Robinson Meyer writes: Lately I’ve been thinking back to something that John Kerry told The Atlantic’s editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, earlier this year. Asked about the importance of the Middle East to the United States, Kerry answered entirely about the Islamic State.
“Imagine what would happen if we don’t stand and fight [ISIS],” he said:
If we didn’t do that, you could have allies and friends of ours fall. You could have a massive migration into Europe that destroys Europe, leads to the pure destruction of Europe, ends the European project, and everyone runs for cover and you’ve got the 1930s all over again, with nationalism and fascism and other things breaking out. Of course we have an interest in this, a huge interest in this.
The 1930s all over again — Kerry was laying out a prediction in April, but it sounds a little more like description now. Even if America’s current dunderheaded demagogue loses the presidential election, the European project already falters in the United Kingdom, and Russia rumbles with revanchism. Fueled now (as then) by an ailing global economy, far-right nationalism seems ascendant worldwide. It’s hard not to think of the 1930s as the catastrophe which presaged our contemporary tragicomedy.
I write and report climate change, not a pursuit that usually encourages optimism, but watching all this unfold with the atmosphere in mind has been particularly bleak. For the past few months in particular, I’ve been thinking: Wow, this is all happening way earlier than I thought it would.
Spend enough time with some of the worst-case climate scenarios, and you may start to assume, as I did, that a major demagogue would contest the presidency in the next century. I figured that the catastrophic consequences of planetary warming would all but ensure the necessary conditions for such a leader, and I imagined their support coming from a movement motivated by ethnonationalism, economic stagnation, and hatred of immigrants and refugees. I pictured, in other words, something not so far from Trump 2016.
I just assumed it wouldn’t pop up until 2040. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Negotiators from more than 170 countries on Saturday reached a legally binding accord to counter climate change by cutting the worldwide use of a powerful planet-warming chemical used in air-conditioners and refrigerators.
The talks in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, did not draw the same spotlight as the climate change accord forged in Paris last year. But the outcome could have an equal or even greater impact on efforts to slow the heating of the planet.
President Obama called the deal “an ambitious and far-reaching solution to this looming crisis.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to fellow negotiators in Kigali, said, “It is likely the single most important step we could take at this moment to limit the warming of our planet and limit the warming for generations to come.”
“It is,” Mr. Kerry added, “the biggest thing we can do in one giant swoop.”
While the Paris agreement included pledges by nearly every country to cut emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the fossil fuels that power vehicles, electric plants and factories, the new Kigali deal has a single target: chemical coolants called hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, used in air-conditioners and refrigerators. [Continue reading…]
Shawn Otto writes: Four years ago in Scientific American, I warned readers of a growing problem in American democracy. The article, entitled “Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardize U.S. Democracy,” charted how it had not only become acceptable, but often required, for politicians to embrace antiscience positions, and how those positions flew in the face of the core principles that the U.S. was founded on: That if anyone could discover the truth of something for him or herself using the tools of science, then no king, no pope and no wealthy lord was more entitled to govern the people than they were themselves. It was self-evident.
In the years since, the situation has gotten worse. We’ve seen the emergence of a “post-fact” politics, which has normalized the denial of scientific evidence that conflicts with the political, religious or economic agendas of authority. Much of this denial centers, now somewhat predictably, around climate change — but not all. If there is a single factor to consider as a barometer that evokes all others in this election, it is the candidates’ attitudes toward science.
Consider, for example, what has been occurring in Congress. Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, is a climate change denier. Smith has used his post to initiate a series of McCarthy-style witch-hunts, issuing subpoenas and demanding private correspondence and testimony from scientists, civil servants, government science agencies, attorneys general and nonprofit organizations whose work shows that global warming is happening, humans are causing it and that — surprise — energy companies sought to sow doubt about this fact.
Smith, who is a Christian Scientist and seems to revel in his role as the science community’s bête noire, is by no means alone. Climate denial has become a virtual Republican Party plank (and rejecting the Paris climate accord a literal one) with a wide majority of Congressional Republicans espousing it. Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas), chairman of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, took time off from his presidential campaign last December to hold hearings during the Paris climate summit showcasing well-known climate deniers repeating scientifically discredited talking points.
The situation around science has grown so partisan that Hillary Clinton turned the phrase “I believe in science” into the largest applause line of her convention speech accepting the Democratic Party nomination. Donald Trump, by contrast, is the first major party presidential nominee who is an outright climate denier, having called climate science a “hoax” numerous times. In his responses to the organization I helped found, ScienceDebate.org, which gets presidential candidates on the record on science, he told us that “there is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of ‘climate change,’” putting the term in scare quotes to cast doubt on its reality. When challenged on his hoax comments, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway affirmed that Trump doesn’t believe climate change is man-made. [Continue reading…]
Seagrass has been around since dinosaurs roamed the earth, it is responsible for keeping the world’s coastlines clean and healthy, and supports many different species of animal, including humans. And yet, it is often overlooked, regarded as merely an innocuous feature of the ocean.
But the fact is that this plant is vital – and it is for that reason that the World Seagrass Association has issued a consensus statement, signed by 115 scientists from 25 countries, stating that these important ecosystems can no longer be ignored on the conservation agenda. Seagrass is part of a marginalised ecosystem that must be increasingly managed, protected and monitored – and needs urgent attention now.
Seagrass meadows are of fundamental importance to human life. They exist on the coastal fringes of almost every continent on earth, where seagrass and its associated biodiversity supports fisheries’ productivity. These flowering plants are the powerhouses of the sea, creating life in otherwise unproductive muddy environments. The meadows they form stabilise sediments, filter vast quantities of nutrients and provide one of the planet’s most efficient oceanic stores of carbon.
But the habitat seagrasses create is suffering due to the impact of humans: poor water quality, coastal development, boating and destructive fishing are all resulting in seagrass loss and degradation. This leads in turn to the loss of most of the fish and invertebrate populations that the meadows support. The green turtle, dugong and species of seahorse, for example, all rely on seagrass for food and shelter, and loss endangers their viability. The plants are important fish nurseries and key fishing grounds. Losing them puts the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people at risk too, and exposes them to increasing levels of poverty.
The Associated Press reports: A team of top scientists is telling world leaders to stop congratulating themselves on the Paris agreement to fight climate change because if more isn’t done, global temperatures will likely hit dangerous warming levels in about 35 years.
Six scientists who were leaders in past international climate conferences joined with the Universal Ecological Fund in Argentina to release a brief report Thursday, saying that if even more cuts in heat-trapping gases aren’t agreed upon soon, the world will warm by another 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) by around 2050.
That 1.8 degree mark is key because in 2009 world leaders agreed that they wanted to avoid warming of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Temperatures have already risen about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), so that 2 degree goal is really about preventing a rise of another degree going forward. [Continue reading…]
Grist reports: Two years after President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that their countries would work together to combat climate change, Republicans and conservatives in the U.S. continue to cite China’s rising carbon emissions as a reason not to bother cutting our own.
Earlier this month, Donald Trump’s economic advisor Stephen Moore claimed that limiting our carbon pollution is pointless because of China’s supposedly growing coal dependency. “Every time we shut down a coal plant in the U.S., China builds 10,” Moore told E&E News. “So how does that reduce global warming?”
Not only is Moore’s statement simply untrue, but the broader conservative theory behind it is badly outdated. China’s coal use and carbon emissions have dropped for the last two years. In 2015, China cut its coal use 3.7 percent and its emissions declined an estimated 1–2 percent, following similar decreases in 2014. [Continue reading…]
Quartz reports: Producing more stuff takes more energy. Using more energy means more pollution. That statement would once have seemed like common sense.
Because most of our energy has historically come from fossil fuels, rising economic growth has gone hand in hand with higher carbon emissions. But in 2014, something extraordinary happened. Globally, carbon emissions decoupled from GDP growth.
According to the International Energy Agency, energy-related CO2 emissions were flat that year, despite an increase of around 3% in global GDP. “This is the first time in at least 40 years that a halt or reduction in emissions has not been tied to an economic crisis,” the IEA said at the time. [Continue reading…]
Huffington Post reports: Hundreds of the world’s leading scientists, including famed physicist Stephen Hawking, warn in an open letter Tuesday that a Donald Trump win in November would prove disastrous to global efforts against climate change.
Opting out of that pact, write the 375 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, including 30 Nobel Prize winners, would have “severe and long-lasting” consequences, both for the planet and for the United States’ credibility. [Continue reading…]
ClimateWire reports: President Obama moved toward solidifying his climate change legacy this week by requiring federal defense and intelligence agencies to consider the effects of a warming planet on national security in the policies, plans and doctrines they develop.
The executive order, issued yesterday, comes in the form of a presidential memorandum requiring 20 federal agencies to collaborate to make sure decisionmakers have the best available information on climate change impacts and their potential threats to national security (E&ENews PM, Sept. 21). The agencies are as varied as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which gather scientific observations on climate, and the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense, which analyze intelligence and develop national security policy.
It’s no longer enough to work on reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, said John Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology as well as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The facts dictate it, Holdren said. The warmest year on Earth in the modern record, 2015, occurred during Obama’s presidency, and the past 10 years have been the warmest on record.
Those temperature changes aren’t just about readings on a thermometer, he said. There are national security threats in the increasing amount and intensity of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, torrential downpours and floods. There are threats, as well, from the spread in geographic range of tropical pathogens, like the Zika virus, and the coastal erosion, flooding and saltwater intrusion brought about by sea-level rise. Even ocean acidification and warming have an effect on the food source, and therefore security, of billions of people worldwide. [Continue reading…]
Regenerating soil by turning our backs on industrial farming holds the key to tackling climate change
Jason Hickel writes: Soil is the second biggest reservoir of carbon on the planet, next to the oceans. It holds four times more carbon than all the plants and trees in the world. But human activity like deforestation and industrial farming – with its intensive ploughing, monoculture and heavy use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides – is ruining our soils at breakneck speed, killing the organic materials that they contain. Now 40% of agricultural soil is classed as “degraded” or “seriously degraded”. In fact, industrial farming has so damaged our soils that a third of the world’s farmland has been destroyed in the past four decades.
As our soils degrade, they are losing their ability to hold carbon, releasing enormous plumes of CO2 [pdf] into the atmosphere.
There is, however, a solution. Scientists and farmers around the world are pointing out that we can regenerate degraded soils by switching from intensive industrial farming to more ecological methods – not just organic fertiliser, but also no-tillage, composting, and crop rotation. Here’s the brilliant part: as the soils recover, they not only regain their capacity to hold CO2, they begin to actively pull additional CO2 out of the atmosphere. [Continue reading…]
The Canadian Press reports: North American skies have grown quieter over the last decades by the absent songs of 1.5 billion birds, says the latest summary of bird populations.
The survey by dozens of government, university and environmental agencies across North America has also listed 86 species of birds — including once-common and much-loved songbirds such as the evening grosbeak and Canada warbler — that are threatened by plummeting populations, habitat destruction and climate change.
“The information on urgency is quite alarming,” said Partners In Flight co-author Judith Kennedy of Environment Canada. “We’re really getting down to the dregs of some of these populations.”
The report is the most complete survey of land bird numbers to date and attempts to assess the health of populations on a continental basis. It concludes that, while there are still a lot of birds in the sky, there aren’t anywhere near as many as there used to be. [Continue reading…]
The man who might be president insists that climate change is an elaborate, “very expensive hoax,” even possibly a “Chinese” one meant to undermine the American economy. It’s “bullshit” and “pseudoscience” (on which, it seems, he’s an expert). He’s said this sort of thing numerous times, always mockingly, always dismissively. Only recently in his Phoenix speech on immigration, on his love of Mexicans, and on what suckers they’ll be when it comes to paying for his future wall, he put it this way: “Only the out-of-touch media elites think the biggest problems facing America… it’s not nuclear, and it’s not ISIS, it’s not Russia, it’s not China, it’s global warming.” Those fools! They know nothing. They don’t even know that there’s a crucial footnote, a lone exception, to The Donald’s climate change position: golf.
Though the heating of the planet via fossil fuels couldn’t be more of a fantasy, while saving the coal industry, building pipelines, and reversing anything Barack Obama did in the White House to promote alternative energy systems will be the order of the day, it turns out that climate change does threaten one thing. And it’s something crucial to human life as we know it: playing 18 holes on a coastal golf course. For that, protection is obviously in order. This is undoubtedly why the man with no fears about drowning coastal communities has, through his company Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Ireland, applied for permission to build “a coastal protection works to prevent erosion at his seaside golf resort in County Clare,” based on… yep… the danger of rising sea levels. We’re talking about “200,000 tons of rock distributed along two miles of beach.” And if permission is finally granted, the result will surely be a “great wall,” a “beautiful wall” that will not let a drop of sea water emigrate onto Irish soil.
One small hint for Mr. Trump, should he become president. From the Oval Office, he might consider granting similar wall-building exemptions to key parts of coastal Florida already experiencing a serious rise in what’s called “sunny-day flooding.” Such walls would protect crucial coastal properties like Mar-a-Lago, his top-of-the-line private club in Palm Beach, which could otherwise find itself “under at least a foot of water for 210 days a year because of tidal flooding” within three decades. It’s that or develop a sport called aquatic golf.
As for the rest of us for whom such walls assumedly won’t be built, there’s always flight inland where we might become… gulp… climate refugees. (In that case, you know what Trump is likely to say about the necessity for our extreme vetting). And while you’re waiting for the floodwaters, I suggest that you consider what TomDispatch’s invaluable energy expert Michael Klare has to say about the rise of versions of The Donald globally and what that means for the health of our planet. Tom Engelhardt
Will Trumpism, Brexit, and geopolitical exceptionalism sink the planet?
The mounting threat to climate progress
By Michael T. Klare
In a year of record-setting heat on a blistered globe, with fast-warming oceans, fast-melting ice caps, and fast-rising sea levels, ratification of the December 2015 Paris climate summit agreement — already endorsed by most nations — should be a complete no-brainer. That it isn’t tells you a great deal about our world. Global geopolitics and the possible rightward lurch of many countries (including a potential deal-breaking election in the United States that could put a climate denier in the White House) spell bad news for the fate of the Earth. It’s worth exploring how this might come to be.
The delegates to that 2015 climate summit were in general accord about the science of climate change and the need to cap global warming at 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius (or 2.6 to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit) before a planetary catastrophe ensues. They disagreed, however, about much else. Some key countries were in outright conflict with other states (Russia with Ukraine, for example) or deeply hostile to each other (as with India and Pakistan or the U.S. and Iran). In recognition of such tensions and schisms, the assembled countries crafted a final document that replaced legally binding commitments with the obligation of each signatory state to adopt its own unique plan, or “nationally determined contribution” (NDC), for curbing climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.
As a result, the fate of the planet rests on the questionable willingness of each of those countries to abide by that obligation, however sour or bellicose its relations with other signatories may be. As it happens, that part of the agreement has already been buffeted by geopolitical headwinds and is likely to face increasing turbulence in the years to come.