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(AU) Australia Could Fall Apart Under Climate Change. But There’s A Way To Avoid It

Lethal Heating - 8 November, 2019 - 04:00
The Conversation

Iron ore piles at Dampier, Western Australia. Australia could convert iron oxide to metal for export, producing it with no emissions. CHRISTIAN SPROGOE/ Rio TintoRoss Garnaut conducted the 2008 and 2011 climate reviews for the Rudd and Gillard governments. 
His book, Superpower – Australia’s Low-Carbon Opportunity, is published by BlackInc with La Trobe University Press.Four years ago in December 2015, every member of the United Nations met in Paris and agreed to hold global temperature increases to 2°C, and as close as possible to 1.5°C.
The bad news is that four years on the best that we can hope for is holding global increases to around 1.75°C. We can only do that if the world moves decisively towards zero net emissions by the middle of the century.
A failure to act here, accompanied by similar paralysis in other countries, would see our grandchildren living with temperature increases of around 4°C this century, and more beyond.
I have spent my life on the positive end of discussion of Australian domestic and international policy questions. But if effective global action on climate change fails, I fear the challenge would be beyond contemporary Australia. I fear that things would fall apart.

There is reason to hope
It’s not all bad news.
What we know today about the effect of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases broadly confirms the conclusions I drew from available research in previous climate change reviews in 2008 and 2011. I conducted these for, respectively, state and Commonwealth governments, and a federal cross-parliamentary committee.
But these reviews greatly overestimated the cost of meeting ambitious reduction targets.
The Yallourn coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria. David Crosling/AAP
There has been an extraordinary fall in the cost of equipment for solar and wind energy, and of technologies to store renewable energy to even out supply. Per person, Australia has natural resources for renewable energy superior to any other developed country and far superior to our customers in northeast Asia.
Australia is by far the world’s largest exporter of iron ore and aluminium ores. In the main they are processed overseas, but in the post-carbon world we will be best positioned to turn them into zero-emission iron and aluminium.
In such a world, there will be no economic sense in any aluminium or iron smelting in Japan or Korea, not much in Indonesia, and enough to cover only a modest part of domestic demand in China and India. The European commitment to early achievement of net-zero emissions opens a large opportunity there as well.
Converting one quarter of Australian iron oxide and half of aluminium oxide exports to metal would add more value and jobs than current coal and gas combined.
Australia’s vast wind and solar energy resources mean it is well-placed to export industrial products in a low-carbon global economy. Flickr
A natural supplier to the world’s industry
With abundant low-cost electricity, Australia could grow into a major global producer of minerals needed in the post-carbon world such as lithium, titanium, vanadium, nickel, cobalt and copper. It could also become the natural supplier of pure silicon, produced from sand or quartz, for which there is fast-increasing global demand.
Other new zero-emissions industrial products will require little more than globally competitive electricity to create. These include ammonia, exportable hydrogen and electricity transmitted by high-voltage cables to and through Indonesia and Singapore to the Asian mainland.
Australia’s exceptional endowment of forests and woodlands gives it an advantage in biological raw materials for industrial processes. And there’s an immense opportunity for capturing and sequestering, at relatively low cost, atmospheric carbon in soils, pastures, woodlands, forests and plantations.
Modelling conducted for my first report suggested that Australia would import emissions reduction credits, however today I expect Australia to cut domestic emissions to the point that it sells excess credits to other nations.
Tall white gum trees in northern Tasmania. Australia has huge potential to store more carbon in forests and woodlands. BARBARA WALTON/EPAThe transition is an economic winner
Technologies to produce and store zero-emissions energy and sequester carbon in the landscape are highly capital-intensive. They have therefore benefited exceptionally from the historic fall in global interest rates over the past decade. This has reduced the cost of transition to zero emissions, accentuating Australia’s advantage.
In 2008 the comprehensive modelling undertaken for the Garnaut Review suggested the transition would entail a noticeable (but manageable) sacrifice of Australian income in the first half of this century, followed by gains that would grow late into the second half of this century and beyond.
Today, calculations using similar techniques would give different results. Australia playing its full part in effective global efforts to hold warming to 2°C or lower would show economic gains instead of losses in early decades, followed by much bigger gains later on.
If Australia is to realise its immense opportunity in a zero-carbon world, it will need a different policy framework. But we can make a strong start even with the incomplete and weak policies and commitments we have. Policies to help complete the transition can be built in a political environment that has been changed by early success.

Three crucial steps
Three early policy developments are needed. None contradicts established federal government policy.
First, the regulatory system has to focus strongly on the security and reliability of electricity supplies, as it comes to be drawn almost exclusively from intermittent renewable sources.
A high-voltage electricity transmission tower in the Brisbane central business district. Darren England/AAP

Second, the government must support transformation of the power transmission system to allow a huge expansion of supply from regions with high-quality renewable energy resources not near existing transmission cables. This is likely to require new mechanisms to support private initiatives.
Third, the Commonwealth could secure a globally competitive cost of capital by underwriting new investment in reliable (or “firmed”) renewable electricity. This was a recommendation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s retail electricity price inquiry, and has been adopted by the Morrison government.

We must get with the Paris program
For other countries to import large volumes of low-emission products from us, we will have to accept and be seen as delivering on emissions reduction targets consistent with the Paris objectives.
Paris requires net-zero emissions by mid-century. Developed countries have to reach zero emissions before then, so their interim targets have to represent credible steps towards that conclusion.
Japan, Korea, the European Union and the United Kingdom are the natural early markets for zero-emissions steel, aluminum and other products. China will be critically important. Indonesia and India and their neighbours in southeast and south Asia will sustain Australian exports of low-emissions products deep into the future.
An electric car being charged. Australia has good supplies of lithium, used in electric vehicle batteries. Ian Langsdon/EPA

For the European Union, reliance on Australian exports of zero-emissions products would only follow assessments that we were making acceptable contributions to the global mitigation effort.
We will not get to that place in one step, or soon. But likely European restrictions on imports of high-carbon products, which will exempt those made with low emissions, will allow us a good shot.
Movement will come gradually, initially with public support for innovation; then suddenly, as business and government leaders realise the magnitude of the Australian opportunity, and as humanity enters the last rush to avoid being overwhelmed by the rising costs of climate change.
The pace will be governed by progress in decarbonisation globally. That will suit us, as our new strengths in the zero-carbon world grow with the retreat of the old. We have an unparalleled opportunity. We are more than capable of grabbing it.

Categories: External websites

(US/China) The U.S. And China Need To Put Aside Their Rivalry And Focus On The Common Enemy: Climate Change

Lethal Heating - 7 November, 2019 - 04:00
TIMEChristine Loh | Robert Gottlieb

Getty Images Authors The U.S. worries that China has become a political and economic threat. China worries that the U.S. is attempting to constrain it. These concerns increasingly resemble a classic Cold War conflict.
Such security threats are misplaced. Trade wars and technology competition notwithstanding, there is one overarching global security concern that by its very nature should lead to collaboration and cooperation rather than Cold War antagonism: climate change.
We are today witnessing a devastating global crisis in the making. It is happening worldwide, even as climate change’s impacts are immediately felt locally, regionally, and nationally. Make no mistake—ferocious climate events are not just causing extensive physical damage and loss of livelihood—they are creating insecurities that will grow each year and subsume all other existing security fears.
In the U.S., the annual average temperature has increased by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit from 1901 to 2016 and is expected to continue to rise, possibly doubling in just one or two decades. China’s official climate change assessment is even more sobering. As many as 641 of its 654 largest cities now experience regular flooding and Shanghai, one of the most prone to serious flooding, has already built 520 km of seawalls defending the city.
Around the world, climate change impacts could create destabilizing crises in migrations of climate refugees, water availability, and food production, as well as climate-related disasters from massive and intense storms to fire, flooding, and deterioration of air quality. More and more, climate change will dominate political discourse, economic activity, and people’s well-being.
The U.S. and China are vulnerable because both countries place such a high premium on security. Yet current responses about climate insecurity are minimal, particularly in the U.S. under the current administration. Instead, the U.S. is building walls to keep immigrants and climate refugees out, while heavily promoting fossil fuel development and undermining rather than encouraging decarbonization initiatives. In China, climate concerns have increased substantially in the past ten years and efforts have been made to reduce domestic coal production. Yet, China is also the leading investor in financing coal plants globally that are generating more than 5,000 MW of energy, according to Global Energy Monitoring.
The U.S. and China have a special global responsibility with climate change. The U.S. has been the largest contributor historically to carbon emissions in the past 150 years and remains the largest per capita contributor today. China, meanwhile, is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases by volume. At the same time, the U.S., under the the Trump administration, is in denial about its role, while China, even as it focuses on decarbonization domestically, has not played a leading role globally through its external development policies.
Today, to make matters worse, the U.S. and China—through trade wars, technology disputes, and nationalist rhetoric—are creating a new Cold War environment. The future does not belong to globalists, Trump declared at the U.N., it belongs to patriots. Security, both countries assert, is a domestic priority. Yet, when it involves climate change, the Cold War-type environment precludes what is crucial in this period: global action, collaboration, cooperation, and Earth Care. If security is the goal for the U.S. and China, both countries are undermining that goal through their failure to work together, whether through sharing technologies, or dramatic shifts in energy, food, and development policies (jointly and globally pursued).
Such collaboration could extend beyond government-to-government relations to community and institutional connections, such as the initiative of the University of California at Berkeley and Tsinghua University to form a California-China Climate Institute. It could also involve grassroots collaborations such as those regarding sustainable agriculture programs and shipping emission reductions. And it could include major support and financing of alternative energy and decarbonization projects throughout the developing world, as those countries seek their own transition to a green development future.
The U.S. and China have the capacity to make their own countries more secure; even more importantly, they can make the world a more secure place. Most governments are not ready for the onslaught of severe weather events. When it comes to climate change, everyone needs to be a “globalist,” and a localist as well, to advocate for their own national security.

Categories: External websites

(Germany) Beethoven's 'Pastoral': Artists Revisit A Symbol Of Climate Protection

Lethal Heating - 7 November, 2019 - 04:00
Deutsche Welle -  Reiner Schild

In Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the composer set his romantic understanding of nature to music. Now the "Pastoral" is the starting point for a worldwide art project against environmental destruction.

Paul Barton sets up his piano in the midst of nature. His listeners are massive and have huge ears. The man from Great Britain plays music from Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, known worldwide as the "Pastoral," to pachyderms living in the "Elephants World" sanctuary in Western Thailand.
A concert for elephants only? And why in Thailand? The answer is simple: the unusual concert is part of the global "Beethoven Pastoral Project." And those playing it are artists striving for climate protection and the preservation of nature.
Artists all over the world will be presenting their vision of the "Pastoral," considered to be Beethoven's musical celebration of nature, on the occasion of the Beethoven Anniversary Year in 2020, marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of the German composer.
Pianist Paul Barton is just one of the musicians performing in the context of the "Pastoral Project." For the British pianist, who has lived in Thailand since 1996, Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony has a clear message: "It inspires us to find the strength that we need together to preserve our planet — not tomorrow, but now."

Artists for climate protection
The concert pianist is joined by musicians all over the world within the framework of the "Beethoven Pastoral Project," presenting their renditions and interpretations of the composer's Sixth Symphony: a visual artist illustrates Beethoven's "Nature" Symphony using graphics on the computer. A DJ samples motifs from the "Pastoral" and assembles them into new tracks. A dancer moves energetically to the fourth movement, which Beethoven called "Thunderstorm." A sextet boils down the orchestral piece into chamber music. A jazz clarinettist interprets the piece together with nightingales, cicadas and humpback whales. A filmmaker uses it as inspiration for a short film. All of this flows into the project, and what unites the artists is their fascination with Beethoven's Sixth Symphony and their desire to send out a signal for the preservation of nature.

Andrea E. Sroka's illustrated impression of Beethoven's Pastoral SymphonyInspired by Beethoven for climate preservation
The idea for the project arose in the run-up to the Beethoven anniversary. The initiators of the "Beethoven Pastoral Project" — the Beethoven Anniversary Society, the United Nations World Climate Change Secretariat and the global Earth Day Network movement — aim to draw attention via Beethoven's music to one of the most critical issues of our time, calling on people around the world to protect the environment and work toward the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Malte Boecker has helped to develop the project. The director of the Beethoven House in Bonn and the artistic director of the Beethoven Anniversary Society, which was founded especially for the birthday celebrations, is pursuing a plan that goes far beyond music: "People all over the world are preoccupied with the question of how we can ensure the coexistence of the nearly nine billion people on this planet, and that has social and ecological aspects, and the sustainability movement is becoming increasingly tangible," Boecker said.

What's so special about the 'Pastoral'?
Beethoven loved nature, offering the musical genius both a place of relaxation and a source of inspiration. As a teenager, he embarked on hikes from his German hometown of Bonn to the surrounding area. His longing for country life accompanied him throughout his life, also after he moved to Vienna, Austria. In the summers, he regularly sought out the countryside to find peace and quiet for composing — including for his Sixth Symphony, which he composed in the years 1807 and 1808. During the composition work, Beethoven first called it "Sinfonia characteristica" or "Sinfonia pastorella," and did not change it to the "Pastoral Symphony" until it went to press, "pastoral" meaning "rural" or "relating to the countryside." To the title he made the addendum in brackets: "More the expression of feeling than painting."
Beethoven was less concerned with depictions of nature than with the reciprocal relationship between humans and nature. After all, even in Beethoven's time, this was influenced by environmental experiences.
At the beginning of the 19th century, for example, the drinking water supply was very poor, which meant that wine and beer were often preferred over dirty water. The air was also polluted at that time. In a letter, Beethoven lamented "the bad air in the city." The stench in the alleys and canals largely contributed to those who could afford it leaving Vienna during the summer months. During Beethoven's lifetime, industrialization also began — the consequences of which we feel today more than ever.

A lithograph from 1834: 'Beethoven by the brook, composing the Pastoral Symphony'On the lookout for participating artists
The organizers of the "Beethoven Pastoral Project" are still looking for participants: Creative people who want to speak out against environmental destruction and who aim to support measures against climate change. Now, 250 years after Beethoven's birth, people want to re-vitalize his love of nature and make it more tangible. The "Beethoven Pastoral Project" is open to everyone around the world:  orchestras, ensembles, soloists, rock and jazz musicians, DJs, dancers, photographers and visual artists, whether professionals or amateurs. Registration is easy online via the project website: pastoralproject.org.

Everything is possible
The most important goal of the "Beethoven Pastoral Project," however, is for the participants to communicate their ideas not only through their statements on the website, but also through a new work of art that they create for the project. There are no formal boundaries. Musicians can improvise on motifs from the "Pastoral" or compose a new piece of music. Other creative minds can create a photo series, shoot a film or choreograph a dance. All participants are free to decide how they want to deal creatively with the grand theme of nature and allow themselves to be inspired by Beethoven.
The finished work, the new product, the contemporary interpretation should then be documented and uploaded onto the project page —whether as video file, photo series, audio recording or graphic. This is how you can become part of the "Beethoven Pastoral Project."
Between Earth Day on April 22, 2020 and the UN World Environment Day on June 5, 2020, as many performances of the Pastoral Symphony as possible are to take place worldwide. The works of other art genres will also be published during this period as part of the "Beethoven Pastoral Project."

Beethoven to save the planet
Categories: External websites

(US) Climate Change Lawsuits Ask Whether Fossil Fuel Companies Are Responsible

Lethal Heating - 7 November, 2019 - 04:00
Houston Chronicle - 

Protesters rally outside State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. After four years of legal sparring and finger-pointing, oil-industry giant Exxon Mobil went to court on Tuesday to face charges that the company lied to shareholders and to the public about the costs and consequences of climate change. JEFFERSON SIEGEL, STR / NYTJust 20 energy companies account for one-third of greenhouse emissions since 1965, according to a new study.
The Climate Accountability Institute’s Richard Heede tallied up all the fossil fuels extracted by every company through 2017 and calculated the emissions. The data is public, the math is straightforward and the emissions are indisputable.
The top 10 companies, in order, are, predictably, Saudi Aramco, Chevron, Gazprom, Exxon Mobil, National Iranian Oil Co., BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Coal India and PEMEX. More details are available online at http://climateaccountability.org/carbonmajors.html.
Heede chose 1965 as his start date because the Johnson administration released a report that year warning that the nation risked warming the planet by 2000 if it did not cut carbon dioxide emissions. The president of the American Petroleum Institute, the leading industry association, responded a few months later by calling for more lobbying to head off damaging regulations.
What is surprising in the Heede report is that 50 percent of greenhouse emissions have come since 1985, and that speaks to the energy industry’s culpability in contributing to climate change.
Companies may claim that climate change was not well understood in 1965, but by 1985 scientists knew humans releasing growing concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride were trapping heat in the atmosphere and warming the planet.
National leaders meeting at the 1992 Rio Summit agreed to slow emissions. They signed a legally binding treaty in 1997 called the Kyoto Protocol. Yet today, some well-financed political forces are still trying to suppress the obvious evidence of human-man climate change.
How Exxon Mobil responded to climate change is the subject of a New York prosecution for securities fraud. The state attorney general alleges that Exxon executives misled investors by misrepresenting the potential financial impact of climate regulation on the company’s stock value.
The top 20 companies have contributed to 480bn tonnesof carbon dioxide equivalent since 1965Billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent Guardian graphic | Source: Richard Heede, Climate Accountability Institute. Note: table includes emissions for the period 1965 to 2017 only
“The company failed to manage the risks in the ways it promised,” prosecutor Kevin Wallace told the court. “The cost of that failure is staggering.”
New York alleges in court papers that Exxon’s behavior cost shareholders between $476 million and $1.6 billion. Exxon’s attorney Ted Wells responded by saying: “Exxon Mobil did nothing wrong.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed another lawsuit against Exxon on Oct. 24. That case alleges that executives misled investors about climate risks and deceived consumers about the role fossil fuels play in causing climate change.
“Our goal here is simple: to stop Exxon from engaging in this deception and penalize it for this conduct,” Healey told reporters.
Exxon replied in a statement: “We look forward to refuting the meritless allegations in court.”
Exxon scientists, though, have accepted climate change as fact since at least the mid-1980s. At the same time, the company supported political action groups that questioned the reality of climate change to deter environmental regulations.
The New York and Massachusetts cases will set precedents for a slew of climate lawsuits working through the courts. States, cities and environmental groups have dozens of legal angles they intend to test.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected a motion by BP, Chevron, Exxon and other companies to move climate change lawsuits brought by Baltimore, Oakland, Calif., and Boulder, Colo. out of state courts and consolidate them in federal court.
The cities want compensation for damage caused by climate change.
The federal government is also fighting lawsuits, including one brought on behalf of young Americans demanding more significant federal action on climate change.
 The Sierra Club wants an explanation for why the Securities and Exchange Commission has allowed corporations to quash proxy votes on climate-related issues.
These fights over responsibility for climate change are staking out new legal ground and will undoubtedly end up at the Supreme Court. The current makeup of the Court, though, casts reasonable doubt on whether it will accept these novel legal theories that could have dramatic impacts on the global economy.
If any of these lawsuits are successful, though, expect attorneys to cite the Climate Accountability Institute’s allocation of responsibility to inform how courts should assess actual and punitive damages. The higher the rank, the higher the potential liability.
The bigger question for fossil fuel companies is what the courts and government will expect them to do for climate damage going forward. Every significant oil, gas and coal company acknowledges that carbon dioxide is changing the planet’s climate.
The question our fuel suppliers will reasonably ask is what did consumers know, and when did we know it? Yes, these companies extracted the carbon, but we burned it, and we continue to burn it. How much responsibility rests with us?

Categories: External websites

Climate Crisis: 11,000 Scientists Warn Of ‘Untold Suffering’

Lethal Heating - 6 November, 2019 - 04:00
The Guardian

Statement sets out ‘vital signs’ as indicators of magnitude of the climate emergencyMost countries’ climate plans ‘totally inadequate’ – expertsA man uses a garden hose to try to save his home from wildfire in Granada Hills, California, on 11 October 2019. Photograph: Michael Owen Baker/AP The world’s people face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless there are major transformations to global society, according to a stark warning from more than 11,000 scientists.
“We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” it states. “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. [This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.”
There is no time to lose, the scientists say: “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.”
The statement is published in the journal BioScience on the 40th anniversary of the first world climate conference, which was held in Geneva in 1979. The statement was a collaboration of dozens of scientists and endorsed by further 11,000 from 153 nations. The scientists say the urgent changes needed include ending population growth, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, halting forest destruction and slashing meat eating.
Prof William Ripple, of Oregon State University and the lead author of the statement, said he was driven to initiate it by the increase in extreme weather he was seeing. A key aim of the warning is to set out a full range of “vital sign” indicators of the causes and effects of climate breakdown, rather than only carbon emissions and surface temperature rise.
‘Profoundly troubling signs’ – drivers of the climate emergency
Guardian graphic. Source: Ripple et al, BioScience, 2019‘Encouraging signs’ – trends tackling the climate emergency
Guardian graphic. Source: Ripple et al, BioScience, 2019“A broader set of indicators should be monitored, including human population growth, meat consumption, tree-cover loss, energy consumption, fossil-fuel subsidies and annual economic losses to extreme weather events,” said co-author Thomas Newsome, of the University of Sydney.
Other “profoundly troubling signs from human activities” selected by the scientists include booming air passenger numbers and world GDP growth. “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle,” they said.
As a result of these human activities, there are “especially disturbing” trends of increasing land and ocean temperatures, rising sea levels and extreme weather events, the scientists said: “Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, with few exceptions, we have have largely failed to address this predicament. Especially worrisome are potential irreversible climate tipping points. These climate chain reactions could cause significant disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies, potentially making large areas of Earth uninhabitable.”
“We urge widespread use of the vital signs [to] allow policymakers and the public to understand the magnitude of the crisis, realign priorities and track progress,” the scientists said.
‘Especially disturbing’ – the impacts of the climate emergency
Guardian graphic. Source: Ripple et al, BioScience, 2019“You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to look at the graphs and know things are going wrong,” said Newsome. “But it is not too late.” The scientists identify some encouraging signs, including decreasing global birth rates, increasing solar and wind power and fossil fuel divestment. Rates of forest destruction in the Amazon had also been falling until a recent increase under new president Jair Bolsonaro.
They set out a series of urgently needed actions:
  • Use energy far more efficiently and apply strong carbon taxes to cut fossil fuel use
  • Stabilise global population – currently growing by 200,000 people a day – using ethical approaches such as longer education for girls
  • End the destruction of nature and restore forests and mangroves to absorb CO2
  • Eat mostly plants and less meat, and reduce food waste
  • Shift economic goals away from GDP growth
“The good news is that such transformative change, with social and economic justice for all, promises far greater human well-being than does business as usual,” the scientists said. The recent surge of concern was encouraging, they added, from the global school strikes to lawsuits against polluters and some nations and businesses starting to respond.
A warning of the dangers of pollution and a looming mass extinction of wildlife on Earth, also led by Ripple, was published in 2017. It was supported by more than 15,000 scientists and read out in parliaments from Canada to Israel. It came 25 years after the original “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” in 1992, which said: “A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.”
Ripple said scientists have a moral obligation to issue warnings of catastrophic threats: “It is more important than ever that we speak out, based on evidence. It is time to go beyond just research and publishing, and to go directly to the citizens and policymakers.”

Categories: External websites

(AU) The Wealthy Australians Funding Climate Change Candidates

Lethal Heating - 6 November, 2019 - 04:00
AFRAndrew Tillett

Wealthy climate change activist Simon Holmes a Court wants to assemble a $1 million war chest to bankroll independent candidates at the next election after funding disclosures showed the organisation he and rich-lister Mike Cannon-Brookes backed emerged as one of 2019's biggest donors.
Mr Holmes a Court's Climate 200 initiative donated about $450,000 to 12 independent and crossbench political candidates in the run up to the May 18 poll, helping independent Helen Haines prevail. Two incumbent MPs Climate 200 helped, Adam Bandt and Rebekha Sharkie, were re-elected.
Independents Zali Steggall and Helen Haines were helped by wealthy donors attracted by their stance on climate change. Alex EllinghausenNevertheless, candidate donations returns released by Australian Electoral Commission on Monday revealed just how potent climate change had become as for political fundraising.
Independent Zali Steggall disclosed receiving a whopping $1.1 million in donations for her successful bid to unseat former prime minister Tony Abbott in the northern Sydney electorate of Warringah.
One of the key promises of Ms Steggall's campaign was the need to act on climate change, drawing a sharp contrast to Mr Abbott who as PM dismantled Labor's carbon pricing regime.
Businessman and environmental philanthropist Robert Purves donated $67,000 each to Ms Steggall's campaign while his sister Sandra gave $37,000.
Given how well she was resourced, Climate 200 opted not to donate to Ms Steggall, instead spreading its money around other independent candidates in other seats.
But Climate 200 gave $145,000 to the former head of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Oliver Yates for his campaign against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in the seat Melbourne seat of Kooyong, out of $363,000 he disclosed receiving.Kerryn Phelps received $47,500 from Climate 200 (out of $219,000 in total donations) for her failed bid to hold Wentworth in Sydney's east while Dr Haines included $35,000 from the group in her list of $421,000 in donations.
All up, candidates disclosed receiving $354,500 in donations from Climate 200 but the real figure is higher because donations under $13,800 do not have to be publicly declared.
Mr Holmes a Court told The Australian Financial Review Climate 200 received $495,000 from donors and distributed about 90 per cent of this to candidates and used the rest for distributing a social media video on the candidates to supporters.
Mr Cannon-Brookes gave $50,000 and Mr Holmes a Court $25,000, while $195,000 came from the Climate Outcomes Foundation. All other donations were below the $13,800 threshold.
Mr Holmes a Court said he had been contacted by a handful of philanthropists in recent days looking to donate for the next election campaign.
He said doubling the amount of the money Climate 200 has to disperse was a "realistic" aim, with the group looking to support candidates who wanted action on climate change as well as advocate for an integrity commissioner.
"We will almost certainly go again in 2022," he said.
"Politics is a long game, especially in Australia. [This year] was a modest attempt. I'm confident we will be able to get more bang for our bucks and get more bucks."
Kilara Capital managing director Ben Krasnostein - a member of Melbourne's Smorgan family - said he and family members donated a "five figure" sum to Climate 200 and he planned to do so again.
He said he believed climate change action would both preserve the environment for future generations as well as offered new opportunities for investors to make a return.
"I'm not red, blue or green," Mr Krasnostein said, a reference to the colours associated with the major parties.
"There is not that much of an outlet for people who want to make a difference, who can write a decent-sized cheque and who don't want to be partisan."

Categories: External websites

(US) Trump Thought The Paris Deal Was Too Expensive. Wait’ll He Sees The Cost Of Climate Change.

Lethal Heating - 6 November, 2019 - 04:00
MIT Technology Review

The Trump administration officially began the process of withdrawing the US from the landmark Paris climate agreement on Monday, in a move that surprised no one.

The details
The step, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Twitter, starts the clock on a one-year waiting period that will end the day after the next presidential election.
At that point, the US will be the only nation on the planet that isn’t a party to the compact, forcing the rest of the world to figure out how to combat the escalating dangers of climate change without the second largest greenhouse gas emitter.
In first announcing plans to exit the deal two years ago, President Trump argued the agreement would undermine the nation’s economic growth and international competitiveness. Evidence suggests, however, that exactly the opposite is true.
Today we begin the formal process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. The U.S. is proud of our record as a world leader in reducing all emissions, fostering resilience, growing our economy, and ensuring energy for our citizens. Ours is a realistic and pragmatic model.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) November 4, 2019Missed opportunities
By actively working against the shift to clean energy—and by extension, the companies and markets needed to bring it about—the US has ceded economic opportunities to develop the next generation of clean technologies to its economic rivals.
China, in particular, has happily seized the mantle, asserting itself as an increasingly dominant leader on batteries, electric vehicles, long-range transmission, wind turbines, solar panels, and more.

Relative costs
Moreover, if Trump truly thinks doing something about climate change is going to cost the economy too much—just wait until he gets a glimpse at the tab for doing nothing.
As study after study points out, the economic damages of unchecked climate change will be astronomical—indeed, far greater than the cost of reducing emissions.
In the US alone, climate change could add up to at least hundreds of billions of dollars per year in lost labor productivity, declining crop yields, early deaths, property damage, water shortages, air pollution, flooding, fires, and more.
Visitors chat in front of a giant screen featuring information related to global warning. (Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images)Links
Categories: External websites

(US) Naomi Oreskes: ‘Discrediting Science Is A Political Strategy’

Lethal Heating - 5 November, 2019 - 04:00
The Guardian - Zoë Corbyn

The Harvard professor on science and scepticism – and why climate deniers have run out of excuses
Naomi Oreskes: ‘It is deeply problematic if the leadership of the US government is rejecting science.’ Photograph: Phil Penman Why Trust Science?
Naomi Oreskes
Princeton University PressIn her new book Why Trust Science? Naomi Oreskes, professor of the history of science at Harvard University, argues that if more people heard scientists talk personally about their values, it would help turn back the creeping tide of anti-science sentiment. The former geologist recently gave evidence both to a US House of Representatives subcommittee hearing, “Examining the Oil Industry’s Efforts to Suppress the Truth about Climate Change”, and a Senate Democrats special committee hearing looking at “Dark Money and Barriers to Climate Action”.

Your previous book, Merchants of Doubt, chronicled tactics used by professional climate deniers. What inspired this one?
During public lectures I would explain there was a scientific consensus on climate change and the contrarians were either outliers within the scientific community or paid shills of the fossil fuel industry. People would say: “Well that’s fine, but why should we trust the science?” I thought that was a legitimate question.

Do we have a crisis of public trust in science?
There has been exaggeration and even panic about this. Public opinion polls in the US consistently show that most people still trust science. And far more than they trust government or industry. However, there are certain areas – for example climate change, vaccination and evolution – where there is a high level of public suspicion. In these areas, people resist accepting what the evidence shows because of their values. The science can be seen to clash with their political, moral or religious worldviews, or their economic interests.
Discrediting science is also a political strategy – for example, the fossil fuel industry creating the impression that the science on climate change is unsettled stops action.
It’s fashionable to be sceptical of experts but we rely on them: dentists fix our teeth, plumbers unclog our drainsYou could say the US president doesn’t trust science. Trump denies the climate crisis and has argued against vaccination in the past, and his vice-president, Mike Pence, demurs on evolution. How detrimental is this?
It is deeply problematic if the leadership of the US government is rejecting science, because it sends a signal to the American people and to business leaders that it is fine to reject science, and even to ride roughshod over scientists. It is also proof positive that this is not a question of people who simply don’t have access to good scientific information. The US president has access to more scientific information than probably anybody on the planet – but he actively rejects it on a number of issues because it conflicts with his own interests.

Why should we trust science? Is it because there is a “scientific method” that scientists follow?
There isn’t a single magic formula that guarantees results. We should trust science because it has a rigorous process for vetting claims. That includes the formal peer review of papers submitted to academic journals but also things like scientists discussing their preliminary results in conferences and workshops. Crucially, these practices are social in character. Consensus is key to when a scientific matter has been settled, and therefore when knowledge is likely to be trustworthy. We should also trust science because it is done by people who are experts in studying the natural world. It’s fashionable to be sceptical of experts but we rely on trained people every day for all kinds of things: dentists fix our teeth and plumbers unclog our drains. Science also has a substantial record of success – think of our medicines and technologies – suggesting scientists are doing something right.

You say we can learn from science gone awry. One example in the book is the eugenics movement, the odious crusade in the early part of the last century arguing for the improvement of the genetics of the human race by restricting the reproduction of “unfit” people, which particularly targeted the mentally ill and the poor…
Climate change deniers love to claim that because scientists were once wrong about eugenics, they may be wrong now about climate change. But I looked closely and there never was any consensus among scientists on eugenics. British geneticists and evolutionary biologists in particular – famous names like JBS Haldane and Thomas Huxley – who also happened to be socialists called out eugenics for its class bias targeting working-class people. It shows how diversity, in this case political diversity, can lead to assumptions being pointed out that otherwise would go unnoticed.

You also look at why it took so long for scientists to study whether the contraceptive pill can have mental health side-effects like depression.
A few years ago a big study came out that associated being on the pill with depression and it generated a lot of media attention. But we’ve known this for a very long time because millions of women have been telling us. Their self-reports were often discounted as unreliable by medical science. Lots of psychiatrists going back to the 1960s were aware and some took it seriously. But gynaecologists generally resisted that evidence for two reasons. One was because the pill really does work, so a lot were eager to prescribe it. But also, these were female patients and there is a long history of male doctors in particular discounting their reports. The lesson is scientists shouldn’t discount evidence simply because it’s not in their preferred form.
Do the benefits of flossing your teeth have scientific backing? Photograph: Julio Cortez/APYou use a 2016 controversy around the effectiveness of flossing teeth as an example not of flawed science, but flawed journalism. What happened? 
The background is the US government took the view that its dietary guidelines should focus on diet and so removed a recommendation to floss. A journalist from the Associated Press noticed and decided to look at flossing’s scientific basis for preventing gum disease and cavities. He found that if you took the gold standard of evidence – the double-blind randomised controlled trial – it was lacking. But you can’t do that kind of trial: you know if your teeth are being flossed or not. If you make that the standard then, necessarily, there won’t be “hard” evidence to support flossing. There is a kind of fetishism about RCTs. But there are cases including in nutrition and exercise when you can’t do them, or it would be unethical. In those cases, other types of studies, like population or animal studies, can be valuable. Or if you have some other kind of information – for example dentists’ and our own experience that flossing does a lot of good for our teeth and gums – it shouldn’t be discounted.

How can we increase trust in science where it is warranted?
It isn’t by giving people more scientific information. Rather scientists need to talk about the values that motivate them and shape the science they do. In many cases, scientists’ values are less different from the people who are rejecting science than you might think. And where values overlap, trust can be built. We may think of people who reject vaccination as being “on the other side” but we all love our children. A scientist’s “biodiversity” might be a religious believer’s “Creation”, but they are cherishing the same thing. Scientists being willing to talk about themselves and their experiences can also go a long way. In my book, I talk about something deeply personal: my own experiences with the contraceptive pill and depression. It may not be persuasive to everyone, but people are much more likely to accept factual information from those they can relate to or have a human connection with.

Lots of scientists work for oil, energy, pharmaceutical, food and cosmetics companies, and often bury unwelcome results, massage their studies and so on – how do you feel about these people and are they contributing to the cynicism about science in the public?
This is a big question, hard to answer in a soundbite. In the early 20th century, a good deal of important science was done in industrial laboratories, for example at Westinghouse, General Electric, Bell Labs, and Eastman Chemicals. But after the war, many large corporations cut back on their support of basic research, and some – most famously the tobacco industry – became involved in product defence and distracting research. A good deal of product defence research is now channelled through academia, and this is deeply problematic. I know from my email and Twitter feed that this has stoked distrust among some people, and rightly so.
Many scientific journals and universities have been very sloppy about taking steps to ensure the integrity of academic findings, for example by having and enforcing full disclosure. Academics have to be very clear about the soures of their support, and they should never agree to non-disclosure agreements. It is essential in science that we let the chips fall as they may.

You’ve recently been testifying in Congress. What’s the message you most want to send to politicians?
Human-induced climate change is under way. It’s no longer a matter of trust; our scientists have been shown to be right. Climate change deniers have run out of excuses.

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(UK) Climate Change: Thousands Invited To Join Citizens' Assembly

Lethal Heating - 5 November, 2019 - 04:00

The public are being asked for their views on how to tackle climate change. Brook Mitchell/GettyLetters are being sent to 30,000 households across the UK inviting people to join a citizens' assembly on climate change.Once participants are selected, the assembly will meet next year, with the outcome of their discussions reported back to Parliament.
The initiative, set up by cross party MPs, will look at what members of the public can do to reduce CO2.
The UK government has committed to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, one of six select committees who commissioned the climate assembly, said a clear roadmap was needed to achieve this goal.
"Finding solutions which are equitable and have public support will be crucial," she said.
"Parliament needs to work with the people and with government to address the challenge of climate change."

Random selection
The invitees to Climate Assembly UK have been selected at random from across the UK. From those who respond, 110 people will be chosen as a representative sample of the population.
They will meet over four weekends from late January in Birmingham, and will discuss topics ranging from transport to household energy use.
A citizens' assembly has been a key demand of the environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion, whose protests caused widespread disruption this year.
The group said they welcomed this as a first step, but warned that the assembly should be focussing on cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 not 2050.
Spokesperson Linda Doyle said: "Waiting 30 years to reach zero net carbon emissions is a death sentence to people around the world and in the UK - it gives us a higher chance of breaching irreversible tipping points as the climate breaks down and it only serves short term 'business as usual'."

Complex issues
Environmental group Friends of the Earth said citizens' assemblies could play an important part in policy-making.
Dave Timms, head of political affairs at FOE, said: "Tackling the climate emergency with the speed required will require radical changes to our economy, infrastructure and even to society so it's important that there is a consensus among citizens.
"Much of what needs to be done already commands widespread public support and it is politicians that just need to bloody-well get on with it now."
Citizens' assemblies have been used in a number of countries around the world.
In Ireland, a panel of 99 people was established in 2016 to look at a range of political questions, including abortion.
They recommended that the country should overturn its ban and suggested a referendum, which went on to support repeal.
In Canada and the Netherlands, the approach has been used to discuss electoral reform.

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(AU) How Bad Is This Drought And Is It Caused By Climate Change?

Lethal Heating - 5 November, 2019 - 04:00
Sydney Morning HeraldPeter Hannam

How do we define drought? What causes them? And are they getting worse?
Animal tracks criss-cross the Southern Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve in August. Credit: Wolter PeetersAustralia may well be a land of drought and flooding rain but so far this century it has been on the drier side. Drought has gripped large swathes of south-eastern Australia for the past three years, prompting fierce debate about the best policies to help farmers and regional communities, and sparking fears about just how dry future conditions will be.
How severe is this drought? Is this the new normal? And what is the role of climate change?

What is drought?
Drought is about what's missing – rain. Or, as the Bureau of Meteorology defines it, an "acute water shortage".
Unlike other extreme weather events such as heavy rain or heatwaves, though, droughts are tricky to measure.
Queensland's latest government estimate is that two-thirds of the state is affected by drought. In NSW, it is just about all of the state – 98.4 per cent, according to the government. Victoria hasn't declared drought, but says central and east Gippsland and Millewa in the north-west are its main dry regions. Western Australia has had its third-driest start to any year – and the driest since 1936 – and northern South Australia has not had a drier January-October on record.
The weather bureau uses "rainfall deficiencies" as its measure. It looks at where rainfall is less than 10 per cent of historical averages and deems them to have "serious" deficiency. Those at less than five per cent are rated as "severe".
Another kind of measure is a so-called hydrological drought, which measures periods of very low river flow.
Rainfall is below average or less in large parts of Australia
January 2017 to October 31, 2019
Source: Bureau of Meteorology
How bad is the current drought?
Australia's biggest dry spells include the Federation Drought (1895-1902), World War II Drought (1937-1945) and the Millennium Drought (1997-2009).
Measured on a range of time scales, the current drought is extreme. Some areas report record poor rains.
For Australia's food bowl, the Murray-Darling Basin, rainfall has averaged 887 millimetres over the 34 months to the end of October. That's "clearly the lowest on record", says David Jones, manager of climate services at the weather bureau.
Record heat has compounded the stress. The basin's mean temperatures for those 34 months is running at 1.65 degrees above the bureau's 1961-90 baseline, easily beating previous record highs, says Dr Jones.
Nationally, daytime temperatures for January to October are also at records highs, the bureau says. In the basin alone, mean temperatures were the hottest on record for that period too, for the third year in a row, says Dr Jones.
Perhaps the most unusual feature of the current drought, though, is the absence of cool season rainfall for three years running for much of the Murray-Darling Basin.
"That’s never happened in the instrumental record," says Michael Roderick, a climate researcher at the Australian National University. "They’ve never really had two failed winters in a row."
For the basin, just under 50 millimetres fell last winter, or less than half the 1961-90 average of 111 millimetres, weather bureau data reveals.

Is climate change playing a role?
If droughts can be hard to pin down, explaining their connection to climate change adds to the complexity.
The facts are that scientists cannot say definitively that a specific drought is caused by climate change, but they can say definitively that climate change makes the effects of droughts stronger and more damaging.
Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, recently ignited a brief firestorm over his comment to a business forum that "there is no link between climate change and drought".
Some media jumped on his views, prompting his centre to issue a belated correction saying he erred by leaving out one word, as in "there is no direct link between climate change and drought".
Indirect links should be cause enough for concern in a country with Australia's variable rainfall.The indirect links, though, should be cause enough for concern in a country with Australia's variable rainfall.
The weather bureau and CSIRO are very confident that rainfall during the so-called cool season from April to October is trending lower for both the south-west and south-east of Australia, as noted in last year's State of the Climate report.
Farmers rely on that rain to grow the winter crops that make up the bulk of the nation's output. Where winter rain is on the rise – in parts of the north and interior – the extra moisture is typically on top of a low base and in sparsely populated regions.
Climate change is blamed for accelerating the winds that circle around Antarctica, drawing storm tracks further south so some miss the mainland.
By contrast, for some areas in southern Australia, rainfall is increasing during the warmer months. That shift, though, comes as little consolation for farmers now reliant on winter harvests.
In 20 years, cool season rainfall has been the lowest on record
in some places and above average in others.
April to October rainfall 1999-2018
Source: Bureau of Meteorology
Evaporation, which depends more on sunlight and relative humidity than temperature, is typically higher in summer so run-off into dams will be less than if it rained in winter.
More summer rain "should green up the landscape because plants have more water when they need it most but it will dry up our rivers", Professor Roderick says.
While it's not clear how annual rainfall totals will change in a warming world, future droughts will be hotter when they do arrive, says Ben Henley, a climate researcher at the University of Melbourne.
"We're really quite concerned in southern Australia," he says. "Even if we get the same degree of annual rainfall, if that’s falling in the hot time of the year, that’s more likely to be evaporated off."

Is this the new normal?
Cutting-edge research includes work to investigate whether droughts such as the current one are likely to become more prolonged and more frequent.
One area of study is looking at flash droughts, the unusually rapid intensification of some dry spells.
"This event is shorter at the moment [compared with some droughts in the past] but very sharp," Dr Jones says.
A paper out this year by researchers, including the weather bureau's Hanh Nguyen, has found most of eastern Australia "suddenly changed from wet conditions in December 2017 to dry conditions in January 2018". It cites sheep farmer Kym Thomas, from Cunnamulla in the northern Murray Darling Basin in Queensland, who was forced to sell all her livestock in early 2018. Local sheep numbers in her region dived to their lowest in 100 years.
One smoking gun is that rainforests are now burning."By June 2018, they reported that all types of trees were dying, leaving a desert-like landscape of sand dunes replacing the normally vegetated scene," the paper says.
As plants dry or die,the risk of major bushfires increases. And, as plants also help moderate the local climate through a process called evapotranspiration, when they die another hand brake on the heat is removed.
The dried-out Southern Macquarie Marshes nature reserve in August. Credit: Wolter PeetersSome researchers believe the ambient conditions that led to the Millennium Drought have not yet broken down, says Greg Holland, an emeritus senior scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research and formerly with the bureau.
"It's quite possible ... we never came out of it," he says, adding a couple of wet years in 2010 and 2011 may have been "a bit of an hiatus in the middle".
Indeed, while drought is measured against historical averages, it may be time to redefine what we considered as normal. "One smoking gun is that rainforests are now burning," he says.

How much longer will this drought last?
Weather in Australia is being influenced by a pattern known as a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which reduces the chances for convection and the formation of north-west cloud bands that typically bring good rains to inland Australia, especially the Murray-Darling Basin.
This IOD pattern typically starts to break down by November's end as the northern monsoon arrives. While this year's seasonal cycle may be later than usual, at least one curb on rainfall should soon be wound back.
The weather bureau's three-monthly rainfall outlook indeed starts to shift the odds in favour of closer-to-average rains over much of the country by the tail end of summer. Before then, though, most of Australia is highly likely to have a drier and hotter than average November-February.
And it will probably take a lot more than near-normal rain to have this drought declared broken. As Professor Roderick says, the Millennium Drought had really only two very dry years – 2002 and 2006 – but is considered to have lasted about a decade.
While places such as Sydney have seen a steep fall in dam levels, 50 per cent faster over the past two years than during the Millennium Drought, its ability to tap a desalination plant for 15 per cent of its needs means it is "effectively immortal for water", says Professor Roderick.
Not so for towns such as Guyra in northern NSW, which has just eight months' supply, even with full dams. Many other towns had just one to two years worth of water, a problem that this drought has exposed, he says.

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(US) Suing Big Oil Is How States Tackle Climate Change

Lethal Heating - 4 November, 2019 - 04:00
Bloomberg - 

It’s not the best approach, but it’s better than none.
We’ve reached the “blame” stage in the climate grief cycle. Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesA growing number of cities and states want to turn climate change lawsuits against oil companies into the next tobacco or opioid litigation. In principle, that seems like a truly terrible idea. Such lawsuits will likely do even less to remedy the effects of climate change than similar suits did for lung cancer or opioid addiction. Yet on closer analysis, the climate change lawsuits may be the worst solution to mitigating climate change — except for all the others.
The analogy to Winston Churchill’s notorious defense of democracy isn’t an accident. In the American form of democracy, oil companies enjoy an almost unparalleled capacity to influence Congress and federal government regulators.
Local governments aren’t quite so captured. Recently, New York state’s lawsuit against Exxon began its trial; Massachusetts filed its own suit; and the Supreme Court declined an admittedly unusual request to stay suits being brought in state courts in Maryland, Rhode Island and Colorado.
Paradoxically, it’s precisely the splintered, self-interested nature of state and local lawsuits for damages that makes such litigation a potentially useful tool against big oil.
The proliferation of suits increases the likelihood that the oil companies will lose some suits, somewhere. That should be enough for analysts who cover oil companies to adjust their assessments of the probability of a lawsuit cascade like the one that culminated in the tobacco litigation settlement, and the one over opioids that is currently making its way towards a similar resolution.
And once enough states and localities start getting money out of the oil companies, the rest will jump on the bandwagon. Even if their political leaders would prefer to stay on the good side of big oil, the temptation of easy money will come to outweigh any instinct of restraint. Oil companies might respond by trying to get Congress to pass legislation protecting them from lawsuits. But by then, the states and municipalities will be lobbying in the other direction.
As I’ve noted before in the context of the opioid litigation, this is no way to run a railroad. Addressing major social crises by post-hoc lawsuits is not an efficient or logical — or indeed, particularly just — way to right wrongs on a large scale. The Anglo-American tort system was designed to resolve small-scale conflicts, not large ones, yet we’ve tried to reverse-engineer the system to deal with more fundamental social crises. The results have been mixed at best.
Nevertheless, the truth is that it’s particularly difficult to hold the energy companies responsible for the consequences of their conduct. Going back to John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, which at its peak controlled more than 90% of all oil refining in the U.S., perhaps no other industry in American history has been as resistant to regulation designed to dilute its power and lawmaking aimed at meaningful taxation. The enduring lobbying power of the big oil companies has long affected U.S. policy, foreign and domestic. And, of course, oil remains necessary to lubricate the U.S. economy.
But all that might is of limited utility against radically decentralized adversaries. For a glimpse into how this could play out, look at what’s currently underway in opioid litigation: not only states but also local governments — frustrated by state-level distribution of the tobacco settlement money and eager to get in on the action — have brought scores of suits of their own. The local suits have also brought in the for-profit, contingency-fee driven plaintiff’s bar.
This decentralization is a vice when it comes to rational, organized policymaking. But it’s a virtue when it comes to subverting the lobbying power of the energy industry in Washington.
Sprawling litigation like this usually turns into a cascade of self-interested municipalities trying to get a piece of the pie. At some point, failing to bring a lawsuit starts to seem like governmental malpractice. There’s money on the table, and local government that doesn’t try to get some of it is doing harm to its own citizens.
The upshot is that, while decentralized litigation isn’t an ideal way to address fundamental social problems, it could at least drive the oil industry to internalize some of the costs of the tremendous externalities that the burning of fossil fuels has imposed on the public. That isn’t cause for celebration. But it’s probably better than nothing.

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(AU) Climate Change: Words Don't Matter As Much As Action

Lethal Heating - 4 November, 2019 - 04:00
Insurance News

In the quarter-century that the threat of global warming has been hanging over general insurance in Australia, the debate has become fragmented and absurdly complex.
Climatologists say Australia will be one of the earliest countries to suffer from the long-term impacts of man-made climate change, but action to deal with the issue has been stymied since 2013 by internecine warfare between climate sceptics and realists in the ruling federal Coalition.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison seems to have decided the best way to maintain peace in the ranks is to pretend that by 2030 greenhouse gas emissions will have been reduced by 26-28% below 2005 levels – despite a government report last year predicting the reduction will be just 7%.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA), which must deal with the consequences of climate change and transmit its views to a generally unreceptive government and a public starved of information that brings the issue to their doorsteps.
So it’s worth looking at an unfortunate tangle ICA found itself in last week over one of the many sub-issues that lie under the heading of “climate change”.
It started two weeks ago when ICA President Richard Enthoven delivered a strong “state of the industry” address to the National Insurance Brokers Association (NIBA) convention, in the course of which he noted that climate change is “sensitive politically”, despite robust industry data that aligns with climate science.
Then he said: “Changing weather systems may well make certain regions more exposed to storm, flood or bushfire, thereby potentially making parts of Australia uninsurable.”
Just as “climate change” has become Canberra’s version of Harry Potter’s Voldemort – it “Must Not Be Named” – so “uninsurable” seems to enjoy the same status in ICA’s Pitt Street headquarters.
Despite the cautious use of the adverb “potentially”, Mr Enthoven crossed some kind of Rubicon in his speech.
ICA wants to move past the whole debate about the existence of climate change to focus on the benefits of mitigation, and prefers to always point to the Productivity Commission’s recommendation that the Commonwealth invest at least $200 million a year (matched by state and territory governments) on infrastructure.
It enjoyed a small victory earlier this month when the Government announced that about $50 million from the Emergency Response Fund will be earmarked annually for mitigation works. The Labor Party made that $50 million a condition of its support for the fund.
Days later ICA’s happy glow turned to irritation when the ABC published research from the Climate Risk consultancy which states that extreme weather events caused by climate change will make hundreds of thousands of Australian properties uninsurable.
It says nearly 720,000 addresses – or one in every 20 Australian properties – will be uninsurable by 2100 if global warming continues at its current rate.
This was 130,000 fewer properties than the original assessment made by Climate Risk in March. At the time that earlier report set the consultancy and ICA into a minor skirmish over the difference between “uninsurable” and “unaffordable”.
ICA’s argument is that homeowners in high-risk areas may have to pay more, but it doesn’t believe any part of Australia will become uninsurable.
Climate Risk Director of Science Karl Mallon told insuranceNEWS.com.au his organisation is “taking a responsible position to inform communities about the risk in their suburbs that they may have no idea about”.
“The insurance industry isn’t doing that, so we see it as a responsible thing to do – to try and engage communities and also encourage them to implement resilience measures ahead of an event.”
But ICA spokesman Campbell Fuller criticised Climate Risk’s report, saying extreme weather projections based on climate change models should be “agreed upon and understood by all relevant stakeholders before they are used in a way that may unnecessarily scare householders and businesses, disrupt communities and lead to poor decisions and outcomes”.
Climate Risk charges a fee for the use of its data, but ICA says information about future risks must be based on transparent methods and data, and the insurance industry “is investing in the development of transparent risk tools for climate change, based on centuries of underwriting expertise and extreme weather knowledge”.
In other words, ICA sees its data as being far better than Climate Risk’s data. Fair enough, it should be. But is all this hair-splitting really necessary?
The ABC wasn’t slow to point out that ICA’s vehement attack on what it called “irresponsible” reporting puts the council at odds with its President’s statement that climate change “may make certain regions more exposed to storm, flood or bushfire, thereby potentially making parts of Australia uninsurable”.
It may be that ICA is concerned the focus on insurance and climate change could switch political and community focus away from the need for investment in mitigation to the relative affordability of property insurance.
As Mr Fuller put it last week: “No area of Australia should be uninsurable, provided governments invest appropriately in permanent mitigation and resilience measures to protect communities from known and projected risks, including the impact of climate change.”
That’s also a point Mr Enthoven emphasised in his NIBA speech, and it’s one that Climate Risk says it’s keen to support.
“Where we furiously agree [with ICA] is that we can do something about this,” Mr Mallon told insuranceNEWS.com.au last week.
Doesn’t the fact that without mitigation some properties may become uninsurable – or unaffordable, if you prefer – make a compelling case for government action?
Call it information the public should know or call it scaremongering, Climate Risk’s fulsomely illustrated information, circulated widely around Australia via the ABC, contributed significantly to raising public awareness of the issue.
It doesn’t really matter how you define “uninsurable”, or how many properties you put in that category. The fact is some homeowners in Australia are already faced with unaffordable premiums and the issue is going to get worse unless serious work on mitigation is done.
If Climate Risk’s data isn’t as good as ICA’s, its cut-through on the issue was nevertheless impressive and has helped raise awareness in a very personal way. A substantial change in official policy towards mitigation will come sooner if there’s pressure from the community – and to achieve that a bit of data-backed scaremongering shouldn’t be seen as all that bad.

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(AU) Climate Crisis: Business Leaders Say Cost To Taxpayers Will Spiral Unless New Policies Introduced

Lethal Heating - 4 November, 2019 - 04:00
The Guardian |

Organisations such as Australian Industry Group and National Farmers’ Federation letter says greater private-sector action needed
 Groups including the Australian Industry Group and National Farmers’ Federation say the emissions reduction fund has worked in ‘the land sector’ but is poorly suited to driving cuts in industry. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty ImagesIndustry, farming and investor groups say the federal government signed up to a goal of global net zero emissions under the Paris agreement and have warned unless new policies are introduced taxpayer spending on climate programs will need to be dramatically increased.
A joint letter by 10 business organisations, including the Australian Industry Group and the National Farmers’ Federation, says the government will either need to back new climate policies that drive private-sector action or boost taxpayer funding now and into the future.
The letter was sent to a panel of business leaders and policy experts appointed by Angus Taylor, the emissions reduction minister, to find new ways to “enhance” the emissions reduction fund, the government’s main climate policy. The panel’s appointment, which was not made public, is seen as an admission the fund is not reducing national pollution.
Only select groups were asked to give feedback to a discussion paper circulated by the panel. The Clean Energy Council confirmed it wasn’t approached “directly” to participate in the rapid-fire review, which began in mid-October and is expected to offer initial feedback early next month, but said it welcomed the government’s putative shift on one of its signature policies.
The business group letter says the 10 organisations have different views on policy but agreed on broad principles that should underpin what the government does.
It says Australia’s medium-term climate target set for 2030 is just a staging post on the way to meeting the Paris deal goals of keeping global heating well below 2C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5C.
This would ultimately mean global net zero emissions. In Australia, it would require policy mechanisms that could efficiently deliver “immediate, cost-effective abatement opportunities” in every part of the economy and also encourage innovation.
The letter says the emissions reduction fund has worked in “the land sector” – mostly projects supporting native vegetation – but was poorly suited to driving cuts in industry and buildings and unlikely to bring change in energy and transport.
The groups would support well-designed policies that put less of the cost of cutting emissions on taxpayers, as the emissions reduction fund does, and instead encouraged the private sector to act.
“In the absence of such policies, the government will need to commit more resources – both now and over time – to finance abatement,” the letter says.
The panel, which is headed by Grant King, the outgoing president of the Business Council of Australia and a former chief executive of Origin Energy, was appointed after the government has been privately sounding out some groups about an overhaul of the fund for months. But stakeholders were taken aback when the panel approached them to provide detailed comments on options in less than two weeks.
Interviewed on the ABC, King said it was sensible for the government to look at how the fund was working and take on feedback. “What the government has done is say ‘let’s run a quick process … that’s going to listen to that feedback and see whether we can enhance the way the fund works’,” he said.
King stressed the government’s target, a 26-28% cut below 2005 levels, was not a cap. “What we want to do is exceed those targets and we can do that that, we believe, through listening to people’s experience … and improving the way it is working,” he said.
Taylor agreed the government would “like to beat our targets” and said the review was about “using the best expertise we can”.
“We are doing everything we can to use that money [committed to the fund] to maximise the abatement we get from it,” he said.
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, gave the Coalition a blast for failing to have a coherent policy. “The government doesn’t have an energy policy,” he said. “It doesn’t have a plan. What they need to do is to have a comprehensive plan for energy.”
Kane Thornton, the chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, said he welcomed “any steps towards stronger national climate and energy policy to provide the necessary certainty for investors”. He noted the emissions reduction fund had to date focused on areas other than energy, such as agriculture and industrial processes.
Thornton said his organisation, which represents major renewable energy players, had “not been directly approached to participate in the review of the (fund) to date”. But he would welcome any opportunity to put forward ideas that would ensure the fund played a more substantial role in providing investor confidence across all sectors of the economy.
As well as contributing to the joint letter, the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) has contributed its own submission to the process, urging the Morrison government to pursue least cost abatement in the reboot.
Its submission says market mechanisms, including “price signals and tradable instruments”, can be efficient and effective if well designed, but there are also roles for careful regulation and public funding. “The existing landscape of policy and proposals is far from consistent with these principles,” it says.
The discussion paper floats changing the scheme known as the safeguard mechanism, which was supposed to limit emissions from big industry but in practice has allowed pollution to increase, so companies that emit less than their limit are awarded carbon credits they could sell to the government or business.
The Ai Group says adjusting the safeguards regime is an important option for the government, but will “require especially careful and consultative development”. It says in theory it should be simple to reward facilities for emissions cuts when they emit less than tight limits, or baselines, but in reality “there are many difficult issues involved”.
Other signatories to the business group letter backed by the Ai Group are the Investor Group on Climate Change, the Property Council, the Energy Users Association, the Energy Efficiency Council, the Green Building Council, the Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity, the Carbon Market Institute and the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council.
The emissions reduction fund works as a reverse auction, rewarding landowners and businesses that make cheap, viable bids for taxpayers’ support to cut pollution. The most recent auction bought emissions cuts equivalent to only 0.01% of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas pollution after officials found just three projects worth backing.
The emissions policy review came to light as the government announced it would give the government green bank, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, an extra $1bn to invest in projects aimed at ensuring a reliable electricity supply. The new fund is earmarked for power generation, storage and transmission projects such as pumped hydro, batteries and gas.
National emissions have risen each year since 2015 and analyses have found the government would not reach its 2030 target, a 26%-28% cut below 2005 levels, unless policies changed. Scientists say Australia should be aiming for deeper cuts if it is play its part under the Paris agreement.

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Why The Coal Sector Is So Excited About Australia's Move To 'Clean' Hydrogen

Lethal Heating - 3 November, 2019 - 04:00
ABC NewsJack Snape

Australian government video on national hydrogen strategy (ABC News)

Key points
  • Australia's national hydrogen strategy is due for completion by the end of the year
  • Hydrogen can be made using fossil fuels or renewables but it will be cheaper to use coal and gas for at least a decade
  • Japan's demand has been inflated in official government materials, overstating the short-term export potential
Japan might be endowed with many beautiful things but reliable and cheap sources of energy are not among them.
Home to 125 million people and one of the world's worst nuclear-power meltdowns, the allure of hydrogen energy has driven Japan's ambition to become a leading adopter of the energy source.
Next year's Tokyo Olympics will serve as a demonstration of the country's progress towards a so-called hydrogen society, based on carbon-free, next-generation technology.
It is keen for cars that produce exhaust — water — that technically could be drunk. The Olympics itself will be home to buses like this:
Toyota's Sora bus, to be used at the Tokyo Olympics, is powered by hydrogen fuel cells. (Supplied)And key to its strategy for this clean-energy future is something that may surprise — Australia's brown coal.
Japan's strategic hydrogen roadmap, released earlier this year, states plainly that 2020 targets are set "assuming the success of Japan-Australia brown coal-to-hydrogen project".
That project, a trial using coal from Latrobe Valley in Victoria, will demonstrate how Australia's hydrogen export industry — and Japan's imports — might work.
But its prominence also hints at a tension threatening to tear the Australian hydrogen movement apart.

The recipe for hydrogen
Hydrogen is attractive as a fuel source because it carries more energy than natural gas and is carbon-free, so the burning of it does not contribute to climate change.
It can be produced by the process of electrolysis of water using large amounts of energy — think solar and wind-sourced — or chemical processes associated with combusting fossil fuels like coal and gas.
That sets up an ideological split between fossil fuels and renewables.
While the hydrogen itself emits no carbon when used, the cheapest way to produce it right now does.
Those preparing Australia's hydrogen strategy recognise the need to reduce emissions to combat climate change, and are only considering options using fossil fuels if they come with carbon capture and storage (CCS).
The most prominent examples of CCS involve pumping carbon emissions into underground cavities, but critics argue the technology is unproven and ineffective.
Mark McCallum at Coal21, a group representing black coal producers pursuing CCS, wrote in a submission to this year's hydrogen strategy consultation that the technology was proven, citing the example of the Norway's Sleipner 20-year-old project.
"Importantly, CO2 [carbon dioxide] is a stable substance and, provided the well-established industrial safety protocols are followed, the injection process can be conducted without any threats to the health and safety of workers or the public."Suitable locations for hydrogen production, factoring in proximity to geology suitable for storing emissions, have already been identified by Geoscience Australia:
Infographic: Suitable locations for hydrogen production using fossil fuels. (Supplied: Geoscience Australia)There may be issues with leakage from the emissions, or cost blowouts with rolling out the technology at a large scale.
But assuming there's not, it will be much cheaper to produce hydrogen using fossil fuels over the next few years.
However, the renewables-driven alternative is already better for the climate, and at some point after 2030 its price is also likely to be cheaper.

The 'inflated' prize of Japan
The briefing paper for COAG energy ministers notes "access to the Japanese energy market is the prize for the nations now bidding to be global hydrogen suppliers".
But it is not clear exactly how big that prize is.
Much of the hype around hydrogen in Australia focuses on the export opportunities.
The thinking goes that Australia could use its natural endowment in coal, gas, sun and wind and supply the world with hydrogen, starting with Japan.
This future, according to some, is just around the corner.
The first issues paper for the National Hydrogen Strategy trumpets: "High-level economic modelling by ACIL Allen estimates that hydrogen exports could provide around $4 billion direct and indirect economic benefits to Australia by 2040 under medium demand growth settings."
Under those "growth settings", consultants ACIL Allen estimate that Japan will need 1.76 million tonnes of hydrogen per year in 2030. It suggests Australia could provide 368,000 of those tonnes.
Infographic: ACIL Allen's figures for demand, shown here in thousands of tonnes per year, have been brought into question. (Supplied: ACIL Allen)If ACIL's estimates are correct, more than 2,000 Australian workers will benefit from the burgeoning industry in the next decade.
However, Japan's own strategy projects its own demand in 2030 at just 300,000 tonnes. That's less than one fifth ACIL's estimate of Japan's consumption.
Anthony Kosturjak, a senior research economist at Adelaide University, said the ACIL estimate "does seem optimistic".
"The low-export scenario of 182,000 tonnes is more reasonable as this would represent about 60 per cent of the national target," he said.
Mr Kosturjak, who researched 19 national hydrogen plans this year for a research paper funded by the Department of Industry, warned that Japan's targets were aspirational but also competition was intense, noting Japan had set up projects in other countries, including Brunei and Norway.
"It is important to remember that the Japanese strategy identifies an aspirational target and there is significant uncertainty regarding how the technical and economic feasibility of hydrogen and competing technologies will evolve," he said.
"As such, the country could significantly overshoot or undershoot its target."According to ACIL's estimates, Japan will provide the majority of world demand in 2030.

How a boom changes the strategy
John Soderbaum, director of science and technology at ACIL Allen, said the scenarios in the report "are not forecasts of hydrogen demand by any particular country, rather they are projections of the potential overseas demand for hydrogen under three different scenarios".
"We then explored what it would mean for Australia in terms of export revenues and employment if that projected overseas demand for hydrogen imports was met in part by Australian exports."
However Richie Merzian, the director of the climate and energy program at left-wing think tank The Australia Institute, described the numbers as "inflated" and argued they were being used to justify fast-tracking the hydrogen export market.
"Public money is being channelled into developing coal and natural gas-based hydrogen plants," he said.
"With time and public funding, green hydrogen, derived from water through electrolysis and powered by renewable energy, could provide a far more sustainable industry."Chief scientist Alan Finkel.While such an industry may be more sustainable, its success means a lost opportunity for Australia's coal sector — and its workers — to pivot towards hydrogen.
In August, Australia's chief scientist Alan Finkel argued a combination was desirable.
"Producing hydrogen from these [fossil fuel] sources, if done in conjunction with carbon capture and sequestration, is an attractive option because it increases the diversity of supply (so all our 'eggs' are not in any one energy 'basket')," he said.

Crunch discussions loom
Much has been made of Australia being perfectly placed to take advantage of hydrogen, with wind, sun, vast reserves of coal and gas, and access to Asian markets.
And there appears to be support from all sides of politics.
In January, then Opposition leader Bill Shorten unveiled a hydrogen strategy for Labor that was backed by the Minerals Council.
But success is not automatic.
Research by the International Energy Agency shatters the mythology that Australia is the standout leader for hydrogen production.
Infographic: Hydrogen production costs in different parts of the world. (Supplied: IEA)The US, China, north Africa and the Middle East appear to offer substantially cheaper production.
Dr Soderbaum said ultimately the market would decide whether Australia's hydrogen sector got off the ground.
"At the end of the day, the actual demand for Australian hydrogen will be determined by factors such as the economic competitiveness of our supplies versus those of competing suppliers of hydrogen around the world and the extent to which it can be classified as low or zero-emissions hydrogen," he said.
The national hydrogen strategy is currently being drafted by a taskforce led by Dr Finkel.
State and federal energy ministers are expected to discuss the strategy in November.

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Climate Change Caused The World’s First Empire To Collapse

Lethal Heating - 3 November, 2019 - 04:00
ForbesDavid Bressan

Inscription in Akkadian on a brick-stamp of baked clay of King Sarkali-Sarri of the Akkadian dynasty, Nippur. From the Archaeological Museum's collection, Istanbul. Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty ImagesThe Akkadian Empire was the first ancient empire of Mesopotamia, centered around the lost city of Akkad.
The reign of Akkad is sometimes regarded as the first empire in history, as it developed a central government and elaborate bureaucracy to rule over a vast area comprising modern Iraq, Syria, parts of Iran and central Turkey.
Established around 4.600 years ago, it abruptly collapsed two centuries later as settlements were suddenly abandoned.
New research published in the journal Geology argues that shifting wind systems contributed to the demise of the empire.
The region of the Middle East is characterized by strong northwesterly winds known locally as shamals. This weather effect occurs one or more times a year. The resulting wind typically creates large sandstorms that impact the climate of the area.
To reconstruct the temperature and rainfall patterns of the area around the ancient metropolis of Tell-Leilan, the researchers sampled 4,600- to 3,000-year-old fossil Porites corals, deposited by an ancient tsunami on the northeastern coast of Oman.
The genus Porites builds a stony skeleton using the mineral aragonite (CaCO3). Studying the chemical and isotopic signatures of the carbon and oxygen used by the living coral, it is possible to reconstruct the sea-surface temperature conditions and so the precipitation and evaporation balance of a region located near the sea.
The fossil evidence shows that there was a prolonged winter shamal season accompanied by frequent shamal days lasting from 4.500 to 4.100 years ago, coinciding with the collapse of the Akkadian empire 4.400 years ago .
The impact of the dust storms and lack of rainfall would have caused major agricultural problems possibly leading to famine and social instability.
Weakened from the inside, the Akkadian Empire became an easy target to many opportunistic tribes living nearby.
Hostile invasions, helped by the shifting climate, finally brought an end to the first modern empire in history.

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Opinion: Five Reasons Climate Change Is The Worst Environmental Problem The World Has Ever Faced

Lethal Heating - 3 November, 2019 - 04:00
Los Angeles Times -  Christopher Knittel

The chemicals that cause smog can be directly linked to the brown air people see, and solutions can be crafted on a local basis. With climate change, there aren’t clear smoking guns that can be linked to specific events. Lawrence K. H / Los Angeles Times Christopher KnittelChristopher Knittel is a professor of applied economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management and director of MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research. Even now that most of the world has acknowledged that climate change is real and caused by humans, combating it has proved daunting. Why? There are five features that combine to make global warming a more vexing environmental crisis than any we have faced before.

First, the pollutants that contribute to it are global pollutants, ones that do their damage no matter where on earth they are released. Past pollutants — such as sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, or nitrogen oxides, which are a precursor to smog — are local pollutants, which do most of their damage near where they are released. Elected officials are much more likely to enact measures to curtail local pollutants, because the voters who elect them are directly affected by the pollution. With global pollutants, much of the damage is felt far away, and moreover, they may not be something an elected official can control through local action.

The second complicating feature of climate change pollutants is that much of their damage is in the future. The electorate and their public officials have less reason to pass measures that would cost money and cause inconvenience now, when the most severe damage will accrue to some distant and unknowable future.

The third issue is that the pollutants producing climate change can’t be directly linked to a smoking gun. Whereas nitrogen oxide emissions directly created smog, which was easily seen, climate change pollutants lead to more frequent bad events, but these events also can and do occur naturally. We can chart, over time, that hurricanes are getting wetter and more damaging or that drought cycles last longer, but those observations are easily dismissed by those who wish to downplay the problem, since weather has always been variable. Rising average temperatures too can be ignored, because there have always been record-setting days and heat waves.

The fourth feature that makes climate change particularly daunting is that developing countries contribute a large share of the pollution that drives it. This is important for several reasons. It is difficult for developed nations to make the case that the same technologies that made their own growth possible should now be denied to the countries coming behind them. And it is hard for policy makers in developing countries to justify incurring the costs of reducing global pollutants when their citizens still struggle with getting enough to eat or having access to clean water.

The final characteristic making climate change such a thorny problem is that the pollutants causing it are tied directly to crucial aspects of people’s lives, including transportation, home electricity, and heating and air conditioning. Moreover, alternatives still tend to be more costly.
Some past environmental problems offered far easier solutions. The pollution that caused the hole in the ozone layer, for example — chlorofluorocarbons — were also a global pollutant and were tied to widely used products such as refrigeration, air conditioning and hairspray. But there were cheap, readily available alternatives. That’s not the case with the petroleum products we use to power our cars and the natural gas and coal still widely used to generate electricity. Yes, alternatives are being developed, but they are often more costly and haven’t been widely adopted worldwide.
If an evil genius had set out to design the perfect environmental crisis, one that would slowly destroy the earth through humans’ own actions and would be difficult to fight, those five factors would have made climate change a brilliant choice. But we didn’t need an evil genius. We stumbled into it on our own.

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The Science Of Drought Is Complex But The Message On Climate Change Is Clear

Lethal Heating - 2 November, 2019 - 04:00
The ConversationBen Henley | Andrew King | Anna Ukkola | Murray Peel | Q J Wang | Rory Nathan

Detecting human fingerprints on complex events like droughts is not straightforward. AAP Image/Dan Peled The issue of whether Australia’s current drought is caused by climate change has been seized on by some media commentators, with debate raging over a remark from eminent scientist Andy Pitman that “there is no link between climate change and drought”. Professor Pitman has since qualified, he meant to say “there is no direct link between climate change and drought”.
A highly politicised debate that tries to corner scientists will not do much to help rural communities struggling with the ongoing dry. But it is still worthwhile understanding the complexity of how climate change relates to drought.

So, why the contention?
It may seem like splitting hairs to focus on single words, but the reality is drought is complex, and broad definitive statements are difficult to make. Nevertheless, aspects of drought are linked with climate change. Let us try to give you a taste of the complexity.
First, it’s important to understand that drought is a manifestation of interactions between the atmosphere, ocean, and land. In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology uses rainfall deficiencies to identify regions that are under drought conditions. Anyone on the land doesn’t need to be reminded, but the current drought is seriously bad. These maps show the patterns of rainfall deficiency over the past 36 and 18 months, highlighting the severity and extent of what we call meteorological drought.
Widespread rainfall deficiencies over the last 36 months (left) and 18 months (right)
Australian Bureau of MeteorologyBut along with the main driver - low rainfall - droughts can also be exacerbated by water loss through evaporation. This depends not only on temperature but also humidity, wind speeds, and sunshine. Temperature will clearly continue to rise steadily almost everywhere. For the other factors, the future is not quite as clear.
Water loss also varies according to vegetation cover. Plants respond to higher carbon dioxide levels and drought by closing the tiny holes in their leaves (the stomata) and this can actually reduce water loss in wet environments. However, in water-stressed environments, projected long-term declines in rain may be compounded by plants using more water, further reducing streamflow. Actually, we can glean a lot from studying hydrological drought, which is measured by a period of low flow in rivers.
The point here is droughts are multidimensional, and can affect water supply on a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. A seasonal-scale drought that reduces soil moisture on a farm, and a decade-long drought that depletes reservoirs and groundwater supplies, can each be devastating, but in different ways.

Is climate change affecting Australian droughts?
Climate change may affect drought metrics and types of drought differently, so it can be hard to make general statements about the links between human-induced climate change and all types of drought, in all locations, on all timescales.
Southern Australia, and in particular the southwest, has seen a rapid decline in winter rainfall and runoff that has been linked to climate change. In the southeast there has also been a substantial decline in winter rainfall and total runoff in recent decades. Although the reductions are consistent with climate change projections, the trend so far is harder to distinguish from the year-to-year variability.
There is some evidence to suggest that widespread and prolonged droughts, like the Millennium Drought, are worse than other droughts in past centuries, and may have been exacerbated by climate change.
But the role of climate change in extended drought periods is difficult to discern from normal variations in weather and climate. This is particularly true in Australia, which has a much more variable climate than many other parts of the world.

What does the future hold?
Climate models project increasing temperature across Australia and a continuing decline in cool-season rainfall over southern Australia over the next century. This will lead to more pressure on water supplies for agriculture, the environment, and cities such as Melbourne at the Paris Agreement’s target of 2℃, relative to the more ambitious target of 1.5℃ of global warming.
Rainfall is projected to become more extreme, with more intense rain events and fewer light rain days. Declining overall rainfall is predicted to reduce river flows in southeastern Australia. While we can expect the largest floods to increase with climate change, smaller floods are decreasing due to drier soils, and it is these smaller floods that top up our water supply systems.

Action needed
We might not know enough about droughts to be certain about exactly how they will behave in the future, but this does not affect the message from the science community on climate change, which remains crystal clear.
Rainfall intensification, sea level rise, ocean acidification, hotter days, and longer and more intense heatwaves all point to the fact that climate change presents a major threat to Australia and the world.
In response to these threats, we need deep and sustained greenhouse gas emissions cuts and proactive adaptation to the inevitable effects of climate change. This includes a focus right now on the practical measures to help our rural communities who continue to feel the pinch of a dry landscape.

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