Carbon Emissions

The Last Decade and You. #ClimateChange #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

The Last Decade and You

Everything we love is at risk, unless we build a faster, more disruptive and more visionary climate movement, now.


Alex Steffen

The Last Decade is a manifesto about the need to see farther ahead, fight smarter and dream bigger — if we’re going to make it through this climate emergency.

— — —

The Last Decade: An Introduction.

Even before Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement — the first essentially universal commitment by the peoples of the Earth to pursue the same goal of an ecological future — we all knew our planet was in crisis.

We all know that at the very center of that crisis is growing climate chaos.

Most people living on Earth know this now.

What fewer of us know — and even fewer have deeply explored — is the spring driving the mechanism of our greenhouse disaster.

That tight-wound spring is time; specifically, how little of it we have left.

When we think of the climate crisis, we think of the causes and the consequences: belching smokestacks, roads packed with cars. cracking ice sheets, burning forests.

What few of us think enough about are the curves.

We all know about climate budgets — estimates of how much carbon pollution we can release and still keep the planet within a given temperature range.

Most of us understand that when you have a budget, and you’re depleting it at a steady rate, it becomes a deadline.

The only way to extend that deadline is to curve downwards the rate at which you are exhausting your budget.

With climate emissions, that curve arches inexorably towards zero, and quite possibly beyond, into a world where we commit serious resources to restoring the atmosphere to a saner chemistry.

Chart shows Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Every day that we continue filling the sky with greenhouse pollution, the curve back towards sanity grows steeper.

At a certain point, that curve grows so steep that the actions we need to take are no longer connected to the actions we might have taken before.

We are compelled to attempt large, headlong changes.

We are forced to spring forward at a tempo we wouldn’t previously have considered.

To cut to the chase, I believe we have passed that point, and everything is moving rapidly now, except for our thinking.

It’s no big mystery why our thinking is so outdated.

For more than two decades, many people tried to sell climate action — especially here in America — by arguing that it wouldn’t really demand much change, at all.

Small steps, we were told, could add up to big impacts.

Innovation would whisk away the most polluting parts of our lives, leaving us with green SUVs, McMansions and big box stores. Abstract and distant mechanisms — like cap-and-trade schemes — could do the remaining heavy lifting, and we’d barely even know they were working. Saving the planet might not be exactly easy — this argument went — but it could be slow, gradual, a barely noticeable transition.

It was a nice idea.

The problem is, it wasn’t true, even then.

There once was a time when steady incremental actions could have staved off planetary catastrophe.

That hasn’t been the case, though, since at least the mid-1990s.

As the years have passed this vision of slow climate action without large scale transformation has gone from unworkable to a downright dangerous delusion, part of the crisis itself.

The destruction of planetary stability is not some ancient curse.

Instead, it’s the momentum of choices made by people who are largely still alive.

The world we were born into was made unsustainably.

Between roughly 1990 and now, half of all greenhouse gasses humanity has ever emitted were poured into the sky.

Go back to the end of World War Two, and the percentage rises past 85%.

Now, even as the natural world is spiraling into wider (and wilder) chaos, the energy, transportation, manufacturing and agricultural systems we built in the years since World War Two are still revving at doomsday machine velocities.

There’s some evidence climate emissions have leveled off, but they’re still so dire that every year that goes by forecloses some of humanity’s options. Business as usual leads directly, quickly, inexorably to total catastrophe. It cannot go on, and what cannot go on, comes to an end.

To stay within two degrees, we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50% a decade, while launching a massive commitment to ecological conservation and reforestation.

The world we were born into is coming to an end. That’s the good news. The bad news is, it’s not coming to an end fast enough.

Remember those curves? We are coming to the moment where smart actions delayed become smart actions made impossible. If we miss the next decade, the 2020s, those curves become steep enough that the options we have left will be tragic and desperate, even forlorn hopes.

All good work now keeps in mind when we are. It also acknowledges that the kind of action now called for are different than the ones from earlier, gentler curves — and that the ways they’re different require us to embrace new thinking.

Real sustainability only comes in one variety, now: Disruptive.

All sensible people are rightly appalled at the climate denialism and carbon cronyism we see in Congress and the White House.

Having been forced to turn from the national stage to other approaches, though, we will now discover that the greatest barrier to bold climate action is no longer denialism, but delay.

Predatory delay is everywhere.

Corruption erodes the very foundations of our democracy.

Disinformation floods our media.

Civic sabotage and broken governments slow progress to a crawl.

Outdated thinking clouds our sense of what’s truly possible. The Carbon Bubble looms. Many who claim to also desire climate action throw up fierce hostility in defense of a destructive status quo.

In Blue America, anti-climate politics isn’t about disputing science, it’s about denying what science tells us about the need to act quickly.

Delay is doom, but delay has many champions.

The curve we’ve been forced onto bends so steeply, that the pace of victory is part of victory itself.

Winning slowly is basically the same thing as losing outright.

We cannot afford to pursue past strategies, aimed at limited gains towards distant goals.

In the face of both triumphant denialism and predatory delay, trying to achieve climate action by doing the same things, the same old ways, means defeat.

It guarantees defeat.

Want to win fast?

What we need now is a movement to unmake and rebuild the world we were born into.

That work must be disruptive to the dirty systems around us.

It must be achieved in the face of direct political opposition.

It must accelerate itself through cascading successes.

If climate action doesn’t aggressively out-compete and replace fossil fuel production, fossil-fuel-dependent industries and high-carbon practices, it’ll fail.

We need strategies for working together that can actually win.

This is why I’m kicking off this newsletter with a short, raw manifesto, The Last Decade.

I’ll be publishing that over the next three weeks or so.

We need a movement built to win.

I think such a movement is within our grasp.

Fighting to win, and win fast, can open up new opportunities for millions of people — especially young people — that cannot exist where change is slow and timid.

Those opportunities, in turn, give us a shot at not only solving longstanding problems — housing, jobs, health, food — but gaining the political power to win bigger changes on wider scales. Remaking the world can give us the power to go on remaking it, despite the powerful enemies we face.

Millions and millions of us are ready.

We want to not only build carbon-zero cities and regions but to live the lives that will make them thrive.

We want clean energy, sure; indeed, we demand all energy be clean energy. But generating more clean energy — vital as it is — is only one part of making the world we need.

We also need to imagine, design and rapidly build cities where prosperity demands much less energy to begin with and ends up shared with far more of our neighbors: cities of abundant housing in super-insulated green buildings; of walkable neighborhoods, effective transit, shared vehicles and abundant bike lanes; of circular flows of resources and frugal excellence; of breakthrough technologies and worldchanging designs; of lived innovation and community creativity — of more adventure, more fun, and, for fuck’s sake, more beauty.

Beauty matters. The sheer ugliness of the old industrial way of life all around us is something we’re taught not to see. We’re taught not too see its aesthetic ugliness, sure, but even more we are taught to ignore its ugliness of soul, it’s ugliness of purpose, its ugliness of effect. Look away, numb yourself, never speak of it again.

Millions of us do not want to spend our brief spans on Earth contributing to these systems of catastrophic ugliness. We want to live in systems that are beautiful to be a part of, beautiful in their workings, and beautiful for future generations.

We need to demand the freedom build the beautiful. If a new movement today is going to be about anything meaningful, it must be at its very core a fight to build the beautiful, at the scale of the necessary, in the very short time we have left.

Which brings me to the last part, the critical power of positive and practiced imagination. We can’t launch a movement we can’t imagine.

As I’ve said for years, protesting the things we oppose may slow disaster but it doesn’t build a new world. We must also imagine the future we want, and in times when only heroic actions will do, we’re called on to imagine a heroic future.

This is why I’m telling future stories now, here in this newsletter. My anticipatory journalism of life in the fictional city of San Patricio, California in 2025 is meant to offer paths into the interior lives of people working to create the kinds of changes we need. I have strong intuitions about what the transformation we’re going through means, how it might work, how it will feel. I may not be right, but if I spur you as a reader into developing your own new intuitions about the future, we’ve both won.

See, I feel a powerful certainty that we need an explosion of creativity in the next couple years. We must see ahead with fresh eyes. That kind of seeing demands creative exploration, prototypes and experiments, cultural events and experiences, tinkering and invention, trying new things at scale, I want to be part of a movement that embraces the wild permission to do extraordinary things that comes from living in a collapsing society.

My contribution, I hope, will be my words.

Of course, we need to not only see, but act. Everywhere in the world, we desperately need to re-imagine radically better lives but the advocacy and enterprises that can make them possible. We not only we need to imagine them fast, we need to imagine them as fast. We need to imagine undertakings that can out-compete the world we were born into through political uprising, economic disruption, risk-taking innovation and above all else, speed.

Headlong speed, my friends, is the only way left to say yes to the world.

Speed, you see, means everything. Speed means planetary sanity. Speed means justice. Speed means prosperity. Speed means a future for our kids. For potentially hundreds of millions of people, speed means survival itself. Speed is beauty.

We are about to begin the last decade. The time has come to become the people who can first re-imagine and then remake the world in the time we have left. The time is now to seize the future.

Press link for more: The Nearly Now


Time for a Department of Climate Emergency. #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol #ClimateChange

Los Angeles lawmakers propose “climate emergency” department

Published on 18/01/2018, 11:38am

In the wake of the devastating Thomas wildfire in southern California, city council members are calling for emergency funds to ramp up climate action

The La Tuna fire of September 2017 was the biggest Los Angeles had seen for 50 years Pic: By Scott L from Los Angeles, United States of America – 1_E1C9469, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link)

By Megan Darby

Four Los Angeles city council members are calling for emergency funds to set up a department for climate action.

Citing recent devastating wildfires in California, linked to global warming, they argue current efforts to tackle the root cause are insufficient.

The city would request California State of Emergency funds to set up a “climate emergency mobilization department” with a brief to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, under two motions introduced on Wednesday.

“We’re out of time.

We can’t keep waiting around thinking, once it gets bad enough, we’ll have enough time to do something.

We’re here today to tell you, it’s bad enough now,” said Paul Koretz, lead proponent of the idea, at a press conference.

“We are out of time and need to act, quickly and boldly, like the very planet beneath our feet depends upon it. Like our home depends upon it. Because it does.”

Report: Bloomberg demands seat at UN climate negotiating table for cities and states

In September 2017, LA city experienced its biggest wildfire in fifty years, the La Tuna fire. In neighbouring Ventura county, the Thomas fire became the largest wildfire in California’s modern history, burning an area larger than New York City, Washington DC and San Francisco combined.

Several other fires encroached on LA’s suburban sprawl, whipped up by strong Santa Ana winds. Together with a series of wildfires in northern California, they added up to a destructive fire season for the state, killing 46 people and costing an estimated $180 billion.

“Over the past few months, we have seen some of the most vicious fires in our city’s history rip through our communities, testing the limits of our emergency management capabilities,” said Bob Blumenfield, co-filer of the motions.

“The sad reality is that due to climate change, as well as a deliberate lack of environmental leadership out of Washington, it is up to us to lead and ensure that we are doing everything possible to reduce our carbon footprint and clean our environment.”

Two more city council members seconded the motions, meaning they will move to a debate. Fourteen of the 15 members are Democrats. If they back the idea, its implementation will depend on persuading the state to release emergency funds.

Report: Jerry Brown’s climate coalition now covers 39% of the global economy

The Climate Mobilization, a grassroots network which compares the climate challenge to world war two, is backing the campaign.

Author and activist Naomi Klein also declared her support. She said in a statement: “Our collective house is on fire and nobody knows that better than the people of Los Angeles.

It’s time we started acting like it.

“These city council motions recognize the real lesson of these unprecedented winter fires and mudslides — that the time has come for an immediate, whole-of-society mobilization to address the climate emergency, with the highest priority placed upon a just transition and the needs of frontline communities.”

According to mayor Eric Garcetti’s sustainability plan, LA reduced its emissions 20% between 1990 and 2013.

It is aiming for a 45% cut by 2025, to be achieved by phasing out coal power, boosting renewables and promoting cleaner transport.

LA is signed up to the C40 group of major cities pledging to drive action on climate change, regardless of national politics.

Mayor Garcetti was one of the first to denounce US president Donald Trump’s decision in June 2017 to walk away from the Paris Agreement, saying he would continue to honour its goals.

At state level, governor Jerry Brown has taken an active climate diplomacy role, meeting China’s president Xi Jinping and preparing to host a global conference on the issue in September 2018.

Press link for more: Climate Change News

#ClimateChange Both heat & cold can kill. #StopAdani #auspol

Climate change and weather extremes: Both heat and cold can kill

Climate change is increasing the frequency and strength of some types of extreme weather in the United States

Climate change is increasing the frequency and strength of some types of extreme weather in the United States, particularly heat waves.

Last summer the U.S. Southwest experienced life-threatening heat waves, which are especially dangerous for elderly people and other vulnerable populations.

More recently, record-setting cold temperatures engulfed much of the country during the first week of 2018. This arctic blast has been blamed for dozens of deaths. Some scientists believe that Arctic warming may be a factor in this type of persistent cold spell, although others question this connection.

In a recent working paper, we studied the effect of temperature extremes on elderly mortality, using comprehensive data from Medicare covering about 35 million beneficiaries. Analyzing daily patterns at the ZIP code level, we estimated how daily temperature changes affect elderly mortality as a way to predict how people may adapt to climate change.

Our key finding is that both heat waves and cold snaps increase mortality rates.

For example, the mortality rate from a day with average temperatures between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit is higher by about 1 death per 100,000 individuals than a day with an average temperature between 65 and 70 degrees. Deaths also increase, by about one-half per 100,000 individuals, on days when the average temperature is less than 20 degrees.

Several prior studies have found similar results.

This means that communities need to plan for the higher risk of deaths from both hot and cold weather extremes.

Press link for more:

Does anyone still doubt #ClimateChange ? #StopAdani Demand #ClimateAction #auspol

Zainal Abedin stands near the spot where remnants of his family home on the Bangladeshi island of Kutubdia sit underwater. Thomas Nybo/Redux, for Unicef

KUTUBDIA, Bangladesh — Anyone who doubts climate change should come to this lovely low-lying island, lapped by gentle waves and home to about 100,000 people.

But come quickly, while it’s still here.

“My house was over there,” said Zainal Abedin, a farmer, pointing to the waves about 100 feet from the shore. “At low tide, we can still see signs of our house.”

Already much of Kutubdia has been swallowed by rising seas, leaving countless families with nothing. Nurul Haque, a farmer who lost all his land to the ocean, told me that he may have to pull his daughter, Munni Akter, 13, out of eighth grade and marry her off to an older man looking for a second or third wife, because he has few financial options left to support her.

“I don’t really want to marry her off, because it’s not good for girls,” he said glumly. “But I’m considering it.” He insisted that if it weren’t for the rising waters and his resulting impoverishment, he wouldn’t think of finding a husband for her.

Nurul Haque, a farmer whose land was consumed by the ocean, is considering marrying off his 13-year-old daughter, Munni Akter, because he’s running out of ways to support her. Thomas Nybo/Redux, for Unicef

One of the paradoxes of climate change is that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people — who contribute almost nothing to warming the planet — end up being most harmed by it.

Bangladesh is expected to be particularly badly hit by rising oceans because much of the country is only a few feet above sea level.

“Climate change is destroying children’s futures,” noted Justin Forsyth, the deputy executive director of Unicef. “In Bangladesh, tens of millions of children and families are at risk of losing their homes, their land and their livelihoods from rising sea levels, flooding and increased cyclone intensity.”

Forsyth said the average Bangladeshi produces just one-tenth of the global average in annual per-capita carbon emissions. In contrast, the United States accounts for more than one-quarter of cumulative carbon emissions since 1850, more than twice as much as any other country.

If Munni is pulled out of school and married off, she’ll have plenty of company. Unicef data suggest that 22 percent of girls in Bangladesh marry by the age of 15, one of the highest rates in the world.

“Climate changes appear to be increasing the numbers of girls who are forced to marry,” a three-year academic study in Bangladesh concluded.

On the mainland, gravel is carried to cement mixers, to be used in concrete blocks that will be placed along the coast to hold back the rising sea. Thomas Nybo/Redux, for Unicef

A year ago in Madagascar I met a family ready to marry off a 10-year-old girl, Fombasoa, because of a drought linked to climate change. And there are increasing reports that poverty linked to climate change is leading to child marriage in Malawi, Mozambique and other countries.

In Kutubdia, climate change is not the only issue. The seas are rising, but in addition, Kutubdia itself seems to be sinking.

The upshot is that the island’s shoreline has retreated by about a kilometer since the 1960s, farmers say. Even when land is mostly dry, occasional high tides or storm surges bring in saltwater that poisons the rice paddies. Thousands of climate refugees have already fled Kutubdia and formed their own neighborhood in the mainland Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazaar.

A similar injustice is apparent in many poor countries. “Climate change contributes to conflict,” noted Neal Keny-Guyer, the C.E.O. of Mercy Corps, the aid group. He observed that a drier climate is widely believed to have caused agricultural failures, tensions and migrations that played a role in the Syrian civil war, the Darfur genocide and the civil war in northeastern Nigeria.

Mokbul Ahmed, standing on a Kutubdia beach fortified by concrete blocks, points to where he had lived and farmed. Thomas Nybo/Redux, for Unicef

Aside from reducing carbon emissions, Keny-Guyer said, Western countries can do much more to build resilience in poor countries. That can include supporting drought-resistant or saltwater-resistant crops, and offering microinsurance to farmers and herdsmen so that a drought does not devastate them. Mercy Corps is now developing such microinsurance.

The evidence of climate change is increasingly sobering, with the last four years also the hottest four years on record since modern record-keeping began in the 1880s.

We’re also coming to understand that climate change may wreak havoc, changing ocean currents, killing coral reefs and nurturing feedback loops that accelerate the warming. It turns out that 99 percent of green sea turtles hatched in the northern Great Barrier Reef are now female because their sex is determined by temperature.

Most of the villagers I spoke to both in Madagascar and in Bangladesh had never heard of President Trump. But the outlook for their descendants may depend on the actions he takes — and his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord is an unhelpful surrender of American leadership.

Americans were recently horrified by a viral video of a starving polar bear, whose condition may or may not be linked to climate change. Let’s hope we can be just as indignant about the impact of climate change on children like Munni.

Structures were recently added along the island’s coastline in an attempt to prevent the further encroachment of the ocean. Thomas Nybo/Redux, for Unicef

Press Link for more:New York Times

Poor air quality in India raises global concern #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol #AirPollution


Manipadma Jena

The growth story of India in recent decades has been marred by the steep rise in air pollution in most cities that calls for emergency measures by all stakeholders

Air pollution is extremely high in the national capital region (Photo by Emma Jespersen)

Air pollution in India’s cities, particularly in the northern plains, have risen to alarming levels, according to rankings released by the Central Pollution Control Board this week.

Ghaziabad, a satellite city in the national capital region, topped the list with an average air quality index (AQI) of 258, with the metropolitan area of Delhi, and Gurgaon and Noida on its outskirts, following close behind.

An AQI of 50 or less is considered good.

Astronaut Rakesh Sharma (68), the first Indian to travel in space, has said, “The pollution is clearly visible from space — the haze, the vehicular smoke.

The Earth looks more grey than blue.”

When a global growth story as promising as India’s has schools shut, flights suspended and an international cricket match abruptly stopped for air pollution in its capital city Delhi, the country has an undeclared pollution emergency.

“We have had dramatic events in Delhi in the past few weeks, but it’s not India alone.

In cities around Asia, we are getting to air pollution levels that are not only affecting health, but also our daily lives.

Room air purifiers are now much more common than a few years back,” Rob De Jong, Nairobi-based Head of UN Environment’s Air Quality and Mobility Unit, told

“In many cities, people instead of looking at the weather forecast, are looking at the air pollution forecast to decide whether their children can go play outdoor sports.

We are indeed in a very strange situation.”

“Air pollution is one of the biggest public health issues confronting the world today.

It’s responsible for 6.5 million premature deaths every year,” agreed Maria Neira, Geneva-based Director of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health department at the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Air pollution is the single biggest environment killer, according to UN Environment, and fourth-leading risk factor for deaths worldwide, with one in 10 deaths attributable to it, according to WHO. Over 80% of cities don’t meet UN health standards on air quality.

Climate change is also modifying weather patterns, affecting the levels and occurrence of pollutants and airborne allergens, such as ozone and pollen, and in some cases exposing people to higher concentrations over longer periods than in previous decades.

“We are getting ready to exploit space, other planets,” Sharma said at a recent meeting of UN environment in Nairobi.

“Let us first clean up our act here now, or else we will pollute other planets as well.”

Serious about air pollution

It is difficult to say whether India is serious about getting air pollution to safe levels. “I think India is probably serious.

Around the world, governments of polluted cities are now serious about tackling pollution,” Jong said. “In Delhi, we had actually seen progress when public transport was moved to CNG (compressed natural gas in the late 1990s).”

“What can be done in India is not very different from other big cities in the world,” he said. “Air pollution is not coming from transportation alone.

In some cities it is from transportation, in others from polluting industries.

So there is no one golden-bullet solution.”

China, which also suffers from poor air quality, is taking action on five or six fronts simultaneously — banning polluting industries, closing some down, and also stopping odd-even numbered cars alternately.

“What we can do immediately is look at Chinese cities — all two-wheeler tuk-tuks are electric.

In India they are not (referring to auto-rickshaw public transport).

There is no reason why in India, we cannot do this tomorrow.

This is not a technology issue, not a financial issue.

It is an issue of decision-making,” Jong said. “Similarly, we need to provide better facilities for walking and cycling — what we call active transport.

“The third imperative is somewhat long-term — automated modes of transport such as self-driving cars.”

The problem of air pollution needs immediate attention because of its health implications.

The health of people is the mandate of elected governments.

The situation on the streets of Delhi is indeed very important from the political point of view because the decision will come from a political willingness to take action to reduce air pollution,” Neira told “

“That political willingness is there, but it needs to be more activated.”

India also needs to regulate pollution from the construction industry.

A large proportion of vehicles (both public and private) are quite old in the country and pollution from them is much higher. “Use of dirty fuels for cooking is another major source of pollution, affecting especially the health of women and small children in India.

But poorer people are using these because obviously they don’t have access to clean ones,” the WHO official said.

Agricultural waste incineration, though seasonal, is another major polluter, according to Neira. Jong said that wherever in India biomass is being burnt, there must be a solution in place for using it more productively, be it making compost or using it to generate bio-fuels.

India is well aware that to control the dangerous levels of its air pollution, inter-sectoral decisions and action are needed,” Neira said.

India needs the ministries of Science and Technology, Health, Energy and Environment to take concerted joint action, India’s Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan had said in the recent UN Environment Assembly.

“With the (rapid) technology development India is now seeing, with some more commitment India can achieve substantial reduction of air pollution,” Neira said.

“You already have a parliamentary task force looking exclusively at the issue. Legislation for vehicular pollution already exist and only need stricter enforcement.”

“What India can learn from European nations, which 30 years back were as highly polluted as India, China and Indonesia are today, but cleaned up their air considerably, is that there is no contradiction between economic growth and fighting pollution and the sources of pollution (industries, for instance),” Neira said.

Mitigating climate change

India’s action to reduce air pollution will mitigate climate change at the same time because some causes of greenhouse gas emissions are the same.

If short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon and ground level ozone is tackled, India gains triple benefits — health, climate mitigation and cleaner air.

On costs of addressing the massive air pollution, Neira said India could reduce a large amount pollution with the technologies it already possesses. “If you look at the health costs people in Delhi are already paying, then investments (even if high) hold less significance,” she said.

Closely linked to lost health is a huge economic cost.

A recently published report by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health says that welfare losses due to all types of pollution are estimated at over USD 4.6 trillion each year, equivalent to 6.2% of global economic output. It says pollution-related premature deaths and diseases impose huge productivity losses, especially in rapidly industrialising countries like India, which from air pollution alone loses 0.32% of gross domestic product every year.

“Focussing on the quality of growth is key for improvements in quality of life,” said Ligia Noronha, Director of UN Environment’s Economy Division. “That requires a culture that supports responsible production and does not hold up unrestrained consumption as an aspirational way of life. We need to invest differently to transform our economies, also bringing in the private sector to back clean growth.”

Press link for more: India Climate Dialogue

Human Emissions Made Ocean Heat Wave 53 Times More Likely #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

A series of ocean heat waves have melted ice and killed marine life over the past few years. Scientists are studying their causes.

Photograph by PAUL NICKLEN, National Geographic Creative

The consequences for Alaska were stark: dozens of whales died, as did thousands of common murres and tufted puffins, while sealife native to the tropics came up in nets pulled from sub-Arctic seas.

But an unusual mass of warm water nicknamed “the blob,” which appeared off Alaska and hung around through 2016, didn’t occur in isolation.

In northern Australia in 2016, high ocean heat bleached hundreds of miles of corals, killed mangroves, and destroyed giant clams. Off New Zealand, an ocean hot spell wiped out black abalone and brought an oyster-killing disease.

Just as atmospheric shifts can bring droughts and nasty heat waves on land, shifts in weather or ocean circulation also can spark deadly marine heat waves, which can thoroughly scramble life at sea. But until recently scientists understood little about what role climate change might play in these extreme sea events.

Now, new first-of-its-kind research is making clear that human emissions of greenhouse gases made the appearance of each patch of hot water many times—in some cases dozens, even hundreds of times—more likely to occur.

“It seems all of the big ones in recent years have a climate change role,” says Eric Oliver, an assistant professor of physical oceanography at Dalhousie University, who co-authored a pair of studies examining all three events. The latest was published this month in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Climate 101: Oceans

In fact, while the recent excessive ocean warmth in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea sparked the longest-lived toxic algal bloom on record, shuffled the entire marine world, and likely helped exacerbate a streptococcal outbreak that killed hundreds of sea otters outside Homer, Alaska, scientists struggled while it was happening to say whether rising temperatures from human fossil-fuel burning ultimately contributed at all.

But in reviewing Oliver’s research, they called his new assessment “a solid piece of work.”

Rising Tide of Ocean Heat Waves

Much as researchers often struggle to say just how much climate change drives any individual hurricane or dry spell, Oliver knew his colleagues faced a similar problem with the suddenly widespread ocean heat waves.

At the same time, the events were breaking all kinds of records.

The Tasman Sea heat wave was the longest and most intense ocean warm period for that region since 1900.

The northern Australian ocean hot spell caused the most catastrophic and extensive damage to the northern Great Barrier Reef ever measured.

And the Alaska event, which saw sea-surface temperatures rise more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit across thousands of square miles of ocean, was entirely new, Chelle Gentemann, a Seattle-based physical geographer, told National Geographic last year. “There’s just nothing like it in our historical record,” she says. (The deadly Alaskan heat wave was also the subject of a September 2016 National Geographic magazine story.)

But just like on land, ocean temperatures swing naturally over months or years, as part of the globe’s normal variability.

“The atmosphere gets a lot of attention when we talk about global warming,” Oliver says. “But something like 93 percent of the heat with climate change is stored in the ocean, so it’s not unexpected that we might see increases in ocean heat waves.”

But how much did a warming planet contribute in these three cases?

To find out, Oliver and his colleagues used an assortment of temperature records and climate models to explore how possible these events would have been in a world without greenhouse gases—and how that compared to what we saw in 2016. The results were striking.

The Climate Connection

Off Alaska, where sea temperatures tend to vary more widely than they do closer to the equator, it was 7 times more likely that an ocean heat wave would last a year and be so intense as a result of climate change.

In northern Australia, the findings were even more dramatic. Scientists projected that climate change made it 53 times more likely that an event would last as long as that one did—224 days.

A hawksbill sea turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata, at Jayne’s Gulley, Kimbe bay Papua New Guinea. Photograph by David Doubilet, National Geographic Creative

A leatherback sea turtle nesting on a beach, Dermochelys coriacea, in Adah Foah, Ghana.Photograph by Frans Lanting, National Geographic Creative

But it was the eight-month heat wave in the Tasman Sea, a region where previous warm spells usually only lasted 60 to 90 days, that saw the greatest shift.

Scientists found that climate change made a hot spell lasting that long 330 times more likely than it would have been without human greenhouse gas emissions.

That event was associated with shifts in westerly winds in the interior South Pacific that slightly altered ocean currents, bringing more warm water. “And it’s been argued that these changes are consistent with climate change,” says one of Oliver’s co-authors, Neil Holbrook, with the University of Tasmania.

The two scientists most familiar with Alaska’s blob say the work done by Oliver’s team makes sense. By using climate models to compare more “natural” conditions to today’s you find “human-caused global warming has substantially increased the risk of seeing large marine heat waves,” says Nate Mantua, a landscape ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in California. “I think it really is that simple—at least from the global climate modeling perspective.”

In fact, Nick Bond, a University of Washington climatologist who gave “the blob” its name, has been using models to try and see how such ocean heat waves might change in coming years. So far, the news isn’t great.

“We are finding that events like the recent Alaskan marine heat wave crop up a lot more in future decades in climate model simulations,” Bond says. “And, importantly, the more intense ones are way beyond the 2014 to 2016 event.”

Craig Welch writes about the environment for National Geographic.

Press link for more: National Geographic

Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching has started early, biologist says #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Photographs show only localised bleaching but there is concern it has come so early in the season

Michael SlezakLast modified on Sat 20 Jan 2018 08.01 AEDT

Warm water has already begun bleaching coral on the Great Barrier Reef, weeks ahead of the period with highest forecast risk. Satellite data suggest widespread bleaching is possible by March.

Selina Ward, a coral reef biologist from the University of Queensland, has photographed the bleaching, which she said appeared to be very localised so far, but was concerning because of how early in the season it was.

“It was quite a large stretch and there were some very recently dead corals,” Ward said. “Hopefully it isn’t a sign of more to come.”

“It is the earliness and the early death that worries me,” Ward said, noting that it wasn’t yet an indication that there would be severe or widespread bleaching.

The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) recently updated its bleaching outlook, finding that the entire Great Barrier Reef would face a status of “possible” or “bleaching likely” by February.

Bleaching outlook map for Pacific Ocean corals including the Great Barrier Reef. Photograph: Noaa

The world’s coral reefs are reeling from the worst recorded global coral bleaching event, in which the Great Barrier Reef was hit in both 2016 and 2017. Between the two events, half the reef’s coral is thought to have been killed.

Heron Island escaped significant bleaching throughout the two bleaching events.

In a Facebook post, Noaa’s Coral Reef Watch program posted: “Currently not expecting anything as bad as the last two years but these corals don’t need repeated heat stress.”

The latest results firm up uncertain forecasts from November that suggested the same thing.

Photos taken by Ward around Heron Island show a large stretch of bleached coral, with some already dead and covered in algae.

Coral bleaches when the water around it is too hot for too long.

Before and After

When that happens, it expels the colorful symbiotic algae that lives inside it, leaving transparent flesh exposing the white skeleton.

Since the algae provides most of the energy the coral needs to survive, unless water temperatures quickly return to normal, the coral dies.

According to a 2013 paper published in Nature, a 2C rise in global surface air temperatures will result in the loss of more than 95% of coral around the world.

If the world limits warming to 1.5C, it might save 10%, the paper finds. To save 50% of coral reefs, global warming needs to be halted at 1.2C. The world may already have warmed by about 1C.

Press link for more: The Guardian

When it comes to the climate fight, Australia is barely in the ring. #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

Federal ministers are fond of trumpeting how Australia “punches above its weight”, such as in our military commitment to Middle Eastern wars.

Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg (left) and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull need a climate plan – and fast.  Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

But when it comes to tackling climate change, this country’s record is nothing to brag about.

That’s probably why the Turnbull government left it until just before Christmas to release the latest national greenhouse gas emissions figures and review of its climate policies.

The 2015 Paris climate deal will be reviewed in 2018 with nations to be asked to get their emissions goals more in line with the two-degree warming limit. Photo: AP

This past week Josh Frydenberg, the environment and energy minister, had to be pressed repeatedly to concede emissions rose in the year to last June by 0.7 per cent to 550 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

But the broader picture is even more concerning.

Buried near the back of the emissions report was a table revealing the nation’s carbon pollution has risen in each of the past five years.

What will confuse many is that Australia will likely meet its pledge to cut emissions 5 per cent by 2020 even though pollution is rising.

Thank the special treatment Australia got during the Kyoto Protocol period.

We were permitted to increase emissions by 8 per cent during the 2008-12 period, even as other rich nations agreed to cuts.

As actual emissions fell 128 million tonnes short of that bloated goal, Australia generated a “surplus” it is now using to count towards the 2020 goal.

Five nations, including Germany and the UK, cancelled similar surpluses.

A rising pollution trajectory, though, will eventually catch up with Australia.

As part of the 2015 Paris climate deal, the Turnbull government pledged to slice 2005-levels emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030, and the surplus will be long used up by then.

As Fairfax Media’s Eryk Bagshaw highlighted last week, separate data released on the quiet late last year revealed Australia will overshoot the 2030 goal by at least 140 million tonnes of CO₂ on current growth rates.

The sole area of significant improvement has been the electricity industry, accounting for about a third of total emissions.

The 2.2 per cent year-on-year drop, though, owes much to the abrupt closure last March of Victoria’s dirtiest power plant, Hazelwood, an event met with dismay by the Turnbull government.

The government’s proposed National Energy Guarantee – still far from a shoo-in with several states and territories wary if not publicly opposed – would lock in just a par performance for emissions reductions from the one sector almost every other country expects to lead carbon-cutting efforts.

The review of climate policies did not offer much indication how other sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, will come near any 26-28 per cent reduction goal.

Take residential housing, for instance.

The climate review is silent despite massive potential savings for occupants who happen usually to be voters.

Phil Harrington, an energy consultant with Strategy Policy Research, notes minimum energy codes for new houses were last changed in 2009 and are weak by rich nation standards.

They are unlikely to be strengthened before 2022, locking in poor performance – and higher energy bills – for decades to come.

Dodging these issues isn’t a strategy.

Later this year, Australia will be pressured, along with all the other signatories to the Paris accord to lift its climate action to give the Earth a fair chance of avoiding two degrees of warming.

The arc of emissions must start bending lower soon, and certainly more sharply than current policies would point it.

Press link for more: SMH.COM

2C Warming is still Dangerous #ClimateChange So what is the MAGIC NUMBER? #auspol #StopAdani

What is the magic number?

2017 was already a year of records.

2017: the third warmest year on record

As we settle in to 2018, the data crunchers at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology have been busy looking back at 2017—its highs, its lows and what caused them.

Overall, 2017 was another warm year for Australia.

It takes out the bronze medal—it was Australia’s third warmest year on record, with a mean average temperature 0.95 °C above the average for the period 1961–1990.

This 30-year period is used as a ‘baseline’ value against which we can compare other periods of climate data, 30 years being long enough to capture enough of the natural variation that occurs from year to year, but not so long that it’s influenced by long-term climate trends.

Most of the increased warmth of 2017 can be accounted for by increased daytime temperatures—average maximum daytime temperatures were 1.27 °C above the 1961–1990 average.

These increases in average temperatures are consistent with the overall warming trend we’re seeing across the planet.

All states except Tasmania experienced hottest summer days of more than 40 °C—the monitoring station at Tarcoola Airport in South Australia took out the title for absolute hottest day of 2017, with a temperature of 48.2 °C.

Coldest night goes to Perisher in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, with a temperature of -12.1 °C.

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Sydney, Melbourne urged to prepare for 50C days by end of century

Sydney and Melbourne have been warned to prepare for scorcher days reaching 50 degrees Celsius by the end of the century — even if global warming is contained to the Paris Agreement target of a 2C increase.

A new study led by Australian National University (ANU) climate scientist Dr Sophie Lewis has projected daily temperatures 3.8C above existing records for the two cities and even hotter extremes.

“We have to be thinking now about how we can be prepared for large population groups commuting to and from the CBD on these extremely hot days, how we send young children to school on 50C days, how our hospitals are prepared for a larger number of admissions of young or old people, and how our infrastructure can cope with it,” Dr Lewis said.

The study found containing global warming to 1.5C — the more ambitious target set by the Paris Agreement — would limit extreme heat, but Dr Lewis said angrier summers were inevitable.

“A lot of warming is locked into the climate system and we really have to be prepared for extremes in the future to get much worse than they are now,” she said.

“We’ve already seen an increase in excess heat deaths in heatwaves in 2009, due to those extreme heatwaves, and that’s likely to occur even more under these 50C days.”

Pockets of Australia have tasted temperatures close to 50C, mostly remote country towns.

But Dr Lewis said heats like that would look very different in Sydney or Melbourne.

“In the city we have a lot more concrete and a lot less air flow, there’s a lot less ability to escape from the heat,” she said.

The ANU study only analysed Bureau of Meteorology data from Sydney and Melbourne, but Dr Lewis said all of Australia could expect to see hotter extremes in the future.

Press link for more: ABC.NET.AU

Coral Reefs ‘at make or break point’ #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol #ClimateChange

Coral reefs ‘at make or break point’, UN environment head says

Erik Solheim cites ‘huge decline’ in world’s reefs but says shift from coal and new awareness of plastic pollution are good news

Michael SlezakLast modified on Fri 19 Jan 2018 17.00 AEDT

The battle to save the world’s coral reefs is at “make or break point”, and countries that host them have a special responsibility to take a leadership role by limiting greenhouse gas emissions, plastic pollution and impacts from agriculture, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has said.

Speaking to the Guardian after the launch of International Coral Reef Initiative’s international year of the reef, Erik Solheim said he expected governments to take their efforts on reef protection in 2018 beyond symbolic designation.

“We expect governments to step up to concrete actions,” Solheim said.

To kick off that effort, Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, has announced new protections for large portions of the Great Sea Reef, by nominating it a Ramsar site. The Ramsar Convention gives protection to wetlands – including coral reefs – that are important for the conservation of global biodiversity and for sustaining human life.

Announcing the nomination, Bainimarama said it was shocking that this might be the last generation to witness the beauty of coral reefs.

“Today I appeal to every single person on Earth to help us. We must replace the present culture of abuse with a culture of care,” he said.

Solheim said another significant step was taken this year when Belize imposed a moratorium on oil exploration and extraction in its waters – a move the Belizean prime minister said was a first for a developing country .

“We have seen a huge decline in the reefs and that is absolutely serious,” Solheim said. “But there are also signs of change. We see now a huge global shfit from coal to solar and wind and that is very good news for our efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.

“And we have seen a huge shift in the awareness of the problem of plastic pollution,” he said, noting there have been many moves around the world to ban various forms of plastic pollution.

Solheim said that while the decline of reefs was a global problem that needed coodinated action, host countries had a special responsibility.

Before and After

“We expect Australia and the Pacific Islands and the Carribbean to protect their coral reefs – they can do so much,” he said.

He called on Australia to do more to mitigate climate change.

“I strongly encourage Australia to transform its energy mix from coal to solar and wind and renewables – that is happening, but the faster it happens the better.”

Solheim said failure to act now would bring about a major catastrophe.

“Beyond the complete moral failure of destroying the enormous beauty and all the different species in the ocean living in the reefs, it would also be an economic disaster,” he said.

Estimates vary, but coral reefs around the world are thought to sustain the lives of about one billion people, by supporting food sources, protecting coastlines or providing other economic support.

That is particularly true of developing countries, but reefs also support thousands of jobs in Australia, Solheim said.

“It would have a huge impact for Australia – the reduction of tourism, and an impact on the fishing industry. Tourism is the most rapidly growing business on the planet and a huge job provider. At a time when every nation is desperate for jobs, restoring reefs is fundamental to economic success everywhere.”

Unep also announced it would be working in collaboration with WWF to “drive an urgent response to combat the decline of coral”.

Press link for more: The Guardian