Earth Day: Scientists say 75% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in ground

The Guardian reports: Three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change, a group of leading scientists and economists have said in a statement timed to coincide with Earth Day.

The Earth League, which includes Nicholas Stern, the author of several influential reports on the economics of climate change; Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a climate scientist and adviser to Angela Merkel; and the US economist Jeffrey Sachs, urged world leaders to follow up on their commitments to avoid dangerous global warming.

Spelling out what a global deal at the UN climate summit in Paris later this year should include, the group demanded governments adopt a goal of reducing economies’ carbon emissions to zero by mid-century, put a price on carbon and that the richest take the lead with the most aggressive cuts.

In its “Earth statement”, the group said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if warming was not to breach a rise of 2C, the “safety limit” agreed to by governments. [Continue reading…]

The Earth Statement begins: 2015 is a critical year for humanity. Our civilization has never faced such existential risks as those associated with global warming, biodiversity erosion and resource depletion. Our societies have never had such an opportunity to advance prosperity and eradicate poverty. We have the choice to either finally embark on the journey towards sustainability or to stick to our current destructive “business-as-usual” pathway. Three times this year, world leaders will meet to set the course for decades to come. In July 2015, heads of state meet to discuss Financing for Development. In September 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be adopted. In December 2015, nations negotiate a new Global Climate Agreement. Decisions made in this single year will be the legacy of our generation. In particular, if we do not succeed in tackling climate change, the sustainable development goals, livelihoods in many parts of the world and the wellbeing of our close and distant kin will be threatened.

In 2015, a good climate future is still within reach. If we act boldly, we can safeguard human development. It is a moral obligation, and in our self-­interest, to achieve deep decarbonization of the global economy via equitable effort sharing. This requires reaching a zero-­carbon society by mid-­century or shortly thereafter, thereby limiting global warming to below 2°C as agreed by all nations in 2010. This trajectory is not one of economic pain, but of economic opportunity, progress and inclusiveness. It is a chance too good to be missed. We have just embarked upon a journey of innovation, which can create a new generation of jobs and industries, whilst enhancing the resilience of communities and people around the world. [Continue reading…]

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Consumed: why more stuff does not mean more happiness

By Judith Stark, Seton Hall University

Consumption. By a strange shift of meaning, this 19th-century word describing a serious and often fatal disease is the same word used now for a way of life focused on material goods. Is it time to bring back its negative, and often deadly, associations into our public discourse?

Consumption as reality and metaphor operates on many levels – personal, communal and economic. Most importantly, it causes profound consequences for the planet and its resources.

The forty-fifth anniversary of Earth Day provides a fitting occasion to think more broadly and deeply about what these patterns of consumption mean for us, our communities, and for planet Earth.

Diminishing returns

We all want stuff, but in our overdeveloped, fast-paced culture we seldom challenge ourselves to ask ourselves the one important question: how much is enough?

[Read more…]

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The surprising reason why Arctic warming could be worse than previously thought

Chris Mooney reports: For the most part, we humans can live our lives entirely untroubled by the doings of phytoplankton.

These tiny, largely single-celled marine organisms are, basically, little photosynthesis machines — they contain chlorophyll and process sunlight to create energy. It might sound relatively dull — but according to new research, this simple lifestyle could have major climate change ramifications.

The new study, just out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that as the Arctic Ocean warms and loses its sea ice cover, populations of phytoplankton will boom. This will, in turn, further amplify warming in a region that’s already heating up twice as fast as the rest of the planet. [Continue reading…]

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Wedge of warm Pacific seawater known as ‘the blob’ blamed for marine havoc

The Los Angeles Times reports: It’s called “the blob,” and some blame it for the thousands of dead seabirds and emaciated sea lion pups that have washed ashore on California beaches since late last year.

Ever since an unusually warm mass of seawater began spreading along the Pacific Coast of North America a year ago — wreaking havoc on the marine food chain — scientists have struggled to explain its presence.

In recent months, however, some experts have argued that this 500-mile-wide, 300-foot-deep wedge of warm seawater may in fact signal an epic cyclical change in the Pacific Ocean — a change that could possibly bring soaking rains to Southern California this winter but also accelerate the rise in global temperatures.

Though researchers disagree over just what this blob portends, the phenomenon is drawing intense scrutiny from climate scientists and oceanographers.

At the center of this debate is a poorly understood pattern of wind, ocean current and temperature variations that some scientists call the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO. [Continue reading…]

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Louisiana five years after BP oil spill: ‘It’s not going back to normal no time soon’

The Guardian reports: To hear BP tell it, the environmental disaster that struck the Gulf of Mexico five years ago is nearly over – the beaches have been cleared of oil, and the water in the Gulf is as clear as it ever was. But how do you spot a continued disaster if its main indicator is the absence of something?

On this strip of land in south-eastern Louisiana, the restaurants are still empty, FOR SALE signs are increasing in store windows, people are still moving away, and this marina on Pointe a la Hache – once packed most afternoons with oystermen bringing in their catch on their small boats, high school kids earning a few bucks unloading the sacks, and 18-wheelers backed up by the dozen to carry them away – is completely devoid of life, save one man, 69-year-old Clarence Duplessis, who cleans his boat to pass the time.

“At this time of day, at this marina, it used to be packed,” Duplessis said. “And now there’s nothing.”

It’s been nearly five years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 workers and spilling nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and residents, fisherman, activists and scientists say the cleanup and restoration is far from over. While some phenomena in the Gulf – people getting sick, fishing nets coming back empty – are hard to definitively pin on BP – experts say the signs of ecological and economic loss that followed the spill are deeply concerning for the future of the Gulf. Meanwhile, BP has pushed back hard on the notion that the effects of its disaster are much to worry about, spending millions on PR and commercials to convince Gulf residents everything will be OK. [Continue reading…]

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Chevron whistleblower videos show deliberate falsification of evidence in Ecuador oil pollution trial

DeSmogBlog reports: Chevron has already lost the lawsuit filed against the company by a group of Indigenous villagers and rural Ecuadorians who say Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, left behind hundreds of open, unlined pits full of toxic oil waste it had dug into the floor of the Amazon rainforest.

That hasn’t stopped the oil titan from attempting to retry the case, though, in both the court of public opinion and a New York court, where it counter-sued the Ecuadorian plaintiffs under the RICO Act, claiming their original lawsuit was nothing more than extortion.

But new videos released by an anonymous Chevron whistleblower undermine the company’s entire defense in the original suit as well as its RICO counterattack.

Chevron’s defense in the Ecuador pollution case hinges on the company’s assertion that, before leaving the country when its partnership with state-owned Petroecuador ended in the early 1990s, Texaco remediated a portion of the 350 drill sites and more than 900 associated waste pits, as per its agreement with the Ecuadorean government.

The Ecuadorian plaintiffs argue that, as the sole operator of those drilling operations, Chevron/Texaco is liable for the carcinogenic oil contamination of watercourses, soil and groundwater that leached out of the waste pits and overflowed into local streams and rivers. After inheriting Texaco’s liability, Chevron countered that it had fulfilled its obligations per the terms of its partnership and that the plaintiffs’ real target should be Petroecuador, which Chevron blames for the pollution.

In 2011, Chevron lost the court battle in Ecuador — the venue Chevron itself chose — and was ordered to pay $9.5 billion to clean up its oil pollution in the Amazon. But Chevron had already infamously vowed “We will fight until hell freezes over and then fight it out on the ice,” and the company has been true to its word. Only now has evidence emerged to show just how dirty Chevron was fighting.

“These videos prove Chevron knew full well their ‘remediated’ sites were still contaminated before the trial in Ecuador had even finished,” Amazon Watch’s Paul Paz said in a statement to DeSmogBlog. “Rather than admit that and help people who would be affected, they hid what they knew and denied it to the courts and to the world. Worse than that, they went on to blame the very same people affected by their waste as making it all up to extort money from Chevron.” [Continue reading…]

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More CO2 = more pollen

Climate Central: The arrival of spring is kind of a good news/bad news story. The good news is that spring brings warmer weather and blossoms everywhere, as trees and flowers wake up from hibernation. But that’s also the bad news, at least for anyone who suffers from spring allergies. All of that flowering and leaf-opening means pollen will be filling the air and creating a yellow haze on cars — followed by sneezing, dripping, sinus-clogging misery for millions of Americans. Now here’s the worse news: rising carbon dioxide levels, mainly due to human-induced emissions, are increasing pollen production.

When scientists put plants in a growing chamber to test varying levels of CO2 on pollen production, the changes were significant — as the graphic above shows. Pollen production was more than twice as great when the chamber was set to 1999 CO2 levels (around 370 parts per million, or ppm) as it was when it was set to pre-industrial levels (about 280 ppm). And when the scientists cranked it up to 600 ppm, where things could be heading by the year 2060 (assuming we don’t curb CO2 emissions, that is), pollen production nearly doubled again.

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Navajo Nation dying of thirst

Indian Country reports: For centuries, the Diné people have raised their families and livestock on the high desert lands of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. They have survived even the most difficult of conditions. But as drought has dragged on, more or less for two decades — and the climate continues to warm — some are saying the tribal government needs to better protect its water resources and undertake more long-term planning.

“When you’re living in the desert, you don’t expect it to get even worse,” said Russell Begaye, a Navajo Nation Tribal Council Delegate from Shiprock, NM. He pointed out that reservoir levels are dropping, farming plots are becoming sandier, and the rain- and snowfall have declined.

“Some of our leaders, and some of our people concerned about environmental issues are trying to make people aware,” he said. “It’s going to get progressively worse, we know that. But as a nation, the government, we are simply not ready.”

According to the most recent national climate change assessment, southwestern tribes—such as the Navajo—are among the most vulnerable to impacts from climate change. Published two years ago, that study notes that Navajo elders have noticed declines in snowfall, surface water and water supplies. Certain sacred springs, medicinal plants, and animals have disappeared or declined and dust storms have increased. And while scientists can’t say for sure at this point that extreme weather is tied to climate change, there’s no doubt that the past two years have been challenging—and expensive. [Continue reading…]

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We can avoid mass extinction, but time is running out

By James Dyke, University of Southampton

Humans have caused a 10% reduction in the total numbers of land-based wild animal and plants over the past 500 years, according to a major new study. We’re also responsible for a 13% reduction in the number of species.

These are scary stats, but certainly more reassuring than last year’s Living Planet Index report which contained the jaw-dropping statistic that over the past 40 years the total number of wild animals on Earth has been reduced by half.

So, at first glance the new research published in the journal Nature appears to downgrade the impacts humans have had on other species. However, delving deeper into the article shows large regional differences and provides yet more evidence that we are on a collision course towards mass extinction by the end of this century.

Biodiversity is by its very nature difficult to measure. In order to determine how it changes over time, repeated measurements have to be made using the same methodology in the same region. Not straightforward in remote jungles, mountains or deserts. Consequently, data sets are often very hard to come by.

[Read more…]

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How climate change has amplified California’s drought

Jason Samenow writes: California’s astonishingly low snowpack, a pathetic 5 percent of normal, and the severity of the drought afflicting the state isn’t some fluke. It’s a likely consequence of climate change, specifically the rising temperatures which are intensifying many of the processes causing the state to lose water at an alarming rate.

To begin, let’s make clear climate change is best characterized as a drought amplifier rather than the cause of the drought itself. The climate system has enormous natural variability and several studies and analyses have linked the drought to a randomly occurring configuration of Pacific Ocean temperatures that encourages atmospheric winds to steer weather systems away from the Golden State.

For three years strong, the atmosphere steering flow has hit a road block along the West Coast (dubbed the “ridiculously resilient ridge”), but connecting that to climate change has proven difficult.

But even as climate change probably isn’t driving the weather pattern behind the drought, it is directing the background temperatures: up. Atmospheric levels of the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide, due to the burning of fossil fuels, have risen about 25 percent since 1958. [Continue reading…]

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How California’s wealthiest homeowners are sucking the state dry

The San Jose Mercury News reports: Despite having the second-highest per capita consumption in the Bay Area, the Bear Gulch District serviced by the California Water Service Co. has cut water use only 11.3 percent since 2013. The district includes Woodside, Portola Valley, Atherton and portions of Menlo Park and Redwood City.

In the Alameda County Water District, water use plummeted 20.5 percent compared with 2013.

“We can turn off their water if we need to,” said Stephanie Nevins, the Alameda district’s water conservation supervisor. “But we haven’t had to. We’re delighted about how responsive customers have been.”

A National Science Foundation-funded research study by UCLA scientists confirms the Bay Area pattern. Analyzing 10 years of data that linked water consumption with socioeconomic demographics, prices and other factors, the study concluded:

• Income is the primary driver of water consumption. Wealthier neighborhoods consume three times the amount of water that less affluent neighborhoods use.
• Single-family residential households overwater their grass, flowers and shrubs.
• “Tier pricing,” which sharply increases the cost of water as usage goes up, encourages conservation.

The greatest reduction of water use results from a combination of mandatory restrictions and price increases, supported by incentives and outreach, according to the UCLA study.

Woodside is filled with large estates owned by Silicon Valley luminaries that have included, in addition to Ellison, venture capitalist John Doerr, Intuit founder Scott Cook, investor Charles R. Schwab and Internet entrepreneur Jeffrey Skoll.

Landscape irrigation accounts for 70 percent of the district’s water usage, internal data show. The state average is about 50 percent.

Menlo Country Club in the Bear Gulch District, which uses potable water on its fairways, says it is seeking a recycled water source.

About 300 Woodside households use more than 75,548 gallons a month, according to Cal Water. Many of those residents use more than a million gallons of water a year — for just one home. [Continue reading…]

The Los Angeles Times reports: Water usage in Los Angeles was 70 gallons per capita. But within the city, a recent UCLA study examining a decade of Department of Water and Power data showed that on average, wealthier neighborhoods consume three times more water than less-affluent ones.

With Gov. Jerry Brown’s order requiring a 25% cut in water consumption, upscale communities are scrambling to develop stricter laws that will work where years of voluntary standards have not. Many believe it’s going to take a change in culture as well as city rules to hit the goal.

“Some people — believe it or not — don’t know we are in a drought,” said George Murdoch, general manager of utilities in Newport Beach, which is beginning to fine chronic water wasters. “We have people that own a home here but aren’t around a lot, so they could miss a leak.”

Stephanie Pincetl, who worked on the UCLA water-use study, said wealthy Californians are “lacking a sense that we are all in this together.”

“The problem lies, in part, in the social isolation of the rich, the moral isolation of the rich,” Pincetl said. [Continue reading…]

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California is pumping water that fell to Earth 20,000 years ago

Tom Knudson writes: By now, the impacts of California’s unchecked groundwater pumping are well-known: the dropping water levels, dried-up wells and slowly sinking farmland in parts of the Central Valley.

But another consequence gets less attention, one measured not by acre-feet or gallons-per-minute but the long march of time.

As California farms and cities drill deeper for groundwater in an era of drought and climate change, they no longer are tapping reserves that percolated into the soil over recent centuries. They are pumping water that fell to Earth during a much wetter climatic regime – the ice age.

Such water is not just old. It’s prehistoric. It is older than the earliest pyramids on the Nile, older than the world’s oldest tree, the bristlecone pine. It was swirling down rivers and streams 15,000 to 20,000 years ago when humans were crossing the Bering Strait from Asia.

Tapping such water is more than a scientific curiosity. It is one more sign that some parts of California are living beyond nature’s means, with implications that could ripple into the next century and beyond as climate change turns the region warmer and robs moisture from the sky. [Continue reading…]

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How useful is the idea of the Anthropocene?

Jedediah Purdy writes: As much as a scientific concept, the Anthropocene is a political and ethical gambit. Saying that we live in the Anthropocene is a way of saying that we cannot avoid responsibility for the world we are making. So far so good. The trouble starts when this charismatic, all-encompassing idea of the Anthropocene becomes an all-purpose projection screen and amplifier for one’s preferred version of ‘taking responsibility for the planet’.

Peter Kareiva, the controversial chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy, uses the theme ‘Conservation in the Anthropocene’ to trash environmentalism as philosophically naïve and politically backward. Kareiva urges conservationists to give up on wilderness and embrace what the writer Emma Marris calls the ‘rambunctious garden’. Specifically, Kareiva wants to rank ecosystems by the quality of ‘ecosystem services’ they provide for human beings instead of ‘pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake’. He wants a pro‑development stance that assumes that ‘nature is resilient rather than fragile’. He insists that: ‘Instead of scolding capitalism, conservationists should partner with corporations in a science-based effort to integrate the value of nature’s benefits into their operations and cultures.’ In other words, the end of nature is the signal to carry on with green-branded business as usual, and the business of business is business, as the Nature Conservancy’s partnerships with Dow, Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, J P Morgan, Goldman Sachs and the mining giant Rio Tinto remind us.

Kareiva is a favourite of Andrew Revkin, the roving environmental maven of The New York Times Magazine, who touts him as a paragon of responsibility-taking, a leader among ‘scholars and doers who see that new models for thinking and acting are required in this time of the Anthropocene’. This pair and their friends at the Breakthrough Institute in California can be read as making a persistent effort to ‘rebrand’ environmentalism as humanitarian and development-friendly (and capture speaking and consultancy fees, which often seem to be the major ecosystem services of the Anthropocene). This is itself a branding strategy, an opportunity to slosh around old plonk in an ostentatiously shiny bottle. [Continue reading…]

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Only two areas of forest remain on this planet that are not fragmented by human development

ThinkProgress reports: For most, forests are something to be driven by or hiked through briefly. A new study shows just how much humankind has tailored these landscapes to our own devices at the expense of the rest of the natural world.

The findings, published this week in the journal Science Advances, offer some of the longest-term evidence available on how ecosystems and species react to habitat loss and fragmentation over time. The trend is distinctively negative.

“There is a consistent loss of species — birds, butterflies, plants — across every experiment, and these experiments varied widely,” Nick M. Haddad, North Carolina State University biologist and lead author of the study on habitat fragmentation, told ThinkProgress. “But they were all going downward.”

Hadded said he was “shocked” at the study’s findings on how much we’ve “sliced and diced” forest ecosystems through human development, which includes everything from building railroads to cutting down trees for cropland.

“I expected to see more forest that was more remote, and more wilderness,” he said.

Bringing together numerous studies chronicling global habitat divisions over the last 35 years, Haddad and his co-authors found that only two “big blobs” of forest remain on Earth — in the Brazilian Amazon and the Congo Basin. They also found that some 70 percent of all remaining global forest cover is within one kilometer, or 0.6 miles, of human development. [Continue reading…]

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Pipeline nation: America’s broken industry

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We’re treating soil like dirt. It’s a fatal mistake, as our lives depend on it

George Monbiot writes: Imagine a wonderful world, a planet on which there was no threat of climate breakdown, no loss of freshwater, no antibiotic resistance, no obesity crisis, no terrorism, no war. Surely, then, we would be out of major danger? Sorry. Even if everything else were miraculously fixed, we’re finished if we don’t address an issue considered so marginal and irrelevant that you can go for months without seeing it in a newspaper.

It’s literally and – it seems – metaphorically, beneath us. To judge by its absence from the media, most journalists consider it unworthy of consideration. But all human life depends on it. We knew this long ago, but somehow it has been forgotten. As a Sanskrit text written in about 1500BC noted: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”

The issue hasn’t changed, but we have. Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction so intense that, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world on average has just 60 more years of growing crops. Even in Britain, which is spared the tropical downpours that so quickly strip exposed soil from the land, Farmers Weekly reports, we have “only 100 harvests left”. [Continue reading…]

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New WHO report shows that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller probably causes cancer

Climate Progress: The most popular weed-killer in the United States — and possibly the world — “probably” causes cancer, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Published Thursday in the journal The Lancet Oncology, the report focuses on a chemical called glyphosate, invented by Monsanto back in 1974 as a broad-spectrum herbicide. It’s the active ingredient in Roundup, a popular product used mostly in commercial agriculture production. Roundup is particularly good for genetically modified crops, which can be bred to resist damage from the product while it kills the weeds surrounding it.

In the U.S., glyphosate is not considered carcinogenic. The Environmental Protection Agency’s current position is that “there is inadequate evidence to state whether or not glyphosate has the potential to cause cancer from a lifetime exposure in drinking water.” In the wake of Thursday’s report, however, the EPA said it “would consider” the U.N. agency’s findings.

Note for the Monsanto comment trolls: Don’t bother wasting your time or mine by responding to this post.

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How roads threaten ecosystems

Michelle Nijhuis writes: The first paved highway across the Brazilian Amazon began, in the nineteen-seventies, as a narrow, hard-won cut through dense rainforest. The road, which connects the northern port city of Belém with the country’s capital, Brasília, twelve hundred miles away, was hailed as a huge step in the region’s development, and so it was: it quickly spawned a network of smaller roads and new towns, drawing industry to the Brazilian interior. But the ecological price was high. Today, much of the Belém-Brasília highway is flanked by cattle pastures—a swath of deforestation some two hundred and fifty miles wide, stretching from horizon to horizon. Across the planet, road construction has similarly destroyed or splintered natural habitats. In equatorial Africa’s Congo Basin, logging roads have attracted a new wave of elephant poachers; in Siberia, road expansion has caused an outbreak of wildfires; in Suriname, roads invite illegal gold mining; and in Finland, so many reindeer are killed by cars that herders have considered marking the animals with reflective paint.

“Roads scare the hell out of ecologists,” William Laurance, a professor at James Cook University, in Australia, said. “You can’t be in my line of business and not be struck by their transformative power.” [Continue reading…]

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