Somalia: The role of climate change in recurring violence

Giovanna Kuele and Ana Cristina Miola write: The deadliest blast in Somalia’s history, which killed more than 350 people, and the double car bombing in Mogadishu last October represented frustrating backslides in the country’s efforts to build stability. For almost 30 years, Somalia has been tackling a combination of civil war, famine, desertification, piracy, political fragmentation, and terrorism — even as the population struggles to rebuild and move forward. Although the conflict has many underlying causes, one factor that remains poorly understood is climate change. In a country where, alongside war, six million people currently face starvation, understanding the role of climate change and its impact on patterns of drought — and developing innovative responses — is more pressing than ever.

Since the country’s state and social resilience to climate consequences is limited, the ability of around 70% of Somalis to meet their basic needs depends heavily on a regular climate pattern. However, over the past decade climate change-related desertification has expanded in Somalia, greatly increasing the vulnerability of the local population. Climate change feeds armed conflict in Somalia by exacerbating tensions between clans; boosting the ranks and role of terrorist groups, including al-Shabaab; and increasing migratory flows.

First, climate change sharpens disputes over already-scarce resources between warlords. While Al-Shabaab has conquered large pieces of the country’s territory, clan elders still wield considerable power, dominating the political system. In this sense, the severe droughts cause disruptions to water access, high rates of malnutrition, disease outbreaks, and food insecurity, leading to tension and even open disputes between the clans. In a country facing this set of challenges, resources like food and water are not only a basic need but also a source of power. [Continue reading…]

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Rogue state: U.S. now the only country in the world that rejects the Paris climate accord

The Atlantic reports: It’s official. When it comes to climate change, there’s now literally everyone else—and then there’s the United States.

Syria, the last remaining holdout from the Paris Agreement on climate change, announced at a United Nations meeting in Germany on Tuesday that it will sign the agreement. The Syrian Arab News Agency, a state-sponsored news outlet, also reported that the country’s legislature voted to ascend to the agreement last month.

Its declaration means that the United States is the only country in the world that has rejected the treaty and promised to withdraw from it.

If the news isn’t exactly pleasant for the Trump administration, which announced the intent to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement in June, it’s also something of a poor advertisement for the treaty itself. That Syria—war-torn, war-crime-committing Syria—has acceded to the Paris accord does not make an obvious case for the United States doing the same.

At the same time, Syria is committing to Paris now because every other country has already signed on. In Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and South Korea, the Paris Agreement is considered a relatively uncontroversial international achievement.

“With Syria on board, now the entire world is resolutely committed to advancing climate action—all save one country,” said Paula Caballero, a climate-policy specialist at the World Resources Institute. “This should make the Trump administration pause and reflect on their ill-advised announcement about withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.”

“Syria’s participation puts an exclamation point on the fact that the U.S. actions are contrary to the political actions, and the sincerely held beliefs, of every other country on the face of the Earth,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences at Princeton University and a longtime observer of UN climate negotiations. [Continue reading…]

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Threat to stability of East Antarctica’s largest glacier raises risk of global sea level rising by at least 3.5 meters

ScienceNews reports: The wind is helping to awaken one of Antarctica’s sleeping giants. Warm ocean waters, driven inland by winds, are undercutting an ice shelf that holds back a vast glacier from sliding into the ocean, researchers report November 1 in Science Advances.

Totten Glacier is East Antarctica’s largest glacier, with a drainage basin encompassing about 550,000 square kilometers, an area about the size of France. Its floating front edge, the Totten ice shelf, sticks out like a tongue over the water and acts as a buttress for the giant glacier, slowing its movement toward the ocean. If the entire land-based glacier destabilizes and slips into the sea, it could raise global sea level by at least 3.5 meters.

Satellite and on-the-ground studies have previously shown that Totten Glacier and its buttressing ice shelf are thinning. Last year, scientists determined that the ice shelf is being melted from below by warm water. The ice shelf floats within a pool of its own cold meltwater that sits atop a deeper, saltier and warmer layer; the two layers generally don’t mix, like oil and water. The warmer layer periodically rises up, becoming shallow enough to access grooves in the seafloor that extend beneath the ice shelf. But what controls the inflow of that warm water was unknown. [Continue reading…]

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Climate change driven almost entirely by human action, dire report released by Trump administration finds

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration released a dire scientific report Friday detailing the growing threats of climate change. The report stands in stark contrast to the administration’s efforts to downplay humans’ role in global warming, withdraw from an international climate accord and reverse Obama-era policies aimed at curbing U.S. greenhouse-gas output.

The White House did not seek to prevent the release of the government’s National Climate Assessment, which is mandated by law, despite the fact that its findings sharply contradict the administration’s policies. The report affirms that climate change is driven almost entirely by human action, warns of potential sea-level rise as high as eight feet by the year 2100, and enumerates climate-related damage across the United States that is already occurring as a result of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of global warming since 1900.

“It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the document reports. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

The report’s release underscores the extent to which the machinery of the federal scientific establishment, operating in multiple agencies across the government, continues to grind on even as top administration officials have minimized or disparaged its findings. Federal scientists have continued to author papers and issue reports on climate change, for example, even as political appointees have altered the wording of news releases or blocked civil servants from speaking about their conclusions in public forums. The climate assessment process is dictated by a 1990 law that Democratic and Republican administrations have followed.

The White House on Friday sought to downplay the significance of the study and its findings. [Continue reading…]

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A proposal in New Zealand could trigger the era of ‘climate change refugees’

Rick Noack writes: New Zealand could become the world’s first country to essentially recognize climate change as an official reason to seek asylum, a government minister indicated in an interview on Tuesday. If implemented, up to 100 refugees per year could be admitted to the island nation on a newly created visa category, according to an initial campaign promise the proposal is based on.

This may appear relatively insignificant, given that the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center predicts 150 to 300 million people to be forced out of their homes due to climate change by 2050. Yet the announcement has still stunned environmental activists who have long demanded such resettlement programs, but have been blocked by governments and courts — including New Zealand’s own Supreme Court.

Although New Zealand’s approach does not bind other host countries, the experiment could be used as a role model, both in national courts and in the public debate. If implemented, the New Zealand proposal would likely be used by activists in European nations like Sweden or Germany to pressure their own governments into creating similar schemes. [Continue reading…]

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Evidence that summertime temperatures are now hotter than they have been for over 45,000 years

Science News reports: Some mosses in the eastern Canadian Arctic, long entombed in ice, are now emerging into the sunlight. And the radiocarbon ages of those plants suggest that summertime temperatures in the region are the warmest they’ve been in tens of thousands of years.

As the planet warms and the ice retreats on Canada’s Baffin Island, the change is revealing plants long buried beneath the ice. And in some locations, the emerging plants last saw the sun at least 45,000 years ago — and possibly as much as 115,000 years ago. Paleoclimatologist Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado Boulder reported the finding October 22 at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting. “We were stunned,” Miller said.

Miller’s team has collected an impressive number of samples and their findings are very compelling, said geomorphologist Lee Corbett of the University of Vermont in Burlington, who was not involved in the study. “It truly is an indication that humans are pushing the climate into a new regime, one that modern, agriculture-based civilizations have never witnessed.” [Continue reading…]

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Record surge in atmospheric CO2 seen in 2016

BBC News reports: Concentrations of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere surged to a record high in 2016, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Last year’s increase was 50% higher than the average of the past 10 years.

Researchers say a combination of human activities and the El Niño weather phenomenon drove CO2 to a level not seen in 800,000 years.

Scientists say this risks making global temperature targets largely unattainable.

This year’s greenhouse gas bulletin produced by the WMO, is based on measurements taken in 51 countries. Research stations dotted around the globe measure concentrations of warming gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. [Continue reading…]

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National Weather Service ‘on the brink of failure’ due to job vacancies, says union

The Hill reports: The National Weather Service (NWS) is dealing with hundreds of vacant positions in the wake of a series of extreme weather events that have plagued the U.S.

“The National Weather Service … for the first time in its history is close to teetering on the brink of failure,” the NWS’s labor union, the NWS Employees Organization, said in a statement earlier this week.

The union went on to slam NWS leadership, saying it “has been incapable of placing their budget priorities correctly, spending money on Management conferences and blended models rather than on filling the nearly 700 vacant forecast positions.” [Continue reading…]

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Jerry Brown: ‘California will sue Trump over climate’

Climate Change News reports: California governor Jerry Brown said on Tuesday that his state would fight Donald Trump’s erosion of climate action through the courts.

Trump’s actions since coming into office have favoured polluters. Particularly the elevation of Scott Pruitt to the head of his environment agency. Pruitt, who has close ties to the industrialist Koch brothers, announced this month he was rolling back president Barack Obama’s key climate legislation, the clean power plan.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme on UK radio, Brown said California would continue to use this tactic in response to Trump’s anti-climate actions. [Continue reading…]

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Volcanic eruptions in Alaska could have impacted lives of ancient Egyptians

The Washington Post reports: Did volcanoes in Russia, Greenland and Alaska affect the lives of ancient Egyptians?

It may sound improbable, but according to a new study, the answer is yes.

In a paper published in Nature Communications, a team of researchers shows that volcanic eruptions in high northern latitudes of the globe can affect the Nile watershed, causing the flow of one of the world’s mightiest rivers to slow.

This, in turn, could keep the lower Nile from flooding in the late summer months — a regular occurrence on which ancient Egyptians relied to irrigate their crops.

No Nile flooding meant no irrigation, which meant a bad year in the fields, low food supplies and, ultimately, civic unrest, researchers say.

“It’s a bizarre concept that Alaskan volcanoes were screwing up the Nile, but in fact that’s what happened,” said Joseph Manning, a historian at Yale University who worked on the study. [Continue reading…]

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Insectageddon: Farming is more catastrophic than climate breakdown

George Monbiot writes: Which of these would you name as the world’s most pressing environmental issue? Climate breakdown, air pollution, water loss, plastic waste or urban expansion? My answer is none of the above. Almost incredibly, I believe that climate breakdown takes third place, behind two issues that receive only a fraction of the attention.

This is not to downgrade the danger presented by global heating – on the contrary, it presents an existential threat. It is simply that I have come to realise that two other issues have such huge and immediate impacts that they push even this great predicament into third place.

One is industrial fishing, which, all over the blue planet, is now causing systemic ecological collapse. The other is the erasure of non-human life from the land by farming.

And perhaps not only non-human life. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, at current rates of soil loss, driven largely by poor farming practice, we have just 60 years of harvests left. And this is before the Global Land Outlook report, published in September, found that productivity is already declining on 20% of the world’s cropland.

The impact on wildlife of changes in farming practice (and the expansion of the farmed area) is so rapid and severe that it is hard to get your head round the scale of what is happening. A study published this week in the journal Plos One reveals that flying insects surveyed on nature reserves in Germany have declined by 76% in 27 years. The most likely cause of this Insectageddon is that the land surrounding those reserves has become hostile to them: the volume of pesticides and the destruction of habitat have turned farmland into a wildlife desert.

It is remarkable that we need to rely on a study in Germany to see what is likely to have been happening worldwide: long-term surveys of this kind simply do not exist elsewhere. This failure reflects distorted priorities in the funding of science. There is no end of grants for research on how to kill insects, but hardly any money for discovering what the impacts of this killing might be. Instead, the work has been left – as in the German case – to recordings by amateur naturalists.

But anyone of my generation (ie in the second bloom of youth) can see and feel the change. We remember the “moth snowstorm” that filled the headlight beams of our parents’ cars on summer nights (memorialised in Michael McCarthy’s lovely book of that name). Every year I collected dozens of species of caterpillars and watched them grow and pupate and hatch. This year I tried to find some caterpillars for my children to raise. I spent the whole summer looking and, aside from the cabbage whites on our broccoli plants, found nothing in the wild but one garden tiger larva. Yes, one caterpillar in one year. I could scarcely believe what I was seeing – or rather, not seeing.

Insects, of course, are critical to the survival of the rest of the living world. Knowing what we now know, there is nothing surprising about the calamitous decline of insect-eating birds. Those flying insects – not just bees and hoverflies but species of many different families – are the pollinators without which a vast tract of the plant kingdom, both wild and cultivated, cannot survive. The wonders of the living planet are vanishing before our eyes. [Continue reading…]

Out of sight, out of mind — the issue here is not just generational in the sense experienced by those of us old enough to remember insects, birds, and other creatures in greater numbers. The issue is above all one that springs from the physical separation between humans and nature in a world where humans experience life predominantly inside cities and predominantly as the seemingly most commonplace species.

I happen to live in a town where squirrels undoubtedly outnumber humans and where bears can show up in the most unexpected places and yet even here, for most people most of the time, nature remains in the background of human affairs.

While the rapid demise of flying insects should provoke alarm in anyone with even just a rudimentary understanding of the interdependence of species, a more commonplace response is likely to be that this loss signifies a welcome reduction in unwanted pests — fewer mosquitoes, fewer flies, and less irritants to complain about.

When it comes to human appreciation for non-human forms of life, insects get short shrift.

Butterflies are admired and yet most people would be hard pressed to name a single species, let alone recognize and appreciate any species in its larval form.

Bees are appreciated as productive, yet potentially dangerous and to most people indistinguishable from wasps.

Ants are lauded in the abstract as exemplars of industry and complex social organization and yet bound to suffer swift extermination when they turn up where they’re unwelcome.

Even so, the objective truth that insects would grasp if they had the cognitive capacities to do so is that the most prolific forms of life that have lived sustainably on this planet for hundreds of millions of years are now at risk from the life-threatening effects of human infestation.

No, this isn’t an argument for the elimination of humans, but as the late-comers on the stage of life, we have to do a hell of a lot better learning how to harmoniously co-exist with the creatures around us. Not only do their lives depend on this, but so do ours.

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Trump pick for top environmental post called belief in global warming a ‘kind of paganism’

CNN reports: President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the White House senior adviser for environmental policy in 2016 described the belief in “global warming” as a “kind of paganism” for “secular elites.”

Trump last week nominated Kathleen Hartnett White, who previously led the Texas Commision on Environmental Quality, to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a post that requires Senate confirmation. Hartnett White, currently a senior fellow at the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, has long expressed skepticism about established climate science and once dismissed the idea that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, calling it “the gas of life on this planet.”

As head of the Council on Environmental Quality, Hartnett White would oversee environmental and energy policies across the government. [Continue reading…]

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World’s first ‘negative emissions’ plant has begun operation — turning carbon dioxide into stone

Akshat Rathi writes: There’s a colorless, odorless, and largely benign gas that humanity just can’t get enough of. We produce 40 trillion kg of carbon dioxide each year, and we’re on track to cross a crucial emissions threshold that will cause global temperature rise to pass the dangerous 2°C limit set by the Paris climate agreement.

But, in hushed tones, climate scientists are already talking about a technology that could pull us back from the brink. It’s called direct-air capture, and it consists of machines that work like a tree does, sucking carbon dioxide (CO2) out from the air, but on steroids—capturing thousands of times more carbon in the same amount of time, and, hopefully, ensuring we don’t suffer climate catastrophe.

There are at least two reasons that, to date, conversations about direct air capture have been muted. First, climate scientists have hoped global carbon emissions would come under control, and we wouldn’t need direct air capture. But most experts believe that ship has sailed. That brings up the second issue: to date, all estimates suggest direct air capture would be exorbitantly expensive to deploy.

For the past decade, a group of entrepreneurs—partly funded by billionaires like Bill Gates of Microsoft, Edgar Bronfman Jr. of Warner Music, and the late Gary Comer of Land’s End—have been working to prove those estimates wrong. Three companies—Switzerland’s Climeworks, Canada’s Carbon Engineering, and the US’s Global Thermostat—are building machines that, at reasonable costs, can capture CO2 directly from the air. (A fourth company, Kilimanjaro Energy, closed shop due to a lack of funding.) [Continue reading…]

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Scientists think that global warming may already be influencing fire seasons

ClimateWire reports: As deadly wildfires rage across California’s wine country, leaving at least 29 dead and a trail of destruction in their wake, the influence of climate change is again being questioned.

Just Monday, Hillary Clinton delivered a speech at the University of California, Davis, in which she noted that “it’s been a tough couple of weeks with hurricanes and earthquakes and now these terrible fires” (Climatewire, Oct. 12).

“So in addition to expressing our sympathy, we need to really come together to try to work to prevent and mitigate, and that starts with acknowledging climate change and the role that it plays in exacerbating such events,” she added.

While there’s growing interest in investigating the fingerprints of climate change on extreme weather events, it’s often challenging for scientists to parse out its influence versus other natural and human factors—and, as experts have warned time and again, no single weather event can be attributed solely to the effects of climate change. This may be particularly true for wildfires, which are heavily influenced by human land-use and management practices in addition to the weather.

Still, scientists are increasingly suggesting that climate change has already had a hand in shaping fire seasons, not just in California but elsewhere around the world, and will likely continue to play a major role. These are a few of the major climate-related factors that may be at play. [Continue reading…]

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EPA announces repeal of major Obama-era carbon emissions rule

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration announced Monday that it would take formal steps to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, setting up a bitter fight over the future of America’s efforts to tackle global warming.

At an event in eastern Kentucky, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said that his predecessors had departed from regulatory norms in crafting the Clean Power Plan, which was finalized in 2015 and would have pushed states to move away from coal in favor of sources of electricity that produce fewer carbon emissions.

“The war on coal is over,” Mr. Pruitt said. “Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., I will be signing a proposed rule to roll back the Clean Power Plan. No better place to make that announcement than Hazard, Kentucky.”

The repeal proposal, which will be filed in the Federal Register on Tuesday, fulfills a promise President Trump made to eradicate his predecessor’s environmental legacy. Eliminating the Clean Power Plan makes it less likely the United States can fulfill its promise as part of the Paris climate agreement to ratchet down emissions that are warming the planet and contributing to heat waves and sea-level rise. Mr. Trump has vowed to abandon that international accord. [Continue reading…]

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September sets alarming global temperature record and negates a favorite denier talking point

Joe Romm writes: September 2017 smashed multiple climate records, alarming scientists and further negating a favorite talking point of climate science deniers.

First and foremost, last month was the hottest September ever recorded in the four decades of satellite data analyzed by the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH).

Equally amazing, “of the 20 warmest monthly global average temperatures in the satellite record, only September 2017 was not during an El Niño,” reports Dr. John Christy, director of UAH’s Earth System Science Center — and an infamous climate science misinformer.

Global records for hottest month or year typically occur when the underlying human-caused global warming trend gets a temporary boost from an El Niño’s enhanced warming in the tropical Pacific. So when temperature records are set in the absence of an El Niño, it is another sign that the underlying human-caused global warming trend is stronger than ever. [Continue reading…]

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Alarm as study reveals world’s tropical forests are huge carbon emission source

The Guardian reports: The world’s tropical forests are so degraded they have become a source rather than a sink of carbon emissions, according to a new study that highlights the urgent need to protect and restore the Amazon and similar regions.

Researchers found that forest areas in South America, Africa and Asia – which have until recently played a key role in absorbing greenhouse gases – are now releasing 425 teragrams of carbon annually, which is more than all the traffic in the United States.

This is a far greater loss than previously thought and carries extra force because the data emerges from the most detailed examination of the topic ever undertaken. The authors say their findings – published in the journal Science on Thursday – should galvanise policymakers to take remedial action.

“This shows that we can’t just sit back. The forest is not doing what we thought it was doing,” said Alessandro Baccini, who is one of the leader authors of the research team from Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University. “As always, trees are removing carbon from the atmosphere, but the volume of the forest is no longer enough to compensate for the losses. The region is not a sink any more.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s hiring freeze shrunk National Weather Service staff before hurricanes hit

The Washington Post reports: Ahead of what would turn out to be a potentially record-breaking hurricane season, the National Weather Service had 216 vacant positions it could not fill due to a governmentwide hiring freeze imposed by the Trump administration, according to a recently released document.

Some of those Weather Service vacancies listed in the document, obtained by the Sierra Club through a Freedom of Information Act and shared with The Washington Post, were in locations that would be hit by the major hurricanes that barreled through the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

Staffing levels at the federal government’s weather bureau, responsible for tracking hurricanes and warning the public about hazardous weather, have fallen since 2010 when the agency employed more than 3,800 nonmanagerial and nonsupervisory employees. Staffing had declined so much that the Government Accountability Office wrote in May that employees were challenged in their ability “to complete key tasks.” [Continue reading…]

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