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Tag Archives: Environment

The Guardian view on climate change: a global emergency

Climate change is an existential threat to the human race. This may seem an absurd or alarmist statement, since we have been conditioned by unparallelled growth to expect that there are no catastrophes that are insurmountable. Even apocalyptic science fiction deals with bands of survivors who have, by definition, survived. And we always imagine ourselves as among the survivors.

But the threat is real. The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that there are only a dozen or so years in which to change our economies radically if we are to keep the effects of the warming already under way to manageable proportions. That would require the countries of the world to live up to the most ambitious of the goals of the Paris climate change agreement, and keep the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5C above preindustrial levels. A rise of even half a degree above that, to 2C, will have effects that are very much worse. Already this seems much more likely. All corals will disappear, as will many insects and plants.

The disappearance of plants, and in particular the deforestation of tropical regions, is doubly dangerous, because it converts carbon sinks (which living trees are, because they absorb carbon dioxide) into producers of carbon. That is only one of the many possible tipping points which may lead to a sudden and violent escalation of the rate of change as malign feedback loops are formed.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/08/the-guardian-view-on-climate-change-a-global-emergency

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Posted by on October 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Massive solar and wind farms could bring vegetation back to the Sahara

Switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy is an important and necessary step towards averting climate change. However, in our efforts to go green, we also need to be mindful of other consequences, both intended and unintended – and that includes how a mass deployment of renewable technology might affect its surrounding climate.

What if the Sahara desert was turned into a giant solar and wind farm, for instance? This is the topic of new research published in Science by Yan Li and colleagues. They found that all those hypothetical wind turbines and solar panels would make their immediate surroundings both warmer and rainier, and could turn parts of the Sahara green for the first time in at least 4,500 years.

https://theconversation.com/massive-solar-and-wind-farms-could-bring-vegetation-back-to-the-sahara-102745

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2018 in Africa, Reportages

 

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Hothouse Earth

It would be churlish to ask what took them so long. Let us be grateful, instead, that the climate scientists are finally saying out loud what they all knew privately at least ten years ago.

What sixteen of them are now saying, in an article in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’, is that if we don’t soon get off the highway we are currently travelling on, we will be irrevocably committed to a ‘Hothouse Earth’. How soon is ‘soon’? Probably no more than ten to twenty years away. That’s the last exit.

The article has the usual low-key scientific title: ‘Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene’. The authors never raise their voices, but they do point out that the likeliest of those trajectories – the one we will stay on even if all the promises in the 2015 Paris

Accord on climate change are kept – runs right off a cliff.

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/opinion/gwynne-dyer/hothouse-earth-135682

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Heat: the next big inequality issue

When July’s heatwave swept through the Canadian province of Quebec, killing more than 90 people in little over a week, the unrelenting sunshine threw the disparities between rich and poor into sharp relief.

While the well-heeled residents of Montreal hunkered down in blissfully air conditioned offices and houses, the city’s homeless population – not usually welcome in public areas such as shopping malls and restaurants – struggled to escape the blanket of heat.

Benedict Labre House, a day centre for homeless people, wasn’t able to secure a donated air-conditioning unit until five days into the heatwave. “You can imagine when you have 40 or 50 people in an enclosed space and it’s so hot, it’s very hard to deal with,” says Francine Nadler, clinical coordinator at the facility.

Fifty-four Montreal residents were killed by this summer’s heat. Authorities haven’t so far specified whether any homeless people were among them, but according to the regional department of public health, the majority were aged over 50, lived alone, and had underlying physical or mental health problems. None had air conditioning. Montreal coroner Jean Brochu told reporters that many of the bodies examined by his team “were in an advanced state of decay, having sometimes spent up to two days in the heat before being found”.

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/aug/13/heat-next-big-inequality-issue-heatwaves-world

 

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2018 in Reportages

 

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The world is losing the war against climate change

EARTH is smouldering. From Seattle to Siberia this summer, flames have consumed swathes of the northern hemisphere. One of 18 wildfires sweeping through California, among the worst in the state’s history, is generating such heat that it created its own weather. Fires that raged through a coastal area near Athens last week killed 91 (see article). Elsewhere people are suffocating in the heat. Roughly 125 have died in Japan as the result of a heatwave that pushed temperatures in Tokyo above 40°C for the first time.

Such calamities, once considered freakish, are now commonplace. Scientists have long cautioned that, as the planet warms—it is roughly 1°C hotter today than before the industrial age’s first furnaces were lit—weather patterns will go berserk. An early analysis has found that this sweltering European summer would have been less than half as likely were it not for human-induced global warming.

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/08/02/the-world-is-losing-the-war-against-climate-change?cid1=cust/ednew/n/bl/n/2018/08/2n/owned/n/n/nwl/n/n/eu/140375/n

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2018 in Reportages

 

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Kerala floods: The ghost of past environment policy returns

The state of Kerala has been facing unusually high rainfall since early August this year, which has led to statewide floods taking several lives and causing severe damage. According to the government, there hasn’t been a flood of this scale in last 90 years. The death toll currently as of August 14, stands at 39.

A red alert has been issued until August 15 in eight out of 14 districts of the state. As per the information from the officials, in the past one week itself more than 53,000 people have been moved to 439 relief camps across the state. A total of 1,43,220 people have been living in 1,790 relief camps all through this year’s monsoon, in which Kerala has received an unusually high amount of rainfall.

https://india.mongabay.com/2018/08/15/kerala-floods-the-ghost-of-past-environment-policy-returns/

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2018 in Asia

 

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The Water Crises Aren’t Coming—They’re Here

I. All the Water There Is

Here’s a concept: paper water. Paper water is water the government grants certain farmers who are drawing water from a river or a watershed in, say, California. The phrase describes the water the farmer, under premium conditions, is entitled to. Practically, however, paper water is mostly notional water, conceptual water, wish water, since over the years California has awarded many times as much paper water as there is actual water—which, to distinguish it, is quasi-legally called wet water. Some paper water might be made real during years of exceptional abundance, but most of it will forever be speculative and essentially useless, since it can’t realistically be traded, having no value. Paper water thus amounts to a type of hypothetical currency, backed by the Bank of Nowhere, Representing Nothing since 1960 (or thereabouts), when modern water troubles arrived in America and especially in California, where the wildly expanding citizenry required new state and federally managed water systems run by Watercrats.

https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a22627850/global-water-crisis/

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2018 in Reportages

 

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Why being a philosopher in the heatwave is so particularly unbearable

I hate heat. The place where I dream to be nowadays is on the Svalbard islands north of Norway, halfway to the North Pole. But since I am stuck at my home, all I can do is turn on the air conditioner and read… about the ongoing heatwaves and global warming, of course.

And it’s quite something to read about. Temperatures rising over 50C is no longer big news, it happens regularly in the crescent from Emirates to southern Iran, in parts of India, in the Death Valley, and now we learn that the prospects are much darker, threatening not only desert areas. In Vietnam, many farmers decide to sleep during the day and work at night because of the unbearable heat.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/uk-weather-heatwave-global-warming-climate-change-philosopher-a8475721.html

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not “Human Nature”

This Sunday, the entire New York Times Magazine will be composed of just one article on a single subject: the failure to confront the global climate crisis in the 1980s, a time when the science was settled and the politics seemed to align. Written by Nathaniel Rich, this work of history is filled with insider revelations about roads not taken that, on several occasions, made me swear out loud. And lest there be any doubt that the implications of these decisions will be etched in geologic time, Rich’s words are punctuated with full-page aerial photographs by George Steinmetz that wrenchingly document the rapid unraveling of planetary systems, from the rushing water where Greenland ice used to be to massive algae blooms in China’s third largest lake.

The novella-length piece represents the kind of media commitment that the climate crisis has long deserved but almost never received. We have all heard the various excuses for why the small matter of despoiling our only home just doesn’t cut it as an urgent news story: “Climate change is too far off in the future”; “It’s inappropriate to talk about politics when people are losing their lives to hurricanes and fires”; “Journalists follow the news, they don’t make it — and politicians aren’t talking about climate change”; and of course: “Every time we try, it’s a ratings killer.”

https://theintercept.com/2018/08/03/climate-change-new-york-times-magazine/

 

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Reportages

 

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Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change

The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris climate agreement — the nonbinding, unenforceable and already unheeded treaty signed on Earth Day in 2016 — hoped to restrict warming to two degrees. The odds of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are one in 20. If by some miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. The climate scientist James Hansen has called two-degree warming “a prescription for long-term disaster.” Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. Three-degree warming is a prescription for short-term disaster: forests in the Arctic and the loss of most coastal cities. Robert Watson, a former director of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has argued that three-degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees: Europe in permanent drought; vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia swallowed by the sea; the Colorado River thinned to a trickle; the American Southwest largely uninhabitable. The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world’s leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization.

Is it a comfort or a curse, the knowledge that we could have avoided all this?

Because in the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis. The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions — far closer than we’ve come since. During those years, the conditions for success could not have been more favorable. The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way — nothing except ourselves.

Nearly everything we understand about global warming was understood in 1979. By that year, data collected since 1957 confirmed what had been known since before the turn of the 20th century: Human beings have altered Earth’s atmosphere through the indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels. The main scientific questions were settled beyond debate, and as the 1980s began, attention turned from diagnosis of the problem to refinement of the predicted consequences. Compared with string theory and genetic engineering, the “greenhouse effect” — a metaphor dating to the early 1900s — was ancient history, described in any Introduction to Biology textbook. Nor was the basic science especially complicated. It could be reduced to a simple axiom: The more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer the planet. And every year, by burning coal, oil and gas, humankind belched increasingly obscene quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Why didn’t we act? A common boogeyman today is the fossil-fuel industry, which in recent decades has committed to playing the role of villain with comic-book bravado. An entire subfield of climate literature has chronicled the machinations of industry lobbyists, the corruption of scientists and the propaganda campaigns that even now continue to debase the political debate, long after the largest oil-and-gas companies have abandoned the dumb show of denialism. But the coordinated efforts to bewilder the public did not begin in earnest until the end of 1989. During the preceding decade, some of the largest oil companies, including Exxon and Shell, made good-faith efforts to understand the scope of the crisis and grapple with possible solutions.

Nor can the Republican Party be blamed. Today, only 42 percent of Republicans know that “most scientists believe global warming is occurring,” and that percentage is falling. But during the 1980s, many prominent Republicans joined Democrats in judging the climate problem to be a rare political winner: nonpartisan and of the highest possible stakes. Among those who called for urgent, immediate and far-reaching climate policy were Senators John Chafee, Robert Stafford and David Durenberger; the E.P.A. administrator, William K. Reilly; and, during his campaign for president, George H.W. Bush. As Malcolm Forbes Baldwin, the acting chairman of the president’s Council for Environmental Quality, told industry executives in 1981, “There can be no more important or conservative concern than the protection of the globe itself.” The issue was unimpeachable, like support for veterans or small business. Except the climate had an even broader constituency, composed of every human being on Earth.

It was understood that action would have to come immediately. At the start of the 1980s, scientists within the federal government predicted that conclusive evidence of warming would appear on the global temperature record by the end of the decade, at which point it would be too late to avoid disaster. More than 30 percent of the human population lacked access to electricity. Billions of people would not need to attain the “American way of life” in order to drastically increase global carbon emissions; a light bulb in every village would do it. A report prepared at the request of the White House by the National Academy of Sciences advised that “the carbon-dioxide issue should appear on the international agenda in a context that will maximize cooperation and consensus-building and minimize political manipulation, controversy and division.” If the world had adopted the proposal widely endorsed at the end of the ’80s — a freezing of carbon emissions, with a reduction of 20 percent by 2005 — warming could have been held to less than 1.5 degrees.

A broad international consensus had settled on a solution: a global treaty to curb carbon emissions. The idea began to coalesce as early as February 1979, at the first World Climate Conference in Geneva, when scientists from 50 nations agreed unanimously that it was “urgently necessary” to act. Four months later, at the Group of 7 meeting in Tokyo, the leaders of the world’s seven wealthiest nations signed a statement resolving to reduce carbon emissions. Ten years later, the first major diplomatic meeting to approve the framework for a binding treaty was called in the Netherlands. Delegates from more than 60 nations attended, with the goal of establishing a global summit meeting to be held about a year later. Among scientists and world leaders, the sentiment was unanimous: Action had to be taken, and the United States would need to lead. It didn’t.

The inaugural chapter of the climate-change saga is over. In that chapter — call it Apprehension — we identified the threat and its consequences. We spoke, with increasing urgency and self-delusion, of the prospect of triumphing against long odds. But we did not seriously consider the prospect of failure. We understood what failure would mean for global temperatures, coastlines, agricultural yield, immigration patterns, the world economy. But we have not allowed ourselves to comprehend what failure might mean for us. How will it change the way we see ourselves, how we remember the past, how we imagine the future? Why did we do this to ourselves? These questions will be the subject of climate change’s second chapter — call it The Reckoning. There can be no understanding of our current and future predicament without understanding why we failed to solve this problem when we had the chance.

That we came so close, as a civilization, to breaking our suicide pact with fossil fuels can be credited to the efforts of a handful of people, among them a hyperkinetic lobbyist and a guileless atmospheric physicist who, at great personal cost, tried to warn humanity of what was coming. They risked their careers in a painful, escalating campaign to solve the problem, first in scientific reports, later through conventional avenues of political persuasion and finally with a strategy of public shaming. Their efforts were shrewd, passionate, robust. And they failed. What follows is their story, and ours.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2018 in Reportages, Uncategorized

 

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