Month: October 2015

The Greatest Adventure on Earth 

An Essay by Carlos Alvarez Pereira.

This essay reflects a very personal vision, inspired by the open and passionate conversations of a group of concerned individuals convened by the Club of Rome at Castellet Castle (in Catalonia, Spain), in March 2014. The author is grateful to the Club of Rome for the invitation to participate, and especially to Robert Engelman and Garry Jacobs for their careful review and useful suggestions.
Life is a pure contradiction. It should not even exist. Actually, as far as we know, it did not exist for most of the time of the Universe and it does not exist elsewhere than on Earth. This makes it so much valuable.

 

The contradiction is manifold: it is between the expansionist drive of life, its propensity to grow and expand by default, and the finiteness of exploitable resources; it is also about the need for animals to feed themselves by destroying other living beings; ultimately, it is about the mystery of improbable birth and inevitable death, certainly as an individual, possibly as a species.

 

That makes life in itself a source of permanent conflict between creation and destruction. But any particular form of life, even the simplest, is also a singular opportunity to transcend that contradiction by creating more life than it destroys.

 

For all our intelligence, humankind faces that same and endless contradiction, but with a big difference. The history of life on Earth is punctuated by the emergence of new adaptive forms, enabling new dynamic equilibria between emerging species and the environment, and also by the extinction of species unable to adapt any longer. Likewise, but on a much shorter time scale, the history of human life is punctuated by the emergence of intelligence and culture and the production of social and technical inventions which change our relationships, between us and with the environment. That way, we are able to (re)create ourselves.

 

We used to think that all those human inventions meant progress, but this is not always true for earthly life as a whole or even for human life. Certainly, we have been inventing rituals, institutions, ways of exploring the world and technical artifacts in such quantities and richness that we have accumulated an impressive amount of cultural, social and material achievements. By doing that we have also brought the expansionist drive of life to a much higher level, able to fill the planet and alter dramatically the environmental conditions of all species, including our own, and to put them and us at risk.

 

In a deeper way, emotional, conscious and imaginative beings as we are, we constantly look for meaning and transcendence. For all our inventions, we know we are still not able to deal with the basic contradiction of life without entering into conflict with others, whether they be other humans, other living species, the natural environment in which we live, or even our own future. Actually, much of what we have done and still do is based on ever increased exploitation — of the many weak by the few strong, of helpless natural resources, of future time as the least renewable resource of all.

 

And afraid as we are of our permanent conflict with the world, we also invent self-delusions to alleviate our fears. For instance, we observe social status and practice individual accumulation to protect ourselves not from need but mainly from the feeling of personal irrelevance and the anxieties we face everyday in our eternal quest for meaning. Is that the right response to our fears?

 

Moreover, we artificially transmit to our inventions our own values of perpetual growth and expansion. Useful as it is as a mediation tool, we give money an undeserved centrality in our life, forgetting there is no natural law entitling money to reproduce by itself unless it is backed by human labor creating authentic value. And we also forget that real life is much richer than money because its diversity and complexity cannot be reduced to the one-dimensional nature of any currency. This is one of many examples of how we inadvertedly or interestingly substitute human purposes, complex as they are, with all too simple goals, like the truly utopian one of boundless financial accumulation.

 

But our consciouness also tells that, tomorrow, unless we change dramatically the course of things, there will be no way to fulfil human aspirations, at least as we conceive them in our consumerist culture. We feel that we are not reducing but increasing the contradictions between our human drive and the future of life as a whole, on a planet whose biophysical limits have been reached, whose climatic stability has been endangered by human activity, whose living and mineral resources are being exhausted at an ever increasing pace, and all of this without eliminating human poverty and need.

 

At a time when 6 out of 7 billion humans strive to reach, much deservedly, the same comfort enjoyed by many of those living in rich countries, the welfare fabric of these is being attacked for the sake of financial mirages and the agenda of sustainability is being postponed, and so we continue weaving everyday the entanglement of multiple dilemmas which, in spite of the dance of change in which we live, inhibits the transformations we need.

 

First among the dilemmas we face is the metabolic one, the most determining on the long term: we know that our consumerist society of uneconomic growth and waste, driven by the well publicized and materialistic lifestyles of the leisure class, is totally incompatible with the pace of renewal of natural resources brought to us by the magic alliance of Earth and Sun. Without solving that contradiction, sooner or later the collapse of human civilizations is inevitable, as it was for the people of Easter Island, a small-scale but significant precedent.

 

Second is the dilemma of will, especially that of western elites which, in rebellion from the societies they should serve, are living on short-term and narrow-minded purposes and not leading the construction of a sustainable and inclusive future for the planet.

 

Third and most important is the cultural dilemma, more difficult to apprehend but not less critical. Consciously or not, the dominant behavior we practice today when facing the contradictions and conflicts of life is based on the powerful but false idea that progress is a result of the selfish pursuit of individual interests. Powerful because it connects with many people adopting selfishness as an artificial relief for their fears, but false because it actually produces concentration of power and richness in the hands of a few, and therefore inhibits the potential of most.

 

On the contrary, if we propose as a definition of progress that it should create more life than it destroys, we should recognize that our individualistic interpretation of the expansionist drive of life is able to destroy much more life than it creates.

 

Time has come for a quantum leap in our strategy of adaptation. The only way to get out of the Gordian knot in which we live is to collectively transcend those dilemmas by creating a new paradigm of civilization, one that actually can be built with pieces we already have.

 

Of course, we humans cannot live without feeding ourselves, and we cannot aspire to a decent life without extracting many resources from our environment. But we can decide in which ways we frame and deal with the conflicts our existence creates.

 

For instance, if not preserving each animal or vegetable, we can apply permaculture practices to preserve the existence of living species at the same time we ensure the appropriate feeding of all humans. We can decide to deter mutual destruction of humans through war and violence. Instead of fighting others, we can decide to fight ignorance and prejudice. Instead of accumulating useless artifacts, we can fight our inner limitations and develop our talents. Instead of practicing depredation, exploitation and exclusion, we can require ourselves to behave better for the profit of all. We can choose creation (and self-creation) instead of destruction. We can choose life instead of death.

 

How to achieve that? When we calculate the balance of creation and destruction produced by our actions, the result depends on the boundary we choose: caring about other humans or living species is not the same as not worrying at all about their survival. Fixing that boundary is required to perform rigorous ecological balances, but it is the result of truly political will, since it depends on including or not into our concerns the victims (human or not) of any kind of exploitation. Ultimately, creating more life than we destroy will depend on extending that boundary so far that we only leave outside the Sun, as the unlimited source of energy to which we owe our existence (for now and until the remote future of its own death).

 

There, at the junction of thermodynamics and humanism, lies the real opportunity we have to reconcile beauty and truth, the beauty of our aspirations and the truth of our limitations, and to ensure that life is able to continue its adventure on Earth under a new and transcendent form, that we could wishfully call “sustainable happiness”.

 

Let us try to imagine further how that could be, through different but intertwined dimensions of desirable futures.

 

Unleashing human potential. Actually there is one unlimited game to which we can direct our human drive in harmony with the environment. It is that of learning and experiencing together in the infinite variety of disciplines of knowledge, of sports and crafts, of art and science, of beauty and truth.

 

The world would look very differently if we recognized at last that every human being has talents of own which must be developed, that emotions and human relationships are among our most valuable assets and that they can be educated to produce a multitude of individual passions for the profit of all, not for the sake of individual accumulation. Which in turn would require education to be no longer centered on reproducing social hierarchies and selecting narrow elites, but on the assumption that everybody has the same right and obligation to achieve personal fulfilment.

 

Extending the circle of generosity and trust. While it is obvious in the most universal and intimate experience of any mother with her children, it is taking a very long time to understand that the progress of civilization is all about extending the frontier inside which we practice generosity and trust by default.

 

Self-indulgent as we are, we prefer to ignore that the rule of generosity and care, rather than that of selfishness and exploitation, applies not only to our family but also to the weak and suffering, to the persons who share our land and language, whatever their origins or income, to those who are like us but live elsewhere or talk differently, to those who are different from us in beliefs, skin or habits, to all children of all nations, to all forms of animal and vegetable life, and in the end to the whole planet we share.

 

By applying the rule in clever ways, protecting the institutions of collective welfare from abuses, extending their reach and being self-demanding in our personal generosity, we could receive much more than we give and create more life than we destroy.

 

Sharing feminine and masculine values. For too long, the game of human power has been an exclusive battlefield for alpha males, whose natural drive is expansion and conflict, even at unreasonable costs. We need to transcend zero-sum deals and change the nature of power to transform it into a practice of shared potentialities and care of the common nature from which we all live.

 

Of course, we speak here of a deep cultural revolution to recognize at last that women are equal to men in rights and opportunities, but also to change our vision of what is quality of life, to state that quantity (in particular, of children) is not necessarily good and that collaboration is not always but so many times better than competition.

 

In the end, we will understand that the deep unity and richness of humanity and life is only possible through the respect of diversity and the sacred principle of dignity for all, and that overcoming segregations, whether social, cultural or racial, is both a moral and a practical imperative.

 

Changing the purpose of organizations. Based on such universal values, human organizations of the future will no longer be obsessed with monetized growth for the sake of it, but devoted to better problem-solving. As the many parts of a societal ecosystem, they will address different facets of a global purpose, that of producing an equitable and universal human welfare while preserving for now and the future the essential equilibria of the natural ecosystem from which we live.

 

Of course, this will need fundamental changes: a combination of societal innovations and technical progress to ensure both a very high productivity in the use of natural resources and a very low unemployment, so as to maximize the use of our abundant human talents and minimize that of the scarce factors.

 

This will also mean abandoning the self-delusions of financial accumulation and consumerism and combining different types of property for different purposes in competitive collaboration. Also, we will have to reclaim the legitimacy of good governance and regulation to produce public goods and limit public bads, and to reinitiate politics, not as a pure game of power but as the common space where collective problem-solving is debated and addressed.

 

Empowering citizens of all ages. At a time when, even in rich countries, the promise for most is made of exhausting full-life workdays just to ensure some material comfort and avoid the threat of unemployment, we cannot help saying that life should be something completely different from a mad race towards status and hyper-consumption, where so many lose and some seem to win (while losing their own time).

 

Societal arrangements are feasible to produce what is needed with much shorter workdays and a variety of professional engagements over personalized curricula, so that ordinary people would no longer be just workers and consumers, threatened by the exclusion of unemployment or the (so frequent) emptiness of retirement, but empowered citizens who can enjoy substantial time in lifelong learning, exchanging across generations, practicing passions and participating in collective decisions at all levels, from local to global.

 

Taking the holistic view. Life is more complex than ever before, and the chance is it will continue to be so, because complexity is the result of our dreams coming true. We, all humans, aspire to personal autonomy and dignity, to express our multiple identities in local or global communities, to practice our passions, to receive social recognition, to enjoy life with our loved ones but also with the unknown who share our feelings, whether near us or on the other side of Earth.

 

This two-sided nature of autonomy and connection is what makes society a complex system that is much more than the sum of its parts. It is more and more so, in a small world in which the distant flap of a butterfly can produce a tornado next door. This requires us to analyze and understand reality with a holistic mindset, in which details and macro-behaviors are connected and the center of the world is everywhere.

 

Fortunately, this also brings the opportunity of unexpected emergent behaviors, of new capabilities of self-organization for the sake of life. And it creates as well the feeling that we are all together, of any origin, language or color of skin, in the same adventure, and that the best ideas may come, why not, from a remote village of Africa, where the whole story began.

 

Of course, some will say that we speak about Utopia, a land of wishful ideas which will not materialize, at least in our lifetime. But being only realistic is today a recipe for disaster. And the practicality of painting sketches of desirable futures is that they can inspire not only those who already dream but also those many more who still do not dare to dream.

 

So, let us get back from the future of our common dreams, and start making them real. Let us continue this adventure, the greatest on Earth, that of a paradigm shift of unprecedented scale in human history. Let us abandon the pervasive disenchantment of the early 21st century, obsessed with money and the exhibition of material privileges.

 

Let us assemble the energy of young, the wisdom of elders, the claim of women and the excluded, the voices of all nations, for the greatest of all revolutions, one without enemies except our fears. This will be to build a human world at peace with itself and the planet, an inclusive, sustainable and more feminine world where we could practice the obligation and pleasure of making life a meaningful and enjoyable journey for all of us and our children of generations to come.

 

Our life is a pure contradiction. We know we will be here just for a while, and yet we try not only to survive everyday, but also to give a meaning to what we do, for ourselves but mainly for others, of course our loved ones, but also so many people we do not know. We will never suppress the eternal dilemma between beauty and truth, but by extending our innate generosity and practicing intelligence, we can make life joyful instead of miserable.

 

To do that, we will certainly have to overcome our fears and bet on love and trust. But, what could be the meaning of our presence here if we do not dare to love?

 

*Carlos Alvarez Pereira is President of the Innaxis Foundation and Research Institute and Member of the Club of Rome Spain

Press link for more: Club of Rome

We’re on track for 2.7C temperature rise. #Auspol #ClimateChange 

According to a new synthesis of the more than 140 national climate action plans already submitted to the United Nations, the world is on track for a 2.7°C temperature rise by the end of the century.That’s both good news and bad news — it means that the current pledges, also known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), are stronger than previous ones, but still not strong enough to keep the world below 2°C, largely considered the cut-off for irreversible climate change.

“Fully implemented these plans together begin to make a significant dent in the growth of greenhouse gas emissions: as a floor they provide a foundation upon which ever higher ambition can be built,” Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said in a press statement. “I am confident that these INDCs are not the final word in what countries are ready to do and achieve over time — the journey to a climate safe-future is underway and the Paris agreement to be inked in Paris can confirm, and catalyze that transition.”

The synthesis includes national climate plans from 146 countries, all of which had submitted their plans as of October 1. Collectively, the plans cover 86 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which the U.N. points out is almost four times the level of the first commitment period from the Kyoto Protocol. The climate plans include all developed nations, as well as three-quarters of developing nations.

By 2025, the U.N. estimates that the current plans will result in an 8 percent decrease in global average per capita emissions. By 2030, per capita emissions could drop as much as nine percent.

Jennifer Morgan, global director of the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute, praised the U.N. report, singling out the strength of current commitments compared to previous INDCs, which would have put the world on track for as much as 5°C.

“We are already seeing significant progress catalyzed by the Paris negotiations,” Morgan said in a press statement. “All countries’ submissions are stronger now than they were before. With more than 153 countries coming forward with national commitments, we’re now seeing an unprecedented level of cooperation on climate change. These plans point us to a better world with stronger economies, more renewable energy, more livable cities, healthier forests, and more resilient communities.”

While current INDCs represent a strong step forward, the report also highlights the gap between current commitments and the 2°C limit agreed upon by nearly 200 governments during the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009. By 2030, according to the report, the world will have used three-quarters of its “carbon budget” — the amount of carbon allowed into the atmosphere to stay below the 2° C limit — and nations will need to revisit and strengthen their pledges. As Chris Mooney at the Washington Post points out, total annual emissions, however, are set to increase under current INDCs, from 48 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2010 to 55 gigatons in 2025 and 57 gigatons in 2030.

“The commitments reviewed in today’s report indicate progress towards that first goal,” Andrew Deutz, Director of International Government Relations for the Nature Conservancy, said in a statement. “The foundation has been poured, but to build from this the Paris agreement must deliver transparency and accountability against these pledges, and ensure that countries accelerate their ambition over time.”

Because of the need for stronger climate commitments from many countries, including top emitters like China, many experts argue that a successful climate agreement in Paris must include short intervals for reassessing and strengthening pledges. According to the most recent draft of a potential U.N. climate agreement, released in early October, countries will be expected to reassess their commitments every five years.

But not all of those changes will necessarily come from government policies, some experts say. As Han Chen, international climate advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told ThinkProgress, the wide-ranging nature of the INDCs should signal to businesses that switching to low-carbon investments is a smart move for the future.

“Paris is the opportunity to set up that pathway for future reductions, not just for 2030 but for decades beyond that,” Chen said. “The INDCs include policies spanning all parts of the economy – for renewable energy, efficiency, urban planning, transport, agriculture, and so many other areas. We can shift the trillions invested in activities that lead to high carbon pollution towards smarter low-carbon investments in all those areas – and this is a clear signal for companies and investors worldwide where they should be betting on future growth.”

Press link for more: Natasha Geiling | thinkprogress.org

Bankrupting Nature, Denying our Planetary Boundaries #Auspol 

Bankrupting Nature’s 12 key messages
1. Scientific evidence is overwhelming that human pressure on the planet has reached a point that poses major risks for future welfare and prosperity. Science indicates that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. Accelerating human activity is now the most significant driver of global change, propelling the planet into a new geological era, termed the Anthropocene. There are now so many of us, using so many resources, that we are disrupting the grand cycles of biology, chemistry and geology. We can no longer exclude the possibility that our collective actions might trigger tipping points, risking drastic and irreversible consequences for human communities and ecological systems.
 

2. The sustainability crisis is manifested through social, financial, economic and environmental problems now playing out globally. We are faced with a set of serious challenges, driven by wasteful production and consumption, skewed trading and subsidy systems, and persistent and recurring financial crises. Gaps are widening, between nations and within nations. Unemployment is endemic and rising, particularly among the young. The financial system is increasingly divorced from the real economy. Moreover, it has miserably failed to generate the necessary investments to move society towards sustainability .

 

3. The concept of “planetary boundaries” provides a science-based framework that can guide us through the transition to sustainability. The aim must be to strengthen the planet’s resilience and its ability to continue providing a “safe space” for human development and wellbeing. A number of critical issues have to be addressed, such as climate change, depletion of stratospheric ozone, biodiversity loss, changes in land and freshwater use and interference with nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, air pollution, chemical pollution and ocean acidification.

 

4. We urgently need to adopt a more holistic approach to human development. It is no longer possible to deal with one issue at a time. Today´s – mostly vertical – scientific endeavours and approaches might give the impression that there is a significant degree of uncertainty within the scientific community. However, if we put “all our cards on the table” about global environmental risks, the ‘risk panorama’ is overwhelmingly clear. The interplay between the atmosphere, the oceans and the land-based ecosystems is of particular significance and calls for a properly integrated, solutions-oriented science for global sustainability.

 

5. Climate denial poses a serious challenge. It has several causes, such as vested interests and ideological and cultural barriers. To counteract the advocates of denial, new ways of communicating with the public must be explored – e g by mobilizing the behavioral sciences – to complement pure scientific facts and data.

 

6. The Earth has had a remarkable capacity to buffer the expansion of human activities – allowing continued economic growth, despite serious ecological decline. The economy of today is built on the premise that material consumption can expand indefinitely. However, science tells us that this is not possible given the combination of high and increasing pollution levels, collapsing ecosystems, a changing climate and resource constraints. De-growth is no solution either, as it would mean the collapse of our social, financial and economic systems. The growth dilemma can only be addressed – and resolved – through an in-depth, value-based discussion in society about the overall objectives of development in the future. A precondition for charting out a new course will be a radically changed economic policy framework.

 

7. The short-term nature of both politics and markets constitutes the greatest obstacle to addressing today’s serious threats to sustainability. The same goes for the tendency to focus on “one issue at a time”. The financial crisis is not about money alone. To repay and service all the debts will require substantial wealth generation, which can only happen with the help of major inputs of energy and materials. Prices for energy and most commodities are on the increase, which will make the repayments of debts increasingly difficult. The only possible solution to this problem – and, as well, to the challenge of climate change and ecosystem decline – ought to be a significant increase in energy and resource efficiency. This, in turn, can only be achieved by applying a systems perspective – by merging the agendas of economics and finance with the agendas of climate and energy security, ecosystem decline and resource constraints.

 

8. To change course, priority should be given to the following measures:

stop using GDP growth as the main target of development;

taking nature into account, by assigning a value to ecosystem services and biodiversity;

implementing a tax reform: reducing taxes on labor and raising taxes on resource use;

removing all environmentally harmful subsidies;

using public procurement proactively for sustainability objectives;

reducing the risk of financial crisis by significantly increasing the leverage ratio for banks and financial institutions;

obliging financial institutions to report their risk exposure in terms of carbon investments;

rethinking both the system of quarterly reporting, and the compensation system for financial institution emlpoyees, currently based on short-term performance ;

introducing long-term planning by rethinking the system of discounting of future values;

rethinking business models so that revenue can be earned through performance and high-quality service rather than simply selling “more stuff”.

 

9. It has been suggested that ‘decoupling’ the link between economic growth and the use of energy and materials will produce ‘green’ growth. The results so far have been poor, however, as the gains are frequently eaten up by expanding economies. A way out of this conundrum would be to focus on effectiveness – i. e. doing the right things – rather than on efficiency alone.

 

The main thrust ought to be for a circular economy, where products are designed for longer use, reuse, disassembly and refurbishment. Materials should be reused and recycled to the extent possible, thus reducing the demand for mining and new manufacturing. A bonus effect would be the creation of many new jobs within the service organisation needed at local level.

 

The circular economy ought to be promoted by the adoption of binding targets for resource efficiency, increased taxes on the use of virgin materials and priority given to sustainable innovation and design.

 

10. We need strategies for planetary stewardship. Solutions and policies must pass through a “nine billion filter”, i.e. they must work for a future population of at least nine billion people. This means efficiency gains in delivering services to the order of a factor of five or more, the building of a low-carbon and resource-efficient infrastructure as well as the systematic pursuit of systems-based and transformative solutions.

 

11. Give enhanced priority to population. Birth rates continue to be very high in many of the least developed countries, making poverty eradication more difficult. But population numbers have a great bearing on sustainability as well. It is often claimed that world population growth is not a problem from the point of view of sustainability, as poor people use fewer resources and have a smaller carbon footprint. This is a very short-term view. Every human being born should have the right to a decent standard of living. That in turn means sufficient access to natural resources and thus an increasing footprint. Hence, every effort should be made to stabilize the world population, primarily through the provision of education for girls, access to clean energy and family planning services.

 

12. While efforts to improve global governance have had very limited success so far, the world must continue to work for global agreements. Parallel to that the pursuit of local solutions should be greatly scaled up, led by individual governments, cities and regions, companies and civil society organizations. Development cooperation must be closely linked to environmental and climate efforts. The replacement of the Millennium Development Goals for Sustainable Development Goals, as suggested at the Rio+20 Conference, would be a move in the right direction.

Press link for more: clubofrome.org

How Indonesia’s Fires Made it the Biggest Climate Polluter #Auspol #ClimateChange

Indonesia’s forest fires have catapulted the southeast Asian nation to the top of the rankings of the world’s worst global warming offenders, with daily emissions exceeding those of China on at least 14 days in the past two months.
The nation’s total daily carbon dioxide emissions, including from power generation, transport and industry, exceeded those of the U.S. on 47 of the 74 days through Oct. 28, according to Bloomberg analysis of national emissions data from the World Resources Institute in Washington and Indonesian fire-emissions data from VU University in Amsterdam.

Smog caused by the fires has generated headlines and a diplomatic flare-up between Indonesia and its neighbors in southeast Asia. It’s a threat to human health and has disrupted flights in the region. At the same time, burning trees and peatlands are pumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere at a time when more than 190 nations are gearing up to sign a new agreement to stem global warming in Paris in December.

“The problem that we see in Indonesia with essentially unrestrained deforestation going on is a bad message for the world,” Bill Hare, chief executive officer of Potsdam, Germany-based policy researcher Climate Analytics, said in a phone interview. “If we can’t really control deforestation in this region, who’s going to be next? It would be a signal that countries can get away with this kind of deforestation without any real constraint.”

The fires are caused by clearing woodland for paper and palm oil plantations, and have been worsened by El Nino-related dry

Indonesia’s forest fires have catapulted the southeast Asian nation to the top of the rankings of the world’s worst global warming offenders, with daily emissions exceeding those of China on at least 14 days in the past two months.

QUICKTAKE

Deforestation

The nation’s total daily carbon dioxide emissions, including from power generation, transport and industry, exceeded those of the U.S. on 47 of the 74 days through Oct. 28, according to Bloomberg analysis of national emissions data from the World Resources Institute in Washington and Indonesian fire-emissions data from VU University in Amsterdam.

Smog caused by the fires has generated headlines and a diplomatic flare-up between Indonesia and its neighbors in southeast Asia. It’s a threat to human health and has disrupted flights in the region. At the same time, burning trees and peatlands are pumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere at a time when more than 190 nations are gearing up to sign a new agreement to stem global warming in Paris in December.

“The problem that we see in Indonesia with essentially unrestrained deforestation going on is a bad message for the world,” Bill Hare, chief executive officer of Potsdam, Germany-based policy researcher Climate Analytics, said in a phone interview. “If we can’t really control deforestation in this region, who’s going to be next? It would be a signal that countries can get away with this kind of deforestation without any real constraint.”

The fires are caused by clearing woodland for paper and palm oil plantations, and have been worsened by El Nino-related dry conditions.
In a satellite record that began in 1997, 2015 is the second worst year on record for emissions from Indonesian forest fires, according to Guido van der Werf, professor of Earth sciences at VU University. It’s unlikely to exceed 1997, which itself was probably worse than any year predating the satellite record, he said.

“We have some confidence in the numbers because by using atmospheric models we can predict, based on our emissions, how elevated concentrations of gases and aerosols will be in the atmosphere,” van der Werf said in an e-mail. “That corresponds reasonably well with what we actually measure in the atmosphere.”

Without including land use changes and deforestation, Indonesia emits about 761 megatons (761 million metric tons) of carbon dioxide a year, according to 2012 data from the World Resources Institute. That works out at 2.1 megatons a day, compared with almost 16 for the U.S. and 29.3 for China. 

Indonesian daily emissions from fires alone rose as high as 61 megatons on Oct. 14, according to van der Werf’s data, part of the Global Fire Emissions Database. That accounted for almost 97 percent of total national emissions for the day.

Exceeding China

The daily average emissions for Indonesia, including those of the wider economy, was 22.5 megatons in September and 23 megatons for Oct. 1 through Oct. 28, according to Bloomberg calculations. That’s more than the U.S. average for those two months, based on a typical year, though still short of China. Even so, daily emissions first exceeded those of China on Sept. 8, and most recently did so on Oct. 23.

“Put simply, this is a climate catastrophe,” Nigel Sizer, global director of WRI’s forests program said in an e-mailed reply. “The emissions from these fires are likely to add about 3 percent to total global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities for the year.”

The WRI posted analysis in an Oct 16 blog that showed emissions from the fire exceeding those of the entire U.S. economy.

Indonesia has pledged to cut its emissions by 29 percent from a projected “business-as-usual” scenario by 2030 as part of the new UN deal on climate change. The plan, short on details, includes an unquantified commitment to reduce deforestation. The country already has a moratorium in place on clearing primary forests, and a ban on converting peatlands to other uses.

Failed Efforts

“An enormous amount of effort has gone in from different countries to support reductions in deforestation and burning of peat land and it’s really failed,” said Hare.

Van der Werf said it takes 100 years or more to grow trees that will absorb the CO2 released by burning primary forests. For carbon-rich peat soils that have been burnt, the lag is even bigger, he said.

“What is burning in Indonesia is for a large part peat that has accumulated over thousands of years and will not regrow so this is a net source of CO2, just like fossil fuel emissions,” he said. “Unless there is a dramatic change in land management these peatlands will not be restored.”

Press link for more: Alex Morales | bloomberg.com

Waste not, want not #Auspol #WApol #ClimateChange 

Is climate change a challenge or an opportunity? Or both?
It would be so easy to sit around all day complaining about climate change and global warming. I mean, hey, we’ve got so many storms that my colleague who updates “Latest Events” on our Eyes on the Earth web app rolls her eyes as if to say “I can’t even.” Global warming, drought, El Niño, big hurricanes: Planet Earth is like, “You want a piece of me?” And even as the challenge of climate change and global warming hits us in the face like wave after wave of storm surge, I ask myself: Are they challenges or are they opportunities? Or both?  
Some thrive on transforming things that appear negative. And perhaps nothing appears more negative than our garbage. It’s … garbage, refuse, trash, rubbish, junk – the waste products of our lives, the stuff we determine useless. Wouldn’t it be amazing if it were possible to take that discarded dreck and turn it into something that we really, really want and need?
Well, there is.
And the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County, Florida has taken the lead. They have the most advanced and cleanest waste-to-energy power plant in North America. They take trash directly from garbage trucks and load it into “the Pit,” which is designed to handle up to seven days of waste. Grapples that look like giant claws feed the waste into one of three boilers. There, it’s burned to generate steam, which drives a turbine generator to produce electricity. A suite of pollution control technologies ensures extremely low air emissions.

The plant can process 3,000 tons of trash every day and convert it into enough electricity to power more than 40,000 homes and businesses. Yeah. 
There are a bunch of reasons why waste-to-energy power plants benefit the environment:
First, the Renewable Energy Facilities at the Solid Waste Authority reduce greenhouse gas emissions by producing electricity that otherwise would have been generated by burning fossil fuels.

The system also decreases the volume of waste that goes to the landfill, thereby limiting methane generation, which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

The facility has recycled nearly 2 million tons of paper, plastic, aluminum and glass and recovers metals, such as iron and aluminum, from materials discarded by the residents and businesses. Manufacturing new products from recycled materials consumes less energy and significantly reduces greenhouse gas generation compared to mining and metal production from raw materials.

The Solid Waste Authority also collects gases generated by the landfill to effectively prevent emissions into the atmosphere. These gases are harnessed to produce energy, which helps reduce fossil fuel reliance.

Tom Henderson, project manager at Arcadis, managed the development of this 7- to 8-year project, because he knew how to put the team of talented people together and understood the political and engineering aspects of getting the plant built. During our phone conversation, he told me “the primary purpose of these facilities is to eliminate the need for a landfill.”
Landfills are forever

I told him I didn’t think most of this blog’s readers had ever been to a landfill, so I asked him to describe what it’s like to stand next to one.
“The first thing you notice is that these facilities are huge,” he told me. “It’s not like there’s a couple of bags of trash brought there every day. There’s tens of thousands of tons, hundreds and hundreds of truckloads, so the first thing you’re impressed with is how much trash there is. It’s just this huge volume of material.” Throwing so much stuff away is one of the major greenhouse gas and climate change contributors.
Yikes. I wondered if you could identify individual things or if it looked more like a mush pit. “You see food waste, a lot of paper and plastic, mattresses. The smell is pretty bad,” he told me. “Just about anything you could imagine in your home or office today is going to end up at a place like that in most places in this country.”
I looked around my room at my night table with a lamp on it, a moisturizer, a phone cable, some papers. I thought about all the Halloween decorations I’d walked past this morning.
All of it, all of it, all of it, ends up in a landfill

We went on to discuss how, as a society, we’ve become very selfish. People don’t want to think about this big mound of trash. We want what we want and we don’t care what happens to it after the trash truck drives off. Yup, that is us.  
Well, some people care; you might even be one of them. But judging by the way our society disposes its trash, its waste products, it’s obvious we don’t care enough to stop what we’ve been doing.  
“Landfills are very inexpensive to build,” said Henderson, “but you have to maintain them forever.” (He emphasized the word “ever” as if to extend the timeline with the tone of his voice.) “A hundred years from now, the liner system will have failed and we have to go back and spend money to clean it.” As he spoke, I thought about the parallel to climate change: The maintenance cost is not included in the initial cost of the landfill, just as the cost of adaptation is not included in the price of burning fossil fuels.
Henderson explained how easy it is to “build landfills if nobody is there to complain about it.” But in Palm Beach County, Florida, the County Commission decided to deal with their own problem, rather than exporting it like a lot of other large cities. When people are involved in their community, they have more control over what happens. “We’re creating this problem. We should deal with it ourselves.” Waste-to-energy plants are usually right inside the community. They decided that it was not okay to put the garbage in a truck and drive it hundreds and hundreds of miles “away.” And in fact, at their waste-to-energy facility, they have a sign that says, “This is where ‘away’ is.”
On Planet Earth, there is no “away.” “Away” is here.  

Press link for more : Laura Faye | climate.nasa.gov

GRACE satellites evaluate drought in southeast Brazil #Auspol #ClimateChange

Empty water reservoirs, severe water rationing and electrical blackouts are the new status quo in major cities across southeastern Brazil where the worst drought in 35 years has desiccated the region. A new NASA study estimates that the region has lost an average 15 trillion gallons of water per year from 2012 to 2015.
Augusto Getirana, a hydrologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland, analyzed the amount water stored in aquifers and rivers across Brazil from 2002 to 2015, interested in understanding the depth of the current drought.
“The questions driving this work are how much water is missing from each region? And when did the drought start?” said Getirana. The results were published in the Journal of Hydrometeorology.
To answer them, he used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. The pair of satellites orbit Earth in precise formation and detect changes in Earth’s gravity field. Gravity field changes are caused by the movement of large masses of ice and water – including water in rivers and underground, which allows scientists to track droughts.
A new data visualization of 13 years of GRACE data shows the distribution of water across Brazil. Blues indicate increases in water, mostly occurring in the western regions of Brazil in the rainforest. Meanwhile red shows where water stores have declined, occurring mainly in the north and southeast. At the beginning of the data collection, in 2002, Brazil was just coming out of a drought that began in 2000. A wet period followed until 2012 when dry conditions set in again due to a lack of precipitation and higher than usual temperatures, according to supplemental data.
Southeastern Brazil was hardest hit by drought conditions, said Getirana. To make matters worse, Brazil relies on rivers that feed into reservoirs and dams that generate about 75 percent of the electrical power for the country.
“A number of Brazil’s reservoirs and dams have reached their lowest water levels since 2005,” said Getirana. For example, the Cantareira water reservoir system that provides water for 8.8 million people in São Paulo’s metro region reported that by September 2014 it was filled to 10.7 percent of its total capacity.
The 16 reservoirs examined in the study are too small to measure individually with GRACE data from space. But Getirana saw correlations between the broader-scale satellite observations of water and the amount remaining in reservoirs that give him hope that combining satellite data with model simulations in the future will be able to help Brazil and other drought-prone countries monitor their water resources.

Press link for more: Ellen Gray | climate.nasa.gov

University of California unveils plan to curb climate change #Auspol

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Reducing the human carbon footprint is a “moral imperative,” University of California President Janet Napolitano said Tuesday as she vowed to turn the system’s 10 campuses into a living laboratory for solutions that can be scaled up to state, national and global levels.
Napolitano made the comments at a two-day climate change summit at UC San Diego, where researchers discussed their blueprint for actions that they say the state and the world should undertake to tackle the problem – including reducing the carbon footprint of the wealthiest 1 billion people.

The plan will be presented at next month’s landmark climate change conference in Paris.
UC officials say global warming could be slowed dramatically by reducing greenhouse gases such as methane emissions by 50 percent and black carbon by 90 percent over the next 15 years. The wealthiest need to cut back dramatically, while green energy needs to be made more available to the poorest 3 billion people, the plan says.
UC experts are asking religious leaders to help foster change.
“Addressing these challenges and reducing our carbon footprint is a moral imperative,” Napolitano said, adding that the university system is on track to meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025.
“I anticipate that by 2025, when the University of California is carbon neutral, that the rest of the world in seeking climate solutions will say, ‘Well, let’s go back to 2015 when they had that summit at UC San Diego and let’s see if we can do what the University of California did,'” said Napolitano, the former Homeland Security secretary and governor of Arizona.
The university has reached an agreement to buy 80 megawatts of solar power, the largest such purchase by any U.S. university, Napolitano said. UC also has vowed to target $1 billion of its investment portfolio toward renewable energy and other climate change solutions over the next five years.
If the world reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050, that could slow the disastrous impacts of climate change by 25 years, UC researchers say.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who also spoke at the summit on Tuesday, said the problem requires bringing together the state’s best minds to cross partisan lines and move the nation away from relying on fossil fuels.
“We are up against a very powerful opposition,” Brown said, referring to Republicans who have blocked drastic carbon-reducing measures that they say will harm job growth.
Brown said denying climate change will hurt the economy in the end by causing the planet irreversible damage. He told the audience of mostly scientists that he recently sent Republican presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson, a neuroscientist, a flash drive containing the U.N. Synthesis Report on climate change after Carson said he had not seen evidence of global warming.
Brown has set some of the nation’s most ambitious goals against global warming, including reducing the state’s carbon dioxide emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels, shifting its electricity production to at least 50 percent from renewable sources and increasing energy efficiency in buildings by 50 percent. He has called for the goals to be met by 2030.
“While California is not a planet, it’s still a global leader,” Brown said. “And what we do will be disseminated.”

Press link for more: Julie Watson | hosted.ap.org

Too hot to work: climate change ‘puts south-east Asia economies at risk’ #Auspol

Rising temperatures and humidity due to climate change are likely to increase the number of days with unsafe “heat stress”, putting south-east Asia at great risk of significant drops in productivity, a research firm said on Wednesday.

South-east Asia over the next three decades could lose 16% of its labour capacity due to rising heat stress, which could cause absenteeism due to dizziness, fatigue, nausea and even death in extreme cases, the British firm Verisk Maplecroft said.
The company predicted the biggest losses in productivity in Singapore and Malaysia, with 25% and 24% decreases from current levels. Indonesia could see a 21% drop, Cambodia and the Philippines 16% and Thailand and Vietnam 12%.
“Climate change will push heat stress impacts to boiling point, with significant implications for both national economies and the health of vulnerable workers,” said James Allan, head of environment at Verisk Maplecroft, in a statement.
The company used climate projections to calculate the drop in labour capacity, based on the occurrence of conditions that prompt heat stress and leave workers unable to perform physical activity.
It said by 2045 the number of heat stress days in Singapore and Malaysia will rise to 364 (from 335 and 338 respectively); to 355 from 303 in Indonesia; and to 337 from 276 in the Philippines.

Calculating potential lost productivity for 1,300 cities, the company found 45 of the 50 highest risk cities were in south-east Asia, including Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta.
Twenty of the 50 highest risk cities are in Malaysia, 13 in Indonesia, four in the Philippines and three are in Thailand.
High-risk cities outside the region included Cartagena, at the top of the list, and Barranquilla in Colombia, Panama City and Arraijan in Panama, and Manaus in Brazil.

Press link for more: theguardian.com

Removing fossil fuel subsidies would slash emissions 11 per cent within five years #Auspol 

Scrapping fossil fuel subsidies could slash carbon emissions across an economy by around 11 per cent, according to a major new study from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Nordic Council of Ministers, which argues policymakers can no longer ignore the economic savings on offer from drastic fossil fuel subsidy reform.The report, which was released late last week and is titled Tackling Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Climate Change: Levelling the energy playing field, analysed fossil fuel subsidies across 20 major economies with relatively high levels of financial support for fossil fuel industries, including the US, China, India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

It concluded phasing out fossil fuel subsidies between now and 2020 would cut carbon emissions by an average of 11 per cent for each economy. It added that taking 30 per cent of the financial savings realised by ending subsidies and re-investing it in low carbon infrastructure would push average carbon savings up to 18 per cent by 2020.

In total, the report predicted 2.8 Gt of CO2 would be removed from the atmosphere through to 2020 if the economies studied phased out fossil fuel subsidies.

“The numbers point to an important opportunity for both national carbon emissions reductions, and for financing the transformation of our energy systems,” said Scott Vaughan, president-CEO of IISD, in a statement.
Anna Lindstedt, Climate Ambassador for Sweden, said the financial savings on offer for cash strapped governments from fossil fuel subsidy reform were considerable. “With average yearly financial savings to governments of around US$ 93 per tonne of carbon removed from the system, fossil fuel subsidy reform is one policy tool that governments can no longer afford to ignore,” she said.

The report also demonstrated how the level of carbon savings on offer through fossil fuel subsidy reform varies considerably from country to country. For example, it estimated Iraq, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia could all cut emissions by more than 30 per cent by phasing out subsidies and using some of the money to invest in clean technologies. However, the savings on offer for the US stood at less than one per cent.

The report follows a recent study from the OECD that revealed fossil fuel subsidies have been curbed slightly in recent years, but still saw the world’s richest countries and fastest-emerging economies subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of between $160bn and $200bn in the four years through to 2014.

The G20 has repeatedly pledged to phase out “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption”, acknowledging it represents one of the simplest mechanisms for curbing global carbon emissions. However, a recent IMF report estimated that globally fossil fuel subsidies are still dished out at a rate of $10m a minute.

Press link for more: businessgreen.com

Climate change is real and it is happening now. #Auspol Time to “bend the curve”

This is evident in the increased frequency and intensity of storms, hurricanes, floods, heat waves, droughts and forest fires. These extreme events, as well as the spread of certain infectious diseases, worsened air pollution, drinking water contamination and food shortages, are creating the beginning of what soon will be a global public health crisis.

A whole new navigable ocean is opening in the Arctic.
Sea levels are rising, causing major damage in the world’s most populous cities. All this has resulted from warming the planet by only about 0.9 degrees Celsius, primarily from human activities. Since 1750, we have emitted 2 trillion metric tons
of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. The emission in
2011 was around 50 billion tons and is growing at a rate of 2.2 percent per year. If this rate of increase continues unabated, the world is on target to warm by about 2 degrees Celsius in less than 40 years. By the end of the century, warming could range from 2.5 degrees Celsius to a catastrophic 7.8 degrees Celsius. We are transitioning from climate change to climate disruption.
With such alarming possibilities the planet is highly likely to cross several tipping points within decades, triggering changes that could last thousands of years. All of this is occurring against a backdrop of growing needs and pressures by humans, as our population is set to increase by at least 2 billion people by 2050.
“Bending the curve” refers to flattening the upward trajectory of human-caused warming trends. Reducing CO2 emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and moving to carbon neutrality post-2050 would begin to bend the temperature curve downward and reduce overall warming by as much as 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.

More rapid reductions can be achieved by reducing four short-lived climate pollutants. These short-lived climate pollutants, known as SLCPs, methane (CH4), black carbon, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs, which are used in refrigerants) and tropospheric ozone. 

If currently available technologies for reducing SLCPs were fully implemented by 2030, projected warming could be reduced by as much as 0.6 degrees Celsius within two to four decades, keeping the mid-century warming well below 2 degrees Celsius relative to the pre-industrial average. 

This could give the world additional time to achieve net-zero emissions or even negative carbon emissions through scaling
up existing and emerging carbon- neutral and carbon sequestration technologies and methods. Achieving both maximum possible mitigation of SLCPs and carbon neutrality beyond 2050 could hold global warming to about 2 degrees Celsius through 2100, which would avert most disastrous climate disruptions. 

This is our goal in this report. In this executive summary of the full Bending the Curve report, we describe 10 practical solutions to mitigate climate change that are scalable to the state, the nation and the world. There are many such reports offering recommendations and solutions to keep climate change under manageable levels. We take full account of such action-oriented reports and offer some unique solutions to complement them. 

Many of the solutions proposed here are being field tested on University of California campuses and elsewhere in California. The background, the criteria, the quantitative narrative and justification for these solutions can be found in the full report.

Press link for more: Bending the Curve