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.
Reuters reports: The effects of climate change endanger U.S. military operations and could increase the danger of international conflict, according to three new documents endorsed by retired top U.S. military officers and former national security officials.
“There are few easy answers, but one thing is clear: the current trajectory of climatic change presents a strategically-significant risk to U.S. national security, and inaction is not a viable option,” said a statement published on Wednesday by the Center for Climate and Security, a Washington-based think tank.
It was signed by more than a dozen former senior military and national security officials, including retired General Anthony Zinni, former commander of the U.S. Central Command, and retired Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of the Pacific Command until last year.
They called on the next U.S. president to create a cabinet level position to deal with climate change and its impact on national security. [Continue reading…]
Hallie Golden writes: An increasing number of Americans now acknowledge that climate change exists and is exacerbated by humans. But, even as the uproar from climate deniers diminishes into a whisper, a fresh and potentially detrimental ideology is taking hold: neoskepticism.
Neoskeptics aren’t deniers. They recognize the prevalence and cause of climate change, but still, they advocate against large-scale efforts to stop it. Why? Some believe there’s too much uncertainty surrounding the issue. Others think stopping climate change would simply be too costly. But whatever their reasons, this increasingly popular perspective has started to worry scientists. With this summer seeing the warmest global temperatures in NASA’s records, neoskepticism could lead to “policy paralysis,” says Paul Stern, co-author of a recent report about the ideology in the journal Science. By waiting for more certainty on the threat of climate change or more evidence of its catastrophic nature, the country is “postponing decisions that need to be made,” he says.
Neoskeptics have been increasingly vocal in the public sphere over the last two years. In 2014, American climatologist Judith Curry wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the need to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions is less urgent than many assume. In the same publication, Steven Koonin, the director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University, argued that we should invest in “accelerating the development of low-emissions technologies and in cost-effective energy-efficiency measures,” but not much else, since “we are very far from the knowledge needed to make good climate policy.” [Continue reading…]
Inside Climate News reports: China and the United States, the two biggest emitters of the carbon pollution that has brought global warming to a crisis point, formally ratified the Paris climate agreement on Saturday. Their move propels the ambitious global pact toward its entry into force by the end of this year.
The leaders acted the day before a meeting in Hangzhou of the G20 group of international economic powerhouses. Those nations account for almost all current emissions, and must all act swiftly to strengthen their commitments if the Paris accord is to meet its objectives.
Appearing together, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping pledged to extend their countries’ Paris commitments to encompass “mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies.” The treaty’s ultimate objective is to bring the whole world to zero net emissions of greenhouse gases as quickly as possible.
For the Paris agreement to take force early, 55 countries representing 55 percent of global CO2 emissions must ratify it. Together, China and the U.S. account for about 38 percent of emissions. According to the World Resources Institute, 24 other parties have already ratified, but together those parties only account for another 1 percent of emissions. The fastest way to hit the 55/55 goal would be for the European Union and a smattering of additional countries to sign on. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: With China, the US and a host of smaller countries signed up, the biggest emitter left outstanding is the EU, which negotiated the agreement as a bloc. The EU is unlikely to be able to ratify the accord any time soon, because of the mechanics of getting legal surety from its 28 member states.
There is a way around this. Nicholas Stern, chairman of the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and author of the landmark 2006 report on the economics of climate change, called on EU member states and the UK to ratify the agreement individually, through their national parliaments, to speed up the process. EU members are legally parties to the accord at a national as well as a bloc level, so if enough major countries – including the UK and Germany – were to enact the necessary processes then the accord could pass the final hurdle.
“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Stern told the Guardian. “It’s very important for the credibility of the process [of gaining global agreement on climate action through the UN] to get the treaty ratified this year. EU countries can and should ratify as soon as possible. It’s not sensible to hold back, when they could make a big difference.” [Continue reading…]
Science reports: Last month, geographer Richard Heede received a subpoena from Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Smith, a climate change doubter, became concerned when the attorneys general of several states launched investigations into whether ExxonMobil had committed fraud by sowing doubts about climate change even as its own scientists knew it was taking place. The congressman suspected a conspiracy between the attorneys general and environmental advocates, and he wanted to see all the communications among them. Predictably, his targets included advocacy organizations such as Greenpeace, 350.org, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. They also included Heede, who works on his own aboard a rented houseboat on San Francisco Bay in California.
Heede is less well known than his fellow recipients, but his work is no less threatening to the fossil fuel industry. Heede (pronounced “Heedie”) has compiled a massive database quantifying who has been responsible for taking carbon out of the ground and putting it into the atmosphere. Working alone, with uncertain funding, he spent years piecing together the annual production of every major fossil fuel company since the Industrial Revolution and converting it to carbon emissions.
Heede’s research shows that nearly two-thirds of anthropogenic carbon emissions originated in just 90 companies and government-run industries. Among them, the top eight companies — ranked according to annual and cumulative emissions below — account for 20 percent of world carbon emissions from fossil fuels and cement production since the Industrial Revolution. [Continue reading…]
Climate Central reports: Years of number crunching that had seemed to corroborate the climate benefits of American biofuels were starkly challenged in a science journal on Thursday, with a team of scientists using a new approach to conclude that the climate would be better off without them.
Based largely on comparisons of tailpipe pollution and crop growth linked to biofuels, University of Michigan Energy Institute scientists estimated that powering an American vehicle with ethanol made from corn would have caused more carbon pollution than using gasoline during the eight years studied.
Most gasoline sold in the U.S. contains some ethanol, and the findings, published in Climatic Change, were controversial. They rejected years of work by other scientists who have relied on a more traditional approach to judging climate impacts from bioenergy — an approach called life-cycle analysis. [Continue reading…]
Oliver Milman writes: After a century of shooing away hunters, tending to trails and helping visitors enjoy the wonder of the natural world, the guardians of America’s most treasured places have been handed an almost unimaginable new job – slowing the all-out assault climate change is waging against national parks across the nation.
As the National Parks Service (NPS) has charted the loss of glaciers, sea level rise and increase in wildfires spurred by rising temperatures in recent years, the scale of the threat to US heritage across the 412 national parks and monuments has become starkly apparent.
As the National Parks Service turns 100 this week, their efforts to chart and stem the threat to the country’s history faces a daunting task. America’s grand symbols and painstakingly preserved archaeological sites are at risk of being winnowed away by the crashing waves, wildfires and erosion triggered by warming temperatures.
The Statue of Liberty is at “high exposure” risk from increasingly punishing storms. A national monument dedicated to abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who will be enshrined on a new $20 note, could be eaten away by rising tides in Maryland. The land once walked by Pocahontas and Captain John Smith in Jamestown, the first English settlement in the US, is surrounded by waters rising at twice the global average and may be beyond rescue.
These threats are the latest in a pile of identified calamities to befall national parks and monuments due to climate change. Receding ice, extreme heat and acidifying oceans are morphing America’s landscapes and coasts at a faster pace than at any time in human history. [Continue reading…]