Alice Springs

Cleaner air benefits human health #ClimateChange #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

Europe’s air quality has improved considerably since the European Union and its Member States introduced policies and measures concerning air quality in the 1970s.

Air pollutant emissions from many of the major sources including transport, industry, and power generation are now regulated and are generally declining, but not always to the extent envisaged.

High concentrations of air pollution still have significant impacts on Europeans’ health, with particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide  causing the biggest harm.

The European Environment Agency’s latest annual air quality report shows that most people living in Europe’s cities are still exposed to levels of air pollution deemed harmful by the World Health Organization. According to the report, fine particulate matter concentrations were responsible for an estimated 428 000 premature deaths in 41 European countries in 2014, of which around 399 000 were in the EU-28.

Poor air quality also has considerable economic impacts, increasing medical costs, reducing workers’ productivity, and damaging soil, crops, forests, lakes and rivers. Although air pollution is often associated with pollution peaks and episodes, long-term exposure to lower doses constitutes an even more serious threat to human health and to nature.

Reducing air pollution helps tackle climate change

Carbon dioxide may be the largest driver of global warming and climate change but it is not the only one. Many other gaseous or particulate compounds, known as ‘climate forcers’, have an influence on the amount of solar energy (including heat) the Earth retains.

For example, methane is a very powerful climate forcer as well as an air pollutant linked to agricultural activities, closely linked to livestock production and meat consumption. Particulate matter is another pollutant, impacting both climate change and air quality. Depending upon its composition, it may have a cooling or warming effect on the local and the global climate. For example, black carbon, one of the constituents of fine particulate matter and a result of incomplete burning of fuels, absorbs solar and infrared radiation in the atmosphere and thus has a warming effect.

Measures to cut emissions of short-lived climate forcers such as black carbon, methane, ozone or ozone precursors benefit both human health and the climate. Greenhouse gases and air pollutants share the same emission sources. Therefore there are potential benefits, including cost savings, that can be obtained by limiting emissions of one or the other.

However, in the past certain measures have been promoted to benefit, among others, climate change but which have had unintended negative impacts on air quality. For example, many countries  promoted diesel vehicles but which have turned out to emit high levels of air pollutants. Similarly, the promotion of renewable wood burning in some areas of Europe has unfortunately led to high levels of particulate matter in the local air. We must learn from such examples and make sure the consequences of the measures we choose to implement are properly understood and factored in.

The links between climate change and air quality are not limited to common pollutants released into the atmosphere from the same sources. Climate change can also aggravate air pollution problems. In many regions across the world, climate change is expected to affect local weather, including the frequency of heat waves and stagnant air episodes. More sunlight and warmer temperatures might not only prolong the periods of time in which ozone levels are elevated, it may also exacerbate peak ozone concentrations further. This is certainly not good news for parts of Europe, experiencing frequent episodes of excessive ground-level ozone.

Taking coherent action from local to global

Air pollution is not the same everywhere. Different pollutants are released into the atmosphere from a wide range of sources. Road transport, agriculture, power plants, industry and households are the biggest emitters of air pollutants in Europe. Once in the atmosphere, these pollutants can transform into new pollutants and spread. Designing and implementing policies to address this complexity are not easy tasks.

Given the diversity of sources both in terms of geographical distribution and economic activity, action must be taken at different levels from local to international. International conventions can aim to reduce the amount of pollutants released into the atmosphere, but without local action — such as information campaigns, removing highly polluting vehicles from cities  or urban zoning decisions — we would fall short of reaping the full benefits of our efforts. This diversity also means that there is no one-size-fits all solution to air pollution. To reduce exposure and subsequent harm further, authorities need to adapt their measures to account for local factors such as sources, demographics, transport infrastructure and local economy.

To enhance the cohesion between actions taken at local, national, European and global level, the European Commission brought together different stakeholders from across Europe at the Clean Air Forum in November. The Forum, held in Paris, not only focused on improving air quality in cities, but also on air pollution from agricultural activities. It also highlighted innovation and business opportunities linked to clean air actions.

Information key to minimise exposure

The European Environment Agency works with its member countries to gather comparable air quality information over time. Based on the data collected, we measure progress, analyse trends and look for links between sources such as road transport and actual measurements of air quality.

When needed, measurements from monitoring stations can be complemented by satellite observations. Under its Copernicus Earth Observation programme, the EU launched in October a new satellite tasked to monitor air pollution, which has already started delivering images. This information is then regularly shared with the public and the policy makers. It is important to note that the Agency deals only with outdoor air quality, and not with the quality of the air we breathe at home or at work, which also has direct impacts on our health.

As part of our efforts to provide the most updated information, we developed together with the European Commission a new online service: the European Air Quality Index. Presented at the Clean Air Forum, the Index provides information on the current air quality situation based on measurements from more than 2 000 air quality monitoring stations across Europe. The Index allows citizens to use an interactive map to check the air quality at station level, based on five key pollutants that harm people’s health and the environment: namely particulate matter (both PM2.5 and PM10), ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. This tool allows us to share this information with all Europeans interested in addressing air pollution. We can all check air quality where we are and take precautionary measures to reduce our exposure to pollution.

Information is certainly essential to address air pollution and to reduce its harmful impacts. However, to  improve air quality and to meet the EU’s longer-term low carbon goals, we need to address emissions from all economic sectors and systems like mobility, energy or food, and understand production and consumption patterns that generate these emissions. This is the only way forward. The EEA stands ready, as a knowledge partner, to help achieve these long term goals.

Hans Bruyninckx

EEA Executive Director

The editorial published in EEA Newsletter, Issue 2017/4, 15 December 2017

Press link for more: EEA.Europa.EU

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Where is the food going to come from? #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol #OnePlanet

This is the question everyone should be attending to – where is the food going to come from?

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 11th December 2017

Brexit; the crushing of democracy by billionaires; the next financial crash; a rogue US president: none of them keeps me awake at night. This is not because I don’t care – I care very much. It’s only because I have a bigger question on my mind. Where is the food going to come from?

By mid-century there will be two or three billion more people on Earth. Any one of the issues I am about to list could help precipitate mass starvation. And this is before you consider how they might interact.

The trouble begins where everything begins: with soil.

The UN’s famous projection that, at current rates of soil loss, the world has 60 years of harvests left, appears to be supported by a new set of figures.

Partly as a result of soil degradation, yields are already declining on 20% of the world’s croplands.

Now consider water loss.

In places such as the North China Plain, the central United States, California and north-western India – among the world’s critical growing regions – levels of the groundwater used to irrigate crops are already reaching crisis point. Water in the Upper Ganges aquifer, for example, is being withdrawn at 50 times its recharge rate. But, to keep pace with food demand, farmers in South Asia expect to use between 80 and 200% more water by 2050. Where will it come from?

The next constraint is temperature. One study suggests that, all else being equal, with each degree Celsius of warming the global yield of rice drops by 3%, wheat by 6% and maize by 7%. This could be optimistic. Research published in the journal Agricultural & Environmental Letters finds that 4°C of warming in the US Corn Belt could reduce maize yields by between 84 and 100%.

The reason is that high temperatures at night disrupt the pollination process. But this describes just one component of the likely pollination crisis. Insectageddon, caused by the global deployment of scarcely-tested pesticides, will account for the rest. Already, in some parts of the world, workers are now pollinating plants by hand. But that’s viable only for the most expensive crops.

Then there are the structural factors. Because they tend to use more labour, grow a wider range of crops and work the land more carefully, small farmers, as a rule, grow more food per hectare than large ones. In the poorer regions of the world, people with less than 5 hectares own 30% of the farmland but produce 70% of the food. Since 2000, an area of fertile ground roughly twice the size of the United Kingdom has been seized by land grabbers and consolidated into large farms, generally growing crops for export rather than the food needed by the poor.

While these multiple disasters unfold on land, the seas are being sieved of everything but plastic. Despite a massive increase in effort (bigger boats, bigger engines, more gear), the worldwide fish catch is declining by roughly 1% a year, as populations collapse. The global land grab is mirrored by a global seagrab: small fishers are displaced by big corporations, exporting fish to those who need it less but pay more. Around 3 billion people depend to a large extent on fish and shellfish protein. Where will it come from?

All this would be hard enough. But as people’s incomes increase, their diet tends to shift from plant protein to animal protein. World meat production has quadrupled in 50 years, but global average consumption is still only half that of the UK – where we eat roughly our bodyweight in meat every year – and just over a third of the US level. Because of the way we eat, the UK’s farmland footprint (the land required to meet our demand) is 2.4 times the size of its agricultural area. If everyone aspires to this diet, how do we accommodate it?

The profligacy of livestock farming is astonishing. Already, 36% of the calories grown in the form of grain and pulses – and 53% of the protein – are used to feed farm animals. Two-thirds of this food is lost in conversion from plant to animal. A graph produced last week by Our World in Data suggests that, on average, you need 0.01m2 of land to produce a gram of protein from beans or peas, but 1m2 to produce it from beef cattle or sheep: a difference of 100-fold.

It’s true that much of the grazing land occupied by cattle and sheep cannot be used to grow crops. But it would otherwise have sustained wildlife and ecosystems. Instead, marshes are drained, trees are felled and their seedlings grazed out, predators are exterminated, wild herbivores fenced out and other lifeforms gradually erased as grazing systems intensify. Astonishing places – such as the rainforests of Madagascar and Brazil – are laid waste to make room for yet more cattle.

Because there is not enough land to meet both need and greed, a global transition to eating animals means snatching food from the mouths of the poor. It also means the ecological cleansing of almost every corner of the planet.

The shift in diets would be impossible to sustain even if there were no growth in the human population. But the greater the number of people, the greater the hunger meat eating will cause. From a baseline of 2010, the UN expects meat consumption to rise by 70% by 2030 (this is three times the rate of human population growth). Partly as a result, the global demand for crops could double (from the 2005 baseline) by 2050. The land required to grow them does not exist.

When I say this keeps me up at night, I mean it. I am plagued by visions of starving people seeking to escape from grey wastes, being beaten back by armed police. I see the last rich ecosystems snuffed out, the last of the global megafauna – lions, elephants, whales and tuna – vanishing. And when I wake, I cannot assure myself that it was just a nightmare.

Other people have different dreams: the fantasy of a feeding frenzy that need never end, the fairytale of reconciling continued economic growth with a living world. If humankind spirals into societal collapse, these dreams will be the cause.

There are no easy answers, but the crucial change is a shift from an animal to a plant-based diet. All else being equal, stopping both meat production and the use of farmland to grow biofuels could provide enough calories for another 4 billion people and double the protein available for human consumption. Artificial meat will help: one paper suggests it reduces water use by at least 82% and land use by 99%.

The next Green Revolution will not be like the last one. It will rely not on flogging the land to death, but on reconsidering how we use it and why. Can we do this, or do we – the richer people now consuming the living planet – find mass death easier to contemplate than changing our diet?

http://www.monbiot.com

Press link for more: Monbiot.com

Cities have the power to lead #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol #OnePlanet #StopAdani

Cities have the power to lead climate change

Cities, as hubs of innovation, now stand at the forefront of climate action

By CHRISTIANA FIGUERES, VICE-CHAIR OF THE GLOBAL COVENANT OF MAYORS 12/13/17, 9:38 AM CET

Christiana Figueres, vice-chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors | via Global Covenant of Mayors

Negotiating the Paris Agreement was a monumental achievement.

Nations rallied together and subnational actors, especially cities and local governments, afforded confidence that targets could be met, leading to swift approval and ratification.

As we lean into implementation, leaders in every corner of the world, in cities large and small, are taking bold climate action to ensure we are able to meet these commitments — and, importantly, take even more ambitious action.

However, for some local leaders, implementation of the Agreement comes with challenges. This is especially pertinent when it comes to obtaining the financial support needed to turn ideas into action and make the changes necessary to ensure they can help meet the goals set forth in Paris.

Luckily, one of the many successes of the Paris Agreement was the establishment of mechanisms to increase climate-friendly ideas and investment.

Cities, as hubs of innovation, now stand at the forefront of climate action, ready to accept these investments.

I am proud to serve as the vice-chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, an initiative that supports city leaders in meeting these commitments.

Together with our partner city networks both globally and locally, cities in this alliance are developing cutting-edge solutions to the challenges of climate finance.

They are providing critical leadership and support as national governments move towards a greener future.

The power these cities have to tackle climate change cannot be understated.

Mayors and local leaders often have greater influence over the sectors that most impact carbon emissions.

Buildings, transportation, water and waste are all complex systems, and city leaders’ in-depth knowledge of regional environmental landscapes means they are uniquely suited to pinpoint which areas need the most attention to reduce emissions while increasing sustainability and economic efficiency.

“We must see climate in every facet of the economy, from green buildings and infrastructure to sustainable agriculture, so that our growth will be climate neutral.”

Central to scaling timely global climate action is financing the development of modernized low carbon infrastructure.

We must see climate in every facet of the economy, from green buildings and infrastructure to sustainable agriculture, so that our growth will be climate neutral.

Investments in these priorities now will build the tomorrow we want our children to live in.

As cities work to accelerate the collective impact of their actions, improving city-level access to finance will increase investment flows into cities and other urban areas. It will unlock the potential of cities to be a fundamental part of the global climate solution. It will re-shape the economics of development and reinforce sustainable infrastructure as a stronger investment over high-carbon polluting options.

In Cape Town, this philosophy has been taken to heart as a number of new strategies are pursued to increase investments in our green future. Many climate and resilience solutions, such as renewable energy, green transportation and net-zero buildings, are less expensive to operate than they are to build, meaning it takes partnerships between governments and the private sector to finance them.

“Cape Town is poised to become the first city in Africa to install an electric bus system.”

For example, Cape Town is poised to become the first city in Africa to install an electric bus system. The MyCiTi bus system is an ambitious project and will be made possible by a public-private investment partnership and pay dividends to the city in the future. The strategic partnership goes beyond just buying buses: the buses, currently made by Chinese green energy firm BYD, will soon be manufactured at a new plant in Cape Town in 2018. The implementation of the MyCiTi bus system is not only increasing sustainability and helping to reduce carbon emissions, it is boosting the city’s economy and creating hundreds of jobs. This project will help Cape Town save money with reduced maintenance and operating costs while supporting the city’s ongoing journey to build a strong and prosperous green economy.

The city is also collaborating with the private sector to mitigate the dire effects of drought on Cape Town’s water supply. To accelerate emergency water projects, the city is issuing tax-exempt green bonds to private sector developers to incentivize developments that will enhance sustainability and improve water security. Thanks to the investment spurred by green bonds and other innovative strategies, a platform of climate security is being created from which the city’s future is wide open.

“The implementation of the MyCiTi bus system is not only increasing sustainability and helping to reduce carbon emissions, it is boosting the city’s economy and creating hundreds of jobs.”

Cities like Cape Town are helping to spur the global transformation that spells success for the Paris Agreement. By investing in sustainability and resilience now, we can guarantee not only stable returns for our private sector partners, but a stable future for our cities and the world.

Unlocking a sustainable path for cities allows them to accelerate their impact. By 2050, implementing sustainable urban infrastructure choices could save $17 trillion on energy costs alone.

Through initiatives like the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, over 7,400 cities around the world — 9.35 percent of the population — are showing their potential and making real progress to greatly accelerate the world’s achievements towards the legally binding global commitment to create a carbon neutral world this century.

Authors:

Christiana Figueres, Vice-Chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors

2016 Global Heatwaves due to Climate Change #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol #OnePlanet

Global heat waves in 2016 due purely to climate change: study

The findings mark the first time that global scientists have identified severe weather that could not have happened without climate change, said the peer-reviewed report titled “Explaining Extreme Events in 2016 from a Climate Perspective.”

Until now, the contribution of human-driven climate change has been understood to raise the odds of certain floods, droughts, storms and heat waves — but not serve as the sole cause.

“This report marks a fundamental change,” said Jeff Rosenfeld, editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, which published the peer-reviewed report.

“For years scientists have known humans are changing the risk of some extremes. But finding multiple extreme events that weren’t even possible without human influence makes clear that we’re experiencing new weather, because we’ve made a new climate.”

The report included 27 peer-reviewed analyses of extreme weather across five continents and two oceans.

A total of 116 scientists from 18 countries took part, incorporating historical observations and model simulations to determine the role of climate change in nearly two dozen extreme events.

Records shattered

In 2016, the planet reached a new high for global heat, making it the warmest year in modern times.

These record average surface temperatures worldwide were “only possible due to substantial centennial-scale anthropogenic warming,” said the report.

Asia also experienced stifling heat, with India suffering a major heat wave that killed 580 people from March to May.

Thailand set a new record for energy consumption as people turned on air conditioners en masse to cool off.

Even though the tropical Pacific Ocean warming trend of El Nino was pronounced in 2015 and the first part of 2016, researchers concluded that it was not to blame.

“The 2016 extreme warmth across Asia would not have been possible without climate change,” said the report.

“Although El Nino was expected to warm Southeast Asia in 2016, the heat in the region was unusually widespread.”

In the Gulf of Alaska, the nearby Bering Sea, and off northern Australia, water temperatures were the highest in 35 years of satellite records.

This ocean warming led to “massive bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef and one of the largest harmful algal blooms ever off the Alaska shore,” according to the report.

“It was extremely unlikely that natural variability alone led to the observed anomalies.”

Another chapter found that the so-called “blob” of sub-Arctic 2016 warmth “cannot be explained without anthropogenic climate warming.”

Most, not all

Most of the extreme events studied were influenced to some extent by climate change, as in the past six years that the work has been published.

Climate change was found to have boosted the odds and intensity of El Nino, the severity of coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, and warmth in the North Pacific Ocean.

Flash droughts over southern Africa, like the one in 2015 and 2016, have tripled in the last 60 years mainly due to human-caused climate change, it said.

“Extreme rains, like the record-breaking 2016 event in Wuhan, China are 10 times more likely in the present climate than they were in 1961.”

The unusual Arctic warmth observed in November–December 2016 “most likely would not have been possible without human-caused warming,” it added.

But not all extreme weather was influenced by global warming.

About 20 percent of the events studied were not linked to human-caused climate change, including a major winter snowstorm in the Mid-Atlantic United States, and the drought that led to water shortages in northeast Brazil.

The findings were released at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans.

Press link for more: SBS.COM.AU

Planetary Prosperity Means Zero Carbon #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol #OnePlanetSummit

PLANETARY PROSPERITY MEANS ZERO CARBON

DR.MATHIS WACKERNAGEL – CEO OF GLOBAL FOOTPRINT NETWORK on December 12, 2017

Mother Nature seems to be in full revolt.

A stone’s throw from the city of Oakland, where Global Footprint Network is based, the seasonal Diablo winds recently reached record intensity, fanning the worst fires that the famous wine-producing region of Napa has known, reducing to ashes vineyards and residential neighbourhoods, and pushing tens of thousands of inhabitants on the roads.

Now Santa Ana winds are wreaking similar havoc in Southern California, causing more evacuations and burning more structures.

On the other side of the continent, the Caribbean islands most affected by the hurricanes of the last weeks – Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy and Puerto Rico in front – face a tremendous reconstruction project, needing to rebuild access to safe water and electricity.

The time is not for discouragement or defeatism.

More than ever, it is evident that every human community must do its utmost to keep pace with the planet that is hosting us.

The time for transformation is now.

Humanity is not idle.

The root causes are recognized.

On December 12, we celebrate the two-year anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, when world leaders came together to commit to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and strive for 1.5 degrees.

Although President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the agreement, leaders around the world are standing firm.

In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, and UN Secretary António Guterres will gather at the One Planet Summit on December 12 to call for concrete action.

Similarly, I am among 31 Blue Planet Laureates who not only want to mark this important anniversary but also remind the world that the climate agreement is achievable and desirable.

We have summarized our position as follows:

Planetary Prosperity Means Zero Carbon

The resource hunger of the human enterprise has become too large for our planet.

The Paris Climate Agreement recognizes this. It aims to limit global warming to less than 2°C above the preindustrial level.

This means ceasing fossil-fuel use before 2050, increasing ecosystem and biodiversity conservation, and improving human well-being.

We, Blue Planet Laureates, wholeheartedly and emphatically support this transformation.

It is technologically possible, economically beneficial, and our best chance for a prosperous future.

Our planet is finite. But human possibilities are not. The transformation will succeed if we apply people’s greatest strengths: foresight, innovation, and care for each other.

Examples across the globe show positive results.

Cities like Zurich, Curitiba, Malmö, Masdar, and Reykjavik have shown leadership. Regions have taken charge, including California, where Gov. Jerry Brown will convene the Global Action Climate Summit next year.

China has made creating an Ecological Civilization in harmony with nature a priority in its latest 5-year plan.

France and the UK have announced the end of fossil fuel cars by 2040, and Tesla surpassed General Motors earlier this year to become the most valuable US auto maker – without ever building a gasoline-powered car.

Other companies such as Schneider Electric thrive on driving down their clients’ carbon emissions and costs. Achieving Paris is possible.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges of this transformation is sparking the imagination of people around the world and making them realize that a zero-carbon world is much more likely to secure long-term prosperity than continuing our destructive path.

We also need to start to recognize that this transformation primarily builds on foresight and innovation, not sacrifice and suffering.

Even with the UN projecting world population growth of 13 percent by 2030 and 28 percent by 2050, flourishing lives on this one planet are possible through walkable cities that are renewably powered and sustainably fed.

Encouraging smaller families and empowering women around the world will also produce immediate positive health and educational outcomes for those families.

Such steps will also substantially reduce the carbon footprint and ease the resource budget for each country in the long run. Indeed, ‘family planning’ and ‘educating girls’ rank sixth and seventh in Project Drawdown’s ranking of solutions to reverse global warming.

We stand for one-planet prosperity. ‘One planet’ means that we recognize the physical context of our economies. ‘Prosperity’ means that we choose flourishing lives over misery. Will you join us?

Press link for more: Impakter.com

One Planet 🌍 #auspol #qldpol #climatechange #StopAdani

Climate Change is our greatest challenge it’s a race against time, and we’re losing.

Australia & the United States should be leading the world.

Instead we continue to invest in fossil fuels and refuse to put a price on carbon pollution.

Corporations have corrupted our democracies.

Our children & future generations will pay for our greed & negligence.

Nature’s Shock & Awe for The U.S #ClimateChange #auspol #StopAdani

Shock and awe. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is meant to be, in Southern California, the start of rainy season.

Not this year.

The Thomas Fire, the worst of those roiling the region this last week, grew 50,000 acres on Sunday alone; it has now burnt 270 square miles and forced 200,000 people from their homes.

There is no rain forecast for the next seven to ten days, and as of Monday morning, Thomas is just, in the terrifying semi-clinical language of wildfires, “10% contained.” To a poetic approximation, it’s not a bad estimate of how much of a handle we have on the forces of climate change that unleashed it — which is to say, hardly any.

“The city burning is Los Angeles’s deepest image of itself,” Joan Didion wrote in “Los Angeles Notebook,” collected in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. But the cultural impression is apparently not all that deep, since the fires that broke out last week produced, in headlines and on television and via text messages, an astonished refrain of the adjectives “unthinkable,” “unprecedented,” and “unimaginable.”

Didion was writing about the fires that had swept through Malibu in 1956, Bel Air in 1961, Santa Barbara in 1964, and Watts in 1965; she updated her list in “Fire Season (1989),” describing the fires of 1968, 1970, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980, and 1982: “Since 1919, when the county began keeping records of its fires, some areas have burned eight times.”

We could use further updating: Five of the 20 worst fires in California history have now hit since just September, when 245,000 acres in Northern California burned — devastation so cruel and sweeping that two different accounts were published in two different local newspapers of two different aging couples taking desperate cover in pools as the fires swallowed their homes.

One couple survived, emerging after six excruciating hours to find their house transformed into an ash monument; in the other, it was only the husband who emerged, his wife of 55 years having died in his arms. As Americans traded horror stories in the aftermath of those fires, they could be forgiven for mixing the stories up or being confused; that climate terror could be so general as to provide variations on such a theme seemed, as recently as September, impossible to believe.

But if last week’s wildfires were not unprecedented, what did we mean when we called them that?

Like September 11, which followed several decades of morbid American fantasies about the World Trade Center, the brushfires that began last week north of Santa Paula look to a horrified public like a climate prophecy, made in fear, now made real.

That prophecy was threefold.

First, the simple intuition of climate horrors — an especially biblical premonition when the plague is out-of-control fire, like a dust storm of flame.

Second, of the expanding reach of wildfires in particular, which now can feel, in much of the West, like a gust of bad wind away, and never impossible no matter the time of year.

Over the last few decades, the wildfire season has already grown by two months, and by 2050, destruction from wildfires is expected to double (for every additional degree of global warming, it will quadruple).

But perhaps the most harrowing of the ways in which the fires seemed to confirm our cinematic nightmares was the third: that climate chaos could breach our most imperious fortresses — that is, our cities.

With Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Irma, Americans have gotten acquainted with the threat of flooding, but water is just the beginning.

In the affluent cities of the West, even those conscious of environmental change have spent the last few decades believing that, and behaving as though, we had — with our street grids, our highways, our superabundant supermarkets and all-everywhere, all-enveloping internet — built our way out of nature.

We have not.

A paradise dreamscape erected in a barren desert, L.A. has always been an impossible city, as Mike Davis, among many others, has so brilliantly written.

The sight of flames straddling the eight-lane 405 is a reminder that it is still impossible.

In fact, getting more so.

One response to seeing things long predicted actually come to pass is to feel that we have settled into a new era, with everything transformed.

In fact, that is how Governor Jerry Brown described the state of things this weekend: “a new normal.”

The fact that the news cycle has already moved on, while the fires are just as out of control, is another sign of our eagerness to normalize these horrors — or at least to look away.

But normalization is problematic, as perversely comforting as it may feel to think we’ve settled into a familiar nightmare.

Climate change is not binary, and we have not now arrived at a new equilibrium; as I’ve written before, the climate suffering we are seeing now is a “beyond best case” scenario for our future.

With each further tick upward in global temperatures — each tiny tick — the effects will worsen.

And further ticks are inevitable; the question is only how many.

It would be much more accurate to say that we have passed beyond the end of normal, into a new realm unbounded by the analogy of any human experience.

But two big forces conspire to prevent us from normalizing fires like these, though neither is exactly a cause for celebration.

The first is that extreme weather won’t let us, since it won’t stabilize — so that even within a decade, it’s a fair bet that these fires will be thought of as the “old normal.”

Whatever you may think about the pace of climate change, it is happening mind-bendingly fast, almost in real time.

It is not just that December wildfires were unheard of just three decades ago.

We have now emitted more carbon into the atmosphere since Al Gore wrote his first book on climate than in the entire preceding history of humanity, which means that we have engineered most of the climate chaos that now terrifies us in that brief span.

The second force is also contained in the story of the wildfires — the way that climate change is finally striking close to home.

Striking, in fact, some quite special homes: Last Thursday, for instance, there were reports that the fires were threatening the Getty Museum in Pacific Palisades and Rupert Murdoch’s Bel-Air estate.

There may not be two better symbols of the imperiousness of American money than the Getty villa, a San Simeon built on the pure blue Pacific with Texas oil money laundered through art philanthropy; and the nearby toy vineyard of climate-change-denier Rupert Murdoch, built on some of the most expensive real estate in the country.

One imagines that Murdoch will not be writing tweets like this one again anytime soon; then again, who knows?

When, on Thursday, I tweeted that NBC News was reporting that Murdoch’s vineyard was on fire, it immediately spawned a thread of gleeful, crowing responses, more than a thousand of them. But, of course, his property and the Getty were not being singled out; they were fighting off flames because the entire rest of the county was, too, and — no matter how well-equipped or well-defended or well-heeled they were — having just as much trouble. Which is, as uncomfortable as it may be to admit, a very useful allegory for the rest of us to keep in mind.

By accidents of geography and by the force of its wealth, the United States has, to this point, been mostly protected from the devastation climate change has already visited on parts of the less-developed world — mostly.

The condition of Puerto Rico, nearly three months after Hurricane Irma hit, is a harrowing picture of what climate devastation can do to the least among us. That it is now hitting our wealthiest citizens is not just an opportunity for ugly bursts of liberal Schadenfreude; it is also a sign of just how hard, and how indiscriminately, it is hitting. The wealthy used to build castles to defend themselves against the world; more recently it’s been a more modern kind of fortress, cities, enclosing more and more of us in an illusion of man-made security. All of a sudden, it’s getting a lot harder to protect against what’s coming.

Why UK banks are falling behind French #ClimateChange #auspol #StopAdani

Why UK banks are falling behind French in response to climate change

A new ranking by responsible investment NGO ShareAction shows that French banks outperform their European peers on climate-related issues.

ShareAction’s Sonia Hierzig argues that the UK should follow France in making disclosures on climate-related risks and opportunities mandatory

Banks are affected by climate change in many ways.

As financial intermediaries with ties to every industry sector, they face climate-related risks and opportunities.

On the one hand, they are exposed to the physical, transitional and liability risks linked to climate change via the clients they lend to and do business with.

On the other hand, banks are also able to make a positive contribution to tackling climate change by mobilising the capital required for a successful low-carbon transition.

ShareAction has ranked the 15 largest European banks based on their responses to climate-related risks and opportunities.

The three French banks surveyed all came out in the top five, while three of the UK banks ranked in the bottom five banks.

This is partly down to the introduction of Article 173 in France, which requires that all listed companies, including banks, disclose (1) information about the financial risks related to the effects of climate change; (2) the measures adopted by the company to reduce them and; (3) the consequences of climate change on the company’s activities and on the use of goods and services it produces.

For banks, it additionally requests the disclosure of the risk of excessive leverage (not carbon-specific) and the risks exposed by regular stress tests.

Sonia Hierzig, ShareAction

As regulation appears to be a key driver encouraging banks to manage climate-related risks and opportunities, other countries might benefit from introducing similar legislation to ensure banks headquartered there do not fall behind.

For instance, if the UK government wants to succeed in its ambition of promoting the UK as a global centre for green finance post-Brexit, it should consider introducing similar mandatory requirements on disclosure and stress testing.

This is particularly relevant considering the poor performance of several UK banks in this survey, and the fact that the European Banking Authority will move from London to Paris. Banks’ institutional investors should also support necessary changes by engaging with policymakers and regulators.

While the French banks have scored relatively well, it is noticeable that several of the UK banks appear to be lagging behind, including Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Standard Chartered.

This is not only due to the lack of similar innovative legislation in the UK, but also because many of the UK banks have weaker policies compared to their European peers on the sectors highly exposed to climate-related risks, including fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

For example, Lloyds Banking Group’s policy on coal mining and power merely takes into account breaches of relevant greenhouse gas emission regulations, while other banks have committed to not financing certain coal-related projects and/or companies linked to the sector.

To meet the goal of limiting global temperature rises to below 2°C, there can be no new fossil fuel-related exploration or infrastructure developments, and it is also essential that some fields and mines are closed before they have been fully exploited. UK banks in particular still have a long way to go to align their sector policies with these needs of a successful low-carbon transition, and currently none of the UK banks is fully aligned yet.

BNP Paribas (credit: Tupungato/Shutterstock Inc)

While legislative and regulatory action is important, it is also crucial that shareholders in banks request better management of climate-related risks and opportunities within the institutions they are invested in. ShareAction also provides a number of recommendations for institutional investors to support them in their climate-related engagements with banks.

As the surveyed banks generally performed the poorest on the topic of climate-related risk management, it is recommended that shareholders focus their efforts in this area until there are marked improvements.

For example, banks should be encouraged to place increased emphasis on developing methodologies for scenario analysis, strengthen policies on coal mining and thermal coal power generation, oil and gas, deforestation and peatland exploitation in line with below 2°C scenarios, and introduce more stringent below 2°C engagement policies to guide dialogues with clients active in sectors highly exposed to climate-related risks.

Once shareholders note significant improvements in those areas, they might consider also asking banks about climate-related opportunities, their engagement with external actors, such as policymakers, and the governance structures they have in place to ensure climate-related issues are managed appropriately.

ShareAction hopes that this report will encourage action on behalf of institutional investors, policymakers and regulators to ensure the European banking sector acts in support of the low-carbon transition, rather than obstructing it.

Sonia Hierzig is project manager at responsible investment NGO ShareAction.

Main image credit: Peresanz/Shutterstock Inc

Press link for more: Ethical Corp.com

UNICEF urges immediate action to reduce #AirPollution #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol #BeatPollution

17 million babies under the age of 1 breathe toxic air, majority live in South Asia – UNICEF

UNICEF urges immediate action to reduce air pollution amid emerging evidence on how toxic air can affect brain development in young children

© UNICEF/UNI172848/Singh

Village Kuniya, Mainpat Block, Dist, Surguja, Chhattisgarh, India. 2013

NEW YORK, 6 December 2017 – Almost 17 million babies under the age of one live in areas where air pollution is at least six times higher than international limits, causing them to breathe toxic air and potentially putting their brain development at risk, according to a new UNICEF paper released today.

More than three-quarters of these young children – 12 million – live in South Asia.

Danger in the Air: How air pollution can affect brain development in young children notes that breathing in particulate air pollution can damage brain tissue and undermine cognitive development – with lifelong implications and setbacks.

“Not only do pollutants harm babies’ developing lungs – they can permanently damage their developing brains – and, thus, their futures,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.  “Protecting children from air pollution not only benefits children. It is also benefits their societies – realized in reduced health care costs, increased productivity and a safer, cleaner environment for everyone.”

Satellite imagery reveals that South Asia has the largest proportion of babies living in the worst-affected areas, with 12.2 million babies residing where outdoor air pollution exceeds six times international limits set by the World Health Organization.

The East Asia and Pacific region is home to some 4.3 million babies living in areas that exceed six times the limit.

The paper shows that air pollution, like inadequate nutrition and stimulation, and exposure to violence during the critical first 1,000 days of life, can impact children’s early childhood development by affecting their growing brains:

• Ultrafine pollution particles are so small that they can enter the blood stream, travel to the brain, and damage the blood-brain barrier, which can cause neuro-inflammation.

• Some pollution particles, such as ultrafine magnetite, can enter the body through the olfactory nerve and the gut, and, due to their magnetic charge, create oxidative stress – which is known to cause neurodegenerative diseases.

• Other types of pollution particles, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, can damage areas in the brain that are critical in helping neurons communicate, the foundation for children’s learning and development.

• A young child’s brain is especially vulnerable because it can be damaged by a smaller dosage of toxic chemicals, compared to an adult’s brain. Children are also highly vulnerable to air pollution because they breathe more rapidly and also because their physical defences and immunities are not fully developed.

The paper outlines urgent steps to reduce the impact of air pollution on babies’ growing brains, including immediate steps parents can take to reduce children’s exposure in the home to harmful fumes produced by tobacco products, cook stoves and heating fires:

• Reduce air pollution by investing in cleaner, renewable sources of energy to replace fossil fuel combustion; provide affordable access to public transport; increase green spaces in urban areas; and provide better waste management options to prevent open burning of harmful chemicals.

• Reduce children’s exposure to pollutants by making it feasible for children to travel during times of the day when air pollution is lower; provide appropriately fitting air filtration masks in extreme cases; and create smart urban planning so that major sources of pollution are not located near schools, clinics or hospitals.

• Improve children’s overall health to improve their resilience. This includes the prevention and treatment of pneumonia, as well as the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding and good nutrition.

• Improve knowledge and monitoring of air pollution. Reducing children’s exposure to pollutants and the sources of air pollution begins with understanding the quality of air they are breathing in the first place.

“No child should have to breathe dangerously polluted air – and no society can afford to ignore air pollution,” said Lake.

Press link for more: UNICEF.ORG

Climate change is the story you missed in 2017. #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

By Lisa Hymas

The effect of climate change on extreme weather has been dramatically undercovered’ Photograph: Enterprise/Rex/Shutterstock

Which story did you hear more about this year – how climate change makes disasters like hurricanes worse, or how Donald Trump threw paper towels at Puerto Ricans?

If you answered the latter, you have plenty of company.

Academic Jennifer Good analyzed two weeks of hurricane coverage during the height of hurricane season on eight major TV networks, and found that about 60% of the stories included the word Trump, and only about 5% mentioned climate change.

Trump doesn’t just suck the oxygen out of the room; he sucks the carbon dioxide out of the national dialogue.

Even in a year when we’ve had string of hurricanes, heatwaves, and wildfires worthy of the Book of Revelation – just what climate scientists have told us to expect – the effect of climate change on extreme weather has been dramatically undercovered.

Some of Trump’s tweets generate more national coverage than devastating disasters.

Good’s analysis lines up with research done by my organization, Media Matters for America, which found that TV news outlets gave far too little coverage to the welldocumented links between climate change and hurricanes. ABC and NBC both completely failed to bring up climate change during their news coverage of Harvey, a storm that caused the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in the continental US. When Irma hit soon after, breaking the record for hurricane intensity, ABC didn’t do much better.

Coverage was even worse of Hurricane Maria, the third hurricane to make landfall in the US this year. Not only did media outlets largely fail to cover the climate connection; in many cases, they largely failed to cover the hurricane itself.

The weekend after Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, the five major Sunday political talkshows devoted less than one minute in total to the storm and the humanitarian emergency it triggered. And Maria got only about a third as many mentions in major print and online media outlets as did Harvey and Irma, researchers at the MIT Media Lab found.

The media has a responsibility to report the big story, and to help the public understand the immediacy of the threat.

When Trump visited Puerto Rico on 3 October, almost two weeks after Maria assailed the island, he got wall-to-wall coverage as journalists reported on his paper-towel toss and other egregious missteps. But after that trip, prime-time cable news coverage of Puerto Rico’s recovery plummeted, Media Matters found, even though many residents to this day suffer from electricity outages and a lack of clean water, a dire situation that deserves serious and sustained coverage.

Scientists have been telling us that climate change will make hurricanes more intense and dangerous, an unfortunate reality made all too clear by this year’s record-busting hurricane season. “These are precisely the sort of things we expect to happen as we continue to warm the planet,” climate scientist Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, told Huffington Post.

But while nearly three-quarters of Americans know that most scientists are in agreement that climate change is happening, according to recent poll, only 42% of Americans believe climate change will pose a serious threat to them during their lifetimes. Too many still believe – wrongly – that climate disasters are just something that will happen in the future. They are happening now.

In the first nine months of 2017, the US was assailed by 15 weather and climate disasters that each did more than a billion dollars in damage – in the case of the hurricanes, much more. The combined economic hit from Harvey, Irma and Maria could end up being $200bn or more, according to Moody’s Analytics. And then in October, unprecedented wildfires in northern California did an estimated $3bn in damage.

Climate change can be hard to see and intuitively grasp. It’s a relatively slow-moving scientific phenomenon caused by pollution from all around the globe. It’s not usually dramatic to watch like a candidate debate or the fallout from a White House scandal.

But an extreme weather event is a moment when people can see and feel climate change – and if they’re unlucky, get seriously hurt by it. When those disasters happen, media outlets need to cover them as climate change stories. And when a number of them happen in quick succession, as they did this year, the media have an even greater responsibility to report the big-picture story about climate change and help the public understand the immediacy of the threat.

If we are to fend off the worst possible outcomes of climate change, we need to shift as quickly as possible to a cleaner energy system. We could expect more Americans to get on board with that solution if they more fully understood the problem – and that’s where the critical role of the media comes in. As the weather gets worse, we need our journalism to get better.

Lisa Hymas is the climate and energy program director at Media Matters

Press link for more: The Guardian