Month: March 2016

AFTER PARIS, COUNTING THE COST #Auspol #climatechange 

The December 2015 Paris climate conference was another — and perhaps nal — chapter in decades of climate policy-making failure. It set the world on course for more than 3°C of warming and all but precludes a less-than-2°C future without radical climate interven- tions. Commentators say “deadly aws” in the Paris deal mean it gives the impression that global warming is now being properly addressed, when in fact the measures fall woefully short of what is needed to avoid runaway climate change.
Prof. Kevin Anderson of the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Change is fond of quoting the twentieth century Nobel laureate quantum physicist Richard P. Feynman: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”
We fool ourselves if we are not deeply alarmed by the recent news about the state of global warming. According to new data released
by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, measurements taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii show that carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations jumped by 3.05 parts per million (ppm) during 2015, the largest year-to-year increase in 56 years of research. 2015 was the fourth consecutive year that CO2 grew more than 2 ppm.

And scientists say they are shocked and stunned by the “unprecedented” NASA temperature gures for February 2016,
which are 1.65°C higher than the beginning of the twentieth century and around 1.9°C warmer than the pre-industrial level. Prof. Michael Mann says “we have no carbon budget left for the 1.5°C target and the opportunity for holding to 2°C is rapidly fading unless the world starts cutting emissions hard right now”. The current El Niño conditions have contributed to the record gures, but compared to previous big El Niños, we are experiencing blowout temperatures.
Stefan Rahmstorf of Germany’s Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research says we are now “in a kind of climate emergency”.

Like the dramatic and unexpected “big melt” in the Arctic in 2007, we are now in another moment of terrifying climate reality, for Nature cannot be fooled. The recent data suggests it has taken just three months for the Paris climate accord — with its escalating emissions to 2030 — to become a relic, completely disconnected to the task the world now faces.
So what is the reality after Paris?

Press link for more: Breakthrough

The mercury doesn’t lie: We’ve hit a troubling climate change milestone. #Auspol 

Bill McKibben MARCH 05, 2016Thursday, while the nation debated the relative size of Republican genitalia, something truly awful happened. Across the northern hemisphere, the temperature, if only for a few hours, apparently crossed a line: it was more than two degrees Celsius above “normal” for the first time in recorded history and likely for the first time in the course of human civilization.
That’s important because the governments of the world have set two degrees Celsius as the must-not-cross red line that, theoretically, we’re doing all we can to avoid. And it’s important because most of the hemisphere has not really had a winter. They’ve been trucking snow into Anchorage for the start of the Iditarod; Arctic sea ice is at record low levels for the date; in New England doctors are already talking about the start of “allergy season.”

This bizarre glimpse of the future is only temporary. It will be years, one hopes, before we’re past the two degrees mark on a regular basis. But the future is clearly coming much faster than science had expected. February, taken as a whole, crushed all the old monthly temperature records, which had been set in … January. January crushed all the old monthly temperature records, which had been set in … December.

In part this reflects the ongoing El Nino phenomenon — these sporadic events always push up the planet’s temperature. But since that El Nino heat is layered on top of the ever-increasing global warming, the spikes keep getting higher. This time around the overturning waters of the Pacific are releasing huge quantities of heat stored there during the last couple of decades of global warming.
And as that heat pours out into the atmosphere, the consequences are overwhelming. In the South Pacific, for instance, the highest wind speeds ever measured came last month when Tropical Cyclone Winston crashed into Fiji. Entire villages were flattened. In financial terms, the storm wiped out ten percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, roughly equivalent to fifteen simultaneous Hurricane Katrina’s.

This was followed by a few months of the highest wind speeds ever recorded in our hemisphere, when Patricia crashed into the Pacific coast of Mexico. And it joins all the other lines of misery: the zika virus spreading on the wings of mosquitoes up and down the Americas; the refugees streaming out of Syria where, as studies now make clear, the deepest drought ever measured helped throw the nation into chaos.

The messages are clear. First, global warming is not a future threat — it’s the present reality, a menace not to our grandchildren but to our present civilizations. In a rational world, this is what every presidential debate would focus on. Forget the mythical flood of immigrants — concentrate on the actual flooding.

Second, since we’re in a hole it’s time to stop digging — literally. We’ve simply got to keep coal and oil and gas in the ground; there’s not any other way to make the math of climate change even begin to work. There is legislation pending in the House and Senate that would end new fossil fuel extraction on America’s public lands. Senator Sanders has backed the law unequivocally; Secretary Clinton seemed to endorse it, and then last week seemed to waffle. Donald Trump has concentrated on the length of his fingers.

No one’s waiting for presidential candidates to actually lead, of course. In May campaigners around the world will converge on the world’s biggest carbon deposits: the coal mines of Australia, the tarsands of Canada, the gasfields of Russia. And they will engage in peaceful civil disobedience, an effort to simply say: no. The only safe place for this carbon is deep beneath the soil, where’s it been for eons.
This is, in one sense, stupid. It’s ridiculous that at this late date, as the temperature climbs so perilously, we still have to take such steps. Why do Bostonians have to be arrested to stop the Spectra pipeline? Anyone with a thermometer can see that we desperately need to be building solar and windpower instead.
In a much deeper sense, however, the resistance is valiant, even beautiful. Think of those protesters as the planet’s antibodies, its immune system finally kicking in. Our one earth is running a fever the likes of which no human has ever seen. The time to fight it is right now.
Bill McKibben is the founder of the climate campaign, and the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College.

Press link for more: Boston Globe

“Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations” by Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg

Anna Barber: myartisliving

It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.*

Internet shopping; social media; consumerism; celebrity TV shows; fast food; cheap air travel…they have all been a part of our lives for so long that it’s increasingly difficult to remember a time when this wasn’t our landscape. Perhaps that’s partly why it seems to be so impossible to ingest the realities of climate change, and what it means for our society – our hyper-materialism has thrived for decades, and scaling back now seems incomprehensible. Things will change – they are changing already – and experts are telling us in unison that we cannot keep consuming natural resources at the same rate. Still, though, action remains elusive.   

Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations is a brilliantly accessible analysis of the realities of the Anthropocene, and the barriers corporations erect to prevent us from…

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Public ideas leadership on climate? The truth rarely sees the light of day.

by David Spratt
One of the most disturbing aspects of the public discussion of the climate change is its delusional character. The truth rarely sees the light of day.

Propositions that are entirely scientifically valid — such as there being no risk-averse carbon budget remaining for limiting warming to two degrees Celsius, or that the world has already passed a tipping point for a civilisation-threatening sea-level rise of several metres from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet at less than one degree of warming — are rare to non-existent in public discourse in Australia.

The idea that more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming is already locked into the system without geo-engineering would be a shock to most participants in public debate and policy, judging from the warm and fuzzy afterglow from the Paris conference’s vague commitment in words to 1.5 degrees Celsius (though in deeds the outcome was 3.5 degrees Celsius) and the widespread opposition to geo-enginerring within the climate justice movement.   
The same is true of harsh political truths: how the December 2015 Paris accord locked out a less than two-degree outcome; or that there are no viable solutions within the free-market paradigm in which policy is being constructed; or that we too infrequently have evidence-based policy, and too often have policy-based science.
In short, we lack brutally honest public ideas leadership on climate change. How many figures of public standing in Australia are prepared to consistently canvas the issues discussed here, or in the work of Professors Kevin Anderson, James Hansen and Michael E. Mann, to name but three? 

In Australia, you could count them on one hand, and have some fingers to spare. 
Timidness and a relentless bright-siding infuse the public conversation, as if people cannot bear to hear the truth.
But what if public is more prepared for the conversation than are our public ideas leaders?
Recent work by Melanie Randle and Richard Eckersley investigated the perceived probability of threats to humanity and different responses to them (nihilism, fundamentalism and activism) in the US, UK, Canada and Australia:

Overall, a majority (54%) rated the risk of our way of life ending within the next 100 years at 50% or greater, and a quarter (24%) rated the risk of humans being wiped out at 50% or greater. The responses were relatively uniform across countries, age groups, gender and education level, although statistically significant differences exist. Almost 80% agreed “we need to transform our worldview and way of life if we are to create a better future for the world” (activism). About a half agreed that “the world’s future looks grim so we have to focus on looking after ourselves and those we love” (nihilism), and over a third that “we are facing a final conflict between good and evil in the world” (fundamentalism). The findings offer insight into the willingness of humanity to respond to the challenges identified by scientists and warrant increased consideration in scientific and political debate.

So here is the great irony: people have got a fair, intuitive sense of what might be coming, but our ideas leaders can’t talk about it.
Now is the time to press those who aspire to leadership on climate issues and action to ask the questions that very few are willing to consider, including many identified as leaders of the climate action movement. If the propositions are contentious, let’s debate them rather than keeping them hidden under a cone of silence. Repressing troubling thoughts does not resolve them, but means only they will come back to haunt us in an increasingly intense manner.
This point was made recently by Ken Ward, the US-based activist and former senior Greenpeace manager. In a “Letter to Oregon Environmental and Climate Action Leaders” on the proposed “Healthy Climate Bill,” he said activists’ state legislative agenda struck him “as utterly inadequate in the circumstances”: 

I have no doubt that you are advancing the strongest possible measures winnable in present political conditions, and doing so meets organizational needs to offer a hopeful public face and demonstrate concrete accomplishments. But haven’t we reached the point where short term winnability should not be our top priority? Isn’t the implicit promise of these bills, that they are significant steps towards addressing climate change, fraudulent? And, because of this, are we not further demoralizing our strongest supporters? 

If the story behind these bills was something along the lines of… “Look, we’re in a terrible crisis, about to crash global systems that make civilization possible and we’re going to have to make monumental changes in energy generation, forestry, agriculture, transportation, consumer habits and so on, which are impossible at the moment, so in the meantime, let’s pass what we can with the understanding that this is pitifully inadequate but at least we will be doing something until things get desperate enough to force the nation to take effective action,” I’d still disagree as to the value of the approach, but it wouldn’t be disingenuous. 

The entire thrust of our present approach is a sophisticated form of climate denial. We seek to broaden the appeal of averting cataclysm by making it sound less scary, hence the name “Healthy Climate Bill,” and we studiously avoid comparing our proposed policies with global imperatives. In the absence of a target, let alone a target based on the best available climate science, any emission reductions may be presented as a victory.

Environmentalists and climate activists have pursued incrementalist climate solutions for nearly three decades and failed. It’s time to pay attention to that dismal record and to recognize the disproportionate value of approaches, especially climate disobedience, that have worked… 

We are pushing an ineffectual agenda that obfuscates and ignores climate science and confuses the public debate, partly because doing so advances organizational interests.

Ward proposes an alternative approach, of issuing a new agenda and action plan: issue a new agenda and a campaign for it. That agenda would include

a brief statement of the problem and scope of a solution, including a sketch of state emissions cuts and carbon banking now required, covering fossil fuels and sectors not now included and chooses, say, 10 specific approaches which would, taken together, make a great leap toward meeting that state goal, including forest sequestration mandates, mandatory passivhaus-level construction standards, a ban on all new fossil fuel infrastructure, 100% transition to renewables, 2-year phaseout of coal-based electrify, and other practical, and necessary objectives.

Press link for more: Climate Code Red