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Found 80 results

  1. Check out this infographic that shows the impact of climate change on public health. Click here to see a larger version!
  2. As the country continues to endure the effects of climate change, wildfires are hardly a new phenomenon on the West Coast. For drought-ridden California, however, the blazes have now caused massive destruction and at least one death. And with 700,000 acres burned so far this year, there's no end in sight for the inferno. For firefighters and victims, the numbers behind the blazes represent an uphill battle. The largest of the disasters are the Valley fire and the Butte fire, which have burned 67,000 and 71,660 acres, respectively. The former is 15 percent contained, the latter 37 percent, and at least 23,000 people have been displaced by both combined. In total, at least 751 homes have been destroyed. It was the Valley fire that caused one death - Barbara McWilliams, a 72 year-old woman with multiple sclerosis who couldn't get out of her home, according to fire officials. The Valley fire, located in Lake County, began on Sept. 12, while the Butte fire, in Jackson and Amador County, started Sept. 9. And these, while the largest and most fearsome, are only two of a dozen currently ripping through the Golden State. Workers fighting the fires hope that rain today might bring some relief. Though an end to the state's ongoing drought is not yet in the cards, the cool weather system could play a part in further containing some of the blazes. Veteran firefighter Bob Cummensky, part of the initial team that fought the Valley fire in Middletown, remarked, "It's such a beautiful area, and it's changed forever. This [town] is my best friend's home." Though he has fought fires for nearly five decades, he said he's never seen anything of this magnitude. The fire's expansion in every direction, and the challenging topography across which it has spread, have not made matters easier. "It's a 100-year fire in a 100-year drought. It goes against everything I've ever learned about fire behavior." The fire is certainly abnormal; its smoke has even created a rare type of cloud called a pyrocumulus, which was photographed Sept. 11 by climate scientist Peter Gleick and tweeted as he flew past it at 30,000 feet. These clouds also create a new problem, because they can trigger firestorms, which may produce lightning that can, in turn, start another fire. It's an unpredictable situation that has kept officials on the defensive. "We've had wildfires in California since the beginning of time," said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the state Office of Emergency Services. "But what we're seeing now that's different is the extreme rapid spread of the fires, and extreme volatility." Middletown was amongst the hardest-hit areas in Lake County, with phrases like "completely devastated" and "everything's gone" reverberating throughout the community. And the fire, which has burned far more than just forest land, has a decidedly urban bent: an apartment complex with more than 100 units was reduced to ash; flames licked at power lines and melted street signs; and shells of burned out cars conjured up images of apocalyptic disaster films. California Gov. Jerry Brown once again tied the problem to climate change, stating, "There is no doubt that we need to de-carbonize our modern economy. We have sharpened what the debate is because there are vast amounts of officials who say it isn't true. This will smoke it out. Fires are not political. Climate change is not political. It is real. This is serious stuff. Firefighters need to be careful, but so do people. It's going to get worse." Specifically, however, the wildfires were exacerbated by the drought, which in turn was caused by the output of greenhouse gases that are contributing to global warming. The trees killed so far by the drought - of which there were at least 12 million - were more prone to ignite, and a heavy presence of bark beetles, which further decimate trees, helped make conditions that much worse. Scott Stephens, a fire science professor at UC Berkeley, said forests have also grown denser over the last 100 years, forcing trees to compete for increasingly limited amounts of water and rendering them more susceptible to bark beetle infestations. It also means that when a small fire starts, it spreads from one tree to another more quickly and rapidly spins out of control. "If this drought continues for another two years or longer, I expect this mortality to move throughout the state," he remarked. "Forests that once burned frequently with low to moderate intensity fires are the most susceptible." Joe Casola, deputy director of the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group, explained that on the West Coast, this year's combination of warm winter weather, low snowpack, hot summer, and outbreak of relentless brushfires is "a good preview of what climate models tell us will soon be commonplace. These are the conditions we're likely to be facing several decades from now and going forward."
  3. After Shell proved, through blunders and its infamous reputation, that it is not fit to drill in the Arctic, Aug. 17 brought news that the Obama administration had granted them approval to do just that. The troubling development came just days after President Obama announced he would visit Alaska to discuss the impact of climate change on the region. Now, as the oil corporation further destroys the already-disrupted Arctic sea ice, the problem of global warming can only grow worse. The move is especially bewildering for many, as the president has declared Alaska to be "the frontlines of our fight against climate change." For a place of such importance, it hardly seems like an opportune time for the administration to greenlight a venture that will wreak environmental havoc, but that is what has come to pass. Even so, the approval has not gone unnoticed by activists. Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Marissa Knodel said, "When Obama visits the Arctic this month, he must face the communities he is sacrificing to Shell's profits." Greenpeace executive director Annie Leonard added, "The president cannot have it both ways. Announcing a tour of Alaska to highlight climate change days before giving Shell the final approval to drill is deeply hypocritical." In an official report, however, Greenpeace seemed to suggest that the brunt of the blame does not lie with Obama, but rather, with the greed-driven company that seeks to ravage the Arctic. They noted that the president "has used his executive power to show climate leadership before. Earlier this year, he vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline in response to a nationwide public outcry, demanding the U.S. no longer champion policies and projects that accelerate climate change. "The world is watching Shell right now. [They have] a history of ineffective equipment. In 2012, one of Shell's Arctic rigs ran aground and became stuck in Dutch Harbor. The technology does not exist to effectively clean up an oil spill in the icy and unpredictable waters. This is a disaster waiting to happen." The imbalanced and contradictory approach the Obama administration seems to be taking in regard to environmental matters is confusing. That has grown more so with today's news that the EPA, which was responsible for the recent mishap resulting in a large mine waste spill, has proposed new regulations aimed at cutting methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent (from 2012 levels) over the next ten years. The rules would apply to new or modified sources of oil and natural gas and require energy companies to find and fix leaks and take careful steps to limit emissions. And yet, experts seem to point out that this is not quite cause for celebration. Up in the Arctic, when Shell starts breaking up ice in its exploration for oil, more methane will be released into the atmosphere - enough, perhaps, to render the curbing of emissions from other manmade activities a moot point. Merritt Turetsky, a biology professor at the University of Guelph, Ontario, remarked, "Permafrost carbon feedback is one of the important and likely consequences of climate change, and it is certain to trigger additional warming. Even if we ceased all human emissions, ice would continue to thaw and release carbon into the atmosphere." Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said, "Granting Shell the permit to drill in the Arctic was the wrong decision, and the fight is far from over. The people will continue to call on President Obama to protect the Arctic and our environment." And the opposition to Shell's drilling is composed of more than just environmental activists. Hillary Clinton released a statement on the matter in the form of a tweet, saying, "The Arctic is a unique treasure. Given what we know, it's not worth the risk of drilling." Brune added, "She's exactly right. Everything we know about dangerous oil drilling in the Arctic indicates it imperils a national treasure and is guaranteed to make our climate crisis worse. Allowing Shell to use unproven technology in the Arctic is a recipe for disaster and toxic to any climate action legacy."
  4. More than 146 countries covering 87% of global greenhouse gas emissions have now submitted their national pledges to tackle climate change in advance of the major climate summit in Paris. These are known as Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions. Note the language: these aren’t commitments and are only “intended”. Since collectively these INDCs would still leave us on course for nearly 3℃ warming, some way beyond the 2℃ target that the international community has settled on as a safe threshold, the hope is that they will be ratcheted up at Paris and beyond. But will countries stick to these pledges? And what happens if they don’t? Climate negotiations have a long history of countries failing to deliver on their commitments. More than 16 countries failed to meet their targets under the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol up to 2012 and some major emitters like Canada simply reneged on their commitments without consequences. But the problem of getting countries to implement their commitments is certainly not unique to climate change. Indeed it is a general feature of international relations that in the absence of a global police force and with weak judicial systems, there is no overriding central authority to force states to abide by national or international law. Essentially the only sanctions available are moral pressure (stigmatising non-compliant countries, as happens over human rights), trade sanctions (used to isolate governments such as the apartheid regime in South Africa) or military sanctions (applied to various countries in the Middle East in recent years). Military sanctions are clearly not going to be applied in this case. Trade measures have been used in climate policy however, sometimes controversially, such as subsidies to solar and wind industries or so-called border tax adjustments, where countries impose a fee on products coming from markets where carbon is not regulated or taxed giving them an unfair competitive advantage. It is moral pressure that climate diplomacy really relies upon though. This has pressured the EU to adopt and maintain a leadership role, for example in setting out a more ambitious target than that adopted by many other major industrialised regions. Often, however, even that is ineffective. The pariah status that the Bush government earned for walking away from the Kyoto Protocol had only minimal effect on the US’s position at the time. A change of administration ultimately brought about a shift in policy. There have been calls in the past for more ambitious approaches to enforcing climate commitments. In 1997 Brazil proposed the establishment of a Clean Development Fund to fine countries failing to meet their emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol. The funds generated from fines on richer (“annex 1” in UN language) countries would then have been distributed to poorer nations to meet their adaptation costs or fund local mitigation actions. The proposal was vetoed and instead turned into the Clean Development Mechanism which allows richer countries to pay poorer ones to reduce emissions on their behalf. In a cunning political move, rather than targeting tougher compliance for richer countries, the solution became to pay poorer countries to comply instead. In reality, the tools that will be used to hold governments to account for their climate commitments will be a combination of public and civil society pressure and the threat of litigation on behalf of those people affected by inaction, of which we have seen an increase in recent years. The Dutch government was subject to the first climate liability case in June 2015, but there have been earlier attempts by affected indigenous groups in the Arctic to bring cases against the US government over its lack of action on climate change. We will likely see more such cases in future. This activism will increase thanks to a growing realisation of the gains to be made from moving rapidly to a lower carbon economy in terms of jobs, competitiveness and energy security. In other words, pressure from below is likely to be the driver of change as much as, if not more than, pressure from above.
  5. 2015 will likely be the hottest year on record, according to a preliminary analysis released by the World Meteorological Organization. Worldwide temperatures are expected for the first time to reach more than 1℃ above pre-industrial temperatures. The five years from 2011-2015 will also likely be the hottest five-year period on record. Average global atmospheric CO₂ concentrations over three months also hit 400 parts per million for the first time during the southern hemisphere Autumn this year. On top of this, we are experiencing one of the strongest El Niño events ever recorded. According to Dr Karl Braganza, head of climate monitoring at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, these climate milestones are both symbolic and highly significant. “One degree is half way to the 2 degree guardrail of warming that the global community is aiming for in terms of future climate change,” Dr Braganza said. “400 parts per million of CO₂ in the atmosphere is a composition that the climate system has not likely seen in probably the past 2.5 million years.” In Australia, 2015 is likely to fall into the top 10 warmest years on record, all of which have occurred this century. Dr Braganza said that record breaking hot weather was now six times more likely than it was early last century. Meanwhile, the oceans continue to warm at an alarming rate. “About 90% of the additional heat from the advanced greenhouse effect goes into warming the oceans,” he said. This is particularly worrying as any change to sea temperature is potentially very significant in terms of impacts on Australia’s weather, from droughts to flooding rains. Dr David Karoly, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Melbourne, said that there was little doubt as to the cause of the warming. “It is now all but certain that 2015 will be the hottest year since record keeping began. “The new record high global temperature in 2015 is mainly due to human-caused global warming, with smaller contributions from El Niño and from other natural climate variations,” Dr Karoly said. According to calculations by Karoly and colleagues as part of the World Weather Attribution Project coordinated by Climate Central, temperatures will likely reach around 1.05℃ above pre-industrial temperatures. Of this, about 1℃ can be attributed to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, about 0.05ºC-0.1ºC to El Niño, and about 0.02ºC to higher solar activity. The numbers don’t quite add up to 1.05℃ due to uncertainties and natural variability. The World Meteorological Organization statement comes as world leaders are set to meet in Paris next week to begin the next round of negotiations on taking action against climate change.
  6. World leaders gathered today in Paris for COP21, a UN summit aimed at reaching a new international climate deal that can avert the worst effects of global warming. French President François Hollande opened the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP21) summit by stating that the “future of the planet, the future of life” was at stake. “The challenge of an international meeting has never been so great,” Hollande said. Delegates and leaders from 195 countries – along with members from scientific groups, the private sector, indigenous leaders, environmental activists and labour groups – will attend the important UN climate change conference that will take place between November 30 and December 11. Although, the heads of state will only be present during the beginning of the summit. During these crucial days the delegates will work towards a new international climate change agreement that can replace the Kyoto protocol, which is the world’s only legally binding climate change agreement. The Kyoto protocol initially only covered rich and developed countries who are required to cut emissions by 2020 when the treaty expires. The protocol now covers only a handful of countries, including Australia and the member states of the European Union. The United States signed but never ratified the Kyoto protocol. It’s therefore crucial that a new global climate treaty, and one which includes all nations such as China which is currently the world’s biggest polluter, is reached and agreed on in Paris. The delegates will try to reach a deal that will limit global warming to safe levels, i.e. the 2-degrees Celsius target that world leaders have endorsed. In order to keep global temperatures below 2-degrees Celsius, substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are needed. If no action is taken and no agreement is reached at the Paris summit, the UN has said that the world will be on track for a +3 degrees increase in global temperatures. Scientists are warning that we are already halfway to that critical point as the world has already warmed 1 degree Celsius compared to pre–Industrial Revolution temperatures. But the truth is that the 2-degrees target is not really a safe level and scientists and environmental groups – as well as several heads of state – are calling for emission reductions that will stop global temperatures to increase beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius. Countries most at risk from climate change, such as several island states and poorer developing countries, want to see a more ambitious climate agreement. But the likelihood that the rich and developed nations will agree to such reductions are highly unlikely. This question, about developed nations obligations and their historic responsibility, along with the question of economic assistance to developing nations will surely – and yet again – cause a rift between the delegates at the climate summit. Speaking at the opening ceremony today in Paris, President Barack Obama said that the US recognised its responsibility to help limit global warming. “As the leader of the world's largest economy and the second largest emitter […] the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” Obama said. Similar speeches from world leaders could be heard during the 2009 climate change conference in Copenhagen – and that summit ended in a failure. But things are different this time around. More nations are now feeling the effects of global warming, the science on climate is clear and on point, and renewable energy technologies are improving while their costs are drastically decreasing. And this time around, the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the US, are both supportive of a new climate deal. But there are still several worrying obstacles ahead. While China may be more positive of a climate change agreement this time around, the commitment from India, the world’s third biggest emitter, remains uncertain. The US and EU also has different stances on how much of the new climate agreement should be legally binding – Obama and the US government are pushing for less as a legally binding treaty would be difficult to pass in the US Senate. So far, more than 170 nations – representing 97 percent of the world’s total emissions – have submitted climate pledges to the UN ahead of the climate summit in Paris. But those pledges are currently too weak and will, according to analyses, result in a 2.7 to 3.3-degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures. Despite all of this the hopes and expectations are high on the Paris climate summit to make substantial progress in the fight against climate change. And hopefully it won’t end in a whimper this time, as it did in Copenhagen back in 2009.
  7. As President Obama visits Arctic Alaska, the first president to do so, he is speaking about the many impacts that climate change is already causing there, from rising seas to melting permafrost collapsing homes. Because the arctic is heating faster than the rest of the planet, climate change is a bigger issue for Alaska, for residents of towns close to the water, for tribes dependent on traditional fishing for their livelihood, for rapidly melting glaciers. As part of his trip, Obama gave an opening address to the GLACIER Conference in Anchorage, Alaska. He stated that the U.S. recognizes its role in creating the problem and responsibility to take part in solving it. He noted that no nation is moving fast enough, and condemned leaders who gamble by taking no action on the dire future due to climate change are "not fit to lead." Obama faces severe criticism during the trip from environmental groups who accuse him of hypocrisy, since at the same time he is calling for action to address climate change, his administration has just given final permission to Shell Oil to drill in the Arctic. During his trip, native groups and allies rallied to demand no drilling in the Arctic. Shell's plans have been confronted by many activists, the kayaktivists in Seattle to bridge danglers in Portland, both trying to stop Shell ships and rigs from being able to leave port to go to the Arctic. Groups are mounting petition campaigns and public relations efforts to organize opposition to Shell's plans (sign one petition here.) The record of the Obama administration on environmental issues, while mixed, stands in contrast to the previous, George W. Bush administration. Obama's positive steps include major support for developing renewable energy in the stimulus bill, efforts by the EPA to regulate new and existing power plant carbon emissions, increased mileage standards for cars and trucks, the agreement with China on projected reductions in emissions, and many more. Negative actions include support for major increases in fracking, in offshore oil drilling, and refusing to kill the Keystone XL pipeline (which has also not been approved). The administration faces opposition from the right, in Congress and elsewhere, for the plan of the EPA to regulate carbon emissions as pollution harmful to human health. Republicans in Congress continue efforts to defund the EPA, to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, to undercut any climate agreements, to deny the basic science of climate change, and more. Obama's current tour is part of the run-up to UN-sponsored climate negotiations to take place in December in Paris. The agreement signed between the US and China on carbon reductions has increased expectations that this conference will have more concrete results than many previous UN conferences on climate. In addition to these government-to-government negotiations, there is a growing movement to divest from fossil fuel corporations, which just had a big victory in California. A growing factor on the world stage is the efforts of Pope Francis and other important religious leaders to add a moral dimension to how the issue is framed, and to bring their not inconsiderable political capital to bear on the negotiations. Each particular battle is but one part of the longer struggle to transform our energy economy, our economy as a whole, how things are produced, packaged, and distributed. The direction of these struggles is ultimately to challenge the system, but in the meantime, we need all the allies, temporary or partial though they are, to make changes right now. These current battles lay the basis for future, more basic victories. Obama has moved U.S. policy into the column of those tackling climate change, though in an uneven and partial way. But winning smaller victories now is key to winning more later.
  8. Islamic leaders from 20 countries yesterday called for rapid transition from a world economic order based on fossil fuel to one powered by renewable energy. Wael Hmaidan, international director of Climate Action Network (CAN), described the declaration adopted by 60 prominent Islamic scholars and religious leaders at the two-day International Islamic Climate Change Symposium as a potential "game changer." "It challenges all world leaders, and especially oil producing nations," Hmaidan said, "to phase out their carbon emissions and supports the just transition to 100 percent renewable energy as a necessity to tackle climate change, reduce poverty and deliver sustainable development," according to a CAN report. As part of a worldwide groundswell, the declaration urges governments to deliver a new international climate agreement in Paris this December that guarantees limiting global warming above pre-industrial levels to 2, but preferably 1.5, degrees Celsius. The declaration makes the moral case, based on Islamic teachings, for the 1.6 billion Muslims and people of all faiths worldwide to take urgent climate action. The declaration is in sync with the much lauded Encyclical by Pope Francis released two months ago. For its part, the Vatican has enthusiastically endorsed the Islamic declaration. "The climate crisis needs to be tackled through collaborative efforts, so let's work together for a better world for our children, and our children's children," declared Din Syamsuddin, chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema. Speakers at the Symposium included three senior UN officials, scientists, NGO leaders and academics. Also attending were religious leaders from many other faith traditions. Pope Francis' activism, especially since the release of his Encyclical in June, has energized people of faith who have long advocated for the environment. Since June, the World Council of Churches, Unitarian Universalists, Union Seminary, and the Episcopal Church have all divested from fossil fuels. As of Aug. 13, 403 rabbis had signed a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis, calling for vigorous action to prevent worsening climate disruption and to seek eco-social justice. In a related action, in July more than 180 evangelical Christian leaders signed a letter backing President Barack Obama's plan to reduce carbon emission from power plants. The Climate Change Symposium Declaration urged "well-off nations" and oil producing states to "re-focus their concerns from unethical profit from the environment, to that of preserving it and elevating the condition of the world's poor." Among other notable demands, the declaration called on the people of all nations and their leaders: "To set in motion a fresh model of wellbeing, based on an alternative to the current financial model which depletes resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality."Prioritize adaptation efforts with appropriate support to the vulnerable countries with the least capacity to adapt. And vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples, women and children.The declaration further called on the corporations, finance, and business sector: "To shoulder the consequences of their profit-making activities, and take a visibly more active role in reducing their carbon footprint and other forms of impact upon the natural environment;"Change from the current business model which is based on an unsustainable escalating economy, and to adopt a circular economy that is wholly sustainable;"Assist in the divestment from the fossil fuel driven economy and the scaling up of renewable energy and other ecological alternatives."
  9. For climate change activists who were looking to shore up the three-legged stool of support for arguments supporting the science of climate change and hoping to shape policies to mitigate climate change impacts, it was an extremely pleasant surprise that a fourth leg was added to the climate change education and advocacy stool. Thank you Pope Francis! Those three legs included the science community, grassroots and environmental organizational support and advocacy, and the political community and process. But now we have another powerful support beam to shore up efforts to educate, advocate and broaden support. Religion. Pope Francis has conveyed a moral, ethical, spiritual, and communal message that cleverly, but deliberately uses logic, facts, and scientific reasoning to support education, policies and actions on climate change. It has the further potential to reach a distant audience who was either indifferent or skeptical because religion has often been used by climate change deniers as an excuse as to why we "shouldn't worry, God will take care of all." Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment or "On Care For Our Common Home" has revealed that religion, all along, was really intertwined with scientific study and findings with respect, to the planet that sustains all of life as we know it. The pope's weight and gravitas on climate change is more than raising awareness to the flock, and potentially bringing around 1.2 billion Catholics, or neutralizing some of the denier's religious arguments against recognizing climate change. Pope Francis' statement on the conditions, and actions needed on climate change is a marriage and consummation of morality and science. And frankly it's just plain exciting that a pope recognizes the moral crisis that faces humankind that's tied up in politics and economics. Of course this pope has been refreshingly turning heads since his tenure started. Pope Francis is connecting the dots of climate change through science, economics, and calling for a moral and just response, not simply proportional. Francis has put our entire economic model and ethos on trial. His encyclical on protecting the earth has as many references to science as religion and condemns our economic activity and lack of proper urban planning as a primary source of the devastation we're unleashing on our planet. In bringing it home to the masses, the pope reminds us that it's the poor and working class that will bear the burden of climate change impacts. Drought in some places, flooding in others lead to dislocation, famine and war. We're already seeing those impacts and scenarios play themselves out in places like Syria, over 1 million Syrians have been forced to relocate due to drought impacts on crop yields, turning Syria from a commodity exporter to importer that led to huge escalations in food prices and exacerbated by negligent and harsh responses from the Bashar al-Assad government, fueling the Syrian Civil War. These conditions and realities surrounding global warming haven't been lost on institutions like the U.S. Defense Department, which late last year issued a report stating that climate change was a "threat multiplier," which could create civil unrest, the spread of disease, and destabilize susceptible places and regions, and poses an "immediate risk" to national security. When you have both the U.S. Defense Department and the pope agreeing on the science and impacts of global warming, you would think you have something irrefutable. But here we go again. The nonscientists, intent on undermining the truth and any responsible action and responses to climate change, are still on the move. Fox News minions have already declared the Pope the "most dangerous person on the planet." And Fox's Republican Party field of presidential candidates is only too proud and happy to carry that message into the presidential primaries. Jeb Bush said the pope should really just butt out of politics (except when church and state stand side by side on other social matters dear to Republicans) and matters of science. Bush said it's "arrogant" to raise the scientific consensus of global warming. Bobby Jindal, another Republican presidential candidate and climate change denier who previously had warned his own party of being the "stupid party," now seems quite prophetic about the likes of Jeb Bush, himself, and pretty much the entire Republican presidential field and party followers when it comes to climate change. And that makes perfect sense. Pope Francis is appealing to a higher power or reason, logic, and enlightenment views to address the most pressing challenge that humans have faced in their existence. Francis' scathing and insightful statements on our economic model and philosophy are consistent with this environmental encyclical. Unfettered capitalism, driven by greed, selfish interests, disdain for the poor, disrespect of the planet, the pillaging of natural resources benefitting the very few, coupled with the lack of heart, mind, and will to realize that we have not only the responsibility, but the means to correct this ill that, would not only preserve humanity, but ensure it thrives in an egalitarian way, will be memorialized in failure, that this current generation failed to recognize and act to save the human population. The pope wonderfully summarizes the policy aspects of climate change and an optimistic way forward. "We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels - especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas - needs to be progressively replaced without delay. Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the less harmful alternative or to find short-term solutions. But the international community has still not reached adequate agreements about the responsibility for paying the costs of this energy transition. In recent decades, environmental issues have given rise to considerable public debate and have elicited a variety of committed and generous civic responses. Politics and business have been slow to react in a way commensurate with the urgency of the challenges facing our world. Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities." As Pope Francis inspires us to think through how humans act upon the world and themselves both justly and unjustly, he at last has brought a voice into the discussion around climate change that is merging the voices of science, religion, and politics. He reminds us that humans have socially created and engineered religion and politics, while science ultimately rules. Maybe the pope is saying that God is nature, or the environment. Regardless, we have a powerful moral figure who brings science and enlightenment thinking into a problem that has the ability to destroy us or compel us to come together to realize our finest moment.
  10. Now Antarctica goes down the drain

    It was believed that maybe, we humans have just managed to preserve some parts of our world from global warming. Covered in ice and inaccessible for most part of the year, some believed that Antarctica was one part of the globe which was untouched by human proliferation and that it would, at least, stay cold and steady for a few more years. How wrong we were. Like all other places, Antarctica too has been affected owing to the harsh consequences of climate change. According to a new research, a group of glaciers which were once stable, have started melting rapidly since 2009. The glaciers along the Southern Antarctic Peninsula were believed to be stable between 2003 and 2009. However, new satellite observations reveal that the area suffered a sudden destabilization in 2009 and the change in conditions is now responsible for the melting of glaciers. It is believed that these glaciers are now shedding around 56 billion metric tons of ice annually which is enough to raise sea water levels by roughly 0.16 millimeters. The research points out that the warm ocean water is melting the underside of the ice which is undermining the region’s stability and causing the sudden decline. And the conditions are supposed to be so bad that even if the warm ocean water goes away, the ice will continue to melt until a new equilibrium is reached. The report says that, “The melting and weakening of ice shelves reduce their buttressing effect, allowing the glaciers to flow more quickly to the sea.” This is quite scary considering the rate at which it will contribute to the rise in sea levels.
  11. What are countries really bringing to the negotiating table when the world meets to thrash out a greenhouse deal in Paris this year? The stakes are high – the hoped-for deal at the 2015 summit will be the first since the landmark Kyoto Protocol in 1992, and could commit countries to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020. Throughout the year, countries will submit draft contributions known as INDCs or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. These may be baselines and targets (such as 40% below 1990 levels by 2030), but may also take other forms. Contributions will be submitted through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change here. To read an explainer of INDCs and how they fit into a global climate deal, click here. The Conversation will be tracking these contributions as they are submitted through the interactive map below. Click on countries to view contributions and other climate stats. Notes: This map was compiled with the assistance of Pep Canadell, Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project. Emissions (all greenhouse gases): total greenhouse gas emissions within a country, expressed in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). This excludes emissions from land use, land use change, and forestry. Source: EDGAR Emissions per capita (all greenhouse gases): total greenhouse emissions within a country for each person, expressed in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). Source: EDGAR Emissions growth (CO2 only): growth in total carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuel 2010-2011. Source: Global Carbon Project Emissions transfer (CO2 only): fossil fuel emissions minus consumption emissions (carbon dioxide emissions generated elsewhere in the production of goods and services consumed within a country). A negative value shows that a country “outsources” some of its carbon dioxide emissions to other countries, and a positive value means the country is exporting more carbon in goods and services than it imports. Source: Global Carbon Project
  12. Many observations have shown that sea level rose steadily over the 20th century – and at a faster rate than over the previous centuries. It is also clear from both satellite and coastal observations that seas have risen faster over the past two decades than they did for the bulk of the 20th century. More recently, several studies have shown that the flow of ice and water into the oceans from Greenland and West Antarctica has increased since 1993. This raises an interesting question: has the rate of sea-level rise changed since 1993, when satellite observations began to give us a more complete picture of the global oceans? Our new research tackles this question by comparing satellite observations of sea level with those measured at the coast by tide gauges. We use this comparison to determine small biases in the satellite data that have changed over time. Understanding how the land supporting the tide gauges is moving becomes an important part of these comparisons. We found three important results. First, the seas really have risen faster since 1993, relative to the slower rate over previous decades as evident in the tide gauge data. Second, comparison of the coastal and satellite measurements reveal small differences in the early part of the satellite record from 1993 to 1999. After allowing for land motion at the tide gauges, the first six years of the satellite record marginally overestimates the sea-level trend. Our revised estimate of global mean sea-level rise for the satellite era (1993 to mid-2014) is about 2.6-2.9 mm per year (the exact value depends on how we estimate land motion) – slightly less than the previous estimate of 3.2 mm per year. Satellite altimeters measure sea level by measuring the time it takes a radar pulse to make a round-trip from the satellite to the sea surface and back. NOAA/STAR Third, previous estimates of the rate of rise from satellite data that didn’t incorporate the careful comparison with coastal sea-level measurements, as we have done in our recent study, showed a slower rate of rise over the past decade relative to the one before. Our revised record is clearly different and suggests that the rate of rise has increased, consistent with other observations of the increased contributions of water and ice from Greenland and West Antarctica. However, sea level varies from year to year, as water is exchanged between the land and oceans (for example during the Australian floods associated with the 2010-11 and 2011-12 La Niña events), and as a result the observed increase in the rate of rise over the short satellite record is not yet statistically significant. Strikingly, our estimate of the increase in the rate of rise is consistent with the projections of future sea level published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Currently, these projections forecast a rise of up to 98 cm by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to continue unabated (and even more if parts of the Antarctic ice sheet collapse). If the world makes strong cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, the rise by 2100 is projected to be significantly less, somewhere between 28 cm and 61 cm. Coping with the impacts The increasing rate of sea-level rise is not good news for our coastal population, nor for the natural and built environment in the coastal zone. The world is currently not on track to achieve the lower range of projected sea-level rise. And of course, sea-level rise will not stop in 2100 – as in the current century, the magnitude of future sea-level rise will be linked to our greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing rates of sea-level rise will place increasing stress on the coastal margin. Extreme sea level events will become more frequent. Inundation and erosion will affect our infrastructure, affect ecosystems and, in some regions, displace populations. Adaption in the coastal zone will occur – this adaption can be either planned or forced upon us by the natural environment. Information on regional sea level changes and their projections are needed to underpin adaptation and mitigation strategies. It is important that agencies in Australia and worldwide consider the impact of accelerating sea levels and provide communities with advice and planning directions that are commensurate with the magnitude of the problem. Failure to consider these issues will mean painful and costly impacts, particularly during extreme events. Continued monitoring of sea level is essential Despite progress, our understanding of sea-level change is incomplete, particularly when it comes to forecasting contributions from the ice sheets. Currently, observed sea-level rise is consistent with the most recent projections. Continuing to know where sea level is tracking relative to projections is important for planning and early warning of any rate of rise that differs from current projections is vital. Australia relies on other countries for launching and maintaining satellite missions such as those used in our study. We provide an important contribution to the long-term monitoring of altimeter data that spans several different missions and space agencies – this is why long-term government support via Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System is so valued.
  13. As drought-stricken California struggles to meet the mandatory water use restrictions Gov. Jerry Brown announced earlier this month, the governor is urging a sharp increase in fines for the worst violators, and moving to help local water agencies conduct environmental reviews more quickly. On Apr. 28, Brown called for legislation to sharply increase fines up to a maximum $10,000 for the worst violations of the conservation orders. The current maximum fine is $500 per day. Also under Brown's proposal, wholesale and retail water agencies, as well as city and county governments, will be able to issue penalties. They could enforce both local water restrictions and restrictions ordered by the State Water Resources Control Board. Monetary penalties would go toward local conservation efforts. In a separate action, Brown directed state agencies to help local water agencies cut the amount of time needed to comply with state-required environmental reviews. The proposed new penalties come amid continuing debate about Brown's unprecedented April 1 executive order mandating that over 3,000 urban water districts in the state cut their water use by an overall 25 percent this year compared with 2013. The order also directs the state to provide financial help to homeowners shifting to drought-resistant landscaping, and rebates for new water-efficient appliances. The order focuses mainly on urban water uses like lawns, parks, public medians and golf courses, which take up less than a quarter of water use by people in the state. "I would hope that we don't see this in some punitive way, but that we see the challenge ... the climate is getting warmer, the weather is getting more extreme and unpredictable, and we have to become more resilient, more efficient and more innovative," the governor said then. A major bone of contention is the omission from the April 1 order of any mandatory or voluntary conservation targets for agriculture, which uses nearly 80 percent of water not designated for environmental conservation. Instead, irrigation districts were told to develop drought management plans and monitor groundwater levels, and the State Water Resources Control Board was told to go after illegal and wasteful water users. In exempting agriculture from cutbacks, Brown has sided with farmers who say they have already suffered four years of drought as well as sharp cutbacks by state and federal water providers, resulting in more land left fallow and lower income for the agriculture industry. Thousands of farm workers have also been put out of work. Many water and conservation experts say agriculture should be included in the cutbacks. An often-cited issue is increasing pumping of groundwater, which in some Central Valley areas has already caused the land to sink measurably. Until 2014, California was the only western state not regulating groundwater withdrawals, and the new regulations don't become fully effective until 2022. Another issue is planting of highly profitable but water-guzzling crops like almonds. Many farmers also continue to use flood irrigation rather than the much more efficient drip irrigation. Some environmentalists also call for limiting water use on land used to raise crops for animal feed. The debate takes place against the background of an antiquated allocation system that gives priority, and lower rates, to holders of "senior" water rights - those claimed before California established a permit process in 1914 - with holders of "junior" rights claimed after that time receiving less. Though California is the country's largest agricultural producer and employs over 400,000 people, the industry accounts for just 2 percent of the state's gross domestic product. Meanwhile, cities facing the sharpest cutbacks are pleading for exemptions because they have invested in recycled or desalinated water, or face great demands for water during extreme summer temperatures, or rely on local sources rather than state resources. Also sharply debated is the governor's failure to include the oil and gas industry in his mandatory restrictions. Environmentalists estimate that more than two million gallons of fresh water are used daily to stimulate oil wells through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and related processes. The oil industry contends that such drilling produces more water than oil, and much of that water is provided to farmers. But environmentalists also point out that earlier this year, California's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources required oil companies to shut down 12 wastewater wells in the Central Valley because they are located close enough to underground wells for drinking or agricultural water to threaten contamination. Another 176 wells are undergoing investigation, and over 2,500 more wells are in areas that were never approved for wastewater injection. Zack Malitz of the social action organization CREDO told Reuters earlier this year, "Gov. Brown is forcing ordinary Californians to shoulder the burden of the drought by cutting their personal water use while giving the oil industry a continuing license to break the law and poison our water. Fracking and toxic injection wells may not be the largest users of water in California, but they are undoubtedly some of the stupidest."
  14. As California continues to endure historic drought conditions, this and strong Santa Ana winds are two factors contributing to vicious and more frequent wildfires. Dry conditions are expected to continue this week, and in the southern part of the state, the National Weather Service has predicted conditions that will cause fires to quickly grow out of control. One such brushfire occurred on Apr. 18, forcing mandatory evacuations near LA and having scorched 1,020 acres by Apr. 20, when it was 55 percent contained. And the worst, experts say, could be yet to come. The Apr. 18 incident was the result of an unattended cooking fire, and was, of course, exacerbated by the arid conditions, growing from 30 to 175 acres in just three hours. Even as evacuation orders have been lifted and the wildfire is now 60 percent contained, heavy, low-lying smoke is still expected to cling to surrounding areas throughout the early part of this week, causing potential visibility and breathing issues on roadways, according to CalFire. Fires like this are a problem, said meteorologist Brett Rathbun, who remarked, "The excessive drought across California can cause fires to spark even easier because the ground is so dry and lacks moisture." "We don't know when the drought will end," said Felicia Marcus, chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board. "Californians need to step up. We don't even know if it will rain much in the next year." After four years of steadily worsening drought, as climate change continues to rear its ugly head, it's time for Californians to "make real lifestyle changes," which means, above all, adhering to water restrictions. But even such measures won't stop the problem of wildfires, especially if conditions continue to become drier. And according to Benjamin Cook, a climatologist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, that's exactly what's going to happen. He said, "Climate change is going to lead to overall much drier conditions toward the end of the 21st century than anything we've seen in probably the last 1,000 years." And rain won't save us, added Noah Diffenbaugh, a climatologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. That's because the hotter weather means whatever water falls to the ground is going to evaporate that much more quickly. "We're on the cusp in California of having every year be a warm year, which means that when low precipitation does occur, there's going to be a much higher risk that that low precipitation produces drought." "There are a lot of opportunities to deal with these potentially significant droughts in the future," said Cook. "But we just need to be a little bit proactive about it and we need to plan ahead." In particular, said Diffenbaugh, issues like California water policy, water management, and infrastructure need to be changed to accommodate the climate that exists today. Those systems "were built in an old climate," he noted. "And the reality is, we're in a new climate." Howard Kunreuther, professor of operations and information management at Wharton University in Pennsylvania, said this megadrought could serve as a harsh wake-up call to Californians, including Angelinos, who might become more aware of the importance of water conservation. "People forget how water is used in many different ways," he said. "The minute you bring up a point like that, people pay attention, and recognize that the things they do today could be beneficial for things that happen in the future that they hadn't really thought about." Part of the problem, he noted, is that, while another enormous wildfire "is not necessarily going to happen tomorrow, it could happen a few months from now. But it isn't on people's agenda to think about it, and they normally don't think about the water tied into the forest fires." You can "start constructing scenarios as to what could happen," but "how do you get those people to take those scenarios seriously?" "This isn't something that's going to be solved overnight," he concluded. "But taking steps along the lines of conserving [water] will be a way to deal with [the drought]. The more people do that, the more they will benefit."
  15. During what is now California's worst drought in at least 1,200 years, agencies are ambivalent over how to convince Angelenos to cut water usage. Potential options include everything from educating residents to rationing, fines, and threats. While a recent executive order was issued by Gov. Jerry Brown requiring a 25 percent cut in water use from 2013 levels, communites are left to struggle with how exactly to achieve that goal. Part of the solution may be getting the wealthy to cooperate with working class people. Retired resident Dorothy, 65, has lived in LA's Palms neighborhood for 11 years. She told the People's World, "For people who have a decent salary, life is quite comfortable. But we do have a big problem with the water. Unless we cut consumption by a quarter or even a third, we could end up with a real disaster. And so far, many people are not doing their part to save water, despite what they say. They're just going about business as usual. And bottled water and those types of solutions are sometimes out of reach for the poor." The woman, who emigrated from Germany, said she never ceases to be amazed by how people come along to make a quick buck off of every crisis. She referred to the recent trend of lawn-painting companies - organizations that dye the dried lawns of the upper class a healthy shade of green to keep up appearances. One such company is LawnLift, started by 45 year-old mortgage broker Jim Power, who said, "Most homeowners have no clue how to water their lawns" anyway. According to the LA Times, Escondido resident Sean McDaniel, holding his two pet poodles and gesturing at his emerald lawn, said, "I painted the lawn two days ago." One can buy a 32 oz. bottle of this lawn paint from LawnLift's website for the not-so-low price of $45.95. "It's all well and good that the wealthy are having their lawns painted green," Dorothy remarked, "but that's not a solution." Newsha Ajami, director of Urban Water Policy at Stanford University's Water in the West program, said communities need to employ a wide range of conservation measures, rather than just expecting residents to act on their own. She said that levying fines for wasting water is likely a fast way to change behavior. "You need to quickly get to the point," she said. Jonathan Parfrey, a former LA Department of Water and Power commissioner and executive director of Climate Resolve, added, "We need to soak the rich for soaking their lawns. You gotta price water accordingly so it gets their attention." One extreme, said Beverly Hills resident Daniel Fink, could be curbing lawn-watering entirely for a while. "California is in the fourth year of the worst drought, and has about a year's worth of stored water left," he said. "But one wouldn't know it looking at all the still-green lawns. We have to stop watering our lawns. The water just isn't there anymore. I know that would be unpopular, but is it better to wait until the taps run dry?" This drought, Dorothy lamented, "is one example of how we're all going to suffer from climate change."
  16. A study, published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has linked a severe drought that helped fuel the Syrian conflict to climate change. The drought was one of the worst in the country’s modern history and lasted from 2007 to 2010. The Syrian conflict has been ongoing since early 2011 when the regime violently attacked peaceful anti-government protesters. With no end in sight, the Syrian war has left more than 200,000 people dead and about 11 million people have been displaced from their homes. The UN refugee agency UNHCR says Syria is now "the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era". “Nobody really expected that we would reach this stage in which we will actually be having this national disaster in Syria,” Marwan Kabalan, a Syrian academic and analyst at Doha Institute, told Al Jazeera as the conflict entered its fifth year this past Sunday. “The heavy-handed approach that was used by the regime against the peaceful protesters was the main reason that this fairly peaceful revolution has turned into the sort of conflict that we are witnessing right now.” The 3-year long drought caused widespread crop failure and a mass migration of people to urban Syrian centres. This alongside of other factors – such as corruption, inequality, poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies – “had a catalytic effect” and contributed to increased political unrest and, ultimately, civil war. Although the region normally experiences periodic dry spells, the study, which is based on meteorological data, determined that the extreme nature of the Syrian drought couldn’t be due to natural changes alone. The study’s authors linked the drought to century-long trends towards hotter and drier conditions in the region – which mirrored computer models of human influences on the climate system, i.e. increases in greenhouse-gas emissions causing climate change. Colin Kelley, a climatologist at the University of California and the study's lead author, told The New York Times that "a drought this severe was two to three times more likely" because of the increased pressure climate change has on the region’s aridity. Francesco Femia, founder and director of the Center for Climate and Security, said that the newly released study "builds on previous work" on the relation between conflicts and climate change. “While there is a very complex array of social, economic and political factors that drive conflict, the study reinforces the fact that climate change and natural resource mismanagement are problems that can exacerbate instability in a country, and potentially make conflict more likely.” “Given continued instability and a forecast of increased drying in the region, this issue should be better integrated into the international security agenda,” Femia said. The war in Syria has caused an unimaginable humanitarian crisis, and this new study adds more weight to the debate surrounding climate change and armed conflicts. Global warming is clearly already sparking unrest around the world.
  17. New data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that global CO2 emissions stalled at about 32 billion tonnes in 2014, the same number as in 2013. And even better, this happened while the global economy actually grew. It therefore marks the first time in 40 years that such a halt or reduction in emissions wasn’t tied to an economic downturn. This could suggest that climate change mitigating efforts could be having a more noticeable effect than previously thought. “This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol. “It provides much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December: for the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.” There have only been three times – the early 1980's; 1992 and 2009 – in which emissions have stood still or fallen compared to the previous year, and all were associated with global economic weakness. In 2014, however, the global economy expanded by 3%. This remarkable change is most likely due to an increase in more sustainable and renewable energy sources. The IEA themselves attributes this to changing energy consumption patterns in mainly China and OECD countries. In 2014, China increased their share of electricity generated from renewable sources – such as hydropower, solar and wind – and burned less coal. In the more developed OECD countries, the IEA points towards increased focus on sustainable growth, including greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy being deployed. “An important factor could be that China’s coal consumption fell in 2014, driven by their efforts to fight pollution, use energy more efficiently and deploy renewables,” said Professor Corinne Le Quere, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia. “Efforts to reduce emissions elsewhere will have played a role, but there are also more random factors such as the weather and the relative price of oil, coal and gas.” This is obviously good news. A decoupling of economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions would be highly welcomed. But while all of this is encouraging, it shouldn’t make us lose focus, we need to continue to increase our efforts to mitigate climate change. It’s still too early start talking about a new trend, because we cannot draw too many conclusions on data that only shows one year of emissions. "The latest data on emissions are indeed encouraging, but this is no time for complacency – and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action," said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.
  18. It’s been revealed that the Gates Foundation, run by Bill and Melinda Gates, has held at least $1.4 billion of investments in some of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies – while at the same time calling for immediate action against climate change. “The companies include BP, responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Anadarko Petroleum, which was recently forced to pay a $5bn environmental clean-up charge and Brazilian mining company Vale, voted the corporation with most “contempt for the environment and human rights” in the world clocking over 25,000 votes in the Public Eye annual awards,” the Guardian writes. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the world’s largest charities with an endowment of $42.3 billion. Its primary aims are to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty. The foundation has been giving billions in grants to various health programmes around the world since its launch back in 2011. Last year, it was involved in a health programme that helped rid India of polio. In its annual letter, titled Our Big Bet for the Future, Bill and Melinda Gates called on aggressive action against climate change: “The long-term threat [of climate change] is so serious that the world needs to move much more aggressively – right now – to develop energy sources that are cheaper, can deliver on demand, and emit zero carbon dioxide.” But apparently, both Bill and Melinda have missed that their investments in oil, gas and coal helps fuel the climate change – a crisis which they themselves deem to be a serious threat. “At this critical moment in time, if you own fossil fuels, you own climate change,” said Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, another charitable foundation that – compared to the Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation – has divested from fossil fuels. The actions by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is especially confusing considering that these fossil fuel investments puts the foundation’s hard work and progress at great risk. “The Gates Foundation has worked so hard to grapple with global poverty,” said Bill McKibben, who leads the fast-growing Go Fossil Free campaign. “But at the same time they’re investing in the same companies that drive climate change, which endless studies now show is one of the key factors behind ... global poverty. The developing world deserves better than this kind of tunnel vision.” So just why is the foundation acting in this morally and financially misguided way? Joe Romm, editor of Climate Progress, thinks it’s simply because Bill and Melinda Gates doesn’t understand the urgency of climate change. And this failure, Romm warns, will “most likely undo the foundation’s work” of ensuring long-term health and economic well-being in some of the poorest around the world. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has so far declined to comment on this story. A spokesman for Bill Gates's private office said: “We respect the passion of advocates for action on climate change, and recognise that there are many views on how best to address it. Bill is privately investing considerable time and resources in the effort [to develop clean energy].”  
  19. US President Barack Obama has signed an executive order to cut the federal government’s carbon pollution emissions by 40 percent by 2025. The new plan is expected to result in a reduction of 21 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions – which is equal to taking 4.2 million cars of the road for a year. Alongside of this, the share of renewable energy used by the federal government will increase to 25 percent. The plan is also expected to save taxpayers up to $18 billion in reduced energy costs. “Today’s action builds off of the strong progress the federal government has made over the past six years,” the White House writes in a statement. “Already, federal agencies have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent since the President took office, and increased the share of electricity consumed from renewable sources from 3 percent to 9 percent in 2013.” Other measures included in the plan consist of a reduction in energy use in federal buildings by 2.5 percent a year, a reduction in water intensity by 2 percent over the next decade, and a 30 percent reduction of per-mil greenhouse gas emissions from the federal vehicle fleet by 2015 – while at the same time increasing the use of zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The reduction plan will be based on emission levels from 2008 and will only involve the US federal government. Although the federal government only contribute modestly to the US’s total greenhouse gas emissions, many see this as a move that’ll hopefully spur other sectors of the country into action, and especially the federal government’s supply chain. The Department of Defense currently has the largest carbon emissions of the US federal government. So far the department has reduced its emissions by 10 percent and is now aiming to install another 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on military buildings by 2025 — enough to power 750,000 homes. “Earthjustice applauds President Obama for issuing an Executive Order today that aims to make a significant cut in carbon pollution—the pollution responsible for climate change—from the government sector,” said Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice’s vice president of litigation for Climate & Energy. “The President recognizes that the federal government can lead the way in expanding our use of clean, renewable energy, a key step on the path to end our nation’s unnecessary dependence on fossil fuels that harm our health and the environment.” The US government hopes that this new sustainability plan will strengthen the country’s “leadership on the international stage”, while “ensuring that we can tackle the global threat of climate change and leave behind a safer, more prosperous world.” But for that, we’ll need to see much tougher climate ambitions from the US – something which today unfortunately seems highly unlikely.
  20. This week, The Guardian newspaper has campaigned for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to divest its fossil fuel investments – which the newspaper claims are worth US$1.4 billion. The foundation can and should address the climate crisis, particularly given the threat it poses to food security, public health, human rights, and the development agenda. Practical responses The Gates Foundation has made a significant contribution to practical responses to poverty, and Bill Gates has been a long-standing advocate of “creative capitalism” to address global development issues. To their credit, Bill and Melinda Gates have shown great personal engagement with larger questions about human development, and their foundation has been a significant actor in the fields of agriculture, global health, education, and population. Bill Gates during a 2013 speech on climate change. Photo: Matthew Rimmer. Yet it has also been reluctant to address the climate question directly, stating: "The foundation believes that climate change is a major issue facing all of us, particularly poor people in developing countries, and we applaud the work that others are doing to help find solutions in this area," and: "While we do not fund efforts specifically aimed at reducing carbon emissions, many of our global health and development grants directly address problems that climate change creates or exacerbates." Sign on climate change at the Gates Foundation. Photo: Matthew Rimmer. For instance, the foundation highlights its agricultural development initiative, which it says will “help small farmers who live on less than $1 per day adapt to increased drought and flooding through the development of drought and flood resistant crops, improved irrigation efficiency, and other means”. While this certainly involves indirectly responding to climate change, it doesn’t put the issue of preventing climate change at the heart of the issue. In his annual letter, Bill Gates noted: "It is fair to ask whether the progress we’re predicting will be stifled by climate change… The most dramatic problems caused by climate change are more than 15 years away, but the long-term threat is so serious that the world needs to move much more aggressively — right now — to develop energy sources that are cheaper, can deliver on demand, and emit zero carbon dioxide." This is a somewhat curious statement, given the real and present danger already posed to food security, biodiversity, public health, and human security. The energy question Bill Gates has another keen interest: energy security. He has discussed what he sees as the need for an “energy miracle” to remedy the climate: "To have the kind of reliable energy we expect, and to have it be cheaper and zero carbon, we need to pursue every available path to achieve a really big breakthrough." He seems to have been interested in nuclear power, carbon capture, and geo-engineering - rather than renewable energy. For her part, Melinda Gates has been highly critical of climate deniers, emphasising the need for politicians to heed climate science. The Naomi Klein factor See video: This Changes Everything - Naomi Klein In a 2013 article in the Nation, the writer Naomi Klein expressed concerns about the huge fossil fuel holdings of some charities, including the Gates Foundation, and argued that this was inconsistent with public health goals: "A top priority of the Gates Foundation has been supporting malaria research, a disease intimately linked to climate… Does it really make sense to fight malaria while fueling one of the reasons it may be spreading more ferociously in some areas?" In her 2014 book, This Changes Everything, she went on to criticise the efforts of green billionaires to save us from climate change. Of Bill Gates and his foundation, she wrote: "Though he professes great concern about climate change, the Gates Foundation had at least $1.2 billion invested in just two oil giants, BP and ExxonMobil, as of December 2013, and those are only the beginning of his fossil fuel holdings." Gates has been directly questioned on this issue, both in an interview with a Dutch journalist and during a 2013 appearance on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Q&A program. See video: Bill Gates on ABC’s Q&A Klein has also criticised Bill Gates' technocratic approach to the climate crisis, considering him to be overly dismissive of renewable energy: "When Gates had his climate change epiphany, he too immediately raced to the prospect of a silver-bullet techno-fix in the future - without pausing to consider viable - if economically challenging - responses in the here and now." Will The Guardian’s campaign succeed? The Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger has pledged to put climate change at the “front and centre” of the newspaper’s coverage, lending support to the global divestment movement and urging philanthropic trusts like the Gates Foundation and Britain’s Wellcome Trust to follow the example of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. See video: Keep It In The Ground The Guardian said it recognised that the Gates Foundation has made “a huge contribution to human progress and equality by supporting scientific research and development projects”, but warned that “investments in fossil fuels are putting this progress at great risk, by undermining your long term ambitions.” The campaign urges the Gates Foundation “to commit now to divesting from the top 200 fossil fuel companies within five years and to immediately freeze any new investments in those companies”. Rusbridger wrote that this would be “a small but crucial step in the economic transition away from a global economy run on fossil fuels”. Hopefully, the campaign will be successful. Bill and Melinda Gates have certainly shown a willingness in the past to revise their approach, in light of new evidence, and both have been disturbed by the politics of climate denial. The Gates Foundation can make a stronger contribution to the battle against climate change, especially given how the climate issue cuts across its food security, public health, and human rights aims. This is one way it can do so.
  21. The first UN negotiating session preparing for a climate deal this fall just wrapped up in Geneva. The draft is the next step in a long process of negotiation and bargaining on the way to a treaty to finally replace the expired Kyoto Accords. The negotiations were given a boost last fall by A U.S.-China deal on limiting carbon pollution. This set the stage for more serious negotiations involving all parties, with many issues still outstanding. For the first time, the treaty is expected to include targets for both developed and developing countries. Historically, the developed countries have emitted the most carbon pollution, and so have contributed the most to the build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This cumulative build-up is the cause of the global warming the world is already experiencing. However, currently, several developing countries are emitting the most carbon pollution, led by China and India. The Kyoto Accords included only the developed countries, and they expired in 2012. For several years before that expiration, and ever since, efforts to create a binding climate treaty have floundered. The U.S.-China deal raised hopes of finding new ways to include all countries in the process, and marked a major step in China's negotiating posture, and also marked a major step in the US posture, calling for major steps by both countries to limit carbon pollution. This UN process also takes place against rising demonstrations calling for climate action, most importantly the People's Climate March in NYC in September, 400,000 strong. Solidarity actions that weekend around the world added another 200,000 to the count. Many other kinds of ongoing organizing are taking place, building a multi-faceted movement. Last weekend, 350.org and many other groups staged Global Divestment Days, calling on universities, pension funds, and public funds to be divested from fossil fuel companies. Norway became the first country to pledge divestment from its wealth fund, dumping billions in investments in fossil fuel companies, though it still has billions more to go. Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have pushed through a bill trying to force Obama to okay the Keystone pipeline project, a bill he had promised to veto. Other battles are being waged over EPA rules for new and existing power plants. In addition to the growing climate action movement, these negotiations take place against the backdrop of increasingly dire predictions about the results of climate change. 2014 was the hottest year on record. NASA scientists predict that large parts of the U.S. will experience multi-decades-long massive droughts later this century. The UN negotiations are scheduled to wrap up at a major conference in Paris in November and December of 2015. While a major international treaty would be an important step forward in the fight against catastrophic climate change, the treaty will certainly not be enough by itself. Enough carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere to guarantee increasing impacts, on top of the ones already seen: increased forest fires, rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, extreme flooding and droughts, changes in weather patterns impacting agriculture, wildlife, and disease zones, glacial and ice sheet melting, and increased species extinction, to mention some.
  22. It's now official: 2014 was the warmest year in recorded history. According to two separate analyses by scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) and the National Ocean Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces in 2014 was the highest since 1880 when modern records started. And, with the exception of 1998, the 10 warmest years have all occurred since the beginning of the 21st century. Prior to 2014, the Earth's warmest years were 2005 and 2010. Since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 0.8 degrees Celsius — and the majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades. This long-term warming trend is the direct result of human activity, says NASA. It is mainly being driven by an increase in carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere from human activity. “This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. But this doesn't mean that temperatures will keep increasing at a steady rate and that every new year will have record-breaking temperatures. There will be regional differences in temperature due to weather events such as El Nino and La Nina — natural weather phenomena that warms and cool the tropical Pacific. Year-to-year fluctuations will therefore still occur. “The globe is warmer now than it has been in the last 100 years and more likely in at least 5,000 years,” Jennifer Francis, a Rutgers University climate scientist, told Associated Press. “Any wisps of doubt that human activities are at fault are now gone with the wind,” she said.
  23. Four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity, says an international team of 18 researchers in the January 16 issue of the journal Science. The four are: climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen). Two of these, climate change and biosphere integrity, are what the scientists call “core boundaries”. Significantly altering either of these “core boundaries” would “drive the Earth System into a new state”. “Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human well being in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries,” says Lead author, Professor Will Steffen, researcher at the Centre and the Australian National University, Canberra. “In this new analysis we have improved our quantification of where these risks lie.” The new paper is a development of the Planetary Boundaries concept, which was first published in 2009, identifying nine global priorities relating to human-induced changes to the environment. The science shows that these nine processes and systems regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth System – the interactions of land, ocean, atmosphere and life that together provide conditions upon which our societies depend. The research builds on a large number of scientific publications critically assessing and improving the planetary boundaries research since its original publication. It confirms the original set of boundaries and provides updated analysis and quantification for several of them, including phosphorus and nitrogen cycles, land-system change, freshwater use and biosphere integrity. Though the framework keeps the same processes as in 2009, two of them have been given new names, to better reflect what they represent, and yet others have now also been assessed on a regional level. “Loss of biodiversity” is now called “Change in biosphere integrity.” Biological diversity is vitally important, but the framework now emphasizes the impact of humans on ecosystem functioning. Chemical pollution has been given the new name “Introduction of novel entities,” to reflect the fact that humans can influence the Earth system through new technologies in many ways. “Pollution by toxic synthetic substances is an important component, but we also need to be aware of other potential systemic global risks, such as the release of radioactive materials or nanomaterials,” says Sarah Cornell, coordinator of the Planetary Boundaries research at the Centre. “We believe that these new names better represent the scale and scope of the boundaries,” she continues. In addition to the globally aggregated Planetary Boundaries, regional-level boundaries have now been developed for biosphere integrity, biogeochemical flows, land-system change and freshwater use. At present only one regional boundary (South Asian Monsoon) can be established for atmospheric aerosol loading. “Planetary Boundaries do not dictate how human societies should develop but they can aid decision-makers by defining a safe operating space for humanity,” says co-author Katherine Richardson from the University of Copenhagen. Nine planetary boundaries: Climate change Change in biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and species extinction) Stratospheric ozone depletion Ocean acidification Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles) Land-system change (for example deforestation) Freshwater use Atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms) Introduction of novel entities (e.g. organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).
  24. CARE International, one of the world’s largest and oldest humanitarian aid organizations, has condemned programs that promote birth control as a means to reduce climate change. CARE, which strongly supports “rights to sexual and reproductive choices and health for women and girls worldwide,” warns that efforts to link family planning to environmental objectives are undermining those very rights: “These challenges have become entangled in conversations on climate change in ways that conflate these rights with narratives of natural resource scarcity and population control. Such narratives are more likely to compromise, than to achieve, equality and just outcomes for women living in poverty who are adversely affected by climate change.” In a strongly worded paper titled Choice, not control: Why limiting the fertility of poor populations will not solve the climate crisis (pdf), CARE makes two fundamental arguments. First, that population reduction programs target people who are not responsible for climate change, and direct attention away from those who are. “Action on climate change hinges on tackling inequality and the consumption patterns of the wealthiest far more than on the reproductive behaviour of people living in poverty.” Second, that family planning programs motivated by population objectives focus not on giving women choice, but on pushing for specific outcomes, even if that violates human rights. “Decades of experience of population and environment programming have shown that rights and choices are too easily undermined when misguided natural resource management concerns drive reproductive health service provision.” The CARE paper makes four recommendations for policies and programs related to climate change, economic development, and women’s rights: Reproductive rights must be a singular goal in their own right. Subordinating these rights under other objectives, such as the protection of natural resources, poses problematic and dangerous incentives which can undermine human rights, and must be avoided. Efforts to promote gender equality need to safeguard women’s rights and social justice in discussions on population and the environment. Programs should not use the language of gender equity and reproductive rights to legitimize policies and actions aimed at controlling the fertility of poor populations. Responses to climate change need to avoid victim-blaming and increasing the burden on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations, including the women within them. Action on climate change should draw attention to inequalities, e.g. in the global food system, carbon emissions and wealth. Work on family planning carried out in a context of environmental degradation and climate vulnerability must include strict safeguards for human rights, in particular reproductive self-determination, and rights to land and other natural resources. Such work should also draw attention to inequalities in the access of women and girls to the information, services and supplies they need to make reproductive decisions and choices. Needless to say, Simon Butler and I are very pleased that arguments we made in Too Many People? have been confirmed and extended by an organization with so much experience working with the world’s poorest women, and we’re honored that CARE several times cites our book as a source.