Groups want David Koch unseated from Smithsonian, AMNH boards

InsideClimate News reports: A new campaign urging science museums to cut ties with David Koch has thrown a spotlight on the billionaire Koch brothers’ enormous philanthropic footprint and their oil interests, as they continue to undercut climate science, environmental regulations and clean energy.

Fifteen non-profits, including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Daily Kos, launched a petition calling on the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History in New York to remove David Koch from their boards of directors, because “he bankrolls groups that deny climate science.” The non-profits cite a letter to museums, also sent Tuesday, by more than 30 scientists asking for a severing of ties to all fossil fuel interests.

David Koch’s considerable donations to the country’s two premier natural history museums are part of the Koch family’s wide-ranging philanthropy. The family has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars to leading cultural, medical and academic institutions over the last 40 years, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

David and his brother Charles have also emerged as the nation’s top donors to a vast array of libertarian-conservative politicians and causes, creating and sustaining a large, influential network of advocacy groups and right-wing think tanks. Among the top causes championed by Koch-backed groups and individuals are climate denial and opposition to climate-friendly policies. [Continue reading…]

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Amazon’s trees removed nearly a third less carbon in last decade

The Guardian reports: The amount of carbon the Amazon’s remaining trees removed from the atmosphere fell by almost a third last decade, leading scientists to warn that manmade carbon emissions would need to be cut more deeply to tackle climate change.

Trees in untouched areas of the forest have been dying off across the basin at an increasing rate, found the study, published in Nature on Wednesday. Meanwhile the tree growth produced by higher CO2 levels in recent decades levelled off.

The authors said this may be because the Amazon’s seasonal weather variation had become more extreme. They also suggested more CO2 in the atmosphere was, counterintuitively, leading to trees dying younger.

Dr Roel Brienen of Leeds University said the Amazon was responsible for one-fifth to one-quarter of carbon sequestered on land, so any decline in its efficiency as a carbon sink was of consequence to efforts to combat climate change. [Continue reading…]

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UK energy minister backs divestment from ‘very risky’ coal assets

The Guardian reports: Pension and insurance funds should consider urgent divestment from “very risky” coal assets and then gradually retreat from oil and gas, Ed Davey, the UK energy and climate change secretary, has warned.

Throwing his weight behind the Guardian’s “Keep it in the ground” campaign, he said an analysis by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) which suggested 82% of coal reserves must remain untouched if temperature increases are to be kept below 2C – the widely accepted threshold for dangerous climate change – was “realistic”.

Davey said it was not up to an energy minister to tell fund managers how to run their businesses, but added that it was vital to introduce regulatory transparency that would drive investors from fossil fuels to renewables. [Continue reading…]

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An anthropocentric Anthropocene would be very short

New Scientist interviews journalist and biologist, Christian Schwägerl:

What does the term Anthropocene – the proposed name for the geological era we live in – mean to you?

Many people view the Anthropocene merely as the sum of all environmental problems. For me it is also the process of becoming aware of our collective responsibility in shaping the future Earth. Can we create a better or even positive geological record that will later tell the story of a planet that regenerated from exploitation?

Isn’t there a danger that if we define it as a geological era it will do the opposite and absolve people of responsibility?

There’s a risk that the Anthropocene idea is misunderstood as human entitlement to control planet Earth. That interpretation couldn’t be more wrong. The Anthropocene should be the age of responsibility, cooperation, creativity, inventiveness and humility. Fortunately, I see the debate moving in this direction.

A paper in Nature this week looked at arguments for an official start date for the Anthropocene. What’s your view?

The working group on the Anthropocene – part of the International Union of Geological Sciences – favours a date around 1950, because nuclear explosions and the start of modern consumerism really started to have long-term effects on the biosphere.

So how can we make something positive out of the Anthropocene?

The biggest challenge is to become less anthropocentric: we should stop optimising the planet for our short-term needs. Our economic system needs to start valuing healthy rainforest and the interests of future inhabitants of Earth. An anthropocentric Anthropocene would be very short. [Continue reading…]

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Greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth

ClimateProgress: Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions flatlined globally in 2014, while the world economy grew. The International Energy Agency reports that this marks “the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas that was not tied to an economic downturn.”

The IEA attributes this remarkable occurrence to “changing patterns of energy consumption in China and OECD countries.” As we reported last month, China cut its coal consumption 2.9 percent in 2014, the first drop this century. China is aggressively embracing energy efficiency, expanding clean energy, and shuttering the dirtiest power plants to meet its planned 2020 (or sooner) peak in coal use. As a result, Chinese CO2 emissions dropped 1 percent in 2014 even as their economy grew by 7.4 percent.

At the same time, the Financial Times points out “In the past five years, OECD countries’ economies grew nearly 7 percent while their emissions fell 4 percent, the IEA has found.” A big part of that is the United States, where fuel economy standards have reversed oil consumption trends — and renewable energy, efficiency, and natural gas have cut U.S. coal consumption.

All this “provides much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December,” explained IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, who was just named the next IEA Executive Director. “For the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.” [Continue reading…]

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Koch Industries refuses to comply with U.S. senators’ climate investigation

The Guardian reports: The Koch brothers’ conglomerate Koch Industries has refused to comply with an investigation by three Senate Democrats into whether the company has funded groups or researchers who deny or cast doubt on climate change.

In response to a request from senators Barbara Boxer, Edward Markey and Sheldon Whitehouse for information about Koch Industries’ support for scientific research, Koch general counsel Mark Holden invoked the company’s first amendment rights.

“The activity efforts about which you inquire, and Koch’s involvement, if any, in them, are at the core of the fundamental liberties protected by the first amendment to the United States constitution,” Holden wrote the senators in a letter dated 5 March and posted online by Koch Industries this week.

“I did not see any explanation or justification for an official Senate committee inquiry into activities protected by the first amendment,” he wrote, concluding, “we decline to participate in this endeavor and object to your apparent efforts to infringe upon and potentially stifle fundamental first amendment activities.”

Asked by the Guardian to elaborate on how the first amendment protects such funding and whether Koch Industries would pursue legal action to prevent disclosing information, Holden said: “Our letter speaks for itself.”

In his letter to the senators, Holden suggested that such funding represents part of “Koch’s right to participate in the debate of important public policy issues and its right of free association.”

On 25 February, the three Democratic senators – each a ranking member of committees that oversee environmental affairs – sent letters to 100 fossil fuel companies and thinktanks “to determine whether they are funding scientific studies designed to confuse the public and avoid taking action to cut carbon pollution, and whether the funded scientists fail to disclose the sources of their funding in scientific publications or in testimony to legislators.” [Continue reading…]

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Michael Klare: Is Big Oil finally entering a climate change world?

Welcome to the asylum! I’m talking, of course, about this country, or rather the world Big Oil spent big bucks creating.You know, the one in which the obvious — climate change — is doubted and denied, and in which the new Republican Congress is actively opposed to doing anything about it. Just the other day, for instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote a column in his home state paper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, adopting the old Nancy Reagan slogan “just say no” to climate change. The senator from Coalville, smarting over the Obama administration’s attempts to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, is urging state governors to simply ignore the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed “landmark limits” on those plants — to hell with the law and to hell, above all, with climate change. But it’s probably no news to you that the inmates are now running the asylum.

Just weeks ago, an example of Big Energy’s largess when it comes to sowing doubt about climate change surfaced.  A rare scientific researcher, Wei-Hock Soon, who has published work denying the reality of climate change — the warming of the planet, he claims, is a result of “variations in the sun’s energy” — turned out to have received $1.2 million from various fossil fuel outfits, according to recently released documents; nor did he bother to disclose such support to any of the publications using his work.  “The documents,” reported the New York Times, “show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as ‘deliverables’ that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.”

There’s nothing new in this.  Big Energy (like Big Tobacco before it) has for years been using a tiny cadre of scientists to sow uncertainty about the reality of climate change.  Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway wrote a now-classic investigative book, Merchants of Doubt, about just how the fossil fuel companies pulled this off, creating a public sense of doubt where a scientific one didn’t exist.  Now, the book has been made into a striking documentary film, which has just opened nationally.  Someday, perhaps, all of this will enter a court of law where those who knowingly perpetrated fraud on the American and global publics and in the process threatened humanity with a disaster of potentially apocalyptic proportions will get their just desserts.  On that distant day when those who ran the planet into the ground for corporate profits have to pay for their criminal acts, Merchants of Doubt will undoubtedly be exhibit one for the prosecution.

In the meantime, TomDispatch regular Michael Klare continues his invaluable chronicling at this site of the depredations of Big Oil on this fragile planet of ours. Tom Engelhardt

Big Oil’s broken business model
The real story behind the oil price collapse
By Michael T. Klare

Many reasons have been provided for the dramatic plunge in the price of oil to about $60 per barrel (nearly half of what it was a year ago): slowing demand due to global economic stagnation; overproduction at shale fields in the United States; the decision of the Saudis and other Middle Eastern OPEC producers to maintain output at current levels (presumably to punish higher-cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere); and the increased value of the dollar relative to other currencies. There is, however, one reason that’s not being discussed, and yet it could be the most important of all: the complete collapse of Big Oil’s production-maximizing business model.

[Read more…]

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Electric cars that run on coal

Climate Central: The world must move quickly to make electric vehicles more climate-friendly, or the world may not be able to meet its climate goals.

That’s the conclusion of a University of Toronto paper published in the March edition of Nature Climate Change, which argues that countries need to reduce the carbon intensity of their electric power supply in order to make electric transportation systems and other infrastructure an effective strategy for combating climate change.

Think about it this way: Every Nissan Leaf might run on electric power, but how that electricity was generated determines what greenhouse gas emissions the car is responsible for. If the car is charged on solar or geothermal power, the carbon footprint may be miniscule. If it’s charged on electricity generated using coal, it might prove as bad or worse for the climate than burning gasoline. (Climate Central created a road map for climate-friendly cars in 2013 showing where driving electric vehicles is most climate friendly in the U.S.)

The University of Toronto paper establishes an emissions threshold to help governments and consumers better understand whether it helps the climate to push for electric cars and the electrification of other modes of transportation based on the carbon intensity of the electricity those vehicles use. [Continue reading…]

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Global warming poised to hit rates unseen in 1,000 years

Climate Central: We are standing on the edge of a new world where warming is poised to accelerate at rates unseen for at least 1,000 years.

That’s the main finding of a paper published Monday in Nature Climate Change, which looked at the rate of temperature change over 40-year periods. The new research also shows that the Arctic, North America and Europe will be the first regions to transition to a new climate, underscoring the urgent need for adaptation planning.

“Essentially the world is entering a new regime where what is normal is going to continue to change and it’s changing at a rate that natural processes might not be able to keep up with,” Steven Smith, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said.

Historical records show temperatures have typically fluctuated up or down by about 0.2°F per decade over the past 1,000 years. But trends over the past 40 years have been decidedly up, with warming approaching 0.4°F per decade. That’s still within historical bounds of the past — but just barely.

By 2020, warming rates should eclipse historical bounds of the past 1,000 years — and likely at least 2,000 years — and keep rising. If greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trend, the rate of warming will reach 0.7°F per decade and stay that high until at least 2100. [Continue reading…]

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In Florida, officials ban term ‘climate change’

The Miami Herald reports: The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.

But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes.

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department with about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.” [Continue reading…]

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We need regenerative farming, not geoengineering

Charles Eisenstein writes about regenerative agriculture, but begins with a false piece of information: Geoengineering has been back in the news recently after the US National Research Council endorsed a proposal to envelop the planet in a layer of sulphate aerosols to reduce solar radiation and cool the atmosphere. [Ed. This isn’t true. See my note below.]

The proposal has been widely criticised for possible unintended consequences, such as ozone depletion, ocean acidification and reduced rainfall in the tropics. Perhaps even more troubling, geoengineering is a technological fix that leaves the economic and industrial system causing climate change untouched.

The mindset behind geoengineering stands in sharp contrast to an emerging ecological, systems approach taking shape in the form of regenerative agriculture. More than a mere alternative strategy, regenerative agriculture represents a fundamental shift in our culture’s relationship to nature.

Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic herd animals. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.

But these methods are impractical, expensive and slow in feeding a growing population, right?

Wrong. While comprehensive statistics are hard to come by, yields from regenerative methods often exceed conventional yields (see here and here for scientific research, and here and here for anecdotal examples). Likewise, since these methods build soil, crowd out weeds and retain moisture, fertiliser and herbicide inputs can be reduced or eliminated entirely, resulting in higher profits for farmers. No-till methods can sequester as much as a ton of carbon per acre annually (2.5 tons/hectare). In the US alone, that could amount to nearly a quarter of current emissions. [Continue reading…]

Contrary to Eisenstein’s claim that the NAS “endorsed” geoengineering, its reports were an attempt to assess “the potential impacts, benefits, and costs of two different proposed classes of climate intervention: (1) carbon dioxide removal and (2) albedo modification (reflecting sunlight).” And they reached this conclusion:

Climate change is a global challenge, and addressing it will require a portfolio of responses with varying degrees of risk and efficacy. There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change, together with adaptation of human and natural systems to make them more resilient to changing climate. However, if society ultimately decides to intervene in Earth’s climate, the Committee most strongly recommends any such actions be informed by a far more substantive body of scientific research — encompassing climate science and economic, political, ethical, and other dimensions — than is available at present.

Far from endorsing geoengineering, the unfortunately-named Committee on Geoengineering Climate, put its foot firmly on the brakes. They did not, as Eisenstein claimed, endorse a proposal to “envelop the planet in a layer of sulphate aerosols.” On the contrary, they said that such a method of attempting to reduce CO₂ would be “irrational and irresponsible.”

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Arctic sea ice is getting thinner, faster

Climate Central: While the steady disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic has been one of the hallmark effects of global warming, research shows it is not only covering less of the planet, but it’s also getting significantly thinner. That makes it more susceptible to melting, potentially altering local ecosystems, shipping routes and ocean and atmospheric patterns.

New data compiled from a range of sources — from Navy submarines to satellites — suggests that thinning is happening much faster than models have estimated, according to a study aiming to link those disparate data sources for the first time. University of Washington researchers Ron Lindsay and Axel Schweiger calculated that in the central part of the Arctic Ocean basin, sea ice has thinned by 65 percent since 1975. During September, when the ice reaches its annual minimum, ice thickness is down by a stunning 85 percent.

The information is key in determining when parts of the Arctic may become ice-free for at least part of the year in the coming century. [Continue reading…]

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Climate summit’s pledges on carbon cuts ‘won’t avert global disaster’

Robin McKie writes: Pledges at this year’s climate summit to cut carbon emissions are likely to fall far short of the targets needed to avoid heating the planet by more than 2C. That is the stark conclusion of a report by a team led by British economist Nicholas Stern.

The group, based at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, concludes that action planned by countries – in particular the European Union, the US and China – will still leave the world emitting 10bn tonnes of carbon a year in excess of levels needed to prevent global warming from having devastating consequences.

“Intended national contributions will not be consistent with the international goal of limiting the rise in global mean surface temperature to no more than 2C,” states the report, whose publication follows Saturday’s climate action march in London which organisers say was attended by 20,000 people.

Scientists say 2C is the maximum increase in temperature the world can tolerate without risking environmental mayhem – which could include rises in sea level, melting of the ice caps, drought in Africa, America and Asia, storms and ocean acidification. Loss of ice caps would lead to less solar energy being reflected back into space, while thawing tundra would release more methane and other greenhouse gases currently frozen in polar regions . Both processes could lead to even greater temperature rises. [Continue reading…]

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Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis

Robin McKie writes: Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.

The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.

Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.

In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise. [Continue reading…]

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Lured by marriage promises, climate victims fall into trafficking trap

Reuters reports: When the handsome young man came courting her, Sunetra could not believe her luck.

Born into a desperately poor family in India’s southern Sundarbans region – one of the parts of the world hardest hit by climate change – the lanky 18-year-old had few prospects. A flood the previous year had destroyed her home and left her family struggling financially.

A new start was what she needed, and her out-of-town suitor’s offer of marriage seemed ideal. He was content to wed without her family providing a dowry, and the pair quickly eloped.

But soon after their marriage, on a visit to Hyderabad, her new husband locked her in an apartment, in preparation for handing her to sex traffickers from Dubai. It quickly became apparent that the marriage had been a ruse.

“I had lost my face having ran away from my family, trusting this man,” she said, weeping at the betrayal of her “husband,” who she had believed was an insurance agent in Baruipur, a town about 30 km from Kolkata.

Sunetra is just one of more than 5,000 people who went missing in 2012 from the state of West Bengal, where the Sundarbans sits on a low, shifting delta where South Asia’s great rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, crime records show.

The forested islands of the Sundarbans are increasingly considered a trafficking hotspot as climate change impacts – such as worsening cyclones, sea level rise and loss of land to erosion and saltwater – mean worsening poverty and living conditions, and more desperation. [Continue reading…]

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Naomi Klein: ‘The economic system we have created global warming’

DER SPIEGEL: Ms. Klein, why aren’t people able to stop climate change?

Naomi Klein: Bad luck. Bad timing. Many unfortunate coincidences.

SPIEGEL: The wrong catastrophe at the wrong moment?

Klein: The worst possible moment. The connection between greenhouse gases and global warming has been a mainstream political issue for humanity since 1988. It was precisely the time that the Berlin Wall fell and Francis Fukuyama declared the “End of History,” the victory of Western capitalism. Canada and the US signed the first free-trade agreement, which became the prototype for the rest of the world.

SPIEGEL: So you’re saying that a new era of consumption and energy use began precisely at the moment when sustainability and restraint would have been more appropriate?

Klein: Exactly. And it was at precisely this moment that we were also being told that there was no longer any such thing as social responsibility and collective action, that we should leave everything to the market. We privatized our railways and the energy grid, the WTO and the IMF locked in an unregulated capitalism. Unfortunately, this led to an explosion in emissions.

SPIEGEL: You’re an activist, and you’ve blamed capitalism for all kinds of things over the years. Now you’re blaming it for climate change too?

Klein: That’s no reason for irony. The numbers tell the story. During the 1990s, emissions went up by 1 percent per year. Starting in 2000, they started to go up by an average of 3.4 percent. The American Dream was exported globally and consumer goods that we thought of as essential to meet our needs expanded rapidly. We started seeing ourselves exclusively as consumers. When shopping as a way of life is exported to every corner of the globe, that requires energy. A lot of energy. [Continue reading…]

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Subhankar Banerjee: Arctic nightmares

If Sarah Palin were president, we’d know just what it was: a drill-baby-drill administration.  Of course, there’s no mama grizzly in the White House, yet these last years have been a grizzly tale of the expansion of American oil and natural gas exploration and drilling from the fracking fields of Texas and North Dakota to the energy-rich Gulf of Mexico.  Most recently, the southern Atlantic seaboard, where there are an estimated untapped four billion barrels of oil and 37 trillion cubic feet of gas, was provisionally opened for future exploration and drilling.  So keep in mind that it wasn’t under Palin’s tutelage but Barack Obama’s that the United States experienced its staggering resurgence in the oil and gas sweepstakes, turning itself into “Saudi America.”

The math, which this president undoubtedly knows well, isn’t that complicated.  According to climate change scientists, of all the fossil fuel reserves believed to be left on the planet — and the ability of oil companies to successfully tap ever more extreme deposits has been a regular surprise in these years — scientists estimate that 80% must remain underground to prevent a planetary disaster.  And yet, it seems that ever fewer waters off ever fewer American coasts are now sacrosanct.  Back in the presidential campaign of 2008, Obama criticized his opponent, John McCain, for pushing the expansion of offshore drilling.  “It would have long-term consequences for our coastlines… When I’m president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium.”  And he was right that to expand significantly into coastal waters is indeed dangerous.  Sooner or later, it ensures more BP-style Gulf of Mexico environmental catastrophes, as well as the everyday cumulative disasters that, as marine biologist Carl Safina has written, simply come with oil company exploration and extraction efforts.

It’s true that a 2011 moratorium on new drilling and lease sales off the West Coast remains in place until 2018, but in addition to the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic, the most forbidding and dangerous waters off any American coast — those in the Arctic — are again in play.  You would think that this would be an open-and-shut no-go case for reasons that Subhankar Banerjee, leading Arctic photographer, environmentalist, and author of Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, lays out vividly today. (Back in 2003, a show of his photos on Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History was scandalously all but cancelled at a moment when the Bush administration was eager to open that pristine wilderness area to exploitation.)

If you’re talking about extracting extreme fossil fuels from an incredibly rich environment that is utterly treacherous and would be the single most obvious reserve on the planet to simply keep in the ground, this has to be the place.  And yet the president has long shown a special interest in those Arctic waters and Royal Dutch Shell’s urge to drill in them.  Now, at a time that would seem inauspicious as well as unappealing, given the glut of new American oil on the market (and falling oil prices), the Obama administration, despite a recent bow to Arctic preservation, stands at the edge of once again green-lighting a Shell foray into Arctic waters. You explain it. Tom Engelhardt

To drill or not to drill, that is the question
The Obama administration, Shell, and the fate of the Arctic Ocean
by Subhankar Banerjee

Here’s a Jeopardy!-style question for you: “Eight different species of whales can be seen in these two American seas.” Unless you’re an Iñupiaq, a marine biologist, or an Arctic enthusiast like me, it’s a pretty good guess that you can’t tell me what those seas are or what those whales are either. The answer: the Chukchi Sea and the adjacent Beaufort Sea, off Arctic Alaska, and you can commonly spot bowhead, beluga, and grey whales there, while fin whales, minkes, humpbacks, killer whales, and narwhals are all venturing into these seas ever more often as the Arctic and its waters continue to warm rapidly.

The problem, however, is that the major oil company Royal Dutch Shell wants to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer and that could, in the long term, spell doom for one of the last great, relatively untouched oceanic environments on the planet. Let me explain why Shell’s drilling ambitions are so dangerous. Just think of the way the blowout of one drilling platform, BP’s Deepwater Horizon, devastated the Gulf of Mexico.  Now, imagine the same thing happening without any clean-up help in sight.

[Read more…]

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How climate change fueled conflict in Syria and threatens the rest of the Middle East

Scientific American reports: Climate change can make storms stronger, cold spells longer and water supplies drier. But can it cause war? A new study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says drought in Syria, exacerbated to record levels by global warming, pushed social unrest in that nation across a line into an open uprising in 2011. The conflict has since become a major civil war with international involvement.

Drying and drought in Syria from 2006 to 2011 — the worst on record there — destroyed agriculture, causing many farm families to migrate to cities. The influx added to social stresses already created by refugees pouring in from the war in Iraq, explains Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who co-authored the study. The drought also pushed up food prices, aggravating poverty. “We’re not saying the drought caused the war,” Seager said. “We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.”

Seager added that the entire Middle East “faces a drier, hotter climate due to climate change. This will stress water resources and agriculture, and will likely further increase risk of conflict.” Global warming is desiccating the region in two ways: higher temperatures that increase evaporation in already parched soils, and weaker winds that bring less rain from the Mediterranean Sea during the wet season (November to April). [Continue reading…]

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