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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New studies reveal climate extremes from fire to ice

Climate Central: Climate scientists don’t just rely on computer models and contemporary observations to understand the intimate relationship between CO2 in the atmosphere and environmental conditions on Earth. They also look to the ancient past — and two reports in recent days have made it clear how intimate that relationship is. One chronicles an episode 2.4 billion years in the past, when the entire planet was covered in a layer of ice hundreds of feet thick, oceans and all, while global average temperatures hovered around 40° F below zero.

A massive infusion of heat-trapping CO2 from powerful volcanoes — more CO2 than we’re likely to emit in many hundreds of years, to be sure — saved the planet from this so-called Snowball Earth environment. The second report covers an event that happened about 250 million years ago, and this time the effects weren’t so benign. Another set of gigantic eruptions poured enough CO2 into the air not only to warm the planet drastically, but also to acidify the oceans so profoundly that some 90 percent of all ocean species died off, followed by two-thirds of land species. It’s the worst mass extinction, as far as we know, in history.

These monumental episodes of climate change, both linked intimately to levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, are a testament to the dramatic effects this greenhouse gas has on the entire planet. So it’s no surprise that the smaller amounts we’re emitting could have a significant effect as well. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Klare: Is the age of renewable energy already upon us?

Consider the extremes of our present climate moment by the numbers. Recently, Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman professor of economics at the University of Chicago and the former chief economist of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, did a little calculating. He was curious to find out just how much the planet’s temperature might rise if we managed to burn all the fossil fuel reserves that “can be extracted with today’s technology.” Without beating around the (burning) bush, the answer he came up with was a staggering 16.2 degrees Fahrenheit. To put that in perspective, climate science suggests that unless we keep the temperature rise from the burning of fossil fuels under 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) catastrophic changes are likely to occur, including, as Greenstone points out, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which will reshape human life on this planet in grim ways. And even that 3.6-degree mark might be too high. Add in another nearly 13 degrees of warming and you could have the definition of an uninhabitable planet (at least by humans). It should give us all the chills — or more appropriately, leave us with fever dreams of a future in which humanity was incapable of getting itself together, dealing with entrenched fossil fuel interests, and saving a planet that had for so many tens of thousands of years been the rather habitable home of our species.

On the other hand, look at Spain: as Juan Cole reported recently at his Informed Comment website, that country is now getting almost 70% of its electricity in ways that do not generate carbon dioxide. That’s little short of extraordinary. It’s possible that somewhere down the line that country could even become “the first net-carbon-zero G-20 state”! As of this March, it received 22.5% of its electricity from wind power (with solar trailing badly behind), 17.5% from hydro power, and 23.8% from nuclear power (which will make some environmentalists uneasy). And the country hopes to almost double its wind power contribution to 40% in the next five years.

In other words, depending on what you care to look at, this planet offers a grim vision of humanity preparing to scourge and flood its own home or — and this is a new development — a more hopeful one. In that, humanity, under pressure and moving too slowly by half, is nonetheless beginning to reshape our world yet again in unexpected ways, using new technology that is quickly becoming ever cheaper and easier to employ. TomDispatch energy expert Michael Klare suggests today that while nothing may be settled, damage is clearly being done, and the fossil fuel machine remains deeply entrenched and determined, there are nonetheless unexpected signs that we, like the cavalry of movie fame, may finally be saddling up to ride to our own rescue. This is the sort of news that should stir the blood and soul in all of us. It should leave us thankful for the years of toil in the wilderness by climate activists like those at 350.org who have worked so hard to bring us to awareness of the dangers ahead, and of activists like those in the fossil fuel divestment movement who want to shake what may be the most profitable industry in history to its core. Tom Engelhardt

The renewable revolution
Four reasons why the transition from fossil fuels to a green energy era is gaining traction
By Michael T. Klare

Don’t hold your breath, but future historians may look back on 2015 as the year that the renewable energy ascendancy began, the moment when the world started to move decisively away from its reliance on fossil fuels. Those fuels — oil, natural gas, and coal — will, of course, continue to dominate the energy landscape for years to come, adding billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon to the atmosphere.  For the first time, however, it appears that a shift to renewable energy sources is gaining momentum.  If sustained, it will have momentous implications for the world economy — as profound as the shift from wood to coal or coal to oil in previous centuries.

[Read more…]

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Fossil fuel divestment makes good financial sense

Hunter Lovins argues that investors don’t need to decide whether they believe in climate change: In early 2012 Seeking Alpha, an energy industries financial advisory service with more than three million registered clients cautioned against panicking and selling coal stocks, concluding that even though Peabody Coal’s stock value had fallen 45%, it was nicely undervalued, and after all, such companies had always grown: “Currently, Peabody Energy’s share price is at just over $36 (£25), but I think it has the potential to hit the $45 barrier before the end of 2012 because its Australian interests are likely to be snapped up by China and Indian Steel companies”, the advisors wrote. Seems like a strong argument for staying invested in coal, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately for Peabody’s investors, their trust in China’s insatiable hunger for coal was ill-advised: A 2015 report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, (IEEFA) noted that although “China’s coal demand grew 10% annually over the decade to 2011, the rate of growth halved to 4-6% in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, China’s coal demand has actually declined by 2.1% year-on-year.”

I know these are a lot of numbers for a simple bar talk. And, usually, the China argument doesn’t even come up before the third drink when everyone feels they can win any fight just by quoting a big number. But the changing reality in China might make you want to wait with that second sip.

“While real economic growth exceeded 7%, electricity demand grew by less than 4%”, the IEEFA study said. Rapid supply diversification saw China’s coal consumption decline 2% and coal imports fall by 11% in 2014.

China’s coal demand will permanently peak by 2016 and decline thereafter, the report predicts.

“Coal companies’ underperformance against the global equity market is unprecedented,” said IEEFA’s Tim Buckley. “A more than 50% decline in coal prices has seen most listed coal companies globally lose 80-90% of their equity market value in the last four years. While the sun will undoubtedly rise for renewable energy in 2015, for coal, there remains a lot further to fall.”

Today Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, is trading below $5 per share. Investors betting that coal will rebound are very likely to find their assets stranded.

Conversely, renewable industries are prospering. A recent study by Agora Energiewende, a German think-tank, found that solar electricity is already a low-cost renewable energy technology. Large-scale photovoltaic installations in Germany fell from over 40 cents per kilowatt-hour (c/kWh) in 2005 to 9 c/kWh in 2014. Even lower prices have been reported in sunnier regions of the world. Most interesting for investors, solar will soon be the cheapest form of electricity in many regions of the world. Even conservative scenarios which assumed no dramatic technological breakthroughs saw no end to cost reduction, with costs of 4-6 c/kWh expected by 2025, and 2-4 c/kWh by 2050.

Deutsche Bank analyst, Vishal Shah, agrees, predicting that rooftop solar will be the cheapest electricity option for everyone in the US by 2016. [Continue reading…]

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Where is Hillary on climate change?

ClimateWire reports: Over the past year, she has toughened her rhetoric against climate science-denying Republicans and recently brought on former White House adviser John Podesta, architect of Obama’s climate strategy, to run her campaign.

But that might not be enough for the green base of voters who might view Clinton with a dose of skepticism for taking a neutral stand on the Keystone XL pipeline. They argue that with Republicans sharpening their knives against President Obama’s power plant emissions cuts, the United States needs a president who can be counted on to defend and advance U.S. climate policy.

Some activists said they remain bitter that international negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, did not result in a legally binding deal and question whether Clinton is the right person to champion a low-carbon future.

“I think she has an awful lot to prove to environmentalists,” said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. “Her record so far is undistinguished.”

“She was our nation’s top diplomat when the climate fiasco in Copenhagen unfolded,” he added. “So I think it’s going to take more than just standing up and saying ‘I believe in climate science’ to convince many of us that she really understands the level of crisis we’re dealing with.”

To rally those voters who are passionate about addressing climate change, Clinton might have to build on Obama’s rules on power plant emissions, not just defend them, McKibben said. That might mean banning new oil drilling in the Atlantic and the Arctic in order to, in his words, “leave most of the carbon we know about underground.”

In announcing her bid for 2016, Clinton did not mention climate change or give any indication of how she would handle Obama’s climate legacy. [Continue reading…]

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The pope as messenger: making climate change a moral issue

By Andy Hoffman, University of Michigan and Jenna White, University of Michigan

This summer, Pope Francis plans to release an encyclical letter in which he will address environmental issues, and very likely climate change.

His statement will have a profound impact on the public debate. For one, it will elevate the spiritual, moral and religious dimensions of the issue. Calling on people to protect the global climate because it is sacred, both for its own God-given value and for the life and dignity of all humankind, not just the affluent few, will create far more personal commitment than a government call for action on economic grounds or an activist’s call on environmental grounds.

Making a case on theological grounds builds on long-standing arguments in the Catholic catechism that environmental degradation is a violation of the seventh commandment (Thou shalt not steal) as it involves theft from future generations and the poor. Against such a moral backdrop, the very call to “make the business case to protect the global climate” – a common tactic to argue for action on climate change – seems rather absurd. The pope’s statement will shift the tenor of the public and political conversation in needed ways.

Transcending political tribes

But perhaps even more important than the content of the message is the messenger: the pope.

The public debate over climate change today has been caught up in the so-called “culture wars.” The debate is less about carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas models than it is about opposing values and worldviews. In the United States, those opposing cultural worldviews map onto our partisan political system – the majority of liberal Democrats believe in climate change, the majority of conservative Republicans do not. People of either party give greater weight to evidence and arguments that support pre-existing beliefs and expend disproportionate energy trying to refute views or arguments that are contrary to those beliefs.

Further, research shows that we have begun to identify members of our political tribes based on their position on climate change. We openly consider evidence when it is accepted or ideally presented by sources that represent our cultural community, and we dismiss information that is advocated by sources that represent groups whose values we reject.

[Read more…]

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Climate scientists need to produce more ‘actionable science’

John Upton writes: When a San Francisco panel began mulling rules about building public projects near changing shorelines, its self-described science translator, David Behar, figured he would just turn to the U.N.’s most recent climate assessment for guidance on future sea levels.

He couldn’t.

Nor could Behar, leader of the city utility department’s climate program, get what he needed from a 2012 National Research Council report dealing with West Coast sea level rise projections. A National Climate Assessment paper dealing with sea level rise didn’t seem to have what he needed, either. Even after reviewing two California government reports dealing with sea level rise, Behar says he had to telephone climate scientists and review a journal paper summarizing the views of 90 experts before he felt confident that he understood science’s latest projections for hazards posed by the onslaught of rising seas.

“You sometimes have to interview the authors of these reports to actually understand what they’re saying,” Behar said. “On the surface,” the assessments and reports that Behar turned to “all look like they’re saying different things,” he said. “But when you dive deeper — with the help of the authors, in most cases — they don’t disagree with one another very much.”

Governments around the world, from Madison, Wis., and New York City to the Obama Administration and the European Union have begun striving in recent years to adapt to the growing threats posed by climate change. But the burst of adaptation planning threatens to be hobbled by cultural and linguistic divides between those who practice science and those who prepare policy.[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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If we burn all our fossil fuels, we’ll burn up our planet

Michael Greenstone, who runs the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, writes: I’ve tallied the projected warming from fossil fuels extracted so far and the projected warming capacity of various fossil fuels that can be extracted with today’s technology. This accounting was done by taking the embedded carbon dioxide in each energy source and using a standard model for the relationship between cumulative carbon emissions and long-run temperature changes based on a 2009 Nature article. (More detail on the method is available here.)

For those who don’t like suspense, here’s the total: an astonishing 16.2 degrees. And here’s how that breaks down. Since the industrial revolution, fossil fuels have warmed the planet by about 1.7 degrees. We are already experiencing the consequences of this warming. In recent weeks, we have learned that the world had its warmest winter on record and that Arctic sea ice hit a new low, even as intense storms continue to inflict harm on communities globally.

Next, look at fossil fuel reserves, the deposits we know to be recoverable under today’s prices and technology. That is, they are inexpensive to access. If we were to use all of this coal, natural gas and petroleum, the planet would warm by an additional 2.8 degrees. Add the heat from those reserves to the 1.7 degrees from what has already been emitted, and you get a world that is 4.5 degrees warmer since the industrial revolution; this is beyond scientists’ recommended 3.6-degree threshold.

The next set of fossil fuels in line is referred to as resources, rather than reserves. The difference is that they are recoverable with today’s technology, but not at current prices. There is 3.1 degrees’ worth of warming if the oil and natural gas in this category are utilized, which would lead to a total increase in global temperatures of 7.6 degrees.

This warming does not even consider our coal resources. A middle-of-the-road estimate of the coal that qualifies as resources indicates that its use would lead to an additional increase of 8.6 degrees. Thus, the use of all reserves and resources would lead to a total increase of 16.2 degrees. Today’s climate and planet would very likely be unrecognizable. [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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May Boeve: The new face of the climate change movement

The Guardian reports: At an age when many of her peers are making money in banks or making coffee in Brooklyn, 31-year-old May Boeve has quietly risen to the top of one of the world’s most disruptive and innovative environment organisations, 350.org.

Boeve is one of the few women at the helm of a large green group in the US – a stratum called “as white and male as a Tea Party meet-up”.

“There’s a structural sexism problem, full stop. If you look at the numbers, they don’t lie. There’s just not as many women leading, in that sense – running the organisation, being the figurehead,” said Boeve.

It’s a failure, said Boeve, that excludes people from environmentalism at a time when its aims are necessarily universal.

“So many people feel connected to the climate change movement and it’s important for everyone who’s involved, whether they’re a school teacher in the UK or a farmer in Burundi, to see themselves in this movement. So the more leaders who reflect the diversity of the movement, the broader, the bigger, the stronger the movement will be.”

The public emergence of Boeve has been a deliberate attempt to diversify the 350.org message. She took over as executive director of 350.org when she was just 27. But the organisation has been publicly dominated by the talismanic figure of Bill McKibben, who stepped down as chair of the 350 board late last year, but remains involved in the movement. [Continue reading…]

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Poll finds strong majority of Americans support an international climate agreement

Huffington Post reports: A new poll finds an overwhelming majority of Americans support an international agreement to cut planet-warming emissions.

The poll found 72 percent of likely 2016 voters said they support the United States signing on to an international agreement on climate change.

The Benenson Strategy Group conducted the polling for the environmental organizations Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists, and surveyed 1,000 expected voters.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said they thought the United States “should take the lead and make meaningful reductions in its carbon emissions and other gases that may cause global warming.” Even a majority of Republican respondents — 52 percent –- expressed support for the U.S. joining an international agreement on climate change. A much stronger percentage of Democrats, at 88 percent, supported it, as did 73 percent of independents.

John Coequyt, director of Sierra Club’s federal and international climate campaign, argues that the findings support the Obama administration’s pursuit of an international agreement at the United Nations meeting in Paris at the end of this year. [Continue reading…]

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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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Harvard’s intransigence on fossil fuel divestment

Bill McKibben writes: Thirty-five years ago, students began demanding that Harvard sell its stock in companies that supported South Africa’s racist regime. The university said no; it was only after years and years of organizing—everything from building a mock shantytown in Harvard Yard to electing Desmond Tutu (and Al Gore) to the Harvard Board of Overseers on a divestment platform—that the university began selling off its apartheid-tainted stock. When the issue was tobacco, it was years after the American Medical Association recommended that medical schools divest their shares that Harvard sold its holdings—and only after a medical student, Philip Huang, ran a clever radio campaign pointing out that then-President Derek Bok was supporting an industry “that markets death and disease to blacks, women, the poor, and Third World countries.”

Now the issue is merely the fate of the planet’s climate system. With it is the future of our civilizations. At the moment, we’re on track to raise the planet’s temperature 4 degrees Celsius by century’s end, which is the biggest thing we’ve ever done. Ask the folks already abandoning islands in the Pacific, or twiddling the faucet handle in drought-stricken São Paulo.

Climate change threatens not only humans but a huge percentage of the Earth’s other species—the plants and animals carefully cataloged in the endless file cabinets at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology or the Harvard University Herbaria. But as usual, Harvard is sticking by its time-honored playbook. Despite huge majorities of students demanding fossil fuel divestment, despite powerful letters from the faculty, and despite the example of institutions from Stanford to the Rockefeller family beginning to divest, the Corporation has said no. President Drew Gilpin Faust, in fact, has issued a letter explaining that the university should be “very wary of steps intended to instrumentalize our endowment in ways that would appear to position the university as a political actor rather than an academic institution.” Just as it was very wary of letting women take classes or taking a stand against tobacco or apartheid. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. pledges emissions cuts of up to 28% ahead of global climate treaty

The Guardian reports: The White House pledged to cut carbon pollution by up to 28% on Tuesday, boosting the prospects for an international agreement on climate change at the end of the year.

With the US pledge, the countries accounting for nearly 60% of greenhouse gas emissions from energy have outlined their plans for fighting climate change in the 2020s and beyond, the White House said in a conference call with reporters.

“That’s a big deal,” Brian Deese, the White House climate adviser wrote in a blog post announcing the pledge. “The United States’ target is ambitious and achievable, and we have the tools we need to reach it.”

Deese told the conference call the US expected to achieve emissions cuts of 26% to 28% by 2025 relative to 2005 levels and was on track for an 80% cut in emissions by 2050.

The climate commitments would be “locked in” by the time Barack Obama leaves, and could not easily be reversed by a Republican president or Republicans in Congress, officials told the conference call.

“The undoing of the kind of regulations that we are putting in place is something that is very tough to do,” Todd Stern, the state department climate envoy, said. “The kind of regulation we are putting in place does not get easily undone.” [Continue reading…]

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