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Sharp Exchanges Highlight BP Fears Of Climate Legal Jeopardy

Lethal Heating - 23 May, 2018 - 19:56
  • CEO Bob Dudley warns of risk of class-action lawsuits
  • Oil major believes climate change is a “global issue”
Kari Goodnough/BloombergAfter paying more than $65 billion in legal costs for the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, BP Plc is wary of the risk of lawsuits related to climate change.
Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley raised the topic of class-action lawsuits twice during the company’s annual general meeting in Manchester, England on Monday, saying he wouldn’t disclose certain climate targets, or even answer some questions from activist investors, because the risk of legal action in the U.S. was too high.
“You want to get us to make statements here in front of you that you can document that will lead to a class action,” Dudley said in response to one question from the Union of Concerned Scientists about pending U.S. litigation against energy companies. Such legal actions are “a business model in the United States,” he said.
The sharp exchange between BP and two advocacy groups -- Amnesty International and the Union for Concerned Scientists -- shows the growing pressure on major oil companies to acknowledge their responsibility for emissions of greenhouse gases. It also reflects the burgeoning efforts to hold them legally responsible for the potentially disastrous consequences of rising global temperatures.

Lawsuit Fodder
“BP could be on the hook for millions, if not billions of dollars,” Kathy Mulvey, accountability campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “Why wouldn’t shareholders want to know about the risk of legal liability, a risk that’s growing rapidly as climate costs multiply.”
In response to another questioner who suggested that selling oil and gas should be considered a violation of human rights, Dudley warned shareholders this could be another attempt to mire BP in a class-action suit. An open letter from shareholders including Aviva Plc last week urging more transparency could also end up providing lawsuit fodder, he said.
“BP absolutely believes in being transparent. Transparency is beneficial to all,” Dudley said. “But we don’t want climate disclosures to be a tool for class-action lawyers.”
BP is still working through some of the 390,000 legal claims that resulted from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, which killed 11 people and spilled millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. The company had to sell off about a third of its assets to pay the various legal costs associated with the disaster.

Global Issue
In part, the payments were so steep because of a class-action suit, which offered a broad definition of which members of the Gulf Coast community were entitled to payments. BP will spend about $1 billion a year on civil settlements related to the spill until 2033.
Cities and states in the U.S. are also seeking payouts from oil companies for the consequences of climate change, possibly using the funds to build seawalls or other infrastructure, said BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg.
In litigation, all public statements are heavily scrutinized. Exxon Mobil Corp. is facing a multi-state fraud investigation into the company’s public comments about climate change after facing accusations it misled shareholders into thinking global warming was not a major risk. Exxon has called the probe a political vendetta.
Svanberg and Dudley both argued that, unlike the Deepwater Horizon incident, BP wouldn’t accept sole responsibility, legal or otherwise, for climate change. They said the company has always been forthcoming that greenhouse gases are a risk to humanity, and the energy it provides is an important part of the world economy.
“Climate change is a global issue,” said Dudley. “It is not the oil companies’, and gas companies’ and coal companies’ human rights issue.”

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Liddell Licenced To Emit Toxic Air Pollution 14 Times Higher Than International Best Practice

Lethal Heating - 23 May, 2018 - 12:50
Environmental Justice Australia - 

AGL’s Liddell power station has been granted an exemption from NSW air pollution regulations and emits toxic oxides of nitrogen (NOx) at up to 14 times the concentration allowable in the United States, documents obtained under Freedom of Information reveal.
The extraordinary exemption permits the 46-year-old coal-fired power station in the Hunter Valley to emit toxic NOx at almost twice the official concentration limit allowed for NSW power stations of Liddell’s age.
“This is one more compelling reason why Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should stop trying to find ways to keep this ageing and inefficient power station open,” said Dr James Whelan, researcher with Environmental Justice Australia.
The report obtained under FoI shows AGL Macquarie applied for and was granted an exemption from the NSW Clean Air regulation, allowing Liddell to emit NOx at a concentration of 1400 micrograms per cubic metre (mg/m3).
Power stations of Liddell’s age would normally be subject to the Group 5 NOx limit of 800 mg/m3.

“This shocking revelation confirms the NSW Government’s laissez faire approach to air pollution control,” Dr Whelan said.
“Liddell is licenced to emit toxic pollution at levels that should see it subject to serious enforcement actions.”
The report, prepared by Aurecon for AGL Macquarie, describes a range of air pollution control measures that would reduce NOx emissions by up to 85%. The report was required by the NSW Environment Protection Agency as a condition of AGL’s Environment Protection Licence.
The Aurecon report identifies Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) as the most effective NOx emission control technology and the dominant method in use internationally. Power plants equipped with SCR, overfire air and low NOx burners reduce NOx emissions to just 50-100mg/m3. Japan plans to require new power stations to fit these three control measures.
“Toxic NOx emissions from Liddell could be reduced by more than 90%, significantly improving community health in the Hunter Valley, but generators appear unwilling to invest in these emission controls, especially for older power plants.”
Exposure to oxides of nitrogen (NOx) irritates eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and leads to coughing, shortness of breath, tiredness and nausea. Even low levels of exposure are linked to asthma, reduced lung function and allergies. Coal-fired power stations produce 49% of Australia’s NOx emissions.

  • AGL Macquarie was required by the NSW EPA to submit by July 2017 a report on ‘International best practice for control of NOx emissions from coal fired combustion’. The EPA request for this Pollution Reduction Program (PRP) is a standard procedure for holders of Environmental Protection Licences.
  • EJA has an interest in the PRP because our Toxic and Terminal report identified readily available pollution control technologies (selective catalytic reduction or ‘wet scrubbers’) that would reduce NOx emissions by as much as 90%. (See for e.g. this USEPA reportfor details.) This equipment has been obligatory for coal-fired power stations in the US for almost 20 years but is not yet required in NSW. The EPA’s licensing philosophy is officially that it requires plants to operate pollution controls that were ‘reasonably available technology’ when the plants were new (23–38 years ago).
  • Although Liddell is scheduled to close in 2022, AGL is experiencing political pressure (most recently from Premier Berejiklian and PM Turnbull) to keep it open beyond that date.
  • NOx concentrations in the Hunter Valley exceed the national standard each year, with major adverse health impacts that have not been assessed by the NSW Government and are clearly not being controlled.
  • Any measures used by Liddell could (and should) be implemented at Bayswater, Eraring, Vales Point and Mt Piper.
  • The (draft) air pollution strategy for NSW indicated that NOx and SO2 emission controls would be investigated. That strategy has bogged down within the EPA, with no sign of life since May 2017.
  • The NOx control report was prepared for AGL by Aurecon (submitted to the EPA in June 2017).
  • EJA requested this report from the NSW EPA late 2017. When that request was unsuccessful, EJA lodged a GIPA (FoI) request in December.
  • In January 2018, the EPA granted partialaccess to our request, with significant exemptions that included financial figures relating to the purchase of NOx control equipment, operating and capital costs. This redacted information is crucial to any independent assessment of AGL’s efforts to control NOx emissions.
  • A third party – presumably AGL – opposed our request. The third party argued that the report contains ‘commercially sensitive information’, including NOx emissions during combustion, control measures and systems and options for NOx control.
  • The EPA ruled that release of the report was in the public interest.
Categories: External websites

Australia’s Biodiversity And Climate Change

Lethal Heating - 23 May, 2018 - 10:00
Sydney Environment Institute - Anastasia Mortimer*

Image by cuatrok77. Sourced via Flickr Commons.On International Day for Biological Diversity, it is essential to reflect on the importance of biodiversity protection in the face extreme biodiversity loss as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change and to address management practices that need to be amended to accomplish the tasks ahead. This is particularly true for Australia, as Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, and our biodiversity is at risk from climate change.
Climate change is driving the global loss of biodiversity, and it is estimated that Australia is among the top seven countries worldwide responsible for 60% of the world’s biodiversity loss. In Australia alone, there are 426 animal species (including presumed extinctions) and 1,339 plants are currently threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The list of nationally threatened species grows annually, and according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there is a low chance of recovery once biodiversity has been classified as threatened.

Australian Conservation Efforts
In focusing on the effectiveness of biodiversity management in Australia, it has been argued that Australia has had many ‘biodiversity wins’ since we ratified the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity on June 18, 1993. However, whilst Australia has implemented many actions on conservation and protection in recent years, it can be argued that the effectiveness of those actions has often failed to protect biodiversity.
Research by the Australian State of Environment in 2016 assessed the effectiveness of all biodiversity policy, legislation and management plans across Australia, and produced a database which grades the effectiveness of approaches as a way to highlight what work needs to be done to address diversity challenges. In examining actions taken to manage invasive species, mitigate pollution and protect threatened species, it becomes evident that more work is needed to address these growing issues.
  • Invasive species: Research by the Australia State of the Environment on Australia’s protective efforts targeted at invasive species and pathogens, highlights that there is a lack of nationally consistent legislation to address the impacts of invasive species. This is linked to the fact that there is a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities of organisations and levels of government which negatively impacts the effectiveness of National strategic plans.
  • Pollution: The Australia State of the Environment suggests that whilst many sources of pollution and the need for incentive regulatory frameworks are well established in biodiversity management policy, there is little research exploring how carbon pollution and ocean acidification are impacting biodiversity. If we are to address the impacts of carbon pollution and ocean acidification, there is a need to a) increase knowledge around the pollutant levels in marine environments, b) develop approaches to detecting and dealing with micropollutants, and c) establish an understanding of the impacts and sources of marine debris.
  • Threatened species: In examining the management of threatened species, the Australia State of the Environment has found that the monitoring of threatened species is limited to a small proportion of species which impacts on the effectiveness of current initiatives. Furthermore, there is an inadequate amount of funding and resources implemented for recovery actions, and the researchers argue that overall, the key pressures impacting threatened species are increasing.
Climate change action is biodiversity protection 
Our biologically diverse regions, plants and species which have been at the centre of conservation efforts are still experiencing significant damage, and we will continue to witness biodiversity losses if we fail to take climate action. The strategies to biodiversity protection that Australia has taken are essentially redundant unless we acknowledge that climate change will have detrimental impacts on biodiversity, resulting in future losses.
Lastly, it is important to recognise that while human-related actions have led to the current and future losses in biodiversity, the fact that humans are the biggest cause of this loss, means that we have the power to act, and change the current path of destruction. Future approaches aimed at biodiversity protection and conservation in Australia needs to occur across all levels of government, and if it is to be effective, it must be collaborative and it must address how the intersecting challenges of climate change interact and cumulatively impact ecosystems and their biodiversity.

*Anastasia Mortimer is a Content Editor and Knowledge Translation Officer at the Sydney Environment Institute. 

Categories: External websites

Solar Shines In Global Shift To Renewables

Lethal Heating - 22 May, 2018 - 14:09

A 70 MW floating PV plant in construction in Anhui province, ChinaSolar energy is taking an increasingly prominent role in driving the ongoing transformation of global electricity generation markets alongside gains in storage, wind, hydroelectricity and energy efficiency.
IEEFA has today released a new report examining the global solar market and the ever-increasing scale of investment, the speed of implementation and the rapidly broadening range of applications that are becoming commercially viable e.g. concentrated solar power, floating solar, solar fish farms, commercial behind the meter applications, hybrid wind-solar-battery projects and in India, even solar-coal hybrid structures.
As readers of Renew Economy hear repeatedly, corporates, policy makers and regulators are all finding the speed of transformation hard to grasp, particularly in the crucial China and India markets, but the results of the past year are a good indicator of the trend.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reports that 98 gigawatts (GW) of solar was installed globally in 2017, a 31% increase from the prior year.
Meanwhile – and just as important – BNEF estimates the levelized cost of solar dropped 15% year-on-year to US$86/MWh for capacity installed in 2017.
Leading the charge, China accounted for more than half the newly installed solar capacity, or some 53 GW, a figure that as recently as 2014 would have eclipsed the global total of solar installations.
While India’s current installation numbers aren’t as dramatic as China’s, the country is clearly embarking on a massive transformation of its electricity sector as well.
The country’s National Electricity Plan, released in March 2018, affirms national intentions to increase renewable energy capacity to 275 GW by 2027, with solar representing two-thirds of this total.
As renewables rise in India, thermal power capacity is forecast to decline to just 43% of the nation’s total in 2027, down from 66% today.
Major solar energy tenders are occurring every week in India (for May 2018 so far 1,000MW,500MW,750MW,200MWand 50MW) at prices now consistently 10-20% below the cost of existing domestic thermal power generation (and 50% below new imported coal fired power).
There is a remarkable buy-in across the country from the government through to the largest corporate incumbents like NTPC, Adani and Tata, each of whom are now amongst the largest and most aggressively ambitious investors in Indian renewables.
Only last week Tata Power committed to invest US$5bn to reach 12GW of renewables by 2028, such that more than half their capacity will be zero emissions sourced (up from zero in 2014 and 30% today).
Our report tracks the largest solar projects operational in the world, and the lead keeps changing. Adani commissioned the then world’s largest solar project at 648MW in Tamil Nadu in mid-2017, but it has slipped to the sixth position in less than a year – refer table.
By 2019 Rajasthan’s 2,225MW Bhadla industrial park is due for full commissioning; three times the size.
And Gujarat is now exploring a 5GW solar park ;double again.

Fourteen of the World’s Largest Operating Solar Projects
Source: Company & Press reports, IEEFA estimatesChina and India are hardly alone on this front, as scores of other countries embrace solar.
Saudi Arabia, for one, announced in March 2018 a plan to build 200 GW of solar capacity by 2030, yet another marker in the transition under way across global energy markets. The uptake of solar is gathering momentum too in Europe and the Americas.
As highlighted in The Climate Council’s new report “Renewables & Business: Cutting Prices & Pollution”, the rise of Australian commercial and industrial solar (particularly rooftop) is really starting to boom.
With record high electricity prices crippling businesses, this is expected to keep accelerating, such that even the deliberately flawed NEG is unlikely to to slow this trend.
Not-withstanding this lack of a central policy to sensibly transition our electricity system, Australia remains a world leader in the uptake of solar.
This month cumulative solar installs passed through 7GW. Every week we are reading about new solar investments each of A$100-200m or more for regional Australia, with the speed of construction and uptake clearly evident.
Last week saw the partial commissioning of Australia’s largest to-date solar plant under construction, that being Enel of Italy’s 220MW Bungala solar farm in Port Augusta.
The same week we saw Lighthouse Solar’s 100MW Clare solar farm grid connected – the biggest to date in Queensland.
But the list of projects underway is changing so fast it is impossible to keep up with the latest largest so far solar development. The Queensland government is trying, with a useful reference map.
Solar Reserve’sAurora150MW CSP with 1,100MWh storage is a leading example of Australia’s global leadership in deploying new solar technologies, with this development’s price for peaking electricity setting a new global benchmark low.
And following the brilliant success of Tesla’s South Australian lithium ion battery development, Victoria is now replicating this with two more distributed utility scale battery projects by Tesla and Fluence, one linked to a solar project.
Having shown the way in Australia, Tesla has now commissioned a 18MW Belgium storage system for grid stabilisation, with a 30-40MW virtual peaking solar power plant to come.
And having installed the U.K.’s largest to-date unsubsidised solar with storage power plant(10MW solar, 6MW of storage), Anesco is looking to install 380MW of UK solar and storage by 2020.
Floating solar – another innovation with multiple advantages – is rapidly scaling up.
While Australia is still just trialing this, having commissioned a 100kWsystem in January 2018 at Lismore’s sewage treatment plant, China commissioned a 40MW project in 2017 and has two 150MW projects nearing completion in 2018.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra has announced requests for proposals for 1,000MW of floating solar, with India’s Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) having issued an expression of interest in support of a national target of 10GWof floating solar being released back in December 2017.
Looking at the combination of our coking and thermal coal plus liquid natural gas (LNG) positions, Australia is one of the three largest exporters of fossil fuels globally.
We have major industries at clear stranded asset risk and potentially terminal decline over the very long term. Even our 64% global share of seaborne coking coal is threatened longer term by the combination of technology innovation and carbon emissions policies.
But there-in lies the need to pursue opportunities in industries of the future. Renew Economy provided a glimpse of what could be possible in terms of Australia with CWP’s $20bn 6GW of wind and 3GW of solar Pilbara mega-project for renewable energy exports at world scale.
A vision that might take a couple of decades to come to full fruition, but in doing so it could transform world energy markets entirely.
More immediately, the West Australian budget is a beneficiary of our growing position as a world leader in lithium ion processing.
Technology innovation, deflation, ever-larger scale and the constant breaking of records are the clear lessons of solar led energy transformation now underway.
Australia should be pursing the opportunities for investment, jobs and export industries of the future as a top national priority.

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Flat Earthers vs Climate Change Sceptics: Why Conspiracy Theorists Keep Contradicting Each Other

Lethal Heating - 22 May, 2018 - 10:29
The ConversationGareth Dorrian | Ian Whittaker

Would a flat Earth suffer from climate change? ShutterstockFlat Earthism and the idea that human activity is not responsible for climate change are two of the most prevalent conspiracy theories today. Both have been increasing in popularity since the late 20th century. Currently, 16% of the US population say they doubt the scientifically established shape of the Earth, while 40% think that human-induced climate change is a hoax. But proponents of one of these theories are not necessarily proponents of the other, even though both are often motivated by a common mistrust of authority. In fact, they regularly contradict one another.
Flat Earthers, for example, tend to disbelieve organisations such as NASA on the shape of Antarctica – or indeed, that there is a southern hemisphere at all. Yet the president of the Flat Earth Society, Daniel Shenton, is quite convinced – presumably at least in part thanks to information from NASA – that climate change is happening and espouses a fairly conventional view on the subject.
Former White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci (dismissed by president Trump after ten days in office), meanwhile, believes that the Earth is in fact round, but does not believe in anthropogenic climate change, as he made clear in an interview with CNN.
Such selective reasoning is common among conspiracy theorists who often lack consistency with one other. Despite this, the media, celebrities and even politicians regularly make broad comparisons between climate change scepticism, Flat Earthism and other conspiracy theories.

Fabricated data?
In the field of global climate change, scientific bodies often are accused, even by those in power, of fabricating data. But such criticism is often deeply flawed. Take those sceptics, for example, who believe that climate change is occurring, but because of natural – rather than man-made – causes. If one argues that data has been fabricated to show warming where there is none, one cannot then also imply that warming is occurring after all, but naturally. Either there is warming or there is not. Similarly, Flat Earthers who state that images showing Earth’s curvature are due to the shape of a camera lens, themselves believe in a disc which by definition has a curved edge.
Indeed, one of the few commonalities which exist between all major conspiracy theories is that somehow scientists and governments are involved in a grand conspiracy for reasons unknown.
A major part of the scientific anthropogenic climate change argument is that there is an increase in temperature extremes in both summer and winter. Evidently, a Flat Earth model cannot support this; in fact, the most accepted Flat Earth model, which maintains that the sun rotates in a non-variable circular orbit over the flat disk, implies that there should be no seasons at all, let alone multi-decadal seasonal extremes due to climate change. Nevertheless, to quote Shenton: Climate change is a process which has been ongoing since (the) beginning of detectable history, but there seems to be a definite correlation between the recent increase in worldwide temperatures and man’s entry into the industrial age. In this instance, the president of the Flat Earth Society is correct. Anthropogenic climate change sceptics, on the other hand, are often willing to accept the science behind the Earth’s natural cycles, which they blame – instead of human activity – for the world’s weather woes. Clearly, we again find an implicit difference of opinion between a Flat Earth model, and a non-anthropogenic climate change one.
Climate change: a ‘global’ problem. ShutterstockIt is also clear that many climate change sceptics believe in the (approximately) spherical Earth, even if only subconsciously, by their use of scientifically accepted global maps when discussing data – not to mention when calling it “global” warming.

And what about aliens?
If governments and scientists are so untrustworthy and steeped in corruption, then why would one believe them on any issue? Where does the line of trust actually fall? Why would a person who mistrusts governments and scientists on the shape of the Earth, not hold the same politicians and scientific organisations similarly bogus on the issue of climate change? Or alien abductions, chem trails, or anything else?
But the problem isn’t likely to go away any time soon. The US has the highest number of believers in both flat-Earthism and anthropogenic climate change scepticism, and the UK is not far behind. The US also has a high number (more than 50%) of senior political figures who deny man-made climate change, not to mention a democratically elected leader vocally believing the same. There are also numerous well-known celebrities who question the established shape of our planet.
While of course scientists can play the blame game, it could be that the scientific method itself is a major limiting factor in communicating results with the public. Science is not just a body of knowledge, but a method of critical thinking.
Scientists, by necessity, have to communicate their findings in a certain rigid way focusing on probabilities, certainty values and confidence intervals. These can appear dry or baffling to the public. But by providing more easily understandable narratives we can make scientific discussions with the public more productive.
In today’s complex world of social media narratives, the engagement of scientists with the public is more crucial than ever. Thankfully, current funding for public engagement training and activities is accessible to scientists with a passion for communication and conversation, enabling them to communicate facts rather than “fake news”.

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Save Our Bugs! How To Avert An Insect Armageddon

Lethal Heating - 22 May, 2018 - 05:17
The Guardian

Insects are the backbone of a healthy global ecosystem – but their numbers are facing catastrophic decline due to climate change. So, what can you do to help?
Bees drinking from a bird bath. Photograph: Derek Turner/Barcroft MediaAlready beset by degraded landscapes and a toxic environment, insects are going to suffer a catastrophic decline in numbers unless climate change is controlled, according to new research from the University of East Anglia. This is on top of the alarming collapse reported in Germany, where 75% of the flying insect biomass has vanished from protected areas in less than 30 years.
Insects are the backbone of a healthy ecosystem and the consequences of their absence will be global. Is there anything we can do other than despair? Insects will need stepping stones to move around the country as the climate changes. Here are some ways you can help.
If you have a garden, make it part of the solution. Insects need food and we have destroyed 97% of our wildlflower meadows. The charity Buglife has a great guide that shows which plants help which insects: winter flowers such as hellebore, erica and mahonia for pollinators such as bees; evergreen shrubs and climbers for bugs such as woodlice and spiders.
Watching a dragonfly is great fun. Photograph: Kim Taylor/NPL/AlamyInsects need water – make sure you have some in your garden. Watching bees drink at the bird bath is fun; better still is watching dragonflies emerge from your wildlife pond.
Look beyond your own patch and lobby your council to turn verges into highways for insects. Plants help insects, which help mammals, bats, amphibians, reptiles and birds to thrive. We need to fix the system, not just an isolated component.
B-Lines, a series of insect pathways running through the countryside, are the best way to help on a national scale. You can help by writing to your MP and asking them to support Ben Bradley’s Protection for Pollinators bill. The “B-Line bill” will make the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs take this innovative landscape ecological solution seriously. It passed the first stage of the process through parliament unopposed.

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Water Shortages To Be Key Environmental Challenge Of The Century, NASA Warns

Lethal Heating - 21 May, 2018 - 19:38
The Guardian

Freshwater supplies have already seriously declined in 19 global hotspots – from China to the Caspian Sea – due to overuse, groundbreaking study shows
The Theewaterskloof Dam, a key source of water supply to Cape Town, South Africa ahead of the current water crisis. Photograph: Halden Krog/AP Water shortages are likely to be the key environmental challenge of this century, scientists from NASA have warned, as new data has revealed a drying-out of swaths of the globe between the tropics and the high latitudes, with 19 hotspots where water depletion has been dramatic.
Areas in northern and eastern India, the Middle East, California and Australia are among the hotspots where overuse of water resources has caused a serious decline in the availability of freshwater that is already causing problems. Without strong action by governments to preserve water the situation in these areas is likely to worsen.
Some of these hotspots were previously undocumented or poorly understood: a region in north-western China, in Xinjiang province, has suffered dramatic declines despite receiving normal amounts of rainfall, owing to groundwater depletion from industry and irrigation.

NASA has identified more than 30 hotspots where freshwater is in particular danger
Guardian graphic. Source: NASAThe Caspian Sea was also found to be showing strong declines owing to similar forces, which is resulting in a shrinking shoreline. Previously, this change had been attributed to natural variability, but the new report demonstrates it was caused in large part by the diversion and extraction of water from rivers that feed it, for agriculture and industry. This depletion mirrors the well-known fate of the disappearing Aral Sea in the same region: because the Caspian Sea is much bigger it would take millennia to disappear altogether, but its shrinking shoreline and pollution will cause major problems throughout its borderlands.

Shrinking Aral Sea 2000-2017. The shoreline had already greatly receded in 2000.Credits: Modis/Terra/NASAThe comprehensive study, the first of its kind, took data from the NASA Grace (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite mission to track trends in freshwater from 2002 to 2016 across the globe.
“What we are witnessing is major hydrologic change. We see for the first time a very distinctive pattern of the wet land areas of the world getting wetter, in the high latitudes and the tropics, and the dry areas in between getting drier,” said James Famiglietti, of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and co-author of the paper published today in Nature. “Within the dry areas we see multiple hotspots resulting from groundwater depletion.”
Climate scientists, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have predicted such a global trend. The new paper’s authors said it was too soon to confirm whether their observations were definitely the result of global warming, but said their results showed a “clear human fingerprint” on the global water cycle.
The study is unprecedented, as the Grace data allowed the scientists to see in detail the changes in freshwater resources around the world, even where locally amassed data has been scarce or unavailable. By linking the satellite data with local monitoring, they added another crucial dimension.
Marc Stutter, of the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, who was not involved with the study, said: “Such new data add insight into how we manage both obvious surface waters and hidden subsurface water stores [as] the satellite techniques see vital hidden water reserves under our feet, much like an x-ray to see the health of our unseen water reserves.”
He said it provided an early warning that could allow better management of water resources across the world, which was needed.
In northern India, groundwater extraction for irrigation of crops such as wheat and rice have caused a rapid decline in available water, despite rainfall being normal throughout the period studied. “The fact that extractions already exceed recharge during normal precipitation does not bode well for the availability of groundwater during future droughts,” the authors said, adding that the much-discussed melting of Himalayan glaciers was of only minor significance in the period studied.
In Iraq and Syria, widespread over-reliance on groundwater has resulted from the construction by Turkey of 22 dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, over the last three decades. This has made the area the biggest hotspot identified by the study, outside of sparsely or uninhabited regions such as Antarctica and Greenland, with water resources nearly a third below their normal state.
A boy walks through a dried up irrigation dyke in the village of Sayyed Dakhil in southern Iraq where drought threatens agriculture and livelihoods. Photograph: Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP/Getty ImagesJonathan Farr, senior policy analyst at the charity WaterAid, said governments must take note of the findings and increase their role in preserving water resources and providing freshwater to people in a sustainable manner. “This report is a warning and an insight into a future threat. We need to ensure that investment in water keeps pace with industrialisation and farming. Governments need to get to grips with this,” he said, pointing to estimates that between $30bn and $100bn of investment was needed per year to provide freshwater where needed.
Sustainable solutions were available, he said. “We have been solving the problem of getting access to water resources since civilisation began. We know how to do it. We just need to manage it, and that has to be done at a local level.”
Providing access to clean water provides knock-on benefits to health, education, equity and the economy, he added, so investment in water assets yields both economic and social dividends.

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Adapt Or Die: Can Evolution Outrun Climate Change?

Lethal Heating - 21 May, 2018 - 12:22
CBS News

Across the planet, animal and plant species are on the run. A rapidly changing climate is shifting when and where plants blossom, and forcing creatures big and small to migrate and learn new tactics for survival.
It's a trend that's likely to accelerate as scientists expect to see more extreme weather events — intensifying storms and droughts, and greater temperature fluctuations on land and sea. To understand the impact, researchers are flocking to a unique, living lab: the Galapagos Islands.
The Galapagos, a remote, rocky archipelago 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, are home to animals that don't exist anywhere else in the world — animals so unique that they inspired Charles Darwin to formulate the theory of evolution after his famous voyage aboard the H.M.S. Beagle in the 1830s.
Species like giant tortoises, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants and finches with finely-tuned beaks evolved in isolation here over millions of years — since long before humans walked the Earth. But today, those that fail to adapt to their changing environment within the space of a few brief generations may face the prospect of extinction.
An iguana perches on the Galapagos' rocky coast. CBS NewsCBSN Originals traveled to the Galapagos to see firsthand how the effects of both climate change and adaptation are playing out right now.

The coral detective
Marine biologist Jon Witman from Brown University comes to the Galapagos regularly to monitor the effects of climate change on the evolutionary process.
"It's been stated that the Galapagos is the natural laboratory for evolution. And we're saying that it's a natural laboratory for studying climate change and evolutionary responses to climate change," Witman told CBS News' Adam Yamaguchi.
He said evolutionary changes that once unfolded over hundreds of thousands of years are now happening before our eyes.
"It's a major new perspective in evolutionary biology and ecology, because it's forcing ecologists like me to think about adaptation and natural selection on the period of ten years or so," he said.
Witman's team is focused on understanding the impact underwater, diving to inspect the health of coral reefs and see how changes in water temperature may be shaping changes in marine species.
Part of what they're looking for is the impact of repeated El Niño systems, which he calls "the greatest modulator of climate on the planet." El Niño is a complex weather phenomenon that results in a warming of Pacific Ocean waters, which can devastate marine populations. Its counterpart, La Niña, cools the water and helps foster growth and recovery in the ecosystem.
These warming and cooling cycles test the resilience of species to withstand opposite extremes.
Coral will bleach and eventually die if the water becomes too warm or too cold. And since 90 percent of marine species — from algae all the way up the food chain — rely on the habitat of coral reefs, the consequences are far-reaching.

Creatures that could disappear with the Great Barrier Reef 1/16
Pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus Bargibanti)This minute master of camouflage survives by adapting its body to closely resemble sea fans, the soft coral it calls home.It's just one of the many creatures that could disappear along with the Great Barrier Reef because of global warming. Credit: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Witman is concerned about evidence that climate change may make the naturally-occurring El Niño and La Niña cycles more frequent and more extreme — pushing nature's resilience to a breaking point. Will animals be able to cope?
"That's the $64 million question that we want to answer," he said. "Yes and no. I think the no part is that the El Niño stress may recur so frequently that the species that are stressed don't have enough time to recover before the next El Niño comes.
"There's no doubt we are in an unprecedented period of global stress in terms of climate impacts. And basically  the natural world is being hit by what I call the big three. Certainly climate change is up there. Habitat destruction by humans is absolutely key. And we're also adding pollution to the ecosystem. It sounds pretty grim, and it is grim."

The penguin wrangler
There are fewer than 1,000 Galapagos penguins on the islands, and Gustavo Jimenez is on a mission to capture every last one of them. The researcher and his team work day and night to chase down and scoop up the birds so that they can be measured and studied, then released back into the wild.
"We're worried what happening in the planet. The planet is just — is one, just one house for everybody, for every species. So we know we need to protect them," Jimenez said.
He's tracking the health of the penguins and whether they're having babies. The data he gathers on this endangered species will be critical to understanding how the changing climate may affect their feeding and breeding patterns — and may help find clues to evolutionary changes the species is undergoing.
Their survival is not assured. The planet is currently experiencing one of the greatest extinction events since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. While extinction is a natural phenomenon, with one to five species historically being lost each year, these days it's occurring at 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate. Dozens of species worldwide are being lost forever every single day.
The Galapagos Islands are home to many unique bird species. CBS NewsIt's a threat potentially facing the flightless cormorant, a bird Yamaguchi calls an "oddity of evolution." Somewhere around two million years ago, its evolutionary path diverged from other cormorants and it lost the ability to fly. The Galapagos cormorants didn't need to fly; they could find all the food they needed in the waters off the islands' jagged rocks, so they developed powerful legs and webbed feet to help them become strong swimmers instead.
Penguins share those rocks, nesting in pairs in the cave-like crevices. Jimenez said climate change is having a noticeable impact on them, forcing penguins to move their nests to higher ground. The researchers keep a record of each location.
The penguins' ability to adapt — which helped this species thrive near the equator while most penguins chill in Antarctica — offers their best hope for the future. But this time around, they may not have millions of years to figure it out.
"Maybe the time is smaller than before, and the problem is how they could adapt … in that short time," Jimenez said.

Darwin's finches today
Researcher Jaime Chaves is a self-described "bird geek" who's taken an interest in studying Darwin's finches — the very species that helped inspire Charles Darwin's landmark book, "The Origin of Species," in 1859.
Darwin documented how the beaks of these small birds varied from island to island to take advantage of available food sources. Those with sharp beaks feasted on insects while others with short, stout beaks plucked seeds from the ground. Natural selection meant those best suited to their environments thrived and multiplied, while others struggled and died out. Eventually they developed into 14 distinct species.
Chaves and his team string up very fine netting between the trees to capture finches for study.
"We're gonna analyze and collect the data on their morphology, that is, how different their beaks are," he explained. "The beak shape is one of those traits in birds that is so key because it will determine the fate of that group."
Chaves and his students track minute changes, year to year, in the shapes and sizes of the finches' beaks as the flocks adapt to the varieties of food available. Those with inadequate beaks don't survive. And because the finches breed two or three generations every year, "in so little time, you can see evolution in action," he said.
These rapid adaptations may give it an advantage for survival in a changing world. In 2017, researchers discovered that an entirely new species had been formed when a wayward bird mated with another finch species and produced offspring. Chaves expects to see more of that happening globally as various species migrate.
But it won't always work. "Many species will not be able to make it," he said, echoing the concerns Jimenez expressed for the penguins and Witman for the coral ecosystem. "For many species in which you have this limitation of time, you might be too late."
It may be the ultimate test of the survival of the fittest, and many species — even our own — could lose out.
"I think the issue right now that we have is that the changes are happening in such a short period of time. The same amount of change that you've seen happening in a couple of millions of years has happened in the last 40 years," Chaves said. "From our perspective of humans, we have understand that it's our responsibility that these changes are happening because [of] our own mishandling of the planet."
It's no longer enough for animals to evolve. They have to adapt now, adapt fast — or die.

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The EU's Plan To Set A Goal Of Zero-Emissions By 2050 Could Be A Big Deal For Climate Action

Lethal Heating - 21 May, 2018 - 09:17
Quartz - Akshat Rathi

Reuters/Maxim ShemetovWhen the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2015, it was a milestone in taking action against climate change. It set a clear goal—to keep global average temperatures from rising above 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels—and got every country on board (including the US, which can’t leave the accord till 2020).
And, yet, despite the progress, in 2017, the United Nations said that most countries are far behind on emissions reductions. When the world set a new record high for greenhouse-gas emissions in the same year, it lent support to the belief that if more ambitious targets are not set soon, then we will cross the crucial 2°C and face climate catastrophe.
Now the EU, the third largest emitter in the world, is standing up to the challenge. Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU climate head, announced in a blog post that the bloc is aiming to cut emissions to zero by 2050. The goal already has the backing of the European Parliament, and the EU will be launching public consultations within the next few weeks.
If the EU succeeds in binding itself to the target, it could be a big deal for climate action. Though smaller countries both within the EU and outside have committed to a zero-emissions goal— the EU would be the largest emitter to commit to it. It would set a benchmark for other countries to shape their policies for such a goal. As Quartz reported previously:
The zero-emissions goal is acknowledged in Article 4 of the text of the Paris climate agreement, though it doesn’t set a date for when the world should reach that target (it does say that rich countries need to get there sooner than poor ones). Most scientists agree that the zero-emissions target date for the world as a whole should likely be early in the second half of the century.Previously, the EU had committed to cutting emissions by up to 95% of 1990 levels by 2050. It may seem like the previous goal is quite close to zero emissions, but the task of cutting emissions gets much harder the closer you try to get to zero.
That’s because it would mean cutting all emissions in sectors that currently don’t have effective technological means to achieve it. Take aviation—we currently don’t have any viable zero-emissions planes for passenger travel. In other cases, if we do have technology to cut emissions, then it is quite expensive. Take the cement industry—it produces carbon dioxide because of the use of its raw materials (beyond fossil fuels), and the only way to reduce its emissions are through capturing the carbon dioxide and storing it underground. There are only a handful of small cement plants testing the technology and hoping they can find ways to make it cheaper for larger scale deployment.
To be sure, it’s important to clarify that the EU’s goal is to get to “net-zero” emissions. It means that, by 2050, there may still be some permissible greenhouse-gas emissions for industries or sectors that haven’t found a viable alternative. But those emissions will have to be offset through negative-emissions technology, which will require capturing carbon dioxide from the air. Unlike an electric airplane, negative-emissions technology is not fantasy. There are three companies that boast of its commercial use, but it does come at a high cost.

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Scholar: Dumping Fossil Fuels By 2050 Needed To Save Climate

Lethal Heating - 20 May, 2018 - 14:17
Washington PostMenelaos Hadjicostis Associated Press

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Getting rid of fossil fuels by mid-century and making the switch to large-scale renewable energy sources and nuclear power offers the best chance of meeting the climate change targets set out by the Paris accord, a prominent American economist said Friday.
Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs said the world’s ways of producing and using energy need to change “much faster, much more dramatically” than political leaders looking to tap hydrocarbon reserves understand.
“So, if we want to move to zero emissions we better get the idea to move away from fossil fuels faster than Shell oil company thinks we can,” Sachs told a conference in the Cypriot capital on the climate change challenges faced by Mediterranean countries and the Middle East.
Sachs said climate change bringing desertification, drought, crop failures and rising sea levels are putting the region’s agriculture “in dire threat.”
“It’s worked well for the last 8,000 years and we’re going to ruin it in this generation, and that’s crazy,” said Sachs, who also serves as an adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on sustainable development.
“This is the tinder of conflict, of mass migration, or all the things we don’t handle decently,” he added.
Sachs says the best approach is to set up interconnected power grids where emissions-free electricity from renewable energy sources in one region could be transmitted elsewhere.
For instance, an interconnected grid would enable North African and the Middle Eastern countries harnessing their ample solar power potential to transmit generated electricity to colder and less sunny northern Europe.
Sachs hailed China as the current world leader in the energy interconnection project and urged Europe to draw up similar plans.
Although opposing exploitation of east Mediterranean gas deposits, he urged countries moving ahead with such projects to take steps and steeply curb carbon emissions while preparing their economies for carbon-free electricity generation to fire up everything from cars, to ships and factories.
Sachs, who also heads Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said Mediterranean countries could work together to draw up proposals on mitigating the challenges they face and submit them to a high-level U.N. climate summit set for September, 2019.

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'Going Backwards': A Third Of Protected Land At Risk As Australia Lags

Lethal Heating - 20 May, 2018 - 12:09
FairfaxPeter Hannam

Almost a third of the world's protected lands face intense pressure from humans with even rich nations such as Australia failing to conserve key biodiversity, a new study by Australian scientists has found.
The research, published in Science on Friday, found that while declared protected zones had quadrupled in size in the past quarter century, much of that land enjoyed little protection from farming, logging or other human intervention.
“One third of that land is in a terrible state, doing nothing for biodiversity conservation," said James Watson, interim director of the University of Queensland's Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science and an author of the report.
"Nations across the world are exaggerating in an incredible way their contribution to solving the biodiversity crisis.”
Threats from expanding slash and burn agriculture are placing pressure on many national parks around the world, even the better managed ones such as Niassa Reserve in Mozambique. Photo: World Conservation Society/UQThe study claims to be first to examine in high resolution - using satellite imagery and other data - the world's 202,000 protected areas that account for almost 15 per cent of land.
"We couldn't have done this study 10 years ago," Professor Watson said. "Nations need to realise they're going to be held more and more to account."

Search for funds
Among the examples are the Tsavo east and west national parks in Kenya.
The reserve was established in 1948 and now has a railway built through it, with plans to establish a six-lane highway to parallel it. Animals at risk include the eastern black rhinoceros and Tsavo lions, whose adult males often lack manes.
The Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras had lost about 300 square kilometres to illegal agriculture and infrastructure. The area includes some of Central America's last surviving areas of undisturbed rainforest, and is home to king vultures, jaguar and mantled howler and spider monkeys.
Nations should address rising human pressures - including from climate change - not by defunding national parks but stepping up support for regions that were important for economic and social wellbeing, and the natural capital they contain, the paper said.
"Funding could also be increased through mechanisms that allow nations to trade or offset conservation funding and commitments, so wealthy nations can support conservation in poorer nations," it said.

'Massively degraded'
Australia's track record was notably poor, with mining permitted in national parks - such as Kakadu - and cattle allowed into conservation areas in places such as the Carnarvon Gorge in Western Australia and alpine reserves in Victoria.
"At least 15 per cent of Australia’s protected areas are massively degraded," Professor Watson said.
“Australia, unless a miracle occurs, will always be going backwards, because there’s no injection of cash to get the objectives we need.”
Recent federal budgets have included deep cuts to conservation spending with at least 60 officers involved in biodiversity cut in the 2017 budget, said James Trezise, healthy ecosystems policy co-ordinator for Australian Conservation Foundation.
"Some places that we think are safe and free from development are quite clearly at significant exposure," Mr Trezise said.
Australia's track record on biodiversity conservation is poor, even in some protected areas. Photo: Goongerah Environment Centre, GippslandThose cutbacks extend to marine areas too, with the Turnbull government responsible for the largest reversal of such protections in the world in changes announced in April, he said.
The Murray Valley National Park in NSW is also at risk of being de-gazetted, with the local Nationals MP Austin Evans campaigning to turn the area into a state forest open to logging.
Oisin Sweeney, science officer for the National Parks Association, said that as a wealthy nation, Australia "could be doing a hell of a lot better" in preserving its rich biodiversity.
"Massive" budget cuts to the National Reserve System had also weakened "the biggest single tool to acquire national park land", while states such as NSW had deliberately been reducing the numbers of experienced park rangers, Dr Sweeney said.
Mr Trezise said NSW, Victoria and Tasmania had also been accelerating efforts to open up national parks to development such as resorts and projects such as a cable car up Mt Wellington near Hobart.

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What Is Climate Change? The Definition, Causes And Effects

Lethal Heating - 20 May, 2018 - 11:43

Climate change is one of the biggest crises facing humanity. Let's all get a grip on exactly what it is
Getty Images / David McNew / StringerClimate change is the catch-all term for the shift in worldwide weather phenomena associated with an increase in global average temperatures. It's real and temperatures have been going up around the world for many decades.
Reliable temperature records began in 1850 and our world is now about one degree Celcius hotter than it was in the period between 1850 and 1900 – commonly referred to as the "pre-industrial" average.
The change is even more visible over a shorter time period – compared to average temperatures between 1961 and 1990, 2017 was 0.68 degrees warmer, while 2016 was 0.8 degrees warmer, thanks to an extra boost from the naturally-occurring El Niño weather system.
While this temperature increase is more specifically referred to as global warming, climate change is the term currently favoured by science communicators, as it explicitly includes not only Earth's increasing global average temperature, but also the climate effects caused by this increase.
Global efforts are now focussed on keeping temperatures from increasing more than two degrees above that pre-industrial average, and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees. That goal may still be possible if the international community pulls together.

What are the effects of climate change?
Worsening drought conditions are having a major impact on farmers in South Africa's Western Cape region. Morgana Wingard/Getty ImagesThe effects of anthropogenic – human-caused – climate change range from more frequent and severe droughts to snowstorms and extreme winter weather in temperate regions as a result of warming Arctic weather fronts.
It's not only humans that are affected. Warming ocean temperatures are increasing the frequency of coral reef bleaching; warmer, drier weather means that forests in some regions are no longer recovering from wildfires and wildlife habitats around the world are becoming less hospitable to animals.
Climate change is having economic and socio-political effects, too. Food security is already being impacted in a number of African countries and researchers are studying suggestive links between climate change and an increased likelihood of military conflict.
We're already seeing the first climate refugees as people are displaced by rising sea levels, melting Arctic permafrost and other extreme weather.

What are the causes of climate change?
We are. While a wide range of natural phenomena can radically affect the climate, publishing climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that global warming and resultant climate effects that we're witnessing are the result of human activity.
Life on Earth is dependent on an atmospheric "greenhouse" – a layer of gasses, primarily water vapour, in the lower atmosphere that trap heat from the sun as it's reflected back from the Earth, radiating it back and keeping our planet at a temperature capable of supporting life.
Human activity is currently generating an excess of long-lived greenhouse gasses that – unlike water vapour – don't dissipate in response to temperature increases, resulting in a continuing buildup of heat.
Key greenhouse gasses include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Carbon dioxide is the best-known, with natural sources including decomposition and animal respiration. The main source of excess carbon dioxide emissions is the burning of fossil fuels, while deforestation has reduced the amount of plant life available to turn CO2 into oxygen.
Methane, a more potent but less abundant greenhouse gas, enters the atmosphere from farming – both from animals such as cattle and arable farming methods including traditional rice paddies – and from fossil fuel exploration and abandoned oil and gas wells.
Chlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons – once widely used in industrial applications and home appliances such as refrigerators – were key greenhouse gasses released during the 20th century, but are now heavily regulated due to their severe impact on the atmosphere, which includes ozone depletion, as well as trapping heat in the lower atmosphere.
Our warming climate is also creating a feedback loop as greenhouse gasses trapped in Arctic permafrost are released.

Why is climate denial a thing?
August 29 2017: People wade along a flooded street as cars become stuck during heavy rain in Mumbai. Imtiyaz Shaikh /Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesFor many years, oil companies were heavily invested in pushing the narrative that fossil fuels did not have an impact on climate change. To this end, they bought advertising and funded organisations to cast doubt on climate change, even while their own research conclusively showed that fossil fuels are a major contributing cause of climate change.
This is still playing out in ongoing lawsuits against oil companies, but even giants such as Chevron now publicly acknowledge the role that fossil fuel use has played in changing our climate. Now, their key defence is that it's the fault of fossil fuel consumers for using it, rather than of the companies that extracted, marketed and profited from oil.

Definition of Climate Change
Nasa defines climate change as: "a broad range of global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gases to Earth’s atmosphere. These phenomena include the increased temperature trends described by global warming, but also encompass changes such as sea level rise; ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide; shifts in flower/plant blooming; and extreme weather events."

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Earth Just Had Its 400th Straight Warmer-Than-Average Month Thanks To Global Warming

Lethal Heating - 19 May, 2018 - 13:49

NOAA climate scientists say April 2018 marked the planet's 400th consecutive month with above-average temperatures. USA TODAY

It was December 1984, and President Reagan had just been elected to his second term, Dynasty was the top show on TV and Madonna's Like a Virgin topped the musical charts.
It was also the last time the Earth had a cooler-than-average month.
Last month marked the planet's 400th consecutive month with above-average temperatures, federal scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday.
The cause for the streak? Unquestionably, it’s climate change, caused by humanity's burning of fossil fuels.
"We live in and share a world that is unequivocally, appreciably and consequentially warmer than just a few decades ago, and our world continues to warm," said NOAA climate scientist Deke Arndt. "Speeding by a '400' sign only underscores that, but it does not prove anything new."
Climate scientists use the 20th-century average as a benchmark for global temperature measurements. That's because it's fixed in time, allowing for consistent "goal posts" when reviewing climate data. It's also a sufficiently long period to include several cycles of climate variability.
"The thing that really matters is that, by whatever metric, we've spent every month for several decades on the warm side of any reasonable baseline," Arndt said.
NOAA's analysis found last month was the 3rd-warmest April on record globally. The unusual heat was most noteworthy in Europe, which had its warmest April on record, and Australia, which had its second-warmest.
Photo: Rajat Gupta, EPA-EFEPortions of Asia also experienced some extreme heat: In southern Pakistan, the town of Nawabshah soared to a scalding 122.4 degrees on April 30, which may have been the warmest April temperature on record for the globe, according to Meteo France.
Argentina also had its warmest April since national records began there in 1961.
North America was the one part of the world that didn't get in on the heat parade. Last month, the average U.S. temperature was 48.9 degrees, 2.2 degrees below average, "making it the 13th-coldest April on record and the coldest since 1997," NOAA said.
For the year-to-date, the Earth is seeing its 5th-warmest start to the year.
A separate analysis of global temperature data from NASA also found last month was the third-warmest April on record.
Another milestone was reached in April, also related to the number "400": Carbon dioxide — the gas scientists say is most responsible for global warming — reached its highest level in recorded history at 410 parts per million.
This amount is highest in at least the past 800,000 years, according to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
The Earth had its 3rd-warmest April on record, both NOAA and NASA said. Red areas are warmer-than-average. North America was the one part of the world that saw unusually cool temperatures in April. (Photo: NASA)Links
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Population Control, The Environmental Fix No One Wants To Talk About

Lethal Heating - 19 May, 2018 - 05:27
Les Echos (translation WORLDCRUNCH) - Gérard Maarek

Climate change is a real and alarming problem. But there's another — and intimately related — ticking time bomb threatening our planet: overpopulation. 
Rickshaws in Dhaka, Bangladesh Suvra Kanti Das/ZUMA

PARIS — More than 250 years ago — on Nov. 1, 1755 — a high-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami and fire ravaged the city of Lisbon, killing some 60,000 people. It also prompted a passionate, philosophical debate between two of Europe's leading thinkers of the time: Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
To Voltaire, the catastrophe represented the cruel hand of fate and the unfathomable decree of Providence — further evidence of just how miserable the human condition really is. Rousseau, on the other hand, saw urban expansion and population density as playing a key role in the death and destruction. It stemmed from an overall excess of civilization and separation from nature, he reasoned.
It's easy, nowadays, to dismiss the position taken by the author of Zadig. And yet, people are still reluctant to side with Rousseau and to endorse the radical criticisms of the Reveries of a Solitary Walker. Perhaps they should reconsider though. Have they not noticed the consistent increase in the frequency of natural disasters, their explosive costs — a record $306 billion dollars in 2017 — and the growing number of victims to mourn?
Contemporary thinkers are satisfied instead with the unambiguous explanation that human activity generates greenhouse gas, which causes global warming. With a few modifications, the thinking holds, we can arrange everything just so and solve the problem. But this all-too-casual chain of thought is questionable in more ways than one.
The human species has taken over the entire animal kingdom.First, not all natural disasters can be attributed to the climate. Consider the Asian tsunami in 2004 that took 250,000 lives, or the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
Second, if these cataclysms are causing more and more damage, it's also because they reach denser population centers and ruin more expensive infrastructure and equipment.
Third, the extinction of numerous animal species is less linked to global warming and more to mankind's direct impact on our ecosystems (urbanization, overfishing, hunting, chemical pollution, etc.). The human species has taken over the entire animal kingdom.
Demographics is the "blind spot" of environmental politics. While the right side of the brain debates the maximum temperature threshold the world can handle, the left side of the brain contemplates the skyrocketing projection of population increase.
For example, between 1990 and 2014, global CO2 emissions increased by 58%, but only by 15% per capita. The increase in the population thus contributed nearly three-quarters of the growth. And yet, the Climate Change Conference in Paris (or COP21) completely ignored the issue.
Train station in Beijing  Photo: Pan Kanjun/Xinhua/ZUMAThe reasons behind this attitude are multiple and profoundly rooted in our collective unconscious. For one thing, a numerous population used to be a synonym of power. It meant a workforce for agriculture, a reservoir of manpower for the industry, and a way of expanding the ranks of the army. And some of that thinking still holds sway. Why would one country try to limit its rate of population growth if its neighbors practice the opposite?
Demography is all about externalities. For a while those externalities were positive: More people gathering in cities and working in factories led to greater production and even more jobs. But there are negatives as well.
The birth of a child affects the future of every other person on the planet. Once a baby is born, we feel compelled to stand in solidarity with that child no matter what happens. Then, when she becomes an adult, she'll contribute to the increasing anthropic pressure, not only in her neighborhood but the entire planet as well.
These questions may not be politically correct, but they need to be asked. Today, we are without a doubt at the inflection point at which the negative externalities prevail. To combat this, there are two possible strategies: A ban that threatens penalties or promises incentives. China wasted no time enacting the first strategy with the one-child policy, which promoted economic growth. India also tried this is the 1970s with limited success. Today, 1.35 billion people live in India, triple what it was 50 years ago.
Elsewhere in the world, we just wait for quality-of-life improvements to dissuade couples from having multiple children. This strategy has worked quite well in the West, vastly lowering the fertility rate, and has also taken effect, more recently, in Asia and the Middle East. But the inertia of the demographic phenomenon is great.
Africa is lagging behind, contributing to nearly 60% of the expected global population increase by 2050 (+1.3 billion people). Family planning policies remain principally ineffective.
Is procreation an unequivocal human right? The Universal Declaration does not explicitly say so. It is limited instead to the vague statement of the right to marriage and the foundation of a family (Article 16). Should we leave it to individual states to decide their own familial policies? These questions may not be politically correct, but they need to be asked.
Developed countries — the biggest polluters — are ready to drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. A wedge formula shows that if each country were to stabilize its CO2 emissions per capita today, the global volume would still increase 16% by 2050 as a result of population increase. Conversely, to maintain the volume at the level it is at today, developing countries could maintain their emission levels if developed countries agreed to decrease their emissions by 40%.
This shows that the challenge is large and that we should welcome more control over population growth.
The solution must be tailored to accommodate developing countries, especially those in Africa (Article 7 of the Paris Accord). Will such an incentive system suffice? Will more coercive measures be necessary to avoid the explosion of the "demographic bomb" and its fallout in terms of wars and uncontrollable migratory movements?
What does seem clear is that if we fail to meet this challenge, future generations will realize, sooner rather than later, that the real "mother of all disasters" isn't climate change, per se, but overpopulation.

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Corporations To Lead Charge Into Wind, Solar And Storage

Lethal Heating - 18 May, 2018 - 19:17

Renewable energy production from Australian businesses has more than doubled over the last two years, and nearly half are making the switch to wind and/or solar to take control over their electricity bills and to help reduce emissions.
A new survey from the Climate Council says the massive shift to wind and solar is happening because electricity bills are soaring and wind and solar and storage offer an affordable and reliable solution.
In Australia, 46 per cent of businesses are looking to turn to wind and solar, many are looking for those technologies to provide the bulk of their power needs, and they are also looking at storage and electric vehicles.
“This report shows that the rising cost of energy is the number one concern for Australian businesses over the next decade,” says the Climate Council’s Greg Bourne, a former chair of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
“So it’s no surprise that a variety of businesses from bakeries to breweries, and tech agencies to chilli and chicken farms, are all turning to affordable renewable energy and storage solutions.
“These businesses are actively investing in renewable energy in a bid to cut costs and take control of their power bills, while also playing a crucial role in transitioning the nation away from ageing, polluting and unreliable fossil fuels.”
The role of corporations is expected to be one of the key factors in the future of large-scale and distributed renewable energy projects over the coming decade, particularly if the federal government fails to lift its emissions reduction targets for 2030.
Right now, the government is seeking to lock in a 26 per cent cut in electricity emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, through its National Energy Guarantee.
But most independent analysis say this target will be largely met by the renewable energy target by 2020 – meaning little incentive for further construction in the following 10 years.
That leaves only state-based targets such as Victoria, Queensland, and the Northern Territory, and the underlying push from households and businesses turning to renewables and storage to address their electricity bills.
A total of 46,000 Australian businesses have already installed solar energy, and this has mostly been in relatively small-scale rooftop arrays, although the pace of this uptake has accelerated dramatically in the last 12-18 months, as this graph below illustrates.

According to the Clean Energy Regulator, the amount of rooftop solar installed by businesses (arrays of up to 1MW) will increase five fold in 2018 to around 100MW.
The other more recent phenomenon is the decision by very large businesses and energy users to turn to large-scale wind and solar project to lower their bills in response to the doubling of electricity prices and soaring gas bills.
Some companies, such as Nectar  Farms, have chosen to electrify their businesses so they can use cheaper wind energy and battery storage, rather than expensive gas.
Nectar Farms will build the country’s largest vegetable greenhouse, powered by wind and solar, on an old gold mine in Stawell in Victoria, as part of a $550 million project with Neoen and Tesla.
In South Australia, Sundrop Farms turned to solar towers and solar thermal to provide power, heat and desalinated water for their tomato growing operations (pictured top).
In Queensland, Sun Metals will soon become Australia’s first major refiner to go solar with the imminent opening of its 124MW solar farm, which will help underpin a $300 million expansion of the refinery by locking in low electricity costs.
Other major corporations that have signed contracts for large-scale solar or wind farms include Telstra, CUB, Westpac, Foster’s, ANZ, and CC Amatil. There are many others in the pipeline.
The Climate Council quoted a recent Baker and McKenzie survey of business intentions which shows that 40 per cent of its respondents are looking at renewables, and 40 per cent are also considering some form of storage.
Other key factors include changing business models to align with renewables and storage, and also preparing for the widely anticipated uptake of electric vehicles, and infrastructure such as charging networks.
One-third of businesses said they were considering using renewables as their main source of energy in the next 18 months – that’s a big development from businesses putting on small amounts of rooftop solar to support their “green messaging”.
A total of 138 global corporations have made a commitment to go ‘100% renewable’, including food producers, car manufacturers, data centre operators, breweries, real estate companies, banks and fashion brands .
These 100 per cent renewable companies include Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Wells Fargo, Johnson and Johnson and Amazon. They also include Anheuser-Busch, the owner of Australia’s Carlton and United Breweries, which is also going 100 per cent renewable.
In the US, nearly two-thirds of Fortune 100 and nearly half of Fortune 500 companies have set ambitious renewable or sustainability targets.
“This is a world-wide transition, with businesses around the globe taking advantage of the investment opportunities associated with renewable energy,” Bourne says.
Climate Council Energy and Climate Solutions Analyst Petra Stock said businesses were naturally transitioning to renewable energy and battery storage, with wind and solar now the cheapest forms of new-build energy generation, far cheaper than a new coal power station.
“This transition is good for the pockets of business owners and good for our climate, it really is a win-win.”
“This report showcases a range of Aussie businesses who are benefiting from making the switch to solar and wind, including eight New South Wales chicken farms that are saving an astonishing $2,000 a day,” said Stock.
“It simply makes good economic sense for businesses to make the switch to clean, affordable and reliable renewable energy and battery storage. Renewables are taking care of Aussie businesses facing high electricity prices.”

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Urgent Climate Action Required To Protect Tens Of Thousands Of Species Worldwide, New Research Shows

Lethal Heating - 18 May, 2018 - 18:35
InsideClimate NewsJohn H. Cushman Jr. | Neela Banerjee

Limiting global warming to 2 degrees and not the more ambitious 1.5 degrees would put far more species at risk of extinction. Insects are especially vulnerable.
A mere half degree of extra global warming could mean profound risks for tens of thousands of the planet's species, scientists have found. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty ImagesHumanity can powerfully improve the survival odds of tens of thousands of species, but only if nations dramatically raise their ambitions in the fight against climate change, according to new research published on Thursday in the journal Science.
One key to salvaging plant and vertebrate habitat and protecting the world's biodiversity is to limit warming to the most challenging benchmark established under the 2015 Paris treaty—1.5 degrees Celsius of warming—not to the treaty's less stringent 2 degree guardrail, the study found.
The study assessed, in more detail than ever before, a key measure of extinction risk: the shrinking size of each species' current geographical range, or natural habitat. It projected that for an alarming number of species, their range size would shrink by at least half as temperatures rise past the Paris goals.
If nations do no more than they have pledged so far to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions—and warming consequently shoots past 3 degrees by the end of this century—6 percent of all vertebrates would be at risk. So would 44 percent of plants and a whopping 49 percent of insects.
But the dangers would be greatly reduced if warming can be limited to 1.5 degrees. That might protect the overwhelming majority of the 115,000 species assessed by the researchers. Just 4 percent of vertebrates would lose more than half of their current range. Only 8 percent of plants and 6 percent of insects would face that risk.
Keeping warming to 2 degrees is not nearly as effective, they found. The additional half degree of warming would double the impact on plants and vertebrate species, and triple the impact on insects.

First-of-Its-Kind Biodiversity Study
Conducted by researchers from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom and James Cook University in Australia, the study builds on their earlier work. For the first time, it examines insects and explores how effectively the extinction risks can be addressed by increasing ambition.
"If warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, then more species can keep up or even gain in range," said Rachel Warren, the study's lead researcher, "whereas if warming reached 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, many species cannot keep up and far more species lose large parts of their range."
The new research adds a compelling layer of evidence to the mounting risks of rising temperatures. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is currently revising a comprehensive draft report on the science behind the 1.5 degree target. This new report on endangered species was written in time to be reflected in the IPCC review, to be published in the fall.
A leaked copy of the latest IPCC draft, circulated for expert comment in the winter, noted in its summary that "local extinction (extirpation) risks are higher in a 2 degrees Celsius warmer world, compared to  1.5 degrees Celsius."

Race to Bolster Paris Treaty's Call for Action
At Paris, everyone recognized that the pledges to cut emissions would fall short of meeting the 2 degree target. Even so, the world's nations decided to shoot for 1.5 degrees, where the dangers become pronounced for small island states and other highly vulnerable people. Since then, talks about increasing ambition have made relatively little headway, and President Donald Trump has renounced the pledges of the Obama administration.
Whether the goal is 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees, scientists say it can only be met by bringing net emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels to zero later in this century. The main difference is that with the more ambitious goal, emissions must be reduced much faster; some say it's already too late.
This urgency has been highlighted by one peer-reviewed study after another, as scientists explore the consequences of falling short. Hundreds of scientists have filed thousands of comments to the IPCC as it races to bolster the treaty's call for rapid action.

115,000 Species Studied; Insects Particularly Vulnerable
Since lost species never come back, and since many species perform vital ecosystem services, the growing risks of extinction are an especially profound aspect of climate change.
Until now, these problems have been studied in relatively few species, notably tropical coral reefs, which are already dying off under the approximately 1 degree of warming that's been observed so far. They may be partly saved if emissions are reduced aggressively enough to stay below 1.5 degrees.
This time, the researchers examined 115,000 species, including 34,000 insects and other invertebrates that previously have not been included in global studies of climate and biodiversity. (Roughly a million species of insects have been named, and there may be many more.)
Insects, it turned out, are particularly sensitive to temperature increases, and these findings are particularly alarming.
They focus attention on pollinators essential to agriculture and insects that serve as food for birds and animals. The researchers found that three groups of pollinators are especially vulnerable to climate risks—true flies, beetles, and moths and butterflies.
The study's authors concluded that meeting the most aggressive temperature target would most benefit species in Europe, Australia, the Amazon and southern Africa.
The study also looked at the ability of different species to migrate outside their normal ranges.
Birds, mammals and butterflies have better chances of relocating than other species as temperatures rise, the researchers found.

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Climate Change On Track To Cause Major Insect Wipeout, Scientists Warn

Lethal Heating - 18 May, 2018 - 09:34
The Guardian

Insects are vital to ecosystems but will lose almost half their habitat under current climate projections
The famous migration of the North American monarch butterfly is one of the most well-documented examples of an insect species affected by climate change. Photograph: Joel Sartore/NG/Getty Images Global warming is on track to cause a major wipeout of insects, compounding already severe losses, according to a new analysis.
Insects are vital to most ecosystems and a widespread collapse would cause extremely far-reaching disruption to life on Earth, the scientists warn. Their research shows that, even with all the carbon cuts already pledged by nations so far, climate change would make almost half of insect habitat unsuitable by the end of the century, with pollinators like bees particularly affected.
However, if climate change could be limited to a temperature rise of 1.5C - the very ambitious goal included in the global Paris agreement - the losses of insects are far lower.
The new research is the most comprehensive to date, analysing the impact of different levels of climate change on the ranges of 115,000 species. It found plants are also heavily affected but that mammals and birds, which can more easily migrate as climate changes, suffered less.
“We showed insects are the most sensitive group,” said Prof Rachel Warren, at the University of East Anglia, who led the new work. “They are important because ecosystems cannot function without insects. They play an absolutely critical role in the food chain.”
“The disruption to our ecosystems if we were to lose that high proportion of our insects would be extremely far-reaching and widespread,” she said. “People should be concerned - humans depend on ecosystems functioning.” Pollination, fertile soils, clean water and more all depend on healthy ecosystems, Warren said.
In October, scientists warned of “ecological Armageddon” after discovering that the number of flying insects had plunged by three-quarters in the past 25 years in Germany and very likely elsewhere.
“We know that many insects are in rapid decline due to factors such as habitat loss and intensive farming methods,” said Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex, UK, and not part of the new analysis. “This new study shows that, in the future, these declines would be hugely accelerated by the impacts of climate change, under realistic climate projections. When we add in all the other adverse factors affecting wildlife, all likely to increase as the human population grows, the future for biodiversity on planet Earth looks bleak.”
A dragonfly lands on a stalk of wheat. Many insects are in rapid decline due to factors such as habitat loss and intensive farming methods. Photograph: Todd Korol/Reuters In the new analysis, published in the journal Science, the researchers gathered data on the geographic ranges and current climate conditions of 31,000 insect species, 8,000 birds, 1,700 mammals, 1,800 reptiles, 1,000 amphibians and 71,000 plants.
They then calculated how the ranges change when global warming means some regions can no longer support particular species. For the first time in this type of study, they included the 1.5C Paris target, as well as 2C, the longstanding international target, and 3.2C, which is the rise the world will experience by 2100 unless action is taken beyond that already pledged.
Insect ranges could be seriously cut by climate change
Percentage of species losing more than half their range by 2100

Guardian Graphic | Source: Warren et al, ScienceThe researchers measured the results in two ways. First, they counted the number of species that lose more than half their range and this was 49% of insect species at 3.2C, falling to 18% at 2C and 6% at 1.5C. Second, they combined the losses for each species group into a type of average measure.
“If you are a typical insect, you would be likely to lose 43% of your range at 3.2C,” Warren said. “We also found that the three major groups of insects responsible for pollination are particularly sensitive to warming.”
Guy Midgley, at University of Stellenbosch, South Africa and not part of the research team, said the new work built on previous studies but is far more comprehensive. He said major impacts on wildlife would be expected given the potential scale of climate change: “Global average surface temperatures in the past two million years have rarely approached the levels projected over the next few decades.”
A bee forages in a garden. The UK bee population has seen a severe decline over the past 20 years. Photograph: Ian Jacobs/AlamyWarren said the new work had taken account of the ability of species to migrate, but had not been able to include the impact of lost interactions between species as ranges contract, or of the impacts of more extreme weather events on wildlife. As both of those would increase the losses of range, Warren said the estimates of losses made were likely to be underestimates.
Warren said that the world’s nations were aware that more action on climate change is needed: “The question is to what extent greater reductions can be made and on what timescale. That is a decision society has to make.”
Another study published in Science on Thursday found that one third of the world’s protected areas, which cover 15% of all land, are now highly degraded by intense human pressure including road building, grazing, and urbanisation.
Kendall Jones, at the University of Queensland, Australia, who led the work, said: “A well-run protected area network is essential in saving species. If we allow our protected area network to be degraded there is a no doubt biodiversity losses will be exacerbated.”

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Climate Change An 'Existential Security Risk' To Australia, Senate Inquiry Says

Lethal Heating - 18 May, 2018 - 08:58
The Guardian

Threat is not a possible future one but one endangering Australia now, parliament told
The Senate report says climate change threatens Australians’ health, businesses and the economy. Photograph: The Washington Post/Washington Post/Getty Images Climate change is a “current and existential national security risk” to Australia, a Senate inquiry has told parliament, one that could inflame regional conflicts over food, water and land, and even imperil life on Earth.
The Senate committee inquiry into the implications of climate change for Australia’s national security recommended an increase in foreign aid to be dedicated to climate change mitigation and adaptation in the region, as well as a government white paper on climate security, Department of Defence emissions targets and a dedicated climate security post within the Department of Home Affairs.
The inquiry, which released its report on Thursday afternoon, heard that the security risk of climate change was not a possible future threat but one that endangers Australia and its region now. The Asia-Pacific was the region “most vulnerable” to the security and humanitarian impacts of climate change, the committee heard, and faced an “existential threat”.
An existential threat was defined as “one that threatens the premature extinction of Earth-originating intelligent life or the permanent and drastic destruction of its potential for desirable future development”.
The committee report said climate change threatened Australians’ health, and the viability of communities, businesses and the economy. Climate change was heightening the severity of natural hazards, increasing the spread of infectious diseases and increasing water insecurity, and threatening agriculture.
Sherri Goodman, a former US deputy undersecretary of defence in the Clinton administration and founder of the CNA Military Advisory Board, told the committee climate change was a “threat multiplier”, exacerbating existing conflicts over water and other resources, and that it posed “a direct threat to the national security of Australia”.
“The problem also is not a distant one in the future but it’s now. We are experiencing this in regular sunny-day flooding at military bases in the United States and in changes in the Arctic, forcing the first wave of displaced persons from villages in the Arctic.”
The Climate Council told the committee climate change was “already contributing to increases in the forced migration of people within and between nations, as well as playing a role in heightening social and political tensions, flowing onto conflict and violence”.
The Australian government has recognised the security implications posed by climate change. Its seventh national communication on climate change to the United Nations in December highlighted that Australia was “already experiencing the impacts of a changing climate, particularly changes associated with increases in temperature, the frequency and intensity of extreme heat events, extreme fire weather and drought”.
It noted “communities in the Torres Strait are already being impacted by rising sea levels and many of the region’s coral reefs have been severely impacted by increased sea surface temperatures”.
And the Department of Defence agreed climate change had the potential to worsen existing conflicts.
“When climate impacts are combined with ethnic or other social grievances, they can contribute to increased migration, internal instability or intrastate insurgencies, often over greater competition for natural resources. These developments may foster terrorism or cross-border conflict.”
The Senate committee heard that acute climate disruption – in particular long-running and severe droughts – exacerbated conflicts in Mali and Syria, contributing to the destabilisation of fragile states.
In Australia’s region, the Australian Council for International Development said: “For Pacific nations such as Tuvalu, Kiribati and Micronesia, climate change is already a genuine existential threat with the capacity to diminish their livelihoods and even erase their states’ territorial footprints.”
The Senate committee noted Australia does not have an overarching climate security strategy.
Research Director for Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration David Spratt said there was a disconnect between the evidence presented to the inquiry and the recommendations that emerged from it.
“Existential risk management requires brutally honest articulation of the risks, opportunities and the response time frame. At the moment we are knowingly locking in an existential disaster without being prepared to articulate that fact … at least this Senate inquiry report is significant for having broken the ice, but it should be so much more.”
Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the defence personnel who appeared before the committee “engaged deeply with climate change science and were in no doubt that a warming world is a more dangerous world”.
“What this inquiry has brought home to me is that when people choose to engage with the climate science, without any partisan or ideological blinkers, they quickly understand the seriousness of the challenge and decide to act. We have seen that the Australian Defence Force is changing how it does things because it is taking climate change seriously, but we have a government that is doing nothing to reduce emissions to actually reduce the threat of climate change itself.”

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'This Is An Eye-Opener’: Changes In Global Water Supply Hint At Future Conflicts And Crises

Lethal Heating - 17 May, 2018 - 14:59
Globe and Mail

Dry, cracked Earth that used to be under Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, illustrates how water resources are shifting due to climate change and human activity. A new analysis using satellite data has identified more than 30 regions on Earth where the amount of stored water on the landscape has increased or decreased by an amount greater than the 32 billion ton storage capacity of Lake Mead. Justin Sullivan/GETTY IMAGESBy combining 14 years’ worth of satellite data, scientists have captured a startling portrait of the world’s water supply undergoing rapid transformation. The new analysis points to areas where there is increasing potential for conflict as a growing demand for water collides with the impacts of climate change. In Canada, the maps shows shifting water supplies that include wetter, more flood-prone regions in many areas of the country but a general drying out in the western sub-Arctic. “This is an eye-opener,” said Roy Brouwer, an economist and executive director of the University of Waterloo’s Water Institute who was not involved in the analysis. “It raises awareness that things are changing and that in some areas something has to happen to counter and anticipate some of the catastrophes that may be waiting for us in the not-so-far future.”The analysis is based on data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, a NASA-led mission launched in 2002 that involved two satellites circling the globe in tandem about 220 kilometres apart. A microwave link between the two satellites allowed scientists to precisely monitor minuscule changes in their separation down to a distance of 10 microns, or about one-tenth the width of a human hair. The setup created a sort of flying weight scale that mean the satellites could be used to measure slight regional variations in Earth’s gravitational pull. Many of those variations are due to geological features, such as mountain ranges, that do not vary over time. But by taking measurements over many years, the satellite also picked up changes that are largely due to the movement of massive amounts of water at or near Earth’s surface.Researchers have published many results based on GRACE data but the new analysis, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, marks the first time all available observations from the mission, from April, 2002, to March, 2016, have been analyzed and assembled to provide a comprehensive map of water trends around the world. Those trends encompass changes in where water is stored across Earth’s surface, including groundwater, soil moisture, glaciers, snow cover and surface water. The result suggests a water landscape that is changing fast on a global scale, in large part due to human activity and climate change. “The human fingerprint is all over what we see in the map,” said Jay Famiglietti, a water-resource expert affiliated with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the incoming director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Global Institute for Water Security.Dr. Famiglietti, a co-author on the Nature study, has played a central role in interpreting data from the GRACE mission over its lifetime. He added that the new analysis pointed to profound changes in the Earth’s water resources that should serve as a wake-up call for policy makers.“There are implications in that map for food security, for water security and for human security in terms of things like conflict and climate refugees,” he said.In total, Dr. Famiglietti and his colleagues identified 34 regional trends in water storage observed by GRACE. Some are likely due to natural variations over the time that the observations were taken. For example, the Amazon basin looks like it’s getting wetter because the area has been recovering from a drought. The same is likely the case for a region centred on the Canadian Prairies and parts of the United States. Over the long term, those trends may fade away.The most obvious changes are clearly due to climate change and relate to ice loss in the polar regions and in some mountainous areas such as Alaska and the southern portions of the Andes in South America. Others show places where humans have directly affected water storage.One example is a large swatch of diminishing water supply across parts of the Middle East, including Syria and Iraq. The shortage is related to dam building in Turkey and overuse of groundwater, both of which have exacerbated an already complex and volatile political situation in the region.Similar shortfalls in India reflect the impact of subsidized electricity, which has created a “perverse incentive” that makes it inexpensive to pump out more groundwater than can be replenished, said Dr. Brouwer.Overall, the map shows how the world’s water is increasingly moving from natural storehouses such as glaciers to human-built reservoirs, a change that comes with plenty of political fallout when that water crosses international boundaries, said Aaron Wolf, an expert in water-related conflict at Oregon State University.“This kind of data really helps us identify hot spots in advance of real crises,” he said.Support for the GRACE mission officially ended last fall and the last of the satellites burned up as its orbit decayed in mid-March. A follow-up mission with two new satellites that will continue the gravity measurements is currently set for launch this Tuesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Watching The Water FlowSatellite data accumulated over a 14-year period reveals dramatic changes in the world’s water supply, partly due to natural variation but also because of human activity and climate change
Global Water Storage TrendsIvan Semeniuk, John Sopinski And Murat Yükselir/The Globe And MailSource: Emerging Trends In Global Freshwater Availability, doi.orgLinks
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Extinction vs. Collapse: Does It Matter?

Lethal Heating - 17 May, 2018 - 14:03
Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere - Samuel Miller McDonald*

Venus - May 18 2016  Kevin Gill | Flickr | CC BY 2.0Climate twitter – the most fun twitter – has recently been relitigating the debate between human extinction and mere civilizational collapse, between doom and gloom, despair and (kind of) hope.
It was sparked by an interview in The Guardian with acclaimed scientist Mayer Hillman. He argues that we’re probably doomed, and confronting the likelihood that we’re rushing toward collective death may be necessary to save us.
The headline alone provoked a lot of reactions, many angered by the ostensible defeatism embedded in Hillman’s comments. His stated view represents one defined camp that is mostly convinced of looming human extinction.
It stands in contrast to another group that believes human extinction is highly unlikely, maybe impossible, and certainly will not occur due to climate change in our lifetimes. Collapse maybe, but not extinction.
Who’s more right? Let’s take a closer look.
First, the question of human extinction is totally bounded by uncertainty. There’s uncertainty in climate data, uncertainty in models and projections, and even more uncertainty in the behavior of human systems. We don’t know how we’ll respond to the myriad impacts climate change is beginning to spark, and we don’t know how sensitive industrial civilization will be to those impacts.
We don’t really know if humans are like other apex predators highly sensitive to ecological collapse, or are among the most adaptable mammals to ever walk the earth.
One may be inclined to lean toward the latter given that humans have colonized every ecological niche on the planet except Antarctica. That bands of people can survive in and around deserts as well as the Arctic as well as equatorial rainforests speaks to the resilience of small social groups. It’s why The Road is so disturbingly plausible; there could be a scenario in which basically everything is dead but people, lingering in the last grey waste of the world. On the other hand, we’ve never lived outside of the very favorable conditions of the Holocene, and past civilizational and population collapses suggest humans are in fact quite sensitive to climatic shifts.
Famed climate scientist James Hansen has discussed the possibility of “Venus syndrome,” for instance, which sits at the far end of worst case scenarios. While a frightening thought experiment, it is easily dismissed as it’s based on so many uncertainties and doesn’t carry the weight of anything near consensus.
What’s more frightening than potentially implausible uncertainties are the currently existing certainties.
For example:

  • Energy transition is essential to mitigating 1.5+°C warming. Energy is the single greatest contributor to anthro-GHG. And, by some estimates, transition is happening 400 years too slowly to avoid catastrophic warming.
  • Incumbent energy industries (that is, oil & gas) dominate governments all over the world. We live in an oil oligarchy – a petrostate, but for the globe. Every facet of the global economy is dependent on fossil fuels, and every sector – from construction to supply chains to transport to electricity to extraction to agriculture and on and on – is built around FF consumption. There’s good reason to believe FF will remain subsidized by governments beholden to their interests even if they become less economically viable than renewables, and so will maintain their dominance.
  • We are living in history’s largest oil and gas boom.
  • Kilocalorie to kilocalorie, FF is extremely dense and extremely cheap. Despite reports about solar getting cheaper than FF in some places, non-hydro/-carbon renewables are still a tiny minority (~2%) of global energy consumption and will simply always, by their nature, be less dense kcal to kcal than FF, and so will always be calorically more expensive.
  • Energy demand probably has to decrease globally to avoid 1.5°C, and it’s projected to dramatically increase. Getting people to consume less is practically impossible, and efficiency measures have almost always resulted in increased consumption.
  • We’re still setting FF emissions records.
  • Conditions today resemble those prior to the 20th century’s world wars: extreme wealth inequality, rampant economic insecurity, growing fascist parties/sentiment, and precarious geopolitical relations, and the Thucydides trap suggests war between Western hegemons and a rising China could be likely. These two factors could disrupt any kind of global cooperation on decarbonization and, to the contrary, will probably mean increased emissions (the US military is one of the world’s single largest consumers/emitters of FF).
  • Neoliberal ideology is so thoroughly embedded in our academic, political, and cultural institutions, and so endemic to discourse today, that the idea of degrowth – probably necessary to avoid collapse – and solidarity economics isn’t even close to discussion, much less realization, and, for self-evident reasons, probably never will be.
  • Living in a neoliberal culture also means we’ve all been trained not to sacrifice for the common good. But solving climate change, like paying more to achieve energy transition or voluntarily consuming less, will all entail sacrificing for the greater good. Humans sometimes are great at that; but the market fundamentalist ideology that pervades all social, commercial, and even self relations today stands against acting for the common good or in collective action.
  • There’s basically no government in the world today taking climate change seriously. There are many governments posturing and pretending to take it seriously, but none have substantially committed to a full decarbonization of their economies. (Iceland may be an exception, but Iceland is about 24 times smaller than NYC, so…)
  • Twenty-five years of governments knowing about climate change has resulted in essentially nothing being done about it, no emissions reductions, no substantive moves to decarbonize the economy. Politics have proven too strong for common sense, and there’s no good reason to suspect this will change anytime soon.
  • Wealth inequality is embedded in our economy so thoroughly – and so indigenously to FF economies – that it will probably continue either causing perpetual strife, as it has so far, or eventually cement a permanent underclass ruled by a small elite, similar to agrarian serfdom. There is a prominent view in left politics that greater wealth equality, some kind of ecosocialism, is a necessary ingredient in averting the kind of ecological collapse the economy is currently driving, given that global FF capitalism by its nature consumes beyond carrying capacities. At least according to one study [1], the combination of inequality and ecological collapse is a likely cause for civilizational collapse.
Even with this perfect storm of issues, it’s impossible to know how likely extinction is, and it’s impossible to judge how likely or extensive civilizational collapse may be. We just can’t predict how human beings and human systems will respond to the shocks that are already underway.
We can make some good guesses based on history, but they’re no more than guesses. Maybe there’s a miracle energy source lurking in a hangar somewhere waiting to accelerate non-carbon transition. Maybe there’s a swelling political movement brewing under the surface that will soon build a more just, ecologically sane order into the world.
Community energy programs are one reason to retain a shred of optimism; but also they’re still a tiny fraction of energy production and they are not growing fast, but they could accelerate any moment. We just don’t know how fast energy transition can happen, and we just don’t know how fast the world could descend into climate-driven chaos – either by human strife or physical storms.
What we do know is that, given everything above, we are living through a confluence of events that will shake the foundations of civilization, and jeopardize our capacity to sustain large populations of humans. There is enough certainty around these issues to justify being existentially alarmed.
At this point, whether we go extinct or all but a thousand of us go extinct (again), maybe that shouldn’t make much difference. Maybe the destruction of a few billion or 5 billion people is morally equivalent to the destruction of all 7 billion of us, and so should provoke equal degrees of urgency. Maybe this debate about whether we’ll go completely extinct rather than just mostly extinct is absurd. Or maybe not. I don’t know. What I do know is that, regardless of the answer, there’s no excuse to stop fighting for a world that sustains life.

*Samuel Miller McDonald: Born and raised in Northern Michigan, Sam is currently pursuing a PhD at University of Oxford in political geography and energy.

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