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Danish Project Aims To Plant 1m Trees Across Nation In TV Fundraiser

15 September, 2019 - 05:00
The Guardian - Gregory Robinson

Telethon asking viewers to give £2.4m for forests project to help tackle climate crisis
The prime minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, will plant one of the first trees in the live telethon. Photograph: Mads Claus Rasmussen/AFP/Getty ImagesPeople in Denmark will be able to “plant trees” from the comfort of their sofa in what is believed to be the world’s first TV fundraiser for forests.
On Saturday the national broadcaster TV2 will air Denmark Plants Trees, a two-and-a-half hour live benefit event which will ask viewers to donate funds to plant 1m trees across the country.
Planting trees helps to reduce levels of CO2 and is seen as a central part of the climate crisis solution.
The telethon will take place in the middle of Gisselfeld Klosters Skove forest with the prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, planting one of the first trees.Martin Sundstrøm, a producer for the event, said viewers would be encouraged to raise 20m kroner (£2.4m) to help the Danish Society for Nature Conservation plant 1m trees, while 10% of the money raised would go to WWF to help save tropical forests.
Nicolai Hansson, the editor of TV2, said: “We know we won’t solve the climate crisis just by planting trees, but hopefully people will feel that it’s something tangible that they can be an active part of and enjoy afterwards when they visit the new forests and watch them grow and flourish.”
Those who donate to the cause will become a member of a new “folk forests” initiative, which will be created close to Danish cities. The project has 600 hectares (1482 acres) of land ready, and more will be added in the future.
“All potential areas have been evaluated and prioritised based on suitability by forest experts from the Danish Society for Nature Conservation,” Sundstrøm said. “After Saturday there will be a number of tree planting events all over Denmark. The first events will be this autumn and then in spring 2020 a larger number of events will take place depending on how much we raise. If we raise the funds to plant one million trees we expect around 30 events.”
Sundstrøm said he hoped to see Denmark Plants Trees lead to similar events in other countries. “I hope events like this might spread to other countries in order to engage the public, like Live Aid did in 1985.”
Sara Lom, CEO of the UK’s Tree Council charity, said she would welcome a tree planting telethon in the UK. “To plant enough trees to help tackle climate change we will need everyone to get involved – and fast,” said Lom. “A national TV telethon – or a tree-athon if you will – would be a wonderful way of engaging people around the country to raise money to plant and care for more trees.”

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Conflict And Disaster Force Millions From Their Homes

15 September, 2019 - 05:00
ReutersSonia Elks

Natural disasters such as cyclones and floods caused 7 million people to leave their homes, while a further 3.8 million fled conflict and violence
Mariam (Om Salih), a displaced Iraqi woman, who returns to camp after trying to go home and find the conditions in their towns unbearable, with lack of services and destroyed buildings, sits with her sons outside their tent at Hassan Sham camp, east of Mosul, Iraq July 29, 2019. Picture taken July 29,  2019. REUTERS/Abdullah RashidLONDON - Conflict and disasters forced nearly 11 million people from their homes in the first half of this year, a global monitoring group said on Thursday, warning mass displacement was becoming "the norm".
Natural disasters such as cyclones and floods caused 7 million people to leave their homes, while a further 3.8 million fled conflict and violence, said the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).
Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Yemen suffered the highest levels of displacement due to conflict.
"These numbers are ... at a concerningly high level and the trend overall is that they are not going down," Bina Desai, the IDMC's head of policy and research, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The number of people exposed to displacement risk is increasing as more people live in poverty or insecurity as well as in areas at risk of flooding or other disasters."
A growing number of people face more than one such threat, from poverty or environmental degradation to political instability, said Desai.
Countries already battered by conflict or disaster are suffering high levels of new displacement, said the IDMC, a Geneva-based monitoring and analysis organisation set up by the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Natural climate patterns usually cause a rise in extreme weather events towards the end of the year, meaning the total displaced by disaster is expected to grow to about 22 million in 2019, said the IDMC.
However, it pointed out that in some cases, high levels of displacement represent success.
Cyclone Fani caused more than 3.4 million new displacements in India and Bangladesh, which saw a huge planned evacuation ahead of the storm. Many of those forced to flee suffered losses but survived and were ultimately able to return home.
The response to the cyclone underscored the need for governments to take early action to protect communities and make them more resilient to disasters, the report said.
"In terms of risk reduction and longer-term comprehensive approaches towards addressing conflict displacement, there are opportunities now because a number of countries have started to recognise the issue as a development issue," said Desai.
"The challenge now on the international community and the donor countries is to really support those opportunities ... rather than just perpetuating a reactive humanitarian system."

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Climate Activist Greta Thunberg On The Power Of A Movement

15 September, 2019 - 05:00
PBS NewsHour - 



Covering Climate NowThis story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of climate change.
These organisations have a combined audience of more than 1 billion people.
From September 15-23, they have committed to emphasizing climate stories. 
Their goal is to maximize coverage of the climate crisis and its impacts in the lead up to the United Nations Climate Summit on September 23.
Follow the coverage on social media, with the hashtag #coveringclimatenow. Since arriving in the U.S. by boat to participate in the UN Climate Action Summit, 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has led crowds in both New York and Washington with a call for greater action against climate change.
Thunberg first captured the world’s attention in August 2018 after she skipped school to sit on the steps of Swedish parliament, demanding that political leaders do more to address the environment.
Since then, Thunberg has successfully spread her eco-activism message on social media and inspired young people all over the world to lead school strikes in protest.
“We are the future. We are those who are going to have to adapt from this crisis,” Thunberg told PBS NewsHour.

More highlights from the interview:
  • On the urgency of climate change: “Many people seem to have this double moral. They say one thing and then do another thing. They say that the climate crisis is very important and yet they do nothing about it,” Thunberg said. “If I want to do something, then I go all in. I walk the walk. Walk the talk…I want to practice as I preach.”
  • On the hope that political leaders will address climate change: “I think people are just simply unaware of the situation and people are not feeling the urgency. I think that once we start treating this crisis as an emergency, people will be able to grasp the situation more.” Thunberg added: “All of these climate movements that have played out during the last year, or years, is proof of that. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the school strikes and the Fridays for Future movement to become so big and many other movements as well.”
  • On the concern that small scale eco-activism will distract from broader policy changes: “Of course, we focus on these isolated problems. We talk about, ‘People need to eat less meat’ …and then someone else says, ‘No, it’s much more effective if everyone stops flying,’ and so on,” Thunberg said. “We need to focus on all of these things. Of course, individual change doesn’t make much difference in a holistic picture…but we need both systemic change and individual change.”
  • How being on the autism spectrum influences her worldview: “Humans are social animals. We follow the stream and since no one else is behaving like this is a crisis, we see that and we think, then I should probably behave as they do,” Thunberg said. “I’m on the autism spectrum. I don’t usually follow social coding and so therefore I go my own way.”
  • On what Thunberg wants people to take away from her movement: “Everyone can make a huge difference. We should not underestimate ourselves, because if lots of individuals go together then we can accomplish almost anything. So that’s what I want people to take away from this.”
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World Losing Area Of Forest The Size Of The UK Each Year, Report Finds

14 September, 2019 - 04:30
The Guardian
A deforested area of the Amazon in Pará state, Brazil. The global rate of tree loss is 26m hectares a year. Photograph: João Laet/AFP/Getty Images

An area of forest the size of the UK is being lost every year around the world, the vast majority of it tropical rainforest, with dire effects on the climate emergency and wildlife.
The rate of loss has reached 26m hectares (64m acres) a year, a report has found, having grown rapidly in the past five years despite pledges made by governments in 2014 to reverse deforestation and restore trees.
Charlotte Streck, a co-founder and the director of Climate Focus, the thinktank behind the report, said: “We need to keep our trees and we need to restore our forests. Deforestation has accelerated, despite the pledges that have been made.”The New York declaration on forests was signed at the UN in 2014, requiring countries to halve deforestation by 2020 and restore 150m hectares of deforested or degraded forest land.
But the rate of tree cover loss has gone up by 43% since the declaration was adopted, while the most valuable and irreplaceable tropical primary forests have been cut down at a rate of 4.3m hectares a year.
The ultimate goal of the declaration, to halt deforestation by 2030 – potentially saving as much carbon as taking all the world’s cars off the roads – now looks further away than when the commitment was made.
In Latin America, south-east Asia, and Africa – the major tropical forest regions – the annual rate of tree cover loss increased markedly between 2014 and 2018, compared with 2001 to 2013. While the greatest losses by volume were in tropical Latin America, the greatest rate of increase was in Africa, where deforestation rates doubled from less than 2m hectares a year to more than 4m.
Guardian graphic. Source: World Resources Institute analysis based on 2019 data from Global Forest WatchThe report uses data up to 2018 in most cases, so the figures do not include the impact of the most recent burning in the Amazon. The report’s authors note that in June, deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon rose by 88% compared with the same month last year.
Streck warned the recent fires were a particular concern because, whereas in previous decades when the humid nature of the rainforest made it hard to burn, with the lush vegetation acting as an effective firebreak, global heating in recent years has dried out parts of the forest and made it easier to combust.
“The fires are coming at the beginning of the dry season, which is when you would have expected the forests to be at their wettest and hardest to burn,” she said. “This shows we could be entering into a feedback loop.”
Tropical deforestation has increasedsince the New York declaration onforests was signed in 2014.
---Average annual tropical treecover loss, million hectaresGuardian graphic | Source: World Resources Institute analysis based on 2019 data from Global Forest Watch. Note: Tree cover loss calculated using a >25% tree cover density threshold. Improvements to methodology starting in 2011 may result in higher estimates of loss in 2011-18 compared with 2001-10
Feedback loops are feared by climate scientists because they amplify the effects of heating. In the case of forests, climate change dries out trees, making them more flammable, and increasing temperatures so they burn more easily, which then contributes more carbon dioxide, which fuels heating.
Keeping existing forests standing, particularly in tropical regions, and restoring wooded areas that have been damaged, has long been recognised as one of the cheapest ways of tackling the climate crisis. The cost of preserving key forests globally has been estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars a year, compared with the trillions needed to shift to low-carbon infrastructure.
Jo House, a reader in environmental science and policy at the University of Bristol, said: “Deforestation, mostly for agriculture, contributes around a third of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. At the same time, forests naturally take up around a third of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
“This natural sink provided by forests is at risk from the duel compounding threats of further deforestation and future climate change. The continued loss of primary forests, at ever-increasing rates, despite their incalculable value and irreplaceability, is both shocking and tragic.”
One of the difficulties highlighted by the report is that of gaining private sector support and investment for keeping forests standing. While there are clear economic benefits to cutting down forests, in the form of timber production and expanded agriculture, there are few investments being made in keeping existing forests healthy.
Annual deforestation in Brazil fell below
2m hectares for seven years to 2016
Guardian graphic. Source: For 2001-13, Tyukavina, A., Hansen, M. C., Potapov, P. V., Stehman, S. V., Smith-Rodriguez, K., Okpa, C., & Aguilar, R. (2017). Types and rates of forest disturbance in Brazilian Legal Amazon, 2000–2013, Science Advances, 3(4), e1601047; For 2014-18 data, Hansen, M. C., Potapov, P. V., Moore, R., Hancher, M., Turubanova, S. A., Tyukavina, A. et al. (2013). Tree Cover Loss (Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/Nasa). Global Forest Watch database.
Another complicating factor is that many governments offer subsidies to agriculture, which provide perverse incentives for deforestation.
The report from a coalition of 25 organisations is being presented in New York before a series of events focusing on the climate crisis in the run-up to the UN secretary general’s summit later this month. At the meeting, world leaders are expected to come up with new proposals for tackling the climate emergency.
But Streck said the failure to meet the pledges made five years ago undercut the value of such promises if they were not backed up with finance, detailed plans and on-the-ground implementation.
“We don’t need more important guys standing up making pledges,” she said. “We need to go beyond declarations. Implementation is complicated, but it’s what we need.”
There have been some bright spots. The rate of loss of primary forest in Indonesia slowed by nearly one-third between 2017 and 2018. Palm oil plantations in the country are a major cause of deforestation, but companies and the government have come under pressure from consumers and aid donors. Wetter weather that reduced forest fires also helped.
While some countries have embarked on tree-planting schemes, notably in Ethiopia, but also in Mexico and El Salvador, these have been far outweighed by the loss of existing forests. Tree planting does not compensate for the loss of standing forests, because established growth yields benefits beyond carbon uptake, through the whole ecosystem.
“It can take centuries for forests to recover their full carbon-absorbing and weather-regulating capabilities,” Streck said.

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When Climate Distress Becomes Too Much, The Philosophy Of Eternalism Can Provide Perspective

14 September, 2019 - 04:30
ABC Radio NationalAlice Moldovan

Heidi Edmonds says she's trying to instil a love of nature in her kids while they're young. (Supplied: Heidi Edmonds)The first time Heidi Edmonds felt this type of anxiety creep up, she became teary and had to go into the bathroom for a cry.
"I was looking at my nieces ... and worrying about their future," she says, "not feeling like everything was going to be OK."
Dr Edmonds — who holds a PhD from Griffith University's Australian Rivers Institute — is a co-founder of Australian Parents for Climate Action, a national volunteer campaign group.
She has two young daughters and like many young parents, manages sleep deprivation and parenting stress with all of her other responsibilities at work and with friends.
Over the last year she's noticed another kind of pressure weighing on her — climate anxiety.
Dr Edmonds takes her role as a climate advocate seriously. (Supplied: Heidi Edmonds)This week the Australian Medical Association declared climate change a health emergency, referencing a higher incidence of mortality rates from heat stress and more mental ill health.
Ros Knight, the president of the country's peak body for psychologists, the Australian Psychological Society, says many Australians report some level of concern about climate change.
She points to a 2012 study that found 20 per cent of those surveyed felt climate-related distress at times.
"It's hard to be specific about exact numbers for climate anxiety with a capital 'A'," she says. "We would call it climate change distress — we wouldn't necessarily label it one particular response."
Her organisation has an online resource dedicated to coping with this distress and lists fear, anger, guilt, shame, grief, loss and helplessness as associated emotions.
When the tearful episode happened, Dr Edmonds says she still wasn't sure how to talk to her children about climate change.
"You talk to them about nature and caring for nature, and I said to them: 'Mummy's working very, very hard to protect the frogs and the fish and nature.'"
Balancing concern and positivity is part of a long-term strategy for Dr Edmonds, who says that with the support of family and her community, she focuses on solutions.
Another element in her arsenal of hope is the philosophical idea of eternalism.

A salve for a social affliction
Dr Edmonds first came across a passage in a self-help book that incorporated eternalism over a decade ago — and says it has stuck with her since then.
"If we think about time as a tapestry, it allows us to focus on giving our children bright moments now ... so that no matter what the future holds, they'll have had these wonderful moments," she says.
This reference to a tapestry of time resonates with eternalism — a theory that joins the past, present and future in a single block of time.
Kristie Miller, the joint director of the Centre for Time at Sydney University, uses the idea of a Persian rug to explain the concept.
Eternalism compares time to a tapestry, in which the past, present and future are all situated together. (Getty: Dan Kitwood)When you look down at a rug, she says, "you can see the whole thing".
"None of the rug is any more special than any other bit of the rug. The whole thing creates the entire picture, which is the universe."
So a person's life in 2019 doesn't take precedence over another person's life in 1519 — because there is no objective present moment.

Empowering or disempowering?
Dr Miller explains that eternalism can be a comfort when it comes to grief.
"It's true, of course, that your life comes to an end — in the sense that there will be later times when you don't exist," she says.
But from an eternalist perspective, she says, "all of your life is still out there in space time, so all the things that you did still exist. And some people find that quite consoling."
Dr Miller says eternalism can be either empowering or disempowering for people suffering climate anxiety. (Supplied: Kristie Miller)The situation becomes more complex in relation to climate change, because this grief is for a future that hasn't happened yet.
On the other hand, eternalism can also exacerbate climate grief — because people can "feel fairly sure that the future that's out there is suboptimal", Dr Miller says.
So does that mean the future is already set and there's no point in taking climate action now?
Not exactly, says Dr Miller, who uses the metaphor of a Rubik's cube to explain cause and effect in eternalism. "When you twist one bit around, other bits automatically twist in response," she says.
If the past, present and future of our world were a single Rubik's cube, and we wiggled certain elements like carbon emissions now, "what you'll do is you'll wiggle the way the future is".
"The later states depend in various ways on the earliest states," Dr Miller says.
This is where optimism comes into the equation.

Change takes time
Dr Edmonds says 90 per cent of the time she feels quite hopeful. "I remain focused on hoping that I can be part of the solution to give [my children] a healthy, happy future."
Psychologists recommend being mindful that changes in attitudes take time, and one person can't do everything. (Getty: picture alliance)To maintain perspective, she separates the sources of her anxiety, asking which parts are climate anxiety, which are "just general parenting anxiety", and which are caused by a lack of sleep.
Ms Knight says this cognitive strategy is helpful because it prevents catastrophising.
"It's about being aware of what you can and can't contribute. So you can't change everything yourself," she says.
She says maintaining positivity requires long-term thinking and relying on your community to help shoulder the effort of climate change advocacy.
And she recommends "keeping things in measure" and "realising that change does take time. And that, if we look around, we can see that change is slowly escalating."
Dr Edmonds says she's also taking action to get her work-life balance under control.
For her, that's all part of maintaining the pattern in the collective tapestry of time.

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John Hewson Urges Liberal Conscience Vote On Climate Emergency

14 September, 2019 - 04:30
SBS

Former Liberal leader John Hewson has joined calls for the federal parliament to declare a climate emergency for Australia.
Former member for Wentworth John Hewson. Source: AAPA former Liberal luminary is joining ranks with crossbenchers to urge the coalition to give its MPs a conscience vote on declaring Australia in a state of climate emergency.
John Hewson has added his voice to the push from the Greens and independent MPs.
"Climate was an emergency some 30 years ago," he said on Wednesday.
The group believes if the coalition party room gives its members a conscience vote on the issue, a motion declaring the emergency can pass parliament.
"MPs and senators should have a conscience vote on the emergency declaration so that individual members of parliament can be held personally accountable by their constituents, their children and their grandchildren, indeed by all future generations, for the stance they took on the greatest economic, social, political and moral challenge of this century," Dr Hewson said.
Nearly three million Australians are living in areas where their local councils have declared climate emergencies and pledged greater action to combat climate change, including aiming for 100 per cent renewable energy and zero net emissions.
Countries including Britain, France and Canada have also made the call.
Greens MP Adam Bandt, who is leading the push in federal parliament, says the circumstances of record drought and fearsome bushfires at the start of spring underscore how severe the issue is.
"If the government can declare a budget emergency, it can declare a climate emergency," he said.
Independent Zali Steggall, who won former prime minister Tony Abbott's seat on a platform of strong climate action, cites the lessons of her business background in saying a problem has to be recognised and a plan formed before anything can change.
On Tuesday, she launched the latest Climate of the Nations report, which showed an overwhelming majority of people are concerned about the impacts of climate change and want stronger national action.
"People of all political leanings are concerned with this issue," she told reporters.
"It's something that I want to see more MPs stand up from both sides of the aisle and ask for a conscience vote.
"It should be a question for all MPs to represent their electorate and be true to the campaigns they run when they say they're going to take action on climate change."

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‘You Have No Idea’: Minister’s Stunning Answer On Climate Change

13 September, 2019 - 05:00
NEWS.com.au - Sam Clench

It was a simple question. But the government minister’s answer was so extraordinary, the interviewer had to clarify it twice, just to make sure.
Water Resources Minister David Littleproud. Picture: Kym Smith Source: News Corp Australia STOP PRESSThe GuardianAustralia’s minister responsible for drought and natural disasters, David Littleproud, now says he accepts the science on manmade climate change, and “[I] always have”.
Littleproud’s comments to the House of Representatives on Thursday were entirely at odds with a written statement he made to Guardian Australia on Tuesday.
In response to questions, Littleproud said: “I don’t know if climate change is man-made.”
“I’m about practical outcomes, whether that’s about having a cleaner environment or giving farmers and emergency services the right tools to adapt,” the minister said in that statement.
“I am responsible for making sure we have the tools we need to adapt to a changing climate.” Crossbench politicians are calling on the federal parliament to officially declare a “climate emergency” today.
Greens MP Adam Bandt will move a motion to that effect, and it will be seconded by independent Zali Steggall.
Ms Steggall’s fellow independents Helen Haines and Andrew Wilkie also support the motion, along with Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie.
They have at least one ally from the Liberal side of politics as well. Former opposition leader John Hewson is in Canberra today to help them push for the declaration.
Ms Steggall went on Sky News this morning to make her case.
“This isn’t about me expressing an opinion. This is about listening to the experts,” she said.
“It’s only a first step, of course. What we really need is a plan to decarbonise.”
Ms Steggall has previously been accused of hypocrisy because she does not drive an electric vehicle. Her critics say that’s an example of her not practising what she preaches.
Asked about that, she said she could not yet afford to buy one.
“I, like every other Australian, have budget pressures, mortgage pressures,” Ms Steggall said.
“I would really welcome the government taking some steps to make EVs more affordable so I could accelerate the process in which I could transfer my car.
“I am committed to, when it comes time to changing my vehicle, that I will change it to an EV.”
You can expect the government to oppose the climate emergency declaration, meaning it will not pass.
Labor, for what it’s worth, is hedging its bets, saying it will “consider any motions brought forward” through its usual processes.
The timing of this is interesting. It comes after government frontbencher David Littleproud’s stunning admission yesterday that he doesn’t know whether climate change is man made.
Zali Steggall. Picture: Kym Smith Source: News Corp AustraliaThe Minister for Water Resources, whose job includes responsibility for handling natural disasters — bushfires, for example — first revealed that titbit to The Guardian before doubling down in an interview with Sky News political editor David Speers.
“I don’t know if climate change is man made,” Mr Littleproud told The Guardian.
“I’m about practical outcomes, whether that’s about having a cleaner environment or giving farmers and emergency services the right tools to adapt.”
A short while after those comments were reported, he was interviewed by Speers.
“You say the climate is changing, and that is certainly true. The question is, is this man made climate change?” Speers asked.
“I have no idea, but does it really matter?” Mr Littleproud said.
“Sorry, you have no idea whether?” Speers pressed.
“I am not a scientist. I haven’t made an opinion one way or the other, but I don’t think it really matters,” the minister said.
“Sorry, I just want to be really clear on this. You are not sure whether man made climate change is real?” Speers continued.
“I am going to be honest with you, I don’t have an opinion, but I don’t think it really matters. I think these extremes from both sides have taken away the maturity of debate we should have about keeping, simply, a clean environment and making sure we give our people the tools to be able to go out and protect themselves in a changing climate,” Mr Littleproud said.
David Speers does his best ‘Is that your final answer?’ face. Picture: Sky News Source: Supplied


Australia’s Attitude To Climate Change


  • 81 per cent concerned about more droughts and flooding caused by climate change 
  • 77 per cent think climate change is already happening 
  • Two-thirds think Australia should have a national target of net-zero emissions by 2050.
  • Almost two-thirds think humans are responsible for climate change.
  • Most Australians think climate change is causing more extreme weather events and hurting food supply.
  • Most blame electricity companies and their profit margins for rising power bills.
  • Solar power is Australia’s favourite energy source for the fourth year running.
  • Young adults are more concerned about climate change and more supportive of reducing emissions than older generations.
  • About two-thirds want the federal government to stop building new coal mines.
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Climate Change Is Bringing A New World Of Bushfires

12 September, 2019 - 18:03
The Conversation

Fires are burning across Queensland and New South Wales. AAP Image/Dan PeledSpring has barely arrived, and bushfires are burning across Australia’s eastern seaboard. More than 50 fires are currently burning in New South Wales, and some 15,000 hectares have burned in Queensland since late last week.
It’s the first time Australia has seen such strong fires this early in the bushfire season. While fire is a normal part of Australia’s yearly cycle and no two years are alike, what we are seeing now is absolutely not business as usual.
And although these bushfires are not directly attributable to climate change, our rapidly warming climate, driven by human activities, is exacerbating every risk factor for more frequent and intense bushfires.
A mighty welcome sight here at Peregian Beach. A 737 dropping 15,000L of water and fire retardant onto the blaze. #qldfires @abcbrisbane pic.twitter.com/GQsdfP5sUV— Allyson Horn (@allysonhorn) September 10, 2019The basics of a bushfire
For some bushfire 101, a bushfire is “an uncontrolled, non-structural fire burning in grass, scrub, bush or forest”. This means the fire is in vegetation, not a building (non-structural), and raging across the landscape – hence, uncontrolled.
For a bushfire to get started, several things need to come together. You need fuel, low humidity (which also often means the fuel itself has a low moisture content and is easier to burn), and oxygen. It also helps to have an unusually high ambient temperature and winds to drive the fire forward.
In Australia, we divide bushfires into two types based on the shape and elevation of the landscape.
First are flat grassland bushfires. These are generally fast-moving, fanned by winds blowing across flattish open landscapes, and burn through an area in 5–10 seconds and may smoulder for a few minutes. They usually have low to medium intensity and can damage to crops, livestock and buildings. These fires are easy to map and fight due to relatively straightforward access.
Second are hilly or mountainous bushfires. These fires are slower-moving but much more intense, with higher temperatures. As they usually occur in forested, mountainous areas, they also have more dead vegetation to burn and are harder to access and fight.
They burn slowly, passing through an area in 2-5 minutes and can smoulder for days. Fires in upper tree canopies move very fast. Mountainous bushfires actually speed up as they burn up a slope (since they heat and dry out the vegetation and atmosphere in front of the fire, causing a runaway process of accelerating fire movement).
About 70 blazes are still burning across Queensland. AAP Image/Dan PeledClimate change and bushfire risk
To be clear, as previously reported, the current bushfires are not specifically triggered by climate change.
However, as bushfire risk is highest in warm to hot, dry conditions with low humidity, low soil and fuel load moisture (and are usually worse during El Niño situations) – all factors that climate change in Australia affects – climate change is increasing the risk of more frequent and intense bushfires.
Widespread drought conditions, very low humidity, higher than average temperatures in many places, and strong westerly winds driven by a negative Southern Annular Mode (all made worse by human-induced climate change) have collided right now over large areas of the eastern seaboard, triggering extremely unusual bushfire conditions – certainly catching many communities unawares before the start of the official bushfire season.
Different regions of Australia have traditionally experienced peak bushfire weather at different times. This has meant that individual households, communities and the emergency services have had specific periods of the year to prepare. These patterns now seem to be breaking down, and bushfires are happening outside these regular places and times.
Map of bushfire seasons. Bureau of MeteorologyNew challenges for the emergency services
While experts recently forecast a worse-than-average coming bushfire season, the current emergency has essentially exploded out of nowhere.
Many Australian communities do know how to prepare but there is always some apathy at the start of bushfire season around getting households and communities bushfire-ready. When it’s still relatively cold and feeling like the last whisps of winter are still affecting us, bushfire preparation seems very far off.
Compounding our worsening bushfire conditions, we are increasingly building in bushfire-prone areas, exposing people and homes to fire. This tips the scales of risk further in favour of catastrophic losses. Sadly too, these risks always disproportionately affect the most vulnerable.
With such extensive fires over wide areas, the current emergency points to an extremely frightening future possibility: that emergency services become more and more stretched, responding to fires, floods, storms, tropic cyclones and a myriad other natural hazards earlier in each hazard season, increasingly overlapping.Our emergency services do an amazing job but their resources and the energy of their staff and volunteers can only go so far.
Regularly the emergency services of one area or state are deployed to other areas to help respond to emergencies.
But inevitably, we will see large-scale disasters occurring simultaneously in multiple territories, making it impossible to share resources. Our emergency management workforce report they are already stressed and overworked, and losing the capacity to share resources will only exacerbate this.
Immediate challenges will be to continue funding emergency management agencies across the nation, ensuring the workforce has the necessary training and experience to plan and respond to a range of complex emergencies, and making sure local communities are involved in actively planning for emergencies.

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World 'Gravely' Unprepared For Effects Of Climate Crisis – Report

12 September, 2019 - 05:00
The Guardian

Trillions of dollars needed to avoid ‘climate apartheid’ but this is less than cost of inaction
Massive wildfires such as those in Bolivia have been mentioned as evidence that the climate crisis is here. Photograph: David Mercado/ReutersThe world’s readiness for the inevitable effects of the climate crisis is “gravely insufficient”, according to a report from global leaders.
This lack of preparedness will result in poverty, water shortages and levels of migration soaring, with an “irrefutable toll on human life”, the report warns.
Trillion-dollar investment is needed to avert “climate apartheid”, where the rich escape the effects and the poor do not, but this investment is far smaller than the eventual cost of doing nothing.
The study says the greatest obstacle is not money but a lack of “political leadership that shakes people out of their collective slumber”. A “revolution” is needed in how the dangers of global heating are understood and planned for, and solutions are funded.
The report has been produced by the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA), convened by 18 nations including the UK. It has contributions from the former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, the Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, environment ministers from China, India and Canada, the heads of the World Bank and the UN climate and environment divisions, and others.
Among the most urgent actions recommended are early-warning systems of impending disasters, developing crops that can withstand droughts and restoring mangrove swamps to protect coastlines, while other measures include painting roofs of homes white to reduce heatwave temperatures.
In the foreword to the report, Ban, Gates and Kristalina Georgieva, the World Bank chief executive, write: “The climate crisis is here, now: massive wildfires ravage fragile habitats, city taps run dry, droughts scorch the land and massive floods destroy people’s homes and livelihoods. So far the response has been gravely insufficient.”
Ban said: “I am really concerned about the lack of vision of political leaders. They are much more interested in getting elected and re-elected, and climate issues are not in their priorities. We are seeing this in the US with President Trump.”
The report says severe effects are now inevitable and estimates that unless precautions are taken, 100 million more people could be driven into poverty by 2030. It says the number of people short of water each year will jump by 1.4 billion to 5 billion, causing unprecedented competition for water, fuelling conflict and migration. On the coasts, rising sea levels and storms will drive hundreds of millions from their homes, with costs of $1tn (£810bn) a year by 2050.
Patrick Verkooijen, the chief executive of the Global Center on Adaptation, said: “What we truly see is the risk of a climate apartheid, where the wealthy pay to escape and the rest are left to suffer. That is a very profound moral injustice.”
But the moral imperative alone will not drive change, he said, and the report also makes an economic case.
It is a nation’s self-interest to invest in adaptation,” Verkooijen said. The report estimates spending $1.8tn by 2030 in five key areas could yield $7.1tn in net benefits, by avoiding damages and increasing economic growth.
The chair of the UK’s Environment Agency, Emma Howard Boyd, is a member of the GCA. The agency has warned England could run short of water within 25 years and increased coastal and river flooding may force some towns to be abandoned.
Children paddle a raft through waters in Jakarta, Indonesia, where sea levels are rapidly rising. Photograph: Ed Wray/Getty Images In July, the UK government’s official advisers said they were shocked at the lack of proper plans to protect people from the effects of the climate crisis.
Bob Ward, the policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said: “As one of the governments that commissioned this important GCA report, the UK must heed its conclusions about the large economic benefits from adapting to those impacts of climate change that cannot now be avoided.
“This summer has shown that the UK is not adapted to the changing climate of this century, with heavier rainfall and more frequent and intense heatwaves. Successive environment ministers have failed to give this issue the attention it needs, leading to greater damage to lives and livelihoods.”
Cutting carbon emissions is vital, says the GCA report, but this has received nearly 20 times more funding than adaptation in recent years. Climate effects must be factored into decisions by those who make choices about the future, it says, such as business leaders. Verkooijen said nations should follow France in making it compulsory for large companies to report the climate risks to their businesses.

Coping with the climate storm
The GCA report focuses on several areas of adaptation:
  • Early warning systems: Just 24 hours’ warning of a coming storm or heatwave can cut the ensuing damage by 30%, saving lives and protecting assets worth at least 10 times the cost of the alert system. In Bangladesh, such systems, plus shelters and coastal protection, have already saved hundreds of thousands of lives since the Bhola cyclone in 1970 killed at least 300,000 people.
  • Climate-ready infrastructure: Such measures can add 3% to the upfront costs but save $4 for every $1 spent. Flood protection is key and Shanghai, and other Chinese “sponge cities” are deploying porous pavements, rooftop gardens and trees in parks to soak up water from downpours. Relatively simple measures can also be effective, such as painting roofs with reflective white paint. In the Indian city of Ahmedabad, this has cut temperatures in the rooms below by 5C.
  • Mangrove protection: These coastal forests buffer storms, protecting 18 million people and preventing $80bn a year in flood damage. They also provide nurseries for fish and tourist attractions worth billions. But construction, pollution and global heating have destroyed many mangrove forests, from Australia to Mexico. The GCA says the benefits of mangrove preservation and restoration are up to 10 times the cost.
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The Country's Top Bureaucrats Say Government Appears Unprepared For Climate Change

12 September, 2019 - 05:00
ABC Investigations ExclusiveMichael Slezak | FOI Editor Michael McKinnon

The public has increasingly demanded the Government do more to tackle climate change. (ABC News: Taryn Southcombe) Key points
  • The Secretaries Group on Climate Risk includes some of the country's most senior military figures and the heads of the Federal Government's biggest departments
  • The minutes from the group's meetings noted extreme weather was already "overwhelming" the country's ability to respond to climatic events
  • The group also considered legal risks that climate change could pose for the Government
The most powerful bureaucrats in Australia have been wargaming to prepare the country for "national-scale systemic climate risks" that could impact "the full spectrum of human activity" and are already "overwhelming" the country's ability to respond.
The ABC can reveal a group called "the Secretaries Group on Climate Risk" began meeting in March 2017.
It includes some of the country's most senior military figures as well as the heads of the federal government's biggest departments.
The group has not been formally disbanded, but fell into dormancy. But before that, the group warned the government it was widely seen as trailing the private sector in addressing the impacts of climate change.
The group conducted a set of exercises called "Project Climate Ready", in which the government chiefs wargamed future scenarios that it is expected could occur because of climate change.
Despite the group planning several meetings throughout 2018, it has not met since March of that year.
A meeting planned for July 2018 never occurred, and no meeting has been arranged since, documents obtained by the ABC under Freedom of Information laws show.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment confirmed there were no plans for another meeting.
Climate change and the ADF
Australia's Defence Department has spelled out clearly to a Senate inquiry that climate change will create "concurrency pressures" for the Defence Force as a rise in disaster relief operations continues. 
The spokesperson said the work of the Secretaries Group was now being done by a more junior deputy secretary-led group, called the "Disaster and Climate Resilience Reference Group".
That group existed prior to the Secretaries Group's first meeting, and was described in the FOI documents as "supporting" and "reporting to" the Secretaries Group's work.
Minutes and agendas for the group's meetings show the seriousness with which the federal bureaucracy treated the threat of climate change during a period when then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull failed to win support in his own party for an emissions-reduction mechanism in the electricity sector.
In establishing the group, the documents note that climate change "influences the full spectrum of human activity".
The minutes from the meetings noted extreme weather was already "overwhelming" the country's ability to respond to climatic events. As examples, they noted:
Political storm erupts after SA loses power. (Lateline)

Project: Climate Ready
Project Climate Ready was conducted to better understand how to manage the increasing risk of catastrophic events.
It consisted of a series of scenarios jointly developed by the Department of Defence and the Department of Environment and Energy.
Babies born today will be 22 when warming hits 1.5C. What will life be like?
Meet Casey X. The year is 2040, and she is 22 years old. The town where she lives is in the middle of a heatwave.
The details of the scenarios have been kept secret, with the government refusing to release them to the ABC under Freedom of Information laws.
But in commissioning them, the group said they "could include modelling a spring at 10 degrees (Celsius) above average" and "relate to concurrent extreme weather events, legal liability, national security or health".
They said the exercise would involve planning for the scenario over a period of "15 to 20 years".
The group noted Project Climate Ready should help the government "identify actions and prompt discussion on what decisions need to be taken to build resilience to climate change, by who, and when."

Government warned on litigation risks
In addition to direct physical risks impacting health and national security, the group also considered legal risks that climate change could pose for the government.
To prepare for the meetings, the heads of the departments were given legal advice by Noel Hutley SC outlining how company directors and trustees of superannuation funds who fail to consider climate risks could be sued, as well as news articles about ongoing climate change-related litigation.
Josh Frydenberg was environment minister when the Secretaries Group on Climate Risk began. (ABC News: Luke Stephenson)"The intention was to understand what challenges could be presented by such events, in order to inform policy and program design and thinking," a spokesperson for the environment department said.
"Scenarios explored some of the possible impacts of extreme weather events in a number of sectors including health, infrastructure and energy."
In a brief to the then-environment minister Josh Frydenberg in 2017, outlining what the group had found, the secretary of the department of environment said "there is a broad-based perception that the public sector is behind private-sector practice".
Australian cities are declaring a 'climate emergency'. What does that actually mean?
The City of Sydney has become the latest local government to declare a climate emergency. So does that carry any legal clout?
"Many private-sector companies, including resource companies … are well advanced in their management of climate risk," the brief said.
"Public sector agencies own and manage large assets, employ staff in locations and provide or support services that are at risk of extreme weather events, which are becoming greater because of climate change."
The ABC contacted the offices of Environment Minister Sussan Ley, as well as former environment minister and now Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Minister for Drought and Natural Disasters David Littleproud, who has said he "[doesn't] know if climate change is manmade", was also asked to comment.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment said the work of the Secretaries Group was being progressed by the deputy secretary group.
"For example, during 2018-19 the Group discussed development of the recently released National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework.
"The Group also supported development of Climate Compass, which is a framework for climate risk management for Commonwealth agencies developed by CSIRO and the Department of the Environment and Energy," the spokesperson said.

Australia 'probably more prone to disasters'
Professor Andy Pitman says climate change needs to be taken seriously because the consequences "are here now". (Supplied: Twitter)Professor Andy Pitman, head of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, said wargaming future scenarios was exactly what the public service should be doing.
"Climate change is really, in the context of the government, simply a risk. And risks should always be thoroughly examined," Professor Pitman said.
"The consequences of climate change are here now and are not something to be thought of as just in the future. But obviously with the emissions trajectories as they are it's inevitable that risks will continue."
He said he was not particularly worried whether this group or some other group was carrying on that work.
"What would concern me is if the scenario-planning — the stress-testing — isn't being done in government."
Former deputy commissioner of the NSW Fire Brigade Ken Thompson is more concerned.
"It does worry me because there's a lot of work that needs to be done in this space," Mr Thompson said.
"The problem with Australia is that we're probably more prone to these disasters than many other countries but we're probably one of the least-prepared simply because we don't have this overarching government framework that's needed to help us plan," he said.
Dr Sarah Boulter, a senior researcher at the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, said a high-level group needs to be looking at climate risk at a whole-of government level.
She said both the impacts of climate change — and potential adaptations — have consequences that cut across government departments.
"So if one department says, 'look, the only way that we can protect this part of the coast is to build a seawall' — that will have implications for biodiversity, for fisheries, for transport."

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Climate Change: 'Invest $1.8 Trillion To Adapt'

11 September, 2019 - 05:00
BBC - Victoria Gill

Investments - like the purchase of a water pump for irrigation - can provide a sustainable farming income for farmers like Sanfo Karim in Burkina Faso. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR 


Investing $1.8 trillion over the next decade - in measures to adapt to climate change - could produce net benefits worth more than $7 trillion.
This is according to a global cost-benefit analysis setting out five adaptation strategies.
The analysis was carried out by the Global Commission on Adaptation - a group of 34 leaders in politics, business and science.
They say the world urgently needs to be made more "climate change resilient".
The commission, led by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank chief executive Kristalina Georgieva and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, argues that it is an urgent moral obligation of richer countries to invest in adaptation measures that will benefit the world.
Planting and restoring mangrove forests provides valuable natural protection for vulnerable coastlines. Jelajah PangandaranThe report says those most affected by climate change "did least to cause the problem - making adaptation a human imperative".


Five things the world needs to invest in to be "climate change resilient"

Its primary aim is to put climate change adaptation on to the political agenda around the world. And to do this, it sets out "concrete solutions" and an economic plan.
There are, it says, five things the world should invest in over the next decade:
  1. Warning systems: For the vulnerable island and coastal communities in particular, early warnings about storms, very high tides and other extreme weather can save lives. Better weather monitoring and a simple app for fishing communities in the Cook Islands, for example, allows them to plan according to the sea conditions
  2. Infrastructure: Building better roads, buildings and bridges to suit the changing climate. One project in New York City has set out to paint rooftops white - a heat-reflecting strategy to cool buildings and neighbourhoods
  3. Improving dry-land agriculture: Something as simple as helping farmers to switch to more drought-resistant varieties of coffee crop could protect livelihoods and prevent hunger
  4. Restoring and protecting mangroves: Underwater mangrove forests protect about 18 million people from coastal flooding, but they're being wiped out by development. Restoration projects could protect vulnerable communities from storms and boost fisheries' productivity
  5. Water: Protecting water supplies - and making sure that water's not being wasted - will be vital in a changing climate
Each of these investments, the commission says, would contribute to what they call a "triple dividend"- avoiding future losses, generating positive economic gains through innovation, and delivering social and environmental benefits. It is that dividend that the report has valued at $7.1tn (£5.7tn).
Plant experts in Uganda are improving agricultural livelihoods in the country by introducing farmers to crop varieties with better drought and disease resistance. Georgina Smith / CIAT


Flagship ReportCommenting on the report's findings, Mr Ban said climate change "doesn't respect borders".
"It's an international problem that can only be solved with co-operation and collaboration, across borders and worldwide. It is becoming increasingly clear that in many parts of the world, our climate has already changed and we need to adapt with it."
The report calls for "revolutions" in understanding, planning and finance - to "ensure that climate impacts, risks and solutions are factored into decision-making at all levels". Turning its recommendations into action will be the next endeavour; there will be a further announcement about adaptation plans at the UN Climate Summit in September.

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More Than Climate Change Driving Queensland Fires, Explain Climatologists

11 September, 2019 - 05:00
ABC News - Ben Deacon | Penny Timms

The negative Southern Annular Mode affecting Australia is set to make conditions difficult for firefighters. (Supplied: Andrew Bedggood)The record drought has combined with a record warm winter to fuel this year's grim fire outlook, according to climatologists and bushfire experts.
"The forests are in a state where even a small ignition source can cause major problems," warned Richard Thornton from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.
"And that will only get worse as we move into summer and things dry out even further."
Andrew Watkins from the Bureau of Meteorology says the southern half of Australia has experienced the driest January to August on record.
"When we take into account temperatures as well, which have been highest on record for winter in some of those bushfire areas, we've had high evaporation," he said.
"We have very dry soils and dry fuel as well."
There is a trend in southern Australia where the number of dangerous bushfire days are increasing. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)According the BoM spring outlook, the dry conditions have been driven by cooler than average waters in the Indian ocean, which meteorologists refer to as a positive Indian Ocean Dipole, or IOD.
Pacific ocean temperatures are not driving Australia's weather right now, with no El Nino or La Nina expected to develop in the coming months.
There is another, less well-known climate driver behind the strong westerly winds fanning the flames.
"We have a period of negative SAM (Southern Annular Mode) affecting us now, as it has on and off for a while," Dr Watkins said.
When the SAM is negative, strong westerly winds like the ones experienced at the weekend reach further north than normal.

What's driving the fire season ahead?
The warm, dry conditions that have led to the early fires are predicted to continue for the rest of the year.
What to do if bushfire threatens
ABC Emergency has sourced advice from official agencies on how to plan for a bushfire, including preparing a survival kit.
"Unfortunately, the odds are high of having above normal daytime temperatures right through at least until January," Dr Watkins said.
"And likewise with rainfall, there are increased odds of drier than normal conditions for much of eastern Australia right through until January as well."
On top of this, the recent sudden stratospheric warming over Antarctica is predicted to keep SAM negative for the rest of the year, reinforcing the warm, dry conditions in New South Wales and southern Queensland.

Climate change trends
"Climate change is playing its role here, but it's not the cause of these fires," Dr Thornton said.
"We're seeing a degree on average higher temperatures than the long-term average."
Climate change expert Andrew King from Melbourne University agrees.
"It's quite clear that the type of hot weather associated with bushfires is becoming more frequent and more intense and it's also more likely to occur earlier on in the warm season," he said.
Darker red and yellow colours show an increase in the length and intensity of the fire weather season since 1978. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)But the climatologist said the story is more complicated when it comes to rainfall.
"There's not really a very clear trend," Dr King said.
"Overall, we don't really see a clear trend towards more dry conditions or more wet conditions [in southern Queensland].
"We have really highly variable rainfall in eastern Australia, linked with things like El Nino and La Nina, and also individual weather systems."
But he says further south, drought is linked to climate change trends.
The science of bushfires
How does a bushfire begin and spread, and what happens to the environment once it's moved through?
"In the south west of Australia, and in parts of Victoria, there is a decreasing trend in rainfall. Which obviously worsens bushfire conditions, overall, on average."
And when it comes to increased westerly winds like the ones that fanned this week's fires, he said climate science predicts less strong winds.
"The general climate trend is towards more positive SAM conditions, which means that we see those weather systems moving further south away from Australia and associated with that, we wouldn't see the same frequency of westerly winds that we've seen recently in New South Wales and Queensland."

What do we really think about
taking climate action?
A majority of Australians believe climate change is driving more droughts and floods, and that higher power prices are the result of "excessive profit margins".
Fire danger on the rise
The Bureau of Meteorology's state of the climate report from last year showed the overall fire danger index had increased over the past 40 years over much of southern Australia.
Dr Thornton expects this trend to continue.
"What climate change will do is it will increase the frequency, or the return rate if you like, of really bad fire weather days," he said.
"So the days like where you had Ash Wednesday or black Saturday, the return period for those sorts of days, will come back and will become shorter.
"So we really need to start thinking about how do we prepare properties better for that?
"How do we make sure that communities stay safe?"



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Extreme Heat A Far Greater Threat For Most Australians Than Extreme Cold Weather, Study Finds

11 September, 2019 - 05:00
Sydney Morning HeraldPeter Hannam

Extreme heat is a far greater threat for most Australians than extreme cold weather, with the risks falling largely on the elderly.
Research published on Tuesday in the Climatic Change journal examined the deaths of 1.717 million Australians between 2006-2017. It found about 2 per cent were attributable to heat, while "close to zero" were caused by cold days, said Thomas Longden, a senior researcher at the University of Technology, Sydney, and author of the paper.
"We're going to get some very extreme events that really may start pushing people ... over a threshold": study author Thomas Longden, a senior researcher at UTS. Credit: Ryan Stuart Dr Longden's research took aim at a 2015 study in The Lancet that examined 384 locations globally - including Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney - and found a warming world would generally be beneficial, claiming mortality from cold was greater than hot weather.
That study used data from 1988-2009 and was based on a so-called minimum mortality temperature. In Melbourne's case, some 90 per cent of its days were treated as cold, based on a 22.4 degree average daily temperature.
"It such a bizarre result to find more cold deaths to heat in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney," Dr Longden said.
His study used median daily temperatures in six climate zones across the country, and found 2 per cent of mortality in Sydney was associated with heat and a near-zero linkage to cold weather. Melbourne showed similar results.
Only in the climate zone characterised by mild to warm summers and cold winters - Tasmania and the alpine regions of NSW, Victoria and the ACT - were more deaths associated with cold than heat, he said.
In regions with hot, humid summers - such as Townsville, Cairns and Darwin - as many as 9 per cent of deaths were related to heat.
Scientists expect climate change will create longer, more intense and more frequent heatwaves for much of Australia, a trend that would exacerbate the risks of heat-related deaths.
"In the future we're going to get some very extreme events that really may start pushing people, who have not had an issue in the past, over a threshold," Dr Longden said. "Hospitalisation, ambulance call outs and deaths can occur after that."
The elderly, in particular, will face more pressure on their health as temperatures rise, Dr Longden said.
Separately, the Australia Institute on Tuesday released its Climate Of The Nation report, which has tracked attitudes to climate change since 2007.
The survey of 1960 Australians aged 18 years and older by YouGov Galaxy was taken between July 25 and August 1. It found 77 per cent of respondents agreed the climate was changing, matching the highest level recorded in 2016. Some 81 per cent said there were concerned the shift would result in more droughts and floods, up from 78 per cent in 2018.
Other findings included 78 per cent of respondents saying they were worried climate change would lead to water shortages in Australian cities, up 11 percentage points in two years. More than two-thirds backed "an orderly phase-out of coal" and a similar ratio supported Australia reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.
“Australians are rightly concerned about more extreme heat waves, droughts and bushfires, and they want the Morrison government to show leadership on climate change and do more to prepare for the impacts that are already locked in," said Zali Steggall, the independent MP for Warringah, who launched the report.

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Australians Increasingly Fear Climate Change Related Drought And Extinctions

11 September, 2019 - 05:00
The Guardian

Climate of the Nation survey shows growing support for net zero emissions by 2050 and rapid phase-out of coal power
Drought-hit land 40km north-east of Coonabarabran in NSW. More than 80% of Australians are worried about drought and floods linked to climate change. Photograph: Brook MitchellAustralians are increasingly concerned about droughts and floods, extinctions and water shortages associated with climate change, and most people think all levels of government aren’t doing enough to combat the effects of global warming, according to new research.
The annual Climate of the Nation survey, which has been tracking Australian attitudes to climate change for more than a decade, finds concern about droughts and flooding has risen from 74% of the survey in 2017 to 81% in 2019.
Concern about climate-related extinctions – an issue highlighted dramatically in May when a major scientific report warned that a million species across the world faced extinction – has risen from 71% in 2017 to 78% in the 2019 survey, while concern about water shortages, an issue front of mind as a consequence of Australia’s prolonged drought, has increased from 67% to 78%.
Public sentiment about phasing out coal has also shifted in the past few years. In 2017 65% of the survey thought coal power stations should be phased out gradually to help manage the costs of the transition, but the percentage has dropped to 52% in 2019. The percentage of people believing the shift from coal to clean energy needs to be accelerated, even if the transition costs more in the short term, has increased from 19% in 2017 to 26% in 2019.
There has also been an increase in the percentage of people in the survey arguing that Australia should completely end coal-fired power generation within the next 10 years. In 2017 30% of the survey agreed, and in 2019 39% agreed.
In Queensland – where the future of coal was a significant issue in the May federal election – 49% of the sample thought coal power stations should be phased out gradually and 24% said as soon as possible.
Just over half the national sample, 51%, said they would support a moratorium on new coalmines (including 49% of Liberal voters and 53% of Labor voters).
While parliamentary Nationals are the most vocal supporters of the coal industry, the survey suggests their voting constituency is split, with 48% supporting a moratorium, 40% opposing it and 12% undecided. It’s a similar picture for One Nation, another vocal supporter of coal in Canberra – 41% of One Nation supporters supported a moratorium, 36% opposed one, and 22% undecided.
The annual survey, conducted by YouGov/Galaxy, has assessed attitudes to climate change since 2007. The now defunct Climate Institute began the series, and it is now managed by the progressive thinktank the Australia Institute. The survey is national and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 2%.
The research will be launched in Canberra on Tuesday by the independent who unseated Tony Abbott in the May election, Zali Steggall, in part on a platform of climate action.
“Australians are rightly concerned about more extreme heatwaves, droughts and bushfires and they want the Morrison government to show leadership on climate change and do more to prepare for the impacts that are already locked in,” Steggall said.
“This latest report shows that Australians support far more ambitious climate and energy policies than the federal government is currently delivering.”
The 2019 survey found that 77% of respondents agreed that climate change is happening (equal to the percentage in 2016), and 61% said warming is caused by humans. For context, 64% of the sample agreed climate change was happening in 2012, 19% weren’t sure and 17% said it wasn’t happening. Now it is 77% agreement, 11% unsure and 12% said it isn’t happening.
Just under half the sample, 48%, said climate change is already causing more heatwaves and hot days – a nine-point increase in a year – and just over half the sample (51%, up from 43% a year ago) thought climate change is behind the melting of the polar ice caps.
More than half the sample, 64%, wanted Australia to adopt a target of net zero emissions by 2050, and 56% of the sample wanted Australia to limit global warming to 1.5C.
The survey indicates nuclear energy, which has been revived as a prospect by some Morrison government MPs, remains divisive with voters. Only one in five put nuclear in their top three preferred energy sources, and 59% of the survey put nuclear in their bottom three.
Breaking down the responses by demographics, women were more worried about climate change than men and, speaking generally, young people were more worried than respondents aged over 55.
Looking at perceptions in the city versus perceptions in regional Australia, people in metropolitan areas were more likely to agree that coal plants should be closed and replaced with cleaner alternatives (64% to 55%), and city dwellers were more likely to support a moratorium on new mines than regional Australians (55% to 46%).
People in the regions were more aware than their city counterparts that Australia is a signatory to the Paris agreement (62% to 57%) and more likely to blame the energy companies for high power prices (64% to 53%).
The climate and energy director at the Australia Institute, Richie Merzian, said of a looming UN climate summit in New York: “The public want to see the Australian government take a leadership role when it comes to global action on climate change.”

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A Globalised Solar-Powered Future Is Wholly Unrealistic – And Our Economy Is The Reason Why

10 September, 2019 - 06:09
The Conversation - Alf Hornborg, Professor of Human Ecology, Lund University

Valentin Valkov/Shutterstock.comOver the past two centuries, millions of dedicated people – revolutionaries, activists, politicians, and theorists – have been unable to curb the disastrous and increasingly globalised trajectory of economic polarisation and ecological degradation. This is perhaps because we are utterly trapped in flawed ways of thinking about technology and economy – as the current discourse on climate change shows.
Rising greenhouse gas emissions are not just generating climate change. They are giving more and more of us climate anxiety. Doomsday scenarios are capturing the headlines at an accelerating rate. Scientists from all over the world tell us that emissions in ten years must be half of what they were ten years ago, or we face apocalypse. School children like Greta Thunberg and activist movements like Extinction Rebellion are demanding that we panic. And rightly so. But what should we do to avoid disaster?
Most scientists, politicians, and business leaders tend to put their hope in technological progress. Regardless of ideology, there is a widespread expectation that new technologies will replace fossil fuels by harnessing renewable energy such as solar and wind. Many also trust that there will be technologies for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for “geoengineering” the Earth’s climate. The common denominator in these visions is the faith that we can save modern civilisation if we shift to new technologies. But “technology” is not a magic wand. It requires a lot of money, which means claims on labour and resources from other areas. We tend to forget this crucial fact.
I would argue that the way we take conventional “all-purpose” money for granted is the main reason why we have not understood how advanced technologies are dependent on the appropriation of labour and resources from elsewhere. In making it possible to exchange almost anything – human time, gadgets, ecosystems, whatever – for anything else on the market, people are constantly looking for the best deals, which ultimately means promoting the lowest wages and the cheapest resources in the global South.
It is the logic of money that has created the utterly unsustainable and growth-hungry global society that exists today. To get our globalised economy to respect natural limits, we must set limits to what can be exchanged. Unfortunately, it seems increasingly probable that we shall have to experience something closer to disaster – such as a semi-global harvest failure – before we are prepared to seriously question how money and markets are currently designed.

Green growth?
Take the ultimate issue we are facing: whether our modern, global, and growing economy can be powered by renewable energy. Among most champions of sustainability, such as advocates of a Green New Deal, there is an unshakeable conviction that the problem of climate change can be solved by engineers.
What generally divides ideological positions is not the faith in technology as such, but which technical solutions to choose, and whether they will require major political change. Those who remain sceptical to the promises of technology – such as advocates of radical downshifting or degrowth – tend to be marginalised from politics and the media. So far, any politician who seriously advocates degrowth is not likely to have a future in politics.
Mainstream optimism about technology is often referred to as ecomodernism. The Ecomodernist Manifesto, a concise statement of this approach published in 2015, asks us to embrace technological progress, which will give us “a good, or even great, Anthropocene”. It argues that the progress of technology has “decoupled” us from the natural world and should be allowed to continue to do so in order to allow the “rewilding” of nature. The growth of cities, industrial agriculture, and nuclear power, it claims, illustrate such decoupling. As if these phenomena did not have ecological footprints beyond their own boundaries.
Meanwhile, calls for a Green New Deal have been voiced for more than a decade, but in February 2019 it took the form of a resolution to the American House of Representatives. Central to its vision is a large-scale shift to renewable energy sources and massive investments in new infrastructure. This would enable further growth of the economy, it is argued.
What will it take for us to seriously consider the roots of our problems? PicsEKa/Shutterstock
Rethinking technology
So the general consensus seems to be that the problem of climate change is just a question of replacing one energy technology with another. But a historical view reveals that the very idea of technology is inextricably intertwined with capital accumulation, unequal exchange and the idea of all-purpose money. And as such, it is not as easy to redesign as we like to think. Shifting the main energy technology is not just a matter of replacing infrastructure – it means transforming the economic world order.
In the 19th century, the industrial revolution gave us the notion that technological progress is simply human ingenuity applied to nature, and that it has nothing to do with the structure of world society. This is the mirror image of the economists’ illusion, that growth has nothing to do with nature and so does not need to reckon with natural limits. Rather than seeing that both technology and economy span the nature-society divide, engineering is thought of as dealing only with nature and economics as dealing only with society.
The steam engine, for instance, is simply considered an ingenious invention for harnessing the chemical energy of coal. I am not denying that this is the case, but steam technology in early industrial Britain was also contingent on capital accumulated on global markets. The steam-driven factories in Manchester would never have been built without the triangular Atlantic trade in slaves, raw cotton, and cotton textiles. Steam technology was not just a matter of ingenious engineering applied to nature – like all complex technology, it was also crucially dependent on global relations of exchange.
Sketch showing a steam engine designed by Boulton & Watt, England, 1784. Wikimedia CommonsThis dependence of technology on global social relations is not just a matter of money. In quite a physical sense, the viability of the steam engine relied on the flows of human labour energy and other resources that had been invested in cotton fibre from South Carolina, in the US, coal from Wales and iron from Sweden. Modern technology, then, is a product of the metabolism of world society, not simply the result of uncovering “facts” of nature.The illusion that we have suffered from since the industrial revolution is that technological change is simply a matter of engineering knowledge, regardless of the patterns of global material flows. This is particularly problematic in that it makes us blind to how such flows tend to be highly uneven.
This is not just true of the days of the British Empire. To this day, technologically advanced areas of the world are net importers of the resources that have been used as inputs in producing their technologies and other commodities, such as land, labour, materials, and energy. Technological progress and capital accumulation are two sides of the same coin. But the material asymmetries in world trade are invisible to mainstream economists, who focus exclusively on flows of money.
Ironically, this understanding of technology is not even recognised in Marxist theory, although it claims to be both materialist and committed to social justice. Marxist theory and politics tend toward what opponents refer to as a Promethean faith in technological progress. Its concern with justice focuses on the emancipation of the industrial worker, rather than on the global flows of resources that are embodied in the industrial machine.
This Marxist faith in the magic of technology occasionally takes extreme forms, as in the case of the biologist David Schwartzman, who does not hesitate to predict future human colonisation of the galaxy and Aaron Bastani, who anticipates mining asteroids. In his remarkable book Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto, Bastani repeats a widespread claim about the cheapness of solar power that shows how deluded most of us are by the idea of technology.



Nature, he writes, “provides us with virtually free, limitless energy”. This was a frequently voiced conviction already in 1964, when the chemist Farrington Daniels proclaimed that the “most plentiful and cheapest energy is ours for the taking”. More than 50 years later, the dream persists.

The realities
Electricity globally represents about 19% of total energy use – the other major energy drains being transports and industry. In 2017, only 0.7% of global energy use derived from solar power and 1.9% from wind, while 85% relied on fossil fuels. As much as 90% of world energy use derives from fossil sources, and this share is actually increasing. So why is the long-anticipated transition to renewable energy not materialising?
One highly contested issue is the land requirements for harnessing renewable energy. Energy experts like David MacKay and Vaclav Smil have estimated that the “power density” – the watts of energy that can be harnessed per unit of land area – of renewable energy sources is so much lower than that of fossil fuels that to replace fossil with renewable energy would require vastly greater land areas for capturing energy.
In part because of this issue, visions of large-scale solar power projects have long referred to the good use to which they could put unproductive areas like the Sahara desert. But doubts about profitability have discouraged investments. A decade ago, for example, there was much talk about Desertec, a €400 billion project that crumbled as the major investors pulled out, one by one.
Today the world’s largest solar energy project is Ouarzazate Solar Power Station in Morocco. It covers about 25 square kilometres and has cost around US$9 billion to build. It is designed to provide around a million people with electricity, which means that another 35 such projects – that is, US$315 billion of investments – would be required merely to cater to the population of Morocco. We tend not to see that the enormous investments of capital needed for such massive infrastructural projects represent claims on resources elsewhere – they have huge footprints beyond our field of vision.
Ouarzazate Solar Power Station (OSPS), one of the largest solar plants in the world. EPA/STRAlso, we must consider whether solar is really carbon free. As Smil has shown for wind turbines and Storm van Leeuwen for nuclear power, the production, installation, and maintenance of any technological infrastructure remains critically dependent on fossil energy. Of course, it is easy to retort that until the transition has been made, solar panels are going to have to be produced by burning fossil fuels. But even if 100% of our electricity were renewable, it would not be able to propel global transports or cover the production of steel and cement for urban-industrial infrastructure.And given the fact that the cheapening of solar panels in recent years to a significant extent is the result of shifting manufacture to Asia, we must ask ourselves whether European and American efforts to become sustainable should really be based on the global exploitation of low-wage labour, scarce resources and abused landscapes elsewhere.
Workers in a factory of a Chinese solar panel maker in Hangzhou. EPA/STRCollecting carbonSolar power is not displacing fossil energy, only adding to it. And the pace of expansion of renewable energy capacity has stalled – it was about the same in 2018 as in 2017. Meanwhile, our global combustion of fossil fuels continues to rise, as do our carbon emissions. Because this trend seems unstoppable, many hope to see extensive use of technologies for capturing and removing the carbon from the emissions of power plants and factories.Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) remains an essential component of the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate change. But to envisage such technologies as economically accessible at a global scale is clearly unrealistic.
To collect the atoms of carbon dispersed by the global combustion of fossil fuels would be as energy-demanding and economically unfeasible as it would be to try to collect the molecules of rubber from car tires that are continuously being dispersed in the atmosphere by road friction.
The late economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen used this example to show that economic processes inevitably lead to entropy – that is, an increase in physical disorder and loss of productive potential. In not grasping the implications of this fact, we continue to imagine some miraculous new technology that will reverse the Law of Entropy.
Economic “value” is a cultural idea. An implication of the Law of Entropy is that productive potential in nature – the force of energy or the quality of materials – is systematically lost as value is being produced. This perspective turns our economic worldview upside down. Value is measured in money, and money shapes the way we think about value. Economists are right in that value should be defined in terms of human preferences, rather than inputs of labour or resources, but the result is that the more value we produce, the more inexpensive labour, energy and other resources are required. To curb the relentless growth of value – at the expense of the biosphere and the global poor – we must create an economy that can restrain itself.

The evils of capitalism
Much of the discussion on climate change suggests that we are on a battlefield, confronting evil people who want to obstruct our path to an ecological civilisation. But the concept of capitalism tends to mystify how we are all caught in a game defined by the logic of our own constructions – as if there was an abstract “system” and its morally despicable proponents to blame. Rather than see the very design of the money game as the real antagonist, our call to arms tends to be directed at the players who have had best luck with the dice.
I would instead argue that the ultimate obstruction is not a question of human morality but of our common faith in what Marx called “money fetishism”. We collectively delegate responsibility for our future to a mindless human invention – what Karl Polanyi called all-purpose money, the peculiar idea that anything can be exchanged for anything else. The aggregate logic of this relatively recent idea is precisely what is usually called “capitalism”. It defines the strategies of corporations, politicians, and citizens alike.
All want their money assets to grow. The logic of the global money game obviously does not provide enough incentives to invest in renewables. It generates greed, obscene and rising inequalities, violence, and environmental degradation, including climate change. But mainstream economics appears to have more faith in setting this logic free than ever. Given the way the economy is now organised, it does not see an alternative to obeying the logic of the globalised market.
It’s the rules which are the issue – not those who win. Theera Disayarat/Shutterstock.comThe only way to change the game is to redesign its most basic rules. To attribute climate change to an abstract system called capitalism – but without challenging the idea of all-purpose money – is to deny our own agency. The “system” is perpetuated every time we buy our groceries, regardless of whether we are radical activists or climate change deniers. It is difficult to identify culprits if we are all players in the same game. In agreeing to the rules, we have limited our potential collective agency. We have become the tools and servants of our own creation – all-purpose money.
Despite good intentions, it is not clear what Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and the rest of the climate movement are demanding should be done. Like most of us, they want to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases, but seem to believe that such an energy transition is compatible with money, globalised markets, and modern civilisation.Is our goal to overthrow “the capitalist mode of production”? If so, how do we go about doing that? Should we blame the politicians for not confronting capitalism and the inertia of all-purpose money? Or – which should follow automatically – should we blame the voters? Should we blame ourselves for not electing politicians that are sincere enough to advocate reducing our mobility and levels of consumption?
Many believe that with the right technologies we would not have to reduce our mobility or energy consumption – and that the global economy could still grow. But to me that is an illusion. It suggests that we have not yet grasped what “technology” is. Electric cars and many other “green” devices may seem reassuring but are often revealed to be insidious strategies for displacing work and environmental loads beyond our horizon – to unhealthy, low-wage labour in mines in Congo and Inner Mongolia. They look sustainable and fair to their affluent users but perpetuate a myopic worldview that goes back to the invention of the steam engine. I have called this delusion machine fetishism.
Not the guilt free option many assume them to be. Smile Fight/Shutterstock.comRedesigning the global money game
So the first thing we should redesign are the economic ideas that brought fossil-fueled technology into existence and continue to perpetuate it. “Capitalism” ultimately refers to the artefact or idea of all-purpose money, which most of us take for granted as being something about which we do not have a choice. But we do, and this must be recognised.
Since the 19th century, all-purpose money has obscured the unequal resource flows of colonialism by making them seem reciprocal: money has served as a veil that mystifies exploitation by representing it as fair exchange. Economists today reproduce this 19th-century mystification, using a vocabulary that has proven useless in challenging global problems of justice and sustainability. The policies designed to protect the environment and promote global justice have not curbed the insidious logic of all-purpose money – which is to increase environmental degradation as well as economic inequalities.
In order to see that all-purpose money is indeed the fundamental problem, we need to see that there are alternative ways of designing money and markets. Like the rules in a board game, they are human constructions and can, in principle, be redesigned. In order to accomplish economic “degrowth” and curb the treadmill of capital accumulation, we must transform the systemic logic of money itself.
National authorities might establish a complementary currency, alongside regular money, that is distributed as a universal basic income but that can only be used to buy goods and services that are produced within a given radius from the point of purchase. This is not “local money” in the sense of LETS or the Bristol Pound – which in effect do nothing to impede the expansion of the global market – but a genuine spanner in the wheel of globalisation. With local money you can buy goods produced on the other side of the planet, as long as you buy it in a local store. What I am suggesting is special money that can only be used to buy goods produced locally.
Locally produced goods. Alison Hancock/Shutterstock.comThis would help decrease demand for global transports – a major source of greenhouse gas emissions – while increasing local diversity and resilience and encouraging community integration. It would no longer make low wages and lax environmental legislation competitive advantages in world trade, as is currently the case.
Immunising local communities and ecosystems from the logic of globalised capital flows may be the only feasible way of creating a truly “post-capitalist” society that respects planetary boundaries and does not generate deepening global injustices.
Re-localising the bulk of the economy in this way does not mean that communities won’t need electricity, for example, to run hospitals, computers and households. But it would dismantle most of the global, fossil-fuelled infrastructure for transporting people, groceries and other commodities around the planet.
This means decoupling human subsistence from fossil energy and re-embedding humans in their landscapes and communities. In completely changing market structures of demand, such a shift would not require anyone – corporations, politicians, or citizens – to choose between fossil and solar energy, as two comparable options with different profit margins.
To return to the example of Morocco, solar power will obviously have an important role to play in generating indispensable electricity, but to imagine that it will be able to provide anything near current levels of per capita energy use in the global North is wholly unrealistic. A transition to solar energy should not simply be about replacing fossil fuels, but about reorganising the global economy.
Solar power will no doubt be a vital component of humanity’s future, but not as long as we allow the logic of the world market to make it profitable to transport essential goods halfway around the world. The current blind faith in technology will not save us. For the planet to stand any chance, the global economy must be redesigned. The problem is more fundamental than capitalism or the emphasis on growth: it is money itself, and how money is related to technology.
Climate change and the other horrors of the Anthropocene don’t just tell us to stop using fossil fuels – they tell us that globalisation itself is unsustainable.

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'Like Nothing We've Seen': Queensland Bushfires Tear Through Rainforest

10 September, 2019 - 05:00
The Guardian

Fires that swept though subtropical rainforest around the historic Binna Burra lodge are unprecedented, experts say
Heritage listed Binna Burra lodge in the Gold Coast Hinterland rainforest, before and after it was destroyed by fire Composite: Supplied/Seven News

Queensland’s former fire commissioner says an erratic bushfire front that climbed into the state’s subtropical rainforest and razed the 86-year-old Binna Burra Lodge is “like nothing we’ve ever seen before”.
“What we’re seeing, it’s just not within people’s imagination,” said Lee Johnson, who spent 12 years in charge of Queensland’s fire service.
“They just didn’t believe it could ever get so bad.”
Queensland remains in the grip of one of the worst bushfire threats in its history, fuelled by prolonged dry conditions and fierce gusting winds; an “omen” of a potentially devastating fire season ahead. There are still 52 fires burning across the state. Schools are closed and about 20 structures have been destroyed.
Early on Sunday morning, a fire front climbed into the Lamington national park and razed Binna Burra, a historic eco-tourism lodge built in the 1930s and surrounded by subtropical Gondwana rainforest.
The heritage-listed main lodge was built in 1933. It has never before been seriously threatened by bushfire, protected in part by lush and damp surroundings that typically suppress the progress of dangerous fires.
“There have certainly been fires in the area before,” said the lodge chairman, Steve Noakes. “Back in the traditional owners’ time there’s evidence of fires, but certainly in the period of European history in this part of Australia, this is the most catastrophic.
“There’s nothing left to burn at Binna Burra, it’s all gone.”
Heritage listed Binna Burra Lodge in the Gold Coast Hinterland before it was destroyed by fire. Photograph: SuppliedLast year, Queensland experienced “unprecedented” fire conditions in November – a combination of hot, dry and windy days in tropical and subtropical parts of the state.
A year later, and again conditions are being described in similar terms, the sort that can fuel catastrophic wildfires. Southeast Queensland has been particularly dry; the fire-threatened town of Stanthorpe is almost out of drinking water.
In Lamington National Park, the rainforest has had very little recent rain.
Johnson, who is now a director of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, said in those sorts of extremely dry conditions the forest terrain became a potential tinderbox.
“We’ve had a very long history of concern about that area, but we definitely have not seen fire conditions like this,” Johnston said.
A koala rescued from the fires in the Gold Coast hinterland. Photograph: Jimboomba Police“Their terrain is very similar to parts of southern New South Wales and Victoria where bushfires are the norm. In Queensland the potential is there. That country at Lamington National Park in particular, the topography is just cruel.
“The weather conditions they’re now facing are just unheard of. The thing about fire, the bush in those conditions, is you can’t actually fight it. The heat generated means you can’t put people or equipment in front of this fires, you just can’t do it.”
Part of the attraction of a place like Binna Burra is the isolation. There is one narrow access road. About 3am on Sunday morning, concern about the welfare of firefighters forced a retreat. All anyone could do was wait, while the fire front moved through.
“We can’t access the site, it will be cut off for some days because of the rock slides and the tree fall,” Noakes said. “A couple of the emergency services workers hiked in yesterday, they were very brave, but it’s basically a write-off.”
Noakes said the situation was “a signal to us that we need to take a more proactive approach to climate change.
“We need to know more about the impact of climate change on subtropical rainforests of Australia and what that means in terms of long term infrastructure. That’s why people come to Queensland, to experience these places.”
He said Binna Burra would be rebuilt in a way that took into account the likely impacts of climate change.
“Binna Burra is 86 years old. When we position and design and build and operate tourism infrastructure in these sorts of natural environments, we have to think about 50 or 100 years ahead and what changes climate impacts are going to have on the built infrastructure.
“Our responsibility now is to have a vision that is crafted of the knowledge and the understanding of the climate as it will impact on the tropical and subtropical rainforest.”

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Are We Overestimating How Much Trees Will Help Fight Climate Change?

10 September, 2019 - 05:00
Grist - Jan Ellen Spiegel

Yulia-Images via Getty ImagesBob Marra navigated his way to the back of a dusty barn in Hamden, Connecticut, belonging to the state’s Agricultural Experiment Station. There, past piles of empty beehives, on a wall of metal shelves, were stacks of wooden disks — all that remains of 39 trees taken down in 2014 from Great Mountain Forest in the northwest corner of the state.
These cross-sections of tree trunks, known as stem disks — or more informally as cookies — are telling a potentially worrisome tale about the ability of forests to be critical hedges against accelerating climate change.
As anyone following the fires burning in the Amazon rainforest knows by now, trees play an important role in helping to offset global warming by storing carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide — a major contributor to rising temperatures — in their wood, leaves, and roots. The worldwide level of CO2 is currently averaging more than 400 parts per million — the highest amount by far in the last 800,000 years.
But Marra, a forest pathologist at the Experiment Station with a PhD in plant pathology from Cornell University, has documented from studying his fallen trees that internal decay has the capacity to significantly reduce the amount of carbon stored within.
His research, published in Environmental Research Letters late last year and funded by the National Science Foundation, focused on a technique to see inside trees — a kind of scan known as tomography (the “T” in CAT scan).
This particular tomography was developed for use by arborists to detect decay in urban and suburban trees, mainly for safety purposes. Marra, however, may be the first to deploy it for measuring carbon content and loss associated with internal decay. Where there is decay there is less carbon, he explains, and where there is a cavity, there is no carbon at all.
“What we’re suggesting is that internal decay in trees has just not been properly accounted for,” says Marra.This tree trunk section, or cookie, shows a large hollow in the center. Marra argues that traditional methods can miss such decay, and therefore overestimate how much forests will contribute to storing carbon. Jan Ellen SpiegelWhile the first round of his research was a proof of concept that necessitated the destruction of 39 trees to show that tomography is accurate, his ultimate goal is a nondestructive technique to enable better assessments of carbon sequestration than those done annually by the U.S. Forest Service. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, ratified in 1994, governments are required to report annual estimates of carbon holdings in all their managed lands. The most recent Forest Service figures show that U.S. forests offset about 14 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions each year.
The Forest Service estimates that carbon makes up 48 to 50 percent of a tree’s biomass, so ones with decay will be less dense and therefore hold less carbon. But Marra contends that the visual signs monitored by the Forest Service, such as canopy and tree size, along with conspicuous problems such as lesions or cankers, don’t accurately reflect internal decay — a tree that looks healthy may have decay and one that appears problematic may be fine inside.
In addition, he says, foresters typically use a mallet to hammer a tree to register a sound that might indicate it’s hollow. “You know that there may be a hollow, but you don’t know how big the hollow is,” Marra says. As a result, he believes the government’s baseline data used to estimate carbon storage are not accurate.
“There are a lot of ways to improve our estimates of carbon being stored above ground in forests, and this decay component could certainly prove to be important,” says Andrew Reinmann, an ecologist and biogeochemist with the City University of New York’s Advanced Science Research Center. But, he added,
“We haven’t really had the technology to explore this before — it’s still a little bit of an unknown.”Marra used a two-stage system for his research: sonic tomography, which sends sound waves through the tree, followed by electrical resistance tomography, which transmits an electric current. Both processes are necessary to fine-tune each other’s readings.
The system, which costs about $25,000 and fits in a backpack, is cheap and small by scientific equipment standards. Each reading takes no more than a few minutes and computerized visual renderings of the results appear instantly.
Marra uses a kind of scan known as tomography to measure carbon storage and decay in trees. Jan Ellen SpiegelMarra experimented with three northern hardwoods — sugar maple, yellow birch, and American beech — and included more than two dozen of each, along with some control trees with no decay.
The researchers analyzed the lower bole — the first two meters or so — of each tree, which is the oldest part and closest to the soil, where most decay-causing fungi would come from.
A dozen or so nails were tapped in a circle around the trunk and connected by cables to the tomograph; a sonic hammer then activated the system to get sound-wave measurements.
For the electric resistance tomography, a second set of nails was hammered between the first, and electrodes — plus and minus — were attached to each.
The various nail areas were painted in different colors to enable the computer renderings to be aligned later with photographs of the cookies after the trees were cut down.
The cookies, about 4 inches thick and which Marra called “the truth,” were only taken from where the measurements were made — the areas with the paint markings.
He analyzed 105 cookies from the 39 trees taken down. In the 11 cases where tomography found no decay, the cookies revealed only one small cavity. In the 32 cases where incipient, or early, decay was detected, the cookies showed one additional cavity.
The cookies confirmed the tomography results in 36 cases where active decay was found, though eight small cavities were also detected. Tomography correctly identified cavities in the remaining 26 cookies, meaning that it missed a total of 10 cavities among the 105 cookies.
“One thing to sort of mitigate against this failure, if you want to call it that — these were very small cavities,” Marra says of the ones the tomography missed. “So they would have very little impact on a carbon budget.”
Marra readies a tree for scanning with electrodes and a tomograph. Jan Ellen SpiegelThen came the time-consuming process of measuring the actual amount of carbon in each tree. After air-drying the cookies for a year, the wood from 500 drilled holes was sent to a gas chromatography lab at the University of Massachusetts to determine the carbon levels.
The tomography and lab results were then combined to calculate how much carbon was stored in the lower boles and to contrast that with the levels if the trees had been solid wood. Those calculations took until 2017 to complete.
“You’re looking at anywhere from a 19 percent to a 34 percent carbon loss for an actively decaying tree among those studied," Marra says. “But any place there’s a cavity you’ve lost all of your carbon.”The upshot of his five years of research, says Marra, is that accurate tomographic readings are possible in just a few minutes. “And what our tomography tells us is the carbon content,” he says.
At the same time, Marra is aware that tomography is not a practical substitute for the Forest Service’s carbon estimate system — which itself is a clunky and labor-intensive slog. But it could provide a valuable way to augment those estimates.
“Those are very, very impressive results,’’ says Kevin Griffin, a tree physiologist at Columbia University and its Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “They obviously have obtained a lot of precision in the techniques.”
“The results are important,” he adds, “but whether internal tree decay is the single most burning question? Probably not. There’s probably bigger fish to fry before we get there.”
Among them, he says are forest growth rates and overall tree health and age, as well as the impact of harvesting and other kinds of losses, including disease.
A tree’s architecture and height could also play large roles in carbon sequestration, says Reinmann of the City University of New York’s Advanced Science Research Center, as could the makeup of the forest landscape. His own research, for instance, found trees grow faster and have more biomass at the edge of fragmented forest.
“I think they’re making a good point that we’re probably over-estimating” carbon storage levels, says Aaron Weiskittel, director of the University of Maine’s Center for Research on Sustainable Forests.
Even so, Weiskittel and others — including Marra — say the research needs to be scaled up to many more tree types and full forests. For his part, Marra would like to sample forests randomly with many more trees and controlling for factors including species, age, and soil characteristics.
The goal, he says, is to develop a methodology for generating data to provide better carbon estimates for more than three tree types in one small part of the country.
“We need to use tomography to refine models so we’re more accurately assessing the role that forests are playing as sequesterers or climate change mitigators,” Marra says. “We don’t want to be over-estimating the roles that they play.”

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When Climate Change Is Stranger Than Fiction

9 September, 2019 - 05:00
New York Times - Alisha Haridasani Gupta

Amitav Ghosh, whose book “Gun Island” is set in an ecologically unstable world, wants literature to explore the environment as much as it does other crises.
Amitav Ghosh at home in Brooklyn. His 12th book, “Gun Island,” is about a rare book dealer drawn into a globe-spanning adventure with Bangladeshi migrants in Libya, dolphins in the Mediterranean and venomous water snakes in California. Credit Caroline Tompkins for The New York TimesHow do you capture the realities of climate change in a novel — not just its causes and symptoms, but the ever-changing, ever-weirder ways it is manifesting, within the conventional framework of a story with a beginning, middle and end?
Answering that question is, according to the writer Amitav Ghosh, the literary world’s great challenge. “I feel completely convinced that we have to change our fictional practices in order to deal with the world that we’re in,” he said.
“Something this big and this important, there have to be an infinite number of ways to just talk about it,” he said, similar to how war, slavery, colonization, famine and other crises and events have seeped into so many forms of literature.
Ghosh, 63, is attempting to add something to the conversation with “Gun Island,” his 12th book. The novel, which comes out Tuesday, leaps from the United States, to the Sundarbans mangrove forest between India and Bangladesh, to Italy, places where rising temperatures and water levels have uprooted human and animal lives and upended political systems.
It centers on Dinanth Datta, a rare book dealer also known as Deen, who reluctantly sets off on an Indiana Jones-esque trip to a temple in the Sundarbans, seeking clues to an ancient Bengali legend. That visit thrusts him into an adventure that connects him with Bangladeshi migrants in Libya, dolphins in the Mediterranean and venomous water snakes in California, while touching on migration, xenophobia and technology.
In his 2016 nonfiction book of essays, “The Great Derangement,” Ghosh wrote about his ancestors, “ecological refugees long before the term was invented” who lived on the shores of the Padma River in what is now Bangladesh. “One day in the mid-1850s the great river suddenly changed course, drowning the village,” he writes. “It was this catastrophe that had unmoored our forebears.”
Amitav Ghosh’s “Gun Island” comes out Sept. 10. Credit Sonny Figueroa/The New York TimesAbout a century later, Ghosh was born in Kolkata, a city that sits near India’s border with Bangladesh and serves as the starting point for Deen’s journey. Ghosh’s life, like Deen’s, has stretched across countries, from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to Britain and eventually the United States, where he now lives.
While studying in New Delhi in the late 1970s, Ghosh experienced a tornado and hailstorm — phenomena previously unheard-of in India. He struggled to incorporate the episode into his fiction because, as he explained in “The Great Derangement,” it is difficult for a writer to use a case of “extreme improbability” without it seeming contrived.
Ghosh came up with the idea for “Gun Island” in the early 2000s when he was researching another novel, “The Hungry Tide,” that explores the rivers of the Sundarbans, whose ecosystem supports the endangered Bengal tiger and thousands of other species. But Ghosh could already see the impact of climate change: bigger waves and worsening cyclones that hindered farming. That shift, over the years, has directly or indirectly forced a sizable number of the four million inhabitants of the Sundarbans to flee to parts of India and Bangladesh.
“Gun Island” is likely to resonate in Italy, said Anna Nadotti, his friend and Italian translator of over 30 years, as the country grapples with an influx of migrants fleeing war, persecution and climate crises. “Politically, socially and also culturally, it’s important to give people all the means to understand what is really happening, why all these people are coming,” she said.
“Even if sometimes in ‘Gun Island’ Amitav invents, nothing is fictional,” she added, pointing out a scene from the book that is familiar to many Italians: a boat full of migrants, stranded at sea because it has been denied permission to dock.
At one point in “Gun Island,” Deen arrives in Los Angeles for an antiquarian book dealers conference at a museum. Wildfires burn nearby. The conference, at first, goes on. But soon, the bibliophiles, librarians and book dealers are told to evacuate because the winds are changing direction, making the blaze’s path increasingly unpredictable.
It seems to mirror when fires came perilously close to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 2017, raising concerns they would destroy the artifacts inside. Ghosh said he wrote the scene six months earlier.
Later in the story, Deen confronts a freakish hailstorm and fierce “gusts of winds” in Venice. Two months ago, the real-life city was battered by hailstones and winds powerful enough to toss a cruise ship about.
That a novel seems to anticipate some of these unusual weather events is proof to Ghosh that literature should devote more attention to the environment.
“Fact,” he said, “is outrunning fiction.”

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Climate Change, Poverty And Human Rights: An Emergency Without Precedent

9 September, 2019 - 05:00
The ConversationLisa Benjamin | Meinhard Doelle | Sara L Seck

The effects of climate change will disproportionately affect the world's poorest
Julia Aylen wades through waist deep water carrying her pet dog as she is rescued from her flooded home during Hurricane Dorian in Freeport, Bahamas, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Tim Aylen)Hurricane Dorian has devastated communities in the Bahamas, putting the human dimensions of climate change at the forefront of the news as the world grapples with the ongoing failure of many governments to effectively decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Two recently released climate reports by the United Nations Human Rights Council provide insights into future challenges.
The July 2019 Safe Climate report by David Boyd, the special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, clarifies the obligations of states to protect human rights from climate harms. The report also confirms the existing responsibility of businesses to respect human rights, especially as they pertain to climate change.
An earlier report on climate change and poverty, released in June 2019, was written by Philip Alston, the special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. This report draws attention to the disproportionate and devastating impact of unmitigated climate change on those living in poverty.
Both reports point out that urgent action is needed by governments. Our research suggests that international human rights law may already offer useful tools to prevent and remedy climate injustice, including the responsibilities of business enterprises as reinforced in the Boyd report.
The Alston report classifies the human rights impacts of climate change as a climate apartheid in which the rich would “pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.” The scale of this climate emergency very much depends on the level of effort the global community puts into mitigation.
A Syrian refugee walks through the snow at an informal settlement camp in Lebanon, which experienced its harshest winter in years. UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez, CC BYA 1.5-degree increase above pre-industrial levels may expose an additional 457 million people to climate-related risks including sea level rise, flooding, droughts, forest fires, damage to ecosystems, food production and the availability of drinking water.
A two-degree increase would put an additional 100 million to 400 million people at risk of hunger, and one billion to two billion may not have access to adequate water. A total of 140 million people in the poorest parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America could be displaced by climate change by 2050.
Both reports detail incidents of permanent climate loss and damage which exceed our financial and technological capacities to restore. Our recent research documents existing incidents of loss and damage in small, vulnerable countries. As we concluded in another recent contribution to Climate Policy, those harmed by human-induced climate change will increasingly seek restitution from those who have contributed to the harm suffered.

Scale of impact
Current mitigation commitments will still result in a three-degree or higher rise in global temperatures. Nationally determined commitments (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement leave a significant gap. Many countries are not yet on target to meet their existing NDC commitments.
The scale of the overall impact, even at 1.5 degrees, is unprecedented. Climate change will exacerbate existing poverty and inequality between developed and developing countries, and also within countries.
The inequity of this disproportionate impact is exacerbated by the fact that those living in poverty have contributed — and will continue to contribute — the least to the problem. The poorest half of the global population is responsible for only 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, a person in the top one per cent (which includes most middle class citizens in developed countries) is on average responsible for 175 times more emissions than a person in the bottom 10 per cent.
Sandbags on the seashore in Bangladesh to protect houses from rising sea levels due to climate change. ShutterstockSeeking climate justice
Climate justice has been a constant refrain by many vulnerable, developing countries during climate negotiations. However, as developed countries grew rich by burning an irresponsible amount of fossil fuels, international human rights law has failed to determine the responsibility of wealthier countries to provide assistance to developing countries for climate action. Meanwhile, almost no attention has been paid to understanding how the independent responsibilities of business to respect human rights apply in the climate context.

Benjamin Schachter, Human Rights Officer, talks about how climate change disasters affect people’s lives.

However, while it is clear that developed countries are largely responsible for historic emissions, some of the major emitters listed in Richard Heede’s groundbreaking report are located in the global South, including countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, India, Venezuela, Mexico, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Algeria. This activity accumulated vast wealth for these industries and countries (or at least their governments), but has contributed to devastating climate-induced impacts for others.
The Alston report suggests that the only way to address the human rights dimensions of climate crisis is for states to effectively regulate businesses and for those harmed by climate change to successfully sue responsible companies in court. The implication is that in the absence of regulation, businesses do not have a responsibility to reduce emissions.
Yet, the UN’s “Key Messages on Climate Change and Human Rights” states that “businesses are also duty-bearers and must be accountable for their own climate impacts.”
Similarly, the 2018 statement on climate change of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressly notes that “corporate entities are expected to respect Covenant rights regardless of whether domestic laws exist or are fully enforced in practice.”
Various other initiatives have grappled with business responsibilities, including the 2018 Principles on Climate Obligations of Enterprises.
However, the Safe Climate report goes further, stating that businesses “must adopt human rights policies, conduct human rights due diligence, remedy human rights violations for which they are responsible, and work to influence other actors to respect human rights where relationships of leverage exist.” These responsibilities includes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from activities, products and services, minimizing emissions from suppliers and ensuring those impacted can access remedies.
The devastating impacts of climate change on those already living in poverty are increasingly difficult or impossible to avoid. Given the failure of many states to meet their own obligations, it is crucial that the responsibility of businesses to respect human rights be taken seriously by those advocating for climate action. Businesses, as organs of society, must ratchet up their existing responsibilities to alleviate increasing climate impacts on those who can least afford to bear them.

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