and becoming more acidic, destroying coral reefs and harming (or at least translocating) fish populations, and record temperatures are also making many parts of the planet unliveable with the number of climate refugees projected to grow rapidly.
    Do we have a full measure of the economic costs from all of these damages, going forward, globally and for Australia? In a word, no. Projections for economic damages under different global warming scenarios are difficult to come by, save for simple, highly aggregated measures drawn from basic computational models (e.g., DICE), which can often be very misleading given their extreme and implicit tendency to average effects.
    But we do have a start. Projects supported by Climate Council and MSSI have started to better map out damages in large-dimensional global trade and climate models, giving more finely calibrated measures of the costs of climate change.
    According to this modelling, recently updated, for 55 different commodity sectors, the costs to Australia from not meeting the Paris Accord target from now to 2050, is $1.19 trillion dollars. Much of this is due to infrastructure damage ($611 billion from lost property values) and agricultural and labour productivity losses ($211 billion), but losses in biodiversity and human health also add considerably to the total ($368 billion).
    However, none of these measures fully accounts for extreme weather events, and the damages from potential bushfires, in particular, were not included. The estimated cost from Australia’s recent bushfires ranges from $4.4 billion (narrowly defined) to a more credible estimate of over $100 billion, noting that the cost of ecological damage and effects on human health are difficult to measure, whereas losses in tourism, infrastructure and property are more tangible.
    The losses in biodiversity, for example, obtained through a choice modelling exercise to elicit willingness to pay to maintain biodiversity (without actually asking participants for a dollar amount, but instead giving them pair-wise choices over different alternatives), would suggest that damages alone to Australia (in QLD, NSW and Victoria) would top $240 billion from now to 2050.
    The question is how often will these costs from bushfires be incurred (yearly and in a way that avoids double counting?), and will damages become more severe if global temperatures continue to rise? It’s hard to know with precision, although higher temperatures would surely increase potential losses nationwide.
    Even if the recent severe frequency was half of the years from now to 2050 (keep in mind that the BoM projects that rainfall disruptions will be 56% higher over the next 30 years), losses would be up to a staggering $1.5 trillion or more.
    All up, that gives us total cumulative losses of nearly $2.7 trillion from climate change. That’s a number that is hard to comprehend (noting that current GDP is roughly $1.9 trillion and total wealth $10.9 trillion in Australia), but someone will need to pay for these damages.
    It would be typical to think of this large dollar amount in per capita terms or as a percentage of GDP going forward. Unfortunately, that layers in additional assumptions. I think it’s best, instead, to consider the value-added from addressing climate change, or the cost of estimated damages compared to the costs of emissions reduction, in the same model setting.
    The modelling here, although still under further development, is already clear. We can think of the cost of meeting a Paris Accord Target for Australia for 2050 (roughly 1.8C warming or slightly less, and more aggressive than a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 2005), assuming the rest of the world also complies.
    That cost is $122 billion, accounting for the loss in net exports., land-use change, deadweight (welfare) losses and limited negative emissions technology. That’s more than a 20 to 1 ratio of the damages from climate change to the costs of emissions reduction! Even a 10 to 1 ratio would be outstanding. The low cost and the big return stems largely from the rapidly falling prices of renewables. The switch to renewables lowers electricity prices and labour and capital in fossil fuel industries is largely absorbed into other sectors.
    Of course, we’ll still incur considerable damages from climate change at 1.8C warming. This needs to be accounted for.
    But it is also clear that the longer we wait to act both the larger the damages from climate change and the costs of emissions reduction will be.
    IMF estimates of the annual taxpayer (government) subsidies to energy producers in Australia alone, at $29 billion per year, would more than pay for the cost of emissions reduction.
    Trade-offs matter and that’s a substantial opportunity cost.

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    Climate Change Impacts In Bangladesh Show How Geography, Wealth And Culture Affect Vulnerability

    15 February, 2020 - 04:00
    The Conversation

    River erosion in Bangladesh, Sept. 12, 2019. Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / Barcroft Media via Getty ImagesUnpredictable weather and climate patterns recently prompted New York Times columnist Paul Krugman to proclaim in January 2020 that “Apocalypse will become the new normal.”
    Extreme storms, tides and other awful surprises the world has experienced in recent years suggest that Krugman could be right. July 2019 registered the hottest average global temperature on record. Wildfires, like the dangerous blazes of January 2020 in Australia, endanger health and safety. In Venice in November 2019, the highest tides in 50 years washed more than three feet of water over the landmark Piazza San Marco.
    About 4,500 miles farther east, in my home country of Bangladesh, people have been living with dangerous flooding for decades. I have devoted my career to understanding how patterns of living combine with climate and weather patterns, making Bangladesh the poster child for global climate change impacts.
    During floods in 1998 I waded chest-deep through floodwaters in Darsana, in southwestern Bangladesh, watching out for dangerous snakes, just to buy rice and kerosene for my family. In 2019, months before the tides that inundated Venice, flooding in Bangladesh killed more than 60 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.
    Floodwaters rise in a village in southern Bangladesh in July 2019. Mohammad Saiful Islam/Getty ImagesHowever, everyone is not equally vulnerable to these threats. In coastal Bangladesh, I have documented the disproportionate nature of climate impacts. To support people living in distressed situations caused by natural hazards, I believe it is essential to understand the complex social landscape of local vulnerability.

    Geographically and socially vulnerable
    Most countries face adverse consequences from climate change, but low-income developing countries are particularly at risk – first, because they have limited capacities to cope; and second, because they rely heavily on farming and fishing. Of all countries in this plight, I believe Bangladesh suffers the most.
    While the entire country is exposed to climate stresses, Bangladesh’s densely populated coastal region along the Bay of Bengal is a vulnerability front line where people are constantly exposed to sea level rise, flooding, erosion, tropical cyclones, storm surge, saltwater intrusion and varying rainfall patterns.
    Studies show that any change in expected weather and climate patterns will seriously reduce Bangladesh’s food security. This will hinder the nation’s efforts to reduce poverty and reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
    Farmers come together in field schools, where they discuss how to handle the changing climate. Saleh AhmedCC BY-NDMost people in this disaster-prone region also live in challenging socioeconomic conditions. Evidence shows that race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age and other socioeconomic differences can amplify disaster outcomes and shape local vulnerability. For example, women, children and elderly populations are more vulnerable than others because they have limited social and economic resources and access to public and private support before and after disasters.
    Connections between land, people, societies and cultures should guide policymakers and leaders to help Bangladesh’s distinct ethnic groups adapt.

    The role of wealth, religion and gender
    In 2017 and 2018 I interviewed 250 local farmers and several others in the Kalapara area of coastal Bangladesh. Many of them were directly impacted by sea level rise, tropical cyclones, coastal flooding, rainfall variability and saltwater intrusion. Kalapara is one of the most climate-vulnerable locations in Bangladesh.
    Here residents’ vulnerability depends on religion, ethnicity, gender and the size of their farm operations. Large farmers usually have more money, social power and local influence. They also have better access to various public and private resources that can be critical for coping with environmental stresses. The poor and those with limited resources are least equipped to confront those crises.
    Sea level rise in the Kalapara region of coastal Bangladesh illustrates life on the edge of changing climate patterns. Saleh Ahmed, CC BY-NDReligion can play a delicate role. In Kalapara, Muslims are the religious majority and Hindus are the minority. My own findings indicated that in most cases Muslim farmers earn more money from both farming and nonfarm activities than the Hindu farmers.
    Muslim farmers also get better access to early warnings and other public and private resources, such as financial support and food aid in times of disaster. Since Muslims are the religious majority in Bangladesh, they have more social capital and stronger networks than other religious groups. In Kalapara, Hindu farmers are often marginalized and receive limited access to resources in times of crisis.
    I have found that gender is a factor too. Most women who go into farming are excluded from local power structures. Men’s farms tend to be larger and earn more money than those owned by women. But female farmers usually earn more money off the farm, by selling poultry or handicrafts, than men do.
    Men receive more of the critical early weather and climate warnings than women because they have stronger connections with agricultural extension agents. Men also enjoy easier access to local markets and mobile phones. All of these resources offer them information on weather and climate, whereas women often face barriers because of religious and cultural restrictions.

    Rakhines remain somewhat isolated
    In the complex landscape of local vulnerability in Kalapara, the majority of the people are ethnic Bengalis who are largely divided between Muslims and Hindus. Others are members of the Rakhine ethnic minority. These farmers, who settled in the region in the late 18th century, came from modern-day Myanmar. At that time most of coastal Bangladesh was covered by forests, which Rakhines cleared to establish their settlements.
    As time passed, more and more Bengalis started to settle around the Rakhines in the region. Rakhine farmers’ culture and religion differ substantially from those of mainstream Bengali farmers. Many Rakhines still speak their native language, also called Rakhine, although they can speak some Bangla.
    The language barrier limits their ability to participate in local government or other social and political activities. They live in remote villages, and tend not to understand official early warnings of major storms or other natural hazards.
    #Climate #Fugitives, #Farmers family in #Coastal zone of #Bangladesh take refuge in a tent, with solar panel for electricity, after they lost their farm by #Flooding and #RiverErosion nearby. photo ©fredhoogervorst pic.twitter.com/Vudt0YbjAa— fred hoogervorst (@greatphotoshot) January 6, 2020Local action guides the world
    Bangladesh’s climate is changing quickly. Adapting to this crisis requires understanding how complex and vulnerable the landscape is.
    Policymakers sometimes overlook local social dynamics when providing early warnings, food or other social services. Reacting without careful planning or understanding local societies could leave some people vulnerable and risks overlooking groups who are already under stress because of climate change. As Bangladesh seeks ways to adapt to climate change, it could set an example of inclusive planning for other nations to follow.

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    Can Puppets Save The World From Extinction?

    15 February, 2020 - 04:00
    New York TimesLaurel Graeber

    Two new productions use everyday materials and artistic ingenuity to gently warn young audiences of the perils of climate change.
    Sifiso Mabena, right, as Aphra, with her best friend, Judomiah, played by Richard Saudek, in “Riddle of the Trilobites.” Credit...Cameron BlaylockAs an all-terrain vehicle rumbles through a serene desert valley, its driver unwittingly starts a devastating fire by flicking cigar embers out the window. In another landscape, volcanoes are erupting, acidifying the ocean and threatening the life within it.
    These scenes unfold on different theatrical stages and in periods 500 million years apart. But both come from productions intended for children, an audience usually left out of the conversation on climate change. “PackRat,” presented by Dixon Place, and “Riddle of the Trilobites,” at the New Victory Theater, convey their messages through protagonists who aren’t human but who gain vivid life as puppets. Carlo Adinolfi, who designed the set, projections and larger-than-life puppetry for “PackRat,” has created amazingly expressive rodents, reptiles, birds of prey, a jack rabbit — and even Cowgirl, the cigar-smoking driver — from wood, papier-mâché, cardboard, wire and, fittingly, recycled trash. Some of the same materials help form the goofier-looking but no less compelling creatures of “Riddle of the Trilobites.” Designed by Amanda Villalobos, the prehistoric arthropods in this show gambol about with googly eyes and flicking antennas and tails. Each production has talented puppeteers who seem not to manipulate these marvelous inventions so much as merge with them.
    From left, Alanna Strong and Maggie Gayford (Owls); Jenny Hann (Firestone); and Carlo Adinolfi (Bud) in “PackRat,” produced by Concrete Temple Theatre at Dixon Place. Credit...Stefan Hagen“PackRat,” written and directed by Renee Philippi, who collaborated with Adinolfi in creating it, draws inspiration from “Watership Down,” Richard Adams’s 1972 best seller about rabbits in exile. But this Concrete Temple Theater production offers an allegory more ecological than political. It stars the lowly animal of the title, a hoarder named Bud. After the blaze ignited by the cigar, his fellow creatures banish him, convinced that the human set the fire deliberately to punish Bud for collecting people’s “treasures,” including a spoon and a bag of marshmallows.
    Accompanied by the jackrabbit Firestone and eventually Happy, another rat, Bud goes on a journey of rescue and redemption, trying to find Artemisia, a land said to be free of human intervention. But despite the stage craft, which is thoroughly mesmerizing, the animals’ odyssey can be hard to follow. Not even adults will immediately grasp that a second, more skeletal set of bamboo puppets is supposed to be enacting dream sequences. And the prerecorded narration and dialogue, both delivered by Vera Beren, have the solemn austerity of an ancient fable. “PackRat,” which includes a wrenching onstage death, will appeal most to theatergoers over 10, who are less likely to be troubled that the wildlife’s arduous story has no clear resolution.
    The puppeteer Alanna Strong as Cowgirl in “PackRat. Credit...Stefan Hagen
    But what resolution can climate activists hope for? Prehistoric species saw their environments deteriorate, and we all know what happened to them. Still, “Riddle of the Trilobites,” geared toward a younger audience than “PackRat,” manages to be something unusual: a cheerful, peppy musical about extinction.
    With a book and lyrics by Geo Decas O’Donnell and Jordan Seavey, and score and lyrics by Nicholas Williams, “Riddle” focuses on the trials of Aphra (Sifiso Mabena), a rebellious adolescent trilobite who learns on her first Molting Day that she’s destined to fulfill an ancient prophecy. She alone can unravel the riddle of her kind: “When the ocean changes, the trilobites cannot live but will not die.” With Judomiah (Richard Saudek), her initially fearful best friend, Aphra embarks on an adventure that is just as dangerous as Bud’s, but leavened with hefty doses of humor — sometimes corny, but still welcome — and rollicking song. (I kept writing “good score” in my notes.) These trilobites’ travels bring them into contact with other creatures, including Hai (Phillip Taratula), an early species of fish. The actors, who talk, sing and frolic while operating the puppets, multitask brilliantly. Directed by Lee Sunday Evans and produced by CollaborationTown and Flint Repertory Theater, “Riddle” dances around — sometimes literally — the ultimate fate of Aphra and her fellow trilobites. But even though the destructive powers of Homo sapiens are millions of years away, the show demonstrates that the ocean is a source of life and its pollution a harbinger of doom. It also cautions against any species’ assumed superiority: When the trilobite elders first see Hai, they lock him in a cage.
    These productions emphasize that the young must take charge, and that environmental action is desperately needed. As Bud, the beleaguered pack rat, says: “I don’t want to just sit around! That’s what humans do.”

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