Will new scientific breakthroughs pave the way for more climate-related lawsuits?

Elliott Negin writes: What can you do when the president of the United States says climate change is a hoax and Congress is gridlocked by fossil fuel industry-funded climate science deniers?

Look to the courts for redress — with a major assist from science.

Using sophisticated computer analyses, scientists can now determine what percentage of an extreme weather event can be attributed to climate change. This emerging field of “climate attribution” science offers courts a powerful new tool for apportioning responsibility in cases brought by victims of extreme weather events — Hurricane Harvey comes to mind — or other climate-induced damages, such as sea level rise, against municipalities and private real estate developers for failing to protect them from foreseeable damages.

Likewise, companies responsible for producing and marketing fossil fuels — BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and the like — may find themselves in legal crosshairs thanks to a first-of-its-kind study definitively linking global climate changes to carbon emissions directly associated with them.

Published yesterday in the journal Climatic Change, the study calculated the amount of sea level rise and global temperature increase resulting from carbon dioxide and methane emissions from products marketed by the largest coal, gas and oil producers and cement manufacturers as well as their extraction and production processes.

“We’ve known for a long time that fossil fuels are the largest contributor to climate change,” said Brenda Ekwurzel, lead author and climate science director at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “What’s new here is that we’ve verified just how much specific companies’ products have caused the Earth to warm and the seas to rise.” [Continue reading…]

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Monster Hurricane Irma barrels toward climate change deniers’ playground

Micahel Daly writes: The playground of big-shot climate-change deniers becomes subject to a hurricane evacuation order as of 5 p.m. Friday.

And were it not for all the innocent souls who have been and likely will be hurt by Hurricane Irma, you might see poetic justice in homes owned by President Trump and billionaire David Koch and commentators Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter being battered by a storm made the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic with a boost from warmer water and moister air.

Just last week, those same climate-change-related factors in the Gulf of Mexico contributed toward Hurricane Harvey flooding Texas with its biggest rainfall ever recorded. Coulter responded to that earlier calamity with her usual discerning insight, giving a whole other meaning to being all wet.

“I don’t believe Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor,” she tweeted. “But that is more credible than ‘climate change.’”

Now a second supercharged storm, Hurricane Irma, was roaring toward the storied stretch of sand where Coulter’s neighbors include her fellow blabbermouth Limbaugh. [Continue reading…]

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Hurricane Harvey and the storms to come

Elizabeth Kolbert writes: On August 29, 2005, at six-ten in the morning, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the border of Mississippi and Louisiana, just east of New Orleans. Katrina had spent days wobbling over the Gulf of Mexico, and by the time it reached the coast it was classified as a strong Category 3 storm. As it pressed inland, its winds, which were clocked at up to a hundred and twenty-five miles an hour, pushed water from the Gulf westward into Lake Pontchartrain, and north, up a mostly abandoned shipping canal. The levees that were supposed to protect New Orleans failed, and low-lying neighborhoods were inundated. That day in Louisiana, at least six hundred and fifty people died.

Katrina was widely described as a “wake-up call” for a country in denial about climate change. President George W. Bush and his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, during their first term, had withdrawn the United States from a global climate agreement and dismissed the findings of the government’s own climate scientists. Now, a few months into their second term, the nation was facing just the sort of disaster that the scientists had warned about. Even if global warming hadn’t caused Katrina, clearly it had intensified the damage: with higher sea levels come higher storm surges. And, with sea surface temperatures rising, there was more energy to fuel hurricanes, and more evaporation, which inevitably produces more rain. “How many killer hurricanes will it take before America gets serious about global warming?” the journalist Mark Hertsgaard asked at the time.

Last week, as Hurricane Harvey lingered over Houston, dumping so much water on the city that the National Weather Service struggled to find ways to describe the deluge, this question sloshed back to mind. Again, climate change can’t be said to have caused Harvey, but it unquestionably made the storm more destructive. When Harvey passed over the western part of the Gulf, the surface waters in the region were as much as seven degrees warmer than the long-term average. “The Atlantic was primed for an event like this,” Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told the Guardian.

Harvey was less lethal than Katrina; as of this writing, forty-six storm-related deaths have been confirmed. But in financial terms the storm’s costs are likely to be as high or even higher. One estimate put the price of repairing homes, roads, businesses, and the petrochemical plants that line the Houston Ship Channel at a hundred and ninety billion dollars. And that estimate was made before storm-damaged plants started to explode.

As misguided as the Bush Administration was about climate change, Donald Trump has taken willful ignorance to a whole new level. [Continue reading…]

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After Harvey, Trump administration reconsiders flood rules it just rolled back

The Washington Post reports: A couple of weeks ago President Trump scrapped Obama-era rules, intended to reduce the risks posed by flooding, that established new construction standards for roads, housing and other infrastructure projects that receive federal dollars.

Trump derided these restrictions, which were written in response to growing concerns over the impact of climate change, and other federal rules as useless red tape holding back the economy.

“This overregulated permitting process is a massive, self­inflicted wound on our country — it’s disgraceful — denying our people much-needed investments in their community,” he said in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York during an event to tout his infrastructure policies.

But now, in the wake of the massive flooding and destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey along the Gulf Coast, the Trump administration is considering whether to issue similar requirements to build higher in flood-prone areas as the government prepares to spend billions of dollars in response to the storm.

This potential policy shift underscores the extent to which the reality of this week’s storm has collided with Trump officials’ push to upend President Barack Obama’s policies and represents a striking acknowledgment by an administration skeptical of climate change that the government must factor changing weather into some of its major infrastructure policies. [Continue reading…]

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What climate scientists want you to see in the floodwaters

Katharine Mach and Miyuki Hino write: As scientists who study climate risks and how societies can respond, we have been jolted to think hard about our best understanding of why disasters like these occur, how a changing climate cranks up the odds and what we might do differently.

The answer, for scientists and everyone else who has been watching, is not to say definitively and dismissively, “This is the result of climate change” or “There’s nothing we can do.” It’s a chance to understand what is actually happening to the climate and all the ways human behavior leads to — and can mitigate — future disaster.

We start with two premises. Climate change doesn’t cause extreme events. It amplifies them. And in any weather-related calamity, our susceptibility to harm is, at its root, constructed by ourselves.

On the climate side of risk, we have unambiguous evidence that the hazards are changing. Our emissions of heat-trapping gases have already increased the likelihood and severity of heat waves, extreme rainfall and storm surges. Much of the world’s population occupies places susceptible to this kind of extreme weather that will increasingly be exacerbated by the changing climate.

Scientists can now even evaluate how much climate change has increased the odds of individual extreme events, including rainfall and flooding. In the weeks and months to come, we will surely see specific analyses of climate change’s role in the flooding in both Texas and South Asia. Put simply, a warmer atmosphere can hold more water, increasing the potential for heavy downpours. Storm surge now occurs on top of sea level rise, increasing flooding risk. And warmer oceans can produce more intense hurricanes, as has occurred in the North Atlantic and the Gulf. [Continue reading…]

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Why America still hasn’t learned the lessons of Katrina

Annie Snider reports: The most important piece of the North American continent right now may be a slice of land here, 13 miles long, 65 feet wide, much of it just six months old.

From the air, the Caminada Headland is a sparkling strip of beige and green rising up from the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s also a barricade, protecting one of the most important nodes in North America’s oil supply, a busy seaport serving more than 90 percent of deep-water oil and gas activities in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Louisiana coast, this strip served as a critical barrier between the pounding waters of the Gulf and the machinery of the port just half a mile behind—and was all but washed away in the process, becoming little more than a narrow strip of sand with waves crashing over it. Restoring it before the next major hurricane became a top priority.

“It’s pretty freaking amazing. All of this stuff was the first line of defense that was just gone,” said Garret Graves, a U.S. congressman who served for six years as the head of Louisiana’s coastal protection and restoration efforts in the wake of Katrina.

Today, Caminada Headland is a robust new island backed by thick, healthy marshes, thanks to a $216 million project launched by Graves and the state of Louisiana. But what looks like a success story from the window of a seaplane was, to Graves and nearly everyone else involved, an expensive and exhausting struggle—one that raises serious questions about America’s ability to grapple with the increasing problems caused by rising coastal waters and more destructive storms as the climate changes.

As Hurricane Harvey plows furiously across the Gulf Coast, again endangering homes and critical industries, Graves and others worry that Washington’s systems for protecting communities against weather disasters haven’t gotten better since that 2005 disaster, and in many ways may be worse. The state of Louisiana wasn’t supposed to shoulder the Caminada Headland project itself: Rebuilding the island was originally the job of the Army Corps of Engineers, the 215-year-old entity charged with building and maintaining our country’s ports, harbors, locks, dams, levees and ecosystem restoration projects. Today, the agency is the single most important agency in coastal America’s battle against rising seas, at the center of every major water-resources project in the country, either as builder or permitter. But the state of Louisiana, exasperated by federal delays and increasingly worried that the next big storm could just wipe out the port, eventually fronted the money and pumped the sand on its own. Today, despite years and millions of federal dollars poured into studying the Caminada Headland project and neighboring islands slated for restoration, the Corps has yet to push a dime toward construction.

Graves compares his experience with the Corps to that of a “battered ex-spouse”: “I feel like I’ve been lied to, cheated, kicked in the teeth over and over and over again.”

The sclerotic Army Corps of Engineers is the most visible and frustrating symptom of what many officials have come to see as the country’s backward approach to disaster policy. From the way Congress appropriates money to the specific rebuilding efforts that federal agencies encourage, national policies almost uniformly look backward, to the last storm, rather than ahead to the next. And the scale of the potential damage has caused agencies to become more risk-averse in ways that can obstruct, rather than help, local communities’ attempts to protect themselves. The Army Corps, for example, requires Louisiana to rebuild a full suite of five islands before it can reclaim any of the money it spent on the one headland—and is currently insisting it will take another half-decade simply to review an innovative wetlands restoration project the state has been working on for more than a decade and views as the linchpin of its coastal efforts. Meanwhile, new design standards inspired by Katrina have made levee projects wildly unaffordable.

As the effects of climate change play out, the risks posed by storms like Katrina and Harvey stand to get only worse. A not-yet-final draft of National Climate Assessment, produced by scientists across 13 federal agencies, predicts that global sea levels will likely rise between half a foot and 1.2 feet by 2050, and between 1 and 4 feet by the end of the century. In areas like the Northeast and the Gulf of Mexico, relative sea-level rise will happen much faster, researchers say. Coastal Louisiana is currently losing a football field’s worth of wetlands every 90 minutes, making it a harbinger for the crises that coastal communities around the country are expected to face. [Continue reading…]

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Harvey is what climate change looks like

Eric Holthaus writes: In all of U.S. history, there’s never been a storm like Hurricane Harvey. That fact is increasingly clear, even though the rains are still falling and the water levels in Houston are still rising.

But there’s an uncomfortable point that, so far, everyone is skating around: We knew this would happen, decades ago. We knew this would happen, and we didn’t care. Now is the time to say it as loudly as possible: Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously.

Houston has been sprawling out into the swamp for decades, largely unplanned and unzoned. Now, all that pavement has transformed the bayous into surging torrents and shunted Harvey’s floodwaters toward homes and businesses. Individually, each of these subdivisions or strip malls might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but in aggregate, they’ve converted the metro area into a flood factory. Houston, as it was before Harvey, will never be the same again.

Harvey is the third 500-year flood to hit the Houston area in the past three years, but Harvey is in a class by itself. By the time the storm leaves the region on Wednesday, an estimated 40 to 60 inches of rain will have fallen on parts of Houston. So much rain has fallen already that the National Weather Service had to add additional colors to its maps to account for the extreme totals.

Harvey is infusing new meaning into meteorologists’ favorite superlatives: There are simply no words to describe what has happened in the past few days. In just the first three days since landfall, Harvey has already doubled Houston’s previous record for the wettest month in city history, set during the previous benchmark flood, Tropical Storm Allison in June 2001. For most of the Houston area, in a stable climate, a rainstorm like Harvey is not expected to happen more than once in a millennium.

In fact, Harvey is likely already the worst rainstorm in U.S. history. [Continue reading…]

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Extreme rainfall has led to devastating floods across Nepal, India, and Bangladesh, killing hundreds and displacing millions

BuzzFeed reports: Heavy monsoon rains of historic proportions have slammed Nepal, Bangladesh, and India for weeks, leading to what international rescue and aid organizations say is the worst flooding in decades.

Nearly 1,200 people have been killed by the flooding and landslides in the three countries so far, while millions continue to be displaced from their homes. Torrential monsoon rains have destroyed tens of thousands of houses, schools, and hospitals, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The agency estimates that almost 41 million people have been affected in three countries.

Many of the flooded areas already have high rates of malnutrition. The disaster has raised concerns of food shortages and water-borne diseases, as thousands of hectares of farms have been washed away and relief work continues to be disrupted by continuous rain. [Continue reading…]

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Food is the single largest component in landfill in America

 

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Hurricane Harvey and public and private disaster in Houston

Jia Tolentino writes: When Houston floods, it turns into a locked circular labyrinth. The city, my home town, is laid out like a wagon wheel: downtown sits at the center, surrounded by three concentric circles, which are bisected by highways in every direction. The first loop, Interstate 610, is thirty-eight miles long, and corrals the Inner Loop neighborhoods. Another round of suburban neighborhoods surrounds the Loop, and is bounded by the eighty-eight-mile-long Beltway 8. Then, the truly sprawling suburbs (Spring, Sugar Land, the Woodlands) surround the Beltway. All told, the Greater Houston Area is gargantuan—at over ten thousand square miles, it’s bigger than New Jersey—and, with upward of six million residents, it’s far more populous and diverse than outsiders tend to guess. Houston is also, famously, largely unregulated: zoning laws are minimal, and the unceasing outward development has, with official permission, drastically inhibited drainage. The freeway system holds the city together, keeping a huge, dispersed population connected. But in a storm this lifeline becomes a trap. Houston is flat, and it sits just fifty feet above sea level; after the bayous overflow, the rain collects on the roads. When a flood hits, driving in Houston feels like a video game turned real and deadly. There are sudden impasses everywhere; ingenuity can’t save you; once the spokes of the wheel go under, there’s nowhere to go.

Houston is the fourth-largest city in America, and right now much of it is underwater. Things will get worse this week. Tropical Storm Harvey, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, is sluggishly lingering, and will continue to pummel the flooded city. Forecasts say that Houston may get fifty inches of rain from this storm—which is the city’s average annual rainfall. Five people have died; many more will be injured. Houston’s safety-net hospital started evacuations on Sunday. The Texas Medical Center, the largest medical complex in the world, closed its submarine doors, designed, after Tropical Storm Allison, to protect the facility from flooding. Local news crews have struggled heroically to report out the disaster; one newscaster saved a truck driver’s life on air. The National Guard saved between twenty and twenty-five nursing-home residents in Dickinson after a harrowing photo went viral. My dad, who got stuck in high water on Saturday night, is one of thousands who have been rescued by Houston police. Harris County has been calling for citizens to help conduct rescues. All over the city, the roads have turned into rivers. Much of what’s visible looks like a nightmare; what makes me even sicker is imagining all the fear that we’ll never see. [Continue reading…]

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Climate change magnified the effects of Harvey

Michael E Mann writes: What can we say about the role of climate change in the unprecedented disaster that is unfolding in Houston with Hurricane #Harvey?

There are certain climate change-related factors that we can, with great confidence, say worsened the flooding.

Sea level rise attributable to climate change (some is due to coastal subsidence due to human disturbance e.g. oil drilling) is more than half a foot over the past few decades (see http://www.insurancejournal.com/…/sou…/2017/05/31/452704.htm for a decent discussion).

That means that the storm surge was a half foot higher than it would have been just decades ago, meaning far more flooding and destruction. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: The worst fears of flooding have been realized with Harvey. Close to three feet of rain has already fallen in Southeast Texas, and there’s still more to come. It’s the most extreme rainfall the region has ever witnessed.

On Sunday evening, brand new bands of torrential rain were forming southwest of Houston and appeared on track to strike the city overnight. Rainfall rates will almost certainly exceed three inches per hour over the already-submerged city. That threat prompted the National Weather Service to reissue the flash flood emergency — the strongest flood warning it can issue — in effect through around 1 a.m. Central Time.

Two-day rainfall totals have reached or exceeded 20 inches across the entire Houston metro area. Some locations are approaching 30 inches. The swift inundation of water has turned rivers, bayous and streams into lakes — including those that run through the city of Houston itself.

“Catastrophic flooding in the Houston metropolitan area is expected to worsen,” the National Weather Service said Sunday. It added: “This event is unprecedented and all impacts are unknown and beyond anything experienced.” [Continue reading…]

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Exxon misled the public on climate change, study says

The New York Times reports: As Exxon Mobil responded to news reports in 2015 that said that the company had spread doubt about the risks of climate change despite its own extensive research in the field, it urged the public to “read the documents” for themselves.

Now two Harvard researchers have done just that, reviewing nearly 200 documents representing Exxon’s research and its public statements and concluding that the company “misled the public” about climate change even as its own scientists were recognizing greenhouse gas emissions as a risk to the planet.

The Harvard researchers — Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science whose work has focused on the energy and tobacco industries, and Geoffrey Supran, a postdoctoral fellow — published their peer-reviewed paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters on Wednesday. They also published their findings in an Opinion article in Wednesday’s New York Times.

They found that Exxon’s climate change studies, published from 1977 to 2014, were in line with the scientific thinking of the time. Some 80 percent of the company’s research and internal communications acknowledged that climate change was real and was caused by humans.

But 80 percent of Exxon’s statements to the broader public, which reached a much larger audience, expressed doubt about climate change. [Continue reading…]

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Russian tanker completes Arctic passage without aid of icebreakers

The New York Times reports: A Russian-owned tanker, built to traverse the frozen waters of the Arctic, completed a journey in record time from Europe to Asia this month, auguring the future of shipping as global warming melts sea ice.

The Christophe de Margerie, a 984-foot tanker built specifically for the journey, became the first ship to complete the so-called Northern Sea Route without the aid of specialized ice-breaking vessels, the ship’s owner, Sovcomflot, said in a statement.

The journey was the culmination of a centuries-old navigational dream and of a decade-long plan by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whose government has indicated it plans to take political and economic advantage of changes to the Arctic’s climate.

“This is a big event in the opening up of the Arctic,” Mr. Putin said of the tanker’s maiden voyage this year.

The ship, transporting liquefied natural gas, completed the trip from Norway to South Korea Thursday of last week, in just 19 days, 30 percent faster than the regular route through the Suez Canal, the company said. [Continue reading…]

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100% renewable energy is now possible

Bill McKibben writes: The knock on environmentalists is that they’ve been better at opposing than proposing. Sure, being against overheating the planet or melting the ice caps should probably speak for itself—but it doesn’t give us a means. So it’s important news that the environmental movement seems to be rallying round a new flag. That standard bears a number: 100 percent.

It’s the call for the rapid conversion of energy systems around the country to 100 percent renewable power—a call for running the United States (and the world) on sun, wind and water. What Medicare for All is to the healthcare debate, or Fight for $15 is to the battle against inequality, 100% Renewable is to the struggle for the planet’s future. It’s how progressives will think about energy going forward—and though it started in northern Europe and Northern California, it’s a call that’s gaining traction outside the obvious green enclaves. In the last few months, cities as diverse as Atlanta and Salt Lake have taken the pledge.

No more half-measures. Barack Obama drove environmentalists crazy with his “all-of-the-above” energy policy, which treated sun and wind as two items on a menu that included coal, gas and oil. That is not good enough. Many scientists tell us that within a decade, at current rates, we’ll likely have put enough carbon in the atmosphere to warm the Earth past the Paris climate targets. Renewables—even the most rapid transition—won’t stop climate change, but getting off fossil fuel now might (there are no longer any guarantees) keep us from the level of damage that would shake civilization. [Continue reading…]

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The Trump administration just disbanded a federal advisory committee on climate change

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration has decided to disband the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment, a group aimed at helping policymakers and private-sector officials incorporate the government’s climate analysis into long-term planning.

The charter for the 15-person Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment — which includes academics as well as local officials and corporate representatives — expires Sunday. On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s acting administrator, Ben Friedman, informed the committee’s chair that the agency would not renew the panel.

The National Climate Assessment is supposed to be issued every four years but has come out only three times since passage of the 1990 law calling for such analysis. The next one, due for release in 2018, already has become a contentious issue for the Trump administration.

Administration officials are currently reviewing a scientific report that is key to the final document. Known as the Climate Science Special Report, it was produced by scientists from 13 different federal agencies and estimates that human activities were responsible for an increase in global temperatures of 1.1 to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1951 to 2010.

The committee was established to help translate findings from the National Climate Assessment into concrete guidance for both public and private-sector officials. Its members have been writing a report to inform federal officials on the data sets and approaches that would best be included, and chair Richard Moss said in an interview Saturday that ending the group’s work was shortsighted.

“It doesn’t seem to be the best course of action,” said Moss, an adjunct professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences, and he warned of consequences for the decisions that state and local authorities must make on a range of issues from building road projects to maintaining adequate hydropower supplies. “We’re going to be running huge risks here and possibly end up hurting the next generation’s economic prospects.” [Continue reading…]

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The nitrogen problem: Why global warming is making it worse

Richard Conniff writes: It is a painful lesson of our time that the things we depend on to make our lives more comfortable can also kill us. Our addiction to fossils fuels is the obvious example, as we come to terms with the slow motion catastrophe of climate change. But we are addicted to nitrogen, too, in the fertilizers that feed us, and it now appears that the combination of climate change and nitrogen pollution is multiplying the possibilities for wrecking the world around us.

A new study in Science projects that climate change will increase the amount of nitrogen ending up in U.S. rivers and other waterways by 19 percent on average over the remainder of the century — and much more in hard-hit areas, notably the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River Basin (up 24 percent) and the Northeast (up 28 percent). That’s not counting likely increases in nitrogen inputs from more intensive agriculture, or from increased human population.

Instead, Stanford University researcher Eva Sinha and her co-authors simply took historical records of nitrogen runoff as a result of rainstorms over the past few decades, recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey. Then, assuming for the sake of argument that there will be no change in the amount of nitrogen being added to the environment, they calculated how much additional nitrogen would be leached out of farm fields and washed down rivers solely because of extreme weather events and increased total rainfall predicted in most climate change scenarios. The bottom line: “Anticipated changes in future precipitation patterns alone will lead to large and robust increases in watershed-scale nitrogen fluxes by the end of the century for the business-as-usual scenario.” [Continue reading…]

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Why are the United Nations’ sustainable development goals stalling?

Pacific Standard reports: It’s the most ambitious project in the history of humankind. If successful, it would solve many of civilization’s most pressing challenges. But due to a single, fatal defect, it’s poised to fail—catastrophically.

“It” is the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and as U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres recently reported, the efforts to meet the goals are lagging and must pick up the pace to hit the 2030 target. Fortunately, there’s still time to save the project, and it can be done by applying a straightforward fix.

But first, it’s worth slowing down and adding a bit of context to this endeavor. The goals—known as the SDGs—were adopted just two years ago by 193 nations, with the aim to guide global, regional, and national efforts to reduce poverty, address climate change, and build inclusive societies. They are, in a sense, the sequel to the blockbuster Millennium Development Goals, which was arguably the most successful anti-poverty initiative in history.

Why are the SDGs stalling? For one, it’s because, in their very conceit, they’re defective. While this list of 17 goals and 169 targets is longer than the Constitution, it’s not the goals’ breadth, depth, or even ambition slowing us down; it’s the absence of internal logic. The SDGs are a postmodern, deconstructed, Jackson Pollock-version of a to-do list.

The reason for this is simple. The U.N. reacted to legitimate critiques of the original Millennium Development Goals—that the goals were conceived by a too-small group with “relative casualness,” with insufficient input from the public, and from developing countries. Thus, the successor SDGs were informed, in contrast, by years of meetings, consultations, stakeholder forums, online input, and door-to-door surveys.

That was undoubtedly wise. But the U.N. stopped there, with an indiscriminate list of objectives. Virtually every perspective is reflected and no perspective is subordinated. The pithiest analysis came from an executive at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: “No targets left behind.” [Continue reading…]

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Scientists discover 91 volcanoes below Antarctic ice sheet

The Observer reports: Scientists have uncovered the largest volcanic region on Earth – two kilometres below the surface of the vast ice sheet that covers west Antarctica.

The project, by Edinburgh University researchers, has revealed almost 100 volcanoes – with the highest as tall as the Eiger, which stands at almost 4,000 metres in Switzerland.

Geologists say this huge region is likely to dwarf that of east Africa’s volcanic ridge, currently rated the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world.

And the activity of this range could have worrying consequences, they have warned. “If one of these volcanoes were to erupt it could further destabilise west Antarctica’s ice sheets,” said glacier expert Robert Bingham, one of the paper’s authors. “Anything that causes the melting of ice – which an eruption certainly would – is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea aside, Guam faces another threat: climate change

The New York Times reports: The island of Guam made rare headlines this week when North Korea, responding to blustery language from President Trump, threatened to fire four ballistic missiles into waters near the American territory’s shores. Some Guam residents told reporters that they worried what might happen if North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, were actually to follow through.

Scientists in Guam, however, say they have at least one other major threat in mind: climate change.

“We know that it’s serious,” said Austin J. Shelton III, a marine biologist and the executive director of the Center for Island Sustainability at the University of Guam. “Some of the impacts are here, and a lot more are coming.”

Like other Pacific islands, Guam may be affected in the coming decades as climate change prompts shifts in weather, temperature and oceanic acidity, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Experts said in interviews that the primary consequences may include people suffering heat stress because of an increase in heat waves, a rise in the intensity of tropical storms, and the damage or destruction of Guam’s exceptionally biodiverse coral reefs.

A key concern is how reef damage could affect a $1.4 billion tourism sector that, according to the Guam Visitors Bureau, accounts for 60 percent of Guam’s annual business revenue and nearly a third of its nonfederal employment. [Continue reading…]

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