Month: August 2018

Cancer at the heart of Australian #Democracy #auspol #qldpol #nswpol #ClimateCrisis #StopAdani #NoNewCoal #ClimateChange

Cancer eating the heart of Australian democracy

27 August 2018 — 12:15am

Beneath the sound and light show that passed for Australian politics last week, there is a much deeper question of what underlying forces have been at work that have brought us this low.

The uncomfortable truth is since the coup of June 2010, Australian politics has become vicious, toxic and unstable.

The core question is why?

There have been many factors at work.

First, the histrionic politics of climate change dividing the nation for more than decade – we have lacked the national political maturity to just get on with it, despite Australia being the driest continent on Earth.

Therese Rein and Kevin Rudd on the day he was deposed as prime minister in June 2010.

Photo: Andrew Meares

Second, the cult of opinion polls, leaving the political class in permanent fear of losing their jobs if they actually acted on long-term policy.

Third, the juvenile culture of much of the “Young-Labor/Young-Liberal generation of child politicians, who have never done anything else but politics, who see politics as a game of shafting people, as in their student days, and little else.

Fourth, the ease at which, under the two major parties’ rules, parliamentary coups can be launched at the drop of a hat – a disease I fixed in the Labor Party with rule changes in 2013, which the Liberals should now adopt.

Then there is the unique negativity, toxicity and hatred that one man – Tony Abbott, John Howard’s political disciple – has brought to our national political life over the past decade.

Abbott has never cared about policy.

He has only cared about politics and winning at any cost.

I cannot remember a single positive policy initiative that Abbott has championed and then implemented. Not one. As a result, unconstrained by policy, the entire energy of this giant wrecking ball of Australian politics has been focussed on destroying his opponents – within the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. Of all modern politicians, Abbott is sui generis. His singular, destructive impact on national politics cannot be underestimated.

Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton in Parliament on Tuesday.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

But on top of all the above, while manipulating each of them, has been Rupert Murdoch – the greatest cancer on the Australian democracy.

Murdoch is not just a news organisation.

Murdoch operates as a political party, acting in pursuit of clearly defined commercial interests, in addition to his far-right ideological world view.

In Britain, Murdoch made Brexit possible because of the position taken by his papers. In the United States, Murdoch’s Fox News is the political echo chamber of the far-right which enabled the Tea Party and then the Trump party to stage a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. In Australia, as in America, Murdoch has campaigned for decades in support of tax cuts for the wealthy, killing action on climate change and destroying anything approximating multiculturalism.

What’s unique about Australia is Murdoch owns two-thirds of the country’s print media.

No other democracy has anything approaching his effective media monopoly.

Rupert Murdoch, with son Lachlan, in July.

Photo: Bloomberg

While centre-left readers say Murdoch’s influence is overrated because people refuse to read his papers, or because social media now dilutes his power, we should be careful about such judgements.

Because the electronic media is so denuded of journalists these days, Murdoch’s print media has a disproportionate impact on setting the day’s overall agenda. The electronics often just “rip and read” what Murdoch has put on the front page.

Then there is Murdoch’s masterful conflation of “opinion” with “news”. The two had become one in Murdoch’s own world of fake news well before “fake news” became topical after the 2016 US elections.

Murdoch is also a political bully and a thug who for many years has hired bullies as his editors. The message to Australian politicians is clear: either toe the line on what Murdoch wants or he kills you politically.

This has produced a cowering, fearful political culture across the country. I know dozens of politicians, business leaders, academics and journalists, both left and right, too frightened to take Murdoch on because they fear the repercussions for them personally. They have seen what happens to people who have challenged Murdoch’s interests as Murdoch then sets out to destroy them.

Look at the recent example of the ANU not accepting a proposed centre funded by the “John Howard-Paul Ramsay Western Civilisation” condominium on the grounds of academic independence. The Murdoch media’s response is to launch yet another targeted jihad against those who defy the ideological mood of their master.

In my case, Murdoch loathed our stimulus strategy, detested our climate change strategy, but most importantly, railed against our government having the audacity to build an NBN with fibre-optic to the home to turbo-charge Australian small business’s access to the global digital economy of the future.

Murdoch saw a threat to his monopoly Foxtel cable entertainment empire – his cash cow cross-subsidising his loss-making print mastheads. The latter were critical as the pillars of his political power. Murdoch feared our NBN would make it easier for Netflix to become a real Foxtel competitor. Murdoch despatched his leading henchman from New York, Col Allan, to run the Murdoch campaign in the 2013 election to destroy the government.

Murdoch and Abbott’s Liberals effectively ran a joint war-room for the campaign. If anyone doubts this, just google ABC Media Watch’s conclusions about the monumental level of Murdoch bias. Abbott would go on to deliver what Murdoch wanted – the destruction of the NBN as fibre-optic to the home.

Malcolm Turnbull steps down as prime minister.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

So how did Malcolm Turnbull alienate Murdoch ? What we know is Murdoch visited Australia in the last few weeks. He called his editors in. And then each of the papers turned feral. Murdoch is a climate change denialist. Presumably Murdoch believed Howard and Abbott that Turnbull, on the legislative recognition of carbon reduction targets, was going too far. Murdoch wanted a Capital C Conservative. He may not have got Dutton. But Morrison is almost as good. Look at the Murdoch coverage of Morrison’s elevation the day after the ballot. Orgasm all round. Nothing on the orgy of political violence preceding it. Nothing to see here.

An incoming Labor government should consider a full royal commission into the future of Australian media ownership, with particular reference to News Corp. It should also consider the proposed Nine takeover of Fairfax Media, as well as the future role of the new media. The terms of reference should also include Murdoch’s role in the destruction of the $43 billion NBN. And it should make recommendations for the future.

Murdoch and others succeeded in sinking the Finkelstein Media Review five years ago. Given Murdoch’s impact on the future of our democracy, it’s time to revisit it. Anyone who thinks the problem will go away once Lachlan replaces Rupert is deluding themselves.

Kevin Rudd is a former Labor prime minister of Australia.

Press link for more: SMH

Murdoch & Abbott damaging Australia’s #democracy, says former PM #auspol #qldpol #nswpol #ClimateCrisis #ClimateChange #StopAdani

Murdoch and Abbott damaging Australia’s democracy, says former PM


Monday August 27, 2018

Kevin Rudd has pilloried Tony Abbott as a toxic influence on the national political landscape who doesn’t care a whit about policy.

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Photo: AAP/Daniel Pockett

The extraordinary spray by one former prime minister against another was made in an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald today in the wake of last week’s Liberal leadership crisis in Canberra.

“Abbott has never cared about policy.

He has only cared about politics and winning at any cost.

I cannot remember a single positive policy initiative that Abbott has championed and then implemented,” Rudd said.

“The entire energies of this giant wrecking ball of Australian policies has been focused on destroying his opponents within the Labor party and the Liberal party”.

Rudd also took aim at News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch and his impact on Australian democracy.

“Murdoch is not just a news organisation,” Rudd writes. “Murdoch operates as a political party, acting in pursuit of clearly defined commercial interests, in addition to his far-right ideological world view.”

He said Murdoch’s control of two-third of Australia’s print media was a position unmatched in any other democratic country.

“While centre-left readers say Murdoch’s influence is overrated because people refuse to read his papers, or because social media now dilutes his power, we should be careful about such judgements. Because the electronic media is so denuded of journalists these days, Murdoch’s print media has a disproportionate impact on setting the day’s overall agenda. The electronics often just ‘rip and read’ what Murdoch has put on the front page.”

Both Rudd and Abbott were ousted as prime minister by their parties before they had finished their first terms. Rudd was ejected by Julia Gillard and Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull.

Abbott was last week accused of being a “wrecker” by fellow Liberal MPs for laying the groundwork for the sudden and successful move by the party’s conservative wing against Turnbull.

Abbott had backed fellow conservative Peter Dutton who lost his chance at the top job when he was overtaken by Scott Morrison, who was sworn in as prime minister on Friday.

Press link for more: In Daily

Australia’s new energy minister is an anti-wind campaigner. #auspol #qldpol #nswpol #ClimateChange #StopAdani #NoNewCoal

Morrison names leading anti-wind campaigner as energy minister

New prime minister Scott Morrison has ended the experiment of combining the energy and environment portfolios, and appointed one of the country’s most prominent anti-wind campaigners as energy minister, and a former mining industry lawyer as environment minister.

Morrison on Sunday unveiled his ministry, two days after pipping the ultra-conservative candidate Peter Dutton as head of the Liberal Party.

He named Dutton numbers man Angus Taylor as energy minister , and Melissa Price – a former mining company lawyer – as environment minister, and in doing so appeared to abandon any efforts to seek emissions reductions in the electricity sector, or anywhere else for that matter.

Angus Taylor

Melissa Price

Morrison said Taylor – previously the Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber security, would be the “minister for getting energy prices down.” Adding later, when asked about emissions and the future of the National Energy Guarantee: “It’s about reliability, price, keeping the lights on and getting prices down.”

Remarkably, that is almost exactly what Taylor told 2GB shock jock Ray Hadley nearly a fortnight ago:  “The obsession with emissions at the expense of reliability and affordability has been a massive mistake, Ray,” Taylor said. “I do think that we’re at a point now where we can get that balance right.”

The appointment of Taylor – along with the retention of Dutton as Home Affairs Minister – seems to be Morrison gift of appeasement to the “shock-jock” Gods that are as suspicious of him as they were of Malcolm Turnbull. Taylor is one of the shock jock favourites.

Taylor has campaigned against wind farms – both near his family’s property near Nimmitabel and elsewhere – for years, but came to prominence in 2013 when – as the pre-selected member for Hume – he spoke at the so-called “wind power fraud rally” in Canberra.

The poorly attended rally – barely 100 people – in front of parliament house in Canberra was organised by an anonymous and particularly nasty and hate-filled website called “Stop These Things”.  Radio commentator and fierce renewable energy critic Alan Jones was host.

The rally was addressed by several Coalition MPs – the only other speaker still in parliament is Craig Kelly, the outspoken chair of the backbench committee on energy.

Taylor’s views are no less extreme than Kelly’s, although better articulated. His particular beef is against wind farms, but he doesn’t seem to like renewables of any type very much, describing the RET as “industry pork-barrelling on steroids.”

He was one of the loudest voices calling for the end of the renewable energy target, way back in 2013, and has called state-based targets “crazy, crazy …. insane.” He was a key supporter of Peter Dutton’s push to be PM.

Taylor is considered a hero by Stop These Things (which refers to environmentalists as “greentards” and other charming names) for his relentless opposition to wind farms.

“Never in the field of political conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few,” the website said last year in reference to Taylor’s campaigns against wind energy.

It also described him as the “wind industry’s worst nightmare.” Environmentalists do not disagree with that.

Taylor insists he is not a climate skeptic, but he has also described anthropogenic climate change as “the new climate religion” telling Parliament that “religious belief is based on faith not facts. The new climate religion, recruiting disciples every day, has little basis on fact and everything to do with blind faith.”

He also claims he is not against renewables, but told the “wind power fraud rally” that wind energy was causing communities across Australia to “tear themselves to pieces tear themselves to pieces, cousins verses cousin, brothers verses brothers, for massive subsidies to the wind industry, facilitated by the Federal Government.”

RenewEconomy ran a profile of Taylor back in 2014, written by Yes2Renewables and listing his campaigns against wind in particular and renewables in general, including his opposition to the ACT government’s 100 per cent renewable energy target, and his inflated claims about the impact of subsidies.

RenewEconomy also dissected a report released by Taylor back in 2013, arguing for the RET to be scrapped,. We pointed out its inconsistencies, its inflated cost estimates for subsidies, and how certain aspects contradicted findings from the original report. The title of that story was: “The dangerous thinking behind the Coalition’s renewable energy policy.”

Morrison, his new boss, is infamous for waving a lump of coal in parliament last year, and of comparing the Tesla big battery to the big banana. His new chief of staff was deputy CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia for more than 6 years.

There’s another couple of interesting aspects to Taylor. His grandfather (on his mother’s side) was the chief engineer responsible for the original Snowy Hydro scheme, and Taylor has spoken with enthusiasm about Snowy 2.0.

The federal government now owns 100 per cent of Snowy Hydro and the dream of the 2,000MW pumped hydro scheme may not be lost with the departure of Malcolm Turnbull.

Taylor also shares a common work history with the ACCC chair Rod Sims, who holds similar views to Taylor on renewables, subsidies and fossil fuel generation.

Both were senior executives at Port Jackson Partners. Taylor did his thesis for his Master of Philosophy on competition policy, although his focus was on pubs and breweries in the UK.

Sims has now become a sort of defacto “energy Czar” following his report into energy prices, and outlining how consumers have been ripped off by networks, generators and retailers.

But his solutions are considered extreme – including the proposal for price caps, write-downs of network assets, the abolition of subsidies to small scale solar installations, and a government underwriting scheme for new “dispatchable” generation.

The Coalition has taken this to mean coal, and while people like UK billionaire Sanjeev Gupta suggest it could dramatically reduce the cost of solar and storage, the rules and design of the scheme will effectively decide the winning technology.

Price, from the WA mining town of Kalgoorlie, had served as deputy to former energy and environment minister Josh Frydenberg, who is now Treasurer and deputy leader of the Liberal Party.

She worked as a lawyer with Clayton Utz, specialising in the mining industry, and with mining company Crosslands Resources.

Karen Andrews is the new Industry science and technology.

Tony Abbott does not get a ministry, but could hardly be more pleased with Morrison’s moves on energy and the environment. So much for having no influence. Disgraced former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce is named special envoy for drought assistance.

Press link for more: Renew Economy

Great Barrier Reef headed for ‘massive death’ #auspol #qldpol #ClimateChange #StopAdani #NoNewCoal

Great Barrier Reef headed for ‘massive death’

Rebecca Wright and Ivan Watson, CNN

Townsville, Australia  — In a dusty, secluded corner of the Australian state of Queensland, a septuagenarian scientist is on an urgent mission to raise the alarm about the future of the planet.

John “Charlie” Veron — widely known as “The Godfather of Coral” — is a renowned reef expert who has personally discovered nearly a quarter of the world’s coral species and has spent the past 45 years diving Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

But after a lifetime trying to make sense of the vast ecosystems that lie beneath the ocean’s surface, the 73-year-old is now becoming a prophet of their extinction.

“It’s the beginning of a planetary catastrophe,” he tells CNN. “I was too slow to become vocal about it.”

John ‘Charlie’ Veron Rebecca Wright/CNN

In 2016 and 2017, marine heat waves caused by climate change resulted in mass bleaching, which killed about half of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef, along with many others around the world.

“Somewhere between a quarter and a third of all marine species everywhere has some part of their life cycle in coral reefs,” he says. “So, you take out coral reefs and a third to a quarter of all species gets wiped out. Now that is ecological chaos, it is ecological collapse.”

Watch the full documentary: Race to save the reef

One of the natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is 2,300km long — roughly the length of Italy — and is the only living organism that can be seen from space.

When Veron, a former Chief Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, first went diving on the vast reef in the early 1960s he felt like “his life started.”

“It was so much packed into a small area, so much life, so much activity, even noisy. It was really a metropolis, it was really humming and buzzing,” he says. “It’s a wilderness, it’s dangerous, it’s exciting.”

At that stage, he had no idea about what was in store for this vibrant underwater habitat.

“I was a climate change skeptic, at first,” he says. He realized that climate change was “serious” in the mid-1980s, and around 1990 he became “alarmed” about its impact on coral reefs.

The Great Barrier Reef is home to more than 1,500 fish species.

Coral reefs ‘on death row’

Veron says the mass bleaching events in the past few years — and the prospect of losing one of nature’s greatest treasures — were a wake-up call for the world in the wider battle against climate change.

“It’s more than an alarm bell,” says Veron. “It’s an air raid siren.”

But the die-off came as no surprise to him. Back in the 1990s, he had predicted that climate change would destroy the reef, documented in several books he published, and in a 2009 keynote lecture titled “Is the Great Barrier Reef on Death Row?” at the Royal Society in London, where he was introduced by veteran British naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

Attenborough described Veron as “one of the great authorities in the world on coral” who has “devoted himself to looking after and raising awareness about the dangers facing the reef.”

Watch: The race to save the Great Barrier Reef

Among the Australian conservation community, Veron’s reputation is also unmatched.

“Charlie is a legendary figure in coral reef circles. There’s no-one else in the world who has seen what Charlie has seen,” says Richard Leck, the Head of Oceans at WWF Australia. “He comes with a level of experience and gravitas that few other people and organizations could match and that’s where his enormous influence comes from.”

After the recent mass bleaching events, Veron dived in multiple areas of the Great Barrier Reef to see the damage for himself.

A turtle swims over bleached coral at Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef, February 2016. The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Bleached coral at Lizard Island, March 2016. The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey

“I was seeing it and feeling it and it was absolutely horrific, there’s no other way to describe it,” he says.

Veron took CNN underwater for a first-hand look. There are still large sections of healthy, thriving parts of reef that are teeming with life. But there are also vast areas of coral graveyards that look like they suffered an underwater forest fire.

In the summer of 2018, experts say no bleaching occurred, which has helped some of the bleached coral to begin the recovery process. But Veron says it takes about 10 years for corals to recover fully, and they simply don’t have that sort of time.

“For most years, say five out of seven years, there will be now mass bleaching on coral reefs around the world,” he says.

Veron says he hates to predict the future for the Great Barrier Reef, because it “can’t be anything other than absolute massive death.”

Diving among living coral on the reef. Stuart Ireland/CNN

His certainty is partly due to the fact that the oceans are only now seeing the impact of carbon emissions from the late 1990s, so Veron says even if we stop burning fossil fuels now, the oceans will continue warming for at least two more decades.

A life underwater

Born John Veron, his teachers at school gave him the nickname “Charlie” after Charles Darwin, due to his obsessive curiosity with the natural world, as detailed in his 2017 memoir, “A Life Underwater.”

Even as a child, Veron was obsessed with nature. Courtesy Charlie Veron

He has had a storied career in academia and research, becoming the first scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and later its Chief Scientist. But he eventually left as, he says, he struggled with the bureaucracy of working for the government agency.

“Charlie is a maverick, he is certainly outspoken and is certainly passionate,” Leck says. “Charlie has risked his reputation, probably his livelihood, and people who don’t want the status quo to change get upset about that.”

Now, Veron spends his days mostly working from his rural home “Rivendell’ — named after the refuge of the elves in the J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” — near Townsville in Queensland.

The sprawling concrete structure, which Veron helped to build more than 40 years ago, is immersed in nature. Wandering outside the house he points out multiple wallabies. His pets include dozens of fish, two dogs and a few geese.

Tom Booth/CNN

He lives with his second wife, 60-year-old British coral biologist Mary Stafford-Smith, who has co-authored and edited many of his books. Together, they are documenting and categorizing the world’s corals on their website, Corals of the World.

Veron has three adult children: one daughter from his first marriage, and a son and daughter with Stafford-Smith. His face clouds over as he talks about the heartbreak of losing another daughter, Noni — short for Fiona — who drowned in a creek as a 10-year-old.

He again turns gloomy when he talks about the family’s plan to leave their beloved Rivendell, to move further north to an area which is higher and wetter, where they could one day live off the land. He says he wants to secure his family’s future for a world that he believes will be ruined by climate change.

“We have to have a refuge for our children when everything goes belly up,” he says. “We’ve got no choice.”

‘Mass extinction event’

This doomsday scenario seems extreme, but after decades of studying scientific evidence around this topic, Veron believes that this eventuality is a certainty.

“We have got now also the phenomenon of a mass extinction event looming,” he says, which he describes as a “man-made asteroid” that would compare to the dinosaurs being wiped out.

The reef-dwelling humphead wrasse, or Napoleon fish, which is considered endangered. Stuart Ireland/CNN

The biggest driver of increased carbon emissions in the atmosphere is burning coal, he says, and that’s something he thinks Australia is not doing enough to stop.

“It’s very political, because no country is as addicted to coal as Australia is,” he says. “We’re making a fortune out of coal.”

Australia was the world’s largest exporter of coal in 2017 and although the country is signed up to the Paris Agreement on climate change, this week the Australian government withdrew its National Energy Guarantee (NEG) legislation — which included targets for lowering carbon emissions — saying there was a lack of support for the bill.

Race to save the reef

Earlier this year, the Australian government announced nearly $400m in new funding towards scientific projects designed to help the Great Barrier Reef.

Corals are colonies of small animals called coral polyps.

There has been criticism in Australia about the tender process for the funding, as the money was given directly to a small charity — the Great Barrier Reef Foundation — which will administer the funds to different projects. The government insists it met the relevant guidelines, and says it welcomes an audit into the process.

Read: Successful trial of ‘coral IVF’ gives hope for Great Barrier Reef

Critics also say that the money should have been spent on tackling climate change.

“Coral bleaching is driven by carbon dioxide — unless you stop pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it’ll go on. It’s as simple as that,” Veron says.

The funding won’t be wasted, though, Veron says, as scientists will be able to create a sort of seed bank for corals, to preserve the species until the climate is stable enough to rebuild the reefs.

The reef is a center of spectacular biodiversity.

“What the scientists hope to do is to help nature along a bit if they can, and that is to do all we can to repopulate, help the corals, after the big carbon dioxide increase is over and it starts to come down,” he says.

For all his dire predictions for the future of the planet, he thinks humans were destined to take this path.

“It’s part of being human to not worry about the long-term future,” he says. “We’re genetically programmed like that … we just don’t think ahead.”

Press link for more: CNN.COM

Australia wilts from #climatechange Why can’t its politicians act? #Drought #Bushfire #StopAdani #NoNewCoal #auspol #nswpol #qldpol

Australia wilts from climate change.

Why can’t its politicians act?

DAMIEN CAVEOriginally published August 24, 2018 at 3:47 pm

The global scientific consensus is clear: Australia is especially vulnerable to climate change. And yet, Malcolm Turnbull just lost his job as prime minister for trying to curb energy emissions.

SYDNEY — Mile after mile of the Great Barrier Reef is dying amid rising ocean temperatures. Hundreds of bush fires are blazing across Australia’s center, in winter, partly because of a record-breaking drought.

The global scientific consensus is clear: Australia is especially vulnerable to climate change.

And yet on Monday, Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, abandoned a modest effort to reduce energy emissions under pressure from conservatives in his party. And this Friday, those same conservatives finally toppled his government, after Turnbull survived their previous attempt on Tuesday.

What on earth is going on?

Australia’s resistance to addressing climate change — by limiting emissions in particular — is well documented.

Turnbull is now the third Australian prime minister in the past decade to lose the position over a climate dispute.

Despite the country’s reputation for progressiveness on gun control, health care and wages, its energy politics seem forever doomed to devolve into a circus.

Experts point to many reasons, from partisanship to personality conflicts, but the root of the problem may be tied to the land.

Coal was discovered in New South Wales in 1797, less than a decade after the First Fleet of British settlers arrived.

Within a century, the country was producing millions of tons of it.

Now, Australia is regularly listed as the largest coal exporter in the world, accounting for 37 percent of global exports.

Large mining companies like Rio Tinto and BHP have long wielded enormous power in Australia.

Separately and through industry associations like the Minerals Council, they frequently host luxury events with senior politicians.

Their businesses bring in more money than just about any others in Australia and they tend to wildly outspend any group that challenges them politically.

Total campaign contributions are extremely hard to track in Australia — a lack of transparency that serves big business well — but in the narrow band of reported spending, coal-industry lobbyists poured roughly $3.6 million ($5 million Australian) into campaigns last year as the energy debate intensified.

Four of the country’s main environmental groups — Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Environment Victoria and the Sunrise Project — spent just $135,000 combined (AU$183,000).

“If you look at lobby lane, who is always around, it’s the Minerals Council by a country mile,” said Susan Harris Rimmer, a law professor at Griffith University. “I don’t think people understand how dominant it’s been here.”

“The Europeans think we’re crazy,” she added. “Who’s got more solar, who’s got more tidal power than us?

It just goes to show the strength of that particular group.”

The trend of hyper-partisanship has not helped. Just as climate and energy issues in the United States create a toxic divide, with many on the right opposing anything the left supports — including well-established science — any mention of emissions control tends to create an anaphylactic reaction among Australian conservatives.

The arguments differ. Some make a case for free markets, despite subsidies granted to fossil-fuel companies, or they say action works only when all nations act. Others, like Turnbull’s opponents this time, emphasize local priorities such as reduced energy prices for consumers.

The reaction to emissions management nonetheless tends to be universal, at least on the far right.

“Conservatives just see red when anything like a price or tax on carbon is introduced,” said Bruce Wolpe, the chief of staff for Julia Gillard, the former prime minister who passed such a plan only to see it dismantled after losing an election to Tony Abbott. “That has become as powerful a driver here as it is in America.”

Scientists all over the world have become increasingly disappointed in the country’s climate policies.

Under Turnbull, a former investment banker and a moderate, the Australian government has increased its support for fossil-fuel-extraction projects, failed to meet goals set under the Paris climate agreement, and shied away from challenging the consumption status quo even as the Great Barrier Reef bleaches toward oblivion.

Darren Saunders, a cancer biologist in Australia, spoke for many in a popular tweet that said, “It’s incredibly hard to describe how utterly sad it feels to be a scientist and dad in a country being dictated to by a small group of science-denying clowns putting their own short-term political gain over the long-term public interest.”

Some climate scientists were only a bit less emotional and argumentative.

“The scientific community in Australia is unified in knowing that climate change is a problem and will become a bigger problem,” said James W. Porter, a professor of ecology at the University of Georgia, specializing in the biology and ecology of coral reefs.“The government of Australia, on the other hand, has the same problems as the government in the United States and other developed countries, in that some conservative politicians don’t want to believe in facts.”

Press link for more: Seattle Times

Australia burns while politicians fiddle with the leadership #auspol #qldpol #nswpol #bushfire #drought #StopAdani #NoNewCoal #ClimateChange

A real fire in southern New South Wales – not to be confused with the metaphorical one in the halls of Canberra. AAP Image/Darren Pateman

With swathes of New South Wales still smouldering and temperature records tumbling all over the world, Malcolm Turnbull is lost the prime ministership, partly because of his inability to land a very modest emissions policy.

His is the latest failure in a decade-long story of broken climate policy in Australia.

Like most voters, scientists are tired of these political games when clearly so much more is on the line.

That’s because what is happening now with extreme weather events and longer fire seasons is exactly what we forecast a decade ago.

This isn’t breaking news.

In fact, the science around the role of climate change in extreme temperatures is so solid that the editors of the world-leading Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society have discouraged scientists from researching extreme temperatures in its annual extreme events issue.

Why? Because, according to the journal’s editors, the scientific value of these studies is now “limited”.

The climate signal in extreme heat events has become so clear that it is no longer a novel line of investigation.

In short, climate change now plays a role in every extreme heat event.

Contrast this with the equivocation of our political leaders.

Turnbull claimed in March this year that “you can’t attribute any particular event – whether it’s a flood or fire or a drought or a storm — to climate change”.

He made this statement after 69 houses in Tathra in southern NSW were destroyed by an unseasonably late bushfire during a heatwave – and heatwaves are clearly linked to climate change.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott made an almost identical claim back in 2013, after an early season bushfire in the Blue Mountains destroyed 196 homes, during a succession of hot days in a warmer than average October.

Just this month, drought was declared for all of NSW and the bushfire season began two months early. The state had its earliest ever total fire ban, and fires have already burned through large parts of coastal southern NSW.

Australia’s fire season is now so long, it overlaps with California’s, stretching our resources and our ability to prepare for and respond to catastrophic fires.

Clear evidence

In light of the clear evidence, it takes a very special kind of politician to ignore the role of climate change in extreme weather events. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would choose to play party political games as whole townships are threatened by fire and drought extends through NSW and Queensland.

And yet Turnbull has dumped plans to legislate even the lower boundary of Australia’s Paris Agreement emissions target as part of the National Energy Guarantee. The result is that Australia is once again left without a sensible climate policy.

Turnbull’s backdown also tells us exactly how far his and his colleagues’ political vision extends into the future: as far ahead as the next election. But while our leaders struggle with political myopia, the heart of climate science remains a big-vision, long-term approach.

Decades ago climate scientists told us that the first signs of climate change would appear in the temperature record, and extreme heat events would become more common and more extreme. This is exactly what has happened, only much faster than projected.

The first study to tease out the climate change component in an extreme heat event was an examination by the UK Met Office of the 2003 European heatwave that killed an estimated 70,000 people. It took almost two years to produce that result.

Today, scientific advances mean that researchers can do this kind of attribution study in mere days. As a result of these improvements, the attribution of climate change’s role in many extreme temperatures is now unequivocal. More recent research shows that some 2016 events across the world, including the extended mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, could not conceivably have happened without climate change.

Turning our focus to the coming decades, we find that even if the world meets the more generous Paris goal of keeping global warming below 2℃, Sydney and Melbourne could see 50 days and 25 more heatwave days every summer. Worryingly, right now we are on track to exceed 3 of warming.

Now let’s add some perspective about what we are currently experiencing. Australia’s supercharged heatwaves and winter bushfires have occurred with just 1 of global warming.

Yet even with this small amount the climate signal is so clear that when one of the authors of this article was asked by a reporter if there was likely a climate change influence on our hot April, she confidently replied, “I would bet my house on it”. Four months later, the bet is still on.

It is time to stop dismissing our record-breaking temperatures, droughts and winter bushfires as natural variability. The role of climate change in extreme heat is now so pervasive that it is almost a given.

Asking climate scientists whether global warming plays a role in extreme temperature events is like asking a medical researcher whether a case of the ‘flu might just be linked to the influenza virus. The answer is obvious.

Any politician who ignores the clear link between weather extremes and climate change – choosing instead to trot out platitudes about how Australia’s climate has always been tough, or quote Dorothea Mackellar (who, surprisingly enough, was not a climate scientist) – is effectively saying “let’s do nothing about this growing problem”.

An attitude of “nothing to see here” from our leaders, when all the evidence says otherwise, leaves our health sector, economy, ecosystems and, as we see now, our struggling farmers exposed to climate change impacts.

It may also leave those politicians and industry leaders making such claims wide open to potential liability for future loss and damages, if recent legal cases are any guide.

For almost a decade, most of our politicians have been so busy bickering over who gets to be leader that they have failed to show the real leadership required to look at Australia’s future beyond the next election cycle.

Enough. Most Australian voters surely care less about who is running the country than they do about making sure our country is still a habitable place to live in the future.

Press link for more: The Conversation

The Water Crises Aren’t Coming—They’re Here! #Drought #auspol #qldpol #nswpol #ClimateChange #NoNewCoal #StopAdanih

For eons, the earth has had the same amount of water—no more, no less.

What the ancient Romans used for crops and Nefertiti drank?

It’s the same stuff we bathe with.

Yet with more than seven billion people on the planet, experts now worry we’re running out of usable water.

The symptoms are here: multiyear droughts, large-scale crop failures, a major city—Cape Town—on the verge of going dry, increasing outbreaks of violence, fears of full-scale water wars.

The big question: How do we keep the H20 flowing?

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.

Paper water is also a signifier of a domestic and global concern called peak water, a term proposed in 2010 by the hydrologist Peter Gleick in a paper he wrote with Meena Palaniappan that was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Gleick meant the phrase to be applied to worldwide circumstances, such as those that currently prevail in Cape Town, South Africa, where, as a result of a ferocious three-year drought, the taps might before long run dry, possibly in 2019—Day Zero, it’s been called.

The Colorado Rover Delta, in Northern Mexico, photographed in 2018. Most years, nearly all the river’s water is diverted long before it reaches the delta.

Ronald de Hommel

The U. S. is also afflicted. In fact, Gleick regards California, with its relentless, outsized, and wildly conflicting demands on water, as a “laboratory for all of peak water’s concerns.” Peak water derives conceptually from peak oil, a phrase first used by a geophysicist named M. King Hubbert in 1956. Peak oil means that the planet has only so much oil, and that eventually it will grow sufficiently scarce that what remains will be too expensive to collect. Hubbert predicted that U. S. oil production would reach maximum output between 1965 and 1975, and in 1970 it did, but it has risen lately because of new means of recovering oil, such as fracking. Some people still believe in peak oil, and others think there will always be plenty of oil, because there is more we haven’t found yet.

That water was in a position similar to oil occurred to Gleick when people would ask if he thought that the world, with its population growing alarmingly and climate change causing certain places to become disastrously water-soaked (South Asia, Texas) while others (Cape Town, California) are water-starved, would ever use up its water. “My first reaction was ‘We never run out of water,’ ” Gleick says. “But there’s groundwater in China and India and the Middle East and in America in the Midwest and California that we really are using up just like oil.”

Having evaporated from lakes and rivers and oceans and returned as snow and rain, the water we consume has been through innumerable uses. Dinosaurs drank it. The Caesers did, too.

Water cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be damaged.

When Gleick says we’ll never run out, he means that at some point, millions of years ago, there was all the water there is, a result of the law of the conservation of matter. Having evaporated from lakes and rivers and oceans and returned as snow and rain, the water we consume has been through innumerable uses. Dinosaurs drank it. The Caesars did, too. It’s been places, and consorted with things, that you might not care to think about. In theory, there’s enough freshwater in the world for everyone, but like oil or diamonds or any other valuable resource, it is not dispersed democratically. Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Peru, Indonesia, and Russia have an abundance—about 40 percent of all there is. America has a decent amount. India and China, meanwhile, have a third of the world’s people and less than a tenth of its freshwater. It is predicted that in twelve years the demand for water in India will be twice the amount on hand. Beijing draws water from an aquifer beneath the city. From being used faster than rain can replenish it, the aquifer has dropped several hundreds of feet in the last forty years, and in places the city is sinking four inches every year.

As for the world’s stock, however, nearly all of the water on earth is salty; less than 3 percent is fresh. Some of that is in rivers, lakes, aquifers, and reservoirs—the Great Lakes contain one fifth of the freshwater on the earth’s surface—and we have stored so much water behind dams that we have subtly affected the earth’s rotation; but two thirds of all the freshwater we have is frozen in the earth’s cold places as ice or permafrost, leaving less than 1 percent of the world’s total water for all living things. Much of that gets a rough ride. American ponds and streams and lakes and rivers contain fungicides, defoliants, solvents, insecticides, herbicides, preservatives, biological toxins, manufacturing compounds, blood thinners, heart medications, perfumes, skin lotions, antidepressants, antipsychotics, antibiotics, beta blockers, anticonvulsants, germs, oils, viruses, hormones, and several heavy metals. Not all of these are cleansed from water before we drink it.

There are two kinds of numbers, I believe, big ones and little ones, but here are some big ones by way of context: According to the World Health Organization, among the two billion people who have no drinking water provided to them, 844 million travel more than thirty minutes to a river or a tap, where they sometimes receive water contaminated by human excrement. Such water has the risk of diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio. Nearly 850,000 people die each year from diarrhea, a cruel circumstance in areas short on clean water, since diarrhea works its effects by means of dehydration. Bangladesh, India, Rwanda, and Ghana have some of the most tainted water.

Water collectors push their cart of water filled drums laboriously homewards in Ghana.

Getty ImagesLouise Gubb

The simplest hardships to invoke are hunger and thirst. Only a few hours of deprivation will acquaint a person with both. Half a gallon of drinking water a day is what each of us needs to drink to stay alive. (An American uses roughly eighty to a hundred gallons a day, including toilets, baths and showers, dishwashers, washing machines, and so on.) In the dry parts of the world, or the semidry parts where there are too many people and no water-delivery system, the search for that daily half gallon can be dire, and sometimes past dire. A survey in 2015 of members of the World Economic Forum in Davos listed “water crises” for the first time as the world’s leading threat, ahead of “spread of infectious diseases” and “weapons of mass destruction.” Each year Gleick’s organization, the Pacific Institute, updates its Water Conflict Chronology, a compilation of disturbances around the world involving water. In 2017, there were more than seventy incidents, dozens of them deadly, mainly in the Middle East and Africa. In 1997, there were only three.

II. Haves and Have-nots

Stationarity, a term from statistics, applies to contexts in which the past predicts the future. When water experts say that we are “outside stationarity,” they mean that the slaphappy way that the world uses water has brought about so many unexampled circumstances, so many overburdened systems and areas of deprivation and depletion, that we cannot know how matters will unfold. Sometimes water specialists say that the earth is experiencing water stress. The Nile, the Rio Grande, the Yellow River in China, the Indus in Asia, and the Colorado (which sustains the American Southwest from Phoenix to Las Vegas to San Diego) are tapped out. The Ganges flows, but it’s unspeakably filthy.

With water, there are “distinct classes of water haves and have-nots,” according to Jay Famiglietti, who is the senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. (Earth science is part of NASA’s charter.) “The wet areas of the world are the high latitudes and the tropics, and the areas in between are getting drier,” he says. The supercharged hurricanes and typhoons that have resulted from global warming move water around within the regions that already have water but do nothing for the parched places. America has hot spots, too. California had its own Zero Day not long ago when, in Tulare County in the Central Valley, an area of corporate farms, something like a thousand wells went dry in towns such as East Porterville, meaning that more than seven thousand people found themselves occupying houses where you would turn on a tap and nothing came out. The water table has been diverted by means of deep wells and irrigation systems serving the sprawling farms. The county began delivering bottled drinking water, and there were free public showers. Water to flush toilets and do laundry came from tanks parked at the fire station. People filled barrels and hauled them home.

Neighbors distribute drinking water, talk about water issues as water wells supplying hundreds of residents remained dry in the fourth year of worsening drought on February 11, 2015 in East Porterville, California.

Getty ImagesDavid McNew

A quarter of all the food grown in America comes from the Central Valley—oranges and grapes are raised in Tulare, along with dairy cows and cattle—so having it go even partially dry is not a small concern. “No one really knows what happens, if this were to get worse,” Famiglietti says. “Our water security, and therefore our food security, is at far greater risk than people realize. Aside from the crisis of humans not having water, we’re also going to be losing these major food-producing regions like the Central Valley. Agriculture will migrate to where the water is, maybe the southern parts of South Dakota and southern Idaho. There is already some agricultural migration to those regions.”

That may sound simple, relatively, a cultural shift, like the past migration of workers and jobs from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt. However, climate change, with its disruption of the rain cycle, making severe storms even more severe and diminishing the snow pack in seasons of drought, makes it impossible to know which areas will remain stably wet. Cape Town is suffering now because “a once-in-a-millennium event,” as it has been described, has been occurring since 2015—scant rain in the region for three years.

In California, rain became scarce in 2011 and stayed scarce for five years. Sufficient rain fell during the winter of 2016 that the drought appeared to have ended, since people could see rivers running and reservoirs filled that had seemed nearly empty before. Water experts view the matter differently. They make a distinction between surface drought and groundwater drought. Five years of overdrafting in the Central Valley left a groundwater deficit that the rains didn’t replenish.

Aquifers that lie beneath rock deposits or in gaps between them, and especially ones in places where rain is sparse, might not recover in a time frame that means anything against the measure of a human life span.

Aquifers commonly contain water that went underground thousands or millions of years ago and hasn’t come out since—it’s called fossil water. Groundwater, however, is as vulnerable to contamination as surface water. An overdrafted aquifer near a coast can have seawater seep into it and ruin it. Arsenic occurs naturally in rocks and can find its way into the water table, also ruining it. An aquifer near an industrial dump might be polluted by man-made chemicals. In the Central Valley, some wells are contaminated by nitrates, which come from fertilizer, leaky septic tanks, and big cattle-feeding operations; drinking nitrate-polluted water can bring about conditions such as blue- baby syndrome, in which the fingertips of babies turn blue from insufficient oxygen.

Finally, an overdrafted aquifer can be depleted. Whether it returns is a matter of how it was filled in the first place. Porous aquifers, ones beneath sand and gravel, as in the Central Valley, can recover with rain. Aquifers that lie beneath rock deposits or in gaps between them, and especially ones in places where rain is sparse, might not recover in a time frame that means anything against the measure of a human life span. In India, so many farmers have killed themselves from despair over disappeared groundwater, and the poverty it enforces, that there is a category called suicide farmers. In 2016, more than 11,300 farmers took their own lives.

III. See You in Six Thousand Years

Besides California, the other American place in water jeopardy is the High Plains, which sits on top of an aquifer called the Ogallala. The Ogallala is sometimes described as an ocean of groundwater. One of the largest known aquifers in the world, it runs from South Dakota to Texas, more or less in the shape of a monkey wrench. Near the top, in places, it is a thousand feet deep, and at the lower end, in places, there are areas where it is as shallow as only a few feet. The Dust Bowl, which played out above the Ogallala, was, in a way, a period phenomenon. All the water necessary to sustain the crops that now cover the plains was always there, but a few feet deeper than Depression-era farmers could reach with windmill pumps. Electric pumps, which only became widespread by the end of the thirties, made it accessible.

For decades farmers thought the Ogallala was inexhaustible. According to Scientific American, drawing on government studies, by 1975 the amount of water taken each year from the aquifer equaled the flow of the Colorado River, and now the annual draw is about eighteen times that amount. Farmers have been pumping out four to six feet a year in places where half an inch is being added. As far as continuing to be useful, the Ogallala might be exhausted by 2070. A reasonable estimate is that it would take six thousand years for rain to replenish it.

IV. A Water-Crisis Tour

Peter Gleick is sixty-one, and he looks like the scholar he is. He is tall and gangly, with a thin face and glasses, a gray beard, and wispy gray hairs that rise from his crown like solar flares. He grew up in New York City, where he was a Cub Scout and learned from his father to identify birds in Central Park. He went to Yale, then he moved to California and got a doctorate in energy studies from UC Berkeley. In 1987, he was one of four founders of the Pacific Institute, which specializes in water policy, and in 2003, he was named a MacArthur Fellow.

Toward the end of 2011, someone anonymously mailed him a private document from the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank that denies climate change. The document described a plan to produce a curriculum for kindergarten through twelfth-grade students that disputed climate change. It also described the institute’s contributions to climate scientists who cast doubt on climate science. “I could have thrown it out. I could have sent it to a journalist,” Gleick told me. “But I chose to try to verify it myself.” He set up a Gmail account under the name of one of Heartland’s board members and asked Heartland to send him the institution’s most recent documents. What he received he dispersed to journalists, who published them. The Heartland Institute said that one of the documents was forged. Gleick wrote a piece in the Huffington Post acknowledging what he’d done and apologizing for his deception.


“My board was not happy,” he said. “I stepped down, they made an investigation that eventually supported my version, and I was reinstated.” Meanwhile, the Heartland Institute bought, where you can read “Why Isn’t Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick in Jail?” Regardless, in 2016, Gleick stepped down after nearly thirty years as the Pacific Institute’s president and now spends most of his time writing in an office on the institute’s premises. He is considered to be an eminent authority on water issues around the world and is regarded as especially knowledgeable about California’s circumstances.

The Pacific Institute occupies a Victorian house among an enclave of such houses in Oakland. One morning I met Gleick there, and then we drove east to visit what he called some “peak water signifiers”—a sort of water-crisis tour.

We were going to a walnut farm first. On the way, as we passed rolling green hills, Gleick explained that there are three components to peak water, the first being peak renewable water. “A renewable resource is flow limited,” he said. “You never run out of it, like sunlight. Most water is renewable—rainfall, snowmelt, rivers—but in more and more places around the world, we’re running into limits brought on by peak use. The classic example is the Colorado River, hardly a drop of which ever reaches its delta, in Mexico, anymore. It gets used up entirely along the way.”

Even an overtaxed river like the Colorado is partly renewable. “You get more the next year when it rains and snows,” Gleick continued. “It’s not that there’s never water, but there’s a limit to how much you can take, and that limit, its peak, is the renewable flow of the resource.”

Zero Day: A dam near Cape Twon in March with almost nothing to dam.

Getty ImagesWIKUS DE WET

Gleick calls the second component of peak water peak nonrenewable water. “Just like peak oil,” he said. “An aquifer is not sustainable if humans pump it faster than nature charges it. The people in the Central Valley who have seen their wells go dry are experiencing peak nonrenewable water. There is still water there, but the groundwater level has dropped, and only the farms can afford to dig the deeper well. You could find other water for these people—you could hook them up to a municipal system that’s maybe hooked up to a river. No one’s dying of thirst. But we cobble together fixes when we run out. So you go back to this question: Are we running out of water? Yes, sort of, with nonrenewable resources, and yes, sort of, with renewable resources.”

The walnut farm was about fifty miles north of Oakland, in Winters. “More and more orchards are going in, because they make money,” Gleick said. “There’s a distinction between field crops—cotton, rice, wheat, and corn—which you plant every year, and permanent crops, like fruits and nuts. Permanent crops need permanent water. If you have a drought and you’re growing wheat or alfalfa, maybe you fallow your field for a year. But if you’re growing almonds, you’ve got to water these trees or they die, and it’s a twenty- year investment sometimes before they produce a crop. That puts more pressure on groundwater. The advantage with trees is you can use drip irrigation, meaning you can target the roots, and apply the right amount of water at the right time, because there are monitors in the soil. Drip irrigation is more efficient than flood irrigation, where you simply flood the field and hope you’re watering at the moment the crop needs it most.”

The walnut farm, Sierra Orchards, was owned by a forward-thinking farmer named Craig McNamara, who looks a lot like his father, Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense under Kennedy and Johnson. We bumped down mud roads in an electric cart, which McNamara drove, and we saw the trees and his drip-irrigation system and how it works with a computer program to let him know when the soil is dry, and at the bottom of a small declivity, we stood beside Putah Creek, which he draws from. Since the creek was running high, he was flooding some of his fields with creek water to restore the water table. Finally, McNamara showed us hedgerows he’d planted to attract insects and birds and a huge machine by a barn that was converting walnut shells into organic matter he could use for fertilizer. Bookkeeping is what goes on in most farm offices I’ve ever visited, but McNamara’s was like a command center where he could find on a computer screen what he needed to know about which square yard of his orchard needed water and which square yard had enough.

As Gleick and I drove away, he said that McNamara was noteworthy in trying to do more with less water. “The hedgerows and recycling shells, those are things that most farmers think cost money and don’t provide an immediate or obvious return. They’re smart from a sustainability point of view, but if you’re maximizing return, you don’t do them. That’s why his neighbor’s using pesticides. It’s more expensive to put in smart irrigation systems and soil-moisture monitors, but you make up the money by being organic.”

V. “Secret, Occult, and Concealed”

The way water is used in the Midwest and West, and elsewhere around the world, exemplifies a nineteenth-century principle called the tragedy of the commons. The tragedy of the commons means that when there is a resource available to everyone, and the resource is unregulated—in the nineteenth century it was the common land for grazing cattle—people will use it to their own advantage until it is consumed rather than conserve it to everyone’s advantage. It is a principle that still applies widely, to overfishing, say, in the North Atlantic, and the disappearance of cod. Several colloquial rules, made at the start of the twentieth century, govern water in the West, and sometimes they contradict one another. Where water is shared, from a river, say, the rule that usually prevails is “first pump, oldest pump” or “first in time, first in right.” These older rights are also called “senior rights” or “pre-1914 rights.” They mean that even if you are upstream of another farm, if the downstream farmer’s rights preceded yours, you can’t have water until he has all he wants. People without senior rights might get paper water.

California farmers who draw from wells don’t deal in paper water, since so long as the wells are on their property, the farmers are entitled to drill as deep as they like. In India, in parts of China, and in the U. S., with groundwater it’s the “law of the biggest pump,” which allows a farmer to drain the water from underneath his neighbor by drilling a deeper well, since groundwater doesn’t observe boundaries. So many treaties and arrangements and agreements govern water use in the West and have for so long that a court in 1861 wrote that the “secret, occult, and concealed” nature of the resource made it impossible to control. Impossible then, apparently impossible now, with voracious use in between.

VI. The Upside

By a sign at the entrance to the Harvey O. Banks Delta Pumping Plant, outside Tracy, Gleick pulled over and opened a map. Out the window was a broad expanse of brown cattails and a long reach of deep blue water with the sun shining on it and gleaming like a strip of chrome. “We’re here,” Gleick said, pointing on the map to an extensive line of blue running mostly east to west. “The mouth of the San Joaquin River, where the Sacramento and San Joaquin join. It’s the largest delta on the West Coast.”

Above the marsh, a red-tailed hawk slid across the sky like a skateboarder. “The third concept of peak water is peak ecological water,” Gleick went on. “Peak renewable and peak nonrenewable effectively describe the problems with supply and demand. A third problem, though, are the ecological damages that result from human use of water. Say we take more and more water from a river. We grow more food, we make more widgets, we get an economic benefit, but the ecological cost also grows as fisheries suffer and wetlands dry up. Eventually, the negative ecological costs outweigh the economic benefits. We define that as the point of peak ecological water.” Gleick pulled the car back onto the road and turned onto a blacktop leading to the pumping station, which we could see like a fort halfway up some hills, about a quarter mile ahead.

The San Luis reservoir is an artificial lake and the fifth largest reservoir in California. Water from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta is pumped uphill into the reservoir and released to continue downstream along the California Aqueduct for farm irrigation and other uses.

Getty ImagesChristian Science Monitor

Through pipelines and canals, the station sends water south from the delta as far as Los Angeles, which gets the bulk of its water from the north. The deltas and estuaries it draws from tend to be breeding and nursery areas for birds and fish as well as migratory stopovers for birds. “Taking water from the San Joaquin Delta,” Gleick said, “there’s longstanding, serious, peak-ecological- water concerns about salmon extinctions in the delta, other fish extinctions, and also how it acts on the Pacific flyway,” a major migratory route for birds that goes over the region.

From a slight movement of color in the field, he identified a meadowlark landing on a fence post, like one of those people who need only a few notes to name a song. “There is a field of study in ecology called ecological valuation,” he continued. “What’s the value of an endangered fish species, or worse, extinction? The fact that we’re bad at valuing those things doesn’t mean that there’s no value to them. Peak water should never mean that people are dying of thirst. If we get to that point, that’s a failure of governments. Instead, peak water’s going to be felt first by ecosystems and agriculture and economies. We’re already seeing peak-water constraints hurt our economies, especially with the drought, in farmers having to fallow land, which leads to unemployment.

“I think people in California have understood for a long time that our water system is not in balance,” Gleick went on, “but they see the problem through their own lenses. If you’re a farmer and you see salmon or the delta smelt as responsible for water being used in a way that doesn’t benefit you, you think you can do without the fish. If you care about the fish, you may think the farmer could grow something different, or the same thing differently, and use less water. Neither group talks to the other, but it’s a false dichotomy to think that the only way to solve the human water problem is to give up water for fish.”

Gleick believes there are two solutions—the hard path and the soft path, notions also derived from energy policy. The hard path wrings water from the environment mainly by means of dams and tunnels for transferring water and by desalinization plants. “It’s what World Bank guys and engineers are trained to do,” Gleick said. The hard path exemplifies twentieth-century thinking, which in turn was based on the nineteenth-century notions that resources were boundless and that science could control nature. There are still places to put dams, but dams are very expensive, and desalinization is too costly to be practical anywhere except places such as the Persian Gulf, where oil pays for it.

Hard path believes that no water should escape being used, and it is indifferent to the vitality of an ecosystem. By its reasoning, a depleted system can be shed for a new one, the way new oil deposits can be found. The discarded system will expire or recover, but the caravan will have moved on. An example is the Colorado River, the passage of which is so oversubscribed that only once in the last twenty years has the river reached its delta in Mexico with any flow.

Soft path involves conservation and tactics such as storm-water capture or wastewater treatment and reuse—twenty-first-century thinking, Gleick calls it. “We are already treating wastewater, stuff you flush down your toilet,” Gleick said. “We are not yet drinking that water, because we don’t need to. They drink it in parts of Africa and in Singapore, where they call it ‘new water,’ a means of branding it. We use it for nonpotable purposes: irrigation, cooling power plants, and restoring groundwater.”

Gleick turned into the parking lot of the pumping station, where there were only a couple of cars. “I’m a big fan of California agriculture,” he said, “but I’m also a big fan of ecosystems and reliable urban water supply. I think we can have a healthy agricultural economy and meet basic human needs for water and still save the fish, but not the way we’re doing things today.”

“What if things don’t work?” I asked.

“The dystopian vision, which I don’t think will happen, because I hope and think we’ll be smarter than that,” Gleick said, “but the dystopian future is one in which we lose more and more fisheries, the winter-run Chinook salmon go extinct, the delta smelt disappear, bird migrations plummet, the Salton Sea”—a saline lake fed by Colorado irrigation runoff—“disappears, and toxic dust spreads over southern California, the way it did when the city of Los Angeles drained Owens Lake. Plus a number of farms go out of production, and considering how reliant the country and the world are on California farms, the effect is widespread. Also, urban water gets more and more expensive, because we have to turn to desalinization, consequently more populations lack access to safe and affordable water, and we see more and more East Portervilles.

“What makes me optimistic is that it’s obvious we can do things differently.”

“What makes me optimistic,” he went on, “is that it’s obvious we can do things differently. I would be doing something else if I didn’t have that optimism, although it’s tempered in two ways. One is, while I truly believe we’re moving toward sustainable water management and use, I think bad things will happen along the way. We’ll lose some things permanently, like species. The other thing is that not everybody will suffer equally. The rich can isolate themselves to some degree from climate change and water problems, but the poor will suffer. Those weren’t rich communities in the Central Valley that had their wells dry up.”

For several minutes, we stood beside the aqueduct and simply watched the water flowing south, the way people stare at a deep hole in the ground. Then Gleick said, “When you start butting up against peak-water limits, you have to start doing things differently. We’re not going to build many more big dams, and we’re overdrafting groundwater, but that will drive innovation. This is the direction we have to go. There’s no more new water.”

VII. The Downside

Earlier, Gleick had said, “In California, we have all the world’s water problems in one form or another. There’s one exception. We don’t really have violence, yet.” Elsewhere, they have their share. In 2016 in Darfur, seventy people were killed “in clashes between farmers and herders over access to water resources and land,” according to the Pacific Institute’s Water Conflict Chronology.

In recent years, many of the conflicts in which people have been killed over water have taken place in India. Some of the occasions involved protests over dams or canals, and some were farmer-versus-herder disputes. In 2014, in northern India, during a drought, a group of bandits announced that they would kill people who lived in villages near their hideout unless the people brought them water every day. Twenty-eight villages said they would take turns paying what they called a “water tax.” Indirectly, water affects civil migration, which in turn affects politics in the form of responses to migration, such as the rise in Europe of right-wing nationalism and the election in Italy in March of populist factions opposed to immigrants. Last year, speaking at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Francis wondered “if we are not on the path towards a great world war over water.” People who think a water-conquest war is unlikely tend to point out how difficult it is to move water, but it isn’t any more difficult to move water than it is to move oil.

June 6, 2018: An Indian man waits for fresh water supplies to arrive with a truck at a water distribution point, in the low-income eastern neighbourhood of Sanjay camp in New Delhi.


Gleick thinks that water is less likely to cause a war than to be used as a weapon. In 2014, in the journal Weather, Climate, and Society, he published a paper called “Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria.” He described the area’s water conflicts, which are ancient—the first, according to the Water Conflict Chronology, appears to have occurred forty-five hundred years ago when a king named Urlama diverted water through canals to deprive an enemy of it. More recently, climate change and the scarcity of freshwater resulting from a drought between 2006 and 2011 led to what one expert described as the “most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago.” Gleick’s paper discussed how all this encouraged the discontent that led to Syria’s civil war. “No one argues that climate change or drought caused the civil war,” he told me. “But they had an influence. And after the civil war started, there were massive and unrelenting attacks by pretty much all the parties on civilians and infrastructure, including, explicitly, water resources. Attacks on the water-treatment plants in Aleppo, attacks in Iraq on local water systems—use of water as a weapon. ISIS took over dams on the Tigris and Euphrates and released water on downstream villages to prevent attacks on their bases.”

“Water Wars” makes a fine headline, Gleick said, but he thinks any such conflict between nations would be more complicated. “India and Pakistan have been fighting forever over water in the region of Kashmir,” he said, “but if it breaks into war, water would only be a part of the cause. Egypt has threatened Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Ethiopia is building over the Nile at the border of Ethiopia and Sudan. Egypt is completely dependent on the Nile, but would they actually attack the dam? I don’t think so, but it’s possible.” The future is rarely a continuation of the present, and doesn’t usually play out as we expect. Maybe we don’t run out of water. Maybe science finds a better means of providing drinkable water from castoff water and sewage. We tend to think of societal calamities as happening in places where the people are different from us, yet matters of race and culture seem irrelevant when we all require a half gallon of water each day to survive. When a region runs out of water, the people left there don’t really die of thirst. They die mainly from the diseases that come from drinking bad water. In these places, the equation is succinct: Demand, simple human need, the assertion, even, of a right, overwhelms supply.

This article appears in the September ’18 issue of Esquire.

Victor Demarchelier

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International #ClimateChange Reports Are Dangerously Misleading! #auspol #qldpol #nswpol #StopAdani #NoNewCoal

International Climate Change Reports Are Dangerously Misleading, Says Eminent Scientist


Those who deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change often point to the fallibility of climate models, calling those who agree with such estimates “alarmists.”

But far from overstating the effects of a rapidly warming planet, a new report – called “What Lies Beneath: The Understatement of Existential Climate Risk” – argues that the bulk of climate research has tended to underplay the real risks of climate change.

While the report doesn’t present any new research, it does draw on previous studies and quotes from leading climate scientists to show that most climate research is based on “conservative projections and scholarly reticence.”

The foreword is written by Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who was the head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research for twenty years, and a senior advisor to Pope Francis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Union.

The paper itself is primarily focused on reports made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which not only provides information for climate policymaking around the world, but also influences the public narrative around climate change.

Yet because of political and industry pressure, the paper argues that: “IPCC reports also tend toward reticence and caution, erring on the side of ‘least drama,’ and downplaying more extreme and more damaging outcomes.”

Predictions for sea level rise are a classic example of how the IPCC tends towards the “safest” position when dealing with conflicting science.

In 2001, the IPCC report estimated a sea level rise of 2 millimeters (mm) per year. By 2007, however, that estimate was outrun by satellite data, which revealed a sea level rise of 3.3 mm per year.

In 2007, a similar thing happened. The IPCC report predicted 18 to 59 centimeters (cm) of sea level rise by 2100. But just two years later estimates suggested a sea level rise of 0.50 meters to 2 meters by 2100.

Despite the mistakes made in previous estimates, in 2014, the IPCC actually predicted a smaller sea level rise than seven years previous. Instead of 59 cm, the panel now predicted only 55 cm of sea-level rise.

A 2017 revised NOAA report shows how far-off these predictions were, placing the worst-case scenario at 2.5 metres by 2100, 5.5 metres by 2150 and 9.7 metres by 2200.

The authors of the new report explain that the conservative and inaccurate IPCC estimates were made because “scientists compiling the report could not agree on how much would be added to sea-level rise by melting polar ice sheets, and so left out the data altogether” to reach some sort of consensus.

Science historian Naomi Oreskes calls this “consensus by omission,” and while it is certainly understandable, Schellnhuber argues it is “dangerously misleading.”

It’s not just sea level rise, either.

For similar reasons, many climate models do not take into account tipping points and positive feedback loops that could amplify warming, like the release of greenhouse gases from thawing permafrost, the loss of West Antarctic glaciers, and reduced ocean and terrestrial CO2 removal from the atmosphere.

A 2013 study by Oreskes found past predictions from climate scientists have been “conservative in their projections of the impacts of climate change” and that “at least some of the key attributes of global warming from increased atmospheric greenhouse gases have been under-predicted, particularly in IPCC assessments of the physical science.”

Far from being biased toward alarmism, it appears that many climate scientists are erring on the side of caution, under-predicting the future climate changes.

Barrie Pittock, a marine and atmospheric scientist at CSIRO, wrote an explanation for this in 2006. He stated that:

“… until now many scientists may have consciously or unconsciously downplayed the more extreme possibilities at the high end of the uncertainty range, in an attempt to appear moderate and ‘responsible’ (that is, to avoid scaring people). However, true responsibility is to provide evidence of what must be avoided: to define, quantify, and warn against possible dangerous or unacceptable outcomes.”

Much of this has to do with statistics. In the IPCC lexicon, future outcomes are considered “unlikely” if they lie outside the brackets of a normal probability distribution.

But, as the report argues: “Focusing on ‘middle of the road’ outcomes, and ignoring the high-end possibilities, may result in an unexpected catastrophic event that we could and should have seen coming.”

That’s because climate change does not present as a normal distribution. Instead, it is skewed by a fat tail, as can be seen in the image below.

This means that there is more area under the far right extreme of the curve, indicating a greater likelihood of warming that is well in excess of the average climate models.

In other words, the chances of Earth warming by six degrees Celsius is not 2 percent, as the normal distribution suggests, it’s actually 10 percent.

Because calculating probabilities has its flaws and limitations, Schellnhuber argues that we should focus less on climate models and more on extreme scenario planning.

These scenarios would take into account future possibilities that would have major consequences, even if they seem highly unlikely now – echoing the old adage: “Better to be safe than sorry.”

One such scenario, laid out in the recent “Hothouse Earth” paper – written by sixteen scientists, including Schellnhuber himself –  reveals that if the planet breaches a pivotal climate threshold, we may reach a point of no return.

“Climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences,” warns Schellnhuber in the report.

The report has been published by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration , an independent think tank based in Australia.

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Kids around the world are suing governments over #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol #nswpol #StopAdani #NoNewCoal Are you on their side @ScottMorrisonMP ?

Kids around the world are suing governments over climate change—and it’s working

Ephrat Livni

Reuters/Jitendra Prakash

Earth Day 2018 sand sculpture on the banks of the river Yamuna in Allahabad, India.

Nobody could have predicted the kids would get this far.

Back in 2015, a group of 21 young Americans decided to sue the US government over climate change. In Juliana v. US, the plaintiffs argue that the government has violated “the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property” by adopting policies that promote the use of fossil fuels—despite the knowledge that carbon dioxide emissions are a primary cause of global warming.

That might sound like an extreme claim. But in the years since, the lawsuit has kept succeeding against all odds.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on July 20 denied the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss the suit (pdf), and the case remains set for trial 0n October 29. ”With the Ninth Circuit again ruling in our favor, we are going strong,” 12-year-old plaintiff Avery M. said in a statement (pdf). “The federal government is trying to block our path but we are persevering. We are optimistic and have the courage to keep standing up for our constitutional rights.”

To the average observer, the case may still seem like a long shot. But the kids are part of a global movement of concerned citizens advancing similar claims. Collectively, the lawsuits are creating new precedents that bolster activism—and may, in the long term, help alter the way governments think about their responsibility to protect citizens against climate change.

The young plaintiffs in Juliana v. US, who are now between 11 and 22 years old, are represented by the legal nonprofit Our Children’s Trust. The organization is involved in similar suits around the country and the globe. In this case, attorneys for the trust argue that a fundamental right to a stable climate that sustains life is implied in the US Constitution.

There’s no explicit mention of climate change in the Constitution, of course, since human-induced global warming wasn’t a concern in the 18th century. But the attorneys argue that, last century, once government officials became aware of the harm their energy policies were causing and persisted in approving measures that endanger the planet, the government ran afoul of the Constitution. The notions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are meaningless on a planet that can’t sustain life.

The children also claim that, as a result of the government’s past and current policy decisions, their generation has been disproportionately burdened by the environmental impact of climate change. As such, they say they’ve been discriminated against in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Cause.

There’s reason for the plaintiffs to be hopeful about their chances at trial come October.  This April, youth in Colombia succeeded in convincing the nation’s high court (pdf, in Spanish) to reverse a February decision denying their climate change lawsuit against the government. The Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia ruled in favor of the youth plaintiffs, who argued that deforestation in the Amazon and increasing temperature threatened their constitutionally-guaranteed rights to a healthy environment, life, health, food and water. Notably, the high court also found that the Colombian Amazon forest has legal personhood and that, as such, the government has a duty to protect the forest.

In Belgium, a climate change case against authorities is expected to proceed to trial this year after three years of procedural disputes. Similarly in India, a hearing is expected soon on the case of a ten-year-old plaintiff, Ridhima Pandey, who last year filed an affidavit with India’s National Green Tribunal arguing that the government has failed to implement its emissions reductions policies and adhere to its environmental laws. In 2016, a seven-year-old Pakistani girl sued the government for its environmental failures, and the case has been allowed to proceed.

Norwegian youth are appealing the Oslo District Court’s January denial (pdf) of their constitutional climate change case to the nation’s highest court. And lawyers in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom are working with Our Children’s Trust on filing actions there in the near future.

Although the children involved in the lawsuits may not know one another, they’re involved in a collective international effort. Judges considering the US case have looked at similar cases, like the one in the Netherlands, for guidance. It’s only fitting that the push to hold authorities accountable is a collaborative one, as climate change is an issue that transcends national borders.

In fact, the Dutch government unsuccessfully used that argument to try to disavow responsibility for the effects of its policies. When Dutch citizens sued the government over climate change in 2015, the government argued that the issue of climate change was too big for it to handle alone. But Dutch judges didn’t buy it, ruling in favor of the plaintiffs. The Dutch government was ordered to reduce emissions by 25% within five years. If the US kids keep winning, the American government could face a similar directive.

“Climate change is already destructive,” 13-year-old plaintiff Sahara V. said in a statement after the appeals court decided not to block the US case. “It’s harming me and my family, and will only get worse unless the government starts taking action to stop it rather than cause it.”

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Scientists are finally linking extreme weather to #climatechange @SciNate #auspol #nswpol #qldpol #Drought #Bushfires #StopAdani #NoNewCoal @ScottMorrisonMP

Scientists are finally linking extreme weather to climate change

Until now scientists have been cagey about linking extreme weather events such as this summer’s heatwave to climate change. An emerging field is changing all that.


Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images

The summer of 2018 has not been a normal summer.

Throughout June and July an extended heatwave set record-breaking high temperatures across the northern hemisphere.

In Japan, more than 22,000 people were taken to hospital with heat stroke as the country recorded its highest-ever temperature of 41.1 degrees Celsius.

In California, Portugal and as far north as the Arctic Circle huge wildfires, encouraged by months of unusually dry conditions, followed the searing heat.

For years, climatologists asked to explain these kind of extreme events have fallen back on a well-worn phrase. “It’s impossible to attribute a single weather event to climate change,” the refrain goes. And they’re right.

Weather is by its very nature unpredictable – extreme events will always happen in one place or another, regardless of global temperature levels, and they’re not necessarily tied to one particular cause.

For Friederike Otto, deputy director of the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) at the University of Oxford, this response has its drawbacks. “If scientists don’t answer, someone else gives an answer and it’s usually people who aren’t interested in the size and have their own agenda,” she says. Instead, Otto wondered if scientists could start saying whether climate change had made certain extreme weather events more or less likely.

Now Otto is right at the heart of a growing scientific movement called extreme event attribution.

Her aim?

To be able to point to an extreme weather event and use climate modelling to say whether that same event would have been more or less likely to happen in a world where humans hadn’t caused global temperatures to rise by a whole degree over the last 120 years.

Up until a few years ago, it wasn’t possible to draw that link with any degree of accuracy, Otto says. But in 2004, Pete Stott at the UK Met Office published a paper in the scientific journal Nature showing that climate change had at least doubled the risk of the 2003 European heatwave that killed tens of thousands of people.

Twelve years later the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society dedicated an entire issue to the new field of extreme event attribution.

In the introduction, its editors argued that it was now possible to detect the effects of climate change on some events with high confidence. “That was really the first time we could say that we can attribute events to anthropogenic climate change,” Otto says.

In late 2014, Otto helped set up the World Weather Attribution (WWA) initiative – a collaboration between the ECI, the Netherlands-based Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute.

The aim of the project wasn’t just to draw a link between extreme events and climate change, but to provide this analysis in real-time so they’d have answers while the extreme weather event was actually happening.

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