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January 2020: Earth’s Warmest January On Record

Lethal Heating - 15 February, 2020 - 04:00
Scientific AmericanJeff Masters

Fire and Rescue personnel run to move their truck as a bushfire burns on December 19, 2019 near Sydney, Australia. Fires in Australia were the most expensive weather-related disaster so far in 2020, with damages estimated in the billions by insurance broker Aon. Credit: David Gray Getty Images
January 2020 was the planet's warmest January since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on Thursday. Global ocean temperatures during January 2020 were the second warmest on record, and global land temperatures were the warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in January 2020 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the warmest or second warmest in the 42-year record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) and RSS, respectively.
January 2020 had the fourth highest departure of temperature from average of any month since 1880. Only March 2016, February 2016 and December 2015 had a greater temperature departure. Impressively, the warmth of January 2020 came without an El Niño event being present. Furthermore, we are also near the nadir of one of the least active solar cycles in the past century--a time when it is more difficult to set global heat records, due to the reduced amount of solar energy Earth receives. Thus, the remarkable warmth of January 2020 is a strong reminder that human-caused global warming is the primary driver of our warming climate.
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for January 2020, the warmest January for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. Record warm January surface temperatures were present across parts of Scandinavia, Asia, the Indian Ocean, the central and western Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and Central and South America. No land or ocean areas had record cold January temperatures. Credit: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).
  • Two billion-dollar weather disasters in January 2020
    Two billion-dollar weather-related disaster hit the Earth last month, according to the January 2020 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon:
  • U.S. severe weather outbreak
    A powerful winter storm over central and eastern sections of the U.S. from January 10 - 12 killed 12 and did $1.2 billion in damage. The storm brought a multi-day severe weather outbreak to parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia, with 79 confirmed tornadoes.
  • Australia wildfires
    Intense heat and drought over much of Australia in January caused destructive wildfires blamed for billions of dollars in damages. The combined death toll for the 2019/20 Australia bushfire season stands at 34, with more than 5,900 homes and other structures destroyed. Guardian Australia has launched the first of six very impressive immersive multimedia features on climate change, reported through the experiences of people living through it in Australia. The first episode--on bushfires--is best viewed on a large screen (not mobile) with the sound on.

Neutral El Niño conditions reign
NOAA’s February 13 monthly discussion of the state of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) stated that neutral ENSO conditions existed, with neither an El Niño nor a La Niña event in progress. Over the past month, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific, though warmer than average, have been below the 0.5°C above-average threshold need to be considered El Niño conditions.
Forecasters at NOAA and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) are calling for a roughly 60% chance of neutral conditions continuing through Northern Hemisphere spring, and a 50% chance of continuing through summer. They put the odds of an El Niño event during the August-September-October peak of the hurricane season at 23%, and the odds of a La Niña event during that period at 33%.
Figure 2. Departure of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region (in the equatorial Pacific) ending on February 13, 2020. Over the past month, SSTs were about 0.3°C above average, falling short of the 0.5°C above-average threshold need to be considered El Niño conditions. Credit: Levi Cowan, tropicaltidbits.com. Arctic sea ice: eighth lowest January extent on record
Arctic sea ice extent during January 2020 was tied for eighth lowest in the 41-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The ice extent was higher than seen in recent years thanks to a strongly positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO), which kept cold air bottled up in the Arctic. Antarctic sea ice extent in January 2020 was the tenth lowest on record.

Notable global heat and cold marks for January 2020
  • Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 42.0°C (107.6°F) at Vicente Guerrero, Mexico, 21 January
  • Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -66.0°C (-86.8°F) at Geo Summit, Greenland, 3 January (dubious data)
  • Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 48.9°C (120.0°F) at Penrith, Australia, 4 January
  • Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -47.4°C (-53.3°F) at Concordia, Antarctica, 31 
Major weather stations that set (not tied) new all-time heat or cold records in January 2020
Among global stations with a period of record of at least 40 years, 28 set new all-time heat records in January, and 3 set all-time cold records:
  • Canberra (Australia) max. 44.0°C, 4 January
  • Newcastle (Australia) max. 44.9°C, 4 January    
  • Katoomba (Australia) max. 39.8°C, 4 January   
  • Parramatta (Australia) max. 47.0°C, 4 January  
  • Bankstown (Australia) max. 47.0 °C, 4 January  
  • Taralga (Australia) max. 40.5°C, 4 January
  • Goulburn Airport (Australia) max. 42.0°C, 4 January  
  • Albury (Australia) max. 46.1°C, 4 January
  • Burrinjuck Dam (Australia) max. 45.0°C, 4 January  
  • Grenfell (Australia) max. 44.0°C, 4 January
  • Young (Australia) max. 44.9°C, 4 January  
  • Gundagai (Australia) max. 45.2°C, 4 January  
  • Cootamundra (Australia) max. 45.0°C, 4 January  
  • Temora (Australia) max. 46.4°C, 4 January
  • Narrandera (Australia) max. 47.4°C, 4 January  
  • Griffith (Australia) max. 47.2°C, 4 January
  • Calama (Chile) max. 31.2 °C, 12 January
  • Fraserburg (South Africa) max. 42.4°C, 16 January
  • Pofadder (South Africa) max. 43.0°C, 16 January
  • Willowmore (South Africa) max. 42.2°C, 16 January
  • Beaufort West (South Africa) max. 44.5°C, 16 January
  • Saint Raphael-Cargados Islands (Mauritius) max. 35.6°C, 9 January
  • Honiara Downtown (Solomon Islands) max. 35.4°C, 3 January
  • Veguitas (Cuba) min. 7.0 °C, 23 January
  • Pinares de Mayari (Cuba) min. 6.5°C, 23 January
  • Conakry Airport (Guinea) max. 38.0°C, 24 January
  • Kalewa (Myanmar) min. 6.6°C, 26 January
  • Cabramurra (Australia) max. 34.0°C, 31 January
  • Hobart Airport (Australia) max. 41.4°C, 31 January
  • Maydena (Australia) max. 38.2°C, 31 January
  • Gisborne (New Zealand) max. 38.2°C, 31 January
No all-time national heat or cold records have been set thus far in 2020.

Thirteen monthly national/territorial heat record beaten or tied in 2020 as of February 13
As of February 13, 13 national monthly all-time heat records have been beaten or tied in 2020:
  • January (10): Norway, South Korea, Angola, Congo Brazzaville, Dominica, Mexico, Indonesia, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe
  • February (3): Spain, Antarctica, Azerbaijan
  • No monthly national cold records have been beaten or tied in 2020.
Hemispherical and continental temperature records in 2020
  • Highest minimum temperature ever recorded the Northern Hemisphere in January: 29.1°C (84.4°F) at Bonriki, Kiribati, 17 January.
  • Highest maximum temperature ever recorded in North America in January: 42.0°C (107.6°F) at Vicente Guerrero, Mexico, 21 January.
  • Highest temperature ever recorded in continental Antarctica and highest February temperature ever recorded in Antarctica plus the surrounding islands: 18.4°C (65.1°F) at Base Esperanza, 6 February.
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(AU) Bushfires Royal Commission Needs To Examine How To Cut Carbon Emissions, The ACT Government Says

Lethal Heating - 14 February, 2020 - 04:00
ABC NewsTom Lowrey
A political stoush seems to be brewing over the terms of reference of the bushfires inquiry. (AAP: Lukas Coch)

Key points
  • The ACT Government says the terms of reference of the proposed bushfires inquiry play down the role of climate change
  • ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr also says that, if the royal commission goes ahead, it will need more time than proposed
  • He says states, territories and the Commonwealth need to share resources more effectively during disasters
    Climate change must play a far more significant role in the proposed bushfire royal commission, which is in danger of being rushed, the ACT Government says.
    January's Orroral Valley bushfire burned 35 per cent of the ACT's land mass, and across Australia, more than 10 million hectares have been burned since the fires began.
    But ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr hinted the bushfires commission was unnecessary, and said it would be "most efficient" to read the work of past inquiries.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week he wanted the inquiry to report by August on a range of issues, such as hazard-reduction burns and whether the Commonwealth should be able to declare a state of emergency.
    His draft terms of reference say the changing climate "carries risks for the Australian environment".
    The terms — which were sent to all states and territories for feedback — also say climate change is affecting Australia's ability to prevent, mitigate and respond to natural disasters.
    The Orroral Valley bushfire, which is still burning, has burnt about 80 per cent of Namadgi National Park. (ABC: Greg Nelson)But the ACT Government said the draft terms play down the role of climate change, and it fears the inquiry will not comprehensively address the issue.
    In a letter to Mr Morrison, Mr Barr said the inquiry should consider climate change more broadly.
    In particular, it should examine how to reduce carbon emissions.
    "As it currently stands, the draft letters patent ignores the important role Australia must play in reducing global emissions to minimise the extent of climate change and its potential impacts on the Australian community," Mr Barr's letter read.
    "Omitting climate change mitigation from the scope of the royal commission overlooks one of the key national drivers in determining the frequency and severity of future national disasters."The Federal Government has been grappling with how to respond to public pressure over climate change, which has led moderate Liberals to clash publicly with their Nationals colleagues.
    Protestors gathered again on the lawns of Parliament House yesterday, some bringing debris from homes lost to bushfires on the NSW South Coast.
    The climate debate has split the public but also the governing Coalition. (ABC News: Andrew Kennedy)

    'Unclear' guidelines around disaster aid
    The ACT Government also wants to examine the coordination between Commonwealth, state and territory governments during emergencies, and how they share resources.
    It has already raised concerns about access to firefighting planes.
    In his letter, Mr Barr argued it was unclear how and when states and territories could seek help from the Federal Government during disasters.
    "The ACT considers that the current mechanisms and criteria to request national involvement in emergencies is unclear and should be reviewed, given that the frequency of future national disasters is likely to be higher," he said.
    Mr Barr noted the importance of learning from the latest bushfires, but appeared to question the need for a royal commission at all, given the work done in the past.
    "The ACT considers the most efficient way to coordinate national action on this issue is to draw on the large body of analysis and recommendations made by previous commissions and inquiries."He also argued that, if the inquiry was to go ahead, the August deadline was too tight — Mr Barr suggested "late 2020" instead.

    Text of Letter
    ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr to Prime Minister Scott Morrison
    I write in response to your recent correspondence between December 2019 and February 2020 relating to the proposed Bushfire Royal Commission, the national bushfire emergency, and out-of-session agreement to Council of Australian Governments (COAG) matters.

    Firstly, I wish to acknowledge the important role the Australian Defence Force has played in prevention and recovery efforts during this disaster. I commend the quick action undertaken by the Commonwealth in relation to the northern road access to the ACT Emergency Control Centre at the Fairbairn base.

    Activation of National Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements
    I wrote to you on the 29th of January seeking confirmation that the ACT would have access to Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DFRA) relating to the impact of severe smoke on ACT businesses and other bushfire relief efforts provided by the ACT. ACT officials have lodged the relevant DRFA notification with Commonwealth officials. Since that letter, you would be aware of the significant bushfire in the Namadgi National Park. As a result of this development I wish to activate all available supports including DRFA funding for small business grants and loans, automatic deferral of ATO payments and lodgements and Disaster Recovery Payments for which the ACT is now eligible.

    In relation to DRFA supports for the Orroral Valley Bushfire, ACT officials will shortly lodge this request with the Emergency Management Authority.

    National Royal Commission into natural disaster preparedness
    Reviewing and learning from the searing experience of the 2019?20 bushfire season will be important, and many states and territories are already undertaking reviews or inquiries as a standard practice following these events. Noting your announcement of the establishment of a, national Royal Commission into natural disaster preparedness, the ACT considers the most efficient way to coordinate national action on this issue is to draw on the large body of analysis and recommendations made by previous commissions and inquiries.

    I welcome the opportunity to comment on the draft Letters Patent. The ACT provides the following comments aimed at clarifying the scope and purpose of the proposed Royal Commission:
    • The Royal Commission should consider broader mitigation strategies relating to climate change. As it currently stands, the draft Letters Patent ignores the important role Australia must play in reducing global emissions to minimise the extent of climate change and its potential impacts on the Australian community. Omitting climate change mitigation from the scope of the Royal Commission overlooks one of the key national drivers in determining the frequency and severity of future natural disasters. 
    • In addition to a focus on preparedness, response and resilience to natural disasters, the Letters Patent should also instruct the Commissioner to examine appropriate coordination of recovery arrangements for natural disasters, as this is a crucial stage in the process of rebuilding communities and the economy following natural disasters.
    • Section (c) of the draft Letters Patent appears to presume uniformity between states and territories and an ability for the Commonwealth to take unilateral action are needed to effectively manage responses to natural disasters. The Royal Commission should consider the need to increase the interoperability between the Commonwealth, and each state and territory's disaster management framework which is, appropriately, specific to the legal, social and environmental context of that jurisdiction.
    • The Royal Commission should consider the circumstances and thresholds under which the states and territories can call on the Commonwealth for support and examine opportunities to improve the availability of Commonwealth, State and Territory resources and infrastructure in the instances of emergencies, such as Public Safety Mobile Broadband and aerial firefighter appliances. The ACT considers that the current mechanisms and criteria to request national involvement in emergencies is unclear and should be reviewed, given that the frequency of future national disasters is likely to be higher.
    • Acknowledging the need for the Royal Commission to be expedient, an August 2020 deadline will be challenging, particularly noting many communities and workers are still fighting fires or beginning their recovery. The ACT would support the Royal Commission providing a draft report or interim recommendations in August 2020, with a final report developed by late 2020.
    A number of terms in the Letters Patent require clearer definition that will assist in clarifying the scope of the inquiry. Of primary importance, a definition of 'natural disaster' is required to confirm the scope of the Royal Commission. The ACT considers that any national inquiry should consider response approaches that can be applied to all natural disasters inclusive of bushfires, cyclones, floods and droughts. By considering broader national disaster events, the inquiry can determine the role of the Commonwealth in responding to all national disasters.

    ACT officials continue to be involved in conversations with your Commonwealth officials in relation to specific drafting changes to the draft Letters Patent.Links
    Categories: External websites

    Facing Extinction

    Lethal Heating - 14 February, 2020 - 04:00
    catherineingram - Catherine Ingram
    “The heavens were all on fire; the earth did tremble.”
    –William Shakespeare
    Henry IV, Part 1

    For much of my life, I thought our species would soon go extinct. I assumed we might last another hundred years if we were lucky.  Now I suspect we are facing extinction in the near future. Can I speculate as to exactly when that might happen?  Of course not.  My sense of this is based only on probability.  It might be similar to hearing about a diagnosis of late stage pancreatic cancer.  Is it definite that the person is going to die soon?  No, not definite.  Is it highly probable?  Yes, one would be wise to face the likelihood and put one’s affairs in order.First, let’s look at climate data. Over the past decade I have been studying climate chaos by reading scientific papers and listening to climate lectures accessible to a layperson. There is no good news to be found there. We have burned so much carbon into the atmosphere that the CO2levels are higher than they have been for the past three million years.  In the last decade our carbon emission levels are the highest in history, and we have not yet experienced their full impact.  If we were to stop emitting carbon dioxide tomorrow, we are still on track for much higher heat for at least ten years.  And we are certainly not stopping our emissions by tomorrow.
    This blanket of carbon in the atmosphere has triggered, and will trigger, further runaway warming systems that are not under our control, one of the most deadly of which is the release of methane gases that have been trapped for eons under arctic ice and what is now euphemistically known as permafrost (much of it is no longer permanent frost).
    Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon, and much faster acting. In the first twenty years after its release into the atmosphere, it is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Whereas the full effect of heat from a carbon dioxide molecule takes ten years, peak warming from a methane molecule occurs in a matter of months.
    Nitrous oxide is another greenhouse gas whose dangers have only recently been reported. Excess nitrogen from fertilizer becomes nitrous oxide when it escapes into soils and groundwater. It is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, molecule for molecule, and now accounts for about 20% of global warming. Due to increasing food shortages, some countries are using more fertilizer than ever to increase crop production. New studies show a clear correlation between increased fertilizer use and increasing levels of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere.
    As if these emissions were not daunting enough, a heretofore little-known gas, sulphur hexafluoride or SF6, used in many green and renewable technologies, is 23,500 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon. It leaks from electrical production sites and stays in the atmosphere for a thousand years.
    The Arctic and Antarctic icecaps are melting at rates far faster than even the most alarming predictions, and methane is pouring out of these regions, bubbling out of Arctic lakes, and hissing out of seas and soils worldwide. Some scientists fear a methane “burp” of billions of tons when a full melt of the summer arctic ice occurs; a full melt has not happened for the past four million years.  Should such a sudden large release of methane occur, the earth’s warming would rapidly accelerate within months. This alone could be the extinction event.
    The Arctic summer ice is currently two thirds less than it was as recently as the 1970s, and the arctic is warming so fast that a full summer melt is likely within the next five years. The continent of Antarctica is also rapidly melting at an acceleration of 280% in the last forty years. The massive ice melts that are happening there, such as the breaking off the Larsen B ice shelf defied scientific predictions; the ice shelf known as Larsen C, which broke off in July of 2017, was 2,200 square miles in size.
    The Arctic ice has been the coolant for the northern part of the planet and it impacts worldwide climate as well. Its white surface also reflects back into space much of the heat from the sun, as does the Antarctic ice. As the ice melts, the dark ocean absorbs the heat and the warming ocean more quickly melts the remaining ice. Over the past three decades, the oldest and thickest of the Arctic sea ice has declined by a whopping 95%, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2018 annual Arctic report.
    The U.S., Russia, and China are now vying for hegemony of the Arctic region in order to get at the massive reserves of oil that exist there and will be accessible as the ice melts.  Aside from the real possibility of military conflagrations over control of the region, moving tankers through and drilling in this sensitive eco-system would cause the dual destructions of rapidly deteriorating whatever ice is left, thereby speeding up the release of methane; and then burning all that stored carbon of newly found oil reserves into the atmosphere. For instance, Russia has recently launched a floating barge on which two nuclear reactors will be wired into its infrastructure to power gas and oil platforms in remote regions of the Arctic.
    These and all the other warming feedback loops are now on an exponential trajectory and becoming self-amplifying, potentially leading to a “hothouse earth” independent of the carbon emissions that have triggered them.  Each day, the extra heat that is trapped near our planet is equivalent to four hundred thousand Hiroshima bombs. There are no known technologies that can be deployed at world scale to reverse the warming, and many climate scientists feel that the window for doing so is already closed, that we have passed the tipping point and the heat is on “runaway” no matter what we do.
    We are now in the midst of the sixth mass extinction with about 150 plant and animal species going extinct per day.  Despite the phrase “the sixth extinction” making its way into mainstream awareness via the publication of Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer-prize-winning book of that title, most people still don’t realize that we humans are also on the list.
    Some of the consequences we face are mass die-offs due to widespread drought, flooding, fires, forest mortality, runaway diseases, and dying ocean life—all of which we now see in preview.  A few of these consequences could even result in the annihilation of all complex life on earth in a quick hurry: the use of nuclear weapons, for instance, as societies and governments become more desperate for resources; or the meltdown of the 450 nuclear reactors, which will likely become impossible to maintain as industrial civilization breaks down.  Since 2011, when a tsunami struck the northeast coast of Japan and caused a near meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, it has taken more than 42,000 gallons of fresh water per day to keep the reactors cooled.  Keeping the radioactive elements contained requires dangerous jobs for the workers and building a new steel water tank every four days to store the spent radioactive water.
    If we were to make it through this gauntlet of threats, we would still be facing starvation.  Grains, the basis of the world’s food supply, are reduced on average by 6% for every one degree Celsius rise above pre-industrial norms.  We are now about one degree Celsius above and climbing fast; the oceans are warming twice as fast and have absorbed a staggering 93% of the warming for us so far.  If that were not the case, the average land temperatures would be a toasty 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit) above what they are now. Of course, there is a huge cost for ocean warming in the form of dying coral reefs, plankton loss, ocean acidification, unprecedented storms, and increased water vapor, which is yet another greenhouse blanket holding heat in the atmosphere.
    As I became aware of these facts and many hundreds like them, I also marveled at how oblivious most people are to the coming catastrophes. There has never been a greater news story than that of humans facing full extinction, and yet extinction is rarely mentioned on the evening news, cable channels, or on the front pages of blogs and newspapers. It is as though the world’s astronomers were telling us that an asteroid is heading our way and will make a direct hit destined to wipe out all of life to which the public responds by remaining fascinated with sporting events, social media, the latest political scandals, and celebrity gossip.
    However, beginning about six years ago, a few books and other sources of information began to address the chances of full extinction of all complex life, and these became my refuge, even though the information was the most horrific I had ever imagined.
    For decades, I had sensed that things were dramatically worsening, the rate of destruction increasing.  As a journalist from 1982 to 1994, I specialized in social and environmental issues. I had written about global warming, the phrase we used in those days, numerous times in the 1980s, but because it seemed a far-off threat, we could intellectually discuss it without fear of it affecting our own lives in terribly significant ways. As time marched on, I began to awaken to how fast the climate was changing and how negative its impacts.  It became a strange relief to read and listen to the truth of the situation from people who were studying the hard data as it affirmed my instincts and threw a light on what had been shadowy forebodings, dancing like ghosts in my awareness.  It is an ongoing study that has taken me through a powerful internal process–emotional and cathartic–one that I felt might be helpful to share with those who have woken to this dark knowledge or are in the process of waking to it, just as I, over time, found comfort in the reflections of the small yet increasing number of comrades with whom I share this journey.
    Because the subject is so tragic and because it can scare or anger people, this is not an essay I ever wanted to write; it is one I would have wanted to read along the way.  But the words on these pages are meant only for those who are ready for them. I offer no hope or solutions for our continuation, only companionship and empathy to you, the reader, who either knows or suspects that there is no hope or solution to be found. What we now need to find is courage.
    You got me singing, even though the world is gone
    You got me thinking that I’d like to carry on
    You got me singing, even though it all looks grim
    You got me singing the Hallelujah hymm
    –Leonard Cohen
    “You Got Me Singing”
    For the last quarter century of his life, Leonard Cohen was one of my closest friends.  We would often talk at the small kitchen table in his modest home in Los Angeles until the wee hours of the morning, and when I would make a move to leave, he would bring out a fine port he had been saving or show me some of his recent drawings, or regale me with a story of his time in Cuba in the early Sixties.  He loved engagement and there was no place in conversation he wouldn’t go. In his company I never censored my thoughts. Since his passing I have realized that he was not only a close friend but a life mentor. One of the most inspiring aspects in this regard was what one could call his heart bravery.  It is, in my way of seeing, the highest form of courage.  In fact, the word courage comes from the Latin coeur, meaning heart.  Leonard’s special genius was his ability to communicate both the sorrow and the beauty of the world, even in the same sentence.  He never looked away from either, not even in his final months when pain wracked his body.  He had a twinkle in one eye and a tear in the other. In those last years of his life, we had many conversations about climate chaos, as he knew I was studying the subject. He always listened intently and asked pertinent questions throughout our discussions. Although climate had not been his own focus (his was more a passion for world politics), there was no surprise for him in seeing how close we are to the edge. He understood human nature and assumed we would do ourselves in. One need only listen to his song, “The Future” to know how prescient he was on the matter.
    And yet, we laughed over all the years.  Laughed like crazy.  Leonard was a master of gallows humor, and I have a well-honed appreciation for that form as well. The power of gallows humor, and I highly recommend it in these times, is that it allows a sideways glance at the gathering clouds while one is still sipping tea in the garden.  All of these small moments of recognition serve to accustom our awareness to difficult realities, to hammer at the chains that bind, to allow us to let go a bit.  In sharing gallows humor, it is also comforting to know that your friend sees the tragi-comedy as well.  There is an amortizing of the burden when we share a heavy load.
    Courage is often confused with stoicism, the stiff upper lip, bravado that masks fear.  There is another kind of courage.  It is the courage to live with a broken heart, to face fear and allow vulnerability, and it is the courage to keep loving what you love “even though the world is gone.”
    They are as children, playing with their toys in a house on fire.
    —Gautama Buddha
    Never have these words of the Buddha been more true.  We love to be distracted from ourselves, and we have myriad ways of doing that in our time.  We pay big money for the privilege and we run about chasing objects and experiences in its service.  We seem to be evolutionarily designed to put aside or entirely ignore future threats and instead focus only on immediate concerns and personal desires.  This is understandable since for most of human history there was nothing we could do about future possibilities or events occurring far from where we lived. With some notable exceptions, evolution didn’t select for long-term survival planning.  Being concerned about climate change does not come naturally to us. Daniel Gilbert, author and Harvard professor of psychology, proposes four features for why our brains respond primarily to immediate threats. First, we are social animals who have evolved to think about what the creatures around us are doing; we are highly sensitive to intentions, especially if they seem threatening.  Second, climate change does not challenge our moral sense of right and wrong and thereby stir the brain to action.  As Gilbert notes, if it was clear that global warming was deliberately killing kittens, we would all be marching in the streets.
    Thirdly, unless climate chaos is a threat to us today, we don’t think about it.  I find that a lot of the data we see in conservative climate reports refers to horrific changes that will happen by 2100.  When we see the year 2100, we easily think, “Whew!  No problem.”  Of course, changes occurring by 2100 is an overly optimistic timeline, yet it shows how the brain responds to slow motion threat in the future, even when it will affect the lives of children whom we know in the present.  Gilbert’s fourth reason for why we ignore climate threats is that for millennia we have relied on our highly developed sense apparatus as physical creatures to gauge changes and threats in our environment—changes of temperature, weight, pressure, sound, or smell.  If changes occur at a slow enough pace, they can fly under the radar of our notice.  The frog boiling in the pot that is only gradually being heated.
    During the historic floods in Queensland, Australia in early 2019, the rivers broke their banks and washed into the city of Townsville. As a result, there were crocodiles and snakes in the flooded streets and in people’s back yards.  It might well concentrate the mind and promote a flight response to find oneself wading in floodwater on a street or yard that contained crocodiles and deadly snakes. But short of such clear and present dangers, our threat response is slow.
    It seems even our genes favor short-term gain over long-term trouble.  The twentieth century biologist George Williams recognized that, due to our genes having multiple functions, some genes have opposing functions.  That is, for example, a gene can have great benefits for early life and at the same time cause great harm in later life, a process known as biological senescence.  Evolution naturally selects for those genes since the organism doesn’t always make it to later life, so the early benefit has been accrued while the later harm has less chance of being activated.
    Biologist Bret Weinstein sees a cultural analog to this process, “culture is biology, downstream of genes.” As he explains, “Ideas that work in the short term but fail and cause vulnerability in the long term tend to survive in our system because they often produce economic benefit.  So if you produce a technology that has benefits for humanity over the course of several decades but the harm of that technology comes only in later decades, you will have become wealthy in the short term and that wealth will have resulted in an increase in your political influence, which will reinforce the belief structures that made it seem like a good idea in the first place. The market tends to see short-term gains and discount long-term effects until the political structure has been modified by that success.  Just as in biological senescence, cultural senescence manifests in a system that is incapable of going in reverse and would drive itself off a cliff rather than recognize that something at its core was leading us into danger.  We now have a cultural system that is making us very comfortable in the short term, but it is liquidating the wellbeing of the planet at an incredible rate.”
    Evolution also didn’t select for us to be overly conscious of personal death itself.  It would otherwise be emotionally paralyzing.  Ernest Becker’s seminal book The Denial of Death, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974, examined the awareness of death on human behavior and the strategies that developed in humans to mitigate their fear of it.  “This is the terror:” Becker wrote, “to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self expression—and with all this yet to die.”
    Sheldon Solomon, author and legendary professor of psychology at Skidmore College, spent thirty-five years conducting experiments based on Becker’s ideas. This body of work culminated in what Solomon and his colleagues call Terror Management Theory and relies on proving a central thesis of Becker’s work:  that it is through cultural worldviews and through self-esteem that humans ward off the terror of death. As Sheldon told me in an interview in 2015, “What Becker proposes is that human beings manage terror of death by subscribing to culturally constructed beliefs about the nature of reality that gives them a sense that they’re valuable people in a meaningful universe…And so for Becker, whether we’re aware of it or not, and most often we’re not, we are highly motivated to maintain confidence in the veracity of our cultural worldview and faith in the proposition that we’re valuable people, that is, that we have self esteem. And whenever either of those, what we call ‘twin pillars of terror management,’ –culture or self-esteem– is threatened, we respond in a variety of defensive ways in order to bolster our faith in our culture and ourselves.”  Listen to the full interview here.
    Becker’s work relied on examining defense strategies for denial of personal death.  We are now faced with the death of all.  Therefore denial and defense of denial are accordingly amplified and dangerous. There is now a desperate rise of religious fundamentalism, superstition, and new age magical thinking, as predicted in 1996 by astronomer Carl Sagan in his final book, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. To an increasingly anxious species, cultural and religious belief systems offer the promise of eternal life. And people will literally fight to the death for them.
    Or they will offer up their children. From the Mayan priests who threw children from cliffs to the families of suicide bombers in present time who joyously celebrate the martyrdom of their son or daughter in the streets with their friends, people would rather see their children die than forego the preservation and defense of their culture or religion. In places where climate chaos is already underway, we are seeing a solidification of tribalism and battle lines drawn between communities who have formerly lived together in relative harmony. These pressures are bound to increase.
    We also find it difficult to think exponentially. We might grasp the concept of an exponential factor but it is not our natural way to perceive.  Therefore, as exponential warming triggers other imbalances that also become exponential, we perceive them only as linear problems and assume we will have time to address them.  We carry on with business-as-usual and return to “the matrix,” the illusion that things are fairly normal, where our ordinary problems, comforts and entertainments await our attention, just like in the movie. But we have now come to the point of “amusing ourselves to death,” as Neil Postman put it in his 1985 book by that title.
    As you begin to awaken to the specter of extinction, you will likely feel the powerful lure of your usual distractions. You may want to go back to sleep. But denial will become harder and harder to maintain because once your attention has turned to this subject, you will see the evidence of it everywhere, both locally and globally.
     And you will find yourself among the throngs of humanity who are easily distracted and amused, playing with their toys as the house burns, “tranquilized by the trivial,” as Kierkegaard said, and speaking of the future as though it was going to go on as it has.  After all, we made it this far.  We have proven our superiority at figuring things out and removing obstacles to our desires. We killed off most of the large wild mammals and most of the indigenous peoples in order to take their lands. We bent nature to our will, paved over her forests and grasslands, rerouted and dammed her rivers, dug up what journalist Thom Hartman calls her “ancient sunlight,” and burned that dead creature goo into the atmosphere so that our vehicles could motor us around on land, sea, and air and our weapons could keep our enemies in check. And now we have given her atmosphere a high fever.  But, as the old adage has it, (a phrase I first heard in the 1980s, which has informed me ever since), “nature bats last.”
     You may find yourself in the company of people who seem to have no awareness of the consequences we face or who don’t want to know or who might have a momentary inkling but cannot bear to face it. You may find people who have all the data in hand but cannot see the implications, as though staring at Magellan’s ships. You may experience people becoming angry if you steer the conversation in the direction of the planetary crisis. You may sense that you are becoming a social pariah due to what you see, even when you don’t mention it, and you may feel lonely in the company of most people you know.  For you, it’s not just the elephant in the room; it’s the elephant on fire in the room, and yet you feel you can rarely say its name.
    I once asked Leonard for his advice on how to talk with others about this.  He replied:  “There are things we don’t tell the children.”  It is helpful to realize that most people are not ready for this conversation. They may never be ready, just as some people die after a long illness, still in denial that death was at their doorstep.  It is a mystery as to who can handle the truth of our situation and who runs from it as though their sanity depended on not seeing it. There is even a strange phenomenon that some of my extinction-aware friends and I have noticed: you might sometimes find relaxation in the company of those who don’t know and don’t want to know.  For a while you pretend that all is well or at least the same as it has been. You discuss politics, the latest drama series, new cafes. You visit the matrix for a little R & R. But this usually doesn’t last long as the messages coming from the catastrophe are unrelenting.
    The Parent Trap.  There is one category of people that I have found especially resistant to seeing this darkest of truths: parents.  A particular and by now familiar glazed look comes over their faces when the conversation gets anywhere near the topic of human extinction.  And how could it be otherwise?  It is built into the DNA that parents (not all, of course) love their children above themselves. They would sacrifice anything for them.  So to think that there will be no protection for their children in the future, that no amount of money or homesteading or living on a boat or in a gated community or on a mountaintop or growing a secret garden will save them is too unbearable a thought to hold for even a second.  I have also noticed a flash of anger arise in the midst of the distracted look on their faces, an almost subliminal message that says, “Don’t say another word on this subject.”
     It is a subject I have learned to avoid in the company of parents although, to my surprise, I am finding more of them coming to terms with it.  It is an added layer of grief, to be sure, and I can only admire and grieve with them in the knowledge that it is unlikely their children will live to old age, leaving aside what they may suffer beforehand.
    I had my own battle of despair with this. As I began to realize the gravity of our situation, I quickly recognized that my own death was not much of an issue. After all, I have lived a long time, longer than most people in history. I certainly have preferences about how I would like to die, and I don’t make any claims about having no fear of death at all, but the fact of my own death is something I have considered since my teenage years and has been part of my many decades of dharma interest. No, the despair came from the thoughts about my young great nieces and great nephew with whom I am close. All nine of them were under the age of ten when I began to realize that they are not likely to have long lives. The anxiety and despair into which I sank was such that I became very ill. I developed a massive case of shingles covering large areas of my torso, front and back in two zones (apparently it is rare to have more than one zone) and I ended up in the hospital. Shingles (way too puny a word for a disease that feels like your nerves have been set on fire from the inside) is considered a stress-related illness. My anxiety and despair had made me physically sick. Once home and bedridden for the best part of a month, I had a chance to consider how unaffordable my fear and anxiety would be going forward. I had to find a perspective that would allow me to access at least some quiet underneath the profound sadness, some whisper that says, “This is the suchness of things. Everything passes.”
    Of course, there are now many millions of parents in the world who have already had to come to terms with this.  Hundreds of millions of climate refugees for whom any fretting about the future would seem the greatest of luxuries and privileges. They are struggling for survival due to climate catastrophes, even as you read these words.
    I’ve seen the future, Brother.
    It is murder.
    —Leonard Cohen
    “The Future”
    Of all the threats we face, the one I find most frightening is the breakdown of civilized society.  We now see large regions of the world that are no-go zones. Failed states, where life is cheap and barbarism reigns.  Huge swaths of Africa are now lawless and controlled by armed and violent men and boys roaming the countryside in gangs, engaged in despicable acts too sickening to write.  The Middle East is much the same as are parts of South America.  All of these areas are enduring severe drought. As professor and journalist Christian Parenti said in an interview with Chris Hedges, “How do people adapt to climate change?  How do they adapt to the drought, to the floods?  Very often, the way is you pick up the surplus weaponry and you go after your neighbor’s cattle or you blame it on your neighbor’s ideology or ethnicity.”In his book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, Parenti writes: “Climate change arrives in a world primed for crisis. The current and impending dislocations of climate change intersect with the already-existing crises of poverty and violence. I call this collision of political, economic, and environmental disasters ‘the catastrophic convergence.’ ”
    In their desperation, people, especially women, sell themselves into prostitution and other forms of modern slavery. Or they are taken and sold by others. Human trafficking is now big business worldwide.  People also sell their own children to save the rest of their families. I saw a CNN news interview with a widow and her son and daughter in a refugee tent in Afghanistan. Having left the drought-ridden area of her home region, she was explaining to the reporter that she was selling her six-year-old daughter to an old man so that she could feed herself and her son.  The little girl sat quietly by her side, looking sad and bewildered, perhaps dimly aware that whatever change to come in her already difficult life was going to be a far worse fate. Nearby sat the old man who was purchasing her as a “gift” for his ten–year-old son, this rationale most likely for the benefit of the reporter, one that I didn’t believe as I suspected an even darker plan for the little girl. Apparently, this is a common practice now in the Afghan refugee community.
    It is no wonder that people leave these hellholes with nothing but the clothes they are wearing and make their way, often risking death, to countries of greater abundance and saner policies. It is also no wonder that those countries don’t want them.  At some point in loading a rowboat, even one extra person will sink it.  And many of the refugees are nationals of countries with almost opposite values of those of their new host countries.  Europe is now on the front lines of the refugee crisis and is struggling to hold itself together. It is one of the great historical ironies that the European countries, perhaps the most enlightened and progressive of all time, are employing greater and greater draconian measures to try to preserve what they have. But the refugees will keep coming, in the millions and then the hundreds of millions, and there will be no walls or armies strong enough to stop them.  This is true not only for Europe but anywhere there is potential for a better life.

    The places where there still exists “a better life” are rapidly deteriorating as well.  In Chris Hedges’ book, America: The Farewell Tour, he forensically chronicles the decline of 21st century America.  The “flyover” states, that is, almost everywhere except the coasts, are ridden with poverty, alcoholism, prostitution, drug and gambling addiction, porn addiction, violence, inferior education, depression and other mental illnesses, poor physical health, and suicide.  “The diseases of despair” as sociologists call them. 
    These diseases of despair likely have a correlation to our severance from the natural world. At the 2017 Bateson Symposium in Sweden, Rex Weyler gave a thought-provoking presentation called “Ecological Trauma and Common Addictions.” Weyler, one of the founders of Greenpeace, defines ecological trauma as “the experience of witnessing – consciously or not – the pervasive abuse and destruction of the natural world, of which we are a part, and for which we have a primal affinity. Almost everyone in the modern, industrial world can tell stories of treasured childhood experiences in natural settings or wilderness sanctuaries that have been obliterated for a shopping mall, parking lot, highway, or other industrial, consumer function.
    “Modern neuroses and addictions, prevalent in industrial nations, can be traced, at least partially, to the trauma of separation from natural security and the trauma of witnessing the abuse of nature. The marvels and conveniences of technological society provide only a thin veneer over our natural being. We remain biophysical animals akin to ants and raccoons.
    “Regardless of prevailing conceits, we retain patterns learned from fifty million years of primate evolution, five million years of hominid development in productive ecological habitats, and 500,000 years of fire-bearing, tool-making hunter-gatherer culture. During this long genesis, humanity grew within the comfort and constraints of an intact ecosystem that supplied sustenance, vital lessons, wonder, and a home. Watching that home fall under the blade of industrialism shocks our system, whether we know it or not.
    “Within the last few hundred years, industrial culture has widened this separation from nature, divided families, and destroyed communities, creating alienated individuals clinging to scarce jobs and rewarded with packaged food and entertainment, like the “bread and circuses” that Roman emperors bestowed upon disenfranchised peasants.”
    In fact, for the past two years, average life expectancy in the USA has declined due to suicide and opioid overdoses.  The U.S is now in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in its history; more people die from opiate overdoses than from car accidents or gun homicides. Due to the poverty existent in these communities there is also a breakdown of law and order as well as basic services.  The local municipalities are going broke and are beginning to function like banana republics.
    Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the largest utility company in the United States, provides gas and electric power for two thirds of California. It was recently forced to procure $34 billion in debt financing for bankruptcy protection and to settle lawsuits of an estimated $30 billion due to its power lines blowing about and possibly starting some of the deadly fires that occurred in California in 2018.  Although PG&E was able to find independent financing for those settlements, the fires of 2019 have it right back in the battle of lawsuits, which again threaten to bankrupt the company. What happens when utility companies go under? Typically, it becomes the problem of the state or federal governments, which means the taxpayers get the bill. How long can governments bail out corporations?  The US national debt, for instance, now stands at over 22 trillion dollars. At what point is the “let’s pretend” game of currency value over?  How long will we be able to exchange pieces of paper for food? And what will happen when we are forced to make extreme sacrifices?
    The richer countries are particularly intolerant of making even relatively small sacrifices that might have a future benefit; for example, the “yellow vest” riots that began in Paris in October 2018 and spread throughout the country.
    The fracas started when French President Emmanuel Macron announced an “eco-tax” on fuel in an attempt to fulfill his campaign promise to address global warming. Soon after the rioting began, the government walked back any talk of the tax, but by then the rioters had added on a host of other grievances and the mayhem began to grow, becoming more violent, destructive, and deadly.  These are not people who are starving or being removed at gunpoint from their homes. These are people who are being asked to sacrifice some of their income for the greater good.  But as we are seeing there and elsewhere, short-term greed prevails.
    What is happening in France is no doubt a cautionary tale to other progressive world leaders who dare to challenge Big Oil and its hungry consumers. It is a mark of immaturity to be unable to delay personal satisfaction for the chance at greater wellbeing for all at a later date.  And it is yet another wearisome example of why we humans are in the mess in which we find ourselves.  We see it throughout human history.  Greed is not new to modern times.  We can easily understand the greedy impulse as most of us are afflicted with it. Perhaps the evolutionary imperatives from ancient times would have had no use for delayed gratification since servicing immediate needs often meant the difference between life and death. However, we can now see that being enslaved to our base desires and impulses is contraindicated to our survival.  Seeing disintegrations occur in the developed countries gives a glimpse as to what societal and economic breakdown will look like when there are widespread food shortages everywhere and when the infrastructures, including the electric grids, become spotty, too costly to maintain, or are no longer working.      

    In 1952, when I was born, there were approximately 2.6 billion people on earth.  There are now 7.7 billion, a more than threefold increase in my lifetime. Our use rate of resources would allow for our planet to sustainably host only about one billion people.  As William Catton explained in his 1980 book Overshoot, we are in “carrying capacity deficit.”  In other words, the load on resource use is far in excess of its carrying capacity. Of course, the only way we have been able to pull this off is by stealing from the future, just as we might have a garden of food that could last ten people through the winter and instead we have a wild party for a thousand and go through the entire supply in an evening.   It is also troubling to realize that whatever reasonable measures we might attempt to mitigate our situation, and there are none known that can be done at scale, the addition of roughly 220,000 humans per day (births minus deaths) would curtail our efforts at mitigation.
    According to many scientific studies, some of the inevitable outcomes of overpopulation are severely polluted water, increased air pollution and lung diseases, proliferation of infectious diseases, overwhelmed hospitals, rising crime rates, deforestation, loss of wildlife leading to mass extinctions, widespread food shortages, vanishing fish in the oceans, superbugs and airborne diseases along with diminished capacity to treat them, proliferation of AIDS, less access to safe drinking water, new parasites, desertification, rising regional conflicts, and war. As astrobiology professor Peter Ward explained in a story on the BBC, “If you look at any biological system, when it overpopulates it begins to poison its home.”
    Fifty-lane traffic jam in ChinaOf course, when we speak of overpopulation we specifically refer to humans.  In fact, human activity is causing massive die-offs of the other species.  With overpopulation and pollution we lose habitats that sustain biodiversity and we have consequently lost 60% of the world’s wildlife since 1970. The UN’s intergovernmental report on biodiversity, which came out in April 2019, found that a further one million animal and plant species are now at risk for extinction.
    Only our livestock are growing in numbers.  Think about that phrase in its two component words: “live” and “stock.”  Living animals as stock, as product.  To view animals as products requires ignoring the plight of these living creatures: the industrial food systems of torture for hundreds of millions of animals–animals who have emotions, care for their young, and who suffer fear and pain only to be slaughtered in the end, perhaps the only mercy they will know.  Industrial animal farming is also known to be one of the top causes of global warming.
    The biodiversity loss of wild animals and plants, however, creates a domino effect into what is called co-extinctions: when a species at early risk of environmental changes dies, the various species that depended on that one die, and then the species that depended on those die.
    The domino effect in extinctions goes into yet another exponential feedback trajectory.  Scientists Giovanni Strona and Corey Bradshaw conducted an experiment in which they computer-modeled “2,000 virtual earths to create conditions of species-like entities arranged in interconnected ecological communities.”  They then subjected those communities to various environmental stresses, particularly those of temperature.  What they found can be gleaned from the title of their peer-reviewed paper, published in Scientific Reports:  “Co-extinctions Annihilate Planetary Life During Extreme Environmental Change.”  In other words, the health of the interconnected natural world depends on the web of life within it.  When substantial parts of that web die off, it annihilates planetary life in general. This includes, of course, the higher and more complex forms of life. That means us. Thinking that we can lose most of the biodiversity of planetary life and still find ways to feed ourselves is delusional. At a recent biodiversity conference in Dublin, Irish president Michael Higgins said in his address to the assembly: “If we were coal miners, we would be up to our knees in dead canaries.”
    Along with all of the other threats we face, co-extinction within the natural world is becoming one of the most pressing problems.  For anyone familiar with General Systems Theory, this is easily intuited.  Yet many people compartmentalize information when they hear of extinctions of the other plants and creatures and think it has little to do with their own existence. They see the iconic image of the polar bear floating on a small ice chunk and think, “What does the loss of polar bears mean to my life? Nothing.”  They might, however, be surprised to learn that the loss of the world’s insects is going to impact everyone on the food chain as the pollination of plant life dramatically slows.
    A 2018 New York Times article entitled “The Insect Apocalypse Is Here” explains also the concept of “functional extinction,” that is when a species is still present but so diminished in its numbers that it no longer functions or interacts within its environment.  In the case of insects, for example, it results in “an extinction of seed dispersal and predation and pollination and all the other ecological functions an animal once had, which can be devastating even if some individuals still persist.”  It doesn’t require a full-scale extinction of insects or other species to disrupt their necessary role in a healthy eco-system. A partial die-off will do the job. Inability to grow fruits, vegetables, and grains in the food-growing regions will inevitably lead to soaring food prices and starvation for millions.
    Understanding the ills of overpopulation and co-extinctions puts one in the difficult position of concern for people bringing babies into the world. For the first time in history, it is hard to celebrate the arrival of newborns when one is aware of the deadly pressures of overpopulation, climate chaos, and collapse of our life support systems. It is sad to think of what a new little being is likely to endure. And as his or her parents awaken to the global reality, they will likely face increasing anxiety and sorrow. Once you come to know a child, whether your own or anyone else’s, your love for the child makes for a heart-wrenching worry, especially if you are responsible for bringing that child into this world.
    If you want to be a parent, consider adopting one of the millions of children in need of a loving parent, and give that child a happy home for as long as possible.  You will need to override the evolutionary imperative to give birth to your own. We are, in our time, confronted with many such challenges to the usual imperatives of evolution and assumptions therein.
    We humans love technology. It has been the means by which we became the dominant species on the planet, doubled our life spans, traveled the globe collecting resources and ideas, and hooked ourselves up to instantaneously connect with anyone anywhere from our own homes. It is a source of entertainment, education, artistic creativity, medical advances, and uses too numerous to list. It has also been a source of destruction. It has allowed us to rapidly denude and poison the eco-system and caused the extinction of much of the natural world. Energy and industrial technologies have destabilized and poisoned our atmosphere and waterways. Our cyber technology has created a global industry of online financial theft, child pornography and predation, identity theft, illegal drugs, and many other criminal endeavors made possible through the internet. War technologies have made us the most effective killing species ever in history. In the 20th century, the deadliest in history thus far, an estimated 231 million people –most of them non-combatants–died in war and conflicts. High tech weaponry in the 21st century is even more capable of large scale death and destruction at the push of a button from thousands of miles away.
    As Joanna Macy told me in an interview more than thirty years ago, “We think technology will save us. Technology got us into this mess.”
    And yet, many people assume technology will indeed address our gnarly ecological problems by changing us to adapt to the problems or by simply moving away from Earth altogether. Some of the technotopians, those who think technology will create a future utopia, want to send us to Mars.  There are also those who are hoping we can discard our biological selves altogether (who wants to drag around a carcass of meat?) and instead just download our consciousness into computers and thereby live forever.  Thinking forever.
    Or we might prefer to be part cyber and part human. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and Space X, and co-founder of Neuralink has plans in the works that will allow us to inject a computerized neural mesh into our brains, a lace-like filament that unfurls itself onto the brain and creates the capability to interface with a computer. The procedure would allow digital knowledge to be directly stored and accessed through one’s own gray matter. This blend of digital and biological technology would, in Musk’s view, give us a chance against what he sees as the coming threats of unregulated artificial intelligence.
    Musk is also working on plans to colonize Mars.  He sees the possibility for humans to become “a multi-planet species,” which he imagines will alleviate our problems on earth, especially if World War III were to erupt. He envisions a first tier of travel to the Red Planet in thirty-five-story rockets that he is currently designing. Musk’s plan also includes domed, terra-formed, sealed enclosures in which people will live on Mars the entirety of their days and nights (after all, they cannot go outside due to there being almost no oxygen, an atmosphere of 95% carbon dioxide, radiation levels at the equivalent of 24 CAT scans per day, and  average temperatures of minus sixty-three degrees Celsius).  Bill Maher did a hilarious and insightful segment about moving to Mars on his show, “Real Time with Bill Maher.
    In planning a move to Mars it might also be useful to consider the psychological impacts of earthlings living in close quarters with each other and having no contact with the outside world.  As a pre-curser to a Mars colony, we tried something like this on Earth in the early 1990s.  It was called Biosphere 2 and was an attempt to replicate Earth’s bio systems in a completely closed greenhouse facility covering about three acres in the Arizona desert.  The structure contained seven “biomes,” (various bio regions, such as a rainforest, mini ocean, coral reef, mangrove, savannah) and was home for two years to eight crew members, known as “biospherians,” who grew their own food within and kept the internal systems running.
    Except that there were problems.  Soon into the experiment, which began in 1993, carbon dioxide levels began to rise and oxygen and food levels began running low. In addition, there developed a syndrome called “irrational antagonism,” in which rifts and estrangements among the eight crew members resulted in a four-against-four tribalism that continued to the end of the experiment.  As Jane Poynter, one of the original eight, said in a TED talk: “We all went quite nuts, I will say.”  A year later in the second attempt at Biosphere life, a new group were able to grow enough food and didn’t need added oxygen, but they were only in the facility for six months. In any case, when problems involving oxygen, food, or water arose, help was only a phone call and a short jaunt away, instead of thirty three million miles. The Biosphere experiments might also serve as a cautionary tale to the prepper billionaires who are building luxury bunkers underground here on earth.
    I have watched many interviews with Elon Musk. I like him. I don’t see him as Dr. Evil.  He is akin to the genius kid in class who excitedly shows you the power grid he built with his Lego set. Musk and the engineers re-fashioning nature are part of a long line of techno wizards who have made our epoch into what is now called the Anthropocene, “the geologic age in which human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment.”
    It has been our historical privilege to have new frontiers of untapped resources whenever we overshot any given region.  We could always move to another place, either one that was uninhabited or one that might require that we negotiate with, subdue, or eliminate the people who were already there. The earth was large and abundant for most of human history.  But it is now rapidly shrinking; that is, we are much more in number while the habitats that can support life are far fewer, as Bill McKibbin details in a 2018 New Yorker article entitled, “How Extreme Weather is Shrinking the Planet.” 
    The actual “economy” now is the world population in relation to the habitats that are capable of sustaining life.  In this we are in deficit.  And so, it may seem a great idea for people such as Elon Musk and others to find new ways for human life to continue, either in space or with a new kind of brain.
    Geo-engineering, or climate engineering, is a more realistic form of techno-fixes in that many of the proposals are more possible than cyber tweaking our brains, downloading consciousness, or moving to Mars.  For that reason, geo-engineering is more disturbing as it is likely to be increasingly deployed when the world soon becomes more desperate.
    One type of geo-engineering involves solar radiation management (SRM), the attempt to reflect sunlight back into space. Proposals for this include spraying tons of sulfates (or, slightly less worrisome, salt crystals) into the atmosphere to block sunlight, and modifying clouds, plants, and ice to make them more reflective. A group of Harvard scientists, partially funded by Bill Gates, plan to test a new technology designed to block sunlight by releasing calcium carbonate into the stratosphere over the US southwest. One obvious problem with SRM is that, leaving aside potentially deadly impacts of messing with the very air we breathe, we will still be heating up from the ground. It might be akin to putting a sun reflector on the window of your car on a hot day. The car is still heating up inside but a little less fast.
    Another type of geo-engineering is known as carbon capture and sequestration, (CCS) which involves removing carbon from the atmosphere and building facilities to store it.  One of the many proposals being considered is to seed the ocean with iron pellets to create plankton blooms, which sequester carbon. Another route along these lines is known as Bio Energy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).  An example of this, which is now a “demonstrator” project in the U.K, is to burn wood and then capture the carbon, the idea being that trees sequester carbon, so growing and burning them at a nearby capture facility would create negative carbon emissions. Critics of this method say that it does not accurately calculate the costly energy processes (and carbon emissions therein) involved in such a roundabout endeavor.
    If reading about these methods makes you queasy, you are not alone.  Many of us intuitively resist messing with the atmosphere or creating methods that allow carbon emissions to go on as before in the deluded belief that we are handling the situation. There is the concern that unintended consequences may likely speed up the destruction.  And there is an almost cellular sadness at the thought of human hands now further manipulating the climate after we have already put it so far out of balance. But many people want to try geo-engineering, even though a great deal of data shows how ineffective, carbon costly, and dangerous it is.
    Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics and a member of the Climate Change Authority of Australia, goes into this in depth in his detailed book, Earth Masters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering.  See also Greenpeace’s report on carbon capture, sequestering, and storage.
    Geo-engineering plans are chilling because they are being proposed not merely by conspiracy kooks but by some of the wealthiest, most powerful, and brilliant engineering minds of our time. And they are being funded by coalitions of big oil and gas companies, along with governments, who rely on science that deemphasizes negative impacts.
    Although profit is no doubt a strong motive, it is useless to demonize people who are pursuing these paths, especially when they feel they are mitigating a crisis.  But it is also important to understand that their wisdom may not be as developed as their particular forms of intelligence. It is not necessarily true that just because a technology is possible, we should try it because we are in crisis.  (“If we could do it, we should do it.”) We have ignored, now to our peril, the long-term consequences of many of our technologies and put these technologies online without public discussion.
    As Jerry Mander, told me in an interview in 1991 following the publication of his book In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations, “New technologies are introduced to us without a full discussion of how they are going to affect the planet, social relationships, political relationships, human health, nature, our conceptions of nature and of ourselves. Every technology that comes along affects these things. Cars, for example, have changed society completely. Had there been a debate about the existence of cars, we would have asked, ‘Do we want the entire landscape to be paved over? Do we want society to move into concrete urban centers? Do we want one resource–oil–to dominate human and political relationships in the world?’ Our culture lacks a philosophical basis, an understanding of the appropriate human role on earth that would inform these developments before they happen. Such an understanding would enable us to say, no, we cannot go in that direction because it is desacralizing of life, a failure to be grounded in the natural world and lacking any sense of limits. You see, once you’re living in an industrial, technological society, choices become much more difficult. Even if you believe that cars are inappropriate, you almost cannot function without the use of a car. You can’t function if you don’t have a telephone or a computer–unless you retire from participation.”
    The disparity between wisdom and intelligence may be the inevitable downfall of many other kinds of life in the universe as well.  There is a theory known as The Great Filter, which seeks to explain why, despite the overwhelming odds of there being life on other planets, we have not heard from any of them.  Astrophysicists have now calculated that in the known universe there are about 10 billion trillion planets that would have what they call “a goldilocks zone,” planets whose orbits are in a particular proximity to their star that is similar to our own, not too close and not too far.  Just right.
    The Great Filter proposes that before a civilization reaches the level of development that would allow for intergalactic communication and travel, it wipes itself out through climate change, overpopulation, or other factors having to do with the rise of technological civilization.  As Adam Frank, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, New York, explained in an interview with Chris Hedges, “If you develop an industrial civilization like ours, the route is gonna be the same. In particular, you are going to have a hard time not triggering climate change.  Unlike (with) nuclear war.  For a civilization to destroy itself through nuclear war it has to have certain kinds of emotional characteristics, right?  You can imagine some civilizations (saying), ‘I’m not building those; those are crazy!’  But climate change, you’re not going to be able to get away from. If you build a civilization, you’re using huge amounts of energy; energy that feeds itself back on the planet, and you’re going to push yourself into a kind of Anthropocene, so it is probably universal.  And then the question is, “Does anybody make it through?”
    After all, each and every one of us is a heat engine.  Studies at MIT and elsewhere have shown the global average carbon emission footprint per person per year is four tons (the American average per person is twenty tons per year).
    I first read The Great Filter theory a few years ago.  It made sense to me then and ever since.  In previous years, I had considered our predicament as a “species problem,” that we had a terrible kink in our evolution that made us ecocidal, homicidal, and suicidal.  But the theory of The Great Filter allowed me to see that humans are just doing what we were evolutionarily destined to do. It is not an aberration of evolution, even though it will destroy all complex life.  Nor is it the result of any one thread of evolution, any particular age or technological advancement or economic system.
    Take capitalism for instance. It is unsustainable at its core as it relies on continued economic expansion and growth in a system of finite resources. In the process, it also speeds up the complete elimination of the very resources on which it relies. But the problem is that the human creature will postpone challenging that system as long as the goods keep flowing, no matter the future costs. Capitalism is a perfect representation of the human need and greed for more, future be damned. Very few cultures in modern civilization have managed to resist it. There is now a lot of false hope around “Green Capitalism” and the Green New Deal in the USA. Given that capitalism, of any color, inevitably relies on extraction of resources in the production or transport of goods, feeling encouraged about Green Capitalism is another form of deluded bargaining in the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. As Derrick Jensen elegantly defines it: “Capitalism is a system by which the living is converted into the dead.”
    Capitalism itself is heading to its own extinction. As resources dwindle and the numbers of people vying for them increase, we are facing collapse of the largest Ponzi scheme of all, the global financial system.
    As your awareness metabolizes the deadly threats ahead and the unlikeliness of solutions that will change the course, you might find a strange re-ordering of your thoughts and motivations. For one thing, you will no longer need to consider what you might leave behind as there will not likely be anyone there to see or experience it, at least not for long.There is a cognitive dissonance that takes getting used to when you realize there is no need to consider how you or your name will be remembered in the future. Not only that, your interest in future projections about life begins to fall away.  You may marvel at how many personal conversations with people you know or news items from around the world assume that human life carries on indefinitely.  You may find it difficult to hold interest in these conversations and stories, as though you chanced upon a madman on a street corner earnestly proclaiming his grand plans for the future when it is clear he is hallucinating.  You don’t hang on his every word.
    But the habit of future thinking is a hard one to shake.
    People are often conditioned in the idea of leaving behind a legacy and they spend a lot of their lives in perhaps an unconscious dedication to that project.  They erect monuments to their names or the names of their loved ones in myriad ways, from India’s Taj Mahal to a name on a park bench in their hometowns. They build financial empires or leave behind bodies of work, creations of art, literature, ideas, and inventions. Some people might simply want to live in the memories of those whom they loved.
    But the most common and by far the most emotionally charged form of legacy is in having children. These times challenge all the usual joys and hopes parents might have in seeing their children grow. You watch them cramming for exams, learning to play the violin, applying for programs, or any other training or activity in which hard work and study in the present promises future advancement–and your heart aches.  In facing extinction, you find yourself thinking, “What’s the point of all that effort; should they even bother going to school?  Maybe we should just find ways to enjoy whatever time is left with our children without any future goals.” You may wonder if you should spend down your bank account if you are so privileged as to have surplus wealth.
    Letting go of the future means re-ordering your tendencies of thinking about the future. How psychologically invested you have been in your ideas and hopes about the future will likely determine how well you adapt to ignoring those kinds of thoughts as they arise. You may also find a stronger habit in present awareness begin to prevail.  And if your own legacy project entailed a lot of stress and strain in hopes of building (or maintaining) a name for yourself, you may even find great relief and freedom in the irrelevance of those thoughts and their incumbent efforts.  You may be released from both the legacy project for the future and a similar project in the present, one that I call “The Me Project,” which is dedicated to self-importance and is in particular vogue among social media addicts.
    You may also feel that you are losing the past as well. In this time of The Great Dying, it may seem for you, as it does for me, that reminders of former times become hauntings of all that has been lost forever.  The contrast of how things felt then to how things feel now can be unbearable. I notice that I eschew watching documentaries of the Sixties and Seventies, an era in which I came of age, when hope and every imaginable kind of freedom were our daily fare, represented in our music, our political activism, and in an almost shimmering joy in the atmosphere.  We would “change the world, rearrange the world,” as Graham Nash wrote in the lyrics of his protest song “Chicago” in 1971.  Now, I have to be careful about even hearing the music from those halcyon days.
    Long ago, a friend who had spent two years in a federal prison for growing marijuana told me that the most difficult time of each month was when his wife and young children made the drive of many hours to visit him.  He would end up depressed for days after their visits, having entered for those moments the living reminder of the colorful world, far from the ashen walls of his own.  But at least in his case at that time, the other world was one to which he could eventually return or could imagine his children would go on enjoying. 
    Of course, letting go of both the future and the past doesn’t mean your life-affirming acts in present time are irrelevant.  Pulitzer Prize winner and U.S. Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin wrote:  “On the last day of the world, I would want to plant a tree.”   It is the purest kind of offering, one that has no possibility of future reward.  We, too, can make our final acts on earth a testament to the human capacity for mercy, a living bow to our highest good—for its own sake–even though it will not save the day.
    “Throughout all of history and prehistory, human advance has coincided with ecological devastation.”John Gray (British philosopher)
    Straw Dogs, 2002
    You may feel fury at times in seeing the desecration of the natural world and in realizing its destruction is due to human activity on the planet.  It seems tragically unfair that one species could cause the elimination of almost all the others.  The rate of extinction is now about 1,000 times faster than before humans arrived. It is natural to want to load the blame somewhere. We want to have a first cause onto which we can displace our anger and have a sense of control.  “If only we hadn’t developed agriculture” (which allowed for long term food storage and overpopulation)  “If only the world had been run by matriarchies,”  “If only we had a bottom-up economic system.”  “If only we had all learned to meditate.”  If only.In a recent blog post, writer James Kunstler proposed a pithy theory of why humans chose each step of our path in history: “It just seemed a good idea at the time.”  We plunged forward with each new way of doing things, each new invention, because it made life easier at the time.  There was no intention to destroy ourselves. On the contrary, for most of the time since the Industrial Revolution, it seemed that life was getting better for greater numbers of people.  With medical advances, we wiped out most of the contagious deadly diseases, controlled infections, and greatly extended life expectancy.  We built transportation capabilities that allowed us to travel to the far ends of the earth in a day and thereby learn of other cultures while on their own turf.  And then we hooked ourselves up to each other in a world of instantaneous communication, which has been a whole lot of fun.  But we didn’t factor in the cost of all this bounty as we built modern civilization.  We didn’t understand that running the world on fossil fuels that were needed for our machinery—our cars, planes, cargo ships, tankers, electric grids, and just about everything—would someday do us in.  Nearly all of us went along on the ride and enjoyed the benefits, and now the party’s over and the bill has come due.  But where can we lay blame?
    As theoretical physicist Peter Russell mused in a podcast conversation with me in 2016, “What if we saw ourselves as a cosmic flame blooming in the universe and coming to its natural end?”
    What if we forgave everybody everything?

    We grieve because we love. To the degree that your heart is shattered over loss is precisely the degree to which you loved that which has gone.  We know that coming to terms with one’s own personal death or the death of a loved one can lead to acceptance, Kubler-Ross’s final stage of grief.  There are countless examples of that final reckoning in which a dying person lets go of the last threads that tether him or her to this world–and dies at peace. I personally know dozens of people who have passed in this way. And we also know of many cases where people have managed to accept the death of a loved one and move on in their own lives, often with greater appreciation for those who are still here.However, witnessing the death of all of life, even though there may be acceptance of the fact of it and even though one may no longer blame anyone or anything, comes with a different kind of grief.  It is depressing on a scale that is unique to our time. Even as a child, I felt that the most horrifying movies were the ones about the end of all life on the planet. Now those images are playing in our heads as a real possibility, and people are feeling beaten down by them. All the world over, there are waves of distress, anxiety, and depression, which are based on circumstance and not merely on brain chemistry gone awry. Distress, anxiety, and depression are appropriate responses in facing the threat of full extinction.
    No matter how clear and rational our understanding of the situation, many of my extinction-aware friends admit that the magnitude of the loss we are undergoing is unacceptable to the innermost psyche.  It might be akin to a parent losing a young child.  Even when there was no one to blame and no story of “if only,” the sorrow can rarely be fully overcome.  Only this time, it is all the little children.  All the animals.  All the plants.  All the ice.
    Many of us are also in anticipatory grief; that is, in the period leading to full extinction, we are aware of how hard things will become, just as it is for those who are already living marginally, such as the nearly one billion people who are now under nourished and who must search for food each day.  These numbers will increase and food and fresh water will become impossible to find.  Even here in a rich country, I know many people who live month to month, barely making the rent, foregoing all but the most basic necessities.  They are considered the poor in our First World countries, and they are also growing in number.  In the United States alone, many of those who were formerly middle class now live in their cars or in homeless shelters or on the streets.  Even those in situations of abundance are often relying on jobs that are destined to disappear or on bank accounts and investments that will likely disappear as well.  After all, much of the so-called wealth of the privileged is simply numerical digits floating on cyber screens.  Those numbers changed in a single day during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.  One day a portfolio balance flickered one number on the screen; the next day it flickered a number that was far less.
    You may begin to experience anticipatory grief for everyone—the animals, the young, the poor, the newly poor, the middle class, the rich, and, most of all, your own loved ones. Few people are even minimally prepared, emotionally or physically, for what is coming, perhaps especially those who are most privileged.  A friend told me the following story: his father was a survivor of one of the Nazi concentration camps.  He said that the people who had the best chance of survival in the camps were the ones who had come from poverty and hardship in their lives before the camps.  Those who had come from privilege were the first to die.
    I am aware that virtually no one in my family and few of my friends are either ready to hear this information now or will be prepared to face what is ahead in time. It is pointless to try to warn them if they are not ready.  My attempts at hinting usually lead to blank stares or agitation. I have come to accept that for some people, their fate is to continue the romp of life, oblivious to the dangers ahead.  Maybe it is best that they enjoy whatever good times are left, even though there might be extreme panic in the last phase.  Maybe it is just as well that they continue as they have been for as long as possible.  Maybe it will postpone chaos and lawlessness the world over until the systems fully crash.  But for those of us who cannot look away, we carry the anticipatory grief for those who cannot bear to look.
    Climate journalist Dahr Jamail knows well the process of grief in watching earth changes before his very eyes. A long time mountain climber, he has observed the permanent retreat of countless glaciers in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and elsewhere, having known those regions when the glaciers were still in full.
    In the final chapter of The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, he writes: “Each time another scientific study is released showing yet another acceleration of the loss of ice atop the Arctic Ocean, or sea level rise projections are stepped up yet again, or news of another species that has gone extinct is announced, my heart breaks for what we have done and are doing to the planet.  I grieve, yet this ongoing process has become more like peeling back the layers of an onion—there is always more work to do, as the crisis we have created for ourselves continues to unfold.  And somewhere along the line I surrendered my attachment to any results that might stem from my work.  I am hope-free.”
    I recently interviewed Dahr on the question of hope with regard to the many non-harmful or natural geo-engineering projects of mitigation and drawdown of carbon that are underway, unlike the aforementioned scary ones. These include planting trees, enriching soil, using particular forms of effective seaweed for carbon capture and ocean cooling, solar farms, onshore wind turbines, plant-rich diets, and educating girls (educated girls have fewer babies), to name a few. But Dahr is wary about the timeline of these proposals.
    “Hope is about the future and gives us a sense that we have more time when, in fact, we are out of time. I think it is awesome that people are doing things to mitigate the damage as it is the right thing to do. Some of us feel morally obliged to take action in those ways.  On the other hand, when you look at the amount of carbon that needs to be drawn down and how fast that has to happen, it is a physical impossibility to scale that to the level we would need.
    “Take, for instance, wide-scale rejuvenation of soil.  If every farmer were incentivized and mandated to incorporate practices that would rejuvenate soil at world scale and we coupled that with wide-scale tree planting—of course, all of these things take time–at least we would have set in motion some actions that might still help.  What makes natural geo-engineering, soil sequestration, planting trees, and so on impossible for actually turning the tide on this is that there is a near total lack of political will to mandate any of it.  If all of a sudden we could replace the horrible governments with functional ones that represented what we now need and if that is where all the funding went, yeah, it might actually make a dent in mitigation.  But the reality is that there is not one country that I know of doing everything it can in that direction.  Certainly none of the major emitters–Russia, the US, China, and India–are doing anything of significance; all four are just stomping on the gas. There is nothing to indicate that a change of course will happen.  Nothing.  Not now. Not next year.  Not in ten years.  So the lack of political will is going to negate any and all natural geo-engineering efforts. Nevertheless, we are still obliged to do what we can in our own ways, even if there is no chance for long-term mitigation. ”
    Yet, we are often told that we cannot carry on without hope for at least a someday outcome.  Because our western cultures, particularly those in America, are fixated on an almost childish adherence to hope, they celebrate old clichés such as, “You gotta have hope,” “We mustn’t lose hope,” ”Keep hope alive.”  Politicians and CEOs get elected with such slogans.  Activists get funds for their projects and ideas even though they are five decades too late.  And religious and new age thought leaders make millions peddling spiritual hopium, self-induced intoxication that ignores reality and offers an illusion of control or escape. True, there are times and places for hope when it is possible to change a course that can be changed.  But clinging to hope when there is no longer anything to be done, when the course cannot be changed, makes hope itself a burden.  One is forced into internal pretense, deeper denial.  For people who have limited capacity for denial, and I suspect that if you have read this far you are one of those, maintaining hope becomes impossible. It is a surprising relief to let go of it.
    However, you may then experience the brunt force of sorrow.  Grief, straight up. It may sneak into your dreams.  It may come in ordinary moments such as smelling the spray of an orange; or when a child whom you love says the words, “When I grow up…” It may come when you observe greed, ignorance, and cruelty, as these are reminders of why the world is dying.  Sometimes you may feel you could cry and never stop crying.
    To stay steady, you may be forced into a witnessing presence, vast enough to contain your grief. You may acclimate to living with grief without the assumption that it should or will dissipate.  Despite this or because of it, you may notice a growing tendency to appreciate simple moments of connection and many small joys. And you may feel more awake than you have for a long time.
    Living with the grief of facing human extinction may be akin to how a person with a terminal diagnosis might experience his or her final phase, the awareness of death undeniable, and the magnificence of life ever more obvious.
    So come my friends, be not afraid
    We are so lightly here
    It is in love that we are made
    In love, we disappear
    —Leonard Cohen
    “Boogie Street”
    What else is there to do now?  Here we are, some of the last humans who will experience this beautiful planet since Homo sapiens began their journey some 200,000 years ago.  Now, in facing extinction of our species, you may wonder if there is any point in going on.  If your future projects make no sense any more, if you feel it is unwise to have children, and that things are going to get really hard and bad, you may not want to bother living any longer.  Yet, there are other ways to use your attention that make life still relevant and even beautiful. For nearly thirty years I have led public sessions and silent retreats around the world.  In those gatherings, I encourage people to manage their own attention by moving it into present awareness, gratitude, and an immersion in the senses.  However you are using your attention in any given moment is conditioning the experience you are having in that moment.  We live in a time when managing our attention will be all the more necessary to stay calm and to allow us to enjoy and be helpful in whatever time is left.  Directing attention is a facility that becomes habitual with time.  Left to its own conditioned patterns, our minds get into all kinds of trouble (unless one was very lucky in one’s conditioning, which is rare).  Developing the habit of re-directing your awareness when your mind is lost in fear or troubling stories induces confidence along the way.  Your attention starts to incline toward ease more frequently. You find that you can choose calm. You can choose gratitude.  You can choose love.
    Jonathan Franzen, winner of the National Book Award and many other literary honors, writes in his latest book The End of the End of the Earth:  “Even in a world of dying, new loves continue to be born.”  This is now the time to give yourself over to what you love, perhaps in new and deeper ways. Your family and friends, your animal friends, the plants around you, even if that means just the little sprouts that push their way through the sidewalk in your city, the feeling of a breeze on your skin, the taste of food, the refreshment of water, or the thousands of little things that make up your world and which are your own unique treasures and pleasures.  Make your moments sparkle within the experience of your own senses, and direct your attention to anything that gladdens your heart. Live your bucket list now.
    There are also some simple thought reflections and actions that might be helpful:
    Find your community (or create one). People are beginning to wake up and speak about this all over the world. Extinction Rebellion, which began in the U.K., now has gatherings in many cities of Europe, North America, and Australia. There are also several online extinction-aware groups. You may want to start discussions in your own home with friends and neighbors. People have been thinking about these matters and discussing issues such as community gardens, water, and safety—and there is online information along those lines. Here is a paper that addresses community resilience in the area in which I live. These ideas can be adapted to suit differing communities’ needs. Having community around you is important both for mental wellbeing and for what Jem Bendell covers in his online paper, Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Strategy. Take a look also at Resilience.org and at Dahr Jamail’s columns on Truthout.org, where you will find dozens of climate articles and data. For those who prefer audio, friends Michael Shaw and Michelle Walter host a no-nonsense radio show in Australia called “This is the Climate Crisis.” There is also a private Facebook group called Near Term Extinction SUPPORT group, which is a treasure trove of current scientific articles and climate news as well as heartfelt explorations in bearing this news.
    Find your calm. In addition to wisely directing your attention, include also whatever daily activities induce greater calm in your life–walking in nature, a slow meal with loved ones or on your own, reading or listening to music, dancing, swimming–whatever your thing is, give priority to it every day. Your relaxation and calm is not an indulgence but rather a tune up for your mental and physical wellbeing, which leads to a more awake and responsive intelligence. My podcast channel called “In the Deep with Catherine Ingram” (taken directly from the public sessions I lead) regularly encourages ways to foster courage, acceptance, and calm.
    Release dark visions of the future, and pace your intake of climate news. Although frightening pictures about what is to come in the future may arise in your imagination, it is best not to entertain them. It is also helpful to pace yourself in reading or watching news of climate chaos. There is a tendency, once climate catastrophe grabs the attention, to keep staring at fresh news of it as though transfixed by a plane crash in real time. Resist being constantly immersed in the increasing data of the chaos. Have a fast from the news as needed, and rest your weary mind. One of my friends periodically unplugs and walks in mountains; another unplugs and works for hours in his garden. They are both keenly aware of unfolding climate realities, with the inevitable sadness that comes with that awareness. Yet both have learned to manage and enjoy the precious time that is left, living by a Navaho ethos: “May you walk in beauty.”
    Be of service. Know that whatever is to be in the future, it will feel good to be of service in whatever ways your gifts can be used and on any scale that feels right and true, whether in your personal life of family and friends or in a larger community.  There is no need to keep accounts of whether your actions will someday pay off.  Being of service feels good for its own sake and gives your life meaning, a sense that you are being well used, like good compost in the field of life.
    Be grateful.  Longevity was never a guarantee for anyone at any time of history.  Whatever time is left to us, we are the lucky ones.  We got to experience life, despite the overwhelming odds of that not being the case, as biologist Richard Dawkins often points out.  When we think of all the times our ancestors had to thread the needle of survival and live long enough to procreate, every single lifetime, it puts into perspective how precious is this experience we are having. Gratitude for life itself becomes the appropriate response.  Direct your awareness many times throughout the day to all the little things for which you are grateful.  It is an open secret for inducing a calmer mind.
    Give up the fight with evolution. It wins.  The story about a human misstep in history, the imaginary point at which we could have taken a different route, is a pointless mental exercise. Our evolution is based on quintillions of earth motions, incremental biological adaptations, survival necessities, and human desires. We are right where we were headed all along.
    Despite our having caused so much destruction, it is important to also consider the wide spectrum of possibilities that make up a human life.  Yes, on one end of that spectrum is greed, cruelty, and ignorance; on the other end is kindness, compassion, and wisdom. We are imbued with great creativity, brilliant communication, and extraordinary appreciation of and talent for music and other forms of art.  We cry in tenderness when we are touched by love, beauty, or loss.  We cry in empathy for others’ pain.  Some of us even sacrifice our lives for strangers.  There is no other known creature whose spectrum of consciousness is as wide and varied as our own.
    You likely know well the spectrum of human consciousness within yourself.  Perhaps you have had many moments when greed or hatred overtook your mind.  But it is likely you have also had many moments when you knew that love was all that ever really mattered.  And in your final breaths it is likely to be all that is left of you, a cosmic story whispered only once.
    As Leonard said, “It is in love that we are made; in love we disappear.”

    Categories: External websites

    (AU) Can Legal Action Force Governments And Businesses To Respond To Climate Change?

    Lethal Heating - 14 February, 2020 - 04:00
    ABC News - Jacqueline Peel

    Australia's devastating summer bushfires fit scientific predictions for how climate change might affect the weather. (Supplied: Tony C Mathew)

    Jacqueline PeelJacqueline Peel is a professor at the Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne. Australia's devastating summer bushfires, and now flooding rains, fit with scientific predictions for how climate change might affect the weather.
    For many in the community this extreme weather highlights the need for a political response, yet more and more people believe governments and companies aren't doing enough to combat the changing climate.
    How climate change has impacted
    the world since your childhoodGlobal warming is already changing the world before our eyes — let's see what has happened in your lifetime.Can the courts provide a solution?
    Legal challenges related to climate change are a fast-growing trend.
    A handful of cases in the mid-2000s has exploded into more than 1,500 cases worldwide in 2019.
    This litigation has been driven by the increasing impact of climate change on people's daily lives, alongside the perception that governments and companies are not acting quickly enough to address the problem.
    Australia has been a hotspot for climate litigation, with only the US having more climate-related lawsuits.
    Many climate cases coming before courts in Australia have involved challenges to big coal mining projects, like the proposed Adani mine.
    Others have argued that developments that could be affected by future climate change — for example, from sea-level rise — should proactively take those effects into account.
    For many in the community, Australia's devastating summer bushfires and flooding rains highlights the need for a political response. (Mitchell Harley, UNSW Water Research Laboratory)

    How can the law make an impact?
    A handful of cases have also been brought directly against companies. An example was the suit brought in 2017 by shareholder Guy Abrahams against CBA.
    Should you be allowed to break
    the law to 'save the planet'?Charged with traffic offences for blocking Brisbane streets during an Extinction Rebellion protest, this 23-year-old is arguing she should be allowed to break the law because climate change is an "extraordinary emergency".Abrahams challenged the adequacy of the bank's disclosures about climate risk to its business, as well as its proposed financing of the Adani coal mine. The case did not proceed to a full hearing, but after it was filed CBA announced it would not fund Adani.
    In subsequent annual reports, the bank has also upped its game in highlighting the extent of its climate risk exposure.
    Despite these court actions, well-respected climate science reports make clear that governments are falling well short of what's needed to keep global temperature rises within safe limits.
    At the same time, influential private sector institutions, from the Reserve Bank of Australia to the Bank of International Settlements (the world bank for central banks) have warned that climate change poses significant financial and environmental risks if we continue down the path of a business as usual carbon-based economy.
    Shareholder Guy Abrahams brought a suit against the CBA over its proposed financing of the Adani coal mine. (Supplied: Frontline Action Coal)Who will be held to account?
    In response, a trend has emerged in climate change litigation worldwide: legal challenges seeking to hold governments and fossil fuel companies directly accountable for climate change-related harms.
    And we are now beginning to see some outcomes in these cases.
    In the Netherlands, just before Christmas last year, the nation's most senior court delivered a landmark ruling in the high profile Urgenda case.
    Banks lift exposure to fossil fuels
    Australia's major banks have been getting back into fossil fuels over the past year, casting doubt on their seriousness in tackling climate change through their investments.Following a challenge by environmental group Urgenda (the name is a contraction of "urgent" and "agenda") the Dutch Supreme Court found that the government's 2020 target for greenhouse emissions reduction was inadequate to protect Dutch citizens from climate change harms.
    It ordered the Dutch government to increase its 2020 target to align with the levels of emissions reduction recommended by international climate science bodies.
    Just a few weeks earlier, the Commission of Human Right in the Philippines issued another historic finding, concluding that the world's largest fossil fuel companies — known as carbon majors — could legally be held liable for their contributions to climate change. These decisions could pave the way for a flood of new climate-related legal claims against governments and big corporate polluters.
    All the signs in 2020 are that climate change litigation is here to stay and these cases are likely to grow in number and profile over the next few years.What's happening in Australia?
    In Australia, two closely watched ongoing climate cases are a petition to the United Nations Human Rights Committee brought by Torres Strait Island communities against the Australian Government, alleging that the Government's inadequate climate policies violate islanders' human rights, and ongoing litigation by 24-year old Brisbane-based council worker Mark McVeigh against his super fund, REST, over its failure to say how it is managing climate risk in its investment portfolio.

    Mark McVeigh is taking on REST
    and the world is watchingA landmark trial in Australia could potentially change the way superannuation funds invest Australians' almost $3 trillion in retirement savings and pave the way for more climate-change-related litigation.A landmark trial in Australia could potentially change the way superannuation funds invest Australians' almost $3 trillion in retirement savings and pave the way for more climate-change-related litigation.
    Even before these claims are ruled on they are already having tangible effects.
    Late in December 2019, the Australian Government announced a $25 million infrastructure package for the Torres Strait Islands to construct protective seawalls.
    And in light of the filing of cases such as the REST lawsuit, which has attracted the attention of investors and pension funds globally, regulators like the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) are warning superfunds, banks and insurers to expect greater scrutiny of their climate risk management.

    How much can the courts really achieve?
    Courts are not a panacea, though, for the ills of climate change inaction.
    They are limited to dealing with the cases that are brought before them and can't directly make climate policy.

    Australian bosses have started
    caring about climate changeAustralian company directors nominate climate change as the number one issue they want the government to address in the long-term, in a survey of more than 1,200 business leaders.Australian company directors nominate climate change as the number one issue they want the government to address in the long-term, in a survey of more than 1,200 business leaders.
    Courts are followers, not leaders, of broader social movements.
    Nonetheless, in Australia and around the world, courts are showing that they can be an active player in shaping how the law applies to climate change.As the New Zealand Court of Appeal put it in a case brought by law student, Sarah Thompson, challenging the country's emissions reduction targets, "courts have recognised the significance of the [climate] issue for the planet and its inhabitants" and "have held they have a proper role to play in Government decision making on this topic".

    Categories: External websites

    Explainer: Nine ‘Tipping Points’ That Could Be Triggered By Climate Change

    Lethal Heating - 13 February, 2020 - 04:10
    Carbon BriefRobert McSweeney

    Infographic by Rosamund Pearce/Tom Prater
    Tipping towers
    Irreversible change? 
    1. Shutdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
    2. West Antarctic ice sheet disintegration
    3. Amazon rainforest dieback
    4. West African monsoon shift
    5. Permafrost and methane hydrates
    6. Coral reef die-off
    7. Indian monsoon shift
    8. Greenland ice sheet disintegration
    9. Boreal forest shift
    Other tipping points The persistent march of a warming climate is seen across a multitude of continuous, incremental changes. CO2 levels in the atmosphereOcean heat contentGlobal sea level rise. Each creeps up year after year, fuelled by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
    And while climate records are being routinely broken, the cumulative impact of these changes could also cause fundamental parts of the Earth system to change dramatically and irreversibly.
    These “tipping points” are thresholds where a tiny change could push a system into a completely new state.
    Imagine a child pushing themselves from the top of a playground slide. There is a point beyond which it is too late for the child to stop themselves sliding down. Pass this threshold and the child continues inevitably towards a different state – at the bottom of the slide rather than the top.
    In this article, Carbon Brief explores nine key tipping points across the Earth system, from collapsing ice sheets and thawing permafrost, to shifting monsoons and forest dieback.
    And, over the coming week, Carbon Brief will be publishing guest articles from experts in four of the tipping points covered here.

    Tipping towers
    A glance at the news media on any given week will likely highlight all sorts of climate change impacts. From declining Arctic sea ice and record-breaking heatwaves to melting glaciers and worsening droughts, the increase in global average temperature is being felt around the world.
    Broadly, these impacts reflect gradual changes caused by a climate that is steadily warming. Scientists have estimated, for example, that for every tonne of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, summer sea ice cover in the Arctic shrinks by three square metres.
    However, there are parts of the Earth system that have the potential to change abruptly in response to warming. These systems have “tipping points”, explains Prof Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter. He tells Carbon Brief:
    “A climate tipping point, or any tipping point in any complex system, is where a small change makes a big difference and changes the state or the fate of a system.”

    So, rather than a bit more warming causing slightly hotter heatwaves or more melting of glaciers, it causes a dramatic shift to an entire system. 
    That extra bit of warming would be, as the saying goes, the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Or, to use a more animal-friendly metaphor, a game of Jenga – where a particular component within the Earth system, such as an ice sheet, circulation pattern or ecosystem, is represented by the tower of blocks.

    Animation by Tom Prater for Carbon Brief.
    The gradual increase in global temperature sees block after block removed from the tower and placed on top. As time goes on, the tower becomes more and more misshapen and unstable. At some point, the tower can no longer support itself and it tips over. In the game of Jenga, the tower collapses in a split second. For a component of the Earth system, the shift to one physical state to another may take many decades or centuries. But the feature they have in common is that once the collapse has started, it is virtually impossible to stop.
    It is worth noting that a tipping point can be caused by natural fluctuations in the climate as well as by an external forcing, such as global warming. These are called “noise-induced” tipping points and include, for example, periods of abrupt change during the last ice age called “Dansgaard-Oeschger (D-O) events”. 
    Natural fluctuations can also be the final nudge for a tipping point pushed to the brink by human-caused climate change, says Prof Mat Collins, joint Met Office chair in climate change at the University of Exeter and coordinating lead author on the “Extremes, Abrupt Changes and Managing Risks” chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate (“SROCC”). He tells Carbon Brief:
    “As you approach the edge of the cliff, a small random gust of wind is more likely to blow you over the edge. This is more prevalent in biological systems. A strong marine heatwave in one year can wipe out a large coral ecosystem for many decades – or, perhaps, even permanently. The heatwave is a result of natural fluctuations, but becomes more likely and more extreme with an increasing average trend.”Irreversible change?
    The theory of potentially abrupt changes in the Earth system is not new. In a Nature commentary in 1987, for example, Prof Wally Broecker of Columbia University – who died in 2019 – warned that palaeoclimate data suggests the “Earth’s climate does not respond to forcing in a smooth and gradual way. Rather, it responds in sharp jumps which involve large-scale reorganisation of Earth’s system”.
    The term “tipping point” itself was popularised by journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell in his book of the same name, published in 2000. Gladwell describes tipping points as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”, and explores examples throughout human society:
    “There was a tipping point for [declining] violent crime in New York in the early 1990s, and a tipping point for the reemergence of Hush Puppies, just as there is a tipping point for the introduction of any new technology.”In the years since, the term has been used increasingly in scientific circles. However, this has not been without controversy. There are, for example, many different views on how the term should be defined and used, explains Collins:
    “There has been an intensive debate in the field of tipping points, abrupt change and irreversibility about the definitions of these terms. They range from the very mathematical to those which are intended to be understood by policymakers.”According to a 2009 paper on the use of the term “tipping points” in climate science and the media, a presentation (pdf) in 2005 by Dr James Hansen of Columbia University’s Earth Institute helped “initiate a tipping point trend in climate change communication that was quickly reflected in public debate”. 
    In Hansen’s talk – a tribute to scientist Prof Charles Keeling, given at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting – Hansen warned that “we are on the precipice of climate system tipping points beyond which there is no redemption”.
    By its Fall Meeting of 2008, the AGU had an entire half-day session dedicated to climate tipping points. A Science briefing about the meeting declared that “tipping points, once considered too alarmist for proper scientific circles, have entered the climate change mainstream”.
    A year earlier, the IPCC had published its fourth assessment report (“AR4”, pdf). This was the first of its assessment reports to use the term “tipping point” – though the third assessment report (“TAR”, pdf) in 2001 had discussed “large-scale discontinuities” that have the “potential to trigger large-scale changes in Earth systems”. Indeed, speaking to a journalist at the time, chapter lead author Prof Hans Joachim Schellnhuber explained that “these are, more or less, tipping points”.
    AR4 adopted a definition of a tipping point based on a 2002 report led by Penn State scientist Prof Richard Alley for the US National Research Council. It states:
    “Technically, an abrupt climate change occurs when the climate system is forced to cross some threshold, triggering a transition to a new state at a rate determined by the climate system itself and faster than the cause.”The IPCC’s definition in its fifth assessment report (“AR5”, pdf), published in 2013-14, gives more detail:
    “We define abrupt climate change as a large-scale change in the climate system that takes place over a few decades or less, persists (or is anticipated to persist) for at least a few decades, and causes substantial disruptions in human and natural systems.”Typically, definitions for a tipping point fall into two categories, says Dr Ricarda Winkelmann, junior professor of climate system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). She explains to Carbon Brief:
    “One is simply that one vital part of the climate system shows some kind of threshold behaviour and that means that a small perturbation around that element can cause a huge qualitative change. And then there’s another definition that actually says there needs to be a positive feedback mechanism associated with the element. So that means there is something that’s self-reinforcing and then that could lead to irreversible changes as well.”Passing an irreversible tipping point would mean a system would not revert to its original state even if the forcing lessens or reverses, explains Dr Richard Wood, who leads the Climate, Cryosphere and Oceans group in the Met Office Hadley Centre. He tells Carbon Brief:
    “In some cases, there is evidence that once the system has jumped to a different state, then if you remove the climate forcing, the climate system doesn’t just jump back to the original state – it stays in its changed state for some considerable time, or possibly even permanently.”This is known as “hysteresis”. It occurs when a system undergoes a “bifurcation” – which means to divide or fork into two branches – and it is subsequently difficult, if not impossible, for the system to revert to its previous state.
    For example, part of the reason that Greenland has an ice sheet today is that it has had that ice sheet for hundreds of thousands of years. If the Greenland ice sheet were to pass a tipping point that led to its disintegration, simply reducing emissions and lowering global temperatures to pre-industrial levels would not bring it back again. It would probably require another ice age to achieve that.
    Similarly, returning to the Jenga analogy, the amount of energy required to rebuild the tower once it collapsed is significantly greater than the energy used to tip it over.
    The extent to which the tipping points considered in this article are irreversible is just one of the many uncertainties that researchers are still exploring. Nonetheless, each of the nine – explained below – are examples of where seemingly small changes have the collective potential to pack a potent punch.

    Shutdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
    The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is a system of currents in the Atlantic Ocean that brings warm water up to Europe from the tropics and beyond.
    The illustration below shows the two main features of the AMOC: the first is the flow of warm, salty water in the upper layers of the ocean northwards from the Gulf of Mexico (red line). This is made up of the “Gulf Stream” to the south and the “North Atlantic Current” further north. The second is the cooling of water in the high latitudes of the Atlantic, which makes the water more dense. This denser water then sinks and returns southwards towards the equator at much deeper depths (blue line).
    The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. Reprinted by permission from Springer. Praetorius (2018) North Atlantic circulation slows down, Nature.

    The AMOC forms part of a wider network of global ocean circulation patterns that transports heat all around the world. It is “driven by deep water formation”, explains Prof Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of physics of the oceans at Potsdam University and co-chair of earth system analysis at PIK. This is “the sinking of dense, therefore heavy, water in the high latitudes of the North Atlantic”, he explains to Carbon Brief.
    Climate change affects this process by diluting the salty sea water with freshwater and by warming it up, he says:
    “The dilution happens through increased rainfall and also melting of continental ice in the vicinity of mainly the Greenland ice sheet. And that makes the water lighter and, therefore, unable to sink – or at least less able to sink – which, basically, slows down that whole engine of the global overturning circulation.”Recent research suggests that the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. This is in line with projections by climate models, says Dr Richard Wood. However, the question remains at what point a weakening tips over into a complete shutdown, he explains:
    “Perhaps a much less likely, but larger cause for concern is whether there’s a threshold beyond which the AMOC becomes unsustainable and at that point – if you pass that threshold – then over some period of time, the AMOC might reduce to zero or even potentially a reversed circulation. And that would have big impacts on the climate of, well, the whole northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe.”This shutdown could happen because the AMOC is a self-reinforcing system, explains Rahmstorf:
    “The circulation itself brings salty water into the high-latitude Atlantic and the salty water increases the density. And so we can say the water is able to sink because it is salty and it is salty because there is this circulation. So it’s like a self-reinforcing system.”Such a system can only be pushed “up to a limit”, says Rahmstorf, after which the self-reinforcing system actually works to further weaken the circulation. Too much freshwater in the North Atlantic slows the circulation, preventing it from pulling salty water up from the south. Thus, the North Atlantic freshens even more and the circulation weakens further – and so on. It “really is an on-off system”, he adds.
    There is still a lot of uncertainty about where exactly this tipping point is, says Rahmstorf. To the extent that “nobody really knows”, he adds:
    “But, I would say, most people think that to trigger a real shutdown would require substantial global warming – like 3C or 4C [above pre-industrial levels]. And we could pretty well minimise this risk by limiting the warming to below 2C. So, if we actually take the Paris Agreement seriously, then I would feel relatively relaxed about the risk of a shutdown. But if we continue on the current path and heading for three or more degrees, then this becomes a really serious concern.”(According to Climate Action Tracker, current global climate policies put the world on track for around 3C of warming.)
    And it is “important to emphasise that climate models are not suggesting a complete shutdown of the AMOC in the next 100 years or so”, adds Wood: “We’re looking at what we call a ‘low-probability, high-impact’ event”. 
    The IPCC’s special report on 1.5C of warming, for example, concludes that while “it is very likely that the AMOC will weaken over the 21st century”, there is “no evidence indicating significantly different amplitudes of AMOC weakening for 1.5C versus 2C of global warming, or of a shutdown of the AMOC at these global temperature thresholds”.
    Were the AMOC to cross a tipping point, models suggest it would trigger a “quick decline that takes decades and then a kind of slower decline which might take even hundreds of years”, says Wood. 
    This would be “practically irreversible” on human timescales, notes Rahmstorf:
    “Depending on the exact nature of the stability of the circulation, it could be shutdown basically indefinitely for thousands of years into a new stable shutdown state. Or it could eventually recover – both things we observe in different models. But, on a timescale if you’re just interested in what happens in the next 200-300 years or so, that doesn’t actually make a difference because it does stay off then once it dies for quite a long time.”This “shutdown” state is an example of hysteresis, explains Wood in the video below. It means that once you go over the tipping point, even if global warming is stopped or reversed, the AMOC does not necessarily switch back on again immediately.

    As the AMOC plays a crucial role in bringing heat up from the tropics, a shutdown would cause “widespread cooling around the whole of the northern hemisphere, but particularly around western Europe and the east coast of North America”, says Wood. This could be in the order of “several degrees, possibly 5C”, he adds.
    This cooling would have knock-on impacts for rainfall patterns as there would be less evaporation from the North Atlantic, says Wood. This could either offset or magnify the changes caused by global warming, he says:
    “In northern parts of Europe, we might expect from global warming to see wetter winters and then the drying would compensate. In other regions, more in southern Europe, where we would already be expected to see a drying signal from the global-warming signal, so paradoxically, the cooling would give you a further drying. So it would actually reinforce the climate-change signal.”The knock-on impacts would be considerable. For example, a recent study in the new journal Nature Food suggests that an AMOC shutdown would cause “widespread cessation of arable farming” in the island of Great Britain with “losses of agricultural output that are an order of magnitude larger than the impacts of climate change without an AMOC collapse”.
    In addition, there will be implications for the ocean itself, notes Rahmstorf:
    “The whole North Atlantic ecosystem is adapted to the existence of this overturning circulation, which really sets the conditions – the seasonal cycle, the temperature, the nutrient conditions – in the North Atlantic, and so the intricate web of the Atlantic ecosystem will be substantially disrupted if allow such a massive change in the ocean circulation to happen.”Finally, research suggests that the collapse of the AMOC could itself trigger other tipping points. As the SROCC explains:
    “For example, a collapse of the AMOC may induce causal interactions like changes in ENSO [El Niño–Southern Oscillation] characteristics, dieback of the Amazon rainforest and shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet due to seesaw effect, ITCZ [Intertropical Convergence Zone] southern migration and large warming of the Southern Ocean.”However, the SROCC notes that “such a worst-case scenario remains very poorly constrained” as a result of the large uncertainties around how systems such as AMOC will respond to warming.

    West Antarctic ice sheet disintegration
    The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is one of three regions making up Antarctica. The other two are East Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula, with the Transantarctic Mountain range dividing east from west.
    Although much smaller than its neighbour to the east, the WAIS still holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by around 3.3 metres. Therefore, even a partial loss of its ice would be enough to change coastlines around the world dramatically.
    Aerial view over Pine Island Bay, West Antarctica. Credit: Universal Images Group North America LLC / Alamy Stock Photo.The long-term stability of the WAIS is of particular concern because it is a “marine-based” ice sheet. As the IPCC’s special report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate (“SROCC”) explains, this means that it sits “upon bedrock that largely lies below sea level and [is] in contact with ocean heat, making [it] vulnerable to rapid and irreversible ice loss”.
    The map below shows the elevation of Antarctic bedrock; the greens, yellows and reds indicate areas above sea level, while the whites and blues show areas below it – by as much as 2.5km. The WAIS itself is more than 4km thick in places.
    Bedrock topography below the existing ice sheets in Antarctica. Shading indicates areas above (green, yellow and red) and below (white and blue) sea level. Source: IPCC SROCC (2019) Figure 4.7 (pdf)

    Acting under the force of gravity, the ice of the WAIS gradually flows out from its interior towards the coast and into the Southern Ocean. Fresh snowfall on the interior of the ice sheet replenishes the lost ice. If the ice sheet loses more ice to the ocean than it gains in snow, it adds to global sea levels.
    For example, analysis published in Nature in 2018 showed that the rate of ice loss from the WAIS had tripled from 53bn tonnes a year during 1992-97 to 159bn tonnes a year in 2012-2017.
    Where the ice meets the ocean, floating ice shelves form. These ice shelves have a “buttressing” effect, holding back the glaciers on land that flow into them. 
    Sitting on the ocean surface, ice shelves are at risk of melting from above and below from warm air and water, respectively. In the Antarctic Peninsula, for example, research has shown that the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002 was primarily driven by warm air temperatures. While the Larsen C ice shelf, which is “thinning rapidly”, is being melted from above and below.
    Because ice shelves float on water, their collapse does not directly cause sea level rise. But thinning and/or collapse of the WAIS’s ice shelves could trigger a positive feedback loop that sees rapid and irreversible loss of land ice into the ocean – which would add to sea levels. This theory is called “marine ice sheet instability” (MISI). 
    The illustration below shows how it works. As an ice shelf thins, more ice lifts off the seafloor and begins to float. This pushes back (see blue arrows) the “grounding line” – the transition point between grounded and floating ice (indicated by dashed lines). Floating ice flows more rapidly than grounded ice and so the rate of ice flow near the grounding line increases (black arrows). Faster flow means thinning, which may in turn cause more ice to lift off and float. And because greater thickness also causes the ice to flow faster, grounding-line retreat into deeper sections of the ice sheet can also produce faster flow.
    What makes this a positive feedback loop is the retrograde slope of the WAIS’s bedrock. Not only is much of the bedrock beneath the ice sheet below sea level, large portions of it slope downwards away from the coast. This means that once ice sheet retreat reaches this point, it is self-sustaining.
    Illustration of Marine Ice Sheet Instability, or MISI. Thinning of the buttressing ice shelf leads to acceleration of the ice sheet flow and thinning of the marine-terminated ice margin. Because bedrock under the ice sheet is sloping towards the ice sheet interior, thinning of the ice causes retreat of the grounding line followed by an increase of the seaward ice flux, further thinning of the ice margin, and further retreat of the grounding line. Credit: IPCC SROCC (2019) Fig CB8.1a
    (There is also an additional feedback loop mechanism that could further endanger the WAIS. This is called Marine Ice Cliff Instability (MICI), which would see towering cliffs of glacier ice collapse into the ocean under their own weight. The theory is still under debate.)
    In terms of tipping-point behaviour, most research has focused on the Amundsen Sea sector of the WAIS into which six glaciers drain. As far back at the 1980s, this region was identified as the “weak underbelly” of the WAIS. Here, the grounded ice flows directly into the ocean with “no significant ice shelf barrier” to hold it back. 
    Antarctica’s contribution to global sea levels is currently dominated by ice loss from Amundsen sea sector glaciers. Sections of the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers, for example, are thinning at rates of 49 and 45cm per year, respectively, on average over 1992-2017.
    Graphic: Carbon Brief. Credit: Quantarctica/Norwegian Polar Institute.

    Research indicates that glaciers in this sector are “undergoing a marine ice sheet instability that will significantly contribute to sea level rise in decades to centuries to come”.
    For example, model simulations in a 2014 study in Science have suggested that the “process of marine ice-sheet destabilisation is already under way on Thwaites Glacier”. The study notes:
    “Although [ice] losses are likely to be relatively modest over the next century (1 mm/year of SLE) will ensue once the grounding line reaches the basin’s deeper regions, which could occur within centuries.”This rapid collapse “would probably spill over to adjacent catchments, undermining much of West Antarctica”, the study adds.
    The SROCC is also a little more circumspect in its conclusions. It says that rapid mass loss due to glacier flow acceleration in this region “may indicate the beginning of MISI”. However, it also notes that “observational data are not yet sufficient to determine whether these changes mark the beginning of irreversible retreat”. 
    Prof Tim Lenton tells Carbon Brief that whether all or part of the WAIS has already passed a tipping point for irreversible loss is “the big concern at the moment” because of the sea level rise it would cause.
    Overall, the SROCC assessment of “partial West-Antarctic Ice sheet collapse” is that it is potentially abrupt and would be “irreversible for decades to millennia”. It ascribes “low confidence” to a collapse during the 21st century.
    Nature Climate Change review paper published in 2018 concluded that “under sustained warming, a key threshold for survival of Antarctic ice shelves, and thus the stability of the ice sheet, seems to lie between 1.5 and 2C mean annual air temperature above present”. 
    This temperature threshold refers to regional warming in Antarctica, rather than a global average figure. However – as lead author Prof Frank Pattyn explains to Carbon Brief – because the poles warm more quickly than the global average, 2C of warming on Antarctica from present is approximately equivalent to 2C of global warming since pre-industrial levels.
    Pattyn, a glaciologist and co-director of the Laboratoire de Glaciologie at the Université libre de Bruxelles, also notes that a tipping point for the WAIS “is not sharply defined”. Referring to the different “Representative Concentration Pathway” emissions scenarios, he adds:
    “Studies show that under RCP2.6 the ice sheets continue to lose mass but seem stable, while for RCP4.5, in some cases irreversible mass loss is encountered. However, only a few studies consider the full range of RCPs and most of them only compare RCP2.6 to RCP8.5.”

    RCP2.6: The RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) are scenarios of future concentrations of greenhouse gases and other forcings. RCP2.6 (also sometimes referred to as “RCP3-PD”) is a “peak and decline” scenario where stringent mitigation… Read More Glossary

    RCP4.5: The RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) are scenarios of future concentrations of greenhouse gases and other forcings. RCP4.5 is a “stabilisation scenario” where policies are put in place so atmospheric CO2 concentration levels… Read More


    RCP8.5: The RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) are scenarios of future concentrations of greenhouse gases and other forcings. RCP8.5 is a “very-high baseline” emission scenario brought about by rapid population growth, high energy…Read More

    Evidence from Earth’s distant past also suggests the WAIS has collapsed before. For example, a Nature Geoscience review paper from 2011 notes:
    “The palaeo record strongly suggests that the WAIS largely disappeared, perhaps during the past few hundred thousand years and more confidently during the past few million years, in response to warming similar to or less than that projected under business-as-usual CO2 emission scenarios for the next few centuries.”Amazon rainforest dieback
    The Amazon rainforest is the largest rainforest in the world. Spanning nine countries in South America, it is twice the size of India. The lush vegetation is a haven for millions of species of plants, insects, birds and animals.
    As its name suggests, a rainforest is sustained by very wet conditions. But the forest itself plays a critical role in the local climate. As the forest is saturated with heavy rains, much of this moisture is returned to the atmosphere through evaporation. In addition, transpiration of moisture from plant leaves transfers water from the soil into the atmosphere. These two processes combined are called “evapotranspiration”.
    These processes keep the atmosphere moist, but also help drive convection – strong upward motion of the air – which, ultimately, creates clouds and more rainfall. Research published in the 1970s showed that the Amazon generates around half of its own rainfall.
    The result is that either reducing the amount of rainfall or the amount of forest can shift the climate into a drier state that cannot support a rainforest. There are three potential causes of this, explains Prof Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre and chair of climate impacts at the University of Exeter
    The first is a decline in rainfall in response to a warming climate. Model projections suggest this would be a result of “particular patterns of sea surface temperature (SST) change in the tropical Atlantic and Pacific”, says Betts, but there is a lot of variation between models as to how strong the impact would be on the Amazon. The second is a response to reduced transpiration in response to higher CO2, Betts says:
    “Microscopic pores in plant leaves open less widely under higher CO2. So the plants lose less water and less transpiration means less water going back into the atmosphere.”Finally, the third cause would be the direct impact of deforestation – fewer trees mean less evapotranspiration and less moisture entering the atmosphere.
    Aerial view of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, near Belém, Brazil. Credit: Sue Cunningham Photographic / Alamy Stock Photo.There is only so much drying the Amazon could tolerate before the rainforest would no longer be able to support itself. Beyond this point, the forest would see widespread “dieback” and transition to savannah – a drier ecosystem dominated by open grasslands with few trees. 
    In the clip below, Betts summarises how the Amazon could be pushed “beyond the point of no return”.

    Dr David Lapola – a research scientist at the University of Campinas in Brazil – cautions that, while it is “reasonable to think that deforestation and fire could of course contribute to reach that [Amazon dieback] tipping point”, the hypothesis is predominantly based on model simulations. He tells Carbon Brief:
    “It happens that the same model simulations show that if the so-called ‘CO2 fertilisation effect’ – as a basic input to photosynthesis, when atmospheric CO2 increases it theoretically enhances plant productivity – really exists and expresses itself in the Amazon, then it would counteract the bad effects of higher temperature and lower rainfall, leaving the forest basically the way it is now. The problem is that we don’t have experimental evidence proving the existence, magnitude and duration of such CO2 fertilisation effect in the tropics.”If there is indeed a threshold, where might it lie? Betts says that “3C is the lowest level of warming that might trigger it, but it might need much higher warming”.
    Science Advances editorial last year by Prof Carlos Nobre of the University of Saõ Paulo’s Institute for Advanced Studies and Prof Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University noted that “many studies show that in the absence of other contributing factors, 4C of global warming would be the tipping point to degraded savannahs in most of the central, southern and eastern Amazon”.
    One of those contributing factors is deforestation, which could hasten a shift to savannah as a “fragmented forest is probably more sensitive to rainfall reductions driven by global heating”, says Betts.
    In a recent interview with Yale Environment 360, Nobre explains that he “published a paper about this in Science in 1990 that said if we deforest parts of the Amazon, it will become a savannah”. He adds:
    “The post-deforestation climate will no longer be a very wet climate like the Amazon. It will become drier, it will have a much longer dry season, like the long dry seasons in the savannahs in the tropics in Africa, South America and Asia.”Without global warming, a tipping point for Amazon dieback could be reah “if you exceed 40% total deforested area in the Amazon”, says Nobre:
    “About 60 to 70% of the Amazon forest would turn into a dry savannah, especially in the southern and northern Amazon, areas that now border savannahs. Only the western Amazon near the Andes, which is very rainy, the forest will still be there.”Nobre estimates that approximately 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been cleared so far – principally for cattle ranching and soy plantations. While rates of deforestation slowed in the early 21st century, they have recently rebounded. In the Brazilian Amazon, for example, tree clearance fell by two-thirds between 2005 and 2011, but 2018 saw annual rates rise to their highest levels in a decade. In 2019, deforestation rose again – with rates 85% higher than in 2018. 
    Reports suggest that a change in policy under Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is encouraging development at the expense of the rainforest.
    Factoring in climate change and “widespread use of fire” brings the tipping point closer, say Lovejoy and Nobre in their editorial. They estimate that a “tipping point for the Amazon system to flip to non-forest ecosystems in eastern, southern and central Amazonia [lies] at 20-25% deforestation”. Nobre recently told the Guardian that this could happen “in 15 to 20 years”.
    There is “no point in discovering the precise tipping point by tipping it”, their editorial says, but instead to “build back a margin of safety…by reducing the deforested area to less than 20%”.
    The impacts of losing the Amazon rainforest would be felt locally and globally. As well as being an ecological “catastrophe” for wildlife, the socioeconomic damage to the region could amount to $0.9-3.6tn over a 30-year period.
    “The reduced evaporation and reduced convection would alter atmospheric circulation worldwide,” says Betts, which would influence weather patterns around the world. 
    Amazon dieback would also make it more difficult to tackle climate change, he notes:
    “Increased release of CO2 from forest fires and tree death would accelerate CO2 rise, and with the forest gone we would also have lost an important carbon sink which would mean that deeper emissions cuts would be needed to stop the rise in atmospheric CO2.”There are already “ominous signals” of changes in the Amazon, say Lovejoy and Nobre in another Science Advances editorial published in December 2019:
    “Dry seasons in Amazonian regions are already hotter and longer. Mortality rates of wet climate species are increased, whereas dry climate species are showing resilience. The increasing frequency of unprecedented droughts in 2005, 2010 and 2015/16 is signaling that the tipping point is at hand.”Lapola agrees that “we may be already observing” a shift in the Amazon system. He explains:
    “First evidence: a study has shown that the dry season is already getting longer – by a few days in the last decade – in south Amazonia (Mato Grosso and Rondonia). Second evidence: a recent study showed that forest composition is already changing towards tree species that are more resistant to drought. This suggests that the dieback may be more subtle than previously thought, but not less catastrophic.”The IPCC’s fifth assessment report (“AR5”, pdf) describes dieback of tropical forests as “potentially abrupt”, but “reversible within centuries”. Whereas in a recent Nature “world view” piece, Nobre writes that a recovery from an Amazon tipping point would be “probably impossible”. 
    Whether a reversal would be achievable, at the very least it would be slow, adds Betts:
    “Reforestation or natural regrowth in places with less severe drying could help increase rainfall levels again. Loss of forests on passing the tipping would be quicker though – forest loss can be quite rapid through fire and tree death, but return is slower because it is limited by how fast new trees grow.”West African monsoon shift
    The term “monsoon” in its strictest sense refers to the seasonal reversal of winds and its accompanying rainfall. Along with India, West Africa is one of the few places on Earth where this happens. 
    The West African monsoon (WAM) brings rainfall to West Africa and the Sahel – a band of semi-arid grassland sandwiched between the Sahara desert to the north and tropical rainforests to the south. The Sahel stretches from the Atlantic coast of Mauritania and Senegal through to Sudan, Eritrea and the Red Sea.
    Graphic: Carbon Brief. © Esri
    The WAM is a feature of the northern hemisphere summer. West Africa’s dry season, which runs from November through to May, sees prevailing winds “come from the desert, so they’re dry, dusty winds”, says Dr Alessandra Giannini, a senior research scientist at Columbia University (currently at the Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique in Paris as part of a “Make Our Planet Great Again” grant). The shift to the wet season sees this system switch, she explains to Carbon Brief:
    “When the system reverses, the low pressure over the Sahara – or the land [more generally] – drives winds from the southwest inland and those are moist winds because they’re from the ocean.”The moisture that the winds bring to the region is part of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a huge belt of low pressure that encircles the Earth near the equator. Ultimately, the monsoon is being driven by insolation, says Giannini, as the ITCZ wanders north and south across the tropics each year, roughly tracking the position of the sun through the seasons. 
    (Giannini emphasises that, while the ITCZ and monsoon are “part of the same season and the same latitudinal migration of the rain band”, some researchers prefer to “distinguish between the ITCZ over the ocean from the monsoon inland” and so do not use the terms interchangeably.)
    The Sahel marks the ITCZ’s most northerly position and the monsoon brings rain to the region from around June to September. 
    But the West African monsoon is notoriously unreliable. Between the late 1960s and 1980s, a lack of rain hit much of the Sahel, with average rainfall declining by more than 30% over most of the region compared to the 1950s. This plunged the region into an extended drought, contributing to a famine that killed tens of thousands of people and triggering an international aid effort.
    Sahel precipitation index for June to October over 1901-2017 (where Sahel = 20-10 degrees N and 20 degrees W to 10 degrees E). Shown as precipitation anomalies from a 1901-2017 baseline. Credit: Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington.

    It was Giannini’s 2003 Science paper that identified that the cause of the drought primarily lay in warm SSTs around Africa, not desertification caused by farmers and an expanding population. (Earlier work had shown the connection between SSTs and Sahel rainfall variability more generally.)
    The warm ocean temperatures reduced the temperature contrast between the continent in the hot summer and the cooler surrounding waters. This saw the monsoon rains shift southwards away from the Sahel, causing drought. The effect was reinforced by the “climate-vegetation feedback”, where drier conditions saw less vegetation growth, a reduction in evapotranspiration and even less rainfall.
    Subsequent research by Giannini has shown the combination of warming of the tropical oceans (in response to rising greenhouse gases) and cooling in the North Atlantic (as a result of air pollution from northern hemisphere countries) led to drying of the Sahel.
    Rainfall in the Sahel has since shown a partial recovery. This is due, in part, to a warming climate and a reduction in air pollution rates. These changes show that the WAM is a “very sensitive system”, says Giannini and the Sahel is most at risk because it is at the edge of the monsoon. 
    The past also hints that a tipping point “is in the [WAM] system”, says Giannini:
    “So the past shift – the abruptness of the onset of drought in the late 60s-early 70s – is an indication that the system is sensitive and so it could happen again.”Theory suggests that a warming climate could actually bring more rainfall to the Sahel. As land heats up faster than the water, rising global temperatures could strengthen the land-sea contrast that helps drive the WAM northwards each year. This could bring more rain to the Sahel and, perhaps, see vegetation return to some southern parts of the Sahara. 
    Drought in the Sahel region of Mali, between 1984-85. Credit: frans lemmens / Alamy Stock Photo

    There is evidence of similar changes in Earth’s distant past. During the African Humid Period (AHP) around 11,000 to 5,000 years ago, natural oscillations in the Earth’s orbit around the sun – assisted by various feedback mechanisms – saw the WAM strengthen, bringing greater rainfall into North Africa. Evidence from palaeoclimate data – such as lake sediments – suggest the region was widely covered with vegetation and deep freshwater lakes during this time, resulting in a “Green Sahara”. 
    Research has suggested that the “onset and termination of this humid period were very abrupt, occurring within decades to centuries”, although this is still debated.
    But the AHP is some distance from being an analogue for the modern day. The changes were being driven primarily by the sun, not large increases in greenhouse gases. Therefore, it provides limited insight into how the WAM will be affected by climate change.
    Prof Martin Claussen, professor of meteorology at the University of Hamburg and director at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology tells Carbon Brief that even in model projections under “strong warming”, the “response of the Sahara is much weaker than it was in response to the change in insolation several thousand years ago”. So, rather than a Green Sahara, projections suggest a “shift of the Sahel zone to the north”, he says.
    The response to recent warming has actually been more variability in the WAM, Giannini says:
    “In some ways, we are seeing the wetting already, but it’s a wetting that is different also from the past in that it seems to be made up of more extreme events – so more extreme rains and maybe longer periods of dry spells interspersed.”And, more generally, projections from different climate models have suggested both drier and wetter futures for the Sahel under a changing climate – with the latter linked to a tipping point of 3C of localised warming in the Gulf of Guinea. 
    Research has also indicated a mix of impacts. A 2018 study using a high-resolution climate model, for example, simulated “decreasing precipitation over the southern Sahel and increase of precipitation over the western Sahara” by the end of the century under the very high emissions RCP8.5 scenario.
    As a result, the IPCC’s special report on 1.5C concludes that there is “low confidence” in projections of a “strengthening of monsoon and wetting and greening of Sahel and Sahara”. It also notes that while there are “uncertain changes” associated with a 1.5C or 2C warmer world, it is “unlikely” that a tipping point would be reached that these temperature levels.
    Even if a 3C temperature rise did bring significantly more beneficial rainfall to the region, the IPCC says “it should be noted that there would be significant offsets in the form of strong regional warming and related adverse impacts on crop yield, livestock mortality and human health under such low mitigation futures”.
    Finally, research has also suggested that the WAM could be affected by another tipping point – a significant slowdown of the AMOC. The evidence for this mainly comes from palaeoclimate data from the end of the last ice age, says Prof John Chiang, who runs a climate dynamics research group at the University of California, Berkeley. “In particular for the Younger Dryas event when the AMOC was thought to slow down dramatically because of the influx of freshwater into the North Atlantic,” he tells Carbon Brief. “West African monsoon rainfall weakened during this period.”
    Why AMOC slowdown, which occurs in the high latitude North Atlantic, leads to WAM weakening is “still an open question”, says Chiang:
    “There are two schools of thought. One is that colder conditions in the high-latitude North Atlantic can be transmitted via the atmosphere to the WAM, mainly through the cold conditions permeating into North Africa and affecting the monsoon…The other is that ocean circulation changes resulting from the AMOC slowdown ‘rewires’ the currents around the tropical Atlantic, leading to a warmer South tropical Atlantic and thus causing a weakening of the WAM.”So, another potential mechanism complicates the future for the WAM even more, says Chiang:
    “The question is which influence will win out for West Africa in the future – the direct influence of warming, which wettens, or the AMOC influence, that dries West Africa.”Permafrost and methane hydrates
    Permafrost is the name given to ground – soil or rock – that contains ice or frozen organic material that has remained at or below 0C for at least two years. It covers around a quarter of the non-glaciated land in the northern hemisphere – including large swaths of Siberia, Alaska, northern Canada and the Tibetan plateau – and can be as much as a kilometre thick. In the southern hemisphere, permafrost is found in parts of Patagonia, Antarctica and New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Submarine permafrost also occurs in shallow parts of the Arctic and Southern oceans.
    This frozen ground holds a vast amount of carbon, accumulated from dead plants and animals over thousands of years. There is around twice as much carbon in permafrost than is currently in the Earth’s atmosphere.
    As the climate warms, there is an increasing risk that that permafrost will thaw. This brings microbes in the soil out of hibernation, allowing them to break down the organic carbon in the soil. This process releases CO2 and – to a lesser extent – methane. Thus, large-scale thawing of permafrost has the potential to cause further climate warming.
    Permafrost thaw in Svalbard, Norway. Credit: blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo.

    There is already evidence of permafrost warming. The IPCC’s special report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate (“SROCC”), for example, says that there is “very high confidence” that record high temperatures at ~10–20m depth in permafrost have been “documented at many long-term monitoring sites in the northern hemisphere circumpolar permafrost region”. In some places, these temperatures are 2-3C higher than 30 years ago. 
    Meanwhile, the 2019 Arctic Report Card from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded that thawing permafrost across the Arctic “could be releasing an estimated 300-600m tonnes of net carbon per year to the atmosphere”.
    The lead of author of the permafrost chapter, Prof Ted Schuur of Northern Arizona University, told the Washington Post that recent research indicates “we’ve turned this corner for Arctic carbon”. He said:
    “These observations signify that the feedback to accelerating climate change may already be underway.”The SROCC says there is “high confidence” in projections of “widespread disappearance of Arctic near-surface permafrost…this century as a result of warming, with important consequences for global climate”. It notes:
    “By 2100, near surface permafrost area will decrease by 2-66% for RCP2.6 and 30-99% for RCP8.5. This is projected to release 10s to 100s of billions of tonnes [or gigatonnes, GtC], up to as much as 240 GtC, of permafrost carbon as CO2 and methane to the atmosphere with the potential to accelerate climate change.”The report also warns (pdf) that degradation of permafrost thaw is “expected to be irreversible on timescales relevant to human societies and ecosystems”. It also notes:
    “Ice melt or the thawing of permafrost involve thresholds (state changes) that allow for abrupt, nonlinear responses to ongoing climate warming.”For example, explains Dr David Armstrong McKay – a postdoctoral researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, focusing on modelling nonlinear biosphere-climate feedbacks – some areas of decomposition may release so much warmth that it triggers a so-called “compost bomb”. This is where the “internal heat generation becomes the main driving force for further thaw and carbon release”, he explains to Carbon Brief, “even if global warming stopped”.  
    This effect could have its own tipping point, he adds:
    “In one study, a tipping point for this internal heat production occurred by the time local mean [absolute] annual air temperature reached around 1.2C, which is when organic decomposition became significant in their model. However, this process depends on how wet, insulated and organic-rich the soil is – all major sources of uncertainty – and will be localised rather than across the whole permafrost simultaneously.”Similarly, rapid permafrost thaw can also be triggered – and enhanced – by disturbances such as fire, abrupt drying events, soil subsidence and erosion resulting from ice-rich permafrost thaw (known as “thermokarst”). While “there’s no known large-scale tipping point for slumping”, says Armstrong McKay, research has “suggested that it could double our current permafrost emission estimates”.
    Overall, the evidence indicates that there are several mechanisms for abrupt regional thawing, says Armstrong McKay, while for permafrost thaw more generally, it is expected that it “will act as more of a continuous positive feedback on climate change rather than an abrupt tipping point”. However, some studies suggest a more widespread tipping point could occur beyond 5C, he adds.
    Dr Andy Wiltshire, terrestrial carbon cycle manager at the Met Office Hadley Centre, agrees. At the COP25 climate talks in Madrid, he told Carbon Brief:
    “Tipping points relate to the fact that you have a change and then that change almost drives itself, so it means you go from one state into another. Now, we don’t tend to see that kind of behaviour in permafrost – at least in the large scale. So what we’re seeing with permafrost in the kind of modelling we’re doing is there’s been more of a gradual response.”Permafrost thaw is, however, irreversible, Wiltshire notes. The carbon contained in the soils has built up over “incredibly long periods of time”. Once it is lost to the atmosphere, there is no getting it back. He explained:
    “If we stop warming, then we should see the emissions from permafrost stop, but in terms of that carbon going back into permafrost, pragmatically that’s not possible.”Related to permafrost are methane hydrates, or “clathrates”. This is an ice-like substance formed when methane and water combine at low temperatures and moderate pressure. It is almost exclusively found under the seafloor on continental shelves – areas of seabed immediately surrounding a land mass, where the sea is relatively shallow compared to the open ocean beyond it. 
    Methane hydrates have been central to claims in recent years of a potential “methane bomb” in the Arctic. The theory suggests that ocean warming could melt these ice crystals, releasing vast amounts of methane into the atmosphere.
    A few years ago, for example, scientists identified “widespread seepage of methane from seafloor sediments offshore Svalbard”, which they said “may, in part, be driven by hydrate destabilisation” due to ocean warming. Research also suggested that there were “ready to release” deposits of hydrates in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) under the Arctic Ocean – containing as much as 1,400bn tonnes of carbon. The size of this estimate has been questioned by other scientists.
    (For comparison, global emissions from fossil fuels and industry in 2019 amounted to around 10bn tonnes of carbon.)
    Graphic: Carbon Brief. © Esri

    However, more recent research has poured cold water on the idea of methane hydrates as an impending tipping point. A review paper in 2016, for example, concluded that there was “no conclusive proof that hydrate-derived methane is reaching the atmosphere now”. Methane released at the seafloor “only rarely survives the trip through the water column to reach the atmosphere”, notes a Nature Education Knowledge, because it is oxidised by bacteria in the water.
    Indeed, any bubbles of methane coming from the seafloor are more likely to be coming from permafrost than hydrates, adds Armstrong McKay:
    “It has been suggested that methane bubble plumes detected in shallow Arctic seas are from destabilising methane hydrates, but most scientists believe that most of this methane is actually from submerged permafrost which has been gradually decaying since the last glacial maximum, but may be gradually accelerating now.”In addition, while permafrost soils are in direct contact with a warming atmosphere, methane hydrates occur in sediments at great depths below the seafloor. As a result, research indicates that it will “barely be affected by warming over even 10,000 years”.
    Overall, “this makes permafrost thawing the bigger concern to us now”, concludes Armstrong McKay, “with most methane hydrates likely to remain relatively stable over the next few centuries”.

    Coral reef die-off
    Coral reefs are often cited as one of the ecological systems most sensitive to global warming. As a paper published in Science in 2007 puts it:
    “Atmospheric CO2 concentration is expected to exceed 500 parts per million (ppm) and global temperatures to rise by at least 2C by 2050 to 2100, values that significantly exceed those of at least the past 420,000 years during which most extant [i.e. existing] marine organisms evolved.”Recent years have seen a series of “mass bleaching” events in warm water corals, caused primarily by prolonged exposure to high sea temperatures. Under continued heat stress, corals expel the tiny colourful algae living in their tissues – known as zooxanthellae – leaving behind a white skeleton.
    The algae provide the corals with energy through photosynthesis. Without them, the corals can slowly starve. Although corals can reacquire their zooxanthellae if conditions turn more favourable, persistent thermal stress can kill off the coral communities of entire reefs. 
    Coral bleaching in the northern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia, March 2017. Credit: Nature Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo.Mass coral-reef bleaching events have become five times more common worldwide over the past 40 years. The first global mass-bleaching event was recorded in 1998. This has been followed by the second and third in 2010 and 2014-17, respectively. These events were caused by marine heatwaves – extended periods of unusually high temperatures that were themselves boosted by human-caused warming and El Niño.
    The map below, from the IPCC’s special report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate (“SROCC”), shows how coral reefs around the world were affected in 2015-16. The shading on the map indicates the annual maximum “degree heating week” (DHW) over 2015 and 2016. (DHW is a measure of cumulative heat stress that “describes how much heat has accumulated in an area over the past 12 weeks by adding up any temperatures that exceed 1C above the maximum summertime mean”.) The dots highlight reefs that experienced severe (purple), moderate (mauve) and no substantial (white) bleaching.
    Map shows the Degree Heating Week (DHW) annual maximum over 2015 and 2016. Symbols indicate where severe bleaching affected more than 30% of corals (purple dots), moderate bleaching affected less than 30% of corals (mauve dots) and no substantial bleaching was recorded (white dots). Source: IPCC SROCC (2019) Fig 6.3

    Thermal stress is not the only threat to coral reefs. They are also at risk from other factors, including overfishing, destructive fishing practices, sedimentation associated with sea level rise, runoff of nutrients from the land, storm damageocean acidification and shifts in ocean circulation.
    This lethal cocktail has already seen “persistent shifts from the original dominance by corals to a preponderance of fleshy seaweed or other weedy assemblages” in coral reefs around the world, says a review paper from 2010
    Fast-growing tropical macroalgae can quickly takeover dead coral skeletons, potentially preventing them from being recolonised by corals and leaving them in an altered, albeit stable, state. These shifts can be rapid, says a 2016 study in Scientific Reports:
    “Coral reef ecosystems have been observed to undergo dramatic and sometimes abrupt shifts in community state from one dominated by reef-forming coral to one where other space holders predominate. The alternative space holder often, but not always, is fleshy macroalgae.”Such transitions “have been observed on tropical reefs worldwide, and particularly in the Caribbean”, the study adds. It is typical of ecosystems to show “threshold, rather than linear, responses to slowly building drivers of change such as fishing pressure, added nutrients and rising global temperatures”, says another review paper.
    For example, after the 1998 mass-bleaching event, average coral cover in the Cousin Island marine reserve in the Seychelles declined to less than 1% by 2005, while macroalgae cover increased by as much as 40%.
    Coral reef overgrown with macroalgae in the Caribbean. Credit: imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo.

    It is worth noting that heat stress has the same destructive effect on seaweed, such as kelp, in temperate systems, says Dr Maria Beger, an academic fellow in marine conservation science at the University of Leeds. She tells Carbon Brief:
    “They then also get replaced by macroalgae and/or corals – this is called ‘tropicalisation’ of higher latitude temperate reefs. What both have in common is that the habitat engineering species are being killed.”The loss of herbivorous fish from overfishing can be a particular driver of coral reef decline, says Dr Mark Eakin, coordinator of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch programme. He tells Carbon Brief:
    “While ecologically intact reefs can bounce back from events such as hurricanes or even severe bleaching, when they lack their herbivores they just can’t bounce back.”2007 study explains that herbivores “play an important role in promoting reef resilience and in reef recovery” by removing algae. Thus, they are crucial for a reef returning to a “coral dominated states if disturbance has occurred”.
    However, the study also warns that it is “naive to assume that the protection of herbivorous species…will result in the reversal of a phase shift once macroalgae have become established”. This is because “most herbivorous fishes avoid macroalgae”, the authors say.
    The key here is to have healthy numbers of herbivores that “can graze the algae and thus prevent their establishment”, Beger adds. It is once the algae are big that they are less likely to be eaten, she tells Carbon Brief:
    “What we consider as normal coral reef herbivores mostly eat the filamentous algae that establish first once a coral is dead. Once the algae establish past being tiny, they are less palatable.”Other factors can also affect how well a reef recovers after bleaching. A 2015 Nature study of the Seychelles after the 1998 bleaching event found that, of 21 reefs studied, 12 recovered and “nine reefs underwent regime shifts to fleshy macroalgae”. It explains:
    “Recovery was favoured when reefs were structurally complex and in deeper water, when density of juvenile corals and herbivorous fishes was relatively high and when nutrient loads were low.”Recovery still depends on there being sufficient time for corals to reestablish themselves. A healthy reef can “bounce back in 10-15 years” after bleaching, says Eakin, with “regrowth of rapidly growing corals”. However, “many reefs have shown little to no recovery after severe mortality events”, he adds:
    “In a recent paper, we showed that severe bleaching occurred every 25-30 years in the 1980s. Now it recurs in less than six years. That is far too fast when 10-15 years to start recovery is the best case scenario.”A review study, published in Science in 2007, concluded that atmospheric concentrations “above 500ppm appears extremely risky for coral reefs and the tens of millions of people who depend on them directly, even under the most optimistic circumstances”. CO2 levels have already surpassed 410ppm and are projected to exceed 500ppm by 2100 in all but the most stringent mitigation scenarios for emissions this century.
    In 2016, the first study to compare the widespread impacts of climate change at 1.5C and 2C of warming warned that 90% of tropical reefs would be “at risk of severe degradation due to temperature-induced bleaching from 2050 onwards” in a 1.5C warmer world. For 2C, this risk rose to 98% of reefs, the study says, indicating that the extra 0.5C of warming “is likely to be decisive for the future of tropical coral reefs”.
    The study notes:
    “Our analysis reiterates earlier findings that the risk of coral reefs to suffer from long-term degradation eventually leading to an ecosystem regime shift will be substantial as early as 2030.”The researchers even note that their findings are likely to be “rather conservative” because they only consider the impacts of rising CO2 and not other coral reef stressors.
    The findings of the IPCC’s special report on 1.5C are only very slightly less bleak. It says:
    “Even achieving emissions reduction targets consistent with the ambitious goal of 1.5C of global warming under the Paris Agreement will result in the further loss of 70-90% of reef-building corals compared to today, with 99% of corals being lost under warming of 2C or more.”As experts in Australia told Carbon Brief last year, some of the more heat-resistant corals may be more resilient than these estimates suggest, but what the remaining reefs “will look like – and what the consequences will be for the other reef inhabitants, such as fish – remains to be explored”.
    Eakin says “we’ve already reached” a tipping point for corals on a global basis because of climate change:
    “We are already seeing severe bleaching around the world and the recent 2014-17 global coral bleaching event has been devastating for many reefs around the world. For example, the Great Barrier Reef lost half of its corals in just two years.”A 2018 Nature paper describes the recent bleaching as “a watershed for the Great Barrier Reef, and for many other severely affected reefs elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific Ocean”.
    The study warns that “the most likely scenario” is that “coral reefs throughout the tropics will continue to degrade over the current century until climate change stabilises, allowing remnant populations to reorganize into novel, heat-tolerant reef assemblages”. 
    The 2016 marine heatwave “has triggered the initial phase of that transition on the northern, most-pristine region of the Great Barrier Reef”, the study says, “changing it forever as the intensity of global warming continues to escalate”. It concludes:
    “The large-scale loss of functionally diverse corals is a harbinger of further radical shifts in the condition and dynamics of all ecosystems, reinforcing the need for risk assessment of ecosystem collapse, especially if global action on climate change fails to limit warming to 1.5-2C.”The widespread loss of coral reefs would be devastating for ecosystems, economies and people. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), “despite covering less than 0.1% of the ocean floor, reefs host more than one quarter of all marine fish species”. Coral reefs also “directly support over 500 million people worldwide, who rely on them for daily subsistence, mostly in poor countries”, the IUCN adds.

    Indian monsoon shift
    India receives around 70% of its annual rainfall during the monsoon season. For some areas of western and central India, it accounts for as much as 90%. The monsoon rains are crucial for India’s farm sector, which makes up about a sixth of India’s economy and employs about half of the country’s 1.3 billion population.
    The Indian monsoon – also known as the South Asian monsoon – is a sub-system of the wider Asian monsoon, along with the south-east Asian monsoon and the western North Pacific monsoon. (Some consider the Asian monsoon to have more than three parts.)
    The word “monsoon” originates from the Arabic word for season. It describes a seasonal shift in winds – specifically a 180-degree reversal that triggers the change from the dry to the wet season.
    A storm hits Old Delhi during the Indian monsoon season. Credit: GoSeeFoto / Alamy Stock Photo.

    This shift is driven by the movements of the sun through the seasons, explains Dr Andrew Turner, associate professor in monsoon systems at the University of Reading. In the northern hemisphere winter, the focus of the sun’s energy is over the southern hemisphere. This causes a prevailing wind over India from the north-east, bringing dry air from across the Asian landmass.
    The transition to the wet season arrives as the sun moves north of the equator in spring and early summer. Here, “northern India, the Tibetan Plateau and surrounding regions heat up rapidly”, Turner explains to Carbon Brief:
    “They heat up more quickly than nearby oceans – for example, the northern Indian Ocean – since land (soil) has a much lower heat capacity than water.”The contrast in heating between the land and ocean causes a pressure gradient that drives southwesterly winds across India. “This air travels northward from the Indian Ocean,” says Turner, picking up moisture as it goes. The rains typically begin in June – the official start date of the monsoon season is 1 June – moving north through India. The rains continue until the monsoon starts to withdraw from northern India by the end of August, as the strength and duration of the summer sun decreases. The rains then peter out for most of the country through September and October. 
    The maps below show the average monsoon onset (left) and withdrawal (right) dates across India.
    Average dates of onset and withdrawal of the monsoon. Reprinted by permission from Springer. Gadgil (2018) The monsoon system: Land–sea breeze or the ITCZ?, Journal of Earth System Science.

    “At a fundamental level, the pressure gradient between the Indian Ocean and Asian continent determines the strength of the Asian monsoon”, says the IPCC’s special report on 1.5C. And so, in theory, “anything which alters either the north-south temperature gradient, or the amount of moisture evaporated from the ocean, could change the monsoon rains”, notes Turner.
    With land areas warming faster than oceans, a strengthening of this pressure gradient and the monsoon itself “may be expected under global warming”, says the 1.5C report. In addition, as a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, this may also result in “modest increases in rainfall”, says Turner.
    However, a review study in 2012 – led by Turner – concludes that “the evidence for such trends in observations is unpersuasive”. While the observed record for the strength of the Indian monsoon shows a lot of variability, it does “suggest a negative trend since 1950”, the paper says. This amounts to a rainfall decline of around 10% in central India, adds Turner.
    A potential cause could be air pollution – from India itself and the wider region, Turner says:
    “Air pollution comes in several forms, but most of it is in the form of sulphur compounds – for example, emissions of sulphur dioxide from industry and transport – that form sulphates in the atmosphere. These particles have reflective properties, which act to reflect solar radiation and prevent some of it reaching the surface.”This pollution “will preferentially cool the northern hemisphere region over Eurasia relative to the equator or southern Indian Ocean – where there are no pollution emissions”, says Turner. Increasing trends in air pollution in South Asia could explain “why seasonal mean rainfall over India has not shown increases in the recent observed record despite increasing CO2”, his paper says. Another study says the aerosol cooling in South and East Asia “may have masked up to 1C of greenhouse-gas-induced surface warming since the pre-industrial era”.
    The mix of influences resulting from human activity is one of the reasons that making projections for the monsoon is tricky. Another is that climate models can struggle to simulate the monsoon system, in part because of the intricate interplay of circulation, temperature and topography that drives it.
    Some papers have suggested the possibility for more abrupt changes in the Indian monsoon. A 2005 study, for example, used a simple model to identify the possibility of the monsoon having two stable states: wet (as it is now) and second state characterised by low rainfall. 
    Key to these two states is the so-called “moisture‐advection feedback”. This, the paper explains, is where “the land‐to‐ocean pressure gradient, which drives the monsoon circulation, is reinforced by the moisture the monsoon itself carries from the adjacent Indian Ocean”.
    In other words, a significant factor in maintaining the monsoon is the heat released when the water vapour it holds condenses to form rain. Another paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2009, suggests this feedback acts as an “internal amplifier” for the monsoon.
    The implication is that this feedback magnifies anything that affects the air pressure gradient generated by warm air rising over the Asian landmass. Thus “relatively weak external perturbations” could lead to “abrupt changes” in the monsoon, the PNAS paper says.
    The model simulations in the 2005 study suggest how a switch between states could be triggered. This includes cooling of the land surface through large amounts of air pollution, cooling through very low CO2 levels in the atmosphere, or a combination of the two. 
    Palaeoclimate studies, using “proxy” reconstructions of past conditions, suggest that shifts to a low rainfall monsoon state have occurred in the past in response to changes in how much of the sun’s radiation reaches the Earth’s surface. For example, in the last ice age and during more recent cold periods such as the Little Ice Age
    However, a 2006 study also shows that the albedo changes required to push the monsoon into a dry state – as in the 2005 study – are a long way from modern conditions. Therefore, the authors conclude, “we can be very certain that we will not reach this point in the near future”.
     Read MoreNonetheless, the existence of the “moisture‐advection feedback” is still disputed. In an illustration of how contested the theory of potential abrupt shifts in the Indian monsoon is, PNAS have since published a response to the original 2009 paper, a reply to that response and a reply to that reply.
    Dr William Boos, associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley and author of the PNAS response paper, tells Carbon Brief:
    “The key phrase here is ‘abrupt shift’ – monsoons may change a lot, but there simply is no evidence for them being here one year and gone the next in response to human-induced climate change.”The “vast majority of studies on abrupt changes in monsoons focus on changes that are ‘abrupt’ relative to the past evolution of the climate system that occurred over tens of thousands to millions of years”, adds Boos:
    “Palaeo changes are important, but their relevance to human-caused climate change is unclear; feedbacks that take hundreds to thousands of years to operate – involving large changes in ice sheets or continental vegetation and soil types – may not be relevant if we are interested in changes taking place over a few years or a few decades.”Prof Anji Seth, who leads a physical climate research group at the University of Connecticut, agrees that “there is no evidence that there is a tipping point where you would go from a wet monsoon to a threshold of very dry”. She tells Carbon Brief:
    “All the evidence from proxy data in the past shows that when there is less insolation [incoming solar radiation], less radiative forcing, the monsoons are weaker, and when there’s more, they’re stronger – but it’s a very linear relationship. There are no thresholds seen where there are two stable states in the monsoon.”Overall, the IPCC’s 1.5C report concludes that there is “low confidence” in any projected changes in the Indian monsoon under warming of 1.5-2C, but that increases in the intensity of monsoon rainfall are “likely” in a 3C warmer world. 
    For the IPCC’s fifth assessment report (“AR5”), published in 2013, all the models assessed “project an increase in mean precipitation as well as its interannual variability and extremes” (pdf), the report says. 
    While for monsoon systems more generally, the AR5 summary for policymakers (pdf) says:
    “Globally, it is likely that the area encompassed by monsoon systems will increase over the 21st century. While monsoon winds are likely to weaken, monsoon precipitation is likely to intensify due to the increase in atmospheric moisture. Monsoon onset dates are likely to become earlier or not to change much. Monsoon retreat dates will likely be delayed, resulting in lengthening of the monsoon season in many regions.”Greenland ice sheet disintegration
    The Greenland ice sheet is the second largest mass of ice on Earth. It holds enough water to raise global sea levels by 7.2 metres and, as a result, its disintegration would change the shape of the world’s coastlines.
    Aerial view of the Greenland ice sheet. Credit: imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo.Melting of the Greenland ice sheet is accelerating and it is currently adding around 0.7mm to global sea levels each year.
    A tipping point for Greenland ice melt is unlikely to be abrupt, says climate scientist Dr Ruth Mottram of the Danish Meteorological Institute, but it is clear that there will be a threshold beyond which its eventual collapse is irreversible.
    Around half of the melt that the Greenland ice sheet experiences occurs at the surface. The remainder occurs through melting at the ice sheet base and via the breaking off, or “calving”, of icebergs from its edge. 
    Surface melt is likely to involve a number of different self-reinforcing feedback loops that can speed up melting, explains Mottram. She tells Carbon Brief:
    “Probably the most important ‘tipping point’ feedback though are elevation feedbacks – as the ice sheet gets lower via melting, more are areas are at lower and warmer altitudes, leading to further melting.”In the clip below, Dr Ricarda Winkelmann of PIK outlines the processes involved in a tipping point for the Greenland ice sheet.

    Also important is the “snowline” – the elevation at which the ice sheet is covered in snow. Bright white snow has a higher albedo than dark, bare ice – which means it reflects back much more of the sun’s energy. So if the snowline migrates to higher elevations as the ice sheet warms, it means the ice will be absorbing more of the incoming solar radiation, causing more melting.
    Research published in 2019 found that snowline migration accounted for more than half of the year-to-year variations in how much of the sun’s energy was available for melting. 
    In addition, as meltwater trickles down into the snowpack, it fills the pores in the snow and gives off more heat when it refreezes. This “makes it harder for the snowpack to hold further meltwater, so any additional meltwater will run off directly into the sea”, Mottram says.
    The combination of these processes means that a tipping point in Greenland ice melt is “very much related to how much melting is happening at the surface and how much of a snowpack there is to absorb that meltwater”, says Mottram. This has “cascading consequences as the meltwater can affect ice sheet flow speeds and calving processes”. 
    The lPCC’s most recent full assessment report – AR5, published in 2013 – concluded that (pdf) it is “exceptionally unlikely” that the Greenland ice sheet will suffer near-complete disintegration in the 21st century – equivalent to a 0-1% likelihood of it happening.
    However, more recent research suggests that the ice sheet is at risk on longer timescales. A review paper in Nature Climate Change in 2018 concluded that 1.8C (with a range of 1.1-2.3C) of warming above pre-industrial levels would be enough to trigger feedback loops of decline in parts of the ice sheet in summer. 
    This could set in motion a pattern of melt that takes thousands of years, the paper concluded:
    “Thus, crossing the limit of 1.5C global warming this century may impose a commitment to much larger and possibly irreversible changes in the far future.”The IPCC’s special report on 1.5C – published in 2018 – noted that a “useful indicator” for the elevation feedback mentioned above is the “threshold at which annual mass loss from the ice sheet by surface melt exceeds mass gain by snowfall”. 
    (This means a negative surface mass balance (SMB) over the course of the year. As an example, the SMB for 2019 was 169bn tonnes of ice, the seventh lowest on recordTotal mass balance – which includes the ice lost through calving and ocean melt – switched from overall gains to overall losses between the 1970s and 1980s.) 
    The most recent studies suggest that this threshold “sits between 0.8C and 3.2C, with a best estimate at 1.6C”, the special report says, adding:
    “The continued decline of the ice sheet after this threshold has been passed is highly dependent on the future climate and varies between about 80% loss after 10,000 years to complete loss after as little as 2000 years (contributing about six metres to sea level rise).”The fate of the Greenland ice sheet is, therefore, still strongly dependent on the rate of greenhouse gas emissions in future. A 2019 modelling study published in Science simulated the Greenland ice sheet out to the year 3000 under different emissions scenarios. It found:
    “In a thousand years, the Greenland ice sheet will look significantly different than today. Depending on the emission scenario, the Greenland ice sheet will have lost 8 to 25% (RCP2.6), 26 to 57% (RCP4.5), or 72 to 100% (RCP8.5) of its present-day mass, contributing 0.59 to 1.88 metres, 1.86 to 4.17 metres, or 5.23 to 7.28 metres to global mean sea level, respectively.”This is illustrated in the maps below, taken from the paper, which show the observed state of the ice sheet (A) and the projected ice cover by the year 3000 under the three different scenarios (B to D). The shading in the maps shows the likelihood of future ice cover, with dark blue areas indicating areas with remaining ice in 16% of model runs, blue for 50% of model runs and white for 84%.

    Greenland ice sheet maps showing the observed extent in 2008 (A) and the projected extent in the year 3000 under RCP2.6 (B), RCP4.5 (C), and RCP8.5 (D) across 500 model simulations. Shading indicates likelihood (in percentiles from model simulations) of ice cover remaining by the year 3000: Dark blue (16%), blue (50%) and white (84%). Likelihoods less than the 16th percentile are not shown. Credit: Aschwanden et al (2019) Reproduced under Creative Commons 4.0.
    LARGE IMAGEFollowing a relatively low emissions pathway, such as RCP2.6 – which is consistent with a 1.5-2C warmer world – may, therefore, be regarded as “representing moderate risk, in that it may trigger…irreversible loss of the Greenland ice sheet”, concludes the IPCC 1.5C report.
    The IPCC’s special report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate (“SROCC”) also notes that decay of the ice sheet would not be abrupt. It does say, however, that the decay would be “irreversible for millennia” once underway. This is the same phrasing as used in AR5. 
    While it is possible that the ice sheet could stabilise at some intermediate point during its collapse, it would not regain its previous vast size until the next ice age, says Mottram:
    “It is clear from even very early work that the ice sheet is only there because it is already there – if there was no ice sheet in Greenland under today’s climate we would not be able to build it up again. So once it’s gone it’s gone until at least the next glacial period – and we’ll be waiting some tens of thousands of years given current climate change and the slow rate of carbon removal by natural means.”Boreal forest shift
    Boreal forests are found in the cold climates of the northern hemisphere high latitudes. They lie just to the south of the Arctic tundra, where tree growth is restricted by year-round freezing or near-freezing temperatures and a lack of rain.
    Known as the “taiga” in Russia, boreal forests are characterised by species that can cope with the cold, such as pine, spruce and larch. They cover vast stretches of North America and northern Europe and Asia.
    Evergreen forest in the Canadian Rockies, British Columbia. Credit: Ken Gillespie Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
    Boreal forests are the largest “biome”, or ecosystem, anywhere on the Earth’s land surface and account for 30% of the world’s forests. They are a very important store of carbon. While there is a lot of uncertainty around the precise amount of carbon they hold, estimates suggest it is more than one third of all terrestrial carbon
    And about a third of the boreal biome is underlain by permafrost.
    A world map showing the locations of boreal forests. Credit: aroderick / Alamy Stock Vector.LARGE IMAGEHowever, the boreal zone, along with the tundra, is warming rapidly – approximately twice as quickly as the global average. Continued temperature rise could generate rapid changes in boreal forests, including dieback. A 2012 study explains:
    “Increasingly warm summers becoming too hot for the currently dominant tree species, increased vulnerability to disease, decreased reproduction rates and more frequent fires causing significantly higher mortality, all contribute.”A 2017 Nature Climate Change review paper concluded that rapid warming and “naturally lower tree species diversity” could put boreal regions at particular risk of natural forest “disturbances” by factors such as drought, fire, pests and disease. When compared to other ecosystems around the world, the study finds that “future changes in disturbance are likely to be most pronounced in coniferous forests and the boreal biome”. 
    For example, a 2014 study finds that “continued summer warming in the absence of sustained increases in precipitation” brought about a “turning point” around the mid-1990s that “shifted western central Eurasian boreal forests into a warmer and drier regime”. Research also indicates that “rather than showing gradual responses”, boreal ecosystems “will tend to shift relatively sharply between alternative states in response to climate change”.
    Prof Scott Goetz from Northern Arizona University, who is science lead on NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE), explains to Carbon Brief how disturbances could cause forests to “tip”:
    “An example of a tipping point in boreal forests is a situation where an extreme fire event or repeated severe events render the system incapable of regenerating as a forest ecosystem and instead shifts the system to a sparsely wooded or grassland ecosystem.”This is more likely to occur at the hotter and drier southern margins of the forest, says Goetz. But a “similar tipping point could occur without fire when extreme drought events kill a large proportion of the trees and composition shifts to other species”, he adds. A new modelling study shows these changes will result in much reduced “aboveground” biomass – i.e. all the living biomass above the soil, including branches, bark and foliage.
    The IPCC’s special report on 1.5C notes that “increased tree mortality would result in the creation of large regions of open woodlands and grasslands, which would favour further regional warming and increased fire frequencies, thus inducing a powerful positive feedback mechanism”.
    As a result, says Dr Brendan Rogers, assistant scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, “in places that may transition to grasslands, recurring fire regimes may keep the system in a perpetual treeless state”.
    At the southern margins of boreal forests, “aspen and spruce species are most at risk”, says Goetz and, therefore, most likely to be replaced:
    “Pine species, shrubs and grasses, as well as more temperate tree species – oaks and maples – will be those most likely to fill the gaps the boreal species leave behind, at least in North America. In northern Eurasia, we’d expect pine species to dominate areas of the currently widespread larch forests.”2012 study of forests in Alaska, for example, identified “a widespread shift from coniferous to deciduous vegetation [that] began around 1990 and will continue over the next several decades”.
    But while trees at the southern edge of the boreal zone risk dieback, research suggests that forests at the northern edge could move into tundra under climate change. A 2018 modelling study finds that, even if the Paris warming limits are met, “boreal forests are simulated to expand into the tundra, while on the other hand tree composition shifts toward temperate species along their warm edge”. 
    Under the existing Paris emissions reduction pledges, the study projects “major climate change effects for more than 80% of the tundra and more than 40% of all boreal forests”. 
    The graphic below, published in the IPCC’s fifth assessment report in 2014, illustrates the factors involved in a northwards shift of the boreal biome into the tundra.

    Illustration of the potential tundra-boreal biome shift under a warming climate. Credit: IPCC (2014) WG2 Fig4-10.
    LARGE IMAGEThere is already evidence of boreal forests shifting. The IPCC’s 1.5C reports concludes that it has “high confidence” that “woody shrubs are already encroaching into tundra and will proceed with further warming”. 
    It also says that abrupt increases in tree cover are “unlikely” at 1.5-2C of warming. Above 2C of warming, there is “potential” for abrupt increases, the report says – albeit with “low confidence”. 
    For the boreal biome, the report says there is “medium confidence” of “further increases in tree mortality” at the southern boundary at 1.5C and 2C of warming. While “a drastic biome shift from tundra to boreal forest is possible” beyond 2C, it says there is “low confidence” in this projection.
    It further notes that a potential “tipping point has been estimated to exist between 3C and 4C of global warming (low confidence), but given the complexities of the various forcing mechanisms and feedback processes involved, this is thought to be an uncertain estimate”.
    Significant changes in boreal forests are made more likely by the rapid rate of warming, says Goetz:
    “I don’t know that anyone has put a number on a species-specific tipping point, but we have high confidence that with global temperature increases of 1.5 or 2C, which in the boreal will translate into about double those temperature increases, we will see widespread changes in tree species composition and fire regimes.”Such changes could occur within decades, he adds:
    “Fire frequency and severity is the big factor here. With more severe fires and especially with more frequent severe fires, which burn off the organic soil layer, we’d expect to see a shift in forest species over the next two-to-three decades that would persist for many decades to come."Shifts in vegetation cover will affect the reflectivity of the land surface – known as its “albedo”, says Prof Colin Prentice, chair in biosphere and climate impacts at Imperial College London. He tells Carbon Brief:
    “Northward expansion of the boreal forest is certainly expected as a result of warming and, indeed, there is evidence that it is happening already. Similarly, shrub tundra is expanding into colder regions as a result of warming and this process will continue…There will be, as a result, a decrease in vegetation albedo – especially in spring – which will amplify the warming locally. This is well attested both from first principles and climate model experiments.”This “would lead to increased heat absorption in the Arctic and more rapid permafrost thaw”, says Goetz:
    “Obviously great permafrost degradation means a lot more carbon emitted to the atmosphere, which would have the effect of increasing the cycle of warming and even more degradation, with global implications.”Rogers agrees that the change in albedo is a key impact of shifting boreal forests. He tells Carbon Brief:
    “We know from palaeoclimate literature that northward forest and tall shrub migration is a major Earth system feedback, mostly because of the darkened surface. This is particularly important in the late winter and spring due to the combination of high snow cover and moderate incoming solar radiation.”In fact, he adds, “the full extent of ice ages [in Earth’s history] is impossible without this feedback”. For the modern day, “we expect this to be a warming effect, and we’re already witnessing shrubs getting denser and taller, and trees migrating north”, he says. 
    Carbon emissions from permafrost thaw and dieback of forests at the southern edge of the boreal biome would be a “double-whammy”, says Rogers. 
    However, the uncertainties in predictive models mean that scientists cannot be sure of when these shifts will happen across boreal forests, notes Rogers. And it is still not clear whether it “represents a true ‘tipping point’ or more of a gradual transition”, he adds:
    “Certainly for any one location, there likely exists a tipping point beyond which the forest will be fundamentally altered – and wildfire can facilitate and exacerbate these transitions. But the boreal is a vast zone, with variation in climates and landscapes that may ‘tip’ at different times.”Prentice argues that a gradual shift is more likely. “There are thresholds,” he notes, in terms of the conditions required for particular tree species to thrive at certain latitudes or elevations. But, he says, “the effect of warming is simply to gradually shift the geographic location of the threshold”.
    He also says that neither the northward expansion of boreal forests nor their contraction in the south are likely to be irreversible:
    “Cooling would send them into reverse. It is worth noting also that very large shifts in the distribution of the boreal forests have happened in the relatively recent geological past in response to natural climate changes that are reasonably well understood.”However, Goetz points out that “fire is the wildcard and can shift forests much more rapidly than from warming effects on tree growth alone”. And Rogers adds that while “forest composition may be reversible”, the carbon emitted from thawing permafrost “would take much, much longer” to reaccumulate:
    “That carbon took millennia to be sequestered by the land and gradually accumulate in frozen soil layers.”Other tipping points
    The nine tipping points described above do not constitute an exhaustive list – indeed there are a number of other parts of the Earth system that have the potential to display tipping point behaviour.
    Some examples include: shutdown of Antarctic bottom water formationloss of alpine glaciers; a climate change-induced hole in the ozone layer above the Arcticocean anoxia (where areas of the ocean see a dramatic decline in oxygen); and a change in the frequency and/or strength of El Niño events.
    Another example that is often cited is the decline of Arctic sea ice. Climate model simulations have suggested that summer sea ice extent in the Arctic could see abrupt and accelerating declines during this century. Such a potential decline is associated with the ice-albedo mechanism, explains Dr Dirk Notz, head of the Sea ice in the Earth system research group at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology. He tells Carbon Brief:
    “Less sea ice in one year implies more absorption of solar heat by the ocean, thus more warmth available to melt ice further, thus causing less sea ice the year after.”The “idea of such a sea-ice tipping point was quite popular perhaps a decade ago”, says Prof Mark Serreze, director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). A 2005 paper in the Journal of Climate, for example, asked “Have we passed a tipping point?“ in response to thinning Arctic sea ice between 1988 and 2003.
    However, the theory has not been supported by the latest research, Serreze tells Carbon Brief:
    More recent work argues that the trajectory to a seasonally ice-free ocean will be pretty much along the path that we are observing – a downward trend with strong ups and downs from year to year (and over multiple years) reflecting the influences of natural variability.”Research by Notz and colleagues, for example, has shown that large declines in summer sea ice are reversible. Notz explains:
    “After a year with anomalously little sea ice, the sea ice usually recovers somewhat in the year afterwards. This is because in addition to the amplifying ice-albedo feedback, there are dampening feedbacks that stabilise the ice cover from one year to the next.”For example, less ice in summer means more open water going into winter. Without the insulating effect of the ice, the Arctic Ocean subsequently loses a greater amount of heat, which means it sees more ice growth in winter. In addition, thin ice in winter grows faster than thick ice, giving the chance for some degree of recovery after a small extent in summer.
    Arctic sea ice breaking apart. Credit: Jenna Chamberlain / Alamy Stock Photo.

    These feedbacks “imply that the memory of the sea ice cover is largely reset during winter”, says Notz, making the ice loss approximately linear in response to rising greenhouse gases.
    However, while sea ice itself might not be a tipping element, ecological systems associated with it might well be, adds Notz:
    “If the ice is gone completely in a given summer, any ecosystem that needs the continuous existence of sea ice might be wiped out ‘forever’.”Another concern around tipping points is the potential for one to trigger a “cascade” effect on others. A Nature commentary from November 2019, for example, argues that “cascading effects might be common” in the Earth system, warning that this would be “an existential threat to civilization”.
    It references a 2018 Science paper that assessed 30 different potential social-ecological “regime shifts” and identified links between them in 45% of cases. The study “proposes and investigates” two ways that regime shifts can be linked: domino effects and hidden feedbacks. It explains:
    “Domino effects occur when the feedback processes of one regime shifts affect the drivers of another, creating a one-way dependency. Hidden feedbacks rise when two regime shifts combined generate new (not previously identified) feedbacks; and if strong enough, they could amplify or dampen the coupled dynamics.”Examples of these links “are starting to be observed”, the commentary says:
    “Arctic sea-ice loss is amplifying regional warming, and Arctic warming and Greenland melting are driving an influx of fresh water into the North Atlantic. This could have contributed to a 15% slowdown since the mid-twentieth century of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC).”In addition, rapid Greenland melting and further slowdown of the AMOC could “destabilise the West African monsoon, triggering drought in Africa’s Sahel region”, the authors say, as well as “dry the Amazon, disrupt the East Asian monsoon and cause heat to build up in the Southern Ocean, which could accelerate Antarctic ice loss”.
    (Some of the same authors have also suggested that cascading tipping points “could push the Earth system irreversibly onto a ‘Hothouse Earth’ pathway”. The much talked-about paper, published as a perspective in PNAS, concludes that “the risk of tipping cascades could be significant at a 2C temperature rise and could increase sharply beyond that point”. The paper has not been universally welcomed by climate scientists.)
    Finally, in addition to the physical tipping points in the Earth system, the term is often also applied to transforming human society in a positive way. Lenton explains:
    “I think we also need to be looking at tipping points in human, social and technological systems – this time, tipping points for the good. Cases where a little bit of policy intervention or incentive could tip us onto a path towards a more sustainable future that essentially avoids the worst of the climate tipping points.”For example, analysts and columnists frequently predict an impending tipping point in the increasing uptake and/or falling cost of electric cars – as sales of traditional cars peak and demand for electric vehicles, and the infrastructure to support them, takes hold. 
    A groundswell of demand can push a behaviour, product or technology from the fringe and into the mainstream, often as a result of falling prices. An article published in January this year by the thinktank Carbon Tracker, for example, described how a “political tipping point is coming” on renewable power generation:
    “The falling costs of renewables are driving a political tipping point where politicians move from expensive support for renewables to embrace the sector and to tax fossil fuel externalities.”There are tipping points across society that could lead to a rapid global transformation, recent research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) argues. For example, the study identifies six “social tipping interventions” that could help lead to a carbon-neutral society by 2050:
    “These social tipping interventions comprise removing fossil-fuel subsidies and incentivising decentralised energy generation, building carbon-neutral cities, divesting from assets linked to fossil fuels, revealing the moral implications of fossil fuels, strengthening climate education and engagement, and disclosing greenhouse gas emissions information.”While the term “tipping point” is often applied quite loosely regarding political and societal change, it is clear that a number of them will need to be crossed – and quickly – to avoid toppling those in the Earth system.

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    (AU) This Is Not A Climate Emergency. It’s Much More Serious

    Lethal Heating - 13 February, 2020 - 04:10
    ANU College of Science

    Prof Mark Howden. Photo: Lannon HarleyThe ferocity, reach and duration of fires that have devastated Australian communities, bush and rural landscapes this summer should not just sound the alarm for a climate emergency, because the situation is much more serious.
    And Australia is "ground zero" for what is in reality a "climate crisis".
    That's the stark warning from Professor Mark Howden in his keynote address at the annual Climate Update at The Australian National University (ANU).
    He and other speakers outlined  ways humanity can prevent the worst scenarios from occurring, and find solutions for surviving and thriving in a hotter world.
    "There's been much commentary that we're facing a climate emergency, but I call it a climate crisis," said Professor Howden, Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute.
    "An emergency is an unexpected situation requiring immediate action. However, the situation we find ourselves in has been entirely predictable and the ongoing impacts of climate change and need for informed and just responses will last for centuries.
    "Many of the solutions we need are available, affordable and scalable, but they usually need a supportive policy environment to help them get adopted. The urgency of effective action is growing by the day.
    "We have understood the causes of climate change, and we've been warned about its impacts for decades. As we've seen this summer, the impacts are now impossible to ignore."
    Last year was Australia's hottest and driest on record, with the hottest day and hottest December, Professor Howden said.
    "All of the fires, smoke, heat stress, floods and other climate disruptions we have experienced in the last year have occurred at just one degree Celsius above pre-Industrial global temperatures," Professor Howden said.
    "The world could warm by as much as five degrees Celsius by the end of the century, if we continue the current trend of increasing our carbon emissions globally. This will have catastrophic effects on many of the things we value."
    In a constantly changing environment such as this, there's no such thing as a 'new normal', Professor Howden said.
    "We have to be prepared for conditions to continue to change in unexpected ways."
    Professor Howden said Australia and the rest of the world need to reach net zero emissions by 2050, to meet the Paris target of limiting global heating to well-below two degrees Celsius.
    "If we start working towards this target now, it will reduce the costs, risks and challenges. If we put it off then the costs and risks will increasingly be borne by future generations," he said.
    "Australia is at ground zero for this very visible climate crisis, but there's still hope. This is an opportunity for us to emerge as a global leader on this challenge.
    "By developing new, low-emission industries and effectively adapting to ongoing climate changes, Australia could address climate change and turbo-charge the economy."
    Associate Professor Carolyn Hendriks, from the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, spoke of the "inspiring and practical action" on climate change by communities.
    "Different groups and communities are responding to climate change in incredibly innovative ways," she said.
    "Many of these grassroots initiatives involve citizens self-organising to address a particular climate challenge in practical ways.
    "They are establishing community energy farms, creating low-emission food cooperatives, assembling care packages for victims of climate disasters and rescuing and nursing wildlife from bushfire-affected areas.
    "These positive examples offer important lessons in how to respond collectively, practically and nimbly to climate challenges. Any government serious about working with communities on climate change needs to find constructive ways to enable and empower these community champions."

    Categories: External websites

    (AU) We're Facing A Climate Crisis But There Is Good News

    Lethal Heating - 13 February, 2020 - 04:10
    Sydney Morning Herald - Mark Howden and Carolyn Hendriks

    • Mark Howden is director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University and a vice chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
    • Carolyn Hendriks is an associate professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU.
    The ferocity, reach and duration of fires that have devastated Australian communities, bush and rural landscapes have caught many of us off guard.
    If this kind of disruption is happening at 1 degree Celsius of warming, it’s hard to imagine what we’re in store for at 3 to 5 degrees Celsius, which is what some research is projecting by the end of the century unless we drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
    There’s been much commentary about the fact that we’re in the midst of a climate emergency.
    But the situation is actually much more serious, more akin to a crisis than an emergency.
    An emergency is an unexpected situation requiring immediate, short-term action. But the situation we find ourselves in has been predicted by scientists for decades.

    Ian Chappell speaks out on climate change effect on sports.

    Scientific analysis that rising greenhouse gas emissions will result in global warming dates back to the 1890s and there’s been scientific consensus since the 1990s. Unfortunately, even with rapid and comprehensive emission reduction, the ongoing impacts of this warming and the need for informed and just adaptation responses will last for centuries, hardly a short-term situation.
    By contrast, a crisis is a time of intense difficulty or danger when important decisions need to be made. It is increasingly clear to most Australians that we have well and truly reached this point. We now have a narrow and shrinking window in which to act to avoid the worst- case scenarios. Many of the solutions we need are at our fingertips. They are available, affordable and scalable, but they generally need a supportive policy environment to incentivise their adoption. But we don’t have all the solutions we need yet, requiring investment in research and development. The sooner we start, the cheaper and easier the transition to a low-emission and climate-adapted Australia will be.
    Last year was Australia’s hottest and driest year on record, with the record for Australia’s hottest day broken and then broken again the next day. It was also the second hottest year globally, with nine of the 10 hottest years on record occurring since 2005. We have seen fires in parts of Australia that haven’t historically experienced them, extreme flooding in other parts of the country, possibly our worst drought ever – the list of extremes goes on.
    In a constantly changing environment such as this, there’s no such thing as a "new normal". We have to be prepared for conditions to change in unexpected ways on an ongoing basis. This means we have to invest in the knowledge, technologies, governance systems and social networks that allow us to adapt to both the negatives and positives of future climate changes. And importantly, we need to ensure that the decisions we make today don’t inhibit future adaptation options that will become necessary as the climate becomes more extreme.
    The ferocity of this fire season has caught many Australians off guard. Credit: Nick MoirThe good news is that we can avoid the worst-case scenarios if we act urgently. By setting and implementing a net zero emissions target for the year 2050 we can help meet the aspirational Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In doing so we will help avoid the huge costs of future climate changes.
    To achieve this will require a massive technical and societal transformation. The failure of governments in Australia to lead reforms in this direction has led to frustration and hopelessness among some parts of the public.
    Today, 500 people will gather in Canberra for the annual ANU Climate Update. This event will feature experts on climate science, disaster relief, health, social psychology and community engagement bringing together policy makers, government agencies, industry, students, academics and  members of the community. As well as focusing on how our climate changed in 2019, speakers will also discuss how we can respond as a community.
    Amid the doom and gloom of all the climate predictions there are pockets of remarkable societal innovation and resilience. In communities throughout Australia and around the world we see the formation of new networks and alliances, such as Farmers for Climate Action. Lesser known are innovative grassroots initiatives or "doing publics", where > citizens self-organise to practically address a particular climate change challenge. For example, they establish a community energy farm, create a low-emissions food cooperative, assemble care packages for victims of climate disasters, or they rescue and nurse burnt wildlife.
    Some people may worry that these community initiatives are too small-scale to push along the massive transitions that climate reform requires. But this would be to miss their broader value: they empower everyday people to act and create practical change on an issue that leaves many feeling utterly helpless.
    These positive examples offer important lessons in how to respond collectively, practically and nimbly to climate challenges. Any government serious about working with communities on climate change needs to find constructive ways to facilitate and empower these community champions.
    We have a fundamental choice to make as a society on this issue. Australia can emerge as a global leader on this challenge. It can step forward with strong emissions targets in global climate negotiations, it can develop new low-emission industries and it can harness the innovative capacity of engaged communities. Collectively Australians can demonstrate to the world that it is possible to adapt effectively to climate change in ways that boost economic and societal outcomes.
    Or the alternative, based on business as usual, is to relive even more extreme summers than the hot red summer that we’ve just experienced. This is a scenario that looks less and less appealing and more and more costly.

    Categories: External websites

    Climate Models Are Running Red Hot, And Scientists Don’t Know Why

    Lethal Heating - 12 February, 2020 - 04:10
    Bloomberg - Eric Roston

    The simulators used to forecast warming have suddenly started giving us less time.
    A malnourished wild horse in Australia's Bago State Forest. Photographer: Matthew Abbott/The New York Times via Redux
    Dozens of climate models
    There are dozens of climate models, and for decades they’ve agreed on what it would take to heat the planet by about 3° Celsius. It’s an outcome that would be disastrous—flooded cities, agricultural failures, deadly heat—but there’s been a grim steadiness in the consensus among these complicated climate simulations.
    Then last year, unnoticed in plain view, some of the models started running very hot. The scientists who hone these systems used the same assumptions about greenhouse-gas emissions as before and came back with far worse outcomes. Some produced projections in excess of 5°C, a nightmare scenario.
    The scientists involved couldn’t agree on why—or if the results should be trusted. Climatologists began “talking to each other like, ‘What’d you get?’, ‘What’d you get?’” said Andrew Gettelman, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, which builds a high-profile climate model.
    “The question is whether they’ve overshot,” said Mark Zelinka, staff scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
    People fleeing Australian bushfires in December 2019. Photographer: Justin McManus/The Age/Fairfax Media via Getty ImagesResearchers are starting to put together a­nswers, a task that will take months at best, and there’s not yet agreement on how to interpret the hotter results.
    The reason for worry is that these same models have successfully projected global warming for a half century.
    Their output continues to frame all major scientific, policy and private-sector climate goals and debates, including the sixth encyclopedic assessment by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change due out next year. If the same amount of climate pollution will bring faster warming than previously thought, humanity would have less time to avoid the worst impacts.
    Earth’s key data points
    For now, however, there are doubts and worries. A higher warming estimate “probably isn’t the right answer,” said Klaus Wyser, senior researcher at the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute.
    His model produced a result of about 4.3°C warming, a 30% jump over its previous update. “We hope it’s not the right answer.”
    This uncertainty over how to read the models highlights one of the central challenges of climate change. On the one hand, policy makers and members of the public are turning to scientists as never before to explain historic wildfires, devastating droughts and spring-like temperatures in mid-winter. And the bedrock of the science has never been more solid. But the questions vexing experts now are probably the most important of all: Just how bad is it going to get—and how soon?

    Earth-system models
    Earth-system models are the workhorses of climate research, helping scientists test ideas about the impact of ice-sheet melting, soil moisture and clouds, all without waiting for the actual planet to fall apart.
    There are more than a hundred models used to forecast the relationship between carbon dioxide and warming, developed by about two dozen independent research groups.
    One question modeling can help answer is called “climate sensitivity,” an estimate of how much warmer the planet will be once it has adjusted to atmospheric CO₂ at double the pre-industrial level. (At current rates, CO₂ could reach a doubling point in the last decades of this century.) This is the old, reliable number that’s come out to 3°C for 40 years. It was as close as anything gets to certainty.
    It takes climate modelers, who run hugely complex calculations on supercomputers, more than a biblical six days to create their virtual worlds. Modules for air, land and sea all churn together and interact, and through early runs the researchers will make adjustments for troubleshooting and debugging that amount to re-wiring the whole world. The first step is to replicate actual conditions of the 20th century within the model; then you can trust the software to forecast the future.
    The model run by NCAR, one of American’s main climate-science institutions, started producing unusual data last year while trying to reproduce the recent past. “We got some really strange results,” Gettelman said.
    A gap created by flowing water at the edge of the Aletsch glacier near Bettmeralp, Switzerland. Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images EuropeThe scientists went on to try 300 configurations of rain, pollution, and heat flows—something they can do as gods of their own digital earth—before matching the model to history. But by solving that puzzle, Gettelman’s team sent future projections upward at an unheard-of rate. NCAR found that CO₂ doubling would lead to 5.3°C world, a 33% jump from the model’s past reading on global warming.
    Soon there were multiple teams at other institutions putting out new climate-sensitivity numbers that looked like worst-case scenarios on steroids. The Met Office Hadley Center, the U.K.’s main research group, found a doubling of CO₂ would deliver 5.5°C warming. A team at the U.S. Department of Energy ended up with 5.3°C, and the Canadian model topped out at 5.6°C. France’s National Center for Meteorological Research saw its estimate jump to 4.9°C from 3.3°C.

    Hot Models
    The Earth could warm 3°C if CO2 doubles, scientists thought.
    Earth system models suggest faster warming — or a quirk in time-tested simulations.

    Source: Mark D. Zelinka et al. "Causes of higher climate sensitivity in CMIP6 models." Geophysical Research LettersIn all, as many as a fifth of new results published in the last year have come in with anomalously high climate sensitivity. There are dozens still left to report, and their results will determine whether these grim forecasts are outliers or significant findings.
    If there does turn out to be a consensus around these new, higher estimates, that could have real impact on how governments and businesses respond to climate risk. The 2015 Paris Agreement asks nations to keep global warming below 1.5°C, an increasingly distant hope given that we’re now two-thirds of the way there. But the timetable on which the world agreed to act in the name of that goal was formed, in part, by reading the very same climate models that are now producing higher estimates.
    And that could mean the goal envisioned by Paris is already out of reach.
    Wyser was expecting to get calls from journalists about the disturbing hot-model results. “It was known in the research community for, let’s say, about a year,” he said. But he didn't know how to go about communicating the findings, and almost no one outside of the tight network of researchers came looking for answers. “It more or less just passed unnoticed.”
    Two researchers recently suggested that the world is currently on a pathway to warm 3°C by 2100. But that estimate could be as low as 1.9°C or as high as 4.4°C, depending on how sensitive the real-world climate turns out to actually be. That question hinges on if the hot-running models are a match for reality or missing something.

    Climate models
    Climate models have been doing a fine job projecting warming for a long time. A recent study compared models as old as 1970 with observations made in the decades since. Some models warmed up too much, and some too little, but 14 of 17 past projections turned out to be consistent with the measured path of global average temperatures.
    “Particularly impressive” were models from the 1970s because there wasn’t much observable evidence for warming at that time. Back then, the paper noted, “the world was thought to have been cooling for the past few decades.”
    To a degree, every scientist suspects their model is wrong. There’s even an aphorism about this: “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” Those now attempting to figure out the mystery of the hot climate models think one factor might have caused the recent unusual results: clouds. It turns out simulated clouds often cause headaches for climate modelers.
    “We hope it’s not the right answer”Klaus Wyser’s group “switched off” some of the new cloud and aerosol settings in their model, he said, and that sent climate sensitivity back down to previous levels. A new research paper co-authored by Zelinka from the Lawrence Livermore National Lab likewise pointed to the role of virtual clouds in determining the results.
    It’s not as simple as reverting to older versions of these simulations. The challenge ahead, Gettelman said, lies in figuring out how tweaks to models can introduce such turmoil into the final results. “What really scares me is that our model looked better for some really good physical reasons,” he said. “So we can't throw them out yet.”
    In the next year, climate-modeling groups will peruse each other’s results to figure out how seemingly good improvements in cloud and aerosol science may have pushed the models into hotter states. These conversations happen in the open, through peer-reviewed journals, conferences and blog posts. The authors of the main UN climate-science reports will follow along and try to stitch together a big picture, for release in 2021.
    In the meantime, Gettelman and colleagues around the world will push ahead. “It’s like a giant puzzle,” he said, “where everybody gets a little piece.”

    Categories: External websites

    Zali Steggall Wants The Public To Force Politicians To Act On Climate Change, Malcolm Turnbull Hits Out At Nationals Over Coal

    Lethal Heating - 12 February, 2020 - 04:05
    ABC News - Stephanie Borys

    Zali Steggall's climate change push has the backing of the bulk of the Lower House crossbench. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore) Key points
    • Crossbench MPs are united in a push pressuring the Government to cut carbon emissions
    • It comes as Nationals and Liberals bicker over Government funding new coal-fired power plants
    • Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull dubs a push for Government funding for coal "nuts"

    Pressure is building on the Federal Government to do more to address climate change with politicians now turning to Australians to ask for their help, as Parliament continues to bicker over the best way forward.
    Independent MP Zali Steggall, who toppled former prime minister Tony Abbott from his Sydney blue ribbon seat of Warringah, announced on Monday she would introduce a private member's bill to Parliament.
    "This is for the long-term safety of Australians," she said.
    Her parliamentary push comes as tension between the Coalition parties bubble over, with Liberal and Nationals MPs openly criticising each other despite sitting on the same Government benches.
    Some in the Nationals are pushing for new coal-fired power plants, a bid urban Liberals in socially progressive electorates are resisting.
    The former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has even weighed into the debate and has slapped down the rhetoric some Nationals have put forward.
    Ms Steggall wants a national plan to further reduce emissions, which would be guided by the establishment of an independent climate change commission (CCC) that would advise the Government and Parliament.
    While it has the support of the crossbench, the bill is expected to fail because it does not have the backing of Labor and the Government.
    Zali Steggall addressed a climate rally on the front lawns of Parliament House on the first sitting day of the year. (ABC News: Sean Davey)But Ms Steggall remains confident she can convince some MPs in the major parties to change their minds and believes voters could help play a role.
    "Let's burst the bubble of Canberra," she told reporters in Canberra.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison often uses the term "Canberra bubble" when dismissing questions from journalists.
    Ms Steggall said the Prime Minister cannot ignore voters and has set up a website outlining how Australians can get in touch with their local MP to voice their concerns.
    She is hopeful people power will force the Government to act.
    "2020 is a new decade. Let's run a line in the sand on the past divisions we have had," Ms Steggall said.
    Climate change protesters outside Parliament House for the first sitting of the year. (ABC News: Sean Davey)
    'It's been a fault line in the Coalition for a long time'
    While the debate on climate change intensifies, a handful of Nationals have been agitating for greater Commonwealth investment in coal.
    Mr Turnbull, who was in Canberra for the Indonesian President's visit, said the issue has been a "fault line" within the Coalition for some time.
    "Those people who are advocating that the Government should fund coal-fired power are basically making a case for higher emissions and higher energy prices and that is nuts," he said.
    At the weekend, the Federal Government announced a $4-million feasibility study for a proposed coal mine in Queensland.
    Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has downplayed the prospect of federal money being pumped into the project long term.
    "Ultimately, a project like that will have to stack up commercially, it will have to stack up on its own right, and that is obviously a matter for after the feasibility study," he said.
    But the message being issued by his colleague, Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen, couldn't be more different.
    "In North Queensland, a clean coal-fired power project has been granted $4 million by the Morrison Government for planning works to get the project to construction stage," he said in a statement.
    Dave Sharma rebuffed Nationals MPs' push for the Government to fund new coal-fired power plants. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)In a clear sign the debate is escalating within the Coalition, Sydney Liberal MPs took to Sky News to rebuff any suggestion that federal money should be used.
    "I don't think we should be funding coal fire power stations," Liberal MP Trent Mr Zimmerman said.
    Sources have told the ABC that politicians like Mr Zimmerman and Dave Sharma, in the neighbouring seat of Wentworth, are facing pressures in their once safe Liberal seats.
    Senior Liberal figures fear supporting new coal powerplants will put the safety of urban Liberal seats at risk.
    "I can't see us in a position where the Government is underwriting a new coal-fired power station," Mr Sharma told Sky News.
    "Certainly, there's a case to be made to extend the life of existing coal-fired power assets and if the private sector wants to come in and do this then that's a different proposition."
    George Christensen wants the Federal Government to help fund new coal-fired power plants. (ABC News: Marco Catalano)

    New emissions target
    The Federal Government is assessing what emissions targets it will pursue beyond 2030.
    A number of countries have committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and Senator Cormann confirmed that was under consideration in Australia.
    "We will consider over the next few months and in good time before COP 26 in Glasgow what our 30-year target should be to 2050," he said.
    "We will be guided by wanting to have an agenda that is environmentally effective and economically responsible."
    While the Government argues changes to climate policy need to be considered in the context of the broader economy, Ms Steggall said it would be more costly not to act.
    "What we have seen over this summer … is businesses grind to a halt due to air pollution, we've had regional communities devastated by drought and productivity down, we've had bushfire communities shut down for months," she said.
    "Business as usual is not a zero-sum game."


    Categories: External websites

    Scientists Are Using Twitter To Measure The Impact Of Climate Change

    Lethal Heating - 12 February, 2020 - 04:00
    CNBCPippa Stevens

    Flooded street on Sept. 29, 2015. in Miami Beach, Florida, which engaged in a five-year, $400 million storm water pump program. Joe Raedle | Getty Images News | Getty Images Key points
    • A new study used Twitter posts to measure the frequency of minor and recurring floods — also known as nuisance flooding — along the United States’ East and Gulf Coasts.
    • The study found that this type of flooding is more common in 22 counties than official data would suggest. These counties include major cities such as New York, Miami and Boston, which combined have a population of more than 13 million people.
    • “Coastal floods and inundation are projected to produce some of the primary social impacts of climate change, imposing significant costs on communities around the world,” the report said.
    Minor and recurring floods — also known as nuisance flooding — may be more frequent than official figures would suggest, according to a new study published by Nature Communications.
    The study focusing on flood levels along the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts found that 22 counties experience nuisance flooding at water levels much lower than what an official gauge would register as a flood. Cities in the counties include New York, Miami and Boston, which have a combined population of over 13 million people.
    “Our analysis implies that large populations might currently be exposed to nuisance flooding not identified via standard measures,” said the report by Frances C. Moore of the University of California, Davis’ Department of Environmental Science and Policy and Nick Obradovich of the Max Plank Institute for Human Development in Berlin.
    To conduct their analysis, the scientists turned to Twitter.
    As the climate crisis intensifies and natural disasters become more frequent and powerful, scientists are increasingly turning to social media as a way to assess the damage and impact on a more localized scale.
    In this case, Twitter was useful because the 3,700 miles of the East and Gulf Coasts have only about 132 tidal gauge stations. This means it’s difficult to measure the impact of changing water levels on specific areas.
    “The extent of flooding may be highly variable within a small geographic area, depending on local topography,” the scientists said. Additionally, the consequences of higher water levels vary across regions. For instance, two areas could experience the same amount of flooding, but one could include a frequently trafficked road, while the other could be on farmland.
    Given the geographic reach of Twitter, as well as the volume and location-specific nature of tweets, the platform can be used to track “nuisance coastal flooding that is both more regular and less consequential,” the researchers said. Because the consequences of this type of flood are annoying rather than deadly, they’re not always measured or recorded.
    Two cars are caught by a wave coming over the seawall as heavy seas come ashore in Winthrop, Mass., in 2018. Michael Dwyer | APThe scientists analyzed 5 million tweets between March 2014 and November 2016 that mentioned flood-related terms and were located in a county along the shoreline.
    To monitor changes in Twitter activity, they defined a “remarkable threshold” for coastal flooding as when county-specific Twitter posts increased by 25%. They then compared this data with official flood records. “Minor tidal flooding that is remarkable to residents happens at a tide height different from that defining minor coastal flooding,” the scientists concluded.
    The researchers noted that while flooding caused by high tides and storm surges is already increasing, it’s set to become “more frequent and severe as sea-levels rise globally.”
    A woman crosses a flooded street in 2015. Jim Watson | AFP | Getty ImagesThis is not the first academic paper to harness the power of social media. The authors pointed to several previous studies that relied on social media, including a 2016 report that focused on using social media to access disaster damage and a 2019 paper that used Twitter to measure damages from earthquakes.
    Several drawbacks and inconsistencies come with using social media, the researchers noted.
    For one, Twitter is a self-selecting crowd and subset of the population. Prior research has also shown that the more people experience things, the less remarkable they become. In other words, while someone may have tweeted about the first few floods they experienced, after a while it becomes commonplace rather than notable. Additionally, places that experience frequent flooding could bolster their infrastructure, meaning still-recurring higher water levels would be less noticeable.
    However, several studies have warned about the danger to coastal communities as sea levels rise.
    “Coastal floods and inundation are projected to produce some of the primary social impacts of climate change, imposing significant costs on communities around the world,” the report concluded.

    Categories: External websites

    (AU) Australia Will Take New Emissions Reduction Target To Glasgow Climate Summit

    Lethal Heating - 11 February, 2020 - 04:10
    The AgeRob Harris

    Australia will take a new long-term emissions reduction target to November's UN climate summit, as the Morrison government weighs up whether to join more than 80 countries to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
    A review into the potential economic impacts of adopting the goal will be finalised later this year in time for the Glasgow summit, as a growing number of Liberal MPs speak out on the need for the Coalition government to adopt more-ambitious climate policies.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who shares a close relationship with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, has called on countries around the world to follow the United Kingdom in adopting the 2050 target as part of the climate talks this year.
    Federal Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor: The government expects to reach an emissions target before the Glasgow summit. Credit: Alex EllinghausenFederal Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor told The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald the government would settle on its 2050 strategy before Glasgow, which has been billed as the most-critical meeting since Paris five years ago.
    "The government expects to deliver a long-term emissions reduction strategy before COP26 (the Glasgow summit)," Mr Taylor said.
    Mr Morrison last week vowed not to be "bullied” on climate change as the moderate and conservative wings of the Coalition slugged it out behind closed doors over energy and emissions policies.
    While Nationals MPs Barnaby Joyce, George Christensen, David Gillespie and former minister Matt Canavan have called for greater support for the coal industry, a group of Liberals including Tim Wilson, Katie Allen, Fiona Martin, Trent Zimmerman and John Alexander warned their constituents wanted greater action.
    Independent MP Zali Steggall, who deposed former prime minister Tony Abbott on a platform of climate action last May, will on Monday seek support from a number of disaffected Liberal MPs  following two months of devastating bushfires and smoke-choked capital cities.
    Ms Steggall will release the details of her private member's bill to establish a new independent Climate Change Commission which would outsource climate targets and policies to public servants.

    The top 10 highest carbon emitters have been named, can you guess who they are?

    Mr Taylor said on Sunday the government believed the answer was not a new tax or more bureaucracy but "practical change" driven by science and technology.
    "The pathway to meaningful impacts on global emissions is through development and deployment of new technologies," Mr Taylor said.
    "That is where Australia can have the biggest impact on reducing global emissions."
    He confirmed the government expected to deliver a long-term emissions reduction strategy before the Glasgow summit.
    About 80 countries around the world are committed to such a target, but many are small economies with small greenhouse gas outputs.
    The European Union is the biggest bloc on the brink of signing up to net zero, with major economies such as China, the US and India showing little sign of similar ambition.
    All Australian state governments have adopted the target, with Mr Morrison committing to review the goal as part of last year's Pacific Islands Forum.
    When asked directly about the 2050 target, Mr Morrison said he would "never make a commitment like that if I couldn’t tell the Australian people what it would cost them”.
    Mr Taylor and Mr Morrison have continued to declare Australia would "meet and beat" its 2030 Paris targets of reducing emissions by between 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels, potentially without using Kyoto carryover credits.
    As a signatory to the Paris Agreement, the government has also committed to achieving net zero emission globally in the second half of the century.
    The government is also close to finalising its draft Technology Investment Roadmap, which it says will set a framework for investment priorities in emissions-reducing technologies over the short term (to 2022), medium term (to 2030) and long term (to 2050).
    Ms Steggall will circulate the details of her bill to all MPs as well as business, environmental and relevant stakeholder groups on Monday, with the crossbench MP urging a conscience vote on the issue on March 23.
    "It is time to take the party politics out of climate policy," she said. "Now is the time for a rational approach to climate change."
    Labor deputy leader Richard Marles said on Sunday the opposition wanted to achieve bipartisanship with the government on climate change policy.
    “We have been seeking bipartisanship for a long time in relation to this. But to get bipartisanship, we actually need to have a side that we can talk to,” Mr Marles said.

    Categories: External websites

    (AU) Media Watch Host Paul Barry Fans Flames, Dodges Climate Change Facts

    Lethal Heating - 11 February, 2020 - 04:05
    The Australian - Chris Kenny

    Media Watch host Paul Barry.The ABC’s Media Watch, hosted by Paul Barry, claims the high moral ground, declaring it exposes “conflicts of interest, journalistic deceit, misrepresentation, manipulation and plagiarism”. But the problem is that it is full of journalistic deceit, misrepresentation and manipulation itself.
    It flouts ABC charter demands for objectivity and accuracy. Rather than be an independent arbiter of media standards, Barry uses it to target the ABC’s commercial rivals and wage ideological battles supporting political causes dear to the green left.
    The program shows only occasional interest in revealing ABC deceptions and cannot bring itself to examine the organisation’s chronic political bias.
    Instead, it entrenches them. Media Watch is Barry’s vehicle for preaching his climate change-obsessed views and trying to corral journalism within his jaundiced boundaries. Rather than measure reporting against facts, the program weighs journalism it doesn’t like against the opinions that dominate the green-left Zeitgeist.
    Last week’s first program for the year was a classic of the genre because it misrepresented people and facts in order to promote global warming alarmism and denounce News Corp journalism.
    Barry’s opening line was demonstrably untrue. “Welcome to Groundhog Day,” he said, “where the loudest voices at News Corp are adamant that the summer’s terrifying bushfires have nothing to do with climate change.”
    Barry and his team must have known it was a lie when putting their program together. For instance, my repeated position on television and in print, based on public scientific and expert documents, was only that activists were grossly exaggerating the role of climate change.
    On December 14 in this newspaper I wrote of bushfire and drought that: “The expert analysis shows that if there is a long-term influence from climate change on either of these blights, it will be to make each of them slightly more common in a land where they are common already. Whatever Australia does on carbon emissions can have no impact on any of this, at least for decades to come as global emissions continue to rise.”
    Host of Media Watch, Paul Barry. Picture: Sam MooyOn January 18: “The climate change debate should be part of the discussion but is marginal compared with the central fire management issues and has been ghoulishly fanned as activists exploit real-life trauma for politics … The science is clear, predicting that in the southeast of the country bad fire conditions will become more common because endemic summer heat and dryness are expected to increase, while regions such as northern NSW may have summer rains delayed more often, as they have been in this drought year. The reason these climate changes should be relatively marginal in the discussion is that they relate to making an existing catastrophic threat slightly more common.”
    Naturally I made many similar comments on TV and radio. Barry also misrepresented my Sky News colleague, Australian Financial Review columnist and Spectator Australia editor Rowan Dean, who says climate policy in Australia could only have a small (1.3 per cent) effect on bushfire intensity.
    Barry also created the impression Andrew Bolt, of Sky News and The Herald Sun, had referred to climate science as ­“lunatic stuff” when he knew Bolt was referring to climate protesters. This is the sort of misrepresentation that trashes ABC guidelines and journalistic ethics; and Barry and the ABC do this in pursuit of ideological goals.
    Media Watch was full of other idiotic comments such as this: “Passionate denial that the bushfires should make us act on climate change runs right across the Murdoch media in this country reaching an audience of millions.”
    Again it is based on a false premise — Barry and the ABC must know Australia is a signatory to the Paris climate agreement and is doing more to reduce emissions than most other nations — and it is also absurd to suggest a bad summer of bushfires should be the sudden catalyst in global warming policy. This is the rhetoric of climate activists, not a serious media watchdog.
    Paul Barry outside the main entrance to the ABC building at Ultimo in Sydney.Barry referred collectively and offensively to me, Bolt, Dean, Alan Jones, Peta Credlin and Paul Murray as “News Corp’s deniers” even though I have never disputed the science of anthropogenic global warming. Others also accept the science and have a variety of nuanced views, and the strongest opponents of climate action, Dean and Jones, are as closely or more closely linked to Nine Media rather than News Corp (guess those facts don’t suit Barry’s narrative).
    Barry said we “all sing from the same song sheet on climate change”, when clearly we have differing views (perhaps from the groupthink of the ABC this diversity of views is hard to comprehend). What we do have in common is a thirst for facts, which we inject into the debate. But Barry’s critique avoided facts.
    Media Watch focused on how some of us challenged and exposed claims made as far back as November that this season’s fires were unprecedented.
    We did this through diligent attention to verifiable information and historical records.
    Barry dismisses these assessments, not based on facts, but based on opinions he prefers.
    Some of his preferred opinions were from authoritative voices but they were still just opinions — what matters are facts.
    Barry’s case to establish a lack of precedent was emotive tosh: “Mass evacuations, homes and businesses destroyed, a billion animals dead, an area 1.5 times the size of Tasmania burnt to ashes, our big cities choking with smoke and fires still raging.” He completely dodged the fact that none of this was unprecedented.
    I have demonstrated this through sharing of facts and historical records in this newspaper and on Sky News.
    Other colleagues have done similar. Media Watch knows this but censors this reality in order to make its malicious, jaundiced and ideological case.
    The ABC has not reported these facts. The ABC adopts the sinister approach of censoring these facts to mislead the public, and then has the audacity to build a farrago of lies in order to discredit journalists who research and share the facts. This is not journalism but its evil twin.
    Barry gave the game away when he said: “There’s no doubt climate change activists across the world think the fires should be a tipping point.” Clearly his thesis, his whole show, is not about facts, fairness and reality, it is about distorting reality so he can share the vibe of the climate activists.
    Media Watch is using the taxes of Australian families against their own interests. And no one at the ABC or in the government has the fibre to intervene.

    Categories: External websites

    (AU) Zali Steggall To Unveil Climate Change Bill And Push For A Conscience Vote For MPs

    Lethal Heating - 11 February, 2020 - 04:00
    The Guardian

    Now is the time for ‘modern Liberals’ to speak for their community rather than toe the party line, independent MP says
    Zali Steggall says it is time to take the party politics out of climate policy, which is why she is calling for a conscience vote on her bill. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP Zali Steggall's Climate Change Bill
    • Aims to limit global warming to well below 2C, pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures.
    • Net zero carbon emissions target by 2050.
    • To achieve the target, the minister creates an emissions budget.
    • Establishes a Climate Change Commission to prepare a national climate change risk assessment every five years.
    • The commission is made up of a chair, Australia's chief scientist and five other members - who must have experience in either climate science, business, agriculture, environmental management, energy, transport or regional development.
    • The assessments cover the risks climate change poses to the economy, society, agriculture, environment, and ecology.
    • In response, the minister creates a national adaptation plan.
    • The commission provides the minister with yearly adaptation plan progress reports.
    • Decisions made under the Act must be based on the best available science.
    The woman who toppled Tony Abbott in Warringah at the last election on a platform of climate change action now has the whole parliament in her sights as she seeks bipartisan support for a climate change framework bill aimed at transitioning Australia to a decarbonised economy.
    Zali Steggall – along with her fellow crossbenchers Rebekah Sharkie, Helen Haines and Andrew Wilkie – will release the climate change national framework for adaption and mitigation bill on Monday, ahead of its introduction to the parliament in March.
    Steggall and the crossbench have begun a conscience vote campaign online and within their communities. They hope to win over enough government MPs to see the bill, which has been modelled on existing legislation in the UK, New Zealand and Ireland, pass in Australia.
    However, the crossbench faces an uphill battle, with Scott Morrison declaring just last week he would not be “bullied’ into more action on climate change.Steggall has previously called on the self-styled “modern Liberals” to support the legislation, which she said became imperative following the summer of unprecedented bushfires and resulting hazardous air quality that left communities reeling.
    With the government’s party room once again at war over climate policy, Steggall said it was time to let individual MPs speak for their communities rather than toe a party line.
    “The bill will be circulated to all MPs as well as business, environmental and relevant stakeholder groups on Monday,” she said.
    “It is time to take the party politics out of climate policy. It is a matter of principle that we should all be committed to a safer future. I am urging for a conscience vote when I present the bill on March 23 as a private member’s bill. Now is the time for a rational approach to climate change.”
    The crossbench group, working with climate action organisations, has already launched petitions calling on MPs to be allowed a conscience vote on the legislation once it is introduced.
    Without a conscience vote, the bill is doomed to fail, with the government holding the numbers in the lower chamber.
    Steggall said the events of the summer, on top of the climate impacts Australia was already suffering through, should be enough to prompt MPs to follow their conscience and vote on behalf of their constituents.
    “This bill is a sensible and bipartisan approach to safeguarding Australia’s future against the impacts of climate change,” she said.
    “The devastating fires that ripped through Australia over summer; the drought; and our deteriorating air pollution have shown how the impacts of climate change are a real threat to our way of life.”
    Dave Sharma in Wentworth, Tim Wilson in Goldstein and Jason Falinski in Mackellar, as well as Brisbane’s Trevor Evans and North Sydney MP Trent Zimmerman are being targeted as potential allies. Newcomer Katie Allen, who won the seat of Higgins at the last election, and Bennelong MP John Alexander, who have both urged their government to take more action on climate policy in recent weeks, are also being urged to vote according to their electorate’s wishes.
    Steggall has previously warned of voter backlash if moderate Liberals ignore their wishes on climate action.
    “I think they have to be mindful of their electorates feeling disenfranchised if they aren’t voting in accordance with their majority wishes,” Steggall told the Guardian last month.
    “The Liberal party is the party of the free vote – I am not asking them to do something they have never done before, and I think crossing the floor to vote for a climate act is something they need to do to represent their constituents.
    “If you choose to ignore the amount of people in your electorate [who want stronger climate action] … you do so at your peril.”
    Steggall and the crossbench have kept much of the bill under wraps, but have said they are aiming for a statutory long-term target of net zero emissions by 2050, as well as a climate change risk assessment for all sectors.
    The group wants the government to focus on a national adaption schedule for Australia’s industries, based on what the science has revealed in regards to impacts of climate change.
    To ensure accountability, the group wants to follow the UK’s lead and establish some sort of climate change authority, which would act independently of the government, and report back on the progress each year.
    Labor’s deputy leader, Richard Marles, said the opposition was looking to work with the government on a bipartisan climate policy.
    “We have been seeking bipartisanship for a long time in relation to this,” he told the ABC on Sunday.
    “But to get bipartisanship, we actually need to have a side that we can talk to. Right now, we’re watching a whole lot of people having a war with each other inside their party room … and that’s preventing the conservatives in this country even coming to the table to have a discussion about this.”

    Categories: External websites

    (AU) Climate Change Could Lead To Increase In Dangerous Firestorms That Were Once 'Rare'

    Lethal Heating - 10 February, 2020 - 04:10
    Sydney Morning HeraldLaura Chung | Nick Moir

    Scientists fear climate change will cause a once "rare and unique" weather event to become more common, as they race to develop predictive modelling and tools to help them better understand pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCB), commonly referred to as firestorms.
    Jason Sharples, a professor of bushfire dynamics at the University of NSW, records the frequency of these storms around Australia and said between 1998, when relevant records started, and 2018, there were 62 confirmed pyroCBs.
    But this bushfire season has seen that figure jump.
    Lightning from a pyroCB storm breaks through while bushfires rage nearby. Credit: Nick MoirSince September last year, at least another 30 pyroCBs have been recorded Australia-wide, while a further 15 possible storms are still being investigated.
    "It's concerning, obviously, but I think this season comes down to extreme dryness and energy that the fuels were able to put out as they burnt," he said.
    He notes that in previous years, the pyroCB pattern was irregular - with one or two events every three years or so, but recently these storms have increased in frequency.

    Bushfires can create their own weather, generating ‘pyrocumulonimbus’ clouds and storms.

    Professor Sharples is also a volunteer firefighter in the ACT and said he has been through an area ravaged by a pyroCB once. It was in the aftermath of the Black Saturday 2009 fires and he said the scene was "like a bomb had gone off".
    "It was like a giant had taken a blow torch to it [the town]. You really get a moonscape feel," he said.

    'Phenomenal increase'
    A pyroCB event occurs when the intense heat from the fire causes air and smoke to rise and draws in cooler air.  If the air cools enough, the moisture in the plume condenses and forms a pyrocumulus cloud.
    Under the right conditions, the cloud can mix with ice particles and cause lightning, producing a thunderstorm - known as pyrocumulonimbus.
    The storms can cause unpredictable changes in fire behaviour, making it more dangerous for firefighters and nearby communities.
    Fire researcher at the Bureau of Meteorology Mika Peace said over the past few decades, the knowledge about how fire and weather interact has increased.
    "Since then, there's been a massive research effort in understanding pyroCBs and more recently predicting them," she said.
    Dr Peace said in the 1950s and '60s, fire information focused on what was happening on the ground. Since then, scientists have turned their attention to what is happening above them too.
    "This season has been unprecedented [for pyroCBs]... we've seen multiple pyroCBs developing on the same day over individual fires," she said.
    In past fire seasons, these incidents were "rare and unique", said NSW RFS manager of the planning and predictive services unit Simon Heemstra.
    But this season,  there has been a "phenomenal increase" in pyroCB events.
    Dr Heemstra said one of the dangers of pyroCB events is the long-range spotting of fires up to 30 kilometres away from the main fire front.
    Photographs show spot fires breaking ahead of the Clear Range Fire along the Monaro Highway on February 1. Credit: Dean SewellOther dangers include fire tornadoes, downbursts of air causing the fire to hit the ground and burst outwards and lightning which can cause new fires up to 60 kilometres away.
    "Some days, state operations issued five or six alerts for different fires around the state because of pyrocumulus columns. [PyroCB] are a big concern. We'll be seeing more and more as a feature for the future," Dr Heemstra said.
    Scientists note climate change will alter ground-level weather and the upper atmosphere, making conditions more conducive to pyroCBs. This risk highlights the need for more predictive modelling and tools.
    At the moment, predicting where pyroCBs will hit is difficult, with the RFS erring on the side of caution as the consequences are too severe if something goes wrong.
    The Herald's chief photographer Nick Moir, who has spent the last few months documenting the bushfires and their devastation, said he has been close to several pyroCB events this season, including a run-in at the Gospers Mountain fire.
    Over this fire season, NSW experienced several pyroCB events, including during the Gospers Mountain fire. Credit: Nick Moir"I was underneath it when it went pyrocumulonimbus, there was rain, hail and lightning all around the area. I was in a burnt-out area so I was safe, but there were strong winds, and, in particular, lightning ahead of the actual fire front and the storm," he said.
    Former Tasmanian fire chief Mike Brown spent 39 years fighting fires and has only seen one pyroCB which was in the 2013 Dunalley fire, east of Hobart.
    "It created strong winds and severe updraft, we had an aircraft working on that fire and they reported they had the worst turbulence they had ever experienced," he said.
    "You’re organising tactics according to winds going a certain direction, but then suddenly [when the pyroCB occurs] there are unpredictable winds and weather patterns that are causing unpredictable and extreme fire weather conditions."
    Mr Brown said at the time fire crews noticed burning material and embers being carried up high into the sky. Following the fire, they noticed scorched birds all along the beaches and believe they were burnt to death when the embers caught them unawares.
    While this fire season has been marked by devastation, it provides a unique opportunity for scientists around the world to learn more about pyroCB events: what causes them, the safety risks associated with them and what they mean for the future of firefighting.

    Categories: External websites

    'Good' Climate Policy Can No Longer Be Our Goal. It's Time To Reach For Perfect

    Lethal Heating - 10 February, 2020 - 04:05
    The Guardian - Greg Jericho

    The Gillard government actually implemented a carbon price. Why are we so lacking in ambition now?‘Let us be honest: the government is paving the way to climate-change hell with bad intentions.’ Photograph: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP via Getty ImagesWhile listening this week to the Guardian Australia editor, Lenore Taylor, on the Full Story podcast speaking with sadness and exasperation about the past 30 years of climate change policy, I thought about good intentions and perfection.We often hear that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. It’s one of those sayings that, when you really think about it, is just a squib.
    The reality is these good intentions that are paving our way to hell are not so much good as ignorant, and quite often (such as with much of Indigenous policy) outright racist. They are really considered good only by those seeking to excuse the action in the first place.
    And while good people might occasionally do wrong with actual good intentions, there is a much higher strike rate of people with bad intentions doing bad things.
    That the road to hell may be paved with good intentions means we should ensure our good intentions are not ignorant or biased; and it sure as heck does not give an excuse to those with bad intent.We certainly have seen a plethora of bad intent with respect to climate-change policy since 1990.
    Similarly, you could probably fill a long list of quotes by people over the past decade or so who have suggested of climate change policy that “we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good”.
    And yet rather than this suggesting we need to compromise, what it has come to mean is that we should excuse policy that is bad, because it is not perfect.
    If we are so worried about the perfect being the enemy of the good, wouldn’t we at least see some evidence of someone in the major parties actually suggesting a policy that could be described as perfect?
    The science of climate change tells us we need to reduce emissions and the sooner we do it the less the impact will be.
    And yet rather than see any “perfect” policy with this aim, instead we get supposedly good policy accompanied with caveats – talk of the need for transitional fuels such as gas or that a coalmine is fine – hey, let’s not be perfect! (And please don’t not argue about just how good something has to be before perfect becomes its enemy).
    So bad has this become that the carbon price instituted by the Gillard government is now considered some perfect policy too far beyond our political grasp.
    Why are we so lacking in ambition?
    And given the other side have an ambition fuelled by bad intentions, it might be worthwhile when trying to compromise to ensure negotiation starts from a position rather closer to perfect than just “good”.
    Because let us be honest: the government is paving the way to climate change hell with bad intentions.
    The government is replete with climate-change deniers who intend to block and retard any action to reduce emissions.
    They will do this through obfuscation and outright misinformation – such as the lies about the impact of the ALP’s electric car policy during the last election, or the current lies about the bushfires.
    On Wednesday, Peter Dutton told ABC’s Afternoon Briefing that “obviously, as we’ve all pointed out, we’re experiencing hotter weather, longer summers, but did the bushfires start in some of these regions because of climate change? No. It started because somebody lit a match. There are 250 people, as I understand it, or more that have been charged with arson. That’s not climate change.”
    It’s also not the truth.
    The prime minister has equally betrayed his bad intentions on the issue.
    He told the media on Thursday that, “I’m not going to allow a confined, narrow debate when it comes to understanding what it means to live in the climate we’re going to live in. It’s not just about emissions reduction. That’s important. But it’s also about resilience and it’s also about adaptation”
    His intent is clearly to actually narrow the debate by excluding as much as possible any discussion of emissions, and instead to focus on building dams as though that is some saviour for a country affected by climate change and by greater periods of drought.
    Scott Morrison – and other members of his cabinet – have no good intentions when they suggest Australia is doing well by meeting and beating out Kyoto commitments.
    Those commitments are frauds.
    The Howard government purposefully ensured Australia alone could include land use because the Kyoto base year of 1990 involved a spectacular level of land clearing, as does 2005, the base year for our Paris agreement.
    Saying we will meet and beat our targets is like bragging that you are meeting your target of drinking less beer by comparing how many glasses you drink per day now to what you drank on the day of your 21st birthday party.
    Last week Morrison told the National Press Club the United States were doing great because of its increase in gas-produced electricity and that “between 2005 and 2017 US emissions fell by about 13 per cent, that’s just a click over what we have achieved, which is 12.8 per cent by the way.”
    What he failed to note was those drops occurred prior to the election of Trump and its withdrawal from the Paris agreement and that it is not on target to meet what were the US’s Paris targets.
    His suggestion that Australia is nearly doing just as well is also one of bad faith.
    Yes, from 2005 to 2017 we reduced our emissions by 12.8%, just below that of the US, but only if we include land use. If we exclude that very dodgy measure, the US’s emissions still fell by 12%, but Australia’s actually rose by 6.2%.
    We are not doing our bit, and you would only argue we are if your intention was to ensure that good policy is not merely blocked but bad policy is pushed.
    There has been some talk this week about new Greens leader Adam Bandt’s call for a “Green New Deal” and whether or not Australia should adopt such a US-style political term.
    To be honest I’m not all that fussed about the marketing, so long as the policy has large ambition.
    We need some good intentions and we need to aim for perfection.
    The challenges and forces against action on climate change are large and powerful. As the past 30 years have shown us, being content to argue for a “good” third- or fourth-best policy is no way to win this fight, and neither is allowing those with bad intentions to tell us that what they want is good.

    Categories: External websites

    UK's Kew Gardens To Help Protect Australia's Plants After Wildfire

    Lethal Heating - 10 February, 2020 - 04:00
    Reuters - Elizabeth Howcroft

    LONDON - Britain is to protect Australia’s plants and trees by helping the emergency collection of seeds in areas devastated by wildfires and storing some of the rarest specimens in the world’s biggest wild seed bank.
    Dr Elinor Breman of Kew Millennium Seed Bank poses for a photograph in a sub-zero seed store at a facility in Wakehurst, southern Britain February 7, 2020. REUTERS/Peter NichollsScientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London will help the emergency seed collection and store precious specimens at its Millennium Seed Bank (MSB), a giant trove of seeds which acts as an insurance policy for plants and trees.
    Over 2.3 billion seeds from 190 countries are stored in air-tight glass containers stacked in huge -20°C freezers underground and can be used to grow a new generation of plants in years to come. It currently has 41,000 different species.
    For the collecting, Kew scientists will work alongside colleagues in the Australian Seed Bank Partnership.
    “We ... are pleased to be able to support their efforts, as part of our ongoing partnership to address biodiversity loss through seed-banking in Australia,” said the MSB’s Elinor Breman in a statement.
    She added: “Kew’s scientists will work with the ASBP to conduct emergency seed-collecting in areas devastated by the bushfires and longer-term germination research, which will hopefully aid the international effort to restore habitats more quickly in this precious and biodiverse region.”
    Kew has worked with Australian seed banks since 2000, sharing expertise on seed collection processes, conservation and research so that the seeds of plant species considered rare or threatened can be banked and conserved for the future.
    So far, 12,450 seed collections representing 8,900 Australian species, all of which are saved in local seed banks, have been duplicated and stored in Kew’s MSB.
    Australia’s wildfires have burned through an area the size of Greece since September, in what the government there has called an ecological disaster.
    The protected species of Wollemi Pines - prehistoric trees which outlived the dinosaurs - survived the wildfires.
    Others were not so lucky: wood-chopping company Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers suspended trading in its shares after severe fire-damage meant 90% of its tree crop was no longer productive.
    The collaboration with Kew was announced by visiting British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
    “This further collaboration between the Australian Seed Bank Partnership and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, will help protect Australia’s precious biodiversity following the terrible bushfires,” Raab said.
    “We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Australian people in the face of this challenge,” he said.

    Categories: External websites

    Climate Change: Loss Of Bumblebees Driven By 'Climate Chaos'

    Lethal Heating - 9 February, 2020 - 04:05
    BBC - Helen Briggs

    Bumblebee collecting pollen from a flower. Getty Images Key points
    • University of Ottawa researchers looked at data from bumblebees over a 115-year period
    • Bumblebees' chances of survival have declined by 30 per cent in a generation
    • The research centred on increased frequency of heatwaves, droughts and other extreme events
    "Climate chaos" has caused widespread losses of bumblebees across continents, according to scientists.
    A new analysis shows the likelihood of a bee being found in any given place in Europe and North America has declined by a third since the 1970s.
    Climbing temperatures will increasingly cause declines, which are already more severe than previously thought, said researchers.
    Bumblebees are key pollinators of many fruits, vegetables and wild plants.
    Without them, some crops could fail, reducing food for humans and countless other species.
    Dr Tim Newbold of University College London (UCL) said there had been some previous research showing that bumblebee distributions are moving northwards in Europe and North America, "as you'd expect with climate change".
    He added: "But this was the first time that we have been able to really tie local extinctions and colonisations of bumble bees to climate change, showing a really clear fingerprint of climate change in the declines that we've seen."
    Bumblebee declines are already more severe than previously thought, said lead researcher Peter Soroye of the University of Ottawa in Canada. "We've linked this to climate change - and more specifically to the extreme temperatures and the climate chaos that climate change is producing," he said.
    North American bumblebee on a flower. Antoine MorinBumblebees are among the most important plant pollinators. Declines in range and abundance have been documented from a range of causes, including pesticides, disease and habitat loss.
    In the new study, researchers looked at more than half a million records of 66 bumblebee species from 1901 to 1974 and from 2000 to 2014.
    They found bumblebee populations declined rapidly between 2000-2014: the likelihood of a site being occupied by bumblebees dropped by an average of over 30% compared with 1901-1974.

    'Alarming' losses
    Bees have been hardest hit in southern regions such as Spain and Mexico due to more frequent extreme warm years. And, while populations have expanded into cooler northern regions, this has not been enough to compensate for the losses.
    Jonathan Bridle and Alexandra van Rensburg of the University of Bristol described the findings as "alarming". Commenting in the journal Science, they said: "The new study adds to a growing body of evidence for alarming, widespread losses of biodiversity and for rates of global change that now exceed the critical limits of ecosystem resilience."
    There are around 250 species of bumblebee in the world. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), declines have been documented in Europe, North America, South America, and Asia, caused by a variety of threats that range from habitat loss and degradation to diseases and pesticide use.

    Bumblebee decline from the University of Ottawa

    Categories: External websites

    Climate Emergency: One Degree Doesn’t Sound Like Much, But It Makes A World Of Difference

    Lethal Heating - 8 February, 2020 - 04:10
    New DailyKelly O’Shanassy

    Australia is already experiencing the terrible consequences of climate change. Photo: Getty
    Kelly O’ShanassyKelly O’Shanassy is the chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation Our planet has warmed by one degree since the Industrial Revolution, when humans began to burn coal in large quantities.
    One tiny degree. It doesn’t sound like much.
    To those living in southern Australia, it might sound like a welcome reprieve from bone-shivering cold in the middle of winter.
    But in Australia that one tiny degree of global warming fuels hotter days that are many degrees above normal summer temperatures.
    Penrith was recently the hottest place on Earth, peaking at 48.9C.
    And these hot days are not just one-offs, they blend into weeks as heatwaves.
    One tiny degree of global warming has dried our continent, ripening it for the horrific fires that have been burning in eastern Australia for months.

    Global temperature rises could bring 'destructive' effects, UN warns (Reuters)

    Bushfires made worse by climate change are a fact, studied by scientists and directly experienced by brave fire fighters.
    There are few climate deniers at the business end of a fire hose.
    For people who have lost their homes, communities and livelihoods to the fires, that one tiny degree of global warming is barely liveable.
    For at least 33 people and more than a billion native animals, it hasn’t been survivable.
    That one tiny degree of global warming is bloody dangerous. So can you image a future with more than three degrees of global warming?That’s where our planet is headed if countries like Australia don’t take urgent climate action.
    The United Nations has calculated that if every country fulfils its current pledges under the Paris Agreement – and some, including Australia, are not on track to do so – the globe will warm by 3.2 degrees.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison is encouraging Australians to adapt to the ‘new normal’ climate we are experiencing.
    But in a three-degree warmer world, there are some things to which we simply cannot adapt.
    Many elderly people and infants cannot adapt to heatwaves that last beyond a few days.
    People who live in the bush can’t adapt to fire seasons that spread across half the year.
    Our incredible wildlife, loved by Australians and international visitors, can’t switch on the air-conditioner when we reach 50-degree days.
    For all the Prime Minister’s talk of ‘meeting and beating’ our climate targets, they are so weak that Australia is leading the pack to a three-degree warmer world.
    We are experiencing a climate emergency and we need emergency-scale action to cut climate pollution.
    Climate scientists warn global climate pollution must decline by 50 per cent by 2030 to avoid three degrees of warming. Australia’s targets are nowhere near that.

    What Australia does matters
    When it comes to cutting pollution, Australia really matters.
    For all the talk that Australia is too small to make a difference, we are in the top 20 biggest polluters in the world and we rocket up to fifth if you count the pollution in our coal and gas exports. We matter.

    Bushfires add into massive greenhouse gas spike. (Reuters)

    Australians are proud of our country and our history of leading to address global problems.
    We are reminded of this each year on April 25 as we remember those who died in war to make the world safer.
    And we are an ingenious bunch, giving wi-fi, solar panels and the Hills Hoist to the world.
    Climate damage is here, now, but so are the climate solutions.We have world-class renewable energy resources in the sun and wind that could not only power Australia with clean energy but could power the world.
    We still have forests that can suck carbon straight out of the atmosphere and vast landscapes, not suitable for agriculture, that can be replanted as new forests.
    We have the money to invest, the smarts to transition to new clean-tech industries and the compassion to make sure no one is left behind.
    Australia gave the world wi-fi, solar panels and the Hills Hoist. It must now step up to tackle climate change. Photo: GettyThe start of the new decade has been harrowing for millions of Aussies directly affected by the fires or breathing polluted air.
    It’s almost enough to throw up our hands in despair and just give up on stronger climate action. Almost.
    But we must unite and rally around urgent climate action because it’s the right thing to do.
    Because we love our kids and we want them to have a safe future.
    Because we can’t imagine Australia without koalas.
    And we pride ourselves on the fair go for each other and the world.
    Yes, we have entered a period of climate danger.
    Decades of climate procrastination and half measures has guaranteed that.
    But this coming decade is the most important decade in human history.
    It is the decade in which we can transform ourselves, our industries and our planet for the better. It is 100 per cent possible.
    We simply need to act – like our home is on fire.

    Categories: External websites

    Climate Change Litigation Update

    Lethal Heating - 8 February, 2020 - 04:05
    Norton Rose FulbrightElisa de Wit | Rebecca Hoare | Noni Shannon

    Globally, 2019 saw a strong rise in climate related litigation. As at January 2020, the total number of climate change cases filed to date has reached approximately 1,4441, up from 1,302 since our update in March last year. Cases have now been filed in at least 33 countries, in addition to cases brought in regional or international courts or commissions. The vast majority of these cases continue to be commenced in the United States (US), followed by Australia, United Kingdom, European Union, New Zealand, Canada and Spain.

    World map of cases2

    Claimants are increasingly relying on constitutional and human rights laws in their attempts to hold governments accountable for addressing climate change. This is likely to continue following the landmark Urgenda ruling in December 2019, discussed below, which according to the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelete, “provides a clear path forward for concerned individuals in Europe – and around the world – to undertake climate litigation in order to protect human rights.”3
    The nature of the claims against corporations has also diversified beyond the unsuccessful tort and public nuisance actions pursued predominately in the US in the 2000s and early 2010s.4 This comes as corporations, and their shareholders, increasingly acknowledge the threat of climate change to their bottom line. Meanwhile the growing demand from consumers for environmentally sustainable goods and services is prompting ever increasing scrutiny from consumer advocates and regulators into misleading and fraudulent corporate climate claims or commitments.

    Climate attribution science
    Developments in climate litigation are being influenced by advancements in the scientific understanding of climate change. Climate attribution science aims to establish the relationship between anthropogenic emissions and specific extreme weather events. Progress in this field is allowing claimants to better pinpoint and quantify the environmental impact of projects, policies and laws.
    As the scientific consensus that humans are at least partly responsible for climate change is now firmly established, disputes are increasingly revolving around proving causation, allocating responsibility and jurisdictional arguments as to the role of the courts in ‘regulating’ climate change. Climate attribution science is essential in resolving such issues, especially as many of the recent studies aim to develop methodologies that link harmful environmental impacts to specific emitters.5
    For example, the Urgenda case involved the consideration of multiple scientific reports submitted by the parties to quantify the Netherlands’ emissions, the impact of emissions and the required reductions in emissions to meet the State’s commitments. This evidence was essential in establishing the precise boundaries of the duty of care owed by the Netherlands to its citizens.
    Climate attribution science is also relied upon by plaintiffs to show that not only is climate change preventable, but that the associated extreme weather events are reasonably foreseeable. This evidence will prove crucial in claims arguing that corporations are failing to act in shareholders’ best interests by failing to address the foreseeable risks posed by climate change. A number of such claims are discussed below.
    This legal update considers key developments and cases since our last update.
    The cases are divided into the following categories:
    1. Constitutional law and human rights claims
    2. Private law
    3. Company law and climate risk
    4. Planning and permitting

    Constitutional law and human rights claims
    The cases considered below demonstrate that the greatest hurdle for human rights-based climate litigation is not necessarily convincing courts of the dire consequences of climate change and the related impact on an individual’s human rights. Rather, the difficulty lies with demonstrating that the courts are an appropriate mechanism through which to address climate change, a challenge which by its very nature requires coordinated nationwide policy-driven responses. The dismissal of the Juliana case in the US Ninth Circuit Court (discussed in more detail below) is a dramatic illustration of this tension with Judge Hurwitz, in delivering the majority judgment, emphasising:
    “We reluctantly conclude… that the plaintiffs’ case must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large, the latter of which can change the composition of the political branches through the ballot box. That the other branches may have abdicated their responsibility to remediate the problem does not confer on Article III courts, no matter how well-intentioned, the ability to step into their shoes.”6

    UN Human Rights Committee View Adopted under Article 5(4) of the Optional Protocol
    In January 2020 the UN Human Rights Committee considered the case of Ioane Teitiota who had unsuccessfully sought protection from New Zealand due to rising sea levels threatening his life in the Republic of Kiribati. The Committee rejected Mr Teitiota’s claim because the likely timeframe for sea level rises rendering Kiribati uninhabitable is 10 to 15 years and therefore he did not face immediate danger. This timeframe allowed the Republic to take affirmative measures to protect and if required, relocate its population. However, the Committee recognised the right for refugee claims on the grounds of climate change and emphasised that it is unlawful for governments to return people when their life will be at risk due to the climate risks in their home countries.7
    The Committee stated:
    “Without robust national and international efforts, the effects of climate change in receiving states may expose individuals to a violation of their rights … thereby triggering the non-refoulement obligations of sending states”.
    Although the decision is not binding on states, it opens the door for further refugee claims to be made on the basis of climate change.

    Juliana v US
    In January 2020, the Ninth Circuit Appeal Court dismissed the claim in the high profile Juliana litigation in which the plaintiffs, represented by Our Children’s Trust, sought relief for governmental action and inaction in regulating carbon dioxide pollution. The action was founded upon the plaintiff’s explicit and implicit constitutional rights and the public trust doctrine.
    Despite acknowledging that fossil fuel combustion will wreak havoc on the earth’s climate if unchecked, the Court found it had insufficient power to order the US Government to prepare and implement an enforceable national remedial plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions. Judge Hurwitz noted in the judgment: “any effective plan would necessarily require a host of complex policy decisions entrusted, for better or worse, to the wisdom and discretion of the executive and legislative branches”.8  Julia Olsen, chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust has emphasised that the “Juliana case is far from over” as the plaintiffs will seek to appeal the decision.9

    Urgenda Foundation v Kingdom of the Netherlands (Urgenda)
    In December 2019, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled that the state owes a duty of care to protect its citizens from climate change in accordance with its obligations under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). This was the culmination of a 7-year judicial process, with the nation’s highest court ultimately finding that “climate change threatens human rights” and that “in order to ensure adequate protection from the threat of those rights resulting from climate change, it should be possible to invoke those rights against individual states”.
    This latest ruling confirms the previous decisions of the lower Dutch courts that found the Netherlands must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% compared with 1990 levels by the end of 2020. See our previous updates on this litigation here and here.

    Re Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Others
    In December 2019, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines announced that the world’s biggest carbon polluters could be held liable for their role in contributing to climate change. The announcement was preceded by a 3-year investigation into whether 47 major fossil fuel firms, including Shell, BP, ExxonMobil and Chevron, should be accountable for the human rights harms caused to Filipino citizens as a result of climate change. The petition prompting the investigation was submitted by Greenpeace Southeast Asia as well as a number of other individuals and organisations.
    The Commission ruled that whilst legal responsibility for climate change is not addressed by current international human rights law, major fossil fuel companies are morally obligated to respect human rights, as enunciated in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These companies are also obligated to invest in clean energy. Further, under the laws of Philippines, the Commission considered that the existing civil and criminal laws of the Philippines provided grounds for action against these companies.

    Sacchi et al. v. Argentina et al.
    In September 2019, Greta Thunberg and fifteen other children filed a petition against the five highest emitting nations that have ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), being Brazil, Argentina, France, Turkey and Germany.
    The plaintiffs argue that the five countries have violated their rights under the CRC by failing to take adequate government action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in response to climate change.
    The plaintiffs have asked the Committee to make recommendations that the countries take certain actions including:
    • to review, and where necessary, amend their laws and policies to ensure that mitigation and adaptation efforts are accelerated;
    • initiate cooperative international action to establish binding and enforceable climate measures; and
    • ensure children’s right to be heard in all efforts to mitigate or adapt to the climate crisis.
    The Committee must first determine if the petition is actionable before making findings or recommendations, which requires the plaintiffs to prove they have exhausted all domestic remedies. The petition addresses this by arguing that there are practical problems preventing them from complying with this condition.
    Any recommendations ultimately made by the Committee, while technically binding on states that are a party to the CRC, will not be strictly enforceable and will rely on signatories living up to their commitments.

    Petition of Torres Strait Islanders to the UN Human Rights Committee Alleging Violations Stemming from Australia’s Inaction on Climate Change
    In May 2019, a group of eight Torres Strait Islanders lodged a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee against the Australian government for breaching human rights obligations owed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It is argued that the Australian government’s failure to take sufficient action to curb emissions and implement adaptation measures has violated the right to culture, right to a family and right to life under the ICCPR.10
    The complaint is yet to be reviewed by the Committee, and will be the first climate change case brought by inhabitants of low-lying islands, and also the first one brought against the Australian government in respect of breaches of human rights obligations in the context of climate change.

    Family Farmers and Greenpeace Germany v. Germany
    In October 2019, the Administrative Court of Berlin dismissed an action by three German families and Greenpeace Germany challenging the government’s failure to adhere to a cabinet decision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020, recorded in the Climate Protection Plan, instead finding that the target was not legally binding. Notwithstanding this, the Court held that government climate policy is subject to judicial review and must be compatible with the government’s duties to safeguard fundamental rights under the German Constitution – the Grundgesetz.
    The plaintiffs alleged the government was bound by the Climate Protection Plan and that their failure to abide by the targets, by only reducing emissions by 32% instead of the specified 40%, violated human rights and breached rights to life and health, occupational freedom and right to property enshrined in the German Constitution. However, the Court found that the government was entitled to wide discretion in determining how to fulfil its constitutional obligations, as long as precautionary measures to protect rights are not wholly unsuitable or inadequate.
    The Court noted that in the context of the European Union’s target of 40% emissions reductions by 2030 and 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, the German government’s 32% reduction was not completely inadequate. Ultimately, the Court held that the plaintiffs had not conclusively demonstrated that the government had violated its obligations by setting inadequate climate protection targets.11

    The Urgenda decision has been heralded as a landmark ruling providing a clear path forward for concerned individuals around the world to pursue climate litigation to protect human rights. The principles in the case will add significantly to the current global legal and political pressure being applied by citizens on their governments to take urgent action on climate change.
    However, the Juliana decision reminds us that success in such claims are jurisdictionally specific and will depend on the extent to which the judiciary is willing to bind the executive and legislative arms of government to commitments on climate change on the basis of human rights. Family Farmers indicates that even where a nation has committed itself to specific reductions, the courts may be hesitant to find that failing to meet those targets constitutes a breach of human or constitutional rights. With litigation continuing across a range of jurisdictions, these issues are likely to continue to arise as more states address the relationship between climate change, human rights and the separation of powers between policymakers and the judiciary. To date, these types of claims have been commenced in Canada, US, Pakistan, Norway and Colombia.12
    The Teitiota, Sacchi et al and Torres Strait petitions reflect a growing movement by individuals who have been disproportionately impacted by climate change to rely upon international human rights conventions in an attempt to hold states accountable. The Philippine Commission’s decision similarly demonstrates that where available, domestic human rights bodies may also provide leverage for further action on climate change. This decision has the potential to lead to further litigation against fossil fuel companies, and tougher domestic laws on legal liability for climate change.
    Internationally, the combination of the Philippine Commission and Urgenda decisions are likely to lead to an explosion of new claims which place human rights front and centre.

    Private law
    As we begin 2020, we move further into what is referred to as the “second wave” of climate change litigation targeting private entities.13 The “first wave” from 2005 to 2015 largely consisted of unsuccessful public nuisance and tort claims in the US which failed on causation grounds. The recent “second wave” of litigation more broadly challenges private entities with claims founded on human rights, corporation law, fraud and misleading conduct and failures to adhere to planning controls and environmental laws.
    The number of claims seeking to influence corporate behavior relating to climate change continues to increase, with the most common defendants being fossil fuel corporations and associated entities.

    Milieudefensie et al. v. Royal Dutch Shell plc. (Shell)
    In April 2019, the environmental group Milieudefensie/Friends of the Earth Netherlands commenced proceedings against Shell alleging Shell’s contributions to climate change violate its duty of care under Dutch law and human rights obligations.
    The case was filed in the Hague Court of Appeal. It argues that given the Paris Agreement’s goals and the scientific evidence regarding the dangers of climate change, Shell has a duty of care to take action to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The duty is said to arise from the Dutch Civil Code as further informed by the ECHR which guarantees rights to life (Article 2) and rights to a private life, family life, home, and correspondence (Article 8). The plaintiffs’ argument outlines how Shell’s long knowledge of climate change, misleading statements on climate change, and inadequate action to reduce climate change help support a finding of Shell’s unlawful endangerment of Dutch citizens and actions constituting hazardous negligence.
    The plaintiffs seek a ruling from the court that Shell must reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels and to zero by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement.
    A claim has also recently been lodged by environmental groups and local governments in the French courts against Total, which, like the Shell litigation, seeks to force the company to reduce its emissions. The plaintiffs are seeking orders from the court to require Total to acknowledge the climate risks associated with its business activities and align its business with the Paris Agreement.

    Private law claims have, to date, largely been unsuccessful in the US.14 However, the Shell case seeks to extend the principles from the Urgenda litigation to private companies. While each case relies on the ECHR, the results may differ. It remains to be seen whether similar litigation against corporations based on human rights claims will be commenced.

    Company law and climate risk
    Companies, shareholders and consumers are increasingly accepting that corporate action on climate change is not necessarily mutually exclusive with acting in shareholders’ best interests. In a recent update we discussed the obligations on directors of companies in Australia and New Zealand to disclose climate risks in their annual reporting. Regardless of any formal disclosure requirements, corporations around the world are becoming more aware that the physical and transitional risks of climate change pose a very real threat to their current business models.
    The cases below demonstrate that shareholders, consumers and regulatory bodies are often willing to commence proceedings where corporations are perceived to have failed to take, or to have misrepresented, meaningful action on climate change.
    On 29 March 2019, the Centre for Policy Development in Australia released an update of a 2016 legal opinion by Noel Hutley SC and Sebastian Hartford Davis on how Australian law requires company directors to consider, disclose and respond to climate change. The Opinion emphasises five material developments since 2016, including increased litigation risks, that have elevated the need for directors to consider climate risks and opportunities and reinforced the urgency of improved board level governance of this issue. The Opinion states that the “exposure of individual directors to ‘climate change litigation’ is increasing, probably exponentially, with time”.15 See our update on the Opinion for more detail.

    Complaint against British Petroleum (BP) in respect of violations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines
    In December 2019, ClientEarth filed a complaint against BP’s advertising campaign launched under titles "Keep Advancing" and "Possibilities Everywhere" in January 2019. It argues that the campaign is misleading in the way it presents BP's low-carbon energy activities.
    The complaint alleges that the campaign breaches the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which require clear, honest, accurate and informative communications between enterprises and the public. ClientEarth argues that the advertising campaign gives a false impression of the relative scale of renewable and low-carbon energy in BP's business, omits full lifecycle emissions for natural gas, claims an inaccurate emissions saving against coal combustion, and asserts that increases in global primary energy demand are both desirable and inevitable for human progress and development.
    ClientEarth requests that BP take steps to correct the allegedly misleading information, including by withdrawing specific advertisements and issuing a statement explaining the withdrawal. The complaint further asks that the UK National Contact Point find BP in violation of the OECD Guidelines if BP does not take the requested steps.

    Complaint against Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ANZ) in respect of the Organization for Economic and Development (OECD) Guidelines
    On 30 January 2020, Friends of the Earth Australia along with three individuals filed a complaint with the Australian National Contact Point (ANCP) of the OECD against ANZ. The complaint alleges that ANZ has not adhered to the standards of the OECD Guidelines relating to due diligence, disclosure, environment, and consumer interests.
    Specifically, the complainants argue that the Paris Agreement targets reflect the standard to which ANZ should be held under the OECD Guidelines. They point out that ANZ is therefore breaching its greenhouse gas reporting requirements, is failing to conduct adequate due diligence regarding climate risks and is failing to prevent or mitigate environmental impacts as a major financer of fossil fuel energy.
    In addition, ANZ is accused of failing to provide sufficient information to its customers – for example, its indirect emissions from business lending are omitted from its sustainability reports. The claim places reliance on a similar claim brought before the Dutch National Contact Point of the OECD against ING, thus illustrating the multi-jurisdictional influence that decisions in a single nation can exert.16
    The orders sought include ANZ being required to disclose high risk greenhouse gas emissions resulting from business lending, divest from investing in coal and phase out investment in other fossil fuel industries, commit to the targets in the Paris Agreement and conduct comprehensive climate-related scenario analysis for all sectors it finances. Interestingly, the claimants also request that the ANCP recommend to the Australian government that stronger laws be drafted for emissions and energy reporting.
    The three individuals involved in the complaint are Australian citizens who have all been recently impacted by the Australian bushfire crisis.

    The People of the State of New York v Exxon Mobil Corporation (Exxon)
    In December 2019, the Court found Exxon not guilty of perpetrating a longstanding fraudulent scheme concerning the management of business risks relating to climate change.
    The core allegation by the New York Attorney General was that Exxon’s publicly disclosed projected climate change costs were inconsistent with internal projections, which had the effect of misleading investors and the investment community. The common law fraud claims were withdrawn during closing remarks, leaving the remaining statutory fraud claims under New York’s Martin Act and Executive Act.
    On 10 December 2019, the Court found Exxon not guilty of the allegations. The Court ruled that the New York Attorney General failed to prove that Exxon made material misrepresentations that misled any reasonable investor. The case largely turned on the fact that the misrepresentations were not “material” as required by the Martin Act, as the majority of the evidence indicated that investment decisions were not based on speculative assumptions of future climate change costs. The New York Attorney General did not provide testimony from any investor who was allegedly misled. There was also no evidence that Exxon’s stock price increased immediately following publication of the alleged misrepresentations.
    The Court noted that the decision was not intended to absolve Exxon from responsibility for contributing to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases, and reinforced that the proceedings were a securities fraud case rather than a climate change one. See our recent update on the decision, and our earlier update on the background to the matter.

    Commonwealth of Massachusetts v Exxon:
    In October 2019 (before the above decision was handed down), the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Attorney General filed a complaint in Suffolk County Superior Court alleging that Exxon had deceived investors by not disclosing climate change-related risks to its business, and had deceived consumers through greenwashing campaigns and misleading advertisements that failed to disclose the impact of its fossil fuel products on climate change.17
    The matter is currently the subject of jurisdictional arguments as to whether the case should be heard in the Federal or State court.

    Mark McVeigh v Retail Employees Superannuation Pty Ltd (REST)
    In July 2018, Mark McVeigh commenced proceedings against REST, one of Australia’s largest pension funds with total assets over A$50 billion and around 2 million members. Mr McVeigh’s claim originally centered on REST’s failure to adequately disclose its strategy to manage climate change risks, which allegedly prevented Mr McVeigh from making informed judgments about the fund’s performance and management, and also breached REST’s statutory disclosure requirements.
    The claim has since been extended to alleging that REST breached its fiduciary duties by failing to adequately consider the risks of climate change in managing investments. REST denies that it has breached any equitable or statutory duties, stating that climate change risks, which are only one of many material factors that funds must consider, are factored into its investment strategy and decision-making. See our last update for more background on the matter.
    Following a pre-trial hearing on preliminary costs issues, Justice Perram of the Federal Court of Australia noted that “The case appears to raise socially significant issues about the role of superannuation trusts and trustees in the current public controversy about climate change. It is legitimate to describe the Applicant’s litigation as being of a public interest nature.”18
    Asset and fund managers worldwide are currently grappling with the issue of mitigating climate change risks when managing client’s assets. This case, the first of its kind, is therefore being closely watched for any guidance as to the relevant legal boundaries which may apply to such considerations. The matter has been listed for hearing on 20 July 2020.

    As one of the first cases about disclosure of climate-related financial risks to go to trial, the outcome of the New York case is significant. The fact that Exxon succeeded however reflects the circumstances in which that particular case was brought and should not necessarily be considered an indicator that other cases will similarly fail.
    In particular, although the Massachusetts case similarly argues that Exxon misled investors, it is based on more recent events than that on which the New York case is based, during which some investors have become more critical of fossil fuel investments. Further, it is a broader claim in that it also argues that Exxon breached consumer protection laws. It may therefore produce a different result.
    In an Australian context, the progression of the ANZ complaint and the REST litigation is likely to be closely watched by the financial and investment communities both within Australia and more broadly.

    Planning and permitting
    Many jurisdictions have long incorporated obligations relating to ecological sustainable development in their planning controls. This provides scope for claimants to push for the widest possible interpretation of such obligations so as to address the contributions which individual projects may have on climate change.

    Specific instance under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises submitted to the Slovenian and UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines
    In November 2019, 17 civil initiatives and organisations filed a complaint to the Slovenian and British contact points for the OECD Guidelines, demanding that British oil and gas company, Ascent Resources, fully adhere to the Guidelines when applying for a permit to expand fracking operations in Slovenia. The complaint principally concerns Ascent Resources’ controversial hydraulic fracturing project in East Slovenia. It is alleged that Guidelines on corporate social responsibility have not been complied with, especially in regards to the contribution to sustainable development, as hydraulic fracturing has been found to have numerous detrimental impacts upon the local environment, people’s health and the climate.

    Friends of the Earth et al. v. Total
    Six non-governmental organisations are suing Total in France, alleging that it failed to adequately assess the threats to human rights and the environment of the Tilenga oil project in Uganda and Tanzania. Under France's Duty of Vigilance Law, French companies must identify and prevent risks to human rights and the environment that could occur as a result of their business practices. The allegation made is that the project’s vigilance plan does not properly account for the project's potential life cycle greenhouse gas emissions.
    This is the first claim to be made under the French Duty of Vigilance laws which were introduced in 2017 amid resistance from businesses and will be crucial in determining their future interpretation and application.

    Wildlife of the Central Highlands Inc v VicForests
    In the first litigation post the recent Australian bushfires, an interlocutory decision was handed down by the Supreme Court of Victoria on 29 January 2020 arising from the Victorian bushfires. On 28 January 2020, an urgent interim injunction was sought by the Wildlife of the Central Highlands Inc to prevent VicForests (a State government statutory entity) from logging bushfire impacted forests. The plaintiff alleged that the particular forests contained threatened species and in light of the fact that the Commonwealth and State bushfire responses had not yet concluded, it was premature to harvest these forests. The case put by the plaintiff relied upon incorporation of the “precautionary principle” in the relevant Code of Practice for Timber Production, which it asserted justified a ‘wait and see’ response, subject to finalisation of the ongoing governmental responses.
    The Court accepted that even though the plaintiff’s submission resulted in an unprecedented expansion of the construction and application of the Code (in the context of the implementation of the precautionary principle), due to the severity of the bushfires and their unprecedented impact, this may be an appropriate construction. Accordingly, an interim injunction was granted and the matter will proceed to a full hearing on 18 February 2020.

    Increasingly, it can be expected that challenges will be lodged in relation to developments which are likely to generate significant greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in a context where these developments are inconsistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. As we have seen in Australia with the likes of the Rocky Hill decision (see our updates on this here and here), it is possible that the courts will, in appropriate circumstances, use international or national policies, laws or regulation to refuse new development that will intensify the climate change problem or conversely, suffer from the future impacts caused by climate change.

    While governments continue to bear the brunt of the claims, the trend in bringing claims against major carbon emitting corporations is continuing and is expected to increase in 2020. Cases against other corporates, including financial institutions and investors, are also anticipated to increase as communities and shareholders seek accountability for their role in greenhouse gas mitigation. Increasingly, we expect that adaptation and climate resilience issues may underpin future litigation, particularly in the wake of significant climatic events, such as the recent dreadful Australian bushfires. The recent VicForests decision is one such example.
    2020 also formally sets the start of the commitments made by nations under the Paris Agreement, which should provide a setting for future litigation across a number of fronts.
    In our view, litigation will increasingly be used as a tool to achieve outcomes consistent with a net zero emissions future. Indeed, during the course of preparing this update over the course of one month, there were a number of significant cases or complaints lodged, and we expect the number of cases to increase exponentially, both across jurisdictions and subject matter.
    Please contact a member of our climate change team if you would like further information about any of the cases covered in this update, or would like to discuss climate change issues more generally.
    The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Chloe Saker, Shaun Buckton and Sophie Sanderson to this update.

    1See Climate Case Chart

    2Note this map does not include the cases filed in the UN Committees.

    3UN Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner, News, “Bachelet welcomes top court’s landmark decision to protect human rights from climate change”, 20 December 2019.

    4Geetanjali Ganguly, “If at First you don’t Succeed: Suing Corporations for Climate Change” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies Volume 38 Issue 4, Winter 2018, pp 841-868; Joana Setzer and Rebecca Byrnes, “Global trends in Climate Change Litigation: 2019 Snapshot”, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, July 2019.

    5See e.g. Jeremy Moss and Persephone Fraser, “Australia’s Carbon Majors Report”, Practical Justice Initiative, UNSW (2019).

    6US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 18-36082, D.C. No. 6:15-cv-01517AA, Opinion, 17 January 2020.

    7UN Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner, UN Treaty Body Database, CCPR/C/127/D/2728/2016.

    8US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 18-36082, D.C. No. 6:15-cv-01517AA, Opinion, 17 January 2020.

    9Our Children’s Trust, press release, 17 January 2020.

    10Client Earth, Press Release - Climate threatened Torres Strait Islanders bring human rights claim against Australia, 12 May 2019.

    11See Climate Case Chart.

    12See Mathur et. al. v. Her Majesty in Right of Ontario in Canada; La Rose et. al. v. Her Majesty the Queen filed in Canada; Juliana v US, Greenpeace Nordic Ass’n and Nature and Youth v Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, Thomson v Minister for Climate Change Issues filed in New Zealand; Rabab Ali v Federation of Pakistan in Pakistan.

    13Geetanjali Ganguly, “If at First you don’t Succeed: Suing Corporations for Climate Change” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies Volume 38 Issue 4, Winter 2018, pages 841-868; Joana Setzer and Rebecca Byrnes, “Global trends in Climate Change Litigation: 2019 Snapshot”, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, July 2019.

    14See e.g. American Electric Power Co. v Connecticut 564 U.S. 410, (2011) (Connecticut); Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., 585 F.3d 855 (5th Cir. 2009) (Comer).

    15Mr Noel Hutley SC and Mr Sebastian Hartford Davis, Climate Change and Directors’ Duties, Supplementary Memorandum of Opinion, 26 March 2019, https://cpd.org.au/2019/03/directors-duties-2019/.

    16Oxfam Novib, Greenpeace Netherlands, BankTrack and Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Millieudefensie) versus ING’ (19 April 2019)


    18McVeigh v Retail Employees Superannuation Pty Ltd [2019] FCA 14 per Perram J.
    Categories: External websites

    (AU) Museum Directors Unite Against Climate Crisis

    Lethal Heating - 8 February, 2020 - 04:00
    ArtsHubGina Fairley

    With trillions of animals impacted by drought, flood and the recent bushfires, Australia’s biodiversity is in threat. Museum directors have vowed to return to the field in coming months to bear witness to our environmental crisis.
    Melbourne Museum (2017). Photo: Nils Versemann. Image shutterstock.comThe Directors and CEOs of Australia’s leading natural history museums issued a joint statement this week (4 February), in support of increased funding and co-ordinated action to address the impacts of climate change on our nation’s biodiversity.
    The statement comes in response to the devastation caused by the recent bushfires, what they estimate as a loss of trillions of animals – a scale not seen since species were first recorded in Australia.
    Describing their function as an ‘ark of information’, the Directors of the Australian Museum (NSW), Museums Victoria, South Australian Museum, Western Australian Museum, Queensland Museum; and Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory have banded together to go back into the field over the next few months and record new data that will bare witness to the impact of climate change.
    They said that their collections and data sets offer, ‘a benchmark by which the devastation caused by the bushfires can be measured.’
    The museum directors urged governments to fund this important work.The collective of museums have vowed, through research, to plan for the restoration of species where possible. Each museum will focus on examining the damage of the fires on existing field research sites and comparing the findings with data sets, providing a longitudinal view.
    Their statement continued: ‘The impact of the recent fires on Australia’s biodiversity is on a scale not previously seen since record-keeping began in the mid-1800s.’
    ‘We now recognise human-induced climate change, alongside land clearing and habitat use, as the over-arching issue affecting Australia’s unique wildlife.’
    ‘The bushfire climate change crisis has reinforced that we have much to learn from our First Nations people and that First Nations understandings of our natural species and land management is to be respected, understood and embraced in our research,’ the statement continued.Museums are not just homes for education through exhibitions but have long been hot-houses for research.
    Kim McKay, Director & CEO Australian Museum, said that museums are resources for us all in providing knowledge and strategies. Their FrogID citizen science project, for example, has near 150,000 data sets on frogs which will enable an understanding of what has happened by comparative research.
    Corroboree Frog (Pseudophryne corroboree), a threatened species and at risk from climate change. Image courtesy the Australian Museum. Photo: Dr. Jodi Rowley.Lynley Crosswell, CEO Director, Museums Victoria added: ‘It is not an overstatement to say that we face an environmental crisis, and that our actions now will be critical to saving thousands of species and ecosystems under severe threat … Australia’s natural history museums will play a vital role in sharing the wealth of scientific insight and knowledge contained within their collections.’
    Similarly, one of South Australian Museum’s key research areas has been animal responses to climate change and the development of effective conservation interventions. ‘This shows how museum collections and research inform contemporary and practical issues arising from climate change impacts on biodiversity and sustainability more generally,’ said Brian Oldman, South Australian Museum Director.
    In the longer term, the Museums have vowed also to engage with the Australian public through citizen science and other activities and will work towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

    Categories: External websites


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