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Found 81 results

  1. The Keystone pipeline proposal has hit a Nebraska stop sign, but it has deeper problems than right-of-way issues across the United States. After all, the controversial proposal for transporting Canada's tar sands was never just about the pipeline. Just ask the thousand students who rallied in front of the White House recently and were willing to be arrested to make their point. Frustrated and angry over a lack of political action on climate change, our Millennial Generation is not tolerating an ineffectual Congress or president. This 18-34 year old group in the United States is 74 million strong and when the worst happens will suffer the most from climate change. With little representation in Congress, where the average age is 60, they are looking to civil disobedience as a strategy to create the political will to address this threat. This will happen not only in our nation's capitol but on the streets of major cities across the nation. The fight over Keystone is really about a generational shift in our energy paradigm and how we will survive the 21st century. It concerns the wealth and jobs that the fossil fuels industry creates, how it has weaved itself into all of our lives and pulled us into a formidable dependency. With a growing foreboding, however, we are sensing our carbon lifestyle may be lethal to future generations and if they are to survive it is incumbent on us to accelerate efforts to develop other energy sources. From Washington, D.C. and Nebraska courts, this conflict now swings to Canada, where the Alberta government owns 81 percent of its oil sands and has a long list of investment partners. Besides multinational corporations, one of its biggest sources of investment capital for mining is China, our planet's largest producer of greenhouse gases. Alberta looks to collect $1.2 trillion in royalties from its oil sands over the next 35 years, but has increasingly drawn the world's attention because of the massive girth of pollution from the mining and burning of bitumen tar. Canada also faces a disenfranchised youth, who feel their voices and futures have been diminished by the enormous profits bitumen tar sands portend. They are joined by First Nations aboriginal tribes who share the same political paucity and frustration. Despite the economic benefits of bitumen tar mining on their lands, First Nations people are taking a grim view of irreversible health and cultural damage. It is a seminal decision for First Nations to continue its relationship with Canadian oil interests and on a larger scale, analogous with our world's factious accord on reducing the role of fossil fuels in our lives. The world's climate scientists essentially agree that if left unchecked, anthropogenic CO2 will worsen extreme weather, raise sea levels and create mass extinctions from a profuse array of environmental changes. Many acknowledge that climate deniers are fed propagated ignorance by fossil fuel strategists as part of a misinformation campaign, creating a set of beliefs not easily changed. It creates a polarized electorate, leaving the issue to develop worst-case scenarios before action is taken. In moderation, fossil fuel usage might not have posed a serious threat, but we have moved well past that threshold. Our burning of fossil fuels produces around 33.4 billion metric tons of CO2 per year and world energy needs are expected to rise about 40 percent over the next 20 years. CO2 has reached proportions in our atmosphere not seen for about 15 million years and many scientists warn it may already be too late to mitigate damages. There is a way forward. In time, renewables can generate jobs lost in the fossil fuels industry and will sustain our lifestyles. We can consider Generation IV nuclear energy, reportedly much safer than existing technology. Some strategists look to a carbon fee and dividend system that can increase the viability of new renewable energy sources, as well as a carbon import tax on products from other countries. As Keystone falters and tar sands mining provokes mounting protests, our nation is compelled to end political bickering and accede Millennials a more powerful voice on climate legislation. President Obama must grasp the significance of this moment, deny the Keystone permit and tell the world his decision has nothing to do with the pipeline and everything to do with leadership. This opinion piece was written by Jeffrey Meyer, a writer and volunteer for 350.org and Citizens Climate Lobby.
  2. IPCC, the UN’s expert panel on climate change, released part three of their new global warming study yesterday. The new report says that the world’s current efforts to combat global warming are not sufficient if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change. If we are to keep global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius cap recommended by scientists, emissions from CO2 and other greenhouse gases must drop by 40 to 70 percent by 2050 – and drop even further to near-zero by the end of the century. To accomplish this, the world needs to urgently switch to clean and renewable energy. Clean energy sources will need to triple and completely dominate world energy by 2050, the IPCC report concludes. But the direct opposite is currently happening. World emissions of various greenhouse gases are increasing. Between 2000 and 2010, average global emissions rose by 2.2 percent every year – reaching “unprecedented levels” of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere. Increasing carbon emissions are largely due to an increasing demand for energy and a rising coal use in countries such as China. “There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, one of three co-chairs of the IPCC working group. We need to end the current dominance of coal, oil and gas and replace them with cleaner and more renewable energy sources. But this is a daunting – and unprecedented – task when fossil fuels currently provide more than 80 percent of the world’s total energy production. “We can only avoid catastrophic climate change if we reduce our dependency on fossil fuels – we're already on track for four degrees warming, which will be impossible for human society to adapt to,” said Friends of the Earth's executive director Andy Atkins in a response to the new IPCC report. “We have the technology to prevent dangerous climate change. What we lack is the political will of our leaders to strongly champion renewable power and energy efficiency.” So-called CCS technologies, which capture and bury carbon emissions is one way to produce low-carbon energy. But the IPCC experts notes that this technology is not feasible as it “has not yet been applied at a large, commercial scale.” Gas could be important in the “short-term”, during the transition, but only if it replaces coal. One low-carbon energy option is nuclear power. But the IPCC report notes that nuclear “has been declining since 1993” and voices concern about potential safety risks, “nuclear weapon proliferation risks, waste management security as well as financial and regulatory risks.” The big emphasis in the IPCC report is on renewable energy sources and technologies, such as solar and wind power, but also energy efficiency and conservation. The IPCC report acknowledges how much renewable energy technologies have advanced since 2007. Since the last major IPCC study, “many [renewable energy] technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions, and a growing number of [renewable energy] technologies have achieved a level of maturity to enable deployment at significant scale,” the report says. “Regarding electricity generation alone, [renewable energy] accounted for just over half of the new electricity generating capacity added globally in 2012, led by growth in wind, hydro and solar power.” But renewable energy and various implementations against energy waste requires substantial long-term investments. And here’s the good news from the new IPCC report: a global roll-out of clean and renewable energy is remarkably cheap – but only if we act now. The investment required to green our global energy system would only result in a 0.06% reduction of off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3%, the IPCC report concludes. Read that again. It would only cost us 0.06% of annual economic growth to save the climate and make sure there will be a livable planet for future generations as well. That’s nothing. But only if we act now. “We cannot afford to lose another decade,” warned German economist Ottmar Edenhofer, a co-chair of the IPCC committee. “If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.” Considering that the world spends over half a trillion dollars every year to subsidize fossil fuels – about six times more than the global investment into renewable energy – there is clearly room to divest and divert money from fossil fuels into renewable energy. And a transition towards clean and renewable energy would also result in health benefits, as professor Nicholas Stern notes. “The transition to sustainable low-carbon economic development and growth is an opportunity not just to avoid potentially catastrophic climate risks, but also to reap other benefits from cleaner and more efficient technologies, such as reductions in local air pollution,” Stern said. “There is only plan A: collective action to reduce emissions now,” EU commissioner Connie Hedegaard said. “The more you wait, the more it will cost. The more you wait, the more difficult it will become.” And US Secretary of State John Kerry agrees with that sentiment: “Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. […] Waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic,” he said. “We stand at a fork in road,” said Li Shuo, Greenpeace East Asia's climate and energy campaigner. “One way leads to more dependence on dwindling fossil fuels that are wrecking our climate and damaging our health; the other to a world powered by a booming clean energy sector that is already driving growth and creating jobs. The sooner we act, the cheaper it will be.” The IPCC study, titled Mitigation of climate change, is the last report of three IPCC working groups. The previous reports have looked at the current state of climate science and the impacts of unchecked climate change. This report was produced by 1250 international experts and has been approved by 194 governments.
  3. For a while, Dr. Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of natural resources and ecology & evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, was relatively optimistic. There was a time when he believed that, if modern industrial society were to suddenly cease to operate, the planet could be saved. Not any more, he says. Planet Earth is now in hospice, nearing the end. Waiting to hear him speak, the atmosphere in the East Auditorium at the University of Rhode Island is festive, almost jubilant. Everyone is smiling and gregariously introducing themselves to me. Though most of us aren't scientists, there is an unconscious letting down of our guard: we are among our own. No matter the origin of our disparate backgrounds, we all believe that climate change is real, and that human beings are the primary cause. There is electricity in the air and everyone is excited. I make the rounds and meet Patricia Hval, the humble curator of the Babcock-Smith House Museum in Westerly, R.I. Though not a URI faculty member, she is responsible for McPherson's presence here tonight. She had originally invited him to speak in Westerly but couldn't find a venue, so she organized a URI event along with Dr. Peter Nightingale, whom I finally meet in the flesh after some email correspondence. Peter is a slight, elderly Dutchman with quick vibrant movements and an infectious smile - like so many others tonight (including our speaker) he exudes charisma. He is a physicist, and though he doesn't agree with McPherson's specific prognosis, his views on climate change are uncompromising. In our telephone conversations, he voices frustration at the meager efforts of world governments to curb carbon emissions. He makes an apt analogy with Dick Cheney's "one percent doctrine": If there is even a 1 percent chance of a terrorist attack, then the United States must do everything in its power to stop it. Why then, Nightingale asks, is the same logic not applied to climate change, which has a statistically predictable trajectory and the potential to kill many more people than any other threat? Nightingale opens up the lecture with a song on his ukulele. The anthem is called "Fight For Fossil Free!" and we all have lyric sheets. Soon I am singing along with everyone else in the packed auditorium. The energy of the crowd is palpable. McPherson steps up to the podium and makes his case. He'd an odd duck, splendidly dressed, and it's hard to take your eyes off him. He is dressed in well worn leather dress shoes, '90s Carhart pants and a slick blazer, and has perhaps the goofiest haircut I've ever seen in my life. There is something strangely dashing about him, a streak of Indiana Jones. He is positively arresting. Guy McPherson believes that life on Earth will more or less be extinct by the year 2060, and the evidence he presents is compelling and well sourced. Of the creatures that may live, mankind is not among them. We'll run out of food and water. We'll be swept away by typhoons, and freeze in winter storms of unusual intensity. We'll dry in the sun, and our mummified remains will break apart in sandstorms, our disintegrated body matter swirling around like dervishes of dust. Now, Guy didn't actually use any of these morbid descriptions, but that is where my mind went after hearing the overwhelming amount of factual information that he presented. If he's a flake, as some have accused him of being, then he is the most learned and exhaustively conclusive flake I've ever met. We've known for a very long time that climate change is real, and that it has been specifically caused by the burning of fossil fuels. The first scientific paper linking the two was released in 1847. That's right, I said 1847. Media blackouts, apparently, are nothing new. McPherson believes that the effects of climate change are exponentially progressive and irreversible based on two factors: the lag of the effect of carbon emissions, which is about 40 years, and consequently the creation of self-reinforcing feedback loops. So what does that all mean? Well, it means that we are reaping the fruits of 1970s carbon emissions. But surely emissions have decreased, right? No. Not even close. Worse, there is no sign that emissions are even slowing down, much less reversing. 2009, the onset of the the Second Great Depression Great Recession, set a new record for carbon released by humans into the atmosphere. This record has been consecutively broken every year since. This is where the self-reinforcing feedback loops come into play. There are many of them, but I'll start with one that I understand as a layman: the release of methane over cold regions. Permafrost contains copious amounts of methane, which is now being released into the atmosphere as the permafrost melts. Though methane dissipates in the atmosphere at a faster pace than carbon, its heating effects are far greater. So as more methane is released, more permafrost melts, releasing more methane. .. get it? But the methane will just break up in the atmosphere and the crisis will be over, right? No. The warming will affect the whole planet, destroying natural heat sinks such as rainforests, leading to the release of even more methane. McPherson shows us an authentic photo of Siberian children roasting marshmallows over a methane fissure in Siberia. It's a small crack in the Earth, and some industrious youngster has lit it on fire. But they no longer light the fissures on fire, because the cracks are now a kilometer wide. No major news agency reported it. If the prognosis on Earth's condition is so grim, then why bother reporting it? McPherson uses the analogy of medical malpractice. If your doctor examines you and concludes that you have six months to live, McPherson asks, wouldn't you like to know the truth? Those in the scientific community and elsewhere who minimize the impending calamity and totality of climate change are committing malpractice by withholding this crucial and pertinent information from us. The Earth is in hospice, and the prognosis is grim. I pray to God that he's wrong. This article was first published in People's World by Jonathan W. Pressman.
  4. The effects of global warming will be “severe, pervasive and irreversible” and will leave no one untouched. That is the conclusion of the newly released IPCC report, which scientists and officials say is the most comprehensive study to date on the impacts of climate change. This report is “the most solid evidence you can get in any scientific discipline,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization. Earlier we could, to a certain extent, say that people damaged the Earth’s climate out of “ignorance”. But “now, ignorance is no longer a good excuse,” he said. “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said at a news conference in Yokohama, Japan, where the report was presented. While the world’s natural systems are currently bearing the brunt of climate change, the impact on us humans is expected to grow significantly in the near future, the IPCC report warns. Rising global temperatures will result in more floods and cause changes to crop yields and water availability – effectively threatening our homes, health, food and safety. Or in the words of the report itself: “increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.” We will be able to adapt to some of these changes, but only within certain limits. In response to the IPCC report, Ed Davey, the UK Energy and Climate Secretary said that “the recent flooding in the UK is a testament to the devastation that climate change could bring to our daily lives.” “The science has clearly spoken,” Davey said. “Left unchecked, climate change will impact on many aspects of our society, with far reaching consequences to human health, global food security and economic development.” The IPCC report, which is based on 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies, details both short-term and long-term impacts of global warming. These include threats to natural systems that in turn will have severe effects for humans. A 2C rise in temperatures would mean a “very high” risk to unique natural systems such as Arctic sea ice and coral reefs. Oceans will become more acidic, which will threaten coral and the species that depend on them. Fish species, that are a critical source of food for many people, will move to new territories because of warmer waters. It is expected that in some parts of the tropics and in Antarctica, potential fish catches could decline by more than 50 percent. Plants, animals and other species on land will also begin to move towards higher grounds, towards the poles as the climate gets warmer and their current habitats changes. As mentioned earlier, the natural systems will feel the worst impacts first. Humans will be increasingly affected as the century goes on, the IPCC report claims. Highlighted in the report for being a significant concern is food security. Crop yields for rice, wheat and maize are all expected to be taking severe hits leading up to 2050, with projections showing potential losses of over 25 percent in yields. And after 2050, the risk of even more severe impacts on yields increases. At the same time, a rising population estimated at around 9 billion people will increase the demand for food. “Going into the future, the risks only increase, and these are about people, the impacts on crops, on the availability of water and particularly, the extreme events on people's lives and livelihoods,” said Professor, and co-author of the IPCC report, Neil Adger from the University of Exeter in England. The IPCC report also raises concerns over human migration due to climate change, as well as increasing risks of conflicts that will pose a threat to national and global security. As climate change worsens, so will society’s current problems. Poverty, violence, sickness, and refugees will all get worse according to the report. Climate change will also slow down the modernization of our society and effectively hampering economic growth, among other things. But although the impacts of climate change will be felt everywhere and hit everyone, the severity won’t affect people equally. Poor people, and developing countries, will feel the impact first and hardest. Climate change is expected to further increase the gaps between rich and poor. But the rich won’t be able to escape from the realities of global warming. “The rich are going to have to think about climate change,” said Dr Saleemul Huq, a lead author on one of the chapters in the IPCC report. “We're seeing that in the UK, with the floods we had a few months ago, and the storms we had in the US and the drought in California. These are multibillion dollar events that the rich are going to have to pay for.” Despite all the doom and gloom, the report makes it clear that we still have time to act to limit and adapt to some of the climate changes. In their next report, which will be published on April the 13th, IPCC will discuss what we can do to stop this negative progress. “Climate change is really important but we have a lot of the tools for dealing effectively with it - we just need to be smart about it,” said the IPCC report's chair, Dr Chris Field.
  5. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released their annual State of the Climate report this past Sunday, to coincide with the World Meteorological Day. The report confirms that recent extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods, heat waves and tropical cyclones around the world, are linked to human-caused climate change. "There is no standstill in global warming," said WMO Secretary-General, Mr. Michel Jarraud in a statement. "Many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change. We saw heavier precipitation, more intense heat, and more damage from storm surges and coastal flooding as a result of sea level rise - as Typhoon Haiyan so tragically demonstrated in the Philippines." The WMO report shows that 2001-2010 was the warmest decade on record, and that the last three decades had been warmer than the previous one. In 2013, Australia had its hottest year on record while Argentina had its second hottest. 2013 tied with 2007 as the sixth-warmest on record. The continuing long-term trend of warming and these heat records could not have been possible without "human-induced influence on climate", i.e. global warming, the report concludes: "Comparing climate model simulations with and without human factors shows that the record hot Australian summer of 2012/13 was about five times as likely as a result of human-induced influence on climate and that the record hot calendar year of 2013 would have been virtually impossible without human contributions of heat-trapping gases, illustrating that some extreme events are becoming much more likely due to climate change." The report also shows that during 2013 greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere reached record highs, global oceans reached new record high sea levels, and Antarctic sea ice extent reached a record daily minimum. "2013 with its mixture of record warmth and extreme weather shows a now familiar mixture of natural variability and greenhouse gas induced climate change," said Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London. "These annual statements document a striking long term trend, and one thing is clear: that our continuing greenhouse gas emissions are a crucial driving force in the changing climate." Other key climate events of 2013, according to the WMO report: Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall, devastated parts of the central Philippines. Surface air temperatures over land in the Southern Hemisphere were very warm, with widespread heat waves; Australia saw record warmth for the year, and Argentina its second warmest year and New Zealand its third warmest. Frigid polar air plummeted into parts of Europe and the southeast United States. Angola, Botswana and Namibia were gripped by severe drought. Heavy monsoon rains led to severe floods on the India-Nepal border. Heavy rains and floods impacted northeast China and the eastern Russian Federation. Heavy rains and floods affected Sudan and Somalia. Major drought affected southern China. Northeastern Brazil experienced its worst drought in the past 50 years. The widest tornado ever observed struck El Reno, Oklahoma in the United States. Extreme precipitation led to severe floods in Europe’s Alpine region and in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland. Israel, Jordan, and Syria were struck by unprecedented snowfall.
  6. Since last year, California has been plagued by drought, with Los Angeles in particular having its driest year on record in 2013. Angelenos only saw reprieve in early March, when heavy rainfall finally arrived there. Now, scientists are warning that an even more dire situation is on the way for the Golden State: a megadrought that could last for decades, affecting everything from wildlife to agriculture. And although the storm system that brought precipitation to LA is going to help combat the drought in the short-term, weather officials don't believe it will have a lasting effect. The drought, of course, is a product of climate change, and it stands to reason that the two will worsen simultaneously. Lisa Sloan, professor of Earth sciences at UC Santa Cruz, and author of a report on the issue, explained that the California drought is largely owed to the global warming-induced melting of Arctic ice. Jacob Sewall, a graduate student who co-published the report, remarked, "Where the sea ice is reduced, heat transfer from the ocean warms the atmosphere, resulting in a rising column of relatively warm air." Sloan added, "And this will only get worse, with Arctic sea ice diminishing quickly. In fact, I think the actual situation in the next few decades could be even more dire than our study suggested." Climate change blogger and founding editor of Climate Progress Joseph Romm said that droughts in the western U.S. on the whole will increase in intensity and frequency as weather patterns change. He explained, "Precipitation patterns are expected to shift, expanding the dry subtropics. What precipitation there is will come in extreme deluges, resulting in runoff rather than drought alleviation. Warming causes greater evaporation and, once the ground is dry, the sun's energy goes into baking the soil, leading to a further increase in air temperature." Lynn Ingram, a paleoclimatologist from the University of California Berkeley, said that megadroughts - those lasting for more than 100 years - have occurred in the past and could return. "If we go back several thousand years," she said, "we've seen that droughts can last over a decade - and in some cases, over a century. We can expect that this will happen again. California should be prepared for an eventual dry period" of that magnitude. Should this happen, it would create an increasingly desperate set of circumstances for Californians, who live in one of the largest agricultural regions in the world. The effects such a drought would have on crops would be disastrous. As a result, the cost of fruits and vegetables alone would soar, thus making it an economic issue as well. Celeste Cantu, general manager for the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, said California should start preparing for this now. "There will be cataclysmic impacts. We would need to import water" to some 4.5 million southern Californians, especially ranchers and farmers. According to paleoclimatologist Edward Cook, "the current drought" in the southwestern U.S. overall "could be classified as a megadrought - 13 years running." He pointed out that two prior megadroughts have occurred in the Sierra Nevada of California, each last between 100 and 200 years. If the worst-case scenario comes to fruition, the state's current dry period could last just as long. "There's no indication it'll be getting any better in the near term," he concluded. This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  7. It’s wrong to think that we can campaign to stop climate change in the same way we might campaign to end a war. All the evidence says we are well past that stage now. That is, even if by some impossible, magical course of events all carbon pollution on Earth was stopped tomorrow, we’d still be in really, really deep trouble. So many greenhouse gases have been pumped into the Earth’s atmosphere that we have rushed far past the safe upper limit — the famous 350 parts per million of CO2, the number that climate action group 350.org took for its name. Today’s level of 400ppm has been enough to trigger the“death spiral” in Arctic sea ice. More than three-quarters of the ice cap’s volume has melted away in the past 30 years. Along with wrecking the Arctic region’s fragile ecosystem, scientists predict the loss of the ice cap will trigger other events that throw global warming into overdrive. The two biggest of these are the melting of the huge Greenland ice sheet and the release of immense stores of methane gas frozen inside ice-like crystals on the seafloor. There is alarming evidence that both disastrous events may already be underway. Dangerous warming already here Last year, Greenland’s ice cap was found to be melting at a rate that smashed previous records. Studies cited in the UN’s IPCC report on climate science said Greenland’s ice melt was six times bigger in the decade to 2011 compared to the decade before. The scientist-authored blog Arctic News also reported that recorded methane emissions from the Arctic are “going through the roof”. Two weeks ago, researchers announced that 17 million tonnes of methane were venting into the atmosphere from the ocean floor off the coast of East Siberia each year — double the amount previously estimated. Methane gas causes up to 100 times more warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Even without the methane pulse, the Earth will keep warming. Researchers from Princeton University released a study on November 24 that said “the carbon dioxide already in Earth’s atmosphere could continue to warm our planet for hundreds of years” even if emissions suddenly stopped. On top of this, world-leading marine scientists warned in October that a climate change-induced ocean mass extinction event may be underway. This is largely due to the warming of the oceans, combined with the acidification caused by carbon dioxide dissolving into the water. The ocean has not been this acidic at any time in the past 300 million years. All these impacts are underway now, when the Earth has warmed by just 0.8C since industrialisation. Unless emissions fall rapidly, the warming pathway is for a 4C rise — maybe as soon as 2060. That is, business-as-usual puts us on track for global warming five times worse that it is already. Fossil fuel binge Despite all these findings, the world’s big polluting firms (and the banks that finance them) are engaging in a fossil fuel binge. Last year alone, companies spent $674 billion to find and develop new oil, gas and coal deposits. The International Energy Agency predicts global investment in extracting and processing new fossil fuel reserves will add up to a staggering $22.87 trillion between 2012 and 2035. And because conventional fossil fuel sources are running out, an increasing part of this investment will be in even more polluting unconventional sources: gas and oil fracking, tar sands oil, shale oil, extra heavy crude oil, deepwater offshore oil and energy deposits from the newly accessible Arctic seabed. US energy analyst Michael Klare put it bluntly in a recent Tomdispatch.com article: “Most of us believe (or want to believe) that the second carbon era, the Age of Oil, will soon be superseded by the Age of Renewables … There is only one fly in the ointment: it is not, in fact, the path we are presently headed down. “The energy industry is not investing in any significant way in renewables. Instead, it is pouring its historic profits into new fossil-fuel projects … The result is indisputable: humanity is not entering a period that will be dominated by renewables. Instead, it is pioneering the third great carbon era, the Age of Unconventional Oil and Gas.” In a recent paper, US climate scientist James Hansen summed up the fearful outcome if the big corporate polluters get their way: “It is not an exaggeration to suggest, based on best available scientific evidence, that burning all fossil fuels could result in the planet being not only ice-free but human-free.” Three types of denial We are already living in a world of dangerous, irreversible climate change. We need to cut emissions sharply to stop things getting even worse, but we also need to prepare to adapt to the changes that are coming. Radical social change — economic and political systems based on equal access, human solidarity and sustainable production — will be the most important adaptation measure of all. If we are going to survive in a warmer world, then we must also do so without illusions. The threat of climate change would be a lot less daunting if the mainstream discourse about it were not so dominated by reckless denial, shamefaced excuses and sinister silences. From the standpoint of humanity having a safe future on this planet, this race to wreck and poison the Earth for profit is insane, even suicidal. Yet for the powerful companies that stand to profit, and from the standpoint of the capitalist system as a whole, it’s an entirely predictable response. The methodical destruction of the life-giving properties of our planet is the visible product of “the invisible hand.” The World People’s Conference on Climate Change, held in Bolivia in 2010, drew together more than 20,000 climate campaigners — mostly from the global South. The conference adopted a “People’s Agreement” that concluded capitalism’s “model of limitless and destructive development,” its “regime of production and consumption [that] seeks profit without limits,” is ultimately to blame for the climate crisis. The People’s Agreement also noted that “the corporations and governments of the so-called developed countries, in complicity with a segment of the scientific community, have led us to discuss climate change as a problem limited to the rise in temperature without questioning the cause, which is the capitalist system.” As we strive to build mass movements to respond to the climate emergency, we will have to confront the corporate polluter-backed denial of the climate science. But we will also have to confront those who accept the science but deny the economic and social roots of the crisis. US Marxist John Bellamy Foster says there are at least three kinds of ecological denial. The first kind is the outright, absolute denial of any problem, the “automatic response of corporations generally” when their profits are under threat. It’s the denial made infamous by tobacco companies. It’s the denial of those who blindly insist climate change is not happening, or that humans have no role in it. The second kind of denial is “a retreat from the first.” It admits the problem, but refuses to admit that the present social system is a fundamental issue. This kind of denial gives rise to environmental solutions that confuse the symptoms with the cause. Typically, those who isolate population size, consumption habits or technological change as the most important climate issues are stuck at this second stage of ecological denial. Foster says the third kind of denial is “a last ditch-defense” and “the most dangerous [denial] of all.” It’s the denial that admits our environmental problems are a failure of capitalism as it exists, but insists we must try to make capitalism green and sustainable. “The argument here varies,” says Foster, “but usually begins with the old trope that capitalism is the most efficient economic system possible … and that the answer to ecological problems is to make it more efficient still by internalising costs on the environment previously externalized by the system.” It’s the denial that says we can deal with climate change while keeping the social relations of domination, inequality and exploitation that got us into it. It’s the denial that says the best way to protect nature is to turn more of it into marketable commodities. It’s the denial that says capitalism is the potential saviour, when it is the present destroyer. Ecological revolution Rejecting these three types of denial leads to embracing a strategy of far-reaching ecological revolution. In the words of the People’s Agreement: “It is imperative that we forge a new system that restores harmony with nature and among human beings. And in order for there to be balance with nature, there must first be equity among human beings.” This is not the same as just waiting for the revolution to come. The campaigns to keep fossil fuels in the ground and build new, sustainable infrastructure are crucial. The point is that if the climate action movement allows its goals to be shaped by what is permissible in a capitalist economy then it has already failed. If it refuses to compromise on the things that need to be done then it will ultimately have to confront, and remake, the whole system. This is an immensely difficult and arduous course. We cannot deny the peril we face. But neither should we deny the revolutionary changes needed for humankind to survive and thrive in the future. To respond to the climate emergency, our politics must be as radical as our reality.
  8. The 'polar vortex' and severe cold weather don't mean climate change isn't happening, writes Yarrow Axford.   "Climate change is a painstakingly well-documented long-term global trend, in which each recent decade has been warmer than the decade before. This is generally true for most parts of the globe, but more importantly is true when one considers the Earth as a whole. [...] Despite the overwhelming evidence that our planet is warming, there are two points of perpetual confusion that combine with our psychology to make winter weather a seasonal boon for climate skepticism. For one, a cold snap where we live should not be confused for a global event."   Read it: No, Global Warming Isn't Suddenly a Myth Because It's Really Cold Out
  9. Athletes are getting ready for a warm, soggy Winter Games in >Sochi. But thanks to global warming, that could soon be the norm for the Winter Olympics. by mid-century, close to half of the previous host cities could likely be too warm for outdoor sports like Alpine skiing and snowboarding. From the 1920s to the 1950s, the average February daily high temperature in host cities was just 0.4 C, a figure that had risen to 7.8 C between 2000 and 2010.   Read it: Climate Change Could Melt the Winter Olympics
  10. Only a day after legislators and hundreds of farmers from parched districts in Northern California and the Central Valley rallied on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento, Jerry Brown, Governor of California, made an emergency declaration. "We are in an unprecedented, very serious situation," Brown said while calling on Californians to cut their water consumption by 20%. The now three-year long drought has forced cities to cut water use and may leave farmers no choice but to stop planting some crops.    Read the article: Governor declares drought emergency in California
  11. Believe it or not, winters have been warming rapidly in the majority of the continental 48 states since 1970. And, take note Chicago and other Midwest readers: The coldest states are warming the fastest. So says a 2013 report by Climate Central. In fact, says science writer Andrew Zimmerman, if the climate had not warmed so much during the past few decades, it's possible that the current freezer-like weather would be even colder in those areas. Yikes! Meanwhile, there have been above-average temperatures across parts of the Arctic, Scandinavia, Europe and Asia this past week, Zimmerman reports. Last month, the northern Alaska coastline, above the Arctic Circle, had the warmest temperatures on record in at least 70 years. It's part of an overall trend of warming in the Arctic area. But yes, brrrrr, every state in the continental U.S. has had sub-freezing temperatures this week. It's attributed to the behavior of the "polar vortex." The polar vortex (also known as a polar cyclone) is a large swirl of very cold air that sits over the polar regions year round. It intensifies in the winter and weakens in the summer. The jet stream from the Arctic polar vortex sometimes brings extremely cold weather southward into Europe, Asia and the U.S. According AccuWeather.com, cold outbreaks like the one this week occur "on average once every 10 years. The last far-reaching, bitterly cold blasts occurred in the mid-1990s, during February of 1996 and January of 1994." AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said, "We were overdue for a large Arctic outbreak of this intensity." This time the polar vortex has spread unusually far south into the U.S., giving us the record frigid conditions we've been experiencing. Is global climate change a factor in this unusual intrusion of the polar vortex? Some scientists say yes; others say the jury is still out. Scientific studies have tied abnormally cold temperatures in the U.S. and Europe to warmer than usual conditions in the Arctic - they dub this the "Warm Arctic/Cold Continents Pattern." This could be driven by the loss of polar sea ice which has been documented over the past few decades. That in turn is spurred by human-caused global warming. Research is ongoing. "The research linking climate change impacts in the Arctic to more extreme jet stream patterns is still very new, and we need several more years of data and additional research before we can be confident that this is occurring," writes Weather Underground scientist Jeff Masters. "But if the new research is correct, the crazy winter weather we've been seeing since 2009 may be the new normal in a world with rapid warming occurring in the Arctic." But one thing is sure, scientist agree: cold weather does not contradict the well-established fact that the Earth has been warming overall due to human activity, in particular the massive use of oil, coal and other fossil fuels. The consequences of this, scientists say, include more extreme weather of all kinds. For a break from the cold, you might want to consider a trip Down Under. Australia has experienced record-breaking scorching hot weather this past year. It's been so hot that mapmakers have had to add a new color to temperature maps to signify the blistering heat there. Australia's winter, which is during our summer months, was "only" the third hottest on record. But its spring temperatures, starting in September, were the hottest ever. January 2014 is starting off with similar heat extremes. Walgett, in New South Wales, recorded 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the second hottest temperature ever measured in the state. One of the reasons for Australia's record heat in 2013 was very high ocean surface temperatures, the third warmest on record according to preliminary data. If you are not up for a trip to Australia, not to worry. The record cold in the U.S. will be ending this week, weather forecasters say. Temperatures are predicted to be up to 50 in places like New York and St. Louis. This article was first published in People's World by Susan Webb.
  12. Beware uncertainty! It can cut both ways - something the climate change deniers want us to ignore at our peril. The well-funded deniers have taken advantage of the great amounts of uncertainty about climate science, climate change, and the interlocking web of life that is nature, the nature on which humanity depends for its existence. And they have been correct that there has been and continues to be much uncertainty. Climate models and projections are guesstimates, not absolute proof. The world's climate system is complex and interacts in sometimes unexpected ways. But the climate change deniers imply, or state outright, that all this uncertainty means that things might not be so bad. They want people to conclude that there is nothing but upside to it. The problem is that uncertainty can work the other way too. It can mean that things are much worse than we thought - and we already thought they were pretty bad. For example, one of the uncertainties about climate change has been about exactly how the systems of cloud formation affect climate. Do clouds reflect, deflect, or absorb the sun's rays? To what degree? Does cloud cover make climate change better or worse? We haven't known. But a new study, published in Nature, a scientific establishment journal of record, peer reviewed and fact-checked, shows that as the climate changes and warms significantly, cloud formation changes as well, and a warming climate will decrease our cloud cover. As a result there will be fewer lower-level clouds to ameliorate the earth's warming. What this means is that the predictions up til now, based on calculations that did not include any cloud-related factors, have underestimated how much the climate will heat up by the end of the century. As we learn more, some of the uncertainty disappears. It is replaced by a certainty that if we don't act soon and in radical fashion to address the causes of climate change, we will sweep past the conservative estimates of 2 degrees Celsius of climate change. That figure might (there's that uncertainty again) keep climate change from affecting humanity and natural systems in catastrophic ways. But the new calculations, taking into account the new certainties about clouds, project an increase of 4 degrees Celsius (about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, double the already-dire predictions of mainstream climate scientists. As other studies have suggested, the most drastic impacts of climate change will likely come from those effects we don't fully understand yet. Realistic optimism needs to be based on facts, on reality, on demonstrated understanding of how the world works. The laws of physics can't be repealed or annulled by legislative action. And the uncertainty about how bad climate change is going to get can mean it will get a lot worse a lot sooner than even the most dire projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations body of scientists charged with evaluating the latest in climate science. All these predictions can be depressing. But the hopeful signs come from the growing movements around the world for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the many related environmental problems we face. The divestment movement, the anti-fracking movement, the many cities and states as well as countries that are taking real action, the positive steps from the Obama administration such as regulating existing and future coal-powered plants and increasing auto standards, all will help, even though they are not yet anywhere near enough to address the enormity of the problems. What is needed is a massive worldwide movement, inclusive of many organizations, many strategies, and many fronts. Photo credit: Arbyreed (cc). This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine.
  13. Authors of a recent climate change analysis, published in the monthly scientific journal Nature Climate Change, says that while the world struggles to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, we have given too little attention to other harmful greenhouse gases – more specifically, greenhouse gases associated with livestock. “Because the Earth’s climate may be near a tipping point to major climate change, multiple approaches are needed for mitigation,” said William Ripple, a professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University and co-author of the analysis. “We clearly need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels to cut CO2 emissions. But that addresses only part of the problem. We also need to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases to lessen the likelihood of us crossing this climatic threshold.” While acknowledging the dangers of CO2, the authors say that much more should be done to reduce releases of methane and nitrous oxide, two non-CO2 greenhouse gases that trap more heat than CO2 does. Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas and recent studies have shown that methane releases could be much higher than previously thought. Methane release comes from a variety of sources, but it’s estimated that ruminants form the largest single human-related source of methane. The authors write that the most effective way to combat climate change is therefore to reduce the world’s populations of ruminant livestock, which are mostly associated with cattle and the production of beef. Research has shown that greenhouse gas emissions from cattle and sheep productions are 19 to 48 times higher (per food produced) than the equivalent production of non-meat foods such as beans, grains, or soy products. So although CO2 is the most abundant greenhouse gas, the world could see a much faster reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the near-term through a substantial reduction in the number of ruminants globally. Individuals can do this by adopting a more vegetarian diet which cuts down on meat and dairy products. “Reducing demand for ruminant products could help to achieve substantial greenhouse gas reductions in the near-term,” said co-author Helmut Haberl of the Institute of Social Ecology in Austria, “but implementation of demand changes represent a considerable political challenge.”
  14. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is in the process of finalizing the different sections of its massive every-seven-years report. The first portion of the 5th Assessment has already been released, and the next is scheduled for release in March. Copies of the draft of that section, about the impact of climate change on human society, have recently been leaked. While the draft is not finalized yet and may undergo revision, it offers dire warnings about the interactions between a warming world, other natural systems on which humans depend, and human social interactions. The latest leaked draft predicts that as global warming changes the climate, resulting in both more rain in some areas and more drought in others, extreme weather events and sea level rise, human societies will be increasing affected. This will lead in a variety of ways to increasing stresses on people, agriculture, water systems, the world's refugee crisis, and human habitation near oceans, among other impacts. The report predicts that as a result our future looks likely to be one with growing poverty, growing water and food stresses, flooding and the spread of desertification, ocean acidity and overfishing destroying many fisheries, spread of diseases, as well as extinction of many species of animal and plants that can't adapt quickly enough to changes in their habitat. Climate change is not just about the weather getting hotter. It is about the linked natural and human systems we all depend on. As severe drought causes crop failure in important agricultural areas, food prices increase. In an effort to increase the stressed food supply, some farmers draw down the water table for irrigation, mining water from underground aquifers that is not being replenished. As flooding impacts agricultural production in other areas simultaneously, prices rise even further. Over the past decade there have been several spikes in world food prices, leading to food riots. This was one factor in the Arab Spring revolts. This illustrates the interconnections affected by climate change. Climate change is not the sole or main cause of the problems the world faces, not by itself, not yet. But it makes virtually all other problems worse. A United Nations study of Darfur cited the effects of climate change on water and agriculture and land as one of a number of interlinked factors driving the conflict. Human access to protein is challenged by these physical changes to the climate and our agricultural practices. Meanwhile, even companies that occasionally admit that climate change is a problem (even as they fund climate change deniers) try to limit the impact on their particular company and business. For example, in Chevron's "7 Principles for Addressing Climate Change," they appeal to our sense of fairness: "Broad and equitable treatment of all sectors of the economy is necessary to ensure no sector or company is disproportionately burdened." At the same time, the industry is planning to take advantage of the melting of Arctic ice by drilling in the Artic Sea, in one of the areas most inhospitable for safe oil exploration. Fossil fuel companies are feeling pressure from the growing climate change divestment movement. While it will not likely cut into their massive profits soon, it places these companies on the defensive. Business professionals are beginning to build a case for divestment on purely financial terms. Cities and states around the world are attempting to grapple, sometimes in conflict with central governments, with necessary adaptations to climate change, including through divestment Issues related to climate change and fossil fuel use are beginning to affect local elections. Other environmental battles continue to play an increasing role in the public dialogue. Effort to build unity between environmental struggles and the labor movement and other progressive movements are growing. As news reports continue over the next months until the complete final IPCC 5th Assessment is released, the scientific arguments for more climate change activism are reinforced. The history of the coming decades will be one of massive environmental struggles, alongside the struggles of other progressive movements to save humanity from exploitation and oppression. The science is not divorced from these movements - it adds depth and detail to the reasons why humanity needs to fight to take more serious action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, and fight to demand that corporations pay the costs of their pollution. As prominent Indian activist Dr. Vandana Shiva says, "It is not an investment if it is destroying the planet." This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine. Photo credit: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation (cc).
  15. Karl Marx came up with the term "metabolic rift" to explain the crack or rift that capitalism has created between social and natural systems, humans and nature. This rift, he claimed, led to the exploitation of the environment and ecological crisis. Marx argued that we humans are all part of nature and he was also the first one who saw social societies as an organism with a metabolism similar to that of humans. In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts from 1844, Marx wrote that: "Man lives from nature, i.e., nature is his body, and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. To say that man's physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature." The general idea is that disruptions, or interruptions, in natural cycles and processes creates an metabolic rift between nature and social systems which leads to a buildup of waste and in the end to the degradation of our environment. As people moved into cities they lost the contact with nature, and as a result they became less likely to consider how their actions and decisions affected the environment. Marx also noted that as the income for the workers in the cities increased, capitalists searched for a cheaper workforce outside of the city. Today when half of the world's population lives in cities this is happening on a larger and more global scale. More people than ever have lost the direct contact with nature. And instead of companies and corporations looking for cheaper workers from the countryside they now look outside the nation's borders, mainly in developing nations. The developed world is performing a "brain drain" where they are literally stealing the higher educated students and people from poorer and undeveloped nations. This is turn is fueling "a vicious downward cycle of underdevelopment" in the countries affected. An example of a global metabolic rift and its consequences can be seen in the 19th century trade in guano (bird droppings) and nitrates from Peru and Chile to Europe. In the late 1800s several agronomists and agriculture chemists, such as Justus von Liebig, warned that the transfer of food from the early industrialized agriculture farms on the countryside to the cities had resulted in a severe loss of soil nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. This threat to the food production was the result of the division between town and country. The food was now being transported to cities far away from its source. And its waste products, which before used to help replenish the soil, now ended up polluting the cities instead. So this metabolic rift between town and country resulted in the loss of soil fertility in Great Britain and other nations which in turn led to the global trade of guano and nitrates from Peru and Chile. This trade also involved transfer of labor from China to work on the guano islands in Peru under slave-like or even worse conditions. It resulted in national economies strained by a huge burden of debt, the degradation of the Chilean and Peruvian environment and even led to a war between Chile and Peru over the guano resources. Liebig has said that this hunt for guano and nitrates "deprives all countries of the conditions of their fertility" and even likened Great Britain to a vampire which is "sucking its lifeblood without any real necessity or permanent gain for itself". Today guano is still widely sold around the world especially to countries such as France, Israel and the United States. Lately guano has also gained the status as an organic fertilizer which has helped increase the demands for it. But due to commercial overfishing as well as habitat loss and degradation the Guanay Cormorant bird has declined from its former population peak at around 60 million individuals to a slowly increasing population level at around 4 million birds today. When it comes to anthropogenic global climate change Marx metabolic rift theory can help us to better understand and solve the biggest environmental crisis ever. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that the observed 0.6 °C temperature increases in global temperatures since the middle of the 20th century is a result of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities such as fossil fuels. So we humans have with our overdependence on fossil fuels disrupted the natural carbon cycle and earth's climate system. We are now accumulating more and more waste emissions into our atmosphere, 23 billion metric tons of CO2 every year, with no end in sight. With devastating effects this accelerating buildup of greenhouse gas waste emissions is warming up our planet and changing our climate. Because capitalism promotes the accumulation of capital on a never-ending and always expanding scale it cannot be sustainable. So the manmade climate change we are seeing now is, according to Brett Clark and Richard York, a result of a metabolic rift created by the capitalistic world system. To be able to address and solve this carbon rift and stop the worst effects of climate change Marx metabolic rift theory shows us that a complete transformation, or revolution, of our society is needed. If we don't the carbon rift will continue to expand and we will race faster and faster towards the burning cliff. References: Hornborg, A., J.R. McNeill & J. Martinez-Alier, red. (2007)."Rethinking Environmental History: World-System History and Global Environmental Change" Clark, Brett & York, Richard (2005). "Carbon metabolism: Global capitalism, climate change, and the biospheric rift" Moore, Jason (2000). "Marx and the Historical Ecology of Capital Accumulation on a World Scale: A Comment on Alf Hornborg's "Ecosystems and World Systems: Accumulation as an Ecological Process."" Foster, Bellamy, John (1999). "The Vulnerable Planet" McMichael, Philip (2008). "Contemporary Contradictions of the Global Development Project: Geopolitics, Global Ecology and the "˜Development Climate," Third World Quarterly.
  16. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released its Fifth Assessment Report on the Physical Science Basis for Climate Change. It summarizes what scientists now know about the causes and extent of climate change. It concludes that it is “extremely likely” that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century, and that the observed changes “ are unprecedented over decades to millennia.” “Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios,” said Co-Chair Thomas Stocker. “Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer. As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions.” The report finds with high confidence that ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010. Headline messages in the IPCC report: Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years. Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0-700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971. Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence). The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m. The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification. Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750. Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system. Climate models have improved since the AR4. Models reproduce observed continental-scale surface temperature patterns and trends over many decades, including the more rapid warming since the mid-20th century and the cooling immediately following large volcanic eruptions (very high confidence). Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing. Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 for all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. It is likely to exceed 2°C for RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, and more likely than not to exceed 2°C for RCP4.5. Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. Warming will continue to exhibit interannual-to-decadal variability and will not be regionally uniform. Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions. The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation. It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease. Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets. Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification. Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.
  17. The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is in the process of finalizing its next report, due to be released in four volumes between Fall 2013 and Spring 2014. These reports, which have come out every seven years over the past several decades, represent the combined consensus views of thousands of climate scientists. Draft copies of some of the reports are now being leaked. While the IPCC correctly responds to criticism of these as premature, since they are by no means finalized yet, there are some things we can already be certain of. 1. The certainty on the part of the vast majority of climate scientists that global warming is real and is at the very least primarily caused by human action has been growing with each new IPCC report. That trend will continue in the upcoming report. All the criteria for such certainty have long ago passed 90 percent, and just keep getting confirmed by new scientific study, by extreme weather events in the real world, by unprecedented droughts in many parts of the world, by the increasing acidity of the world's oceans, and much more. 2. Because the IPCC works on the basis of summarizing thousands of other scientific studies, it tends to be both wide-ranging in outlook and also somewhat conservative in its predictions. In each report, seven years apart, the "worst-case" predictions of the previous report have become the "most likely" predictions. This too will continue, as new studies confirm and deepen our collective knowledge about the world's climate system, how it works, how it is interconnected to all other natural systems (water, oceans, soil, plant life, etc.), and how changes in each of these systems affect all the others. 3. It appears that this latest report will include consideration for the first time of the impact on sea levels from the melting of ice in Greenland, predicting even higher sea level increases than in previous reports. However, it still will not include consideration of the impact on climate change of the melting of the permafrost across the top of the Northern Hemisphere. This is important because this melting releases massive amounts of previously frozen methane and carbon dioxide. This can exacerbate global warming caused by direct human interference in the climate, creating a feedback loop that will make greenhouse gas emissions much worse, and from a source that humans do not have any control over. 4. As each year passes, it becomes more difficult and more expensive to institute measures to reduce global warming. This creates a political paradox - the more we need such measures, the more proof there is of the reality of climate change, the more time passes, then the measures we need to take become more expensive and more massive, and the political will to do the right thing becomes more difficult. With each step toward certainty, the right-wing cries against reality become more shrill - another trend with no end in sight. 5. We can be certain that at least some of the press coverage of the final report will focus on anything that can be used to downplay the significance of the problem. This report will likely discuss the phenomenon that increases in average air temperatures have slowed over the past few years, and deniers will seize on this to undercut the need for change. But since all the world's natural systems are integrated at every level, average air temperatures, which are still increasing, are only one part of a very complex equation. If you take into account the rapidly increasing acidity of the ocean, which results from the ocean absorbing carbon dioxide, there has been no slowing of the impacts climate change is making on the real world. But some press coverage will focus on any piece which, taken out of context, can be used to make people feel that the situation is not as bad as it really is. 6. Similarly, right-wing efforts to discredit climate change science, in addition to becoming increasingly shrill, also rely on overly simplified nonsense. Every year, when there is still a winter it will be used to claim that "global warming isn't real - we still have winter!" But this ignores how climate change works. It doesn't eliminate seasons, it makes the high temperatures greater. Just because we still have beaches in Florida doesn't mean that sea levels aren't increasing, and that increase will speed up over the coming decades. Right-wingers also focus on what is happening this year or next, to the exclusion of looking at the real long-term trends in the climate. This year may be about the same as last year in terms of the number and intensity of forest fires, for example, but the more than five decade long trend is for more forest fires burning at greater intensities. This winter may or may not be warmer than last year's, but the long-term trend is for Autumn to last longer and Spring to arrive earlier. 7. As many have pointed out, the right-wing attacks on climate science have little or nothing to do with the science itself; they are based on a rejection of what will be required to combat global warming. Government action on a large scale is required, as are restrictions on what businesses can do especially regarding greenhouse gas emissions. When right-wingers sneer at the science, they are really fearful of what will happen to their financial supporters in the fossil fuel industries. We can predict, with 100 percent certainty, that the upcoming IPCC report will confirm that global climate change is real, it is getting worse, it is caused mostly or entirely by human activity, and that we need to act to combat it - to reduce emissions, to adapt to the coming crises a warming world will bring on top of the huge impacts we have already seen. This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine.
  18. It's just about impossible to find any qualified scientist who denies (or even doubts) that climate change is real and dangerous, that human action is the primary cause, and that it can't be stopped without substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This week, another major scientific organization issued a firm statement supporting the scientific consensus. Last year, an official statement on climate change by the American Geophysical Union said it was was real and "tied to energy use." This week, the the 61,000 member organization revised its position to be "more reflective of the current state of scientific knowledge." It puts the blame firmly on human action, and calls for "urgent action" including "substantial emissions cuts." As I've said before, the so-called climate change skeptics are really climate science deniers. Their opinions do not merit consideration in any rational forum. Here's the AGU's official position statement (pdf) on climate change, published August 5, 2013. Human-induced climate change requires urgent action Humanity is the major influence on the global climate change observed over the past 50 years. Rapid societal responses can significantly lessen negative outcomes. Human activities are changing Earth's climate. At the global level, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases have increased sharply since the Industrial Revolution. Fossil fuel burning dominates this increase. Human-caused increases in greenhouse gases are responsible for most of the observed global average surface warming of roughly 0.8°C (1.5°F) over the past 140 years. Because natural processes cannot quickly remove some of these gases (notably carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere, our past, present, and future emissions will influence the climate system for millennia. Extensive, independent observations confirm the reality of global warming. These observations show large-scale increases in air and sea temperatures, sea level, and atmospheric water vapor; they document decreases in the extent of mountain glaciers, snow cover, permafrost, and Arctic sea ice. These changes are broadly consistent with long-understood physics and predictions of how the climate system is expected to respond to human-caused increases in greenhouse gases. The changes are inconsistent with explanations of climate change that rely on known natural influences. Climate models predict that global temperatures will continue to rise, with the amount of warming primarily determined by the level of emissions. Higher emissions of greenhouse gases will lead to larger warming, and greater risks to society and ecosystems. Some additional warming is unavoidable due to past emissions. Climate change is not expected to be uniform over space or time. Deforestation, urbanization, and particulate pollution can have complex geographical, seasonal, and longer-term effects on temperature, precipitation, and cloud properties. In addition, human-induced climate change may alter atmospheric circulation, dislocating historical patterns of natural variability and storminess. In the current climate, weather experienced at a given location or region varies from year to year; in a changing climate, both the nature of that variability and the basic patterns of weather experienced can change, sometimes in counterintuitive ways "” some areas may experience cooling, for instance. This raises no challenge to the reality of human-induced climate change. Impacts harmful to society, including increased extremes of heat, precipitation, and coastal high water are currently being experienced, and are projected to increase. Other projected outcomes involve threats to public health, water availability, agricultural productivity (particularly in low-latitude developing countries), and coastal infrastructure, though some benefits may be seen at some times and places. Biodiversity loss is expected to accelerate due to both climate change and acidification of the oceans, which is a direct result of increasing carbon dioxide levels. While important scientific uncertainties remain as to which particular impacts will be experienced where, no uncertainties are known that could make the impacts of climate change inconsequential. Furthermore, surprise outcomes, such as the unexpectedly rapid loss of Arctic summer sea ice, may entail even more dramatic changes than anticipated. Actions that could diminish the threats posed by climate change to society and ecosystems include substantial emissions cuts to reduce the magnitude of climate change, as well as preparing for changes that are now unavoidable. The community of scientists has responsibilities to improve overall understanding of climate change and its impacts. Improvements will come from pursuing the research needed to understand climate change, working with stakeholders to identify relevant information, and conveying understanding clearly and accurately, both to decision makers and to the general public.
  19. "The findings are striking," Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA's acting administrator, said on a conference call to the Guardian. "Our planet as a whole is becoming a warmer place." The findings were published in the 32nd edition of the American Meteorological Society's State of the Climate report, which was compiled with contributions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and from more than 380 scientists from 52 countries. According to the new report, 2012 saw record levels of greenhouse gas emissions with a global average of carbon dioxide, methane and other warming gasses reaching 392.7 parts per million. 2012 was also among the 10 warmest years on record - ranking eighth or ninth depending on dataset. As a result, and as the report shows, the Arctic has lost record amounts of sea ice, making life hard for animals such as polar bears and raising the Earth's average sea levels. The map shows ice concentration on September 16, along with the extent of the previous record low (yellow line) and the mid-September median extent (black line). The most dramatic changes in the climate can be found in the regions of Arctic and Greenland. In 2012, the Arctic warmed at about twice the rate of lower latitudes while both the snow and sea-ice cover had fallen to its lowest levels ever since the beginning of satellite records. At one point in 2012, Arctic sea ice had receded to 1.32 million square miles - about 18% lower than the previous record low of 1.61 million square miles back in 2007, and a shocking 54% lower than the levels in 1980. If the current rate continues, the NOAA has projected that the Arctic ocean could become ice-free by 2050. "The record or near-records being reported from year to year in the Arctic are no longer anomalies or exceptions," said Jackie Richter-Menge, a civil engineer with the US army corps of engineers. "Really they have become the rule for us, or the norm that we see in the Arctic and that we expect to see for the forseeable future." The graph shows monthly global sea level from 1993 through early 2013 compared to 1993-2012 average, based on AVISO data. Global sea levels are rising as a result of the dramatic melting of sea ice, the report says. "Over the past seven years of so, it appears that the ice melt is contributing more than twice as much to the global sea level rise compared with warming waters," said Jessica Blunden, a climatologist at NOAA's national climactic data centre. During 2012, global average sea levels rose to record highs of 1.4 inches, about 35.56 mm, above the 1993-2010 average.
  20. Increasing global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a heat-trapping gas, are pushing the world into dangerous territory, closing the window of time to avert the worst consequences of higher temperatures, such as melting ice and rising seas. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels have grown exponentially. Despite wide agreement by governments on the need to limit emissions, the rate of increase ratcheted up from less than 1 percent each year in the 1990s to almost 3 percent annually in the first decade of this century. After a short dip in 2009 due to the global financial crisis, emissions from fossil fuels rebounded in 2010 and have since grown 2.6 percent each year, hitting an all-time high of 9.7 billion tons of carbon in 2012. Carbon emissions would have risen even faster were it not for the 7 percent drop among industrial countries since 2007 - a group that includes the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The United States, long the world's largest emitter until it was eclipsed by China in 2006, cut carbon emissions by 11 percent over the past five years to 1.4 billion tons. The biggest drop was in emissions from coal - which is primarily used to generate electricity - as power plants switched to cheaper natural gas and as the use of carbon-free wind energy more than quadrupled. U.S. emissions from oil, mostly used for transportation, also dipped. (See data.) Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning in Europe, as a whole the third largest emitter, fell 9 percent from 2007 to 2012. Emissions in Italy and Spain shrank by 17 and 18 percent, respectively. The United Kingdom's emissions dropped by 11 percent to 126 million tons. Germany's emissions fell by 4 percent to 200 million tons. These countries have been leaders in either wind or solar energy or both. Russia and Japan are two industrial countries that did not see an overall decline in carbon emissions over the past five years. Russia had an uptick in oil use, increasing its emissions by 2 percent to 449 million tons. And in Japan, the quick suspension of nuclear power generation after the Fukushima disaster led to more natural gas and oil use, pushing emissions up 1 percent to 336 million tons in 2012. CO2 emissions in developing countries surpassed those from industrial countries in 2005 and have since continued to soar. China's carbon emissions grew by 44 percent since 2007 to 2.4 billion tons in 2012. Together the United States and China account for more than 40 percent of worldwide emissions. Emissions in India, home to more than a billion people, overtook those in Russia for the first time in 2008. From 2007 to 2012, India's emissions grew 43 percent to reach 596 million tons of carbon. Carbon emissions in Indonesia, another fast-growing economy, have exploded, growing 52 percent to hit 146 million tons in 2012. Although emissions from developing countries now dominate, the industrial countries set the world on its global warming path with over a century's worth of CO2 emissions that have accumulated in the atmosphere. Furthermore, emissions estimates discussed here include only those from fossil fuels burned within a country's borders, meaning that the tallies do not account for international trade. For example, emissions generated from producing goods in China destined for use in the United States are added to China's books. When emissions are counted in terms of the final destination of the product, the industrial countries' carbon bill increases. On a per person basis, the United States emits 4.4 tons of carbon pollution - twice as much as in China. The highest per capita carbon emissions are in several small oil and gas producing countries. In 2012, Qatar spewed out 11 tons of carbon per person. Trinidad and Tobago is next with 9 tons of carbon per person, and Kuwait follows at 7.5 tons. Fossil fuels are not the only source of CO2 emissions. Changing the landscape, for example by burning forests, releases roughly 1 billion tons of carbon globally each year. Brazil and Indonesia have high levels of deforestation and are responsible for much of the current carbon emissions from the land. About half of the CO2 that is released through fossil fuel burning or land use changes stays in the atmosphere. The other half is taken up by the oceans or by plants. As more CO2 is absorbed by the world's oceans, the water becomes more acidic. This change in ocean chemistry can strip away the building blocks of coral reefs, weakening an important link in the oceanic food chain. Scientists warn that the oceans could eventually become saturated with CO2, compromising their capacity to absorb our carbon emissions, with serious consequences for the global thermostat. For some 800,000 years, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere did not go above 300 parts per million (ppm). But in the 250 years following the start of the Industrial Revolution, enough CO2 built up to bring the average concentration to nearly 394 ppm in 2012. Throughout each year, the concentration of the gas fluctuates, reaching its annual peak in the spring. In May 2013, the CO2 concentration briefly hit 400 ppm, a grim new milestone on the path of climate disruption. Never in human history has the atmosphere been so full of this odorless and colorless yet powerfully disruptive gas. CO2 acts like the glass of a greenhouse, trapping heat. Since humans began burning fossil fuels on a large scale, the global average temperature has risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), with most of the increase occurring since 1970. The effects of higher temperatures include rising sea levels, disappearing Arctic sea ice, more heat waves, and declining yields of food crops. More warming is in the pipeline as the climate system slowly responds to the higher CO2 concentrations. Reports from international institutions, such as the International Energy Agency, based on work by thousands of scientists emphasize that little time remains to cut emissions and avoid a climate catastrophe. The World Bank notes that absent any policy changes, the global average temperature could be 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the end of this century, well above what human civilization has ever witnessed. But a different future - one based on a clean energy economy - is within our reach. Germany, not a particularly sunny country, has harnessed enough of the sun's rays to power some 8 million homes, for example. The United States has enough wind turbines installed to power more than 15 million homes. Kenya generates roughly a quarter of its electricity from geothermal energy. This is but a glimpse of the enormous potential of renewable energy. The question is not whether we can build a carbon-free economy, but whether we can do it before climate change spirals out of control. By Emily E. Adams. For a plan to stabilize the Earth's climate, see "Time for Plan B" and more at www.earth-policy.org.
  21. President Obama made an important speech on climate change on June 25. He announced several policies to be implemented using his executive authority. Al Gore said it was the "best presidential address on climate" ever. The speech and the steps Obama announced are very positive for a number of reasons. First and possibly most importantly, he argued for the necessity of tackling climate change, declaring that "we don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society." His advocacy of action to address climate change is one piece of convincing even more millions of people that we don't have time to waste. This helps turn the agenda away from the deniers and procrastinators, from the oil and coal company executives and owners who want to continue making excess profits while they still can. Obama called on the people of our country to demand action by political leaders at all levels - to invest in renewable energy, to divest from fossil fuel companies, to force politicians to promote sensible climate change laws as a condition of winning the support of voters. He called on citizens to "make their voice heard." The steps he announced, from regulating emissions of greenhouse gases from new and existing power plants, to setting a goal of 10 gigawatts of renewables produced on public lands by the end of this year, are worthwhile in their own right. While these actions do not and can not accomplish as much as major congressional legislation, they do move the U.S. as a country from the obstacle to the solution side of the ledger. Obama, while punting the final decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline down the road, set the crucial precedent that permits should be denied unless there is proof that the pipeline won't increase carbon dioxide emissions. This is an application of the precautionary principle, a variation of the medical admonition to "first do no harm." We should applaud the fact that Obama, after mentioning climate change in both his inaugural address and in this year's State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress, is following up with real action. If he moves forward on his determination to make progress on these environmental issues in his second term, it will be yet another historical accomplishment of his administration. Some have already derided his directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as merely telling the agency to perform its job, including following court decisions requiring the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. However, given the already furious Republican opposition to any action by the EPA, Obama's public reaffirmation is another positive step. While not exactly a "new" policy, it does engage in the battle already ongoing over EPA regulations. These steps build on the environmental accomplishments of Obama's first term, increasing fuel economy standards significantly and investing in renewable energy, using the stimulus to support a more robust renewable energy industry and to invest in research. While appreciating the positive nature of his speech and the policies he announced, it is clear that these actions still fall far short of what scientific knowledge calls for. Climate change does not just threaten even more extreme weather events like last year's Hurricane Sandy; it imperils many natural systems on which developed human existence depend. Much more is required, and congressional Republicans and coal-state Democrats are playing an obstructionist role, preventing the more far-reaching action that humanity needs. While Obama's proposals may be the maximum that is currently politically possible in the U.S., what is really required is a massive effort on many fronts - changing transportation, agriculture, military policy and production; regulating pollution-producing industries; research in many areas of energy, climate, weather, production; retrofitting existing buildings with much more substantial insulation; instituting new building code requirements and federal procurement policies - to mention a few areas where major progress is needed. The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline continues, and the next battle in the Senate will be over the confirmation of Gina McCarthy as new EPA administrator. Already, Republican senators are placing a hold on her nomination and threatening to filibuster any vote on her confirmation. These are just two of many battles to come. This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine.
  22. Speaking at a climate conference in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that inaction on global warming is "not an option" and called on nations to redouble efforts to secure an internationally binding climate change treaty. After being invited by the governments of Poland and Germany, environment and climate ministers from 35 countries "“ who together are responsible for around 80% of world carbon emissions - gathered earlier this week at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue conference in Berlin for a round of dialogue and informal negotiations ahead of the UN climate summit (COP19) in Warzaw, Poland, later this year. While stressing that all countries need to act, Merkel demanded immediate and bold action on climate change so that a binding climate treaty that limits emissions that cause global warming can be reached by 2015. "I'm under no illusion that there is a long road ahead," Merkel said at the conference. But "doing nothing only means that it will get a whole lot more expensive." These are indeed strong words for global action against climate change. But while Germany's carbon emissions rose by two percent last year, Merkel has so far seemed uninterested in fixing Europe's severely broken cap-and-trade program and failed to push for tougher climate policies for the European Union.
  23. CO2 levels hits dreaded 400 ppm milestone

    The level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere reached a symbolic milestone late last week when it hit historic record levels of 400 parts per million (ppm). Climate scientists warns that the milestone is a wake-up call for people and world leaders as it shows the alarming urgency of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions before it's too late. "Crossing 400 ppm is not a reason for celebration," said Pieter Tans, a scientist with NOAA's Global Monitoring Division, after the latest reading was released from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Because CO2 is the main greenhouse gas contributing to global warming it is imperative that we reduce our CO2 emissions rapidly. But this latest milestone shows the world is moving in the wrong direction. Global CO2 levels have increased since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we passed 300 ppm during early 20th century and since then the rate have increased ever so rapidly. The rate has accelerated since the 1950s from around 0.7 ppm per year to 2.1 ppm per year for the last 10 years. "That increase is not a surprise to scientists," said Tans. "The evidence is conclusive that the strong growth of global CO2 emissions from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas is driving the acceleration." And once emitted the CO2 stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years, making it more and more difficult to mitigate and adapt to the devastating effects of runaway climate change. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this is the first time in human history that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere crosses 400 ppm. In fact, the planet haven't experienced these levels of CO2 in millions of years. The last time the level of CO2 was near these levels was during the Miocene Period, about 10 million years ago. Back then the Earth looked completely different from today. Global temperatures then were much hotter. At the poles it was perhaps as much as ten degrees warmer, and the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica had not been formed. Sea level was around 5 to 40 meters higher than today. But "it took nature hundreds of millions of years to change CO2 concentrations through natural processes such as natural carbon burial and volcanic outgassing," Michael Mann, climate change author and director of the Earth System Science Centre at Penn State, told the AFP. "We're unburying it and burning it over a timescale of 100 years, a million times faster." And this rapid speed in which global concentrations of CO2 are increasing is the main concern for climate scientists. "There is no precedent in Earth's history for such an abrupt increase in greenhouse gas concentrations," Mann said. It's easier for living things to adopt to slow changes that take place over tens of millions of years than to adjust to this abrupt change in climate. World leaders want to stop climate from rising further than 2 degrees in global temperatures. A 2C increase in global temperatures will mean that we have to stabilize our greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at about 445 to 490 ppm. But 350 ppm is the level climate scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere. If the current trend is allowed to continue we will not be able to reach neither of these two targets. "We are creating a prehistoric climate in which human societies will face huge and potentially catastrophic risks," Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, said.
  24. In an interview with the Guardian last week Al Gore talked about the climate negotiations in Copenhagen this year, the European carbon market, climate change deniers, smart grids and nuclear energy. The most surprising comment from Gore was about nuclear energy and its role in fighting climate change. According to Gore nuclear energy is not the answer to our problems because it’s dirty, too expensive, unsafe and that it poses a threat to world peace. "I'm not a reflexive opponent of nuclear. I used to be enthusiastic about it, but I'm now sceptical about it. There's a few reasons. Let's assume for the moment that we will solve the problem of long-term storage of radioactive waste. Let's assume also that we'll figure out how to standardise their design as [each plant] is currently unique and that enhances the risk of operator accidents. Let's assume we can solve the terrorism threat to nuclear reactors. That still leaves a couple of very difficult problems. First and foremost, economics. The nuclear industry cannot give any reliable cost estimate for how much it will take to build a nuclear plant. When a utility is confronted with the absence of any advances for how much the construction cost is going to be, then that's a problem. Because the economics of nuclear only work at scale. You've got to have a 1,000 megawatt plant for it to be efficient and competitive. In the current environment, if you run a large utility that sells electricity you've got a certain amount of money to allocate in your budget. If you're looking at the trends towards more conservation and the rapid introduction of renewables, it's hard for you to project what your demand is going to be with as much precision as when the world was more predictable. As a result, you are less inclined to take all of your money and place one big bet on something that matures 12-15 years from now at an uncertain cost. That what's called a "lumpy investment" and they want smaller increments that give them smaller flexibility. In the US, there hasn't been a new order for a new reactor in 36 years. Yes, there is [more appetite for nuclear power now]. And because of the carbon crisis there will be more nuclear plants built and some of those being retired will be replaced by others. I think it will play a somewhat larger role, but it will not be the main option chosen. Whatever countries such as the US and the UK do, it will have a demonstration effect for the rest of the world. As the world comes to grips with how to solve the climate crisis, we in the US and the UK have a leadership role. If we told the rest of the world that nuclear is the answer [they would follow]. For the eight years that I spent in the White House every nuclear weapons proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a reactor programme. People have said for years that there are now completely different [nuclear] technologies. OK, but if you have a team of scientists that can build a reactor, and you're a dictator, you can make them work at night to build a nuclear weapon. That's what's happened in North Korea and Iran. And in Libya before they gave it up. So the idea of, say, Chad, Burma, and Sudan having lots of nuclear reactors is insane and it's not going to happen." Greenpeace was of course happy by Gore's comment. Martin Lloyd, from the Greenpeace blog Making Waves, said that: "It's always nice when people agree with you. We've maintained that nuclear power is a dangerous distraction to the real solutions to the climate crisis for a long time now. It's dirty, it's unsafe, it's a threat to world peace and it is terribly, terribly expensive." "Now, Al Gore, who's sometimes been on the other side of this argument has come round to our position. Because, as he notes, even if you assume problems with safety and waste can be overcome, it just doesn't make sense economically." Photo credit: Severin Nowacki (cc)
  25. The mass media and our environment

    The media these days are just another big business managed not more differently than any other industry. The mainstream media is very global in its scope (just think on CNN as an example) and like any other business its owned by a handful of large transnational corporations, or TNCs. General Electric (GE) is an example of a media owning TNC as it operates NBC Universal in USA. But how did it come to this? How come TNCs have such a big influence? If we look back in the US history we find some explanations. In the early days corporations was actually a public institution designed to serve the citizens in USA. It might be hard to imagine today in USA but the state had a great control over these political created corporations. But as time moved on these corporations became increasingly privatized. This was in the beginning fueled by the need to create private finances to help in war efforts and colonial state expansion and imperialism which took place during this period. But as corporations grew bigger and richer their political powers increased even further. During the nineteenth century the privatization increased rapidly as laws and ideologies were introduced to accommodate the corporate interests. In 1868 the US Supreme Court ruled in favor for private corporations to be given the same rights and protections as a "natural person" under the nations constitution. This meant that corporations were now free to influence the government with the very same rights as individual citizens had. This paved the way for corporate donations and lobbying which was used to "dominate public thought and discourse". Elizabeth Campbell notes that as a result corporations today basically controls individual politicians and whole political parties in the USA. When it comes to the media it wasn't until around the twentieth century that things changed and a new corporate media industry started to emerge. Before the twentieth century most of the media was local and national and not as globalized or privatized as they are today. The first forms of global media was the radio broadcasting and the film industry. 85% of all the films people were watching in cinemas by 1914 was coming from the US. And it was around this time that corporations and nations started to realize the importance of media as a political tool. At the end of World War II the USA successfully used the global media to reinforce the picture of its nation as a leading superpower in the world. After World War II the transition from local and public-owned media to global and corporate owned media begun. And with the successful spread of English media around the world commercials and advertising increased rapidly. Mass media and advertising Because mainstream media is privately owned their end goal is of course to make money from their business. And like one can imagine advertising is one of the main income sources. This means that the media have to comply with and cater to their advertisers wishes so they don't lose their income source. And those who can afford to advertise are the transnational corporations who all share and push the free-market capitalistic ideology. Campbell writes that these large corporate advertisers rarely want to sponsor shows or programs that involves any kind of serious environmental, social or political criticism towards any corporate activities. Product-placement in the media, for example when Pepsi pays to have their soda drink visible in a TV-show, is a multi-billion-dollar industry these days. And to be able to influence the public, i.e. their consumers, corporations spend more than half as much per capita on advertising than what is spent on education around the world. With the help of advertising corporations can construct needs and desires among the public for their various products. The ideology which is spread with the help from the mainstream media and the advertising industry encourages mass consumption on an unquestioned level and promotes consumption as happiness. Because corporations are all about profit margins they want to advertise their products to the largest audience possible. And when the media is profit-driven they want to attract as many viewers or readers as possible to be able to sell more advertisements and increase their sponsor income. And as Campbell notes it seems that the largest audiences can be brought together by offering celebrity gossip news, sex, violence or other shock value tactics. And of course this is what the mainstream media will concentrate their coverage on then. Thus the more in-depth and the more complex social, political or environmental issues gets left behind in the shadows of the spotlight on the "infotainment" news and "advertorials". See the above image screenshot for example. Corporate media means less diversity In the beginning of this post I mentioned General Electric as one of the media owning TNCs. GE is one of the six firms that controls most of the news, commentary and entertainment in the USA. Besides GE these six firms are AOL-Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, NewsCorp and Bertelsmann. They are also ranked among the world's richest corporations. Just 25 years ago there were around 50 different corporate owners in the US media. So as one can imagine if there are only six corporations in the USA, who all concentrate on their own self-interests, while controlling the majority of all the media consumed it results in less diversity for their audiences. And it doesn't matter then, as Campbell notes, if there are more information available if there is a lack of diversity. Less diversity means less democratic media. Let me explain this a bit further. In USA the top media sources such as CNN, Fox News and the New York Times etc supply the local papers and broadcasters with national and international news. So while the news are being described in many various media actors the news and opinions all originates from the same source. Richard Peet and Elaine Hartwick also notes that the mainstream media rarely have any coverage or debates about leftist and socialistic theories of development which are critical of our current capitalistic society. They argue this is because the mainstream media is so much largely controlled by private interests who only want to cover conservative and "at most" liberal viewpoints and topics. "Indeed, most people even in the "free democracies" go through life without even hearing the great critical ideas and the political-economic motives of leftist intellectuals," they write. And in an effort to increase their incomes and securing their profit-margins the corporate media is cutting their costs wherever they can. And unfortunately this means less quality and objective news journalism and more cheap "infotainment" like I've mentioned before. A big cost for the news media corporations are their overseas and field reporters. In-depth and field-based reporting is even on a national and local level expensive and reporters based overseas is in turn even more costly. Another result of the cost-saving measurements is that the media gets gradually more and more dependent on "official sources" in their reporting. Campbell notes that the global mainstream media is backing up their stories with information from "experts" provided by businesses and governments. An example of this is the Pentagon, as a government funded department, and Exxon Mobil, as a privately owned corporation, who both has the funds available to offer news organizations with everything from "experts" available for questioning to press statements, quotes and photo opportunities. According to Campbell this reliance is risky as it can make the reporters and journalists hesitant to confront, challenge or debate the information provided by these governmental and corporate bodies as it might "damage their established relationship". It also means that only the wealthy are able to fully access and exercise their right to free speech in the media. PR firms and think-tanks are the media tools for the corporations Due to their size, power and involvement in our societies these media corporations play one of the biggest roles in shaping each generations own personal values and thoughts, as well as people's political and environmental stances. According to Campbell today's media corporations have "almost total power" to decide what kind of topics will and will not be covered and discussed in our TVs, radios and newspapers. And as Campbell points out environmental topics in the mainstream media are never debated in a way that points out corporations as the source of the problem or the environmental degradation. Her example here is global warming. In USA the climate change debate has been mostly centered around the question if it is a problem or not. This question has managed to stay alive in the media debates mostly thanks to the work of corporate funded think-tanks and PR firms. These PR firms and think-tanks have managed to create a feeling among the public that there still are clear doubts and that the arguments are balanced on both sides of the global warming spectrum. A Gallup survey released last year shows that an increasing number of Americans (41%) believe that global warming is being "exaggerated" in the media. According to Gallup this is the highest level of public skepticism ever reported when it comes to the coverage on global warming by the mainstream media in USA. The same survey also shows that Americans have started to feel a bit less worried about climate change. The overall worry has decreased from 65% in 2007 and 66% in 2008 to 60% in 2009. According to Gallup global warming was the only environmental issue that "dropped significantly" among the public concerns during 2008. And lastly the survey shows that 16%, a new record-high for Gallup, of Americans believe the effects of climate change will never occur. But it's still important to note that a majority of Americans still believe that climate change is being correctly portrayed, or even underestimated, in the media. And as people usually tend to only favor actions on issues that there seems to be no clear doubts about one must say that these PR firms and think-tanks have succeeded in their work of creating "manufactured doubt". The Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the CATO institute, all situated in the political centre in Washington D.C., are examples of powerful corporate funded think-tanks who has a huge influence in shaping the global warming debate in the media. These think-tanks use both emotional arguments as well as scare tactics to create their "manufactured doubt" in the media. Examples of arguments can be that any cuts in our energy consumption would harm workers, elder and poor people around the world. Or that renewable energy is both expensive and damaging to the environment. They also promote the views of a selected few scientists who disagree with the strong consensus and the vast majority of scientists and scientific institutions on man-made climate change. Another example is the now disbanded Global Climate Coalition which was carefully created by PR firms to give the impression of a friendly grassroots organization while actually lobbying against environmental reforms. This so-called grassroots organization had around 50 different trade associations and corporations who were involved in the oil, coal, gas, automobile and chemical industry. The tactics used by the agrichemical industry back in 1962 alongside the release of the widely popular book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson is yet another example. Carson's book criticized the use of dangerous toxins such as DDT and helped create awareness of environmental destruction. The agrichemical industry responded by distributing thousands of negative book reviews of Silent Spring and at the same time they doubled their PR budget. According to Campbell it is estimated that corporations and businesses in USA spends $1 billion every year on PR firms and think-tanks who help them lobby against environmental reforms, laws and protection in the media. Earlier this year Greenpeace exposed the US-based Koch Industries, a privately owned oil company, as a major financial contributor to global warming skeptics in both Europe and USA. According to Greenpeace Koch Industries donated around $48 million to different climate skeptic groups and think-tanks between 1997 and 2008. The money went to many well-known conservative and libertarian think-tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato institute and the Foundation for research on economics and the environment. Greenpeace claims all of these think-tanks are "at the forefront of the anti-global warming debate". The Guardian also writes that Koch Industries also spent nearly $6 million ($5.7m) on various political campaigns and another $37 on lobbying in support of fossil fuels. "Koch industries is playing a quiet but dominant role in the global warming debate. This private, out-of-sight corporation has become a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition. On repeated occasions organisations funded by Koch foundations have led the assault on climate science and scientists, 'green jobs', renewable energy and climate policy progress." Now one might think that these climate denying think-tanks are solely funded by oil, gas and coal corporations who might have something to win by creating a fog of confusion and doubt around global warming. But this is not entirely the case. The CATO institute is for example funded by well-known corporations such as Comcast, FedEx, GM, Honda, Microsoft, TimeWarner, Toyota, Visa, VW, and WalMart among others. These corporations was, according to Cato's own annual report in 2007, contributing financially to the think-tank and helped fund an "absurd anti-scientific denier ad" in major American newspapers such as the The New York Times in 2009. Campbell claims that government action on environmental issues such as global warming is lagging behind because these topics can't be discussed "seriously" in the mainstream media. Instead, she says, the mainstream media and their corporate owners put the spotlight on simplistic topics such as discrediting individual environmentalists and "controversial scientific reports" instead of debating the larger and harder questions. Campbell writes that: "By reducing complex issues like global warming to simplistic special interest-driven sound bites about whether or not it really exists, citizens consuming the media become incapable of understanding and acting on real debate and questioning and instead prefer easy answers, quick fixes, and easy-to-grasp phrases. Audiences thus grow apathetic, cynical, and quiescent about media presentations of environmental issues, which has resulted in an increasingly widespread lack of interest in engaging in them." And this lack of interest is a major threat to democracy which requires a actively involved and informed citizen to function properly. Campbell concludes that a so-called democracy that only caters to corporate interests "will never pursue a path toward social and environmental sustainability". Journalismgate A paper on what kind of role the media plays in how we perceive and react to environmental issues around us is not complete without talking about "Climategate", as the media calls it. Climategate is what climate skeptics labeled as "the final nail in the coffin" of "the theory of global warming". The root of this "climate scandal", as the mainstream media portrayed it, was some email conversations between scientists at a climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain. The emails, who were illegally hacked, was reported to be evidence of some sort of attempt to manipulate and prevent scientific climate data to be released to the public. One can easily remember all the news reports, debates and commentaries from scientists who claimed the emails were taken out of context and all the various climate skeptics who claimed this was the evidence which exposed man-made climate change as a fraud last year. Even here in Sweden climate skeptics seemed to breathe fresh air from the major Climategate news coverage. Lars Bern who is one of the founders of the Stockholm Initiative, a Swedish think-tank which opposes the strong link between climate change and human activity, claimed that this was evidence on the "systematically manipulation" of temperature data from UN climate scientists. But was Climategate really the big scandal that the climate skeptics and largely the mainstream media portrayed it as? Of course not. Recently an independent inquiry set up to investigate the Climategate affair came to the conclusion that there was "absolutely no evidence of any impropriety whatsoever." Lord Oxburgh said that "whatever was said in the emails, the basic science seems to have been done fairly and properly". But did this exoneration for the involved scientists from the University of East Anglia get as much coverage in the mainstream media as the false claims from the climate skeptics did? Did anyone in the mass media try to figure out who hacked the emails? Well from my own, and many others, experience they did not. Why is it, like Johann Hari says, that: "...when it comes to coverage of global warming, we are trapped in the logic of a guerrilla insurgency. The climate scientists have to be right 100 percent of the time, or their 0.01 percent error becomes Glaciergate, and they are frauds. By contrast, the deniers only have to be right 0.01 percent of the time for their narrative--See! The global warming story is falling apart!--to be reinforced by the media. It doesn't matter that their alternative theories are based on demonstrably false claims, as they are with all the leading "thinkers" in this movement." I would say that we can find the answers in the mainstream media's recent corporate development to why the climate skeptics only have to be right "0.01 percent of the time" to get their claims reinforced in the media. I have with the help from Campbell and others tried to make it apparent that the global mainstream media only cares about their profit-margins and rather want to focus on "infotainment" news, and stories like Climategate, as it helps them pursue their corporate owners free-market and consumption-driven agenda. My main and most obvious example of how corporations have controlled the debates and reports in the mainstream media has been global warming. But there are of course other examples of environmental issues and topics that the media has failed to adequately report on. Two of those are for example the topic of the garbage's created by our society and the various energy related issues. The media fails to inform the public on the issue of the millions of metric tons of household, chemical and corporate waste that are affecting a large population of people very day. Campbell argues that it becomes an "nonissue" because those people affected by the waste are not "key power holders" or the media corporations main target audience. When it comes to energy related issues such as oil drilling the media often simplify it to a question of whether who is for or against it. But these "both sides of the story" reports can not cover the complete story in such a complex issue as energy is. The corporate media also fails to explain or examine for their viewers and readers about the connections between energy production and consumption, our dependence on fossil fuels and those who control these energy sources. Simply put, the media is failing to relate environmental and social problems with the socioeconomic factors and powers that have created them. Campbell argues that as an result of this people gets the impression from the media that the war on terrorism, energy consumption and corporate power for example are totally unrelated issues to each other. Rush Limbaugh might be an extreme example of a conservative corporate mainstream media. But he works just fine as a shock example. In the ongoing BP offshore oil drilling scandal, out in the Gulf of Mexico, Limbaugh is claiming that the explosion could have been an inside "Earth Day eco-sabotage" and that the cleanup is unnecessary: "The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there," Limbaugh said. "It's natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is". So if we want to be able to have informed citizens, move towards a more environmental and socially sustainable society and a media which not only the wealthy have right to access and use we need to deal with the corporate mainstream media. Otherwise we will soon face a major threat to our fragile democracy. After all, those who have the control over the mass media controls our culture and society. References Gould, Kenneth A. and Tammy L. Lewis, 2008: Twenty Lessons in Environmental Sociology. Oxford University Press. Campbell H., Elizabeth, 2008: Twenty Lessons in Environmental Sociology. Oxford University Press. Peet, Richard and Elaine Hartwick 2009: Theories of Development: Contentions, Arguments, Alternatives. The Guilford Press.