BOM

#ClimateChange among Top Risks Facing World – WEF #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

Extreme Weather and Climate Change Among Top Risks Facing World – WEF | UNFCCC

Extreme weather events such as coastal storms and droughts, failure to reduce carbon emissions and build climate resilience, and natural disasters are among the top risks that pose a serious threat to global stability, according the latest Global Risks Report 2018 published by the World Economic Forum.

The intensification of environmental and climate related risks comes on the heels of a year characterized by high-impact hurricanes – Harvey, Irma and Maria – causing major destruction in the US and the Caribbean island states, extreme temperatures and the first rise in global CO2 emissions in four years.

Speaking about the report, Alison Martin, Group Chief Risk Officer of Zurich Insurance Group, said: “Extreme weather events were ranked as a top global risk by likelihood and impact. Environmental risks, together with a growing vulnerability to other risks, are now seriously threatening the foundation of most of our commons.

Unfortunately, we currently observe a too-little-too-late response by governments and organisations to key trends such as climate change.

It’s not yet too late to share a more resilient tomorrow, but we need to act with a stronger sense of urgency in order to avoid potential system collapse.”

The report was published a few days before the beginning of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which will be attended by the Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa.

In Davos, the UN’s top climate change official will meet with government and non-state leaders to discuss how to drive forward the implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the key international agreement designed limit the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius, thereby preventing the worst impacts of climate change.

The report notes that climate action initiated by a growing network of cities, states and businesses is emerging as an important means of countering climate change and other environmental risks.

Global risks are increasingly interconnected

The report also warns that biodiversity is being lost at mass-extinction rates, agricultural systems are under strain, global food supply is in danger, and pollution of the air and sea has become an increasingly pressing threat to human health. Some of these risks can cause a chain of events – large scale displacement, water scarcity – that could jeopardize social, political and economic stability in many regions of the world.

For instance, the latest data shows that over 75% of the 31 million people displaced during 2016 were forced from their homes as a result of weather-related events.

Among the 30 global risks the experts were asked to prioritize in terms of likelihood and impact, five risks – extreme weather, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, major natural disasters and man-made environmental disasters, and failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change – were ranked highly on both dimensions.

The report points out the interconnectedness that exists both among these environmental risks and between them and risks in other categories – such as water crises and involuntary migration. Also notable is the economic cost attached to natural disasters and coastal storms that cause devastation of critical infrastructure.

The report suggests that a trend towards nation-state unilateralism could make it more difficult to sustain the long-term, multilateral responses that are required to counter rising temperatures and the degradation of the global environment.

The report – which shares the perspectives of global experts and decision makers on the most significant risks that face the world – asked nearly 1,000 respondents for the views about the trajectory of risks in 2018. Nearly 60% of them pointed to an intensification of risks, compared with just 7% pointing to declining risks.

See the relevant World Economic Forum press release.

Download the Global Risks Report 2018 here.

Press link for more: COP23.UNFCCC.INT

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#StopAdani We can’t afford the damage bills! #ClimateChange record $306 Billion in U.S. 2017

Natural disasters caused record $306 billion in damage to U.S. in 2017

Doyle RiceUpdated 4:46 p.m. ET Jan. 8, 2018

AUSTIN — A trio of monster hurricanes and a ferocious wildfire season led to the costliest year for natural disasters on record in the U.S. in 2017, with nearly a third of a trillion dollars in damage, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday.

The U.S. endured 16 separate weather and climate disasters with losses that each exceeded $1 billion last year, with total costs of about $306 billion, a new record for the country. It broke the previous record set in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina and other disasters caused $215 billion in damage to the U.S.

Last year’s disasters killed 362 people in the U.S., including Puerto Rico, NOAA said. However, NOAA climatologist Adam Smith said the death toll could increase based on information that continues to come in from Puerto Rico.

It was also the most expensive hurricane season on record at $265 billion and the costliest wildfire season on record at $18 billion, Smith said.

The news comes only weeks after the House passed an $81 billion disaster aid package. The Senate did not take up the bill and is working on its own version.

Hurricane Harvey racked up total damage costs of $125 billion, second only to Hurricane Katrina in the 38-year period of record keeping for billion-dollar disasters. Rainfall from Harvey caused massive flooding that displaced more than 30,000 people and damaged or destroyed more than 200,000 homes and businesses, NOAA said.

Hurricanes Maria and Irma totaled $90 billion and $50 billion in damage, respectively. Maria now ranks as the third-costliest weather and climate disaster on record for the nation and Irma ranks as the fifth-costliest.

The total of last year’s disaster costs is nearly the same as Denmark’s gross domestic product, which the World Bank tallied at $306.9 billion in 2016.

Climate change is “playing an increasing role in the increasing frequency of some types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters, most notably the rise in vulnerability to drought, lengthening wildfire seasons and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall and inland flooding,” Smith said.

Another expert, University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd, said that “while we have to be careful about knee-jerk cause-effect discussions, the National Academy of Science and recent peer-reviewed literature continue to show that some of today’s extremes have climate change fingerprints on them.”

The announcement came at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in Austin.

As for temperatures in 2017, the U.S. sweltered through its 3rd-warmest year on record, trailing only 2012 and 2016, NOAA said.

For the third consecutive year, every state across the contiguous U.S. and Alaska was warmer than average.

Five states — Arizona, Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina and South Carolina — experienced their warmest year on record. Thirty-two additional states, including Alaska, had annual temperatures that ranked among the 10 warmest on record.

“While the weather can change on a dime, our climate is steadily warming,” said Shaun Martin of the World Wildlife Fund. “Each year provides another piece of evidence in what science has already confirmed — the consequences of rising temperatures are putting people and wildlife at risk.”

“In the U.S., we’re seeing more severe droughts, wildfires, crop losses and more frequent coastal storms with deadly impacts,” Martin added.

Global temperature data for 2017 will be released on Jan. 18 by NOAA and NASA.

Press link for more: USA TODAY

Sydney Hottest Day in 78 years. #StopAdani #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol #nswpol

Temperatures In Australia Hit 117 Degrees As Sydney Sees Hottest Day In 78 Years

The extreme weather melted one area’s roads. Elsewhere in the world, record low temperatures were seen.

Nina Golgowski

A brutal heat wave in Australia skyrocketed temperatures in Sydney on Sunday to 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47.3 Celsius), making it the hottest weather New South Wales’ capital has seen in 78 years, weather officials said.

The bizarre forecast follows record low temperatures in other parts of the world.

The worst of the weekend’s heat was recorded in the Sydney suburb of Penrith where the triple-degree temperature was just slightly lower than a 118-degree (47.8 C) reading recorded in the town of Richmond in 1939, according to the New South Wales’ Bureau of Meteorology.

James D. Morgan via Getty Images

Crowds cool off in water at Yarra Bay in Sydney, Australia, on Sunday amid a heat wave.

Temperatures became so hot across southern Australia that police in the neighboring state of Victoria warned drivers on Twitter that a 6-mile freeway was “melting.”

Fire warnings and bans were also issued across Sydney in response to the high heat threat that has caused multiple wildfires. There was also an air quality warning issued by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage for higher than normal ozone levels, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Adding to some of the misery felt, a power outage left thousands of people in Sydney without electricity on Sunday evening as temperatures stayed between 91 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit, the local news site reported.

A spokeswoman for local electricity provider Ausgrid, speaking to Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service, partially blamed the outage on a surge in power use.

The bizarre weather isn’t just in Australia, however.

Across the Pacific, Alaska has experienced unusually warm temperatures in recent days, roughly 10 to 20 degrees above average, prompting concerns about ice levels, NPR reported.

Last week, temperatures in Anchorage were warmer than in northern Florida, which saw snow.

The U.S.′ northeast has also endured unseasonably cold temperatures, with the mercury dipping below zero in many places. At New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, the area saw an all-time low on Saturday of 8 degrees F, meteorologist Bob Oravec of the Weather Prediction Center, told Reuters.

Temperatures are expected to rise to above normal temperatures for much of the United States in the middle of January, the National Weather Service said on Sunday.

Meanwhile, World Meteorological Organization spokesperson Clare Nullis pointed out on Friday that Europe is also experiencing unusual temperatures.

“The French national average on Wednesday was 11.5 degrees Celsius [52.7 degrees Fahrenheit], so that’s about 6 degrees Celsius above the normal, so as I said, lots of extreme weather,” she said during a United Nations session, according to Newsweek.

Press link for more: Huffington Post

#ClimateChange & #Health #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol #WHO

Climate change and health

Key facts

• Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

• Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

• The direct damage costs to health (i.e. excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between US$ 2-4 billion/year by 2030.

• Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.

• Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution.

Climate change

Over the last 50 years, human activities – particularly the burning of fossil fuels – have released sufficient quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to trap additional heat in the lower atmosphere and affect the global climate.

In the last 130 years, the world has warmed by approximately 0.85oC. Each of the last 3 decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850(1).

Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting and precipitation patterns are changing. Extreme weather events are becoming more intense and frequent.

What is the impact of climate change on health?

Although global warming may bring some localized benefits, such as fewer winter deaths in temperate climates and increased food production in certain areas, the overall health effects of a changing climate are likely to be overwhelmingly negative.

Climate change affects social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

Extreme heat

Extreme high air temperatures contribute directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people. In the heat wave of summer 2003 in Europe for example, more than 70 000 excess deaths were recorded(2).

High temperatures also raise the levels of ozone and other pollutants in the air that exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

Pollen and other aeroallergen levels are also higher in extreme heat. These can trigger asthma, which affects around 300 million people. Ongoing temperature increases are expected to increase this burden.

Natural disasters and variable rainfall patterns

Globally, the number of reported weather-related natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s.

Every year, these disasters result in over 60 000 deaths, mainly in developing countries.

Rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather events will destroy homes, medical facilities and other essential services.

More than half of the world’s population lives within 60 km of the sea.

People may be forced to move, which in turn heightens the risk of a range of health effects, from mental disorders to communicable diseases.

Increasingly variable rainfall patterns are likely to affect the supply of fresh water.

A lack of safe water can compromise hygiene and increase the risk of diarrhoeal disease, which kills over 500 000 children aged under 5 years, every year.

In extreme cases, water scarcity leads to drought and famine.

By the late 21st century, climate change is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of drought at regional and global scale(1).

Floods are also increasing in frequency and intensity, and the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation is expected to continue to increase throughout the current century(1). Floods contaminate freshwater supplies, heighten the risk of water-borne diseases, and create breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes. They also cause drownings and physical injuries, damage homes and disrupt the supply of medical and health services.

Rising temperatures and variable precipitation are likely to decrease the production of staple foods in many of the poorest regions.

This will increase the prevalence of malnutrition and undernutrition, which currently cause 3.1 million deaths every year.

Patterns of infection

Climatic conditions strongly affect water-borne diseases and diseases transmitted through insects, snails or other cold blooded animals.

Changes in climate are likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases and to alter their geographic range.

For example, climate change is projected to widen significantly the area of China where the snail-borne disease schistosomiasis occurs(3).

Malaria is strongly influenced by climate.

Transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes, malaria kills over 400 000 people every year – mainly African children under 5 years old. The Aedes mosquito vector of dengue is also highly sensitive to climate conditions, and studies suggest that climate change is likely to continue to increase exposure to dengue.

Measuring the health effects

Measuring the health effects from climate change can only be very approximate. Nevertheless, a WHO assessment, taking into account only a subset of the possible health impacts, and assuming continued economic growth and health progress, concluded that climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050; 38 000 due to heat exposure in elderly people, 48 000 due to diarrhoea, 60 000 due to malaria, and 95 000 due to childhood undernutrition.

Who is at risk?

All populations will be affected by climate change, but some are more vulnerable than others. People living in small island developing states and other coastal regions, megacities, and mountainous and polar regions are particularly vulnerable.

Children – in particular, children living in poor countries – are among the most vulnerable to the resulting health risks and will be exposed longer to the health consequences. The health effects are also expected to be more severe for elderly people and people with infirmities or pre-existing medical conditions.

Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.

WHO response

Many policies and individual choices have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce major health co-benefits. For example, cleaner energy systems, and promoting the safe use of public transportation and active movement – such as cycling or walking as alternatives to using private vehicles – could reduce carbon emissions, and cut the burden of household air pollution, which causes some 4.3 million deaths per year, and ambient air pollution, which causes about 3 million deaths every year.

In 2015, the WHO Executive Board endorsed a new work plan on climate change and health. This includes:

• Partnerships: to coordinate with partner agencies within the UN system, and ensure that health is properly represented in the climate change agenda.

• Awareness raising: to provide and disseminate information on the threats that climate change presents to human health, and opportunities to promote health while cutting carbon emissions.

• Science and evidence: to coordinate reviews of the scientific evidence on the links between climate change and health, and develop a global research agenda.

• Support for implementation of the public health response to climate change: to assist countries to build capacity to reduce health vulnerability to climate change, and promote health while reducing carbon emissions.

References

(1) IPCC, 2014: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

(2) Death toll exceeded 70,000 in Europe during the summer of 2003. Robine JM, Cheung SL, Le Roy S, Van Oyen H, Griffiths C, Michel JP, et al. C R Biol. 2008;331(2):171-8.

(3) Potential impact of climate change on schistosomiasis transmission in China. Zhou XN,

Yang GJ, Yang K, Wang XH, Hong QB, Sun LP, et al. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2008;78(2):188-94.

Press link for more: WHO.INT

We all depend on rain. #auspol #qldpol #climatechange #StopAdani #Water

CLIMATE LEADER PAPERS

Benedito Braga, President of the World Water Council (WWC), describes how climate change is affecting the natural water cycle and points out the necessity for water infrastructure adaptation and finance.

With everybody talking about climate change in the hottest year on record, it is easy to get the impression that the sky is falling. And it is easy to forget that it is only rain that falls on our heads. This rain gives humanity the water we depend on: to drink, but also to grow food and produce energy, to stay clean and healthy, and much more. As climate change scientists predict, the gift of gentle rain will not be something we can depend on. The sky will not fall, but the rain might come down harder – or not at all.

Understanding the problem of climate change requires an understanding of how water is distributed on the planet, and how it impacts all aspects of our lives. Only 2 per cent of the world’s water is fresh, not salty. Of that, less than 0.05 per cent is in the atmosphere at any given time as vapour, clouds, rain or snow. Yet this tiny portion is critical, as it drives the water cycle and brings fresh water to the world. The overall effect of climate change is an intensification of the water cycle, causing more extreme floods and droughts, and hampering many people’s resilience – mostly in the less developed countries. This global shift is affecting the distribution of water across the planet, threatening to fundamentally disrupt our water security.

The impacts of this disruption cannot be predicted with confidence by current models, because it is not just about how precipitation will change – it is also about how we will react. Therefore, a recent research programme conducted by the World Water Council in collaboration with the Government of Mexico set out to collect case studies from different parts of the world on the roles that infrastructure and governance play in adapting and increasing resilience to climate change. This project, which resulted in the book Increasing Resilience to Climate Variability and Change, has shown that countries can enhance their water security in a sustainable manner through strong investment in water infrastructure. The studies also demonstrate that decision-making has changed over time, and will have to keep on changing, as authorities address knowledge and data gaps, unresolved water management concerns and many other open issues.

Residents of Australia’s Murray–Darling Basin are among those whose livelihoods have been gravely threatened by ongoing droughts. Happily, policy reforms have enabled adaptation measures to better manage climatic variability. By developing strategies such as water capping extraction, conjunctive management of surface and ground water, water markets and improved water storage facilities for distribution and irrigation, the basin authority has increased resilience to climate change, building adaptive capacities and means for greater water security. These measures have significantly reduced the socio-economic impacts of climatic variability in the past two decades, and have decoupled growth and benefits from water consumption. Among other places that have never experienced severe drought, the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo, Brazil, had reductions to the inflows to its water supply reservoirs to 25 per cent of average in 2014. This has required implementation of infrastructure and demand management initiatives sooner than was envisaged in the water resources plan of the Tiete river basin.

These cases show how complex decision-making has become. As climate conditions change, knowledge and understanding of the social, economic and environmental impacts, as well as the political ones, have been seen to improve, but still need to progress globally to be more comprehensive.

Redistribution and saving

In discussing the complexity of climate change, it is necessary to keep in mind that even this thorny issue is, in some ways, a tree hiding a larger forest from view. There is a need to view concerns about climate change alongside water security. Crucially, the most common solution to meeting increased demand is also a way of insuring ourselves against climate change impacts: the engineered redistribution of water over space and time. This includes reservoirs to store water, pipelines to transfer it and desalination to recover fresh water from the oceans. At the same time, efforts must also be made to increase water saving, reuse and recycling through major investments by governments and the water industry.

Following the adoption of the post-2015 agenda and the Paris Agreement, it is important to recognise just how much water permeates both. In the arena of climate negotiations, COP21 created some spaces for water, with dedicated events organised by the French and Peruvian Presidencies and partners from civil society. The World Water Council joined forces with multiple organisations worldwide in the #ClimateIsWater initiative, rallying the climate community around efforts to ensure that climate discussions continue to consider water issues. We need to continue creating this dialogue.

It was with this same purpose that the World Water Council, in conjunction with the COP22 Presidency, the Moroccan Government, co-organised the International Conference on Water Security for Climate Justice that took place in Rabat in July 2016. The outcome of this was the ‘Water for Africa’ call, which appeals to the international community to pay as much attention to measures to adapt to climate change as to mitigate it. The plea called specifically for developing ways to finance water security across Africa in the face of climate change. I am very confident that these initiatives will catalyse action to bring water and adaptation to the forefront of the climate negotiations at COP22 in Marrakech.

Developing planning awareness

For too long, water has been a neglected and marginalised sector in discussions of public policies for growth and sustainable development.

In comparison with sectors like energy and transport,

share of political support. This lack of attention becomes more visible and dangerous, in the form of insufficient water infrastructure. We see this in countries at all stages of development, where not enough is being done to maintain and replace existing systems and structures, nor to prepare the infrastructure for growing future requirements. Water infrastructure – especially large and multipurpose infrastructure – is costly, and its funding needs to receive the attention of the international financing systems.

This inattention will change in the years ahead. Whatever the concerns may be, water security is also a genuine economic opportunity, and so is investment in sustainable and resilient water infrastructure. While long-term finance has been more difficult to find since 2008, at the same time, now is the best moment to raise funding for infrastructure at historically low borrowing costs.

In taking on a new generation of infrastructure, I recognise that we have a lot to learn. Infrastructure planning needs to evolve to fit new requirements and constraints, pressed by climate change, scarcity, conflict over resources and other factors. This implies a more inclusive and eclectic approach to the planning of such projects.

Funding concerns

Funding infrastructure will also require the same inclusiveness. An important reason why water infrastructure is so underfunded is that it rarely satisfies the criteria of financial viability required by commercial funding sources. While more could be done to make effective use of existing traditional sources of infrastructure finance, there is both a need and an opportunity to engage with newer sources, such as climate funding, green bonds, pension funds, insurance funds and sovereign wealth funds.

In the face of present and future challenges, water, finance and growth are inevitably connected. Research led by the World Bank shows that water scarcity could cost some regions up to 6 per cent of their GDP. New infrastructure will minimise water scarcity and will reduce the economic impacts of floods, droughts, inadequate water access and poor sanitation. These are the substantial costs that are forcing governments to pay greater attention to water, and hopefully to look at water not simply as a problem but as a solution and a navigable route to sustainable development.

Political commitment

The Sustainable Development Goals call for universal and equitable access to water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030. Achieving SDG Targets 6.1 and 6.2 alone will require about three times the current level of investment, a total capital cost of US$114 billion per year. Implementing a more comprehensive agenda, one that would also ensure water for food and energy production for sustainable development and economic growth, would cost at least US$840 billion a year over the next 20 years. However, that level of investment would deliver more than US$3 trillion annually in economic, environmental and social benefits. The technical solutions already exist for these massive water resources development projects; it is only the right economic incentives and innovative financing models that are needed to make them a reality.

Nothing comes easy when the clouds run dry. Yet I hope we can recognise the scale of the challenge as an equally large opportunity. It is an opportunity to solve the world’s most pressing threat, and to address sources of suffering and inequity that have persisted for far too long. Achieving water security, sustainability and resilience means a shared commitment to adapting water management in the face of a changing world and changing social needs. Many complex processes are involved, but one fact is universal: long-term, consistent commitment at the highest political level is needed in order to succeed.

Read the full Climate Action 2016/17 Publication here

Press link for more: Climate Action Program

Mega disasters. They’re going to get worse. #StopAdani #ClimateChange #auspol

Megadisasters devastated America this year.

They’re going to get worse.

Storms, fires, floods, and heat caused unprecedented destruction in 2017. Why?

By Umair Irfan and Brian Resnick Dec 28, 2017, 9:40am EST

2017 is about to become the most expensive disaster year in US history, costing nearly $400 billion in damages.

How did that happen? Consider some of the record-breaking weather events that came our way:

• California was drenched in the wettest winter on record, ending years of drought.

• Then came California’s most destructive and largest wildfire season ever. The Tubbs Fire in Northern California killed 22 people and damaged more than 5,600 structures.

• Hurricane Harvey broke a rainfall record for a single tropical storm with more than 4 feet of rain.

• Puerto Rico is still mired in the longest blackout in US history after Hurricane Maria struck three months ago. More than 1,000 are estimated to have died in the storm and its aftermath.

San Francisco reported its hottest temperature ever, 106 degrees Fahrenheit, while other parts of the country set records for high-temperature streaks.

• 14 places across Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas reported record-high water levels during floods in April and May.

• Requests for federal disaster aid jumped tenfold compared to 2016, with 4.7 million people registering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As of October, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had counted 15 disasters with damages topping $1 billion, tying 2017 with 2011 for the most billion-dollar disasters in a year to date. And that was before the California wildfires. (We included some of those fires in the map below):

The unending string of calamities was shocking to many Americans. As Paolo Bacigalupi, who writes climate dystopia fiction, tweeted in August: “The thing that bothers me most about these unprecedented disasters is that even I imagined they wouldn’t happen for a long time yet.”

Yet we must see 2017 as an average year, if not a baseline. We must reckon with the likelihood of even worse storms, heat waves, fires, and droughts as the Earth warms — because scientists expect even this “new normal” to get worse.

The reasons for this are many: As the climate changes, the US is becoming much more vulnerable to disasters. People keep flocking to live in places we know are likely to be hit. And our policies don’t protect them, not by a long shot.

Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned from 2017, and what they suggest for how to prepare for future catastrophes.

What 2017 taught us about climate and extreme weather

Climate scientists have been warning about extreme weather, that it would become more frequent and intense in new ways. Yet 2017 still seemed like a brutal wake-up call to nature’s extraordinary power, and the frightening possibilities of this warmer world.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about why some weather is so extreme and how much climate change is to blame (especially when it comes to hurricanes). But 2017 gave us more clues about what we can expect in the world to come, hints that hopefully will help us prepare for the future.

This is what we understand about the connections between climate change and the disasters we saw this year.

Floods and rain

The year started off with torrential rainfall in California, marking the wettest winter in a century. Parched after years of drought, the rainfall officially brought the dry spell to an end as floods inundated hundreds of homes, landslides buried roads, and high water levels threatened to burst dams. Flooding across Missouri and Arkansas in the spring also claimed 20 lives and carried a $1.7 billion price tag.

California’s Oroville Dam suffered damage to its spillway after record rainfall, forcing almost 200,000 people to evacuate. Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Rainfall, both the amount and the rate, represents one of the strongest signals of climate change. Warmer air increases the evaporation rate of water, and for every degree Celsius increase in temperature, a parcel of air can hold 7 percent more water.

Average annual rainfall across the United States has gone up by 5 percent since 1990, though there’s regional variation, according to the National Climate Assessment.

Scientists have found that the amount of rain dished out by heavy rainstorms has gone up 10 percent since 1900 due to global warming. Extreme rainfall events are trending upward, and nine of the top 10 years for extreme one-day precipitation events have happened since 1990.

And all this moisture-laden air helped drive the powerful hurricanes that made landfall in the United States.

“Hurricanes live and die by the amount of rainfall they make out of moisture,” George Huffman, a research meteorologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, told Vox.

The three biggest hurricanes of 2017 making landfall in the US. Courtesy of Chris Dolce

Hurricanes

“To say this hurricane season has been historic is an understatement,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long told Congress in October.

Harvey, Irma, and Maria all made landfall as powerful Category 4 storms with winds exceeding 130 mph. Harvey in particular dumped a truly staggering amount of rain over Houston. The estimated 24 trillion gallons that fell there was so heavy it actually depressed the earth more than half an inch in some spots, according to preliminary analysis from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

These are the types of storms climate scientists expect to see more of in a warmer world.

Hurricane Harvey dumped somewhere between 24 and 34 trillion gallons on Texas and Louisiana. Javier Zarracina/Vox

First off, yes: There’s consensus that the science of climate change predicts that in a warming world, hurricanes will become more intense, carry more rain, and cause worse coastal flooding linked in part to sea level rise.

But here’s the thing: We don’t yet currently know, conclusively, that the hurricane season as a whole represents a result of climate change. “At this point it’s really uncertain if there’s any detectable human influence on any hurricane or tropical cyclone metric,” Tom Knutson, an NOAA meteorologist who studies hurricanes, told Vox in October.

There’s just not enough data. Meteorologists have only been tracking hurricanes with satellites since the 1970s. It’s possible that historic hurricane records, which go back to the 1800s, are incomplete or have inaccurate information on wind speeds and size. Considering how hurricanes have been lashing against the Atlantic’s coasts for untold epochs, we just have a tiny slice of data to determine what’s “normal.”

While it’s hard to say if the punishing number and intensity of storms were due to climate change, climate scientists have now determined — in two separate research efforts — that Hurricane Harvey’s record-blasting rains (best measured in feet for much of Houston) were likely amplified by climate change.

“Human-induced climate change likely increased Harvey’s total rainfall around Houston by at least 19 percent, with a best estimate of 37 percent,” Michael Wehner, a co-author on an attribution study recently published in Geophysical Research Letters, said at the American Geophysical Union conference in December. And the corresponding study in Environmental Research Letters concluded that climate change increased flooding by around 15 percent.

Even with climate change, Harvey’s rain was an extremely rare event, expected not to return for thousands of years, Karin van der Wiel, a co-author of the Environmental Research Letters study, said. Still, the odds of seeing such an extreme event have changed, she says. “It’s between 1.5 and 5 times more likely now than in pre-industrial times.”

What’s still not known: Did climate change alter the odds of seeing three incredibly strong storms — Harvey, Irma, Maria — in a row this season?

“We tend to look at [hurricanes] one at a time,” Wehner said. “What’s the probability of having three extraordinary events? What’s the probability of having $250 billion in damage one season? That’s a blind spot.”

Heat waves

In June, the Western US experienced the most intense heat wave ever to strike so early in the year, leading to dozens of flight cancellations. On June 21, Ocotillo Wells, California, reported a temperature of 124 degrees Fahrenheit, the hottest reading ever in San Diego County.

A map of how much higher temperatures were this year relative to the average between 1895 and 2017. NOAA

Farther north, Olympia, Washington, set a June temperature record of 98 degrees Fahrenheit. The searing heat persisted throughout July in the Pacific Northwest, and was followed by another wave in October, as high temperatures rippled through the Midwest and reached triple digits around Los Angeles, shattering records.

Wildfires

One of the biggest factors in this year’s record wildfire season was, oddly, rainfall.

Vegetation across much of the drought-stricken west eagerly soaked up the surfeit of water from the wet winter, leading to a rapid, vast growth spurt in trees, grasses, and shrubs in the spring. Then summer and fall brought intense heat that dried out these plants, turning the greenery into fuel.

Wildfires began igniting over the summer, sending choking air pollution through Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and California. Huge new fires appeared in subsequent months, causing record damage, including the ongoing fires around Los Angeles that are poised to burn the rest of the year. The Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, at more than 280,000 acres, is the largest fire in California history. Across the United States, more than 9.5 million acres have burned to date, making 2017 the second-worst year for fires in terms of area.

A Los Angeles County firefighter monitors approaching flames on October 9. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

But the wildfires that scorched vast swaths of the US this year can scarcely be described as natural disasters, since human activities exacerbated them at every step.

“The context for this is as much about society living in these very fire-prone environments as it is about the climate,” said Tim Brown, director of NOAA’s Western Regional Climate Center. “One significant difference is we’ve had very significant population growth and urban development here since the 1960s.”

And changes in the climate are making many of these wildfires worse. Researchers found that human-caused climate change accounts for 55 percent of the increase in drying out of Western forests, a major factor in wildfires, and has led to a doubling of the area burned.

But as with hurricanes, there is some nuance to climate’s role in wildfires. Rising temperatures and less precipitation have had a bigger effect on fire risk in a temperate region like Northern California but has less of an impact in an area that’s already hot and dry, like Los Angeles County.

At the moment, scientists say they haven’t detected a climate signal in fire patterns in this region. But in study published in Environmental Research Letters in 2015, researchers projected that the area scorched by wildfires in Southern California will grow by as much as 77 percent by the middle of the century due to warming.

Why these disaster cost billions

Irma Maldanado stands with Sussury, her parrot, and her dog in what is left of her home in Corozal, Puerto Rico, on September 27. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Worldwide, 2017 is shaping up to be the most expensive year for climate disasters ever. In the US, it’s already the most costly year ever for hurricanes and for wildfires.

Such expensive weather events are part of an ongoing trend. Since 1980, there have been 218 disasters across the United States with costs topping $1 billion. The Congressional Research Service reported earlier this year that inflation-adjusted disaster appropriations have shot up 46 percent from a median of $6.2 billion between 2000 and 2006 to $9.1 billion between 2007 and 2013.

And the price of disaster damage is continuing to go up, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Part of it is that the hurricanes this year really were immense, but they have a bigger impact when they collide with growing cities. As more people compete for real estate, property values have skyrocketed in Florida and California. That means any time a disaster strikes, it becomes horrendously expensive to repair all the infrastructure and personal property.

But it’s still difficult to tabulate the costs of the storms. Many of the dollar values are drawn from insured properties, which represent only a fraction of the devastation. Over the past decade, only 30 percent of catastrophic losses around the world were insured, according to the reinsurance firm Swiss Re. That leaves a gap of $1.7 trillion in uninsured damages.

And for a place like Puerto Rico, still mired in blackout, the estimated $95 billion it will cost to rebuild doesn’t really convey all the suffering caused by the storm. About 43 percent of the island’s 3.3 million residents live below the poverty line, so the dollar amount of the damage may be lower than for places like Houston, Texas, with large homes and expensive industrial facilities.

Now the big question is who pays the bill. FEMA has offered more than $3.3 billion in aid to disaster victims through its Individuals and Households Program and $1.4 billion in public assistance this year. But it’s crunched for cash, as the huge storms and fires have depleted its reserves. An $81 billion emergency disaster relief package for Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, and California is likely to languish for weeks as Congress leaves for the holidays.

The disasters will have long-lasting health effects

The disasters of 2017 took hundreds of lives. Hurricane Maria was especially cruel, with estimates of more than 1,000 deaths in Puerto Rico. Hurricane Harvey was responsible for taking 82 lives. The Tubbs Fire in Northern California killed 22 people. There were at least six deaths attributed to heat waves this year.

Yet the toll of storms, fires, floods, and heat on human health can also be more insidious and can linger for years.

Heat is rarely listed as a cause of death, but it can be a factor in heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory arrests. High temperatures also worsen deadly air pollutants like ozone, which is linked to respiratory illnesses such as asthma.

Smoke inhalation from wildfires can also be deadly over time, since fine smoke particles in the air aggravate asthma, provoke inflammation, and strain the heart and lungs.

When concentrations of very small particles of wood smoke pollution (smaller than 2.5 microns, a.k.a. “PM 2.5”) reach above 10 micrograms per cubic meter, researchers find a 7 percent increase in asthma inhaler refills. “But if there’s a 100 microgram per meter smoke day, we’d expect that to go to a 100 percent increase of inhaler refills for the population,” Katelyn O’Dell, who studies the health hazards of wildfire smoke at Colorado state university said. Many of the wildfires this past year created conditions that exceeded this level of pollution.

Researchers expect that as climate change makes wildfires more likely over the course of this century, deaths and illnesses attributed to pollution from wood smoke will rise too, even offsetting gains made from cleaning up emissions from industry.

And the fury of a hurricane can leave people scraped, bruised, crushed, or drowned. When a storm cuts off electricity, other dangers abound. “Just about every interaction with the health system now involves electricity, from calling a hospital for help to accessing electronic medical records and powering lifesaving equipment like hemodialysis machines or ventilators,” Vox’s Julia Belluz wrote in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Smoke from the Thomas Fire on December 12 in Carpinteria, California. David McNew/Getty Images

Disasters are a strain not just on physical health but on mental health as well. “Expect a burden of mental health problems, which will include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and it’s particularly going to impact groups who don’t have access to rapid opportunities for recovery,” Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, told Vox after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.

After a major disaster, studies find a 5 to 15 percent increase in the incidence of mental health problems among survivors.

“We all have a threshold that if we watch a loved one swept away in rushing water and drown, that can definitely create post-traumatic stress disorder,” Charles Benight, who studies trauma at the University of Colorado, said during the peak of the hurricane season.

We’ve always been vulnerable to natural disasters. But now the climate is changing.

There are few signs at the local or federal level that policymakers are taking the risks of climate change and extreme weather seriously, and some forces are even exacerbating the risk.

Engineers have long known that Houston is especially prone to flooding, yet land developers have acted as though the risk is nonexistent for decades. Future development will need to reckon with a need for better drainage.

RELATED

We have no system to deal with escalating climate damages. It’s time to build one.

As sea levels rise and disaster risks to coastal communities grow, some planners are broaching the idea of a “strategic retreat” from areas that face persistent floods and fires. And based on projections showing these events happening over and over, we should be saving up money to rebuild when these disasters happen again.

But we’re not doing any of that.

International Space Station orbited over Hurricane Harvey and photographed the storm bearing down on the Texas coast. NASA

Instead, programs like the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, which helps homeowners pay for damage from floods, ends up encouraging people to rebuild in areas that are likely to get flooded again. In one egregious case, a Houston home valued at $115,000 flooded 18 times in 16 years, costing the government $800,000.

We see similar problems with fire insurance in California, which lets homeowners rebuild a torched home, though some insurers are dropping homeowners in high fire risk areas. And as insurance rates rise, fewer people are buying insurance at all, which ends up passing recovery costs to the federal government.

Meanwhile, the Stafford Act limits federal reconstruction efforts to restoring the status quo ante. That means for a place like Puerto Rico, whose energy infrastructure vulnerabilities were laid bare after Hurricane Maria, there isn’t much room in the budget to make power lines, generators, and transformers more resistant to future disasters.

Even without the threat of climate change, we’ve long known that hurricanes are dangerous. They’ve inflicted grave damage on coastal communities for as long as we’ve had them. Louisiana has long been notorious for flooding, and Arizona renowned for triple-digit heat, and wildfires have always been an iconic part of the American West.

But the climate is changing, and the potential harm from these events is growing. In a recent analysis of climate events from last year, 2016, scientists determined three events — record-breaking global heat, a heat wave over Asia, and a “blob” of unusually warm water in the Northern Pacific — could not have occurred without human-induced climate change. “I’ve never seen that language in a paper until now,” Jeff Rosenfeld, editor-in-chief of Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, which published the report, said. “We’re virtually certain that [these events were] impossible without human-induced climate change.”

So larger hurricanes are coming.

More wildfires will ignite.

Longer heat waves will sear.

And other climate disasters are likely grow bigger, more intense, more expensive, and more frequent.

We see them on the horizon.

And we need to start preparing now.

Press link for more: Vox.com

A look back on 2017 Deadly Extremes #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

From America’s hurricanes to Portugal’s fires, ABC Weather looks back at 2017’s deadly extremes

ABC Weather By Kate Doyle and Ben Deacon

Posted 25 minutes ago

Fri 29 Dec 2017, 6:25am

PHOTO: A helicopter dumps water on a burning house in the Anaheim Hills during October’s California fires. (AP: Jeff Gritchen/The Orange County Register)

Cyclones, bushfires and heatwaves are typically Australian natural disasters, but in 2017 devastating fires, record heat, hurricanes and typhoons — what we call cyclones — struck around the world.

Here are a few of the events that caught our attention this year.

Cyclone Debbie

It was the cyclone that just kept on going.

Debbie made landfall near Airlie Beach as a category 4 system on March 28 with wind gusts of 263 kilometres per hour recorded at Hamilton Island, the highest gust ever recorded in the Queensland digital climate archive, and its initial impact was ferocious.

But what set Debbie apart from the average cyclone was the trail of drenching rain it left as its remnants made their way down the Queensland coast and across the New South Wales border.

In an historic move, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk closed all schools south of Agnes Water, north of Bundaberg, and east of Nanango in the South Burnett region, including Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

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VIDEO: SES workers rescue a man from floodwaters in Lismore (ABC News)

The flooding did not stop at the border as far south in Lismore, NSW, 324.8 millimetres fell in 18 hours, leading to the highest river levels since 1974 and waist-high flooding in the CBD when the town’s levee breached.

Media reports attributed nine deaths to Tropical Cyclone Debbie in Australia.

Debbie did not just leave it at that, as New Zealand’s North Island was drenched when the tail end of the system made its way across the Tasman a week after it first made landfall in Queensland.

Thousands of homes were evacuated there as well.

Pakistan record heat

In May, there was a major heat event which affected most of the Persian Gulf but seemed to go largely under the radar in western media.

The town of Turbat in south-west Pakistan recorded 54.0 degrees Celsius, equal to the maximum temperature recorded in Mitrabah, Kuwait in July last year.

Neither of the temperatures have been officially confirmed by the World Meteorological Organisation, but if it turns out to be legitimate will be a new Asian record.

These record high temperatures stir up debate around the global highest recorded temperature.

The current record of 56.7C taken in Death Valley, USA, in 1913 is viewed with scepticism because of dubious equipment.

Likewise the eastern hemisphere record of 55.0 recorded in Kebili, Tunisia, is also questionable due to inconsistencies in previous temperature recording practices.

So it could well be that the hottest temperature directly recorded on Earth happened this year.

Australia’s official hottest temperature was recorded at Oodnadatta in 1960 at 50.7 degrees Celsius.

US hurricane cluster

Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, and Maria — the US was battered by hurricane after hurricane this year.

Of these, Harvey, Irma and Maria did the most damage.

3 hurricanes threatening land simultaneously in the W Atlantic Basin. Never seen anything like this in the modern record #Irma #Jose

Harvey led the pack as the first major hurricane to hit the mainland US in almost a decade when it stalled over Houston and led to widespread, devastating flooding.

Hurricane Irma, even stronger than Harvey, battered the Caribbean before travelling across Cuba, to make landfall in Florida.

What made Irma special meteorologically was the length of time it maintained extremely high wind speeds, more than 297km/h for 37 hours, far and away the highest ever recorded.

Maria’s biggest impact was on Puerto Rico, where US media reports suggest the death toll was at least 48 people.

As of early December, around one million people on the island were still without power, more than two months after the hurricane ripped through on September 20.

East Africa drought

UN data suggests there are more than 15.2 million people who remain severely food insecure on the horn of Africa as of December 8.

Some parts received decent rain in October and November this year but it will take time for those benefits to trickle through, especially when coupled with other conflicts.

For other areas, this will be the fourth consecutive year the rains have failed.

As with many of the other events on this list, the question of whether climate change is to blame has been raised and, as with many other events, the answers are complicated.

Extreme cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons are expected to be less common because of climate change, but could be worse when they do hit because of their increased capacity to dump more rain and rising oceans.

Likewise, extreme fires are expected to be worsened by higher temperatures and longer fire seasons.

With the East African drought though, the role of climate change is not definitive.

Portugal fires

Portugal suffered two major rounds of deadly fires this year, one in June and one in October.

The July fires led to 62 deaths and the October fires killed more than 40 people.

The July fires took place during a heatwave when there were several days in a row above 40C.

The October fires were whipped up by the passing of Hurricane Ophelia.

The unusually placed storm was in the area thanks its formation much further north east than a normal Atlantic hurricane, combined with a run-in with the mid-latitude jet stream. It made a beeline for Ireland rather than taking the typical route and heading for the Americas.

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VIDEO: Rare fire devil on camera in Portugal (ABC News)

As with the Californian fires later in the year, there has been speculation that introduced eucalypts contributed to the rapid spread of these fires.

South Asia floods

It was reported that more than 1,300 people died in the flooding that hit India, Bangladesh and Nepal in mid-August this year.

These fires were not just significant because Ellen DeGeneres and Paris Hilton’s homes were evacuated, the fires in early October led to tens of thousands of people being forced to flee their homes and more than 40 people lost their lives.

Entire suburbs were reduced to rubble.

Firefighters faced the impossible task of fighting 14 fires at once in gusts of up to 120km/h with low relative humidity.

The fires were fanned by what are known as the ‘Diablo’ winds in Northern California.

Like their more well-known Southern Californian counterpart, the Santa Ana winds, they come from over the continent bringing hot dry conditions.

Diablo winds are traditionally associated with wildfires, especially in autumn.

Victoria storms

Although many in Melbourne were underwhelmed by the much-publicised December storms, there was no denying the rainfall totals in north-east Victoria were record-breaking.

Echuca, Euroa and Eildon all recorded their highest daily rainfall totals on record.

Rainfall Totals

Location Rainfall (mm) Duration of Records (years)

Echuca. 123 159

Euroa. 146. 132

Eildon. 149. 131

Record breaking rainfall totals recorded in the 24 hours to 9 am December 21 2017

The storm set off debate surrounding natural disaster messaging in Australia and is a timely reminder to be prepared heading into the traditional summer disaster period.

Philippines typhoon and landslides

On December 16, Tropical Storm Kia-tak — known locally as Urduja — made landfall in the Philippines.

Severe flooding and landsides were triggered when two months of rain fell in 48 hours.

Less than two weeks later, Typhoon Tembin — also known as Typhoon Vinta — hit the Philippines.

So far, more than 250 people are confirmed dead as a result of the storm.

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VIDEO: Landslides kill 32 in storm-hit Philippine province (ABC News)

Central Australian floods

Technically during the dying days of 2016, but close enough that we thought it warranted a mention, the flooding rains that hit central Australia on Christmas night were described as a once in a half-century storm by the Bureau of Meteorology.

In Kintore 61.4mm fell between 8:00pm and 9:00pm alone, and 232mm fell in the 24 hours after 9:00am on Christmas Day.

The widespread flooding closed the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and several locations were cut off for weeks.

Press link for more: ABC.NET.AU

Environmental Activists are Heroes. #StopAdani #auspol #qldpolh

They should be thought of as heroes’: Why killings of environmental activists are rising globally

Shashank Bengali

In 2012, recognizing the threats posed by environmental degradation, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed an independent expert to study how countries’ human rights obligations are connected to promoting “a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.”

John Knox, a law professor at Wake Forest University, was appointed the first special rapporteur on human rights and the environment. His three-year mandate was extended in 2015.

This year, with killings of land activists increasing worldwide, Knox helped launch a web portal, www.environment-rights.org, with information and resources in English and Spanish. In March, at the Human Rights Council, he will present guidelines for states on their obligations to protect environmental rights, including ensuring that people most vulnerable to harm have access to effective remedies.

Knox spoke to The Times about the threats facing environmental defenders. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Why is it such a dangerous time for land activists?

There are basically three reasons that come together. One is simply there’s greater demand for the natural resources these activists are trying to defend. Many of these countries are pretty rich in natural resources — minerals, lumber, land that can be used for palm oil plantations or other industries.

And that leads to the second factor, which is that many of the groups living in these areas are vulnerable for other reasons. They are rural, they don’t have much money, they’re already marginalized in their own countries and don’t have a standing in the political debate.

The last is the absence of effective rule of law, either in the country as a whole or in a region. A common denominator is the courts, police and law enforcement mechanisms are ineffective. What I see over and over again is that these murders and other kinds of harassment take place when there’s impunity.

Are more activists being killed or is there just more awareness of the issue?

It’s hard to know. Personally, I think it’s likely that it has been going on for a long time, and the numbers in some ways seem to be going up because groups like Global Witness are doing a better job of reporting what’s happening.

Part of how you can see that is there are countries that seem to have low numbers of killings, but in large part that’s simply the effect of not knowing what’s going on in those countries.

You mean like China or Russia?

I’m not going to single out any countries, but I do think that in countries that have the highest numbers of killings, there’s enough space for civil society to find out and report on it. That’s true of Brazil, the Philippines, some Latin American countries.

Having said that, I agree with Global Witness that there does seem to be an increase in these murders, and other types of harassment, because of increasing demand for resources.

It seems like many of the killings occur in places inhabited by indigenous peoples.

That is what makes the struggle so desperate. They’re fighting not just for a healthy community but also for their culture and their way of life. Many of the most vulnerable communities are faced with a kind of existential threat: If they give up their ancestral territory, their culture dies.

What have you learned about impunity rates for environmental murders?

In Global Witness’ first report, when they went back over 12 years’ worth of data and over 900 deaths of environmental and land defenders [from 2002 to 2013], there were [10] cases where perpetrators were arrested, tried and convicted. If that’s even close to accurate, that’s 1% — essentially a green light to allow people to kill environmentalists with impunity.

What’s the link between these killings and corruption?

One reason why governments, especially at the local level, fail to take adequate steps to protect people is that government officials themselves are somehow being paid off or are in collusion with powerful economic interests. Another is that often in these countries, the land defenders are somehow seen as standing in the way of progress, whether it means building this dam or awarding this mining concession.

That’s fundamentally mistaken. The only type of economic development that makes sense is sustainable development, and often these environmentalists are the ones asking whether these projects are truly sustainable. If you don’t ask those questions, you end up with projects that down the road will hurt the countries’ economies. So these defenders, they should be thought of as heroes, rather than obstacles to state interests.

How are governments responding?

There are some promising developments. One is that conceptually, thanks largely to Global Witness and other environmental organizations, like Front Line Defenders, these deaths are increasingly seen as part of a global pattern instead of a series of local events.

Several men who were shot by security guards outside a Guatemalan mine are suing the Canadian mining company, Tahoe Resources, in Canada, where legal protections are stronger. Are you seeing such attempts to take international companies to court?

There have historically been efforts like that, but often they run into legal problems in the corporations’ home countries. In the U.S., the Supreme Court effectively stopped these efforts by ruling that U.S. statutes are only concerned with activities in the U.S. [in a 2013 case involving Nigerians who tried to sue Royal Dutch Petroleum over killings at a Shell oil plant in Nigeria]. There are lots of hurdles to overcome in bringing cases in home jurisdictions, but we continue to see them brought.

Last year, the International Criminal Court prosecutor issued a statement saying they would be open to considering cases of land grabbing and massive environmental harm as crimes against humanity, and therefore within their jurisdiction. That would be a big development if the ICC started such cases — a real shock to the system in terms of overcoming impunity at the international level.

A woman holds up a poster of a slain environmentalist and indigenous rights activist during a protest march in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. (Fernando Antonio / Associated Press)

Press link for more: LA Times

Science on Climate Change goes from bad to worse #StopAdani

Scientists monitoring the Earth’s climate and environment have delivered a cascade of grim news this year, adding a sense of urgency to UN talks on how best to draw down the greenhouse gases that drive global warming.

Here is a summary of recent findings:

1.1 degrees

Earth’s average surface temperature last year was a record 1.1 degree Celsius (1.98 Fahrenheit) above the preindustrial era.

The planet’s rising fever is caused by the accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide (CO2) cast off when fossil fuels are burned to produce energy.

Sixteen of the hottest years on record have occurred since the start of the 21st century, and 2017 is on track to be the warmest year not affected by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

The 196-nation Paris Agreement calls on humanity to block the rise in temperature at “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) compared to preindustrial levels, and to strive for a cap of 1.5 C.

403.3 ppm

The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached an average of 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, the highest level in at least 800,000 years.

CO2 emissions—after remaining stable for three years, raising hopes that they had peaked—will rise by two percent in 2017.

Concentrations of methane (CH4), the second most important greenhouse gas, have also risen sharply over the last decade, driven by leakage from the gas industry’s fracking boom and growth in global livestock production.

Many climate scientists argue that capping CO2 at 450 ppm offers a fighting chance at staying under the 2 C threshold. But others say the limit for a “climate safe” world is much lower, at about 350 ppm.

h

Melting ice

Arctic summer sea ice shrank to 4.64 million square kilometres (1.79 million square miles) in 2017, leaving ice extent well above the record low of 3.39 million square kilometres set in 2012.

But long-term trends are unmistakable: Arctic sea ice cover is declining at a rate of 13.2 percent per decade, relative to the 1981-2010 average.

Climate models predict the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer as early as 2030.

At the other end of the world, Antarctic sea ice last year hit the lowest extent ever recorded by satellites.

Earth’s two massive ice sheets—atop Greenland and Antarctica—are shedding 286 billion and 127 billion tonnes of mass per year, respectively.

High-altitude glaciers, meanwhile, suffered a decline in surface area in 2016 for the 37th year in a row.

Extreme events

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says there are demonstrable links between climate change caused by human activity and some extreme weather events, especially heatwaves.

The number of climate-related extreme events—such as droughts, forest fires, floods and major storm surges—has doubled since 1990, research has shown.

2017 saw the first severe tropical storm known to sustain winds of 295 kilometres per hour (185 miles per hour) for more than 33 hours (Irma); and a hurricane that dropped a record 125 centimetres of water (nearly 50 inches) on land (Harvey).

The intensity of typhoons battering China, Taiwan, Japan and the Korean Peninsula since 1980, one study has shown, has increased by 12 to 15 percent.

Natural disasters drive about 26 million people into poverty every year, according to the World Bank, and cause annual losses of about $520 million (440 million euros).

84.8 millimetres

Sea level rise—caused mainly by water expanding as it warms, as well as runoff from ice sheets and glaciers—is now 3.4 millimetres (0.13 inches) per year. Since 1993, the global ocean watermark has gone up by 84.8 mm (3.3 inches).

The pace is likely to pick up, threatening the homes and livelihoods of tens of millions of people in low-lying areas around the world.

Global warming is likely to add at least a metre (three feet) to the global watermark by century’s end, according to recent estimates.

1,688 species

Of the 8,688 species of animals and plants listed as “threatened” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, 19 percent have been negatively affected by climate change.

Twenty-five years after 1,700 scientists issued a “warning to humanity” about environmental degradation, more than 15,000 experts updated the alert this month and noted that virtually all the planet’s problems are getting “far worse”.

Scientists say the planet has entered a “mass extinction event”—the sixth in the last half-billion years.

Sources: NASA, National Snow and Ice Data Center, WMO, peer-reviewed studies.

Press link for more: PHYS.ORG

Pollution Kills More People Than Anything Else! #StopAdani #COP23 #Qldvotes 

Dying from war, smoking, hunger & natural disasters turns out to be nothing compared to deaths from pollution, which kills nine million people a year.
The most comprehensive report to date on the health effects of environmental pollution shows that filthy air, contaminated water and other polluted parts of our environment kill more people worldwide each year than almost everything else combined – smoking, hunger, natural disasters, war, murder, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
It’s no wonder then that the number of contaminated water-related deaths in Puerto Rico is expected to climb into the thousands.
In addition to the human tragedy, this pollution costs us well over $4 trillion in annual losses, or 6% of global GDP.


According to the study, 9 million people every year, one in every six premature deaths, are caused by diseases from toxic exposures in the environment. 

That’s 20 times more than all wars. 

Dr. Philip Landrigan, Dean of Global Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the lead author of the report, noted, ‘There’s been a lot of study of pollution, but it’s never received the resources or level of attention as, say, AIDS or climate change’.

China knows this better than any other country. 

Over 300,000 people die each year from toxic emissions coming out of coal-fired power plants alone. 

And silica manufacturing and waste from computer chip and solar array manufacturing is a growing health problem.

In fact, poor countries in south Asia and in Africa sustain the majority of these pollution deaths. 

In many of these countries, especially India, pollution causes a fourth of all deaths, putting a huge burden on their developing economies. 

Even indoor burning of biomass in poor countries has become a global health epidemic.


But these same poor countries will never get out of poverty without increasing the very industries that cause this pollution – energy, manufacturing, mining, etc. 

Since it takes about 3,000 kWhs per person per year to have what we consider a good like – to get into the middle class – the only way to eradicate global poverty is to get these poor countries a lot more energy.
This concept is embodied in the United Nations Human Development Index, or HDI, that states the most important requirement for a good life is access to energy. 

HDI is the reason that China decided in 1992 to build about 600 coal-fired power plants, along with a lot of hydro and other energy sources. 


It lifted 500 million Chinese into the middle class. 

But it also ended up killing over 300,000 people a year and harming millions, leading to a huge unforeseen burden on their health care system.
China is trying to change their energy mix to get rid of dirty coal, but there remains about 800 million Chinese that still need over 2 trillion more kWhs per year to get them into the middle class as well.

 And 2 billion more people outside of China need another 6 trillion kWhs per year. And another 3 billion people will be born between now and 2040, requiring still another 9 trillion kWhs per year.
Since this is the only way to eradicate global poverty, any decision to not give them this energy is itself unethical.

 And to give them that much energy cleanly, along with cleaning up manufacturing and other industries to reduce pollution, will take even more energy.
This dependence of a good life on energy is not a secret. 

The 2015 COP21 climate meeting in Paris was mainly about how to give these people that much energy without giving them coal. 

Not only to save more lives, but to save the planet.

In fact, air pollution and climate change are closely linked and share common solutions. 

Fossil fuel combustion in higher-income countries and the burning of biomass in lower-income countries accounts for 85 percent of airborne particulate pollution.

 Reducing fossil fuel burning in higher-income countries and giving lower-income countries non-fossil and non-biomass energy sources is key to slowing global warming and cleaning up the environment.
And it will take all non-fossil sources, not just renewables.

 Along with millions of wind turbines and thousands of square miles of solar arrays, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency, the United Nations Sustainable Solutions Network and the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate all argue for a tripling of nuclear energy, requiring over a thousand new reactors, or many times that of small modulars, to stabilize carbon emissions.

According to all studies on the subject, coal kills over ten times more people than any other energy source per kWh produced, mainly from fine toxic particulates emitted from coal plants. And coal kills ten times more people in the developing world than in America, simply because they lack regulations like our Clean Air Act.


In fact, our Clean Air Act is the single piece of legislation that has saved the most American lives in history. 

It is why coal kills over 300,000 people in China each year, but only about 15,000 Americans per year. 

The two other significant life-saving pieces of legislation include Medicare in 1965 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established the 40 hour work week and reigned in child labor.
However, there are a lot more pollution health effects beyond actual death, and several studies have attempted to quantify those costs – costs that include lost work days, hospital visits, disability, prescription drugs and all the costs associated with illness in addition to death (1,2,3,4).
Eliminating the health effects of coal is the low-hanging fruit of pollution. 

A study by EPA’s Ben Machol and Sarah Rizk found that the use of coal in America costs us anywhere from $350 billion to $880 billion per year.

 That’s up to 6% of our GDP, and well over 10% of our total health care costs.

In contrast, there are costs associated with coal itself – mining coal from the ground, transporting it across the country, producing electricity from it, and paying people to do all these things. 

Even though natural gas is replacing coal and our coal use is significantly down compared to ten years ago, we still consume over 700 million tons of coal a year, and we pay about $200 billion for that privilege.
What? 

We pay $200 billion to make and deliver the electricity from coal, and then we pay $300 to $800 billion trying to recover from it?

 This does not make economic sense.
So why not end coal, and use that money and lives saved to replace coal with gas, nuclear and renewables that do not impact health anywhere near as badly. 

The savings in health care alone would more than pay for it.

 It would even be cost-effective to pay the coal folks not to work, just like we’ve done for almost a hundred years for some farmers.


This thinking can be applied to a host of polluting issues, all with the idea that saving lives and health care costs would save enough money to prevent the pollution in the first place. 

Yes, it might require some type of tax but that would be offset by much lower health care costs.
And you can do quite a lot with $4 trillion every year. 

That’s equivalent to building, fueling and operating ninety 1,200-MW hydroelectric dams plus sixty 1,000-MW nuclear plants (or several hundred small modular reactors) plus 200,000 MW wind turbines plus three hundred solar arrays about the size of Ivanpah (600-MW) plus two hundred 500-MW natural gas plants, in total producing over 3 trillion kWhs per year split almost evenly among each energy source.
In only 15 years, we could replace all coal in the world, bring the global energy production up to well over 40 trillion kWhs per year – enough to eradicate global poverty – and still have enough money to reduce other global pollution to a fraction of what it is now. All with existing technologies.
Further technological breakthroughs and gains in efficiency will save even more money, save even more species, and raise the quality of life even higher for everyone in the world. Of course, the rate of building these plants required to accomplish this goal surpasses most build rates we’ve ever achieved, but it is doable with serious coordination among the nations of the world.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to convince people that money saved is the same as money earned.

 And no one likes the idea of a tax, even if it saves lives, property and the planet.
But we can do this faster than anyone thinks is possible, certainly before the last climate tipping points of 2040 – without destroying the planet and without bankrupting anyone.
We just need to do it.

Press link for more: Forbes.Com