You’re more likely to die in a human extinction event than a car crash

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Robinson Meyer writes: Nuclear war. Climate change. Pandemics that kill tens of millions.

These are the most viable threats to globally organized civilization. They’re the stuff of nightmares and blockbusters — but unlike sea monsters or zombie viruses, they’re real, part of the calculus that political leaders consider everyday. And according to a new report from the U.K.-based Global Challenges Foundation, they’re much more likely than we might think.

In its annual report on “global catastrophic risk,” the nonprofit debuted a startling statistic: Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.

Partly that’s because the average person will probably not die in an automobile accident. Every year, one in 9,395 people die in a crash; that translates to about a 0.01 percent chance per year. But that chance compounds over the course of a lifetime. At life-long scales, one in 120 Americans die in an accident.

The risk of human extinction due to climate change — or an accidental nuclear war — is much higher than that. The Stern Review, the U.K. government’s premier report on the economics of climate change, estimated a 0.1 percent risk of human extinction every year. That may sound low, but it also adds up when extrapolated to century-scale. The Global Challenges Foundation estimates a 9.5 percent chance of human extinction within the next hundred years. [Continue reading…]

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VW and Shell accused of trying to block EU push for electric cars

The Guardian reports: VW and Shell have been accused of trying to block Europe’s push for electric cars and more efficient cars, by saying biofuels should be at heart of efforts to green the industry instead.

The EU is planning two new fuel efficiency targets for 2025 and 2030 to help meet promises made at the Paris climate summit last December.

But executives from the two industrial giants launched a study on Wednesday night proposing greater use of biofuels, CO2 car labelling, and the EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) instead.

In reality, such a package would involve the end of meaningful new regulatory action on car emissions for more than a decade, EU sources say. But Shell insisted it is not trying to block an EU push for electric cars. [Continue reading…]

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World heading for catastrophe over natural disasters, risk expert warns

The Guardian reports: The world’s failure to prepare for natural disasters will have “inconceivably bad” consequences as climate change fuels a huge increase in catastrophic droughts and floods and the humanitarian crises that follow, the UN’s head of disaster planning has warned.

Last year, earthquakes, floods, heatwaves and landslides left 22,773 people dead, affected 98.6 million others and caused $66.5bn (£47bn) of economic damage (pdf). Yet the international community spends less than half of one per cent of the global aid budget on mitigating the risks posed by such hazards.

Robert Glasser, the special representative of the secretary general for disaster risk reduction, said that with the world already “falling short” in its response to humanitarian emergencies, things would only get worse as climate change adds to the pressure. [Continue reading…]

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Fate of world’s coastlines rests on melting Antarctic ice

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John Upton writes: Councilmembers of an island town in Georgia met in a police station near sandy beaches last week to mull a plan for coping with worsening floods. The meeting followed unprecedented king tide floods in the fall that inundated the island and nearby Savannah, and shut down the highway that connects them.

“We’ve had more frequent flooding in areas that haven’t flooded before,” said Jason Buelterman, mayor of the beach town on the eastern shore of Tybee Island, where the population of a few thousand residents swells each summer with vacationers. “In November, water was coming into people’s garages and stuff. It had never happened before.”

The meeting was held eight days before world leaders were due to converge in New York this Friday to ratify a United Nations treaty, aiming to avert the worst impacts of climate change. If the treaty succeeds, Tybee Island and other coastal communities may flood terribly in the coming decades, but will most likely remain mostly above sea level, recent Antarctic modeling suggests. Vast scientific uncertainties, however, mean even that cannot be assured.

Mayors from small towns, planners from the world’s largest cities and U.N. diplomats are being guided on the details of a looming coastal crisis by sea level projections compiled by a U.N. science panel. The panel’s work includes warnings about the amount of flooding that could be caused by melting in Antarctica, and those warnings have been growing bleaker.

The barren continent — the planet’s greatest reservoir of ice — remains shrouded in frigid mystery, and a lack of scientific knowledge about its ice sheet means scientists can’t yet predict how much flooding it could cause as temperatures continue to climb. A recent study, though, added to concerns that it could begin disintegrating, inundating coastal neighborhoods around the world, unless the heady goals of the new U.N. climate pact are achieved.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent findings, from three years ago, appear to have underestimated the potential seriousness of the Antarctic problem, with sweeping implications for the urgency of pollution cuts — and for the futures of coastal communities like Tybee Island’s.

Instead of the anticipated several feet of sea level rise this century if current pollution rates continue, the latest modeling-based science warns that melting could lead to twice that amount. That sobering estimate is a rough one. [Continue reading…]

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2016 U.S. election critical to success of Paris climate pact

Climate Central reports: The 2016 presidential election is likely to be enormously consequential to the success of the Paris climate agreement, due to be signed Friday at the United Nations, and the ability of the United States to lead the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming to “well below” 2°C (3.6°F).

Climate Central asked more than a dozen climate and political scientists and other experts how the outcome of that election will affect the climate pact.

The consensus was clear: If a Republican administration is elected in November, the Paris agreement would be severely undermined and any efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale will be cast into doubt. If a Democratic administration is elected, the Paris agreement will remain intact. [Continue reading…]

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How the Paris Agreement is driving climate action

Climate Nexus reports: This past December, representatives from 195 nations gathered in Paris to negotiate an historic agreement to combat climate change and accelerate the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future. After two weeks of negotiations, the nations unanimously agreed to adopt the international climate pact. On April 22, 2016, nations will again gather, this time at the United Nations headquarters in New York, to formally sign the Paris Agreement.

The world has already seen a significant shift towards stronger climate action, in the ensuing months since the adoption of the Agreement.

The adoption of the Paris negotiations delivered a signal to governments, businesses and the global public: All parties, from national governments to small businesses, must do their part to minimize the risks and impacts of climate change.

This signal has mobilized actions by public and private sector institutions to move away from fossil fuels, which drive climate change, and towards an economy powered by renewable energy. [Continue reading…]

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March temperature smashes 100-year global record

The Guardian reports: The global temperature in March has shattered a century-long record and by the greatest margin yet seen for any month.

February was far above the long-term average globally, driven largely by climate change, and was described by scientists as a “shocker” and signalling “a kind of climate emergency”. But data released by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) shows that March was even hotter.

Compared with the 20th-century average, March was 1.07C hotter across the globe, according to the JMA figures, while February was 1.04C higher. The JMA measurements go back to 1891 and show that every one of the past 11 months has been the hottest ever recorded for that month.

Data released released later on Friday by Nasa confirmed last month was the hottest March on record, but the US agency’s data indicated February had seen the biggest margin. The Nasa data recorded March as 1.65C above the average from 1951-1980, while February was 1.71C higher.

The World Meteorological Organisation, the UN body for climate and weather, said the March data had “smashed” previous records. [Continue reading…]

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Greenland’s ice sheet is melting so fast right now, scientists thought the data was wrong

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus writes: On Monday, Greenland began to melt. Parts of Greenland melt every year and the whole thing freezes again each winter, but lately, thanks to global warming, the melting has come earlier and then peaked in the summer at higher levels than usual.

Even in light of these trends, Monday’s melt was unlike anything the scientists studying Greenland have ever seen — it was so different, in fact, that they thought the data was wrong.

“We had to check that our models were still working properly,” Peter Langen, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, told Polar Portal, a Danish government website which chronicles monitoring of the ice sheet. Sure enough, thermometers on and around the ice showed temperatures as high as 64 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday — more than 35 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year, and more typical of a warm day in July. [Continue reading…]

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Oil industry knew of ‘serious’ climate concerns more than 45 years ago

The Guardian reports: The oil industry’s knowledge of dangerous climate change stretches back to the 1960s, with unearthed documents showing that it was warned of “serious worldwide environmental changes” more than 45 years ago.

The Stanford Research Institute presented a report to the American Petroleum Institute (API) in 1968 that warned the release of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels could carry an array of harmful consequences for the planet.

The emergence of this stark advice follows a series of revelations that the fossil fuel industry was aware of climate change for decades, only to publicly deny its scientific basis.

“Significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000 and these could bring about climatic change,” the 1968 Stanford report, found and republished by the Center for International Environmental Law, states. “If the Earth’s temperature increases significantly, a number of events might be expected to occur including the melting of the Antarctic ice cap, a rise in sea levels, warming of the oceans and an increase in photosynthesis.

“It is clear that we are unsure as to what our long-lived pollutants are doing to our environment; however, there seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe.” [Continue reading…]

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People still don’t get the link between high meat consumption and climate change

Annick de Witt writes: Over the last decade or so, the media have slowly but steadily fed the public information about the staggering impact of our meat-eating habits on the environment, and on climate change in particular. For instance, one recent study found that a global transition toward low-meat diets could reduce the costs of climate change mitigation by as much as 50 percent by 2050. From scientific reports and articles in magazines, to viral Facebook videos to documentaries like Cowspiracy and Meat the Truth, the news about the exorbitant contribution of a carnivorous to the greenhouse problem is clearly spreading.

However, despite all these messages, new research by my colleagues and myself shows that most people are still not aware of the full extent of meat’s climate impacts. We examined how citizens in America and the Netherlands assess various food and energy-related options for tackling climate change. We presented representative groups of more than 500 people in both countries with three food-related options (eat less meat; eat local and seasonal produce; and eat organic produce) and three energy-related options (drive less; save energy at home; and install solar panels). We asked them whether they were willing to make these changes in their own lives, and whether they already did these things. While a majority of the surveyed people recognized meat reduction as an effective option for addressing climate change, the outstanding effectiveness of this option, in comparison to the other options, was only clear to 6% of the US population, and only 12% of the Dutch population.

That is remarkably low! Considering that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, wouldn’t we want people to know the power of a simple solution that is in their own hands? [Continue reading…]

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Climate-related death of coral around world alarms scientists

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The New York Times reports: Kim Cobb, a marine scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, expected the coral to be damaged when she plunged into the deep blue waters off Kiritimati Island, a remote atoll near the center of the Pacific Ocean. Still, she was stunned by what she saw as she descended some 30 feet to the rim of a coral outcropping.

“The entire reef is covered with a red-brown fuzz,” Dr. Cobb said when she returned to the surface after her recent dive. “It is otherworldly. It is algae that has grown over dead coral. It was devastating.”

The damage off Kiritimati is part of a mass bleaching of coral reefs around the world, only the third on record and possibly the worst ever. Scientists believe that heat stress from multiple weather events including the latest severe El Niño, compounded by climate change, has threatened more than a third of Earth’s coral reefs. Many may not recover.

Coral reefs are the crucial incubators of the ocean’s ecosystem, providing food and shelter to a quarter of all marine species, and they support fish stocks that feed more than one billion people. They are made up of millions of tiny animals, called polyps, that form symbiotic relationships with algae, which in turn capture sunlight and carbon dioxide to make sugars that feed the polyps.

An estimated 30 million small-scale fishermen and women depend on reefs for their livelihoods, more than one million in the Philippines alone. In Indonesia, fish supported by the reefs provide the primary source of protein.

“This is a huge, looming planetary crisis, and we are sticking our heads in the sand about it,” said Justin Marshall, the director of CoralWatch at Australia’s University of Queensland. [Continue reading…]

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Climate change is altering how the poles drift

Climate Central reports: The spin of the earth is a constant in our lives. It’s quite literally why night follows day.

And while that cycle isn’t going away, climate change is messing with the axis upon which our fair planet spins. Ice melting has caused a drift in polar motion, a somewhat esoteric term that tells scientists a lot about past and future climate and is crucial in GPS calculations and satellite communication.

Polar motion refers to the periodic wobble and drift of the poles. It’s been observed for more than 130 years, but the process has been going on for eons driven by mass shifts inside the earth as well as ones on the surface. For decades, the north pole had been slowly drifting toward Canada, but there was a shift in the drift about 15 years ago. Now it’s headed almost directly down the Greenwich Meridian (sorry Canada no pole for you, eh).

Like many other natural processes large and small, from sea levels to wildfires, climate change is also playing a role in this shift.

“Since about 2000, there has been a dramatic shift in this general direction,” Surendra Adhikari, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said. “It is due to climate change without a doubt. It’s related to ice sheets, in particular the Greenland ice sheet.” [Continue reading…]

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Big oil spent $115m ‘obstructing’ climate laws in 2015, NGO says

Climate Change News reports: Giants of the oil and gas industry spent millions of dollars last year to manipulate lawmakers and public discourse on climate change, an NGO claimed on Thursday.

Exxon, Shell and three trade associations spent US$114 million, according to data compiled by London-based non-profit organisation Influence Map.

Lobby group the American Petroleum Institute spent the most at $65 million, followed by Exxon Mobil on $27m and Shell on $22m last year.

Two smaller trade groups, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association totalled about $9m. [Continue reading…]

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China wants to power the world through a global grid

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Adam Minter writes: China’s State Grid Corporation, the world’s biggest power company, is on an impressive buying binge. As Bloomberg News reports, the company is “actively in bidding” for power assets in Australia, hoping to add them to a portfolio of Italian, Brazilian, and Filipino companies. The goal isn’t simply to invest, however. State Grid’s Chairman Liu Zhenya has a plan that he believes will stall global warming, put millions of people to work and bring about world peace by 2050.

The idea is to connect these and other power grids to a global grid that will draw electricity from windmills at the North Pole and vast solar arrays in Africa’s deserts, and then distribute the power to all corners of the world. Among other benefits, according to Liu, the system will produce “a community of common destiny for all mankind with blue skies and green land.”

It’s a crazy idea, of course. And if this so-called Global Energy Interconnection had been proposed by anyone other than the chairman of the world’s wealthiest power company, it wouldn’t deserve much consideration. But the $50 billion in cash generated by State Grid last year gives the company the deep pockets and political standing to put its priorities on the international energy agenda.

Last September, no less than Chinese President Xi Jinping publicly called for talks on establishing a global grid, while leading research organizations — including the Argonne National Laboratory and the Edison Electrical Institute — have participated in conferences looking at what would be needed to establish one. And whether or not it’s ever built, the technologies that underlie Liu’s big idea are already changing how power will be generated and transmitted in coming decades. [Continue reading…]

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Climate change will blow a $2.5tn hole in global financial assets, study warns

The Guardian reports: Climate change could cut the value of the world’s financial assets by $2.5tn (£1.7tn), according to the first estimate from economic modelling.

In the worst case scenarios, often used by regulators to check the financial health of companies and economies, the losses could soar to $24tn, or 17% of the world’s entire assets, and wreck the global economy.

However, the research also showed the financial sense in taking action to keep climate change under the 2C danger limit agreed by the world’s nations. In this scenario, the value of financial assets would fall by $315bn less, even when the costs of cutting emissions are included.

“Our work suggests to long-term investors that we would be better off in a low-carbon world,” said Prof Simon Dietz, at the London School of Economics, the lead author of the study. “Pension funds should be getting on top of this issue, and many of them are.” But he said awareness in the financial sector was low.

Mark Campanale, at the thinktank Carbon Tracker Initiative, said the actual financial losses from unchecked global warming could be higher than estimated by the financial model behind the new study: “It could be a lot worse. The loss of financial capital can be a lot higher and faster than the GDP losses [used to model the costs of climate change in the study]. Just look at value of coal giant Peabody Energy: it was worth billions just a few years ago and now it is worth nothing.” [Continue reading…]

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