Month: March 2015

Global warming and drought are turning the Golden State brown.

There’s a rapidly growing body of scientific research finding that California is in the midst of its worst drought in over a millennium, global warming has made the drought worse, and decades-long mega-droughts could become the norm in the state later this century. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) by scientists at Stanford University adds to this bleak picture for the Golden State.

There has been some confusion about the human contribution to California’s drought, now entering its fourth consecutive year, because some reports have said that humans have not influenced the amount of precipitation falling in the state thus far. This is a subject of debate – some studies have found evidence of a human ‘fingerprint’ in the high pressure ridge that’s diverted storms away from California over the past three years. But overall, while precipitation has been low, there have been a few years in the historical record where it was lower.

However, evidence indicates that California is in the midst of its worst drought in over 1,200 years. The new PNAS paper helps reconcile these two facts. As an accompanying commentary by Michael Mann and Peter Gleick notes,

Part of the challenge is that the term “drought” can be defined in different ways: for example, meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, and socioeconomic drought. Drought, most simply defined, is the mismatch between the amounts of water nature provides and the amounts of water that humans and the environment demand.

The rainy season is over in California before it ever really began. 

The rainy season is over in California before it ever really began. 

As the state enters its fourth year of a prolonged and devastating drought, new snowpack estimates give Californians little to aspire to other than more hot and dry conditions. According to the Department of Water Resources, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is lower than any year since 1950, and at the end of March it is just 8 percent of the historical average. 

This year’s paltry snowpack is less than one-third of the previous smallest size on record, which was 25 percent of average — an amount that was reached both last year and in 1977. 

Winter is normally California’s rainy season, but the state has been parched since several big storms swept through late last year. And that looks like it’s going to continue — state climatologist Michael Anderson told the The Fresno Bee that there is “no significant precipitation in sight.”

“I think we’re done,” he said. “I see heat and more heat in the coming months.”

The impacts of the ongoing drought — which studies have shown is exacerbated by climate change — are being seen in everything from energy production to the survival of critical species like the Delta smelt.

Press link for more: Ari Phillips |

We’re all The Walking Dead – we just don’t know it yet

It’s not just about the zombies

Many cultural theorists have explored the significance of the zombie and its continued prevalence in contemporary culture. With roots in Haitian folklore and precursors in West-African religions, the zombie of Afro-American creole beliefs was animated by magic, unlike the zombie of the late 20th century, which is re-animated by viral contagion.

British sociologist Tim May sees zombie films – from White Zombie (1932) to Night of the Living Dead (1969) and Dawn of the Dead (1972) – as expressions of racial anxiety.

as embodying the mindlessness of consumer society. In his recent piece on The Conversation, Joseph Gillings saw in the remorselessness and lack of self-regard an apt metaphor for the terrorism spawned by globalisation’s discontents.

More recently, film scholar Deborah Christie framed the zombie as means for thinking through anxieties about the post-human condition emerging at the turn of the 21st century.

“It’s their world now, we are just living in it.” That’s how one of the young characters in The Walking Dead puts it while hiding from “walkers” (the name the group gives to zombies) in the forest.

The Walking Dead is a useful metaphor to think with. As we wait for the sixth season, we can contemplate its role in debating how we anticipate events that may threaten the economic order of things. So, does a zombie apocalypse signify the end of capitalist civilisation, or its perverse consummation?

We take it for granted but acting – or failing to act – in advance of possible futures is in fact an essential aspect of contemporary neoliberal democracies, whether we are talking about terrorism, climate change or a zombie pandemic, as the CDC toolkit implies.

A show like The Walking Dead helps us think through the challenges we face as a species; it helps us reflect on the critical importance of how to make new economies possible, and not just in the aftermath of major disaster.

Press link for more; The Conversation |

Habitats for humanity: Why our cities need to be ecosystems, too

The whole better-greener-more-awesome-cities movement has a problem: We haven’t found a good name for it. Sustainable cities! The term brings to mind such mundanity as energy audits and transit routes. Resilient cities! The notion requires us to consider, first, what horrible shit is coming down the pike. Carbon-neutral cities! Ugh. Don’t get me started on that one.

Enter University of Virginia urban and environmental planning professor Tim Beatley with the solution, FINALLY. Here he comes, with the delivery. Wait for it…

Biophilic cities.

Wait, come back! It’s better than it sounds! Biophilic cities are places where animals and plants and other wild things weave through our everyday lives. The name comes from “biophilia,” E.O. Wilson’s theory that humans have an innate connection to other living things, because we evolved alongside them. It’s futurism with a paleo twist: An effort to create human habitat that can also host a menagerie of wild creatures — and not just for their sake, but for ours.

The idea seems to be catching. In October, Beatley helped launch the Biophilic Cities Network, which includes eight cities worldwide, and there are more to come. “Reducing your emissions, hitting people over the head about turning the lights off — we need to do those things,” Beatley says. “But to motivate people I think we need that vision of where we want to go, not just how much less we want to consume of something.”

Beatley stopped by Grist HQ on a recent swing through Seattle promoting his new book, Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning. Here are a few snippets from our conversation, which covered aerial urban trails, our odd relationship with the natural world, and cities that are far greener than the this here emerald one.

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“They don’t give a fuck if we all die!” 

We face the most severe environmental crises in history with deforestation at a rate of 36 football fields per minute, floating trash islands the size of Texas in the Pacific, and half the world’s species being wiped out in the last 40 years as a result of habitat loss and pollution. In just the last 30 years, climate change has already caused a tripling of natural disasters, with scientists predicting an irreparable tipping point around year 2020, the same year Obama pledged to cut US carbon emissions by 17%.

But how can climate change solutions be taken seriously without a massive overhaul of the agricultural industry and complete termination of the military industrial complex? The Pentagon is the largest polluting institution in the world and is exempt from all international climate treaties.

The climate change disinformation campaign has gotten to the point of such absurdity, that Florida’s State Environmental Protection Department has banned the use of the terms climate change and sustainability in all emails and reports. It’s an issue that should supersede politics. But a corporate controlled press run by oil and gas won’t dare undermine its sponsors.

Of course the establishment showcases an alternate reality. Media hysteria abounds about missing planes and Iran’s non existent nukes, yet there’s an eerie calm about the issues that most impact us, and what we can do to fix them. The population remains dumbed down, complacent and willfully blind.

Maybe the CEOs, lobbyists and politicians are shortsighted because they’re building their own elysium and don’t give a fuck if we all die, but the majority of them are inevitably just changing deck chairs on the Titanic – and they know it.

Press link for more: Abby Martin |

Intensifying Droughts Could Endanger Major Cities’ Water, Agriculture: Climate Council

Australia’s major cities will face water scarcity and the cost of drought to the nation’s economy is likely to balloon without strong climate action, a new report has warned. Thom Mitchell reports. 

Intensifying droughts brought on by climate change, pose alarming threats to Australia’s food and water security, according to a Climate Council report to be launched today at parliament house.

The report warns that the nation’s agricultural yields may suffer if climate action is not taken, and raises the prospect of serious water insecurity in major cities.

Perth is likely to be hard-hit, with research showing an already precarious water supply could diminish with rapidly.

Professor Will Steffen, who authored the report, told New Matilda that Perth is already looking at desalination, which is “expensive to do and requires a lot of energy”,

According Professor Steffen’s findings, Western Australia could face reductions in Autumn and Winter precipitation of around 50 per cent in the next 80 years.

The changes are largely brought on by fronts from the Southern Ocean – which trigger rain during Winter and Spring – shifting southwards and increasing the risk of drought across southern Australia.

Southeast Australia has already experienced a 15 per cent decline in late autumn and early winter rainfall since the mid-1990s, and a 25 per cent decline in average rainfall in April and May.

Thom Mitchell |

Naomi Klein Calls for System Change to Address Climate and Inequality.

A radically new economic and social system is urgently needed to tackle climate change and address intersecting social justice issues, the internationally bestselling author Naomi Klein told activists meeting in London today.

It’s not too late to get off the road, to grab the wheel of history and swerve,” the author of This Changes Everything told an audience of more than 1,000 attending a one-day interactive conference on climate change and social justice inspired by her book.

It is possible to lower our emissions in line with what science is telling us,” she said via Skype. “But to do that means we need to change everything about our system.”

Klein argued that individual actions alone aren’t going to bring the level of emission reductions needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. Instead, “we need to look at large scale policies that make good decisions easier.”

Real political change happens in big jumps. The last big jump was the rise of Thatcherism, [which has] now clearly run its course. It’s time for our change, which is that everyone on this planet should have access to resources for a decent quality of life and we all have to collectively do this with one planet.”

Press link for more : Kyla Mandel |

Zeitgeist The Zeitgeist Movement may be the way forward 


How Climate Change and Resource Scarcity Are Upending World Politics.

Natural resource scarcity poses a far broader challenge to U.S. prosperity and national security than traditional military threats. Consider also the food crisis that precipitated the Arab Spring uprisings or the drought that has sharpened conflict in Syria. Those challenges are detailed in my recent book, “In Pursuit of Prosperity,” which examines how both proximate and more distant resource constraints shape and influence our economy and security posture.

In the future, that stress will further intensify: Climate scientists recently announced that “mega-droughts” lasting some 35 years have a 90 percent probability of afflicting the region and the Midwest. That scenario would lead to widespread disruption of livelihoods and communities, and ever-sharper challenges to the comity that has tenuously prevailed between the two countries. It’s not hard to imagine that such change in the region’s environmental conditions would spark a surge of climate refugees moving northward from Central America, posing new challenges to the U.S. political landscape.

The nine-country and regional studies offered in the book, including the South China Sea and the U.S.–Mexico border, identify five pathways through which resource scarcity and climate change will threaten U.S. prosperity and national security:

• Diminished agricultural productivity will disrupt global supply chains, as typified by recurrent drought conditions in the Brazilian Amazon;
• Harsh resource constraints and degradation will spark domestic instability, exemplified by the tens of thousands of protests per year in China, many for environmental reasons;
• Declining fish stocks coupled with drought in the Horn of Africa have destabilized regional relations as piracy and insurgencies have multiplied;
• The collapse of agricultural production, drought, and failed policies have fueled internal migration in India that, in turn, threatens to destabilize U.S. regional partnerships;

• International criminal networks and nonstate threats have multiplied, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, due to failed governance arrangements, which give rise to international lawlessness and state failure.

The ISIS War

The harsh reality of current conflicts in the Middle East drives home the complexity of addressing natural resource scarcity when terrorism and insurgency beset a country or region.

The role of natural resources came to the forefront of the conflict with the Islamic State (ISIS) when, in August 2014, ISIS forces seized and then threatened to blow up the Mosul Dam on the Tigris River. In the balance were the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis living downstream. After dogged fighting, Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. air strikes, recaptured the dam several weeks later.

But behind that violent conflict lies the fact that the region has been hit in recent years by the deepest drought in over a millennium.

Press link for more: David Reed |

Climate denial is a rejection of God’s gift of knowledge, says Episcopal leader.

The highest ranking woman in the Anglican Communion has said climate denial is a “blind” and immoral position which rejects God’s gift of knowledge.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and one of the most powerful women in Christianity, said that climate change was a moral imperative akin to that of the civil rights movement. She said it was already a threat to the livelihoods and survival of people in the developing world.

“It is, in that sense, much like the civil rights movement in this country where we are attending to the rights of all people and the rights of the earth to continue to be a flourishing place,” Bishop Jefferts Schori said in an interview with the Guardian. “It is certainly a moral issue in terms of the impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable around the world already.”

In the same context, Jefferts Schori attached moral implications to climate denial, suggesting that those who reject the underlying science of climate change are turning their backs on God’s gift of knowledge.

Press link for more: Suzanne Goldenberg |

Elon Musk: Burning Fossil Fuels Is the ‘Dumbest Experiment in History, By Far’

​Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, and chairman of SolarCity, and the guy who dreamt up the hyper loop, says we shouldn’t need an environmentally motivated reason to transition to clean energy. We’re probably going to run out of oil sometime; why find out if we can destroy the world while we do it, if an alternative exists?

“If we don’t find a solution to burning oil for transport, when we then run out of oil, the economy will collapse and society will come to an end,” Musk said this week during a conversation with astrophysicist and Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“If we know we have to get off oil no matter what, we know that is an inescapable outcome, why run this crazy experiment of changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere and oceans by adding enormous amounts of CO2 that have been buried since the Precambrian Era?” he added. “That’s crazy. That’s the dumbest experiment in history, by far.”

Tyson sounded surprised: “Can you think of a dumber experiment?” he asked Musk.

“I honestly cannot. What good could possibly come of [staying on oil],” Musk said.

Musk, with his supercharger stations, SolarCity (his solar energy company), his electric car company that will soon rely on a “Gigafactory” to create its batteries, has a huge financial stake in the future of clean energy. He stands so much to gain from the clean energy boom in part because he’s realized that not only are fossil fuels dirty, they’re unnecessary—and of finite supply.

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