Antarctica

Sea level rise threatens thousands of Melbourne homes. #StopAdani #auspol 

By Adam Carey

How a possible two-metre sea level rise would flood thousands of Melbourne homes
Tens of thousands of homes and businesses in Melbourne face a bigger risk of tidal flooding by century’s end, and major roads, tram routes and industrial areas could disappear under water due to future sea level rises, new modelling shows.
The updated modelling of possible sea level rises caused by climate change predicts Victoria’s coastline could be hit by sea level rises of two metres or more by 2100, due to the rapid melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland.
Streets in Elwood after a flash flood in December.


Streets in Elwood after a flash flood in December. Photo: Wayne Taylor

A two-metre rise would flood several low-lying suburbs in Melbourne including South Melbourne, Albert Park, Port Melbourne, Southbank, Docklands, Altona, Williamstown, Elwood, St Kilda, Seaford, Carrum, Bonbeach and Aspendale.
Large areas in Geelong and the seaside towns of Barwon Heads, Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale would also be heavily inundated at high tide by century’s end, it is predicted.
Sections of major roads including CityLink, Flinders Street, Wurundjeri Way, Footscray Road, Clarendon Street and Queens Parade would go under water at high tide, as would several tram routes in Melbourne’s bayside suburbs.

The Mornington Peninsula Freeway near Frankston would face the same fate.
Industrial areas such as the Port of Melbourne, Fishermans Bend and Coode Island would also be inundated.
The modelling is based on new research by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), which this year released updated projections for sea level rises made in the landmark 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
That report said a 74-centimetre sea level rise by 2100 was a worst-case scenario.
Since then, ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland have been found to be melting more rapidly than thought and projections have been revised so that the 74cm “worst-case scenario” is considered probable, while a rise of two metres to 2.7 metres is now a “plausible worst-case global mean sea level rise scenario”, according to NOAA.

The effect this would have on Australia’s coastline has been mapped by NGIS, using local tidal data and Google mapping technology to overlay a possible two-metre sea level rise on the nation’s cities, towns and beaches.
Nathan Eaton is from NGIS and was co-creator of the Coastal Risk Australia website that shows the projected impacts of sea level rises in Australia.
Mr Eaton said that just as the rate at which the sea level has risen has accelerated in the past few decades, much of the potential rise of two metres would occur in the latter half of this century.
“Anyone can look at these maps and visualise exactly how sea-level rise, driven by climate change, will permanently alter our coastline and neighbourhoods,” Mr Eaton said. “We already knew this was going to be bad news for low-lying areas, but the latest science is telling us to brace for even worse.”
Central Melbourne is no stranger to flash flooding – this is Elizabeth Street in February, 1972. 


Central Melbourne is no stranger to flash flooding – this is Elizabeth Street in February, 1972. Photo: Neville Bowler
Alan Stokes, executive director of the Australian Coastal Councils Association, said the revised modelling was a wake-up call for governments.
“If the sea rises to that level it would be a national disaster,” Mr Stokes said.
He called on the federal government to reverse funding cuts it has made to research to support climate change adaptation.
An online tool for councils called Coast Adapt faces a heavy funding cut from July 1.
“Coastal councils are at the forefront of dealing with these projected impacts but they are really tackling this problem with one arm tied behind their backs because they just don’t have the resources to respond effectively,” Mr Stokes said.  

The global mean sea level has risen by 21 to 24 centimetres since 1880, with about eight centimetres of that rise happening since 1993.
“Scientists expect that [sea levels] will continue to rise throughout the 21st century and beyond, because of global warming that has already occurred and warming that is yet to occur due to the still uncertain level of future emissions,” the NOAA report says.

Press link for more: The Age.com

Low lying areas of Sydney at risk! #ClimateChange #StopAdani #auspol

‘The great unknown’: New climate change data lifts the sea-level threat

By Peter Hannam

The giant ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland are melting faster than scientists previously estimated, raising the prospect of faster sea level rise placing at risk low-lying areas of Sydney and similar exposed cities around the world.
New research, including from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has lifted the “plausible” sea level rise by 2100 to as much as two metres to 2.7 metres.
That has superseded earlier estimates, such as the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that placed the likely top range of sea level rise at about one metre if greenhouse gas emission rises continued unabated.
Those higher forecasts have now been included in new mapping by Coastal Risk Australia that combines the estimates with national high-tide data and the shape of our coastline. 
The resulting maps show airports in Sydney, Brisbane and Hobart will be largely under water by 2100 if that two-metre rise happens.
Other areas at risk in Sydney from such a rise include Circular Quay, Wentworth Park, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Woolloomooloo and Rose Bay. (See map below of indicative water-level increases.)

“Our worst case scenario [for 2100] is now looking three times worse than it did previously,” said Nathan Eaton, a senior principal with NGIS, a digital mapping consultancy that compiled the maps.
Elsewhere in NSW, at-risk regions include low-lying parts of Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Ballina and Byron Bay.
Among exposed areas of other states are the Port of Melbourne, St Kilda and Docklands in Melbourne, parts of Noosa, the Gold Coast and Port Douglas in Queensland, and the WACA ground and Cottesloe beach in Perth, WA.
“Every state has got an area that’s massively different [from previous forecasts for 2100],” Mr Eaton said. “For a lot of low-lying areas, it makes the inundation that much further inland.”
Rising seas

NOAA estimates global mean sea levels have risen about 3.4 millimetres a year since 1993, roughly double the average rate of increase during the 20th century. (See chart below).
Even the last century’s pace of increase was the fastest in at least 2800 years, NOAA said.
Global warming is driving the increase in sea levels by melting land ice – such as glaciers and ice sheets – and from the thermal expansion of the warmer oceans.

John Church, a global sea level expert at the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of NSW, said other new research indicated Antarctica’s contribution to rising seas appears to particularly sensitive to carbon emissions rates – underscoring the urgency to reduce them.

“With ‘business as usual’ emissions, the questions are when, rather than if, we will cross a two-metre sea-level rise,” Professor Church said. “This scenario would result in major catastrophes and displace many tens of millions of people around the world.” 

Serena Lee, a research fellow and coastal dynamics specialist at Griffith University, said the rate of Antarctic ice melt was “a great unknown”, limited by the relative lack of long-term data and the region’s inaccessibility.
Of particular concern was the melting of the ice sheets from below of ice sheets as they come in contact with warming seas.
The newest studies indicate a two-metre rise by 2100 “would probably be more towards the conservative mean” of outcomes, Dr Lee said.
The mapping tool – which Coastal Risk say should not be relied upon for site specific decision making – may itself underestimate the speed threats will increase for some localities.
Some areas of Australia, particularly the north, are recording much higher rates of sea level increase than the global average, Dr Lee said.
The mapping also doesn’t take into account the impacts of more extreme weather, such as the destructive storm surge triggered by last June’s huge east coast low off NSW.
Cyclone Debbie also caused severe flooding in northern NSW in some of the regions in the state that are also particularly exposed to rising seas. 
Even with those uncertainties, the updated mapping “can’t do anything but help someone’s understanding” of those changing coastal, ocean and flooding processes, Dr Lee said.

Press link for more: SMH.COM

Let’s Change The Conversation #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol 

Let’s Change The Conversation From Climate Change To ‘Shared Benefits’

By Max Guinn 

Founder of Kids Eco Club

Max Guinn,16, is the founder of Kids Eco Club (www.kidsecoclub.org), an organization of over 100,000 K-12 students, which raises eco-consciousness through school environmental clubs. 

Max has collaborated with, and been recognized by, organizations such as the United Nations,The Sierra Club, the State of California, the City of San Diego – and even the Dalai Lama – as a leader in youth engagement in environmental stewardship. 

Recently, Max also co-founded Climate Change Is 4 Real (www.ccis4r.com), to virtually connect thought leaders from all academic disciplines with student groups and educators to share facts, inspiration, and scalable solutions, to promote ocean conservation, and combat human-caused climate change and mass animal extinction.
Last September, I emailed President Obama. 

His response helped me to focus on what matters. He wrote,

“Progress doesn’t come easily, and it hasn’t always followed a straight line. 

Keeping our world’s air, water, and land clean and safe takes work from all of us, and voices like yours are sparking the conversations that will help us get to where we need to be.

 I will continue pushing to protect the environment as long as I am President and beyond, and I encourage you to stay engaged as well.”
But I worry that adults will never agree on climate change.

 The issue has become too political. 

The words “climate change” have even been scrubbed from government websites!

 Our current President refers to climate change as “a hoax.” 


Most people have no interest in discussing it.

 Try talking about C02 levels or climate science and see how far you get. 

The reality is that climate change has become a matter of opinion, rather than a matter of scientific fact.

 It has made the opinion of the ordinary person with no scientific background equal to the findings of eminent scientists who have devoted their lives and education to the study of the problem.

Only 27 percent of Americans surveyed in a 2016 Pew study agreed with the statement that, “almost all” climate scientists believe climate change is real and primarily caused by humans.

 Contrast this to multiple peer-reviewed scientific studies finding that 97 percent of climate scientists believe climate change is real and that humans are the main contributor. 

In an age of alternative facts and a distrust of science, how do we talk about climate change and the need for action without turning people off?
Stanford Professor Rob Jackson thinks we should stop arguing over climate change and start talking about the shared benefits of addressing problems, like health, green energy jobs, and safety.

 My experience tells me that he is right.
theguardian.com

Renewable Energy Jobs

Six years ago, just before I turned 10, I started a non-profit called Kids Eco Club to inspire kids to care for the planet, its wildlife and each other.

 It starts and supports environmental clubs in K-12 schools.

 Over 100,000 kids now participate annually in Kids Eco Club activities, learning the skills necessary to lead, and to understand the issues facing our world, including climate change. 

Kids Eco Club is successful because we focus on shared values rather than C02 levels.

 Take a class snorkeling, and everyone becomes interested in protecting coral reefs.

 Bring local wildlife into the classroom, and kids will fight for green energy and clean water to protect their habitat. Passion drives us.

kidsecoclub.org

Porcupine classroom visit

My generation does not have the luxury of addressing human-caused climate change as callously or as passively as the generations before us ― because we are running out of time. 

Agriculture, deforestation, and dependence on fossil fuels release greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere, trapping heat, making the Earth warmer. 

The hottest year on record? 

Last year, 2016.

 A warmer Earth creates major impacts everywhere: on ecosystems, oceans, weather.

 Sea levels are rising because the polar ice caps are melting, and the oceans are warming, which causes them to expand. Severe weather events are created from warmer oceans – warmer water, more evaporation, clouds, and rain―causing greater storm damage, more flooding, and, ironically, larger wildfires and more severe droughts since weather patterns are also changing.

graphics.latimes.com

The morning Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans

Imagine three out of every four animal species you know disappearing off the face of the Earth.

 According to the Center for Biological Diversity, we are currently experiencing the worst species die-off since dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago. 

Species are vanishing at a rate roughly 100 times higher than normal. 

While things like asteroids and volcanoes caused past extinctions, humans almost entirely cause the current crisis. 

Global warming caused by climate change, habitat loss from development and agriculture, pesticide use, poaching, unsustainable fishing practices, pollution and disease spread by the introduction of exotic species, are driving the crisis beyond the tipping point. 

Can you picture a world without butterflies, penguins, elephants, rhinos, sea turtles, honeybees, orangutans, salamanders, or sharks?

Getty Images

Mother orangutan and baby

The oceans provide 50% of the earth’s oxygen and 97% of its livable habitat. 

The health of our oceans is vital to our survival and the survival of the over one million types of plants and animals living there. Climate change and fossil fuel reliance raise ocean temperatures, causing extreme weather, coastal flooding, and ocean acidification. 

Ocean acidification is beginning to cause the die-off of calcium-rich species at the base of the ocean’s food chain, like coral, shellfish, and plankton.

 This die-off would trigger a spiral of decline in all sea life – from fish to seabirds to whales – and negatively impact hundreds of millions of people who rely on the oceans for food.

 Other human threats include overfishing, pollution, oil drilling and development. 

We need to act now to create change in our own communities by protecting ocean habitats, promoting conservation, and creating sustainable solutions to nurse our oceans back to health.

mintpressnews.com

Dead sperm whales found with plastic in their stomachs

In a world with over 7 billion people, we cannot continue to divide ourselves into categories like believers and climate change deniers, or Republicans and Democrats. (labor or Liberal) 

The best chance we have of ensuring a world with clean water and clean air is to engage all of us.

 If this takes changing the conversation from “climate change,” to “shared benefits,” then change the conversation. Together all things are possible.

Press link for more: HuffingtonPost

Michael Mann: “If you believe in science you must make your voice heard.

Michael Mann: If You Believe in Science You Must Now Make Your Voice Heard

It’s an honor to address this group of distinguished faculty, proud parents, supportive family members and friends.
We’re gathered here in this idyllic location to celebrate the accomplishments of these young adults as they successfully complete one great challenge and prepare for others to come.
So please join me in congratulating Green Mountain College’s (GMC) Class of 2017.
I’m especially honored to be giving the commencement speech at Green Mountain College for at least two reasons.
First of all, this is my home—broadly speaking.
I grew up in the foothills of the Green Mountains. 

Well, those of us in the slightly less “green” state of Massachusetts call them the Berkshires—but it is the same mountain range, the same magical small corner of the world.
Growing up in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts 100 miles southeast of here, I gained an appreciation for the wonder of nature hiking those mountains, wading in those streams, bicycling up and down those same hills.
I was an avid cyclist—though I didn’t rack up the 4,000 miles a year that your president does.
Really? 

4,000 miles a year President Allen??

 [looking at him]
Have you tallied the carbon footprint of all of that respiration?

 I did (the nerd in me couldn’t possibly resist). 

It’s 95 entire kilograms of CO2 equivalent.
I hope that’s been accounted for in GMC’s carbon footprint estimates.
But let me get back on message…
The other reason I am so delighted to be here has to do with what Green Mountain College represents.

 Even the name of the college seems to speak unapologetically to its vision and its mission.
And GMC proudly advertises itself as “First in Sustainability.”
Now talk is cheap of course.

 But GMC—and its students and graduates—haven’t just talked the talk. 

They’ve walked the walk.
In this year’s graduating class, for example, is a young woman named Keeley Titus. 

Keeley resided on the “sustainability floor” of her residence hall, which is built around locally raised food.
I have to say, I just love this story.
Keeley bottle-fed from birth two Nigerian dwarf goats named Margaret and Rose who reside at the college’s farm.

 She’s fed them 4 times a day. 

They are now old enough that Keely can produce fresh milk and cheese from them.
Keeley came to GMC because she wasn’t interested in conventional programs focusing on big ag.

 She wanted to learn how to replicate sustainable food systems at the smaller mid-scale.
As Keeley notes, “I think that’s the way we’re moving as a country.”
I think she’s right. 

But only because of the efforts by her and other young leaders who are driven by the vision of a sustainable future—a vision undoubtedly nurtured by their experiences here at GMC.
For over two decades, this college has demonstrated an unmatched commitment to environmental, social and economic sustainability.
Amazingly, with an enrollment of only about 800 students (for the record—that’s roughly the same size as my high school), the college offers majors in Environmental Studies, Renewable Energy & Ecological Design, Wilderness & Outdoor Therapy, Sustainable Agriculture & Food Production, Animal Conservation & Care and numerous minor options in the environmental and sustainability space. 

Students can also design their own majors.
But even more impressive is the way the college integrates the theme of environmental sustainability throughout students’ educational experience via its unique Environmental Liberal Arts curriculum.
Students of all majors learn about the importance of social and ecological sustainability through coursework that stresses critical thinking, analysis and written expression.
And outside of class, the learning continues in the form of outings and field trips, and service learning projects.
This integrated focus creates a shared sense of purpose—because here, the environment is 100 percent relevant to every field.
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education awarded Green Mountain College the Campus Sustainability Leadership Award in 2007 for—and I quote:
“Commitment to environmental sustainability in its governance and administration, curriculum and research, operations, campus culture, and community outreach.”
Green Mountain was named an EPA Energy Star Showcase Campus.
That GMC has received such accolades is not incidental.
Let me stress, once again, that GMC walks the walk. 

It recognizes:
1. Little Things Add Up! Like the recent campus-wide retrofitting of light fixtures and students have installed a wind turbine to power the campus green house and solar panel on the roof of the student center.
2. Student Engagement is Critical: Through the Student Campus Greening Fund (SCGF) every GMC student contributes $30 from the college activities fee. Students design projects and submit proposals. Awards are based on a student vote. SCGF money has been used to install bike racks, purchase recycling bins, use bio-diesel in campus maintenance equipment and upgrade the alternative energy systems that power the farm greenhouse.
3. We Need to Think Big: Seven years ago, GMC opened a new combined heat and power biomass plant costing $5.8m.
4. Commitments Must be Actionable: In 2011, GMC became climate neutral. Only the second college in the nation to achieve this goal, and the first to do so through a significant reduction in on-site emissions achieved through efficiency, adoption of clean energy, and purchase of quantifiable local carbon offsets.
5. Peer Pressure Works: GMC’s achievement of carbon neutrality in 2011 was followed by Colby College of Maine in 2013, and late last year, close-by Middlebury College.
In the end, though, it really comes down to the people. GMC’s faculty are of course top notch and include leading thinkers, educators and practitioners in the sustainability space.
But it’s truly the students who make GMC so special.
In recent years, GMC students have done internships with the Boston Aquarium, the Nature Conservancy, the United Nations, the Office of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.
They’ve done internships with Green Mountain Power and Duke Energy. Yes—sometimes change can come from within.
And so many of GMCs graduates are now working productively in the area of environmental sustainability.
Take for example Joe Bossen, class of 2008. As a student, he experimented with small community-based coop. After graduation he founded a company called “Vermont Bean Crafters”—as Joe puts it “joyfully serving the tastiest in local, organic and plant-based food.”
Joe was named Vermont Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Vermont Small Business Association in 2014.
Some of us grew up being told it’s not easy being green.
But Joe is shining example that, with a bit of creativity, you can excel in both business and sustainability in today’s world.
Or take Allan Coutinho—one of last year’s graduates. Allan is a Brazilian native who was attracted by GMC’s mission of social and environmental sustainability. He crafted a self-designed major that merged his interests in education and sustainable development. And he was the head of GMC’s award-winning delegation to the UN’s Model United Nations program.
He is now pursuing graduate studies at Harvard. He has said he doesn’t think another school would have given him so many opportunities. And I suspect he’s right about that.
Here are what a few other GMC graduates are doing today:
Kim Barrett—class of 2014, director of Kehoe Green Mountain Conservation Camp in Vermont.
Tori Knoss—class of 2012, naturalist, Pacific Whale Foundation, Maui, Hawaii.
Cory Cheever—class of 2008, environmental educator, Vermont Institute of Natural Science.
Keith Drinkwine—class of 2010, assistant director of Camps, Parks, & Forest, N.Y. State Dept. of Environmental Conservation.
Mindy Blank—class of 2010, adjunct professor of Environmental Studies at GMC. She participated in the history-making COP21 climate meeting in Paris in December 2015. She has also worked for the International Energy Agency helping countries accelerate the deployment of renewable energy.
The list goes on. And an impressive list it is.
At a time when our environment is most imperiled, your work—class of 2017—is more important than ever.
Now, let me regale you with a story about my own college experience.
In 1984, after graduating from Amherst High School, I headed off to Berkeley.
To demonstrate against the policies of Ronald Reagan, you ask?
To participate in sit-ins protesting Apartheid in South Africa, you ask?
Alas, no, I didn’t go to protest or demonstrate.
I went there to study applied math and physics among some of the world’s leading experts.
And ironically, it was that path turned out to be the one that would lead me toward confrontation and battle.
I would go on to study theoretical physics in graduate school and to move into the then-burgeoning field of climate research.
My path of discovery would ultimately lead to me to publish the now iconic “Hockey Stick” curve in the late 1990s.
The curve tells an unmistakable story, namely that the current warming spike is unprecedented as far back as we can go. Our continued burning of fossil fuels is the culprit.
And fossil fuel interests and front groups and politicians doing their bidding attacked it—and me.
Despite the numerous independent confirmations of my findings by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and dozens of other assessments, the effort to discredit this research—and to discredit me personally—has continued.
I was initially reluctant about being at the center of the fractious societal debate over human-caused climate change.
But I have ultimately come to embrace that role. I have become convinced that there is no more noble pursuit we can engage in than to seek to insure that policy is informed by an objective assessment of scientific evidence.
That evidence now shows us that we face a stark choice, between a future with a little more climate change that we will still have to adapt to and cope with, and one with catastrophic climate change that will threaten the future of life as we know it.
And so here we are, at a crossroads.


Let me be blunt.
Never before have we witnessed science under the kind of assault it is being subject to right now in this country.

Nor have we witnessed an assault on the environment like the one we are witnessing in the current political atmosphere.
I will borrow and adapt—for our current time and place—the words of Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps:
First they came for the immigrants and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an immigrant.
Then they came for the scientists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a scientist.
Then they came for the environmentalists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an environmentalist.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Friends, let this not be our legacy.
Those of us who care about science and the role that science plays in our larger public discourse and those who care about environmental stewardship and a sustainable path forward must now make our voices heard.
Become involved. 

They are so many ways to speak out and to influence the dialogue. 

So many ways we can engage constructively with governmental, civic and corporate institutions in the realms of education, public policy and industry.
Past GMC graduates have gone on to become community planners, environmental lawyers, and directors of nonprofit organizations. Many now work for state and federal agencies or educational institutions.
My good friend Bill Nye, whom I marched with in Washington DC a few weeks ago at the March for Science, often ends his lectures with the exhortation “Change the World!”
Let me go just a bit further: Let me ask each of you to change the world for the better.
I am confident you will.
Godspeed to you all.

Press link for more: Ecowatch.com

Alaska’s carbon is being released. #StopAdani #ClimateChange

By Dr Joe Romm

“This carbon’ of Alaska’s tundra is being released, speeding up global warming“

This is ancient carbon, thousands and millions of years old.” 

It’s being released “much earlier than we thought.”

NASA’s Land Ocean Temperature Index (LOTI) data for April. CREDIT: NASA.

The Alaskan tundra is warming so quickly it has become a net emitter of carbon dioxide ahead of schedule, a new study finds.

Since CO2 is the primary heat-trapping greenhouse gas — and since the permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does today — this means a vicious cycle has begun that will speed up global warming.

“Because it’s getting warmer, there’s more CO2 coming out which means it’s going to get warmer which means there’s more CO2 coming out,” explained Harvard researcher and lead author Roisin Commane.

 Dr. Commane told ThinkProgress that “warming soils will emit more CO2 and this will overwhelm any CO2 uptake” due to an increase in plantlife from “CO2 fertilization and warmer temperatures.”’


The study is the first to report that a major portion of the Arctic is a net source of heat-trapping emissions. 

As a result, Commane warns that our current climate models need to be updated: 

“We’re seeing this much earlier than we thought we would see it.”

Earth’s melting permafrost threatens to unleash a dangerous climate feedback loop
New permafrost study underscores the critical importance of ambitious climate targets, like the Paris agreement.
“We find that Alaska, overall, was a net source of carbon to the atmosphere during 2012–2014,” the study concludes. 

Data from NOAA’s Barrow Alaska station “indicate that October through December emissions of CO2 from surrounding tundra increased by 73 percent since 1975, supporting the view that rising temperatures have made Arctic ecosystems a net source of CO2.”

The permafrost, or tundra, has been a very large carbon freezer. 

For a very long time, it has had a very low decomposition rate for the carbon-rich plant matter.

 But we’ve been leaving the freezer door wide open and are witnessing the permafrost being transformed from a long-term carbon locker to a short-term carbon un-locker.


“This is ancient carbon,” Dr. Commane told Alaska public radio. “The carbon that’s locked in the permafrost in the Arctic is thousands and millions of years old.”

7,000 massive methane gas bubbles under the Russian permafrost could explode anytime
Scorching March brings Arctic temperatures up to 20°F warmer than normal.
Melting permafrost can release not just CO2, but also methane, a much stronger heat-trapping gas.

While most models that include melting permafrost look at CO2, Russian scientists have recently discovered some 7,000 underground bubbles of permafrost-related methane in Siberia.

 Since methane traps heat 86 times more effectively than CO2 over a 20-year span, these findings suggest that the effect of the melting permafrost is even greater than first thought.
Also, a 2008 study, “Accelerated Arctic land warming and permafrost degradation during rapid sea ice loss,” found that rapid sea ice loss — as has been experienced since the study was published — could triple the rate of Arctic warming.

Meanwhile, the rapid Arctic warming that is fueling these emissions continues. On Monday, NASA reported that April 2017 was the second-hottest April on record — only April 2016 was hotter. As the map above shows, Arctic temperatures were blistering, up to 13.5°F (7.5°C) above the 1951–1980 average.

The longer we delay aggressive climate action, the harder it will be to stuff all the toothpaste back into the tube, and the more catastrophic climate impacts we will face.

Press link for more: Think Progress

Poorest nations say Paris Climate Agreement is their “lifeline” #StopAdani #Auspol 

A drought in Guatemala that has drained this lake is being linked to climate change in the region


The world’s poorest nations say the Paris climate agreement is their “lifeline” and must be strengthened.
The Climate Vulnerable Forum, (CVF) representing 48 countries, said the deal was crucial to their survival.


In a swipe at President Trump’s oft-used phrase, they said that “no country would be great again” without swift action.
Thousands of delegates are meeting here in Bonn to develop the rule book for the Paris deal.
Around one billion people live in countries that are part of the CVF.
The group firmly supports the idea, enshrined in the Paris agreement, that countries would do all in their power to keep temperatures from increasing more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.


“Keeping to 1.5 degrees is quite simply a matter of survival,” said Debasu Bayleyegn Eyasu from Ethiopia, which holds the presidency of the CVF.


“For all of us, the Paris agreement is our lifeline.”
Other speakers highlighted the fact that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the current US position on climate change.
President Trump is expected to decide on future US participation in the Paris accord after the G7 summit in Italy next week.
Picking up on Mr Trump’s “make America great again,” election battle-cry, Emmanuel Guzman from the Philippines said: “Without increased climate action, no country will be great again.”
“The measure of greatness is how you are able to increase and enhance your climate action.”
Mr Guzman said he was calling on all world leaders to increase their ambition and not just Mr Trump.
“I would not like to point a finger at someone, but it is a call for action by all big or small.
“If we don’t achieve the goals of the Paris agreement there are irreversible damages and consequences.”


 VietnamGetty Images

Rising sea levels are causing problems for farmers in many climate vulnerable nations including Vietnam

“It’s a grim scenario – that’s really unacceptable to us.”
The group highlighted some of the important differences between keeping temperature rises under 2 degrees or under 1.5.


The Greenland ice sheet would enter irreversible long-term decline, with significant impacts on sea levels at 1.6 degrees one delegate said.
Warming beyond 1.5 would also “appreciably increase the prevalence of extreme storms that have already been capable of large-scale loss of life and cutting a year’s GDP in half for some of our members.”
At the last major conference of negotiators in Marrakech last November, members of the CVF committed themselves to moving towards 100% renewable energy as soon as possible.
“Costa Rica produces 100% renewable energy most of the year,” said William Calvo, the country’s adjunct chief negotiator.
“But we won’t stop there: we are tackling now the transport sector and hope to even export renewable power more widely in the region.”
The idea that other countries are capable of picking up the slack if the Americans pull out of Paris gained support this week with the release of an analysis showing that India and China are likely to overshoot existing targets to cut carbon

.
President Trump’s actions to revitalise the coal industry in the US and to de-regulate oil and gas are unlikely to rapidly increase emissions before 2030 says the study from the Climate Action Tracker.
Between 2013 and 2016 Chin’s coal use declined each year and a continued slow decline is expected. 

India says that planned coal-fired power plants may not be needed if recently announced green policies are effective.



“You have to have the U.S. on board ultimately to meet the goals set by the Paris Agreement,” Bill Hare from Climate Analytics told news agencies.
“But if there’s a hiatus for four years it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the game.”

Press link for more: BBC.COM

Why hasn’t the world become more sustainable? #StopAdani #Auspol 

In 1992, more than 170 countries came together at the Rio Earth Summit and agreed to pursue sustainable development, protect biological diversity, prevent dangerous interference with climate systems, and conserve forests.

 But, 25 years later, the natural systems on which humanity relies continue to be degraded.

So why hasn’t the world become much more environmentally sustainable despite decades of international agreements, national policies, state laws and local plans? 

This is the question that a team of researchers and I have tried to answer in a recent article.
We reviewed 94 studies of how sustainability policies had failed across every continent.

 These included case studies from both developed and developing countries, and ranged in scope from international to local initiatives.


Consider the following key environmental indicators. Since 1970:
Humanity’s ecological footprint has exceeded the Earth’s capacity and has risen to the point where 1.6 planets would be needed to provide resources sustainably.
The biodiversity index has fallen by more than 50% as the populations of other species continue to decline.
Greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change have almost doubled while the impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent.
The world has lost more than 48% of tropical and sub-tropical forests.
The rate at which these indicators deteriorated was largely unchanged over the two decades either side of the Rio summit. Furthermore, humanity is fast approaching several environmental tipping points. If crossed, these could lead to irreversible changes.
If we allow average global temperatures to rise 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, for example, feedback mechanisms will kick in that lead to runaway climate change. 

We’re already halfway to this limit and could pass it in the next few decades.

What’s going wrong?
So what’s going wrong with sustainability initiatives? 

We found that three types of failure kept recurring: economic, political and communication.
The economic failures stem from the basic problem that environmentally damaging activities are financially rewarded.

 A forest is usually worth more money after it’s cut down – which is a particular problem for countries transitioning to a market-based economy.
Political failures happen when governments can’t or won’t implement effective policies. 

This is often because large extractive industries, like mining, are dominant players in an economy and see themselves as having the most to lose. 

This occurs in developed and developing countries, but the latter can face extra difficulties enforcing policies once they’re put in place.


Communication failures centre on poor consultation or community involvement in the policy process. Opposition then flourishes, sometimes based on a misunderstanding of the severity of the issue. It can also be fed by mistrust when communities see their concerns being overlooked.
Again, this happens around the world. A good example would be community resistance to changing water allocation systems in rural areas of Australia. 

In this situation, farmers were so opposed to the government buying back some of their water permits that copies of the policy were burned in the street.
These types of failure are mutually reinforcing. 

Poor communication of the benefits of sustainable development creates the belief that it always costs jobs and money. 

Businesses and communities then pressure politicians to avoid or water down environmentally friendly legislation.
Ultimately, this represents a failure to convince people that sustainable development can supply “win-win” scenarios. As a result, decision-makers are stuck in the jobs-versus-environment mindset.
What can we do?
The point of our paper was to discover why policies that promote sustainability have failed in order to improve future efforts. 

The challenge is immense and there’s a great deal at stake.

 Based on my previous research into the way economic, social and environmental goals can co-exist, I would go beyond our most recent paper to make the following proposals.
First, governments need to provide financial incentives to switch to eco-efficient production. 

Politicians need to have the courage to go well beyond current standards.

 Well-targeted interventions can create both carrot and stick, rewarding eco-friendly behaviour and imposing a cost on unsustainable activities.
Second, governments need to provide a viable transition pathway for industries that are doing the most damage.

 New environmental tax breaks and grants, for example, could allow businesses to remain profitable while changing their business model.


Finally, leaders from all sectors need to be convinced of both the seriousness of the declining state of the environment and that sustainable development is possible. 

Promoting positive case studies of successful green businesses would be a start.
There will of course be resistance to these changes. 

The policy battles will be hard fought, particularly in the current international political climate.

 We live in a world where the US president is rolling back climate policies while the Australian prime minister attacks renewable energy.

Press link for more: WEFORUM

The Glaciers Are Going. #StopAdani #Keepitintheground #auspol #qldpol 

The Waggonwaybreen glacier in Svalbard. Photo: Andreas Weith

As can be seen above, the Waggonwaybreen glacier in Svalbard, Norway, has retreated substantially since 1900. Svalbard’s glaciers are not only retreating, they are also losing about two feet of their thickness each year. 

Glaciers around the world have retreated at unprecedented rates and some have disappeared altogether. The melting of glaciers will affect people around the world, their drinking water supplies, water needed to grow food and supply energy, as well as global sea levels.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that around the world glaciers (excluding the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets) will decrease in volume between 15 to 55 percent by 2100 even if we are able to limit global warming to under 2˚C; they could shrink up to 85 percent if warming increases much more.
In Earth’s history, there have been at least five major ice ages, when long-term cooling of the planet resulted in the expansion of ice sheets and glaciers. 

Past ice ages have been naturally set off by a numerous factors, most importantly, changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun (Milankovitch cycles) and shifting tectonic plate movements that affect wind and ocean currents.

 The mixture of gases in the atmosphere (such as carbon dioxide and methane) as well as solar and volcanic activity are also contributing factors.

 Today we are in a warm interval—an interglacial—between ice ages.

The Aletsch Glacier is the largest glacier in the Swiss Alps.

A glacier is a large accumulation of ice, snow, rock, sediment and water on land that is moving down slope under its own weight and gravity. 

Today 10 percent of Earth’s land is covered by glaciers (including Antarctica and Greenland). 

They contain 75 percent of the planet’s freshwater, storing it as ice during the cold season and releasing some of it as meltwater during summer months.

 Runoff from glaciers cools the streams below, providing habitat for plants and animals during dry periods.
More than one-sixth of the world’s population, particularly in China, India and other Asian countries, live in the basins of glacier-fed rivers and depend on them for drinking and irrigation water.
A glacier’s mass balance determines if it will advance or retreat. 

If the amount of snow and ice accumulated during winter is less than the melting that takes place in summer, the glacier is considered to have a negative mass balance and retreats. 

Today, nearly all glaciers have a negative mass balance due to global warming and changes in precipitation.


New Zealand has over 3,000 glaciers.

In New Zealand’s Southern Alps, Joerg Schaefer, a research professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and his colleagues chemically analyzed elements in rocks that were left uncovered when glaciers retreated 20,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. 

They figured out how long the rocks had been exposed, then reconstructed local glacial records and compared them to other records such as Antarctic ice cores, which reveal changing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
“Glaciers seem to follow closely what happens with the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration,” said Schaefer. “Throughout our glacier chronologies, whenever the CO2 started to rise, the glaciers in New Zealand started to retreat.

 So we think that proves that there’s a very close link between greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, and glaciers. 

Which is actually very bad news, because we’re pumping so much CO2 in the air.”
Earth is actually due for a natural new ice age, explained Schaefer. 

Typically the interglacial between ice ages lasts 10,000 to 12,000 years, and we are already 12,000 years into this one.

 A natural cooling cycle should be starting, but even if it does, said Schaefer, we will not see evidence of it because humans have so altered conditions on the planet by burning fossil fuels.
Schaefer has been working on a global survey of mountain glaciers, comparing glacier retreat over the last 150 years to how glaciers behaved in the past, particularly at the end of the last ice age. “That [the transition out of the last ice age] was one of the most dramatic geological and natural changes that the Earth has seen,” he said.
“The rate of change that we see in the moment, recorded most directly and visibly by mountain glaciers, is way, way, way faster than it was at the end of the ice age,” said Schaefer. “What we have seen over the last 150 years, all over the planet, is that these mountain glaciers record a retreat corresponding to 1˚ to 1.5˚C warming over 150 years, with the biggest part of that retreat happening over the last decade. The speed with which these glaciers are retreating has exponentially speeded up…and if you compare the rate of change, nothing ever happened like that in the geological past.”


The darkened ice of the Athabasca Glacier in Canada

Humans are exacerbating glacial melt because burning fossil fuels not only releases CO2, it also emits black carbon, a tiny component of air pollution that can absorb one million times more solar energy than CO2. When black carbon falls to earth with precipitation, it darkens the snow and ice, reduces their albedo (the reflecting power of a surface), warms the snow, and speeds up melting.
Marco Tedesco, a research professor at Lamont-Doherty, is researching the processes driving glacial melt in Greenland, including albedo reduction, bare ice exposure after snow layers melt away and atmospheric circulation patterns. He is studying “feedback” mechanisms such as how melting reduces albedo and increases moisture in the air, which also warms the air. “We understand these processes,” said Tedesco. “But we don’t yet know how they interact and how much they amplify each other over time to accelerate the pace of melting. Today there are more data available, more observations from space and the ground, and better and faster models. These can help us improve our estimates and better project Greenland’s contribution to sea level rise.”
“But we know things are going in one direction and will be getting much faster in this direction. There will be more warming and more melt. All the things that could slow the melting down, like the cooling of the Arctic or more accumulation of snow in summer, are not going to happen. And even if they did, they would be short, just a bump in the road.”
Grinnell Glacier, 2009 Glacier National Park


Grinnell Glacier, 2009Glacier National Park

Here are a few examples of the glaciers we are losing.
Montana’s Glacier National Park had 150 glaciers in 1850; today there are 25.

The greater Himalayas, which contain nearly one-third of Earth’s non-polar ice, have warmed much more than the global average over the last 100 years; between 1950 and 2000, 82 percent of glaciers in western China shrank.

The Aletsch Glacier, the largest in Switzerland, retreated 1.7 miles between 1880 and 2009.

By 2000, the Furtwangler Glacier on top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania was half the size it was in 1976.

If the melting continues over the next few decades, some of the world’s most populous areas could run out of water during the dry season. For awhile, the increase in flow from melting ice and snow during the dry season will seem like a boon, but in the future, the downstream flow’s variability will increase and eventually flow could disappear altogether, impacting food production, biodiversity and economic growth.
Communities around the world rely on glacial water that has been dammed for the production of hydropower. Retreating glaciers will increase the variability of flow or decrease it, which will affect power generation.
The Rhone Glacier, 1900.


The Rhone Glacier, 1900.

France gets about 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants, half of which are on the Rhone River, fed by the rapidly retreating Rhone Glacier. Over the last 15 years, the Rhone River twice became so hot and water levels were so low in summer that nuclear power plants had to be shut down.
As a result of glacial melting, glacial lake outburst floods are increasing. As glaciers shrink, meltwater can form a lake that is dammed by glacial debris (ice or soil and rock) at the tongue of the glacier.
Glacial lakes in Bhutan


Glacial lakes in Bhutan

But those dams can be unstable and collapse under the pressure of more melting. Peru has experienced some of the most destructive glacial lake outburst floods; between 1941 and 1950, three such floods killed 6,000 people.
Glacial retreat can destablilize slopes, which can lead to landslides, and warming temperatures can trigger avalanches. In July 2016, two avalanches occurred in Tibet, one of which killed nine people. In October of the same year, a huge portion of the Kolka Glacier on the Russia-Georgia border broke off and, hastened by the meltwater underneath, created an avalanche that hurtled down the mountain at 150 miles per hour, killing over 100 people in the town below. The onrush lasted 7 minutes.
If all the world’s glacial ice were to melt, sea levels would rise 265 feet as the meltwater flowed into rivers and ended up in the ocean. Most sea level rise would come from Antarctica and Greenland in the Arctic, not mountain glaciers, which would contribute only about 20 inches.
Recent research about melting glaciers in the Arctic (which has been warming twice as fast as the rest of the world for the last half-century) and Antarctica suggest that the low-end projections for sea level rise made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are too low.
Miami, FL is already dealing with sea level rise


Miami, FL is already dealing with sea level rise

In its most recent report, the Panel projected that if we are able to reduce emissions significantly, sea levels could rise 11 to 24 inches by 2100; if emissions remain high, we could see a rise of 20 to 38 inches. Sea level rise will cause coastal flooding, erosion, damage to infrastructure and buildings, ecosystem changes and compromised drinking water sources.
The freshwater from glacial melt flowing into the oceans has an impact not only on sea levels, but also on ocean acidification, biological productivity and weather patterns. The amount of freshwater in the upper layers of the Arctic Ocean, which has increased 11 percent since its 1980-2000 average, could also affect circulation in the Nordic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Global Ocean Conveyor 


The Global Ocean Conveyor

The influx of freshwater could potentially disrupt or slow down the “Global Ocean Conveyer,” the regular cycling of cold water south and warm water north through the Atlantic Ocean that plays a huge part in the climate of North America and Western Europe, as well as in ocean nutrient and carbon dioxide cycles.
Pollutants like pesticides, heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants and PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, have made their way to the Arctic and Antarctica on ocean and wind currents. 

When the glaciers melt, pollutants once trapped in ice are released and can enter rivers, oceans and food webs where they bioaccumulate in marine creatures; those at the top of the food chain, like polar bears and humans, will be affected the most.
Researchers have also found living bacteria and microbes in 420,000-year-old ice cores and revived them. As glaciers melt, masses of microbes, some 750,000 years old, are released from the ice. 

When they reach the ocean, they could affect ocean chemistry and marine ecosystems, with unpredictable effects. Scientific American reported, “…the biomass of microbial cells in and beneath the ice sheet may amount to more than 1,000 times that of all the humans on Earth.”
Ongoing research is key to understanding the melting glaciers and their potential impacts on safety, water supplies, energy production and economies. “The important question for the future is going to be, when are problems going to arise as a result of the changes in glaciers,” said Tedesco. “What are the things we can tackle, understanding the time line…I’d want to know before the Netherlands is under water so that policy adjustments can be made to protect people. And projections for the impacts on cities are going to be different from the impacts on food production or on GDP.”
“We need help from political and social scientists…we have to transfer the information to policy makers to prepare for this,” said Schaefer. “We need the five- to 10-year perspective—that is our mission here at Lamont-Doherty, to preach that to everybody.”
For the latest news on glaciers:
Press link for more: blogs.ei.columbia.edu

It’s the end of the world! #climatechange #auspol #science 

It’s the end of the world and we know it: Scientists in many disciplines see apocalypse, soon

While apocalyptic beliefs about the end of the world have, historically, been the subject of religious speculation, they are increasingly common among some of the leading scientists today. 

This is a worrisome fact, given that science is based not on faith and private revelation, but on observation and empirical evidence.
Perhaps the most prominent figure with an anxious outlook on humanity’s future is Stephen Hawking. Last year, he wrote the following in a Guardian article:

Now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. 

We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans. 

Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. 

We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it.
There is not a single point here that is inaccurate or hyperbolic.


 For example, consider that the hottest 17 years on record have all occurred since 2000, with a single exception (namely, 1998), and with 2016 being the hottest ever.

 Although 2017 probably won’t break last year’s record, the UK’s Met Office projects that it “will still rank among the hottest years on record.” Studies also emphasize that there is a rapidly closing window for meaningful action on climate change.

 As the authors of one peer-reviewed paper put it:
The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far.


 Policy decisions made during this window are likely to result in changes to Earth’s climate system measured in millennia rather than human lifespans, with associated socioeconomic and ecological impacts that will exacerbate the risks and damages to society and ecosystems that are projected for the twenty-first century and propagate into the future for many thousands of years.
Furthermore, studies suggest that civilization will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than in all of human history, which stretches back some 200,000 years into the Pleistocene epoch.

 This is partly due to the ongoing problem of overpopulation, where Pew projects approximately 9.3 billion people living on spaceship Earth by 2050. 

According to the 2016 Living Planet Report, humanity needs 1.6 Earths to sustain our current rate of (over)consumption — in other words, unless something significant changes with respect to anthropogenic resource depletion, nature will force life as we know it to end.

Along these lines, scientists largely agree that human activity has pushed the biosphere into the sixth mass extinction event in the entire 4.5 billion year history of Earth.

 This appears to be the case even on the most optimistic assumptions about current rates of species extinctions, which may be occurring 10,000 times faster than the normal “background rate” of extinction. 

Other studies have found that, for example, the global population of wild vertebrates — that is, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians — has declined by a staggering 58 percent between 1970 and 2012. 

The biosphere is wilting in real time, and our own foolish actions are to blame.
As for disease, superbugs are a growing concern among researchers due to overuse of antibiotics among livestock and humans.

 These multi-drug-resistant bacteria are highly resistant to normal treatment routes, and already some 2 million people become sick from superbugs each year.
Perhaps the greatest risk here is that, as Brian Coombes puts it, “antibiotics are the foundation on which all modern medicine rests. 

Cancer chemotherapy, organ transplants, surgeries, and childbirth all rely on antibiotics to prevent infections. If you can’t treat those, then we lose the medical advances we have made in the last 50 years.” Indeed, this is why Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, claims that “Antimicrobial resistance poses a fundamental threat to human health, development and security.”
Making matters even worse, experts argue that the risk of a global pandemic is increasing. The reason is, in part, because of the growth of megacities. According to a United Nations estimate, “66 percent of the global population will live in urban centers by 2050.”

 The closer proximity of people will make the propagation of pathogens much easier, not to mention the fact that deadly germs can travel from one location to another at literally the speed of a jetliner.

 Furthermore, climate change will produce heat waves and flooding events that will create “more opportunity for waterborne diseases such as cholera and for disease vectors such as mosquitoes in new regions.” This is why some public health researchers conclude that “we are at greater risk than ever of experiencing large-scale outbreaks and global pandemics,” and that “the next outbreak contender will most likely be a surprise.”


Finally, the acidification of the world’s oceans is a catastrophe that hardly gets the attention it deserves. 

What’s happening is that the oceans are absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and this is causing their pH level to fall. 

One consequence is the destruction of coral reefs through a process called “bleaching.” 

Today, about 60 percent of coral reefs are in danger of bleaching, and about 10 percent are already underwater ghost towns.
Even more alarming, though, is the fact that the rate of ocean acidification is happening faster today than it occurred during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. That event is called the “Great Dying” because it was the most devastating mass extinction ever, resulting in some 95 percent of all species kicking the bucket.

 As the science journalist Eric Hand points out, whereas 2.4 gigatons of carbon were injected into the atmosphere per year during the Great Dying, about 10 gigatons are being injected per year by contemporary industrial society. 

Thus, the sixth mass extinction mentioned above, also called the Anthropocene extinction, could turn out to be perhaps even worse than the Permian-Triassic die-off.
So Hawking’s dire warning that we live in the most perilous period of our species’ existence is quite robust.

 In fact, considerations like these have led a number of other notable scientists to suggest that the collapse of global society could occur in the foreseeable future. 

The late microbiologist Frank Fenner, for example, whose virological work helped eliminate smallpox, predicted in 2010 that “humans will probably be extinct within 100 years, because of overpopulation, environmental destruction, and climate change.”

 Similarly, the Canadian biologist Neil Dawe reportedly “wouldn’t be surprised if the generation after him witness the extinction of humanity.” And the renowned ecologist Guy McPherson argues that humanity will follow the dodo into the evolutionary grave by 2026. 

(On the upside, maybe you don’t need to worry so much about that retirement plan.)
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists also recently moved the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to midnight, or doom, primarily because of President Donald J. Trump and the tsunami of anti-intellectualism that got him into the Oval Office. 

As Lawrence Krauss and David Titley wrote in a New York Times op-ed:
The United States now has a president who has promised to impede progress on both [curbing nuclear proliferation and solving climate change]. Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.
At two-and-a-half minutes before midnight, the Doomsday Clock is currently the closest to midnight that it’s been since 1953, after the U.S. and the Soviet Union had both detonated hydrogen bombs.
But so far we have mostly ignored threats to our existence that many leading risk scholars believe are the most serious, namely those associated with emerging technologies such as biotechnology, synthetic biology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. In general, these technologies are not only becoming more powerful at an exponential rate, according to Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, but increasingly accessible to small groups and even lone wolves. The result is that a growing number of individuals are being empowered to wreak unprecedented havoc on civilization. Consider the following nightmare disaster outlined by computer scientist Stuart Russell:
A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one- or two-gram shaped charge. You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China. You can program the code to say: “Here are thousands of photographs of the kinds of things I want to target.” A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel, so presumably you can also punch a hole in someone’s head. You can fit about three million of those in a semi-tractor-trailer. You can drive up I-95 with three trucks and have 10 million weapons attacking New York City. They don’t have to be very effective, only 5 or 10 percent of them have to find the target.
Russell adds that “there will be manufacturers producing millions of these weapons that people will be able to buy just like you can buy guns now, except millions of guns don’t matter unless you have a million soldiers. You need only three guys,” he concludes, to write the relevant computer code and launch these drones. 
This scenario can be scaled up arbitrarily to involve, say, 500 million weaponized drones packed into several hundred semi-trucks strategically positioned around the world. The result could be a global catastrophe that brings civilization to its knees — no less than a nuclear terrorism attack or an engineered pandemic caused by a designer pathogen would severely disrupt modern life. As Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum put it in their captivating book “The Future of Violence,” we are heading toward an era of distributed offensive capabilities that is unlike anything our species has ever before encountered.
What sort of person might actually want to do this, though? Unfortunately, there are many types of people who would willingly destroy humanity. The list includes apocalyptic terrorists, psychopaths, psychotics, misanthropes, ecoterrorists, anarcho-primitivists, eco-anarchists, violent technophobes, militant neo-Luddites and even “morally good people” who maintain, for ethical reasons, that human suffering is so great that we would be better off not existing at all. Given the dual technology trends mentioned above, all it could take later this century is a single person or group to unilaterally end the great experiment called civilization forever.
It is considerations like these that have led risk scholars — some at top universities around the world — to specify disturbingly high probabilities of global disaster in the future. For example, the philosopher John Leslie claims that humanity has a 30 percent chance of extinction in the next five centuries. Less optimistically, an “informal” survey of experts at a conference hosted by Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute puts the probability of human extinction before 2100 at 19 percent. And Lord Martin Rees, co-founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University, argues that civilization has no better than a 50-50 likelihood of enduring into the next century.
To put this number in perspective, it means that the average American is about 4,000 times more likely to witness civilization implode than to die in an “air and space transport accident.” A child born today has a good chance of living to see the collapse of civilization, according to our best estimates.
Returning to religion, recent polls show that a huge portion of religious people believe that the end of the world is imminent. For example, a 2010 survey found that 41 percent of Christians in the U.S. believe that Jesus will either “definitely” or “probably” return by 2050. Similarly, 83 percent of Muslims in Afghanistan and 72 percent in Iraq claim that the Mahdi, Islam’s end-of-days messianic figure, will return within their lifetimes. The tragedy here, from a scientific perspective, is that such individuals are worried about the wrong apocalypse! Much more likely are catastrophes, calamities and cataclysms that cause unprecedented (and pointless) human suffering in a universe without any external source of purpose or meaning. At the extreme, an existential risk could tip our species into the eternal grave of extinction.
In a sense, though, religious people and scientists agree: We are in a unique moment of human history, one marked by an exceptionally high probability of disaster. The difference is that, for religious people, utopia stands on the other side of the apocalypse, whereas for scientists, there is nothing but darkness. To be clear, the situation is not by any means hopeless. In fact, there is hardly a threat before us — from climate change to the sixth mass extinction, from apocalyptic terrorism to a superintelligence takeover — that is inevitable. But without a concerted collective effort to avert catastrophe, the future could be as bad as any dystopian sci-fi writer has imagined.
Parts of this article draw from my forthcoming book “Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing: An Introduction to Existential Risks.”

Press link for more: Salon.com

Climate Change is a crime against humanity! #auspol #science 

Yes, I am a climate alarmist. Global warming is a crime against humanity | Lawrence Torcello
Most of us have wondered about the human context of past crimes against humanity: why didn’t more people intervene? 

How could so many pretend not to know? 

To be sure, crimes against humanity are not always easy to identify while they unfold.
We need some time to reflect and to analyze, even when our reasoning suggests that large scale human suffering and death are likely imminent.

 The principled condemnation of large scale atrocity is, too often, a luxury of hindsight.
I’m a climate alarmist because there is no morally responsible way to downplay the dangers that negligent policies – expected to accelerate human-caused climate change – pose to humankind.

There can be no greater crime against humanity than the foreseeable, and methodical, destruction of conditions that make human life possible – hindsight isn’t necessary.
Scientists confirm, in overwhelming consensus, the fundamental facts that make anthropogenic global warming a clear and present threat to humanity and other species.
There is no amount of ideological deception capable of altering basic physics, chemistry and biology. It is ethically untenable for intelligent people to look the other way while elected officials deny reality, and our opportunity to avoid catastrophe slips away.
We know that the continued acceleration of climate change will bring more droughts, rising seas, more extreme weather, longer forest fire seasons and destructive storm surges. This in turn would lead to more water stress, crop failures, poverty, starvation, warfare and ever worsening refugee crises.

We know that the warming already achieved is expected to displace millions of people in low lying regions. Indeed, at our current rate of warming segments of the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, will likely become uninhabitable for future generations.
This is not a problem for the distant future. People reading this right risk dying of impacts related to climate change. Anyone who claims global warming is not catastrophic is ill informed – or playing a disingenuous game of privilege. Such a person is probably white, male, living in an affluent nation, politically conservative, and of a relatively wealthy demographic.
It is a fact that those least responsible for global warming, the global poor living in the global south, are most immediately vulnerable to climate change. This reality carries profound moral implications. Whole island nations in the southern hemisphere, such as the South Pacific’s Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, and the Indian Ocean’s Maldives, are under threat from rising seas.
Citizens of these and other low-lying regions will be, or are already being, forced to assimilate to other lands. When indigenous populations are displaced and subjected to forced assimilation by outsiders exploiting resources for their own profit it constitutes a form of cultural genocide—and history teaches that the large scale displacement of cultural groups can raise the risk of physical genocide.
Consequently, if any nation were to enact policies calculated to systematically destroy cultural lands and displace native people, as climate change will, it would rightly raise international debates over genocide. It makes no difference to populations forced off their homelands whether the resource exploitation responsible is occurring in West Virginia or Papua New Guinea.
The moral, and existential, implications of human-caused climate change should by now have triggered full-scale, World War II style effort to end fossil fuel dependence and associated greenhouse gas emissions.
The global community ought to have engaged in a renewable energy “arms race” years ago. Instead, we burn away time while fossil fuel interests fund negligent campaigns of disinformation and politicians stage fake debates over the science of climate change.
Despite efforts to poison public discourse the world agreed to a plan, in 2015, which might give humanity a fighting chance to avoid catastrophic climate change.
To undo this progress now, while time is running out and physics is managing the clock, is to risk sentencing countless people to death via extreme weather, depleted resources, and associated political instability. We know the human consequences of our policies and the casual acceptance of those consequences incriminate us morally.
Pulling out of the Paris accord is not the only way that President Donald J Trump’s administration can undermine our attempts to address climate change: The United States can simply make it clear that it won’t honor its political and ethical obligations under the Paris agreement.


It is hard to imagine a clearer way to signal that message than proposing to cut research funding for climate science, gutting the climate change programs of the EPA, NASA, and NOAA, halting payments to the United Nations related to climate change, backing construction of the controversial Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines, and issuing an executive order undoing the United States’ clean power plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal fired-plants.
The climate policies of the Trump administration, backed by many Republican leaders, are rooted in culpable ignorance and transparent corruption. And they place us all at risk on a scale that previous crimes against humanity never have.
Civility and fair mindedness do not require hospitality to policies that hasten the destruction of a livable planet. We don’t depend on hindsight to recognize the moral gravity of our current situation.
We will search in vain for a better reason to depose elected officials. Every legal resource to remove such leaders is justified. We can’t pretend we don’t know the nature of what is unfolding. We are witnessing a crime against humanity – and the potential prelude to future genocide.
We are the bystanders who must choose to intervene or be defined by our failure.
Lawrence Torcello is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology in the United States. He specializes in moral and political philosophy.

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