Don’t let Paris attacks stop COP21 climate change deal, pleads Obama

The Guardian reports: Barack Obama has moved to ensure that the Paris attacks do not sabotage a crucial climate change summit in the city next week, urging his fellow leaders to attend and strike a new deal on global warming.

The US president spoke out amid concerns that security fears in Paris coupled with an understandable deflection of French attention away from the imminent two-week summit might undermine chances for a historic agreement to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

“I think it’s absolutely vital for every country, every leader, to send a signal that the viciousness of a handful of killers does not stop the world from doing vital business,” Obama said.

He added that world leaders had to show the murderous adversaries who killed at least 130 people “that we’re not afraid”. And the first chance to do that is next Monday, when the Paris climate change talks, known as COP21, start.

The Paris attacks have cast a deep shadow over COP21 – demonstrations have been banned and security has been stepped up – though none of the 130-plus heads of state and government due to attend has yet pulled out.

France has made a huge play of preparing for the summit, which is supposed to achieve a new global deal to curb emissions from 2020 and prevent the planet from catastrophic overheating. But in the wake of the 13 November attacks, there have been concerns that the French political leadership, and president François Hollande in particular, might have other things on their mind.

Privately, French officials insist they are determined not to let their agenda be set by terrorists. And some observers are hoping that the threat might galvanisethe talks to greater solidarity and urgency. [Continue reading…]


Conflict makes countries more vulnerable to climate change

Reuters reports: Syria, Libya and Yemen are among the countries whose ability to withstand climate change shocks and stresses has deteriorated most in the past five years, suggesting conflict makes people more vulnerable to climate impacts, researchers said.

The University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN), released on Tuesday, uses 46 indicators to measure climate change risks to 180 countries and how ready they are to accept investment that could help them cope with more extreme weather and rising seas.

The main contributing factors to the falling scores of the three fragile states in the Middle East and North Africa, riven by armed conflict, are increases in political instability, violence, corruption and poor rule of law, according to the index. [Continue reading…]


We have 15 years to halt biodiversity loss, can it be done?

By Richard Pearson, UCL

The UN’s ambitious new Sustainable Development Goals include a target to halt biodiversity loss by 2030. The SDGs have generated a great deal of comment, with questions raised as to whether the lofty aspirations can be turned into realistic policies. An article in The Lancet even dismissed the SDGs as nothing more than “fairy tales”.

So is halting biodiversity loss a fairy tale?

“Biodiversity” refers to the diversity of life on Earth. It includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems. There are any number of statistics that confirm its decline across the globe. For instance, the Red List of threatened species, developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), identifies 22,784 that are at risk of extinction – almost 30% of the species that have been assessed. By other measures, habitats continue to be destroyed and degraded, and population sizes of most wild species are in decline.

[Read more…]


Scientists confirm their fears about West Antarctica — that it’s inherently unstable

The Washington Post reports: It may be the biggest climate change story of the last two years.

In 2014, several research groups suggested that the oceanfront glaciers in the Amundsen Sea region of West Antarctica may have reached a point of “unstoppable” retreat due to warm ocean waters melting them from below. There’s a great deal at stake — West Antarctica is estimated to contain enough ice to raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters, or well over 10 feet, were it all to melt.

The urgency may now increase further in light of just published research suggesting that destabilization of the Amundsen sea’s glaciers would indeed undermine the entirety of West Antarctica, as has long been feared.

In a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Johannes Feldmann and Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research use a sophisticated climate model to study what will happen if these glaciers are, indeed, fully destabilized. And in essence, they find that the process of retreat doesn’t end with the region currently up against the ocean. [Continue reading…]


Nothing can compete with renewable energy, says top climate scientist

The Guardian reports: Catastrophic global warming can be avoided with a deal at a crunch UN climate change summit in Paris this December because “ultimately nothing can compete with renewables”, according to one of the world’s most influential climate scientists.

Most countries have already made voluntary pledges to roll out clean energy and cut carbon emissions, and Prof John Schellnhuber said the best hope of making nations keep their promises was moral pressure.

Schellnhuber is a key member of the German delegation attending the Paris summit and has advised Angela Merkel and Pope Francis on climate change.

He said there was reason for optimism about the Paris talks, where at least 80 heads of state are expected. “That is a very telling thing – a sign of hope – because people at the top level do not want to be tainted by failure,” he said.

If a critical mass of big countries implement their pledges, he said in an interview with the Guardian, the move towards a global low-carbon economy would gain unstoppable momentum. [Continue reading…]


Exxon, Keystone, and the turn against fossil fuels

Bill McKibben writes: The fossil-fuel industry — which, for two centuries, underwrote our civilization and then became its greatest threat — has started to take serious hits. At noon today, President Obama rejected the Keystone Pipeline, becoming the first world leader to turn down a major project on climate grounds. Eighteen hours earlier, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he’d issued subpoenas to Exxon, the richest and most profitable energy company in history, after substantial evidence emerged that it had deceived the world about climate change.

These moves don’t come out of the blue. They result from three things.

The first is a global movement that has multiplied many times in the past six years. Battling Keystone seemed utterly quixotic at first — when activists first launched a civil-disobedience campaign against the project, in the summer of 2011, more than ninety per cent of “energy insiders” in D.C. told a National Journal survey that they believed that President Obama would grant Transcanada a permit for the construction. But the conventional wisdom was upended by a relentless campaign carried on by hundreds of groups and millions of individual people (including, the international climate-advocacy group I founded). It seemed that the President didn’t give a speech in those years without at least a small group waiting outside the hall to greet him with banners demanding that he reject the pipeline. And the Keystone rallying cry quickly spread to protests against other fossil-fuel projects. One industry executive summed it up nicely this spring, when he told a conference of his peers that they had to figure out how to stop the “Keystone-ization” of all their plans. [Continue reading…]


India’s war on Greenpeace

The New York Times reports: Greenpeace India said in a statement on Friday that its permit to operate in India had been revoked on the grounds that it had falsified financial documents, the latest in a series of government actions taken against the environmental organization.

The move against the group is one of many “clumsy tactics to suppress free speech and dissenting voices” by the government, Vinuta Gopal, the interim executive director of Greenpeace India, said in the statement.

The organization will fight the authorities’ cancellation of the permit in court, she said in a telephone interview. [Continue reading…]

Samanth Subramanian wrote in August: After deciding not to sleep at all before her 6.50am flight out of Delhi, Priya Pillai felt slow and drowsy as she handed her passport over the immigration counter. It was a few hours past midnight on 11 January 2015; Pillai, a campaigner with Greenpeace India, knew that two full weeks of work awaited her in London. At check-in, she had secured an aisle seat, which made her happy. Now, as the official scanned her passport, Pillai sent idle texts to a colleague in Boston and pondered a plan to visit a friend in the north of England for the weekend.

Behind the counter, the official reached for a square of paper and began taking notes. His name was VK Ojha, Pillai remembers, and he looked fresh and alert. He had a neat moustache and wore a white shirt and navy blue trousers. Minutes went by, and Ojha scribbled on.

“Is there a problem?” Pillai asked.

“Yes, ma’am. Please wait here.”

Ojha vanished. From the next counter, a curious official asked for Pillai’s name and, after typing it into his computer, said: “Greenpeace?” Pillai nodded. When Ojha returned, he led Pillai to an office run by the immigration authority. There, he asked Pillai for her passport and told her – most politely, Pillai remembers – that she couldn’t leave the country.

Pillai is a voluble person, and she spent the next four hours demanding explanations from immigration officials. She got none. When an Air India employee came by, he was asked to take Pillai’s luggage off the plane, which terrified her. She thought: “They’ll put drugs in my bags, and they’ll say: ‘This is why we’re arresting you.’”

Pillai was sure that the state was not beyond framing her. Since 2010, she had been part of a Greenpeace group that was protesting the government’s decision to commission new coal mines in the woods of Mahan in central India. She was travelling to London, in fact, to talk to an informal group of British MPs about Mahan and about Essar Energy, an Indian power and fossil fuel giant incorporated in the UK in 2009 and listed briefly on the London Stock Exchange. Essar Energy was one of two companies licensed to mine in Mahan; Greenpeace argued that the filthy process of mining coal would pulverise acres of forest and displace thousands who lived in the area.

The government took a dim view of these protests. Some of Pillai’s colleagues had been arrested in Mahan on flimsy charges that never stuck. Police and intelligence agencies monitored the activists closely; Pillai was sure they were aware of her London trip. “I know my phone has been tapped for years,” she said. “I’ve had experiences [such as] getting on to a train from Delhi to go to Mahan, and even the people there don’t know I’m coming, but the police or the local intelligence people there will call these people in Mahan and say: ‘Priya’s coming, right?’ I’ve had bureaucrats tell me: ‘You should be careful. You’re under surveillance.’” [Continue reading…]


Exxon Mobil under investigation on lying to the public and investors about climate change

In September, Climate Change News reported: At a meeting in Exxon Corporation’s headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black addressed an audience of powerful oilmen. Speaking without a text as he flipped through detailed slides, Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.

“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” Black told Exxon’s Management Committee, according to a written version he recorded later.

It was July 1977 when Exxon’s leaders received this blunt assessment, well before most of the world had heard of the looming climate crisis.

A year later, Black, a top technical expert in Exxon’s Research & Engineering division, took an updated version of his presentation to a broader audience. He warned Exxon scientists and managers that independent researchers estimated a doubling of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and as much as 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) at the poles. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.

“Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed,” Black said, in the written summary of his 1978 talk.

His presentations reflected uncertainty running through scientific circles about the details of climate change, such as the role the oceans played in absorbing emissions. Still, Black estimated quick action was needed. “Present thinking,” he wrote in the 1978 summary, “holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”

Exxon responded swiftly. Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth. Exxon’s ambitious program included both empirical CO2 sampling and rigorous climate modeling. It assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company’s understanding of an environmental problem that posed an existential threat to the oil business.

Then, toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon curtailed its carbon dioxide research. In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. [Continue reading…]

In October, the Los Angeles Times reported: Back in 1990, as the debate over climate change was heating up, a dissident shareholder petitioned the board of Exxon, one of the world’s largest oil companies, imploring it to develop a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its production plants and facilities.

The board’s response: Exxon had studied the science of global warming and concluded it was too murky to warrant action. The company’s “examination of the issue supports the conclusions that the facts today and the projection of future effects are very unclear.”

Yet in the far northern regions of Canada’s Arctic frontier, researchers and engineers at Exxon and Imperial Oil were quietly incorporating climate change projections into the company’s planning and closely studying how to adapt the company’s Arctic operations to a warming planet.

Ken Croasdale, senior ice researcher for Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, was leading a Calgary-based team of researchers and engineers that was trying to determine how global warming could affect Exxon’s Arctic operations and its bottom line. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times now reports: The New York attorney general has begun a sweeping investigation of Exxon Mobil to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how those risks might hurt the oil business.

According to people with knowledge of the investigation, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a subpoena Wednesday evening to Exxon Mobil, demanding extensive financial records, emails and other documents.

The investigation focuses on whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as this year were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.

The sources said the scrutiny would include a period of at least a decade when Exxon Mobil funded outside groups that sought to undermine climate science, even as its in-house scientists were outlining the potential consequences — and uncertainties — to company executives. [Continue reading…]


China burns much more coal than reported, complicating climate talks

The New York Times reports: China, the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases from coal, has been burning up to 17 percent more coal a year than the government previously disclosed, according to newly released data. The finding could complicate the already difficult efforts to limit global warming.

Even for a country of China’s size, the scale of the correction is immense. The sharp upward revision in official figures means that China has released much more carbon dioxide — almost a billion more tons a year according to initial calculations — than previously estimated.

The increase alone is greater than the whole German economy emits annually from fossil fuels.

Officials from around the world will have to come to grips with the new figures when they gather in Paris this month to negotiate an international framework for curtailing greenhouse-gas pollution. The data also pose a challenge for scientists who are trying to reduce China’s smog, which often bathes whole regions in acrid, unhealthy haze. [Continue reading…]


Michael Klare: Are resource wars our future?

These days, all you have to do is look around if you want your hair to stand on end on the subject of our future on this planet.  Here’s just a little relatively random list of recent news on climate-change-related happenings.

Mexico was recently hit by the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, average global temperatures for September ran off the rails.  (“This marks the fifth consecutive month a monthly high temperature record has been set and is the highest departure from average for any month among all 1,629 months in the record that began in January 1880.”)  It was the seventh month of 2015 to be “record shattering” and the year itself looks as if it might cumulatively be the same.  (By now, this story is considered so humdrum and expectable that it didn’t even make the front page of my hometown newspaper!)  The cataclysmic civil war, terror war, and international conflict in Syria is being reclassified as the first climate-change war based on the staggering drought that preceded it.  That, in fact, has been called “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago.”  Turning to colder climes, ice in Antarctica is melting so unexpectedly quickly that, according to the latest research, the continent’s ice shelves might be heading for collapse by 2100, guaranteeing a future rise in sea levels of potentially staggering proportions.  Meanwhile, last week you could go online and watch dramatic video evidence of the melting of Greenland — rivers of water raging across a dissolving ice shelf that, one of these decades, will raise sea levels by an estimated 20 feet globally.  And oh yes, for those of you curious about the hotter regions, a new study indicates that heat waves in the Persian Gulf may be so fierce before or by the end of this century that, in some of parts of the oil heartlands of the planet, they might quite literally endanger human survival.

Need I go on?  Need I mention why the upcoming climate change confab in Paris in a few weeks matters big time? Need I add that, whatever agreements may be reached there, they are essentially guaranteed not to be enough to bring global warming truly under control.  And in that context, if you think that a Greater Middle East with five failed states in it since 2001 is already a nightmare, consider TomDispatch regular Michael Klare’s vision of a resource-war-torn planet in a “record-shattering” future of abysmal heat and climate tipping points.  If you want to know what’s at stake for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, read this article. Tom Engelhardt

Why the Paris climate summit will be a peace conference
Averting a world of failed states and resource wars
By Michael T. Klare

At the end of November, delegations from nearly 200 countries will convene in Paris for what is billed as the most important climate meeting ever held.  Officially known as the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP-21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the 1992 treaty that designated that phenomenon a threat to planetary health and human survival), the Paris summit will be focused on the adoption of measures that would limit global warming to less than catastrophic levels. If it fails, world temperatures in the coming decades are likely to exceed 2 degrees Celsius (3.5 degrees Fahrenheit), the maximum amount most scientists believe the Earth can endure without experiencing irreversible climate shocks, including soaring temperatures and a substantial rise in global sea levels.

A failure to cap carbon emissions guarantees another result as well, though one far less discussed.  It will, in the long run, bring on not just climate shocks, but also worldwide instability, insurrection, and warfare.  In this sense, COP-21 should be considered not just a climate summit but a peace conference — perhaps the most significant peace convocation in history.

[Read more…]


Why Indonesia can’t stamp out fires that have cast a haze over South-East Asia

By Scott Edwards, University of Birmingham

The South-East Asian haze crisis has made Indonesia very unpopular with its neighbours. Yet its government can’t do much about it. Local elites, who call the shots in the forested regions, don’t want to tackle the crisis – and they’re able to stand up to national leaders in Jakarta.

The haze is caused by man-made forest fires, mostly on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, often started to clear land for palm oil plantations. It’s an annual event, though this year El Niño has meant drier conditions and thus particularly bad haze – the worst since 1997.

During a major haze year, smoky air can harm the health of an estimated 75m people. It has been estimated that the fires will cost the Indonesian government $47 billion – and Singaporean and Malaysia’s will also be affected, thanks to airport and business closures and increased healthcare costs.

The fires have tripled Indonesia’s carbon emissions this year – in just a few months the fires alone have emitted more carbon than the annual emissions of Germany or Japan.

[Read more…]


Climate change implicated in death of more than half an entire species of endangered antelopes in less than a month

Carl Zimmer writes: A mysterious die-off of endangered antelopes last spring in Central Asia was even more extensive than originally thought, killing more than half of the entire species in less than a month, scientists have found.

“I’ve worked in wildlife disease all my life, and I thought I’d seen some pretty grim things,” Richard A. Kock, of the Royal Veterinary College in London, said in a telephone interview. “But this takes the biscuit.”

At a scientific meeting last week in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Dr. Kock and his colleagues reported that they had narrowed down the possible culprits. Climate change and stormy spring weather, they said, may have transformed harmless bacteria carried by the antelopes, called saigas, into lethal pathogens.

It is a scenario that deeply worries scientists. “It’s not going to be something the species can survive,” Dr. Kock said. “If there are weather triggers that are broad enough, you could actually have extinction in one year.” [Continue reading…]


Why did it take the U.S. so long to build its first offshore wind farm?

Slate reports: Wind-generated electricity has become a big business in the United States. From virtually nothing a decade ago, it has boomed to account for about 5 percent of electricity generated each year. In certain states, at certain times, cheap, emission-free wind can account for a huge chunk of supply, as happened recently in Texas. Wind adds capacity in large chunks — a wind farm may consist of scores of turbines arrayed across vast expanses of land. So far this year, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, nearly 3 gigawatts of wind capacity has come online in the U.S., accounting for 40 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity.

But although the U.S. has become a global leader in wind, there’s a subsector in which it’s lagged behind: offshore wind.

Around the world, and especially in northern Europe, anchoring wind turbines to the bed of the sea—where the wind is consistent and strong—has become a huge business. Denmark has installed so many offshore wind turbines that it often produces far more wind power than it can actually use. Earlier this week, DONG Energy announced plans to develop the largest offshore wind farm in the world, an 87-turbine site off the coast of Wales with a capacity of 660 megawatts. That’s about the size of a decent coal-fired plant. [Continue reading…]


It’s completely ridiculous to think that humans could live on Mars

Danielle and Astro Teller write: Our 12-year-old daughter who, like us, is a big fan of The Martian by Andy Weir, said, “I can’t stand that people think we’re all going to live on Mars after we destroy our own planet. Even after we’ve made the Earth too hot and polluted for humans, it still won’t be as bad as Mars. At least there’s plenty of water here, and the atmosphere won’t make your head explode.”

What makes The Martian so wonderful is that the protagonist survives in a brutally hostile environment, against all odds, by exploiting science in clever and creative ways. To nerds like us, that’s better than Christmas morning or a hot fudge sundae. (One of us is nerdier than the other — I’m not naming any names, but his job title is “Captain of Moonshots.”) The idea of using our ingenuity to explore other planets is thrilling. Our daughter has a good point about escaping man-made disaster on Earth by colonizing Mars, though. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Mars has almost no surface water; a toxic atmosphere that is too thin for humans to survive without pressure suits; deadly solar radiation; temperatures lower than Antarctica; and few to none of the natural resources that have been critical to human success on Earth. Smart people have proposed solutions for those pesky environmental issues, some of which are seriously sci-fi, like melting the polar ice caps with nuclear bombs. But those aren’t even the real problems.

The real problems have to do with human nature and economics. First, we live on a planet that is perfect for us, and we seem to be unable to prevent ourselves from making it less and less habitable. We’re like a bunch of teenagers destroying our parents’ mansion in one long, crazy party, figuring that our backup plan is to run into the forest and build our own house. We’ll worry about how to get food and a good sound system later. Proponents of Mars colonization talk about “terraforming” Mars to make it more like Earth, but in the meantime, we’re “marsforming” Earth by making our atmosphere poisonous and annihilating our natural resources. We are also well on our way to making Earth one big desert, just like Mars. [Continue reading…]


A great tract of Earth is on fire

George Monbiot writes: I’ve often wondered how the media would respond when eco-apocalypse struck. I pictured the news programmes producing brief, sensational reports, while failing to explain why it was happening or how it might be stopped. Then they would ask their financial correspondents how the disaster affected share prices, before turning to the sport. As you can probably tell, I don’t have an ocean of faith in the industry for which I work. What I did not expect was that they would ignore it.

A great tract of Earth is on fire. It looks as you might imagine hell to be. The air has turned ochre: visibility in some cities has been reduced to 30 metres. Children are being prepared for evacuation in warships; already some have choked to death. Species are going up in smoke at an untold rate. It is almost certainly the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st century – so far.

And the media? It’s talking about the dress the Duchess of Cambridge wore to the James Bond premiere, Donald Trump’s idiocy du jour and who got eliminated from the Halloween episode of Dancing with the Stars. The great debate of the week, dominating the news across much of the world? Sausages: are they really so bad for your health?

What I’m discussing is a barbecue on a different scale. Fire is raging across the 5,000km length of Indonesia. It is surely, on any objective assessment, more important than anything else taking place today. And it shouldn’t require a columnist, writing in the middle of a newspaper, to say so. It should be on everyone’s front page. It is hard to convey the scale of this inferno, but here’s a comparison that might help: it is currently producing more carbon dioxide than the US economy. And in three weeks the fires have released more CO2 than the annual emissions of Germany. [Continue reading…]